Things I Think Are True

Last year I kicked off the new year with a post about open and challenging questions in physics. Those remain open and challenging and probably will for some time. Some of them are very old (and very unresolved) questions; others were from modern scientific efforts and understandings. It’s possible we may never find answers for some.

At some point, for some reason, about a month ago I started making a list of things I thought were probably true; things I believe in. I say “probably” because, as with those open science questions, we don’t know the truth of these things; many are vigorously debated.

Some of what follows pertains to those science questions, some of it is more social observation on my part.

I’m going to start by transcribing and expanding the list I made. The items are in the order they occurred to me over a period of several days, so I expect this first pass to not have much order or coherence. Some later items key off earlier items, so the list is a bit disjointed.

If I really hate the first pass, I’ll make a second one trying to impose some order. (But given what seems to be the casual order of the day — so many off-the-cuff YouTube videos showing no preparation at all, for instance — maybe I’ll just let it stand as is.)

Anyway, here we go…


The first item reminds me of what probably induced the list. I read How to Change Your Mind (2018), by Michael Pollan, an author whose work I’ve enjoyed before (I especially liked his 2001 book, The Botany of Desire, which was made into a PBS special very worth seeing). The excessively long subtitle of the 2018 book is: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (what is it with these science books with subtitles long enough to act as a Forward).

The book is about how, now that the stink Timothy Leary put on serious psychedelic has finally dissipated, researchers are having some absolutely stunning results with these drugs in fighting addiction and depression. As one of the people Pollan spoke with said, there’s a lot of fool’s gold here, but also real gold. There are challenges to such research — double- or even single-blinding just isn’t possible — but some of the results are notable and certainly suggest further study.

Anyway, one of the key takeaways for me was a deep impression of the power of the mind to create reality. Kant was first to point out what is now common coin: The only reality we know (or can know) is the model of it inside our mind — a model built on inputs from our nervous system and our experience of reality.

This is why what’s called “set and setting” are so important with psychedelic experiences. Bring ugliness into it, and that is what you will experience. Bring beauty and wonder, and that is what you’ll experience.

So the list starts off with one word: Placebo. I believe in the placebo effect. I believe in the power of the mind to affect the body. I’ve experienced it personally, and I’ve observed it in others.

This also applies to much of our spiritual and religious experience. The things we truly believe we make true. If you believe fasting leads to spiritual epiphany, then if you fast, it probably will.

I’ll add that I also believe these experiences, real as they are subjectively, are not objective truth. Spiritual epiphany is not how reality reveals itself to us. (It may, however, be how our humanity reveals itself.)


Well, that used up a lot of my word count. I’ll try for brevity from here on.

The second item is free will. I believe we have it in the commonly understood sense of the term. Specifically, if reality could be wound back to the point of some decision, it’s possible you could choose otherwise. The flip side of the coin is that I do not believe reality is fully determined.

I’ve posted many times about both free will and determinism, so I won’t elaborate. Follow the links if interested in the details.


I believe there is only one universe. I do not believe in multiverses of any kind. I consider them, absent physical evidence, as science fiction fantasies. In particular, I do not believe in the MWI. (See these many posts for details.)

[I’ll add that I’m often appalled that people who probably pride themselves on their scientific skepticism fall for such fantasies. I see it as being a form of modern religious belief. Their skepticism blocks spiritual apprehension, so that natural human tendency comes out in these sorts of fantastic “scientific” beliefs.]

Skipping down the list to #7, a related item: I believe reality is dynamic — it “calculates” itself as it evolves. I do not believe in the Block Universe Hypothesis. (I’ve posted about that, too.)

Further, I believe reality is more-or-less as it appears to us. I do not believe we live in some very different reality and are fooled into perceiving an illusion. Our senses are hugely limited, of course, and our personal experience of reality is a wireframe version, but that wireframe is accurate as far as it goes. Our combined history and experience ratify a consensual reality, and our instruments give it increased credence.

I believe in philosophical realism. I do not believe in any form of philosophical idealism. (I also don’t believe in any form of panpsychism.)


I believe in the Heisenberg cut. That is, I believe in the emergent classical universe. I do not believe a quantum description of the universe is meaningful. I do not even believe in quantum cats.

I believe we’ll continue to fail to increase the size of quantum-acting systems beyond some point. Some combination of environmental factors will always confound those efforts. Eventually we’ll be forced to accept cats are always classical. (Maybe then we’ll finally shed the MWI fantasy.)


I believe intelligent life is special. I believe consciousness is special. Very special. And unique. I do not believe consciousness is algorithmic or computational. I believe computational simulations will always fail.

This item ties back to both of the first items. It’s our special consciousness that grants us that stunning power of mind to shape and explore our own reality. And I think it’s the dynamics of the brain that grants free will.

Further, I believe we’re (probably) alone in the galaxy and perhaps alone in an even greater space than that. Easily the local group if not the visible universe. I believe the answer to the Fermi Paradox is that self-aware intelligence is very rare indeed. Rare on the order of 20 or more orders of magnitude. I do not believe in aliens, and I sure as hell do not believe in UFOs (more wishful thinking fantasy).

In some sense, Ptolemy was right: We are the center of the universe. The only center that matters.

(See The Fermi Paradox, Simple Probabilities, and Are We Special? for details.)


I believe time is fundamental and only runs forwards. I believe, despite Einstein’s knitting of space and time, that time is distinct from space and is more fundamental than space. (See these many posts for details.)


I believe our culture has taken a turn for the worse. I believe we’re backsliding into medieval dark ages thinking. I believe if we don’t over-come our worst tendencies as ape-descended shits, we will never go to the stars in any form.

I believe the interweb is both the best and worst thing to happen to humanity. It’s a tool of amazing power that we have yet to tame.

I believe spammers, scammers, and thieves, should get the death penalty. I’m mostly kidding about that, but I believe we need to take the problem a lot more seriously than we do. I believe we need extreme efforts and extreme penalties.

(And, yes, I do still believe in the death penalty for special cases. Deadly repeat offenders where there is clear and incontrovertible evidence. That said, I’m a little on the fence with this one. I can definitely relate to the opposing arguments. Mostly I just wish humanity could manage to grow the fuck up.)


I believe we’ll solve social problems of race before we’ll solve social problems of sexism. Not that we’re showing much sign of solving either.

Race is an artificial construct. Humanity is not comprised of different species; we’re all the same under the hood. At root, race is a paint job and accessories, nothing more. Socially, race is culture, which is inescapable but also artificial.

Sex is real. Men are significantly different from women. Biology is a huge factor here. (See these posts.)


I believe in a teleological universe. I believe our (special) lives — our special minds — have purpose and meaning outside our individual lives.

I have no idea what that purpose might be — it’s a mountain we climb never reaching the top (it’s the journey that matters; it matters that you climb).

And I’m quite aware that, of all my beliefs expressed here, this is the most tenuous and difficult to defend. In fact, I don’t defend it, I surrender to it. Faith in something beyond ourselves is a deliberately irrational act of surrender. It’s a bit like love in many ways.

It has some quasi-rational basis in something like Pascal’s Wager, but one can’t fake the Wager, one must surrender to faith, make the leap. (See Embracing the Wager)

I oft find myself bemused by those who so readily reject the notion of greater purpose and meaning but are quite comfortable with multiverses and other “scientific” fantasies that are equally without hard evidence (and, thus, not as scientific as claimed). As I said above, I really do think that’s just their Yang trying to bust out.

I believe that humanity, in light of the ubiquity of religion and spiritual outlooks, is either apprehending something real or is just wired towards belief. The very same people believing in science fantasies are those that tend to believe in that wiring. Yet they seem unable to recognize it in themselves. I find that fascinating.

§ §

Could my beliefs ever be proved wrong? You bet! A discovery could be right around the corner that tosses any one of these right out the window. Belief must always be provisional. Even our scientific theories must be provisional.

But until then, I’m free to believe what I believe. And so are you!

Stay believing, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

29 responses to “Things I Think Are True

  • Wyrd Smythe

    (I did enough rearranging that I’m just going with the first pass.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    From one of my favorite guitar players:

    This was playing in my head the whole time I was writing this post. 🙂

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I think you know my views on most of these, although there are a couple I can’t recall us ever discussing.

    I think the evidence for the placebo effect is pervasive and overwhelming. Drug studies are double blinded because of it. But it’s also abundant for its evil twin, the nocebo effect. And I prefer to say that the nervous system has a powerful effect, rather than the mind. Saying “mind”, I think, implies that there’s a volitional aspect to these things, like maybe a sufficiently uber individual can control them. I think the effects, in their most powerful manifestations, are unconscious and non-volitional. (And in the case of nocebo, can be tragic.) Of course, we can stipulate the unconscious mind, but I rarely see that stipulation.

    If it was up to me, we’d abolish the death penalty. We never have absolute certitude in anything we believe, including whether someone is guilty. Killing them is irreversible. It puts them beyond any remedy if we get it wrong. And because of that, death penalty appeals are automatic, making it the most expensive sentence the justice system can issue. On economics alone, it’s just cheaper to sentence people to life in prison with no possibility of parole. And rotting in prison for the rest of their life strikes me as often a harsher penalty than a quick death anyway.

    Just an observation concurring with your final thought. Our understanding of reality has had many paradigm shifts over the last 500 years. Many of these were gut wrenching and fiercely resisted when they arose. It seems inevitable we have more shifts coming, which should probably make us all leery of holding our beliefs too tightly.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m not sure how much your nervous system acts on its own, and placebo/nocebo effects, to me, see more inclusive of the whole body. Certainly, there is a huge unconscious mind component. Placebo effects have been demonstrated even when the patient is told they’re getting a placebo. Mere faith in one’s doctor can have a placebo effect. So, unconscious mind, definitely, and my personal experience tells me conscious mind can play a role, too. (I can will away hiccups, for instance.)

      My opinion of the death penalty has shifted exactly because of the issues you mention. As it stands now, it’s an abomination, but I’m not in principle opposed to the notion that some people, like a splinter, need to be excised. I have a warrior’s heart, and I just don’t believe all life is sacred. I think some forfeit their right to life.

      Yes, the paradigm shifts of old, the goto mantra for fantasists. Thing about that, though, is that our understanding of reality has been converging, so I don’t anticipate many shifts that will “change everything.” For quite some time now our advances have been incremental. Point is, while you’re absolutely right, I’m not holding my breath on any of those fantasies. Great if they do, that would be wonderful, but I’m not placing any bets. I suspect reality is a lot more mundane than theorists wish. 😉

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I just bought and started reading Fashion, Faith, & Fantasy (2016) by Roger Penrose. It’s not actually about fashion or faith or fantasy, per se, but how those things obtain in physics today. The first section, “Fashion”, centers on string theory (which is fashionable), but he did a bit on other science theories that were once as, or more, fashionable. He cites the Platonic solids, which were once a theory of matter (and the even older earth, water, fire, air, theory). He mentions Ptolemy, of course, but with a twist that hadn’t sunk in before: The Ptolemaic view of reality worked for 14 centuries! And those epicycles were seen as natural extensions of earthly circular motion. He also touches on phlogiston and some later and recent theories that once seemed well-motivated and sensible (the Kaluza-Kline attempt to unify gravity and EM through a 5D spacetime, for instance).

      The point being that appealing to historical precedent works both ways. Absent physical evidence, it’s kind of a coin-flip.

      More importantly, Redemption Ark finally came available at the library, so I’ve tucked into that now. Good timing; I had just finished Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock (which is about climate change and geoengineering by shooting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere). It was good but will never be my favorite of his.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        All the more reason to wear our beliefs lightly.

        I’m currently reading Century Rain and enjoying it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I have to ask: Do you feel you lightly wear your beliefs in computationalism and the MWI? The way you’ve defended them over the years gives me the opposite impression.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I do, and have made statements to that effect many times. If your impression is different, it’s outside my control.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You have said many times that evidence would change your mind, but it’s the way you embrace the experts who agree with you and dismiss those who don’t that strikes me as your ground truth. You posted a while back about being willing to investigate opposing ideas, but, at least in my experience with you, I haven’t seen that. The phrase, “I see what you mean,” (which is not agreement) doesn’t seem to be in your vocabulary, and, frankly, it’s why most of our debates go off the rails. You seem unwilling, or unable, to see what I mean.

  • Anonymole

    Fully onboard.

    I think a fishing trip, with the right vices and epicurean accoutrements would be a blast.

    Pollan’s Cooked and The Omnivore’s Dilemma were great reads. He’s gone off into the deep end with his psilocybin research, me thinks.

  • Michael

    An interesting box of predilections and considered positions, Wyrd!

    Placebo effect: I’m with you. I don’t fully understand it, as we can have expectations and a result other than we expect. But certainly something to it. I think there are many (or at least some) factors at play here that lie far below the surface mind, and that when we see the placebo effect it’s because many/all of these align. But in others, when the underlying factors are not in alignment, we don’t see it or as strongly. To Mike’s point, I think there’s a good deal of subconscious content at play here.

    To the question on spiritual experiences, I hesitantly agree–meaning, I agree most such experiences are not the same as observations of my kitchen table and can be very personal. But if this means what is observed is somehow simply the whim of fancy or an invention and not at least a point of contact with something that genuinely exists, I disagree. The thing is: the spiritual experience itself is one thing and the image reported through the lens (the particular human being’s interpretation of it) another. Like the placebo, there are many factors at work here in how direct experience produces particular interpretations or explanatory statements. If we focus only on the latter, then I can agree it seems very chaotic.

    One universe: I don’t rule out the possibility of co-existing potentialities in some form. No idea what that is. I do consider many of the specific forms in present discussion very unlikely. The MWI for instance, where there’s a whole entire universe every time a quantum event occurs doesn’t resonate with me. But the notion that families or clusters of possibilities may exist in some form, and likely be navigable in some sense and/or mutually influencing, is still open for me. I think this is real in some fashion. We just don’t understand enough yet to parse this out I don’t think.

    Reality is dynamic: totally agree. This goes with my take on the previous. I think some form of probability-potentiality-“actuality” requires real time dynamics.

    Reality is as it appears: at some level I agree. I don’t think we live in a computer simulation, for instance. But I do believe in a spiritual reality so that may prevent us from agreeing completely here. But yes, what exists all around us is “real” in the sense we cannot deny it’s veracity.

    Heisenberg Cut: not sure to be honest.

    Intelligent life / consciousness as special: I’m having a hard time answering this. I think some form of intelligence/consciousness is at the root of what we call “being” and that all existence is sacred and profound. And I would agree there is something unique about the human expression of this.

    Time is fundamental and only runs forward: I am not sure.

    Culture has taken a turn for the worse: certainly in some sense we have difficulties that are shocking and absurd. As to whether this is truly a regression or an instability in the forward movement, I don’t know. At the present moment, things are fucked up though. Agreed.

    Race solutions before sex solutions: Not sure. No idea, actually.

    Teleological universe: I generally agree. But I think I would have varying degrees of reluctance with many forms of teleology. I think the universe exists to give creative expression to the timeless content of reality. And in some sense allows profound freedom in doing so. But certain religious forms of teleology I have difficulty with.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      There’s a thing we used to do back in college: pick (just!) three words that sum one up. It can take some thought finding just three, and they can shift over time. “Teacher” has always been one of mine; I love passing on things I’ve learned. (I’d also have “student” but I consider that as just the flip side of teacher, so not its own thing.) Point is, for a long time, “philosopher” was a word I applied to myself because I do spend a great deal of time pondering the basics of things, the assumptions, the conclusions. In deference to “real” philosophers I dropped it; I’m far too amateur to wear that label. But, anyway, yeah, a lot of this is from many years of consideration. And I suppose certain predilections do shine through as well. 🙂

      Placebo: No question there’s a huge unconscious (or subconscious) aspect to this. The “iceberg” thing — 90% is out of sight. I do think it comes from our mind, and I’ve been impressed by conscious efforts involving, for instance, biofeedback to slow one’s heartbeat. And I’ve had some personal experience with mind-over-body, so I do believe part of the iceberg sticks above water.

      Spiritual Experiences: I agree we can separate the actual phenomenal experience — call it irreducible and incorrigible — with how a person perceives and frames it. One’s culture and education provide the language and context for that perception and framing. (I don’t go full Sapir-Whorf on this, but I do think there’s a lot of truth to it.) I’ve said, from the beginning of this blog, that, given the ubiquity of religion and spiritual beliefs (as far as I know, there has never been a truly atheist culture), I think one of two things is true: [1] Human minds are wired for belief per an evolutionary value; probably having to do with building a society. [2] Human minds are apprehending something real about the dual nature of reality. Absent other evidence, I believe, as an act of faith, the latter may be true, but have no opinion or judgement on the nature of that dualism. But I think it’s crucial to keep in mind the former is still very much in the running.

      One universe: When you talk about “possibilities” do you mean in the future? It sounds like that’s what you mean, as you go on to mention a dynamic universe. So long as one rejects causal determinism (which I do), yeah, the future is “open.”

      Reality as it appears: As a dualist I quite agree, but my faith is contingent on option [2] above being true. If, per option [1], what we experience is just a product of our minds, then physicalism is the only reality. And we must accept that as a possibility.

      Consciousness: After your recent posts, I’m aware you believe in an über-consciousness of some kind. I’ll just leave it at that I don’t.

      Culture: I feel as if all I have to do is reference the last five years politically to demonstrate the truth of this. Creeping normality can blind us to how extreme, polarized, and intractable, social progress has become. Huge problems on both sides of the “aisle” — everything is about agenda now and winning against your opponents.

      Teleology: My belief stops short of anything concrete. It’s almost more of a suspicion that this vast universe seems kind of a waste if there isn’t some purpose and meaning to it. Combine that with the perception that intelligent life may be extraordinarily rare, and my suspicions increase. But anything that operates on the scale of quarks to quasars has to be so far outside my ability to understand that I don’t think there’s much point in trying. (The Jewish view of God is much the same; way too far above our paygrade.) We must focus on what we can encompass. Given that intelligence and creativity seem to be what elevates us, I suspect meaning has something to do with those.

      • Michael

        I’ve been a bit delayed getting back to this. One of those weeks, Wyrd!

        You wrote, When you talk about “possibilities” do you mean in the future?

        I actually have a version of an answer to this in my next post, if you can stomach it and deal with the length. I’m going to try and shrink it a bit before posting if I can. But anyway, yes, I believe there are networks of alternative or probable futures in some sense, as well as some mechanism we have yet to understand for navigating that space. I think in some sense reality is like a ball thrown in the world of Newton and Galileo—it proceeds along a fixed trajectory unless acted upon. And I do believe we can act upon it. This transition from one “track” to another involves the activation somehow of the chosen or “alternate” track and the deactivation of others. But I have very little strong feelings about the details—only the sense that there is a vast network of possible event chains and that somehow we are able to navigate them.

        You wrote, If, per option [1], what we experience is just a product of our minds, then physicalism is the only reality. And we must accept that as a possibility.

        What I feel compelled to accept is that option 1, as a hypothesis, has considerable explanatory power that should not be dismissed. Also my belief is that it is very much correct in a certain sense: meaning evolution and the influence of experiences over time upon the structure and composition of who we are is quite valid. If I thought that logic alone was the metric and means by which to make an evaluation of what is so, then I would agree with you. But I do not think logic alone can determine whether 1 or 2 are correct, and I actually think both are true at once. I simply don’t think it’s a mutually exclusive thing. I may have expanded this inadvertently beyond the framework of your comment, but I think it’s reasonable to believe spiritual experiences are a point of contact with something real, and also that the notion evolutionary histories affect our psychology is valid.

        Just because they’re after you, doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid, right? The fact that evolutionary history may have found a use or value to a particular experience doesn’t necessarily mean that such an experience is also delusory.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        No problem about delay. I’m in the middle of dog-sitting my pal Bentley, and I don’t spend much time on the computer when I do.

        “I believe there are networks of alternative or probable futures in some sense, as well as some mechanism we have yet to understand for navigating that space.”

        What you describe about probable futures sounds very much like either: [A] The universe is physically deterministic in general, but brains (minds, specifically) are not deterministic and therefore can affect the determined path. This would accord with the ballistics of Newton and general determinism of physics. [B] The universe is not (fully) deterministic, and brains are especially not deterministic. Again, minds are capable of steering towards a desired future.

        I don’t believe the physical determination part of [A] but am open to it. If reality is fully physically determined, then I still suspect brains are not. Even in a physically determined reality, I think the brain exists in a turbulent “sea” of thoughts, many of which are balanced in fine opposition to each other. I think consciousness, with an assist from non-linear chaos, is able to pick among them, particularly when they are nearly equal. My canonical example is that, when I’ve decided to have soup for dinner, my choice of which kind seems balanced and random. I think that, were reality wound back to that exact moment (same causal history until then), I might well pick a different soup. Other decisions have stronger histories suggesting a reasonable choice, but don’t we also make capricious choices in defiance of those histories?

        I believe [B], that reality isn’t fully determined. Quantum randomness, as far as we know, is real. Heisenberg uncertainty certainly is which means reality at its most fundamental level is fuzzy. Those can be magnified by chaos, especially over long time periods, to random futures. I further suspect that the real numbers might not be real. Reality might use rational numbers or be somehow limited in precision. If so, the universe simply isn’t causally determined over long timescales.

        “But I do not think logic alone can determine whether 1 or 2 are correct, and I actually think both are true at once.”

        We’re talking metaphysics here, so, yeah, logic isn’t much help. The thing about them, though, is that they are mutually exclusive. If option [1] is correct, then option [2] is necessarily false. And vice versa. The first explicitly excludes the second. The second, in a sense, subsumes the first and invalidates it as insufficient.

        You might recognize these options under the names monism and dualism. Their mutual exclusiveness might be more obvious in that form. Monism explicitly denies dualism, while dualism subsumes monism as the Yin of a Yin-Yang pair. Therefore:

        “I think it’s reasonable to believe spiritual experiences are a point of contact with something real,”

        As do I. Picking option [2] does not in any way deny the physical world. It only suggests there is more to it. (That said, we must accept that monism (or materialism or physicalism or whateverism) might be the truth. As you said, there is no logic to help us either way, and many entirely deny the reality of spiritual experience. They might not be wrong, although it would make this vast universe kind of a waste of space, time, and energy.)

        “I actually have a version of an answer to this in my next post, if you can stomach it and deal with the length.”

        I did read it. (And I’m certainly not one who dare complain about length!) I’m sorry, but I can’t subscribe to the fundamental notion, so what follows from it doesn’t follow for me.

      • Michael

        You wrote, If option [1] is correct, then option [2] is necessarily false.

        If that is what you intended I just didn’t read your descriptions the same way you intended them. I can appreciate there is a wording that would convey exactly what you intended that would imply either [1] all aspects of human consciousness are instantiated on human brains and hard-coded by evolution to have experiences of things that are not real, AND those things are not real in any fashion to begin with, or [2] human consciousness is a faculty capable of apprehending a spiritual reality that subsumes or at least is integral with the physically instantiated world in some sense. If something like this is what you meant, then yes I can agree they are mutually exclusive. But then the part that makes them mutually exclusive is the second clause of [1], that not underlying reality other than quarks and atoms is real in any sense.

        Under this scenario, I’m back to the fact that at present we cannot logically determine which is correct, but I can agree [1] and [2] are mutually exclusive.

        You wrote, I’m sorry, but I can’t subscribe to the fundamental notion, so what follows from it doesn’t follow for me.

        No problem. I understand and appreciate we see things differently. But I am not certain what you mean by “the fundamental notion” so if I’m not being too much of a pain in the arse, can you say what you’re referring to there? I think you’re referring to the belief in a unified totality of consciousness that exists outside / inside / not dependent upon time and space, correct?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Correct. 🙂 (And not at all a pain!)

        “If that is what you intended I just didn’t read your descriptions the same way you intended them.”

        Well, that’s what comments are for — to drill down and clarify these things! 😉

        I might have been best served, had I thought of it in the original comment, to use the terms monism and dualism. Those are more clearly exclusive. But, yes, option [1] is the idea that the physical universe is all there is, and our spiritual experiences are products of our imagination. There is no evidence that is false and considerable (hard, repeatable) evidence it’s true.

        But until we understand reality far better than we do, the question is open, and I prefer a dual teleological universe, so that’s my choice for a metaphysical commitment.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I recently bought, and have been very much enjoying, Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe (2016), by Roger Penrose. I bought it because it was only $9.99 as a Kindle book, which is a good price for a Penrose tome. It’s about how what’s in fashion (string theory), what scientists have faith in (QM), and what seems pure fantasy in science. It’s an interesting indicator of how far I’ve come in the last few years that I’m finding Penrose much easier to understand these days.

    That nice Kindle price encouraged me to buy a few others: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum (2019), by Lee Smolin (another favorite scientist/author of mine); Quantum Reality: The Quest for the Real Meaning of Quantum Mechanics – a Game of Theories (2020), by Jim Baggott (yet another favorite), and, finally at long last, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory & the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics (2006), by Peter Woit. I’ve read the openings of all three and am really looking into getting to them after (or possibly even before) finishing Penrose’s book (which is the most mathematical of the four).

    OTOH, next time I log in to Amazon, I’m also going to buy The Quantum Cookbook: Mathematical Recipes of the Foundations for Quantum Mechanics (2020), by Jim Baggott, which is a mathematically oriented companion book to his Quantum Reality.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I put Penrose on hold while I read Woit’s book, it being the most outdated (as well as being a book I’ve meant to read for quite a few years now). (Not Even Wrong predates the completion of the LHC and the confirmation of the Higgs boson.) It’s also the shortest of the books I bought, so I’m already slightly more than halfway through. The first half is an interesting trip through the mathematical history of quantum mechanics. The second half is about string theory, which Woit and many others think isn’t good physics.

      I did buy Baggott’s The Quantum Cookbook, which looks to be a great resource. Halfway between being a QM math textbook and a popular science book. (More a textbook in that it digs into the QM math.) Also bought The Student’s Guide to the Schrödinger Equation, Daniel A. Fleisch (2020), in hopes of eventually writing some code to illustrate some simple solutions, such as the two-slit and tunneling experiments.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Finished Woit’s book (quite good), now working Baggott’s book, Quantum Reality. Baggott is a realist (as am I) seeking a theory that accounts for the reality of whatever QM is telling us. As I usually have, I’m enjoying his exploration. In the first part of the book, he’s covering various anti-realist interpretations, Copenhagen, Carlos Rovelli’s relational interpretation (which Baggott’s explanation illuminates in a way I haven’t seen before), information theory interpretations, the consistent (and decoherent) histories interpretations, Quantum Bayesianism (QBism), and more to come.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Finished Quantum Reality by Jim Baggott, and he and I are certainly on the same page as realists. The bottom line, really, is that quantum mechanics just can’t be a complete theory (yet). Given that it’s background-dependent and doesn’t reconcile with gravity, this actually seems self-evident.

      In any event, here’s the talk he gave for RI about the book. I just watched it again tonight, and while it’s very abbreviated compared to what he covers in the book, it’s still a very good overview.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Baggott, in the book, and in passing in the talk, mentions the proposed MAQRO space mission, which, if launched, would seriously extend (or prove not possible to extend) the realm of quantum behavior to much larger sizes than ever before. It would use nano-spheres with a radius of “about 100nm” and a mass of “several 1010 atomic mass units.” In comparison, the highest so far is “several 104 amu for molecules consisting of a few thousand atoms.”

      The experiments involved would provide unprecedented data about quantum behavior, so I really hope it, or something like it, launches in my lifetime! It was first proposed in 2010, and after several rounds, is still pending.


    • Wyrd Smythe

      About halfway through Smolin’s Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution, which is very much in the same vein as the books by Penrose and Baggott — about the search for realism in QM. Smolin’s book, though, seems to contain some possible errors of fact that I’d like to ask him about. His website has an email address exactly for questions about his books, so I think I’ll email him and see if he responds. 💻📧🤞🏼

  • Wyrd Smythe

    One thing I now know is true: Never put dishwashing soap in the dishwasher. It turns into something out of I Love Lucy! Suds, lots and lots of suds, come cascading out!! It never dawned on me that would happen.

    Apparently, dishwasher soap doesn’t create suds. And I didn’t realize a dishwasher isn’t a sealed unit, although it makes sense it wouldn’t be.

    At least my kitchen floor is really clean now!

  • Things I Don’t Believe | Logos con carne

    […] started 2022 with a post titled Things I Think Are True. It was an echo of the Hard Problems post I’d done to start 2021. That earlier post listed a […]

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