Baggott: Quantum Reality

I recently read, and very much enjoyed, Quantum Reality (2020) by Jim Baggot, an author (and speaker) I’ve come to like a lot. I respect his grounded approach to physics, and we share that we’re both committed to metaphysical realism. Almost two years ago, I posted about his 2014 book Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth, which I also very much enjoyed.

This book is one of a whole handful of related books I bought recently now that I’m biting one more bullet and buying Kindle books from Amazon (the price being a huge draw; science books tend to be pricy in physical form).

The thread that runs through them is that each author is committed to realism, and each is disturbed about where modern physics has gone. Me, too!

I have been increasingly disturbed about modern physics ever since I read The Trouble with Physics (2006), by Lee Smolin. Even then, from years of following the well-grounded blogs of Sabine Hossenfelder and Peter Woit, I felt too many physicists had wandered from doing science to doing science fiction. I’m appalled by the notion of “post-empirical science” — a notion that couldn’t be more contrary to the spirit of science.

[See: Fairy Tale Physics (Apr 2020), Our BS Culture (Dec 2020), and Our Fertile Imagination (Jan 2021), for three of my more recent posts discussing the embrace of pure speculation by theorists and culture. It’s a trend that damages and undermines science in a time when science is under fire from politics and society. Proponents of Intelligent Design rightfully ask, “If multiverses that must be taken on faith are ‘science’ then why isn’t ID?” The truth is that both are fantasy bullshit (FBS).]

Speaking of Peter Woit and Lee Smolin, among that aforementioned handful of new books is Woit’s Not Even Wrong (2006), which I’ve been meaning to read for years, and Smolin’s latest book, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum (2019). I read the former before reading Quantum Reality and am currently enjoying the latter.

Also in the handful is Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe (2016), the most recent popular science book from Roger Penrose. It’s a book I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard of it.

Penrose’s books aren’t for the faint of heart. In the 1990s, it took me years and multiple readings to fully absorb his 1989 book, The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and The Laws of Physics. (In large part I owe my skepticism about computationalism to that book. It planted the first seed of discontent about a topic I’d taken for granted until then.) Recently I posted (in fact, twice) about his 2010 book, Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe, which explores his Conformal Cyclic Cosmology (CCC) hypothesis. (While I enjoyed Cycles of Time, the CCC hypothesis is pure speculation, which Penrose readily admits. See Sabine Hossenfelder’s recent video about it.)

You might be thinking, “Wait, that’s four books. A handful should be five!” I also bought Baggott’s The Quantum Cookbook: Mathematical Recipes for the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (2020). As the title suggests, it’s for those with mathematical inclinations. It straddles the gap between textbook and popular science book. Each chapter shows how a famous physicist derived a famous physics equation. For examples, the first chapter takes the reader through how Planck derived E=hv, the second how Einstein derived E=mc2 (which is as far as I’ve gotten so far).

§

In Not Even Wrong, Woit explores why string theory is an interesting idea that’s become fairy tale physics. As he mentions, many physicists see it as pure math because it offers no evidence or way of testing the theory (and has the landscape problem). On the other hand, mathematicians see it as physics because, as math, it lacks the rigor that’s foundational in math. It seems many assume that, if not to them, it somehow makes sense to someone. (Woit, by the way, is primarily a mathematician with a strong interest in physics.)

Two books by Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (1999) and The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2004), got me excited about string theory, but everything I read since then gave me a different outlook (starting with Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics).

In Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy, Penrose echoes that in his first section, Fashion, which is about how string theory became such a strong fashion in physics that many new physicists saw no alternative but to work on it if they wanted a job or any funding. As I already quite agree, I jumped to section two, Faith, which is about the abiding faith many theorists have that quantum mechanics is a complete description of reality.

As I mentioned, Penrose’s books aren’t for the faint of heart. He is far more willing to dive into the technical weeds than most popular science writers. While reading section two, I decided to rest my mind and read Not Even Wrong, Quantum Reality, and currently, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution.

I’ll get back to Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in due time. Since he refers to it many times in the book, I also bought his 2004 book, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, so I have plenty of Penrose waiting to challenge my mind. I am looking forward to what his Fantasy section is about!

§ §

Which finally brings me back to Baggott, Quantum Reality, and metaphysical realism.

The heart of the issue is the wavefunction. Is it something real or does it merely encode what we know about a quantum system? And if it is real, exactly what is it?

An issue like this doesn’t exist in classical physics where, at least to a first approximation, the equations “wear” their reality in plain sight and there is no confusion. A good example is Newton’s Second Law, usually expressed as F=ma (force is equal to mass time acceleration).

Above I said, “to a first approximation” because a deeper look turns up a puzzle: what is mass? Newton defined it as volume times density but defines density as mass per volume — which is circular and, thus, not much of a definition. Baggott wrote a whole book about it, Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017).

Quantum Reality features both Preamble and a Prologue, the latter subtitled Why Didn’t Somebody Tell Me About All This Before? In the Prologue, Baggott touches on his own journey, first learning basic quantum mechanics as part of learning chemistry but then encountering the famous EPR paper from 1935 as well as the experiments by Alain Aspect in 1982. He reports that it sent him into a tailspin and began a 30-year journey to try to understand.

He ends the Prologue by saying: “I can happily attest to the fact that, like charismatic physicist Richard Feynman, I still don’t understand quantum mechanics. But I think I now understand why.”

§

Part I of Quantum Reality is called The Rules of the Game, and it’s an overview of our understanding of quantum mechanics. Here are the chapter headings:

  1. The Complete Guide to Quantum Mechanics (abridged); Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know, and a Few Things You Didn’t
  2. Just What is This Thing Called ‘Reality’, Anyway; The Philosopher and the Scientist: Metaphysical Preconceptions and Empirical Data
  3. Sailing on the Sea of Representation; How Scientific Theories Work (and Sometimes Don’t)
  4. When Einstein Came Down to Breakfast; Because You Can’t Write a Book About Quantum Mechanics without a Chapter on the Bohr-Einstein Debate

It’s in this part that he introduces his key metaphor of the Ship of Science sailing the Sea of Representation back and forth between the shores of Empirical Reality and Metaphysical Reality.

Ship of Science sailing the Sea of Representation

From Quantum Reality, drawn by Eugenia Nobati and © Jim Baggot

During its back-and-forth journeys it needs to avoid the rocky shoal of Scylla, which lies close to the shores of Empirical Reality. He defines it as “rather empty instrumentalism,” that, while perfectly valid empirically, is devoid of “any real physical insight and understanding.”

The Ship of Science also needs to avoid the whirlpool of Charybdis, which lies close the beaches of Metaphysical Reality. “It is a whirlpool of wild, unconstrained metaphysical nonsense.”

He has developed this metaphor over time, and I can recall him mentioning it in talks that predate this book. (I do not recall it being mentioned in Farewell to Reality, but my memory can be like Swiss cheese when it comes to some things. Like Sherlock Holmes, I don’t even try to remember things that I don’t deem useful.)

The key point of the metaphor is that science proceeds by moving back and forth between metaphysical speculation and experiment, and that both are crucial to the process. No scientific theory is without some metaphysical assumptions, but those must be grounded in experiment if they are to mean anything.

§

In Part II, Playing the Game, Baggott covers many of the popular interpretations of quantum mechanics (the only physics in which interpretation is even necessary). Here are the chapter headings:

  1. Quantum Mechanics is Complete So Just Shut Up and Calculate; The View from Scylla: The Legacy of Copenhagen, Relational Quantum Mechanics, and the Role of Information.
  2. Quantum Mechanics is Complete But We Need to Reinterpret What it Says; Revisiting Quantum Probability: Reasonable Axioms, Consistent Histories, and QBism.
  3. Quantum Mechanics is Complete So We Need to Add Some Things; Statistical Interpretations Based on Local and Crypto Non-local Hidden Variables.
  4. Quantum Mechanics is Incomplete So We Need to Add Some Other Things; Pilot Waves, Quantum Potentials, and Physical Collapse Mechanisms.
  5. Quantum Mechanics is Incomplete Because We Need to Include My Mind (or should that be Your Mind?); Von Neumann’s Ego, Wigner’s Friend, the Participatory Universe, and the Quantum Ghost in the Machine.
  6. Quantum Mechanics is Incomplete Because… Okay, I Give Up; The View from Charybdis: Everett, Many Worlds, and the Multiverse

The basic tension here is between the decidedly anti-realist views of Bohr and, hence, the Copenhagen school (which dominated quantum physics) and those, such as Einstein, who preferred a realist approach.

The problem is that, if we take QM as complete, then we’re stuck with either anti-realism or some metaphysical extremes (such as the MWI, which Baggott paints as “magical realism” — a point I’ve made repeatedly).

Baggott discusses how quantum physics seems to have encountered Kant’s noumena, the things-in-themselves that we can only know through their representations in our senses. Anti-realist views accept that we can never know them, only those appearances through their interactions with our experiments. Of course, all our experiments use classical physics. The quantum world, in some sense, is indeed inaccessible to us. We can never actually see a superposition, for instance.

§ §

This has gotten long, so I’ll stop, but I expect I’ll return to this and the other books in future posts. I have strong objections to the fantasy bullshit the science and social world seems to wallow in these days, and while posts may do nothing, expressing my dissatisfaction, I’ve always found, is good for my mental health.

If, like me, you share a sense of disquiet about perceived fantasy bullshit in science, if you are, to your core, a metaphysical realist, then I highly recommend Quantum Reality as a great read. The other books I’ve mentioned here also express the need for grounding in empiricism and realism.

For whatever it’s worth, being a metaphysical realist puts one in the company of Albert Einstein, who spent his life trying (unsuccessfully) to complete quantum mechanics.

And the thing is, it seems almost self-evident that QM is incomplete because it is at odds with our other greatest theory, general relativity (which is an entirely realist theory). It seems to me almost foolish to accept QM as is given that conflict.

§

As a final note, I’ve never been much taken with Carlo Rovelli, who’ve I’ve seen as not just an anti-realist, but as something of a space cadet (as we used to say). I’ve also never been taken with theories that make relations fundamental (I see them as necessarily secondary). I’ve long thought Leibniz and relationalism is “not even wrong.”

So, I never bothered with Rovelli’s Relational QM, but after reading Baggott’s book I see that Rovelli, at least in RQM, is a realist in seeing quantum objects as real. The theory, however, is still anti-realist in seeing that the only access to those objects is through their relations with our (classical) experiments. In that sense, he is aligned with Bohr.

§ §

Stay realist, 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

24 responses to “Baggott: Quantum Reality

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Oof, sorry, that went a lot longer than I thought it would (in fact, I thought it would be a short post). There is so much I didn’t cover that I’ll definitely be returning to this book and the others I mentioned.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    FWIW, I lean towards physical collapse theories, and I’m not entirely convinced the wavefunction is real. (Because, if it is, it lives in very high dimension, in some cases infinite dimension, complex Hilbert space and requires complex numbers. It’s hard to understand how something like that could be real.)

    I also lean strongly towards thinking QM is badly in need of a fresh start. I agree with Philip Ball and quantum revisionism. (See: Ball: Beyond Weird)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Here, perhaps, is an intuition for what happens when a quantum system interacts with a classical system:

      Imagine a system small enough to exhibit quantum behavior as a single song playing. Imagine a system large enough to be “classical” as 10²º songs playing. So, then what happens when that single song encounters 10²º songs? For that matter, what happens to any single song within the 10²º songs?

      Individual songs are completely swamped out by the vastly larger collection.

      As a further intuition about measurement interactions, think of a mousetrap or a gun with a “hair trigger”. The tiny interaction with the mouse, or the tiny interaction of pressing the gun trigger, results in the release of a much larger amount of the stored energy in the mousetrap’s spring or the gun’s bullet.

      All classical devices that can detect a quantum system operate as stored energy systems waiting for a tiny triggering action. For instance, a Geiger counter uses a Geiger-Müller tube in which the stored energy is several hundred volts difference between the tube’s shell and the inner central wire. See the linked article for how a single particle causes a cascading avalanche of events that trigger the release of that stored energy.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Here’s a presentation Baggott gave for the Royal Institute about his book:

  • Katherine Wikoff

    I’m having trouble processing the phrase “post-empirical science.” I know what the words mean, but isn’t the whole point of science to investigate empirical phenomena? Does post-empirical science basically return us to pre-Enlightenment science?

  • diotimasladder

    Farewell to Reality—catchy title!

    I’ve never heard the phrase, “post-empirical science”, but “post-empirical” seems to accurately describe some of the theories you mention, though I’m not sure about scientific. Can there be a post-empirical science? I don’t know. I suppose that all depends on whether science is allowed to change. (Into metaphysics.) 🙂

    I have to say, I have little interest in Many Worlds and the like because I see them as entirely mathematical, which means there’s nothing in it I have access to. I’m also realizing that when theories get interpreted for laymen by science writers looking for a clever turn of phrase, something is likely to get screwed up. Sometimes they turn theories into preposterous metaphors that sound like science fiction. Bad science fiction. Upon encountering these stories, for a moment I question whether the problem lies with the interpreter or the theory, then I realize I have more interesting pursuits to attend to.

    What is matter?—Now that’s a question! Really, it’s one I’ve often wondered about.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The funny thing is that my two-year old post about that book has been getting hits lately. Baggott is a pretty good science writer, and he seems very good at making the material accessible to regular audiences. His avoidance of any math notation in Quantum Reality kinda made me smile. Instead of the very common Dirac notation, e.g. |Ψ⟩, he used little pictures of boxes and nary a Greek letter in sight.

      Exactly as you say, post-empirical “science” shouldn’t be seen as science at all, but as metaphysics. One of Baggott’s points is that all science contains metaphysical assumptions, but we need to bracket those as best as we can and allow experimental results to steer us. Yet many well-respected scientists (and some philosophers) have argued in favor of post-empirical science. Given the whole “post-factual” thing going on in society now, and the growing disdain for science, indulging in such fantasies does science harm.

      Part of the problem about science writing when it comes to the quantum world is that there aren’t words or intuitions to explain it, and therefore all the preposterous metaphors and analogies that don’t really convey much understanding. Because they can’t — no one understands what the math means. As I’ve gotten into that math, my whole view of the subject has evolved, and I’ve come to realize how empty all those words are. It’s like climbing a mountain and finally seeing above the trees.

      And, yeah, while the math isn’t that hard, it absolutely requires a serious interest and a willingness to invest the time. Most people have better ways to spend their time. Only us über-geeks find it worthwhile. 🧐👨🏼‍🔬

      That’s a good point about the MWI being mathematical. It really is in that it’s based on the notion of applying the Schrödinger equation to all of reality. The thing that’s struck me lately is, given that there is no test we can make, nor any evidence in support of the MWI, what is the point, really? We can’t leverage it or prove it, so it really does seem, as Baggott says, like just giving up and accepting a kind of magic. I truly cannot fathom the attraction. It seems almost a cult to me.

      What is matter is the key question! The best minds have been chewing at that for hundreds of years and so far, no one knows for sure. The current best answer? Invisibly tiny disturbances (wavelets) in various quantum fields. Or maybe tiny vibrating strings. Or… 🤷🏼‍♂️

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    “What is matter is the key question! The best minds have been chewing at that for hundreds of years and so far, no one knows for sure.”

    I believe that where we are on the scientific frontier is an analogue of the flat earth syndrome of the middle ages. If one is able to project themselves into Columbus’ situation, one can see that our current moon and space exploration is a tea party compared to what he went through. Space exploration doesn’t require real root expansions of thought. We have no reason to doubt that existing forms of thought are adequate to handle it and therefore, the whole endeavor is just a branch extension of what Columbus did over five hundred years ago.

    In contrast, a really new direction in exploration, one that would look to us today the same way the world looked to Columbus would be in a completely different direction. And that direction would be into realms beyond reason. I think present-day reason is an analogue of the flat earth syndrome of the medieval period; if one goes too far beyond the boundaries of acceptable reason it is presumed that one will fall off into insanity; and we are all very much afraid of that.

    In summary: the problem is not with the physical sciences, the fundamental problem is rooted in reason itself. It isn’t so much that reason itself is the problem; it is the self-induced fear of moving beyond the boundaries of acceptable norms. It’s a personal choice really, not a choice one can make by reading scientific or religious publications.

    Just a thought for the day folks……

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The day and, as I recall, a number of days in the past. I’ll ask the same question today as I did on those days: Okay, what do you suggest we replace reason with? Reason has a proven track record; how should we approach your “unreasonable” program?

      Perhaps this is too much reason, but I’d say the opposite is true of Columbus versus space travel. Perhaps you recall the grade school rhyme, “In fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two; Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” That was also about the year that the first surviving Earth globe was made (by German mapmaker Martin Behaim). In fact, the ancient Greeks knew the Earth was a sphere as early as the 3rd century B.C. (because they used reason). They even made a pretty good estimate of its size.

      So, Columbus was just doing what mariners had been doing for centuries — making an ocean voyage. He had no fear of a flat Earth. He intended goal was to reach India by going around the Earth. (You have perhaps fallen into the popular myth that his voyage was to prove the Earth round, but that was well known at that time. He was only seeking a better route.)

      In contrast, if you remember the early days of space exploration, there were serious concerns that humans could not survive in weightless conditions, and some of our first steps into space were tests of whether it was possible. We very successfully used reason to approach a true edge of our intellectual map, and the result is that we’ve sailed past Pluto to beyond the neighborhood of the Solar system.

      So, if it’s not too unreasonable, I’ll ask again: How exactly do you see reason failing, and what is the better course we should take?

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        The fundamental problem with reason is that it’s self-serving; so in that sense it’s a psychical problem not a problem with reasoning itself. Reasoning is a tool; the carpenter builds the house not the hammer.

        Leaving the psychology aside; a step in the right direction for metaphysics in general and the physical sciences is to clearly define and establish what constitutes a “proof”. For example: the experiment that Arthur Eddington conducted in 1915 during a solar eclipse “proved” that the sun will bend a beam of light; and that is all this experiment proved.

        In contrast, Eddington’s experiment “does not” prove that Einsteins theory of GR is correct; that conclusion is an inference. So, there’s much work that has to be done and the main thrust of that work has to focus on the psychology that utilizes and all too often weaponizes the tool of reasoning. Ukraine is the prevailing example of this type of nonsense…….

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I would say the fundamental problem, as always, is humans misusing their tools — a purely sociological and psychological issue. What’s going on in the Ukraine right now has to do with a self-isolated narcissistic egomaniac who may well be clinically insane. It has nothing to do with reason; quite the opposite, I’d say. Indeed, it is the carpenter, not the hammer.

        No scientist worth their salt would ever say that Eddington’s eclipse observation proved GR. Despite far more accurate tests since then, no scientist worth their salt would ever say GR is proven now. Experiment can only confirm the predictions a theory makes or — better yet — disprove it, because that is the only possible final result.

        This is well-known as “the white swans problem.” One can have a theory that “All Swans Are White” but no matter how many white swans we find, we can never be sure about the next one. (And, indeed, the Europeans discovered black swans when they finally got to Australia.) A White Swans theory can only be falsified, never proven (unless one is capable of examining every swan past, present, and future).

        There is no need to clearly define what constitutes “proof” — the problem, as I said, is well-known. About the only theories that can be proven are mathematical (which, even then, depend on accepting some basic axioms regarding numbers). In science and physics, theories are only either falsified or contingently accepted over time as lots and lots of tests fail to falsify them. GR is such a theory that has survived all tests that might have falsified it but didn’t. Even so, because it’s not unified with our other well-tested theory, quantum mechanics, we know it can’t possibly be a ground truth.

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    I think you summed up the limitations of empiricism very well, at least from the perspective of the physical sciences and a posteriori, whereas mathematics is a priori judgements; and for the most part it appears that the ability to make prudent judgements is as good as it gets.

    “It has nothing to do with reason; quite the opposite…”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I think what you mean by this assessment is “the ability to reason correctly” is diminished not reason itself. This distinction naturally leads us to the next question: what is reason?

    Fundamentally, I see reason as intrinsic power; one can call it capacity or ability but either way it reduces back to power or the ability to act. The ability to think for oneself is power and it is this thing we refer to as power that is abused by the carpenter.

    Secondarily, I see rationality which is an expression of reason and/or an expression of power as a discrete binary system; and since rationality is a discrete binary system, as a system it is limited to the patterns of form.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I don’t know that I would refer to the a priori nature of mathematics as “judgement” because I associate that term with a choice between competing arguments. The reason we have a judicial system is that laws — which are kind of black-and-white mathematical constructs — often fail to anticipate edge cases, the unexpected, or the need for compassion.

      Keep in mind also that mathematics leads to such things as Riemann surfaces and many other constructs with no known physical reality. (One issue with string theory, for instance, is that it seems a mathematical fantasy.) There is also what Cantor showed about uncountable sets and what Gödel showed about math’s incompleteness, which, to some extent, is why laws can never cover all cases.

      I think the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article on reason offers a good definition:

      Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic by drawing conclusions from new or existing information, with the aim of seeking the truth. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics, and art, and is normally considered to be a distinguishing ability possessed by humans. Reason is sometimes referred to as rationality.

      I think equating it with “power” is too reductive (and I don’t see it as the power to act; one can sit on the couch and reason — indeed, that is what philosophy is all about). It definitely is a power, one that seems characteristic of intelligent minds, but so too is our ability with language, music, love, altruism, and others.

      To the extent that rational thinking is associated with judgment, through things such as compassion, it evades the binary nature of logic (which is, indeed, strictly about the form of an argument, but reason concerns also with its content).

  • Lee Roetcisoender

    Like everything else in our culture, the quote from Wiki tell us what reason does but it does not tell us what reason “is”. All too often reason is conflated with rationality but they are two distinctly different things.

    Sorry to hear that you are so down on reduction. The power to act comes first in hierarchy, and for conscious beings like ourselves, this power to act is literally the very mentation process or thinking. It is motion in the truest sense resulting in form, form such as language, music, love, altruism, etc. Therefore, the “power to act” lies at the core of motion everywhere within the universe.

    So, I really don’t see how one can marginalize this thing called “power”. Kant ferociously defended his metaphysical position that power is a fundamental reality and literally the “thing-in-itself”.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I can’t tell if you’re trolling me for fun or just didn’t understand what I said. Hint: I am not down on reduction nor marginalizing power. Until and unless you can show that you understand me, there isn’t much point in this conversation.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        Oh, I do understand you Wyrd. To borrow a metaphor; your interests are in the beauty of surface appeal, what goes on in the branches and twigs of the tree whereas my interests are in the beauty of underlying form, what goes on in the root of the tree. The root defines the tree, not its trunk, branches, leaves, flowers or fruit.

        Because of our personal preferences and for the sake unity, the two of us really have no business engaging in philosophical discussions…..

      • Wyrd Smythe

        No, Lee, you clearly don’t. This very post, and so many others of mine, show otherwise. Your very entry into this conversation was about the question of what matter is — not that you’ve provided any kind of answer. Nor have you answered the question I’ve asked you repeatedly now and in the past: If not reason, then what replaces it?

        We get to this point every time, and what I find so sad about internet intellectual wannabes is the way they flee when truly challenged. Intellect talks; bullshit walks.

      • Lee Roetcisoender

        As I’ve stated before and will repeat; there is nothing wrong with reason of and by itself because reason is a tool. Unfortunately, the “power” of this wonderfully magnificent tool is used for self-serving purposes, and that “purpose” is what has to change.

        Human beings are the apex predator on this planet, and the power of reason has served the species as predator. But unless or until we are willing individually or collectively to address this self-serving attribute of our intrinsic predator mind-set nothing will change.

        We all like to sit in a seat of self-righteous indignation wagging our judgmental finger at the other guy. But make no mistake my friend; no human being on this planet is any better or worse than any other human being; there are no good guys or bad guys, there are no heroes or villains, there are no slime balls or upstanding citizens; there are only individuals of a predatory species doing what a predatory species does. The only thing that separates one individual from another is a matter of scope; and if you find that fact of the matter offensive, then you just don’t get it.

        I am no god damned messiah my friend, but I find our intrinsic nature to be very offensive.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        In my second reply to you I wrote, “I would say the fundamental problem, as always, is humans misusing their tools — a purely sociological and psychological issue.” This has nothing to do with reason (the hammer) but with the carpenter.

        Further, the failings of the human species are a keynote of this blog and many of its posts. I absolutely agree that we’re victims of our own success and intrinsic nature, but it seems to me that, if we’re to grow up as a species, it will be reason that helps us accomplish that.

        I believe that morality and high intelligence are correlated, and frankly, I see the intrinsic problem as our own stupidity. Our powers (by which I mean abilities) of reason are too frequently overwhelmed by our greed and tribal natures. As I also suggested, the problem isn’t reason so much as its lack and failure.

        (FWIW, having met both true slime balls as well as true upstanding citizens, I’d have to disagree that they don’t exist. There are, indeed, those who rise above and those who sink below. We’re a richly varied species.)

    • Lee Roetcisoender

      This is what I consider to be the quintessential challenge for reason:

      On an individual level, do you think that reason would be willing to forsake everything that reason believes to be true for that which is “unknown”? In other words; would reason be willing to place a life changing or perceived life threatening bet not knowing in advance or even having a clue what it would get in return?

      Note: I’m not referencing religious experience because all religions “supposedly” know in advance what the return on investment will actually be…

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, I think we make those (non-religious) “leaps of faith” all the time. Some are small, some are huge. My own marriage is a good example. Had I approached it with more logic and less heart, or had I been able to know the future, I wouldn’t have done it, and my life would have been much better for it. As a friend of mine once said, life is a crapshoot. You roll the dice and hope for the best. To one extent or another, we’re all Bayesians, and explorers, scientists, artists, and storytellers, crave the unknown.

        I would add that, while reason uses logic, it also uses judgement, compassion, hope, and faith.

        (One reason I don’t consider myself a musician is that I know too many real musicians, and I’ve seen them produce beautiful music from crude or even broken instruments. The true artist never blames the tool because art comes from the heart. Hammers can destroy or build depending on who is wielding them.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Finished Lee Smolin’s Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution (post coming Sunday Monday). Now I need to dive back into Penrose’s Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy. And after that, his The Road to Reality. I’m getting a strong dose of quantum realism here (and loving it).

  • Smolin: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution | Logos con carne

    […] Earlier this month I posted about Quantum Reality (2020), Jim Baggott’s recent book about quantum realism. Now I’ve finished another book with a very similar focus, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum (2019), by Lee Smolin. […]

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