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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Peter Jackson: on 4/6/17 at 17:57pm UTC, wrote Andrew, The biggest advances in scientific understanding are often found...

Andrew Scott: on 4/3/17 at 23:02pm UTC, wrote Indeed, not noticed first time. I am aware of the quantum biology research...

James Hoover: on 4/3/17 at 1:30am UTC, wrote Andrew, I repeated from up above. Perhaps not noticed there. I see you...

Andrew Scott: on 3/30/17 at 11:33am UTC, wrote Thanks for your thoughts Jesse

Jesse Liu: on 3/30/17 at 7:13am UTC, wrote Hello Andrew, Thank you for an interesting and fun read! The issues you...

Andrew Scott: on 3/29/17 at 22:54pm UTC, wrote Hello Peter, We probably could do better. We surely will do better in...

James Hoover: on 3/29/17 at 4:55am UTC, wrote Andrew, I see you have a broad range of science credits, with a lot in...

Peter Jackson: on 3/28/17 at 15:01pm UTC, wrote Andrew, Great little essay. Nicely put and I agree your analysis and...


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FQXi FORUM
October 17, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Mathematically Mysterious by Andrew R. Scott [refresh]
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Author Andrew R. Scott wrote on Feb. 3, 2017 @ 21:12 GMT
Essay Abstract

There are so many unjustified assumptions in the question it is barely worth considering - at least not without first addressing and questioning these assumptions. Honesty and humility in the face of our ultimate ignorance is more appropriate than the common pretence that we may be able to resolve such issues. We do not know what consciousness is, hence we are hardly in a position to consider what aspects of nature, whether mathematical or not, may give rise to it and the aims and intentions it may create. We are lost in a universe that we will never properly understand, and this brief entry makes a probably futile attempt to persuade readers with an inflated view of the power of science of this bleak and ultimate truth.

Author Bio

Andrew R. Scott is a long-established science writer, author of books translated into many languages and a large number of articles published by such outlets as Nature, New Scientist, Chemistry World, several national newspapers and many more. He has a PhD in chemistry from Cambridge University and a BSc in biochemistry from Edinburgh University. He also publishes fiction and memoir as Andrew MacLaren-Scott. Further details and samples of work are available on http://andrewrscott.blogspot.co.uk/ and http://andrewmaclarenscott.blogspot.co.uk/

Download Essay PDF File




Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 4, 2017 @ 04:42 GMT
Hi, Andrew R. Scott,

Good essay on the basis of the formation of question it self. Though it is not answering the EQXi question.

By the way what is consciousness...

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Feb. 4, 2017 @ 11:26 GMT
Thanks. I am glad you are enjoyed it. I suggest I am answering the question, for any response to a question is an answer, even if it is "I don't know". I rather suspect that none of the essays here will answer the question in the sense of providing a solution, although I have not read them all yet, so perhaps somewhere I will find one that reveals how mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention, but I doubt it. Andrew




Biswaranjan Dikshit wrote on Feb. 4, 2017 @ 18:45 GMT
Hi, you seem to loose hope that science will ever be successful in understanding life, consciousness, intentions etc. But, science is a quest of truth. If life and consciousness truly exist in nature, why can't we prove it? Of course, we will have to include these subjects in the scope of modern scientific research.

A preliminary step towards a mathematical approach on 'will' or consciousness can be found in my submitted essay titled "Theoretical proof of biased will of nature as the origin of quantum mechanical results".

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Feb. 4, 2017 @ 19:48 GMT
I agree we should include all these subjects in the scope of scientific research, but we should always be clear about the distinction between descriptions and correlations and ultimate explanations. And we should be open to the possible limitations of what we may be able to discern, rather than expecting that we should necessarily be able to understand everything. If we, as mere parts of the universe, were capable of understanding everything about it, that would be rather remarkable. But of course, we should try to get as far as we can, and we are doing quite well. I will take a look at your essay.



Joe Fisher replied on Feb. 7, 2017 @ 16:51 GMT
Dear Dr. Scott,

Please excuse me for I do not wish to be too critical of your fine essay.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

One real visible Universe must have only one reality. Simple natural reality has nothing to do with any abstract complex musings about imaginary invisible “inflated view of the power of science of this bleak and ultimate truth.”

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Don C Foster wrote on Feb. 4, 2017 @ 22:38 GMT
Hi there,

You might like Dan Bruiger's essay. I thought he dealt with the ambiguities of the question pretty thoroughly Not exactly well posed.

Regards, Don

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George Kirakosyan wrote on Feb. 5, 2017 @ 06:56 GMT
Dear Andrew

I can only applaud your true remarks, as we are obligated do not deceiving ourselves, before teaching something to others!

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Feb. 5, 2017 @ 10:19 GMT
Thanks George




Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Feb. 6, 2017 @ 02:14 GMT
While my essay takes a very different approach by making the default assumption of "mindless math = physical principles," yours poses the counter question of what is meant by the relationship of math to the world. We know it works well, but it is mysterious as Wigner pointed out in his "Unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics."

LC

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George Kirakosyan wrote on Feb. 6, 2017 @ 10:35 GMT
Dear Gupta! (copy)

Many thanks for your great opinion.

I am just happy to see that we are not alone in our views!

Maybe in any time people will be realized that the way of natural thinking is more preferable in science than any beautiful creativity! Now I am starting to study your work (with pleasure!) I will tell you about it after some time.

I suggest you to read M-r Andrew Scott’s article where I find very costly remarks!

With best wishes!

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John-Erik Persson wrote on Feb. 10, 2017 @ 17:54 GMT
Andrew

Thanks for this enjoyable article. I like the fact that you focus on the importance of knowing what we know and not know, and also the distinction between description and explanation.

John-Erik Persson

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 21:32 GMT
Thanks John-Erik




Harry Hamlin Ricker III wrote on Feb. 12, 2017 @ 00:01 GMT
Hi Andrew, I was not at all unsure what was meant by the essay topic that was selected. You did a pretty good job of analyzing the issues involved in answering the topic question. I however, am pretty sure that the question was posed within the context of the viewpoint that goes back to the Pythagorean idea that nature is mathematics. That idea has many faults, and I tried to address them from the viewpoint of the so called scientific method. I see you took a different approach. Many of the issues that you raise are complementary to the issues that I addressed. I concluded that the scientific tools, as currently used, are inadequate to address the problem posed. So it is an ill posed problem as it stands. I did try to suggest alternative ways of dealing with the question, which is a fundamental question. I don't think that it really falls into the purview of science, and can not be answered by science, as it is really a question in philosophy.

I suggested that it is a problem that doesn't fit into the box that science tried to fit it into. So we have to find a different approach, since the tools of science are not suited to the solution of the problem that they posed.

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 21:35 GMT
Harry, you say "...and can not be answered by science, as it is really a question in philosophy"

In which case I suggest it cannot be answered, for philosophy has never answered any question satisfactorily, just offered speculative commentary and favored opinions (in my humble opinion).




James Lee Hoover wrote on Feb. 13, 2017 @ 02:58 GMT
Andrew,

I can understand the frustration you feel in dealing with the topic and as a non-scientist by training and experience, my concept of mindless was non-scientific. In retirement I'm hooked on science.

However, my comments went like this: Such laws are not mindless as the non-scientific definition of requiring no mental effort, but mindless in the sense of being only a neutral mathematical description of an observed phenomenon. Thus, there is no mindfulness to such laws. They do not dictate an aim but can boost efforts to rationally explain observed phenomenon in the course of humankind’s endeavors.

I went to Aristotle for concept of goals and discovery and the scientific process in methodology for discovery and mindless laws.

Jim Hoover

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 21:38 GMT
Thanks for the comment Jim. Sounds like you will have an interesting retirement.



James Lee Hoover replied on Mar. 29, 2017 @ 04:55 GMT
Andrew,

I see you have a broad range of science credits, with a lot in bioscience. Are you in quantum biology as well, the quantum role in photosynthesis, neuroscience, and European robins mentions in Life on the Edge -- intriguing stuff.

Jim

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Jose P. Koshy wrote on Feb. 13, 2017 @ 12:22 GMT
Andrew R. Scott,

I read your essay. You have posed a question: What exactly are mathematical laws? In my opinion, the basic law (rule) of mathematics is the law of addition. 1+1 is always equal to 2. The rest of the mathematical laws follow from this. There are no separate mathematical laws for physics. In interactions, bodies have to follow mathematical laws.

I agree with you regarding quanta. Matter is grainy; and so space, time, and everything connected with matter are quantised. I propose that the 'fundamental unit' of matter always remain in 'motion', which is a mathematical relation connecting space and time. Because of motion, matter always remain changing, and the changes follow mathematical laws.

Jose P Koshy

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Alexey/Lev Burov wrote on Feb. 28, 2017 @ 01:09 GMT
Dear Andrew,

I very much enjoyed the vividly rebellious spirit of your essay, although I do not fully share your points. In particular, I do not see any reflection on the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” (Wigner), whose ‘unreasonableness’ points to the fact that it goes much farther than ability to count units. What I especially like in your text is your pointing to the mystery as the terminus of all explanations. I am very interested to see your comments to my essay.

Regards, Alexey Burov.

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 21:30 GMT
Much further than the ability to "count" units, certainly; but further than the ability to describe the complex interactions among varying numbers of differently interacting units? One is arithmetic, the other mathematics, surely.




Natesh Ganesh wrote on Feb. 28, 2017 @ 22:27 GMT
Andrew,

It was an enjoyable read and I liked the last point on 'mathematics describing and not explaining things'. I might have to ponder upon that. I am of the view that physical law is the only objective reality and math, (most probably) a product of human cognition provides a familiar language to discuss it. I saw in your comments that you don't expect to see an essay with a solution. I will overall disagree with your essay (while still enjoying it) and ask you take a look at my essay 'Intention is Physical' if you have the time. Perhaps you might find the explanation for how goals and intentions arise that you were looking for.

Cheers

Natesh

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David C Cosgrove wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 07:55 GMT
Andrew,

You say near the end, “We should enjoy the puzzles and the mysteries…”

So I wonder if you have any particular favourites amongst the physical mysteries that should be the target of investigation or attention (even if very difficult and hard to describe mathematically!)

For me, demonstrating the reality of objective wavefunction collapse is an important next step…

Regards,

David C.

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Author Andrew R. Scott wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 11:53 GMT
Dear David C,

The mystery of "wavefunction collapse", if and how it happens, is a wonderful mystery to address and enjoy; and once that we may well be able to learn much more about. Indeed if we really do possess "intention" that may be the place to look for how it works.

Andrew



Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 11:55 GMT
"one" not "once" - my wavefunctions often collapse to make spelling mistakes, and never ones that I intend.




Graham Walker Cookson wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 14:37 GMT
Hi Andrew,

I enjoyed your contrarian attitude, but you are correct about it not winning any points in this contest. This contest is not about winning prizes. It is about sharing ideas. I liked your ideas…grumpiness has its place. Many essays hide in the ‘trees’ and do not attempt to see the ‘forest’. I think an opportunity to express ideas is too tempting not to ‘shoehorn’ favorite theories into this broad a question. Good luck, Graham Cookson

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Anonymous replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 22:32 GMT
Thanks, and of course as expected and indeed inevitably, so far as I can see not a single essay has provided any satisfactory answers to the fundamental questions. It is all pretension and hubris, at best, and obvious nonsense at worst (and there is much of the worst).

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Don Limuti wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 03:26 GMT
Andrew,

I give high marks to your essay. Clear and easy to understand....and short (BTW... my essay is shorter than yours :))

I liked your comments:

"To proceed or not to proceed? That is the question. Will I decide, or will mathematics, or something else?"

"Repeat, repeat, repeat: Mathematical laws describe, they do not explain, even though their description of interrelationships can seem like explanations at some levels, only to melt away into mere descriptions when we dig deeper."

Thanks for your essay,

Don Limuti

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 21:25 GMT
Thanks Don,

I must say I rather enjoyed your little essay (oh... while remaining completely unsure about whether I really mean I "must" or if I had the choice to say so or not to say so).

Andrew




Willy K wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 05:13 GMT
Dear Scott

I am in perfect agreement with what you have written in your essay. Accordingly, I rate your essay highly. It is essentially pointless of us to expect mathematics to show aims and intention, which are after all very human descriptions of a very human experience of the world. In my humble opinion, perhaps the only possible exception to this would be to consider ‘intention’ as the property that gives rise to stability of emergent systems. I think, this is a different understanding of ‘intention’ than the one you critiqued. It simply looks for how stability could arise in emergent systems and calls that as its ‘intention’. Yes, that is anthropomorphizing the situation, but it is perhaps the only way to make sense of the theme. At least my essay takes it in that direction. It argues that intelligent systems can be separated by looking at their ‘nurturing’ capacity, which is basically their ability to give stability to their root element. Hope that makes sense!

Regards, Willy

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 23:32 GMT
Thanks Willy




Al Schneider wrote on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 06:20 GMT
First off, your article is the first that I could read through and understand. Second, you point out that mathematics is a descriptive language; not what the universe is made of. I think more people are beginning to see this. I believe doing that is critical for the advancement of physics. I am glad you have expressed your opinion.

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 13:18 GMT
Thanks Al, I have not really been able to understand any of the other essays either, and I don't think that problem is our fault.




Peter Jackson wrote on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 15:01 GMT
Andrew,

Great little essay. Nicely put and I agree your analysis and viewpoint too. You'd find my last years essay did some interesting analysis of that, not to mention red & green (lined) reversible socks.

I hope you might read mine carefully this year as it does derive a new answer, but showing that exploring dynamic 3D geometry not mathematics leads to improved understanding.

You say above about not understanding many essays; 'I don't think that problem is our fault". I agree entirely with regard to nearly half the essays, however, do you agree that not understanding the universe MAY be our fault? - In other words, that we could do far better with some better directed effort? (I also suggest how in the essay).

best

Peter

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 29, 2017 @ 22:54 GMT
Hello Peter,

We probably could do better. We surely will do better in future. But we have done not bad for little wet lumps of consciousness that arise by means unknown to us. We have much to be proud of and much to be humble about, and we are not so great at the second part of that balance. On a major technical issue of huge significance, however, surely all socks are "reversible", albeit some may look better when reversed than others?



Peter Jackson replied on Apr. 6, 2017 @ 17:57 GMT
Andrew,

The biggest advances in scientific understanding are often found hiding right before our eyes. That's what I identified with socks last year (scored top!).

All the nonsense of QM falls away when we realize that John Bells pal at CERN Dr Bertelmann could have been wearing red socks with green linings! (or vice versa) analogous to spinning spheres astonishingly having both north AND south poles!! This really is a seminal moment in physics! (in cosmic time a 'moment' lasts 10 years -see the video link on Shrodingers dog).

I see your score has been trolled. I'm about to seriously overcompensate for that so hang on. But please DO go read mine now, in time to score it or you'll kick yourself!

Very best

Peter

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Jesse Liu wrote on Mar. 30, 2017 @ 07:13 GMT
Hello Andrew,

Thank you for an interesting and fun read! The issues you raise are certainly not far from my first reaction to the question. It is loaded with unjustified priors and hidden assumptions on issues that may not even be well-defined let alone well-posed (such as what is a goal, what is life etc) that keep sprawling the more I looked at it with my coauthor. I mean surely mathematical laws like the principle of extremised action can be viewed as goal-oriented. Or are 'goals' merely simplifying abstractions of the scientist that bear little physical reality. These are only the tip of the iceberg of issues we found.

I actually wholeheartedly agree with your critique of the question and I was almost tempted to write an entire essay devoted to dissecting this can of worms. Even defining what intention and other things are constitute entire essays that I see submitted. We decided in our work to go with a more pragmatic approach and survey the current scientific literature, rather than musing in philosophy, to see what the natural sciences might have to say on the subject, with information cropping up somewhat prominently (of course it may be a red herring). The short answer is that it seems like some empirically motivated progress is being made, but I'm not surprised that little consensus has been reached. As a particle physicist, I was more struck by how my field could be so predictive and principled (the Standard Model keeps being vindicated by the LHC!), yet the structures that emerge from them (making up the same universe) do not seem to have the same empirical and predictive power.

Best,

Jesse

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Mar. 30, 2017 @ 11:33 GMT
Thanks for your thoughts Jesse




James Lee Hoover wrote on Apr. 3, 2017 @ 01:30 GMT
Andrew,

I repeated from up above. Perhaps not noticed there.

I see you have a broad range of science credits, with a lot in bioscience. Are you in quantum biology as well, the quantum role in photosynthesis, neuroscience, and European robins mentions in Life on the Edge -- intriguing stuff.

Jim

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Author Andrew R. Scott replied on Apr. 3, 2017 @ 23:02 GMT
Indeed, not noticed first time. I am aware of the quantum biology research you refer to James. Very interesting and maybe very relevant to consciousness but that remains to be figured out, perhaps. What we actually know about consciousness is essentially nothing; although I am aware of the effect that malt whisky and fine ale can have on it.




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