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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fnd.
read/discusswinners

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American

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How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American
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It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American
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Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American
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Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American
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What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams
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The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Stefan Keppeler: on 4/6/17 at 8:56am UTC, wrote Dear Wilhelmus, thanks for the praise. And thanks for the comments. I'm...

Stefan Keppeler: on 4/5/17 at 6:09am UTC, wrote Dear Peter, thanks for your encouraging words. When I conclude that under...

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Jochen Szangolies: on 4/4/17 at 14:25pm UTC, wrote Dear Stefan, thank you for an interesting essay. However, a small remark...

Stefan Keppeler: on 3/29/17 at 20:50pm UTC, wrote Dear Robert, thank you for your positive review. And thanks for...


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FQXi FORUM
December 17, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Goals emerge in macroscopic descriptions of the world by Stefan Keppeler [refresh]
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Author Stefan Keppeler wrote on Feb. 27, 2017 @ 17:36 GMT
Essay Abstract

I argue that goals emerge when we pass from a microscopic to a macroscopic description of the world. I claim that this emergence is no mystical process in which the microscopic laws of nature suddenly cease to be valid when a certain number of atoms or molecules is gathered in one place. Instead I explain, that macroscopic theories are necessary in order to describe the world on a larger scale, and that these theories, even when they display qualitatively new features, are fully compatible with microscopic descriptions from which the very same features are absent. I explore under which conditions goal-oriented behavior of macroscopic entities can emerge from goal-free microscopic dynamics. I conclude that under these circumstances mindless mathematical laws can give rise to aims and intention.

Author Bio

Stefan Keppeler is a mathematical physicist who works on semiclassical analysis, quantum chaos, diagrammatic representation theory, and interior-boundary conditions. He teaches mathematics at the University of Tübingen.

Download Essay PDF File




Mark Pharoah wrote on Feb. 28, 2017 @ 22:07 GMT
I have one main criticism of your essay. I would level the same criticism at the behaviourist's program. You seem to be advocating that laws that explain or that underlie macroscopic behaviour can satisfy our quest for laws explaining goal-orientation. Not to belittle that important endeavour, what, I propose, we seek to know is a deeper question as to where goal-orientation comes from—in a world of objective physical interaction—rather than determine laws that align with its consequences, namely, the behaviours arising from goal-orientation.

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 1, 2017 @ 17:21 GMT
That's interesting. The contest's title is "Wandering towards a goal: How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?"

I interpret this as follows:

* Apparently there is goal-driven behavior.

* The laws, which we believe describe our world, are free from goals/aims/intentions.

* How can that be?

This is the question which I address. Do you say that the topic could, or even should, be interpreted in a different way?



Don Limuti replied on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 04:48 GMT
Hi Stefan,

Good point. And I wish FQXi.org would have used you formulation of the question.

Don Limuti

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Mark Pharoah replied on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 21:49 GMT
What I was trying to say is that a law that explains, say behaviour, is not the same as a law that explains the orientation to behave.

The former is a law explaining a objective observation. The latter is a law explaining something that underlies the observation itself... whatever that might be.

The criticisms of behaviourism kind of come to the same thing. The criticism is that however clever the observation and the laws explaining them, the underlying nature of their existence are not addressed...

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Author Stefan Keppeler wrote on Mar. 1, 2017 @ 22:40 GMT
Some essay-related discussions over at facebook.




Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 2, 2017 @ 17:12 GMT
Dear Professor Stefan Keppeler

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

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

view entire post


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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 05:26 GMT
Dear Keppeler,

Your observations are excellent…

1. In the abstract you said, “I explore under which conditions goal-oriented behavior of macroscopic entities can emerge from goal-free microscopic dynamics. I conclude that under these circumstances mindless mathematical laws can give rise to aims and intention,” very nicely.

2. Your starting sentences of the essay are...

view entire post


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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 09:12 GMT
Dear Satyavarapu,

> You can play the movie in reverse direction. (...)

> But in reality time will not move backwards. It

> never happened and nobody witnessed. Dynamic

> Universe Model does not support time moving

> backwards.

I agree, time doesn't move backwards. In order to understand this no novel theories are required. Statistical mechanics à la Boltzmann does the job.

Cheers, Stefan




Kigen William Ekeson wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 13:31 GMT
Dear Professor Keppeler,

Thank you for your well-written and interesting essay.

In general, I agree with your arguments and your conclusions. Of course, this opens the door for investigations into the relationship between the micro- and macro-level descriptions of the world. How and why do both levels of complexity exist? Have you addressed this?

Yours,

William

If you have time, i would appreciate any feedback you might have for my own essay.

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2790

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 21:49 GMT
Dear Kigen,

I'm not sure if you'll consider this an answer to your question but let me try. Macroscopic systems are composed of microscopic components. If we know the laws according to which the microscopic components evolve, then we can in principle (though typically not in practice) describe the behavior of the macroscopic system in terms of its microscopic components - but then me might as well not speak about the macroscopic system at all. A macroscopic description, without reference to every single microscopic component, is not only convenient but mandatory in order to understand the world at a macroscopic scale. This macroscopic description may turn out to be radically different from the description of the microscopic components. Yet, both descriptions can be shown to be compatible.

Cheers, Stefan




Don Limuti wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 04:54 GMT
Hi Stefan,

A coherent, logical and interesting paper.

A pleasure to read.

Don Limuti

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 11:30 GMT
Thank you, Don! :-)




Joseph Murphy Brisendine wrote on Mar. 7, 2017 @ 19:51 GMT
Hi Stefan! Well I finally got around to it, and I agree about as much as I expected to. Rather than offer criticisms of your argument, since I basically agree with it, I think I would suggest places where we might extend and add further detail to the argument. I think Mark mentioned this but it would be nice to be able to say a little more about under what conditions "aims and intentions" do emerge from microscopic dynamics and when they dont. The glass of water vs the human body example is an excellent starting point, and I like the concept of rigidity in describing the 'many degenerate macrostates' of something like the configuration space of the human body. That's a great point, but can we actually give a mathematical criteria for when the amount of macrostate degeneracy leads an "aims and intentions" desciption to be more efficient than a thermodynamic description? If it does somehow scale with the number of macrostates which for which we can't assign probabilities from inspection of the observables of microstates, what is the actual scaling relationship? I'm definitely not criticizig because I don't think I know the answer either, but it seems like it would be fun to think about.

Finally, great job describing Boltzmann's ideas. You hear people get Boltzmann wrong so often it's really refreshing to see it done well! :)

--Joe Brisendine

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 16:03 GMT
Dear Joe, these are excellent questions! The answers are not in my essay, simply because I don't know them. In order to find the answers one should probably first study toy models and then more realistic systems. Either would have been beyond the scope of my essay. Concerning Boltzmann - well, I summarized a good summary (Lebowitz) but I'm glad you liked it! Cheers, Stefan




Héctor Daniel Gianni wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 23:59 GMT
Dear Stefan Keppeler

I invite you and every physicist to read my work “TIME ORIGIN,DEFINITION AND EMPIRICAL MEANING FOR PHYSICISTS, Héctor Daniel Gianni ,I’m not a physicist.

How people interested in “Time” could feel about related things to the subject.

1) Intellectuals interested in Time issues usually have a nice and creative wander for the unknown.

2) They...

view entire post


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Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 12:16 GMT
Hi, Stefan,

thanks for the good read, I truly enjoyed your essay! And I agree, our ideas are very much aligned. Let me list a few thoughts that have crossed my mind while reading your essay. By all means, don’t take this as a critique, I just want to share with you what you generate:

1- The second law of thermodynamics seems to be both weaker and stronger than the more fundamental laws. Weaker, because (even if its fans will hate me for saying this) it is approximate. One cannot deduce it from microscopic dynamics, precisely because when reversing all velocities (and parity, or whatever else QM may need) the backward trajectory exists, so no mechanistic deduction is possible. Bolzmann derived irreversibility assuming particles had independent positions and velocities after each collision, which is ultimately not true. He thereby introduced irreversibility. If one discards this assumption, irreversibility does not arise. I do not want to be hard on the 2nd law, however. If we accept that it emerges (overwhelmingly!) from a probabilistic (as opposed to mechanistic) reasoning, it is extremely powerful. In fact, it is in a way stronger than the fundamental laws because, as you point out, it is independent of the nature of the underlying laws, it just emerges from large numbers. It would also arise in many other universes composed of many particles obeying different fundamental laws – probably not all such universes, but a good fraction of them.

2- I do think we have some mathematical models of goals, I should look them up to be sure. But I know that people working on insect behavior, for example, can reproduce their actions to a remarkable precision, they truly behave as tiny robots. I also believe that the whole topic of neural networks, where local plasticity rules give rise to global oriented behavior are good examples. One can argue that these are just simulations, but that brings me to the third thought.

3- I liked your search for conditions about rigidity and fluidity. I would be very curious to know how far these concepts can be pushed. One class of systems that clearly exhibits goal-directed behavior is artificial intelligence (including neural networks), with or without some hardware (robot) performing the actions. So even if I can picture your conditions of rigidity and fluidity in biological images, I am sure one can frame those conditions in a substrate-independent fashion, which you have started to do: I have the impression that your comments about the relation between a larger-scale structure, and the lower-level components are relevant in this regard. But I do not quite know whether there needs to be a sharp distinction between these two scales, or something more or less gradual would suffice. What is, ultimately, a sharp distinction? What exactly is a macro-structure? I need to think more about it …

So, again, thanks a lot for putting my brain into motion!

inés.

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 21:28 GMT
Dear Inés,

thanks for the careful reading and for the comments. You write By all means, don’t take this as a critique. Wouldn't it be rather boring if we all already agreed on every tiny little detail? ;-)

@2: I should have phrased that more carefully - this was mainly about my lack of knowledge. For instance, when reading Erik Hoel's essay and scanning the references I got the impression that there might be interesting models which I should learn about. I essentially agree with all you say here.

@1: You say Bolzmann derived irreversibility assuming particles had independent positions and velocities after each collision, which is ultimately not true. He thereby introduced irreversibility.

There is no such assumption in Boltzmann's derivation of irreversibilty, it doesn't even require the notion of collisions. I think I've retold the relevant parts almost completely in my essay. If you'd like more details I really recommend this article by Lebowitz.

Maybe you had some calculation from the kinetic theory of gases in mind?

There is only one way, in which you could claim that Boltzmann already introduced irreversibility through a backdoor, in order to then derive it: On a cosmic scale you have to assume that the universe started in a very special highly ordered state. However, Boltzmann was well aware of that. I recently had a nice discussion about this point with a friend back over at facebook.

@3: I agree. I only gave examples concerning the required rigidity and flexibility. I didn't define these concepts in a general and precise way. I'd love to, but so far I don't know how. And I'd also expect that one can frame those conditions in a substrate-independent fashion.

Thanks again for the stimulating comments!

Cheers, Stefan




Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 14:15 GMT
Hi Stefan – your essay is eminently clear and sensible… I entirely agree that macroscopic theories are needed to describe the emergent features of larger-scale entities, and that they’re fully compatible with microscopic descriptions from which these same features are absent. In fact, as I suggest in my essay, even classical physics is such a macroscopic theory, containing important features that are absent from the quantum description. Evidently the two are compatible, though the relationship is a bit more mysterious than in the Boltzmann case, which you present very well.

Is classical physics then in some sense goal-directed? Not as we usually think of it. But I argue that empirically, we know that the determinacy of macroscopic physics depends on the possibility of physical measurement (not necessarily by human observers). And I argue that physics is indeed structured just so as to keep on making more measurements possible.

If that makes sense, then the physical world might reasonably by described as having the “goal” of measuring and communicating itself, somewhat as living organisms have the goal of reproducing, and species the goal of evolving. This isn’t to ascribe any mysterious source of agency… rather, in each case there’s a “mindless” recursive process that operates because it keeps on generating the conditions for its own success, subject to natural selection when it fails. (This isn’t at all obvious in the case of physics, because we tend to take it for granted that things are measurable. But I argue that that the physics of our universe has to be quite complex and finely-tuned to make any kind of measurement possible.)

Sorry, this wanders from the theme of your essay. You quite rightly point out that the emergence of higher-level behavior is only possible if there’s a degree of flexibility in the higher-level structure… but not so much that relevant information can’t be maintained over time. Beyond that, I would say the important thing is to be able to keep on repeating the same information and making it relevant in new contexts – which we see happening in very different ways in both physics and biology.

Thanks for contributing – Conrad

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 15:34 GMT
Dear Dale, thanks for the kind remarks. I replied over at your essay's thread. Cheers, Stefan



Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 15:38 GMT
Ops, sorry! Conrad, of course.




James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 02:50 GMT
Stefan,

Clear and sensible connection between micro and macro worlds, a conclusion that "if the macroscopic entities under question are sufficiently flexible and sufficiently rigid,mindless mathematical laws can give rise to aims and intention"

In my essay I feature the mindless physical law of entropy operating at many levels in the universe with an interesting theory built on the second law of dynamics by Jeremy England. Without making your clear micro-macro connection I try to show that human decisions sometimes speculate theories putting together complex arrangements of life's elements.

Hope you can provide your ideas on my essay.

Regards,

Jim Hoover

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 20:51 GMT
Dear Jim, thanks for reading and pointing to the ideas of Jeremy England, which might eventually lead us to a better understanding of origin and characteristics of life and possibly other life-like phenomena. I also commented over at your page. Cheers, Stefan



James Lee Hoover replied on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 22:06 GMT
Stefan,

Did you read my essay and give it a rating? During this contest, there are more partisan strikes piggy-backing on comments or providing no comments.

Jim

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 22:16 GMT
All of it. Didn't you see the comment over at your page?




Miles Mutka wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 14:43 GMT
I liked the discussion of rigidity, it is an interesting observation. Buckminster Fuller would say that you need both tension and integrity. In my essay I hinted at interactions between solidity and liquidity.

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 16:42 GMT
Dear Miles, thanks for reading and commenting. I have to admit that my definitions of rigidity and flexibility are rather vague -- essentially, I just discuss examples. Therefore, I wouldn't want to make strong claims about how these notions relate to solidity or fluidity -- although this is a valid suggestion of yours! As Inés pointed out above, it should be possible to frame those conditions in a substrate-independent fashion. Cheers, Stefan




Huy Pham Van wrote on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 04:29 GMT
hi Stefan,

Good article, I am very interesting and thank you for this article. Very happy to read this article.

thiet ke web ben tre

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 16:43 GMT
Thank you :-)




George Kirakosyan wrote on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 07:59 GMT
Hi Dear Stefan,

I have opened your essay and start read it. My first impression is that your approach is surprisingly logic. After reading of you, everybody can think that is very simple to understand that all beautiful buildings are constructed from bricks. OK, it is, but there are many people, who do not like to start from such simplest truth, and they move to complications and making trouble for themselves! I am writing on this subject mainly in my essay, calling them to go on the comprehensible path ... I think we can find comprehension with each other on this. Hope you will look my work and we will continue talk in my page.

Best Regards

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 21:02 GMT
Dear George, thanks for the praise. As you suggest, I'll comment on the topics of your essay at your page. Cheers, Stefan




George Kirakosyan wrote on Mar. 21, 2017 @ 05:30 GMT
Many thanks Stefan for your kindly comment (in my page.)

Unfortunately I cannot promise to read recommended books, I am not so well with english to read such serious works. But I am very thankful to you that you pointed on de Broglie - Bohm theory that is one most respected for me work in theoretic physics. Let me just say one remark on this. If we are agree with rightness and significance of this theory then we must to reject the accepted present interpretation of QM. Then you can imagine where we can reach by this way. I think this understand not only you and me, but our advanced leaders also. However they cannot say and do this because they will forced to recognise that more than 100 years we was on the wrong path! Particularly, for this now you and me are forced rethinking again on what is the purpose of natural science, of math. Or, on what purpose God or math (meaningless!) had made all things and on other such "actual" questions to got the prizes! That is why we going by different ways! (Because now there is not seen any reasonable direction at all!)

Whatever, let to wish successes each to other!

Best Regards

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Mar. 23, 2017 @ 04:00 GMT
Dear Stefan,

You phrase the problem very well: goals characterize macroscopic systems [virus, bacteria, …humans] but are absent from microscopic [atoms, molecules]. You use Boltzman's explanation of irreversibility to link macrostates to ensembles of microstates with varying distributions, the basis of the Partition function. You ask "could the explanation for emergent goal-oriented dynamics in the world which is, microscopically, governed by 'mindless mathematical laws' be similar to Boltzman's explanation of irreversibility?"

Your discussion of microstates of an arm was quite interesting, leading to the desirability of including new descriptive terms like goals and intentions, and this is "not automatically at variance with goal-free microscopic laws." I thought your examples of rigidity and flexibility were insightful and appropriate.

You've produced a well reasoned essay in which you conclude that "mindless mathematical laws can give rise to aims and intentions." But I believe this is because of the way in which you framed the argument. I believe rather than such 'emerging' from mindless math, you have instead 'imposed' such on mindless math.

Thanks for an interesting read, and thanks for reading and commenting on my essay.

My best regards,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 07:18 GMT
Dear Edwin,

thank you for reading and commenting. I agree that my conclusion that "mindless mathematical laws can give rise to aims and intentions" heavily depends on how I interpreted FQXi's question. Many contributions fall into two categories corresponding to two different interpretations of the question "How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?"

Some essays interpret the "mindless mathematical laws" as elements of our theories about the world. Then the question gets the following meaning: (i) We use the notions of goals, aims or intention in some of our theories about the world. (ii) We do not use these notions in what we call our "fundamental" theories. (iii) How can that be? Can (i) even be consistent with (ii)? If yes, what happens somewhere on the way from (ii) to (i). My essay falls in this category.

Other essays interpret the "mindless mathematical laws" in an ontological way. Then the question presupposes that mathematics itself is the foundation of the world, not only as an element of a theory but as an element of the world itself. The task would then be to explain how the material world together with goals, aims or intentions arises from mathematics. Some essays embrace this idea and develop some kind of Platonism. Others reject it. Yours is of the latter kind.

Your conclusion "math is a formal byproduct, having nothing to do with giving rise to awareness, volition, or purpose" and my conclusion cited above sound mutually exclusive. But given that we answer different questions, I think that our conclusions do not even contradict each other.

Cheers, Stefan



Edwin Eugene Klingman replied on Mar. 26, 2017 @ 20:05 GMT
Dear Stefan,

"But given that we answer different questions, I think that our conclusions do not even contradict each other."

I agree,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Vladimir Nikolaevich Fedorov wrote on Mar. 25, 2017 @ 08:13 GMT
Dear Stefan,

With great interest I read your essay, which of course is worthy of the highest praise.

You are absolutely right that «macroscopic theories are necessary in order to describe the world on a larger scale, and that these theories, even when they display qualitatively new features, are fully compatible with microscopic descriptions from which the very same features are absent.»

I believe that it is provisions of yours that are the key to the answer about the self-organization of matter and to the question set by this contest.

In addition, I show that «The assertion of the existence of quantum phenomena only in the microcosm is not sufficiently substantiated the phenomenological generalizations.»

You might also like reading my essay .

I wish you success in the contest.

Kind regards,

Vladimir

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 25, 2017 @ 17:35 GMT
Dear Vladimir, thank you for the kind words. I'll have to read your essay carefully before I can reply to your comment. Cheers, Stefan




Natesh Ganesh wrote on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 14:28 GMT
Hi Stefan,

An extremely well written essay and I have rated it accordingly. I find ourselves in agreement on most points. I especially like the discussion on the right mix of rigidity and flexibility. I usually refer to what we are as the Goldilocks zone of rigidity and flexibility. Also I think if you called the rock as too rigid and a gas as being too flexible, it might allow you to talk about us as liquid, the right amount of rigidity and fluidity...not a criticism, just an analogy to think about. I view our goal oriented agency as phase transitions in input mapping on a physical system. I go a little further along the line of ideas in your essay and present some thermodynamic constraints under which the macrostate might exhibit such behavior. I would be very interested in your thoughts on my submission "Intention is Physical".

Also have your read Erik Hoel's submission? He too discusses macro over micro using the idea of causal emergence. I would be interested in your thoughts on that.

Cheers

Natesh

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 14:57 GMT
Dear Natesh,

thank you for this positive review! Amusingly, your essay has been lying on my desk the whole day, but haven't found the time to read it, yet. I'll reply after I've read it.

Concerning your remark about Erik Hoel's contribution, I liked it and we had a short exchange on his page.

Cheers, Stefan



Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 15:40 GMT
Dear Natesh, as you've hinted at details of your essay I'll reply on your page - makes probably more sense. Cheers, Stefan




Robert Groess wrote on Mar. 29, 2017 @ 04:22 GMT
Dear Stefan Keppeler,

Thank you very much for your interesting and thought provoking essay on the emergence of goals. I believe we agree on a lot of what you say, especially that goals ride on top of macro-scale descriptions of a physical system, which in turn emerge (or perhaps are realized) from the microphysical constituents. This interplay between top-down and bottom-up information exchange is fascinating, and I have gained new insights from reading your essay, which I have also in the meantime, rated. You mention Boltzmann and I wonder if you have read any of the work by Charlie Bennett (IBM TJ Watson Research Center, NY) on thermodynamics and computation?

In any event, I enjoyed your essay and wish you good luck in the contest.

Regards,

Robert

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 29, 2017 @ 20:50 GMT
Dear Robert,

thank you for your positive review. And thanks for emphasizing Bennett's work, which I know only superficially. I started to look at your essay, and now I have the feeling that there are a couple of things I have to read...

Cheers, Stefan




Jochen Szangolies wrote on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 14:25 GMT
Dear Stefan,

thank you for an interesting essay. However, a small remark on your discussion of the emergence of irreversibility: if we use the same reasoning you use to explain irreversibility in the direction of the future, we arrive---if we don't illicitly assume that the future ought to be different from the past---at the conclusion that the past ought to be likewise at high entropy.

Remember, the laws of physics are time-symmetric, so whatever argument you use to argue for a high entropy future will also result in a high entropy past; it's only by postulating a low entropy past that one gets an overall increase in entropy, a well-defined thermodynamic arrow of time, and a future-directed increase of irreversibility. Given time-reversible laws, predicting the future is the same as retrodicting the past; but to make the correct retrodiction, we have to condition on the fact that phase-space trajectories must start out in a low-entropy state.

But then, why should the past be low-entropy? In a way, this is just the original question again: why does future-directed irreversibility arise? Indeed, in the end, it's not so clear that this line of reasoning really makes any progress at all on the problem, or if the answer isn't smuggled in at the ground level.

I think there exists a similar danger in attributing intentional behavior to systems that can be modeled as intentional agents---namely, that of anthropomorphization. When a little child claims that her doll wants tea, that doesn't mean that her doll has any actual desires; this desire is an artifact of the model, not a property of the system modeled.

In the same way, basically every physical system can be described in intentional terms---like the rock you throw 'wanting to' minimize its potential energy, or generally systems wanting to evolve towards minima in the potential landscape. Clearly, that doesn't imbue the rock with any actual desires; but then, does our modeling the mosquito as wanting to suck our blood reflect a desire of the mosquito, or an artifact of the model? There certainly is a model that makes no mention of the mosquito's intention, and yet, suffices to predict its behavior, if we actually go down to the microphysical description.

Some pragmatic souls may claim that the success of intentional models over microphysical ones (which become unmanagable somewhat quickly) suffices to give them objective preference, thus arguing that yes, there is a sense in which there's some objective intentionality to the mosquito; I think that overlooks that the modeling is always done from an inescapably human perspective, which already includes intentionality. Mosquitos, ultimately, are elements of the particular way we coordinatize the world using concepts, not of the world as such; thus, we're arguing from a specific conceptual perspective---but this is itself not objective.

Anyway, I think a little more care is necessary in order to clearly avoid such pitfalls; otherwise (as you know) I think your main conclusion, that there is no intrinsic tension between goal-free microscopic and intentional macroscopic descriptions, is entirely on point.

Cheers,

Jochen

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 15:05 GMT
Dear Jochen,

thanks for your careful reading. You're absolutely right with both points you raise.

Concerning irreversibility, already Boltzmann was apparently well-aware of this argument. Lebowitz also discusses it in the article which I cite http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.881363 (in the section titled "Initial conditions"). When we observe a low entropy state we conclude from experience that it must have evolved from an even lower entropy. Then the question is, where low entropy states come from. In the context of, say, laboratories, we usually think of these state as having been prepared in this special way, e.g. by a low entropy experimentalist. When we now ask where this low entropy experimentalist came from and then iterate this question, we probably reach the conclusion that the universe must have started out in a very low entropy state. Some people (e.g. Penrose) have speculated what this state may have looked like and why it was the way it was. But that is way beyond the scope of my essay, I stayed well away from the cosmic scale.

Maybe my mosquito example is better than it was meant to be. :D Joe Brisendine in his essay has an example that may be even better to make your point: He discusses chemotaxis of E.coli and actually provides both descriptions for its behavior, macroscopic with goals and microscopic without goals. My point is really just that it makes sense to use descriptions in terms of goals. When you write "Mosquitos, ultimately, are elements of the particular way we coordinatize the world using concepts, not of the world as such", I think that's pretty much in line with me writing "If we want to understand the behavior of the macroscopic entity as a whole, then we have to use a macroscopic language, i.e. seek a description in terms of macroscopic variables." -- I agree, the perspective matters.

Cheers, Stefan




Peter Jackson wrote on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 15:35 GMT
Stefan,

Nice essay, interesting, and I agree with your fundamental view (which I employ to good use in my own essy) but, like much in science, I'm not convinced your interpretation and conclusions reflect the evidence. Just because small scale mechanisms CAN be modelled (or rather well approximated!) with abstract mathematics do you really suggest the macro effects such as Goals; 'emerge from mathematics'!? Might perhaps the precise opposite not be better argued! (though I do note you don't actually 'argue' it - so no downmarks for that).

I also agree on irreversibility. Well done. I do hope you may get to my essay and seek such possible flaws in the more controversial (to older doctrine) propositions there!

Best

Peter

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Apr. 5, 2017 @ 06:09 GMT
Dear Peter,

thanks for your encouraging words. When I conclude that under certain "circumstances mindless mathematical laws can give rise to aims and intention" I refer to the compatibility of 'mindless' microscopic and goal-oriented macroscopic descriptions of the world. I do not mean that "mathematics existed before nature itself" (a thesis which you also reject early in your essay). I hope, that I expressed that clearly in my essay. I'll have to look again at your essay.

Cheers, Stefan




Anonymous wrote on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 15:39 GMT
Hi Stefan,

I have read with great interest your well written essay.

There are some points that I would like to discuss with you:

You say that "Goals are absent from microscopic theories". You indicate "theories" Microscopic entities, at the sub-atomic scale , are becoming "particles" as we are perceiving them, before they were only probabilities. Being or becoming a probability might philosophically be a goal. When observed by a consciousness agent the probability has become a position in the past, so a part of a past reality.

You could say that the ultimate goal of a probability is to be part of a reality.

Of course this goes far but....

Might the Boltzmann irreversibility of macroscopic entities be the result of the fact that they have become ALL definite points of a specific past life/time-line? Mbe the probability has become that specific point is going on as a new probability for a new time-line ? This is just a thought...

Here the irreversibility is explained because we are always consciousnes of the past that cannot be changed, this past is part of a ready and done time-line. At each new NOW moment we are starting a new time-line... Again just a thought.

Indeed macroscopic entities are goal oriented, their most important goals are maintaining and procreation. Would a "piece of rock" have another rythm of existance as our poorly 80 years ? I just don't know. Is gravitation a force that could be the WILL of the so called mineral material ? I don't know... One thing I know is that "rigid" is no longer rigid...

Complexity of the so called rigid elements is no longer a security, because every rigid element can be traced down to just a "probability".

So I think that the seemingly goal-free microscopic reality may be not goal-free at all , each scale has its own form of goal. It is the next form of complexity that is achieved by each scale that might be the goal, and the more complex the more emerging goals can be found.

So Stefan, I thank you very much for the thought provoking essay you wrote that gave me more things to think about, that is why I pushed you up in the row. I hope that after reading these comments (not critics) you also will find some emerging time to read , comment and maybe give a rating to my essay and thoughts "The Purpose of Life". I await your esteemd comment.

best regards

Wilhelmus de Wilde

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Wilhelmus de Wilde replied on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 15:43 GMT
sorry forgot to log in, but not to rate

Wilhelmus

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Author Stefan Keppeler replied on Apr. 6, 2017 @ 08:56 GMT
Dear Wilhelmus,

thanks for the praise. And thanks for the comments. I'm not sure I'm able to reply appropriately, since, already at the beginning, I don't fully understand what you mean when you say that "Microscopic entities, at the sub-atomic scale , are becoming 'particles' as we are perceiving them, before they were only probabilities." I assume you're referring to quantum mechanics. Do you want to base your ontology on probabilities? Do you mean that at the most fundamental level there are only probabilities, as the fundamental building blocks of nature? I think that would be a rather unconventional ontology, somehow pushing the Copenhagen interpretation to the extreme -- "the Copenhagen interpretation on acid" ;-) as a friend of mine once put it. Actually I'm not sure that this would yield an ontology at all. Can you elaborate?

Cheers, Stefan




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