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Jayakar Joseph: on 10/8/12 at 18:55pm UTC, wrote Dear Conrad Dale Johnson, As discrete times that emerges from...

Jonathan Kerr: on 10/7/12 at 10:16am UTC, wrote This is just to send my good wishes Conrad, you were one of the four...

Yuri Danoyan: on 10/4/12 at 13:09pm UTC, wrote please rate my philosophical essay ...

Conrad Johnson: on 10/4/12 at 11:14am UTC, wrote Hi Georgina -- I'll take another look at your essay. I do think there's...

Georgina Woodward: on 10/4/12 at 1:06am UTC, wrote Dear Conrad Dale Johnson, I have not spent as much time as I would like...

Yuri Danoyan: on 10/1/12 at 14:39pm UTC, wrote Dear Conrad please impartially rate my essay ...

George Ellis: on 9/30/12 at 16:16pm UTC, wrote Great Essay, Conrad. Nice work. I've put some comments over on my thread,...

Hoang Hai: on 9/26/12 at 3:56am UTC, wrote Dear Conrad Dale Johnson Very interesting to see your essay. I think that...


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May 26, 2022

CATEGORY: Questioning the Foundations Essay Contest (2012) [back]
TOPIC: An Observable World by Conrad Dale Johnson [refresh]
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Author Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 15:15 GMT
Essay Abstract

Since the 17th century, our conceptual framework has divided the world between what's objectively real in itself and what's only subjective, in someone's mind. This dichotomy excludes something important – the structure of the physical environment that can actually be experienced, from the viewpoint of any local system. What's significant about this internal structure is that it provides the contexts of interaction in which information is physically defined and communicated between local systems. When we describe things objectively, from no particular viewpoint, we necessarily abstract from these particular physical contexts. So theoretical descriptions of objective reality necessarily overlook the environmental structure that makes information observable. Though objective theory works well in classical physics, I doubt that this contextual structure can be ignored at a fundamental level. I suggest that physics needs to describe not only the body of context-independent fact that constitutes objective reality, but also the interaction-structure that communicates these facts as its shared information-content. Further, I suggest this two-sided view of the world is just what both relativity and quantum mechanics actually give us.

Author Bio

I have a long-standing interest in the emergence of fundamental concepts in philosophy and physics, earning a PhD in 1979 in the History of Consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The thoughts discussed in this essay grew out of reflection on Heidegger’s concept of temporality in Being and Time, and its significance for physics.

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Yuri Danoyan wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 20:11 GMT

It is very complicated.

My picture more simple.

Appendix 1 Cosmological picture of one cycle

Big Bang; Present; Big Crunch

c=10^30; c=10^10; c=10^-10

G=10^22; G=10^-8; G=10^-28

h=10^-28; h=10^-28; h=10^-28

alfa =10^-3; 1/ 137; 1

e=0,1 ; e=e ; e=12

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Yuri Danoyan replied on Oct. 1, 2012 @ 14:39 GMT
Dear Conrad

please impartially rate my essay

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Amanda Gefter wrote on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 05:33 GMT
Hi Conrad,

I really enjoyed your essay. I agree that it's crucial to come to grips with what it means to observe the universe from the inside, and that problems arise when we try to describe the universe from an impossible God's eye view. (I've actually just written a book that makes many of the same points you made - down to the rainbow analogy!) Your idea that there is some kind of evolution of the universe taking place that reconciles the local frames of different observers is interesting - it reminds me of Wheeler's notion of the universe as a self-excited circuit. However, as I wrote about in my essay, black hole physics - and specifically horizon complementarity - has taught us that we run into trouble when we try to patch together our individual reference frames into a single "objective" world. When we do, we violate the unitarity of quantum mechanics and overcount information. The conclusion I've drawn is that we have to take as real only a single observer's light cone. It seems to me that "the" universe - a single universe containing multiple causal patches - is an impossible object.

Thanks for a great read,


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Author Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Sep. 7, 2012 @ 12:37 GMT
Hi Amanda -- thank you! I enjoyed your essay too... it highlights a very basic philosophical issue that shows up also in Carlo Rovelli's Relational QM -- how can we imagine a universe that only exists from the standpoint of one observer at a time?

This is a key issue not just for physics, since this is just the kind of world we all live in... that is, the only universe I'll ever see is my own. It's remarkable and convenient that we can get so far in understanding this world by assuming that each of us has a particular view of a single objective reality. But when we get to the fundamental level, I don't think it's surprising that this concept breaks down. When we imagine the world as an object, we effectively put ourselves outside of it -- and that clearly isn't how things work here.

The alternative isn't really solipsism, though. The world I live in isn't an object, but it's not just in my head either -- it has other people in it, with their own universes. And we're connected with each other by the possibility of communication. In fact, each of us only gets to have an articulate consciousness of the world around us because we grew up in this communications environment, learning to talk with each other and to ourselves. I think something similar happens in physics - a single shared reality is constantly being "made up" through real-time communications... and the different viewpoints of local systems somehow grow out of this.

I'll be very interested to find out more about your book.

Thanks again - Conrad

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Don Limuti wrote on Sep. 11, 2012 @ 03:08 GMT
Hi Conrad,

I really enjoyed the correspondence between you and Amanda. I believe Amanda's position of solipsism is at a higher intellectual level, and your position is a notch lower, but it is a much better game playing level. I believe being is the highest and best position, but I do not know anything.

All good games involve other people, communication and evolution and progress. And as you have pointed out incorporating communication and evolution into physics will cause it to progress.

I think of Feynman's sum over histories technique as a sort of evolution. What are your thoughts?

I chose a much less challenging essay than yours. I went after "An Elephant in the Room". Let me know what you think.

Thanks for bringing up the level of this contest.

Don L.

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Saibal Mitra wrote on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 18:18 GMT
Interesting essay! It fits in with how I think about quantum mechanics, like e.g. that the wavefunction only (effectively) collapses according to what we measure (and to what accuracy). In my essay, I argue that such superpositions (which are entagled states with the environment), actually define the observer in a way that is more satisfactory than having to identify the observer with some "sharp" classical state.

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Author Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 17:00 GMT
Saibal -- thanks for reading and responding to the essay. I agree that identifying observers with classical states is inadequate... but the question of defining observers is complex, and I'm not sure whether an algorithmic approach is appropriate (as you suggested in your essay) -- see my note below in the thread Ben Dribus started.

Thanks again -- Conrad

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Peter Jackson wrote on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 11:08 GMT

Brilliantly perceptive overview, showing physics is far poorer for having abandoned philosophy on alter of mathematics.

I would think that as I've used the approach you identify to probe the mechanisms and implications of local electron viewpoints, even with some theatre in my essay to help kinematic visualisation.

I'll just re-paste some of the important points you...

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Author Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 16:52 GMT
Peter -- thanks very much! I'll take a look at your essay soon. As to your initial comment, though I agree that physics badly needs a non-mathematical grounding, I'm afraid the failure lies much more with the philosophers than the physicists, over the past century.

Best wishes -- Conrad

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Member Benjamin F. Dribus wrote on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 23:38 GMT
Dear Conrad,

I just finished reading your essay. To the extent that you were able to be precise about relatively profound issues in such a short format, I think I agree with most of what you say. Let me itemize a few remarks.

1. Regarding the information/communication-theoretic point of view, I think it’s ironic that the very theories (relativity and quantum theory) whose...

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Author Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 16:48 GMT

Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. As to your historical comments 1 and 4, I certainly agree.

Regarding your point 2 above -- I have no doubt you're right that our current theories need to be modified. But that's beyond my level of competence; the best I can do is to recognize when some brave explorer like yourself has sound instincts about fundamental...

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Member Benjamin F. Dribus replied on Sep. 24, 2012 @ 18:26 GMT

I appreciate the further explanation. Let me itemize a few more remarks.

1. I am not satisfied with decoherence or the "Montevideo interpretation" either, but I think decoherence is better than the Copenhagen interpretation. Your initial quote from Rovelli is relevant here, though; at least part of the "problem" is surely our effort to fit the facts into a "sensible explanation" rather than taking them at face value.

2. You're correct about the refinement of a causal relation; a good general picture of this is adding new edges to a directed graph.

3. I agree that the metric may emerge at a staggeringly high level; I mentioned near the end of my essay that an single "elementary particle interaction" might easily involve Avogadro's number of fundamental relations. This does not bother me too much, since I believe we are very very far from the "bottom" in physics, if there is one.

Take care,


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Wilhelmus de Wilde de Wilde wrote on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 17:30 GMT

Congratulations with your essay that deals with the essantials of our "reality".

There are a lot of paralels with "THE CONSCIOUSNESS CONNECTION" , especially the differnce between subjective and objective reality. I wonder what you think about it.

Good luck with the contest.


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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Sep. 26, 2012 @ 03:56 GMT
Dear Conrad Dale Johnson

Very interesting to see your essay.

I think that :

We observe with the eye but found and recognize by the mind of knowledge.

Have you think so when to see my essay and my new theory ?

Kind Regards !


August 23, 2012 - 11:51 GMT on this essay contest.

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Member George F. R. Ellis wrote on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 16:16 GMT
Great Essay, Conrad. Nice work.

I've put some comments over on my thread, where I have replied to your posting there.


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Georgina Woodward wrote on Oct. 4, 2012 @ 01:06 GMT
Dear Conrad Dale Johnson,

I have not spent as much time as I would like with your essay but I have found a lot to like about it. It very clearly written and set out. There is a lot in it that I agree with. Reality and the role of the observer are things that I have also given a lot of thought. I am not sure you have said which physical assumption is wrong but you have set out some really important ideas to consider. I would like to return to it to read it more thoroughly,

In my explanatory framework, of reality in the context of physics, there is the source of potential sensory data, the potential sensory data in environment itself and the output of processing of that data.The potential data is that pool from which an observer can select giving his unique singular output reality. The de-coherence or wave function collapse can then be viewed as the transition from considering that which exists (or might exist in the case of a single particle) as many possibilities and is still unobserved to considering the output of processing of selected data received from the environment.

I have not written in detail about that framework in my essay as I was following the guidelines given by the organisers. However there is a diagram of it that was used to answer the essay question, and also a high resolution version in my essay thread. I think it may be something you will find interesting as I can see there is some convergence of our ideas. I would be very grateful indeed for any feedback on it or my essay.

Good luck in the contest, Georgina : )

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Author Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Oct. 4, 2012 @ 11:14 GMT
Hi Georgina -- I'll take another look at your essay. I do think there's some overlap between our approaches.

To clarify: the assumption I think is wrong is that whatever's not objectively real (describable from no point of view in particular) is therefore "subjective", mental rather than physical. But this assumption is rarely stated as such. Rather, it's built into the Cartesian/Kantian framework that still guides most of our thinking.

In physics, this translates into the assumption that physical theory can describe the world at a fundamental level without taking the viewpoint of "the observer" into account. Of course the observer does appear both in Relativity and QM, in different ways. But because of this tacit assumption, the observer's role remains problematic, a foreign element to be eliminated from our theory, if possible. We haven't yet worked out a framework that explains how the objective view and the observer's view relate to each other, and why a fundamental theory needs to describe the world in both ways.

My basic point is that the world is structured not only as a body of objective fact, but also as an interactive nexus that communicates those facts. That nexus is physical, not mental, and of course it's what connects objective reality with the subjective perception of an observer.

Thanks -- Conrad

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Yuri Danoyan replied on Oct. 4, 2012 @ 13:09 GMT
please rate my philosophical essay

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Jonathan Kerr wrote on Oct. 7, 2012 @ 10:16 GMT
This is just to send my good wishes Conrad, you were one of the four people, along with Edwin, Ben and Daryl, who made the discussions really worthwhile and enjoyable for me. And I think your essay is very good. I hope we'll be in touch in the future,

Best wishes, Jonathan

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Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on Oct. 8, 2012 @ 18:55 GMT
Dear Conrad Dale Johnson,

As discrete times that emerges from eigen-rotational quanta in Coherently-cyclic cluster-matter paradigm of universe differs, expression of unreality of time also differs in this paradigm, in that temporal ordering of events with A-series and B-series is not appropriate as block time is the discrete time in holarchy. Thus the hypersurface of the present, expressional with Minkowski space-time is not applicable in this paradigm.

With best wishes


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