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FQXi FORUM
May 24, 2019

CATEGORY: It From Bit or Bit From It? Essay Contest (2013) [back]
TOPIC: Informational characterizations of quantum theory as clues to Wheelerian emergence by Howard Barnum [refresh]
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Author Howard N Barnum wrote on Jul. 5, 2013 @ 16:42 GMT
Essay Abstract

Concrete progress has been made on Wheeler's project of understanding the concomitant emergence of the material world and the world of information and experience, as a quantum process, by investigating information principles that can be used to characterize quantum theory from among other possible theories.

Author Bio

Howard Barnum got his Ph.D. in physics at University of New Mexico with Carlton Caves. He was a postdoc with Herb Bernstein at Hampshire, and Richard Jozsa at Bristol. He was Director's Postdoctoral Fellow and then Technical Staff Member at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has been visiting research at Perimeter Institute, Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Stellenbosch, and is Adjunct Professor of Physics and Astronomy at University of New Mexico.

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Manuel S Morales wrote on Jul. 6, 2013 @ 11:35 GMT
Howard,

As of 7-6-13, 2:35 am EST, the rating function for your essay is not available. Sorry I can't help you out right now by rating your essay. NOTE: I have logged in using a PC and a MAC and different browsers but it appears to be a site function issue.

Manuel

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Manuel S Morales replied on Jul. 7, 2013 @ 21:09 GMT
Howard,

I have sent an email requesting that FQXi extend to those of you who had their essay posted on July 5, 2013, be allowed additional days to compensate for the days of not being able to rate these essays.

My experience in conducting the online Tempt Destiny (TD) experiment from 2000 to 2012 gave me an understanding of the complexities involved in administrating an online competition which assures me that the competition will be back up and running soon. Ironically, the inability of not being able to rate the essays correlates with the TD experimental findings, as presented in my essay, which show how the acts of selection are fundamental to our physical existence.

Anyway, I hope that all entrants will be allocated the same opportunity to have their essay rated when they are posted, and if not possible due to technical difficulties, will have their opportunity adjusted accordingly. Best wishes to you with your entry.

Manuel

PS I will be reviewing and rating your entry after this function has been turned back on.

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Member Matthew Saul Leifer wrote on Jul. 6, 2013 @ 12:18 GMT
Hi Howard,

I can confirm that the rating function is not available on your essay for me either.

Your essay has given me a much clearer understanding of your view on the path to progress beyond the basic operational theories formalism. One comment that intrigued me was:

``Still, I would argue that in many situations quantum theory does give us "the

facts" about how agents with particular information should "bet"''

Since I believe that future progress in physics is going to rely on adopting a consistent and coherent interpretation of probability across the board, I was wondering what you meant by this? Do you have a particular theory of objective chance in mind? Since you described laws in terms of counterfactuals, I am guessing that you don't subscribe to a Humean theory of chance a la Lewis, i.e. you think that chance depends on more than just the contingent facts that occur in our universe, but if not that then what?

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Author Howard N Barnum replied on Jul. 6, 2013 @ 20:56 GMT
Hi Matthew---

Thanks for reading the essay. I am afraid I did it in a bit of a rush so it is not as well-organized, and in some cases, not as well-though out, as would be ideal. So I'm glad you got a clearer understanding of some of my views from it!

Regarding probabilities, I dither over whether or not to call myself "objective Bayesian" about some of the probabilities arising in quantum theory. My view is that some such probabilities, while still being in essence personalist Bayesian in that they are in essence advice on how to make decisions, are the "objectively correct" probabilities. By which I mean, they tell you the right way to bet in certain situations. I'm not sure they have to "depend on" anything beyond contingent facts ... but on some reading they might "constitute" a law that is itself not a contingent fact, but a fact nonetheless, e.g. "the fact that if you set up half-silvered mirror and aim a photon at it from 45 degrees, you should bet as if the probability is 0.5 that it gets through...." I haven't read Lewis, as far as I can recall (it's possible I did as an undergraduate), and perhaps I should. So I may not have worked out how to deal with various issues that people who think about "objective chance" have raised.

Howard

Section 2.2 of another impressionistic essay by me has more ont

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Author Howard N Barnum replied on Jul. 6, 2013 @ 20:59 GMT
Sorry, I meant to finish that post:

Section 2.2 of another impressionistic essay by me has more on "objective Bayesian" probabiities.

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Member Matthew Saul Leifer replied on Jul. 7, 2013 @ 18:27 GMT
Perhaps it would be useful if you could compare the objective nature of quantum states with that of a thermal state in classical statistical mechanics. Do you believe that these are objective in the same sense?

If you would assent to this, then I believe we are essentially in agreement although I would tend to avoid using objectivist language. I have never really understood the...

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Jul. 7, 2013 @ 05:30 GMT
Dear Howard

An analysis have many points be based on fact , so attractive to watch.

I am will be rate when the rating system continues to operate.

And to change the atmosphere "abstract" of the competition along with demonstrate for the real preeminent possibility of the Absolute theory as well as to clarify the issues I mentioned in the essay and to avoid duplicate questions...

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Michel Planat wrote on Jul. 9, 2013 @ 13:19 GMT
Dear Howard,

I have liked your very clearly written panorama of Wheeler's legacy. As a distinguished member of the quantum information community, you may have some interest at reading my current interpretation of contextuality, using algebraic/geometrical tools introduced by Grothendieck.

Good luck for the contest,

Michel

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Antony Ryan wrote on Jul. 9, 2013 @ 15:26 GMT
Dear Dr Barnum,

I enjoyed your essay and particularly liked your assertion that the It from Bit question may be insufficient to fully capture experience and existence. Also I think you examined the whole subject thoroughly and ask further questions of importance. Perhaps my Fibonacci sequence - entropy - black hole - arrow of time - dimensionality essay (diverse I know), may suggest a possible area for further examination with regard to your work?

Great work - best wishes,

Antony

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jul. 9, 2013 @ 22:12 GMT
Dear Howard,

It's surprising to me, given physics' well-known aversion to serious discussion of consciousness, how many current essayists recognize the necessity of including consciousness in any serious discussion of the nature of information. You begin by noting the two uses of information: that involving 'meaning', requiring consciousness, and that involving signaling with the potential...

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Author Howard N Barnum replied on Jul. 19, 2013 @ 00:26 GMT
Thanks for your careful reading of my essay and your comments. Interesting point about Wheeler and functionalism... I tend toward this view of Wheeler also, but in some of his writings he seems drawn toward functionalism of a computational sort... it may be that he was entertaining the idea that the emergence of It and Bit together make consciousness, functionally explained, possible. On the other hand there are the stories of him in a lecture theater throwing some papers on which some equations were written, and shouting something along the lines of "Fly, fly! You see, they don't fly!". Not sure if these were equations for fluid dynamics in air and initial conditions of an airfoil... anyway, that suggests an (theatrically exaggerated, of course) that things mathematically described aren't enough to fully capture reality...

I don't agree that a computer that is calculating that 2+2=4 is thinking, though. It is we who interpret the patterns of ink on its roll of teletype paper or magnetization in its memory or electrons in its transistors as representing a proposition such as "2 + 2 = 4". I think it's fairly likely that to be able to think "2 + 2 = 4" an entity needs the potential for awareness, though given this there might be circumstances under which one might want to say that someone was thinking it but not aware of thinking it...

Thought-provoking comments, thanks.

I'll check out your essay.

Cheers,

Howard

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Ralph Waldo Walker III wrote on Jul. 10, 2013 @ 16:07 GMT
Hi Howard,

I enjoyed reading your essay. and believe that you have correctly pointed out several issues that are crucial to a more complete understanding of the universe. I think that Mr. Wheeler’s vision was, in fact, “the seed of a more developed and confirmed theory that in some ways might look radically different,” and that it’s possible his vision wasn’t “radical enough.”

I believe that one of the key points you’ve made is that, “embodiment, and interaction with an environment, are probably crucial for things to have a mental aspect . . .” It would seem that one of the qualities that distinguishes a living thing from an inanimate object is the observation that living things are capable of creating decisions unique to themselves, as a system; i.e., decisions that are internally generated and are separate and distinct from their environment. This would square with your observation that the rules of standard quantum theory are probabilistic and best understood as “advice to a decision maker.” I’m of the opinion that, although biology lacks a simple, clear-cut definition of “life” or “living thing,” that what most clearly distinguishes a living thing from an inanimate object is that a living thing possesses an ‘internal decision-maker’ of some sort, whose purpose is to keep the living thing alive by creating decisions in response to stimuli from its environment. Your assertion that, “. . . in many situations quantum theory does give us the ‘facts’ about how agents with particular information should ‘bet,’” makes a great deal of sense, particularly in light of the possibility that living things create their own decisions in an effort to survive their environment. I’m curious about your thoughts.

At any rate, I enjoyed your essay and think you pointed out several areas that are in fact, crucial to a better understanding of our universe.

Sincerely,

Ralph

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 23:26 GMT
Dear Howard,

Thank you for presenting your nice essay. I saw the abstract and will post my comments soon. So you can produce matter from your thinking or from information description of that matter. . . . ?

I am requesting you to go through my essay also. And I take this opportunity to say, to come to reality and base your arguments on experimental results.

I failed mainly...

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Héctor Daniel Gianni wrote on Jul. 13, 2013 @ 19:46 GMT
Dear professor Howard Barnum:

I am an old physician that does not know nothing of mathematics and almost nothing of physics. Why I am writing you?, because I think I can help in some ways in “space-time” with the experimental meaning of “time” I send you a summary so you can decide in reading or not my essay “The deep nature of...

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Sreenath B N wrote on Jul. 14, 2013 @ 07:55 GMT
Dear Dr. Howard,

I have down loaded your essay and soon post my comments on it. Meanwhile, please, go through my essay and post your comments.

Regards and good luck in the contest,

Sreenath BN.

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1827

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Armin Nikkhah Shirazi wrote on Jul. 14, 2013 @ 09:47 GMT
Dear Howard,

It is good to see your work in this contest. I was struck by how strongly it was philosophically oriented, (to me, it had even a stream-of-consciousness feel) but of course, when one finds oneself in a realm in which objective yes or no questions can rarely be answered definitely (except of course, when they are elicited from a measurement apparatus), then perhaps this is not so surprising.

I must admit that the distinction between meaning and and the potential for meaning in reference to information makes me slightly uncomfortable because to me it has a subtle anthropocentric overtones.

My impression is that when you discuss your views on probability, you are searching for a way to distill out "the best of both worlds", i.e. the subjectivist and the the objectivist accounts in one coherent and tightly integrated package. I wonder whether and to what extent this is possible.

Your statement "The very idea of a physical law usually involves counterfactuality" reminded me of an amusing discussion I had with a theoretical physicist while I was in Vaxjo this year. He claimed that counterfactual statements do not exist, that one could not even utter a counterfactual statement (I presume he meant that if one actually states a counterfactual sentence, then in some sense which is not at all clear to me it is no longer counterfactual, but at that moment I was just too dumbfounded to respond).

I understand your perspective somewhat better now and wish you all the best,

Armin

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Author Howard N Barnum replied on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 21:59 GMT
Armin, thanks for your careful reading and comments on my essay.

I do have a couple of things that might be worth saying in reply...

You wrote that "I must admit that the distinction between meaning and and the potential for meaning in reference to information makes me slightly uncomfortable because to me it has a subtle anthropocentric overtones."

I see what you mean here, but I'd argue it isn't anthropocentric (i.e. human-centric), but rather centered on the potential for beings/systems that are able to find meaning in the world, and perhaps convey it to others, or record it to remind themselves of it at a later time. Still it is interesting to consider whether or not there is a reasonable notion of what Murray Gell-Mann calls an IGUS (Information Gathering and Using System) that does not involve meaning...

I am coming down on the side of "no" as the answer, at least in this essay.

About "the best of both worlds" regarding subjectivist and objectivist interpretations of probability, I guess that may be so. I sort of don't like the term "subjectivist" for the decision-theoretic view of probability, but since the decision-maker is a "subject" it makes some sense. I'd prefer "decision-theoretic", though. My basic point is that I think that probability, inasmuch as it is used to state the "laws" of a theory, or facts about the world, is best interpreted decision-theoretically, as a partial guide to how to act, but that it is perfectly reasonable to maintain that there is a "best"... "objectively best", if you like.... way to act in certain situations. And that is how I see quantum probabilities in many situations.

Thanks again, and

Cheers,

Howard

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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 11:07 GMT
Dear Howard,

I just managed to browse your essay but will be re-reading in more detail later because it is not off point, falling within the scope of this contest. Meanwhile, being a professional physicist, see below:

As the contest in Wheeler's honor draws to a close, leaving for the moment considerations of rating and prize money, and knowing we cannot all agree on whether 'it' comes from 'bit' or otherwise or even what 'it' and 'bit' mean, and as we may not be able to read all essays, though we should try, I pose the following 4 simple questions and will rate you accordingly before July 31 when I will be revisiting your blog.

"If you wake up one morning and dip your hand in your pocket and 'detect' a million dollars, then on your way back from work, you dip your hand again and find that there is nothing there…

1) Have you 'elicited' an information in the latter case?

2) If you did not 'participate' by putting your 'detector' hand in your pocket, can you 'elicit' information?

3) If the information is provided by the presence of the crisp notes ('its') you found in your pocket, can the absence of the notes, being an 'immaterial source' convey information?

Finally, leaving for the moment what the terms mean and whether or not they can be discretely expressed in the way spin information is discretely expressed, e.g. by electrons

4) Can the existence/non-existence of an 'it' be a binary choice, representable by 0 and 1?"

Answers can be in binary form for brevity, i.e. YES = 1, NO = 0, e.g. 0-1-0-1.

Best regards,

Akinbo

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Author Howard N Barnum replied on Jul. 19, 2013 @ 00:10 GMT
Offhand I'd answer 1 -- yes, 3 --- yes , 4 --- yes .

It wasn't quite clear to mean what question 2 means, so I wasn't able to answer.

Perhaps you could rephrase it.

Hope this helps you understand how I interpret the word "information."

However, please don't rate my entry based solely on these answers--- the ratings are meant to be based primarily on a reading of the essay. The blog discussion could reasonably come into play by helping to clarify the meaning of the essay, but I believe that's essentially the only bearing it should have on the rating.

Best wishes,

Howard

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Akinbo Ojo replied on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 11:33 GMT
Thanks Howard,

Apologies for asking those 4 questions. I didn't mean to say if your essay is good I will rate it bad because of your answers to my questions. As you pointed out in your essay, it is all about how much we can get from the Wheelerian vision. I have read your essay and it is highly rated at 7. It is professionally written but surprisingly readable to a non-physicist.

As regards question 2, Wheeler used the word 'participate' in one of his quotes that's what made me frame it that way.

Now, regarding your Yes answer to 4, would you not consider that binary choice as the one that would lie at the "very, very deep bottom" as Wheeler says or the one "occupying the ontological basement" as Paul Davies seems to concur? That is, can any other 'bit' actually come before this 'bit' as we build our physics from foundation up?

I crave a little bit of your time to criticize my essay.

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jul. 20, 2013 @ 15:46 GMT
Hi Howard,

I feel that there are similarities between what you are saying in sections 1 to 3 of your essay and what I attempt to say in my essay.

In particular I was interested in Wheeler's "it from bit" slogan being envisioned as a ""meaning circuit" in which it and bit both arose as each others' necessary partners." and of the "interdependence" of it and bit. I related this to the interdependence that I also see between (what I call) information (subjective experience) and represented information, but which I didn't really detail much in my essay.

I was also struck by your quote "In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God, and the word was God." I am not a bible-believer or a church-goer, but this made me think that maybe the ancients were onto something in this particular case, because this quote (properly understood) does seem to indicate something true about the origins of information in reality.

I'm also on the same page as you when you say that objects have an ""informational/mindlike" aspect", and "I...find more in the view that the material constituents must have some mental aspect in order for mental phenomena to arise from their combination."

However, I'm not very impressed by Daniel Dennett: I maintain that he has hijacked the term "free will" to re-badge, and lend a frisson of interest to, his dismal and unexciting determinism. Also, where is the mechanism or explanation for "emergent concepts" in a deterministic environment?

I was pleased to encounter in your essay some new perspectives on issues that also interest me.

Cheers,

Lorraine

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Stephen James Anastasi wrote on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 12:30 GMT
Hello Howard

I liked it and felt it was on topic. It was so very far from the abstractions of the world of my essay on the Armchair Universe, that I worry when I ask you to seriously consider the content of my own essay, which derives a foundation for spacetime and proposes answers to fundamental questions, from an endpoint rationalist analysis and synthesis. It's just that my work so completely ignores the models we have built using empiricism, instead substituting a single indefeasible principle.

As you say, 'Kant famously tried although not entirely successfully to derive a priori some properties of reality, at least as it appears to us, and including

aspects of the physics of his day, as conditions of the very possibility of experience.' Perhaps my essay will show another way forward.

Looking forward to you thoughts.

Stephen Anastasi

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Member Ken Wharton wrote on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 17:16 GMT
Hi Howard,

Interesting stuff! I mentioned over on my page that I'm pleased to see you grappling with how operationalists should interface with spacetime -- and it's always great to witness smart people honestly tackling the unknown. I remember that in your talks (that I've seen) you also had that refreshing quality of being willing to admit you still didn't know the best way forward on...

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Than Tin wrote on Jul. 25, 2013 @ 02:25 GMT
Dr. Barnum

Richard Feynman in his Nobel Acceptance Speech (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/19
65/feynman-lecture.html)

said: “It always seems odd to me that the fundamental laws of physics, when discovered, can appear in so many different forms that are not apparently identical at first, but with a little mathematical fiddling you can show the...

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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Jul. 25, 2013 @ 13:45 GMT
Dear Howard,

I have troubled you with my questions before but just indulge me one more time. No better opportunity to trouble the experts than on this forum!

Is it being implied by the relational view of space and as suggested by Mach's principle that what decides whether a centrifugal force would act between two bodies in *constant relation*, would not be the bodies themselves, since they are at fixed distance to each other, nor the space in which they are located since it is a nothing, but by a distant sub-atomic particle light-years away in one of the fixed stars in whose reference frame the *constantly related* bodies are in circular motion?

You can reply me here or on my blog. And please pardon my naive view of physics.

Accept my best regards,

Akinbo

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john stephan selye wrote on Aug. 1, 2013 @ 22:16 GMT
Having read so many insightful essays, I am probably not the only one to find that my views have crystallized, and that I can now move forward with growing confidence. I cannot exactly say who in the course of the competition was most inspiring - probably it was the continuous back and forth between so many of us. In this case, we should all be grateful to each other.

If I may, I'd like to...

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Than Tin wrote on Aug. 3, 2013 @ 18:58 GMT
Dear All

Let me go one more round with Richard Feynman.

In the Character of Physical Law, he talked about the two-slit experiment like this “I will summarize, then, by saying that electrons arrive in lumps, like particles, but the probability of arrival of these lumps is determined as the intensity of waves would be. It is this sense that the electron behaves sometimes like a particle and sometimes like a wave. It behaves in two different ways at the same time.

Further on, he advises the readers “Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it. ‘But how can it be like that?’ because you will get ‘down the drain’, into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.”

Did he says anything about Wheeler’s “It from Bit” other than what he said above?

Than Tin

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Peter Jackson wrote on Aug. 3, 2013 @ 22:06 GMT
Dear Professor Barnum,

A most assured, authoritative, well balanced and refreshingly frank review.

I was surprised you didn't refer to the QM assumption of 'no structure' to a singlet pair, contrary to the evidence of structure in particle physics and the Laplacian picture. Do you not see that as an inconsistency?

I agree Bohr's position was; "our doings may be the workings out of mechanical processes set in motion with particular initial conditions, we cannot understand them under such a description." But will that necessarily remain the case?

Doe Bohr's view not allow that if we discover more we may then also "say" more?

I have a problem I hope you may help me with. In falsifying particle/interaction models One emerges acting like a 'magic bullet'. It is the orbital angular momenta describing torus, so in axial translation, a helix. It's ubiquitous in optics and plasma physics.

I describe in my essay how this may prove von Neuman correct, consistent with recursive subsets, in producing a more consistent QM at each detector interaction (not reliant on absolute causality) as well as at correlations. An EPR resolution is then obtained geometrically, with a non-local variable model.

I expected falsification here but have had none. You may be my last hope! But I have had some very positive blog comments on the ontology I construct. The foundations of the model allow unification and were constructed in my last two essays, both top 10 finishers.

Thank you for your own excellent rationalisation of the issues and confusion, certainly earning a top score and higher placing.

Best wishes

Peter Jackson

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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Aug. 5, 2013 @ 16:01 GMT
Dear Howard,

Excellent! I appreciate that you come straight to grips with the operationalism of quantum mechanics. And this:

"There are by now various derivations of finite-dimensional quantum theory over the complex field from fairly natural principles concerning information. (The finite dimensionality is technically convenient but probably not conceptually essential to most of these.)"

My essay holds that finite dimensionality is more than technically convenient, if QM is ever to emerge from operationalism and become mathematically complete. This avoids another "technically convenient" though nonphysical obstacle to completeness.

You mention Lucien Hardy, I have long thought of a statement attributed to him: "I anticipate that quantum gravity will be a theory having indefinite causal structure whereas quantum theory has definite causal structure."

I agree. What I found, though, is that the existence of two indefinite states implies three definite states. Thus, I think two states of relative rest lends value to a middle state that gives physical meaning to quantum unitarity without invoking the mathematical machinery of normalization.

High score from me. I hope you get a chance to visit my essay site, as well.

Tom

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Charles Raldo Card wrote on Aug. 6, 2013 @ 03:46 GMT
Late-in-the-Day Thoughts about the Essays I’ve Read

I am sending to you the following thoughts because I found your essay particularly well stated, insightful, and helpful, even though in certain respects we may significantly diverge in our viewpoints. Thank you! Lumping and sorting is a dangerous adventure; let me apologize in advance if I have significantly misread or misrepresented...

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