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January 23, 2018

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Origin Gaps and the Eternal Sunshine of the Second-Order Pendulum by Simon DeDeo [refresh]
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Author Simon DeDeo wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 15:56 GMT
Essay Abstract

The rich experiences of an intentional, goal-oriented life emerge, in an unpredictable fashion, from the basic laws of physics. Here I argue that this unpredictability is no mirage: there are true gaps between life and non-life, mind and mindlessness, and even between functional societies and groups of Hobbesian individuals. These gaps, I suggest, emerge from the mathematics of self-reference, and the logical barriers to prediction that self-referring systems present. Still, a mathematical truth does not imply a physical one: the universe need not have made self-reference possible. It did, and the question then is how. In the second half of this essay, I show how a basic move in physics, known as renormalization, transforms the ``forgetful'' second-order equations of fundamental physics into a rich, self-referential world that makes possible the major transitions we care so much about. While the universe runs in assembly code, the coarse-grained version runs in LISP, and it is from that the world of aim and intention grows.

Author Bio

Simon DeDeo is external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute, and assistant professor in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, where he runs the Laboratory for Social Minds.

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 23:34 GMT
Dear Mr. DeDeo,

"the coarse-grained version runs in LISP"

Which can be modeled by non-wellfounded sets, for example, self = (thinking, self).



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Joseph Murphy Brisendine wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 21:57 GMT
This is my new favorite entry!


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Alexey/Lev Burov wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 03:17 GMT
Dear Simon,

One of my favorite citations from your essay is this:

"Yet no matter how well we do once meaning-making beings are taken as a given, we stumble when we are asked to predict their very being at all. It is this gap, the inability to leap from one side to the other, that begs explanation, and I refer to it as the Origin Gap because it is familiar to those working in the “origin” fields: the origin of society, the origin of consciousness and meaning, the origin of life. It is the gap that gives those fields a very different flavor from their parallels in the sciences of their mature subjects. Origin of society looks very different from social science and anthropology; origin of consciousness looks very different from psychology; origin of life looks very different from biology."

I fully share your focus on the problem of great origins. However, my son Lev points my attention that your list of those, " the origin of society, the origin of consciousness and meaning, the origin of life" misses the most fundamental: the origin of the laws of nature. All in all, I like your essay and give you a high score.

Good luck at the contest,

Alexey Burov.


I just answered you on my page. Your rating of our essay is important for us.

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Stefan Keppeler wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 21:01 GMT
"[T]he universe runs in assembly code, the coarse-grained version runs in LISP." -- Honestly,... ;-)

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 22:35 GMT
Dear Stefan —

Let's persist with the jerk example, and not just because it's a great name, but because I think we share a lot of the same intuitions and I think the example can be of use to your arguments as well.

Of course, we sense jerk, it plays a causal role in our life, and that's not "at odds" with Newton. But we do have to explain how it is possible that jerk can play that role when it is forbidden from doing so in the fundamental theory. (You can always calculate x-triple-dot, of course, but it can never play a causal role there.)

So, how does this fit with your arguments? One angle that people take is that macroscopic phenomena exist, but are fundamentally epiphenomena: they have no causal powers. These people would say that the only true causal powers are found through mechanistic investigations of finer and finer scales. Scientists can spent a lot of time explaining away in this fashion, reducing things to microscopic causes.

There's another method that's Darwin's great contribution to intellectual life: explaining away causes through evolutionary arguments. "Hard seeds causing birds to have robust beaks" is explained away through an evolutionary dynamics (rather than a teleology or divine aim or intention). The causal relation we see there is not really real, it can be explained away as an illusion.

So the upshot of those two procedures, Newton and Darwin, is that if I see a cause at some scale X, it should eventually (1) be cashed out through causes at lower levels, or (2) explained away as ersatz and "as if" the way that evolution explains away teleology.

But jerk provides a clear counterexample to both. Evolution can explain why I have the ability to sense jerk, but it can't explain the particular instance of a sensation (at the risk of "swampman" counterarguments). At the same time, the experience of jerk can't be cashed out in terms of microscopic forces, because we know that that quantity can't play a causal role at the microscopic level.

Now (having just opened your essay), I know you have similar feelings about the reality of the macrolevel! You would agree that we shouldn't just say hey, (e.g.) irreversibility is a feature of an effective theory but not really real.

And I'd suggest that jerk gives you something fun to help drive intuitions for your interlocutors as well, simply because it's so obviously an event, forbidden from being baked in at the fundamental level, with causal consequences. If you think the higher-level property of being jerk-sensitive is not really real, tell me how I can find jerk as a causal property at the lower level.



Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 22:58 GMT
Thanks :-) seems I have to rethink jerk. Not today, it's late here in Europe. I see your reply to my jerk-post but I don't see my post anymore - is it gone? Cheers, Stefan

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Stefan Keppeler replied on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 12:58 GMT
Since I still had a copy of my original posting, and since your nice answer makes so much more sense together with my question, I repost it below. Cheers, Stefan


Dear Simon,

your essay flows nicely and you have a point! Coarse-graining creates memory-terms and the like which are absent from microscopic theories but emerge in effective theories. I think you're putting your finger on an aspect resonating in a couple of essays (maybe also in mine) but which is not spelled out in this way. You overdo the jerk-example, in my opinion, but, well, when do you get the occasion to write jerk so many times... Honestly, I don't think being able to sense jerk is at odds with Newton's laws not being expressed in terms of jerk. You can calculate the jerk for any solution of Newtons equation. Why should our senses be confined to only observing the key ingredients of our microscopic theories? Anyway, thumbs up for "it just means that, occasionally, the coarse-grained description will fail. The fine-grained details will emerge with a vengeance, ruining the predictive power of the theory. You’ll be reminded of the limits of your knowledge, but the universe will not catch fire."

Good luck, Stefan

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James Arnold wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 21:10 GMT

You've obviously got a highly inventive mind. You might be interested in my hypothesis of how those transitions come about. In any case, I would be interested in your feedback.

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 01:49 GMT
Dear Simon DeDeo,

If you go to my essay you will find further discussion on the role of the Godel-Turing undecidable theorems. This is presented though mostly at the end.

Higher derivatives do play a role in physics. Brehmsstralung emission of photons involves 3 derivatives, and the continuity condition in general relativity is at order 3.

Over all you essay is interesting.



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Peter Bauch wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 15:15 GMT
Incredible writing style!

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 21:44 GMT
Nice essay Dear Prof DeDeo,

Your ideas and thinking are excellent for eg…

‘1. Today, it's considered a reasonable research goal to reduce even that story, of the wrinkles in spacetime that seeded Andromeda, to the first principles of basic physics: Hawking radiation at a horizon, or the quantum statistics of a multiverse. etc…’

A Good idea, I fully agree with you,...

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Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 16:24 GMT
Simon –

An excellent, imaginative and impressively well-written essay, thank you! There aren’t many here that compare with it, and I only wish mine were as clear and readable.

Your discussion of the “origin gaps” is very good… though I think there’s something a little one-sided about taking the notion of “self-reference” as the key element in the major transitions...

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 17:03 GMT
Dear Conrad —

Thanks for your remarks here. I want to push on your response a little because my goal was to go as far back as possible: to ask what what's required to get us beyond fundamental physics. If we don't push as far back as we can, we're not truly dealing with an origin problem, but just saying interesting things as amateur sociologists, or evolutionary biologists, biochemists,...

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Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 16:05 GMT
Simon – thanks very much for your high-altitude notes… though between those, and rereading your essay, and the comments by Inés and Joe below, I now have an overwhelming number of interesting thoughts to consider.

I’ll focus here on what’s fundamental in physics, and where memory comes in, and how it relates to other kinds of functionality. Since what I appreciate most about the...

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 21, 2017 @ 22:58 GMT
Dear Conrad —

Thank you for this very fun account.

You get lots of good things by thinking in this very fundamental fashion. It's easy to be misled into thinking that the functions we happen to observe right now are the full suite of all possible functions that we could observe. We can also be confused about what function the mechanism we observe is actually doing: we are still trying to figure out what consciousness is "for", but a simpler example is the role of reproduction in evolutionary arguments. "Making a copy of yourself" is one way to get evolution rolling, but far from the only one.

Asking what's absolutely necessary to get X, in other words, can help us conjecture alternate forms of X. It's a cognitive heuristic that's something I see my colleagues in origin of life doing. Interestingly, I don't see social scientists doing it as much...



Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 01:11 GMT
Your essay has given me a large amount of new raw material to think about – which is what I enjoy most when looking at other people’s writings. I probably lack the computer science intuition, but I might try to put up with that, eventually. Here I write down a few questions, in case you have a bit of time:

1. I understand that memory allows for self-reference to emerge. It is not clear...

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 22, 2017 @ 00:52 GMT
Dear Inés —

You make a number of points. Here are some thoughts:

Ultimately, in a system of particles interacting with each other, some part of the system always has the memory of what happened before, either to that same part of the system, or to some other part of the system, just because of the reversibility of the laws of physics.

That's a nice point, and shows...

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Joseph Murphy Brisendine wrote on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 06:50 GMT
Hi again Simon,

Reading your exchange with Stefan has helped me formulate some questions, mostly to see if I’m clear about your thesis and what it implies. I’ve been sitting with the jerk example for a moment, and I think it’s a great example but I’m not exactly sure of what. I think this is a confusion I have concerning the effective field theory paradigm, but I can’t tell, from...

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 22, 2017 @ 01:01 GMT
Hello Joe —

I'm really glad you enjoyed the essay; thank you.

Physicists like renormalization when theories are (ahem) renormalizable—meaning that there's decoupling, or simplification, in the IR (or, in the case of asymptotic freedom, UV). Here I don't think we need anything like that. It's OK to have a rough and jumbly effective theory that works only partially and can occasionally collapse or blow up.

I guess I’m asking is our perception the effective theory or is classical mechanics the effective theory? Aren’t they both? And does that mean that our coarse-grained experience of the world somehow captures a glimpse of aspects of nature that are nevertheless causally separated from the low-energy descriptions that must hold in order for biology to emerge in the first place?

Both; we have plenty of effective theories that work at different scales and domains. And, indeed, I'd agree: we are sensitive to causal properties that do not appear at the most fundamental level of description. At one and the same time, X has causal power, and X does not (indeed, can not) appear at the microscopic level. Like (for example) entropy, or enthalpy, something that tells you which way the reaction is going to go without being related to any basic property.

By the way, I think people get confused about this. People hear that the fundamental laws of physics are deterministic (for example), and they worry about free will. So then they say, OK, I have to get rid of determinism at the fundamental level, and we get these crazy arguments about quantum mechanics and free will which I think are both wrong ("quantum" randomness is not special, and the wavefunction evolves deterministically), but more importantly really just missing the point. We don't need to bake X into the microphysics to get X at the macrolevel. (I think you agree with all this.)



Joseph Murphy Brisendine replied on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 07:57 GMT
Thanks for that reply Simon, and I'm now certain that I agree more or less completely with you, and having thought about it I can now say less vaguely what I liked most about your essay.

The underlying theme this year, at least among the contestants who believe that intentions obviously do emerge from math, is the nature of emergence. The best entries have all come, in my opinion, from...

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Karl H Coryat wrote on Mar. 21, 2017 @ 03:59 GMT
Simon, I loved your essay — it has a breadth and sense of wonder unlike any of the entries I have seen so far. I, too, was taken by the jerk example. As a bicyclist, I think about it every time I go down an incline that's getting increasingly steep, which is always more thrilling than a mere inclined plane…and I will surely think differently about such hills from now on.

One thing I didn't follow, and wish you had expanded upon, is how memory-type features emerge out of coarse-graining. You write, "by averaging together nearby points, it introduces the possibility of inducing physical laws that (in contrast to their forgetful fundamental cousins) do have memory." I don't see this as averaging together nearby points; I see it as creating informational relations across time, which is a function of memory, not of coarse-graining. If I measure the jerk of a car with a pendulum and videotape, that seems only to require writing down and comparing accelerations measured at different times, not averaging out nearby points in the quantum-mechanical description. Is there something I'm missing?

p.s., I think I sent you my book a while back, but I'm sure it got lost in the mailroom!

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 21, 2017 @ 14:12 GMT
Dear Karl —

You touch on a really nice question: does anything actually do the coarse-graining? It may seem a little strange to phrase it that way, but I'm not sure. Because (of course) to average itself usually does require memory of some form (I keep a running total of values in some neighbourhood)—so if the averaging is real, it can't precede the emergence of memory. It seems, in...

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Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Mar. 21, 2017 @ 15:45 GMT
Dear Simon,

I do find your essay particularly volcanic -- full of stimulating ideas combined in original ways. I also think it would benefit, having more space and time, from a more patient and detailed description of the different types of memory-related features and associated self-reference skills (the exact intended nature of this association is not completely clear to me) that...

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 22, 2017 @ 00:33 GMT
Dear Tommaso —

Thank you for your kind remarks. You're right, of course, that even the first derivative has a notion of memory in it. It is also, of course, very limited memory. Third order is not much better! The real question is how we go about going beyond the very tight constraints of memory that fundamental physics limits us to; getting to jerk just means that we've broken that constraint.

I like your mention of music. Last Summer I spent a week reading Charles Sanders Pierce in a seminar at St John's, and he has a lovely account of how what appear to be "mental events" are actually complexes of sensations. He uses music as an example (as well as the sensation of touch, when we run our finger over felt). I hadn't remembered that reading until just now, because of your music example, but it was likely Pierce that started me down this road. The essay is "Questions concerning certain faculties claimed for man",



Jochen Szangolies wrote on Mar. 23, 2017 @ 13:21 GMT
Dear Simon,

this is a very clearly argued essay, well-reasoned and well-written, and full of original ideas and thoughts. I hope it will do well in the contest!

One point of criticism I might note is that many of the ideas deserve a more in-depth, formal treatment. I don't believe you actually commit this error, but Gödelian incompleteness is all too often evoked in vague, hand-wavy...

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 23, 2017 @ 17:49 GMT
Dear Jochen —

Thank you for your kind remarks. I certainly agree that it's possible to say silly things about Gödel's Theorem—perhaps you'll agree even that it tends to attract them.

A few years ago, I spent some time with philosophers associated with the University of New Mexico, an hour's drive (at high-speed across the desert) from Santa Fe. They were constantly employing...

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Jochen Szangolies replied on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 08:52 GMT
Dear Simon,

thanks for the reading list---there's certainly some interesting stuff on there I'm going to check out!

And I should reiterate that I did not wish to imply you abused Gödelian reasoning; however, it has been so often abused that it nowadays almost seems to invite a knee-jerk rejection of certain kinds of arguments. If you've never read it, Torkel Franzén's Gödel's Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse indeed provides what its subtitle proclaims.

Also, I didn't mean to suggest that Kolmogorov complexity is computable, and I don't think the argument needs it---rather, that meaning is incomputable would be a reduction to the incomputability of Kolmogorov complexity, if it's indeed the case that no program/description exists that picks out all the 'meaningful' books which is itself significantly shorter than the collection of these books.

And I agree with your last paragraph: epistemic does not mean unimportant; but it does mean that we don't have to either accept ontological dualism or eliminativism, which to me are both rather unpalatable options whose individual problems are perhaps even more severe than those they seek to overcome.

Hope you caught your flight!



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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 03:36 GMT
Dear Jochen —

Ah, yes! I like what you say about KC here. I remember a similar argument by Stu Kaufmann (I believe he might have referenced it back to others as well)—that when we ask for laws, we are really asking for "compressible" descriptions. KC of course applies only to the notion of a "shortest" law, so if we did believe we had an optimal law-making system, we'd be in trouble.

I wonder if weaker notions also cause problems, though—e.g., a function that always either compresses something or leaves the same length. It's easy to do a diagonalization argument to show that some things must be missed by this (if you make some things shorter, but nothing longer, then the map is no longer one-to-one for a few things).

I agree with your remark about dualism. Both ontological dualism and eliminativism really do feel like a hold-over from a previous theology. Perhaps one day they really will seem to be debates about "angels on the head of a pin".



PS: I made it home.

Wilhelmus de Wilde wrote on Mar. 23, 2017 @ 17:08 GMT
Dear Simon,

Intentional Goal Oriented Life as you indicate is dependent on a certain complexity.

The question I would like to ask you is "Is this form of complexity related to a certain "rythm" of time ?" what I mean is that indeed compared to our "velocity" of life (80 years) the velocity of for instance a whole planet seems to be inert (our own life seems to be a jerk). But it is not as you are also indicating... The whole universe is moving and changing it seems from a beginning towards ....what ? When we see an accelerated movie of (jerks) climate on our earth we become aware of a certain "goal" in the movements of so called unliving and the sun are moving towards something we don't know...Of course you can say that this is not "life" not a conscious way of living. But when you are realising that all of this is just a collective memory in the consciousness of short living emerging creatures like ourselves, there may be an acceptance that the WHOLE REALITY as we are experiencing is the result of Consciousness and the goal is not only procreation and survival for the jerks of life.

This is just a thought I had after reading your very interesting and absorbing essay that I merited a high score. I hope that after these introducing thoughts I could convince you to find some emergent time to read, leave a comment about my thoughts and give a rating to my essay : The Purpose of Life".

Thanks a lot and good luck in the contest


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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 15:51 GMT
Dear Wilhelmus —

The flow of time is a lovely problem. I draw from your remarks here that it is indeed connected to memory. What I remember, how long I remember it for, what persists and how, is presumably what is dictating the feeling of the passage of time, rapid or slow, for the organism or process in question.

The old question—what is it like to ride on the back of a photon? The whole history of the world, in zero proper time...



Yehuda Atai wrote on Mar. 23, 2017 @ 18:07 GMT
Hi Simon

I had a gap and my comment. It was erased when went back to see your essay again. Well it was unexpected.

To your essay: I agree with you that there is a gap that is responsible to the unexpected action that a phenomenon A or "existat A, relate to another phenomenon B or more. i.e. each existent is choosing a concrete subjective action (or non-action) out of the potential actions it has in the relation.

It seems to me that the "freedom of choice selection mode" for each unique phenomenon (and each phenomenon is unique' from a sub particle to a galaxy) is the sub-strata language of nature. The natural language of Movements, which is elaborated in my 25000 philosophical characters : "we are Together, therefore I am", here, in the contest.

thanks for your unique approach.

Yehuda Atai

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 03:02 GMT
Sorry to be a fly in the ointment Simon..

This essay is well-written, and your point is logically argued given your premises, but I can easily take some of them apart.

A lecture at the 10th Frontiers of Fundamental Physics conference (in '09 at UWA near Perth) by Mikhail Kovalyov stated that the Physics including the higher-order terms IS what's fundamental, so jerk is in no way a...

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 03:30 GMT
On a lighter note..

Given the topic of your research; I assume you are aware of the great little book The Hidden Dimension, by Edward T. Hall, but if not it's worth checking out..

All the Best,


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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 03:50 GMT
Some things show up as mathematical proofs..

Arved Huebler has an elegant result on page 3 obtained by mathematical induction showing the nature of origins. In my comments for his essay, I talk about parallels with the Chinese philosophy of Wu Ji and Tai Ji. Wu Ji is the primal state beyond and before the grand ultimate of separated forms Tai Ji. Analogies can also be made with non-commutative geometry. But my perspective is very different from yours, since I look for parallels across disciplines rather than staying with the views in one field.



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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 18:38 GMT
Dear Jonathan —

The difficulty with higher-derivative theories is not that they lead to "unsolvable" equations that then must be approximated, but rather that they contain negative energy states, violate probability conservation, and generally lead to non-physical results. One needs to re-interpret them as effective theories for something else in order to handle these problems. It's important to distinguish higher-order (e.g., polynomial functions of fields and their derivatives) with higher-derivative (e.g., a Lagrangian with a fourth derivative) theories. There's a large and complex literature on this (you can dig into the references from the papers with Alan and Dimitrios, including Jonathan Simon's).

I don't buy the idea that the Mandelbrot set is the kind of self-reference that matters, though it's a nice suggestion. It is indeed a set whose boundary is defined by the fixed point of a function, so there's a recursive feel to it. But not all fixed point questions trigger Gödelian concerns. I can find the Nash equilibrium of a finite game (for example) and it's usually not the most mindblowing thing of all time; indeed, finding the Nash Equilibrium of an arbitrary game is somewhere between P and NP-complete.

I'll have to take a look at Edward Hall's book, and your "octonions" essay, to get a better sense of the things you're after.



Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 15:08 GMT
In regards to Borges' library...

I think the example is too simplistic to produce meaningful works, like the Sonnets of Shakespeare or the like. One would need randomness along with some rule that enforces directionality to achieve meaning or congruency in any one room. This does appear to arise naturally in the context of non-associative geometry. I got to talk a bit with Tevian Dray about this at GR21 (in the context of quantum gravity), and that forms the basis of my essay. But I have written several pages of octonion poetry, and here's one of my favorite examples.

One open, as multiplicity and formless nothingness, finds peace in true relation and knows all as self.

But the curious thing is that when one follows the rules of progression dictated by the octonion framework, it is a hierarchy of levels of abstraction. In this way; each possible outcome is a span from most abstract to most specific conceptually. So this notion shows more promise, in being able to crank out meaningful works, than the schema of Borges.

However; it would seem the analogy with Borges holds at a level closer to the origin. There is evidence that human language is a paring down of the glossolalia metalanguage of young children, such that the tonal elements of a specific language of one's family or nation of origin - instead of the prior notion that syntax is hard wired. So at that hierarchical level, the example might make more sense. I look forward to seeing your response.

All the Best,


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James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 24, 2017 @ 20:09 GMT
Quite impressive, Simon.

You've taken us on somewhat of a metaphorical journey into ontological meaning.

"the universe runs in assembly code, the coarse-grained version runs in LISP, and its from that the world of aim and intention grows." I have used FORTRAN, an older language but not LISP, a perfect language to simulate and characterize life, thus used for AI robotics and function humans perform. Assembly Language, ones and zeros basic.

Math, physics and learning gaps and the eloquent leaps of vivid comparisons: non-life to life, chemical reaction to mind, one thing to everything.

I think that you wax eloquent with vivid comparisons to supercharge your argument.

Hope you get a chance to comment on my essay.

Jim Hoover

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 15:49 GMT
Dear Jim —

Thank you for your kind remarks.

There's an old joke, due to Philip Greenspun—perhaps you know it. Any sufficiently complicated C or Fortran program contains an ad-hoc, informally-specified, bug-ridden, slow implementation of half of Common Lisp.



James Lee Hoover replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 17:43 GMT
No doubt true but C Python slithering better.


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James Lee Hoover replied on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 05:30 GMT

Time grows short, so I am reviewing those I've read to see if I have rated them. Yours I enjoyed so I wanted to make sure. I did on 3/24.

Hope you enjoyed the interchange of ideas as much as I did.

Jim Hoover

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Robert Groess wrote on Mar. 26, 2017 @ 02:55 GMT
Dear Simon DeDeo,

Thank you for your delightful essay. It was a real pleasure to read and I agree that the counterintuitive nature of specifying scale is very real indeed. In another large-scale example, Hubble's Classification scheme of spiral galaxies was at first deemed too simple because of its simplicity, but it has turned out to stand the test of time precisely because of that, and is still in use today. I also enjoyed your intriguing conclusion that there may be more stages/levels (accelerations) to come in our quest for understanding intelligence and ultimately us.

I have in the meantime rated your essay and wish you good luck in the contest.



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David Pinyana wrote on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 11:33 GMT
Simon, I see you will be one of the winers of this first essay contest... congratulations, I already read your essay and rated it.

Please, consider to have into account my essay which main proposal is:

"A essay that could revolutionize the future of Cosmological Physics: Aristotle, Newton, Einstein,…"

The Dynamic Laws of Physics (and Universal Gravitation) have varied over time, and even Einstein had already proposed that they still has to evolve:


NEWTON: F = m.a

EINSTEIN. E = m.c2 (*)

MOND: F = m.a.(A/A0)

FRACTAL RAINBOW: F = f (scale) = m.a.(scale factor)

Or better G (Gravity Constant) vary with the scale/distance due to fractal space-time: G = f ( Scale/distance factor)

(*) This equation does not correspond to the same dynamic concept but has many similarities.

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Janko Kokosar wrote on Mar. 29, 2017 @ 15:35 GMT
Dear Simon DeDeo

You gave an interesting hypothesis about jerk. I also thought about how third derivation by time can be physically important. According to symmetries it can be strange that it does not exist. Maybe some hidden physics exists where all time derivations are important.

But, I think that our feeling for jerk can be explained differently. Human beings needed feeling for forces and acceleration in his evolution, he used it at walking, riding, fighting, etc. Therefore, she/he recognizes not only forces, but also changes of forces. Besides, a phenomenon retroactive inhibition is known from physiology. It means, for instance, that if we smell some odour some time, we do not sense it anymore after some time. Similarly it is with forces: if some constant force acts on us, consciousness forgets on this force, but change of force reminds us again.

Anyway, it is interesting that sense of jerk is informatics, but sense of force is physics. At this, I claim that real physics does not exist, everything is only informatics or mathematics. Namely, I wrote also about dimensionless constants. Thus, 200 years ago, it was understood that one meter is a pure physical quantity. Today one meter is, the most probably, dimensionless quantity, which can be expressed as multiple of Planck’s distance. Therefore, it can be operater only as mathematical quantity, and probably it is only mathematical quantity. The same is true for one second and for one kilogram.

My essay

Best regards, Janko Kokošar

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Jesse Liu wrote on Mar. 29, 2017 @ 18:14 GMT
Dear Simon,

This is a wonderful essay and found great interest reading it.

I enjoyed your thoughts on the 2nd derivatives in nature yet we nonetheless are able to sense higher derivatives. I think it's profound that the fundamental laws of nature are typically unstable in some way if formulated with higher derivatives. I'm aware of many higher derivative theories of gravity, some of which have interesting ways to get around pathologies that I'm not completely familiar with.

I definitely agree with your ideas on effective field theories. Even in my field of particle physics, people are often too cavalier to dismiss non-renormalisable theories as broken, despite being perfectly predictive effective theories. It is definitely interesting to consider renormlisation at once with emergent phenomena such as social dynamics even. You link coarse-graining with memory, and it is intriguing that coarse graining is actually a loss of (microscopic) information, yet it allows new structures like the brain or silicon chips to store richer information.

Self-reference and renormalisation are themes we also touch on in what I wrote with my coauthor.

Thank you again for a really enjoyable read.



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George Gantz wrote on Apr. 2, 2017 @ 03:37 GMT
Simon - Thank you for a delightful and imaginative essay. I was reminded of the old "God of the Gaps" trope - your essay hints at a "physics of the gaps" that stems from logical limits in self-referential systems (my favorite topic in the 2015 contest - see The Hole at the Center of Creation). However, I do not find the appeal to renormalization convincing - for the same reasons you allude to in discussing the difficulty or origins.

Our essays have some interesting parallels - although I think your treatment of Borges library is a more interesting narrative than my appeal to the 100 monkeys theorem, we both end up with all of the works of Shakespeare.

I hope you have a chance to read and score my essay if you have not already - The How and The Why of Emergence and Intention.

Regards - George Gantz

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Peter Jackson wrote on Apr. 3, 2017 @ 10:16 GMT

Interesting approach. Do you think it's wrong to consider higher orders in terms of perturbation theory? I've not heard the word 'jerk' before but have considered 'change in rates of change, such as accelerations, as always implemented THROUGH the 'next order up'. i.e. If a pendulum 'feels and shows' acceleration (brains and accelerometers don't require you to video a...

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Author Simon DeDeo replied on Apr. 8, 2017 @ 01:19 GMT
Dear Peter -- so many excellent comments here since I last poked in. But yours I can answer! It's true that higher-derivative terms ("jerk" terms) can appear in a perturbative expansion, say at Order epsilon. Perturbative expansions have been part of physics since early QM, if not Laplace and solar system mechanics.

So they can look innocuous! But danger Will Robinson: if you treat that perturbative expansion as a fundamental theory then there's a discontinuity at epsilon = 0; as soon as you move away from zero, traumatic things happen. Take a look at Jonathan Z. Simon's papers (cited in ours with Dimitrios and Alan) for the gory details. To follow the Laplace name-check, it's as if you said hey, what if I allow the planets to have a tiny component like this... and the solar system blows apart.

Arguments like this have been used against string theory, which can appear to induce them in a field theory (I saw a great fight about this at Perimeter Institute once). I don't know how those arguments resolve (one answer is that there's a no perturbative string theory hiding behind -- that this is just an effective theory and then all the paper's arguments go through as before).

I do wonder about scale hierarchies being built in. If we're a simulation in super-Elon's computer, it's what I'd build in to amuse my animats. Could we derive them from other (non-anthropic) arguments? I hestitate to tread this maddening ground. (Like the Kabbalah, there may be questions best restricted to those over 40.)

Yours and hoping that's of help,


Torsten Asselmeyer-Maluga wrote on Apr. 6, 2017 @ 20:34 GMT
Dear Jerk,

very well-written essay which I gave a high mark. I like the 'jerks' (first I heart this word).

As an expert for non-linear systems you are interested in my essay?

AI and the renormalization group are connected. In my essay I considered an arbitrary graph which has a phse transition to a tree. The graph is connected to the brain network and the tree represents the process of learning in the brain.

All the best and good luck in the contest


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Rene Ahn wrote on Apr. 6, 2017 @ 22:57 GMT
Dear Simon,

A very well written essay, which made me think new thoughts, which is

always very pleasant. Thanks!

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Anonymous wrote on Apr. 8, 2017 @ 03:31 GMT
Dear Simon,

I am not going to rate this essay, because I just had time to glance over it. There are so many essays!

I like how you set up the essay from the prospective of a teacher in front of a class (something I can relate).

From the little I read, your writing is clear and creative.

All the best,

Jeff Schmitz

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