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Anonymous: on 3/14/18 at 4:03am UTC, wrote These kind of essays are very useful because the expose the flaws of...

Scott Gordon: on 3/2/18 at 4:19am UTC, wrote Hi Sabine, Your essay shows that you know where the problems are, but just...

Luis Patino: on 2/26/18 at 21:28pm UTC, wrote Hi Sabine, Thanks for letting me believe in free will! Seriously, I never...

peter cameron: on 2/26/18 at 21:21pm UTC, wrote Hi Sabine, Many thanks for the time and thought you put into your blog....

Don Limuti: on 2/25/18 at 21:37pm UTC, wrote Hi Sabine, I enjoyed your essay and the dialogs that followed. As per: ...

Steven Andresen: on 2/22/18 at 8:47am UTC, wrote Dear Sabine If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the...

Thomas Ray: on 2/17/18 at 18:07pm UTC, wrote A thought provoking essay, Sabine. On the issue of free will, I'm reminded...

Conrad Johnson: on 2/17/18 at 15:17pm UTC, wrote Sorry, I meant to say -- whether or not we can prove strong emergence is...


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FQXi FORUM
May 24, 2018

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: The Case for Strong Emergence by Sabine Hossenfelder [refresh]
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Author Sabine Hossenfelder wrote on Jan. 24, 2018 @ 17:31 GMT
Essay Abstract

As everyone knows, physicists have proved that free will doesn't exist. That's because we are made of tiny particles which follow strict laws, and human behavior is really just a consequence of these particles' laws. At least that's what I used to think. But some years ago I stumbled over a gap in this argument. In this essay I want to tell you what made me rethink and why you should rethink, too.

Author Bio

Sabine is a theoretical physicist and Research Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Germany. Her research is focused on the foundations of physics. She partly works as freelance science writer and is author of the blog BackRe(action).

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Member Sylvia Wenmackers wrote on Jan. 24, 2018 @ 19:47 GMT
Dear Sabine,

I enjoyed reading your essay. The essential part of your contribution seems to be the middle part of p. 9, so it is on this part that I want to comment. It is curious to note that the type of loophole you notice here is of a similar kind as one that has been discussed previously in the context of non-Lipschitz classical mechanics. To be clear, I don't want to suggest that your observation isn't novel, but merely to draw attention to an analogous historical case, which you or other readers of this forum might find interesting.

It was observed, by Poisson and others, that for certain forces and initial conditions, the Newtonian equation of motion has multiple solutions. This was discussed in the 19th century as a possible loophole for reconciling classical mechanics with human free will. The debate has been described very clearly in a paper by van Strien: "Vital Instability: Life and Free Will in Physics and Physiology, 1860-1880".

The analogy I notice between the 19th century singular points in mechanical problems that lack Lipschitz continuity and your "non-divergent function that can’t be continued" is based on two elements. (1) They are both closely tailored to the mathematical framework at hand. (2) Neither is restricted by probabilities governing the multiple solutions. So, the usual argument for strong incompatibilism, which says that free will is not compatible with determinism nor with fixed probabilities or randomness, doesn't seem to apply.

Best wishes,

Sylvia

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 06:24 GMT
Dear Sylvia,

Indeed, it was a discussion of Norton's Dome that reminded me of writing this essay :) Note though, that I've made sure to pick a function that'll be differentiable to all orders, so there's no discontinuity in any derivative. I'd guess that it must be possible to construct a similar example for a potential in Newtonian mechanics, but haven't seen one.

Having said this, the arguments based on Newtonian mechanics are easy to dismiss not only because one of the derivatives will eventually diverge but more importantly because we know the potential is an approximation already, so you expect some information goes lost there. It's an objection that my suggestion circumvents. (Sorry for not adding the references to the Newtonian case, I simply forgot about it because it didn't come up in the text.) Best,

Sabine

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Flavio Del Santo wrote on Jan. 24, 2018 @ 21:01 GMT
Dear Dr. Hossenfelder,

thank you for this essay, which I found interesting indeed.

In particular I liked that you point out that although reductionism ddoes work, or actually did work, it ain't necessarily so (if yo have the occasion to read my essay as well, you will find some common points about this).

Also, I totally agree on your definition of "physical theory" that encapsulates both the formalism AND the operational laws that connect the symbols to the observables. A concept that is not clear even among many professional theoreticians.

However, I found a bit misleading your definition of fundamental (even if you maintain: "This definition I think captures how the word is used in the foundations of physics today" and not your own thought). In fact, what you propose here is a different form of reductionism, known as "theoretical reductionsm" (whereas when you refer to reductionism it seems you refer to the so-called "ontological reductionism"). IN general throughout your whole essay I think is not always clear the ontological status of your statemens. It seems that sometimes you refer interchangeably between the supposed "true state of affair" (e.g. when you say that bigger things are made of smaller thing) and theoretical abstractions (like in your notion of fundamentality and emergence).

Despite this, I enjoyed reading the essay and I will rate it high

I wish you success,

Flavio

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 06:27 GMT
Dear Flavio,

When I say "bigger things are made of small things" I mean (as I laid out at the very beginning) that it's a hypothesis that has worked very well. Not more and not less. Does that mean it's "true"? No. But I don't think science is about finding out what's true. It's about finding out what works to describe our observations.

Thanks for drawing my attention to your essay, which I will read with interest.

Best,

Sabine

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Francesco D'Isa wrote on Jan. 24, 2018 @ 21:24 GMT
Dear Sabine,

it was a pleasure to read your essay. You propose an original, interesting idea and your writing style is very enjoyable – it's definitively between the best I've read here so far.

I've a question about your strong emergence hypothesis, since I've not the mathematical tools to judge your example at §6 (my formation is as a philosopher).

Are the phenomenal, subjective sensations (i.e, how the color "red" looks like) a possible example of strong emergence (like the theory 9 in your fig.2)? It's the old stuff of the hard problem of consciousness: we can describe sensations with many good theories, but none will successfully explain "how/why they feel", that seems an irreducible trait.

Or maybe they are just irreducible systems? If I express “red” in terms of electromagnetism, I am not talking about the sensation of the colour red, while if I express the sensation of the colour red, (for example through metaphors, synesthesia, neuronal stimulations, memories or fantasies) I am not explaining its electromagnetic qualities.

Best regards,

Francesco D'Isa

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 07:02 GMT
Hi Francesco,

The issue of qualia is more a problem of finding the circuits that encode self-reference than one of emergence. It think it's a question of terminology: just what does it mean to "experience" something? It is therefore, I think, a same-level problem not one of emergence because you are trying to disentangle the sensory response (this is red) from the knowledge that it is you who is seeing red (I see red).

Having said that, you could ask the question whether electrodynamics and atomic physics allow you to compute the response of the human brain to red light, and it is here where the question of strong vs weak emergence becomes relevant. If a case like the one I suggest in my essay was realized in nature, the answer might be: no, you can't compute it. Best,

Sabine

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Francesco D'Isa replied on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 08:40 GMT
Hi Sabine,

thank you for your kind reply.

I've another doubt: you say that is should be a same-level problem because I was trying to disentangle the sensory response (this is red) from the knowledge of it (I see red).

But aren't they already disentangled? Electrodynamics and atomic physics doesn't need any qualia to work and to give their explanation of the relation between colors and (human) observers. For sure qualia and physics are related (no brain, no mind), but the first are entities that physics doesn't need – and if we agree that they exists, they looks like an emergent propriety.

Moreover, just out of curiosity, there are other examples of strong emergence that you can imagine, a part of the one of §6?

(Anyway, maybe I've misunderstood, I know that my limits in front of the core of your argument are a serious obstacle).

Best,

Francesco

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 05:36 GMT
Dear Francesco,

I meant "disentangle" in a practical way. I take an fMRI image of your brain, now which one of the parts that lights up is the part that makes the "experience"? I don't think anyone knows (and identifying parts by locality rather than functionality might not be the right thing to do). It's interesting that there are studies of people with certain brain malfunctions (strokes, accidents, etc) who can actually see things without experiencing them. But I think it's not yet well understood. Be that as it may, I have no reason to think that experience requires anything but normal (weakly emergent) physics. Best,

Sabine

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 00:55 GMT
Great essay! What you point out is what happens at a singularity in RG flow, and the inability to continue beyond it means the solution on the other half could be something entirely different.

I have pondered the idea the Landau in gravity and QCD. Suppose SU(3) is really a reduction on SU(4) which as an STU type duality with SU(2,2). This is the isometry group of the AdS_5 and this set up is a form of gauge-gravity duality

Given a group G and a subgroup of it K to which it is spontaneously broken, the broken generators ("axials" in the chiral symmetry breaking paradigm of low energy QCD, SU(2)×SU(2)/SU(2)_isospin is the coset space H=G/K. The generators of G than break up into the unbroken ones, k, (isospin), and the broken ones, hh, parameterized by the goldstone/pions serving as projective coordinates of that manifold (In QCD this is just S_3):

[h, h] ⊂ k,[h, k] ⊂ h,[k, k] ⊂ k.

The unbroken generators (isospin) close to a subalgebra, and the broken ones (axials) transform by the k as isomultiplets. In this way in the IR limit QCD recovers the isospin theory of nucleons.

So the idea would be that gravitation has a dual RG flow that hits a pole at the Planck or string scale. This would then lead to the emergence of new QFT-like physics or maybe forms of partons associated with gravitation. This might be one way the singular problems could be managed; we transform conformal gravity into a form of QCD where the IR limit there corresponds to the UV limit in gravity.

BTW I like you blog, though I have never commented there. I have been more of a lurker. If you have time you might be interested in my essay.

Cheers LC

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 07:06 GMT
Hi Lawrence,

I guess you'd need it the other way 'round to find strong emergence. In your example, I wouldn't really be sure it's just a case of UV incompleteness, but maybe I misunderstood this? I'll check out your essay :) Best,

Sabine

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Lawrence B. Crowell replied on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 11:46 GMT
Hi Bee,

This is an idea I have been kicking around in my mind. It seems to fit with the idea of strong emergence. If this happens with QCD in the IR limit, which is a bit of a problem, then by STU type of duality with gravity it might carry over to quantum gravity.

It could happen either within string/M-theory or with the constructions from the WDW equation such as LQG. I am not picky. I figure either if LQG is false this might form some sort of constraint in string theory that rules out some set of states, or if LQG is true then again it might form such a constraint or provide tools to show how some set of solutions there are not physical.

At any rate it could in the end be false. You have to propose in order for something to be disposed.

Cheers LC

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Aditya Dwarkesh wrote on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 14:49 GMT
Hi Sabine,

Your expository skills have made the essay quite enjoyable to read. You have illustrated your points very well, and your definitions are extremely astute.

You have also been very prescient in mentioning the Halting problem, which is certainly quite relevant to your article. My first thought when I read your definitions was of the issues brought up by the Halting problem.

In fact, I did not quite understand how you eliminated said issues in the context of weak emergence. It seems to me that it would follow from the Problem that one can never be certain about whether or not a theory B can be derived from A. How do you propose to eliminate this blip?

My own ideas are surprisingly similar to yours on theories and reductionism. However, I chose to take a different path in order to avoid this seemingly insurmountable issue. I think you would quite like the parallels made!

Regards,

Aditya

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 05:41 GMT
Dear Aditya,

I do not "eliminate" the problem, I merely note that the examples which have been suggested so far need a system in an unrealistic limit, in which either the number of constituents goes to infinity or the spacing between them goes to zero. So, to the extent that it is a problem, it doesn't exist for real systems. Best,

Sabine

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 15:42 GMT
Sabine,

"A physical theory is strongly emergent if it is fundamental, but there exists at least one other fundamental theory at higher resolution."

I am puzzled by something. Why isn't GR considered to be strongly emergent? Doesn't it play the role of theory 9 in your figures? What am I missing in your definition? Is GR not fundamental?

BTW, this is a very good essay and easy to read. I was able to follow the text easily despite having no special education in Physics.

Also, allow me to thank you for your website. I have lurked there quite a bit. I find your explanations to be very helpful.

Best Regards and Good Luck,

Gary Simpson

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 05:45 GMT
Hi Gary,

What do you think GR emerges from? We certainly have candidates for more fundamental theories, but last time I looked none of them had observational evidence speaking from it.

I didn't say much about GR just because for the issue of how the brain works and so on it's pretty irrelevant.

I am glad you enjoy my writing :)

Sabine

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Gary D. Simpson replied on Jan. 27, 2018 @ 13:22 GMT
Sabine,

I think GR is fundamental for now but I hope it will become emergent when (if) a TOE is developed. QM is also fundamental for now and it is at a higher resolution than GR (at least away from BH's).

So, does your definition require that a strongly emergent theory must make the same predictions as the higher resolution theory?

Best Regards,

Gary Simpson

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Heinrich Luediger wrote on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 15:49 GMT
Dear Sabine,



Nothing is basically wrong with reductionism and free will, provided we take to heart some provisions. I think all science begins with natural language (L), because he who does not know what distances, stones, rivers, weights, birds, stars, colors, seasons, etc. are cannot be a scientist. Scientists are people making claims (construct theories) beyond L, e.g. about H2O. In order not to remain castles in the air their theories must be grounded somewhere and the only place to ground them is in L. But L (to stay in the picture) is ignorant of atomic bonds, valences, molecular weights, joint electron orbits, etc. Great! Something has been ADDED to L Absolutely not contained in it – hence it cannot possibly be false. The problem begins only – as unfortunately is the rule – when scientists elevate H2O over L (known as epistemological inversion). What, however, shares no common measure can neither be represented by one of its parts nor can they be equated.

Et voilà! The problem of free will vanishes, because it is no point physics has anything to say about.

Heinrich

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 05:51 GMT
Dear Heinrich,

To do science it is entirely irrelevant that you assign words to objects with common properties like, say, birds. AIs now do such pattern recognition on a daily basis. Science is merely a way of quantifying such patterns. They "add" to what they observe by extrapolating from there, that is what gives science its power. But once you have observed a pattern and established that it holds you can't just throw it out when it seems inconvenient. That's where the conflict between the fundamental laws and free will comes from. Best,

Sabine

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Heinrich Luediger replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 09:31 GMT
Dear Sabine,

birds do have patterns, but what is the pattern of a pattern? Isn't that the plight of theoretical physics and pattern generators like LHC, LIGO, etc.pp.

Don't bother to answer this post...

Heinrich

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Domenico Oricchio wrote on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 15:55 GMT
It is an interesting essay, and a good essay.

I am thinking, reading your essay, that if there are two fundamental theory, what is the most fundamental? If the results are the same, and there is a complete equivalence like the matrix mechanics and the Schrodinger wave formulation, then it could be the simplicity in use (the mathematical description and the calculations) that sorting the theories.

I am thinking that all the theories that have infinitesimal variation of the free parameters, or using additional infinitesimal terms, could be fundamental because of they are all equivalent in the experimental observations (with sufficiently small variations): the additional parameters are infinite, and the theories are infinite.

Regards

Domenico

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 16:29 GMT
Dear Dr Sabine Hossenfelder,

Reliable evidence exists that proves that the surface of the earth was formed millions of years before man and his utterly complex finite informational systems ever appeared on that surface. It logically follows that Nature must have permanently devised the only single physical construct of earth allowable.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Wilhelmus de Wilde wrote on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 17:01 GMT
Dear Sabine,

I am happy that you still decided to particpate.

Your approach of “weak emergent” and “strong emergent” is refreshing so is the “resolution” of experiments and theories and useful for my own thinking.

Reductionist elementary particles do NOT influence your behaviour is a perception that I can underwrite a good example to underwrite this perception is...

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 08:05 GMT
Dear Wilhelmus,

Thanks for the feedback. I will be happy to look at your essay. Best,

Sabine

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Wilhelmus de Wilde replied on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 15:51 GMT
Thanks

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Peter Jackson wrote on Jan. 25, 2018 @ 18:36 GMT
Sabine,

Nicely argued. But do you feel a little like an accountant shuffling last years books into order while there's no CEO to advance the company? You may agree that many times in the past physicists have said "It's all sorted bar a bit of tidying up". Doesn't p.1 repeat that? Sure we need accountants but who if not you steers the ship (and where if not here) into the vast unknowns? Thanks for the free will, but I worry! Hasn't getting to locked into current theory always been the bane of advancing understanding?

So; "A physical theory is fundamental (without qualifier) if it is to best current knowledge". But we know most all are flawed or incomplete at best! Do you really assert we must settle for that as 'What is fundamental' in the universe? Who is who should then search the data and logic for that common solution to the hundreds of fundamental problems, anomalous findings & paradoxes? (and that's just in my own field!) Or, most importantly, who at very least glances at the work of those who do? certainly not fearful editors!

You argue well in your chosen domain, but if we need to advance understanding do you really believe that's that not really just a sideshow? ...Yes, I felt a bit disappointed, and worried. Can you convince me I shouldn't be?

But I have hope!! ..I hope you'll give your view (breaking stony silence) on large scale physical modelling of detection in QM, seeming to yield a classical solution (see also Declan Trail's essay for the code and plot).

Nicely written Sabine. I love your style and you met the scoring criteria well, but was it truly fundamental? Hmmm.

Very best.

Peter

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 05:56 GMT
Hi Peter,

Yes, the introduction repeats the standard argument. I'm setting the stage there, you got that right.

In case you mean to say that we shouldn't try to actually derive all of science from physics, I totally agree. It doesn't seem very practical. Of course theoretical physics is a "sideshow" in the daily news. The reason I work in the field is not because I think it's...

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 06:00 GMT
Sorry, I phrased that badly when I wrote

"The reason I work in the field is not because I think it's important to cure cancer..."

I'd better have written

"The reason I work in the field is not because I think the foundations of physics are important to cure cancer..."

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Peter Jackson replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 10:35 GMT
Sabine,

Yes. Knew what you meant. But you missed my question(s) (accidentally?); I think Physics IS important (I include my observational cosmology work, etc.) But are you really happy eschewing real 'advancement' to just shuffle past theories?

I escaped academia, earned more but do MORE research. Yet editors & arXiv increasingly don't like even logging my papers! Is that right when our big hopes to escape this theoretical wilderness (that's YOU Bee!) seem to have dismissed the need and given up! Not long ago ALL our eminent physicists insisted new approaches & breakthroughs were needed. Chatting with Milton Freeman recently almost NONE now came to mind. Have you now given up to?

I know there's a million weird ideas out there, but can you give advice for this scenario;; Say someone just beyond access to journals made a falsifiable theoretical discovery apparently unifying QM (a classical derivation) and Relativity, also resolving a tranche of other including astrophysical anomalous findings. When editors slam the door in fear without even looking.. WHO IS IT in the academic community that would deign to even look, and if correct, help develop it to publication. Is there anybody left who might? That's an important question!

So is there still any sense of responsibility in academia to help advance mankinds understanding rather than just careers when only academics can publish papers in accredited journals?

Do you not agree physics really could help with cures for cancer etc if we really try?

best

Peter

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 00:28 GMT
Sabine,

What is will supposed to be free of? Don't most people, willfully and consciously, use their powers of concentration, from prayer in church, to learning in school, to re-enforce, extend and strengthen their prior beliefs and assumptions?

Now if you were to argue our actions are pre-determined, by deterministic laws of nature, then you would be wrong. While effect is determined by cause, the input into any event is only calculated by its occurrence. Time is not a set dimension along which we deterministically travel from past to future, but change turning future to past. As in tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns.

Time is an effect, similar to temperature. We only naively equate it with space because our thought process functions as flashes of cognition, so we think of it as linear sequence.

Events have to occur, in order to be determined. The past is an effect of the present. As Alan Watts pointed out, the boat creates the wake. The wake doesn't steer the boat.

Time is asymmetric because action is inertial. The earth turns one direction, not both.

Different clocks can run at different rates because they are separate actions. A faster clock will use energy quicker, like an animal with faster metabolism will age quicker than one with a slower rate.

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a l replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 10:47 GMT
"Time Really Passes, Science Can't Deny That" is a recent essay by Nicolas Gisin (a household name perhaps) published in 2017 and posted on the arxiv [1602.01497]. The title is somehow misleading as he mostly deals with free will. A good deal of ingenuity appears to have been invested in avoiding to mention "Time and Free Will". This is actually the English title of once a famous book by Henri Bergson, the philosopher who dared to contradict Einstein. Of course he is largely forgotten and now people are rediscovering his ideas by their own means.

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 02:31 GMT
Hi Sabine I think you have written a strong, clearly written essay that is aligned with the programme of which the competition is a part. It's nice that, after further analysis of the problem, you end on an optimistic note rather than the opposite conclusion mid way.

There are a couple of places where I disagree with what is written.

1. "If a strongly emergent theory existed, it...

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Georgina Woodward replied on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 02:57 GMT
I should have said 'Reductionism is looking at what something is and from that how it functions. That is the limit of its inquiry. It does not provide information about how it came to be if that is not via self assembly or comes to be via influence of a cause or causes external to the system under consideration, (as for behaviour).'

Georgina

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ENRICO FERMI wrote on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 07:45 GMT
It is strange for a paper to claim free will can or does exist without defining exactly what free will is. If free will does not need a formal definition because it is self-evident, then its existence must also be self-evident. But I propose that free will is best defined in the context of psychology and neurology rather than physics and mathematics. I will give a practical example to show what...

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Maurice Carid wrote on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 14:15 GMT
Dear Sabine,

1. Why is the argument against free will you sketch

in the abstract invalidated by strong emergence?

You just do not tell in the essay. This does not

make sense. Perhaps it would be best if you just

remove the remarks about free will (they appear anyway

only in the abstract and two very short sentence in the text),

and tell the reader what the essay is really about in the

abstract ;-).

2. Who else thought that "effective field theory is

a fool proof argument against strong emergence"?

You do not quote anybody... Is the essay in the

end characterized as:

"(only) I long believed in a mistaken argument

and here I tell you why I was wrong"?

sincerely

Maurice

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 08:14 GMT
Dear Maurice,

1) I have written elsewhere extensively about how free will isn't compatible with weak emergence - not in any sensible definition of the word "free will" - but there was no space in this essay to lay out the details.

2) Sean Carroll's book "The Big Picture" is a good starting point. Best,

Sabine

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Maurice Carid replied on Feb. 14, 2018 @ 17:29 GMT
Hi Sabine,

1) You do not even give a reference to your earlier writings

in the essay! "No space for details" is no excuse: surely there

was space to briefly present the argument.

2) You did not quote Sean's book in the essay and I just checked: he does not

make the point. Thus my characterization of what you did in the essay

seems to be correct.

maurice

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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Jan. 27, 2018 @ 08:05 GMT
Dear Sabine,

I consider your essay a piece of jewelry, both by elegance, and by having sharp arguments which cut like the diamond to the essence. You give crystal clear definitions of weak and strong emergence, and simple but clear and rigorous explanations and examples. You made the best arguments against strong emergence that I saw, yet this allows you to avoid the usual misconceptions and find a loophole. In addition, among the example you gave en passing, I should say some of them are really important and yet sometimes ignored. For example, in just a couple of words you said it well about the AdS/CFT correspondence, clearing some confusion in the literature, where too often people take it literally that the duality is a mathematical isomorphism, while being a sort of physical equivalence between some particular cases. Another part I liked was the double hierarchization of theories by weak and strong emergence, and the interplay between the two kinds of emergence that you exemplified. Also the argument from the Landau pole. So while I would like to help with some criticism, I don't have any, at least for the moment. I just have a question. You wrote "nature does not allow mathematical inconsistencies", and I strongly agree. Assuming that there is a mathematical theory which describes the physical universe exactly at all levels (which maybe we will find someday, maybe not, and doesn't have to allow exact derivation of everything, effective is enough) do you believe that this would forbid strong emergence, and in particular the possibility of free will? (for example I believe such a theory is compatible with strong emergence)

Congratulations for the essay and success in the contest!

Best wishes,

Cristi

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Jochen Szangolies wrote on Jan. 27, 2018 @ 10:30 GMT
Dear Sabine,

a very interesting essay. The connections between theories reminded me of Sebastian de Haro's contribution to this contest---I think his framework could have a valuable application to your argument.

But I do have a couple of questions, if I may. First, can we not simply 'add' theories? Think of classical Newtonian gravity, and electromagnetism. Both have the same domain...

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Donald G Palmer wrote on Jan. 27, 2018 @ 10:55 GMT
Thank you for a clear and incisive essay, Sabine

As a response to another post, you state that "In case you mean to say that we shouldn't try to actually derive all of science from physics, I totally agree. It doesn't seem very practical." This suggests that the weak emergence between theories of different resolutions you discuss does not provide practical knowledge, especially in terms of providing measurements and predictions at the lower resolution.

Considering your levels of resolution (a great image), what if we find that we really need the theories at each level of resolution - that they cannot be practically reduced to the 'most fundamental' level? If we are unable to practically reduce all lower resolution theories to the highest resolution theory, where is the fundamental character of this highest resolution theory? More importantly, why are the other theories not also 'practically fundamental'?

I think this is were the reductionist philosophy fails - on the practical applied level. And if it cannot break this practical level, what good is the theoretical reasoning about reducing all lower resolution levels to any higher one (is it then philosophy and not science)?

This situation, of the practical uselessness of attempting to define all levels of reality via the 'fundamental' reductionist level, could be a limitation of our current (mathematical) tools. This could be a limitation via mathematical theory (which you seem to introduce), but it could also be a limitation in the mathematical tools used to measure reality (eg. our inability to provide a single numeric value for a complex number as we are able for 'real' numbers). If the latter, then changing the limitations of the tools (one never eliminates such a limitation) would them impact any theories built upon those tools.

Thank you for your essay,

Don

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Janko Kokosar wrote on Jan. 28, 2018 @ 11:38 GMT
Dear Sabine

You assumed that consciousness is a low resolution phenomenon, thus it causes only down causation. But there are the model connected with pansichism, One of them is my model: quantum consciousness .

Do you accept any bet about existence of quantum consciousness? But, argumentation would be still better.

Yet another argument that seems different at first sight but is wrong for the same reason as the example with the chain is that entanglement realizes top-down causation [12]. The argument here is that entanglement is a non-local property of a system. Hence, if you have information only about a small part of a system, you have no way of knowing whether the system will begin to show novel effects due to entanglement if you look at the full system. Again, though, it is clearly possible to derive the behavior of the whole system if you have information about its entire microscopic constituents which, of course, includes entanglement between them.

I do not understand this. “if you have information only about a small part of a system,” Why it is necessary to have only information about a small part of a system?

But it is interesting that Stoica agrees with you. What Zeilinger or Brukner think?

But independently what you think about free-will, I like what you think about top-down and down-top causation. It is so simple, I hope that it is true.

Please visit the My essay .

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 08:09 GMT
Dear Janko,

I don't bet. I think you misunderstood that sentence. It is summarizing the argument in the reference that I quote. Best,

Sabine

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Gary Valentine Hansen wrote on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 21:33 GMT
Hello Sabine,

Thanks for the opportunity to read your mind.

Let us start with a few words about what we don’t know.

Insofar as ‘free will’ is simply the ability to make decisions in the context of multiple choices, we have to admit that free will exists, but it comes at the high price of uncertainty.

Concerning ‘strict laws’ we are moving towards a collective...

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 08:08 GMT
Dear Gary,

The very point of my essay is to explain why the claim that "Large things are made of smaller things, and if you know what the small things do, you can tell what the large things do" requires rethinking. Best,

Sabine

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Paul Knott wrote on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 21:02 GMT
Dear Sabine,

Fantastic essay – well-written, clear, entertaining, and I think genuinely profound! You do indeed put a strong case forward for strong emergence.

Before reading your essay, the only reasonable example I knew of a theory that might require strong emergence was that of consciousness: effective field theories cannot even in principle tell me how the collection of particles in my brain makes me, for example, experience the colour red in the way that I do. This is of course no proof that strong emergence is playing a role, but it is certainly a case where weak emergence is far from providing the answer. I wonder if you have an opinion on this?

I will honour the tradition of shamelessly advertising one's own essay in

a comment. Mine is almost completely unrelated to yours, but you might enjoy it nonetheless! https://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/3091

Best of luck,

Paul

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Philip Gibbs wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 15:38 GMT
I don't take a reductionist view but I still have trouble accepting the argument for strong emergence. If I have some theory I can run a simulation, and given enough computer power I can observe the implications of the theory in the simulation. If I do the experiment and see something else emerge then either the theory is wrong or there is some other influence I did not account for in the simulation. If the theory has a non-deterimninstic element different things will happen but the statistical behaivior in many trials will be the same in a simulation as it is in the real world. I don't see any room for strong emergence.

As for free will, the answer depends on the exact definition of the terms in the question. If those are clearly given then people will only answer differently depending on whether or not they hold a pluralist belief for mind and matter or not.

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Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Feb. 4, 2018 @ 17:01 GMT
Dear Sabine,

Because you are by far my favorite author on the curious state of current physics, and because I would love to have your comments on my essay, I’m a little at a loss how to respond to this beautifully-written piece. Though I don’t disagree with you at any point, what was in my mind throughout was your blog-post from a couple years ago on “The Unbearable Lightness of...

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Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Feb. 17, 2018 @ 15:13 GMT
Dear Sabine – I have to apologize, rather embarrassed, because I hadn’t realized that you’ve devoted quite a bit of time to this debate over free will. Having looked now at several of your posts and papers, I think I understand why you care about this issue – because many other people do, and they also feel the need to defend themselves against science. I agree that’s very...

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Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Feb. 17, 2018 @ 15:17 GMT
Sorry, I meant to say -- whether or not we can prove strong emergence is false, there’s plenty of reason to assume it is.

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Wayne R Lundberg wrote on Feb. 4, 2018 @ 21:09 GMT
Dear Sabine,

I looked for your paper because I read and enjoy your backreaction blog, so I felt your astute science writing would be insightful.

Although you acknowledge that modern theoretical physics "is almost certainly incomplete" you avoid venturing into "what" it is that is more fundamental than the well-known 25 fundamental SM particles.

The discussion of how...

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Jeffrey Michael Schmitz wrote on Feb. 5, 2018 @ 20:17 GMT
Dear Sabine,

This is a well-written essay that uses examples and a sense of humor to let the reader “in”.

First a small technical point, when you say “energy” you really mean “energy density”. The person who says, “go” and the person who pushes the bottom use more energy than the collision between two protons at CERN, but energy density is far higher with the protons.

Now the major problems: Radioactive decay is independent of atomic interactions (except for cases like electron capture). There is a disconnect between the first two energy density or resolution levels, namely: nuclear and atomic. There is a difference between sound, wind and thermal vibrations, which cannot be seen at the atomic scale, collisions due to sound and thermal vibrations would be the same without information of a collective mode. Any sound or electromagnetic wave that is orders of magnitude larger wavelength than the atomic scale would have the same problem. The conservation of linear and angular momentum seen in fluids would have a similar problem. At the atomic level all is reversible, a hydrogen atom at the ground state returns to a hydrogen atom in the ground state with no record of the thermal dynamic state of the collective.

Sincerely,

Jeff Schmitz

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Stefan Weckbach wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 14:35 GMT
Dear Sabine Hossenfelder,

i am glad and amused that you came to the conclusion that it mustn’t be the case that the behaviour of particles completely reigns over your thoughts.

It is funny what people are able to believe when extrapolating some knowledge about nature. And your introductory sentence from your abstract is funny too, in my humble opinion.

Reminds me of a kind of self-conversation like this

“Once I thought my thoughts about particle physics were completely determined by particle physics… but then I realized that my toughts about mathematics were completely determined by mathematics, because I realized that mathematics and particle physics are one and the same”.

“So, now I know that my toughts about mathematics are completely determined by particle physics and vice versa, since I realized that my toughts about rules are completely determined by rules.. but then I realized that my thoughts about thoughts are completely determined by my toughts … and now I conclude that particle physics is completely determined by my thoughts and that solipsism is true.”

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Heinrich Päs wrote on Feb. 7, 2018 @ 18:57 GMT
Hi Sabine,

very interesting essay.

I have two comments though:

First I disagree that reductionism means that "Large things are made of smaller things", I would argue that more fundamental things can actually be bigger than less fundamental things, see my essay.

More important, though, your essay got me started to rethink what really is meant by „strong emergence“. So while I initially agreed with your definition of strong emergence meaning physical laws that can not be derived from a more fundamental theory I‘m now wondering how this corresponds to the extreme case of strong emergence I‘m dismissing in my own essay, namely that the emergent theory could allow for phenomena that are strictly forbidden in the more fundamental theory, as, for example, the occurence of a biological organism being able to run faster than the speed of light. Could such a case of strong emergence be justified by the example you are providing? Am I misunderstanding „strong emergence“? Are there different kinds of strong emergence? Or is your example actually a subtle case of weak emergence? One may argue for this conclusion by objecting that your argumentation is purely mathematical, for example there might exist a physically (albeit not mathematically) equivalent theory which would allow for the continuation from higher to lower resolution missing in the original model.

Best regards! Heinrich

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 05:35 GMT
Hi Heinrich,

That's an interesting question, whether a strongly emergent system could violate the speed of light limit. At first, I see no reason why it should not be so, but I will have to think about this more. I'll have a look at your essay! Best,

Sabine

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Andrew Beckwith wrote on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 02:58 GMT
quote

Effective field theories work with quantum field theories, that is the type of theory that we

presently use to describe nature at the highest resolution probed so far. The key equations of the

framework (the “renormalization group equations”) connect a theory at high resolution with a

theory at low resolution. That is, the theory at low resolution is always weakly emergent. It can

be derived – at least in principle – from the theory at high resolution.

In practice the derivation of the low-resolution theory can only be done for simple systems,

but from a philosophical standpoint this isn’t relevant. Relevant is merely that physicists do

have equations that define the theory on low resolution from the theory at high resolution.

Effective field theories can fail [9] in the sense of methods becoming inapplicable, and there

are certain theorems that can fail (such as the decoupling of scales), and there are some approximations

that might become invalid (such as weak coupling), and so on. These are practical

problems for sure. But in principle, none of this matters. Because even if we don’t know how

to do a single calculation, the theory is still there. It doesn’t go away

end of quote

Please describe how you would apply these criteria to the early universe, i.e. the pre Planckian to Plackian regime

I did an essay due to these considerations, too

You can review it, and I welcome your comments. I put it in December 21st

thanks for your essay. it was a good read

Andrew

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Member Ken Wharton wrote on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 03:56 GMT
Hi Sabine,

Nice essay! I'm a bit skeptical that anything we tend to call "free will" has anything to do with any of this, but you still make many interesting points about strong emergence and reductionism. (For a nice modern take on Free Will, I highly recommend Jenann Ismael's new book, "How Physics Makes us Free". )

Two questions for you:

1) The only vague overlap between...

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 05:31 GMT
(I accidentally posted my reply as a separate post, see below.)

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Author Sabine Hossenfelder wrote on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 05:30 GMT
Hi Ken,

1) What do you mean by cosmological boundary? Do you mean the cosmological horizon? That's an observer-dependent notion. Do you mean a non-trivial topology? That's encoded in the combination of all (!) local maps.

2) Doesn't matter if you do that in space-time or configuration space as long as you have a notion of resolution assigned to it. The point is merely to say that of course if you don't know how the parts of a system are entangled, you don't have full information, but that's hardly surprising.

Best,

Sabine

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Member Ken Wharton replied on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 19:20 GMT
For 1), I meant something like a constraint at the Big Bang, but you'll probably have to slog through my essay to really understand what I'm getting at.

For 2), I don't see how configuration space helps you figure out what the "parts" even are. If there's no basis in which the entangled state separates out into parts, then I don't see how one can talk about parts at all, let alone assign a resolution to them. There is simply no standard answer to the question "how are the parts are entangled?" that doesn't simply list the entire nonlocal entangled state. It gets worse after 2 particles; in principle, if you take QM seriously, there are no "parts" whatsoever -- just a giant entangled structure, and that way lies Many Worlds. Really, one could make the case that GR talks about "smaller structures" than QM and QFT, because GR has a description that separates out into small parts, while QM and QFT don't.

Cheers! -Ken

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Narendra Nath wrote on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 13:24 GMT
I have a query that concerns randomness and order in Nature. We find lot of logic in the design of universe we happen to belong. How come that all physical processes are governed by randomness rather than any order when one works the probabilty of occurence of the event in our sensors. We tried an experimnet where we mixed in smaller and smaller proportions of regular or ordered events to the normal random events. Our analysis showed that even when moxed regular pulses to a rather miniscular level, chi square test clearly indicated that we have done something not natural or purely random in nature. All this goes to show that we can not affect the Nature and its processes that we try to understand and explain using Physics or sciences in general. Also, i worry if the so-called constants we have designated like strenghts of four force fields/ velocity of light, etc.have changed in magnitude ever since the creation of the Universe billions of years back. Can we design an experiment where we look for an event in the far receeded universe and see if it follows a variation in the value of a physical constant?

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Narendra Nath wrote on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 13:34 GMT
May i make a request you and your friends on this site, to kindly visit our essay in the contest and critically examine our contention regarding the role of Consciousness in sciences! Can one talk about human consciousness as well as consciousness of the Universe itself too?

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William C. McHarris wrote on Feb. 9, 2018 @ 21:17 GMT
Dear Sabine,

I thoroughly enjoyed your eloquent essay and agree with much of it. I also look forward to getting and studying your book when it comes out this summer. I wrote a fairly extensive reply to your comments on my essay, arguing that nonlinear dynamics, while in principle not incompatible with reductionism, for all practical purposes obviates it as a fundamental tool. My reply is too lengthy (and not all that relevant) for inclusion here, but you might like to read it.

Again, thanks for your comments and for a very thought-provoking essay.

Best,

Bill

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Feb. 12, 2018 @ 01:00 GMT
Sabine,

I like your style. Your approach is clear and objective, showing what I consider real modesty about your approach, a healthy attitude that recognizes the need for objectivity in science. Your self-mocking statement concerning free will sets a playful tone that keeps readers interested to the end. Certainly we need to admit the failings of current theory, the inconsistency of dark matter, for example, and your recognition that fundamental depends on current knowledge something I mention about discoveries leading to evolution of that which we consider fundamental. My definition of fundamental is more general, that which is necessary for existence, yours applies to physical theories. And right away you recognize there are other approaches. You use QCD as an underpinning theory; I use ToE, recognizing tools and the coming together of forces to uncover the fundamental – LIGO thinking sensitivities can be enhanced to record the BB and LHC for less than a second after the BB. Hope you can check out my essay, Sabine.

Jim Hoover

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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Feb. 17, 2018 @ 18:07 GMT
A thought provoking essay, Sabine.

On the issue of free will, I'm reminded that Quine said, "To be is to be the value of a (bound) variable." So I guess Hamlet was right about that fundamental question. :-)

Highest marks.

All best,

Tom

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 08:47 GMT
Dear Sabine

If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the final days of the contest, will you consider mine please? I read all essays from those who comment on my page, and if I cant rate an essay highly, then I don’t rate them at all. Infact I haven’t issued a rating lower that ten. So you have nothing to lose by having me read your essay, and everything to...

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Don Limuti wrote on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 21:37 GMT
Hi Sabine,

I enjoyed your essay and the dialogs that followed. As per:

"First I disagree that reductionism means that "Large things are made of smaller things", I would argue that more fundamental things can actually be bigger than less fundamental things, see my essay."

You may find my entry interesting in terms of your comment. Do take a look. Also see Enrico Prati's entry on deep learning.

So many essays, so little time...glad I got to yours,

Don Limuti

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peter cameron wrote on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 21:21 GMT
Hi Sabine,

Many thanks for the time and thought you put into your blog. More than a few jewels have come to light in my eyes from there.

Like that you number your essay. This is something several of the imo 'better' authors are doing in this forum, very helpful in the discussion threads.

1. Reductionism Works - really? how does emergence fit into reductionism?

2. What...

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Luis F Patino wrote on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 21:28 GMT
Hi Sabine,

Thanks for letting me believe in free will!

Seriously, I never doubted it — just like I did doubt strong emergence. Thanks for poking a hole into it — it has been overused to say the least, ignoring that forests need to be made of trees to really be forests.

Ironically I did write exactly the type of essay you explicitly avoided: an essay directly answering this contest's question "what is fundamental?" Boring, maybe, but necessary, I think. It's super short, though, so it may not bore you too much to read it!

Best,

Luis Felipe Patino Cuadrado

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Scott S Gordon wrote on Mar. 2, 2018 @ 04:19 GMT
Hi Sabine,

Your essay shows that you know where the problems are, but just like in the Star Trek movies, you're like Khan trying to kill Kirk... You keep missing the mark.

You say that reductionism worked in the past (and it did) but it has not worked recently - that is absolutely correct but the question is WHY has reductionism come to a screeching halt in advancing physics? The...

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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 14, 2018 @ 04:03 GMT
These kind of essays are very useful because the expose the flaws of spacetime in a manner that mainstream science accepts. As usual, the author uses words that require further definition like naturalness and weak versus strong emergence.

Invoking new words to describe very old notions is a classic way to avoid addressing key notions like free will. Whenever there is trouble, simple invoke the notion of Landau poles and that will ease the pain of conflict. Does this make any sense at all?

"The argument that effective field theory proves reductionism even though no one is able to at least derive the properties of an atomic nucleus from QCD undeniably has an air of physicists’ hubris to it."

The author is very smart and makes many good points...the points made in this essay are not really very good...

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