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Current Essay Contest

Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Previous Contests

Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
Contest Partners: Fetzer Franklin Fund, and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation

What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

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

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

How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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Juan Ramón González Álvarez: on 2/28/18 at 20:42pm UTC, wrote Atoms are stable because electrons behave as quantum particles, not...

Peter Jackson: on 2/26/18 at 22:00pm UTC, wrote Marc, I see I hadn't rated yours. Hold on tight for a mo. Very best ...

corciovei silviu: on 2/26/18 at 9:47am UTC, wrote Beg your pardon, Mr. Seguin I noticed some "guardian angels", that are...

Stefan Weckbach: on 2/26/18 at 1:41am UTC, wrote Dear Marc, just yesterday I remembered something that could conceptually...

Marc Séguin: on 2/25/18 at 22:27pm UTC, wrote Thank you Silviu! Time is short, but I will go take a look at your...

corciovei silviu: on 2/25/18 at 22:11pm UTC, wrote Mr. Séguin, I fully enjoyed the way you put things together it and I...

Marc Séguin: on 2/25/18 at 4:23am UTC, wrote Oops, instead of replying here, I replied bellow! :)

Marc Séguin: on 2/25/18 at 4:22am UTC, wrote Dear Laurence, It is indeed good to talk to you again in this contest....

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FQXi FORUM
July 3, 2022

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: Fundamentality Here, Fundamentality There, Fundamentality Everywhere by Marc Séguin [refresh]

Author Marc Séguin wrote on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 21:49 GMT
Essay Abstract

The question “What is fundamental?” elicits widely divergent responses, even among physicists. The majority view is that the mantle of the most fundamental scientific theory is currently held by the Standard Model of particle physics, and will eventually be passed on to its successor, a “Super Model” that will incorporate quantized gravity and explain current mysteries like dark matter and dark energy. But many disagree with this straightforward, reductionist viewpoint. Some invoke the concept of emergence (weak or strong) to argue that science is anchored by many equally fundamental concepts and theories, at every level of description. Some turn the tables around and assign greater fundamentality to higher levels, in many cases, to consciousness itself. Some maintain that the most fundamental level must be an abstract/mathematical structure, and that the physicality of the world we perceive is an emergent phenomenon. In this essay, I will try to make sense of these diverging views while attempting to distinguish between epistemological fundamentality (the fundamentality of our scientific theories) and ontological fundamentality (the fundamentality of the world itself, irrespective of our description of it). There will also be towers of turtles and chains of monkeys.

Author Bio

Marc Séguin holds two master's degrees from Harvard University: one in Astronomy and another in History of Science. He teaches physics and astrophysics at Collège de Maisonneuve, in Montréal, and is the author of several college-level textbooks in physics and astrophysics.

Wilhelmus de Wilde de Wilde wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 16:46 GMT
Dear Marc,

It is a pleasure to meet again here in the contest.

I have read your very informative essay attentively and it is a treasure for historic description of our quest for the foundations of our reality both scientific and philosophical.

My real attention was drawn when I saw your figure 4. You mention Universal Consciousness and ALL=Nothing. You say that 3 is going UP...

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 02:23 GMT
Dear Wilhelmus,

I am glad you liked my essay! I've put yours on my reading list.

Marc

Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 17:14 GMT
Marc,

I was very glad to see your last-year’s essay on the list of prize-winners, and your new one lives up to expectations. Again you give an excellent overview of the issue by combining remarkably various viewpoints into a clear and engaging narrative. I particularly liked the paragraph on “basic chemistry,” since I imagine it’s generally assumed there’s no “strong emergence” here, just quantum physics at work – and yet even if we could describe complex molecules and chemical reactions strictly in terms of physics, why would we want to?

You’re certainly right that we need to distinguish between “epistemological” and “ontological” ways of being fundamental. As the above example illustrates, chemistry may well be ontologically nothing but physics, yet for the sake of explanation and understanding, it’s much better to give “laws of chemistry” in their own higher-level language.

But you’re also right that this distinction is not really so clear. If we look at the case of biology, it’s not just a question of what level of explanation is most helpful. Ontologically, what’s going on in living organisms is not just very complex physics; it’s very complex physics in the service of self-replication, which doesn’t happen at any lower level. I have no doubt that everything organisms do is done by molecular physics. And though it’s not at all clear how life began, I see no reason to think it can’t be explained by physics and chemistry. Yet the ability of self-reproducing organisms to evolve is something entirely new… both ontologically and epistemologically.

This makes me doubt whether there’s any point to the debate over ”strong emergence.” I think the problem is that physicists and their philosophical attendants tend think only in terms of structure, not function. Structurally, every level up to the neural networks of the brain may be “derivable” from lower levels, but radically new kinds of functionality clearly appear at higher levels of structure.

My current essay tries to show that functional emergence is relevant in physics as well. As you explain so nicely, the quest for a fundamental physics has uncovered a bizarre combination of theoretical structures that are very far from simple or self-evident. I take “fine-tuning” as pointing toward a functional explanation for all this, in terms of what’s required for a universe to be able to make any information definable and measurable.

That connects with your “metaphysical” discussion of “all=nothing”, since your “infinite ensemble of all abstractions” seems strangely like the “chaos of all possible happening” I take as a starting-point. And by the way, your one-sentence summary of your last-year’s essay took my breath away. You “explained why it is reasonable to consider that a physical world is simply an abstract structure that contains self-aware sub-structures: what makes such a world physical is the contemplation of its mathematical structure by these sub-structures.” Wow! This is conceptual imagination of a very high order… not apparently derivable from anything more pedestrian.

Of all the “overview” essays here, this is definitely the most fun, and gave me most to think about. So thanks!

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 02:33 GMT

Nice to talk to you again in this contest! Your very positive analysis of my essay certainly constitutes a good summary of how I see the issue of fundamentality. We do share the same hope that we can ultimately explain the Universe out of "chaos" or "nothingness", through a feedback loop of functional emergence. I read your essay when it came out, and I will be commenting on it in your thread as soon as I find the time to put my ideas together.

Marc

Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 02:36 GMT
There seems to be something strange going on with my posts: my paragraphs breaks are replaced by "n"... ?!?

Stefan Weckbach wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 20:12 GMT
Dear Marc,

I enjoyed reading your essay. I also had to read your previous essay, since you refer to it and also enjoyed it. I have a couple of questions and hope that you can answer them.

In your current essay you state that the infinite ensemble of all abstractions contains zero information. But this can’t be the case, since you necessarily have to discriminate between ‘lawfull...

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 02:52 GMT
Dear Stefan,

Thank you for taking the time to read my essay! I will try to answer your questions. First, in my opinion, the infinite ensemble of all abstractions contains every possible abstraction, be it very regular ("lawfull patch") or irregular and chaotic. The minute you start to discriminate and include only some abstractions in the ensemble, it ceases to have a simple, almost-zero information description (simply, "the ensemble of all abstractions"), and needs to be specified (at least) by what it excludes, which defeats the purpose of having something unique and non-arbitrary serving as the "ground of being" of all Universes, chaotic or not. Of course, the big question now is "Why is the world that we observe so 'lawful'?", what I called the "Hard Problem of Lawfulness" in my previous essay...

Moreover, since the infinite ensemble of all abstractions contains, overall, no information, it is not an arbitrary "God" more complex than what we are trying to explain.

Since I believe that an infinite ensemble can serve as the "ground of being", I do not subcribe to the idea that an "infinite thing" can never be complete as a whole, and thus cannot be formalized or thought of. Of course, the problem of inifinity is a thorny one (Max Tegmark is trying, for instance, to see how his mathematical universe hypothesis can work within a finite context): I tried to address the issue of infinity in my previous essays. Despite all the problems associated with infinity, I still find it more likely that the whole of reality is infinite instead of finite. For instance, if reality is finite and discrete, it is made of a certain number of particles, that number being either odd or even. But if it is one or the other, why? It just seems too arbitrary in the context of the WHOLE of reality...

I find your idea of "realm beyond time and space that is concrete yet not formalizable" intriguing. I will certainly take a look at your essay!

Marc

Stefan Weckbach replied on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 03:23 GMT
Dear Marc, thank you very much for your reply. I just want to annotate that within such an infinite set of abstractions, there must be some information according to which abstractions can get conscious and which not. Otherwise all abstractions are somewhat conscious of themselves in the sense that “oh, I am an abstraction”. If I am indeed an abstraction, this information must be somewhere in...

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 04:25 GMT
Dear Stefan,

Thank you for you comment. I believe that the "information according to which abstrations get conscious or not" is not something that need to be added to the abstractions themselves: if an abstraction is complex enough and has the right (self-reflexive?) structure, it simply is conscious. If you search for "self-aware substructure" in Goolge, you will find many references to Max Tegmark's various articles, to my 2015 FQXi essay "My God It's Full of Clones" and to many other similiar ideas from many people.

I agree with you that "abstraction" is a shorthand for what we are trying to understand, the fundamental underlying ontology of reality. Words are so limited! Mathematical structure, abstraction, relationship without relata... many words for the ineffable... the pure fundamentality at the heart of everything...

Marc

Joe Fisher wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 21:58 GMT
Dear Marc Séguin,

FQXi.org is clearly seeking to confirm whether Nature is fundamental.

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.

All objects, be they solid, liquid, or vaporous have always had a visible surface. This is because the real Universe must consist only of one single unified VISIBLE infinite surface occurring eternally in one single infinite dimension that am always illuminated mostly by finite non-surface light.

Only the truth can set you free.

Joe Fisher, Realist

post approved

David Lyle Peterson wrote on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 01:18 GMT
Dear Marc,

You write well -- I liked your essay and underlined a lot of it: chemistry is not molecular physics, independent fundamentalities for many disciplines, our world is an abstract structure like mathematics, and that consciousness wins out over space/time/matter in a poll. I also took another look at your two previous essays (2497 and 2912). I now think of the abstract mathematics as a superposition of various hypercomplex algebras (like Wilczek’s GRID with different levels of complexity for different types of fields) working and duplicated at each tiny interval of space time throughout the universe. But rather than “pure” math, it might be a strong isomorphism to a sub-reality (which might still be called “physics” more than math – how’s that for “abstract”).

Best Wishes,

David

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 04:15 GMT
Dear David,

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my essay. I will certainly take a look at the ideas that you present in yours.

Marc

Marcel-Marie LeBel wrote on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 01:32 GMT
Marc,

I like very much your essay. In my essay, I give a different treatment of the metaphysical aspect, in which the universe comes pretty much like as a “dynamic emptiness” substance, motivated (cause) by simple logic. The spontaneous nature of the universe is its most under-rated property.

Salutations et bonne chance,

Marcel,

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 04:10 GMT
Dear Marcel-Marie,

Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that, ultimately, everything must spontenously arise... and if we can understand how it can arise out of something that is unique and non-arbitrary, it would seem to me we would have reached ultimate fundamentality. I will take a look at your essay!

Marc

Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 17:36 GMT
Hi Marc,

I was reading the first part of your concluding section on metaphysics and thought to myself, 'that sounds like Zen emptiness.' So I felt vindicated when I got to the end, and the interpretation 'dynamic emptiness' appeared, which has abundance of meaning for me, as I expressed in my essay entry.

And I particularly like your 'turtles' figure--every step seemingly becoming more fragile, further removed from the source turtle. This would miss the point, though, that the structure is not hierarchical; feedback mechanisms give every turtle access to the source.

Tres jolie, monsieur. A first class essay.

Tom

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 04:08 GMT
Dear Thomas,

Thank you for your nice comments! I am glad you liked my take on Zen's dynamic emptiness as a possible "ground of all being". I will take a look at your essay.

Marc

Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 17:43 GMT
Sorry, secure link. https://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/3124. Also, I meant figure 1 for the turtles.

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Luca Valeri wrote on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 21:53 GMT
Hi Marc,

well written essay. Other figures are thinkable than your figures 3 and 4. In my essay I try to defend a positivist view on physics, as good as this is possible, where the fundamental concepts depend on their observability. However the means of observation must be describable by these fundamental concepts. So the figure we get here is a circle.

Best regards,

Luca

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 04:06 GMT
Dear Luca,

Thank you for taking the time to read my essay! I agree that my figures 3 and 4, combined in a circle, would form a "strange loop" that could "explain" it all. I elaborated on this possibility, that I called co-emergence, in my previous FQXi essay. I will take a look at your essay.

Marc

Francesco D'Isa wrote on Feb. 4, 2018 @ 09:54 GMT
Dear Marc,

thank you very much for your essay, it's a very interesting text and a concise summary of the subject, it should be read before all the others as introduction as well. It's for sure one of the best essays I've read so far.

You write that

> Something is truly fundamental if it could not have been otherwise.

and, since everything could be otherwise (also this statement!), you argue that we should consider 'nothing' as candidate for being fundamental. I reach similar conclusions through my analysis of Nagarjuna's philosophy and absolute relativism, and I try to handle its paradoxical consequences.

I find also very interesting when you write

> the infinite ensemble of all abstractions is a unique construct that contains, overall, zero information .

But I have to read your essay "Wandering Towards a Goal: How Can Mindless Mathematical Laws Give Rise to Aims and Intention?" to fully understand what you state.

All the best!

Francesco D'Isa

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 04:03 GMT
Dear Francesco,

Thank you for your kinds comments! It is not the first time someone mentions similarities between my outlook and Najarjuna's philosophy: Jochen Szangolies commented on it in the previous FQXi contest. I will certainly take a look at your essay!

Marc

Francesco D'Isa replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 15:03 GMT
Dear Marc,

thank you very much!

Have a nice day,

Francesco

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Heinrich Luediger wrote on Feb. 5, 2018 @ 09:32 GMT
Dear Marc,

there is a central notion resp. concept in your essay that, formally speaking, seems to undermine the turtle pile as well as the ape chain. The notion ‘abstract’, I believe, doesn’t support what you intend to express. For instance, you say: “Being abstract, it can exist by itself, ...”. Also the notion ‘purely abstract structure’ doesn’t make much sense when these structures are placed between ‘all=nothing’ and the ‘fog of metaphysical handwaving’. Here is my argument:

‘Abstract’ derives from Latin abstrahere, which means to withdraw or to isolate from. So we can, for instance, abstract weight, shape, atoms, (infrared)waves, etc. from a cow just because they are already there (thanks to our forebears), i.e. abstraction is a posteriori! Then “Being abstract, it can exist by itself...” is a contradiction in terms, because ‘it’ has been withdrawn from something else by something else and it follows that the abstract cannot exist by itself. So, I think that your turtle and ape chains fail on meaning.

Heinrich

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 03:57 GMT
Dear Heinrich,

There are many ways to define "abstraction". It can also mean "the quality of dealing with ideas rather than events" or "something which exists only as an idea". It is in this sense that I use the term, and this is how I can claim that an abstraction (like the number "3") exists in itself, independently of being embodied in some physical phenomenon.

I elaborate on this in my 2015 FQXi essay, "My God It's Full of Clones".

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my essay!

Marc

Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Feb. 5, 2018 @ 20:05 GMT
Dear Marc Séguin, after reading your essay, I thought that you should definitely get acquainted with New Cartesian Physics. Look at my essay, FQXi Fundamental in New Cartesian Physics by Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich Where I showed how radically the physics can change if it follows the principle of identity of space and matter of Descartes. Evaluate and leave your comment there. I highly value your...

view entire post

post approved

Stefan Weckbach wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 02:18 GMT
Hi Marc Séguin, hope you are well and find the time to reply. I've made some annotations in a comment above and would be happy if you would be able to reply. Best wishes, Stefan Weckbach.

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 02:59 GMT
Hi Stefan,

I just commented on your previous comment and tried to answer the questions you raised. I will certainly take a look at your essay!

Marc

Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 05:02 GMT
Dear Marc Séguin

Just letting you know that I am making a start on reading of your essay, and hope that you might also take a glance over mine please? I look forward to the sharing of thoughtful opinion. Congratulations on your essay rating as it stands, and best of luck for the contest conclusion.

My essay is titled

“Darwinian Universal Fundamental Origin”. It stands as a novel test for whether a natural organisational principle can serve a rationale, for emergence of complex systems of physics and cosmology. I will be interested to have my effort judged on both the basis of prospect and of novelty.

Thank you & kind regards

Steven Andresen

post approved

John Brodix Merryman wrote on Feb. 7, 2018 @ 18:56 GMT
Professor Seguin,

This is a very thought provoking essay, so I thought I might offer a few that come to mind...

Your metaphysical handwaving seems to assume there is that "purely abstract structure" in the "All=nothing." Yet wouldn't all that abstract structure equally cancel out to nothing as well? Is there some platonic math hiding in zero, or does it arise with the...

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 03:51 GMT
Dear John,

Thank you for your comment. You say that we should try to describe the process by which mathematical (abstract) structure comes into being, for instance, starting with a fluctuating vacuum and considering its energy. But "vacuum" and "energy" are physical things, so, in my view, less fundamental than pure abstraction... relationships without relata... "cosmic structuralism" (see my 2015 FQXi essay, "My God It's Full oF Clones").

All the best!

Marc

John Brodix Merryman replied on Feb. 11, 2018 @ 01:07 GMT
Marc,

Does such information exist without a medium? Is there structure in the void?

Abstraction is necessarily abstracted from our experience and while it is defined by its consistency, is it completely logical? Consider the idea of a dimensionless point as an abstraction of location; If it has zero dimension, does it really exist, any more than a dimensionless apple? It is a...

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Juan Ramón González Álvarez wrote on Feb. 9, 2018 @ 20:06 GMT
Emergence and other features prove that a reductionist approach with the Standard Model as its foundation does not work.

Quantum mechanics is not a general framework, quantum mechanics is just a kind of mechanics. And quantum field theories are not build over quantum mechanics. In fact, quantum mechanics and quantum field theory are two disjoint theories as Dirac correctly...

view entire post

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 03:44 GMT
Dear Juan,

Very interesting systematic rebuttal of pretty much all of physics as we know it! It would indeed be so simple if, as you say, "particles always behave as particles" and "wave-like phenomena refers to the collective behavior of ensembles of particles." But electrons would fall on their nuclei in a fraction of second and we wouldn't be having this conversation, right?!

That said, some of your criticism of mainstream interpretations of fundamental physics nicely point to "grey areas" in our comprehension. If everything was crystal clear, there would be no need to keep working on the foundations of physics.

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my essay!

Sincerely,

Marc

Juan Ramón González Álvarez replied on Feb. 28, 2018 @ 20:42 GMT
Atoms are stable because electrons behave as quantum particles, not as classical particles. The wave-particle duality is a serious misunderstanding of QM that is avoided in advanced textbooks in the topic. From Ballentine:

"Are ”particles” really ”waves”? In the early experiments, the diffraction patterns were detected holistically by means of a photographic plate, which could not detect individual particles. As a result, the notion grew that particle and wave properties were mutually incompatible, or complementary, in the sense that different measurement apparatuses would be required to observe them. That idea, however, was only an unfortunate generalization from a technological limitation. Today it is possible to detect the arrival of individual electrons, and to see the diffraction pattern emerge as a statistical pattern made up of many small spots (Tonomura et al., 1989)."

From Siverman:

"The manifestations of wave-like behavior are statistical in nature and always emerge from the collective outcome of many electron events. In the present experiment nothing wave-like is discernible in the arrival of single electrons at the observation plane. It is only after the arrival of perhaps tens of thousands of electrons that a pattern interpretable as wave-like interference emerges."

As I said in my former post particles always behave as particles. That wave-like phenomena refers to the collective behavior of ensembles of particles.

Some areas are grey and open to further research. Other areas are simply maintained in a perennial grey status by certain people interested in receiving grants and so.

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Philip Gibbs wrote on Feb. 9, 2018 @ 20:58 GMT
Marc, It is good to see you back with another strong entry. I like your idea of no information meaning the whole ensemble of all abstractions, but where can you go from there? If each abstraction
$a$
has a probability
$p_a$
then they can be selected on the basis of that measure. Add the constraint that our experience has to take place in a habitable universe and you are done. The information gained in selecting an abstraction with probability
$p_a$
is
$I=-\log_2(p_a)$
in bits. Where then does the probability come from? Doesn't that require some arbitrary information about the universe? That would spoil the philosophical approach rather badly. The solution is to invert the problem and use the information content to determine the probability so
$p_a = e^{-\ln(2)I}$
The information
$I$
is the length of the shortest description of the abstraction in bits and if
$S=i\hbar \ln(2)I$
the whole thing turns into a simple path-integral-like sum over the ensemble. A whole universe from nothing in one easy step.

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Stefan Weckbach replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 00:58 GMT
Hi Philip, you have successfully proven that it is possible to link some unknown but assumed to be existent and exclusive abstractions like information and probability to derive the ultimate unknown abstraction, nothing = something. However, the question remains, do we really know what ‘something’ is in-itself and do we really know what ‘nothing’is in-itself? Surely not, since we even do...

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 03:28 GMT
Philip,

I glad you enjoyed my essay. What you propose in your comment above is very interesting. The importance of the shortest description in bits to ascertain the probability of a particular "abstraction" is reminescent of Jurgen Schmidhuber's ideas (see, for instance, http://people.idsia.ch/~juergen/computeruniverse.html). This is one of the most promising paths to getting "everything from nothing"!

Marc

Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 03:35 GMT
Stefan,

I understand your struggle in making sense of nothing and something being in a way equivalent and containing zero information! I like how you put it:

"...one could say that the shortest computer program that is able to emulate ‘nothing’ has exactly zero bits and is complete – and that therefore an infinity of such programs run unnoticed permanently on our computers, non-existing programs that emulate, well, ‘nothing’."

I think any truly fundamental explanation of everything, if such a thing is even possible, is bound to appear in many ways paradoxical. Yet, for me, the only thing that could possibly be truly fundamental must be unique and non-arbitrary, hence, contain zero information, yet explain everything. It is such a high-level (or you could say low-level) approach to the problem that most would considered it meaningless (or at least, useless)... But from an ultimate/metaphysical perspective, could it be just simple (and crazy) enough to be true?!

Marc

Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 10:51 GMT
Dear Marc Séguin, after reading your essay, I thought that you should definitely get acquainted with New Cartesian Physics. Look at my essay, FQXi Fundamental in New Cartesian Physics by Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich Where I showed how radically the physics can change if it follows the principle of identity of space and matter of Descartes. Do not allow New Cartesian Physics go away into nothingness, which wants to be the theory of everything OO.

Sincerely, Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich.

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 03:56 GMT
Dear Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich,

Thank you for taking the time to read my essay!

Marc

Avtar Singh wrote on Feb. 12, 2018 @ 18:27 GMT
Hi Marc:

Congratulations on intriguing and well-written essay.

Building upon your statement - "......try to make sense of these diverging views while attempting to distinguish between epistemological fundamentality (the fundamentality of our scientific theories) and ontological fundamentality (the fundamentality of the world itself, irrespective of our description of it).", my paper...

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 03:54 GMT
Hi Avtar,

I am glad you found my essay intriguing. I also find yours intriguing!

Marc

Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 13, 2018 @ 23:44 GMT
Prof Marc Séguin wrote on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 21:49 GMT

Essay Abstract

Very nice OP ...."The question “What is fundamental?” elicits widely divergent responses, even among physicists. The majority view is that the mantle of the most fundamental scientific theory is currently held by the Standard Model of particle physics, and will eventually be passed on to its successor, a “Super...

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Don Limuti wrote on Feb. 15, 2018 @ 03:04 GMT
Hi Marc,

It is treat to be in another contest with you.

Could I summarize your diagrams as follows:

If you climb down the stairs (turtles) you favor small scale cause. If you climb up the stairs (monkeys) you favor large scale emergence.

Or is this a little to simplistic?

I have a tendency to climb down the stairs. I think you may find my essay interesting.

I think your essay could be a "crystal clear" introductory course to the sciences.

Thanks,

Don Limuti

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 17, 2018 @ 17:40 GMT
Dear Don,

I am glad you appreciated my essay. I agree that going down the stairs to look for fundamentality at the smallest scale is easier, because physics has had a long streak of successes with reductionism! But we may yet be surprised and find ultimate fundamentality at the top of the stairs, or even in the middle!

Best wishes,

Marc

Jochen Szangolies wrote on Feb. 15, 2018 @ 17:39 GMT
Dear Marc,

thanks for the intriguing essay! However, I always have to smile a little when I hear somebody claiming that 61 is too 'large' a number of constituents for the Standard Model to be fundamental---given that it could just as easily have been thousands, or millions, or billions, it seems actually rather an astonishingly small number!

But still, there are of course plenty of reasons that the Standard Model should not be expected to be fundamental.

You mention the generation structure as similar to the order of the periodic table, hinting at something more fundamental, and I think there's something to that---to me, it's always been a terribly frustrating element of the SM: it's kinda like, being out of ideas like a washed-up Hollywood producer, nature decided to capitalize on its greatest hit with two unnecessary sequels that introduce litte novelty except for packing a heftier punch. That alone is reason enough for me to want the SM replaced by something neater!

Going further, I think we share some common ground in thinking about epistemological fundamentality, and in particular, in terms of 'everything' being essentially of zero information content, and our models of the world ultimately containing information because they only pick out some part of it, being themselves only incomplete descriptions. Although I come at it from a very different angle, it's intriguing that we should find some common ground there. There's even a little Zen in my essay, too!

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 17, 2018 @ 18:23 GMT
Dear Jochen,

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my essay. I agree that 61 is not that big a number, but it is so ugly… If only it had been 42 fundamental constituents! ;)

I love your comment that the three generations of the Standard Model are like a washed-up Hollywood producer making unnecessary sequels… From now on, when I talk to my students about the tau particle, I will liken it to “The Matrix Revolutions”!

You always have the best analogies... Last contest, you likened my co-emergence hypothesis to a rainbow, which owes its existence both to the objective set-up (sun and rain) and to the presence of the observer… And since my co-emergence hypothesis works within a “Maxiverse” where everything that could happen does happen, I think that the scenario I proposed in last contest’s essay could be called the “Rainbows and Unicorns Cosmology”. I wonder how my essay would have been received with THAT title!

I read you essay when it came out and found it very interesting (I even refer to it in my essay’s bibliography). We do share many similar interests, Zen philosophy being one of them. I have been caught up in several last-minute “emergencies” at work lately, and I am hopelessly behind in commenting and rating essays --- although I have read a lot of them. In the next few days, I will try to make up for lost time. I will comment on your essay soon… although most of the comments and the questions that I have will be very similar to what you already discussed with Philip Gibbs on your essay’s respective threads. By the way, I found your discussion with Philip fascinating… some of the things that you discussed being sometimes even more interesting and pertinent to this year’s topic than what you wrote in your essays… Wouldn’t you agree that in an ideal world, each FQXi contest would be followed by a “rematch contest” where we could submit revised essays (or new ones) that take into consideration what we learned by reading and discussing each other’s essays?

All the best!

Marc

Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 18, 2018 @ 10:33 GMT
Dear Marc,

the Matrix trilogy is, in fact, exactly what I had in mind when I made that comparison. And yes, I suppose I have a somewhat analogical style of thinking---which I often have to reign in, as one tends to see spurious connections; on occasion, I have been so taken in by a (superficially) fitting analogy that I didn't notice where it breaks down. I always feel the danger of...

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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 16, 2018 @ 18:07 GMT
Marc,

An exceptionally classy job, as usual, and thorough review of the whole concept. I particularly liked reading your take on the standard model. I'ts been described in many ways to me including from what seemed like a small frame of snooker balls to a top Fermilab guy talking about a 'quark/gluon soup'! It always seemed a cloudy soup to me, missing stock and seasoning, so I enjoyed your clarity and agreed your view.

I agree big affects big and loops back to small but I confess most sympathy for Weinbergs view (indeed I find massive new value in the smallest condensed scale of fermion 'pairs' after 'popping up' and "permeating all space"). I certainly agree your plan to form a loop with the turtles & monkeys, all is connected and relative though perhaps leave the monkeys out of the soup!

I DO want to discuss the GREAT issue between SR/GR and QM. Bell said a classic QM would be found, but it would 'amaze'. Well you may need to be prepared to be amazed. Full ontology and experimental proof in mine, matching code and CHSH>2 Cos^2 plot in Declan Traill's. So yes, I agree "the situation can improve" but only if those in Academia dare to look! which few have. I judge you to give a fearlessly honest view.

Very well done for yours, penciled in for another top score.

Best wishes in the judging.

Peter

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 17, 2018 @ 18:52 GMT
Dear Peter,

I am glad you appreciated my essay and my analysis of the Standard Model. (Looking back, I think I spent too much time talking about it, so it did not leave be enough room at the end to discuss what could be truly fundamental.)

I am not surprised that you would "leave the monkeys out of the soup": turtles all (or some) of the way down are easier to make sense of, since physics has had a long streak of successes with reductionism. But, as I commented above to Don Limuti, we may yet be surprised and find ultimate fundamentality at the top of the "tower", or even in the middle...

I see that, once again in this contest, you address what you consider to be the major problem with the preferred view of most physicists today, the interpretation of experiments where quantum correlations are present... Obviously, the recent "almost loophole-free" confirmations did not convince you... If you are right, there is an amazing worldwide delusion/cover-up of the true facts about Bell’s inequality tests! I am not an expert on the subject, but I find it a little bit difficult to believe...

Best wishes,

Marc

Peter Jackson replied on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 11:40 GMT
Marc.

Thanks. On the classical QM matter; "I find it a little bit difficult to believe.., of course. But to paraphrase Douglas Adams; "Ahh..yes, that's just perfectly normal 'cognitive dissonance' ..we all have that".!

You saw my identification of the FOUR inverse Cos momenta state distributions on all spinning spheres last year, which may be unfamiliar but is unquestionable as proved by the table top experiment shown this year. Borns rule (Cos^2) simply comes from the second cos theta momentum transfer, at the photomultiplier.

Now what you CAN use, I'm sure, is logic. Try this;

Alice & Bob are sent half each of a spinning sphere (any but conserved = polar axis). Each USES a spinning sphere (polariser electron) to find either 'same' or 'opposite' momentum direction (for polar spin AND linear momenta). Each can then revers the dial to change A,B outcome from 'same' to 'opposite'.

Now tell me why we'd need 'action at a distance'?!!

Peter

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Feb. 18, 2018 @ 06:23 GMT
Hi Marc, clearly written and nicely illustrated essay.

About combining 3. and 4. take care not to muddle map and territory when doing that.

Dynamic emptiness is a nice idea but to be dynamic it can not be utter emptiness, nothing alone can not move, it seems to me. I think I can equate it to the idea of the base medium from which all kinds of existent things and phenomena are differentiated. I don't think everything physical can come from nothing at all. Though I have read Max Tegmark's argument.

Good question at the end. I think we can still have awe without mystery. Such as for the scale, and the complexity and diversity of the universe. There is another saying, "ignorance is bliss," but does that make it desirable?

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 04:00 GMT
Hi Georgina,

When you consider a limited terrain, it is clear that you can have a map that is not the same as the terrain. But when the terrain is all-that-exists, could it be that the terrain and the map become one and the same? Just a thought!

Marc

Georgina Woodward replied on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 09:32 GMT
Marc, yes and no. I think a more complex structure is needed. For analogy; The story in a book is something different from the ink on the pages. When the printed characters are interpreted by a mind the story can be of another world, not the world the book, (ink on pages), is in. The 'things and events of the mind are not the same things and events as external reality independent of the mind, There is a categorical difference.That is to say the map has to be within the terrain, as that is all that exists, but that does not make the map the terrain itself. That's how I see it.

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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Feb. 18, 2018 @ 18:36 GMT
Dear Marc,

I was very pleased to read your essay! It was very well explained, honest, taking into account multiple views about what is fundamental, and at the same time entertaining. I like the idea to use the Zen symbol ensō to symbolize "dynamic emptiness", whether it is at the top or at the bottom. And the proposal that maybe the top and the bottom was the same ensō. I had much fun seeing the "fog of metaphysical handwaving" as the missing link with the bottom fundamental abstract structure, and at the same time the missing link to consciousness. This was even funnier considering how true it is :) Excellent essay, I wish you success!

Best wishes,

Cristi Stoica, Indra's net

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Steve Dufourny wrote on Feb. 18, 2018 @ 20:55 GMT
Hello Mr Seguin,

I liked a lot your essay.It is one of my favorites.

I have an explaination for this dark matter and this dark energy and I have correlated with the quantum gravitation in my theory of spherisation with quant and cosm sphères Inside an universal spheres.It is the meaning of my equation E=m'b)c²+m(nb)l² with m(nb) this dark matter this matter non baryonic.I have encircled the model standard mith these particles and correlated fields , with forces weaker than electrmagntic forces of photons.I have also inserted a serie of quantum Bhs farer than nuclear forces, this standard model is encrcled by this gravitation.If this DM exists so it is produced by something and also encoded in nuclei.For the dark en,ergy I cnsider it like an anti gravitational spherical push and I consider that aether is gravitational also.They turn so they are these soherical volumes ....

Your essay was a pleasure to read , I learn in the same time,

Best Regards

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 04:03 GMT
Hi Steve,

Besides solving the problem of dark matter and dark energy, what did your essay have to say about this year's FQXi contest question?

All the best!

Marc

Steve Dufourny replied on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 11:50 GMT

Each year I don't make this essay's contest, my English is not good and also I have my mind occupied by problems in Belgium.But what is foundamental, I beleive that many things are foundamentals, the sphères of course lol, the geometrical algebras , the waves, the maths, the physics, the philosophy, the hamiltonian, the lagrangian, the QFT, LOL.....so many things, in fact there are many foundamentals and it is difficult to choose one road, but the spherisation with quant and cosm sphères Inside this universal sphere and their motions for me are the most foundamental things :) they turn so they are ....

Best Regards

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Jonathan Kerr wrote on Feb. 20, 2018 @ 11:09 GMT
Dear Marc Séguin,

I enjoyed your essay, and I think it helps that you point out how disparate and disjointed physics is at present. And the general overview of the questions about fundamental makes one think about how it all might be linked up.

I found some similarities with my essay. Some of these are superficial, and some run deeper. But perhaps they all show we share a bit of a similar mindset. They can be listed, we both:

Distinguish between ontological and epistemic uses of the word fundamental

Talk about explanation as a key aspect of what links the layers of description

Look at the boundary between chemistry and particle physics

Compare the periodic table with the standard model

Quote Einstein in relation to what might be at the deepest level

Mention putting a theory of everything on a t-shirt

I'd like your opinion on a point of mine about emergent time, which I've never seen made anywhere else. No-one had refuted it so far, but several people have said it's a good point. It's near the top of page 2 of my essay, and boils down to the need to explain a coincidence - if a real or apparent 'flow of time' emerged somehow, then why was it so appropriate that it allowed physical laws (such as laws of motion), which were already pre-implied in the sequence of the time slices in the block, to function? And what were the laws doing, sitting there in the block in this 'just add water' sort of way, as if waiting for something to emerge?

I'd appreciate it if you'd rate my essay, it has only had four ratings so far, and in some situations that isn't enough for the average to be taken seriously.

Thank you, best regards,

Jonathan Kerr

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Jonathan Kerr wrote on Feb. 20, 2018 @ 11:36 GMT
PS we also both mention that we don't yet know how the chemistry to biology transition is made.

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Jonathan Kerr wrote on Feb. 21, 2018 @ 10:22 GMT
PPS. I was very surprised to find an idea that I used as an analogy in the '80s and '90s about QM on your page, in a conversation you had with Georgina. At the time I was looking for an analogy for what Paul Davies used to call the 'software/hardware entanglement', and what Jaynes called an omelette: “A peculiar mixture describing in part realities of Nature, in part incomplete human information about Nature - all scrambled up by Heisenberg and Bohr into an omelette that nobody has seen how to unscramble”[i/].

I thought about a map which is at the same scale at the territory it describes, and is drawn onto it. And then one day you don't bother to draw it on, you just use the territory as the map. This idea didn't help much at the time, but it helped to understand that something, somehow, was doubling as its own description. Anyway, it seems that you and I have similar ideas! Best wishes, Jonathan

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 06:42 GMT
Dear Marc

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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Terry Bollinger wrote on Feb. 23, 2018 @ 04:49 GMT
Marc,

Yours was easily the most enjoyable essay I’ve read in this contest!

It is lucid, learned, well-stated, well-ordered, and covers the topic in an interesting and engaging way. It as also spot-on for the question that FQXi asked, and your sly and often self-deprecating sense of humor had me chuckling multiple times.

In short, your essay was entertaining, illuminating,...

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Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Feb. 23, 2018 @ 15:46 GMT
The notion that qualia are useful reminded me of something I read the other day in Ancillary Justice, a scifi novel by Ann Leckie, recommended to me by my literary son. In this story it’s taken for granted that advanced AI systems have feelings – since “Without feelings insignificant decisions become excruciating attempts to compare endless arrays of inconsequential things. It’s just easier to handle those with emotions.”

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Laurence Hitterdale wrote on Feb. 24, 2018 @ 03:57 GMT
Dear Marc,

It is good to see again an essay of yours in this contest.

One interesting point in your essay is the distinction between ontological and epistemological fundamentality. I accept the distinction as you have drawn it. However, I would tend to identify fundamentality as it presents itself in scientific theories with an estimate of ontological fundamentality. Thus, when...

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 04:23 GMT

Author Marc Séguin wrote on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 04:22 GMT
Dear Laurence,

It is indeed good to talk to you again in this contest. Thank you for the interesting remarks you made about my essay. I pretty much agree with everything you said! In particular, the possible ambiguity between ontological fundamentality and epistemological fundamentality makes it very difficult to interpret the results of my "poll" on the relative fundamentality of consciousness vs space/time/physics.

I also agree that "local fundamentality", that is, the fundamentality of our observable corner of reality, need not possess the attribute of non-arbitrariness. That is why, in my essay, I wait until the section on "metaphysics" to bring in non-arbitrariness. Now, once you start thinking metaphysically and try to come up with a non-arbitrary ultimate explanation, you may as well go for a very classy T-shirt, with only a black circle that signifies All=nothing! Within that worldview, the concept of fundamentality loses some (or all?) of its importance, as well as everything else. And perhaps, the “depressing/distressing” possibility that consciousness is not more fundamental than anything else, that you describe so eloquently in your own essay, may also lose most of its “sting”…

I will see you on the other side… I mean, on your essay’s thread! ;)

Marc

Stefan Weckbach replied on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 01:41 GMT
Dear Marc,

just yesterday I remembered something that could conceptually fit into your All=nothing equation. Instead of assuming that All happens at the same "time", I suspect that All is existent at the same "time" in potentia.

By differentiating between actual and potential, one could gain a distinction between existence and change (and hence time).

Just wanted to mention it, since although it is an old classical distinction, I think it could nonetheless be of conceptual value philosophically.

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corciovei silviu wrote on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 22:11 GMT
Mr. Séguin,

I fully enjoyed the way you put things together it and I think further words are useless.

Rated accordingly.

If you would have the pleasure for a short axiomatic approach of the subject, I will appreciate your opinion.

Silviu

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Author Marc Séguin replied on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 22:27 GMT
Thank you Silviu!

Time is short, but I will go take a look at your essay...

All the best,

Marc

corciovei silviu replied on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 09:47 GMT

I noticed some "guardian angels", that are trying to protect me, grading my essay with one's (I'm sure that they wanted some ten's for mr, but that zero, for sure scared them). Due to this remark I decide to play the role of the "heretic" and play this game by myself.

Your understandings of my 3 pages are enough for me (and for my good mental peace) and I do appreciate that a lot. But in order to play effectively this game (and to get as much as I can out of it), I need to compensate the work of my protecting friends. So I hope I'm not being to intrusive by asking if you graded me or not (not a single problem if you don't want to, but at least I have the certainty that you didn't forget)

Apologies for my words, but I do hope that you have the sense of humor, as a game needs to be played in order to say that I'm playing

Respectfully,

Silviu

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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 22:00 GMT
Marc,

I see I hadn't rated yours. Hold on tight for a mo.

Very best

Peter

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