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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Stefan Weckbach: on 12/9/18 at 20:03pm UTC, wrote Robert, o.k., thanks, now i got it. Thanks for taking the time to write it...

Robert McEachern: on 12/9/18 at 17:43pm UTC, wrote Stefan, Here is what I mean by the two terms self-determination and...

Stefan Weckbach: on 12/9/18 at 5:39am UTC, wrote Robert, thanks for the reply. I think until now we somewhat executed an...

Robert McEachern: on 12/8/18 at 16:54pm UTC, wrote Stefan, "If i got it right, what you termed "free-will" earlier is...

Stefan Weckbach: on 12/8/18 at 6:07am UTC, wrote Robert, now i see clearer. "The difference is that I am not even trying...

Robert McEachern: on 12/7/18 at 22:14pm UTC, wrote Stefan, "But what is the difference between your approach to justify the...

Stefan Weckbach: on 12/7/18 at 18:53pm UTC, wrote Robert, i agree with many of the things you wrote. But I yet cannot see...

Robert McEachern: on 12/7/18 at 15:49pm UTC, wrote Stefan, "But this does not give an answer to the more fundamental...


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FQXi BLOGS
December 9, 2018

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: Grants awarded for research on "Agency in the Physical World" [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Anthony Aguirre wrote on Nov. 28, 2018 @ 20:02 GMT
At the end of last year, FQXi launched an exciting new partnership with the Fetzer Franklin Fund to investigate the question of how agency arises in the physical world. This far-reaching topic brings together ideas from physics, information theory, biology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and other fields. After a competitive selection process, we’re happy to announce the 24 projects that will be funded through our seventh Large Grant program.

The total amount given out in this round is $2M, which will be used to fund projects over the next two years. Here are some of the fascinating questions being tackled by our grantees:

1. Can consciousness be modelled mathematically?

2. Would a quantum spacetime be agent-dependent? Or would agency depend on a quantum spacetime?

3. Why do our choices seem to be able to impact the future, but not the past? How is agency related to time’s arrow?

4. Do humans have free will? And, if so, could machines have free will?

5. What would a quantum agent, itself existing in superposition, see?

We again congratulate our new grantees. We also thank everyone who applied, especially those who were invited to submit full proposals; we appreciate that these took a great deal of time and resources to prepare. Our mission at FQXi has always been to push boundaries, and to try to focus the attention and effort of the scientific community on (what we consider to be) super-interesting areas of research that for one reason or another have gone less explored than they deserve. We received many more excellent proposals than we were able to fund in this round, but we do hope to offer more grants in the future, and as always we encourage people to apply for those.

We should also mention that our collaboration with the Fetzer Franklin Fund has already supported the co-themed essay contest, “What Is Fundamental?,” which produced some outstanding submissions. You can still read and enjoy all the entries on our site.

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Nov. 29, 2018 @ 00:45 GMT
Congratulations to the successful ones.

Hi Anthony, there are many different aspects to consciousness. Sensory perception and self awareness of body functioning and orientation as sensations (the tip of the iceberg filtered through from the subconscious), internal dialogue, visualization and imagination. Will different aspects of consciousness be considered by the study? Will current biological models be considered? How it can be mathematically modelled will depend on how it is defined. Perhaps a simplistic definition will give the impression we can mathematically model and therefore understand something which is actually far more complex. What do you think about this?

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Georgina Woodward replied on Nov. 29, 2018 @ 09:05 GMT
Further- Emotional states, some phases of sleep and dreaming can also be regarded as states of consciousnesses.

Will we be told more about the individual winning proposals?

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Georgina Woodward replied on Nov. 29, 2018 @ 20:02 GMT
I have developed a neurological condition that means many motor functions that should be automatic I now have to consciously control. Getting up from the ground is particularly problematic and awkward. I have to work out what body movements I need to make and then command my body to do them rather than it just happening. Ignoring the lack of grace, the outcome is the same. I get up, but the qualitative experience is very different. Presumably different neural pathways are involved, which makes the difference between conscious and automatic agency. So how the system functions is important not just what the system is.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Nov. 30, 2018 @ 02:37 GMT
I just thought that might be interesting.

I have come to realize how much human activity is normally controlled without conscious oversight. The conscious mind being the director, deciding what to do but the doing being for the most part automatic. The intention to get a drink from the fridge can be sufficient for the body to complete the necessary actions. Whereas now I have to think about how to walk and balance and how to perform the maneuvers necessary to remove the drink while still balancing. Makes me think that normally agency is a team effort of conscious and subconscious, mostly subconscious, rather than just the outcome of the conscious mind's thoughts.

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Robert H McEachern wrote on Nov. 29, 2018 @ 17:37 GMT
1. Can consciousness be modelled mathematically?

No. The information content of a conscious agent is many orders of magnitude greater than any humanly-understandable, set of mathematical equations.

2. Would a quantum spacetime be agent-dependent? Or would agency depend on a quantum spacetime?

Quantum spacetime is non-existent. It is information content that is quantized, not spacetime.

3. Why do our choices seem to be able to impact the future, but not the past? How is agency related to time’s arrow?

It is true by definition of the word "cause"; Causes precede effects.

4. Do humans have free will? And, if so, could machines have free will?

Yes and Yes. Because the information content of reality is too great to be modeled by any subset of reality.

5. What would a quantum agent, itself existing in superposition, see?

The exact same thing anything else sees. Superpositions are merely a computational model, not a physical model of reality.

Rob McEachern

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Georgina Woodward replied on Nov. 29, 2018 @ 19:49 GMT
I like your succinct expressions of opinion. Re.topic 3 Also, If there is no material past it (the past) can not be affected by what an agent does.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Dec. 1, 2018 @ 01:27 GMT
I agree with your "Superpositions are merely a computational model, not a physical model of reality."Robert. Although an object that has not had an observer reference frame applied to it (, isn't seen), or been given an orientation from which it would be considered could be thought of as being in a state of all possible observations of it (prior to just one state being selected). Which is just an ordinary unseen thing. I don't think that is what is being thought of when the term 'quantum agent' is used by the researchers.

I'm not sure what is meant by 'quantum spacetime'. What makes it different from spacetime? I think seen spacetime is a product of processing received sensory input. The state of what is observed is already limited by the limited inputs in contrast to external source objects.

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Robert H McEachern replied on Dec. 1, 2018 @ 17:01 GMT
"I don't think that is what is being thought of when the term 'quantum agent' is used by the researchers." That is precisely the problem. The fact that an agent can make a measurement, does not guarantee that the measurement corresponds to any attribute of the thing being measured. Assuming that it does, is at the heart of "quantum weirdness"; a fact that was pointed out forty years ago (but subsequently ignored) by d’Espagnat on the bottom of page 166, of this article in Scientific American (“These conclusions require a subtle but important extension of the mean­ing assigned to a notation…”)

In the case of the uncertainty principle and Bell's theorem, it has never occurred to the physics community, that the reason one cannot make two accurate measurements of some objects, is because there is nothing at all left, capable of ever being reliably measured, after the first measurement has been performed. You cannot make two independent measurements of an object that only manifests a single bit of information.

Rob McEachern

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Steve Agnew wrote on Nov. 30, 2018 @ 20:32 GMT
It is very pleasing to see so many of these awards focus on the notions of causal sets since matter, action, and quantum phase are the basic three dimensions of a quantum causal set. What continues to perplex me, though, is why all of these very smart people continue to argue about the nature of nothing of space and time instead of focusing on the nature of the something of causal set of matter, action, and quantum phase.

Unlike the nothings of space and time, the terms agency, consciousness, and free will do not have well-accepted definitions in mainstream science. In fact, it is not possible to agree on any definition of either agency or consciousness in a universe of space and time because embedded in space and time are the subjective nothings of empty space and eternity. So these grant awards tend to focus on the latest and greatest ways for very smart people to disagree about the nature of the nothings of space and time. One of those ways is with causal sets.

The causal set of precursors and outcomes figures prominently in many of these awards and agency and consciousness can both emerge from causal sets just as space and time both emerge from a causal set. Causal sets are always full of something and there is no sense to nothing and yet causal sets can describe the determinate gravity paths of relativity and discrete quantum aether is just one such causal set. However, there has not yet been an accepted quantum causal set since, among other things, quantum paths and time are both reversible and therefore not determinate.

A quantum causal set needs to allow for superposition, interference, and entanglement and these quantum effects seem to contradict the determinate gravity paths of relativity. Agency and consciousness emerge seamlessly from a quantum causal set and therefore free will as well. The basic quantum uncertainty of consciousness and choice is simply not consistent with a determinate universe.

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Eckard Blumschein replied on Dec. 5, 2018 @ 01:29 GMT
Steve,

"reversible and therefore not determinate"? What does determinate mean? Isn't most likely just the past determinated in the sense of closed, while the future may be open to evolution?

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E. Willard Powers wrote on Dec. 1, 2018 @ 12:19 GMT
I think that these are all great questions but do not believe that any of them can be fully addressed within the confines of physicalism. This is especially true of question three which would require an explanation of how our seemingly multi-determined present can arise from the indeterminism of the quantum world.

While consideration of alternate ontologies does not seem to be a priority (or maybe even an acceptable topic for discussion) I believe that it is required if many of the fundamental questions are to be fully addressed.

The principle of sufficient reason should guide this activity. If the vast majority of people believe that they have free will then there needs to be an explanation of how free will works or there needs to be an explanation of why so many people hold the belief if it is in fact false.

It should be recognized that the existence of quantum gravity depends on the assumption of a monistic ontology: if the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics can be attributed to two different ontological realms then the failure to find a fully satisfactory theory of quantum gravity may be due to the possibility that quantum gravity does not exist.

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Robert H McEachern replied on Dec. 1, 2018 @ 17:23 GMT
"If the vast majority of people believe that they have free will then there needs to be an explanation of how free will works..."

There is a simple reason, for why free-will exists, even when the laws of physics are entirely deterministic: In order to "determine" the future state of the cosmos, it is necessary to know not just the laws of nature, but all the initial conditions. But if no subset of the cosmos has sufficient information storage capacity to store all those conditions, then no subset can "determine" (AKA predict) the future of the whole. And no subset can have sufficient storage capacity, if the initial conditions are truly random, thus requiring an infinite storage capacity, for even a tiny, finite cosmos.

In other words, no computer can "compute" the output, deterministic end-result, if it cannot even recall the necessary inputs, due to a severe lack of memory. And every system, other than the entire cosmos itself, suffers from this severe lack; only the cosmos can symbolically "represent" itself, and it does so, by simply being itself. Nothing else can do that.

Rob McEachern

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Stefan Weckbach replied on Dec. 2, 2018 @ 08:03 GMT
But this would mean that „free will“ is just an illusion – compared to the true circumstances that govern our behaviour. Our behaviour would be determined by the initial conditions since the advent of time.

So, since the advent of time (big bang or something other), you Rob are determined to know the truth about the real circumstances of human behaviour, you and a growing crowd of...

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Georgina Woodward replied on Dec. 2, 2018 @ 08:19 GMT
I don't think I, my conscious mind, can know if it has free will. Reason being, it is unaware of the very many different influences, from internal state of the body, nutritional, hormonal etc., and the very many external influences/ sensory input, only a small fraction of which are passed on to the conscious mind for consideration. I read an article about judges giving harsher sentencing just before lunch when they were hungry. I think that, like those judges, when I think I am exercising free will I am unaware of the myriad of factors that have influenced my decisions.

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Steve Agnew wrote on Dec. 2, 2018 @ 17:17 GMT
These projects all look for the precursors in space and time for the outcomes of free will, agency, and consciousness, which all of course simply exist in a quantum causal set of precursors and outcomes. However, in a quantum causal set, there are also outcomes that have unknowable precursors and yet those precursors do also exist in the causal set. It is the unknowable quantum precursors that...

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Dec. 7, 2018 @ 10:03 GMT
An agency is "an administrative organization run by a government" or "a business which provides services for other businesses". In the latter sense, I understand the forebrain and consciousness - how Georgina aptly wrote - as a pretty collective cooperation of neurons.

Can it be modelled mathematically?

Definitely only in the sense of a coarse approximation.

How does it relate to theories on physics?

There is perhaps no useful link. Concerning "governed" physics have a look into Einstein's recently sold by auction "God letter" he wrote in 1954.

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