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Robert McEachern: on 8/19/19 at 1:15am UTC, wrote Real measurements of what? Bell's theorem is a mathematical theorem, not a...

Steve Agnew: on 8/18/19 at 22:42pm UTC, wrote I like how stubbornly you stick to your argument...but you should at least...

Robert McEachern: on 8/18/19 at 15:37pm UTC, wrote In a very perverse sort of way, you are correct that quantum phase noise...

Steve Agnew: on 8/18/19 at 4:04am UTC, wrote Shannon's bit does indeed happen by magic, but electrons are Mother...

Robert McEachern: on 8/18/19 at 0:21am UTC, wrote Like most people, you are confusing a bit-of-data, for a...

Steve Agnew: on 8/17/19 at 19:52pm UTC, wrote In the hyperlink, you use two different examples. A voltage that varies...

Robert McEachern: on 8/17/19 at 19:11pm UTC, wrote "Rovelli begins by addressing whether agency can in fact be described in...

Steve Agnew: on 8/17/19 at 18:47pm UTC, wrote Rovelli gives a nice talk on the physics of decisions, but the following...


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September 23, 2021

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: The Physics of Decision-Making: Carlo Rovelli at the 6th FQXi Meeting [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Aug. 14, 2019 @ 22:16 GMT
Carlo Rovelli
You chose to click on this post.

But why? And does the fact that the universe started in a low entropy state play a role in providing the answer?

Elsewhere on the blog, Ian Durham has been writing about his own model of free will, which he presented at the 6th FQXi meeting, in Tuscany. Physicist Carlo Rovelli of Aix Marseille University in France has also been thinking in about the science of how we make decisions, but from a different angle, which brings in mysteries about thermodynamic entropy, as well as aspects of biology and psychology. You can listen to his full talk, which is now up on the podcast.

Rovelli begins by addressing whether agency can in fact be described in purely physical terms — using just the science that we know about the world today. A few of the researchers speaking at the meeting, Paul Davies for instance (whom you’ll hopefully hear more about in a later post), think that understanding the origin of life and consciousness, and in turn agency, will require new physics. Rovelli disagrees, and though he cannot yet give a blueprint that describes the mechanism behind our decision-making processes (which is a tall order, to be fair), he has begun to pose the scientific questions he feels need to be addressed along the way.

If you’ve read Kate Becker’s fascinating article “First Things First: The Physics of Causality” then you already know something of the path that Rovelli is taking. He notes that decision-making is intimately tied to time’s arrow; the choices we make now should be based on what happens in the past, and affect the future. Time's arrow is linked by many physicists to the idea that the entropy of the universe is increasing, although why the cosmos started in a low entropy state is tough to explain. So understanding the origin of causality is crucial, and Rovelli is attempting to do that by relating the concept of entropy in information theory to natural selection.

Agency also involves intention, says Rovelli, and the emergence of the first person perspective psychologically. If you want to know more about the work Rovelli has done so far and the open questions that he says still need to be addressed, then you could do worse than to decide to listen to the full version of his talk: “The Meaning of Meaning in the Natural World.”

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How do we make decisions? Physicist Carlo Rovelli discusses the science behind choice -- arguing that agency is intimately tied to time's arrow. From the 6th FQXi meeting in Tuscany.


Go to full podcast

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Aug. 15, 2019 @ 15:27 GMT
I’ve listened to Carlo Rovelli’s talk. But Carlo Rovelli is barking up the wrong tree, when it comes to the issues of choice and agency, because he models the world using equations. Equations are the problem. Equations can’t handle more complex situations/environments.

With equations [1], numeric outcomes are decided by relationships between variables. Algorithms, on the other hand, can handle complex situations by analysing the numeric values of multiple variables to arrive at the numeric outcomes: i.e. algorithms can be used to represent a decision that takes many factors into consideration. Equations can’t be used to represent a decision. It’s as simple as that.

1. E.g. the equations that represent laws of nature.

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Steve Agnew wrote on Aug. 17, 2019 @ 18:47 GMT
Rovelli gives a nice talk on the physics of decisions, but the following three outcomes he is first of all is not interested in:

1) Any outcome outside of physics, i.e., outside of what is measurable;

2) Any outcome that invokes new physics, i.e., the physics we have is good enough;

3) Any outcome that believes agency is an illusion since then decisions would all depend on creation and determinism and therefore agency and free choice would both be illusions.

He then gives a narrative that seems to come down to the simple proposition of an agent decision driven by an increasing entropy. The low entropy state of creation is then a mystery whose precursors science should be able to know, i.e., our low entropy creation has a knowable and measurable precursor.

In fact, Rovelli’s basic belief is that we live in a causal universe where there are knowable precursors for every outcome. Therefore, the outcome of low entropy at creation must have knowable precursors.

We do live in a causal universe and that means that there are precursors for every outcome. However, because of quantum phase including an agents own quantum phase, there are some precursors that are simply unknowable since they exist only as quantum superpositions. Quantum superpositions are precursors to many outcomes but are not always measurable as outcomes. In other words, some outcomes like agent feeling simply happen and there are no measurements that can ever reveal a certain precursor. Rather, an agent can only know many precursors within some limited uncertainty principle.

Thus, there is free will and free choice and agency in a causal universe...

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Robert H McEachern wrote on Aug. 17, 2019 @ 19:11 GMT
"Rovelli begins by addressing whether agency can in fact be described in purely physical terms — using just the science that we know about the world today."

Yes it can. It is not even particularly difficult

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Steve Agnew replied on Aug. 17, 2019 @ 19:52 GMT
In the hyperlink, you use two different examples. A voltage that varies continuously we then arbitrarily make discrete with some bit size. However, single electrons are what make up the discrete bits of voltage and so it is Mother Nature that makes our reality discrete, not people.

Another example you use is that of cursive handwriting, which you argue is continuous. But our nervous system works with a large number of discrete neural action potentials each one of which is a large number of discrete ions. Therefore, the continuous motion of cursive handwriting is simply an illusion of the underlying discrete reality of Mother Nature...

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Robert H McEachern replied on Aug. 18, 2019 @ 00:21 GMT
Like most people, you are confusing a bit-of-data, for a bit-of-information, but they are entirely different concepts.

A Bit of Shannon's information, does not have "size" and Bit-detection does not happen by magic, as most physicists seem to think: Nature has the exact same problem that people have, and they both must ultimately employ the exact same decision-making process, since there is no possible alternative - that is what makes the process "fundamental" - if you fail to detect the one bit of information, indicative of the very existence of the thing you are attempting to detect, then you fail to detect its existence and act accordingly - just as if it does not exist.

Rob McEachern

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this post has been edited by the author since its original submission

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Steve Agnew replied on Aug. 18, 2019 @ 04:04 GMT
Shannon's bit does indeed happen by magic, but electrons are Mother Nature's way. There is nothing wrong with Shannon noise in the classical sense, but Shannon never included quantum phase with his bits. Therefore, Shannon's bits are limited by the lack of quantum phase...but Shannon's principles are still very valuable for classical noise, but not for quantum phase noise...

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