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FQXi BLOGS
July 11, 2020

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: Emergent Reality: Markus Müller at the 6th FQXi Meeting [refresh]
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Blogger Ian Durham wrote on Jan. 10, 2020 @ 19:55 GMT
At the 5th International FQXi conference in 2016, participants were given a marker and asked to write something on their conference badge that might serve as a conversation starter. It could be a bold statement or a single word. The only requirement, if I recall, was that it had to have something loosely to do with the theme of the conference (that is, the organizers didn’t want anyone putting random words like “potato” on their badges). In what I perceived as a show of defiance against certain elements in the community, I wrote “objective reality exists” on mine. No one noticed. To be fair, I don’t think anyone actually paid much attention to anyone else’s name tag. Nevertheless, in my own mind, it felt like I took a stand on something important (feel free to laugh at that).

I still firmly believe that objective reality exists in some form, but in the past few years, I have begun to think that the story may be a bit more complicated than I’d originally thought. I have always thought that there are aspects of the universe that are necessarily emergent and I have also long believed that “reality” is fundamentally relational in a certain sense. As an anonymous reviewer once wrote in Philosophical Magazine (which, despite its name, is actually a physics journal), science is the “rational correlation of experience.” That is, if we view science as uncovering the parts of the world that can be “objectively” known, then this knowledge is necessarily correlative and therefore relational.

To be clear, this does not deny that there is a reality outside of this correlative experience. It simply says that this experience is what constitutes an objective reality since it assumes that objectivity, in this sense, is common experience that can be rationally agreed upon. Certainly this is not a perfect definition, but there is an element of truth to it. Falsifiability only has real weight in a relational sense since it requires some kind of comparison.

At any rate, this all suggests a number of things. First it suggests that objective reality is emergent (though, again, it does not outright deny a more fundamental, non-emergent reality). But it also suggests that the very concept of objectivity requires observers of some sort. To put it another way, if science is the rational correlation of experience, then there must be observers whose experience is being rationally correlated.

In his talk at the 6th International FQXi conference, Markus Müller
Markus Müller at the 6th FQXi meeting in Tuscany.
pointed out that this suggests that perhaps the laws of physics themselves only apply at the observer level. The external world described by these laws would thus be emergent. Specifically what Müller suggests is that this objective external world must be an emergent approximation of something more fundamental but potentially inaccessible.

Müller’s work, which is developed in detail in a recent preprint, specifically makes reference to John Wheeler’s concept of “law without law” according to which there actually are no fundamental laws and the universe’s basic building blocks are random, possibly chaotic quantum phenomena.
Physicist John Wheeler, originator of the concept of
He begins by committing to the first-person perspective of observers as being fundamental. This is in contrast to most theories which take the third-person perspective representing “the world” to be fundamental. In other words, Müller does not assume that there is necessarily an objective, external world. Rather, he seeks to place the question “What will I see next?” at the center of the story. Using algorithmic information theory, he then proceeds to show that an objective, external world naturally emerges from a basic set of postulates that includes the first-person perspective under the guise of “observer states”. Specifically he shows that, in the presence of enough information, the first-person and third-person perspectives are equivalent; absent sufficient information, they are not. Müller goes on to show that switching to a fundamental first-person perspective can dissolve the famous Boltzmann brain problem from cosmology and can offer interesting insights into the brain emulation problem from AI.
Ludwig Boltzmann, who originally proposed the idea of Boltzmann brains.


To be clear, Müller isn’t necessarily making the claim that this is how the world works. He’s simply attempting to show that one can devise a self-consistent theory that begins with a first-person perspective and that then leads to an emergent third-person perspective. As with most physical theories, the aim is to chip away at our understanding of the world. In Müller’s case, it is to say that maybe we should reconsider how we formulate our theories, which overwhelmingly assume a third-person perspective.

As I mentioned before, though I firmly hold that objective reality in some form exists, I have come to realize that it may not come in quite as simple a form as I had originally thought. One of the reasons for the change in my thinking on this topic is my recent involvement in a program called Science for Monks and Nuns which aims to bring science to Tibetan Buddhist monastic communities. (Several FQXi members have been involved in this program including Tim Maudlin, George Musser, Howard Wiseman, and the late David Finkelstein.) Buddhist philosophy, like science, does not have a single, established view on reality. Rather it is divided into various schools of thought. One such school of thought, known as Cittamātra or Yogācāra, sometimes referred to as the “Mind Only” school, flatly denies the existence of an objective, external world. By contrast, Madhyamaka, also known as the “Middle Way”, posits that the external world is essentially one of co-dependent origination. That is, it posits that nothing has its own intrinsic nature. In other words, nothing has any meaning without reference to something else.
A Buddhist philosophy classroom at the Tibetan Government in Exile compound in Dharamsala, India.


In his FQXi conference talk, Müller employed the phrase “mind before matter” to emphasize the point that, in his model, the observer state is fundamental and gives rise to an objective, external world. His model seems to include elements of both the Mind Only and Middle Way schools of Buddhist philosophy. Similar to the Mind Only school, Müller’s model takes first-person perspective observer states as fundamental. However, his model allows for the mutually dependent emergence of a third-person external world in a manner that is reminiscent of the Middle Way’s co-dependent origination.

I want to emphasize that I am not an expert on Buddhism by any stretch. But my time working with the monks and nuns has changed my perspective on reality and I found the similarities with Müller’s purely scientific model to be striking.

At any rate, I think Müller’s model holds a great deal of promise for explaining the quantum/classical contrast. Perhaps the world really is fundamentally quantum and the objective reality of classical physics is an emergent phenomenon. It doesn’t make that reality any less real. It simply might be that it’s not fundamental.

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Robert H McEachern wrote on Jan. 10, 2020 @ 20:50 GMT
Regarding objective reality, if Mark Twain were still alive, he might quip that "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

There is no reason to doubt that Objective Reality Exists. Nor is there any doubt that the classical realm emerges from the quantum realm; It just does not do so in any of the manners supposed. See my Jan. 9, 2020 @ 14:29 GMT comment and previous comments regarding this, on this page.

Rob McEachern

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Joe A Nahhas replied on Jan. 30, 2020 @ 20:34 GMT
Physical reality can be hacked . first method of hacking physical reality is visual hacking. Visual hacking of physical reality is a display of physical reality in real time and physical reality has nowhere to hide. Displaying Earth motion in real time = 27.321 days wrongly assigned to the moon. Displaying the sun motion in real time = 365.256 wrongly assignedd to EARTH. The errors = Einstein

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John R. Cox wrote on Jan. 10, 2020 @ 21:30 GMT
Ian,

Is there a Way in The Buddha's path to Nirvana where 'this just is', which would relate to a classical covariance in a particle 'knowing itself'? My storehouse having burnt down, nothing obscures the view of the bright moon. & Happy New Year jrc

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 10, 2020 @ 23:46 GMT
We need an objective view of the world so that we don’t descend into a nonsensical view of the world.

An objective point of view is a mental model of the world that attempts to describe what exists in the world. A somewhat valid mental model of the world has always been essential to the survival of living things. The difficulty is that an objective point of view has to be constructed out of subjective information.

This “objective” model of the world is a higher-level point of view that requires a brain that can logically analyse quantities of lower-level information. When communicating this point of view to others, human beings use symbolic representations: words, equations, binary digits etc.

I think what objectively exists in the world is: 1) things like particles, atoms, molecules and living things; 2) information relationships that we call “laws of nature” ; 3) information relationships that we call “numbers”, that apply to the variables in the laws of nature; 4) logical analysis of this information (we would symbolically represent this with IF…THEN… algorithms); and 5) numeric outcomes resulting from logical analysis (we would symbolically represent this with IF…THEN… algorithms); 1A) the things are what subjectively know and logically analyse information relationships, and create new number relationships.

So I’m contending that logical analysis is a fundamental aspect of the world, an aspect that can’t be reduced to law of nature information relationships.

I would like to ask Ian Durham and Markus Müller: where do they think logical analysis came from?

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John R. Cox replied on Jan. 11, 2020 @ 14:44 GMT
Hi, Lorraine, hope you are safe.

(1) Things, & (2) 'laws of nature' are only theoretically operational rather than truly objective. We needn't descend any further, we are far enough from a definitive concept of 'what is'. My favorite, inertia is defined as 'a mass in motion tends to stay in motion and one at rest tends to stay at rest'. That beggs the taboo question; "What is it about inertia, which is proportionately the same thing for any mass regardless of it's state of motion?" Nor do we have an existential definition of Electric Charge. What the duce is 'magnetism'? Our laws only address an emergent effect of operation between two or more identities, not the why of what is any one thing. jrc

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Lorraine Ford replied on Jan. 11, 2020 @ 22:08 GMT
Thanks John.

We are not in the bushfire zone, but we are affected by the smoke haze in the sky. And we are emotionally affected by the horror of the destruction wrought by the fires; and by the horror of the fact that out prime minister is a fundamentalist speaking-in-tongues Christian who doesn't seem to believe that what human beings do could have an effect on the climate, and who seems to believe that praying is the solution to climate issues.

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Lorraine Ford replied on Jan. 11, 2020 @ 22:19 GMT
John,

Human beings (and other living things) categorise things. Physics already assumes that particles, atoms and molecules, and law of nature relationships and (what we represent as) numbers are categories that objectively exist: our space exploration missions and physics experiments already assume and rely on these things objectively existing. (What we represent as) numbers are a general category that objectively exists, but specific numbers only exist from a subjective point of view. This is nothing new.

Law of nature relationships ALREADY cover inertia, mass, magnetism and electric charge: these things are not separate to what is described as “laws of nature”. Inertia, mass, magnetism and electric charge only exist in relationship to other things: they don’t have a separate existence. Physics is all about the relationships underlying these sorts of aspects of the world.

If you think that there is something MORE fundamental underlying these fundamental aspects of the world that human beings have already categorised, then it is up to you to describe it.

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Roger Granet wrote on Jan. 11, 2020 @ 04:02 GMT
Maybe, the "mind" or observer doesn't have to be a conscious mind? I think that a thing exists if it is a grouping This grouping ties together whatever is inside into a unit whole, which is another word for an existent entity. For example, a grouping of separate elements ties these elements together into a new unit whole called a set. In this case, the grouping could be the observer that allows something to exist. Once two somethings exist, there can be a relationship between them. But, the relationship is between two more fundamental existent entities.

A second comment is about:

"That is, if we view science as uncovering the parts of the world that can be “objectively” known, then this knowledge is necessarily correlative and therefore relational."

It seems like one can determine if an object exists and that this knowledge isn't relational. It's just a single observation.

Thanks.

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 11, 2020 @ 23:42 GMT
Ian Durham,

I’m surprised that you physicists at the 2016 FQXi conference failed to recognise the basic contradiction in Müller’s ideas. You said:

“Müller … Using algorithmic information theory, … then proceeds to show that an objective, external world naturally emerges from a basic set of postulates…”

You are saying that it was NECESSARY to “[use] algorithmic information theory” in order to get an objective view of the world to “naturally” emerge. But there is nothing “natural” about “using algorithmic information theory”, UNLESS you have first assumed that the algorithmic analysis of information is a natural aspect of the world.

Instead of indulging in flowery mysticism, why do physicists never stop to ask themselves: what aspect of the world allows us to do this algorithmic analysis of information?

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 12, 2020 @ 22:11 GMT
Ian Durham,

Re Markus Müller using algorithmic information theory:

Why don’t physicists ever look at themselves and the logical analysis of the world that they are doing?

How did logic arise is the world? How did the ability to logically analyse situations arise (where logical analysis is symbolically representable by IF…THEN… algorithmic statements)?

To different degrees, both people and other living things logically analyse their world all the time: it is THE MOST necessary tool for survival. The ability to at least some extent logically analyse situations is a FIRST REQUIREMENT for living things to ever arise.

Logic is structured. And clearly, logic (represented by IF…THEN… steps) cannot have arisen from relationships (represented by “law of nature” equations). So clearly, logic must be just as much a fundamental, objectively existing part of the world as laws of nature are a fundamental, objectively existing part of the world.

Do physicists see the contradiction in their use of logic in absolutely everything they do, when they have failed to identify logic as a fundamental, necessary, objectively existing element of the world?

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 13, 2020 @ 21:10 GMT
Objectively, there IS a world out there, outside our bodies. We know this because of our ability to logically analyse information. We acquire masses of lower-level point of view information about the world from particle interactions between the world and our senses. This lower-level information has to be analysed and collated in order to form a higher-level point of view of the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s an extension of our higher-level subjective point of view that allows us to deduce that there IS a world out there, outside our bodies. Presumably we wouldn’t need our senses, we would only need a brain, if there was no world out there outside our bodies.

Note that laws of nature are merely fixed relationships between categories of information; it’s (what we represent as) the NUMBERS that apply to these categories that need to be analysed in order to obtain a view of the situation in which we find ourselves. I.e. laws of nature are merely fixed relationships: they don’t do logical analysis.

So this raises the question of what logical analysis is, and I’m contending that logical analysis is the main function of consciousness. Secondly, I’m contending that free will is the ability to respond to a logical analysis of the situation in which we find ourselves. Both the outcomes of free will and the outcomes of laws of nature are (what we would represent as) numbers that apply to existing categories of information.

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Lorraine Ford replied on Jan. 13, 2020 @ 21:30 GMT
P.S. for the legions of drongos out there:

Computers/ robots/ AIs don’t do logical analysis of information. They perform symbolic representations of logical analysis of symbolic representations of information.

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Jack James wrote on Jan. 14, 2020 @ 04:46 GMT
Dear Ian

Interesting article, you wrote:

"Müller suggests is that this objective external world must be an emergent approximation of something more fundamental but potentially inaccessible."

This is what Plato had in mind:

"Plato's Theory of Forms asserts that the physical realm is only a shadow, or image, of the true reality of the Realm of Forms. So what are these Forms, according to Plato? The Forms are abstract, perfect, unchanging concepts or ideals that transcend time and space; they exist in the Realm of Forms."

Emergence is such an interesting concept, perhaps you will enjoy my essay 'The Misalignment Problem' in this year's contest. In my view, any physical theory macroscopic or microscopic, emergent at some level or not, needs a corresponding ontological grounding. Fundamental, the idea of perfect reduction to a particular unit is an extremely complicated concept.

Kind regards,

Jack

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Jason Mark Wolfe wrote on Jan. 17, 2020 @ 13:17 GMT
Ghost hunting has started to refine its ability to detect ghosts. Whatever other craziness the physics theorists are coming up with, they don't have any measurable evidence. Make way for the next REAL TESTABLE PHYSICS FRONTIER! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b59kc9fBli0

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Georgina Woodward replied on Jan. 17, 2020 @ 20:54 GMT
Hi Jason, the video is categorized as entertainment.

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Steve Agnew wrote on Jan. 18, 2020 @ 15:58 GMT
The mind-body problem is among the many questions that people continue to ask that do not have unique answers. Instead, there are two kinds of answers; only the subjective mind really exists or only the objective body really exists, i.e., only objective reality really exists.

Of course, we freely choose the answer that we like and that becomes our truth. We can only exercise this free choice with our mind and so reality necessarily begins with free choice. Whether we freely choose a reality of the mind or an external reality of the body is simply a belief that we freely choose.

Science answers questions with measurements of an objective materialism in which many freely choose to believe. Religion answers questions about a subjective idealism for which science has no measurements.

Both Durham and Müller freely choose their own beliefs...

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 26, 2020 @ 21:49 GMT
John,

Re John R. Cox replied on Jan. 13, 2020 @ 22:12 GMT, John R. Cox replied on Jan. 14, 2020 @ 04:16 GMT and John R. Cox replied on Jan. 21, 2020 @ 21:57 GMT:

Leave the mass/energy equations to the professional physicists. But it is important to distinguish physical matter from mass and energy:

By physical matter I mean particles (including photons), atoms, molecules and living and non-living things. Matter interacts with other matter. Matter is not energy or mass: energy and mass are categories of information ABOUT matter; these categories merely exist in relationship to other such categories i.e. these categories do not interact with other such categories; these relationships and categories are represented by equations, variables and numbers. But matter itself is not represented by equations, variables and numbers: it is information about matter that is represented by equations, variables and numbers.

Physical matter interacts with other physical matter. These interactions cannot be represented as smooth continuous lawful relationships between categories i.e. as equations. It might be said that aspects of these interactions are more like IF…THEN… conditional behaviour; i.e. conditional behaviour has seemingly been there from the start of the world.

Logical i.e. conditional behaviour is seen in living things and in particles in the double slit experiment. It is clear that aspects of the behaviour of these things in response to the environment they encounter can only be represented by an “IF(environmental condition) THEN (implement non-lawful response to the condition)” logic: i.e. the response is representable by algorithms as opposed to equations. This logical response to conditions encountered is free will.

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John R. Cox replied on Jan. 27, 2020 @ 01:10 GMT
Lorraine,

Then we must agree to disagree about what physically constitutes *matter*. jrc

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Lorraine Ford replied on Jan. 27, 2020 @ 01:31 GMT
John,

You need to be able to explain why mass and energy are represented by equations, but matter itself is NOT representable by equations. Only information about matter is representable by equations. That's the facts.

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John R. Cox replied on Jan. 27, 2020 @ 15:48 GMT
Ms. Ford,

You have to explain why YOU think equations are not 'information'.

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 30, 2020 @ 21:21 GMT
Rob,

Re “Information is not about anything other than itself…”, Robert H McEachern replied on Jan. 29, 2020 @ 18:02 GMT:

Mathematically, you can’t EVER build a category out of a non-category. Physics BEGINS with categories of information ABOUT matter, e.g. relative position, mass and energy. This fantasy you have of undifferentiated information is complete nonsense.

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