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Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
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What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation
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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
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Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
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How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
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It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
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Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
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Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
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What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
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The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Jonathan Dickau: on 5/19/20 at 4:26am UTC, wrote Now while I have a little time... I wanted to comment that your remark in...

Jonathan Dickau: on 5/19/20 at 2:58am UTC, wrote A lot to think about Noson... It seems to add up to "you can't step on the...

Noson Yanofsky: on 5/18/20 at 2:02am UTC, wrote Dear Branko, I am interested in how we perceive this unchanging, immutable...

Noson Yanofsky: on 5/18/20 at 1:54am UTC, wrote Thank you for the kind words. I look forward to reading your entire essay...

Noson Yanofsky: on 5/18/20 at 1:50am UTC, wrote Dear Rick, Thank you for the kind words. I look forward to reading and...

Noson Yanofsky: on 5/18/20 at 1:49am UTC, wrote Dear George, You are right. There were some types of limitations that are...

George Gantz: on 5/17/20 at 14:17pm UTC, wrote Noson - Thanks for your essay. I admire your work, and I enjoyed your...

Rick Searle: on 5/16/20 at 14:34pm UTC, wrote Professor Noson, I learned a great deal from reading your Outer Limits of...


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FQXi FORUM
September 21, 2021

CATEGORY: Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest (2019-2020) [back]
TOPIC: The Mind and the Limitations of Physics by Noson S. Yanofsky [refresh]
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Author Noson S. Yanofsky wrote on Mar. 1, 2020 @ 12:59 GMT
Essay Abstract

The central role of the mind is to gather and sift through information. We shall examine how this process affects our knowledge of the physical universe. Several of the limitations of classical physics, statistical mechanics, relativity theory, and quantum mechanics will be explained from this perspective.

Author Bio

Noson S. Yanofsky has a Ph.D. in mathematics from The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. Currently, he is a professor of computer science at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center. In addition to writing research papers, he has authored Quantum Computing for Computer Scientists with Mirco Mannucci (Cambridge University Press), The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us (MIT Press), and Theoretical Computer Science for the Working Category Theorist (accepted for publication by Cambridge University Press). Noson lives in Brooklyn with his wife and four children.

Download Essay PDF File

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H.H.J. Luediger wrote on Mar. 1, 2020 @ 17:22 GMT
Noson,

very well argued...until you address 'modern' physics. While it may be coincidental that you avoid the previously frequently used term 'phenomena' when going beyond classical physics, it yet indicates the point where your argumentation enters the domain which Kant had called 'transcendental illusion', because in the absence of phenomena REASON cannot do its job such that only the understanding remains. Is this why classical and 'modern' physics don't go together?

Heinz

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Mar. 6, 2020 @ 13:34 GMT
Dear Heinz,

Thank you for taking an interest in my paper. I did not realize that I did not use "phenomena" in the second part of the paper. It was not intentional. The interesting thing is that all of classical physics can be seen as a product of quantum mechanics and relativity theory. So classical and modern physics do go well together.

All the best,

Noson

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Jochen Szangolies wrote on Mar. 1, 2020 @ 18:21 GMT
Dear Noson,

I'm happy to see you posting an entry to this contest. I find much---on a first, cursory reading---that I agree with, but also some points where I differ. Let me offer some thoughts your essay elicited within me.



Identity is not a singular notion. There are many notions of identity, appropriate to different contexts, and neither is inherently more 'appropriate'...

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Mar. 8, 2020 @ 17:36 GMT
Dear Jochen,

Thank you for the kind words. Your papers have kept me occupied since we first met. Thank you for all the thought provoking ideas.

I agree with your modeling model : )

I am not pushing subjectivism. But not because I believe in structures. As I wrote "No one is claiming that everyone’s perceived reality is different and subjective. The brains of different people are physiologically very similar and their educations are compatible so that they mostly agree on what is out there."

I do not have an intuition as to what you mean by "structure". To me it sounds like something Platonic like "ideal forms". In short I do not see a significant difference between Platonism, Mathematical Realism, and Structualism. I am not saying that they are wrong philosophies. (That would be a metaphysical statement.) Rather, what I am saying is that we can understand the world without these metaphysical entities.

I will post on your paper in your comments. I only have praise.

I am not sure what you are saying about entanglement. I think you are agreeing with me.

I look forward to communicating with you about your papers.

Sincerely,

Noson

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Anonymous replied on Mar. 9, 2020 @ 18:49 GMT
Dear Noson,

regarding the notion of structure, there are various, not always completely overlapping, definitions. To me, structure is essentially what a system and its model have in common---basically, what makes another system a model of some object system. But it's more usual to phrase this in terms of relations, where 'structure' is essentially the set of relations that are born by the...

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Jochen Szangolies replied on Mar. 9, 2020 @ 18:50 GMT
Sorry, I accidentally got logged out... The above, obviously, was me.

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Jack James wrote on Mar. 2, 2020 @ 01:37 GMT
Dear Noson,

I agree with your overview of our limitations and found your writing easy to follow. Because of that, I don't have much else to say really! Given your overview, you may enjoy the Godelian chess game in my entry.

Kind regards,

Jack (Entry: The Misalignment Problem)

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Mar. 6, 2020 @ 13:39 GMT
Dear Jack,

Thank you for the kind words. I will look at yours soon.

All the best,

Noson

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Mar. 3, 2020 @ 00:24 GMT
I enjoyed reading your essay from beginning to end. I like the question of when is an object the same and when is it different. Clearly a dead cat is not the same as a live one in many ways, and a broken poison flask is not the same as an intact one. There is also difference between the sources of sensory stimuli, the potential stimuli and the perception generated as a result of stimulation. For example the smell 'of a pig'. The experience is generated by the observer, from sensory input; airborne chemicals received by the nose of the observer.That the smelly perception of the pig relies upon the mind that generates it, and is different from the material animal does not mean there is no material animal existing independently of observation. Feynman and the steak, Einstein and the moon come to mind. Photons'reflected' from the surface of a material concentration of existence we would call an apple (associating the material source with the perception generated) are not the source apple or the observation product and perception of an apple. They form a receivable signal allowing frequency and intensity information to be obtained. IMO, We don't need to unlearn the persistence of objects, but recognize observer generated perception is different from non perspectival existence. Food for thought. Despite my disagreement I like your essay a lot. Regards Georgina.

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H.H.J. Luediger replied on Mar. 5, 2020 @ 11:23 GMT
Georgina,

just in case you want to keep this interesting discussion alive...

What precisely do you think remains in the absence of ANY observer? What would that mean for what we call prehistoric past?

regards,

Heinz

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Georgina Woodward replied on Mar. 6, 2020 @ 03:11 GMT
Heinz,

Take an ancient bone as an example. As Noson explains in his essay there is not a definite, clear boundary between object and not object. In this case bone and not bone. Some of its minerals may have leeched into the soil and soil may be ingrained in the structure of the bone. However on the macroscopic scale there are regions of mineral and organic structure that are distinct from the surrounding soil. As well as its organic and mineral structure (allowing identification as bone) it will also have a carbon 14 proportion (allowing age of the material measurement) The structure will also have a distribution or form (that may allow identification of species and age of individual at death.) It has a center of gravity (un-measured). These are qualities of the existing thing that do not require observation to be.

Measurements / observation (requiring an observer): Length, width, breadth, weight, age of material measurement, orientation, a geometric mapping of form, classification, colour/ colour distribution- an attribute of the seen 'image' of the bone generated by the observer not the material bone.

"What would that mean for what we call prehistoric past?" "Heinz. The bone is -Now as is all material existence but inferences can be made about former -Nows from the observations and measurements of the bone. Pre-history does not still exist. Artifacts and relics exist awaiting discovery. Not yet having been found is not the same as not existing (-Now).

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H.H.J. Luediger replied on Mar. 6, 2020 @ 18:15 GMT
Giorgina,

als regards e.g. C14: this method to determine the 'age' of certain materials not only builds on a vast range of theories but also requires experimental measurements. These decay measurements in turn require man-made machines called clocks, which measure 'time' in fractions of the rotation period of the Earth or other periodic=geometric systems. Isn't the question "how many seconds per second?" the proof of the illusionary nature of 'time'?

'Time' is a psychological not a physical dimension. It passes the faster, the more disorder there is. In physics there is 'phase' and 'constellation' - not 'time'.

Heinz

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 3, 2020 @ 23:09 GMT
Wonderfully written essay Prof Yanofsky!!!

Your words … “New York Yankees baseball team that has existed for more than a century. Every few years the players change; the fans change; the owners change; even Yankee Stadium moved. Why are the Yankees still considered the same team…???”

Very nice logical base you have developed. I like to add that in the “Dynamic Universe Model” also the “Universe is constantly changing its positions, and slowly masses also, how calculate Motion in these multiple gravitations of various masses?” was presented.

Hope you will look at my essay give your valuable comments

Best

SNP. Gupta

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Mar. 4, 2020 @ 20:56 GMT
Hi,

If you are replying any of comments I posted on your essay, I request you to post a copy or intimation that you posted reply, on my essay

“A properly deciding, Computing and Predicting new theory’s Philosophy”

also,so that I can continue discussion….

Best Regards

=snp.gupta

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Apr. 14, 2020 @ 01:23 GMT
Dear snp.gupta,

Thank you for looking at my essay.

I will look and comment on your essay soon.

All the best,

Noson

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Steve Dufourny wrote on Mar. 10, 2020 @ 11:48 GMT
Hello, congrats for your essay, I liked a lot and I shared it on Facebook, regards

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Apr. 14, 2020 @ 01:26 GMT
Thank you. I hope you got positive responses. The more the merrier!

All the best,

Noson

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 30, 2020 @ 03:51 GMT
Noson,

Welcome back.

Your essay was of great interest to me and prompted a number of questions along the way. The exclusive use of the “object” terminology calls to mind the great number of terms we use for things that we observe and are vague meaning and use: particles, matter, atoms, objects, molecules, etc.

Sean Carroll, for one, says that every particle is a field and, for example, an electron is an excitation of an electron field. I reference a study where researchers used the elements ytterbium, rhodium and silicon to create a type of metal in which the electrons act as a unit and not independently as they do in a regular metal like copper that seems to bridge the quantum and classical worlds. I know some believe that particles are real and most don’t. I wonder how you define an object and what you think of the element study above.

You say, “All large-scale objects are created by us and we idealize them to make them applicable to the laws.” In another passage you say, “It is a human mind that makes them into a whole.” I agree that flaws mark our search for ultimate truths and that our theories are tentative and that we try to make our objects applicable to our theories and concepts. I can see that Kant has influenced current philosophy with his ideas on synthesis and transcendental deduction but I’m not too schooled on his thinking.

No one has a corner on the makeup of our physical universe. I think we are all searching. Hope you get a chance to read mine.

Jim Hoover

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Apr. 14, 2020 @ 01:29 GMT
Dear Jim,

Thank you for the kind words. I will look at your essay soon and comment on it.

All the best,

Noson

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James Lee Hoover replied on Apr. 15, 2020 @ 23:00 GMT
Noson,

I am rating those I have missed today. My rating will be your 7th. I say this because there is someone who gives a 1 w/o comments.

Jim.

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Apr. 8, 2020 @ 21:57 GMT
Dear Noson,

You tackle a very real question of persistence. In a response to Jochen you say: “I am not pushing subjectivism. But not because I believe in structure.”

This is compatible with my belief that physicists project mathematical structure on the world and then believe that physical reality has this structure.

You say “the usual lesson one learns from the Ship of Theseus is that objects do not have persistence through time.”

You also discuss measurements in special relativity. My essay deals with this in detail. I hope you find it interesting. The conclusion is, I believe, relevant to your essay. SR is 4D, and structures are frozen ‘forever’. The alternative, (3+1)D ontology, sees universal time (the present) spanning the spatial universe. The energy-time theory conserves energy in the present, and thus lends structure to the reality of the present, but it is a dynamic, energy-based structure, compatible with the Ship of Theseus.

Thanks for giving me insight into ‘persistence’.

I hope you are well. It’s always good to read your essays.

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Apr. 14, 2020 @ 01:35 GMT
Dear Edwin Eugene Klingman,

I plan on reading and commenting on your essay soon.

It, indeed, looks interesting.

You wrote: "This is compatible with my belief that physicists project mathematical structure on the world and then believe that physical reality has this structure."

You might want to look at an old essay where I write about this.

https://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Yanofsky_Why_
Mathematics_Wo_1.pdf

All the best,

Noson

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Israel Perez wrote on Apr. 10, 2020 @ 17:12 GMT
Dear Noson

I enjoyed reading your essay very much, although the way you express the topic left me with the impression that you are saying that we live in a simulated illusory reality, for you claim that there are no objects, and so on.

Regarding relativity you may interested to see my publication on why the speed of light gives c every time is

measured.

As for quantum mechanics, Bohmian mechanics is more intuitive than traditional one, I wish you had mentioned it in your work to have a wider view of quantum mechanics.

Your work is similar to mine regarding how humans understand reality, I hope you find some time to read my essay and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed yours.

Best regards

Israel Perez

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Apr. 14, 2020 @ 01:43 GMT
Dear Israel Perez,

Thank you for taking an interest in my paper.

I have no reason to believe that we live in some "simulated illusory reality". The lack of objects is a fact of existence in this world. Thankfully, it is us who make objects of things.

I look forward to reading your paper. I will read it and comment on it soon.

I love Bohmian mechanics. I am not sure it is correct. But I hope it is. Be that as it may, what I said about quantum mechanics stands for Bohmian mechanics also.

The Kochen Specker theorem shows that even with Bohmian mechanics, objects do not have properties till they are measured. The only thing that Bohmian mechanics adds is some type of determinism, not value definiteness.

All the best,

Noson

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Israel Perez replied on Apr. 17, 2020 @ 18:28 GMT
Dear Noson

Thanks for your reply. I appreciate it. Perhaps it was not your intention, but the way you expressed it left me with that impression. Nick Bostrom put forward the simulation hypothesis some years ago; I definitely do not see a point in this hypothesis. If our reality is simulated or not, makes no difference in the way we live.

Best wishes!

Israel

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Member Klaas Landsman wrote on Apr. 12, 2020 @ 17:12 GMT
Dear Noson,

This is a very interesting paper, brilliantly written as might have been expected from you, and food for thought. Very Kantian, in a way. It struck me that the overall idea, that human limitations induce the unpredictability of quantum mechanics, is quite explicit in the Copenhagen Interpretation as originally intended by Bohr and Heisenberg, namely (as I try to explain in detail in the Introduction of my 2017 book): the need for a classical description of the apparatus leads to the uncertainties in QM. However, you seem to believe this is true in all of physics. I doubt this myself, and your examples rather show that often one uses idealizations where in principle one could be more precise. The point of QM (but only of QM) is that in principle one cannot be more precise. I am increasingly beginning to believe that we should incorporate intuitionistic mathematics into (quantum) physics in order to deal with such issues.

But overall, anything stressing human limitations in setting boundary conditions on science has my deepest sympathy! All the best, Klaas

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Apr. 14, 2020 @ 01:50 GMT
Dear Klass,

Thank you for the kind words.

I hope you and yours are safe and healthy in this strange and dangerous universe that we live in.

I will comment on your paper soon.

All the best,

Noson

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Member Tejinder Pal Singh replied on May. 13, 2020 @ 05:00 GMT
Dear Professor Landsman, Dear Professor Yanofsky,

Kindly permit me to comment on Prof. Landsman's suggestion that QM cannot be more precise. I respectfully disagree. QM has not been tested at higher energies, in particular at the Planck scale. Prof. Stephen Adler and I have independently developed theories [Trace Dynamics, Spontaneous Quantum Gravity] in which there is a deterministic matrix dynamics at the Planck scale. When this theory is coarse-grained over time intervals much larger than Planck times, there emerges, at lower energies, quantum theory, along with its indeterminism. Quantum indeterminism is a consequence of coarse-graining an underlying deterministic theory. Pretty much the same way that the apparently random [Brownian] motion of a pollen grain in a glass of water is a result of coarse-graining the underlying deterministic motion of water molecules. I like to say that nature does not play dice at the Planck scale.

I am currently reading Prof. Yanofsky's absorbing essay, and hope to share my thoughts on it subsequently.

Thanks and best wishes,

Tejinder

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Luca Valeri wrote on May. 10, 2020 @ 12:00 GMT
Dear Noson,

I was first reluctant to read your essay, because I am not interested to learn how our mind imposes limits on physics. Or is it the other way round? I am interested to learn, how the world is. But I must agree with you, we can't.

I certainly also agree that our mind performs incredibly well in ordering the world. And also that the naive, object like reality we attribute...

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on May. 18, 2020 @ 01:54 GMT
Thank you for the kind words. I look forward to reading your entire essay and commenting on it.

All the best,

Noson

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Branko L Zivlak wrote on May. 10, 2020 @ 20:43 GMT
Dear Noson,

What is the world made of?

This issue does not affect the problem of "the Ship of Theseus".

Because the Universe is a mathematical creation, which does not change.

Regards,

Branko

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on May. 18, 2020 @ 02:02 GMT
Dear Branko,

I am interested in how we perceive this unchanging, immutable mathematical universe.

I will read your essay and comment on it.

All the best,

Noson Yanofsky

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James Lee Hoover wrote on May. 12, 2020 @ 06:09 GMT
Noson,

Hope you have time to check mine out before the deadline: https://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/3396

Jim Hoover.

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Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on May. 13, 2020 @ 13:20 GMT
Dear Professor Yanofsky,

It was a pleasure to read your well-written and enjoyable essay relating limitations of physics to the working of the human mind. I wholly agree that how the world around us appears to us must also have to do with how the mind functions and interprets the world.

I have a comment on the said quantum indeterminism and the so-called collapse of the wave function during a measurement. As you may know, the Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber theory of spontaneous localisation provides a dynamical explanation for collapse of the wave function. The collapse is still random, but is now a law of nature, even if phenomenological.

More recent research shows where spontaneous localisation comes from, and why it is random. The guiding principle for understanding this is: coarse-graining an underlying deterministic system can induce apparently random behaviour in the emergent dynamics. This is what is happening to quantum mechanics: it is a coarse-grained approximation to a deterministic matrix dynamics operating at the Planck scale.

Thus perhaps this property of QM and classical world [absence of macroscopic superpositions] can be attributed to the mind not being able to probe very small length scales, without supporting experimental technology.

My thanks and best wishes,

Tejinder

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Member Rick Searle wrote on May. 16, 2020 @ 14:34 GMT
Professor Noson,

I learned a great deal from reading your Outer Limits of Reason just as I have learned much from reading your current essay.

You have a way of expressing complex philosophical ideas in concise, clearly understood language that I deeply admire.

Best of luck in the contest!

Rick Searle

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on May. 18, 2020 @ 01:50 GMT
Dear Rick,

Thank you for the kind words.

I look forward to reading and commenting on your essay.

Sincerely,

Noson Yanofsky

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George Gantz wrote on May. 17, 2020 @ 14:17 GMT
Noson - Thanks for your essay. I admire your work, and I enjoyed your essay. I agree that the idea that the structure of the mind imposes itself on the world it interacts with is a powerful insight. What I did not see you address are the inherent limitations on mind that you so carefully articulate in The Outer Limits of Reason. The firm fixtures of incompleteness and complexity that beset the mathematical also beset the mental, and hence our understanding of the physical. Perhaps (as I suggest) these limitations are fundamental in all realms (mental, mathematical and physical) and that the qualities of autonoetic consciousness carry throughout: entanglement, agency and self-reference.

Good luck!

George Gantz: The Door That Has No Key: https://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/3494

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Author Noson S. Yanofsky replied on May. 18, 2020 @ 01:49 GMT
Dear George,

You are right. There were some types of limitations that are not a product of our mind. For example, limitations caused by self-referential paradoxes seem to be inherent in the universe rather than in the mind perceiving it. There are many different types of limitations. In this essay I focus on the limitations that come about from our minds.

I look forward to reading your essay and commenting on it.

Thank you.

All the best,

Noson

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on May. 19, 2020 @ 02:58 GMT
A lot to think about Noson...

It seems to add up to "you can't step on the same Ship of Theseus twice" to paraphrase Anaximander. A wonderfully detailed answer to the posed problems. I especially like the thought at the end of needing to study the way we study the universe. That is really the essence of the learning game, to see the universe in or as yourself while seeing the universe as it is without your own biases.

Yours is probably one of the last essays I'll read and rate this round. I would enjoy knowing what you think of mine. It's about what goes to infinity and what gets contained.

All the Best,

Jonathan

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on May. 19, 2020 @ 04:26 GMT
Now while I have a little time...

I wanted to comment that your remark in the abstract about the mind gathering and sifting through information prompts thoughts about hemispheric specialization in the brain and the tendency to split functionality along those lines. One side tends to how things come together and the other focuses on how the pieces can be teased apart. Again; an excellent essay that I will have to re-read when I have more time.

Be Well,

Jonathan

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