Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 84

Here it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Watching too many television shows about crime fighting reinforces authoritarian tendencies.

Moral enhancement might not work for precisely the reasons it is claimed to be desirable.

A mathematical approach to emergent causality?

Daryl Bem, p-hacking, and why parapsychology is still a pseudoscience.

Why are the languages of transhumanists and religion so similar?

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

174 replies

  1. The article comparing trans-humnism and religion describes a quest on both sides, for a positive feedback loop, bringing together all of humanity into a singular entity.

    The more likely short term scenario, for our age, will be a negative feedback loop, as this debt based capitalist globalism runs out of steam, as the amounts of debt it can generate and sustain collapse.

    Give humanity a few more cycles of pushing its boundaries, as the Tower of Babel of the chosen oracle crashes again and the ultimate boundary of this planet will eventually become evident, resulting in a form of Gaia hypothesis. Hopefully.

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  2. Sounds good Robin, and thanks for the clarification. But let me also present how I’m defining the “magic” term to see if we have different opinions here or not.

    I am a monist, naturalist, determinist and all the rest. It makes sense to me that effects happen because preceding causes force them to do exactly as they do. From this view the things which occur by means of time, space, and all other dimensions of existence (if there are any), are ultimately fixed by means of causality. Any ontological exceptions here would represent a void in causality, and therefore what I call “magic”.

    Given the theorized duality between particles and waves we find it quite impossible to measure anything perfectly, or Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. But I understand that most physicists today don’t just stop there, but rather move on to provide a metaphysical explanation for this observed uncertain. They do not theorize that our massive ignorance explains these circumstances, but rather that there is a fundamental void to causality itself.

    For example, if I were to think of how great a milkshake would be, and it then appeared before me through no causal chain that we can find, we’d call that an example of magic. Furthermore it actually is conceivably possible for this milkshake to appear before me given quantum strangeness. But while most physicists consider this stuff outside of causality, and thus magic from my definition of the term, I’m with Einstein and don’t take such a metaphysical leap. I say that full causality probably does apply, and that we’re simply a bunch of arrogant idiots. Thus if I do get that milkshake, this will be predetermined on the basis of basic causal dynamics.

    It could be that Hoel’s emergent causality is theorized to come about at a higher plain than basic causality, like Spanish emerging from the more basic properties of nature, though my quick glance through this article suggests bullshit through and through.

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  3. As for the emergent causality article, information is descriptive, energy is causal. When you have a sufficient feedback loop to where the noise coalesces into signal, it creates a seemingly causal information.
    Information which doesn’t ride that positive feedback loop are those alternative mathematical models that don’t physically exist.

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  4. though my quick glance through this article suggests bullshit through and through.

    That was not my impression having read the Hoel paper. You like or don’t like what Wolchover did with it, but Hoel did, as far as I can see, solid scientific work (and is honest about the potential criticisms).

    Perhaps I’m biased because Hoel seems to confirm some of my intuitions. His conclusions may not sound spectacular if you know a bit about science. However, if he indeed mathematically proved what he claims to prove (something I can’t judge properly, not being an expert in information theory, Markov chains etc.) then it’s interesting work.

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  5. Massimo: You have a funny idea of science. You want to divide between what is in the equations and what is observed, as if there is a difference. You want to divide between what is fundamental and what is not, with classical mechanics not and maybe also time is not.

    The Wikipedia articles on Second law of thermodynamics and H-theorem have plenty of equations, as well as derivations from quantum principles. Nowhere do these articles say “entropy increase is simply an empirical observation”, or that it is limited to classical mechanics, or that it is not fundamental.

    You cite Lee Smolin, as if his book is representative of what keeps physicists up at night. He is so far out on the fringe that I am not sure it is fair to call him a physicist. So he says that denying time leads to wondering if a cosmic beginning is an illusion? Yes, I suppose denying time will lead to all sorts of such confusions, but these are not fundamental problems of physics. These are just problems trying to make sense out of artificial definitions that physicists do not even use.

    Coel: Social science papers on authoritarianism are usually NOT talking about the subject in the ordinary english language meaning of “submission to authority”. After all, Donald Trump is no more authoritarian than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Instead the papers usually refer to a peculiar concept called Right-wing authoritarianism, and the ones writing the papers are usually left-wing authoritarians themselves. And yes, it is fair to assume that they are left-wing blank slate ideologues when they say things like “Gender, ethnic and racial stereotypes continue to be prevalent in many shows.”

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  6. Massimo,

    not every author has access to grants all the time, so sometimes one simply cannot pay;

    The university library simply takes the excessive piles of cash it currently pays for journal subscriptions and diverts it to paying open-access charges (with oodles left over, since the monopoly of the rapacious publishers is broken).

    Why not? If time is a dimension of spacetime, and I can conceive moving back and forth a space dimension, why can I not move back and forth in the time direction? That seems to have to do with direction, not the arrow, unless I misunderstood what you said.

    Because if we’re talking about the direction of time (not the arrow) then we have no reference basis against which to discern which way the direction is running (that “direction of time” is the fundamental reference). Or, putting it another way, if the “direction of time” (as I defined it) were reversed, how could an observer in that universe tell?

    Ah, but that’s precisely why we have a difference between fundamental physics and the rest of science. Generalizations in biology, for instance, are causative, not just descriptive.

    That reply implies that you didn’t correctly interpret my meaning. Since “laws of physics” and “generalisations in biology” describe what happens in the world, whether the laws are time-symmetric or not is about the arrow of time, not about the direction of time and not about causality.

    Yes, the laws/generalisations describe causal processes, but whether they are time-symmetric is about how things appear (whether a video tape run backwards would look different), which (using the definitions in my previous comment) is about the arrow of time.

    That seems highly unsatisfactory, as the Big Bang doesn’t seem to be just an arbitrary starting point, but the starting point for our universe.

    Well it’s only some people who explain the 2nd law that way, there are other proposals including the one I gave about quantum indeterminism.

    So, bottom line, it sounds to me like “philosophers” were right all along: the special sciences use causation all the time, while fundamental physical laws have no way to account for it, meaning that it doesn’t show up anywhere in their equations, because those equations are time symmetric.

    No, again this confuses the two things I attempted to distinguish:
    causation relates to the direction of time;
    time-symmetry of the laws/processes relates to the arrow of time.

    Fundamental physics involves causation and the direction of time just as other sciences do.

    As for the arrow of time, there are at least three ways of getting that in fundamental physics: either (1) deterministic equations that are not time symmetric, or (2) time-symmetric equations plus quantum indeterminacy, or (3) the special starting place.

    (My bet is on the second, though the “collapse of wavefunction” is not understood, so we don’t fully know. Note that you only really have a problem with the “arrow of time” if you reject both 1 and 2 and go for equations that are time symmetric and fully deterministic, and that’s really only the case with “many worlds”. It’s only then that you need to resort to the “special starting point” explanation of the arrow and the 2nd law. That is a minority viewpoint, though with some influential adherents.)

    Note that all three of those options are fundamental-physics issues, and thus, more or less whatever, the “arrow” arises from fundamental physics. For that reason it doesn’t make sense to talk about “special” sciences, all sciences are the same. The “arrow” must apply in fundamental physics as well.

    Robin,

    Where dud you get thw idea that the docial sciences are steeped in blsnk slate ideology? From Steve Pinker?

    And plenty of other places. It is indeed the case that in many places within the social sciences the explanation that some social behaviour might have a strong genetic component is just discounted. Lots of other people say that, not just Pinker. A minority in the social sciences is fighting back.

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  7. Schlafly,

    I’m with Massimo here. You offer three examples.

    1) Wave function collapse.
    It’s a mystery for the moment. It works, but why it works isn’t known yet. It’s unexplained and therefore shouldn’t be used to explain time asymmetry in general.

    2) The second law of thermodynamics.
    Some – perhaps most – think it’s compatible with time-symmetric fundamental laws, others don’t. We don’t really know with 100 % certainty whether it’s “fundamental” or not (personally I don’t think it is). And there’s always the initial conditions problem, as far as I know.

    3) CP violation in weak interactions.
    It’s a fact, but I’ve never seen a convincing argument that it plays a defining role in the “arrow of time” as commonly understood.

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  8. Thanks for the interest Couvent, and yes it could just be that my quick look at an article about a paper hasn’t done the paper justice. But then beyond all these grand claims that I hear about “discovering consciousness”, there is still something doesn’t make sense to me. What exactly is meant by that statement given that a generally useful definition for consciousness hasn’t yet gained an accepted understanding? Thus the panpsychist is free to make bold claims about such discovery, and accurately so, but then only because a definition for consciousness might be as weak as “Something that is inherent to matter” (or whatever). That’s just not helpful!

    (I’ve developed what I consider to be an extremely useful model of mental dynamics to potentially help our associated sciences build. Shoot me an email if you’d like to talk about it! thephilosophereric@gmail.com)

    Since you’ve read the paper however, I wonder if you could answer a question that came up with Robin? With “emergent causality” do you think he means beyond the single physical causality system that we presume runs our universe, or rather is he referring to a useful human distinction in general causality, as in the higher and lower disciplines of science that we explore? Is his emergent causality just a product of regular causality, and thus just causality, or does he mean something more? And then if he doesn’t mean anything more, do you find his distinction useful?

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  9. Under the symmetry, versus asymmetry of time is another issue; Eternalism, versus presentism. Some neurologists are starting to argue for the presentist side;

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2132847-your-brain-is-a-time-machine-why-we-need-to-talk-about-time/?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1496743708

    “To explain natural time, physicists and philosophers back eternalism, according to which the past, present and future are all equally real. “There is absolutely nothing particularly special about the present: under eternalism now is to time as here is to space,” writes Buonomano.

    The other main explanation of natural time is presentism, according to which only the present moment is real – a view that tallies with our sense of subjective time. The past is gone, the future hasn’t happened yet. “Neuroscientists are implicitly presentists,” says Buonomano. “But despite its intuitive appeal, presentism is the underdog… in physics and philosophy.””

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  10. Third up: P-hacking and psychology
    It is of course good that some of the sins of psychology’s past are now being exposed and dealt with. If it takes a prominent ESP weirdo in its ranks to really drive this message home, then cheers for that! But I believe that an even larger project looms concerning each of our softest sciences, as well as philosophy. Without a formal understanding of what constitutes value to existence, we simply shouldn’t be beginning from a basic enough position to build sufficient understandings of our nature. Consciousness for example should remain the joke that it is today. So yes let’s stop this p-hacking (and obviously that ESP nonsense), but also try to go back and fill in the details regarding missing basics of our nature.

    What is it that makes existence good to bad? Note that this does not concern the social construct of what “ought” to be done, as in philosophy’s moral ethics. Instead the question is,”What constitutes the welfare of any given subject?”. It’s a perfectly subjective “is” rather than “ought” form of question. Without such an understanding I believe that these fields will continue to struggle, even if they do straighten out some of the technicals.

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  11. Coel,

    And plenty of other places. It is indeed the case that in many places within the social sciences the explanation that some social behaviour might have a strong genetic component is just discounted. Lots of other people say that, not just Pinker. A minority in the social sciences is fighting back.

    I have not seen any evidence that this is the case, rather those in the social sciences have resisted the fundamentalists of both camps in the nurture/nature debate.

    And you are repeating Pinker’s mistake in assuming that the “blank slate” hypothesis means discounting a strong genetic component. This is not the case because Ashley Montagu’s thesis was that this adaptability is a strong genetic component, ie that having an adaptable brain rather than instincts allowed humans to compete and flourish in many different ways.

    Montagu’s hypothesis, right or wrong, was entirely an evolutionary hypothesis.

    Montagu is not, as Pinker claims, typical of the views in social science, but it is hardly out of the question that an adaptable brain could be an evolutionary advantage.

    If the fight back you are mentioning are people who want to impose the extreme ideological “genetic-component-for-choosing-sports-jackets” views that Pinker is pushing then I doubt that the social sciences will be better for it.

    It is an empirical question, not an ideological one.

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  12. Coel,

    a good rule of thumb is this: whenever you encounter a correlation and a claim of causation, ask whether running the causation in reverse makes as much sense

    This is pretty much one of the first things that anyone who studies statistics learns, it is a cliche in the field, like “cut on the waste side of the line” in carpentry.

    So I would not entirely discount that the people who designed and conducted these studies have also heard of it.

    On the other hand I find it quite plausible that they have failed to properly control for this possibility which would be pretty difficult unless it is a very long term study.

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  13. In fact, although Pinker appears to be pushing the claim of high genetic specification of the kind that suggests that parents help and encouragement of their children’s education won’t have any effect on their educational outcome, he later contradicts this view. Here is Pinker saying the thing he thinks that those in the social sciences would disagree with:

    What all this suggests is that children are shaped not by their parents, but in part—but only in part—by their genes; in part by their culture, both the culture of the surrounding society and the children’s own culture, which we condescendingly call their peer group; and in large part by sheer chance—chance events in the development of the brain in utero, such as whether some neurons zigged or zagged at a particular day in brain development, and perhaps chance events in life, such as whether at some point you were chased by a dog, or inhaled a virus, or were dropped on your head, or got the top bunk bed as opposed to the bottom bunk bed.

    In other words, Pinker is actually talking about a somewhat blank slate which is the standard view in the social sciences, whether or not it suits Pinker’s prejudices for that to be the case.

    I would only add that any child’s main interaction with the culture and surrounding society is their interaction with their parents.

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  14. First, presentism is hardly an underdog in the philosophy of time. However, I would point out that as an ontological view about time it also does not favor time-asymmetry intrinsically any more than some forms of eternalism. Any asymmetry of time from presentism arises from epistemic assumptions about the nature of the contents of given present moments in relation to others. And guess what? There are a number of forms of eternalism that can provide such an epistemic account. Older A-theories used to rely on semantic “tensing” to provide an asymmetry–but that was just another form of epistemic defense of that asymmetry.

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  15. Eric: “I am a monist, naturalist, determinist and all the rest. It makes sense to me that effects happen because preceding causes force them to do exactly as they do. From this view the things which occur by means of time, space, and all other dimensions of existence (if there are any), are ultimately fixed by means of causality. ”

    I’m not disagreeing with your position, but I would observe that prior to the appearance of Homo Sapiens on the scene, the earth and its biota would have conformed well with a strictly deterministic view of causality, a system that could have run for eternity (or perhaps not, given an event such as an asteroid collision) in which every effect proceeded from a cause. The advent of humans appears to have muddied the waters enough to require a different paradigm, allowing for the fact that we not only cause effects based on plans of our own, we also predict effects, usually inaccurately, but in the process altering reality in unforeseen ways. This situation, I suppose, corresponds to the quasi-geological era of the Anthropocene, and two of its possible consequences are man-made climate change and possible colonization of other planets (complete with Earth bacteria).

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  16. Schlafly,

    “You have a funny idea of science.”

    Ah, yes, I love it when people tell a scientist that he has funny ideas about science, meaning that he doesn’t understand the basics.

    “You want to divide between what is in the equations and what is observed, as if there is a difference”

    You are kidding, right? No, I don’t think you are.

    “You want to divide between what is fundamental and what is not, with classical mechanics not and maybe also time is not.”

    I don’t do that, physicists do that.

    “He is so far out on the fringe that I am not sure it is fair to call him a physicist.”

    He has a major appointment at a major institution. In physics.

    Coel,

    “The university library simply takes the excessive piles of cash it currently pays for journal subscriptions and diverts it to paying open-access charges”

    I don’t know where you are, but here it doesn’t work that way here.

    As for the direction vs arrow, while I understand the conceptual point, it doesn’t really seem to help. Check out, for instance, the Wiki article on arrow of time and its discussion of Eddington. That is what the problem is. Excerpt:

    “Physical processes at the microscopic level are believed to be either entirely or mostly time-symmetric: if the direction of time were to reverse, the theoretical statements that describe them would remain true. Yet at the macroscopic level it often appears that this is not the case: there is an obvious direction (or flow) of time.”

    That is one major reason why there very much is a distinction between fundamental physics and special sciences. (Another major reason has to do with Fodor’s argument about epistemically irreducibility and proper levels of analysis, but we’ve covered that in the past).

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  17. 1) Wave function collapse.
    It’s a mystery for the moment. It works, but why it works isn’t known yet. It’s unexplained and therefore shouldn’t be used to explain time asymmetry in general.

    “Many woulds” is reversible, but you have to reverse all the worlds which seems difficult to organie.

    2) The second law of thermodynamics.

    Second law is well understood from statistical mechanics. You have to reverse the motion of all the particles and entropy will go down for a while. Again difficult to organize and not possible in wave function collapse interpretation of QM. The waves needed are no longer there to be reversed.

    Some – perhaps most – think it’s compatible with time-symmetric fundamental laws, others don’t. We don’t really know with 100 % certainty whether it’s “fundamental” or not (personally I don’t think it is). And there’s always the initial conditions problem, as far as I know.

    Depends what you mean by ‘fundamental’ — it emerges from the statistical behavior of large numbers of particles which I would regard as fundamental as anything, but it depends what you mean by ‘fundamental.’

    3) CP violation in weak interactions.
    It’s a fact, but I’ve never seen a convincing argument that it plays a defining role in the “arrow of time” as commonly understood

    CPT is conserved — a very basic theorem. It can be proved for pretty much any field theory. Thus the ens. of physics are time symmetric providing you flip a couple of other things as well.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CPT_symmetry

    As I’ve noted before just because the eqns. are symmetric does not mean the solutions are. E.g.,The eqns. of Ferromagnet are rotational symmetric and yet the equations and yet the field ends up pointing in a particular direction.

    If in complete time symmetric Newtonian mechanics if you start with a bunch of particels in the corner of a box, they will spread out and fill the box. Entropy will increase.

    If you reverse the time before starting (just change the sign of all the momenta), the particles will also spread out and fill the box. Entropy will increase.

    See Causality here https://skepticalsciencereviews.wordpress.com/story-land/ an example in ‘many words context. Vegiemetavitamins! </:_)=

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  18. Hi Massimo,

    As I explained in the past (http://tinyurl.com/ybfjrm3u) informal fallacies are context dependent. It’s not that experts are right because they are experts, period. But it is the case that if one wishes to challenge expertise in a technical field one ought to do it from a position of knowledge. Dan often chides Coel (often, though not always, for good reasons) for failing at the latter. Here I thought Dan was failing himself. No doubt in many cases I have too, and you guys should call me on it.

    To comment at all on a philosophy blog, I necessarily have comment on things I know little about. Thus I tend to ignore Dan on that issue of expertise, but find him often quite enlightening.

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  19. Last up: Transhumanists and Religion
    Yes I do see a tremendous correlation here. These are the faithful with their prophets, and of course the prophets provide what the faithful desire — hope for eternal existence (and don’t forget general SciFi fun!). To me the whole thing is simply ridiculous. This is but one of countless cults to potentially join, and surely more benign than most of them. Of course the cultist will always ask how the skeptic can be so certain, though there probably isn’t much that either of us can say to alter the other’s beliefs. That’s standard business of course.

    So that’s my roundup for Massimo’s weekly list, which he claims wasn’t a primer for the coming revision to his Nonsense on Stilts book. I haven’t read it, though I suspect that I’m not who he was hoping to reach (that is unless he wanted to preach to the choir). Still I do have plenty of radical beliefs for him to potentially challenge, though they contain nothing remotely “pseudo”.

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  20. Hi Eric,

    It is of course good that some of the sins of psychology’s past are now being exposed and dealt with. If it takes a prominent ESP weirdo in its ranks to really drive this message home,

    It would be nice if we had seen the end of the p-hacking, r-hacking, 5 sigma hacking, spotlight among the voxel hacking and so on and so forth, but I fear it is probably always with us and we will have to deal with the situation as best we can.

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  21. The parapsychology experiments are not noticeably less rigorous than many experiments that are accepted without demur.

    In fact my theory is that if you took most of these precognition type experiments and reversed two steps, leaving everything else the same and made the claim that they proved there was no free will then all the people criticising them now would be saying how very scientific and conclusive they were.

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  22. Massimo,

    “Physical processes at the microscopic level are believed to be either entirely or mostly time-symmetric: if the direction of time were to reverse, the theoretical statements that describe them would remain true.”

    But that’s not really true! On the face of it, at the most fundamental level, quantum mechanics appears not to be time symmetric. There is some not-fully-understood process, called “wavefunction decoherence” or wavefunction “collapse”, that is not time symmetric. Admittedly that time asymmetry is not in the Schrodinger equation, but then one needs other stuff in addition to the Schrodinger equation. In the “textbook” presentation of QM one would add in wavefunction “collapse” and the Born rule.

    Now, yes, one can bypass that and retrieve a time-symmetric QM by adopting “many worlds”, but that has just as many conceptual difficulties, is very much a minority taste, and depends on fairly weird notions such as regarding the wavefunction itself as ontological.

    So, on the face of it, QM appears not to be time symmetric, and it isn’t so in the mainstream “textbook” presentations, and it seems peculiar to insist that it is time symmetric just because one can cook up one interpretation in which it is (at the cost of hidden extra worlds coming out of your ears).

    No, excuse me, even that is wrong, because many-worlds has “splitting”, and thus even many worlds is not time symmetric; if you run the tape forwards you keep “splitting” into more worlds, and if you ran that tape backwards you’d have “merging” into fewer worlds. It’s only the Schrodinger equation that is time symmetric, the splitting/collapse and the associated Born rule are not.

    So all interpretations of QM have a blatant time asymmetry!

    So why aren’t we all going for the obvious stance here: (1) Macroscopic physics and the macroscopic world are not time symmetric (2nd law arrow); (2) QM, though imperfectly understood, seems to have a fundamental time asymmetry; therefore (3) the arrow of time and the 2nd law derive from that time-asymmetry in QM. Why make difficulties for yourself by overlooking that obvious position?

    [Couvent suggests that we shouldn’t use wave-function collapse to explain the 2nd law because we don’t understand wave-function collapse, to which my reply is, ok then, what is your better idea for the origin of the 2nd law? ]

    That is one major reason why there very much is a distinction between fundamental physics and special sciences.

    But can anyone propose any origin of the 2nd-law arrow that is not about fundamental physics? The stance you are taking seems to have fundamental physics as time symmetric, with the time asymmetry arising only at the macroscopic level (what you call the “special” sciences). But how does that work, what is your proposal for the macroscopic origin of the arrow?

    If we’re talking about macroscopic (classical) physics, then the 2nd law arises from a probabilistic aspect. But how can one have probabilistic non-determinacy at the macroscopic level if one doesn’t already have probabilistic non-determinacy at the microscopic level? What is your proposal for doing that?

    Again, every actual proposal that I’ve seen for the origin of the 2nd law originates it in fundamental physics.

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  23. Robin,

    “my theory is that if you took most of these precognition type experiments and reversed two steps, leaving everything else the same and made the claim that they proved there was no free will then all the people criticising them now would be saying how very scientific and conclusive they were”

    It’s not a theory. That’s why psychology is undergoing a replication crisis.

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  24. Coel,

    It sounds to me like what you are saying is that the equations are time symmetric but the actual physics isn’t. Nobody doubted the latter, the problem is the former.

    “how can one have probabilistic non-determinacy at the macroscopic level if one doesn’t already have probabilistic non-determinacy at the microscopic level?”

    Yeah, that’s the question, how?

    “every actual proposal that I’ve seen for the origin of the 2nd law originates it in fundamental physics”

    If by “originates” you mean somehow comes out of, again, nobody is disagreement. But that doesn’t make the 2nd principle fundamental in the sense we are talking about. Again, every physicist I talk to uses the word “fundamental” in two cases only: quantum mechanics and general relativity. Everything else is derived, and therefore not fundamental.

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