Philosophical theory with an empirical prediction

post by mgin · 2016-10-28T16:14:16.480Z · score: -3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 10 comments

I have a philosophical theory which implies some things empirically about quantum physics, and I was wondering if anyone knowledgeable on the subject could give me some insight.

It goes something like this:

As an anathema to reductionists, quarks (and by "quarks" I just mean, whatever are the fundamental particles of the universe) are not governed by simple rules a la conway's game of life, but rather, like all of metaphysics goes into their behavior.

The reductionist basically reduces metaphysics to the simple rules that govern quarks. Fundamentally there is no other identity or causality, everything else is just emergent from that, anything we want to call "real" that we deal with in ordinary experience, does not have any metaphysical identity or causal efficacy of its own, it's just an illusion produced by tons of atoms bouncing around. If the universe is akin to conway's game of life, then I don't think the things we see around us are actually what we think they are. They don't have any real identity on a metaphysical level, but rather they are just patterns of particles in motion, governed by mathematically simple rules.

But suppose there actually is metaphysical identity and causal power in the things around us, well the place I can see for that, is that the unknown rules governing quarks, are not mathematically simple rules, but literally that's where all of metaphysics is contained, quarks entangle together according to high level concepts corresponding to the things we see around us, including a person's identity, and have not the mathematically simple causal powers like conway's game of life, but the causal powers of the identity of the high-level agent.

The empirical question is this: do we observe the fundamental particles of the universe behaving according mathematically simple rules, or do they seem to behave in complex/unpredictable ways depending on how they are entangled / what they are interacting with?

 

Adding an example to clarify:

The behavior of the quarks corresponds to the identity of the things we see around us. The things we see around us are constituted by quarks - but the question is, are these quarks behaving mindlessly as billiard balls, or is their behavior the result of complex rules corresponding to the identity of the thing they form?

In other words, suppose we're talking about a living ant, are the quarks which constitute that ant behaving according to simple mathematical rules like billiard balls, and the whole concept of there being an "ant" is just an illusion produced by these particles bouncing around, or are these quarks constituting the ant actually behaving "ant-like"?

Is the causal behavior of the ant determined by the billiard-ball interactions of quarks bouncing around, or does the causal behavior actually originate in the identity of the ant, with the quark interactions being decided according to its nature?

What I'm saying is that there metaphysically is such a thing as an ant, when quarks "get together as an ant", they behave differently, they behave ant-like. Given there is a lot of unknown on exactly why quarks behave the way they do, why is this ruled out: that when they "get together as an ant", they behave ant-like?

Basically the idea is, when it comes to the interactions of the quarks constituting the ant with the quarks constituting the things the ant interacts with, the behavior of those interactions is determined not by simple, universal rules of quark behavior, but by the rules of quark behavior that are in effect "when the quarks are an ant".

To further clarify this example:

This is framed in general terms, because I don't actually know any quantum physics, but I'm talking about the fundamental physical particles ("quarks", for lack of a better term), and their behavior at the quantum level - behavior which we don't fully understand. So one could say in general terms, sometimes the quarks "swerve left" and other times they "swerve right", and we don't exactly know why they do that in any given case.

So the question is, suppose the behavior of quarks in general is not determined by simple, universal laws of quark behavior, e.g. "always swerve left 50% of the time", but rather, there are metaphysically real and physically meaningful "quark groups", like if a bunch of quarks are entangled together in a group constituting what we'd observe to be an ant, then quarks in that quark group behave differently. So for example, the quarks in that "ant quark group" might always swerve left when they interact with another quark group of a different kind.

10 comments

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comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-10-29T01:25:56.869Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically the evidence is the opposite of what you hope it will be. Things do in fact follow simple laws even when they are part of something larger.

However, I think you are confused in a lot of ways from the start. You say,

The reductionist basically reduces metaphysics to the simple rules that govern quarks. Fundamentally there is no other identity or causality, everything else is just emergent from that, anything we want to call "real" that we deal with in ordinary experience, does not have any metaphysical identity or causal efficacy of its own, it's just an illusion produced by tons of atoms bouncing around. If the universe is akin to Conway's game of life, then I don't think the things we see around us are actually what we think they are. They don't have any real identity on a metaphysical level, but rather they are just patterns of particles in motion, governed by mathematically simple rules.

An illusion implies someone who perceives an illusion. So it is not possible that the only things that exist are quarks and other fundamental particles, since quarks and fundamental particles do not perceive anything and cannot suffer from illusions. You probably even agree with this, and think this is a good reason to think that quarks are not governed by simple laws. But it is not. There is no reason that fundamental particles cannot both be governed by simple laws, and be built up into something real, even though it is made of them. You seem to be assuming that nothing can be made out of anything else: e.g. a human or a banana is something real, even though it is made of particles. Your assumption is that whatever is made of something does not exist,. This is a mistake. Many things are made of other things, but they are still real things.

And if a thing is made of other things, of course its actions will likely be made of the actions of those things. But the whole thing is real, and so are its actions.

comment by mgin · 2016-10-29T16:08:39.716Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically the evidence is the opposite of what you hope it will be.

Can you please substantiate this claim?

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-10-29T23:32:27.785Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The evidence is not quite as detailed as you might guess from Manfred's comment (I am not saying he was wrong, but it might give a certain impression). In other words there is not enough to prove things conclusively one way or another, generally because the mechanisms tend to be too complicated to reduce perfectly to the parts. So for example if someone tells you that "we know absolutely that the behavior of a living cell reduces to the behavior of fundamental particles," they are claiming too much. The behavior of a cell is too complicated for us to reduce to the behavior of fundamental particles. But this cuts both ways: there are too many particles in a cell for anyone to prove that the behavior of the cell does not reduce to the behavior of the particles, if it doesn't. So there is no conclusive proof either way.

But the evidence that we have supports the idea that the behavior of the whole is made up of simple behaviors of the parts. The basic evidence for this is the fact that technology works. We can see simple behaviors of simple things. We assume that those behaviors will stay constant when we put them together with other things, and guess at the results. We construct things based on those guesses, and the guesses tend to be extremely accurate. This is very good evidence that those simple behaviors are always retained, even when you put the small things together to form larger wholes.

comment by mgin · 2016-11-02T17:15:09.091Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So there is no conclusive proof either way.

This is what I suspected. But is there anyone studying quantum physics from this perspective? I'd like to see a theory of quantum physics based on this idea, but it's not my field at all. I'm wondering if anyone has looked into it from this perspective before.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-11-03T02:24:22.809Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know of anyone studying quantum physics from that perspective, and that is because there is not much reason to adopt that perspective and it is unlikely to be true.

comment by mgin · 2016-11-03T14:22:22.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not really convinced that it's unlikely. Just because we can construct systems that are strongly deterministic at the macro level doesn't mean that the quantum behavior we can't yet explain isn't based in some way on the higher-level organization of the fundamental particles involved.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-11-03T14:54:14.882Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are you talking about specifically by "the quantum behavior we can't yet explain"?

Also, you haven't yet given any reason to suppose that something like that would be likely in general. If some things can be made out of other things, it seems pretty reasonable that the behavior of the one things would also be somehow made out of the behavior of the others. You seem to be saying that if some things are made out of others, their behavior should NOT be made out of the other behavior. What would be the motive for saying that?

comment by mgin · 2019-12-23T19:46:57.100Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well my motive is a belief in the impossibility of the contrary.

If some things can be made out of other things, it seems pretty reasonable that the behavior of the one things would also be somehow made out of the behavior of the others.

Sure, but let me give an example based on an analogy: when you have a group of soldiers formed into a fighting platoon, they behave very differently than when you have a group of soldiers formed into a search and rescue party. Both groups have very different behavior despite being constituted by the same units.

For this reason it would be unsurprising if you could take the same constituent particles and form a nearly perfectly deterministic machine out of them in a computer processor, while still retaining the possibility that the particles can act differently and non-deterministically in other contexts.

The analogy of the quark to a human being soldier, who can act differently as a part of some higher organization is in one sense a good one, because I think in essence personhood must actually come from the quark level. I'm not an emergentist, so the ability of something like a person to exist in its own right and act "on its own", "of its own accord" - this cannot magically "arise" from otherwise deterministic components. So it must be baked in, all the way down to the lowest level. The lowest level components, quarks or what have you, must have an intrinsic ability to act "on their own" or "of their own accord", and not merely be simple mechanical units following simple, universal mathematical rules. Something about how they are combined or entangled together into macro-level objects must be meaningful to their own lowest-level behavior, if we believe these higher level things exist and act on their own at all and we are not emergentists.

What are you talking about specifically by "the quantum behavior we can't yet explain"?

isn't the classic quantum experiment with light an example of this? the mysterious "dual nature" of light as both particle and wave. when the photons are organized into a wave they behave differently than when they are disorganized individual particles. the whole odd thing about is understanding when and why it's one or the other, but indeed the very same constituents do seem to behave differently depending on whether they are particles or a wave.

comment by Manfred · 2016-10-29T19:00:17.548Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's take the well-studied example of the conversion of sunlight into chemical energy by plants. If physical law really depends importantly on macroscopic context, then there should be some dependence on context when we study something like this - some point where, by breaking something into smaller parts, we make a significantly wrong prediction about its behavior.

So, plants convert sunlight into chemical energy. And if you break a plant into smaller parts, it turns out that it's the parts with green pigment that do this. But if you cut off the leaf of a tree and look at it without the context of a tree, it still seems to behave the same.

But of course leaves are made of cells, so you can look at just a single cell of the leaf. But a single cell seems to absorb sunlight just the same alone as it did when it was part of the leaf - we can predict the rate of absorption of the leaf more or less just from the cells, and the absorption of the tree from its leaves.

Now let's jump down to chlorophyll, which is the molecule that absorbs the light. Even if you take chlorophyll out of the cell, it still works fine. The activity of the cell can be predicted from knowledge of chlorophyll.

If you break the chlorophyll into its atoms, it doesn't absorb light the same. But we can predict how it will work using the arrangement of atoms and quantum mechanics.

Etc.

comment by mgin · 2016-11-02T17:25:36.243Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand your point, but I'd be interested to see this proven (or dis-proven) bottom-up from first principles... observing that something in particular (chlorophyll, photosynthesis, etc) reduces from the top down like this leaves too many holes for it to really disprove the idea (e.g. maybe this isn't a physical function that changes depending on higher-level organization).

I think the way to check this is that someone would have to come up with a specific theory that explains the currently-poorly-understood low-level behavior of fundamental particles based on the idea that the rules of their behavior depend on their higher-level organization.