Examples of mysteries explained *away*

post by RolfAndreassen · 2011-09-30T18:47:21.891Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 73 comments

I am looking for examples of mysterious answers that were eventually explained *away* by science. I can think of two: One is the belief that the behaviour of living things was explained by the mysterious force of elan vital, and not by mere chemistry; which was destroyed by the synthetisation of urea. The other is the special (and mysterious) role of the conscious observer in quantum mechanics, which was explained away by demonstrating that rocks can get entangled with electrons just as much as brains can. Can anyone furnish me with other examples?

I observe in passing that phlogiston is *not* such a mysterious answer. Eliezer is down on it, but I think unjustly so; for people did in fact perform experiments on phlogiston, including the final experiment to find the weight of the phlogiston that had passed out of the burning material and into the byproducts. It turned out that the phlogiston had negative mass... in other words, that the direction of the transfer had been misidentified. But if you think of phlogiston as `negative oxygen', it makes the same predictions as modern chemical theory. This is no worse a mistake than mistaking the direction of the current, a mistake which is *still* enshrined in our sign conventions; it is not a mysterious answer of the form "X->Y" with no details of X given and any value allowed for Y. 

However, I digress. Mysterious answers blown away by experiments, anyone?

73 comments

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comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T19:44:27.304Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

No significant fraction of physicists ever believed consciousness had a special role in quantum mechanics.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-10-01T10:04:36.151Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds plausible, but [citation needed].

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-30T20:00:29.438Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What does the picture look like if we (appropriately) think of belief in terms of subjective probabilities? In other words, at the height of the consciousness folly, how many would have offered 999 to 1 odds against it? 99 to 1? 9 to 1?

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T20:23:06.175Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's a good question, I have no idea. What is disturbing is that the few who endorsed the idea weren't crackpots but very, very smart people. Most notably.

comment by shminux · 2011-09-30T20:23:14.392Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that no theorist in the field, except maybe for von Neumann and Penrose, would bet any significant amount of money at any odds you quote on consciousness being shown to be a necessary part of entanglement. Many would, of course, be happy to quote you some "reasonable" odds, as long it was your money at stake and not theirs.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-01T14:42:51.035Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's the other way around for Penrose-- he thinks that quantum effects are necessary for consciousness.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-30T21:00:56.964Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Renormalize to take account of the diminishing returns of money contributing to utility and rephrase the bet in terms of utility, whatever the dollar amounts.

Scary examples nonetheless, no?

comment by shminux · 2011-09-30T20:14:12.834Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The constant free-fall acceleration used to be "explained" by the inertial mass being equal to the gravitational mass, which was, of course, a mystery in itself. It took General Relativity to show that only one type of mass is needed. Specifically, gravity is not really a force (but a spacetime curvature), and the Newton's second law Fgrav=ma for gravity is only an approximation, valid for not very heavy and not very fast objects.

"Because GR" is a less mysterious answer (thanks, Jack) than the previous model (Newton's universal gravitation), because it makes better predictions, but the mystery is still there: why does matter curve spacetime?

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T19:42:02.622Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This treats mysterious answers as categorically distinct from scientific answers which I think is wrong. Some answers explain less than other answers and the less an answer explains the more mysterious it is. Science replaces answers that explain less with answers that explain more. That is, it replaces mysterious answers with less mysterious answers. Phlogiston is less mysterious than elan vital but more mysterious than modern chemistry. The Standard Model of quantum mechanics explains far, far more than the pantheon of Greek gods- but it is not categorically different.

Adding: I upvoted. It is still a good discussion topic, it's just that answers should be given the way scminux did.

comment by khafra · 2011-09-30T20:02:01.196Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the less an answer explains the more mysterious it is.

Did you mean "the less an answer explains, the less mysterious it is"? The hypothesis "the Greek Gods did it" can explain anything; the Standard Model only explains things which follow the rules of quantum mechanics.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T20:17:14.814Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

By 'explain more' I don't mean "explain a greater range of possible phenomena" I mean something like "explain better and in more detail various aspects and relevant causal variables involved in that phenomena"

comment by shminux · 2011-09-30T20:26:33.169Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There is a simple metric: a less mysterious answer has better predictive power.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T20:29:30.822Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's too simple by far. Being able to predict something is not the same as having causal knowledge.

comment by shminux · 2011-09-30T20:32:55.700Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Than please give an example of an answer that is less mysterious but has no better predictive power.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T20:36:03.368Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There are trivially false explanations with tons of predictive power: "The storm happened because my barometer was at low".

(Edited for clarity)

comment by shminux · 2011-09-30T20:56:56.678Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And it is a less mysterious answer than what? "Because was pissed"? Then yeah, your answer is less mysterious.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T21:02:24.414Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not saying predictive power isn't a good indicator of a less mysterious answer. I'm saying prediction isn't what explaining is really about, to begin with.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-09-30T22:43:23.970Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Beliefs should pay rent. Explanations should cause anticipated experiences -- that is, make predictions.

An explanation is only as good as its predictive power.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T10:23:28.681Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, explanations are associated with predictions and it is often a bad sign when an explanation does not recommend a prediction. But no, an explanation is definitely not only as good as its predictive power.

What we're (or at lease I'm) talking about is referred to in the literature as Hempel's symmetry thesis: that every adequate explanation is potentially predictive and every adequate prediction is potentially explanatory. It may well be the case that every explanation is could have been a prediction but the second part, that every adequate prediction could be a successful explanation is certainly false. I don't think any more than the above barometer example is needed to show this. But just in case: here is another. Say you see the shadow of a flag poll on the ground. You know what time it is and thus the location of the sun. Therefore, you can predict the height of the flag poll. But the facts about the shadow and the sun do not explain the height of the flag poll. Explanations just don't have the same logical form as a predictions.

This is part of the reason why Hempel's once dominant theory of explanation is no longer accepted. Scriven is the figure most associated with the criticisms.

This isn't (necessarily) anything to freak out about. I'm not arguing for any wishy washy nihilism about explanations. There are probably some who do, but personally I think the best going theory of explanation is the causal theory of explanation, particularly one involving a manipulationist theory of causation like that of Judea Pearl or James Woodward (I'm dropping names so you can google if you want). Under this theory as explanation of X tells you what sorts of things you would have had to manipulate to change X. Experimentation replaces prediction as the central activity of science. This does not mean we stop predicting or that predictions are no longer important. I do not at all disagree that beliefs should pay rent. I am simply not comfortable saying that the metric by which the mysteriousness of an explanation is judged should be predictive power because predictive power is not the same as explanatory power.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-01T21:29:11.610Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Explanations just don't have the same logical form as a predictions.

I never once even hinted at a claim that they did.

I said that an explanation is "only as good as its predictive power." I never once mentioned anything about there being symmetry between explanations and predictions -- my statements were entirely unilateral.

Explannations that lack predictive power are not useful. I could explain that the Gods of Ysgard cause storms by going bowling in the clouds after getting drunk. You can't make any useful predictions from this but it's a perfectly simple explanation, far simpler and comprehensive than any actually useful explanation of thunderstorms. We throw it out precisely because it is so useless.

Experimentation replaces prediction as the central activity of science

Sir, experimentation without prediction is impossible. Experimentation is meant to falsify predictions in order to validate hypothesis into theoretical models.

I do not at all disagree that beliefs should pay rent.

Then you shouldn't argue against it.

I am simply not comfortable saying that the metric by which the mysteriousness of an explanation is judged should be predictive power because predictive power is not the same as explanatory power.

Explanations are not predictions, this is true, but nobody was claiming that they were except you. Regardless, no explanation is any more valuable than its predictive power.

comment by shminux · 2011-09-30T21:16:26.362Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

And that is where we disagree. To me, without a better predictive power explaining is just a feel-good exercise and has little to do with science.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T21:18:28.795Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You think causality is just a feel-good exercise and has little to do with science?

comment by shminux · 2011-09-30T21:26:25.911Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please feel free to be more specific. Causality as a consequence of Newtonian mechanics or Special or General Relativity is not an explanation in itself, but just that a consequence. It is also a (mostly valid) observation.

On the second thought, this is turning to be a dialog, which is more appropriate for a chat room, than for a public forum, so I will stop here.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-30T21:33:05.302Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

On the second thought, this is turning to be a dialog, which is more appropriate for a chat room, than for a public forum, so I will stop here.

If this string of comments is much upvoted, then it would certainly be appropriate for here, despite there being only two people in the discussion.

comment by rysade · 2011-10-01T07:29:58.876Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have to say this discussion has me intrigued. Feel free to post the results of the discussion here. I am interested in hearing how it all turns out.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-01T11:08:01.425Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We seem to have fans so I'll trying to go into it later today. But you and anyone else interested in scientific explanation should start by reading or at least browsing the SEP article.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2011-10-03T22:16:32.925Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I might mention the context of my question: On a different website I got into a debate with someone who thinks that the mind and rationality are mysterious, non-physical things, about which science can never say anything useful. I wanted to give the historical examples of such views being demolished, and found that I couldn't call to mind more than two or three. My hope was that, for future iterations of that debate, I could refer back to a long list of cases; but it seems to be hard to come up with really strong examples of subjects being declared beyond the bounds of empiricism.

So, let me try to summarise the suggested answers:

DavidPlumpton: Spontaneous Human Combustion

This doesn't quite seem to fit. It was for some time a mysterious phenomenon, but to the best of my knowledge it was never declared to be outside the boundaries of science; there is no mysterious answer.

Morendil: Germ theory

The proposed mysterious answer is humours and, by extension, other early theories about the internals of the body. But this does not seem quite right: Humours, for example, are at least an attempt at splitting the phenomenon into smaller parts, and then affecting one or two of the parts - hence the practice of bleeding, to "rebalance" the humours by letting out the one that was present in excess. It seems to me that there is a difference between "Humours, therefore disease, we'll never know anything more" and "Humours, therefore disease - let's change the humours". Humours are in some sense a try at reductionism, even if not a good one because it wasn't informed by empiricism.

Lapsed_Lurker: Luminiferous ether

I don't see this as mysterious at all. It's a reasonable way of dealing with Lorentz contraction: Just postulate a special frame of reference, which really is fixed. Nobody declared it unknowable or beyond the bounds of science; it was an ordinary scientific hypothesis, eventually shot down.

Hyena: Simultaneous Creation (of animal species)

Not mysterious at all. The early geologists and archeologists who went out to search for Noah's Ark and whatnot expected to confirm the biblical account; and even now, creationists insist that the science is on their side - they just lie about what the science is! They don't dispute that science is the way to get an answer to the question of the Earth's age; or at least, this is very much a minority position.

Minibear Rex: Motions of stars and planets

Yes. Good one. I have nothing to add.

Manfred: Emergence/QM to explain the brain.

Well, kind of. "Emergence" is a mysterious answer, agreed; but I don't know that we can say it has been fully explained away, as in the case of the planetary motions. There remain many people who believe that the brain, or rather the mind, is a mysterious thing beyond the ken of science - in fact I'd even say this is the mainstream view (not among scientists, of course).

Michael Howard: God

You would think so, but there's an objection similar to what I raised for emergence, above. The explaining-away certainly exists, but it's hardly the mainstream view.

comment by DavidPlumpton · 2011-10-02T08:16:19.691Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Spontaneous Human Combustion. Somebody living alone gets drunk/has stroke/heart attack spills alcohol/perfume on themselves and a cigarette ignites a fire. The body slumps onto carpet and the body fat together with clothing and carpet form a candle wick effect and a small high temperature fire burns for some hours. Parts of the body with low fat levels (e.g. lower legs) often remain unburned. It's a simple experiment to do with a pig carcass.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-02T08:58:25.901Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Spontaneous Human Combustion. Somebody living alone gets drunk/has stroke/heart attack spills alcohol/perfume on themselves and a cigarette ignites a fire.

Ignition via an accellerant and an existing fire seems to make a lie of the 'Spontaneous' part of the name! Which isn't to say "Human Candles' don't sound kind of awesome in their own right.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2011-11-02T14:55:42.757Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The mystery was its spontaneity. Once you realize that all the cases had an accelerant and ignition source, it's no longer mysterious.

comment by Morendil · 2011-10-01T07:09:55.777Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The germ theory of disease cleared away a number of mysterious answers, like humorism, of which terms like "phlegmatic" are a vestige.

comment by Manfred · 2011-09-30T19:52:19.022Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oxygen != heat, or even fire. Fluorine can set things on fire, for example. And of course the wonderful thing about energy is that it can change forms. So phlogiston theory is thoroughly useless, though I agree it's not a really mysterious answer.

"Emergence" or "quantum effects" to explain how the brain works might fall into this category.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-09-30T22:48:16.205Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on what is meant by 'emergence'. If you mean to say that 'emergence' itself is "mysterious" then I would disagree. Chemistry is 'emergent' from physics -- molecules possess attributes that their constituent atoms do not -- but no one would describe this as "mysterious". It's simply a question of scale.

Consciousness described as being 'emergent' from our neuroanatomy is hardly a 'mysterious' statement: it's simply a claim of "scale". One would not examine the exact behaviors of every atom in a molecule to predict its characteristics: no matter how much oxygen or hydrogen you have at room temperature the characteristic of "wet" would never be noted. Only dihydrogen oxide at room temperature (and in sufficiently significant quantities) has that characteristic. So too, potentially, is it with consciousness: while yes it is necessary to understand the workings of the constituent parts it is only by observing how they interact as a whole that consciousness can be comprehended -- in much the same way we would not discuss the phenotype of E.coli in terms of their spacetime tensor coordinates.

But I digress.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T00:34:13.627Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oxygen != heat, or even fire.

I've never heard of phlogiston being heat.

Fluorine can set things on fire, for example.

True, but the vast majority of fire people normally deal with is oxygen-related. Only knowing about oxygen being an oxidizer would be almost as useful as knowing about all of them, at least when you're thinking about fire. Only knowing about phlogiston would be exactly as useful.

"Emergence" or "quantum effects" to explain how the brain works might fall into this category. I'm not sure that counts. We expect it to be explained away, but we still don't understand it, and it still hasn't been.

comment by Manfred · 2011-10-01T02:39:16.812Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Whoops! I seem to have gotten my phlogiston theory mixed up with my caloric theory, which stated that fire was in fact made of particles of caloric, a near-weightless fluid that flowed between bodies in contact, explaining heat and cold. Sheesh, alchemists loved conjecturing fluids.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T03:53:06.105Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you could call that a fluid without stretching the definition too much. Still, heat is an excellent example of something being explained away. They thought it was its own substance, like static electricity, but it turned out to be something that can easily be predicted by Newton's laws.

comment by AlexSchell · 2011-10-01T20:30:41.048Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

[heat] turned out to be something that can easily be predicted by Newton's laws.

Surely you mean "easily in hindsight"?

comment by rysade · 2011-10-01T10:02:18.696Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that phlogiston was not likely thought of as a mysterious answer at the time. I think that what justifies calling it a mysterious answer today is that we could justifiably notice that we are confused.

Whether it's confusing quality is a good reason to categorize it as a mysterious answer is a different issue, however.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-30T19:19:36.620Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

rocks can get entangled with electrons just as much as brains can.

Rocks are conscious?!

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-09-30T19:28:48.976Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Kinda puts a new spin on "I had a pet rock once. It died.", huh?

Mental image: Petunia looking on, half in concern and half in amusement, as five-year-old HJPEV works determinedly to bury a pebble in the backyard. "I know there's no such thing as 'Rock Heaven', Mom, I'm not stupid!"

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-30T20:04:37.969Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

a new spin on

Ba-dum PAH!

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-09-30T20:06:51.845Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Say, rather, 'kinda colors my impression of...' or maybe 'kinda gives a different flavor to...'

comment by Solvent · 2011-10-02T05:31:31.431Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I love this website.

comment by Manfred · 2011-09-30T19:39:19.477Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Getting entangled with electrons seems a pretty silly definition of consciousness :P

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-30T18:58:03.187Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is Spontaneous Generation an example of what you are looking for, or an example of something you aren't looking for?

On the first read, it appears to be a mysterious answer, because it doesn't seem to explain anything, but people also performed experiments on it well before it was finally rebutted, which would seem to put it into the phlogiston category.

comment by Lapsed_Lurker · 2011-09-30T22:35:32.943Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The Luminiferous Aether? I'm not too sure how mysterious it was, but it persisted a fair while before being squelched by the march of science.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_luminiferous_aether

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-09-30T21:01:41.171Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious one nobody's mentioned: the motion of the stars and planets. Supposedly caused by Angels pushing objects in epicycles around the earth, at least until Newton came along.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-30T21:06:59.228Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It predicted perfect circles, no?

Was the problem with the theory, or with the scientists who held onto it as necessary epicycles accumulated?

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T21:19:49.943Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thats a rather glib summary of the Copernican Revolution.

comment by MichaelHoward · 2011-09-30T20:02:31.171Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant sequence posts to save others from searching...

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions

Explaining vs. Explaining Away

comment by Logos01 · 2011-09-30T19:41:23.318Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The other is the special (and mysterious) role of the conscious observer in quantum mechanics, which was explained away by demonstrating that rocks can get entangled with electrons just as much as brains can.

I'm curious as to why, given that the Copenhagen Interpretation allowed for this to occur, this demonstration would 'explain away' the CI. The exact mechanism of that reduction is what I'm after: how does that demonstration 'destroy' the mystery which allowed for that demonstration to occur without invalidating 'the mysterious model'?

I find myself confused, is what I'm saying.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T20:49:57.342Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can you rephrase?

comment by Logos01 · 2011-09-30T20:59:50.398Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the CI allowed for all forms of entanglement. So I'm curious as to how experimental results that were consistent with the model somehow "explained away" said model. That doesn't seem to be how the science I am familiar with works.

EDIT: (Side note: I do not have a horse in this race; to me both the MWI and the CI are equally fallacious. My personal belief is that no interpretations are necessary at all.)

comment by Jack · 2011-09-30T21:05:40.171Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The Copenhagen Interpretation does not say anything about consciousness collapsing the wave function.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-09-30T22:38:51.493Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And consciousness collapsing the wave function is entirely unrelated to entanglement in rocks.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T00:39:16.114Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So I'm curious as to how experimental results that were consistent with the model somehow "explained away" said model.

Experiments don't explain stuff away. Simpler models do. Also, they have to be consistent with previous observation. Otherwise it's not explaining why it happens; it's just showing that it was wrong in the first place.

Explaining away is when you give a simpler model that has the same results as the more complex ones. You've just explained away the complexities.

(Side note: I do not have a horse in this race; to me both the MWI and the CI are equally fallacious. My personal belief is that no interpretations are necessary at all.)

I think you don't understand the question with this. Do alternate universes exist or not? Does the past exist. Do different places exist? They're all related to the calculations in the same basic way.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-01T03:10:50.314Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Experiments don't explain stuff away. Simpler models do.

There's a simpler model available for discourse here? Well, fascinating. Please explain.

You've just explained away the complexities.

This, by the way, is a very dangerous mentality. Occam's Razor is only a heuristic. New evidence may favor greater complexity over less. General Relativity is more complicated than Newtonian gravitation, for example.

I think you don't understand the question with this. Do alternate universes exist or not? Does the past exist. Do different places exist? They're all related to the calculations in the same basic way.

It would seem not. I never saw any connection between entanglement with rocks and alternative universes. Please explain.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T04:06:31.029Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's a simpler model available for discourse here? Well, fascinating. Please explain.

Simpler than what?

Newton's laws are simpler than Newton's laws plus elan vital, and once you understand enough, you realize they make much the same predictions. Ergo, you just explained away elan vital. General Relativity is simpler than Newtonian gravity plus time dilation. Once you get General Relativity, you've explained away time dilation.

This, by the way, is a very dangerous mentality. Occam's Razor is only a heuristic. New evidence may favor greater complexity over less. General Relativity is more complicated than Newtonian gravitation, for example.

No. Evidence shows that the simpler models that don't explain this are outright false. The simplest one remaining is the most likely. Newtonian gravitation is simpler than General Relativity, but it does not match what we see. Postulating Newtonian gravitation with time dilation added in makes it more complex. Adding in the non-euclidean geometry stuff makes it still more complex. At this point, General Relativity is the simplest explanation we can think of.

It would seem not. I never saw any connection between entanglement with rocks and alternative universes. Please explain.

"Entanglement" means that each combination of states exists separately. If every atom of a rock is entangled, there is a separate amplitude for every configuration of the atoms. If every particle in the universe is entangled, this means that there is an amplitude for each combination of particles. For example, there's the configuration corresponding to the "universe" we see. There's also one that looks exactly like how it would have ended up if Germany won WWII. Technically, a lot more than one. Infinitely many, in fact.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-01T05:25:38.015Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Simpler than what?

... sir, you have a very... 'slippery' manner of discourse. It makes it difficult to figure out exactly what it is you're trying to say and when.

You suggested that there was a simpler model than either CI or MWI. So what is it?

Newton's laws are simpler than Newton's laws plus elan vital

Yes but that's not the topic at this point. In other subthreads I'm sure elan vital may be relevant, but not this subthread.

Once you get General Relativity, you've explained away time dilation.

What in the hell? Excuse me, but... I'm not aware of any theories of 'time dilation' that predate General/Special Relativity.

Your methods of 'explanation' leave me mightily confused, sir.

No. Evidence shows that the simpler models that don't explain this are outright false.

You're missing the point -- that being that a simpler model that doesn't explain for the available evidence is wrong -- and yet your previous comment suggests otherwise.

"Entanglement" means that each combination of states exists separately.

Huh? This isn't even grokking for me.

If every particle in the universe is entangled, this means that there is an amplitude for each combination of particles.

... that isn't even remotely possible under the known mechanisms of quantum entanglement, sir. Entanglement between two pairs only lasts until some 'measuring' event occurs upon one of the pairs.

Actually, after reading:

There's also one that looks exactly like how it would have ended up if Germany won WWII.

I can only say that... you have a very bad understanding of quantum mechanics if you think this is intelligible under the topic at hand.

Quantum. Mechanics. Does. Not. Work. This. Way.

I suggest, sir, that before you attempt to explain this any further you get a deeper understanding of the phenomena at hand.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T21:30:30.680Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You suggested that there was a simpler model than either CI or MWI. So what is it?

I seem to have lost track of the conversation. I'm sorry.

MWI is a simpler model than CI. It does not have wave-form collapse. It has decoherence, which is functionally similar, but is an emergent phenomena of the actual laws of physics, rather than a law in of itself.

Looking at your second comment:

Well, the CI allowed for all forms of entanglement. It seems you were thinking it was supposed to explain away entanglement. It doesn't. It explains away waveform collapse and the process of becoming entangled (as distinct from the property of being entangled).

What in the hell? Excuse me, but... I'm not aware of any theories of 'time dilation' that predate General/Special Relativity.

They didn't have experiments supporting it yet. Given what we knew then, Newtonian physics may have been the simplest explanation. Now, it of itself, is not even an explanation, in that it doesn't match the experiment. If we added a law to force it, it would no longer be simpler than general relativity.

Entanglement between two pairs only lasts until some 'measuring' event occurs upon one of the pairs.

According to CI. There is no mathematical formalism as to what "measuring" is. They say it's when the system gets entangled with something "macroscopic". There has never been an experiment that showed wave-form collapse that couldn't be explained by decoherence, which arises from the same laws if you don't postulate wave-form collapse.

Quantum. Mechanics. Does. Not. Work. This. Way.

CI doesn't. MWI does. It's possible that there are variations known as MWI that don't include things like this, but the one Eliezer is a proponent of does. In fact, the specific variation he's a proponent of (timeless physics), postulates that the past and future are exactly the same kind of alternate universe.

I'd suggest reading the (quantum physics sequence)[http://lesswrong.com/lw/r5/the_quantum_physics_sequence/]. I'm not sure if Eliezer is as good at explaining it as he hopes he is, but I doubt he's worse than me.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-01T21:54:08.058Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

CI doesn't. MWI does.

Handling this first: No, it doesn't. MWI does not and cannot postulate universal entanglement. Entanglement is a phenomenon of paired particles sharing quantum states. That is all it is. You're abusing the term very severely to mean something quite radically different from what it actually means.

MWI is a simpler model than CI. It does not have wave-form collapse. It has decoherence, which is functionally similar, but is an emergent phenomena of the actual laws of physics, rather than a law in of itself.

Handling this second.

I cannot accept the notion that CI is "more complex" than MWI as it has been explained thus far. CI does, yes, have the problem of wave-form collapse. But MWI has two problems of equivalent scope: 1) It fundamentally violates the Law of Conservation of Energy. 2) It requires information to be conveyable through quantum entanglement to essentially the entire universe simultaneously - and that's just so absurd I can't really take it seriously.

but the one Eliezer is a proponent of does.

I do not judge ideas by the names associated with them.

Finally:

They didn't have experiments supporting [General Relativity] yet.

This is not an acceptable response to the portion of the converstaion it is applicable to. It's like discussing colors of paint and responding "paint is dry once it has dried." Do you even remember what my original point here was? It was: Occam's Razor is only a heuristic. Be careful when proclaiming the simpler explanation is always right. It may not be in the face of new evidence.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-10-01T22:11:06.204Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

1) It fundamentally violates the Law of Conservation of Energy.

How does it do this? I'm not sure what you mean here. I'm guessing that you are thinking of this because you are "creating worlds" or something like this. But MWI doesn't really create worlds in any useful sense. New worlds are formed from smaller and smaller slices of the total amplitude of the wave function.

It requires information to be conveyable through quantum entanglement to essentially the entire universe simultaneously

I don't understand what you are getting at here.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-04T17:43:45.533Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But MWI doesn't really create worlds in any useful sense. New worlds are formed from smaller and smaller slices of the total amplitude of the wave function.

Took me a while to get back to you on this. I apologize for the delay.

This, however (there being a 'total amplitude of the wave function) is the violation of the Conservation of Energy. For that to operate there would have to be a non-zero energy to be so divisible. And that just doesn't mesh with what I know of the origins of our universe, its current energy state, nor the remainder of physics.

Students of nature have a long and troubled history of inventing new media or substances for the purpose of enabling their conceptions to be viable. Phlogiston. Luminiferous aether. And now 'the total amplitude of the wave function'. Until such time as there is a material reason to accept that concept under the standard falsificationist definitions of evidence -- I have no choice as a skeptic but to reject the notion.

Because it's been a long while, I will remind you that not all rejections of MWI are created equal. My rejection of MWI is not and should never be considered an endorsement of the Copenhagen Interpretation. As I said previously, I do not believe there is any need whatsoever for any interpretation to occur. The mathematics of quantum mechanics as we have discerned them through experimental processes are elegant enough as is; there's no need to dress them up for Sunday, as it were.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-10-04T17:47:52.681Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This, however (there being a 'total amplitude of the wave function) is the violation of the Conservation of Energy. For that to operate there would have to be a non-zero energy to be so divisible. And that just doesn't mesh with what I know of the origins of our universe, its current energy state, nor the remainder of physics.

I'm not sure I understand this. Can you expand?

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T21:47:18.386Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Edit: Double post.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-01T21:55:18.535Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This post was duplicated. You might want to delete this one.

comment by shminux · 2011-10-01T01:16:02.458Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Given that MWI uses the mathematical formalism equivalent to CI, they are equivalent in the only respect that counts. For example, neither provides any testable predictions re alternate universes, except that they are not observable. Of course, the MWI model tends to make people feel good about Quantum Mechanics, but that is a purely psychological effect.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-01T03:51:05.771Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

CI has wave-form collapse. This isn't used in the mathematical formalism because there's no specific point at which it's agreed to happen. It's just assumed that it is when the system gets "macroscopic".

They do show evidence of alternate universes, and they are not unobservable. For example, the double-slit experiment has two pasts. One for each slit.

Also, according to timeless physics, the past and future is just alternate universes. If you believe the past exists, and you accept the basic idea, you believe that alternate universes exist.

comment by MichaelHoward · 2011-09-30T19:14:35.221Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

God?

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-30T19:56:14.778Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Substantially but not entirely.

If it's important to you that there is historical evidence for a belief in a god, such as a tradition related to a revelation, then the specific versions posited in the past have have been explained away, and that undermines any present reason to believe.

If philosophical arguments about what must be, such as the cosmological argument, are more important to you, then less so because the god believed in is constructed to not be falsified by present known things - but that constructed thing isn't necessarily unfalsifiable.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-30T19:30:31.477Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

God[s] used to be responsible for lots of mysterious lightning bolts, earthquakes, plagues, meteors, biogenesis, schizophrenic episodes, etc. These mysteries were blown away by understanding what they are and what actually causes them, but God itself isn't a mysterious phenomenon - it's nothing - so it can't be explained away by understanding what it actually is.

comment by MichaelHoward · 2011-09-30T19:42:24.410Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't call God a mysterious phenomenon. The post asked for examples of mysterious answers.

comment by Hyena · 2011-09-30T21:37:13.943Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is simple: simultaneous creation blown away by evolution.