Recently I debated James Fodor on the digital physics argument. In my view, we had a great conversation and I thought that hopefully, we had mutual respect for each other even though we disagreed on a number of issues. However, a few days after the debate James uploaded a video titled, “How Inspiring Philosophy Misrepresents Science.” The title is not very respectful, but I wanted to see what he had to say. When you watch the video it is not a list of how I misrepresent science. Instead, it is just a video of how James disagrees with my philosophical interpretations. An example of misrepresenting science would be if I said the Schrödinger equation included a symbol for consciousness in its formalism. I never said something like that or am I ever really explaining how to calculate something like the Schrödinger equation. Most of my videos are explaining the philosophical implications of scientific findings, not discussing experimental setups or how to calculate certain equations.
So his video has a misleading title. He may disagree with my arguments, but that is not the same as misrepresenting the science. Most of what I do is philosophy. He even states this in the video description, “In this video I provide further analysis of the claims that Inspiring Philosophy has made concerning the theological implications of various results from quantum mechanics and cosmology.” So why give the video a misleading title and why state in the video I am misrepresenting the science? That is not what is going on, because we merely have different interpretations of what the data implies. You cannot just go around accusing anyone who has a philosophical disagreement with you of misrepresenting the science.
Ironically, James is the one who has made some scientific errors in his attempt to respond, like confusing the Leggett Inequality with the Leggett-Garg Inequality, which we get to later. I’ll go through his video and point out the issues.
The Holographic Principle:
James spends several minutes explaining the holographic principle, never once does he argue I misrepresented the science or the mathematics of the holographic principle. At about 16:00 in, James gets to the actual disagreement we have, which is the philosophical implications. He says, “it is not even clear like what ontologically this means,” and, “to say this has any particular philosophical implications is grossly premature.” Once again, you can see James is talking about philosophical disagreements, not places where I misrepresent the science.
Now, James is not just accusing me of premature philosophical implications, but several leading physicists that work on quantum gravity. Leonard Susskind says,
“…the three-dimensional world of ordinary experience––the universe filled with galaxies, stars, planets, houses, boulders, and people––is a hologram, an image of reality cited on a distant two-dimensional (2D) surface” (Susskind 2008: 298).
Herman Verlinde said at the World Science Fair when speaking about the holographic principle,
“…at least this development; will be that we start actually with information. So information is going to be our starting point and space-time is not something we start with. We forget about what space is and what time. And then somehow the information by thinking about; how much information is; what information is doing then the space-time; what we call be emergent, it will come out of just a bunch of zeros and ones” (Hockenberry 2014).
Also, I included a video of physicists in my original video talking about the holographic principle, where they point out the philosophical implications as well. James is not just attacking me when says any philosophical implications are grossly premature, he is attacking the physicists I am relying on.
He also might be implying through his explanation of the holographic principle that it is a component of string theory (M-theory) only. This has been shown to be incorrect. As Sabine Hossenfelder has demonstrated the holographic principle is consistent with Loop Quantum Gravity as well:
“[A]fter having read the paper I did contact the authors and explained that their statement that the LQG [loop quantum gravity] violates the Holographic Principle is wrong and does not follow from their calculation. After some back and forth, they agreed with me, but refused to change anything about their paper, claiming that it’s a matter of phrasing and in their opinion it’s all okay even though it might confuse some people” (Hassenfelder 2015).
James also makes a note that it cannot apply to our universe given we do not live in anti-de Sitter space. This is true, but by that logic, we should throw out general relativity because it doesn’t apply to every aspect of our reality. It cannot be rectified with quantum mechanics (QM). Obviously we are not sure of how general relativity will fit into our final theory of quantum gravity, but that doesn’t mean we should throw it out for now because it cannot be applied to every aspect of reality. Likewise, just because not every issue with the holographic principle has been sorted out does not mean it is not useful or has no explanatory power. In any path forward quantum gravity researchers recognize the holographic principle will be included. When Leonard Susskind says the holographic principle is not going away he is probably right. So I stick with what the leading physicists are saying.
To quote Jacob Bekenstein:
Holography may be a guide to a better theory. What is the fundamental theory like? The chain of reasoning involving holography suggests to some, notably Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, that such a final theory must be concerned not with fields, not even with spacetime, but rather with information exchange among physical processes. If so, the vision of information as the stuff the world is made of will have found a worthy embodiment” (Bekenstein 2007).
Tests of the Holographic Principle:
In the next section James takes issue with a 2017 study I relied on that shows the holographic principle is consistent with cosmological observations in the microwave background radiation. James once again never points to a place where I misrepresented the science, but he does accuse me of overstating what the study says. But in reality, James is just getting nit-picky over terminology and has to stretch his interpretation of my words to make it sound like I am over-emphasizing this study.
Here is what I said in my video:
“The holographic principle only worked in theory at first, with no observable evidence to back it. But all that changed in 2017 when a peer-reviewed study published observable evidence for the holographic principle. They tested the model against cosmological observations of the early universe and found that the holographic model is compatible with the data found in the cosmic microwave background radiation. From looking at irregularities in the background radiation their team found that simple equations of quantum field theory could explain almost all cosmological observations, is marginally a better fit than the standard model (where the QFT becomes nonperturbative), and can potentially explain apparent anomalies.”
Notice I never said what James accuses me of. I never said the paper shows the holographic model is better than standard models. I only note in aspect there was a “marginally a better fit” as the paper says as well. I never said the paper argued for any of the metaphysical claims I make. I am noting, as the paper says, the holographic model is “compatible with the data found in the cosmic microwave background radiation.” James wants to quote-mine the phrase “observable evidence” out of my video and not interpret it in this context. This is not an example of extending the principle of charity.
Also, I did not argue for emergent space-time from this paper alone. This is only one piece of the puzzle. If the paper was as powerful as James assumes I am stating it is, there would have been no need to argue for emergent space-time beyond this, but notice in my original video I felt the need to present more data from other aspects as well. Even without this paper, it would not change much. Theoretical physicists, like Susskind, note the holographic principle is here to stay and are fully willing to discuss the philosophical implications of it.
Emergence of Space:
In this section, James takes issue over one point of agreement I share with Sean Carroll, which is that space is not fundamental. James admits Carroll doesn’t think space is not fundamental but then appears to be bothered because the context of the quote in my video is of Carroll talking about space in terms of the Schrödinger Equation. James says this is different than cosmology so I must be taking Carrol out of context. But notice in my video I was talking about quantum mechanics (QM) in this section and how space emerges from entanglement. At this point in my video, I’ve moved past the data point of the holographic principle and I’m now arguing for the same philosophical implication from another data point in QM. So ironically, James is taking things out of context.
Carroll agrees space is not fundamental and emerges from quantum mechanics in some sense, as even James acknowledges. On that point, Carroll and I agree and that is all I did when I included his quote. Again, the video argues for emergent space-time from multiple areas, not just cosmology. What I found odd is about 36:00 into James’ video, he admits that what I am describing is similar to what Carroll was saying. So what is the issue?
Emergence of Time:
In this section James takes issue with a paper I cited from which I said, “…in 2013 an experiment seemed to confirm this idea that time, along with space, is an emergent phenomenon.” Notice the language I used, because James takes most issue with this and keeps implying I exaggerated the power of the evidence. James says this experiment doesn’t prove time is emergent and, of course, I agree. Luckily, I never said that. I only said it “seemed to confirm this idea” that time is not fundamental. Noting a study supports the overall case is not claiming the entire case rests on one data point. I noted it only aids my overall case. Also, this is, once again, not an example of misrepresenting the science because I never said, as James implies, this proves time is emergent.
Remember, my overall case up until this point relied on the holographic principle, the fact that space and time and one thing in the relativity, and our space appears to be emergent. I then pointed out the Wheeler-Dewitt equation supports this notion, and the experiment also shows how this could work, thus, supporting the overall conclusion. James is misrepresenting the emphasis placed on one study I briefly mentioned.
James also takes issue with me including a video of Fotini Markopoulou-Kalamara talking about how space and time are probably not fundamental. He notes she has a different model and doesn’t agree with my metaphysical worldview, which is true, but I never said otherwise. Once again, like with the clip of Sean Carroll, I am only quoting a point of agreement, not claiming she agrees with my overall case.
Also, James says repeatedly that this research doesn’t show space and time are not real, just that they are not fundamental. This is a game of semantics. I agree space is real, but what I mean is defined in the context of my video as meaning space is not real like a naive realist would think of space and time. Physicists talk about gravity being an illusion and this is the same understanding they are trying to get at if you read their work in context. James doesn’t agree with the use of terminology, but as I said to him in our debate it is not as if we are just saying space and time are not real without explaining what that means. James is not extending charity here or allowing the words we use to be defined in context. Throughout the rest of this reply, I am not going to respond to James when he doesn’t think I am using the right words. If he cannot interpret words in their context there is nothing to engage with on this issue.
Reality of the Wavefunction:
James then moves to a paper that talks about the reality of the wave function titled, “Measurements on the reality of the wavefunction.” He seems to think my interpretation here contradicts my adherents to Ontic Structural Realism, which is the idea the structure of physical reality is genuinely relational and doesn’t need to include reference to underlying objects like particles are fields (Berghofer 2018:176). This is not the case if you do not add meaning to anything I said. In my video, I said, “A recent experiment gave strong evidence ‘the wave function should directly correspond to this reality.’ So the wave function (a mathematical probability of multiple possible states in Hilbert Space) does correspond to the fundamental nature of reality.” That is not claiming the wavefunction is a real object, just that it corresponds to our reality. My view would be that it reduces to information (Kuttner and Rosenblum 2011).
James asks, “does this paper prove the wave function is real?” Well, I never said it “proved” anything. Here is another good example of James over-emphasizing my words and making me say something I never said. James says repeatedly this doesn’t prove the reality of the wavefunction, and it is wrong for me to say this proves the reality of the wave function, which once again is misrepresenting what I said.
Most importantly, James is not presenting his audience the full picture. I do not think he is doing it on purpose though. What he is saying is that epistemic views of the wavefunction would just deny the objective reality of the underlying quantum state so the paper I cited does not apply to them since the paper assumes an “underlying reality exists.” So in that view, it sounds like James is saying the paper is useless and doesn’t add much to the debate. But one should be asking themselves if this is true why did the physicists even write the paper? Surely, they must know their conclusions are useless and epistemic proponents would not accept their assumptions about the reality of the quantum state? The problem is James has presented only half the truth. There are epistemic views of the wave function that still try to hold to an objective reality of the underlying quantum state.
Instead of me telling you this I will just quote from the paper, “On the reality of the quantum state”
“Many others have suggested that the quantum state is something less than real [1–8]. In particular, it is often argued that the quantum state does not correspond directly to reality, but represents an experimenter’s knowledge or information about some aspect of reality. This view is motivated by, amongst other things, the collapse of the quantum state on measurement. If the quantum state is a real physical state, then collapse is a mysterious physical process, whose precise time of occurrence is not well-defined. From the ‘state of knowledge’ view, the argument goes, collapse need be no more mysterious than the instantaneous Bayesian updating of a probability distribution upon obtaining new information.
The importance of these questions was eloquently stated by Jaynes:
‘But our present [quantum mechanical] formalism is not purely epistemological; it is a peculiar mixture describing in part realities of Nature, in part incomplete human information about Nature — all scrambled up by Heisenberg and Bohr into an omelette that nobody has seen how to unscramble. Yet we think that the unscrambling is a prerequisite for any further advance in basic physical theory. For, if we cannot separate the subjective and objective aspects of the formalism, we cannot know what we are talking about; it is just that simple.’
Here we present a no-go theorem: if the quantum state merely represents information about the real physical state of a system, then experimental predictions are obtained which contradict those of quantum theory. The argument depends on few assumptions. One is that a system has a “real physical state” – not necessarily completely described by quantum theory, but objective and independent of the observer. This assumption only needs to hold for systems that are isolated, and not entangled with other systems. Nonetheless, this assumption, or some part of it, would be denied by instrumentalist approaches to quantum theory, wherein the quantum state is merely a calculational tool for making predictions concerning macroscopic measurement outcomes. The other main assumption is that systems that are prepared independently have independent physical states” (Pusey et al. 2012: 475).
In this paper, I am quoting from they open by citing other papers that take this mixed view. However, they also note it doesn’t apply to purely instrumentalist views. Now, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my video (which I can accept) because I didn’t note this doesn’t apply to instrumentalist interpretations. However, I was operating within this scientific realism framework. An instrumentalist wouldn’t find any of the scientific findings I cited in that video all that convincing. However, if one tries to say the wavefunction is just a mathematical tool but still holds to a scientific realist position then this study I cited creates problems. This is why the original paper I cited says in its abstract:
“The only alternative is to adopt more unorthodox concepts such as backwards-in-time causation, or to completely abandon any notion of objective reality” (Ringbauer et. al 2014).
Now one has to hold to backwards-in-time causation or hold to an instrumentalist view, but such a person would not even consider any scientific data relevant and would fall outside of the framework of my argument.
The world as virtual reality:
I don’t want to spend too much time on this section because I don’t use Whitworth’s paper as much as I used to back when I first start talking about the digital physics argument. At best, I can call upon it for secondary evidence. But unless many of the other data points I cited are still valid this argument would not amount to much.
However, one of the problems is James believes this paper is meant to be like the other papers I cited. He seems to think it was meant to be a scientific paper. It is not and never claims to be. Whitworth is not doing physics in his paper, but making a philosophical inference by comparing philosophical worldviews. James is right when he says it is not an empirical paper, but Whitworth never claimed it was (as far as I am aware). The main point of the paper is the philosophical comparison between an objective reality and a virtual reality and if our world was an objective reality we should not see things like a beginning point, a lack of hidden variables, or emergent features.
For one thing, I think some of James’ issues revolve around the way Whitworth worded certain things, and on that, I can agree with James. The wording in the paper is a bit messy and what he says can be interpreted in ways that do not get at what he is trying to say.
James begins this section by suggesting my use of quantum cognition is inconsistent with another area of my research regarding the need for consciousness to collapse the wavefunction. This is not accurate because he is assuming reductionism and not idealist concepts. So in other words, I am not saying the mind reduces to quantum mechanical processes, but that minds manifest in quantum-like ways when in a physicals reality. For example, in the video James is responding to I say, “…the inner world of the mind should be modeled with the properties of quantum mechanics,” and “under idealism, the brain is simply the physical manifestation.” I specifically said these things this way to avoid the objection I am claiming the mind reduces to quantum mechanical processes. I never say consciousness reduces to quantum mechanics, but that minds act or behave in the fashion of the rules of quantum mechanics. This is something I explained extensively in “Quantum biology: Irreducible Mind (Part 4)”.
At the end of Hameroff’s full talk, physicist Henry Stapp asks a question and Hameroff points out a distinction between their two views. Hameroff believes collapse in QM creates consciousness, but Stapp believes consciousness causes collapse and I am more in line with Stapp’s view. So there is no contradiction as James suggests.
Next, James moves onto the field of quantum cognition, which is a mathematical approach to model mental and cognitive phenomena using the formalism of quantum mechanics. James says, “Just because two things are describable using the same types of formalisms it doesn’t mean they are the same thing or related.” James provides an example by noting that notions of the concept of equilibrium used chemistry were borrowed and used to model aspects of the economy.
Now, equilibrium is a vague concept that can apply to a lot of areas, because all it refers to is a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces. I could say my mind is at ease and reached equilibrium or I could use it to refer to traffic flow, or talk about the movie from 2002. This is not a good comparison to correlations we are finding in quantum cognition (QC). If all that was going on in quantum cognition was merely applying a general concept like equilibrium James would be correct. But QC is using the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics in multiple ways to model numerous cognitive processes, is finding remarkable success, and solving puzzles that traditional models have failed to explain (more on this below). Additionally, what other aspects of the macro-world can we model using the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics and have as much success as QC? As far as I am aware this is a unique correlation. Quantum mechanics is very counter-intuitive because the behavior of the quantum realm doesn’t match anything we see in our macro-reality. The only exception is cognitive processes. This is why when I emailed physicist Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi, who works on these issues he could say,
“It is of course possible that the efficacy of the quantum formalism in modeling human cognitive processes is just a coincidence. But if someone digs deep enough into the subject, this coincidence will start to look quite amazing, hence, the suspect that it is not just a coincidence will start gradually to grow.“
“[The] correlations, i.e., the similarity in behavior, between human concepts interacting with human minds and quantum entities interacting with fermionic matter, could be caused by the fact that both entities share the same conceptual nature” (personal communication, May 12, 2021).
In other words, there is more here than merely applying general concepts like equilibrium. We are finding remarkable matches, which supports the inference both minds and the underlying quantum realm share the same conceptual nature.
Now James also cites a paper on quantum cognition from 2009 which argues the only relevant aspects of quantum mechanics that can apply to cognition would be contextually. They note contextuality is also used in classical models classical systems could be used to reproduce the quantum models instead. James says “All that these quantum’ models use is interference and that is wave phenomenon.”
Really, all of them? Does this one 2009 paper show all quantum cognition modeling is just about interference and nothing else? There have been no other papers since then presenting a different understanding? James is probably not aware, but I was anticipating this objection before our debate. In my post-debate review, I also brought up the problems with James’ argument here. I don’t think James is intentionally cherry-picking but it certainly seems odd he only cites one paper and hasn’t presented data at all from the past decade. In my debate I had this slide on the screen:
This is a 2015 paper that has covered many successes of QC and shows many aspects of quantum mechanics have been applied to QC beyond contextually. To quote:
“Although quantum cognition is a new field, interest in it is growing rapidly. Recent new applications attack a diverse range of challenging problems in psychology, including bistable perception (Atmanspacher & Filk, 2010), overdistribution in episodic memory (Brainerd, Wang, & Reyna, 2013), entanglement in associative memory (Bruza, Kitto, Nelson, & McEvoy, 2009), violations of rational decision making (Pothos & Busemeyer, 2009; Yukalov & Sornette, 2011), probability judgment errors (Busemeyer et al., 2011), over-and under-extensions in conceptual combinations (Aerts, Gabora, & Sozzo, 2013), order effects on inference (Trueblood & Busemeyer, 2011) and causal reasoning (Trueblood & Busemeyer, 2012), asymmetric similarity judgments (Pothos et al., 2013), and vagueness (Blutner, Pothos, & Bruza, 2013)” (Busemeyer & Wang 2015: 167-8).
The paper is linked here if you want to see all these references. Atmanspacher & Filk’s paper specifically brings up nonlocality. A paper that James cites in his stream, “Quantum cognition: a new theoretical approach to psychology,” brings up modeling features beyond contextually (Bruza & Busemeyer 2015: 383-93). A 2009 paper notes that classical models cannot explain all the quantum-like effects researchers are using in QC (although it would be hard to experimentally show this), “The fact that entangled states do not occur in classical physical models, suggests that they would be very difficult to create in cognitive models of this variety” (Bruza et al. 2009:372). An analysis from 2020 found, “…human behaviour is not in conformity with local realism… According to the collected data in this experiment, subjects did not behave classically.” (Imannezhad et al. 2020: 5-6)
Now, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more that I could say on this issue. Typically, in my videos and debates, I only bring up Aerts’ one 2009 paper because this is new to most people and I don’t feel the need to overload them on this topic. But there is far more than what James has presented and many researchers do apply all sorts of quantum aspects to cognition beyond contextually. The 2009 paper James has cited is not the final word on this issue. We can see other researchers have been going beyond contextually and apply numerous other quantum aspects to cognition. Perhaps James will turn out to be right and the quantum modeling will be as powerful as the research is indicating, but the current data is not pointing in that direction.
Neurons and the cosmic web:
In this section, James goes after the research of Franco Vazza and Alberto Feletti (2020), who were able to show similarities between the cosmic web of galaxies and neural networks within the human cortex. James says, “I have no idea why you would expect the brain to look like the cosmos if idealism is true because they are just two different things existing in God’s mind. Why not trees or clouds or like anything else? I don’t know why you would connect those two.”
The reason is that clouds and trees are not representations of minds on idealism. They reduce to mere physical phenomena within a mind. This would be like asking an idealist why a single atom in the brain is not the representation of a mind, simply because you are not looking at the full picture. As Bernardo Kastrup says “…the inanimate universe as a whole must be, in a certain sense, akin to a brain” (Kastrup 2019: 240).
Second, James accuses Vazza and Feletti of cherry-picking their results because only the magnification of 40x samples of the cortex matches the distribution of the cosmic web. But this is not cherry-picking because magnification is only about aligning the correct sizes (vertically and horizontally). This would be like saying it is wrong to say a tardigrade resembles a caterpillar because you can only see the similarities of the tardigrade through a microscope. If you were to use a basic magnifying glass I would probably only see a dot and not see the similarities in autonomy. Or it would be like saying a picture of me on a screen doesn’t resemble me because you zoomed into the size of one pixel. Obviously you need to adjust your parameters to align for a proper comparison.
Now perhaps you could argue that you could make anything fit by adjusting the magnification or power spectrum scale. This is not true as Vazza and Felleti also compared their model against other phenomena:
“Lastly, we produced control power spectra for other randomly drawn samples of natural networks (sky clouds, tree branches, water turbulence, and magneto-hydrodynamic turbulence – all available at https://cosmosimfrazza.myfreesites.net/cosmic-web- and-brain-network-datasets), with the goal of double-checking that our method is not biased to produce similarity between truly different physical systems. As shown by the gray lines in the right panel of Figure 2, such systems display a more regular power-law spectral behavior, clearly at variance with what found in the main networks analyzed in this work – even if in the latter case we did not perform a full analysis across the entire dynamical range of such systems, looking for the emergence of possible spectral features as in the case of the brain and the cosmic samples” (Vazza & Feletti 2020: 5).
So it is not as arbitrary as James implies, otherwise, you would be able to see similar results with trees or clouds merely by adjusting scales. If anyone wants to know about what the scientific implications the authors think are for their study Felleti did an interview where he discusses this topic. At the end, he notes he doesn’t care to make any metaphysical implications regarding this study, which is fine. Mostly what I am doing in my video is focusing on the philosophical implications (like Kastrup does), and Felleti and Vazza do not have to focus on that. A good comparison is when Einstein first came up with relativity he rejected the philosophical implications of his work that pointed to a beginning point for time. It took others to make this inference for Einstein to eventually see it. Philosopher of Mind Bernado Kastrup is the one who talks more about the philosophical implications of their work.
The Leggett Inequality:
This section contains, by far, the biggest error in James’ response. James is attempting to show I do not understand the Leggett inequality, but instead, he confuses the Leggett Inequality with the Leggett-Garg Inequality. These are two separate inequalities that focus on entirely different issues. The paper he cites is on what the Leggett-Garg Inequality looks at, not what the implications of the Leggett Inequality are. Because of this, nothing James says here actually addresses my argument against realism in quantum mechanics.
In a nutshell, when Bell’s Inequality was violated it ruled out local realism in quantum mechanics. One could not hold to both locality and realism. However, the Leggett inequality, which was experimentally verified to have been violated twice (Gröblacher et al. 2007; Romero et al. 2010), goes one step further falsifying realism in quantum mechanics. The 2007 paper states,
“Our result suggests that giving up the concept of locality is not sufficient to be consistent with quantum experiments, unless certain intuitive features of realism are abandoned” (Gröblacher et al. 2007: 871).
The experiments focus on non-local hidden variables in quantum mechanics and rules out all falsifiable models (this would exclude versions like Bohmian Mechanics which currently cannot be falsified).
“[R]ealism claims that all measurement outcomes depend on pre-existing properties of objects that are independent of the measurement” (Gröblacher et al. 2007: 871).
Leggett inequality rules this out (at least any current falsifiable version), implying the final outcome is dependent on measurement. One cannot appeal to non-local hidden variables to fully account for the quantum state. I argue this philosophically (not scientifically) leads to Henry Stapp’s interpretation of quantum mechanics (or similar idealistic interpretations). However, I did not just rely on this alone. I relied on this inequality and other data points as well to argue it ultimately goes back to consciousness.
The Leggett-Garg Inequality focuses more on the limits of macroscopic realism, which James discusses in his response. The inequality state you cannot have macroscopic realism and noninvasive measurability. Generally, what the implications are from this inequality is we probably have to give up the idea that macroscopic objects are in a definitive state or the concept of noninvasive measurability, as James explained nicely in his response.
Most of what James says in this section of the video is entirely missing the point because he mixed up the inequalities. Normally, I would merely move on at this point but remember James titled his video “How Inspiring Philosophy Misrepresents Science.” He also says throughout the video I need to be more careful in how I word things as to not mislead people in understanding the science. However, James isn’t really demonstrating how I am misrepresenting the science, instead, he is just pointing out he disagrees with my philosophical interpretations. Yet here, we see him making a scientific error by confusing these inequalities. This is also not the first time he has made this mistake. In an 8-hour response video on the Digital Gnosis channel from a few months ago he also confuses these two inequalities. If it only happened one time I would not make such a big deal about it. So this needs to point out because of James’ own standard on the importance of not misleading people on what the science says.
The Kochen-Specker Theorem:
This is a complicated section, so I’ll begin with a review. The Kochen-Specker (KS) theorem states one of the three assumptions must be abandoned:
- All observables defined for a [quantum mechanical] system have definite values at all times.
- If a [quantum mechanical] system possesses a property (value of an observable), then it does so independently of any measurement context, i.e. independently of how that value is eventually measured.
- There is a one-one correspondence between properties of a quantum system and projection operators on the system’s Hilbert space.
The last one seems untenable to abandon. Physicist J. Glattfelder says, “The last assumption is, of course, the cornerstone of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics” (Glattfelder 2019: 373). So it appears we are left with rejecting (1) or (2) or both.
Now, James is correct that this is very complicated. This is why I focus on the philosophical implications of what the formalism of this theorem implies. So one paper on the KS theorem states:
“The Kochen-Specker (KS) theorem states that non contextual theories (NCT) are incompatible with quantum mechanics. Non-contextuality means that the value for an observable predicted by such a theory does not depend on the experimental context, i.e. which other co-measurable observables are measured simultaneously. In quantum mechanics, observables have to commute in order to be co-measurable. Non-contextuality is a more stringent demand than locality because it requires mutual independence of the results for commuting observables even if there is no spacelike separation” (Simon et al. 2000: 1).
In other words, according to the KS theorem, we cannot watch nature play on a stage where we are just passive observers. How we decide to measure the system plays a role in the final result.
Science writer Anil Ananthaswamy puts it like this:
“…the values that you obtain when you measure its properties depend on the context. So the value of property A, say, depends on whether you chose to measure it with property B, or with property C. In other words, there is no reality independent of the choice of measurement” (Ananthaswamy 2011).
In the clip I played in my video of Anton Zeilinger directly says the KS theorem shows that “what we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision of what to measure… we are not just passive observers.”
Now, James’ response to my use of the KS theorem is confusing, but this is a complicated issue so I don’t fault him for that. Also, he cites a very interesting paper on the philosophical debate surrounding quantum mechanics, and thank him for bringing it to my attention. I rather enjoyed reading it (twice now).
However, I don’t think the paper is really helping James’ case, as it is not attacking anything I put forward. The paper is focusing on a debate between two camps. Since I am in Henry Stapp’s camp I wouldn’t fall into either of these (more on this later). The two camps the paper is discussing are ontic views and epistemic views of QM.
Epistemic views would hold to the idea QM is not stating anything objectively real about reality. The paper quotes Marchildon:
“In the epistemic view, the state vector (or wave function, or density matrix) does not represent the objective state of a microscopic system (like an atom, an electron, a photon), but rather our knowledge of the probabilities of outcomes of macroscopic measurements” (de Ronde 2020: 2).
Ontic views claim QM is really describing reality independent of observers (namely us). The paper states:
“it is the conceptual representation provided by a theory that which expresses —in some way— what reality is about —completely independently of human choices and conscious beings” (de Ronde 2020: 3).
The main aim of the paper is to show the KS theorem shows epistemic views are “simply untenable” (de Ronde 2020: 12; I do not have time to explain why for the purposes of this blog post). However, separate from that, for traditional ontic views, the KS theorem also shows QM is describing reality and shows “define projection operators which cannot be interpreted as preexistent properties possessing definite values” (de Ronde 2020: 9).
In other words, the KS theorem points out noncontextuality is incompatible with QM. One cannot observe a quantum state as a passive observer. How we choose to measure determines the final outcome of what we observe.
The paper provides a good analogy from Diederik Aerts to explain this. Think of a piece of wood. It has both the properties of being burnable and floatable. But if you test to see if the wood burns then you cannot test to see if it floats because the wood has burned up. If you test to see if it floats the wood has become wet and will no longer burn. So both properties cannot be tests simultaneously, meaning the two experiments are epistemically incompatible, but the piece of wood has both ontological properties (floating and burning).
But when it comes to QM, “the KS theorem makes explicit the ontic incompatibility between properties. This important result is a consequence of the formalism itself” (de Ronde 2020: 12 – emphasis added).
So to summarize, the KS theorem, “makes explicit the deep metaphysical problem that any interpretation of QM must face in case it attempts to interpret the theory in terms of an objective state of affairs. This is why, an ‘epistemic reading’ of KS theorem is simply untenable.” But it also says, “the classical metaphysical presupposition according to which reality must be necessarily represented in terms of classical ontology, namely, as systems with definite valued preexistent properties” is untenable (de Ronde 2020: 12).
I am not sure how James thinks this is a problem for me, because the metaphysical implications of this are exactly what I am getting at! The KS theorem makes an ontological claim about the nature of QM, demonstrating there is no reason to think there are preexistent properties for a quantum state prior to measurement, and on top of that, how we choose to measure determines what properties a system has.
Additionally, I am not in either group as the paper defines them. I do not hold to an epistemic view of QM, like an instrumentalist, and I am not a realist with the commitment to the idea QM is “completely independently of human choices and conscious beings.”
I agree with Henry Stapp, who is a scientific realist, so he believes QM is describing reality as it is, but he also does not claim QM can be or is “completely independently of human choices and conscious beings.” He argues for a mixing of these views (i.e. a scrambling) and claims an idealist view in terms of scientific realism. This is why I refer to myself as an objective idealist and not a subjective idealist. There is a real objective reality beyond the subject, that is a real objective mental reality we discover and participate in. Stapp explains it like this:
“I have stressed just now the idea-like character of the physical state of the universe, within vN/W quantum theory. This suggests that the theory may conform to the tenets of idealism. This is partially true. The quantum state undergoes, when a fact become fixed in a local region, a sudden jump that extends over vast reaches of space. This gives the physical state the character of a representation of knowledge rather than a representation of substantive matter. When not jumping the state represents potentialities or probabilities for actual events to occur. Potentialities and probabilities are normally conceived to be idea-like qualities, not material realities. So as regards the intuitive conception of the intrinsic nature of what is represented within the theory by the physical state it certainly is correct to say that it is idea-like.
On the other hand, the physical state has a mathematical structure, and a behaviour that is governed by the mathematical properties. It evolves much of the time in accordance with local deterministic laws that are direct quantum counterparts of the local deterministic laws of classical mechanics. Thus as regards various structural and causal properties the physical state certainly has aspects that we normally associate with matter.
So this vN/W quantum conception of nature ends up having both idea- like and matter-like qualities. The causal law involves two complementary modes of evolution that, at least at the present level theoretical development, are quite distinct. One of these modes involves a gradual change that is governed by local deterministic laws, and hence is matter-like in character. The other mode is abrupt, and is idea-like in two respects. This hybrid ontology can be called an information-based reality” (Stapp 1999: 26-27).
The philosophical implications of the KS theorem are directly in line with this. Now, perhaps you could get around this measurement problem by positing hidden variables. But this is why I also talk about the KS theorem after I present the experimental violations of the Leggett Inequality, which again, falsifies realism in quantum mechanics. Again, “realism claims that all measurement outcomes depend on pre-existing properties of objects that are independent of the measurement” (Gröblacher et al. 2007: 871). You can posit an unfalsifiable interpretation (e.g. GRW objective collapse, Everttian, or Bohmian) of QM but then I will argue such interpretations are not parsimonious, complete, and often are riddled with problems.
Now James is right, that the KS theorem can never be fully tested. As the paper he cites says:
“In QM, to measure all properties of the same quantum system one requires necessarily mutually incompatible measurement setups. This imposes the necessity of a repeated series of measurements. But, is it possible to measure the same quantum system repeatedly? The answer is well known for quantum physicists: a simple NO” (de Ronde 2020: 12).
In other words, if I choose to measure the momentum of a quantum system I could not also measure the position of the exact same quantum system. But experiments have been run to show, as far as the experiments will allow us to see, that there is no evidence of “noncontextual hidden variables” (Huang et al. 2003: 1). Another experiment has even closed compatibility loopholes (Lapkiewicz et al. 2011: 493). So although we can never fully test the theorem, some results do fall in line with the implications of the theorem, which suggest noncontextual hidden variables do not exist.
Now, James says:
“It’s just a formal result. You can’t define all of the properties of a quantum system with respect to certain types of measurements at the same time, because of interference between different aspects of the quantum system. It just doesn’t make sense to find them all at the same time. Quantum systems sort of have interference properties internally that the classical systems just don’t have, so that’s why it’s called contextuality. It’s contextual. The way you interact with a quantum system will determine whether you get this set of measurements or this other one, but that doesn’t that doesn’t depend on you actually making the measurements. The making the measurements is just a way of seeing that.”
But then the question becomes what evidence is there the properties of a quantum system were there prior to measurement? Any falsifiable hidden variable theory has been ruled out by the violation of the Leggett Inequality. The paper he is citing even concludes with:
“KS theorem in its complete formal-ontological form can be then understood as an ad absurdum proof of the untenability of the classical metaphysical presupposition according to which reality must be necessarily represented in terms of classical ontology, namely, as systems with definite valued preexistent properties, or in more general terms, as an actual state of affairs” (de Ronde 2020: 14).
So where are the preexistent properties we are just seeing in measurements? There is no evidence they exist prior to measurement. Sure, they could be there and we can just take a formal understanding of the KS theorem, but the metaphysical implications of this are more interesting. As Anton Zeilinger says, “we are not just passive observers.” If the formalism doesn’t allow for preexistent properties and non-local hidden variables are ruled out by the Leggett inequality then we have a pretty good case for an objective idealist understanding. Again, this is still a philosophical inference, but a good one, given the data we can use to support it.
Now, James also says this doesn’t mean we create reality. It is not my position we will reality into existence, but the emergence of the physical properties does depend on observation under idealism. It is not like we choose what to see, but how we measure determines what the physical outcome will be, and the evidence supports this conclusion. Of course, one can falsify this idea but just showing that a quantum system has those properties prior to measurement. But currently, the philosophical implications of the Leggett inequality and the Kochen-Specker theorem support the idealist interpretation. It is not like looking at a classical object and just seeing it from different angles. As the paper James cites notes, QM “the KS theorem makes explicit the ontic incompatibility between properties” (de Ronde 2020: 12). There is no evidence the properties are there and we are just able to see one aspect of them, as James suggests.
Delayed choice quantum eraser:
James opens this section by noting my interpretation is consistent when the results of the delayed choice quantum eraser experiment. He doesn’t show any place I misrepresent the actual science. Instead, what he actually shows is that he disagrees with my philosophical conclusions regarding what the experiment means. He says one is not required to hold to my view consciousness causes collapse. I agree, and I never said otherwise when arguing for my interpretation. I argued in my video my conclusions are the most parsimonious and plausible interpretation, given the combination of all the data I argue for.
James says my view is a minority position. I want to address this because James has made this remark in multiple hangouts I don’t think James is presenting the full picture to his audience. He has stated he holds to objective collapse interpretation, which is actually a very minor view and appears to be even more of a minority view than mine. See the results here. So he needs to stop implying this is a problem for my view because if being fringe means we should be suspicious of that view he should apply that same standard to his interpretation and note how much more fringe it is.
Delayed choice quantum eraser experiment:
Now, James does an excellent job explaining the experimental setup. He is right you never technically do not see an interference pattern at D0. In my video, I was trying to use simple terminology to explains what each particle will result as. However, if the entangled photon hits detector D1 or D2, the one that hits D0 will also be a wave result, not a localized particle result like what we see when a photon hits D3 or D4. In other words, the entangled particle that hits D0 will be the same if its twin hits D4 (particle result) or the same if it hits D2 (wave result). But a particle hit D0 before its twin hits one of the other four detectors, so as one paper on the experiment says:
“If one views the quantum state as a real physical object, one could get the seemingly paradoxical situation that future actions appear as having an influence on past and already irrevocably recorded events” (Ma et al. 2012: 484).
Why? Because an entangled photon hits D0 before it hits either D1, D2, D3, or D4. But if its twin hits D2 then a wave result would have hit D0 prior to this. If one hits D4 then we would see a particle result for the twin at D0 before its twin hits D4. But what is the difference between the D4 and the D2 detector? Nothing but the path information. Why would path information cause different results? The only difference between the two is our knowledge about the system (i.e. path information). Our knowledge of the system seems to be the reason there will be different results.
James’ interpretation at 2:18:15, seems to be that when a photon hits D0 is randomly collapses to a wave or particle result then, in turn, it determines the path its twin would take (whether to D2 or say D4). The problem with this is the particles that hit D0 have the same path information every time, so there is no reason for the particle to randomly collapse to a wave or particle and thereby affect its twin’s later path. For example, this would be inconsistent with the result from standard double-slit experiments, where depending on the experimental setup, we get the same result (e.g. ave or particle) every time. We do not get a switching between these two results in one experiment unless we modify how we measure the photons. So every particle that hits D0 should be the same result if that was all the experiment was.
But in the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser Experiment, it is only the path information for its twin (idler), that goes to either D1, D2, D3, or D4 that is different. Why would the signal photon at D0 cause the entangled particle to go one way or the other? There is nothing in QM that would suggest this. The only difference is the path information for the idler photon and that seems to determine what the result will be for each twin photon that hits D0. As one paper puts it:
“Our realization of Wheeler’s delayed choice Gedanken Experiment demonstrates beyond any doubt that the behavior of the photon in the interferometer depends on the choice of the observable which is measured, even when that choice is made at a position and a time such that it is separated from the entrance of the photon in the interferometer by a space-like interval” (Jacques et al. 2007: 967).
John Wheeler said:
“…we have a strange inversion of the normal order of time. We, now, by moving the mirror in or out [of the setup] have an unavoidable effect on what we have a right to say about the already past history of that photon” (quoted in Jacques et al. 2007: 967).
James also says, “observation means detection by a physical apparatus.” How we observe is through an apparatus but that alone doesn’t tell us why the results are different. The ‘which path’ information does that, and that has nothing to do with merely interacting with a measuring apparatus. If it was just detection by a physical apparatus why is the path to that apparatus causing a different result?
I think Sir Rudolph Peierls said it best:
“[T]he moment at which you can throw away one possibility and keep only the other is when you finally become conscious of the fact that the experiment has given one result… You see, the quantum mechanical description is in terms of knowledge, and knowledge requires somebody who knows” (Davies & Brown 1993: 73-74).
In my view, this is a far more parsimonious understanding of what is going on. Now, remember, I never argue from this experiment alone but from multiple areas. My interpretation can explain a lot more with a lot less, making it more plausible. I can explain all these various data points with one idealistic interpretation, instead of different independent explanations for each issue.
I don’t think it is fair for James to title his video “How Inspiring Philosophy Misrepresents Science” when all he did was explain he has different philosophical interpretations. His own video description also implies this, so his title is misleading. More importantly, if you are going to accuse me of getting the science wrong, you better make sure you got the science right, and at times, James made scientific errors. Ultimately, I think his critique was riddled with problems and only makes me more confident in my idealistic worldview.
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