Patterico's Pontifications

5/14/2018

Christ, Atheism, Quantum Physics, and the Nature of Reality

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:52 am

I have been listening to Sam Harris’s podcast more lately. (All hail the Intellectual Dark Web!) Harris is an atheist, yet listening to his podcast has had the effect of strengthening my faith — no doubt due to what Harris would call confirmatory bias. On the one hand, the podcast has caused me to think more about how little science actually knows about the nature of reality. On the other, it has given me reasons to find a real truth in Jesus’s Gospel.

In a conversation with Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at CalTech, Harris has a discussion about the paradoxes presented by quantum mechanics. I’ll give you a snippet from 27:41 to 33:13:

Carroll discusses the Copenhagen interpretation, but appears to subscribe to another theory called the Many Worlds interpretation. I’m not a physicist, so I’ll defer to Harris’s description, as confirmed by Carroll — but it appears to be, in effect, a claim that “everything that can happen is happening” in some parallel universe. Harris takes an object and puts it down, and says that if there is a nonzero possibility of him doing that 75 times in a row, to the consternation of the audience, then it is happening somewhere. At 28:40, Harris sounds dumbfounded:

This is supposed to be science, right? But this sounds like the strangest and least believable idea on offer. How is that science, after centuries of being rigorous and parsimonious and hardheaded, finally disgorges a picture of reality which seems to be the least believable thing anyone’s ever thought of?

Carroll’s answer at 29:43 is basically: that’s the best answer science has. “It is the simplest, purest, most parsimonious way of making sense of the data.” He goes into a discussion of quantum mechanics. An electron is spinning in some sense both clockwise and counterclockwise, but when you look at it, it is doing only one. Yet the equation tells you that both were happening. So what happened to the other situation described by the equation? This is where the explanations become unsatisfactory, and the Many Worlds interpretation is currently as mainstream an explanation as any other.

The notion does seem preposterous, if I take the description offered in the podcast at face value — mainly because, as chaotic and unpredictable as our world can seem, there is still a logic to it. Imagining countless universes, where every physical possibility that can happen does happen, means that countless totally illogical things are taking place in the other universes. There is a universe where I have my life as a lawyer and run a political blog, but every third post on the blog is simply the letter A repeated thousands of times. (Some of you might prefer that to every third post saying something unflattering about Donald Trump, but that’s another discussion.) In another universe it is every sixth post where I repeat the letter Z. In another universe, a plane crashes into my back yard in front of my eyes as I type — but I calmly sit and continue to type, without acting the way one does when they witness a tragedy . . . just because it is physically possible for me to do so.

This does seem to be “the least believable thing anyone’s ever thought of.” Clearly, it can’t be a coincidence that we happen to live in one of the relatively few universes where such bizarre things do not routinely happen — where there is at least some coherent logic to the unfolding of events.

And this is hardly the only aspect of reality that is unexplained by particle physics. The discussion touches on at least one more, namely, if one looks at the universe solely from the vantage point of particle physics, from what does consciousness arise? This is a difficult concept to explain solely in terms of subatomic particles.

Clearly, science doesn’t have all the answers — not yet, anyway, and it probably never will have them all.

Meanwhile, noted atheist and scholar of Christianity Bart Ehrman was on Harris’s podcast recently, and I found many of the things he said to be corroborative of things I have found myself in thinking about Christ and the Bible. I just happen to interpret them differently than Ehrman. They talked about the fact that Christ was indeed a historical figure, and that there are certain things that he almost certainly said — because if the story were fictional, it wouldn’t have been told that way. Ehrman calls this the “criterion of dissimilarity” and compares it to what happens in a court case where a witness appears to make an admission against their interest. I have previously thought about the Gospels in this way. There is much that not only rings true, but that you can’t really imagine a storyteller making up in this way. So much of what Jesus says is startling and totally unexpected, and yet perfect. People who constructed that story out of whole cloth would have to be, not only geniuses, but people who wrote the story in ways that nobody would ever expect such a story to be constructed. It makes no sense to say that the story was made up.

Yet Ehrman and Harris seem to forget the analogy to court cases when they discuss contradictions in the Bible and in the Gospels. And there are contradictions. For example, one Gospel writer gives one account of the relationship of Jesus’s crucifixion to Passover, and another gives a different one. One account attributes to Jesus a quote about the destruction of the temple that is attributed to someone else in a different account. Ha ha! Ehrman and Harris conclude. There goes the notion that the Bible is the divine word of God!

But contradictions on details like this happen all the time in court cases. To me, such contradictions make the Gospels seem more like an honest account given by flawed people, who sometimes contradict each other on the minor points, but who get the main details right.

This will sound heretical to some of you, but I can’t subscribe to the commonly held notion that every word of the Bible is the received Word of God, simply because there are some blatant contradictions. But those contradictions make the story seem more real to me. They are like the “criterion of dissimilarity” — they bring a truly transformative story of good news into our reality.

Harris has talked to believers, too, but I think I have learned more from the atheists than I have from the believers. I like to let them make their best case — and it’s not wholly satisfying.

Science doesn’t have all the answers to the nature of reality. There really is something to the notion that Christ truly spoke words, and lived a life, that transformed the world. These are some of the thoughts I have had upon listening to this very smart atheist talking to some of his very smart atheist friends.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

140 Responses to “Christ, Atheism, Quantum Physics, and the Nature of Reality”

  1. Ding! Did I beat you this morning, Pat? 😉

    Gryph (08c844)

  2. You know, just because these physicists can write fantastic fiction in calculus does not make it any less fantastic fiction. There are fairy tales in every language. The Monkey King stories, for example, are in Chinese (honest, I saw all three movies) and I’ll bet you there are more people who speak Chinese than speak calculus.

    nk (dbc370)

  3. Please drop the ‘Dark’, an intentional subtle smear applied by the Left, and just call it The Intellectual Web.

    Otherwise the other side must be crowned with the ‘Intellectual-Lite Web’ moniker.

    harkin (99ba6b)

  4. Another variation is the notion that all religions could be right at the same time, as in what part of infinite don’t you understand?

    jim2 (679204)

  5. ” There really is something to the notion that Christ truly spoke words, and lived a life, that transformed the world. ”

    As did Mohammed, as did Confucius, as did the Bhudda, as did Moses, as did Bach, as did Luther, as did Einstein. God is apparently willing to speak in many languages to many different people.

    John Boddie (4310e3)

  6. Einstein, who resisted much of the hypothesizing built on quantum mechanics, famously insisted that God does not play dice with the universe. He rebelled, in other words, at the resultant notions of “the least believable thing[s] anyone’s ever thought of.” But the failure of imagination — his, if I may so presume (I’m not the only one), and perhaps others’ — is in underappreciation of the “many” in “many worlds [or universes] theory.” For every one that strikes you as unbelievable, there is a vastly, vastly, vastly larger number of universes in which the plane crashes in your yard, and a VASTLY larger number of universes in which you type the letter Z repeatedly as your blog post. Just as Newtonian physics is still perfectly capable of giving us useful, operational results in the overwhelming majority of applications, up to, including, and well beyond very complicated applications like “Will this Boeing 737 safely fly me to Dallas?,” without consideration of any of the complications that Einstein’s physics overwrote atop (or inside) Newtonian physics, the further complications of quantum physics don’t matter at all to most of us most of the time. (Ask me about this again in ten or twenty more years, though, after we get better at using parallel universes to extract answers to incredibly complex mathematical questions.)

    Well-done “hard” science fiction is enough to teach most of us everything about quantum mechanics that we need or want to know, for now — essentially, conceptual outlines whose main point, for most of us, is to remind ourselves that beneath the surface assumptions we make and rely upon every day in living our lives, there are hidden complexities that our species may aspire to tease out and find productive uses for, if we don’t blow ourselves up or otherwise annihilate ourselves in the meantime.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  7. And one need no quantum physics to account for mere mental farts, like the one that let me omit a needed “not” from this: “… larger number of universes in which the plane does not crash in your yard.”

    Beldar (fa637a)

  8. I regard ehrman differently, he is part of those referred to in 2 timothy, what is the end result of his work, is to leave us with nothing of worse, so jesus was a good man, but his message isn’t allowed to be proclaimed, re multiverse theory, it’s intriguing but there is no proof of same,

    narciso (d1f714)

  9. So there may be a universe in which Papa Bear says “Someone has been sleeping in my bed”, and Mama Bear says “Someone has been sleeping in my bed”, and Baby Bear says … “Good night, Mom. Good night, Dad.”

    nk (dbc370)

  10. I personally believe that atheism is often a reaction to the “faith” some believer’s place over verifiable fact. Example…. scientists know that a degree of evolution not only exists but is easily verifiable, so how can religious folks deny it?

    Ignorance does not equal faith. At least not to me. And I can see why some religious folks repel potential believers, especially those engaged in science. I have seen scientists bending like a pretzel to NOT believe. And religious folks doing the opposite, just to believe things, because my pastor says so.

    noel (b4d580)

  11. Anyhow, Roger Zelazny was doing it more entertainingly in the 1970s with his Amber series.

    nk (dbc370)

  12. no I think the Word speaks for itself,

    narciso (d1f714)

  13. There is the idea that quantum uncertainty is the material hook on which free will hangs.

    Kishnevi (e95dc4)

  14. yes but it’s an umprovable theory,

    narciso (d1f714)

  15. A wise man once said: “when a man stops believing in god, it does not mean he believes in nothing; it means he’ll believe anything.”

    felipe (5b25e2)

  16. Too much sci-fi in there world where they believe if anything is possible, everything must be possible.

    It’s just bad math.

    NJRob (b00189)

  17. their*

    NJRob (b00189)

  18. it’s attributed to Chesterton, but you’re right felipe,

    narciso (d1f714)

  19. You should remember that (unlike Quantum Mechanics itself) neither the Copenhagen Interpretation, nor the Many-Worlds Interpretation, has ANY experimental or observational consequences. They are not science, they are simply stories to help us think about the science. It is not that one of them is “right” – in fact, neither of them is even “wrong” (since there is no way to test their truth or falsity).

    Quantum Mechanics, on the other hand, gives the correct prediction for every experimental situation in which it can be tested. The extension to QM which also includes relativity (Quantum Field Theory) is the most successful and precisely tested scientific theory in history. In some cases, it predicts the measurements correctly to the 13th decimal place (the magnetic moment of the electron, in this case). More practically, your computer and every other modern electronic device, is based on QM being correct.

    The reason why explanations based on QM are “unsatisfactory” is that (at the microscopic, subatomic level) nature does not have to conform to what “makes sense” to our brains, which have evolved and are programmed to interpret the macroscopic world. Recognizing that at the most fundamental level, nature does not behave the way our brains expect it to was the key breakthrough of the 20th century.

    For those interested, I’d recommend the book

    QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman,
    for a short and very readable introduction to the ideas of QM and its more modern (relativistic) generalizations. The 100th anniversary of Feynman’s birth was just last week.

    For a longer, and more historical account of how physicists came to believe such ridiculous (but, shockingly, accurate) things about the world, there is
    Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World by Abraham Pais

    (The Pais book was written in 1988, so it leaves out the last 30 years…but it is still a good history of 1895 – 1988)

    Dave (445e97)

  20. Know not to know.

    In an unrelated development which defies the laws of physics, SCOTUS robustly affirmed states’ rights and invoked the 10th Amendment in Murphy v. NCAA. 6-3! Methinks there must have been some faulty electron stare decisis scopes involved.

    Ed from SFV (7422a8)

  21. Oh, and for the post-literate, there is the excellent (Tony Award winning) play Copenhagen, which has a well-done video adaptation.

    Dave (445e97)

  22. R.I.P. Margot Kidder

    Icy (4729eb)

  23. Emerson’s articulation of the beauty of nature refracted through human subjectivity is persuasive and powerful. He writes of a human mind “tyrannized over by its own unifying instinct, [which] goes on tying things together, diminishing anomalies, discovering roots running under ground – whereby contrary and remote things cohere, and flower out from one stem.” This instinct toward reconciliation sits at the foundation of my thinking in many ways – and I am in full agreement with Emerson’s belief that “science is nothing but the finding of analogy, identity, in the most remote parts.” In this way, Emerson explains, “the ancient precept (Know Thyself) and the modern precept (Study Nature) become at last one maxim.”

    Leviticus (efada1)

  24. Patterico, thank you for this post, and thanks for the comments on the thread. It’s what makes PP’s a great place to visit!

    Simon Jester (ad6a15)

  25. There has always been a logical fallacy to atheism. Atheists think there is no god. But given the nature of God, and the vastness of space and time, it is impossible to be sure, much less prove such a thing is true. Ergo, atheism is not logical or scientific, but a belief, just like religion. So atheists have an irrational belief that belief in god is irrational.

    The correct logical position for a person who does not believe is God is agnostic, that is to say, not sure either way, since neither proposition cannot be definitively proven. Like space aliens – it is highly unlikely we can ever rule them out.

    And lastly, if you don’t believe in god, there is no reason to not believe in religion as an organizing force in our society. It serves a purpose of providing free psychological counseling and social work to our society, and allows for a high trust society to form, which economists all agree allows for a much more productive society.

    Cassandra (a815b9)

  26. Nicely put, Cassandra. And I know this is not original to me, but I believe that the wackiness of the Left on any number of things is due to their atheism leaving a gap that they fill with faith in something.

    Simon Jester (ad6a15)

  27. A wise man once said: “when a man stops believing in god, it does not mean he believes in nothing; it means he’ll believe anything.” felipe (5b25e2) — 5/14/2018 @ 9:34 am

    That saying is truer than you know. Scientists have speculated that we are hardwired for irrational beliefs. Space in our brains not filled with religious beliefs just get filled up with something even more silly.

    But why would religious beliefs be hardwired? Back to may last post – religion provides for greater security and survival of societies under stress, ergo, we were naturally selected for belief in religion.

    Cassandra (a815b9)

  28. Superb post…the line “… I think I have learned more from the atheists than I have from the believers” particularly hit home. Expect they would be disheartened to realize that their final effect tends to be faith-affirming.

    Bill Saracino (78f41f)

  29. I think the idea is (and it’s been decades since I dug into this stuff) it is not that there are universes where illogical things happen, but universes where low probability things happen. For instance there are universes where a specific coin when dropped in 100K other universes lands heads or tails up, lands on its end. But there would not be any universes for example where the coin is not pulled by gravity toward the center of the earth. At least not universes that originate from ones common to whichever one this one is.

    The problem with this stuff is it’s too easy to fall into virtual solipsism. Kinda why I gave up on following physics.
    I just lost interest in the details. It starts to become too much work for a layman living in the real world (heh) with normal responsibilities to waste time trying to discern the scientists from the charlatans.

    Skorcher (5b282a)

  30. “Ergo, atheism is not logical or scientific, but a belief, just like religion. So atheists have an irrational belief that belief in god is irrational.”

    – Cassandra

    There is big leap from atheism being a belief to atheism being an irrational belief. I believe in God for rational, a posteriori reasons – what William James called “mystical experience” – and for a priori reasons as well. But there are plenty of rational, a priori reasons for not believing in God. Some atheists are irrational, yes – but some are rational as well.

    Leviticus (efada1)

  31. The odds of a flipped coin landing on “edge” (rather than heads or tails) increase in direct proportion to the height from which the coin is dropped.

    There is a discussion to be had about whether this statement is rational or irrational, or whether it depends.

    Leviticus (efada1)

  32. The odds of a flipped coin landing on “edge” (rather than heads or tails) increase in direct proportion to the height from which the coin is dropped.

    Yeah, thought about using some other example but went of the top of my head, having other things to do. Just going with the general idea of a in-most-cases 1/0 probability with a very remote exception. Agree regarding a discussion to be had. Preferably in some other universe, however. 😉

    Skorcher (5b282a)

  33. I agree that atheism is hard to justify, and that agnosticism is the more reasonable position as amongst the two.

    I *also* agree that religion can be a useful organizing force in our society, providing psychological and emotional support and group bonding.

    That said, *in the US*, in my childhood, almost all organized religion was actively hostile to me. *Much* organized religion still is. Why should I not return the hostility?

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  34. > Science doesn’t have all the answers to the nature of reality.

    Of course it doesn’t!

    It’s a tool, and as a tool it only takes us so far. Besides which, *any* answer science provides us is going to be limited and mediated by our capacities; we see *part* of reality, not all of it, and science cannot help us overcome that.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  35. Atheists’ religion is believing no religion…

    Colonel Haiku (8f010c)

  36. And this… https://youtu.be/ka–VV-_t_U

    Colonel Haiku (8f010c)

  37. But there would not be any universes for example where the coin is not pulled by gravity toward the center of the earth. At least not universes that originate from ones common to whichever one this one is.

    Under the multiverse theory, as I understand it, there are universes in which gravity does not operate the way it does here, or does not operate at all. IANAPhysicist.

    Kishnevi (6ee685)

  38. Is it anti-intellectual of me, in response to this thread, to roll my eyes and think “Angels on the head of a pin”??

    I’ve got things to do today.

    shipwreckedcrew (56b591)

  39. I believe in God for rational, a posteriori reasons – what William James called “mystical experience” – and for a priori reasons as well. But there are plenty of rational, a priori reasons for not believing in God.

    I would very much enjoy seeing you expand on this, Leviticus.

    Patterico (73622a)

  40. Under the multiverse theory, as I understand it, there are universes in which gravity does not operate the way it does here, or does not operate at all. IANAPhysicist.

    Yes, possibly. But those universes would not have derived from one of our root/tree/whathaveyous. Hence my point At least not universes that originate from ones common to whichever one this one is. They could be totally different Big Bangs (assuming a Big Bang is necessary to start any/all universes) or universes that spun off of one of the same earlier ones as this one but shortly after The Big Bang before all the laws of physics that we observe were established.

    Of course all of this discussion is going on in, and thus limited by, a universe with some concept of a time and space continuum. Other universes may not be restricted in such a manner. Not that it matters. Or that any of this matters.

    Skorcher (5b282a)

  41. You should remember that (unlike Quantum Mechanics itself) neither the Copenhagen Interpretation, nor the Many-Worlds Interpretation, has ANY experimental or observational consequences. They are not science, they are simply stories to help us think about the science. It is not that one of them is “right” – in fact, neither of them is even “wrong” (since there is no way to test their truth or falsity).

    Quantum Mechanics, on the other hand, gives the correct prediction for every experimental situation in which it can be tested. The extension to QM which also includes relativity (Quantum Field Theory) is the most successful and precisely tested scientific theory in history. In some cases, it predicts the measurements correctly to the 13th decimal place (the magnetic moment of the electron, in this case). More practically, your computer and every other modern electronic device, is based on QM being correct.

    Yes. There is no question that relativity and QM have been both very useful and have a great dea of empirical evidence to support them. My only point is that they do not even begin to describe the nature of reality, and the theories offered to resolve the apparent paradoxes they seem to create are, so far, unsatisfying (if we are being kind) and perhaps even laughable (if we are being less kind).

    Patterico (73622a)

  42. “That said, *in the US*, in my childhood, almost all organized religion was actively hostile to me. *Much* organized religion still is. Why should I not return the hostility?”…aphrael

    Yes, then there is that problem. I also believe that Christians should actually try to imitate Christ. Radical, I know. Jesus taught the multitudes. He did not require memberships and dues and a refined appearance. He welcomed all, if I read things right.

    He forgave the true sinner and challenged the rabbi. He healed.

    Would he reject the company of blacks, gays or women? Muslims or Mexicans? The poor or the disabled? The woman who had the abortion? The alcoholic? The liberal or the conservative? The divorced?

    I doubt it. They were all on the hillside, listening, as he told those parables. And he fed them too.

    noel (b4d580)

  43. And this… https://youtu.be/ka–VV-_t_U

    That is an instant classic. Thanks, Colonel.

    Patterico (73622a)

  44. Great comment, noel. I agree.

    Patterico (73622a)

  45. You should read the works of Leibniz, Monadology, Theodicy and philosophical treatises. And excellent summary of his writings can be found in Leibniz and the Rational Order of Nature, by Donald Rutherford.

    Leibniz says that he began as a philosopher and ended up a theologian. He was a contemporary of Newton, whom he disagreed with profoundly on the existence of atoms. The most concise summary of his argument can be found in the Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence, edited by H. G. Alexander.

    Very basically Leibniz argues that the existence of atoms necessitates the existence of void, contradicts the unum and plenum of the cosmos, and denies identity to the substance of the universe. He posits that at the most basic level substance must possess an entelechy, a mind or soul. Here he follows Giodarno Bruno from a century before. (See Giodarno Bruno: one the infitite the universe and the worlds, translated by Scott Gosnell.)

    Leibniz’s cosmology is quite complex. It is couched in late 16th and early 17th century theology, so it seems outdated in terms of modern post-Enlightenment science. However, when read in the light of recent advances in the new sciences of chaos, complexity and fractal geometry, it actually makes a lot of sense. Ideas such as spontaneous self-organization and emergence in dynamic systems, of infinity across all levels of scale, were anticipated by Leibniz over 400 years ago.

    The reason why is because Leibniz not only developed differential calculus, but he invented the first calculating machine capable of performing the four functions of mathematics and square roots, the forefather of all calculators and computers made through to the 1970s, when digital technology was developed. It took the development of the supercomputer before new scientists began postulating theories that Leibniz had conceived centuries before.

    Philosophers at War, by A. Rupert Hall, provides a revealing account of the conflict between the two. Newton became incensed when Leibniz published his calculus first. That was an affront the great Newton could not abide, so he accused Leibniz of plagiarism, libeled hima, and had him thorwn out of the Royal Society. The thing is that Leibniz had based his calculus on differentials, whereas Newton had based his on “fluxions” or fluctuations. It is a fascinating story. Liebniz returned to Germany where he continued his studies of differentials with the help of his calculating machine, while Newton reigned in the UK and later the US, continuing his study of fluctuations with pencil and paper.

    It is often said that the reason why the US was able to defeat the Nazis and win WWII is because our German scientists were better than theirs. Well, yeah, the scientists and mathematicains who defected had all studied Leibniz, not Newton. In fact, the calculus we study doday is based on Leibniz’s differentials, not Newton’s fluxions, yet Newton gets credit for inventing the calclus.

    In the same way, Newton gets credit for the theory of atoms, inaminate particles interacting randomly, which forms the basis of physics, chemistry and indeed biology. Darwin’s theory of evolution does not make sense outside of Newtonian cosmology. Yet the new sciences are bringing us back closer and closer to Leibniz’s theory of monads, animate particles with intellect and memory, a mind or a soul, capable of organizing intentionally.

    Thus, this is a centuries old debate. Actually, it is a millennia old debate. The Old Testament depicts an external God who imposes order from without. The New Testament dpicts an internal Gowd who organizes order from within. “I am the light and the life. . . . I am the vine, ye are the branches.”

    We are now in the midst of a profound paradigm shift, more profound than that which took place, when the Ptolemaic system gave way to the Copernican. The old sciences of the Elightnment and modernity are giving way to the new sciences of post-modernity. Yet these new sciences mirror much older sciences–Celtic artists were drawing fractal designs thousands of years ago! And the closer we return to monadology, the more we return to Christology.

    GawainsGhost (b25cd1)

  46. Would that there was a post-publication editing function on this blog to correct comma spices and misspellings. Depicts and Enlightenment.

    GawainsGhost (b25cd1)

  47. “Is it anti-intellectual of me, in response to this thread, to roll my eyes and think “Angels on the head of a pin”??

    I’ve got things to do today.”

    – shipwreckedcrew

    Is it unfair of me, in response to your comment, to roll my eyes and wonder what things you have to do today, since you are in fact commenting on posts on this blog?

    Leviticus (efada1)

  48. “It is often said that the reason why the US was able to defeat the Nazis and win WWII is because our German scientists were better than theirs.”

    I hate to nit-pick, wait, strike that – I love to nit-pick. But the US didn’t defeat the Nazis, the Brits, Soviets, and the US did. And their German scientists were Better than our scientists, except for the A-Bomb – which came too late to affect anything. The Germans actually had a war winning weapon, Nerve Gas – but never used it because they thought we had it too.

    Its not our scientists that won the war, it was our codebreakers and by “our” I mean the Brits, the poles, and ourselves.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  49. ‘Reality: what a concept.’ – Robin Williams

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  50. And while I love that scientists – particularly physicists – do quantum stuff and talk of the Theory of Relativity – I don’t know what affect that has on my life or anyone else’s

    Theories just help explain things. Whether that explanation actually leads to anyone inventing something that helps mankind is uncertain.

    rcocean (1a839e)

  51. It is often said that the reason why the US was able to defeat the Nazis and win WWII is because our German scientists were better than theirs.

    You know, after the war (WWII, the Big One) both US and USSR were trying to track down German scientists. Herr Heisenberg proved to be a particularly difficult case. You see, at any given time you might know where he was but couldn’t be sure where he was going and when you knew where he was going, you didn’t know where the hell he was.

    Skorcher (5b282a)

  52. “…they do not even begin to describe the nature of reality…”

    One of my criticisms of fundamentalist Christianity is that the Bible is utterly clueless about metaphysics and even basic medicine, or maybe it chooses to keep us in the dark about it.
    I’ve read that many in religion laughed about the thought of the earth being a sphere and it was heretical to say that Earth wasn’t flat.
    On medicine, for example, we even had to find out for ourselves that little, invisible (to the naked eye) creatures can keep us healthy or make us sick. The Bible does preach cleanliness, I will give it that. But it doesn’t give us many clues into medicine at all.

    It’s an odd sort of knowledge that has little to say about our everyday world but claims to know everything about out ever-lasting souls.

    Tillman (a95660)

  53. Let me re-write that last sentance:

    It’s an odd sort of knowledge that has little to say about our (empirical) everyday world, but claims to know everything about our (non-empirical) ever-lasting souls.

    Tillman (a95660)

  54. @43 Noel The Bible is replete with warnings that He (Jesus) absolutely rejects/disowns those who will not accept Him. It is not a never-ending Get Out of Jail free deal. Either one, at some point, makes a sincere effort to believe, or one is doomed.

    Now, to be very clear, the make-up of any individual is not at issue. As someone I love keeps insisting, God didn’t make no junk. Anyone who rejects another simply for their being is a fool and is condemned to a very unhappy eternal existence. However, the usual “suspect classes” who refuse to repent are every bit as doomed for their choices.

    I, for one, do not have much time for those who will not see. For one who is earnestly seeking? I damn well better have the time. In point of fact, as unworthy as I am, I desperately love being of service to those folks.

    Ed from SFV (7422a8)

  55. Angels usually do whatever the Lord of hosts tells them to. I’m unaware of any size restrictions they have. What Playlist they dance to would be a fair question.

    I was raised into a time when the religious of the day were very condemning toward the gay lifestyle and very harsh to gay individuals. Over time I begin to meet gay people with kind, gentle hearts.
    The heart is where the action is when it comes to receiving life and thank God that Jesus is in charge of sorting out the sheep and the goats rather than i.

    Steveg (69e835)

  56. Noel @43

    I also believe that Christians should actually try to imitate Christ. Radical, I know. Jesus taught the multitudes. He did not require memberships and dues and a refined appearance. He welcomed all, if I read things right.

    Your whole comment is excellent. This stood out to me probably because I have been taken to task by many in my belief that church “membership”, as in to a specific building and body of believers exclusively, is not Biblical. I am a member of the Church, I am a member of the Body of Christ, a Believer and unfortunately many church bodies can’t accept this as it means they don’t have control over me, or my money. Sorry folks, God gets that right, not a brick and stone body of believers.

    Marci (fbaa8c)

  57. That wasnr the problem, the rich effectively barred most scientists that weren’t aryan as was mandated by Conrad stark, some of this is illustrated in volpis in search of klingsor.

    Well to be part of a community that’s shares in the word is part of the obligation, but one doesn’t have to be assigned to any one church.

    narciso (d1f714)

  58. 47 – fortunately, I work mostly on my computer. Today its an opposition to a motion for summary judgment in a wrongful termination case where Walmart is the defendant. You might well imagine what it looks like – and I’ve set a personal goal of trying to get through half the 107 “undisputed facts” before starting to round up kids at around 4:00 pm local time.

    So, toggling over to this blog to take a 5-10 minute respite is doable. Trying to decipher this particular comment — not so much.

    But I can bang out 300 words on what Mueller has screwed up in about 5 minutes.

    How about this — explain briefly the complications now exposed in the Russia Troll Farm indictment which arise out of the drafting decision by his “All Stars” to refer to Concord Consulting and Concord Catering collectively as “Concord” throughout the text of the charging document.

    shipwreckedcrew (56b591)

  59. They relied on the buzzfeed piece and dubious attribution by crowdstrike, here’s a twist:

    http://thehill.com/opinion/white-house/387625-mueller-may-have-a-conflict-and-it-leads-directly-to-a-russian-oligarch

    narciso (d1f714)

  60. 59 — or you could read the 9 page motion filed today by Concord Consulting asking for in camera review of the legal charge given to the GJ on Count 1 of the Indictment, the novel “Klein Conspiracy” charge — the motion notes that the count does not include the “willful” knowledge element as required, raising a question as to whether the GJ was properly charged on the legal instruction.

    More stellar work by Mueller’s All Stars — but hey, who thought anyone would ever care?

    shipwreckedcrew (56b591)

  61. Patterico @ 39,

    I was raised a Catholic til I was about ten, then as an evangelical mega-church Christian when my mom left Catholicism. I am neither now, although I still consider myself a Christian and still think constantly about Biblical teaching, and Christian faith’s questions and obligations and struggles. But when I was still an evangelical mega-church Christian – struggling deeply with the dictates of literalism and fundamentalism – I had what I believe to be a “mystical experience.” It was the first time I ever raised my hand in praise during a worship service – a practice that I found, as a teenager (and probably as an ex-Catholic), to be unbearably ostentatious. But I told myself “it’s not about you, man,” and raised my hand anyway. And I had the indescribable experience of brushing my hand against God, which obliterated and remade me instantaneously.

    William James provided a description of the mystical experience in his famous collection of lectures published in 1902 as The Varieties of Religious Experience. In Lectures 16 and 17 he stated:

    “…propose to you four marks which, when an experience has them, may justify us in calling it mystical…:
    1. Ineffability – The handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words.

    2. Noetic Quality – Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discurssive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for aftertime.

    3. Transiency – Mystical states cannot be sustained for long.

    4. Passivity – Although the oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, as by fixing the attention, or going through certain bodily performances, or in other ways which manuals of mysticism prescribe; yet when the characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power.

    My experience met all of these criteria, although I obviously didn’t know it at the time. When I came across William James years later, I recognized what he was describing. The “noetic quality” of my experience was this: I would never again doubt the existence of God, even if all knowledge of God’s nature or qualities was completely obscure to me. I was very blessed to have this experience when I did, on the verge of years of brutal battles with doubt. But it has formed the unshakeable (and, I submit, rational – albeit subjectively rational) basis for my belief in God ever since.

    Leviticus (efada1)

  62. Leviticus – I likewise have had what I consider to be mystical experiences, *but* I see no reason to believe these are better explained by Christian theology than by some other theology. They leave me convinced that there is a spiritual world as well as a physical one, but they bring me no closer to believing any particular interpretation of that world; it is something that I think humans are incapable of truly understanding, and we tell ourselves stories to explain it, but that doesn’t make the stories true. The parable of the blind men and the elephant.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  63. > Yes, then there is that problem. I also believe that Christians should actually try to imitate Christ. Radical, I know. Jesus taught the multitudes. He did not require memberships and dues and a refined appearance. He welcomed all, if I read things right.

    Noel: I am not a Christian. As a child I was a militant atheist, who mellowed into an agnosticism, and then had a series of experiences which brought him close to Taoism.

    But there are elements of the Christian ideal which appeal to me. Holding yourself to a standard where you welcome all, where you love all, where you hold back from judgment and try to understand and love through the understanding? This is the ideal to which I strive — and fail, because it is an ideal, and I am human — and I have a great deal of respect for those Christians who walk that path.

    But so many of the loud *public* representatives of the faith are the people who judge first, and love second. And in my young adulthood, there was a lot of that directed at people like me; and, because it is a human thing to notice more quickly, and see more vividly, those places where we are being attacked, for a long time “people who choose to judge without knowing, and hate rather than love” was my image of Christians writ large.

    I have been exposed to better Christians, and I have mellowed, and I acknowledge that this was a skewed view; but those people are still out there, and an appallingly large number of them are in positions of power.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  64. I had a conversation — well, it’s probably more accurate to say that I was subjected to a conversation, given that I neither started it nor wished it to continue, but was too polite to be rude in my ending of it — yesterday with a man who was telling me that (a) he knows that if you play the songs backward the lyrics are satanic, but (b) metallica’s *music*, their skill as musicians and the intricacy of their harmonies and counter harmonies, is incredible, so (c) he knows that he’s part of the way to hell because he listens to it but he hopes that his focus on their music and not his lyrics means he’s not all the way there.

    This sort of thing makes me actively hostile to religion.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  65. Steveg: as a teenager, I made myself believe that I was asexual rather than gay, because what I had absorbed from the religious people around me was that, if I were gay, it would be impossible for me to ever be accepted by the society in which I found myself; I would be an outcast, hated and loathed, all of my life, unless I wasn’t gay.

    I am *mildly scarred* on this score, compared with how deeply wounded a lot of gay people are.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  66. We are all sinners aphrael, it is a consequence of the fall,
    Now to dwell on any one sin is problematic as there are seven. So countries like Russia which had been atheist for three quarters of a century, were not anymore welcoming to gays.

    narciso (d1f714)

  67. “I likewise have had what I consider to be mystical experiences, *but* I see no reason to believe these are better explained by Christian theology than by some other theology.”

    – aphrael

    The only reason I link my own mystical experience to Christian theology is that I was seeking the Christian God when I experienced it. I put a great deal of credence in the promise of “seek and ye shall find,” although I acknowledge that it is perfectly (rationally) possible for someone to stumble across something they weren’t seeking.

    “[The spiritual world] is something that I think humans are incapable of truly understanding, and we tell ourselves stories to explain it, but that doesn’t make the stories true.”

    – aphrael

    I think we may be incapable of *fully* understanding the spiritual world in our human state, and I agree to some extent that our language limits our ability to fully explain the spiritual world, but that doesn’t entail a truth-function to religious teaching. The stories may be neither literally true nor meaningfully false – I think a lots about cairns. And I think that by critically and faithfully *deconstructing* religious texts, particularly through critical discourse, we may indeed find a meaningful spiritual truths that human beings *are* capable of truly understanding.

    Leviticus (efada1)

  68. aphrael,

    Christians fail to live up to their beliefs all the time, but what human doesn’t fail? I want to belong to a religion that believes in loving God and one another, and there are many Christians who try to live up to their beliefs. It is the effort that makes it worth it, not the fact that we miss out on perfection.

    DRJ (15874d)

  69. DRJ – on the one hand, I agree. On the other hand, it’s hard to get past the failings when I am suffering as a direct result of other people’s failings. Which isn’t to say that I shouldn’t try. :)

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  70. Narciso – oh, sure. Although there’s also a degree to which it’s *cultural* rather than *religious*, except that the lines between the two are blurry.

    As an example, modern Hinduism is much more hostile to homosexuality than, say, medieval Hinduism was. How much of that is a result of Indian cultural evolution under British tutelage? It’s hard to say.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  71. Leviticus, I really like William James. His essays are often paired with Clifford’s brief The Ethics of Belief to hear both sides. I’d encourage everyone to read both.

    Tillman (a95660)

  72. I sent think so, deconstructing texts really leaves out the fundamental truth, imposes our filters, there is much in scripture that makes one uncomfortable, to try to modernize that and ignore the fundamental.

    narciso (d1f714)

  73. Text requires interpretation, narciso. Interpretation is a human endeavor, as subject to our failings as any other human endeavor. Deconstruction acknowledges that reality, and inquires of it.

    Leviticus (efada1)

  74. There was a famous German biblical historian, who was deeply troubled how her work had driven others from the faith.

    narciso (d1f714)

  75. Patterico at 39 and Leviticus at 61…

    I am a scientist, and trained as such. The essence of science is its repeatability. So I am not troubled by things that are not repeatable…using the scientific side of my mind.

    When I was 14 years old, in church, I had what William James would have described as a mystical experience (and funny how we all trod the same path to James!). My pastor didn’t like it when I went to him for guidance. My late father was helpful. For years, I would try to explain to people I knew well, and would often get shut down, told I was lying, and so forth.

    But I had a friend who is an SF author and is also very devoutly religious. I shared my story with him. He was quiet for a long time.

    “That experience is meant for you,” he told me slowly. “It isn’t for other people to share.”

    That gave me quite a bit to think about. It has certainly colored my view of reality.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Simon Jester (ad6a15)

  76. One of my criticisms of fundamentalist Christianity is that the Bible is utterly clueless about metaphysics and even basic medicine, or maybe it chooses to keep us in the dark about it.

    It sounds to me, then, that the Greek and Roman gods, Apollo and Aesculapius, are for you. And I’m not sure what you call metaphysics, but the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy might be just what you’re looking for.

    For car repair, I recommend the Chilton manuals. The Bible doesn’t say anything about that, either.

    nk (dbc370)

  77. There is no question that relativity and QM have been both very useful and have a great deal of empirical evidence to support them. My only point is that they do not even begin to describe the nature of reality, and the theories offered to resolve the apparent paradoxes they seem to create are, so far, unsatisfying (if we are being kind) and perhaps even laughable (if we are being less kind).

    To which the physicist responds: so much the worse for reality.

    Actually QM doesn’t just “begin” to describe the nature of reality, it describes it completely. QM asserts that there is no physical reality apart from what we can observe and measure. If my theory can correctly predict the outcome of any measurement, nothing more can reasonably be expected of it. Attempts to “fill in the gaps” by explaining “what really happens” between measurements are the scientific equivalent of obiter dictum in law.

    When you say “the nature of reality” I think what you really mean is “human experience”, and it is definitely true that subatomic physics is very much at odds with what our brains have been programmed by evolution and experience to expect. Our brains evolved to recognize dangers, predators, sources of food, potential mates, etc. They are incredible pattern-recognition devices, and they are very much “over-tuned” to the point that they expect and often find patterns in statistical noise where there really is no underlying pattern (which helps explain why so many superstitions persist). This powerful ability for inductive learning is also what made science itself possible! In everyday life, there is no reason at all to question the comfy narrative about an objective reality that our brain is feeding us (indeed, to do so is usually pathological).

    But that narrative is incompatible with how nature behaves at the most fundamental level. It’s evolution’s fault (or God’s), not the theory’s.

    As far as consciousness, I tend to doubt that it has much at all to do with quantum physics. I imagine it is simply an incredibly complex and non-linear collection of electro-chemical reactions in the brain. There is no scientific reason to believe otherwise (e.g. nobody has yet found any evidence of magical or super-natural processes inside the brain, and more and more of it is successfully explained by mundane biochemistry).

    Dave (445e97)

  78. I am having trouble seeing how that helps you, aphrael. I had hardship as a child that wasn’t my fault. I let it define me for years but then I realized holding that grudge in my heart was hurting me.

    DRJ (15874d)

  79. Great. Now, I’m speculating whether in the universe in which I am President, I am a good President. Oh, wait, the universe in which I am not a good President is another one.

    Just like Corwyn, Prince of Amber. In one Avalon, he was a good king. In another, he was a murderous monster.

    nk (dbc370)

  80. That’s probable, but its like kirks mirror universe:

    https://www.epm.org/blog/2008/Jun/11/disputable-matters-in-romans-14-what-they-are-and-

    narciso (d1f714)

  81. I let it define me for years but then I realized holding that grudge in my heart was hurting me.

    “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” – Carrie Fisher

    Dave (445e97)

  82. Holding a grudge is not helpful, I agree. But *remembering*, and being *suspicious / skeptical of people whose behavior reminds me of those who hurt me and people like me*, and keeping away from those who are clearly interested in treating me the same way I was treated then — all of those *do* help me. The cost is that the suspicion and skepticism makes it harder to form relationships with people who did not deserve the suspicion — but a lot of them will be understanding of the initial suspicion, when I explain it tot hem.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  83. I had an experience during college… went to a party with some of my old high school buddies, some of whom were eating magic mushrooms and they tried to persuade me to join them. I shook my head and said “no thanks”, but continued keeping an eye on them and monitoring their behavior… and, hey, they were having a very good time! I sat there in a chair, the proverbial good angel and little devil on my shoulders. Not too long after, from out of nowhere, I heard a small, still voice very clearly say “don’t involve yourself in this”. There I was, all alone and I sat there, fairly freaked out, in the parlance of the day.

    I left that party shortly thereafter. Never had another experience like it since.

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  84. That felt religious to me, believe me.

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  85. I thought that sounded familiar:
    https://www.tor.com/2013/05/03/charles-stross-on-the-merchant-princes-series-how-i-built-a-world/

    His revised the timeliness subsequently

    narciso (d1f714)

  86. Does it keep you from being hurt?

    DRJ (15874d)

  87. I can’t keep up anymore. I thought they said we live in a simulation. I never did understand who was supposed to have written the program.

    crazy (5c5b07)

  88. That’s in an alternate universe, crazy.

    nk (dbc370)

  89. Yea, there was a TV show and movie or two about that…

    crazy (5c5b07)

  90. Sliders I communicated with a writer for a number of the episodes, on another blog

    narciso (d1f714)

  91. Theories just help explain things. Whether that explanation actually leads to anyone inventing something that helps mankind is uncertain. – rcocean

    without understanding relativity and or quantum theory we would not have:
    GPS
    Transistor based computers (imagine your cell phone based on vacuum tubes)
    lasers and every thing laser based like CDs ,DVDs, store scanners, and fiber optics (i.e. every major internet backbone)
    MRIs

    kaf (0ff60d)

  92. Actually QM doesn’t just “begin” to describe the nature of reality, it describes it completely.

    Then you and I mean different things by reality. I consider consciousness a part of reality, for example, and yet you say:

    As far as consciousness, I tend to doubt that it has much at all to do with quantum physics. I imagine it is simply an incredibly complex and non-linear collection of electro-chemical reactions in the brain.

    How can you seem so uncertain about the nature of a part of reality that is already described completely (or so you say) by QM?

    Patterico (115b1f)

  93. I had an experience during college… went to a party with some of my old high school buddies, some of whom were eating magic mushrooms and they tried to persuade me to join them. I shook my head and said “no thanks”, but continued keeping an eye on them and monitoring their behavior… and, hey, they were having a very good time! I sat there in a chair, the proverbial good angel and little devil on my shoulders. Not too long after, from out of nowhere, I heard a small, still voice very clearly say “don’t involve yourself in this”. There I was, all alone and I sat there, fairly freaked out, in the parlance of the day.

    I left that party shortly thereafter. Never had another experience like it since.

    Harris seems to favor the use of psychedelics to achieve whatever transformative mental/spiritual experience he is missing by not subscribing to a religion. I’ll take Jesus instead, thanks.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  94. 76. I could care less about car repair nk, but some basic understanding of medicine would have been nice, at the very least. There probably would have been less bloodletting, drilling holes in people’s skulls, and burning wounds to prevent infection (cauterization). Life used to be more barbaric and painful at times.

    Tillman (a95660)

  95. I’ll take both. Ain’t nothing like the real thing, though.

    Leviticus (194d42)

  96. How can you seem so uncertain about the nature of a part of reality that is already described completely (or so you say) by QM?

    Neither science nor religion can explain consciousness. In my opinion, both fall flat on that one.

    Tillman (a95660)

  97. Hugh Everett, who created the “Many Worlds Interpretation” as his doctoral thesis, eventually made it to Copenhagen to discuss the matter with Neils Bohr and others who were the champions of (Bohr’s) “Copenhagen Interpretation.” The meeting did not go well.

    The conceptual gulf between their positions was too wide to allow any meeting of minds; Léon Rosenfeld, one of Bohr’s devotees, talking about Everett’s visit, described Everett as being “undescribably [sic] stupid and could not understand the simplest things in quantum mechanics”

    Shortly thereafter, Everett quit physics and became a computer guy. He died at the young age of 51. At least in this timeline.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  98. As far as consciousness, I tend to doubt that it has much at all to do with quantum physics. I imagine it is simply an incredibly complex and non-linear collection of electro-chemical reactions in the brain.

    Um, uh, what do you think “electro-chemical reactions” are best described by? Those electrons are where, exactly?

    Kevin M (752a26)

  99. My mysterious experience happened back in the middle ’60s in a bar in Christchurch, New Zealand.

    As a young airman, in dress uniform, on my first day in New Zealand I walked in off the street, stopped just inside the bar to let my eyes adjust to the dim light, and scanned the room: 2 girls were sitting in a booth, and clustered around the bar were about a dozen exceptionally large men all dressed in black, and all obviously in peak physical condition.

    Everyone had gone silent and all turned to stare at me. I avoided direct eye contact, but keep a look out for sudden movement among the big guys. Instinct and previous experience combined to impress upon me that I had blundered into the wrong place.

    As I turned, somewhat sheepishly, to leave one of the girls jumped up and took me by the arm as she blocked the exit. She was small, blond, and pretty. “You aren’t going to leave, are you?” she implored.

    Since there was innocence and truth in her eyes I let her hold me, to her question my response was something like ‘didn’t you see the size of those guys?’ She smiled and assured me all was well, she called her friend to take my other arm and together they walked me over to the bar and introduced me to New Zealand’s National Rugby Team: The All Blacks.

    They were friendly, bought me a pint of quite good lager, well several pints, and asked lots of questions about American football. They were a great group of guys.

    The little blond hung around after her friend left, and we went out for dinner, I had a porterhouse stake, can’t recall what she had, but with drinks and tip the tab was under $5.

    So, the moral of my tale is: you go to your church and I’ll go to mine.

    ropelight (6a8681)

  100. Answers: Quantum mechanics, and I don’t know.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  101. I suspect — I will never live to see it shown one way or the other (and I haven’t got the math in any event), but I suspect that the answer to “dark energy” and likely “dark matter” has to do with the Many Worlds.

    One interesting question: What effect does Life have on the density/complexity of the branching? Of course, if life is just chemical reactions when maybe not a lot. Wish I knew how to measure this.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  102. You should remember that (unlike Quantum Mechanics itself) neither the Copenhagen Interpretation, nor the Many-Worlds Interpretation, has ANY experimental or observational consequences.

    So far as you know. They might be in front of your face, but the penny hasn’t dropped.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  103. nobody has yet found any evidence of magical or super-natural processes inside the brain

    If there IS a God, He is neither magical nor supernatural. He is the ROOT of Nature and of Science (and everything else). Clarke’s Third Law to the extreme.

    One of the things that people do in “science” is think that their current understanding limits nature in some way. Evolution was aware of “quantum mechanics” for billions of years before man was.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  104. Well we’re dealing with perceptual frameworks if God is understood as the prime mover his nature is beyond out understanding.

    narciso (d1f714)

  105. What’s so amazing is how fast life has changed in the last one-hundred years, mainly due to science. What life will be like for us in merely 100 years from now, we can’t really see.

    But science has influenced some of our thoughts on religion. I think that the idea of the Earth being created in 7 days is a lot less common now, for example. Who knows what else science will uncover. But, at least so far, science hasn’t really contradicted religion in general. It just has nothing to say about it.

    I know one thing that bothers me – how immense the universe is. Our galaxy is just one of 100 billion galaxies. Each galaxy has about 300 billion stars. So in the big picture, we are minuscule. All I can say is, hopefully size doesn’t matter.

    Tillman (a95660)

  106. How can you seem so uncertain about the nature of a part of reality that is already described completely (or so you say) by QM?

    A fair question, and it has to do with complexity. It’s the same reason that understanding all the underlying physics doesn’t allow us to predict the weather.

    I also meant that basic chemistry is founded on QM (what atoms bind with what, why certain reactions require energy and others release it, why stable atoms can exist at all, etc). But once I tell you the properties of all the atoms, you don’t really need QM anymore to do chemistry (this is an oversimplification, but not much of one). Even less do you need it to do neurology or cognitive science.

    Like predicting the weather, the things that make consciousness (currently) impossible to explain in any detail don’t really have anything much to do (directly) with QM, or the interpretations of it.

    To give another example, if, as I believe, the people all over the world who participate in the global economy are *ultimately* governed by the laws of physics, that doesn’t mean I expect the laws of physics can explain or predict the price of tea in China…

    Physics is extremely reductionist. This is what makes it powerful, in being able to isolate and understand the most fundamental phenomena, but it is also a very important limitation.

    Dave (445e97)

  107. Technology has changed but it doesn’t change the nature of man.

    narciso (d1f714)

  108. 77. As far as consciousness, I tend to doubt that it has much at all to do with quantum physics. I imagine it is simply an incredibly complex and non-linear collection of electro-chemical reactions in the brain.

    Don’t ask me why, but the above reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Neal Stephenson’s early novel, The Big U:

    “Well, why didn’t you say so?” Krupp [the university president] was saying. “You’re a Jaynesian and a materialistic monist. In which case you’ve got no reason to believe anything you think, because anything you think is just a predetermined neural event which can’t be considered true or logical. Self-refuting, son. Think about it.”

    gwjd (032bef)

  109. What are the specific contradictory passages referred to in the post? If I may ask…

    the Bas (80e68a)

  110. It may help to understand this.

    In physics we can usually exactly work out the behavior of two interacting things (assuming we understand all the interactions between them).

    We can almost NEVER *exactly* work out the behavior of three interacting things.

    We have the Hydrogen atom (1 electron, plus the proton nucleus) NAILED.

    But there is no exact, closed form solution to the behavior of the electrons in Helium (2 electrons, plus the nucleus). Even the second simplest atom is too complicated to solve exactly! Not because we don’t understand how the things interact, but because the behavior is too complex for mathematics to exactly describe.

    In those cases, we have to rely on methods that allow us to get numerical answers as close to the exact one as you like, by having a computer solve the problem over and over, getting closer to solution each time.

    With that in mind, consider that a single human cell contains something like 1000 trillion protons, neutrons and electrons. And the brain contains about a trillion cells…

    Dave (445e97)

  111. Two questions re 111:

    You speak of cases where the behavior is “too complex for mathematics to exactly describe,” in whch case “we have to rely on methods that allow us to get numerical answers as close to the exact one as you like, by having a computer solve the problem over and over, getting closer to solution each time.”

    I must admit, I don’t understand that. This may be a dumb question, bur here goes anyway.

    If mathematics cannot “exactly describe” the behavior of the helium atom, then what does it mean — is it meaningful at all — to speak of getting “close to the exact” solution?

    And if there is an exact solution, how could you know you were getting closer to it if you cannot ever know what the exact solution is?

    gwjd (032bef)

  112. 502 new pages of text messages between Strzok and Page released last Friday by Sen. Johnson.

    In one from early Aug, 2016, just after FBI Counter-Intelligence matter was opened, Strzok writes to page about a meeting he just came from, wherein someone said to him “The White House will be running this one.”

    Heavily redacted by the FBI.

    We’ll see how long that lasts.

    shipwreckedcrew (56b591)

  113. gwjd, Quantum Mechanics isn’t precise, it results in probabilities. That’s why Einstein complaned about that, saying “God does not play dice.”
    With QM, you never know exactly where, say, an electron is at any point in time. But you can calculate probabilities of it being at a certain point at a given time.

    Tillman (a95660)

  114. I haven’t been following the Stormy thing much. (Don’t see what it has to do with Russiagate.) But I just followed one link (about another porn star complaining about Stormy). It was on Fox News and was chock full of flashy pictures of each actress. 4 or more. I doublechecked thinking it was a clickbait site or something but no it was Fox. This is like I remember the “crack down on prostitution” stories of local new hour (does that even still exist) during sweeps week.

    Anonymous (d41cee)

  115. 51, great story and made me laugh.

    On topic: Wish I were a believer, think it makes life better. Also think it is good for society. I just don’t, though. Haven’t seen any burning bushes. And can see how there is a natural human instinct to believe. Love to be proven wrong though. And really avoid bringing it up. Hate prosyletizing atheists. Why screw something up that is working for others.

    One mystical experience I have had was shivers down the spine, in formation on parade, for a dead leader, during military. Wife and family were in attendance and just made me feel awful seeing the lady. Afterwards an amazing number of my mates said they felt the same thing (never surveyed but only heard from those who had). I very rarely have shivers down the spine (maybe every decade or so) and it amazed me that this happened. Of course it could have been some physical/emotional rationale (hot day, the sorrow, etc.) But even if it was not God, it was mystical in an emotional sense. Still feel bad for that lady in the review stand.

    Anonymous (d41cee)

  116. If mathematics cannot “exactly describe” the behavior of the helium atom, then what does it mean — is it meaningful at all — to speak of getting “close to the exact” solution?

    The problem is that we can write an equation for what we want to know, but we can’t solve the equation.

    One simple example is what mathematicians call a transcendental equation. Take the equation

    x = cos(x)

    There is no way to solve this in the way that an equation like x = 3x – 4 can be solved for x.

    However if you tell me what value of x you think is equal to cos(x), we can certainly tell whether you’re close to the correct value. We could tell a computer to make a graph of cos(x) – x vs x, and we could quickly get a pretty close answer just by looking at where the curve crossed the x axis.

    In the 3-body problem, the difficulty is a bit different, but similar. Suppose we want to calculate the motion of the earth, moon and sun under their mutual gravitational attraction. The equations to be solved are easy to write down – that’s where the physics is. But they are impossible to solve exactly. As before, if you have a candidate solution, it’s easy to tell whether you’re close to the correct one. So it boils down to making better and better approximations.

    Dave (d14d37)

  117. My bar taunt: “Oh yeah? Well, smart-ass, I can tell you exactly how many electrons are inside the nucleus of an atom of any element on the whole periodic table! Can you do that?”

    The answer, for the entire periodic table, is zero: Regardless of the element, each atom’s electrons are all outside its nucleus. But I’ve never once been called on this, which probably tells you something about the kind of people I get into taunting exchanges with in bars.

    That exhausts my knowledge, Dave. Please don’t tell me I’m wrong about that taunt, it would break my heart. 😉

    Beldar (fa637a)

  118. Beldar, that sounds like typical lawyer games.

    I learned whole periodic table by heart. Everything depends on atoms. And it is great to know them (actually know them) if you are any sort of physicist or chemist. Huge amount of chemical and metallurgical behavior can by inferred just from column and row location.

    P.s. You might find this interesting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron_capture

    Anonymous (d41cee)

  119. *whistles innocently*

    (I had that same Wikipedia page open, but decided it wasn’t worth breaking Beldar’s heart…)

    Dave (445e97)

  120. … Clearly, it can’t be a coincidence that we happen to live in one of the relatively few universes where such bizarre things do not routinely happen — where there is at least some coherent logic to the unfolding of events.

    As I understand it the many worlds hypothesis predicts most universes will appear normal with just the occasional unlikely event. If an event has probability p then it will only happen in a fraction p of the many universes.

    James B. Shearer (a9b467)

  121. 118

    There is no way to solve this in the way that an equation like x = 3x – 4 can be solved for x.

    Depends on what you mean by solve. We have defined lots of mathematical constants like pi or e. And sometimes we solve equations for x and find that x=pi. So we just have to define a new mathematical constant call it alpha defined as the solution of x = cos x. So now we can solve this equation and find x = alpha.

    Similarly we have defined mathematical functions like exp(x) which come up as the solution of various equations. If we encounter an equation that cannot be solved in terms of the mathematical functions we have already defined we can always define a new function that is the solution to that equation allowing us to solve that equation in terms of that new function.

    James B. Shearer (a9b467)

  122. There’s also this. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_decay#%CE%B2%E2%88%92_decay

    But I’m not trying to say the electron was in the nucleus (not trying to have a lawyer game and I am fine to say there were none, just a transformation…is what I think actually.) But just knowing some actual thing can be interesting itself even if it’s not the exact thing argued.

    Anonymous (d41cee)

  123. I believe there are some equations that actually have no answer (vice one that is hard to solve for analytically). Certain types of diffy Qs. Or the intersection of algebraic curves that don’t intersect.

    Anonymous (d41cee)

  124. Depends on what you mean by solve.

    That’s why I said “in the way that an equation like x = 3x – 4 can be solved”.

    The only way to compute the value of transcendental numbers like pi or e is exactly what I described – by a process of successive approximation.

    I used the transcendental equation as simpler and easier to understand example. In most interesting real problems, the solution is not a simple number, but a function, and the equation is a differential equation where (for instance) the rate of change of A depends on the value of B and the rate of change of B depends on the value of A.

    Some coupled differential equations can be solved in closed form, but many cannot. There is a mathematical proof that no general analytic solution to the three-body problem is possible.

    Dave (445e97)

  125. We have the Hydrogen atom (1 electron, plus the proton nucleus) NAILED.

    We have absolutely no fracking idea WHERE that electron is at any give time in any given atom (or, if we do, we have no idea where it is headed next). We have statistics, and we’d be very surprised if events passed certain bounds, but we still cannot know position and momentum at the same time.

    This is one of the reasons I find the idea of a Star Trek teleporter silly (and note the episode where they talked about the “Heisenberg compensator”). I also don’t believe in “uploading” a consciousness, except maybe in some fuzzy way.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  126. How can you seem so uncertain about the nature of a part of reality that is already described completely (or so you say) by QM?

    Um, that “reality” word.

    Does QM mean that there is some “true” state of the universe, but that we are just prohibited from knowing what it is? Or is there no underlying reality; that the Heisenberg uncertainty states that the UNIVERSE doesn’t know either? That the particles involved actually are in all possible positions simultaneously? Pretty sure that both interpretations favor the second statement. The only question is whether there is a resolution when something interacts.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  127. BTW, Heinlein took “Many Worlds” and ran wild with it, in his later “World As Myth” books, starting with “The Number of the Beast.” He had his characters moving across universes, to the point where they ran into any number of fictional characters (which, under Many Worlds, are certain to exist. Somewhere.) Chris Roberson {iZombie) took this further in his excellent “Here, There, & Everywhere” where he combined it with time travel.

    Kevin M (752a26)

  128. “The Incomplete Enchanter”, by L. Sprague DeCamp and Fletcher Pratt, preceded Heinlein by forty years, and Everett by at least seventeen. And it was science-based with a “syllogismobile” which enabled people to travel between alternate realities by reciting the *scientific* formula: If x=y-4 and y=z+5 then ala=ka=zot. Probably where Everett got his idea.

    nk (dbc370)

  129. Re Islam I was reading the second of mahfouz series set in the 20s, and the reaction of the patriarch of the family to his son bringing him a translation of Darwin, he was not amused. Bin baz the lead cleric into the 90s, in the kingdom want all clear about the roundness of the earth.

    narciso (d1f714)

  130. Poor Darwin. His modest proposals were seized on by atheists and degenerates for the proposition that “God is dead”. The reaction was not pretty.

    nk (dbc370)

  131. nk, you know there’s a Compleat Enchanter
    https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Compleat-Enchanter-Sprague-Camp/dp/0671698095
    as well as two sequels DeCamp wrote with Christopher Stasheff (links on the Amazon page).

    Of course I am assuming you will order it using Patterico’s widget. :)

    kishnevi (bb03e6)

  132. Now the time that mahfouz describes is the when the brotherhood came into existence.

    narciso (d1f714)

  133. I already have them, kishnevi. ☺

    nk (dbc370)

  134. DRJ – that’s a good question, and the honest answer is, I don’t know.

    But I also know that it’s *reflexive*. I have to overcome an initial negative reaction to *anyone* who is a Christian; my first reaction is to feel threatened, because my formative experiences are that Christianity will be used as a cudgel to hurt me. I generally *do* overcome that reaction, and I recognize that many Christians (yourself included) are good and decent people who work to be good and decent people, and it is *right* to overcome my reaction and engage with who they are, rather than with who I anticipate them to be based on my early experiences with Christians — but it’s work, nevertheless, and the fact that I have to do that work is *entirely* the responsibility of the Christians of my childhood.

    aphrael (3f0569)

  135. I understand the feeling — I see it as a mixture of fear and anger — but I don’t see how it helps you. Think of all the people and experiences you have pushed away because you fear they might hurt you. Think of all the anger you have bottled up inside, because the fear keeps you from letting it go.

    Would you live your entire life in fear of or anger at any other group if they had been the ones who hurt you? Maybe you would because it is so painful and such a deep scar but, even if that is true, I know from experience that letting anger and fear control you is hurting you now.

    DRJ (15874d)

  136. aphrael – Your cross is a difficult one to bear. ALL crosses are! All people bear them. None are capable of handling such a weight of/by themselves. Fight like heck to not be defined by it!!!!!! Instead, be defined by your courage in managing it with grace.

    I cop to deep resentment over my cross(es). I am diminished.

    I honor your struggle. I pray you obtain and recognize God’s grace all the while understanding it was He who intentionally made you to be imperfect. Paradoxical, ain’t it?

    Ed from SFV (b95465)

  137. Yeah, nk, I knew Harold Shea well as a kid.

    Kevin M (752a26)

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