Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Physics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Physics. Show all posts

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Making Decisions in a COVID-19 World

Baruch Fischoff
JAMA. 2020;324(2):139-140.

Here are two excerpts:

Individuals must answer complementary questions. When is it safe enough to visit a physician’s office, get a dental check-up, shop for clothing, ride the bus, visit an aging or incarcerated relative, or go to the gym? What does it mean that some places are open but not others and in one state, but not in a bordering one? How do individuals make sense of conflicting advice about face masks, fomites, and foodstuffs?

Risk analysis translates technical knowledge into terms that people can use. Done to a publication standard, risk analysis requires advanced training and substantial resources. However, even back-of-the-envelope calculations can help individuals make sense of otherwise bewildering choices. Combined with behavioral research, risk analysis can help explain why reasonable people sometimes make different decisions. Why do some people wear face masks and crowd on the beach, while others do not? Do they perceive the risks differently or are they concerned about different risks?


Second, risk analyses are needed to apply that knowledge. However solid the science on basic physical, biological, and behavioral processes, applying it requires knowledge of specific settings. How do air and people circulate? What objects and surfaces do people and viruses touch? How sustainable are physical barriers and behavioral practices? Risk analysts derive such estimates by consulting with scientists who know the processes and decision makers who know the settings.3 Boundary organizations are needed to bring the relevant parties together in each sector (medicine, sports, schools, movie production, etc) to produce estimates informed by the science and by people who know how that sector works.

The info is here.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

What Einstein meant by ‘God does not play dice’

Jim Baggott
Originally published November 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

But Einstein’s was a God of philosophy, not religion. When asked many years later whether he believed in God, he replied: ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.’ Baruch Spinoza, a contemporary of Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, had conceived of God as identical with nature. For this, he was considered a dangerous heretic, and was excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

Einstein’s God is infinitely superior but impersonal and intangible, subtle but not malicious. He is also firmly determinist. As far as Einstein was concerned, God’s ‘lawful harmony’ is established throughout the cosmos by strict adherence to the physical principles of cause and effect. Thus, there is no room in Einstein’s philosophy for free will: ‘Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control … we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.’

The special and general theories of relativity provided a radical new way of conceiving of space and time and their active interactions with matter and energy. These theories are entirely consistent with the ‘lawful harmony’ established by Einstein’s God. But the new theory of quantum mechanics, which Einstein had also helped to found in 1905, was telling a different story. Quantum mechanics is about interactions involving matter and radiation, at the scale of atoms and molecules, set against a passive background of space and time.

The info is here.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Galileo’s Big Mistake

Galileo's Big MistakePhilip Goff
Scientific American Blog
Originally posted November 7, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Galileo, as it were, stripped the physical world of its qualities; and after he’d done that, all that remained were the purely quantitative properties of matter—size, shape, location, motion—properties that can be captured in mathematical geometry. In Galileo’s worldview, there is a radical division between the following two things:
  • The physical world with its purely quantitative properties, which is the domain of science,
  • Consciousness, with its qualities, which is outside of the domain of science.
It was this fundamental division that allowed for the possibility of mathematical physics: once the qualities had been removed, all that remained of the physical world could be captured in mathematics. And hence, natural science, for Galileo, was never intended to give us a complete description of reality. The whole project was premised on setting qualitative consciousness outside of the domain of science.

What do these 17th century discussions have to do with the contemporary science of consciousness? It is now broadly agreed that consciousness poses a very serious challenge for contemporary science. Despite rapid progress in our understanding of the brain, we still have no explanation of how complex electrochemical signaling could give rise to a subjective inner world of colors, sounds, smells and tastes.

Although this problem is taken very seriously, many assume that the way to deal with this challenge is simply to continue with our standard methods for investigating the brain. The great success of physical science in explaining more and more of our universe ought to give us confidence, it is thought, that physical science will one day crack the puzzle of consciousness.

The blog post is here.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Immutable morality: Even God could not change some moral facts

Madeline Reinecke & Zachary Horne
Last edited December 24, 2018


The idea that morality depends on God is a widely held belief. This belief entails that the moral “facts” could be otherwise because, in principle, God could change them. Yet, some moral propositions seem so obviously true (e.g., the immorality of killing someone just for pleasure) that it is hard to imagine how they could be otherwise. In two experiments, we investigated people’s intuitions about the immutability of moral facts. Participants judged whether it was even possible, or possible for God, to change moral, logical, and physical facts. In both experiments, people judged that altering some moral facts was impossible—not even God could turn morally wrong acts into morally right acts. Strikingly, people thought that God could make physically impossible and logically impossible events occur. These results demonstrate the strength of people’s metaethical commitments and shed light on the nature of morality and its centrality to thinking and reasoning.

The research is here.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Minding matter

Adam Frank
Originally posted March 13, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

You can see how this throws a monkey wrench into a simple, physics-based view of an objective materialist world. How can there be one mathematical rule for the external objective world before a measurement is made, and another that jumps in after the measurement occurs? For a hundred years now, physicists and philosophers have been beating the crap out of each other (and themselves) trying to figure out how to interpret the wave function and its associated measurement problem. What exactly is quantum mechanics telling us about the world? What does the wave function describe? What really happens when a measurement occurs? Above all, what is matter?


Some consciousness researchers see the hard problem as real but inherently unsolvable; others posit a range of options for its account. Those solutions include possibilities that overly project mind into matter. Consciousness might, for example, be an example of the emergence of a new entity in the Universe not contained in the laws of particles. There is also the more radical possibility that some rudimentary form of consciousness must be added to the list of things, such as mass or electric charge, that the world is built of. Regardless of the direction ‘more’ might take, the unresolved democracy of quantum interpretations means that our current understanding of matter alone is unlikely to explain the nature of mind. It seems just as likely that the opposite will be the case.

The article is here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Must science be testable?

Massimo Pigliucci
Originally published August 10, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

hat said, the publicly visible portion of the physics community nowadays seems split between people who are openly dismissive of philosophy and those who think they got the pertinent philosophy right but their ideological opponents haven’t. At stake isn’t just the usually tiny academic pie, but public appreciation of and respect for both the humanities and the sciences, not to mention millions of dollars in research grants (for the physicists, not the philosophers). Time, therefore, to take a more serious look at the meaning of Popper’s philosophy and why it is still very much relevant to science, when properly understood.

As we have seen, Popper’s message is deceptively simple, and – when repackaged in a tweet – has in fact deceived many a smart commentator in underestimating the sophistication of the underlying philosophy. If one were to turn that philosophy into a bumper sticker slogan it would read something like: ‘If it ain’t falsifiable, it ain’t science, stop wasting your time and money.’

But good philosophy doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker summaries, so one cannot stop there and pretend that there is nothing more to say. Popper himself changed his mind throughout his career about a number of issues related to falsification and demarcation, as any thoughtful thinker would do when exposed to criticisms and counterexamples from his colleagues. For instance, he initially rejected any role for verification in establishing scientific theories, thinking that it was far too easy to ‘verify’ a notion if one were actively looking for confirmatory evidence. Sure enough, modern psychologists have a name for this tendency, common to laypeople as well as scientists: confirmation bias.

Nonetheless, later on Popper conceded that verification – especially of very daring and novel predictions – is part of a sound scientific approach. After all, the reason Einstein became a scientific celebrity overnight after the 1919 total eclipse is precisely because astronomers had verified the predictions of his theory all over the planet and found them in satisfactory agreement with the empirical data.

The article is here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Roger Penrose On Why Consciousness Does Not Compute

Steve Paulson
Originally posted May 4, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

As we probed the deeper implications of Penrose’s theory about consciousness, it wasn’t always clear where to draw the line between the scientific and philosophical dimensions of his thinking. Consider, for example, superposition in quantum theory. How could Schrödinger’s cat be both dead and alive before we open the box? “An element of proto-consciousness takes place whenever a decision is made in the universe,” he said. “I’m not talking about the brain. I’m talking about an object which is put into a superposition of two places. Say it’s a speck of dust that you put into two locations at once. Now, in a small fraction of a second, it will become one or the other. Which does it become? Well, that’s a choice. Is it a choice made by the universe? Does the speck of dust make this choice? Maybe it’s a free choice. I have no idea.”

I wondered if Penrose’s theory has any bearing on the long-running philosophical argument between free will and determinism. Many neuroscientists believe decisions are caused by neural processes that aren’t ruled by conscious thought, rendering the whole idea of free will obsolete. But the indeterminacy that’s intrinsic to quantum theory would suggest that causal connections break down in the conscious brain. Is Penrose making the case for free will?

“Not quite, though at this stage, it looks like it,” he said. “It does look like these choices would be random. But free will, is that random?” Like much of his thinking, there’s a “yes, but” here. His claims are provocative, but they’re often provisional. And so it is with his ideas about free will. “I’ve certainly grown up thinking the universe is deterministic. Then I evolved into saying, ‘Well, maybe it’s deterministic but it’s not computable.’ But is it something more subtle than that? Is it several layers deeper? If it’s something we use for our conscious understanding, it’s going to be a lot deeper than even straightforward, non-computable deterministic physics. It’s a kind of delicate borderline between completely deterministic behavior and something which is completely free.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Case Against Reality

Amanda Gefter
The Atlantic
Originally published April 25, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

Getting at questions about the nature of reality, and disentangling the observer from the observed, is an endeavor that straddles the boundaries of neuroscience and fundamental physics. On one side you’ll find researchers scratching their chins raw trying to understand how a three-pound lump of gray matter obeying nothing more than the ordinary laws of physics can give rise to first-person conscious experience. This is the aptly named “hard problem.”

On the other side are quantum physicists, marveling at the strange fact that quantum systems don’t seem to be definite objects localized in space until we come along to observe them. Experiment after experiment has shown—defying common sense—that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers. The central lesson of quantum physics is clear: There are no public objects sitting out there in some preexisting space. As the physicist John Wheeler put it, “Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.”

The article is here.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Case Against Reality

Amanda Gefter
The Atlantic
Originally posted April 22, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

Getting at questions about the nature of reality, and disentangling the observer from the observed, is an endeavor that straddles the boundaries of neuroscience and fundamental physics. On one side you’ll find researchers scratching their chins raw trying to understand how a three-pound lump of gray matter obeying nothing more than the ordinary laws of physics can give rise to first-person conscious experience. This is the aptly named “hard problem.”

The article is here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A New Spin on the Quantum Brain

By Jennifer Ouellette
Quanta Magazine
November 2, 2016

The mere mention of “quantum consciousness” makes most physicists cringe, as the phrase seems to evoke the vague, insipid musings of a New Age guru. But if a new hypothesis proves to be correct, quantum effects might indeed play some role in human cognition. Matthew Fisher, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, raised eyebrows late last year when he published a paper in Annals of Physics proposing that the nuclear spins of phosphorus atoms could serve as rudimentary “qubits” in the brain — which would essentially enable the brain to function like a quantum computer.

As recently as 10 years ago, Fisher’s hypothesis would have been dismissed by many as nonsense. Physicists have been burned by this sort of thing before, most notably in 1989, when Roger Penrose proposed that mysterious protein structures called “microtubules” played a role in human consciousness by exploiting quantum effects. Few researchers believe such a hypothesis plausible. Patricia Churchland, a neurophilosopher at the University of California, San Diego, memorably opined that one might as well invoke “pixie dust in the synapses” to explain human cognition.

The article is here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I feel therefore I am

How exactly did consciousness become a problem? And why, after years off the table, is it a hot research subject now?

Margaret Wertheim
Originally published December 1, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Here again we meet the subject of pain, both physical and emotional. Can misery be ‘explained’ by synaptic firing? Can happiness? Some years ago, I discussed this issue with Father George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and astronomer who was then Director of the Vatican Observatory. I asked him what he thought of the notion that when the 12th‑century Hildegard of Bingen was having her visions of God, perhaps she was having epileptic fits. He had no problem with the fits. Indeed, he thought that when something so powerful was going on in a mind, there would necessarily be neurological correlates. Hildegard might well have been an epileptic, Father Coyne opined; that didn’t mean God wasn’t also talking to her.

Pain is surely like this too: it must have neurological correlates otherwise we wouldn’t be able to react to withdraw a hand from a flame and save our bodies from damage. (People who lose the ability to feel pain quickly succumb to injuries.) At the same time, pain transcends its physical dimensions, as do the many species of misery catalogued in Dante’s Hell, and represented to us in daily news accounts of the effects of war on millions of people today.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Commentary: The dangerous growth of pseudophysics

Sadri Hassani
Physics Today
Originally posted May 2016, page 10

Here is an excerpt:

Among the factors contributing to the rapid growth of pseudoscience are various misrepresentations of modern physics and especially of QT. Some prominent physicists of the past century have presented philosophical outlooks that, as mystical and antiscientific as they may be, have become wrongfully associated with modern physics. And the public’s scant knowledge about the underlying principles of science, combined with the compelling power of science exhibited in smartphones, GPS, and confirmation of the Higgs boson and gravitational waves, turns those philosophical misrepresentations into a forceful engine for promoting such nonsense as quantum healing, quantum touch therapy, and other “quantum” commodities sold in the crowded information marketplace.

The article is here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why natural science needs phenomenological philosophy

Steven M. Rosen
Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2015 Jul 2. pii: S0079-6107(15)00083-8.


Through an exploration of theoretical physics, this paper suggests the need for regrounding natural science in phenomenological philosophy. To begin, the philosophical roots of the prevailing scientific paradigm are traced to the thinking of Plato, Descartes, and Newton. The crisis in modern science is then investigated, tracking developments in physics, science's premier discipline. Einsteinian special relativity is interpreted as a response to the threat of discontinuity implied by the Michelson-Morley experiment, a challenge to classical objectivism that Einstein sought to counteract. We see that Einstein's efforts to banish discontinuity ultimately fall into the "black hole" predicted in his general theory of relativity. The unavoidable discontinuity that haunts Einstein's theory is also central to quantum mechanics. Here too the attempt has been made to manage discontinuity, only to have this strategy thwarted in the end by the intractable problem of quantum gravity. The irrepressible discontinuity manifested in the phenomena of modern physics proves to be linked to a merging of subject and object that flies in the face of Cartesian philosophy. To accommodate these radically non-classical phenomena, a new philosophical foundation is called for: phenomenology. Phenomenological philosophy is elaborated through Merleau-Ponty's concept of depth and is then brought into focus for use in theoretical physics via qualitative work with topology and hypercomplex numbers. In the final part of this paper, a detailed summary is offered of the specific application of topological phenomenology to quantum gravity that was systematically articulated in The Self-Evolving Cosmos (Rosen, 2008a).

The article is here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Illusion of Free Will

Originally published on Jul 7, 2015

Daniel Do asked us to reconsider whether we are the authors of our own thoughts.

Daniel is a student deeply engaged in brain science and philosophy of mind. He is an aspiring neuroscientist, writer, educator, and science communicator. In his free time, he enjoys biking, meditating, composing music, reading books, debating with his friends and family, and being alone with his thoughts.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Illusion of Choice: Free Will and Determinism

By Vexen Crabtree
Science and Truth Versus Mass Confusion

1. Nothing Escapes the Laws of Physics

Free will is an illusion. Our amazingly, wonderfully complex brains are comprised of various cognitive systems cycling amongst themselves and generating our thoughts, consciousness, choices and behaviour. These systems and their effects all result from the mechanical, inorganic laws of physics, over which we have no control.

Consciousness is presented to us as a result of our neurons, our brains, our senses. When we lose these, we lose consciousness. These systems are governed and controlled by neurochemicals, hormones, ionisation, impulses: in short, by biochemistry. Biochemistry is in turn merely a type of chemistry, and when we look at the molecules and atoms that make up our chemistry, they obey the laws of physics.

Balls bouncing around a pool table have no free will. The basic chemicals that make up our bodies and minds have no free will. Neurons fire when they should fire, according to their electrochemical properties. They don't randomly fire: They fire when they're stimulated to fire by other neurons or by environmental inputs. Stimulation results from a constant biochemical cycle. These natural cycles determine our states of mind and our choices. Through a long and complicated series of cause and effect, our choices are made. As such, all our 'choices' are ultimately the result of impersonal and mechanical forces. There is no "free will force" that causes neurons to fire some times and not at others. They fire in accordance with the rules of physics, firmly beyond our control but not beyond our appreciation. These facts are proclaimed also by none other than the foremost physicist Albert Einstein:
“I do not at all believe in human freedom in the philosophical sense. Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity.”
Albert Einstein (1954)
Sociologists and psychologists have studied the subliminal, subconscious and external factors that affect our behaviour, and a vast number of studies that have found that our behaviour is determined by outside agency but that we always think it is caused by our own will.

The entire blog entry is here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The predictive brain and the “free will” illusion

Dirk De Ridder, Jan Verplaetse and Sven Vanneste
Front. Psychol., 30 April 2013

Here is an excerpt:

From an evolutionary point of our experience of “free will” can best be approached by the development of flexible behavioral decision making (Brembs, 2011). Predators can very easily take advantage of deterministic flight reflexes by predicting future prey behavior (Catania, 2009). The opposite, i.e., random behavior is unpredictable but highly inefficient. Thus learning mechanisms evolved to permit flexible behavior as a modification of reflexive behavioral strategies (Brembs, 2011). In order to do so, not one, but multiple representations and action patterns should be generated by the brain, as has already been proposed by von Helmholtz. He found the eye to be optically too poor for vision to be possible, and suggested vision ultimately depended on computational inference, i.e., predictions, based on assumptions and conclusions from incomplete data, relying on previous experiences. The fact that multiple predictions are generated could for example explain the Rubin vase illusion, the Necker cube and the many other stimuli studied in perceptual rivalry, even in monocular rivalry. Which percept or action plan is selected is determined by which prediction is best adapted to the environment that is actively explored (Figure 1A). In this sense, predictive selection of the fittest action plan is analogous to the concept of Darwinian selection of the fittest in natural and sexual selection in evolutionary biology, as well as to the Mendelian selection of the fittest allele in genetics and analogous the selection of the fittest quantum state in physics (Zurek, 2009). Bayesian statistics can be used to select the model with the highest updated likelihood based on environmental new information (Campbell, 2011). What all these models have in common is the fact that they describe adaptive mechanisms to an ever changing environment (Campbell, 2011).

The entire article is here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What Is Quantum Cognition, and How Is It Applied to Psychology?

By Jerome Busemeyer and Zheng Wang
Current Directions in Psychological Science 
June 2015 vol. 24 no. 3 163-169


Quantum cognition is a new research program that uses mathematical principles from quantum theory as a framework to explain human cognition, including judgment and decision making, concepts, reasoning, memory, and perception. This research is not concerned with whether the brain is a quantum computer. Instead, it uses quantum theory as a fresh conceptual framework and a coherent set of formal tools for explaining puzzling empirical findings in psychology. In this introduction, we focus on two quantum principles as examples to show why quantum cognition is an appealing new theoretical direction for psychology: complementarity, which suggests that some psychological measures have to be made sequentially and that the context generated by the first measure can influence responses to the next one, producing measurement order effects, and superposition, which suggests that some psychological states cannot be defined with respect to definite values but, instead, that all possible values within the superposition have some potential for being expressed. We present evidence showing how these two principles work together to provide a coherent explanation for many divergent and puzzling phenomena in psychology.

The entire article is here.

You're not irrational, you're just quantum probabilistic

Science Daily
Originally posted September 15, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Their work suggests that thinking in a quantum-like way¬--essentially not following a conventional approach based on classical probability theory--enables humans to make important decisions in the face of uncertainty, and lets us confront complex questions despite our limited mental resources.

When researchers try to study human behavior using only classical mathematical models of rationality, some aspects of human behavior do not compute. From the classical point of view, those behaviors seem irrational, Wang explained.

For instance, scientists have long known that the order in which questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond--an effect previously thought to be due to vaguely labeled effects, such as "carry-over effects" and "anchoring and adjustment," or noise in the data. Survey organizations normally change the order of questions between respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect. But in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, Wang and collaborators demonstrated that the effect can be precisely predicted and explained by a quantum-like aspect of people's behavior.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Is Consciousness? 4 Challenges

By Jonathan Erhardt
Crucial Considerations Blog
Originally posted February 26, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Explaining the subjective character of consciousness on the other hand seems much harder. It is not clear at all that the methodology we use to solve the easy problems works to explain consciousness. After all, this inner movie is at least not obviously a function which we can describe in functional terms, the way e.g. digestion can be described in functional terms as the breaking down of food into smaller components that can more easily be absorbed and assimilated by the body. Therefore, it is not clear how we could start the inquiry to find the mechanisms which satisfy these functions. This is why Chalmers has labeled it the hard problem of consciousness.

Various explanatory strategies have been suggested, and they can be classified into several distinct groups. Here we mention only two (the others can be found in Chalmer 2012, p. 111 ff.). One type of strategy centers around the view that once we’ve explained all the functions of the brain in terms of mechanisms, we have explained everything there is to explain. Some adherents of this view deny that consciousness exists, they claim that consciousness is just an especially stubborn illusion. Others accept that consciousness exists but think it can be wholly described in terms of functional concepts, namely those describing the various brain functions, such that we can pursue the usual explanatory strategy of finding (neural) mechanisms. Another type of strategy wants to explain consciousness not by reducing it to something else, but by positing it as fundamental, alongside certain physical quantities such as perhaps mass or charge (or whatever our ultimate physical theory will posit as fundamental). On this view, a theory of consciousness posits it as fundamental and then elucidates and describes its character and how it is related to other fundamental properties.

The entire blog post is here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Why Free Will Makes No Sense

By Daniel Miessler
Originally posted June 3, 2015

In this short presentation I discuss the flaws with the common and Compatibilist views on Free Will. It covers the following topics:

Absolute and Practical Free Will
Experience is Not Reality
Moral Responsibility
The Ability to Do Otherwise
Real-world Implications of Discarding Free Will