Comments from NoodleFood

Note: This comment system was replaced with Disqus in May 2010.

Comment #1

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 19:16:40 mst
Name: Clay Hellman

I've been reading your stuff. Jawaid told me the last time I was in Colorado(It must have been 2005, though I couldn't say for sure) that you had broken with David Kelley. It was part of the reason I checked out your blog in the first place actually. Reading your story is interesting. From your regular posts it was clear that you had become very pro-ARI, now I am starting to find out a little bit of why. Cool.

When I read that Jay Allen is now a Buddhist Socialist I had to stop for a minute to come over and say wow.


Comment #2

Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 22:33:52 mst
Name: PhysicistDave


I'm not, and never have been, associated with David Kelley's operation, whatever it is now called, nor with the Brandens, and I certainly do not wish to weigh in on conflicts that began when I was in junior high.

But, I am curious that I can find no example of your commenting on a current scandal that is likely to be extremely destructive to the Objectivist movement and to ARI specifically.

I am referring to the bizarre attacks on Einstein’s theories of relativity being launched by ARI associate David Harriman, evidently with the support and apparent endorsement of ARI’s leadership.

I assume you do not wish to turn your blog into a tutorial on modern physics, so I will simply mention as an example Harriman’s derisive dismissal of Einstein’s theory of curved space by Harriman’s argument that a woman’s hips can be curved but that space cannot be curved (Harriman made this statement in the online video that ARI kindly made available a while back in exchange for free registration)!

Aside from the frivolous flippancy of such a comment, it obviously is completely irrelevant to judging the validity of Einstein’s theory.

While I will not try to argue for the correctness of relativity on your blog, I will say that all that is needed to destroy the credibility of ARI among the scientifically literate public is for ARI’s support of such behavior by Harriman to become public knowledge. As a scientist myself (Ph.D. in physics, Stanford, 1983), I have noticed a surprising paucity of scientists, or even people who are scientifically literate, within the Objectivist movement.

While I have no motive to damage ARI, I do think the facts about Harriman’s bizarre attacks on science, and ARI’s sanctioning of those attacks, deserves to be widely publicized. If this is what Objectivism means, no competent scientist will wish to be associated in any way with Objectivism.

Let me emphasize, speaking as a scientist, that Harriman’s bizarre attacks on science, and ARI’s backing of those attacks, is far, far worse even than the Discovery Institute’s bizarre backing of the fraud of “Intelligent Design.”

Surely, this is more relevant than personal conflicts regarding the Brandens, et al. that occurred decades ago.

All the best,


Comment #3

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 2:10:21 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh


Since I'm not a scientist, I'm not competent to judge whether Dave Harriman's criticisms of Einstein are ultimately right or not. I can say with some confidence that although brilliant, Eistein was undoubtedly corrupted by Kantian philosophy. That's no small matter. It's also not the case that Harriman disputes any of the data of relativity, merely the interpretation thereof given by Einstein. To regard that theoretical interpretation of the data as beyond any question -- as you seem to -- is unwarranted.

In any case, if you think Harriman's criticisms wrong, you need to engage his actual arguments, not merely claim that his views are strange and bizarre. He gives those arguments in his lecture course on "The Philosophic Corruption of Physics." So if you wish to comment further on the matter, I cannot recommend enough that you listen to that lecture course.

I'd like to see Harriman publish on the issue, of course. However, I understand that he's making excellent progress on his book on induction in physics at present. So I can have no wish for him to do anything other than what he's doing.

Comment #4

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 8:35:44 mst
Name: PhysicistDave


No, I do not need to "engage" David Harriman's actual arguments. He has no actual scientific arguments. What he has is simply bizarrely flippant comments -- such as his remark about the curvature of a woman’s hips! -- that show that he does not understand the basic physics.

Let me make this quite clear: I have no interest in proving that David is wrong. His points do not rise to the level of requiring such proof. Anyone who is scientifically literate knows that David's statements are scientifically nonsense, just as anyone who is scientifically literate knows that the "Intelligent Design" advocates' position is scientifically nonsense.

Anyone who confesses that he or she does not know that David’s statements are scientific nonsense is confessing that he or she is an uneducated scientific illiterate, which is shameful.

Just as the "Intelligent Design" fraud has destroyed the reputation of the "Discovery Institute" amongst all people who are scientifically literate, so also I am merely pointing out that ARI's support of David's anti-scientific rants will destroy the reputation of ARI (and, perhaps, also Objectivism) with anyone who is scientifically literate.

I am not sufficiently altruistic to offer David (or you) free tutoring in physics. But people who have bothered to educate themselves in science (not just physicists or professional scientists) will view ARI’s support of Dave Harriman as absolutely devastating to ARI’s intellectual reputation.

Einstein did indeed hold some silly philosophical views (although not nearly as silly as the views held by most physicists of his generation!). But, I suspect my dermatologist also holds some silly philosophical views. However, I have strong evidence that he is nonetheless a very good dermatologist.

Similarly, despite the fact that some of Einstein’s philosophical views were in error, there is overwhelming independent evidence that his physics was correct. That Dave Harriman is getting support from ARI in attacking that solidly-established science merely indicates the presence of a disturbing tendency towards “know-nothingism” in the Objectivist movement. It certainly illustrates the remarkable paucity of scientists within the Objectivist movement: had there been a significant number of scientifically informed people associated with ARI, they would have nipped this nonsense in the bud.

All the best,


Comment #5

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 8:45:28 mst
Name: Tony Donadio

Dave: if you expect your criticisms of David Harriman to be taken seriously by scientifically educated people, then I'm afraid that you *will* have to "engage his actual arguments." What you posted here was effectively devoid of scientific content, and just doesn't rise to the appropriate standard.

Comment #6

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 9:01:25 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh


(1) Until you bother acquainting yourself with Harriman's actual arguments, please do not post further on the topic in my NoodleFood comments. Your willful ignorance of Harriman's arguments -- which he makes in some detail over the course of multiple lectures -- makes your criticisms irresponsible and unworthy of attention. That's true even if Harriman is totally wrong in his criticisms of Einstein.

(2) Your supposition that a physicist's explicit metaphysics and epistemology have no bearing on his theories in foundational physics is wildly implausible from an Objectivist perspective.

(3) I know plenty of well-educated scientists. Some are intrigued by Harriman's work while others object to it. So your appeal to majority is not only fallacious but also ill-founded.

Comment #7

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 9:03:31 mst
Name: Paul Hsieh

Physicist Dave says:

"Anyone who confesses that he or she does not know that David [Harriman's] statements are scientific nonsense is confessing that he or she is an uneducated scientific illiterate."

As someone who has a BS in Mathematics from MIT, an MD from University of Michigan, and who owns a 1/3-rd share of a US Patent on a physics innovation which helped improve the ability of MRI technology to detect subtle blood vessel abnormalities, I don't appreciate that particular argument.

I find it too similar to the fallacy identified by Ayn Rand as the "Argument from Intimidation", which can be found in full in "The Virtue of Selfishness" and excerpted in the online Lexicon at <>.

Comment #8

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 9:26:57 mst
Name: Physicistdave


I have bothered to acquaint myself with Dave Harriman's arguments. I find them without merit.

I agree with you that your blog is not an appropriate place to debate the scientific merits of those arguments, and I promise not to do so here, or, indeed, anywhere else. I merely wish to bring Harriman's views to the attention of the scientific community so that real scientists can make an informed judgment about the intellectual credibility of ARI.

You wrote:
>I know plenty of well-educated scientists. Some are intrigued by Harriman's work...

Could you name some?

Again, I have never had any intention of debating Harriman's work here or anywhere else. I was merely commenting on the effect it will have on ARI's reputation if it is widely disseminated among real scientists.

All the best,


Comment #9

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 9:36:50 mst
Name: PhysicistDave


I hope my reply to Diana made clear that I had no intention of offering any argument against Dave Harriman's views at all, neither the "argument from intimidation" nor any other.

I do sincerely hope that, if you think his views are not utter nonsense, you will do everything you can to bring them to the attention of the scientific community.

I think this will dramatically improve scientists' understanding of Objectivism and of ARI.

I really have no axe to grind here at all, except the hope that information about ARI and Harriman be distributed as widely as possible.

All the best,


Comment #10

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 9:47:20 mst
Name: PhysicistDave


I don’t wish to abuse Diana’s hospitality by engaging in debate with you. But for clarification, I hope it is now clear that I have made no claim at all to have refuted Harriman’s ideas on relativity here. My whole point is that no scientifically literate person requires such a refutation. My point was simply that anyone who is scientifically literate knows on their own that Harriman’s claims about relativity are utter nonsense: they do not require someone to refute his ideas.

I hope this clarifies what I was saying.

Since you directed your comments to me, I am, as a courtesy, replying in clarification so that you understand that I have not claimed to have refuted Harriman here and that I believe such refutation to be unnecessary. I agree with Diana that it is inappropriate to debate Harriman’s views here (or indeed anywhere).

All the best,


Comment #11

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 11:10:52 mst
Name: Mike

I was under the impression that Harriman's position on special relativity was similar to the positions taken by Bell in his "How to Teach Special Relativity" or Harvey Brown in his "Physical Relativity." The position, as I understand it, it that effects such as length contraction and time dilation are caused by inter-atomic forces and not by space-time structure. Harriman doesn't make any argument like this in his free online lectures, so I should say I've inferred this position from other Harriman sources.

So Dave, if you don't mind, would you say if you regard the above mentioned position as beneath comment or unscientific?

Comment #12

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 11:29:29 mst
Name: PhysicistDave


I'm not familiar with the piece by Harvey Brown. I am familiar with Bell's essay -- he simply pointed out that it is possible to teach relativity without using the principle of relativity. That’s correct " as long as one surreptitiously guarantees that all of the physical laws one uses (in quantum field theory, etc.) really do have relativistic invariance, at least at the macro scale! For obvious reason, this is pedagogically (and intellectually) undesirable, and I have heard of no one who actually teaches relativity in this way, much less competent physicists who engage in serious research on that basis.

Like you, I do not know whether or not Harriman holds this view (as you say, you “inferred” it from his writings).

By the way, I think Bell was led to those thoughts by his work on the foundation of quantum mechanics. I myself have developed an alternative model of QM, which does work along those lines: my model agrees with all existing experimental data. Of course, my model only works if one surreptitiously and carefully adjusts everything in the model to make sure it will agree in the end with relativity!

That’s why I have not bothered to publish my little model: I hope it is obvious why I, and pretty much all my fellow physicists, would find my clever little model rather unsatisfactory.

At any rate, the issue you raise has to do with special relativity, and the point I mentioned from Harriman has to do with general relativity " his claim that one can sensibly refer to the curvature of a woman’s hips but not to the curvature of space.

Since I have promised Diana not to debate Harriman’s views on physics here, I will not address that point further but will simply end with having answered your question directed to me.

All the best,


Comment #13

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 11:41:52 mst
Name: PhysicistDave


One other rather trivial point I forgot to mention. Of course, I am not complaining that everything that Harriman says is idiotic. No one can be wrong all the time! (Broken clocks and all that.) My point was simply that there was more than enough nonsense in what Harriman says to be absolutely devastating to the reputation of ARI (and, perhaps, Objectivism) to anyone who is scientifically literate: Harriman’s claim about the curvature of a woman's hips vs. the curvature of space is an excellent example of this on which I am content to rest.

So, let's all get out there and get Harriman's views widely disseminated among the scientific community so that scientists can form their own judgment on Harriman, ARI, and Objectivism! We're all on the same side on this -- we just have different expectations as to what the result will be in terms of scientists' judgment of ARI and Objectivism.

All the best,


Comment #14

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 12:54:23 mst
Name: Galileo Blogs

Whether Harriman is correct or not says nothing about Objectivism. Why would it?

Comment #15

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 13:19:29 mst
Name: PhysicistDave


Since ARI and its leadership are actively backing Harriman (Peikoff has, it seems, gone even further than Harriman in his attacks on relativity, the fact of the Big Bang, etc.), Harriman's actions certainly reveal a lot about ARI!

As to Objectivism, Peikoff is the “designated intellectual heir” of Ayn Rand and Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Peikoff and Harriman seem to claim to be using various aspects of Objectivist philosophy to ground their attacks on relativity and the Big Bang. Therefore, the correctness of these attacks does reflect on Objectivism.

I'll leave you to write this out as a formal syllogism.

At any rate, my point was rather simpler. Since ARI is in fact the most public institutional embodiment of Objectivism, if scientists find out the scientific views being pushed by ARI, this will inevitably affect scientists' views of Objectivism. Even if you think this is unfair, it will happen.

As I've explained, I think it is eminently fair.

Anyway, let's get to work at informing the world about how ARI has used Objectivism to prove that Einstein is wrong! This is important stuff, folks. Time's a wasting. Let's spread the good news. If Peikoff and Harriman are right, they deserve a joint Nobel Prize. Let’s get the word out.

All the best,


Comment #16

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 15:20:11 mst
Name: Tony Donadio

Dave: I happen to be a computational scientist by profession and a graduate student in physics. I'm no Einstein, but I think that qualifies as me as literate enough on the relevant science. More to the point, though: as a rational as well as scientifically literate person, I maintain a strict policy of dismissing out of hand the assertions of anyone who won't back them up with an a contentful argument. That goes double for someone who tries to offer me an obvious argument from intimidation in place of one. Hence my previous remark.

You can decide to offer a contentful argument or not as you prefer. I will simply act accordingly.

Comment #17

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 15:43:23 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh

PhysicistDave: I asked you very plainly to cease discussion of this topic, as I am unwilling to play host to such irresponsible criticism on NoodleFood. Yet you've posted SEVEN comments on this very topic since that request.

Notably, if you have heard the "Philosophic Corruption of Physics" lectures, then you're guilty of gross dishonesty about Harriman's arguments, rather than willful ignorance. That's no better -- and perhaps much worse. Your flip comments about Nobel prizes and the like -- combined with your refusal to offer any arguments whatsoever -- have angered me enormously.

So I'm telling you very plainly, yet again: Cease all discussion of this topic. NOW. Do not respond to this comment, except by private e-mail. If you fail to abide by that request a second time, I will ban you from any and all posting in the NoodleFood comments. In addition, any future comments to NoodleFood must include your full name. Judge and prepare to be judged.

Comment #18

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 15:47:07 mst
Name: PhysicistDave


I'm not quite sure how to make this clearer, but I'll try one more time.

I have no desire whatsoever to convince you that I am right about Harriman's claims about relativity being nonsense: I have tried to make this perfectly clear. If you know, the basic physics, you know his ideas are nonsense. If you do not, that is not my problem: I am not willing to tutor you in physics for free here on Diana's blog, and she has, quite rightly, made clear that she does not wish me to do so.

Diana has stated quite clearly that she does not wish me to present, as you put it, a “contentful argument” on this matter on her blog, and I have no desire to do so anyway.

On the contrary, rather than trying to convince anyone here that Harriman's and Peikoff's views on relativity and the Big Bang are utter nonsense, I want all of you who believe that their views have merit to continue believing that. More than that, I very much want all of you to do whatever you can to spread the word that Peikoff and Harriman claim to have proven that relativity and the Big Bang are wrong.

I am not kidding; I am not being sarcastic.

I honestly think that if this matter receives a wide enough public airing that will be the final end to ARI’s reputation among any intellectually serious, educated people. You disagree. Good. Let’s both do what we can to spread the word about Peikoff’s and Harriman’s brilliant discoveries and see what actually happens.

For example, let Diana invite Peikoff and Harriman to her university to lecture specifically on their views on relativity and the Big Bang, encourage members of the physics department to show up, and let’s see what happens.

I’m not engaged in debating tricks here. I really want to see this happen. Let’s let the world know what Objectivism really means.

Again, I am honoring Diana’s request not to debate Harriman’s views: I am simply replying to questions you addressed specifically to me.

I hope it is now clear that I will not tutor you for free.

All the best,


Comment #19

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 17:17:00 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh

Based on his comments here, as well as a private e-mail to me, PhysicistDave is now wholly banned from posting any further comments on NoodleFood. He has been far more dishonest in this debate than I originally suspected. Plus, he's acted like a huge hairy ass.

Enough said, I hope.

Comment #20

Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 23:25:33 mst
Name: Tony Donadio


I agree with your assessment of Physicist Dave, but I would like to add one additional comment for the record if I may. Nowhere in his comments did he explain *what* David Harriman is supposed to have said about relativity that he took objection to. THAT is what I needed, at any rate: a clear statement of just *what* he was talking about in the first place.

This discussion wasn't (and shouldn't have been) about being "tutored in physics," and I (and some other readers of Noodlefood) know the relevant physics well enough not to need that. It is about an individual's responsibility in rational discussion to actually explain what he's talking about, and to be treated accordingly if he fails to do so.


Comment #21

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 7:39:21 mst
Name: Dorothy Malone

Dave was needlessly mocking and insolent, and did not bring up any material besides a supposed quote from Harriman. Dumb of him, and in line the rest of the wolfpack at ARCHN. Still, I would like to know if there is much of Harriman's material available in a form other than lecture recordings?


Comment #22

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 7:51:27 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh

Dave Harriman has published three articles in The Objective Standard:

"Induction and Experimental Method"
"Enlightenment Science and Its Fall"
"The 19th-Century Atomic War"

See this page for the links: <>

From what I understand, his book on induction in physics is also progressing very nicely.

Comment #23

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 19:23:46 mst
Name: Adam Reed


Harriman has a very sound track record in identifying errors in some scientific ideas. Unfortunately, the ideas he has been known to endorse as alternatives - Bohmian non-locality as an alternative to the Copenhagen Interpretation, Etherism as an alternative to Special Relativity - have their problems too, and those may be worse than the problems that their generally accepted counterparts suffer from. Special relativity, for example, explains magnetism, and leads to a derivation of Maxwell's equations (from relativistic corrections to Coulomb's Law, I remember Feynman explaining this derivation in one of the "Red Books".) Etherism fails to do either, and therefore needs additional concepts to do what it can't do by itself. Thus Etherism flunks the "razor" that concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.

I think that identifying an error in a dominant idea is not enough to justify advocating for just any alternative. It is wiser to understand why the dominant idea is so widely accepted in spite of its errors, and perhaps to wait on more evidence and better ideas before picking an alternative to advocate for, especially when the currently available "alternatives" are so badly deficient.

Of course, none of this mitigates "PhysicistDave's" blatant argument from authority. A physicist, even if unfamiliar with Objectivism, should at least argue from physics.

Comment #24

Friday, November 30, 2007 at 6:02:30 mst
Name: Allen Farris


I think you should distinguish between non-locality and the Bohmian interpretation of quantum theory. Non-locality, broadly speaking, has been shown to exist experimentally. How this is interpreted within the Bohmian theory or within the Copenhagen interpretation is another matter.

I am not aware of Harriman "endorsing" the Bohmian interpretation of quantum theory. I believe he has said that there is no consistent interpretation of quantum theory. Certainly it is legitimate to compare the relative merits of rival interpretations. On that score, the Bohmian interpretation at least has the advantage that it upholds the concept of an objective, real world. The Copenhagen interpretation doesn't even do this. There is a strong element of the "to be is to be measured" doctrine within the Copenhagen interpretation. If the system isn't being measured it is not in a determinant state, which gives rise to paradoxes such as Schrodinger's cat. As I understand it, most strict adherents of the Copenhagen interpretation would say that if a system isn't being measured, it is meaningless metaphysics to ask if it even exists. Pointing out the superiority of one interpretation over another isn't necessarily "endorsing" it.

Likewise, I'm not sure what you mean when you say that Harriman has endorsed "Etherism". Harriman has indeed been critical of some interpretations of relativity theory and their concept of space. However, Harriman isn't the first to point out that whatever electromagnetism is and however it propagates through "space", it isn't propagating through nothing, at least as philosophers use the term "nothing". In fact the so-called vacuum in physics has a pretty rich set of properties. Even so, there is a tendency within physics to speak glibly as if space were nothing. Epistemologically, if you adopt this point of view, it prevents you from further investigating the properties of "space". The alternative is to consider space as something, not nothing, and ask: what are its properties? I think that is all that is going on here.

Comment #25

Friday, November 30, 2007 at 16:11:57 mst
Name: Adam Reed


Something weird is going on about Objectivists and the Bohmian interpretation of QM. As I pointed out in another thread, Zeilinger's principle - that indeterminacies come from inadequate information (because entities can only carry finite amounts of information in their attributes) - is likely to be right. It also fits nicely with the Objectivist conception of free will. Ayn Rand put free will in terms of "focus," that is in terms of getting more information into one's decision-making, and that would make the outcome non-deterministically less random, and more reliable, as one increases one's mental focus and increases the information and decreases the contribution of randomness to the outcome. I suspect that free will may be embodied in emergent properties of quantum-level interactions among neurons. Information systems have lots of emergent properties, and this looks promising.

Bohm's theory, on the other hand, is strictly deterministic. A Bohmian brain can't be reconciled with free will. So how come Harriman ignores Zeilinger for the last seven years? How come, in response to my note on Zeilinger's interpretation of QM, I get a link to an article defending Bohmian determinism against Zeilinger?

Now. I do think that Harriman is onto something real when he writes about the "philosophical corruption of physics." Many physicists were strangely satisfied with the pre-Zeilinger Copenhagen Interpretation, perhaps because it gave them a certain cachet among Kantian philosophers. How else to explain the half-century lag from Shannon to Zeilinger?

And no, non-locality has not been shown to exist experimentally. Experiments on Bell's inequality have other explanations besides the Bohmian one - for example, that the pre-collapse "electron pair" is a single entity with an expanding diameter. Wouldn't it make more sense to wait on the evidence than to presume that a right explanation is always already in the literature?

As for special relativity, it did explain much more than just the Lorenz-Fitzgerald contraction - including magnetism and electromagnetism. And it predicted, correctly, the conversion of matter into energy. As for "space bending" in general relativity, that's just a verbal label that gives some people a feeling of understanding physics without needing to learn tensors. Without general relativity, there would be no natural account of black-hole singularities and their subuniverses, including our own. I'm reluctant to leave the singularities, including our own "Big Bang," without a natural explanation - you must already know what the god-thumpers do with that.

Anyway, I think that with Zeilinger, QM is on the right track again. Beating on the Copenhagen Interpretation after Zeilinger is like beating on Socialism after Heilbroner. Not fun anymore.

Comment #26

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 4:06:18 mst
Name: Allen Farris


Well, I don't think there is much disagreement here. I certainly think that many of the recent developments on quantum theory should be seriously considered and fully explored. Within the last decade a lot of work had been done on the foundations of quantum theory and this is a good sign within physics. Even so, I think we are only at the very early stages of achieving a coherent interpretation of quantum phenomena. The work of J. S. Bell has had a lot to do with this change of attitude in physics. When I was a graduate student in physics to even mention alternatives to the Copenhagen Interpretation was to give your career in physics the kiss of death. And, David Bohm: he was simply not discussed in polite circles in physics.

However, the Copenhagen Interpretation remains the dominant one among physicists and still exerts a great deal of influence. About a year ago I read a recently published book on the philosophy underlying quantum theory. The author went so far as to re-define the term "realism" in describing theories in physics. Instead of meaning "exists independently of consciousness" it was re-defined to mean "theories that only posit entities that are capable of being measured." Therefore any theory, such as Bohm's or others that posit the existence of so-called "hidden variables" were labeled as anti-realist.

As far as free will is concerned, this is a can of worms and I don't have very much that is intelligent to add to this quagmire. Yes, it does seem that Bohm's theory, like classical physics, is incompatible with free-will. But, I have never been able to see how the kind of randomness that is introduced in the interpretation of quantum phenomena solves this problem. I suppose it is, in some sense, more "compatible" with free-will. But, the bottom line is that I do not know what a physics of free-will would look like. Probably some fundamental re-thinking of the mathematics of causation is needed here and a more detailed account of emergent properties is an attractive alternative.

Comment #27

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 19:53:03 mst
Name: Adam Reed


I don't see how you can possibly say, "I have never been able to see how the kind of randomness that is introduced in the interpretation of quantum phenomena solves this problem," unless you just have not done your homework on Zeilinger's interpretation (or on synapse electrophysiology, information theory, and emergent attributes of information-processing systems.) Randomness comes from lack of information. Mental focus increases the contribution of information and reduces, and when there is enough information eliminates, the contribution of quantum randomness to the outcome of mental decisions in the brain. I'd say that with one trivial correction to Zeilinger's ontology - that information is carried by attributes of entities - his interpretation does account *perfectly* for free will in Ayn Rand's sense. I'd go further: it took quantum physics half a century after Rand to get to where she got just on the strength of her epistemology and metaphysics.

This is something like Alan Kay all over again, or Robert Heilbroner all over again. A scientist discovers, from the evidence, something that Ayn Rand got to years earlier. Alan Kay inducing exactly the same structure of knowledge representation that Rand presented in ITOE. Heilbroner discovering that it was mainly lack of *egoism embodied in motivation by rational self-interest* (rather than lack of information in combination with non-objectivity of values, as von Mises had incorrectly guessed) that doomed the socialist economies. And now Zeilinger accounting for randomness, when it happens in the physical world, by inadequate information - exactly Ayn Rand's take on free will. And what do most Objectivists do about it? Ignore the scientist, because his conclusions came from long and patient examination of the facts, without making use of philosophy? It is better to point out to the world, now that a scientist got it right, that philosophy was the reason why Ayn Rand got it right years, even decades earlier.

Comment #28

Friday, December 7, 2007 at 5:04:40 mst
Name: Allen Farris


The correction that you make to Zeilinger's ontology, "that information is carried by attributes of entities," is not trivial. Actually it is a fundamental point.

You say: "Randomness comes from lack of information." Advocates of Bohmian mechanics could say precisely the same thing. On the Bohmian model, randomness is the result of a lack of knowledge of the state of the underlying hidden variables. In the Bohmian interpretation of the double slit experiment, the pilot wave and the electron are real entities and our inability to predict the path of electron is the result of our lack of knowledge of the precise state of the pilot wave and the electron.

I have read three papers of Zeilinger: "A Foundational Principle for Quantum Mechanics," "On the Interpretation and Philosophical Foundation of Quantum Mechanics," and "The message of the Quantum." I have to say that I do not see what is revolutionary here. I would characterize Zeilinger's interpretation as warmed-over Copenhagenism, dressed up in a new language of bits and information. And, I do not see how the latter adds significantly to the discussion.

I think the fundamental point here is the nature of realism in theories of physics: do theories refer to attributes of real entities or do they not. I also think this was the primary point of the extensive discussions between Bohr and Einstein.

Comment #29

Friday, December 7, 2007 at 6:31:48 mst
Name: Adam Reed


"warmed-over Copenhagenism, dressed up in a new language of bits and information" is just false. There is nothing in Zeilinger that would require a primacy-of-consciousness interpretation, which is the real philosophical problem with Copenhagen. "that information is carried by attributes of entities," is trivial in the sense that it does not affect the equations. Zeilinger, like, Bohm, uses hidden variables, but those variables carry specified amounts of information - and whatever is not determined by the information carried by the hidden variables is left random. So unlike Bohm's, Zeilinger's interpretation does not imply that "(apparent) randomness is the result of a lack of knowledge" (knowledge being in the consciousness of an observer), but rather that _ontologically real_ randomness is the result of there not being enough _ontologically real_ pre-existing information in the (real, external to the observer, actually existing out there) system.

It is difficult for me to explain the persistent refusal of Bohm's advocates to acknowledge that information (unlike knowledge, which is a function of consciousness) really exists outside of consciousness. Existence is identity; identity consists of objectively measurable values. Information exists - and by the fact that it can be measured we know that it exists "out there," in objectively measurable reality.

Free will, like consciousness itself, is also a fact of reality, a fact that is, like consciousness, measurable in units of information. Zeilinger's interpretation, with the required ontological correction, accounts for it; Copenhagen and Bohmian interpretations don't.

Comment #30

Friday, December 7, 2007 at 12:36:26 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh


I'm exceedingly puzzled -- as I have been for quite some time -- by the attempt to make the concept "information" independent of consciousness. I cannot understand the concept except as a plethora of facts, as grasped and processed by human reason. Can you please define and explain what you mean by "information"? How is it distinct from and/or related to facts, qualities, causal powers, etc.?

For example, I know that people speak of genes as "carrying information," but I cannot see that as much more than an imprecise and potentially misleading locution. Genes aren't really the same as blueprints, for example. Rather, they simply have some very distinctive and fine-tuned causal powers.

Comment #31

Friday, December 7, 2007 at 19:02:13 mst
Name: Adam Reed


Your question might go a long way toward clearing up what I see as a persistent misunderstanding of the concept of information (as it is used in the information, cognitive, biological, and increasingly in the physical sciences) among philosophers, and even among scientists who were educated before this concept was identified and applied in their fields. Since in English linguistics we do without a mechanism for coining new words with clear semantics, scientists have no alternative but to label new concepts with words that in common, non-scientific usage already have other meanings, related distantly or closely to the new concept.

The new concept of "information," as defined by Shannon 1948, refers to what makes that which you call "some very distinctive and fine-tuned causal powers" distinctive in a specific way: their potential for being encoded in the attributes of more than one physical medium. For example, I might build a machine to decode an organism's DNA, send its sequence to another place by encoding it in photons carried by fiber-optic cables, and re-constitute it there as DNA, and even grow an organism, genetically identical to the original one, from this tele-replicated DNA in that far-away place. Similarly, what I am typing now on my keyboard will be sent through several media - electric currents and potentials, photons in fiber-optic cables, and so on - from my computer to yours. Then it can be printed with ink on paper - and from that medium scanned back into the form of electric potentials and currents, stored as polarities of magnetic domains on a disk, etc. etc. etc. The concept of information, in its scientific and technical sense, omits the measurements of specific media carrying a given sequence of attribute values - while retaining that which remains the same about the given sequence regardless of which specific physical medium that sequence is imposed on.

The attributes that remain the same include the quantity of information in the given sequence - so that, for example, I can calculate how long it will take to transmit one typical human genome at 400,000 bits per second, or how many bytes of disk space it will take to store it. There are other related measurements - Kolmogorov complexity, discriminability and so on - that are used in various scientific and engineering contexts.

The important thing here is that many information processes do not involve knowledge, or consciousness, in any way at all. The alignment of a mis-aligned part on a computer-controlled assembly line, for example, may involve the collection, transmission, processing and use of many, many bits of information without ever involving consciousness or knowledge.

I'll be more than happy to clarify anything above for you. It happens to be what I do for a living.

Comment #32

Saturday, December 8, 2007 at 1:58:21 mst
Name: Diana Hsieh

Thanks for your reply, Adam. That's definitely helpful, although I'm not yet convinced. As I wanted to give the matter a greater hearing -- particularly since the blog post to which these comments are attached isn't even remotely related to science. (That shift was due to the shenanigans of "Physicist Dave," of course.) So I've posted my original inquiry, your reply, and a few further comments in a new NoodleFood post here:


So let's shift any discussion of the particular issue of information to that thread.

Comment #33

Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 14:01:47 mst
Name: Eric Dennis

Regarding the physics issues raised here, Adam Reed's objections to Bohm's interpretation of quantum mechanics is fundamentally mistaken.

One basic issue is the status of Bell's Inequality. Reed's claim notwithstanding, Bell's analysis together with the results of actually performed experiments, lead inevitably to the conclusion that nature simply is 'non-local' (i.e. exhibits faster-than-light causation). This view is controversial among physicists, and apparently Objectivists with an opinion on the matter. But the case for it is unanswerable. I've written at more length about this e.g. here:


Zeilinger's ideas seem all to be based on the idea that Bell experiments somehow imply metaphysical indeterminancy. This position represents a basic misunderstanding of Bell's work, one that Bell himself tried to disabuse.

The upshot of all of this is that Bohm's interpretation is the only one which succeeds in providing a coherent foundation for quantum mechanics devoid of any appeal to observer-created-reality.

Regarding PhysicistDave's comments about Harriman's ideas on relativity, it appears that PhysicistDave is objecting to Harriman's argument that space or space-time cannot simultaneously be conceptualized as a true vaccuum or void and have physical properties (like "curvature") attributed to it. But Harriman's is a valid criticism of the positivistic way in which relativity is frequently formulated (incidentally, the kind of formulation that Einstein commenced but later came to reject). I haven't myself seen a detailed treatment by Harriman on the matter, but PhysicistDave should not assume that this criticism entails a rejection of (some alternative formulation of) relativity as a physical theory.

It is important to realize here that independent of these conceptual issues, Bell experiments invalidate the local/space-time ontology for relativity. This is why Bell felt it necessary to resurrect some kind of ether-type interpretation of relativity, to provide an ontological basis for the faster-than-light causality demonstrated in experiments. Positivism has prevented most physicists from even identifying this problem.

Comment #34

Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 16:32:54 mst
Name: Adam Reed


Metaphysical indeterminacy is a pre-condition of free will, which is an axiom - a pre-condition of knowledge. If there were no metaphysical indeterminacy, you would never be able to know it or to claim it as knowledge. Your defense of an interpretation that excludes metaphysical indeterminacy is logically self-excluding. This leaves us with two possibilities:

1. The position that you are defending is an approximation to some better position, one that would permit metaphysical indeterminacy but would require additional concepts to do so.

2. Zeilinger's position (as ammended per my earlier postings) which allows for metaphysical indeterminacy when the system lacks enough information (in the technical/metaphysical sense) to fully set its future state.

Given that concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity, I favor alternative 2. You seem to favor alternative 1, which leaves you without an account of free will that would not require additional concepts.

I see no way to defend your position without violating the principles of Objectivist epistemology. Specifically you must either add more concepts than Zeilinger - or deny the metaphysical reality of free will. Neither way can you be right.

Comment #35

Monday, December 10, 2007 at 2:02:11 mst
Name: Eric Dennis


Indeterminism vs. determinism is a false alternative. Indeterminism, the idea of some kind of inherent metaphysical randomness, is not a basis for free will any more than is determinism. To have my decisions result from a random quantum mechanical collapse event does not give me any more freedom than to have them determined by Newton's laws or my genes or my race. Speculation about some kind of quantum mechanical basis for volition is, at this point, arbitrary.

More fundamentally, the concepts of randomness and probability are simply epistemic concepts. There has never been any valid basis to transform these concepts into metaphysical ones. That Bohr, Heisenberg, von Neumann et al attempted to do this in the 1920's was an expression of their (primarily Bohr's) philosophic preconceptions that clearly preceeded Heisenberg's matrix mechanics, the discovery of the Schrodinger equation, or even a semi-coherent formulation of the Copenhagen interpretation.

But this more philosophic question has little bearing on the validity of Zeilinger's ideas. He still misunderstands Bell's Inequality, and his attempt to infer indeterminacy from Bell experiments is simply wrong.

Comment #36

Monday, December 10, 2007 at 6:31:37 mst
Name: Adam Reed


Of course neither determinacy nor indeterminacy is sufficient by itself to account for free will. It is their specific interaction - that indeterminacy is metaphysically a result of there not being sufficient information to determine a specific physical outcome - that accounts for free will.

Since I agree with Ayn Rand's rejection of metaphysical determinism, and you don't, it is not likely that a further discussion on this topic between us will be productive. Please see my comment in the information thread.

Comment #37

Monday, December 10, 2007 at 10:48:10 mst
Name: Eric Dennis

For the record, I don't accept determinism. See the other thread...