APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby BDanielMayfield » Thu Apr 06, 2017 4:14 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
BDanielMayfield wrote:But let's focus on the here and now. Each of us as thinking organisms exercise free will all the time whenever we make decisions. We are not like preprogrammed robots hiding in organic bodies. Otherwise, concepts like freedom would be mere illusions.

I've never encountered a definition of "free will" that was sufficiently clear or coherent for me to make sense of what an assertion like the one you make here even means.

You have the freedom to accept or reject definitions at will Chris. Personally, I liked this, found at the top of a long list of good, simple to understand definitions brought up by searching "free will definition"
google wrote:1. the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion. synonyms: self-determination, freedom of choice, autonomy, liberty, independence ...
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Thu Apr 06, 2017 5:37 pm

BDanielMayfield wrote:
Chris Peterson wrote:
BDanielMayfield wrote:But let's focus on the here and now. Each of us as thinking organisms exercise free will all the time whenever we make decisions. We are not like preprogrammed robots hiding in organic bodies. Otherwise, concepts like freedom would be mere illusions.

I've never encountered a definition of "free will" that was sufficiently clear or coherent for me to make sense of what an assertion like the one you make here even means.

You have the freedom to accept or reject definitions at will Chris. Personally, I liked this, found at the top of a long list of good, simple to understand definitions brought up by searching "free will definition"
google wrote:1. the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion. synonyms: self-determination, freedom of choice, autonomy, liberty, independence ...

Doesn't work for me, because I don't know how we can identify "constraints", what "fate" is, or what it means to "act at one's own discretion". These all become circular when closely examined. In fact, we have very little idea of how we make decisions at all- the vast majority of actions we take are arrived at unconsciously, and the majority of decisions, both conscious and unconscious, that a person is observed to make are predictable by an outside party in advance.

In reality, I expect the question of "free will" as most people seem to understand it is meaningless.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby neufer » Thu Apr 06, 2017 8:51 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
BDanielMayfield wrote:
You have the freedom to accept or reject definitions at will Chris. Personally, I liked this, found at the top of a long list of good, simple to understand definitions brought up by searching "free will definition"
google wrote:1. the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion. synonyms: self-determination, freedom of choice, autonomy, liberty, independence ...

Doesn't work for me, because I don't know how we can identify "constraints", what "fate" is, or what it means to "act at one's own discretion". These all become circular when closely examined. In fact, we have very little idea of how we make decisions at all- the vast majority of actions we take are arrived at unconsciously, and the majority of decisions, both conscious and unconscious, that a person is observed to make are predictable by an outside party in advance.

In reality, I expect the question of "free will" as most people seem to understand it is meaningless.
https://www.k-state.edu/english/baker/e ... ham-AS.htm wrote:
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"There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby BDanielMayfield » Thu Apr 06, 2017 9:07 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
BDanielMayfield wrote:"free will definition"
google wrote:1. the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion. synonyms: self-determination, freedom of choice, autonomy, liberty, independence ...

Doesn't work for me, because I don't know how we can identify "constraints", what "fate" is, or what it means to "act at one's own discretion". These all become circular when closely examined. In fact, we have very little idea of how we make decisions at all- the vast majority of actions we take are arrived at unconsciously, and the majority of decisions, both conscious and unconscious, that a person is observed to make are predictable by an outside party in advance.

"Constraints" means limitations or restrictions that would force one to make a certain choice. "Fate" we can toss out since I think nether of us believe in it. "Acting without the constraint of necessity" means one is not locked in or required to act in only one way when given a choice. A simple example is picking heads or tails when a coin is tossed. The one picking is unconstrained as to choice, totally free to pick ether way.

The fact that we don't completely understand how our brains work doesn't rule out freedom to choose. Nor does predictability prove that we don't have free choice. Those who knew us well as kids could have accurately predicted that we would at some point study astronomy, but that didn't force us into this study.

In reality, I expect the question of "free will" as most people seem to understand it is meaningless.


If that were true then everything would be meaningless, a hopeless, dismal outlook indeed. I'll use your words right back, "Doesn't work for me."

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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby geckzilla » Thu Apr 06, 2017 9:43 pm

You're going about this all wrong, Bruce. If you want to make a strong argument to Chris on this matter, you have to remember that he is a physicist and is expecting a physical explanation for how things work. Of course, there isn't an easy way to go from atomic particles and all their ways of interacting to the idea of free will. This is the sort of problem that physicists have grappled with for a long time now. Most of them accept that all life at this level of understanding is deterministic. There is no way for you to think an atom into doing something that it wasn't going to do, no matter how much it feels like you can.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Thu Apr 06, 2017 9:51 pm

BDanielMayfield wrote:
Chris Peterson wrote:Doesn't work for me, because I don't know how we can identify "constraints", what "fate" is, or what it means to "act at one's own discretion". These all become circular when closely examined. In fact, we have very little idea of how we make decisions at all- the vast majority of actions we take are arrived at unconsciously, and the majority of decisions, both conscious and unconscious, that a person is observed to make are predictable by an outside party in advance.

"Constraints" means limitations or restrictions that would force one to make a certain choice. "Fate" we can toss out since I think nether of us believe in it. "Acting without the constraint of necessity" means one is not locked in or required to act in only one way when given a choice. A simple example is picking heads or tails when a coin is tossed. The one picking is unconstrained as to choice, totally free to pick ether way.

More circularity and vagueness. What does it mean to be forced to make a choice? How could you tell?

The fact that we don't completely understand how our brains work doesn't rule out freedom to choose.

I don't know, because I don't know what "freedom to choose" means.

Nor does predictability prove that we don't have free choice. Those who knew us well as kids could have accurately predicted that we would at some point study astronomy, but that didn't force us into this study.

How do you know you weren't "forced"?

In reality, I expect the question of "free will" as most people seem to understand it is meaningless.

If that were true then everything would be meaningless, a hopeless, dismal outlook indeed. I'll use your words right back, "Doesn't work for me."

Well, philosophy can be like that. I don't think it makes things meaningless at all if "free will" is meaningless, or if our actions are completely deterministic (which I don't think they are... just determined). Why do we care? What difference does it make, given that we feel we have agency? The feeling is the only thing that matters. If we can't tell the difference between having or not having "free will", then the question is pointless.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Thu Apr 06, 2017 10:01 pm

geckzilla wrote:You're going about this all wrong, Bruce. If you want to make a strong argument to Chris on this matter, you have to remember that he is a physicist and is expecting a physical explanation for how things work. Of course, there isn't an easy way to go from atomic particles and all their ways of interacting to the idea of free will. This is the sort of problem that physicists have grappled with for a long time now. Most of them accept that all life at this level of understanding is deterministic. There is no way for you to think an atom into doing something that it wasn't going to do, no matter how much it feels like you can.

Well, my thoughts do change the behavior of atoms. Our brains represent a complex, self-referential system. I think all such systems are non-deterministic, meaning that it is physically impossible to predict the state they will be in in the near future, a view that is well supported both by our understanding of quantum uncertainty as well as our knowledge of chaos theory. Of course, as I previously noted, being non-deterministic (unpredictable) doesn't mean that every decision we'll ever make hasn't "already" been made.

Our sense that we have agency is interesting. How exactly do we make decisions? Occasionally we actually go through a rigorous process, essentially building a flow chart and seeing where we come out. But most of the time decisions just happen, under the hood in a way that we have no conscious awareness of. You could say that we aren't conscious of how our consciousness works. If I ask you to wait a few seconds and then reach for something on your desk, I'll bet you won't be able to reconstruct exactly how you chose what to pick up, or how you chose when. How much agency did you really have?
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby geckzilla » Thu Apr 06, 2017 10:09 pm

But you had those thoughts because some atoms somewhere interacted in some way producing some chemistry which to you felt like a thought or a feeling. Seems a little circular itself. I gave up on the feeling of agency and consciousness as anything more than a kind of illusion a little while ago. The moral implications are quite interesting. It's something I strongly doubt most people will ever accept.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Thu Apr 06, 2017 10:18 pm

geckzilla wrote:But you had those thoughts because some atoms somewhere interacted in some way producing some chemistry which to you felt like a thought or a feeling. Seems a little circular itself.

Exactly. That's what it means to be a complex, self-referential system. Everything is interdependent and produces an output that is physically impossible to predict or to duplicate.

I gave up on the feeling of agency and consciousness as anything more than a kind of illusion a little while ago. The moral implications are quite interesting. It's something I strongly doubt most people will ever accept.

As I said, as long as we feel we're driving our own ship, I can't see that it really matters if raw physics or some kind of abstract "me" is responsible.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby geckzilla » Thu Apr 06, 2017 10:28 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:As I said, as long as we feel we're driving our own ship, I can't see that it really matters if raw physics or some kind of abstract "me" is responsible.

I think it gets rather sadistic when it applies to crime and punishment. If you've got a person whose nature is what causes them to harm others, it becomes pointless to punish them. Maybe someday we'll understand the brain well enough to introduce plasticity in a way that is morally acceptable and gives those individuals some ability to change. Of course, a lot of people derive pleasure from criminal punishment and for them it was never really about rehabilitation at all.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby neufer » Fri Apr 07, 2017 12:37 am

geckzilla wrote:
But you had those thoughts because some atoms somewhere interacted in some way producing some chemistry which to you felt like a thought or a feeling. Seems a little circular itself. I gave up on the feeling of agency and consciousness as anything more than a kind of illusion a little while ago. The moral implications are quite interesting. It's something I strongly doubt most people will ever accept.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djQ7WZlb140
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Ann » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:51 am

There is a Swedish poem by Eva Kilpi which in a very rough translation goes like this:

Began falling like a leaf
changed its mind halfway down
transformed itself into a yellow butterfly
and flew away.


I've always liked that poem, because of the similarity yet difference between a falling yellow leaf and a yellow butterfly. The path of one is totally determined by gravity, wind and air resistance. The path of the other is determined by how its own nervous system makes its body move in response to the influence of gravity, wind and air resistance.

Does the falling leaf have free will? It most certainly doesn't. Does the butterfly have free will? Who is to say? It has more free will than the falling leaf, that much is certain.

Of course, it is possible to think of the poem as if it describes a person who is at first completely apathetic, but then perks up and finds new reasons to live and to be active.

Or maybe that person just flew away, but maybe that, too, was an act of free will.

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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby neufer » Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:41 am

Ann wrote:
There is a Swedish poem by Eva Kilpi which in a very rough translation goes like this:

    Began falling like a leaf
    changed its mind halfway down
    transformed itself into a yellow butterfly
    and flew away.
I've always liked that poem, because of the similarity yet difference between a falling yellow leaf and a yellow butterfly. The path of one is totally determined by gravity, wind and air resistance. The path of the other is determined by how its own nervous system makes its body move in response to the influence of gravity, wind and air resistance.

Does the falling leaf have free will? It most certainly doesn't. Does the butterfly have free will? Who is to say?

And does the tornado that ultimately resulted from the flap of that butterfly's wings have free will?
Ann wrote:
Of course, it is possible to think of the poem as if it describes a person who is at first completely apathetic, but then perks up and finds new reasons to live and to be active. Or maybe that person just flew away, but maybe that, too, was an act of free will.

The poem got one person (who many say is completely pathetic) to perk up and find a new reason to post yet another post.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Ann » Fri Apr 07, 2017 4:42 am

neufer wrote:And does the tornado that ultimately resulted from the flap of that butterfly's wings have free will?
Ann wrote:
Of course, it is possible to think of the poem as if it describes a person who is at first completely apathetic, but then perks up and finds new reasons to live and to be active. Or maybe that person just flew away, but maybe that, too, was an act of free will.


And does the tornado that ultimately resulted from the flap of that butterfly's wings have free will?



Jupiter's shrinking red spot.
NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)
Probably no more than Jupiter's Great Red Spot is shrinking of its own free will!

The poem got one person (who many say is completely pathetic) to perk up and find a new reason to post yet another post.


This forum would be so much more boring without you, as you know very well!

You made me angry at first, though, when I thought that the "completely pathetic" person might refer to me!

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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby neufer » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:41 pm

Ann wrote:
neufer wrote:
The poem got one person (who many say is completely pathetic) to perk up and find a new reason to post yet another post.


This forum would be so much more boring without you, as you know very well!

You made me angry at first, though, when I thought that the "completely pathetic" person might refer to me!

I had actually gone to bed when it suddenly dawned on me that my "Don Rickles Memorial afterthought" might be misunderstood in that way so I quickly went back to clarify it. Rest assured that I consider everyone at Starship Asterisk* as family (...but not so much the other blog that I inhabit in a vain attempt to ward off imminent senility).
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:44 pm

neufer wrote:
Ann wrote:
neufer wrote:The poem got one person (who many say is completely pathetic) to perk up and find a new reason to post yet another post.

This forum would be so much more boring without you, as you know very well!

You made me angry at first, though, when I thought that the "completely pathetic" person might refer to me!

I had actually gone to bed when it suddenly dawned on me that my "Don Rickles Memorial afterthought" might be misunderstood in that way so I quickly went back to clarify it. Rest assured that I consider everyone at Starship Asterisk* as family...

So possibly, completely pathetic?
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby neufer » Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:17 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
So possibly, completely pathetic?
http://www.etymonline.com/ wrote:
<<pathetic (adj.) 1590s, "affecting the emotions, exciting the passions," from Middle French pathétique "moving, stirring, affecting" (16c.), from Late Latin patheticus, from Greek pathetikos "subject to feeling, sensitive, capable of emotion," from pathetos "liable to suffer," verbal adjective of pathein "to suffer" (see pathos). Meaning "arousing pity, pitiful" is first recorded 1737. Colloquial sense of "so miserable as to be ridiculous" is attested from 1937.>>

I was thinking last night that humans are basically not much different from heuristic electronic computers that quantitatively evalute (as a chess program might) the pros & cons of various actions or inactions and then response accordingly.

All we need do to give electronic computers "free will" is to allow its heuristic evaluation algorithm (of the the pros & cons of various actions or inactions) to evolve over time. (I got out of bed this morning when my evolving heuristic evaluation of the the pros & cons of doing so finally crossed a certain red line.)

It is quite easy to give an electronic computer "free will" in that sense.

What is difficult is to make it actually "feel" the pain, pleasure and many other more complicated emotions which so influence our own evolving heuristic evaluations. (If only they could be as pathetic as us.)
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:38 pm

neufer wrote:I was thinking last night that humans are basically not much different from heuristic electronic computers that quantitatively evalute (as a chess program might) the pros & cons of various actions or inactions and then response accordingly.

Perhaps a better example would be the computer built last year to play Go... a game vastly more complex than chess and one which nobody had previously been able to write a program that could beat a skilled human player. The new computer examined a large number of human-human games, and then started playing itself, learning what strategies worked and modifying itself until it became the best player in the world. But no human can look at it and figure out how it wins. From our viewpoint, its operation is not deterministic.

What is difficult is to make it actually "feel" the pain, pleasure and many other more complicated emotions which so influence our own evolving heuristic evaluations. (If only they could be as pathetic as us.)

How do you know there aren't programs that have at least the rudiments of such feelings? Do insects feel pain? Do animals with less complex brains than us feel pain?
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby neufer » Fri Apr 07, 2017 3:33 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
neufer wrote:I was thinking last night that humans are basically not much different from heuristic electronic computers that quantitatively evalute (as a chess program might) the pros & cons of various actions or inactions and then response accordingly.

Perhaps a better example would be the computer built last year to play Go... a game vastly more complex than chess and one which nobody had previously been able to write a program that could beat a skilled human player. The new computer examined a large number of human-human games, and then started playing itself, learning what strategies worked and modifying itself until it became the best player in the world. But no human can look at it and figure out how it wins. From our viewpoint, its operation is not deterministic.

But we both agree that it is, in fact, deterministic.

Chris Peterson wrote:
neufer wrote:What is difficult is to make it actually "feel" the pain, pleasure and many other more complicated emotions which so influence our own evolving heuristic evaluations. (If only they could be as pathetic as us.)

How do you know there aren't programs that have at least the rudiments of such feelings? Do insects feel pain? Do animals with less complex brains than us feel pain?

My assumption is that all animals (and plants) that are capable of motion under their own power feel something akin to pain or pleasure in order to direct that motion. My son (who is now a PhD. in Electrical Engineering) once had a high school science project that involved building a little vehicle with photocells that moved towards light. I suppose that one could say it had something akin to a feeling of pleasure by my definition.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Fri Apr 07, 2017 4:09 pm

neufer wrote:
Chris Peterson wrote:
neufer wrote:I was thinking last night that humans are basically not much different from heuristic electronic computers that quantitatively evalute (as a chess program might) the pros & cons of various actions or inactions and then response accordingly.

Perhaps a better example would be the computer built last year to play Go... a game vastly more complex than chess and one which nobody had previously been able to write a program that could beat a skilled human player. The new computer examined a large number of human-human games, and then started playing itself, learning what strategies worked and modifying itself until it became the best player in the world. But no human can look at it and figure out how it wins. From our viewpoint, its operation is not deterministic.

But we both agree that it is, in fact, deterministic.

I don't believe it's deterministic. It is not possible by examining the code in any amount of detail, or the machine state, to predict with certainty the next move. It is not possible to define an algorithm that the machine uses to determine a move.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby neufer » Fri Apr 07, 2017 5:42 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
neufer wrote:
Chris Peterson wrote:
Perhaps a better example would be the computer built last year to play Go... a game vastly more complex than chess and one which nobody had previously been able to write a program that could beat a skilled human player. The new computer examined a large number of human-human games, and then started playing itself, learning what strategies worked and modifying itself until it became the best player in the world. But no human can look at it and figure out how it wins. From our viewpoint, its operation is not deterministic.

But we both agree that it is, in fact, deterministic.

I don't believe it's deterministic. It is not possible by examining the code in any amount of detail, or the machine state, to predict with certainty the next move. It is not possible to define an algorithm that the machine uses to determine a move.

Often the best strategy in playing a game is to make moves according to predetermined probability rules.

It would be interesting to know to what extent brains do that.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Fri Apr 07, 2017 6:00 pm

neufer wrote:
Chris Peterson wrote:
neufer wrote:But we both agree that it is, in fact, deterministic.

I don't believe it's deterministic. It is not possible by examining the code in any amount of detail, or the machine state, to predict with certainty the next move. It is not possible to define an algorithm that the machine uses to determine a move.

Often the best strategy in playing a game is to make moves according to predetermined probability rules.

It would be interesting to know to what extent brains do that.

Yes. Regarding the Go playing computer, I imagine the program must observe some kind of probabilistic rules. But Go is too complex to really have any such rules that you can write down. If that's what the computer is using, it figured them out for itself.
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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby rstevenson » Sat Apr 08, 2017 12:15 am

Chris Peterson wrote:... Regarding the Go playing computer, I imagine the program must observe some kind of probabilistic rules. But Go is too complex to really have any such rules that you can write down. If that's what the computer is using, it figured them out for itself.

But surely the computer could now be instructed to print out its rules.

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Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Chris Peterson » Sat Apr 08, 2017 12:59 am

rstevenson wrote:
Chris Peterson wrote:... Regarding the Go playing computer, I imagine the program must observe some kind of probabilistic rules. But Go is too complex to really have any such rules that you can write down. If that's what the computer is using, it figured them out for itself.

But surely the computer could now be instructed to print out its rules.

It has no obvious rules. Could you write out the rules you use to play chess (let alone Go)? At best you might be able to express a broad strategy based on the board position and the next few moves, or your reasoning behind one specific move. No Grand Master can deliver a set of rules to a newbie chess player and have him become a Grand Master immediately himself.

This Go system, like your own mind, is well beyond our ability to fully analyze. Whether it's impossible or just very difficult may be uncertain, but from a practical standpoint, neither can be seen as deterministic. If the same board pattern came around again at some time in the future, neither of you would necessarily choose the same move.
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Fred the Cat
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Posts: 329
Joined: Mon Feb 22, 2016 4:09 pm
AKA: Ron

Re: APOD: Split the Universe (2017 Apr 01)

Postby Fred the Cat » Sat Apr 08, 2017 4:31 pm

I know I have as much to learn about physics as photography so the trial and error method is about all I have got. If there was an alternate universe, as macroscopic complex beings, we may have no access to it but some aspects of the quantum realm might. We could only view the part of the quantum in our universe while other parts can fluctuate between them. Once a macro-quantum entity is established by observation in our universe it is doomed to exist only here (and its anti-particle there?).

For arguments sake let’s say that negative spin was the differentiation. It might only exist in the alternate world so particles with it as a property can only sensed as a particle mixture or if an interaction occurs; never a compilation of particles. Observation fixes a process to this universe while no observation allows “fluxuation”. More bad physics?
Feynman's Felicity "Only as certain as a cat box survivor"


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