Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Analytical Review of Sean Carroll's Speech to the FFRF

Sean Carroll and the Argument From Quantum Field Theory against life after death; although he refers briefly to QFF, much of the speech is otherwise. I suggest that the reader view the speech and analyze it fully before reading my own analysis, below; that would be great exercise for the cranial logic machine. We could then compare our analyses. But it is quite an investment in time. I don't like having to work from video, because I can't use a search tool to find some point I remember being somewhere in the middle, and also because I have to type up his words in order to present his argument here. The advantage of video, though, is that it does allow the speaker's attitude to shine through. Scientists are supposed to hold their opinions conditionally, with skepticism. You are encouraged to judge for yourself.

We have here a physicist making a physical case; so we should look for sophisticated empirical solutions in the approved format for producing the objective knowledge which supports his claim: falsifiable hypotheses, experimental design and implementation, open data and data analysis, history of replication and falsifying/supporting results.

We should understand that this is not a forum for rigorous detail; still, when analyzed, the arguments should be grounded in either disciplined empirical content, or deductive premises grounded in First Principles; otherwise they should not be accepted.

1. First Argument:
p1. The mind is the brain;

P2. The brain is atoms;

P3. We know how atoms work;
(He cites quantum field theory and shows a complex equation containing “all” of the possible influences on the atoms in the brain. They are, he says, completely known, and no other influence is possible, or they (physicists) would know about it. Since they know all that, they also know that, after death, there is no possibility for the information contained in brain atoms to continue to exist.)

C. Therefore, there is no way for “you” to persist after death.
Carroll asserts that the premises are all agreed on, therefore the argument is scientifically true.

Premise P1:
With a little rhetorical prestidigitation Carroll has gotten the audience (100% Atheist) to consent to premise 1 as if it were axiomatically self-evident, a necessary Truth of the Universe and beyond. With the consent that premise 1 is axiomatically a First Principle with no actual empirical proof necessary, Carroll is not tasked with dealing with it, nor with the logical consequences of a Reductio Ad Absurdum performed on it. And without premise 1 as axiomatically True, the entire argument collapses into rubble. Premise 1 will need a Reductio, at minimum.

So let’s look at premise P1 and its necessary consequences, one of which is determinism. The entire argument hinges on the reductive physicalist notion that the mind is purely physical, is driven by purely physical phenomena (the four physical forces), and produces purely physical effects. Thus the principle of initial conditions comes into play, meaning that the outcome of any change is a result of forces acting upon initial conditions and states. That produces a completely determinable outcome with complete physical predictability, and is thus subject to physical measurement for confirmation.

So if the mind is the brain and Philosophical Materialism/Naturalism is valid, and the universe is comprehensible by scientific analysis, then every mental change or neural transaction is predetermined by its initial atomic and subatomic state and the known physical forces (irreducible forces are: electromagnetic, strong, weak, gravity). The premise, being a physical claim, should be fully testable experimentally.

Both the initial state and the influence of any force are fully predetermined in a causal chain going back to a time just after the Big Bang. This means that the mind, being merely the brain, produces nothing that cannot be attributed to this full causality, and therefore the mind is fully deterministic as well.

But, as many philosophers of mind have pointed out, and Carroll is not such a being, the effects of the mind are observably not causal, not deterministic and therefore are not the products of the brain initial states and physical forces alone. This has been called the “Hard Problem” of mind theory, an appellation most recently attributed to philosopher David Chalmers, but actually going back at least a century before. Bertrand Russell acknowledged it with the thought that a “different kind of substance” must exist which is causally involved in consciousness, agency and qualia, in his “Nine Lectures on Mind”.

The Hard Problem, aka “the mind-body problem”, has not, contra Carroll, been resolved in favor of Quantum Field Theory. And Carroll has not claimed that it has been resolved; he merely presupposes that when he asserts the validity of Premise 1.

Premise P1 cannot be accepted without being grounded in either empirical data or universal First Principles.  Further, it is most likely false, due to the Hard Problem which presents the internal non-coherence which inheres.

Ideological Dependency:
Further, Carroll’s argument presumes that a specific ideology is incorrigibly True: Philosophical Materialism. However, PM fails for a very obvious reason. It cannot prove what it claims under its own provisos. In other words, it cannot be proven – physically, empirically – that its central tenet (which that there is no non-physical existence) is a true concept. So it cannot be a known, objectively provable, empirically replicable sentence of objective knowledge that PM is true. The claim is a Category Error due to attempting to make a metaphysical claim using only physical resources, and the ideology itself cannot be shown to be  logically true under the First Principles. Thus the use of Philosophical Materialism as a premise, even (especially) an unstated, presupposed premise, nullifies the truth value of the argument.

Methodological Opaqueness:
The next problem with Carroll’s argument is that the entire argument, being a Materialist argument made by a scientist, should lead to testable hypotheses which result in affirming or negating data under the disciplined rules of empirical testing. But the argument cannot be tested, because it requires testing a state which is totally inaccessible to physical sensors. (Category Error, as shown above).  This also fails Popper's demarcation criterion of falsifiability.

That physically inaccessible state is the specific claim being made: the existence of non-physical mind, untethered to physical constraints – including the constraints of the initial conditions of atomic and sub-atomic states in the brain, the four forces of physics, the presupposed need for physical neural hosting. Any claim made for or against that specific state cannot be either validated or falsified using physical instrumentation. Therefore, any counter-claim to have falsified it materially cannot be either true or valid. And that leaves any claims made by physicists for their physics as valid premises for non-physical claims, out in the cold, even and especially from a rigorous empirical standpoint.

Conclusion regarding Carroll’s syllogism:
What Carroll actually has is just this: rhetoric which he uses with flourishes to cover for the numerous reasons that his own premises are not valid, either empirically or logically. It amounts to a shell game posing as a logic argument, even including ridicule.

2. The False Dichotomy.
He progresses to this False Dichotomy, which he presents as much as ridicule as an argument:
”What to make of the evidence for an afterlife?

Some ill-defined metaphysical substance, not subject to the known laws of physics, interacts with the atoms of our brains in ways that thus far eluded every controlled experiment in the history of science,


People hallucinate when they are nearly dead.”
The first horn of this dilemma presents some false statements regarding an actual metaphysical theory:
a. The use of the term “substance” is prejudicial and incorrect. Substance strongly implies a physical existence, even when modified by use of the term "metaphysical". No physical substance would be involved. It’s use is a leading bias toward the physicalization of metaphysics, and thus the empirical testability of metaphysical entities. That bias is false, (Category Error) and prejudices the remainder of the statement.

b. The expectation that “every controlled experiment in the history of science” is the repository for all possible knowledge is ideological (again Philosophically Materialist and Scientismist). That expectation is used, however, as a faux grounding for the first horn, giving it an aura of respectability by its Appeal To Authority.

c. The appeal to hallucination is absurd, because Carroll has no material evidence to support that claim.
Despite the blatant imagery of the authority of Scientism and Philosophical Materialism, Carroll ignores all of the issues raised above – universal determinism vs. non-deterministic life; Category Error of underlying ideologies; lack of falsifiability or testability of either horn; and in addition, the Equivocation Error in the false use of the term “substance” (the same logic error made by Russell a century earlier).

Thus the Carroll dichotomy is ungrounded, with prejudiced language attempting to bias toward Scientism, is untestable and unfalsifiable empirically, and is meaningless as either objective knowledge or a truth statement.

3. The Circular Definition.
Next he makes the classic logic error of circularity within the very question he asks:
”We can ask, OK, given that we are made of atoms, we understand what the atoms are doing, what is LIFE, what is this complex, non-fundamental phenomenon that arises out of the motions and interactions of the fundamental particles of which we are made.”
He has poisoned the well by asking for a definition, but then making a constraining definition himself which is purely Materialist/Physicalist; that prevents others from providing their own definition as he asked. By placing the desired answer inside the question he has reduced the issue to a circular tautology, defined only by himself (but with supreme confidence), without opportunity to challenge his presuppositions.

Further, he has no evidence, material or otherwise, to support the claims upon which the “definition” is declared. The definition is presented as tautological necessity, a new First Principle, a Truth statement upon which he will continue his non-empirical arguments. There are many definitions of life that precede and supercede his definition.

4. Invoking Schroedinger and negentropy.
Carroll moves on to Erwin Schroedinger and his theory of “negentropy”, as he presented in his book, “What Is Life”. Negentropy is the concept that open systems can receive extra energy from external sources, and that extra energy overcomes the lossy-ness of the system thus providing for the possibility of anentropic emergence rather than degradation. That principle is controversial among physicists, and requires some background and analysis.

Entropy is a descriptive observational law of the effect of loss in physical systems (open or closed); it is not a prescriptive causal law. Thus negentropy is not a prescriptive causal law, either. Especially since it is a terminology ploy which does not even exist physically or logically, as will be discussed below.

Says Carroll: the Sun is “low entropy energy”.

Sunshine is modulated energy, with a seasonally variable duty cycle. The type of receiving systems determine whether it is high energy or averaged energy, depending upon the duty cycle of the receiving system vs the duty cycle of the sunshine.

Entropy is defined by the excess energy transfer from the "hot reservoir" to the "cold reservoir". Energy in photonic form is the currency of entropy and the photon is not a system which incurs entropy. The entropy of energy is a meaningless concept, because entropy applies to processes and systems, not raw energy.

For sunshine energy and earth systems, entropy in our context applies to the receiving systems here on Earth. There are three possibilities for those open systems on Earth:
(a) those which require more energy still in order to avoid rundown due to internal system energy loss being greater than the input energy;
(b) those which receive exactly sufficient energy for maintaining operation indefinitely, because input energy equals energy loss in the system; or,
(c) those which must either shed the excess energy received, or face destruction due to receiving more energy input than system energy loss can shed.

Adding excess energy to an open system on Earth does not produce a negative version of entropy which might be interpreted as increasing orderliness. It cannot happen. All that happens is that excess energy must be shed in order to avoid destruction. The ideal case, where input energy equals energy loss produces a maintenance condition, not new information. Other types of loss in the system (friction, oxidation, etc.) still will lead ultimately to system disorder, randomness, and non-reducibility to algorithmic information.

Note that the discussion centers on energy loss, not system design, construction, or information loss. A pendulum that moves in ever shorter arcs is losing energy, not design, construction, or information. So adding energy to the system does not add anything to information. Adding just enough to keep the pendulum moving does not add information. Adding too much energy to the pendulum will cause it to either shed the excess energy or ultimately be destroyed by it, but no new information (algorithmic or semantic) will emerge.

The idea, “negentropy”, thus is not a process for adding useful complexity or semantic information, either universally or locally; there is no negative entropy because the systemic losses still exist, even in the presence of added energy to open systems. And in fact, too much added energy causes destruction, which is positive entropy, not negative entropy.

The use of entropy as a factor in complexity emergence is a fallacy because increased energy does not produce increased semantic information; a pre-existing mechanism for creating information must be in place, a system which utilizes energy in order to produce information. The fallacy is that of non-comprehension of systemic entropy in open systems.

5. History of the Universe: Big Bang to universal death:
At 23:00 into the video, Carroll presents a “Complexity” graph. it's a sort of Bell Curve or at least a parabola. According to Carroll, complexity in the universe starts at zero, gradually rises toward a parabolic peak at mid-life, then decreases to zero at the end of life and universal death.

Complexity is declared to be equivalent to life, based on that graph. 23:15

Carroll actually defines complexity in terms of order:
”But complexity, the organization of the stuff that is going on, is a completely different thing than [linear] entropy.” And, “It is in between [Beginning and end] that the universe becomes complex, forms planets and stars, and galaxies and living organisms.”
The terms, complexity and order (or "organization" as Carroll calls it), are not interchangeable. And the historical items of the universe he listed are not created by similar causal actions. The difference is in the information content. Because information content is not related to orderliness, the two terms are mutually independent. For example, a Shakespeare play has no rule for order of the letters of the alphabet to appear, yet it has semantic meaning (information) and is non-compressible to an algorithm. On the other hand, a repetitive sequence of 1,7,3,1,7,3,1,7,3,1,7,3… (three characters repeated for the same length as the Shakespeare play) has order, but little or no semantic meaning or information, and is easily reduced to a simple algorithm.

Here is an example of order migration vs state change, with complexity actually in complete stasis:
Water progresses from vapor (disordered individual molecules), to liquid (non-compressible with definable distance boundaries between molecules), to crystalline (ordered physical relationship with respect to other adjacent molecules), to Bose-Einstein condensate (disorder), to atomic collapse (fully disordered). This is the same curve that the universe lifetime would follow, with “ordered” in the middle. But ice contains no more information (complexity) than does vapor. Complexity does not change throughout the phase changes. That's because the behaviors of each phase are determined by the same set of algorithms (set of physical laws).
Complexity is inversely related to orderliness.[1] The most orderly is the least complex; the least orderly is the most complex. Stated differently, the most orderly requires the smallest algorithm (1,1,1,1,1,1… n=n-1, for n=2 to infinity); the least orderly requires the most difficult algorithm (random output; irreducible system).

In the physical universe, order increases as atomic bonds are made and elements combine into molecules. The algorithm for this process is not created by the process, nor is it created by the molecules controlled by the algorithm. Further, the molecules do not contain algorithmic coding for the creation of the process. The information (laws of physics) are external and stable and have been since shortly after the Big Bang.

Until, that is, first life occurred with a dramatic, singular increase in information, stored in and used by molecules in the metabolism and replication of life. With the creation of first life, local complexity instantaneously increased to far beyond the original physics algorithms. The non-living universe, however, remained at the low complexity, high orderliness level.

The information in the universe is not a curve as is shown by Carroll’s complexity parabola; information and complexity is a huge step function going from the stasis of physics laws for eons, then stepping in a singular jump immediately to the incredibly high complexity of the information required for first life, finding stasis at that level, then jumping very rapidly into the Cambrian Explosion, and then increasing gradually over time to the present.

The complexity curve should be this sort of step function, which describe life only, and NOT the universe of minerals, molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles:
                                                           _____________--------------     ^                                                           |        ^                                    Humans
Infinity                                                | Complexity of all phyla
    |                                                     |
    |                                                     | 
    |                               ___________|
    |                              |        ^
    |                              |    Single cell complexity(high)
    |                              |              
    |                              |             Complexity of mineral universe (low)                      
v_______________| _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ V _ _ _
^                                 ^                      ^
t=0                       First Life     Cambrian Explosion

So the entropy curves given by Carroll are equivocations in terminology, resulting in incorrect interpretation. Complexity does not peak in the middle of entropic degradation. Complexity peaks locally, not universally. Complexity will vanish from the universe the instant that life is extinguished. The complexity argument placed by Carroll is seriously flawed, because it misinterprets complexity and confuses it with orderliness, its exact opposite: Equivocation Fallacy; and it mislabels the increase in complexity as "universal", when it is actually restricted to life and living things, while the remaining non-life universe remains in complexity stasis. Reductio: If this were not the case, then the laws of physics would be changing in complexity over time; physics actually depends on that not happening.

5. Michael Russell, Geochemist at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:
Russell is quoted as giving the meaning of life: “to hydrogenate carbon dioxide.” at 24:55

Carroll: Entropy “required” the increase of complexity to get from CO2 to methane, and the “sloshing about of all the complex reactions produced life – that’s what life is”.

No. Entropy does not "require" anything; it is not a force, nor is it a prescriptive law of causation. This is a continuation of misconstrual of order vs. complexity.

Next, no: methane is not an increase in complexity, it is a continuation of existing chemical laws which apply when the environment (temperature, pressure, concentration, mobility conditions, etc) allows. It is like crystallization in that it is a reduction to a lower state, one of increased order but not increased complexity.

And NO. That is not what life is. Life has specific requirements not deducible from chemistry or physics. To be defined as life requires that separate but necessary sub-systems are all activated to work in concert toward mutual goals (metabolism and replication) for no known activation cause; when they coincidentally are programmed to cease to function in concert toward mutual goals, death occurs (programmed death).[2]

Life is not a substance, not a natural force, not an energy, it is a self-animated, autonomous, self-contained process. End of life is the end of the process: “extinguishing the candle; you don’t GO anywhere. You stop happening”. The reaction stops. Ultimately we will all reach equilibrium.

6. Ridiculing heaven.
I'll just briefly acknowledge the completely non-empirical ridiculing of the concept of heaven, as if that is satisfactory proof for Carroll.

"Heaven is a bad idea, because you reach thermal equilibrium and nothing happens."
He charges though a list of non-science, nonsense, non-empirical ridicules:
Happiness is a bad idea. Heaven fetishness iconizes perfect happiness. Hedonic treadmill, in psychology: happiness is unchanging regardless of circumstances.
He even refers to the catacombs of skeletons in Paris, for proof of what, is not clear.

But he finally addresses a significant question: free will (42:30 – 43:25):
“Depends on your definition of free will. If by free will you mean that somehow you are able to override the laws of physics, no you can’t do that. You are made of atoms; if we knew the state of your brain to arbitrary accuracy, and we knew all the laws of physics to arbitrary accuracy, and we had infinite computational power, we could predict what you would do. But the point is that we don’t have any of those things. So this is a fact, and not a very relevant fact to how we should treat actual people in the actual world. The way I like to think about free will is that it is an emergent phenomenon. The right way to think about people, since we don’t know where all there atoms are and we can’t do the math, is as rational, hopefully rational, agents that have the ability to make choices.”
So yes: the mind is deterministic; and yes, people have both rationality and agency.

No internal contradiction is noticed, at least visibly, and he rapidly leaves.

As for "emergent phenomenon", this has become a very popular phrase which is code for: "it just started to happen, coming out of nowhere, for no apparent reason - it just... emerged, because: negentropy... or something complicated, here, look at my equations."

There's not much that is more entertaining than watching a physicist try to disprove metaphysics with his own metaphysics.

In Summary:

1. Empirical content of the subject matter, life after death: none.
2. Failure to produce a proper understanding of the science of complexity and information.
3. Building syllogistic arguments on false premises.

Complete failure to produce empirical, objective knowledge regarding the proposition of non-physical consciousness, intellect, qualia, etc., being detached from material host and continuing after host death.

No objective knowledge or empirical data regarding the actual subject was produced or discussed, and much inference and innuendo was produced with the apparent intent of using that as if it were objective knowledge for the discussion of the continued existence of the non-physical consciousness, intellect, etc., when detached from the physical tether of the living organism.

1. The order/complexity scale is presented by Hubert Yockey, "Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life", Cambridge University Press, 2005; p169:
"Information is a measure of complexity. Complexity is a scale with orderliness at one end and randomness at the other."
Orderliness/small information content<--less---complexity---more-->Randomness/large information content.

Orderliness is reducible to small algorithms and contains little information. Randomness, and semantic information are irreducible to small algorithms and contain large information content.

2. Cells don't just die, they are programmed to undergo a managed death and dismemberment process, called apoptosis.
Cooper and Hausman; "The Cell; A Molecular Approach"; Sinauer, 2013; p682 - 689.


Steven Satak said...

The most interesting part is that that lecture was essentially a live atheist echo chamber. No dissent was wanted, and none was forthcoming. All the echo chamber elements were present: the erudite speaker who began his 'proof' assuming the very thing he was setting out to prove... the ridicule and slander... the self-contradiction at the heart of his 'argument'.

He did not say anything that the audience was not already eager to swallow, so I guess it was a rather successful (and profitable) afternoon for him. This is not 'proof', it is entertainment for the damned.

That he is blind to the contradiction in the final part (no free will and at the same time free will) pretty much boils this all down to its essence: I want what I want, and I don't care if it makes sense, I will shout down and ridicule anyone who says otherwise.

Better to believe the Emperor has clothes by redfining the definition of clothes, I suppose. I wonder if they know (or care) how they look to the rest of the planet? No wonder the barbarians are at our gates. I doubt the Islamists would have had the courage for jihad if we were not already tearing ourselves to pieces in nihilistic glee.

Phoenix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phoenix said...

P2.The brain is atoms

According to this reasoning we'd have to equate ourselves with rocks.
Rocks are made of minerals -> Minerals are made of elements-> Elements are made of atoms.
Therefore there are no differences between humans and rocks.Except that the atoms arranged in the human is more complex than in rocks.

Stan said...

Yes. This is a classic case of rationalization of premises for support of a specific conclusion,in this case Naturalism.

In rationalizing, it is enough to have found support in an assertion, then to declare it to be a premise. there is no incentive either to ground it, or to use Reductio to validate or refute it. The premise becomes necessary, because the conclusion has already been declared necessary before the argument even started.