## Randomness

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• 992
Then why can't I say that in a random world A can cause either B or C because of something?

And you'd have to also say that the cause of it being B and not C was nothing, which means that something was caused by nothing, meaning that there is something ontologically different from a determined world than an an indetermined world, which again responds to your prior post asking what the difference was between our inability to explain how A caused B in a determined world and how B randomly came about in an indetermined world.

I'd also reiterate that something coming from nothing is the definition of spontaneous occurrence, something you said didn't occur in a random world.

My objection is that the QM description of truly random events is incoherent. It's not that my little mind can't fathom it. It's that it defies foundational principles of understanding. To understand the world, one must ask why things are as they are, which implicitly requires offering the underlying cause of the event. If there is no such cause, then there is per se no explanation for why something happened, meaning reason (and thus understanding) is being defied.
• 2.4k
And you'd have to also say that the cause of it being B and not C was nothing

You don't seem to be consistent. You said that A always causes B because of some unknown "something" but when I use this unknown "something" as the reason for A sometimes causing B and sometimes causing C you then said that this "something" is actually nothing and that it's just a case of spontaneity.

If we take the following to be a representation of a predetermined and a random world respectively:

1. A → B
2. A → B ∨ C

Then why does 2 require more explanation than 1? In both cases we either have to explain or accept as axiomatic the →.

So you might ask of 2 "what makes it sometimes B and sometimes C?" but then I'll just ask of 1 "what makes it always B?"
• 1.2k
And I do believe that spontaneity is a part of nature, but probability or possibility isn't the best way to go about thinking it...

Novelty - which I mistakenly understood you to be asking after - is my preferred term, and in any case, if I were to make a point about randomness here, it would simply be a negative one...

So perhaps you can explain how spontaneity and novelty are the same or different in your book? How is one to understand you when you keep shifting your jargon?

I mean it is clear that novelty has an element of the surprising or unpredicted, and yet also "a good fit" when it is "a creative act". So novelty would be contrasted with chance or accident in terms of its relation to finality. Novelty is symmetry breaking that retroductively serves a purpose, while accident is symmetry breaking that serves no partiicular purpose - it is meaningless novelty.

So yes, as we consider causality in a full sense - the four Aristotelean causes - then the variety of terms we employ start to come into focus in terms of their ontic commitments. And if we continued to a Peircean semiotic analysis of nature, we could eventually cash out the crucial hinge that is the epistemic cut - the role that sign plays in crisply deciding those ontic boundaries.

We can roll a die and physically it must land on just one of its six faces when its spinning stops. But we still have to read off the resulting number correctly. The die doesn't "say" anything until its physical state has crossed over into the observer's epistemic universe in this fashion.

So novelty is connected with complexity as it demands the question of "who finds this predictively surprising yet retroductively fitting?". It implies an answer seeking mind at the centre of it all.

But signals must be extracted. And noise is that which is suppressed. Noise doesn't exist in nature as a purely physical fact. It is the name we give for everything about which we (now) no longer need to care - like the five other sides of the rolled die.

So what we keep finding is that it is all organised according to the logic of dichotomies - the separations achieved by symmetry breakings. If we speak of things like chance and necessity, random and determined, signal and noise, these are always the constraining limits of possibility rather than actual states of being. Existence is always happening between the extremes. So rightfully we can only speak of that which is more or less determined, more or less random, more or less spontaneous, etc. Even more or less ontic, or epistemic.

However with all this jargon-jumping by you, one will never know whether you have a well thought out position in this regard.

And random~determined - as the metaphysical dichotomy speaking most directly to action and causality - is of course pretty much right at the heart of metaphysical inquiry. It is not the place to be muddying the waters.
• 693
Lol, jargon jumping by me when you're the one who can't read and impute terms to me that I never used in the first place. Like three times. Please. Your illiteracy is not my problem. 'Muddying the waters'. Maybe I'll sculpt you an irony prize with the thick slabs of it you're serving up.
• 1.2k
My objection is that the QM description of truly random events is incoherent.

To be fair to QM, it is deterministic at the wavefunction level of description. Indeed, extremely so (as it extends this determinism all the way back to the beginning of the Universe, and all the way to its end, according to some interpretations).

So QM describes the world as rigidly bounded by a set of statistics-producing constraints. It just isn't the "regular" statistics of a classically-conceived system.

As I mentioned, the "sign" of pure quantum randomness or spontaneity in particle decay is that it exactly conforms to a Poisson distribution. The chance of a particle decaying is unchangingly constant in time.

And hence also the radical indeterminism, the depth of surprise, when a decay occurs "for no reason".

A constant propensity for a decay is a state of symmetry, or maximum indifference. One moment is as good as another for the decay to happen. There is no mounting tension as there is in a classical system - pressure building until the bubble must surely burst sooner than later. So a decay isn't caused even by a general thing, let alone a particular thing. It really does "just happen" ... in a way we end up describing in desperation as due to an internally frozen propensity.

So we know particle decay has this radical nature because a collection of identical particles will tend towards an exact Poisson distribution - a powerlaw pattern which is characterised by its absolute absence of a mean. There just is no average time to wait for the individual particle. It could happen in a split second, or at the end of time, with the same probability. As exceptionality or novelty, it is literally unbounded.

On the other hand, we were just talking about the ideal case. And the real world is much messier. So observation or measurement, for instance, can disturb the statistics. Decay can be prevented - futher constrained - by the quantum zeno effect. The watched kettle cannot boil.

So the pure case that produces the Poisson distribution may be an ideal description that nature - its symmetry already broken - never achieves. Yet then also we have to say that nature comes unmeasurably close as far as we human observers are concerned.

Certainly, when we employ atomic decay as our most accurate clock to measure the world, we are relying on the ideal being achieved so as to in fact be able to tell the time. :)

Anyway, what QM really does is take the contrasting notions of determinism and chance to their physically measureable extremes. And it then quantifies the degree of entanglement or non-separability that irreducibly remains - the Planckian uncertainty.

Classical dynamics can't make sense of this because it just doesn't recognise the notion of "degrees of disentanglement". It takes the all or nothing approach that things are either completely free or completely controlled, completely one or completely divided.

This is useful as it has great simplicity. And a particular statistics results - that based on the assumption of completely independent variables.

But quantum physics recognises that issues of separation and connection are always irreducibly relative - each is the yardstick of the other, as described in the reciprocal logic of a dichotomy. And so quantum statistics has to allow for variables that can be entangled.

Mathematically it is not incoherent. Well, at least not until you want to recover the classical view and disentangle your variables by "collapsing the wavefunction". At which point, the famous issue of the observer arises. It becomes "a choice" about how the epistemic cut to separate the variables cleanly is to be introduced. The maths is incomplete so far and can't do it for you.

So quantum mechanics takes a step deeper into the essential mystery of nature. It differs from the classical view in putting us firmly inside our metaphysical dichotomies. Randomness and determinisim are not absolute but relative states. The new question that comes into focus is relative to what?

Relative to a human mind is a bad answer (for a realist). Relative to each other - as in a dichotomistic relation - is logically fine but also incomplete as it does not yet explain the real world which is full of different degrees of randomness and determination. (All actual systems are a mix of constraints and freedoms.)

So that is why eventually you need a triadic, hierarchical and semiotic metaphysical scheme. You need to add in the effects of spatiotemporal scale. A local~global separation produces a "fixed" asymmetry in the universal state of affairs. Action is now anchored according to a past which has happened and so determines the constraints, while the future is now the space of the remaining possible - the degrees of freedom still available to be spent or dissipated on chance and novelty.

And this is the way physical theory is indeed going with its thermal models of time -
http://discovermagazine.com/2015/june/18-tomorrow-never-was
• 1.2k

"Novelty - which I mistakenly understood you to be asking after...."

So it is your illiteracy which is my problem here. Apparently seeing "spontaneity" written, you were replying while thinking about something else.

But of course I don't believe you did in fact misread me. You are now just weaseling with terms because there was the danger you might have to be seen agreeing with me.

That's where this started. I'm sure I was surprised by how strongly you spoke out about the irreducibility of spontaneity in a PF post last year. I remember because I agreed strongly too - yes, a novelty!

So at first you confirmed that memory, and then very quickly you decided to backtrack. Now you are intent on rewriting history when your own words still remain to show what was said.
• 693
Sure, if it makes you sleep better dude.
• 992
So you might ask of 2 "what makes it sometimes B and sometimes C?" but then I'll just ask of 1 "what makes it always B?"
I understand the two questions:

1. In an undetermined world, what makes it sometimes B and sometimes C?
2. In a predetermined world, what makes it always B?

Answer to #1: I don't know (it is incoherent to ask how a spontaneous event occurred).
Answer to #2: I don't know (that goes beyond the limit of my knowledge)

Answer to #1: Nothing (spontaneous events have no causes).
Answer to #2: Something (all events have causes, even if I don't happen to know what it is).

It is for this reason that your retort (question #2) does not establish that both the determined world and undetermined world are on equal footing in terms of coherence. The fact that both test the limits of our knowledge is irrelevant (epistemological answers #1 and #2). What is relevant is that indeterminism asserts the ontological impossibility of spontaneity (ontological answer #2 in contrast to #1).
• 2.4k

Answer to #1: Nothing (spontaneous events have no causes).
Answer to #2: Something (all events have causes, even if I don't happen to know what it is).

Your answer to #2 isn't an answer at all. Even if all events have causes, what makes it the case that A always causes B? At best you're saying that there's some intermediate C between A and B that is the immediate effect of A and the immediate cause of B. But then what makes it the case that A always causes C and that C always causes B?

I don't see why A → B ∨ C entails spontaneity but A → B doesn't. In the predetermined world, B happens because of A. In the random world, either B happens because of A or C happens because of A. There's no spontaneity. Whatever happens is caused by something prior.
• 206

"One of the advantages in thinking of randomness in terms of equipotential is that is allows us to bypass many of the tricky debates about causality in a rather clear and unambiguous manner."

In that sense it actually becomes an attempt to balance causality ( or confounding variable) across equally possible outcomes. As in taking a random sample; in order to make sure the groups are as similar as can be, randomization gives a high probability of fair distribution of the confounding variables.

" is concept far better suited to the laboratory than to nature: by design, it can only operate in the context of a stable, "

Right, I doubt there are situations, which are not orchestrated by humans, that have equal possible outcomes for all the variables being considered. However, I am reluctant to separate it along the lines of natural and unnatural, as I consider humans part of nature.

"It's a wonderful scientific tool, but a poor philosophical one."

That part I have to disagree on, as in a sense I feel science is an application of philosophy.
• 693
I am reluctant to separate it along the lines of natural and unnatural, as I consider humans part of nature.

I wouldn't use the term unnatural though, or rather, I wouldn't set them in opposition to each other; I would say instead that the laboratory setting - in which the category of 'possibility' is an apposite concept - is a kind of 'subset' of nature, embedded in, but not coincident with, the wider world (Not AB, but AB.). It's to the degree that philosophy deals with precisely this 'wider' subject matter that I call it a poor - or maybe rather limited - philosophical tool.
• 206

" It's to the degree that philosophy deals with precisely this 'wider' subject matter that I call it a poor - or maybe rather limited - philosophical tool."

Sorry, I just can't get fully on boat with that one. Consider this famous quote:

“Give me but a firm spot on which to stand, and I shall move the earth.”
― Archimedes, The Works of Archimedes

Science provides the firm spot on which philosophy can stand. I don't think we are too far off in our ways of thinking, I just don't argue with the notion it is a "poor" philosophical tool.
• 799
I don't see why A → B ∨ C entails spontaneity but A → B doesn't. In the predetermined world, B happens because of A. In the random world, either B happens because of A or C happens because of A. There's no spontaneity. Whatever happens is caused by something prior.

If you run the physical causal law in reverse, does B ∨ C → A make any sense?
• 992
I don't see why A → B ∨ C entails spontaneity but A → B doesn't. In the predetermined world, B happens because of A. In the random world, either B happens because of A or C happens because of A. There's no spontaneity. Whatever happens is caused by something prior.

For any specific set of causes, if there can be an infinite set of events that follow (as there's no reason to limit things to just 2 possible choices), how do you conclude causation and not spontaneity? My point being that an inherent condition of causation is determinism, and any indeterminate system is necessarily non-causative and therefore spontaneous.

If you say that A must yield B or C but the option yielded is yielded without a specific cause, then I'd say you're referencing spontaneity on that level. That is, why did is "choose" B and not C? Was it because of D, E, or F, or for no reason at all? On the other hand, if you say that A must yield B in every case, I don't see an element of spontaneity.
• 2.4k
If you say that A must yield B or C but the option yielded is yielded without a specific cause, then I'd say you're referencing spontaneity on that level. That is, why did is "choose" B and not C? Was it because of D, E, or F, or for no reason at all? On the other hand, if you say that A must yield B in every case, I don't see an element of spontaneity.

What causes A to always yield B in a predeterministic world? Is it because of D, E, or F, or for no reason at all?

The issue I see is that when you get to the level of explaining causation itself it doesn't really make sense to then explain it in terms of causation. Trying to explain causation (whether random or predetermined) with reference to some even more fundamental causation is mistaken. It is just the case that in a predetermined world A always causes B and in a random world A can cause either B or C. You need something other than causation to explain causation (else circularity ensues).
• 799
For any specific set of causes, if there can be an infinite set of events that follow (as there's no reason to limit things to just 2 possible choices), how do you conclude causation and not spontaneity? My point being that an inherent condition of causation is determinism, and any indeterminate system is necessarily non-causative and therefore spontaneous.

That's not quite true. Under super-determinism (which just means determinism+entanglement), you will observe reality exactly as quantum mechanics predicts i.e. the result of measurement is one member of the spectrum of the observable, but the value you obtain is completely determined.

Another view is that measurement results in a superposition of the entire spectrum of the observable and through decoherence, you find yourself entangled with one of them, or rather you become entangled with each of them, but are unaware of your counterparts.

There are other interpretations of QM, but these are not compatible with the Free Will Theorem, which is precisely the result that A leads to B or C and no information exists in the universe to predict which. The argument is that particles are genuinely free.

I reject super-determinism, but that still leaves us with a deterministic (with unpredictable outcomes) theory and a "spontaneity" theory, which are empirically indistinguishable for the foreseeable future.*

One interesting point I find, is that BOTH the deterministic and the spontaneous theory deny causation.

*Because deterministic theories are time-reversible, certain exotic experiments have been proposed that could distinguish a time-reversible theory from a spontaneity theory.
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