A (Very) Unexpected Argument Against General Relativity As A Complete Account Of The Cosmos

I recently discovered an incredible philosophical argument.

By its very nature, I anticipate (indeed, I know) that a lot of people will outright laugh at my face when I say it. Specially people who “are too good for philosophy” and want to “stick to rigorous science” (the kind of people who neglect, of course, that not doing philosophy just means giving bad philosophy a free pass).

What does my argument accomplish? It shows that both Newtonian physics and general relativity cannot be full accounts of the universe. And it does this based on considerations emerging from philosophy of mind.

You heard that right: Good philosophy of mind can *rule out* general relativity and Newtonian physics as full explanations for the behavior of the universe. This almost certainly sounds absurd to most philosophers and physicists. It almost feels like I’m reverting to Aristotelian naturalism or theology: Back when people thought they could infer the laws of the universe based on logic and intuitive first principles.

In this case, however, I stand by my argument. It is logically correct, and, I think, also valid. That said, feel free to disagree. I don’t expect many people to take this seriously.

THE ARGUMENT AGAINST NEWTONIAN PHYSICS:

1) (Assumption) Physicalism is true (the universe’s behavior is fully accounted by physical laws).
2) (Assumption) Mereological Nihilism is true.
3) (Assumption) Newtonian physics either has no simples or admits only fundamental particles as simples.
4) (Inference from 3) Only fundamental particles can be simples.
5) (Assumption) Our mind/consciousness is ontologically unitary.
6) (Inference from 2 & 5) Since only simples are ontologically unitary, our mind is a simple.
7) (Inference from 4 & 6) Therefore, if Newtonian physics is true, our mind has to be a fundamental particle.
8) (Empirical Observation) Our mind contains a lot more information than a fundamental particle.
9) (Inference from 8) Therefore our mind is not a fundamental particle.
10) (Inference from 7 & 9) Therefore Newtonian physics is incomplete.

THE ARGUMENT AGAINST GENERAL RELATIVITY:

1) (Assumption) Physicalism is true (the universe’s behavior is fully accounted by physical laws).
2) (Assumption) Mereological Nihilism is true.
3) (Assumption) General relativity either has no simples or admits only black holes/Singularities as simples.
4) (Inference from 3) Only black holes can be simples.
5) (Assumption) Our mind/consciousness is ontologically unitary.
6) (Inference from 2 & 5) Since only simples are ontologically unitary, our mind is a simple.
7) (Inference from 4 & 6) Therefore, if General relativity is true, our mind has to be a black hole.
8) (Empirical Observation) Our mind is not super-massive and thus not a gravitational Singularity.
9) (Inference from 8) Therefore our mind is not a black hole.
10) (Inference from 7 & 9) Therefore General Relativity is incomplete.

17 comments

  1. Anon · April 3, 2016

    To be honest, this whole website looks like a someone’s attempt to collect status by writing lots of articles with smart-sounding words. There’s a reason why scientists try to not write articles with lots of flashy images and pass it as science.

    Besides when I heard word philosophy, my initial thought is: signalling. Most of philosophy is signalling and complex multi-level signalling games which make my brain hurt. It doesn’t mean philosophy is useless or wrong though.

    Have you published this in peer-reviewed journals? Most hypotheses are false. This is why we have scientific method or at least some form of verification. Try publishing in arXiv?

    It isn’t these ideas aren’t interesting. They are but my suggestion would by to email this to people who study QM for living. My guess a lot of QM professors have grad students who have these kind of ideas on weekly basis. Perhaps you could find a grad student who studies QM and is interested in these kind of things?

    I know I come off kind of negative but Internet is full of bad science. Someone interested in Rationality should know better.

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2011/02/against-diy-academics.html

    I hope your ideas get more attention and more importantly, more inspection by people with QM credentials.

    Like

  2. sgarvagh · March 19, 2016

    I agree 100% with your requirements given for a sound theory of conciousness (psychedelic user, another data point for your theory, although I think you should also investigate advanced Buddhist meditators and how they conceptualize consciousness and experience sensate reality, such as Daniel Ingram). I don’t, however, see why the unity of consciousness implies it must be quantum in nature. Is that what you’re claiming? Or are you making a slightly weaker claim: coherent wavefunctions are unitary, and so is consciousness, so quantum mechanics represents a good (best?) area of investigation in the study of consciousness. I can agree with this statement, but not the former, because I cannot see why two concepts sharing a fundamental property necessarily implies one is involved in the other.

    Furthermore, I don’t see how quantum wavefunctions explain qualia and its various textures any better than classic physicalism. The experience of the visual field and an auditory note are so fundamentally different that they lead me to believe they belong in different dimensions. Hmm, on second thought, maybe string theory or some variant? An explaination for how qualia arises, or why a wavefunction feels like anything, is still missing, and seems like a fundamentally unclosable gap.

    PS: I know it isn’t clear in this post, but I fucking love what you’re doing here. You’re one of the few minds who seems to be incredibly rational and yet who can grasp what the hard problem really means, an incredibly rare occurrence it seems. You’ve taken my own ideas and gone further in a lot of ways, and it’s clear you think deeply about what you write about. I hope to someday be as organized in my thoughts. Just wanted to show a little appreciation 🙂

    Like

    • algekalipso · March 20, 2016

      Hello!

      > Or are you making a slightly weaker claim: coherent wavefunctions are unitary, and so is consciousness, so quantum mechanics represents a good (best?) area of investigation in the study of consciousness.

      Yes, that’s the claim, and it is certainly a lot weaker than the former. There is no proof that consciousness is quantum mechanical, and I don’t expect there to be one in several decades (until, say, we actually perform the experiment outlined in physicalism.com). So none of this is conclusive. However, what is conclusive, I think, is that explanations for consciousness will not be purely in terms of information processing, emergent properties, or say, using the general relativity ontology. We may as well discover a physical theory that unites quantum mechanics and general relativity (e.g. quantum gravity) and if so, then perhaps the connection will be there rather than with current QM. Also, all of this speculation is based on the assumption of physicalism. I myself think that physicalism is a very plausible hypothesis, but I can also see that if some variant of dualism is correct then there is no need whatsoever to invoke QM when trying to explain the unitary nature of our consciousness.

      > Furthermore, I don’t see how quantum wavefunctions explain qualia and its various textures any better than classic physicalism. The experience of the visual field and an auditory note are so fundamentally different that they lead me to believe they belong in different dimensions.

      This is a very sensible reaction, indeed. In the view that I explore (namely, non-materialist monistic physicalism / Pearcean-Strawsonian physicalism / panpsychism with quantum binding) the equations of physics do not actually imply consciousness. Instead, and here is the key point, consciousness would be the “fire in the equations of physics” that “gives reality to the formalism.” In other words, physical laws don’t imply consciousness; they are simple descriptions of the *behavior of consciousness*.

      Unfortunately people often interpret non-materialist physicalism as some sort of animism. “You think rocks are conscious? What is the problem with you?” 🙂 Instead, what this view implies is that quantum wavefunctions are made of qualia, and that unitary experiences literally are the superposition of many of such wavefunctions in very fine ways that are useful for information-processing. So I don’t expect rocks to be unified minds. They may be full of “trivial” specks of experience that don’t interact much with each other or hold much of an inner structure beyond the basic physical properties needed to give rise to the large-scale behavior of rocks.

      Strangely, physicalism is both “obvious” to some people, and also completely absurd to others. According to a (yet unpublished) study I conducted, this depends on the personality factor of “systematizing vs. empathizing.” Basically, systematizing folk (such as programmers, physicists and anyone with a high Aspergers quotient) think of consciousness as the mere result of information processing, and are prone to disregard its relevance altogether. On the other hand, empathizers have the problem that they can’t formalize their own introspective observations (which, nonetheless, provide important pieces of information that need to be accounted for).

      > PS: I know it isn’t clear in this post, but I fucking love what you’re doing here. You’re one of the few minds who seems to be incredibly rational and yet who can grasp what the hard problem really means, an incredibly rare occurrence it seems. You’ve taken my own ideas and gone further in a lot of ways, and it’s clear you think deeply about what you write about. I hope to someday be as organized in my thoughts. Just wanted to show a little appreciation 🙂

      Aww, thank you. That means a lot to me. You know? I would describe myself as “hyperphilosophical.” I don’t meant to make it sound like a super-power or anything. It is more like some sort of persistent non-symbolic state of consciousness in which I am led to contemplate without pausing things such as the nature of time, the ontological status of phenomenal colors, the information-theoretic properties of hedonic tone, etc. It has some benefits, such as writings my ideas and feeling happy about doing that… on the other hand, it can impair my everyday functioning 😉 I’m assuming you may be in the same spectrum.

      If you want to meet other people in the “Qualia Computing network” send an email and I’ll add you to the secret group. 🙂

      Like

      • sgarvagh · March 21, 2016

        Sure! Philosophy of mind is one of my favourite topics and it’s frustratingly hard to find people to properly discuss it with.

        I’d like to hear more about your account of your consciousness during intense contemplation. It sounds very interesting, but difficult to describe. It sounds like it has aspects of both systematizing autistic-like thought, and the type of state one encounters on a heavy psychedelic trip. I think I also possess this at times, but to a lesser-degree than you.

        I’ve also thought a bit about pan-psychism. Constantly arising-and-passing-away micro-experiences are somehow woven together and composed to create complex macro-experiences. This fluxing woven tapestry supports Closed Individualism because of shallow-borders between the continually-varying shapes of experience, like bodies of water. Objects which create certain macro-experiences were selected for by evolution due to the various physical advantages they confer.

        Like

  3. The Highlander · March 19, 2016

    Maybe there are different sorts of black holes, non-cosmological singularities of a different sort. Recently scientists found that balck holes cannot lose information because they are connected to everything in the universe. Perhaps minds are higher-dinensional singularities, connected to other minds in parallel realities.

    Like

  4. sansdomino · March 12, 2016

    The assumption of unitary consciousness loses me, but it’s not the only failing point of its kind that I see in this argument; I at least reject also the notion that my consciousness would contain substantial information at all. My “empirical” impression of consciousness is more akin to a cursor tracing (parts of) the operation of my brain, shifting or perhaps darting from point to point (if perhaps rapidly)…

    Makes an amusing lemma, in any case.

    Like

    • algekalipso · March 13, 2016

      > My “empirical” impression of consciousness is more akin to a cursor tracing (parts of) the operation of my brain, shifting or perhaps darting from point to point (if perhaps rapidly)…

      Thanks for the comment. I am currently investigating the causes behind the differences in opinion about whether consciousness is unitary or not. The majority of people I talk to tend to believe that consciousness is *not* unitary. I interact a lot with rationalists, transhumanists, psychedelic users and people in academia. Of these, only psychedelic users tend to agree that consciousness is unitary. Why is that? In part psychedelics allow you to see local binding breaking down; features that usually are locally bound together become disentangled, and features that are never bound together become unified. Yet, on psychedelics the unity of consciousness as a whole does not break down. There is still, at all points, global binding going on.

      Additionally, psychedelics weaken one’s trust in the validity of the beliefs of our in-group. They help people realize that a full explanation of reality and consciousness will have to satisfy many more constraints than those our culture believes important.

      So while people in academia and the rationalist community can point to Dennett and say “most AI researchers believe that guy’s opinions and he says the unity is illusory” that’s a lot harder to swallow for psychedelic users in general.

      Now, your view that consciousness has no information would be an even more extreme case, and I think many who don’t believe in its unity would still agree with it having information. They would be inconsistent, though, so I applaud your willingness to bite the bullet that comes with your view 🙂

      That said, I think you are confusing attention with consciousness. When you open your eyes you have two things happening in quick succession. First you experience an awareness field with details about the features present in the scene. But you don’t recognize well-bound objects until you actually pay attention to individual components of the scene and use your attention to knit together local features into higher-order phenomenal objects.

      If you count the awareness field as part of your consciousness (and not only the subsequent information-processing of attention), would you now say there is information in your consciousness?

      Like

      • sansdomino · April 15

        Oh, looks like I forgot this in a tab without ever replying further.

        I did not claim that consciousness contains no information; only that it can contain, at any given time (on a scale of milliseconds or less) much less than it naively might “feel” to simultaneously contain. And sure, we could moreover redefine “consciousness” as containing both an information-processing part and an “awareness field”, but that seems to be already granting the point that it contains distinguishable parts (and is therefore non-unitary).

        For that matter though, I however deny that consciousness “processes information”. As I understand it, neurological studies have shown that information processing takes place subconsciously, and the notion of “conscious will” is an illusion. Our decisions are generally neurologically real long before they reach our conscious mind. Also, that they eventually do so is not strictly speaking sufficient as proof that consciousness “contains” information in any usual sense. If the information flow to physiologically tangible results diverges already earlier on in the thought processes, it is concievable that consciousness is an “informational black hole” where no information can be extracted from for further processing.

        Lastly, as for the weaker question of why do *opinions* on the unitaryness of consciousness differ. The core problem seems to be that you cannot prove a negative. I will grant the starting point that consciousness usually “feels unitary”. But the fact that this remains under one cherrypicked altered brainstate does not actually constitute proof that is indeed a correct perception. (Both human perception and introception are after all quite imperfect.) Not unless you were to e.g. also grant that psychedelics reveal a more “fundamental” or “true” picture of the universe, compared to all others — which I do not grant; I think they merely prod the brain’s “this feels fundamental” emotional circuitry. On the other hand, a disproof is as simple to present as ever: we do know of mental illnesses that lead to the fracturing of consciousness, i.e. conclusively prove that it is non-unitary.

        Like

  5. Zero · March 8, 2016

    “8) (Empirical Observation) Our mind is not super-massive and thus not a gravitational Singularity.
    9) (Inference from 8) Therefore our mind is not a black hole.”

    That’s assuming black holes have a “minimum mass” . It’s not the amount of mass that makes a black hole, it’s how compressed it is (it has to fall within its own Schwarzschild radius). So theoretically there are such things as microscopic black holes. Keep the singularity, pass the massive.

    Like

  6. renovatio06 · March 8, 2016

    Wow. Pretty rad reasoning, impressive!

    Like

  7. Christian Lains · March 2, 2016

    I had a similar argument a while back, but I couldn’t convince any of my philosopher friends so I just posted it on a gaming forum to see if people would care: http://www.esreality.com/post/2243265/consciousness/ As you can see my formulation tried to be simplistic and colloquial, but still generated a lot of confusion throughout the thread. Fun nonetheless 😀

    BTW I love this blog of yours. It is rare to find straight-talk about qualia without the pseudo-intellectual babble or the pseudo-scientific nonsense. Even just at face value it does have some pretty astonishing consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ben · March 2, 2016

    Interesting.. although some eliminativist philosphers might point out that the unitary nature of the mind is an illusion (e.g. multipe-drafts theory of Dan Dennett), and we are simply deluded about our own minds nature. Thus, the conclusion is invalid?

    Like

    • algekalipso · March 2, 2016

      Yes. Eliminativism, functionalism, (strong) emergentism and epiphenomenalism would all go against assumption (5). I.e. that consciousness is not ontologically unitary.

      However, I am certain that consciousness is ontologically unitary. It took me about 7 months of talking to David Pearce (physicalism.com) to understand why the phenomenal binding problem was a real and serious challenge to functionalism. Now I’m certain that yes, the left and right side of my visual field are connected in a very special way, which is not accounted for by Classical *or* Relativistic accounts.

      On the other hand, the decoherence program in quantum mechanics does accomodate ontological unity easily. After all, quantum coherent wavefunctions contain a lot of information, and yet *are* ontologically unitary.

      Like

      • Christian Lains · March 3, 2016

        Did you check out Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory? I’ve tried to press him on physical ontology but he’s insisting on being silent by saying that we start from phenomenology (axioms) and then deduce a *possible* physical implementation that can account for it. Max Tegmark’s “perceptronium” is an attempt to make (a modified version of) integrated information (with some extra sauce) into physical ontology.

        Rejecting unitary ontology of consciousness is a joke that will be laughed at when a theory shows it to be the epistemic faculty par excellence. Who could have possibly known!? Skeptic movement is out of control with their delusional dis-enchanting anti-wizardry-sorcery. They’re disappointed like the early AI-optimists, imposing their own misplaced pessimism on the next generation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Benjamin · March 4, 2016

        I get very skeptical when I hear references to QM when it comes to consciousness, especially from people who have no formal education in QM, as prominent scientists within the field tell us that they don´t understand the results of their measurements. As I think others have pointed out, it seems like QM must be connected with Consciousness because they both seem so ineffable and mysterious.

        I wonder, have you taken college courses on QM or are you just a layperson with an interest in the philosophical implications of QM? This is not me trying to make ad hominem arguments or trying to discredit you, I am just interested in how well educated you are about QM. I just think that way too many people make references to QM (e.g. Deepak Chopra) and make fantastic claims without any sound logical or empirical basis.

        Like

        • algekalipso · March 5, 2016

          Hey Benjamin, I empathize with the general skepticism when it comes to claims about the relationship between consciousness and QM. In my experience 99% of the times the connection is brought, there really isn’t any good reason to justify it at all. E.g. Deepk Chopra certainly does not use a lot of sound logic or empirical data to argue in favor of a mystico-spiritual New Age model of the cosmos and reality.

          I hope that I can at least convince people that I have valid reasons that motivate the connection. I do not have a PhD in physics, and my formal education related to Quantum Mechanics is limited to an undergraduate physics course and a graduate course in philosophy of science (emphasizing QM), both at Stanford. However, I would like to point out that I have read a lot of books on the subject (e.g. the scientifically sound “Mind, Brain and the Quantum: The Compound ‘I'” by Michael Lockwood), as well as educated myself with MIT courseware. I am a rather skeptical person who is over-educated in philosophy. My day-job being a data science engineer at an Artificial Intelligence startup, so most charges that “I don’t understand how neural networks work” are not very credible.

          If anything, I used to be a strong supporter of explicitly non-quantum accounts of consciousness. E.g. When I read “Consciousness Explained” when I was 17 years old I certainly thought we were a lot closer to explaining consciousness than I do now.

          The reasons behind the connection involve directly the *ontologies* that are postulated by different physical accounts of the cosmos. In particular, General relativity does not postulate any ontologically unitary being (except, perhaps, the uncomfortable gravitational Singularities, which are often taken as a reduction ad absurdum of the theory rather than as one of its features!). On the other hand, the postulates of Quantum Mechanics do provide a viable way for beings to be ontologically unitary. This is the main motivation, and I think it is philosophically sensible. The main reason why not many people have realized this is largely explained by some kind of memetic immune disorder against taking the properties of consciousness seriously. Daniel Dennett has done a lot of damage to the field of consciousness research, but no one will notice it for several more decades 🙂

          In any case. I want to finish up by pointing out that:

          “Any decent scientific theory of conscious mind should explain:

          1. why consciousness exists at all (the “Hard Problem”).
          2. how consciousness could be locally or globally bound by a pack of membrane-bound, supposedly classical neurons (the phenomenal binding or combination problem).
          3. how consciousness could have the causal efficacy to allow us to discuss its existence (the problem of causal over-determination).
          4. why consciousness has its countless textures and the interdependencies of their different values (the “Palette Problem”).

          Above all, any decent scientific theory of conscious mind should offer novel, precise, empirically falsifiable predictions – with experimental outcomes to satisfy both believers and otherwise implacable foes alike. The conjecture should in Popper’s sense be risky.

          Hard-nosed scientists may wish to skip the philosophising and turn to the interferometry experiment – and wildly counterintuitive predicted result – outlined in section 6.” (http://physicalism.com/)

          Unfortunately, *any* non-quantum account will fail to accomplish (2), and this is due to a lack of credible reasons to assume that mere collections of atoms (or algorithms!) can create an ontologically unitary being, i.e. a given state of consciousness.

          Like

      • Benjamin · March 5, 2016

        Yeah, I do understand where you´re coming from, and I agree what most of what you said in your latest post. I myself am not acquainted with QM, I just have a layman understanding of it. If I had the time and the energy, I would love to be able to understand the equations that describe what goes on at the smallest level, unfortunately I do not have the time, or the intellect(most probably) to do so.

        My main focus is on cognitive neuroscience, but I think what is most sound is to remain open about the “hard problem of consciousness” for unconventional solutions. As of today, there seems to be theory that comes even close to explain why consciousness exist. I think Metzinger has done a rigorous job of applying a materialistic explanation for what consciousness is, although the conclusions he draw might be deeply unsettling.

        As I understand it, you have an education in Computational Psychology, which to me sound like a really great field to be in. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent education here in sweden. To get into neuroscience here, you have to either become a clinical psychologist, get into computer science, or get an M.D. degree.

        Do you happen to have an account on goodreads? I have read a lot of books about consciousness, but you seem to be more well versed in the literature, so it would be great if you could provide some reading tips.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s