Quantum Mechanics and Reformation Theology

We're studying the foundations of Reformation theology in Sunday school. I find myself having to bite my tongue and not always succeeding. However, on the following two points, I've managed to stay quiet.

Several weeks ago, the teacher stated (paraphrasing) that "we believe 2+2=4 because of the axioms of mathematics." However, in "
Quantum Computing Since Democritus", on page 10, Aaronson writes:

How can we state axioms that will put the integers on a more secure foundation, when the very symbols and so on that we're using to write down the axioms presuppose that we already know what the integers are?

Well, precisely because of this point, I
don't think that axioms and formal logic can be used to place arithmetic on a more secure foundation. If you don't already agree that 1+1=2, then a lifetime of studying mathematical logic won't make it any clearer!

Today, in passing, it was said that responsibility necessitates the free will of man. Nothing could be further from the truth. I continued my reading of Aaronson during lunch today and came across this gem on pages 290-291:

Before we start, there are two common misconceptions that we have to get out of the way. The first one is committed by the free will camp, and the second by the anti-free-will camp.

The misconception committed by the free will camp is the one I alluded to before: if there's no free will, then none of us are responsible for our actions, and hence (for example) the legal system would collapse….

Actually, I've since found a couplet by Ambrose Bierce that makes the point very eloquently:

    "There's no free will," says the philosopher;
    "To hang is most unjust."
    "There is no free will," assent the officers.
    "We hang because we must."

Looking ahead to the end of the chapter, Aaronson brings Conway's "Free-Will Theorem" into play. What he doesn't apparently discuss (I've just scanned here and there), is that this randomness is not under our control.

Crime and Vocabulary

I was surfing the web on Thursday and a link let me to a post on 27bslash6 that I hadn't yet read. There I came across the word apophenia which I wasn't familiar with. Apophenia is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns in random data. I'm familiar with the concept as it is discussed in the very excellent book The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives although the word apophenia isn't used. At least it isn't in the index. Our brains are constantly looking for patterns, whether a tree, an amplifier, or a friend's face. But we also see things that aren't there, as anyone who has looked at a Rorschach ink blot or an optical illusion can attest. On Saturday, SlashDot reported that Google had analyzed their data concerning the effectiveness of their interview process and came to the sobering conclusion that there was no relationship between their interview techniques and employee performance. Business practices based on apophenia.

Friday comes between Thursday and Saturday and therein lies a tale...

The "Problem" of Qualia

"Qualia" is the term given to our subjective sense impressions of the world. How I see the color green might not be how you see the color green, for example. A set of truly horrible arguments are given to try to show how qualia are supposedly a problem for a "physicalist" explanation of the world.

The following diagram shows an idealized process by which different colors of light enter the eye and are converted into "qualia" -- the brain's internal representation of the information. Obviously the brain doesn't represent color as 10 bits of information. But the principle remains the same, even if the actual engineering is more complex.

Figure 1


Star Trek: Into Darkness

Almost four years ago my daughter and I went to see the J. J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek. Yesterday, I took her to have lunch with a co-worker and, after eating, she and I made a spur of the moment decision to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. The movie was filled with plot holes the size of solar systems. Nevertheless, after the final credits rolled, she remarked "that was amazing!" I can only agree. I loved the line, "If you can't even break a rule, how can you be expected to break bones?" It was Trek at its finest: using the backdrop of space to explore humanity.

Proud Father, IX

I haven't said anything about Jonathan marrying Shari on September 8 last year in Illinois, or David and Mary Ann being wed April 6 this year here in Atlanta. Or how pleased I am to have these two fine women in our family. If I haven't posted anything about them due to a (perhaps misplaced) sense of privacy, I cannot refrain from announcing the arrival of our first grandchild, Elizabeth Lee, born yesterday at 7:09 PM central daylight time to Shari and Johnny.

A friend of the family remarked to Becky today that she looks like me. My most deep-felt apologies, little one. You'll outgrow it. As I texted your dad today, "don't blink or twenty years will flash by."