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Re: Social Science, Science, and Empirical Study
by E. Prugovecki
10 July 2002 17:59 UTC
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As a quantum physicist interested in social science, I read with interest
today's (July 10, 2002) account of the debate between "Mike" and "Luke,"
and especially the following part:

>"For example, suppose an exact (nonlinear) law describing human thought was
>discovered that covered the basic synapse to synapse neural process behind
>thought.  Suppose what we are consciously aware of as a thought is the result
>of dozens of such basic processes.  Then, even though the basic law describing
>thought is known, the product of that process (after dozens of repetitions)
>would be unknowable, just as the position of the billiard ball is unknowable
>after 10-30 ricochets.  In other words, people still have free will because
>you can't predict what they will decide, even though you understand exactly,
>at the fundamental level, what their brains do while they are making their

The last sentence touches upon the ancient mind-body question, and it deals
with matters which can't be solved in quite that facile a manner. Moreover,
the considered theory of "chaos" is actually still classical physics: the
"chaos" is only apparent, since the underlying laws are still
deterministic. Hence in the above considered "model" of "human thought"
there would be no actual "free will." "Mike" is actually confusing
"unknowable" with "unpredictable from a practical point of view."

In contrast, the Heisenberg principle postulates that the simultaneous
values of certain "incompatible" observables are literally "unknowable." In
fact, Heisenberg, Born and others had gone further than that, and
considered the possibility of a "fundamental length" in nature. Carrying
out this idea to its ultimate conclusion leads to a purely quantum
formulation of spacetime itself - as I described in my monograph PRINCIPLES

As for the related mind-body question, I reproduce below a fictional
debate, presented in my recent book DAWN OF THE NEW MAN: A FUTURISTIC NOVEL
OF SOCIAL CHANGE (Xlibris, 2002). It takes place between Leonardo (one of
the artificial "new men"), Liu (a computer scientist in a futuristic
society representing a new type of "world system") and Philip (a
contemporary quantum cosmologist).

Excerpt from DAWN OF THE NEW MAN, pp. 68 - 69:

        "Why do you say 'biologically structured humans'?" I [Philip] asked
a bit annoyed. "After all, a human is, by definition, biologically
structured, and not some kind of automaton."
        "You're forgetting your basic readings in philosophy, Philip,"
interposed Liu. "René Descartes was already speculating about 'animal
automatism' in the seventeenth century, and by the eighteenth century some
Cartesians were talking of Man as a Machine. Furthermore, by the end of the
Old Era surgeons were already capable of replacing most organs in a human
being with artificial counterparts. By now we can do that with literally
every organ, except the brain. Does that make the end product any less
        "Ah! But that's exactly the point," I exclaimed triumphantly. "The
        "You again forget your readings in philosophy, Philip," Liu
remarked with uncharacteristic gentleness, since he could be a very
ferocious debater. "It's the mind, and not the brain that makes a human
being what he is. Some other transcendentalist schools are working on the
project of transferring the entire mind of a biological human being to an
artificial brain and body, and are making some progress in that direction.
If they succeed, would that render such human beings any less human?"
        "I think that what Liu as driving at is the old mind-body
philosophical question," intervened Leonardo. "How does the mind interact
with the body? And what is free will?"
        I wasn't quite prepared for a philosophical discussion, and
especially not one with an advanced "machine" like Leonardo, but I quickly
rose to the challenge.
        "I know," I said, raising my left arm into the air by way of a
demonstration. "Right now I just raised my arm of my free will. But how did
I do it? Even in the Old Era scientists could explain everything about the
electrical impulses leading from the muscles to the brain, and within the
brain itself they had figured out how the neurons fired the impulses that
resulted in such actions as my raising my arm. But what caused those
neurons to act as they did? One could, of course, trace their functioning
to that of constituent atoms and molecules, and then even deeper to
constituent elementary particles, and so on. However, whatever fundamental
level of matter we reach, we are still left with the open question: what
had caused that conglomeration of matter to act as it did, so that that
action eventually resulted in a macroscopically observable manifestation of
my free will?"
        "Bravo! Bravo!" exclaimed Liu and Leonardo in unison.
        "Of course one possible answer is that there is no free will, and
that everything is strictly predetermined from the instant the Universe was
created," said Leonardo. "But in that case, we are all automata, aren't we?
You as well as I."
        "But that point of view, with which some philosophers struggled for
centuries, was empirically refuted with the advent of quantum mechanics," I
said, feeling at last in my element as a quantum cosmologist. "There is a
fundamental indeterminacy in Nature!"

It is this "fundamental indeterminacy" that distinguishes the ideas of
chaos theory from those of quantum theory (although some physicists are
considering the possibility of "quantum chaos.")

I hope these observations will stimulate additional debate about
fundamental issues, and maybe eventually connect this debate with social
science, as suggested by the stipulated subject matter under discussion.

Eduard Prugovecki
Professor Emeritus
University of Toronto

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