Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Laws, Reasons, and Tigers Under My Desk

To recap: my claim is that the sort of spontaneous transitions that occur in quantum systems are a counterexample to the premise that "Whatever changes is changed by something else." In this post I want to consider some of the objections that were raised in the discussion on Dangerous Idea.

The laws of quantum mechanics are the cause of the change. This objection can be dismissed easily. The question is what causes the change to happen at the particular time it happens. QM is silent on this question.

Further, in most philosophical views of physical laws, the laws have no causal efficacy. For instance, we might think of laws as just descriptions of the way things actually behave. But a description of how something happens is not a cause of it happening. So, the moon's orbit around the earth isn't caused by the law of gravity. It's caused by the actual gravity of the actual earth.

Finally, even if we think of physical laws as having some sort of actual existence and causal efficacy, well, the laws of QM exist right at the moment the electron is excited, so by this view the electron should immediately decay. In Aristotelian terms, we are looking for the efficient cause: the thing that brings about the change at the instant it occurs. The laws of physics apply equally to all times; they can't be the reason something happens at some particular time.

(It seems to me that the laws of physics could be considered the formal cause in Aristotelian language. But Feser says that modern philosophers have abandoned formal (as well as final) causes. Does anyone know if laws can, or cannot, be considered formal causes?)

It's a metaphysical premise that can't be contradicted by any possible set of observations. Feser's argument was that, if nothing actualizes the potential, then there's no reason for it to happen at one time rather than another. If this is the basis of the metaphysics response, then you need to somehow justify the idea that there is always a reason for the change to happen when it does. To simply insist that there must be a reason is to beg the question. (It seems that there might be an implicit appeal to the Principle of Sufficient Reason here. Feser doesn't invoke it here, but later in the book he does mention it. But then you need a metaphysical defense of that principle.)

Alternatively, one could argue that the principle follows simply from the definitions of the terms "actuality," "potentiality," and "change." Now, I'm happy to admit that there are probably some definitions of those terms that allows one to deduce the principle from them. But then you are left with the question of whether those definitions have anything to do with the sort of changes we actually see in the world. Unless you're going to be content with a metaphysics that is completely divorced from the world of sense experience, you have to allow our observations to have some say about metaphysical principles.

Yours is just an argument from ignorance. Here the complaint goes something like this: "Just because quantum mechanics doesn't specify any cause for the decay to happen at that time, it doesn't follow that there is no cause. It may be that there are causes of which we know nothing, and which aren't part of the theory of quantum mechanics."

This is a valid point. Just because quantum mechanics (more precisely, relativistic quantum field theory) is the most amazingly well-tested, most accurate, most far-reaching description of the universe that we have ever produced, we can't just conclude that it's the end of the story. Maybe quantum mechanics is incomplete - maybe there is some further, more precise, theory that will tell us about the causes of electron transitions and radioactive decay. (Or even, though such a theory might not be attainable, that there nevertheless are such causes.)

This one requires a rather lengthy response. This very point was raised in a famous paper by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen, who argued in 1935 that quantum mechanics must be incomplete. Discussion of this important claim continues to this very day. An major advance came in 1964, when John Bell showed that (under a very general set of assumptions) any attempt to "complete" quantum mechanics would end up making predictions that differed from those of QM. This led to a series of experiments designed to look for such differences. The upshot: quantum mechanics has come out the winner in every test to date.

This is a long, complex, and on-going discussion. Fortunately, we can bypass the details. We don't need to make all of Bell's assumptions to see that any additional "causes" added to quantum mechanics will result in violations of quantum mechanical predictions.

Let's suppose that there is some physical property - something not included in the quantum mechanical description - that determines for each atom exactly when the electron will decay. Call it property A. Since property A is a physical property, it must have some physical effect. If it has some physical effect, then it must be possible to separate out systems with one value of property A from systems with some other value. That is, we can use property A as a filter. (I'm borrowing this filter idea from the brilliant Von Neumann.)

Applying this filter, we separate out a subset from our original set of identically prepared atoms. This subset, having a physical difference from the original set, will have a measurably different set of physical properties. (If it doesn't, then there's no point in considering property A to be a real, physical property. If this "property" makes no measurable difference in the world, in what sense is it a real physical property?) Thus, this subset will violate the rules of quantum mechanics.

Now, I put it to you that the 100-year history of successful predictions of quantum mechanics strongly suggests that there are no such additional physical properties. To call this an "argument from ignorance" is just absurd. It's an argument from "we've looked really really hard for this and haven't found anything like it ever." (Is there a tiger under my desk? "No, I just looked and didn't see one." "But that's an argument from ignorance!")

So, quantum mechanical processes give us strong reason to doubt the premise that "Whatever changes is changed by something else."

86 comments:

  1. Hidden variables. They are hidden precisely because they cannot be measured. They are "physical" in that they, supposedly, exist, physically. It's a question of metaphysics - what is the world behind the physics like?

    I don't believe that hidden variables is the correct metaphysics. It's seems... opposed to Occam and unaesthetic.

    Regardless of whether hidden variables is true or not, however, the existence of valid non-hidden-variables interpretations of QM gives us a strong reason to *doubt* the premise that "Whatever changes is changes by something else", which is a rather dogmatic premise that shouldn't be part of any skeptical metaphysics anyway.

    Yair

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  2. It's not just an argument from ignorance but an "Atheist-of-the-gaps" argument as well.

    For example:
    >Now, I put it to you that the 100-year history of successful predictions of quantum mechanics strongly suggests that there are no such additional physical properties.

    So what is to stop me from pulling Paley's "god" out of my arse and saying "He-did-it"?

    Now regular experience shows us "Whatever changes is changed by something else". There is no sufficient reason to depart from that. Now a Thomist unlike the followers of Paley has no need to fill this particular Gap with Paley's anthropomorphic idol. We are content there might be a non-local purely natural cause for the quantum events. Or a non-local hidden variable.

    But the philosophical concept, such as it is, for an Uncaused change is simplt not coherent anymore then 2+2=5 is coherent. Ascombie showed that.

    Cheers.

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    1. "Now regular experience shows us 'Whatever changes is changed by something else'."

      But regular experience does not tell us that "Whatever changes is changed by one other thing." The A-T argument depends on this straight-line, theoretical one-to-one correspondence.

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  3. Admittedly, this is not as bad as the usual atheist nonsense you see when one tries to object to Theism but it’s still sub-par.

    First of all, just because contemporary philosophers do not like formal cause that does not entail that it doesn’t exist. I think that much is clear. So yes, the formal cause pretty much destroys your objection to the first argument not to mention that the efficient cause may simply be probabilistic in nature, which also destroys your claim.

    Your second claim would violate the PSR as you seem to understand, if you want to go down that rabbit hole then kiss coherence and science goodbye. Not only is the PSR metaphysically true it would be impossible to even make sense of anything without it. There have been many brilliant defenses of the PSR, none of which have successfully been undermined. And metaphysics does not device us from the world, but grounds it. Unless you are committed to some form of crude empiricism (which is self-refuting) then there is no way or need to juxtapose physics with metaphysics. This is just an error on your part.

    As far as the third point is concerned you have not adequately responded to it.

    So in sum, if this was an attempt at refutation that what is changed is changed by another, it's an utter failure. Not to mention that you beg the question on several issues.

    A word of advice, it is impossible even in principle to refute the law of causality empiricially. How on earth can that even be done? Well apart from muddleheaded thinking and irrational inferences as seen in this article of course. So appealing to QM to make such incoherent claims does the atheist no favors.

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  4. Ben wrote: Now regular experience shows us "Whatever changes is changed by something else". There is no sufficient reason to depart from that.

    If you're a physicist, quantum phenomena have long been part of "regular experience." (Also if you're not a physicist, you just haven't been aware of it.)

    If 100 years of solid scientific evidence isn't "sufficient reason" to change your way of thinking.... well, I know some folks who think the world is only 6000 years old that you might like to meet.

    Reference for Ascombie, please?

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    1. Sorry Prof Oeter,

      I meant Elizabeth Anscombe, sorry for my bad spelling for which I am (in)famous for all over the internet.

      We made reference too her paper taking down Hume on causality. Go back to the original dangerous mind tread for details.

      >If you're a physicist, quantum phenomena have long been part of "regular experience." (Also if you're not a physicist, you just haven't been aware of it.)

      I don't really see how this overthrows the universal empirical evidence we have for the principle and like I said the argument that QM overthrows the first way is no better than an ID argument except without god-belief. I don't think you can overcome this deficiency. But it's a free country yo are welcome to try which goes without saying.

      Besides Heisenberg seemed to believe QM vindicated on a certain level the old philosophy.

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/09/heisenberg-on-act-and-potency.html

      >If 100 years of solid scientific evidence isn't "sufficient reason" to change your way of thinking.... well, I know some folks who think the world is only 6000 years old that you might like to meet.

      Rather if I believe Heisenberg(who knew quite a bit of philosophy unlike most of your modern physicists these days & had Platonic sympathies) we have come full circle.

      Feser has responded to some of your critiques. Go check it out. He has also praised you as I did over at dangerous minds blog for you serious treatment of the subject.

      I knew I had a good feeling about you. Nice to see I am not alone.

      One piece of advice, remember as you candidly admitted to Crude, grodregez and myself. You are not an expert in philosophy. You must be open to learn philosophy.

      Mind you I am not asking for belief in God. Only being open to learn classic philosophy.

      Cheers and good luck.

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  5. above: I wonder if you even read what I wrote. I'm asking about the efficient cause, NOT the formal cause. As I wrote, I'm happy with idea that the laws of QM are the formal cause of the phenomenon. But what's the efficient cause?

    On the PSR, the SEP article I linked starts out

    "The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle..."

    Notice the word "controversial"? Apparently not all philosophers agree with you on this one.

    On my not having responded adequately: You haven't responded adequately to my not responding adequately for me to respond adequately to this comment.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Above,

    What is the "law of causality" and why should I believe it? Also, please do not appeal to experience as you have declared empirical evidence as irrelevant to this "law". Thanks.

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  8. I honestly expected something more substantive than this. Playing games are we?

    Appealing to 100 years of science gets old, especially since that has no bearing on the argument. 100 years of QM does not show that something is actualized without an adequate cause. That's just an error (or maybe wishful thinking on your part) than anything else.

    If you accept formal cause then the case is closed and your argument fails. In regards to efficient causality what I am assuming you are looking for is an a type of Humean cause which deals only with a prior state of affairs (an impoverished notion of causality that makes little sense) since you are so fixated on why decay occurs at a particular time and not another. Like I said, the argument has already failed with you conceding the formal cause of QM so the appeal to the efficient cause you are making is superfluous. But even if it were not the case, you are still only requesting a proximate efficient cause, not an originating efficient cause, further crippling your claims about event's being uncaused. Finally, the nature of QM may very well be probabilistic so no such proximate cause is required to actualize at this moment as opposed to that. Once again, your argument fails.

    You can call the PSR controversial all you like, but the fact is, without it things would be unintelligible, starting from the very words you utter in response to my previous comments. Not to mention that science would be in ruins. If that's the direction you want to take that's fine.

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  9. Oh good grief...

    Please don't tell me that you're resorting to solipsim now that I've proved you wrong.

    Look, if you don't want to believe in causality that's your choice but how on earth are you going to make sense of anything, especially empirical science is what I would like to know?

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  10. Also, what I said is that it's impossible to prove that there are uncaused things empirically.

    Perhaps you'd like to share with us an experience you've had where something came into existence uncaused?

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    1. "Also, what I said is that it's impossible to prove that there are uncaused things empirically."

      But we don't really have to. All we need is doubt. If there is doubt the A-T philosopher cannot legitimately start with the First Principle he must.

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    2. But what if I doubt your doubt?

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    3. I have no doubt you will. But maybe the talk of "necessary" truths will slowly evaporate under the pressure of a little more doubt.

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    4. But what if you doubt the idea there are no necessary truths?

      If there are "no necessary truths "then is that truth necessary?

      If so then you have either a blatant contradiction or an argument from special pleading.

      If not then it too will slowly evaporate under the pressure of a little more doubt.

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    5. "If there are 'no necessary truths' then is that truth necessary?"

      Not for me. I can't speak for everyone.

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    6. Or, maybe we (the human species) cannot explain truth "adequately" enough?

      (I posit this ... subjective terms like "adequately" will never be resolved in the mind of an observer looking for 100% adequacy equal to the total sum of and verified by their individual knowledge?)

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  11. above,

    What is the "law of causality" and how do you know it's true?

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  12. It's nice to see medieval dogmatism alive and well in our times. Well, "nice".

    The PSR is not needed to conduct science or talk. Denying the PSR does NOT imply that there is never a reason, only that some things have no reason.

    Specifically, QM implies that there is no reason for why an atom decays at a particular time and not another (or so on). That's just how the theory works. You can embellish the basic theory with hidden variables, but that's adding in causes by hand. At the very least, QM (specifically, quantum cosmology) gives us a good cause to DOUBT that things in our universe have an ultimate cause - since we don't know the standard interpretation is wrong. (All causal chains of anything of importance - like the existence of our sun, or Earth - dwindle down to uncaused quantum fluctuations eventually.)

    Furthermore, there is no actuality that pushes the atom to change its potentiality (i.e. decayed state) to actuality - it is just in the atom's nature to change actualities now and then; it is in everything's nature.

    Old Aquinas is quite right that whatever is in actuality cannot be, at the same time and in the same respect, in potentiality. But there is no logical impediment for the object to change its actuality, for no reason whatsoever - and it turns out that that's exactly what is going on.

    Ultimately, the idea that "Whatever changes, is changed by something else" is either bad physics or dogmatic metaphysics.

    Yair

    P.S. A word on 'formal' causes - one can maintain that the laws of physics provide "forms" that matter fits in, but these forms do NOT provide a reason for why the atom decays when it does. They merely provide reason for why the atom will, very likely, decay eventually. This does not serve the argument, for it is not necessarily the case that the existence of something (say, hawking radiation) is due to a different formal cause (hawking radiation arises when particles randomly pop into existence near an event horizon; it is not caused by some other particle that's already there).

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    1. >Specifically, QM implies that there is no reason for why an atom decays at a particular time and not another (or so on).

      Or that there is no reason that we can observe. Like I said if this silly "Atheism-of-the-gaps" argument is valid then why can't I pull Demblinki's neo-Paley "god" out of my arse and say "He did it"?

      This is just argument from ignorance. It's no better then a primitive man who has no knowledge of weather science telling you rain is caused by either the "gods" or "magic".

      Yours is the "magical" explanation here.

      The problem with the idea a potency can be made actual caused by nothing is it is rationally incoherent like 2+2=5. Thus there is sufficient reason to reject it unless you believe in "magic".

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    2. Ben,

      What observation would convince you, our even just make you suspect suspect, that an event has no cause?

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    3. You question is the moral equivalent of asking me "What observation would convince you, our even just make you suspect suspect that 2+2=5?".

      Now if we lived in a hypothetical alternate universe with freaky physical laws that whenever I took a set of two objects & added it to another set of two objects a fifth object where created spontaneously out of the Cosmic Aether.

      That still would not be an observation of 2+2=5. It would be an observation of (2+2)+1=5. It would be a freaky alternate Universe with the property of +1. But 2+2=5 is still logically incoherent therefore impossible.

      An uncased event is of the same nature. You have to make the philosophical case otherwise.

      Yeh good luck with that.

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    4. So it is impossible for an event to occur without a cause?

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    5. Pretty much like 2+2=5 is impossible even in the weird alternate universe I mentioned.

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    6. "You have to make the philosophical case otherwise."

      And how do you make the "philosophical" case (outside observation) that all events need an external cause? You cannot. You rely on what you think is true empirically in this universe. But it now appears that what you assumed was true (empirically) of the nature of this universe may not be true.

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    7. How do you know it is impossible?

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    8. >How do you know it is impossible?

      How do you know 2+2=5 is impossible? You can't use empiricism or positivism since like in my example of the freaky universe (2+2)+1=5 but 2+2=5 would still be false.

      >And how do you make the "philosophical" case (outside observation) that all events need an external cause?

      The formula is what ever is changed is changed by another. Natural we know that first by observation then the intellect knows it and understands it.

      >You cannot. You rely on what you think is true empirically in this universe.

      But our senses observe change and our intellect knows it and conceives it.

      Our intellects can't logically comprehend either uncaused events or 2+2=5 since they are illogical and irrational.

      >But it now appears that what you assumed was true (empirically) of the nature of this universe may not be true.

      Really?

      A virtual particle appears from the Quantum vacuum.

      djindra Atheist/skeptic: It's un-caused!!!!!

      William Dembinski neo-paley ID Theist: God did it!

      Meanwhile the Thomist *sighs* and shakes his head.

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    9. 2+2=4 is true by definition. "4" is just another way of saying 2+2.

      But "every event has a cause" is not true by definition.

      "Our intellects can't logically comprehend either uncaused events"

      Bullshit.

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    10. Richard Dawkins: The modern human form evolved over millions of years by natural selection.

      Young Earth Creationist with a potty mouth: Bullshit!

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    11. >But "every event has a cause" is not true by definition.

      The formula is "Whatever is changed is changed by another".

      Why is it not true?

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    12. Ben,

      Stop being an idiot. Just try and have a conversation.

      That 2+2=4 is not a controversial.

      But The PSR and "the principle of causality" are. If it was true that "our intellects can't logically comprehend either uncaused events" then we would not be having this conversation.

      But we are having this conversation. This is not a settled matter in philosophy.

      Why do I think the principle is not true? Because multiple quantum events seem to occur uncaused. So that observation casts doubt on the principle.

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    13. >stop being an idiot. Just try and have a conversation.

      This is how I converse & I take no prisoners.

      "I live! I Love! I Slay and I am content!"-Conan

      >That 2+2=4 is not a controversial.

      What does that have to do with anything? Learn philosophy
      and dispute with me.

      >But The PSR and "the principle of causality" are. If it was true that "our intellects can't logically comprehend either uncaused events" then we would not be having this conversation.

      This is like saying to Richard Dawkins "If evolution where really true then nobody would dispute it". I dare any stupid Theist or Atheist who is looking for a laugh to try that one on him and see what happens.

      >But we are having this conversation. This is not a settled matter in philosophy.

      Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Jerry Fodor are all Atheists who disagree on Evolution.

      Roger Penrose vs Stephen Hawkings? Nuff said!

      What does this have to do with the argument.

      >Why do I think the principle is not true? Because multiple quantum events seem to occur uncaused. So that observation casts doubt on the principle.

      If you choose to believe that then that's fine but that is still "Atheism-of-the-gaps"and you are simply Dembinski without god-belief.

      But you have to explain to me how you can logically comprehend an uncaused event.

      I can comprehend Something causing something. Even if I can't comprehend the something's nature directly. But I can't logically comprehend nothing causing something because from nothing nothing comes.

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    14. That last reply was a mess. Even by the low standards I expect from you.

      That some quantum events seem to occur uncaused has nothing to do with atheism.

      .......

      It was YOU that made the comparison to 2+2.

      I would never be so idiotic as to say that evolution is true in the same way 2+2=4 is true.

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    15. >That some quantum events seem to occur uncaused has nothing to do with atheism.

      If my satire bugs you oh well then. No accounting for taste.

      Never the less it is a "gap" argument to take nature phenomena we don't fully understand & shove either Paley's "god" or Hume's god "uncaused event" into it.

      It's a bad argument regardless of what you ultimately believe or disbelieve in.

      >It was YOU that made the comparison to 2+2.

      >I would never be so idiotic as to say that evolution is true in the same way 2+2=4 is true.

      My point is a Young Earth Creationist can ignore the logical & scientific arguments for evolution with the word "bullshit". He can remain ignorant and not read anything beyond what he receives from ICR. He can refuse to argue.

      The New Atheist can do the same with Classic Philosophy as well as philosophy in general.

      Neither holds their worldview intelligently & both are mindless dogmatists.

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    16. Ben,

      You are the only dogmatist here.

      I think this is the problem between us. I give more weight to what we actually observe in the world, while you give more weight to how you think the world should work based on your arm chair navel gazing.

      You have admitted that you will believe "everything that changes is changed by another" no matter what observations we make.

      I, meanwhile, change my mind based on evidence.

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    17. @BI

      >I think this is the problem between us. I give more weight to what we actually observe in the world, while you give more weight to how you think the world should work based on your arm chair navel gazing.

      Rather the difference between us is I don't hold your reflexive dogmatic either/or mentality.

      I give equal weight to what I observe in the world and to intellectively working out what it means and what are the logical implications of it & what can be infired about it's being.

      I believe both science and philosophy are the keys to natural knowledge. I would believe this even if I stopped believing in God tomorrow & in which case I would be a more rational Atheist then you appear to be now.

      You believe in science/empiricism alone. Why? That concept can't be shown to be true scientifically/empirically & you need to learn philosophy to even begin to justify it. But of course Positivism crashed and burned during the 50's. AG Flew gave it up at the height of his Atheism.

      >You have admitted that you will believe "everything that changes is changed by another" no matter what observations we make.

      I don't recall admitting that. Indeed what kind of observation would I have to make to conclude something is un-caused?

      Or better yet what kind of observations would I have to make that either Paley's "god" or an invisible Pink Unicorn caused something?

      Well you and Prof Robert are both telling me it would look like a quantum event.

      How is that "evidence"? It's still a "gap" argument.

      >I, meanwhile, change my mind based on evidence.

      So do I. But what philosophical evidence or argument have you made show me that it is possible to conceive of an "un-caused event"?

      I'm still waiting for you to give something other than the Atheist version of ID?

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    18. "But what philosophical evidence or argument have you made show me that it is possible to conceive of an "un-caused event"?"

      I don't know what you mean. It is quite easy for me to conceive of uncaused event. I'm not sure why you cannot.

      Now you seem to have changed your tune.

      What observation would make you abandon "whatever changes is changed by another"?

      I have never made any statement committing me to scientism. Rather, if a scientific finding conflicts with some metaphysical intuition, then I'll go with the observation every time. For you it seem the opposite.

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    19. >I don't know what you mean. It is quite easy for me to conceive of uncaused event. I'm not sure why you cannot.

      Do you concieve it or merely imagine it? Because sure I can imagine a ball appearing on a table and labelling it in my mind "uncaused" but that is merely the title of the picture in my mind.

      How is that concieving it? Because when I convieve of nothing I abstract away all of reality and logically conclude there is nothing to cause anything. I can't concieve of nothing causing anything because there is nothing to cause anything. The logic is as unescapable as 2+2=4.

      >Now you seem to have changed your tune.

      I am still singing the same old song.

      >What observation would make you abandon "whatever changes is changed by another"?

      The question is still in my mind according to logic no different then asking me what observation would make me abandon "2+2=4" and make me believe "2+2=5".

      >I have never made any statement committing me to scientism. Rather, if a scientific finding conflicts with some metaphysical intuition, then I'll go with the observation every time. For you it seem the opposite.

      Give me an example of that sometime other then Robert's quantum "gap" argument & I will take it under advisement. Tell me how to concieve of an "uncause event" not merely imagine it & you might make an Atheist of me.

      Your turn.

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    20. "I can't concieve of nothing causing anything"

      Nor can I.

      But when an electron decays, the claim is not that "nothing caused it". The claim is that an event occurred spontaneously. An event occurred uncaused.

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    21. >But when an electron decays, the claim is not that "nothing caused it". The claim is that an event occurred spontaneously. An event occurred uncaused.

      This is clearly a distinction without a difference. Like saying "2+2" is not the same as "3+1".

      How do I intellectively conceive of "An event occurring uncaused."?

      What could it look like empirically and again how would it look different from a quantum event caused by Paley gay "god" or the invisible pink unicorn?

      Still waiting?

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    22. BTW for the record I when I call Paley's god "gay" I don't mean gay as in homosexual.

      I mean gay as in Lucas Arts games still hasn't made a Knights of the Old Republic 3 but gave us a gay MMO type gay.

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    23. "What could it look like empirically and again how would it look different from a quantum event caused by Paley gay "god" or the invisible pink unicorn?"

      It would not look differently from an agent that acts randomly. Now use Occam's Razor.

      "To talk intelligibly about modern physics, we have to admit the possibility of uncaused events." - Taner Edis

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    24. >It would not look differently from an agent that acts randomly. Now use Occam's Razor.

      How would that look different from something caused by Paley's "god" or the Invisible pink unicorn?

      Also how would I concieve it intellectively? You keep leaving that out.

      >"To talk intelligibly about modern physics, we have to admit the possibility of uncaused events." - Taner

      Lovely same question.

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    25. I could do a bunch of random shit but it doesn't logically follow I am not the one causing it you see?

      So randomness doesn't save Hume's god the Holy "un-caused event".

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    26. Suppose God acts randomly to cause electrons to decay. That would look exactly like electrons that decay randomly.

      But all we have is the observation. Use Occam's razor.

      Our scientific theories will always be under-determined, it seems to me. That's why we need philosophy too, which provides Occam's Razor.

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    27. So dies Hume's "uncaused event" god.

      You have just refuted Prof Robert's claim Quantum events are "uncaused" and that he has truely given us an example of "Whatever changes is changed by something else." being refuted by science.

      Thanks guy.

      So dies another "gap argument!

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    28. What are you talking about? All I have done is acknowledge that science has nothing to say about undetectable agents that act randomly.

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    29. "So do I. But what philosophical evidence or argument have you made show me that it is possible to conceive of an
      un-caused event'?"

      You forfeit that tactic when you claim God is uncaused.

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    30. "I can't conceive of nothing causing anything because there is nothing to cause anything."

      I say you cannot conceive of nothing in the first place. Nor can you conceive of infinity. So evidently God is not possible because your mind is the gate-keeper of reality.

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    31. "Naturally we know that first by observation then the intellect knows it and understands it."

      We have a miracle. BenYachov and I might actually almost agree.

      The issue that I keep coming around to is this: What if our minds are wrong? What if the way we'd like to observe reality is very good at our level of perception but not quite as good at deeper levels of reality?

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    32. @BI & djindra

      >What are you talking about? All I have done is acknowledge that science has nothing to say about undetectable agents that act randomly.

      Which if true then Prof Robert Oerter's claim here that the science of quantum physics gives us an example of "Whatever changes is changed by something else." being false cannot in principle be correct. Since it would be beyond the power of science


      >You forfeit that tactic when you claim God is uncaused.

      Only if I where to claim God was an "uncaused event" too. That is a potency that is made actual without a cause. Or a "Change" without a cause.
      Sorry but God cannot ever be that & be truely God. Rather God is purely actual meaning He was never a potency & His Divine Nature contains no potency. The only potency that can be associated with God is His unlimited potental to create & actualize any real potency. Thus I do not in fact forfeit anything. Your fallacy of equivocation not withstanding.


      >I say you cannot conceive of nothing in the first place.

      Of course I can. I can conceive of A googol plus one. That is 10 to the 100th power plus one. Granted I could never imagine how it would be to try and count that high or how many numbers that would really be. But I can conceive of it intellectually. Just as I can conceive of anything and everything minus itself and have nothing. It's not hard. Again you are confusing imagining a thing with conceiving a thing.

      > Nor can you conceive of infinity. So evidently God is not possible because your mind is the gate-keeper of reality.

      Same problem as before you commit Hume's error of conflating imagination with intellect. I certainly can conceive of the fact numbers have no upper limit and there is not place in the whole of everything where God is not present. That I can't imagine it isn't relevant.

      >We have a miracle. BenYachov and I might actually almost agree.

      No doubt Hume would spin in his Grave if he knew about Quantum physics.

      >The issue that I keep coming around to is this: What if our minds are wrong? What if the way we'd like to observe reality is very good at our level of perception but not quite as good at deeper levels of reality?

      Then your problem is emotional not intellectual. You problem is a failure to believe in the Reality in front of you. The difference between Heaven vs Hell I think is the choice between seeing mere existence as a blessing vs it being an affliction.

      PS. Wow those where some challenging and dare I say intelligent questions. Not a trace of snark or Gnu Stupidty. From BI & djindra?

      Ok who are you clowns & what have you done with BeingItself & djindra!!!

      Kidding! Just kidding! I kid cause I love!

      Not bad gentlemen.

      Cheers.

      Delete
    33. BenYacov:

      "Or that there is no reason that we can observe."


      Wrong for two reasons.

      First, if you wish to convince a skeptic that there is a reason that we cannot observe, or a fairy in the garden pollinating the flowers - than our dear friend Occam lays that responsibility on you. QM works very well without any additional causes. If you wish to insert any - that's on your head.

      Secondly - Bell showed that no future theory that will be consistent with experimental results will include any observable reasons; there may be hidden reasons, "hidden variables", but that's again just inserting fairies and whatnot by hand.


      "Like I said if this silly "Atheism-of-the-gaps" argument is valid then why can't I pull Demblinki's neo-Paley "god" out of my arse and say "He did it"?"

      It is you who are making an argument of the gaps here. We are pointing to a gap - "there is no cause!". And are content to leave it thus. You are filling the gap "Naah - there is a cause (and it's god!)". This is completely analogous to the classical gap argument - "there is no [scientifically] accepted scenario for the creation of life", "Naah - there is a scenario (and it's god!)". Stop filling in the gaps. As far as we know and can see, there is no cause. Your insistence that our willingness to leave the gap amounts to filling it is laughable.

      "This is just argument from ignorance. It's no better then a primitive man who has no knowledge of weather science telling you rain is caused by either the "gods" or "magic"."

      Coming from someone that apparently does believe rain is ultimately caused by god's magic, that's amusing.

      It's not an argument from ignorance. It's a an appeal to the best explanation, and an argument from knowledge + Occam's razor.

      "Yours is the "magical" explanation here."

      Causation is "magical" when it just "occurs", magically. Like when your God supposedly has the magical "power" to actualize things. Uncaused events aren't magical; they are simply indeterminstic, rather than deterministic, changes in a system's physical state.

      "The problem with the idea a potency can be made actual caused by nothing is it is rationally incoherent like 2+2=5.

      You are trapped by your scholastic metaphysics, insisting on considering things from the point of view of Nothing doing things (which is indeed incoherent) or of potentiality doing things (which is again incoherent).

      The simple truth is that the actual state changes, and that we characterize this change and describe it. Some of these changes we can describe through things we call "causes", some of these changes not. At no point is "nothing" entering the picture, nor is it truly the case that "nothing" or "potentiality" or even "the atom" actualizes anything. All that really happens is that the state changes.

      I know that denying that "Whatever changes is changed by something else" is coherent because I, and other physicists, work on precisely such changes every day, in far more rigorous ways than your scholastic philosophy's poor attempts at it. We consider the thing's potentialities (phase space), it's actuality (state, or distribution), and it's change. Some of the changes are due to interactions or measurements from outside; others, however, are not. Some of the changes have sufficient causes; others, however, do not. Your empty metaphysics is denied again and again.

      Feel free to cling to your dogmatic beliefs. Just don't expect us to respect them.

      Yair Rezek

      Delete
    34. "Which if true then Prof Robert Oerter's claim here that the science of quantum physics gives us an example of "Whatever changes is changed by something else." being false cannot in principle be correct. Since it would be beyond the power of science"

      Do you think science gives us certainty? All scientific theories are under-determined. It could always be the case that undetectable gremlins are mucking with things.

      Somehow, science plods on. Without reference to gremlins. Or gods.

      I did not realize how clueless you were about philosophy of science.

      Delete
    35. Shalom,

      >First, if you wish to convince a skeptic that there is a reason that we cannot observe etc,

      Sorry but it's simply not rational to make "un-caused" the default position you hold without any proof. Especially since the whole of science is a history of the observation of causality. This is an example of fairies in the garden you are giving me. Not the rational inference that there is some natural hidden variable.

      Rain works pretty well without a primitive pre-scientific man knowing about condensation but that doesn't mean rain is caused by "the gods" or "magical un-caused events".

      It is you who are wrong.

      >Secondly - Bell showed that no future theory etc..

      So it's Scientific dogma that Bell can never be questioned? Well even if we may never learn the cause because it's a non-local hidden variable the universal presence of causality in nature compels a natural non-local hidden variable as the cause rather then some magical "un-caused" explanation as the uncritical dogmatic fall back point.

      But hay if you want to believe "magic" causes QM be my guest. You see it's the skeptic who is the Magic-user here not the advocate of causality.

      read it
      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/10/magic-versus-metaphysics.html

      Delete
    36. >It is you who are making an argument of the gaps here.

      No I am merely making a rational inference from observing the universal presence of causality in nature that there is likely a non-local hidden natural cause. "Gap" theorists Atheist or Theist, try to put either "un-caused magic" or Paley's "god" or the invisible pink unicorn in the cracks in nature that science hasn't filled for them.

      As a Thomistic Theist I find "gap" arguments to be weak and pathetic defenses for belief in any respectable idea of God. If I drop those arguments (& I do) I don't think it is wise for Atheists to pick them up to make their case for events being un-caused. Even if we live in a godless universe that is simply a brute fact and common sense.

      >We are pointing to a gap - "there is no cause!". And are content to leave it thus.

      Based on the near universal wide spread experience of causality a proper scientific attitude is "we don't as yet know the nature of the cause".

      >you are filling the gap "Naah - there is a cause (and it's god!)".

      You do realize I don't in anyway believe there is a supernatural cause behind quantum events right? I say that to mock the magic you Atheists throw into this "gap" & I mock the followers of Paley as well.

      Delete
    37. >This is completely analogous to the classical gap argument - "there is no [scientifically] accepted scenario for the creation of life",

      Well Essentialist Philosopher David Oderberg argues philosophically (not scientifically) life couldn't have a natural cause given it's essential nature. Though he is tentative about this conclusion.

      In principle I could reject him. Historically scientists in the middle ages believed in Spontaneous Generation. But the thing is they didn't believe Spontaneous Generation was a supernatural phenomena. They believed it was a natural one. They believed some types of matter inherently had life generating properties. In short Spontaneous Generation was an early attempt at postulating Abiogenesis for them.

      As a Thomist I don't need to believe primitive life was created by a supernatural act. I can believe in abiogensis. I am a Thomist not some God cursed Paley follower.

      Your one size fits all anti-religious polemics have no meaning for me.

      >"Naah - there is a scenario (and it's god!)". Stop filling in the gaps. As far as we know and can see, there is no cause. Your insistence that our willingness to leave the gap amounts to filling it is laughable.

      Sorry but saying "there is no cause" is making a positive extraordinary claim for which I am skeptical and will not believe till you give me some scientific or philosophical proof. So far I have seen none of that here. Just dogmatic assertions of your magical un-caused explanation should be the default view. Preposterous! I might as well believe Michael Behe on ID and be done with it(which I won't do).

      So if I see a bunch of horseshoe prints in an area with no horses I should postulate a flying unicorn did it till I produce the horse? Bullshit! If Quantum events don't appear to have a cause then I should assume there is a non-local hidden natural cause. Not some silly claim to un-caused magic!

      You call yourselves scientists? HA!! Witchwigger wannabees the lot of ya!

      >Coming from someone that apparently does believe rain is ultimately caused by god's magic, that's amusing.

      again sorry no.

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/10/magic-versus-metaphysics.html

      Delete
    38. >It's not an argument from ignorance. It's a an appeal to the best explanation, and an argument from knowledge + Occam's razor.

      So horseshoe prints in an area without any apparent horses? I should assume the best explanation is a flying unicorn till I produce a horse or similar natural four legged animal as an explanation? I should likewise assume a magical un-caused event as an explanation for Quantum phenomena rather then a non-local hidden variable natural cause?

      Right! Sure pal! Let me know when Elvis gets here.

      >Causation is "magical" when it just "occurs", magically. Like when your God supposedly has the magical "power" to actualize things.

      So you believe in magic as an Atheist but mock others who are theists for believing in magic? Thank you. You have proven my point. This explanation of Prof Oerter's is magical.

      >Uncaused events aren't magical; they are simply indeterminstic, rather than deterministic, changes in a system's physical state.

      In Thomism causality need not involve prior causation especially in a top-down essential series. So indetermicy is not relevant. Aristole was an indeterminist.
      It's not incompatible with either Thomism or causality. A lack of prior causality does not equal being un-caused. For example simultaneous causality.

      >You are trapped by your scholastic metaphysics, insisting on considering things from the point of view of Nothing doing things (which is indeed incoherent) or of potentiality doing things (which is again incoherent).

      You are trapped in your Humean metaphysics. As Atheist philosopher David Stove said Hume was an irrationalist & so are you it seems.

      Even Daniel Dennett said "There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination."

      Most modern physicists are philosophical illiterates. But I do give kuddos to Prof Oerter for admitting up front back on Victor's blog he doesn't understand philosophy. So even thought most of his analysis here has flaws I don't hold it against him since I hope he will learn.

      You OTOH? QUOTE"insisting on considering things from the point of view of Nothing doing things".(which is indeed incoherent)

      Yet you believe in magical un-caused events instead of unknown hidden natural non-local causes? Weird?

      Delete
    39. >The simple truth is that the actual state changes, and that we characterize this change and describe it. Some of these changes we can describe through things we call "causes", some of these changes not.

      That is correct. Therefore it is irrational to fill the later "gap" with magical "un-caused events" as the explanation. Sorry but Occam's Razor here screams for unknown unobserved non-local natural causes. Not atheist magic or even Paley "divine" Magic.

      As a Thomist and on behalf of any rational Atheists who might join me I insist on it in the name of reason.

      >At no point is "nothing" entering the picture, nor is it truly the case that "nothing" or "potentiality" or even "the atom" actualizes anything. All that really happens is that the state changes.

      My name is not Lawrence Krauss. I don't believe nothing can do anything. I don't believe "nothing" can enter a picture since there is nothing to enter it.

      >I know that denying that "Whatever changes is changed by something else" is coherent because I, and other physicists, work on precisely such changes every day, in far more rigorous ways than your scholastic philosophy's poor attempts at it.

      Physicists make poor philosophers unless they get a professional education in philosophy. Which is rare. You are clearly trapped in your Scientism. Which is an even more incoherent philosophy then your unexamined latent Humean metaphysics.

      >We consider the thing's potentialities (phase space), it's actuality (state, or distribution), and it's change. Some of the changes are due to interactions or measurements from outside; others, however, are not. Some of the changes have sufficient causes; others, however, do not. Your empty metaphysics is denied again and again.

      In other words there are no observable horses here therefore an invisible pink un-caused unicorn fills this gap or that bitch Paley will do it with his god cooties and we must get their first?

      Really there is no difference between you two.

      >Feel free to cling to your dogmatic beliefs. Just don't expect us to respect them.

      Sorry but if I had no belief in God I would have zero respect for your magical un-caused unicorn explanation here. Which is what this claim amounts too.

      Otccum's razor screams hidden non-local variables & natural causal events. There is simply no scientific way to prove something is un-caused.

      At best it's a question for philosophy and when you learn some good Atheist philosophy come and talk to me.

      Till then it's smoke an mirrors.

      Delete
    40. Ben,

      Take some time and actually learn something. Read about Bell's theorem. You can start here.

      http://www.drchinese.com/David/Bell_Theorem_Easy_Math.htm

      Delete
    41. BI

      Thanks but I have no reason to believe Quantum events are caused by hidden local variables.

      I have been saying "non-local" for a reason.

      Non-local hidden variables don't violate Bell Theorem.

      But of course that doesn't mean I believe Bell should never be questioned.

      Delete
    42. BenYachov,

      "Only if I where to claim God was an 'uncaused event' too. That is a potency that is made actual without a cause."

      I don't see much difference there. You've looked but cannot find a cause for God, so you assume there isn't one. Oerter has looked but cannot find a cause for spontaneous transitions of electrons, so assumes there isn't one. If you can complain of him that he hasn't looked hard enough, surely I can complain that you haven't looked hard enough. Both his and your positions defy our common sense understanding of cause and effect.

      Delete
    43. "I can conceive of A googol plus one."

      But that's not infinity. Any number you can conceive of, we can add one to it. That's still not infinity. As a Thomist you know I'm right on this. You claim you must refer to God's attributes in an analogous way because we cannot conceive of those infinite attributes.

      For nothingness, I think you only imagine you can conceive of it. You surely cannot use words or thoughts to "conceive" of something that by definition can have none of either.

      Delete
    44. "Your problem is a failure to believe in the Reality in front of you."

      I think that accusation is more properly directed at you. I don't deny the reality I'm seeing (or not seeing). I'm not refusing to see a possible contradiction between what I'd like to believe and what reality is showing of itself.

      Delete
    45. BenYachov,

      With your deterministic view of things, how do you explain free will? It seems to me that will has to be uncaused or self-caused to be free at all. Btw, I do believe in free will.

      Delete
    46. >I don't see much difference there.

      You don't see the difference between a potency which is made actual without another actualizing agent vs something that is already purely actual and was never a potency nor contains any potency?

      That is because you are not trying & you have no response.

      >But that's not infinity. Any number you can conceive of, we can add one to it.

      And I can concieve of numbers not having any upper limit or end. At this point the rest of your responses are to pretend there is no difference between imagining something vs concieving it making those equivocatons and hoping I don't notice.

      You should know me better then that.

      >You claim you must refer to God's attributes in an analogous way because we cannot conceive of those infinite attributes.

      No djindra when comparing God to creatures we must do so in an analogous way. I can certainly know that numbers have no upper limit they keep going and will never stop and I certainly can concieve God having no limit but naturally I can't imagine it.

      I can't concieve of every number at once since there are an infinite amount of them but I can know they don't end. I can't concieve of the whole of the Divine Nature but if I could it won't be God.

      As too free will I hold Brian Davies view. That is an interesting topic for future discusson maybe we will get to it sometime but not now. That is too much on my plate. BTW I am not a determinist. I don't see how every cause has to be temporally prior. Especially given God's A-temporal nature.

      Delete
    47. BenYachov,

      "You don't see the difference between a potency which is made actual without another actualizing agent vs something that is already purely actual and was never a potency nor contains any potency?"

      This is the difference I see: While in both cases the seeker is looking for a reason a change happens, in one case the seeker will be satisfied with nothing less than hard evidence and admits he has none, in the other case the seeker is satisfied with rhetoric (labeling "uncaused cause" as "pure actuality" -- a so-called logical necessity but really a theological necessity).

      This is the similarity I see: In neither case has evidence been found.


      "At this point the rest of your responses are to pretend there is no difference between imagining something vs conceiving it making those equivocations and hoping I don't notice."

      As far as the truth value of a proposition goes, there is no difference between imagining and conceiving. Men once conceived that the earth was the center of the universe. It turns out they conceived wrong.

      Delete
    48. That's not an answer. You had suggested something being purely actual and thus whose existence was un-caused was equivalent to the concept of an un-caused event.

      I have shown logically why this claim of yours in incorrect and incoherent.

      Falling back to Rah! Rah! Positivism! Rah! Rah! Empiricism! is not an answer nor can it be one.

      Sorry.

      Delete
    49. "You had suggested something being purely actual and thus whose existence was un-caused was equivalent to the concept of an un-caused event."

      You like to think you've shown "logically" that God is purely actual. But as I've said before, your argument is based on false assumptions and false analogies. Besides, it ends in a definitional (and emotional) first cause, not a logical one. So I assert, to follow your plan of attack, that you merely imagine an uncaused God. You cannot conceive of it any better than I can conceive of an uncaused universe.

      Delete
  13. Dr. Oerter,

    I hope you continue to read, because the Second Way, discussed in TLS after the argument from motion, provides some possible answers to your objection. And Feser goes down this route in his "Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide" as well. That to account for change, you also have to account for the very existence of the things doing the changing. So for an atom to decay spontaneously in the first place, it has to exist. And it's existence is actualized by...?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Dr Oerter,

    You write:

    "[The subset of atoms with a given value of property A], having a physical difference from the original set, will have a measurably different set of physical properties. (If it doesn't, then there's no point in considering property A to be a real, physical property. If this "property" makes no measurable difference in the world, in what sense is it a real physical property?) Thus, this subset will violate the rules of quantum mechanics."

    I am not sure why consider the possibility of A making no measurable difference. It has been defined as a property that predicts the moment of radioactive decay; surely this is measurable? Or do you mean that we need to be able to preselect the atoms having the proper value of A before they decay, and to do so, A must me measurable in some way other than by observing the radioactive decay? If so, I agree.

    I strongly disagree that what you describe would be a violation of QM (unless you define 'violation' in a trivial manner). Let's call by T the theory that contains A as a part of its framework. Then T would supersede QM. QM would be a theory that we get from T if we forget that A is a physical property and indeterminacy of QM would be purely epistemic. T would no more violate QM than classical mechanics violates classical thermodynamics. The relation of QM to T would be similar to the relationship of TD to CM (both TD and CM are of deterministic, but this is irrelevant to my point). For example, In the framework of thermodynamics there is no concept of molecule and therefore any of the corresponding properties --- say molecular mass.

    Secondly, you write that the following is reasonable:

    1. I've looked under my desk and found no tiger.
    ---
    2. There's no tiger under my desk.

    I agree. However, this analogical argument is surely not reasonable:

    1'. I've looked under my desk and found no virus.
    ---
    2'. There's no virus under my desk.

    Now, both arguments are not logically valid. Once we provide the unstated premise:

    0. If there was a tiger under my desk and I looked under the desk, I would find the tiger.

    it is clear why the tiger argument is sound and the virus one is not --- (0) is true while corresponding (0') is false. Your argument is

    1. We've looked really hard for properties that would necessitate the radioactive decay and haven't found them.
    ---
    2. There (probably) are no such properties.

    The argument is only as strong as its major premise:

    0. If there were such properties and we looked for them, we would have (probably) already found them.

    However, you've given no support for (0). Would you perhaps try to do so? This is the crucial point --- are these properties more like the tiger from your argument, or more like the virus from the analogical one. Until (0) is supported, the argument is not strong at all.

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    1. Until (0) is supported, the argument is not strong at all.

      But until we find such properties the A-T argument for a simple "chain of causation" is not strong either. (Actually, it's not strong anyway.)

      Delete
  15. @ Robert Oerter

    You're missing the bigger picture here - namely, that the scientific evidence simply does not support materialism.

    Merriam-Webster defines "materialism" as "a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter."

    Quantum mechanics holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic. Therefore, "matter is NOT the only or fundamental reality."

    Quantum mechanics holds that there is neither a physical explanation for quantum indeterminsm nor for quantum entanglement. Therefore, "all being and processes and phenomena can NOT be explained as manifestations or results of matter."

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    1. Alastair, notice that I'm not arguing for materialism. I'm just looking at Feser's presentation of the First Way, and asking if quantum mechanics has any relevance to it.

      As I pointed out in a comment on a previous post, if you define "supernatural" in a certain way, then quantum mechanics is proof of the supernatural. But it's a very strange sort of supernatural: one that restricts itself to a very narrow range of action (defined by the Schroedinger equation).

      Delete
    2. @ Robert Oerter

      > Alastair, notice that I'm not arguing for materialism. I'm just looking at Feser's presentation of the First Way, and asking if quantum mechanics has any relevance to it.

      As I pointed out in a comment on a previous post, if you define "supernatural" in a certain way, then quantum mechanics is proof of the supernatural. But it's a very strange sort of supernatural: one that restricts itself to a very narrow range of action (defined by the Schroedinger equation).
      <

      Aquinas' "Primary or First Cause" argument (which relies on the metaphysical categories of "potentiality and actuality") actually implies physical indeterminism (i.e. it implies that not every physical event has a physical cause.)

      Professor Feser argued in his book that the "nervous system [is] actualized by its molecular structure, which in turn is actualized by its atomic structure, etc. - what we have is the POTENTIAL existence of one level ACTUALIZED by the existence of another, which is in turn actualized by another, and so forth." (emphasis mine)

      (source: pg. 96, "The Last Superstition" by Edward Feser)

      He then goes on to argue that the regress must stop somewhere and where it stops is with a "Pure Act." Of course, this "Pure Act" is the "Primary Cause or First Cause or Uncaused Cause" (a.k.a. God).

      So, if the "nervous system [is] actualized by its molecular structure, which in turn is actualized by its atomic structure" (pg. 96), which in turn is actualized by its subatomic structure, which in turn is actualized by what?

      At some point God is actualizing the physical constituents upon which everything depends. And this "actualizing" is none other the creative act itself.

      So, what is the standard interpretation of QM actually saying? That all matter reduces to "potentiality that is being actualized uncaused."

      Delete
  16. A good set of question, Jan.

    I don't think it matters much whether we look at the filter as a pre-selection process or a post-selection process. We could, for instance, use the time of decay itself as the filter. Select all the atoms in which the decay occurs between (say) 1 ns and 2 ns after the excitation. If property A has any physical meaning, then this subset will have some physical difference from the full set. Maybe something about the photon, or the atom, or the relationship between the two: SOMETHING must be different. If not, then the hypothesized property A has no physical meaning.

    Obviously, the same sort of thing occurs if property A is used for pre-selection.

    On your second point: For certain physical states (e.g. pre-selected ones), T and QM make different predictions. If the predictions of T are correct, those of QM are incorrect. In this sense, the truth of T entails violations of QM.

    To be specific, suppose we have found a filter that lets us pre-select those atoms that will decay between 1 ns and 2 ns after the excitation. QM, not knowing anything about property A, predicts a different lifetime: say 5 ns. So if we measure the lifetime and find 1.5 ns, we have found a violation of QM.

    (Note that these violations will also show up "downstream": a device built assuming the QM lifetime will fail to function properly, and so on.)

    On your last point, the tiger/virus example is very nice. Are we more in the tiger situation or the virus situation with respect to QM? It's possible, of course, that we just haven't discovered the right sort of filter yet.

    Can I support (o) any better? Certain types of "property A"s have been definitively ruled out: EPR-Bell local hidden variables, that is. And here you see the problem with answering your challenge: you can only say if we (probably) would have found them if you have some idea of how these hypothetical properties would behave. Bell's accomplishment was astounding: he ruled out not just a single specific theory but an entire class of theories. (And, I might add, a class that includes essentially all successful non-quantum physics theories.)

    Beyond that, I can only point to the fact that QM has continued to work over scales of increasingly large energy and small distance: ten orders of magnitude! Without discovering any violations of its predictions in detail or in downstream effects.

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  17. Dr Oerter, thanks for the detailed reply.

    "If property A has any physical meaning, then this subset will have some physical difference from the full set."

    It has a physical difference alright --- the time at which its members will decay! One might object that this is only a difference of behaviour and not of constitution or structure. This is however the way in which many physical properties are introduced. Suppose I discover that by performing some actions on objects I can make them attract some and repel other objects. I then pick one object at random and define the property of having positive electric charge as repelling the chosen object and and the property of negative electric charge as attracting the chosen object. This might have been be all there is to it and the definition of the (sign) of electric charge would still be valid. If A is defined purely by the time of decay, a method for pre-selecting the atoms before the decay would of course be needed so that the theory has predictive power.

    "For certain physical states (e.g. pre-selected ones), T and QM make different predictions. If the predictions of T are correct, those of QM are incorrect. In this sense, the truth of T entails violations of QM."

    This is very important as the only argument supporting the crucial premise (0) of the main argument. I maintain that it is either trivially true or false, depending on what is meant by 'different predictions'. The predictions of the two theories would be consistent in the following sense. If, queried for the result of some experiment, QM yields a probability density function r and T being a deterministic theory yields result p, then ( r(x) = 0 ) => ( x != p ). In other words, if QM says something can't happen, T agrees. In particular, if QM gives a deterministic prediction (i.e. a delta probability distribution), then T gives the same prediction.

    "To be specific, suppose we have found a filter that lets us pre-select those atoms that will decay between 1 ns and 2 ns after the excitation. QM, not knowing anything about property A, predicts a different lifetime: say 5 ns. So if we measure the lifetime and find 1.5 ns, we have found a violation of QM."

    This is true, however let me emphasize one point: "QM, not knowing anything about property A, predicts a different _expected_ lifetime". The differences between QM and T will be in values that are derived from (non-delta) probability distributions --- like expected value, variance, etc. This reflects the fact that T knows more about the physical system and the for example variances it predicts will be smaller. The whole point is that the indeterminacy of QM would be purely epistemic.
    Compare an essentially deterministic physical system like one used to draw lottery results. This system is so volatile that with our current ability to measure the initial conditions and the computational power that we posses we can say nothing about the system at all --- we model the results by a uniform probability distribution. Now, suppose someone develops a way to measure the initial conditions sufficiently well to make deterministic predictions about the system. Both models differ for example in variance: the first one is non-zero, and the second is zero. Would you therefore say that the deterministic model contradicts the probabilistic one? I would say it doesn't, it is simply more precise because it knows more about the system in question.

    Illustrating the point by a dialogue (or perhaps a morality play):

    QM: The result will be 5 or 7. I do not see which one, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed. 5 seems more likely though.
    T: Right-ho QM, it will in fact be 7. Don't be downhearted, you'll get there one day.

    (continued)

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  18. (continued)

    "(Note that these violations will also show up "downstream": a device built assuming the QM lifetime will fail to function properly, and so on.)"

    A device would not cease to work if T replaced QM as our best available theory. It would cease to work if it was fed a set of particles with a different distribution of the hypothetical property A than QM, and therefore the design of the device, assumes. That such devices work properly implies the stream of particles does not spontaneously segregate with respect to A. This is the same conclusion that we draw from other experiments. The conclusion you are after is however that such a property does not exist at all.

    "And here you see the problem with answering your challenge: you can only say if we (probably) would have found them if you have some idea of how these hypothetical properties would behave."

    I certainly see the problem. One cannot of course expect an argument of quality equal to the Bell theorem for all possible super-theories T of QM. It would be confusing standards of proof required by philosophy and mathematics. Nevertheless, a philosophical argument needs to be given. You will agree that the strength of the argument rests on (0). Would you agree that support for (0) is not strong and consequently the argument is not strong?

    [The longest comment of my life, hope it's digestible]

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  19. Jan, I see your point (I think), but I'm not sure you're seeing mine. Namely, that any such effects will be seen in experiments as violations of QM.

    To use your example, if QM says "5 or 7" and an experimenter finds that under conditions X, she ONLY gets 7, she will say "I've found a violation of QM! QM says I'll get 5 50% of the time, and I'm getting it 0% of the time."

    But, to reiterate Don Jindra's point, the issue is not really whether the case for (o) is strong. It is whether the case for "There is always an explanation of when a change occurs" is strong. My argument is that if there are common situations where, according to our best current understanding of physics, there is no explanation for when the change occurs, then that case is very weak.

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  20. "To use your example, if QM says "5 or 7" and an experimenter finds that under conditions X, she ONLY gets 7, she will say "I've found a violation of QM! QM says I'll get 5 50% of the time, and I'm getting it 0% of the time.""

    I see what you mean and I agree. I just think that 'violation' is not the best word if such violation would be accompanied by a new theory T for which QM is a special case. Let's leave this for now.

    "My argument is that if there are common situations where, according to our best current understanding of physics, there is no explanation for when the change occurs, then that case is very weak."

    By 'there is no explanation for when the change occurs' do you mean 'there is no explanation in principle for when the change occurs' or 'we currently do not have an explanation for when the change occurs'?

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    1. Well, we currently don't have an explanation. And that's enough to throw doubt on Feser's claim that there is always an explanation, which is all I really need.

      I do think it's possible that there is, in principle, no explanation for when the decay occurs - that QM is telling us about some fundamental limit on the kinds of knowledge we have. Of course, I can't prove that. And I'm open to the idea that "no explanation" is simply IMPOSSIBLE, as the AT crowd maintains. But I've yet to see a convincing argument for it.

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    2. >And I'm open to the idea that "no explanation" is simply IMPOSSIBLE, as the AT crowd maintains. But I've yet to see a convincing argument for it.

      Where have any of us ever claimed that? Or are you making an equivocation between the concept of an "un-caused event" being intrinsically impossible(like 2+2=5) with the extrinsic impossibility of knowing anything beyond our current level of scientific knowledge & competence?

      For example it is extrinsically impossible for a pre-scientific primitive man to know about condensation. But it's not intrinsically impossible since overtime intelligent being might discover science.

      We might someday advance in science and learn more about the decay of particles but we will never make a machine that can truly make 2+2=5. Given the metaphysics of an "un-caused" event that too is intrinsically impossible.

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    3. I would add even if we don't ever obtain the scientific level of advancement needed to solve the quantum riddles directly that does not exclude us from making rational inferences. But the inferences must be themselves rational possibilities.

      I could say a winged unicorn made the horseshoe footprints in the remote area of the world where there are no horses.

      But I couldn't say the prints where made by a four legged horse who has four legs and four legs only but at the same time is a five legged horse who has five legs and five legs only since that would be a logical contradiction & impossible to convince.

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  21. One of Feser's responses I cite and bolder the reverent parts.

    QUOTE" Well, obviously we’ll have to wait until this later post to see exactly what he thinks this reason is; until then Oerter hasn’t really given us any reason to doubt the principle of causality. But even before he gives it, it is hard to see what such a reason might be. What does Oerter have in mind by a “mechanism,” the presence of which is incompatible with the accuracy of QM? Does he mean something acting deterministically? The principle of causality doesn’t require that. It requires only that a potency be actualized by something already actual; whether that something, whatever it is, actualizes potencies according some sort of pattern --deterministic or otherwise -- is another matter altogether.

    (The Scholastic holds, after all, that God caused the world, but does not hold that divine causality is deterministic, or probabilistic, or in some other relevant way comparable to the sort of causality one finds in physical systems.)

    Indeed, showing that there cannot be any strict incompatibility between the accuracy of QM and the principle of causality is a pretty trivial task. Laplace and Maxwell had their demons, so to this grand tradition of thought experiments in physics, I’ll add my own. Consider Feser’s demon, who knows QM and causes electrons to transition between levels in a pattern consistent with what he’s read in his physics textbooks. Here we have a cause which (a) actualizes the potential of the electron to be at this level or that and (b) does so in a way consistent with the predictive accuracy of QM.

    (For the dumber-than-usual New Atheist reader out there about to rush over to the Richard Dawkins Foundation combox to fill in the gang on Feser’s latest outrage, I suppose I ought to emphasize that I am not saying that any such demon exists, any more than Laplace or Maxwell were. Nor am I saying that the electron transition has a supernatural or preternatural cause of any sort. Indeed, I am saying nothing at all about what the cause of the electron transition might be. I am merely making the narrow point that there is no conflict between the accuracy of QM and the claim that the transition has some cause or other.)END QUOTE

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  22. It’s nice to see ignoramuses like yair pretend to understand metaphysics and philosophy.

    First off, as it has been argued to death. Without the PSR science is dead. One wouldn’t even know where to begin if that was the state of affairs. We wouldn’t even know how to distinguish between those things that conform to the PSR and those that don’t. And even if we tried to make the distinction even in principle we would need the PSR to do it. But hey, you guys just follow yair to intellectual and scientific oblivion.

    Second, the QM does not imply that there is no reason why the electron decays at this time or another and having a probabilistic cause is precisely the type of response that destroys this pseudo-argument of the atheist. The atheist thinks that he can simply request a deterministic cause and based on his unwarranted request proclaim victory for his so-called objection. The cause itself may well be indeterministic in regards to the element of time but that does not mean that there is no cause. To claim otherwise is just ridiculous.

    Third, yair says that there is no actuality that causes the electron to decay. That is simply false. The very structure of the quantum field is what is already actual. But hey, scientism and false abstractionism can create all sorts of magical sci-fi scenarios for the atheist. Moving on.

    Fourth, he then repeats that the atom changes for no reason without proof. Just another foolish argument based on ignorance. “Hey guys, we don’t know why it decays at this time or another (still ignoring that the cause may be probabilistic to sustain his atheistic wish-fulfillment) so that means THERE IS NO CAUSE LOL! Locigal fallacy meet yair, yair meet logical fallacy.

    Fifth, he then tells us that it’s in THE NATURE OF THINGS. Oh dear… Did he just appeal to formal causes and the classical principle of causality? IT’S IN THE NATURE OF ALL THINGS HE SAYS! Without realizing it he undermined his entire thesis and his very own ideology. Quite amusing that his exit strategy is an appeal to the very metaphysic he is trying to attack is it not?

    In conclusion the idea of whatever changes is changed by another is a metaphysical principle without which reality becomes unintelligible. Not only that, it is corroborated by every aspect of science and is necessary for science to even operate. It seems that yair is more willing to commit intellectual suicide than abandon his naturalistic faith.
    In his PS he then reiterates the same nonsense once again, this time however blatantly shows how awful his understanding of philosophy is. He says that the laws of physics cause matter to “fit” into things… Oh dear… What to even make of that? The pertinent question however is whether to cry or to laugh at such blatant display of anti-intellectualism and ignorance.

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  23. As far as oerter's argment is concerned it fails miserably. I don't understand how after being refuted by myself a plethoral of people on dangerous idea as well as Feser hiself he still continues with his flawed "logic".

    The pseudo-argument can be summed up as an atheism-of-the gaps as noted by other users. The fallacy of ad ignorantiam. He appeals to the fact that we don't know something therefore it doesn't exist. Not to mention that many physicist have already made interesting cases that QM reveals the limits of our scientific knowledge (i.e. beyond a certain point it may very well be impossible for us to penetrate further) and our overall knowledge in general. Nothing in the history of thw rold has ever corroborated an uncaused event. Even worse for his alleged argument is the fact that it is impossible even in principle for someone to observe an uncaused event and since his argument is purely empirical it is ultimately meanigless. Wishful thinking, materialistic superstitions, atheist delusions, call it what you like. ;)

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