Monday, July 30, 2007

The Entropy Paradox

Our resident ignoramus, Touched By A Stone, has weighed in on my comments on Steve’s previous post about the Entropy Paradox. Never one to let knowledge get in the way of his vitriol, T-Stone has accused me of being “thoroughly confused” and presenting “pure hooey.”

This despite the fact that (as I told T-Stone) I was presenting arguments from Brian Greene in The Fabric of the Cosmos. Greene happens to be a physicist. T-Stone happens to be dimwitted. Which one wins this contest?

T-Stone says:
Parsimony isn't a statistical evaluation, it's an evaluation of *economy*.
Unfortunately for T-Stone:
The notion of entropy was first developed during the industrial revolution by scientists concerned with the operation of furnaces and steam engines, who helped develop the field of thermodynamics. Through many years of research, the underlying ideas were sharply refined, culminating in Bolzmann’s approach. His version of entropy, expressed concisely by the equation on his tombstone [S = k log W], uses statistical reasoning to provide a link between the huge number of individual ingredients that make up a physical system and the overall properties the system has.

Greene, Brian. 2004. The Fabric of the Universe. New York: Vintage Books p. 151 (emphasis in bold added)

To carry on with Greene’s thought:

…[I]magine unbiding a copy of War and Peace, throwing its 693 double-sided pages high into the air, and then gathering the loose sheets into a neat pile. When you examine the resulting stack, it is enormously more likely that the pages will be out of order than in order. The reason is obvious. There are many ways in which the order of the pages can be jumbled, but only one way for the order to be correct. …A simple but essential observation is that, all else being equal, the more ways something can happen, the more likely it is that it will happen. And if something can happen in enormously more ways, like the pages landing in the wrong numerical order, it is enormously more likely that it will happen….

Entropy is a concept that makes this idea precise by counting the number of ways, consistent with the laws of physics, in which any given physical situation can be realized. High entropy means that there are many ways; low entropy means there are few ways. If the pages of War and Peace are stacked in proper numerical order, that is a low-entropy configuration, because there is one and only one ordering that meets the criterion. If the pages are out of numerical order, that is a high-entropy situation, because a little calculation shows that there are [Greene then writes a number that continues for the next page and a half which only a masochist would reproduce here]—about 10 ^ 1878—different out-of-order page arrangements.

(ibid, pp. 151-153, all italics his)
Naturally, there are some differences between this and physics:

Of course, in making the concept of entropy precise and universal, the physics definition does not involve counting the number of page rearrangements of one book or another that leave it looking the same, either ordered or disordered. Instead, the physics definition counts the number of rearrangements of fundamental constituents—atoms, sub-atomic particles, and so on—that leave the gross, overall, “big-picture” properties of a given physical system unchanged. As in the example of War and Peace, low entropy means that very few rearrangements would go unnoticed, so the system is highly ordered, while high entropy means that many rearrangements would go unnoticed, and that means the system is very disordered.

For a good physics example, and one that will shortly prove handy, let’s think about [a] bottle of Coke… When gas, like the carbon dioxide that was initially confined in the bottle, spreads evenly throughout a room, there are many rearrangements of the individual molecules that will have no noticeable effect. For example, if you flail your arms, the carbon dioxide molecules will move to and fro, rapidly changing positions and velocities. But overall, there will be no qualitative effect on their arrangements. The molecules were spread uniformly before you flailed your arms, and they will be spread uniformly after you’re done. …By contrast, if the gas were spread in a smaller space, as it was in the bottle, or confined by a barrier to a corner of the room, it has significantly lower entropy. The reason is simple. Just as thinner books have fewer page reorderings, smaller spaces provide fewer places for molecules to be located, and so allow for fewer rearrangements.

But when you twist off the bottle’s cap or remove the barrier, you open up a whole new universe to the gas molecules, and through their bumping and jostling they quickly disperse to explore it. Why? It’s the same statistical reasoning as with the pages of War and Peace. No doubt, some of the jostling will move a few gas molecules purely within the initial blob of gas or nudge a few that have left the blob back toward the initial dense gas cloud. But since the volume of the room exceeds that of the initial cloud of gas, there are many more rearrangements available to the molecules if they disperse out of the cloud than there are if they remain within it. On average, then, the gas molecules will diffuse from the initial cloud and slowly approach the state of being spread uniformly throughout the room. Thus, the lower-entropy initial configuration, with the gas all bunched in a small region, naturally evolves toward the higher-entropy configuration, with the gas uniformly spread in the larger space….

The tendency of physical systems to evolve toward states of higher entropy is known as the second law of thermodynamics. (The first law is the familiar conservation of energy.) As above, the basis of the law is simple statistical reasoning: there are more ways for a system to have higher entropy, and “more ways” means it is more likely that a system will evolve into one of these high-entropy configurations. [I note in passing that this is the third time Greene has used “statistical reasoning” in regards to entropy; perhaps T-Stone should e-mail him to correct Greene’s obvious stupidity!] Notice, though, that this is not a law in the conventional sense since, although such events are rare and unlikely, something can go from a state of high entropy to one of lower entropy. When you toss a jumbled stack of pages into the air and then gather them into a neat pile, they can turn out to be in perfect numerical order. You wouldn’t want to place a high wager on its happening, but it is possible. It is also possible that the bumping and jostling will be just right to cause all the dispersed carbon dioxide molecules to move in concert and swoosh back into your open bottle of Coke. Don’t hold your breath waiting for this outcome either, but it can happen.

The large number of pages in War and Peace and the large number of gas molecules in the room are what makes the entropy difference between the disordered and ordered so huge, and what causes low-entropy outcomes to be so terribly unlikely. If you tossed only two double-sided pages in the air over and over again, you’d find that they landed in the correct order about 12.5 percent of the time. With three pages this would drop to about 2 percent of the tosses, with four pages it’s about .3 percent, with five pages it’s about .03 percent, and with 693 pages the percentage of tosses that would yield the correct order is so small—it involves so many zeros after the decimal point—that I’ve been convinced by the publisher not to use another page to write it out explicitly. Similarly, if you dropped only two gas molecules side by side into an empty Coke bottle, you’d find that at room temperature their random motion would bring them back together (within a millimeter of each other), on average, roughly every few seconds. But for a group of three molecules, you’d have to wait days, for four molecules you’d have to wait years, and for an initial dense blob of a million billion billion molecules it would take a length of time far greater than the current age of the universe for their random, dispersive motion to bring them back together into a small, ordered bunch. With more certainty than death and taxes, we can count on systems with many constituents evolving toward disorder.

(ibid, pp. 153-157, italics his)
Now that we have established how unlikely it is for even one Coke bottle's worth of carbon dioxide to randomly form out of a high entropy situation, it is time for the paradox:

Earlier, we introduced the dilemma of past versus future by comparing our everyday observations with properties of Newton’s laws of classical physics. We emphasized that we continually experience an obvious directionality to the way things unfold in time but the laws themselves treat what we call forward and backward in time on an exactly equal footing. As there is no arrow within the laws of physics that assigns a direction to time, no pointer that declares, “Use these laws in this temporal orientation but not in reverse,” we were lead to ask: If the laws underlying experience treat both temporal orientations symmetrically, why are the experiences themselves so temporally lopsided, always happening in one direction but not the other? …

Notice that in our discussion of entropy and the second law, we did not modify the laws of classical physics in any way. Instead, all we did was use the laws in a “big picture” statistical [there’s that word again, T-Stone] framework: we ignored fine details…and instead focused our attention on gross, overall features…. We found that when physical systems are sufficiently complicated (books with many pages, fragile objects that can splatter into many fragments, gas with many molecules), there is a huge difference in entropy between their ordered and disordered configurations. And this means that there is a huge likelihood that the systems will evolve from lower to higher entropy, which is a rough statement of the second law of thermodynamics. But the key fact to notice is that the second law is derivative: it is merely a consequence of probalistic reasoning applied to Newton’s laws of motion.

This leads us to a simple but astounding point: Since Newton’s laws of physics have no built-in temporal orientation, all of the reasoning we have used to argue that systems will evolve from lower to higher entropy toward the future works equally well when applies toward the past. Again, since the underlying laws of physics are time-reversal symmetric, there is no way for them even to distinguish between what we call the past and what we call the future. …Thus, not only is there an overwhelming probability that the entropy of a physical system will be higher in what we call the future, but there is the same overwhelming probability that it was higher in what we call the past. …

This is the key point for all that follows, but it’s also deceptively subtle. A common misconception is that if, according to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy increases toward the future, then entropy necessarily decreases toward the past. But that’s where the subtlety comes in. The second law actually says that if at any give moment of interest, a physical system happens not to possess the maximum possible entropy, it is extraordinarily likely that the physical system will subsequently have and previously had more entropy. …With laws that are blind to past-versus-future distinction, such time symmetry is inevitable.

That’s the essential lesson. It tells us that the entropic arrow of time is double-headed. From any specified moment, the arrow of entropy increase points toward the future and toward the past. And that makes it decidedly awkward to propose entropy as the explanation of the one-way arrow of experiential time.

Think about what the double-headed entropic arrow implies in concrete terms. If it’s a warm day and you see partially melted ice cubes in a glass of water, you have full confidence that half an hour later the cubes will be more melted, since the more melted they are, the more entropy they will have. But you should have exactly the same confidence that half an hour earlier they were also more melted, since exactly the same statistical reasoning implies that entropy should increase toward the past. And the same conclusion applies to the countless other examples we encounter every day….

Toward this end, imagine it’s 10:30 p.m. and for the past half hour you’ve been staring at a glass of ice water (it’s a slow night at the bar), watching the cubes slowly melt into small, misshapen forms. You have absolutely no doubt that a half hour earlier the bartender put fully formed ice cubes into the glass; you have no doubt because you trust your memory. And if, by some chance, your confidence regarding what happened during the last half hour should be shaken, you can ask the guy across the way, who was also watching the ice cubes melt (it’s a really slow night at the bar), or perhaps the video taken by the bar’s surveillance camera, both of which would confirm that your memory is accurate….

But as we’ve seen, such entropic reasoning—reasoning that simply says things are more likely to be disordered since there are more ways to be disordered, reasoning which is demonstrably powerful at explaining how things unfold toward the future—proclaims that entropy is just as likely to have been higher in the past. This would mean that the partially melted cubes you see at 10:30 p.m. would actually have been more melted at earlier times; it would mean that at 10:00 p.m. they did not begin as solid ice cubes, but, instead, slowly coalesced out of room-temperature water on the way to 10:30 p.m., just as surely as they will slowly melt into room-temperature water on their way to 11:00 p.m.

No doubt, that sounds weird—or perhaps you’d say nutty. To be true, not only would H2O molecules in a glass of room-temperature water have to coalesce spontaneously into partially formed cubes of ice, but the digital bits in the surveillance camera, as well as the neurons in your brain and those in the brain of the guy across the way, would all need to spontaneously arrange themselves by 10:30 p.m. to attest to there having been a collection of fully formed ice cubes that melted, even though there never was. Yet this bizarre-sounding conclusion is where a faithful application of entropic reasoning—the same reasoning that you embrace without hesitation to explain why the partially melted ice you see at 10:30 p.m. continues to melt toward 11:00 p.m.—leads when applied in the time-symmetric manner dictated by the laws of physics. This is the trouble with having fundamental laws of motion with no inbuilt distinction between past and future, laws whose mathematics treats the future and past of any given moment in exactly the same way….

Math and intuition concur that if there really were fully formed ice cubes at 10 p.m., then the most likely sequence of events would be for them to melt into the partial cubes you see at 10:30 p.m.: the resulting increase in entropy is in line both with the second law of thermodynamics and with experience. But where math and intuition deviate is that our intuition, unlike math, fails to take account of the likelihood, or lack thereof, of actually having fully formed ice cubes at 10 p.m., given the observation we are taking as unassailable, as fully trustworthy, that right now, at 10:30 p.m., you see partially melted cubes.

This is the pivotal point, so let me explain. The main lesson of the second law of thermodynamics is that physical systems have an overwhelming tendency to be in high-entropy configurations because there are so many ways such states can be realized. And once in such high-entropy states, physical systems have an overwhelming tendency to stay in them. High entropy is the natural state of being. You should never be surprised by or feel the need to explain why any physical system is in a high-entropy state. Such states are the norm. On the contrary, what does need explaining is why any given physical system is in a state of order, a state of low entropy. These states are not the norm. They can certainly happen. But from the viewpoint of entropy, such ordered states are rare aberrations that cry out for an explanation. So the one fact in the episode we are taking as unquestionably true—your observation at 10:30 p.m. of low-entropy partially formed ice cubes—is in fact in need of an explanation.

And from the point of view of probability, it is absurd to explain this low-entropy state by invoking the even lower-entropy state, the even less likely state, that at 10 p.m. there were even more ordered, more fully formed ice cubes being observed in a more pristine, more ordered environment. Instead, it is enormously more likely that things began in an unsurprising, totally normal, high-entropy state: a glass of uniform liquid water with absolutely no ice. Then, through an unlikely but ever-so-often-expectable statistical fluctuation, the glass of water went against the grain of the second law and evolved to a state of lower entropy in which partially formed ice cubes appeared. This evolution, although requiring rare and unfamiliar processes, completely avoids the even lower-entropy, the even less likely, the even more rare state of having fully formed ice cubes. At every moment between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., this strange-sounding evolution has higher entropy than the normal ice-melting scenario…and so it realizes the accepted observation at 10:30 p.m. in a way that is more likely--hugely more likely—than the scenario in which fully formed ice cubes melt. That is the crux of the matter.

(ibid p.157-165, italics his)
Brian Greene includes a note here that illustrates even more clearly how absurd T-Stone has been in questioning what I previously wrote:

Remember, on pages 152-53 we showed the huge difference between the number of ordered and disordered configurations for a mere 693 double-sided sheets of paper. We are now discussing the behavior of roughly 10^24 H2O molecules, so the difference between the number of ordered and disordered configurations is breathtakingly monumental. Moreover, the same reasoning holds for all other atoms and molecules within you and within the environment (brains, security cameras, air molecules, and so on). Namely, in the standard explanation in which you can trust your memories, not only would the partially melted ice cubes have begun, at 10 p.m., in a more ordered—less likely—state, but so would everything else: when a video camera records a sequence of events, there is a net increase in entropy (from the heat and noise released by the recording process); similarly, when a brain records a memory, although we understand the microscopic details with less accuracy, there is a net increase in entropy (the brain may gain order but as with any order-producing process, if we take account of heat generated, there is a net increase in entropy). Thus, if we compare the total entropy in the bar between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. in the two scenarios—one in which you trust your memories, and the other in which things spontaneously arrange themselves from an initial state of disorder to be consistent with what you see, now, at 10:30 p.m.—there is an enormous entropy difference. The latter scenario, every step of the way, has hugely more entropy than the former scenario, and so, from the standpoint of probability, is hugely more likely.
(ibid. p. 165 note)
So now we can see that when T-Stone offers his “trick question” about two decks of cards and asking which has more entropy, he’s not even in the right playing field. The fact is that the entropy paradox does exist, and scientists do choose the value that is less statistically likely—that is, they trust their observations are correct. In so doing, they continually stipulate that the further back we push time, the less entropy was in the universe, which means that the further back in time we go the less likely it was to have spontaneously arisen this way and the more likely it is that our memories are wrong. But since very few people want to live in a universe where we cannot trust our own experiences, the net result is that scientists ignore the entropy paradox and assume the least parsimonious explanation. To be sure, there have been attempts to imagine how the big bang could have introduced low entropy at the beginning of the universe, but these theories are untestable (and, as T-Stone is so fond of saying, untestability means it’s not science).

Now, T-Stone can certainly feel free to continue to mock me if he wishes, but his protestations do not affect reality. To use a metaphor from the book, he can continue to flail his arms around in the air, but it will not override the reality that the air is uniformly mixed.

24 comments:

  1. Peter,

    You didn't answer the question. Which deck has more thermodynamic entropy, A or B?

    Also, which explanation is favored over the other here with respect to entropy that is both less parsimonious and at empirical parity with the other.

    The *theories* that we have in front of us often have probabilistic or statistical features, but those probabilities/statistical behaviors are not what gets used when appealing to parsimony. If theory A is *de facto* more probable than theory B as an explanation, then it's *not* a matter for parsimony, as A and B are at different epistemic positions, and those positions take precedent in choosing between theories.

    Last, if you understand that entropy increases at the *system* level over time, then by tracing backwards, you would expect that the universe, as a closed system, had the lowest entropy in its history at the beginning, right? At least once the universe got bigger than Planck length, it should have been at a minimus at the earliest point, correct?

    Let me know how you established the probability of the universe beginning at low entropy.

    -Touchstone

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  2. Peter,

    OK, I think I have a handle on some of the points where you are getting confused, after reading your words here several times over.

    I'm not at home, and so don't have access to my copy of Fabric, but just remembering Greene's ideas from the text you excerpted, I think you have your answer in that very Chapter. Greene concludes, as I have here, that the universe must have been in a miminal entropy state at the start, correct?

    And because you understanding "higher entropy" to mean "more probable" in some historical sense, you think that Greene is choosing a "less likely" conclusion (as am I) when he suggest that the universe started off in a state of very low entropy (Seth Lloyd would say *zero* entropy, as it started with a single qubit, for example).

    Hah.

    That's a wide misunderstanding of what is being presented here, by Greene, precisely *opposite* of what Greene is driving at. It is *because* of the "arrow of time" that entropy introduces that we can confidently point back to the beginning as a necessarily lower entropy state. Entropy *is* the "arrow of time", Peter, the symmetry-breaker. Going back in time means that any closed system will have the same or less entropy, because for any system to realize any change in its configuration either incurs no change in entropy (this happens when the system has "bottomed out" and is already at maximum entropy), or some "cost" in terms of more energy in that system that is unavailable for work -- higher entropy.

    Take the ice cube example. Greene isn't suggesting that it's *actually* more likely that the partially-melted ice cubes "coalesced out of room-temperature water". He is suggest that if we don't *begin* with a lower state of entropy -- more energy available for work -- then the "room termperature" water would be natural assumption. But the refrigerator that *made* the ice cubes consumed energy (some of which is exhausted as more entropy in the universe) in the process of putting an amount of water into a state of lower entropy than it was -- tap water from the sink, say, poured into an ice tray.

    So the ice cubes had some "entropic capital", some thermodynamic order applied to them in the process of being made into ice cubes in the refrigerator. But where did the refrigerator get its energy which it used to lower the entropy of the water it made into ice cubes?

    There's your answer, Peter. It *all* traces back -- necessarily -- to lower states of entropy in the system the further back you go. The refrigerator is powered by electricity, which is derived from, say, coal, which is nothing more than a "battery" for storing ancient sunlight. The earth, and all its processes are powered by the energy received by the sun -- the sun "burning" is just a progression over time from low entropy to high entropy, more energy available for work to less energy available for work.

    Where did the sun get it's low entropy, it's "entropic capital"? All of the entropy is "paid for" by a fantastically high initial balance of "low entropy" at the start of the universe. This is Greene's point if memory serves, and it certainly is mine either way. This conclusion isn't a "less likely" choice over a "more likely" choice, because while one state of a system may be accurate said to be "more likely" than another, because there are more ways to achieve that configuration over the other, that's an *abstract* comparison. In the real world, the state of the system is governed by physical laws, laws that constrain the development and subsequent configuration of the system.

    If we start with partially melted ice cubes, then, it's not "more likely" that we *actually* had room temperature water coalescing by itself (quite an improbable thing!) into partial ice cubes. The state of "room temperature water" certainly is statistically more likely than "ice cube" for any given amount of water, but only in the *abstract*, without those states being contextualized into an actual system with an actual history.

    In an *actual* history, causal constraints obtain, and the presence of lower entropy ice cubes is far *more* likely, given the refigerator at the other end of bar -- a machine that creates low entropy ice cubes. We have to account for where the refrigerator got its entopy-lowering capabilites, etc., all the way up the chain, eventually to our sun, and beyond that ultimately to the low entropy minimus of the earliest moments of our universe.

    It's that *history* -- the "arrow of time" -- that Greene is pointing to here, and the reason he argues for a low entropy beginning of the universe. It's not some kind of story-telling or mythologing, which seems to be what you are suggesting. It's *because* the physics at work inexorably *do* go from low to high entropy that we can confidently, mechanistically, point backwards to increasingly lower states of entropy for the universe.

    The cubes then, aren't the *least* bit affected by the abstract notion that "room temperature water" is statistically more common than "ice cubes", all other parameters being equal, because the other parameters are *not* equal. The ice cubes *do* have a lower entropy history, and a higher entropy future.

    Not that this has anything to do with parsimony, which, I repeat, applies when two theories are at empirical parity.

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  3. It's really quite interesting watching T-Stone dance around pretending to address the issue.

    Yes, Greene speculates that the inflationary Big Bang theory might start with low entropy. Yet the reason he gives has nothing to do with science:
    ---
    That the early universe set the direction of time's arrow is a wonderful and satisfying conclusion, but we are not done. A huge puzzle remains. How is it that the universe began in such a highly ordered configuration, setting things up so that for billions of years to follow everything could slowly evolve through steadily less ordered configurations toward higher and higher entropy? Don't lose sight of how remarkable this is. As we emphasized, from the standpoint of probability it is much more likely that the partially melted ice cubes you saw at 10:30 p.m. got there because a statistical fluke acted itself out in a glass of liquid water, than that they originated in the even less likely state of fully formed ice cubes. And what's true for ice cubes is true a gazillion times over for the whole universe. Probabilistically speaking, it is mind-boggling more likely that everything we now see in the universe arose from a rare but every-so-often-expectable statistical aberration away from total disorder, rather than having slowly evolved from the even more unlikely, the incredibly more ordered, the astoundingly low-entropy starting point required by the big bang.

    Yet, when we went with the odds and imagined that everything popped into existence by a statistical fluke, we found ourselves in a quagmire: that route called into question the laws of physics themselves. And so we are inclined to buck the bookies and go with a low-entropy big bang as the explanation for the arrow of time. The puzzle then is to explain how the universe began in such an unlikely, highly ordered configuration.

    (ibid. pp. 175-176)
    ---

    Notice the salient point. The only reason Greene accepts the big bang as a low entropy state is because otherwise he cannot trust the laws of physics. In short, he wants to believe his memories, and that requires him to accept a highly unlikely starting point.

    Furthermore, Greene notes:
    ---
    A common misconception is that the big bang provides a theory of cosmic origins. It doesn't. The big bang is a theory...that delineates cosmic evolution from a split second after whatever happened to bring the universe into existence, but it says nothing at all about time zero itself. And since, according to the big bang theory, the bang is what is supposed to have happened at the beginning, the big bang leaves out the bang. It tells us nothing about what banged, why it banged, how it banged, or, frankly, whether it ever really banged at all.

    (ibid. 272, emphasis his)
    ---

    Finally, after showing that cyclic cosmology among branes was mathematically equivalent in many regards to the common inflationary theory--"Steinhard and Turok argue that the detailed properties of this matter and radiation have a nearly identical profiel to what's produced in the inflationary model" (ibid p. 408, emphasis his)--Greene concludes by stating: "The braneworld scenario and the cyclic cosmological model it spawned are both highly speculative" (ibid, 412).

    The fact is that no one has observed a Higgs field (required for inflationary big bang theory), if the brane theory is correct then all forces (with the exception of the weakest, gravity) are bound to the three-brane we occupy rendering it impossible to ever experience any other branes out there (even if they are a millimeter away from us in the 4th dimension), and strings are so small (Planck length) that it is physically impossible to ever visualize them. This puts all such speculation completely outside of the realm of science completely for these theories not only cannot be tested with modern technology, but if true cannot ever be tested due to the constraints of physical law.

    Finally, you argue that parsimony is not based on a statistical measurement. You cannot be farther from the truth. When we say, "The simplest theory is more likely to be correct" the "more likely" is a dead give away that we are appealing to statistical analysis. This is so obvious as to be elementary.

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  4. By the way, I also have to point out that as a "theistic" evolutionist, T-Stone should have no problem at all accepting that God started the Big Bang. The fact that he doesn't acknowledge this renders his opinion identical to the militant atheists out there.

    Frankly, T-Stone, if you've removed God so far from the picture that He isn't even present at the Big Bang, but instead physical processes could just "make it happen", then what purpose does believing in God serve?

    You have a God who does nothing, who interacts with nothing, who is completely unnecessary. How can you call yourself a theist? Your God is no more real than a unicorn.

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  5. T-stone how does it feel to get repeatedly owned by Peter Pike?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Peter,


    Yes, Greene speculates that the inflationary Big Bang theory might start with low entropy. Yet the reason he gives has nothing to do with science:


    This is the same thing I've been trying to explain to you guys all along: science isn't equipped to answer ultimate, transcendent questions. We reason about *natural* explanations to *natural* phenomena, and when we get to existential limits -- we throw our scientific hands up, and resort to other epistemologies. That's how science works, how it remains effective.

    Greene supposes, as do I, as does the wider science community that entropy as the "arrow of time" implicates a very low entropy (certainly in relative terms, possibly in absolute terms) starting point for the universe. It's *because* of the understanding of the underlying physics and the Second Law that Greene reaches this conclusion.

    This is just like wandering into a room and finding a glass with melting ice cubes in it. Is it *more* likely that some room-temperature water in the glass spontaneously formed into melting cubes than that this is a "lower entropy -> higher entropy" local event, the result of "less-melted" cubes transforming into "more-melted" cubes?

    Given the prospects for room temperature water self-organizing into partially melted cubes, the idea of a low entropy starting point is overwhelmingly recommended. Even if we don't see humans around, or a a refrigerator or any other means of making ice cubes readily at hand, the inference we make is one that obeys "the arrow of time" with respect to entropy and equilibrium.

    As I said above, you chase that far enough back, and you end with a question that science just gives up on, as it's beyond its epistemic frontier: how did the universe come to be, and in such a high energy, low entropy state?

    Science isn't equipped to answer *that*. Greene is *respecting* physics here, which means that the question of "whence all the ordered energy" just gets pushed back further up the chain, to the point where science can't investigate it futher, as it's beyond the empircal horizon.

    Which is to say that scientists like Greene here are well aware of the epistemic limitations of science. It has no means to investigate whether God did or did not exist as a creator/designed of the universe itself. All it can say is that physics is coherent if the model contains a high-energy low-entropy starting point. That's it.

    It's foolish to try and tell me (or Greene, or anyone else) that you have some kind of view of the phase space for the metaverse -- that you have some mathematical understanding of how likely it is that whatever means lead to the creation of our universe either could or could not supply the early universe with a high-energy low-entropy starting point. For all you know scientifically, there may be a completely *fixed* reason why a universe *has* to start out that way.

    But the important point is you have *zero* basis for applying the probabilities here the way you are applying them. Saying the universe at creation should be "high entropy" from the start (or "mid-entropy, or any other configuration) presumes a kind of scientific knowledge that is completely unavailable to us. Unless you have some sort of empirical viewpoint beyond the spatio-temporal confines of our universe, knowledge of the phase space one level *above* our universe, then the application of *probability* is nonsense to the question of universe creation.

    That's what Greene is trying to tell you. Physics extrapolated back beyond (or to) time zero leads to all sorts of conundra. But that's nothing more than saying that physics is *local* to our universe, and is a non-starter for applying to time zero and before. Unless we have some reason to believe that the Second Law transcends the universe itself and is a "Law of the Metaverse", then worrying that it seems the "pre-universe" is statistically unlikely under the "universe" physics is meaningless.

    How did the laws of physics get configured as they are? Science can't tell -- it transcends the scope of science, at least until such time as science can observe, measure, predict and falsify processes, dynamics and phenomena above and beyond the scope of our universe.

    All of which to say: there is no "scientific" reason available to reject or embrace about how the universe got it's initial start. Leonard Susskind in The Cosmic Landscape does what he can with the purely theoretic suggestions he draws from the maths of string theory, but even he admits that even if he's right, there's no way - even in principle -- for us to test or falsify the existence or dynamics of the "landscape", for the most part (he holds out the prospect of some possibly important indirect confirmations, but nothing that would be practicable for a long while into the future for us).

    So, again I ask: what explanation has science adopted that is less parsimonious than a more parsimonious alternative, Peter? You keep avoiding an answer, here. Why? Do you want to ammend your previous claims? Or do you have some knowledge of the phase space for creating universes and how universes get provisioned with their initial energy and entropy configurations that you can point to justify your conclusion?

    -Touchstone

    P.S. This subject is a good example of why there is so much common ground to be had scientifically between different metaphysical commitments. Greene or Susskind may wonder how the universe got its high energy, low entropy starting configuration with a Creator or some other telic force. I see that configuration as the first cause handiwork of the Creator. But for all of us, it's cleanly beyond the scope of science. We can believe and muse and argue about it, but it's all extra-curricular with respect to science.

    ReplyDelete
  7. T-Stone said:
    ---
    It's foolish to try and tell me (or Greene, or anyone else) that you have some kind of view of the phase space for the metaverse -- that you have some mathematical understanding of how likely it is that whatever means lead to the creation of our universe either could or could not supply the early universe with a high-energy low-entropy starting point.
    ---

    And the fact that you are assuming this is what I meant demonstrates your complete inability to read yet again.

    The point is that in this instance scientists choose the least parsimonious explanation. I don't know how many times Greene has to say it: they choose the least likely option. Your claims that science is parsimonious fly out the window here, which was the entire point of the original comment over in Steve's post in the first place. (Seriously, you would help the conversation immensely if you could actually follow your own arguments instead of jumping around all over the place hoping to not look like an idiot.)

    T-Stone said:
    ---
    So, again I ask: what explanation has science adopted that is less parsimonious than a more parsimonious alternative, Peter? You keep avoiding an answer, here.
    ---

    MY WHOLE POST WAS THE ANSWER. There are two options available. A) Either the laws of physics are not accurate as we understand them, or else B) the universe came from a low-entropy starting point. A is more likely than B. It is more parsimonious to accept A than B. Every scientist picks B instead of A. How much clearer could this possible be, T-Stone? Take your fingers out of your eyes and see.

    T-Stone said:
    ---
    Or do you have some knowledge of the phase space for creating universes and how universes get provisioned with their initial energy and entropy configurations that you can point to justify your conclusion?
    ---

    And this just proves your blindness for all to see. The only reason that I would need to have some knowledge of phase space is if we have already determined that B, rather than A, happened. You are begging the question, T-Stone, in favor of B and are then arguing about various parsimonious explanation for B, when *I* am pointing out that A is more parsimonious than B.

    In point of fact, I can simply deny the laws of physics are sufficient to comprehend the universe. Their limitations require supernatural intervention. The fact that the universe "works" despite the fact that the laws of physics if consistently applied would deny this is evidence not that some unlikely event occured, but that the laws of physics are not themselves the be-all and end-all of reality. This argument is far more parsimonious than yours because it does not have to take the spectacularly non-parsimonious leap of holding B over A. It accepts A, and resolves the paradox in a manner consistent with A rather than pretending that our unproven assumptions scientifically lead us to B.

    Even if it is wrong, it is no less scientific to state A over B because, as you've admitted, any speculation on B is not scientific already. Where's your beef then, T-Stone?

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  8. Peter,


    By the way, I also have to point out that as a "theistic" evolutionist, T-Stone should have no problem at all accepting that God started the Big Bang. The fact that he doesn't acknowledge this renders his opinion identical to the militant atheists out there.


    If you read my previous comment, you will see that I attribute the high energy, low entropy initial configuration of the universe to God's first cause creative will. I've always affirmed this, and loudly.


    Frankly, T-Stone, if you've removed God so far from the picture that He isn't even present at the Big Bang, but instead physical processes could just "make it happen", then what purpose does believing in God serve?


    I, like Greene, or anyone else, have *zero* empirical basis for any conclusions about what "physical processes" would lead to the high energy, low entropy initial configuration of the universe. "Physical processes" wouldn't be the right term in any case, insofar as "physical" is attached to *this* universe, with *its* physics -- it would be "meta-physical processes" in any case.

    But as above, I believe God was *intimately*, *solely* involved with the creation of our universe.

    You have a God who does nothing, who interacts with nothing, who is completely unnecessary. How can you call yourself a theist? Your God is no more real than a unicorn.

    I don't know why you'd say that. I understand God to be intimately, personally involved with man. When I read through the Gospel of John, sitting at my desk, I understand the Holy Spirit to be mediating and illuminating, right there, right then. That's a pretty proximal, active and personal involvement if you ask me. I don't know any unicorns that work that way, do you?

    -Touchstone

    ReplyDelete
  9. Peter,


    MY WHOLE POST WAS THE ANSWER. There are two options available. A) Either the laws of physics are not accurate as we understand them, or else B) the universe came from a low-entropy starting point.

    First, the laws of physics are only *approximate* as we understand them, so yes, to some degree they are inaccurate in that they are not complete, or exhuastive.

    But it's our understanding of physics that POINTS to a low-entropy starting point of the universe. And we have NO BASIS for saying that a low-entropy universe is improbable or inevitable: we have no scientific rationale for thinking such a universe is "low porbability" or "high probability", because we cannot see, measure or evaluate the ENCLOSING PHASE SPACE.

    What our understanding of physics tells us is that the physical history makes sense, and comports with the dynamics and processes we see, given a high-energy, low entropy starting point.

    If you believe that a high-energy low-entropy starting configuration is improbable in whatever process created the universe, then show your math! What are the possible configurations for a new universe, and how did the configuration of our universe get selected from the avialable candidates?

    If you can't support this, then you're simply talking smack, Peter. You're welcome to provide your analysis of the universe-creating-phase-space to work yourself out of this bind, but I won't be holding my breath.


    A is more likely than B. It is more parsimonious to accept A than B. Every scientist picks B instead of A. How much clearer could this possible be, T-Stone? Take your fingers out of your eyes and see.


    Do you suppose the Second Law somehow applies to the "metaverse"? Somehow is binding on "extra-universal", transcendent processes? If so, why? This is crazy stuff, Peter. Please show me your math.

    I'd ask for the probabilities of A and B above, but you are confused in thinking they are opposed. The coherence of physical law and a low-entropy initial configuration of the universe GO TOGETHER! Low entropy is what "fuels" the processes and phenomena we see all around us.

    Which takes us, once again, back to the question you are stumbling on: what is the probability that a universe will be high-energy, low-entropy when it is created, and how do you know this, Peter. Seriously, if you can even *approach* a scientific answer to this, and provide *any* statistical grounding for your use of "likely" here, you can expect to be world famous in no time. You will have shot right past the whole of science with your revolutionary insights here!

    So how about. What are the probabilities at work when a universe is getting its initial configuration?

    I say you have no clue regarding what you are discussing here. Here's a chance to prove me wrong.

    -Touchstone

    ReplyDelete
  10. Touchstone,

    Why should I bother to answer irrelevant questions? You have yet to follow the argument at all.

    It is not my words when I say that A is more likely than B. That is a direct quote of Brian Greene. He, at least, has the honesty to admit the problem--something you cannot do. Greene then appeals to speculative theories as an attempt to reconcile it--and he acknowledges them as such. Again, he has the honesty to do what you are incapable of doing.

    By the way, you reveal too much when you say:
    ---
    Do you suppose the Second Law somehow applies to the "metaverse"? Somehow is binding on "extra-universal", transcendent processes? If so, why? This is crazy stuff, Peter.
    ---

    As such, you admit that the laws of physics are not the be-all and end-all of reality, which is exactly what I've said. Suggestion for you: try Hooked on Phonics or something. You need it.

    Again, here's your problem. You keep wanting to jump out of the problem into a meta-universe. The paradox doesn't exist at the meta-universe--it exists in our universe. It is a function of the actual universe and the actual laws of physics. Your jumping to a meta-universe is nothing more than special pleading to avoid the thrust of the paradox.

    The fact of the matter is that you cannot explain why we should consider Greene's theories to be "science" but a theist's theories to be "religion." Why is a religious view considered unscientific? According to you, it's because it's not testable--even in theory--and it's not falsifiable. These two charges apply equally to Greene's (and others) speculations regarding the origin of the universe: they are not testable--even in theory--and they are not falsifiable--even in theory. What is the ontological difference between those claims and religious claims? What makes their claims "scientific" but Thomas Aquinas's (to give an example) views "unscientific"?

    But even all that remains irrelevant. You want to know what the odds are of a high energy, low entropy starting point? Consider how we would determine that.

    We know that lower entropy systems are less likely than higher entropy systems. We furhter know that the lower the entropy is, the less likely these systems are. This is verified by scientific examination and simple statistical analysis. Thus, the prevailing conclusion is that the lower the entropy, the less likely the event.

    In order for this to change, the laws of physics themselves must change. If you stipulate that the beginning universe has a different probability of existing then we are led to by current analysis, then you are the one with the onus to prove why the laws changed back then. It is not encumbant upon me to prove that extrapolating backwards yeilds a low-probability result. This is the given, default position. You, on the other hand, are required to prove why this changed.

    And speculation isn't proof. Speculation is a just-so story.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Peter,

    Why should I bother to answer irrelevant questions? You have yet to follow the argument at all.

    This all started over your claim that science embraced less parsimonious explanation than more parsimonious ones. I've still yet to hear what "less parsimonious" theory has been adopted over against a more parsimonious one. You've gotten confused over ideas of "likelihood" and statistical probabilities, but the question remains: what is it you are referring to when you say that science chooses the less parsimonious choice?



    It is not my words when I say that A is more likely than B. That is a direct quote of Brian Greene. He, at least, has the honesty to admit the problem--something you cannot do. Greene then appeals to speculative theories as an attempt to reconcile it--and he acknowledges them as such. Again, he has the honesty to do what you are incapable of doing.


    It's not a problem to say that science doesn't have the tools to answer ultimate, transcendent, metaphysical questions. It doesn't bother Greene any more than it bothers me, having heard him speak on the issue, and from the words of his books.

    Maybe you can provide a quote from Greene to support what you are saying here? What does Greene propose as a *scientific* theory that explains the initial high-energy, low-entropy configuration of the universe? I do not believe he has advanced or endorsed one. Neither have I, nor will I, since it's an intractable problem for science. It's *beyond* the scope of science's explanatory capabilities.

    I completely agree with what Greene is saying in the quotes you provided: we understand that entropy as the "arrow of time" points us right back to an initial state of high-energy, low entropy. Further, we understand that science cannot explain the initial configuration of our universe, and any beliefs of endorse would be non-scientific, as I said in my previous posts.

    As such, you admit that the laws of physics are not the be-all and end-all of reality, which is exactly what I've said. Suggestion for you: try Hooked on Phonics or something. You need it.

    Ahh, the irony. Does the phrase "natural explanations for natural phenomena" ring a bell, Peter. *I* am the one who has consistently been defending and support the limited scope of scientific epistemology here Peter. *You* guys are the ones committed to corrupting with a charter to carry the burden of ultimate, supernatural, transcendent answers.

    Science is a tool. An extraordinarily effective tool, but a limited tool, all the same. Here again, in the words of Greene, more substance to my argument that science has value in the proximal sense -- once we hit the limits of our natural environment (the universe), science doesn't have much to offer.

    As it should be. Just know that *I* am the one here defending the limits of science, and you have been the one demanding that science be a "be-all", "end-all" answer machine.



    Again, here's your problem. You keep wanting to jump out of the problem into a meta-universe. The paradox doesn't exist at the meta-universe--it exists in our universe. It is a function of the actual universe and the actual laws of physics. Your jumping to a meta-universe is nothing more than special pleading to avoid the thrust of the paradox.


    Are you suggesting that whatever happened that resulted in the creation of our universe is somehow *bound* by the constraints of that created universe? If so, how would you defend that knowledge? On what does that insight rest.

    If God created the universe, do you suppose He is bound by the phyiscal constraints of the universe He created? It's exceedingly odd to hear a Christian complain about "jumping out" of the universe with respect to creation, as God as always been held to be apart from and sovereign over creation, rather than liable to its constraints.

    Right?


    The fact of the matter is that you cannot explain why we should consider Greene's theories to be "science" but a theist's theories to be "religion." Why is a religious view considered unscientific? According to you, it's because it's not testable--even in theory--and it's not falsifiable. These two charges apply equally to Greene's (and others) speculations regarding the origin of the universe: they are not testable--even in theory--and they are not falsifiable--even in theory. What is the ontological difference between those claims and religious claims? What makes their claims "scientific" but Thomas Aquinas's (to give an example) views "unscientific"?


    Greene doesn't claim that any ideas about how the universe got its high-energy, low entropy configuration are *anything* but speculative, no more or less speculative than theological musings about the matter. If I'm wrong, I invite you to provide the quote. He's not claiming such in the quotes you provided, and in fact the "problem" you are confused about is just Greene pointing to this very fact -- at some point, science runs out of scope, and can't be deployed to evaluate the determining factors that underlie trancendent phenomena.

    Really, your words only make sense if I identify that you made the mistake of thinking that Greene supposed the "metaverse" must behave according to the constraints of our physical universe, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to whatever caused our universe to come into existence with the configuration it has.

    I am convinced that you suppose that the "metaverse" is liable to the "more likely" and "less likely" notions that arise from the Second Law. Greene has no basis to suggest this, and is not suggesting this here. Consider that "less likely" is a badly formed concept in thinking about what caused the initial configuration of the universe, in terms of science.


    But even all that remains irrelevant. You want to know what the odds are of a high energy, low entropy starting point? Consider how we would determine that.

    We know that lower entropy systems are less likely than higher entropy systems. We furhter know that the lower the entropy is, the less likely these systems are. This is verified by scientific examination and simple statistical analysis. Thus, the prevailing conclusion is that the lower the entropy, the less likely the event.


    There isn't a "lower entropy system" here -- thermodynamic systems prorgress over time to *states* of higher entropy as energy is lost and made unavailable for work.

    But forget about that, your confusion is much more fundamental. The only way your paragraph works is if you assume that the "metaverse" - the context from which the universe was created - is somehow beholden to the Second Law of Thermodynamics itself. Beyond the confines of our universe, we have no scientific basis for asserting this, or anything else, beyond the observation that our universe appears to have *somehow* started out in a high energy/low entropy configuration.

    Your application of statistical probablity to the phase space of the metaverse is just nonsense, Peter. If you say it's not, then show me how you have established the "physics" -- the physical constraints and dynamics that obtain in the metaverse, or what ever you want to call the enclosing context for our universe.

    When you say, "the less likely event", that is an observation that is scoped to *our* universe, and does not necessarily have *any* application beyond it.

    In order for this to change, the laws of physics themselves must change. If you stipulate that the beginning universe has a different probability of existing then we are led to by current analysis, then you are the one with the onus to prove why the laws changed back then. It is not encumbant upon me to prove that extrapolating backwards yeilds a low-probability result. This is the given, default position. You, on the other hand, are required to prove why this changed.

    And speculation isn't proof. Speculation is a just-so story.


    I'm the one claiming all such ideas are speculative. You are the one telling us what is "more likely" and "less likely" with respect to the initial states of a universe. Are you just speculating about your application of "more likely" or "less likely" in these configurations, Peter, or do you have some knowledge that you might actually defend here?

    And, just for consistency, I ask again which theories you had in mind in saying science chooses less parsimonious theories over more parsimonious theories in some cases? If you or anyone else looks at the history of this discussion, it will be seen that *this* was the main, original issue.

    -Touchstone

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  12. I gotta hand it to ya, T-Stone. You're the only person I know who can consistently take an opponent's statements and assert that you made those statements and the opponent made the contrary statements! I am simply astounded by your skill. You are now even rewriting history, for you say:
    ---
    This all started over your claim that science embraced less parsimonious explanation than more parsimonious ones.
    ---

    Not at all. This started by my showing you that parsimony is not equivalent to truth. Indeed, I argued statistically that if you always choose the parsimonious explanation, you MUST err at times and it will be impossible for you tell when. Then, and only then, did I give an example of a specific time when science does not accept the most parsimonious explanation because it violates the laws of physics...which is exactly what I have established in this post. You want to read this as something completely other than what I wrote, but it is only because your bias does not allow you to ever acknowledge that anything a lowly T-blogger says is correct.

    Readers should note my original comment:
    ---
    The more complicated answer IS possible because it's probability is not 0. Thus, if you always choose parsimony, you are guarenteed to choose wrong at some point. Of course, you'll never know WHEN that was, because the only reason you need to use parsimony is when the evidence isn't sufficient to warrant one claim over another--thus proving that the same evidence stands for both theories (which means that the theory you reject is rejecting for reasons OTHER THAN the evidence).
    ---

    Note that T-Stone disagreed with my statement in the original post:
    ---
    The evidence tells the tale, Peter. I think you've misunderstood where and how parsimony is applied... and why. It's got a good record behind it, and consider what your objection implies: that we should endorse or prefer the more *convoluted* explanation, all other parameters being equal.
    ---

    Yet compare that to what he says now:
    ---
    This is the same thing I've been trying to explain to you guys all along: science isn't equipped to answer ultimate, transcendent questions. We reason about *natural* explanations to *natural* phenomena, and when we get to existential limits -- we throw our scientific hands up, and resort to other epistemologies. That's how science works, how it remains effective.
    ---

    Now how is this different from my original point (which is that parsimony is decided on philosophical issues, NOT on the basis of evidence)? T-Stone is nothing but jelly. He disagrees, gets blasted, immediately enacts a smoke screen, gets blasted again, and then shifts his position to the one he first denied and pretends that YOU are the one who held the contrary position in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Peter,


    I gotta hand it to ya, T-Stone. You're the only person I know who can consistently take an opponent's statements and assert that you made those statements and the opponent made the contrary statements! I am simply astounded by your skill. You are now even rewriting history, for you say:
    ---
    This all started over your claim that science embraced less parsimonious explanation than more parsimonious ones.
    ---

    Not at all. This started by my showing you that parsimony is not equivalent to truth. Indeed, I argued statistically that if you always choose the parsimonious explanation, you MUST err at times and it will be impossible for you tell when. Then, and only then, did I give an example of a specific time when science does not accept the most parsimonious explanation because it violates the laws of physics...which is exactly what I have established in this post. You want to read this as something completely other than what I wrote, but it is only because your bias does not allow you to ever acknowledge that anything a lowly T-blogger says is correct.


    In this post? You've got to be kidding. What is the "more parsimonious" and what is the "less parsimonious" theory here? You still haven't shown where two theories match up empirically and one is chosen over the other, *despite* being less parsimonious. I think the fair conclusion at this point, failing an enumeration of the "less parsimonious" and "more parsimonious" theories, and how they are at empirical parity, is that you still do not have a rudimentary understanding of what parsimony means conceptually.




    Readers should note my original comment:
    ---
    The more complicated answer IS possible because it's probability is not 0. Thus, if you always choose parsimony, you are guarenteed to choose wrong at some point. Of course, you'll never know WHEN that was, because the only reason you need to use parsimony is when the evidence isn't sufficient to warrant one claim over another--thus proving that the same evidence stands for both theories (which means that the theory you reject is rejecting for reasons OTHER THAN the evidence).
    ---


    It's not guaranteed Peter, unless he have an infinite number of evaluations to make. It's just more probable as the number of evaluations goes up. And parsimony is precisely about preferring one theory over another for reasons other than evidence. It *prefers* economy -- the simplest answer that provides maximum explanation and predictive precision. Parsimony is not a statement of fact, or even a discrete affirmation. It's a *working assumption*, a preference.



    Note that T-Stone disagreed with my statement in the original post:
    ---
    The evidence tells the tale, Peter. I think you've misunderstood where and how parsimony is applied... and why. It's got a good record behind it, and consider what your objection implies: that we should endorse or prefer the more *convoluted* explanation, all other parameters being equal.
    ---

    Yet compare that to what he says now:
    ---
    This is the same thing I've been trying to explain to you guys all along: science isn't equipped to answer ultimate, transcendent questions. We reason about *natural* explanations to *natural* phenomena, and when we get to existential limits -- we throw our scientific hands up, and resort to other epistemologies. That's how science works, how it remains effective.
    ---

    I think my observation that 'the evidence tells the tale' there was prescient, given this post of yours, Peter. You have not brought us to a context where parsimony even *applies* here, and indeed, the conclusion Greene offers has no empirical peers: a "higher entropy" start of the universe can't account for it's present state, given the Second Law! It doesn't match the evidence -- at all! I don't know of any theory (wouldn't really be a theory given its clash with the evidence, maybe best to call it a "hypothesis", or just a "conjecture") that posits a "high entropy" start of the universe, but it doesn't matter: parsimony doesn't come into play because the "high energy/low entropy" explanation would destroy it in terms of fitness to the evidence. Unless one throws out the Second Law and all the evidence and processes that establish its validity, your "higher entropy" initial configuration for our universe never leaves its starting block in terms of performing against the evidence.

    If you dispute this, you are invited to give some examples of how a universe with a "high entropy" starting point would fit with our experience, experience which has us pointing to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as on the most fundamental generalizations of the universe as a system. Good luck with that, if that's your aim. One heck of a post, there...


    Now how is this different from my original point (which is that parsimony is decided on philosophical issues, NOT on the basis of evidence)? T-Stone is nothing but jelly. He disagrees, gets blasted, immediately enacts a smoke screen, gets blasted again, and then shifts his position to the one he first denied and pretends that YOU are the one who held the contrary position in the first place.


    You haven't even begun to address theories that are at empirical parity, Peter. You are wandering off into the woods, mangling the words of Brian Greene discussing the conclusion of low entropy at the early moments of the universe! There's no parsimony to *apply* here as we don't have two competing theories that match our observations and make equally accurate predictions, but have different internal economies for their explanation. It's a fascinating topic - the "arrow of time", and entropy as a "one way street", a cosmic clock that breaks the temporal symmetry of the other physical laws. But it's got nothing to do with parsimony; your "example" is a completely unassociated topic, albeit an interesting one. Good on ya for deciding to mangle interesting topics rather than dull ones, but don't suppose that you're attached to your original idea, which was that science does embrace less parsimonious explanations when the evidential witness is a tie. I'm not aware of this being done, but am open to being shown examples. This isn't even vaguely related.

    Evidence *is* a philosophical issue, and so is parsimony. There are different philosophical concepts, but the role of evidence in supporting a theory is a philosophical pillar of science, just as parsimony is a philosophical pillar of science. Saying that science is decided on "philosophical issues" is saying nothing -- science is a philosophical enterprise (used to be called 'natural philosophy', back in the day, before testing and practical evaluation got the currency they now have..).

    Just by way of reference, here's a comment Gene Bridges made in the previous post comments:

    4. Does parsimony guarantee a true answer or a scientific answer? These are not the same thing. What you do is, via your commitment to naturalism, wind up ruling out anything except a naturalistic answer. The issue isn't "Is x scientific?" But "Is x answer true?"


    My reply:

    Science isn't designed to address "true" in the the metaphysical, transcendent sense! I'm at a loss as to how explain this any more clearly than I have here over and over: you are completely confused about what science is setup to achieve epistemically. It *disavows* transcendent answers, on purpose, by design. That's what makes it effective. It's epistemic constraints (naturalism) are what enables it succeed in pursuing the goals it aims for: natural explanations for natural phenomena!


    This has been my drumbeat here from the beginning: science is NOT about transcendent truth. It's about natural explanations for natural phenomena. I say this over and over, and you object to these constraints, yet on the other hand, as above, you claim to "show me" that parsimony is not equivalent to transcendent truth. Parsimony is just a preference for mechanistic economy. That's it. Objecting that "the issue isn't 'Is x scientific?' But 'Is x answer true?'" is just announcing that you don't understand the design and goals of science as an epistemology generally, and of the principle of parsimony specifically. The parsimonious choice is a *preference*, a provisional assumption. It's not a guarantee of correctness for the preferred theory. It's not a statement of "transcendent truth".

    -Touchstone

    ReplyDelete
  14. Just by way of reference, here's a comment Gene Bridges made in the previous post comments:

    4. Does parsimony guarantee a true answer or a scientific answer? These are not the same thing. What you do is, via your commitment to naturalism, wind up ruling out anything except a naturalistic answer. The issue isn't "Is x scientific?" But "Is x answer true?"


    My reply:

    Science isn't designed to address "true" in the the metaphysical, transcendent sense! I'm at a loss as to how explain this any more clearly than I have here over and over: you are completely confused about what science is setup to achieve epistemically. It *disavows* transcendent answers, on purpose, by design. That's what makes it effective. It's epistemic constraints (naturalism) are what enables it succeed in pursuing the goals it aims for: natural explanations for natural phenomena!

    This has been my drumbeat here from the beginning: science is NOT about transcendent truth. It's about natural explanations for natural phenomena. I say this over and over, and you object to these constraints, yet on the other hand, as above, you claim to "show me" that parsimony is not equivalent to transcendent truth. Parsimony is just a preference for mechanistic economy. That's it. Objecting that "the issue isn't 'Is x scientific?' But 'Is x answer true?'" is just announcing that you don't understand the design and goals of science as an epistemology generally, and of the principle of parsimony specifically. The parsimonious choice is a *preference*, a provisional assumption. It's not a guarantee of correctness for the preferred theory. It's not a statement of "transcendent truth".


    Yet again, TS, is trying to rewrite history.

    Yes, he stated this, and gave us a long diatribe about ruling out "Goddidit.

    As I pointed out to him before, I NEVER said anything about "transcendent truth." Rather, I said, "Does parsimony guarantee a true answer or a scientific answer? "

    And what TS has done here, yet again, is demonstrate that his preference is not a "true" answer but a "parsimonious" answer, and that a "parsimonious" answer is a naturalistic answer.

    TS says here that this is "preference," a "provisional assumption."

    Yet TS claims to be a Christian and theist. Is it proper for such a person to adopt such a stance, or is it proper for such a person to adopt a stance that actually conforms to his ontology.

    You see, TS is trying to graft to contradictory ideas: his ontology and his epistemology. This is the very definition of "cognitive dissonance," that term he seeks to attach to us, and which he woefully misused.

    And notice what he says here that science is "about natural explanations for natural phenomena." But is a "natural explanation" a true explanation. That is the issue. What TS does is precisely what I said he does: via your commitment to naturalism, wind up ruling out anything except a naturalistic answer.

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  15. Gene,

    What contradiction are you pointing at here? What is the evidence from the world around me that is conflict with my beliefs that is causing me pain here? Big bang? no problem. Low entropy at the start? No problem. I think God can be fairly thought to have configured the universe in a high energy/low entropy starting kit, expanding and cooling through phase transitions in accordance with the physical constraints and dynamics designed into the system.

    I grew up a YEC, so I *do* know your pain. It's awful, abiding, deep. Every time some new wonder from the Hubble Telescope or from the geologic strata gets announced, you realize you have to treat rationalize around it, and resort to doubts about dating methods and the constancy of the speed of light. The Big Bang has to be a horrible hoax, because the math doesn't work out for 6,000 years, no matter how you slice it. You just learn to deny reality, and to be impudent and incorrigible about the real world so people who think about the real world learn to just leave you to your self-indulgence...

    Been there, done that. I know your pain. But maybe I'm missing some deep evidence-belief conflict here, and you can tell me where the dissonance comes from. What's the evidence in view that causes cognitive dissonance for me? How long ago do you think the Big Bang occurred, Gene? Man up and answer that directly, why not, and let's see who's got dissonance problems.

    You wonder why I object to the likes of you guys when there's so much atheism to battle, and indeed there is. But reading through Matthew, I'm struck by the special tenor of Jesus criticism for the Pharisees -- something I don't find from Him toward unbelievers. They had all the advantages, truth-wise, and yet they squandered it, indulging themselves *in* themselves when they had the best access to the truth.

    You, like Peter here, simply glory in your own ignorance, wagging fingers from a platform of willful misunderstanding and outright hostility to the truth, the real truth about the real world, the real God that created it and rules over it. You have such riches of truth at your disposal, and you despise them. I think the atheist is no closer to the big truth, but I've met few who have squandered so much privilege and access to the truth as we see here on the Triablogue team.

    Anyway, go ahead and spell out where the facts have me traumatized, and I'll take a look at it. If I'm in dissonance, I'd like to find a way to sort out the contradictions if possible.

    -TS

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  16. I see that T-Stone, after having hit rock bottom, continues to dig furiously with no end in sight. I find it ironic that he accuses me of misquoting Greene. I mean, obviously if you’re going to misquote someone you’re obviously going to take the time to quote verbatim several pages worth of context around the quote, as opposed to vaguely alluding to the work in question...

    But T-Stone continues to insist that the entropy paradox does not result in problems for his version of parsimony because there aren’t any scientific theories involved with which one can determine the probabilities of their having occurred. Again, this is only accurate if you subscribe to the paradox being resolved toward one end. T-Stone still hasn’t dealt with the paradox as it is.

    The simple brute fact of the matter is that when we look at an event today in this universe we have the paradox. The paradox is not an issue of meta-science; it is relevant in the here and now applied science.

    T-Stone’s "explanation" is to push the problem back step by step until he gets to the Big Bang, at which point he waves his fingers, does a mystical incantation, and voila, problem solved. He ignores the fact that it is just as scientifically valid to say that the current laws of physics are flawed without all the complex jumping back that he does.

    Perhaps a simple example will help T-Stone here. Newton’s laws of physics predicted certain things about the cosmos would be true. They weren’t. Most notably, the orbit of Mercury did not obey Newton’s laws. Let us therefore substitute this example for the entropy paradox.

    T-Stone would argue that because Mercury does not follow Newton’s laws, we would have to push the subject back further and further until it was finally resolved in meta-science, where Newtonian physics no longer applies. If I said, “The failure of Newton’s laws to fit an observation of the universe is evidence that the universe does not obey Newton’s laws in lock step; that Newton’s laws at some point must break down” T-Stone, to be consistent, must argue that my view is unscientific. Yet we know from Einstein that my view is not only true, but the actual scientific view. Newton’s physics do break down at the very fast and the very massive. T-Stone, in pretending to be scientific, would rule out the truth.

    To be sure, T-Stone could argue that my pointing out that a theory doesn’t work is not advancing a counter-theory of my own; but this would mean that all theories are de facto scientific until a competing theory wipes them out, which is contrary to reason. After all, you don’t need to substitute an alternate theory to prove that a current theory is wrong. T-Stone himself has argued that finding a human fossil in, say, the Cambrian rock strata would falsify Darwinism despite not having an alternate theory in place. So, if T-Stone is going to argue that it is unscientific to point out that a theory doesn’t fit the evidence without establishing a counter theory, he falls upon his own sword. In such a philosophy, falsification becomes irrelevant until a counter theory is proposed, which is just plain stupid. We can know some particular theory is false without knowing what theory is actually true.

    Now let us look at which view is more parsimonious. Returning to the entropy paradox, T-Stone’s view is that we can push the theory back to the point of the Big Bang. There, we have to leave the realm of science and jump into meta-science. This is actually an admission that the law of entropy breaks down, however, for T-Stone has abandoned entropy in the “fuzzy” portion of the Big Bang. For all intents and purposes, this is the same as if I had said from the get-go that the law of entropy must be inaccurate, given the entropy paradox. This view takes the data as it is and comes to the conclusion that T-Stone reaches after he speculates wildly, pushing time back to the point of the Big Bang and adding tons of extra highly improbable events into the mix. Which view is simpler then? My theoretical view obviously has fewer premises and is similarly strengthened by the fact that it would not have to presume an even higher degree of improbability before getting to the same conclusion T-Stone is forced to come to.

    Now I should point out that the view I actually hold isn’t that the law of entropy is invalid; this view is presented merely to put a bone in T-Stone’s throat. My view is actually that God, being an intelligent being, created the universe. And when viewed in this light, T-Stone’s naturalistic alternative, while playing lip service to his supposed belief in God which somehow doesn't ever mange to work itself out into anything T-Stone argues, becomes even less appealing. After all, when we examined ideas of order with the example of War and Peace, we saw that there is only one correct ordering of the pages in the book and a huge number of incorrect orderings. But here’s the rub. The reason that we know there is one correct ordering to the book is because an intelligent being created the book to be in a specific order. The book did not fall randomly out of the sky. In the same manner, when we look at the universe, the fact that entropy can even be measured requires there to be a specific order in the first place.

    Greene, being (as far as I can tell) an atheist, does not believe that God created the universe; instead, he couches this in terms of physical law. For instance, he wrote (as I quoted earlier): “Entropy is a concept that makes this idea precise by counting the number of ways, consistent with the laws of physics, in which any given physical situation can be realized” (ibid, p. 152, emphasis added). Yet the existence of laws demands an explanation, and the only one that secularists can give is circular: Why is it that matter behaves in the way it does? It obeys the laws. But why does it obey the laws? Because it behaves in the way it does.

    I’ll note that in such circumstances, scientific laws are nothing less than the arbitrary ways that matter moves. For atheists who complain that having a personal God would leave the laws of the universe uncertain (due to the fact that God could change His mind and make, for example, gravity repulsive tomorrow), it is their position that actually leaves the laws of the universe uncertain, for there is no reason for gravity to do what it does—it just happens that way. And if something “just happens” one way, there is nothing keeping it from “just happening” to not do it later.

    To the extent that T-Stone agrees with Greene, the same complaints come against him.

    Finally, one last bone to pick with T-Stone. He said, regarding my claim that strictly following parsimony REQUIRES one to choose wrong at some point:
    ---
    It's not guaranteed Peter, unless he have an infinite number of evaluations to make.
    ---

    This is so utterly wrong as to be laughable. It makes the assumption that two opposing theories must have radically different odds of being right. Thus, theory A is 99.99999% more likely to be true than theory B. But there is no reason to think that there can’t be theories that are split 50.00001% to 49.999999%. And in such circumstances, it would not be very unlikely at all for even your first theory picked on the odds to be incorrect. (And to clarify, let’s just stipulate for simplicity—pun intended—that the odds are determined solely by the ratio of premises.) Indeed, even if a theory only has a 10% chance of being right, 10% is not so astronomically rare that we would be shocked to discover it happened in reality.

    This is a minor point given his other errors. But I have a feeling that T-Stone so fails to grasp the fundamentals of probabilities that, were I to put a million dollars behind one of three doors and have him pick one (let’s say he picks door number 2), and were I (since I know where the money is actually located) to then open door number 3 to reveal nothing and told T-Stone he should now choose between the two remaining options, T-Stone would have no way of knowing which door, 1 or 2, was more likely to have the money behind it. He'd more than likely assume the odds were 50/50 when, in reality, door number 1 has a 2:1 advantage over door number 2 for being the door with the money behind it.

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  17. Peter,

    1) Does Greene use the term 'paradox' in this section of the book, discussing this? I still don't see the paradox you are talking about. If the universe began in a state of high energy/low entropy, then there's no problem -- the physics make sense, whether it's an ice cube melting in a glass or the sun providing energy for biological life.

    The only paradox I can think would be one where one supposes the universe *must* start in some higher state of entropy than we have now. Then the paradox would be quite clear: the Second Law appears to work according to our observations, but the math doesn't add up going backwards.

    That's *not* what Greene is advancing here, though. He's advancing the idea of a low-entropy starting point. If *you* are introducing a high entropy starting point, then you have a paradox of your own making to deal with. But you've got no reason to require that the universe should start out in a high entropy state -- or if you do, you refuse to share it with us. As I mentioned above, it's not like the Second Law can be applied to whatever enclosing context "exists" outside our universe, the context that gave rise to the creation of our universe.

    So, your left with your own private paradox, a paradox built on a premise that is completely unsupportable, nonsense. Greene's passage you are working from is providing you with the *rejection* of that idea -- a resolution to the problem: entropy is the "arrow of time", and this one-way dynamic implies a low entropy beginning point! No problem. No paradox if you've got a low entropy starting point.

    In your comment here, you complain thusly:

    Yet the existence of laws demands an explanation, and the only one that secularists can give is circular: Why is it that matter behaves in the way it does? It obeys the laws. But why does it obey the laws? Because it behaves in the way it does.

    At some level of explanation, science "bottoms out", and yields to transcendent questions that are beyond its scope. How did the laws of the universe get the way they are. Well, it's possible some mathematic "harmony" might emerge that would be an appealing explanation, and this has been the quest of many a talented math whiz-string theorist over the past couple decades. But even if some kind of mathematical harmony can be find that unifies and explains the configuraition of universal parameters (strength of the weak nuclear force, for example), that just drives the question another level up: who did that mathematical structure get there?

    Science just withdraws when it can't employ natural explanations for natural phenomena. Theoretical mathematical conjecture is interesting, but at the end of the day, if it can't be tested, subjected to predictions and falsified, it's just conjecture.

    And that's fine. Science isn't the transcendent "be-all" oracle on all questions. It just concerns itself with natural phenomena. So, "That's the way it is", is the final answer in many questions of science. That's the way it is. A Christian should give the same answer here that a Buddhist or an atheist would: in terms of *science*, there's no empirical basis for developing and testing/falsifying theories about the initial setup of the universe. By *definition* it's outside of "nature" -- nature being the extent of our spatial/temporal confines.

    That doesn't mean we can't appeal elsewhere for answers. It just means that those answers aren't gonna be *scientific* answers.

    With respect to Newton, classical physics have been "upgraded" to GR, but GR, like Newton is not perfect or exhaustively complete. Theories are *approximations*, and by definition are always tentative, subject to improvments and better, more precise models.

    That said, though, Newtonian physics were, and remain, extremely useful for a huge number of practical applications. GR will likely be superceded at some point (at least we hope so, it's clearly got issues as it is now), but that won't diminish the usefulness and observed accuracy that GR provides us now. Things will get better from a modeling standpoint, but that doesn't diminish the good quality of GR performance now, or the performance of Newtonian physics before it.

    That's quite a different case than finding a human skull fossil in the Silurian strata. Where Newton is shown to only be approximately accurate to some tolerance level, the skull in the Silurian would invalidate the who proposition put forth by Darwin. It's not a matter of degrees of precision, but a *structural* falsification.

    You said above:

    T-Stone would argue that because Mercury does not follow Newton’s laws, we would have to push the subject back further and further until it was finally resolved in meta-science, where Newtonian physics no longer applies.

    I suggest nothing of the kind. It's not even a coherent statement here: what does "push the subject back further and further" mean with respect to Newton's predictions of Mercury's orbit? Nothing, so far as I can tell. With entropy, for any given state of the closed system you have to identify a state of lower (or equal) entropy for that system as you go back in time. The Second Law, if it *is* a law, demands that the universe starts from low entropy and proceeds to higher entropy as the system evolves.

    So "pushing back" with entropy just means walk back through the timeline, and identifying sources of energy available for work that fit into a system with lower entropy overall than later states of the system. We push that back all the way to the first moments of the universe, and from there we can push no farther, as we can't see/experiment/test beyond time zero, even in principle.

    Now, what does "push the subject back further and further" mean with respect to Newton and Mercury's orbit? It's nonsense as far as I can tell. Maybe you can explain what you mean?

    Newton's physics wasn't the perfect theory. GR came along and upgraded it signigifcantly. But GR isn't the final endpoint, either, and has it's own issues and performance problems to deal with (small and esoteric as they may be, particularly in terms of practical applications).

    But there's no need to "push" anything back in situations like this. Newton's approximations were the best ones available until Einstein came along. They were "king of the hill" for *centuries* -- no mean feat in science. As I said, Newtonian physics is still perfectly useful for applications that don't have the scale, complexity and precision tolerances needed to model things like Mercury's orbit.

    Newtonian physics' errors in modeling Mercury's orbit are no more a paradox or a context for parsimony than the Big Bang and entropy. Really, it looks like you just think any problem or shortcoming or challenge in science
    is the same problem -- it's not. Nothing you've gone on about here attaches to parsimony or paradox that I've seen (unless you can substantiate why a system that creates a universe requires the created universe to start out in a high entropy state).


    What we've seen from you here is:

    + misunderstanding the meaning and application of parsimony as a working assumption for theories that are at epistemic parity.

    + misunderstanding of Greene's explanation of why we understand that our universe started out in a high energy/low-entropy configuration (implied by the Second Law of Thermodynamics)

    + misunderstanding of what science considers "in scope" and "out of scope" epistemologically -- "demands" that science somehow explain how physical laws ultimately became physical laws as a condition of accepting the empirical description and dynamics of those laws just announces a profround misunderstanding here.

    + Stuff like this sprinkled throughout: "I’ll note that in such circumstances, scientific laws are nothing less than the arbitrary ways that matter moves." Yikes.

    I again ask you: what is the example you referred to original where science the "less parsimonious" theory over the "more parsimous theory", where the theories were at empirical parity? If you don't know of any, maybe you could just affirm that? If you *do*, why won't you provide the example? I know you are intent on spinning into all sorts of bunny trails here (Greene and entropy, now Newton and Mercury's orbit), but nothing you've brought forth here actually *attaches* to your original claim, Peter. You can rant all you want about how bad science is because it doesn't commit to providing transcendent answers for things it's not equipped to answer, but that doesn't help your original claim, at all?

    So how about it?

    -Touchstone

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  18. T-Stone,

    You remind me of a three-year-old. It doesn't matter how many times something is explained to him, he continues to ignore the explanations because he doesn't want the explanation to be real.

    You keep shifting the discussion here. Your statements are so convoluted, so self-contradictory, and so irrational as to render it a gigantic waste of my time to try to figure out what you are saying right now, because in ten minutes you will say something else and pretend that that is what you were saying all along.

    This is a pointless game and I have better things to do with my time then waste it on you. If you cannot figure out the paradox presented, despite my explaining it until I'm blue in the face, then you're a bigger idiot than even I first believed. Any fair reader looking at everything I've written would have no problem following it whatsoever. You are the only person who can't seem to grasp it, and it is only because God forbid your universe be rocked by a T-Blogger saying something you think is true!

    I've spent enough time on this already. People can read what Greene wrote, and they can read your obfuscations, and come to their own conclusions. They can also read your comments in previous posts and compare it to what you say in this post, if they're masochistic enough to try to follow any of your thoughts. As for me, I will do what any rational person (who isn't the parent) does when confronted with a three-year-old who isn't listening: leave you to your delusions and ignore you completely, knowing that someday someone will beat sense into you in the playground, you'll grow up, and then we can have an actual conversation.

    Until then....

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  19. Peter,

    OK then, I understand exactly what you are saying here.

    -TS

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  20. Touchstone

    You wonder why I object to the likes of you guys when there's so much atheism to battle, and indeed there is. But reading through Matthew, I'm struck by the special tenor of Jesus criticism for the Pharisees -- something I don't find from Him toward unbelievers. They had all the advantages, truth-wise, and yet they squandered it, indulging themselves *in* themselves when they had the best access to the truth.

    You are kidding, right? Jesus' whole argument was that even though the Pharisees knew the written Word, they couldn't see the incarnate Word in front of their eyes. It's a huge leap to apply this to a discussion of origins. Is this is how you 'exegete'? And to sinners, his words were extremely direct, "Believe in me and you will be saved." Oh and, "Sin no more."

    Every time some new wonder from the Hubble Telescope or from the geologic strata gets announced, you realize you have to treat rationalize around it...

    I you mind I'll wait before putting my money on the latest and greatest theory. The only constant about much of the science you're interested in is that the theories are always changing and in some instances contradictory. But if you want to fly headlong in order to allay any dissonance, go right ahead.

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  21. Am I getting this right?

    Triablogue says - science can't give you the truth.
    Touchstone says - science is not about the truth and is not designed to address the truth.

    Triablogue says - parsimony may not give you the truth.
    Touchstone says - parsimony does not guarantee the truth. It does not state the truth.

    Then Touchstone says that Triablogue is wrong, and that he is right!

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  22. Anonymous,

    Science gives approximations of truth about natural phenomena. Some approximations are highly reliable and accurate, based on their performance when applied to reality. Others, less so.

    So science *does* provide truths, important truths, but within a limited domain. It is not equipped to explain supernatural phenomena, for example. Other enterprises will have to take up that task.

    -TS

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  23. But apparently science is not equipped to handle entropy (a natural phenomenon) any better than it is able to handle the supernatural.

    ReplyDelete
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