Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mental illness and scientific thought

Fist of all to advise the possible readers that despite the name of the entry this post will, at least partially, be kept on the topic of quantum gravity related arena to which this blog is devoted, concretelly to the problem of the colapse of the wave function and some purposed solutions, including "quantum conscence" theories. I certainly could write about many other non "quantum gravity" topics, in physic, science in general, or other areas of knowledge (nor to say "everyday life" topics) but I think that the eventual readers will feel better if they have a clear "editorial line" and knows what to expect.

But previously to speak about the central topic I´ll make a few disquisitions about the "crankpot" issue, partially because it is somewhat related to the sustainer of some atipic ideas, and partially because it is somewhat interesting in itself.

First let´s state some possible aceptions of the "cranckpot" term. The proper definiton of mental illnes would correspond to a professional of psicology. But as i´ll briefly discuss the acceptance of their definitions would imply that psicology would have a firm scientific status and curiously the term "cranckpot" is beeing used sometimes for people whose level of rigour is a few orders of magnitude upper to the one used ofthen in psicology, so "houston, houston, we have got a problem" ;-). For the shake of simplicity I´ll use some commonly accepted notions in psicology and some "common language" aceptions also, with the apropiate explanations when necessary. I´ll make a first broad distintion which will be, i hope, very helpfull. I´ll diferentiate "social related" mental illnes from "science" related ones.

In the field of "sociall related" mental insane scientifics we have some very famous ones. For example Kürt Göedel had some paranoic behaviours(in the commonly used sense of the term). He used to think that people wanted to put poisson in her foods, to international conspirations and similar things. Other, even more famous nowadays due to the book, and posterior film "a beateafull mind", is Jonh Nash. I have not readed the book and I am not sure if an aspect of the filmm is true or not, but I want to rescue it because I find it very interesting for the notion of a proper definition of "mentall illness". He, in the film, had alucinatory episodes where he saw (and heared) people who driven him to behave in a totally unaceptable social way. Concretelly the made him to belive that he was working for an inteligence goverment department. When the circunstances made him to realize that some particular persons that he saw were not "real" he clearly knew that he had a very serious problem. I guess that in reality He had a medical tratement with meds who made the alucintions to dissapear, but in the film (maybe in reality, it doesn´t matter for what I whant to wonder now) he relies in his logic to actually try to distinguish possilbe "alucinatory people" from real people (for example he says that one of the "ilusinary people", a girl, hadn´t grown for years which made clear for him that he couldn´t be real, even if his mind still madde him appear. Well, I find that this a very interesting question in itself. Science is, among other things, the aplication of logic to have fiable knowledge about the world. In this sense he was apliying it´s formation as a scientific to bypass a "bad work" of his perception. I have known personally people who have been prescribed mental disfunctions (maybe apropiatelly, maybe not) but who, despite it´s unusuall behaviour sometimes were very logical in it´s reasoning. Even if they considered very utipical, and scientific, ideas (an aspect unrelated to the problmatic social behaviour) such like considering the possible of telekinesis as real were able to accept that withouth a verificable under scientifics standards proofs of it that belief in t.k would be discarded. On the contrarie another person, whose social behaviour was never questioned as pathologic (nor I perosnally see why it could b otherwise), and who was a psicologyst itself, had the beief that some martial art prastice could allow some physically imposilbe things, like, for example, to defeat an opponent without actually touching it throught the use of "chi". Well , in this case the social and the scientific criteria (of respecting logic and it´s relation to proved, and verificable everywhere data) clearly gave a diferent answer to discern who was crazy and who not. If we go a litle bit far in this question we go into the problem of religions and in general "mistics" beliefs. In hiss book Time scape" the physicst and science ficition writer Gregory Benford rise the same question. From a purely scientific perspective the widelyy accepted religious beliefs are crazyness. He also stated that more "exotic" beliefs (evil possesions, communication with death people, etc) are commmon in a lot of people which otherwise were very conventinal in the social relations. What to think about ten?. I would even add that there is also a large amount of people who have a conventinal social behaviour, that don´t have any particular exotic belief but whose capabilitie to go into logical and scientific reasoning is null. People who are unable to do theminimally mental complex reasing and whose acceptance of "rational" ideas seems more due to the cassualities of their education that to any capability to discern by themselves sane from insane ideas. How to consider them.

I am going to add a las historic example, more for their interest in iself that for their importance in the rest of the post. I am talking about Newton in person. He joined in his person many of the previously asked questions. He had a very ugly social behaviour (sme modern spicologists analizing his biographys hipotesizes that he could have what is known as "Asperger symdrome"). He also had very deep religous beliefs (more of the 80% of his writes are reigious). Besides of his known scientific apportations he had worked in "alchemy", understood more in it´s magic implicatinos that in ther pre-chemical ones. Also in his pure scientific carrer he had made some risked experiments (he was near to end blind on one of his eyes becuase some atipical optical experiments. Well, said all this I think that I must add that it would not be just to totally judge his acts from a modern viewpoint. Before him sicence as we know it simply didn´t exist (It wouldn´t be exagerate to say thathe invented it). But that baby science didn´t explain a lot of things in the everyday life. I guess that it is not untill the achievement of the modern quantum mechanics (with the Schroedinger equation and inmediate developments) and it´s explanations of the chemics implied in everyday life that almost every earth commonly observed fact has (or hopfully has, despite it´s math complexity) an explanation under science. I think that it is more acceptable for a person in an almost totally unscientific world where almost every thing was far from a proper explanation to have magic, as well as religious beliefs. Althought on the other side Newton was a rationalist, or at leas that is relfected in another writng form Gregory Benford, wherewe see a modern physicist go to "ell" and finding there Newton who in all the years gone from it´s dead is tritying to made a "science" addecuate for hell, which can´t be an strictly rationalism science (becuase of the observable behaviour of hell).

Sic, I see that this historic remarks are very temptative and I have writen a lot withouth actually going into modern physics and it´s "crackpots". First I need a definiton of a "scientific crackpot". I mostly agree with the famouse one proposed By Jonh Baez. But I need to make a few comments. One of the examples proposed by Baez is Myron Evans. I had a knowledge of the Evans case prior to the knowledge of Baez. One friend of me has made his (brilliant, crowned with an article in nature) doctoral thesis in something called "topological electromagnetism". Basically it consists in a change of variables from the E and B fields to another ones which are apropiate to be used for an topolocial annalisis of the solutions. In particular if you do the usual compactification of R 3 by the point at infinite you get that his frontier S2. Well, you can see that the solutions of the Maxwell equations can be classifed by a topological quantitie related to the topological index (in the sense of the ides of Millnor)of the electric and magenetic fields viewed as funtions from S2 to S2. For a brief time I collaborated with my friend in a try to extend this ideas to Yang-Mills case, but it has passed a while from them and maybe I have explained bad some details (J.L, if you are reading this I invoke you to crrect possilbe mistakes ;-)). Well, the thing is that Myron Evans was interested in his works in order to publish a review of them in a forthcoming book publisehd by Elsevier devoted to Evans own ideas and related ones (like this of topological electromagnetism). We brieflly discused about the particular. But I think that it is out of place to say any more about this because of discreption (anyway, nothing offensive was said if someone worries about it). As a rsoult I tried to learn the work of Evans the problem was that none of the papers I coulr read for that time presented a complete description of them and referenced unavailable works. Well, that´is preciselly some of the cliams of Baez against Evans, I don´t know how actually the question is, but I wouldn´t want to centrate the question in Evans. He is only one well known exponent of uncommon scientific behaviour. Another name with an slighly similar problem is Podkeltnov. He claimed that a device, desgned for a diferent purpose that the one which mae it famous, with superconductors had "antigravitatory" behaviour. But he denied to give the precise configuration of the device because it could "give clouds" to other people who could thief his ideas. The last time I readed about it the NASA had repeated the experiment with a simplifeid desing without antigravitation (or to say properly,gravity shieldin). In this line also is the "Allais effect" of atipical behaviour of gravity while solar eclipses(Allais is a nobel prize in economy who has a formation as physicist). Similarly the last time I wondered about it the NASA was analizing a most precise version of his expermient. I think that the main reason these experiments are beeing considered by the NASA is because of the problem that the own NASA has with some of it´s satellites (I don´t just now remember the name, but it is a very famous open problem of unexplained gravitational anomalies).

Well, afther an enumeration of examples the definitin. A "scientific crackpot" would
be someone who defends an idea (that he belives very important) whose reliability is very unlikely and who, ofthem, refuse to give all the aspects of it because of being scared of "intelectual apropiation". I would distinguish here two cases. People without academic formation and people with it. I think it is not the same case somone whose maths doesn´t go, in the best of cases of basic calculus, from people who have a PhD in physicst, or maybe they are enigners. Those last people have (almost certainly) proved that at least in some part of his life had a proper knowledge of science. I guess that if they insist in presenting slopy ideas as fundamental advances, against the commmon belief, they are more suspectous of triying to gain more scientific recognition of what they deserve that really beliving "crazy" ideas. But this is not the end of the history. Not allways things are "black or white". There are some famouse cases where unlikely and marginated ideas in the end proved to be truth some years later (for example the theory of continental derive) so it is not just that easy to say for sure who is "scientifically" crazy or not. Even the lack of a math rigour is not always a criteria. The most famous case is Faraday, who is known but it´s famous law in electromagnetism. But it is less known that he had not mathformation and that he was guided mainly by intuition. Ok, nowadays a case just as Faraday is very unlikely, but apropiate translations of it coud happen i guess. And, of course, it would be unapropiate to relate "scientiic" to "social" crankpoptism.

Well, le´ts go, at last, with quantum mechanist. The most discused aspect of it is the problem of wavefuntion reduction. The most accepted viewpoint is the traditional, positivst, one "it works, don´t fix it". The "many words" Everet viewpoint is mathematically consistent but unboservable in practice. Decoherence seems the most realistic path (for a very good description of it I recomend to search into the web of another science fiction writer, Greg Egan, I am unable to find it just now the exact link). But there are more proposals. These days I have readed (mainly in railway travels as "ligh readin") a book by Illya prigogyne titled "the laws of chaos". Prigogyne, a very prestigious nobel prize in chemistry, has been worried for a long time by the problem of the "arrow of time" (not joke intended). In this short book he present a formulation of classical mechanist in a probablistic fashion. He forgetes about classical orbits and uses a probablity of finding a particle in a certain trayectory. He makes this for classical mechanis justifiying the change in the "dterministic chaos". The keypoint is that afther the "liapunov time" (the inverse of the Liapunov exponen for a chaotic system, which has the meaing of the time the system need to "forget" his initial condtion with an 90%, or somthing similar, I don´t remember exactly, of accuracy). Later he proposes a similar formulation of quantum mechanics. But quantum mechanics is allready probabilistic. Well, the trick is that hw worries about the norm of the wave funtion, and not the wavefuntion itself, which is what has a clear probabilistic interpretation. He studies an equation for it and he finds tht it has the same structurre that the equation for the classical case. So he has a equal formlation for classical and quantum echanist. I will nt dive into the detaills now. Simply to add that he need to use spectral theory for operators with complex spectrum, and that he uses "rigged Hilbert Spaces" instead of commmon Hilbert Spaces. In fact this last thing is not new, The proper formulation of Q.M. requieres it. A rigged Hilber space is an space with contains L2 funtions together with distributions (in ths Schwartz sense,, i.. linear operators in the hilber space, speaking looselly) whose action in the test functions (an apropiate subset of the Hilber space, usually integrable and infintely derivable functions)is finite. As I say it it can sound reasonable (or at least I hope so), but when you read the book you find a lot of wordy statements whose realiztion is not too clear. It is a divulgation intended book (althought it has a lot of maths and may be it would be more acurate to call it an "essay"). Well, it´s last statement is that his formalisms gives a precise meaining to the arrow time. I wouldn´t like to discuse to somone who belongs to the status "I have writen more papers in peer to peer reviews that more sicentfics have readed". But on the other sied Prigoyne is not a physician (chemistry, maby be mathematician because of his works in complexity theory) but I don´t have any percpetion about that his works would have gained mayor attention (even thought the book is form the 98). At least I can say for sure that it is not of mayor concern for string theorists.

A diferent resolution of the problem of the waveefuntion colapse is the "conscence" viewpoint. If I am not wrong the idea can be backdated to Bohm. The idea is that the observer, who in earth in the last case is allways an human beeing, is the responsible of the collapse because of an act of conscience (I recomend to read a S.F book of the above mentioned author, Greg Egan, about this respect "quarentena", it´is not my favourite S.F. Book, but it plays a lot with this idea). A more recent propnent of this idea is the vry famouse physics and mathematician Roger Penrose. The firs exposition of his ideas can be readed in his book "the empirors new mind". There he tires to convence to the reader that that colapse is related to quantum gravityon one side and to human brain on the other. He states that a computer (touring machine) can´t work like a human mind and that the sacpe to this is that Human mind is not a computer because he can reduce the wave funtion. Well, beeing such a prominent figure he has had foundings to teste hemirically his ides (it is a googd thing that it would be empirically estable). I know that the firs experiments were not as he expected, but I didn´t read the second book about this line of reseach "the shadows of mind". And althougth I have readed some chapters of his most recent book "the road to realliy" I haven preaded the chapters about thisparticualr concern. Let´s say that I find it very unlikel, but of course it is just a personal opinion and may perfectly be wrong. But Penrose is not the only proponent of this idea. Other not so famouse physicist have similar ideas, and not having behind them te sucesffull trayectorie of Penrose they not allways are so well accepted. I think that based only in this criteria it is inapropiate to state someone as crackpoopt (at least not if you are not ready to say that Penrose is, and I guess none whoud dare, among other things, becuas I guess nobody thinks that Penrose could be nearly something similar).

To end up this long post I´ll say a few more things about the problem of wavefuntion reduction. Some time ago a friend asked me to try to do a "as serious as possible" background for the film "the buterrfly effect". That fil trates time travels an time paradox. Well, I was persuaded and I did some considerations (not intended never as something serious). I did a premise, wht if we go an step further with he probablistic meaning of the wavefuntion?. I played with the interpretation that the wavefuntion in addendum with th probalbitity of finding a prticle in a particular possition it gave the probablity of finding it in a given time. This, of course, meaned that you neded to search a reason of why you coudn´t be sure of the time you are. I did many reaonings, but the more funny was this, let´s supoose that we have a time machine. We pose somone in it in a manner in which he can´t see the enviroment. In a given time he sees a dinnosaur inside the time machine (behind a glass wall that protects him, of course). Later the dinnosaurs exits the time machine and at last observer exits also from the time machine back to ehre, and "when" he had entered in it. The question is did he travel to the past or somone bring the dinno to the present? It is, of course, a time orinted analogy of the Einstein elevtor whcih drived him to the equivalence principle. This proposal can be elaborated deeper, and I do so form time to time. But at least up to day it is just a funny entertaining. In fact the idea has grown a lot more that it´s intial purpose, and seems an interesting approach to the "problem of time 2in canonical quantum gravity. But be sure that if I would have some candidat to great development in a precise mathe formulation I would have tried to publish it in a peer to peer review. But that is not the case, at least untill now, and for certain that I wouldnt try to publish ideas about this paritcular "cronoquantum mechanics" withouh haveing published a some more conventional articles ìn well known and firmly stablisehed topics. It is not the enviroment for risked ideas, even if presented as modest proposals, be sure of that my eventual readers ;-).


Matti Pitkanen said...

To my view the use of the term "crackpot" should be denied. There are of course genuine crackpots but no professional wastes time with them and almost as a rule the term is used for purely political purposes. Same is of course in question when scientist are labelled as insane for their ideas. Everyone knows that dissidents had to spent much of their lives in mental asylums in Soviet Union diagnostized as "paranoids". Same treatment is applied when in the main stream science to dissidents.

Real visionaries are certainly doomed to be the first victims of this labelling if there are no strong sanctions against the practice as unethical. I have personally experienced this in Finland and I am still after 28 years experiencing it although situation has changed dramatically in many respects. To my surprise and amusement many local skeptics have changed totally their attitudes. Could this mean that they want to be on the side of the winner?

The basic reason for the misuse of crackpot and other labels is obvious. It is mainstream science. Mainstreamers are not powered by a profound passion to understand: they are just fighting for funding using often all possible means and many of them could not care less for truth. Deep flaws in logic are accepted without hesitation if required by the political dogma. Mainstreamer of course has the strongest views about phenomena which he knows least and decides within a minute that cold fusion, memory of water, remote mental interactions, etc... represent pseudoscience.

A realistic view about the main stream science would be as not much more than the academic counterpart of simplest pop music utilizing at most three basic chords with maximum volume using drum machines and synthetizors. Of course, we cannot do without main stream science since someone must do the hard work of applying routine methods. Scientific community should however make all that it can to avoid the dictatorship of mediocricy.

Good example of main stream thinking is the attitude towards what happens in quantum measurement. Materialistic and deterministic dogma inherited from the ancient times before Bohr do not allow a genuine non-determinism because this would bring in discussion notions like free will and consciousness. These are Very Bad Words in the archaic mindscape of a mainstreamer.

So we have got various interpretations, all unavoidably inconsistent or simply totally incomprehensible.

Copenhagen interpretation involves handweaving around Uncertainty Principle and totally giving up the notion of objective reality: the interpretation is logically contradictory and long ago shown to be inconsistent also experimentally.

Multiverse interpretation is a trick based on the idea that infinite branching of state function occurs. The problem is - or should be! - that no one has really defined what this branching actually means. Despite this the approach is marketed as a mathematically consistent one.

De-coherence approach is so immensely ugly that I wonder how people have not refused to work with it for this reason alone.

Same is bound to apply to all interpretations because they try only to mask the basic logical inconsistency of the measurement theory and avoid considering the real problem: understanding physically what conscious observer is.

In order to make progress one must dig deeper and do something that the founding fathers did not. One should ask many questions. What distinguishes between the geometric time of physics and experienced time? Is the non-determinism of state function reduction could be realized at some other level that space-time. And so on.

This requires courage and readiness to suffer strong injustice since the political power-holders of materialistic science do not hesitate to give the crackpot label to anyone who dares to dive to these deeper waters.

Best Regards,

Matti Pitkanen

Javier said...

I see a problem with one of your observations. The most notorious user of the word "crankpot" is Lubos Motl, and I don´t see him as an unmotivated scientific, but just the opposit, a very pasionate one.

In fact he seems to be a very bright physician in it´s own so I don´t really see why he has to be so unpleasant in his observations. He could say the same things avoiding personal descalifitations and he dould acomplish better his objective of signalling the bad points of LQG (I only judge about quantum gravity, I have not an opinion aobut his yihad agianst climate change consensous).

In the particlar of wavefunnction reduction I find reasonable to forget about it in string theory. Afther all in principle string theory could, posibly, be compatible with some modifications in that particular. On the other side LQG people, or Penrose, as yourself, have their own viewpoints/theories. My position about the particular is that I have some other priorities to consider, but anyone is, of course, free to have his own preferences. I simply read what you have to say (as far as I have time for it)and If I find it usefull to highlight some particular point I have no problem to consider it.

In particular your disgresons about p-adic metrics are tantalizing, but I dont see clear that they should be realized in a "real" space instead of in some "internal" one. But obvioulsy I don´t understand properly your theory.

It is nice to hear that you are gaing acceptance and leaving the outsider status. I wonder how you would feel if somone other than you writes an article about TGD. Remember how Eintein felt about his special relativity when it was "perverted" by Minkowsky ;-).

paymane said...

I don't want to be the one who spoils the fun, but this post is using such a bad english, I just couldn't bear to read it through the end.

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