Monday, November 26, 2007

Angelo Codevilla on American Statecraft

I have mentioned Angelo Codevilla several times before on this blog. He remains in my mind one of the few political analysts out there who "get it," despite not being an Objectivist. I may disagree with him on some things (such as his minimization of the threat from Iran) but for broad principles of strategy few can match him. His latest essay in the Claremont Review is no exception. Here is one of my favorite parts:
What follows from the foreign policy establishment's apolitical division of mankind into "moderates" and "extremists" is an art of politics, if that's the right term, that prevents considering what anyone is, or should be, moderate or extreme about. It abstracts from right and wrong, honor and shame. It leads to moderation in pursuit of America's interests. Then, in the hope of avoiding worse threats to our modest interests, it leads to finding moderation in those who threaten us. It becomes the promotion of "moderation" for its own sake, and then boils down to coaxing "extremists" into "moderation" by involving them in profitable and (supposedly) addictive arrangements. Our establishmentarians imagine they can moderate our enemies by promising them that they can get most of what they want through cooperation; and tell the American people that if we were to forcefully oppose our enemies, that would only radicalize them further.

During the Cold War, this logic led from Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman's support of the "moderate" Stalin against the phantom "extremist anti-party group" to Henry Kissinger's dètente with the Soviet Union; from President George H.W. Bush's efforts to keep Mikhail Gorbachev's "moderate" Soviet Union alive to his successors' efforts to appease the neo-Soviet Vladimir Putin by limiting U.S. missile defenses to tokens. By this logic, the more anyone threatens, the greater the incentive to treat him as a "moderate," lest he threaten us more. In our time this has been the basis of the bloody "peace processes" that the U.S. has foisted on so much of the world.
Read the whole thing -- it's well worth it and will challenge your thinking on the current conflict.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Science vs. Faith

It is difficult to say which is more annoying: A Conservative arguing that there is no rational, secular basis for morality or a "scientist" arguing against consciousness and free will on the basis of "scientific" materialism. In a similar vein we have physicist Paul Davies argument in the November 24, New York Times that "science has its own faith-based belief system."

I've decided to address this op-ed in detail and see if I can't respond to it.
SCIENCE, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.
It's interesting that nowhere in the op-ed is the idea that religion is faith-based challenged, even though I know for a fact that some very religious people would object quite strongly to the claim that all religions require faith. But let's leave that aside since I don't really disagree with it. Is all science based on "testable hypotheses"? It seems to me that the basis of science is the law of causality. Testable hypotheses are the part of the scientific method but I wouldn't call them the basis of science.
The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.
I essentially agree that "science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way" (although Davies is mixing elements of metaphysics and epistemology here) -- but is an assumption the same as a "faith-based belief system". Is this an arbitrary assumption? Davies writes that "so far this faith has been justified" -- what a Humean approach to the world! Like Hume, Davies seems to think that Causality as such does not exist. We just got used to entities behaving according to what we call natural laws but as far as Davies is concerned there's no real reason for it. Apparently we just got lucky.
The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?
This is where one really must have a philosophy. Ayn Rand wrote in connection to science:
Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go.
I find it ironic that many people reading about Objectivist metaphysics find it obvious and yet highly intelligent scientists are unable to come to the same seemingly obvious conclusions. Let's briefly review -- the fundamental starting point is existence. If one accepts that something exists and that one is aware of it then one has in fact granted all three fundamental axioms: Existence, Consciousness and Identity. The important formulation of Ayn Rand is that "Existence is Identity." This applies to attributes of entities as well as actions and therefore causality. There is no possibility of an absence of laws -- all entities have a specific nature, and hence specific attributes and actions possible to them and no others. There are wide variety of things (including living and nonliving, conscious and vegetative) yet each one has a nature and follows it. A thing without a nature, without identity is nothing in particular and literally does not exist. It is therefore an invalid question to ask "where do these laws come from" -- to be is to be subject to laws.
When I was a student, the laws of physics were regarded as completely off limits. The job of the scientist, we were told, is to discover the laws and apply them, not inquire into their provenance. The laws were treated as “given” — imprinted on the universe like a maker’s mark at the moment of cosmic birth — and fixed forevermore. Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.
Yes, scientists should "discover the laws and apply them" -- to go beyond that is the job of philosophy that has to validate the basis on which the scientist operates. Again, one can see the influence of Humean philosophy on Davies in his denial of Causality.
Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.
The irony is that Davies's colleagues are mostly right (except for the "nobody knows") -- this isn't a scientific question and the laws ultimately just are. There cannot be an infinite regress. A proper philosophy would have told him that. This is hardly "anti-rational" -- none of this restricts scientific inquiry. Deeper and deeper causes can always be found but there cannot be a "reason for causality" which is what Davies is looking for. This is exactly the same as looking for reasons for existence. Existence exists. One must accept that (and not on faith but on the basis of every percept one has ever had) to get anywhere in this world. Rationality depends on causality and not the other way around. Reason is dependent on a proper metaphysics, especially identity but including causality -- otherwise it would just be game.

I'm going to skip a little now.
A second reason that the laws of physics have now been brought within the scope of scientific inquiry is the realization that what we long regarded as absolute and universal laws might not be truly fundamental at all, but more like local bylaws. They could vary from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. A God’s-eye view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of bylaws. In this “multiverse,” life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe — one that is just right for life. We have selected it by our very existence.
I have to say I'm highly skeptical of the idea of multiple universes. It's really irrelevant to the Davies's questions on causality which Davies recognizes below.
The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn’t so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.
Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.
Nonsense. Properly, science if founded on a philosophy of reason, such as Ayn Rand's Objectivism, or at least some form of Aristotelianism, which starts with the proper fundamental axioms of philosophy including Existence, Identity and Consciousness and recognizes that the law of causality as a corollary of the law of identity. While individual scientists may mistakenly believe that science rests on faith, familiarity with a proper philosophy would soon persuade them otherwise.
This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships. And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe. It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme. In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
The fundamental "reason" for the laws is clear -- causality, being a corollary of identity, is inherent in existence. The idea that science is faith-based rests on a mistaken Humean philosophy and denial of the Law of Causality that guarantees that because things are what they are, they will act accordingly. In the context of science, the implication is the regularity that Davies finds so mysterious. The scientist's job is to work out the specifics of the regularity.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Nation and the Contract Rights of Farmers

I don't not expect to find opposition to government regulations in The Nation, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the article Old McDonald Had a Farm...and He Got Arrested? by David E. Gumpert. This is in a somewhat similar vein as Rational Jenn's recent post about regulatory opposition to raw milk in Georgia, but here the issue is meat at "Greg Niewendorp's 160-acre farm outside East Jordan, in the north of Michigan's lower peninsula":
Last February, he refused to subject his cattle to a mandatory state program to test cattle in his region of Michigan for bovine tuberculosis--a program he argues, among other things, is unnecessary because he distributes his beef privately to people who trust his animal-raising techniques, but which the state insists is essential to ensure the beef isn't tainted.

The state immediately slapped a quarantine on his farm, prohibiting the movement of animals onto or off the property. Then, in August, an MDA inspector arrived, escorted by two Michigan State Police officers, and attempted to convince Niewendorp to have his cattle tested by a vet waiting down the road. Niewendorp angrily ordered the inspector and police off his property, telling them that, without a search warrant, they were trespassers.

Finally, in early October, a team of MDA inspectors and vets arrived again, this time with a search warrant and two sheriff's deputies--and backed up by a half-dozen state trooper SWAT team members and three emergency medical vehicles down the road.

Niewendorp is convinced that "they would have liked to have killed me," but this time he didn't resist, so the vets did their deed and left. All the tests came back negative and the state lifted its quarantine last month.
Of course, the article later explains the motivations of the regulators as partly wishing to protect "corporate interests." Regardless, the point made is valid. As long as no force or fraud is involved, producers and consumers should be free to contract on such sales.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Republican Primaries and the Elections

It has been claimed that this race is uninspiring to Republicans because none of the current contenders are "true Conservatives." Some Evangelical Christians such as James Dobson are unhappy with the current front runners -- Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Romney is a Mormon who until recently held rather liberal positions on various issues and has now apparently been convinced they were wrong and switched to positions more in line with those of the Christian Right, for example, he is now opposed to abortion as well as stem-cell research. Giuliani remains pro-choice and has a personal life that does not exactly suggest "family values." The less said about the other candidates, the better.

However, I see this race as an opportunity. For first time in about 30 years we can move beyond the agenda of the Christian Right in the Republican party. Rudy Giuliani represents such an opportunity. If Giuliani wins the Republican primaries he will finally open up the Republican party to secular candidates. The key is that he has to then win the election. If he wins both the primaries and the election, he will have dealt a severe blow to the presence of the Religious Right in the Republican Party. If, on the other hand, he loses the election, it will be claimed that secular forces are too weak on the Right and we will not see a secular candidate like Giuliani lead the Republicans for quite some time. The Religious Right will claim that the secular right has had its chance and the next Republican nominee will be as religious as the current occupant or perhaps even more. And furthermore, he will very likely win, given that Hillary Clinton will have been President and implemented some of her policies. As I have stated elsewhere I intend to vote for Giuliani when the primaries are held in California, and if he wins the nomination, I think I will vote for him in the general election as well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gillespie on Al Jazeera

There is an interesting article in the Nation on The New Face of Al Jazeera by Kristen Gillespie. Gillespie writes:
When Al Jazeera was first launched in 1996, it offered the kind of freewheeling, uncensored debate never publicly seen on Arab televisions, and Arabic speakers couldn't get enough of it. The talk shows brought in guests from across the political spectrum, and the channel featured smartly produced news bulletins and correspondents stationed seemingly everywhere. But 9-11 brought a new anti-imperialist and, many argue, a pro-Sunni Islamist bent to the network. (The observations and reporting in this article apply only to Arabic-language Jazeera; in November 2006 the network opened an English-language counterpart, now called Al Jazeera English, which gives no evidence of sectarian tendencies.)
Also, there has been a purge of more secular people at the station:
After the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera replaced its longtime secular bureau chief in Baghdad, Faisal Yasiri, with Wadah Khanfar, who had reported from Afghanistan after the American invasion in 2001 and then Kurdish-controlled territory as the war with Iraq was launched in 2003. Shortly thereafter, the secular head of Al Jazeera, Mohammed Jassem Ali, was ousted and replaced by Khanfar, whom more than a dozen current and former employees of the station interviewed for this article characterize as an Islamist.
It's worth reading the whole article.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day...

...was yesterday, November 11. Here's an interesting history of this important day.
How do I rate?

cash advance
(Hat-tip Rational Jenn)
Seen around the web
  • Richard Ralston, Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine has written an excellent satirical Op-ed on socialized medicine
  • The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism has announced a new mini-site called Capitalism Resources. Many of the sections on the mini-site remain to be filled out but there's nevertheless much interesting content, particularly under the What Capitalism Is section.
  • Diana of Noodlefood links to a tragic story of Nicaraguan woman who died from an ectopic pregnancy due to concerns about the legality of performing an abortion. The article contains this interesting paragraph:
    Nicaragua last year became one of 35 countries that ban all abortions, even to save the life of the mother, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. The ban has been strictly followed, leaving the country torn between a strong tradition of women’s rights and a growing religious conservatism. Abortion rights groups have stormed Congress in recent weeks demanding change, but President Daniel Ortega, a former leftist revolutionary and a Roman Catholic, has refused to oppose the church-supported ban.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Attention South Orange County Students of Objectivism

I'm interested in forming a weekly study/social group in South Orange County, California. I live in Aliso Viejo and by South Orange County I include such localities as Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Laguna Beach, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, etc. At this stage I have in mind a rather informal group and hope to begin by studying OPAR using Gary Hull's Study Guide. Location and time yet to be determined but I'm thinking of meeting during a weekday (say Wednesday, 7pm) at an appropriately sized local diner/restaurant or bookstore. If interested email me at gideon.reich@yahoo.com.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Rational Case for Environmental Conservation

In a long but fascinating essay blogger Spark A Synapse (SAS) presents what she sees as a rational case for environmental conservation. The essence of her argument is presented in the following paragraph:
My point is, there is a rational basis for conservation strategies on a personal level, and for exploiting the Earth in a sustainable way. News articles detailing environmentalists who complain about exploitation of the Moon or Mars are certainly annoying, I agree. But we must ask, "Why are these views wrong?" They’re wrong because non-living material doesn’t go out of existence. The idea of conserving minerals on Mars – or even Earth - is clearly ridiculous. Unless we’re removing so many materials from Mars that we’re threatening to throw off Earth’s orbit, I see no reason to care. Furthermore, those views aren't based in fact. They're based in ideology. But what doesn’t follow from dismissing ridiculous environmentalists is that we don’t need to care about conserving Earth’s resources at all.

In order to thrive, we have to discover more about the natural world and exploit it. The vast majority of the world that is left to be discovered and exploited does not consist of chemical or physical entities, which have been and always will always be with us. The vast majority of resources to be exploited are biological, and those entities can and are going out of existence. When Objectivists point out the dramatic progress humans have made through the use of reason, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that in order to use reason, we have to have something to reason about. If there was a possibility that we could lose 25% of chemical elements in the periodic table within our lifetime, I think people would reasonably be upset about it.

Besides providing an abundance of examples that illustrate the issue quite clearly, she argues in terms that Objectivists ought to appreciate:
Unless a particular species directly threatens your life (i.e. smallpox, malarial mosquitoes), there is actually a rational basis for caring about species extinctions, even species that are currently obscure: for all of the potential things we could learn from them, and for all of the products that could be designed from them that we never would have thought of on our own, and finally, although this is least important in my opinion – simply for aesthetic reasons (in the case of animals with little known or potential economic value).
SAS is very definitely not an Environmentalist who seeks to protect nature from man and preserve nature for nature's sake. Rather, she argues for the preservation of some things for man's sake.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Alan Dershowitz on Torture

I have recently finished Alan Dershowitz's excellent The Case for Israel. The book will make you mad with the injustice that the Arabs (with frequent cooperation from much of the rest of the world) have perpetrated against Israel over the nearly 60 years of existence, and before. I highly recommend it.

In today's Wall Street Journal Dershowitz has an op-ed worth reading. Torture, much like war, is a terrible practice. Nevertheless, Dershowitz is one of the few liberal intellectuals out there who recognize that it is sometimes necessary:
Although I am personally opposed to the use of torture, I have no doubt that any president--indeed any leader of a democratic nation--would in fact authorize some forms of torture against a captured terrorist if he believed that this was the only way of securing information necessary to prevent an imminent mass casualty attack. The only dispute is whether he would do so openly with accountability or secretly with deniability. The former seems more consistent with democratic theory, the latter with typical political hypocrisy.
I really respect Dershowitz for openly putting to rest some of the myths that people who, understandably perhaps, are opposed to torture continue to propagate:
There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.
I am also strongly sympathetic to the legal framework that Dershowitz wants to impose here. If we agree that torture is sometimes necessary then let's specify, as much as possible the exact conditions for it and have appropriate legal responsibility so that it is not abused.
New upcoming book by Gary Hull

I expected Gary Hull to take a position at Founders College that he helped found but he's not listed as staff or faculty. Seems he has elected to stay on at Duke as Director of VEM ("the program of values and ethics in the marketplace"). On the VEM web site the following has also been announced:
In progress: "Private Property: The Road to Liberty," tentative title. The book explains the true meaning of the right to property, and provides what this right has been sorely lacking: a moral foundation. It uses numerous examples of property rights violations -- including eminent domain, land-use regulations, concerted attacks on copyrights and patents -- to argue that the right to property is nearly extinct in America. Dr. Hull also shows how the Founders were right in their conviction that all rights -- the rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness -- are a unity.
I am very much looking forward to this book. Dr. Hull's previous book, The Abolition of Antitrust which included a series of essays by different authors, including Hull, arguing against antitrust from a historic, economic, legal, and moral point of view, was excellent.

Monday, November 05, 2007

New Hope in Physics

During my recent religious experiences I realized that, ironically, my views were for the first time in years consistent with what seems to pass for mainstream scientific opinion, at least in physics. For example, it now made sense that there was a Big Bang -- after all the Biblical view is that God created the universe. There are of course numerous religious and otherwise mystical people taking advantage of the philosophical state of physics ever since the early 20th century.

Objectivists have always taken a quite different line. Ayn Rand in 1934 wrote in her philosophic journal:
I have to study: philosophy, higher mathematics, physics, psychology.
As to physics--learn why mind and reason are so decried as impotent when coping with the universe. Isn't there some huge mistake there?

May 15, 1934, Journals of Ayn Rand, Ed. David Harriman, Dutton, p.72
Ayn Rand is of course referring to Quantum Mechanics and the bizarre interpretations that people to this very day continue to ascribe to it. As a result, even great physicists such as Richard Feynman are quoted saying:
What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it. ... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.
(Feynman, Richard P. Nobel Lecture, 1966, 1918-1988, QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter)
Of course, the main problem for Objectivists with physics are the claims that seem to go against the principle of causality. The law, as Ayn Rand grasped it, was stated by the character John Galt in Atlas Shrugged:
The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature …
Perhaps even more important when it comes to quantum mechanics is the following elaboration that Leonard Peikoff gave in his essay The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy which is contained in Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology:
Since things are what they are, since everything that exists possesses a specific identity, nothing in reality can occur causelessly or by chance.
Physicists such as Werner Heisenberg with his Uncertain Principle certainly seem to beg to differ as the following excerpt from an exhibit at the American Institute of Physics shows:
Heisenberg realized that the uncertainty relations had profound implications. First, if we accept Heisenberg's argument that every concept has a meaning only in terms of the experiments used to measure it, we must agree that things that cannot be measured really have no meaning in physics. Thus, for instance, the path of a particle has no meaning beyond the precision with which it is observed. But a basic assumption of physics since Newton has been that a "real world" exists independently of us, regardless of whether or not we observe it. (This assumption did not go unchallenged, however, by some philsophers.) Heisenberg now argued that such concepts as orbits of electrons do not exist in nature unless and until we observe them.

There were also far-reaching implications for the concept of causality and the determinacy of past and future events. These are discussed on the page about the origins of uncertainty. Because the uncertainty relations are more than just mathematical relations, but have profound scientific and philosophical implications, physicists sometimes speak of the "uncertainty principle."

Dr. Peikoff has claimed for some decades that the "uncertainty principle" mentioned above, if by that is meant a denial of causality, cannot be true. Philosophy here has "veto power" over science. Science cannot deny its hierarchical roots -- all science depends on the law of causality. This would no different than any claim that Higher Mathematics (such as calculus for example) disproves basic arithmetic. It simply couldn't make any sense. Helpful in this regard was a paper authored apparently in the 1990s by Objectivist Physicist Dr. Hans Schantz, which unfortunately is no longer available online (though it is available in the web archives), that showed that it was the acceptance of modern philosophy by the founders of quantum mechanics such as Heisenberg and Bohr that led to their denial of causality and not any experiments.

But it's one thing to deny that physics implies a lack of causality and quite another to propose a new physical interpretation that explains all the experiments in a causal way. Many physicists have tried and failed to do this, beginning with Nobel Prize Winner Louis de Broglie and David Bohm who formulated an alternative causal interpretation of the physics:

In standard QM every particle can be observed either as a particle or as a wave. The wave is not physical, like water or sound waves, but a wave of probability in an abstract space. When a photon goes through one slit in a barrier, to register on a detection screen, it is a particle. When two slits are open, the photon behaves like a wave and it is impossible to tell which slit it goes through without destroying the wave. If many photons are sent through a barrier with two openings, each registers on the screen as a particle, but they display an interference pattern that could only be produced by a wave going through both slits. The photon is a mysterious thing. It is neither wave nor particle, but something that can act like one or the other depending on the measuring apparatus.

In Bohm's revolutionary theory, as refined by his associate Basil Hiley, particles are as real as golf balls. At all times they have precise, unfuzzy properties such as position and momentum, and precise paths through spacetime. The particles are never waves. Associated with each particle is an invisible, undetectable wave in a field which Bohm called the "quantum potential." Its pilot waves are real waves, not probability waves. They guide the particle's motion in a manner somewhat like the way a rivers wave guides the movement of a floating leaf, or, in a better analogy, the way radar information guides a ship. This quantum field, like the fields of gravity and electromagnetism, permeates all of spacetime, but unlike those fields its intensity doesn't diminish with distance. Also unlike other fields, it exerts no force on particles. Essentially it is a wave of undecaying information. [Skeptical Inquirer 5/1/2000 Martin Gardner]

The Broglie-Bohm approach seems promising but involves another problem that many also consider philosophically problematic -- the idea of non-locality. The way this issue is introduced usually involves a description of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) thought experiment that these three scientists proposed in order to point to the necessity for "hidden variables" to underlie the surface randomness of quantum mechanics:

The EPR paradox has several forms, but the easiest to understand was proposed by the late American physicist David Jacob Bohm (1917-1991). It involves a mysterious property of particles called spin. Spin is roughly similar to the motion of a top because it has angular momentum that always takes one of two forms variously called left or right, plus or minus, up or down. Imagine a quantum reaction that creates two identical particles A and B which go off in opposite directions. In standard QM each particle has its left and right spins "superposed." When particle A is measured for spin, its "wave function" (a formula specifying the probabilities that certain values will be found when a particle is measured for a given property) is said to "collapse" (vanish). The particle at once acquires either a left or right spin with equal probability.

Now for the magic. To conserve angular momentum, after A is measured and so acquires a definite spin, B must acquire the opposite spin. Assume that A, measured in Chicago, has a left spin. (Remember, it does not have a definite spin until measured.) On a planet in a distant galaxy a physicist measures B when it gets there. It is certain to have a right spin. How does B "know" the outcome of the measurement of A? Does A send some kind of telepathic signal to B, either simultaneously or at a speed equal to or exceeding the speed of light? Einstein ridiculed this as "spooky action at a distance." He believed that his proposed experiment, then only a thought experiment, proved that QM was not complete. There must be local "hidden variables" giving definite spins to both particles before one is measured.

The standard Copenhagen interpretation of QM, based on the opinions of Niels Bohr, is that regardless of how far apart A and B get, they remain a single quantum system with a single wave function. When A is measured, the entire system's wave function vanishes and the two particles simultaneously acquire opposite spins. The particles are said to be "correlated," or in more recent terminology, "entangled."

Does this resolve the paradox? It does not. The mystery remains of how A and B can stay entangled when they are light-years apart unless there is some kind of connection between them that allows information to go from A to B.

Experiments have been conducted that appear to confirm this non-locality and it is now generally assumed to be a feature of nature regardless of which interpretation one puts on quantum mechanics.

Nevertheless, one physicist has attempted to propose a local, causal alternative physical theory that explains the quantum mechanical world. Dr. Lewis Little proposes the Theory of Elementary Waves (TEW). Dr. Little also proposes that both waves and particles exists, however, the particles follow waves that originate from a direction opposite to the particle's motion. These "reverse waves" are really a kind of flux. From chapter 1 of Little's upcoming book:

To summarize, the reverse wave theory posits that the physical universe
consists of both waves/fluxes and particles, which are separate objects. These
objects do not transform into one another nor are they the same object in
different states. The waves/fluxes exist at all times; they interact in much the
same manner as quantum waves in current theory. Particles are determined
in their dynamics by the waves/fluxes; but it is only the reverse wave, coming
from any detector (as viewed in the frame of that detector), that a¤ects a
particle that will be observed by that detector.

Because the waves/fluxes exist as separate objects and on the same level
as the elementary particles, I have chosen to call them “elementary waves”,
and I will refer to the flux as the “elementary flux”. [p.39]
At first there seemed to be much excitement within the Objectivist community about Little's ideas. I was certainly among those excited when I first heard about it. The late Objectivist Physicist Stephen Speicher endorsed it and wrote a non-technical summary, David Harriman initially endorsed it in his lecture series The Philosophic Corruption of Physics, and Australian radio broadcaster Prodos provided charts and interviews to further support the ideas.

Then came the dissenters. Physicists Travis Norsen and Eric Dennis pointed out that since TEW fails to explain the latest experiments testing for superluminal or non-local effects. Norsen wrote:
Despite the mistaken claims of TEW's advocates to the contrary, the [experimental] results combined with Bell's theorem prove that no purely local description is possible. These experiments constitute a direct observation of a new type of (superluminal) causation.
Bell's theorem, in the simplest terms can be stated as follows:
no physical theory which is realistic as well as local in a specified sense can reproduce all of the statistical predictions of quantum mechanics [Oxford PhysJoy Christian]
David Harriman released a statement retracting his endorsement of TEW as a result of the arguments made by Norsen, Dennis, and others for for existence of non-local interactions. As Harriman put it:
TEW is a local theory, and therefore it contradicts the results of these experiments. Furthermore, locality is fundamental to Little's theory—to renounce locality is to reject TEW.

Both Norsen and Dennis endorsed the Bohm approach as most promising in providing a causal, yet non-local description of the physics involved. Stephen Speicher and others continued to support TEW and argue that nonlocality involves a contradiction and thus is subject to the same philosophical veto that a denial of causality would be. Betsy Speicher, long time Objectivist and wife of Stephen, published a short essay that argues against nonlocality or "instantaneous action":
...a concept like an "instantaneous action" is metaphysically invalid. Because such an action has no duration, it has no identity, and thus it cannot really exist. It certainly cannot be the underlying metaphysical assumption of a true scientific theory that correctly describes the real world.
I have to say I find this argument quite convincing but feel frustrated by the fact that here is yet another area where seemingly accepted scientific opinion clashes with Objectivism. Norsen has continued to convince other Objectivists including, it seems, Harry Binswanger that nonlocality is real and must be accepted.

Therefore it is somewhat surprising to find the following (unfortunately the article is only available by subscription) in the November 3 issue of NewScientist magazine. Oxford Physicist Joy Christian
...claims that physicists' supposed proofs of the impossibility of more "realistic" theories rest on false assumptions and so don't prove much at all.
"Contrary to the received wisdom," he says, "quantum theory doesn't rule out the possibility of a deeper theory, even one that might be deterministic."
In his latest paper Christian writes:
Contrary to the received wisdom, Bell’s theorem is not a threat to local realism. Neither is it a curb on determinism. The counterexample constructed in the [Dr. Christian's original paper G.R.] provides a fully deterministic, common cause explanation of the EPR-Bohm correlations. In fact, it is hard to imagine a more simple common cause than the one on which the counterexample is based—namely, the intrinsic freedom of choice in the initial orientation of the orthogonal directions in the Euclidean space. In the present paper we have further consolidated the conclusions of [the original paper] by demonstrating that the exact, locally causal model for the EPR-Bohm correlations constructed therein satisfies at least eight essential requirements, arising from either the predictions of quantum mechanics or the premises of Bell’s theorem. These requirements, as listed in the Introduction, include the locality condition of Bell, and hence by respecting them our model fully endorses the view that the quantum mechanical description of reality is incomplete. Moreover, since this view is reinforced by three different local realistic derivations of the violations of the CHSH inequality [a variation on the Bell inequality G.R.], and since all three of them agree with the corresponding predictions of quantum mechanics in quantitatively precise manner, the statistical interpretation of the entangled singlet state becomes the most natural interpretation of this state, as anticipated by Einstein. It is therefore hoped that—strengthened by the results of the present paper—the counterexample of [original paper G.R.]would rejuvenate the search for a unified, locally causal basis for the whole of physics, as envisaged by Einstein.
The actual resolution that Christian offers involves changing the mathematics of Bell's theorem with something called Clifford Algebra of which I am ignorant. Sorely lacking in everything I've read about Dr. Christian's ideas is a physical description of quantum mechanics as a local, deterministic theory. Would it be at all similar to TEW? I guess that remains to be seen. But Christian's papers, along with the recent admission that the Big Bang theory is far from experimentally established give room for some hope that perhaps Objectivists will be finally be able to claim that far from contradicting science, the latest scientific theories support what Objectivism has been saying all along.

Update 11/18/2007 -- Added link Dr. Hans Schantz paper on Quantum Mechanics
Update 10/24/2008 -- Per Lewis Little's request changed description "Objectivist physicist" to "physicist"

Friday, November 02, 2007

Private Disaster Response

In an article entitled Rapture Rescue 911: Disaster Response for the Chosen on TheNation.com, Naomi Klein solves a problem I've been thinking about during every recent natural disaster, and in particular the recent Southern California fires. Is it realistic to expect that in laissez-faire capitalism there will be private fire companies and emergency response companies that will be able to help people during natural disasters? It seems as there should be, since people ought to be willing to pay for these kinds of services just as they pay for insurance, but I tend to prefer to see at least some evidence for these assumptions. I had previously heard of occasional privatized fire departments in small towns but nothing larger than that. I had not heard of this:
Members of the company's Private Client Group pay an average of $19,000 to have their homes sprayed with fire retardant. During the wildfires, the "mobile units"--racing around in red firetrucks--even extinguished fires for their clients.
...
During last year's hurricane season, Florida homeowners were offered similarly high-priced salvation by HelpJet, a travel agency launched with promises to turn "a hurricane evacuation into a jet-setter vacation." For an annual fee, a company concierge takes care of everything: transport to the air terminal, luxurious travel, bookings at five-star resorts. Most of all, HelpJet is an escape hatch from the kind of government failure on display during Katrina. "No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds, just a first class experience."

HelpJet is about to get some serious competition from some much larger players. In northern Michigan, during the same week that the California fires raged, the rural community of Pellston was in the grip of an intense public debate. The village is about to become the headquarters for the first fully privatized national disaster response center. The plan is the brainchild of Sovereign Deed, a little-known start-up with links to the mercenary firm Triple Canopy. Like HelpJet, Sovereign Deed works on a "country-club type membership fee," according to the company's vice president, retired Brig. Gen. Richard Mills. In exchange for a one-time fee of $50,000 followed by annual dues of $15,000, members receive "comprehensive catastrophe response services" should their city be hit by a manmade disaster that can "cause severe threats to public health and/or well-being" (read: a terrorist attack), a disease outbreak or a natural disaster. Basic membership includes access to medicine, water and food, while those who pay for "premium tiered services" will be eligible for VIP rescue missions.
Ms. Klein, of course, sneers at all this and apparently takes for granted that people have a right to equal disaster assistance that should be provided free of charge. But leaving aside the sneers, I really think this is an awesome demonstration of the power of the market, hampered though it is, to provide services that people are willing to pay for, including services typically assumed to be the exclusive domain of the government.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Scott Powell Concludes Kant vs. Columbus

Don't miss Scott Powell's exciting conclusion to his previously mentioned series of articles. Here's an excerpt:
A proper assessment and celebration of Columbus’s work, however, cannot be validated by more research or the uncovering of a still more detailed picture of the past. It can only be defended by grasping on an abstract level that “the Discovery of America” is the objective term necessitated by the full context of the Story of World up to that point and–of equal importance–by the context of developments beyond it.