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Physicist George Ellis Knocks Physicists for Knocking Philosophy, Falsification, Free Will

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, whom I interviewed in my last post, wasn’t the only fascinating scientist I hung out with recently at Howthelightgetsin, a festival hosted by the Institute of Arts & Ideas. I also befriended George F. R. Ellis, the physicist-mathematician-cosmologist, an authority on the Big Bang and other cosmic mysteries. Ellis and I hit it off initially because we share some—how shall I put it?—concerns about the direction of physics, but I soon discovered that his interests range far beyond physics. He has published papers and books not only on physics and cosmology (including the 1973 classic The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time, co-authored with Stephen Hawking) but also on philosophy, complexity theory, neuroscience, education and even low-income housing. (See his website, and his terrific 2011 critique of multiverse theories in Scientific American.) A native of South Africa, Ellis is professor emeritus at the University of Cape Town, where he taught for decades, and has also held positions at Cambridge, the University of Texas, the Fermi Institute and other institutions around the globe. I admire Ellis’s social activism as well as his scientific work. He was an early critic of apartheid, and in 1999 Nelson Mandela awarded him the Order of the Star of South Africa. Ellis has a big brain and a big heart.

"You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis," says George Ellis. Photo: David Monniaux, Wikimedia Commons.

Horgan: At the conference where we met, Howthelightsgetsin, you were in a session called “The end of experiment.” What was that about?

Ellis: Well this was just echoing what you have already said: many of the possible high-energy physics experiments and astronomy observations relevant to cosmology are now in essence nearly complete. Physics experiments are approaching the highest energies it will ever be possible to test by any collider experiment, both for financial and technical reasons. We can’t build a collider bigger than the surface of the Earth.  Thus our ability to test high energy physics – and hence structures on the smallest physical scales – is approaching its limits. Astronomical observations at all wavelengths are now probing the most distant cosmological events that will ever be “seeable” by any kinds of radiation whatever, because of visual horizons for each form of radiation.

It’s rather like the situation as regards exploring the Earth: once upon a time we had only fragmentary knowledge of what is there. Then we obtained a global picture of the Earth’s surface, including detailed satellite images of the entire land mass. Once you have seen it all, you have seen it all; apart from finer and finer details, there is nothing more to find. You might respond, But we can’t see to the bottom of the oceans. However, we do indeed now have quite good maps of the ocean floor too, through various sounding techniques.  This is similar to the way we have seen right back to the last scattering surface in the early universe at a redshift of 1200 (the analogue of seeing the entire surface of the Earth from space) with satellites such as COBE, WMAP, and Planck, and also (indirectly) to the time of emission of gravitational waves by Bicep2 (the analogue of seeing to the bottom of the ocean). We’ll sort out that controversy in the next couple of years.

So what we can see at the largest and smallest scales is approaching what will ever be possible, except for refining the details.

But I emphasize that this comment does not apply to complex systems.  Complexity is almost unbounded – microbiology, biology, the brain will give us work to do for many centuries more, what we may find may be very unexpected. That might also apply to the foundations of quantum physics, and its relation to complexity. But – barring something very unforeseen – the possible tests of the very large and the very small are coming towards the limits of whatever will be possible.

Yes I know this kind of thing has been said before.  That was before we had explored the entire visible universe at all possible wavelengths. I concede that observations relevant to structure formation in the universe – galaxies, stars, planets – have a good while to go, they are in essence verging to the side of studying complexity, and still have life in them yet, they are very interesting studies.

Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?

Ellis: Certainly not.  He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did.  And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being.  Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality.

And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed  (which he must believe if he believes they brought the universe into existence). Who or what dreamt up symmetry principles, Lagrangians, specific symmetry groups, gauge theories, and so on? He does not begin to answer these questions.

It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers, as well as writings of more recent philosophers such as Tim Maudlin and David Albert.

Horgan: Are you, or were you ever, a believer in a final theory of physics?

Ellis: I certainly have believed in it as a possibility. However the price of having to use higher-dimensional theories is in my view a considerable drawback and to be avoided if possible; it is certainly unproven to be the way Nature is. Rather it may be that fundamental physics in the end involves two different intermeshed theories: a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) and unimodular Loop Quantum Gravity, with no hidden dimensions and no string theory landscape. The unification will be in terms of broad approaches underlying physical theories (Lagrangians, variational principles, physical symmetries, etc.) but not necessarily one overriding theory that encompasses  all fundamental physics in a unified form.

Indeed it is in my view unlikely there is a unified theory of all fundamental forces including gravity, because Einstein taught us that gravity is *not*, at a foundational level, in fact a force – rather it is an effective result of spacetime curvature.  Yes of course there are various effective theories of gravity where it is seen as a force, such as Newton’s theory and representing it as a spin 2 graviton, but their existence does not determine what the underlying deep theory of gravitation is. My feeling is that it will be a theory based on a discrete view of space-time with a conformal structure for the gravity sector, probably based in principles of holonomy, interacting with a unified GUT theory for the matter sector. That is not a unified final theory of physics as envisaged by string theorists. Such a theory may not exist.

Horgan: Are you a fan of multiverse theories? String theory? The anthropic principle?

No (may be true but unproveable, much too much untestable speculation about existence of infinities of entities, ill defined and untestable probability measures), no (too much speculative introduction of very complex unseeable entities, treats gravity just like any other force), yes (however one responds to it, it’s a real question that deserves consideration).  Fine tuning of fundamental physics parameters is required in order that we can exist. Examining this issue has led to many very interesting studies.

Horgan: Physicist Sean Carroll has argued that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for judging whether theories should be taken seriously. Do you agree?

Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton.  The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.

Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

Horgan: Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been bashing philosophy as a waste of time. Do you agree?

Ellis: If they really believe this they should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.

Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested – scientific hypothesis. That’ s good science.

Ellis: You are a Christian, more specifically a Quaker. Does your faith have any effect on your scientific views, or vice versa?

It may affect to some degree the topics I choose to tackle, but it cannot affect the science itself, which has its own logic that must be followed wherever it leads without fear or favour, within the domain of application of the relevant theories.

My philosophical and religious views must of course take present-day science seriously, but in doing so (a) I distinguish very clearly between what is tested or testable science and what is not, (b) I make strenuous efforts to consider what aspects of reality can be comprehended by a strict scientific approach, and what lie outside the limits of mathematically based efforts to encapsulate aspects of the nature of what exists.

Many key aspects of life (such as ethics: what is good and what is bad, and aesthetics: what is beautiful and what is ugly) lie outside the domain of scientific inquiry (science can tell you what kind of circumstances will lead to the extinction of polar bears, or indeed of humanity; it has nothing whatever to say about whether this would be good or bad, that is not a scientific question).

Attempts to explain values in terms of neuroscience or evolutionary theory in fact have nothing whatever to say about what is good or bad. That is a philosophical or religious question (scientists trying to explain ethics from these kinds of approaches always surreptitiously introduce some unexamined concept of what is a good life by the back door). And they cannot for example tell you, from a scientific basis, what should be done about Israel or Syria today. That effort would be a category mistake.

Horgan: Is your social activism–for example, you past efforts against apartheid–related in any way to your scientific work?

Not directly. It is based in concerns to do with human values and ethics that lie outside the scope of science per se.

Horgan: Are you concerned that today so much research—especially in the U.S.—is funded by the military?

This is not an issue that has been of specific concern to me – but it could become so, particularly as regards brain research.

Horgan: In some of your writings, you warn against excessive determinism in physics, and science. Could you summarize your concerns?

Many scientists are strong reductionists who believe that physics alone determines outcomes in the real world, This is demonstrably untrue – for example the computer on which I am writing this could not possibly have come into being through the agency of physics alone.

The issue is that these scientists are focusing on some strands in the web of causation that actually exist, and ignoring others that are demonstrably there – such as ideas in our minds, or algorithms embodied in computer programs. These demonstrably act in a top-down way to cause physical effects in the real world. All these processes and actual outcomes are contextually dependent, and this allows the effectiveness of processes such as adaptive selection that are the key to the emergence of genuine complexity.

As I stated above, mathematical equations only represent part of reality, and should not be confused with reality.  A specific related issue: there is a group of people out there writing papers based on the idea that physics is a computational process.  But a physical law is not an algorithm. So who chooses the computational strategy and the algorithms that realise a specific physical law? (Finite elements perhaps?) What language is it written in? (Does Nature use Java or C++? What machine code is used?) Where is the CPU? What is used for memory, and in what way are read and write commands executed? Additionally if it’s a computation, how does Nature avoid the halting problem? It’s all a very bad analogy that does not work.

Horgan: Einstein, in the following quote, seemed to doubt free will: “If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the Earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord…. So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will.” Do you believe in free will?

Ellis: Yes. Einstein is perpetuating the belief that all causation is bottom up. This simply is not the case, as I can demonstrate with many examples from sociology, neuroscience, physiology, epigenetics, engineering, and physics.  Furthermore if Einstein did not have free will in some meaningful sense, then he could not have been responsible for the theory of relativity – it would have been a product of lower level processes but not of an intelligent mind choosing between possible options.

I find it very hard to believe this to be the case – indeed it does not seem to make any sense. Physicists should pay attention to Aristotle’s four forms of causation – if they have the free will to decide what they are doing. If they don’t, then why waste time talking to them? They are then not responsible for what they say.

Horgan: If you were the King of Physics, responsible for prioritizing and funding research, what would be your first decision?

Ellis: Condensed matter physics and quantum optics are where I’d concentrate first – it is where relatively modest investment is producing fabulous experiments and testable theories. The relation of physics to biology, medicine, and neuroscience is a fantastic area that should be strongly developed.

Yes of course I’d like to see astronomy and high-energy physics continued as far as possible, but the price has to be reasonable. Projects like Bicep2 give great returns, and gravitational wave astronomy is the last frontier and so must be explored, as also the many great observational cosmology projects under way at present.  Megabucks for ever-greater colliders will need solid justification.

About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Scientifik 12:06 pm 07/22/2014

    >”And they cannot for example tell you, from a scientific basis, what should be done about Israel or Syria today. ”

    I’m completely nonplussed by Mr. Ellis’s belief that “religion” – which is the very reason for the conflicts in Israel and Syria in the first place – can somehow inform us as to the proper course of action in Israel and Syria.

    A scientist who puts more trust in superstitious “revelations” rather than the science of sociology and psychology — Now I’ve seen it all.

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  2. 2. Scientifik 1:01 pm 07/22/2014

    >Physicists should pay attention to Aristotle’s four forms of causation – if they have the free will to decide what they are doing. If they don’t, then why waste time talking to them? They are then not responsible for what they say.

    Whether we like it or not, our actions are influenced by our connectome, our genes and our biochemistry. Where’s the “free will” in all this?

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  3. 3. rshoff2 1:12 pm 07/22/2014

    Brilliant man, and very articulate. Wow! Very calming to read and resonates well. It makes me wonder though. Mr. Ellis says:

    “for example the computer on which I am writing this could not possibly have come into being through the agency of physics alone.”

    But wouldn’t an argument be that introducing time makes it possible for physics to set in motion the cascade of events that lead to the existence of the computer on which he is writing?

    Of course, time being our perception of the motion of physics.

    I love the clarity he provides with his comment about complexity: “But I emphasize that this comment does not apply to complex systems. Complexity is almost unbounded…”

    With Mr. Ellis being a Quaker, it supports my belief that we should strive to be individual and different because it enables us to approach issues and problems from different directions. We come up with different solutions and insights, then bring them all back to the table to share. And then we each must listen to each other as best we can.

    Thank you, John Horgan, for interviewing George Ellis and Thank you Mr. Ellis for your openness.

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  4. 4. darkspace 3:44 pm 07/22/2014

    The question “is it free will or is it causality?” is an inappropriate question, its silly on the face of it. That is like asking “is it large or is it small?” or “is time real or is space real? or “is up more significant or is down more significant?” It does not have to be one or the other winner take all. When two mirrored profiles face one another we may see a wine glass or two faces, a popular illusion, this is like asking “is this a representation of two faces or is it a representation of the two sides of a wine glass? the question precludes an answer. Asking “is the universe guided by free will or is it guided by determinism is a supremely farcical question that precludes a sensible answer, if one chooses to explain by deterministic means the nuances of mental life ones description will need to be so lengthy as to exceed ones life span to account for a few minutes behavior that would easily covered in a minute or two by the concept of free will, on the other hand trying to explain many forms of physical behavior by evoking free will would also exceed the life span of the speaker, both are true both are false, it is and is not a wine glass, its is and is not faces, the human brain tends toward winner take all, it can not see wine glasses and a faces at the same time so it concludes it must be one or the other and endlessly dithers about which. The chemical reactions that occur in tandem with my consciousness occur in TANDEM, ether explanation is possible, what matters is which is PRACTICAL and which is unworkable in a particular instance, it must be both free will and determinism that govern the behavior of the universe. We can not falsify the idea that all energy exchange produces consciousness, yet most think this false, we can not falsify the idea that all mass does not have consciousness yet many act as though this were so. Asking whether free will or determinism guides the universe is like asking “which is real; mass or energy?” its a self defeating question.

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  5. 5. ikjyotsinghkohli 6:15 pm 07/22/2014

    Indeed, kudos to George Ellis for his answers, and it’s about darn time someone from the physics community puts Krauss, Tyson, and the like in check. Krauss through his books and movies, and Tyson through his TV show and interviews have done damage to the education and perception of science for many future generations to come. Krauss’ book, “A Universe from Nothing” gets so many of the facts wrong, it is incomprehensible how so many people have let him get away with it. For more details, please see my article on Krauss’ book here:

    Thank you.
    Ikjyot Singh Kohli, Ph.D.

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  6. 6. Scientifik 3:40 am 07/23/2014

    >So what we can see at the largest and smallest scales is approaching what will ever be possible, except for refining the details.


    He apparently believes that we will never detect supersymmetric particles, explain dark matter, dark energy, black holes, find wormholes, etc etc.

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  7. 7. SJCrum 6:43 pm 07/23/2014

    You know, the ridiculously funny part about this article, is that without any doubt at all, there factually is ONE UNDENIABLE true physics description that EXPLAINS IT “ALL”, and every single itty bitty bit of all of it.

    The real science item that proves the totally pathetic science situation that ALL of the scientists in this world are in is found in ONE ULTRA-Incredibly REVEALING STATEMENT. Are you ready for this? Hee, hee.

    The ULTRA-complexity dead-end alley they are TOTALLY IN is ALL caused by the ultra-fact that they all try to figure out joke theories that involve making a universe and everything in it by having NOTHING making it.

    The real science is that God made it all, and not a one of them have any idea at all that it was TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE for it to be made WITHOUT some really ultra-genius making every single stitch of it.

    With God, there is not only a real science description TOTALLY, but EVERY SINGLE other science fact as well.

    A truly humorous thing is that these great experts who think they know it all, don’t have any problem at all in believing that the cars they buy and drive were, TADA!!!!, M-A-D-E. My gosh, with THAT, the entire earth might crack right down the middle of it. WHOOOOO woulda’ Guessed? Darn, if that ain’t tough science.

    I will admit that that level of science is ABOVE the ultra-intelligence of a gopher fart. BUT, … not by much.

    I won’t do it, but the writing in this article could be so shredded by REAL SCIENCE FACT, it would end up being microscopically the itty bittiest shredded wheat in the universe. Sorry about that, but my gosh that would be so great every single one of the flys on the wall would be fainting into piles on the floor. Think the height of EVEREST.

    Have a nice day.

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  8. 8. thefabulous0ne 10:25 am 07/24/2014

    this is a test

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  9. 9. rufusgwarren 7:53 pm 07/24/2014

    Interesting conversation, however, the chosen axiomatic structure for reasonable science and scientific investigation and realistic theory has a few gaps in logic. It is no more than trial and error, and can be very time consuming, such as the idea of showing that the standard model makes sense, or that the big bang is realistic. Worse assuming GR is truth based upon a false premise, only relative to the emitter is the speed of the wave-front of light a constant not o all observers. Traveling faster than light does not require require an infinite amount of energy.

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  10. 10. zaphod62 8:57 pm 07/24/2014

    Stuart Kaufman on boundary conditions + Eugene Wigner on “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Math…” taken together would imply that only a limited set of phenomena are amenable to prediction and control. Extrapolating, only as viewed retroactively – closed and done – can anything other than the mechanistically predictable be seen as deterministic. All else we call random, stochastic or a set of unforeseen perturbations in a chaotic system (or sociology ;) .

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  11. 11. magneticnorth50 11:25 pm 07/24/2014

    Ellis is spot on -Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton. The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game

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  12. 12. Severisth 2:29 am 07/26/2014

    > “He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did.”

    > “And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed”

    You don’t need to answer the “why” to successfully demonstrate *that* it is plausible. Using Ellis’ logic, we should have dismissed Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” and all of evolution since it didn’t explain *why* creatures came into existence. (Ironically, people like Ellis tried to do exactly that).

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  13. 13. Severisth 2:33 am 07/26/2014

    > “Fine tuning of fundamental physics parameters is required in order that we can exist.”

    Sure, and if the parameters had been tuned differently, the universe would have looked different, and complex developments (such as life) would have taken on a different form.

    Fine tuning is not a particularly interesting question.

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  14. 14. Severisth 2:45 am 07/26/2014

    > “Attempts to explain values in terms of neuroscience or evolutionary theory in fact have nothing whatever to say about what is good or bad. That is a philosophical or religious question (scientists trying to explain ethics from these kinds of approaches always surreptitiously introduce some unexamined concept of what is a good life by the back door).”

    On the contrary, neuroscience and evolutionary theory have a lot to say about what is good or bad, and these determinations can be supported by evidence. From the human perspective, what is good is what is good for humanity and all thing humanity values. There’s nothing particularly unexamined about that.

    Religion, on the other hand, seems to have selected “what God wants” as the basis of what is good or bad. That comes with significant difficulty, considering there are thousands of individual and conflicting revelations from various interpretations of God. From both a philosophical and scientific standpoint, that presents quite a problem. After all, we would all agree with Ellis that a scientist would view this through the lens of what evidence can confirm is true.

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  15. 15. ikjyotsinghkohli 6:21 pm 07/27/2014

    Ellis is spot on. Neuroscience and evolutionary theory cannot alone explain what is good or bad, and the other aspects of human behaviour. The people that espouse these views are reductionists/materialists, which is quite ironic, and this viewpoint is false for the following reason:

    Reductionism is a false assertion. When you say in analyzing some physical process, there are no emergent properties is a half-truth. The reason is that at its lowest levels, any physical statement must obey the properties of quantum mechanics. The schrodinger equation itself is time invariant. However, all physical systems in the universe obey an arrow of time, because all physically causal processes HAVE to be described by hyperbolic partial differential equations.

    Second, any quantum system is not in any definitive state, it is in a superposition of possible states, at its lowest level all neuroscience and evolutionary theory MUST obey the rules of Quantum Mechanics, which is bound by uncertainty. Therefore, because of this uncertainty, one can simply not explain the macroscopic causality that occurs, for this, one requires top-down causation, which is precisely what Ellis is saying, and he’s quite right. I find it quite interesting that Krauss, Tyson, and Dawkins frequently ignore top-down causation and consider all causation to be bottom-up which is just not the case, just look at the implications of the Einstein field equations!!

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  16. 16. JohnDuffield 3:18 pm 07/28/2014

    Very interesting, some good stuff there. Nice to see him favouring for quantum optics, particularly because of pair production, because in atomic orbitals electrons exist as standing waves, and because the Higgs mechanism contradicts E=mc².
    I was a little surprised at a few things though: Einstein taught us that gravity is caused by a concentration of energy which conditions the surrounding space, making it inhomogeneous, whereupon light curves because the speed of light varies with position. So “great observational tests of spatial homogeneity” had me scratching my chin. As did “fine tuning of fundamental physics parameters”. The fine structure constant α = e²/2ε₀hc is a running constant, and conservation of charge means “effective charge” varies because ε₀ and c vary. See and

    PS: apologies for any duplicate comments, please delete

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  17. 17. magneticnorth50 5:15 pm 07/31/2014

    Regardless of how anyone feels about any issue , Science is not comfortable with the very idea of human beings having free will . Science therefore rejects out of hand anything that eludes to it or in any way supports it . That is why the philosophical possibilities are unacceptable . Ergo , the notion of freewill is challenged and Ellis’ views are rejected . In fact atheism must be a sort of litmus test for the “True Scientist ” . Ellis in a lecture listed the FOUR possibilities for the Origin of the Universe – Probability , Randomness , Necessity and Purpose . Ellis no doubt leans towards Purpose , and that is simply using Occam’s Razor . Can he prove it ? No . Nor can science prove any of the other three . They are untestable . There is a lack of information before 3 Planck Seconds after the Big Bang / Super Inflation /or the newly espoused Ejection out of the backend of a Black Hole . So in such a lack of information, Occam’s Razor is applicable , whether Scientific or the Philosophical , the simplest and the most logical explanation can be used . Choosing Purpose is no less logical than the other three . Until proven otherwise . Ellis does not reject Quantum Mechanics nor Quantum Entanglement , the latter of which no one has any explanation for whatsoever . Yes there are equations , but they are untestable . I have no doubts Ellis will remain the whipping boy , and perhaps we need a new definition of open and closed mindedness .

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  18. 18. Therapistmumbles 6:15 pm 07/31/2014

    The question about “free will” vs. deterministic causation is not so easily dismissed. We have to try to be clear when we are each responsible for our actions. It is a difficult line to define, but science is showing that most of our decisions are due to habit, and the rest are based more on emotion than reason or logic.

    Are you responsible if you have a brain injury, or a mental illness? What about ADHD? or an addiction?

    Are suicide bombers making a rational choice, or are they crazy or manipulated, or just part of their culture?

    The amount of actual “choice” we have in our lives is very limited.
    Science,not just physics, but genetics, sociology and psychology, can now go a long way to explain that.

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  19. 19. IonChristopher 9:18 am 08/3/2014

    Respect and admiration, Dr. Ellis (I assume and I will follow you now), if this is anything like an impromptu interview. I could do such an interview in a day I suppose, of open-web. My memory is such. In any case Let me criticize Aristotle as a high schooler by modern standards. I would not rely on Plato nor any of the philosophers either, for their leading thinking. Their morals win the day but their philosophy zigs in the end when it should have zagged, to put in sum. These are of course my conclusions and who am I? Certainly no one esteemed. I am a non-blip on anyone’s radar for a bit longer. I was listening to an interview from 1997 of Micheo Kaku and found him to be astoundingly sure of himself with an accuracy of his speculative landscape of some 30%. I am going to use excerpts to display the amazing jutspah over presumed and pompous sagacity – youth being no barrier to pomposity of these personalities in your line of work. I agree with you that things get dicey around the edges – but isn’t it apparent that the matter of existence could be summed up by a unity theory of teleology? These are difficult questions for social reasons. Teleology is means and purpose – in one. And you give so many illustrations of it, yet you do not get down to a single example of it in the autonomous time frame beneath human consciousness. Sort of a glaring lack wouldn’t you say? And in the next remarkable wave, You say you believe in a final theory of physics, and you pretty well explode into shards of ideas each one involved, but your conclusion given is wrong. Everyday life is filled with 10 primary and 54 secondary dimensions – we are both occupying the same one of the 54 now in having this conversation – I can prove this and will. And the difficulty you guys with the creds and the paychecks are having is that you have got the damn things upside down – “higher” dimensions are in fact “lower” – contained in higher – just as in this conversation I can sense your reaction through a worm hole that tunnels under linear patterns into chaos – all very very simple and elegant and quite available to anyone theoretically – less some ‘difficulty’ including paradox. I will be reading your critique of multiverse, I make fun of it quite a lot, (but I did find an ‘out’ for the “Mother of God” hyper-statement in simple phrase-parsing) but I will bet you have no alternative theory of paradox. What If I told you that paradox, worm holes, sub-conscious time slices, and micro-events of probability are sufficient to move Mohammad’s mountain? All under what I think the first law of the universe is (though it’s the 2nd law of thermodynamics) but more generally stated. In other words what if the universe functions autonomously in these time slices, teleologically balancing energy through a time-tunnel, sub-consciously affecting random chance sequentially to prevent major paradox from what the future should be? You’re a believer – but you’re of an obsolete enlightenment. I’d like you to read my book and help the future come about.

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  20. 20. Michael M 2:46 pm 08/3/2014

    Addressing Quakerism and its tenets are beyond SA, me or anyone: we cannot share the mental processes of individuals shielding selves from cognitively dissonant components of imaginative speculative complexes.

    Brains are, after all, composed of more and less related pathways.

    Determinism is a word intended to trace causation; differing sensory input among differing organisms is associated with different forms of evaluation.
    Suicide bombers, siblings seeking niche, male risk-taking, symbolic verbal language and its resultant tactical, strategic, and imaginary constructs, and human social coalition all introduce complex partially dependent and independent variables to make moot, questions of simplistic determinism.

    Every different species has arrays of choices which differ from limits inherent in any other species, as does every individual of any species:

    George Ellis has familiarised himself with epigenetics, and probably understands that individuals vary in temporal expression of genes themselves, and thus complex capacity to vary in behaviours.

    The peculiarity of avoidance of seeking testable question, in the form of adherence to a “religion” is indeed odd, but may allow those not steeped in seeking evolutionary probabilities in human biological processes, including those arising from symbolic communication (again, an entirely social phenotypic expression), to relax from playing socially as a scientist, and finding one’s place in a stew of social communities.

    We also have the capacity to explore alone – to disperse individually; but this most often occurs at an adolescent or early mature developmental stage in social animals, and those having succeeded in establishing profession/community and social status, are thus anchored like an adult mollusk or polyp in such norms as “religion”,of their community.

    Unquestioned beliefs may have survival value in social species which evolved to imagine.

    I rather enjoy the idea(!) of grounding in reality through chemical senses. To wolf and bear, smell and vomeronasal detection of hormone seems (!) closer to truth than human speculation.
    Both are pleasurable, although we’re stuck in a species having evolved fantastical symbolic social communication; pleasurable, yet stresses arising from social maneuvering (verbosity prominent among the machinations)are more difficult to relieve.

    It is more pleasant to sense, than to indulge in the social aberration of religion, unless one feels lacking in social embedment, as it were.
    I would recommend it to the good physicist, but if he does, he might lose friends: politicians, for instance, can’t make it in the USA without pretending to religion, even if patently absent morality or ethics.

    Other physicists have more accurately described deities as gaseous invertebrates, drolly hypothesizing instead of blindly accepting.

    Last, we can only make decisions using our sensory and social evaluative capacities, which differ in form only, from those of other species, but are parallel in survival value for individuals/reproductive ops.

    Since brains from fish to mammals process sensory (and imaginative – even hunting spiders stalk the invisible) information through neuronal pathways, structures, and neurotransmitters/modulators just like our own, evoke emotion, let’s not attempt to discredit this primary vital cognition. Cells, insects, and any organism, may experience chemical production in a fashion which might be said to be experienced as emotional!

    We choose in ways that we perceive to attract or build social coalition and survival.

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  21. 21. David Brown 7:23 pm 08/11/2014

    “… why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have …” “What Is Measurement? Why Does Measurement Exist?”
    “We claim that our observations add a new twist to discussions concerning the interpretation of quantum mechanics, which we call the cellular automaton (CA) interpretation.” — G. ‘t Hooft “Discreteness and Determinism in Superstrings”, 2012 by Gerard ‘t Hooft
    “The dual dwarf galaxy theorem is violated by the real universe and thus the standard model of cosmology is falsified:
    Dynamically relevant dark matter cannot exist in galaxies (The search for it will be fruitless).
    Effective dynamics is scale-invariant/Milgromian (i.e. “dark matter” must be mathematically equivalent to Milgromian dynamics).” — Pavel Kroupa “Pavel Kroupa – The vast polar structures around the Milky Way and Andromeda”, Nov. 18, 2013 (for quote see 54:14 of 1:12:57)

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  22. 22. harrisrat 6:03 pm 08/18/2014

    The question of where deterministic causation ends and where free will begins is of course not possible to determine as post #18 mentioned. But if any discourse is to be meaningful at all it seems to me that free will has to enter into the picture at some stage. If not all we have is highly complicated brain computers that spits out outputs from the inputs it recieves and there is no way to know whose outputs are correct.

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  23. 23. hkraznodar 6:01 pm 08/21/2014

    @scientifik – Keep your silly superstitions to yourself. Mr. Ellis never stated that religion provides solutions to the Israel, Syria problem. He just stated that physics also doesn’t provide a solution. You are so busy trying to force your own flavor of atheism on others that you are creating things out of nothing just to prove a point that no one cares about. How are you any better than SJCrum?

    Show me the mathematical proof using only real existing matter and energy values that proves him wrong. You can’t because science does not deal with that which can’t be falsified. You are just as delusional as those you mock.

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  24. 24. Francis Higgins 5:59 am 08/22/2014

    Without criticism of this article, “Always question everything, especially that which one knows to be true”.

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