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08/08/2014

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Marcus,

On your P2P model, time's "flow" is relative to observers, and physical objects and properties exist timelessly. (Of course the P2P model is not the only way to get these theses. A straightforward interpretation of Relativity suffices, I think.) I think this is enough for a robust compatibilist agent-causation. It comes down to the fact that if physical events like my arm raising in the present have timeless properties, those can't be ontologically secondary to earlier events, regardless of causal relationships. Suppose it's a brute fact that *I* now raise my arm: an agent-causation, which I'll suggest is fully compatibilist. Then nothing about the past (or future) can detract from this fact of agent-causation. To say otherwise would be to privilege the earlier physical properties over the current ones, which contradicts timelessness. At least this is clear if the compatibilist agent-causation of my arm's rise is a physical fact, which I realize contradicts P2P, but consider a modified theory, "P2P-minus". If compatibilist agent-causation works in P2P-minus, then we have at least one way to make it work.

Hi Marcus,

You write: "In terms of "where" consciousness is located, the answer is simple: it's located outside of the physical information/holographic plate..."

This is the first point on your model where I become reluctant to go there, and I guess the reason is an aversion to dualism. However, this is no reason to not consider it, and there are so many other aspects of your model that I like that perhaps you'll convince me in subsequent posts.

You write: "You have to take the Plank length as brute/fundamental--as resulting from phenomenological simples beneath it. The way I see it, there are two problems here."...

Briefly, your worries on the details of my scheme are well justified, and only scratch the surface!

it is of course just an amateur pet theory, not a philosophically justified - or less still scientific - one. As I touched on before, the point for me is to look for parallels between alternative metaphysical positions and speculative physical theories, but of course, it's inevitably going to be hobbled with being based on my own very basic understanding (and vitally misunderstanding!) of the science.

As with all amateur pet theories, the chances of anything in there being more than an interesting fiction in there is negligible. That's the reason I'm here: looking for philosophical ideas that explore similar alternative metaphysics, but that have the virtue of being vetted by someone who knows what they're doing!

That said, I think pet theories have both a practical and an artistic value all of their own - (they are like Lynchian world, hence the theme of my site) - but I won't wax lyrical on that here.

As I say, I find these exchanges helpful in dissecting my own ideas, and in this case interesting because your view is attractive in itself - look forward to more.

Matt

Hi Paul: I think those are fair points. However, "P2P-minus" wouldn't predict (or explain) the kinds of violations of the normal quantum-wave function in human brains that the full-fledged P2P/Libertarian Compatibilist Theory does.

This is, I think, a crucial difference. If such violations are in fact observed along with the P2P Hypothesis' other predictions, the best explanation (I contend) is libertarian agent-causation in a higher reference-frame, not compatibilist agent-causation.

Hi Matt: Thanks for the follow-up!

I appreciate your aversion to dualism. I once shared it. I cut my philosophical teeth studying under Dennett, and was about as physicalist as they come. I only came to take dualism more seriously after many years, and reluctantly at that, but have come to believe -- on many converging grounds -- that is probably true. I'm working on a couple of papers now that attempt to give new arguments for it, but I think verifications of the P2P Hypothesis'/Libertarian Compatibilism's predictions might be a "game changer" in its favor. If it turns out (as I predict) that we observe violations of the normal quantum wave-function in human brains, then (I believe) we'll have some real empirical reasons to think something non-physical (i.e. something outside of our physical-world reference-frame) is ultimately responsible for human action.

I also appreciate your humble approach to pet theories. When it comes to stuff like this -- interpretations of quantum mechanics and the like -- theories have to be pretty speculative (as, indeed, mine is). Still, for all that, I agree with you that they are worth pursuing. The way I think about it, we should pursue all kinds of pet theories, see which ones explain the most, in the most unified way, and try to see which predictions might verify/falsify them. I think the P2P Hypothesis does very well on all these grounds. I think it promises to explain far more than other interpretations of quantum mechanics, and it makes some unique and general (but clear) predictions about what we should observe -- predictions that clearly distinguish it from predictions made by other theories (note: I also suspect that mucking around with P2P simulations of our own making might result in more predictions -- though, unfortunately, I lack the expertise to engage in such research: I'm no programmer!).

Anyway, although the theory is admittedly speculative for now, future observations may provide clear-cut reasons to think that it is true/false. We'll just have to wait and see! :)

Hi Marcus,

It's been fun to see the view unfold! But one thing has been nagging me about it for a while.

If I understand it, it attempts to explain certain (putative) phenomena about mentality, personal identity, time, and free will with the hypothesis that our reality is a simulation.

But we can ask: could the underlying world in which the simulation exists *also* exhibit these phenomena? That is, could someone outside of the simulation also experience a physical-phenomenal explanatory gap, a further-fact component of personal identity, a moving present, and libertarian free will?

If the answer is "no," then why are these phenomena more than just illusions? (Maybe it would be okay for you if you had to admit that some of these things were just illusions. But it wouldn't be okay for you if you had to admit that libertarian free will was, since you attribute heavy normative weight to it.)

If the answer is "yes," what could explain the phenomena in *that* world? If the answer is "another, higher-order simulation," you face an obvious regress. At the very least, you would need to admit not only the already radical claim that we are living in a simulation, but the much more radical claim that we are living in an infinite hierarchy of simulations. On the other hand, if the answer is "something else," then that "something else" is what is doing the real work, and on pain of regress the simulation hypothesis can offer no help in understanding it. And then the *philosophical* explanatory motivation for the simulation hypothesis disappears (though the scientific motivation for it might remain).

So, am I missing something? If not, which is it?

Hi BB: Thanks for your comment (and I'm glad to hear that you've enjoyed the discussion)!

I think yours is a very good worry to have, and I briefly discuss in it "A New Theory of Free Will" (see p. 44, fn. 65, and also pp. 45-46).

Basically, the answer I give there is: we can't know either way. We could be (1) a simulation inside a simulation, inside another simulation, ad infinitum; or, alternatively, (2) the P2P Model is brute/fundamental, in which case there is no issue of whether people/entities outside the simulation could experience "the same things we do" (for, on this alternative, reality just is -- at bottom -- brute, conscious free will interacting with 2D information).

Now, you're right: (1) entails an infinite regress. But things are not so simple here. Although philosophers tend to treat infinite regresses as reductios (in much the same way that physicists tend to assume that infinities are in physical equaltions), it's still an open question whether this is correct. In my view, the answer to this -- in both the philosophical and physics cases -- comes down to whether actual infinities (as opposed to merely potential) infinities are possible. Which is a *really* tough issue!

So, although I recognize the threat of infinite regress on option (1), I'm not sure that we should reject option (1) on such grounds. Perhaps, as I note in fn. 65 of "A New Theory of Free Will", reality really is "turtles all the way down" (or, rather, simulations all the way down--an infinite hierarchy of simulations).

The more I understand about physics, the more plausible this seems to me. Physical reality, for instance, appears to have a fractal structure (a structure where, however, close you "zoom in" or "zoom out", the same general structures emerge). Second, chaotic inflation (a serious physical theory) entails that the physical universe expands infinitely, generating an infinite series of new spatiotemporally closed universes. Etc. So, perhaps infinite regresses are actual. (Again, a really tough issue).

But now notice what follows if we accept the standard line on regresses (i.e. they can't be true). In that case, the case for the P2P Hypothesis/Libertarian Compatibilism pushes us to option (2): namely, that -- at some point (whether here, or in some higher level) -- there is a *fundamental* simulation, a P2P network that is not explained in terms of any further network.

This is, as you note, super-mysterious. How could there be a metaphysically ground-level, brute, unexplainable P2P network consisting of non-physical consciousnesses reading a 2D holgraphic plate?

This is indeed a mystery -- and yet it brings me back to a general point that I really like to lean on a lot: *any* physical/metaphysical theory has to invoke some such mystery.

Consider naturalism, for instance. Here, we are asked to simply assume that the universe (or multiverse), physical laws (quantum mechanics, relativity, etc.), just ARE. Notice how completely "magical" this is. It just posits a bunch of unexplainable stuff and says, "That's the stuff we can't explain."

Given that this is the case, the complaint, "The P2P Hypothesis posits a bunch of unexplainable stuff", should carry little weight. Given that any and every ultimate physics/metaphysics end up positing mysteries, we should prefer whichever such theory (1) posits the *fewest*, (2) explains the most, and (3) makes the right predictions. I'm suggesting that the P2P Hypothesis might turn out to be the best theory on all three measures, and thus that, although it too asserts mysteries, its mysteries may the right ones to posit (and traditional physics'/naturalism's mysteries the wrong ones).

Wait, your option (2) is not the "something else" I had in mind!

To be clear: the alternative to the infinite hierarchy I had in mind (and that I took your initial thought experiment to suggest) was kind of like the Matrix--escaping from the simulation, we would discover that we are in a more-or-less physical world (albeit maybe one with really different laws or whatever) that might or might not include a physical-phenomenal explanatory gap, a further-fact component of personal identity, a moving present, and libertarian free will--such that, if it did include these things, they would need non-P2P explanations. I hope you see how it would be really bad for you if you turned out to be committed to *this* alternative. For then someone could argue as follows: "Okay, Marcus, let's allow that the phenomena ultimately have other, non-P2P explanations. But your argument for the P2P hypothesis was an inference to the best explanation. But now you have conceded that the P2P hypothesis is not the best explanation. For the other explanation is strictly more economical. If we need to posit these other things to explain the phenomena in the simulated world, why not just posit them to explain the phenomena in this world, too, and cut out the middleman?"

But now you are saying there is another option: the fundamental, regress stopping world need not, you suggest, be a more-or-less physical, outside-the-Matrix fundamental. It could be a "fundamental simulation." But as far as I can tell this possibility--that the world as we experience is a product of the interaction between essentially nonphysical minds--does not really describe a "simulation" at all. It describes old-fashioned Berkeleyan idealism. Which I guess is fine, but it again makes me wonder: if I am to accept that Berkeleyan idealism could be true of some higher-order simulating world, why not just cut out the middleman and ask me to accept that it could be true of this one?

(fwiw, I agree that an infinite hierarchy does not necessarily amount to a reductio. The universe is presumably infinite along some dimension or other, so maybe degrees of simulation could be one. My goal wasn't so much to argue for the falsity of your view as to press you to be clearer about your commitments, which I think are even more radical than you say. If the P2P hypothesis is going to be neither explanatorily superfluous nor an error theory, you either need infinite simulations or idealism. Either is a lot to swallow!)

Hi BB: Thanks for your reply. Let me try to clarify.

You write: To be clear: "The alternative to the infinite hierarchy I had in mind (and that I took your initial thought experiment to suggest) was kind of like the Matrix--escaping from the simulation, we would discover that we are in a more-or-less physical world (albeit maybe one with really different laws or whatever) that might or might not include a physical-phenomenal explanatory gap, a further-fact component of personal identity, a moving present, and libertarian free will--such that, if it did include these things, they would need non-P2P explanations. I hope you see how it would be really bad for you if you turned out to be committed to *this* alternative."

This would be bad, if it were a coherent alternative. What I'm suggesting is that options (1) and (2) may be the *only* coherent ones that explain phenomena (i.e. quantum mechanics, the Planck length) in need of explaining.

For instance, let's say the various quantum phenomena I discuss in the OP (superposition, wave-particle duality, Planck length, etc.) can only be explained by the P2P Hypothesis. That is, let's say that without it, all of these crazy phenomena must go unexplained (i.e. as things are now!). Assume, furthermore, that the P2P Hypothesis's empirical predictions are borne out. This would entail that *our* level of reality is a P2P simulation.

Suppose next that there were a higher-level of reality, as in the Matrix. Either the same (quantum) phenomena obtain there or not -- and either the same empirical predictions obtain there, or not. If they do, then I will say the best theory of *that* level of reality is that it too is a P2P simulation.

And so on, ad infinitum. Which would leave two options: either (1) an infinitely nested hierarchy of simulated realities, or (2) some ground-level, fundamental, unexplainable P2P Network -- the two options I gave.

Now, you're certainly right about one thing. If were released from our reality into a higher level and there WEREN'T quantum phenomena at that level (but, rather, things are as you describe at that level: a broadly "physical" world just like ours, etc.), then that would be grounds for thinking that *that* level isn't a P2P simulation.

But now notice a couple of things.

First, the claim that *our* level of reality is a P2P simulation would still be the best explanation of our reality (it just wouldn't be the best explanation of the higher-level reality).

Second, for reasons I suggest in my new post (on holography), I'm not convinced that a non-holographic "physical" reality is even possible. Though I need to give a lot of argument here, in brief, I'm thinking that "physical objects" *have* to be defined in terms of information. But what is information? Answer: the functional equivalent of data written on a holographic plate. But, as I note in the new post, in order to get an actual hologram, you need more than a holographic plate: you need a distinct projection mechanism to observe the plate. As such, I'm not certain at this point that a "physical, non-simulated physical world" is a coherent possibility. I'm more inclined these days to think that *every* possible world is functionally equivalent to a holographic simulation.

(Note: I don't exactly expect you to take my word here, as obviously I need to make the case for this. I'm just trying to convey -- within the limits of a blog comment -- how I'd like to block your worry! I hope this is sufficient.:)

Anyway, this is how I would address your interlocutor who says: "Okay, Marcus, let's allow that the phenomena ultimately have other, non-P2P explanations. But your argument for the P2P hypothesis was an inference to the best explanation. But now you have conceded that the P2P hypothesis is not the best explanation. For the other explanation is strictly more economical. If we need to posit these other things to explain the phenomena in the simulated world, why not just posit them to explain the phenomena in this world, too, and cut out the middleman?"

I'm inclined to say: (1) I'm not sure there are other, non-P2P explanations for *our* level of reality, and (2) even if there were, I still think mine is the most economical (for what's more economical: asserting that all of the various quantum phenomena that exist in our world are brute, having *no* unified explanation (the status quo), or positing a unified explanation of all of them whose unique empirical predictions, let's say, are verified).

I'd also really want to place a lot of emphasis on this last point: the P2P Model's empirical predictions. Existing, naturalistic interpretations of quantum mechanics do not make the conjunction of predictions that my model makes. So, if its predictions are all verified, your interlocutor would simply be wrong: their "explanation" of quantum phenomena wouldn't explain things about (our level of reality, or any level of reality with the same quantum phenomena) that my model does.

Your next comment is: "But now you are saying there is another option: the fundamental, regress stopping world need not, you suggest, be a more-or-less physical, outside-the-Matrix fundamental. It could be a "fundamental simulation." But as far as I can tell this possibility--that the world as we experience is a product of the interaction between essentially nonphysical minds--does not really describe a "simulation" at all. It describes old-fashioned Berkeleyan idealism."

As I've noted in my previous response to V. Alan White, I think this is right...but also not right. My view may well turn out to be an old-fashioned Berkeleyan idealism -- but, if I am right, this kind of Berkeleyan idealism is functionally identical to a P2P simulation. To go all the way down the rabbit-hole, so to speak, I really do want to explode the "reality" vs. "idealism" distinction (just as I think Berkeley did). I'm inclined to say that every possible reality is a "simulation", and thus, that there isn't any coherent distinction between simulations and "reality."

This, I think, also addressed your next point, which was: Which I guess is fine, but it again makes me wonder: "If I am to accept that Berkeleyan idealism could be true of some higher-order simulating world, why not just cut out the middleman and ask me to accept that it could be true of this one?"

This is exactly what I am advocating. Given that our world appears to show tell-tale signs of being functionally identical to a P2P simulation, and that functional structure is identical to a (P2P version of) Berkeleyan idealism, we should believe that our level of reality just as a (P2P version of) Berkeleyan idealism. I think is exactly the right way to construe my view. But notice: there is no "middle-man", on my account. The P2P Hypothesis, as I've constructed it, is *identical* to a (P2P version of) Berkeley's idealism.

So, to conclude, I think you are absolutely right when you write: "My goal wasn't so much to argue for the falsity of your view as to press you to be clearer about your commitments, which I think are even more radical than you say. If the P2P hypothesis is going to be neither explanatorily superfluous nor an error theory, you either need infinite simulations or idealism. Either is a lot to swallow!)"

Both options are a lot to swallow, indeed! But, I want to say, if my model's predictions are verified, then that disjunction -- infinite simulations or idealism -- really are the best explanation of observed phenomena (far better--again, if the predictions are verified--than any rival theory). So, again, it all comes down to the predictions.

One final note, on something I always feel is worth emphasizing. Sometimes I think that people don't give due consideration to how much traditional *naturalism* is to swallow. For let's think about what naturalism entails. Naturalism entails that this big beast of a universe (as well as other universes beyond its inflating cosmological horizon) is just here -- end of story.

Not only that. Traditional naturalism entails that the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity (not to mention a wide variety of problems in particle physics, such as the hierarchy problem, a wide variety of fine-tunings, etc.) are just here -- end of story.

Not only that. The very fact that anything obeys any laws at *all* is a magical mystery. Think for instance of this apple sitting here on this washing machine (!) next to me. Think about all of the *possible* laws of nature that could apply to it. There is literally an infinite variety of laws that could apply to it. If the universe were to cycle through every possible law of nature, it would settle on *these* laws just once (having the probability of 1-in-infinity!).

What's the lesson of all this? The lesson, I think, is that no matter how we look at the world -- as naturalists, etc. -- the world is completely miraculous. As Einstein once put it, the most miraculous thing is perhaps the very fact that the universe is even comprehensible at all!

No matter which direction we go (including status quo naturalism), we have a lot to swallow. The real question is *which* crazy things we should swallow -- and, I want to say, there some real reasons to think that the P2P Model's crazy disjunction (either infinite simulations or ground-floor P2P Berkelean idealism) may be the right crazy to swallow, after all. ;)

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