Re: Perpetual motion via entropy disposal (was Re: effectiveperfection)

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Mon Nov 27 2000 - 15:00:18 MST

"Daniel E. Azzopardi" wrote:
> I've chosen to reply to this instead of your previous reply
> (because I've got a thesis to write ;-) ). Your previous reply contained
> many good points many of which I agree with, and I'll try to work what I'd
> like to say into here.
> Firstly, in direct response to the above, CERN has recently
> announced they have a Higgs candidate (they're ont going to be able to
> confirm it however...) - this is the holy grail at the moment, and
> understanding this and CP violation (hopefully measured at SLAC, but I'm
> biased) could well open up those GUTs to direct experimental assault.

I could be wrong about the whole GUT thing. On the other hand, though, we
could simply see a continuation of the situation today, where all the new
data to come out of these experiments simply winds up disproving the
existing theories so that even more complex GUTs must be invented to
explain the new data.

> There are billions of people alive in the world today, millions of very
> smart people - why shouldn't a vanishingly small fraction of them spend
> their time inventing competing theories which can't yet be put to the
> test? Even if they are barking up the wrong tree, creatively mapping out
> possibilities for future investigation is better than doing reactionary
> science.

Like I said, a physicist's salary is never wasted. But even better would
be barking up the right tree. In any case, my original objection was not
to some people pursuing GUTs, but rather to the blind spots implied by
ruling out theories which predict closed timelike curves or regarding
state-vector reduction as philosophical rather than physical, which rules
out alternative avenues of theoretical and experimental exploration that I
think would yield better results than GU theory and accelerator

> You talk about state vector reduction and the non-local nature of QM, and
> I think you are suggesting that our next big breakthrough will be a
> paradigm shift due to some deeper level of understanding gained there.
> Well, it's a difficult problem, and most physicists are content to leave
> it in the realm of philosophy rather than science (in much the same way as
> the many worlds interpretation). Bell's theorem "shows" QM is non-local,
> and there where a whole series of experiments in the late 80s/early 90s
> (and probably more since then, but I haven't had time to keep up with
> developments in this sub-field since I first studied it) that attempted to
> prove this experimentally.

I was under the impression that EPR/Bell inequalities had been definitely
predicted by a known theory and thoroughly verified experimentally as a
matter of form, on the same order as SR.

> There was also a recent macroscopic observation
> of the collapse of the wavefunction [Physics World, about two issues ago].

Yes, I know. It's one of the reasons I'm allowed to advocate experiments
in this area. ;)

> Experiments such as these are already happening, and may give us further
> insight, but then again we (~90% of the Physicists that have ever lived)
> have been worrying about EPR for 7 decades and still haven't gotten
> anywhere... it may be that there is nothing else to know and we've reached
> the limit there.

No way! If physics can't say what physical arrangement constitutes an
"observation", then there's a pretty darn big hole - one that can
presumably be fixed by experiment. As for those 7 decades... well, let's
face it, progress in physics has always been made by - or at least,
attributed to - individual geniuses and their bright ideas, not by slow
slogging. That whole drama is the reason why physicists get plagued by
crank letters and why the media always treats physics as the queen of

> Given the number of Physicists around and the lack of
> understanding in the fundamental areas of QM and GR, we probably need
> better (ie: machine) intelligence to give us the breakthrough you predict.

I really don't think mortal physicists have reached the point where they
need to give up.

> > > GUTs throw hugely increasing amounts of complexity in
> > > exchange for vanishingly small returns of prediction, and this should be
> > > enough to tell us that GUTs are on the wrong track.
> Well, we don't know until we put it to experiment! Is there substructure
> below the three generations of fermions? Why the heirarchy of masses? More
> importantly, do any of these questions matter to readers of this list? I
> think they do.

Well, *I'm* interested, but it doesn't really matter to AI unless you can
build a faster computer. And even if they confirm the Higgs boson
tomorrow, we still won't have ultrafast Higgsium computers until Saturday
at the earliest.

Quantum computers are another issue entirely - a hopeful sign. Once
actual non-physicist engineers start *caring* about when state-vector
reduction occurs, the philosophical perspective won't hold for long.
Technology does sometimes drive physics - in fact, it was that way during
a lot of the glory days, from Watt and steam to Manhattan and Feynman.
Who knows? The glory days may be coming back.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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