Reductionism (was: future of human evolution)

From: Marc Geddes (
Date: Mon Oct 04 2004 - 00:11:32 MDT

Eliezer Yudkowsky ( said:

>Now, you, a human, can come up with a short
explanation that is more
cheaply computable than physics. And this explanation
seems good to you,
since it enables you to actually compute a prediction
and manipulate
reality, where the underlying equations of physics are
intractable to you.
But reality itself does not care about your cheapo
explanation. Reality
cares only about the explanation that the universe
itself uses, that
incredibly intractable process of quantum mechanics.
The computation you
have in your mind that lets you cheaply predict your
nose is not part of
your nose; it exists only in the particles making up
your brain. Your
actual nose uses only physics. And indeed, could you
pay the cost of
computing, the equations of quantum mechanics would
give you a more precise
(better calibrated) predictive distribution over the
possible locations of
your nose, than anything you could do with mere
explanation. Even if the
explanation is simpler in the Kolmogorov sense, and
not just cheaper to
compute, reality itself still doesn't care about
anything but physics.

>That's it. That's the whole fuss silly philosophers
make over reductionism
and holism. A computationally intractable physical
phenomenon can have
regularities that enable human minds to produce
"explanations", but the
explanations are still only in the mind, not in the
underlying physics.
The explanations are not anything above or beyond the
physics. They are
not anything extra that must be added to the physics.
They are just
cheaper ways for humans to compute (almost) the same

I am not at all sure you are right about this. I
think these statements of yours probably sum up the
reason why I seriously doubt your current approach.

What is 'physics'? All of the current concepts of
physics started with human attempts to *explain* the
universe. I don't see why what you call *cheapo*
explanations are any less fundamental than physics
explanations. Remember even quantum physics started
out as a form human explanation.

You say (of higher level explanations) that 'the
explanations are only in the mind', but I don't see a
clear-cut distinction between the physics explanation
and a higher-level more holistic explanation.
Following your line of reasoning you'd have to say
that quantum physics is only in the mind as well.

>Philosophers get all weirded out about how water
appears to have this
magical additional property of wetness. This error is
yet another case of
Jaynes's "Mind Projection Fallacy". Philosophers think
as if explanations
were somehow real things, instead of explanations
being cheap imperfect
approximations of physics.

Are you sure about this?

Physicists think as if 'physics' was somehow a real
thing which could exist independently of a mind to
comprehend it....

What is the distinction between 'explanations' and
'physics'? I must confess I do not see it.

>A human may discover the additional cheap
approximation of wetness, and this will be an
additional thought that was
not there before.

>But the map is not the territory

Isn't it?

>The water molecules
themselves are just water molecules, and have no
additional property of
wetness. The apparent "additional property" exists in
your explanation of
the water, playing no role in the physics of the water
itself. The thought
of "wetness" exists in you as a thought distinct from
your thought about
the low-level physics of water molecules. But water
molecules do not have
an additional property of wetness apart from their
low-level physics

The very concept of 'water molecules' is just a human
explanation for complex quantum wave functions isn't
it? So why is 'the physics of water molecules' any
more fundamental than the property of 'wetness'?

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