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Panel discussion, the physics of first-person perspective (day 2)

Essentia Foundation | April 2, 2024
Panel discussion, the physics of first-person perspective (day 2)


This post currently has 5 comments.

  1. @drkarlsmith

    April 2, 2024 at 7:38 am

    I think Dr. Adlam's focus on intersubjectivity cuts to the heart of the matter. At the same time, it seems to me that some of the specific stances she seemed to be advocating in this panel discussion distract from the focus. For example, the focus on Laws.

    Dr, Adlam seemed to be saying that without Laws there is no rational basis to expect the future to be like the past. This seems to be either question-begging. For the existence of Laws is not enough to justify a belief that the future would have to be the past. These Laws would need to be understandable by us, known to us, constant over time, and sufficiently deterministic regarding first-person experience. Taking the simplest failure, suppose that we simply have the wrong or more generally that it's possible that we have the wrong law. Then by assumption a future prediction will or at least could fail. We have no way of knowing which prediction that will be and thus no justification for assuming that it won't be the very next one.

    We could say, well if there are Laws then we have reason to believe that we are current Laws even if not correct are approximately correct and thus will likely yield correct predictions at least under circumstances similar to those we've tested in the past. Yet, there is no Law necessitating this. It could be that as we refined Laws we get more and more consistent results along a given set of dimensions until we cross a Law Uncertainty Horizon which radically scrabbles the predictions of experiments bounding us away from consistent results.

    I chose this example to be reminiscent of past surprises in the refinement of predictions but the point is meant to be general. It is only by assuming that the future is like the past can we assume that our ever more approximately close Laws will yield ever more reliable predictions. There is nothing in the structure of Lawfulness that guarantees this. This type of radical departure becomes all the less constrained as we consider the possibility that we just can understand the basic Laws, that the Laws by their nature are invariant or that the underlying Laws themselves predict that most first-person observers will be deluded about that accuracy of the Law approximations. None of these can be ruled out by an appeal to Laws.

    The entire question rests on our belief that in addition to their being some fundamental structure, it is also the case that our procedure for uncovering this structure brings us ever closer to predictive accuracy and this in turn is simply based on past tendencies that themselves have no ontological force.

    Next, is the issue of whether or not we need a third-person perspective to ground the actual process of science. Here the assumption seems to be that Alice is basing her theories of the world on scientific experiments conducted by Bob, but since Alice cannot actually know Bob's perspective there is no basis for her believing the results of those experiments are informative. The problem is that Alice never bases her theories on the results of Bob's experiments in some absolute sense, but on what she observes her particular Bob to be saying.

    To be more concrete our theories about how our brains form a theory of mind include the possibility that we can be — indeed that some people consistently are — deluded about what other minds believe. Indeed, a careful examination of past science or intellectual work almost always reveals significant departures between what we thought our predecessors to be saying and what they did say. Further, its possible for the scientific reporting process itself to be fundamentally biased, as was the case in p-hacking. On top of that it is always possible that we, ourselves, are in denial about these things happening right now. Indeed, our review of the past shows this to be often the case for contemporaries in any paradigm. So our view is inevitably tainted by our own first-person perspective about what others have said and our science itself reveals to us that it is likely that perspective is at least somewhat off and quite possibly in deep denial. Yet, we don't reject the possibility of denial as self-refuting. We understand it to be a limitation.

    Said more abstractly, it is sometimes asked what it is like to be Wigner's Friend. But, Wigner's Friend is not something someone can possibly be. Wigner's Friend is definitionally a part of Wigner's imagination. Someone could only actually be "a person who imagines themselves to be Wigner's Friend" The mashing together of these entities is something we can often get away with but not always even in the classical world. That's because these two entities are psychologically isolated from one another in the same way that orthodox quantum mechanics suggests that they are factually isolated from each other. The parallels here are uncanny.

    That's what leads me to believe that these limitations are not something we should attempt to define away but to embrace and explore. They suggest that first-person isolation is not a mere artifact of the mind and all theories of mind but is somehow fundamental. The question then is given that fundamental separation, how does intersubjectivity arise. Not as a top-down requirement of the theory, but as an expansion of the theory. My hope, at least, is that work on this in quantum mechanics can help shed some light on the same question in theory mind.

    That said, I don't know where the rubber meets the road in intersubjectivity. That is what experiments we can possibly conduct to gain insight on this. However, some of the experimental metaphysics stuff seems to be surprisingly fruitful and perhaps a theory of intersubjectivity could help it along.

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