About the FQXI essay contest on the math/physics connection

Ideological oppositions and the absurdity of community rating

by Sylvain Poirier

Which are the best essays in this contest

I looked at most essays, and the best essays I found are:

Seriously. I cared to make the best essay, altogether scientifically accurate, clear and very insightful and innovative, including (but not restricted to)

Not only this, but I also cared to make the most serious, accurate and developed comments to many essays - I did not find anyone else writing such serious and elaborate comments as I did.

Despite of this, and that I rated 10 the other 2 above, we still have very bad ratings : on March 16th, rating was 5.3 (13 ratings) for Woit ; 3.9 (9 ratings) for myself. Without my rating, you can figure out how absurdly low their rating would have been.

Other valuable essays

(in no particular order)

On Finding Meaning in the Language of Physics by Conrad Dale Johnson
Seeking truth using different methods by Roger Schlafly
From Physicality to Mathematicality, to Informaticality, to Ontology, and Consciousness by Janko Kokosar
Godel's Incompleteness Theorems and Platonic Metaphysics by Aleksandar Mikovic
A Metaphorical Chart of Our Mathematical Ontology by Philip Gibbs
Are Boltzmann Brains running Hilbert's Hotel? by William T. Parsons
Limits of Mathematical Representation by Paul Merriam (very short but right to the point)
Was there a choice? by William Nelson
The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics by Sudhanva S Lalit (same topic as Peter Woit)
Math tells us what works, not what is real or why: a study in comparative dimensional physics by Neil Bates
Genesis of a Pythagorean Universe by Alexey and Lev Burov

And after that I would put...

The Mysterious Connection between Physics and Mathematics by Syed Muhammad Ahmad Tirmazi
Mathematical and Non-Mathematical Aspects of Existence by Laurence Hitterdale
A Defense of Scientific Platonism without Metaphysical Presuppositions by Peter Martin Punin
For a mathematization of Physics by Giacomo Mauro D'Ariano
The Multiverse, the Initial Conditions, the Laws and, Mathematics by Laura Mersini-Houghton
The Amazing Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mathematical Models in Physics by Ed Unverricht
On a Final Theory of Mathematics and Physics by Michael Rios
Mathematics, physics, plants …. Fibonacci series by Miroslaw Kozlowski
Chasing the mathematical existence by Paolo Bellan
Do aliens know about quantum fields? by Daniel Canarutto
Can mathematical structures be conscious? by Jeremy Charles Collins
Knowledge and time by Luca Valeri
The utterly prosaic connection between physics and mathematics by Matt Visser

What about the best rated essays ?

On the other hand, those who appeared best by "community rating" (on March 16th) were :

What does it mean ? What it truly means, is only one thing : in the way it is currently implemented, this community rating is an utterly senseless, ridiculous system. But where does the problem come from ? Here are the explanations.

The ideological oppositions

Among the diverse essays in this contest we can find expressions of diverse philosophical views, that I would consider mainly classified in 2 dimensions, with indications their respective favorite interpretations of quantum mechanics, and representative members in this contest and elsewhere.

Scientism (Platonism)

Recognize with R. W. HAMMING that "mathematics is unreasonably effective [in Physics] and that all of the [natural] explanations when added together simply are not enough to explain [it]", and are thus also mathematical Platonists: they see the world of pure mathematics as a fundamental reality.
Obscurantism (Anti-Platonism)

Deny the amazing efficiency of mathematics observed in physics; stay ignorant about it. Such people usually hate mathematics because they cannot understand it, so they need pseudo-arguments to feel proud of their ignorance.
Consciousness is fundamental
Mind/mathematics dualism
Accept both consciousness and mathematics as fundamental realities
QM: Mind makes collapse after decoherence

E. Schrödinger, J.von Neumann, E.Wigner, Casey Blood, J. A. Wheeler, A. A. Grib, (Euan Squires ?), D. Chalmers, J.Eccles, R.C.Henry

This FQXI contest: S.Poirier, L.Hitterdale, Paolo Bellan, Muhammad Ahmad Tirmazi, Neil Bates
Mind/matter dualism

QM : Mind makes collapse before decoherence

(Euan Squires ?)
QM : Law of Attraction / Any shit / Don't know QM

J.Kokosar, A&L.Burov
Rare in this contest though they form the overwhelming majority of humans, probably because they like neither math nor physics ;-)

Agnostic scientism
QM : Copenhagen/QBism
Peter Woit, L.T.Okoko, Aleksandar Mikovic, Peter Martin Punin (Defense of Scientific Platonism), David Lyle Peterson,

QM : What ? Everyone his own opinion.
FQXI : A.G.Mujumdar&T.Singh ,
Torsten Asselmeyer-Maluga,
Neutral monism

Mesoscopic Panpsychism
QM : Spontaneous collapse (Penrose)
Elementary Panpsychism

Vimal, Hoffman

 E.E.Klingman (calls himself "physicalist" here but expressed spiritualism in another essay)
Consciouness is emergent
Mathematical Universe Hypothesis
(mathematical monism)

QM :
Many-worlds interpretation
Famous physicists: H.Everett, David Wallace, Sean Carroll, Max Tegmark.

FQXI essays : Philip Gibbs, Cristinel Stoica, Giacomo Mauro D'Ariano, Sascha Vongehr, Marcel-Marie LeBel, Rick Searle, Adel H Sadeq, Jeremy Charles Collins
Pushed to its extreme (and, I think, absurd) consequences by Marc Séguin

Criticized in the essays of A&L.Burov, L.Hitterdale, Roger Schlafly, Paul Merriam
Mature Physicalism

QM:  Hidden variables, Spontaneous collapse (GRW)
T. Maudlin (as expressed elsewhere)
Naive physicalism

Local deterministic realism

FQXI essays (some are included here just based on the authors positively commenting crackpot ones): Lee Smolin, Joe Fisher, Alan M. Kadin, T.E.Phipps, M. J. Goodband, Matthew Saul Leifer, Ed Unverricht , Koorosh Shahdaei , Jose P. Koshy, Colin Walker , Ken Hon Seto , Al Schneider , Gary D. Simpson , basudeba mishra , Eckard Blumschein , Peter Jackson , George Rajna , Jacek Safuta , Branko L Zivlak, Sara Imari Walker ...

(This table was expanded after initial writing; the label Idealism was moved from the scientism column (mind/mathematics dualism) to obscurantism (religion) after I tried for some time to explain to idealists how to side with science, and finally gave up as they stubbornedly refused to do so. Well, these people are Christians...more comments on the debate on quantum idealism and science)

Among these oppositions, the biggest clash is between columns : Scientism and Obscurantism. Then is also a clash between the cells of the Obscurantism column.

Arguments for Mathematical Platonism, and what is remarkable about the success of mathematics in physics

A try of argument for Platonism was given by Peter Martin Punin, "Defense of Scientific Platonism..". See my comments there (As I noted there, that article has some points, but also some flaws), and in my Web page on the topic.

As for the remarkable role of maths in physics: while the presence of symmetries is one aspect, it is far from the only one, as I commented in reply to the essay by Milen Velchev Velev.

Many authors claim to "explain" the remarkable role of maths and physics by the assumption that it does not exist, i.e. it is not remarkable, for lack of an idea of what might its "remarkable" character precisely mean, as how else might things be ? This is pure lack of imagination. This remarkable character of the success of mathematics in physics really means something non-necessary, and really remarkable, as expressed in several essays:

I gave arguments in my comment to Mathematics is Physics by Matthew Saul Leifer : here is a copy of my last remark, less linked to the specific article I was replying to (This idea is also contained in Martin Seltmann's essay)

To explain how the concepts of "abstraction" and "generality" differ, I need to take a specific example. I would like you to consider the case of the Dirac equation. This is a particular case of equation of a particular object (electrons or other spin 1/2 massive particles), but nevertheless a very abstract one.

This equation describes the field of electronic presence as taking values in the space of bispinors of space-time. To say roughly, we can define this space as the sum of 2 spinor spaces (with conjugate types), where a spinor space is a 2-dimensional complex space E such that the space of hermitian forms on E is identified with the tangent space to this point of space-time. Namely, tangent vectors (x,y,z,t) to this point are identified with Hermitian forms on E with matrix

t+x y−iz
y+iz t−x

since the determinant of this matrix coincides with the relativistic invariant (t2 − x2 − y2 − z2).

This is very abstract, but not any kind of "generality of things" like what category theory does by describing regularity classes of particular systems that may go down to objects that look "natural" in a naturalistic sense. Now what is amazing with the success of mathematics is that this spinor space E was found to be "what electrons (and other fermions) are actually made of". Yet its connection to space-time, as described above, is... quite abstract. Spinors are not "made of" space-time connections, since any spinor (element of E) would correspond to a light-like direction of space-time but any physical description by such a direction would fail to fix the phase of this spinor. Concretely, a big problem with a spinor is that its phase is reversed when you apply to it a rotation with angle 2pi.

Which is one of the reasons why I do not think any materialistic explanation is plausible to account for the laws of physics as they appear : how such an amazing thing as the Dirac equation can be relevant to physics.

On accusations of "inappropriateness" of the present review

Discussions already took place in this thread (continued there). The main accusations that came up were found incoherent, and some misunderstandings were resolved (sorry I cannot fix all issues as my time is not infinite, it is a heavy work...). Interestingly, I got the support of Lawrence B Crowell who recently came up to 1st community rate, and is now 2nd (on April 16).

What is obscurantism and why is it so popular in the world

It might also be called "Cult of Stupidity". This can be illustrated by the case of Ken Wharton's essay, whose typicality is confirmed by the symptomatic fact it got a rather high community rating. The main points of criticism I find to make there are already expressed in comments by Armin Nikkhah Shirazi, Alexey/Lev Burov and Peter Jackson.
In particular, its way of qualifying the topic that he is trying to explain. The real topic of the contest was, why are the laws of physics so highly mathematical. But what does it mean, to be highly mathematical ? This author interprets it to mean : "less intuitive", where the intuitiveness is supposed to be : what is hard-wired in our brain as a result of natural evolution, that is useful for our survival.
However, this is missing the real issue. The real issue of the remarkable effectiveness of high mathematics, and what is meant by high mathematics, is not that this is particularly non-intuitive mathematics, but on the contrary: it is a good surprise that this is clear, elegant mathematics. A good surprise, as it is not less intuitive than naive mathematics, but it is still intuitive, though it needs an effort to learn and see it as such, as this is a kind of intuitiveness far away from daily experience. What is more precisely remarkable there, is not that it differs from daily experience (which is expectable !), but that it still turns out to be intuitive despite this. And what makes this misunderstanding symptomatic of obscurantism, is that it expresses the viewpoint of the ignorant, who have troubles with high mathematics which seems obscure and counter-intuitive to them as they cannot naturally understand it, they could not adapt their intuition to it.
Another absurdity in that essay, is that it describes things as a better success of the works of mathematicians over that of physicists (or : the better ability of mathematicians over physicists to discover more relevant mathematical concepts for physics), as explained by, well, that mathematicians were much more productive than physicists, who were made mentally handicapped by their profession itself which did not let them dare doing any productive thinking. Which not only diverts from the topic (which was not who discovered the right concepts, but how can these concepts be qualified in themselves); it undervalues the imagination of physicists, an idea of lack of imagination which would be strange and I do not see it as resolving more problems than it creates ; on the contrary we might argue that physicists can be sometimes more productive as they are not afraid to go forwards even when rigorous mathematical foundations were not found yet (for example, physicists are not afraid to calculate on distributions without caring for rigorous foundations); and, well, it is just a speculation of how things "may be going" in the work of physicists (as if it was a mystery for which speculations remain open and any suggestion is plausible) and does not really fit with how things go. And while this is not the point here, I can also notice his crackpot orientation from his comment "I've been finding it hard to push unusual physics ideas. I would say that when it comes to dramatic changes, leaping into some quite different framework, math is more fearless than physics, for the reasons I outline in the essay.", where I guess he missed the true reason : physics has to be conservative because it has to fit with what has been verified by experience.

Basically, the root of obscurantism is a lack of natural intelligence. Human intelligence developed by natural evolution, from animal ancestors who were, well... not so intelligent. This evolution is a very slow process, and it is driven by natural selection. That is, a higher intelligence level can only come first by appearing on one or a few individual by mutations, then slowly spreading if (and only if) the more intelligent humans have better chances to survive and reproduce than the less intelligent. This latter condition was often relatively satisfied in the ancient past, but less so in recent centuries.
In the lack of selective advantage, intelligence does not significantly spread well across the human specie at the time scale of centuries, but it can exist as a diversity, in a small minority of people.
So, while modern science turned out to be "ready" to be discovered very quickly (a few centuries is a very short time at the scale of human evolution !), we can observe that essentially the same humanity as we have now could not discover it during the past, say, 10,000 years. How stupid they were ! Well, so if they were stupid, then today's humanity must be overall stupid as well, and this is indeed what we observe : most humans now on Earth are stupid, unable to understand modern science. Only a small minority of people (scientists) were able to develop, and still are able to understand, modern science. But for them to be able to effectively work and produce modern science, just existing is not enough : they also need the opportunity to meet each other, despite the fact that they are a minority. In "natural conditions", such people would be isolated, surrounded by idiots, thus with no opportunity to exchange their discoveries among their peers. They need a sort of... antispam filter, to be able to focus their communication with the minority of their peers, and not be polluted by the noise of non-intelligent opinions.

Otherwise, we can also observe the phenomenon of what kind of ideologies happened to be spread in the large public in the last few thousand years : first religions, then Marxism which is just a religion like others (though a materialistic one). So in fact it does not matter whether a religion is theistic, spiritualist-without-God like Buddhism, or plainly materialistic. They all have many things in common. Namely, they are powerful mental viruses, thought systems full of pseudo-arguments (the correctness of arguments does not matter anyway because most humans are unable to check it) which are efficient in giving these stupid people the illusion of being right when they stick to these systems, despite their falsity.
Not all people need such a comfort, of course, so many people just don't care. However some people care, since of course it can feel not comfortable to not understand the world, so when they care, they will go to listen to those who think that they found some truths. Which naturally often happens to be, well, not truths, but systems of powerful delusion that are efficient in giving stupid people the comfort of believing that they have the truth, despite their stupidity.
Of course a possible source of problem with stupid people, why they cannot admit their stupidity and recognize the intelligence of the intelligent, is, how can they know who is intelligent ? And so often, leaders who can be found to claim to bring intelligent truths, are in fact telling nonsense. That's natural. Discerning the right authority would be a very hard problem. By lack of naturally accessible means produce or discern the right authorities, nature had to cope with the wrong ones.

For more details about the concrete troubles with the lack of rationality and how desperate is any try of debate between rational and irrational people, see my pages:

What is materialism and why is it now a form of obscurantism in physics

This section was moved to a separate page, follow the link.

Why is obscurantism so popular among FQXI participants

People in the system are usually specialized, far from general "fundamental questions" and too busy working for the system to have any time to participate in FQXI contests.
Obscurantists, on the other hand, have less chances to be accepted in the system, and they are idle and desperate about finding the chance to propagate their obscurantist ideology. They are more naturally convinced that they are bringing revolutions to the foundations of science, so FQXI is the ideal place for them to come to the spotlight and have the world hear their voice.
Moreover, questions formulated previous years in FQXI contests were often ill-defined and typically just the topics on which nothing else than bullshit can be said (such as "it from bit or bit from it", "Is Reality Digital or Analog?"), thus repelling serious people, and other recent topics "Questioning the Foundations ", "The Nature of Time " were just ideal for obscurantists who believe that they can overthrow current science and who have general bullshit to say.
Now this year's topic, to explain the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics", can also be very attractive to the people who are all the more confident in their own ability to "explain" the connection between math and physics that they are ignorant about it, and have a strong faith in its non-existence (as something remarkable). As said Bertrand Russell : "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."

And, crackpots are present among founders and members:
Some fqxi funding to crackpot research:

Why Philip Gibbs has such a high community rating

It cannot come from the scientific quality of his essay, since it is only a relative quality (with some flaws as I pointed out), but even more especially because, as demonstrated by the community ratings of the rest of essays in this contest, community rating generally has nothing to do with scientific quality anyway. On the contrary, scientific quality would be rather a handicap in this rating. Of course some essays have well-deserved very low rating. Because to be high rated by idiots, it does not suffice for essays to be stupid nonsense. They also need to be the sort of sophisticated, "quality" nonsense able to give idiots the feeling that it constitutes an intelligent, convincing defense of their obscurantist ideology. But the essay of Philip Gibbs does not have this "quality".
He does not even try to defend any obscurantist position that would please the idiots; as his position (mathematical universe hypothesis) belongs to the scientism group. So it needs another explanation.

And the only rational explanation for his high rate, has nothing to do with the content of his article. Idiots give him high rates, not that they love his essay, but because they love him.
They love him because he is the creator of ViXra.
He explained his motivations for creating ViXra in his 2014 essay, Open Peer Review to Save the World (which also had high community and public ratings).

But it's not even that he tries to defend any obscurantist ideology there : most of his ideas are sound and defensible.
In fact, the popularity he gets among idiots by his creation of ViXra and his ideas on Open Peer Review, is based on a double misunderstanding : one misunderstanding by himself, and one misunderstanding by idiots who love him.

His misunderstanding is to insist on the fact that institutional habits and peer review can be biased, which may also happen in principle, but which is only one side of things; he does not seem to measure the real extent to which science does need a filter to survive in an ocean of bad ideas from amateurs. His proposition of open peer review, where anyone can bring a review, can be nice, as, for example, my ideas how to better explain maths and physics do not find place in the institutions just because it is not in the usual official jobs of researchers to consider such things as changes in the curriculum, so I would need to find "peers" elsewhere. However, he does not seem to realize the difficulty of the task, and how it can fail if it is done in a naive manner. Namely, having works openly reviewed and criticized by anyone, and knowing who writes each review so as to make it possible to figure out if the reviewer is competent or not, can be an interesting information. However, just removing the institutional filter on the ability to put things on the web (in fact there is no such filter as any serious person can easily make their own web site as I did, with the only problem of how to be referenced), or on who can write reviews, cannot be the magical solution against any real or assumed "bias" problem. Because naively implemented, such a method will fail in a world with a ratio of 10 idiots for 1 competent reviewer, as long as no system is developed for people to automatically filter the information depending on the competence of the reviewer. Removing the institutional filter, suspected of bias, cannot suffice to remove bias, as the rest of the world outside institutions can still be biased and even worse than the one in institutions. Because average humans who "care" often have a big bias for obscurantism (i.e. incompetence, relativism, etc).
So to be workable, an open peer review system would also need a kind of filter, to let anyone filter the measure of reviews according to his own standards. Indeed, relativistic filters are all what technical systems can do anyway : as computers don't understand science, they cannot know what is the right standard ; as I explained about irrationality, there is a superficial symmetry between reason and insanity. What matters is the opportunity for sane people, able to define the right standards, to get information filtered according to their own standard. Of course a corollary is that idiots, with their own bias, will filter information according to their own biases, and will skip the sane reviews. So what ? They are hopeless as contributors to the progress of science anyway.

The other misunderstanding, is the one of obscurantists who worship him as the Savior of their obscurantist ideology. Because, since they are ignorant about the legitimate reasons for scientists to reject their works, they imagine that they have valid reasons for their ideas, which were only stopped from acceptance not by being actually invalid but just by being censored by a biased establishment. They believe that the absence of acceptance of their obscurantist ideology would be entirely caused by a conspiracy of censorship by the institutions. In consequence, they believe that just the act of providing a technical support to the publication of their ideas and arguments, would suffice for them to convince the world by their "arguments" which they believe to be rational. This worldview is pure delusion of course, but it actually works to make them love him.
I do not mean that this was any deliberate intention from his part to be loved by idiots. Indeed he is always keeping a safe neutrality here.

In conclusion, the complete understanding why Philip Gibbs gets such a high rate, is that he is a good compromise between scientism and obscurantism. He is accepted by scientists because most of his effectively expressed ideas are indeed sound and coherent with science, while obscurantists love him for their own "reasons".

Why Tim Maudlin has such a high community rating

moved to a separate page
Main site: Set Theory and foundations of mathematics - Foundations of physics