About the FQXI essay contest on the math/physics
Ideological oppositions and the absurdity of
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)
- An original exposition of the most coherent interpretation of
- An explanation of why the laws of physics are quantum; that is
a problem expressed by many articles in the FQXI, especially in
the attractive title of the article ("The
Quest to Explain Why the “Quantum” Exists") announcing a
research grant of $50,000, though if we look at the technical
details, the topic of their research is different (they seem to
try to analyze the mathematical properties of the consequences
of quantum physics, not explain its origin).
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)
Meaning in the Language of Physics by Conrad Dale Johnson
using different methods by Roger Schlafly
Physicality to Mathematicality, to Informaticality, to Ontology,
and Consciousness by Janko Kokosar
Incompleteness Theorems and Platonic Metaphysics by Aleksandar
Chart of Our Mathematical Ontology by Philip Gibbs
Brains running Hilbert's Hotel? by William T. Parsons
Mathematical Representation by Paul Merriam (very short but
right to the point)
Was there a
choice? by William Nelson
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...
Connection between Physics and Mathematics by Syed Muhammad Ahmad
and Non-Mathematical Aspects of Existence by Laurence Hitterdale
A Defense of
Scientific Platonism without Metaphysical Presuppositions by Peter
mathematization of Physics by Giacomo Mauro D'Ariano
the Initial Conditions, the Laws and, Mathematics by Laura
Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mathematical Models in Physics by
On a Final
Theory of Mathematics and Physics by Michael Rios
physics, plants …. Fibonacci series by Miroslaw Kozlowski
mathematical existence by Paolo Bellan
Do aliens know
about quantum fields? by Daniel Canarutto
mathematical structures be conscious? by Jeremy Charles Collins
time by Luca Valeri
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 :
- 1st : Philip Gibbs
- 2nd : How
Mathematics Meets the World by Tim Maudlin, an
out-of-topic essay, which even has some flaws, as I pointed out
showing that I have myself deeper insights on the very topic he
dedicates his essay to, which he claims to pioneer.
- Positions 3 and 5 : essays by Lee
Smolin and Edwin
Eugene Klingman which are actually pure bullshit, as I
explained there; they are there despite my down rating of 1; so
without my rating, they could have reached the top.
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.
Recognize with R.
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
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
Accept both consciousness and mathematics as fundamental
makes collapse after decoherence
This contest: S.Poirier,
Ahmad Tirmazi, Neil
Elsewhere: A.S.Eddington, J.von Neumann, E.Wigner, Casey Blood, J.
A. Wheeler, A.
A. Grib, (Euan Squires ?), D.
Chalmers, J.Eccles, R.C.Henry
| Mind/matter dualism
QM : Mind makes collapse before decoherence
(Euan Squires ?)
QM : Law
of Attraction / Any shit / Don't know QM
This contest: J.Kokosar,
Rare in this contest though they form the overwhelming
majority of humans, probably because they like neither math
nor physics ;-)
QM : Copenhagen/QBism
Martin Punin (Defense of Scientific Platonism), David
QM : What ? Everyone his own opinion.
FQXI : A.G.Mujumdar&T.Singh
QM : Spontaneous collapse (Penrose)
(calls himself "physicalist" here
but expressed spiritualism in another
Consciouness is emergent
Mathematical Universe Hypothesis
QM : Many-worlds
Famous physicists: H.Everett, David Wallace,
Carroll, Max Tegmark.
FQXI essays : Philip
Mauro D'Ariano, Sascha
Searle, Adel H
Charles Collins. FQXI 2017: Michael Z Tyree
Pushed to its extreme (and, I think, absurd)
consequences by Marc
Criticized in the essays of A&L.Burov,
T. Maudlin (as expressed elsewhere)
QM:Local deterministic realism
Famous physicist : Gerard ’t Hooft
Famous non-physicist : Brian Whitworth
FQXI essays (some are included here just based on the
authors positively commenting crackpot ones): Lee
Fisher, Alan M.
Saul Leifer, Ed
Unverricht , Koorosh
Shahdaei , Jose P.
Walker , Ken Hon
Seto , Al
Schneider , Gary D.
Simpson , basudeba
mishra , Eckard
Blumschein , Peter
Jackson , George
Rajna , Jacek
Safuta , Branko L
Imari Walker, James A Putnam, ...
(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
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)
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.
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
since the determinant of this matrix coincides with the
relativistic invariant (t2 − x2 − y2
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
On accusations of "inappropriateness" of the present review
Discussions already took place in this
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
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
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
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
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:
External link : Why does physics attract so many crackpots? on Quora
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
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
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
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,
Review to Save the World (which also had high community and
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,
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.
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.
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
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