Martin Moderator
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Posts by Martin

    In response to #16:

    Anyone who has done chemical lab courses can probably confirm that some chemical reactions are difficult to reproduce, which may make passing a lab course in time difficult. Chemistry students make jokes about this, e.g., there is a reaction called Mannich reaction, named after Carl Mannich. Instead, you can interpret the name of the reaction as in the verbal German phrase "ma' nich'" (in written German "mal nicht" for "once not"), so it is the reaction which sometimes works and sometimes not.

    Joking aside, the reason for such difficulties is usually that the reaction is very sensitive to the experimental conditions. It is conceivable that this sensitivity is associated with amplification from an atomic level subjected to quantum indeterminacy to the macroscopic level in some cases, especially if we have a microscopic cell structure with complex connections and interplay between chemical reactions and charge transport at every connection.

    Now, let us take a simplistic model of the brain with domains for sensory input, memory, internal drives and a domain for random generation sensitive to quantum indeterminacy, all connected to a domain for reasoning, which in turn is connected to a domain for decision-making and a domain which controls actions. Especially the domains for memory and internal drives distinguishes an individual person from others.

    If the sensory inputs indicate a problem, the domain for reasoning tries to find a solution. The domain for memory may provide something which worked in the past, but the case may appear too different to mechanistically repeat a past action. The domain for random generation produces a series of random patterns, whereby almost all of them are useless nonsense but a few might represent solutions. The domain for reasoning discards the nonsense and picks a workable solution, possibly one which is based on experience modified by an idea from the domain for random generation.

    There is no proof that this model is adequate for decision-making of the human brain or that there are amplification mechanisms in the brain to get from quantum indeterminacy to a different output of a domain. However, the model does provide a conceivable explanation how quantum indeterminacy (i.e. the swerve) can lead to free will / agency of the individual in a world which is mostly deterministic at the macroscopic level.

    Free will has the connotation of a supernatural soul. In materialism without hard determinism, "agency" is the preferred term to replace the term "free will" to get rid of that supernatural connotation. This leaves enough room for anything from the little "free will" of Onfray to a lot of "free will" and is flexible enough to not be refuted by future research results on how far agency actually goes unless those results prove hard determinism. A proof of hard determinism in the real world as perceived by us appears to be not conceivable as of now.

    Complementarily to the recommendations for coping with misery by enjoying the small pleasures, we can try to get out of misery. A major tool to reconcile sustained maximal pleasure as the goal with the actually available options is hedonic calculus. (Growing up as a weak and small guy in a working-class suburb with a construction worker who was an alcoholic as the father, I started off at the very opposite of the "opulent quarters" of the city, and so did Steve Jobs. I figured out hedonic calculus by myself and that helped me to get out of the misery.)

    A slave in ancient Greece or in the United States in 19th century might have considered the following options:

    1. Working hard to fulfill the master's orders to avoid the pain of corporal punishment and to eventually get freed as a reward.

    2. Trying to escape to where conditions are better. (E.g. being a slave in Athens might have been better than to be a slave in Sparta; survival in hiding in a faraway wilderness might have been better than slavery under a cruel master, escaping to freedom in the North and possibly fighting as a Union soldier might have been worth the risk.)

    3. Staying a slave because material security was assured under reasonably good circumstances. (E.g. after the rise of Rome and the end of Greek democracy, an educated Greek might have chosen to work as a slave to teach children of a wealthy Roman family.)

    An employee in 2022 under miserable conditions might consider the following options:

    1. Working hard, saving as much as possible and investing wisely to facilitate early retirement or to start a business.

    2. Upgrading of education to qualify for promotion to a better position. (I took the opportunity to get as high an education as possible, which provided opportunities for pleasurable jobs. My sister worked for a bank after high school, quit to take care of her daughter, divorced and worked part time for a public institution, studied remotely for a university degree in her forties and then got the expected promotion to a full-time position which required the degree.)

    3. Working for a different company or in a different industry.

    Hard work is necessary for quite some years to get out of misery, meet demands of a spouse, provide a good education to the children and get a decent life. However, there is no point in working hard until retirement without much pleasure if then all we can still do is tottering around in an old peoples' home.

    Mill himself makes no claim to originate this but rather refers to unspecified earlier writers and seems to imply that it originates from Epicurus himself:

    "But there is no known Epicurean theory of life which does not assign to the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensation. It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian writers in general have placed the superiority of mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater permanency, safety, uncostliness, etc., of the former — that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points utilitarians have fully proved their case; but they might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognise the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others. It would be absurd that while, in estimating all other things, quality is considered as well as quantity, the estimation of pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity alone."

    (John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapter II, from

    "... any such data would peel back the singularity itself, would it not?"

    Such data would tentatively indicate that the singularity did not happen.

    "Why not just accept the epistemological limitations implied by the singularity?"

    Because there is no evidence that the singularity did happen. The extrapolation implying the singularity is invalid.

    We can use an analogy from gravity:

    The simple theory of a mass m at distance r from a mass M results in the potential energy V = -G * M * m / r with G as gravitational constant. This potential energy has a singularity at r = 0, i.e. when the position of both masses is the same.

    The more accurate theory takes into account that the masses are not points but objects with an extension. Once mass m dives below the surface of mass M, the potential energy is V = -a + b * M * m * r * r for a homogeneously distributed mass M and constants a and b and has no singularity.

    If we eventually figure out the modified laws of physics for the early universe, then we can extrapolate more accurately and will probably not obtain a singularity, similar to the example with m and M.

    Here is my understanding from occasionally reading articles from cosmologists and astrophysicists for other physicists:

    The data we have are best described by expansion from something what was at least similar to a Big Bang.

    Some of the difficulties are:

    Simply extrapolating the observations back leads to a singularity, i.e. energy density and mass density were infinite, from which the universe started in some sort of giant explosion. That is why that singularity was called Big Bang. In this simple extrapolation, time started with that singularity. However, at that time and until a tiny fraction of a second after the singularity, the conditions were such that our known laws of physics were most likely not valid. So a Big Bang in the strict sense of that singularity might indeed not have happened because the extrapolation to the singularity itself is invalid. That opens ways to speculate about a time before the point in time of the nominal singularity. However, we have no data to support these speculations.

    Photons could not escape from the very dense matter of the early universe. No matter how good our optical telescopes become, that most interesting early universe will remain optically invisible. We may have a better chance to get closer with other methods, e.g. gravity waves.

    Alan can probably explain this more accurately and in more detail.

    There is indeed an analogy between some of the needs and the Epicurean classification of desires.

    However, transcendence is not compatible with Epicurean philosophy.

    Self actualization is suspicious, too, because it is usually interpreted to become what you are meant to be. However, in Epicurean philosophy, there is no instance which would establish what you are meant to be.

    By the way, Maslow himself never rendered his system of needs as a pyramid. The actual importance of a particular need varies with individual circumstances. Therefore, there is no fixed hierarchy.

    He added transcendence much later when he apparently got already senile. At latest with the addition of transcendence, his system of needs moved out of science into superstition.

    I found no obvious difference in meaning between the French version and the Google translation during a quick read. It seems that the missing accents were no problem for Google.

    Osho presented rather a new age hoax instead of an authentic reconstruction of Buddhism.

    With new age hoaxes I mean cults which mix genuine quotes of what might be wisdom with trivialities and misleading nonsense masked as deep wisdom. Osho stands out from the new age crowd of pseudo-gurus with his humor and some of his criticisms. If you like satire, reading him for entertainment should be fine but do not waste your time trying to figure out the deep meaning of where he seems difficult to understand. Most likely, there is no such meaning.

    We should avoid Osho as a reference for Buddhism because he was too far out at its fringes.

    Welcome Kungi!

    Here are quick answers to your first three questions:

    For an Epicurean, virtue is one of the tools to experience pleasure.

    In Epicurean philosophy, what is virtuous depends on the particular context, whereas in Stoic philosophy, they seem to be rather absolute.

    Wisdom is a particularly important virtue because it is used in the hedonic calculus to decide which actions should be taken / are virtuous.

    Hi beasain,

    I think that you have already a good understanding of entropy except for some details affected by the inaccurate and misleading analogy between entropy and disorder. When I was an undergraduate student, that analogy considerably delayed my understanding of entropy. When ignoring that analogy and sticking to the definition of entropy as a measure of the probability of a thermodynamic state, I finally got a working understanding.

    If you apply the analogy between entropy and disorder without consideration for the actual definition of entropy, you may easily get false conclusions such as "lower temperature is lower entropy". A counterexample for that false conclusion is the adiabatic process, in which the temperature changes but the entropy does not change. Another counterexample is that in the distant past, the universe had a higher average temperature and a lower entropy than today.

    The interpretation of increase in entropy as destruction or an increase in disorder is subjective and not always obvious. Instead of thinking that the universe goes into disorder and destruction, we should more accurately think that it transitions from a less probable state to a state with higher probability, and that formulation should not trigger any depressive thoughts or cynicism, independent of what school of philosophy we prefer.

    Whereas easy to understand analogies are a useful tool for the popularization of science, we need to be aware that the incurred simplification may mislead us when we draw our own conclusions.

    What I wrote about entropy on my wall was not limited to our solar system but referred to the universe as a whole. The development of the universe and the expected future development appear to be contrary to Epicurus' concept that the universe has always been the same and will remain the same.

    In its early stages, the universe has been very different from now. Many billion years into the future, it will be very different from now. In between, there are many billion years in which it is about the same, in particular as it appears to us on Earth. Therefore, from a practical perspective for us humans now, Epicurus' concept of a constant universe is reasonably correct unless we are professional astrophysicists.

    On this limited time interval (of nevertheless billions of years), the increase in entropy is good to know to understand nature and to develop technology and is no reason to feel depressed.

    Epicurus' philosophy helps us to focus on the generations currently alive and the next few generations. It makes sense to put reasonable effort in mitigation of climate change, preservation of biodiversity, sustainable agriculture and industry, avoidance of depletion of limited resources and whatever else helps to make survival not too unpleasant for the next generations. Beyond that reasonable effort, it is up to the future generations to deal with the problems they will face.


    I understand that in this sense Epicurus' warns us that investigation of nature is only acceptable to the the point that it augments pleasure, or that ""scientific investigation"" is only a help for ethics, not a goal on its own.

    This statement exaggerates what Epicurus wrote.

    According to Epicurus, there is no need to investigate nature further than to remove our fears of god, supernatural threats and a painful afterlife. Removing such fears augments pleasure. He does not warn against further investigation. The augmentation of pleasure is for the individual, not the society.

    Replacing a tentative belief with knowledge is a pleasure. For scientists like me and R&D engineers, the result of the hedonic calculus regarding our studies is usually to continue, which then is in line with Epicurus' philosophy.

    At this point, it is still not clear to me how free will in the sense of agency arises. Further development of AI and comparing the results with living beings may improve the understanding.