My unfortunate attempt at debating Tim Maudlin

I recently was invited by Curt Jaimungal, of the Theories of Everything podcast, to debate philosopher Tim Maudlin on issues of philosophy of physics. I accepted after briefly looking up Maudlin's name and seeing that he was an academic. The result of this attempted debate, however, was a complete and unqualified disaster:

As much as this unfortunate event is deserving of forgetting, I think I owe my audience some clarifications. I'll try to keep it brief, to the point, and factual.

Did I know about Tim Maudlin's work before this attempted debate? No, I didn't. I essentially knew nothing other than the fact that he teaches philosophy of science at NYU, which I considered sufficient to justify my engaging in a conversation. I do follow the field of foundations of physics as closely as I can, but I follow the physics literature, not philosophy of physics. This doesn't mean that I dismiss philosophy of physics; it means only that I don't have time to follow everything of relevance to my work, and thus have to make choices. My past with experimental physics makes me more predisposed to prioritise the physics literature directly, and that's all there is to it.

Therefore, my usage of the expression 'grotesque theoretical fantasies' in my opening statement was not directed at Maudlin at all; I had no idea what his positions were. If he presumed that I did, then he presumed too much and that's not my responsibility. What I did know was that Maudlin wasn't a creator of any of the theories or interpretations I was alluding to. The expression 'grotesque theoretical fantasies' is one I had used many times before, and it has always referred to ideas, such as Everettian Many Worlds and Bohmian Mechanics. It was never directed at individuals, alive or dead. That Maudlin seemed to be offended by my usage of this expression is something I could not have anticipated; for all I knew, he would wholeheartedly agree with it. But if he felt, instead, that the hat fit his head, that was his judgment, not mine.

Maudlin stated that "everything [I had] just said is silly." So let us look into what I said and see whether any of it could conceivably be considered silly:

I started by saying that there was no consensus in the physics community about whether the experiments in question refuted physical realism. Maudlin obviously agrees, so that couldn't have been the silly part.

I said that, in addition to Bell's inequalities, there were also Leggett's inequalities, which can discriminate between physical realism and locality. Was that the silly part? Clearly not; it's a fact. Here is the paper in question

I then said that these inequalities had been experimentally verified. Was this silly? No, here is one paper reporting on the experimental results. And here is another.

I proceeded to say that these results refuted a broad class of non-local hidden variables theories. Was that silly? No. This is an explicit conclusion of one of the papers in question, one of whose co-authors is a 2022 Nobel Prize Laureate in physics.

I then said that Bohmian Mechanics, which Maudlin refers to as "Pilot Wave Theory," is one of the speculations that could perhaps survive the experimental results. Maudlin obviously agreed with that, so that wasn't silly either.

I followed up by stating that there were other reasons why Bohmian mechanics wasn't plausible, one of them being that it does not have a relativistic extension. Is that silly? No, it's a broadly known fact that doesn't even require a citation. So what was the 'silliness' Maudlin was alluding to?

Towards the end, I shared my view that, short of "grotesque theoretical fantasies," physical realism is untenable in the face of those experimental results. Is this silly? Perhaps in Maudlin's opinion it is, but I certainly substantiated my view explicitly and rigorously enough before stating it, so immediately characterising it as silly seems to be just that: silly and gratuitously provocative.

Finally, although acknowledging that physical realism seemed to be refuted experimentally, I still expressed my support for a realism of another kind; a realism entailing that the world is still made of real, external states, but states that aren't describable by physical quantities or properties. Clearly, Maudlin is a realist, so my expressing support for some surviving form of realism couldn't be silly from his point of view.

Given the above, the vast majority of what I said in my opening statement wasn't even polemical, let alone silly; it was factual in a manner that no informed player in the field of foundations of physics would fail to see. Maudlin's prompt and thoughtless characterisation of it as silly was purely emotional; it betrayed a surprising level of insecurity. I inadvertently poked his sensitivities and he took his frustrations out on me. Something in him clearly knows that his theoretical preferences are in serious trouble, otherwise he would have maintained a normal, calm, confident demeanour appropriate for the situation.

Now, why did I leave the debate? There are three reasons:

In an of itself, the usage of the word 'silly' is, in my view, acceptable in a debate, provided that it is substantiated by the preceding context and the corresponding tone conducive to conversation. But Maudlin's overtly aggressive, obnoxious, disrespectful tone in his loud outbursts made it clear to me that he wasn't open to any such conversation. My taking exception at his characterisation of my opening as 'silly' was as much about his tone and demeanour as it was about the word itself. He was simply out to have a schoolyard brawl with me (which I could even be in for, as long as we did it in the schoolyard, and without the pretence of intellectual aspirations). As things stood, there clearly was no point in pursing the exchange further.

Secondly, I frankly didn't feel like being insulted again, for although I take myself less seriously today than I ever did before in my life, I still have self-respect, which I think is healthy. There is no contradiction between these two things. Be that as it may, Maudlin's uncalled-for insult and overt toxicity angered me, and still anger me when I re-watch the video. I am not a saint and have never made a secret of it; much to the contrary. As someone who was educated to never tolerate bullying or insult at any age, I found myself wishing that Maudlin would speak to me in that tone in person, man to man, not from behind a camera. Clearly, such a thought was not conducive to continued conversation.

Thirdly, Maudlin's claims that the experimental results were also "predicted" by physically realist interpretations of quantum mechanics struck me, content-wise, as so outdated and biased as to make the engagement pointless. For instance, he claimed that the experimental results were also "predicted" by the Everettian Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI). Strictly speaking, this is indeed correct, in that MWI predicts that everything happens; every possible outcome is 'predicted' by MWI to actually unfold, just in some inaccessible parallel universe for which we have precisely zero direct empirical evidence. Obviously, this 'predictive power' of MWI is what makes it unfalsifiable and explanatorily useless, since a theory that predicts that everything will happen might as well predict nothing. That Maudlin should appeal to the 'predictive powers' of MWI to justify his calling me silly was rather rich.

Maudlin then appealed to Bohmian mechanics as an interpretation consistent with the experimental results. Bohmian mechanics is very niche in physics today for a number of excellent theoretical reasons, and even the experiments that once were construed to give it some basis have turned out to be wrong and do exactly the opposite. Its own creator, Louis de Broglie, abandoned the theory already a century ago. Yet I don't have to refute Bohmian mechanics, as the burden of argument here is not on me; it is on its proponents. It is they who need to show how it could be reconciled not only with the experimental results, but with Relativity. They also have to show how Bohmian mechanics could replace Quantum Field Theory, whose basic tenet—namely, that particles are field excitationscontradicts Bohmian mechanics (according to the latter, particles are little marbles riding a pilot wave). Before Bohmian mechanics can be used to base any philosophical argument, it first needs to be proper physics. Of all possible interpretations of quantum mechanics, that Maudlin chose to use "pilot wave theory" to substantiate his charge of my being "silly" was remarkably ironic; the man seems to completely lack self-awareness.

Finally, Maudlin's repeated rhetorical questioning of how any physical experiment could possibly refute physical realism, as if such a thing were obviously impossible a priori, betrays such a lack of awareness of the issues in contention, and of developments in foundations of physics, that further discussion was pointless. 

You see, I am known to like and engage in confrontational critiques and robust exchanges, as accepted and even encouraged in academia. I am also known to have used words such as 'silly,' 'naive,' and even 'crazy' when referring to certain ideas. But I challenge you to find a face-to-face debate or conversation wherein I gratuitously insulted my interlocutor in tone, demeanour or language, or treated them with any level of disrespect. Therefore, my usage of the words above should be evaluated in their proper context, and not be misconstrued as permission for others to take on a nasty or disrespectful tone with me in any conversation; I shall tolerate no such thing.

was sincerely willing to engage in a robust exchange with Maudlin, provided that the opportunity for such an exchange were there. Maudlin's unbecoming, unacademic and rude behaviour made it clear that such was not the case. He came across to me as a nasty and crass street brawler, not a thinker. I have thus no plans to engage with him ever again, for I have no respect for the attitude he displayed and what it betrays about his character. Nor do I find his ungrounded, tendentious, hand-waving and wishful technical statements worthy of in-depth discussion in debate format. I am sure he can continue to believe in his unfalsifiable, pseudo-scientific fantasies without my help.


NH-PHILOSOPHY, PART 2: In-your-face media bias?

I thought I'd share with you something I observed today, which I thought was remarkable. Browsing YouTube video recommendations late this evening, I first clicked on a months-old video of a NASA press conference on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs), which NASA has been officially investigating. In it, Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, head of the investigative team, discusses two types of UAP cases. The first is that of seemingly metallic spheres that, somehow, move and manoeuvre without any signs of propulsion or control surfaces (go to timestamp 2:18):

As you can see, Dr. Kirkpatrick:

  1. Shows a video of one such sphere, as recorded by an MQ-9 'Reaper' military drone. The sphere shown moves fast, in a controlled, non-ballistic trajectory, despite the absence of any visible means of propulsion or control surfaces. It clearly isn't a floating balloon.
  2. States that this is just 'a typical example of the thing we see most of ... we see these all over the world'—i.e., there are many other cases on their records, some more 'enigmatic' than the unclassified video shown;
  3. Proceeds to say that these spheres make 'very interesting apparent manoeuvres' (this is a significant acknowledgment, as balloons and craft without control surfaces shouldn't be able to manoeuvre at all), and which he later indirectly characterises as 'enigmatic technical capabilities.'
Clearly, Dr. Kirkpatrick is acknowledging that there are UAPs 'all over the world' for which there is no prosaic account, even though there is no doubt about their existence and capabilities; they've been captured on film and by other sophisticated, military-grade data collection instruments.

Here is a more detailed video showing the sphere:

Dr. Kirkpatrick then shows another video clip, of a case that, although apparently anomalous, does have a prosaic account and represents no mystery at all. There are thus two types of cases: those that are genuinely anomalous, such as the spheres, and those that can be accounted for prosaically.

Literally a couple of videos later, during my lazy evening browsing, YouTube recommended a clip showing how CNN reported on this NASA press conference and Dr. Kirkpatrick's presentation:

Notice how CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Foreman, mentions only the case that can be prosaically accounted for; there is mention neither of the first type of case Dr. Kirkpatrick talked about, nor of the extraordinary video of the sphere—let alone a replay, which was obviously the most journalistic significant and news-worthy part of the whole press conference. With clearly dismissive tone and body language, Foreman proceeds to state that the UAPs are "measured with all sorts of crazy instruments out there." Should we construe this as meaning that an MQ-9 'Reaper' military drone, one of the most sophisticated intelligence-gathering platforms in the skies, is a dismissible "crazy instrument"?

I found it striking that CNN wouldn't even mention the spheres or replay the remarkable video that had just been declassified. They just replay now-old videos the Pentagon released years ago. The smirking commentary and laughter seem to have higher journalistic value than the very clear, concrete evidence discussed in the press conference; more value than NASA's explicit admission that there is a genuine mystery here. This is extraordinary; I mean, not only the video of the sphere and NASA's acknowledgment, by also CNN's coverage of this press conference.

It's difficult for me to imagine that this kind of coverage isn't a deliberate editorial attempt at perception manipulation and narrative control. Which raises the question: Why is there a need for such kind of manipulation?

How interesting, isn't it?


NH-PHILOSOPHY, PART 1: Accounting for UAPs' zigzagging, 'brownian motion'

PREVIOUS POST: NH-Philosophy, Part 0

As discussed in my previous post in this blog, I admit to having been caught off guard by the latest developments regarding UAPs and non-human intelligence. Nonetheless, I cannot help but take these developments seriously, and thus felt compelled to explore the subject further in two directions: first, to understand clearly how (im)plausible it is that the allegations are fabrications, given the legal context of the case; and second, to apply reason and information already disclosed to speculate educatedly on what we can expect a non-human intelligence to be like.

As luck would have it, the first part was already done 'for me' by Marik von Vennenkampff, writing for The Hill. I recommend his level-headed and well informed essay, which explains better than I could why I now take this whole thing quite seriously. In addition, yesterday I decided to watch James Fox's wonderful new documentary, Moment of Contact (about the Varginha UAP case in Brazil). I have always had respect for Jamie's work and this latest film doesn't disappoint at all: he captured very well what is perhaps the most important UAP/close encounter case of all times, because of the sheer amount, detail and consistency of witness accounts. As most of you know, I spent my childhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And although I haven't been there in almost three decades now, childhood is a formative time, so I like to believe—perhaps too optimistically—that I can still judge the Brazilian demeanour, body language and tone of voice, in a culture-bound manner. Based on this, I do think the witnesses interviewed in the film were all telling the truth.

What this means is that, in addition to being a definitely psychological phenomenon in many ways—as I discussed in my own book Meaning in Absurdity several years ago—UAPs also have a stable physical facet: it would seem that there really are biological E.T.s from another star system visiting us by means of technologically advanced craft. Again, I hadn't expected this, but I am too committed to truth to ignore the new data. Perhaps, in fact, the high-strangeness aspect of the phenomenon is a thing apart, not directly related to metal spaceships from another planet. We may be dealing with two or more distinct categories here, artificially trying to stuff them together in our conceptual drawers. Or perhaps not; I don't know. (More on this in the next instalment of this series of posts.)

Meaning in Absurdity

However, whatever the case may be, the idea of very physical—meant here in the colloquial sense, not as a nod to physicalism—aliens coming to visit us in very physical craft raises a number of new questions: what can we expect these beings to be like? What about their technology? And how can we make sense of their weird behaviour, such as the typical 'brownian motion' of their craft?

Since we are far from being able to visit other star systems, if these beings are visiting us they are obviously more technologically advanced than we are. Therefore, one educated way to speculate about them is to extrapolate the technology development curve we have been following. This is admittedly fraught with potential errors, as there is no a priori reason to think that their development arch would resemble ours in any way; yet, it's the best we can do when armed only with our own cultural and conceptual references.

With the advent of DNA manipulation technologies such as CRISPR, it has become clear that, in a perhaps not-so-distant future, humans will be able to edit their DNA to suppress undesirable characteristics and emphasise desirable ones. Even without understanding how protein manufacturing relates to morphogenesis—i.e., how the proteins made by DNA are assembled together in just the right way to form a working body—we can still learn to tune our bodies by means of DNA manipulation on a merely empirical, trial-and-error basis.

Therefore, it is plausible that a more technologically advanced alien civilisation would have vast control of their own genotypes and phenotypes, thereby designing themselves for whatever functions are culturally valued. Space travel is one such a function, which could benefit greatly from DNA manipulation: just as ants specialise phenotypically—some are 'armed' soldiers, others flexible engineers, yet others tireless farmers, etc.—E.T. probably also specialises for space flight and other activities. For instance, since space if a near-vacuum, the senses of hearing, smell, touch and taste become redundant except for intra-craft communication and instrumental output; only vision remains relevant with regard to the extra-craft environment. This way, it is an educated guess that the 'biologicals' found in crashed alien craft aren't the typical alien walking about in Zeta Reticuli, but specialised phenotypes meant for space travel. What we see here is not necessarily what we would see there, in their homes.

Another human technology trend to take into account is that of higher integration between the human body and the technology it controls. Today, we still interact with our phones and computers through physical touch. But there are promising developments in thought-controlled technologies, be it through measurement of brain waves or internal brain implants. Extrapolating this development arch, the ultimate goal is technology that reacts as instantly to our intentions as our own eyes and limbs do.

If this is where we are going, it is plausible to think that E.T. is already there. Then, by putting this idea together with the first trend discussed above, we get to a scenario in which alien pilots are DNA-engineered to be directly integrated with their craft. We should thus not expect their craft to have displays, keyboards, buttons and levers like ours do, but to be an extension of the pilots' minds, directly reactive to the pilots' intentions just as our eyes and limbs directly react to ours. This is an important point for any reverse-engineering team: they must abandon our paradigm of what 'controlling the craft' means, and think of it in a more organic manner. Regrettably, this also means that we probably won't be able to go for a joyride in an alien craft.

Interestingly, these ideas provide a way to understand one of the most bizarre but consistent aspects of the UAP phenomenon: their seemingly random, zigzagging, 'brownian motion' way of moving, which doesn't conform to any reasonable trajectory. They go back, forth, and sideways, in a manner we can't quite make sense of... unless, we understand that the craft aren't 'controlled' by their pilots at arms-length, but are instead extensions of the pilots' minds.

To see this, just consider our own eyes: we are constantly moving them around, scanning our environment in a fashion akin to brownian motion (most of us don't even realise that they are doing it all the time, even while dreaming, in the so-called 'Rapid Eye Movement' or 'REM' state). Different elements of our visual field grab our attention at different moments, leading to immediate, instinctive, jerking movements of the eyes so they can focus on that part of our visual field. We do it because we can only see the very centre of our visual field in focus and in high-resolution—an area corresponding to just about 0.1% of the field (!)—and must thus constantly scan our surroundings seemingly haphazardly, so to construct an accurate visual model of our environment. We do it autonomously, instinctively—as opposed to deliberately—this being the reason why the motion ends up being 'brownian' in nature. We bypass deliberation because our eyes are directly controlled by our minds, without the intermediation of a control panel. If the minds of E.T. pilots are directly linked to the motion and operation of their craft, their movements stand to also be spontaneous, instinctive, non-deliberate, and thus somewhat 'random.' And sure enough, this is precisely what witnesses report, repeatedly and consistently.

That UAPs move in a manner akin to how we autonomously move our own eyes—so to scan and construct a model of our surroundings—seems to me to betray their immediate, seamless connection with the minds of their pilots. This is the only logical, reasonable, satisfying way I could find to account for this consistent peculiarity of the phenomenon. And it, of course, suggests a more sophisticated metaphysical perspective, which does away with the delusional separation between mind and matter still prevalent in our own culture. But this is a topic for the next instalment of this series of posts, so stay tuned.

NEXT POST: NH-Philosophy, Part 2


NH-PHILOSOPHY, PART 0: UAPs, advanced non-human technology and disclosure

Over the past few weeks, the subject of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs) and advanced non-human technology has been catapulted to the forefront of our cultural attention. The historical UAP hearing at the US congress has conferred on it a whole new level of legitimacy, and for good reason: this time, the whistleblower isn’t an ‘anonymous high-ranking official’ shot in silhouette with a distorted voice, but someone with a name, credentials, a history, willing to appear on camera and make statements under oath, and with corroborating witnesses. Pilots with impeccable credentials are reporting phenomena that seem to violate the known laws of physics, and their observations are corroborated by instrumentation. Throughout the cultural history of UFOs, we haven’t seen anything like this before, despite the persistent lack of a proverbial smoking gun. So, what do I make of all this?

More than ten years ago, I wrote a book—Meaning in Absurdity—discussing anomalous phenomena such as UAPs. Those who read that book know that I view UAPs and so-called ‘alien abduction’ phenomena as largely psychological. Now, as an idealist, when I say that something is psychological I don’t mean that it is unreal, for under idealism everything is ultimately psychological. But I did regard these phenomena, at least to a large extent, as the result of our own ‘subconscious’ projections onto elements of the world. Under this view, UAPs really are real, but ‘dressed in the clothes’ of our own projections. Their core is independent of our human psychology, but their physical presentation isn’t.

One could argue that an implication of this view is that the physical phase of the phenomena is necessarily unstable, fluid, not immutable or permanent, but mercurial and impossible to pin down, like the Hessdalen lights. And this is why the allegation that human beings have managed to recover, store, disassemble, and even attempt to reverse engineer craft not created by humans, if true, would force me to put my view in a new perspective. Although their mental phase is self-evident, I had not expected the phenomena to have such a stable physical phase.

Which, of course, raises the question: are the allegations true in the first place? I feel quite comfortable in saying that what the pilots are reporting is true. They experienced these phenomena themselves—unlike the intelligence official, who has not observed anything directly—and their observations match measurements from instrumentation. The number of witnesses is also overwhelming. So, it’s quite safe to say that there is something out there—something controlled by a deliberate agency—which behaves in ways that seem to contradict the laws of physics as we understand them. In and of itself, this is already spectacular, but not really new, if you’ve been paying attention.

What is new is the weight of the allegation that the US defense establishment has possession of several of these craft. And this is what forces me to reconsider the view that the phenomena always have an ephemeral, fluid physical phase. Can we trust such a grave allegation?

The sincere answer is: I don’t know. I am impressed by the circumstances of the case; I am struck by the willingness of those involved to double-down under oath; and by their carefulness in following a lawful process. This is all new and inspires some confidence. Yet, they didn’t present any smoking gun. So, all I can say is that I now take the allegation more seriously than before.

And in taking it seriously, I feel compelled to revisit everything I saw or read about the phenomena before, so to reconsider it all under this new light. For instance: might Robert Lazar have been telling the truth all along? Surely his allegations sound a tad less incredible today than they did in 1989. And if he has been telling the truth, what are the implications? What are we to make of it all?

I believe it’s clear—as I argued in Meaning in Absurdity—that the phenomena have been with us since as far back as the beginning of recorded history, and probably much earlier than that. It is therefore unreasonable, in my opinion, to think of UAPs as performing some kind of survey or mapping of our planet and species; any such mission would have been completed long ago, and wouldn’t require the recurring, frequent visiting of UAPs that we witness.

If UAPs are, to some extent, mental projections of our own, then their repeated visits simply reflect ourselves, and will thus continue to recur for as long as we are us. There is no deep mystery here. But if they are solid, concrete technology bringing life from other planets, dimensions or realities here, then we must ask: what makes them keep on coming? What are they trying to do?

Potential planetary surveys can’t explain the visits, for the reasons above. So what could? Well, only one thing comes to my mind: an experiment carried out on Earth at a geological time scale, which requires constant monitoring. I have no idea what that might be, so I can’t make the hypothesis more precise. But some kind of experiment is all I can think of—assuming, that is, that the allegation is true in the first place, which right now I just don’t know to be the case; I don’t even have an opinion on the matter.

Now allow me to say something that you won’t like to hear. Do I think that we have the right to know the truth about UAPs?

Well, if by ‘right’ one means legal right, I don’t know; I am not a lawyer. Only a US lawyer can answer the question in this sense, but there should be a definitive, non-polemical answer. On the other hand, if by ‘right’ we mean ethical right, my answer is: it depends. I’d love to believe that I, along with everybody else, have an extra right—who doesn’t like rights?—particularly because I am very curious about the phenomena. But I am too committed to truth to allow my preferences to dictate my opinions on the matter. I don’t think there is a trivial case to be made here; our potential ‘rights’ are not self-evident. Allow me to elaborate on this with an example.

In a decades-old video called ‘The Lazar Tape and Excerpts from the Government Bible,’ Bob Lazar goes into a fair bit of detail regarding the non-human tech he allegedly helped to reverse engineer. At a superficial level, the material sounds largely coherent (although, at a slightly deeper level, I believe it to be incoherent, as I discuss in the postscript below, which is the reason why I, personally, don't believe Lazar's technical story). I don’t know whether it’s true but, for the sake of argument, let us imagine that it is. Then, if you watch the video, you will see that Lazar is giving everyone—including the Russians and Chinese—a roadmap for figuring out gravity drives, invisibility cloaks, and high-energy beam weapons. The material, superficial as it is, tells everyone what they should look into—starting from element 115 and the relationship between gravity and the strong nuclear force, neither of which is trivial or self-evident—and what problems they should try to solve. This constitutes enormous help: people now know where to start. If that stuff is true, I am horrified that it’s out in the open.

I don’t read any maliciousness in Bob Lazar; at best naiveté. But this doesn’t change the fact that disclosing what he did—again, assuming for the sake of argument that it is true—is atrociously, seismically, catastrophically irresponsible. I feel furious at the defense establishment for the delinquent vetting and security that allowed a kid, with a psychological disposition to sharing information, to have access to that kind of knowledge. For the past 18 months we have been watching the overwhelming level of evil, carnage and destruction that a totalitarian regime in Europe is unleashing upon the continent. Now imagine a Russia with high-energy beam weapons, gravity drives and invisibility cloaks—that would be the end of democracy, personal freedoms and our very way of life. So no, I don’t think it is obvious at all that we have the right to know everything there is to know about the phenomena. In fact, I feel enthusiastically inclined to believe we don’t. Any information that is made public is also made available to those who want to destroy our way of life; regrettably, there is just no way around it.

That’s not to say that some level of carefully redacted disclosure wouldn’t be useful. The mere suspicion that we might not be alone in this universe has already brought the Democrats and Republicans together; imagine what disclosure would do for bringing humanity together. There is much to be gained from it; so much it is hardly imaginable. And thus I do think disclosure should be done. But it should be done responsibly; not because we are psychologically unstable kids that need to be protected from the truth, but because the world is crammed with criminal regimes that would use whatever technical means at their disposal to exploit, and curtail the freedoms of, everybody else. Let us not be naïve here, thinking that disclosure will cause we all, Putin and his cronies included, to hold hands and sing the Kumbaya. The only reason we still enjoy the freedoms and way of life we do is our ability to apply superior military force when threatened. And if the phenomena have demonstrated anything beyond any doubt about the intentions of non-human intelligences, it is that they won’t protect us from ourselves.

Disclosure, when properly done, can significantly advance our culture, science and civilization at large, in almost unimaginable ways. It can open entirely new horizons for human life and aspirations. But we should guard against irresponsible disclosure and the demonization of a defense establishment that, whatever else might be true about it, ultimately protects our freedoms and way of life.

Postscript: Lazar's argument that one needs an element with high atomic number to expose the strong nuclear force beyond the atomic nucleus seems coherent. The claimed relationship between that force and gravity is intriguing. What doesn't seem to add up is talk of amplifying the strong nuclear force with an anti-matter reaction. There he conflates strengthening the nuclear force with energy release, which are fairly different things. The analogy he makes with signal amplification also doesn't add up: amplification is about increasing the amplitude of a pattern, such as that from a radio station. But here he needs to strengthen the force itself, not a particular pattern. It is completely unclear how an anti-matter reaction can amplify the strong nuclear force, as opposed to just releasing energy. Due to this, my opinion about Lazar's technical revelations is that they are bogus (even if the rest of his story turns out to be true), this being the reason why I felt comfortable publishing his old video above.


AI won't be conscious, and here is why (A reply to Susan Schneider)

I have just participated—literally 10 minutes ago as I write these words—in an online debate organized by the IAI, in which Donald Hoffman, Susan Schneider and I discussed the possibility that computers become conscious in the future, with the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). My position is that they won’t. Susan’s position is that they very well may, and Don’s position is that this isn’t the right question to ask.

If you watched the debate live, you know that, at the very end, I wanted to reply to a point made by Susan but couldn’t, since we ran out of time. The goal of this essay is to put my reply on the record in writing, so to take it out of my system. Before I do that, however, I need to give some context to those who didn’t watch the debate live and don’t have a subscription to the IAI to watch it before reading this essay. If you did watch the debate, you can skip ahead to the section ‘My missing reply.”


In a nutshell, my position is that we have no reason to believe that silicon computers will ever become conscious. I cannot refute the hypothesis categorically, but then again, I cannot categorically refute the hypothesis of the Flying Spaghetti Monster either, as the latter is logically coherent. Appeals to logical coherence mean as little in the conscious AI debate as they do in the Flying Spaghetti Monster context. The important point is not what is logically coherent or what can be categorically refuted, but what hypothesis we have good reasons to entertain.

Those who take the hypothesis of conscious AI seriously do so based on an appallingly biased notion of isomorphism—a correspondence of form, or a similarity—between how humans think and AI computers process data. To find that similarity, however, one has to take several steps of abstraction away from concrete reality. After all, if you put an actual human brain and an actual silicon computer on a table before you, there is no correspondence of form or functional similarity between the two at all; much to the contrary. A living brain is based on carbon, burns ATP for energy, metabolizes for function, processes data through neurotransmitter releases, is moist, etc., while a computer is based on silicon, uses a differential in electrical potential for energy, moves electric charges around for function, processes data through opening and closing electrical switches called transistors, is dry, etc. They are utterly different.

The isomorphism between AI computers and biological brains is only found at very high levels of purely conceptual abstraction, far away from empirical reality, in which disembodied—i.e. medium-independent—patterns of information flow are compared. Therefore, to believe in conscious AI one has to arbitrarily dismiss all the dissimilarities at more concrete levels, and then—equally arbitrarily—choose to take into account only a very high level of abstraction where some vague similarities can be found. To me, this constitutes an expression of mere wishful thinking, ungrounded in reason or evidence.

Towards the end of the debate I touched on an analogy. Those who believe in conscious AI tend to ask the following rhetorical question to make their point: “If brains can produce consciousness, why can’t computers do so as well?” As an idealist, I reject the claim that brains produce consciousness to begin with but, for the sake of focusing on the point in contention, I choose to interpret the question in the following way: “If brains are correlated with private conscious inner life, why can’t computers be so as well?” The question I raised towards the end of the debate was an answer to the aforementioned rhetoric: if birds can fly by flapping their upper limbs, why can’t humans fly by doing so as well? The point of this equally rhetorical question, of course, is to highlight the fact that two dissimilar things—birds and humans—simply do not share every property or function (why should they?). So why should brains and computers do?

Susan then took my analogy and gave it a different spin, taking it beyond the intended context and limits (which is the perennial problem with analogies): she pointed out that, if the Wright brothers had believed that only birds can fly, they wouldn’t have bothered to try and build an airplane, which is itself different from a bird. Her point was that one phenomenon—in this case, flight—can have multiple instantiations in nature, in different substrates—namely, a bird and an airplane. So although silicon computers are different from biology, in principle both could instantiate the phenomenon of private conscious inner life. This is a point of logic that I wanted to react to at the end of the debate, but didn’t have time to.

My missing reply

Here’s what I wanted to say at the end of the debate: indeed, we are not logically forced to limit the instantiations of private conscious inner life to a biological substrate alone. But this isn’t the point, as there are a great many silly hypotheses that are also logically—and even physically—coherent, yet obviously shouldn’t be entertained at all (such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or that there is a 19th-century teapot in the orbit of Saturn). The real point is whether we have good reasons to take seriously the hypothesis that private consciousness can correlate with silicon computers. Does the analogy of flight—namely, that airplanes and birds are different but nonetheless can both fly, so private consciousness could in principle be instantiated on both biological and non-biological substrates—provide us with good reasons to think that AI computers can become conscious in the future?

It may sound perfectly reasonable to say that it does, but—and here is the important point—if so, then the same reasoning applies to non-AI computers that exist already today, for the underlying substrate (namely, conducting metal, dielectric oxide and doped semiconducting silicon) and basic functional principles (data processing through electric charge movement) are the same in all cases. There is no fundamental difference between today's 'dumb' computers and the complex AI projected for the future. AI algorithms run on parallel information processing cores of the kind we have had for many years in our PCs (specifically, in the graphics cards therein), just more, faster, more interconnected cores, executing instructions in different orders (i.e. different software). As per the so-called ‘hard problem of consciousness,’ it is at least very difficult to see what miracle could make instructions executed in different orders, or more and faster components of the same kind, lead to the extraordinary and intrinsically discontinuous jump from unconsciousness to consciousness. The onus of argument here is on the believers, not the skeptics.

Even new, emerging computer architectures, such as neuromorphic processors, are essentially CMOS (or similar, using philosophically equivalent process technologies) devices moving electric charges around, just like their predecessors. To point out that these new architectures are analog, instead of digital, doesn’t help either: digital computers move charges around just like their analog counterparts; the only difference is in how information arising from those charge movements is interpreted. Namely, the microswitches in digital computers apply a threshold to the amount of charge before deciding its meaning, while analog computers don’t. But beyond this interpretational step—trivial for the purposes of the point in contention—both analog and digital computers embody essentially the same substrate. Moreover, the operation of both is based on the flow of electric charges along metal traces and the storage of charges in charge-holding circuits (i.e. memories).

So, if you grant Susan’s point that there can be instantiations of private consciousness on different substrates, and that one of these substrates is a silicon computer, then you must grant that today’s ‘dumb’ computers are already conscious (including the computer or phone you are using to read these words). The reason is two-fold: first, the substrate of today’s ‘dumb’ computers is the same as that of advanced AI computers (in both cases, charges move around in metal and silicon substrates); second, whatever change in organization or functionality happens in future CMOS or similar devices, such changes are philosophically trivial for the point in contention, as they cannot in themselves account for the emergence of consciousness from unconsciousness (vis a vis the hard problem). If you are prepared to go this far in your fantastical hypothesizing, then turning off your phone may already be an act of murder.

Alternatively, if today’s computers aren’t plausibly conscious, then neither do we have good reasons to believe that future, advanced AI computers will be, even if Susan’s flight analogy holds. For the point here is not one of logical—or even physical—possibility, but of natural plausibility instead. A 19th-century teapot in the orbit of Saturn is both logically and physically possible (aliens could have come to Earth in the 19th-century, stolen the teapot from someone’s dining room, and then dumped it in the vicinity of Saturn on their way back home, after which the unfortunate teapot got captured by Saturn’s gravity field), but naturally implausible to the point of being dismissible.

Are water pipes conscious too?

You see, everything a computer does can, in principle, be done with pipes, pressure valves and water. The pipes play the role of electrical conduits, or traces; the pressure valves play the role of switches, or transistors; and the water plays the role of electricity. Ohm’s Law—the fundamental rule for determining the behavior of electric circuits—maps one-on-one to water pressure and flow relations. Indeed, the reason why we build computers with silicon and electricity, instead of PVC pipes and water, is that the former are much, much smaller and cheaper to make. Present-day computer chips have tens of billions of transistors, and an even greater number of individual traces. Can you imagine the size and cost of a water-based computer comprising tens of billions of pipes and pressure valves? Can you imagine the amount of energy required to pump water through it? You wouldn't be able to afford it or carry it in your pocket. That’s the sole reason why we compute with electricity, instead of water (it also helps that silicon is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, found in the form of sand). There is nothing fundamentally different between a pipe-valve-water computer and an electronic one, from the perspective of computation. Electricity is not a magical or unique substrate for computation, but merely a convenient one. A wooden tool called an 'abacus' also computes.

With this in mind, ask yourself: do we have good reasons to believe that a system made of pipes, valves and water correlates with private conscious inner life the way your brain does? Is there something it is like to be the pipes, valves and water put together? If you answer ‘yes’ to this question, then logic forces you to start wondering if your house’s sanitation system—with its pipes, valves and water—is conscious, and whether it is murder to turn off the mains valve when you go on vacation. For the only difference between your house’s sanitation system and my imaginary water-based computer is one of number—namely, how many pipes, how many valves, how many liters of water—not of kind or essence. As a matter of fact, the typical home sanitation system implements the functionality of about 5 to 10 transistors.

You can, of course, choose to believe that the numbers actually matter. In other words, you may entertain the hypothesis that although a simple, small home sanitation system is unconscious, if you keep on adding pipes, valves and water to it, at some point the system will suddenly make the jump to being conscious. But this is magical thinking. You'd have to ask yourself the question: how, precisely, does the mere addition of more of the same pipes, valves and water, lead to the magical jump to conscious inner life? Unless you have an explicit and coherent answer to this question, you are merely engaging in hand waving, self-deception, and hiding behind vague complexity.


That there can logically be instantiations of private conscious inner life on different substrates does not provide reason to believe that, although ‘dumb’ computers aren’t conscious, more complex computers in the future, with more transistors and running more complex software, will become conscious. The key problem for those who believe in conscious AI is how and why this transition from unconsciousness to consciousness should ever take place. Susan’s flight analogy does not help here, as it merely argues for the logical possibility of such transition, without saying anything about its natural plausibility.

If, like me, you believe that ‘dumb’ computers today—automata that mechanically follow a list of commands—aren’t conscious, then Susan’s flight analogy gives you no reason to take seriously the hypothesis that future computers—equally made of silicon and moving electric charges around—will become conscious. That they will run more sophisticated AI software only means that they will execute, just as blindly and mechanically as before, a different list of commands. What those computers will be able to do can be done with pipes, pressure valves and water, even though the latter isn't practical.

It is very difficult—if at all possible—to definitely refute someone whose view is agnosticism, or a wait-and-see attitude, since that isn’t a definite position to begin with. So what is there to argue against? “Well, we just don’t know, do we?” is a catch-all reply that can be issued in face of any criticism, regardless of how well articulated it is, for what can we humans—monkeys running around a space rock for less than 300 thousand years—know for sure to begin with? Yet, I feel that I should nonetheless keep on trying to argue against this form of open-mindedness, for there is a point where it opens the doors to utter and pernicious nonsense.

You see, I could coherently pronounce my open-mindedness about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for we just don’t know for sure whether it exists, do we? For all I know, there is a noodly monster floating around in space, in a higher dimension invisible to us, moving the planets around their orbits with its—invisible—noodly appendages. The evidence is surely consistent with this hypothesis: the planets do move around their orbits, even though no force is imparted on them through visible physical contact. Even stronger, the hypothesis does seem to even explain our observations of planetary movements. And there is nothing logically wrong, or even physically refutable, with it either. So, what do we know? Maybe the hypothesis is right, and thus we should remain open-minded and not arbitrarily dismiss the Monster. Let us all wear an upside-down pasta strainer on our heads! Do you see the point?

No, we have no good reason to believe in conscious AI. This is a fantasy unsupported by reason or evidence. Epistemically, it’s right up there in the general vicinity of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Entertaining conscious AI seriously is counterproductive; it legitimizes the expenditure of scarce human resources—including tax-payer money—on problems that do not exist, such as the ethics and rights of AI entities. It contaminates our culture by distorting our natural sense of plausibility and conflating reality with (bad) fiction. AIs are complex tools, like a nuclear power plant is a complex tool. We should take safety precautions about AIs just as we take safety precautions about nuclear power plants, without having ethics discussions about the rights of power plants. Anything beyond this is just fantastical nonsense and should be treated as such.

Allow me to vent a little more…

I believe one of the unfortunate factors that contribute to the pernicious fiction of conscious AI today is the utter lack of familiarity, even—well, particularly—among highly educated computer scientists, with what computers actually are, how they actually work, and how they are actually built. Generations have now come out of computer science school knowing how to use a voluminous hierarchy of pre-built software libraries and tooling—meant precisely to insulate them from the dirty details we call reality—but not having the faintest clue about how to design and build a computer. These are our ‘computer experts’ today: they are mere power users of computers, knowing precious little about the latter's inner workings. They think entirely in a realm of conceptual abstraction, enabled by tooling and disconnected from the (electrical) reality of integrated circuits (ICs) and hardware. For them, since the CPU—the Central Processing Unit, the computer's 'brain'—is a mysterious black box anyway, it's easy to project all their fantasies onto it, thereby filling the vacuum left open by a lack of understanding with wishful, magical thinking. The psychology at play here has been so common throughout human history that we can consider it banal. On the other hand, those who do know how to build a CPU and a computer as a whole, such as Federico Faggin, father of the microprocessor and inventor of silicon gate technology, pooh-pooh ‘conscious AI’ every bit as much as I do.

Having worked on the design and manufacture of computer ICs for over two decades, I estimate that perhaps only about 2000 people alive today know how to start from sand and end up with a working computer. This is extremely worrisome, for if a cataclysm wipes out our technical literature together with those 2000 people tomorrow, we will not know how to re-boot our technological infrastructure. It is also worrisome in that it opens the door to the foolishness of conscious AI, which is now being actively peddled by computer science lunatics with the letters ‘PhD’ suffixing their names. After all, a PhD in conceptual abstraction is far from a PhD in reality. (On an aside, PhD lunacy is much more dangerous than garden-variety lunacy, for the average person on the streets takes the former, but not the latter, seriously. With two PhDs myself, I may know a thing or two about how lunatics can get PhDs.)

But instead of just criticizing and pointing to problems, I’ve decided to try and do something about it, modest and insignificant as my contributions may be. For almost three years now, I have been designing—entirely from scratch—one complete and working computer per year. I put all the plans, documentation and software up online, fully open source, for anyone to peruse. I hope this makes a contribution to educating people about computers; particularly those computer scientists who have achieved lift-off and now work without friction with reality. Anyone can download those plans—which include gate-level details for how to build the associated custom ICs—and build their computers from scratch. The designs were made to not only work properly, but to also be easy to understand and follow. If I can bring one or two computer scientists back to the solid ground of reality with those designs, I’ll consider my efforts successful.


Hallucinated Implications Creep (HIC): A bane of our time


Let me invite you to a thought experiment that you can conduct in the privacy of your own mind. Carefully observe your own inner reaction to the following statement of mine, which truthfully reflects my opinion on the matter: 

Donald Trump is a pathologically narcissistic, dangerously manipulative, clinically sociopathic and conspicuously unintelligent individual whose sole priority is himself, and who has no scruples about lying through his teeth so to deceive and use millions of people for the sole sake of his own personal agenda.

I've chosen my words so to deliberately evoke a strong emotional response in you. Now that you are aware of my opinion, you can conduct the thought experiment—whose results only you will ever know—by checking which of the statements below you now think apply to me:

  1. Bernardo would have voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
  2. Bernardo is a liberal/lefty/democrat.
  3. Bernardo likes Joe Biden.
  4. Bernardo doesn't espouse conservative values.
  5. Bernardo is a manipulative elitist.
Make a mental note of how many of the 5 statements above you are inclined to think are applicable to me, because of my opinion about Trump. Now let's try another sincere opinion of mine:

Consuming red meat regularly is something that we, at an individual level, should stop doing for our collective sake.

Don't overanalyse it, just check which of the following statements you feel apply to me, given my sincere opinion above:

  1. Bernardo is ignorant of the nutritional value of red meat.
  2. Bernardo doesn't understand that meat consumption is entirely natural for predatory primates such as ourselves.
  3. Bernardo is too romantic and naive about animal suffering, for nature is ruthless anyway.
  4. Bernardo is trying to take away my personal right to choose my own diet and life style.
  5. Bernardo is not sympathetic to the economic needs of animal farmers.
You, of course, know where I am going with this, given the title of this essay. Therefore, you are more-than-likely analysing all this with much more attention than usual, so to find whatever trap I might be laying for you. That's fine, but keep in mind that, under normal circumstances, you would be judging my opinions much more spontaneously and unthinkingly than in the context of this essay, and that is what I am trying to get at.

In this spirit, here is another sincere opinion of mine:

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is unjustified, criminal and completely unacceptable. It should be opposed economically, politically and militarily by the West.

Now, what do you think applies to me, given my opinion above?

  1. Bernardo doesn't understand that NATO's eastwards expansion was provocative towards Russia.
  2. Bernardo is ignorant of the plight of Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the Donbas and Crimea.
  3. Bernardo is a hypocrite, for Western powers have carried out criminal military interventions in other countries.
  4. Bernardo is a hypocrite, for the West supports authoritarian regimes in the middle east.
  5. Bernardo wants World War 3 and nuclear apocalypse.
Now go back and look more carefully at each of these three opinions of mine. This time, avoid the emotional knee-jerk reaction and analyse objectively what follows from my opinions and what doesn't; what I did say and what I didn't. If you do it carefully, you will see that none of the five seeming implications listed below each opinion is actually entailed or implied by the respective opinion. If you think any of them is, you are suffering from what I shall call 'Hallucinated Implications Creep,' or HIC, a very common bane of these troubled times.

Let us now review all this together, starting from my third opinion expressed above: it is perfectly coherent to both agree that NATO's expansion was a needlessly provocative step and believe that such a provocation doesn't justify—not even remotely—the barbaric invasion of another country. It is perfectly coherent to both think that the Ukrainian government has neglected the needs and rights of its Russian-speaking citizens—which it probably did—and believe that a barbaric invasion that indiscriminately kills and maims all Ukrainians, Russian-speaking and otherwise, is not the way to address the issue. To acknowledge that the West is guilty of criminal military actions does not mean that it is OK for Russia to do so now, let alone at a much greater scale; two wrongs don't make a right. The regretful Western support for totalitarian regimes elsewhere in the world doesn't mean that the West should overlook Russia's ravaging of another country in Europe; compounding a problem doesn't solve it. And finally, it doesn't follow from any of the above that I want a nuclear apocalypse; I just think that we shouldn't surrender to criminal totalitarian regimes such as Russia's because of a remote risk of wider confrontation. Otherwise, we might as well hand over everything we have to North Korea tomorrow. If the risk of nuclear confrontation justifies cowardly surrender, where does the surrendering then stop?

Notice that the key error here has to do with creating false dichotomies.

Now let's shift our attention to my perceived need for dramatically reducing our consumption of red meat. It doesn't occur to many—perhaps not to you either—that such an opinion may be motivated by, and based on, reasons other than the ones you would ordinarily expect. As a matter of fact, my key motivation for urging a reduction of red meat consumption has to do with the extremely inefficient, wasteful use of resources—think of land, energy, water, etc—required by intensive, industrial-scale red meat production (on a side note, only intensive red meat production can satisfy current demand levels, let alone the expected future demand as countries in Asia become more affluent). With the same resources, much more food—calories, proteins, vitamins—can be produced with much less detrimental environmental impact, feeding a lot more people more affordably. To mention only one example, red meat production is driving the destruction of the amazon, both directly—i.e. land clearances for pasture—and indirectly—i.e. land area used for the production of animal feed. As such, my opinion has little to do with the health value of red meat, the naturalness of predation, your personal dietary rights, etc. You may just have projected all that on me, but if so, that was your own hallucination, not anything I said.

Indeed, the error here has to do with assuming certain motivations or justifications for my opinion. In other words, the error is attributing to me something I did not say.

Now on to Trump. My opinion about his character is an opinion about, well, his character; not a global statement of general political positions or sympathies. As a matter of fact, I am largely a conservative, in the sense that I live my life rooted in certain traditions, have a strong sense of historical continuity and context, a relationship with the very land under my feet, have respect—even a feeling of responsibility—towards my ancestors, and a profound appreciation for a truly religious life. I have a deep anti-elitist mentality—which is rather obvious in both my work and interviews—and generally do not sympathise at all with Hillary Clinton. Were I an American citizen, I would have nullified my vote in 2016, as a protest against what I perceive as a profoundly dysfunctional two-party system.

The error here is trying to bin every political opinion in one of only two baskets. So if I am against Trump, I can only be pro Biden, right? If I detest Trump, I can only be a liberal and not a conservative, right? And so on: everything is either black or white—or rather, blue or red. This is, of course, silly. Indeed, it is entirely arbitrary and extraordinarily implausible to imagine that society is so simple as to allow for a binary classification of every position.

Hallucinated Implications Creep (HIC) is characterised by false dichotomies, unjustified assumptions, projections, implausibly simplistic categorisations, failures to recognise what was said and, perhaps even more importantly, what was not said. It renders us blind to every nuance and subtlety, thereby being literally stupefying.

The projections and hallucinations underpinning HIC spread like a web of false inferences and unjustified conclusions, creeping through the entire social dialogue like a virus. Indeed, it has come to characterise what passes for the present social dialogue. It causes us to talk past one another, fail to see what is being said, fail to understand what is and isn't entailed or implied by what is said, and generally make a mess of everything. It makes us argue against mere hallucinations—ghosts, fantasies—like deranged zealots, seeing enemies everywhere. It renders it impossible to find consensus.

HIC is a cognitive plague that social media has amplified to a level never before seen. And it may be our demise.

PS: You probably noticed that I've switched to British spelling. It's just that I have a newly-developed aversion for the letter 'Z' and what it has come to represent in 2022.

Hossenfelder digs herself into a deeper hole

YouTubing physicist Sabine Hossenfelder has now replied to my criticism of her debate performance against me, published yesterday on this blog. Her reply can be found here. As you read it, try to keep in mind the context. Namely, in my criticism I focused on the following statement that Hossenfelder made during the debate: 

I argued that this was simply not true: in the papers she referred to as substantiation for her statement, hidden variables are not defined. This is important, for this false statement has set the ethos of the entire debate, and made me look like I was fatally uninformed about her output. I had just "looked at the wrong paper," poor silly me:

Never mind the fact that the very paper she is referring to in the clip above does not define tenable hidden variables; it's just a toy model, as discussed in my previous post.

Her reply now is, one would assume, meant to argue that her statement that she did define the hidden variables somewhere is, in fact, correct. Now go ahead and read her reply with this in mind, before I influence you with my commentary below.

Notice first that the first 14 paragraphs of her reply have absolutely nothing to do with the points in contention. They broaden the scope of the discussion not only beyond physics, but beyond anything of any technical relevance to the discussion. This is particularly peculiar since Hossenfelder had insisted, as a precondition for her participation in the debate, that the scope be limited to her superdeterministic views alone, and not encompass anything beyond, especially philosophy. I had to agree to that. But now she voluntarily broadens the scope way beyond my wildest dreams. One must wonder what motivated her to do so, instead of staying focused on the very specific issues in contention. Be that as it may, right now the roles seem to be inverted, for I am much more interested in staying very sharply focused on the issues in contention.

I leave it to you to interpret the 14 initial paragraphs of her reply and extract conclusions from them. I think what they reveal is clear enough (and interesting, too) to obviate further commentary from me.

Now, notice that in the rest of her reply, instead of trying to argue that, as per the video clip above, she did define the hidden variables, she tries instead to justify why she didn't. As such, her reply is a rather explicit admission that her categorical statement during the debate was indeed false: she did not specify the hidden variables in those earlier papers. I will quote the salient passages of her reply below just for an abundance of clarity; but basically the entire reply, after the weird initial paragraphs, is an admission. I use snapshots below to preclude any chance of misquoting her.

The above is pretty clear: she is justifying why she did not define the hidden variables; after all, it's a "waste of time" to do so and she is very busy. Be that as it may, this unambiguously confirms my criticism: Hossenfelder misrepresented her own work during the debate, in order to save face and try to make me look like someone fatally ignorant of her output. And as an aside, the reason why "there are too many ways [the hidden variables] could be [defined]" is that they are entirely arbitrary figments of the imagination, ungrounded in empirical observation, so anything goes.

Now a very strange passage:

Indeed she said that at a later passage of the debate, but that isn't the point. The point is that she is suggesting here that it was me who incorrectly said that she claimed to have defined the hidden variables; she has always maintained that she never did it! To this, I can only offer the following, once again:

I am not doing this just to gratuitously and repeatedly stick my finger in the wound; I'm not trying to do character assassination. But during the debate Hossenfelder attempted (and probably succeeded, in the eyes of many viewers) to make me look like an ignorant fool by flat-out misrepresenting her own output. I ought to defend myself against that overt suggestion, which I consider to have been rhetorical and dishonest, violating all basic debate ethics. Just consider the vibe in this segment again, and pretend that you don't know what you now know, having read my posts and, above all, her admission:

Now, if at this point you feel like ignoring this whole thing because it's becoming too personal and ugly, and not about content anymore, I urge you to stay the course, because it's integral to understanding what's going on in our culture. The problem is largely about trust and character. The accumulated human knowledge at our disposal today makes it impossible for any one person to know enough about everything of relevance without having to trust some authority figure. Therefore, we must trust someone, and choosing who to trust is critical.

What this ugly engagement shows is that it is entirely possible for someone who sincerely considers themselves honest to arbitrarily dismiss substantive points, deflect and mislead to a level that flirts with lying, just to save face and avoid being pinned down during a debate, thereby protecting their public image at the cost of someone else's. How many of Hossenfelder's YouTube subscribers have the knowledge of particle physics required to objectively and critically evaluate her countless bold claims? How many even want to do so, as opposed to taking her on her word, insofar as it confirms their own views and provides reassurance?

This is the cultural game today. If you want to really understand what's happening, an engagement like this one is quite revealing, even if ugly.

Now a slightly more technical point, for the sake of completeness, if you still have the energy to stay with me on this. The point of her reply where Hossenfelder suggests some possible definition of the hidden variables is this:

Of course, to just say that the hidden variables are "the degrees of freedom of the detector" is just a linguistic definition, and a very loose one at that, not a scientific one. For comparison, imagine a neuroscientist saying: "consciousness is the involuntary wiggling of the left big toe." This, too, is a linguistic definition, but not a scientific one. For scientific definitions entail characterizing the thing defined in a way that is explicit and coherent with the role the thing is supposed to play within a theory. In the case of consciousness, the neuroscientist would have to justify their definition by explicitly and coherently hypothesizing a link between left-big-toe-wiggling and the felt qualities of experience.

For instance, not that long ago the Higgs boson was just an imaginary theoretical entity: it had never been observed (well, actually it had been, but we didn't have enough statistics to claim a discovery). Nonetheless, imaginary as it was at the time, it was still scientifically defined: Peter Higgs had given us a fairly complete, explicit and coherent characterization of the Higgs boson, and its role within the standard model. We knew the energy ranges in which we expected to find it; we knew which particles it likely decayed into and why it did so; importantly, we also knew how it played its role within the standard model: namely, by accounting for inertia (i.e. making sense of why not everything is moving at the speed of light all the time) through its associated Higgs field. Now that was a scientific definition of an imaginary theoretical entity. Hossenfelder provides no such a thing; not even remotely (and no, her 'toy model' obviously doesn't count, because, as the first author of her own paper admits explicitly and as discussed in my previous post, that model is not applicable to... well, reality).

As a matter of fact, Hossenfelder seems to have acknowledged, during the tweet exchange between us upon the publication of her reply, that she adopts a merely linguistic understanding of what a 'definition' entails:

Of course, what Kermit the frog can do is an arbitrary, merely linguistic definition of the hidden variables, such as 'hidden variables are the blueness of the sky,' or something to that effect. But that is not what I could have possibly meant when I confronted her with her lack of theoretical definition; and Hossenfelder, of course, knows it. But just as she did in the debate, she is willing to use dismissiveness, deflection, dissimulated confusion and misleading statements, all for purely rhetorical purposes.

Anticipating a question that is probably coming, I will never say 'no' to a debate against a person whose positions I have taken the initiative to criticize harshly in public. So if Hossenfelder wants to debate again, I am game. That said, I don't think another debate would be any more productive than the first, or take this discussion any further; for I am now convinced, to my own satisfaction, that Hossenfelder does not engage according to what I consider to be the minimum level of intellectual honesty required to render the debate fruitful.