The illusion of AI understanding and creativity


Today’s generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications are impressive. Large Language Models (LLMs), such as ChatGPT, easily pass the Turing Test and are thus indistinguishable from humans in an online text conversation. They are used in professional settings to handle customer inquiries, draft legal texts, and a variety of tasks that, until recently, only humans could manage. Other generative AIs produce high-quality images, music, and video, often with high artistic value, based on simple descriptions or ‘queries.’ It has thus become difficult for the average educated person to avoid the conclusion that today’s AIs actually understand the questions or tasks posed to them, and even have artistic sensitivity.

Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. For AIs—yes, even today’s AIs—do not understand anything; nothing at all. And they have no creativity in any sense of the word that could be even remotely related to human creativity. Allow me to elaborate.

Let’s take LLMs as our example, for the feats of ChatGPT tend to be regarded as the most compelling when it comes to attributing understanding and creativity to generative AIs. LLMs are transformers (a technical term), meaning that they take input text, apply a series of geometric transformations to it, and spit out the resulting text one word at a time. The answer ChatGPT gives you is a ‘transformation’ of your question.

The particular parameters of the geometric transformations applied are defined during a so-called ‘training’ phase, when the LLM is exposed to an enormous database of human-written text. Its parameters are then iteratively adjusted—calibrated, fine-tuned—so to represent how words tend to appear together in human-produced text. Once the training is complete and the parameters set, the LLM can then infer, given an input sentence (i.e. the question or query), what the most likely word is to appear next in the output sentence (i.e. the answer). Once that is done, the new output sentence—with one more word appended to its end—is fed back to the LLM, which then infers the next word, and so on, until the answer is complete. This so-called ‘inference’ phase is what we users get exposed to when we interact with ChatGPT online.

From the point of view of the LLM, the text database used during training contains merely a gigantic collection of signs. These signs happen to be English words—or some parts of words—but they might as well be squiggles; it doesn’t matter, for the LLM is not aware of the meaning of the words (or of anything else, for that matter). All it is trained to do is to capture and represent the statistical regularities with which words occur together, or follow one another, in the human-written text of the training database. If squiggles were used during training—instead of words—the LLM would still capture the regularities with which the squiggles tend to appear; from its point of view, it’s all the same thing. The LLM has no understanding of the meaning of the text it is trained on. It merely deals with how signs—squiggles, words—relate to one another in the training database.

Once the statistical regularities with which words tend to occur are captured in the LLM’s parameters, the LLM can start inferring which words to use in response to a query. From its own point of view, its answer is thus just a series of squiggles whose meaning it does not understand; it only knows that these are the squiggles that are most likely to appear following your query, given the way squiggles appeared in the training database. That’s all there is to it. At no point does understanding or creativity come into the picture.

So why does it seem to us as though the LLM really did understand our query, and produced a fully understandable answer? How does the LLM produce such coherent outputs if it has no understanding of language? The answer is quite simple: it's because the LLM was trained on human-written text, and it is always a human who interprets its outputs. Now, humans do understand what the words mean! The understanding involved here is thus always human understanding, as embedded in both the training database and the interpretation of inferred answers. The meaning we discern in an answer produced by ChatGPT is (a) the meaning imparted on the training database by the humans who wrote the corresponding texts, and (b) the meaning we impart on the answer when reading and interpreting it. ChatGPT itself only ever sees squiggles and the statistical regularities with which they tend to occur; it understands nothing; it creates nothing; it only rearranges—‘transforms’—meaningless squiggles. All meaning is imparted and projected on the squiggles by us humans.

The same goes for generative AI art: all artistic creativity involved is that of the human artists who composed the images used in the training database. All the AI ever does is rearrange—‘transform,’ combine—elements of those images based on a query. Generative AIs thus merely recycle the products of human understanding and creativity, nothing else. The only reason why ChatGPT can pass a bar examination is that it was trained on text written by capable human lawyers. If there weren’t human lawyers, ChatGPT would produce gibberish in a bar examination. The only reason it can tell you what Analytic Idealism is, is that it was trained on text written by me; it has no understanding of Analytic Idealism. The only reason other generative AIs can produce beautiful art is that they were trained on beautiful art produced by creative, sensitive people. If you take human input out of the equation, generative AIs can do nothing; they have no understanding or creativity of their own; they just transform—recycle—human understanding and creativity.

That’s why there is a strong sense in which the output of generative AIs is always a—sophisticated, complex—form of plagiarism. AIs can never produce something whose building blocks weren’t first produced by human beings. At best, AIs can find associations—connections—across different products of human creativity and insight that would, otherwise, be difficult for humans to find on their own, since AIs operate on much larger training databases than humans can accommodate in their minds. But the building blocks are always human-produced; no exceptions. The meaning is always human-imparted; no exceptions. There is no such thing as AI creativity or understanding.

The problem, however, is that the plagiarism is so sophisticated and nuanced that a PhD in computer science and engineering is necessary for one to understand what is truly going on. And things will only get worse as larger and larger AIs—with more and more parameters—are trained on larger and larger databases. The illusion of artificial understanding and creativity, already so compelling, will become irresistible for the vast majority of people. This is a great danger, for we risk losing sight of our own value and dignity by projecting all of it onto electronic mechanisms. This is a form of ‘kenosis,’ an emptying out of ourselves, wholly unjustified by the facts.

Businesses see so much value in generative AI because of its effectiveness in recycling, adapting, and re-using human output. If a few lawyers somewhere managed to write very clever legal texts, an AI trained on those texts can produce clever legal texts for your business on demand, without your having to pay new lawyers to do the same kind of creative, intellectual work again; someone else, somewhere else, already paid for the originals. If clever artists have produced a large database of effective illustrations somewhere, you don’t need to pay new artists to do it for you again; an AI can cleverly re-use and adapt that previous human output to your particular needs. Economically, this is incredibly efficient. But it requires no understanding or creativity beyond those already embedded in the training database and the minds of the people who contemplate the outputs of the AI. The latter simply rearranges things.

It is critically important for us to understand that AI does not replace human creativity and understanding; on the contrary, it entirely relies on them. Its value resides solely in stretching, leveraging the re-use potential of human production, not replacing it. AI amplifies the reach of human productivity; it doesn’t render it redundant. All meaning and all creativity discernible in the outputs of AIs are human meaning and human creativity. Without human input in the form of training databases, AIs are wholly useless. Without the understanding projected by humans onto their outputs, AIs are only capable of spitting out meaningless squiggles. Artificial Intelligence ultimately is human intelligence.

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Some of my best adversarial debates, as captured in video


Over the past 15 years or so, I have engaged in a number of debates with other scholars, as I believe strongly that this kind of interaction is an excellent way to question and improve our culture's mainstream views. In this post, I'd like to highlight the more adversarial of these debates. By 'adversarial' I don't mean unfriendly; some may be, but many aren't. I mean simply that these 'adversarial' engagements entailed mutual critiques of different, perhaps even contradictory views. This helps us make the potential shortcomings of the respective views more explicit, which is surely a progressive thing.

The first is a debate with well-known materialist and skeptic Prof. Peter Atkins and Prof. Nancy Cartwright. I was surprised with how open to my ideas Prof. Atkins seemed to be already very early on in the debate.

The next debate is with Prof. Susan Blackmore, a well-known skeptic, and Prof. Tim Crane. The debate was moderated by Hilary Lawson. Here again I was surprised with Susan's relative openness to my views.

Now a debate with well-known atheist philosopher of religion, Prof. Graham Oppy, considered by William Lane Craig "the most formidable atheist philosopher writing today." We seem to be less distant from, and antagonist of, each other's position than I thought before this dialogue.

Next up is my debate with anaesthesiologist and well-known skeptic, Dr. Gerald Woerlee. After this debate I realized that many of Dr. Woerlee's views are actually in alignment with analytic idealism. The debate was done in two parts, and covers a lot of ground.

Now a conversation with my friends, neuroscientist Dr. Christof Koch and philosopher Rupert Spira. I list this as an 'adversarial' debate because, at the time, Christof and I thought we had sharply divergent views (which wasn't quite true already then). In a more recent discussion, also linked below, we show how much closer to each other's views we actually are.

Next is a debate with Prof. Carlo Roveli, who I am always delighted to dialogue with.

The next one is again a debate between very contrasting views, as Prof. David Papineau is a well-known physical realist, the antithesis of analytic idealism. Yet, I was again surprised with how seemingly open to other possibilities he seemed to be, provided that these possibilities are based on reason and evidence. At some point, if I recall correctly, he even granted that I was not crazy, which is high praise (I say this sincerely, only very slightly tongue-in-cheek). The moderator didn't allow us to converse as much as we would have liked, but perhaps we will do it again some time.

Now a debate with Prof. Susan Schneider and my friend Prof. Donald Hoffman. I list this as adversarial because Susan's views on the hypothesis of artificial sentience contrast very sharply with my own, which led to a fairly robust exchange between us at a certain moment.

And here's another debate with skeptic, Prof. Susan Blackmore:

Harvard Prof. Avi Loeb and I are both open to the possibility of alien life, but we differ in the ever so important details, so I list this as a friendly but adversarial debate.

Prof. Brian Keating and I hold contrasting views on a number of issues. Yet, our dialogue betrayed more agreement than disagreement, so I hesitated about whether to list this one as an 'adversarial' debate. But I wouldn't be portraying Brian's views properly if I suggested that we are on the same boat, so here you go.

Now a debate with arch-materialist and skeptic Prof. Patricia Churchland and, again, Prof. Carlo Roveli, this time moderated by Closer-to-Truth host, Robert Lawrence Kuhn. The biggest surprise here was Churchland's seemingly complete unawareness of over 10 years of psychedelic research and its most significant results. For a self-identified "neurophilosopher," this was rather embarrassing.

Finally, here's a very adversarial debate I had with YouTuber physicist Sabine Hossenfelder. I initially didn't intend to list this one here because I believe my interlocutor was deliberately, well, very misleading in the exchange and didn't abide by a bare-minimum level of debate ethics. But for the sake of completeness, here it is. To understand why I feel uncomfortable with what happened in this exchange, check out these posts:

Sabine Hossenfelder's bluf called
Hossenfelder digs herself into a deeper hole

Later I will post a similar list, but with non-adversarial conversations.

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The Phantom World Hypothesis of NDEs/OBEs

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Sam Parnia released a new mini-documentary about Near Death Experiences (NDEs), which he now coined a new term for: REDs, for 'Recalled Experiences of Death.' His argument is that, physiologically, these people weren't merely near death, but actually died and were resuscitated thanks to modern medical technology. Indeed, defining death as a state one can never return from is operationally contingent; it is arbitrary and ignores the physiology—the science—of the process. So I am comfortable with the term RED.


But I diverge. The point of this essay is a common feature of REDs and 'Out of Body Experiences' (OBEs) that have always stricken me as exceedingly odd: the claim by experiencers that they could perceive the colloquially physical world around them—from a mildly elevated, bird's-eye perspective—during the period of, e.g., cardiac arrest, as if they still had working eyes and ears. This seems to violate logic, as evolution required hundreds of millions of years of painstaking adaption to come up with retinas and eardrums. And that these are needed to perceive the world is unquestionable: right now, if you close your eyes and ears, you will see and hear nearly nothing. So how can a patient under cardiac arrest, lying on a hospital bed with eyes closed, see and hear what is going on in the corridors outside their room? If one can see and hear perfectly well without working eyes and ears, why do we need them at all? Why can't I close my eyes right now and see what's happening around the corner of my street?

Nonetheless, I am not one of those people who find it easy to disregard (anecdotal) evidence just because it doesn't fit with their understanding of the world. As a friend reminded me of just a couple of days ago, alluding to a particular scene from the Netflix series Chernobyl, theory must fit the facts, not the other way around. And there are just too many mutually-consistent reports to dismiss. My commitment to truth is such that I just can't pretend otherwise, which puts me at an impasse, for I am equally unable to think of nature as something so capricious as to change the rules of the game on a whim. I just can't accept that eyes and ears are utterly unnecessary to perceive this world during a RED or OBE, but absolutely necessary during ordinary waking states. Moreover, nature just isn't so redundant as to struggle for hundreds of millions of years to evolve retinas and eardrums we can allegedly do perfectly well without.

The present essay is the result of my struggle to make sense of this conundrum. At this stage, however, what follows is still very highly speculative and should be taken with a whole bag of salt. I am not at all committed to the conjectures I discuss below, but simply play with them as an intellectual exercise. In the future, I may further expand on these thoughts in a more rigorous manner, if my argument can be more substantiated. Alternatively, I may abandon the idea altogether. Either way, right now what follows is just a very loose exercise of theoretical imagination, nothing more.

Finally, notice also that the Phantom World Hypothesis is supposed to cover only the parts of a RED or OBE that seem to relate directly to the ordinary, so-called physical world; not the parts about transcendence and other realities.

Assumptions

I am not a RED/OBE researcher or scholar. My interest in these states is professional but ancillary. Therefore, I must start with some basic assumptions, knowing full well that these may ultimately prove to be wrong or misleading. My assumptions are these: (a) experiencers of REDs/OBEs are being sincere and reasonably accurate when they report the ability to perceive the ordinary, colloquially physical world during the period in which they do not have functioning sensory organs; (b) Nature indeed isn't redundant or whimsical, so despite their sincere reports, experiencers in fact aren't truly perceiving the colloquially physical world around them.

Background

I will base my hypothesis on the tenets of my own Analytic Idealism. According to it, all nature consists of experiential—i.e., mental—states. Some of these states are within our individual minds, such as our own perceptions, thoughts and emotions. We identify with these internal states or at least feel that we own them. Other mental states in nature are external to our individual minds and, therefore, constitute the external environment we inhabit. I shall say that these external mental states belong to a 'mind-at-large' beyond our individual minds.

That there can be mental states out there, outside your individual mind, is nothing new: my thoughts are mental, and yet external to your mind. Analytic Idealism simply leverages this trivial fact to argue that the entire world beyond the boundaries of our own minds is constituted of external mental states as well, not just the inner lives of other people.

When external mental states in mind-at-large impinge on our individual minds, they modulate our internal mental states. This is what we call perception: what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch are our inner representations of external states. As such, under Analytic Idealism there is indeed an external world beyond us; a world that does not depend on us to exist or do whatever it is that it does. When we interact with this world—such that the world impinges on us—its states are represented by our individual minds as the colloquially physical world around us. As such, what we perceive is merely an image, an appearance of states in mind-at-large.

Still under Analytic Idealism, what separates our internal mental states from the external mental states of mind-at-large is a dissociative boundary. Just like the multiple, disjoint personalities—called 'alters'—of a patient of Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as 'Multiple Personality Disorder'), each living being is a dissociative alter of the field of mentation that constitutes nature. A biological organism is what one such an alter looks like when represented on the screen of perception. Biology, life, is the perceptual appearance of a dissociative alter in the universal mind we call nature.

As such, death—the end of life—is, in fact, merely the end of the dissociation, of the alter, not the end of consciousness. The dying process is that by which the previously private mental states of the alter—one's personal memories, insights, etc., originally insulated from their cognitive surroundings by a dissociative boundary—become progressively re-associated with the mental states of mind-at-large. It stands to reason, thus, that this should be experienced as an expansion of consciousness, not its end, which is precisely what experiencers of REDs/OBEs report.



The Phantom World Hypothesis

Among the previously private mental states of an alter undergoing re-association—i.e., a person dying, being re-integrated into his or her cognitive surroundings—are episodic memories. These contain a lifetime of perceptions: a cognitive map of one's home, neighbourhood, city, country, places visited or seen on TV shows and YouTube videos, and so on. We don't just perceive the world, we also remember these perceptions. As these perceptual memories accumulate over time, they form an increasingly broad, high-resolution, internal map of our environment, constituted of the qualities of perception: the colours, shapes, contours, and geometrical relationships that define what we colloquially call the physical world. Even when you are lying in bed at night, with your eyes closed, you can access these perceptual memories to visualise your room, your street, the route to work that you will be taking in the morning, etc. As such, a copy—more or less precise, more or less accurate, more or less comprehensive—of the world as perceived exists in us at all times.

When we die, this copy of the world as perceived and remembered becomes re-integrated with the external mental states of mind-at-large. And since people are dying every minute, mind-at-large becomes increasingly enriched with individual perceptual maps, which are representations of its own states. These perceptual maps—each corresponding to the perceptual memories of a re-integrated alter—become cognitively associated with one another, like different pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle coming together. It is reasonable to infer this because we know that this is how mind works: through spontaneous cognitive associations based on similarities and correspondences. Mind-at-large cannot help but spontaneously put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Nature's mind is thus constantly assembling a cognitive map of itself—a jigsaw puzzle representing its own states, whose pieces are constituted of qualities of perception—based on the episodic memories it inherits from re-integrated alters. Where there are gaps, extrapolations spontaneously arise, just as we extrapolate our own perceptions to infer that, say, a wall partly obscured by a tree in fact continues behind the tree; or that a road continues beyond the visible horizon; etc. These extrapolations reflect well-known and intrinsic properties of mentation: you spontaneously extrapolate a square from the figure below, even though there is no square in it at all; you do it because this is what mind naturally does. Technically called interpolations, the extrapolations complete the jigsaw puzzle where pieces are still missing. The result may be an inaccurate but rather complete cognitive map, a Phantom World constituted of perceptual qualities originally generated by living people and other organisms.


I call the resulting map a Phantom World because mind-at-large isn't actually perceiving the world; it isn't actually representing its own states on a screen of its own perception. Instead, it is merely inheriting the perceptual states of myriad former alters and spontaneously assembling them together through cognitive similarity and correspondence. The resulting pseudo-perceptual world is thus an approximation containing inaccuracies and imprecisions (the interpolations). Nonetheless, it should still feel as though it were a (colloquially physical) world perceived, since it is made of qualities of perception like the colours and sounds you and I see and hear.

During a RED or OBE, I contend that the dissociative boundary that defines the individual mind of a person becomes weakened, porous, permeable, allowing for partial but direct access to external states in mind-at-large, without the intermediation of a screen of perception. And since these external states contain the Phantom World, the experiencer gains temporary access to that pseudo-perceived world.

I suggest, therefore, that the experiencer is not actually perceiving the real world, but the Phantom World instead. For this, the experiencer indeed does not require working eyes or ears, for he or she is accessing the compound result of myriad episodic memories—the assembled jigsaw puzzle—of people who did have working eyes and ears. Analogously, when you are lying on your bed at night, with your eyes closed, visualising your route to work the next morning, you too can visualise it by recalling episodic memories and without using your eyes.

Perspectival transposition

A number of possible criticisms of this hypothesis must be popping in your mind right now. I will try to anticipate and address them in this and the next sections.

The first issue is the perspective experiencers report: a bird's-eye view of things, as if they were floating above other people, the furniture, the cars on the streets, etc. This perspective does not correspond to the episodic memories of any human being, dead or alive, since we don't ordinarily float around like air balloons. How can this be accounted for under the Phantom World Hypothesis?

Even in ordinary waking states, our minds routinely adjust our perceptual experience so to conform to an expected context or perspective. In other words, we don't just perceive the world as it is, we manipulate our perceptual states so they fit with the context we cognitively expect. This is so even when you know what is going on. In the picture below, for instance, the squares marked A and B have exactly the same colour. Yet, because the context forces you to expect them to have opposite colours, that's what you see. And you will continue to see it even after you convince yourself that the squares do indeed have the same colour.



The drawing below contains a variety of perspectival illusions. Even after we realise that what we think we are seeing is impossible, we continue to see it nonetheless. This is an intrinsic property of mind: it tries to fit what it perceives to its expectations and models of what is going on.



There are countless other compelling examples of our minds imposing a perspective onto the contents of perception that is not there at all. The video below is just one more example, where we impose very specific movement where there is none. And even knowing this, and being convinced of it, does not reducelet alone eliminate—the seeming perception.


My contention is thus the following: during a RED/OBE, the experiencer expects to perceive the world from his or her own unique and contingent point of view, not the objective perspective of other people, dead or alive. To reconcile his or her access to the Phantom World with this expectation, the experiencer transposes his or her experiential vantage point accordingly, thereby generating the bird's-eye view. This is possible because the Phantom World is already a cognitive modelan interpolationanyway, so any perspective can be 'computed' from it through a form of grounded, calibrated imagination.

Ongoing experiences

Another issue with the Phantom World Hypothesis is that experiencers often report, veridically, what is going on in the world during the RED/OBE: what people are saying, doing, etc., while the experiencer is in, e.g., cardiac arrest. This means that their pseudo-perceptions cannot be grounded only in the episodic memories of the deceased, but also in the ongoing experiences of living people, as they unfold.

Under Analytic Idealism, the mental inner lives of two different people are ordinarily separated from one another by two dissociative boundaries, each defining the limits of each person's individual mind. During the RED/OBE, however, we've hypothesised that the dissociative boundary of the experiencer becomes weaker, porous, permeable. As such, it is reasonable to conjecture that access to another person's on-going experiences becomes easier than under ordinary circumstances. This is especially so if those other people are emotionally connected with the experiencer, which could spontaneously shift their own state of consciousness in a manner that weakens their own dissociative boundary as well.

If this direct mind-to-mind access does take place, it is in principle reasonable to conjecture that the experiencer will import it into the Phantom World—to keep everything consistent and unifiedand again spontaneously apply a perspective transposition, as discussed in the previous section, so to portray such access as if it were taking place from an external vantage point. After all, the experiencer doesn't expect himself/herself to be another person. Instead, things will be experienced as if he/she were seeing or hearing another person. The experiencer will then report having seeing or heard other people say or do this or that, while, in fact, the experiencer has directly accessed their inner mental states.

Implications and validation

To check whether the Phantom World Hypothesis is consistent with the (anecdotal) RED/OBE data, we must derive its implications and check them against what experiencers report. So let us do this, one implication at a time.

If some of what is reported corresponds to direct access to the inner mentation of living people—subsequently transposed to an external perspective—then experiencers should, at least occasionally, report accessing endogenous mental states of others as well. In other words, in addition to knowing what people said or did, experiencers should, at least occasionally, claim that they knew what people were thinking or feeling. And indeed, this is precisely what is often reported. In the recent mini-documentary by Dr. Sam Parnia, linked above, an experiencer claimed to have become aware of what his doctor was thinking—a claim confirmed by the doctorwhile the experiencer himself was in cardiac arrest. If the experiencer can access someone's thoughts, than she or he surely can access what one is seeing, hearing, or otherwise perceiving. This corroborates the hypothesis that experiencers aren't actually perceiving the real world without functioning eyes or ears, but pseudo-perceiving the world by proxy, through the inner mental states of both the deceased and the living.

Another implication of the Phantom World Hypothesis is that, since the Phantom World is a cognitive construct, a model containing interpolations and extrapolations, at least occasionally experiencers should report things that don't actually match with the real world. These inaccuracies are probably filtered out in the popular literature, since they can easily be (mis)interpreted as refuting the validity of the RED/OBE. Yet, under the Phantom World Hypothesis, occasional inaccuracies and oddities are precisely what one would expect. These inaccuracies—provided that they are localised within a broader context that is itself veridical—in fact corroborate the validity of the RED/OBE.

Finally, the most important implication of the Phantom World Hypothesis is this: the experiencer should not be able to know any fact that has never been experienced by any organism still alive or already dead. Because the hypothesis entails that experiencers only pseudo-perceive the world—that is, perceive by proxy, through the inner mental states of others—whatever no one has ever perceived or otherwise known cannot be accessed by the experiencer. As such, when Dr. Sam Parnia devised his famous experiment to test the veracity of REDs—wherein he placed electronic displays on top of tall cupboards, facing up and displaying random numbers automatically chosen by a computer, to see if the 'free-floating soul' would be able to read the numbers—he ensured that no experiencer would succeed. After all, the experiment was designed to be double-blind: the experimenters themselves didn't know what numbers were displayed. Therefore, no one, dead or alive, knew what the numbers were. It was impossible for the experiencers to access such information, since their access is always by proxy and not direct. The experiencers don't have eyes to perceive the displays; they can only see what others see or have seen. Again, this implication of the Phantom World Hypothesis seems to match with the data, as Parnia's experiment is known to have 'failed.'

Conclusions

The Phantom World Hypothesis should not be taken as a rigorous scholarly theory, for it is no such thing; at least at the present time. As it stands, the hypothesis is merely educated speculation and conjecture, with very little theoretical underpinning or empirical basis. But the little it does have is, well, a little intriguing.

I am not an experimentalist in the field of REDs/OBEs. I cannot, therefore, take it on myself to design and carry out experiments to validate or falsify my own hypothesis. But those who are in the position to do so could perhaps allow themselves to be informally informed by the Phantom World Hypothesis in their experimental designs. Doing so would prevent the understandable but possibly equivocated jump to concluding that Parnia's experiment debunks the veridical aspect of REDs, for its very double-blind design could have precluded any veridical report.

New experiments are needed that are informed by the Phantom World Hypothesis.

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On geopolitics, Russia, MAGA, and Western values

 

As regular readers may have noticed, I've deleted earlier posts on this blog that discussed political and moral topics outside the realm of metaphysics. I did so because I want my participation in the cultural debate to remain focused on my key areas of expertise; I don't want to be perceived as a wanna-be political pundit. That said, as a citizen, I carry the responsibility to take part in our democratic political process to the same extent that any other citizen does. This is the spirit of this post.

Since deleting the aforementioned posts, some have questioned whether my political and moral positions, as a citizen, have changed. The answer is no, they haven't. And to set the record straight, here I want to summarise those views clearly and explicitly, in the interest of clarifying any lingering doubt, so we can move on from this topic.

This post is meant to share my views with you for what they are worth, not necessarily to substantiate these views in an objective, academic manner, as I am neither a political scientist nor a moral philosopher. My intellectual authority here is the same as yours.

Russia

Like others in the West, prior to Russia's 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine I believed the West was unnecessarily antagonising Russia through (talk of) continuing NATO expansion. I thought the examples of Finland and Sweden—prosperous and safe countries at, or close to, the Russian border—proved that such an expansion wasn't necessary for the security and prosperity of Eastern Europe.

Having been married to a Russian-Ukrainian from the Donbas for 16 years, I also sympathised with the plight of Russian speakers in Ukraine and the Baltics, who—or so I was told—were being oppressed in the name of the preservation of national identity.

But a military invasion that kills and maims those very Russian speakers, plus countless Ukrainians, and destroys their homes, places of work and infrastructure, is obviously not the solution to those problems. The Russian government and military know this full well—because it is, well, obvious—and used the well-being of Russian speakers abroad as a cynical and fantastic excuse to pursue their true political goal: internal regime stability and hegemony.

This is evil. It disregards the value of unique human lives—including those of Russian men being sent into the meat-grinder as disposable objects, in endless meat-wave assaults meant to draw Ukrainian ammunition reserves—in the interest of personal power and geopolitical abstraction. Again, this is profoundly evil; it is almost the definition of evil. It is abhorrent, intolerable, absolutely unjustifiable, heinous and utterly inexcusable. Nothing the West has ever done or failed to do can even remotely justify it. It destroys whatever moral high-ground Russia may have had prior to the full-scale invasion and renders them a pariah, terrorist state undeserving of UN membership.

There is no moral equivalence between Russia's methods of geopolitical expansion—and the Soviet Union's before—and Western international organisations such as NATO and the European Union (EU). No NATO or EU member has ever been forced to join; all took the initiative to join voluntarily, through the actions of democratically elected governments. Russia's imperialist geopolitical expansions, on the other hand, were always forced at gun point. This is an enormous difference that should never escape us.

The idea that Russia needed to defend itself against a NATO invasion is ludicrous. The West's interests in Russia have always been to buy its abundant energy—as the EU has done for decades, after enabling Russia to build its entire oil and gas infrastructure with Western know-how and financing, or even outright building it for them—and contribute to the economic prosperity of its population, so Russians could afford and buy Western goods. Cynical as this may be, it shows how counter to Western interests an invasion of Russia would be; and that's not even to mention the obvious nuclear deterrence Russia has. No, people—journalists, pseudo-journalists, pundits, propagandists, podcasters, YouTubers, politicians, etc.—who tell you that Russia needed to militarily defend itself against the West are either naive or are regurgitating propaganda on your face. In this latter case, I am curious about their sources of income.

Democracy

Democracy is messy, slow at taking vital and urgent actions, internally confrontational, and sometimes even dysfunctional. Yet, since the end of the second world war, it is also the form of government that allowed for the most prosperous, stable and safe period in the history of humanity, which is a demonstrable statistical truth. Unlike autocracies—in which a leader remains in power so long that he ends up conflating his personal interests with the country's, inevitably leading to unspeakable evil such as the full-scale invasion of Ukraine—democracies are governed primarily by institutions and the rule of law, not individuals running a mafia state like Putin's Russia. It is the regular changes of leadership in a democracy that prevent individuals from turning the state into an ossified tool of personal gain and power, to the detriment of the freedoms and prosperity of the population.

Autocracies only look neat, polished and sanitised because the media is state-controlled. Under the hood, they are more ineffective, messy and dysfunctional than democracies; just think of the Soviet Union. Because there is no viable opposition or independent media to highlight the country's problems and shortcomings, the ills persist, year after year, decade after decade. In democracies, on the other hand, the opposition and an independent media—biased as it admittedly is—are ready to pounce at the slightest sign of a government's failure. This looks very ugly, but forces a confrontation with the problems at hand. Indeed, it is this kind of checks and balances that has allowed democracies to improve the quality of life of their citizens so dramatically over the past 80 years. If you don't believe it, ask your great-grandparents how things used to be.

Pointing to autocratic China's new-found prosperity over the past 20 or 30 years overlooks one important thing: it is the safety, prosperity and market interests of Western democracies that helped reduce China's previously systemic poverty. It is Western navies, securing the seas, that enable China to safely and cheaply import most of its oil and food from abroad. It is the West's technology and know-how that allowed China's modernisation (I know it, I was there). It is the prosperity of Western consumers that gave China's industry a huge market. So even autocratic China largely owes its prosperity to the technological, economic and military effectiveness of Western democracies. China's rhetoric about Taiwan belonging to them has much more to do with China's desire to steal whatever remaining technological know-how the West is now unwilling to share with them, than with history. See past all the rhetorical bullshit and you will understand this.

If you were a male Russian citizen living in Russia right now, you would be running a serious risk that your government would forcibly pluk you from your family, your loved ones, your work, your home, your dreams and goals, your right to express yourself and pursue happiness, to send you to die in a meat-wave meant to draw Ukrainian fire. Just think of this for a moment. Seriously. This is what it means to be Russian right now. And this is the vision of a certain deranged, malignant narcissist for your future.

To any Western pundit doing the bidding of the Kremlin, my invitation to you is this: be consistent with the views you promote and move to Russia. Get Russian citizenship—I'm sure your dear leader Putin would give it to you by decree, regardless of the law—and abandon your Western passport. Leave the West—this place and values you so seem to pooh-pooh, with this form of government you so love to hate—and go to the place of your dreams, organised according to the autocratic system you so wish for, ruled by the man whose ass you are so eager to kiss.

MAGA

I am neither a liberal nor a conservative. Or perhaps I am both a liberal and a conservative. I do not understand the American and, largely, British two-party system. It is downright ridiculous to Dutch ears that the complex solutions to our myriad problems could be binned into only two categories. In The Netherlands there is such a thing as the liberal conservative party (the VVD, which was in power until last year), one among many others, which reflects the complexity of the issues. So whatever I say below is, most certainly, not a reflection of this binary mode of thought that characterises US and British politics. Do not try to label me, for I will reject whatever label you try to paste on my forehead. I am too thoughtful for easy labels.

With this said, I am critical of the so-called liberal Western elites for a number of reasons, not the least of which are their arrogance, dismissiveness, and sense of superiority; their disregard of tradition, ancestral values, connection with the land (literally, the land under our feet), and so on. I am also first in line to recognise that the liberal intellectual elites—through the mainstream media—have repeatedly lied to, and manipulated, us.

But to enthusiastically allow oneself to be lied to and manipulated by a deranged, malignant narcissist instead—a product of New York's elites, born into a golden crib, who somehow convinced you that not only does he miraculously understand your problems, but that he is somehow one of you—does not solve the problem; it exacerbates it. Also, to think that, because it is so often co-opted by liberal elites, science never gets anything right, is a logical non sequitur; that is, it makes no sense.

Vaccines do work, alright. There is such a thing as human-caused global warming. Sea levels have not risen much yet because ice, when it melts, reduces in volume. This is why the level of soda in a glass doesn't change when the ice cubes already in it melt (try it, if you don't believe me). But if you have a full glass of soda and then drop some ice cubes into it, it will overflow. By the same token, the northern polar cap and icebergs already floating in the oceans, which are the first thing to melt with global warming, do not raise sea levels. But when the ice on land—in Antartica and Greenland—melt enough to slide into the ocean, there will be sudden and catastrophic sea level rise, which will ruin about half of my country. That's the danger ahead, and it is very real. To not believe it is just catastrophically misguided. But the deranged, malignant narcissist from New York will tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear, so you vote for him and, in the process, destroy your country and the West's ability to resist the increasingly assertive autocracies eager to steal a larger piece of our hard-earned prosperity.

The malignant and cognitively-impaired  narcissist—incapable of coherently stringing a short sentence together—will also tell you that helping Ukraine comes at the cost of your security and prosperity. This, too, inverts the facts. The business case for helping Ukraine is nothing short of fabulous: they do the fighting, risking their own lives, not ours, to degrade a coalition of autocracies set on threatening our way of life. To help them, all we need to do is send them military surplus and outdated stuff that would otherwise cost us a great deal of money to dispose of. And whatever modern stuff we ultimately decide to send them, will be made in our own countries, contributing to our own economies, and creating jobs for us. Even if you fail to see the clear moral case for supporting a people like us, who live lives like ours, under the same values, against heinous foreign aggression, there is still a very egoistic, objective business case for supporting them nonetheless. But the deranged, malignant narcissist—who is out to manipulate and exploit your democratic power as a voting citizen for his benefit alone—will tell you otherwise, so he has a campaign stick with which to bash his opponent. He is preying on your grievances, not fighting for you.

MAGA is the greatest threat to Western values and our way of life; the greatest threat to your prosperity and security. It's a cancer within, which is now metastasising to other Western nations, such as my own. That these populist demagogues (pretend to) hate the same people you hate is no reason to support them. That your hate is justifiable is no reason to support lying manipulators either. They do not have your best interests at heart. All they care about is themselves. Their flirting with foreign dictators is treason, not wise pragmatism.

Western values

What is this 'West' I've been talking about? It's not a race or ethnicity; humans don't even have races. Dogs do: any two pugs will look more like one another than either one looks like a great dane. But there is no such grouping among humans; we are too alike. So no, Westerness is not a race.

Neither is it a geographical location. The name 'West' is a throwback to an earlier time in history, when Western values and way of life did correlate with what was going on west of the Bosphorus strait. But today, in a globalised world, such geographical distinctions no longer exist. I have witnessed more Westerness in Japan and South Korea than in some places in the Americas.

The West is a value system and way of life that acknowledges the worth and importance of individual life. The diversity and uniqueness of our individual dispositions and forms of expression are sanctified and cherished in the West. We are not just numbers, or an amorphous collective to be used as a tool for the benefit of dictators, or meat-drones to be sent in frontal assaults against someone else's invented enemy. Instead, we are individuals with rights and freedoms, who live as we choose, as long as we don't prevent our neighbours from living as they choose. This is what distinguishes us from Putin's Russia and Xi's China, in which people are a tool of the state, a uniform pool of resources forced to be compliant.

Westerners who flirt with, or give a platform to, the depersonalising, cynical, criminal agenda of the Kremlin are, in my book, traitors of our Western values and way of life. If they despise these values and way of life so much, they should move to Russia. After all, as Western citizens, they have the freedom to come and go as they please.

Why am I sharing all this?

As a public intellectual with access to media platforms—even though I am not a political pundit—I do feel that I have the responsibility to share my positions. You deserve to know them.

In addition, I also wanted to let you know that, in accordance with the views I expressed above, I choose to not allow myself to be associated, indirectly as the case may be, with those who provide a platform for agendas counter to democracy and moral decency. I do believe they have the right to express their views—in accordance with democratic values—but doing so also imbues them with responsibilities. Therefore, it is equally valid for me to hold them responsible for their choices. In this spirit, I choose to not associate myself with them.

Alright, this is it; this is all I have to say. I shall, from now on, focus on philosophy and science, which are the areas of my expertise. This post is, in a sense, the ticket that buys my freedom to avoid the topics of politics and moral philosophy for the foreseeable future, even though I will continue to be a spokesperson for human decency and dignity.

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UAPs and Non-Human Intelligence: What is the most reasonable scenario?



Editorial note: 

I originally intended to publish the essay below in an (online) magazine, not my own blog. I still have this intention, but opted to publish the complete draft here first for several reasons: (a) most magazines will place the essay behind a paywall (I already tried to negotiate this out, but it is not negotiable); (b) most magazines will require me to significantly shorten the essay (even Aeon Magazine, which publishes long-form essays, limits them to 5,000 words, while the text below has over 6,800 words); (c) most magazines will force me to edit at least some parts of my argument in a manner that is not preferable to me; and (d) the editorial process entailed in a magazine publication of an essay as elaborate as this can take many months. For these reasons, I decided to publish the entire draft here first, prior to any editorial changes, in the spirit of a pre-print in the ArXiv. It remains possible that future, shortened, edited versions of the material below will appear in other magazines.

If you prefer a printable PDF version of the text below, it is available on my Academia profile.

Update 6-Jan-2024: the essay is now also on The Debrief.

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Analytic Idealism, UAPs, the Daimon, and a model of dissociation: challenges for 2024

You may have noticed that, since Essentia Foundation started in earnest in the summer of 2020, my philosophical output essentially ground to a halt. Indeed, my latest published book to-date, Science Ideated, was finished in April of 2020, even though it only came out in 2021. The reason for this is that Essentia Foundation took all my time in its first years. Starting a new organisation and team from scratch isn't trivial. Moreover, running Essentia Foundation resonated so profoundly with the path of meaning in my life that it basically became an 'obsession'—something I don't consider bad at all; in fact, I love it, despite the overtones of the word 'obsession.' In view of this, my own personal production had to take a backseat over the past three or four years.

Yet, ideas have been autonomously arising and simmering in the back of my mind, growing and congealing beyond the scrutiny of my ego, in their own space and their own time, with little to no effect in my outward daily life. And now they seem to be mature enough to be birthed into the world with little demand on my time. This is what I'd like to share with you now, as 2024 begins.

My intent with what follows is not so much to commit to any kind of new year's 'resolution,' but instead to bring you more squarely onboard our journey together through idea-space; for 2024 marks the beginning of a period of a few years that will probably be remembered as one of the most defining in the whole of human history; a unique time to be alive. I will also share, towards the end of this post, my predictions for this seminal period that has just begun.


The new book

The first news is that my new book, Analytic Idealism in a Nutshell, will be officially published in October of 2024. Here is an overview of the book's goals, quoted from Chapter 1, so to help you place its usefulness, value-add, and role in the broader context of my work:

Analytic Idealism—the subject of this book—represents a correction of our known metaphysical mistakes; a step forward. As I shall soon argue, it offers the most plausible and parsimonious hypothesis we have today about the nature of reality. Herein lies the value of what you are about to read.

I have written ten earlier books and a PhD thesis on the subject, not to mention a number of technical papers in academic journals, blog posts, and popular science & philosophy essays in major publications. So, what is new in this particular volume? As the title of this book indicates, here I attempt to summarize, in an informal but direct manner, the key salient points of Analytic Idealism and the argument that substantiates it. Ideas from several of my previous writings are revisited here, but often in a new form, from a different slant. And they are brought together so to give you the briefest and most compelling overview of Analytic Idealism I could muster.

In addition, as I’ve found myself having to explain and defend Analytic Idealism in countless interviews, Q&A sessions, panels, debates, courses, and other public events over the years, I’ve had to distill a more optimal way to bring forth the core ideas. I’ve learned over time what the main difficulties are that different people have with Analytic Idealism, and refined ways to explain it so to meet people where they are, honoring their intuitions and tackling their hidden assumptions more explicitly. All these learnings and refinements are built into the present volume.

Stylistically, my previous ten books were meticulously documented. The same goes for my second PhD thesis and my many technical papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. I thus believe that I have earned the right to discuss Analytic Idealism now in a less formal, less documented, but more fluent and easy-to-read manner, capturing the most salient points in more intuitive, colloquial language. This is what I try to achieve in this book. Unlike previous writings, here I shall thus deliberately avoid formal literature citations, bibliography, and notes. Whenever a literature reference seems particularly productive or unavoidable, I shall mention it in the running text, just as I already did above.

This book is meant to be as close as possible to a verbal discussion of Analytic Idealism, as if I were explaining it to you in person. The tone adopted deliberately reveals more aspects of my own humanity and emotional state to the reader, which can be contrasted to the drier and more objective character of my technical writings. For those readers who prefer or require a technical and more rigorously documented argument, I recommend my earlier output, much of which—such as the academic papers and thesis—is freely available online.


An IIT-based model of dissociation

But as much as Analytic Idealism in a Nutshell brings a form of closure to my formulation of idealism, it also opens a door to a new theoretical development. Although the empirical appeal to dissociation is sufficient to substantiate Analytic Idealism, one would like to have a more formal, conceptual, explicit account of the process of dissociation—What is it, precisely? How does it work? What are the causal mechanisms and dynamics involved? etc.—something that isn't available in the literature today. This new theoretical effort will be the main focus of my personal work in the course of 2024, and very likely beyond.

Since 2017, but mostly in 2023, an idea has been taking root in my mind about how Integrated Information Theory (IIT) can be used as the basis of a theoretical model of dissociation. IIT's 'exclusion principle,' in particular, seems to be the missing theoretical insight that enables such a model. Therefore, instead of taking most of my spare time to talk about Analytic Idealism in podcast interviews, in 2024 I plan to give less interviews, go to less events, generally talk less and do more. I feel a movement of the impersonal inside me that pushes me to return to theoretical meditation, to developing new ideas, as opposed to communicating older ones.

It will be a challenge to carve out more time to retire in quiet thinking—a return to the mode of being that characterised my philosophical life before I wrote my first book—because my email box has never been so overwhelmed with requests for interviews, participation in events, debates, travel, etc. But I will do my best, for my Daimon wants precisely that: a return to the contemplative state of mind that enabled my entire work thus far, and is necessary for its progression. If you thus notice less public material featuring me coming out this year, please know that it is for a good cause.


The Daimon

Speaking of the Daimon, for the past three or four years I've been thinking of writing a book about my life with the Daimon: the irresistible movements of the impersonal within me, which set the direction of my life and couch it in meaning. As you're bound to have heard my saying before, my life is not about me: instead, it's about what nature—embodied in the metaphorical figure of the Daimon—wants to do through me. This relationship with the impersonal has marked my entire life, since long before I was explicitly aware of it. And because I often get loads of questions about it, I thought I would write it all down.

I have, in fact, been writing this book very slowly for the past couple of years. What is new and salient, though, is that, since a couple of weeks ago, the book is finished in my mind; I just have to write the rest of it down. And this I shall do in the first couple of months of this year.

I now finally know exactly where I want—err, where the Daimon wants—to go with this book, so it's just a matter of taking some time off in the wee hours, after work, to type it all out. If everything goes smoothly, a book titled The Daimon and the Western Mind will come out early in 2025, discussing not only my own personal relationship with the Daimon, but also how the Daimon colors—even defines—the 'Western mind,' the Western mode of being in the world.

This 'Westerness,' of course, has nothing to do with 'race' or ethnicity; it doesn't even have anything to do with geographical location, the word 'Western' being just a vestige of past circumstances. 'Westerness' has to do with a way of life, a set of values, a mode of relating to nature and transcendence. In the book, I shall argue that these things have a lot to do with the flow of the impersonal will of nature—embodied in the Daimon—within the Western mind. So stay tuned for it.


UAPs

Several recent posts in this blog have been about Unidentified Aerial/Anomalous Phenomena, or 'UAPs' (the modern Pentagon parlance for 'UFOs'). Indeed, as I will discuss in the next section below, revelations about UAPs and Non-Human Intelligences (NHIs) present on Earth will be one of the key developments in the next few years. In an attempt to bring some—at least temporary—closure to my participation in UAP discussions, I wrote a long essay (about 7,000 words) summarising what I consider to be the most reasonable and empirically-based account of the phenomenon.

The essay is currently being reviewed by colleagues and some editors, as it is still in draft format. I have not yet decided where I will publish it. The topic is contentious and the ideas in my essay aren't easy to take. But all this should be clearer in the coming days or couple of weeks at the latest. Publication itself may take a little longer than that. We will see. But know that this is coming, as many of you sent me messages on social media asking for the continuation of my blog series on the subject.

Once the essay is published, I'll have to decide whether I should continue my public participation in UAP discussions or not. This is a field plagued by precious little solid, concrete data. Instead, there are overwhelming amounts of hear-say, ungrounded speculation and fantasies, rumours, whispers, etc. So it's hard to proceed with educated theorising in this semi-vacuum of reliable data. And it may be counterproductive too, as the last thing I want to do is help amplify the nonsense.

So I guess I'll have to see, after the essay is published, how I will feel about the whole thing. I may continue writing on UAPs after that, or I may stop entirely until new, officially acknowledge information is publicly available and citable. In any case, as this post makes clear, I have too many projects for 2024, so something is likely to fall by the wayside.


Predictions

It is no secret that, geopolitically, the next few years will be defining for our civilisation, and may even end it if we are not careful. The conflict between Western liberal democracies on the one hand, and the repressive, totalitarian coalition of Russia-China-Iran-North Korea on the other, is likely to come to a climax and reshape the world's order (it has already done away with globalisation, in any case). But other events will be just as defining for how we live our lives, if not more.

Although I cannot (yet) list everything I know that motivates what I am about to say, it is crystal-clear to me that materialism is well into its dying process as the West's mainstream metaphysics, both in academia and the media. And this process is playing out significantly faster than my most optimistic predictions of ten years ago or so. In summary, it's happening; the process can no longer be reversed. Naturally, it will still take years for the implications of this change to percolate through all layers and corners of society, but the vast majority of us will be alive to see it unfold. Soon we will be living our social lives in a manner informed by a very different understanding of what is going on.

Also, as I summarise in my upcoming essay, the past few years—particularly 2023—have seen amazing disclosures regarding the UAP phenomenon; disclosures that, only ten years ago, would have been headline news across all media platforms in the world for months on end. Therefore, in the coming few years we have every reason to believe that such disclosures will continue and reach a climax, in which the presence of NHIs on our planet will be officially acknowledged. This, ultimately, won't be any novelty, as the NHIs have been here for, well, a long time (more on my upcoming essay). Yet, the acknowledgment of this presence in our culture will force us to reassess our own place and role in the natural order of this planet; a readjustment that will be—I'm quite sure about it—psychologically very healthy, even if challenging and difficult.

Now a big one: I think, in the coming twenty years or so, we will finally see a comprehensive cure for cancer; all cancers. This cure may require regular treatment, in a manner that will render cancer a chronic but completely manageable condition. But no one will need to die of cancer anymore, if they have access to health care. I say this based on the work of, for instance, Michael Levin, who I now consider one of the most important people alive.

Finally, in my last prediction for the cultural revolution that awaits us in the coming few years, I believe that a new, emerging understanding of the nature of time will revolutionise our conception of the personal self. I discuss this at length in the last chapter of Analytic Idealism in a Nutshell and will not repeat that discussion here; I just felt the need to mention it for the sake of completeness.

Anyway, it has begun. 2024 marks the beginning of one of the most dangerous, yet interesting and revolutionary, periods to be alive in the entire history of humanity. May God be with us in the rollercoaster that now starts.

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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.

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