# Algorithmic Specified Complexity in the Game of Life, revisited

In 2015, Winston Ewert, William Dembski and Robert Marks published a paper entitled Algorithmic Specified Complexity in the Game of Life.

The paper was a wreck. We examined it here at TSZ and found well over 20 substantive errors in it.

ID supporter Eric Holloway describes it as a “neat paper”. I describe it as an “abysmal mess”.

Eric has been touting the virtues of ASC here at TSZ, so now is a good time to reopen the discussion of this paper.

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## 140 thoughts on “Algorithmic Specified Complexity in the Game of Life, revisited”

1. I’ll be quoting a number of comments from the old thread.

One of them involves the very first sentence of the abstract, in which Ewert, Dembski and Marks claim that ASC is a measure of meaning:

6. The very first sentence of the abstract reads:

Algorithmic specified complexity (ASC) measures the degree to which an object is meaningful.

Interesting claim. How to test it?

Well, EDM certainly can’t prove it, so the test has to be empirical.

Okay, let’s collect a bunch of ASC values (or OASC values, which are lower bounds for the true ASC values), then collect the meaningfulness values for the same objects, and test the strength of the correlation.

Oops, we can’t do that, because no one knows what the “meaningfulness” values are. That’s what ASC is supposed to provide us: the first viable tool for measuring the degree of meaningfulness of an object.

Okay, then let’s look at a bunch of objects that Life aficionados are interested in. Surely those objects are meaningful. And we may not be able to assign meaningfulness values to them in order to see how well they correlate with the ASC values, but at least we can see if the ASC values exceed some threshold for all of these “meaningful” objects.

Aw, crap. Two of the most important objects in the Life universe, blocks and blinkers, have -25 and -29 bits of OASC, respectively. They’re meaningful, but they fail the ASC test.

So much for this:

Algorithmic specified complexity (ASC) measures the degree to which an object is meaningful.

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2. Tom,

The introduction of the published article is different from that of the paper we reviewed.

Interesting. What’s the nature of the changes?

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3. Another complaint, related to the first:

2. The name doesn’t correspond to the metric. ASC can be negative. How does it make sense to speak of negative complexity?

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4. Eric,

Before you get involved in this new discussion, it would be good of you to acknowledge that Joe was right and you were wrong about the conservation of CSI as claimed by Dembski in No Free Lunch.

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5. I’ve perused the old ASC thread, and it seems there are a number of interesting observations. For instance, Dr. English thinks there is a problem in that ASC is a log ratio of a probability and semimeasure. But, if he’s read ‘improbability of ASC’ or even the 3rd party ‘algorithmic significance method’ that he found, he’d know this is not an issue.

Then keiths thinks the very definition of ASC is problematic, even though it is a generalization of the well known randomness deficiency, which Dr. English has also acknowledged in one of my recent OPs.

Then there is Dr. Felsenstein’s question about how this infers design. An interesting question, but not one addressed by the paper, so hard to see how this is a flaw in the paper.

Thus, at least in my brief perusal, it seems the problems identified by keiths and Dr. English go way beyond anything in the paper. If keiths and Dr. English are right, then luminaries such as Kolmogorov and Levin are dealing in fundamentally flawed theory. I believe keiths and Dr. English can at least win a Fields medal by publishing their findings, so I highly recommend they publish their results in some well respected mathematics journal. It’s not everyday someone finds such crucial flaws in widely accepted theorems.

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6. EricMH: Then there is Dr. Felsenstein’s question about how this infers design. An interesting question, but not one addressed by the paper, so hard to see how this is a flaw in the paper.

I can’t imagine how I ever thought that people discussing ASC were intending it to be used to infer design. How could I have made that mistake?

Oh, wait:

Joe Felsenstein: The issue, for me, is not whether CSI is meaningful, but whether there is some valid argument that CSI can only be produced by Design, rather than by natural selection.

This is the improbability of ASC proof again. Natural selection is a stochastic process, and thus it forms a random variable, to which the improbability of ASC applies.

Aha.

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7. In my last comment, I reminded Eric:

Before you get involved in this new discussion, it would be good of you to acknowledge that Joe was right and you were wrong about the conservation of CSI as claimed by Dembski in No Free Lunch.

Joe’s argument stands unrefuted. And in failing to refute it, not only did Eric mistakenly attribute CSI to a random permutation function, he also confused the permutation with an XOR mask!

Mistakes don’t get much more obvious than that. The honest thing would be to acknowledge them.

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8. Joe writes, sarcastically:

I can’t imagine how I ever thought that people discussing ASC were intending it to be used to infer design. How could I have made that mistake?

…and then quotes Eric shooting himself in the foot.

Well, it isn’t just Eric shooting Eric’s foot — the paper does it too. From the conclusion:

We conclude that many of the machines built in the Game of Life do exhibit significant ASC. ASC was able to largely distinguish constructed patterns from those which were produced by random configurations.

Note to Eric: If you want to defend a paper, it’s a good idea to read and understand it first.

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9. Eric:

If keiths and Dr. English are right, then luminaries such as Kolmogorov and Levin are dealing in fundamentally flawed theory. I believe keiths and Dr. English can at least win a Fields medal by publishing their findings, so I highly recommend they publish their results in some well respected mathematics journal.

This is the second time Eric has tried the goofy “Fields Medal” gambit on me, pretending that I am saying something that contradicts well-established mathematical knowledge. I’m not, of course.

If I were, Eric would be able to quote me doing so.

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10. Eric,

When Joe and I tried to get you to talk about CSI, you wanted to talk about ASC instead. Now that I’m trying to get you to talk about ASC, you’re avoiding the issues I’m raising. What’s up with that? You should be eager to defend ASC.

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11. Does Eric have any issue with my meagre contribution:

“1. In Conway’s Life: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_Game_of_Life
2. There is the Glider-Producing Switch Engine http://conwaylife.com/wiki/Glider-producing_switch_engine
3. It is coded by 123 “On Cells” but requires a space of 67×60 in a specific configuration.
4. That’s 4,020 bits, > UPB.
5. It contains well matched parts : 4bli,3blo,2bee,1boat,1loaf,1ship,1glider http://wwwhomes.uni-bielefeld.de/achim/moving.html
6. It occurs naturally out of randomly configured dust : http://wwwhomes.uni-bielefeld.de/achim/moving.html
7. It can evolve from a much smaller entity (“time bomb” – 17 active cells): http://conwaylife.appspot.com/pattern/timebomb

What are the implications of this?

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12. What are the implications of this?

That Conway’s game of Life is intelligently designed 😉

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13. What are the implications of this?

Humans obviously smuggled in the information from outside. Or something.

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14. Regarding the glider-producing switch engine, Richardthughes asks:

What are the implications of this?

The implications are dire for the paper.

In the original thread, I looked at a couple of “naturally occurring objects” that Rich tracked down: the CP-pulsar and the glider-producing switch engine. The following two comments deal with those objects.

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15. Regarding the CP-pulsar:

16a. EDM’s neglect of the “physics” of the Life universe causes massive errors in their OASC values that lead to false design inferences.

EDM’s crazy assumption has already been mentioned a few times in this thread:

In the game, determining the probability of a pattern arising from a random configuration of cells is difficult. The complex interactions of patterns arising from such a random configuration makes it difficult to predict what types of patterns will eventually arise. It would be straightforward to calculate the probability of a pattern arising directly from some sort of random pattern generator. However, once the Game of Life rules are applied, determining what patterns would arise from the initial random pattern is nontrivial. In order to approximate the probabilities, we will assume that the probability of a pattern arising is about the same whether or not the rules of the Game of Life are applied, i.e., the rules of the Game of Life do not make interesting patterns much more probable than they would otherwise be.

To demonstrate just how crazy that assumption is, let’s look at a couple of objects. Richardthughes tracked down simple precursors for two large objects, the CP-pulsar, which I’ll discuss here, and the glider-producing switch engine, which I’ll discuss in my next comment.

The CP-pulsar is item #19 on this page, and its precursor is shown in this video at time 5:57.

The Game of Life is deterministic, which means that a specific pattern X0 always leads to X1, which always leads to X2, and so on. In other words, once a pattern occurs, all of its descendants are inevitable.

To determine the true value of P(X), one must therefore account not only for the probability of X arising randomly during initialization, but also the probability of all of its ancestors. EDM don’t do this because they can’t. Even in a simplified world such as the Life universe, the true probabilities are horrendously difficult to calculate, because determining all of the ancestors of an arbitrary given pattern is hopeless. Hence EDM’s crazy assumption.

How much damage does this faulty assumption do? Consider that the simple precursor of the CP-pulsar fits into a 5×5 box. That means that in EDM’s standard encoding, the representation only requires 25 bits (after the unnecessary width and height information is stripped out — see flaw #12 above). Thus, the true P(X) value can be no less than 1/2^25.

However, that simple precursor evolves into a 15×15 object, for which the (corrected) standard encoding requires 225 bits. Thus, EDM will attribute a probability of 1/2^225 to it.

How big is the error? EDM’s methodology has underestimated the probability by a factor of 2^200.

In other words, the true probability is over
1,606,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
times as large as EDM’s methodology would indicate.

That is far, far worse than mistaking the width of a human hair for the diameter of the observable universe.

For the 15×15 object, the (corrected) I(X) is 225. Thus, K(X|C) would need to be at least 140 bits in order to prevent a design inference, given the ASC threshold that EDM are using (see flaw #14). K(X|C) is much smaller than that, so EDM will infer design.

Yet the CP-pulsar is a “naturally occurring” object, meaning that it arises out of randomly-initialized “dust” (not surprising, because the precursor’s probability is better than 1 in 34 million).

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16. Regarding the glider-producing switch engine:

If you thought flaw #16a was bad:

16b. Using EDM’s methods, we find that “natural” causes can generate infinite amounts of ASC in the Game of Life. In other words, there is no ASC threshold that will avoid false positive design inferences.

Like #16a, this happens because EDM ignore the effect of “physics” in the Game of Life.

The ‘glider-producing switch engine’ is described here. It is a complicated entity that moves in one direction, spewing gliders in the direction of travel and leaving ash objects in its wake.

The amazing thing is that this monstrosity can be produced by the tiny 15×6 “time bomb” precursor shown on the web page, whose small ASC is well within the reach of EDM’s random initialization process and does not trigger a design inference. It has also actually been seen in “the wild”.

The pattern grows ever bigger over time, so I(X) (according to the standard encoding) is always increasing. K(X|C) is also increasing, but at a much slower rate, because the functional encoding is barely affected. Each iteration merely requires an increment of the ⊕ operator’s parameter. Since I(X) increases indefinitely, and always faster than K(X|C), this means that ASC(X) increases without bound.

EDM not only have another false positive; they have one that they can’t get rid of, no matter how high they set their ASC threshold, unless they abandon their bogus “no physics” assumption and find a defensible replacement. Good luck to them.

“Natural” causes can produce infinite ASC in the Game of Life, if we calculate ASC using EDM’s methods.

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17. Eric, July 1st:

Anyways, I’m happy to discuss the ID math with anyone.

I’m starting to wonder about that.

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18. Just to give you someone to talk to, since Eric seems to have ridden off into the sunset, here is a question for you on Montanez paper:
What is the meaning of the word “conservation” used in Thm 2? How does it relates to Dembski’s meaning(s?) of the word in claiming conservation of CSI?

And how do any of these meaning relate to what “conservation” means in the conservation laws of classical physics or in the conservation of quantum information in the formalism of QM (ignoring measurement)?

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19. Bruce,

Let’s save the discussion of the Montañez paper for Tom’s forthcoming thread.

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20. Looks like Eric bailed out of yet another discussion when things got too difficult for him.

Bruce coined the term “pulling an Eric” to describe this sort of behavior.

It fits.

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21. keiths: Aw, crap. Two of the most important objects in the Life universe, blocks and blinkers, have -25 and -29 bits of OASC, respectively. They’re meaningful, but they fail the ASC test.

OASC is a sufficient but not necessary measure of meaning.

Something with negative OASC can be meaningful.

Something with positive OASC cannot be nonmeaningful.

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22. EricMH:

OASC is a sufficient but not necessary measure of meaning.

You’re hedging, but Ewert, Dembski and Marks don’t. Here’s the very first sentence of their abstract:

Algorithmic specified complexity (ASC) measures the degree to which an object is meaningful.

Period. No qualifiers.

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23. Also, ASC gives false positives, as I showed in #16a.

#16b is even worse, as it shows that false positives can’t be avoided no matter how high the ASC threshold is set.

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24. keiths: Here’s the very first sentence of their abstract:

Algorithmic specified complexity (ASC) measures the degree to which an object is meaningful.

Period. No qualifiers.

They don’t say it measures the degree to which an object is not meaningful.

keiths: #16b is even worse, as it shows that false positives can’t be avoided no matter how high the ASC threshold is set.

Mathematically impossible. The probability bound is proven. I guess you are another fan of Swamidass’ claim math doesn’t apply to the real world.

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25. EricMH: I guess you are another fan of Swamidass’ claim math doesn’t apply to the real world.

Like the way you proved it was mathematically impossible for evolution to occur?

BIG HINT: When you claim something is mathematically impossible and that something is empirically observed to occur in the real world, it’s not reality which is fucked up and wrong.

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26. keiths, to EricMH:

You’re hedging, but Ewert, Dembski and Marks don’t. Here’s the very first sentence of their abstract:

Algorithmic specified complexity (ASC) measures the degree to which an object is meaningful.

Period. No qualifiers.

EricMH:

They don’t say it measures the degree to which an object is not meaningful.

Come on, Eric. If ASC measures the degree of meaningfulness, as EDM claim, then higher values indicate more meaningfulness and lower values indicate less meaningfulness.

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27. keiths:

#16b is even worse, as it shows that false positives can’t be avoided no matter how high the ASC threshold is set.

Eric:

Mathematically impossible.

Not only is it possible — I show exactly how it happens:

If you thought flaw #16a was bad:

16b. Using EDM’s methods, we find that “natural” causes can generate infinite amounts of ASC in the Game of Life. In other words, there is no ASC threshold that will avoid false positive design inferences.

Like #16a, this happens because EDM ignore the effect of “physics” in the Game of Life.

The ‘glider-producing switch engine’ is described here. It is a complicated entity that moves in one direction, spewing gliders in the direction of travel and leaving ash objects in its wake.

The amazing thing is that this monstrosity can be produced by the tiny 15×6 “time bomb” precursor shown on the web page, whose small ASC is well within the reach of EDM’s random initialization process and does not trigger a design inference. It has also actually been seen in “the wild”.

The pattern grows ever bigger over time, so I(X) (according to the standard encoding) is always increasing. K(X|C) is also increasing, but at a much slower rate, because the functional encoding is barely affected. Each iteration merely requires an increment of the ⊕ operator’s parameter. Since I(X) increases indefinitely, and always faster than K(X|C), this means that ASC(X) increases without bound.

EDM not only have another false positive; they have one that they can’t get rid of, no matter how high they set their ASC threshold, unless they abandon their bogus “no physics” assumption and find a defensible replacement. Good luck to them.

“Natural” causes can produce infinite ASC in the Game of Life, if we calculate ASC using EDM’s methods.

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28. phoodoo: When? Where?

Asks the guy who thinks “supernatural, but we can’t understand it” is an “answer” to such questions.

Look phoodoo, I haz a gut feelz about it. That, you believe, is sufficient to convince others. Has it now become somewhat unconvincing when offered to you as an “explanation”?

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29. phoodoo: When? Where?

Stop pretending you care. You are just fine with not knowing, and someone could say to you “it can’t be known, it just happens” and then you’d be fine with it, as long as the word “supernatural” is used and it’s served with a comfortable fable about salvation and eternal life.

You are, at bottom, a goddamn hypocrite. Stop demanding of us what you can’t provide yourself, what you think is not even a demand that needs to be answered. Stop pretending your position is evidentially or ethically superior. It isn’t, it’s intellectual trash and a science stopper. Your entire position consists of “I believe on blind faith that everyone can feel it’s occult magic in the same way I do”.

You have nothing to offer on any of the sciences involving life or the mind.

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30. So no empirical observations of evolution then right?

None you are capable of understanding or would accept anyway. But that’s not science’s problem.

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31. Rumraket: Stop pretending you care. You are just fine with not knowing, and someone could say to you “it can’t be known, it just happens” and then you’d be fine with it, as long as the word “supernatural” is used and it’s served with a comfortable fable about salvation and eternal life.

Not sure what happened to the link there, it’s supposed to be a link to this post of phoodoo’s where he basically says that if you just define your position to be unknowable, then not knowing is totally fine: http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/science-uprising-who-wins-the-battle-over-mind/comment-page-7/#comment-258486.

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32. phoodoo: Adapa: and that something is empirically observed to occur

Rumraket: So? You can’t prove anything either, na,na!

Adapa: Na, NAH, NAH! So there!

Rumraket: Hypocrite!

Adapa: You don’t know science anyway. Omagain told me.

Rumraket: I am not sure what I want to say, but..you suck immaterialist!

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33. (snip the usual ignorant blathering)

No point in casting pearls before swine.

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34. And he still has no answer to any of it. Hypocrite and proud of it. He can’t rebut it, he can just try cast it some caricatured form to try to dismiss it, which is transparent.

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35. Rumraket:
And he still has no answer to any of it. Hypocrite and proud of it. He can’t rebut it, he can just try cast it some caricatured form to try to dismiss it, which is transparent.

Answer to what, you nut? You still can’t grasp that its called supernatural because you can’t see it, or touch it?

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36. phoodoo: Answer to what, you nut?

Your hypocricy and defeatism, you nut. That you are a hypocrite because you demand of others what you can’t provide yourself and then, hilariously, you act as if your position is superior merely because you’ve managed to persuade yourself that definitional labeling of your position as “supernatural” somehow gets you off the hook.
That, and that your position is inherently defeatist and intellectually and scientifically stultifying bunk. It invariably leads to a stop of scientific progress and innovation. That’s what happens when you convince yourself the questions are unanswerable. You’ve become an apologist for not doing research into the nature and function of mind and intelligence.

At what point in history could magic-nutters like yourself not have declared some scientific question to be unanswerable in principle? Why do my children get sick? What makes the plants grow? How do I transport this water home?

We can be thankful that there have been thinkers and inventors who didn’t listen to people like you or we would still have been banging rocks together and living in caves.

You still can’t grasp that its called supernatural because you can’t see it, or touch it?

No, it’s called supernatural as an excuse for why you can’t find any evidence for it. You’ve just defined it to be unable to produce evidence. It’s an excuse invented out of desperation.

Person A: Guys I totally, totally have a girlfriend it’s just that she goes to another school.
Person B: What other school?
Person A: Oh it’s an invisible one, outside of space and time, and you can’t touch or smell or hear it, and they’re not in the phonebook.
Person B: Dude, those are all shitty excuses you’ve made up because you don’t want to admit you don’t have a girlfriend.
Person A: No because my girlfriend is supernatural you see, so she’s just a by definition invisible and immaterial.
Person B: LOL, that’s still just a shitty excuse for there being no evidence you have a girlfriend.
Person A: Haha why haven’t you figured out that supernatural girlfriends are invisible and can’t be touched? That’s just what the word means.

Sorry phoodoo but the gig is up. Everyone can see what you’re doing.

I have explained that multiple times. How decisions work. The right input produces the right output, according to your nature. Look at the AND gate again you should be able to figure this out(I wish).

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37. Rumraket: according to your nature

How much does nature weigh? What does it look like? How do you know?

Wait, is it, Oh it’s an invisible one, outside of space and time, and you can’t touch or smell or hear it, and they’re not in the phonebook.?

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38. phoodoo: How much does nature weigh?

You understand that there’s an actual answer to this question, right? All known ordinary matter in the universe has been estimated to weigh approximately 1.5×10^53 kg. Of course, then there’s about 6 times as much dark matter, so you can add that weight on top.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observable_universe#Mass

What does it look like?

If you zoom out a lot, mostly like this.

How do you know?

By having eyes and using them.

Wait, is it, Oh it’s an invisible one, outside of space and time, and you can’t touch or smell or hear it, and they’re not in the phonebook.?

No, that’s how we can describe your level of comprehension and intellectual honesty. Invisible, outside of space and time, imperceptible to the senses.

Also known as indistinguishable from the nonexistant. Another defining attribute of the supernatural.

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39. Rumraket: Person A: Guys I totally, totally have a girlfriend it’s just that she goes to another school.
Person B: What other school?
Person A: Oh it’s an invisible one, outside of space and time, and you can’t touch or smell or hear it, and they’re not in the phonebook.
Person B: Dude, those are all shitty excuses you’ve made up because you don’t want to admit you don’t have a girlfriend.
Person A: No because my girlfriend is supernatural you see, so she’s just a by definition invisible and immaterial.
Person B: LOL, that’s still just a shitty excuse for there being no evidence you have a girlfriend.
Person A: Haha why haven’t you figured out that supernatural girlfriends are invisible and can’t be touched? That’s just what the word means.

This all applies to mathematics. It is outside of space and time, invisible, cannot be physically sensed in any way. I guess mathematics doesn’t exist and we should stop using it because there is no evidence for mathematics.

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40. EricMH: This all applies to mathematics. It is outside of space and time

I’m pretty sure my computer can do mathematics, and it’s right here next to me. It doesn’t magically teleport out of existence when it does calculations. Maybe I should strap a camera on it to make sure. If you’re right I could be getting awesome feeds from outside of space and time.

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41. Eric:

This all applies to mathematics. It is outside of space and time, invisible, cannot be physically sensed in any way.

Those are problems for platonists, but not for mathematical fictionalists.

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42. EricMH: This all applies to mathematics.It is outside of space and time, invisible, cannot be physically sensed in any way.I guess mathematics doesn’t exist and we should stop using it because there is no evidence for mathematics.

Mathematics is not a thing but a process that takes place in people’s brains. That is where it exists.

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43. Rumraket: phoodoo: How much does nature weigh?

You understand that there’s an actual answer to this question, right?

Great, then how much does YOUR nature weigh?

Don’t include your fingernails though, because that is not your nature, right? Or your hair, that is not the thing you call your nature, right? because if all that counted as “your nature” as you put it, why do you say “you” AND “your nature”? Or do you just mean “you” but you don’t know how to speak, so you say you AND your nature?

And don’t include the space in between your atoms, that is not your nature right?

And is each atom, part of your nature? What happens, when one atom leaves and is replaced by another, does the old atom count? What about the water inside you, is that your nature? When you sweat, part of your nature goes to someone else’s nature? The air inside your lungs, is that your nature?