Saturday, December 12, 2020

Don't Fear the Label

I am a crackpot. 

In 7th grade, at the first county-wide math competition I’d ever attended, I surprised myself and my teacher by winning first place.  I’d certainly been called a nerd before then, but that event precipitated a level of academic and intellectual distinction that could ultimately have been a source of debilitating bullying.  So I simply owned it.  I replaced my backpack with a briefcase and crowned myself Illustrious Nerd of newly-formed Nerds of America, an exclusive club whose only other member was my best friend, Marcus.  I swear I am not making this up.  Somehow I figured out that reappropriating an epithet robbed it of its sting and – even more importantly – its ability to control and manipulate.  And it worked.  

On a seemingly unrelated note: in this post, written in preparation of starting a physics graduate program at NYU, I discussed a couple of issues:

A) Feeling gaslit/crazy-made by journal referees who couldn’t seem to understand the fundamental argument in my first paper (current version here); and

B) Trying to get heard by the physics and philosophy academies – that is, convincing them that I’m a competent maverick, not a crackpot.

Regarding A), I celebrated in my most recent post that I’d finally gotten a very positive response from a reputable journal.  For the first time, a referee fully understood my argument and, in recommending publication after various (reasonable) revisions, paid me perhaps the highest compliment I have so far received: “[T]his paper crystallized the issue for me in a way that I found helpful and thought-provoking.”  After nearly two weeks’ effort, I submitted a revised version on Nov. 30. 

Today I received a new “revise and resubmit” response from the journal.  The good news is that the original referee was happy with the changes: “This paper now looks ready to publish!”  The bad news is that the journal included a response from a new referee, detailing four pages worth of random and irrelevant but significant changes.  The problem isn’t so much the length of the response... minor corrections or clarifications would certainly be fine.  But it’s clear from the response that the referee – like nearly all prior referees – simply didn’t understand the fundamental argument in the paper.  There simply is no way to respond in a way that will satisfy the new referee.  The only reasonable response at this point is either to ask the journal for a new referee (a strategy that worked in this article published in Foundations of Physics, as I describe in this post), to submit elsewhere, or just stop trying to get it published.

And that brings me to B)... trying to get heard.  Here’s my question: why should I be trying so damn hard to get published?  Why should I be spending so much time, energy, and effort to convince people?  Why does it matter whether I am seen as a brilliant renegade or instead as a crackpot (if I am even seen at all)?

There clearly are benefits to my being heard.  Not as many, of course, as to professional academics who need publication to further their careers, but there are still some.  However, there are also costs, and at some point a line is crossed in which the costs outweigh the benefits. 

Let me use as an example the subject of the article in question, in which I show that Special Relativity prevents the existence of multiple physical copies of a conscious state.  Here’s the thing... I had that insight in March 2018, almost three years ago!  I wrote and submitted a paper on that topic to a journal in July 2018.  Since then, I have spent countless hours revising, rewriting, and resubmitting that paper to a total of eight journals, as well as presenting it at two conferences and producing related YouTube videos.  While the revisions have certainly improved the paper to some degree, I should emphasize that the fundamental argument of the paper has never changed; it has always reflected my original insight of March 2018.  In other words, all I seem to have accomplished from the many hundreds of hours spent on this paper is clarifying and tightening the argument for the benefit of others.  I have learned little or nothing new in the process, and the time and energy I spent, which came at the expense of other fundamental insights and discoveries that I could have made, had the additional detriment of discouraging, confusing, and emotionally draining me.  Why should I keep trying to get heard? 

I am reminded of a particularly poignant passage (p. 328) in Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics, in which he discusses people whom he calls “seers,” scientists who are “creative rebels with [the] rare talent” of recognizing wrong assumptions and asking new questions: “It is a cliché to ask whether a young Einstein would now be hired by a university.  The answer is obviously no; he wasn’t even hired then... If we have the contributions of [seers], it is because of their generosity – or maybe their stubbornness – in continuing to work without the support the academic world normally gives to scientists.”

I don’t know for certain that I am contributing, but if I am, it is absolutely without the support of the academic world – or any support other than that of my wife, friends, and family.  Consequently, to the extent that I have discovered new facts about consciousness and the universe, I disclaim any responsibility to convince anyone of them.  Of course, maybe I haven’t discovered any new facts – either because I’m wrong or because they’re not new.  And that was in large part my motivation for getting heard/published: to find collaborators, to get help, to share, to contribute, to discover which paths are promising and which are dead ends.  But after almost three years’ worth of effort, I have found this mission to be essentially fruitless. 

In the last few years, I’ve had other interesting and important insights.  I discuss in this paper how conscious correlations to quantum events in underlying physical states ensure that consciousness cannot be algorithmic or uploaded to a computer.  I discuss in this paper what seems to be a new interpretation of quantum mechanics, which ultimately led me to realize that macroscopic quantum superpositions (notably Schrodinger’s Cat and Wigner’s Friend) can never be experimentally verified, which I discuss in this paper and this paper.  (Most of these are also discussed in previous blog posts and YouTube videos, such as this.)  These insights have fascinating implications, including solving the measurement problem and falsifying the consciousness-causes-collapse hypothesis, among others.

I could certainly be wrong about any of these ideas and am quite open to that possibility.  Here’s a post in which I readily admit that I’d been going down the wrong path.  I have no agenda other than the search for truth.  However, despite my efforts to collaborate, publish, or just get useful feedback on my arguments, very few of my interactions with others (with a couple of notable exceptions) have been especially helpful in figuring out whether any of these ideas are fundamentally correct.  In sharp contrast, most interactions have had the exclusive effect of confusing and discouraging me.  As a result of these sunk costs, I haven’t spent much time doing the fun, interesting, and important stuff like thinking about the logical implications of my various insights.  Trying to get heard frankly seems like a bad investment at this point.

I understand this post may sound arrogant.  How can I claim to be smarter or more insightful than the thousands of brilliant scientists who have been studying these foundational issues for the past century?  I don’t.  What I claim is this: more than 95% of people with whom I’ve corresponded over the past three years (including referees of academic journals) have been either intellectually incapable or, more likely, simply unwilling to try to understand the arguments I’ve made in these various papers.  I can’t tell you how many people have bluntly told me I’m wrong after reading the abstract or quickly glancing at a figure or equation in one of my papers.   That’s arrogance.  My insights may very well be incorrect but I’m sophisticated enough now to know that the errors won’t be quickly spotted, especially by physicists whom I’ve found to be particularly bad at logic (e.g., papers here and here).  Significantly, my insights have led me independently to conclusions that seem to be near the cutting edge of foundational physics, so it's especially jarring to be so quickly and summarily dismissed.

It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.  I can’t seem to get the help and mentorship I need because I am unknown and (essentially) unpublished and many of my ideas are unorthodox.  If I had well-cited publications on unorthodox ideas, then I could get help and mentorship – but by then I wouldn’t need it. 

I have put in significant time and effort trying – and getting very, very close! – to publish on important new ideas, but at this point it’s clear that the costs of trying to get heard have significantly outweighed any potential advantages.  I will continue to post on this blog (and potentially on preprint servers), but will stop trying, at least for now, to publish, speak at conferences, or connect or collaborate with others.

More to the point: I am going to try to figure out the answers to the hard foundational questions in physics and philosophy without trying to convince anyone that I’m right, that I’m credible, or that I deserve to be heard.  Others have the right to listen or ignore, to praise me as a creative rebel or to disparage me as a crackpot.  But I will no longer be controlled or manipulated by labels.  I will no longer fear the epithet.

I am a seer.  I am a creative rebel.  I am a self-made maverick. 

I am a crackpot.

 

1 comment:

  1. Great article. So frustrating, but one day the world will see (hopefully) what you accomplished. Until then, you're my favorite NOA member.

    ReplyDelete