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Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the over-your-head dept.

Math 415

explosivejared writes "Humans don't always make the most rational decisions. As studies have shown, even when logic and reasoning point in one direction, sometimes we chose the opposite route, motivated by personal bias or simply 'wishful thinking.' This paradoxical human behavior has resisted explanation by classical decision theory for over a decade. But now, scientists have shown that a quantum probability model can provide a simple explanation for human decision-making — and may eventually help explain the success of human cognition overall."

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415 comments

Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597819)

Well, from the abstract [royalsocie...ishing.org] :

Two experimental tasks in psychology, the two-stage gambling game and the Prisoner's Dilemma game, show that people violate the sure thing principle of decision theory. These paradoxical findings have resisted explanation by classical decision theory for over a decade. A quantum probability model, based on a Hilbert space representation and Schrodinger's equation, provides a simple and elegant explanation for this behaviour. The quantum model is compared with an equivalent Markov model and it is shown that the latter is unable to account for violations of the sure thing principle. Accordingly, it is argued that quantum probability provides a better framework for modelling human decision-making.

The human brain is a complex organ. Unfortunately the kind people at the "Royal Society for Articles Only People with Money Can Read" would not allow me to review this research. I would have found this research much more compelling had they reported a much more thorough sample analysis. I'm going to predict that people from different walks of life would respond differently to the Prisoner's Dilemma game. For instance, if you did this on regular citizens with no history of jail time versus convicts serving sentences, I would expect you to have to adapt your model.

Because you encountered some percentage of "wishful thinking" does not necessarily make that a tried and true percentage unless it is true for human beings in different groups that may affect this decision making. If it truly is quantum mechanics at work, I would suspect that you would see the same percentage in convicts vs non-convicts, Russians vs Americans, women vs men, scientists vs priests, orphans vs parented children, etc. For you see, I'm going to make the assumption that people are deciding on wishful thinking based on their history of interacting with other humans.

I'm also noticing a disturbing trend in "quantum mechanics" being spewed whenever we don't understand something. I caution you that people in the future might look back on this and laugh that such crude research could in any way conclude that quantum mechanics is at work. It's almost as if we assume we understand other possible explanation so it must be the one we don't understand very well. We don't understand photosynthesis --> must be quantum mechanics! We don't understand the human mind --> must be quantum mechanics! etc. Am I saying quantum mechanics has nothing to do with these things? No. I'm just saying I have seen no conclusive proof.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27597977)

Must concur. That the Prisoner's Dilemma could be influenced by a persons:

* Irrational and rational fear of prison (what movies have they recently seen?)
* Experience with the trustworthiness of others.
* Complete lack of understanding of probability despite having it explained to them by people who intrinsically "get it."

Seems pretty obvious to me. That these scientists aren't in-touch with the emotion driven, whimsical side of human cognition is probably because they "don't get invited to those kinds of parties."

In other news... (5, Funny)

Venik (915777) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598067)

In other news: a recent study by the American Wave Mechanics Society suggests wishful thinking may explain quantum mechanics.

Re:In other news... (3, Funny)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598167)

"In other news: a recent study by the American Wave Mechanics Society suggests wishful thinking may explain quantum mechanics."

I don't think neither wave mechanics nor quantum mechanics can figure out how women think. I think that is pretty much beyond comprehension to anything less than a supreme being.

Re:In other news... (3, Funny)

julian67 (1022593) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598321)

I am the supreme being and here it is: sex, shoes, babies, butt size, curtains, weight gain (see sex), wrinkles, dust.

Re:In other news... (5, Funny)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598333)

Women generally think the same way men do (slightly more cautious but it's pretty moot), but after they think it they do a kabuki dance of decit to cover of their tracks. The trick with women is to learn what they actually want which is almost always very different from what they say they want (but they would lose power if they were direct).

Re:In other news... (1)

Sanat (702) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598507)

Here is what a lady friend of mine wrote to me when asked what she planned to do with her house and empty lots in this financial downturn. Here it is verbatim.

"This is little reason to ponder resolution. What IS shall be fulfilled without prior announcement of conditions.

Our joy is in the TRUSTING & developments from this.

Creative measures abound without the limitations of thought.

Live this day as a last. Each has its reason, if but to challenge our TRUST. To reason is folly, for truth has no reason, only purpose.

Constructs of the mind de-rail any initiative with fancy. Loose the need to think. Being the mind hinders the ability to recognize the perfection."

So basically her position is one of Trusting and Allowing for what is meant to be, and not think things to death.

Re:In other news... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598517)

Here's how to "win" at women:
Have a dick made of chocolate that ejaculates money.

Re:In other news... (2)

a90Tj2P7 (1533853) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598587)

I don't know if I want to make a joke about "melts in your mouth and not in your hand", or "if I had a nickel for every time...". But personally, I wouldn't want to have edible genitals.

Re:In other news... (4, Funny)

foobsr (693224) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598729)

I don't think neither wave mechanics nor quantum mechanics can figure out how women think.

It has been figured out a long time ago: obfuscated [meeragadkari.info] mechanics.

CC.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (5, Interesting)

timster (32400) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597991)

I'm not sure you're looking at this the right way. The abstract does not suppose that this phenomenon results from a quantum physics effect, though I don't know if the research does. Rather, the abstract and the linked article are applying the mathematical models behind quantum theory to problems in cognition. The brain could very well compute these results using classical physics.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (5, Interesting)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598191)

I'm sure I'm not the first to think of this, but I wonder if wishful thinking is just a way of implementing a particular strategy for survivial. What I suggest could be applied to running a business or living in a Darwinian world.

There are a couple of ways to go about survival in a highly competitive enviornment.

The most straightforward is to be better than everybody else at one or more things. If your competitors run at 3-4mph and you can run at 5mph then you're going to be the one that catches the gazalle and has dinner. The problem with this approach is that EVERYBODY is trying to catch that gazelle and EVERYBODY is out on the track every morning trying to run a little faster. If you succeed at all it will only be by a little bit, but a little bit is enough, so I think this is the predominant method of survival.

The other approach is to just try to do something completely differently. Most likely you'll fail and starve and your genes won't be passed on (directly - though your cousin might pass them on), but just maybe you'll succeed. If you do succeed there is a good chance that it won't be just by an incremental margin.

So, if I were designing an ultimate survivor species, I'd have it do a grinding incremental evolution (approach #1) most of the time. However, I'd also have members of the species occassionally take huge risks for a possible huge reward. As long as families are big enough and these risks aren't frequent then even if the odd member of the family dies the genes that convey these tendencies will still be passed on. If a family member gets lucky then it will be at the top of the food chain for generations.

Perhaps wishful thinking is just an artifact of the brain that we call "wishful thinking" when things go wrong, and "creativity" or "innovation" when that crazy idea that everybody knows won't work actually does work?

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598609)

I think your 2nd approach is already somewhat implemented in genetics as random mutations.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (4, Interesting)

mdielmann (514750) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598761)

I was thinking the same thing. If everyone does the same thing, this leads to two results, one of which you mentioned. Superiority is going to be an incremental issue, since everyone is racing for the same goal. The second is, it's obvious that that is your goal. For instance, as a prey species, if all the predators are going for speed, I might go for maneuverability. Sure, I can't outrun them, but I can change direction with no speed loss and they have to slow down, loop back, and speed up again. It might give me enough time to get away, or (on a species scale) just not make it profitable for that type of predator to catch me.
Throwing in random variability improves overall success for the species because you have a built-in response to the unusual and the unexpected - you do unusual and unexpected things, too. And your responses might be just what's needed in certain survival circumstances.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (1, Interesting)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598845)

There are a lot of problems in life where the actions you would take to mitigate risk guarantee an unsatisfactory outcome, even if that unsatisfactory outcome is less painful that the worst possible scenario. And there are a lot of problems where you can't conclusively say how the actions you are taking to mitigate risk will affect the possibility of an unsatisfactory outcome.

This all by itself is enough to explain why wishful thinking exists and is useful and important.

If you look at the history of civilizations in the world, competitive attitudes are contrary to survival, and cultures that embrace them are generally a flash in the pan. Co-operative civilizations last for thousands and thousands of years where competitive ones generally destroy themselves within a couple of dozen generations of man.

I imagine these civilizations always think their ideas are novel and powerful achievements, just like we feel today, and that the reason for this is that these types of civilizations fail so utterly that their ideas not preserved, but are lost to time. That's why they always seem novel and progressive.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (4, Interesting)

Fractal Dice (696349) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598359)

I agree. It feels like this sort of headline is going to get people thinking "spooky quantum particle magic" rather than just using some of the same math that is used in quantum mechanics to model how competing reflexes and instincts add up to a decision.

When weighing our decision we have to take into consideration the chance that we misunderstood the rules of the game or that the explanation was a lie and we're being conned. We have all sorts of social reflexes and instincts that compete to overrule any mathematical solution we think we've found. If I read it correctly, it is the way you can model all these competing reactions adding up to a single decision that they are suggesting is similar to a superposition of probabilities you see in physics models.

Then again, I might be wrong. *waffles*

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (4, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598541)

The abstract does not suppose that this phenomenon results from a quantum physics effect, though I don't know if the research does. Rather, the abstract and the linked article are applying the mathematical models behind quantum theory to problems in cognition. The brain could very well compute these results using classical physics.

You're correct that the main thrust of the linked article is just the application of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics to cognition and game theory. However, the end of the article does have some speculation about whether there could be some more literally quantum-mechanical basis for human cognition. Seems like complete B.S. to me, but it is there in the article.

There's a long history of people trying to apply quantum-mechanical concepts to all kinds of things outside physics, from religion to social science. Generally it's all nonsense. In this particular article, they observe some complex cognitive behavior that doesn't fit the kind of utility-optimizing model that's commonly assumed in economics. They (a) try to explain this using cognitive dissonance, and (b) come up with a novel application of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics for modeling cognitive dissonance. IMO, the B.S. sets in at step a. There are lots of reasons the people in the study could be behaving in this particular way, and cognitive dissonance is only one of them.

In the prisoner's dilemma situation they describe, a long-term strategy that's often evolutionarily successful is tit-for-tat, in which you defect if your opponent's last choice was defection, and play honestly if their last choice was to play honestly. Tit-for-tat is arguably sort of programmed into the human psyche, as an evolved mechanism for making social animals succeed in groups. From that point of view, the question is why these people so often chose not to follow tit-for-tat, often choosing to defect even if their partner had played honestly in the first round.

I can think of at least two good reasons that are just as plausible (and probably just as impossible to test scientifically) as the authors'. One is that the people in this study go through the first round playing honestly, and then in the second round they tend to say, "Participating in this study is boring. I'm hungry for lunch. Maybe I'll make it more fun by doing the opposite choice the second time around. It would be less boring to try each choice at least once." Another possibility is that they imagine the psychodrama of the situation and find it emotionally rewarding. They imagine telling their friends afterwards, "Ha ha, that poor shmuck! I played him like a trout. First I lured him in by being honest in the first round, and then I dropped the bomb on him the second time around. He didn't even know what hit him."

Both of these explanations would be considered irrational by a classical economist, which means exactly nothing. Maybe it's perfectly rational to entertain yourself, or to set up a good story to entertain your friends with.

Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking (2, Funny)

rockNme2349 (1414329) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598009)

I really wish I could believe that.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (1)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598015)

Am I saying quantum mechanics has nothing to do with these things? No. I'm just saying I have seen no conclusive proof.

Yes, but it's only wishful thinking that makes you say that, as Quantum Mechanics has predicted.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598023)

I'm unimpressed with the basic premise. I'll start to be more interested once Quantum Theory can even begin to explain itself before we start applying it as an "explanation" for anything we think is even slightly non-deterministic.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (1)

gringofrijolero (1489395) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598135)

No. I'm just saying I have seen no conclusive proof.

Well, there you go...

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (4, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598203)

>>>I'm going to make the assumption that people are deciding on wishful thinking based on their history of interacting with other humans.

You make a really good point here. When I started on Ebay circa 2002 I trusted people to be fair and honest, like me. Now many years later after being burned multiple times, I don't trust anybody. I assume they are going to find some way to scam me, whether it's directly (credit chargeback) or indirectly (unfair negatives harming my future sales)*. I still have the same brain as seven years ago, but what's changed is my "history of interacting with other humans" and that affects my choices. I'm sure you're right: A convict is less-likely to choose the "trust others" option than the average person, and more-likely to choose the immediate payoff per the traditional Game Theory.

And no quantum mechanics does not apply to this research. Quantum mechanics is not random; it's predictable and understandable.

*
* Example - a buyer once negged me because the postman ran over the package with his truck. How is this in any way my fault? Stupid idiot. More recently, a seller sold me a laptop with spilled soda on it, and then refused to refund claiming it was "as is". Sorry but that doesn't excuse selling junk; U.S. law requires revealing if equipment is non-operative, especially in mail order where buyers cannot inspect the item. (sigh). You cannot trust anybody on Ebay, either buyers or sellers.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (3, Informative)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598365)

And no quantum mechanics does not apply to this research.

True. But they don't say that it does -- they say that they applied a model from quantum mechanics, which is another thing entirely.

Quantum mechanics is not random;

Essentially false.

it's predictable and understandable

Mostly true.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598345)

I'd also add that decisions mostly are dependent on information, first of all. Only people who do not have certain information will resort to "random" or "wishful thinking" decisions (if they're rational, let's assume that here).

Example: You have a problem with the computer. Something does not work. A file won't delete, a network share is not accessable, whatever. What would you do? You would take rational steps to narrow down the problem. You would check cables, you would check permissions, you would ping the machine, you would, in short, eliminate the possible error sources one by one.

I've had my share of tech support. What does the non-savvy person usually do?

1) Reboot.
2) Do the same thing again and again, hoping for a different result.
3) Close the program used to open the file (explorer, word processor, whatever) and reopen it.
4) Disconnect and reconnect various devices, from network cable to mouse

All that (well, maybe with the exception of the first in case of Windows machines) is in the area of "wishful thinking". Especially number 2 is very common and, from the point of an engineer who kinda knows that machines cannot create different results with identical input, stupid. It is basically wishful thinking. Maybe it works this time.

I wouldn't attribute to quantum mechanics what can be attributed to a lack of information. Inform people and they will make better decisions. Period.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (1)

fractalspace (1241106) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598421)

There is a connection. Both (brains and quanti) are the only source of 'true' randomness (or new information).

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598503)

I caution you that people in the future might look back on this and laugh that such crude research could in any way conclude that quantum mechanics is at work.

Sure, the waveform could collapse that way. We should apply for funding to calculate this probability.

Re:Unfortunately I'm a Bit Skeptical (1)

geekboy642 (799087) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598645)

Emphasis on first-posting causes author to fail at RTFA. Film at 11.

The article has nothing to do with quantum mechanics. They're not saying that quarks make you do things. What they're saying is that a mathematical model of probability derived from quantum theory is a better predictor of actual human activity than the classic mathematical model. That's a fairly specific--and even likely testable--assertion, and a knee-jerk response does you no benefit.

coincidence (5, Informative)

unixcrab (1080985) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597851)

The same mathematical model does not necessarily mean that thought processes are driven by anything quantum mechanical. Quantum theory uses probability models as do psychological models. They are defined by probability theory and not the other way round. i.e. quantum theory uses models that existed before the discretization of energy was even considered.

Re:coincidence (4, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597897)

You may be right, but if you present it that way how is a geeky theoretical physicist going to get grant money to go hang out with the hot chicks in the psychology department?

Re:coincidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598257)

Being a geeky theoretical physicist, you can hang out with those hot psyc chicks all you want, they just don't have to acknowledge you. A better method is to hang with the hot biological chicks. They actually need their data analyzed (and computers fixed) so they have to acknowledge you exist as more then a subject of study. And there is a metric shit tonne of grant money for combining biology and physics but very little for pure physics.

Re:coincidence (4, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597909)

That seems to be the point made in the article, i.e. "[t]his same mathematical formalism provides an explanation for interference of thoughts in human judgments". They're using the mathematics, not the physics.

Re:coincidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598277)

Thanks for pointing this out. Slashdot has imdbued quantum theory with cult-like religious overtones.
It is high time someone set the record straight.

Re:coincidence (1)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598301)

1. It could be argued (and has, quite successfully by people like Brian Greene) that all things are driven by everything quantum mechanical; including every aspect of the human brain, and therefore some argue, the human mind.

2. It's unfortunate that an entire article was written on a subset of the subject of quantum psychology (which is not mechanical, but logical) without once having mentioned Robert Anton Wilson, who was one of the first to hew it from General Semantics, among other things.

Re:coincidence (4, Insightful)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598473)

Technically, an arbitrary physical process (like the functioning of the brain) is based on smaller-scale subprocesses that eventually boil down to quantum-scale interactions.

To claim that this implies that quantum-mechanical behavior would be evident in the larger-scale process shows a misunderstanding of the physics.

I choose not to believe this... (5, Funny)

mc1138 (718275) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597861)

Or is that just wishful thinking?

I hate uncertainty (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597883)

which is why I make sure every cat I put in a box has been killed beforehand. Suck on that, Schrodinger.

Re:I hate uncertainty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598199)

which is why I make sure every cat I put in a box has been killed beforehand. Suck on that, Schrodinger.

Erwin Schrödinger himself was put in a box around the 4:th of january 1961.

Re:I hate uncertainty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598741)

which is why I make sure every cat I put in a box has been killed beforehand. Suck on that, Schrodinger.

Sucking on a box with a dead cat inside will never be understood, even by quantum experts.

A dog doing the same, well, that's a different story.

Classical Decision Theory *does*... (3, Informative)

Manip (656104) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597893)

Classical decision Theory *does* account for human's decision making. "Personal bias" (aka values) are very much accounted for.

Re:Classical Decision Theory *does*... (3, Insightful)

iamhigh (1252742) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598021)

Classical decision Theory *does* account for human's decision making. "Personal bias" (aka values) are very much accounted for.

Yeah the summary (obviously didn't RTFA) is dumb. Adding to your point, wishful thinking IS decision making!!! If x is a sure thing, but there is a glimmer of hope for 10x, then you will probably have a proportional amount of people attempt for 10x, even though the failure rate is high.

Ask any restaurant manager in NY or LA about the availability of waitresses to see this demonstrated in the real world.

Too many macro effects that overwhelm this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27597911)

I'm sorry, but, like Brownian motion.. it doesn't affect me or anyone else on a daily basis... there are so many other macro effects going on around me that I'm sensing that will overwhelm any minor quantum effect that may be happening.
(subconsiously) Hearing a baby crying in the apartment four doors down and one floor up will subtly alter my thinking more than this.

So they found a complicated model (1)

raffnix (1472681) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597917)

.. that might explain a fact that has been too obvious for so long: humans do not act rationally, but are driven by other factors, such as greed, feeling of superiority, fairness, or whatever.

Free will and the brain (2, Insightful)

Petersko (564140) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597921)

Since chemistry, electricity and matter at the level of cells, neurons, ganglia, etc. behave deterministically, if free will exists at all the root of it MUST be found at the quantum level.

I'm not, however, convinced that we have to discard determinism in this case. The article says that humans don't always make the most rational decisions, even when logic and reasoning point in one direction.

The thing is, no decision is made in a vaccuum. For an adult, each new decision carries the weight of millions of old decisions and their results as inputs. Who knows what combination of life experiences and consequences shape a new decision the most?

The rationality of the decision might be a smaller input than the fact that a similar decision in the past REALLY went wrong for some reason.

Re:Free will and the brain (4, Insightful)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598053)

How would free will be explained on the quantum level? Randomness or probability doesn't account for free will, either. Free will is simply magic of the mind, a sort of god-of-the-gaps for not knowing the complex web of the interaction between heredity and environment and the many antecedent events acting upon it.

Re:Free will and the brain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598171)

I'd mod you up if I could. Free will my ass.

Re:Free will and the brain (1)

BotnetZombie (1174935) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598509)

Based on your username, I am sure this is just wishful thinking.

Re:Free will and the brain (1)

Atriqus (826899) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598649)

How would free will be explained on the quantum level?

I would imagine it would be similar to explaining a lolcat at the register transfer level.

Oh, I agree with you. (2, Interesting)

Petersko (564140) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598827)

"How would free will be explained on the quantum level? Randomness or probability doesn't account for free will, either. Free will is simply magic of the mind, a sort of god-of-the-gaps for not knowing the complex web of the interaction between heredity and environment and the many antecedent events acting upon it."

I completely agree. What I'm saying is that "if" there is free will at all, the mechanism that enables it cannot be deterministic. As far as I can tell, it's only at the quantum level that an individual event is no longer tied to determinism.

But yes, I am of the opinion that free will, in the classic sense, doesn't actually exist.

Re:Free will and the brain (1)

kagemaru (881295) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598219)

Determinism is orthogonal to rational decision making... But assuming rationality and determinism are linked, Conway's free will theorem [wikipedia.org] sort of points to the same direction: free will (if it exists) would stem from free will in elementary particles!

Re:Free will and the brain (3, Insightful)

NonUniqueNickname (1459477) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598265)

People put Free Will and Randomness in the same basket because they are both non-deterministic. But that's all there is in common. Free Will and Randomness are two completely different things. Random events at the quantum level inside your brain are no different than having randomly-firing electrodes implanted in your brain. It will make your brain's output unpredictable, but it does not constitute Free Will. Or are you suggesting that the Mind somehow controls these Random events at the quantum level?

Re:Free will and the brain (2, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598675)

There's an interesting lecture (by John Conway) on quantum mechanics and free will, specifically with regards to how (human) observers interact with quantum systems. I forget all the interesting specifics, but remembered that doesn't come up with an answer about whether or not there's free will -- just ties it to some other things.

Oh, look, there's a random blog posting linking to the paper and a recording [blogspot.com] .

Physic != Psychology (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27597937)

Greed is not a side effect of quantum mechanics, its an evolutionary trait.

Simpler explanation (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597947)

I've been flamed for this stance before but I stand by it. Humans are selfish by nature. Thus we try to make every decision we make benefit us even to the detriment of society as a whole. We can of course override that predisposition and there are decisions which have either short or long term benefits/detriment depending on the choices. So if Quantum Theory causes us to be selfish then yes that may explain our decision making.

Re:Simpler explanation (1)

Morten Hustveit (722349) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598313)

Humans are selfish by nature.

I think you might want to read The Selfish Gene. It explains how genes, not individuals, are selfish by nature, and will sacrifice the human carrying them if it can help their cause, replication. An example is suicidal rescue missions of one's own relatives (especially children and siblings at reproductive age). By force of natural selection, the best genes "know" that relatives, neighbors and fellow human beings are likely to carry instances of the same genes (in decreasing order of probability).

Re:Simpler explanation (1)

thePig (964303) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598715)

I believe exactly the opposite. Human beings - most of them - are extremely unselfish and co-operative. Only that - human beings in an unfriendly environment is cynical and selfish. Unfriendly environment can mean cities or towns - where people do not know each other personally.

If humans were selfish and uncooperative, we would be still be plucking fruits from trees, I guess. Hunting - without the speed or agility or patience or major carnivores - would have been well nigh impossible. I would think that the successful tribes were all extremely friendly and peaceful in nature.

Only when we became too successful for our own good - did we start showing signs of selfishness etc.

Anyways, these are my views - without any experimental proof in my part. If you have experimental proof for yours, then I am willing to change my views.

I WISH I could find the Higgs! (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597955)

That's my quantum wishful thought of the day. I wish they could find the Higgs.

People are stupid. (4, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597965)

That seems a much simpler explanation.

Especially when I see contestants on Deal or No Deal who turn-down $50,000 "banker payoffs" and end-up with only $100 or less in their cases. Pure logic dictates that your odds of winning the big prize is almost nothing, and you should take the banker payoff, but people don't use logic. They use emotion. They "feel" their way through life instead of thinking.

Re:People are stupid. (1)

Rob Kaper (5960) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598017)

Gay Strephon declares I'm the girl in his mind,
If he proves fincere, I'll be conftant and kind,
He vows that tomorrow he'll make me his wife,
I'll fondly endeavour to blefs him for life,
For all other fwains I care not a rufh,
[b]One bird in the hand is worth two in the bufh.[/b]

Sadly, most people do not seem to understand this.

Re:People are stupid. (1)

Rob Kaper (5960) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598025)

Nor do I understand the difference between Slashdot and other Internet forums. I must be new here. Really, [b]???

Re:People are stupid. (1)

physburn (1095481) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598059)

Much as i'd love humans to have quantum tunnelling brains giving them special powers like in Greg Egans Quanantine [wikipedia.org] . I have to agree with the above, people are stupid explanation.

Quantum Mechanics [feeddistiller.com] news feed

Re:People are stupid. (0, Troll)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598189)

Wow, a regular TV watcher calling others "stupid". If that ain't the pot calling the kettle black!

Re:People are stupid. (1)

engun (1234934) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598207)

I agree. I don't understand the need to invoke an elaborate quantum theory based model to explain this behaviour either.

All animals (including humans) are overloaded with information from their environment. They cannot take into account all relevant information when coming to decisions. Necessity dictates that we take quick reactionary decisions by short-circuiting our logic and/or giving in to primitive emotional mechanisms. Most animals (including humans) simply respond to stimuli and there's not much logic involved at all. Most likely, the explanation for this illogical behaviour is a misfiring of some primitive impulse.

I don't understand the need to analyze only human decision making at such a complex quantum mechanical level when Occam's razor would imply a simpler explanation. Or did I miss something?

Re:People are stupid. (1)

Hogwash McFly (678207) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598235)

They "feel" their way through life instead of thinking.

Are you saying Bruce Lee got it wrong?!

Re:People are stupid. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598551)

People are stupid.

Especially when I see contestants on Deal or No Deal

The fact that anybody watches Deal or No Deal to begin with proves your point.

Economists already beat you to it (1)

Reddragon220 (890851) | more than 5 years ago | (#27597975)

People choose the obvious choice that would lead to the greatest perceived payoff. Kind of Ironic since op's article starts off with a Prisoners Dilema. A cursory glance of the article shows that the Quantum theorists only managed to re-create the classical model. Just because I add complexity to solve 2+2+2 by multiplication instead of addition doesn't mean I've done anything exactly groundbreaking. If anything I suppose this confirms that Quantum Theorists have their basics correct.

Free will (1)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598007)

Makes you think if we have Free Will or we just fallow defined rules.

Magical quantum mechanical fairy dust (5, Insightful)

tylersoze (789256) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598019)

It's all well and good to use the mathematical techniques of quantum mechanics in other fields but the math by itself is not quantum theory. I get really annoyed with the "Ohhh something weird and mysterious we don't understand it must be because of QM" nonsense. Hello, decoherence anyone? Outside of carefully prepared states, large collections of particles behave classically. You know, that's why we discovered classical physics first.

Re:Magical quantum mechanical fairy dust (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598523)

Duh, Quantum mechanics is just a term used to describe things we don't understand. Anyone claiming to understand quantum mechanics has no idea what it actually is. Those with the best grasp of quantum mechanics will tell you up front its a crock of shit that no one understands.

Re:Magical quantum mechanical fairy dust (1)

ChienAndalu (1293930) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598821)

Those with the best grasp of quantum mechanics will tell you up front its a crock of shit that no one understands.

And who is that?

Luminiferous Aether (2, Insightful)

bencollier (1156337) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598031)

The way that people parrot Quantum Theory at the moment (in an attempt to explain anything vaguely unexplained) has parallels with the Victorian reliance on the Luminiferous Aether [wikipedia.org] .

The Fat Man's Cat is a Waffle (1)

wild_quinine (998562) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598037)

This explains why I'm never sure if I want the ice cream or the banoffee pie, until the waiter brings it over, and I realise I've made the wrong choice.

RSAOPMCR (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598041)

Unfortunately the kind people at the "Royal Society for Articles Only People with Money Can Read" would not allow me to review this research.

Damn you RSAOPMCR!

Now we'll have to find another acronym for "Read Slashdot's Article Or Present a Meaningful Counter/Rebuttal".

...and Wishful Thinking may explain Quantum theory (2, Insightful)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598071)

Obligitory XKCD comic [xkcd.com]

The all-enveloping philosophical uncertainty of the human mind, and the uncertainty of quantum theory may describe similar things, and the statistics may even appear to match human decision making - but I'll paraphrase the classic line and say correlated statistics don't imply an actual relationship.

Just like you can have rather startling symmetry between two structures in different creatures (convergent symmetry/evolution), when they were developed in drastically different ways (but facing the same need/phenomenon), the uncertainty in the human condition is based on our need to model the world in a quick and dirty manner. We need a way to model the ocean of unknown that houses our tiny plankton of knowledge.

The uncertainty in quantum theory always seemed different as I understand it. It's unresolved variables, waveforms that haven't collapsed. Human minds may function with some electromagnetism, but decisions tend to be made on a larger scale than quantum uncertainty is going to have a large role in changing.

That's a risk with quantum/string theories - they simplify the way we can view the world, in a way that can often conform with observation, but they still aren't a description of the world we actually live in. The simplicity and accuracy in some places is captivating, but they don't and shouldn't take the place of direct observation. We should NOT expect to get a special understanding of, for instance, the human mental state from theories on such phenomena we can only model but not test. It could happen - but this doesn't seem a valid path to connecting the two.

Ryan Fenton

Illogical unreasonable irrational (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598073)

Opinion words I use when I see people who disagree with me as pathologies.

This pap is not science.

The Emperor's New Mind (2, Informative)

memorycardfull (1187485) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598105)

Roger Penrose hypothesized this 20 years ago.

Gee, no one's ever... (2, Informative)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598123)

...thought of this [rawilson.com] before... [amazon.com]

Why is defection considered rational? (3, Interesting)

Morten Hustveit (722349) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598129)

Whenever I read about the (non-repeated) prisoner's dilemma, someone claims that the "rational" choice for either party is to defect, because it yields the highest payoff for one player. This seems to ignore an important point:

The game involves three players - "prisoner one", "prisoner two" and "prison". If the prisoners form a team, it will be better for the team if both of them cooperate. There doesn't have to be any wishful thinking, but simply a goal of doing better for the team. You can never improve the score for the team by defecting.

What is irrational or not always depends on what your goals are.

Re:Why is defection considered rational? (1)

ChienAndalu (1293930) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598291)

The game involves three players - "prisoner one", "prisoner two" and "prison".

No it doesn't.

Re:Why is defection considered rational? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598565)

Yes. The "prison" player gains the most if both players choose to defect, and loses the most if both players chose to cooperate. This is similar to "playing against the house".

Re:Why is defection considered rational? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598319)

The dilemma is in deciding if the other guy thinks you are on his team, not in deciding whether both parties want to go to prison or not, and for how long (because they obviously do not want to go to prison for any length of time).

Re:Why is defection considered rational? (1)

Morten Hustveit (722349) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598447)

You can unilaterally decide that you are on the other prisoner's team, even if he does not realize it or agree. All that matters is that YOUR goal is "Prisoner team wins".

Re:Why is defection considered rational? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598835)

That seems more aptly described as "The doormats dilemma".

Re:Why is defection considered rational? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598759)

they obviously do not want to go to prison for any length of time

This is not obvious. This is the sometimes false supposition you have to make, in order to make the rationality argument seem valid.

Re:Why is defection considered rational? (3, Interesting)

bluej100 (1039080) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598589)

Interestingly, the most empirically successful strategy in iterated prisoner's dilemma games [wikipedia.org] is "tit for tat with forgiveness". If you're playing with someone who isn't as altruistic as you are, total welfare in the long run can be higher by punishing betrayal than by unconditional cooperation.

In real life, you also have to consider reputation effects: if future partners will be aware of and punish you for your history of betrayal, the most successful strategy is to cooperate, even if you're playing selfishly.

Hofstadter's superrationality (see link) is a nice idea, but I'm not convinced it's the best explanation for observed cooperative societies.

Re:Why is defection considered rational? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598653)

I think what you're getting at is closer to superrationality [wikipedia.org] ; basically, there is additional information known by the players - the other player is a qualitatively similar decision-maker. Thus, it is in each person's interest to cooperate because he knows the other player is likely going to act the same way he does independently of the rational choice.

Given that both players will act the same, each player should cooperate.

I'm confused (1)

bigsexyjoe (581721) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598147)

So are they just saying that the mathematical tools of quantum theory are used to explain the effects or are they alluding to quantum mechanics itself being important to understand people's decisions? It sounds like they are saying they are just using the math, but it is a little unclear.

Hmm... (0, Offtopic)

kabocox (199019) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598181)

I'm just waiting for the day that scientists are startled when they prove "prayer" works on either a quantum or string level.

Re:Hmm... (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598343)

that's been tested: wishing, praying, hoping to effect outcome of random quantum events. sorry, doesn't work though some flawed book-cooking has been exposed.

Quantum Buzzwords (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27598213)

I have RTFA, and, better than that, understand it. Before you guys all go nuts with logic based on "oooohh, quantum brains mean we're special after all" realize they this paper does NOT deal with quantum physics. Full Stop.

All they're doing is using math like that which is used to describe quantum physics to describe psychology. Fluid dynamics equations can also be used to model different psychological problems (fleeing a fire indoors for example), yet surely nobody here is so stoopid as to think we're special because our brains run on water (which is just as true as saying our brains run on quantum physics).

This paper is nothing more than a clever new approach to psychological modeling.

Re:Quantum Buzzwords (2, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598457)

Before you guys all go nuts with logic based on "oooohh, quantum brains mean we're special after all" realize they this paper does NOT deal with quantum physics. Full Stop.

I agree it's misleading. Basically it says that quantum math seems to match some aspects of human behavior. In other words, it models it fairly well; however, that by itself does not mean that our brains use quantum calculations. It just means that it has modeling value.

This can be illustrated with the "epicycle" models used to model the movements of the planets as seen from Earth before the sun-centric model gained ground. The epicycle models were relatively accurate (after some tweaking), but it turns out that it was not an accurate representation of the mechanism involved (sun-centered plus gravity). In short, Accurate modeling and matching/mirror the actual mechanism behind a process may not be related. Prediction is not always the same as explaining.
     

Re:Quantum Buzzwords (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598749)

I'm not sure what you mean by "uses quantum calculations". It almost certainly does have a quantum state, which is a slightly different thing I suppose. With respect to the story, others are quite correct. This does not explain anything in and of itself, but may be a better way to model certain aspects of Human behaviour to that has some predictive power.

Randomness is Vital (4, Interesting)

TheLazySci-FiAuthor (1089561) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598241)

This type of decision making might simply be an evolutionarily-selected random seeding.

For example, when running an evolutionary algorithm, it is vital to have randomness seeded into the mix. This allows for the system or algorithm to escape from local maxima.

Douglas Adams had a great quote at the end of one of his last lectures regarding humans' re-invention of everything - nothing is ever 'good enough': http://www.guba.com/watch/3000053272 [guba.com]

Perhaps this is all that just random, unpredictable outcomes from a horrendously complex system we call the brain, which has emerged out of a random, unpredictable and horrendously complex universe.

Homo Experimentus (3, Interesting)

Fuseboy (414663) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598263)

There are a lot of "are people rational" experiments along these lines, and my gut tells me that many run afoul of an incorrect understanding of the context in which experimental participants are making their decision.

For example, if I choose to defect and screw my opponent, will I be exposed as a cheat when the results of the study are published? What will the experimenter think of me? Will that hurt my chances of an advantageous trade with the experimenter in the future? Am I likely to face reprisal from my opponent? What moral ground will I have gained in subsequent negotiations over an opponent who I knew cheated me? What does it do to my opinion of myself now that I consider myself untrustworthy?

The brain has to balance innumerable factors such as this when considering the consequences of social actions. My suspicion is that these experiments teach us less about whether 'homo economicus' exists, and more about how hard it to design experiments to reveal him.

Free will anyone? (1)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598329)

This paradoxical human behavior has resisted explanation by classical decision theory for over a decade.

It's called free will. That, combined with stupidity, can lead to all sorts of hard to fathom decisions that people make all the time.

I'm sorry, but if peoples' decisions were so easily predictable, the future would be largely known and advertisers would need to be experts in advanced math. Because free will and stupidity exist, they don't.

Oh, get off it (4, Informative)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598385)

The human mind is not a special and unique snowflake. You are a computer. I am a computer. You are a computer. The brain is literally a quivering mound of hacks: look at fMRI studies sometime. We operate according to the same laws of physics that govern that boiler over in the corner. Get over yourselves already.

Look: maybe it was acceptable in the 18th century to imagine some special mechanism for the human mind, but no longer. There are simply no mental phenomena that require quantum mechanics to understand. It's far easier to suppose that we are simply flawed creatures that sometimes make bad decisions using heuristics adapted more for the African savannah than New York.

Re:Oh, get off it (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598567)

Your computer is busted and is iterating its loops too many times. Perhaps we should break into a debugger and figure that bug out on you. Then again, you were probably just written in perl, which explains the rest of your post.

Wave function of the Armageddon (2, Funny)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598427)

I checked my pocket to see if I had any money and the measurement collapsed my wishful thinking wave function into an economic dystopia defined from negative infinity to positive infinity (sorry everybody).

I wish I had checked my mail instead. I might have resolved the universe into a superposition sqrt((depression**2 +/- boomtime**2) / 2).

the short version .. (1)

viralMeme (1461143) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598733)

Humans aren't rational and neither is quantum probability

Bad "science" worse than religious dogma (0)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#27598785)

Didn't RTFA like good slashdot reader, but I can smell it without reading.

Those of you that get kick out of jumping on creationists, spaghetists, etc., why don't you take a whack at this? Bad science is much worse than religious dogma.

Btw, "irrationality" of human behavior is bogus. It's akin to saying "if she was smart like me, she would do otherwise". Even the lunatics have their reasons, and information she has is different than yours. The economists came up with the concept of utility function, that can pretty much discard the distinction between rational/irrational, and "irrationality" seem to keep popping up in the discussion of economics.

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