DTI: Watching the Clock by C. L. Bennett Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Thrawn, Apr 18, 2011.

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Rate DTI: Watching The Clock

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  1. MatthiasRussell

    MatthiasRussell Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    Perhaps you are caught in a temporal causality loop.

    3 . . . 3 . . . 3
     
  2. PathWithoutEnd

    PathWithoutEnd Ensign

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    Of course, 'Watching the clock' established that neurons are classical objects - with huge consequences regarding responsibility for one's actions.

    The neurons being classical objects means they're controlled by deterministic laws - the same genes and circumstances will ALWAYS produce exactly the same person and decisions - killing someone or not killing someone, eating pasta this morning or not, composing this symphony or not, etc.

    In short, it means humans are mechanistic toys, who cannot decide anything else than they decided in a given situation, with a given history.

    And, if the decison was not, in effect, theirs, if they were predetermined by physical law to make it, they cannot be held accountable for their decisions and actions.
    Lack of choice means lack of responsibility foe such choices - and lack of real creativity, etc.

    If responsibility is not the basis for punishment - what is?
    The only thing remaining - the utility for society.
    Having criminals - or potential criminals - roam free is not a good ideea for the security of the society. On the other hand, changing the circumstances will change the deterministic interactions guiding their behaviour.

    Ethics? Also baseless. No one can be responsible for the atrocities he commited. Just as no one can be praised for his good deeds. They're not theirs, they're not chosen by them - they're predetermined by classical phisical laws.
     
  3. David cgc

    David cgc Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    ^So? If you take that argument, then quantum neurons would have the exact same problem. You couldn't credit or blame anyone for anything, because their actions are random and arbitrary (which was exactly what the agent having the breakdown was ranting about in the scene you mention). How can you say that a deterministic brain, which will make the same decision in response to the same situation every time has less free will than a quantum brain that makes a random decision in response to the same situations?

    Also, arguing that responsibility can't be apportioned out in a deterministic society is likewise nonsense. That's like saying that you can't determine that the cause of a car accident was a loose lugnut causing a wheel to fall off. After all, the lugnut was only loose because the mechanic who last changed the wheel didn't finish tightening it, and that was because he was distracted by a lightning strike outside the shop, which was caused by a low-pressure wave moving into the area which was started by a butterfly flapping its wings in China...

    It's a useless definition of free will, or creativity, or what have you. It's a process that isn't classical, because then there's no liberty to make decisions, but it isn't random, because then there are no decisions, either. So what is it? And let's keep in mind that whichever it is in real life, it's always been that way. Folks aren't going to stop handing out nobel prizes and prison sentences because Science On High decided that people function through deterministic processes. If your definition of free will isn't compatible with that, you'll just have to revise it to fit the newly discovered facts because, let's face it, if you were going to have a nihilistic existentialist meltdown, you would've already done it by now.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2011
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    Only in a fictional universe in which history cannot be changed, such as The Twilight Zone's "Back There" (which is probably what you're referring to here) or Gargoyles. But Star Trek is obviously not such a universe, since we see history get changed all the time there. Naturally, different works of fiction use different assumptions about time travel depending on their storytelling needs.


    That's a profound misinterpretation of what I meant. I didn't mean "classical" in the sense of "deterministic," but in the sense of "macroscopic" -- the processes that lead to decisions in the human mind take place on a large enough scale that quantum variations in individual particles -- the kind of variations that create alternate quantum realities -- are not likely to have an effect on one's decisions. Rather, your decisions will be shaped by your circumstances. That's not determinism, because those circumstances could be variable and because they could include an indecisive state of mind, one that could go either way. All Lucsly was saying was that quantum variations in the timeline would not themselves be the direct cause of anyone's decisions, so you can't blame your choices on quantum variations. His point was that we can't use quantum physics as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for our own choices. What you're saying here sounds like using Newtonian determinism as an excuse to avoid responsibility for our own choices, and that's just as cowardly. I reject that notion categorically and so would Lucsly.
     
  5. Plaristes

    Plaristes Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    You're confusing two different notions of responsibility, causal and moral. A deterministic connection between two events only shows causal responsibility (or, in other words, causation). A lightning strike is responsible (i.e., causes) for a forest fire, but it isn't morally responsible for any deaths caused by the fire. Moral responsibility involves praiseworthiness/blameworthiness. They are clearly two different notions, and causal responsibility is not sufficient for moral responsibility. One can be an incompatibilist about moral responsibility (the view that moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism) without making the nonsensical claim that causal responsibility is incompatible with determinism.
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    The notion that determinism exists at all is outmoded, and it goes to PathWithoutEnd's misunderstanding of the distinction between quantum and "classical" processes. The fact we now understand is that everything in the universe is quantum-physical in nature. That means the Uncertainty Principle is law and determinism is a myth. When we use the word "classical" to describe macroscopic processes, that's only a convenient shorthand; what we mean is not that the macroscopic universe actually obeys Isaac Newton's beliefs, but that the sum total of the quantum processes in a large-scale ensemble of particles averages out to what looks like the classical physics described by Newton, even though that appearance is somewhat illusory. As Ranjea explained in a couple of different scenes, what looks to us like a single continuous history is actually full of simultaneous alternate outcomes on a microscopic scale; it's just that most of those alternates get swamped by the most stable outcome that dominates the whole, and that happens within nanoseconds, before the interactions propagate far enough to be macroscopically significant. And as Lucsly explained in the climactic chapter, all those swamped-out alternate states are still physically real as part of the universe; we just don't observe the universe in enough to detail to see them, so our imperfect perception creates the illusion that there's a singular, linear history. That illusion is a close enough approximation to reality to be useful when describing the macroscopic universe, but it would be wrong to take that approximation as fact and believe that the universe is deterministic.

    Well, at least to believe that it's classically deterministic. Quantum physics is very deterministic in the sense that every event is considered to be inherent in the wave equation of the universe; but still, that equation is written in terms of probabilities and can encompass simultaneous alternative outcomes.

    But since our knowledge of the universal wave equation is incomplete, we can't know the future or the past with certainty. As the Heisenberg Principle shows, there are always limits to our ability to measure. It's in that area of doubt that free will resides. If you look at the entire history of the universe as a single Schroedinger equation, then naturally it all seems fixed and deterministic, because you're essentially looking back on it from the end, like reading a history book. Basically only a god or maybe a Q would have that perspective. But to those of us living within the universe while it unfolds, perceiving time as a flow of moments rather than a singular whole, there is no predetermined future. The outcomes haven't been decided yet, and our choices are part of the parameters that will determine those outcomes.
     
  7. Idran

    Idran Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    That's somewhat of a misinterpretation of Heisenberg. It doesn't say that there's limits to our ability to measure, it says that the amount of information you have about one quantity restricts the amount of information you can get about the other by making its value more uncertain physically. Describing it as a limitation of our ability to measure implies that there is some "correct" answer that we can never see, but in fact what uncertainty says is that there is no correct answer, that the result is basically a role of the dice.

    And that's why this seems like a sketchy resolution of the question to me. Heisenberg introduces randomness into the equation, and randomness certainly doesn't abide by any definition of free will that I've ever heard. In fact, it seems to stand wholly against both free will and determinism to me; determinism because it makes things unpredictable, and free will because it removes any aspect of "choice".

    The problem to me, though, has always seemed like a false dichotomy, largely because I've never heard anyone define "free will" in a way that didn't either also accord with determinism (by saying that you could make a choice based on your past circumstances), or that threw out any sense of choice at all (by saying that you could make a choice completely independent of past circumstances, since a choice based on nothing at all is no more a choice than flipping a coin).

    Think about breaking down the idea of "I could have chosen differently", for example. Either you mean you could have if even some single past aspect of your circumstances and surroundings was different, which is true for determinism as well. Or you mean you could have even with a universe that was perfectly identical in every single aspect, in which case what was the reason you made the original choice at all? It had to have been based on some random element if it was truly made completely independently of every single circumstance around you, and thus it was random, not actually a choice in any meaningful sense.

    To me, the universe is both deterministic in the sense that effect follows cause and present events follow based on past events, and with free will in the sense that we can make our decisions under consideration of the past. The two aren't in opposition at all, and the whole reason they were ever thought to be in opposition was because of a 200-year old debate in theology; prior to that point, the idea of the two as opposing concepts was never even considered.

    This is an idea on the matter I'd had for a while in a vague sense, but I have to give most of the credit for how I was really able to solidify things to Eliezer Yudkowsky's essay series on the matter at his blog. It's a profoundly insightful look into the issue from a purely rationalist perspective. You can find the essay series here, I'd definitely recommend anyone interested in the question to read through this; and if you're interested in rationalism, to poke through the rest of the site too.
     
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    I know that full well. You misunderstand what I meant by "limits on our ability to measure." I wasn't trying to imply there's an absolute correct answer; on the contrary, I was saying that, even in a universe that can be defined as "deterministic" in the sense of being completely describable with the right wave equation, there is still nothing like the absolute, perfect knowledge of Newtonian determinism. As I said, the wave equation determines probabilities rather than exact measurements. Basically I'm saying the same thing you are.

    But what I meant by that particular choice of words was that our knowledge of the universe was always incomplete. By "limits on our ability to measure," I didn't mean it in the strictly literal, technical sense you're describing, but in the context of the broader philosophical point I was making about what it was possible for us to know. Maybe I didn't choose my words perfectly, but what do you expect in an extemporaneous BBS post?

    You're reading too much into my allusion to Heisenberg. I just threw that in there as an example that most laypeople would probably recognize, one that might help them grasp the point I was making about quantum indeterminacy. It wasn't meant to be a technically precise analysis for the ears of physicists, but a conceptual aid for the ears of laypeople. Basically, "You've heard of the Uncertainty Principle, right? Well, this is broadly similar to that."

    And I don't follow your logic at all. Just because randomness exists on a quantum level, that doesn't mean everything is random. Hell, this whole sidebar started with a reference to the fact stated by Lucsly that neurons are classical objects. I thought we'd already stipulated to the premise that human decisions are not purely the result of quantum processes; therefore, it makes no sense to argue that the randomness in the position and momentum of quantum particles translates to complete randomness in the thoughts and decisions of sentient beings.


    None of that really matters to me. What matters to me is, if you make any kind of physical or philosophical argument which lets you blame your choices on factors you have no control over, that's just making an excuse to evade responsibility for your actions. We can't help how the universe works; it'll do what it does with or without our understanding or approval. But we're responsible for the choices we make and the effect our actions have on other people. And in order to take that responsibility, we need to accept that our choices can be blamed on no one and nothing but ourselves.
     
  9. Idran

    Idran Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    The rest of it, I agree with, so I don't have anything to comment on. Especially the bit about evading responsibility, which is another reason why the idea of a wholly deterministic universe seems silly to me. Honestly, Christopher, most of my post was directed at the overall free will vs. determinism argument that was arising in the thread, I was just using your post as a jumping off point. I do want to clarify this part, though.

    It's because literally the only thing Heisenberg does introduce is randomness, and so if you're pointing to that as where free will exists, then you have to be saying that free will is akin to randomness, which doesn't fit any definition of free will I know of. I know it was just your choice of words there, but I have heard people argue before that Heisenberg introduces free will because it introduces randomness (I've even made that argument before in online discussions way back when, before I had the flaw in the idea pointed out to me), and I wanted to head that off early while presenting my perspective on the free will vs. determinism issue.
     
  10. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    I'm not. It's a blasted analogy, for Pete's sake.
     
  11. Idran

    Idran Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    That was the general you, not you in particular. I should have said "if one is pointing", I guess.

    Like I said, I know it was your choice of words, I was directing the following statement at the people that do use it not as an analogy but as literally the source of free will, because I've seen that in these sorts of discussions before. It's an easy jump to make, as I know from personal experience because I've done it fallaciously myself online and had my error pointed out to me.
     
  12. datalogan

    datalogan Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    Loved the book. Have to echo what others have said:

    "expert weaving together of all the contradictory information about time travel"

    "pulling bits and pieces from all over established canon and weaving it all together into a seamless piece, without it feeling forced"

    "above outstanding, it is even above Star Trek"

    "great to have a positive spin at the end"

    "great use of Borg threat to explain why so little time travelers have messed with the time period before Destiny"

    Probably the BEST Star Trek book I have ever read (and I've read all but a handful of them). And one of my top 10 favorite books of all.

    I did get confused a number over the use of "uptime" and "downtime"
    I guess I prefer the "counterexample" of Stephen Baxter's Manifold: Time that Christopher mentions in his annotations, which used "upstream" to mean the past and "downstream" to mean the future. That approach is just more logical and natural -- a river runs downstream, time runs into the future.
     
  13. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    I appreciate it. Thanks so much.


    Whereas I find the Asimov version, with "up" as the future, to be more intuitive and the Baxter version to be confusing, perhaps because the year/century numbers are going upward as you move into the future. Maybe that more mathematical way of looking at it fits my way of thinking better (and I think it would fit the DTI's mindset too). Or perhaps it's because, as a Trekkie and an optimist, I believe that we rise higher as time passes (which is also the way a Federation agency would be inclined to think, unless it's Section 31).
     
  14. Plaristes

    Plaristes Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    False. Western philosophy ever since the ancient Greeks is full of debates about the compatibility/incompatibility of free will with determinism/fate/foreknowledge/truths about the future. Aristotle's De Interpretatione is a classic discussion.
     
  15. Mr. Laser Beam

    Mr. Laser Beam Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    ^ "As you can see, Nietzsche has just been booked for arguing with the referee! He accused Confucius of having no free will, and Confucius, he say, 'Name go in book.'" :guffaw:

    [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79vdlEcWxvM[/yt]
     
  16. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    ^ :guffaw:. Classic.

    Particularly the ending:

    "Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics, Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination, and Marx is claiming it was offside" :lol:
     
  17. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    Can I interrupt again to make a minor inquiry about your annotations, Christopher? You describe an Andorian "Moon" as the interval between alignments of Andor and two other moons in orbit of the gas giant. Would these other two moons then correspond to the "twin moons of Andor" mentioned in several other novels, e.g. The Sundered and Beneath the Raptor's Wing? You mention in the annotations that onscreen Andor clearly had no satellites of its own - is the number of other Galilean-type moons intended to keep the novels' "Twin Moons" more or less consistant with that portrayal?
     
  18. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    I hadn't remembered there were any references to "Twin Moons." I used a resonance between three moons by analogy with the orbital resonance of Io, Europa, and Ganymede; Callisto is far enough out that it doesn't quite maintain the pattern. I assumed something similar here, that only three of the Jovian's large moons were close enough to be pulled into that kind of resonance.

    As for whether the "Twin Moons" you mention could be interpreted as other Galilean-type moons in different orbits, that's certainly possible. Perhaps two of the moons other than Andor are nearly identical in size and appearance and thus considered "twins."
     
  19. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    Thanks. :)

    If you didn't have the "twin moons" in mind, then it's a nice serendipity.
     
  20. Freman

    Freman Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Re: Star Trek: DTI: Watching The Clock Review Thread

    Okay, I just bought this yesterday, and am finished it already. WOW! I loved it, Christopher. Absolute genius of a novel. I hope there are going to be more DTI books in the future, because this book was damn fun!

    Didn't I hear about a prequel DTI book set in Kirk's time?