Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

In the absence of nothing

June 13, 2019

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

William Hughes Mearns


Can “nothing” exist, or is “nothing” a state of non-existence? Can “nothing” be negated? If “nothing” exists then – by our language and our reason – the non-existence of “nothing” creates “something”. Or is it the “something” which kills the “nothing”? Either way, the concept of nothingness lies in a twilight beyond rational thinking, beyond philosophy and is even intangible for metaphysics.

Martin Heidegger considered “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as the most fundamental issue of philosophy.

We know that what we call empty space within our universe may be devoid of any particles having mass.  In the absence of particles we cannot define such things as temperature or pressure. But such space still has properties. It has dimensions, and it then has volume. It allows light to pass through. Gravitation and waves can propagate through it. It would seem that the laws of physics exist and apply in such space. Such is the empty space within atoms and the space between galaxies and what our spaceships would warp through. But there is even emptier space. That is what our universe expands into (assuming that the expansion of our universe is real). This space has no properties at all and does not even have dimensions until the expansion of the universe has occurred and has defined its existence. This space does not – to all our perceptions – exist until our universe has encompassed it.

The existence (or not) of nothingness is in our minds and in our language. It is not something which science can address. Science – and scientists – are restricted to the causal world and to the bounds of causality. Science has no light to shine on existence – especially existence as the non-existence of nothing. The property of “existence” can only be ascribed to “something”. And “something” cannot not exist. That is determined by our language and by the bounds our language sets upon our reason.

Nothing is the thought that wasn’t there.

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I had a thought which wasn’t there!
It wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish it would go away!


 

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Repetition of a mantra – even a “human rights” mantra – does not make it true

May 27, 2019

Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights begins with a mantra.

Mantra – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

Reality – Human beings are unique and different. They are born with varying physical and mental characteristics. Their genetic characteristics define and constrain the limits of their physical and mental potentials. At birth they are incapable of survival in isolation. From birth and through their lives they are afforded privileges (rights) by the surrounding human society. Their capabilities – mental and physical – develop by the nurture they receive in their early years and their development is constrained by their innate (genetic) capability. The nurture they receive varies according to the resources and will of the surrounding society to provide such nurture. Human behaviour is a consequence of their genetics and their nurture. In similar situations humans may behave similarly but any individual’s behaviour is unique. An individual’s behaviour determines the respect afforded by the surrounding society.

The mantra is a nonsense. It is little more than “a sanctimonious wish, full of ill-defined words, signifying nothing”. It is repeated incessantly, but it is not true, cannot be true and should not be true. For it to be true would require that all humans be identical down to the last atom. For it to be true humans must lose their uniqueness and be a species of clones.

The difference between natural law and human laws is that natural laws cannot be broken. Compliance is assured even if the natural law is not even formulated. Human laws do not command automatic compliance. In fact, any human law which did command complete compliance would be an unnecessary law. “Human Rights” (and all human rights are nothing but privileges) are all attempts made by societies to regulate human behaviour. If the mantra were true, no “human rights legislation” would ever be necessary.

The reality is that human beings are not born equal in dignity and in rights.

A concept of “equality” which ignores the reality that humans are innately unequal is fundamentally flawed. Humans are unique and are not equal, or of equal value. Justice demands inequality. The very concept of justice requires unequal treatment. A child is not equal to an adult. A murderer is not equal to a saint. The perpetrator of an injustice is not equal to the victim. To treat a child as an adult is unjust. To respect bad behaviour is both unjust and stupid. Any society which treats a murderer the same as it treats a saint is an unjust society. Any concept of “equality” must be subordinated to justice.

I would take the UN Declaration more seriously if it simply began:

 “All human beings shall be afforded just dignity and respect by all human societies”


 

Thinking oneself into existence

April 16, 2019

Cogito, ergo sum is a philosophical proposition by René Descartes usually translated into English as “I think, therefore I am”.

In no philosophy is thinking a prerequisite for existence. Of course, Descartes’ formulation is just tautology since it presupposes the “I” and the “think” and the “am”. Thinking is taken here as proof of existence, but is nothing more than an assertion of existence.

But what could prove existence?

That question in itself requires what constitutes “proof” to be defined and requires criteria specifying “existence”. An that leads only to circular arguments.

  • Existence refers to the ontological property of being.
  • “To be” does not require the capability of being observed or an observer with a consciousness.
  • “To exist” does not require proof of existence.
  • However “proof” of existence requires an observer and therefore no “proof” can be anything other than subjective to the observer.
  • Existence is not caused by an observers perception of proof.

I always end up with the case of the tree falling in the forest, creating a pressure wave and whether or not there is a brain to detect the pressure wave and perceive sound. A perception of existence is not the same as existence. The perception may be true or false. The perception requires an observer and a consciousness.

The real conundrum is the existence, not of a bunch of atoms which look like me but, of the “I” of me.

  • The “I” exists as long as – and only when – I think I think.
  • The existence of other things is not dependent upon my perception of proof of existence.

But I still cannot quite come to grips with what “thinking” is.


 

 

Without ignorance there are no questions (or knowledge is always finite in an infinity of ignorance)

April 2, 2019

The natural laws are not amenable to change.

Our minds and our thoughts and our actions may distinguish us from inert rocks and lifeless blobs of matter, but they are just as impotent in effecting any change to the laws we perceive applying in the universe around us.

And because we have minds and thoughts, questions arise. It is an empirical observation that minds are finite and a reasonable conjecture that omniscience – and therefore determinism – cannot exist. If we were omniscient we would have no questions. Without questions the human condition would be one of stasis. Without questions there would be no room for philosophy. If we had no questions the process of science would be meaningless. Ignorance by itself does not give rise to questions. Ignorance together with an awareness of being ignorant is necessary, but even that is not sufficient. Questions will not arise in an ignorant mind, aware of its own ignorance, unless there is also a desire to reduce the level of prevailing ignorance. A rational motivation for such a desire would be the belief that reducing ignorance would lead to an “improved” state of existence for the desirous mind.

All of philosophy and all of language and mathematics and art and all of science then proceed from non-omniscient minds formulating questions. Ignorance it would seem is the primary driving force for human endeavor.

Ignorance is infinite. Ignorance begets questions. Questions – through the application of philosophy and art and science – beget answers. Answers increase knowledge which is finite. But answers also beget further questions and so on, ad infinitum.

When we get to the correct formulation of the ultimate question about life, the universe and everything for which the answer is 42, we shall reach omniscience. Then, the stars will go out and the universe will cease to exist.


 

Without the magic of cause and effect there is no science

March 4, 2019

Causality is existential for all the natural sciences and especially for physics.

Causality is magic. It is magic because why it should be so is inexplicable.

The most fundamental, enabling assumption for all the natural sciences is that identical causes lead to identical effects. The corollary that non-identical events are proof that the causes were not identical is also unquestioned – and unquestionable – for the scientific method. (However it is permitted that different causes may produce effects which are identical). Modern physics and relativity constrain causality. Cause and effect is restricted to the past and future light cones for any event. But this, in itself, implies a region (undefinable) where causality does not apply and does not even try to address why the magic that is causality exists.

Wikipedia

Causality means that an effect cannot occur from a cause that is not in the back (past) light cone of that event. Similarly, a cause cannot have an effect outside its front (future) light cone.

In special and general relativity, a light cone is the path that a flash of light, emanating from a single event (localized to a single point in space and a single moment in time) and traveling in all directions, would take through spacetime.

Being a fundamental assumption, it is not possible for the sciences and the scientific method to address why the assumption of causality exists. The First Cause problem is declared to be uninteresting to science just because it cannot be addressed. Allowing the problem would place all of science within a paradox. If everything has to have a cause then there must be a First Cause. If some things do not need to have a cause then there can be no certainty that anything is the cause of anything else.

The First Cause problem is what actually unifies science and philosophy and theology and religions. None have – or can have – an answer. They just use different labels for the undeniable magic. It has been debated since ancient times but I like the way Bertrand Russel expresses it.

Bertrand Russel- Why I am not a Christian

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God). That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: ‘My father taught me that the question, “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, “Who made God?” ’ That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, ‘How about the tortoise?’ the Indian said, ‘Suppose we change the subject.’ The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

Russel is wise not to debate it further because penetrating the wall of the unknowable is a futile exercise. It is in the realm of magic.

Leibnitz’s formulation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is only a formal description of Causality and defines the limits of empiricism and the scientific method. It cannot, however, penetrate the First Cause Problem.

Principle of Sufficient Reason

The Principle of Sufficient Reason stipulates that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground.

This is often formulated as:

  • For every entity X, if X exists, then there is a sufficient explanation for why X exists.
  • For every event E, if E occurs, then there is a sufficient explanation for why E occurs.
  • For every proposition P, if P is true, then there is a sufficient explanation for why P is true.

This is a stipulation, a statement of an assumption. But it is no explanation.

The conclusions I draw are that:

  1. Science is limited to where causality occurs.
  2. Physics admits causality is constrained by past and future light cones.
  3. Physics therefore admits that what lies outside the past and future light cones is unknowable.
  4. Causality is magic.
  5. All science depends upon magic.

 

Arrogance of Ignorance: “I don’t know, but I know you’re wrong”

February 28, 2019

Physics has no clue as to where, how or why the universe began.

Yet, the only thing that all “scientific disciplines” are sure of is that the universe did not begin by any act of any god or on the back of a giant turtle.

There are only two kinds of creation myths that physics (and by that I mean all the “scientific” disciplines) eschew:

  1. The universe as matter and energy has always existed, or
  2. Something was created from nothing

Whether theories about the Big Bang (hot or cold) or cosmic inflation or the naturally occurring “something from nothing” events or loop quantum gravity, they are all creation myths. Just as theories of infinite parallel universes, or cyclic cosmology are also little more than wild speculation. The various mainstream theories of physics and cosmology are as diverse as the Creation Myths of the primitive (“pre-science”) world. And as far-fetched. Conservation of energy and matter have to be ditched – or allowed to vary. Time becomes a parameter emerging from the fabric of our particular universe. All events in the past, present and future exist simultaneously. What existence is becomes uncertain and physics has turned into metaphysics.

Scientific disciplines do not like to contemplate the reality of the unknowable because they would then have to admit that the “scientific method” has no tools to address the unknowable. Determinism has to allow the possibility of, if not the inevitability of, omniscience. (It could be argued that determinism starts of by denying the possibility of any divinity or divine intervention and then ends up having to admit that a god-like omniscience is real). Atheism lacks substance and is of no consequence. There is nothing wrong with speculation of course. Most of our scientific advances (albeit in the world of the knowable) have started of as speculation.

What becomes arrogant, but above all irrational, is when a state of ignorance, of not-knowing, is conflated with a state of knowing that “something is not”.

All beliefs by definition lie in the region of the unknown. Any statement and its negation ( X and not-X) must both either lie in the region of knowledge, or both in the region of the unknown. It is not possible for one to live in the realm of knowledge and its negation to live in the region of the unknown.

It is the arrogance of ignorance and pervades nearly all human activities. It is the breath of life for politicians, TV pundits and “celebrities”. It is the fall-back position for all weak leaders and managers.

“I don’t know, but I know you’re wrong”.


 

 

Physics cannot deal with nothingness

February 19, 2019

Physics (and all science) is about describing what can be observed and elucidating the causal relationships between observations. The process of science presupposes causality.  If causality is not always a fundamental and pervasive truth, the scientific method cannot elucidate anything. No system of reasoning can prove the assumptions the system itself is built upon. Science cannot, therefore, prove the existence of what it presupposes already exists.  Causality also implies the existence and the flow of time. Effect, it is assumed, can never precede cause. The process of science is necessarily blind to whatever may lie outside its suppositions. Which is why physics cannot deal with the non-existence of time (or space-time) where all the elucidated natural laws must be suspended.

Similarly, physics cannot allow of, or deal with, the unknowable. Many physicists merely deny the unknowable with the proposition that all things that have been, that are or that can be, are knowable and can – in principle – be explained by causality. But denying the unknowable leads to a deterministic world which, in turn, leads to the certainty of omniscience. It does not have to be human omniscience, but omniscience or any omniscient being becomes indistinguishable from a god. Determinism’s omniscience is nothing but divinity through the back door.

The unknowable lies outside the realm of science in general and of physics in particular. Unknowability applies not only to the existence of causality and time but also to the non-existence of nothingness. Clearly “empty” space which has dimensions and which allows the operation of natural laws is not nothing. Space which allows the passage of radiation or gravity waves cannot be nothing. Anything which has, or is attributed, any kind of property cannot be nothing. Our universe is expanding, it is said. It is also said that it is expanding into nothingness; where space and time emerge as the universe expands. But if the surroundings of the universe allow the expansion of the universe then such surroundings have a describable property and cannot be nothing. Nothingness is – and must be – unknowable.

Physics and philosophy both find defining nothingness a slippery business – but so they should, as they must for any unknowable thing.

What Is Nothing? Physicists Debate

…… The first, most basic idea of nothing — empty space with nothing in it — was quickly agreed not to be nothing. In our universe, even a dark, empty void of space, absent of all particles, is still something. “It has a topology, it has a shape, it’s a physical object,” philosopher Jim Holt said during the museum’s annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, which this year was focused on the topic of “The Existence of Nothing.”

As moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, ….. said, “If laws of physics still apply, the laws of physics are not nothing.”  …… But there is a deeper kind of nothing, argued theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University, which consists of no space at all, and no time, no particles, no fields, no laws of nature. “That to me is as close to nothing as you can get,” Krauss said.

Holt disagreed. “Is that really nothing?” he asked.”There’s no space and there’s no time. But what about physical laws, what about mathematical entities? What about consciousness? All the things that are non-spatial and non-temporal.”

Other speakers offered different ideas for nothing, such as a mathematical concept of nothing put forward by science journalist Charles Seife, author of “Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea” (Penguin Books, 2000). He proposed starting with a set of numbers that included only the number zero, and then removing zero, leaving what’s called a null set. “It’s almost a Platonic nothing,” Seife said. The theoretical physicist Eva Silverstein of Stanford University suggested a highly technical nothing based on quantum field theory that involved a quantum system lacking degrees of freedom (dimensions). “The ground state of a gapped quantum system is my best answer,” she said.

Holt suggested another idea of nothing. “The only even remotely persuasive defintition of nothing I’ve heard form a physicist came from Alex Vilenkin,” a physicist at Tufts University, Holt said.”Imagine the surface of a ball. It’s a finite space but with no boundary. Then imagine it shrinking down to a point.” That would create a closed space-time with zero radius.

Every creation myth is about something appearing from nothingness. Even articulated by a physicist every theory about how things came to be, is just another creation myth. The Big Bang singularity is unknowable. I find many of the origin theories unconvincing where nothingness at the macro-level is allowed to produce somethings at the micro level, provided that not-somethings are also produced. Matter begets anti-matter and gravity (negative energy) begets positive energy, and the sum is zero. It is all very conveniently contrived except that why a particular something (and its negation) come to be, rather than some other something remains in the unknowable.

The Creation Hymn in the Rig Veda begins:

Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?

Nothingness is perhaps just where consciousness comes from – and where it goes.


Related:

First nothingness was not, then came the Big Bang and the Gods came later

If space is not empty, what is? The ultimate void?

Knowledge is not finite and some of it is unknowable

On the matter of matter (or how something came from nothing)


 

Living in time

January 24, 2019

Most fish are probably unaware that the water they are living in is a bounded environment. I write “most” because flying fish must have some notion of the surface and are able to break through it for short periods and small distances. Similarly, bottom-dwelling fish must have some notion of the boundary they burrow into, and all fish must have some notion of coastal or river boundaries. Nevertheless, we can conceive of fish completely surrounded and dominated and constrained by the watery environment they live in. They are completely powerless to change that environment.

And so it is with humans and time. The difference is that we perceive no boundaries to our time environment. Like fish in a river, we perceive only one direction for the flow. Unlike fish, we perceive no local eddies or reversals of the flow of time. Unlike salmon we cannot conceive of moving against the current. We perceive only a smooth, steady, implacable uni-directional flow.

We have no idea of the structure or the nature of time. The flow we perceive may just be a consequence of our language. We have no idea why the perceived flow should be steady. Could there be a condition where no flow occurs? Or where the flow is a different rate or in some other direction? Or even whether the flow itself is just illusion and does not exist at all. We are used to thinking of many futures but only one past. There is speculation of multiverses where every possible future exists. Why only one present?

From what I have read by physicist Carlo Rovelli (“the new Stephen Hawking”), he takes the view that time is an emergent property and the flow of time we perceive is an illusion. Past, present and future are all emergent. His book “The Order of Time” has received wonderful reviews even from those who do not agree with his views.

It is time to read his book and see if it stops me from staying awake at night trying to imagine many pasts and only one future.

 


Related:

The magical speed of an inconstant time

Idle thoughts: On time and change and states of stasis

Time precedes existence


 

Philosophy before physics

January 23, 2019

Stephen Hawking once said “Philosophy is dead”.

Speaking to Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, the author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ said that fundamental questions about the nature of the universe could not be resolved without hard data such as that currently being derived from the Large Hadron Collider and space research. “Most of us don’t worry about these questions most of the time. But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,” he said. “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

But claiming that philosophy is dead is itself philosophy.

Hawking’s comment is remarkably like that of Isocrates who some 2,300 years ago followed the sophists. He taught rhetoric and oratory and did not much care for Plato’s new-fangled approach to thinking and education or his definition of philosophy. Isocrates certainly did not like Plato’s attacks on his school.

“Those who do philosophy, who determine the proofs and the arguments … and are accustomed to enquiring, but take part in none of their practical functions, … even if they happen to be capable of handling something, they automatically do it worse, whereas those who have no knowledge of the arguments [of philosophy], if they are trained [in concrete sciences] and have correct opinions, are altogether superior for all practical purposes. Hence for sciences, philosophy is entirely useless.”

Plato (428BCE – 348BCE)

But Plato prevailed even if he did make use of “fake news”.

Because of Plato’s attacks on the sophists, Isocrates’ school — having its roots, if not the entirety of its mission, in rhetoric, the domain of the sophists — came to be viewed as unethical and deceitful. Yet many of Plato’s criticisms are hard to substantiate in the actual work of Isocrates; at the end of Phaedrus, Plato even shows Socrates praising Isocrates (though some scholars have taken this to be sarcasm).

Part of the issue is semantics. Philosophical thinking by a physicist remains philosophy. (And observations and reasoning by philosophers would still be physics).

One cannot even begin to undertake the process called science without a philosophy. One can make observations and report them as perceptions but whether the perceived observations are valid or not are a matter of philosophy. Linking observations – or perceptions of observations – requires a philosophic acceptance of causality. Causality itself requires an acceptance of the flow of time which remains a philosophic question even when asked by a physicist. The languages used in describing observations (including mathematics) and in reasoning itself are underpinned by a philosophy of language. Even the simplest of observations requires the observer to have an underlying philosophy, just to be perceived as a relevant and valid observation. Communicating such observations are even more dependent upon the existence of language having a philosophy.

As Carlo Rovelli writes:

Here is a second argument due to Aristotle: Those who deny the utility of philosophy, are doing philosophy. The point is less trivial than it may sound at first. Weinberg and Hawking have obtained important scientific results. In doing this, they were doing science. In writing things like “philosophy is useless to physics,” or “philosophy is dead,” they were not doing physics. They were reflecting on the best way to develop science. The issue is the methodology of science: a central concern in the philosophy of science is to ask how science is done and how it could be done to be more effective. ….. They express a certain idea about the methodology of science. Is this the eternal truth about how science has always worked and should work? Is it the best understanding of science we have at present? It is neither. In fact, it is not difficult to trace the origins of their ideas. They arise from the background of logical positivism, corrected by Popper and Kuhn. The current dominant methodological ideology in theoretical physics relies on their notions of falsifiability and scientific revolution, which are popular among theoretical physicists; they are often referred to, and are used to orient research and evaluate scientific work.

….. They express a certain idea about the methodology of science. Is this the eternal truth about how science has always worked and should work? Is it the best understanding of science we have at present?

It is neither. In fact, it is not difficult to trace the origins of their ideas. They arise from the background of logical positivism, corrected by Popper and Kuhn. The current dominant methodological ideology in theoretical physics relies on their notions of falsifiability and scientific revolution, which are popular among theoretical physicists; they are often referred to, and are used to orient research and evaluate scientific work.

All of human thought builds on implied philosophies; on assumptions of reality and observations and on implicit philosophies embedded in the logic of our languages. There is no branch of science which does not need fundamental assumptions which are taken as being axiomatic. There is no branch of science which does not have fundamental “rules”. It is only the explicit questioning of the underlying assumptions which we label “philosophy”.  But the philosophies exist whether the assumptions are questioned or not. Physics of any kind is not possible without an underpinning philosophy of physics.

Philosophy is integral to science and to physics. There can never be a fundamental assumption made without there first being a philosophy.

And, of course, philosophy precedes physics in the dictionary.


Carlo Rovelli: Physics Needs Philosophy / Philosophy Needs Physics


 

The many, many gods of science

December 27, 2018

Many scientists (and all atheists) deny the gods of religions. Many also deny the existence of the unknowable but then illogically also deny that omniscience is unavoidable.

(Of course omniscience is one of the requirements to be a god).

But science does assume gods – in everything but name.

Many, many gods.


 


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