Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Knowing what you don’t know: Ambushed by the coronavirus

April 2, 2020

Ambushed by the coronavirus, 15.5 billion km ago.

10 year old: So the earth moves around the sun and we move with it?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: And in one hour we have moved 107,000 km along with the earth?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: And the sun moves around the centre of the galaxy?

Dad: Yes, the sun and the entire solar system orbit the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy.

10 year old: And in one hour the sun has moved 828,000 km?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: So in one hour I have travelled 935,000 km around the galaxy?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: And does the galaxy move?

Dad: Yes, It is thought that the galaxy moves 2,160,000 km relative to other galaxies in an hour.

10 year old: So where did the coronavirus come from?

Dad: We don’t know.

10 year old: And it came in November last year?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: And we have travelled 15.5 billion km since last November?

Dad: Aaaah, Yes. About that.

10 year old: So we could have been ambushed by coronaviruses lying in wait for us there?

Dad: No.

10 year old: But you don’t know where it comes from.

Dad: We don’t know where it came from, but we know it didn’t come from space.

10 year old: So you do know what you don’t know.



			

Coronavirus ethics: When healthy and young has priority over sick and old

March 29, 2020

In the last few days, the prospect of limited intensive care places and too many patients has become more real. Professors of philosophy have been sought after for their views. In Sweden, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has produced new guidelines so that doctors and nurses forced to make life and death choices have support for their decisions. The guiding principle is stated to be the “expected remaining lifetime” without consideration of “social standing, disabilities or actual age”. Of course this is inherently contradictory since expected remaining lifetime and actual age cannot be divorced. In their new guidelines the Board skates over this contradiction by claiming that it is “biological age” that is being considered and not “actual age”.

The guidelines define priorities for intensive care (my translation):

Priority 1: Patients who have a serious illness but are expected to survive longer than 12 months. If it becomes necessary to prioritize within this group, it must not be done based on the patient’s social situation / position,  any disabilities or the person’s actual age. It may, however, be based on what is called biological age. The latter means that the expected life expectancy is calculated using a number of factors. Those who are younger are then given priority over the older if the health status of both is otherwise equal. But conversely, a patient who is older but otherwise in good health should be given priority over a younger person who, due to illness or otherwise, is expected to live shorter.

Priority 2: Patients with one or more severe systemic disorders with significant functional limitation. These include, for example, insufficiently controlled diabetes, COPD, morbid obesity (BMI ≥40), active hepatitis, alcohol abuse, pacemaker addiction and a heart attack or stroke older than three months. This group also includes those who have an expected survival of 6-12 months.

Priority 3: Patients with an expected low probability of survival. These may be cases where the intensive care unit is normally only used to enable a renewed assessment and consultation with related persons.

Swedish television reports:

SvT:

If the corona crisis worsens, healthcare will be forced to prioritize – and patients who have had good prospects of coping may be rejected. “It can be so in an extreme situation”, says Lars Sandman, Professor of health ethics.

Health care always needs to be prioritized. But in a situation where the number of corona-infected who need intensive care is increasing dramatically, this can result in many difficult decisions. Therefore, new guidelines for priorities in health care have been developed on behalf of the National Board of Health and Welfare. “Suppose we get completely full departments with many very seriously ill people who have marginal conditions to come back to life after intensive care and then other more basically healthy people knock at the door. Then it can be a very difficult decision”, says Andreas Hvarfner, chief physician in anesthesia and intensive care at Karolinska University Hospital in Solna.

Will this mean that infected elderly patients who have severe diabetes, lung disease, pacemakers and are overweight are at risk of not receiving intensive care? “Of course, that may eventually be so” says Andreas Hvarfner.

Lars Sandman, professor of health ethics at Linköping University, has been involved in developing the new guidelines. “When faced with these difficult decisions, it is important that there is clear support and that one can lean back on ethical principles that in this case are legal and instituted by Parliament in 1997. We have tried to clarify how they should be interpreted” , he said.

If there is now a storm that many believe, will people prioritize between people who may have roughly the same conditions? “It can be so in an extreme situation. Then we have stated in the guidelines that you can choose the one that has the longest remaining life expectancy . We want to avoid getting into that situation and therefore we are working hard to get more intensive care places”. This means that young people do come ahead of the elderly if they have similar conditions to survive. According to Lars Sandman, the problem is that there are no alternatives. “You can of course imagine a queuing situation, but then you run the risk that a patient who may have less chance of survival gets the place and that two patients instead of one die in the end”.

Consider the case of two sick patients and only one intensive care place. Younger and healthier will always have a higher expected remaining life and have a higher priority. If both have the same chance of survival, the younger will always get priority. For an older person to get priority by the remaining lifetime criterion, the chance of survival will have to be much higher than for the younger person. The stipulation that social standing have no impact means that a younger, healthier, anti-social, scrounger will get a higher priority than a worthy, productive, sicker, older person.

Of course, this is oversimplified. In reality the chances of survival with intensive care have to be first judged against chances of survival without. It is unlikely that chances of survival without intensive care could both be zero in two cases which had widely different chances with intensive care.

Take:  expected remaining life = (life expectancy – actual age) x chance of survival

Let us assume a life expectancy of 90 years and a base case of a very sick 20 year old with only a 10% chance of survival. Expected remaining life would then be 10% of life remaining giving 7 years. An older person would have priority if their chance of survival was sufficient to give an expected life remaining of greater than 7 years. To get priority a 50 year old would need a chance of survival of 17.5%, a 70 year old would need 35% and and an 80 year old would need a 70% chance of survival. Anybody over 83 would never get priority – even if they had a 99% chance of survival.

Of course, it is age discrimination disguised with words (biological age) to ostensibly comply with the laws on discrimination. But the Board really has no choice.

The issue I have is not really with the Board but with the delusion that the value of humans is not connected to their social behaviour and the myth that humans are equal.


 

If a virus is not alive, how does it die?

March 24, 2020

You can’t strictly kill a virus since it is not alive.

Outside living cells, some viruses remain potentially active for thousands of years. A virus recovered from permafrost was able to infect an amoeba. Influenza and corona viruses are thought to stay active for a few hours or days. But the smallpox virus can remain active for years

These days there are many reports about how long the coronavirus remains “alive” or “viable” or “active” on surfaces.  For example this is an abstract of a new paper (yet to be published):

Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1

Abstract
HCoV-19 (SARS-2) has caused >88,000 reported illnesses with a current case-fatality ratio of ~2%. Here, we investigate the stability of viable HCoV-19 on surfaces and in aerosols in comparison with SARS35 CoV-1. Overall, stability is very similar between HCoV-19 and SARS-CoV-1. We found that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel. HCoV-19 and SARS-CoV-1 exhibited similar half-lives in aerosols, with median estimates around 2.7 hours. Both viruses show relatively long viability on stainless steel and polypropylene compared to copper or cardboard: the median half-life estimate for HCoV-19 is around 13 hours on steel and around 16 hours on polypropylene. Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for multiple hours and on surfaces up to days.

But then I also read that viruses are not “alive”. They are just a bunch of chemicals, non-bacterial pathogens,  which, by unknown mechanisms, just happen to have

  1. long molecules of DNA or RNA that encode the structure of the proteins by which the virus acts;
  2. a protein coat, the capsid, which surrounds and protects the genetic material; and
  3. in some cases an outside envelope of lipids

Scientific American:

For about 100 years, the scientific community has repeatedly changed its collective mind over what viruses are. First seen as poisons, then as life-forms, then biological chemicals, viruses today are thought of as being in a gray area between living and nonliving: they cannot replicate on their own but can do so in truly living cells and can also affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly. The categorization of viruses as nonliving during much of the modern era of biological science has had an unintended consequence: it has led most researchers to ignore viruses in the study of evolution. Finally, however, scientists are beginning to appreciate viruses as fundamental players in the history of life. …..

What exactly defines “life?” A precise scientific definition of life is an elusive thing, but most observers would agree that life includes certain qualities in addition to an ability to replicate. For example, a living entity is in a state bounded by birth and death. Living organisms also are thought to require a degree of biochemical autonomy, carrying on the metabolic activities that produce the molecules and energy needed to sustain the organism. This level of autonomy is essential to most definitions.

Viruses, however, parasitize essentially all biomolecular aspects of life. That is, they depend on the host cell for the raw materials and energy necessary for nucleic acid synthesis, protein synthesis, processing and transport, and all other biochemical activities that allow the virus to multiply and spread. One might then conclude that even though these processes come under viral direction, viruses are simply nonliving parasites of living metabolic systems. But a spectrum may exist between what is certainly alive and what is not.

A rock is not alive. A metabolically active sack, devoid of genetic material and the potential for propagation, is also not alive. A bacterium, though, is alive. Although it is a single cell, it can generate energy and the molecules needed to sustain itself, and it can reproduce. But what about a seed? A seed might not be considered alive. Yet it has a potential for life, and it may be destroyed. In this regard, viruses resemble seeds more than they do live cells. They have a certain potential, which can be snuffed out, but they do not attain the more autonomous state of life. Another way to think about life is as an emergent property of a collection of certain nonliving things. Both life and consciousness are examples of emergent complex systems. They each require a critical level of complexity or interaction to achieve their respective states. A neuron by itself, or even in a network of nerves, is not conscious—whole brain complexity is needed. Yet even an intact human brain can be biologically alive but incapable of consciousness, or “brain-dead.” Similarly, neither cellular nor viral individual genes or proteins are by themselves alive. The enucleated cell is akin to the state of being braindead, in that it lacks a full critical complexity. A virus, too, fails to reach a critical complexity. So life itself is an emergent, complex state, but it is made from the same fundamental, physical building blocks that constitute a virus. Approached from this perspective, viruses, though not fully alive, may be thought of as being more than inert matter: they verge on life.

But how then do they die? Clearly there has to be a chemical change. Is it just a case of going from active to inactive as chemistry changes?

And that begs the question as to what that chemical change might be.


 

Are rights real in this age of entitlement?

March 11, 2020
  1. A right is an entitlement to a privilege.
  2. A privilege is an actual advantage available (whether granted by anybody or not) to a particular person or group. (By analogy, your right is your ownership of another’s debt, an entitlement is that the credit is in your account and a privilege results when it is encashed).
  3. Having an entitlement is no guarantee that the privilege will result.
  4. A grant of an impossible entitlement or an entitlement granted by an incompetent authority cannot be realized as a privilege.
  5. The universe is not in debt to any living creature.
  6. There are no entitlements which flow from the laws of nature as rights of any kind except the obligation to comply with the natural laws.
  7. No living thing is born with any entitlements.
  8. There is no entitlement even to life. Survival is a result, not an entitlement.
  9. The primal drivers for all living things are survival and self-interest.
  10. Humans are not born equal. Each human is born with a unique set of genes and has the potential and the constraints given by that set of genes (nature). All humans are born naked, with no resources, no debts, no liabilities and with only those privileges as may be granted, or liabilities that may be imposed, by the local, surrounding human society.
  11. Humans are not brought up equally. Every individual receives varying amounts and quality of support from the surrounding community (nurture).
  12. Human lives are not equal in value. The value of a human life to its surrounding society is neither static nor a constant. It varies across individuals, across societies and across the lifetime of the individual.
  13. An individual’s capability for behaviour lies within the envelope of what is allowed by an individual’s genes (nature), as enabled or constrained by upbringing (nurture).
  14. An individual’s actual actions are limited first by capability (nature and nurture) and then as motivated or constrained by individual cognition.
  15. Every individual is free to act within his capabilities and his desires but within the physical constraints that the surroundings (environment or society) may have applied.
  16. Human brains give us the ability to reason which, in turn, gives our assessments of self-interest. All human behaviour is governed first by perceived self-interest.
  17. Even apparently altruistic actions are only as a subset of perceived self-interest.
  18. An individual’s immediate, perceived self-interest can override any consideration of causing harm to others.
  19. Coercion, physically or by the application of threats (including by legislation), can change the perception of self-interest.
  20. All societies – from family groups and up to nations – grant their members various privileges conditional always upon their behaviour.
  21. “Acceptable behaviour” is a dynamic, local, value-judgement. It varies across individuals, families, societies and over time.
  22. All societies create legislation to try and coerce “acceptable” behaviour from their members by rewarding “good” behaviour and penalizing “bad” behaviour.
  23. In practice, protecting or rewarding the perpetrators of “bad” behaviour shields and perpetuates that behaviour.
  24. “Improvement” of individual behaviour means eliciting a greater compliance with a society’s standards of behaviour.
  25. Global declarations of entitlements can only be effected (encashed) locally.
  26. There is no global, timeless definition of what constitutes “acceptable” or “barbarous” behaviour which is shared by all 7 billion humans.
  27. No society attempts to, or has the competence to, guarantee that any of its members will not be victims of “unacceptable behaviour” received from others.
  28. Human rights are an imaginary social construct.
  29. All declared human rights are of universally applicable, irrevocable, unconditional entitlements to some privilege of received behaviour.
  30. Declared human rights are free of cost and require no reciprocal duties.
  31. A declaration of human rights in itself creates no social contract.
  32. All claims of human rights are claims against the behaviour received or not received from others.
  33. Human rights entitlements are theorized to apply only after birth and cease with death. (A living murderer retains rights but not so the victim).

 

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!


 

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”.


 

 


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