Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Creation Myths

December 7, 2018

Religions have no answer to the question and merely invoke God (or a god among a a pantheon of appropriate gods). Science has no answer either. No physicist or astrophysicist or cosmologist actually has the faintest idea about where energy and matter came from. The disingenuous claim that a smooth nothing suddenly and spontaneously produced clumps of matter and anti-matter (such that the total remained nothing) is just as far-fetched as any creation myth. Energy is handled similarly. The otherwise homogeneous universe is allowed to have clumps of “something” provided that they can be neutralised by equivalent amounts of “negative somethings”. The Big Bang is just a label for a Big Unknown.

Atheists, of course, don’t even try to answer the question. They are satisfied to say that the answer is unknown but they do know that it is not any kind of conception of God.

The other Big Question is : “How did life begin?”

Religions again have no answer and invoke God or gods. Science has no answer either and puts it down to random chemistry which became biochemistry and which, by accident, led to life.

Neither science nor religions nor philosophy have the faintest idea of what time is.

It’s all just Magic.



Boundaries of inexplicability

November 22, 2018

It is not difficult to imagine a time some 500,000 years ago when the first god was invented by one of our hominid ancestors. I have little doubt that the first god was the God of the Sun. It could be argued that a god of day and a god of night might have come first, but while the distinction between day and night was surely fundamental, the understanding that it is the Sun which causes night and day would have been evident even to most animals (as it is even now). The invention of a god requires an unanswerable question to be posed. Even a modicum of intelligence would find an explanation for day and night in the Sun. It is only when the question of why night would invariably follow day could be posed, that an inexplicable question arose. And the answer was found by invoking the Sun God.

Gods came long before religions. And every god that has ever been invented has been as an answer for an otherwise inexplicable question. Soon after the Sun God was invented came the inexplicable questions which created the need for a Moon God and a Rain God and a Wind God and a God of Thunder. Then came the gods of the seas and the rivers and the plains and the mountains and of earthquakes and of volcanoes. The gods were needed to explain all the easily and often observed, physical realities which surrounded our ancestors and controlled their survival but could not be predicted or explained. Gods were labels for magic. Somewhere along the way came the idea that the gods had discretion to act in a manner favourable or inimical to humans. And then came the giant leap of thought to the idea that human actions could induce the gods to intercede favourably. And so came the invention of prayer and of rain dances and of sacrifices and other ways of attracting first the attention, and then the intercession, of enormously powerful gods. It was then only a little step to praying for the intercession of the gods in matters inimical to enemies. Rationality plays no part, and can play no part, in invoking the irrational.

We need to distinguish between gods and religions. Whereas gods are a product of individual minds and are labels representing explanations for imponderable questions, religions are a societal construct for organising people. Irrational gods were invented by rational minds when faced with inexplicable questions. Religions merely organised these various irrational answers into structures of irrational belief for the “good of the society”. Religions provided lubrication for harnessing the actions of increasingly complex groupings of humans towards the pursuit of desired (sometimes perceived as common) goals. By definition, gods (and religions) operate – and can only operate – in the region of the inexplicable.

As knowledge has grown, some inexplicable questions have found rational explanations but new questions and new boundaries of inexplicability have always been found. In every field of thought humans came across – and continue to come across – boundaries of inexplicability. Knowledge has pushed back these boundaries, but every field of knowledge and thought is constrained within its boundaries of inexplicability. As the perimeter enclosing knowledge has expanded so has the length of the boundary of inexplicability and the volume of the unknown. In fact, every field of thought began  – and still begins – with an initial boundary of inexplicability; its initial fundamental assumptions. While the field of operation of the gods (the inexplicable) has receded, it has, paradoxically, grown in volume.

Gödel’s incompleteness theorems show that one cannot use the laws of arithmetic to prove the fundamental axioms that arithmetic is built upon. Hilbert’s attempts to try and show that all the branches of mathematics can be reduced to a single set of consistent (if unprovable) axioms have so far failed and some believe that Gödel’s theorems show that Hilbert’s program is unattainable. Our intuition suggests that no rational system of logic can be used to prove the very assumptions that the logic system is built upon. Equally the assumptions and rules of one system of logic cannot be used to prove the assumptions of a different system of logic. This applies as much to all branches of science as well as to mathematics and philosophy and to all rational thought. There is no branch of the sciences or mathematics or philosophy which can avoid – or will ever be able to avoid – the use of fundamental assumptions. Note that even assumptions which are taken to be self-evident are never proven and cannot be proved. They just are. When things are – without explanation and without being self-explanatory – they represent a boundary of inexplicability. The more we know, the more we know that we don’t know. Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability is sufficient to convince me that the Unknowable exists. The known, the unknown and the unknowable. What lies beyond a boundary of inexplicability may be unknown but knowable, or it may be unknowable.

The gods are irrational because they lie at or beyond the boundaries of inexplicability and all rational thought is bounded to lie within the bounds of inexplicability. No discipline of rational thought has the means with which to illuminate the regions beyond the boundaries of that system of rational thought. The process of science can push back the boundaries of inexplicability, but cannot illuminate the regions beyond. Science can push back the region where the gods operate but science cannot illuminate the operations of its own, or any other, irrational gods. The fundamental assumptions of all rational thought are invocations of “self-evident truths” which are no different to our ancestors invoking the Sun God as a self-evident truth. I dismiss atheism since it attacks the answers of others as being irrational, without ever addressing the questions. Atheism cannot cope with the unknowable.

The known and the unknown are realms that are self-apparent. Science is the process at the interface of these regions which leads to the growth of the region of the known. 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. A belief in gods lies in the unknown. A lack of belief in gods (which is atheism) is not in itself a commentary on that belief. A denial of the belief in gods cannot then be anything other than belief and cannot shift into the realm of knowledge. A denial of a belief – which by definition lies in the unknown – is to claim knowledge of an unknown thing which is self-contradictory.

The God of the Big Bang and the gods of magnetism and gravitation and the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force lie at the edge of current inexplicability. The Religion of Science is replacing the old religions as a social construct for the supposed “common good”. The new gods of science and political correctness have replaced the gods of the sun and the moon and the waves and the wind. Instead of irrational animal gods we have the irrational gods of biodiversity and sustainability. The weather gods have been replaced by the gods of climate in the man-made global warming religion. But they too will be replaced by new gods with new labels when new boundaries of inexplicability are drawn.


Why the false god of liberalism is failing

October 29, 2018

Brazil has turned sharply right.

There is now a global move away from the sanctimonious form of “liberalism” which has prevailed since the late 60s. After more than half a century of pursuing a mirage a correction is taking place.  In the Philippines and Brazil it is a “law and order” label. In the US it is in addition the “illegal immigration” issue. For EU countries such as Austria and Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic it is also the “sovereignty” battle. Brexit and the unholy alliance in Italy are further examples. While it is being manifested in different countries under different labels, the shift is actually about values.

Long before humans had speech, we had established the concepts of good and bad. It is not difficult to see how these fundamental values developed. Anything which helped survival was good and all that didn’t was bad. Every system of values starts here, with the distinction between good and bad. Every other value gets categorised into good and bad. With speech and language came the ability to describe the past and the future and more abstract concepts. But every concept carries with it a valuation of good and bad. Every individual has a fundamental and unique understanding of the difference between good and bad. It is part of his identity. What I consider good is what distinguishes me from others. Every collection of individuals develops a common understanding of the difference. An attack on an individual’s basic understanding of good and bad is an existential attack. It attacks his core identity.

The liberalism mirage is one where the most fundamental value of distinguishing between good and bad is ignored or has been forgotten. The most corrosive and corrupting notion of this liberalism has been the labeling of privileges as “human rights” and where such privileges are decoupled from behaviour. There is no “human right” which is not actually a privilege. It is inherent in the liberalism mirage that behaviour not be a qualifying factor for the privilege, yet there is no individual who does not moderate the privileges he grants to others based on their behaviour. Ther is no State or society which does not withhold privileges based on behaviour. To decouple privileges (rights) from behaviour tries to establish and legitimise a fantasy. The supposed “rights” to life and free speech and religion (which are all privileges) are severely curtailed everywhere. But it is perfectly logical and moral and correct that they be so restricted based on behaviour. It is the propagation of the fantasy that behaviour can be decoupled which is so corrosive. It is the fantasy that an individual’s core judgement of what is good and what is bad can be overridden by diktat which makes “liberalism” a mirage. There is now a reaction to the arrogance of the liberalism elite trying to force people to reverse their own judgements of good and bad.

This mirage is now becoming unsustainable in many parts of the world. That is not so surprising since it attacks the core identity of many people and of their notion of what is good and what is bad.


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

October 9, 2018

First you have nothing.

But let’s assume that a smooth and homogeneous “nothing” can spontaneously and inexplicably produce lumps of “something” provided it also produces equivalent amounts of “not-something”, where

something + not-something = nothing

On balance it would still be a global nothing but with local clumps of somethings and not-somethings.

This is a very handy subterfuge often used in science and mathematics. When looking for something unknown, zero can always be converted into the sum of something and not-something. So it is always possible to imagine what the something is, evoke it from zero and claim that the not-something exists but cannot be found.

0 = X + ~X

Anything can be derived from nothing provided its negative counter-part can also be tolerated (in absentia if necessary).

Nothing can be anything

We observe matter.

We haven’t a clue as to where this matter came from. So we devise the concept of matter and an equivalent amount of anti-matter at the origin of everything. But we cannot find this anti-matter in sufficient quantities to negate all the matter we observe. The global nothing is not preserved. That leads to the next subterfuge. It was all energy to begin with. Some of that energy converted itself into matter. That does not quite explain where that energy came from. Of course “nothing” might have decomposed into lumps of energy and of not-energy. The energy, it is then surmised, is that which is driving the expansion of the universe or the inflation of the universe or both. The lumps of not-energy are more elusive. Where that might be is not yet part of the next subterfuge.

It might be that matter has always existed, but in that case where did the energy moving that matter around come from? And why?

Where did all the antimatter go?

Scientists suspect that the Big Bang was a huge tear the fabric of space that ripped equal amounts of matter and antimatter into existence. But today, everything we see is made almost entirely of matter.

Physicists know that something must have happened to tip the balance in favor of matter during the formation of the universe. But the question remains, what was it? Antimatter particles are reflections of their matter counterparts. They are practically identical, except they have opposite electric charges. For instance, the antimatter twin of the negatively charged electron is the positively charged position. If an electron and positron were to meet and metaphorically ‘shake hands,’ they would annihilate each other into pure energy.

Scientists are left with this puzzle: If equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created in the Big Bang—and if matter and antimatter annihilate each other into a ball of pure energy on contact—then the universe should contain nothing but free, unorganized energy. But we exist, and therefore something must have happened to allow matter to survive and antimatter to all but disappear.

Scientists suspect that a tiny portion of matter—about one particle per billion—survived from the early universe to create all the planets, stars and galaxies we see today. And while matter and antimatter look almost identical, scientists discovered that the laws of nature do not apply to them equally.

Researchers found that some matter and antimatter particles can spontaneously transform into their matter and antimatter counterparts. They also found that matter and antimatter particles decay at slightly different rates. Scientists suspect that there is some hidden process influencing the behavior of matter and antimatter—a hidden process that could explain these puzzling observations. US scientists and our international collaborators study the subtle differences in the behavior of matter and antimatter particles at the LHC to paint a clearer picture of why our universe is matter-filled.

The bottom line is that modern physics hasn’t the faintest idea of where the matter and energy in the observable universe came from or why.

At least physics attempts to find answers. Religions brush aside the question and just assume a Creator where the question of where the Creator came from is disallowed.


The limits of science

September 25, 2018
  1. Reality is limited to what is detectable by human senses (and the instruments which extend our senses). What cannot be detected is assumed – but cannot be proven – not to exist. Science is limited to what is known to exist and what is unknown but assumed to be knowable. Science has no means to address what is unknown to be knowable.
  2. Time and causality. Science and its methods rely on causality which in turn relies on the existence of and the passage of time. But what time is and what actually passes, is unknown (being unknowable). Science cannot reach where causality does not exist.
  3. Boundary conditions. There is no branch of science (or philosophy) which does not rely on fundamental assumptions which are taken to be self-evident truths. But these assumptions cannot be proved and they cannot explain their own existence. Science and the methods of science cannot address anything outside their self-established boundary limits.
  4. Even the most fundamental and simple mathematics cannot prove its own axioms (Gödels Incompleteness Theorems). Science cannot address areas outside of the assumptions of mathematics.
  5. Value judgements are invisible to science. The appreciation of any art or music or even literature are not subject to logic or causality or any science. Even the beauty seen by some in mathematics or cosmology or biology is not amenable to scientific analysis. Moral or ethical judgements are beyond the capabilities of science.
  6. The existence of life is self-evident and inexplicable. It is a boundary condition where science has no explanation for why the boundary exists. To call the beginning of life a “random event” is a statement steeped in just as much ignorance as attributing it to a Creator.
  7. The boundaries of consciousness are neither known or understood. The perceptions of a consciousness of the surrounding universe define the universe. The perceptions form an impenetrable barrier beyond which science and the methods of science cannot reach.
  8. Fitch’s Knowability Paradox is sufficient to show the reality of the existence of the unknowable. Neither science nor philosophy or language or mathematics has the wherewithal to say anything about the unknowable. They have no light to shine in this area. An X-ray image cannot be seen in normal light.

Science is utterly dependent upon causality.

So is Determinism, where Determinism is the philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes. Determinism can never look beyond or resolve the First Cause problem. Of course determinism falls immediately at the hurdle of infinite knowledge being knowable but proponents would counter that “unknown” does not invalidate causality. The First Cause is then merely shunted into the unknown – but knowable. Determinism would claim, by causality and the laws of the universe, that all that was unknown could potentially be known. Equally every event of the past could be traced back through causal relations and be knowable. In fact, determinism which shuns the need for religions and gods, actually claims the existence of Omniscience. More than that, determinism requires that omniscience be possible. Determinism is absurd. “There is no God but Omniscience must be possible”. Reductio ad absurdum.

Causality, determinism and science are all prisoners of, and restricted to, the knowable.


Knowledge is not finite and some of it is unknowable

September 23, 2018

Knowledge is not finite

Knowledge and truth are intertwined. Take knowledge to be made up of truths and of the relationships between truths which are themselves truths. Of course all truths making up human knowledge are only perceived truths. Human knowledge can then only be made up of partial, as-perceived truths (whether or not absolute truths exist) and then can only be a sub-set of all knowledge. Human knowledge consists of justified true beliefs (JTBs).

In the tripartite analysis of knowledge, a justified true belief exists when

  1. a proposition p is true,
  2. an entity S believes p
  3. S is justified in believing p

Addressing now all of knowledge, is it finite or without limits? Is there a limit to all the truths that are, that were and that will be? All of knowledge must encompass all of space, all of time and all of anything beyond space and time. Some things are then self-evident.

  1. In an infinite universe, knowledge is infinite.
  2. If time had no beginning or has no end then knowledge is infinite.
  3. If the number of universes is infinite, knowledge is infinite.

For knowledge to be finite, we would need a finite universe which had no uncertainties at any level and even at the quantum level. The universe could not be open-ended in time. Even if time is an emergent property of something else, that something else could not be open-ended. There could be no duality between particles and waves. Observations would need to be independent of the observer. Moreover, we would also need to know – as a truth – that there were no further truths beyond the finite universe. Even if causality is merely emergent, a perception and unreal, knowledge would still be infinite. Relativity or quantum mechanics or even loop quantum gravity, all require that knowledge be unbounded.

Furthermore, a universe with only a finite number of fundamental particles could still generate an infinite number of truths.

A large but finite number of nodes (junctions) can generate an infinite number of nodes and an infinite network if

  • each node is connected to every other and
  • where a new node is created whenever a connection crosses another connection

In an infinite space, it would not be necessary for connections to cross – but that would then be an infinite universe.

Even with only a finite number of fundamental particles (or waves), the sum of all knowledge would need not only that every particle be known but also that every interaction between particles be known, and also every interaction between the interactions, and so on ad infinitum. (It is somewhat analagous to the human brain where memory is stored not only at every neuron but also in every pathway between neurons, and then in the pathways generated between pathways and so on). Even a finite universe can (and probably does) give an infinite number of truths.

That all of knowledge is finite seems extremely far-fetched if not absurd.

A brain is a repository of knowledge. Clearly human knowledge is just a tiny sub-set of all knowledge and human knowledge is – most likely – finite. The knowledge of humanity will then be the sum of the knowledge of all the humans around at any given time. But the knowledge of humanity will never encompass even the knowledge of all living things with brains, let alone of all things. It may be that a single human brain could itself generate an infinite network, but all our empirical evidence suggests that the human brain is not – and can never be – infinite in its capacity or its capability.

Of course, the human brain may evolve in time into something wondrous. But it will still not reach omniscience.

Not all of knowledge is knowable.

I am persuaded by Fitch’s Paradox that the unknowable exists and is real.

The paradox of knowability is a logical result suggesting that, necessarily, if all truths are knowable in principle then all truths are in fact known. The contrapositive of the result says, necessarily, if in fact there is an unknown truth, then there is a truth that couldn’t possibly be known. More specifically, if p is a truth that is never known then it is unknowable that p is a truth that is never known. The proof has been used to argue against versions of anti-realism committed to the thesis that all truths are knowable. For clearly there are unknown truths; individually and collectively we are non-omniscient. So, by the main result, it is false that all truths are knowable. 

In my world view knowledge comes in three parts.

  1. what is known,
  2. what is unknown but knowable, and
  3. what is unknowable

The unknowable exists and is real.

Most of the past is unknowable. Past events where the repercussions of that event into the present have dwindled into the “noise” from the past are no longer detectable – by any means – as events. Such events can never be traced back as having taken place. The time it takes for the consequences of an event to dwindle into the noise of undetectable nothingness can vary from the immediate past to billions of years. Once below the threshold of detection, that event joins the unknowable. Causality and all the laws of the universe are of no use when the consequences in the present cannot be distinguished and detected. When the data is undetectable, causality is either undefined or inapplicable. For example I cannot remember some events even from this morning. When did I have my second cup of coffee? (I can remember the first). That event – the second cup – has no detectable consequences remaining in my memory or anywhere in the universe. Even omniscience – if it could exist – will not be able to dig up the knowledge of when I had my second cup of coffee. It did happen but exactly when it happened will remain for ever unknown and is now unknowable. While the existence of Genghis Khan is part of knowledge, pretty much all of the events in his life are now unknowable. Certainly his genes have been passed down through the ages but the causal path to backtrack to the “procreational” events he was involved in are now utterly undetectable and unknowable. It is said that some 110 billion humans have lived since the dawn of Anatomically Modern Humans. Most of the events of their lives are unknowable.

Most of the past is now unknowable. Some few isolated major events still can provide evidence of consequences which can be detected in the present.

There is no branch of science or philosophy or language (including mathematics) which does not begin with assumptions taken to be truths but which are not provable. These in fact are boundary conditions of human knowledge. Beyond these boundaries we enter the realm of the unknowable. Science and the methods of science do not have the means to illuminate the unknowable.

Knowledge is infinite, human knowledge is finite and the unknowable exists.



Whether “denial of belief” or “lack of belief”, atheism is a non-ism

September 15, 2018

The conventional use of “atheism” is to describe a denial or a rejection of any belief in religions and gods and deities. To try and avoid the negative connotation of merely rejecting and denying the beliefs of others, some have redefined “atheism” to be the “lack of belief” in religions and gods and deities. As the American Atheists state

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

This replacement of “denial of belief” by “lack of belief” is  merely a cosmetic change. A lack of belief cannot define what there is a lack of belief about. To have a lack of belief in something specific requires that “something” to be defined. That “something” is always gods as variously defined by the beliefs of others. To have a lack of belief in the beliefs of others is no different then to a rejection or denial of those beliefs.

Atheism is entirely reactive. It is concerned with rejecting, denying and ridiculing the belief systems of others. It offers nothing itself in answer to the fundamental questions which led to the rise of religion and their gods in the first place. It is not difficult to attack and ridicule beliefs which – by definition – cannot be proved.  Many prominent atheists in recent times have been philosophers who have criticised religions (and their gods). These include such luminaries as Bertrand Russell and more recently, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. They follow a line of thinkers who go all the way back to when religions were invented. For example, atheist schools existed to counter the Vedic religions as far back as  2,500 – 3,000 years ago. But what is striking is that “atheists” could not exist until religions existed and they had something to attack. (And note that even chimpanzees “believe” in a Sun-god). To criticise religions and their gods is not wrong and I have no time for organised religions and their gods. But that criticism is of no substance unless followed up by addressing the questions which led to the very adoption of the beliefs being torn down.

Atheism is not in itself an “ism”. It is not a belief system or a philosophy or even a practice in itself. It has nothing to defend. It avoids attack because it has no beliefs to offer as answers to the fundamental questions of the beginning of time, the universe and everything. As an “ism” it is empty of substance. (I ignore the “agnostic” which is little more than a politically correct way of avoiding being labelled an “atheist”).

Richard Dawkins prefers distinguishing theist, agnostic and atheist positions along a spectrum of theistic probability—the likelihood that each assigns to the proposition “God exists”

It is only when you get to “determinism” – which incidentally includes a rejection of religions and gods – before the “ism” begins to gain some substance. “Determinism is the philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes”(But determinism and the limits of science is another story to be discussed elsewhere). To be an atheist provides no substance. You must be something else first.

The proposition that “God Exists” is logically meaningless until “God” is defined. This is the wrong proposition to be addressing. Most religions do not logically come to the conclusion that “God Exists”. They start with that as an assumption which – as with all such assumptions – is taken as self-evident but which cannot be proved. To ridicule this assumption is not difficult. Religions avoid the more fundamental questions by invoking their gods. But this is a method used also by physics and cosmology. The universe is assumed to be homogeneous. The four laws of nature operating in this homogeneous universe are invoked by physicists to avoid the question of why the laws exist in the first place. The Big Bang and Dark Matter and Dark Energy are invoked by cosmologists to avoid the question of why time exists and what time is and what the universe is.

The proposition which must be addressed first is “the unknowable exists”.


When the waves of determinism break against the rocks of the unknowable

August 21, 2018

It is physics versus philosophy.

Causal determinism states that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.

Determinism, unlike fatalism, does not require that future events be destined to occur no matter what the past and current events are. It only states that every future event that does occur, is an inevitable consequence of what has gone before and of the natural laws. However inevitability does not mean – and does not need to mean – predictability by the human mind. It should be noted though that the existence of a specific causality does not by itself imply a general determinism extending across all space and all time. A general and absolute determinism is also not a necessary condition for applying the scientific method though it could easily be taken to be so. The scientific method does require determinism but only to the extent that causality applies within the observable range of empirical observations. But it is also therefore unavoidable that the scientific method can only discover causal connections. The scientific method, in itself, rejects the existence of, and is therefore incapable of detecting, non-causal connections.

Most physicists would claim that determinism prevails. (Some of them may concede compatibilism but that is just a subterfuge to allow determinism to coexist with free will). Determinism claims that causality is supreme; that the laws of nature (whether or not they are known to the mind of man) prevail in the universe such that whatever is occurring is caused by, and is a consequence of, what came before. And whatever will happen in the future is caused by what has occurred before and what is occurring now. Absolute determinism allows of no free will. It can not. Clearly determinism allows of no gods or magic either. For determinism to apply it does not require that all knowledge is known or that the natural laws have all been discovered. It does however require that everything is knowable. If the unknowable exists then not everything can be determined. It also requires that all natural laws be self-explanatory in themselves. For the physicist, even the uncertainty at the quantum level does not invalidate determinism because this uncertainty, they say, is not random but is probabilistic. Even the weirdness brought about by quantum loop gravity theories do not, it is thought, invalidate the concept of determinism. Here the laws of nature and time and space themselves are emergent. They emerge from deeper, underlying “laws” and emerge as what we perceive as space and time and the 4 laws of nature. Where those underlying “laws” or rules or random excitations come from, or why, are, however, undefined and – more importantly – undefinable.

The concept that the universe is a zero-sum game, when taking the universe as a whole, does not take us any further. The concept postulates that the universe – taken globally – is a big nothing. Zero energy and zero charge globally but with locally “lumpy” conditions to set off the Big Bang. Some positive energies and some energy consumption such that the total is zero.  I find this unsatisfactory in that the concepts of the universe being homogeneous and isotropic are then a function of scale (space) and of time. Allowing for local lumpiness to exist but which averages to a globally smooth zero, seems far too contrived and convenient.

The problem caused by the acceptance of determinism, and of the consequent denial of the possibility of free will, is that all events are then inevitable and a natural consequence of what happened before. Choice becomes illusory. Behaviour is pre-ordained. In fact all thought and even consciousness itself must be an inevitable consequence of what went before. There can no longer be any moral responsibility attached to any behaviour or any actions (whether by humans or inanimate matter). It is argued that morality is irrelevant for physics. They are different domains. There is no equation for morality because it is not a law of nature. It is merely an emergent thing. Morality, for the physicist, just like consciousness and thought and behaviour, merely emerge from the laws of nature. This is not incorrect in itself, I think, but they are different domains because the laws of nature – as we know them – are incomplete in that they can neither explain themselves or morality.

For the physicist the natural laws apply everywhere and everywhen. Except, they admit, at or before (if there was a before) the Big Bang Singularity. They apply across the universe except that the universe cannot be defined. It is disingenuous to merely claim that the universe expands into nothingness and both creates and defines itself. The natural laws are said to apply across all of time except that time (not to be confused with the passage of time) is not defined. The nature of time is unknown and probably unknowable. What is it that passes? Quantum loop gravity enthusiasts would claim that time is merely a perception and that causality is an illusion. All events throughout space and time, they would say, occur/have occurred simultaneously. We merely connect certain events in our perceptions such that time and causality emerge. But this is no different than invoking magic. It seems to me that the gaping hole in the determinism charter is that there is no reason (known) for the natural laws to exist. Above all, the natural laws cannot explain themselves. I would claim that this lies in the unknowable. Determinism would have us accept that all biological and neural (and therefore cognitive) processes are merely events that are caused by antecedent events and natural law. Except that while natural laws are observed and experienced empirically, they cannot (and probably never will be able to) explain themselves.

And this is where determinism crashes. The four natural laws (gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force) that we treat as being fundamental are not self-explanatory. They just are. They do not within themselves explain why they must exist. Maybe there is a Theory of Everything capable of explaining itself and everything in the world. Or maybe there isn’t. The natural laws cannot explain why there are 4 fundamental laws and not 5 or 6, or why there are just 12 (or 57) fundamental particles, or why there is a particle/wave duality or why undetectable dark energy or dark matter exist (except as fudge factors).The natural laws, as we know them today, cannot explain why life began (or why life had to begin to satisfy determinism), cannot explain what consciousness is and cannot explain why thoughts and behaviour must be inevitable consequences of antecedent events.  As a practical matter we have no inkling as to which antecedent events cause which cognitive events and following which laws. It is very likely that this is theoretically impossible as well. Some of these explanations may well lie in the realm of the unknowable. I draw the analogy with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems:

The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of the natural numbers. For any such formal system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system.

The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

We cannot from within and as part of the universe demonstrate why the axioms used by physics must be. Empiricism gives us what we perceive to be the laws of nature. Empiricism also gives us our perceptions of consciousness and thought and free will. And these contradict one another. The resolution of the contradictions lives in the unknowable.

Empiricism can only go so far. It cannot reach the parts that empiricism cannot reach. Determinism cannot extend to places where the natural laws cannot or do not reach. If the unknowable exists then determinism cannot reach there. For the natural laws may not (or can not) apply there. It is not about whether we know all there is to be known about natural law. Determinism requires that some consistent and self-explanatory natural laws apply everywhere and at all times.

Absolute Determinism requires that Natural Laws be complete. That requires that natural laws be able to:

  1. explain their own existence, and
  2. explain all events (material and immaterial), and
  3. apply within and beyond our perception of the universe, and
  4. apply within and beyond our perception of time,

And the existence of such a set of Natural Laws is unknowable.




Language transcends its encoded signals

July 19, 2018

My phone “talks” to my desktop computer. It can also “speak” with other devices with which it is “paired” (portable speakers, my lawn mower and my house security system). Coupled devices send and receive short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the ISM band (Bluetooth) to communicate. They follow rules (a vocabulary and a grammar) which specify the “meaning” of the bursts of radio waves they send and detect. I cannot detect any of these signals with my senses. I am neither aware of the communication taking place nor can I enter the conversation except through a compatible device within my control and with which I can communicate using a system which is within the range of my sensory capabilities (touch, vision, sound).

Does the system of signals being used by the bluetooth devices for their communications constitute a language?

There is a vast discourse, starting from ancient times, on the definition and the purpose and the philosophy of language. The Encyclopedia Britannica puts it thus.

Many definitions of language have been proposed. Henry Sweet, an English phonetician and language scholar, stated: “Language is the expression of ideas by means of speech-sounds combined into words. Words are combined into sentences, this combination answering to that of ideas into thoughts.” The American linguists Bernard Bloch and George L. Trager formulated the following definition: “A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates.” Any succinct definition of language makes a number of presuppositions and begs a number of questions. The first, for example, puts excessive weight on “thought,” and the second uses “arbitrary” in a specialized, though legitimate, way.

I find that much of the discussion is homocentric and tends to equate language with speech and writing. This I think is incorrect. I have therefore come to my own characterisation of what constitutes a language:

I find it is not necessary to specify that language is confined to human brains. It is claimed that the difference between human and animal communication is that human language is unrestricted.

EB again – “Human beings are unrestricted in what they can communicate; no area of experience is accepted as necessarily incommunicable, though it may be necessary to adapt one’s language in order to cope with new discoveries or new modes of thought. Animal communication systems are by contrast very tightly circumscribed in what may be communicated”. 

But this is unsatisfactory. Human thought is not in fact unlimited. It is limited by the very finite capability of the human brain. What a brain cannot perceive it cannot think about. What it cannot think about, it cannot communicate. Furthermore, the system agreed-upon restricts the meanings that can be transmitted and received. (A communication in French is of limited value to someone who knows little French. It is the lowest common level of shared encoding in the system which sets the constraint).

I also find the debate on language and thought, and language and philosophy, to be very often circular. It may be simplistic but I observe that the logic we perceive to exist in the universe is the same logic we embed in all our languages (including mathematics). We cannot then use language to prove or disprove the logic that is within it.

As in Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems: “The first incompleteness theorem states that in any consistent formal system F within which a certain amount of arithmetic can be carried out, there are statements of the language of F which can neither be proved nor disproved in F. According to the second incompleteness theorem, such a formal system cannot prove that the system itself is consistent (assuming it is indeed consistent).”

Which I paraphrase to be that “in a language embedded with a logic, that language can neither prove or disprove the logic that lies within it”.

I observe that we have more thoughts and emotions and perceptions than we have language for. We perceive more colours than any language we invent can describe. Which convinces me that thought precedes language. Moreover, it is the logic we perceive around us that we then build into the languages we invent. It cannot be, I think, that language circumscribes thought. It is our thoughts generated by our perceptions of what is around us that circumscribes the languages we invent.

Our senses come into play first in determining the meanings we wish to communicate. They then determine the shared system of encoding meanings into signals capable of being generated and detected. Our perception of a tree (vision/brain) is encoded into a particular sound (“tree”) which is generated (vocal chords) and detected and decoded by somebody else (aural/brain) and understood – according to the shared system of encoding – to mean a tree. The choice of encoding system is arbitrary but is primarily a matter of convenience. We use vision, sound and touch as a matter of convenience. We do not use olfactory signals because we cannot – at will – generate as great a range of smells as of sound. Besides, vision and sound can transmit signals across much greater distances than smells can. Sound can be transmitted in the dark. We do not have the capability in our bodies of generating or detecting radio waves or X-rays or infra-red radiation as encoded signals of meaning except through the use of specialised, instruments manufactured for the purpose. But if we had the same organs as bats do, we could use ultrasound signals in our languages. Our senses enable a convenient encoding of meanings into signals. Equally the limitations of our senses restrict the range of signals that we can generate and/or detect.

So my bluetooth devices do communicate with each other but the range of meanings they can transmit or receive are heavily circumscribed. They have not the freedom to express meanings which have not been predefined. They cannot initiate a conversation but can follow an instruction to do so. They do not have language.

But what is clear is that while language is a shared. agreed-upon system for encoding meanings into signals for the purpose of communication, language transcends its signals. While human language is mainly manifested as speech and writing, we also use sign-language and Braille and songs and music and art and dance within our languages. Photography and video are now part of the encoding we use in our languages. If we had organs for radio transmission and reception, we would no doubt have a word for “tree” but it would be expressed as a burst of radio-waves rather than a pressure wave or an image of a tree. Language is the system of conveying meanings where speech and writing and hand-signals are just specific forms of encoding. Language is a system which transcends the encoded signals it uses.


Acquisition of belief

July 18, 2018

Does it matter how a belief is acquired?

Take belief to be a proposition that is acquired or adopted though it cannot be proved. “Not being proven” then means that a truth value cannot be assigned to a belief. A belief proposition needs a mind to reside in. Merely stating a proposition that cannot be proved does not make it a belief. If the mind does not take further actions on the basis of that belief proposition being true, then that proposition cannot be said to have been “adopted” as a belief.

All knowledge is first belief. All knowledge is built on belief. The most fundamental belief adopted by every living thing is, I think, that “Time exists”. From that proposition we move on to “causality exists” and thence to every field of knowledge or endeavor.

In epistemology, knowledge is sometimes defined as being “true beliefs” or “justified true beliefs” though using “truth” to qualify “belief” makes me uncomfortable.

The Analysis of Knowledge.

There are three components to the traditional (“tripartite”) analysis of knowledge. According to this analysis, justified, true belief is necessary and sufficient for knowledge. 

The Tripartite Analysis of Knowledge:
S knows that p if

  1. p is true;
  2. S believes that p;
  3. S is justified in believing that p.

The tripartite analysis of knowledge is often abbreviated as the “JTB” analysis, for “justified true belief”.

Even if a belief-proposition cannot be proven, any proposition can be justified to a greater or lesser extent. Justification takes the form of collateral “evidence” which impacts the perceived probability of the proposition being true. This probability could be said to be the validity of the belief-proposition. (But it should be remembered that the very use of probability is an admission of ignorance. What then is the probability that an improbable proposition turns out to be true?)

Is a “brainwashed belief” less valid than a “freely adopted” belief? Is an imposed belief (whether by indoctrination or by peer pressure or by political correctness) less valid than a belief which has resulted from deep study and much thought? Is a “freely adopted belief” reached without thought and only because “my friend says so”, any less valid than one reached after years of study?

At first glance it might seem so. We could rank beliefs by the level of coercion involved in the acquisition of that belief. Generally the greater the level of coercion, the less critical thinking involved in adopting a belief.

  1. Brainwashing
  2. Indoctrination as an adult
  3. Indoctrination a a child
  4. Peer pressure
  5. Political correctness
  6. Conventional wisdom
  7. Freely adopted but without thought
  8. Freely adopted after much study

The same belief may be held both by a brainwashed person and also by someone after long years of study. The same belief may be held by the indoctrinator and the indoctrinated, by the mad mullah and the gullible youth, by the parent and the unknowing child. It would seem that the method by which a belief comes to be adopted is independent of the belief itself. But this is not entirely so. The less a belief can be justified the greater will be the resistance for another mind to adopt that belief. The greater will be the coercion necessary. There is a likelihood, therefore, that the greater the coercion necessary to inculcate a belief, the less likely it is that the belief in question is justified.

After all that, my fuzzy conclusion is that a belief is not dependent upon the method of its adoption. However, a belief adopted after coercion is likely to be less valid than a belief adopted without coercion – but not always. And validity of a belief is merely a probability.

Or it could be as Calvin believes that having a belief can increase the validity of that belief – or is it just that appearing to adopt some other person’s belief is more likely to extract benefits from the other.


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