Posts Tagged ‘boundaries of inexplicability’

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.


 

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