BEEP! BEEP! IT'S ME.

"Begin at the beginning,and go on till you come to the end: then stop." (Lewis Carroll, 1832-1896)

Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked."Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat."I don't know," Alice answered."Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

"So long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

"All right," said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone. "Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; "but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!"

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I am diagonally parked in a parallel universe. Like Arthur Dent from "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy", if you do not have a Babel Fish in your ear this blog will be completely unintelligible to you and will read something like this: "boggle, google, snoggle, slurp, slurp, dingleberry to the power of 10". Fortunately, those who have had the Babel Fish inserted in their ear, will understood this blog perfectly. If you are familiar with this technology, you will know that the Babel Fish lives on brainwave radiation. It excretes energy in the form of exactly the correct brainwaves needed by its host to understand what was just said; or in this case, what was read. The Babel Fish, thanks to scientific research, reverses the problem defined by its namesake in the Tower of Babel, where a deity was supposedly inspired to confuse the human race by making them unable to understand each other.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

"Let Me Not To The Marriage of Knowledge and Shakespeare's Sonnet 116"

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~*~

According to Plato, knowledge is a subset of that which is both true and believed. It is easy for people to discuss what they believe, but how do we ascertain that which is true? From my experiences with theists, they seem to imagine that believing something to be true, makes it true. Atheists are more likely to suggest that believing something to be true may have little impact on whether or not something actually is true. What does this mean for how we view the world and the potential knowledge within it? It may mean that for a theist knowledge is precisely that which they believe to be true. So, I would suggest that a theist believes that a god represents all knowledge known, or believed, and therefore what is true. Implicit in this is the belief that as they believe in god, that there is no knowledge outside what they believe they know about god.

Therefore knowledge which is inconstant, or inconsistent with that which is ascribed to the god, or to the god belief, is not considered knowledge. It is not considered knowledge because if the premise is that knowledge is only knowledge if it is expressed through a specific modality of god belief, then any information which is inconstant with the premise, cannot by definition, be considered knowledge. This theistic concept of what knowledge can be expressed like this: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments." That is, the supposed mind of god, which contains all knowledge (omniscience) and the theistic mind which has faith that an omniscient god exists, CANNOT countenance the idea that knowledge exists which is contrary to: -

  • 1. God exists
  • 2. God is omniscient and as
  • 3. God is omniscient, god defines what knowledge is.



To explore this thought further, this theistic concept could be expressed in this way. "Knowledge is not knowledge which alters when its alteration finds, nor bends with its remover to remove." Analogous to this is that if god is all knowledge, there is nothing outside of the word of god which can be considered to be knowledge. That is, if you believe that the concepts of love or knowledge can ONLY be explored and explained within the context of your god belief, you have hindered your ability to intellectually assess information with any degree of neutrality. This applies to all theists who have chosen a particular god to represent what they believe to be the embodiment of these concepts.




Book of Knowledge

Link

35 Comments:

Anonymous Gadfly said...

Beep:
Re - Analogous to this is that if god is all knowledge, there is nothing outside of the word of god which can be considered to be knowledge.

Depending on what you mean by "word of god" this is not true for Christians, I cannot speak for other religions.

Knowledge is the self-revelation of God in that He is the ground of all being. As such in comes in two forms - general and special revelation.

Special revelation is that which is communicated by God directly to man through various means and which is recorded in the Word of God (Scripture).

General revelation is that knowledge communicated by God through the created order and which is accessible by all men at all times. It consists of the order of the universe, the description of it, and through the right use of logic, the implications of it.

All true knowledge is knowledge of God since all reality is dependent upon Him but it is not true that all knowledge is confined to the Word of God contained in the Scriptures.

20/4/07 3:03 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

gadfly

RE: "Depending on what you mean by "word of god" this is not true for Christians, I cannot speak for other religions."

That's the tricky bit isn't it. I doubt that many theists would agree even within their own religions, as to what the word of god is, as the "word of god" seems to be open to personal interpretation and personal revelation. Frankly, I think that for many theists, "the word of god" is whatever they ascribe to be the "word of god."

Example:

"No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means." - George Bernard Shaw

20/4/07 10:43 am  
Anonymous remy said...

That is the phrase that struck me but I see it as simply the Word of the Book. A xian can't claim to know anything else.

This is why I have a grudging respect for some Fundies; at least they follow the Word.

However, I have never seen any of them follow it to the letter, so, I suppose I don't have any respect.

20/4/07 12:24 pm  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

remy:

I think they follow "the word" when it complies with their personal political, social or economic beliefs.

When someone politicizes their religious book, and tries to use it as justification for issues which they have a personal opinion about, the process remains the same.

The process involves cherry picking the bits they can use in an attempt to push their own political ideology.

20/4/07 2:30 pm  
Blogger L>T said...

That is, if you believe that the concepts of love or knowledge can ONLY be explored and explained within the context of your god belief, you have hindered your ability to intellectually assess information with any degree of neutrality.

Intellectual honesty is only possible to a certain point in the above atmosphere. Once you become aware of that, usually by becoming very frustrated with going around & around in circles, it's time to look at it from a different point of veiw. It's impossible to do that when you are in it.

20/4/07 3:56 pm  
Anonymous ted said...

Beep: The process involves cherry picking the bits they can use in an attempt to push their own political ideology.

The idea of selective theology extends well beyond the political sphere although, that seems to be where the most damage is done.

l>t: It's impossible to do that when you are in it.

Absolutely. An objective view is required and that's something you'll never find while you are in amongst it.

20/4/07 6:17 pm  
Blogger Blueberry said...

I think this discussion could include the concept of agnosticism, and defining that as the belief that it is not possible to know whether or not there is a God (defining God as an omniscient omnipotent creator critter out there) (OK, that's a pretty loose definition of the G-guy!! haha!!), and not possible for humans to be able to grasp and understand th entire meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

You can be a theist and an agnostic. That's a person who thinks that we can't really know for sure but chooses to believe -- keeping faith and rationality intact and in tandem. More than a little superstition involved there, but superstition is a human trait and not unusual to find. You can also (obviously) be both an agnostic and an atheist -- a person who thinks it's impossible to know for sure, and chooses nonbelief. I also think that there are agnostics who are neither theist nor atheist -- people who don't think you can know the correct answer and choose not to commit to a belief (or non-belief).

21/4/07 12:16 am  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Blueberry,

For what it's worth, I found the idea of a theist and agnostic to be interesting. Would that most religious folks were so measured in their beliefs! I think that much of the problem that most atheists have with religion is it's claim to special, absolute knowledge that is beyond human argument or reason. I know I'd have less of a problem with religion religious folks said "this is my belief, that I choose, knowing it could be wrong" than the more common assertion: "this is my faith, which is absolutely true, and beyond discussion".

21/4/07 6:07 am  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Special revelation is that which is communicated by God directly to man through various means and which is recorded in the Word of God (Scripture).

And then variously interpreted to the point that it is impossible to decide what the book actually means! Tho', of course, virtually all Christians will claim they do not interpret while asserting their interpretation is the right and true one -- even to the point of killing each other over it. Which is the reason why secular government started in the first place, to stop the religious nutjobs from murdering each other en masse.

For a perfect being, your god doesn't make himself very well understood.

21/4/07 6:09 am  
Blogger HistoryElephant said...

As Richard Dawkins pointed out, whilst theists may think that they are following the word of God, they are really just picking out the bits of scripture that suit their purposes and interpreting them in their own way and they have to, because their scriptures are rarely internally consistent, particularly when it comes to authorising extreme violence or benevolence,

21/4/07 8:37 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

ted:

Yes, if people pick and choose from a book and base their life upon it, it makes no difference to me personally. But when people pick and choose from a book and decide that I also need to be observant of their mental meanderings, that is where I consider they have overstepped their rights.

21/4/07 12:34 pm  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

elephant

I agree. I look at this way. The bible is more like a pop song than anything else. How you interpret a pop song depends on your experiences, your intelligence, your culture, your needs and your wants.

Bringing yourself to the bible, or to a pop song, means that it is "singing your tune" no matter what the words are.

21/4/07 12:42 pm  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

blueberry:

I agree. many atheists and agnostics do not have an absolute view about the exitence or non-existence of a god or gods. For me, I don't believe that gods exist except as human made concepts.

But, I am willing to be convinced that a god or god exists. This is a difficult task for a theist who has not recognized that god belief requires faith.

Faith is independent of evidence.

21/4/07 3:46 pm  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

LT:

RE:"It's impossible to do that when you are in it."

This is the case for all theists isn't it, no matter which god belief they consider to be true. They have drawn a box around themselves and see knowledge as that which exists wihtin that box.

I would be doing the same thing if I had absolute faith that all knowledge derived from 2-headed gila monsters from a parallel universe. No matter what anyone else said, I would be convinced that it was only through a "lizard mind meld" with these superior entities that I was able to invent new ways to tie my shoe-laces.

21/4/07 4:17 pm  
Blogger Goader said...

I find consciousness, as humans know it, to be the big bugaboo. The universe does not require consciousness to function perfectly well. If not a single conscious, intelligent being existed anywhere in the universe, it would not know the difference. The forces of the universe are oblivious to conscious intelligence. In fact, the actions of intelligent beings interfere with the natural processes of the universe.

Why did consciousness come into being? What purpose does consciousness serve?

22/4/07 10:48 am  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

goader:
RE: "Why did consciousness come into being? What purpose does consciousness serve?"

Firstly we do not know without a shadow of a doubt that humans and some other hominids are the only living things which are capable of consciousness. The evidence does suggest however, that consciousness as we know it, (from a human perspective), is not common in other living life.

Consciousness does seem to be necessary in order to plan, consider meaning, consider knowledge and to form abstract concepts.

I would suggest from these points that consciousness is a valuable survival tool.

22/4/07 12:15 pm  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Why did consciousness come into being? What purpose does consciousness serve?

In a strictly materialistic universe, the question of "what purpose does it serve" is meaningless. In a godless universe, it could very easily "just happen".

Which is one of the reason why people cling to religion so much -- they don't much like being the result of happenstance and want to feel an externally imposed "reason".

Still, I have a question, Gadfly. What PURPOSE would human intelligence serve to an omnipotent and omniscient being?

22/4/07 1:28 pm  
Anonymous Bella Boca said...

Why did consciousness come into being? What purpose does consciousness serve?

I'm glad you asked that, Goader. I've been pondering that for some time.

If I understand quantum physics correctly, everything that exists is made of energy. Matter is simply energy that has a very low frequency; kind of like e=mc2 in reverse.

What if energy is conscious?

Theists say that God has no beginning and no end. Isn't that the same as saying that God is outside the space-time continuum? Wouldn't that put God on the same footing as pure energy, (assuming there is such a thing, not sure on that)?

If everything that exists is energy and energy were consious...

Just wondering.

22/4/07 3:10 pm  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Theists say that God has no beginning and no end. Isn't that the same as saying that God is outside the space-time continuum? Wouldn't that put God on the same footing as pure energy, (assuming there is such a thing, not sure on that)?

For what it's worth, I'm fairly up-to-date on that.

Energy is not outside the universe, it actually the thing that designates the outer measure of the universe. (Whether or not there is energy outside the universe in a different continuum is an open question but unless that other continuum's life cone intersects with OUR life cone, we'll never know because energy created at the Big Bang so far determines the outer theoretical reaches of our perception.)

There are some people who have theorized that the universe, itself, is somehow sentient. Terms like "quantum foam" tend to get used a lot. However, it is currently impossible to determine this as the universe hasn't flatly contacted us and we don't have even the theoretical constructs necessary to test that kind of hypothesis. As science goes, it's not. It's wild speculation. But even scientists like to do wild speculation from time to time, and certainly today's wild speculation could certainly be tomorrow's testable hypothesis. (At one time, things like oxygen, continental drift and splitting the atom were simply wild speculation, after all.)

22/4/07 3:18 pm  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

bella

My understanding is that the concept that the universe is conscious is the position of pantheism. This position requires faith as much as any other theistic position does.

22/4/07 6:21 pm  
Blogger Goader said...

The problem with energy equals consciousness is that the universe functioned for billions of years without conscious humans. I agree that consciousness is not exclusive to humans. I believe other beings, on other planets, quite possibly exist and that they are conscious and intelligent. I do not see definitive evidence that energy per se is conscious. Of course, energy is required for consciousness, so there is a certain fundamental relationship.

Consciousness is an essential requirement for empathy, compassion, and conscience. Additionally, creativity, planning, and executive function are the purview of consciousness. Other animals, which use lots of energy, do not experience these higher cerebral characteristics. I do not believe other animals experience consciousness as humans do. I believe other animals experience sub-consciousness, which is fully capable of sustaining life.

Consciousness seems related to the arrangement, compactness, and density of neurons in the central nervous system. A critical mass threshold appears to exist, so that when reached consciousness occurs.

22/4/07 9:20 pm  
Anonymous Bella Boca said...

I've observed that humans tend to fall into two camps; either we are missionaries for some idea, or drug pushers for some panacea. I'll try not to fall into either, because I'm trying to hold my head open to possibilities, and right now my mental fingers are holding onto the ends of alot of different threads. I am not married to any of the possibilities I posit, but to be honest, I've been poking and prodding at this one for a while and it's holding up decently.

"Energy is not outside the universe, it actually the thing that designates the outer measure of the universe."

Have I not read that sub atomic particles, as a matter of course, 'wink' in and out of existence frequently? That they can exist in more than one place at a time? Are they then subject to space and time as we appear to be? Don't quantum physicists say that sub atomic particles don't actually exist, but only 'tend to exist'?

Is there anything that exists that is not made of energy? I am happy to agree that energy forms the boundary, but I thought I heard that it formed all the stuff inside that boundary too, and not just matter, but thoughts, emotions, and intentions as well.

Quantum foam; I hadn't heard that. I find it as difficult to believe that the universe is a single sentient being. If that were so I might as well call it god and go sit with M. Descarte. Nor do I think that each little quanta or packet or gob of energy has a consciousness with a personality, as we do. I hope that we are not defining 'consciousness' in a chauvanistic way, as though the only form of consciousness that counts is one like our own.

I read once that twinned protons, if fired through a magnetic field, will upon exit go in opposite directions; up and down, left and right, etc. If, however, you fire twinned protons in opposite directions so that only proton A goes through the magnetic field, proton B will instantly (as in faster that the speed of light) do the opposite, no matter how far away from each other they have become. It's been a few years since I heard of this experiment; have they figured out yet how proton B knows which way to go?

23/4/07 12:05 am  
Anonymous Bella Boca said...

"My understanding is that the concept that the universe is conscious is the position of pantheism. This position requires faith as much as any other theistic position does."

Yes, I have been to beliefnet.com and taken the "Belief-O-Meter" test. It says that I am a neo-pagan, which I am enjoying pointing out to my more conventional friends. I do it tongue-in-cheek, though, because I can't truly be anything as fun as a neo-pagan if I don't truly believe something. I have played fast and loose with the word belief, (I believe). To me, saying I 'believe' something simply means that I am holding a pretty idea in my head, and that I am poking at it, looking for holes. While this pretty idea floats there, I continue to gather intelligence, and compare new data to old, and re-evaluate my pretty idea in light of it all. I have to admit, this one has been floating here for some time, and I am becoming fond of it's tenacity and elegance. This is the closest I have come to a 'religon' in many years. However, it can't be a religion because scienctific inquiry could blow it apart in a moment, and I will develop a shiny new idea to poke at.

23/4/07 12:24 am  
Blogger Krystalline Apostate said...

bella:
I read once that twinned protons, if fired through a magnetic field, will upon exit go in opposite directions; up and down, left and right, etc.
That's the theory of non-locality.
As far as I know, proton A will always spin in the opposite direction of proton B. I don't know if they've mapped the forces yet.

23/4/07 1:05 am  
Anonymous Bella Boca said...

"The problem with energy equals consciousness is that the universe functioned for billions of years without conscious humans. I agree that consciousness is not exclusive to humans. I believe other beings, on other planets, quite possibly exist and that they are conscious and intelligent. I do not see definitive evidence that energy per se is conscious. Of course, energy is required for consciousness, so there is a certain fundamental relationship."

I think I am not expressing myself well. Please be patient.

It is natural to for humans to think in terms of 'time' being a given. We say "First the universe came into being, via the big bang, then some time later came everything else including consciousness". But energy is not bound by time, and everything that exists is made from energy that has either slowed or been made to slow down til it became matter, which IS bound by time. If energy has a form of consciousness, that consciousness would exist outside the boundaries and laws of time as well. In that case,to ask "when did consciousness arise" is nonsensical, not in the sense of silliness, but in the sense of being unnecessary.

If, when energy is not bound to matter, then it is not bound to space and time. If it is outside those bounds, then it had no beginning or end, because those words have no meaning outside the material world. The material world does have a beginning, is bound by space and time, and within that context one may ask, when did consiousness insert itself, and for what purpose, if any?

You're right, Chris; to even think about energy having a form of consciousness is pure speculation. But, right you are again, speculation is the freaky, shaky, terrifying ground on which scientific advancement stands. And speculation is the best playground I've ever known, and I'll come down off the monkey bars when you pry them out of my cold dead hands.;)

23/4/07 1:18 am  
Anonymous Bella Boca said...

I'm sorry; I keep fisking bit of your comments without accompanying attribution. I don't like it when others do it so I have no excuse. Won't happen again.

23/4/07 1:21 am  
Blogger Krystalline Apostate said...

bella:
But energy is not bound by time, and everything that exists is made from energy that has either slowed or been made to slow down til it became matter, which IS bound by time.
Wait, hold on a minute: have you heard of thermodynamics?
Einsteinian relativity maintains that space & time are interlocked.
The 2nd law of thermodynamics stipulates that everything tends towards disorder/entropy.
Matter is composed of energy. Energy (& matter) occupy space, ergo, all energy (& matter) by the transitive value, is bound by time.
There is simply NOTHING that isn't shackled by the chains of time.

23/4/07 6:15 am  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Bella,

I'm gonna do that thing where I break up your post into a lot of quotes. I don't like doing it, but a lot of the things you discussed are complex and not particularly related, and I don't want anyone to lose track. ;)

Have I not read that sub atomic particles, as a matter of course, 'wink' in and out of existence frequently? That they can exist in more than one place at a time? Are they then subject to space and time as we appear to be? Don't quantum physicists say that sub atomic particles don't actually exist, but only 'tend to exist'?

It's actually a lot more complex than that.

First, particles that wink in and out of existence, virtual particles, and are actually entirely mathematical constructs that have entered theory -- it is unknown if they actually exist, or are merely a type of number used to solve perturbation method mathematics. They might not exist, save as a mathematical abstraction. Also, perturbation theory is itself controversial because one of the key elements of it is it approximates answers for otherwise catastrophically unsoluable problems. Which isn't a strong proof that a physical entity theorized by perturbation theory actually exists. Virtual particles might well just be a mathematical shortcut.

Second, particles that exist in more than one place at a time. Uh, this is just bizarre to most people. Quanta does not exist in multiple places at the same time, but has the potential to exist in an indefinite number of places at a given time, until it is observed (and the observer does not need to be sentient, BTW), at which point the history of the quanta is settled into a single reality in wave-form collapse. If that didn't make sense, you're not the only one.

The exact extent that quanta -- bits of energy -- are subject to the same laws of time and space is high controversial. The biggest problems with a grand unified theory arise out of quantum space and time. So . . . the answer to that is, "No one knows."

Sub-atomic particles definitely exist. They have pictures of them. ;) Many of them have statistical qualities -- like such and such a percentage of quarks are "up" flavor -- but it is incontestable that they exist.

Is there anything that exists that is not made of energy?

Define "exist"? I don't mean this superficially, but if you count categories such as time and distance as "things", then, yes, "things" exist that are no "made" of energy, but are made from the relation of energy to each other. However, "things" as commonly understood, yeah, are all energy.

I am happy to agree that energy forms the boundary, but I thought I heard that it formed all the stuff inside that boundary too, and not just matter, but thoughts, emotions, and intentions as well.

Physically, yeah, energy forms both the boundaries of the universe and everything in it. Metaphysically -- which is I field I approach with feeling ranging from hesitation to outright laughter -- some people will say that parts of the universe are non-physical (souls and the like). I don't believe that, but a lot of people do.

I find it as difficult to believe that the universe is a single sentient being. If that were so I might as well call it god and go sit with M. Descarte. Nor do I think that each little quanta or packet or gob of energy has a consciousness with a personality, as we do.

I tend to agree. However, the universe is a very complex place and who knows what's "really" going on with much of it. However, even if the universe was sentient it might not be very godlike. It might be pretty dumb, for instance, or unaware of our existence (just as we are generally unaware of the cells that make up our body). A sentient universe would not be a god, at least not as I understand the term, just on the basis of its sentience. I find it quite easy to believe that there are beings in the universe to whom I'm stupid and weak -- but superhuman intelligence and power does not equate to godhood, IMO.

I read once that twinned protons, if fired through a magnetic field, will upon exit go in opposite directions; up and down, left and right, etc. If, however, you fire twinned protons in opposite directions so that only proton A goes through the magnetic field, proton B will instantly (as in faster that the speed of light) do the opposite, no matter how far away from each other they have become. It's been a few years since I heard of this experiment; have they figured out yet how proton B knows which way to go?

Yeah. Quantum teleportation. Remember when I said that physicists don't really get how quanta play with time and space? Meant it. We don't know what's going on with that -- we have absolutely no theoretical construct to explain it with any accuracy. How quanta behave in time and space is a mystery, right now.

23/4/07 7:48 am  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

KA,

Well, we don't know if there are things unshackled by time. As I said to Bella, some of the stuff that happens at the quantum level is just bizarre as far as time and space go. The distinctions between relativistic time-space and quantum time-space are vast and currently intractable.

Also, the second law of thermodynamics might just be wrong, because if there is a dark energy, we are either getting something for nothing or there's a finite source for all that dark energy -- and we ain't see proof of a source for it. It just keeps coming and coming, at greater and greater amounts.

23/4/07 7:52 am  
Blogger Krystalline Apostate said...

Chris:
Well, we don't know if there are things unshackled by time.
Well, until we have evidence that says otherwise, it's a logical conclusion.
As I said to Bella, some of the stuff that happens at the quantum level is just bizarre as far as time and space go. The distinctions between relativistic time-space and quantum time-space are vast and currently intractable.
Most of it is an eye-crosser. Counter-intuitive.
Also, the second law of thermodynamics might just be wrong, because if there is a dark energy, we are either getting something for nothing or there's a finite source for all that dark energy -- and we ain't see proof of a source for it. It just keeps coming and coming, at greater and greater amounts.
Well, most of that is strong speculation (qualifying word is strong) - but I suppose no law is immutable.
The 2nd law wrong? Whatever will the Fundies do? There goes bundles of anti-evolution propaganda right down the crapper.
Makes me kinda hope the 2nd law IS wrong, just to watch the poor little dears flop about like landed trout.

23/4/07 9:24 am  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Well, until we have evidence that says otherwise, it's a logical conclusion.

Apparently not to quantum physicists. They do believe that things travel backwards in time, jump around, all sorts of weird stuff like that. And super-luminal speeds via quantum tunneling have been observed a lot (and, if my wife is to believed, quantum tunneling is necessary for life on earth, because otherwise the sun couldn't fuse to the temperatures it does). It's important to Adrienne's work because, uh, man, I have trouble even talking about what she's doing, hehe. Her research is about how double-diffusive convection is eroding Jupiter's core and quantum tunneling is part of that. Or might be. They don't know, which is why she's doing the research, in part.

And a lot of it is counter-intuitive. It's just downright strange, even to the people who study it.

My wife has also worked directly with dark energy -- doing a computer simulation of galatic super-cluster expansion including dark energy -- and she agrees either the 2nd law of thermodynamics is wrong on cosmic scales (which doesn't mean it won't apply locally, I should have added -- scale seems to do weird things to physics that we can't figure out, yet), that there is an energy source adding all that dark energy that we can't see, yet, and does conserve energy, or we're wrong about something else. Still, tentatively, it appears that the 2nd law of thermodynamics, if not "wrong", is not as universal in its applications as we think.

The 2nd law of thermodynamics has always been controversial, too, because it can't answer where all the energy in the universe came from in the first place. If the universe gives out free energy, that'd go a long ways towards describing where stuff came from. ;)

23/4/07 10:19 am  
Anonymous Bella Boca said...

Chris, I don't think I need to mention that I have no degree in any kind of science. What little I know is learned from books over many years of insatiable curiosity, and the inability to stop asking 'why'. I didn't even know such a thing as quantum physics existed til I was in my forties and realized I had missed all the fun. Or I thought I had; sounds like Adrienne is still having fun, with lots more in store. I'm so envious I could spit.

From my admittedly distant perspective, the advent of quantum and relativistic physics appears to be having an effect on the realm of philosophy.
I'm reading Fritjof Capra's "The Tao of Physics" right now, and though I had understood that there were parallels being drawn by many between Eastern mysticism and quantum theory, how am I to know if Capra isn't totally full of shit? Last year I read 'The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality' by Brian Greene. Greene's book does touch on some theories that are pretty wild to someone who was only taught newtonian physics; parallel universes and the like. He says only that they are not the most popular theories, he doesn't say their proponents are whackjobs.

My question (finally) is this; how open minded are physicists to all these wild theories? Is there a sense now that almost anything is possible, and a willingness to investigate things that were once too weird to consider? Or are new ideas as difficult to be heard as ever? If a physicist wonders out loud about, for example, the possibility that energy itself is self-aware if not sentient, would he be hooted out of the building?

I ask because I've come to think of science as the savior of mankind. But scientists are as human as priests, and capable of being just as jealous of their pet theories and viewpoints.

One thing; I'll have to go searching for it, but I was certain I read somewhere that there are at least two scientific facilities in the world where they have one particle (can't remember what kind) which appears to be two particles but isn't; it's one particle in two places. I have to stop reading more than one book at a time, it really screws with your ability to source things from memory.

23/4/07 2:25 pm  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Bella,

For what it's worth, I'm not a scientist, either. I am a novelist. ;) My education is in philosophy and history of science. My wife, on the other hand, is a mathematical physicist -- she is a mathematician who applies a greater mathematical power to physics questions than most physicists are knowledgeable about. It's a very multi-disciplinary field, but she's not specifically a quantum physicist, and I'm not a scientist, either. So, my understanding of this comes from reading philosophy of science material and talking to my wife and her colleges about their work.

My question (finally) is this; how open minded are physicists to all these wild theories? Is there a sense now that almost anything is possible, and a willingness to investigate things that were once too weird to consider? Or are new ideas as difficult to be heard as ever?

It's a very good question, and it doesn't have a simple answer. The next is my feeling and observation on the subject, and it's a mixture of Hempel, Popper, Kuhn, and some other guys. Some of it is actually original.

Most scientists, most of the time, don't challenge the system. Most of them test the system, refine it, and push it to it's limits.

While they are doing that, they entertain -- seriously entertain -- ideas that are related to the accepted theoretical systems they work with. So, f'rex, an evolutionary biologist might start looking for evidence of amino acids in asteriods or in nebulae, thinking that it is possible that amino acids might be generated in space, but without challenging the theory of evolution one iota (I say this because it appears that amino acids were, in fact, generated in nebulae, in every nebulae, in fact, so the odds are the origins of life on earth were during our sun's formation as a nebula).

Mostly, however, they keep fairly tightly to the accepted theories.

Or they do until they run into an insoluble or intractable problem. When they do that, they first try to ignore it, but over time if the problem persists, and particularly if it starts getting in the way in other areas, other lines of research stall because of this unanswered question, scientists start to get a little squirelly. They start to entertain increasingly bizarre hypotheses and theories in an attempt to resolve the intractable problem. Things that were given scant attention are given more, things considered hitherto too unlikely or bizarre to consider are considered.

Now, with physics, they're sort of in that state all the time, right now. There are a huge number of intractable problems in physics. Did you know we don't really know what electricity is? There is also no way known to resolve the differences between a large number of quantum and relativistic effects, such as time and gravity. We can't figure out stuff like turbulent motion of liquids!

All of physics is, functionally, in a state of permanent change and crisis. And, as such, right now, theoretical physicist are entertaining just about any notion they can think of that has any possibility of resolving the unsolved problems of physics -- which are many.

So, right now, physicists, in particular, are entertaining all sorts of bizareness because about the most fundamental issues of their discipline they're in the dark.

I should note that this is true for a LOT of sciences. Psychology can't answer the question of what a mind really is, neither can neurology. In environmental sciences, the interaction between parts of the system are quite intractable.

(Ironically, one of the LEAST troubled sciences is evolution. In evolution, they know all the mechanisms of change and how they work. It is ironic to me that the field that is most attacked is one of the stablest of sciences.)

My feeling is that many sciences will be in a permanent state of flux, that the theoretical unity of Einstein or Newton is a thing of the past. So scientists will be, pretty much from this point out, proposing a lot of very weird things.

Most of them still won't be taken too seriously. So, while some physicists might opinion that quantum foam gives rise to a universal consciousness, not a lot of money is being spent on this idea because there it offers no solution to any of the intractable problems of physics, and can't be tested on it's own, and has no observational support.

The more a particular theory or hypothesis seems fruitful for solving intractable problems, the extent to which it can be tested and the amount of observational support it has are the three main criteria that scientist use to decide whether to take something "seriously". At least from a strictly scientific point of view.

I should also point out that most physics in America is command physics. The government decides what scientists will study. So, I guess I should add a fourth, and this one rates above all the others: scientists take seriously what the people who fund them take seriously, no matter how whacky it might be. I point out that the people who make policy decisions for funding often do so for political reasons. (In particular, the reason why quantum physics is more deeply funded than any other kind of physics is because it is useful for weapons and electronics. Who knows what technology would look like if relativity was so funded? Not I.)

However, at the end of the day, the ideas that are accepted are accepted because they have great descriptive and predictive power. So, the really whacky ideas are filtered out . . . unless they're true (in the sense of having great descriptive and predictive power). Which is why so much of physics is so weird -- weird ideas are offering the most descriptive and predictive power.

So, how many of these weird ideas do they take seriously? The ones that government funding agencies are interested in, the ones that are useful for solving problems, the ones that can be experimented on, and the ones that have observational evidence. And they are kept only if they have more descriptive and predictive power than what is already there.

I ask because I've come to think of science as the savior of mankind.

I would hesitate to do this. I think that people are the saviors of humanity, and while I think we have much to learn from science, I think that it is true that science has much to learn from other disciplines (and has, I should add). While I am generally very pro-science, I also regard science, itself, as being racist, classist and sexist, as well as inherently militaristic due to the realities of funding. Science, itself, needs some big changes.

23/4/07 4:52 pm  
Anonymous Bella Boca said...

Chris said;
"I think that people are the saviors of humanity, and while I think we have much to learn from science, I think that it is true that science has much to learn from other disciplines (and has, I should add). While I am generally very pro-science, I also regard science, itself, as being racist, classist and sexist, as well as inherently militaristic due to the realities of funding. Science, itself, needs some big changes."

You're right about people being the saviors of people, but it's people we need to be saved from, mostly. Any human institution, from religions to universities to governments, are as dangerous as the humans who established them. For every Ghandi, we have a Fred Phellps, for every Leibniz an L.Ron Hubbard.

Maybe the word savior is wrong, and exhibits my erroneous mindset.

In terms of evolution, the traits of compassion, tolerance, cooperation and forgiveness are shown to be conducive to continued existence for the group, if not always the individual organism. In complexity theory, systems move between periods of chaos and periods of stability, with the chaotic periods being the time when entrenched things like ideas can be decomposed, to recompose in new patterns. Some of these patterns will be stable, and useful to the continued existence of the system and others won't.

Maybe humanity is experiencing a foray into the chaos, not only in the area of science, but in the whole realm of knowledge, and the gathering of what we call wisdom. When you stir up the bottom of an aquarium, the water is cloudy for a while while the filter does it's work, and eventually comes clean again. A fish living in that cloud of schmutz, especially if he had experienced the original trauma of the stirring, might be excused for grasping at explanations for why his world seemed suddenly to make no sense.I wonder what kind of world will be revealed when the water in our aquarium clears.

24/4/07 1:11 am  
Blogger Chris Bradley said...

Bella,

Well, I think we'd be pretty hard pressed to actually demonstrate things are worse off, today, than even 20 years ago. I also get frustrated and depressed about many of the political and economic decisions made, specifically by America and Americans, but in a lot of places and in a lot of ways, people are better off today than they were even a reasonably short while ago. And, certainly, the general trend has been towards greater freedom and security the world over.

24/4/07 4:38 am  

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