Paradigm shifts: Consequences part deux (science as an aesthetic pursuit)

At least another post is warranted concerning paradigm shifts. As originally discussed here, a science and scientific progress follows phases. There is the adoption of a paradigm/theory, the period that follows is one of normal science in which experiments are done based on the predictions of that paradigm/theory, over time anomalies accumulate until the currently held paradigm/theory comes under scrutiny in terms of its validity and truth value. At this point a period of crisis emerges, followed necessarily by a period of revolution.

The revolution is when, at the time, the currently held paradigm/scientific theory is ready to be abandoned. The scientific community reaches a tipping point where faith in that theory, that model, that paradigm for how the universe is, how nature is, how the world is, is no longer acceptable. The paradigm/theory can only be replaced with a new paradigm/theory. The scientific community, at this point, will, much like a political revolution, involve in discussion/debate as to what the future paradigm/theory to be adopted should be. It is at this point that we are concerned in this post.

Like any other human endeavor that involves consensus of opinion among a large number of people, this process is highly social and political in nature.

Imagine the context. The scientific community no longer holds such and such a theory to be acceptable any longer. A new theory must replace it. Naturally, there will be some scientists with a specific opinion on what the new replacement theory should embody and entail, and there will be others with a differing view. Each will have their own reasons, their own motivations. This happens continuously, for each paradigm shift. In some instances the number of competing theories may be quite varied, in other instances, perhaps that is not the case at all and one prevailing theory is obvious for all.

In any case, when there are competing possible theories to replace an existing theory, an existing paradigm, an existing world view, what are the factors that influence the final decision regarding the adoption of one theory over all the others?

It would be nice to assume that the scientific theory chosen will be ‘obvious’, and stand out as ‘the objective truth’. This is wishful thinking. If it was the case, why didn’t it stand out before? People differ in their interpretations of data. But that is not else. The choice of what paradigm to move into, to accept, of what scientific theory to adopt moving into the future of scientific progress, can never be based purely on scientific data. It can’t be. Because the data, up until that point, is always framed within the old (currently held) paradigm/scientific theory/world view. No two paradigms/world views are meaningfully comparable. They are incommensurable. When Einstein said gravity isn’t a force acting on bodies that are separated over space, rather gravity is what we call the curvature of space due to the mass of a body, neither can be said to be right or wrong relative to the other. They cannot be compared meaningfully.

Something else happens when scientific theories are adopted and used to replace older existing scientific theories. It is important to make clear that it is never purely the data that can be used as the criteria to choose one theory over another. There is always an appeal to aesthetics and faith. This is CRUCIAL, and cannot be understated. Aesthetics, in the sense that the new theory must be pleasing, it must account for certain logical relations, yes, but it generally should be simple (Occam’s razor: the simplest explanation is the most likely) and not unnecessarily complicated. For what reason are we to impose this guiding principle on our decisions of scientific theories, of how the universe is? Since this guiding principle of science is one that addresses empirical investigations, we have the right to ask what empirical data do we have that would support the belief that nature is always as simple as possible? Do we even have a single piece of data to support that? Is it not the case that every time we make a simple theory, the simplest one possible, that we have to end up modifying it and adding more and more things? We started with the atom, that was simple, and things just got more and more complex (protons, neutrons, electrons; then they were made up of quarks, and those might be made up of non-dimensional strings that vibrate…). When are our theories ever ACTUALLY the simplest possible?

Yet we invoke this aesthetic guiding principle at every turn along our scientific pursuit. Quite literally, our scientific progress and theories are formulated with aesthetics in mind.

The adoption of the new scientific theory/paradigm is also based on faith. The replacement is chosen as the scientific community has faith, has belief, that it will be successful in explaining future phenomena, and predicting future phenomena as well.

Faith and aesthetics. Does that sound like your concept of what science is?

Besides these two underlying influences, the actual process of zeroing in on a new scientific theory/paradigm to replace an old one that is no longer viable is also a political and social process. Much like any process where a group of diverse and differing people have to come to an agreement, opinions will be stated. Some members of the scientific community will be louder than others, some opinions will have perceived merit over others, some distinguished and highly regarded scientists will have opinions, and those of less regard will have theirs. Just like any political process, any social process, all these factors will invariably have an effect. When Richard Dawkins speaks, his followers take his word as gospel. If his view is incompatible with that of a less highly regarded scientist, the general public will take Dawkins’s view over his colleagues.

It isn’t perfect. And that is natural.

The consequence that we have to take from this, is that our relationship to science, and any given scientific theory or “truth”, as stated, as not as objectively true as we hold it to be. Rather, it is a standing hypothesis, and just as any hypothesis can never be proven, rather only refuted, the same is true for any and all currently held scientific theories/paradigms/world views, no matter how accepted and held it is.

Another consequence comes from analogy. Just as the validity/strength of a conclusion any chain of arguments makes rests on the weakest link in that argument, and just as the strength of a physical chain is only as strong as the weakest link, the same is true of science.

If the process of science rests on weak links, weak steps, weak foundations, then the entire body of science is only as strong as that weakest link.

We hold scientific knowledge to represent the objective truth of our objectively knowable universe. We are not just confident in this, we are sure of it. It is how many of us frame our universe/reality/nature/etc. Science is objective, not subjective, it holds up to scrutiny, it is this process, this methodology that assumes nothing, and is meticulous in its resolve to come to know things for certain.

Yet, at every stage of the development, adoption and replacement of one scientific theory, one paradigm, one world view for another, there is that link that involves aesthetics, faith, and the social/political factors that lead to an agreement/convention. Are any of those things objective? Are any of those things scientific? If they aren’t, if a pivotal and vastly important step in scientific development rests on non-scientific principles, then what can we say of the whole pursuit of science? Like a chain, whether physical or a series of arguments, the whole is only as strong as the weakest link, then what does that mean of science and the scientific process? Does that mean that it rests on aesthetics, faith and convention, like any other belief system such as mythology, folklore, religion, allegory?

We may convince ourselves otherwise, but for now I am not so sure.

 

Is it logical to be logical?

We all know that logic exists. It is a form of reasoning that follows specific rules such that if you begin with a true premise, and maintain the rules of reasoning (logic), then you will arrive at a true conclusion, necessarily.

Now, let’s say you or someone you know is like Spock, a Vulcan from Star Trek. Vulcan’s are purely logical and do not appeal to emotion whatsoever. Now, if someone were you ask you the question “Why are you logical? What is your reason for being logical?” What answer could be given?

See, a logical person cannot answer by saying “I am logical because it is logical to be logical”, since that is an illogical statement. It is illogical because it is a circular argument. It cannot be said that it is logical to make the decision to use logic. The decision to use or not use logic must come from outside of logic.

Take a similar line of arguing for comparison: a sometimes used argument for the validity/truthfulness of scripture (ie. the bible). One might ask, ‘How do you know what is said in the bible is true?’, a response may be ‘because it says so in the bible’. This, again, is circular reasoning, and cannot be used. The bible is true because the bible says that it is. But the reason I have to accept that the bible is true is because it says that it is, and because it says that it is, I believe it to be true. It is circular. Logically speaking, it is illogical.

Is it logical to be logical? Yes, because it is logical to be logical. Since I know it is logical to be logical, if I want to be logical I should be logical. This is an illogical argument. It is circular.

I am going to try to come at this from a different perspective, a visual one. Venn diagrams can be used to visually represent “sets” of things. These sets have “members” in them. An example would be, the set of all phones, P, represented by the circle.

P

Now, we can try to get a better idea about the types of members in P, meaning, the types of phones. So we could look at the set of all cell phones, C, and and set of all home phones, H.

CH

Visually, what is being represented here is that we have a larger, more encapsulating set of members, phones, and within that set of all phones in existence, some can be classified and grouped into a sub-set of cellphones, C, and some can be grouped into a sub-set of home phones, H. The two sets, cellphones and home phones, do not overlap at all because they are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as a cellphone that is also a home phone, and vice versa. They are separate, and no member (phone) of either subset is contained within the other subset.

Now, we can go further. Within the sub-set of cell phones, C, we can look at the members that belong to smart phones, S, and regular old crappy cell phones, R.

SR

Now, once again, we have two subsets of P, which are also contained as subsets of C, and these two subsets S and R (smart phones and crappy old regular cell phones) are mutually exclusive, that is, a cell phone that is a smart phone cannot also at the same time be classified as a crappy old regular cell phone.

Now, what if we decided to look at the members of the set of cell phones, C, and see which members of C were made by Nokia, N.

N

Here, you see a new set, a new circle (elipse), N (the members of the set C (cell phones) that are made by Nokia). Here we have an overlap of sets. Some of the members of N overlap with the members of S, and some overlap with the members of R. From this visual representation we can interpret it in that of all the members of cell phones that are produced by Nokia (N), some are smart phones and some are regular old crappy cell phones.

Ok. Now, let’s look at a new Venn diagram.

L

Here, we have the square box as the biggest set, K. K is the set of all knowledge. Perhaps we could call it the set, T, containing all true statements. Something along those lines will do. So, it is a set of all knowledge and/or all true statements. So anything that is a true statement, or a piece of knowledge, is a member of K, is contained within K.

Now, of all the true statements in existence, some could be rounded up and put into a subset of what we could call logical. This subset of all logical truth statements could be denoted as the circle above, L. So, within that set, that circle, L, exists every logical truth statement in existence. Now, we know that circular arguments are not logical. So though I don’t know exactly to what set a circular argument belongs to, I know for a fact that it cannot, necessarily, be contained within L, because L is the set of all logical truth statements, and by definition, a circular argument is not logical.

So the reason and motivation to use logic, the rules of logic, as a means to acquire “truth” or valid arguments, cannot be a logical reason. Again, if you were to make ANY logical argument to arrive at the conclusion that it is logical to use logic, any such argument would be a circular argument, and would necessarily be an illogical argument. It would not be a member of the set L, logical truth statements.

It cannot be said to be logical to be logical.

If you are interested in this you can google Godel’s incompleteness theorem, which shows this, as well as many other necessary consequences, to be true.

It it is for this reason that you cannot appeal to God to believe in the truthfulness/validity of God, you cannot use science to prove science, you cannot use logic to appeal to the use of logic. For all of these, what we can call modes of epistemology, a word that means knowledge, acquiring knowledge, systems of knowledge, you can never appeal to that given system to validate that system.

The choice of using logic, of science, of whatever, must always be an extra-logical, extra-scientific, extra-whatever choice. The motivating force, the reason behind using logic, science, etc, must always lie OUTSIDE those domains. And so what might those reasons be?

I am inclined to state that they are preferences. Preferences of aesthetics, of convention, and faith. We use logic because we have an aesthetic preference for what it does. It orders things, it keeps things easy to understand and group and relate to. It is an aesthetic choice. We also chose it because we have faith in it, that it will come to a conclusion that we deem, via convention, to be true/valid/valuable/preferable.

We adhere and follow scientific modes of explanation because of aesthetics. Scientific explanations fit nicely together, the models are aesthetically pleasing, they leave no gaps, and the gaps that do exist we have faith and belief that eventually they will be filled in, and filled in in such a way that will be coherent, cogent and thus maintaining their aesthetic appeal.

So, the next time someone is being logical with you and making a valid argument against you, feel free to tell them how illogical they are being. They won’t be able to prove you wrong (that is, while using logic)!

 

 

The Dark Room

I conceived of a thought experiment, though I am not sure when.

Imagine awakening in a pitch black room. You could not see what is in front of your face. Perhaps you can imagine this as how you are now, or as yourself but with amnesia, though I am not sure if it matters.

You are in this completely dark room, of which you have absolutely no knowledge of. All that you know is that you are motivated to learn everything you can about the room. For the sake of the thought experiment, perhaps it is your natural motivation, or perhaps a voice is heard that states you are to catalog and know the room in every sense. Know all of its contents, what exists in it, the shape, etc.

Now, how could you ever know, in the truest sense of the word, when you have finally and completely come to understand the room, catalog everything in it, etc? You start from a state of ignorance. No knowledge. You know nothing about the room. It could be infinite in size. It could have nothing in it. It could have one thing in it. It could have ____ number of things in it. You don’t know. There could be things in it that you can’t perceive, there could be things that are so small you have no means to apprehend. You don’t even know if the room itself is constant, and that it doesn’t change as you move around within it.

How can you know, for certain, NECESSARILY, without any possibility of doubt, what is in the room, what is the room, its shape and structure, etc? Can you?

You might first start by walking around the room. Perhaps even crawling on hands and knees. You feel around, fumbling in the dark. You find something. You label it and categorize it. You continue this process. You feel the floors, the walls, perhaps the ceiling. You find that the walls meet the floors, and the walls meet the ceiling, you walk around and do this. Perhaps you convince yourself that the room is finite in size, it has a definite structure/shape. You convince yourself that you have searched every inch of the room. You must have come across everything in it. But again, there is always the chance that something else still remains in the room. How can you know you have learned everything about the room? How can you even be sure that the room doesn’t change, that after you leave one area of the room the room itself doesn’t shift and change, leaving you, based on your assumption that the room is constant, to come to false conclusions. Can you come to know anything at all without making any assumptions whatsoever?

I think about this room sometimes. I wonder if the person in the room, any person, who starts with knowing NOTHING, absolutely nothing about what is in the room, or information on the room, is able to deduce knowledge of the room. If for example you were told there are only 5 things in the room, and you found 5 things, then you could deduce that you now know the 5 things in the room. But you aren’t given this information. You have no idea. No matter how many things you find in the room you can never be sure that you have exhausted all that there is in the room. You can’t be sure that a hole in a wall forms, new things come in, and the hole is fixed, all without your knowledge. There is always quite literally always one more thing that could be in the room, one more explanation that could be made that would have to be addressed.

I think of this thought experiment because I think it says something about a conscious being (humans, me, you, etc) seemingly being thrust into a room (the universe, existence, reality, nature, the world) and having a motivation to come to know what the room is, what is in it, what are the rules of the room, etc. Just as in the thought experiment, certain assumptions have to be made in order to start to create a body of “knowledge”. And based on those assumptions, your behavior and methodology for how to go about investigating the contents of the room is shaped (world view). And just like the thought experiment, no matter how confident we get in cataloging the stuff in our room (universe), in explaining the content, in explaining the room itself and how the things in it relate to each other, can we ever be sure we know everything about the room? Is it not possible that we learn something new? Is that not always the case? Our ideas of the room are constantly changing, that is one thing that we can determine to be constant. Our concepts of the room are not simple, and actually get more and more complicated and involved as we learn more and more things about this room. Should we believe the room, and the laws (we impose on it) that govern it to be static, or perhaps the laws themselves change. What reason do we have to make these assumptions?

I am reminded of the confidence of a child. I am guilty of this. I know I have seen it happen in others as well, both child and adult. In this setting we have two people, one who lacks any education whatsoever on a topic, and another that knows quite a bit. The person that wants to learn something (student) learns a little bit, and is taught from the person that knows quite a bit (teacher). Is it not the case that, at times, the student, upon learning a bit of knowledge, will be quick to judge that what they have learned is sufficient. They are quite happy with what they have learned thus far, and believe it is sufficient. They now know about this topic, and no longer need any more education from the teacher. Thanks but no thanks, I know what I am doing. I got this under control. But the teacher, seeing this, can’t help but smile. It is the ignorance of youth. It is a mistake. The teacher knows not just what the student knows, but also all the other things that the student does not know. All the things of which the student does not even have any concept of existing. Just like Dick Cheney said, we are aware of what we hold to “know”, we might be aware of some knowledge that we don’t know, but we know is out there, but there exists stuff that we don’t know, and we don’t even know that we don’t know it. How can we? We find ourselves in the dark room with no information on what the upper limit of what can be known. There can always be something else.

Just like the person that is quick to judge that they now know everything after learning a thing or two, they rush with their false confidence, and make statements and take actions that do not reflect the fact that they cannot and do not know what they cannot and do not know.

I wonder if the person in the dark room can come to know everything about the dark room. Perhaps that isn’t a meaningful question, and perhaps it is the wrong question to ask. Though, I do think it is important to ask, because I believe the pursuit of science is an objective pursuit of exactly that knowledge. Perhaps, if that knowledge is not truly possible, it is worth asking a different question: what is the best way to model the room? What is the way in which to derive meaning from the room? Leave the pursuit of objective knowledge of the totality of things behind, and instead derive a model, a view of the room, that derives the most meaning to you.

In any case, it is just a thought experiment.

Materialism and Immaterialism

So I wrote a blog post yesterday and when I clicked “publish” something went wrong and the whole thing was lost.

I will, as briefly as possible, attempt to re-hash what I wrote previously.

Right now, if you are reading this, you are reading the blog post from a device. It is either a computer, a laptop, a tablet, phone or who knows what. But, there is a device. Let’s just assume you are reading from a laptop. Now, a materialist/physicalist/scientific world view would be that the phenomena you perceive which you attribute to the laptop (color, shape, texture, sound..smell?) has a source. The phenomena is perceived in the mind, and this is possible because there are physical things in existence, out there, that interact with your physical body and the senses are able to translate those interactions, somehow, to the mind as phenomena that you perceive.

Intrinsic to this view is that the source of those phenomena is a thing, and that thing is made up of matter, it is physical, it is extended in space, and the phenomena we experience is an accurate representation of what that thing actually is.

What I mean is, under such a world view, when I am conscious of what I would categorize as a visual representation of my laptop (i.e., I can see colors expanded over a geometric shape, and I call those colors and geometric shapes to be “laptop”), I believe that what I am seeing has, as its source, an actual object in the world that is exactly how I see it. Even more basically, what I see and perceive is actually what is out there, physically, in the world.

I think this is the world view that most people, especially if you have never given it any thought before, would assume.

Immaterialism is different. An immaterialist (or idealist) recognizes that first and foremost, I am aware/conscious of a perception. The perception is of something, there is always an object of the consciousness, of what is perceived. This is, in our everyday waking life experience (aside from thinking, etc) an experience of phenomena. When I see my laptop, what I am experiencing are phenomena (colors that extend over certain shapes/geometries), and smells, tastes, sounds, and tactile sensations (touch). A bundle of certain phenomena is grouped together and I call that “laptop”, a bundle of another I call “table” and a bundle of another I call “tomato”.

So far there is no difference between a materialist and an immaterialist. The immaterialist though, recognizes that the perception itself is non-physical. The experience of phenomena, the conscious experience of being aware of “laptop” is non-physical. You cannot touch an experience. You cannot taste an experience. You cannot locate it on a gps map and move it somewhere else. It is immaterial. It is non-physical.

And so experience itself, consciousness itself, perception itself, is non-physical. The immaterialist recognizes this and says that there is no reason to believe that the immaterial experience of phenomena necessarily represents a physical, extended, material object in an external world made up of physical, material objects. It is the materialist that has to make an inference, that has to take the experience and then from that make the belief that those experiences are of physical/material things.

The two universes that a materialist and an idealist/immaterialist live in are completely differently structured. One has atoms and matter, consciousness, perceptions, phenomena and ideas/concepts.

The concept of an atom doesn’t necessitate the existence of a physical atom. The same way that a concept of a pegasus doesn’t necessitate the physical existence of a pegasus.

The story is made much more interesting when Descartes introduces dualism. For Descartes, the universe/reality is made up of two different substances: matter and mind. There is the stuff of the physical world: atoms, matter, bodies, motion, etc. This stuff operates causally, like billiard balls moving around, one in contact with another, colliding, imparting forces onto each other in a never ending dance of cause-effect (governed by the laws of physics thanks to Newton). But Descartes recognizes he is a thinking thing. Cogito ergo sum. He knows he thinks, and thinking/the mind/the soul/consciousness is not material, it is something completely different. And so, man has a dualistic existence. There is the physical body, which interacts with the physical external world, and there is this non-material mind that lives somewhere in the brain.

This was quite confusing. Perhaps you can see why. For you see, in order for any two things, no matter what they are, to be able to interact with one another, they must have some common grounds in which to mediate an interaction. Now, for Descartes, these two substances (mind and matter) were of completely different substance. One (matter) had a physical existence. The other (mind) was completely non-physical. So how could one impart an effect, could interact, could communicate to the other? In the physical world, an atom touches another, and another, and there is a chain reaction like dominoes falling. Sugar touches the tongue, a nerve ending is excited, electrical signal is carried along the nerves (which is just atoms, ie. ions, moving) those atoms touch others, until finally the dominoes of atoms touching atoms gets to the brain. And then what? The atoms touch what? Do what? Does the final atom touch a non-physical thing? What does that even mean?

The flaws of Descartes dualism was immediately met with skepticism. He even received a letter from Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia who raised this exact point. How a physical substance could impart an effect on a non-physical substance.

Most people today, I would believe, hold this to be true. That there is mind, and it is different than matter. So, how can this be? Can you think of how a physical thing is to interact with a non-physical thing? How might this look?

Today we also have those that don’t entertain dualism. We have materialists. We have immaterialists. We have some outspoken scientists today that are so strongly committed to materialism that they declare consciousness to be an illusion. I find this quite concerning and dangerous, as I think we can all agree, (Descartes included) is that there is only one thing that we can be certain of and it is that we are aware of something. This awareness is consciousness itself. In order to even make the statement “I am not conscious” is a contradiction.

I am not sure where that leaves us. I won’t argue my thoughts. I will just leave those positions here in the post as something to think about.

Dark Matter. Dark Energy.

Dark energy and dark matter is just so cool and interesting. Dark matter and dark energy, so it is believed, constitute about 95% of the mass in the universe! 95%!

The remainder is what we are capable of seeing and experiencing, ‘ordinary’ matter. That would mean that almost all of our universe is made up of stuff that we have never experienced, have no real means of experiencing through the senses, and have never perceived or thought of before. This is a powerful implication in terms of what is. What is there that exists? The idea that in our universe there is this stuff that for some reason does not produce phenomena that we can detect. In other words, light (electromagnetic radiation) does not interact with it.

How did we come to the world view, the belief, the concept that dark matter and dark energy exists?

Once the theory of gravitation was accepted within the realm of science, the equations that govern motion and mechanics were applied to bodies within our solar system. Based on the data and paths/orbits of certain bodies (ie. Planets, satellites, etc) it was inferred that under the accepted laws of science that there must be other bodies in our solar system. From this, empirical evidence was sought, and found, and from this we had the discovery of new planets, Uranus being the first found in this manner.

Now, in the 20th century we have instrumentation that allows for the empirical evidence of vast celestial bodies. Astronomers and astrophysicists can observe entire galaxies. These galaxies are to be understood and modelled just as any other atom, any other dead, lifeless mass in the universe, via the laws imposed by physics.

Now, something funny happened in the 20th century. According to the mathematical equations, the laws that govern physics, the galaxies should have been observed differently. The prediction from our accepted theories were not represented by our empirical data. The way certain galaxies, certain parts of our universe were behaving were not as the mathematics predicts.

This is a VERY interesting junction point in history. The theory, which up until that point was accepted as fully TRUE, and the actual empirical data were at odds with each other. They both said different things. Due to the principal of non-contradiction, it cannot be said that both were correct, as that would also imply that both are incorrect. One must be correct, the other must necessarily be false.

But on what grounds, what criteria is the scientific world to judge which is incorrect and which is false?

Because when the calculations were way off, man (science, the scientific community) would have to make a choice. Move into a universe, to belong to a universe where our calculation is wrong, our theories are wrong, and what we see IS TRULY what is in the universe. Or, to move into a universe, to belong to a universe where the calculation is RIGHT, and that the universe must be different in a way that creates an explanation, an explanation that is interpreted and agreed upon (by convention) that the universe that we belong to now has a new kind of substance, completely foreign to us that we cannot perceive by any of our instrumentation as well. It is actually most of the universe, and we are just a fraction of it. It exists, and without it the universe that we thought we lived in would never be possible. Having this is a good thing.

Because that was literally what the scientific world view was forced to decide between.

I, myself, really like the second universe. It has so much potential! The interpretations could be varied. Explanations could range from evidence in support of multiple dimensional theories, I am sure our friend Deepak Chopra would love to argue in favour of the other substance within the yogic system as well as other Indian philosophies (I can’t remember if Samkhya AND Vedanta follow this system or not) that interacts with the matter and the mind. This subtle body that has properties in common with the immaterial substance of mind and the material extended substance of physical matter. It is almost like an operator. It connects a to be. A + B. It is the +. It is the operator. It connects the two. I am rambling.

So, there was an option. Now, a judgment HAS to be made. Either we move into one universe, or another. The results force upon us the choice: which universe do we move into? Because we cannot hold both that the calculations are right and not right. It is a basic axiom of logic. The principle of non-contradiction. We must ask ourselves if this contradiction is warranted, and if it was then we MUST choose one of the universes. Though it would be interesting to entertain what such a universe would look like if both were accepted as true.

Either way, one chooses a universe. The scientific community chose the universe where the calculation is right.

But notice the impact of the psychology. It must have come to the judgment that the theories CANNOT be wrong, and that our empirical evidence, our senses and instruments that extend our senses (but really?…..) were lacking information on this objective truth. Our model, how we view the universe, the math and geometry and reasoning, that MUST be right. But the empirical evidence, our own experience, is lacking.

I found this great pic when I google image searched dark matter:

There MUST be something else. The math says so. The math CANNOT be wrong. That would imply that our theories are wrong, since our theories are mathematized, the universe IS math, and the math is IN the actual doings of the universe, so if our math is wrong, then our universe is wrong (our model of it, our theories of it, the way we know/understand/perceive/view it). That is too hard to face. But also, our faith in our math is too strong, we are committed to our theories. We would have to change some of our theories to change the math. So let’s stick with the math being right, and change our universe in that sense. The stuff added, since we could not see or perceive it, and it MUST be there, but we would’ve perceived it by now, and since we have not perceived it, then it is must be there but not perceivable. Period. We receive no electromagnetic radiation (including light) from it (this is our detection system which is translated to a means of phenomenal detection by us, ie. The detection of gamma rays which is translated into some sort of visual feedback (a needle moving, a light source such as a computer screen, etc); something using our senses to make the inference “Oh, that means an x-ray was detected”.

The name dark seems appropriate.

And just like that, the universe now changes. The way we view the world, the universe, has changed.

A paradigm shift. In just one conceptual change, a new paradigm is created and the structure of the universe/nature/reality/the world has changed. And what are the factors? There is a judgment to be made regarding the interpretation of the results of a calculation, a prediction, made on the structure and movement of distant galaxies. The math, the theories, are not matching what we see. So, either the math, the theories are wrong and what we see is accurate, or the theories are right and what we see is inaccurate.

What reasons do we have to choose one interpretation over the other? What reasons do YOU have? It is, I think, worth thinking about.

In any case, a decision by the scientific community was made (though it should be noted that there are some competing theories which involve changing the previous held theories, ie. modifying gravity). But what reason could have been given for one world view over another, for one interpretation over the other?

In any case, this is an interesting example of a key game changing perceptual shift from a basic metaphysical question: What is? What is there? What exists? Ok, so we have matter and energy. Those are two substances yet they can convert between each other. Ok. There is anti-matter and matter (will definitely need to look into how the concept of anti-matter was brought into existence). And now we have dark matter and dark energy, with their own unique characteristics and qualities, and they are almost everything in the universe. I am not sure about how they may or may not relate and interact with the other substances in existence.

Paradigm shifts. Coming to you soon!

Consequences of Paradigm Shifts

In my recent blog post (here) regarding paradigm shifts and the structure of scientific progress (revolutions), as put forth by Thomas Kuhn, the empirical fact that paradigm shifts occur requires some attention.

If you haven’t read the blog post mentioned above, you simply need to know that a paradigm is a framework, a model (such as a scientific theory), as to how a system is framed/structured/conceived/perceived to function/viewed. The system could be very limited, such as how physical traits are inherited over generations (ie. genetics/genomics/epigenetics/evolution; such that, someone with such a paradigm would think that living organisms exist because they are suited to their environment via natural selection, whereas someone who didn’t hold that paradigm might have a different explanation, ie. God or chance), or the system could be the entire universe/nature/reality and all the models used to explain how it is, why it is, what it is (ie a myth, folklore, religious view, philosophy, or the entire body of scientific knowledge).

Now, paradigm shifts occur. This is a fact. A historical fact. We have experienced it within our lifetime, and we can experience it everyday, and we have knowledge of it happening throughout history. Whether we compare how people viewed the world from an Aristotelian world view (that objects in the world were self-movers, things fell to the earth because they were actively devoted to finding their natural place in the universe, or fire and air and gas rose up because that was their natural place to be), or from a Muslim world view, or a Protestant, or a Mormon or a Hindu/Vedanta world view, or a Buddhist, or a Newtonian, or an Einsteinian, or a quantum mechanics world view. At every stage along the history of science, people framed the universe, the phenomena they experienced, under a specific world view which is born from a specific paradigm or sets of paradigms. And over time, every paradigm led to another. Thus a paradigm shift occurred, and from that new paradigm the world, the universe was no longer the same. Atoms were no longer the smallest things in the universe. Women were no longer considered property but were given the right of being their own people, and thus could vote. Homosexuality, more or less, became an accepted norm.

World views today are changing and changing at an even faster rate. With the acceleration of social perception of things such as gender, freedoms, rights, political correctness, etc, today we now have the concept (whether you agree with it or not) that gender is fluid and not binary. This is a paradigm, this is a world view. One that many people today, and certainly most people 50 years ago, or 200 years ago, could never entertain.

How we structure and view the world, the universe, reality, nature, etc, is constantly changing. It changes in what statements/sentences we accept and agree upon as true. A paradigm results in world views, and a world view is a set of true sentences I make about the universe that I inhabit.

My world view is completely different from that of a Amish persons, or that of someone from a tribe that has little contact with the outside world. It is quite literally different than almost all the people I have in my life. Otherwise we would all hold the same truth values, hold the same opinions and interpret events in our lives in the same ways. But we don’t. Because the meaning we arrive at from specific events and phenomena are framed differently, and we give things different meanings and interpretations. Has it not happened to yourself that perhaps you and someone have had a discussion about a third person. A statement is made which is held to be true, such as ‘that person was selfish’, or ‘that person was rude’ or ‘that person was X’. Has it never happened to you that you did not see the event the same way? You may have replied with your own statement, which you held to be true, that perhaps this third person was not in fact X, rather, you perceived them to be Y (ie. just joking or any other interpretation of the event involving this third person).

How could two people see the same “objective” event in the world and come out with two different interpretations of true statements about what happened? One person sees luck, the other fate. One person sees a miracle, another routine use of medicine. One person sees a coincidence, another person sees a ‘sign’.

Even as you age and move through life, the way you see things changes. The way you view the world changes. The way you structure the universe, the world, reality, nature, changes.

The big bang theory is less than 100 years old. The concept is so young! At some point, the very concept, that the universe was roughly 14 billion years old and expanded from a singularity, had no existence! None! It was not fathomed! But now, rightly or wrongly, many people would say that the universe started from the big bang. That is how they experience their universe. That is the structure of their reality. But it was not always so. For many people in the world (Vedanta/Yogi’s/Buddhists/Hindus) time is cyclical and the universe can never not exist, nor the Self. A completely different structure of reality/the universe/nature/the world.

Once upon a time it was safe and recommended by doctors to smoke cigarettes. Today, not so much. That is a change in world view.

I don’t think I need to press any further to show that it is a fact that paradigm shifts occur, that world views change. What I care most about, is the question: What are the consequences of the very fact that it is possible for paradigms to shift? For world views to change? For the possibility of different world views, different paradigms, different models and structures from which the universe/reality/nature are held to even exist?

I think that the consequences are very important.

I think that there is good reason to think that there are a vast number of potential world views for any given person or culture to hold and live out their life successfully (though I have no idea and don’t care to define what I would mean by successfully to be). At any given point in human existence there are a set of world views among various peoples/cultures, and at any given point in human existence those humans managed to carry out their existence successfully, that is to say, procreate and continue existing. People survived just fine thinking the world was flat, and people survived just fine thinking that the earth was at the center of the universe.

Immediately, we are brought to the question: Is there a world view that is best? Are some world views “better”? And if so, which? As well, under what criteria are we to judge/determine which world views are better/best?

The thing that Kuhn brings to our attention, and I am quite in agreement with him, is that it is meaningless to compare two paradigms to one another. It cannot be done as different world views are incommensurable. They cannot be compared.

Take as a simple example two polarized world views: an atheistic, modern, scientific world view, and a Christian world view.

On what grounds, on what criteria, on what basis is someone to judge which is “more true”, “more accurate”, “better”, of a “higher quality”?

The reason why they cannot be compared is because in order to make a judgment on ANY difference among the two world views, the differences are always viewed from worldview. No matter who is making the judgment they will inherently have world view, and thus will be making their judgments from that perspective. When one person says “x happened because of God” and another person says “x happened because of such and such of a causal relationship, which ultimately regresses to something that isn’t God (ie. the big bang)”, there is no possible means to say one is better/more true/worse than the other. You can only say that the scientific world view is better IF you operate and structure and view the universe from such a world view. You can only say that the Christian world view is better if you operate and structure and view the universe from such a world view.

Perhaps it is not necessarily true, but, the important point is that ANY judgement made, using whatever criteria you wish, as to which world view is “better”, already presupposed a world view in which to make such a judgment.

If you were to say “well world view X is better than world view Y because it values peace more” (ie. less people are killed), or “well world view X is better than world view Y because it values family more”. Both of those statements are meaningless, as one can only make such a statement from an already existing world view where their universe/reality is structured such that peace or family valuation are valued in a certain way that would enable them to make such a judgment.

You cannot escape this!

Each world view is valid and makes sense under its own world view! It is only when a world view is framed from a different world view that it doesn’t make sense. Bible literalists (spelling?) cannot comprehend people who believe in science. The converse is also true. Just like the example of you and a friend and the interpretation of a third person, the phenomenal experience is there, and each interprets it from their own stance, their own perspective, their own world view, their own structure for reality/the universe/experience/the world. The bible literalist and the atheist scientists look at the same phenomena and come to very different explanations. Neither is wrong in their own mind. The point to be made, is neither can be wrong from the others mind as well! The two world views are incommensurable! They cannot be compared from any reference point meaningfully. 

If this is the case, then what does that mean? I think the consequence is obvious and staring us in the face. If there is no means to compare any world view from another, except from a world view, then we cannot make any meaningful comparisons. And if we cannot make any meaningful comparisons then we cannot say, objectively, or with any meaningful value of truth, that any world view is better, worse, more or less valid, more or less “true”, more or less “accurate” than any other world view. If this is true, then does it not necessarily follow that any world view is accurate, relative to itself, that it is true, relative to itself, that it is meaningful, relative to itself, that it is best, relative to itself? If this is true, then does it not necessarily follow that any world view is best? Any world view is true?

If this is the case, then there is no such thing as objective truth. Rather, what matters most is a world view that provides a system of knowledge, a system that provides meaning from the experience of the world/reality/the universe/nature that is cogent, cohesive, non-contradictory and all encompassing. Every world view aims to explain everything in its entirety. As soon as it cannot explain something, a new explanation will develop and thus a new world view is immediately born. Depending on the “size” of the “hole” in the body of knowledge in a given system, or the value/meaningfulness of the hole, the world view will change in proportion. Ie. if tomorrow gravity was overturned and we reverted our views back to Aristotles, that would be a HUGE change. But, if tomorrow someone discovered a new cellular process whereby DNA damage is repaired and can have repercussions to various disease research, well, that would change our view of the world and how our bodies/nature/the world is structured, but it wouldn’t really have an effect on most of the population directly in terms of their perception.

It is just this reason that enables a religious world view to maintain its own integrity. Religious world views have special clauses that for any hole that might be encountered (ie. something you don’t know or understand), there is often a fall-back clause/explanation such that the thing under question can be explained simply because God wills it as such. If this is accepted as true, and it is under a religious world view in which God knows and does all, then one never requires to look outside their world view for explanation of any unanswered questions (except for contradiction).

Speaking of religions, the greatest motivating thing is world views. Well, it would be necessary that all actions are carried out from a world view, so this would be a redundant statement, but we could look at our archetype for the lowest of human behaviors: war. Nobody wants war. Nobody wants to kill. I mean this intrinsically. As in, inherently you want to kill, for no reason whatsoever. If this was the nature of man, then man would not be able to form social bonds and society. Knowing this nature is found in others, man would never dare to entertain social relations. But man is a social animal. So he cannot function that way.

Rather, we kill for specific reasons. We have to be moved to kill. Though some don’t need to be, and we deem them sick and unfit for society. If one of the 5 remaining humans on the planet was a murderer by default (psychopath or whatever the term might be), then the 4 non-murderers would not wish to remain on social terms with this 5th killing human, either by banishing this person from the group, imprisoning said person, killing them, or leaving the person and the group goes off without the person. So we are not motivated to kill by nature.

Look at the story line of Muslim extremists and the Western world. It is an interesting story line, especially if we pay attention to the language, concepts and meanings behind how the story is told. You have two groups killing each other. Both feel justified in their actions. Both feel they are the morally superior side. Each has their world view, and by default their world view represents all truth statements, since they can never hold their view to be untrue, since a world view is a collection of all truth statements. They are terrorists and pure evil because of their religious views, and the West is, I don’t know, I don’t hold their world views, but I am under the impression it is something along the lines of, ‘complete sinners, lost completely in what is morally right/wrong, as laid down by God, and act as a cancer on the planet that is to be wiped off the earth, not simply because they are evil, but because their numbers could spread and that would be a detriment to the number of people who held the common world view (Islam)’. The funny thing, that is exactly how the West sees them, except instead of “God” perhaps other words might be used. Or not. But both descriptions could pass for either sides.

So who is right? Well whoever is on my side obviously. My views are a set of truth statements, as I can never hold something to be true and not true (principle of contradiction), and so I am right, according to me. And they are right, according to them. (by the way this is a completely hypothetical argument between “myself”. My actual world views structuring how I perceive that story line are not stated here).

So, in any case. Each group feels warranted in their killing. Each group dehumanizes the other group, making it easier for them to kill them. Each group is rational in their beliefs to kill. Each group is justified. Again, only in relation to itself. The other group is not justified in relation to the in-group.

Inherent in any world view, it is important, in fact necessary, for everything to be explained. Everything must fit together. Any inconsistency leads to a question of the validity of the world view, and it is this and only this that can be the basis/criteria to meaningfully judge a world view to be valid or not, since humans do not allow contradictions in their understanding.

How does this relate to science? My goal for the month was to write about science for a month.

This relates to science in the sense that it relates to our relationship to a scientific world view. That under this world view, our body of knowledge rests on science and scientific discovery. That science is the means through which we gain true knowledge of the universe, as it truly, actually, objectively is. Science and the scientific world view holds as an assumption that reality is observer independent. Meaning, that whether or not any humans existed or not, the laws of physics would still hold. That green would be the color seen when electromagnetic radiation oscillates at a specific frequency. That plants produce energy via photosynthesis, and that the sun is at the center of our solar system.

But what is important is that from the very existence of different world views, and from the inability to meaningfully compare any two given world views, we cannot take any of the truth value statements in any world view as absolutely true, as objectively true of the universe/reality/the world/nature. We can’t. You cannot say that your opinion of how that third friend acted in situation X is objectively/absolutely true. Your friend cannot say that their opinion of how that third friend acted in situation X is objectively/absolutely true. NOBODY CAN SAY HOW THE THIRD PERSON ACTED IN SITUATION X IS OBJECTIVELY/ABSOLUTELY TRUE! The truth of any of those statements only has validity from the perspective, the world view, of the person uttering that ‘truth’ statement! And so the very notion that there is an “objective truth” can only be framed from a world view that accepts that as true. But in terms of the validity of some statement/sentence being “true”, no matter what world view is held, is not possible. The sense in which we believe that something is objectively true, observer independent is impossible. When this concept presented itself in the early 20th century from quantum mechanics, that objects in the world only exist when they are observed/measured, Einstein made the famous statement, paraphrasing, that the he believes the moon is still there whether he looks at it or not. But this is the thing! The moon is a concept that stems from a world view. The concept of moon involves sub-concepts such as “a giant spherical body of mass/atoms” and “rotating the planet in space”, etc, etc. For someone who has a completely different world view, in their universe the phenomena we would call “moon” might be explained in a completely different set of truth statements. It could be something completely different, something non-material, it could be a living thing, it could be god, it could be pure energy, etc. For that world view, Einsteins statement that the moon will always be the moon, has no meaning, because from that other world view, the “moon” was NEVER the “moon”. It always was and always will be something else.

Just like that, we cannot say which world view is true. We cannot say that Aristotle was wrong, and that the current scientific model is right. Aristotle is wrong from the current scientific models world view, but it is wrong from an almost infinite number of other world views, including ANY FUTURE SCIENTIFIC WORLD VIEWS THAT MIGHT UNDERGO A PARADIGM SHIFT. I say this because humans have always been “sure” of their world views at any given time, and yet, they always change. Yet at every given point their confidence is unchanged. “Now” “we know”. We “know better” “now”.

Of course we do, because we are viewing the past from the world view of today. Of course from that perspective we will always know more! We can not NOT view the world from our own currently held world view. And since any given world view is always truest from its own perspective, any world view (it doesn’t matter which), will always have the bias of seeing its own way of seeing things as the best in comparison to any and all other world views. Again, until a hole in that world view is formed which reveals a contradiction or lacks explanation.

So, what am I ultimately trying to say. Well, I understand how it will be perceived, and the consequences of what I hold to be true will have on how I am viewed, but I am pursuing the idea that, essentially, there is no single objectively true world view, all world views (religion, science, myth, folklore, etc) are all interpretations of the same thing (the universe as it is subjectively experienced by individuals in a culture), and simply use different language to do so. Each world view is based off of aesthetics, belief, convention, preference (or indoctrination). Science is no more valid, and no less, than any mythology or folklore. To even contend such a statement would be to do so from a world view in which such a statement is deemed false, but that could not be an objective contention, it would be subjective as it would be from the world view of the subject, and no matter still, as mentioned above, any argument for comparing the two world views is meaningless and incommensurable.

The consequences of such a view are many. Many questions arise.

I have more thoughts on this. Many, many more thoughts. But I am tired and today was a tiring day.

Inductive Reasoning and the Problem of Induction

Inductive reasoning. We all do it. Everyone does. The mind functions on inductive reasoning, and we consciously use it to try to reason and make sense of the world.

Inductive reasoning is the form of reasoning that takes a finite number of instances that have occurred in the past, and infers(induces) a general truth with a truth value that holds into the future into infinity.

Now, I will give an example of this. Every time I hold out an object at shoulder length and let go of it, it falls. This happens every single time. Therefore, I infer (induce) from a set of finite instances a general rule/law that all things fall, and this is a truth statement that is applicable for all objects forever into the future (ie. into infinity).

Some more examples might be that whenever I tell my dog to sit, she sits. I come to expect it now. The reason why I expect it is because I induce a general rule. Whenever I say “sit” to my dog, she will sit.

From my finite experience, every time that I do sprints I feel exhausted after. I then infer that any time that I might do sprints in the future I will feel exhausted after.

This is how you reason why there might be traffic at a certain area of the city/time of day (from past experiences), how someone might react when you give a specific piece of news (based on past experiences), how your stomach will react from specific foods (based on past experiences), etc, etc etc. We naturally take our past experiences, which are finite, and create general rules of which we apply truth values (true or false) to, as a general rule and we apply this rule indefinitely into the future.

A classic example is that, for a period in history within Europe, all swans experienced in nature were white. The lack of experience of non-white swans, which were finite in number, led people to infer, through induction, that all swans were white. From a set of particular instances a general rule was imposed on nature. All swans are white. But that is not a necessary truth. You never know that the next swan you see is not white. And that was just the case. As Europeans traveled the world, arriving in new places (continent of Australia), they experienced black swans. Those inductive inferences that as a rule, the truth that all swans were white was false.

So what is the problem with this?

First, we should contrast inductive reasoning with deductive reasoning.

Deductive reasoning is a chain of deductions, or inferences, that arrive at a conclusion that is NECESSARILY true. An easy to relate example of this is how sudoku puzzles are solved. Now, at first, no doubt, some people might have guessed at some answers thinking “Oh, the 6 could be here” and then after a while of trying this guessing game you may have eventually realized the better way to solve sudoku puzzles – through deduction. The 9 must be somewhere in this row, it can’t be there, can’t be there, or there or there…. therefore, it MUST be there, out of necessity. If it wasn’t there, there would be a contradiction.

Another example would be something like, a theft was known to occur at a certain location between a certain time of day. And it is known as a fact that only 3 people were there at that time. You can deduce, necessarily, that one, or some combination of those people, committed the theft.

If the passing mark for a course is 50%, and your final mark is 49%, you can deduce that you will not pass the course.

Deductive reasoning arrives at a necessarily true conclusion. This is in direct opposition to inductive reasoning, where it is not the case that the induction is necessarily true. Though every single time my dog might have, in the past, sat when I told her to sit, it is not necessarily true that she will sit the next time, or any time in the future, when I tell her to sit. She might not.

The next time I go and do a hard sprint workout, I might not feel exhausted.

There are an infinite number of examples of times when we get surprised. The reason why we are surprised is because we expect one outcome (based on past outcomes/experiences) and yet we get another one. Our inferences were wrong. The very fact that they were capable of being wrong tells us that the truth of our inductive inferences were not necessary. 

So, we could say that the first problem with induction is that it isn’t necessarily true. This, in itself isn’t a problem, but a problem can occur when our relationship to the truth value of an inductive inference is…over indulgent. When we attach too strong or too high of a truth value to an inductive inference (ie. I “know”, we “know”, I am “sure”, etc) is where we can go wrong. But, if our relationship is less stringent (ie. I am confident, or I have evidence of, or I have reason to believe; though I am not completely certain), I don’t think there is as much of a problem.

The other problem of induction comes from the question: on what basis do we have the right to use that form of reasoning, at all?

This is a great issue in philosophy, and one that is often associated with the 18th century British philosopher and empiricist, David Hume. The rationale of why we are capable of using inductive reasoning is the assumption that nature is regular and consistent, and so if nature is regular and consistent, then however we observe it to behave in the past we can expect it (infer) to behave the same way in the future.

Can you see why this form of reasoning was a problem for David Hume? Why it was not a sufficient explanation for inductive reasoning?

It is a circular argument. It using inductive reasoning to validate the use of inductive reasoning. The argument, that because nature is regular (an assumption) then we can take a finite number of past instances and reason and expect those instances to repeat themselves in the future, (as a general rule) therefore we can use inductive reasoning. We arrive at the assumption that nature is seen as regular because we use induction. It is circular.

There are more points to be made about the argument, but that is good for now.

Now, we can establish that when we come to an inference from deduction we know it is necessarily true, but an inference from induction we cannot say the same thing.

Now we must turn to science. There have been many philosophical views as to how science should progress, how science should be “done”, and how scientific knowledge should be accumulated. There are some views that science should progress not by making truth statements such as “this theory is true”, but rather scientific progress should go through a process of posing hypotheses and then refuting them. Refuting hypothesis one by one, leaving only those that can’t be refuted to remain standing. In such a form of scientific progress you can’t say “this is the way this works, necessarily”, but only “we know that this doesn’t work this way, necessarily”. You can only disprove a hypothesis. You can never prove one.

But science doesn’t really work like that. Science is filled with inferences from inductive reasoning. This is especially true of scientific “discoveries” that are quite applicable and have practical importance to our lives, outside of technological developments.

Scientific studies of the safety of certain foods, of genetically modified foods, of chemicals in our foods (ie. pesticides), etc, are all based on inductive reasoning. These studies all follow a theme. The substance whose “health” or “safety” status that is to be determined (gmo food, pesticide, diet, etc) is provided to an organism (bacteria, yeast, mouse, rat, rabbit, primate, human, yeti, whatever) over a certain amount of time. Perhaps over a 6 week trial, perhaps over a life time, perhaps even over several life times of a given family of a certain organism over generations of breeding. In any case of the study, it is always for a finite amount of time. This is a necessity as no study could ever come to a conclusion if it required an infinite amount of time to be carried out.

Now, from this 6 week, one year or 5 generation study of the effects of the substance on the organism, whatever results are obtained, an inference is made, based on those finite number of instances, finite number of data points, via induction, regarding a truth statement that is general and holds forever into the future. We have all heard the claims “Study shows GMOs to be safe”, “Study shows this new diet to do ____”. Etc. Then we hold this statement to be true, forever, in all instances into the future.

The thing is, that 6 week study, that one year study, that 5 generation study, which spanned a finite amount of time, cannot, necessarily, determine the effects of future events. It simply cannot. It doesn’t hold that because a set of mice were fed a certain substance for a finite amount of time and (according to the studies definition of what “healthy” is) was determined to be healthy, that necessarily it can NEVER occur, that the substance in question cannot lead someone to be unhealthy. It simply doesn’t hold.

Take the longest study to date, whatever amount of time that is. It cannot be known that if the study progressed just one more day, or one more week, or month, or year, that the results would have been drastically different. It simply cannot be said with any confidence whatsoever. Correction, it could be said with confidence, but that confidence is born from ignorance, as the validity of that confidence comes from induction, and it is not necessarily true. It is the confidence of a fool.

I have given a specific example of the use of induction in scientific studies. But induction is used quite commonly. In fact the progression of “knowledge” is based on it. And when the body of knowledge has been so consistent, that knowledge or theory is given the status of law. Thus we have the law of gravitation, the law of conservation of energy/mass, etc, etc. We impose, onto nature, laws. These laws are so rigid that we infer (from induction) that they will always be true, have always been true, and are true not just on earth, in our solar system, or galaxy, but the law is true everywhere in the universe. This law is true spread out over the infinitude of time and space.

But we know this isn’t the true. The very same laws we hold to be so rigidly true, when used to model all the happenings of the universe, reveal certain anomalies. As it turns out, the laws of physics are not law-like under certain conditions. Under certain scenarios, such as moments after the expansion of the universe began from a point of singularity (the big bang), or at singularities such as black holes, the laws of physics are different.

So we are able to recognize that there are some instances where the laws are not law-like. We know that is the case for those instances that we are aware of. There may exist other instances/circumstances that we are currently unaware of when our laws do not behave law-like. But, we cannot be sure of the existence, necessarily, of other such instances/circumstances, as that would require an inference based on induction. Something I am not comfortable making. 🙂

 

Paradigm Shifts and the Structure of Scientific Progress

This post will be taking heavily from Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. If any of this interests you I highly recommend you go out and buy a copy. This book is so mass produced, as it is regarded as one of the worlds most cited works of the 20th century, one of the most influential books, so it only costs like ten bucks. It is also a very easy read.

Before continuing, I would like you to ask yourself a few questions. Pause from reading, and take the time to ask yourself: How does science work? How does scientific progress (and scientific knowledge) work? I am talking about in real life. Right now. In the world.

I would venture to say that most people, whether they consider themselves scientists or not, believe that science functions something like this: That there at any point is a body of knowledge of “what we know”, and that we do experiments and slowly, bit by bit, over time, add to our knowledge and improve on things. We make theories a bit better, a bit more accurate, fill in holes, and generally speaking, the path that science follows, though might be a bit zig-zagging, is generally moving directionally in a single direction, towards complete objective truth. In other words, scientific progress and the body of knowledge that comes from it, gets “better” and “better” over time, but more or less follows the same path, incrementally adding to what we know of the world.

Kuhn is a badass. He really is. He threw a huge wrench in this conception of how science truly operates, or at least how it has operated throughout history.

Kuhn looks at the history of science, and what he finds is quite profound.

To say that science existed before Newton wouldn’t really be accurate. Up until then you had pockets of people, some that were major influential players (as mentioned in recent posts), and of course others that were also working towards, at that point, something, some institution, some methodology, with the goal of coming to objective knowledge, objective truth of how nature is. Once Newton produced The Principia, he provided a cogent, cohesive,severely encapsulating theory on exactly how the universe is. His physics which involved nothing more than the fundamental principles of space, time, mass led to the development of laws that could describe motion, force and everything else. This marked the truly first paradigm that science produced. This was the first time that there was a structure (ie. Newtonian physics) from which all scientists could be in agreement with, a structure on how they viewed, experienced and interpreted the world.

The paradigm is a model on how the universe functions. Following Newtons philosophy, the world had to answer to such a world view, to such a paradigm.

Kuhn describes the stages in which a scientific theory, a paradigm (ie. science itself) goes through. They are:

  1. Normal Science
  2. Anomalies and the emergence of scientific discoveries
  3. Crisis and the emergence of scientific theories
  4. Revolution
  5. Adoption of a new scientific theory, new paradigm, and a new world view
  6. Normal science
  7. … repeat…

At any given time throughout the history of science, from Newton onward, there is an accepted theory of science, a paradigm that is held by the scientific community, and with this paradigm, a resulting world view. From Newtonian mechanics, I hold that all that there is in the universe are masses and they are governed by laws that dictate how they move according to forces. With that rough paradigm I see the world in that way. And under any commonly held paradigm there are implications and further tests and studies to be made. Little ‘holes’ in the body of knowledge that need to be filled in. The paradigm itself provides the implications (ie. hypotheses) and the experiments necessary to confirm (or refute) those implications. The pursuit of these experiments is what normal science is about.

Under a certain paradigm the theory might predict that this, that and the other might occur. Now, since science is based on empirical evidence, it is the job of the scientist to provide support of his theory and perform these experiments. The paradigm will suggest which experiments are worth performing, and which aren’t. For example, under a Newtonian theory/paradigm where everything is made of mass/matter, and is governed by forces, if one wanted to describe how the sun functions the hypotheses and experiments based on such hypotheses would necessarily have to involve concepts such as mass, matter and forces. To postulate something completely new would be to move OUTSIDE the theory, and there would be no reason for that, it would be counter-intuitive and highly unscientific. To postulate something outside the paradigm is to go outside of convention.

So there is the period of normal science. People in their labs, studying nature. They look at the paradigm and say ‘if this and that are true, then this should be how that other thing works’. They do experiments, based on predictions of the paradigm, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t work.

A key happening during normal science is that some experiments fail and some succeed. Of course, we are defining the success of an experiment such that the results match what is expected by the theory, by the paradigm, and the failure of an experiment such that the results do not match what is expected by the theory/paradigm. This is of great importance. In the progress of science when an experimental result does not match what is expected from the scientific theory/paradigm, then it is by default interpreted as a failure. The scientist failed. The experiment is to be repeated, perhaps under slightly different conditions. It is not conceived that the scientific theory is wrong, and that the results are correct. This is of deep importance and implications.

During scientific work, an “experiment” or study (which often involves several experiments that tie together to address a single hypothesis, such that a phd candidate might do) will most probably involve more “failed” experiments that “successful” experiments. Let’s say an average phd candidate is in school for 4-6 years. During that time they are constantly doing scientific experiments. The culmination of their experimentation is a thesis. Why does it take so much time? Often what is reported is simply a few experiments, and often these experiments could theoretically be performed in a quite short amount of time. So why does it take 4-6 years? Because experiments often fail. The results expected (or wanted, in order to be deemed a “success”) do not happen on the first try. The experiment has to changed a bit, then again, modify this protocol, perhaps change the approach, etc, etc. Failed experiment after failed experiment. None of which are reported to the scientific community. Then one day the experiment “works”! It is a success! This experiment is probably repeated (hopefully) a few more times, and yes, it works again! (often times it works, but then doesn’t again, and this is deemed a failure). The scientist is now considered a success! He has filled a small hole within the paradigm, within the scientific theory.

What happens, as normal science continues on, is that sometimes some holes don’t get fixed. Experiments that “should” “work” produce failure after failure after failure. No matter how the problem is approached, it just won’t produce the results predicted by the theory/paradigm. Now, again, at first the scientist might see himself as a failure. Who is he to stand up to an entire paradigm, an entire scientific theory that the rest of the world holds to be true? That already explains so much. But over time, other scientists start to find the same thing. Perhaps other scientists can’t fill in that same hole, or get experimental results as predicted by the theory. These represent anomalies.

At first anomalies are due to the scientists themselves. They are failures. But, then as the number of anomalies grows, and as they begin to gain notice and find there way into a larger portion of the scientific community, especially leading scientists, there will be a growing concern that the paradigm, the currently held scientific theory is not capable of explaining this phenomena. This leads to a period of crisis.

During crisis the scientific community will put forth new scientific theories. The ones to date can no longer explain the phenomena experienced. Some theories will be slight changes, some will be vastly different. This is an interesting juncture in the progress of science and scientific thought, as scientists have to function outside their domain, that is, they now have to become philosophers and ask themselves some basic questions such as “what is?“, “what exists?”. This is nothing new, and in fact has been with science since its inception. It is the driving philosophical question from which science arrived from. Newtons answers: atoms (mass), space, time, forces, motion and mathematical laws to describe them all in their relations.

The normal science that is performed will relax its strictness. An experiment that might have been at one point deemed unnecessary or not worthy will now be acted upon, since the strength or tightness the scientific community holds to the currently held paradigm will loosen, allowing a less stringent practice of science to occur.

It is during this time that new theories come into discussion. At one point the scientific theory of heat was that heat was a physical thing, like an atom. This was a paradigm, a theory from which those that adopted such a paradigm had a world view that there were physical bits of heat. Heat was a fluid, it was very subtle, like atoms, but it was physical and moved around like any other atom in Newtons universe. People who held this view could only conceive of their universe to be structured like that. They quite literally lived in a universe where heat was a physical fluid. Today, heat is interpreted as the motion of physical bodies. Atoms that move faster “have” more heat, and atoms that move slower, “have” less heat. It is quite different, and the consequences are quite different in terms of what exists and what doesn’t exist in each respective universe.

So, theories come into discussion. Now, we would like to think that science is this objective process where if we removed humans it could and would continue on just the same, but just as any process that requires agreement, such as developing policy, there requires people to come to an agreement despite differing opinions and views. This process is not straight forward. How is the scientific community to convene and reach a new scientific theory, a new paradigm from which to move forward? It is open to politics, to charisma and the ability to sway and convince opinion, it is a matter of popularity, it is a matter of aesthetics. And more importantly, it is a matter of FAITH.

One of the strongest points that Kuhn makes is that in the adoption of a new paradigm, a new scientific theory, the new scientific theory can NEVER be chosen by an attempt to logically compare the currently held paradigm to the one being entertained to overtake it. The reason is, they are incommensurable. These two paradigms cannot be compared, to do so would be meaningless. The interpretation of data from one paradigm will take on different meanings than another. Definitions, terms, fundamentals will all be different in the new paradigm. Because of this, it cannot be from inference or logic alone that the scientific community bases their decision to adopt a new paradigm on. It must also appeal to extra-scientific, extra-logical things, such as aesthetics and faith. Faith that the new scientific theory, the new paradigm, will explain future experimental results/data/phenomena in addition to being able to explain the current data as well. If there are multiple competing theories, each explaining the current data, the one that will be chosen will be the one that makes predictions, and the one that scientists have the most faith in describing and explaining those phenomena under that scientific theory.

Aesthetics and faith.

One cannot argue from the to-be-discarded paradigm, as it is not viable, and to do so would be meaningless. It has no meaning for Aristotle to argue to Descartes “Don’t you see, qualities are what matter! The redness that you see is IN THE OBJECT ITSELF!”, because they live in two different universes, these universes are incommensurable, incomparable. For Descartes, he can’t fathom what is being said to him. For him, what is out there in the world are atoms devoid of qualities outside of shape, and they have motion. For Descartes he will say “Don’t you see Aristotle? The colors are only in our minds. The only thing out there in the world that is real are atoms that move around in space.” The two universes are structurally different, and each inhabitant can only frame their experience from the structure in which their universe is constructed. To see things differently would be to enter a new universe with a completely different structure.

When the new paradigm is chosen the entire view of the field, view of the world, of the methods to be used, of the ‘holes’ to be filled in normal science, of the relations of the objects of science (of mass, of motion, of heat, of atoms, of forces, of etc etc etc) will have changed. Quite literally, upon doing so, it could be said that the way in which the world, the universe, reality, nature, is viewed will have changed. It is also open to arguing that over time, especially as this new paradigm, this new world view becomes convention and accepted by the general public, by the next generation that grows up with this new “knowledge”, this new “truth”, (which EVERY scientific theory is held as, for those that hold science to be equated with knowledge) that this isn’t just how the universe is viewed, but quite literally how it is structured, since we can only frame the universe/reality/the world/nature through our concepts, and as we conceive of reality through our concepts, and our concepts will involve these paradigms, these world views, we will know our universe to be structured only in this way.

What happens next, following the adoption of a new paradigm, is the field is changed. New problems are framed, the direction of important questions to be addressed is taken and a new period of normal science begins again.

An interesting thing happens though, time and again, during this unending process of science. At the arrival of each new paradigm is the acquisition of the sense “Now! Now, finally, now we know! Now we have it explained. Now we just need to do some hole filling, do this, that and the other, a bit of normal science, and then we can finally say we have it figured out.” We are always SO close. We are always JUST coming to the finality of scientific understanding. We are always, no matter at what point, no matter what the theory of science, the currently held paradigm, we are always finally NOW correct. Now we know. Now we have it understood. Those old paradigms that humans once held, that old view, heck, even those old myths, Aristotle, religion, mysticism, folklore, etc, they never had it right. NOW, today, these views, these theories, this paradigm, this is correct.

And it is like that. Isn’t it? For the most part. Now we know. We KNOW! We always know. Science knows. Science proves this. Science proves that. This is the language we have decided to use. This is the convention held by many/most of us. If there is one thing science looks down on it is skepticism.

There is much, much, much more to take away from Kuhn, from the structure of how science progresses. I would recommend reading his book. The language/conceptual barrier is very low, meaning you don’t need to know science or philosophy to read it and comprehend it.

I am interested in the relationship people, especially common people who work outside of science, relate to science and scientific “knowledge”. This book, after reading Kant really blew my mind open. I actually had the great privilege of sitting and chatting with my philosophy of science professor today for almost two hours. Our talk touched on this area for quite a bit. This book, apparently, opened the floodgates to a field of philosophy that I, myself, have moved myself into. It involves the idea that our systems of knowledge, of deriving meaning and relations from ourselves to the world/universe/reality/nature is always one of convention. The idea that there is no objective truth, that whether you describe something as mass, or as a quality, as divine, or as a constraining law such as gravity, of forces or of purpose, of spirits or of causal relations, it all follows the same structure in being that it is formulated and accepted based on convention, aesthetics, cohesive explanation (ie. the theory/world view should explain as much as possible, and it is when a “hole” in the explanation appears is when that given theory comes into question… why is why “God makes it so” is a nice universal hole filler) and faith.

It can be argued that it isn’t rational to follow induction, that is, it doesn’t necessarily have to be true that because every single previous scientific theory/scientific paradigm has been abandoned due to its inability to explain everything, that the currently held one, or any future one, won’t. That is true. But that rests solely on the assumption, and it is an assumption, though it may be held by convention, that there does exist a single and objective truth as to how nature/the universe/reality/the world is and additionally, that we are capable of arriving at that single and objective truth (via science).

That, in itself, is worth addressing, and should be, especially in the spirit of science, meaning to not take anything as self-evident and to question all currently held beliefs in order to arrive at the truth.

What the structure of scientific revolutions shows, what history shows, is that man’s perception of the universe, of reality; man’s world views are malleable. They can change. Man can one day live in a universe of purpose and meaning, of quality, of a universe that is alive, animated (animism, pantheism, etc), to a world of dead lifeless atoms, to a world of strict determinism, to a world of whatever the views of the day are. There is a universe, and it can be framed and structured in so many ways. It can be structured the way a follower of an Abrahamic religion would structure it, it can be structured in the way an atheist structures it, the way a Buddhist, a yogi, a follower of Vedanta, a Taoist, it can be structured by an Aristotelian, a Hegelian, a Kantian, it can be structured the way Richard Dawkins might structure it, the way a Darwinian would, the way someone who believes in free will or the way someone who believes in strict determinism would structure the world. The universe can be structured the way someone who holds that life force flows in the body, and it can be structured the way a tribe in the middle of Papua New Guinea structures it. If history has shown one thing, it is that there is a never ending supply of cultural world views, of stories we tell ourselves, tell our children, condition and indoctrinate ourselves (which is to say, agree upon by convention), and in all of these world views the universe/reality/the world/nature is seen differently, completely differently, incommensurable even, and yet each culture exists in the world, all the same.

The very fact that that exists, I think, can tell us quite a bit, and it has meaning.

I don’t know what I will write about next. I think I will talk about induction, the problem of induction, and what that means for science and scientific claims. For those that have heated opinions about scientific claims or evidence that relates to the safety of GMO’s, safety of chemicals, or foods, it will definitely be of interest 🙂

 

 

World Views and the Scientific Revolution – Part 2

Before getting to Rene Descartes it would be good to discuss a different key player in the development of science as a means to come to knowledge of the world/nature/reality/the universe. Francis Bacon spanned the 16th and 17th centuries. His philosophy of how to come to know nature has played a very important part in the development of science and the scientific method.

Before getting to Bacon, it is worth first stating what the scientific method, in its currently held form, actually is. Today, the scientific method could be stated more or less as such: there is a phenomena, process or something about nature/the world/reality/the universe one wishes to gain knowledge of. We can call this a question. How does such and such do X? From this question, observations regarding what is known about such and such and X are gathered, and a hypothesis is posed based on those observations. A hypothesis follows a format such as “It is my hypothesis that such and such produces X via a process/mechanism that involves a, b and c.” This hypothesis must be TESTABLE. This is to say, the test must be able to produce results such that the hypothesis can be refuted. In doing so, the hypothesis must be able to make predictions that are empirically testable through experimentation. Thus, the next step is to develop the experiment, to carry out the experiment and to look at the results and interpret them in relation to what results were predicted by the hypothesis given. If the results did not match the predicted results, this must be addressed. If the results are contrary and in direct violation of the predicted results, the experimenter can interpret that as having the hypothesis refuted. If this is the case, then a new hypothesis will be brought forth, and the process continues. If, on the other hand, the results were in accordance with what was predicted, this does not prove the hypothesis to be correct, rather, it has not been refuted yet and awaits further testing. One can only say that the results support the hypothesis, or that the results provide evidence in support of the hypothesis postulated.

Now, we return to Bacon. Bacon would have loved farmers almanacs. He believed that the way to know nature was to record all the data that you can about nature. You make tables and tables and tables of data. Figures, numbers, values, measurements, for as many things as you can, and from these data you can see trends, make predictions and see relations. It was in that way that you saw how nature was. In this respect, he would believe that the data speaks for itself. Key to this is the assumption/belief that nature/the world/the universe/reality is regular. Regular is taken from the french word regle, which is to say law like. Bacon, and those that hold this a priori assumption, impose this property onto nature/../… In doing so, they infer that whatever is true of the past, will be repeated into the future. This is known as induction. However, as we will see in another blog post there is a problem of induction. The first is on what basis do we have the right in adopting such a form of reasoning? The second is, the conclusion arrived at through inductive reasoning is not necessary. More on that later.

Another immensely influential contribution Bacon gave to the development of science was how to carry out an experiment. He believed that in order to understand nature you must control it, box it in and “vex” it, poke it, stress it (quite literally) in order to see how it reacts. This will reveal its true nature and essence. Clearly, this is how we perform science today. Let’s say we want to study any given cellular process today. As scientists this will be reduced to a few key players that perform a given process/function. These key players (perhaps proteins) will be isolated, removed from their natural environment of the cell, placed in a vial, and have their contents manipulated under certain completely unnatural conditions, in order to see how they react. In doing so, the system is “vexed”, and specific effects will be studied and interpreted. From this process the scientist will interpret the results and come to a conclusion as to how these proteins function in nature.

Notice the process of coming to “know” nature. The phenomena/process that is to be studied and “known” is isolated, reproduced in such a way that is not found in nature ever, at all, except within the experimental setting, and based on such unnatural results the claim is made that how the phenomena/process occurs naturally, in nature, in the environment that such a phenomena/process is actually found, is now known.

What is most interesting is that all the variables surrounding the phenomena/process are controlled, and only under such a setting is information gathered by the scientist determined to be of value. Now, under such a sterile and manufactured setting, the process is known, and the model that is given for how the process occurs is then transposed into nature, despite the presence of all those other variables of which the cause/effects are unknown.

This is an interesting way to come to understand nature.

For both Bacon and Descartes the purpose of science was mastery over nature, to manipulate it to your own desire.

Descartes was a 17th century philosopher and mathematician. Descartes is quite interesting. In his Meditations on First Philosophy he basically sets himself up in a cabin, sitting by a fireplace and takes time out of his life to do something he has put off for too long. He recognizes that he holds many things to be true but has come to learn that they are not. He is motivated in building a science, a formal system of knowledge that has at its very foundation necessarily true statements, and from here, build on that knowledge with only other necessarily true statements, such that he, and humanity, can build a system of knowledge that is true and free from doubt or falsity.

He starts this pursuit by realizing that he can’t scan through his entire body of knowledge, piece by piece, so he decides to start from scratch and claim that he knows nothing. His arguments are fun and interesting, and he comes to one famous realization of a truth that he cannot, no sane person cannot deny: that he exists. Nobody could trick him into thinking such a thing incorrectly. To even state “I don’t exist” would be a contradiction. From this he wonders what else he can know for sure, necessarily.

It is from here where, well, his arguments, though interesting, aren’t necessarily true. He argues, in a few ways, for God’s existence, and since God is not a deceiver and would never trick Descartes, then whatever Descartes finds to be necessarily true, must be. Not just this, but they must be necessarily true for God as well. Now, we can come to know the truth, God’s truth, as long as we have clear and distinct (necessarily true) ideas of it (again, because God would never deceive us, because he is all good).

Now, the means of course to come to these clear and distinct ideas is related to the sciences, that is, mathematics and geometry. Descartes, like Galileo, banishes secondary qualities (color, taste, touch, smell, etc) to the mind. They do not exist “out there” in the real world. They have no basis of objective reality. Rather, what exists “out there” in the extended world is matter, which has number, magnitude, extension and motion.

Descartes was smart. He saw what happened to his contemporary, Galileo. He himself had written a piece on heliocentrism, but after seeing what happened to Galileo, he chose not to publish it. Rather, he took a different approach. He argued for the proof of God’s existence, and equated the ability to come to true knowledge (via science/mathematics/geometry) to be ordained and permissible by God. Descartes writes:

“…for as often as I restrain my will when I make judgments, so that it extends only to those matters that the intellect clearly and distinctly discloses to it, it plainly cannot happen that I err. For every clear and distinct perception is surely something, and hence it cannot come from nothing. On the contrary, it must necessarily have God for its author.”

I find this quotation very interesting and very powerful. In just a couple of sentences Descartes turns the scientific pursuit of knowledge of the world/nature/reality/the universe to being given to us, “authored”, by God.

Once it was the priest that was God’s messenger of truth to the masses, but now it is the scientist. And is that not what we have today? Scientists declare discoveries, these discoveries are reported on in the news, and the common person reads and learns of what “we now know” to be “true”. Thought it might not be accepted immediately, it will most definitely be included in the curriculum of the next generation of children, and these children grow up in a universe where that “truth” is completely accepted. Rather than turning to a priest for truth/knowledge/meaning of nature/the universe/reality/the world, we now turn to scientists and scientific bodies of knowledge.

So, Descartes contends that absolute truth is mathematical. Since he wishes to apply math to the world/nature, he must banish qualities that are non-mathematizable (color, taste, sense, smell, etc), and reduces quality to (atoms, essentially) extended matter of size, shape, number and motion.

For Descartes, the universe is a set of extended matter in constant motion, in constant contact. God, the creator, in the beginning set extended substance in motion, and maintains them in motion by his “general concourse”. Not only is man removed from this universe, but so is his God.

Another interesting point of notice for Descartes is that his life’s work, his motivation, finds its source in a mystical experience that he had on November 10, 1619. During this mystical experience the Angel of Truth appeared to him and revealed to him that the sole key to understanding nature was mathematics. This supernatural insight was of such great importance for Descartes that he referred to it as the decisive moment in his career.

Finally we arrive at Newton. As Newton says,

“If I have seen farther [than other men’, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants”

Perhaps the momentum and path that the scientific movement was destined to arrive at the conclusions that Newton made. But it wasn’t anyone else, rather it was Newton that ushered in this arrival. There could not really be said of any other man that truly changed the world as much as Newton had. It could even be argued that Newton, more than Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, or anyone else, has had the single greatest influence on the world. Newton is representative of science, and after him the universe/the world/nature/reality could no longer be conceived in the same way.

Of interest Newton was deeply religious and deeply interested in the occult. It is said that he was written just as many papers on the occult and supernatural as he did on his scientific pursuits. It is of significance that Newton was born to his widowed mother. As a new born his mother left to the next town over to live with her new husband, leaving Newton to be raised by his grandparents. History records Newton as a deeply angry and troubled child. His personal journal in which he practiced writing Latin was comprised solely of dark and negative sentences of theme that life is pain, suffering, he was meek, a waste, etc. He loved his mother dearly, and was frustrated by her absence.

Newton also believed that at any given time there is always one person on the planet that is empowered with something like a prophet status. That this person had a direct connection to God and was meant to lead humanity towards truth. Newton believed that he was that person, and he had a life mission to carry out this role.

There are much too many important consequences of Newton’s philosophies to list. I will do my best touch on some, and to be brief.

Newton reduced the entire universe to dead, lifeless, inert atoms, forces that act on these atoms, and mathematical laws that govern these forces. The entire universe became a machine, which operated, like a clock, due to mechanisms. God, the clock builder, set the machine in motion and was no longer a part of it. He set it perfectly in place, as God is perfect, and left it to run for eternity. This clock was nothing but laws that govern forces acting on atoms. Dead, lifeless, inert atoms, like billiard balls, to move, collide over the cosmos for all of eternity. All changes in the universe were nothing more than collisions, separations and coming together of these dead, lifeless atoms.

Of course, what Newton is most commonly known for is “discovering” gravity. I prefer the statement that Newton invented gravity. I purposely take this view because “discovering” gravity comes from a bias that our currently held views are the correct ones. That gravity always existed, that there is an objective, single truth to how the universe functions, and Newton (science) simply had to discover that truth. I will address this view over the month.

Returning to gravity. Gravity was profound for many reasons. First, it was purely quantitative. It replaced Aristotle’s qualitative reasons for natural motion. It reduced bodies to mass, and mass exerted forces onto each other. This also introduced the strange new concept of action at a distance. How do two bodies (dead, lifeless, inert masses) exert a force onto each other across space? How is that force communicated, if they are not in direct contact? Have you ever thought of this yourself? It is simply accepted by convention by almost every single person today, but this is a profound problem. How do two things that are separated in space able to communicate effects onto each other (forces)? How?!

This was so counter-intuitive that Newton wrote,

“It is inconceivable, that inanimate brute matter should, without the mediation of something else, which is not material, operate upon, and affect other matter without mutual contact; as it must do, if gravitation, in the sense of Epicurus, be essential and inherent in it. And this is one reason, why I desired you would not ascribe innate gravity to me. That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another, at a distance through a vacuum, without mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an agent acting constantly according to certain laws; but whether this agent be material or immaterial, I have left to the consideration of my readers.”

Powerful stuff. Newton invokes and induces a force, gravity, to explain the phenomena, yet finds it absurd, the very concept itself, and cannot believe anyone with a ‘competent faculty of thinking’ could ever accept it.

Einstein himself could not accept this idea of gravity, and it is why he developed the concept of curved space, that matter curves the very structure of space, (commonly conceptualized as a bowling bowl one a stretched out blanket which sinks down, causing a deformation in the blanket, ie. space, thereby altering the motion of anything else that travels along the blanket, ie. space) such that things that move along the structure of space appear to fall towards the bigger mass.

So what? How has the universe changed since just a century or two earlier? Starting from a universe of quality, of purpose, of natural resting places, of meaning, of man being at the center of the universe, in direct relationships with nature, the surroundings, meaning and God, we have moved to a cold, dead, lifeless universe where all that exists is geometry (space and the atoms in it) and mathematics (laws that govern them, and an infinite continuity of numbers, ie. time). Things like love, meaning, purpose, laughter, colors, joy, pleasure, pain are not truly real, they have no existence outside of the mind. What is real are the primary qualities of nature, they are the real things that exist “out there”, and that being atoms (matter, number, shape and motion), forces and the laws that govern them.

Man turned the universe into a machine and wrote himself out of it. With such a structure of the universe, it is becomes much easier to manipulate and use. There becomes less of need for ethics in such a universe, as the universe is no longer alive, but is objectively dead, lifeless atoms. It is easier to destroy the environment, to dig into the land. The earth is no longer alive. If it was, its destruction would be more akin to rape and killing. But for a lifeless universe, it is simply a machine to be manipulated.

Tomorrow I will write, as promised in the last post, on paradigm shifts and world views.

World Views and The Scientific Revolution

Once upon a time there was no such concept of science. The universe and man’s conception of himself, his place in nature/the world/the universe, and these relations were all completely different than as they are perceived today. The universe was a completely different place.

In order to truly comprehend just how significant and consequential the scientific revolution was in terms of man and his conception of his place in the universe, the universe itself, space, time, and meaning, one has to understand the world as it was before the scientific revolution.

Aristotle (4th century BCE) and his philosophical views were the widely held and accepted views for nearly 2000 years. Specifically, the conception of causality,  meaning, purpose, physics and cosmology were directly influenced by Aristotle. Over the centuries the Christian church underwent a synthesis of Aristotle’s philosophy with their own, as they were quite compatible. This synthesis came under the banner of scholasticism and was a front runner in education throughout the universities of Europe up until about the 18th century.

In this universe, man saw his place as a natural position in the universe. He was not “in” the universe, but a natural part of it. Nature consisted of the earth being at the center of the cosmos with all planets, the sun, the moon orbiting the earth, and on this earth was all the natural elements which existed in continuity with, and for the purposes of man. Man was directly related to God, and this relationship was evident and obvious as Man’s place was at the center of the cosmos, and nature was there for him.

There was not so much thought on quantity, and there was not so much thought on ‘how?’. The questions that mattered were ‘why?’, and it was quality that mattered.

‘Why?’ was explained by objects’ natural resting places, their ‘fate’, their ‘destiny’, their natural order, their dharma you might even say. Everything was qualitative, and all of nature was composed of a various mixture of earth, fire, air, water and aether elements. In this universe things did not fall to the earth because of gravity (ie. the attractive forces between two masses). In this universe, matter fell to the earth because it was made of earth. Like attracted like. The natural resting place for an object that is composed of the elemental quality of earth, the destiny of that object, is to return to the earth. That is its end. That is its natural resting place. That is why it falls. And it accelerates towards the earth as it moves onward because it is getting closer and closer to its home, and thus, is drawn towards it more and more. A bigger piece of earth falls towards the ground quicker than a smaller piece of earth because it contains more elemental earth, thus more of it wants to get to its final resting place. Airy and fiery substances move upwards, because that is where their natural resting place is. In this universe, things stay where they are naturally meant to, unless an unnatural force is applied to them (ie. me picking up a stone and applying a force to lift it away from its natural place).

Now, we should take pause. When reading this, it is important not to try to understand it through your world view, your concepts. It might be easy to think ‘that is stupid, we KNOW now that things fall because of gravity, that things aren’t made up of qualities called elements’. That removes you from seeing the significance of it all. Instead, try to imagine being such a person, where such concepts DO NOT EXIST. The only concepts to understand your experience, your world, your universe, are those provided for you, and those are of Aristotelian physics and scholasticism.

Man had purpose and a place in the universe. Not just this, but the universe was not dead, it was very much alive. In this universe time was conceptually quite different. For one, it was more cyclical (moon cycles and seasons), and less linear and quantified. I will speak more on that at another point. Space is conceived as completely different. For Aristotle space wasn’t something someone occupied, rather, the world was filled with qualitative things (ie. a human body was a qualitative thing, a tree was a qualitative thing, not a quantity such as space/volume) that were surrounded by space.

There is much more to be said, but to keep it short, it is important to realize that the universe was different. It was physically structured differently (earth at the center, everything orbited earth, the cosmos were smaller), time was not as prevalent of a concept as it is today, and the human experiences was centered around quality, rather than quantity. Man, his meaning, his experience and relation to the cosmos, to nature, to himself, to God was known and explained for.

Fast forward to the 16th century to find Nicolaus Copernicus.

Here, we are at the doorsteps of the scientific revolution. The stage is set. Europeans are sailing the world, learning that there is more out there than previously imagined. Knowledge, consciousness and experience is expanding. Thoughts are becoming more open. Religion is coming to question, and two things that are perceived as known with certainty, mathematics and geometry, are becoming topics of study more and more.

At that time the model of the universe was that of geocentrism. Here, again, the earth was center of the universe. Now, over the years since Aristotle, his conception of the cosmos and the orbits of the sun, moon and planets were not always accurate. A newer model which involved slight variations known as epicycles were introduced. This was known as Ptolemy. An epicycle can be thought of as such: imagine Mars orbits the earth in a circle. Now, imagine that as it travels along that circle it isn’t doing so statically, but rather, is doing so while itself undergoing smaller cycles. Hard to explain, so see the pic:

Epicycles

Now, what is of key importance to note here is that Ptolemy and this model of how the cosmos functioned was ACCURATE. It was, however, complicated and messy. You had planets moving on epicycles, and epicycles with epicycles, etc. It was ugly. Which is to say, it was not aesthetically appealing. But it explained the phenomena perceived. It accounted for the motion of the planets. At this point in history, nature was described. The concept that nature should be explained in terms of more or less preferred aesthetics was not really in discussion. THIS was Copernicus’ motivation. This was his driving force. Copernicus, who is often associated with ushering man into the age of science was not motivated for finding “objective truth” of “the way things were”, rather, he believed that nature was simple, and sought to find a model that, give the empirical data, was simpler than Ptolemy.

This is of key importance, and is not to be under-appreciated. Science is generally not conceived to be addressing aesthetics and preferences, or based on belief. Rather, it is commonly held to be getting to “the truth” of things, and how nature/reality/the universe “actually is”, that is to say, objectively.

Step back and conceptualize this for a moment. Here, you have humans that have a structure of the universe: Ptolemy. It is accurate, predicts the motions of the planets, predicts the moon, eclipses, etc. It worked. But Copernicus had a belief that nature was simpler. He had a belief on what the aesthetics of reality, the aesthetics of the universe and the structure in which we come to understand it should be like. He had a belief related to aesthetics, which is to say, a preference. And with that he took the data available to him and formulated a new model. This new model placed the sun at the center of the universe. Now, earth and man were no longer at the center of the universe, rather just like any other planet, and orbited the sun. It cannot be overstated what sort of blow this had to Aristotelian/scholastic world view of meaning, man’s place in nature, man’s meaning and connection to purpose/God.

The interesting thing was Copernicus’s model of heliocentrism was no more accurate than Ptolemy. It is often framed that Copernicus’s model met resistance from the Catholic church. This is true, but it is not the whole truth. It was met by almost all people! Imagine if somebody tomorrow proposed a model for the structure of the universe that was COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than the way you currently structure the universe now, today, and have structured for your entire life. And when you ask why you should accept this new model, and ask if it is more accurate than the one you currently hold, the response you receive is “no, it isn’t more accurate, it is just simpler”. Imagine. Just imagine!

I cannot speak for anyone else, but Copernicus and heliocentrism was always framed to me in school as a battle between Copernicus and the Catholic church stubbornly holding on to what everybody knew to be true. That is far from true and is an erroneous way of looking at history. It was a very hard sell for Copernicus, not just for a church to accept, but for every common man. A new model of the structure of the universe, based on aesthetics, which is based on a belief and assumption that, a priori, nature operates in one way over another (simpler); on what grounds is that assumption/belief to be held besides an aesthetic preference?

A half century after Copernicus very few people were willing to hold heliocentrism to be true. It wasn’t until a young mathematician and deeply religious man, Johannes Kepler, around the turn of the 17th century, came onto the scene. Now Kepler was young and did not grow up in a universe where there was only one single model for how the universe was structured. He was not conditioned as everyone else was with solely Aristotelian world views. He had different concepts available to him. He was quite religious and quite taken with mathematics. He believes that there were mathematical relations in all things in nature, and that if you looked enough at the data a mathematical relation could be found to explain the relations. This is also of key importance in generating a change in perspective, a change in conceptualization, a change in how man relates, structures and perceives the universe and his place in it.

Of course, Kepler found those relations in the astronomical data, and was able to improve upon Copernicus’s model. Filled with joy that his belief that mathematical relations were in nature just waiting to be discovered was validated, Kepler postulated that surely there were more. This is also of key importance. It is a point of demarcation where man had his answers in one world view, and in coming to a realization that one of the things he always held to be true was no longer accepted as true. That brought into question ‘what else am I wrong about? what else is there out there I can discover?’.

Kepler is interesting as well. Again, another key figure in the history of science. Yet, just like Copernicus, he was not doing science. What he was doing was acting on a belief and on an aesthetic conception of the universe. He acted on those conceptual aesthetic beliefs, and found a mathematical model that fit the data. Today, if such a process were carried out, whether “correct” or not, would never be considered scientific. It would be considered lucky.

What is of interest here is another key shift. A world that is concerned with quality, explained and given meaning through qualities, is now putting qualities aside for quantity. Mathematical and geometrical relations can be used to explain nature, and Kepler’s belief of the universe, of nature being describable using mathematics and geometry are now on the table. This is a direct blow to the world view of the time. Another important thing to notice is that for Kepler, though his ideas were radical for the time, he didn’t (as far as I know) explicitly say that the universe/nature IS mathematical, rather, that there are mathematical relations that can be observed and used to MODEL it. This is of great importance, as we will see come Newton in the 18th century, the world view will have drastically changed to the point where math is not something that we use to model the qualitative universe, rather, we can only gain knowledge if it is mathematical, since the universe itself is GOVERNED by mathematics. This is a subtle yet key distinction that has vast consequences.

So. Brief recap. For nearly 2000 years the universe is qualitative, filled with meaning, purpose, with man directly a part of nature, in a relationship with God, the center of existence. Copernicus deals a blow to this as he is driven by aesthetics and belief (which is re-framed today under the banner of scientific discovery), Kepler improves on this aesthetic model of the universe, driven by the aesthetic belief that mathematics is in nature to be discovered. He delivers another blow and opens the door for quantity, rather than quality, to be the means of knowledge for man.

Enter Galileo Galilei. He spanned the 16th and 17th century. Galileo did many things. He made many inventions, including some of the first devices to measure time (huge effects), the telescope, and did extensive work on mechanics, which is to say, the study of motion.

Galileo is most famously known for writing A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. A book filled with errors and inaccurate arguments, but still, essentially making a case for heliocentrism. This led to his inquisition and trial which culminated in him spending the rest of his life under house arrest. He is portrayed as the scientific martyr that stood up to the Catholic church for the sake of truth and knowledge. Perhaps rightly so.

Galileo’s advancement of scientific research was important. Like his predecessors, Galileo maintains the convention that nature is regular and simple. Galileo developed a methodology for his discoveries. He would first reason and use intuition. He would look into the phenomena of interest, reduce the sensible qualities down to only what mattered, and then attempted to describe it mathematically. Finally, he would perform an experiment in order to validate his mathematical explanation. This was a proto-scientific method.

As was quite possibly inevitable to come, Galileo begins what will come to be a pursuit that takes us to the present day, in removing qualities from reality and replacing them with quantities. Galileo believes that the laws of the universe, of nature are immutable and mathematical. God is a mathematician. It is quantity (mathematics and geometry) that make up nature, that govern the universe. It is quality that can deceive us and is illusory. He holds that there are primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities are real (immutable, like the mathematical laws of nature). Primary qualities are number, shape, magnitude, position and motion. Mathematical and geometric qualities. Other things like color, taste, etc, are subjective and inaccurate secondary qualities. These are not real or meaningful.

This is not to be overstated in terms of importance. Just a century ago it was only quality that mattered. Quality was what made up nature. You knew nature through qualities, described it, understood it, and your existence was given meaning from qualities. Now, qualities are divided between useless and useful, and it is only the qualities that can be mathematized (number, shape, magnitude, position and motion) that have any value or meaning. Now, the universe, nature, the human experience is given meaning and understanding in terms of math and geometry, nothing else. The universe is quantitative. It is regular. It is law like. And the only way to get knowledge of it is to use the only necessarily true form of knowledge known; mathematics and geometry.

Another quite interesting finding of Galileo’s is that projectile motion follows a parabolic path.

Anyone who has studied physics knows this, and for anyone that has thrown a ball or an egg or a pizza or anything at all, can see this. So why is this worthy to mention? This, in fact, was a discovery! For nearly 2000 years, the physics of Aristotle prevailed. Return once again to his elemental qualities of earth, fire, air, water, aether. For Aristotle, objects in the world are self-movers. That is to say, when I let go of a rock from my hand at shoulder height, it is the earth qualities in the rock that force itself to move downwards towards the earth, again, so that it can find its natural place in the universe. Gravity does not exist. It has not been invented yet. That is not a concept that is available.

For Aristotle then, in projectile motion, such as that of throwing a baseball towards a friend, or a cannon firing, there are two motions at work. The first force is the unnatural motion which is imparted on the cannon ball via the cannon. For Aristotle, once that motion extinguishes itself, natural motion takes over, and the cannon ball falls to its natural place, the earth. The path of such a motion would look like this:

Now, today, anyone that has seen any object endure projectile motion would have a hard time to understand how such a model of motion could even be possible. It is quite acceptable that one would ask “Couldn’t people just SEE that Aristotle’s model for projectile motion was wrong? Just go throw a ball!”. This is extremely fair. This model for motion, for physics, for explaining the phenomena that occurs in the world lasted for nearly 2000 years!! 2000 years! How is this possible?!

Though it is not to be covered here, it perhaps will be this month. What I am building up to is gestalt psychology, of perceiving phenomena in a manner that fits into a preconceived structure of reality, of perceiving phenomena as you expect to perceive it. Phenomena and our perception are quite malleable, and the way we structure reality from our senses is not a one way relation (that is to say, we don’t just receive sense data and then perceive it, rather, we receive sense data and the mind creates/structures reality, and in doing so what is created/structured is influenced by our concepts, our expectations, and much more), rather, we impose onto the universe our structure of reality that is created in the mind. There exists a vast abundance of examples of this, and this topic deserves its own discussion. Briefly, one example would be a self-fulfilling prophecy (placebo effect, many others); you perceive person X as a bad person. You are convinced of it. In so doing, the way you perceive person X becomes skewed. Everything is filtered through this “bad person” frame of reference. Anytime ANYTHING can be interpreted as being “bad”, you will make notice, and this will reaffirm and perpetuate your bias and belief. It validates it. The instances that are counter to person X being a bad person are passed over, are not remembered, and not really conceived….  To leave this then,what matters is that people were committed to a world view, to a specific universal structure, and in committing to this paradigm when people, for 2000 years, perceived projectile motion in such a way, they quite literally experienced it as Aristotle described. They didn’t just ‘perceive’ it as such, rather, for those people the universe operated under that structure of unnatural and natural motion, of projectile motion sans-parabolas.

On Galileo’s works on measuring time. Time is quite important man’s conception of self, universe, nature, meaning. It is quite important sociologically, and scientifically in terms of how we relate to nature, our existence, the structure of the universe, etc.

Before I continue, perhaps you should stop and ask yourself two questions. What is time? What is motion?

Aristotle thought that time was the number of motion. There was once a period in history where time was not quantified. It had a quality: summer, winter, the shape of the moon, etc. Time is now a quantity. It is a dimension that moves forward, uniformly, in one direction. Or so it is commonly held. What is time? Where does it exist? Does it exist? How does it exist? What gives it existence?

Perhaps I will touch on this again, perhaps not. I am getting tired, so I will finish up.

Perhaps I will come back to the history of science. Important players such as Bacon, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton and perhaps Einstein and the development of physics today: quantum mechanics would be worth discussing.

The important and meaningful things that stand out to me in the development of scientific thinking is that the world/the universe/nature was perceived to exist in a certain way, and man’s relations to himself, to nature, to existence, to everything, was a certain way. And this all changed completely in so many drastic ways. The two universes are incommensurable. They cannot even be compared and certainly cannot be understood through each other. They are just completely different.

The way the story is presented today in textbooks is that today we now “know” “the truth” of the universe, nature, etc. We look back fondly at our ancestors and how silly they were, the myths they held, the explanations given. If only they knew what we knew! The story is told that modern science began with great scientific minded men (Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, etc), who fought tooth and nail with their oppressors, fools and ignorant men for the pursuit of TRUTH (attainable only via science of course). Of course, this isn’t an accurate picture at all, for the reasons mentioned above. It is a re-writing and washing of history (propaganda/bias?) and (as common with science) reduces history to a single context without taking into account a more comprehensive view of what the social/epistemological milieu of the times were. Not just that, but that these great ‘scientific men’ were not doing science, but rather making assumptions based off of aesthetics and beliefs, and over time, each followed in line with the other on these assumptions. Views began to be held in convention, the same way the Aristotelian world view was for 2000 years.

My next post I will talk about paradigm shifts and changes in world views, such as the one that occurred and has never stopped occurring since Copernicus (arguably for the entire length of human existence). I will mention the consequences and significance of changes in paradigm shifts, of changes in world views, and address the question: is there such thing as objective knowledge? Is there such thing as “the single truth” for how the universe is? Is there any meaning in the belief that science operates by “getting closer” to “the truth”? In the sense that if you switched one folk-lore mythology for another, could one be said to be more accurate of the universe than the other? What criteria could one use to measure and make such a statement? One would have to first assume that there WAS an objective single truth as to how the universe operates, and then compare and contrast which myth was CLOSER to it. But what evidence is there that there is an objective single truth to how the universe/reality/nature operates? What are the assumptions and reasons for thinking that? Have you ever asked yourself this? And if you did ask yourself right now, what do you find (besides convention and that was what you were told)?