Tag Archives: Philosophy

Quora Answers 9/7/20: The Kalam Cosmological “Argument”

Today I am answering the following Quora question on the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

Is there a flaw in the Kalam cosmological argument?

My Answer

I assume you mean the form of the argument made popular by William Lane Craig. Which takes this essential form:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
  4. Therefore God must have created it.

Let me show why this does not work.

  1. Yes, whatever begins to exist generally does have a cause. Which is to say that it did not always exist and did not come about by magic.

    However, the universe is not a thing. The concept of the universe refers to the totality of everything that exists. Regardless of what exists, we can lump everything that exists under the concept “universe”.

    But does the universe have a cause? Well, yes the concept of the universe has a cause. The need to refer to the totality of existence.

    But does existence have a cause? No, it does not. Existence has always existed. No matter how far “back in time” you go, you will always find that something has existed.

    There is no alternative to existence. There is no point at which nothing existed. And if there was, there would be nothing to cause existence to come into being.

    Therefore since existence has always existed and there is nothing that could cause the universe to come into existence, existence cannot have a cause.
  2. Since the universe refers to everything in existence, for the universe to have a cause, existence would have to have a cause. But we have shown that existence has no cause.
  3. Therefore since the existence has no cause, the universe has no cause.

I could go on and point out the Kalam Cosmological Argument has many flaws.

Firstly, the first premise applies to God. If God exists, then God must have a cause. According to Christians, God began to exist therefore god had to have a cause.

So what caused God? And if something caused God, then that thing must have existed and something must have caused that to exist.

And so on you, have an infinite series of creators that must have created each other.

Why does God get to be an uncaused entity? Logically he could not be. And if something created God, is that creator more powerful than God. If so, then that more powerful entity must be created by a yet more powerful entity.

So you have an infinite series of increasingly more powerful God-creating Creator gods.

Which is clearly logically absurd.

God, Kalam Cosmological argument
Hey God, who created you? And who created that God? Or do you get to be an arbitrary exception. If only there was a name for that logical fallacy…

It also greatly diminishes the importance of God as the ultimate creator. Since he is merely the last in the line of an endless line of more powerful creator Gods.

Which means that God cannot be omnipotent. Why? Because there is now a long series of entities far more powerful than God is.

That or all the other gods are just as powerful and God is part of an endless series of gods of equal power than created each other. It is Gods all the way down.

Which rather diminishes the uniqueness of God.

Or, God gets to be the exception to logic and was able to magically create himself.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument is of course an example of the special pleading fallacy.

What is the special pleading fallacy? That is when you establish a principle such as “everything must have a cause” and then make arbitrary exceptions to that principle for no reason.

In other words, you make a claim and then make exceptions to it for no reason. Everything is meant to adhere to the principle except for the things which you make exceptions for.

This creates a double standard where your opponents are expected to adhere to your principles but you get to make exceptions without providing any reason for why your exceptions are valid.

If we are allowed to make God immune to logic, why bother with logic at all? Why not just assume that the universe is magic?

Or, more logically, that the Kalam Cosmological argument is invalid.

But of course, the fact that this is entirely illogical is not going to bother Creationists such as Craig. Since they are perfectly willing to use logic as long as does not apply to God or anything in the Bible.

Which is why it is pointless to argue with them. As they will never listen to logic or reason when it clashes with what they have accepted on faith. For no reason and against all reason.

It is therefore rather pointless to point any of this out to them. As once you have closed your mind to logic and reason, you have closed your mind to reality. And such people cannot be reasoned with. It would be rather a waste of time to try….

Post-Reality Physics: Evidence, Who Needs It?

Today we are going to examine this article on the physics of string theory, “Philosophers Want to Know Why Physicists Believe Theories They Can’t Prove”.

As we discussed in one of our earlier articles, “Physicists vs Reality”, it starts in a rather refreshing way:

It’s often assumed that physics and philosophy are at opposite ends of the academic spectrum. In fact, they’re close—so close that they can overlap…”

Interesting, it is not that often you get to see people admitting that philosophy might be of any relevance at all to physics. Not a lot of physicists would admit this.

I suppose that it should not too be too surprising that philosophers might know better. And even less surprising that a philosopher of science might think this.

We will be hearing from one such, Richard Dawid, in this article.

Here is something he has to say:

The criteria for establishing a theory, he discovered, is not in itself subject to scientific enquiry. “They’re considered background assumptions,” says Dawid. “It’s a question that’s driven by physics but it’s a philosophical question.”

There are criteria for establishing a theory. At least there is if you want to do it rationally.

First, your theory should have a rational foundation. It should start with known facts, be it direct observational results. Or with something else we know to be true based on observation. Then we attempt to build up from there.

One should study the facts of reality and identify some implications of those facts. One should then focus in on one or more implications of reality and attempt to see what new facts one might be able to identify.

These form the basis of one’s hypothesis, some proposed fact of reality one wants to prove to be true. One then needs to validate this in some way.

In the physical sciences, this involves experimentation. One needs to perform experiments that validate that hypothesis and then show that it is indeed true.

In more abstract subjects, such as mathematics, one might need to perform a mathematical proof, based on logic. Such proof shows that given some established premise, that a given conclusion is true or false.

Of course, math proofs can be very hard and abstract. But they are not totally disconnected from reality …

In any case, one needs some valid way to prove their hypothesis and show that they have indeed identified some fact of reality.

So, yes, there are criteria for establishing a theory. And the philosophy of science helps establish what these criteria are.

And guess what Mr Dawid, philosophy is a science.

To quote Ayn Rand:

Philosophy is the science that studies the fundamental aspects of the nature of existence. The task of philosophy is to provide man with a comprehensive view of life. This view serves as a base, a frame of reference, for all his actions, mental or physical, psychological or existential. This view tells him the nature of the universe with which he has to deal (metaphysics); the means by which he is to deal with it, i.e., the means of acquiring knowledge (epistemology) …

Ayn Rand, “The Chickens’ Homecoming”, Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, 45

That is right, philosophy includes metaphysics, that is, our view of the fundamental view of existence. Which, ideally, one would approach scientifically.

It also includes epistemology, the science of how one goes about gaining knowledge. And this would include how we would go about performing science. Which, again, ideally, we would approach scientifically.

Despite what many philosophers might believe, philosophy is not a bunch of subjective thoughts where one argues whatever one wants.

At least, it does not have to be approached this way.

Ayn Rand, the great rational and founder of the philosophy of Objectivism.

To the contrary! Ayn Rand shows that philosophy can and should be approached as a systematic study of reality, of mankind’s nature and his relationship to the world around him. It should start with observation and work its way up from that.

Observation is something that scientists themselves often implicitly dismiss. What with Kant trying to argue that we cannot trust our senses and a lot of philosophers agreeing with him.

So, it is little wonder many of them can find no basis for their philosophical ranting.

[M]any serious physicists seem to have abandoned this model. String theory, for example, is one of the most exciting ideas in modern physics. But it’s not testable—so how can physicists be confident that it’s sound?

They cannot be. Anyone can come up with any kind of theory that they like. I could come up with a system that tries to explain physics as the product of little meta-puffballs (credit to Leonard Peikoff for this amusing idea or at least one like it).

Let us suppose that it is consistent and that if the universe is made up of meta-puffballs, that this would explain everything we see in physics. Does this make the theory true? Does this make this a good theory or good physics?

No, it does not. A theory is not true simply because it is self-consistent. It is not true because it might explain how things work.

What if meta-puffballs do not exist? Or if they have no bearing to anything we can observe? What if the theory does not explain anything?

We need to test theories against the facts of reality. And not simply come up with a purely mathematical hypothesis that may or may not describe the nature of real objects.

We do not want these hypotheses to fail to describe the interactions of real entities.

There is a need to verify that our theories describe actual fundamental entities and their actions. And not a simply self-consistent mathematical theory that may not describe how reality works!

Not that string theory is internally consistent anyway.

Biblical Absurdities: Animal “Kinds” – Follow Up.

This is a follow up to this article on the absurdities of Biblical “kinds”. We are presenting some objections to it given on the Metaphysics of Physics Facebook page.

This is a heavily edited version of that exchange where I expand upon the brief arguments I made in the original thread.

I am not going to name the person I am quoting. Here, I am going to call him Antagonist.

What was Antagonist attempting to argue? Essentially, that it is obvious what the Bible meant by the anti-concept of “kinds”. We shall see that is not the case.

Let us get started with his objections.

Isn’t “kind” just another word for “species”?

Antagonist

What gives you that idea? How could it be? The authors of the Bible had no idea of the concept of species as used today.

Until 1686, the term “species” was simply used as a term for a kind of organism. That is, it had little more meaning that used in the Bible.

In 1686, John Ray introduced the biological concept of species as distinguished by always producing members of the same species.

Carolus Linnaeus then formalized the taxonomic rank of species.

So, again, how could the authors of the Bible have the modern concept of species in mind? They did not know about that concept when the Old Testament was compiled over 2,500 years ago!

If it were a known concept back then, why would the Creationists not point this out, instead of refusing to define the term?

They would not talk about their “cat” kinds or “bear” kinds, since “cat” and “bear” kinds are not species.

If by “kind” the Bible meant species, then why does it talk about the “fowl” kind?

Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

Bible, King James, Genesis, 1:25

What is the fowl kind? Who knows what a fowl kind is, whatever the authors of the Bible considered fowls to be?

More importantly, is there a “fowl” species? No there is not. There is no single species that we could logically call a fowl.

Instead, in modern taxonomy, “fowl” is a group consisting of two orders, the Galliformes (gamefowl) and Anseriformes (waterfowl). Each consisting of several species.

So, it seems that the “fowl kind” does not correspond to a “fowl” species.

kinds
Whups, looks like these might be two different species of fowl. So, maybe “fowl” is not a species…

Let us go into a deep dive of the King James Bible and find every time it mentions kinds.

Keep in mind that later, our Antagonist is going to assert that perhaps the Bible authors meant family or genus. Let us see if we can find any use of the word kind that implies species, family or genus.

And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him: Every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark.

Genesis, 8-18-8:19

Nothing about species, family or genus here. Just vague descriptions of “kinds” which could mean almost anything.

And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many.

Ezekiel, 47:10

Again, nothing about species of family or any genus of fish.

15:39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

Corinthians, 15:39

Here we are talking about kinds of flesh. It is not clear this is the same … um … kind of kinds. But there are certainly more than one “kind” of best, fish or birds.

In any case, nothing about the concepts of species, family or genus.

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

James, 3:7-3:8

Yet again, no mention of the concept of species, family or genus. What a surprise!

So, how does any of this suggest that by “kind” that the Bible mean species? Or family? Or genus?

Nothing in the Bible indicates this. So, why would we assume this?

Or what we call “family”. Or “genus”. Using a different word for the same concept doesn’t invalidate the concept.

Antagonist

How could it be referring to either the concept of family or genus? Those concepts, as used in modern taxonomy, did not exist back then.

As used today, we can trace the concept to the late 18th century. The first person to use the modern concept of genus was the French biology Joseph Pitton de Tourefort in 1753.

Joseph Pitton de Tourefort, the first person to use the modern concept of “genus”.

So, again, how could the Bible have had these concepts in mind when they were not known to exist then?

So, no this is not a matter of using a different word for the same concept. There is no indication that the Bible is talking about species, family or genus. It gives no indication it is talking about any of these.

Nor did these concepts exist then, as far as we know!

It seems Antagonist is giving the Bible authors credit for taxonomic concepts that were not known to have existed for almost 2,000 years.

I somehow doubt we should attribute a bunch of goat-herders such advanced knowledge.

You say that but give no evidence as to why it couldn’t mean that other than a semantically irrelevant argument.

Antagonist

It is not my place to show that it could not mean that. It is your place to that is what the Bible meant. Which you have failed to do. Which everyone that has ever tried to pin down what the Bible meant has failed to do!

Having said that, I managed to show that what the Bible means is not a species.

Please show me any evidence that the Bible authors meant any such thing.

I’m not saying Creationism is right, I’m saying making a semantical argument and acting incredulous towards a plausible explanation is not an argument.

Antagonist

You have yet to provide me with a plausible explanation. I have pointed out that your “plausible explanations” are not relevant.

You have yet to show that they are plausible explanations for what the Bible meant. Since there is no evidence at all to support that is what was meant.

It is not my place to prove that it does mean that. It is the Creationists place to define what they think the concept of “kind” means. Which they seem unable to do.

Instead, they use the word without giving any definition.

It does not mean species, family or genus. The Bible does not use it in a way consistent with species. Creationists do not use it in a sense consistent with any of these concepts.

Creationists decide things that look or act similar are “the same kind”. And this seems to be how the Bible authors were thinking. But whether they were thinking has nothing to do with “species” or “family” or “genus”.

I’m not saying creationism is right, I’m saying making a semantical argument and acting incredulous towards a plausible explanation is not an argument.

Antagonist

Why are you defending the Bible’s use of the word “kind”? This is a lot like trying to argue with a Creationist. Which is funny because I am reasonable sure that you are not one.

And where is this plausible argument you claim to have presented?

Why don’t they define what they mean by a kind? You would think that if you had a point, you would be able to show this.

You are right though, acting incredulous is not an argument. Good thing I presented arguments then and even better arguments now!

Karl Popper, falsifiability

Thoughts on Falsifiability and Popper

(Editorial: Please note that in this article on falsifiability, I use the phrases “science”, “sciences” and the like. Unless otherwise noted, I am talking about the “empirical” or “physical” sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology.

And not sciences such as mathematics and philosophy.

However, much of the same logic applies to those other sciences as well.

Also, I am not attacking the idea of falsifying a theory as such. I am discussing Popper’s philosophy of how falsification is the essence of science.)

Falsifiability is a problem to a “central problem” in the philosophy of science developed by Karl Popper. Popper was a philosopher of science and closely associated with the influential Vienna Circle.

According to Popper, the central problem in the philosophy of science is demarcation. The problem of demarcation is that of distinguishing between science and non-science.

In Popper’s own words:

The problem of finding a criterion which would enable us to distinguish between the empirical sciences on the one hand, and mathematics and logic as well as ‘metaphysical’ systems on the other, I call the problem of demarcation.

Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery

In other words, the problem of demarcation is how to distinguish between science and what Popper considered to be non-scientific. Things such a metaphysics and logic.

Karl Popper proposed falsifiability as the solution to this problem.

It can be summed up as:

[S]tatements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable observations.

Hansson, Sven Ove (2008). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). “Science and Pseudo-Science”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 ed.). 4.2 Falsificationism.

Popper accepted the Humean critique of induction and goes further.

We can briefly sum up Hume’s critique of induction with this quote:

From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions. Now it seems evident that, if this conclusion were formed by reason, it would be as perfect at first, and upon one instance, as after ever so long a course of experience. But the case is far otherwise. Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, on account of this appearing similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of them.

It is only after a long course of uniform experiments in any kind, that we attain a firm reliance and security with regard to a particular event. Now where is that process of reasoning which, from one instance, draws a conclusion, so different from that which it infers from a hundred instances that are nowise different from that single one? This question I propose as much for the sake of information, as with an intention of raising difficulties. I cannot find, I cannot imagine any such reasoning.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 4. Sceptical doubts concerning the operations of the understanding

Popper agreed with Hume that it is logically impossible to conclusively verify a universal proposition by reference to experience.

After all, in his view, it is easy to say that all swans are white. But you have no way to know this simply by observation.

All it would take, according to Popper, is a single counter-example to falsify the induction.

Of course, it would be baseless to assume that all swans are white and call that a valid induction. Why would we assume that? That is not how valid inductions works…

…The answer to this problem is: as implied by Hume, we certainly are not justified in reasoning from an instance to the truth of the corresponding law. But to this negative result a second result, equally negative, may be added: we are justified in reasoning from a counter-instance to the falsity of the corresponding universal law (that is, of any law of which it is a counter-instance). Or in other words, from a purely logical point of view, the acceptance of one counter-instance to ‘All swans are white’ implies the falsity of the law ‘All swans are white’ – that law, that is, whose counter-instance we accepted. Induction is logically invalid…

Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Ch. 1 “A Survey of Some Fundamental Problems”, Section I: The Problem of Induction p. 27

He, therefore, rejects the validity of induction and insists that science does not use it. Instead, he argues that science consists of problem-solving.

But, in practice, as we shall see, this consists of producing theoretical bowling pins which you then spend your time trying to knock over.

Popper did not understand the importance of induction.

He seemed to equate induction with making an arbitrary generalization from observation and thus making unsupported universal statements.

It is therefore consistent that Popper insisted that you cannot prove a theory true by showing that it agrees with observation.

If you cannot make inductions in science, then you cannot generalize from experimental observation and form conclusions about the phenomena you are studying.

For instance, suppose you are Newton and you have the hypothesis that there is some force which attracts objects towards one another. How might you prove that this is the case?

You might observe the way Mars moves around the Sun. And the way the Moon moves around the Earth. And induce that they have similar behaviours which can be explained by the same inverse square law.

But, according to Popper science does not work by induction.

So, you are not meant to generalize from observations and form generalizations about instances/things you have not observed.

How then are you meant to show that your hypothesis about attractive forces is valid? If you cannot reason from the observed and generalize from observations to general principles, how do you validate your theories?

Well, this indeed means that you have no way to do so. So, yes, if Popper was right about science not using induction, then it would seem reasonable to believe that science cannot show anything to be true.

Induction is not how science works huh? Tell the classical physicists that then. Because Newton and others were masters of induction …

You can, however, according to Popper, disprove a theory by showing that it contradicts with observation. He believed that you can never prove a theory to be true since you might disprove it tomorrow!

So, if you take all this to its logical conclusion, then according to Popper you can never be sure that any given theory is right.

A conclusion Popper seems to have agreed with:

What we should do, I suggest, is to give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it be beyond our reach.

Karl, Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge

Indeed, according to Popper, the quest for any particular nugget of scientific truth is never-ending, further implying we can never hope to find it:

The game of science is, in principle, without end. He who decides one day that scientific statements do not call for any further test, and that they can be regarded as finally verified, retires from the game.

Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 11 Methodological Rules as Conventions

So much for certainty in science then. Or knowing anything.

If we cannot be certain that a theory is true, then how are we to assess the worth of a theory?

Is Falsifiability the Main Criteria to Assess a Theory?

According to the philosopher of science, Richard Dawe, it certainly is an important one.

“Physicists have long relied on a notion advanced by philosopher Karl Popper, that a theory is scientifically valid if it is falsifiable.”

Richard Dawe, “Philosophers Want to Know Why Physicists Believe Theories They Can’t Prove”

Indeed, it is widely accepted that for a theory to be accepted as true, it must be possible to test the theory and show that the theory is falsifiable.

Generally, I do not consider the issue of falsification to be the essential issue when it comes to testing a theory. And this is not widely considered the central issue, not to the extent Popper advocated.

Let us further explore why I do not think this is the central issue Popper makes it out to be.

Yes, a theory needs to be tested. It should be possible to show that the observable facts of reality are consistent with the theory. One needs to demonstrate that the observable facts lead one inexorably to that theory.

One should try to prove that the theory in question and only that theory is the logical implication of the observable facts of reality.

If the theory is not consistent with the facts, it should be possible to show that the theory is false.

It is important to be able to show that a given theory is false. But if a theory is false, then it would be nice if the experiment was designed so that this could be determined.

Take the Michelson-Morley experiment. This was intended to detect the presence of a luminiferous aether. It was so designed that if there was not one, then the experiment would indicate this.

In other words, this experiment was designed so that the existence of the aether could be falsified.

Generally, the focus of science is not on trying to show a theory to be false. Generally, the point is rigorously making observation and seeing what they imply about the validity of the theory.

Physicists vs Philosophy and Reality.

I was reading this article by Goldhill and found the opening rather refreshing. It led me to write this article about physicists’ rejection of philosophy.

We shall examine the article by Goldhill further in future articles. But for now, here is that opening:

It’s often assumed that physics and philosophy are at opposite ends of the academic spectrum. In fact, they’re close…

Olivia Goldhill

It is rather refreshing that the author admits that philosophy has any relevance to physics at all. Since most physicists would disagree with this.

I would say that many in physics are outright hostile towards philosophy!

Let me provide a few quotes to amply make this point.

Philosophy used to be a field that had content, but then ‘natural philosophy’ became physics, and physics has only continued to make inroads. Every time there’s a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers.

Lawrence Krauss

What about another one from the late Stephen Hawking (we discuss him in our second podcast episode here)?

Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

Stephen Hawking

What about one heard repeated by Steven Weinberg but often attributed to Feynman?

The philosophy of science is just about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.

Weinberg/Feynman
Oh Feynman, you don’t get philosophy, do you?

What about one from the famous Max Born?

“I have tried to read philosophers of all ages and have found many illuminating ideas but no steady progress toward deeper knowledge and understanding. Science, however, gives me the feeling of steady progress

Max Born

You get the idea. Many in physics are deeply hostile to philosophy. At best they think that philosophy has no relevance to what they do. At worst they believe that it contradicts their view of the world.

Because they do not understand the role of philosophy, they are often hostile to it.

Why? Well, for several reasons.

One of those would be that rational philosophies demonstrate that many tenents of modern physics cannot be right. For instance, Aristotle’s metaphysics and epistemology blast a lot of their fallacies apart.

For instance, Aristotle’s philosophy makes it clear that particle-wave duality is nonsense. Something cannot be two mutually exclusive things at once.

The most certain of all basic principles is that contradictory propositions are not true simultaneously.

Aristotle, Metaphysics

It also makes it clear that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is also nonsense. Everything that exists has identity, it has a definite nature. Not a vague, indefinite nature as alleged by this principle.

Now “why a thing is itself” is a meaningless inquiry (for—to give meaning to the question ‘why’—the fact or the existence of the thing must already be evident—e.g., that the moon is eclipsed—but the fact that a thing is itself is the single reason and the single cause to be given in answer to all such questions as why the man is man, or the musician musical, unless one were to answer, ‘because each thing is inseparable from itself, and its being one just meant this.’ This, however, is common to all things and is a short and easy way with the question.)

Aristotle, Metaphysics

But physicists have accepted anti-Aristotelian, anti-reality ideas. Therefore, they feel that they must rebel against the very ideas that brought the world out of the Middle Ages. The very ideas which made advanced science, including physics possible.

They are rebelling against the Aristotelian revival that made all this possible. The very knowledge that made it possible to get to the point where they know enough about atoms and space to make the kinds of irrational conclusions they have been making for over one hundred years!

Philosophy and physics are deeply intertwined.

Our view of metaphysics tells us what kind of world we think we live in. One in which objects have primacy or one in which consciousness and magic are primary.

Our epistemology includes our view of whether we live in a knowable world. And how we can know anything or if we think knowledge is even possible.

Physicists are, of course, influenced by philosophy. They believe that reality is inflicted with a kind of vagueness, in as far as it lacks a definite nature.

They believe that our senses are unable to perceive reality as it is, ala Kant.

Like Plato, they reify mathematics as somehow being more fundamental than physical objects, ala Plato.

philosophy, Plato
Funny how it almost always comes back to our arch-enemy, Plato…

So then, physicists are influenced by philosophy. Why then do they deny that philosophy influences them?

Because they do not understand the role of philosophy. They see it as intrusion on the business of science. Which they see as doing experiments and analyzing the results.

However, physics is not simply performing experiments and coming to whatever conclusions you wish. It is about explaining how the physical world works.

This requires one to be able to analyze the evidence of the senses and infer how the physical world works. It requires one to perform experiments and to be able to infer the mechanisms of nature from the results of said experiments. Without the conclusions contradicting basis metaphysical axioms such as “A is A”.

This is where one’s philosophy comes into play.

When looking at the results of these experiments, one’s view of the fundamental nature of reality, of metaphysics will come into play.

Their metaphysics tells them that things are not what they are, that they do not possess identity and that things can exist as something with a contradictory nature.

And this will seep into their physics. They will tend to interpret reality in this way and come to bizarre conclusions. The kind of bizarre conclusions modern physicists like to arrive at.

If they believe that reality is not knowable, then this will seep into their physics. They will pretend that some things cannot be known and thus do not need to be rationally explained. Or even explained at all.

They will evade explanations or offer non-explanations in their place.

Much as modern physics does when it pretends that the following is an explanation of gravity:

Einstein’s law of gravitation controls a geometrical quantity curvature in contrast to Newton’s law which controls a mechanical quantity of force.

Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1928) p. 133.

Or when it pretends that “electrons are a probability cloud” explains the unusual behavior of electrons.

A proper philosophy helps avoid these kinds of non-explanations. Irrational philosophies tend to make them inevitable.

Which is why modern physics is in the mess it is in. Good luck pointing that out given philosophy is allegedly useless!

It is rather like the man dying of thirst complaining that water is bad for him.

No, he needs water! And physics needs philosophy. Even if physicists lost in their desert of irrationality like to pretend otherwise…

The Primitive Non-Argument Against Reality, Part One

Today we are looking at this article, “The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality”.

In the words of the article:

The cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.

We shall see this is impossible. This is a gross misuse of mathematics. And is based on distorted view of natural selection.

We will get started with the first paragraph of the article.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions — sights, sounds, textures, tastes — are an accurate portrayal of the real world.

We do not need to “assume” that. Our sensory organs passively perceive reality as it is. They have no means of distorting reality and showing us things as they are not.

Our visual cortex and other parts of our brain process the input of the senses. But they do not distort that input. They simply present the input of our senses to our consciousness. They do not fabricate or distort their inputs.

Everything we experience is an accurate portrayal of the real world, according to our mode of perception. There are different modes of perception. But that does not mean our senses are subjective or that we do not see reality as it is.

For example, we see things in color. Other organisms do not. Does that mean the senses of those organisms are invalid? Or that they do not see reality as it is?

No. It simply means that those other organisms have a different mode of perception. They observe the same facts of reality. But their senses present those facts differently.

Different modes of perception are not an argument for the subjectivity of those modes of perception. They simply mean that different organisms perceive the same facts of reality in different ways.

Do black and white photos invalidate our senses? No more than the fact that some organisms do not see color. Which is to say, not at all.

Nor does it prove that there is any distortion occurring. Different modes of perception are not kinds of sensory distortion.

Sure, when we stop and think about it — or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion — we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality.

No. Our senses are not some kind of distorting lens that gives us a false view of reality.

Nor is what we perceive “our brain’s best guess at what the world is like”. It is an accurate representation of reality according to our mode of perception.

Indeed, we do not perceive everything that exists. We only perceive those things that are detectable by our senses. We will return to this a little later.

Episode sixteen of the podcast covers the topic of optical illusions.

In short, optical illusions are not an argument against the validity of the senses. When we observe an optical illusion, our senses are giving us valid data.

Neither our senses nor our brains are distorting the data. We are seeing things as they are. When we see bent straws in water, that is not our senses tricking us. That is how we observe light rays bent by water.

But if we want to better understand what we are observing, we must think and “see past” the illusion. We must understand that we need to process what we are seeing, which is real.

We need to more closely understand how it is consistent with reality. And then abstract away that optical illusion so that we can understand things better.

This does not invalidate our senses either.

The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

This obviously cannot be true. As we have seen, there is no false dichotomy between the world as we see it and as it is. We see what is. There is no alternative. We cannot see things as they are not.

Furthermore, evolution could not make any of this true. Evolution is a process whereby the gene pools of populations change. According to changes in the environment and other factors.

Living organisms undergo countless genetic changes in every generation. You have several such genetic mutations. Although most of them do not impact your life in any noticeable way.

Those mutations that are harmful to the survival of an organism tend to be less likely to be passed down to future generations.  Survival can be  tough enough as it is. Those with a genetic disadvantage are less likely to survive to have offspring.

Natural selection is the process by which genetic changes that are beneficial to survival tend to be passed on. It favors those changes which help increase the chances of survival. While tending to weed out many of the changes that would negatively impact survival chances.

Suppose an organism was less able to perceive the world as it is. That would make it harder for that organism to deal with reality. And thus, seriously impact its chances of survival.

Such unfortunate specimens are very unlikely to have offspring. Let alone offspring that survive to have offspring.

There is no way that being unable to see reality as it is could maximize evolutionary fitness. Only those with the greatest chances of survival maximize their evolutionary fitness. Not those with pathetic to zero chances of survival.

As for evolution driving truth to extinction, that is utter nonsense. The truth is what the facts are.

Natural selection is an extremely brutal and merciless process. Those changes which objectively enhance an organism’s chances of survival are likely to be passed on.

Those which are not in line with the brutal reality of nature tend not to be passed on. Life in the wild is hard and those changes which are not in accordance with the objective needs of the organism are less likely to be passed on.

In a sense, this makes natural selection and evolution itself, heavily subservient to the truth. To the objective requirements of an organism’s survival. Not something which somehow obliterates truth.

What are Fields? Not Numbers Glued to Space!

[Yes, the featured image for this is not technically a field. It is a Feynman diagram, but it shows the kind of  thing a field actually represents].

If you have studied much physics, then you will have come across the notion of fields.

What is a field?

The Wikipedia article fairly sums up the standard definition of a “field”:

In physics, a field is a physical quantity, represented by a number or tensor, that has a value for each point in space-time.

Wikipedia.

At first, this might sound an awful lot like a mathematical description of something. Surely it is a mathematical description of the property of something. If so, what is it a mathematical description of?

Does it describe the attributes of stuff in that space? Does it describe relationships between attributes of things in space? Or the actions of something in that region?  These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.

When it is said that a field is a physical quantity, do they attach it to anything? Does it describe the attributes or relationships of matter or anything at all? Or is it just a set of numbers attached to space?

Is it proper to attach numbers to space like this?

Of course not. Space is not a physical thing; it is a concept. It refers to relationships between positions of things. We talk more about space in this article. Space can be said to have some quantities, such as area or volume.

It is perfectly valid to measure aspects of “space” if you keep in mind that what you are measuring is the relationship between entities.

You can even say, that in a sense, space can have measurable quantities such as vacuum permittivity. If you understand that this refers to the properties of or relationships between entities within that space and not the actual space itself.

However, space itself has no physical properties. It is not a kind of matter nor is space-time a special kind of existence. It has none of the sorts of attributes which should be assigned only to matter.

Does this mean that we should throw out the concepts of fields in physics?

No, I don’t think so and I will show why.

The concept of a field is certainly applicable to physical reality. We know that the concept of an electromagnetic field can be used to derive real-world quantities of physical things and to figure out how they should act.

The concept of an electromagnetic field accurately describes something “out there” in reality.

It does not describe numbers floating around magically attached to space. It describes the attributes of things spread within that space, how they act and how they are related. And it is these things which a field tells us about and which a field should help us to understand.

For instance, the electromagnetic field does not describe “space” as such. It tells us about the properties of and relationships between things in that space. It describes attributes of charged particles within a space and how they interact with one another.

Note that the gravitational field does not describe the curvature of space-time. Space is simply a relationship between positions and time is simply a measure of change.

There is no such super-entity of space-time which somehow curves and somehow explains gravity. No. The gravitational field equations describe the properties of things and how they interact.

Sorry Einstein, general relativity does not explain how gravity works.

So, if fields describe the attributes of things and how they interact, what are these things?

This is not a philosophical question as much as it is a physics question. It could be that the answer to “what do fields describe” is that we have not yet noticed the proper way things interact. Perhaps gravity is explainable by some interaction we have not yet observed.

Perhaps to better understand how the various fields in quantum mechanics works, we need to better understand the quantum world. Which would, incidentally, require understanding the quantum world in terms of objective reality and not magic.

Of all the fields, I would say the electromagnetic one is the most understood. But, unless one can explain the electromagnetic field in terms of the properties, actions or interactions of entities, then one does not properly understand what a field is or what it refers to.

Saying “well, space has all of these quantities” is not enough, you need to show how these quantities are the properties, actions or interactions of entities.

Note, that it is fine to admit that we do not yet understand what these fields describe. If we can show that these field equations we have are indeed how this stuff works, then this is an important step. And to be fair, the field equations we have are generally quite successful here.

It is important to acknowledge this. We can make a lot of progress understanding how things behave by studying field equations, making predictions and showing that yes, that is how that stuff works.

However, at some point, we should try to figure out more about what the fields are describing. We should not just stop at the math and say “well, space has these numbers stuck to it”. No, we should try to study the nature of the entities the numbers are describing.

And that is where modern physics fails.

We don’t know what the fields are or what they describe. Certainly not completely, not fully.

fields
This is something like what a field is … not space with numbers glued to it.

Many in physics do see that we should try to figure this out. Many others do not seem to see any need, as though the mathematics is somehow some kind of primary. When it evidently is not.

This is the kind of attitude we need to challenge. Unfortunately, I have no doubt, we will see a lot more of this in our continued exploration of the problems in modern physics.

If you see any physicists or anyone else talking about fields in a rational way, please let us know. We are aware such people exist; however, we would love to collect more such examples. Please message us on Facebook or contact us at contact@metaphysicsofphysics.com.

reason

Are There Limits to Reason? Part One

This is a question I hear far too often. Here is the first part of my response where I explain that reason has no limits that need concern us. This will be part of a series addressing this issue.

I do not yet know how long it will take for me to get around to covering the rest of this series. We will see. In any case, let us get on with the first part.

What do you mean by that? What are these limits?

Reason is the process by which we look to reality and deduce the facts of reality by applying the laws of logic. It is the only means by which we can reliably learn anything about reality.

Obviously, there are things we cannot know. We can know only what we can deduce from sensory data and its implications. That which is based on our observation of reality. If there is no data pertaining to something, we cannot know anything about it.

For instance, we will probably never know what happened on the 1st of July in that spot right there in Greece in 200BC. We have no way to know that, there is just no data to tell us anything about this. We can take an educated guess that it was probably this or that. But, we will never know what exactly took place.

This is not a problem and it does not present reason with any challenge. Even with reason we are not omniscient, there are things we cannot know. Simply due to lack of data.

That does not mean reason is somehow invalid. Only that it has a foundation — that being the observable facts of reality, that is, evidence. As opposed to unsupported claims for which there is no evidence. And which we have no reason to take seriously.

A part of this issue of data is context. We can only reason within a certain context of knowledge. At any given time we only know so much and we may be missing key facts. But, if we do not know that, how can we be expected to account for that of which we are ignorant?

Take Newtons laws of motion. They work very well at all but the highest speeds. At faster speeds, they are less accurate and we have to apply relativistic equations instead. Does this mean that Newton was wrong and that he should have known better than to come up with equations that break down at higher speeds?

Of course not! Newton had no way to know what would happen at extremely high, relativistic speeds. He had no way to know that his equations might break down at some such speeds. So, he had no reason to think that he should modify his equations to account for them.  Within the context of his knowledge, his equations were entirely reasonable and logical.

It does not indicate that reason is somehow faulty. It shows that reason is contextual. That is, it depends upon context. It shows that one can only apply reason to what they know, to the data available at the time. Which then leads one to certain logical conclusions.

When further data is discovered, then reason may require a reevaluation of one’s earlier conclusions to account for the new data. But, far from invalidating reason, this merely shows that reason is contextual and depends on the context of one’s knowledge.

What is logical depends on the context of one’s knowledge. One cannot be expected to account for what he does not know about. That would be equivalent to making up data and that is not reason. That is the antithesis of reason.

If more data is discovered, if further knowledge is developed, then reason is self-correcting. It will account for new data and correct itself to better account for the data.

It is widely asserted that reason is limited because it depends on sensory data, which is itself limited. This claim has no validity whatsoever. Our senses are not agents of distortion. They give us data as it is. It might not match what we expect reality to look like, but, they nonetheless show us reality as it is and have no powers of distortion.

Besides, how could one demonstrate that? How could one hope to prove that the senses are invalid? If the senses are invalid, how would one know? One would have no ability to know that. Since everything we know about reality starts with what we sense about reality. If we cannot trust our senses, how would we know that our senses cannot be trusted?

No, we would not be able to know anything. Not even that we cannot trust our senses! There would be no such thing as knowledge, concepts or any ideas at all if we did not have some contact with reality as it really is.

So, the claim that our senses are deceptive is self-refuting. Since if it was true we would never know it and for us to know it, it would have to be false!

So much for that attack on reason…