Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘science’

Deriving Atheism from Philosophy

Posted by Jerry on March 14, 2008

It is a matter of fact that science can never disprove the existence of God. The tools of science–experimentation, observation, and empiricism–are inherently inadequate for the job. At best, empiricists can only reach approximations of certainty–and can claim, like Richard Dawkins does, that they have a very high degree of certainty that god does not exist.

This, however, does not indicate any weakness in the position of atheism as such; rather, it highlights the fact that science is inferior to philosophy and that philosophy is and should be the foundation of all scientific thought. Once reason and objectivity are evicted from their epistemological base in philosophy, a free floating set of rules like that of pragmatism and relativism or a blinded philosophy like that of the skepticism is spawned: neither of these philosophies can agree on what can be known or indeed whether anything at all can be known.

As Ayn Rand said: “Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go. It is philosophy that defines and establishes the epistemological criteria to guide human knowledge in general and specific sciences in particular.”

It is philosophy that reveals to man the proper methods of thinking and the laws governing sensible, valid, and rational thought. In other words, it is philosophy that identifies the axioms of knowledge and the non-contradictory nature of existence, and then devises the epistemic rules of thinking (logic) that mimic the nature of existence. 

The lack of absolute certainty in the non-existence of god actually indicates the categorical confusion of metaphysics and nature that scientists like Dawkins commit. Atheism is often reinterpreted as being a naturalistic worldview; and although this is not false, it has resulted in the belief that atheism is actually a position reached at the end of a personal scientific and empiric quest. And often, this is indeed how many people become atheists: they start with their studies in evolutionary science, physics, or astronomy; they begin to ask the right questions and push for honest answers; they examine claims of miracles and seek scientific explanations; and eventually, they reach a point where atheism becomes the only plausible and default position to hold. Quite correctly, they see no empiric evidence to believe in the supernatural.

However, such atheists arrive at their conclusion through very weak and fundamentally unsubstantiated grounds. Indeed, such atheists can never deny that the next scientifically inexplicable event may suddenly turn them into theists or agnostics: in fact, some atheists (misguidedly) consider such “open-mindedness” in the face of an inexplicable even to be a sign of honorable intellectual honesty–the mark of a skeptic who is even proudly skeptical of atheism.

In essence, such atheists hold their belief at the mercy of the next concrete event, discovery, alleged sighting, or claim that would dictate whether or not they remain atheists or turn into agnostics.

The only way to rescue this unhinged concept of atheism from total collapse into subjectivism is to extract it from the domain of science and place it back where it belongs–in philosophy.

The position of atheism is a particularly philosophical position, not a scientific one. This is because atheism belongs to a subset of ideological positions, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. Particularly, atheism is the ideological position that holds as fact that there is no god. The only way to ascertain the validity of this assertion is by applying the laws revealed by philosophy, not by the implementation of any empiric, experimental, or observational method of scientific enquiry. In other words, the only permanent path to atheism is one primarily or fundamentally grounded on rational philosophical enquiry, not a scientific one.

Ayn Rand identified that existence exists and that existence is identity. It is on the basis of these fundamental and irrefutable metaphysical axioms that we know–with absolute certainty–that god does not, and indeed cannot, exist.

Existence is identity; that is, to be is to be something. A thing cannot be and not-be at the same time: this is a law that identifies a fact of existence. The supernatural not only means something outside of our Earth or our galaxy, but literally outside of everything in the Universe, including the Universe itself. Therefore, to be supernatural is literally to be outside existence qua existence, since existence is the totality of all that exists. Therefore, for the supernatural to exist, it must not exist. Therefore, the supernatural does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omniscient, then he must know everything; but then he cannot know what it is like to not know something. Therefore, god is an omniscient being who does not know everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omnipotent, then he should be able to do anything; but god cannot kill himself. Therefore, god is an omnipotent being who cannot do everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is infinite, then he must transcend space, time, and measurement; but then he cannot have an identity–or be an entity–because to exist is to be an entity (to be is to be something; like the Universe is itself an entity). Therefore, god is an entity who is not an entity. A is non-A. Therefore, god cannot exist.

Likewise, if god is intelligent, then he must be rational, logical, and sensible. In other words, god would also have to obey the laws of rationality and logic; but then, our use of logic and reason above has demonstrated that were such an entity to exist, he would have to be full of contradictions; since logic does not permit contradictions, and contradictions do not exist, god does not exist.

And so on…

It is only at the end of such personal philosophical enquiry in the context of metaphysics–by employing the tools of logic and reason and holding objectivity as the standard of knowledge–that absolute atheism can be arrived at. And this pure atheism is immune to whatever claims or random events that may give someone a sense of wonderment or of being inexplicable. This kind of atheism knows that there is–and can be–no gods.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Philosophical Nonsense

Posted by Jerry on January 15, 2008

If you want to look really crazy, you should go up to a doctor and say, “I understand that if I consume poison, I will die; but I don’t understand why I ought not to have poison just because I choose to live.”

Go tell an architect who is constructing a skyscraper, “just because of the fact that constructing a skyscraper requires steel, concrete, and building materials, it does not mean that you ought to use steel, concrete, and building materials to construct your skyscraper.”

Is it really hard to grasp that values are a species of facts? If the architect has identified the fact that constructing a building requires certain specific methods, tools, and materials, then the architect has to (ought to) obtain, acquire, and use those specific methods, tools, and materials to meet his purpose. The identification of the first factual premise necessitates the identification of the second: if you choose to build, you ought to get your tools and materials ready; both statements have the force and quality of stating a fact about how reality functions–in equal magnitude.

The fact that you are a living entity, determines a series of facts pertinent to your survival: the fact that you are, determines what you ought to do–or how reality factually functions in relation to your existence, i.e., matters of facts. For example, your immune system cannot withstand the fatal effects of poisonous venom; therefore, the fact of the matter is, if you consume it, you will die; or, staying alive requires–by force of fact–that you ought not to consume the venom.

The concept of value applies only to living beings–and in greater pertinence, to rational beings–because goal-directed action toward an ultimate end is only possible to living entities. Thus, values (which are a species of facts applicable to living beings) are inextricably linked to living entities and to the specific facts pertinent to their survival.

It is hard to believe that there’s so much nonsense permitted in philosophy. When you begin to understand ethics as a science–as a subject dealing with very fundamental and clearly bounded facts about human existence and all that makes such existence possible–you begin to realize that you cannot permit any of the  philosophical nonsense that is commonly accepted today, such as consciousness invalidates itself as a tool of awareness, the mind is wholly separate and distinct from the body, values are mystical, non-rational, not factual, and non-objective, etc.

The applied and physical sciences are fully dependent on the philosophical framework it chooses to work within. If philosophy itself is so incoherent, chaotic, irrational, and subjective, then how can it possibly provide a coherent, rational, and logical framework for the applied and physical sciences?

If an engineer cannot permit his crew to be subjective about their notions of numbers, measurements, laws of physics, motion, gravity, the existence of steel, the fragility of glass, the identity and nature of physical elements, then how can he be comfortable with a philosophy that preaches that there is no absolute truth, certainty is impossible to human cognitive tools, the noumenal realm is forever beyond our direct perception, the evidence of the senses is illusory, that a bridge ought not require certain methods of construction, etc.?

As Rand said:

“It is not the special sciences that teach man to think; it is philosophy that lays down the epistemological criteria of all special sciences.”

But if such irrationality passes as philosophical thought today, then Wittgenstein was right in insisting that nothing but nonsense can be said about philosophy and vehemently disparaging philosophers as foolish men entangled in a confused web of their own making.

You know that the state of modern philosophy is not healthy when philosopher Quee Nelson has to present her defense of objective reality under the name “naive realism” in her new book The Slightest Philosophy, because, apparently, it is “naive” in philosophical circles to hold that there is an objective reality and that we have direct perception of it.

Aptly enough, therefore, the voice in defense of naive realism in Nelson’s book is that of a young student engaged in a dialog with a more erudite and sophisticate professor. Here’s an excerpt (taken from John Enright’s article on The Atlasphere), where the sophisticate professor wonders whether we really see apples or only patches of the color red; the student replies:

Student: “I wonder why you don’t switch it the other way around, and say that you can only perceive sense data like colors by means of physical objects? Why does the ‘redness’ get the place of pride, instead of the apple? Why don’t you put things the other way around, and say that ‘redness’ is merely derivative, since it is obtained by a secondary process of intellectual abstraction from the apple, which is epistemologically more primary?”

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Cutting The String

Posted by Jerry on November 21, 2007

Paul Hsieh, over at Noodlefood, posts about the formulation of a new theory in physics that may well be *the* Theory of Everything:

Physicist/surfer Garrett Lisi may have come up with a physics theory that unites all the fundamental particles and forces of nature, including gravity, without relying on dubious multidimensional string theory. According to this related article:

…[H]is proposal is remarkable because, by the arcane standards of particle physics, it does not require highly complex mathematics.

Even better, it does not require more than one dimension of time and three of space, when some rival theories need ten or even more spatial dimensions and other bizarre concepts.

In other words, it doesn’t require invoking arbitrary new dimensions for which we have no evidence. Plus it makes testable predictions that are at variance with the so-called Standard Model. The New Scientist article states that his theory predicts:

…[M]ore than 20 new particles not envisaged by the standard model. Lisi is now calculating the masses that these particles should have, in the hope that they may be spotted when the Large Hadron Collider – being built at CERN, near Geneva in Switzerland – starts up next year.

“This is an all-or-nothing kind of theory – it’s either going to be exactly right, or spectacularly wrong,” says Lisi. “I’m the first to admit this is a long shot. But it ain’t over till the LHC sings.”

David Harriman [Objectivist physicist and philosopher] mentioned in his lecture to our Front Range Objectivism group last year that any physicist who wants to challenge the dominance of string theory will have a very hard time, since nearly all the grant funding in academia for such foundational issues is controlled by people who believe in string theory. It seems that this is borne out by Lisi’s experience, as reported by New Scientist:

Most attempts to bring gravity into the picture have been based on string theory, which proposes that particles are ultimately composed of minuscule strings. Lisi has never been a fan of string theory and says that it’s because of pressure to step into line that he abandoned academia after his PhD. “I’ve never been much of a follower, so I walked off to search for my own theory,” he says. Last year, he won a research grant from the charitably funded Foundational Questions Institute to pursue his ideas.

For those who are interested in the details of his theory, here’s the link to his paper (click on “PDF” on the upper right). The abstract reads as follows:

An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

A. Garrett Lisi (Submitted on 6 Nov 2007)

Abstract: All fields of the standard model and gravity are unified as an E8 principal bundle connection. A non-compact real form of the E8 Lie algebra has G2 and F4 subalgebras which break down to strong su(3), electroweak su(2) x u(1), gravitational so(3,1), the frame-Higgs, and three generations of fermions related by triality. The interactions and dynamics of these 1-form and Grassmann valued parts of an E8 superconnection are described by the curvature and action over a four dimensional base manifold.

Those who want a semi-technical explanation (with video) can find one here. My own mathematics background is not strong enough to make an assessment of the merits of his theory. Nor do I know any more about the Foundational Questions Institute besides what’s on their webpage. But for what it’s worth, I did meet Garrett Lisi at a dinner party several years ago as a friend-of-a-friend, back when Diana and I lived in San Diego and he was still a graduate student in physics at UCSD. At the time, he struck me as an extremely intelligent man, so he would be a plausible candidate for someone who could have come up with a revolutionary new theory in physics.

I had two thoughts after reading Paul’s post:

1) A consensus among scientists about any theory–a la AGW–does not make it right. Indeed, there have been spectacular cases of the majority of scientists being proven wrong about their acceptance of a theory by some individual or minority who usher in a paradigmatic revolution.

2) I need to start reading my book “Not Even Wrong” by Peter Woit that talks about how the dominance of string theorists have practically stunted the exploration of new ideas in this field, and goes on to point out the flaws in string theory.

P.S. I’m making no judgements about the merit or validity of Lisi’s new formulation: it would be absurd for me to do so, I have neither the background nor any competence in this field. This post is just to make a note of something newsworthy.

Posted in Philosophy, science, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

This Girl Won’t Stop Dancing in My Brain

Posted by Jerry on October 31, 2007

This is the best illusion I have seen so far: the best because I still haven’t figured out how to be “disillusioned” of the illusion. Okay, too cryptic?

The illusion is of a girl twirling around in a circular motion. People who use more of the right side of their brain will see the girl turning clockwise, and those who use more of their left side of the brain will see the girl twirling counter-clockwise. Apparently, if you focus hard enough, you can switch the direction of her twirl.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been staring it at for far too long than is healthy for a gay man to be staring at a dancing woman, and I can’t get her to flip the direction of her twirl in my brain! What is particularly distracting to me–believe it or not–are her breasts! I keep taking my cues of her spatio-temporal position by focusing on her breasts to get a sense of the direction in which her body is turning. Her breasts also serve as the indicator of when she is directly “facing” me or when her back is turned toward me.

I want to specifically hear from the left-brained people: did you really see the girl twirling counter-clockwise when you first saw her?

Next, I want to know if anyone was able to actually switch her direction: Was it effortless? Easy? How did you manage it? Can you sustain any one direction for a while by sheer will? I know that once the brain “knows” the trick of an illusion, it’s hard to get it fooled again for too long.

According to the site, here are the left and right brain functions:

LEFT BRAIN FUNCTIONS
uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe

RIGHT BRAIN FUNCTIONS
uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking

[h/t: Rational Jenn]

Posted in General Work/Life, Personal, science, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Those Worms Are So Gay!

Posted by Jerry on October 30, 2007

Is this news? Scientists have found evidence that same-sex attraction is genetically wired in the brain… of a worm.

University of Utah biologists genetically manipulated nematode worms so the animals were attracted to worms of the same sex — part of a study that shows sexual orientation is wired in the creatures’ brains.

Thankfully, the scientists have admitted the role of free will as a “complicating factor” in the roots of sexual attraction among humans.

“We cannot say what this means for human sexual orientation, but it raises the possibility that sexual preference is wired in the brain,” Jorgensen says. “Humans are subject to evolutionary forces just like worms. It seems possible that if sexual orientation is genetically wired in worms, it would be in people too. Humans have free will, so the picture is more complicated in people.”

You can find my views on homosexuality in my posts under the category of the same name.

[ht: The Daily Dish]

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, Homosexuality, Love and Romance, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

About Faith and Reason

Posted by Jerry on June 11, 2005

“An error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error.” — Atlas Shrugged, Rand.

[My discussion with Sasco D’Agostino]

Me: Well, you have made two different statements concerning our efforts at understanding God. First you said, “one can rightly NEVER say ANYTHING of God…”
Then you say, “we can never FULLY get at the essence of Him, we can merely come to a continually greater awareness of Him.”
THe two statements have very different implications. Initially, I used your first statement as a premise and logically built my argument. By the first statment, one can NEVER say ANYTHING rightly of God. In other words, one ALWAYS does say WRONG things about God…(OR, whenever one makes an effort to say ANYTHING about God one is ALWAYS WRONG). This is the implication of your first statement.
The second statement now allows more room for discussion. It says that one can say SOME things rightly about God, but NOT everything TOTALLY. I fully and clearly understand this view and subscribe to this perception assuming the existence of a real God. Thus, as a scientist would try to understand physical experiences in increments, I try to understand (as much as is possible to my weak and finite brain) the concept of God in little increments of logic and rationality.
THe reason I use logic and rationality as my method of investigation rather than acceptance based on faith is because I believe (similar to what Aquinas believed) that any concept of God SHOULD BY DEFINITION include the attributes of a perfectly Intelligent, perfectly Rational, and perfectly Logical Being. THus, a potential Being possessing such infinitely beautiful logic, infinitely profound intelligence, should atleast in some tiny and small way be perceivable to us by our serious attempts at being rational and logical to understand that Being (or come closer to an understanding of It).

Contrary to popular neo-didactic thinking that Rationality and Faith do not necessarily contradict but are complementary, I believe that right from the most basic premise, rationality and faith enter into major conflicts. The essential core of the concept “Reason” and the concept “Faith” enter into a contradiction. According to the Principal of Non-Contradiction, A is A. A and non-A cannot remain without conflict. In other words, Reason (A), which is a faculty of knowledge based on evidence, demonstration, axioms, and logic cannot in any way complement Faith (Non-A), which rests on an acceptance of ideas without any need for demonstration, logic, proofs, or axioms. Reason (A) and Faith (non-A) MUST by necessary logic exist in a contradiction with each other.
Another way to explain this is to look at how we gain knowledge through science. The basic and fundamental first principal of the Rational (or scientific) method is to assume a hypothesis and work towards disproving or falsifying that. One can never begin a hypothesis of negation and then prove its veracity, i.e. prove something is not true by showing that it has no evidence of being true. As a concrete example, I cannot assume that God does not exist and say there is no proof of God’s existence and therefore He does not exist. This is wrong.
I have to begin with a positive hypothesis and then disprove or falsify it. Thus, I begin by saying, Assume God exists. Therefore, going by what the definition of such an entity is that does exists… He should be this.. He should be that… He should whatever…
Based on the first principal of positive hypothesis, you build a coherent, logical, rational argument derived from self-evident truths, axioms, or verifiable evidence. If all of your arguments lead you to a hypothesis contrary to the one you started out with, then you must discard the initial hypothesis and revert to the null hypothesis. Thus, a logical analysis of the concept of God leads me to major contradictions and therefore I must reject the hypothesis that God exists and accept the null hypothesis, or I must reject my essential definition of God. In other words, the burden of proof then rests upon the believer to resolve contradictions and prove the non-contradictory existence of God.

Now, faith. Faith is the exact opposite of the rational method I just described. The method of faith begins as such: Believe that God exists. Then express wonder at the assumed fact that God exists. Then admire the assumed fact that God exists. And wonder why non-believers can’t grasp this assumed fact.
Faith starts out with the hypothesis that needs to be proven and assumes it is already true! The first principle according to a faith-based attempt at rationality is this: assume the conclusion and then provide rationalizations for assuming the conclusion.
Aquinas, among other doctors, in their effort to reconcile faith with reason and put on a facade of intelligibility upon mysticism, propagated this false epistemological method. The method works as such: Faith — God exists and He has created this Universe (That is the assumption of the faithful). Then “rational proof”: This Universe appears to be so well designed and orderly, surely there is an intelligent God that made all of this. Therefore, God must exist because the universe that we just assumed is so orderly and that we just assumed was made by God is the proof that God made the Universe and therefore must exist!

Posted in Atheism, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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