Sunday, December 18, 2005

Reason, Physics, and Possibility





After reading this article on String Theory I was reminded again of the humility of ignorance. What I mean is our ignorance about the true nature of the Cosmos and even existence in general. According to the article evidence is mounting that there is really no such thing as immutable laws of nature such as we were all taught in science class. According to the article the laws of nature are different in different pockets of the universe do to the hypothetical inflationary process that occurred after the Big Bang. In my mind this astonishing thesis raises an number of extremely important philosophical questions.

The first question I would ask is what does this mean for human reason and science? If human reason is a development of the evolutionary process in this pocket of the hypothetical multi-verse then how can we be expected to penetrate the workings of a natural order totally alien to that reason in another pocket of the multi-verse operating according to completely different laws?

The other question I would raise is what are the implications of this thesis on the concept of Possibility? What I mean by this is that what we take to be “possible” is either in reference to that which is logically possible or that which is physically possible. In the case of this thesis both concepts begin to become meaningless. This is because what is logically possible is an extension of human reason which is an effect of evolution under the natural order of this multi-verse pocket. Additionally what we believe is, or is not, physically possible is an extension of what we understand about physics. But it would appear that not only do we not completely understand the physics in this pocket of the multi-verse but we may not even be able, in principle, to understand the physics of any other pocket of the multi-verse. If this thesis is indeed true it is very humiliating indeed. On the other hand it is quite interesting to think that there are possibilities out there that we cannot even conceive of, in our current state at any rate.

I think it is important to be reminded of this because sometimes cosmologists give the impression that we basically have everything figured out and we are just working out the details. Scientists are always believing this though. It is curious to think that just before the developments of quantum mechanics and relativity theory physicists thought that physics was almost a complete science. My point is not that science is incompetent – far from. I believe that science is always moving closer to the truth. On the other hand science is never quite arriving at the truth but rather always raising new and more profound questions. Let us not let our thought stagnate in the belief that all the mysteries of the Cosmos can be explained with the simple models of todays science. As science grows so grows the inconceivable mystery that is existence. I think Shakespeare says it best “ There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

5 Comments:

It is possible for science to move away from the truth. Particularly when politics (or religion) is involved, as in psychoactive drug research, global warming research, or evolution in education.

Knowledge is fractal in nature. If you look at the sierpinski gasket fractal, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierpinski_gasket,
you get a feeling for what I mean.

You cannot fill in the blank spaces. You simply create more, but smaller, blank spaces. It is just a concept, but it seems to fit.

By Blogger al fin, at 19/12/05 18:29  

Interestingly that exact fractal has been used as a model for describing Hegel's system of science. Stange how some things come around.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 19/12/05 23:56  

Science never arriving at the truth...

While it's a bit ridiculous for the human race to worry about some of these things, I often wonder if we are fundamentally limited in some way such that we will never be able to arrive at a complete understanding of everything? Imagine an amoeba. The average amoeba is well suited to his environment, yet most people would agree that no matter how hard an amoeba tries, he will never develop a complete understanding of his environment. So even if the amoeba chooses to develop a complete understand his environment, he is doomed to fail. Are humans in the same predicament? After all, we're a damn sight smarter than an amoeba. But what if intelligence isn't enough? Intelligence is mostly pattern recognition coupled with reasoning (being able to ask what if). However, it's still possible that infinite pattern recognition and reasoning might not be what it takes to completely understand everything. I think the uncertainty of quantum mechanics might actually be saying this. The probabilistic nature of quantum predictions may be pointing to a fundamentally alien way of understanding the universe and we may not have the ability to look at the world that way simply because we don't have the right "tools". And that could mean that we too are ultimately doomed to fail in our attempt to completely understand existence. Maybe that's why for every answer we always find more questions.

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