Monday, 3 March 2008

SCIENCE OR FAITH? - A Tribute to Stephen Hawking*



“I saw eternity the other night, like a great ring of pure and endless light...”

Henry Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans was published in 1650. This was the century of John Locke and Christopher Wren. Spinoza’s rationalism established his credentials. Rembrandt painted The Anatomy Lesson and Galileo had seen the denunciation of his controversial Dialogue in 1632. It was a daunting piece of evidence, and this time it would be personal.

Confusion reigned...

Reading Vaughan’s immortal line, I had an emotion that the stars are our timekeepers. That their claim on our attention is profound and enduring. As far back as we venture to do, in the history of the great civilizations, they have always played a central role in human affairs. And what amazing improbably universes, what profoundly dissimilar orders of existence, what different and thoughtful perspectives may be attributed to the same genius and imagination, to the same powers of analysis and judgement at different phases of men’s humanistic evolution. From concepts of faith that began as extremely base doctrines, as amalgams of witchcraft, sorcery and pre-medieval superstitions, to the Theory of Everything which still dominates the research programmes and main funding of theoretical physicists. The latter being the one perhaps supreme contemplative achievement of the West, derived as it is from a sphere of sublime introspection where the cultures of three millennia and five continents hold their symposium; the other from a jungle far below the depths plumbed by the basest superstitious instincts, from an underworld where demons rise from a brewed-up stench of petty-superstitions, monastic latrines and the inquisitioner’s noose.

And I marvel that so scrupulous an adherence to knowledge and causality was able to redeem such an amalgam of chance and circumstance - such a riot of waves and particles, of gamma rays, x-rays, ultra-violet, visible light, infra-red luminosity, microwaves, and radiowaves etc. Things, after all, are visible, or indeed audible, only because of the way that their wavelength interacts with the retina’s threshold - or, respectively, the fluid within the ear - for perceptible vision and sound. Another way of putting this is to say that consciousness is a term used to describe the properties of the object that are essential to 'the thing' being 'it'. And that again is a term which more properly dwells in the realm of morals and meanings rather than in those of ascertainable fact.

Not hues, tones, shades, tints, blushes or dyes, then, but sensations in the cerebellum! Not sounds, but frequency in the electromagnetic radiation. Physical symptoms, in other words, that only arise from mental processes. To me, this is an illustration of our own Divinity, of a growing sense of immortality, of the view, indeed, championed already by Galileo that the act of observation creates the entire universe, that “tastes, odours, colours, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we locate them are concerned, and that they reside only in consciousness.” Or what Spinoza called in "the effecting cause of the existence of things.”

So, if Man and the Universe are self-evidently the cause and effect of one another, then why make a religion out of a plain and simple fact?
*
Dreamy
*
* Stephen Hawking - Master of the Universe. Tonight, 9pm. Monday 3 March. Channel 4.

27 comments:

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

In the end, all philosophy is speculation but a living faith provides the proof which is not apparent to those who intellectualize the cosmos.

Andrew K said...

The universe exists within the mind of man which exists within the universe which exists within the mind of man which exists within the universe which exists within the mind of man which exists within the universe which exists within the mind of man which exists within the universe which exists within the mind of man which exists within the universe which etc

Andrew K said...

Or vice versa

Jonathan said...

It seems to me a question to ask is whether or not there is a universe independent of humanity. That is a universe which would be the same as it is if we did not exist, the reality of which would not depend on our perceptions of it. I should bloody well hope so. Just imagine a universe crowded only with us.

The related question, can we know what this independent universe (presuming it exists) is uncoloured, uninfluenced by our way of knowing it (which would include our existential makeup) is a separate question.

I think the answer to the second question is a fairly uncontroversial no, we can't. But I think that often it is supposed that because this is the case - that our knowing of something always involves us in the construction of what is known- that therefore nothing exists outside of our minds...

which if you think about it seems pretty unlikely, wouldn't you say?

And I dont see how it follows anyway....

This idea that the universe is shaped by our minds seems like a return to a pre-heliocentric cosmology, which put the earth at the center of the universe. Only today this anthropocentrism is dressed up in post-modern clothes that, along with the nihilism that it roots itself in, are supposed to save it from being exposed as narcissism.

What is shaped by our minds is the way we relate to what is external to and independent from us; not the very existence of that externality in-itself.

mutleythedog said...

Are you still up for Thursday? Only I need to book the stretch limo,make sure the hot tub is working and put the champagne on ice... I have been so looking forward to it - I shall wear the green latex thong...

Andrew K said...

The universe couldn't possibly be the same without us as it is with us, as it would by definition be different. You could also say that such an intellectual question is an absurdity since it depends on the existence of a human doing the asking.
Also of course what is extends far beyond the physical. Universes of moral truth and emotional reality exist within the human that are every bit and more real than physical phenomena. If we just took us out of the earth, the reality of that earth would diminish enormously in richness. WHich doesn't mean moral truths aren't universal, but where or what would they inhabit without us.

As for the thing in itself, that is again an intellectual notion. From something I wrote previously below on this:

Everybody talks about the objective fact or thing in itself all the time; the thing that exists distinctly from and independent of perception. In response, I would like to consider two people looking at a mirror in which each sees the other's reflection. Both looking at the same object which reflects two entirely separate visual realities simultaneously. We could add two more people gazing at the mirror and we have two more entirely separate visual realities in the one object. Or an infinite number of possible points of perspective, each resulting in a distinct visual reality in the entity of the mirror.
So which is the mirror in itself? Are there an infinite number of mirrors and separate realities existing simultaneously or is there one mirror which is a "thing in itself"? If we are to believe in the thing in itself as an objective reality then we seem to be forced to separate this thing's existence from the visual field, since inhabiting this field of perception infers an infinite number of mirrors, and likewise we would seem to have to separate our perception from any contact with reality. Reality retreating from all known experience of it into some kind of idealised realm beyond our perception.
Which would seem to be forming a philosophy to justify a pre-conception, ie that external reality is an objective fact. This possibly explains the desire behind Plato's bizarre world of ideal forms; an escape route from undesired and unsettling implications arising from perception.

Selena Dreamy said...

In the end, all philosophy is speculation but a living faith provides the proof...

Not speculation, Bretwalda. Unless, of course, you are happy to term the mechanics of quantum physics speculative. The Uncertainty Principle, recognizes no reality unless first determined by the observer.

Faith provides no proof, though it may provide consolation.

Particularly faith in Science!

Selena Dreamy said...

The universe exists within the mind of man which exists within the universe which exists within...

Spot on, Andrew. We are, as nearly as we can tell, inextricably entangled in what we see, affected by no other causes than ourselves

Selena Dreamy said...

It seems to me a question to ask is whether or not there is a universe independent of humanity.

Yes, provided there is an intelligent observer. Nor does he have to be human. “To be is to be perceived!” according to George Berkeley and, indeed, in the eyes of modern physics.

This idea that the universe is shaped by our minds seems like a return to a pre-heliocentric cosmology,

Not at all, Jonathan, it is a step in the direction of what John Wheeler referred to as “the participatory” universe, and as such a property of the Promethean condition itself.

Selena Dreamy said...

Are you still up for Thursday?

Tell you what, Mutley, you come to work with me, and everyone in the office will spoil you rotten.

Selena Dreamy said...

Thank you Gentlemen, for taking the time to read this.

Andrew, Jonathan, I am very gratified.

Philosophy is a never-ending debate, and it would be impossible for me to discuss all the questions being raised here, but if I may say so, to me it seems extraordinary, that after 500 years of enlightenment and the advent of quantum physics, humans still believe in the existence of material objects or physical phenomena as something independent of the observer. Frankly, by a reverse kind of paradox, you might as well believe in ghosts.

Dreamy

elberry said...

Gosh, that's a lovely post, Miss D. Funny, i'm just getting excited in Giordano Bruno, and you seem to be echoing many of his thoughts, or so i gather.

Gordon McCabe said...

Here's your type of universe, Selena: a stiletto-shaped universe!

Jonathan said...

"To be is to be perceived"

But isnt this being only of relevance to the perceiver?

Doesn't the idea of a 'participatory universe' (which I like very much) imply that there is something external with which we participate? Otherwise isn't the perceiver given too much dominance?

The problem about excluding the external I'm thinking is that it might interfere with our ability to relate with an 'other'..no?; apart from just being mistaken in-itself?

Are we reacting too radically against the dehumanising epistemological bases of the positivistic, materialistic stance...dont we need balance. Not sure if Im making sense.

Jonathan said...

Ok, fair point Andrew. You're right the universe would be different without us, since it would lack us, and our effects upon it. But I think my point is it would still exist, I believe; and in all the ways formerly unaffected by us, I suppose it would be the same.

Im not trying to undermine our importance or our centrality in our understanding of the universe; Im just of the belief that there is something real (or many things real) and alive, with a conscious self-knowing centre that is not human, or from this planet, and with which we can interract, and indeed participate in the moulding of the univese. Its just not us doing all the worlk alone.

Jonathan said...

I can also see that by the external world, Dreamy, which you say many incorrectly think is independent of the observer, you are referring to the material world, as understood by materialistic reductionist scientists; whereas by external world I am talking about higher shades and modes of consciousness and feeling extending up to what has been known as 'God'. So maybe we are talking about different things, somewhat. Certainly I agree with you regarding the scientists material world.

mutleythedog said...

Give me a time date and place and I shall be there Miss D! By the way I am on my own at the moment -does that mean I have ceased to exist?

Selena Dreamy said...

...not as long as you have a place in my heart, Mutley!

Selena Dreamy said...

Of course, Elberry: Giordano Bruno, the Renaissance doyen of pop mysticism, as he has been called, philosopher and religious radical and the first to express this theory plainly: "There are innumerable suns and innumerable earths, which revolve around their suns, as our seven planets revolve around our sun..."

But it was George Berkeley (1685-1753) who expressed for us most admirably what has for many centuries been anathema to science: that man is the measure of all things! It re-emerges, this day, as a fundamental scientific doctrine.

Selena Dreamy said...

Doesn't the idea of a 'participatory universe' imply that there is something external with which we participate? Otherwise isn't the perceiver given too much dominance?


It certainly is not a matter of free will, Jonathan, for in principle there is a dream dreaming us!

Our experience of the world reflects only how we represent it to ourselves, and this is not the same as the real thing. But by substituting Man for God, it no longer seems quite so preposterous to imagine that it is in this enormous, introspective Dream that the unrivalled conceptual power of the human mind, weak though it may be in other respects, is ultimately vested.

Selena Dreamy said...
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Selena Dreamy said...

To end this burst of unaccustomed profundity, here is a link, Gordon.

http://selenadreamy.blogspot.com/2008/01/and-heres-my-catalogue-of-forthcoming.html

If you look at position three, you will perceived that I have long since anticipated the McCABISM INADEQUACY or what you refer to as the "stiletto-shaped universe." Due to it being “infinite in length and wrapped in an unusual way,” it will take me a little while to express its inherent failings. But I thank you nevertheless. Stay tuned....

Dreamy

Andrew K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew K said...

The human mind is inextricably entwined in the fabric of being, Jonathon; this immense truth reflected in the New Testament, "Before Abraham was, I Am." Your thinking & the idea of reality external from the mind is naturally the emanation of human consciousness. Where is the evidence for this hypothesised reality apart from consciousness? Naturally there is none & never can be. The 'thing in itself' if followed through is a subject object universe that simply doesn't & never did exist, an artificial, diseased and atrophied notion that merely serves to create the apparent and illusory severing of the mind from reality that it hypothesises- a self-fulfilling false prophecy. A concept of the mind as more real than the living truth of consciousness. An example of the mind producing a thought and then bowing down to its own conception.
The nature of true mysticism is the mind's infinite being. The mind never was severed from reality to begin with, and wasn't produced at some point of time within this external reality.

mutleythedog said...

I have been up all night worrying about this - so thanks for the reassurance Sexy Selena... when do we get back to talking about nipples and stuff?

Andrew K said...

I should add that it is more of this artificial reasoning that avoids the mysterious nature of being as shown in the case of the mirror. This intellect decides that "Oh this leads to solipsism, and that can't be real, therefore we rush back to dualism." But this solipsism is another creation of the intellect, the mad product of its own mad dualist reasoning; Out There or In Here. A mind that creates, by its own thoughts, its own imaginary separtion from life. How can life be separate from what is within life, & vice versa? Life as something distinct from the consciousness within it. And the idea that this non-existent "universe", that only exists as a concept of the mind, is somehow a higher reality than the mind which ponders its non-existent reality! Plato's higher forms, etc the worship of mental illness.

Selena Dreamy said...

...do we get back to talking about nipples and stuff?

I do hope so Mutley, I sincerely hope so!