Saturday, 1 November 2008

THE UNBELIEVERS - (A Treatise Concerning The Limitations Of Human Understanding)

All Shook Up: I have trouble in applying pure open-ended logic, in an infinite range of possibilities, to theoretical events and phenomena that must (in my view) be seen as actual, observable events. I can never get my head round, for example, the (to me) ludicrous idea that a bunch of monkeys sitting at typewriters for infinity would eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare.

Well, ASU, if abstract reasoning could be reduced to mere algebraic calculations, and mathematics allowed to operate by itself and without limitations, then, I’m afraid, you’ve just put your foot in it - and here I mean absolutely no offence. It seems almost unnecessary to add that your monkeys would not only re-produce the works of Shakespeare, Joyce and Goethe but of every single weblog that was ever consigned to the cybersphere. It’s basic physics, Jack, and to deny that is to abdicate any intelligent understanding of what constitutes either reality or reason.

BOB: An alien might see/ perceive the motorcycle in a different way, or
he might not even see it at all, but the fact that I can see it and other people
and animals are enough evidence for me that there is an a priori motorcycle that
will still be there when I am gone. These things are also known as common sense
and I am aware that it is a philosophers job to challenge such 'obvious' truths,
but up till now I could never be convinced. To me it is not more then a thought

There is no point, then, me insisting that our planet, in spite of what
Bob thinks, isn't a blue and fragile jewel, but electromagnetic energy, and
consequently lacks the defining character of both, substance and colour. Or that
- within the limits set by the relevant principle - a given number of observers
might assign a different number of measurements to events and forces at the same
point in space and time. Which becomes even more plausible when you absorb the
simple fact that far from being a thought experiment, common sense already
exploits the effects predicted by the two basic theories - of relativity and
quantum mechanics - in its latest technologies. Nor would one speak
disingenuously about a subject which has genuinely engaged the responsible
attention of one’s intellect. But what baffles me is a way of thinking which is
characterized by a paradoxical combination of steady acquiescence on the small
scale and repeal of purpose on the large scale - which is very unnerving.

Almost invariably, the human mind has a tendency not to dispute the
facts, but to backtrack on the conclusion. And that is not a tenable procedure.
There are no compromises or deviations. We need to be quite clear about what
happens here. Once you accept propositions which are intrinsically self-evident
and which eminently consist of ideas that are clearly and distinctly conceived,
you don't need a PhD to come up with the results. And my point is not that these
results are something new, which indeed they are not, but that quantum physics
and idealist philosophy have come full circle and adopted common ground. Only
now, in a world explained by quantum mechanics and informed by relativistic
understanding can Berkeley’s idealism be properly appreciated. Here, the
distance between virtual experience and real encounters has narrowed to nothing.
Indeed, a quantum blueprint of our universal geometry has rendered conceivable
what has previously been beyond imagining: that to be is to be perceived.

ASU: Prove it!

Of course, I can go over the same ground ad infinitum and insist that
yours, indeed, is the fundamental objection of classical mechanics, whereas in
quantum mechanics, indeterminacy is an inescapable property of the world. But I
would much rather suggest that you prove the opposite. Without recourse to the
five senses, that would be a problem with a far less definable solution. Indeed,
try thinking of the world without “humans“, i.e. without structure or coherence,
and you have a serious dilemma. Like trying to think of an ass without thinking
of its ears, you inevitably have to have a mental picture of what you’re
supposed to do without. And so the argument is circular. Because, trust me, you
can’t. You’re forever chasing your own tail. Proof itself introduces an unavoidable element of visualization into reality, and my mistake was to assume that the likelihood of its abstraction ever existed.

For subatomic physicists, apparent logical impossibilities are the norm. And yet, how can they be illustrated? The human mind is never more mediaeval than in its perception of
what is at the forefront of scientific ideas. It hardly seems credible yet it demonstrates the difficulty of establishing the truth about an epistemological conclusion of this magnitude in the absence of visually representative information. Humans have a deep psychological need for inherent concepts, and cling to their priorities. So the preferred avenues of intellectual escape are
miracles, mathematics or outright denial. In fact there are still theologians
who will argue that the miracles of Jesus were supported by reliable testimony,
even though I find no argument for the existence of the divinity and virtue of
Christ in the fact that he was walking on water. All it really meant for him was
that from the moment you learn to do that, you are no longer under the necessity
of getting your feet wet. The miracles were true because the concept was true,
and that was not a matter of accurate testimony, but of the contemporary
evidence of human understanding. So, even today it will still take major
conceptual steps - particularly in the absence of easily accessible mathematics
- to replace perception with logic and move the psychological paradigm from the
relativity of science to the indeterminacy of the entire

But all this is rather old hat, folks - cheer up, the latest frontier is genetics!



Crushed said...

One could argue that spacetime itself imposes a limit on our understanding.

Kant says that space and time are the only things you can't conceive of us not existing.

Yet they can't exist in primary reality.

Which is timeless ternity in an infinite space of zero dimensions.

Bob said...

Hmmm, hmm, hmm.

I don't believe it ;-)

The thing that we agree on is this: reality changes according to the viewpoint of the beholder. A nice example of this is the following: two observers with a clock moving at different speeds both see the OTHERS clock going slower. This is exactly where my logical understanding stops functioning. I gues it follows from the mathematical formula's, but I fail to understand it.

What we don't agree on is: there is a reality outside of our observations. What Berkeley said (thank you wikipedia) is that he rejects the idea because he cannot imagine what it looks like.

If I apply this to my own example of the observers, then the question arises: if the speed of the clock depends on who is watching it, then how fast is it 'really' going? It is impossible to say. The question cannot be asked. Point granted.

However this viewpoint presents me with a paradox. If there is no reality outside of my viewpoint, then there is no reality. But if I die tomorrow, the world will still turn and you will still blog. I don't want to put this theory to the test, but you seen what I mean don't you?

Selena Dreamy said...

Oooops, Bob, have we been at cross-purposes all along?

Needless to say, mathematical reasoning is the only way to grasp the fundamentals that lie behind what we observe. Indeed, like yourself, I also try to maintain a measure of sanity in epistemological affairs, and for as long as there are people to see and perceive, the sun and all the stars will continue to shine, converting mass into energy, never mind you being dead as a dodo....

Selena Dreamy said...

...speaking of death, Crushed, which is timeless eternity in an infinite space of zero dimensions, it also, surely, is a concept which grasps that knowledge, doubt and relativity are the only reliable guides to human imperfection - rather than the opposite - and to life as an expression of conceptual constraint (even though we may find it impossible to come to terms with that).

Life and logic simply don't harmonise...

Selena Dreamy said...

Catch u later, boys...

We're off to see Francis Bacon at Tate Britain, this afternoon...brrrr what a mistake....

mutleythedog said...

Speaking of bacon - I always lay on a nice fry up on Sundays and am willing to invest in a couple of bottles of Asda champagne style sparkling wine and some economy breakfast juice if you were free?

All Shook Up said...

You ignore the Law of Probability, Dreamy. By the time the monkeys had produced the complete works for the zillion squillionth time, after eons of coming up with nothing but gibberish, and then found they'd spelled Romeo's name wrong again, they'd give up.

Anyway, subatomic physicists are fine ones to talk. Last time they tried to prove some nonsense about quarks in a big tunnel, they couldn't even get the bloody magnets to work.

I'm afraid it's all a conceit, Dreamy, for the amusement of people so brainy that even sitting in a bath listening to Wagner is barely enough to satisfy their intellect, when the rest of us can't even stand him for 10 minutes.

There's nothing I need to disprove... nor could I since your Catch 22 argument to rescue yourself would hinge on the tediously all-encompassing dismissal of my views on the grounds that I can't possibly know about anything beyond my immediate surroundings, and neither can anyone else, because everything is mere perception (or however it goes).

It's "basic physics" that, despite all the guff about 'indeterminacy being an inescapable property of the world', these thoughts of mine will reach you by a process of which I have no understanding - but yet which works every time after time after time. All the particles that jiggle about between here and there in their unpredictably random way will, by some means that may well be miraculous, do their thing on time and on cue as always.

It's just that the way things are is the way things, that's all.


I think I was fair, wasn't I Tarquith?
Oh most definitely sir. Round Two to you, no doubt about it.

Bob said...


** faking my own death - will let somebody else check this blog tomorrow **

Selena Dreamy said...

I think I was fair, wasn't I Tarquith?
Oh most definitely sir. Round Two to you, no doubt about it.

Methinks I had Marquith’s sound and fury in situations where others might only hear silence. Touch√©, gentlemen, the failure of persuasion is mine...