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Science, Philosophy and Religion

March 31, 2007

(NOTE: If this is the first article you have read it’s probably because you are looking at the “Introduction” category, which displays backwards. Blinding Light starts at Truth can be Scary in the Contents. The links across the top are in order.)

I’ve realized that I need one more introductory article. This page is about a web of interdependencies so I’m just going to give you a look at the conclusion and then show you how I got there.

Science, Philosophy and Religion have become separated, but they actually have far more in common than you might think. Philosophy is the underlying foundation of science. The big picture has to be tackled by philosophers before a scientist can even consider it. Science is a study of the physical world that we live in. Religion speaks about our lives which necessarily intersect the physical world. Science in turn has philosophical ramifications which affect the way we see religion. It’s a giant interconnected web. We’ve tried to treat them as separate but one needs the other and they all affect each other.

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Philosophy forms the necessary foundations of Science. Without Philosophy, Science would not exist.

I’m still working through all the ramifications of this, but I know they are immense. Instead of working through every single point for now I’ll show you how I came to this odd conclusion.

It was my sophomore Discrete Mathematics class where I first got the taste of revelation that is the underlying thrust of this webpage. In general, I would describe that class as the most painfully boring class ever conceived of, but it introduced an idea that has stuck in the back of my mind for two years. Axioms. Axioms are the underlying assumptions that you must accept as true in order for the system to work. Axioms are by definition, not provable because without them you have no basis to prove or disprove anything. Because of this axioms must be accepted on intuition, on faith essentially. Math is based off of such axioms, which means that for math to work at all you need to take a leap of faith. Now thankfully in math the leap of faith is pretty minuscule. Check out Planetmath for a list of Euclid’s axioms. A good example of an axiom is 1=1. This is not provably true, but if it isn’t true then how can you say anything at all?

Axioms stuck in the back of my mind as an uneasiness about the stability of even basic mathematics. Axioms seemed to me an incurable weakness in the structure of human knowledge. All knowledge required some amount of faith, and without faith you were left with a nothingness of nihilism. This uneasiness stayed until just a couple months ago when I realized axioms can actually be a huge strength. I came to the realization that there were other complete, comprehensive ways of viewing science and even our very existence. There is not just one scientific structure, one worldview, there is a myriad of them and it all comes down to the axioms. If you remove an axiom, yes the system falls apart. But if you replace one axiom for a different one you can use most of the same base structures and methods and cause a cascading transformation in no time. Let me give you an example of one axiom I challenged myself.

Formal Logic is based on a set of axioms. One of those axioms is called bivalence, that means that something is either true or it is false. There’s no middle ground in bivalence, it exists or it doesn’t exist, a sentence cannot be silly or partially true or shaky. This is the logic that our science today is based on, and while I think it’s a fairly good model of objective reality (except for Quantum Physics) I didn’t think it was a very good model of the human experience at all. Very rarely do we actually know all the facts. Sometimes we have to guess, sometimes we just don’t know one way or the other. So what happens if you throw Maybe into the picture. We go from a Truth Table with only 4 possibilities, to a truth table with 9 possibilities.

A

B

A OR B

A AND B

NOT A

A – >B

T T T T F T
T F T F F F
F T T F T T
F F F F T T

Boolean Logic (above), Ternary Logic (below)

A

B

A OR B

A AND B

NOT A

T T T T F
T ? T ? F
T F T F F
? T T ? ?
? ? ? ? ?
? F ? F ?
F T T F T
F ? ? F T
F F F F T

Just by changing one simple axiom we get an entirely new logic, one to which we can apply all the old rules but is capable of modeling a lot more. In my opinion this solves a lot of paradoxes and wierdities formal logic runs into such as the Principle of Explosion (quite possibly the coolest name for a principle). Currently when I say “If Martians live in my underpants, then Abraham Lincoln never existed” is a logically true statement because anything with a false premise is always true. This is what our current view of science is based on by the way.

So what are the underlying axioms of Science and what happens if we change one of them or add a new way of knowing to the list? My instinct is that if the axiom is right, we can take a huge leap forward in our understanding. If it’s wrong, then you end up with cascading errors in thinking, one building on another. I have an example of different mode of thinking. I’d be surprised if they’re right but I mainly find it of interest that these people exist on the same planet Earth as me and yet think radically different:

“This Novelty report uses the TW1 values from the Sheliak corrected Timewave. (see announcement below) All of Timewave One Wave which precedes the 2012 singularity is displayed in the lower frame. The Novelty Report for the next two months appears in the upper frame. Dramatic local fluctuations will characterize the time stream over the next two months. Such fluctuation tend to behave like damped oscillations, that is they tend to die away quickly with little long term impact. We are now experiencing the climax of a relatively gentle nearly uninterrupted descent into Novelty that achieves maximum on the 10th of February, 1999. We are in resonance with an era that stretches from 1118 until 1129, the Gothic Middle Ages. Scholasticism and the troubodours flourish in Europe, Henry V King Europe ascendant, Islamic science in eclipse.”

These guys are obviously working in a different reality than most of us live in. They took a different set of basic axioms, in this case, the idea of circular/repeating patterns in time in combination with the I Ching and popped out a new version of science on the other side. If these guys are right and you can plot out time waves that show how our universe works, that would be really nifty, but if they’re wrong then they’ve just wasted an enormous amount of effort and put their faith in something that is ultimately meaningless. This just underscores the importance of looking at those basic assumptions, the underlying axioms. Right or wrong, it’s worth really investigating. Axioms are the foundations of everyone’s lives.

The big revelation that provoked me into starting this webpage is that we have been drawing boundary lines where there are none. We have been calling things separate that are really the same thing. As human knowledge grows we have become more and more specialized in a specific area. As we see the world in more detail we also get a smaller view of it because the sheer amount of knowledge is staggering. In America, we’ve all become specialists, living in ever smaller worlds. In college we are forced to pick majors where we stick to a small group of people like us. In the workplace, our world shrinks even more as we lock ourselves in with millions of people that have a nearly identical job to us. Where are our DaVincis, our renaissance men? I have found an enormous amount of value in connecting different areas of knowledge. I’ve found that the various departments on a little 1 mile square of CSU campus have a lot to learn from one another.

We will undoubtedly be looking at some things that not everyone is an expert on, but I would like to encourage everyone to look into it none the less. It doesn’t take a specialist to see the big picture. In fact, it may only be regular people who have a chance at seeing the world as a whole.

Further Comments: Two things:  First, much of recent American politics and court battles have been based on the fundamentally false assumption that science, philosophy and religion NEVER overlap.  People usually place them in a hierarhcy where one usually trumps another – probably Science, Religion, then Philosophy.  Astronomy and abstract physics is a pretty heavy overlap of philosophy and science.  Origins is an overlap area between science and religion.  Questions like “who are we?” and “where did life come from?” are both science and religion questions.  So can you avoid teaching religion in school?  Well, not really because some religion, or more broadly, some worldview is an inherent part of every human’s cognitive process.

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11 comments

  1. Found another article for you, actually, as I was doing research for my paper:

    http://www.leaderu.com/aip/docs/corey.html

    Enjoy.
    _Raeliyah


  2. This is very interesting. It could be said that axioms create our reality. Are there not two types of axioms then? Some dynamic and some static. For example, something falling at 9.8 m/s/s always happens (on earth) would be directly connected to the static axiom of gravity. Am I understanding this correctly? A dynamic axiom would be a persons feeling that something is bad, such as something being a sin. So, considering this, it can be simply said that a personals reality is based on rules which they can control and rules they can’t control.

    An interesting thought: The very premise of “unalienable rights” written into the secular faith of the United States. These would be considered a dynamic axiom which have shaped the reality of our nation. There is no proof that these rights are indeed unalienable.

    Indeed, it was William Shakespear who wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”


  3. Perhaps I can be more precise in my definition of axioms. The reason that axioms cannot be proven is because you use axioms to prove everything else. So axioms are static in that they define our reality, all the time. 9.8m/s/s is a consequence of the mass of our planet so is not really an axiom, it’s a scinetific law. Gallileo did a famous experiment where he dropped two cannon balls of different weight off the leaning Tower of Pisa and everyone could see that they fell at the same rate. So this is experimentally provable and not an axiom. How do you prove 1+1=2 however? It’s so foundational that if you assume it to be false you can’t do anything.

    Now I’m really impressed that you picked up on the connection to moral axioms. One of the things we’ll be seeing as we continue is that religions actually operate under the same structure as science. Religions have axioms that must be accepted for anything to make sense. Jesus actually identified the two axioms of Mosaic law in this verse:
    “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:36-40

    Jesus apparently had a pretty good grasp on formal logic because he was able to identify these two underpinning themes on a moments notice. None of the law makes sense without these two commandments. The “Law” is based on even more fundamental axioms, because if there was no God there would be no need for the law.

    The foundation of our nation was actually a shift in basic moral axioms. The Declaration of Independence states that “All men are created equal” and that we have been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”. Without these axioms the actions of our founding fathers do not make sense and were, in fact, illegal under colonial law. I wonder what axioms are we trying to operate under today?


  4. I’m not quite clear on your example of an axiom. If you have one object, and add another to it, you have two objects. This is fact, which can be proved. Is an axiom based on an assumption? Does the term only apply when you are not directly connected with what is being logically argued?

    I would say that axioms in science and axioms in religion are quite different. One is static (1+1) and the other is dynamic, respectively. One accepts axioms within one’s own brand of religion. The use of religios axioms aid a person in understanding the world around them. There’s actually a great article titled connected to this idea.


  5. Sorry, the article is titled “Why Bad Beliefs Don’t Die”


  6. If nothing that follows makes any sense, don’t worry. You’re doing just fine as is.

    Axioms are the philosophical foundations of science. The idea is that human knowledge is based on iterative levels of thought. One layer builds on top of another layer. Before you can build computers you need to understand electricity. So if you track the layers backwards axioms are the very foundations. Nothing is more basic than an axiom. I realized I didn’t really mention why you can’t prove an axiom. The typical method is to use a Proof by Contradiction where we assume that what we are trying to prove is false. Then we use our remaining axioms to show that this leads to a contradiction. The problem is that some things are so basic we have nothing to contradict with if they are wrong.

    Consider a world where 1=1 is not true. Well, in this case the symbol 1 can reference a varying amount of objects or the symbol = doesn’t mean anything. If either of these are true we might as well throw up our hands and go out for iced tea to sooth our head-ache. Axioms cannot be proven so they must be instinctively obvious. If you showed me a pile of 1 rocks and another pile of 1 rocks and I told you I saw a different number than we apparently lack even the ability to communicate with each other. Time for more iced tea. Incidentally, in Cryptography, where the purpose is to obscure meaning, 1 does not equal 1. The meaning of 1 is most likely dependent on the position of 1 in the larger whole as well as the numbers around 1.

    By bringing in moral axioms at this early in the game I think I opened up a Pandora’s Box we aren’t ready to address yet. This crosses over into the realm of Worldviews. If you’re interested in learning about worldviews I highly recommend the book “The Universe Next Door“. Worldviews are the ultimate whoppers of mind-benders. Once you really understand them, your head will spin because you’re looking at your brain with your eyes and realizing that your brain is looking at the back of your eyes again. This is the very reason my first article is entitled “Truth can be Scary”. Just like the excellent article you provided, we naturally form interdependent networks of beliefs. True understanding can have a cascade effect on our psyche. In fact, what they fail to mention is that in the gaps between belief systems lies madness. I’ve just now gotten to the point where I can travel across the voids between belief systems and it’s truly a transforming vision.

    This is the motivating reason behind starting this website, I hope that if someone reads through the entire thing from one end to the other and gives it careful thought they may be able to pull off this same feat. It has become a problem for me that the only things I find interesting to talk about are the very things that cannot be put into words. Taoism speaks of the unspeakable by saying “The Tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao”. In Mayahana Buddhism they term ‘skilful means’ as a way of leading someone to a truth that can not be taught directly. I found a good article entitled ‘Religion as Skilful Means’ discussing this, and by the second page you can already see the self-referencing downward spiral that gets us into so much trouble. Consider the words of Jesus to Nicodemus “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”. (again) I will speak to you of earthly things for now. They say more than we could have ever imagined.


  7. Interesting introduction, I’m quite compelled to read the rest of your work.


  8. You mentioned having faith in all knowledge, i.e. science. What do you mean by that?

    Would you say, as an example, that if you had a ball in your hand and let go of it, you have faith that it would fall and hit the ground?


  9. I’ve noticed that the word faith strikes a foul chord with many people because it is associated with religious faith. Perhaps a better word to use would be trust. The basis of science is a trust in the repeatability and rational order of the universe. This is a philosophical standpoint because if there is no rationality you really can’t trust anything, not even your own senses. This was the philosophical basis of the Matrix that so intrigued people. The concept is so fundamental most people take it for granted.

    Even if we take a rational universe as a given. Most of our knowledge is still fully reliant on our ability to trust others. The fact that objects fall at 9.8m/s/s is often stated as hard truth with no basis in faith. Maybe I missed out on that class experiment but I’ve never actually measured how fast things fall. I wouldn’t know how to measure that exactly, maybe it’s 9.7m/s/s. The reason that I believe that number as fact is because I have heard it from multiple people that I trust, not on empirical evidence. Our ability to investigate every minor scientific detail ourselves is limited so when it comes to knowledge in an educated country 95% of what we “know” is based on trust in our teachers. That’s not bad, but it is healthy to acknowledge the true source of our knowledge.

    I’m actually writing a longer explanation but I hope that helps. Check back in a couple days.


  10. Photoreceptor, are you familiar with Gödel’s incompleteness theorems?

    Kurt Gödel demonstrated that within any given branch of mathematics, there would always be some propositions that couldn’t be proven either true or false using the rules and axioms … of that mathematical branch itself. You might be able to prove every conceivable statement about numbers within a system by going outside the system in order to come up with new rules and axioms, but by doing so you’ll only create a larger system with its own unprovable statements. The implication is that all logical system of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete; each of them contains, at any given time, more true statements than it can possibly prove according to its own defining set of rules.

    If you’d like a more detailed explanation, check out:
    Gödels Incompleteness Theorems – A Brief Introduction
    Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem
    Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid


  11. I’ve noticed that the word faith strikes a foul chord with many people because it is associated with religious faith. Perhaps a better word to use would be trust. The basis of science is a trust in the repeatability and rational order of the universe. This is a philosophical standpoint because if there is no rationality you really can’t trust anything, not even your own senses.

    You do understand there is a very large difference between “trusting” my co-workers to arrive on time to work and “trusting” that a ball is going to hit the ground?

    Furthermore, 9.8m/s/s is an average. The acceleration of gravity is not consistent over the entire planet. It may be insignificant but it is different.



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