Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Category

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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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Good Science and Bad Science

March 31, 2007

Science is a big icon in our culture today. It determines what is considered true by everyone, and not just a select group of people. We spend 12-16 years of our life going to school where we learn about almost everything using (supposedly) the scientific method, artists and English majors excluded. I think it is far more often talked about than practiced. When people want to talk about truth in our culture today we usually appeal to science or fall back on personal experience. But I want to open up discussion by talking about what science actually is, and what can you really test. Science is going to be the methodology I use in this journal, but let’s look at all the possible ways we can know truth. That whole question happens to be called Epistemology. Here’s the most comprehensive list I can manage:

  • General Revelation – Common Sense, anyone can tell. (The sky is blue, I ate a burger yesterday)
  • Special Revelation – An outside, higher source of knowledge (praying to God, or Channeling Aliens from Zeta Reticuli)
  • Tradition – We’ve done it this way for centuries (The song says it all)
  • Expert – Stephen Hawking says so, and he’s really smart
  • Scientific Method – Test and Observe the physical world

It’s worth noting that not everyone, agrees with all ways of knowing things. This is just the inclusive list as far as I know. As my friend Jim pointed out recently, the scientific method has some serious limitations. “What is it like to be a bat?” he challenged “you can take apart every peice that composes a bat and analyze it and test its sense of hearing, but what does it feel like to be a bat? Can you see what a bat sees?” I think this is a very valid point and somewhat synonymous with Richard Dawkins trying to prove that God doesn’t exist. So while I’m going to stick to science over philosophy or religion in this journal I think it fair to look at its limitations.

Science observes the physical world
Science cannot observe anything that is not made of matter or energy. This means, for example, that if spirits or gods exist they cannot be tested unless they leave an imprint on the physical world. An interesting offshoot of this is that miracles and other such are actually scientifically testable and provable while their causes are entirely outside of science’s scope. For example, if someone dies they can be examined to show they are dead then if they get back up again they can be shown to be just as alive as you and me. If the cause is anything that doesn’t consist of matter (CPR?) or energy (electric shock) then the cause lies outside of the realm of science, even though the effect is verifiable.

Science cannot prove a non-existence or an impossibility
Sorry guys, but the Myth Busters have a serious error in their thinking. As much as I like watching the show they’ve gotten a couple things wrong, and this is why: there are thousands of ways that something could happen and lots of ways that something could not happen. Simply by demonstrating that there is one way that something couldn’t work doesn’t mean that there is no way it couldn’t work. This is called the Completeness problem in Formal Logic. For example, they “disproved” that a stretched steel cable could cut a man in half or that banging hammers together could ever create flying metal shards. Well, I’ve worked with people that have scars on their face from banging hammers together (it happens with waffle heads). My friend Jason says he has personally witnessed a cable wrapped tightly around a steel pole snap and cut a four inch gash in a car. The myth busters didn’t try wrapping the cable, only stretching it, so how could they know?

However, science is great at proving that things are possible or that they do exist. In theory, it only takes one example of something to prove it exists. If you want to show a particular method works it better be repeatable though. It only takes one giant squid to show that giant squid must exist. It only takes one faulty appliance to show that people can get electrocuted in the bath tub. Thomas Edison understood this, he said “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

“That’s Silly” or “Yes, but they’re dumb (New Agey, Evolutionists, Christians, Superstitions) (pick one)”
This is where we run into bad science. Rejecting something because it’s silly is not good science at all. If something is truly wrong then you should be able to show why by pointing out logical fallacies, conflicting facts, or using the definitions of good scientific theories such as parsimony and falsfiability. Discrediting someone’s theory because of who they are or what has gone on in their life is ad hominem, a logical fallacy. Once again, everyone is guilty of this, even scientists.

I think Dr. Humphreys said it the best when he was questioned at one of his presentations I attended. (paraphrase) Q: “If you’re data is correct then why isn’t there any discussion about it in the scientific community? Scientists love to find things that challenge them, or mess with their theories.” Humphreys: “I’m sorry to wreck your romantic notion of scientists, but they are real people as well. They have jobs and bosses, they are on a budget and have families to support. If they start rocking the boat too much, they can lose funding, lose credibility, or lose their jobs. Few people are in the business of revolution.”

One more quote, from Lynn Margulis in her book Symbiotic Planet. She has an alternative theory of evolution and receives tons of resistance from fellow evolutionists. She writes: “Many circumstances conspire to extinguish scientific discoveries, especially those that cause discomfort about our culture’s sacred norms. As a species, we cling to the familiar, comforting conformities of the mainstream. However, “convention” penetrates more deeply than we tend to admit. Even if we lack a proper name for and knowledge of the history of any specific philosophy and thought style, all of us are imbedded in our own safe “reality”. Our outlooks shape what we see and how we know. Any idea we conceive as fact or truth is integrated into an entire style of thought, of which we are usually unaware. … They affect all of us, including scientists. All are sadled with heavy linguistic, national, regional, and generational impediments to perception. Like those of everyone else, the scientists hidden assumptions affect his of her behavior, unwittingly directing thought.

(Thus ends the introduction. Next we’ll be moving to Part I: “Something Fishy is Going on Here” – Solar Eclipses.)

P.S. I’m starting a follow-up article called Bad Science Unlimited with some poster boys and girls of bad science. Think of it like a spot-the-logical-fallacy game.

Further Comments: What if the human mind is flawed?  Not just THAT person’s mind over there who believes we never landed on the moon.  Isn’t he running the same wetware as you?  If humans were fundamentally illogical, wouldn’t any solution posed by a human also be flawed?  Is there any way out of that loop?  What would you give up to know the truth?  What is it really worth?

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Introduction: Truth can be scary

March 31, 2007

Ever tried staring at the Sun? I’ve struggled for a while about how to put everything I’ve been learning into words. When people ask me “Hey what’s up?” I’m either lost for words or they lose 2 to 5 hours of their day and come away with a head-ache. The reason for starting this blog is that I want to make an attempt at communicating the things I am learning and to recruit other people in helping me work through all of this. I have been looking at science, I have been looking into history, and cultures, and religions. I have been analyzing the universe and our culture’s way of presenting truth. I’m seeing a lot of things that don’t line up, there’s a lot of things that don’t make sense. More importantly, there is a vast majority of information that people don’t look at, either because they don’t know or because they willfully reject it. I think everyone is guilty of this and I have been trying to purge it in myself. This blog is not about me. It’s about the world, and it’s about you. I think that everyone here will find something that may ultimately challenge their beliefs, and it should or you’re not listening. To that end I’m going to start off this journal with a warning, from a couple people far more articulate than I:

Emily Dickinson:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

H.P. Lovecraft:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

It is not my intention to scare anyone off. Though I have to wonder if these two knew something most of us do not. I disagree with Lovecraft in that I do not believe all truth is scary. Quite to the contrary I find scientific discovery exhilarating and exciting. It’s just when the world does not line up with your beliefs, which one do you chose? That question stands for everyone – my Christian friends, my atheist friends, evolutionists, and I-dont-really-know-ists, and the poor guy who ran across this site on accident. I hope I can challenge you and I ask you to challenge me. We’re all humans, and I’d hope we’re all searching.

(Sorry the first two posts are vague. It’s all numbers and facts after this.)

Further Comments: It does seem fairly arrogant in retrospect to think that I could come to a happy conclusion when so many others have found either insanity or despair when looking too deeply at the universe.   My  positive assumption came largely from the verse John 8:32 when Jesus said “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”.  My question I would pose to you is does freedom necessarily correlate with happiness?  You can be set free from any connection to the world, free of human morality, or free of daily concerns that keep you moving forward.  If you take, for example, the first half of the first Matrix movie ‘freedom’ means waking up to a nightmare worse than you’d ever conceived of, having a metal spike ripped from your head and being flushed into a pool of rotting human remains.  Perhaps, dear traveller, you should seek happiness, not truth.