Thanks, SelfAwarePatterns, for posting this.
Why am I reblogging this? Because I agree with it. And why do I agree with it? Because I find it reasonable. And why do I find it reasonable? Because I agree with it. OK. Time to stop… The whole rationale comes down to “because I like it” (an emotional statement).
A lot of people believe these days that we need a reason to believe something. But I don’t understand the reason for such belief. For example, Steven Pinker in this video, tries to demonstrate how unreasonable was human sacrifice in ancient societies by providing possible reasons for such practices, which, he believes, are wrong reasons. But he cannot say that this behavior was “unreasonable” because he himself has just provided reasons for it. He believes human sacrifice was unreasonable, likely, because, human sacrifices cause negative emotions in people and not because human sacrifice lacked any reasons behind it.
One of the criteria for truth is coherence — lack of self-contradiction. A good way to check for coherence in logic and hypocrisy in morality is to apply the statement to itself. I find this Hume’s idea coherent. It does not lead to self-contradiction, unlike the belief that all beliefs need reason which contradicts itself. Hume’s thesis is also coherent with my fundamental belief that fundamental beliefs do not need reason or evidence.
And I like it because it’s a liberating thought. I can believe whatever I like to believe! (Within reasonable limits, of course).
Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. David Hume
Reason, logic, is a tool. It is a means to an end. It is never an end unto itself, never the goal. It is the journey, not the destination. When we use reason, we use it in pursuit of some goal. That goal may be truth, it may be self aggrandizement, or it may be rationalizing an intuitively held opinion.
Our goals come from our instincts, our intuitions, our emotions, from the base programming that evolution has given us. First you feel the motivation, then (maybe) you deploy reason in pursuit of the motivated goal. Reason may have informed your instincts. It might have played a role in the formation of the urge, but it didn’t itself create it.
Search your mind, or pay attention to the conversations you have with other people, and you will discover that there are no real boundaries between science and philosophy—or between those disciplines and any other that attempts to make valid claims about the world on the basis of evidence and logic. When such claims and their methods of verification admit of experiment and/or mathematical description, we tend to say that our concerns are “scientific”; when they relate to matters more abstract, or to the consistency of our thinking itself, we often say that we are being “philosophical”; when we merely want to know how people behaved in the past, we dub our interests “historical” or “journalistic”; and when a person’s commitment to evidence and logic grows dangerously thin or simply snaps under the burden of fear, wishful thinking, tribalism, or ecstasy, we recognize that he is being “religious.”
Harris seems to rant that people interpret science too narrowly. While at it, he reduces religion to a mere lack of commitment to evidence and logic, wishful thinking, tribalism, extacy, and inability to think coherently under fear. But these are not defining attributes of religiosity.Many people exhibit these attributes, religious or not (as we will see below). Mr. Harris seems to attack a “straw man”. It’s very unlikely that Harris is unfamiliar with this common fallacy implying that he uses it deliberately. Twisting definitions to conform to one’s beliefs seems to be the very practice Sam Harris appears to criticize.
Confusion on this point has spawned many strange ideas about the nature of human knowledge and the limits of “science.” People who fear the encroachment of the scientific attitude—especially those who insist upon the dignity of believing in one or another Iron Age god—will often make derogatory use of words such as materialism, neo-Darwinism, and reductionism, as if those doctrines had some necessary connection to science itself.
This is the first time I hear that “materialism”, “neo-Darwinism”, and “reductionism” are “derogatory terms”. Why does anybody need to be insulted when things are called what they are?
I, personally, do fear the encroachment of science into politics and morality, but not for religious reasons. I am fairly convinced that moral rules cannot be established by scientific experiment, in principle. Such view would be in gross contradiction with Harris’ own views. If we admit that there are absolute, objective, undeniable, universal moral values, then we must admit that the physical universe has a purpose and can impose moral judgement on humans. Essentially, such belief is belief in a weird “scientific” version of God and give scientists the status of high priests to declare moral values as “scientific truths proven with evidence”.
If we allow morality to be established by scientific experiment, we can easily demonstrate that killing sick and elderly eliminates the need and expenses for healthcare and social benefits, thus making society much healthier and wealthier (of course, if we agree that health and wealth constitute “wellbeing”, otherwise we will need to find scientific evidence that they do).
What’s the evidence for “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,…”? It’s an obvious falsity. The evidence shows that some men are tall and some are short, some are black and some are white, some are wise and some believe that science can prove moral values.
If there were evidence that complex systems produced phenomena that cannot be understood in terms of their constituent parts, it would be possible to be a neo-Darwinist without being a reductionist. For all practical purposes, that is where most scientists find themselves, because every branch of science beyond physics must resort to concepts that cannot be understood merely in terms of particles and fields. Many of us have had “philosophical” debates about what to make of this explanatory impasse. Does the fact that we cannot predict the behavior of chickens or fledgling democracies on the basis of quantum mechanics mean that those higher-level phenomena are something other than their underlying physics? I would vote “no” here, but that doesn’t mean I envision a time when we will use only the nouns and verbs of physics to describe the world.
Perhaps, trying and failing to explain large systems based on properties of constituents can be construed as evidence that reductionism is not all-powerful. It may be useful in some cases, but not in others. Why not expand scientific method beyond reductionism instead of trying to fit square pegs into round holes?
Can quantum mechanics predict processes in society? May be, having some facts and examples would be beneficial to establish a belief that quantum mechanics can predict fledging democracies lest we engage in “wishful thinking” and show “lack of commitment to evidence”. A person adhering to “the highest standards of logic and evidence” might also avoid using arguments from ignorance in his reasoning.
The remedy for all this confusion is simple: We must abandon the idea that science is distinct from the rest of human rationality.
In other words, we need to abandon the definition of science and opt for some fuzzy “highest standards of logic and reasoning” whatever it might mean. One can use logic to explain something other than logic. Using logic to explain logic and define the “highest standards of logic” seems to include circular reasoning and is, therefore, unreasonable. There is a similar problem with being conscious of one’s own consciousness and thinking about one’s own thoughts. But it’s a fine philosophical point which seems to escape the grasp of Mr. Harris’s titanic intellect.
It occurs to me that “highest standards” would require some definition. Otherwise, it’s hard to “adhere” to them. Usually, standards benefit from being specific. “Highest standards” are, usually, “strict standards”, i.e. narrowly defined.
When you are adhering to the highest standards of logic and evidence, you are thinking scientifically. And when you’re not, you’re not.
language can never point out anything specifically, only eliminate sets of possibilities (“possible worlds” for the modern philosopher or logician) from our consideration. That is, language – and therefore logic – can only say what isn’t the case. And that no matter how many possibilities were excluded by language, i.e., how specific our language, an infinite number would still remain (a now well-known property of infinite sets.) If, for example, we say that a friend of ours has red hair, someone listening to us knows that our friend doesn’t have black or light blonde colored hair, but not what precise shade, of all the infinite shades of red that are possible, their hair is. Nor do they know from what we’ve said how tall, or heavy, or witty our friend is. The possibilities are still infinite.
Visit the link and play with those interactive diagrams. It appears that to “say more” or “be more specific”, we need to exclude more possibilities. If what we say does not exclude any possibilities, our language becomes meaningless. “A or not A” does not exclude any possibilities. It’s a meaningless tautology. To create meaning, we need to draw lines between concepts. We need to separate “A” from “not A”. When we draw the line between “I” and “not I”, we become self-aware, conscious of who we are, our identity.
A few interesting associations come to mind. Remember Genesis?
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
I know, this does not sound like a factual account and science tells us that things may have appeared in a slightly different order. It does not seem to make sense that earth appeared before light and light appeared before any source of it. But what does make sense (at least, to myself) is that there is a lot of separation going on here. And separation of “A” from “not A” creates meaning. This is how the universe is conceived in our mind. Separation of concepts is the beginning of self-consciousness (realizing what is “I” and “not I”) and understanding of the universe.
But how is all this related to the physical universe? Let me note first that all these relations and separations between ideas and concepts exist only in our mind. What seems related to me may not seem related to you. My idea of the universe is different from another person’s idea. So, if you don’t see the connection, I would not argue, to be consistent with one of my fundamental beliefs. But, if you are interested, read on.
In 1920’s, a Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaître suggested based on various observations that the universe is expanding debunking the theory that religious people are backwards and don’t get science. Tracing this expansion back in time, one can conclude that approximately 13.7 bln. years ago, the universe was quite small and seems to have a beginning. How close can we get to this mysterious “0 seconds” in universal time?
Quantum mechanics tells us that space and time are not continuous. They are discrete. There is a smallest measurable length called Planck length
According to the generalized uncertainty principle (a concept from speculative models of quantum gravity), the Planck length is, in principle, within a factor of order unity, the shortest measurable length – and no improvement in measurement instruments could change that. — Wikipedia
There is also the smallest measurable time interval called Planck time
≈ 5.39106(32) × 10−44 s
Within the framework of the laws of physics as we understand them today, for times less than one Planck time apart, we can neither measure nor detect any change. — Wikipedia
It seems that within the first 10−44 s of existence of the universe, we cannot detect any changes any more. The time stops. And when the universe was, perhaps, as small as 10−35 m, we cannot measure any distances either. It appears that the universe did not start at “0 seconds”. It started right after the first Planck time interval.
What was before Planck time? The plot says that the Planck time is
the time before which science is unable to describe the universe. At this point, the force of gravity separated from the electronuclear force.
In other words, before Planck time, there was a complete uncertainty. We cannot say that time, space, and matter did not exist. We cannot say that there was “nothing” or “vacuum” — a concept requiring space. We cannot say if anything existed. It was complete uncertainty.
Then there was the first “tick” of the quantum clock — the second Planck time in the history of the universe. Why did it happen? We cannot say, it happened according to the laws of physics. The laws of physics appeared with the first tick. All we can say is that, suddenly, we had all kinds of “separations”: gravity separated from electromagnetic force, “now” separated from “then”, “here” separated from “there”, “this” separated from “that”, light from darkness, etc. Suddenly, there is meaning, there are laws of physics, there is structure, there is order. “Creation of the universe” was not a transition from “nothing” to “everything”. I believe, creation was a transition from uncertainty and chaos to certainty and structure.
“Meaning is exclusion” has another interesting implication: all-inclusive and all-exclusive concepts are meaningless. “God created everything” is not a false statement. It just does not have much meaning if we try to explain how something came into existence. Omnipotence and omniscience have the same issue. This may be a topic of a different discussion.