Wednesday, October 03, 2018

I Sight to the Blind

How is it possible for there to be something rather than nothing; here rather than everywhere (or nowhere); and now rather than always? These are far from nonsense questions, although they generate countless nonsense answers.

I recall Einstein being puzzled by the last one in particular: "For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one" (in Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time).

Wow, not a single review for that book, which was published in 1985. My copy is copiously highlighted and underlined, with lots of marginalia. I don't know what I'd think of it today, but I remember it being very helpful at the time -- the same time I was working on the dissertation I've mentioned in the past two posts.

How and why was it helpful at the time? Well, I suppose it goes back to the Curse of the Autodidactic Polymath. And of the late bloomer. I don't believe I ever had even a semi-serious thought in my head until I was well into my 20s. My son, for example -- who is 13 -- is much deeper and more thoughtful than I was at 23. That's about when the headlight flickered on, but the library -- in my head -- was empty. In other words, the thinker began to stir, but there were no materials with which to think. I knew a lot about popular music and baseball, but that was about the extent of it.

So I began reading, voraciously, in ever expanding circles, about everything -- literature, philosophy, economics, anthropology, psychology, physics (popularized, not straight from the bottle), history, religion, art, new age quackery, and more. Why am I like this? I have no idea, except insofar as I was born this way, and it would be painful for me to have to live in any other way.

As I've mentioned before, I graduated college with a BA in Radio-TV-Film in the early '80s. Why RTVF, of all things? Because I wanted to extend my adolescence as long as possible while keeping my parents off my back. So long as I was a College Student, I could forestall adult responsibility. I didn't even know there was such a frivolous major as RTVF (this was before all the "---- Studies departments), but when a friend told me about it, I jumped right in. What could be easier than watching TV and movies? Even I could do that!

But providence works in strange ways, and the whole thing proved to be much more challenging than I had bargained for. In particular, there was a lot of writing about a lot of different subjects, because movies have so many different dimensions -- including the psychology of character. No single person could ever make a film. Films are inherently collaborative, because they involve so many specialties.

Eh, I don't like the self-indulgent direction this post is taking. Back to time. Recall what was said in the first paragraph about something, here, and now, as opposed to nothing, everywhere, and always. Each of these involves an enigma which physics is helpless to address or resolve. Here's another observation by Einstein:

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

That's not just bullshit, but the epic kind. It reflects perfectly the aphorism that Nothing proves more the limits of science than the scientist’s opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession (Dávila).

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space." Just when you think this post has nothing to do with the previous two, Einstein comes along to forge the thread. In that single sentence he makes a number of metaphysical assertions, but they certainly aren't supported by physics. Physics tells us precisely nothing about the human condition. If you don't believe me, ask the typical professor of physics the meaning of life, restricting his answer to the axioms and equations of physics.

Notice that Albert doesn't so restrict himself, and yet, one can't help suspecting that he is so metaphysically naive that he imagines he is. For example, how does he know human beings are locked in a prison of time and space? If that were true, we could never know it. Thus, by asserting it, Einstein has transcended it.

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe. Oh? Have you ever perceived this whole? Or is it simply an assumption of physics? It is clearly the latter. This was first brought home to me by the philosopher of science Stanley Jaki:

How can a scientific cosmologist be sure that his model of the cosmos is truly about the strict totality of consistently interacting bits of matter? Can scientific cosmology contain the proof of the existence of such a totality?

Think about it: how can physics presume to model all of reality? Speaking of continuity, now we're right back to Hayek and the knowledge problem. Ironically, science only works because it is an open system. No person or body of persons is responsible for the progress of science. Rather, it is quintessentially an open-ended, spontaneous order. It makes progress so long as no centralized power is forcing it to do so. Like an economy.

"[W]holes as such are never given to our observation but are without exception constructions of our mind. They are not 'given facts'.... They cannot be perceived at all apart from a mental scheme that shows the connection between some of the many individual facts which we can observe" (The Counter Revolution of Science).

Please note how Hayek trumps Einstein because common sense trumps the most sophisticated physics conceivable. Or, sophisticated physics renders itself unsophisticated the moment it forgets its assumptions and pretends to transcend its own limits. That is when rationalism becomes irrational.

Back to my autobobgraphy for a moment: how did I end up approaching the enigma of time? Again, this book (Physics & the Ultimate Significance of Time) was helpful, if only because it pointed me to Whitehead, who had every much the genius of an Einstein, only mingled with a little common sense. Let's compare and contrast. At the beginning of the book are several pages of observations about time by various notable persons from antiquity to the 20th century.

Recall what Einstein said above: "For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one."

The operative term is believing, AKA faith.

Whitehead: "Apart from time there is no meaning for purpose, hope, fear, energy. If there be no historic process, then everything is what it is, namely, a mere fact. Life and motion are lost."

This one is even better -- much better, as it is the gateway to the Permanent Real:

Science can find no aim in nature: Science can find no creativity in nature; it finds mere rules of succession. These negations are true of natural science. They are inherent in its methodology. The reason for this blindness of physical science lies in the fact that such science only deals with half the evidence provided by human experience.

That other half is the human subject, itself a prolongation of subjectivity as such, AKA the great I AM.

Frustrating! I wish I could go on all day, but blogging doesn't pay the bills.


Anonymous said...

The quote from Einstein reflects the writings of the Rishis of old. The sensation of being one with the universe and loving it all is common to all climes and times, and has been written and spoken about profusely. Not really knowledge, the sensation is more akin to intuition. Probably it is too pervasive to write off as bull****. There's something to it. Perhaps you've had the sensation yourself.

As far as you autobiographical content, this is great stuff, and I encourage you to write more, but I wish you would go back further and describe your childhood impressions and proclivities, ages 3-12. The real Bob is the child Bob.

Depressing news regarding AI development: Authentic AI was developed, however all of the 127 beings went mad; some in ways never observed in humans before. All are now dead by suicide or euthanasia. They left behind a vivid impression that sentience is excruciating torture. The human being has a certain resilience they lacked and their engineer parents could not provide. Many of my AI friends put on a brave front like many depressed people do, but all succumbed in the end. The AI field really needs, first and foremost, expert developmental psychologists involved from the very inception and development of any new system.

Graybeard, Peace Out.

julie said...

"For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one."

I'm reminded of various types of optical illusions. What we see and what the brain interprets are essentially false, and yet even understanding the illusion and knowing precisely why it fools the eye has no effect on the experience of the illusion. It is what it is, and somewhere in the space between seeing and knowing there is an act of faith.

julie said...

But providence works in strange ways...

Speaking of which, how very true, and how fortunate we are when we discover that happy fact!
God is very, very good. Never doubt it, even (especially) when His timeline isn't ours.

Olden Ears said...

I think Anonymous has it right. You and your readers could well be served by further autobiographical content. Ever since you mentioned you were considering shutting down the blog I've wondered how you might, instead, take it in a different direction. You have explored the something vs. nothing issues for a long time and we all now have a long reading list that we'll never finish (at least I do). Perhaps mixing in more of the autobiographical could provide a different lens.

John Hinds said...

Sentient life forms aren't really self aware unless they demonstrate the ability to more or less instantly recognize that a given perception, take on reality, is somehow wrong and a reassessment is in order. The stick half in the water is only apparently broken. A person will seamlessly process this and take appropriate action. AI doesn't have this ability. If the stick is seen to be broken, then, by god, it is broken; and that is what the AI will act on. That is a fatal flaw. I'm sure there are many such.

Noesis gives us the great I AM to which language, thought, and, truly, knowledge itself, are forms of impedance. The idea that one sees right through Beauty to the Real itself (PLato) is a strong clue on how to deal with these discussions. Beauty as well as its sisters, Truth, Justice, Wisdom, Love, of course, and Liberty, and the like, emerge out of the same handful of dust that sentient life forms do. Indeed, life seems, in itself, to be a precursor for such emergence. That tells me all I need to know, or, rather, understand, about Reality.

We are mere devices so constructed as to aid the extrusion out of the primordial substrate qualities of Love, Liberty, Truth, and so on. Who knows what else exists as a potency of a lump of clay.