Rex Allen wrote:
On Sat, Jan 16, 2010 at 1:59 PM, Brent Meeker <meeke...@dslextreme.com> wrote:
Rex Allen wrote:
What caused it to exist?
Who said it needs a cause?
Why this reality as opposed to nothing? Given the principle of
sufficient reason, wouldn't "nothingness" be the expected state of
But, given that reality exists, why are things this way as opposed to
some other way?
"St. Augustine observed that if someone were to stand barefoot on the
beach for all eternity, then his footmark on the sand would be eternal
too, but nonetheless it would still have its cause – the foot making
it." - M. Heller, Ultimate Explanations of the Universe
Further, to quote Roger Scruton on the same topic:
“Suppose we were to accept the big bang hypothesis concerning the
origin of the universe. Only a short-sighted person would think that
we have then answered the question of how the world began. For what
caused the bang? Any answer will suppose that something already
existed. So the hypothesis cannot explain the origin of things. The
quest for an origin leads us forever backwards into the past. But
either it is unsatisfiable- in which case, how does cosmology explain
the existence of the world? - or it comes to rest in the postulation
of a causa sui - in which case, we have left the scientific question
unanswered and taking refuge in theology. Science itself pushes us
towards the antinomy, by forcing us always to the limits of nature.”
And a final quote for Wittgenstein:
“It’s not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it
exists.” - Proposition 6.44, Logico Tractatus Philosophicus
Given determinism, what is the significance of a prediction generated
from within the deterministic system?
That your method of prediction has some truth to it.
Even if you accept that various configurations of matter can result in
conscious experiences, there's no reason to think that the experiences
will in any way reveal anything about the underlying system that
"caused" them, is there?
It could if the experiences are perceptions of material processes which
can be correlated with conscious experiences - as when neurosurgeons
electrically excite sites on the brain and at the same time the patient
reports his conscious experience.
Given randomness, what is the significance of prediction generated
from within the random system?
That your method of prediction will yield the right relative frequencies.
For randomness there are no "right" relative frequencies, are there?
Relative frequencies are just the number of times a particular event
occurred divided by the total number of trials.
For a random process, if you wait long enough you can get any relative
frequency of events for any desired sample size, correct?
No. The randomness of radioactive decay is confirmed by observing it
obeys Poisson statistics. It could have been falsified by observing
different statistics. I think you are confusing random with "uniformly
distributed random". "Random" doesn't mean everything is equally
probable; only that some things have probabilities between 0 and 1.
Isn't it meaningless to speak of predicting anything about a random process?
Certainly not. Stochastic processes are used in prediction all the
time. If you fly on an airliner you're relying on the engineer's
stochastic prediction of stress cycles due to turbulence.
Why does it have the aspects that it has? How is it that it gives
rise to conscious experience?
My theory is that physical processes of great complexity corresponding to
what we call information processing and which include the construction of
narrative histories in memory instantiate consciousness of a human type. I
think when we understand these processes and the brain better we will come
to understand there are different degrees and kinds of consciousness and the
term isn't technically useful.
You seem to have no problem with the existence of matter as a given.
No explanation needed, apparently. Why judge conscious experience by
a different standard?
It seems to me that you are starting with a strong bias towards matter
as fundamental, instead of starting with a clean slate and working
forward from first principles.
That's because taking material processes as fundamental has led to great
success, while taking consciousness as fundamental led to mysticism.
So we start with our observations, and then we construct narratives
that are consistent with what we have observed. These narratives may
be useful in analyzing recurring patterns in the records of our past
observations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are true of
anything that exists outside of our observations.
Sure, that's why they are models and theories - not THE TRUTH.
An underlying objective reality. That's why we tend to think there is a
reality and dreams, which are less consistent, are not real.
The possible existence of matter in the form of quarks and electrons
(or strings, or quantum fields, or whatever) is consistent with our
observations, but obviously we have no direct knowledge of quarks and
electrons or the rest. Their existence, and the physical laws
associated with them, are inferred from our observations.
Even something right in front of me, like my chair, I still only know
through my conscious experience. I see a chair here, but I don’t know
that the chair actually exists. I could be dreaming, for instance, in
which case the chair exists entirely within my mind.
Now, the world that I perceive is pretty stable and orderly. What
could explain all of that order?
I'm not sure what "ultimately" means in this context. I asked before
what you consider a "real" explanation. Is it the same as "ultimate"
explanation? Do we have to *know* with certainty the explanation is true?
Well…ultimately, nothing can explain
it. Ultimately you have to conclude that my perceptions just are that
For instance, let’s say that I explain the order that I perceive by
postulating that a world of matter and energy with governing laws
exists independently of me. Okay, now we just need to explain this
external world. Where did the matter and energy come from? What causes
the governing laws? Why this kind of matter and energy and physical
laws as opposed to some other?
Don't know all the answers, but my friend Vic Stenger wrote a book, "The
Comprehensible Cosmos" showing that most of the "laws of physics" are
strongly constrained to be what they are by what he calls
point-of-view-invariance, i.e. just the condition that we want the law
to apply independently of time, place, state of motion, etc.
In other words, what caused the cause of my orderly perceptions? And
what caused that cause? And so on.
As I said in an earlier post on another thread, you either have to
postulate an infinite chain of causes, or a first cause.
Or you can say, I don't know yet.
To paraphrase Quine: What exists? Everything. What doesn't exist?
If go with a first cause that is itself uncaused, then you are saying
that it just was the way that it was, and so everything that followed
from it just is the way it was. And so there is no explanation for the
order of the world we perceive…it just is that way.
If you go with an infinite chain of causes, then why that infinite
chain of events, as opposed to some other? In fact, why any chain of
events at all, why not nothingness?
I’ll tell you why: Because that’s just the way it is.
That's just because of your extreme requirement that no explanation
counts unless it explains everything.
SO, if postulating an independently existing external world doesn’t
actually explain anything, and in fact only raises new questions
(e.g., how does unconscious matter give rise to conscious experience?
what is matter anyway…quantum fields? but then what are quantum
fields? and what causes “causality”? what started the whole damn
thing, and then what started what started it?)…then why go that
Ultimately, my perceptions, caused or uncaused, just are what they
are. There is no explanation for this that isn’t itself
and this inexplicableness of it seems to be necessary, not
It seems to me that nothing is lost in concluding that consciousness
A lot is lost, .e.g all of physical science, unless you can show that it
can be reformulated purely in terms of conscious events - which is what
the Positivists tried.
and that science is only about constructing plausible
narratives that are consistent with past observations…not about an
unexplained and inexplicable independently existing world made of
mysterious substances referred to as “matter”.
If you assume it is only description of past observations then you have
assumed it has no predictive power and it is useless. I suggest you do
not fly on any airliner designed by engineers with this philosophy.
But the ontology of physics refers to lots of things that are only very
indirectly related to our conscious experience (like the Big Bang, and
quarks). I don't think (2) is simple or useful at all. It is the extreme
positivist philosophy which attempted to recast physics in terms only of
relations between sense perceptions. Mach was one its proponents and he
refused to believe in atoms and considered them mere fictions because they
couldn't be seen. Now they can be "seen" by scanning tunneling microscopes.
So obviously what we *know* are these relations between sense
perceptions. From these it's "useful" to infer the existence of
things like electrons and quarks. But that doesn't mean that
electrons and quarks actually exist.
True. But it doesn't mean they don't exist either. So we can
provisionally accept them into our ontology. As Stathis points out, you
don't know that you exist either.
We use analogy and metaphor as
aids to understanding all the time. It's just the way the human mind
So I’m not saying that the equations found in physics are wrong. I’m
just suggesting that they don’t mean what you think they mean.
What do you think I think they mean?
I think you think they mean that there is a external world that exists
independently of our experience of it. I am suggesting that maybe
this is not the case, that maybe our experience is all that "exists".
Maybe you're a brain in a vat, or a computation in arithmetic. I'm
happy to contemplate such hypothesis, but I don't find anything testable
or useful that follows from them. So why should I accept them even
There's a difference between longing and assuming the thing longs for
Why do the laws that govern molecular interactions hold constant over
time? Why these laws and not some other set of laws?
Unfortunately you haven't explained anything.
No. I've explained a very great deal. I've explained why you and I can
communicate by typing.
You've constructed a narrative that is consistent with our
observations, but which includes no justification for itself. If I
had asked "how does the internet work", then it would fine.
Why you will go to the doctor, instead of priest if you're ill.
In a deterministic system, I go to the doctor because given the
initial conditions of the physical system and the causal laws
governing it, going to the doctor is what has to happen. The fact
that I *experience" it as making a choice is just an interesting
aspect of that particular system. If there is no explanation of the
initial conditions and causal laws, then there is no explanation for
why I went to the doctor instead of the priest.
In a random system, there may be no reason at all that I go to the
doctor instead of the priest. That's just the way the dice rolled
that time. Randomness is...random, so again, there is no explanation
for why I went to the doctor instead of the priest.
So...in both cases, nothing is explained. Or rather, the explanation
is: because that's the way it is.
Just not everything.
"The longing to attain the ultimate explanation lingers in the
implications of every scientific theory, even in a fragmentary theory
of one part or aspect of the world.
"The reason that there is Something rather than Nothing is that
Nothing is unstable."
-- Frank Wilczek, Nobel Laureate, phyiscs 2004
For why should only that part,
that aspect of the world be comprehensible? It is only a part or an
aspect of an entirety, after all, and if that entirety should be
unexplainable, then why should only a tiny fragment thereof lend
itself to explanation? But consider the reverse: if a tiny part were
to elude explanation, it would leave a gap, rip a chasm, in the
understanding of the entirety." -- Michael Heller
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