Thursday, November 18, 2010

Effects of human behavior on life of our planet

[From David Sussman, posted by Ira with his permission and based on his 12 November 2010 presentation to the Philosophy Club, The Villages, Fl, Click here to Download the Powerpoint presentation.]

The structure of the analysis contains essentially three components:

(1) The human condition,

(2) behavioral consequences deleterious to the future of life on Earth, and

(3) a view of the future.

The human condition derives essentially from our evolutionary history, all of us products of an unbroken string of survivors stretching back to the first glimmers of life from self-replicating molecules 3.5 billion years ago. As humans are one of countless species, extant and extinct, created by natural processes, there is no reason to believe that we, or any other, are endowed with freedom of choice. This is regarded as an illusion stemming from other features of the strategy honed for us by nature, e.g. consciousness and speech. Our strategy is enshrouded in myth, explained by Reg Morrison (Spirit in the Gene) as a necessity predicated on the need for emotional response to immediate threat rather than logical analysis. Another dimension of our ‘condition’, and linked inevitably to the others, is our propensity to expand our numbers much beyond what our rational faculties would inform us is sustainable and compatible with an extended tenure for us and other life forms on Earth.

Behavioral consequences - Of the wide array of possibilities that arise from our condition, essentially coalesced into our particular operational strategy, I have selected a few salient behavioral characteristics that I believe bear most strongly on prospects for the future of life:

  • our failure to nurture so as to maintain natural identity and physical and mental health of every child on Earth, or to inculcate an appreciation of the tenets of democracy;
  • stressing rights rather than responsibilities in social organization, leading to excesses as best described by Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons”;
  • sex exploitation in its many manifestations – for the purposes of dominance, manipulation and economic advantage;
  • the unholy alliance of religion and politics, each employing similar strategies for securing operatives’ aggrandizement;
  • the divorce of science from philosophy, leaving its practitioners devoid of a framework that could more productively guide the nature and applications of their inquiries;
  • our propensity to take confrontation beyond the brink to violence and mayhem;
  • the practice of concentrating capital and other forces leading to inordinate disparity in the distribution of wealth and other life amenities.

What of the future? Is humanity at an evolutionary dead end? Certainly survival in civilized society is different from what would be dictated by nature “red in tooth and claw”. And although evolution proceeds at a snails pace, culture sweeps through like a zephyr. The absence of choice leaves it up to nature, the overseer of both evolution and culture, as well as conditions that we will confront in the future. Are we capable of predicting the future? Inherent uncertainty in physical processes that underlie all that we think and do, precludes prognostication. Societies, as any other complex system, are either fundamentally too complex for our “poor power” or subject to both subatomic (with macroscopic manifestations) and chaotic uncertainty.

David Sussman
NOTE: See earlier discussion related to David Sussman's presentation in a topic posted by Joel last week.


Ira Glickstein said...

Joel's Semantic Puzzles topic, which is related to David Sussman's presentation, has so far garnered 26 excellent Comments and I think it is time we moved the discussion to the current topic.

I hope some of you have taken the time to download David's very good Powerpoint charts and read them, along with his descriptive text on the current topic.

David and I come at the science and even the religion in basic agreement, but we differ in conclusions. I am far more sanguine on the effect of human occupation on Earth and of our manifest destiny to spread Earthly life and civilization to space, or at least die trying.

David seems to favor fixing things on Earth first, which will require reversing evolutionary trends and the resultant genes and memes that, IMHO, are adaptive in the biological sense. I cannot fathom how someone as clear minded as he is could think such a reversal was even possible, much less desirable.

So, Blog readers, what are your views on this?

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Semantic puzzles still appear to be of more interest than predicting the end of civilization. Why do we all have to move on?

Descartes thought that consciousness was the only sure way he knew he existed. If as you say, my consciousness is an illusion then so is my existence. I don't buy that.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, I think Descartes actually wrote "Cogito ergo sum, ... cogito?" which means "I think, therefore I am, ... I think?" :^)

I think the last I think was somehow dropped in transcription - what do you think?


Is there a Descartes quote where he says consciousness (rather than thought) is the only sure way he knew he existed? You seem to be conflating thinking with consciousness when you ascribe that opinion to Descartes.

In any case, Descartes was a dualist, who thought that mind (thought, spirit, ideas, etc.) were a different substance from matter (space, material, energy, etc.) Haven't nearly all modern philosophers abandoned dualism in favor of the monistic belief that what Spinoza called "thought" and "extension" were merely aspects of the Universal substance. Thus, thinking that the mind is a non-physical thing separate from the physical brain is, itself, an illusion!

As for your "existence" being an illusion, perhaps it is. It seems to me where you draw the boundary between "self" and "not-self" is somewhat arbitrary. We normally use our skin as the dividing line, but, if our brain was removed and somehow kept alive in a vat, our "self" would be in that vat and not in the rest of our body. Furthermore, is your "self" not much more than your current condition? Does it not also include your entire life trace through space and time? And, would you be "you" absent your parents and teachers and other influential people and what you consumed in food and books and experiences? And, when we die, where does our "self" go? Is it in that pile of lifeless flesh and bones or is it in the memories of those who knew us and in the bodies and brains of our children and students and colleagues and in our writings and the things we built?

It seems strange to me that what I ate today was not part of my "self" yesterday and some of it will not be part of my "self" when it departs tomorrow. How many of the cells that make up my "self" today were with me as an infant?

It seems there is only a single unity, namely the Universe, and what we call our "existence" and "consciousness" and "free will" and all that stuff is some kind of rather arbitrary line in the shifting sand between "you" and "me" and "us" and "them" and so on.

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

It seems to me that you are still stuck in semantics. I'll repeat my last remarks from the last post in a bit. You use the collective macro term "I" without defining the microscopic items that it contains. That leads to a confusion about edibles, cells dead or alive, etc. This is not a philosophical problem. It is just sloppy semantics. As for David Sussman's presentation, I found no evidence to support his or your beliefs. It seemed to me it was just wishful thinking about how we are all brothers and sisters with a few references to how all the "authorities" believe this.

Repeated comment: I think that I'm going to take exception to all this "free will is an illusion" and "consciousness is an illusion." A desert mirage is an illusion. A straight stick partially in water is an bent stick illusion. These both contain an element of falsity or error that cause them to be termed illusions. The shimmering water on the sand is not actually present. The stick is not actually bent. From a previous post; my daughter's washing machine is not really saying "running bear, running bear." Consciousness and free will are not errors anymore than the color "blue" is. They are not illusions. They are internal feelings that we can't show others, but they are not false or non-existent. I'm looking for a better word than "illusion." I myself have used that term many times to convey to others that they are not magical spiritual things, but rather mechanistic. Perhaps we should say that consciousness, like blue, is an impression. Free will is also an impression. It is not false. It is simply internal and cannot be seen by others. My daughter's washing machine creates the illusion that it speaks. It does this because my auditory neurons that try to make phonic sense out of all repeated sounds, create an internal impression that I interpret incorrectly as "running bear." I'm the victim of an illusion. If I come to believe that there is a spirit within the machine that is speaking to me, then I'm suffering from a delusion.

Howard Pattee said...

Ira says, “It seems there is only a single unity, namely the Universe, and what we call our "existence" and "consciousness" and "free will" and all that stuff is some kind of rather arbitrary line in the shifting sand between "you" and "me" and "us" and "them" and so on.”

This "single unity" view simply does not work as a testable model of reality. Descartes saw that thought (res cogitans) and existence (res extensa) were different categories, but he mistakenly assumed they were ontological rather than epistemological categories.

Empirical science requires a clear separation of the observer and what is observed. (The apparent arbitrariness that you illustrate is exactly the measurement problem.) The necessity of this division (the epistemic cut) has been expressed by many, e.g., Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Pauli, and modern physical theory is based on this observer-system "cut". It is more than a semantic distinction.

Von Neumann states this necessity clearly: “That is, we must always divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer. In the former, we can follow up all physical processes (in principle at least) arbitrarily precisely. In the latter, this is meaningless. The boundary between the two is arbitrary to a very large extent. . . but this does not change the fact that in each method of description the boundary must be placed somewhere, if the [scientific] method is not to proceed vacuously, i.e., if a comparison with experiment is to be possible.”

If you are not able to make this distinction between the model of the world in your brain and the world itself then you are not able to distinguish facts from superstitions, or reality from illusions. Obviously, a lot of people are not able to do so.

Ira Glickstein said...

Now we are getting somewhere Howard (and Joel)!

Joel maintains it is all "semantics". Howard says "Descartes saw that thought (res cogitans) and existence (res extensa) were different categories, but he mistakenly assumed they were ontological rather than epistemological categories".

Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence, or reality while Epistomology is the study of the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. So, according to Howard, Descartes had a mistaken view as to the EXISTENCE OR REALITY of his distinction between mind and matter. I agree! (I have used the more common shorthand "mind/matter" instead of the Latin.)

An illusion, such as those suggested by Joel, is a "normal" yet mistaken view of some reality, such as the "bent" appearance of a straight stick partially in water or the "water-like" mirage of dry sand under certain atmospheric conditions. Thus, Descartes was under the illusion (mistaken view) that mind and matter are different realities, while they only appear different to we observers.

Yes, as Joel says, it is all semantics. Since the invention of metaphoric language some 10,000 years ago, words have escaped the narrow confines of their literal meanings and extend well beyond ontological reality. You all understand what I mean when I say "In winter, the Earth sleeps under a blanket of snow" or "An oval has no corners, but it has more corners than a circle" or "I changed my mind" - there is no literal sleep nor blanket nor corner nor mind in reality, yet we all "know" the meaning. These figures of speech have meaning (semantics) as "common knowledge" in our equally figurative minds!

Howard is correct about the "measurement problem": the fact that empirical (experiment-based) science requires a clear separation ("epistemic cut") between the observer and what is observed.

The same seems to be true of "insight" where you or I, imagining ourselves to be external observers, examine our own thoughts and decisions and observations and all else going on in our own minds. In other words, what we experience as consciousness. We have the "normal" but mistaken view we are like Capt. Kirk at the controls of "Starship Ira" (or "Starship Joel" or "Starship Howard").

But, we cannot, in reality, separate the thoughts in our minds from the thoughts about the thoughts in our minds. All these terms are shorthand words (semantics) for physical processes taking place in the physical, electro-chemical machines we call our brains.

Anything beyond that is a mistaken view, thus an illusion or -to put the best face on it- a "useful myth", like "free will".

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

In the absence of a Great Architect of the Universe, I give my gratitude to those in my life who make my it more interesting and challenging. Happy Thanksgiving Day to you all. -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

We give THANKS to the Great Optimizing Device (GOD) and the 3.5 billion year long line of prokaryotic life forms who are our ancestors, and their eukaryotic succesors, both fathers and mothers, who survived and reproduced for their own enjoyment and our ultimate benefit, that we might enjoy this perfect day that GOD has given us. And also the turkey who, though not directly related, also gave its life for us. May it rest in peace in its gravy!

Ira Glickstein

David Sussman said...


Its length compels me to post this in two segments:

Joel and Howard have challenged the assertion that free will is an illusion.

Do you deny evolution via Darwinian principles of natural selection? Do you deny that the only game in town is nature and its rules? If not, then you must conclude that a supernatural force intervenes, something that we can imagine but not substantiate. If H. sapiens is endowed with free will, are we alone? How about a bacterium, an amoeba, a soft-shell crab, a sea bass, a three-toed sloth a chimpanzee? What is it that qualifies a species for free will?

From all the information at hand, every species evolved from simplest life forms in a chain of adaptations of mutant strains to external conditions. What precipitated the mutations? Probably quantum effects during cell divisions and spurious impacts from radiations. Every mutation, and resultant adaptations derive from natural forces (unless you believe in supernatural intervention). Every species, as well as every one of its characteristics, is a product of this process. This includes human consciousness, speech, and any other characteristic.

For every species, nature creates a strategy to execute the one imperative that seems to prevail for all of life – what might be called élan vital or life force. This apparently resides in every living thing, and is the driver of evolution. Freud and Jung, the latter in a more coherent form I believe, recognized this life force in humans as the libido.

Any organism, including a human, is a product of its evolutionary history, which in our case includes culture. But cultural evolution itself has to follow the rules of nature. It does so through the human brain, itself a material entity following the rules of nature, as it processes information and generates responses in accordance with élan vital.

What is consciousness? In this context it is more that awareness. It involves a sense of self in relation to what else is out there, i.e. self-consciousness.

Consciousness derives from human strategic development, an adaptation to compensate for a relatively weak and unimpressive physique. All species undoubtedly respond to the presence of a sensed threat, but humans go one better by both anticipating and recognizing threats in the past, from a raft of sensory impressions and stored information concerning our experiential history plus our particular genetic endowment. The temporal element is an adaptation that goes hand in hand with the development of human self-consciousness.

OK, so what about the illusion of free will?

There are two dimensions, one the systematic response to an external stimulus and the other uncertainty inherent in nature, fundamentally quantum uncertainty. The first is controlled by the strategic ‘plan’ for humanity: we do what we do what we do at any point in time and under any particular external circumstance based upon our genetic and experiential history. Self-consciousness does the rest, convincing us that we are the controllers rather than the puppets of our thoughts and actions. But two identical incidents, if it were possible (it is not because feedback modifies the nature of the organism in an essentially continuous process) do not produce the same response. Why? If quantum mechanics has any validity, neuron triggering will vary in each excitation, producing different outcomes, maybe only slightly different, but chaotic amplifications could produce very different outcomes.

In this way free will is illusory.

Ira Glickstein said...

From David Sussman (posted by Ira at his request):


To sum up the arguments against existence of free will. As a preface, this premise it is probably not possible to raise this assertion to the level of a theory, which according to Popper requires that it be subject to invalidation.

Why is the issue of importance if it isn’t subject to scientific validation? The notion that we humans can operate outside the constraints of natural law has provided us an unjustified sense of significance, leading to the arrogance of separation from, and hegemony over, all of nature. Acknowledgement of our subservience to natural law precludes free will and offers the possibility of a transcendent level of awareness and a level of humility that has the promise of a more harmonious tenure on Earth for us and for all of the other creatures and resources provided by nature.

1. Although there is some controversy on this issue, there is a preponderance of evidence that early experiences are ‘hard wired’ and create relatively indelible impressions on our brains that thereafter constrain behavior. On a macro scale, can the effects of conditioning be denied? For example, can an abused and deprived child be held responsible for antisocial behavior as an adult?
2. There is an avalanche of studies linking behavior to physical and chemical processes in the brain, in particular the presence or absence of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and seratonin. In addition, recent studies have revealed links to genetic characteristics, for example impulsive behavior and ruthlessness.
3. No logical reason to believe that nature would relinquish it hegemony over all physical processes to any species. We are capable of contemplating physical ‘anarchy’, but all of our experiences tell us that there is some operational guide behind physical processes.
4. It has been asserted that structures in the universe do not follow natural law. What then? Supernatural law? Or does the supernatural force operate according to whim? Even if the assertion is true, are we capable of fully comprehending the complexities of nature? Stephen Hawking apparently thinks so, but it’s hard to see how we can even fully understand ourselves.
5. Quantum mechanics is a fundamental law of nature, so far as we know. It affects all processes, even though for some at the macro scale its effects are masked. It does not, as some contend, confer freedom (of will) to an organism, but merely assures that the outcome of processes in the brain have variability.

Incidentally, for anyone who dismisses the relevancy of quantum indeterminacy in the question of free will, see the discussion of philosopher Karl Popper and his dialogues with others on the issue. Although they do not come to any definitive conclusions, there is certainly a lot of smoke around the issue of quantum effects, in regard to evolution, free will and indeterminacy. I believe they were hampered in their analyses by lack of information about the genome and much recent research linking behavior directly to physical and chemical effects in regions of the brain:

Another factor to consider re: Descartes and other philosophers before about the end of the 19th century: they were not privy to two important types of information that may have modified their analyses: Darwin and DNA.

David Sussman

Howard Pattee said...

David asks, “Do you deny that the only game in town is nature and its rules?” My answer is that I do not believe in supernatural events, neither do I claim to understand all of nature’s rules. My question to David is, “Do you claim to understand nature and its rules? I don’t know any physicist who makes such a claim.

Hertz realized the limits of objective knowledge before modern physics: “As a matter of fact, we do not know, nor have we any means of knowing, whether our conception of things are in conformity with them in any other than this one fundamental respect,” namely that, “the logically necessary consequents of the images in thought are always the images of the necessary natural consequents of the thing pictured.”

Eddington pointed out that, “The Victorian physicist felt that he knew what he was talking about when he used such terms as matter and atom [apparently like Ira and David]. But now we realise that science has nothing to say as to the intrinsic nature of the atom. The physical atom is, like everything else in physics, a schedule of pointer readings.” Today these pointer readings come from enormously sophisticated instruments that not only extend human common senses by many orders of magnitude, but have added entirely new “senses” some of which do not make sense except as formal mathematical abstractions.

No physicist I know claims even the possibility of evading nature’s laws, whatever they are. However, biologists and physicists do claim that life depends on special informational constraints like genes that harness laws, in Polanyi’s apt phrase. That is what technology does, and among its other influences on nature it will increasingly alter evolution by artificial selection. This may be arrogant, but control of our environment is no more illusory than nature’s laws that are only known and verified because of such creative constraints.


Howard Pattee said...

Ira says, “But, we cannot, in reality, separate the thoughts in our minds from the thoughts about the thoughts in our minds. All these terms are shorthand words (semantics) for physical processes taking place in the physical, electro-chemical machines we call our brains.”

Ira’s reductionist metaphysics is undoubtedly the common sense view held by most people, as it should be for people living in the normal world. Brains have evolved to think of matter and energy in everyday forms like rocks and sunlight. It is common sense to believe that rocks are solid matter and that the sun moves across the sky.

But Ira goes further. Like a good conservative, he judges any other view as mistaken: “Anything beyond that [‘the physical, electro-chemical machines we call our brains’] is a mistaken view, thus an illusion or - to put the best face on It - a "useful myth", like "free will".

Modern physics on the basis of extremely comprehensive evidence has concluded that this reductionist view does not work outside the narrow limits of the natural biological senses (the “common senses”). To the modern physicist, describing the brain as an “electro-chemical machines is only a “useful myth.” It is because relativity and quantum theory depend on agency (often called an observer, but not limited to brains) that most physicists agree that thought (or something akin to information) is one of the irreducible elements of any objective model of reality. “There is no phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.” (Wheeler)

One can agree on specific examples of illusions, but as long as you have no definitions of “reality” and “illusion” as applied to physical theory, as done in Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen, (see Wikipedia “EPR paradox”) there is no scientific basis for distinguishing them.


Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks David Sussman for your two well-thought out Comments. Again we agree, pretty much, on the science, but not on our conclusions of how we should act based on that knowledge.

I say "pretty much" because I cringe a little bit when you write "élan vital or life force", which sounds a tad bit supernatural or at least mystical to my ears, even when you equate it to "the libido".

But all that is a side issue to our "free will is an illusion" discussion, where we are on the exact same page ... until you turn the page and write:

"...can an abused and deprived child be held responsible for antisocial behavior as an adult?

Your answer to the highlighted question is, by implication, no - he could not help himself, while mine, by logic, is yes - hold him responsible and punish him (even though he could not help himself)!

As you point out, our behaviors are determined by our genetic inheritance and the sum of our life experiences. Witnessing miscreant "John" being punished may be the life experience that will deter miscreant "Mary" from doing her bad deed.

Indeed, if society does not use a rational and humane legal system to punish bad actions, then the victims and their families will wreak vengeance that may be far less reserved. By your logic (and mine) we victims also have no choice. Our animal nature, informed by our genetic inheritance and life experiences impell us to revenge an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And we will not stop at that because my loved one's eye is worth a lot more than the miscreant's eye.

The best society can do to moderate our natural urge for revenge is to impose swift and legal punishment. "John" had no choice but to commit that crime and he will keep doing so unless we put him in jail (or a mental institution). "Mary" has not yet committed her crime and her future victim is, as yet, unharmed. Let us hope that seeing "John" caught, convicted and put away will be just the life experience she needs to overcome her abused childhood.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, I was careful to call an illusion a normal mistaken view. An illusion is an impression any "normal" observer will report, but, when examined further, will turn out to be mistaken (see this and this).

Indeed, if a person does not see the stick as bent, or the mirage as water, or their own "will" as "free", then they are not normal! (Mentally abnormal people or those under the influence of mind-bending drugs, have delusions or hallucinations.)

As for Wheeler's “There is no phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.” I thought we had discusssed this years ago and agreed, as you say "relativity and quantum theory depend on agency (often called an observer, but not limited to brains)" that any macro assembly of matter affected by a quantum event can act as the "observer". Schrodinger's cat is either dead (or alive) and the evidence is "observed" by the food (or lack thereof) in its dish, not to mention the cat itself, way before the human "observer" cracks the lid.

As for the EPR paradox, I think, Einstein, in light of the 1975 French experiment (after Einstein's death), would give up "locality" rather than abandon "determinism". Yes, it was proven that a measurement of one of a physically separated pair of entangled particles appears to instantly affect the other. That gives credence to the "reality" of the "wave function". Obviously I cannot speak for Einstein, but I would argue that, in a strictly determined (Spinoza/Einstein) Universe, the time and place of the measurement of the first particle was determined, thus it should not be a surprise that the measurement of the second turns out as it did in that experiment. Alternately, given n-dimensions, it could be that the two particles which appear to be separated in space may in fact be much closer, perhaps adjacent, in the other dimensions.

But, even if Einstein turns out to be wrong about locality and determinism, and quantum weirdness rules the day, what has that to do with what you call the "common sense view held by most people" and the meanings we assign to words like "reality" and "illusion"?

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."

(Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira asks, “What has that [the EPR paper] to do with what you call the "common sense view held by most people" and the meanings we assign to words like "reality" and "illusion"?

I had argued that as long as you do not provide operational definitions of “reality” and “illusion” as applied to physical theory, as done in EPR, there is no scientific basis for distinguishing them (or arguing about them).

My point was that the EPR paper was valuable only because “reality” was operationally (empirically testable) defined: “If, without in any way disturbing a system, we can predict with certainty (i.e., with probability equal to unity) the value of a physical quantity, then there exists an element of reality corresponding to that quantity.”

As I have pointed out for years, your claim of ontological determinism is not empirically testable and therefore is no longer of interest to modern science (although it is still fun to play with the idea). Modern physics has been forced by experiments to think in terms of testable models (epistemology) of the world not about “what’s really out there” (ontology).

The four essential complementary model types are (1) discrete, (2) continuous, (3) deterministic, and (4) probabilistic. Even though these types are formally contradictory, it turns out that all four types of description are necessary to adequately describe even the simplest particles like an electron and photon, and the simple events like pair production. These descriptions are not considered as reality so it is scientifically meaningless to argue over which model is “correct.” The only test is what they predict.

I agree that this is contrary to most people's common sense which is more important for everyday life. However, I think the acceptance of such complementary views would help solve many conflicts.


Deardra MacDonald said...

Thanks Ira, Joel and Howard… Monism is a new term for me, so I have been a spending time reading you comments, and studying to become familiar with Spinoza, Wolff, Hegel, Vogt, Moleschot, Haeckel and Carus. This intriguing term expands into so many various meanings, such as, substantial monism and attributive monism, etc, ect. The best part for me that it goes ever further into metaphysics, theology, psychology, epistemology, cosmology, ethic and contemporary monistic movements and schools.

Going back to my Temple University days in Philadelphia, I have always felt that science and religion were the same. Until now, I haven’t had anyone who I could have a courteous discussion concerning this serious topic.

Could you help me out by clarifying what Paul Carus in saying in this paragraph, Carus said, "Religious progress no less than scientific progress", writes Carus, "is a process of growth as well as a cleansing from mythology . . . . Religion is the basis of ethics. . . . The ideal of religion is the same as that of science, it is a liberation of the mythological elements and its aim is to rest upon a concise but exhaustive statement of facts" (Monism, Its Scope and Import, 8, 9). This "concise but exhaustive statement of facts" is positive Monism, the doctrine, namely, that the whole of reality constitutes one inseparable and indivisible entirety.

I am looking forward to reading your comments on this.

Deardra MacDonald

Howard Pattee said...

Here is my answer to Deardra. I think all modern physicists are monists. It is a basic (ontological) principle that nature is inseparable and that laws of nature must apply to all existence and all conceivable observers. There is nothing outside nature, no supernatural.

However, models of reality, that is, the observables and the mathematical expressions of laws which form the only testable (scientific) ways we have of knowing reality (epistemology) require many types of symbolic expression.

The most important message of modern science for the layman (which I doubt they will ever get) is that reality is so rich in its innumerable aspects that it requires many complementary models.

Throughout history, philosophers and scientists have argued over the classical “binary oppositions,” like determinism vs. chance, continuity vs. discreteness, Leucippus and his student Democritus believed in discrete atoms. Aristotle argued that earth, air fire and water were obviously continuous. He said Zeno’s paradox of motion was the fault of discrete thinking. (It was.) There were unresolved arguments between Newton's particle theory and Young's wave theory of light.

Now the evidence is clear. These are useless arguments. To understand reality we need all the models we can imagine

Ira Glickstein said...

Great question Deardra and a great answer by Howard - THANKS.

Howard's answer covers the scientific side very well, and I agree with his posting entirely.

However, you also asked about the religious side. You quoted Paul Carus, with whom I am not familiar, so I looked him up, see here.

Carus says, in part:
"Monism does not attempt to subsume all phenomena under one category but remains conscious of the truth that spirit and matter, soul and body, God and world are different, not entities but abstract ideas denoting certain features of reality.

"Monism is a unity conception of the world -- one inseparable and indivisible entirely.

"Monism stands upon the principles that all the different truths are but so many different aspects of one and the same truth."

The highlighted part is totally compatible with my view of a Panthiestic GOD (= General Optimising Device = Evolution and Natural Selection, etc.) as well as my scientific view of the Universe. My GOD and the Universe are different aspects of the same thing, as Spinoza and Einstein taught us.

As Howard says (and I agree but I capitalize them to signify they are Eternal) the Laws of Physics and Nature are in and of the Universe, with nothing outside, no supernatural.

But, we humans are incapable of grasping this grand indivisible Unity in our limited brains, so we model aspects that we can grasp: mind/matter, particle/wave, continuous/discrete, spiritual/scientific, and so on.

In mythology the forces of Nature were separate from each other and represented by competing "gods", and, in most religions, God is separate from His Creation. Carus seems to reject mythology and with it that separation (in the underlined part above).

Religion and science both assume a pre-existing entity. In the case of religion it is an eternal, supernatural God. In the case of science it is the eternal Universe that always existed in some form, and the Laws of Nature that are the same everywhere in the Universe.

I don't always agree with Carl Sagan, but I agree with him here: "In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?"

Ira Glickstein

Deardra MacDonald said...

To Ira, Thank you for covering and answering the religious side of my comment. I have been thinking about this concept of science and religion being indivisible for a long time, almost 39 years. I was glad that you pointed out what Spinoza and Einstein wrote, so I focused in on them and I read and re-read some articles on their thoughts of monism. I especially liked the way Einstein wrote about the body and soul, as well as, physics and psychology as being different ways of perceiving the same things.

All of the attempts of my fellow human beings, “up until now”, who attempted to answer this question of science and religion for me have answered with negative comments, and quite rude. So, yes I feel we humans are incapable of grasping this “Grand” Indivisible Unity with our three-dimensional limited brains.

The biggest illusion of the third dimension is that we think that we are separated. We don’t see thoughts in the third dimension, but thoughts are real and do exist. It is difficult for people to realize that we are limited to the fives senses. We have telephones, cells phones, radios, etc., we can hear sounds but we cannot see sound because it is traveling at a different rate of speed in our third dimension, a speed that we can not see with our eyes.

Ira, didn’t Einstein say that whenever he was asked if he discovered the truth, he would say no, because he would have to wait and see. Meaning that someone in the future would get “closer” to discovering the truth. That is how I feel now about science and religion, we human will just have to wait and see! What I call the future is the “fourth-dimension” fifth dimension, sixth dimension... etc, etc. Even though I can’t see the world of the fourth dimension I can think about it, and have many thoughts about it! For me, is it so easy to have thoughts about the concept of dimensions? Our scientists are close to breaking the mathematical equation of the twelfth-dimension. Great!

I watched the Carl Sagan’s series when it was on television. Yes, I can understand why you didn’t always agree with Sagan. So when you quoted the humorous statement Sagan said about skipping the last step and conclude that the universe has always existed, I laughed.

My question now is why do so many people flatly reject the mathematical concepts of the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th 8th 9th, 10th and 11th dimensions? Joel and Howard, I am looking forward to your comment on “dimensions.”

Deardra MacDonald

Howard Pattee said...

It is difficult to imagine a space more than 3-dimensions. Only by formal mathematical analogies can you get very far.

In everyday life we are all naïve realists But realism is just a pragmatic short cut. A little thought shows that Hippocrates was right:

“Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain come joys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear, and know what are foul and what are fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet, and what unsavory; some we discriminate by habit, and some we perceive by their utility. By this we distinguish objects of relish and disrelish, according to the seasons; and the same things do not always please us. And by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us, some by night, and some by day, and dreams and untimely wanderings, and cares that are not suitable, and ignorance of present circumstances, desuetude, and unskilfulness. All these things we endure from the brain . . ."

Space is just one of those "wisdoms." All we know about space is what is in our brains. Space appears to have 3-dimensions only because our brains have evolved and survived using a 3-dimensional brain model of reality.

If you have the patience, I think Poincaré wrote the best description of space for the non-mathematician. Poincaré invented the field of topology and I do not understand most of its proofs (e.g., see Wiki “Poincaré Conjecture”)


Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks for answering Deardra's query Howard. Now I have a question raised by your link to Poincaré.

He writes, regarding what he calls the relativity of space:

"Suppose that in one night all the dimensions of the universe became a thousand times larger. ... When I awake in the morning what will be my feeling in face of such an astonishing transformation? Well, I shall not notice anything at all."

I believe he made a major error in this thought experiment.

Imagine that, before the Universe expands, I can just barely lift a 100 pound weight with my arm. After the 1,000 times expansion, the weight will increase in proportion to the volume, and will thus be 1,000,000,000 times heavier. However, the tensile strengh of my arm is proportional to its cross-sectional area, which will increase by only 1,000,000.

Thus, it seems to me, I will be unable to lift the weight because, in effect, it will be 1,000 times heavier. I think I would notice that. Don't you?

If I am right (and please correct me if I am not) how could a person as brilliant as Poincaré miss such a simple fact of basic physics? And, in the more than a century since he wrote these words, how can a modern publication repeat the error?

Ira Glickstein

PS: Perhaps the explanation is that the home website for the Poincaré link is Is this Marxist physics?

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, I think Poincare assumed that everything expanded including the size of atoms so that density (weight or mass per unit volume) would correspondingly decrease.

The example is oversimplified to make the point that almost all scales are relative. Probably time dilation would also be necessary along with space to keep laws the same.


Ira Glickstein said...

Intriguing explanation, Howard, but does it work?

If an atom were 1000 times larger, but in proportion, would not the mass per given volume of big atoms be identical to the same volume of small atoms, and the tensile strength of materials made of these atoms be the same, per given cross-sectional area? If that is the case, then the weight in my example is still, in effect, 1000 times as heavy.

I would certainly notice it if I could get out of bed, my own weight now being 1000 times more in proportion to my bone and muscle strength. Oh, and during the night, the bed, also 1000^3 heavier would shear the bolts holding it to the head- and footboards because they are only 1000^2 larger in cross-section. Given 1000 times time dilation it would take longer before the bed crashed to the floor, but I think it would wake me up!

Consider a typically small gymnast and a large football player, twice her height. His bones and muscles will have four times the cross-sectional area but his weight, proportional to his volume, will be eight times as much. Thus, at twice the strength to weight ratio, she will be able to jump twice as high as him in absolute terms, which is four times as high relative to her height. That explains why championship gymnasts are typically short! And also why small animals like grasshoppers and frogs can jump so high in proportion to their own body dimensions.

Ira Glickstein

Deardra MacDonald said...

Howard, thank you for your thoughtful and very informative comment.

Even though I am not a naïve realist, I can understand why people choose to be a naïve realist in everyday life because it validates our 3rd dimensional world. Thanks for opening the door for me to do some research on (Gibson, 1972) direct/naïve realism, (Hoffman 1998) indirect/representative realism, and (Henri Poincare 1897) "The Reality of Space."

Yes, I have the patience to read the article on Poincare, and will read it keeping both your thoughts and Ira’s thoughts in mind.

Howard Pattee said...

This is a popular science lecture. Poincaré is giving a heuristic argument why the measurement of distance in an absolute Newtonian space is not logically consistent with the Principle of Relativity that states that laws must be the same for all observers. This principle was first recognized by Galileo.

The problem is that there is not a simple model to fulfill the Principle. Special Relativity is such a model, but it requires that distance is measured in a space that is Lorentz covariant. Unfortunately that requires more mathematics than you want in a popular lecture.


Howard Pattee said...

Clarification: Ira’s instincts are correct that if a scale of only one observable is changed then Ira would notice it. However, if you also change the scales of other observables it may be possible to satisfy the Principle of Relativity (i.e., Ira and everybody else would not notice it).

In any case you may not change the Constants of Nature, like the speed of light, the fine structure constant or the charge of the electron. For example, if you change the scale of space, then you must also change the scale of time so that the speed of light is constant. Other scale changes will also be necessary to preserve other constants of nature.

Incidentally, Poincare believed that creative thought was a Darwinian process of random or indistinct subconscious and conscious images that were eventually selected and clarified by rational and aesthetic evaluation.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Howard for the clarification.

By the way, your link to the Poincaré's Relativity of Space paper that turned out to be a site has, inadvertently, affected the talk I am scheduled to give about Einstein's Cosmological Philosophy at our local Philosophy Club next Friday. (Of course, we determinists, Spinoza, Einstein, and I, would say it was all pre-determined :^)

The site claims Einstein as one of their own and provides links to his Why Socialism? and his 1427 page FBI FOIA file as proof.

I knew, from my extensive collection of books by and about EInstein that he was a supporter of leftist causes, but I had somehow minimized that fact, perhaps because my main source, Walter Isaacson's 2007 book tends to whitewash that aspect of his belief system.

It turns out that Einstein was certainly a socialist and had lent his name to what turned out to be Communist front groups for much of his adult life. Reading parts of the FBI file and re-reading relevant parts of Isaacson led me to include more about Einstein's politics than I had originally planned.

The main focus of my talk, however, will be on Einstein's cosmology, pantheism, and his inability to go along with the quantum weirdness of mainstream 20th century physics.

I expect to post a new Topic to the Blog on Einstein's Cosmological Philosophy sometime next week, including a link to my Powerpoint chart set.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, you should not be surprised or think “whitewashing" is necessary because Einstein supported “leftist causes” and was a “fellow traveler.” Almost all intellectuals, artists, writers, and scientists became involved in socialist and Marxist politics before and after WW I and the Depression. Monarchies, dictators and uncontrolled capitalism at that time had all proved to be disasters. Even Hayek warned of laissez-faire capitalism! Eighty years later unregulated financial schemes are still a disaster.

In spite of current conservatives’ demonization of liberals, government controls, and any taint of socialism, the world has changed, and it is not about to be reversed.

The depression convinced most people that free-market capitalism is a failure, and it provided the impetus for establishing today’s socialist programs. The Securities and Exchange Commission was formed in 1934, and in 1935 F.D.R (with the help of Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet) passed the Social Security Act. It was full of discriminatory sexist and racist exclusions that were necessary to get it passed. Slowly, and always against strong conservative opposition, the Act has been improved. Lyndon Johnson had the same conservative opposition to Medicare because it is “socialized medicine.”

Despite their ideological and hypocritical bluster, conservatives are not going to eliminate social programs. The will just have to learn that increased taxes must pay for them. As knee-jerk ideologies, socialism and capitalism are both failures. We have to find a pragmatic balance.


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