Seeker of Truth

Ruminations of One Suspended between Catholic Christianity and Scientific Utopianism

Location: Washington, United States

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Materialism's Conundrum with Determinism

Wether it is a clockwork or a computer, a materialistic universe is typically envisioned deterministically, even if this is not made explicit by the ones theorizing. Wether it is the biological basis of human behavior, the working of genes and memes on human society, any respectable and recent scientific theory dealing with people does away with free will. This is really quite a pity, as without it there is no true science, or truth in general. If our cognitive processes are indeed determined and any shred of free will an illusion, then it cannot validly be stated that we have developed a new theory, debunked some religious myth, or done any other great deed of scientific exploration. Our finding one idea superior to another would be just as much the product of determination and inevitability, as if it had happened the other way around. A second independent researcher verifying our data or failing to - determination, not proof that we are correct. Ten, a hundred, all scientists believing the same thing - the meme has won, not the truth. Of course, me writing this blog, you agreeing or disagreeing, maybe laughing at my simple reasoning, or marveling at the depth of my understanding - all meaningless and irrelevant. It is determined like the rest. Truth and lies, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, all goes by the wayside of inevitability.
One might even conceive of a situation where a certain truth, e.g. the existence among us of a parasitical race of mind-draining martian vampire zombies, along with all their activities, is concealed from everybody while in full plain view, simply because these alien derelicts have found a way to prevent our deterministically functioning brains from ever registering them or their doings. A bunch of them might right now be feasting on your boy/girlfriend’s brain and you might instead perceive - her fainting? stumbling? feeling weak and nauseous? having a seizure? We will never know, will we, for there is no way to pierce the shield of causality that imprisons our consciousness?
Is there a way around? Many things have been proposed, from quantum indeterminacy to blissful ignorance of the problem. I am not sure if the future might be able to show that the laws of causality break down, or at least loose their timeline in complex feedback systems with self-awareness, like our brains are. After all, our ideas of causality are mainly assumptions validated on systems lacking complexity. However, if complexity can bring forth truly novel qualities, like indeterminism in the sense that there are no time-linear simple processes accounting for the outcome of the whole system, then I believe we have broken a big chunk of scientific dogma. It also means that materialism is not the be-all/end-all of creation, that there are significant events that do not fit into its explanatory framework.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

How to Survive the End of the Universe - Bottom Up

The questions is obviously linked to that of its origin. Current theories of the big bang are not conclusive (yet?) and recent theories of 'multiverses' include models of contraction/expansion that had fallen out of favor when the rate of cosmic expansion was deemed to preclude a 'big crunch'.
Cyclical or not, is there any hope for a perpetual survival of intelligent life in one form or another? Assuming proton decay, entropy, all the possible dooms of the universe, the answer seems to be a clear 'no'. Even with local areas of cosmic inflation and consequent renewal, intelligence relies on structure, whether in the form of biological bodies or cybernetic ones, and structures do not survive cosmic upheaval very well. At least not as far as we can understand right now, and this is always a caveat. What 'realms' then might survive cataclysms such as an inflationary bubble, a cosmic crunch, two 'branes' colliding? One hope is the black hole/wormhole type of scenario, I believe thought up by Freeman Dyson, whereby a very advanced civilization might skip from one point in the universe to another, avoiding local disaster, where local might measure billions of light-years across. Another hope may be to hide inside a black hole, based on the theory that information does not get lost, ever, even if it falls into a black hole. A variety of this idea is Professor Tipler’s theory that intelligences can learn to steer the collapse of their universe so as to ‘cushion’ the big crunch and survive at the threshold of the thus created singularity in a virtual eternity.
What about 'emulating' our brains/processors in dynamic systems that have no clear structure, but are fluidly stable nonetheless, like vortices in water? I am not thinking of anything so simple and macroscopic, of course, but what about the random processes of empty space? Might one gain control of what happens at a quantum or 'subquantum' level there, imposing patterns that take on a periodicity, hence stability, and can interact with each other, hence process and store information? Might miniaturization lead to devices so small, they fall below the threshold of entropy, of thermodynamics? And if so, could one devise a process of translation from ordinary space into 'subspace' and back of such structures to ‘dive’ and ‘surface’ in a sense?
All these ideas presume a kind of functionalism of the human mind, i.e. that the cognitive processes of the brain can be replicated in virtually any kind of computing medium. Implicit in that assumption, then is materialism, or in more theological terms, any concept of a higher reality.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Thoughts About Scientific Method

The replacement of religion by science proceeds approximately along the lines that science, first, develops an explanation for some physical phenomenon, in other words, it is able to use mathematics or a similarly simplifying method to describe the process under scrutiny. E=mc2, evolution through natural selection, the periodic table. Some of the theories are very concise and coded in symbols, others describe a set of simple, standard steps, such as evolution, to describe a complex phenomenon, such as the vast number of different animal and plant species and how they relate to each-other.
Second, as science is successful in one, than many, than seemingly all areas of research, its adherents reason that nothing else is needed to account for the world as it is.
The problem is that if God created a universe that follows rules, and no matter what rules he chose, sooner or later some kind of scientist would come along and discover those rules, and then deduce that the rules explain the world. The question is not if there is evolution, or if God plays dice with the universe, but wether our discoveries mean what many scientists claim, namely that God does not exist. If God makes the universe knowable through discovery of its laws, then it must follow that the discoverers can make the claim that God does not exist.
There is really nothing in the above sentence that would link the first to the second part causally. The missing link is ‘Occam’s razor’ or the assumption adopted by Western science that the simpler explanation, i.e. one that can do without recourse to the supernatural, divine etc. is the correct one. Funny to think that Occam was a catholic friar. His ‘contribution’ to post-medieval thought may be the greatest curse that our civilization has ever suffered, insidiously poisoning the foundations of our reasoning.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Catholic Planet, part 2

If we set out to take religion seriously and accept the truth of the Catholic/Orthodox belief, we must also allow for the possibility of a world that structures its institutions and customs along those tenets. Not a theocracy in the sense that the religious leaders have the temporal power, but that religious prescriptions do have reflection in temporal law: usury comes to mind, and charity, and chastity, of course.
Critics will quickly point accusing fingers at the example of the Middle Ages, citing all sorts of misconduct by Church officials, from pope down to parson all across the clerical fabric of European life. And then they will point at the Christian worldly rulers and their excesses, comparing them to the benign and loving humanistically oriented personae from our recent democratic past.
Two arguments against those nay-sayers come to mind immediately: One, that imperfection is a necessary correlate of the fallen state of mankind and its institutions. Neither Church nor King are exempt from that condition, where Evil constantly strives to undermine Good, corrupting and twisting the works of man. These flaws are blemishes on a fundamentally intact whole, though. Errors are eventually corrected, Good overcomes Evil in a never-ending struggle.
The second argument expands on the first one. While there were weak popes, and bad ones, and greedy rulers who called themselves Christian, there were also many worthy ones. If one looks at the balance of religious vs pagan society, it does not look so good for our age: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the list goes on. So we are to only consider those atheists or materialists who are good, by whatever standards we measure it? Just how good? Is any politician, philosopher or other leader of men who professes sympathy with communism a good man? Many in our society would have no trouble reconciling the two, distinguishing - in my opinion artificially - between the ‘good’ theoretical communism, and some of its bad manifestations. Those are admitted reluctantly, while always emphasizing how much good they really brought, especially compared with some greater evil, like nazism, or the Czar’s rule. The same arguments of course were used by defenders of nazism, and probably of any other tyranny known to man.
Furthermore, why should materialists have the luxury to make such allowances, but Christians be prohibited from distinguishing the true doctrine from its degradation into sin? Is it not simply a matter of who has the current opinion authority, the louder voice in the debate? Communists and other totalitarian ilk have always been good at screaming their message out to anybody, whether it was welcome or not. Does this make them right?

So, if we accept the possibility of a Christian world order, what would its features be?
For one, it would not be capitalist in any way we currently understand the concept. I have mentioned usury, and charity already; there is also the question as to how much value we allot to labor. This is where we say good-bye to our protestant brethren, especially those of the calvinist persuasion, and wish them a happy soft landing in whatever circle of hell the heretics find themselves. For the tolerance and even encouragement of usury and zealous pursuit of worldly accomplishments are hallmarks of their creed, not of ours. Our economies would probably be dismally slow compared to the frantic pace King Mammon commands, on the other hand, a home might cost a fraction of what it does with money lending being sharply curtailed. As a result, the cost of most services would be much cheaper, while manufactured goods would likely be more expensive.
The environment ought to be cleaner, as we are stewards of the world God provided us, but environmentalism in its fanatical manifestations would not be respected. The same is true for all para-religious forms of worship, whether its nature, animals, beauty, sexual indulgence. Hedonism in all its forms might find its rightful place again in the realm of sin, rather than be elevated to the new meaning of life, as it is at present.
There would be absolute values, and an ongoing struggle to define them clearer, better, and to discriminate accurately between true and false, good and evil, sin and virtue. For that purpose alone, education would have to shift its emphasis from skill building to character formation again.
to be continued...