Thursday, September 10, 2015
From Demanding Absolute Precision And Pretending to Absolute Knowledge Comes Babbling Nonsense
I don't know why anyone should get upset over my description of science as a never completed system just because a few cosmologists have clearly overestimated their ability to come up with a Theory of Everything and other things like that. The idea that the tiny number of human beings engaged in that effort could numerically encompass the entirety of even merely human reality is as silly as the idea that anyone could do the same thing in poetically chosen words. Again, I think the clues that that was impossible are clear in some of the most basic facts about the most basic aspects of our mathematics on which such an effort must, inescapably rest.
The exact ratio of the circumference of any perfect circle to its diameter can be estimated to an incredible and, for all practical purposes sufficient, final degree but it can't be set down as an absolute number. The same is true for any number of other basic relationships such as the square root of two. That there are actual objects as perfect circles or a perfect an isosceles tri-angle whose hypotenuse of exactly two units - measured in arbitrarily denominated units, I'll point out - and sides would exactly measure to embody that relationship is certainly not known to be physically existent. If those exact things exist nowhere in nature, as is probable, then the mathematical relationships we base so much on are entirely the product of human imagination and logic. They would likely not actually AND ABSOLUTELY be embodied, physically and the motions and operations that constitute physical reality would happen without absolutely discernible mathematical regularities governing them. And if that is true about such practically reliable entities, reliable to the extent that we seem to always, in practical terms, make those "mere" approximations work for us, then it is likely to be even more of an issue for any purported attempt to come up with a total description of reality even at scales we will never, ever have confirmation of in any way and which we most certainly don't now.
If you think I'm splitting hairs in that point then you are thinking, way, way, way, too big and too small all at the same time. What I'm talking about is a hell of a lot smaller than that, as well as entirely bigger. And I do mean entirely. And you are merely ignoring what it is the cosmologists and theoretical physicists are doing because that Higgs particle everyone got so excited about is massive and blatantly real as compared to what they're using to cob together their TOE, including those jillions and jillions of entire, complete and completely inaccessible universes they are also making it up out of. And the discernment of the Higgs particle wasn't the product of infinitely precise measurement but was the product of mathematical averaging of trillions if observed events. It wasn't seen absolutely in an absolute measurement.
The reality of infinitely repeating decimals, of infinite non-repeating decimals such as pi and the idealized physical relationships which those were created to describe leads me to believe that the belief that science, the less exact field of knowledge, cannot be rationally believed to be capable of final closure anymore than there could be a rational reason to believe that the Tower of Babel could have reached the heavens.
The story of the Tower was an allegory of the disaster that comes from human technological hubris. No doubt it is a commentary on the mathematical, scientific and technological elite of the time of its first telling. That would have had to have been understood, especially by those who first heard the story, as having happened in the very remote past or they would not have been there to have heard the story. They'd have realized and almost certainly have understood the story as allegory. It was later generations who lost that context and the habit of expecting scripture to contain allegory that took the story literally. The habit of taking all things people say about everything as literally and absolutely true instead of understanding that even our most exacting, precise and careful statements are a limited and incomplete view of the very real reality we live in wasn't given up because Copernicus figured out that the Earth circled the sun and Newton invented the calculus and Galileo made some interesting and useful - and destructive - discoveries around the measurements of falling and thrown objects. If anything the assumptions of having achieved absolute knowledge in those made the misunderstanding of the limits of human perception, analysis and description far worse. I will point out that, among other things, the discoveries of science made weapons more powerful, lots of towers fell due to the science they made. Less concretely but as damaging, the habits learned through science insisted that the only value that could be had was through the supposed absolute knowledge that science seemed to be delivering. Among those that such allegories had to have literal truth or they and the entire book they'd been collected into must be false. Only we know that even the greatest of those legends of science, Newton, produced approximations of events and of the forces causing those events to happen, not absolute knowledge. Only people are now assuming that never ending, never to be achieved closure is here.
There are consequences when you believe you have come up with an intellectual system that claims and pretends to complete closure under the terms you define that system within. That is especially true when you want to claim that your system is absolutely closed under defined terms which are calculable, as the TOE tippers do. It's like any other attempt to construct a monist system, everything must be open to question to test it, nothing is too small or too big to bring to that testing. The result is that it is susceptible to exactly the same kind of attack that biblical fundamentalism is. Only worse since you are pretending that you can achieve a logically coherent, even mathematically absolute system. Nothing is beyond question when that's the claim, nothing is too big and, certainly, nothing is too small or negligible. Splitting hairs is what it's all about.
Update; What sense of that, oh, so imprecise term "word salad" do you mean? "Word salad" is a meaningless term that really means "I'm too lazy to deal with what you said or I can't deal with what you said but I know I don't like it and can't tell you why without losing." "I don't like what you said," isn't an argument.
Update 2: Where is the triangle that has two sides which are exactly the same size in nature? And by "exact" I mean exactly the same length down to the absolute last tiny fraction of a picometer and how is that discernible? I'm not even sure such a measure is feasible except to within a margin of error, which sort of makes my point on that, as well. And where is the perfect circle whose circumference and diameter are a perfect expression of the formula from which pi is defined? I have always wanted to raise the issue of the curvature of space-time in that regard and what that does to the conceptions of those imagined objects and relationships to real objects in real as opposed to imagined space. I don't bring it up with the kids I'm paid to tutor in jr. high math but I would like to bring it up with some TOE pushing cosmologist like Sean Carroll. Superannuated blog brats, I'll only talk about it with them so I can ask those questions and annoy them.
Posted by The Thought Criminal at 8:17 AM