Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 3

Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 2
Philosophy for Renewing Reason – 4

THOUGHT: There are currently signs of a sickening and widespread loss of confidence in the efficacy of reasoning. It seems to be being felt simultaneously in many countries. It is quite alarming, because history shows that trying to maintain civilised standards is difficult enough with the help of reason: trying to sustain them without it… can look like barking mad.

What has gone wrong?

There is only one candidate for the answer: we have misread science.

We have fallen into the elephant trap which Karl Popper identified when he insisted that experimental and observational evidence does not actually “verify” that scientific hypotheses are true.  What it establishes is that the result in question has “not yet been falsified”.  Or, to focus more sharply, it does not prove that the result in question is the “last word” of science on the matter. We have uncritically assumed that the overall picture offered by today’s science is “the last word”, or very nearly that.

In effect we have let ourselves move out on a dangerous limb through mental laziness. We have long since forgotten the inexcusable toxic mistakes of Relativity and ZF theory. They were simply swallowed without much fuss in the 1920s, an age reeling with the awful existential shock of WW1 and its depressive, unstable aftermath across Europe.

We have forgotten too that modern science began in the 17th century with Descartes, who assumed blandly that everything physical was in principle predictable (mathematically describable). He thought matter and mind were poles apart, so this predictability of the physical, didn’t stop us having “minds” i.e. it didn’t stop us being unpredictably creative, caring, reformist, questioning or loving…

Today’s science is still trying to maintain this assumption about  predictability: one wing of Descartes’ story, having abandoned the other wing, the concept of mind. This is an austere, stony stance. They are still saying that physical reality is ultimately mathematical, and therefore in principle fully determined, and predictable. All kinds of things —common experience and much evidence within physics itself— are telling us that randomness is real, an absolute fact of life, but the scientists are in Denial. They are clinging desperately to their obsolete rigid Cartesian story.

Descartes and Newton were sincere Believers. They thought that the physical world must have been created by a Deity.

Today we are in the absurd position that physicists and cosmologists have smashed Belief and the concept of Deity into little pieces… but the scientific consensus is hardly aware that it is still assuming that the physical world is wholly independent of us and that it must have come about as a result of some awesome agency we can never know.

They casually swallow the immense assumption that the laws of physics have stayed exactly the same for 14 billion years. (If not, the Big Bang goes out with a Big Bang! It is more realistic to think that the past slowly fades away to whiteout.)

The physicists and cosmologists are also in denial about what the most important problems are. The most difficult phenomenon every physicist has to explain in her/his laboratory is… the existence of a physicist with a truth-questing mind actively operating within it.

So, in spite of the notorious toxic mistakes and the Denials, they are still presuming, without the slightest hint of doubt, that our scientific picture of the world is “roughly right”.

This means that they have airily dismissed the idea that there might be another “Copernican” type revolution ahead. They have mostly not even considered this possibility. They have no shred of empirical evidence to tell them that their picture is the final picture —no such evidence can exist.

Actually it is virtually certain that such a revolution lies ahead, because the current scientific world-view is riddled with contradictions. It isn’t credible to maintain that a narrative so full of contradictions can be “the last word”. The scientific consensus treats it as holy writ —thus trying to envalue science, which they regard as under-valued— but nothing so compromised by contradictions could count as “holy writ”.

Where are they going wrong?

They have brazenly disregarded the palpable force of the anti-deconstruction argument (that the human scene can’t be validly deconstructed into tiny bundles of mechanical mathematics).

They can’t see that their notion that “everything is mathematics” is the equivalent of a Flat Earth theory. If everything is mathematics, everything is, when finally considered, precise. (This is like the edge of a Flat Earth.) So where do they think this precision comes from?  They are still closet Deists, because they think it must come from an awesome, infinite, inscriutable source we can never understand.

They are awed and bemused by mathematics. They still haven’t fully taken-in the unpalatable fact that the High Priests of mathematics abandoned them around 1900, when the mathematic hierarchy started treating maths as an abstract artform, and pure maths researchers decided to “do their own thing” (exotic purer-than-pure maths) rather than work in the long-term service of understanding the universe.

KEY ARGUMENT  Science works by the deconstruction of things into their parts. The parts operate under simpler rules than the original things. It is this extra simplicity which gives us the feeling that an explanation has been given.

This principle has been applied in science over and over again. Today the smallest parts are quarks.

Either this process can continue for ever, or it has a final level.

To think it might go on for ever is a recipe for deep pessimism about our future and the future of science. It means that science will threaten us with the possibility of more painful revolutions… continuously,for ever.

So we are driven to be optimists, and to grapple with the unnerving fact that there must be a final level of parts. This was essentially the conclusion of Democritus and Leucippus more than two millennia ago.

Whatever could the final level of parts be?

It can only be absolutely random jumping sequences. These exhibit  no patterned behaviour at all. (If the behaviour of the final parts exhibited patterned behaviour, scientists would immediate ask Why? Then they would try to do another deconstruction. So this wouldn’t be the “final” level.)

This brings us to the AMAZING CONCLUSION: the intricate structures of the universe must be structures imposed by mind onto a substratum of absolutely random sequences.

Could this be daft? No!  If structure can be imposed onto absolute randomness, there is no reason to suppose that it can’t produce brain. And with brain, the free-thinking performance we call ‘mind’. The universe then becomes a self-sufficient entity.

The scale of the distant universe is not a problem. Mathematicians have created extraordinary structures which stretch to infinity.

So the AMAZING CONCLUSION rests on whether it is possible for mind to impose structure onto absolute randomness. If the answer is Yes, we have, for the first time in history, a logically self-sufficient account of why we, and the universe, are here. See Part 4. (February)