Sunday, July 30, 2006
Time is of the Essence
In my preceding entries, I have been addressing this riff that I propose has formed between science and philosophy. In part, I have implied that science losses some of its insight and thereby much of its utility if it denies to incorporate the “why” into its method of discovery. I however realize, for the most part, when I have been comparing science to philosophy, I have been using examples taken from those of the living world. Now one might ask if the “why”, only has application in relation to the organic realm. Perhaps, the non organic realm or what many may consider the more rudimentary natural world, has no aspect of “why” to be explored. So then at a more fundamental level the “why” question could be simply ignored. It would be agreed by many that the most fundamental of all the sciences is physics. To examine this let’s look at what physics has to show us. Now if you look for a definition of physics today it would be most often taken as the first one supplied, for example in the online resource “The Free Dictionary” and reads:
“The science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two, grouped in traditional fields such as acoustics, optics, mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, as well as in modern extensions including atomic and nuclear physics, cryogenics, solid-state physics, particle physics, and plasma physics.”However, I view such definitions as too restrictive for what I consider the most fundamental of the sciences. I prefer the one they describe as the archaic definition, which reads as follows:
“The study of the natural or material world and phenomena; natural philosophy.”The reason I prefer this definition, is it is not as restrictive as the first. For the first almost leads one to understand that we have already identified all the aspects of the natural world there are to explore. My primary reason however, for not proposing the first, is that it also implies that this aspect of “why” is already dispelled. The second definition I find to be more general and takes in not only what we have explored and discovered of the natural world , yet also what we could so explore or discover. It does also not limit the methodology by which it may be accomplished. You might say then I have used Occam’s Razor to make the choice.
So now then, what is it I’m going to hit you with today? I beg that you afford me further license to explain before I come to my point. First I’d like to describe a situation you might find yourself in. You and a fellow, I will call Nerdly, are out for a walk, near, yet not at the sea shore. Now although you like Nerdly, for he is truly a pleasant fellow, he often spouts off to you about the benefits of math and science, which at times you find annoying. As you are walking, suddenly you hear a scream coming from the ocean. Although it is at a some distance, you can see to your dismay, that there is a person flailing in the water, in danger of drowning. So you shout to Nerdly, we must go and try to rescue this poor fellow. To which Nerdly agrees. You then take off on a bee line (a straight course) to the person. However, as you look back, you see Nerdly still standing there, with his calculator in his hand, punching in numbers. You would like to run back and scold him, but you are to concerned for the drowning person to waste the time. Now between youself and the person, there is varying terrain. At first you cross the road that you were walking beside. Then you run across the grass of the park. After this across the sand of the beach and then you must finally be prepared to swim in the ocean to reach the person in distress. On your way, you keep looking over your shoulder, to see what Nerdly is up to. First you see him finally begin and run across the road, as you did and yet not in the same direction as you had. That is in a direction that is straight between you and the drowning person. As you continue to run, you observe that Nerdly has again at times changed course slightly. Now to your great surprise as you are about to finally dive into the water, you see Nerdly already is assisting the person back to shore. You are at this point dumbfounded. For although Nerdly, did not leave as quickly as you had or taken the straight course as you did and you are certain that Nerdly is not more athletic then you. He has, none the less, reached the person first and thus saved them from what could have been a horrible fate.
Now after finally the beach's life guard arrives to take charge of the now fortunate person, you ask Nerdly. How is it that you were able to leave after I did, take what I perceived as ever changing directions and still reach the victim before I was able to? His reply is, that for the most part he only acted as nature might have in the course of his journey. Now this has you more confused and yet curious. So you ask, what exactly does he mean by that? Well, Nerdly says, you took a straight course between yourself and the swimmer without regard for the terrain you were travelling through. For as you should know, one can travel fastest on the road and then less quickly on the grass, then even slower through the sand and slowest of all swimming in the water. Yes you say, that’s true. Nerdly then responds, that he calculated a course that while still headed towards the swimmer, involved the least total time in regards to all the terrain through which he had to travel . One where he would travel further over faster terrain and the least possible distance over terrain that was slower to traverse. The optimum course in this regard is the one he chose. Oh, you say, very cleaver, but how is that like nature? Nerdly then retorts, if for instance you consider a beam of light, it would have done a similar thing when travelling through varying media on its way to a particular destination. Only in this case, light, wouldn’t be spending the time to make the calculations, that I had to before I left. He says for instance, if you are pointing a laser beam at a object that lie at the back of several different layers of transparent media, you will observe it to bend when it strikes the beginning of each new media. Like for instance, if there is a coin sitting beneath a tank that has say two feet of water in it and has also a three foot thick glass bottom. You will first notice if you point the laser beam in the straight direction to the coin it will miss. If you adjust your aim, you will eventually be able to spot the laser on the coin. Then if you were to trace the path it took and do some calculations, you will find it has arrived there in the shortest time possible in relation the speed in can travel within all the related media. In other words, it has taken the shortest course through time and not that of distance. You say but how can light do that.? Nerdly responds, that all science has found, is ways to calculate the path it will take and that it is still somewhat of a open question how exactly this happens. The important thing is, Nerdly says, is we do know it will behave this way.
It is then here where you might ask, what has Nerdly been talking about? Well, what Nerdly was referring to, is a property of nature, known as “least action” or more generally as “action principle”. It’s beginning were with a French mathematician, Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665). Who’s actual way of making a living was that of being of lawyer . Now I know this appears to be ripe for a comment and yet to practice wisdom , I shall refrain from such temptation. Many may be more aware of him for something known as Fermat’s last theorem, to which he claimed in one of his letters he had found a proof , but that it was too large to be included in the margin. This theorem wasn’t actually proven until 1995, by Andrew Wiles. What we are addressing here, is known as Fermat’s Principle, in which he stated that the reason light bends when travelling between varying media is that it is taking the shortest path through time rather then that through distance. This was later refined and expanded through the work of Maupertuis, Euler and Leibniz. It was further refined and incorporated into what is known as Lagrangian mechanics by Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736-1813), which is used as one of the bedrock formalizations of physics to this day. In this formalism, all action in nature is considered to be at its minimal.
Okay, you say once again, what is my point? The point to be made here, is that nature in displaying such behaviour, appears (at least for me) to be revealing yet another aspect of its character. Now we discover as was relayed previously that nature is not only economical in its form, as expressed as what can be loosely (but carefully) described as simplicity. It is also revealed in this that it is economical in its action as well. At this point you may also realize there are obviously “whys” that could be asked of nature in this regard. When presented with this my first “why” is, why would nature consider time over distance. Now I wish I could give you a answer for this, yet I can’t. However, I can offer you one insight it has lent me. As you are probably aware, Albert Einstein developed our now modern theory of gravity called “General Relativity”. As a key element in this theory he expressed time as a dimension, that when taken with the other three spacial dimensions, forms the background in which it should be considered. This background in terms of its shape, in relation to the mass/energy that is contained within, is responsible for what we recognize as gravity. Many may have trouble with this simply because they cannot imagine or admit, that time could possibly be a dimension. What then is a dimension? A dimension, is in the most general sense, a direction or degree of freedom, through which one can travel or merely consider. As is indicated by the above example we have discovered that nature responds to time as one of these degrees of freedom or more simply a direction. In fact, in the example I’ve demonstrated it is the one primary to its action. If looked at this way, it is not only easier to see how time can be a dimension, yet also how surely it must be.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Food for Thought
In the last several posts, I have been discussing this “how” and “why” aspect to understanding. Some of you at this point may agree that “why” does have a important role to serve in terms of expanding human understanding. On the other hand, many may agree with modern science and to insist that it doesn’t. Here I would like to expand the whole question a little more and talk about this contended issue of whether there is any reason to suspect, that there is what I refer to as a scheme to nature. As you recall, I have offered that although a scheme is ordered and also purposeful, that at the same time it does not in itself imply intent. It was also maintained, that I’ve framed it this way as to give science and myself the widest latitude possible in terms of this discussion. Previously, I stated that although, a scheme in itself does not necessarily imply intent, that I would be hard pressed to site one that seemingly doesn't have it as a element. Now as soon as I said this, I realized the scientists among you would say, now I can be dismissed for to propose something without offering proof, is not scientific and therefore invalid. However, I do have a example of what I propose is a scheme and yet the question of intent is certainly not clear.
My example of this is to be found in the lives, methods and behaviour of what are commonly known as Leaf Cutter Ants, which are actually comprised of two major genus groups known as Atta And Acromyrex, that between the two comprise a total of 39 separate species. Now what all these species of ants have in common, is their way of making a living, so to speak. Which is that they are farmers. In particular they are fungus farmers. All these ants are to be found in south and central America within the tropical and subtropical forests. Each day these ants venture out, often for more than a mile, in search of leaves to cut and bring back to their nest. Each bit of leaf, form as much as ten times their own body weight. Now the first thing you might ask is, why lug them all the way back to the nest? Why not simply eat them straight off the tree? The answer to this is, that they are not able to subsist on these leaves? What they are truly needed for, is to serve as food for something else and that something else is fungus. Actually, a particular type of fungus which are all members of what is known as the Lepiotaceae family, which by the way are only found within such ant colonies. Now it doesn’t stop there, for they just don’t simply throw some leaves to a mass of fungus. When these leaves are brought back to the nest, they are cleaned by another specialized group of ants to rid them of any other type of fungi spores or bacteria. Then they are chewed up into a mulch, at which time enzymes, from the ants are added to the material, to aid in the break up of proteins, so that the fungi might digest them. The next step is that the ants deposit some of their own fecal material, which further prepares the mulch for the fungi’s digestion. Further, they add a small portion of fungi material to the prepared mulch. Now it doesn’t stop there. These ants actually host a particular bacteria on their bodies that produce chemicals, that when deposited on the fungus, protects them from moulds that would otherwise feed on them. Finally, as the fungus grows they bud out into swollen stem structures which the ants break off to consume for themselves and feed their young.
Now one might say, this is a pretty complex, intricate and purposeful process for a ant! This is exactly my point. For this is obviously a scheme, as it is surely a systematic arrangement in action, which of course fits what a scheme is defined as. Now what about this aspect of intent, that many scientists are worried about. Like I’ve said, in the strict sense, intent is not necessarily a property of a scheme. In this example for instance, can one proclaim that the ants have intent, in as to have come up with this scheme, or are they merely the vessels of its executiont? Also, certainly we can’t insist that it the result of the intent of the fungus. On that note, there is one detail I forgot to tell you. If the ants happen to bring back leaves that the fungus find toxic, this fungus then emits a chemical which makes the ants aware not to collect anymore of such leaves. So not only is this scheme complex, it is also symbiotic (in aid of both species). To continue, I think it would be fair to assume, that despite the fact that both ant and fungus benefit from this scheme, that neither may have it as intent. If there is intent, which I’m not claiming there is or isn’t. For I most surely do not know. Then it is more likely that the source, if any, lay outside. No matter which way you slice it, I have demonstrated a scheme for which there is at present no proof or disproof of intent. So then I would first ask the scientists, is it then reasonable to insist that nature has no scheme based on the disciplines denial of intend? For here I have demonstrated what is clearly a scheme that shows no evidence that it has such. Also, I would ask the philosophers, is it reasonable to insist that nature’s scheme must contain intent because it also shows purpose? To both groups I would point out that I have demonstrated a scheme. One that any would describe as carrying out the act of farming. Farming that is as intricate as any such process enacted by man. Although a intricate and efficient process, it is one in which it would be difficult to identify or prove an instigator.
With this we might now remember a earlier quote I made of Plato and that was:
“It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating. Art does not deliberate. If the ship-building art were in the wood, it would produce the same results by nature. If, therefore, purpose is present in art, it is present also in nature. The best illustration is a doctor doctoring himself: nature is like that. It is plain then that nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose.”It is evident, that although we are not able to discover or prove intent, we have undeniably been shown a process with purpose and this purpose is to be found in both the ants and the fungi’s continuance and survival. Now with the recognition of the role of purpose, we are now better able to understand what Plato has called, the “good”. For this good as Plato recognized, was that nature’s process is demonstrated to act for the good. It is with this we understand that Plato’s good is not as it is now commonly understood, as for example, to help a old lady across the street or buying those girl guide cookies. For Plato, science/philosophy serves to reveal the good of nature through its purpose and not that of man’s. From Plato’s perspective, man’s good is but as the shadow’s image is to the object itself.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
An Apple one Day may Keep the Whys Away?
As you are aware, that in the course of this blog, I have been speaking about this division in our methods of understanding. That is where science considers only the “how” questions and leaves the “why” to the purview of philosophy. You might wonder, have all scientists of the modern era thought as such? In attempting to address this, I suggest you might first agree, that the person who gave science its most explosive initial boost, that lead us to the methods and formalisms of the our new perspective, would have been Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727)
Now the first question to ask is, if Newton thought as many scientists do today, that there truly is no “why” to nature? To answer this, I will refer to Newton’s and arguably science's greatest work, which he entitled, “Principia Mathematica”. This sometimes is just improperly referred to as simply, the “Law of Gravity”. However, it takes in much more than what we understand as the attraction of gravity, for it envelopes what was thought to be at the time, the nature of all movement and impetus of all bodies. Hence, it is more appropriately reverenced as, “Newton’s Mechanics”. We will look again more over the course of this blog, to Newton and his mechanics. However, for now, we will focus on this issue of what he might have thought of science’s role in terms of the expansion of human understanding.
So as I said for our first query , did Newton totally omit the “why”, as something able to offer understanding of the world? Below I quote from the conclusion section of his ‘Principia’ entitled, “General Scholium”:
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems: and lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distances one from another.”
What you have read above, is in reference to what Newton realized, should be a troubling result of gravity being universal in both its scope and influence. He understood, that if this was truly the case, that such a force, should then inevitably lead to all matter in the cosmos to collapse in upon itself. A considered consequence, today referred to as, the “Big Crunch”. Since this was not obviously the perceived case, Newton therefore surmised, that the universe and its contents, must be so both distantly and sparsely spaced, that the force of gravity has little effect in this regard. What however is also interesting to note here, is “why” he considers this to be so. For Newton, there was this aspect of “why”, that must be coupled with the “how”. Now I’m not proposing that Newton’s thoughts on this are correct, for as you know, the beginnings and the fate of the universe, still remain an open question. What I do find interesting, is that in some sense,Newton considered the “why” as part of the explanation of the world..
One might now think that in Newton’s day, science still viewed “why”, as a valid question . But now the plot thickens, for we are about to observe signs, that the riff forming between the disciplines of philosophy and science, has by this time already begun. For at nearly the summation of his great treaties he states:
“But hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phænomena, and I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phænomena is to be called an hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phænomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction. Thus it was that the impenetrability, the mobility, and the impulsive force of bodies, and the laws of motion and of gravitation, were discovered. And to us it is enough that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws which we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for all the motions of the celestial bodies, and of our sea.”Now with this we find Newton saying something like what was paraphrased by Hugh Grant, in the movie Mickey Blue Eyes, and that is, “forgetta about it”! For although Newton had previously admitted, that there was and is most surely a “why” to nature, that in terms of discovery of its laws, this would prove to be of no utility. Newton tells us, that he is convinced that the holding of such questions in our minds, will not help in such discoveries. In fact, he contends they will hamper them. However, as I have already demonstrated, science both requires and utilizes things, that go outside of the limits that Newton suggests should be considered the bounds of scientific method, in its practice. Here we discover, that in Newton’s time, there already appears to be forming, what I would recognize as almost a schizophrenic and hypocritical nature to modern science. However, this is only intended to indicate the state of how things were, in the time of Newton. I in no way want you to understand, that Newton was the instigator or its beginning. The thing I would care to emphasize, was that Newton, due his place and stature in modern science, had then and still today, great influence.
We have here discovered, that in the time of Newton, this idea of the “why” questions having no place in science, was already firmly set. The eventual consequence of this position, was to lead science first to propose and then later to insist, that there is no “why” at all. We have also previously discovered, that with the Greeks, this was not so. Therefore, we have now further narrowed where we must search to find its cause and beginnings.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
In the Eye of the Beholder!
In my previous entry I spoke about science and what I called the hunches, that form its guides and sign posts to the discovery of truths of the natural world. Also, I asked the question of whether these hunches should be looked at as they contend, to be guides to root out simply relationships or should they be taken as aides to discover a scheme as I propose. Now let’s further explore these hunches for what they might be. To begin let’s take the one defined as symmetry.
Symmetry at first appears, in the terms laid out by science, to be somewhat abstract and remote. Now in the more straight forward sense, we might define symmetry, to be one aspect of beauty. Now I’m not going to engage in a discussion of what beauty is, other then to suggest that it is something that describes character. For when one says that something contains beauty, they are commenting on a aspect of its character. Secondly, we looked at “Occam’s Razor” and learned that what this turns out to be, is that science considers that nature must also be economical in its form. By economy it is not meant that nature is stingy, but rather that it is efficient. Something that I will also comment on in more depth in future posts. It is also not that it is just commonly simple, as without subtlety. Now when efficiency is taken in this context, it could be also be described as elegant, which is by most considered another aspect of beauty. So now we might further compress this to say, that science is looking for the truth in nature by searching for and exploring its characteristic of beauty. The question I raise here is if this is a new and exclusively modern concept?
I think many of you would realize the answer is no. In support of this we shall discover that Plato, of ancient Greece, was one who most certainly looked at things this way. For example in his work “The Republic”, Plato made many reverences to this. Now the structure of The Republic was written in terms of a dialogue. This dialogue was with a fellow he named Glaucon and is a devise used to present a argument. Much of what is said in this dialogue is a attempt to show that beauty is a true characteristic of nature and that in the examination of this character one could discover its truths. In the following quote he describes this economy we have spoke of when he says:
"Then beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity, --I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only an euphemism for folly?"
Here we find that Plato understood the character of economy as science looks at it today. In seems that Occam, was simply restating Plato. I would also suggest that at the time, the reason it appeared to be something new, is that most people in the world would not have known of Plato and what he said. Occam however, was a Friar and therefore a member of the church. He would have been one of the relative few to have access to such materials and thoughts. Also, because of the education afforded him by the Church, he would have been able to read the text in the language in which it was written. Outside members of the clergy this access to ancient knowledge would only have been available to a privileged few others.
Now to continue with Plato‘s thoughts he says:
"And the excellence or beauty or truth of every structure, animate or inanimate, and of every action of man, is relative to the use for which nature or the artist has intended them."
With this he has explained to Glaucon that this beauty extends to all aspects of nature. Both in things that we now call the organic and the non organic. Now just so that you can be sure that Plato is not to be perceived as someone just sitting around on his brains and spouting off things that he knew could or should not be tested to be true in the real world, he then reminds Glaucon:
"And the arts of measuring and numbering and weighing come to the rescue of the human understanding-there is the beauty of them --and the apparent greater or less, or more or heavier, no longer have the mastery over us, but give way before calculation and measure and
To which Glaucon responds:
"Most true."And Plato finishes in saying:
"And this, surely, must be the work of the calculating and rational principle in the soul."
So now we understand by this that Plato considered beauty a important and thus revealing characteristic of nature. He was also aware that this beauty is expressed in many facets, such as those he describes as style, harmony, grace and good rhythm which in turn he insists can only exist within the context of order. How is this any different to what science looks to as to be its guides to give them direction to what is true in nature. I would insist only one difference and that is it does not also look to the "why" that this should be so.
I have not as yet come straight out to express why I think this is so. However, I have given hints and clues as to how and when this occurred. For now I would still like to compare the similarities and differences between the way we now pursue knowledge today and how it was done before. I would also like to first further develop the context in which this change took place.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Nature has no Scheme, only Relationships?
In the course of this blog, I have indicated that science in general claims that nature has no scheme. The reason that I use this particular term is that it leaves the aspect of intent an open question. That is because I would contend, that in of itself, it does not necessarily imply motive. Although, I have to admit that I would be hard pressed to give a example of a scheme that didn’t have one as its instigation. Where is this leading to? To explain, first then let's look more carefully at the term and its definition. In the Oxford the term is first described as “systematic arrangement proposed, or in action; outline” it also gives its Greek root as skhema which means form. So by framing it this way, I am trying to give science along with myself, as much latitude as possible and propose that a scheme is something although ordered does not in of itself imply intent.
Science would say, that what they have found instead of a scheme, is that nature has a set of relationships, that when taken together, give the description of the natural world and its workings. Now to discover them, it’s claimed they use only the tools of logic, which mainly manifests itself in mathematics and they compare that with what is found by observation in relation to the proposed theory, in conjunction with its predictions. If all appears to be consistent, it is accepted. If it is not, it is dismissed. This seems to be a convincing story on the face of it. Yet how do they begin, as to what is the starting point of this process and when they stop? We could be lead to assume, with this description, that they simply try one thing after the other, without reason or direction. A process that is reminiscent to how long it would take a monkey to type out precisely Shakespeare’s Hamlet. To give you a sense of this, the chances for a monkey on the first try to type out simply the single word “Hamlet”, is the same as the chance you would have of buying one lottery ticket each week for the next four weeks and winning all four lotteries. So therefore, there must be something else to the process. Of course there is observation, yet what is observation other then looking over the shoulder of the monkey to see when he first gets it right. Well scientists don’t readily tell you, but they have what I would refer to as hunches, that give them a starting point and a cut off point. In truth there are many of these hunches. However, I would submit that the two most widely used today are those referred to as “Symmetry”, which often forms the starting point and something called “Occam’s Razor”, which suggests the cut off point.
So now, the question is what are these hunches referred to as “Symmetry” and “Occam’s Razor”? Let’s examine the more abstract one first, which is symmetry. Now I know many of you have a general sense of what symmetry refers to in every day experience, yet to begin let's try to be more precise by referring to a definition. The following is taken from the online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. It reads:
"Symmetry is a characteristic feature of systems, geometrical shapes, equations, and other objects; we say that such an object is symmetric with respect to a given operation if this operation, when applied to the object, does not change it. Two objects are symmetric to each other with respect to a given group of operations if one is obtained from the other by some of the operations (and vice versa)."
What many people perceive as symmetry is but only a limited case of the concept, which is referred to as “bilateral symmetry” or “mirror symmetry”. That is, when one divides a object down the middle and what is seen on one side is reproduced exactly on the other, only reversed. Probably one of the most thought of representations of this in architecture is the Taj Mahal. Symmetry, is thought by many to form the largest guiding principle in architecture, as well as in art and it is seemingly instinctively recognized. So why is that? That’s because it is found also in nature. The most personal experience of this is when one looks in the mirror in the morning. I could site many other examples but I think you get the picture. When science speaks of symmetry they take it in a more abstract or rather general sense. For instance in Physics it would be (again borrowed yet paraphrased from Wikapedia):
"Symmetry is generalized to mean invariance (=unchange) under any kind of transformation."
First, we need to flesh this out a little. Let’s say that a physicist was to propose (as they do), that the theory of gravity was symmetric. What would they be telling us? They would mean for instance that if they took a object and moved it to the other side of the universe or simply across the street that gravity would act on it as if it has not gone anywhere. In other words the force as exhibited on the object would remain unchanged. Now we have to be a little more precise about what this actually entails. In this and any such example we have to consider that all the relevant influences are moved along with it. Which would mean in approximation, I would have to move the entire earth, the same distance and direction. It sounds almost idiotic, doesn’t it? In truth though, it is a good test of its validity. For the way that the theory is written, such a change should have no effect.
Now it’s interesting to note, that this very thing is now at the focal point of one of the largest concerns and debates in cosmology. For when the cosmologists observe the rotational speed of stars at the edge of our galaxy and count in all the observable matter, they end up with speeds that are a lot faster then what the theory of gravity would predict. Now because this is not observed to happen within a more limited range, such as within own solar system, the reason sited is that there is more matter in the galaxy then we are as yet able to observe or account for. Hence the term you have probably heard about a lot lately, “dark matter”. On the other side of the coin, there is a much smaller group of scientists, saying that we shouldn’t be looking for ghosts, but to rather scrap the existing theory and write a new one that will account for the observations. However, because of things like this symmetry, which is percieved to exist in reference to gravity, the dark matter explanation is by far the more accepted one and thus the one being most actively researched. Now this doesn’t mean that all of nature in terms of physics has symmetric form, for as in particle physics, nature has proven not symmetric in some aspects . This to however, in respect to the phenomena involved, is in itself revealing . So in the context of when nature's symmetry holds or not has proven very useful in the expansion and evaluation of the theories.
We come now to “Occum’s Razor’", what now is this ? As I explained it is the stopping point in the process. What do I mean by this? Well, for instance, in the case of the monkey being observed in attempting to type “Hamlet”, we know to stop the process when finally the little guy types it correctly. In science at times, there is more then one theory proposed that appears to explain what is being studied. Which then is correct? This is where Occum’s razor comes in. This is a principle that is attributed to the 14th century English logician and Franciscan friar, William of Occam, which states that a true theory should have as few assumptions as possible and any that do not extend the observable consequences of the theory should be eliminated. In terms of deciding between competing theories, in which more than one gives explanation to the phenomena, then the simplest one should be taken. This is sort of a statement of economy. The modern but dangerously misleading equivalent is called K.I.S.S. for 'keep it simple, stupid'. Actually, Albert Einstein had his own slant on this for he said”
"The supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience"
So now you say, what is my point? The point I’m making here is that science contends that the question “why” is not relevant and therefore they don’t ask it. However, they do use what one could consider to be predetermined and assumed aspects of nature, to aid them in their quest for expanding knowledge of the natural world. These assumptions, form their sign posts or guides in knowing if they are following the right course and reach the correct ends. So in truth, they do use “why”. For if you asked them, "why" they contend a particular theory is correct, outside the fact that it explains the tested phenomena? In reply they might often respond, because it appears it can be considered within the terms of symmetry and is also economical in its form. So despite the fact that many scientists claim that nature has no scheme, they are convinced it has attributes or what might be better described as “qualities”. Further, these qualities are not simply of the benign type, as for example, hard, soft, light or dark and so on. These qualities are of a more general type, for they imply character. Now let’s rephrase and clarify this, by saying that science asserts that nature reveals its character within the qualities of symmetry and economy. So what is this describing? Is it describing, as science proposes, to be simply a set of relationships or is it actually describing a scheme? For me it is certainly a scheme. A scheme of which it could be asked if it does or does not contain intent? A question for which I have no answer and yet would maintain still is a valid one.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The Scientists Have New Clothes?
To begin, I hope with my last post you didn’t come away thinking that I am a religion basher. My sole intent was and is to set up the background and context in which this change occurred, where philosophy instead of asking both the “how” and the “why” questions, ended up only addressing the “why”. Now the next thing we might suppose is that it was with the advent of modern science that the riff occurred. It is contended by many, that science as we know it only originated in the last five or six hundred years. Many propose that the vocation itself can be traced back to Francis Bacon (1561–1626), with his method. I will later speak of Bacon, however for now we will look another way. You might say, what is modern science? I would respond that the essence of modern science is when you use the tools of logic in concert with empirical consideration to expand ones knowledge of the natural world. I’m sure Bacon, if around today, would take umbrage with my simple definition, for he took many pages in his work entitled Novum Organum (New Instrument) to describe it. However, in general I would wager that if you offered this definition up to the scientists of today, they would find it acceptable.
So, is it true that it has only been in the last few hundred years that such a methodology manifested to expose truth? Let’s once again look back to ancient Greece to see if this method was used in their times. To begin, I could mention many of their great mathematicians such as Pythagoras, but then I’m sure it would be argued that he was solely a mathematician and thus his work and intent had little to do with revealing truths of the natural world. So we won’t go there.
The person that I propose as being a true scientist by the modern standard is Archimedes (287BC - 212BC). Now Archimedes is proported to have been a mathematician, physicists, astronomer, philosopher and inventor. This certainly sounds more like a description of a man of the Renaissance rather then one of ancient times. First, his contributions to mathematics are staggering. They include methods and proofs for calculating areas and volumes in geometry and of course much more. The discovery which he felt to be his greatest was his proof that any sphere bounded by a corresponding cylinder was 2/3 of its area and volume. He is also known to have proved and formulated the attributes of leverage. This accounts for instruments and machines such as scales, jacks and the block & tackle, just to name a few. He calculated with fair accuracy the circumference of the earth, 1800 years before Columbus was supposed to have prove it round. As many may be aware he is credited to have developed the "Principle of Buoyancy", referred to as "Archimedes Principle", which is summed up in the modern era within a relationship called specific gravity. This of course is what he is most popularly known for. It is fabled he was inspired to the discovery while lowering himself into a bath and observed it overflowing. After which he leaped from the bath, o' naturale and ran into the street shouting "Eureka"(I‘ve found it)! It might be suggested that from this account ideas and expressions such as “absent minded professor” and “nutty professor” sprang, not to mention “the naked truth”. All kidding aside, the important point is that Archimedes used mathematics coupled with logic and reason supported by empirical evidence to arrive at many of these discoveries.
To further my claim, it was not until quite recently, that it was most fully realized just how similar his ideas and methods were to that of modern science. This came to light with discovery of what is known as Archimedes Palimpsest in the early 1900’s, which has only recently been made legible. It spells out among other things what is referred to as Archimedes “method“. This mathematical method contains the germ of the idea which became Calculus, which was later to be independantly developed by Newton and Leibniz in the late 1600’s. This germ of an idea was to incorporate the concept of infinity into the solving of mathematical problems. A quote that I find particularly interesting from this ancient manuscript is as follows:
... certain things first became clear to me by a mechanical method, although they had to be proved by geometry afterwards because their investigation by the said method did not furnish an actual proof. But it is of course easier, when we have previously acquired, by the method, some knowledge of the questions, to supply the proof than it is to find it without any previous knowledge.
This would appear to confirm that Archimedes certainly thought that the way to understanding involved both logical consideration along with empirical evaluation. So now then, is modern science all that modern or is it simply the rediscovery and implementation of ancient methods? If so, then why were these ancient methods only resurrected with the dawn of the modern era? Also, are modern ideas and methods of understanding completely consistent with them? Most importantly, what can be gained in examining our current position in this regard? As we continue I will raise more for you to consider and I hope also discover.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
East of Eden
In my last post we were continuing the examination of this apparent split between science and philosophy and where it might have begun. As I have said the main division can be given as who answers the “how” questions and who answers the “why” ones. This split as I have shown has created some major differences of opinion as to what certain aspects of the physical world should be expected and allowed to contain. More importantly we have come to discover that certain basic concepts like random in nature are viewed differently between many within the disciplines. It has been demonstrated that in the Greek brand of philosophy/science the focus was on nature as a whole where man was only one component or aspect of it. In many of the modern and now the contemporary philosophies man had come to be at the center. These philosophies range from those described as religions, where all of nature and its intent are focused on the creation and fate of man, plus many other western philosophies, which although they are not viewed as religions, also have man as its central theme. Science on the other hand has gravitated towards the conclusion that there is no scheme of nature to be discovered and so only questions how the whole things fits together. This could be more or less equated with how a mechanic might view a automobile and its workings without considering its intended use.
So when did this all start to occur? The first thing we might look at is to ask when did philosophy become homocentric or man focused? If we go back into our history we might say that early man probably started out this way. Then perhaps one should better ask when did our thinking become less homocentric? To begin if we look at Judeo-Christian philosophy we will find that it was so at the beginning and remains homocentric. If we look at the major eastern philosophies, we find that they were early on and continue to be for the most part still today, nature centered. . There is another major difference between western and eastern philosophies and that is in terms of personal growth or exploration. In general, with Western religious philosophy, it is all laid out for you. Here one is not supposed to pose questions, but rather just to accept the given answers or dogma. In the eastern tradition one is told that not all the answers are to be found in the text or teachings, rather that these form a basic guide and that enlightenment is something you will have to achieve through personal exploration.
To give you an example of what I am talking about I quote below from the Hindu Rig Veda and its Creation Hymn. This is estimated to have been composed more than 12,000 years ago. In a sense it is like the beginning of Genesis in the Old Testament.
Not even nothing existed then. No air yet, nor a heaven. Who encased and kept it where? Was water in the darkness there? Neither deathlessness nor decay. No, nor the rhythm of night and day: The self-existent, with breath sans air: That, and that alone was there. Darkness was in darkness found. Like light-less water all around. One emerged, with nothing on. It was from heat that this was born. Into it, Desire, its way did find: The primordial seed born of mind. Sages know deep in the heart: What exists is kin to what does not. Across the void the cord was thrown, The place of every thing was known. Seed-sowers and powers now came by, Impulse below and force on high. Who really knows, and who can swear, How creation came, when or where! Even gods came after creation's day, Who really knows, who can truly say when and how did creation start? Did He do it? Or did He not? Only He, up there, knows, maybe; Or perhaps, not even He.
In reading this you will find it has much in common with Genesis I. There is as you notice one major difference, for in the Hindu version one finds all these question marks. In Genesis there are no questions. With Genesis we are simply offered answers with no thought that there be any need to question. Now true, that in the Hindu version nearly all the questions are of the “what“ or “how” type. The “why” they take as a given and that is simply “to be”. However, although they feel they have the answer to the question “why”, they imply that they find it important to total understanding. It also suggests that motive is central to the “why” question. So now we see that both the "how and"why" question, in relation to other philosophies was thought to be important many millennia ago. We also find that with the dawn of Western Philosophy and the Greeks this continued and was expanded. In contrast, we have discovered that the now dominant religious philosophies of the West do not at their centre seem to ask any questions at all. This all has had us go further in our search for why science and philosophy have parted company and "how" and "why" those divisions formed. This is still only a beginning, no pun intended.
Monday, July 03, 2006
It’s All Greek To Me!
Now in the course of this blog I’ve been talking about the split between science and philosophy. I have also previously stated this has not always been the case. Also, I have demonstrated that modern science and some philosophies have differences of opinion, one of which is what this apparent aspect of random in the world means in terms of its implications for nature having motive or what I refer to as a scheme. I’ve proposed that science sees random as indicating that nature has no scheme and that some philosophies saying that anything that points this way must be wrong, for nature certainly would not act randomly. Has Western thinking always been this way?
Let us examine this by looking at what Aristotle thought about such things. As we know he was a student of Plato. What I quote here was written in 350 B.C. from a paper he entitled Physics. Yes the term and the subject truly goes back that far. As a first statement on the matter Aristotle says:
“Our first presupposition must be that in nature nothing acts on, or is acted on by, any other thing at random, nor may anything come from anything else, unless we mean that it does so in virtue of a concomitant attribute.In reading this one might say there’s the problem, for it is Aristotle that had people think this way thus when random was discovered to be a true aspect of nature this is where the split occurred. But now later in the discussion Aristotle expands on this notion. He says:
“Moreover, among the seeds anything must have come to be at random. But the person who asserts this entirely does away with 'nature' and what exists 'by nature'. For those things are natural which, by a continuous movement originated from an internal principle, arrive at some completion: the same completion is not reached from every principle; nor any chance completion, but always the tendency in each is towards the same end, if there is no impediment.”Here Aristotle acknowledges that random is to be found in nature yet reminds us that this is not to be confused with nature as having no scheme. He goes on further to explain:
“The end and the means towards it may come about by chance. We say, for instance, that a stranger has come by chance, paid the ransom, and gone away, when he does so as if he had come for that purpose, though it was not for that that he came. This is incidental, for chance is an incidental cause, as I remarked before. But when an event takes place always or for the most part, it is not incidental or by chance. In natural products the sequence is invariable, if there is no Impediment.”I know the language is somewhat arcane, but what Aristotle is saying here is that although random may be at times a part of process it does not indicate that nature has no scheme. To use my analogy in the previous post it is merely the stirrings of nature to facilitate the task. Now here he completes his argument in saying:
It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating. Art does not deliberate. If the ship-building art were in the wood, it would produce the same results by nature. If, therefore, purpose is present in art, it is present also in nature. The best illustration is a doctor doctoring himself: nature is like that. It is plain then that nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose.”So now we have seen what Aristotle had to say on the subject. It is plain that as early as this it was recognized that random was a component of nature and yet this by reason doesn't imply that therefore it has no purpose. So then we must go elsewhere to see “how” and “why” this split in thinking has occurred. This is then somewhere between the past of Aristotle and our present.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Making Jello a la Darwin
My last post ended where Darwin discovered as the “why” answer that natural selection was nature's strategy for the survival and continuance of life. You might inquire, do all “why” questions lead to such ground breaking conclusions and deep understanding ? The answer of course is no. We could ask “how” did the chicken cross the road? The answer being by putting one foot in front of the other. Then you might say “why” did the chicken cross the road? Well I’ll let you answer this question. The point is the question in itself, on its own does not have the power. It is where it is asked. When it is applied to the inquiries of the natural world it can lead to profound insight. The problem being that it is not asked very often by modern science.
The question now is how did we get to this point where science and philosophy have parted company? There are actually a few ways to look at this. If you asked a scientist of today they would most likely say that it is because science has become so specialized and complex that the philosophers are not able to keep up with it all and therefore cannot meaningfully contribute. This however is a dodge, for it avoids why the scientists themselves are not looking at their work from a philosophical perspective. Many scientists are of the opinion that to pose the “why” question suggests motive or intent plays a role in the nature of our world. I’m going to be bold here for I am convinced the vast majority of scientists believe that there is no motive or intent or to put it another way a scheme of nature. Many may point to Darwin’s Theory which I just outlined and say it shows a process where random is a element and this suggests that there is no scheme to nature. Equally, many philosophies, some of which are described as religions rail at the very same point for they believe that this also indicates there is no scheme in nature and so therefore it must be wrong. Despite their opposed views, on this point to they both agree. But are they correct to think this way?
To examine this let’s draw an analogy between nature's process for the survival and continuance of life to making a bowl of jello. When you make jello you take a bowl you put in some water plus jello powder along with some sugar. Then you stir, after which you put the whole lot in the refrigerator for a while and wait for it to set. Now in Darwin’s theory nature takes a world (the bowl) adds in primitive life along with a ever changing environment (the ingredients) then allows some random changes (the stirring), then waits for some time (sitting in the frig) and there you have it, life as it is recognized today. So what then is there in Darwin’s theory that is so convincing to many scientists and so unacceptable to some philosophers? Well it’s this random aspect. Both groups consider that random process shows that there is no scheme to nature and yet what is the act of stirring when we made the jello. Most would say it was a quick and easy method to get all the ingredients evenly mixed or distributed. In truth though you accomplished this by use of a process that evokes random. Now what did nature do? To assure that life was given the benifit of trying out numerous possibilities in terms of making it viable, nature invokes a scheme that involves random as part of the process. Now I would ask both the scientists and the philosophers, is it logical or reasonable to restrict nature in such a way? If this were true then they should also insist that I couldn’t make jello properly unless I purposely and accurately located all of the jello powder and the sugar within the water. If one looks at it this way it doesn’t make much sense. There is more to be said about this random aspect to nature and its implications for science and philosophy. This however I will leave for future posts.