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.

Very nice. Thanks for pointing out the similar thinking of Occam and Plato. Makes you wonder who inspired Plato, other than Socrates that is.

We're all part of one big wavefunction, Phil. Everything is interconnected, we are all part of one big physical thing: The Universe. Past, Present, and future are interconnected. It is the height of human "hubris" to think of The Present as a unique thing, but we are limited in having that aspect of time being the only one we can control.

I think Einstein knew this, as you having quoted many times in his letter to the survivors of his dear friend Bousso, or however you spell it. Marcel, you know.

What's important is that in spite of this our current knowledge, "things" have the illusion of being separate, be it individuals, or a Bach fugue, or Van Gogh's Starry, Starry Night, or the Mona Lisa. And this may indeed be a requirement of Nature than "separateness" be required for beauty to be appreciated in the first place.

A wave is one, but when looked at from a distance, we see separate wavecaps. The continuous appears quantic from above.

How'm I doin', Phil? :-)
Oops, sorry Phil, I meant it was the 2nd paragraph of THIS post I was hung up on. Sorry.
Hi Steve,

I’m happy to hear that you still find some value in my scribblings, even if only to at times provide comical relief regarding my sentiments in respect to our shared appreciation of a certain demonstrated keen minded and compassionate scholar;-) However you still leave me curious being you haven’t made it clear is if after six months you still have difficulty accepting my position or remain unconvinced? That is the only thing I’m suggesting is that as Plato first proposed and Pirsig was later to render more clarity of meaning, is that an assessment of quality being something that has always been unavoidable when attempting to have reality understood.


No, I generally agree with everything you've written so far. "Beauty, Truth, Good," and even "Love" are similar yet different. Semantics, feh.

I like where Plato's head was at, and Aristotle too, as my introduction to philosophy was "Introduction to Logic" being the only Philosophy course I ever took in college; as an elective as a freshman. Loved it. Still have the textbook somewhere in the attic. I'll put it on my bucket list to drag out one day. :-)

You make a good point that quality is assessed, rightly or wrongly, always. Is the description of quality true or false, though? You see to me and as an Engineer, THAT is the question. Sometimes it's guesswork, that is to say intuition, and sometimes human intuition lets us down. Hence the movement toward metricized "quantity" measurements/assessments, away from quality, which I find sad, but, you can't stop "progress", eh?

Remember, Phil, I'm just getting started on the "philosophy" angle, you're a good teacher but like everything else, the more I learn the more I realize I have to learn. Just stay away from Kant and Sartre and we'll remain friends. ;-p
Hi Steve,

Yes we do try to apply metrics to gauge quality and yet they only serve at best to show how much quality resides, instead of telling us what we must do to realize quality. On the other hand nature demonstrates its quality through characteristics, such as those revealed in action principle, conservation laws and symmetry, which are more indicative as they like in engineering represent the goals which we later define with our metrics in respect to the tolerances we find acceptable for our practical purpose(s). Nature innately has these characteristics which then manifests in quality, while people require the need to care which in turn forms to be the most important characteristic for them to have these characteristics recognized residing as quality and thus have it assured.

Oh yes I promise no Kant or Sartre, well at least not just now :-)


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