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.

Are we to conclude then that as far back as Aristotle what we today call The Anthropic Principle (We got lucky! GO randomness!) would have been called by the learned of their day and to use our vernacular: Bullshit?

If the ship-building art were in the wood, it would produce the same results by nature.

Susskind, Guth, Everett III and Deustch would say that absolutely a ship is built by nature, somewhere/sometime/otherverse and without humans, because everything happens. Barnacles have to live somewhere, yes?

Only on lucky Earth do ships require humans for shipbuilding. Then again humans are part of nature.

I see another unfortunate split here Phil: the possibility that Aristotle's logic is flawed in this case, because his assumption is flawed. In particular:

Moreover, among the seeds anything must have come to be at random.

Perhaps, perhaps not. PERCEPTion of randomness is his goal in the ensuing discussion, if I read it correctly, because he concludes:

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 must disagree with that conclusion. He's basically taking on issues of his day, which while a great improvement over that which had come before, are limited by the scientific issues of his time.

Let me explain by example:

The sperm and the egg. One egg, millions of sperm, only one sperm will succeed. Will it be the strongest sperm?

The odds are against it, although it's possible. What will likely happen is that nearly as-strong sperm will gang up on Mr. Olympia Sperm somewhere along the way; they will crowd him out and prevent him from being "the one."

The successful sperm, stronger than usual but perhaps only average, will succeed because his impediments for success are the lowest, i.e. he is surrounded by weaker sperm.

The point is that upon ejaculation, there is no way to reliably predict, regardless of knowledge of each and every sperm's position, velocity, etc., which one will succeed. There are simply too many variables.

The egg doesn't care, though. She will ultimately get her way. As usual. :-)
"There is a certain sense in which I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance. Some people take the view that the universe is simply there and it runs along–it's a bit as though it just sort of computes, and we happen by accident to find ourselves in this thing. I don't think that's a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe, I think that there is something much deeper about it, about its existence, which we have very little inkling of at the moment."

... Roger Penrose
Hi Steven,

Believe it or not I don’t think you actually disagree with either Aristotle or me. That is the random action that results in mixing in your example is not the prime decider of general outcome, yet merely a part of the process as I explained in my jello parody. No the long term decider is as what you said being the what is more viable in the long term. I would ask, why would viability be any concern at all when it comes to nature and suggest that viability is the first requirement in anything being real, which is to have it to present as reality in the first place. I think you have the impression that

I have attached some aspect of intent to determinism, which I can assure you I haven’t, as first one doesn’t require the other and second this is more of a question for me and therefore certainly not a conviction of mine. I will admit however that like Einstein you might call me cosmically religious and yet this does not have me to attach such feelings to there being any” anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it” as he expressed. I’m confident if you choose to read on you will get a better sense of what I mean and to realize that this is more of a way to ask as to clarify the question, rather than to claining I have an answer.


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The God of Spinoza, Phil? Or Deism? I lean there myself, most days.

Phil, do you think I should read ahead, or read and comment in chronological order, which is my game plan?

I mean, I could "peek" ahead, but where's the fun in that! lol

Regarding Determinism, I lean that way myself most days, even though I know all about EPR, von Neumann's screw-up in his Quantum mechanics textbook, EPR, Bohm, Bell, and the mind-blowing non-local results of Quantum Entanglement.

So, somedays I think very deterministicly, some days not-so-much, some days not at all.

This is not because of flakiness; moreso because of my trying to take all sides into consideration before coming to a firm opinion, yet I have strong feelings that neither Philosophy or Physics (neither Experimental nor Theoretical) will prove either position, any time soon.

The discussion is good though. I guess. Mental weightlifting, as it were.
Hi Steven,

I’m just happy you find some value in my blatherings, so don’t feel you will be causing me any distress if you peak ahead. It’s that when I wrote them I had a place I was heading, although I must admit that I didn’t quite end up where I would have liked. The truth being most of what I have written here is a compilation of things I simply just wanted to get off my chest as to express them while making no claim as any of it being particularly unique or profound. You could say it’s the expressions of a wonderer, about what he’s wondering about. That’s to say I’m the type of person who is more interested in all the questions that still remain, rather than any particular answer that might be arrived at.

As for determinism my current thoughts being, if we as thinking beings have the capacity to effect purposeful change and this is simply an emergent character of an otherwise purposeless universe, then this has us to be what, unnatural or rather supernatural? In as we are a product of nature therefore we can’t be unnatural, then it must be the latter, so perhaps Spinoza had a more intimate connection with a god then he thought:-) Then again if our actions are totally ruled as to be mandated as entirely predictable as to have free will no more real than that of puppets on a stage, then what then stands as being the puppeteer and what the audience? I then find it quite interesting that those who oppose determinism see this as being aligned with the godless, while those that don’t think themselves as being spiritual. The question then for me is not so much if determinism is an aspect of nature, yet rather as to what extent is it significant to have it be found what we call reality. So I invite you to read on to discover how I consider the question, more so then what the answer might be.


Fair enough, Phil. In truth what I feel I've met in you is a like-minded person regarding the subject/fact/opinion of the next paragraph, of whom I hope are not few others in number. I hope there are many more than us, I think there are.

Precisely: The IMPORTANT thing is to ask "What?", "How?" and "Why?" in precisely that order, with the answered "Why?" becoming the next round's "What?"

It's not that frigging hard. I honestly don't know why more people don't think that way.

'K, that's it. Off to read your next article.
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