Tuesday, March 08, 2005


A Little Philosophy, Shall We?

Continuing from my earlier post, I'd like to consider the Edge's latest question, "What do you believe is true, even though you can not prove it?" some more.

I've given it some thought throughout the course of the day. What I find interesting is that the beliefs that enter my mind share many things in common with the scientists quoted in the article.

In no particular order-- and hardly comprehensive-- here are a few beliefs I hold that I'm confident are true, although I can't prove it.

To begin, basically everything.

How computers work. That the Earth is round. Electrons have negative charges. The Heisenberg principle. White blood cells. The Oort Cloud. The Theory of Relativity. DNA.

I could not prove to anyone that any of these things exist, or explain in scientific terms how they work. Still, I believe in all of them. Why?

It's not because others believe in them. Science is not about arguing from authority. Just because someone shows up to a conference with a Ph.D. does not automatically make them right. Instead, the strength of science lies in the scientific method of inquiry.

Once you figure out how science is done, than all science becomes scalable. Conduct the most basic of experiments on your own, record the results, and compare and contrast with a control, and you begin to understand how logical exploration of observable and testable phenomena can result in the increase of knowledge. You move beyond merely asking questions into the realm of answering them.

Now, I wasn't very good at science; too much math. Yet, I have tremendous respect for science, because-- as anyone can tell merely by looking around-- science works. Sacrificing a virgin won't cure polio. Wishing upon a star won't create petrochemicals out of thin air. Science, however, has demonstrated those abilities, time and again.

That said, I don't pray at the altar of science. For one, it's not an altar; it simply is what it is. Furthermore, scientific inquiry is often wrong. In fact, it's more wrong than right. But it's in traveling down those dead-ends that we learn to eliminate them from the solution. Eventually, we learn which questions are worth asking.

In the end, science is what separates humanity from everything else alive on this Earth, for good or for ill. Powerful stuff.

That "nothingness" exists, and we're all going to "not" find that out for ourselves.

I don't believe in life after death. Obviously, like everyone else on Earth, I can't prove it one way or the other. Unfortunately, my belief means that I won't even realize it. For once I die, *poof!*, it's as if I never lived.

I won't lie to you-- this is the single scariest concept I hold true. It's impossible to imagine nothing. Sleep doesn't compare; you wake up from sleep. Once you're gone, everything is gone, and if you spend your nights in bed pondering Larkin's "huge and birdless silence," it can even be terrifying.

That said, it's also liberating, and empowering. With no afterlife to look forward to (or to plan my Sunday mornings around), I find myself increasingly developing a "whole life" viewpoint. I try to avoid any consideration of living in the moment, but rather living *for* the moment. The remainder of my life-- whether it goes on for sixty days or sixty years-- is all I'm going to ever have. It's a shame to waste such a life, yes?

Alas, even that realization isn't enough to get me out of bed early on the weekends. Knowing something is true doesn't necessarily motivate you to avoid it.

That life abounds in the universe.

Fermi's Paradox may get me down, but given the boundless number of worlds out there, I can't imagine that life-- intelligent life-- isn't out there, somewhere. To imagine otherwise is to assume a pre-Copernican view of humanity, that we're all there is.

Now, life may be rarer than we thought, and subsequently intelligent life may be near-exceptional in the universe. We obviously have no frame of reference for comparison, having never found any life anywhere else.

One angle to Fermi's Paradox that seems rarely considered is a qualitative explanation of intelligent life.

For example, what if intelligent life exists in the universe, but very little of it resembles our carbon-based life here on Earth? Molecular biology being what it is, carbon (with liquid water) is by far an ideal mechanism for generating life, but it may not be the only route. Other materials-- such as silicon-- could be relied upon, albeit very inefficiently when compared to carbon. What would silicon life look like? What would a silicon intelligence sound like?

Likewise, everyone who subscribes to Fermi's Paradox assumes that intelligent life must by definition increase geometrically in their capacity for intelligent thought, much like a biological Moore's Law. However, it must be remembered that Darwinian evolution on this planet has resulted in countless well-adapted species, only one of which has developed the type of intelligence considered by Fermi.

Dinosaurs ruled this planet for millions of years and, in many biologist's eyes, microbes have *always* ruled the Earth. Neither can build radio telescopes, but each of them were/are tremendously successful by the standards upon which they can be judged. Criticizing their suitability for their environment is like criticizing a hammer for not being a screwdriver.

Thus, I've always thought it possible that, while humanity may not be so terribly unique, human intelligence may be quite rare. Other species on other worlds may be intelligent, even scientifically intelligent, but much slower developing on the evolutionary timescale. Humanity may not be alone, but we may still be exceptional; at least in the cosmic neighborhood.

That God exists.

You're probably saying, "But. . . but Dave-- I thought you were an atheist?"

I was, and I am. But the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced of at least a logical proof of God's existence, given certain cosmological conditions.

What do I mean by this? Well, if you ever consider the quantum theories behind multiple universes (a.k.a., the multiverse), you can theorize that our entire universe is not the only one of its kind.

An elegant feature of multiverse theory is that it defuses a common argument in favor of intelligent design, namely that our universe is "fine-tuned" for life.

Change only a handful of physical constants, and our universe is rapidly rendered unlivable. Much like Goldilocks and the porridge, if things get too hot or too cold, not only life on Earth but Earth itself-- and stars, and galaxies-- never form. Our universe simply happens to be "just right" for all of these things, include life, to exist.

However, the counter to this argument is, for all practical purposes. . . duh. If our universe wasn't perfect for life, we wouldn't be around to worry about it.

That's where multiverse theory shines, for the really exciting aspect of multiverse theory is that the number of universes is infinite (or, near-infinite).

If that's the case, the question becomes, what are these other universes like? And, how many of them are there? And are they different?

Alas, it appears to be one of those theories that can't be proven, ergo it must be taken with a little bit of. . . faith.

That said, there are reasons to suspect that multiple universes may exist. And what makes it all the more intriguing is that once you start down the path of a grand number of universes (i.e., near infinite), you approach an incredibly fascinating number: 10 to the 10x28 power.

That number is the number of possible combinations of every atom, of every proton, of every quark-- of everything-- in the universe.

Thus, if the number of universes in a multiverse-- assumed to be infinite, or near-infinite-- approaches that number, that means that, as strange as it may seem, there is another dorky guy typing this exact sentence into his blog called Garfield Ridge. And, right next to that universe is a guy typing into his blog called Garfield Bridge. Yeah, trippy stuff.

I *highly* recommend you dig up a copy of the May 2003 issue of Scientific American to read more about multiverse theory. Or, in the meantime, you can visit this page, maintained by the author of the Scientific American article.

So, how does this all strengthen the possibility of God's existence?

Well, simple: if there are an infinite number of possibilities-- or at least 10 to 10x28-- something approaching the power of God must exist in one of these universes. Now, that doesn't mean God will look like any God you or I can know, and by definition the God has to follow the laws of physics.

Then again, multiverse theory accommodates a lot of latitude in the laws of physics. As long as some fundamental foundations are present (i.e., the physical properties necessary to establish a universe), the remaining physical laws could be slightly "off." Meaning, hypothetically, even Superman could exist in another universe. Or, a God that watches over his children on an alternate Earth.

Like I said-- I don't believe in God, at least not in *this* universe. But if multiverse theory is true (and again, it may be impossible to prove), than I see no reason why an all-powerful omnipotent being couldn't exist in another universe.

Likewise, I see no reason why I can't own the Playboy Mansion in an alternate universe.

You see, it's these thoughts that keep me warm at night when I start pondering the big nothing to come.

I simply cannot believe that you have no comments on this entry. Usually this kind of entry really racks up the numbers.

I understand Atheism. I understand the need and ability to explain things through science. I LOVE science. I possess a high IQ and I've done my share of questioning. I also believe in the fact that when you're gone, you're gone. Going to a cemetary to visit the "remains" of a person is kind of silly. I go with my dad to the cemetary maybe once a year to visit my mom's "niche". He goes a lot. I feel nothing. Maybe 20 feet away is the grave of one of my best friend's sister, who was my age. I go to her grave and feel only that it's funny that my mom and she are interred so closely and they were so much alike. Other than that, just the horror that someone my age could just die for no particular reason that the doctors can determine.

That being said, there are times that I feel my mother around me. Not nearly as strongly as I always thought I would, but sometimes she seems to try to make her presence known.

I also can wrap my mind around reincarnation. I believe that there is a "life force" - the something that "animates" the body, so to speak. One's personality is so ingrained. I can't believe that personality is ONLY controlled by random brain structure and function, even though I know it can be changed by brain damage and disfunction.

Once I saw my babies (triplets - miricles in so many ways) I almost completely stopped questioning the existence and nature of God. Human beings as well as so many other creatures on this earth are so freaking amazing. A random mix of "cosmic stuff" just seems so unlikely.

I choose to believe in God and a heaven and an afterlife. I've made my decisions about that and I'm sticking to them. After my mom died, my family (myself, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece's husband) all decided unbeknownst to one another to convert to Catholicism. I had been married to a Catholic for 8 years and attended the Church for 10 years with him and had never felt the need or yearning to convert. I felt that I was not worthy and couldn't do what it took to be a good Catholic. My sister and brother-in-law were NEVER very religious in any church. My niece's husband was raised Southern Baptist. It was an amazing thing that we all chose to do this at the same time without discussion. I like to think that somewhere in the "Afterlife" my mother had something to do with this - she wasn't Catholic either, by the way.

Anyway, faith is a very hard thing to carry around in the world today. Especially if you are intelligent and are prone to questioning. Sometimes I still struggle. If there is no "payment" for evil deeds in an afterlife, then what would keep society from spinning out of control? That may be the only thing that keeps some people in line. Also, the thought of eternal nothingness is so frightening.

I guess we'll all see one fine day, I suppose.

Nice entry, Dave. This kind of stuff makes the blogosphere fresh and entertaining.
Since Blogger's comments are, magically, working today, I'm forced to respond to momotrips' comment, in one really small way:

"If there is no 'payment' for evil deeds in an afterlife, then what would keep society from spinning out of control?"

Good question, but that one, perhaps alone among the other items in your post, is easily answered, I think. One thing that rational atheists and non-atheists of most stripes can agree upon is the fact that the Ten Commandments or something very much like them can be looked at in two ways without contradiction.

On the one hand, for the religious they're a guide to avoid damnation. On the other, for the atheist, they're frankly a pretty good way to avoid getting your ass kicked on a regular basis here on Earth, irrespective of the existence of some alleged future benefit.
Wow Dave, I REALLY can't believe that this is all you've gotten on this post!

Patton, I guess what I really meant to say was if there is no "payment" for evil deeds done in this life in an "afterlife", it all just seems kind of hopeless. Bad people do awful things and all they get is prison time and/or a "humane" execution IF they're caught. I guess it makes me feel better to believe that evil doesn't just "get away with it".

I am very interested in atheism and I know that most Atheists are normal intelligent people - some are jerks just like Christians and others. I even used to watch the American Atheist program with Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her son. I enjoyed learning about the pagan relationship to modern religion. She was pretty much a bitch and really arrogant and a pain in the ass, but also scary smart and witty. My husband never understood why I watched it. Of course, I'm interested in most study of religion. I'm Catholic and a believer, but I'm no zealot. I'm just interested in what others believe - or not and their reasoning.

I guess if I really thought about it, and didn't have faith in what I believe, I'd probably subscribe to more Eastern philosophy like Buddism. Reincarnation would be cool. Maybe there IS God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, an afterlife AND reincarnation. I just choose to disregard the nothingness.

And yeah, the Golden Rule and the 10 Commandments are a good way to keep your ass intact, but for those who choose to toss them all out the window regardless of the ass kicking they may receive in their current existence, what then?
And by the way, I called Madalyn Murray O'Hair a bitch in the most respectful way possible. I'm sure she'd say "Here, here!" to that were she still with us.
Haven't had time to really review your posts on this as yet, but will tonight. One question I'd like to pose to you to think about is that how can you understand anything? In other words, can you tell me what are the philosophical underpinnings of your ability to make sense of anything. Philosophy is basically - what do I know, how do I know what I know and knowing what I know how do I live my life. Pop quiz at 11. Back tonight.
Buffy VS Worldview
A few things.

To Momotrips, glad to see you here.

I'm with Patton on the Ten Commandments/morality thing. While you can't (and shouldn't) remove religious considerations from discussions of morality, I feel that it is possible to remove them and still construct a human morality. And, in many respects, such an arelgious morality would bear many similarities to religious morality, at least as defined by the world's major religions (I ain't considering Scientology, for instance).

I feel that there's a functionality to morality, much of it stemming from the social contract/"Golden Rule." Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. A lot of evolutionary scientists these days are looking at how much of a role cooperation (vice competition) plays in evolution, particularly human evolution. It's all well and good to consider everything before a certain historical period as Hobbesian, "state of nature," but there may be a fairly large role for cooperation. We're primates, after all, and primates are social animals.

And what is required for cooperation? A sense of right and wrong. A sense of property. A sense of heirarchy. In other words, morality.

As for the atheism thing, I'm pretty much the most mellow atheist you'd ever meet. I have no problems with the Pledge referencing God, I have no real problem with displaying the Ten Commandments in a courthouse. I hate people who argue against Christmas trees. I find all of those arguments completely ridiculous, and distracting.

About the only "traditionally" atheist beef I have is with intelligent design, which to me is just the biological version of Ptolemaic circles-- there's no need to introduce the concept of a designer to explain evolution. And don't get me started on "Flood science."

That said, I'm not going to denigrate anyone's beliefs, or their non-beliefs. Everyone has their right to believe what they want to believe. And I have the right to debate them on their beliefs, in a friendly, considered manner.

Okay, the above isn't *entirely* true. . . I have respect for the world's major religions, not from a religious standpoint, but a cultural one. America is a Judeo-Christian country, and I respect that. In fact, I even encourage that, given the positives of that influence over the centuries (Protestant work ethic, Catholic charity, etc.). That said, I reserve the right to laughably ridicule boutique religions like Scientology and Wicca. Because, let's be honest, what's the point? Why should anyone feel the need to invent a *new* religion-- at least one that doesn't worship me as their personal savior?

Buffy-- my answer is "What chair?"

Let me first apologize to any Scientologists that might read Dave's blog before I state this...

Scientology - bwahahahahahahah!

Dave, you crack me up. Let's start our own religion and say that we all got here on alien ships from outer space! Oh wait, L. Ron already started that one! Bwahaha! Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt that there is intelligent life out there somewhere, in fact, I pretty much believe that there is, but L. Ron was a whacko.
Okay, I'm back. Horrific 2 days at work. Moving to new offices and starting new contract.
So now to this.
Exactly my point, Dave. You don't recognize that there is a chair but you understand the concept of the chair. You just don't admit the obvious. That doesn't get you out of the bag that chairs do exist, or you wouldn't know what a chair was.
Now we can get into some really cool stuff here or we can just drop the issue of the logical discussion of the transcendental argument for the existence of God and just go for the touchy feely stuff. In which case I would rather turn on the last episode of
Desparate Housewives on my Tivo and play with my two Lab puppies. Up tp you. First though, I'm really up to my eyeballs so my responses may be a little sporatic at first.

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