The rational skeptic world view

Humans have always tried to make sense of the world we live in. We have always tried to come up with simple explanations that covers what we see. From the four elements and a flat earth inside a dome to a spherical earth and a heliocentric world view, our view of the world has evolved. But the quest has always been to come up with a complete and consistent model that will explain all of existence. Just like Newton’s classical physics. He viewed the world as clockwork obeying a complete and consistent set of physical laws. And when those laws didn’t quite fit the bill, Einstein extended this quest with his theories of relativity. His goal was to come up with a grand unifying theory that could be encompassed in an equation no longer than two inches.

Einstein’s famous discussion with Niels Bohr where the former exclaimed “God does not play dice” was his rejection of the spookiness of quantum mechanics. This branch of physics seemed to destroy the quest to unearth a model for an ultimately orderly and rational, complete and consistent world.

And despite the hints like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the Double Slit Experiment and Bell’s theorem, some physicists still believe in a deterministic world where everything is neatly explained and codified.

Graphics by Geir Isene

Had they only looked to mathematical philosophy and seen the same quest fail there. At the start of the 20th century, there was this adventure in mathematics where the major thinkers of that field tried to codify all of mathematics into neat axioms and rules to rule’em all. But alas, Kurt Gödel shot it all down with his Incompleteness Theorems. And decidedly so. There cannot be any complex axiomatic system that is both complete and consistent. And to those who would like to believe that the universe we can observe is all that can be, mathematics is a subset of our universe. And as the universe is then a superset of mathematics, then the universe itself cannot be both consistent and complete. And that has some profound implications that I will cover in a OnePageBook sometime in the future.

Now, what prompted me to again delve into this? I was inteviewed by Aaron Smith-Levin the other day, and one of the comments on the resulting Youtube video read:

“Geir, so much of your world view hinges on the “law” a system cannot be both complete and stable, including the large conclusion that humans are spiritual beings, have you ever questioned the conclusion on systems, and if the conclusion about systems were the opposite, would you conclude you are not a spiritual being? If you were not a spiritual being, would you feel you should adapt the rational skeptic world view?”

To which I answered:

“The proof that complex axiomatic systems cannot be both consistent and complete is among the most solid mathematical achievements in human history. It’s irrefutable. So is the double slit experiment, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Bell’s theorem. There is nothing rational about refuting any of these. They all point in the direction of consciousness being non-physical. Read my OnePageBook in free will for details: https://isene.me/2017/07/17/free-will-do-you-really-have-a-choice/”

Just like the old, classical Newtonian world view was naive, I believe the modern “rational skeptic world view” to be equally naive.

As for the rest of the interview, here it is:

Global Warming deniers: Get a grip

From the data I’ve seen and been able to verify, it does seem that humanity’s greatest challenge is Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW – Humanly caused Global Warming). The data supporting AGW is overwhelming. Still there are those who choose to deny it or remain sceptical.

I can understand and appreciate the sceptics – as long as they make an effort to inform themselves – by being open to the underlying data and science and dig down into the underlying physics and statistics.

But when I encounter deniers, uniformily they come across as very certain that either 1) there is no Global Warming, or 2) the Global Warming is not caused by humans. They also tend to believe that there is some sort of conspiracy to forward the idea of AGW to funnel money into research and green energy. I have yet to meet a denier that has been to areas affected by Global Warming or who has any scientific knowledge to understand the physics or statistics involved.

It seems the belief in conspiracy theories is the driving force for the majority of deniers. They loudly proclaim that one should “follow the money trail”, because money is the driving force of conspiracies. It baffles me how they do not heed their own advice. The amount of money to be gained by oil companies in denying AGW totally dwarves the money gathered into scientific research and Green Energy – by a factor of at least ten. Much, much more is gained by “The Establishment” in lobbying against AGW than for it.

For some deniers, it seems safest to kill AGW at its roots by denying there is any rise in temperatures at all – citing local “cold spots” as evidence, or simply just invent data or opinions to counter facts. This type of deniers are marginalized and may soon find themselves as scarce as the Flat Earthers.

The majority of deniers would admit there is warming going on but deny there is any human connection. Again, the data and science is mounting against this position. The problem is that they almost never try to actually defend their position with any facts. They use opinions, hand waving or Internet memes trying to “discredit” science.

The deniers I’ve met are usually right-wing extremists. Denying AGW seems to be a political position and has very little to do with facts. It is the old conflict between propaganda and science.

It’s strange how people still would defend the fossil energy industry when there are more jobs to be made in the green industry. And wouldn’t the deniers also want cleaner air and water at least? And wouldn’t you rather err with science than take a position that could potentially be catastrophic for mankind?

I have been to the arctic and seen the effects of AGW with my own eyes. I understand the statistics and physics involved. The deniers I’ve met rely on second hand information and none have been able to show any signs of understanding the underlying science. If anything would motivate me to man the barricades, this issue would be it.

Occam’s Razor: Fail

Recap what Occam’s Razor is by reading my previous blog post on this principle.

william-of-ockham-razor-quote

The principle has habitually failed to live up to it’s promise as a guide for choosing the right scientific path. Here’s why.

“A Viking looks up at the sky. The dark gray clouds, the thunder and lightning is a sure sign of heavy rain coming. It is also the sure sign of Thor’s anger. We have angered the God of the skies. Or, it is the sure sign of complex physical processes represented with unfathomably complex weather mathematics at play.”

“The universe was created by an all-powerful being that decided to experience. Or, it was created by an incredible fine-tuning of six numbers for what what we have no explanation, allowing for life to evolve in a near impossible improbability with physical processes so complex we cannot see any end to it’s complexity.”

Occam’s Razor tells us to choose the simplest explanation with the fewest assumptions. And before you think that Thor is an improbable assumption, then realize he would be but one assumption as compared to a huge amount of assumptions at play in our current physical models of the weather and the universe at large.

Applying the “scientific” principle of Occam’s Razor, we should perhaps have stayed with the Gods.

Is the universe infinite?

I have been returning to this question lately – and I see three possible answers:

  1. The universe is finite
  2. The universe is infinite
  3. The universe is “infinitely finite”

hubble

Option 1 introduces an “edge problem” where the particles at the end of the universe will have interacting forces on only one side. If this option is true, the universe started out as point-like Big Bang, satisfying the requirements for a Black Hole.

If Option 2 is true, the universe has always been infinite since nothing can go from finite to infinite (or vice versa). It started out as infinitely large and very dense at the Big Bang, satisfying the requirements for a Black Hole at all areas of space.

Option 3 would be similar to moving on Earth’s surface – if you move straight in one direction, you eventually circle the Earth and end up where you started. The universe could be a 3 dimensional space residing in a higher dimensional space – if you travel in one direction, you would never reach an edge. Instead you can end up back where you started (given that the higher dimensional space is a uniform “sphere”). The universe could have started out as a small 4D+ space.

I can’t for the moment see other options. Please pitch in with your own views.

One question that often pop up with an infinite universe is this: “If the universe is infinite, would everything that can happen be bound to happen – and an infinitely amount of times?”. The usual answer when you Google this is “Yes.” The answer is the same for “If you throw a dice an infinite number of times, must you eventually roll a six? Must you in fact roll an infinite number of sixes?”

While it may be intuitively correct to answer “yes” to these questions, the answer is in fact wrong. Here’s why:

Consider the natural numbers 1, 2, 3, …

There are infinitely many of them … so 2 must show up more than once, right? Manifestly wrong.

But say we are talking about states of matter in a finite region. This would be modeled by using finitely many numbers, 1, 2, 3, say, and making an infinite list.

1, 2, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3, …

You say 2 must appear again … but it doesn’t. If you have finitely many states and infinitely many trials, all you can say for sure is that at least one state must reappear infinitely many times. But any particular state, such as the state that defines “you” or a pink elephant or a galaxy; might appear zero, one, 47, or infinitely many times.

It’s amazing how many otherwise smart people are fooled into thinking that “in an infinite universe, everything must happen.” This is manifestly false.

So even in an infinite universe, a chance of something specific happening is undecided. This is related to the equation

\frac{\infty}{\infty}

which is mathematically undecided.

The question of whether the universe is finite, infinite or something else poses some interesting questions. And perhaps some interesting answers may arise.