‘The year of that Slovay Congress, was, it is well to recall, the year in which Heisenberg gave his derivation of the principle of indeterminacy concerning measurements in physics. One can therefore in a sense understand Einstein’s tactics in taking on the Copenhagen interpretation at its nerve center, which consisted in the insistence that measurements were inconceivable without someone doing them. Thus it would be argued that the act of measurement, which in one way or another implied pointer readings and therefore a reliance on light quanta, deprived the measurement of absolute precision. Such insistence when elevated into a first principle became equivalent to withdrawing into a citadel. Once confined to measurements within that citadel, one could declare that physical theory was limited to the measurable and therefore had no need of hidden variables. Withdrawal into that citadel also meant the the viewing of anything outside it as unreal. It was such a citadel that Einstein wanted to conquer from within, by trying to devise a thought experiment in which absolute precision was in principle possible. He was bound to fail for the very reason that no measurement is possible without observation. But it did not follow from this that knowledge of reality was equivalent to measuring it with absolute precision. Philosophically the citadel in question did not represent the full range of man’s knowing reality, and it certainly did not represent the full range of modern physics. Einstein’s own theory of relativity was a case in point, and all members of the Copenhagen school could have been forced to admit that it was a telling case.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, p. 209)
Stanley Jaki on the Copenhagen Theory
‘Whatever the distance of human passions from atomic physics, the real question was whether one’s epistemological attitude was truly general, that is, consistent or not. The impression Bohr gave was that one was to have two kinds of epistemology, one for atomic phenomena, another for everything else, but it was still to be explained whether the understanding, or episteme, could be split in two. On this decisive point Bohr gave at best an impression which was vague and superficial. Staying with superficial impressions means staying on the surface, and this in turn implies the avoidance of deep questions. Typically enough, Bohr completed the final review of his epistemological conflict with Einstein with the remark that “through a singularly fruitful cooperation of a whole generation of physicists we are nearing the goal wheere logical order to a large extent allows us to avoid deep truth.” The most obvious of such deep truths should have been for Bohr the truth of the complementarity of matter and light, waves and particles, atomic stability and indeterminacy. The truth that they were complementary to one another was not a matter of observation, but an inference, and a genuinely metaphysical one, which had no justification in the Copenhagen theory. The truth in question was about the truth of a reality which had complementary aspects. These aspects could really complement one another only if they inhered in a deeper reality, about which Bohr could only be agnostic. A harmony of relations or aspects, complementing one another, such was Bohr’s epistemological message, a message void of reference to the ontological reality of anything harmonious. About the entity which embodied the harmony of relations he was not permitted by his own premises to make any claim and he carefully avoided doing so. In a truly pragmatist way, which he learned from Hoffding, a forerunner of William James, Bohr could speak of fruits, though not of their harmny (which is never a matter of direct observation) and certainly not of the tree which produced the fruits, to say nothing of the soil which supported and nourished the tree. For Bohr the deepest aspect of existence was pragmatic fruitfulness, the rather shallow perspective in which he saw physics itself: “Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the present position of physics is that almost all the ideas which have ever proved to be fruitful in the investigating of nature have found their right place in a common harmony without thereby having diminished their fruitfulness.”
As will be seen shortly, this was not even true of quantum mechanics, a fact which should surprise no one. The really creative elements of quantum mechanics are not the data observed by physicists bu the marvelous ideas formed in their heads. Of those heads few were as impressive as that of Bohr, who for many was a twentieth-century Moses with two flaming horns on his forehead. The horns were the horns of complementarity, but as interpreted by Bohr they could not secure reality to the atomic realm, to say nothing of Moses or Bohr himself. Bohr’s pairs of complementarity resembled pairs of horns from which one could not even infer unambiguously that they were rooted in the same head and thereby truly complementary or that the head itself was real, and even more fundamentally real than the horns themselves.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and he Ways to God’, p. 205-206)
A Few Good Links
I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump, so in lieu of a post of my own here’s a few good links I’ve found today:
A few 3:AM interviews:
‘Philosophy of mathematics is a large and fascinating area about which I have had nothing at all to say. I am a mathematical Platonist in the simple sense that I believe clear, unambiguous mathematical propositions (e.g. Goldbach’s conjecture or the Axiom of Choice) to be either true or false independently of whether or not they can be proven. Indeed, it seems obvious to me for many different reasons (including, of course, Gödel’s theorems) that infinitely many mathematical truths are not theorems of any intuitively acceptable proof system. So I believe in a “world” of mathematical fact in virtue of which clear mathematical propositions are either true or false. But I do not take these mathematical facts to be materialist or naturalistic in any interesting sense. I would not, myself, regard this as a “counterexample” to naturalism or materialism, because I never thought of those doctrines as making any claims about mathematics. But perhaps I am idiosyncratic in that regard.’
‘What I am against is the idea that in the search for the correlates of consciousness, we already have a clear idea of what we are looking for, and we have to find the neural correlate of that. I don’t think we are in this situation: we are fundamentally confused about what consciousness is. For instance, we have no proper understanding of the relationship between conscious thought and conscious sensation. The various forms of thought and sensation are underpinned by very different neural mechanisms; so how can the neural correlate of their conscious natures be the same? I don’t think we are yet in a position to make such speculations. To make progress, we have to have a good conception of the phenomenology of consciousness, among other things. I think we are very prone to errors about this, for all sorts of reasons…’
‘Anyway, I am indeed saying that it is necessary what there is. Necessarily everything is necessarily something. There could not have been more or fewer things than there actually are, and which particular things there are could not have been different. What is contingent is only what properties those things have, and what relations they have to each other. I call that view necessitism. Its denial is contingentism.’
‘Wittgenstein could indeed have had a daughter. But no past, present, or future person could have been a daughter of Wittgenstein, at least not in the biological sense (obviously he could have adopted many actual women). Nor could any actual sum of atoms have been identical with a daughter of Wittgenstein, it could only have constituted such a daughter, and constitution isn’t identity. Rather, for a necessitist, something that could have been a daughter of Wittgenstein is a merely possible person, and a merely possible concrete object. It is neither concrete, a person, nor a daughter of Wittgenstein, but it could have been all three. Similarly, there could have been no tigers, if evolution had taken a different turn. In those counterfactual circumstances, all the actual tigers would have been merely possible tigers—non-concrete non-tigers that could have been concrete tigers. So it is contingent what kinds of thing are instantiated.’
aeon’s David Dobbs on why the selfish gene needs to die –
‘It’s a gorgeous story. Along with its beauty and other advantageous traits, it is amenable to maths and, at its core, wonderfully simple. It has inspired countless biologists and geneticists to plumb the gene’s wonders and do brilliant work. Unfortunately, say Wray, West-Eberhard and many others, the selfish-gene story is so focused on the gene’s singular role in natural selection that in an age when it’s ever more clear that evolution works in ways far more clever and complex than we realise, the selfish-gene model increasingly impoverishes both scientific and popular views of genetics and evolution. As both conceptual framework and metaphor, the selfish-gene has helped us see the gene as it revealed itself over the 20th century. But as a new age and new tools reveal a more complicated genome, the selfish-gene is blinding us.’
A really cool chart on the philosophy of science –
(I’d probably put myself between scientific and structural realism, leaning a bit closer to structural realism, while recognizing that no one position here can do science justice. Some theories are purely instrumental – some are much more realist.)
A great Russell quote:
“I still think that truth depends upon a relation to fact, and that facts in general are nonhuman; I still think that man is cosmically unimportant, and that a Being, if there were one, who could view the universe impartially, without the bias of here and now, would hardly mention man, except perhaps in a footnote near the end of the volume; but I no longer have the wish to thrust out human elements from regions where they belong; I have no longer the feeling that intellect is superior to sense. I used to think of sense, and of thought which is built on sense, as a prison from which we can be freed by thought which is emancipated from sense. I now have no such feelings. I think of sense, and of thoughts built on sense, as windows, not as prison bars.” (‘My Philosophical Development’ (1959), p. 213)
And, on the topic of Russell, An Aristotelian-Thomistic response to Russell’s problem of induction –
‘And so to respond to Russell’s claim: what is existential or particular or singularcan refer either to the thing understood, or the way of understanding. If the latter, it’s false to say that experience is particular; if the former, then the particular is no more opposed to the universal than it is to the particular.’
I just recently got ‘Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not‘, and am about 80% of the way through. The primary goal of the book is to basically say, ‘whoa, slow down there, sonny’, to the anti-imperial/postcolonial readings of the New Testament, especially Paul’s letters. I’ve read it quickly, so I’m sure I’ll come back to it for further reference, but so far the standout sections deal with Luke, Acts and Romans – the anti-imperial/postcolonial readings of these texts are taken to task for a few different things, such as the use of very modern methods in reading ancient texts, importing modern concerns to ancient texts, poor handling, both historical and exegetical, etc. Not to say that such readings are condemned – the anti-imperial character of New Testament writing is something that’s proven to be a pretty important aspect of the New Testament, and for bringing that out we should be thankful to those who advocate such readings. When the meaning of the NT is reduced to anti-imperial rhetoric, however, then there’s a problem.
I also got Peter Leithart’s ‘A House for My Name‘, and started reading it (I’m only a few pages into it so far). Good so far – lots of tying together the symbolism that saturates the Old Testament – specifically the three-layer cosmology of Genesis. Good stuff.
Today I bought three more John Grisham books – ‘The Partner’, ‘The Chamber’, and one other I forget the name of. I also got a Father Brown story by Chesterton.
This last week I spent re-reading parts of Tim Maudlin’s great book, ‘The Metaphysics Within Physics‘, which I wrote a post on that generated some good discussion (see that post for some of my criticisms with his methodology) . His criticism of Humean-ism is pretty good – even though it basically boils down to, ‘why would anyone be Humean?’
On that same note, I read more of Brian Greene’s ‘The Elegant Universe’, as well as renting the NOVA documentary of the same name. The experimental aspect is definitely where string theory lacking – but empirical testing would require a particle accelerator roughly the size of the milky way galaxy. But the math more than hold true, it basically units quantum mechanics and relativity theory in a way that was impossible before. Most physicists will tell you that the experimental data is the most important part of a thrust, however, and there won’t be any for string theory for a while if ever.
Continuing that same note, I picked up Timothy Ferris’ absolutely brilliant book, ‘Coming of Age in the Milky Way‘, which remains one of my favourite science books I’ve ever read. As far as history of science goes, this is probably as good as it gets – I’ve yet to read a volume which explains and expounds the ideas as well as the thinkers behind them so clearly and delightfully. Yes, reading about Kepler’s calculations for elliptical planetary orbits, Newtons theory of gravity, the quantum revolution and particle physics can, in fact, be great fun.
Reading Notes 7/14/2014
I’m nearing the end of Wright’s ‘Simply Jesus’, and so far, the most interesting part has been his placing Jesus in the tradition of failed Messiah-kings (Wright cites Judah the Hammer, Simon the Star, Bar-Kosiba and Herod as examples of failed Messiah-kings, then shows how Jesus is the actual king who inaugurates both the new creation and the coming of God’s kingdom on earth (as it is in heaven). Interesting fleshing out of this idea. A lot of the book is fairly basic Wright themes – if you’ve read his weightier books, then this one will seem pretty repetitive.
I’ve been reading more closely Paul Tillich’s ‘The Courage to Be’, and aspects of it are very interesting. As far as a survey of various strands of existentialism throughout history, it’s a great book, but his theology, if you can call it that (it’s more of trading theology for ontology, and ontology of existential psychology) isn’t really worth much. He strikes me as fairly Wittgensteinian in his ‘theology’, which upon close examination, turns out to be more of a semiology than theology. So basically, he goes from theology to ontology, from ontology to psychology, and then from psychology to semiology. A note I found very interesting was his classifying Plato as existentialist, on account of (for Tillich) Plato’s philosophy ultimately showing that man is estranged from his essential essence.
I started going back over some of Brian Greene’s physics books – ‘The Hidden Reality’ and ‘The Fabric of the Cosmos’, to learn more about inflationary cosmology. What a fantastic teacher of physics – it took a minute of reading, but he broke down IC in such an easy way that even I was able to grasp the broader principles behind it. His use of analogy and metaphor in place of dense mathematics is brilliant. I tried reading Susskind’s ‘The Theoretical Minimum’, and there was just too much math – for someone as terrible at math as me, that’s basically a non-starter.
Bruggemann’s ‘Old Testament Theology’ is continuing to be a solid, challenging book. I disagree with his methodology, almost in its entirety, but a lot of his conclusions and exegesis is pretty solid. His emphasis on the rhetorical nature of the OT as well as thinking of the OT in solely in the category of ‘witness’ is a very fruitful avenue. His flippant dismissal of Christian interpretations of the OT isn’t as fruitful, though. It’s odd (I mentioned this in an earlier post on this book) that someone so willing to interpret the OT along post-modern/critical lines (which is fine – I’m not one of those anti-PoMo Christians), which is a very foreign category to the OT, simply dismisses Christian interpretations (for example, the OT being a ‘pointer’ or ‘witness’ to Christ) as wrong.
Kenneth Kitchen’s ‘On the Reliability of the Old Testament’ is a tour de force of OT archaeology and interpretation. While the style is as engaging as the nutrition facts on a cereal box, the content is fantastic and the attention to detail is rigourous to a fault – I read through half a dozen pages comparing styles of architecture among ancient near eastern temples, grain prices, slave prices, etc. Great content, terrible style.
Physics, Metaphysics, Physics
I’ll be the first to say that a lot of physics and a lot of metaphysics goes right over my head. Whoosh. Modern analytic philosophy, which is what most folks mean when they say metaphysics, is about as comprehensible to me as advanced mathematics (I’m terrible at math). A lot of modern physics, at least the mathematical parts (which is a lot) is the same – whoosh.
However, I do try and keep up at least somewhat with the latest developments of the broader ideas and underpinnings of metaphysics and physics – especially physics, which is way more metaphysical than a lot of folks think it is. Philosophy of physics and the broad metaphysical ideas behind and under modern cosmology are just as important, and in my mind way more interesting, anyway.
I say all this to pick a fight with something Tim Maudlin says in his great book, ‘The Metaphysics within Physics,’ :
‘Metaphysics is ontology. Ontology is the most generic study of what exists. Evidence for what exists, at least in the physical world, is provided by empirical research. Hence the proper object of most metaphysics is the careful analysis of our best scientific theories (and especially of fundamental physical theories) with the goal of determining what they imply about the constitution of the physical world.’ (p. 104)
Now, it should be fairly obvious the issues here: the definition of ontology. Ontology is not the study of what exists, ontology is the study of being, or existence (you can be real anal and dispute whether or not those two words mean the same thing. I’m not going to). Being as such, not this or that particular thing that has being – or existence as such, not this or that thing that happens to exist. Being qua being. This is a pretty significant thing to get wrong.
A more concrete example: metaphysics studies how it is that change is possible (Parmenides, Heraclitus, Aristotle) and not this or that example of change (a chemical reaction, for example). What Maudlin does is to shift metaphysics from being the study of the absolute fundamentals of reality to a slightly more abstract form of empirical science, which analyzes various empirical theories. That isn’t metaphysics, that is just normal thinking.
In a nutshell, Maudlin’s scheme is that we derive metaphysics from physics, and further, ontology from physics. Our notions of existence comes from physics. Earlier in the same volume:
‘First: metaphysics, i.e. ontology, is the most generic account of what exists, and since our knowledge of what exists in the physical world rests on empirical evidence, metaphysics must be informed by empirical science.’ (p. 78)
I’m tempted to say that simply knowing what exists gives us no knowledge past bare sensory knowledge of particulars, which doesn’t really lead to knowledge of any kind, which is what Maudlin is setting out to do by analyzing various theories. But why restrict our knowledge of what exists to the physical, as Maudlin implicitly does? Twice above he says that whatever exists in the physical world is supported by empirical, or physical evidence. But that’s only trivially true – obviously, if something exists in the physical world, it will have physical evidence. But it doesn’t follow from that that the only notions of existence, or what exists comes from the physical world.
This seems to be a tangled way of thinking, which has its origin in Maudlin’s confusion of what metaphysics is. Now, as I said above, this isn’t my game. Analytic philosophy ain’t my thing, so it’s possible I’m quite wrong in my analysis. But what I see, in another nuthsell, is (a) a confusion of terms (ontology as the study of what exists), which leads to (b) the idea that our only knowledge of what exists is physical. To make ontology the study of what exists is to make metaphysics and ontology, as stated above, a slightly more abstract brand of empirical science.
Reading Note 12/5/13
I’ve been reading Brian Greene’s ‘The Fabric of Reality’, and all I can do is heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in contemporary physics and cosmology. I’ll post some specific quotes and thoughts in the near future, but for the moment, I’ll simply say that it’s so far been the best book on space, time and cosmology that I’ve yet read. Clear, lucid, non-dogmatic writing that makes the learning fun. Do yourself a favour and get this book.
Random Study Notes
Current cosmology: focused on information, holographic principle and black hole event horizons. Lots of conjecture but not as much empirical evidence in favour of one over the other. Importance of mathematics cannot be overestimated in current physics, but seems very easy to mistake the mathematical formulas describing phenomena for the phenomena itself. See Bertrand Russell on the mathematical skeleton of reality.
Idealism: in its classical form a powerful metaphysic, in theology, seems to border on heretical (ie Edwards, Berkeley). Similar to pantheism and emanation and poor distinction between thought, being and reality. Having a mental picture of an object is not grounds to assert that all reality is mental even though the mental plays an obviously key role in our perception of reality.
Hegel: powerful thinker whos ideas, to paraphrase That Individual, would have been brilliant had they been posited as an elaborate theory, but Hegel’s assertion that his philosophy was reality turns his ideas from interesting to absurd and even mad. Chilling ideas on the state, freedom and morality which laid the groundwork for a very bloody 20th century. Thoughts on the nature of reality similar to Heraclitus IE all is flux. History, the Real, Absolute Spirit all powerful ideas that need to be taken seriously as a system of thought.
Critical realism: primary viewpoint of Christianity – God exists independently of our thought or perception of Him. Stratification of truth (T.F. Torrance) distinguishes between kinds of truth IE truth of being, truth of relation, truth of statement. Operation of the human mind naturally realist – the words we employ point to the reality for which they stand rather than themselves. Our mind does not create reality but rather accepts the reality forced upon it, either in natural science or theology.
Note on John Philoponus
I’ve been reading some Philoponus lately, as well as a couple of different articles on his thought and its relation to theology and physics. Here’s one article (I’m not sure where the other is, but its by the same author):
Some interesting thoughts are to be found in this sixth-century thinker – including dynamic and relational views of time, space and a theory of light that really is ahead of its time. But its his christological thought that I find the most interesting, because he bases his ‘philosophy of nature’ (for lack of a better term) directly on his christology and doctrine of God, or at least that’s how I read it. To quote a couple good bits from the cited article above:
‘John the Grammarian labored at its Academy purged of pagans by the Emperor Justinian. There he attempted to think together the theological and physical significance of the Word of God in relationship to the world. Because of John’s belief in the teaching of Moses, that the Creation was created out of nothing by the Word of God, he could argue at crucial points with the Master of Greek Philosophy and Physics. Against the Greek vision of the world and the kind of necessities it had posited between the Creator and the Cosmos, Philoponus sought to argue for the rational contingency of the intelligibility of the cosmos based upon its creation out of nothing by the speaking of God in the Beginning. The contingency of the world’s Beginning out of nothing was transcendently grounded, independent of God’s nature, in God’s divine freedom to speak into existence all of created reality, the heavens and the earth, its mankind as His Image, and His Sabbath relationship with them in the Creation.  The Cosmos was given existence and motion by the Creator in the Beginning with the divine freedom of His holy love and will and as such was absolutely dependent upon Him for its independent nature and being. As such, it possessed in and of itself no necessity for its existence and subsistence. It could not have been or it could have been something other than it is. The Creation possesses actuality and potentiality that is something out of nothing, the impossibility for Greek thought. But because of the speaking of the divine and sovereign will of a free God, the world is what it is with its mankind in it. It possesses neither an arbitrary ‘nature’ nor a necessary ‘nature’ in its relationship with its Creator. It is what it is in its independent ‘nature’ dependent absolutely upon the divine will for being what it is. It thus possesses a contingent necessity in relation to God, the rationality and intelligibility of which reflects the created and creative freedom of the will of the freely speaking God. The nature of the universe is a contingent nature utterly different from God’s nature and yet absolutely dependent upon Him for its being.’
He was a pretty controversial guy, though – his christological thought landed him an anathema, but I’ll wait for the nxt post to draw that out in a bit more detail.
On Modeling Divine Action
In ‘Where the Conflict Really Lies’, Alvin Plantinga draws up a model for divine action using quantum mechanics. It’s one of the most creative projects in the world of philosophy/theology/philosophy of science world, in my opinion, and I think it merits some serious attention. Some of my questions are: is such a project necessary? Is it genuinely useful? Is it relevant? Does it make sense? Is this trying to assign God a place in the world? Other questions will surface, I’m sure (for the sake of brevity, I’m going to avoid going into huge detail regarding the background information of the topic of quantum mechanics – high-quality information on this topic is readily available online).
Plantinga’s thesis is made in the context of a discussion on divine action in general – the thesis is basically trying to solve some of the problems posed by thinkers on the topic of divine action. Some folks (Plantinga cites the ‘Divine Action Project’, whose most prominent member is John Polkinghorne) have a problem with typical accounts of such action and have raised important objections – this thesis is an answer to those objections.
Briefly, the objections amount to this: if God acts specially in the world, His actions would be a violations of the laws of nature – God’s acting in a special way entails a suspension of the natural order, which, so the story goes, then entails that the regularity of nature, which allows for inquiry into nature, can’t be counted on. If God makes and upholds the laws of nature, He can’t also go against them or break them. This is a broad stroke, and there are different opinions and distinctions to be made, but the majority of Plantinga’s thesis deals with ‘hands-off theology’ objections. The goal, then, is to answer these objections.
After an account of classical science and contemporary physics, Plantinga goes in-depth with quantum mechanics, setting his sights on various collapse-interpetations. After spending some time expounding the Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber collapse interpretation, Plantinga goes on to apply it to divine action. One reason Plantinga picks up on this interpretation is that it avoids some of the uncertainty of, say, the Copenhagen interpretation:
‘The Copenhagen interpretation is a collapse interpretation; but there are other collapse approaches. For example, there are spontaneous collapse theories, including in particular the Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber (GRW) approach. On these collapse approaches, collapses are not restricted to measurements; they occur spontaneously, and at a regular rate.’ (p. 115)
‘On this approach we could think of the nature of a system as dictating that collapses occur at the regular rate they in fact display. What is presently of significance, however, is that on these approaches there is no cause for a given collapse to go to the particular value (the particular position, for example) or eigenstate to which it in fact goes. That is, there is no physical cause; there is nothing in the previous physical state of the world that causes a given collapse to go to the particular eigenstate to which it does go. But of course this state of affairs might very well have a nonphysical cause. It’s wholly in accord with these theories that, for any collapse and the resulting eigenstate, it is God who causes that state to result. Perhaps, then, all collapse-outcomes (as we might call them) are caused by God. If so, then between collapses, a system evolves according to the Schrodinger equation; but when a collapse occurs, it is divine agency that causes the specific collapse-outcome that ensues.’ (p. 116)
Pretty interesting stuff. My first thought on reading this was ‘is this just god of the gaps?’ I don’t think so. A god-of-the-gaps account would be something along the lines of ‘we don’t know how it works, therefore, god’, whereas Plantinga’s model is an answer, a scientifically grounded answer, to various objections raised against divine action.
‘How can we say that God intervenes in our scientific world?’
‘Well, here’s an account of how, given the scientific data available, we can model divine action such that the objections you raise are answered.’
So, to conclude this first post examining Plantina’s DCC theory: I would say that such a project is genuinely useful and is definitely not a god-of-the-gaps argument.