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December 13, 2004

Comments

lamin

So what then is the point of the universe or existence at all? Wouldn't have been more efficient from a conservation of energy standpoint for there to have been nothing at all--though I can't conceive of what would mean--or a minimalist universe?

Of course, it would a big leap to jump from puzzlement at the present state of affairs to posit the existence of some super cause or mind.

But the problem won't go away because the human mind craves foundations.

João da Costa

"...but it is as a physical principle far from clear that literally everything that happens in the universe must indeed by caused by something else"

But the temptation to jump from current explanations to "deeper" explanations, in almost every case, is and (maybe!) always* will remain there in our minds. You can´t evade this.
I think that you as a mathematician are perfectly aware of the possibility of models of thought where some truths are accepted "as such" without further "proofs", but you should understand that many philosophers aren´t aware of this possibility. As a matter of fact, I think it is more natural for our minds to accept that some explanations of things previously unexplained will occur somewhere in the future than to accept that some truths do not need and will not even require in the future further "explanations".
It required the geniuses of ancient Greece to acknowledge the possibility to develop models of thought with postulates or axioms at their basis(Euclides Geometry).
We humans construct successively complexer models of thought - in order to better and better apprehend reality - based on previous models we had already made or learnt.
This is why you could get into troubles if you pretend to somebody (outside math or physics classes) to be logically possible a finite Universe without boundaries (Riemanian variety). In my life I discussed with people, otherwise intelligent, who stated that this was perfect nonsense because for them without boundaries the Universe LOGICALY would be necessarily infinite!**
My insight about the nature of human understanding of the world deepened considerably as a result of such reflections and discussions.
Do you think that the Big Bang model with its actual details will not be superseded or maybe suffer from a complete overhaul in face of new data or new cosmogonical-theoretical foundations?
Do you remember the endless discussions physicists had in the 20th century about the ultimate meaning of indeterminacy*** and other counter-intuitive ideas in the realm of Quantum Mechanics? Do you really believe the last word was already pronounced in those issues?
In my view models of thought achieve temporarily stability where some truths "without discussion" (first principles) are needed to their logical formulation.
But in course of time everything is provisory**** and today "first principles" can change their status in the new models of understanding of the world.

* Or perhaps someday in the future we will reach the ultimate stage of knowledge... and scientific inquiry will then stop forever!?
As an aside note I remember reading a philosophical article by Lenine, where he said approximately that "human knowledge is always partial and never totally correct but in course of time tended asymptotically to the absolute TRUTH".
But again, how to reconcile paradigm shifts we witness in course of scientific discoveries and thought with this "asymptotical" tendency towards the absolute TRUTH?
**Bounded universe would mean, also for those people, that a (spatial) OUTSIDE of the Universe should then exist! A similar conceptual difficulty with an acceptance of a temporal boundary (begin or/and end of time).
***Serious thinkers still mantain that quantum indeterminacy will be "explained" somehow in the future and refuse to adhere to its axiomatic interpretation in the general layout of Quantum Mechanics.
****One good example are really the conservation laws of matter and energie which no one could suspect could be superseded as happened with the new Einsteinian formulation.

praktike

Indeed. Why does there even have to be a beginning?

razib

"Why does there even have to be a beginning?"

who knows? i think no one. i wish people would be more honest about that instead of concocting verbal "solutions" like the "causeless cause." what is the causeless cause? it is a neat verbal/logical solution that really doesn't add anything cognitively. similarly, the theological idea, especially propounded by catholic thinkers, that evil is the "lack of good" is a verbal trick designed to give god a get-out-of-jail card in the "problem of evil."

these tricks might satisfy the stylistic nuances of logic but i don't think they get to the heart of the matter.

gene berman

There is an "answer," though many may find it merely an evasion.

The answer is that there seems a limit to human understanding and the power of reason to convey such understanding. And my use of the weaseling "seems" is precisely that just where that limit lies is one matter denied us. Just as you don't know what you don't know, you can't know that there's something you can't know.

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