"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

True lies

If I was to tell you that everything in all creation is a fact and that in my opinion those facts represent the truth of reality, would I be telling the truth?

If I was to then tell you a blatant lie and ask you if it was true, would my lie be true?

You see, you cannot answer yes to my first question and no to the second.

If naturalism is the ultimate truth of all reality then the law of cause and effect can take us all the way back to the big bang as well as determine the future. Nothing in all of existence can act in a way that is not determined by the natural laws.

Having said that, any effect that occurs within this system is a fact. I would assert that these facts are true. I would also assert that if naturalism is truth these facts cannot be false. Ever. Nothing can react in a way that is outside of the natural laws. In other words, nothing can be false.

But then there's us. If we are purely a part of the naturalistic system, then nothing we do can be false. Our brains must be purely swirls of chemicals reacting — true as the day is long. But then there's this odd experience resulting from these reactions that we call 'us'. This experience then has the audacity to begin calling things right and wrong. We seem to be capable of making all sorts of mistakes. We set our mind to something and screw it up royally. We aim for the nail and hit our thumb. We lie to people and begin reactions in their minds that are not based on truth. We believe all religions can be true, but in fact they are not. We say "don't worry he looks like a nice puppy." and go home missing a pant leg.

How is this possible? Does matter as it "mysteriously" becomes more complex start unraveling? How does it come to create experiences that we call us – which must be true – yet we experience ourselves making "mistakes".

Talk about science fiction!

I don't care what side of the theist/atheist debate you are on. Reality is MUCH more bizarre than we give it credit for.

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Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Nothing can react in a way that is outside of the natural laws."

What do you mean by 'natural laws'?
We know that not everything follows the laws that govern our particular universe because we know that there is an 'outside/beyond' our universe where our laws appear to fall to pieces. In fact, 'truth' is a word most scientists avoid using; much like 'fact'. We talk about probability for the specific reason that though the laws are likely to constant (if currently misunderstood), they nevertheless affect things in many apparently inconstant ways. Such as subatomic particles that just appear and then disappear - apparently oblivious to the laws of thermodynamics - within vacuums. Is it God, or are we simply incompetent? I'd err on the side of the latter.

The world is an incredibly bizarre place to the naturalist, principally because we are a long, long way from understanding it completely. We simply reserve the right to keep trying to understand it rather than opt for a convenient, and yet possibly fabricated, 'truth'.

During WWII, there was a phenomenon of cargo cultism in which indigenous natives observed that when white men arrived on their islands and built these large tarmac floors, strange supernatural (to them at least) flying machines appeared and dropped food and materials.

They concluded that the white men were building shrines to attract these strange Gods of the air and endeavoured to replicate the phenomenon. And thus they built elaborate airstrips out of coconut trees and other bits of jungle detritus before waiting patiently for the holy C130 to arrive and reward their faith.

There's nothing stupid about this. This apparently flawed logic is the roots from which we developed out intellect. However, it just demonstrates a common human foible; we have a tendency to bend the world to fit our traditional worldview, rather than adapt our world view to fit the world. The latter does occur (hence technological revolutions), but it occurs very slowly and often with a lot of argument. The default strategy however, even in this age of innovation, is to try and understand things in terms of what we think we know, often to the point of ruling out the potential roles of the vast number of things we surely don't know. In short, we have a collective penchant for building airstrips out of coconuts.

For all the world's seeming complexity and mystery, it's still a leap of logic to assume a supernatural force is at hand. In a sense, it rests on the erroneous assumption that if everything followed the natural laws we'd understand it all. But we don't. We can reasonably predict that we'll understand more and more with each passing day. We may never know everything, but we'll always learn more.

4:04 PM

Blogger Matt M said...


I can't figure out what you're getting at here.

How is this possible?

Why wouldn't it be?

Are you suggesting that the presence of natural "laws" means that we can't make mistakes?


If we are purely a part of the naturalistic system, then nothing we do can be false

What do you mean by "false"?

6:44 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Ya, I know this is a rather bizarre post. I've been kicking this idea around for a while now and this was my first attempt to jot it down. I'll do some more thinking and see if I can't come up with some more clarifications over lunch. Or I may just let it sit for a while. I'd like to try and respond to Incitatus and yourself in the previous thread. We'll see. In the mean time, have fun giving Daniel gray hairs! ; )

6:52 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Forgot I had a meeting over lunch today. I'll dig in tomorrow. As if you are breathelessly awaiting my response. ; )

12:46 PM

Blogger The Tin Drummer said...

I don't care what side of the theist/atheist debate you are on. Reality is MUCH more bizarre than we give it credit for.

Alex: this is what I have always wanted to be true, and exactly what I fear is _not_ true. That some frankly pointless walking pint of Stella actually understands the world as it really or nearly really is, owing to a good set of perceptions and having read popular versions of the key physicists' works.

Hence I used to love Forteana. I would really love to see evidence of its bizarrity and inexplicability but it all looks fairly average to me, most of the time.

12:54 PM

Blogger Alex said...

What is behind this fear of yours? Do you not see the perception of your own existence and the reality of any reality as nothing sort of a steady and persistent miracle?

Could it be that you've simply grown accustom to the rhythms of our miraculous reality?

I "think" it was Lewis who said: There is little difference between a miracle that happens in a very short period of time and a miracle that happens over billions of years.

1:31 PM

Blogger Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Think Schrodinger's cat.
Get your head round that, and your perception of reality changes.

2:59 PM

Blogger james higham said...

Alex, what is the net result of philosophy [which I took at university]?

1:02 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Not sure James,
Fill me in.

6:37 AM

Blogger The Tin Drummer said...

What is behind that fear of mine? Difficult to say...perhaps having been brought up on self-conscious "mysteries" like the Incarnation and the Trinity I find the idea of an explicable universe almost claustrophobic, as though it's somehow constricting by being transparent.

Do you not see the perception of your own existence and the reality of any reality as nothing sort of a steady and persistent miracle?

I suppose I do: that's why I sometimes describe myself as a Catholic existentialist - not so much a miracle though, more like absurd, ridiculous, so utterly contingent as to be laughable. It's a fine line between miraculous and ridiculous for me.

4:09 AM


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