The End of Philosophy

Bertrand Russell was working on his "Principia Mathematica" in an attempt to prove that mathematics was both consistent and complete. That is, it was consistent in that it contained no self-contradictory statements. It was complete, in that it could prove all true theorems.

While Russell was working on his Principa, Kurt Gödel's
Incompleteness Theorems came along and proved that a self-describing system (i.e. a system that is sufficiently complex to express the basic arithmetic of the natural numbers) cannot simultaneously be consistent and complete. If it's consistent, it's not complete; if it's complete, it isn't consistent.

This ended Russell's lifelong dream. While his Principa is a tremendous intellectual achievement, it did not - and could not - achieve the goals Russell had for his work.

If nature is self-describing (as I think the posts on
Natural Theology will show, once they're organized and edited for clarity), then philosophy suffers the same problem as mathematics. Empirically, the universe appears to be consistent. If we put a stake in that position, then all descriptions of nature will be incomplete. There will be no final "theory of everything."

If that's so then, observationally, there are questions for which we cannot know the answers. One such question is on the ontological nature of endlessness (infinity). Is endlessness emergent from a finite universe, or is the universe infinite and what we perceive as reality a quantization of this continuity? It's interesting that the theory of relativity is based on an infinitely continuous picture of nature. Quantum mechanics is based on a discrete picture of nature. String theory tries to split the difference by postulating tiny vibrating strings, but if nature has continuous/discontinuous duality like matter has wave/particle duality, then string theory may, like Russell's Principa, fall short of its intended goal.

Another such question is the nature of randomness. Does randomness indicate purposelessness (as the naturalists claim) or does it indicate hidden purpose (as the theists claim)? The value of
𝜋 can be computed by a deterministic formula. It can also be calculated via Monte Carlo methods (see Buffon's Needle). Therefore, the use of randomness does not preclude agency. Nor does it establish it.

Given that these questions cannot be answered, I propose "Newton's" Third Law of Metaphysics: there are some fundamental questions for which for every answer there is an equal and opposite answer. A corollary to this is that the question of the existence/non-existence of God is in this class. Certainly, the inability over thousands of years of arguing to establish a decisive conclusion is evidence of this principle. Or it may be that the right insight hasn't yet been achieved. An answer which is also evidence of this principle.

I think Gödel has done to philosophy what he did to math. Philosophy won't end, since math didn't end. But it will put limits on what philosophy can say about certain things. I said as much in the post "
Epistemology and Hitchens" but that was before I think that the idea that nature is self-describing could be demonstrated from the ground up.

On Self

In response to approaching Scripture as if it were "Dick and Jane," Dr. Tuggy tweeted:

While I agree with this sentiment (after all, Psalm 57:1 says that God has wings), Dr. Tuggy has also used this idea to defend Unitarianism. More specifically, Dr. Tuggy lists 20 self-evident principles that he uses to guide his reading of Scripture.

While this post is not meant to focus on the debate between Trinitarians and Unitarians, I do want to use Dr. Tuggy's tweet as a springboard to consider if his "self-evident" truths are universally self-evident. I think there is reason to believe that they may not be.

Not long after we are born, we start to distinguish ourselves from our surroundings. We can feel a difference between ourselves and our environment. Place your hand on a table and run your finger from your hand to the table and notice the boundary your senses tell you is there. Look at your hand and notice the boundary between your hand and the table. Lift your hand from the table and notice that your hand moves but the table does not. Look in a mirror and notice the difference between you and your environment. All of these sense data tells us that we are distinct self-contained objects.

But our senses also tell us that the table on which our hand rests is solid. In reality, the table is mostly empty space. What we perceive as solidness is the repulsion of the electric field from the electrons in the table against the like-charged electrons in our hand. If we perceive a location for ourselves, we generally place it inside our skulls. To nature, there is no inside. Billions of neutrinos pass through a square centimeter every second. The experimental particle physicist, Tommaso Dorigo, speculates:

... a few energetic muons are crossing your brain every second, possibly activating some of your neurons by the released energy. Is that a source of apparently untriggered thoughts? Maybe.

4gravitons writes:

This is Quantum Field Theory, the universe of ripples. Democritus said that in truth there are only atoms and the void, but he was wrong. There are no atoms. There is only the void. It ripples and shimmers, and each of us lives as a collection of whirlpools, skimming the surface, seeming concrete and real and vital…until the ripples dissolve, and a new pattern comes.

From a physical view, what we are, are ripples in the quantum pond, with our "selves" limited to local interaction by an inverse square law. From a Biblical view,

‘In him we live and move and have our being’
  — Acts 17:28, NRSV

I suspect there is no "inverse square law" with spirit so what separates us from one another is a... mystery.1

[1] Almost immediately after hitting "publish", I started kicking myself. Scripture says what separates us, from God and from each other:

Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God ...
  — Isa. 59:2, NRSV


Ought From Is

To get "ought" from "is", take an "is" and move it into the future as a goal.