Saturday, October 25, 2008

P.2 What is Science / "The Beginning of Dogma"

It occures to me now, that perhaps the following from Robert Pirsig applies when thinking about "The Nothing" post; consider this:

"...before an object can be distinguished, there must be a kind of nonintellectual awareness, which he [Phaedrus/Pirsig] called awareness of Quality. You can't be aware that you've seen a tree until after you've seen the tree, and between the instant of vision and instant of awareness there must be a time lag. We sometimes think of that time lag as unimportant, But there's no justification for thinking that the time lag is unimportant...none whatsoever.

The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of that small time lag, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality. This preintellectual reality is what Phædrus felt he had properly identified as Quality. Since all intellectually identifiable things must emerge from this preintellectual reality, Quality is the parent, the source of all subjects and objects. "

When thinking about “The Nothing” from below, I of course had Buddhism in mind, and also Heidegger; but again it occurred to me that the paragraph from Pirsig above clearly applies as well. What I have on my mind here is that all language is dogmatic, or better, all spoken language IS dogma. In thinking about that I have another character in mind, namely, Kurt Godel. Consider the following paragraph (in short) regarding the first theorem:

“Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory.

The resulting true but unprovable statement is often referred to as "the Gödel sentence" for the theory, although there are infinitely many other statements in the theory that share with the Gödel sentence the property of being true but not provable from the theory.
Roughly speaking, for each theory T the corresponding Gödel sentence G asserts: "G cannot be proved within the theory T". If G were provable under the axioms and rules of inference of T, then T would have a theorem, G, which effectively contradicts itself, and thus the theory T would be inconsistent. This means that if the theory T is consistent then G cannot be proved within it. This means that G's claim about its own unprovability is correct; in this sense G is not only unprovable but true. Thus provability-within-the-theory-T is not the same as truth; the theory T is incomplete.
It is possible to define a larger theory T' that contains the whole of T, plus G as an additional axiom. In this case, G is indeed a theorem in T' (trivially so, since it is an axiom). However, there will be a new Gödel statement G' for T', showing that T' is also incomplete. Each theory has its own Gödel statement.

Now, consider the following implecation:

“Stanley Jaki, followed much later by Stephen Hawking and others, argue that (an analogous argument to) Gödel's theorem implies that even the most sophisticated formulation of physics will be incomplete, and that therefore there can never be an ultimate theory that can be formulated as a finite number of principles, known for certain as "final".”

Rather then talk about Godel here, which I’d love to do, I simply want to point out the implication that science can not and will not ever have a consistent true theory of everything. Relative to scientific method, theory and reason itself, it is impossible. So what then (I imagine) is science even saying if we can never assert that anything it comes up with is true with some sense of finality? If science doesn’t actually serve the purpose of true discovery, it seems to me that what we’re left with is nothing short of faith and perhaps (in the spirit of Rorty) a form of neo-pragmatism. We can’t go forward and believe (within reason) anything absolute about the nature of what science says, even if it says (or comes to prove), that there isn’t a God; for this would be mere pragmatic speculation based ultimately on faith. And in this case, with our new faith based outlook, we’ve made reason our God thus in a vary Godelian way destroyed the proof outright.

I’m getting out of tune here though; as I don’t want to talk about faith at this point, I want to talk about dogma (although I may not be able to do so without tying the two together). So, not that it’s necessary to do so, but let’s be clear about faith and dogma and define the two:

- a “religious” doctrine that is proclaimed true without proof.
- a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative.
- religion: a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny; "he lost his faith but not his morality"
- complete confidence in a person or plan etc; "he cherished the faith of a good woman"; "the doctor-patient relationship is based on trust"
- religion: an institution to express belief in a divine power; "he was raised in the Baptist religion"; "a member of his own faith contradicted him"
- loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person; "keep the faith"; "they broke faith with their investors"

From the vary start when one begins to speak about the world one is building up for oneself a dogma. We are slowly indoctrinating ourselves into a language system which we, without even thinking about it, think of as authoritative. The truths which our language seem to speak are simply truths that serve as a reflection our everyday experiences; however as I’ve stated many times in the past, this dogma is not our everyday experience.

Eventually a “science” is built up to establish [propositionally], a certain set of truths about our experience; the proof of those propositions is nothing more then experience itself. We learn to accept science as authoritative because, well, it works (of course there’s more to it then that, but I’ll leave that there for now). I would like to assert here however, that science (reason/rationality/logic) is nothing more then a doctrine that is proclaimed true without proof.

Of course one would argue, “We have proof, that’s what science is all about!” But I would say this is nothing more then a system of consenting dogma. At Stephen Law’s blog I stated:

“It seems to me that to say “something doesn’t exists unless it’s scientific”, is every bit as dogmatic as, “something exists even if it isn’t scientific.” One side follows the dogma (language) of reason, the other side follows metaphors of the intuition. And as Sam pointed out, we run into problems when we take those metaphors and form a metaphysic around them, and (I’d add) try to apply scientific principles to them. There to, the test of both sides positions is whether or not it works to it’s purpose and is consistent with what we mean (do we understand each other). Photosynthesis is true because we agree, not because it’s absolutely so outside of our experience. To prove that is impossible.”

To this I received a response that the consensus theory of truth simply doesn’t hold water; for some reason however, relative to the way I’m using the consensus theory of truth, I’m not convinced of that and stated the following:

"If we all come to the same conclusions about a given thing (say gravity), yet on our own terms; we've done so using a tool [a dogma] that we've already before hand agreed upon, that being reason (science, mathematics). Reason does not necessarily allow us to come to different conclusions. We're all buried in the dogma of reason."

"The lizard people example is weak because it depends upon what we mean by lizard people. If we mean it in the literal way that we'd think of it today (green slimy men), then that certainly isn't *reasonable*, so we'd all certainly not consent."

My point here (at least in my own mind) is simple. What it is we’re consenting upon is not reality, in fact far from it. What we’re consenting upon is dogma, or more simply put, we’re agreeing upon a language. When we begin to teach our children how to speak, we typically begin with simple verbs and nouns; we teach them run and walk, we teach them the colors, we teach them hard and soft, cold and wet. We’re doing nothing more then teaching them to associate certain things and actions in the world with certain words. We are from the get go teaching them to consent. If from the get-go we called monkeys lizard men, then monkeys would be lizard men by virtue of consent, nothing more.

Consider gravity (for example); Newton’s scientific description of reality is considered by most (if not all) an authority (dogma). We like to think that what Newton said about gravity is exactly what it is and is absolutely true. But there are two realities here, (I’d like to draw from Pirsig above), namely, classical/intellectual reality and romantic/intuitive reality. Newton is merely describing a dogmatic intellectual reality; we consent to Newton’s theory because before hand we’ve already consented to the language he used to get to the underlying propositions which define it. In other words methodologically [doctrinally], the science follows. It is now a rational way (a consensual way) of describing our experiences to each other.

As already stated elsewhere, Gravity did not exist prior to Newton as the propositions which defined it were not themselves just floating around in space. The intuitive/romantic experience may have been there, however there was no authority to describe it, to pin it down to language. There too, the principles of gravity do not ultimately describe an emotional reality (the immediate sensation of quality) but again, an intellectual one, whos aim is at making predictions and establishing a homogenous and consensual view of the world. As pointed to already there can be no ultimate truth in the propositions (language), there is only a means to an end.

In summary what I’d like to ultimately say is that science (reason / logic) as it exists in language is dogmatic from the start. Any theory it comes up with (see Godel) is ultimately not provable as any and all theories will be incomplete and never final. Nonetheless hordes of individuals will blindly follow science as they’re authority, dogma, and God. They are blissfully unaware and ignorant to the fact that what really lies at the core of these scientific beliefs is a sort of blind faith.

At best we can say that science works as a consent to dogma. Or as William James so eloquently put it:

"Truth is what works by way of belief"

It should be recognized that one cannot come at reality via scientific, rational or logical means without the use of an underlying language. In this way (from a rational standpoint), it is never reality that we're agreeing to, but a rational stance built in language. Further, we can never ultimately agree to what reality is in a scientific sense as a result.... That's where religious language comes in, and that's where I'd like to go next.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andrew,

    I have a serious problem with your argument even though I commend your attempt to address a basic epistemological issue. I fully agree with the ‘Godel sentence’ but not your interpretation, which effectively says that there are no ‘truths’ (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Mathematical truths are the only ones we can truly rely on that exist independently of us – in other words, they are both objective and universal. Whilst there are some truths that can exist in any ‘formal’ mathematical system, that can’t be proven from the axioms underlying that system, there are many truths that can be proven as the history of mathematics demonstrates. To find proofs at the upper limits of mathematics we need to increase the base – i.e. find more axioms (a point you make yourself).

    I also believe that the limits of our scientific knowledge will always be determined by the limits of our mathematical knowledge, and I agree that the limit will probably never be found – in fact, Godel’s Theorem pretty well ensures it won’t (again, you make the same point). However, this does not mean that what we already know is fundamentally up for grabs – it just means that we don’t know everything and future discoveries will always await us – past discoveries will be extended rather than eliminated. I wrote about this very point not so long ago.

    When you say that Newton’s theory of gravity is dependent on the dogma of language, I disagree to the extent that the language we need to give us Newton’s theory is mathematical (not determined by spoken language). Einstein’s theory trumps Newton’s but is really only needed for phenomena that lay beyond Newton’s purview. Einstein’s equations reduce to Newton’s when these conditions are alleviated. Likewise, any future mathematical description of gravity (like String Theory) needs to take Einstein’s theory into account for the circumstance where we know it already works. Having said that, no one knows if String Theory is a valid theory as there are no observations or experiments that can validate it using existing technology.

    Science requires both theory and experimental (or observational) evidence, and, increasingly, theory is mathematically dependent. But as Roger Penrose points out in Road to Reality, we need the ‘right mathematics’. At present, we don’t know if string theory is the right mathematics, but we know that Einstein’s equations are the right mathematics for most cosmological observations. Having said that, ‘dark matter’ may already be showing us a limitation of Einstein’s equations, which doesn’t make them wrong for the applications we currently use them for – like Sat Nav devices.

    Regards, Paul.