Sunday, September 26, 2010

Out of Nothing... Part 1

I now and then complain about the claim that something can arise out of nothing. Usually I focus on the more exaggerated claims - namely that something's arising out of well and truly nothing is A) Observable or B) Has in fact been observed by scientists. There are other criticisms as well, such as equivocations on "nothing" (where "nothing" is actually "something", and therefore leaves a "something" in need of explanation.)

But I want to consider a different direction for a change. Namely, what exactly are we opening the door up to if we assert - contrary to reason, contrary to one of the most fundamental rules of logic - that something can in fact arise out of nothing?

I'll have more to say about this later, but for now I point at an article by Bill Valicella where he argues that if a universe can arise out of nothing, then so can minds.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Obama, you prick!

I have trouble believing this is serious.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't like Obama, and I also think this teenager sounds like kind of an ass. "It's the sort of thing teenagers do" doesn't sound like a very sincere or well-considered excuse, coming from not only a teenager, but the one whose action is in question.

Maybe he threatened the president (apparently he was 'drunk' and forgot what he actually wrote). But being banned from the US over insulting the president in an email? That just doesn't seem realistic.

On the other hand, maybe he called Obama a pig instead of a prick. Then the banning would make sense, because that's a pretty grave insult to a muslim.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burning the Koran!

The Vatican weighs in on some goofy church's decision to burn the Koran as a publicity stunt. Looks like most of the world is rising up against the act.

You know, I've expressed my sympathies for muslims in the past on this blog. And I'll go further. But as someone who still remembers the "piss Christ" 'art' fiasco, I admit this irritates me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Stephen Hawking on God!

So, apparently "God did it" was a scientific idea but now isn't, because Hawking thinks the laws of the universe will do the job reserved for God.

I suppose I should get all charged up and incensed over a scientist utterly mishandling the God question once again, but really, at this point my response is more one of "Man, not this shit again." Arguing that God is not necessary to explain this or that because your theoretical "physical" explanation can describe the event/phenomena in question without talk of God is like arguing that giving a complete physical description of a computer and software renders talk of a programmer redundant.

My main question is wondering if, like Vilenkin, Hawking is suggesting that the universe did have a beginning (it seems so), that this beginning was one of complete and utter nothingness and marked the beginning of time (it seems so), but that what seems to have happened is that the "laws of physics" existed even when there was nothing - not even a quantum vacuum - and thus 'made' the universe spring out of utter nothingness. I'd written before about how thinking about the laws of physics in that way rewrites what is typically meant by the "laws of physics" or "laws of nature" or such.

However, a little more pre-emptive digging indicates that, oddly, Hawking may be making an even stranger move:

This multiplicity of distinct theories prompts the authors to declare that the only way to understand reality is to employ a philosophy called "model-dependent realism". Having declared that "philosophy is dead", the authors unwittingly develop a theory familiar to philosophers since the 1980s, namely "perspectivalism". This radical theory holds that there doesn't exist, even in principle, a single comprehensive theory of the universe. Instead, science offers many incomplete windows onto a common reality, one no more "true" than another. In the authors' hands this position bleeds into an alarming anti-realism: not only does science fail to provide a single description of reality, they say, there is no theory-independent reality at all. If either stance is correct, one shouldn't expect to find a final unifying theory like M-theory - only a bunch of separate and sometimes overlapping windows.

So I was surprised when the authors began to advocate M-theory. But it turns out they were unconventionally referring to the patchwork of string theories as "M-theory" too, in addition to the hypothetical ultimate theory about which they remain agnostic.


So, if this reviewer is correct, Hawking's move is to deny that there is a Theory of Everything - and he seems to also be going for an instrumentalist picture of science. All while, of course, claiming that philosophy is dead. To me, this seems shockingly close to saying that science has shown that God is not necessary to explain anything, in part because science never tries to explain anything anyway - instead science is restricted to utterly pragmatic, predictive theories which don't even have to mesh with each other in some ultimate sense, and since "God did it" is never pragmatic and can never be confirmed/denied by science besides, God is unnecessary.

Like I said, "Man, not this shit again."

So not much interesting seems to be in play here. At least, not the way it's being spun or understood by most - "Science has figured out something and has shown God is unnecessary as an explanation!" Instead, something close to the opposite seems to be in play: Science is starting to hit some limitations, so much so that loosening up the definition of "science" is now becoming required to offer "explanations". I really look forward to seeing if Hawking really does do what the quoted reviewer suggests he does - rejecting a TOE seems explicit, but if Hawking really is taking an instrumentalist or "perspectivalist" view of science, I'd say the game is over for scientism, and possibly science as we know it. Maybe what we're seeing out of Hawking isn't misplaced triumphalism, but a little bit of panic.