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.

17 comments:

Ilíon said...

1) That's one of Craig's points in the talk I linked to about Hawking's new book.

2) Perhaps, if they think about it long enough, Vallicella and Lupu may even figure out that that the belief/assertion of 'emergence' or 'supervenience' just is the belief/assertion that "It is possible that something come into existence from nothing without cause."

Dave said...

'I now and then complain about the claim that something can arise out of nothing.' - but what about in the context of God? Are we meant to believe that he arose out of nothing? Or that he just is/was? How far-fetched is that by comparison?

Crude said...

"How far-fetched is that by comparison?"

Not even a little, once you actually cultivate some familiarity with the relevant arguments rather than just go off what some random nimrod online has spewed out. That quite a number of 'irreligious' still think the idea is that God "arose out of nothing" or created Himself before He existed is more a testament to the state of ignorance among fake-atheists than anything else.

Worse, once someone plays the inane claim that things can and do "arise out of nothing" uncaused (to assert an immaterial cause and call it a "law" is to simply give up the game to theists), then they've just made the eventual existence of deities of almost every variety a certainty. But then, if the sort of people I'm talking about were big on thinking things through with reason, they wouldn't make their claim to begin with.

Crude said...

One of the best parts of starting up my own blog? When some scrub-level atheist apologist shows up and tries to change the subject... they damn well can't.

This post concerned the problems that plague those who claim that things can pop into existence from nothing, uncaused. Not "completely different topics I, random fake-atheist, would rather discuss in part because in my ignorance I think it's more friendly to my e-cause." Disappointing, I know. But, as they say in France... tough shit. ;)

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I don't mean this as a quibble and yet neither as some profound addition, but I think an even more forceful articulation of the question of existence "ex nihilo" would do away with the "ex" and render it thus: "Can something come to be without a cause?" Peopple––whom I shall call "nihilites" [NEE-uh-lites]––who would presume to defend existence ex nihilo need to be faced with the existential core of the issue. In our day, which is so beset with imagistic thinking, to hear "out of nothing" already generates in the mind of nihilite a meontic receptacle theory of existence, as if nothing were just a very large palette of prime matter and quantum potentialities. The core of the issue however is that nothing which comes to be can do so without a cause. So, although I know "ex nihilo" is itself a dogmatic phrase, and cannot be abrogated, for apologetic purposes I think the receptacle concession nihilites want to win should be avoided.

Am I making any sense?

Best,

Crude said...

Codgitator,

I think so, but let me ask this to make sure: Are you saying that one of the problems with talking about something coming to exist without a cause is that people tend to think "Oh, I can imagine that! I imagine some empty space, and then in the next moment, something occupying that space!" and the complaint that such an imagined sequence would also work for imagining something coming to exist with a cause?

Ilíon said...

"Am I making any sense?"

Yes; for that is the issue.

Allen said...

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?

What is reason? What is logic?

Classical logic, paraconsistent logic, quantum logic, infinitary logic, multi-valued logic, subjective logic, synthetic logic, etc.

Do you like your mathematics with or without the Axiom of Choice?

In "The Evolution of Reason" William S. Cooper claims that logic is reducible to evolutionary theory. Which, of course, just raises the question of what evolutionary theory is reducible to...

With the correct choice of axioms and rules of inference, you can "logically" conclude anything you want.

These conclusions may not be consistent with what we observe, but who says that everywhere is the same as here? Why should it be?

Crude said...

Allen,

You are someone who, if I recall correctly, believes in idealism that goes a step beyond what Berkeley says and maintains that no one reasons, nothing is caused, etc. All that exists is utter, inexplicable consciousness.

I'm not saying that to be derogatory (in fact, I enjoyed our conversation - it just reached a point where there was nothing more to say. At least you're refreshing.) But you deny reason and reasoning altogether - these things just don't take place on your metaphysics. To anyone who does value reason and reasoning as commonly construed, the claim of "Oh sure, stuff can pop into existence out of utter nothingness and with no cause at all" is a different matter.

If I were dealing with people who have that point of view, or with universal skeptics, I wouldn't even note this question. But I think even you would agree that concluding 'Things pop into existence from utter nothingness with no cause', or better yet, the idea that 'Scientists observe this all the time!', is an unproven (perhaps unprovable) claim and utterly wrong, respectively.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Allen: "With the correct choice of axioms and rules of inference, you can 'logically' conclude anything you want."

Hi, we haven't met, so I don't know about the background conversations you've had with Crude, though I do peruse your blog periodically. Based on what you've said in this thread, I have two questions.

1. Why and how are you not a Hegelian?

2. Is there any way you can formulate a statement against the validity of 'straight' propostional logic that does not rely on said logic? In the quotation above, you express the relative nullity of syllogisms by way of a syllogism.

MAJOR: You can deduce conclusions from premises and logical relations.

MINOR: You can choose any premises and relations you like.

CONCLUSION: Therefore you can conclude anything you like and still be wholly logical.

The problem I see is that, if the an articulation of the unsoundness of the logic being used is itself an instance of that logic, then the articulation does not absolutely logically hold, and is therefore not logically compelling.

Just trying to get a sense whence thou comest.

Best,

Allen said...

Hello Codgitator!

Crude and I did have some very good exchanges, mainly on this and this thread. Maybe worth a read. Or maybe not. Ha!

I'll adress your two points in two separate comments. First:

"1. Why and how are you not a Hegelian?"

Okay, just to lay out my basic position:

We want to explain our conscious experiences. To do so, we postulate the existence of some "underlying" system (e.g., the physical world) that accounts for the order and predictability of what we observe.

But then the inevitable question is, "what accounts for the order and predictability of the underlying system"? What explains the explanation? And then what explains the explanation of the explanation? And so on...infinite regress.

But further, why this particular infinite chain of explanations instead of some other infinite chain? Why not nothingness? And if you have an answer, what explains that answer? Why that answer instead of some other answer? Another infinite regress!

If you keep going you end up with an infinite number of infinite regresses...

So. That doesn't seem right.

Perhaps the answer is that there is no reason for why things are the way they are. Quentin Meillassoux calls this the "principle of unreason", or the "principle of facticity", in contrast to Leibniz's "principle of sufficient reason".

So. I'm not a Hegelian because Hegel thought that there were reasons for how things are. That our observations can be explained by some unified theory.

Whereas I think that there is no reason for our experiences. Our conscious experiences just exist - fundamental and uncaused. Ungoverned by rules or laws, and not generated by any more basic process. Essentially random.

After all, why *should* conscious experience be caused?

Allen said...

CONCLUSION: Therefore you can conclude anything you like and still be wholly logical.

So your charge is that I'm "using logic to argue against logic". Which is about where Crude ended up as well, as I recall.

But I'm not arguing that logic is *wrong*, per se. Instead, I'm arguing that it's impossible to know when it's right, or when it has been correctly applied to the problem at hand. As far as you can ever justifiably go is "it seems right to me".

If you start with the same assumptions as I do, and make the same inferences, then you will arrive at the same conclusions. That's logic. But so what? How do I know that my assumptions and inferential judgements were correct? My conclusion may be true, but is it relevant? How can I justify my belief that it is?

An example: At one time, it seemed that Euclidean Geometry was true of "reality". BUT, then it was discovered that the fifth postulate was contradicted by observation (see: General Theory of Relativity).

Euclidean Geometry is still true and valid on its own terms. It's just not true or valid with respect to our observations.

More generally, my reasoning (worked out in my discussions with Crude, actually) is:

If our conscious experiences are caused by some more fundamental underlying process, then no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic or rationality.

Instead, one presents and believes arguments because one is *caused* to do so by the underlying process.

The underlying process *may* be such that it causes us to present and believe logical and rational arguments, but there is no requirement that this be the case.

If the underlying process doesn't cause us to present and believe rational arguments, there would be no way to detect this, since there is no way to step outside of the process's control of one's beliefs to independently verify the "reasonableness" of the beliefs it generates.

Further, this is true of every possible position that has our conscious experience caused by a more fundamental process.

1) The physical universe's initial conditions and causal laws *may* be such that they cause us to have true beliefs about reality, but there is no requirement that this be so (e.g. schizophrenics, dreams, delusions, hallucinations, etc.).

2) Our God *may* be such that he causes us to have true beliefs about him and reality, but there is no requirement that this be so.

3) Our fundamental and uncaused conscious experiences *may* be such that we hold true beliefs about reality, but there is no requirement that this be so.

In all cases, we are depending on luck. Luck that we live in a universe with "honest" initial conditions and causal laws. Luck that we have an "honest" God. Luck that our uncaused experiences are of holding true beliefs.

Because in *no* case, can we step outside of our beliefs (be they caused *or* uncaused) and verify that they are logical and rational.

Right? Or wrong?

Allen said...

Okay, I posted two comments, and got the "too long" error on both, as usual. Hopefully they went through!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Crude:

Yes, my 'worry' is that, for whatever reason, it seems easier for people to imagine (visualize) a dodge past ex nihilo, whereas I maintain that the very notions of cause and effect preempt a similarly easy dodge, since grasping what an EFFECT is, is to grasp that it is the effect of a cause, or it is not at all. It's a quibble, as I say, but it stems from this hunch about why such debates go awry.

Best,

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Allen:

Thank you for your reply. I have given it some thought and the following are some reactions I have about your position.

Why does the binary logic of either/or abide in every formulation of your position? In your presentation of the dilemma, there are numerous "if, then" clauses (explicitly or implicitly). But this presupposes that there is an omni-world validity in the clash between reality being grounded on reasons and reality being grounded on sheer randomness. If, however, you are right that there is no way to defend any abiding logic, why not just say your dilemma is an illusion based on an inferior grasp of a fittingly higher logic? Why not just say there isn't really a conflict between an infinity of causes and facticity? Why not just create a logic that includes the proposition that an infinite hierarchy of causes terminates in an absolute basis?

Your objection that a terminated infinity is impossible I can merely deflect as the product of a mindless, random, irrational "thing" called "you." Either there is a real dilemma between infinite hierarchies and causation, or there is not. If there is not, then your position evaporates. If there is, then at least one or two "classical" principles of logic abide, namely, identity and non-contradiction. As such there must be something about omni-world reality that includes a non-contradictory ground that is wholly identical with itself. This I would call God.

Truth follows upon being, so if the truths I have mentioned abide, then it follows that the features of being which they manifest also abide: namely, there is an omniworld, omnitemporal Something that is wholly itself without being contradictorily undermined by any other state of affairs, and this for no other reason than that it is itself without qualification.

Best,

Allen said...

Codgitator:

Splitting my response into two comments again, to get under the 4096 byte length restriction.

But this presupposes that there is an omni-world validity in the clash between reality being grounded on reasons and reality being grounded on sheer randomness.

Hmmmm. Omni-world validity.

Okay, let's say that all possible worlds exist. And we have World A whose existence and nature is explained by an infinite hierarchy of reasons - and World B, which just exists, for no reason, with no explanation.

Either there is a reason that every possible world exists, in which case the existence of world B is not a purely random event - OR - there is no reason that every possible world exists...in which case the existence of World A *is* a purely random event (despite its infinite hierarchies of causation and explanation).

So I would define reality as "what exists". If all possible worlds exist, then the set of all possible worlds is "reality" - singular.

If some of what exists has a "local" explanation - but that explanation doesn't encompass *all* of what exists...then reality as a whole is still unexplained.

To quote Michael Heller:

"The longing to attain the ultimate explanation lingers in the implications of every scientific theory, even in a fragmentary theory of one part or aspect of the world. For why should only that part, that aspect of the world be comprehensible? It is only a part or an aspect of an entirety, after all, and if that entirety should be unexplainable, then why should only a tiny fragment thereof lend itself to explanation? But consider the reverse: if a tiny part were to elude explanation, it would leave a gap, rip a chasm, in the understanding of the entirety."

SO...it seems to me that there is a clash between reality being grounded on reasons and reality being grounded on sheer randomness.

Either there is a real dilemma between infinite hierarchies and causation, or there is not.

My main point is that once you start asserting reasons for why things are the way they are, you can never stop. Once you start explaining things, you're committed to an infinity of infinitely long explanatory/causal chains.

If you do stop at some sort of first cause or fundamental ontological layer, you might as well have never started. You are effectively admitting (by having declared something "first" or "fundamental" and thus unexplainable in terms of anything else) that ultimately there is no reason for why things are this way instead of some other way.

Allen said...

Part 2:

If there is, then at least one or two "classical" principles of logic abide, namely, identity and non-contradiction.

But what about paraconsistent logic (and the related view of dialetheism), for which the principle of non-contradiction doesn't hold? "A and not A" can be true in paraconsistent systems of logic.

Quoting Graham Priest:

"Though the construction of inconsistent mathematical theories (based on adjunctive paraconsistent logics) is relatively new, there are already a number of inconsistent number theories, linear algebras, category theories; and it is clear that there is much more scope in this area. The theories have not been developed with an eye to their applicability in science—just as classical group theory was not. But once the paraconsistent revolution has been digested, it is by no means implausible to suggest that these theories, or ones like them, may find physical application—just as classical group theory did."

An interesting overview of inconsistent mathematics here.

If, however, you are right that there is no way to defend any abiding logic, why not just say your dilemma is an illusion based on an inferior grasp of a fittingly higher logic?

Well, this comes back to my original questions...what is logic and what is reason?

As I said before:

"If you start with the same assumptions as I do, and make the same inferences, then you will arrive at the same conclusions. That's logic."

Another way to put this is: "If you start with the same beliefs as I do, and your beliefs evolve in the same way mine do, then you will arrive at the same final beliefs that I do."

From my own experiences, I know that in dreams and hallucinations one can believe very strange things indeed. Given that it is definitively possible to experience such things, could there be actual "worlds" that operate according to dream-logic? If not, why not?

Is there any limit to what can be believed? Are there restrictions on how beliefs can change or what new beliefs can be developed from an initial set of beliefs? If so, what is the nature of these limits and restrictions?

If our beliefs, assumptions, and inferences are *caused* by the underlying nature of reality, then the question becomes "why is reality that way instead of some other way"?