Friday, March 17, 2006

Mathematicians, Philosophers, Filmmakers

Jake to Universe

It's journalistically irresponsible for me to comment on a story I only skimmed over this morning... but I'm not a journalist.

A Mathematician recently won a science prize that is slightly more monied than the Nobel. It is given out by a mutual fund company owner. The winner expounds what appears basically to be the original intelligent design theories as set out by some mediaeval and renaissance philosophers. What's somewhat risive is that these theories are celebrated as being brilliant and original when they are really Philosophy 101 material that freshman get to ponder anew each September.

The gist of the stance can be spelled out in the following three points:

1. The Universe is so impressively complex that it must have been designed.
2. Since the Universe had a beginning and could not create itself, it must have had an outside cause.
3. The Universe is perfectly suited to spring forth Human life so it must have been designed to generate Human life.

The last point is the Goldilocks approach - Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. It considers that if the galactic or planetary or environmental situations had been even modestly different than they had been in the past then Human life would not have been possible. Therefore the conclusion is drawn that there is some inherent intentional design.

There are many many ways to poke holes in these arguments but that is not my intent here. I'm not sure what my intent is here except to bitch about Mathematicians who engage in amateur Philosophy and are rewarded for their unoriginal efforts. I don't recall a Philosopher lately receiving a prize for his ideas about how the the length of the radius of a circle is related to its circumference. These ideas are of course known to freshman Mathematicians to be fascinating but hardly groundbreaking.

I'm reminded of a conversation I overheard on a train from Montreal to Toronto many years ago. An unlikely couple of people seemed to hit it off in the seats across the aisle. A stylish and beautiful young woman in her late twenties was being enthusiastically engaged by a chubby geeky teenaged boy. He looked like he clearly needed to spend less time in front of the Playstation and more time grooming. The first Matrix movie had been released that year to great success. The young man began to discuss this movie at length, whether she wanted to hear about it or not. It was hard to tell if she was just being polite or was genuinely as fascinated as she claimed to be by the conversation.

He began to "blow her mind" by the notions presented in the film. That you might actually be living in a virtual world would be near impossible to determine if you had been trapped there from birth. Your entire body or perhaps just your brain might actually be stored in some vat and you might be fed the contents of your experiences without your knowledge. They both marveled at how brilliant the entire notion was and how brilliant the Wachowski brothers were for coming up with such a mind blower.

Those notions are of course brilliant and mind blowing but sadly they are not the product of these talented filmmakers. Descartes five hundred years ago and Plato two thousand years before him wrote of such things. It's sad how little recognition these philosophers receive and how limited a historical sense we seem to have outside of our specialties.

I wish that Mathematicians, Philosophers and Filmmakers knew more about the respective histories and developments of each other's fields of knowledge. Of course, this has probably become by now, just another lament about the lack of exposure to a quality liberal education in our North American culture.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I am a entity that does not exist.

In a series of incredible flukes, nothing happened.

In my universe, the laws of physics did not come together “just right” to produce physicists to explain why my universe is so incompatible for consciousness and nothing happened to create a media to exploit a public’s hunger for meaning.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am an entity that does not exist.

In a series of not so incredible flukes, nothing happened to create sentient beings.

In my universe, the laws of physics did not come together “just right” to produce physicists to explain why my universe is so incompatible for life to exist.

..and then nothing happened to create a media to exploit a public’s hunger for meaning.

Anonymous said...

Imagine the most uncanny constellation in the universe. So coincidental that when viewed by nearby intelligent life forms it appears as a modest representation of themselves — a great calling card saying “Hey You. Yes you down there. You are not alone”. I pity those creatures, but I pity that planet’s lonely sceptic more because in the vastness of this universe such a coincidence could occur.

As we look into the source code and tags of the universe, a programer is not eluded or reveling itself, a universe is reveling itself as we see it. We are the brains in the indifferent vat.

Waking up to the indifferent vat can be equated to taking the red pill of The Matrix.
Neo’s brutal awakened world was like a scorpion kick to the head. No wonder critical thinking is on the decline.

There seems to be a rising tide of nonsense (Intelligent Design, The Bible Code, Deepak Chopra, James Van Praagh, etc. etc.) and a declining interest in pure science in America.
The word “science” is developing a negative connotation. It donates a cold world of white coats, detached technology and big business. Science is merely critical thinking. It is “Faith”, a sheer willfulness to believe in what we wish to be true, that should be the word in disfavour.

It may be a pie in the sky hope, but I wish critical thinking was taught of our schools.