Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fun Philosophy 2: The Ghost in the Machine

The 20th century philosopher Gilbert Ryle said that philosophers who think of the mind as a kind of thing that causes the body to move are making a bad mistake. He called the view of the mind "the ghost in the machine". He would walk around Oxford and would say, "I see all these buildings but where is Oxford?" The mistake is in thinking that Oxford is in the sum of its buildings, but it is more than that. Ryle claimed that those who think of the mind as a thing in addition to the body are missing the point that the body and its activities comprises the mind. In other words your mind is NOT just your brain. You mind is made up of all the actions, activities and decisions of your WHOLE BODY. When we say someone has an inquisitive mind we cannot pull that brain out of the person and find the inquisitive part and analyze it. What we are saying is that all the actions of that person, the questions and movements indicate that they are inquisitive. That person behaves in inquisitive ways. The mind is not a ghost in the machine it is a way of describing the machines activities.

Modern science has been throwing wrenches at this ghost in the machine. Brain scans have revealed actual places where inquisitiveness comes from, where joy shows up as firing neurons, and where anger can be removed or lessened. So the question for us fun philosophers is which is it?

Are you the sum of your parts? You raise your hand due to a decision made by firing neurons in your head which tell you that if you do you will be rewarded because other neurons tell you that it happened in the past that way.

Of are you something separate from your actions, activities, and decisions. As if you could stand outside your body and direct it and have everything still work?

Is your mind in your brain or is it something outside your physical body? If you were cloned would your clone have a "mind"?

If you take the Bible seriously you would have the answer to this question. God created us special and put his "image" within us. God's Image is the Ghost in the Machine. We stand outside our physical bodies as spiritual beings. Every time you make a decision it and use your "mind" you are proving that God exists. And those who don't know that are simply out of their mind.

Fun Philosophy 1: The Demon, Determinism, and Free Will

Pierre Simon Laplace supposed that everything is composes of atoms and that the motions of atoms are governed by the laws that Isaac Newton discovered in the 17th century. Laplace imagined a super intelligent and mathematically gifted demon, who knows the positions and velocities of all particles in the universe at a particular time, along with all the laws of nature. He claimed that this demon could compute the positions and velocities of all particles at every other time. The demon then could PREDICTE where you body would be and how it would be moving next year from your history and the history of time. Basically he was saying that Newton's laws were deterministic or you could predict the future based on his laws.

Interesting, but what does that mean, really? What it means is that you future is already determined. "I knew you were going to say that!" you would say. If the motions of every atom in your body have been determined when God set everything in motion way back when; then you have no control over your movements, they have been predetermined. Laplace then stated that ether Newton's deterministic laws are false or Free Will is an illusion.

Many philosophers have battled with this paradox of free will vs. determinism and many have made good attempts at resolving it in some form of free will within the confines of determinism but the conflict is still there. Today philosopher/physicists believe that Newton's laws are probabilities and not absolutes. In other words, these laws work MOST of the time the rest of the time Quantum laws take effect. But it would be wrong to say that Quantum mechanics is not deterministic simply because we haven't figured it out yet.

I said all that to say this: Does free will exist? If not, can we have things like justice and morals? Is everything pre-determined for us? If not, what do we do with the laws we keep discovering? This paradox of free will vs. determinism is a VERY biblical battle as well and it has split churches.

The problem with a seemingly irresolvable conflict or paradox is that we tend to throw our hands up in despair and give up. I mean, if all the smart people can't figure it out, how can we? But remember: the growth doesn't happen in reaching the answer, the growth happens in the struggle to get there. Let's struggle together.

I NEVER tell the Truth

Another paradox or isn't it?

The ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea spent most of his time on the paradoxes of time and motion. For example it can be logically argued that Achilles (the fastest man EVER) could never catch up to a tortoise if he gave the tortoise a head start. This is because in order for Achilles to overtake the tortoise he MUST reach where the tortoise is/was, but by that time the tortoise has moved on. So then he must reach where the tortoise has moved on to but by then, of course, the tortoise has moved on again, and so on and so on, as infinitum.

Also Zeno logically proved that any arrow shot from a bow cannot possibly move. Since at any moment of time, the arrow had to completely occupy a certain space. Like a photograph, at any given moment, the arrow is where it is and not somewhere else. Hence, it is stationary. If time is nothing more than a series of moments, and if the arrow is stationary at every particular moment, then it NEVER MOVES!
Yet we know that arrows do move and the fastest man can overtake a tortoise, so what is flawed? Our view of reality or the logic of the paradox?

Zeno's paradoxes had the ancient world running hard just to stay still. But what these questions/paradoxes do is allow us to get to the right questions. Knowledge is NOT having the answers as much as it is having the right questions. What is time? Is time made up of a series of ever smaller chunks called moments or is it something else? Einstein called time the fourth dimension in his theories. The universe was NOT just made up of length, width, and height; it was also made up of time. With Uncle Albert time was NOT an infinite series of moments, time was fluid and could be flexed, shortened and lengthened.

This introduced a whole NEW batch of paradoxes: can I arrive BEFORE I leave? Can I go back in time and kill one of my ancestors? What would happen if I meet myself?
Just when we think we got this world figured out; God throws us another curve. The world is flat; nope it round. The planets revolve around the earth; nope we revolve around the sun. Things fall faster if they are heavier; nope gravity works the same on heavy and light. Newtonian physics explains the universe; nope not quite, what about relativity and the speed of light. Newton and Einstein figured it out; nope quantum physics is needed to explain certain phenomena. Quantum physics is than answer; nope ... whatever is next is just around the corner with its own paradoxes to explain.

God is not a cruel pet owner teasing his cat with a string that he will never catch. God is enjoying the sense of discovery in his world like a home designer hearing you go "oooohhh, ahhhhh" at every corner that has something new and neat.

"When I look at your heavens, the works of your hands; what is man that you are mindful of him?"

This sentence is False

Wait, what? Did you catch the paradox? If the sentence is false then it must be true, but if it is true then it must be false so if it is false it must be true ... .

Paradox was a plaything of Greek philosophers. Epimenides wrote down the first documented one around the sixth century BC. He, who was from Crete, stated "All Cretans are liars." Their logic attempted to unravel the paradox and succeeded with many of them by simply defining their terms and coming up with the difference between language of instruction and the language of reality (vs. Absurdity). Other Greeks decided they could just live with a few contradictions.

Bertrand Russell asked "In a village, the barber shaves everyone who does not shave himself/herself, but no one else. Who shaves the barber?"

Even normal life fills us with paradoxes: "Don't go near the water until you have learned to swim." or "Nobody goes to that restaurant; it's too crowded" or "If you get this message, call me, and if you don't then don't worry about it" of "Raise your hand if you are not here."
Scripture is also FULL of these seeming paradoxes. You must die in order to live. You must give in order to get. If you are comfortable you should be uncomfortable. And many others. Opposition to God and scripture make fun of these and even create their own paradoxes: "If God is almighty and creator of everything can he create a stone too heavy for him to lift?" and "If God is good he cannot be almighty because there is bad in the world, if God is almighty then he cannot be good since he allows bad in the world."

These paradoxes are easy to unravel but there are paradoxes in the world that seem to question life's order and spiritual meaning. There are simply questions that we CANNOT answer. Maybe because there is no answers or resolutions. Quantum and Newtonian physics or light as a wave or a particle or chaos theory. Or simply the question of how and why we love? Maybe it is the conflict, the paradox, the journey that is important and not the resolution. Or not.

Which one of you said, "The truth is rarely pure and never simple."? Whoever is was, you're a liar... or ... telling the truth.

The Fifth Element

Ancient philosophers banged their heads together to come up with the ESSENTIAL elements that the universe is made up of. One thought everything boiled down to water. Water is most of the earth and makes up most of us. Another believed it was dirt, or earth. After all we return to the dirt after we die so earth must be one of the basic elements. Then there were the fire starters who believed that everything burned and that energy of fire was a core element in our makeup, once we lost our fire we were gone. Then, of course, there was the Wind faction. That invisible force that influenced everything and everyone. These four elements were fought over to the point that ALL of them came to be known as the Four Essential Elements: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.

The question then became: "How do these four elements interact with each other?" Water breaks down earth, earth blocks wind, wind enhances fire, fire boils water, water feeds earth, earth funnels wind, wind blows out fire, fire it put out by water, etc. So began the search for the Fifth Element. The Fifth Essential (quintessential) element that explained everything. That perfect answer to the questions of elemental interaction.

Socrates tackled this problem calling the quintessential element "ether" and described it as the "pure essence where the gods lived and which they breathed" The ether had no measurable qualities (hot, cold, wet, dry, etc) but you could observe its influence on planet systems and in the lives of people. Later science disproved the ether theories in favor of gravity and the atomic.

We have lost that sense of the Fifth or Quintessential Element but we still struggle to define it. Now we seek to bring together the two essential theories in Physics: Newtonian Physics based on normal gravitational influences and Quantum Physics based on EXTREME gravitational influences like black holes and bent space. So now with two contradictory theories to explain observable interactions we are left looking for the ether again. This time it is called the "Theory of Everything" which will combine quantum mechanics with general relativity. Hawking's new book "The Grand Design" attempts to solve this with his version of ether called the "Multiverse" after his failed attempt to explain it in his earlier book on string theory.
I tend to fall back on one the best philosophical minds of the first century AD. Who referred back to those Greek philosophers when he described God as not living in temples built by hands and not needing anything from us because God gives all life and breath to men. He is never far from us and if we reach into the ether we can find him for "In HIM we live and move and have our being" or God IS the ether you are looking for. That essential element that resolves and controls all the elements.

God himself is the quintessential Fifth Element.