Monday, April 4, 2016
IS HALF THE WORLD CRAZY?
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who think science and logic can explain everything, and those who don’t. You might call the two camps ‘Rationalists’ and ‘Romanticists’. And they often find themselves at odds with each other. An extreme example of this is the heated arguments between Creationists and Atheists. Those in the one group think that there is nothing that science can’t explain, and those in the other group think there are things that science can never explain. There are those in both groups who think the other group is insane!
Believe it or not, the battle between these two types has actually been resolved. There would be no fights if everyone on both sides realized this. There is a pure math theorem that settles such arguments once and for all, and I’m going to tell you about it here. But if you are firmly entrenched in one camp or the other, don’t get yourself all geared up for the ecstasy of victory or the agony of defeat. It turns out that both are partly right, and both are partly wrong.
How can a mathematical theorem possibly resolve such ardently defended beliefs? You ask. It seems as though the brains of these two types may be hard-wired very differently, as some claim is the case for liberals and conservatives. (Liberals tend to be romanticists, and conservatives tend to be rationalists, though neither will admit this.) And how can both sides be partly right and partly wrong? Surely, you’re either right or wrong, right? No. Let me explain:
Scientists, and even mystics and romanticists, like to think their belief systems make sense, and any belief system that makes sense is based on some sort of logic. The idea that the universe is a logical system, obeying discoverable laws is strongly supported by the fact that we can now predict with exquisite accuracy the future location of every planet in our solar system and many other, human-sized, and even very small atomic and sub-atomic details. So, given that the universe is a logical system, even if we don’t understand all of the logic, it obeys a set of pure math theorems known as Incompleteness Theorems, proved by the Kurt Gӧdel 85 years ago. These theorems prove conclusively that no logical system can ever be said to be complete. This may sound abstract and of little consequence in our daily lives, but such is not the case. What these theorems tell us is that the universe, and science as well, are never complete. Science is forever incomplete because any logical system describing the universe is always incomplete.
Does this mean that there are things that science can never explain? Yes and no. The incompleteness theorems tell us that there are things that we can conceive of that science, as it exists now, cannot explain. But that doesn’t mean those things can never be explained. A logical system may be expanded with new a priori concepts that will make things explainable that were previously inexplicable. So there will always be things that science cannot explain, but any given thing, inexplicable now, may be explained in the not too distant future. So rationalists are correct when they say that science has the potential to explain any given conceivable thing, but romanticists are also correct when they say that there will always be things that science cannot explain. Another way to say this is: science is man-made and finite, while reality is natural, not man made, and infinite. Our experience of reality can be divided logically into three parts: the known, the partially known, and the unknown.
I don’t think our brains are hard-wired to be one or the other. We are just inclined to think we know more than we actually do. But, in fact, we can never know everything. If the part of reality we have come to be most familiar with is easy for us to quantify and explain, we tend to be rationalists; if it is complex and unexplained, we tend to be romanticists or mystics. Will either side ever win? The incompleteness theorems tell us NO. Realizing that this is the case is liberating. Realizing that this is so is enlightening because it enables us to see that those other people are not really crazy, they are just seeing a different part of reality than we are. Except for the circumstances of our lives, we could be them!
On any given day, you might become primarily rational, primarily romantic, or an equal mixture of both. But that’s a third type, isn’t it? As we’ve seen in TDVP, Reality is triadic, and, in keeping with that, there may be three types of people, not just two: those who believe in science, those who don’t, and the third type: those who just don’t care. They’ll take either side and argue about anything, just for the fun of arguing. I don’t think this third type has hard-wired brains either, but it’s likely that those in either of the first two groups will think that the brains of this group just rattle around in their heads like pea-gravel in a tin can!