How big is the universe?

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,165
The idea of objectivity is, necessarily, a purely subjective conjecture made by our unavoidably and permanently non-objective brain-minds. As convincing as it seems that agreement among subjects (us) proves the existence of objects (not us) it is merely axiomatic, neither scientific nor objective.

Being axiomatic and incredibly compelling, it is nearly impossible for us to imagine an alternative. This stems from a double-barreled problem:

1. It is an axiom that we have all grown up with from—literally—the beginning of (subjective) time. Everything we “know” has been predicated on it, and our minds are consciously, and very deeply unconsciously structured on this idea as the very foundation of thought. Accordingly it seems unassailably rational, logical, factual, and true.​
2. There is an aspect of it that is naturalistic. It is certainly derived from the interaction of mind and whatever that medium of mind turns out to be. Trying to “think around” this assumption is like trying to imagine a fourth spatial dimension—no matter how successful we imagine ourselves to be at it, it will always be 3-space with decorations.

In this same way, any attempt to explain how agreement about the existence of hard “objects” in our experience without reifying them and placing them “outside” ourselves seems foolish.​

There are hard questions that can’t be answered by reliance on this axiomatic foundation. One of them is the nature of qualia and human experience. Philosophers who can’t leave the unanswerable alone without feeling the mere existence of an apparently legitimate but unanswerable question is a refutation of their “scientific” Weltanschauung simply claim that such questions don’t even make sense and so dispose of them in that way.

“I can’t see you” is never a good defense, and the sand in the ears is unpleasant. As Doc Johnson showed, being a clever and deep thinker is no protection against this particular failure mode, as his friend, companion, and biographer James Boswell related—
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, "I refute it thus."
Berkeley was an Idealist which is an alternative view to the materialism of Kant, et al. In Idealism, things are ”ideas” or thoughts (it doesn’t refer to perfection) in contradistinction to Kant’s Materialism which posits a basis for experiences of “objects” that exists completely separate from anything human.

Johnson, so steeped in the Platonic/Kantian world of objects as material* things truly believed that if boot collided with stone then Berkeley must be wrong. The trouble is, this shows nothing more than a lack of understanding about Berkeley’s argument and possibly a constitutional inability to ever understand it.

*It is very important to note that the position of Idealism is not that things aren’t physical. A Physicalist philosophy is completely compatible with Idealism or Materialism.

Kant’s “thing in and of itself” is a fictional entity. He admits that if there is a material object that gives rise to our sense data we can actually never no anything about it at all other than the effects it has. There would be no way to sense it directly, it would have no discernible attributes aside from our human experience of it. The thing-in-and-of-itself is postulated because for Kant, it was a logical necessity.

This is not a scientific theory, it is a self-satisfying conjecture turned into an axiom so basic it is practically invisible to questions. Why is this important in the context of the current discussion?

Because this assumption and others, that are not provable, disprovable, or in any way susceptible to the scientific method nor of non-circular reasoning are the basis for our several shared and differentiated philosophies. It is very much like QM interpretations—any one that accounts for the observables is as legitimate as any other, and until any one can be shown not to account for something observable, choosing this or that one is an arational act and spending time arguing its validity compared to any other is an irrational one.

Like this interpretations of the quantum world, the many philosophies that account for observed things as competently as others do are “as good” as each other. And resort to argumentum ad lapidem—a logical fallacy (“appeal to the stone”) named in honor of our previously mentioned Doc Johnson—is not rational, logical, scientific, or in some cases honest.

There are things that, if we don’t accept the axiomatic foundations of Western philosophical thought, cannot be honestly ignored. It makes the ignorance of assumptions upon with our thinking is based a destroyer of “truth”. Somehow, and with great irony, it is the least proven or provable things that to our minds are the most “true”.

It is part of the art of the philosopher, and some of her hardest work, to find the hidden questions. A question about the “unquestionable” cannot legitimately be ”disproven thus”, not if the philosophy built on these things claims legitimacy in logic and science; not if the theory is held up as comporting with reality and getting its “truth” on account of that.

Factual correspondence with “reality” is a circle affair. It is a very bad definition of “truth” for humans who have an undeniable human experience, one that is entirely private and internal, and can never be moved from that private domain into some other.

When a “scientific” philosopher, for example, “disposes” with the thorny questions around the nature of qualia by simple calling them malformed questions that are tacitly admitting at least the incompleteness of their philosophy, and its vulnerability—the same one shared by all human efforts to “reason about the world”, that is the necessary and crippling requirement to rely on not only unproven but unprovable assumptions—they sound so much more important when you call them axioms—as the bedrock of their entire work.

So always explore the potential alternatives to the axioms that have come to be big T “Truth”, they are not and can never be that. That they exist, and must exist, is a very important hint at the underlying impossibility of objectivity as anything more than a very useful convention when dealing with things outside ourselves. It “works” because for at least some aspects of “out there” it is isomorphic and a useful fiction—not because it is “Objective” or “True“.

The real power of ”question authority” is not that it is a call to argue with police, justice system, politicians, parents, teachers, or what we take as “authority figures”—it is a call to question ourselves, and the assumptions that we have made into the most powerful authorities.
 

cmartinez

Joined Jan 17, 2007
8,254
Yes, good point. I've always felt that the universe is indeed big, at least as big as a very very big thing, anyway.
The biggest thing (to our knowledge) that there is ... which begs the question, where is then, infinity? ... or do we live in an overlarged fishbowl and there is nothing else?
 

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,165
The original question? Yes. The places this thread has gone, no.
The problem with questions like the one that started this thread is they reach epistemological limits and so are guaranteed to evolve (devolve?) into discussions of those limits—which themselves spawn conversations about other fundamental limits.

Philosophy is very often not given the respect it deserves by people who focus on engineering or science because not having formally studied it they believe that the a priori speculation they employ is the same method used by philosophers.

So, we get a lot of potentially fruitful directions most, if not all, of which have been explored and discarded or incorporated into the current understanding of the nature of the world.

This thread wouldn’t last long if it as strictly about the size of the universe because—we don’t know and speculation will not answer the question.
 

ApacheKid

Joined Jan 12, 2015
1,610
The problem with questions like the one that started this thread is they reach epistemological limits and so are guaranteed to evolve (devolve?) into discussions of those limits—which themselves spawn conversations about other fundamental limits.

Philosophy is very often not given the respect it deserves by people who focus on engineering or science because not having formally studied it they believe that the a priori speculation they employ is the same method used by philosophers.

So, we get a lot of potentially fruitful directions most, if not all, of which have been explored and discarded or incorporated into the current understanding of the nature of the world.

This thread wouldn’t last long if it as strictly about the size of the universe because—we don’t know and speculation will not answer the question.
You raise some excellent points, I'd like to ask if you ever watched this lecture:


I skipped the first eight minutes intro, it's quite amusing but you might want to get right to the talk.
 
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cmartinez

Joined Jan 17, 2007
8,254
You raise some excellent points, I'd like to ask if you ever watched this lecture:


I skipped the first eight minutes intro, it's quite amusing but you might want to get right to the talk.
That looks like an interesting talk. Is there an abstract that I could give a quick read to before spending more than an hour watching the video?
 

ApacheKid

Joined Jan 12, 2015
1,610
That looks like an interesting talk. Is there an abstract that I could give a quick read to before spending more than an hour watching the video?
It is interesting and although I could give my own personal summary I likely won't be 100% accurate. The essence of his talk is that in some ways science, that is the institutions and authorities that dominate and represent science, can be seen to have much in common with the Catholic authorities of Galileo's time. Galileo was pressured not because anything he said contradicted scripture but because it contradicted the interpretation of scripture as interpreted by the "authorities" those who are educated enough to do the interpretation for us.

He then goes on to argue that modern "atheism" (particularly the dogma of evolution) has adopted this mindset and persecutes those who might threaten their interpretation of nature, the true and right interpretation.

He makes a good case and his talk about the history of Galileo and the Catholic authorities is very informative, he uses records and letters from that time and the people involved.

So he's arguing that science has morphed into more than what it originally was, the study of nature, into a doctrinal system all of its own, with it's dogmas and punishments (character assassinations and career ruin) where anyone who dares to question the official interpretation of nature is to be condemned, discredited and ridiculed.

This is not to be dismissed as some disguised argument for creationism or religion or God, it is a well argued and well supported logical case that shows the desire by some to define what is truth and attack anyone who might question that. Anyone truly interested in the history of science will learn something from his talk I think.

Berlinski has also participated in some debates including with people like Lawrence Krauss, worth watching if you get the time.
 

BobTPH

Joined Jun 5, 2013
8,967
It is interesting and although I could give my own personal summary I likely won't be 100% accurate. The essence of his talk is that in some ways science, that is the institutions and authorities that dominate and represent science, can be seen to have much in common with the Catholic authorities of Galileo's time. Galileo was pressured not because anything he said contradicted scripture but because it contradicted the interpretation of scripture as interpreted by the "authorities" those who are educated enough to do the interpretation for us.

He then goes on to argue that modern "atheism" (particularly the dogma of evolution) has adopted this mindset and persecutes those who might threaten their interpretation of nature, the true and right interpretation.

He makes a good case and his talk about the history of Galileo and the Catholic authorities is very informative, he uses records and letters from that time and the people involved.

So he's arguing that science has morphed into more than what it originally was, the study of nature, into a doctrinal system all of its own, with it's dogmas and punishments (character assassinations and career ruin) where anyone who dares to question the official interpretation of nature is to be condemned, discredited and ridiculed.

This is not to be dismissed as some disguised argument for creationism or religion or God, it is a well argued and well supported logical case that shows the desire by some to define what is truth and attack anyone who might question that. Anyone truly interested in the history of science will learn something from his talk I think.

Berlinski has also participated in some debates including with people like Lawrence Krauss, worth watching if you get the time.
Thank you for the summary, I have heard it all before, so I won’t waste my time on it.
 

ApacheKid

Joined Jan 12, 2015
1,610
Thank you for the summary, I have heard it all before, so I won’t waste my time on it.
Sure, but if there's anything Berlinski actually says in this specific talk, that you dispute or reject, then I'd be interested to hear of it, if he's wrong about something it's important to point that out.
 
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Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,165
You raise some excellent points, I'd like to ask if you ever watched this lecture:


I skipped the first eight minutes intro, it's quite amusing but you might want to get right to the talk.
Thanks for pointing that out. For personal reasons I am uncomfortable addressing this particular line of reasoning.
 
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