The Stupidest Question in Human History

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The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 12th, 2015, 3:34 pm 

This is a question from the field of physics, which has forsaken the right to be called a science merely because it asks it.

Q. Why do the so-called "laws of physics" appear contrived to describe the universe we inhabit rather than some other.

As a philosopher of physics I've encountered variations of this question over a period of decades expressed by some of the finest minds in science, and yet the question is absurd.

A. Because if they didn't we would change them.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby CanadysPeak on August 12th, 2015, 4:10 pm 

Do you have a source for this position? How could we respond to this otherwise?
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 12th, 2015, 4:38 pm 

CanadysPeak wrote:Do you have a source for this position? How could we respond to this otherwise?


Obviously I've posed the question in such a confrontational way in order to provoke a response but essentially the position I seek to defend is my own. However it is a standard principle in the philosophy of knowledge which derives from Kant's "Critique". Kant would say that there's no such thing as a law of physics and that what we are pleased to denote as such is nothing more than the way in which we ourselves have elected to codify a procedure of thought. In other words our so-called "laws of physics" are not modelling reality but merely a particular narrative of reality which is currently in vogue.

For instance Newton designed the science of physics in accordance with his a priori assumption that it was a created entity whose origins lie external to it. This was the default assumption of all the major thinkers of his era so it is unsurprising that he adopted it, but this assumption immediately defines the universe as unknowable. 21st century physics remains trapped in this Newtonian paradigm and therefore makes no sense. Modern physics continues to construct its models on the assumption that reality is determined according to a suite of immutable laws of unknown origin and this flawed assumption has driven the entire science of physics into a conceptual cul-de-sac.

There are no laws of physics but merely laws of physicists.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby TheVat on August 12th, 2015, 4:56 pm 

I'll remember that the next time I board a jet expecting to become airborne.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby CanadysPeak on August 12th, 2015, 5:26 pm 

OJ,

You may have a valid point, though your provocative stance may have obscured your point. So, let me ask you if this is your position:
Are you saying that we do not have an inverse square law because the universe exhibits inverse square law behavior but, rather, that the universe exhibits inverse square behavior because we say it does? Another way of saying that is to ask whether you see us as creationist gods, making up the universe as we talk about it?

Do I have any of that right, or are you arguing something altogether different?
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Serpent on August 12th, 2015, 6:25 pm 

I think the question is stupid only because of a misuse of language.

People think of "laws" as something imposed by a king or government or god or tribunal. So, when they hear a phrase like "laws of physics" the uninformed imagine some kind of big parchment in the sky that tells everything how to behave - or else! So they automatically think, Lots of us disobey the laws that are laid down for us, and we can change the laws we don't like to obey, so why should everything in the universe obey a set of laws, and why are they these laws, rather some other laws? Why should physics have unbreakable, unchangeable laws?

Simply because there are no laws. The universe is whatever it is; the matter and energy in it behave as they behave - and have done so long before humans came along to notice it or talk about it. (If it hadn't, we wouldn't be here.) When we observe our environment and discern a pattern, we look for the reason why; we try to figure out how something operates, we describe that action and theorize about it, test and reproduce it; identify the principle behind its operation. When we're convinced we understand how it works, and how it must always work, we express that insight in a format similar to the one in which civil laws are drafted.

We see an incidental similarity between the body of laws that govern the operations of a social structure - which we can understand and affect - and the principles that govern the operation of the universe - over which we have no control, and which we can only imperfectly understand and incompletely describe. It's a linguistic quirk that causes great waste of words, time and incomprehension.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 12th, 2015, 6:28 pm 

CanadysPeak wrote:Do I have any of that right, or are you arguing something altogether different?


It's not the form of language I prefer to use but you've pretty much nailed what I'm on about.

It's all about the observer problem, the most intractable problem in physics. As observers we observe certain patterns of organisation in nature and until very recently in our history it was assumed that these patterns existed in accordance with a divine plan. The universe is the way it is because that's the way some omnipotent but unobservable being designed it to be. This indeed was Newton's a priori assumption and this assumption is hard-wired into the methodology of physics.

The inverse square law is not a bad example to use to illustrate my point. Planetary motions are NOT determined by the inverse square law. Planetary motions are determined by gravity and the inverse square law is an effective approximation to the way in which gravity does its thing, as perceived by the observer. Nowadays we even have considerable refinements to this "law" to make this approximation even more accurate but all the observer is actually observing is a certain pattern in the naturally occurring behaviour which planets exhibit and then constructing a mathematical device with which he can model such behaviour and make future predictions. However such predictions are only valid to a certain finite order of probability and I offer the recent New Horizons mission to Pluto as an example. It took almost ten years for the spacecraft to reach its destination but there was no certainty that Pluto would actually be where the scientists predicted it would be when the spacecraft finally arrived. I'm not suggesting that the geeks just got lucky but merely pointing out a simple fact. All manner of possible cosmological events could have occurred during this ten year period which might have caused Pluto to be elsewhere.

Braininvat wrote:I'll remember that the next time I board a jet expecting to become airborne.


Set your mind at ease, Braininvat, aircraft are very well designed and constructed these days and they almost always behave according to prediction, as indeed do planets. However if they were held aloft by immutable physical law there would be no such thing as a plane crash. The same "laws" which keep them up can also contrive to bring them down again. The truth of the universe is that "shit happens".
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 12th, 2015, 6:31 pm 

Serpent. You posted while I was composing my previous reply. It seems we are on the same page.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Serpent on August 12th, 2015, 6:44 pm 

Yes. I concentrated on the layman who hears that phrase, while you concentrated on the scientist who used it. In both cases, we name, describe and explain new phenomena in the language we already have from older ideas and assumptions, from previous experience and the things we know. This white-and-silver device with the little red light and roller-ball and a wire at one end is nothing like a small omnivorous rodent, yet I call it "a mouse" and other people familiar with computers understand what I mean. Someone who has never seen one before would be nonplussed, maybe think I'm delusional.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Forest_Dump on August 12th, 2015, 6:44 pm 

Ordinary Joe wrote:For instance Newton designed the science of physics in accordance with his a priori assumption that it was a created entity whose origins lie external to it. This was the default assumption of all the major thinkers of his era so it is unsurprising that he adopted it,


Of course my anthropological perspective would lead me to agree with the statement and also further note that we might better point to Comte who argued that there were laws of nature and other kinds of laws because those people took it for granted (as an a priori premise) that there were kingdoms on earth, ruled by kings who made laws (that were to be unviolateable) because those earthly kings were ordained by a kingdom of heaven also ruled by a (Christian) king (God) who also made unviolateable laws of nature (and man, etc.). While we have modified many of our ideas about the existence of a god (including as a lawmaker) and the authority of kings (especially as divinely sanctioned to create laws), the assumption(s) that there are such things as "laws of nature" (or other kinds of universal laws) remains as a kind of historical baggage. And please note that here I am not suggesting or even considering, one way or the other, whether or not these laws actually exist. I am merely saying that our belief in laws originates in a time and place where positing laws of nature was the state of the art in philosophy - political and scientific. Hense definitions of science in the philosophy of science and assumptions that science must be governed by a belief in laws or that science must be nomothetic, etc., tend to fall under types of positivism a la Hempel, etc. (And for the record I am more of a "realist" with "corruptions from Kuhn and Feyerabend, etc.)
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 12th, 2015, 7:44 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote: the assumption(s) that there are such things as "laws of nature" (or other kinds of universal laws) remains as a kind of historical baggage.


Agreed. However the methodology of physics is all about model-building and such a methodology does not allow for the possibility of discarding such superfluous historical baggage. The notion of a reality predicated on the notion of law cannot be easily wished away just because the Intelligent Designer hypothesis has waned in popularity. This original Newtonian assumption informs the very way in which we define determinism in physics because the Newtonian world is linearly deterministic, or reductionist, despite the fact that all the evidence suggests that the real universe is non-linearly deterministic, or chaotic.

Determinism is either one or the other but it can't be both. What I'm suggesting is that the "laws of physics" which the physicists have devised are nothing more than pragmatic heuristics by which we can linearise the non-linear and that the metaphysical consequences of this are profound. Exploring these metaphysical consequences has formed the basis of my life's work in philosophy. Although physics has sought to soften its image in recent decades it remains inescapably locked into the doctrine of logical positivism, a chilling doctrine which denies the role of human reason in the conduct of human affairs by insisting that the way we model our world should be able to inform the way we explain it. This is a leap of faith which has no logical basis.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Forest_Dump on August 12th, 2015, 9:00 pm 

Ordinary Joe

Overall I tend to agree (at least I can't think of an immediate argument against). The notion of "laws" has certainly been an unquestionably useful heuristic especially for those types of sciences that have remained closest to the physics end of the spectrum and has allowed the more theoretical math dominated sciences, for example, to develope along their preferred trajectory, again with obvious markers of success. Whether there can or could be different trajectories for physics with less reliance on the notions is a different question and one I am not sure could be answered (at least without the politics and debates noted by Kuhn, etc.). However, there are also many other kinds of science that do not rely on any kind of faith in the existence of universalistic laws. For my own work, for example, I sometimes need only passingly refer to stastical generalizations and pay more attention to ideas like independent testing, the generation of kinds of empirical data, confirmation through concordence within multiple paradigms, etc. Truth be told, reductionism to simple (read simplistic) mechanistic causes is not often of much use to me.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 12th, 2015, 9:42 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:Truth be told, reductionism to simple (read simplistic) mechanistic causes is not often of much use to me.


You're not alone, Forest. Physics stands alone amongst all the modern sciences as being the only one that continues to use these anachronistic tools. Every other science assumes that its systems are determined non-linearly and constructs its models accordingly. Physics is completely unable to do this with Newton's tools of classical mathematics and thus for a century physics has been modelling a universe which makes no sense. No wonder all its models contradict each other.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby CanadysPeak on August 12th, 2015, 10:01 pm 

Ordinary Joe » Wed Aug 12, 2015 9:42 pm wrote:
Forest_Dump wrote:Truth be told, reductionism to simple (read simplistic) mechanistic causes is not often of much use to me.


You're not alone, Forest. Physics stands alone amongst all the modern sciences as being the only one that continues to use these anachronistic tools. Every other science assumes that its systems are determined non-linearly and constructs its models accordingly. Physics is completely unable to do this with Newton's tools of classical mathematics and thus for a century physics has been modelling a universe which makes no sense. No wonder all its models contradict each other.


I agree quite a bit with your philosophical bent, but I must say that you have got this part all wrong. Freshmen at uni may use Newton's formulas, but physics students quickly outgrow that in courses that bear names like Nonlinear dynamics of structures and so on. You've either not taken any physics courses recently or else you've done so at a third tier school. Are you unaware of the extent to which physics uses soft computing?
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 12th, 2015, 10:39 pm 

You misunderstand my meaning, CP, although I acknowledge that this is my own fault for being imprecise in my language. It is the metaphysical PARADIGM of physics which I question rather than the way it manipulates its tools in the solution of a given set of problems. For instance you referred obliquely to the dissipative structure, Prigogine's enlightened procedure of thought which can be used to model a self-determining reality rather than a law-determined one. What happens when we proceed from a different a priori metaphysical assumption than the one which Newton chose? What if we assume that the universe is a dissipative structure and thus sufficient to its own existence without reference to an external causal agent.? Would such a universe be compatible with the empirical data available to science?

I claim that not only would such a different a priori assumption for our universe be compatible with the evidence in hand but it would in fact take us a hell of lot further. For instance it would explain how it came to pass that you and I are here having a chat about this.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby BadgerJelly on August 13th, 2015, 3:50 am 

I am not 100% certain what your point is. The way I see it the "laws of nature" are human laws because we are limited to perceive what may be the greater or lesser extent of the universe ... we do not know. The limitations of humans creates the bounds of our understanding and by this we create a rule that explain as much as we know of.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby neuro on August 13th, 2015, 5:05 am 

Joe,
please show some pity for us simple minded people!

The whole of Western culture history arose from the fact that “shit happens” was not considered a sufficient answer to relief the distress, anguish and dismay of man in front of pain, suffering, death and natural catastrophes.

Please let us keep with the idea that things must have a cause, so that we have the impression we understand something, we are not fully disarmed in the face of fate.

It is true, we have started by stupidly assuming a supernatural cause for everything we could not explain. And we have often failed, stupidly looking for an external cause, a cause for the Universe itself.

But aren't we allowed at least to search for causes we can observe for the phenomena we observe?

And, if some cause seems to consistently produce an effect, aren't we allowed to induce that a cause-effect relation, and a mathematical description of such relation, can be of some use to us?

So, my answer to the stupid question:
Ordinary Joe » August 12th, 2015, 8:34 pm wrote:Q. Why do the so-called "laws of physics" appear contrived to describe the universe we inhabit rather than some other.


would be
Because they actually are contrived (by us, not by some external supernatural designer) to interpret the universe we inhabit (and cope with it).

And we did contrive them to protect ourselves from the anguish that seizes us if - even for a single moment - we are tempted to accept that, simply, “shit happens”.

[or, by the way, if we are left with the sole certainty that the answer to life, universe and everything simply is 42]
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 13th, 2015, 5:56 am 

neuro wrote:please show some pity for us simple minded people!


I am but a simple man myself, neuro, and seek only the simplest possible of answers.

"A theory should always be as simple as possible, but no simpler"....Albert Einstein

neuro wrote:The whole of Western culture history arose from the fact that “shit happens” was not considered a sufficient answer to relief the distress, anguish and dismay of man in front of pain, suffering, death and natural catastrophes.


Shooting the messenger will not affect the message. "Shit happens" is the single most profound truth of the human experience and everybody perfectly well knows it. The future is a blank slate on which we all get to write our story but every other physical entity in the universe gets to write a story of its own, which prompted this remark from one the great metaphysical gurus of the modern era.

"Que sera sera".....Doris Day

And this from yet another giant in the field of metaphysics

"Prediction is difficult, particularly of the future".....Yogi Berra

neuro wrote:Please let us keep with the idea that things must have a cause,


I hope you didn't draw the inference that I was suggesting otherwise. Surely if we can have but one eternal verity in our universe let it be this one. All effects must be preceded by a cause. I completely agree with you that if this were not the case then our universe would be incomprehensible, which contradicts the evidence. However an assumption that an effect should be preceded by a cause in an orderly and generative fashion does not allow us to venture to the leap of faith that the effect was therefore pre-determined. To do this would be to conflate cause with purpose, a logical fallacy we dare not submit to.

neuro wrote:But aren't we allowed at least to search for causes we can observe for the phenomena we observe?


We can and we must. I am not an anti-science ideologue, neuro, but seek merely to heal the rift between science and philosophy which led physics into its conceptual cul-de-sac.

neuro wrote:And, if some cause seems to consistently produce an effect, aren't we allowed to induce that a cause-effect relation, and a mathematical description of such relation, can be of some use to us?


Absolutely. However what we are not free to assume is that whatever narrative we might concoct to explain such a cause-effect relationship should in turn bear any relationship to an objective reality. This is something which any undergraduate doing Kant 101 would be expected to understand. The "ding und sich" is unattainable by such an inductive process.

neuro wrote:Because they actually are contrived (by us, not by some external supernatural designer) to interpret the universe we inhabit (and cope with it).


I know all along we were going to be friends.

neuro wrote:And we did contrive them to protect ourselves from the anguish that seizes us if - even for a single moment - we are tempted to accept that, simply, “shit happens”.


"Shit happens" is not so bad once you get used to it. It's a very egalitarian principle because while shit is happening to you you can comfort yourself with the thought that other shit is happening to every other bastard.

neuro wrote: the sole certainty that the answer to life, universe and everything simply is 42


This goes without saying.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Ordinary Joe on August 13th, 2015, 6:12 am 

Neuro. What would our clever geeks say if a previously uncharted comet were to come hurtling out of the Oort cloud and strike Pluto amidships while the New Horizons spaceship was en route?

They would say "shit happens" and immediately set about the task of calculating what new instructions they would need to transmit to their vessel. Even the certifiable nut-job Newton knew that the motion of every physical entity in the universe affects the motion of every other.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby TheVat on August 13th, 2015, 9:06 am 

Hello, Obvious Leo. LOL.

Have you read Lee Smolin, on how "laws" of physics might evolve over cosmological time? I think he, and some quantum physicists, have moved away from Newton's linear causation.

ps - an admin reminds me that previously banned members cannot sign in under new names, so I will give you a chance to come clean, then will, with regret, have to ban. I do like the bold resonance with the earlier login name, and enjoy your writing style. Alas, it is distinctive enough (along with the expressed views on physics) that any attempt to be incognito is doomed. But I'd vote to give you time to answer any posts in this thread you wish to.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby neuro on August 13th, 2015, 10:15 am 

Braininvat » August 13th, 2015, 2:06 pm wrote:Hello, Obvious Leo. (IP address locator tool is very handy....) LOL.


I must confess I thought we were talking with him (though in some part of my head I must have had the impression that something didn't seem to fit in the name...)
:°)
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Dave_Oblad on August 13th, 2015, 4:46 pm 

Funny,

I too felt old Leo was operating under a new Avatar. The writing style and opinions felt like him.

Oh Well.. I'm curious though.. are banned members still allowed to read these new posts?

Too bad.. my latest cognition's seem to reveal that Time (as we know it) doesn't exist in the Quantum Realms. That would have driven him right up the wall... lol.

Best to all,
Dave :^)
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby mtbturtle on August 13th, 2015, 4:56 pm 

Dave all the forums except Feedback are visible to the public, so yes banned members can read the posts.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Watson on August 13th, 2015, 6:49 pm 

Just to say Hi.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Paralith on August 13th, 2015, 8:09 pm 

Braininvat wrote:Alas, it is distinctive enough (along with the expressed views on physics) that any attempt to be incognito is doomed.


You mean... Obvious Leo was too... obvious?
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Neri on September 7th, 2015, 11:59 pm 

Ordinary Joe,

There is merit in what you say. However I look at the matter somewhat differently.

The threshold problem involves the nature of sensations. Because it is only sensations that can be the primary window to reality, the question is: To what extent, if at all, do sensations give us actual knowledge of whatever it is that may lie outside of us?

[When I speak of “sensations,” I mean the conscious experiences that are generated in the brain in response to stimuli given by the sense organs—not the stimuli themselves. To put it bluntly, the world we experience is, at least to some extent, made in the brain.]

Where science is concerned, this question is of pivotal importance; for scientific hypotheses, theories, “laws” or whatever else you wish to call them are rooted in “observations”-- which are, in the final analysis, sensations generated in the brain.

Kant tells us not only that there are real things outside of us but also that such things somehow cause our experience of them. However, he maintains that that experience is nothing like the things themselves.

He argues that time and space are free creations of the mind that are necessary preconditions for human understanding. That is, we are incapable of making sense of the world without first imagining time and space. As Kant puts it, time and space are real to us but not real in themselves. In other words, to him, there is no time and space outside of our consciousness. They are no part of what lies outside of us.

Thus, German idealism tells us that physics gives us only imaginary truths. Whatever seems to happen does not actually happen in the real world; for without time and space, there can be no such thing as “happening.” To the Kantians, physics does not predict what will happen outside of us but predicts only what will happen in the world of experience.

To the naïve realist, there is no problem in physics where sensations are concerned; for, to him, the experience of things does not differ from the things themselves.

To the representative realist, the mental image of a thing is only a way to recognize and identify it. To him, the relations among recognizable things are quite real; and, as a consequence, time and space are real in themselves. It is the purpose of science to elucidate these relations—or so he says.

The currency of physics is predictability by means of antecedent causal rules, which are usually rendered in mathematical form. However, one should not conclude that the theoretical notions, which give rise to the mathematics, are true simple because the mathematics has predictive power [even if, as a naïve or representative realist, one accepts the independent reality of what is successfully predicted].

Indeed, many theoretical notions are quite absurd. Newton himself admitted that a first-year philosophy student could successfully refute the idea of action at a distance. However this did not bother him, for he was concerned not with ultimate truth but only with predictive truth.

Einstein claimed that the awkward concept of action at a distance was eliminated in his general theory of relativity. However, he replaced this concept with an even more preposterous one. Essentially, he admitted the in-se reality of space but denied the same status to time. This yielded a form of eternalism wherein nothing new ever happens, for the world is rendered an unchanging Parmenidean geometric. To put it crudely, Einstein explained what happens to bodies under the influence of gravity by claiming that nothing actually happens.

I will not elaborate the bizarre notions of Quantum Theory, except to say that to claim that a probability distribution is a concrete reality strains all credulity.

Further, even if one accepts some form of realism, it must be recognized that the so-called laws of nature are only predictive models based upon the current state of the data and always remain subject to falsification by new data. Because it is impossible for us to know what the future holds, we cannot say that any scientific hypothesis is an “immutable law of nature.”
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Dave_Oblad on September 8th, 2015, 5:34 am 

Hi Neri,

Too bad Ordinary Joe (Aka: Obvious Leo) was banned. But your post doesn't go unnoticed.

Best wishes,
Dave :^)
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby Neri on September 8th, 2015, 3:38 pm 

The question of causation is a difficult one. The “linear causation” that Leo refers to is, I believe, the Laplacean determinism which holds that all that happens in the world is determined in advance by antecedent causal rules, such that the whole future history of the world is immutably set out from the beginning of time. This describes what may be called a causally closed universe.

Kant argued that causation is something we imagine in order for the world to make sense to us. To him, causation is part of the world of experience but no part of whatever it is that lies outside of us.

However, causation may also be viewed as something real in itself in a counterfactual sense. That is: “If A did not happen, B would not have happened; but neither A nor B were inevitable but happened for no particular reason at temporal crossroads when other alternatives were available.” This allows a degree of innovation in nature and is not only consonant with certain experimentally observed quantum effects but also explains how the will can be free.

This may be what Leo was referring to.

I, for one, have found Leo to be one of the more interesting contributors to this forum. His penchant for mildly vulgar expressions should be overlooked in the light of the overall eloquence of his exposition. He should be restored to full and open participation in the forum.
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Re: The Stupidest Question in Human History

Postby TheVat on September 18th, 2015, 12:33 pm 

Sponge, I will move your post, which primarily is concerned with a banned member's reinstatement, to the Feedback forum, where it will get the fullest exposure in the proper context.

Neri, just FYI, you may want to surf over to Feedback, given that the moved posting is partially a response to you. And also, given that you too expressed a desire for the reinstatement of a banned member. Possibly Marshall and/or Turtle can give you a fuller account of the banning process and its basis.
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