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Understanding Humanity

Applied Philosophy

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If a multiverse exists by means of branching from our own universe at "decision points", there must be other possibilities - else all multiverses will simply be clones of each other. If there are multiple possibilities, then therefore the universe we live in must be one among many. How then, may an omniscient entity exist? How can solipsism (the philosophical view that only one's mind is sure to exist) be true if we can conceive of concepts that are not linked to one's mind or even one's own existence - like the ideal of being a hero?

What if we're approaching neuroscience all wrong with the idea that the brain is a machine in itself that can be understood? Has anybody transplanted a brain to see if memory persists through death? If not, then could it not be said that our brains are simply a continuing loop of sensation and reaction like a knee-jerk reflex - only applied to the brain as a perpetual motion machine?

Science will answer questions, theology revels in the mystery of not knowing.

I'm starting this blog with a big bang.


  1. Marth's Avatar
    A rather long-winded bang, too.

  2. MZeroX's Avatar
    If taking the multiverse seriously, you must also consider the fact of the various options diverging from each other quite seriously. As such it isn't that great a logical leap to then discuss the matter on a more specific levels using possible world comparisons. In the case of discussing possible worlds, you usually start with one that is seemingly close (and this is assuming that hard determinism is, of course, not true) to your current world. With hard determinism not being the case, it is easy for a human with extremely limited understanding to grasp the immediate surroundings and conceive of the possibilities of that world. An omniscient entity, by definition, is [knowledge] sent to the infinite limit. If a human with extremely limited knowledge can conceive of factors within possible worlds, then something with infinite knowledge ought to be able to perceive all of these worlds, no problem. Of course this implies that such an entity doesn't exist on the same "corporeal plane" (quotes because wtf does this even mean) as these divergent choice worlds.

    As for solipsism, the fact that you're even considering these questions means that there is a thinking [thing] that is either yourself or something identified within yourself. Consider the case where solipsism is false--hard skepticism then rains supreme as early as Descartes' argument, since you'd never argue past the dream or evil demon (I personally don't buy how he got out of the evil demon argument, but that aside). In that case, yeah, we don't know shit. We don't even know if this language we believe to be using is actually getting any information across. This conversation doesn't even hold any meaning, because for all we know (which is nothing), my typing in front of this screen could be false. Moreover any replies could be contrivances of some evil demon or the super entity of the internet that is equally as mysterious because I can't know anything.

    I think the brain as a bio-machine is a really good idea, but it isn't exactly peachy to say "we're gonna transplant your brain and see what happens. BTW, we need someone willing to let us take a brain out so we can shove another one in." It's more of a socio-moral obstacle than anything else.

    That being said, a diverging philosophical multiverse and what science is may be trying to offer... are completely skewed ideas. Science is more mathematics works at higher degrees of "physical" dimensions (so beyond three spacial and one time dimension), and a desire to show that (And a technological lack of the ability to find direct evidence for) these mathematical higher dimensions aren't just pretty symbols that shit out the right answers. The philosophical multiverse is something wholly different.
  3. Counterguardian's Avatar
    Ah but this then draws up the issue of omniscience conflicting with free will as you've noted with hard determinism. Take a chess match for example - an omniscient entity will know exactly how the match will play out, so the 1050 possible moves are reduced to a smaller finite number n number of moves, the exact path between the start of the game and the checkmate move-for-move. Therefore, as to an omniscient entity there is only one possibility for the match, similarly if an omniscient entity existed it will only perceive one universe, because the questions that spawn the other multiverses are answered by the being. Knowledge is very literally power in that it renders entropy and probability as your bitch.

    As for hard skepticism and solipsism, Nozick put forward an argument in semantics - if we say that a "demon is tricking us into believing what we believe", this does not associate with any concept outside us as we don't know it yet in the same way that a dog making a bark that sounds like "Neo" does not mean it has watched The Matrix. I will now modify his example in saying that this is not only identical in saying that "unicorns exist because I can conceive of a concept similar to it", but also that such a view is in itself "unknowable"; if the foundation of your knowledge is unknowable how are you expected to build something from it that is?

    It is my view that modern philosophy has strayed too much from its original form with natural philosophy. Science does not deal with a subjective world as philosophers (and myself) used to think. Science is designing ideas that logically eliminate fields of possibility until only one concept remains as tested law and predicting the universe from these laws. This is why string theory is currently seen as meta-science.

    A rather long-winded bang, too.

  4. MZeroX's Avatar
    Yeah, I don't buy the whole omniscient being existing either. Too many contradictions arise whenever you brings some sort of omni- being into the discussion; I was only trying to perpetuate the topic because it's fun, but I really am not on the side that defends such ideal existences. That said, let me try. :p

    Even if the brain is some sort of bio-machine, as far as our current understanding of it allows us, it works with probabilities. Synapses fire off electrons into neurons, but those electrons are still prone to some deviation since electrons are definitely not point particles. So there is a sufficient amount of error that can occur. Or at least that's the argument for seemingly random thoughts or offhand tangents in thought. Omniscience would indeed say with absolute certainty what the future choice is, regardless of the probability distribution. However, due to that probability distribution which is absolutely necessary in this dimensional set, if the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is to be believed as a fact, then the omniscient being would either need to constantly work a miracle (denying the laws of nature) of denying the HUP in order to know what the next move in the game of chess would be. As such, if this omniscient being does exist, to our knowledge, it cannot exist in our physical world. Semantically, then, it could not be involved with our world, then, but merely observe it. However, omniscience does not equal omnipotence, so as a mere observer, it should not have an influence on the future. Once again, if you include future recognition as part of omniscience, then a direct contradiction arises. The only resolutions would be hard determinism, but that seems to contradict with the HUP. As an aspiring physicist (and philosopher. lol, biting off more than you can chew), I'd prefer to rely on the HUP more than some super-powered magician that denies what I'm trying to understand just by being there.

    If these aren't enough to say an omniscient being cannot exist, take into account that [knowledge] as we know it, is intrinsically tied to [logic]. So an omniscient being would also be bound to [logic]. If a logical contradiction comes about, then it is not [knowledge]. If omniscience leads to logical contradictions, then omniscience is not [knowledge]. Most definitions of omniscience indicate [knowledge] as fundamental to omniscience. This leaves two possible conclusions: either logic is flawed (and science is wrong), or omniscience is impossible, at least within our causal world (and possible any causal world). I can't deny science having the possibility of being wrong, but saying that logic is flawed basically brings us back to hard determinism and/or hard skepticism. Both of which are semantically troubling.

    If I generalize our world as an example of a causal world and take it's logical progression as a fact across all causal worlds, then it is logical to say that omniscience cannot exist in any of these worlds. It is also appropriate to note that causal worlds, if like our own, are temporal worlds. Omniscience is, by definition time-independent, yet observing all times. As such, Omniscience if taken as past, present, and future knowledge, is also omnitemporal, but rendered to the seat of an observer beyond all causal worlds. Semantically, this boils down to "lolol, shit doesn't matter". So yeah, omniscience. I think it doesn't even logically make sense, much less when given our actual living space.

    Am I understanding that you are pushing the skeptic response to solipsism still? If not, then this reply is meaningless, but here I go.

    Even if try to deny the ability to build off of something you know nothing about, the argument you've laid out still has the inherent framework of transcendental logic. Even if you assume that you cannot know that you are a thinking thing, since then conflicts with thought and what is commonly perceived as reality arise (note commonly perceived, due to the other metaphysical problems which arise with skepticism), you are still using the [logic]. As such, [logic] is something that is known. Moreover, when you use the "foundation" analogy, you are also inherently accepting that a foundation exist because there are laws of nature, namely here, gravity. The reason for a foundation is that gravity is always pulling things down. In the case of trying to understand knowledge, is there some sort of analogous thing to gravity which necessitates the foundation of a building? The way I interpret this is that [reality] as commonly perceived is that "intellectual gravity". Since Unicorns are in conflict with [reality] they are merely thoughts, and not [knowledge].

    We define [minds] as [thinking things]. So let's then ask the question: "how do we define things?" We can't just say "logic", because logic is merely an intellectual framework, kind of like how a mathematical function is merely a function--it needs and input in order to give you an output. We then define things by using some input for logic, then getting an output. If the output is somehow equivalent to the input, then it is the definition. If the output is different from the input, it is either a contradiction or the logic was a causal connection, rather than a equivalence connection. This then raises what a "thing" is. Shit gets super messy if you continue to try to flesh it out, so this is where I get tired (and I have an Electricity and Magnetism midterm in an hour, so I need to prepare for that) and just say, "we're discussing using words that have a seemingly common definition. We say things that seem to have some sort of sensical response in reply to each other. That means there is some sort of communication and thus [understanding]. Even if it isn't explicitly defined, there is [thinking] process involved, which causes some sort of [understanding]. It may not be sufficient to be defined as [knowledge] with just these premises, but they do seem necessary."

    And yeah, as an aspiring physicist, lol string "theory". not a real theory until it can be tested, just an abstraction that is somewhere between old definitions of philosophy and science (you know, the ancient one where they were the same thing?). :D

    We should keep these discussions up. I'm really enjoying them, and they're a great stress reliever for me, with my physics workload this quarter. (^_^) b
  5. Counterguardian's Avatar
    Yeah this is kind of fun. Hopefully with more input we can get an even more diverse field of discussion going; we just need to get the necessary components going.

    I'm going to have to correct a bit of your biomedical knowledge here with respect to neuron synapses. What is transmitted in a synapse are pre-formed neurotransmitters in the form of chemicals like nor-adrenaline/epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and a few more I cannot remember. These chemicals bind to membrane ion channels on the post-synaptic membrane which open to let a flood of charged potassium, sodium or chloride ions into the cell - thus creating the perception of the net movement of a quantized elementary charge from one neuron to another. Although I believe that the world is ultimately non-deterministic by virtue of the Many Worlds Theory, I believe that in a classical sense the brain is one system that is deterministic in the sense it is an interrelated system of knee-jerk reflexes.

    To illustrate this point, I am currently reading a book about neuroplasticity - the idea that the brain can actually rewire itself to circumvent very real neuropathological diseases such as a failed
    vestibular apparatus
    balance organ
    . This, to me indicates that the brain is not a machine where a broken circuit on the metaphorical motherboard results in the permanent disability of the machine, but rather a response system subject to natural selection. Integrating this with a rudimentary knowledge of neurophysiology and response pathways for hypertension of the blood, this inevitably spells out the idea that the only reason the brain seems so difficult to understand is that it is not a central processing system like a CPU, but rather just an intersecting point for all sensory and response neurons that trade connections with each other to "react" without need of "computing".

    I agree with you fully with the notion that knowledge and logic are intrinsically bound together. Knowledge is power, power can only be powerful if it has the means to influence or predict something; and logic is the means to link one concept to another. As such I also agree that the idea of an omniscient entity results in a very troubling set of consequences, and therefore casts doubt on the canon views of modern theology.

    As for the solipsism front, I think we're misunderstanding our stances on it. I believe that solipsism is self-contradictory (as is hard skepticism) by the very fact that we have emotions. If there is only me, and everything new I feel is something tricking me, then the fact that it is new means that it has never come into contact with my existence before and must therefore be "outside" of my existence.

    If I feel happy because I think something has happened to me, then something must be "the cause of my current happiness".
    If I feel stressed because I think I'm going to never enter medical school, then something must be "the cause of my feeling of stress that implies I will never enter medical school".

    To me, hard skepticism and solipsism group these causes together and renames them "something that is tricking you". But I can similarly group all the nerves in your body together and call them ducks, but no matter how much I try to convince you they are ducks, they are still nerves. These things we call "reality" are simply labels for concepts that make us feel certain things, and they are independent from us because they were all new to us at one stage. Therefore, I believe idealism and solipsism are merely semantic tricks that try to shake our feeling of reality by moving the goalposts.
  6. MZeroX's Avatar
    Oooh, thanks for the brief break down of how neural synapses work. That clarifies things up quite a bit. As well as raises more questions, lol.

    Since the ions in the synapses are flowing through channels, and there is a movement of net charge, wouldn't there still be a probability distribution that has slight variances due to that slight difference in charge variation? I mean I do acknowledge that I know next to nothing about how the brain works, but if ionized particles are the cause of what we "think of as thoughts", but ionized particles in a flow likewise move and the charge distribution is changing over a gradient simply because of movement rather than equilibrium states, then wouldn't the HUP still be in effect, though with less of deviation, since bound within the synapses? In which case you get both the extremely deterministic-ish reflexes due to the high probability of flow in a certain direction, but still get randomness and maybe freedom due to low probability but still possibility of deviation?

    The by-passing of neuropathological diseases is really cool, and it reminds me of this one experiment I heard about. I don't recall what type of fish, but severing the eye from the body (without destroying the eye-ball), then putting it back. This specific fish was able to regrow the connection to the eye. Similar things are being pursued by stem-cell researches, as well. Wouldn't the by-passing of problems in the brain by regrowing/retracing the route simply be a function much like bone marrow making blood, or more to the point, how embryonic stem cells divide and change according to what the DNA code says is necessary to grow at the time? If these are true, then the brain is just another part of the body which has repair functions. I can only see this function as more a defense mechanism, than a driving mechanism for the brain. In which case, I'm missing a piece of information necessary to come to the same conclusion that the brain doesn't compute--or rather, that the brain "reacting" is actually different from "computing", is something I'm not understanding.

    I can agree that hard skepticism is self contradicting. As for solipsism, I think it is less self-contradicting, though. That being said, adopting it and living by it is just as bad as accepting hard skepticism, so in a pragmatic view, curbstomping it is necessary. I should probably do more reading when I get the time, since these skeptical arguments, to me at least, are just a fun logical indirect proof (My guilty pleasure is symbolic formal logic. I can spend hours on end trying to make a proof work, and get sad if I finish a proof too quickly.).
  7. Counterguardian's Avatar
    Yes that is a very real possibility. In fact, some research indicates that our thought and value processes obey quantum logic rather than classical logic. It might be a bit of a stretch to say that this quantum weirdness on the macro scale may be due to these fluctuations in neuron activation due to the quantum jiggling (note a neuron only "hears" a signal if the voltage across its membrane reaches -50mV at the
    axon hillock
    relay center
    due to these ion movements).

    As for the neurocircuitry issue, if we were to break it down to the body's basic physiology in the case of high blood pressure we observe the following set of reflexes:

    High blood pressure stretches arteries and triggers nerve firing -> efferent signal travels to brainstem -> neuron at brainstem triggers both 1) a neuron that disables the neuron responsible for noradrenaline/epinephrine release, and 2) enables the neuron responsible for slowing heart rate

    This system that integrates the brain as a "processing center" is in fact a self-sufficient set of "logic gates" which does not even seem dependent on the location of where this stuff happens but rather takes place in the brain out of convenience, because the same reflex pathway I detailed above might even trigger responses due to branching to other loops like "the response for fatigue" or "mental energy and attentiveness". Expand this system to encompass the whole body, and suddenly you have a self-sufficient system that describes the entire human condition; with the exception that consciousness is no longer a "mystery factor" floating around and that all our thought processes are actually knee-jerk reactions to things such as touch, smell and sight.

    The thing to consider with respect to neurocircuitry is that it doesn't seem to "obey" a set of functions, but it seems rather to reflect a set of circumstances. Surgically cutting a monkey's median nerve at the hand removes the activity at the area of the brain responsible for feeling things at the palm. If the brain was a machine, you would expect it to remain that way until the nerves rejoined or a similar event - instead we observe the brain areas that "process" the nearby nerves that supply the back of the hand and the pinky/ring fingers end up invading the space used by the median nerve. Similarly when researchers sewed two fingers together so they moved as one, the brain maps for those two fingers merged into one. The nerves of the brain can be seen as merely a set of highways, and reflexes use them to commute from sensing to reaction - and also take shortcuts if there are places in the brain that aren't being used in the same way you would drive in a bus lane during off-peak hours.

    It is a kind of "computing" if you really want to put it that way, but not in the common sense that a computer does by running numbers and pre-defined functions in its construction.

    Personally, I find it hard to compute proofs. I usually end up with what I started with.
  8. MZeroX's Avatar
    yeah, I'd categorize that entire biological process as "computing", but "computing" as it is syntactically correct for the carbon-based processor: the brain.
    So the running numbers and predefined logic gates of a silicon or what-have-you "computer" cpu is just the syntactically correct form for itself. I always thought that the difference in physical constitution was enough to imply that much of a difference without causing disagreement. Guess I'll need to think that through some more.

    Eh, whenever you run into dead end in a proof, you either use addition and then a de morgan's transformation, or you make an asspull assumption that looks like what you want, sort of. At least that's what I do, and it works more often than not. ^^;