While we are still at altitude, let's summarize what we see in the forest below and try to pick out our path toward the clearing which will give us at least some understanding of the real world. We see the major dense thickets of science, mathematics, philosophy, religion, logic, and language. Looking at these thickets from the outside, we see that on the periphery of each discipline are the major results or conclusions that the professionals in those fields (or groves) have offered to the public. This is fortunate for our enquiry because we won't have to plunge into those dense woods and re-discover these results for ourselves. We can just take advantage of them directly as long as we understand them to some degree.
So, for example, we don't need to study science in order to understand the constituents of ordinary matter at the quark and lepton level, as it has been described in the popular literature for lay people as the Standard Model. Similarly, without immersing ourselves in the study of theology, we can avail ourselves of the solutions to the problem of evil as it has been worked out by theologians over the centuries.
In addition to the positive results of the various disciplines that are available to us, we can also see on the periphery of each grove the anomalies and embarrassments that still dog those subjects. In my approach to coming to an understanding of reality, these anomalies and unsolved problems will play a greater role than the positive results will. As I see it, the positive results merely provide constraints within which we must stay, but the anomalies suggest new paths and options that might lead to new insights and understanding. It may not work out that way, but that is my hunch right now.
So let's continue with our summary and try to list both the positive results available from the various disciplines and also the anomalies and problems associated with them.
Science has provided by far the most comprehensive, not to mention useful, set of explanations of reality of all. Thanks to science, and in particular their results during the past several hundred years, we have a good mechanical understanding of most things in the visible universe from distant galaxy clusters to the fundamental particles and their interactions and now, within only the past 60 years, an understanding of the mechanisms of life down to the molecular level. Many, if not most, of these explanations have replaced previous explanations given by religions and have thus proved those religious explanations wrong.
But, as I said, these positive results give us a starting point and constraints on our journey to a more complete understanding of reality. Yes, I know, it is presumptive and seemingly foolhardy to think that we can go beyond what science has been able to do, but I am foolhardy enough to try it anyway.
My courage, or temerity, comes mainly from some of the anomalies of science. Or at least they seem to be anomalies to me.
The first among these is the phenomenon of conscious experience. If you think about it, this experience is the most immediate phenomenon there is. Most phenomena are presented to your consciousness through one or more of your senses. Then, when combined with a great store of memories of related experiences, you perceive the phenomenon and come to believe that it represents, or even "is", something in the real world. Thus all our worldly experiences are accumulations of perceptions of phenomena. But the phenomenon of thinking, is perceived without any sensory input and it is immediately accessible to us as soon as we give it any thought whatsoever.
If the first premise of my previous paragraph is true, that is, "If you think about it", then you will have a conscious experience. You will experience "thinking about it". You can do that in response to a suggestion like mine, or you can do it without any provocation any time you like. I distinctly remember doing so for the first time when I was 4 or 5 years old. I was utterly blown away at that tender age when I realized that I had the power to think, to direct my thoughts to anything I liked, to recall memories of past experiences, and to deliberately try to commit certain experiences to memory for recalling later. I began wondering what this powerful capability really was and how it worked. I have not ceased wondering the same things for the past 65 intervening years.
But I am losing too much altitude here. Rather than getting into this fascinating subject now, lets climb back up and finish looking at the anomalies of science and then look at the results and anomalies of the other disciplines before we get into too much detail.
So the big anomaly of science is the ignorance of the conscious experience in spite of its being the most self-evident phenomenon there is. For most of the 20th century, science ignored consciousness and as much as claimed that it didn't exist. Now, the scientific attitude is that consciousness is nothing more than an epi-phenomenon of brain states. I have strongly held reasons to reject this position, but I'll leave them for later.
A consciousness-related anomaly is the ubiquitous phenomenon of sleep among animals. Science can give no explanation for this in spite of it being an obvious, in-your-face, counter-example to the theory of evolution, in which science puts so much faith.
Another scientific anomaly is the weirdness of quantum theory. Another one I have already mentioned: is that science can only account for and explain about 5 percent of whatever makes up the universe. Moreover, they can't explain the total extent of the universe. They are now toying with the idea that what we have called "The" universe ever since Hubble, might just be one of an "infinite" number of parallel universes. Such is the fuzzy border of the science grove.
The positive results of mathematics have been enormous, primarily for providing working tools for science. The results of Turing and Goedel have given us clear constraints on what we can say for sure within mathematics, and of course, mathematics still says nothing much, if anything, about reality. Even so, I have discovered the work of Dr. Richard Stafford [(7/11/15) cf. The Foundations of Physical Reality] which convinces me that he has solved Hilbert's Sixth Problem, and as a result, has demonstrated logical constraints on how reality may be interpreted. But in order to stay at altitude for the moment, I'll leave that discussion for later.
The primary anomaly in mathematics is what I consider to be the nonsense introduced by the acceptance of the notion of infinity. This notion was assumed by the ancients and it was systematically defined and developed by Cantor. But in my opinion, the paradoxes immediately evident to Cantor, Russell, and others should have disqualified the notion immediately from being included in the body of mathematics. This position was argued unsuccessfully by Brouwer and Kronecker, but I still think they were right. More on this later also.
Philosophy has probably been the most active discipline over the millennia but with most of its positive results spun off to form the various sciences. What remains is a sort of middle ground between science and religion. Philosophers are sort of forced to accept the results of science. Since Kuhn, though, they have taken the position that even science can't claim certainty, and that their theories, useful as they are, are probably going to be replaced by the next paradigm soon anyway. But the remaining philosophical offerings seem to have reverted back to the sophistry of Scholasticism. I don't think much useful in the explanation of reality will come from philosophy at this juncture. With the likes of Deconstructionism, the entire discipline seems to me to be nothing but anomalies.
Religion has produced the remarkable fact that nearly all people for all time have demonstrated the proclivity to accept authoritative "explanations" for manifest puzzles. We see this in the ubiquitous structures of religious organizations, from the ancient Hebrews to Jim Jones. It is natural that individuals would have capitalized on this proclivity and taken on the positions of authority and so developed the many religious organizations. But in terms of explanations of reality, religion has done less well than philosophy. While philosophy did produce some promising explanations, which as I mentioned became scientific studies, religions have produced more static explanations which have been defended for millennia against the more reasonable explanations of philosophy and science.
One product of religion, however, that I think provides a promising and positive help to our enquiry is the mystical tradition. I will have much more to say about this later so I'll leave it for now.
The major anomaly of religion is the problem of evil and injustice in the world. This will provide another focal point of our enquiry into what is really going on in reality.
Logic has been the backbone of philosophy, science, and mathematics down through the centuries. Until the 20th century, logic changed little from the time of Aristotle. It reached its apogee at the turn of the 20 century when it was believed by some, (I think I already mentioned Hilbert's program), that all mathematics could be based on logic. And since mathematics is the language of science, a great part of science also rests on logic. So the positive products of science, philosophy, and mathematics can, in a sense, be attributed to logic. And now, with modern developments in logic, such as three-valued-logic and fuzzy logic, we have additional tools to use in our pursuit. These new developments could be seen as anomalies in the traditional subject of logic.
(The fact that religions have claimed that logic does not apply to their doctrines has, particularly in more recent times, led individuals to step away from religions altogether.)
Language is at the very basis of all the previous disciplines. Only thought itself is prior to language. Ideas in science, mathematics, philosophy, religion, and logic, are all expressed and communicated in language. The only difference is in the amount of rigor. Mathematics and logic have the highest standards for rigor, followed probably by science, then philosophy, and finally religion.
But rigor bumps up against limitations with definitions and with semantics, or meaning. Definitions can't be made except by using other terms, which makes all definitions circular. This destroys or obviates all meaning for the words. Mathematics and logic deal with this problem by establishing a specific set of intentionally undefined terms and by foregoing any claims on meaning. Science attempts to establish meaning by inductively tying the meanings of terms to commonly experienced phenomena. So a great amount of science consists in the classifying, describing, and naming of various aspects of what we all seem to experience as phenomena in the world. Theories are then logically woven around these terms as though they are well-understood.
Language, though, as a subject in itself, is worthy of our attention. There are linguistic theories which claim that there is some considerable innate capability for language in humans and that the very possibility for understanding certain aspects of reality are limited by, or determined by, the particular language first learned by an individual. These ideas will also be instrumental in our enquiry. The major anomaly in language, in my opinion, is the rate at which children acquire their vocabularies in their early years. It seems that they do it faster than they are even exposed to the words in their daily experiences.
Now, finally, looking down on these six dense groves of trees, and looking at their various fuzzy boundaries, can we see a reasonable path through or among them that will lead to the clearing we seek?
In amongst and between these formal disciplines are phenomena like the paranormal claims of UFOs, ESP, reincarnation, ghosts, sasquatches, and so on. Our path might touch on some of these as we pick our way through the woods on the way to understanding. Right now, I'm getting tired and hungry again, so I'll leave the general outline of our approach until next time, or later.
©2015 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.