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Word-thinkers

Scott Adams has described three categories of people: Rational people, word-thinkers and persuaders.

Word-Thinkers: Use labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. This group is 99% of the world.

Word-thinkers are people who fail to make the map-territory distinction that I wrote about years ago. Persuaders are people who are good at the rhetoric that I more recently wrote about disliking the necessity of. Scott Adams is talking about the same kinds of things, but he is a better communicator than me. I like that I can now accuse people of being word-thinkers and supply a link.

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59 comments to Word-thinkers

  • QET

    Adams (and maybe Fisher) ought to consider what Bertram Russell wrote over 80 years ago: It is characteristic of the advance of science that less and less is found to be datum, and more and more is found to be inference.

    I submit that 99.99999999% of all people who differentiate themselves from hoi polloi by imagining that their thinking is “rational” and proceeds according to “data and reason” whereas the people who disagree with them are described using a more or less thinly veiled pejorative (such as “word-thinker”) wouldn’t be able to tell a datum from an inference if their lives depended on it.

    I also submit that Adams et al. are oblivious to the fact of noetic heterogeneity described by, among others, Dilthey (though the term itself was coined by Leo Strauss).

  • In my experiences there are only two kind of people: smart folks who agree with me and stupid folks who do not.

    And everyone thinks this 😉

  • Alex

    Color me unimpressed. Many people, seemingly Adams is one of them, simply mean “person X agrees with me”, when they say “person X is rational”. The reality is that we are all rational, with distinct and different priors. Adams mislabels when he says “Rational People: Use data and reason to arrive at truth.”

    In reality, data and reason are merely tools. In order to interpret them, an ideology is needed. Data is simply naked, observed fact. Joe killed John with a knife. No one saw this happen, but using reasoning skills and observational fact, Joe and John entered the kitchen. A few seconds later a struggle was heard by people in other rooms. Upon entering the kitchen, people saw Joe, covered in blood holding a knife, standing over a John’s lifeless body. And it can go on.

    You know what cannot be determined though these series of observations and reasoning steps? Whether or not Joe killing John was wrong. To make the value judgement of whether or not Joe was in the wrong and should be subject to punishment cannot be determined by mere fact and reasoning. To say that a life is valueable and should not be ended with out just cause (defining just cause cannot be determined by mere observation and reason either) is not something determined by fact or reason.

    In and of itself, Joe stabbing John to death, considered as a mere fact, is meaningless. The meaning only comes in when someone says “Joe was wrong for killing John”, which can lead to a counter “John violently threatened Joe, causing a fight resulting in Joe killing John in self-defense, thus John was wrong”. The two different statements cannot be reconciled by mere reason and fact. Ideology is required to place value on things.

    Whether or not you think Joe was “right” or not hinges exclusively on ideology. Meaning two rational people, with different value systems, i.e., ideologies, can reach two different conclusions. Witness the divide among people discussing whether or not abortion is right or wrong. The argument hinges exclusively on the idea that a fetus is a human being entitled to the right to life. Pro-abortionists don’t think so, while pro-lifers do. These two positions cannot be reconciled in any “rational” manner, using only facts and reason. This divide, that cannot be reconciled by any manner using only facts and reason lies at the core of all political and social problems, whether it be abortion, welfare, BLM, BREXIT, etc.

    These value judgments can only be determined by ideology. We are all ideological and we all have different values. Being unable to recognize other people’s differing values doesn’t make those other people irrational. It just makes you a closed minded intellectual midget.

    Those who claim to be rational people only interested in facts and reason are the people most blind to the fact that they are a slave to an unmentioned, though implicit, ideology.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Purely by accident, I discovered years ago that my wife – who is not in the least ‘slow’ – doesn’t think in words at all: she manipulates images in her head, and when she wants to say something, she visualizes the words and reads them off. I have absolutely no idea how Adam’s categories would, or could, apply to her.

    After I found this out, I started asking people if they thought in words or images, and found that image-thinking, or a combination of word and image thinking, is not uncommon. Academics tend to be word-thinkers, which may explain how the fact that we have two ‘operating systems’ – or at least two ‘user interfaces’ – got overlooked.

  • Mr Ed

    It’s perfectly plain to me that people who don’t think like me don’t think.

  • Anat T.

    PersonFromPorlock,
    I agree, except that some academics do think in images. I believe I do, and not only because my field is art history. I tend to structure my data visually as if on a map.

  • Abraham Lincoln once asked an audience how many legs a dog would have if you called the tail a leg. ‘Five’, replied someone from the audience, letting Lincoln explain that calling the tail a leg didn’t make it a leg.

    If you can get an audience to listen even briefly, you can disrupt word-thinking on specific subjects. Of course, some modern word thinking (e.g. “hate speech”) is intended to ensure you never get their attention.

    PersonFromPorlock (July 20, 2016 at 7:38 pm) is right that some people think in words and some do not but only translate their thoughts into words to communicate with others.

  • Rob Fisher

    QET and Alex: I’m pretty sure Adams is not asserting his rationality therefore superiority, here. He’s just pointing out that a lot of the time, a lot of people are susceptible to the kind of persuasion he is describing: persuasion that boils down to the misuse of labels.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Rob,

    I love you and Monster. I will send you chocolates at Valentine’s, and I am adding you to the very short list of folks who Understand. :>)

    Monster’s point is the one I keep trying to make over and over; here, there (as in Zanzibar for instance), and everywhere.

    Especially this: Words are the symbols we use to push concepts around in our minds. If we are not clear on what our words mean, especially in our inner discussions, we end up with mush. (I grant it may be mush that sounds great. :>) ) Quoting Monster:

    The use of language is not limited to communication. In fact, I believe that communication is not even the primary use of language, despite the common belief that it is. That honor belongs to cognition.

    When we are trying to think seriously, we need to be watching out for such things as switching the meaning of a word in mid-thought. Catching this sort of mistake is somewhat like trying to get ahold of a well-greased pig, as the saying goes, but it’s necessary all the same.

    Follow Rob’s second link (on the “map-territory distinction”) to his 2011 posting, and Read the Whole Thing. Then follow the link to the “epic comment on Eric Raymond’s ‘blog’ [ugh!],” and read Monster’s comment. Having done so, I’m sure your spouse or your dog will be blinded by the greatly increased glow of your halo. 😉

    ‘Scuse me now, I gots to go read Rob’s whole 2011 posting, and then Eric’s. If I’m not back by Christmas, send St. Bernards with well-filled brandy flasks.

    . . .

    As to people who “think in images,” I don’t mean to dismiss out-of-hand the notion that they exist. But it does seem clear to me that words have to come into the picture (!) at some point.

    Personally: At some point an image pops into my head. This may or may not be related to a sort of prior vague idea. The image seems to be a sort of metaphor for the idea; the task then becomes to translate the non-verbal metaphor into words.

    If I can’t manage to do that, either the picture or the verbalization needs further work.

    And I recently read a comment by some engineer to the effect that he doesn’t do logic in words; he does it by imagining systems of joined pipes or wires. What am I supposed to do, tell him he’s wrong? (LOL)

    Just the same, words are very important, being careful with them is very important, and even people who think in images need to be aware of this; because sooner or later, they will have to verbalize, and the words will have to make sense both to themselves and to others.

  • Thailover

    I’ve been saying for quite a while now that the “matrix is composed of words” and that a shockingly high percentage of the public prove incapable of even the most basic of abstract thinking.

    Quick example; there can be no cause of the origin of the universe IF by origin of the universe we mean the origin of time, space and energy, because ’cause’ must pre-exist effect, and by definition there can be no ‘before’ the origin of time, nor a place for a cause before the origin of space.

    Now, even if you don’t “believe” in this model, i.e subscribe to it, one should be able to reason within the parameters of the abstract problem that Prof Hawking called the No Boundary Condition.

    But a shocking number of people simply cannot wrap their heads around it. That not only would it make no sense to talk about a cause for the origin of time and space, but one would be speaking gibberish if one did. To insist on there being a cause for the origin of the universe in this specific context is to NOT reason, but to simply offer meaningless platitudes masquerading as reasoning that make no sense, like saying north of the north pole, or square circles or unowned property.

    I watched a video today of Pres candidate Ben Carson, by all accounts a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon, talk about how he thinks the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of species evolution is nonsense. (Speaking in a church no less). He started out talking about the “high highfalutin” scientists who proposed the BBT. Now, perhaps he can be excused for thinking the the BBT proposes something “big” and an explosive “bang” when it actually proposes an extraordinarily tiny subatomic quantum fluctuation and subsequent rapid expansion of space itself, no “bang” at all. But he can’t be excused for bringing up, within a few sentences, the topic of the majesty of the heavens and how we can predict “heavenly bodies” with high precision and that this can’t happen by accident.

    Why can’t he be excused? Who is it exactly that’s making these highly precise calculations and predictions? Oh, the same “high highfalutin” scientists, of course, who, it is suggested, know less about their own erudite complex fields of cosmology and various forms of physics, quantum and relativistic, than theocrats and preachers.

  • Thailover

    Sorry about the above. My spell check changed “high falutin” to “high highfalutin”.

  • Thailover

    Rob Fisher,
    This is exactly why e.e. cummings wrote poetry in such a seemingly broken manner. People group common, even hackneyed phrases and ideas together until they become completely mind-numbed and inured to the meaning behind them. Cummings method was to convey meaning using words but to do it so unconventionally that one is forced to consider the meanings and ideas anew.

  • Thailover

    The power of wordcraft can be likened to the power of magick itself since magick happens within the mind and the power of rhetoric and propaganda can shape world perception. When Pres Obama says that “our” biggest threat is not terrorism, not the threat of nuclear war, but rather global warming, an alarming number of people never bat an eye in disbelief or incredulity.

  • Cal

    Can’t say I found Adams’ category of ‘word-thinkers’ very illuminating. He makes a few okay, but fairly basic, points. But generally it’s the sort of standard stuff you hear from undergraduates who’ve just realized how dumb most people are, but who are now over-estimating how brilliant they are.

  • Julie near Chicago (July 21, 2016 at 1:19 am): “As to people who “think in images,” I don’t mean to dismiss out-of-hand the notion that they exist. But it does seem clear to me that words have to come into the picture (!) at some point.”

    Indeed they do, to translate the idea, and it may be that this point allows for corruption of the idea, e.g. if some words are strongly presented by the culture. As against that, image thinkers are sometimes very aware that their words imperfectly reflect their idea. PersonFromPorlock says his wife is not ‘slow’. If he means, not stupid, I certainly agree that those who think in images can be anything but stupid. However my experience, as someone who sometimes runs meetings, is that an image thinker, during a fast-moving conversation, may interrupt – may show they have something to say – and then need a few seconds to translate their thought into words, where a word thinker could start speaking immediately.

    I’d be interested if PersonFromPorlock thinks what I describe is true only of a subset of image thinkers.

  • Thailover (July 21, 2016 at 2:55 am): “by definition there can be no ‘before’ the origin of time, nor a place for a cause before the origin of space.”

    To me, this seems like a good example of how words can imprison the mind. It is indeed true that the big bang is the start of time – in one definition of the word time – just as the bug crunch will be its end. (My ‘true’ is taking the considerable scientific evidence for the first, and possibility of the second, as given for purposes of this discussion.) A huge aspect of scientific reasoning is relating events to causes earlier in time, so the start of time – the end of reverse time in which one traces these causes – is the end of that particular endeavour.

    Before I get to the meat, I’ll note the more trivial objection that some theories (one of which I used in the only SF short story I ever bothered to write) postulate not all information is destroyed at the big crunch or invisible through the big bang. Such theories are less favoured today than the pure white-hole / black-hole models, but if someone suggested such popularity of mathematical purity were partly an example of the ludic fallacy, I’d not swear they were wholly wrong.

    A more serious objection arises from the concept of a curved space-time. If you do a lot of mathematical work, some of it feeling rather unnatural, curvature can be defined wholly intrinsically – wholly within the curved surface itself. To say the same thing in another way, our minds strongly present the idea of a curved space-time being curved in something. And of course all those words ‘time’, ‘space’ etc. promptly acquire new meanings in relation to that ‘something’.

    Both Hawking and my old supervisor Penrose, like good scientists, thought about what boundary conditions one might imagine for the big bang, and how it differs from the big crunch. Intrinsic curvature is both the ‘inside our realty’ representation of a surface being curved in something and also the attempt to reason/represent the same information as far as we can without using that ‘something’. In the same way, boundary conditions on the big bang are both the ‘inside our reality’ representation of its having a cause and also the ability to reason/represent the same information as far as we can without using that ’cause’.

    Saying that time starts at the big bang so it cannot have a cause is like saying the earth cannot have a cause because there would be nowhere on the surface of the earth for that cause to occur before the earth was formed. It is exactly what this thread is about – being trapped within the confusing meanings of words.

  • QET

    Rob sez: I’m pretty sure Adams is not asserting his rationality therefore superiority, here. He’s just pointing out that a lot of the time, a lot of people are susceptible to the kind of persuasion he is describing: persuasion that boils down to the misuse of labels.

    Perhaps, though in my experience no one ever rank orders cognitive processes and places himself into an inferior category. But this question–the way in which people think–has been one of the chief concerns of philosophy for centuries, occupying entire lifetimes of some of the world’s greatest minds, and Adams’ reductio ad absurdum comes off as glib and not in any way illuminative of anything.

    In fact thinking in words is the highest and best way to think–assuming one seeks the truth–about things of the greatest importance to human life and well-being. When Adams says “data and reason,” what he is really saying is “computation.” Computational methods have long been held up by certain Enlightenment sectarians as the apogee of Reason (which itself is assumed, without much ado, to be the great end and goal of humanity), and in the last 40 years as mechanical computing devices have become more sophisticated, computation as the highest and best form of human thought has only gained acolytes.

    But, in addition to everything else that may be said against this worship of a false idol, it is certainly the case that any computation is only as good as the data on which it computes, and so we arrive ultimately, again, at the question of “data”: what it is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.

  • Julie near Chicago

    As Niall may know and Thailover probably knows, Miss R’s solution to the paradox of time-with-no-beginning is said to have been that in fact time is a closed circle — I think of it as a ccross-section of a tube — and, I believe, stationary: so that we move along it, or through it, rather than its moving past us, as it appears to do. (When we first start pulling out of the railroad station or the subway stop, it often seems as if the walls are moving backward past us, rather than that we are moving forward past them. And sure, we can turn this into a discussion about reference frames, but let’s don’t. We’re talking about how the world looks to us, not how we look to the world.)

    Of course, that basic framework leaves a lot to be worked out. Whether any of the serious Objectivists or near-Objectivists have done so, I have no idea.

    . . .

    As for me … I came to the conclusion long ago (don’t stop me just because you’re heard this a hundred time) that there are axioms, by which I mean the ground rules of logical thought which are always present in logical thinking, no matter the discipline; there are postulates, assumptions about certain relationships among the elements of the system that are made without proof and which cannot be proven; and the definitions of the elements and relationships among them within the system. Then we have the theorems, or provable statements about things within the system.

    When we reason about the Real World, we try to choose postulates for which we (by “we,” I mean “one”) believe we have strong evidence, but not of the sort which would prove the postulates to be “correct.” If we could actually prove the postulates, then they would be theorems, not postulates.

    Although, it can happen (I think) that there might be two (or even infinitely many) sets of postulates, such that each set can be derived as theorems using one of the other sets as the working postulates.

    It so often seems to me that people, even people who ought to know better, like mathematicians, keep trying to derive Reality. But that cannot be done, in logic, because if Reality is logical (i.e., rationally or logically understandable) then it can be thought of as a logic system, and as such when one thinks about it from that point of view one must be using postulates, principles that one assumes to be true but that one cannot prove. Although, usually the person doing the thinking thinks that his foundational principles are bloody obvious. *g*

    From this point of view, if one really believes in a genuinely FIRST First Event — whether it’s what we call “The Big Bang” or “The Birth of a Head of Lettuce Named Ralph” — then it’s meaningless to ask what caused it. By assumption, already, NOTHING caused it because there was nothing TO cause it. It was Tom Bombadil, the First. So, either Causality is not a principle valid throughout the whole of Reality, at every “place” and “time,” for it fails for the First Event; or else it is a universally valid principle, in which case there never was a First Event. This I believe was the reasoning that led Miss R. to decide that Time has the nature of a closed circle.

    Niall, in your last paragraph it sounds as if my view is precisely the one against which you’re arguing. But if so, there’s a hitch, because if in fact there WERE something that caused the First Event, then that something also would be part of Reality (which includes the past as well as the present), so that Bombadil was not First after all, contrary to hypothesis.

  • Watchman

    How does word-thinking work with people who are fluent in multiple languages, and can therefore think in words which do not match properly with the words in other languages (semantic ranges very rarely overlapping exactly)? Surely they automatically challenge the illusions created by words when situations mean the same issues occur in both languges.

    Or indeed how does word-thinking work with people who know the origins of words – thus I am perfectly capable of thinking about power, but I also see this as talking about ability to do something (power shares a root with French pouvoir, ‘to be able’) rather than an absolute – and this leads to a consideration of the fact Marx did not write in English but German, so if someone is talking about power with a socialist background they are more likely to be talking about force.

    I do word-think (just to prove a suspicion or two expressed above, I am also apparently well-educated (certainly well enough educated to know what it is worth…)), but I also think about the words. Power is so much more fun to consider when you realise it is limited to what those with power can actually do, and when many of those who disagree with you are really talking about the threat of force (although in fairness, Michel Foucault, hardly the most likely inspiration around here, had these thoughts long before me).

  • Fred Z

    Words are shorthand for reality, as are many images. As Magritte showed with “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”

    Alex, perhaps it’s the contrarian in me, but your Joe John “facts” do not include “Joe killed John”, which is a conclusion. The actual “facts” are:
    1. People saw Joe and John enter the kitchen.
    2. People heard a struggle.
    3. People saw a blood covered Joe with a knife over John’s body.

    These “facts” are equally consistent with Joe trying unsuccessfully to use physical force to prevent John from committing suicide by stabbing himself.

    I put “facts” in quotes because any courtroom lawyer will tell you that what people saw and heard is the least reliable evidence of all.

  • Julie, if I understand your last paragraph correctly, we both agree that it would be circular reasoning to select an event as the first cause, as one of our axioms, and then assert, as an argument, that that first event was correctly selected because nothing could come before it because it was first.

    The universe (appears to have) started at a finite time in the past and be of finite (if pretty big to our perceptions) size and may well have a finite end time and so be always of constrained extent. The universe has boundaries – the big bang and big crunch are boundaries. Every black hole is a boundary – and is part of the big crunch if it happens: one can regard falling into a black hole as simply a way of getting to the end of the universe faster than others.

    One may postulate that these boundaries (these rather complicated boundaries – do not think of them as simple south-pole / north-pole points) are walls into nothingness – that there is nothing beyond and never was or will be. My point, in reply to Thailover, was simply that that is a postulate, an axiom. It is not self-proving, nor is it conceptually especially compelling.

    In my earlier comment, I occasionally used the phrase ‘our reality’ where it might have been safer for me to write ‘our space-time’ to convey my meaning. Apologies if that caused confusion. That is another example of how words can confuse.

    And now for a lighter note.

    Decades ago, a visiting professor stood up in the basement lecture room of the Oxford maths department and said, “In this lecture, I will assert that the universe is closed and bounded”. With no warning, (the storm came on suddenly) a bolt of lightening struck a house on Rose Hill (more than a mile away), knocking it down, while thunder rolled around the town, sounding, in that basement auditorium, like an explosion. In the shocked silence that followed, a voice said, “Phil, see if you can get way with claiming the universe is of finite domain.” We spent the next few days making provocative scientific statements in hope that further helpful heavenly hints would be vouchsafed, but none came. There was also much discussion whether the lightening meant that the universe was open and infinite, or whether it was indeed closed and bounded, but this dangerous knowledge was not to be bruited widely.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall’s anecdote reminds me of Frau Blücher from Young Frankenstein. I wished i had been there!

    WRT thinking in words vs images, i have an anecdote of my own. A long time ago, an Italian cousin asked me whether i think more in Italian or English. I replied that i think more in English, at least when outside Italy; but even more in images. She was surprised to hear that, although she is an art historian. At the same time, her brother-in-law said that he thinks in images too, although he is a lawyer.

    OTOH i find myself thinking more in words as i get older: i attribute that to having more experience in trying to get my thoughts across to other people, and also to having read more good writing.

    You might reasonably ask, how reliable is my introspection? or that of my cousin and her brother-in-law for that matter. I am not sure about that, but about 10 years ago i took an online IQ test measuring verbal and visual intelligence separately, and my visual IQ was distinctly higher than my verbal IQ.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, I’m certain we agree that the argument in you first paragraph just above is circular. I’m not sure that your statement amounts to mine, but it’s certainly in the ballpark. Perhaps when I am not asleep…. :>)

    Anyway, it does seem to me that time must be closed but unbounded, in order to escape the contradiction. So I apparently we’re not in agreement there. Anyway,

    Speaking of Dr. Penrose, did you ever tell me what your field is? I’m intensely curious.

    Also speaking of Dr.Penrose (and Dr. Hawking!), in my travels this afternoon I ran across Martin Gardner’s 1988 New York Times Book Review of Dr. Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. The piece is entitled “The Ultimate Turtle,” and it’s at

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1988/06/16/the-ultimate-turtle/ .

    Several things in it interested me; not the least of which is that Mr. Gardner describes himself as “a philosophical theist.” (Just what he means by that is not clear to me. Perhaps he will descend for a visit sometime soon, and elucidate.)

    Quoting Mr. Gardner,

    “As Hawking puts it, the universe is eternal, ‘completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.'”

    That’s what I’ve thought for over 40 years myself, so maybe after all Dr. H. is rather bright. *grin*

    If this is what you mean when you say “these boundaries are walls into nothingness,” then I’m with you.

    As for Jove’s attempt to wake up the math whizzes in the basement of Oxford, I think he went off in a huff, because you guys just didn’t get it. The fact is that the U. is open but bounded. :>))

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well … at a minimum, please pretend that “Anyway” at then end of the 2nd para. has been ejected out beyond the walls of Reality.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Julie, Hawking had not taken into account that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, because the evidence only appeared later.
    And if the Universe just ‘is’, then the ideal name for such a Universe, if it were conscious, would be ‘I am that am”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nicholas, “The Universe Exists” is an axiom. If it doesn’t exist, there are no people or other creatures, in particular no creatures capable of forming arguments. So any “proof” that the the U. doesn’t exist, or that its existence is debatable, we know is flawed. To state “the Universe does not exist” is already inherently a contradiction.

    Of course, I don’t know if you meant that seriously or if you were kidding again. If the latter, apologies. :>)

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    I was commenting on your quote from Mr. Gardner, and teasing out some philosophical implications. Also, your view is contrary to current dogma about the Multiverse, where the Universe is one of countless other cosmoi. And quantum physicists insist that things don’t really exist unless something is looking at it. So keep your eyes open, or the universe will disappear! And it will be your fault!!!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh of course, Nicholas. I am a Parent, so therefore automatically everything that happens is My Fault, unless it’s good. *grin*

    The point about the Universe, though, is that it consists of everything that can affect it. If there are other “universes” out there that can’t affect ours in any way, then in particular we can’t know they’re there. If it turns out that we can observe something about some of them, then that means that they do affect our Universe, so they are part of it by definition.

    Remember, I’m not talking about the “physical” universe. I’m talking about the totality of All That Is. I’m talking about Reality.

    Anyhow, if the U. disappears I hope it will take certain blighters with it. Then the rest of us can get on with things without all this hassle, distraction, and wasting of time. *snarl*

  • AKM

    Alex, if you read what Scott Adams actually said you will see that he states that rational people are, for the most part, imaginary.

  • Julie near Chicago, July 22, 2016 at 1:36 am: “I’m not sure that your statement amounts to mine”

    It doesn’t; my argument was a refutation of an assertion of Thailover (July 21, 2016 at 2:55 am). AFAICS, what you are saying and what I am saying are not in conflict. Your preferred view is consistent with the known data. I am not, save implicitly, asserting a preferred view, just noting some views that are consistent with the known data, and how that data is termed within each view.

    (Since you ask) my field was the causal structure of space-time boundaries (black holes / white holes), and I went from thence into generalising cohomological solutions of the field equations of general relativity.

    (It was and remains the research area of a number of people, almost all of them better mathematicians than I; the general solution to Einstein’s equations still awaits its discoverer. I succeeded in disproving a conjecture of Roger that the causal structure of the singularity of an ordinary black hole was a degenerate case of a ring-structured singularity. Not only that, but it became clear that the pure ring structures of charged and spinning black holes are at great risk of degenerating towards the ordinary case. This is in some ways regrettable: it makes it harder to design a time machine.)

  • Midwesterner

    Julie,

    From this point of view, if one really believes in a genuinely FIRST First Event — whether it’s what we call “The Big Bang” or “The Birth of a Head of Lettuce Named Ralph” — then it’s meaningless to ask what caused it. By assumption, already, NOTHING caused it because there was nothing TO cause it.

    When I think of “first” I think not of creation causes and their results, but of potentials.

    Before something can happen, IE time and space popping out of nothingness, the potential and the possibility for the event must exist. There must exist a possibility for something to happen or it cannot happen. Potential cannot arise out of nothingness or it would not truly be nothingness. Nothingness cannot have features, even the feature of potential. If potential is a feature of a concept of nothingness, there may be some problems with one’s concept of nothingness.

    The point at which I begin to think in matryoshka models (exchanging infinite regression for circularity :-] ) is the question of how the possibility came to be. True nothingness cannot have possibilities.

    Thailover says “by definition there can be no ‘before’ the origin of time”. Logically, semantically true. This is a useful example of word thinking. Much like mathematics, careful sentence arrangement constructs logical word statements. Like math, they are only as good at describing reality as their scope and construction allows.

    TL’s statement represents thinking of time as something that passes, like riding a train across the countryside. If space and time are a bubble that arose out of nothingness, the assertion might be visually rephrased as “there can be nothing external to space/time”. Which is an untestable assertion that even hypothetically is predicated on knowledge from beyond the perspective of the observer.

    There is danger in thinking of somethingness as being confined to space/time. We are confined to space/time, but why not potentials that exist prior to or external to space/time? If our bubble of space time arose out of nothingness, then it is obvious that other bubbles of something must have arisen out of nothingness in other events and yet again, the very concept of nothingness is challenged. It seems a materialist bigotry to only think in terms of reality as we can access or imagine it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks, Niall. That clarifies things somewhat, as least as to what’s going on in this conversation. As for the Universe, I have a hunch we will never see and understand it in all its stark somethingness. :>)

    Moving on, were you doing theoretical physics, or did you think of it as cosmology?

    .

    Also, my naïve idea of black holes as “boundaries” would be to think of them as discrete “points” (or line segments, or volume segments; but retaining separation). Of course, in an n-dimensional linear vector space, each basis vector might be bounded but open at one end along its particular axis. (Technically, not the vector itself but its length.) This would suggest that the length of every linear vector in the space would be bounded by some particular length; but would not actually achieve that length. In two dimensions, if you rotate any given vector through the full 360˚ about the origin, the bounding curve will a circle, but the boundary, the circle itself, will lie “just outside” of the locus of the rotating vector. So, bounded (and of finite circumference), but open.

    I’m wondering if the sense in which wormholes might be thought of as “boundaries” might be somewhat analogous to that, or whether instead I need to dismount Shadowfax and go back to musty old Middle-Earthly libraries. ???

    But all this brings us to Mid’s point. I was going to ask you anyway: Do you think of the Universe as purely physical, or the way I do, as the set of Everything That Is or Ever Was; as Reality itself?

    For the sake of the argument, for instance, let us accept that “the Universe is expanding.” To me that would mean that the space that physical objects, energy, and fields can occupy is expanding, and these things (or at least the objects, concrete “things”) are moving ever outward and away from each other. And that would be the Philosopher’s Universe. But if you leave as-yet-unoccupied space out of your consideration of The Universe, you have the Universe of Things: Objects, forces, energy, and fields. This I think of as the Physical Universe, and it’s not what I mean when I talk about the Universe.

    Of course you can bring up the question of whether “space” can only exist if there is something occupying it; is there “Space” out there into which the physical elements of the Universe are moving? Indeed, is Space an idea we have invented because we notice it is not true that everything is contiguous with everything else? So we use the word “space” as our word (symbol) for the concept of these locales that appear to have nothing physical in them. Now that should be a way of putting it that is amenable to investigation, that is, we should be able to reason out some of the results of including this concept among the ideas that are fundamental to what we hope is our understanding of the World.

    All that really includes Mid’s points and issues, I think.

    But Mid, if I understand you correctly, I don’t think I agree with your conclusion about “materialist bigotry* ” *(grin)*.

    Although technically, the concept of “nothingness” is a place-marker, like 0, o “the empty set.” There’s nothing to say about it except that it has no characteristics, except that of the absence of any thing. (The “empty set” isn’t a set, because a set is a set of something(s). Some prefer to call it “the null set,” but I’m a dinosauress and sort of grew up with the Empty Set, so it doesn’t bother me. And I don’t think “null” instead of “empty” accomplishes anything. As one definition , Webster’s 1828 says,

    But as soon as you start talking about “potentials” in this alleged Nothingness, you’ve posited that there is something there: a ‘potential’ that some unknown X might come to exist, and more: that X might impinge on our World, so that it affects our world and, in principle, we can come to know of it (understanding it is something else). If the “potentials” to produce something that affects us never reach fruition, of course, then the Erewhon in which we imagined they might exist is forever unknown to us; it’s a product of imagination and fantasizing, both delightful activities that might provoke fun discussions or stories, but simply not REAL in any meaningful sense.

    And the other thing is, how are we supposed to think in terms which are the results of neither knowledge nor imagination? I can’t imagine (!) talking about anything that I can neither know nor imagine, except perhaps to sort of “feel around the edges” to find out if there is something there that my mind can work with.

    I’ll leave the last word to Mr. Stevens.

    “…[T]he listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

    .

    By the way, Mid, it’s good to hear from you again — been awhile. :>)) I hope things are going your way, and that it’s a little less broiling up there North of the Border than it is down here. :>(

  • William H. Stoddard

    Porlock: Actually, I have attended more than one panel at science fiction conventions where all the writers in a discussion agreed that the way they wrote books was to imagine the story in their heads as a series of images, like a movie, and then figure out how to describe the movie in language, as if they were doing novelizations. So by the time they started looking for words all the important decisions had been made. I’ve asked about things from my own perspective, which is that the words have a power of their own, and what words you find can change what happens, and regularly I’ve had writers think this is strange and foreign. I don’t think all writers are like that–I remember Tolkien discussing how Theoden might speak to Gandalf in “modern” language, and how a Theoden who spoke that way could not even think of leading the charge of the Rohirrim–but my intuitive assumption that writers would be people who cared about all about language for its own sake seems not to be consistent with such evidence as I have.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Julie: What you describe as Miss R’s approach to the question of the origin of the universe seems remarkably like Nietzsche’s conception of the Eternal Recurrence, in which time is not a line but a circle. It’s entirely possible that R was influenced by that model, as she was clearly influenced by Nietzsche in other ways, especially earlier in her life. But later on, she said at least sometimes that that sort of discussion was an example of what she called “rationalism” (in the bad sense): The attempt to decide what reality is like by examining the contents of one’s own mind rather than by looking at reality. In fact I have seen it argued that her metaphysics rejects all cosmological speculation: The universe is here (ontology), and the business of metaphysics is to remind us of that hereness, and not to try to imagine what it would be like if the universe were not here and where it would have come from (cosmology).

  • William H. Stoddard

    Midwesterner: Which of you by taking thought can add a cubit to his stature, or a dimension to his spatial continuum?

  • Julie, here are my attempts to answer your questions. I hope they answer them, or entertain, or both.

    usually, when I say “universe” I mean the four-dimensional space-time continuum that we inhabit. There is also what one could call the literalist meaning: the uni-verse is everything. In that meaning, anything beyond the boundaries of space-time would still be in the universe whereas in my more common usage of the word, it wouldn’t be.

    Where I came from, academically speaking, it was frequently (and, I admit, arrogantly 🙂 ) asserted that all science is physics and all physics is mathematics. Here is a sure test to distinguish a mathematician from a physicist: give them a function that diminishes too fast as you go out to spatial infinity. The physicist won’t care: so long as it is zero at infinity, who cares how fast it got there. The mathematician will care: if it drops off too fast as it approaches real infinity, it will blow up in the complex plane. I belong in the latter category. I did think of applying to Sciama’s astronomy group, not Roger’s mathematical one, in which case I would have been an astrophysicist/cosmologist, but that’s not the immediately obvious term. Modelling possible space times was a major activity. Relating them to observation was done very grossly: did they have a big bang? was there a period of expansion? And loads of models we spent much time on had no matter in them at all; they were free field solutions.

    I suspect this discussion may be getting a bit off-topic. 🙂 I’d still be interested in PersonFromPorlock’s opinion (or his wife’s opinion even more) re whether people who think in images typically need a pause, when they break into a fast-paced discussion, because they must translate their thought into words.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Julie: The phrase “walls into nothingness” sounds like a version of what Miss R calls “the fallacy of the reification of the zero.” This is the practice of treating a word that denotes nothing, nonexistence, or a nonentity as if it denoted something or some realm of being. It can be powerful as a literary trope, or even a mythic one: Many people imagine death as an experience, or as a metaphysical domain that can be entered, and monstrosities from Carroll’s boojum to Tolkien’s nine nazgul to Le Guin’s gebbeth have been portrayed as personifications of nonbeing. But it’s not a valid model of reality. It might reflect the peculiarities of language, which gives us words for nonbeing that take the form of substantives.

    Anyway, Aristotle dealt with that one: If you imagine going as far as possible, and ask, “What if I took one step more?” that one step would have to be part of space too; so space cannot be bounded. There’s no metaphysical border outside of which lies nonspatiality. Of course Miss R was even more an admirer of Aristotle than of Nietzsche.

  • Midwesterner

    Julie,

    My tentative distinction between ‘space’ and ‘nothingness’ is that ‘space’ falls within the fields of matter and it bears evidence of its proximity as ripples of gravity, light, electromagnetism, etc. give it dimension. ‘Nothingness’ falls outside of the penumbra of matter and is without any features at all. To answer Aristotle’s question raised by William, you can’t conduct the experiment because you will always exist while making the observation. You will carry space/time around you like an aura that surrounds all matter.

    Using those definitions for ‘space’ and ‘nothingness’ is space bounded and distinct from nothingness? More likely nothingness is contaminated via the inverse square law with ‘space’. Except can the ISL be applied to ‘nothingness’ if it has no dimension? If the ‘space’ is providing dimension as it propagates ‘into’ nothingness then things get even more interesting. I’m not sure how you could define a ‘boundary’ with nothingness much less find one.

    My ‘potentials’ as a feature of alleged nothingness is a real, if philosophical question. Can something with the potential to be something else all on its own without external assistance (space and time popping out of nothingness) truly be said to be nothing? If not, then is something popping out of nothingness truly an ‘origin’ event? If nothingness has the potential to burp out something, then isn’t the origin of that potential the ‘first’ we should be are looking for?

    I don’t think that other somethings that pop out of nothing necessarily impinge on our existence. But, if they are originating out of nothingness, then they could hardly be said to be originating ‘somewhere‘ else. Or somewhen else, for that matter.

    Niall,

    I am an image thinker for most things. Not only do I need a pause to translate, I avoid fast paced discussions entirely. Most of my conversations that transit the image/verbal boundary move very slowly and involve drawing utensils and graphic representations. Incoming information is the most difficult to process because I cannot control the pace; I can’t assemble the information into image form as fast as it is arriving. Outgoing information I tend to pause a lot while working out how to convey an awareness or question derived from a mental image to the other person. Metaphors can be very useful but sometimes several must be tried before the mental image/observation is conveyed. When I take notes of discussions, they are usually prose. When I take notes of my mental ramblings, they are usually sketches. When I was working out the intricacies of money supply expansion and contraction my notes were entirely sketches with words or prompts to remind me what various blobs and lines represented.

    BTW, last night a friend of mine brought up the Elitzur–Vaidman bomb tester. (I have interesting friends. This one is a plasma physicist.) I asked him if he could suggest some reading that would help a layman understand wave/particle duality. His answer strongly implied the unlikelihood of understanding it. 🙂 I read a little about the bomb tester when I got home and the image popped into my head of a guitar string vibrating. No matter where or how you touch the vibrating guitar string, you effect it everywhere else. I have no idea why some part of my brain thought it applied to the wave/particle duality but that is how a visual brain works. Try, test, discard a/o refine images of the concept being pursued.

    Anyone,

    As I build a mental image of a universe expanding while suspended in nothingness, I have a problem with the image that creates. In my image, ‘expanding’ is a less-than-helpful term since ‘nothingness’ provides no external measure for comparison. How can something be said to be expanding based solely on its own internal measurements? Shouldn’t changes observed be considered only as changes in internal proportions? Rather than the universe expanding, why not everything within it shrinking including even wavelengths and material means to measure them? Whatever problems that model creates, it may solve some others. We presume that by the simple expedient of measuring light-distance, we can conclude it is expanding. What if everything is shrinking and C is slowing down or time is speeding up or any number of other twists? Imagine you could lock the size of the space/time bubble. Could different theories offer alternate explanations for the internally perceived expansion?

  • Thailover

    Niall said,
    “Saying that time starts at the big bang so it cannot have a cause is like saying the earth cannot have a cause because there would be nowhere on the surface of the earth for that cause to occur before the earth was formed.”

    Bad analogy IMO. The latter is a self-contradiction, the former is not. Indeed, the alternative for the former merely kicks the ‘causation can’ back and back and back…with no ending (i.e. no beginning) ever.

    It’s like the old joke about the fellow who walks into a room to find someone else saying to himself “5,1,4,1,3”. He asks the fellow what he’s doing and he responds, “I’m just saying all of Pi backwards”.

    Not only would that pose a ‘time to do it’ problem, but there would be no least significant digit to begin with.

  • Thailover

    Midwesterner wrote,
    “What if everything is shrinking and C is slowing down or time is speeding up or any number of other twists? Imagine you could lock the size of the space/time bubble. Could different theories offer alternate explanations for the internally perceived expansion?”

    Indeed, the changing standard of a previously thought unchanging rate of the universal clock, as Newton perceived it, is what made space-time such an amazing discovery to begin with. One could argue that Einstein’s greatest insight was to take Lorentz seriously (i.e. literally).

    BTW, one of my own pet theories is that Lambda, dark energy’s version of the cosmological constant isn’t exactly what it’s cracked up to be, as I suspect light has an extraordinarly small mass rather than exactly 0 mass. Time dilation simply makes no sense when one factor reduces to zero in relation to an increase in the other IMO. The speed of light is finite, whilst time reduces to zero? What would it mean to say that photons exist for exactly 0 seconds by their own time frame? What does existing for EXACTLY zero seconds even supposed to mean?
    What I suspect instead is that very fine measurements of relativistic effects involving photons are very, very precise approximations of the truth, and that truth is that the difference is far beyond our ability to measure or even notice.

  • Thailover

    William H. Stoddard wrote,

    “Julie: The phrase “walls into nothingness” sounds like a version of what Miss R calls “the fallacy of the reification of the zero.” This is the practice of treating a word that denotes nothing, nonexistence, or a nonentity as if it denoted something or some realm of being. It can be powerful as a literary trope, or even a mythic one:”

    Indeed, but one could argue pedantically that zero is “something” (the empty set) whilst the MEMBERS of the zero set…are nothing. 😉

    But I get your point. An example perhaps is that since nothing is the opposite of existence, then “nothing cannot exist” ergo only somethings can exist. Although this may indeed mirror the reality of the origin of our universe, it also borders precariously on the shores of Alice having powerfully keen eyes in which she can see Nobody walking down the road.

  • Thailover

    Midwesterner wrote,
    “TL’s statement represents thinking of time as something that passes, like riding a train across the countryside. If space and time are a bubble that arose out of nothingness, the assertion might be visually rephrased as “there can be nothing external to space/time”. Which is an untestable assertion that even hypothetically is predicated on knowledge from beyond the perspective of the observer.”

    Special Relativity suggests that time doesn’t flow or pass objects, but rather that WE objects pass through IT, and the faster we travel through space, the slower we ‘travel’ through time and vise versa, with these two “rates” always equalling C of course, which is the real meaning of C, not merely the “speed of light” as is so ubiquitously said (to my annoyance).
    (If you want to see someone thuroughly confused, tell them that stationary objects travel through time at the speed of light, lol. Where it would be accurate to say that stationary objects travel through time at rate C. (Everything travels through space-time at rate C)).

    I’ve heard it said that Einstein subscribed to the “block time” theory in which all past, present and future are equally “real”. I don’t know if this is true or not.

  • Thailover

    Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray wrote,
    “And quantum physicists insist that things don’t really exist unless something is looking at it.”

    A common misunderstanding, perhaps due to the Copenhagen Interpretation and Niels Bohr. Indeed, quantum “weirdness” happens in tests like the double slit experiment even when the set-up is designed to distinguish between waves and particles…even when there is no conscious being around to see the immediate results.

    However, I do find theories like environmental decoherence to be interesting. The idea is that some properties or pairs of properties of subatomic particles aren’t merely unknowable, as per the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, but rather they’re not THERE yet. LOL.

  • Thailover

    Julie Near Chicago wrote,
    “Quoting Mr. Gardner, “As Hawking puts it, the universe is eternal, ‘completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.'” That’s what I’ve thought for over 40 years myself, so maybe after all Dr. H. is rather bright. *grin*”

    Realize though that “eternity” could be said to be all the time that there is. It doesn’t mean that time itself didn’t have an origin. Ergo one could say the universe always existed because there wasn’t a time that the universe didn’t exist, even though the universe and time itself had an origin.

    Yes, this is word play, but intriguing word play, and it’s apparently what Gardner was talking about since Hawking subscribes, and I think always subscribed, to the idea of time and space having an origin.

  • iowaan

    Label thinkers would be more accurate than word thinkers.
    People have vicious arguments over labels while basically ignoring or minimizing the underlying behaviours. i suppose that’s because insisting on the exact proper label makes them seem important, while not having to actually do anything.

  • Thailover

    Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray wrote,
    “And if the Universe just ‘is’, then the ideal name for such a Universe, if it were conscious, would be ‘I am that am”.”

    It could be argued that this response to Moses when Moses was asking what this god’s name is, should be interpreted as, “I’m the god that exists, dipshit”. 😉

    And it could also be argued that according to True Name Magic, that this god didn’t want anyone knowing it’s true name, since to have knowledge of one’s true name is to have some degree of power over it. Note Lilith uttering of his name and gaining the power to fly and fight angels and to successfully defy this god who could not take his power back as noted in Jewish mysticism (but he could lay a curse on her), and from the bible…

    Exodus 6:3
    “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El Shadday (the top god), but by my name YHWH was I not known to them.”

    Psalms 82:1
    “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty (El); he judgeth among the gods.”

    Why would an all-knowing and all powerful god who created the universe itself feel the need to hide his true identity…and his true name?

  • Thailover

    Julie near Chicago wrote,

    “From this point of view, if one really believes in a genuinely FIRST First Event — whether it’s what we call “The Big Bang” or “The Birth of a Head of Lettuce Named Ralph” — then it’s meaningless to ask what caused it. By assumption, already, NOTHING caused it because there was nothing TO cause it. It was Tom Bombadil, the First. So, either Causality is not a principle valid throughout the whole of Reality, at every “place” and “time,” for it fails for the First Event; or else it is a universally valid principle, in which case there never was a First Event. This I believe was the reasoning that led Miss R. to decide that Time has the nature of a closed circle.”

    Indeed, this is my thinking as well. “Everything has a cause” leaves no room for the causation chain to even begin. Ergo, since we are here and there is a present, then at least SOMETHING must be uncaused. Why not the origin of time and space itself, since to speak of a cause for the origin of time and space lends itself to absurdity.
    The usual ‘multiverse’ objection merely kicks the causation can back up the road without addressing what must be addressed, and that is acausality must occur at some point.

    The answer, if it’s to be found at all, will be in the realm of the quantum, not the physics of the macroscopic world. Which is why “(macroscopic) physics breaks down” when one considers the alleged primordial singularity and it’s supposed (according to these disciplines) infinite density and zero volume. (No one in their right might would suggest that mass divided by zero = infinity, lol).

    And BTW, Rand’s view that time doesn’t flow but rather we flow through time mirrors our modern thoughts about space-time. The faster we travel through space, the slower we progress through time and vise versa.

  • Thailover

    Midwesterner wrote,
    “If space and time are a bubble that arose out of nothingness, the assertion might be visually rephrased as “there can be nothing external to space/time”. Which is an untestable assertion that even hypothetically is predicated on knowledge from beyond the perspective of the observer.”

    What would it mean to say that something exists external to time and space? How is this not saying something akin to four-cornered triangles or north of the north pole?

    BTW, it’s suggested that nothing can exist outside the future’s “light cone”, but I’ve personally had experiences I can’t rationally explain.

    One such event is when I had a “vision of the future”, i.e. a visual memory of something that hadn’t happened yet. I saw my as of yet unborn niece, plain as day, with her naturally platinum blonde hair and cobalt blue eyes, holding on to the arm of a plain dark chocolate brown colored couch in a room I’ve never seen before.
    ‘Turns out, the vision is EXACTLY what my niece looked like at age 2, the plain dark chocolate brown couch turned out to be real as well, though I’ve never seen nor heard of it before, and the room I saw her in was the living room of a home they didn’t move into until my niece was between 2 and 3yrs old and I never saw until I helped them move into the new home. Coincidences by their very nature must occur, but this visual memory of the apparent future was true on every level to a degree that I just can’t explain by any “normal” mundane way.

    I’ve had other strange occurrences as well, like walking into a small Italian restaurant for the first time in a town I’ve never been to before and knowing the name of the sole waitress that had no name-tag. (Her name was Darla, which was also the name of a former fiance of mine. When “Darla” asked me how I knew her name, I told her that I don’t know. She was a bit frightened and wary of me after that, as you might imagine).

    I’m very much a scientific minded person and not prone to “magical thinking”, so I find such events a bit bewildering.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    GOD is the one being whose description is also its’ name, with no other contenders for the title. So no name would be needed.
    As for the plural form ‘gods’, isn’t the name Israel supposed to mean Holy-Prince? Aren’t we all supposed to be ‘adopted’ children of God?
    And my contribution to the Observer effect is to postulate the added principle of indirect observation. If I go out at night and see waves on the ocean, something is providing both the light to see the waves, and the gravitational nudge to create the waves! Even without looking at the moon, my indirect observations would keep it in existence. And so on for the whole Universe.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Thailover, Scientists have been trying to ‘outlaw’ premonitions from respectable quantum mechanics for years! Don’t worry about it. The two-slit experiment, and the Bell inequality, could all be explained with backwards-travelling photons, but you never hear scientists even mentioning these possibilities.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray, July 25, 2016 at 4:53 am: “The two-slit experiment, and the Bell inequality, could all be explained with backwards-travelling photons, but you never hear scientists even mentioning these possibilities.”

    Although I don’t recall any physics text that mentions it, I was certainly taught time-reversal explanations of three-prticle interactions, anti-matter as matter travelling backwards in time, etc, even as an undergraduate. That all physics is time-reversible except entropy is certainly taught, but the way of understanding specific cases as interactions between particles and quanta with opposed time directions was (and, I guess, still is) a lore thing, passed on in tutorials and etc.

    Thailover (July 25, 2016 at 2:11 am) quotes Nicholas saying “And quantum physicists insist that things don’t really exist unless something is looking at it.” and comments “A common misunderstanding…”. I wouldn’t say it is well-enough or universally enough understood that that, or much else, can simply be described as a misunderstanding. The question of what qualification is required by an observer – “Can shrodinger’s cat do it or is a higher qualification needed – a Ph. D. for example?” as one lecturer put it – remains unresolved. I belong ti the school that holds the whole idea of observer is a misunderstanding that is actually (mis)explaining effects we will only comprehend when general relativity and quantum field theory are unified – and that this will not happen the way the QFT theorists are trying to do it for precisely that reason. For the moment, there is much that science does not know – and even more that I don’t know. 🙂

    C.S. Lewis once recommended an attitude to the uncanny like that to tales of spies in wartime: on the one hand, you know the enemy probably has spies, on the other hand you should be very cautious about rumours that old so-and-so is acting oddly and might be a spy. I don’t dismiss Thailover’s strange account (July 25, 2016 at 4:14 am) – I have much stranger in my own family – but would be as shy as Thailover seems to be in guessing any meaning to them.

  • Midwesterner

    I’ve heard it said that Einstein subscribed to the “block time” theory in which all past, present and future are equally “real”. I don’t know if this is true or not.

    That possibility is why I used more general categorical/spacial terms rather than chronological terms, by saying “space and time as a bubble” and also by saying “external to space/time” rather than “before the start of time” — or “before the dawn of time” to borrow a scifi trope.

    Where did Einstein stand on the possibility of “all possible pasts” leading to a present leading to “all possible futures”? It seems that if that construct is compatible with the block-time theory, it could be made compatible with either determinism or non-determinism.

    With respect to C.S.Lewis, my first exposure to the all pasts,etc idea was probably The Dark Tower, an unfinished novel originally intended for the space trilogy.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Schrodinger’s cat could now be resolved with explanations not available to the gathering in Copenhagen. They did not have anything like the zero-point energy field to think about, though they might have fantasized about it.
    I think that the pressure of the zero-point field helps to keep cores of atoms together, though with more difficulty with Uranium and heavier elements. However, the field does have pressure-waves, and low pressure zones, as was proved in the Casimir Effect. So a temporary lowering of pressure around a heavy atom might be all the inducement it needs to ‘spontaneously’ explode. If we knew all the elements near that atom, we might have been able to predict when it would explode! We might have been able to cause it, or cause lead atoms, next in line, to become unstable…

  • William H. Stoddard

    Thailover,

    When I was exposed to Russell-style set theory, it defined a “number” as a set of sets whose elements could be matched up with each other with none left over; for example, the set {1} and the set {1,000,000} and the set (the cat sitting on my lap as I type this} each have a single element, and the number “one” is the set of all sets whose (single) elements can be matched up with theirs. By that approach, zero would be the set of all sets that have no elements. But there is only one set that has no elements, which is the empty set. So zero is not the empty set; it’s the set whose only element is the empty set.

    Of course, at this point, that definition is a hundred years old. . . .

  • William H. Stoddard

    Nicholas,

    “GOD is the one being whose description is also its’ name, with no other contenders for the title. So no name would be needed.”

    That works for me, but it doesn’t specify the interpretation of God. So, for example, it’s consistent with the idea that existence, or the universe, or the world, or the Cosmic All, or whatever label you like, is identically equal to God. Deus sive Natura, as Spinoza had it. No supernatural beings need apply.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Niall,

    When I tried to struggle through quantum mechanics, the thing I got hung up on was the idea that “observation” was the basic thing that QM was about, at least in the von Neumann axiomatization that I was exposed to back around 1970. It just broke my brain that physics was about (what I took to be) a subjective state of consciousness, observation or perception or what have you, and not about an objective entity or system. It was a bit too much like esse est percipi.

    What I think I understood, at some point between now and then, is that in the strict Copenhagen formalism, “observation” isn’t, or need not be, a state of consciousness. We are free to say that the radiation detector that triggers the poison gas release is the observer, or the cat is the observer, or the physicist who looks in the cat is the observer, or that the physicist’s tenderhearted friend who can’t bear to see a dead cat and is asking “Is Fluffy OK?” is the observer. I think that “observer” is an undefined primitive term, to which we can assign any meaning that’s convenient for approaching a given problem. Doing that isn’t mathematics; it’s interpretation of mathematics. And while that’s not a view of mathematics that I adhere to, it’s certainly one that I’m familiar with.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    I was replying to Thailover, and his claim that God was hiding His name. God would not need to do so. As for whether God is natural, or supernatural, I have always maintained that miracles and supernatural occurrences are rare manifestations of laws, but we didn’t know about this effect. Being able to shatter glass with a pitch of your voice might seem supernatural, but it isn’t, though it is rare.

  • Julie near Chicago

    My goodness, you’re all still going strong! I had to drop out for a few days, and I thought maybe everyone had gone on home.

    The last comment I saw was Mid’s on July 2 at 9:27 pm. At that point, it seemed to me that we were mostly circling around the same idea, namely, that “nothing is nothing” — which can be read in two ways, both correct. This is also one way of interpreting “Existence exists.” (Which can also be taken in ways that are at the least different in emphasis, in connotation.) “To be, is to be something” is one way of taking it. So, inversely, “To be nothing, is to not-be.”

    (By the way, it just dawned on me. I didn’t want to leave no context for Mr. Stevens’ ending to “The Snow Man,” but it may have set Randites’ and their fellow travellers’ teeth to grinding. So let me quote the part that I thought put “nothing and nothingness” very well:

    “[…He] beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

    Regardless of whether one takes this as timeless philosophical wisdom or not, it can be taken as distinguishing between “nothing” as Zero, the Empty Set, the that-which-is-not-and-cannot-be, in contrast to “the nothing,” for which we still have the symbol: the digit, 0; the phi (why don’t I have a phi on this thing! I gots lots of cute Greek letters, but no phi, no theta, no epsilon, and lucky to have ∂). (Yes, I know, I could get a full Greek font, or a math font. But first I have to buy my shroud.)

    Of course there’s a much more fashionable, world-weary, blasé sort of way to take it. But I didn’t.

    . . .

    So, William, I agree entirely with your point about “the reification of the zero”; at least, in one interpretation of the phrase means. I’m not sure whether in Objectivist logic it ought to be called a “concept” or not, but we do have a notion in our heads which we symbolize by the word “nothingness,” or, more often, simply “nothing.” And we do know, intellectually, what we mean by it, even though I’d bet most of us imagine “empty space” if we imagine anything at all.
    . . .

    Niall, as a matter of fact I am very big on “the Uni-verse.” The word signifies the entirety of existence; which is to say, the entirety of Reality. (Go ahead, call me a literalist. I can’t deny it.) As before, I restrict Reality to include all that and only that which impinges on our own Reality/Universe. (I hate having to be so pedantic, but hear Thomas Sowell on that.) So “what if there are multi-verses” is a meaningless question. Now “the universe,” the physical universe of space-time as given meaning, so to speak, by the fields and energies and objects within them, is something else again.

    (I have just said part of what you did in that particular paragraph, only yours was crisper, hence easier to read and to follow. 🙁 🙂 )

    Thanks for satisfying my curiosity as to your field. So, basically, you were deep into the field of the physics of physics. Anyhow, if you tackled a conjecture of Dr P.’s and proved it wrong, my hat’s off to you. I like to go for the gold, see, and where I came from that meant the Queen of Sciences, not mere *sniff* physics. [Not really, at the U. of Chicago physics majors (who managed to stick it out for all four years — typically there were only 8 – 10 in the graduating class) were somewhat comrades-in-arms. I even married one of them!]

    I hope I’ll be able to read the rest tomorrow. If I’m not back for awhile, it will be because Life. Or because I can’t find anything to say that strikes even me as intelligent. :>))