February 22, 2010

Super. Natural.

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , at 1:00 AM by E. M.

NERD ALERT!!  The following post discusses themes that fascinate science geeks such as myself, but may bore, annoy, anger, or give migraines to normal well-adjusted people. Proceed with caution.

We’ve established Causality as a cardinal governing force of existence.  Causality states that every effect has a cause, and that cause is independent of and greater than the effect. We also saw that a finite system like our universe had to have an initial cause that was itself “causeless”,  meaning it had no preceding event.

What can we know about the First Cause of the universe? There are essentially two options: either the First Cause is natural (conforming to the proven laws of nature), or it is supernatural (occurring by means that somehow go beyond or exist outside of the natural scientific laws of the universe).

[This is where the really geeky stuff starts.  Hang in there.  I’ll try to make it as painless as possible]

The tangible stuff in the universe consists of matter and energy.  I’m going to focus on energy, as recent discoveries in particle/quantum physics regarding the nature of matter, specifically on the subatomic scale show that at the most primary levels, matter is fundamentally less substantial and measurable than energy [feel free to get an aspirin if you need one].  In other words, matter is fundamentally less “real” than energy.  This point will become even more important in an upcoming post I’m planning for April.

Among the primary natural laws that govern the universe in regards to energy are the laws of Thermodynamics.  The first law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed.  So if energy (and the matter it affects) cannot be created or destroyed in natural law, then one would have to conclude that the energy and matter in the universe have always existed and the universe in infinitely old.

The problem is that the second law of Thermodynamics essentially states that over time, the heat that energy produces dissipates throughout a system (this is called Entropy).  So then if the universe has always existed for infinity (which it must according to natural law) then entropy would be complete (all the heat energy would have dissipated) and the universe would all be the same temperature (cold).  This is called Heat Death.

This is obviously not the case.  So much so that scientists agree that our universe is finite and thus had a definitive beginning.  That brings us back to the original question about that nature of that beginning (cause) and presents a HUGE problem for proponents of the idea that the cause of the universe is a natural one.  At some point, matter, and energy did not exist, and then they came into being.

But the first law of thermodynamics tells us that it is IMPOSSIBLE for this to happen naturally.  But we know it did because…well we’re here aren’t we?  That leaves us with only one option.  However the universe came into existence; whatever the First (causeless) Cause was, it HAD to be supernatural (outside of established natural law).

Aside from being supernatural, what else can we say about the First Cause?  Stay tuned…

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February 18, 2010

Causality (or, why ask why?)

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , at 12:04 AM by E. M.

I was informed that the brevity of subject matter in Monday’s post caused it to ring a bit hollow.  In light of that, I’m temporarily breaking my once-a-week posting pattern and adding my post on Causality early.  This does not represent a lessening in my trademarked laziness.  Consider it an aberration.  Normalcy ensues again next Monday

In my last post I began discussing existence by defining the two cardinal rules that govern it – causality and non-contradiction.  The rule of non-contradiction simply states that contradictions cannot exist; something cannot be AND not be at the same time.  Existence can’t exist and not exist.  So since we know existence exists, we can go on from there (I know.  I can’t believe I wasted an entire post on that either).

The second rule is Causality or “cause and effect”.  This rule states that for every effect, there is a preceding cause, and that cause is independent of, and greater than the effect (“greater than” means that at the very least, the effect could not exist without the cause).

We all intrinsically believe in cause and effect and rely on it to make sense of our world.  Whenever you ask the question beginning with “why?” you are essentially asking for a cause.  For example, whenever I throw my head back and yell “Why are people so stupid?!” (which I inevitably do anytime I call customer service, read the comments section on a political website, or drive in Los Angeles), I am observing an effect (abject human stupidity) and looking for the cause (my current theory is that stupidity is exacerbated by  a combination excess fast food, and subliminal messages played during the broadcasts of manufactured “Reality TV”.  Research is ongoing).

Everything we see is an effect of a cause, and that effect may be the cause of a subsequent effect.  For example, my birth is an effect of my parent’s relationship (from what I’ve been told, this “effect” was greatly aided by half a bottle of cognac and an improperly inserted IUD…but I digress), and their relationship is an effect of their births, which were an effect of their parents’ relationships, and so on, each relationship and birth going further up the “ladder of causality”.

We can also see from a cosmological standpoint that our lives are an effect of the anthropic (human life optimal) nature of Earth’s environment (distance from the Sun, composition of the air, the water cycle, et al.) which is an effect of the Earth’s formation, which is an effect of our solar system, which is an effect of the Milky Way galaxy, etc.

However the cosmic ladder of causality does not have an infinite regression. We know from science that our physical universe is finite; it had a definitive beginning (I’ll get into that in detail in the next post).  So at some point, the elements (effects) that make up our universe (time, space, matter, and energy) did not exist… and then they did.  This initial effect had to be due to a First Cause, or “causeless cause” – a cause with no preceding event.  A cause, which by definition is independent of and greater than the effect (the universe).

It is vitally important that we identify, define, and do our best to understand this First Cause, because whatever it is, it is the source of everything we see, know, and experience.  The answer to “What’s the point?” is intimately tied to the First Cause

Based on what we know from science and human understanding, what can we definitively say about this First Cause?  I’ll begin to discuss that in the next post.

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February 15, 2010

Existence Exists – and other brilliant observations

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , at 1:16 PM by E. M.

How do you go about explaining existence?  Well I suppose you have to start at the beginning – actually you’d have to start BEFORE the beginning, because whatever existence is made of, it can only be coherently explained if it adheres to some type of rules that are consistent and irrevocable, otherwise there would be no basis to explain it.

Sure, there are some who say that we can’t prove that anything exists; that the only thing we can know for sure is that we can’t know anything for sure (these are people who occupy Hippie communes, the space beneath freeway overpasses, or Philosophy chairs at universities).

This type of contradictory thinking is the realm of post-modernism and relativism; a silly and intellectually bankrupt school of thought to which I do not subscribe.  I agree with Plato; that the only thing we can know for sure is that existence exists – A is A.  After all, if existence didn’t exist, then we could not think about it.  I know I exist because I can ponder (think about) my existence.  “I think, therefore I am”, to quote Descartes (whenever someone wants to show how profound they are, they quote Descartes).

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because even the action of thought is preceded by the system of rules that governs the thought process.  In order to explain existence, you have to start with the rules that must govern existence.  In order for these principles to be in place before the beginning of what we know as “existence” they would have to be self-evident, immutable, and omnipresent.  They would have to be obvious in every aspect of existence, with nothing in existence able to bend or break them.  They would be the cardinal rules of existence from which all subsequent rules of science and logic would emanate.

I submit that there are two such rules: Causality, and Non-Contradiction.  Non-contradiction is the easiest, so I’ll address it in this post.

The rule of non-contradiction simply states that contradictions cannot exist.  Something cannot be AND not be at the same time.  I can’t be happy and not happy.  I can’t be 6 feet tall and not six feet tall.  The Empire State building cannot be in New York and not in New York.  Pretty simple, obvious, and self-evident, yes?

For our purposes, the non-contradictory explanation for existence is that existence can’t exist and not exist.

This is the primary reason why I reject relativism, because relativism is based on a contradiction.  Relativism states that there are no absolutes.  However, when one says, “there are no absolutes” they are actually making an absolute statement (that there are absolutely no absolutes). Relativism says that absolutes don’t exist yet they rely on the existence of at least one absolute as the basis for their theory (this is the contradiction that eventually leads to them living under freeway overpasses).

Next week we will look at rule #2, Causality

February 8, 2010

What’s the Point?

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , , , at 12:23 AM by E. M.

Seriously.  What’s the point?  I’ve found myself asking that question of life more and more as time goes on… and I’m not alone.

We’re born, we learn how to walk, we learn where and where not to poop.  Our parents teach us to not stick a fork in electrical outlets and to never be in a room alone with uncle Lester.  Then they send us to school where we learn to manage our emotions and expectations while memorizing a bunch of stuff, 20% of which is actually useful (to this day I have yet to gain any benefit from knowing how to find the square root of a number).  Then we’re off to college and if we’re driven (or masochistic) enough, graduate school.  We go on to find a career and a spouse.  We start a family, buy a house, go on vacations, punt the kids out of the house to start their lives, save for retirement, then idle away our remaining years in an RV or a motorized scooter while waiting for the sweet release of mortality.

Seems rather horrifying when you look at it, but it’s the path we’re all primed to go on.  It’s the socially acceptable way to live life.  But it’s only utilitarian.  School, work, kids, and saving accounts are a means to achieve a certain level of survival, comfort, and security, but they are not a “purpose”.  They aren’t “the point”.  If they were, then those of us who manage success on this path wouldn’t be so overcome with the drive to find higher meaning in life.  We wouldn’t still be asking, “What’s the point?”

Everywhere we turn, we are confronted by those who tell us to look “beyond ourselves” to satisfy the need for purpose.  They tell us purpose is found in leaving a legacy, making an impact (whatever that means), and making the world a better place.  This usually comes in the form of a cause we choose to support.  These generally consist of “ending” something like hunger, homelessness, or a disease.  Or “saving” something like a bird we’ve never seen,  a rain forest we’ll never visit, or the whales.

Really? “Save the whales”?  Is that it? Is my life to be defined by how many 80-ton, krill sucking leviathans are left behind when I die?  This can’t be the point.

The problem is, try as we might, we can’t escape the question.  We all ask, “what’s the point?” with our actions even if we don’t do it verbally.  When we don’t get an acceptable answer, we try to anesthetize ourselves against the question or distract ourselves from it with alcohol, sports, music, food, vacations, sex, shopping, fantasies, and all the other indulgences and excesses that stimulate our various glands and mental pleasure centers (I should add “church” to this list).

But once the adrenaline, estrogen, endorphins, testosterone, and digestive enzymes have subsided; once the bills (or bail) has been paid, we’re back to the question we’ve been asking from the start.  What’s the point?

We all want to know “what’s the point?”  We want to know why we’re all here.  We want to know why EVERYTHING is here.  The first priority of this weekly blog is to address that question.  But before we can answer the question “what is all this for?” We need to ask “What IS all this?”  What is existence?  It’s a good question.  Lets start there…

(see you next week)