Re: self-evident

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Mon, 06 Apr 1998 13:05:10 -0500 (EST)

At 12:37 PM 4/4/98 -0500, Massimo Pigliucci wrote:
>Dear Moorad,
>I'm sorry about not being either too active or too prompt, but I
>honestly am overwhelmed with other - not necessarily more interesting -
>things, and will be able to enter this discussion only according to a
>"punctuated" pattern... As per your latest to Scott:
>> I mean self-evident in the sense that a mathematician makes
>> assumptions
>> which are obvious to him/her.
>Oh no, mathematical assumptions are self-evident to *everyone* who takes
>the time to study them. Not so for god. BTW, your non-euclidean example
>doesn't fit: there is nothing wrong with euclidean geometry as long as
>you stay on a 2D plane. Non-euclidean geometry does not contradict the
>assumptions of the first one, it simply applies to a different type of

Dear Massimo,

Mathematics is a human invention. Of course, the mystery is that this human
invention is indeed useful in describing the workings of nature. As a
logical game, the only requirement of the postulates is that they are not
contradictory and are in some sense complete. It may be that someone finds
some of the theorems derived from such postulates more self-evident than
some of the original axioms. It is in that sense that I use the term
self-evident. Instead of the original five postulates of Euclid one can use
five other postulates---e.g. theorems derived from the postulates---as
axioms. I believe Euclid referred to the fifth postulate as an
assumption---Euclid must have been aware of geometry on the surface of a sphere.

>> I did not raise
>> the issue of imperfection. That was done by Pigliucci.
>Yes, and it is easy to deal with, mathematically I dare say. There is a
>whole branch of theoretical ecology called "optimality theory" which
>predicts in exact terms what a perfectly adapted organism should do
>given a certain set of environmental circumstances. Here, perfection is
>defined as maximum fitness (something all organisms seem to strive for).
>Well, experimental biology is full of examples of sub-optimal
>(imperfect) organisms...

But that notion of perfection is limited by the mathematical model one uses.
Different mathematical models would give rise to different notions of
perfection. But you must admit that all such mathematical models are very
crude and can never really describe living organisms. Least of all humans.

>> You may find Christians explanations of an
>> imperfect nature wanting. My question to you is, what is your
>> explanation?
>Rather obvious, I'd say. Since the world is the result of historical,
>mindless processes, why would anybody expect anything even close to

I hope you realize you are making some philosophical assumptions as premises
from whence you are making such philosophical conclusions. I find it hard to
believe that mindless processes gave rise to your mind which is making such
logical conclusions.

>> We all believe. You believe. I believe. The difference is that we
>> believe
>> in
>> different things. You cannot use your belief system to knock any other
>> belief system. All such belief systems are on equal footing.
>I don't think so. Science is *not* a set of beliefs. It is a method to
>uncover reality. Furthermore, it's a method that *works*, which is the
>only reason we continue to adopt it. Theology, au contraire, has never
>been able to predict a single minute thing about the universe.

Science deals only with the physical which is only part of reality. Do not
confuse humans using their mental abilities to answer all sorts of questions
with doing science. The scientific method is not the only way of knowing.
Have you developed a love-meter, a hate-meter, etc. Such notions are not
measurable by scientific apparatuses. Would you claim, therefore, that they
do not exist? Theology has nothing to do with the physical universe. But it
may have more to say about what you are than physics or chemistry does. The
physical universe is not all there is. Matter cannot reason, but you can.
Explain how reasoning comes from atoms and molecules. The massages I sent
you are transmitted by physical processes but the content cannot be
deciphered by matter. Only another human can.

>Furthermore, from time to time theologians have to "reinterpret" the
>alleged word of god in light of scientific evidence. Doesn't this make
>you feel at least a tiny bit shaky??

Often theologians make unwarranted scientific statements. However, sometimes
they may be right. For instance, St. Augustine spoke of the creation of time
and space at the moment of the Creation. Physicists and cosmologists do the
same today!

>As per your previous email, you
>> I was just wondering how much of the research you do and the knowledge you
>> have accumulated helps you in dealing with the multitude of questions
>> by all your personal and scientific experiences. Do you believe that
one day
>> science will have a true answer to all of them?
>The best answer comes from my lovely companion, Melissa Brenneman. She
>says (I am quoting with her permission):
>> I'm not on a personal or scientific quest for "true answers." I'm on a
quest for better understanding, which I think is all that can
>> be hoped for in one person's life, and for which science does provide the
best path. I leave "true answers" for philosophers and
>> theologians to claim, while I'm happy on the more practical, useful, and
(for me) much more deeply satisfying scientific road to
>> ever more refined explanations of (what some philosophers would deny has
any meaning--) reality.
>I couldn't have said it better!

I dare you tell your lovely Melissa that she is nothing but the solution of
a complicated Schrodinger equation. Let us see how far that gets you :) If
one is indeed interested in a better understanding of life, why then close
the door to some forms of knowledge? We do not need to understand how an
aspirin works in order for us to get rid of our headaches. But we do take
aspirins, don't we? Melissa raises the question of happiness. Is that a
scientific term? If not, does she have a reason to use it? Believe me
science is not everything. Science does not answer the true, important
questions that provide peace of mind.

Take care,