Thursday, November 25, 2010

Profound discoveries don't make any difference.

I had this idea when listening to a debate about morality. The religious proponent was suggesting that without God, moral chaos will ensue.



Immediately it is evident that this is not the case, otherwise there would be a section of our society; atheists, running around causing a world of trouble and we don't see this at all.

You would think that discovering that the world is not designed and controlled by a super-intelligent being would have massive implications for things here on the ground.

But it doesn't. Non-believers act just as morally as believers and seemingly without any extra strain or cognitive dissonance.

Look at other examples. The best example of profound discoveries making no difference would be the discovery that the world is not flat and that it travels around the Sun rather than the other way around. When Copernicus and Galileo fought to expose this truth there was a perception that this was going to literally turn the world on its head. But the same everyday forces of nature didn't change, of course they didn't, we didn't go flying into the sky, or fall off the face of the earth. Everything continued as usual.

Another example that really gets me is Quantum Theory. The strangeness of Quantum Theory is astounding and yet it has been demonstrated to be real and has been used to make predictions of extraordinary accuracy. The discoveries of Quantum Theory include seemingly paradoxical positions, for instance, that something can be in two places at once, that observation of an event can affect the outcome and that the activity of quanta is wholly indeterminable.



But does this suddenly mean that we can (as the makers of "What the Bleep do we Know?" would have you believe) live in parallel with multiple selves, that we can be in two places at once, and affect the outcome of events with our minds, like we're living in a video game?

No.

Sorry folks "The Secret" is no secret, it's bullshit. Quantum Physics is called "Quantum" Physics because it describes the nature of quanta and only has effects at this scale of the physical universe. What is astounding about Quantum Physics is how order arises out of the interactions of unpredictable units. Once there is a large enough body of these unpredictable units their actions as a group become predictable, they have to adhere to the general rules governing physics and then we have what we appreciate in our day to day lives as "reality".

There are numerous other examples, for instance, if we one day discover that we have no free will (some hold the position that we have already discovered this) will we stop making "choices"? If the world is determined, should we all sit around and do nothing? If consciousness is an illusion, will we immediately pass out?

No. Everything will continue as usual.

So why do profound discoveries make no difference?

The reason for this is because profound discoveries usually refer to foundational principles or properties of the world. But we don't build our knowledge from foundational principles or properties, we infer foundational principles from our everyday experience and immediate knowledge of the world.

So, what happens is, even if we have inferred an incorrect founding principle, and held it for centuries - that founding principle is based on our everyday experience and not the other way around. When that founding principle (or axiom) comes into conflict with our everyday experience, new complex amendments are made to the founding principle in order to accommodate the immediate reality of our experience.

I would posit that this is why our religions have so much content. Each contradiction begets a new caveat, so, instead of having one principle and a simple demonstration of its truth, we have, in the case of the Bible, a book of over a thousand pages, then we have hermeneutic frameworks to interpret those pages, eschatology, apologetics, theology, theodicy not to mention the thousands of different sects of Christianity which allow a circle of continuous contradiction and explanation to continue ad infinitum.

When one discovers that no God actually exists, they are left with everyday reality, the same everyday reality they were in before. They realise that biblical injunctions to love thy neighbour and not steal or lie have perfectly good everyday practical applications. After all it is because they have everyday practical applications that that they were written into the Bible in the first place.


Basically my point is that the baggage that surrounds our presuppositions about the way the world works misleads us when it comes to discovering a new foundational principle or property. It takes time, but the change of a foundational principle subtly changes the meaning of all the baggage that surrounds it, until it finds it's way back to reflecting our everyday experience of the world.

Anyway, that brings us full circle. I'd be keen to hear other examples of profound discoveries that don't change anything in the comments section.

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