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Open letter to Richard Dawkins - Part 2

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  • Open letter to Richard Dawkins - Part 2

    Continued from Part 1 -

    Turning to a matter that, while unsettled, hints of an even more unsettling proposition, I call your attention to Bell's Theorem, described by Henry Stapp in a 1975 white paper underwritten by the US Energy Research and Development Administration as "the most profound discovery of science", that assessment attributed to Stapp by Gary Zukav in his book The Dancing Wu Li Masters (Bantam edition, August 1980). At page 302 of his book, Zukav gives a very good summarization of the implications of Bell's Theorem. At the first juncture of those implications our choices are that (1) models of reality are possible (Einstein's position), or (2) no models of reality are possible (the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics supported by Neils Bohr and others). Holding to the view that models of reality are possible (the alternative view, at its deepest understanding, seems to point to the end of science), we are faced with the proposition that either (1) the statistical predictions of quantum mechanics fail, or (2) the principle of local causes fails (locality fails). Because the Clauser-Friedman experiment of 1972 confirmed the correctness of the statistical predictions of quantum mechanical theory, we are left to conclude that locality fails. Under the principle of local causes, what occurs in one region (locality) of the space-time continuum is independent of variables subject to the control of an experimenter in another region of that continuum sufficiently distant from the first so that timely transfer of information between the two space-like separated localities is impossible under the stricture of general relativity. The most direct explanation for the failure of the principle of local causes lies in the conclusion that we exist in a non-local universe wherein superluminal (faster than light) information transfer occurs, seemingly a violation of the universal speed limit set by the field equations of general relativity. There are two additional means by which the failure of locality might be explained. The principle of local causes carries two underlying assumptions: (1) we have free will, i.e., the ability to determine our actions, and (2) when we choose a particular action in lieu of another, our choice of that other action would have produced a definite result. Taken together, these assumptions were given the term "contrafactual definiteness" by Stapp. It follows that contrafactual definiteness fails if either contrafactualness fails or definiteness fails, in either of which case locality fails. Failure of definiteness implies branching of the universe to produce separate results corresponding to alternative experimental actions that might be undertaken (the many worlds theory). Failure of contrafactualness precludes alternative actions, implying a super determinism in which it is not possible that the unfolding of events within the fabric of space-time could ever be other than it has been, is, and will be from our point of reference on a frozen landscape of events that mediates inexorably our reality as it has played out from the instant of creation (the big bang).

    In summary, Bell's Theorem offers the following unhappy choices: either (1) we have no models of reality (and consequently can know nothing of it), or (2) we can opt for a truly ditzy realm of existence in which either (1) general relativity does not hold, (2) the universe branches at every juncture of alternative actions, or (3) we are merely observers to a fate frozen in space-time at the instant of the big bang. I bother to mention the last of these alternative realities for its remarkable consonance with my opening proposition, the almost self evident absence of "free will" in ourselves or any other species that has ever existed on this planet. Could it be that we are no more than observers moving over the surface of a frozen reality like the playback of some vintage vinyl, everything fixed at the first instant of the existence in which we now find ourselves? And, if that is the case, what then could be the point of "knowing" anything?

    It should be noted that Bell's Theorem is presented as a "mathematical" proof. I have looked at that proof and I can affirm that it involves no more than fifth-grade arithmetic - a couple of variable substitutions and voila, done! At first blush, this hardly resembles the stuff of profound physical theory. At any rate, while I am clear enough on the arithmetic, just how the arithmetic leads to the conclusions of the theorem is the part that I don't understand, most certainly owing to my lack of understanding of the physics involved. I suspect that my non-scientist friends don't understand it either. Perhaps you and your colleagues would care to explain it to us. It does, after all, portend to be a matter of unparalleled significance to the holding of a worldview that is consonant with reality.

    My pressing for affirmation of the propositions that I have outlined herein is driven purely by my selfish need for justice and its constant companion, truth. I urge this affirmation even in the knowledge that I am, unlike yourself and your colleagues, completely non-averse to conjecture, having no professional reputation to protect. I simply believe that it is time, long overdue in fact, to go with steeled intellect where no mortal has yet dared to go. It seems to me that humanity desperately cries out for a worldview consonant with the reality of our existence, and who better to provide that worldview than the world's community of scientists. While my voice on these matters will not be heard, given sufficient of your number to press the case, your voices most probably will. Happily, the endeavor does bring the prospect of separating the men from the boys.

    Let me say unequivocally that my argument is not one for the supremacy of intellect over emotion, as both are equally the manifestation of our corporal being. While intellect serves as our principal guide for action, sensory experience, as manifested by the emotional responses that it evokes, provides the reason for our bothering to exist. What, after all, would be the purpose for our existing absent the joy of laughter, the catharsis of tears, the needs that we share with those who are close to us, the beauty that we experience in art, music, literature, and the truth that is carried in insight? Lacking that emotional connection to sensory experience, why would we trouble ourselves with the understanding of anything? Emotion is at the core of our quest for knowledge. It is the driver of intellect and it provides the only viable answer to the question “What is the purpose of our existence?” It should be noted in this regard that, contrary to prevailing supposition, the hedonism that is our reality and our only purpose is no recipe for incivility. It is the opposite. Civilized society affords our highest purpose, multiplying as it does the pleasures of which we might partake. And in that realization, it does seem to be that Brits are ahead of the rest of us.

    Further, I must point to the inseparable nature of science and philosophy. Ideas that are unconnected to reality are, after all, only ideas. They can never comprise knowledge. The object of science is to assemble knowledge through the formalization of ideas that are connected to reality as a matter of proof through evidence. Because the object of philosophy is attainment of knowledge, philosophy does not exist apart from science. In that vein, I am compelled to recount my very good fortune in having encountered in the Internet Infidels forums one of the great philosophers of our time, Joe Mailman. We were happily engaged in our usual pastime, the intellectual equivalent of throwing Christians to the lions, when a hapless theist wandered into our conversation dealing with the evidentiary value of biblical text, whereupon Joe offered the following insight:

    “Everything that you wrote is based on a STORY. A story, nothing more. It is a tale told by someone to someone. Get it? A story. Regardless of the sophistication of the language that you use to describe it, it is still a story. Strictly verbal. It is no different than the testimonials by people who have been abducted by little green men. Stories. That's all they are. They may have been made more believable in that time by the custom of Jewish men to hold their testicles and state that ‘I swear by my testicles that what I am about to tell you is true!’ That's where the word testify comes from. Testimonial the same. Testicles were very important to those old Jews and everyone in those days knew it. So, from the outset, the beliefs that you hold so dear are based upon nothing more than the value of Jewish testicles.”

    Joe! Balls you say!

    Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought: No greater tragedy can befall a sentient being than to spend one’s entire existence having not so much as clue, a glimmer of insight, concerning the reality of that existence.

    Again, congrats on your most recent successes. Hopefully, the fight continues.

    Yours in the struggle,
    Soulofdarwin
    Last edited by soulofdarwin; 17th December 2008, 12:04. Reason: add a note
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