Ultimate question: Why anything at all?


by bohm2
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apeiron
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Feb18-12, 06:20 PM
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Quote Quote by bohm2 View Post
Here’s some interesting arguments against the probabilistic argument presented in original post:
Excellent references for the points made earlier in this thread. Norton skewers Inwagen very nicely.

What Norton calls complete neutrality is of course what Peirce means by vagueness. A realm of pure possibility without any constraints. And so a realm to which the principle of contradiction (ie: of crisp disjunctions) fails to apply.

Bayesian reasoning has to guess at the constraints that might apply to shape pure possibility into some more definite distribution. And where such reasoning goes wrong is when it does not realise this is what it is doing.

It is the same mistake as in trying to apply set theory. Set theory has to presume some global state of constraint to apply to a distribution. Yet vagueness, or neutrality, is something different - it is the truly and profoundly unlimited. There are no constraints by definition. So a larger model of logic is needed to deal with the case - one such as Peircean logic that includes abductive leaps to get things started. And then semiotic constraints where - invoking final cause - it is not local change that is the isssue, but the emergence eventually of limits to change, to the expression of raw possibility.

So Norton provides an argument against all attempts on the "why anything?" question based on conventional probablity approaches - ones that have to already presume constraints on raw possibility. A vagueness doesn't have countable states, not even an infinity of them, as this would already give it something definite, something crisply developed. You have to step back further to a higher level of modelling, one like Peircean semiosis which has that "extra hidden dimension" Norton mentions.

But then of course once armed with the Peircean view, you can start to say something positive about the "why anything?" question.

As I stressed in post #139 - http://www.physicsforums.com/showpos...&postcount=139 - once you take a view of probability spaces as things that develop, rather than simply exist, then the correct foundational dichotomy of vague~crisp comes into sight. Instead of trying to contrast the likelihood of nothing vs something, we are now talking about the likelihood of the vague yielding the definite. And how that then compares with the universe as we observe its developmental history.
apeiron
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Feb21-12, 04:02 AM
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A few more contemporary references which demonstrate that logical and statistical arguments cannot solve this. A deeper view of causal process is needed.

This takes a Zeno type approach in which time sliced infinitely fine means there is no longer a "first moment" and so a universe can be considered self-causing....
http://evans-experientialism.freeweb...rse_exists.htm

Then this one points out the Zeno-ic flaws in this idea....
http://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct...icZeMaYiJzUUfg

[link fixed hopefully - google Could the Universe Cause Itself to Exist? William F. Vallicella otherwise]

(And of course, the Planck scale already creates scientific problems for such approaches - time cannot be sliced infinitely thin.)

Then this is a somewhat useful taxonomy of approaches....that of course fails to mention any Peircean or systems thinking
http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/...c13-2_Kuhn.pdf
wuliheron
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Feb21-12, 07:47 AM
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Logically the entire argument is meaningless. We define something in terms of nothing and vice versa. Its like north and south, up and down, top and bottom. They're just descriptions we use and there are plenty of things we can say don't exist as well as plenty that do. The idea that you can have nothing without having something is an assumption that just doesn't make logical sense. We have both things that exist and don't exist and you can ask why we have both, but then the answer just comes back to because that is how we define them.

Like a little kid laying in bed contemplating infinity we can go round and round with such thoughts all day long and get nowhere. That's the only thing about this entire subject that is demonstrable. That instead of being the "ultimate" question, its just a waste of time.
apeiron
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Feb21-12, 01:51 PM
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Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
Logically the entire argument is meaningless. We define something in terms of nothing and vice versa. Its like north and south, up and down, top and bottom.
But that has been one of the important questions raised. Is nothingness actually complementary to somethingness? Is it a well-formed concept in the first place?

As has been mentioned often enough, some-things and no-things are both about the counting of things. And an absence of things still leaves the issue of the empty space that is left behind as itself a kind of thing. This was the null set problem - the implication still of a container even when it contains nothing.

And even before that, if we imagine subtracting away the existence of all things, that still leaves their possibility, which again is a kind of thingness. Certainly something more than absolute nothingness.

So I believe you end up having to accept a quite different metaphysical dichotomy of vague~crisp as the most fundamental description of degrees of existence and non-existence. Which has its profound implications as explored by Anaximander and Peirce to name a couple of philosophers.

Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
Like a little kid laying in bed contemplating infinity we can go round and round with such thoughts all day long and get nowhere. That's the only thing about this entire subject that is demonstrable. That instead of being the "ultimate" question, its just a waste of time.
It is hardly meaningless to demonstrate there are lines of argument that don't wash. And it is hardly meaningless to expose some assumptions that were being thoughtlessly made. And it is hardly meaningless if a question leads you towards subtler concepts.
wuliheron
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Feb21-12, 06:00 PM
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Quote Quote by apeiron View Post
But that has been one of the important questions raised. Is nothingness actually complementary to somethingness? Is it a well-formed concept in the first place?

As has been mentioned often enough, some-things and no-things are both about the counting of things. And an absence of things still leaves the issue of the empty space that is left behind as itself a kind of thing. This was the null set problem - the implication still of a container even when it contains nothing.

And even before that, if we imagine subtracting away the existence of all things, that still leaves their possibility, which again is a kind of thingness. Certainly something more than absolute nothingness.

So I believe you end up having to accept a quite different metaphysical dichotomy of vague~crisp as the most fundamental description of degrees of existence and non-existence. Which has its profound implications as explored by Anaximander and Peirce to name a couple of philosophers.
I'd have to say what is demonstrable trumps concepts any day. I'm aware of things that exist and I'm aware of things that don't exist. I don't have a freight train in my living room, but I do have a couch. To me that's not a question of what is crisp or vague, its a demonstrable fact and the context and content are specific. The more specific I make them, the more demonstrable it becomes, while the less specific the less demonstrable. Its not so much an issue of what is vague or crisp, but what is demonstrable.

Quote Quote by apeiron View Post
It is hardly meaningless to demonstrate there are lines of argument that don't wash. And it is hardly meaningless to expose some assumptions that were being thoughtlessly made. And it is hardly meaningless if a question leads you towards subtler concepts.
Debating concepts that are not demonstrable is the equivalent of reciting nonsense poetry. It might have some psychological or mystical benefit, but it is otherwise demonstrably meaningless. Reasoning begins with what is demonstrable and without that all you've got is something at best self-consistent.
apeiron
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Feb21-12, 06:58 PM
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Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
Its not so much an issue of what is vague or crisp, but what is demonstrable.
But this rather mixes up epistemology and ontology then.

Quite clearly, the modelling relationship is founded on our ideas in interaction with our impressions. Or more formally, as in the scientific method, the interaction between concepts and measurements, qualities and quantities.

And we want both those things to be as crisp as possible, not vague.

So a concept like "god" is not a lot of use because the definition is so murky, the ways to "demonstrate" the value of the idea so unfocused.

But other concepts, such as sofa and freight train, are quite crisply defined.

OK, there is some modern furniture you might look at and question whether it really counts as a sofa. Or you might be in a student flat where the "sofa" is an old matress. So on closer examination, all our concepts in fact are somewhat epistemically vague at the fringes - but we can fix that by adding further information, creating a crisper constraint.

Armed with a formal concept (information on formal cause, and also final cause because a key to sofa is "something a few people can comfortably sit on") you can then measure your world in terms of the concept. You can look around and justify an object as a sofa and not something else with crisp certitude.

So you can see that your argument here is not against vague~crisp as an ontic story at all. You are just again asserting the conventional fact that epistemic modelling is working best when it is least vague - when we have developed the crisp concepts that in turn enable the crisp measurements that allow us make our definite claims.

The "why anything" question is important because it makes us confront our established ideas. We have to get back in behind the shop-front of our conventional epistemology.

There is a real intellectual challenge here of course. How do we have a crisp model of vagueness? That seems a self-defeating project.

But again, there is no actual problem if we keep the distinction between ontology and epistemology clear. We can have a crisp model of something that is actually vague.

Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
Debating concepts that are not demonstrable is the equivalent of reciting nonsense poetry. It might have some psychological or mystical benefit, but it is otherwise demonstrably meaningless. Reasoning begins with what is demonstrable and without that all you've got is something at best self-consistent.
You really are sounding like Samuel Johnson, stomping around, kicking stones, and proclaiming "I refute it thus".

But yes, I already agree that concepts need to be demonstrable. However what is it about vagueness that is not demonstrable (once you have found its correct complementary partner, crispness)?

Nothing and something are claimed to be demonstrable states of affairs. Except - as is the subject of this thread - the problem is that what you have to show people is some container that is empty of objects. So this is only about localised absence not global or total nullity.

And likewise, we can point to epistemic vagueness without much trouble, as in the sorites paradox. At what point do a few grains of wheat become a pile, or a lack of hair make a person officially bald?

So there is nothing that you have said which rules out vagueness as a demonstrable concept. You have given no reasons why we cannot define it, and measure the world in those terms.

There is of course a lack of a generally agreed model of vagueness. Which is why this is a metaphysics rather than a science thread.

But to give you an idea of what I have in mind, you can consider the phenomenon of critical opalescence - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_opalescence - that exact point where a gas and liquid are in scalefree balance so that you can't really say (that is demonstrate via measurement) whether you actually have a gas or liquid. The law of the excluded middle no longer applies crisply to this situation.
wuliheron
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Feb21-12, 08:52 PM
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For me ontology is just an epistemological idea. We make it all up as we go along. Rules evolve, definitions change, etc. What is vague and what is crisp only have meaning in specific contexts and then the meaning changes with use. Classical Chinese doesn't have a verb "to be" and the Navajo language doesn't even have a future tense. The more we try to ontologize our language the less demonstrable it becomes.

Thus the "why anything" question only exists as an extreme expression of our compulsive desire to ontologize everything and to deny the evidence of our senses and awareness. Of what Heraclitus described as the flux and what Taoists sometimes call the novelty of each breath, each moment, each freight train and couch. Lao Tzu expressed it this way:

Home
Accept and you become whole,
Bend and you straighten,
Empty and you fill,
Decay and you renew,
Want and you acquire,
Fulfill and you become confused.
The sage accepts the world
As the world accepts the Way;
He does not display himself, so is clearly seen,
Does not justify himself, so is recognized,
Does not boast, so is credited,
Does not pride himself, so endures,
Does not contend, so none contend against him.
The ancients said, "Accept and you become whole",
Once whole, the world is as your home.

If you ask a Zen master why there is something rather then nothing he might hit you over the head with a stick. Ask him how to discern between vague and crisp and he'll likely hit you again.
apeiron
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Feb21-12, 10:09 PM
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Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
For me ontology is just an epistemological idea. We make it all up as we go along.
This sounds like a contradiction if you have just been demanding that concepts be crisply demonstrable. We don't just to get to make things up. We have to show that they work.

Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
What is vague and what is crisp only have meaning in specific contexts and then the meaning changes with use. Classical Chinese doesn't have a verb "to be" and the Navajo language doesn't even have a future tense. The more we try to ontologize our language the less demonstrable it becomes.
Well yes, but we were talking about a philosophical approach to answering basic questions about reality. So instead of classical chinese or Navajo - languages which work in some particular historical social context - we are considering what is right as philosophy.

Talking about everyday usages of words or habits of grammar is a diversion here.

Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
Thus the "why anything" question only exists as an extreme expression of our compulsive desire to ontologize everything and to deny the evidence of our senses and awareness.
You are just making rhetorical and emotional arguments, not reasoned ones.

What you call compulsive, others could call systematic. What you call denying the evidence of our senses and awareness, others would see as properly examining it.

No one is forcing you to do metaphysics here. But if you want to force others to stop, you have to produce some actual reasons why it is bad (in other words, you have to do some metaphysics to counter metaphysics, ah well ).

Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
Of what Heraclitus described as the flux and what Taoists sometimes call the novelty of each breath, each moment, each freight train and couch. Lao Tzu expressed it this way:
OK, you believe the Eastern way is not to strive in a false and individualistic way but to dissolve back into the unity of the cosmos. Yeah, been there, done that. As a kid I had zen (and judo) training from a Buddhist monk. But I sat there thinking this is stupid letting mosquitoes whine their way towards me in circles and just trying to "omm" their biting presence away.

So I'm happy that it is a notion of life that appeals to some - just like any faith. However I had no problem making a different choice.

Besides, you know from eastern philosophy such as the I Ching and dependent co-arising just how close the parallels are to the kind of systems causality I am talking about here.

The real difference lies in the question of whether what emerges also subsides, or whether what emerges is set upon an ever rising path. The Eastern answer, on the whole, is that what is "right" is a return to the apeiron, the vague. While the Western answer is that individuals should be self-actualising Nietzchian supermen that transcend all limits.

Modern big bang cosmology suggests the real ontological answer here is "both". The universe emerges as a crisp act of individuation - a definite something where there was once only a vaguer "nothing". And yet also the ultimate fate of the universe is the cold fizzle of an infinitely large heat death. A very crisp outcome, yet one that is actually as near a "return to nothingness" as possible. We will all be very zen in the long run.

Now we shouldn't entangle the beliefs of faith with the answers of metaphysics. But you can appreciate that even your faith-based criticisms are not accurate about what has actually been said.

Quote Quote by wuliheron View Post
If you ask a Zen master why there is something rather then nothing he might hit you over the head with a stick. Ask him how to discern between vague and crisp and he'll likely hit you again.
My zen master was rather more easy going I guess. He saw the mediation wasn't going down so well so he stuck with the judo. (He could have been a complete fake of course, his life story was a little too fantastic.)

But anyway, in case you are unfamiliar with some of the parallels that exist in the world's various philosophies, here is one passage (sorry, I can't remember where I cut this from though)...

In Theogony the initial state of the universe,or the origin (arche) is Chaos, a gaping void (abyss) considered as a divine primordial condition, from which appeared everything that exists. Then came Gaia (Earth) and Eros (Love). Hesiod made an abstraction because his original chaos is something completely indefinite.[6] In the Orphic cosmogony the unageing Chronos produced Aither and Chaos and made a silvery egg in divine Aither. From it appeared the bisexual god Phanes who is the creator of the world.[7]
Some similar ideas appear in the Hindu cosmology which is similar to the Vedic. In the beginning there was nothing in the universe but only darkness and the divine essence who removed the darkness and created the primordial waters. His seed produced the universal germ (Hiranyagarbha), from which everything else appeared.[8]
In the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish the universe was in a formless state and is described as a watery chaos. From it emerged two primary gods,one male Apsu and one female Tiamat and a third deity who is the maker Mummu and his power is necessary to get the job of birth.[9]. In Genesis the primordial world is described as a watery chaos and the earth "without form and void". The spirit of the god moved upon the dark face of the waters and created light.[10]
And some more bits and pieces just to show that this is a recurring theme. Tao, Brahman, Apeiron, Hyle, Quintessence, Bosenazelo, Hunabku, Manitu, Orenda, Wakonda, Wakan, Mana, Ain Soph, Central Monad, there are countless words that dance around a definition of the formless fundamental essence...

Anaximander says that the source and element of all beings[2] is the apeiron, or the Limitless/ Boundary-less/ Without-Definition. Apeiron is therefore the Hellenic equivalent of the Dao of Laozi on the Sinic side. From the apeiron come all the heavens and all that is in the cosmos.
http://www.lawrencechin2011.com/HTco...philosophy.htm
Ein Sof (or Ayn Sof) in the Kabbalah, is understood as the Deity prior to His self-manifestation in the production of the world, probably derived from Ibn Gabirol's term, "the Endless One" (she-en lo tiklah). Ein Sof may be translated as "no end," "unending," "there is no end," or Infinite.
Ein Sof is the divine origin of all created existence, in contrast to the Ein (or Ayn), which is infinite no-thingness. It was first used by Azriel ben Menahem, who, sharing the Neoplatonic view that God can have no desire, thought, word, or action, emphasized by it the negation of any attribute.
The Kyoto School might even be thought of as recovering a suggestion from one of the first Presocratic philosophers, Anaximander: namely, to think finite beings as determinations, or delimitations, of “the Indefinite” or “the Unlimited” (to apeiron).
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kyoto-school/
In Mah‚y‚na Buddhism śŻnyat‚ refers first of all to the fact that all things come into being in “interdependent origination” (Sanskrit: pratÓtya-samutp‚da; Japanese: engi), and they are therefore “empty” of any independent substantial self-nature or “own-being” (Sanskrit: svabh‚va). This thought is closely tied to the basic Buddhist thesis of “no-self” or “non-ego” (Sanskrit: an‚tman; Japanese: muga). All beings, including the ego, are interconnected and in flux.
The doctrine of Akasa, or space, as the origin of all things, came rather late in the history of Upanisadic thought. Also in Greek philosophy, the concept of space as the arche of things appeared very late. With Thales, Anaximenes, Heracleitus and Empedocles we meet the conceptions of water, air, fire, and earth, either individually or collectively. It is only when we come to the time of Philolaus that we get to the notion of space as the arche of all things. The first four elements, namely Prthivi, Ap, Tejas and Vayu are more or less tangible; but for Akasa to be regarded as the origin of all things requires a higher philosophical imagination.
These concepts of these two mystics, behad of Kabir and nirbayalu of Kudaluresa, would remind a student of Greek philosophy of the Apeiron of Anaximander against the Peras of Pythagoras. The Peras is a small conception, but the Apeiron brings us quite near to the infinitude that is portrayed in the manifestations of the sublime. The experience of the sublime seems to be almost transcendent and baffling even for the imagination to reach. Anaximander, therefore, regarded the Apeiron as his most fundamental category. It is this aspect of the element of Divinity in all cases of Infinitude which is at the basis of the behad of Kabir and nirbayalu of the Kannada mystic.
It is a long journey from sima to asima, from had to behad, from bayalu to nirbayalu, from peras to apeiron, from space to spacelessness. The concept of Akasa takes one ultimately to nirakasa, the spaceless.
http://www.ignca.nic.in/ps_05013.htm
ThomasT
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Feb22-12, 03:08 AM
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Quote Quote by apeiron View Post
... we were talking about a philosophical approach to answering basic questions about reality.
Ok, so for us pedestrians, can you or bohm2 (et al.) synopsize what you think is the best approach in as few words as possible?

The way I see it, the general approach of science (ie., somewhat controlled observation) with philosophy sorting out the meanings of various mathematical expressions designed to describe and predict scientific observations is a pretty good approach.

And from that stuff one can make objectively demonstrated, statistically based inferences/assumptions about more fundamental, ie., underlying, reality.

And of course I don't have any response to the question of why there's anything at all.
chiro
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Feb22-12, 03:37 AM
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One thing to consider that in order to define anything you need to also define its complement.

This might be used to explain why something exists by relating to what else would exist if it wasn't that 'something'.
ThomasT
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Feb22-12, 03:54 AM
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Quote Quote by chiro View Post
One thing to consider that in order to define anything you need to also define its complement.
I'm not sure I understand. Suppose I define 'tree'. What's the complement of that?

Quote Quote by chiro View Post
This might be used to explain why something exists by relating to what else would exist if it wasn't that 'something'.
Well, I think that defining or explaining why anything at all exists leads eventually to an objectively nondemonstrable assumption. We can, for example, assume that there are fundamental dynamical mechanisms/laws, whatever. But where/how did those originate? It's, imho, an unanswerable question.
chiro
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Quote Quote by ThomasT View Post
I'm not sure I understand. Suppose I define 'tree'. What's the complement of that?
You describe it in the context of a notion of 'everything'. Doing this helps you relate concepts to one another by talking about them in the context of something synonymous with 'all that can be'.

Well, I think that defining or explaining why anything at all exists leads eventually to an objectively nondemonstrable assumption. We can, for example, assume that there are fundamental dynamical mechanisms/laws, whatever. But where/how did those originate? It's, imho, an unanswerable question.
Well again it can help by considering what else is 'possible' because the comparison to other such things can give the impetus for hypothesizing why something is 'as it is'.

As an example with cosmology we know from research that if the constants were even slightly different we wouldn't have the kind of universe that we have now in its current form.

This is an example of what I mean: you consider what "isn't" observed and compare it to situations that 'could be possible' in the context of some universal domain.

The actual universal domain is not trivial, but we can start with domains that are small enough to be able to consider with our minds yet large enough that they provide enough variability to consider enough of a general set of circumstances with enough variation.

What I mean by this is, is that this thinking gives us a reference point. When we discover something, what happens is that we study something, get relationships (maybe even down to a specific mathematical form) and then from that we wonder 'why is this the way it is?' by trying to consider what we have studied in a more or less isolated state.

By considering what we have found against a more general class of cases, what we do then is to say "Well this is the way it is and upon comparing it to these other cases, it makes sense that this is the way it is due to blah blah blah"
apeiron
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Feb22-12, 04:28 AM
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Quote Quote by ThomasT View Post
Ok, so for us pedestrians, can you or bohm2 (et al.) synopsize what you think is the best approach in as few words as possible?
If you are talking about "what is philosophy's method" I don't see it as any different from science in essence. You observe. You generalise. You then see with more clarity and can go round the loop again.

So philosophy is the rough cut. And also the exploration of a bunch of approaches. Then science is the refinement of some particular model that is useful in some way. After that comes technology, application.

So far as the particular point about the use of language goes, everyday language is obviously going to be hit and miss when it comes to talk about fundamental reality. It would be the extremely rough cut.

Philosophy would then focus on the rational clarification of useful concepts, and science would pair those concepts with a prescribed method of measurement (a way to quantify a qualitative term).

So metaphysics invented pairings like discrete~continuous, stasis~flux, chance~necessity and many more. Science then uses them. Vague~crisp just seems to be one of the less familiar dichotomies.
apeiron
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Feb22-12, 04:36 AM
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Quote Quote by ThomasT View Post
I'm not sure I understand. Suppose I define 'tree'. What's the complement of that?
But a tree is not metaphysically fundamental. And indeed, we are proving that fact precisely because we can't think of "not-tree" as indicating anything in particular. Pretty much everything is not-tree.

So this is the power of the method. Only a limited number of complementaries function as complementary. And it is why it was possible for the ancient greeks to make so much rapid progress once they got the knack of what to do. (Socratic dialog, law of the excluded middle, the basics of philosophical thought.)
alt
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Feb22-12, 05:51 AM
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Ultimate question: Why anything at all?

Indeed. And after 194 posts and a kaleidoscope of thought, thinkers (here and referenced) etc, it does not seem we are one jot closer to any semblance of an answer to the question posed in the OP title.

The aporia remains - looms larger in fact ..
apeiron
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Feb22-12, 06:11 AM
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This paper is good on the parallels between the ancient Eastern and Western views on cosmo-genesis.

Revisiting Ancient Linguistic Worldview: East vs. West; Dao vs. Logos Jia Yuxin Jia Xuelai
http://www.uri.edu/iaics/content/200...a%20Xuelai.pdf

Then, ontologically, what is Dao? According to Lao Zi, Dao is neither being nor beinglessness. It is both being and beingless. It exists as the transcendental Nothingness. However, it is also a unique form of existence and Lao Zi also indicates that the Dao is an objective entity just as the ancient Western philosophers believe the absolute beginning of the world is Apeiron (water, vapor, fire, or chaos).

As a ‘thing’ Tao is vague and unclear;
Unclear and vague, yet within it is a symbol;
Vague and unclear, yet within it is a thing;
Obscure and dark, yet within it is an essence.
Its essence is truly authentic and within it is what is reliable. (Lao Tzu, Chap. 21)
Very interestingly, cosmo-genetically, the creation and formation of the world in the East somehow follows almost similar process as it is believed in the West. The following model may justify this statement:

East:Nameless ( Dao as transcendent and objective entity ) Name / Language
Heaven (or God) and Earth

West:Apeiron (water, vapor, fire, or chaos) / Logos (God /Word) the universe

However, differences exist. Dao or the nameless existed before the action of Name. Name comes from and after Dao.
I disagree with some of the detail of their characterisation of the Apeiron here. The Dao also has some critical differences in that while Lao Zi stresses the way things remain co-mingled (as in Yin-Yang), the key to Anaximander's cosmo-genesis is the fact that the polarities are moved far apart (and then mix).

However, the idea that the Dao is followed by the Name is indeed something crucial missing from Anaximander's scheme (and was somewhat corrected by Heraclitus' equivalent of Dao~Name in his dichotomy of Primal Fire~Logos).

In modern language, this translates into local degrees of freedom and global constraints. Or initiating conditions and boundary conditions.

And it is a way to think about a self-causing universe - one where in the beginning there is just naked potential (dao, primal fire, apeiron, unlimited degrees of freedom), and then design is called forth from that potential by the system's own future. The Name, Logos, or other terms to describe the future crisp limits of the system which can act backwards/downward as final/formal cause.

This can easily sound mystical. But quantum cosmology is already leading us down this very path of thought. If we talk of a quantum event, its causes are contextual, nonlocal, even retrocausal.

So if we view the big bang as a quantum event, and that this was also some form of collapse of a potential (the "collapse" being the obvious contentious issue in current quantum metaphysics), then what caused the collapse? It has to be in the future of the event. The universe has to be retrospectively fixed in some sense by what it became.

It is a grand sum over histories view in other words. Anything was possible. But just one thing was the least mean path of that infinite potential. And so you have a structured universe bootstrapping out of raw indeterminacy.
jambaugh
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Feb22-12, 06:57 AM
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Quote Quote by alt View Post
Ultimate question: Why anything at all?

Indeed. And after 194 posts and a kaleidoscope of thought, thinkers (here and referenced) etc, it does not seem we are one jot closer to any semblance of an answer to the question posed in the OP title.
That is because the question is ill posed. "Why" questions have three contexts, causality, explanatory and purpose:
"Why did the bridge collapse?"
"Why does lead become superconducting below a critical temperature?"
"Why did you slap me?"
  1. You can't invoke causality outside the domain of existence and indeed doing so is a category error. Causation links events. Existence isn't an event it is a collection of events. Causality works within this collection not upon this collection.
  2. It may be instructive to try to explain the form of existence such as is done in physics but there are limits there.
  3. Questions of purpose per-suppose a purpose holder. If I step on a rake in the dark and ask "why did you hit me" I'm asking the purpose behind an accidental event. Before resolving purpose one must resolve the intentional vs accidental nature of the subject. Typically I see questions of purpose in attempts to deduce the existence of God. "There must be a God, else why do we exist?" but these are circular arguments.
    Premise:The "why" question is valid i.e. there is a God ; Conclusion:There is a God. (Personally I am agnostic in that I believe this is a question of faith not deduction.)

I think it is instructive to consider for the moment the mundane topic of interval notation in mathematics. I can represent a bound interval [itex] a \le x < b[/itex] with the notation [itex] x\in [a,b)[/itex]. We then extend this bit of language to include unbounded sets by defining a symbol [itex]\infty[/itex] as a place-holder for the absence of a bound. [itex] x \in [a,\infty) \equiv a\le x < \infty \equiv a \le x[/itex].
And even express: [itex]x \in \mathbb{R} =(-\infty,\infty)[/itex].
But we may then make the error of objectifying this null symbol as if it represented an actual real number. "There must be a number [itex]\infty[/itex]"! This symbol isn't something (in this context) it is a place-holder for nothing when we use a language format which requires this be made explicit.

Now in mathematics we can of course invent infinite "numbers" and treat them as object. But math is a game of mental construction, not in and of itself a study of nature.

We must be careful about similar constructs in philosophy "first cause" "why everything?" etc. should be parsed for their implicit assumptions before we attempt resolving answers.
wuliheron
wuliheron is offline
#198
Feb22-12, 08:39 AM
P: 1,967
Apeiron, I think you have the wrong idea. I am a Pragmatic Taoist, not a mystic, and I would never bring up mysticism in a science forum without expressly calling attention to the fact it is mysticism. Pragmatic Taoism has a lot in common with Philosophical Taoism and Zen, but without all the mysticism. Its not that I have anything against mysticism, it's just not who I am. I'm sorry you had a bad experience with Zen, but that's not my problem and it has nothing to do with what I'm talking about.

When I talk about something being demonstrable I mean that quite literally. A Zen master hitting a student over the head is attempting to prompt them to become more spontaneous. Enlightenment or some sort of mystical experience might be their ultimate goal, but such things are only achieved through spontaneity and, at best, the master can help the student to open the door.

For me spontaneity is the key to awareness which is necessary for discerning what is demonstrable. Its no more mystical then the fact you are more aware and capable of reasoning when awake then asleep. I'd suggest you re-read my post and ask your questions again.


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