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Can the Universe explain itself?

  1. Oct 17, 2008 #1
    I rendered this question accidentally during a discussion with a good friend of mine on the logical constraints that govern our interpretation of the world. The thought struck me as arcane initially, but after some consideration it is difficult to elicit and direct logical inconsistencies.

    What I often find is that while questioning topics such as existence, life, the origin of "all", either inherent assumptions are present that underlay the proposed interpretation set forth or the question simply cannot be asked at all.

    We are both versed in Mathematics and Physics by official decree but tend to philosophical questions (particularly, on the nature of mathematics) with as great a fervor; thus far there is only a single question, spare the one in the title that we have agreed in unision can be asked:

    Can something be true and false at the same time?

    I am posting this in an attempt to raise discussion, as if the statement in the title does contain a logical inconsistency it would relieve me of the burden of continually questioning. :) (Not that such an act is a compromise or burden anyways! Quite the contrary.)

    Richard Feynman: "... and there are many things I know nothing about, such as why we are here - <i>and whether it means anything to ask."</i>

    I feel this quotation encompasses in the least amount of words the thought I am attempting to convey.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 17, 2008 #2


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    What do you mean "Can the Universe explain itself?"

    What has that got to do with your question "Can something be true and false at the same time?"

    Merely asking a question doesn't make it legitimate. I know, I've seen that question asked a bazillion times, but I've never seen a valid reason to ask it. Not knocking you for asking it again. It's like me asking "if I pluck my eyeballs out with a fork, can I still see?"

    Sorry, not in a receptive mood.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2008
  4. Oct 17, 2008 #3
    My sense of them being related is simply given by the fact that they appear appear to be logically consistent. For example - to ask the question "why does God cause suffering" under such a model would not be a valid question, as it assumes the existence of God. I would go as far to question asking whether or not God exists period is of any relevance in a logically consistent framework.

    However, when commenting on the existence of the universe, we have at least justified our logic superficially by stating "The Universe exists."; a statement which merely by the process of asking the question must be true, otherwise an obvious problem arises. Holding that the universe exists, the question "Can the Universe explain itself" provides us with two inherent possibilities: Yes or No. If Yes, we are left with the result that (assuming logic is the decyphering medium) that logic explains logic - which clearly it can't. If no, then we have determined that the universe cannot explain itself within the bounds of our reasoning - but if such is the case our statement is meaningless as we have logically declared that the Universe (us) cannot explain itself.

    It is an interesting dilemma, considering all human progress really is based on the efficacy with which we employ logic.
  5. Oct 17, 2008 #4


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    I still don't get what you mean by "can the universe explain itself?"

    Tell me how the universe could explain itself. How can a rock explain itself? How can an egg explain itself?
  6. Oct 17, 2008 #5
    That is precisely the beauty of the question. How can the universe explain itself? I am not sure. What I do know is my ability to question and prove is bound by logic. I know that if one thing implies the next, the statement is true (as per the definition).

    However, the question "can the universe explain itself" requires an observer, someone or something that must define the terms of Yes or No. Our best guess is that the Universe does exist, though we have no more proof of this than our own experience which is based on logic.

    It is thus implicitly assumed that, as I am human and I reason with logic - given that I am a part of the Universe in an attempt to explain whether or not "it can explain itself" I am using MY logic to explain the Universe. This is equivalent to saying logic proves logic under these circumstances, which is false.

    Thus, can the universe - or humanity as a product of the universe - or science as a pursuit of humanity as a product of the universe - ever elicit meaning in the statement can the Universe explain itself? I have no hard opinion on the matter, but it appears to be unprovable.
  7. Oct 20, 2008 #6
    This reminds ofwhen I was talking with someone about intelegent design versus evolution who is convinced of intelegent design on account of some weak probability math.

    My question to both is: if you're right and everthing was designed by some absent being, or if you're right and logic breaks down at great magnitudes, then what? What useful purpose does that hypothesis serve? All it would tell us is that searching for answers might not reveal anything, but we already knew that anyway and it's definately not telling us that we won't find any answers, because they are lowly hypothesis and not proven, so we'll keep searching anyway and all you have done is just waste a little bit of everyone's time.
  8. Oct 20, 2008 #7


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    I think what Evo is trying to get out of you is how do you define 'explain' in the question 'can the universe explain itself?' What do you actually mean by your question? You appear to be trying to reword the question, but it always seems to have this phrase in it. What does it mean?
  9. Oct 21, 2008 #8


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    Humans are a part of the universe and have done their best to explain themselves and their existence and that of the universe.

    So, in this sense, the universe is in the process of explaining itself.
  10. Oct 21, 2008 #9
    Some wise man said something to the effect that you can't see 100% of a system if you are a part of or inside that system. If that's the case then we can approach a total understanding but we'll never actually reach it.
  11. Oct 21, 2008 #10
    The problem is you have not defined what it means to explain itself.
    There are many ways one can explain one self.
    For instance an egg can explain itself when I break off the top to eat it.
    Since it is not capable of any more explanation, it has by doing this action reactively, explained itself in some sense.
    In that sense, humans, and other beings, are indeed already explaining the universe.
    We explain it to each other, and to ourselves all the time by just experiencing and interacting..

    What you are looking for appears to be a brain of sorts containing all possible knowledge, or a mechanism in which a conscious thing may be able to understand everything.
    Or at least explain the origins.
    If such is the case, then you need to ask, 'what are the origins of the universe' or 'can humanity learn everything about the universe' because such questions would be far more self explanatory than your current one.

    The truth is we cannot know if the universe can explain itself, when you have not defined what explaining means, nor what 'itself' is..
  12. Oct 21, 2008 #11


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    The only situation where "something can be true and false at the same time" is as follows:

    "It is true that it is false".
  13. Oct 21, 2008 #12


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    This may help.

    The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus

    The universe encompasses all knowledge and all detail and every situation. Since every one of these aspects of the universe are perfectly clear, in that there is really nothing being consciously hidden or held back... I'd say the universe has explained itself succinctly. It's really up to the human to study and understand what has been "explained" by the existence of this universe.
  14. Oct 21, 2008 #13
    *Sighs* Another case of dwelling on the minutia.
  15. Oct 22, 2008 #14

    I think you are asking - is human logic a reliable tool for describing reality? First you have to answer another question - What are we? When you find the answer to that question you will have unlocked all mysteries.

    The universe will explain itself to us only as much as it was allowed by its creators and the laws they chose that govern the universe from the singularity till now. Do you believe true randomness exists?
  16. Oct 25, 2008 #15
    We're trying, aren't we?
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