Sunday, September 21, 2008

The End of The Logical Line

It has long been clear to me that the conceptual artifacts of science are a means of pattern description; some patterns are simple and can be reduced to elegant equations and other patterns, like say random sequences, are complex and remain as unreduced data, constrained only by statistical description. The two objects of elegant equations and statistics are beautifully joined in the composite of Quantum Theory.

The noumenalogical/ontological status of descriptive theoretical artifacts is philosophically problematic, but one thing that the subject of computation has made clear: the pattern description of science classifies as a form of data compression. This data reduction/compression is obliged to stop at some point with an incompressible kernel of ‘brute fact’.

Given that computation has provided such a clear insight into the process of scientific pattern description one is left wondering whether science really ‘explains’ anything at all in an absolute sense, if indeed ‘absolute explanation’ is an intelligible concept. In science we are in effect merely discovering how to compress myriad diverse potential observational protocols into elegant theoretical descriptions.

The data compression embodied in a theoretical artifact feeds the intuition that with a reduction in mathematical complexity there comes a concomitant reduction in mystery. Theoretical constructs, it seems, are converging toward a narrower and narrower ‘mystery gap’. In fact a naive and erroneous extrapolation might suggest that the ultimate conclusion of our theoretical endeavors will be a description string of zero length thus ending all mystery! Of course, this is mathematical nonsense; an irreducible descriptive kernel always will remain. But for the philosophically naive the reduced ‘strings’ of theoretical science look like small logical gaps that may one day be eliminated completely. Hence naive atheism believes the squeeze is on for the naive God of gaps theists. And yet here is the irony: naive atheists and na├»ve theists think in exactly the same categories: viz that science is a logical gap reducing process. However, unlike the naive atheists who wish to eliminate the apparent logical gaps, the naive theists yearn for irreducible gaps as the savior of faith, whether in the form of irreducible complexity or as the ‘in yer face’ gaps of miracles. The naive atheists seek to minimize the gaps, whilst the naive theists do all they can to either retain or maximize the gaps. And yet both intuitively seem to agree on one point: namely, the view that theoretical explanation renders Deity, or more precisely Aseity, redundant.

Somehow the view is held by both naive atheism and naive theism that a protocol element explained within a theoretical context somehow reduces its burden of contingency. But in an absolute sense the complexity of the phenomenon remains: at least in terms of the number of existing protocol elements which remain the same, albeit described with an elegant mathematical object. The compelling philosophical gut feeling that Liebnitz’ principle of sufficient reason is hiding somewhere isn’t satisfied and on that issue success at elegant pattern explanation takes us no further forward.

It is a telling irony that someone such as myself is likely to be accused of being a deist by both theists and atheists: the reason for this accusation is that both parties have the same philosophical categories. Both parties hold the view that explanatory structures reduce the burden of contingency and hence conclude that a well explained phenomenon, like say the evolution of life, may be thought of as serving notice on any deity (or aseity) with the job of managing and sustaining it.

But to confuse our theoretical artifacts with ultimate explanation is a bit like saying that the elements of a computation are created and sustained only by their program. The program is only a means of describing the computation – there is of course the much deeper background reality of the hardware which creates and sustains the individual computation events. And so as far as I am concerned the hunt for Asiety goes on.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting!

Timothy V Reeves said...

Thanks for the visit Sam.