The taboo against meaning?

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sciborg2

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« on: July 12, 2019, 01:55:23 pm »
The taboo against meaning

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Many people, scientists included, believe the greatest taboo in science to be the taboo against "magic." After all, science is a method for deriving explanations for everything in terms of other things. Nothing happens "by magic," but is the outcome of a long, and sometimes nearly unfathomable, chain of causality.

However, there are many historical examples in science of what we would today call "magic." For instance, during the Renaissance scientists attempted to explain electrostatic attraction by postulating the existence of an invisible substance, called "effluvium," streching out across bodies. Strange as it may sound today, at the time effluvium was considered as legitimate an explanation for empirical observations as subatomic particles (equally invisible) are now. As the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment, scientists began trying to frame every phenomenon in terms of the action of small corpuscules interacting through direct contact. Any explanation that did not conform to this template was considered "magic" and, therefore, invalid. That is why the ideas of an English scientist called Isaac Newton were ignored and even ridiculed for decades: Newton dared to proposed that objects attracted one another from a distance through an invisible, mysterious force he called "gravity." Yet we know how that story developed.

You see, magic is not really a taboo in science. It has never been. After all, the chain of reduction has to end somewhere. One cannot keep on explaining one thing in terms of another forever. Eventually, one must postulate fundamental properties of nature that are not reducible to, or explainable by, anything else. These fundamental properties are what they are simply because that's how nature is; period. This is where science legitimately accepts "magic." Electromagnetic waves vibrating in a vacuum sounds pretty much like magic (after all, what is it that vibrates, given that it all happens in a vacuum?) but that's just how nature is. Imagining the fabric of space-time twisting and bending in the presence of condensed energy (what is energy, by the way?) also sounds like magic, but who are we to judge it? It's just the way things are. In the course of the history of science, we have chosen different things to label as "fundamental properties." Each time this choice changed, the previous one was made to look like silly "magic." But at all times have we accepted "magical," fundamental properties of nature; indeed, perhaps never more so than today, with the advent of quantum mechanics and the new multiverse cosmologies.

No, magic has never been the real taboo. The real taboo is meaning.

Once scientists thought that the Earth was the center of the universe. Ptolemaic astronomy could explain nearly all astronomical observations of its time, based on just such an assumption. That gave us humans a sense of being special, significant, meaningful: we were the center of existence, after all; the heavens turned around us. But it was not to last. And once scientists realized that our planet was just a rock going around the sun along with countless other rocks (i.e. the other planets, moons, and the asteroid belt), a great sense of shame must have ensued. How ridiculous and stupid astronomers must have felt; all their aspirations of meaning and significance shattered beyond repair.

And it happened again; and again. For instance, for centuries we believed that living creatures differed fundamentally from inanimate objects in that we were powered by a special force later called "élan vital," or "life force." Indeed, we were special because, out of all of creation, we were animated by this divine force. Our existence must, therefore, have had a special meaning to motivate such distinction. Life had a purpose; we had a purpose. But again, it was not to last. Today, the vast majority of scientists extrapolate the little we know of molecular biology and assume that life is merely a mechanical process at a molecular level. In other words, we are just machines, not fundamentally different from rocks except in that metabolism operates slightly faster than crystallization or erosion. Again we fell flat on our faces. We are not special or meaningful; we're just like everything else.

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Nonetheless, and leaving aside its built-in bias, a taboo against meaning has the potential to be as naive and delusional as the aspiration of meaning itself. The idea behind the taboo is that we are not special: Who are we to assume that our existence has any meaning anyway? But you see, who are we to decree that it does not? What do we know anyway? The historical instances where our aspirations of meaning were proven hollow represented very naive conceptions of meaning. Today, who would associate the idea of meaning to being physically located in some kind of cosmological center? Our conception of meaning has become much more sophisticated and subtle.

The fact is, the universe exists; life exists. Assuming that it all came out of nowhere for no reason is, I believe, as much a leap of faith as anything else.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2019, 01:59:06 pm by sciborg2 »
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TaoHorror

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« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2019, 02:38:29 am »
This is one of the more inspiring posts I've read, here or anywhere :) ... all is not necessarily lost just because it appears so. At least for those of us whom find meaning more comforting than those who don't.
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sciborg2

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« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2019, 04:25:43 pm »
This is one of the more inspiring posts I've read, here or anywhere :) ... all is not necessarily lost just because it appears so. At least for those of us whom find meaning more comforting than those who don't.

Is all seemingly lost?
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TLEILAXU

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« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2019, 05:08:54 pm »
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Today, the vast majority of scientists extrapolate the little we know of molecular biology and assume that life is merely a mechanical process at a molecular level. In other words, we are just machines,
This is literally the same reasoning as creationists saying that "you can't explain how the eye evolved, therefore the bible is true."

sciborg2

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« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2019, 07:19:39 pm »
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Today, the vast majority of scientists extrapolate the little we know of molecular biology and assume that life is merely a mechanical process at a molecular level. In other words, we are just machines,
This is literally the same reasoning as creationists saying that "you can't explain how the eye evolved, therefore the bible is true."

Wait, what is like the creationist argument? The idea we are just machines or the critique of the idea we are just machines?
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TaoHorror

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« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2019, 07:56:42 pm »
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Today, the vast majority of scientists extrapolate the little we know of molecular biology and assume that life is merely a mechanical process at a molecular level. In other words, we are just machines,
This is literally the same reasoning as creationists saying that "you can't explain how the eye evolved, therefore the bible is true."

Wait, what is like the creationist argument? The idea we are just machines or the critique of the idea we are just machines?

In brief, since evolutionary scientists haven't been able to explain/prove everything about how life came to be what it is today, it's false or at the very least doesn't disprove there is a god/God. I agree with TL to some extent, but I don't think the author is going as far as Creationists and simply stating something apparently true which is the matter is not yet settled.

Yes, in my view, if the show does not go on after death, I consider that loss/lost. There are a few here who claim relief if we prove there is nothing - I'm the opposite, though I will say I would certainly accept oblivion over eternal torment is what's in store for me  :)
« Last Edit: July 13, 2019, 07:58:21 pm by TaoHorror »
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TLEILAXU

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« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2019, 08:35:58 pm »
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Today, the vast majority of scientists extrapolate the little we know of molecular biology and assume that life is merely a mechanical process at a molecular level. In other words, we are just machines,
This is literally the same reasoning as creationists saying that "you can't explain how the eye evolved, therefore the bible is true."

Wait, what is like the creationist argument? The idea we are just machines or the critique of the idea we are just machines?

In brief, since evolutionary scientists haven't been able to explain/prove everything about how life came to be what it is today, it's false or at the very least doesn't disprove there is a god/God. I agree with TL to some extent, but I don't think the author is going as far as Creationists and simply stating something apparently true which is the matter is not yet settled.
Yes, the argument lies in framing the knowledge-base as being unreliable (e.g. "extrapolate the little we know of molecular biology") to cast doubt about some narrative, using specific examples or by simply wording the sentence in a certain way.

sciborg2

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« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2019, 02:02:26 am »
In brief, since evolutionary scientists haven't been able to explain/prove everything about how life came to be what it is today, it's false or at the very least doesn't disprove there is a god/God. I agree with TL to some extent, but I don't think the author is going as far as Creationists and simply stating something apparently true which is the matter is not yet settled.

Yes, in my view, if the show does not go on after death, I consider that loss/lost. There are a few here who claim relief if we prove there is nothing - I'm the opposite, though I will say I would certainly accept oblivion over eternal torment is what's in store for me  :)

Ah gotcha...I see the Creationist and Reductionist arguments as inverted versions of each other. Creationists look for possibility of God in the gaps and Reductionists try to squeeze out the same possibility.

As for death being a loss...maybe. But the author of the piece is a Transcendental Idealist, so you'd be arguably entering into Oblivion any way... ;D
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TLEILAXU

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« Reply #8 on: July 14, 2019, 04:18:31 pm »
In brief, since evolutionary scientists haven't been able to explain/prove everything about how life came to be what it is today, it's false or at the very least doesn't disprove there is a god/God. I agree with TL to some extent, but I don't think the author is going as far as Creationists and simply stating something apparently true which is the matter is not yet settled.

Yes, in my view, if the show does not go on after death, I consider that loss/lost. There are a few here who claim relief if we prove there is nothing - I'm the opposite, though I will say I would certainly accept oblivion over eternal torment is what's in store for me  :)

Ah gotcha...I see the Creationist and Reductionist arguments as inverted versions of each other. Creationists look for possibility of God in the gaps and Reductionists try to squeeze out the same possibility.

As for death being a loss...maybe. But the author of the piece is a Transcendental Idealist, so you'd be arguably entering into Oblivion any way... ;D
I see what you mean, but on the other hand we do live in an age where people are profiling the contents of single cells, and so far there's still no sign of the Soul, so to speak.

sciborg2

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« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2019, 05:00:01 pm »
I see what you mean, but on the other hand we do live in an age where people are profiling the contents of single cells, and so far there's still no sign of the Soul, so to speak.

Can't there be a God without souls?

Also, I thought you were a theist?
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TLEILAXU

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« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2019, 05:40:34 pm »
I see what you mean, but on the other hand we do live in an age where people are profiling the contents of single cells, and so far there's still no sign of the Soul, so to speak.

Can't there be a God without souls?

Also, I thought you were a theist?
I don't like putting myself in boxes, I just identify a lot with the Tleilaxu POV.
But yes, there could be a God without souls, or meaning, if you ask me.

TaoHorror

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« Reply #11 on: July 14, 2019, 05:47:09 pm »
I see what you mean, but on the other hand we do live in an age where people are profiling the contents of single cells, and so far there's still no sign of the Soul, so to speak.

Can't there be a God without souls?

Also, I thought you were a theist?
I don't like putting myself in boxes, I just identify a lot with the Tleilaxu POV.
But yes, there could be a God without souls, or meaning, if you ask me.

Well, there can be anything as we've not figured it out yet. Could be Camu was right ( God is either not-all-powerful or evil, for which he was more suspectful of the latter if there was indeed a god/God ).
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sciborg2

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« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2019, 06:22:15 pm »
Well, there can be anything as we've not figured it out yet. Could be Camu was right ( God is either not-all-powerful or evil, for which he was more suspectful of the latter if there was indeed a god/God ).

Interesting - do you have a Camus passage in mind regarding the possibility of an Evil God?

"You're saying that evil is a means to an end, never an end in itself. But what if evil was more than just a label for antisocial behavior? What if evil was a real force working in the world, capable of drawing people to its service?"
-Matt Ruff, Bad Monkeys

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SmilerLoki

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« Reply #13 on: July 14, 2019, 07:29:28 pm »
Such a strong phrase, "the taboo against meaning". It's much simpler than that - speculation is simply impolite and isn't to be taken seriously. Assume nothing, unless absolutely forced to.

TaoHorror

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« Reply #14 on: July 14, 2019, 08:01:53 pm »
Well, there can be anything as we've not figured it out yet. Could be Camu was right ( God is either not-all-powerful or evil, for which he was more suspectful of the latter if there was indeed a god/God ).

Interesting - do you have a Camus passage in mind regarding the possibility of an Evil God?

Appears I misquoted him a bit, but here is where I pulled that from:

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Knowing whether or not man is free involves knowing whether he can have a master. The absurdity peculiar to this problem comes from the fact that the very notion that makes the problem of freedom possible also takes away all its meaning. For in the presence of God there is less a problem of freedom than a problem of evil. You know the alternative: either we are not free and God the all-powerful is responsible for evil. Or we are free and responsible but God is not all powerful. All the scholastic subtleties have neither added anything to nor subtracted anything from the acuteness of this paradox.
- Camus
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