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Thread: The Universe

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    Senior Member reason's Avatar
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    Default The Universe

    In 1704 Isaac Newton wrote:

    "Is not the Heat of the warm Room convey'd through the Vacuum by the Vibrations of a much subtiler Medium than Air, which after the Air was drawn out remained in the Vacuum? And is not this Medium the same with that Medium by which Light is refracted and reflected, and by whose Vibrations Light communicates Heat to Bodies, and is put into Fits of easy Reflexion and easy Transmission?"

    This medium came to be named aether. The aether theory was thereafter accepted by physicists for almost two centuries, even though many physicists conducted experiments which returned results inconsistent with the theory. That presented a problem, everyone knew that the aether existed, it was in every textbook, how else could electromagnetic waves propogate? The only problem was detecting its presence, and as long as our instruments failed to do this then there was simply something wrong with our instruments.

    It wasn't until the famous Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887 that physicists began to seriously look toward alternatives, which conspicuously lacked any need to postulate aether. However, it would still be another couple of decades until the aether would be consigned to the dustbins of scientific history, with others like Lamarckism and vitalism.

    The important lesson to learn from this is that nobody ever solved the problem of aether; it would be more appropriate to say that the problem of aether was dissolved, it just disappeared. The problem turned out to be the implicit premise that the aether existed, which arose within the context of Newton's original theory. In the context of rival theories, the problem simply did not arise, and there was no problem to solve.

    This example from the history of science is instructive, as it clearly demonstrates how we often become fixed on a problem where no solution is possible. In such a case, we need to analyse our implicit premises. The task is to scrutinise and criticise the context in which our problem arises, what we might call the problem-situation, to see whether or not a problem really exists.

    There are a family of closely related cosmological problems I want to breifly consider, examples are:

    What is the cause of the universe?
    What is the meaning of the universe?
    What is beyond the universe?

    These problems can be dissolved much like the problem of aether, once it is recognised that the context in which they arise is flawed. The common error is the objectification of the universe, a premise implicit in the question, rendering each question insoluble.

    The word universe comes from Latin, and means entire world, all together, turn to one, etc. The prefix uni- means one. However, the context, as presented in these questions is problematic, and to recognise why we'll consider some everyday examples, such as:

    What is the cause of that chiming?
    What is the meaning of that signpost?
    What is beyond my bedroom door?

    To the first question, we might answer that a bell is causing the chiming. Though in doing so we presuppose that bells can exist in relation to you, such as that they can cause a chiming sound for you to hear. In other words, we presuppose lawful conditions, in which it is possible for one thing, such as a bell, to have a relationship to you, such that it can cause an effect which you can hear.

    To the second question, we might answer that the signpost means that a gas station is 5 miles away. However, in doing so we presuppose that there are particular lawful conditions in which we can stand in relation to the signpost, and using interprative procedures can discern a meaning from it. In fact, should we speak a different language where the same set of symbols on the signpost are interpreted by different rules, we may decide that the signpost means something entirely different.

    To the last question, I might conjecture that there is a rodent of unusually large size just beyond my door. Though oncemore, in doing so I presuppose that different objects can exist, have different properties, and stand in relation to each other in a 3-dimensional space. In other words, I presuppose a particular set of lawful conditions in which that is possible.

    All these relationships and patterns presuppose laws, the very notion of something having ameaning, a cause or a beyond makes no sense, except where we are talking about objects which obey such laws. In fact, the laws define what an object is, so objects can't exist without laws to define and govern them.

    Now, if we consider the universe as an object, which can have a cause, an prior meaning or outside, then we have contradicted our definition of the universe. The universe is by definition everything, including all of the laws which govern it. The moment we begin to ask questions like the above, we implicitly objectify the universe, we treat it as an object which is in turn subject to laws, such as cause and effect or geometrical axioms.

    In other words, we have implicitly postulated a metauniverse, which shouldn't exist. Indeed, the problem is unsoluble due to a flawed context, one that unavoidably gives rise to a contradiction. The whole set of problems is dissolved, you might say, by simply adopting a new context free of that contradiction.

    Thank you for reading, but that is all... run along!
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

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    Senior Member sdalek's Avatar
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    What is beyond the universe?
    De Sitter space? Quantum foam?

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    Quote Originally Posted by sdalek View Post
    De Sitter space? Quantum foam?
    No.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

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    Senior Member sdalek's Avatar
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    One of the issues I see is that your original questions were universe centric. You have substituted the universe in your questions with non-equal entities. (chiming neq signpost neq bedroom door vs. universe eq universe eq universe) Could this not change the nature of your argument?

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    Senior Member htb's Avatar
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    Lee, why don't you participate in the confutation of that theory by running through a sprinkler, or joining a book club, or taking up volunteer work, or otherwise satisfying a nervous intellect that -- in fact -- bells do chime, signposts mean what they say, and that rodents of unusual size do not exist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sdalek View Post
    One of the issues I see is that your original questions were universe centric. You have substituted the universe in your questions with non-equal entities. (chiming neq signpost neq bedroom door vs. universe eq universe eq universe) Could this not change the nature of your argument?
    The entities I substituted with 'universe' are equal in the way which was relevant for the argument i.e. they are objects, defined and governed by the laws of the universe.

    The point is that when you attempt the same objectification of the universe itself, you become entangled in an unsoluble logical difficulty. In other words, a contradiction.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

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    Quote Originally Posted by htb View Post
    and that rodents of unusual size do not exist.
    *rodents of unusually large size
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

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    Senior Member sdalek's Avatar
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    Also, the problem of aether didn't just disappear, it was empirically disproved by the Michelson-Morley experiments which results were verified and validated by repeats of the experiment by other scientists.

    Also, how do scientists objectify the universe? It was my understanding that they attempt to qualify and quantify it.

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    Senior Member htb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lee View Post
    rodents of unusually large size
    Well, it...I...

    IT ALL MAKES SENSE, NOW

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    Lex Parsimoniae Xander's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nocturne View Post
    In other words, I presuppose a particular set of lawful conditions in which that is possible.

    All these relationships and patterns presuppose laws, the very notion of something having a meaning, a cause or a beyond makes no sense, except where we are talking about objects which obey such laws. In fact, the laws define what an object is, so objects can't exist without laws to define and govern them.
    Well said. The universe is less quantifiable than a human and despite all our attempts at psychological models we fail to encompass the enormity of a singular personality. That problem is exponentially increased relative to complexity and the universe is far more complex than a singular personality (or so we assume ).

    As a side niggle.. definitions cannot exist without laws, it's illogical to say that the object cannot exist without the laws in place to define it as they are placed there by humans to understand the object.
    Quote Originally Posted by sdalek View Post
    Also, how do scientists objectify the universe? It was my understanding that they attempt to qualify and quantify it.
    To try and define something is to objectify it (I believe). Many things are beyond such measures at the moment. We instead work with presumptions and assumptions.
    Isn't it time for a colourful metaphor?

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