Is Science basically nihilistic?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Mar 29, 2011.

  1. livingin360 Registered Senior Member

    I agree i think we changed our focus to debating nihilism in general.
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  3. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    No, I don't think that science and its associated physicalism are nihilistic.

    They are corrosive though. Corrosive of a great body of ancient mythology that provided the framework for most people's lives and in which they felt anchored and centered.

    At one time, many people kind of assumed that they lived on the stage of a divine drama. It was a world centered between heaven and hell, filled with sin and grace, a world in which events represented symbols of supernatural presences and illustrations of divine or infernal purposes. Everything that happened seemed to mean something and had some role to play.

    Over the space of several hundred years, rationalism, scientisim and physicalism have pretty much supplanted that worldview and put it to rest, in wide areas of the Western world at least.

    Having said that, I don't see that historical change as as nihilisic, exactly. It's more along the line of dispelling an illusion. It would only be nihilistic if our meanings, values and purposes really did flow from some supernatural source.

    After all, just because a cosmic superbeing is supposed to have a plan for the entire universe or even for me personally, doesn't necessarily make my experience of my own life any more meaningful. Slave owners had plans for their slaves too. Dog owners have plans for their dogs.

    Somebody else's plan for my life, even if that somebody is a god, doesn't really make my own life any more meaningful -- unless I can internalize it somehow. Ultimately, it seems that the only person in a position to create meaning in my life is me.

    Science and physicalism didn't create that situation. But they probably did make it more difficult to ignore.

    As easily in a physical universe as anywhere else, I guess. If somebody is unable to find meaning here in the physical world, then they aren't likely to find it in heaven either.

    The nihilism problem isn't a problem with what's out there, it's a problem with what's in here.
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  5. Emil Valued Senior Member

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  7. Me-Ki-Gal Banned Banned

    dependency . To be dependent . Systems of dependency . Scratchy scratching backs of dogs . Dogs scratching backs of other dogs or cat scratching and licking. The circle of life would be an example . Fish eats fly fly eats shit , you know . The pecking order of things
  8. kurros Registered Senior Member

    Sure, but what I mean is that if all we are is an incredibly complex biological machine (which I am not really suggesting we aren't), then what is this thing that we call, well the ego I suppose, the self? We don't imagine that an artificial life form we will undoubtedly one day create will have this (although it might), we will consider it a bunch of wires and circuits (or future versions thereof) that provide a convincing simulcrum of this. Yet if we are ourselves merely much better machines then why should we expect that we are different?

    So what I mean is that it is easy to explain life from the outside, that nature can build all the machinery for it to work, that it can be understood as a very complex series of biological machines, but from the inside, experiencing what it is to be one of these life forms, it is more difficult to explain I think. If I was going to give any concessions to the religously minded, it would be this one aspect of reality.
  9. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    A product of the brain.

    I don't see why we should expect to be any different.

    I can see this, but not being able to fully understand something doesn't mean you have to resort to fantasy.
  10. kurros Registered Senior Member

    Well of course. But sometime fantasy and legitimate theorising wander towards each other. With this particular question it is difficult to imagine how science could ever answer it. I am just saying that it is a deep mystery, not suggesting that anyone has already figured the answer.
  11. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    That would be suboptimization resulting from a runaway mereology approach. Systems thinking is broader than that, with emphasis on not losing sight of higher levels or the overall hierarchal organization.

    Ultimate "meaning or purpose" would be ascribing such human concerns to a situation of transcendental or metaphysical realism. That's old doxastic territory -- either too lofty or too degrading for scientific theories and models (take your pick). Whereas it's no problem applying our concepts, hypotheses, and descriptive systems to an empirical or phenomenal world -- in whatever way is useful to an objective framework, subject to its methodological approvals. The latter 3rd-person approach, open to revision, is the highest critical standard we can apply to an extrospective representation of "world" that's unavoidably been molded by the mind/brain's thought templates. Various LOL reifications: "the grass is green" ... "feces has a bad odor" ... "placing a turtle on its back is evil" ... "thorns have sharp pain" ...
  12. skog Registered Member

    Not necessarily. Science uses the fact-value distinction to contrast the objectivity of values with that of facts, whereas nihilism treats facts and values as irredeemably subjective. To suggest that science is nihilistic is to turn an investigative method into an ideology that relies on a number of metaphysical assumptions which will not necessarily cohere to nihilism.
  13. something Registered Member

    stuff and suchness

    I find it funny and interesting that philosophy has had similar conclusions to the universe's existence to that of physics current seemingly nihilistic conclusion. The main difference being the words you use and one being a little more strictly connected to math. It makes me wonder after looking at both views if they support determinism or in-determinism or if the fact that it seems so nihilistic but may be exactly that with a more meaningful ending than all is nothing. Then again no matter the answer because of how our brain works what we want the answer to be is what it will be to us as long as our brain is not tampered with. My conclusion being it only matters if you want it to because your human and if you are not human then most likely you would be in a similar situation.

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  14. wellwisher Banned Banned

    If you look closer at foundation theories, like I do, simple basic questions are not answered by physics. Why quanta in the first place? Why the uncertainty principle? Do the gaps between quanta create the uncertainty and would uncertainty disappear in a continuous universe? The physics philosophy of the universe begins with a foundation that has no explanation for why, and then uses this mystery foundation to build and explain everything. We assume the BB, but how and why did this occur?

    If you build a house on a fuzzy foundation, that house will be subject to random cracks in the walls. The lack of why quanta and uncertainty, creates a self serving perception of reality that will make it appear random. If you build upon a solid foundation that is defined and not fuzzy, it can support a house without cracks.

    The atheist random universe perception is an artifact of a fuzzy foundation that can't explain why quanta and why uncertainty. These are two pillars that are magic at the level of why and then we build in the air.

    Maybe I can help answer why quanta, so one can see a critical paradox. If we only have a limited number of states, due to quanta, compared to the infinite states of continuous functions, the limited quantum states will repeat sooner. It is like comparing a six sided dice (quantum) to a spherical dice (continuous). It may take years to get the same number to appear on the round dice, since there are infinite sides and possibilities. But with the six sided dice, it only takes about six tosses. If one needed to build the universe, and they needed specific sides of the dice to show (to fuse nuclei), a quantum universe cycles faster, allowing what you need to appear sooner. Quantum saves time.

    The irony is since quanta have fewer states and saves time in terms of cycling into states needed to form higher states, compared to continuous functions, quantum makes things become more deterministic compared to continuous.

    If God wanted to create the universe in minimal time (like in traditions), he would begin with a quantum universe to speed things up. One could have inferred a quantum universe by the traditional rapid speed of formation used by religion. A continuous state universe would take much longer. Continuous was the original modern science and atheist assumption. This was used to slow things down. But quantum appears in the 20th centuries, implicit of more speed and higher levels of determinism than previously inferred by atheism and science.
  15. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    The reason is that without quanta and uncertainty, you can't explain our observations of the actual universe around us. You flip the history of physics on its head to say that we *start* with quanta and uncertainty as a base and then built up a picture from there. We started, and for a very long time held to, the notion of matter as continuous, and were forced into quanta (and later into the uncertainty principle) to explain our observations of the world as it is actually is.

    For quanta, the problem, famously, was how to explain "black body" radiation. If you make the assumptions of classical physics, then you run into the "ultraviolet catastrophe" where a black-body at thermal equilibrium should (they thought) radiate an infinite amount of energy. Assuming that energy can only be transferred in discrete quanta not only solved the theoretical problem there, but it agreed nicely with actual observation of real world objects that otherwise approximate that theoretically "perfect" black body. We were forced into the assumption after a very long period in which it was assumed that energy was continuous and infinitely divisible.

    Similarly, to explain why electrons hang in their shells, and never half-way between shells, you need the notion of the quantum and of uncertainty (unless you want to insert some other concepts that are in effect the "quantum" and "uncertainty principle" by another name). We didn't adopt the notion of electron shells because we assumed quantum mechanics first, and then found that QM required shells. We came to our understanding of quantum mechanics in part because we wanted to explain those electron shells.

    For the uncertainty principle, it has been shown that you can eliminate it as a supposition. There are consistent interpretations of quantum mechanics that are deterministic and exclude it as a source of "real" uncertainty...with a catch that they always have to introduce some unavoidable mechanism to account for it anyway...because you can't explain actual observations seen in the real world without it. In the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics, there is a definite objective value of position and momentum for every particle at all times (and no tradeoff between them), BUT there are "hidden variables" that an observer can never (not even in principle) know. The effect of those hidden variables means that while the position and momentum of a particle are objective and real physical values, you can never know them, and so the particles all "behave" as in the way the uncertainty principle requires. Here again, we didn't assume that, and then build our theory of the world to suit it. We scratched our heads while observing the world, and modified quantum mechanics to include uncertainty as a result of those observations.

    You can assume energy is continuous and that uncertainty isn't real, but a universe that ran with those rules in place wouldn't look anything like ours. As you note, continuousness was the default assumption for a long time, and it too pretty good evidence to get people to abandon it. In the continuous and certain world, from what we can tell, electrons would spiral into and collide with the nuclei of their associated atoms, since opposite charges attract.

    You also state that the quantum is indicative of "higher levels of determinism"...and I am not sure what you meant by that. Modern quantum mechanics is generally considered to be non-deterministic. Sure, there are departures (like the Bohm interpretation) that try to get around it, but they have to introduce a different sort of "uncertainty" to make the theory match reality, all in a way to retain the fundamentally stochastic (and therefore non-deterministic) nature of the world as observed.
  16. kx000 Valued Senior Member

    Reason is needed for a good godly soul.

    Reason means life, without it you get to die.
  17. wellwisher Banned Banned

    If you compare quantum to continuous, quantum only exists in certain discrete states. Continuous, on the other hand, would exist in these discrete states as well as all the states in the middle. As an analogy, quantum is like a six sided dice in terms of distinct states, while continuous is analogous to a spherical dice, that includes an infinite number point sides. When 19th century science went from continuous to quantum in the 20th century, we reduced the number of conceptual outcomes, since quantum has fewer possible outcomes. The net result is quantum made it more predictable (determined).

    As an example, if we throw the six-sided dice (quantum) versus the infinite sided spherical dice (continuum), although both are random, it is easier to predict the outcome with only six sides. A quantum universe would make it easier and faster to assemble. What I was saying was Creation used 6 days to create the heavens and earth. This indirectly implied a quantum universe, compared to a continuous universe, due to traditional speed of assembly.

    Say you began with a highly quantum universe that was moving toward continuous. The initial assembly would occur quickly, while the subsequent assemble from that foundation, as it moves toward continuous, would get slower and slower as more and more states appear. Moving between quantum and continuum states (either way) impacts the rate of assembly.

    That aside, nobody is explaining why a quantum universe. This is implied cornerstone data for many theories, yet this cornerstone is composed of indeterminate logic. It is like having laymen build the foundation of a house. Then the experts build onto that foundation and assume it will meet all their specs needed for an elaborate job.

    As a loose analogy, say the observed data indicates that some birds fly south for the winter and then fly north for the summer, but we have no idea why any more than, why quanta.We observe this to be sound data, but the reason and source of the data is unknown and therefore left open floating in the air. This unknown adds an implied element of randomness since the fundamental foundation premise is unknown and therefore can be anything you want or need.

    Relative to the birds flying north and south, since we don't know why this is possible, we assume a random motivation. Maybe the birds have time share condos, or maybe the sun has intelligence and directs them. We don't know so theory has no foundation in logic but rather only in randomness. Math is like a faithful horse, who will do anything you want.

    We use math in game engines to create alternate physics to make the game play more fun. The math will follow you anywhere, even in the air when there is no foundation theory, anchored in reality.
  18. Cragzop Registered Member

    I am sorry that I have come to this thread so late. I Googled "science and nihilism," and this post popped up. I have a very limited understanding of science and philosophy, so please excuse my ignorance.

    I believe science is objective truth. It's role is to discover what is. There is nothing subjective about the fact that the moon orbits the earth. Sure, Galileo suffered fools who thought otherwise, but the advent of technology and experimentation proved him right and the others wrong. Nihilism is the philosophical belief that human endeavors have no purpose. We are purely subjective beings and even our pursuit of scientific objectivity is tainted by our preconceived notions and prejudices. The human condition as such, has no goal, we have created a social contract just for the benefit of security. The fact that one man kills another is not based on anything that is objective, just a series of conventions we have agreed to so we can maintain social order.

    Again, science is not nihilistic because all it does is measure what is. It makes no pretense as to the origin of noble gases, it just classifies them after they are discovered. Man's consciousness applies value where there is none.
  19. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I disagree. Science observes the physical world and makes predictive models of reality to account for these observations. "Truth" in science is merely provisional and open to change in light of new observational evidence. The history of science shows this to be the case: theories are imperfect and are frequently changed or even overthrown. "Truth" is a word you do not often see in scientific books or papers, largely I suspect because it would seem arrogant to claim "truth", when it is open to being falsified.

    But anyway none of that has much to do with nihilism. There seem to be many forms of nihilism. The scientific approach does not ascribe meaning or purpose to the physical world and as such might be considered to assume a sort of existential nihilism. But then science does not claim to be a philosophical system, just a discipline for accounting for observation.
  20. wellwisher Banned Banned

    One central nihilist point of view in science is connected to the philosophy of the random and statistical universe. Statistics is a tool that builds its own reality, based on the working assumptions of the tool. The random world view implies a reality based on chaos and gambling casinos, where nothing is logical, but all happens by chance. If you buy into this, don't try to extract too much meaning. All we can do is find patters after the fact.

    The problem with the random universe assumption is how does this philosophy explain the periodic table of elements or that fact they are all made of electrons, protons and neutrons and not random things? There is a certain number and order of elements, based on positive charge, with each elements having its own unique characteristics. There are four forces of nature, if we include gravity. We assume this is the same all over the universe, and not different in some places based on throwing dice.

    A classic assumption is the modern mythology that life can evolve in other solvents. This is based on the random universe philosophy. Nobody has even formed life in water from scratch, never mind in other solvents; called proof. Yet, the random philosophy is assumed to make this mythology kosher and a done deal without hard evidence. If it is random, you can't do this in the lab any more than set up a winning lottery ticket.

    The censor appears to be more about trying enforce conformity to the random philosophy, while trying to undermine the idea of an ordered and rational universe. It prefers a nihilistic universe based on randomness that is beyond our control except is we use the statistical oracle to talk to the gods and learn of their whims.
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