Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

byrnema comments on Open Thread: July 2009 - Less Wrong

3 [deleted] 02 July 2009 04:00AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (235)

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 12:22:32PM *  2 points [-]

Inspired by Yvain's post on Dr. Ramachandran's model of two different reasoning models located in the two hemispheres, I am considering the hypothesis that in my normal everyday interactions, I am a walking, talking, right brain confabulating apologist. I do not update my model of how the world works unless I discover a logical inconsistency. Instead, I will find a way to fit all evidence into my preexisting model.

I'm a theist, and I've spent time on Less Wrong trying to be critical of this view without success. I've already ascertained that God's existence doesn't present a logical inconsistency. (An atheist thinks God's existence is illogical, but based on assumptions that are not necessary.) All empirical evidence I'll ever receive can be consistently incorporated into a God model. (Since, for example, I can question my perception or my sanity before questioning whether God exists.)

I'm an unusual theist, however, in that I have no emotional attachment to believing in God. The God that I believe in is already impersonal. Also, I've ascertained while on Less Wrong that atheism is also not logically inconsistent and, from what I can tell, is not a disadvantageous philosophical position. So how can I trigger a switch? Why is it not easy to flip from one position to another?

I hypothesize that there is something analogous to an activation energy required to update one's model so that there must be some motivation or impetus to update the model. For example, perhaps a new model explains things in a simpler way than the current model, and thus would be chosen for aesthetic reasons, or perhaps the new model would afford some practical benefit. (A difference in predictions that effects anything tangible would be an example of a practical benefit.)

(A) Choosing atheism because it is more aesthetic than theism.

I already prefer atheism to the extent that it is a simpler theory. (Some form of Occam's Razor.) However, it leaves a hole that God is shaped to fit, so, finally, I don't consider it to be more aesthetic.

This hole is the reason/cause/explanation for the existence and causal dependence/inter-connectedness of everything. As far as I am aware, the atheist model has no comment on this. However, apparently you don't experience any hole. Tell me, how does your model cover this hole? Perhaps if I could see that atheism is just as good as theism as a model, I could perform the switch, or at least hold them both as simultaneously equal hypotheses.

(B) Choosing atheism because it would provide some practical benefit.

In what way could becoming an atheist possibly improve my life for the better? Is there any actual, tangible benefit? Is there some cost that I'm not aware of that theism is exacting? As far as I know, there is no cost to being theist, because I recognize no extra guilt or obligation for my belief. Organized religion does provide some non-negligible burden to my everyday life, but that is independent of my belief. If I was an atheist, would anything in my life be easier or better?

Comment author: eirenicon 28 July 2009 01:42:09PM 4 points [-]

This hole is the reason/cause/explanation for the existence and causal dependence/inter-connectedness of everything. As far as I am aware, the atheist model has no comment on this. However, apparently you don't experience any hole. Tell me, how does your model cover this hole?

It's not that I, an atheist, don't experience such a hole. Far from it! I inhabit a gaping and mysterious void of ignorance. The difference is that while you see the outline of the hole and find something hole-shaped to fit into it (God), I am more interested in changing the dimensions of the hole. I don't want to explain why the hole exists, I want to destroy the hole altogether. The hole isn't a problem to be solved by the atheist model but by the scientific model.

A thousand years ago the hole was a lot bigger, and yet God was still perfectly hole-shaped. Consider that one day the hole may no longer exist, that the great and ineffable cause is finally exploded with a brilliant theory that describes the every underpinning of the universe and we all go "Ohhhh... that makes sense."

Whither then doth hole-shaped God go?

(B) Choosing atheism because it would provide some practical benefit.

If you want to maximize practical benefit, become a Christian. Or a Muslim, if you live in the Middle East. Or a superstitious atheist, if you live in China. Being an atheist, for myself, at least, is not about practical benefit. It's just that I don't have any rational way of believing anything else.

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 03:55:58PM 0 points [-]

The hole isn't a problem to be solved by the atheist model but by the scientific model.

So you agree there is a hole, and that this hole is fillable, by science. May I take this to mean that you do believe that there is an explanation? Suppose that science could provide an explanation, what would it look like? I understand that you don't know (and I don't either) but to speculate..

a brilliant theory that describes the every underpinning of the universe

Exactly, sounds like God to me. I would be happy with a God = a single universal theory of everything, or more precisely any set of laws which also included some sort of self-explanation.

Whither then doth hole-shaped God go?

Many mathematicians and physicists identify God with mathematics and/or physical laws of the universe. Einstein believed in such a God. I think that belief in God, distilled to it's most elemental component, is the belief that there is a consistent theory of everything, whether this theory is knowable or not.

Organized religions make up a lot of stuff about what the consistent theory consists of. (For example, were humans part of the plan? If the universe is deterministic, then they were.) Eliezer is correct that they focus on overly positive aspects. Perhaps they should just stay silent and appeal to the mystery, but they insist upon speculating, and then make it dogma. I find the speculation interesting, but find all kinds of dogma oppressive. You're a sinner (religion) or an idiot (Less Wrong).

Comment author: Cyan 28 July 2009 04:33:16PM 3 points [-]

It seems to me that your idea of God has no volition and is not equipped to care about anything we do. Why is the idea important, then? Why is it a worthwhile idea to collect the regularities of the Universe in a bag labelled "God"?

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 05:33:55PM *  1 point [-]

First: I wholly agree that my idea of God has no volition and is not equipped to care about anything we do. This is the view of God I'm defending, not a personal God.

Why is the idea important, then?

Good question -- I've been anticipating it for some time now. There are three reasons why the idea is important.

(1) Many people (especially scientists) believe in this God. Many/most world religions actually assert a God that is much more more like the God I describe than you might think. So I would like atheists to understand that when they assert that belief in God is irrational or absurd, they are really (usually) just making arguments that there is no personal God, which is annoying to theists that believe in the impersonal God. Perhaps mostly because as a result of the identification God=Personal God, they can't express their beliefs in a meaningful way. For example, even after having sketched my view of God, it was still implied that I "suppose that the entire universe is the creation of some infinite mind-like thing with an unconditional respect for reason!"

(2) Many logical arguments against God don't focus on properties of God specific to a personal God (the problem of evil is a noteworthy exception). Since they argue that God of any kind can't exist, but then my watered-down do-nothing version of God can exist, what went wrong with the reasoning? My favorite example of this is the argument that a supreme power would be too complex to exist. (Are the fundamental physics laws too complex to exist??) So I would really like to learn, after all, how anyone can tell the difference between an logical argument and just a line of reasoning that conforms with your point of view.

(3) As humanists, we need to identify what we have in common and not exaggerate differences. I think a lot of people, theists and atheists alike, have an innate belief that the world must make sense. As some people have pointed out in comments to me, it is possible for them to hold this as a theory rather than a belief. However, I then suspect that our personalities or the way our mind is structured is really quite different. And this difference is not a good reason to think of most of humanity as idiotic. I strongly assert that what theists really can't let go of (even the ones who believe in a personal God) is the idea of a meaningful/consistent universe. So practically, you'd have a lot more progress pulling them "sideways" towards a belief in an impersonal God than in no God. I've made a similar argument here.

Finally, there is an aspect to your question that I cannot fully address. It is: what difference does believing in God make if there's no reason to worship him and it would have no effect on my behavior? I have no response to this because I don't think it does make a difference. I have no objection to people being atheists. But I think some people innately do have a belief in God, and for whatever reason, it is connected with their motivation to explore the universe. If I don't believe in God -- if I consider it unimportant whether or not the world actually makes sense -- then I lose my interest in it. I might just take psychedelic drugs all the time. From observation of the true atheists here (who seem more or less reasonable) I suspect this is a difference in innate constitution.

I'm interested in learning how true atheists avoid this feeling of nihilism. I was actually once quite comfortable once with nihilism, but ultimately rejected it in favor of belief in an objective external universe. Which is why I am so interested in how other empiricists organize their worldview. When I say that my belief in God is innate, I should qualify that it may only be innate when I am simultaneously being an empiricist.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 July 2009 05:41:05PM 2 points [-]

I have no objection to people being atheists.

This seems to suggest that you either are not truly convinced that (your) God exists, or that it does not bother you when people are wrong.

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 07:51:13PM *  0 points [-]

Good point. I've been struggling for a few days with what I can possibly mean by "God exists" and still feel like this is not an empirical fact that can ever be resolved. Because the existence of God is not a scientific question. We agree, I think, that it must be based on faith or else it's just a mundane empirical fact.

On the one hand, it seems to be a matter of interpretation. Even if we had proof that there was a set of universal laws explaining everything, I wouldn't require that someone else find this meaningful. In this case, I personally would prefer if they said "God is meaningless" rather than "God doesn't exist" but I can't control what definition of God they use.

On the other hand, it may be a problem with the meaning of "existence". I find that theists can mean God exists in a literal sense, in which case I find their views on God to be naive (and wrong), or they mean God exists in the way I mean, in which case they also seem unable to communicate what this means. I've been seriously toying with the idea that this concept of "existence" is an artifact of the way people-like-me think. When I think about something abstract, it seems to exist in a way, and this is the way I mean.

I've argued this POV in detail (but without much success) in this thread about the difference between being frequentist or Bayesian. I've pretty much given up on this explanation, but my interest in this topic was motivated by considering an analogy between belief in the "existence" of probability and belief in the "existence" of God. For me, while God and probability are quite different, they "exist" in a similar fashion.

Consider the set of laws of the universe, given that they exist. In what sense do they exist? You can measure their effects of course, but you infer their existence.

Perhaps I misunderstood him, but I nevertheless learned from Vladimir_Nesov that believing in the "existence" of physical laws is kind of like believing in some kind of phlogiston. I don't consider it a demotion of God for him to only exist in the way that physical laws exist. I think this is a linguistic/communication problem only.

Comment author: thomblake 28 July 2009 07:57:24PM 1 point [-]

It seems like your problem might be isomorphic to the question of whether numbers exist.

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 08:11:33PM 1 point [-]

Agreed.

Comment author: eirenicon 28 July 2009 06:26:47PM 1 point [-]

But I think some people innately do have a belief in God, and for whatever reason, it is connected with their motivation to explore the universe.

I don't think people have innate beliefs in God. I think people are creative, and afraid of the unknown, and when you put the two together, you get a lot of imagination. You might get a God who grants you immortality in paradise, a cycle of rebirth that goes on forever until you achieve enlightenment, or just a sense of being connected to everything in a mysterious way. All of these things are interchangeable. A boy is born in India and grows up to be a Hindu. The same boy, transplanted to Saudi Arabia, grows up to be a Muslim. Again, moved to England, he may turn out to be an Anglican, or a Shintoist in Japan, or a New Ager in California, etc. In each case, he may say that the "hole" is filled by his beliefs, that he has an explanation for everything, a universal theory.

The reality is that this kind of belief is no different from any other. It's no different than preferring cats to dogs, or being afraid of spiders. We aren't born with a reflexive cats > dogs preference in our brain, nor are we born with a God-shaped hole in our heads. The reason the hole looks God-shaped is because we made God to fit. When Laplace was queried by Napoleon about the lack of the "Creator" in his work on the solar system, he replied, "I have had no need of that hypothesis." Is this because Laplace did not have the same motivation to explore the universe as his religious colleagues? No, it is because Laplace had an even stronger desire to explore the universe, and realized that involving God in his exploration was like finding the X on the map and laying bricks over it.

If I don't believe in God -- if I consider it unimportant whether or not the world actually makes sense -- then I lose my interest in it.

It's extremely important to me that the world makes sense, and not believing in God is part of why I think it does. Even a God that lacks volition or interest, a totally impersonal God, injects enough uncertainty into the universe to make it absurd.

I'm interested in learning how true atheists avoid this feeling of nihilism.

We don't. It's called "existential depression", which usually first presents when you realize that Death = Not Being, although it's probably worse if, like me, you grew up believing you'd go to heaven when you died. I don't see how believing in an impersonal, uninterested God of physics could possibly help mitigate the feeling, though. I prefer to just be pragmatic about it; even if I could "live forever", I probably wouldn't escape the heat death of the universe. My instinct is to stay alive and try to enjoy myself, though, so that's what I do. And I take psychedelic drugs.

Comment author: Cyan 28 July 2009 05:53:05PM 1 point [-]

Many/most world religions actually assert a God that is much more more like the God I describe than you might think.

But not like yours in the key aspects I noted -- those aspects imply a lack of any need for religious practices.

Arguments against God usually don't focus on properties of God specific to a personal God (the problem of evil is a noteworthy exception).

My impression is that arguments that advocates of atheism are making to the public (as opposed to academia) are largely against the idea of a personal God. These atheists would just shug their shoulders at your stance.

I strongly assert that what theists really can't let go of (even the ones who believe in a personal God) is the idea of a meaningful/consistent universe.

I assert that what theists really can't let go of is a social setting and their place within it.

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 06:15:53PM *  0 points [-]

Many/most world religions actually assert a God that is much more more like the God I describe than you might think.

But not like yours in the key aspects I noted -- those aspects imply a lack of any need for religious practices.

I'm been writing too quickly. I meant that many/most world religions assert this God theologically -- it is not espoused in popular culture. The reasons for this is that religions like to be accessible, whereas this God is rather abstract for most people. (I know a Catholic priest who winces every time someone says Christ died for their sins.) Also organized religion does want to wield control. So the churches themselves may be huge dogmatic monsters in direct opposition to the theological basis of their faith. (For example, Jesus is described as having been against organized religion and the building of any churches, yet organized Christian religions completely ignore this.)

These atheists would just shrug their shoulders at your stance.

Please do. It's not the response I've been receiving.

I assert that what theists really can't let go of is a social setting and their place within it.

We should look into why theists are so resistant to conversion. We disagree, but I think we may make some headway when we compare the evidence we have for our priors.

Comment author: eirenicon 28 July 2009 04:50:34PM 0 points [-]

May I take this to mean that you do believe that there is an explanation?

Honestly, I don't know. I think we have some pretty good tools that could help us find an explanation, and I hope that we'll have the universe completely sussed out one day and that everything makes sense... but then again, it could be God. I just don't think filling the hole with God is a useful step toward figuring out what the hole is about.

Exactly, sounds like God to me. I would be happy with a God = a single universal theory of everything, or more precisely any set of laws which also included some sort of self-explanation.

If all you want is a reason for why the universe does x like x, why not just settle for the anthropic principle? I guess I don't really understand why you would apply the label 'God' to a universal theory of everything that explained itself. Wherein do you see the God-nature of the physical rules of this universe? And if you had this universal theory, where is the usefulness of calling it God? Aren't you just adding unnecessary semantic complexity?

I think that belief in God, distilled to it's most elemental component, is the belief that there is a consistent theory of everything, whether this theory is knowable or not.

I would hardly compare believing in a consistent theory of everything with believing in God, for any meaningful definition of "God".

For example, were humans part of the plan? If the universe is deterministic, then they were.

A deterministic universe doesn't mean there must be a plan. Water doesn't plan to conform to the shape of the container it is poured into.

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 06:03:18PM -1 points [-]

I hope that we'll have the universe completely sussed out one day and that everything makes sense... but then again, it could be God.

You don't seem to be understanding that for me, "everything makes sense" would be God.

I just don't think filling the hole with God is a useful step toward figuring out what the hole is about.

I agree: we definately don't want to dismiss the mysteries of science with the word "God", like that answers anything. Instead, we feel like studying the mysteries of science is studying God. What we already know about the universe is also God, and the consistency of what we know bolsters our belief in God. Einstein is quoted as having said that the more he studies science, the more he believes in God. (as cited in Holt 1997).

A deterministic universe doesn't mean there must be a plan. Water doesn't plan to conform to the shape of the container it is poured into.

This is semantic quibbling. I've observed that atheists, sort of generally, seem so uncomfortable with using words in certain ways. A "plan" need only have anthropic characteristics if you're talking about a human plan.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 July 2009 06:06:31PM 5 points [-]

Is there some reason you choose to use the word "God"? It seems like you could get away with calling the same concept "the Dao" or "the totality of things" or "the Force" or by a made-up word. That might trigger slightly fewer alarm bells around here.

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 09:08:54PM *  0 points [-]

You're right; my purpose is larger than just trying to gain group acceptance regarding my belief in universal physical laws. I really want to gain some purchase in acceptance of belief in God, which I know is ambitious, but I keep trying. I’ll explain why.

I think religion poses a big problem. Perhaps I am somewhat hysterical, but I fear what religious conflict may yield over the next 20-200 years. And I think it is critically important to handle this problem with truth. While New Atheism seems to present a solution, it doesn’t present the truth. To me, it’s just another religious dogma, one that happens to be anti-religion. It gains support by asserting the supremacy of science because that is exactly where the conflict is … people believe in science but their religions don’t. But New Atheism is spiritually barren. (In the secular sense of the word). People who care about meaning won’t convert.

I think rationalists should take the supremacy of science (empiricism) and provide a better model for religion. Whether God exists or not isn’t the right question – it’s not an empirical fact about the universe. The question is, whether you believe in God or not, how do you tack towards the truth about anything? The truth isn’t in the literal translation of the Bible not because God doesn’t exist but because trusting authority is not good epistemology. Obama said it well in a speech I can’t find at the moment: it’s not that we need to reject the subjective religious experience of a theist, but they need to understand we have only empirical evidence to go by when evaluating their beliefs, and that’s all they have to evaluate each other’s. So, in other words, you can’t argue that X must be done because God wants it so. You must find empirical evidence that X is better. This is completely rational in a polytheistic society. It will raise the sanity line, and religious beliefs will depolarize.

I’ve said before: I think it is our duty to give people a better model for religion, not take away the meaning religion is giving. We can have meaning and the truth together.

Comment author: Cyan 28 July 2009 09:27:03PM 3 points [-]

I really don't get how identifying God with the regularities of the universe rescues "meaning". If the universe existed without humans or comparable beings, would it have meaning? (I say no.) Conversely, if we refuse to identify God with the regularities of the universe, does that imply that the universe is without meaning? (Again, I say no.)

Meaning is something humans create.

Comment author: eirenicon 28 July 2009 07:03:30PM 1 point [-]

You don't seem to be understanding that for me, "everything makes sense" would be God.

Aaah! Why? You're right, I totally do not understand what you are saying. You keep saying "God" but I have zero idea what you mean by "God". If the universe is God, then when we say "God" we are just saying "the universe", which means "God" is a meaningless word. It's like you're saying you've invented a new kind of fruit called a plibb, and then handing me an apple.

Einstein is quoted as having said that the more he studies science, the more he believes in God.

Einstein also said that God doesn't play dice with the universe. He was wrong about the dice part, why couldn't he be wrong about the God part? It sounds an awful lot like you're appealing to authority here.

A "plan" need only have anthropic characteristics if you're talking about a human plan.

There is no other kind of plan*. It's not quibbling, you're using an anthropic word in a non-anthropic context. The word "plan" requires design and carrying out a plan requires intention.

*Save for exceptions found elsewhere in the animal kingdom eg. wolf packs, chimpanzees.

Comment author: byrnema 28 July 2009 09:46:19PM *  -1 points [-]

I feel like I've made a lot of progress today, because I've started to get the counter-arguments and questions I was expecting. What I need to do next is buttress my argument that my belief in universal physical laws is bona fide theistic belief.

Here's a sketch of the argument:

Major theistic religions assert the existence of a supreme all-powerful entity. (they also assert this entity is good, but let's leave that aside for now.) Universal physical laws would qualify as all-powerful because they are universal physical laws IFF they cannot be violated. Universal physical laws also explain everything, so we recover that God is omnipresent ("omniscent" when applied to a mind) and explaining/accounting for everything that exists.

Now for the problem of goodness. Is goodness required for the existence of God, or is it just an asserted property? (Eliezer pointed out that religions assert overly positive statements, can we dispose of that without disposing of God?) So maybe theists were wrong about this property, maybe we need to look more closely at their theology to see what they mean by "good" (Keith Ward argues that the Catholic notion of goodness is actually quite limited and qualified), or maybe we have to admit this falls down to interpretation. If none of these things are true, and we agree goodness is a necessary property for a cogent definition of God that isn't met, then I would concede that God doesn't exist. But I think there's plenty of room for debate here. (My personal stance is that the universe is neutral and goodness is not a necessary property.)

I presume that's what Einstein thought, as he was opposed to the notion of a personal God (even yielding Nobel prize acceptance time to the topic). (The appeal to authority is appropriate here because I need to maintain that there are other theists with my point of view, and citing Einstein is most verifiable.)

Comment author: cousin_it 28 July 2009 10:28:28PM *  3 points [-]

Universal physical laws would qualify as all-powerful

They're prohibited from doing a whole lot of things.

I presume that's what Einstein thought

Einstein has confused so many people by his various statements about religion that we'd better leave him out. In fact everybody, no matter where they fall on the atheist-religious spectrum, goes around saying Einstein would've agreed with them. As if that mattered.

Is goodness required for the existence of God, or is it just an asserted property?

Opinions differ. But I'd guess the overwhelming majority of believers (yep even Deists) consider God to be mind-like, not equation-like, so argument from common use doesn't favor you.

Comment author: lavalamp 28 July 2009 09:54:41PM *  3 points [-]

Under your view it would seem god lacks a mind, will, intentionality, etc., no? It's going to be hard to convince me that those are optional characteristics of god as conceived by major theistic religions.

ETA: I've voted your comment up because I don't think it deserves to be at a -5... I'd be happy to see you come up with a line of reasoning that supports your conclusions, but I don't think this is it.

Comment author: byrnema 12 August 2009 04:30:44PM *  1 point [-]

In response to your points above and here and similar ones throughout this thread, I concede I need to narrow my understanding of theism to mean belief in a personal, anthropomorphic God. I’ve asked several theists (results described here) and this appears to be the common view.

Comment author: eirenicon 28 July 2009 10:11:17PM 1 point [-]

As far as I can tell, you are arguing that to you, inviolable physical laws governing the universe are equivalent to what you call "God". If such laws don't exist, neither does God; if they do, they are God. Is this a fair characterization?

If so, here's my question. I also accept that there may be universal physical laws (in fact, I strongly suspect there are). To me, however, they are not God. To me, they would disallow God, by every definition of God I can think of, personal or impersonal. But seeing as we both share a belief in the existence of universal physical laws, why do you see God-nature where I just see nature?

Einstein's belief in God was a belief in something "subtle, intangible and inexplicable" that was a "force beyond anything that we can comprehend"*. If we do some day comprehend that force, surely it would no longer possess any inexplicable "God-nature"... but simply be better information about the universe we happen to inhabit?

*The Diary of a Cosmopolitan, HG Kessler

Comment author: byrnema 12 August 2009 05:11:36PM *  0 points [-]

There’s not much point in defending my beliefs, since my purpose has been to defend those of theists and the link between my beliefs and those of “theists” is not as strong as I thought. Nevertheless, to respond to your question:

If so, here's my question. I also accept that there may be universal physical laws (in fact, I strongly suspect there are). To me, however, they are not God. To me, they would disallow God, by every definition of God I can think of, personal or impersonal.

An anthropomorphic God is seen as externally manipulating the universe. I think it is natural to ask, if such a God existed and he is omnipotent, why didn’t he make the universe the way he wanted it to be in the first place? It seems to me that not building self-correction into the system would be evidence of an imperfect, if not flawed, design.

I would expect that the universe created by an omnipotent God would be created so perfectly that it would just run itself. When I carry the argument even further, throwing in a bias for mathematics and logic, I would also expect that the universe would contain the rules for it own creation (self-creation), and even its own justification (self-justification). That would be most perfect. It wouldn’t make God obsolete, it would be God. (God as creator.) This is just speculation: what I would expect of a perfect, omnipotent Creator.

Yet, finally, that’s exactly what we have with empiricism: there’s nothing externally manipulating the universe, so the universe is completely self-determined. The answers to the big questions (the why and how of creation and existence) must exist here in the universe, not somewhere else. We can understand the universe by observing what it does.

I guess I never thought the right question was whether God exists or not, but where he exists and how he exists. I think it’s actually meaningless to say he doesn’t exist, and the dominant view here is that it’s meaningless to say that he does exist if he’s not the anthropomorphic, personal God that most people think of. So I’ve made my argument several different ways, not always as clearly and directly as I should have, but I did my best and now I’ll leave the debate to the next theist (or devil's advocate) that comes along.

Comment author: DanielLC 10 April 2011 12:34:55AM 1 point [-]

This hole is the reason/cause/explanation for the existence

The null universe is self-consistent, but it isn't unique in that aspect. There is still the question of why priors are what they are.

Why do you think God fills the hole?

I suggest you take out everything that isn't necessary for it to fill the hole (consciousness, omniscience, etc.). This would better fulfill Occam's razor while still filling the hole. What's left?

and causal dependence/inter-connectedness of everything.

I'm not sure I understand.

There very well may be things independent of us. It just looks the same as if there isn't.

The reason for causality is that the universe seems to work by boundary conditions and a wave-function. Entropy tends to increase as you go away from the boundary condition. This is true of many sufficiently-complex systems.

Comment author: byrnema 10 April 2011 02:02:48AM *  0 points [-]

This hole is the reason/cause/explanation for the existence

The null universe is self-consistent, but it isn't unique in that aspect. There is still the question of why priors are what they are.

What is the null universe? The universe without God?

The materialist, Godless universe seems self-consistent, but as you seem to agree, it doesn't self-explain its existence.

Why do you think God fills the hole?

Mostly, I think that something different from the usual materialistic explanations must fill this hole. It's conceivable that science could one day get around to explaining why there is "existence", and why the particular rules of these existence, but I believe these answers are outside this universe, which I think of as a simulation being run in some larger context, and thus outside science (and supernatural by definition?).

I suggest you take out everything that isn't necessary for it to fill the hole (consciousness, omniscience, etc.). This would better fulfill Occam's razor while still filling the hole. What's left?

I would love for someone wiser than me to tell me if anything at all can be deduced about whatever is left. I have no idea.

and causal dependence/inter-connectedness of everything.

I'm not sure I understand.

I don't remember what I meant while writing that. It doesn't sound close to anything I would say now, so maybe my ideas on that topic have changed.

Comment author: DanielLC 10 April 2011 07:21:24PM *  1 point [-]

What is the null universe?

A universe that contains nothing.

but I believe these answers are outside this universe, which I think of as a simulation being run in some larger context, and thus outside science (and supernatural by definition?).

What do you mean "outside this universe"? Isn't everything inside this universe by definition? If you mean outside the part of the universe that we can interact with, how would it be any different.

I think a lot of this problem is people's inherent tendency to look at plausibility rather than probability. That is, people will accept something if and only if it has a cause. If you watch a movie and a really unlikely event happens, you'll accept it as long as you accepted everything leading up to it.

A particularly interesting example is the idea of an ontological paradox. People normally might think it's weird, but it works, since it caused itself. My reaction is wondering how to calculate how probable it is.

The universe doesn't have a cause, but it doesn't need one. The universe doesn't work that way. What it needs is non-zero prior probability.

By the way, is there a way to see replies to your posts? I thought there wasn't, but it seems unlikely that you've been checking this post every day for the past two years.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 April 2011 09:08:31PM 0 points [-]

Replies to your comments show up in your inbox. The little envelope under your name in the upper right of the screen turns red when there's something new in your inbox.

IIRC, you don't get notified of replies to your posts.

There's also a chance of noticing replies to an old post or comment if you follow Recent Comments.

Comment author: byrnema 10 April 2011 08:43:47PM *  0 points [-]

What do you mean "outside this universe"? Isn't everything inside this universe by definition?

Suppose we run a cellular automaton simulation that initiates with some initial conditions and subsequently updates with a set of simple rules (e.g., like Newtonian mechanics or quantum mechanics or whatever) that sufficiently intelligent beings within the simulation could deduce and call 'science'. Perhaps they could figure out they were in a simulation, and then everything in the simulation is their universe (there needn't be any limits to the size of this universe) and everything outside it (of which they may know nothing) is outside it.

If you mean outside the part of the universe that we can interact with, how would it be any different.

There are a few ways entities within the simulation could deduce a reality outside their own. First, any acausal inconsistencies in their physical laws, suggesting someone tampering with the simulation. Similarly, any truly random elements would mean outside influence -- though it would be a challenging project to be certain that any elements were truly random (and acausal). Another way they could deduce they were in a simulation is the lack of an explanation for the beginning of the simulation -- though again, it would be challenging to be certain that there is NO explanation rather than just an unknown one.

If the beings want to call our universe part of their universe due to these interactions of having initiated them, seeding random numbers and occasionally interfering, that is fine, but then they need to differentiate between their simulation in which their science applies and the encapsulating universe for which they don't know what sort of rules apply.

By the way, is there a way to see replies to your posts? I thought there wasn't, but it seems unlikely that you've been checking this post every day for the past two years.

Funny! When you get mail, such as this one, the envelope under your user name turns red until you check it. Yours is probably currently red.

Comment author: DanielLC 11 April 2011 01:44:50AM 1 point [-]

There are a few ways entities within the simulation could deduce a reality outside their own.

I don't mean how would it be different from not having an outside universe. I mean: how would our universe containing the reason that there is a universe be different than only their universe existing and containing the reason that there is a universe?

In other words, if you live in universe A, and either your universe exists for some reason you don't understand, or it exists within universe B, which exists for some reason you don't understand, why would the latter hypothesis be less confusing?

Comment author: shokwave 11 April 2011 02:56:23AM 1 point [-]

The latter hypothesis should in fact be more confusing; it's isomorphic to the Creator's creator problem.

Comment author: byrnema 12 April 2011 07:03:41PM *  0 points [-]

how would our universe containing the reason that there is a universe be different than only their universe existing and containing the reason that there is a universe?

I think this is a good question, and I wanted to think a while before replying. (My train of thought motivated some other comments in reply to this post.)

Our universe does look different than a universe containing an explanation for existence. The universe we imagined several centuries ago, with spontaneous generation occurring everywhere and metaphysical intervention at many different levels, had more room for such an explanation.

For now (at least until you dig down into quantum mechanics, which I know nothing about), the universe appears to be a mechanical clock, with every event causally connected to a preceding event. Nothing, nothing is expected to happen without cause -- this appears to be a very fundamental rule of our current paradigm of reality.

Simultaneously, I observe that I cannot even imagine how it could be possible for something to exist without cause. On the one hand, this might just reflect a limit in my intuition, and existence without cause might be possible. On the other hand, I will present an argument that an inability to imagine something, and indeed finding it illogical, is evidence that it is not possible. (Well, it's a necessary but not sufficient condition.)

My argument is that any actual limits in this universe will be inherited by simulations within this universe, including the mental ones we use to draw intuition and logic. Like a shape in flatland finding it impossible to imagine escaping from a ring, we cannot imagine spontaneous creation if it is not possible. (This is the argument that an impossible thing cannot be simulated or imagined. Whether our inability to imagine something * implies * it is impossible depends upon how flexible our minds are; I think our minds are very flexible but QM may be the first piece of evidence that we can't grasp some things that are possible.)

But if we lived in the universe imagined centuries ago, where entirely natural things like flies and light spontaneously appeared from their sources, then we would have a chance to study spontaneity and see how it works. If spontaneity was possible, we could imagine it and simulate it and learn about it. But if spontaneity cannot occur here, we can't collect any information about it and it stands to reason it would be mysterious. This is exactly what our universe looks like.

Comment author: DanielLC 12 April 2011 09:11:37PM 0 points [-]

Imagine we had a universe where something could come from nothing. Imagine we worked out how to find what happens at t+1, given t. This still wouldn't be enough to know everything. We'd have to know what's going on at some t less than ours (or greater, if we can just figure out t given t+1).

In other words, even a universe with spontaneity still has to have boundary conditions. Nothing exists at t=0 is the most obvious boundary condition, and it's probably the most likely one, but it's not the only possible one. There's no reason it has to be that one.

Incidentally, there's no reason for the universe to begin at the boundary condition. The laws of how systems evolve give how past and future relate (or more accurately, how the current system and the rate at which the current system changes relate). If you're given what happens at t=0, you can calculate t=-1 just as easily as you can t=1. Intuitively, you'd say that t=0 caused t=1, and not the other way around. To the extent that that this is correct, the laws of system evolution do not preclude spontaneity. They only preclude future and past events not matching.

Comment author: byrnema 12 April 2011 09:28:12PM *  0 points [-]

I don't yet follow.

Could you paraphrase your main thesis statement?

(I think I am having trouble considering the counterfactual, 'imagine we had a universe where something could come from nothing'. Where should I start? Do somethings comes from nothing at any time t? Are there rules prescribing how things come from nothing?)

Comment author: DanielLC 12 April 2011 09:41:41PM 0 points [-]

A simple example would be a psuedorandom number generator. For example, f(t) = f(t-1)^2 + 1. Thus, if f(0) = 0 (nothing at t=0), then f(1) = 1.

The only way to get out of boundary conditions is to define the whole universe in one step. For example, f(t) = t^3 + 3*t^2 + 1, in which case you wouldn't have causality at all.

Comment author: lavalamp 28 July 2009 08:20:04PM *  1 point [-]

I can't say I've ever met a theist who would recognize what you've outlined here and in your subsequent comments as a form of theism.

It seems to me that you've taken the language of theism and tweaked the definitions of all the words to be more reasonable. That's all well and good, but just because you use the same vocabulary as a theist doesn't mean you believe the same thing. It sounds to me like you're practically an atheist but you use religious words to describe your beliefs because they are comfortable.

This reminds me of the last time someone tried to convince me of complementarianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementarianism). They were a reasonable person: so reasonable, in fact, that by the time they finished explaining complementarianism, it was nothing like complementarianism any more... In that case, my impression was that this person would have been placed in a very awkward position if they espoused a non-fundamentalist view. So they kept the fundamentalist terms and made them reasonable.

I'm probably in the same boat, or a similar one, FWIW.

Comment author: David_Gerard 02 June 2011 02:52:25PM 0 points [-]

I am considering the hypothesis that in my normal everyday interactions, I am a walking, talking, right brain confabulating apologist.

I suspect this is widely true :-)