Reality, Part 2 - Past Performance Is No Guarantee of Future Results

            How do I claim that reality may not be objective without denying science? First, being skeptical isn’t the same thing as denying. Second, the question is really about the logical foundations, not the science.

            Science is based on inductive reasoning. Scientists observe something happening, they see many examples, they form a rule that describes how it might happen, they predict the outcome of some other events using this rule, and if the outcomes match the predictions, voila, scientific knowledge! It’s practical, not logical. It works because it works. It’s based on the assumption that since it’s been working that way, it will continue to work that way.

            As any prospectus for a mutual fund will tell you, past performance is no guarantee of future results. I heard of a physics teacher writing on his white board in front of his class, who dropped his marker and grabbed up for it instead of down. He explained this by saying that no one had ever proven the law of gravity, so if a time came when it didn’t work, he was going to be ready.

            That was a joke (though completely valid logically), and this is all speculation, but just like the relation between math and the universe that I discussed in my earlier essay, “Number”, I think we should cultivate a healthy skepticism about what comes first. Do we agree on the basic physics of our world because it’s fundamentally accurate or is physics accurate (mostly) because we agree on it? There is nothing illogical about this.

            Given the limited, contradictory, and subjective nature of our sensory impressions of our world, and the fact that all our science is based either on those impressions and/or on models that assume a fundamental role for math in the universe, I’d say there is more than a little room for doubt.

            To be clear, this isn’t about questioning the accuracy of science. Scientists do that all the time. Science can work very well on a day to day basis and still be deeply flawed. Science is a mapping of reality. A map can obviously differ from what it maps without any effect on the latter. If you use a flawed map of a real space, you may or may not encounter the parts that don’t match reality. If you don’t encounter discrepancies, you may assume your map is correct. If you do, you can adjust your map to match what you find. From the flat to the spherical earth, from an earth centric to a solar centric to a non-centric universe, from Newtonian to Einsteinian gravitation, etc., science changes all the time. The existence of an objective unchanging reality is perfectly consistent with a changing, imperfect science.

            It is also possible that reality changes but is still objective and changes independently of us. Physicists consider this. There is no evidence of it yet, but the question is open. From the point of view of science, the time, distance, and energy scales of such changes would be huge. This is not the same as what I am suggesting.

            We assume that science changes because it’s uncovering an objective reality, changing or unchanging, more and more accurately over time. I find that a very large assumption, so I’m asking you to question objective reality itself, at least as we think of it through the lens of science. I’m not saying there isn’t something “out there”. I’m suggesting that whatever “it” “is” may be a reflection of us, or even a part of us.

            To be continued…

 

Hugh Moffatt

Santa Clarita, California

August 11, 2019