God: life's purpose and unpredictability?

I recently published a podcast that evoked several exchanges between me and a few listeners (mostly in email). My conversation with a listener named Subash is probably worth publishing here.

He Said,
First, I dont believe in any religious god and never have I had any spiritual experience. But I am sure there is something in the universe which we can call GOD. It is, I believe, 'Unpredictability', which has not been properly explained or predicted with numerous probability theories. That is why inspite of the obvious and simple connection to cause and effect of different entities of nature, we are still unable to predict anything of reasonable significance scientifically and may never be able to. The process that causes an 'effect' from a 'cause' is yet to defined for infinite cases in science. As a physicist, I believe that until sufficient ideas come forth to understand the nature of different entities around us the question of GOD will always remain only of any cultural or sociological relevance and honestly it shouldn't be allowed to even enter the realm of philosophy.

In fact, just think if suddenly one day man finds an answer to all the questions that were ever asked and will be asked. Will he be peaceful? What can he do for a living? So just like man's thought is evolving with generations, so will the world around him too atleast as much so that he may never be able to catch up with it to fully understand it. Like I think "Success is an orgasm, its the foreplay that lasts longer", its better to keep searching rather than to find answers because the happiness lasts only a while.
I replied,
About predictability: Some one else had brought the same point and it's interesting that you should relate science’s inability to predict the future with God too. I'll quote what I had said there (along with what he had said).
{{If scientist, atheists are trying to find out, through their equations,comparisons to define the laws driving man,universe- all they are doing is to define some geometric sense,an order in everything. With this order , they want to predict the future.}}

This is just not true. Natural scientists are neither interested in predicting human behaviour nor the future in general. Behavioral scientists, probably. But as you know, psychology, sociology etc., are not 'natural sciences'. They sure use the ‘scientific method’ to arrive at theories, but unlike the natural sciences none of those theories evolve in to ‘scientific facts’. Even a claim as simple as "If you pinch a child, it will cry" is only a theory. It is not a fact. It can be replicated to the extent of 100% success rate for millions of attempts but it is still not a fact (because there are several children who are born insensitive to 'touch' in several areas of their body).

I'll extend the discussion here. Predicting the future may never be possible simply because of the lack of information. Add to that the fickle-minded-human-involvement in the functioning of the world. As you probably know already, all demographic predictions (and sociological theories in general) rely strongly on data that is based on a sample. The accuracy of those predictions is directly proportional to the sample size. That is, the more you know about the present (and to an extent, the past) more you tend to "know" about the future. Even for that they need to make a lot of generalizations -- based on historical patterns and existing theory. Now, think about something that is seemingly plain and simple as predicting the Earth's overall temperature at 2050. It is made complex by carbon emissions, deforestation -- human effects-- and volcanic emissions (especially, lava into the sea bed), global dimming, tectonic movements -- "natural effects" that we do not know about entirely. While we may know the latter thoroughly over the next few decades, the former will remain relatively less predictable. Nevertheless, in spite of all these shortcomings, geologists and climatologists have decent theories (that make decent predictions) about what the Earth will be like, in terms of climate change, in the year 2050.

But I see you are aware of all these things and you're pointing to the 'naturally existing out of human involvement' entities. Once again, I think it's lack of information. Science has over the past few hundred years unraveled some of the "deepest mysteries" giving way to successful predictions (Think about the accuracy of weather predictions 60 years ago and now). New 'instruments' give new information. I think this process will keep expanding, probably not in the quest to predict the future per se, but to explain the present. That's also another reason - we don't know what the 'effect' really is before we could analyze the cause.

I think one needs to be rational enough to realize, as you point out, that science will always have something to "understand." But that cannot be taken as an excuse to allow an 'all seeing' God in public discourse; especially when God has a rather ridiculous definition for over 5 billion people.

You ask a very good question here: "just think if suddenly one day man finds an answer to all the questions that were ever asked and will be asked. Will he be peaceful?" I say the same thing to some of the 'moderates' when they say, "science can only explain the 'how' and not the 'why'". Well, God can't explain the 'why' either. It's funny that most of God believers attribute their life's “purpose” to the one that supposedly created them. That's why I said,
"To put it briefly: So what? What if this universe was created by someone/something? How does that bestow any purpose to our lives? I know who my father is. I know one of his billion sperms made me (through a rather circular process). But none of that will give any "purpose" to my life, would it?"

Your last quote reminded me of a discourse by Osho where he explains that the "joy is in finding."
He replied,
When I say "Unpredictability", I dont mean the lack of information as the handicap. In fact lack of information is not the biggest hurdle to postulating laws. Simply because computers can handle much more information now than before and there is no theoretical limit to it in the future.

So "Unpredictability" is the "fickle-minded-human" attitude which is shared by most of the other entities in nature especially at the nano and femto scopic level. Just like what Heisenberg states in his uncertainty principle, which I am sure you must have come across. It is impossible with current knowledge to predict the final state of an electron when its initial states are given even in a controlled environment. It probably is not an inherent quality of the electron to be mysterious as claimed by Heisenberg, but because we use an electron to study an electron which is why it is so ineffective and there is no other method or any other smaller known particle which can be used.

Imagine having a small ball trying to understand the shape of another ball of the same size. you can hit the target ball (with the ball you have) several times and make a pattern out of the impinged area on a screen to predict the shape of the target ball, which in this case would be a function of probability distribution. If you have a smaller ball than the target ball, you have a higher probability of identifying the shape of the target ball.

You can claim that it still is because of this lack of information whether smaller particles exist in nature that the unpredictability exists. But the claim has to end somewhere since any particle cannot be infinitely divided into smaller entities. The same condition of unpredictability will exist for that smaller particle, which will permeate into the normal world too. So its not really lack of information that necessitates this unpredictability tag, but unpredictability itself. I do believe that existence of GOD cannot be rationally explained apart from this unpredictability, which means that GOD is as confused as we humans are. So the existence of a higher power is only laughable.
I replied,
{{So "Unpredictability" is the "fickle-minded-human" attitude which is shared by most of the other entities in nature especially at the nano and femto scopic level.}} - I completely agree with what you say. We don't even have to go to complex subatomic particles; everyday things have it in them. The example that I often cite, as you might too, is that of a 'coin toss'. The unpredictability of an outcome lies on the inherent nature of the object involved and not on the information we have about it (assuming that it's a "fair" coin toss). What's amazing though, is that even randomness has a pattern (normal distribution). That is, over a million coin tosses we are likely to have close to 50-50 outcomes of the coin's faces.
Disclaimer: I have made few changes to the actual emails. The exchange, quite visibly, has material that is often used by several people (inlcuding movies). It's mostly because of nature of thetopic. So yes, I didn't post it beause it is intellectually stimulating or novel. It's just for the 'record'.


Anonymous said...

hahaha, ennamo solra. Oru ezhavum puriyala. Nilu sir kitta kaekkanum.

- ippadikku Nilu'vin sishyan, peelu.

Suresh said...

adhu seri!

Anonymous said...

So what about String Theory?? Do you think its rejection based on the fact that it cannot be tested experimentally is right? Nilu scoffs at the idea. Not that he is an expert in that field. He just scoffs at it like he scoffs like everything else without probably understanding anything completely.

Nilu'vin Shishyan, peelu.

Zero said...

Don't you see, Vince, that shit don't matter. You're judging this thing the wrong way. It's not about what. It could be God stopped the bullets, he changed Coke into Pepsi, he found my fuckin' car keys. You don't judge shit like this based on merit. Whether or not what we experienced was an according-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is I felt God's touch, God got involved.

-- Jules, Pulp Fiction.

Suresh said...

@ peelu
As you probably know already, I'm not an expert in physics or mathematics. I have to trust my judgments based on verbal/metaphorical interpretations of the equations that make the string theory. My understanding is that it is inadequate, even in a mathematical sense, without the inclusion of the eleventh dimension. It did and it was then called the M-theory. And apparently most physicists and cosmologists have settled for the M-theory. I was introduced to this topic through a popular documentary in BBC. You can ,view it here.The visual metaphors really helped me grasp, though very roughly, the idea of 11th dimension. (It works well in IE.)

As for your question (whether it should be rejected because it cannot be tested?): I think it is, as of now, inconsequential (like string theory or M-theory itself) to the general public. Because, the scientists who are into it don't worry themselves with the ontological nature of what they do. They don't concern themselves with satisfying the likes of Nilu (or me). They'll continue working on these theories from their level of conception of the cosmos. And there might come a day (if humanity survives that long) where science can "prove" it to ‘simple minds’ in their own terms. The immediate parallel I can think of is the images of the Hubble. Even though the possibility of several solar systems and galaxies was a concrete idea used in academic physics since early 18th century, it took another two hundred years before it became a part of the public discourse. And it took a Hubble to convince even more. What's worse? Still there are billions who think the Earth is 10,000 odd years old. Irrelevant as it may sound, these points indicate the levels and at which ignorance works.

Philosophy of science is the now the least of a scientist's concerns. Science does not have to listen to what Kuhn or Popper or Tilly has to say. Science now has tremendously vast literature that it can now assume the arrogance to dismiss those scholars. It's the difference between I rejecting the possibility of beating a computer in chess and Vishy refusing to do so.

@ Zero – hmm :p

Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts.

-- Leonard Shelby, Memento

Anonymous said...

yeah, scientific philosophy sucks. From my understanding, String theory is something that any graduate student with enough creativity could have come up with and is mathematically the most elegant theory since Maxwell's work on electromagnetism.

It is unfortunate that the string theory cannot be inherently tested since the theorists themselves claim that the strings are too tiny to be detected. How we can probably understand String theory is how we understood Maxwell's theory by imagining stuff like Electric Fields and Magnetic Fields which are not present, but which are important to understand the concept of Electromagnetism.

String theorists are desperately trying to sell their idea with the prediction of "parallel universes" and "n dimensions", but the biggest help for string theorists would come if particle theorists agree with the idea of String theory. It would happen if String theory predicts/explains the presence of a particle that particle theory could not. Right now, particle theorists get billions of dollars as funding and String theorists have to settle with too little. The day they are accepted into mainstream, String theory which is now atleast 20 active years old will break new grounds never before seen in the world of science.

And public opinion matters for scientists. Thats how they get funding, especially fundamental physicists because nothing worthy of commercial interest can come from their research. And they have stiff competition from catholic church too. hahaha.... Anyway, I dont believe in string theory. It appears too good to be true. One day, I shall come up with peelu theory dedicated to Nilu sir.

Post a Comment

©2009 english-tamil