Showing posts with label Existentialism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Existentialism. Show all posts

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Quote Of The Day: The Flow Of Time And Illusion

Reconciling our subjective experience of the flow of time with the fact that there is no flow of time, or any distinction between the past, present, or future in the fundamental laws of physics is perhaps one of our biggest challenges. If time is static, as is suggested by our best physical theories, why does it seem to flow as if it's dynamic? And if time flows, why doesn't science confirm that? Why does the universe seem to conspire against us? Physicist Gene Tracy gives us some insight, from his article in Aeon, A Science Without Time. I've kept its original font because it came out looking so good on my site.

It’s possible that our experience of the flow of time is like our experience of colour. A physicist would say that colour does not exist as an inherent property of the world. Light has a variety of wavelengths, but they have no inherent property of ‘colour’. The things in the world absorb and emit and scatter photons, granules of light, of various wavelengths. It is only when our eyes intersect a tiny part of that sea of radiation, and our brain gets to work on it, that ‘colour’ emerges. It is an internal experience, a naming process, an activity of our brain trying to puzzle things out.
So the flow of time might be a story our brain creates, trying to make sense of chaos. In a 2013 paper, the physicists Leonard Mlodinow of Caltech and Todd Brun of the University of Southern California go even further and argue that any physical thing that has the characteristics of a memory will tend to align itself with the thermodynamic arrow of time, which in turn is defined by the behaviour of extremely large numbers of particles. According to this theory, it is no puzzle that we remember the past but not the future, even though the microscopic laws of nature are the same going forward or backward in time, and the past and future both exist. The nature of large systems is to progress toward increasing entropy – a measure of disorder, commonly experienced as the tendency of hot or cold objects to come into equilibrium with their surroundings. Increasing entropy means that a memory of the past is dynamically stable, whereas a memory of the future is unstable.
In this interpretation, we are unable to see the future not because it is impossible to do so, but because it is as unlikely as seeing a broken window heal itself, or as a tepid cup of tea taking energy from the atoms of the surrounding room and spontaneously beginning to boil. It is statistically extremely, extremely unlikely.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Halloween Can Teach Atheists About Other Holidays

Halloween started out as a pagan tradition in Ireland where people would don masks in the Autumn in order to scare away or disguise themselves from the spirits they thought came back from the dead and were responsible for determining how cold the winter was and how well the crops and livestock handled it. Although there are many discrepant accounts as to how exactly Halloween got started, they all involve some aspect of the supernatural being acknowledged. But today of course, no one wears a costume because they think that spirits are going to do anything to them. In the modern world, we've completely removed all supernatural aspects of Halloween while we've kept the tradition of wearing costumes. And no atheist takes issue with Halloween at all because it once had a supernatural aspect to it. So when it comes to other holidays, if we can safely remove the supernatural with Halloween while keeping the ritual, we can do the same thing with Christmas too. All of the holidays have today become nothing more than commercial celebrations for big business anyway. So fear not some of you non-believers, we can still have benign holiday rituals as atheists like Halloween and Christmas without an existential crisis on our hands.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reflections On The Self

Who are you?

Who are you really?

What is it that exists that makes you who you are? Could you really just be a complex, agglomeration of atoms and molecules with the evolved ability to know you exist? Is the universe or multiverse all that exists, entirely encapsulated within what we could call the natural world?

Why do we sometimes feel that our emotional responses to our environment are indicative of some higher spiritual dimension that exists? If materialism is true and we are just a complex assortment of atoms – atoms that were made in the hearts of stars and we are “star stuff”, made from the very universe in which we live in, then mankind is what you could say, one with the universe.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

3 Questions To An Atheist On Existence and Meaning

I came across a website the other day that spoke about the "absolute truth" of the Christian doctrine and in it, it asks the skeptical non-believer a few questions that seemingly can't be answered unless you accept the belief that god exists. So, reproducing them here, I decided to take a quick crack at them. My answers are not meant to be an in-depth discussion on the order and structure and meaning of life, but rather quick, easily digestible, sound-byte answers.

1. Why do we have personalities? If there is no personal God who "shared these bits of His personality with us," where did we get them?

It's hard for me to take serious the notion that each of our individual personalities is a part of god. How would you then explain psychopaths and sociopaths who cannot feel empathy for the pain of others and may even get sexually aroused from the pain of others? Are they made in the image of god too? Our personalities are shaped by our genetics that we inherit, and the unique experiences we have growing up in our environment. These two factors "customize" us into who we are and make us all unique individuals.

Monday, April 23, 2012

On Determinism

The area of philosophy that I am most concerned with is ethics and morality, but recently I have been obsessed with the idea of determinism. Determinism is not just a philosophical belief, but a metaphysical claim on the nature of the universe, and if true, has many philosophical, religious and ethical implications. Bluntly put, determinism is the idea that the movement of all physical matter, from the stars and planets, to every animal and human, has its fate already determined in the moment of the creation of our universe, the Big Bang. So just as we can predict the movement of every billiard ball on a pool table when smashed with a cue ball from a certain angle, if determinism is true, every atom in the universe behaves in much to same way.

The implications of determinism could have profound effects on the idea of free will. There are those that call themselves compatibilists who believe that determinism does not cancel the idea of free will, and that notions of free will and determinism can coexist. One example given, is the idea that you are in a long corridor lined with several doors each containing a letter of the alphabet. You can choose to open any door you like.You decide to open door A and do so. What you didn't know, is that the laws of deterministic physics made you open door A and that all the other doors would have been locked to you. So doors B through Z were unable to be opened, but you did not know that, and so from your perspective you think you were making a free choice. In other words, what ever we choose to do has already been determined for us, but since we don't know the future, we are under the impression that when we make decisions we are making them out of free choice.

If determinism is true, then the notion of fate is true. Each and every one of us would have our future known in antecedent quantum events. I've always rejected the idea of fate, because I felt that it removes my free will. I like the idea that I am making decisions with my rational brain everyday, and that these decisions are not the result of a quantum chain reaction. I am not a determinist, largely because of quantum unpredictability, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. I believe that determinism's existence in reality is largely a question of physics and not a philosophical one. And as such, if determinism were to be true, I guess I would fall among the compatibilists, who believe that we can still operate under the guise of free will existing, even though it wouldn't really exist, because we cannot know the future. But the thing about determinism is that, if enough information about the quantum world could be obtained, then every event in the future could be predicted and known, and we would therefore know the future. But I've often wondered that if we could do that, wouldn't we then be able to deviate from what the laws of physics have already determined we will do? It seems more likely that, the universe would never allow us to know such a thing because it would in a way, just like the time traveler who alters the past, open a paradox.

There are a great many famous determinists. It was the reconciliation between determinism and indeterminism that nearly drove Einstein mad toward the end of his life. I too am plagued with such a conflict as Einstein was but certainly to a much lesser extent. I sometimes wonder if I can trick nature by purposely doing something different from what I originally intended. But I know such attempts are futile in that all my actions and thoughts, no matter how much I think I can alter them from what I would have done, are all accounted for in the natural order, if determinism is true.

Along with my fascination with determinism, I've reconsidered existentialism once again after having tossed it away to the waste-bin of intellectual rubbish. Existentialism has long been the philosophy of bohemian intellectual types, often with french names. It is a philosophy I have been reluctant to embrace perhaps, because I tend to be more of an empiricist, rather than one who embraces subjectivism. Perhaps I could reconsider?


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