In the Spirit of Collegial Inquiry...

updated: 13 Apr 98

God, the Universe, and Theories of Everything

CML:   What it comes down to is this: in order to make your hypothesis {re learning and resistance of neural pathways} meaningful, you must first come up with a model supporting a general definition of intelligence. Take it from me, that's a tall order. It can be done - in fact, I consider myself to have done it on an unpublished basis - but it requires some very fancy logic (interestingly, apropos of your interest in spirituality, the same logic has a philosophical extension with what might be considered spiritual implications).

CW:   Why don't you share it with us?

CML:   I intend to. I'm currently writing a book on it. The first paper I published about it was The Resolution of Newcomb's Paradox, in 1989. For now, think of it as an open-ended regression of virtual realities isomorphic to the theory of metalanguages ... a computer within a computer within a computer, and so on. Naturally, as various logical and mathematical constraints are added, the math gets progressively harder (and more powerful). Especially important are higher-dimensional algebra and the logic of formalized theories. Understanding the spiritual implications of the system in any detail requires some of the math. For now, suffice it to say that the system generates a "religion of logic" in which conventional religious concepts, previously nebulous and dependent on faith, become amenable to precise definition and logical analysis (this system, the CTMU, is legally recognized as the basis of a nonprofit religious-purpose corporation founded by me several years ago and currently dormant). What the CTMU says about intelligence is this: the term "intelligence", considered as a logical predicate, cannot be semantically confined. By the theory of definition, it must be generalized in a certain precise way and semantically distributed over the entire system. In other words, the conceivable universe is an intelligent entity...a facet of "God", so to speak.

JCC:   I found much interest in the discussion ... of this model purporting to introduce logical definition to religious concepts ... quite intriguing this is! There has been some word lately of researchers mapping a physical location in the brain for the "religious" experience. To believers, this would be our "com link" to the divine, while rationalists see it as the center where "oceanic" feelings are induced in the brain through autogenic and/or external chemistry. I'm most interested in the history of oracles, sibyls, and melissae (entranced mead priestesses) and hope to share a brief vignette of them... These transcendent aspects of mind/brain represent a common ground of the mystic, the poet, the rationalist, and the scientist, and it is my suspicion that attainment of rigorous understanding of such varied forms of consciousness will prove a breakthrough of the greatest impact for our species.

CW:   Re CTMU, are you familiar with TNS*** member Louis Mathe's book, The Missing Parameter?

CML:   Can't say that I am. Sounds interesting, though. What's the gist?

CW:   He proposes a six dimensional structure for the universe: 3 x space, time, mass/energy and complexity. He defines complexity in such a way that ultimately the infinitely complex "folds in" to the infinitely simple. In many ways his project is similar to your own with CTMU. An exposition of his ideas appeared in Vidya 111 & 112. They are available from the TNS archivist if you are interested.

CML:   I'll take a look if possible. However, even on the basis of your minimal description, I sense a difference of approach. For one thing, I begin at a level of structure prior to the concept of "dimensions". Whereas Mathe's "six dimensional structure" sounds like a new version of the standard Cartesian worldview based on analytic geometry, the CTMU has a more sophisticated structure designed for the resolution of paradoxes arising in the foundations of such fields as geometry. Interestingly, in order to really get beyond Cartesian geometry, it is necessary to get beyond Cartesian mind-body dualism. The CTMU is formulated on a level logically prior to both.

CW:   The intent is the same. You can get back issues of Vidya from Matt Urnezis, 3281 Beachwood Dr., Lafayette, CA 94549 or I could copy them for you if I can find them.

CML:   It's always intriguing when a specific brain structure is newly associated with a particular kind of perception or cognition. However, association and identification are two different things. There is always a tendency for the scientific community to interpret such a discovery as a reductionist "proof" that the cognitive or perceptual modality in question is nothing but an illusory side-effect of some structural peculiarity of the brain...usually, a structural peculiarity whose origin can be traced to some unremarkable, and therefore "scientifically acceptable", aspect of natural selection. But often, no such inference is actually warranted.

There are many kinds and levels of knowledge. Unfortunately, when ordinary scientists speak of a "theory of everything", they refer to only a subset of human knowledge. This would be permissible if they could adduce an appropriate set of a priori constraints on the meaning of "everything". Unfortunately, they can't. So any plausible TOE candidate must either internally support the deduction of such constraints - i.e., tautologically limit its nominal domain of reference to its own narrow descriptive capacity - or permit the representation and interrelation of all conceivable kinds and levels of knowledge.

By relying only on the most general invariants of human cognition and perception, the CTMU - which, incidentally, stands for the Cognition (or Computation)-Theoretic Model of the Universe - avoids the risk of false tautology to which ordinary science is prone. At the same time, it permits the construction of logical relationships between science in the narrow sense, and arbitrary elements of a powerful logical extension of science. It thus relates to standard physical cosmology as the periodic table relates to earth, water, wind and fire, widening the descriptive aperture even as it enables a tightening of explanatory focus across the entire spectrum of human ideation.

As you might expect, some of the results are amazing.

JCC:   Those are clearly some extraordinary claims ... and if the extraordinary proofs are available to match them, I'd be the first to celebrate! You must pardon my reluctance though, as one who has spent the better part of a lifetime in reaching for freedom from the mindset of religion.

"Ordinary science", if that means the rigors of standard scientific methodology, is something which I would not be inclined to set aside with any great haste. Why? Because the skeptical, parsimonious view assures a better chance of attaining significant non-tautological knowledge of the universe. Perhaps the mathematics would prove inaccessible to me, perhaps not, but I've learned to be wary of certain areas where the landscape includes metaphysics with the sagebrush and tumbleweed.

My hope is that my feeble skepticism will not too greatly retard human progress, but so be it. I'm still open to consider new facts, testable propositions, and results which rise clearly above the morass of semantics. Not to cause offense, but this wariness comes from having travelled much shaky ground, here be dragons and all that.

CML:   {to Julia} A touch of skepticism is always a good thing. Unfortunately, as usually applied, skepticism is itself tautological. For example, what makes you think that replicability, in the sense of the conventional scientific method, is a general feature of reality? By assuming as much, you've automatically chosen empiricism over rationalism in a universe defined by both. What makes you think that semantics is necessarily a "morass"? It could be that most people are merely confused about how to properly apply it. And what makes you think that metaphysics is any less amenable to solid formalization than any other branch of knowledge? In my humble view, these assumptions aren't so far removed from mathematical illiteracy.

Unless I miss my guess, you make such assumptions because it's easier to make them than to disprove them. I daresay the same is true of most people. I, however, happen to know that every one of these assumptions is false, and can prove it to any really intelligent person willing to pay sufficient attention.

Unfortunately, the high-IQ world is full of people who, after years of fruitless questing, regard themselves as having "done the religion thing", "done the logic thing", and so on, to such an extent that they can't bring themselves to suffer through the kind of proof we're talking about. Because they prefer to swallow their information in bite-sized chunks, the logical technicalities of proof are quite beside the point. Speaking from hard personal experience, I can assure you there are many jaded high-IQ types out there who feel that all they need do to refute an unwelcome proof is fail to read it carefully. When one begins with no idea who these people are, he can waste a very great deal of time trying to gain their understanding.

What you've responded to here are a couple of bite-sized chunks I tossed out for your casual delectation. I suspect that any more than that would have been inappropriate. Proof, on the other hand, is a serious pas de deux. So for the time being, and with heartfelt sympathy, I'm afraid I'll have to leave you stuck between faith and skepticism...i.e., no worse off than before.

By the way, I've restricted this reply to you. Please pass it around.

JP:   I found your recent discussion interesting, particularly Chris' comments on TOEs (theories of everything). I have always been a little disconcerted when I read about the top theoretical physicists (Weinberg, Hawking, etc.) claiming to have, or be close to, a TOE or even a GUT****. I like it even less when they go on TV and make these claims, possibly giving the public the impression that the main overall "problem" (i.e., understanding the Universe) has been solved. As you point out, "everything" has severe constraints on it. It is usually taken to mean a quantum field theory (or string theory) that explains the fundamental particles (quarks and leptons) and their interactions. The assumption is that given such a theory, everything else could then be computed. I have even seen assertions that research in "real" physics is essentially over, that it is merely a matter of filling in the blanks. Although particle physics is not my specialty, FWIW I think this is a pile of arrogant balderdash, a little like claiming that because we understand the basics of atomic and molecular structure (which we do), that fields like chemistry and biology are just a matter of plodding through the calculations.

From my point of view, the opposite is more nearly true. More understanding of basic phenomena leads to more questions and opportunities for both basic and applied research. And this is just in physics per se, never mind questions about consciousness, brain functions, etc. which may never be explained using basic physics, now matter how "complex" (one of the latest buzzwords). Maybe this is the point where Julia's mysticism (or the "paramythic"?) comes in; I haven't, and probably never will, figure it out.

Anyway, as of now it seems to be academic. There is no agreed-upon TOE, even in the restricted sense, and maybe never will be. As I understand it, the current leading contender is superstring theory, which cannot be verified experimentally without an accelerator the size of the galaxy, if at all. Of course, there's a certain beauty (even poetry?) about ten-dimensional strings. And they also have a certain "practicality" -- who can argue about them with any authority? Having said all this, though, I certainly hope someone somewhere will always keep trying for a TOE. It would be the closest thing to a generalized "philosopher's stone," don't you think, Julia?

JCC:   I do feel that our quest for understanding is the real philosopher's stone because it is this which has brought visible transformation in the world. Humans walked on the moon by wishing for it, dreaming of it, imagining it for ages ... and painstakingly acquiring the knowledge and fashioning the means to journey there and return successfully. Imagination and speculation did not in themselves accomplish this dream, but opened the way to rational means. Inevitably many fanciful notions of the past were honored by relegation to the realm of fancy, but the lovely moonrise is no less romantic for that.

Should there be any doubt, this is what I meant by paramythia, namely that romantic consolation has its honored place. Indeed there is something in us which seeks a theory of everything; millions of people even now, as in former times, consider that they have a TOEhold in their deities, scriptural revelations, astrological insights, literary discernments, numerological systems, whatever. These are blessed opiates to many; far be it from me to gainsay them. In fact the burden of refutation or proof does not rest with me, not in the least! The burden falls upon the advocates, expositors, discoverers, scholastics, priests, and/or gurus who have made manifest a great brilliance on the horizon. Whether served up in large bites or small, truth advances well enough without my hasty embrace as true believer. Stuck between skepticism and faith? Actually not. Questing has not been fruitless when it has imparted caution as an adjunct of open-mindedness.

CML:   Actually, the burden {of proof} is on everyone. This is because the problems of religious hatred and ethical conflict cannot be localized, and no solution, no matter how potent, can work without being generally understood. Because of the volatility of the subject, it is uniquely susceptible to an epidemic of buck-passing ... a cowardly shell game in which the pea of truth could easily get lost in a frantic ideological shuffle among religious warriors, political opportunists, and academic theologians bent on preserving their neutrality and covering their rears.

I well understand Julia's caution. If she were not cautious, she would not be as intelligent as she obviously is. But in this context, responsibility and intelligence are one. False beliefs are corrected by reason; many of the beliefs that Julia refers to as "blessed opiates" are in fact social and psychological pathogens for which logic and intellect are the only cures. As intelligent human beings, therefore, we do not have the privilege of weighing truth against caution.

Academia, the self-professed guardian of truth and knowledge, has failed to produce a metaphysic of pure logic ... failed so miserably, in fact, that it shrinks in embarrassment from the very possibility. As funny as it might sound, it may be up to the high-IQ community to recover the fumble. Remember, the high-IQ community was founded by idealists who hoped that it would prove instrumental in solving humanity's problems. That it has failed to serve this ideal in the past is beside the point; if its members are as smart as they pretend to be, then their united intellects are an invaluable human resource that should not be wasted.

While Julia points out the inadequacy of faith as a TOE foundation, James points out the inadequacy of physics. Because physical reductionism is built into the very core of science, the sciences now face a crisis as serious as that of religion. The grammar of science is that of logic; no meaningful scientific or mathematical statement is anything but a fleshed-out logical formula. Yet, as any logician knows, a single irresolvable paradox of the form "A = not-A" destroys the information content of any theory containing it. Unfortunately, this is exactly the form to which the paradoxes of quantum mechanics - EPR nonlocality, for example - can be logically reduced. Since the reality of such paradoxes has been experimentally confirmed on multiple occasions, science is awakening to the unpleasant realization that its nipple is caught in a high-speed wringer.

However, all is not lost. The problem: certain self-imposed theoretical constraints of mainstream physics preclude the formulation of predicates powerful enough to credibly resolve certain physical paradoxes. The self-evident solution: a theoretical extension of physics logically designed to suspend this limitation. Because this extension lies "after" or "beyond physics" as currently defined, it constitutes "metaphysics" in formal Aristotelian sense. Yet, once this extension is adjoined to existing physical theory, it too will be called "science"!

The moral of the story: just as they have on many past occasions, science and metaphysics are destined to become one. So if one really cares about science, then one had better start caring about the conjunction of logic and metaphysics as well. Letting an excess of caution impair the learning process would be...well, unscientific! All I ask is that we keep open minds not just to new ideas, but to the ideals of hard work and responsibility without which truth cannot be expected to triumph.

JCC:   That's a fine reference to the very origin of the term metaphysics, the pages of Aristotle which came after his Physics (!) Well, Chris, you may well have achieved a noteworthy triumph in this CTMU. It's that the initial description made this work sound so "oracular" in nature, and that's what put me off a bit. In speculative fiction A.E. van Vogt played about with the concept of non-Aristotelian extensions of physics... fiction, admittedly, but based on intriguing foundations. Certainly it will be of interest to read a bit more of the CTMU: what it is, what it does, and how paradoxes are resolved in practice. In past centuries Newton and Pascal sought a grander vista but had neither the framework nor data to reach it. I'll keep an open mind, yes.

CW:   One thing is quite clear: there is no carte blanche for human survival. We really can screw everything up. But we should keep in mind that, while valuable in many ways, intelligence, beauty, physical strength are all relative traits and the ultimate point of human experience if there is one is not necessarily based on the endurance of achievements. For one thing, no human exists forever. For another, there may be many many experiential possibilities with quite different priorities. If "intelligence" is not limited in its application then this intractable social crisis is equally well an expression of it as is its opposite - perfect control and knowledge.

CML:   This, of course, is a kind of moral relativism devolving to an assumed absence of teleology. Fortunately, that assumption is bad. Intelligence is inseparable from purpose, and since the CTMU distributes intelligence over the universe, it does the same for purpose. Voila - a new brand of teleology that prefers increasing control and knowledge to a dysgenic deterioration of cognitive ability. You're right that humanity can "screw everything up". But if it does, it won't enjoy the luxury of a valid philosophical justification for its crime.

JCC:   Happily (maybe not for us, in particular) the Aion is (or has) a wealth of raw material encompassed in the vastness of space-time (Cosmos). Maybe something comes of it; my favorite hymn has always been "Que Sera, Sera!" {smile}

** Colloquy began 6 Jan 98 as the online component of a society then known as Collegium.

*** TNS, The Triple Nine Society, seeks members at the 99.9 percentile, accepting scores from unsupervised untimed tests as its basis. See our Links to Sister Societies.

**** GUT, Grand Unification Theory, aiming to encompass all fundamental forces of Physics in a single coherent framework.

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