Archives for posts with tag: science

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around, does it make a sound? While some believe this is an unanswerable koan designed to clear the mind and achieve zen enlightenment, there actually is an answer: no, it does not make a sound. What it would create would be vibrating particles that require a hearing recipient to understand it as “sound.” Consider if there was a bat present at this spontaneous tree felling; it would not produce a sound so much as a sonar “ping.” The bat would translate this event in a much different sense than a human being. Without an interpretive subject, a tree falling in the woods essentially becomes describable only in mathematical terms.

Falling-Tree

Ask not, did it make a sound? Instead ask, what does having sensory organs at all tell me about my relationship to reality?

Consider an alternative: if a fire hydrant is in a pitch black room, is it still red? Again, the answer is no. Colour requires the reflection of light off of a surface, to be interpreted by the rods and cones in our eyes. If there is no light bouncing into our eyeballs, there is no colour. Presumably there is still the hydrant’s aspect of “red” that would be present while the light is gone, to be reinvigorated when the light returns, but our understanding of it as red is so far removed from its objective aspect that to call it “red” is a misnomer and used only for the sake of comprehensibility. It’s not difficult to imagine a different kind of biological organ that interprets light differently from our human eyes, similar to how a bat would differ from us in interpreting sound waves. The essence of a thing and how it interacts with the world around it outside of how a subject perceives it is thus quite impossible to experience.

This is what Thomas Nagel would refer to as The View from Nowhere. Immanuel Kant would call it the noumenal world. A conceptual world that is unavailable to us based on the fact that our understanding of “worldness” comes entirely from our uniquely human senses. We may be able to understand it in conceptual terms, and science has certainly given us more refined definitions with which we can do so, but its existence in any sense of the word that might have value to us is completely irrelevant to how it objectively “exists.” Music, colour, sensuous touch, and decadent taste; these things have meaning insofar as they are wholly human, oblivious to any other interpretation. Even our scientific tools can only function along the spectrum that our senses allow us to interpret, meaning that the concepts we have of the noumenal world may be far from its totality.

Contemplating a tree falling in the woods should not lead to a conversion to Buddhism, but to philosophical revelation about our relationship to reality.

God forbids certain actions with a bunch of Thou Shalts telling us not to do this, not to commit that, but it’s not like He’s actually stopping us. God is just saying that if we sin, then we’ll spend eternity in hellfire. Which, fine. Maybe people want to avoid that. On the other hand, where I can will myself to sin, I can’t will myself taller. I will never be able to telekinetically move objects with my mind. I can’t sprout wings and soar into the dawning sky. We have this supposed “free” will, but we don’t have a universal capacity to fulfill any fantastical idea we desire?

What this tells me is that God has a greater interest in human beings abiding by the laws of nature than He does His own moral decrees. He puts in all this effort to emphasize the importance of the ethical rules in His divine revelations, yet we as His subjugated creatures don’t even possess the capability of breaking physical laws. We were designed in such a way that we must conform to certain inviolable laws, but none of them are moral. It must be, then, that God cares less about moral rules than he does about physical ones, otherwise He would have created us differently. Morality does not have primacy, physics does, and thus the Bible becomes secondary to science even within the framework of religion.

The traditional worship of the gods of the Greek pantheon has all but ended in our scientific modernity, yet their influence has never waned. They have merely slipped from memory, bygones of a superstitious era when humans were believed to be primitive in their comprehension of the universe. However, the governance of our universe still remains in their divine hands. For what is 299 792 458 m/s if not shining Helios, riding his chariot across the universe, illuminating our world. Who is unseen Hades if not 6.626070040(81)×10−34 J⋅s, the ruler of the underworld, governing its chaos. Although his time as the lord of all the Olympic gods has concluded, mighty Zeus still hurls his thunderbolts as 1.6021766208(98)×10−19 C. Uranus, father of Cronus, holds together the heavens as 6.674×10−11 N⋅m2/kg2, while his wife, 9.80665 m/s2, mother Gaia, rules our home of Earth. Though much less capricious, these immortal and immutable gods still define our understanding of the universe surrounding us. We still worship them in awe and wonder, we’ve just forgotten their names.