Philosophy, Science

Nature, SuperNature and Naturalism

Naturalism generally refers to the belief that the only things that exist are the laws of Nature; nothing supernatural exists and the Universe is the consequence of these laws. It also states that nothing outside the natural universe exists or if it does it does not affect the natural universe. However this definition is not very satisfying; the biggest problem is with how the term “natural universe” is used. Here, I am going to present a more general description of Naturalism which is essential to the scientific method and understanding of Nature.

What is Nature? It is the physical world. It is our Universe and the Multiverse (if it exists). Nature refers to all physical existence and it can be expressed with mathematical models. It has laws which can be written down in the form mathematical structures and relations. This fact is the basis of all Science; Mathematics is our tool of understanding everything around us. So, what is Naturalism? It is the basic principle behind all scientific research: we seek to represent physical reality with equations and other structures as more accurately as we can, and we assume that nothing supernatural will intervene with this quest. After all, there is no evidence that anything supernatural ever intervened. But what exactly is the supernatural? Does it have its own laws? Can they be understood or written down mathematically? I am going to call the world of the supernatural (as viewed by superstitious and religious people) “SuperNature“. If SuperNature exists then, along with Nature, it formulates the whole Reality and existence: everything that existed, exists, can exist, or will exist is a part of this Reality. Supposing that SuperNature exists then we as rational beings with minds capable of understanding and modeling the perceived reality will be able to understand SuperNature too (if we ever entered it in the form of “souls”, for example).  I am not sure if mathematics would be the same tool used in SuperNature, but I am almost certain it would be the main one. We would create new mathematics anyway, if needed. The power of mathematical modeling actually can even be applied to an all-powerful being like God, but I will not discuss this here.

To see an example of basic mathematical modeling of the supernatural we will use sets in order to represent reality:

N is the set of Nature, SN is the set of SuperNature and R is Reality. All that can know or will be able to know about Nature is in its set (maybe there are some things about Nature which we won’t be able to comprehend but they are in the set too of course). Assuming that SuperNature can sometimes interact with Nature we might be able to know some things about it too and therefore enter the SN set theoretically. Nevertheless, there has been no indication that SuperNature interacts with Nature so far, which leads us to seriously doubt its existence. We can however say that SN does exist but its empty: SN = Ø, and therefore there is nothing supernatural to understand or explain. Strict Naturalism states that SN doesn’t exist and this seems more likely. It is very important for a scientist’s research that they accept st first that SN doesn’t exist or that it’s equal to an empty set, because SuperNature only brings more truble to the quest. We need to make sure that the phenomena we examine are not in Nature if we will to hypothesize that they might be in SuperNature. So far no such need was presented and we can safely write for the time being:

or

which is the very definition of Naturalism. In we can include everything that is qualified as physical or material: the laws of Nature, the Universe, the multiverse and the physical reality in general (it is better not to use the word universe in the definition cause nowadays the Multiverse hypothesis plays a significant role in our understanding of the nature and origins of our Universe). One can only speculate about whatever can exist outside it. But think about it, if SuperNature has laws that are comprehensible with models (scientific/mathematical in nature) then there isn’t anything particularly special about it; we just need to discover those laws. Maybe SN is actually the same set as N, but we don’t know it yet. There is no “supernatural” mystery and no “divine power” behind anything. If we can understand the laws of SN then why not labeling it physical or a different form of physical reality in the same manner as we label N  physical too? If there are laws in SN and we have access to it, then we will most likely find them.

One way or the other, it all works, because it has to.

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Philosophy, Science, Science & Religion

The “Why?” Question [Part II]

As we saw previously the “Why?” question cannot be applied forever. In fact sometimes it won’t even make sense. But can we find the ending to the infinite amount of whys we can apply?

The famous biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins usually avoids the question of why the Universe exists by saying that it’s a silly question and it doesn’t make sense. Is it truly a silly question? In my opinion its not exactly as pointless as Dawkins makes it seem to be. In their latest book “The Grand Design”, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow present a possible scientific explanation to why the Universe exists and to why there is something rather than nothing. The book perfectly demonstrates how we can scientifically explain existence and this shows that questions like what is the purpose of the Universe won’t only be part of philosophical and religious study but also of strict scientific study.

A key point in the “why?” quest is human nature. There is a major problem in human reasoning and it is not obvious most of the time. We live our lives having for granted that we posses free will. Although free will as we understand it in everyday situations does not exist, we can accept that a deterministic form of free will does exist. In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking writes that “free will is just an illusion”, according to modern Physics. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer perfectly said “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills”. So, since the illusion of complete free will is part of human nature and questioning, we begin to assume what is the source of our desire to find the purpose and deep meaning in the Universe. We tend to think that there must be a mind behind everything, a mind that is free to act, that is exercising its free will. This mind is often called God and it is usually the end to the infinite amount of whys. The reason why a God is a good solution for many people is because it’s a mind, much like our own mind. We are so deeply affected by everyday situations and choices that a “choice” is almost always a good answer to a problem: a choice must be made in order to proceed further. This is exactly how many view the origins of the Cosmos; a choice was made by a supreme all-powerful being and all the laws of Nature came to be. It all goes back to the First Cause and Cosmological arguments which of course satisfy our need for totality, but do not have strict logical meanings.

However, this does not prove that there is no mind behind the Universe. It shows us that our emotions often lead us to wrong conclusions though. When dealing with cosmological and scientific issues in general it is essential that our emotions do not influence our reasoning a lot, since it is mostly based on common sense, which doesn’t always apply. Nevertheless, it is more probable that there is no human-like intelligent mind behind the Cosmos, like God. There are the laws of Nature and, in accordance to those laws, the constant development in science shows us that we might be able to tell for sure why is there something rather than nothing.
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Science, Science & Religion, Superstition

Some Thoughts on the Paranormal

Many people today believe that things like ghosts, spirits, hauntings, angels, demons, other creatures, astrology and several seemingly unexplainable phenomena may or do exist. Lets examine those paranormal concepts and ideas in more detail.

Every rational human being must accept the fact that in order to believe something to be objectively true it is essencial that this something is tested carefully and analyzed using contemporary science. Superstitions, traditional beliefs, emotions and personal experiences are not allowed. Now lets suppose we encounter an event that we cannot explain using neither our knowledge nor most of the scientific theories available to us. What do we conclude? We conclude that it is most likely the current scientific facts or theories cannot explain the given phenomenon and that we need to make further testing and experiments always relying on the known laws of nature, with the goal of understanding it with a new addition to the existing theories or with the discovery of a new theory. What we do not conclude? That something like a spirit or other supernatural entities presented to us by tradition are the only cause of the phenomenon and science is limited in not ever be able to understand it. Unfortunately the latter conclusion is often the one taken more seriously by a large number of people.

There are several reasons for humans to choose the latter explanation. One of them is superstition, which is one of the most dangerous viruses to the human intellect. It is the product of our egoistic way of viewing Nature and the events which occur in our daily lives. We humans often seek to find a deep meaning and purpose in the world that surrounds us and often this meaning has to put us is a very important place in the Cosmos. This lust for a deeper meaning can be expressed in various ways. When it is expressed by the general public though, which is easily affected by the media, several incorrect interpretations of reality are created, based on unreliable hypotheses that mainly are a product of our meer feelings. Many people who create these hypotheses often defend their beliefs using the argument of experience: their authentic experience is the source for their beliefs and conclusions. However, is should not surprise us that usually when claims like those are put to the test they are debunked or seriously questioned.

There are some things which are important to understand before something should be labeled paranormal or metaphysical. Science is where our picture of the Cosmos ought to be based on. Over the years we have witnessed a great development in the scientific knowledge. It is easily assumed that every event that occurs in our lives can be explained with the laws of Nature. Even if an event occurs that on first glance cannot be explained successfully with a satisfactory explanation we will need to create a new theory or examine our existing ones so that we will find the exact laws that will give us the right picture of the phenomenon. It is intellectually and scientifically false to assume that the given phenomenon can only be explained by metaphysical theories and that science has nothing to do with it. Everything that occurs in our Universe must be obeying the laws of physics (known or unknown). If some laws and theories might not have been discovered yet, but eventually they will. What we might call “paranormal” will obey laws. There is no exception. We are just limited and used to certain everyday situations and that is mainly why we react to unusual events with a manner of fear or with invoking the metaphysical. What is unknown is exactly that, an unknown. Its not proof of anything else but the fact that its unknown and that it needs further investigation and testing.

Besides, if we take a look at most of the paranormal claims that have been tested, we can see that science has more reasonable answers to those claims. Reason makes the room for the metaphysical more and more narrow as we pass through the centuries. This is an observation which pretty much convinces us that the paranormal, as society defines it, does not exist. Legends have been created overtime in order to produce fear, entertainment and possibly further belief in a spiritual purpose of existence. They themselves are possibly a product of our fear of the dark which has an evolutionary explanation.

It would be more proper if we used the word “unexplained” or “unknown” instead of “metaphysical”. Anything that reacts with our world must be able to be examined, finally understood using a mathematical model and justified with experiments (sometimes this last part might turn out far more difficult than others, or even impossible, however this does not strictly mean we cannot rely on the model or theory). It is time for mainstream media to encourage critical thinking among the general public, but there are obviously plenty of other reasons for which this is not happening…

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