Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
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17-09-2016, 02:20 PM
Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
I'll start off: I've been debating back and forth with my father about whether or not we can know anything about the state of things before there was a universe. I would argue no, we have no empirical data about "the state of things" before there were things. My father, as a rationalist, is attempting to prove that we can know things beyond what is visible to the 5 senses or inferable from things we have learned from our 5 senses. Here's how the argument would go.

Can you walk down an infinite chain of fence posts? No, because you would have to have already crossed infinity to reach the point you are at, which is impossible. You would never even be able to start. We can know that from simply thinking about it and using logic, therefore we can know things without having any direct empirical/scientific proof for them. So we can conclude the same thing about time. Time must have had a beginning. Now, the law of causation states that since anything that began must have a cause, time must have had a cause. Something must have started it. Boom, first cause. My father would then proceed to use the same line of reasoning to conclude things about the first cause((omnipotent, must possess all power because nothing can come from outside it, etc).

Basically he's saying that since we've concluded that there cannot be an infinite chain of fence posts even though we've never witnessed such a thing, we've proven rationalism. Proven that we can learn about the nature of things without having empirical evidence for them.

My problem is that although this seems watertight, I'm not entirely clear on a few things. How could the first cause do anything without time? Is an infinite actually impossible to exist on, or is this confusion simply due to wordplay? Is empiricism self-refuting(e.g. "you can't prove empiricism by any of the 5 senses")? Can we prove things using a rationalist mode of thinking, or is only empirical evidence valid(and why or why not)?

So if anyone wants to take a swing at this, I'd really appreciate it. It's making my brain hurt, and I feel like my position is a bit weak until I can answer these arguments to my own satisfaction.

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17-09-2016, 03:06 PM
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
What does "crossed infinity" mean?

I don't see the problem with that "walk down an infinite chain of fence posts" apart from how tiring it would be ... especially when you have to do it in both directions.

Wink

Also ... not just 5 senses.

Smile

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17-09-2016, 03:48 PM
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
Infinity is a tough subject. Most people think is as this

1 - XXXXX

But it can also be thought of like 1 - 2. We've reach the end of a infinite amount of numbers. 1 being the start 2 being the end.

How many fractions are between 1 and 2?
if we cut 2 in 1/2 then cut that portion in 1/2, then again, and again, and again X infinity. Yet some how infinity has a beginning and a end in this sinerio. It's a true Paradox.

DLJ said it before I could about the 5 sense. Just to quick.

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17-09-2016, 04:36 PM
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
Generally, the same people who say there can't be an infinite series of events then turn around and claim that their god "always existed" which implies that it had an infinite past before it created the universe. If we can't get to any point because there's an infinity behind it then neither can their god unless it's just one huge case of special pleading. It doesn't help to say that god is "outside time" because they still have god deciding to create the universe which requires thought which requires time. If it was timeless then it was static and wasn't thinking or acting in any way.

Or maybe it's just that humans don't conceptualize infinity all that well and the argument is hogwash.

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17-09-2016, 04:41 PM
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
Thinking about "conditions outside of/prior to" the universe is going to hurt your head because our heads are evolved to think about matters within our universe. Typically within shouting distance. Language too. Our language is ill-equipped to even ask the question.

Your dad is using examples from within the universe such as fences. Those are intuitive and easy to grasp because we know how they work. And they're wrong. They use feaures of the universe to try and describe situations "outside" of it. The same rules don't apply.

Even trying to discuss it is difficult, which is why the braniacs use so much ugly math. The universe is all of space-time, so any word with spatial (where?) or temporal connotations (when?) can't be used. Causes and events require both space and time, so you wont have either of those "outside" of the universe. Can't have an "outside" (requires space) or "before" (uses time) the universe either.

To make the point, ask your dad to describe conditions "before" the universe. The human mind can't do it but he can hurt his head trying. Any mention of matter, energy, space, time, cause, event, etc. is wrong. You can't have any of those. You may well not have logic as we understand it. That's a feature of the universe too.

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04-10-2016, 06:36 PM
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
(17-09-2016 02:20 PM)ErinRH2342 Wrote:  I'll start off: I've been debating back and forth with my father about whether or not we can know anything about the state of things before there was a universe. I would argue no, we have no empirical data about "the state of things" before there were things. My father, as a rationalist, is attempting to prove that we can know things beyond what is visible to the 5 senses or inferable from things we have learned from our 5 senses. Here's how the argument would go.

Can you walk down an infinite chain of fence posts? No, because you would have to have already crossed infinity to reach the point you are at, which is impossible. You would never even be able to start. We can know that from simply thinking about it and using logic, therefore we can know things without having any direct empirical/scientific proof for them. So we can conclude the same thing about time. Time must have had a beginning. Now, the law of causation states that since anything that began must have a cause, time must have had a cause. Something must have started it. Boom, first cause. My father would then proceed to use the same line of reasoning to conclude things about the first cause((omnipotent, must possess all power because nothing can come from outside it, etc).

Basically he's saying that since we've concluded that there cannot be an infinite chain of fence posts even though we've never witnessed such a thing, we've proven rationalism. Proven that we can learn about the nature of things without having empirical evidence for them.

My problem is that although this seems watertight, I'm not entirely clear on a few things. How could the first cause do anything without time? Is an infinite actually impossible to exist on, or is this confusion simply due to wordplay? Is empiricism self-refuting(e.g. "you can't prove empiricism by any of the 5 senses")? Can we prove things using a rationalist mode of thinking, or is only empirical evidence valid(and why or why not)?

So if anyone wants to take a swing at this, I'd really appreciate it. It's making my brain hurt, and I feel like my position is a bit weak until I can answer these arguments to my own satisfaction.

Maybe you should abandon the idea of a first cause. Does the universe really need a reason as to why it exists?

In Quantum Mechanics, infinitesimally small particles pop into existence and back all the time. So of them become real particles when they pop into existence near the event horizon of black holes.

So if the beginning of the universe, which was infinitesimally small, popped into existence then, is it really that hard to accept when we observe infinitesimally small particles popping into existence in nature?
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05-10-2016, 07:28 AM
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
(17-09-2016 02:20 PM)ErinRH2342 Wrote:  I'll start off: I've been debating back and forth with my father about whether or not we can know anything about the state of things before there was a universe. I would argue no, we have no empirical data about "the state of things" before there were things. My father, as a rationalist, is attempting to prove that we can know things beyond what is visible to the 5 senses or inferable from things we have learned from our 5 senses. Here's how the argument would go.

Can you walk down an infinite chain of fence posts? No, because you would have to have already crossed infinity to reach the point you are at, which is impossible. You would never even be able to start. We can know that from simply thinking about it and using logic, therefore we can know things without having any direct empirical/scientific proof for them. So we can conclude the same thing about time. Time must have had a beginning. Now, the law of causation states that since anything that began must have a cause, time must have had a cause. Something must have started it. Boom, first cause. My father would then proceed to use the same line of reasoning to conclude things about the first cause((omnipotent, must possess all power because nothing can come from outside it, etc).

Basically he's saying that since we've concluded that there cannot be an infinite chain of fence posts even though we've never witnessed such a thing, we've proven rationalism. Proven that we can learn about the nature of things without having empirical evidence for them.

My problem is that although this seems watertight, I'm not entirely clear on a few things. How could the first cause do anything without time? Is an infinite actually impossible to exist on, or is this confusion simply due to wordplay? Is empiricism self-refuting(e.g. "you can't prove empiricism by any of the 5 senses")? Can we prove things using a rationalist mode of thinking, or is only empirical evidence valid(and why or why not)?

So if anyone wants to take a swing at this, I'd really appreciate it. It's making my brain hurt, and I feel like my position is a bit weak until I can answer these arguments to my own satisfaction.

To continue the fence post analogy, the end and the beginning of the fence posts is beyond our perception, yet your dad says there's a magical space wizard at the beginning and end of the fence post chain somewhere - that place where we can't see. Facepalm

So when an answer doesn't present itself, you just stick magical things in as an explanation, even though there is zero evidence for it, here be dragons!


Looking along the row of infinite fence posts, we can obviously see a finite number of them, why assume anything is beyond our perception except more fence posts?

Which observation has the fewest assumptions?

Gods derive their power from post-hoc rationalizations. -The Inquisition

Using the supernatural to explain events in your life is a failure of the intellect to comprehend the world around you. -The Inquisition
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07-10-2016, 10:05 PM (This post was last modified: 07-10-2016 10:13 PM by Reltzik.)
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
(17-09-2016 02:20 PM)ErinRH2342 Wrote:  Can you walk down an infinite chain of fence posts? No, because you would have to have already crossed infinity to reach the point you are at, which is impossible. You would never even be able to start. We can know that from simply thinking about it and using logic, therefore we can know things without having any direct empirical/scientific proof for them. So we can conclude the same thing about time.

No, we can't. This particularly pernicious bit of logic begs the question in a very sneaky way. Lemme quote the relevant part.

(17-09-2016 02:20 PM)ErinRH2342 Wrote:  You would never even be able to start.

Since the entire claim that this is attempting to counter is that there WAS no start... how is this a problem? This isn't any sort of logical contradiction. The idea that we couldn't get here from a beginning is perfectly consistent with the idea that there was no beginning.

This argument is smuggling in its eventual conclusion, and the twisted genius of it is that it does so in such a way that few people notice.

EDIT: This also highlights one of the most dangerous pitfalls of rationalism. Even if it were possible to arrive at a true conclusion through pure logic... and I'm not taking a side on that... it's also possible to arrive at a false conclusion through an error of pure logic AND NOT REALIZE IT. As a particularly flagrant example, consider Aristotle, who used similar methods of pure logic (before rationalism was codified) to conclude that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones. Any awareness of this potential pitfall means that you are left with uncertainty about any conclusion you might arrive at... which is exactly the problem that rationalists are trying to avoid.
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07-10-2016, 10:31 PM
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
(17-09-2016 02:20 PM)ErinRH2342 Wrote:  I'll start off: I've been debating back and forth with my father about whether or not we can know anything about the state of things before there was a universe. I would argue no, we have no empirical data about "the state of things" before there were things. My father, as a rationalist, is attempting to prove that we can know things beyond what is visible to the 5 senses or inferable from things we have learned from our 5 senses. Here's how the argument would go.

Can you walk down an infinite chain of fence posts? No, because you would have to have already crossed infinity to reach the point you are at, which is impossible. You would never even be able to start. We can know that from simply thinking about it and using logic, therefore we can know things without having any direct empirical/scientific proof for them. So we can conclude the same thing about time. Time must have had a beginning. Now, the law of causation states that since anything that began must have a cause, time must have had a cause. Something must have started it. Boom, first cause. My father would then proceed to use the same line of reasoning to conclude things about the first cause((omnipotent, must possess all power because nothing can come from outside it, etc).

Basically he's saying that since we've concluded that there cannot be an infinite chain of fence posts even though we've never witnessed such a thing, we've proven rationalism. Proven that we can learn about the nature of things without having empirical evidence for them.

My problem is that although this seems watertight, I'm not entirely clear on a few things. How could the first cause do anything without time? Is an infinite actually impossible to exist on, or is this confusion simply due to wordplay? Is empiricism self-refuting(e.g. "you can't prove empiricism by any of the 5 senses")? Can we prove things using a rationalist mode of thinking, or is only empirical evidence valid(and why or why not)?

So if anyone wants to take a swing at this, I'd really appreciate it. It's making my brain hurt, and I feel like my position is a bit weak until I can answer these arguments to my own satisfaction.

No. No. And no.
What appears as "logical" is not how fundamental Reality works.

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein God has a plan for us. Please stop screwing it up with your prayers.
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08-10-2016, 09:09 PM
RE: Empiricism/rationalism/infinite regress(fun stuff!)
(17-09-2016 04:41 PM)Paleophyte Wrote:  Thinking about "conditions outside of/prior to" the universe is going to hurt your head because our heads are evolved to think about matters within our universe. Typically within shouting distance. Language too. Our language is ill-equipped to even ask the question.

Your dad is using examples from within the universe such as fences. Those are intuitive and easy to grasp because we know how they work. And they're wrong. They use feaures of the universe to try and describe situations "outside" of it. The same rules don't apply.

Even trying to discuss it is difficult, which is why the braniacs use so much ugly math. The universe is all of space-time, so any word with spatial (where?) or temporal connotations (when?) can't be used. Causes and events require both space and time, so you wont have either of those "outside" of the universe. Can't have an "outside" (requires space) or "before" (uses time) the universe either.

To make the point, ask your dad to describe conditions "before" the universe. The human mind can't do it but he can hurt his head trying. Any mention of matter, energy, space, time, cause, event, etc. is wrong. You can't have any of those. You may well not have logic as we understand it. That's a feature of the universe too.
How could you justifiably state that before the universe there wasn't any sort of energy?

How is energy limited by or contained within space-time?

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