Various philosophical musings
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22-10-2017, 10:47 PM (This post was last modified: 22-10-2017 10:56 PM by Robvalue.)
Various philosophical musings
I tend to have a lot of random philosophical thoughts, so I'm making a place to write them instead of starting lots of bizarre threads. Any comments are welcome!

I'll start with this word that really bugs me: supernatural.

I try not to use the word at all, because I feel it is generally an incoherent concept. The only sensible definition I have heard is that everything in this reality is natural, and things in any other realities are supernatural. This makes it a relative term, equivalent to "foreign". We would then be supernatural, with respect to any reality but our own. Seeing as the word is rarely meant to be taken this way though, I don't find this very useful.

Generally I'm told it's things that aren't natural. The obvious question is "how do you know what's natural and what isn't?". This pretty much takes care of it; I've covered this in a video before if anyone is interested.

But I think a better question is to ask what natural means. The only coherent answer I've had is that it's "things that obey the laws of nature". But my response is that this tells you absolutely nothing, unless you actually have access to what some of these laws are.

Anything that is part of some general group must obey the set of laws of that group. That seems tautological. It may be that the set is empty, meaning there's no restrictions whatsoever. I'm talking of course about laws it's impossible to break, not laws in any legal sense.

So, nature obeying the laws of nature tells us nothing. It's another tautology. What are the laws of nature? I've covered that in the same video. My answer is that we can't possibly ever know. For all we know, there are no laws at all. All we can do is try and make models that predict how things we are aware of will behave. Our models are not prescriptive, nor can we say anything about things we are not aware of "in nature".

Where does this leave us? The supernatural are things that don't obey the laws of nature. That's again a tautology, if we define the supernatural as being things not in the natural group. It doesn't say anything, without reference to what those laws are.

To try and "test" if something is supernatural in this way requires simply assuming our current scientific models are the complete laws of nature. I hope it's clear that this is a hopelessly naive and baseless assumption. Laws can apply to different things in different ways, even within the same group, as we are already aware. So whatever the laws are that govern nature, if there are any, they could simply apply differently to some subset of nature that we're not currently aware of. Thus "supernatural" becomes a subset of the natural. Or else, there are laws of nature we're currently oblivious to because the things they apply to haven't been observable to us. If they suddenly did become observable, they would still be natural. Reference to our own knowledge and understanding is a pointless loading of terms.

My conclusion is that "natural" is a meaningless term in this sense, as is "supernatural". Scientifically, natural just means existent as far as I can tell.

I have a website here which discusses the issues and terminology surrounding religion and atheism. It's hopefully user friendly to all.
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22-10-2017, 11:28 PM
RE: Various philosophical musings
I think you overthink it. To me it just means that which currently defies natural explanation. So as we find more and more natural explanations for shit it should refer to a monotonically decreasing subset of shit we can't explain, right? Converging to what though?

I think there are concepts which are intrinsically ineffable but it's hard to explain. Big Grin

#sigh
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23-10-2017, 12:19 AM
RE: Various philosophical musings
Sure, that seems to be the gist of it. It's what we can't currently explain. But woo types seem to try and imbue such things with this as a property, claiming that we will never be able to explain them. That's just complete bullshit. There's no way we can know that, or even postulate it with any credence. "We" will continue to evolve, meaning our intelligence and technology can increase significantly.

So it appears to be an attempt to use the word "unexplained" but load it with lots of implications that aren't backed up. Arguments from ignorance, basically. "God" is the personification of that argument.

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23-10-2017, 12:24 AM (This post was last modified: 23-10-2017 12:36 AM by SYZ.)
RE: Various philosophical musings
(22-10-2017 10:47 PM)Robvalue Wrote:  ... My conclusion is that "natural" is a meaningless term in this sense, as is "supernatural". Scientifically, natural just means existent as far as I can tell.

I agree with Girly... you're way overthinking this Rob.

Personally I'm happy with Merriam-Webster;

supernatural: —departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature; attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit); of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil.

I'm not sure I'm reading this correctly—when you say of the supernatural that "It's what we can't currently explain", because that's not what it is. Of course we can't deliberate on the purported existence of ghosts, gods, spirits, angels, djinns etc. Because they don't exist in the natural world. They, and all the other things we describe as supernatural are just myths, fairy stories, fabrications, legends, or superstitions etc.

I'm a creationist... I believe that man created God.
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23-10-2017, 12:31 AM
RE: Various philosophical musings
Overthinking things is my forte, as my wife will tell you! I can't help it. That's why it's good to get some of it out. Sorry to splurge all over you guys Tongue

The next thing is an interesting argument I heard from Noel Plum, who I've recently become very interested in. I find I tend to agree with his points on most issues, and he covers a wide range.

Anyhow. It's about the impossibility of omnipotence. It's a stupid concept to begin with, but he found what seems like a knock-down argument which shows it can't happen:

How can anyone (God included) distinguish between a situation where they know everything there is to know, and a situation where they just think they do? In the latter, they would know the answer to every question that they can think of, but then there are questions that never occur to them.

The answer seems to be that you can't know the difference. So the best you can be is omnipotent minus the knowledge that you are omnipotent; crucially this means that you can only claim it but can't demonstrate it. Someone could prove you wrong, but they couldn't prove you right.

The only being who could potentially validate omnipotence is another being that knows everything the previous being knows, and also whether or not there are questions it cannot think of. So it could tell it that it's omnipotent. But... this uber being wouldn't be able to know if it was omnipotent itself, for the same reasons as before. And since it couldn't know that, neither could the original being, so it's still not omnipotent.

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23-10-2017, 12:34 AM
RE: Various philosophical musings
(23-10-2017 12:24 AM)SYZ Wrote:  
(22-10-2017 10:47 PM)Robvalue Wrote:  ... My conclusion is that "natural" is a meaningless term in this sense, as is "supernatural". Scientifically, natural just means existent as far as I can tell.

I agree with Girly... you're way overthinking this Rob.

Personally I'm happy with Merriam-Webster;

supernatural: —departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature; attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit); of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil.

I agree that I am. I enjoy doing so Big Grin

With this definition, it's again subjective, in that what appears usual or normal depends on the person and their knowledge. Most of the other terms used aren't scientific at all.

My point is to try and find out if the word means anything in a scientific context. I think the answer is no. But I'm more than happy to use it informally, in fantasy contexts.

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23-10-2017, 12:38 AM
RE: Various philosophical musings
I wonder... could you have a situation where being B has the knowledge of whether or not being A is missing any knowledge, and vice versa? Could they then become omnipotent by sharing that knowledge with each other?

Wow, I'll have to think about that one. Sounds suspicious. Kudos to anyone who finds the flaw before I do Tongue

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23-10-2017, 01:20 AM
RE: Various philosophical musings
(23-10-2017 12:38 AM)Robvalue Wrote:  I wonder... could you have a situation where being B has the knowledge of whether or not being A is missing any knowledge, and vice versa? Could they then become omnipotent by sharing that knowledge with each other?

Wow, I'll have to think about that one. Sounds suspicious. Kudos to anyone who finds the flaw before I do Tongue

Haha, it sounded good but it's bullshit. I'll leave it as an exercise though in case anyone else wants to figure out why Wink

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23-10-2017, 01:22 AM
RE: Various philosophical musings
(22-10-2017 11:28 PM)GirlyMan Wrote:  I think you overthink it. To me it just means that which currently defies natural explanation. So as we find more and more natural explanations for shit it should refer to a monotonically decreasing subset of shit we can't explain, right? Converging to what though?

I think there are concepts which are intrinsically ineffable but it's hard to explain. Big Grin

Also, were locked in to the idea of humans explaining things, like we're the be-all and end-all. Who knows what super intelligent beings are out there somewhere that make us look like morons?

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23-10-2017, 01:34 AM
RE: Various philosophical musings
I have always regarded the supernatural, more or less, as the unnatural; something in the realm of fantasy. Consider
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