It appears upon digging through reams of caught spam that Akismet has been intercepting a very significant number of excellent comments. I had 153 in my box and a good 40 of them were legit. Now, Akismet tells me it has protected me from 4,000 spam messages, so if I extrapolate that it seems this site should have a lot more comments than it does. There’s no way to recover the older comments, and I apologize for that. Hopefully Akismet will figure it out.
Now, on to the topic for today. Earlier I discussed deriving a system of understanding the world, using absolutely nothing except Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” I’ve had a couple emails asking just how on earth that is conceivably possible. So now I’m going to explain one of the methods that I’ve come up with. As a first step, I know that I exist. Or you know that you exist, from your perspective. Anyway, therefore I know that something exists, even if that something is just me, and nothing else exists at all. However, in order to say that I exist, I must therefore imply the possibility that it logically could occur that I, or something else, did not exist. So I have established A) I exist, B) it is possible for things to exist or not exist. Now I could also study the properties of my own existence, such as material continuity, whatever you like, but those avenues aren’t particularly interesting as far as I can tell. What about information? I exist, therefore some pattern of information must encode my existence, even if that is just a 1 for existence as opposed to a 0 for nonexistence, and even if that is the only information that exists in the universe. Phrased differently, I exist, therefore a statement “I exist” evaluates to True. Therefore, at least one bit of information exists. In fact, because we are able to deduce the existence of information, we can deduce a significant degree of abstracted information in the universe because I contain sufficient information to contain a model of information. Basically I’m proving that I have at least a small amount of RAM, if I was a computer. So I have proved that I have a mind, although the definition we have established is not equivalent to what we commonly think of as a “mind.”
I have also, somewhat indirectly, established that the universe follows at least two basic laws of logic, the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle. Basically I have derived that a statement can be either true or false because at least one bit of information exists, which can be either 1 or 0. Of course, the information doesn’t necessarily have to be binary, but given any information set it can be reduced to P and non-P, or P and its complement, which produces a binary logical unit. For the uninitiated, consider: if the information in some possible world equals a grey fox, then I can divide that world into grey foxes and things that are not grey foxes. The first of the two laws, non-contradiction, tells me that a statement cannot be both true and false- I cannot both exist and not exist. Something cannot be both a grey fox and not a grey fox in our example parallel world. This is because by creating the division of the universe into P and non-P, you cannot have the same statement switch truth value arbitrarily. This is an aside from our deductions, but keep in mind that when the world changes, a linguistically equivalent statement is no longer the same statement. If our grey fox in our inconsistent parallel world turned into a caterpillar, it just wouldn’t be a grey fox anymore. However, by transforming, the fox changed the conditions of the world about which statements can be made. Anyway, the law of excluded middle says that if a statement is not true, it must be false, and if it’s not false, then it must be true. If it’s a grey fox, then it is false that it is not a grey fox and vice versa. Simply put, the fact that the universe can be divided into P and non-P proves this, and I know it can be divided as such because I know I exist. If X is a P then it is false that X is a non-P. Now this gives us a basic logical framework, and there are several other logical constructs that can be derived from these two laws such as conditional statements, universal or particular statements, etc. etc. You can find materials about formal logical systems online- Wikipedia has some good stuff on classical logic.
No, I’m going to make things a bit more interesting. My next goal is to attempt to prove that my perception is valid. Now, this is much more open to interpretation. We’re farther upriver from deriving basic logical laws, so it’s much easier to debate. Descartes chickened out at about this point and essentially claimed that we can trust our perceptions because God wouldn’t lie to us. Cop-out. Now, I’m going to argue that we can trust our perceptions. Except in one significant regard: we can’t actually prove that anyone other than ourselves is conscious- look up the Chinese room if this is puzzling to you. We’ll ignore that little caveat for simplicity’s sake in this post. Basically, if we can confirm that we have a mind and that that mind operates on data, as it must in order for it to be a mind, then that data must have a source. At this point we can’t conclude anything about the validity of that source, or sources. However, we can figure that the operations must meaningfully alter something, in some respect, even if it’s just a cellular automata churning away futilely, rearranging some colored blocks. Otherwise we would be one of an incalculably numerous, undetectable imaginary possible beings floating between potential universes, which would actually violate our postulate of existence. In order to exist, we must have some substance and/or effect on reality, even if that effect is like a rock’s, just sitting there taking up space. Otherwise unicorns, no-see-em’s, and endless other unprovable impossibilities also exist, they just don’t affect reality in any way. So we have a mind that exists in some form of what we shall call “reality” along with everything else we define as existing. This doesn’t rule out that it is but one of many worlds, and that internal to those worlds, other things may exist relative to each other. But in this world, the contents of those other worlds is irrelevant, and so the others don’t exist. If they did exist, they would be in this world and we wouldn’t define them as being in another world. P and not-P again. Now how do we prove that we are getting input from the same reality that we are affecting by existing or operating within? I resolve the issue by saying that things that don’t affect the world you happen to be in can’t affect you because you’re in it. However, there exists at least one thing in your reality that affects you because otherwise you wouldn’t be part of that reality. So all things that affect you are in your reality. If they weren’t in your reality, they couldn’t affect you, and if it is materially impossible for them to affect you then they’re not in your reality. So here’s what we’re left with: while we can rule out that things outside of reality are affecting you, and we can also prove that things within reality are indeed affecting you, we don’t necessarily know anything else. So things within reality might affect you in ways that do not reflect objective reality, or maybe there are sources within reality that give you unreliable information. For example, our senses can be faulty. However, our senses are the sum of the impressions reality makes upon us in the limited way that we can sense them- we have only five basic ones after all. Our eyes detect the light entering them with virtually perfect accuracy, exactly as nature intended. However any extrapolation on that information is not necessarily valid, such as that this object is larger than that one (when in fact it’s just closer). Our ears detect the sound waves, but those sound waves don’t necessarily reflect objective reality except in the most rigorously exact but somewhat useless sense that they are exactly what objective reality is providing your faculties with.