Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Real World

Before we examine the ontological status of God further, we would like to have a look at the real world. We have to have a protocol on what we should accept as 'truth' in the real world. And this protocol better be an objective one. Any flimflam view such as spirituality or 'inner voice' wouldn't do unless it is exactly reproducible in the same circumstances by almost all observers. If possible we would like to have some recorded measurements (may be some numerical value) associated with any observation. Since we have already seen that 'truth' is always based upon a existing framework or formal system, we would like to know the formal system which is associated with 'reality'. To be precise we are elaborating this most important example, as promised.

Here we go :
  1. We accept the reality of the world out there. We take the facts that nature 'reports' us at face value. We do not entertain (at least for now) the notion of all of us being in a daze or hallucination. To be precise we distinguish between 'hypothesis' and 'reality'. Collective hallucination of humanity is a hypothesis, which we do not accept unless we have checked it. The 'truth' of data is determined by its reproducibility. Any impartial observer must be able to get the same data (within realistic errors), otherwise the 'true' status of the reported data is forfeited.

  2. Consequently, any accepted 'truth' of reported data is conditional. We assign likelihood estimate of the 'truth' of the data based on the degree of its reproducibility. 100% reproducible data is considered highly likely to reflect the 'real world' extremely accurately and is considered a reliable guide to 'understanding' nature. Less that 100% reproducible data is considered that much unreliable in proportion.

  3. Based on the data, we make hypothesis concerning the observed phenomena. This is same as finding a model or a formal system which can be used as a computational machine to predict expected data under new conditions, which we promptly check to ascertain the correctness of the model. Any discrepancy is used to make (or tweak) the model better. We give a name to the model constructed so far i.e the Model of Reality (also referred to simply as the Model when no confusion arises).

  4. To decide upon whether to accept a given hypothesis, we conduct more and more experiments. In the accompanying figure we see two cases, the square one and the circular one. Each one is for testing a different hypothesis, say S for square and C for Circular. The size of the figure indicates the likelihood of the hypothesis being true. The darker color is the likelihood after more experiments (either similar or different) are conducted in both the cases. Clearly in the first case, the hypothesis S stands more strongly, whereas in the second case after more experiments are conducted, we find that the hypothesis C stands on shakier ground. Consequently we do not trust the truth of hypothesis C. This is the way we weigh evidences.

  5. We also accept Occam's razor. If two hypotheses perfectly well accounts for the observation, the complicated hypothesis is discarded in favor of a simpler one. The simplicity of a hypothesis is to be decided roughly by the consensus of people checking the phenomena. There is an objective criteria as well : the more computational resources a model requires and the more computationally complex it is, we judge it to be the more complicated hypothesis. For example, the hypothesis that all of us are in a hallucination is virtually uncomputable, whereas the alternative is to just accept the 'reality' of reality which requires nill computational resources. See note below.

For want of a better word, let us call this framework as the Real system. We distinguish between the 'Model of Reality' and 'reality'. Reality for us means information coming directly from the 'Real System', which are mostly experimental data. I urge the readers to accept the above mentioned framework of deciding 'reality' of real world. And then we will see what this system and model tells us about God or religion in particular. For the sake of completeness let me mention that we accept that some things are (may be at present) beyond the ambit of measurement, esp things which are highly subjective viz love, affection or anything connected with it. We do not deny the reality of it (how could we?), but then these are mostly the things for which there is no need to generate data, neither they can be generated by any conscious effort. We will have more to talk about 'love' in the future, both the personal kind (which we will never have any reason to object) as well as the 'transcendental' kind (the one 'felt' for God, which we will see as misguided at best and destructive at worst).

We usually have some hypothesis which we want to test viz, the existence, omnipotence, omniscience, etc of God. There are various degrees to which any hypothesis (could be any mundane one) may be investigated for its truth.
  • At the most obvious level, if it is directly supported by reproducible data it is designated highly likely (to be 'true') in the Real System. If it confirms with the already constructed model (as in point 3 above) well and good, else we change the model. The data from experiments is sacrosanct not the model.
    Ex - before discovery of high temperature superconductivity, it was considered unlikely based on the then accepted mechanism of superconductivity. After its discovery, we agree that earlier model was valid only for low temperatures and are still searching for a good model of high temperature superconductivity. Needless to say, nobody disputes that high temperature superconductivity exists.

  • Next, if it is not so far borne out in experiments (may be due to difficulty in doing experiments) but do not violate any of the experimental/scientific data already collected (in short, if it does not contradict the model obtained from the real system), it is given plausible status. In this case we do not rebuff the hypothesis but reserve our judgment till further information.
    Ex - some predictions of standard model are not yet confirmed by experiments but are not considered implausible as many other predictions are confirmed.

  • If on the other hand the hypothesis contradicts the model obtained from the real system and is not so far supported by data (again may be due to difficulty or expenses), we have every reason to distrust the hypothesis. Of course it may still be correct but we consider it implausible.
    Ex - cold fusion, based on the preliminary calculations is considered highly implausible (personally I consider it a waste of time). Needless to say, satisfactory data is awaited.

  • Next, if the hypothesis is logically contradictory, we have to reject it summarily. Such a hypothesis is considered impossible. It will be a waste of time to worry about such a hypothesis any more. Many hypotheses about the real world are unlikely to be labeled impossible (technically, we go only as far as implausible) as our model of truth is the Real system, which is a really kind hearted system. But as we have already seen our eminent friend God in many of his disguises tests our limits of patience. He alone seems capable of achieving the distinction of impossible. Oh God what hath you done !!

We call the above scale as the Plausibility scale. The tested hypothesis if qualifies as 'highly likely' is incorporated into the Model of Reality. 'Plausible' ones are only temporarily included. Rest all cases of hypotheses are discarded.

So far we have seen that G1, G1* and G4 types of Gods are impossible. We will examine G2, G2*, G3 & G3* in further articles. We will also try to understand God at various other levels and give many more definitions. Ultimately it turns out that any approach is either implausible or impossible. In the next article we will define atheism as well theism hypothesis precisely so as to be able to test it vis-a-vis the real system.

Note : This criteria might need refinement in the future when we encounter a well articulated and valid objection to it.

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