Wednesday, 30 March 2011

On the undecidable propositions of formal systems

Isaac Asimov wrote in the tenth-anniversary of The Skeptical Inquirer:

"Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What have we to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!"

One of the great dangers of unbridled use of logic and principles of rational thought is that everything we hold as meaningful can seem to lose meaning under close scrunity; one of the great strengths of principled use of logic and rational thought is that clarity and humility can be achieved, though no guarantees are proffered.

What do these words bring up for you: internal division, repression, neurosis, alienation..? These are words from Freudian psychology which (perhaps inadvertently) rendered human virtues of rationality, conscience or ethical behaviour and spirituality (that which we use to define ourselves) into nothing more banal than reaction-formations and cruel delusions of untenable grandeur in lieu of constant sexual frustration (our desire to have sex with our parents! Sheesh!).

There is a term used in metaphysics, nominalism, that in its original use was meant to denote that some words and names we use to construct arguments are really just labels, and as such, we should treat them with skepticism, or at the very least define them within their appropriate context.

Wholesale application of scientific interpretation can be used to not only conclude that human beings are nothing more than the genes we carry or complexes of neuroses and perversity in constant need of vigilance and policing. But this is like saying that the Notre Dame Cathedral is nothing more than a pile of stones, or that the Theory of Relativity woulda, coulda, shoulda... we know better.

The title of this particular blog entry is suggestive of the great Godel's paper that scolded the arrogance of mathematics, that some propositions cannot be (can never be) answered definitively by any one system of thought and interpretation no matter how elaborate or elegant in construct.

In human terms, I exist as Jay, as a unique human being with a unique, particular history, and not merely a member of a category, that my statistics are just that, statistics, and, in the end, are merely incidental, accidental, and contingent upon many factors of my unique and multi-layered history.

I'm on a human journey; we're all on a human journey. As human beings, we are more than the sum of our parts. This is a miracle: that we exist and strive for transcendence. The question of whether this is pointless or not is really besides the point. Some random processes have definite outcomes, that without the uncertainty of randomness itself could not have been possible. Sometimes it's rude to look a gift-horse in the mouth, which is, after all, is a gift.

Jay

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