We hear the word "rational" thrown around a lot.  I like to think I am a rational person but I often find some moments where I need to struggle with what that actually means.  Sorry that this got a little long but I think it is an important subject and I wanted to detail out some of my thinking to other intelligent people because I don't have many folks around me who like to discuss this stuff.

Most rational people point to science when they present their conclusions about the universe.  Yet, in my view, the most rational principle of science is that it is agnostic.  Things are often talked about as if they are fact in Astronomy Magazine and on the Discovery Channel. . . but there is a big asterisk under every scientific conversation that says everything is constantly being tested and some theories have much bigger holes than our confidence suggests.  People don't always live up to this asterisk though.  There are plenty of examples, in fact,  where the progress of science has been slower than it needed to be because too many of the establishment members were over-confident in the existing theories rather than under-confident.

The idea of God is probably the most glaring example in many people's minds of the boundaries between being rational and irrational about the universe.  I'm pretty sure that the reason that science has long avoided the concept of God, and mysticism in general, is not because of a deliberate, irrational choice to reject God.  It is because of the rational choice to look for evidence and make determinations based on what we have found. I think it is a fair and rational position to say that the past evidence of God brought to us by old books and belief systems has been adequately disproven. . .  I am not so sure about statements that no such thing could ever exist in a rational scientific framework, however.

I only say this because it seems to me that Science can accept some really supernatural sounding concepts if there is a rational case being made for them.  Think of string theory with multiple dimensions, or the "multiverse" which suggests a nearly infinite number of big bangs happening inside some larger construct where whole universes come and go like bubbles in foam.   I once found a suggestion by a physicist that every electron in the universe may be the same single electron that is jumping time boundaries to appear everywhere at once to those of us observing it from our time bound viewpoint.  

These are some really big and crazy sounding concepts in a universe that is appearing more and more crazy as we learn more about it.  In the last analysis many of these concepts are also completely untestable and unobservable.  Yet, there are many scientists and "rationalists" who will gladly ponder these things because they are intriguing and there are ways with math and logic to make them appear plausible regardless of how crazy they may appear on the surface.   String theory is one of the more obvious examples of that.

There is also observational evidence of things we cannot resolve, such as dark matter and dark energy which have unremarkable sounding names but they are properties of the universe that appear to exist, but only as their effect.  What is creating the effect appears to be totally undetectable with all known means of scientific testing (for now at least).   With our current understanding of gravity, they also seem to hold an incredibly irrational amount of invisible power we can't account for.   This is not evidence of an invisible entity holding the universe together. . .  but it is certainly evidence that we have no business talking about our understanding of even something primal like gravity as "established fact" and we should be careful if we want to use the ability to detect things as the only standard of proof.

I am in the middle of a book called "The Self Aware Universe" by a quantum physicist who has turned into a sort of science mystic because he discovered the ancient monistic concepts of his Hindu upbringing within the framework of quantum physics.   It is not quite an anthropomorphic God concept (so far) but it certainly presents a concept of the universe that is not purely mechanical and materialistic like many would choose to believe.  He believes he has reached this view through rational means by examining the evidence.

I found myself speculating one day about infinity.   Infinity, as a matter of "fact", is a purely mathematical concept.  Infinity, as a reality of time or space in the universe, is a concept that makes rational sense but it is more of a leap of faith.  There is no way to test it for confirmation, so there are mixed views on the matter. What gets me, though, is that If we enter into some speculation about an infinite universe, then we could arrive at a supreme being concept just by using evolution and time. Take a universe full of intelligent species and project it forward a few billion or trillion years of additional evolution and it is not hard to imagine some sort of supremely evolved being as a result.  That's projecting forward in time.  But, If we can project the evolution of such a being by looking forward into infinite time, then the infinite amount of time behind us could also have already evolved it, could it not?    I'm way out on a limb here, I know. . . but how crazy is this, really,  compared to the rational thinking that brings us the 10 or 26 dimensions of string theory?  Or the theory that something comes from nothingness if enough time passes?  Where do the boundaries of being rational begin and end?  Are any and all speculations about a God type concept a taboo no matter what, just because of how long we have been telling ourselves that science killed God?

If we are truly rational is it proper to be something like a Theist or and Athiest who make declarations as if they are facts? Or is it better to always be agnostic, and acknowledge the possibilities while never totally committing to an absolute position on anything?  Even when it is something so central to many people's self identity such as believing in a God, or the lack of a God?  

I don't claim to have the answers, and I'm not here pitching a new God concept (except as a personally intriguing intellectual exercise).  I try to fall into the agnostic category for the most part. .  but I have no fear of speculating within reason and that often leads me to strange places where I wonder where the boundaries of being rational really are.  At this point I feel like the truly rational choice in a belief system is not to harbor any belief system at all . . .only a "possibility system" which is always open to change.  Science strives for this as a field, but can individuals really do it?   Latching onto tribal belief systems seems to be part of human nature.   It makes me wonder if any and all belief systems are in danger of becoming just another form of over confidence, self deception, and tribalism; even the ones who are trying to be rational.  



Is this a. . . rational. . . concern?   

Tags: Agnostic, Rational, Science, evolution

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I think you are forcing falsifiable into it's subcategory immediately falsifiable. The theory of black holes is falsifiable. The technology is possible, we simply have to wait a trillion years or so for the probe to arrive at the nearest black hole and for the data to return or until we develop technology at near light-speed. This makes the claim that "black hole theory is falsifiable" quite reasonable (besides deduction).

As per string theory and parallel universes a lot of scientists are very critical of it (including fellow atheist super star Lawrence Krauss) and agree that they are totally unfalsifiable theories.

I also think that a lot of what you are arguing about here is over an issue of popular science reporting rather than "how science works".

Roy has unfortunately climbed on the Electrical Universe cart and is enjoying the ride so much he can't see the cart is headed for a black hole.

Jump Roy Jump!!!

(before crackpot stupidity eats your mind)

Jeez man I'm just reading a book.  I haven't even gotten to his crackpot theory yet.   I'm just looking at his analysis of how cosmology conducts itself and I am finding a lot in common with my own concerns I have had lately.  I suppose you feel perfectly fine with the idea of 11 dimensions and invisible undetectable matter that fills the universe.  I call that a crackpot theory no matter how much freaking math they want to show me.

It might be more helpful if you provided information on what the problem with the book is rather than just throwing around loaded words like crackpot.  

Sheesh. . .  One guy in the skeptic club tells me to go read The Electric Universe . .  and 5 minutes later another skeptic tells me I'm becoming a crackpot by reading it.   Nice club you have here.  Very Scientific.

The theory of black holes is falsifiable. The technology is possible, we simply have to wait a trillion years or so for the probe to arrive at the nearest black hole and for the data to return or until we develop technology at near light-speed.

Well then what stops me from saying my theory that intelligence will/has dominated the universe will be falsifiable in a trillion years or until we create a time machine?

I wonder what the "God test" would look like. . . lol

We have an extremely promising theory that black holes exist based on countless observations of light from distance sources and the behaviour of celestial objects as well as solid mathematical explanation. Deductive reasoning has done black holes well.
On top of that we have the technology to verify this directly. A vehicle could be launched now, that can travel reliably through outer space, record data and send it back to earth. Our only limitation is time.
Your theory about intelligence dominating the universe is not a theory it's a prediction...the statistical likelihood of an extremely specific event happening in the future of which the only verification possible is when the event actually happens which quite reasonably could never happen (intelligence officially dominates the universe). Of course that's not falsifiable. It's no different than my theory that every one on earth will eventually become an atheist. It's not falsifiable until the specific event happens. On top of that how would you even define that very moment when intelligence has come to dominate the universe? What are the parameters?
As per god existing, could you explain a promising theory behind it (deduction from direct observation which can be repeated, math, direct observation, technology that is even on the drawing boards)?

We have unquestionable evidence that intelligence exists.  We know that it is driven to control its environment and discover the secrets of the universe.  We have evidence that in the past 100 years, technology and knowledge has advanced more than all of the advances in recorded history before it.  We have people using terms like "the miracles of technology"  "the miracles of modern medicine" because the things intelligence is achieving is happening almost faster than its ability to comprehend it as a natural ability.

We have projects like the work done on the Kardashev Scale:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale

They don't even seem to allow for the probability that intelligence WON'T eventually be able to harness the energy of the entire universe for it's purposes.  They say we could achieve it in as little asa a million years. . . long before even our own sun starts to die.  The ability to tap into the energy of the whole universe must be measurable or they wouldn't take it very seriously.   By your standards this is makes it falsifiable in a million years.

There is also plenty of evidence that intelligence will be able to gain control over matter and energy, freely converting one into another in any form that is necessary.  There is evidence that intelligence will gain the ability to move faster than light.   There is even speculation that it will be able to move into other universes if it has enough energy at it's disposal.  Any intelligence that can tap into the power of the universe would also have that level of power over matter and energy.

Nobody I have come across has ever put any limitations on human destiny.  At least until now, when I wonder aloud if it is our destiny to master the universe entirely and gain a level of advancement so powerful that universes can be put together as easily as a fish tank.   I guess that begins to look a lot like something omnipotent. . .  but that's exactly what something that can harness the power of the whole universe would look like.

All of this is no less falsifiable and no more or less "a prediction" than the statement that the universe will eventually fly apart because of gravity or  decay into black holes because of entropy.

It still seems like picking and choosing to me but I am certainly still willing to take my time thinking about what you have said.  Sometimes I only "get it" a little while after these conversations. 




We have unquestionable evidence that intelligence exists.  We know that it is driven to control its environment and discover the secrets of the universe.  We have evidence that in the past 100 years, technology and knowledge has advanced more than all of the advances in recorded history before it.  We have people using terms like "the miracles of technology"  "the miracles of modern medicine" because the things intelligence is achieving is happening almost faster than its ability to comprehend it as a natural ability.

Yeah, well, atheists don't believe in actual miracles, unless as awkward metaphors.

We have just about reached the outer limits of knowledge and discovery in some ways. We know about subatomic particles that can't possibly be any smaller and still be observable even indirectly and we have seen the very edge of the universe (e.g., Hubble deep field imagery). Any further direct  discoveries will be made within those limits. Another limit is distance, the nearest star is almost unimaginably far away. More than four light years. If someday we could travel at a third of the speed of light (which is itself not likely) it would take about 13 or 14 YEARS just to get there with an equally long trip to return. And so far, the only reason to go would be to take a look. Pure science, in other words. As far as I know, there is no habitable planet there.

As for the Kardashev scale, it is nothing more than a proposed classification system and is not necessarily any more helpful than, say, a classification system for mythological beings. It carries no probative weight whatsoever.

"As for the Kardashev scale, it is nothing more than a proposed classification system and is not necessarily any more helpful than, say, a classification system for mythological beings."

I think that's a stretch but fine, it's not Einstein's theory of relativity.  My point is that nobody is called a heretic of science for talking about it.  Well known scientists freely speculated about it in the most scientific way possible.   It's value is to inspire further work into predicting, or achieving, human destiny.  They also most certainly put quantifiable effort into how humans, rather than mythological beings, will fit into it:

>>>>>>


"Michio Kaku
 suggested that humans may attain Type I status in 100–200 years, Type II status in a few thousand years, and Type III status in 100,000 to a million years.[3]

Carl Sagan suggested defining intermediate values (not considered in Kardashev's original scale) by interpolating and extrapolating the values given above for types I (1016 W), II (1026 W) and III (1036 W), which would produce the formula

K = \frac{\log_{10}P - 6} {10},

where value K is a civilization's Kardashev rating and P is the power it uses, in watts. Using this extrapolation, a "Type 0" civilization, not defined by Kardashev, would control about 1 MW of power, and humanity's civilization type as of 1973 was about 0.7 (apparently using 10 terawatt (TW) as the value for 1970s humanity)"

/p>

Unseen's response is basically what I would have said

I think that's a stretch but fine, it's not Einstein's theory of relativity.  My point is that nobody is called a heretic of science for talking about it.  Well known scientists freely speculated about it in the most scientific way possible.   It's value is to inspire further work into predicting, or achieving, human destiny.  They also most certainly put quantifiable effort into how humans, rather than mythological beings, will fit into it:

It's not a theory. It's a proposal for sorting civilizations we'll probably never run into much less become into three categories.

Makes me think of the old joke, "There are two kinds of people: people who think there are two kinds of people and people who don't," which may at first seem a non sequitur, but it does underline that how one divides certain things up is optional, not imposed on one by nature (like creatures who have gills and ones who don't).

When I was a kid, there were three races: white, black, and Asian/other (other was miscellaneous dark-skinned peoples such as Pacific Islanders and Native Americans). Today, clearly, a race is whatever you want it to be. For example, Middle Eastern Arabs and Middle Eastern Jews are often thought of as distinct races, whereas genetically there isn't a dime's worth of difference between them. The only differences are cultural. That's an example of optional categorizing and how useless it can be.

The difference between your theory and the theory of black holes is simple. The theory of black holes means something. It has consequences. It opens doors to investigation. 

In other words, it's useful. 

Explain the usefulness of your theory.

You don't think that this theory opens up any questions about intelligence and it's relationship with nature?  What are the limitations of intelligence?  That would be a useful thing to know.  What relationship could intelligence have to this weirdness at the quantum level that some people are calling "thought" rather than mechanics?  That would be interesting to know.

It could be useful on the metaphysical side too.  Deism was a belief summed up very well by Thomas Pain in "The Age of Reason".   He basically said that the "word of God" was too big to be found in actual words and books.  It could only be found in the deep and sincere study of nature and those findings were the only thing we could ever truly consider the voice of the creator, at least as we use the terms.

I can see your eyes rolling even from here. . . but I don't think it is unreasonable to expect that different people need different ways to frame their view of the universe and we might not agree with them all.  If we can find mystical ways of viewing the universe that are still true to science, it would be a good start.

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