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Viewing the world through a different lens...

Children’s Philosophy Books

Every philosophy library should have a children’s section, and this is one of the books that belongs inside it:


A Definition of the Term “Philosopher”

A philosopher is somebody who fulfills one of the following two criteria:

a) he or she is unarguably a philosopher or

b) it may be argued if he or she is really a philosopher.

Whether somebody belongs into a) or b) depends on the time, affiliation to a certain school etc. of the observer making the judgement.


The Universon

File:The incomplete circle of everything.svg

Modern science has restricted the area where one can wildly speculate to some very narrow fields. Gone are the days when natural philosophers could allow their imagination to roam unhindered. Somebody like Leibniz (see my previous post) could still come up with rather crazy ideas. New ways to open up windows into reality, like the microscope invented by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, allowed Leibniz to come up with new speculations about microscopic universes. So while in the long run, such inventions put ever tighter restrictions on imagination, for some time they even extended it.

Today, however, only small pockets of speculation are left. One is the era of extremely high energies in the first instances of time after the big bang. Energy was so high that it will always remain impossible to reach it in any experiment. If there are different ideas about how the world functioned in that first instance, we will never be able to distinguish between them by any experiment and rule out the wrong ones. Here the borderline between physics and metaphysics is blurred and beyond it, you can still indulge in speculation.

The following idea certainly belongs into that realm of speculation. It certainly belongs into the “crazy idea of the month” category and I am not really serious about it.

An unsolved puzzle is why there is matter, why matter and antimatter did not cancel out each other completely. Perhaps there is some asymmetry between them. Well, it looks like there is one, but it seems to be not big enough. So what happened?

Perhaps matter and antimatter where created in equal amounts and then separated. What could have led to such a separation? One idea that came to my mind is that, although we think of elementary particles as being small, there is, to my knowledge, no known reason why the mass of an elementary particle should not be very large. That the ones we know are small is due to the fact that our particle accelerators, the technology we have to generate them, is limited in its ability to concentrate a large amount of energy in a very small space. But maybe some “elementary particles” are possible that have a mass that is much, much larger. Consider that there is such a particle whose mass equals the mass of the whole observable universe, and perhaps more. Consider a pair of such a particle and its antiparticle are generated in the first instance of the universe, perhaps even many such particle-antiparticle-pairs. They are then separated by the expansion of the universe and then they decay into lighter particles. On of them decays into all the particles that make up our universe, its antiparticle decays equally into the antimatter-particles of an anti-universe. Since all the matter is bundled together into one particle initially and all the antimatter into another one means that matter and antimatter are cleanly separated. The result is a set of universes, each consisting predominantly of one type of matter.

I call this speculative kind of particle the “Universon”.

Granted, this is not science but speculative metaphysics. I don’t believe in it, but it is fun to speculate unabated like that. Maybe the old natural philosophers also did not really believe in all the crazy stuff they invented and published. Did Leibniz believe in his monads and microcosms? Maybe; maybe not. Maybe it was just fun. The restrictions imposed by religion had loosened and the restrictions imposed by science had not yet set in.

Thinking underwent a phase transition, from the solid state of the Scholastic-Aristotelian doctrine to a somewhat liquid or even gaseous state. Later it condensed again and crystallized into the new solid state of modern science. In between everything was possible. The discoveries of the time created enough new information to blow apart the old certainties, but not yet enough constraints to force thinking into new ones.

Speculating about the Universon gives me a glimpse of the intellectual fun possible back in those days.

(The pictures are from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_incomplete_circle_of_everything.svg and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ptolemy_Sky.jpg. The first picture shows a  “Graphic representation of the standard model of elementary particles”. It is interesting here that the arangement of information in the form of a circle is attempted, not unlike attempts of old alchemists to arange everything into a neat order, while the circle and its segments do not have any clear semantics in this graphic representation.  The second picture shows a depiction of a version of the old geocentric worldview. There was a considerable degree of speculation and variation even back in medieval times (e.g. the idea of the bishop Robert Grosseteste that the universe started as a point of pure light that expanded into everything), but religion put constraints on speculation).

Twisted Language

File:Christoph Bernhard Francke - Bildnis des Philosophen Leibniz (ca. 1695).jpg

It looks like I have a rather twisted relationship with the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Lebnitz…

Language is not fixed, it is developing, being extended in different ways. Such extensions include things like musical notations, mathematical and chemical notations, and formalized nomenclatures. For example, there is a substance called (6E,13E)-18-bromo-12-butyl-11-chloro-4,8-diethyl-5-hydroxy-15-methoxytricosa-6,13-dien-19-yne-3,9-dione (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IUPAC_nomenclature_of_organic_chemistry). And that is probably a simple one. Progreess in certain areas of knowledge leads to the development of such extensions of our semiotic toolkit (and that is what language is).

A recent example is genealogy, where new software and the digitalization of lots of church books, family papers and other sources leads to the generation of a new extension of language. For example, it looks like I have a rather twisted and crooked relationship with the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. According to the Geni web site, he is my “third cousin 9 times removed’s wife’s nephew’s wife’s great grandfather’s wife’s husband’s wife’s husband’s niece’s husband’s daughter’s husband’s first cousin”. (Essentially that means that he is not related to me 🙂 ).

Ludwig Wittgenstein (I don’t know what kind of relationship I have to him, he is on a yet unconnected island, so to speak) compared language to an ancient city with a maze of little streets and squares in its center, surrounded by new quarters with strait regular streets. This long genealogical formulas appearing on the internet are perhaps a new instance of such a new quarter, although we have to take a bus to travel them, since without the help of a machine, they are a maze (while we have no difficulties navigating the wound  streets and narrow alleyways of the historic center).

I think the formal linguists are wrong in their belief that language can be completely formalized. It is changing all the time (in normal language change) and it is adapting and being extended in novel ways, (increasingly with the help of machines).

(The picture is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christoph_Bernhard_Francke_-_Bildnis_des_Philosophen_Leibniz_(ca._1695).jpg)


In Search of a New Philosophical Term

I am looking for a new philosophical term. A short (perhaps one, two or three syllable) word for an entity that exists but cannot be described completely by any single formal theory (or algorithm). I believe human beings, their societies and cultures are such entities, but I think many physical systems are such entities as well. The word “system” actually does not fit here because it has a connotation of something systematic, that is something that can be captured completely by some theory. I am thinking of physical entities for which the set of equations describing them cannot be solved except for special cases, i.e. where the mathematical description contains functions that are not turing-computable. In mathematics, such entities are known, entities for which it can be shown that every formal theory of them is incomplete. You may always be able to extend a given theory, but the resulting theory will be incomplete again. Such entities cannot be exhaustively described in terms of a formal theory. If physical “systems” of this kind exist, they cannot be perfectly simulated by any algorithm. They would generate new information (new with respect to any given theory). Something as simple as a set of three bodies moving around each other might already be such a system (it looks like the “three body problem” cannot be solved exactly. Kurt Ammon called (a certain kind of) such objects “creative systems” but I want to avoid the term “system”. Any suggestions? It might be a synthetic neologism, but should capture the idea in such a way that it has a chance to catch on.

Much of science is built on the tacit assumption that everything can be described in terms of formal theories. Everything is a “system” in this sense. But this is just a hypothesis and I think it is wrong. In mathematics, there are mathematical entities that are not completely formalizable (i.e. they have more true properties than can be derived in any single theory about them). If such things exists in mathematics, there is no a-priori reason they cannot exist in physical reality as well. What exists and what can be formalized is not necissarily the same. I want a short and crisp term for the unformalizable. The hypothesis that everything that exists is formalizable is built into our language. There is no short, simple word for the non-formalizable (yet). There is a large range of possibilites we cannot see because our language has been restricted.