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Discussion (60)¬

  1. paradoctor says:

    The Paradox of Origin is: what originated the origin? Therefore, what created God? What implies logic? The paradox, by nature, has no solution: any solution proposed is invalid.

  2. M27Holts says:

    Aye. No skyhooks required by evolution…and lets not have any no-nowt smart-arses bringing up thermo-dynamics or pseudo scientific clap-trap…

  3. Roger Allen says:

    Spinoza seems to have been the first person to ask “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The fact that it took so long for someone to ask it at all is an interesting aspect of human thinking.

  4. Jesus F Iscariot says:

    Origin becomes a paradox since human thinking is geared to considering beginnings and ends for time and distance. Accept infinity for both measures and there is no paradox. Whatever explanatory fantasies Jesus and Mo and your high school science teacher might promulgate—they don’t have any evidence. All speculation. Who created the creator? Ain’t one. Please nominate me for a Nobel in physics.

  5. Laripu says:

    M27Holts, regarding your comment on the previous J&M about scam calls… I get at least a dozen a day. As I wrote this it’s 5:40 pm and my phone log shows 11.

    One thing I don’t do, is say any words of agreement or assent. If they say “Hello is this Ignatz Laripu?” I don’t say yes, I say “who’s this?” Some scam artists have been known to cut/paste a “yes” into a completely different question, possibly like “May I subscribe you for a service and put a lien on your property?” – or something like that.

    Your other remark about stupid people getting fleeced is true of course. But any examination of the normal distribution for IQ, shows that stupid people are the majority. … Ain’t nuffin’ ken be done ’bout thet… so to speak.

    Sometimes it seems like the economy of the United States is based on exploiting that fact: the stupid serving the lazy and the unscrupulous scamming the stupid.

    I’m feeling extra cynical today.

  6. Smee says:

    The scammers will have a harder job after the pandemic. The only silver lining to COVID will be fewer stupid people In the world, anti Vader’s, anti mask wearers.

  7. Oldtoosoon says:

    Have some fun with them……Tell them “Sure, I’m interested in (insert product being sold here)”
    When they ask for your name, try “Mr Wayne, first name Bruce”
    “Address?”……..”Wayne Manor”

    Most fun to be had when the call centre is in a non-english speaking country, for some reason 😛

  8. OtterBe says:

    Your state DMV may be selling your number. Virginia’s does, so now the number I give them is to the office of Virginia’s Commissioner of Revenue. I always ask any state or federal agency >why< they need my number for their files-and balk when appropriate. That cut my unknown calls considerably.

    When I do get ‘unknown number’( and geographically remote from me ), I simply swipe to answer & keep quiet: the vast majority simply hang up after 8-10 seconds. Doing this religiously
    ( intended! ) for the last year has cut them from as many as 10 per day down to 2-3 per week.


  9. Len says:

    @ Oldtoosoon
    I simetimes get calls from “the Microsoft Computer Centre” telling me my PC is in danger of being hacked. I try to keep them chatting for as long as possible (I can sometimes manage around 20 minutes), as if I’m having difficulty understanding what they want me to do to fix it, before mentioning that I use a Mac. That generally shuts them up for a few weeks, or even months.

  10. Laripu says:

    Len: A friend of mine from work gets calls purporting to be from Microsoft (but actually from India) telling him his computer has viruses and asking him to go to a website and click on links.

    He puts on a blithely happy voice and tells them “But I LIKE those viruses! They’re my FAVORITES! I don’t WANT to get rid of them!”

    Apparently those scammers aren’t allowed to hang up. They are required to keep you talking. I’m not sure why. I just either hang up immediately or mute the phone (because I’m working). Spam callers rarely leave messages.

    The latest ones I get consist of a recording telling me that they see that I’ve signed up for Social Security disability payments. I haven’t. Also, I get multiple calls and texts asking me to sell either my house or a property I bought as an investment. I hang up on the calls, but to the texts, I reply with the word SPAM copy/pasted over 100 times.

    Smee: you may be right about there being fewer stupid people, but I’m not certain that’s the case. We’ll see. I know a software engineer who’s an anti-vax, anti-mask, Republican. There may be many people of above average intelligence who are – inexplicably – on that side. I also know people of average intelligence who are fully vaccinated.

  11. jb says:

    I may have mentioned this before, but the only hypothesis I have ever run into that seems even remotely capable of answering the “why is there something rather than nothing” question is Max Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis, which basically proposes that there is no reality aside from mathematics, that all math is equally real, and that we are simply mathematical structures that are sufficiently complex to be self-aware. There are some serious objections to this hypothesis, which are spelled out in the Wikipedia article I linked to (this one in particular bothers me), but even so, it’s the only idea I’ve ever run into that seems to have any chance at all of being right.

    (Oh, and I highly recommend Tegmark’s book on the subject, which goes into multiple versions of the multiverse, not just his own ideas).

  12. oake says:

    Author, In panel one “existence” has a superfluous “s” in it.

  13. M27Holts says:

    I always thought that the maths I was studying was far more real than “Mr Jackson” the RE teacher….

  14. postdoggerel says:

    “The laws of relativistic quantum field theories entail that vacuum states are unstable.” – Lawrence Krauss, A Universe From Nothing

    Corollary: The elusive ‘God particle’ discovered by scientists in 2012 has the potential to destroy the universe, famed British physicist Stephen Hawking has warned… “This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light.”

    Synthesis: So it’s God in the end then? And math is the sole survivor of the great defenestration.

  15. Donn says:

    The MUH is based on the radical Platonist view that math is an external reality.” … which to me seems like it’s rather asking for a convincing defense, but the discussion that follows in the wikipedia article goes off on a tangent about critter math capabilities. The central thesis seems like nonsense. What does “abstract” mean?

  16. M27Holts says:

    Abstract? Er I’ve always used the computing definition and not the artistic or lamguage meanings…

  17. M27Holts says:

    As in OO design, Abstract Class…

  18. Donn says:

    Applies there the same – no instance may exist of your abstract class, right?

  19. M27Holts says:

    Aye, it’s a fundamental part of inheritance and supports polymorphism as well. Basically a template class…so that name could have been used…

  20. M27Holts says:

    And their are interfaces as well…mind you it’s a while since I have cut any serious code. My time is now spent on systems analysis and best practice in oo design and scrum programme delivery strategies v waterfall models…

  21. M27Holts says:

    Use the wrong there…god I’m shit at English….

  22. Donn says:

    Funny, someone put those strategies in her campaign for city council here, I guess making a pitch for the techies, who are quite numerous here in the heart of the Amazon. But running counter to that herd, politically, and it didn’t exactly catch fire. I’m old school myself and I’m sure a scrum would make short work of me, and anyway I’m no great fan of OO, lean more to the functional side myself.

    The point being that mathematics is abstract, not real, and the wikipedia article’s digression into human vs. chimpanzee cognitive abilities seems to lose the plot. There’s a linked discussion of “ontic structural realism” that seems to have a good deal more substance, abstractly speaking.

  23. jb says:

    “The point being that mathematics is abstract, not real…”

    The point of the MUH is that mathematics is not an abstraction that describes what is real, because there is no “real” to describe. The description is all that there is. Our universe appears to be described by a certain set of equations. But why those equations, rather than others? As someone once put it, what is it that “breathes fire” into those particular equations?

    The answer, according to the MUH, is “nothing.” All mathematical structures are equally “real.” What distinguishes the mathematical structure of our universe from some — but probably not all! — other mathematical structures (such as, say, the set of integers) is that it is sufficiently complex that it can describe self-awareness. In a way the MUH is an extension of the simulation hypothesis, which says that it doesn’t matter whether our consciousness is instantiated in neurons or computer circuits, because it’s the structure that matters, not the substrate. But if the structure is what matters, then why do you even need a substrate? And if the behavior of particles in our universe is perfectly described by a given set of equations, then why do you even need “particles.”

    Anyway, I wouldn’t rely on either my comment here or the Wikipedia article. If this is something that interests you then you really want Tegmark’s book.

  24. M27Holts says:

    Ok. But if all you need is a description, how do you parameterise the variables that constitute the observers of that description…

  25. postdoggerel says:

    Donn, it’s Gödels all the way down.

  26. Donn says:

    Never could get started with that stuff.

  27. jb says:

    “Ok. But if all you need is a description, how do you parameterise the variables that constitute the observers of that description…”

    There are no parameters. The observers are not separate from the description, they are included in it, as assemblies of particles that are configured in such a way as to be self-aware. There is no outside observer.

    I don’t want to push this too hard. As I said, there are objections. But what’s impressed me is that this is the first explanation I’ve come across that didn’t suffer from the problem of infinite regress — i.e., the need to explain your explanation. God needs an explanation (why does He exist?), but, arguably anyway, mathematics just is.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Anyway, you have intrigued me enough to buy Mr Tegmarks book, ordered it from amazon…

  29. M27Holts says:

    That twas me…

  30. Laripu says:

    It’s not a stretch to imagine that people have a problem with MUH. Postdoggerel’s comment “it’s Gödels all the way down” makes sense. If it’s all math, and presumably consistent, the fact that we can count means that whatever math it is, something exists that isn’t describable by it… so it isn’t just math.

    The Wikipedia article on MUH has a section on “Consistency with Gödel’s theorem”. It says that Tegmark limits physical existence to fully decidable structures. This seems like bullshit. Like “it’s all math, but only the math we can prove”. Bleh. When mathematicians prove that a statement is independent of a set of axioms, it makes two kinds of new math: one where that statement is an axiom, and one where its negation is an axiom. Since all mathematical systems are based on axioms, what would Tegmark’s starting point be for the universe’s mathematics? Current physics? 🙂

    Long ago, I understood that Gödel’s theorem implies that the job of understanding reality is never done. There isn’t a single mathematical theory/structure/logical system that describes every-everything. Gödel proved there can’t be, because any useful system can’t even describe itself. By useful, I mean consistent and capable of generating natural numbers, as per Gödel. (That’s also why no religious text can be ultimate knowledge. I’m required to say that in this context. 🙂 )

    There are epistemological questions too. What is the limit of human understanding? What is the limit of the understanding of not only humans, but also of any computing device that comes from humans. (In the sense that it is created by computing devices which were created by computing devices which were… initially created by humans.) That body of knowledge you could call Human-Complete, and it would still be subject to Gödel’s Theorem.

    Hairless apes should live with the knowledge that they have little knowledge and will always have little knowledge. Existence is bigger than our ability to suss it out. We should have some humility.

    So: maybe I’ve misunderstood it all. No problem. That won’t affect my current taxes or insurance rates.

  31. M27Holts says:

    My grandma told me (sat on her knee) that her grandma had told her that she (as a girl) would have scoffed at the idea of man flying in a machine, and a mam on the moon! Similarly, in 1983 when I started work, the mobile phone network and voice over IP and massive network speeds were pie-in-the-sky. I reckon mankind will discover the fundamental properties of the universe (if they avoid extinction) but not in my lifetime…

  32. Donn says:

    If you can say this mathematical universe “just is”, can’t you also say the objectively observable universe “just is”? To put it another way, if you need to explain how the observable universe came into being, wouldn’t you be required to do the same for the mathematical universe?

  33. Rrr says:

    Prizewinning one-line doggerel of all time-space:
    Donn, it’s Gödels all the way down.

  34. postdoggerel says:

    it’s axiomatic according to Gödel
    to always expect another hurdle
    all the way down
    to the primordial ground
    to find the original turtle

  35. Rrr says:

    Aah, almost a perfect Limerick! So rare these days.
    No complaint!

  36. postdoggerel says:

    instead of pursuing preemption
    many are seeking exemption
    among the devoted
    who aren’t antidoted
    there appears to be no damn redemption

  37. jb says:

    If you can say this mathematical universe “just is”, can’t you also say the objectively observable universe “just is”?

    I don’t think so, because at a fundamental level mathematical and physical reality are different. The observable universe is made up of “stuff” (matter, energy, etc.), and that stuff seem contingent, in that it’s very easy to imagine it (or at least some of it!) not existing. This makes it natural to ask “why is there stuff rather than no stuff”? Mathematics is not contingent in the same way. It’s essentially impossible for a sane person to imagine two plus two not equaling four, so it’s much more difficult to ask “why is there math rather than no math”? Yes, you can string the words together, but they don’t have the same force. Since the time of the ancients people have seen mathematics as a fundamentally different sort of reality than physical reality, so if you can root the latter in the former you’ve made real progress, and given that up until now nobody has made any sort of progress at all that would be huge.

  38. postdoggerel says:

    jb – when the sound barrier was broken, without the pilot losing his life, and when the programs that predicted the reentry of the space shuttle and the landing on the moon were predicted correctly, it was by virtue of “having the math” that made all the difference.

  39. Donn says:

    Because matter “seems contingent”!? I don’t find that a very compelling reason why the universe had to have been created by an eternal agency. The particular form of physical stuff of the universe certainly has gone through changes in its lifetime, but intuition isn’t a sufficient basis for saying it had to come from somewhere else.

    If I’m going to posit the existence of something that isn’t itself part of the universe, I don’t think I’d care to bet that the math of our universe would be valid there.

  40. Donn says:

    Ha ha, oops – eternal agency -> external agency.

  41. Laripu says:

    JB – Aren’t the sentences
    “the universe was created by a god”
    “the universe is mathematics”
    both expressions of faith? Is there evidence for either one?

    How would we know the difference between a universe created to function -just so- by a god, who subsequently has nothing more to do with it, compared to a universe that just is?

    How would we know the difference between a universe that just is and a universe that is mathematics?

  42. M27Holts says:

    Anyway, I want the mathematical formula that would make Scarlet Johannsen want to sit on my face and wriggle….

  43. postdoggerel says:

    M27Holts , Euler’s identity.

  44. M27Holts says:

    ^haha , a good mathematical joke….and yet I reckon ms Johansson wriggling herself to orgasm on my tongue is not as impossible as squaring a circle…. 🙂

  45. M27Holts says:

    Though its close….

  46. Walterwalcarpit says:

    What a fascinating esoteric discussion.
    I can say that I understood the limericks and that two plus two equals four but very little else.
    Indeed I fully expected someone to contend that two plus two did not always equal four.

  47. jb says:

    Because matter “seems contingent”!? I don’t find that a very compelling reason why the universe had to have been created by an eternal agency.

    External agency? Where did I say anything about an external agency? Or creation?

    I’m not sure why you are having trouble following this. “Contingent” means that something could conceivably have been different. The Earth could have been larger, or smaller, or different other ways, or even not exist at all. Since you can imagine the Earth not existing, asking why the Earth exists is a sensible question. Asking why the entire physical universe exists is sensible in exactly the same way.

    Math is different. Math is not contingent. You can string the words together and say “I can imagine two plus two not equaling four”, but frankly, if you said that, I would believe you were lying. I do not believe you — or any sane person — can actually imagine that. So asking why two plus two equals four is not a question most people find very interesting. It just does. With all due respect to Bertrand Russell, it’s obvious. It follows that if you can equate the physical and mathematical universes then you will have answered the question “why is there something rather than nothing” to the satisfaction of most people. If math can’t not exist, and the universe is just math, then the universe can’t not exist either. Q.E.D.

    Aren’t the sentences “the universe was created by a god” and “the universe is mathematics” both expressions of faith? Is there evidence for either one?

    For the most part Tegmark’s argument is speculative — i.e., here is a possible answer to a question that nobody else has been able to make any progress on — but there is a section towards the end of his book where he does offer what he considers to be actual evidence for the truth of the MUH. I’m not going to try to summarize that evidence here, as it involves a statistical argument I’m not sure I fully understand, and Tegmark acknowledges that it’s nowhere near a proof. For me the appeal of the MUH not not as something to firmly believe in, but as a possible answer to a question that I previously couldn’t imagine allowing even the possibility of an answer. But now it’s like “Oh wow, maybe that’s the answer!” Fun stuff!!!

  48. jb says:

    Also, Donn, what tags do you use for the strike-through effect? Do you have tags for underline as well? Standard bold and italic tags work for me everywhere, but that doesn’t seem to be true of all tags, and I don’t want to experiment here.

  49. Donn says:

    Strike through is ... (hope that works, but I don’t mind goofing around a little here on Tuesday.) I’ve got nothing for underline – I expect “strong” will just be the same as “i” and “em”, italic font, and “b” is bold font.

    Whether the earth could be bigger or smaller, or a seagull crap could have fallen on my head instead of the sidewalk, are not really the kind of questions that make me wonder about the origin of the cosmos. Like I said above, if a there were (or is) a real alternative – an alternative universe – yeah, I don’t think it’s guaranteed that two plus two equals four there.

    Universe to me means “like, everything” – not just all the matter/energy, but also of course all the space there is, and with it all the physical laws, and once you’ve put all that on the shelf alongside “something else”, I don’t think we have solid basis to guarantee that the math will hold over there.

  50. Donn says:

    Rats, I guess “code” doesn’t do what I thought. Strike is “s” … “/s”, with angle brackets around each of the two terms. And apparently strong is bold. There were also “a href= title=”, “abbr title=”, “acronym title=”, “blockquote cite=”, “cite”, “del datetime=”, and “q cite=”. It seems to me the “a” tag works – you can present a link with the title text – but if I remember right, q, blockquote and cite are just synonyms for i and em – just another way to italicize the text.

  51. Dr John the Wipper says:

    Indeed I fully expected someone to contend that two plus two did not always equal four.

    You want a simple example?
    Let’s say a reasonable length as 10000 km.
    Assume you are on earth.
    Walk (or go by some other way) that reasonable length.
    Turn 90 degrees.
    Go another reasonable length.
    I leave it to you to estimate how many reasonable lengths you are from your starting point.

  52. Donn says:

    Why not turn 180°?

  53. Dr John the Wipper says:


    I like to leave SOME challenge…

  54. postdoggerel says:

    Walterwalcarpit, “I fully expected someone to contend that two plus two did not always equal four.”
    Obviously there are no right wing republican/tea party members who are readers of J&M.

  55. Laripu says:

    Dr John… I’m not going to solve that, but it would be the arc length of a great circle on a WGS-84 earth ellipsoid… connecting the origin and terminal point … assuming the walk occurred on sea level terrain.

    2+2 is 1 (mod 3)
    that’s the snark you get from me
    there’s no point in asking why
    the point is on a slice of π

  56. Alex says:

    jb: Gödel showed that we can’t prove that an axiomatic system is consistent, so the whole of maths is on pretty shaky foundations. Ultimately, the only justification for maths is that it seems to produce useful real-world predictions.

    Arguably, then: maths is contingent.

  57. M27Holts says:

    Anyway…I have the book, as with anything the important question is…what flavour of Pi is most used in our universe?

  58. Rrr says:

    Donn re why not turn 180°
    Haha, that reminds me of the joke about a math student doing military service. Every week all mattresses must be turned over. Well this sprout figured why not instead turn it over 360° every two weeks and save some work.

  59. Rrr says:

    Wonderful, slices of pies in the skies!

    Alex: From my vague recollection of Hofstaedter’s GEB:EGB, Gödel’s thesis is that any such system cannot be BOTH consistent AND complete. Pick one.

  60. Someone says:

    @postdoggerel “God Particle” has nothing to do with god. It’s an unfortunate choice of name for just another sub atomic thing that will explain some of how the current level of understanding works. The next question then becomes: but how does _it_ work etc..


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