Posts Tagged ‘belief’

The atheist debate

January 4, 2015

Debating the existence of God and the relevance of religion is the doorstep to understanding the role of imagination in reality. Imagination is a tool of dynamics of reality- Imagination, shaped by the past of reality, shapes the future of reality. It evolves reality in time.

To explain the above statement with an example, consider a chess game. The board, the pieces and the players are real. The game setup and rules are imaginary. In the imagination, the board is a war-field, each piece is a certain type of warrior, and so on. The future of reality, i.e,  the next move to be made by the players is entirely guided by this imagination.

The sense of loss or win is also determined by the imagination. Losing a pawn is a much smaller loss than losing the queen- although in reality, they are both just pieces of plastic or wood.

God is an imaginary entity. So are the rules of religion and the associated wins and losses, rights and wrongs. In what way does it impact the reality? What is the magnitude of this impact? Is it possible for a civilization to exist without religion?

A civilization without a religion is likely to collapse internally or remain primitive. We could have seen why is this true, if we had a chance to watch the formation of a civilization, and observe how they came up with God and religion.  We can do so, but such an experiment will take several thousands of years, and so, it better be a thought experiment. 😀

A thought experiment

Let us choose an inhabitable, but uninhabited island, far off from the rest of the world as the site of our experiment. Let us then initiate a civilization, with young children. For a few generations, we have to silently protect them, making sure that they survive safe. Later on, we can cut off all contacts with that island. A a few generations later, the people in the island will forget about us, and it will grow just like any natural civilization; no civilization remembers a time when they didn’t have a language of communication and a system of documentation. They will eventually find us, after they invent ships and start sailing, but this will take a very long time.

We can observe how the civilization develops, from a remote sensing satellite.  Of course, this will take several generations of observation in reality, and that is the reason why this is a thought experiment.

This setting can be used to analyze many things. Our question here is of relevance of religion and God: Will the civilization in the island necessarily develop a religion and a God?  Let us refer to our history. We know of a large number of civilizations that existed sometime in the past, somewhere in the world. How many of these didn’t have a god or a religion? Turns out, most of the known civilizations have a religion and god(s), with extremely sparse exceptions. Pirahã people is one such example. They don’t believe in any deity, but they do believe in spirits. However, they are not an independently grown civilization; they are a subtribe of a bigger tribe. So, this doesn’t really tell us how to evolve the civilization in our island without a religion.

Does this mean that no civilization can exist without religion and God? There are two possibilities: One, religion is a part of the growth of a civilization, or two, all those civilizations that didn’t develop a religion collapsed too soon to leave any footprints of their existence, and so we don’t know about them. Perhaps, they collapsed because of not having a religion.

For one thing, the civilization in our island should say something about death; something nice like, dead people become stars in the sky, or they become spirits or, they go to heaven/hell. Otherwise, the civilization will collapse internally. People are glued in to a society by an emotional attachment(relation, friends,, etc). This attachment also has a bad facet – it causes anguish, particularly over death, which is certain. If it is not dissipated, it can potentially crush the civilization. So, a strong civilization needs a strong attachment and a robust way of dissipating destructive emotions. Evidently, rituals associated with death and afterlife are a big chapter in every religion.

Moving ahead, the most prominent feature of a religion is, it creates God, as a protector of all :D. Is it really necessary to have an imaginary protector? Will the civilization in our island develop such an imaginary protector?. Well, if it doesn’t, it will never explore outside the island, and so, it will make a very slow progress in science!. Let us see why:

A civilization will attach value to life of a person(and many more things), not only that a person values his own life, but also, others value his life. Any prospect of loss of life will therefore induce an emotion called fear. It prevents the civilization from exploring too far away from their safe home. An imagination of a protector, can create a counter emotion to fear and therefore make it possible to explore. Knowing that this protector is not real does not alter anything!; Imagination can create real emotions.  One example where this method of evading fear is employed is, explorations in the ocean. Sailors are known to be superstitious, in order to evade the fear due to risks in their sailing. (Sailor’s superstitions. Why aren’t there similar superstitions with today’s astronauts? This has a simple answer  😀 ). Therefore, the people in our island may never find us, if they don’t imagine a protector!

Exploration is the key for scientific progress. Scientific progress is not a process carried out by scientists alone. It is carried out by the entire society. Scientists need a strong support from all sections of the society. As an example, let us consider the big revolution brought by Newton’s laws of motion(they partly caused the industrial revolution). What does it take for the civilization in our island to make this breakthrough?. It takes three things, in order of decreasing importance:

  1. A thorough documented knowledge of the objects in the sky. This is accumulated by a thousand years of night sky observers
  2.  A thorough knowledge of the surface of the earth, and how the sky looks when viewed from different locations on the earth. This is gathered by exploratory sailors.
  3.  A genius like Isaac Newton

The people in our island will never get to this without being able to explore. As paradoxical as it is, science has gained a  little from some superstitions too!. :P. 

So, the civilization in our island should have a method of dissipating destructive emotions, in particular, it should have something nice to say about death. And it should also have a protector(or a means to evade fear). Do these two complete a religion? I don’t think so. I have considered only those aspects that affect the stability and growth of the civilization. Religion also has another kind of value that is shared by the arts- music, dance, stories etc. In societies where religion is strong, it appears to influence the way people think(something I don’t understand). That is a subject of another blog post. I will conclude now by saying, man created God, and then God created man!. 

Conceiving and convincing

May 30, 2012

Imagine, we are given a task to fill up as many pages as possible on word, in a given time, with the letter ‘A’. One way is to copy ‘A’ into the clip board and keep pressing Ctrl V. This is the AP(Arithmetic Progression) way. There is another way; we can copy ‘A’ and keep pressing ctrl C, Ctrl A, ctrl V in sequence. This is the GP way. Mathematics tells us that although Ctrl V appears once in three buttons, the GP method is faster. This is not obvious for a common man at the first sight. And most of the public, are insensitive to logical arguments. Nevertheless, one can convince anyone of this fact, simply by demonstrating it.

The above is an example of what I call as an operationally testable statement. However there are statements which are not operationally testable. The man on the platform, says “the train is moving”; while, the man in the train says “the platform is moving”. Usually, a common man assumes that the man on the train is wrong; he knows the ‘truth’- the train is moving. The profound realisation is that, neither of them are wrong. But there is no way to demonstrate it! This concept of relative motion is operationally un-testable. So much so, that this un-testability was responsible for the Galileo affair. (besides religious concerns)

In fact, most of the statements with profound reasoning are operationally un-testable. For instance, the counter intuitive results of cantor, like the number of points on a side of a cube, the number of points on a face and the number of points inside its volume, are all equal; it is impossible to trisect an angle using a straight edge and a compass. A common man certainly has problems with accepting it. And unfortunately, there is no operational way to convince him of this fact; i.e, a person who assumes the contrary will not be punished for being wrong. 😀 Hence it is apparent that there is no way to convince the public of these facts.

To digress a bit, I often say utilising an object is to do something with it, which cannot be done without using it :D. By that token, reasoning should be used to conceive (currently)un-testable facts. Because, operationally testable facts can be conceived even without reasoning. Hence, real utilisation of reasoning is to conceive operationally un-testable facts.

How do I convince a common man of such facts? In the first place, should one care to convince someone who is not sensitive to logic? To answer these questions, I shall consider examples from the history where the task of convincing the public has been accomplished.

The earth is not flat, but spherical, and further, it is not at rest, it is rotating and revolving. These two are among the most profound, but operationally un testable realisations. However, they are widely accepted by the public!. Let us examine how were the public convinced of these. Aristotle conceived that the earth is spherical. At that time this would have been counter intuitive and operationally un testable; So, he would have had a great trouble in convincing people about it. It is clear that he did care about convincing people about it; why else would he list down the common fallacies in logic committed by people 😀 (see ‘Aristotle’s 13 fallacies’). And the way he did it, was to impose it as a belief. This is clear from how people believed everything that Aristotle said.

Most of the public today, believe that the earth is in a complicated motion. They just believe– they don’t really know the reasoning which led to this fact!. In fact, to really go through the reasoning, one has to understand relative motion. This was the major trouble with accepting Galileo’s arguments; he was asked to prove that the earth is moving (for which he gave a wrong argument :P). And it is apparent that most of the public don’t really appreciate relative motion. So, it is clear that they have been convinced of the heliocentric theory, just by imposing it as a belief. This, is not very different from religion!. Isn’t it unjustified for an intellectual to impose a belief?

Majority of people are insensitive to logical reasoning; ie, if the result of a logical reasoning is against their intuition or religious or any other concerns, they cease to accept it. Therefore, it is impossible to propagate the picture of moving earth, through reasoning. If it was not propagated as a belief, the public would have accepted a different picture of the earth, still as a belief!. Hence it is not unjustified, to propagate a belief, if it is necessary to convince them of these facts.

It is clear that whether or not a statement gets propagated as a belief among the public doesn’t depend on whether the statement is based on a sound reasoning or not!. It depends on the ability to impose a belief among the public, of the person who conceived it. This means, almost anything can be propagated as a belief!. That is a little disturbing :D. There ought to be a fundamental difference between conceiving a statement out of rigorous logical reasoning, and claiming without a strong logical background. I guess this difference is brought out in the confidence: the confidence attained by conceiving a fact through thorough reasoning is stronger. I guess(hope :P) this difference can be utilised to beat the propagation of unsupported claims.

Finally, I come to the question I postponed to the end. Is it necessary to care about convincing others? Again let’s ask (old)people :D.Usually, mathematicians don’t care about the public; after conceiving a result, they wouldn’t worry about convincing. Kepler, who went a long way ahead of Galileo, at the same time, didn’t care to convince everyone; that is why he doesn’t have an affair attached to his name, unlike Galileo :D. Apparently, he was able to go that far simply because he didn’t care about convincing people. It is clear that Galileo and Aristotle cared about convincing people. If none of the physicists and mathematicians care about convincing others, their next generation to be physicists and mathematicians will find it hard to see the facts amidst misconceptions. Avoiding this is the only possible motivation for a physicist/mathematician to get in to the job of convincing, as far as I can see right now. This post is the longest one so far, and has crossed 1K words 😀 and so I stop here 😀 😀

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