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Edgy Philosophy

Edgy Philosophy

I'm a conceited philosopher.

Clearly I am, because most of my philosophies are my own. With all due credit to my teachers, I can't help thinking my philosophies should be my own (and I think my better teachers would probably agree with me in some respects at least (reinforcing my original point)) because the philosophical method, the part of a method which is quintessentially philosophical, is the part which requires no experience-based evidence, in the sense that you don't look outside of what you already have necessarily to find the answer to the question you are investigating. This statement is itself up for philosophical querying; if you have no experience, you will not nave learned a language, and so, arguably, you are not sufficiently well-equipped to investigate anything academically. This seems to be true; without experience of the external world, you might be said to be bereft of any kind of knowledge whatsoever. Nevertheless, philosophising is still dependent on particular ways of proceeding. Whilst real-life occurrences are necessary for the philosopher's investigation (and the philosopher himself, come to that) to exist, nonetheless the philosophical part of his analysis of the situation is reasoned out, not discovered through physical experiment or empirical study. Analogously, a mathematician is capable of adding and subtracting from a hypothetical basket of apples, using the methods she has learned, without actually having a real basket of apples in front of her. As the mathematician proceeds with numbers, the philosopher proceeds with reason. Neither is the philosopher able to say "oh yeah, I know that's true because a guy I know with a PhD in philosophy said it's true!" A philosopher can't just tell you that the universe is infinite (and neither can a cosmologist so far), but a philosopher of science (particularly one with a mathematical background) is in a good position academically to have a go at arguing it must be (or must not) in theory.

For the philosopher, infinity is a metaphysical puzzle and for the mathematician, infinity is on the outskirts of ordinary comprehension of mathematical concepts - it may be used in calculation, but it frequently signifies a dead-end concept - in physics for example, if 'infinity' is the answer you arrive at, it is similar to 'everything' and 'nothing' being simultaneously your result. The mathematician is the authority on what infinity means, because it is a type of number. But the philosopher is good with the stuff no-one knows even how to find the answer to yet (like is there anything infinite out there?) Consider: if the universe is infinite, you need an infinite range of physical scenarios to fill it, which implies a multiverse of alternate universes where every reality is played out; or a repetition of scenarios, which implies parallel universes; or just…nothing….but then, what is nothing? Empty space? Atoms? Molecules? Gases? Mass? Gravity? Is an infinity of nothing any more plausible than an infinity of universes? Perhaps the universe isn't infinite, in which case, I guess we need some sort of…edge!

But what sort of edge are we talking about? An edge beyond which there is nothing at all? And what would that look like? This is where physics hands the reins over to the branch known as cosmology more completely, since outside of the actual known physical makeup of the universe - such as the times preceding and immediately after the big bang - the laws of physics as they are presently understood are virtually null. This is the situation because physical reality is constituted by space-time and, unfortunately for physics, space and time themselves were formed at the same time as the big bang, out of the big bang in fact. If the material world is dependent for its substance on space-time, anything which falls outside of the domain of space-time is not verifiable by scientific observation. Cosmologists make sense of how the universe might have come into being, based on arguments about what is physically possible, logically possible, and inferable, using the known laws of physics and a hell of a lot of imagination.

For a philosopher, especially a metaphysician (metaphysics is also known as the philosophy of science) this is a really interesting area of investigation, since not only does it involve him in hypothesis concerning the nature of reality over and above the accepted theories of scientific endeavour, not to mention at the roots of science itself (inquiries into what is space and what is time, for example), but also, as creation itself is the topic, theology comes into play at least as a contender for providing an explanation for how it all happened. For some, this is a dead end route to finding answers to how the universe came about, and the contention will receive a firm 'no'. At the very least a cosmological perspective has to respect the question of whether there was a being behind the act of creation, even if the answer is still a resounding 'no'. It is often regarded as a cosmological cul-de-sac because the non-believer sees god as a contentless analysis of how the universe was kick started. God, not existing, has no discernible characteristics, and therefore cannot be referred to for explanatory features of space-time, the big bang, life on earth etc. For the believer, there is very certainly a god-sized hole in the question of where the universe came from so far as physics and cosmology can determine. Although it might seem crude, simplistic and lazy, not to mention unscientific, to place the word 'god' at the causal end of questions about creation, with further consideration it might be seen how the universe is no less jam-packed with science in the event a god had something to do with it. Indeed, it might be seen as crude from a scientific point of view to view a creator as a featureless figure in the story of the cosmos, rather as a script writer could be rendered as insignificant as he is recognisable from the product of his efforts. Our universe has characteristics…thus, god has nature, the believer could posit.

I think it's worth pointing out, also, that the history of religion, whatever your view of it is, in all its complexity, does not necessarily reflect on the question of whether there is a god or not. This, I would argue, is a logical position to take. It seems natural to presume a god is not something someone else can tell you to believe in. Even if you subscribe to a particular religious faith, the faith itself is rooted in the supremacy of a god above all creatures - the buck stops with him, in other words.

Cosmology is a fascinating area of study where metaphysics and science overlap, and imagination, scientific knowledge and logic are used in combination to yield educated and informed speculations about whereof the universe popped into being (and to what destiny it is headed), the essence of existence and the nature of physical reality.

 
 

 

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