Sciligion; gang of 3 to 5

[From Bill Powers (921212.1400)]

Greg Williams (921212)

RE: Science and religion

There are two sides to religion. One of them, the good side,
consists of the attempt to adopt and live out principles that
make civilization possible. As most people never think about such
things except in the context of a religion, one wonders what the
world would be like without such formalized social systems of

The bad side shows up because people have different religions. If
those living under principles of love and tolerance could
actually live up to those principles, all would be well. But
aside from the fact that not all religions preach universal
brotherhood, it doesn't seem possible for people to live up to
their religious principles when those principles disagree with
someone else's.

The basic reason, I think, is the assumption of supernatural
origin of the religious principles. When you believe that you are
in receipt of the word of God, directly or through an authorized
dealer, there can be no tolerance for deviations. The word of God
is absolute. This means that if a different group claims to have
heard a different word, or a different interpretation of words,
the other group must simply be wrong. Every religious group must
feel this way about every other group, no matter what they say.
Very quickly this comes down to the choice of converting the
other group to the true belief ("saving" them), isolating from
the other group, or eliminating the other group.

Each group, of course, must resist all attempts by the other
group to evangelize, because succumbing would be going against
the word of God. The loop gain, with respect to adhering to the
word of the Infinite, must be infinite. This means that even
minor differences of doctrine can lead to maximum conflict.

All that saves us from continuous violent confrontation between
religions is that very few people are actually as religious as
they think they are, or claim to be.


John Gabriel (921212 12:44CST) --

Maybe that principle should be "Thinking the unthinkable so we
don't have to try to do the undoable."

So far, as near as I can tell, thinking the unthinkable usually
seems to result in doing the unthinkable. We just keep redefining
what is unthinkable. Burning living people to death was once
quite thinkable, then became unthinkable, and then became
thinkable again. Anything you can imagine is a potential
reference signal.
I have to confess that you guys are way over my head. The one
sentence that stood out for me was

That is to say, the mathematics has degrees of freedom which
are lost once you go [to] a physical system of any kind.

This is a nice way of putting my objections to an
overmathematicized approach to anything. Mathematics deals with
abstract relations, which usually means that mathematical systems
apply to a great many worlds that do not actually exist.

And it's not only the degrees of freedom that collapse when you
try to apply a mathematical system to physical systems. Very
often the premises collapse, too. What if the brain's operation
does not consist of a large set of ordinary differential
equations? What if the ECSs of the brain are not a multitude of
tiny independent systems, but a much coarser organization with
systems designed for special purposes? No doubt, everything you
say about systems that are composed of multitudes of tiny systems
each acting like an ODE can be proven to be true, but that is
irrelevant if the real system isn't made that way. It seems to me
that the first order of business would be to find out what kind
of system we are actually dealing with.

This is all undoubtedly old stuff to you. But whenever I
encounter a mathematical system that's far beyond me, I try to
salvage some self-respect by wondering if it's really necessary.
Best to all,

Bill P.

[From Gabriel 921213 11:40CST, reply to Powers of same date]

I don't know quite how to respond Bill. I am both in agreement, and in
disagreement with you.

Agreement that if the mathematics has a set of axioms that omit an essential
part of the the physical phenomenon, then the mathematical model may
describe something, but it doesn't describe the physical system being
discussed. But this will be found when the mathematics and the reality
are perceived to be disconsonant.

Disagreement with the implied conclusion that mathematics is not a useful
model. If the mathematics and the sense data agree, this is evidence that
the mathematics is a reasonable predictor of things we already know, and so
we CAN, but don't have to, use it to attempt to predict things we DON't
already know, and THEN go and see if they are observed.

It seems to me that that's what "models of reality" are all about, and that's
what your really insightful book deals with.

Two other comments:-

Perhaps what you are saying is "Only a topologist could believe that the
donut and the coffe cup are the same thing." That depends on what you
mean by "same." If by same you something like "If represented in three
dimensions by bounding surfaces within some small distance from the
boundaries between air and material for the donut and coffee cup on the
breakfast table before you, treating the breakfast table as if it were
air, THEN the bounding surfaces may be continuously transformed one
into the other without tearing." the topologist is speaking the truth.

All this gets you into Avery Andrews' "aforesaid" problem, and it only
gets worse the more you try to say, because there are more aforesaids.

There is a good mathematical model of this issue, but it's not very
accessible, so perhaps it's not very good after all. But as my father
was fond of pointing out, people only directly perceived acceleration
and deceleration regularly without coming to harm (like falling off
a cliff) after automobiles were invented. Before that Newton's Law of
Acceleration was just about as academic an experience as topology is

About burning people to death. Let's debate that off line. Perhaps
we may find we agree more than you at present perceive. My choice of
words was unfortunate - but I am short of time, and not as good as
you and Martin at expressing myself. Sorry if I hit a sore spot.
That's one of the reasons why the "gang of five" converse mainly off
line. You and I have both experienced war - I was bombed in Britain,
and you were in the Navy, and we probably neither of us liked it very
much, in spite of the adrenalin rush we likely both know.

One thing I do believe - the Chicago Stockyards used to use everything
but the squeal. If we have experiences, we ought to use them to
illuminate our world. Better to light a candle than to curse the dark.

I don't want ever to shoot anybody, but I still practice with an M1911A1,
and if I have to choose between dying myself, and using lethal force
to stop somebody who was trying to kill me (or anybody else not deserving
to be shot at), I don't intend to hesitate very long.

Nor I think would you, if if your new granddaughter were in mortal

Well, let me get down off my soapbox. I'm not sure the net is the
proper place for the above discussion. Let's continue off line if
we feel so inclined. I don't think Gary will object.

With Very Best Regards to All, Malice to None, and wishes for a
Joyful, Peaceful, Holiday Season.

        John (