Post No.: 0598
Why is anything the way it is?
The ultimate level explanation will come from the fundamental laws of physics and raw mathematical descriptions of the universe. But that level of explanation or description won’t satisfactorily answer every single phenomenon that occurs in the universe.
More proximate level explanations are things like cultural and genetic evolution and the units of memes and genes, for which equations that describe the fundamental behaviours of various particles or waves, such as fermions or bosons, do not explain. An even more proximate level will include more human-level explanations for why things happen, such as why do some people kill and are willing to die in the name of a religion, for which E = mc2 does not even begin to explain despite everyone being made up of mass and energy.
From a laws of physics perspective, it is because of the deterministic or probabilistic nature of matter from which we’re all made from. From a cultural and genetic evolution perspective, it is because those who have a propensity to give their very lives for their group will succeed in inter-group conflicts and will therefore pass on their culture and genes. And from a human-level perspective, the explanation often bestowed is a mandate from a god and the reward of going to heaven for performing these acts. (It’s like Santa Claws, or alternatively Krampuss, is used as a proximate explanation for how pleasant presents arrive, or don’t, on Christmas Day to try to get children to behave in the run up to Christmas.)
From an ultimate level of analysis relating to our lives, luck completely dominates because no one can control yet must undeviatingly obey the laws of physics hence we all get whatever we happen to be given and must do what we must do according to those fundamental laws. But from a far more proximate level we might say that, although luck still plays, say, a 20% role in a certain context, the rest is down to our own choices and actions because this is the level of our experiential perceptions and intuitive reality. We can and should take personal responsibilities for lots of things we do at this level.
Hence we can say that there’s a kind of fate (cause-and-effect determinism), unpredictable randomness (because of certain quantum level phenomena) and that we ultimately lack any free will at one level of analysis – yet conscious grit and desire, hard work and dedication can make a difference to our lives at a more personal-organism experience level.
These human-level explanations appear less abstract and more story-like and thus intuitive. Albeit we can also wrap fundamental processes into stories too, such as one about the birth of this universe to the present day, and the possible demise of this universe as we know it in the far future.
However, can we state that an ultimate level explanation – by logic or by nature – is always the ‘real reason’ or is always ‘more correct’ than any lower-level proximate explanation by virtue of being more fundamental? Yet even if so, that won’t likely be our individual lived reality, whether our intuitive conception of reality is considered an illusion or not. (It’s like alcohol will actually risk lowering your core body temperature, but the personal experiential feeling is one of warmth after drinking whisky – so should we deny your experience?)
We can also have different theories, laws or even accepted facts depending on the macro or micro level of inspection we take in the natural sciences, at least according to what we currently know so far. For example, general relativity satisfactorily explains gravity and the universe of the ‘big’, whilst quantum mechanics explains electromagnetism and the two nuclear forces and the universe of the ‘small’.
‘Complementarity’ is where two contrasted theories are able to explain a set of phenomena, although neither completely alone. For example, describing light as a particle or alternatively as a wave.
Things can be considered ‘unnatural’ or ‘artificial’ at one level, but everything can be considered natural at another. For example, if termite mounds are natural because termites are natural creatures then human cities are natural because humans are natural creatures too.
The Earth’s surface can also be described as curved from the perspective of outer space, flat from the perspective of dogs at ground level, and extremely bumpy from the perspective of ants. And these observations are all empirically correct from their own perspectives.
The search for a so-called unified ‘theory of everything’ in physics relates to finding a theory that fully describes and unifies together all physical aspects of the universe – but this won’t be strictly a ‘theory of everything’. It would explain our existence at the ultimate level but not at a proximate level. It for instance won’t fully or even begin to explain how digestion works or how economic markets work, or love or happiness, or war or pain. A unified furry of everything might itself still not achieve as some physicists hope because of the limitations set by the uncertainty principle as described by quantum mechanics.
Science can answer a lot of significant questions but it cannot answer unfalsifiable enquiries – hypotheses that cannot be proven false because we have no way of finding these answers out, either through practical incapability or because of an obstacle presented by logic. Now this doesn’t mean we can therefore assume something as being true just because we cannot prove it to be false.
Science also cannot answer a lot of crucial questions that are important to us in our everyday lives if we wish to be healthy and morally good folk, such as those that involve our ‘purpose or meaning’ or what we ‘ought’ to do. This is in the realm of philosophy, or perhaps religion if we wish to outsource the thinking to an ostensibly divine institution.
Students of epistemology will also realise that we cannot be absolutely, categorically 100% sure of anything because we do not know what we do not know that may one day be known and scupper whatever we thought we knew. There may also be things that we will never ever know, that would scupper whatever we thought we knew if only we could get to know them.
We therefore cannot be unequivocally sure that our ultimate level explanations are truly ultimate. We could also relatedly question things with ‘infinite regresses’ – such as if there is a God, then what caused this God to exist in the first place? And what caused that thing to exist in the first place? And then what caused that, etc. ad infinitum. Is everything we know only really at a proximate level of understanding then?
…The upshot of all this is that we shouldn’t be small-minded in thinking that our specialisations or personal experiences and perspectives will hold the answers to everything. There can sometimes be many different levels of causes and explanations for the same things that are all valid at their own level. There is a time and place for different conclusions if they can be reasonably justified, like something in your life being your fault, or your parents’ fault, or society’s fault, or ultimately nobody’s fault. From far away or during a short moment, nothing appears to change, but from close up or over a long timescale, everything is changing. At various micro and macro levels, things can be viewed as ecosystems of machines that work for a greater machine, like cells in a body or stars in a galaxy, but analogies at one level might not fit perfectly at another.
Woof! My hope is that we will all personally never stop learning, and especially be curious about the things we have not been curious about before. And for understanding that our collective knowledge will always be greater than what any single individual could ever know alone – I hope that we can all have sensible debates about what we each believe.
(I guess I’ve always been a generalist rather than a specialist. Not that this has meant that I’ve been good at nothing in particular, I hope! (I think conscientiousness is the quality we need to do anything we wish to do well.) My design background is one where I was trained to physically make things and make them work, so it wasn’t just about making things look good but things had to functionally work, whether it involved mechanical engineering, programming or electronics for instance. I was then drawn to animation holistically, as in not just designing characters and making moving pictures but creating scripts and directing and producing too. Even my exercise goals throughout my life have involved variety where I’ve sought a mixture of both strength and endurance targets, although maybe not during the same seasons – I’ve indirectly alluded to just a few things I do, or used to do, within previous posts. I’ve even always taken care of my own accounting so far. This entire blog is a one-person operation, and of course the diversity of subjects I’m interested in is evident. Perhaps it has harmed my career to not be a focused specialist, and doing everything myself is definitely not ideal either, but I’ve only got one life and I want to explore it! ‘Generalism’ is my specialism I guess, and I have no regrets about that. The things I’d miss if I had narrow interests or only listened to a limited set of voices.)