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The waters of Tiamat



"There is another, more interesting, explanation for the structure of the laws of nature. Rather than saying that the universe is very structured, say that the universe is mostly chaotic and for the most part lacks structure. The reason why we see the structure we do is that scientists act like a sieve and focus only on those phenomena that have structure and are predictable. They do not take into account all phenomena; rather, they select those phenomena they can deal with.

Some people say that science studies all physical phenomena. This is simply not true. Who will win the next presidential election and move into the White House is a physical question that no hard scientists would venture to give an absolute prediction. Whether or not a computer will halt for a given input can be seen as a physical question and yet we learned from Alan Turing that this question cannot be answered. Scientists have classified the general textures and heights of different types of clouds, but, in general, are not at all interested in the exact shape of a cloud. Although the shape is a physical phenomenon, scientists don’t even attempt to study it. Science does not study all physical phenomena. Rather, science studies predictable physical phenomena. It is almost a tautology: science predicts predictable phenomena.


In order to describe more phenomena, we will need larger and larger classes of mathematical structures and hence fewer and fewer axioms. What is the logical conclusion to this trend? How far can this go? Physics wants to describe more and more phenomena in our universe. Let us say we were interested in describing all phenomena in our universe. What type of mathematics would we need? How many axioms would be needed for mathematical structure to describe all the phenomena? Of course, it is hard to predict, but it is even harder not to speculate. One possible conclusion would be that if we look at the universe in totality and not bracket any subset of phenomena, the mathematics we would need would have no axioms at all. That is, the universe in totality is devoid of structure and needs no axioms to describe it. Total lawlessness! The mathematics are just plain sets without structure. This would finally eliminate all metaphysics when dealing with the laws of nature and mathematical structure. It is only the way we look at the universe that gives us the illusion of structure.

With this view of physics we come to even more profound questions. These are the future projects of science. If the structure that we see is illusory and comes about from the way we look at certain phenomena, then why do we see this illusion? Instead of looking at the laws of nature that are formulated by scientists, we have to look at scientists and the way they pick out (subsets of phenomena and their concomitant) laws of nature. What is it about human beings that renders us so good at being sieves? Rather than looking at the universe, we should look at the way we look at the universe."

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