Discussion on the Daily Mail (UK)

6 August, 2006

Posted by: patopreto on 06/08/06 at 10:33 AM

Can’t do long replies today. Manoj – to see how we might differ, do you agree with the following? “There exists an external reality that it independent of the existence of human minds and that this reality is knowable, albeit imperfectly, through observation and the processes of science.” My feeling from what you have written is no! That the mind is somehow favored and constructs reality and we have no way of inquiring about that reality. For me, this solipsism leads no-one, since you cannot even believe in pato who is writing this or anything else outside of your mind. This philosophy must eventually even doubt itself and implode!

Back to Qi – I think we might be agreeing that Qi is a vestigial religious belief, no out of context, that has been hijacked by new parties and is without any empirical or theoretical evidence. In that way Qi is fundamentally different from electrons or quarks in that, whether they do or do not refer to some underlying absolute reality, there is solid theoretical and empirical evidence for their existence.

As for your jaundice example – herbs may work – there may be “truth” behind the herbs abilities. However, if they do work, we do not have to accept any pseudo-religious explanation for how the herb works.

Same goes for acupuncture – this two may work,but we do not have to accept any nonsense about meridians, energy channels or balancing.

Efficacy of a treatment and explanation of a treatment are two different things that we can accept independently.

7 August, 2006

Posted by: manojtd on 07/08/06 at 03:30 PM

“There exists an external reality that it independent of the existence of human minds and that this reality is knowable, albeit imperfectly, through observation and the processes of science.”

I agree with this statement almost completely. In fact, my book takes this as the basis of discussion. I will restate and expand it as follows though to see how we differ:

  1. There is something out there independent of our existence. I call this the absolute or physical reality.
  2. Our perception of this physical reality is imperfect, in that it is a projection of the physical reality into our sensory and cognitive space. It is imperfect both because our senses are incomplete and because they are limited to the speed of light. The incompleteness can be appreciated, for instance, by the fact that we cannot sense the cosmological dark matter or dark energy. The speed limitation is fairly obvious because our experience of space is more or less a direct result of our sight, which clearly operates at the speed of light. I call our perception the perceived or phenomenal reality.
  3. Physics has chosen to accept the phenomenal reality as the “real” reality about which to make theories. This choice gave us special relativity where the limitations of our perception become properties of our space (and time).
  4. The Unreal Universe explores the possibility of working directly with the absolute reality; I thought I would guess that the absolute reality is our intuitively obvious Galilean space-time, and ask the question how that reality would be perceived. Turned out that this way of looking at reality could explain some astrophysical phenomena. It is a tough sell, however, to convince journals that there is a distinction between the physical and the phenomenal realities, and that SR applies to the phenomenal.

The religious “inspiration” about this line of thinking came afterwards because I saw the theme of light being all important repeated in many lines of religious philosophy, mainly in Christian and Moslem lines. What that gave me was a healthy respect for anything religious, including concepts like the Qi, etc. (though I’m not sure whether we should call the Qi “religious” in origin). I suspect we are less in agreement about this part. I look at acupuncture and TIM and try to imagine how they developed these systems. I cannot imagine the ancient Chinese folks going around poking each other all over to figure out if one particular needle at one particular point in the body would cure one particular illness. They must’ve had some knowledge how to go about doing it. If we accept that acupuncture works (I personally don’t know whether it does since I have had no direct experience with it), then we have to accept that there was some method to their discovery of it. The way they communicated their method was by the use of concepts like the Qi, meridians etc. I wouldn’t discount them as nonsense — but that’s just me, because I have this new-found respect for this kind of ancient wisdom even when I don’t completely understand it.

Posted by: patopreto on 07/08/06 at 04:02 PM

I think I see where you are going but you make bigger leaps than me. I don’t understand why you have picked on the speed of light .Our understanding of the universe is limited due to the limitations and progress of the scientific method. We do not appear to have hit the bumpers just yet on what we can know. Although there are fundamental limits on the facts we can know due to the speed of light, it is much harder case to say that our limit on knowledge is reached.

I think you make too big a leap to say why we cannot perceive dark matter.The reason is that we have absolutely no evolutionary reason to detect it. Our senses have evolved within the environment of Earth with a G-class star nearby. We perceive light in the peak wavelengths emitted by that star because it is evolutionary advantages to the sort of lifestyles our ancestors had. There is no “cosmic” significance to this. In our evolutionary past, the speed of light was utterly irrelevant to us.

The tough sell you talk of is surely because our experience of reality does indeed bare some direct relationship with reality. When we detect an electron in a cloud chamber, can we not be confident that reality contains things we call electrons that have mass and charge etc. What reason is there to step outside of this way of thinking? How on earth do you engage with some more “direct” reality?

What testable experiments do you propose to see if you are right?