The Arbitrary Absurd: A Brief Summary

Most things are only true because something else is true. (Think about it.) These are what I would call dependent truths. (I've discussed this earlier.) Mathematics best illustrates this; all mathematical theorems depend on mathematical axioms, which have no proofs themselves (meaning this cartoon is wrong). I believe physics, and thus physical reality, operates in a similar fashion. There are certain independent physical relationships that are the foundation of the rest of physics. What our universe is depends on what those independent physical relationships are.

The problem, of course, is that these independent truths are completely arbitrary, and thus absurd. This forces us to ask the question of why they are what they are.

In my opinion, there is no thoroughly logical or scientific explanation. Why? Because even if there were such an explanation, it would itself become the independent, absurd, and arbitrary truth.

This seems to be a huge flaw in any physicalist worldview. Physicalism is not a rationally closed set; not all of physics can be explained by physics. In short, reality is fundamentally absurd. Any reality would be absurd, and any conception of reality will be absurd, because to deny the absurd is itself absurd.

We cannot ignore the absurd, even if we try. It is our friend. So stop pretending it doesn't exist.


Spaceman Spiff said...

I don't think you've shown the xkcd comic to be wrong. In mathematics, I don't think it's fair to say "axioms might be false" since they are a sort of statement of definition. "Given the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, if one angle is 90 the other two must add up to 90" is an absolutely true statement. There is no sense in saying that statement could be false.

And since, given those definitions, the results are entirely tautological, it is probably not fair to say any *truths* in mathematics are ontologically dependent on any others. What I mean is, if the results are true, then they prove the axioms just as surely as the axioms prove them.

Thus I think you can only claim that some truths are *epistemologically* dependent on others, but nothing stronger than that.

Which brings us to the last point. Is it true that there must be arbitrary, and therefore absurd, truths at the foundation of everything? Not if those constants only appear arbitrary from our limited understanding, but in actuality represent the only coherent version of reality, so to speak.

Granted that *as it stands now* plenty about physics is entirely phenomenological and thus seemingly arbitrary, but it is possible that a perfect knowledge would reveal that there could be no sense in talking about the constants being any different, since they would violate logic and be incoherent. Such suggestions would therefore be literally meaningless.

And I tend to think if God is Truth, and God is rational and therefore the universe is rational, then this must be so. There cannot be any arbitrary truth, and Godself cannot be arbitrary.

Look forward to your thoughts.

Speaker for the Dead said...


This reminds me of what Kronecker said: "God created the integers, all else is the work of man."

To make even a tautological or definitional statement true, you have to assume the most basic logical rule there is: the law of identity (which is assumed to be true because to deny it would be nonsensical). Of course, this is not a formal proof, but merely a concession to our lack of imagination. Just as certain truths may only appear arbitrary from our limited understanding, "A is A" appears true only because we cannot conceive a world in which it is not true. So, in my mind, "A is A" is arbitrary and absurd, and since all truths are ontologically dependent on the law of identity...

But I think I'll admit that that's kind of a stretch and give you the point about mathematics, because no one is arguing about the law of identity. And I'm not going to convince people that the law of identity is absurd. But I still think it's absurd, and I would go so far as to say that God exists outside the bounds of formal human logic just like he exists outside spacetime.

I think your point holds best in the hypothetical world of tautological mathematical abstractions.

What we have is a universe that depends on more than mathematical truths; it also depends on (arbitrary) mathematical relationships within itself. And right now, I can't think of how tweaking the weak nuclear force, for example, would violate the laws of logic.

What you are basically saying (I think) is that the Theory of Everything would be such that it could not be any other way, logically speaking. "The universe is what it is because it could not be any other way." Which would really kind of shaft my argument, but I think that would have to be a wicked awesome TOE. On top of everything else, it would also have to explain (in my mind) arbitrary truths like the amount of matter in the universe, etc.

I'm not sure such a TOE is possible. And any atheist whose argument depends on something like that might as well believe in God; it'll take less faith...

I agree that God is rational, but in a different way. What I am saying is that the universe, from a human rational perspective, is fundamentally absurd. And since I also believe God is the foundation of our universe, he is also absurd - from our human perspective. When I was a kid, I would think about how God could have created Himself. (I still do.) Now we would say that He didn't create himself; He is the uncaused cause. But that is, from our human perspective, absurd. Richard Dawkins called it the greatest cop-out of all time. (Which it's not.) My point is that Richard Dawkins' viewpoint is just as fundamentally absurd and thus, by his standards, no less of a cop-out.

Spaceman Spiff said...

I agree that physics as it stands now has to admit some arbitrary absurdities, but do you think that would necessarily be the case if we knew physics perfectly? I'm not so sure. And if a perfect knowledge of the universe required absurdities, could we still say the universe was rational? I'm not so sure.

Next, I'll say I don't even know if it's possible for humans to have a perfect knowledge of physics. So it is ok with me if we still say that from a human perspective there will always be *apparent* absurdities.

So we agree that from a perspective of perfect (divine) reason, there are no absurdities. I just want to say that this means there are *actually* no absurdities.

But I'm hesitant to say that God is outside of human reason, I'd rather choose the word beyond, because to suggest a qualitative difference bothers me.

Speaker for the Dead said...

In my opinion, the only way for physics not to be absurd would be for all of physics to be completely based on mathematics and logic.

This means that you would have to be able to use the laws of logic, arithmetic, etc. to derive all the laws of physics. But this doesn't make sense, because mathematics itself is flexible, which is why we have both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries. So how would mathematics alone prove that time has an arrow, or that energy and mass are related, etc.?

Basically, the point is this:

Unless it is logically necessary for physics to be exactly the way it is, some aspect of it is absurd.

I would say that God is absurd, which is fine, because he is somewhat beyond our understanding. But we can't understand everything. Atheism and rationalism overstep their bounds.

And I don't have a problem with "beyond" instead of "outside." Both use a spatial relationship to explain what is definitely not a spatial relationship.