Friday, April 28, 2006

Psi-lent Night?

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

In my last post, Cheating a Dread Course, I expressed some frustration with our progress. (The title, like Heating a Red Porsche, is another nonsense rhyme for "beating a dead horse".) In Hell. Why Not? Ernie has tried to move things along by listing (in non-theological terms) a number of assertions, and inviting questions and comments about them that might lead to a more focused discussion.

Now Ernie readily admits that, at this point, these are just assertions. By framing the ideas using the terminology of physics, Ernie appears to be providing an explanation for why eternal hell might be "justified"; that is, why it might be an inevitable consequence of the laws of ultimate reality. There are a number of ways that I can respond to this.

First, while acknowledging that this theory may possibly reflect reality (in that it is not obviously incoherent), I could ask what evidence Ernie can give to support this theory. What falsifiable predictions can it make? Is there any way that the psi field can be observed, and especially, can it be observed after a person has died? As it relates to the discussion of eternal damnation, this is a pretty critical part. Additionally, if the field represents the accumulated choices of an individual, and this field decays to an eigenstate after death, does there remain any choice? If so, why would the field not continue to evolve, and therefore not remain in the eigenstate? Does there remain a distinguishable individual?

Second, does the anti-aligned eigenstate correlate with experienced pain? By framing the discussion in terms of fields, we are in danger of overlooking this important quality of damnation. Particles feel no pain. People do.

Third, Ernie believes that choice is real. Is Omega a person? Does Omega have real choices? Did Omega create man? If Omega is our creator and has choice, then Omega is morally culpable for the eternal pain experienced in by anti-aligned psi fields (oops, I mean damned people) unless Omega provides a mechanism whereby this end can be reliably avoided, and this mechanism must be reliably knowable.

That leads directly to my fourth response. Even if all of this were true, what reasons can Ernie offer that Omega is identical to the god of Christianity, or that being a Christian (whatever that means) is a reliable way (let alone the only way) to guarantee decay into an Omega-aligned eigenstate?

My overall feeling, as I stated earlier, is that Ernie is attempting to provide an explanation why eternal heaven and eternal hell might possibly be necessary consequences to choices we make here. Casting the discussion into the terminology of physics is an unusual approach to the problem, but most of the questions I just posed have direct analogs when posed in more classical frames. For instance, free will is commonly offered as an explanation for the problem of evil. But if this is so, then either there will be evil in heaven or else no free will in heaven. (In case it is not clear, this is related to the question above about the evolution of the psi field after it initially decays.)

On the other hand, Ernie goes beyond saying his statements "might possibly" be true to saying that he believes them to be true. Does he believe them because they are implied by more basic beliefs, or are these his basic beliefs? Or are there some of each?

Ernie asked me to be explicit about the comprehensibility, internal consistency, logical validity and external consistency of his position. I think I comprehend it. Given its assumptions, it appears logically valid, but the assumptions seem rather ad hoc and perhaps cross into being internally inconsistent. (I am thinking here of the psi field decaying and remaining eternally in an eigenstate, when the psi field is supposed to reflect the accumulation of an individual's choices.) His position does not correspond to anything that I "know" is true, and corresponds only weakly to anything I believe. It does seem fairly consistent with Christian orthodoxy, although there is rather little explanation so far as to how the specific details of Christianity map onto these assertions.

Ernie also asked me to clarify my own beliefs about a number of issues.

First, is choice real? I do not know how we could tell. What experiment could I do that would show that I could have done something other than what I did? Having said that, practically it seems like a good idea to act as if choice is real. If it is not, well, then we cannot do anything about what we do anyway.

Second, is moral tao objective or subjective? I believe there are objective, but not necessarily universal or transcendent, moral standards; in particular, I do not believe there is a capitalized Moral Law that enforces consequences for our choices. For those entering this conversation late, The (No So) Terrible Tao's describes this in slightly more detail.

Third, does mathematical reality exist independent of physical reality? Well, I think mathematical theorems are true independent of any physical reality. They are still contingent on the foundational axioms. In the sense of real vs. imaginary beliefs that Ernie has proposed, they are real; that is, their truth is not contingent on anyone believing them. So, at least in those senses I would say that mathematical reality exists. I am considerably less inclined to say that a separate social or moral reality exists, but Ernie did not ask about that, even though he has mentioned it several times.

Fourth, does anybody ever deserve to be in any kind of hell? My intuitive moral sense says that yes, some people deserve punishment. However, it would never be eternal or otherwise infinite punishment. That same intuitive moral sense says that punishment for disbelieving something unbelievable is not deserved. And whether or not the punishment is deserved, there would need to be some other reason to believe it actually occurs. I think that belief in hell evolved in response to the evident unfairness of this life; people want to believe that balance will be restored. When we have emotional biases for believing something, we should examine reasons for belief all the more critically.

Looking back over all I have written tonight, I am not sure I provided very good guidance for Ernie on what he should next address. There are three major questions. Why does he believe the statements he made? (Are they basic beliefs or are they justified by reason and evidence?) How does he connect them to Christianity specifically? Finally, how does he answer the questions I raised about the details of his assertions? (That is, the questions about individuality and continued choice, about a personal Omega with choice and responsibility, about anti-alignment and pain.)

I am looking forward to further explanation.


Dr. Ernie said...

Hi Alan -- two quickies:

"I believe there are objective, but necessarily universal or transcendent, moral standards"
I'm not sure what you mean; I think you dropped a "not", but I'm unclear on what it means to be "objective" and "not universal" -- not subjective, but still relative? Relative to what then?

Also, something can be an eigenstate in one dimension but still evolving in other dimensions (think of a Z-aligned magnetic field).

More later...
-- Ernie P.

Alan Lund said...

Yep, there was a missing "not". It should have been "I believe there are objective but not necessarily universal or transcendent, moral standards". I fixed it above, as well.

As far as "objective" but not "universal", I came across a good explanation a couple of weeks ago, but naturally I cannot find it now. By way of analogy, one might say that Newtonian mechanics are objective, but not universal, since they break down at relativistic speeds and in large gravitational fields. Of course, in that case, there is a more universal theory available, and presumably (hopefully?) there is a truly universal theory waiting to be discovered. Until then, there are objective but not universal theories of mechanics.

My thinking on ethics and morality is far from settled, so if and when this becomes central to anything, it will take some thought and explaining.

Regarding eigenstates, I see your point. Still, what you say implies (or seems to imply) that choice will be restricted in one or more dimensions, even if individuality is maintained via the remaining dimensions. Is that right?