Sunday, January 26, 2014

Philosophy , common sense and reality

In an informal philosophical discussion I had joined, the issue of consciousness was raised in the context of some apologetic argument of which I have forgotten. The only thing I remembered was my contention that that particular argument could not work on a die-hard materialist, who could just claim that the "self" did not really continues through time, but that it changes every second according to the changes in the states of the mind. The response to that was that such is true, but that anyone holding on to this consistent materialist view of consciousness would automatically lose the argument because it is so absurd and so much against common sense it would be rejected in an instance.

The problem I see in such a reasoning is that "common sense" seems to be a major criterion for determining truth, but why should that be the case? Yes, "common sense" is good for many things, but it is one thing to claim that "common sense" is good for much of life, and another to say it is normative for everything.

Consider the scientific discipline of quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, the orbitals of electrons are quantitized in specific quanta, thus producing spectral lines of [visible] light (and other radiation in the other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum) when electrons lose energy. The whole idea of quantitized radiation does not make sense in a classical physical setting, which would anticipate a spectrum or smear of light instead of specific spectral lines. Yet this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Quantum mechanics also postulated the idea of electrons being both particles and waves, and not just electrons but all matter, which all have a de Broglie wavelength. Likewise, light, long considered a wave, is found to be made up of particles called photons. Photons are then stated to be massless particles, which is also counter-intuitive.

Even stranger in quantum mechanics is that stated in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that is is impossible to know both the position and the velocity of particles like electrons. Whereas electrons were formerly thought of as like planets orbiting the nucleus, electrons are now thought of as probabilistic matter-wave functions found in specific orbitals. That means that in the area of those orbitals, the probability of detecting the electron increases, and that the very act of detecting it fixed either the position or the velocity of the electron. In other words, it is not just a measurement of quantum phenomena, but rather the act of measurement itself creates the result in interaction with the sample. Lastly, the quantum phenomenon of entanglement, or "spooky action at a distance," has entangled particles influencing each other even across vast distances with no communication between them. In other words, if one of the entangled pair is placed on the moon, while the other entangled particle is placed in a submarine 1 km under the sea, altering one particle (in the submarine) would also alter the other particle (on the moon), despite the vast distances between them and the impossibility of any material communication between them.

Quantum mechanics therefore functions antithetical to common sense. This shows that in understanding certain aspects of reality, "common sense" breaks down. Philosophical issues, dealing with things behind "normal life" could also be other aspects of reality in which "common sense" does not apply. If such were the case, then rejecting any philosophical position merely because it is against "common sense" is not exactly a good argument. Furthermore, in the Neo-Darwinian scheme, "common sense" is merely the cognitive habits suited for Man in the natural world, and as such they may not be suited for discourse on anything other than "normal life."

Flowing from what we have seen in quantum mechanics, the whole notion of "common sense" therefore should not be used in arguments. For if "common sense" does not work in some parts of the physical realm, why should we think that it is necessarily a useful thing in philosophical or religious questions? "Common sense" does not work in some aspects of reality, and thus we should not use it in philosophy or theology either.

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