Friday, April 25, 2008

Things we know but cannot prove - another nail in the coffin of materialism

Recently, I highlighted a talk that Prof. Robert Marks, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor University, gave to Baylor's American Scientific Affiliation branch on things we know but cannot prove (and it doesn't matter how big computers get):
This is because of a new startling mathematical idea from algorithmic information theory (AIT): There exist things that are true that cannot be derived from fundamental principles. Some things are true simply because they are true.

Many claim God cannot be proved. (Although I'll show you Godel's short mathematical proof of God's existence). There are some things we know exist that we can prove we will never know.
I asked Marks how it went, and he wrote back to say,
This is mind bending stuff. Stephen Hawking, for example, is becoming agnostic in his belief there is a single theory that describes all of physics. There look to be things that are true simply because they are true. They cannot be derived from first principles. And there exist things, like Chaitin’s astonishing number between zero and one, that we can prove we will never know. The foundations of algorithmic information theory has been around since the 1930’s, but scientists and mathematicians are only recently appreciating its significance.

Algorithmic information theory and string theory make the science fiction I read as a boy seem boring.

I watched Marks's PowerPoint on line, and highly recommend it.

One thing Marks relates, is that computer pioneer Alvin Turing lost his faith and became assertively materialist after a boy he loved died of bovine tuberculosis. It wasn't anything he had learned about computers after all. It was - as so often - a personal issue.

Some of his observations (but they're much less fun without the graphics):
"There are things that are true and known to exist that will never be proven nor computed."

"We are at an undisputed edge of naturalism in computing and math. There is no TOE. Does science have a TOE? If so, will we ever know we are at the edge?"

Bob, some people won't know that it even is an edge, because they are reductionist materialists. They will just assume that their brains are cobbled together kludges from the evolutionary past. Possibly, they hope they can get a microchip implanted in their brains that will either cause them to understand or at least create the illusion of understanding. (See the story about Gary Marcus and the kluges, below.)

By the way, Marks starts his presentation with an interesting arithmetic word game. Try The Four's Be With You! with colleagues on your coffee break.

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