Prigogine is Right!

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Social Order / HierCon Stories / School /
@ K. early 1998

Prigogine is Right:
Scientific Progress
on Certainty, on Time …

The things one feels absolutely certain about are never true.
Oscar Wilde

From 1979 to 1989 I was occupied principally in trying to communicate Korzybskian semantics to my fellow man. Does your mental model match reality? Does anyone else’s? How can you tell? Don’t you see that our survival depends (in the long if not in the short run) on some degree of accuracy?

The mental models we inherit too often are compromised by lazy, not to mention shoddy, thinking. Political and economic motives are so interwoven there’s no untangling them. But the latter isn’t necessary. Amnesty for all. Just improve your mental models. Meet the truth. Not as “land” or “power” as in the view of Norman Mailer’s Pontius Pilate. Not as ‘whatever my version of my sect of Essene Jews is obsessed with’, as in the view of Norman’s Mailer’s Jesus. No: improve your mental models as in the scientific method. Do the details of my model correspond with verifiable events in space/time? Does the picture they make jibe with responsible theory? Am I careful to weed out as “dead” theories that don’t jibe?

I’d been meaning to write a little piece on semantics to go with my map/territory piece (link above). The related material here nudged me to add a bit more as Semiotics/Semantics. (Actually, this is also a start on the fragmentary discovery section of my bio!.)

Should we trust science because someone calls what they’re doing by that word? Should we have trusted the actor costumed in a white coat who used to tell us to smoke Camels? Science is only science when you, anyone, can review the reasoning, check the math, examine or challenge the data. (That becomes problematic when the data is Lucy’s bones and even having a Ph.D. in the field won’t necessarily get you near them.)

I’ve reviewed Prigogine’s reasoning: it’s awesome. I’m familiar with much of his data: it’s not just right; it’s right on the pinnacle. Others that can have already checked the math: I have to let that part pass.

The book is published. It’s in print. Maybe it will come out in paperback. Nevertheless, as I find time, I plan to summarize part of his argument. Here’s a start:
Many problems in science and philosophy (including religion) may be constructively subsumed under the problem of time. What is time? Does it have a beginning or end? Is it meaningful to think of anything as possibly being outside of time? Did time begin with the Big Bang? or any other Creation? Is time reversible? or unidirectional? …

Other questions are intertangled. Are things determined? (All things? Some things? Which things?) Is our own behavior determined? Can we ever choose behavior? Or is free will an illusion?

Prigogine traces decisions made or assumed with regard to these questions through the recorded history of human thought. The record is clearest in science from the Greeks to the present, it being science which makes a virtue of examining assumptions.

Science up to and including quantum physics has typically assumed that time is reversible. Einstein believed that time was an illusion.

Einstein also believed that free will was an illusion. (Stephen Hawking’s recent popular books continue that vein of the argument: ‘yes, it’s all determined but the etiology is too complicated to trace or predict’.)

Prigogine argues that time has no beginning and no end. The universe began within time and may end within it (as could other universes). Time is real. Time is unidirectional. Entropy assures that processes begun cannot be reversed.

The universe is one of evolutionary Becoming, not one of eternal Being. Choices are possible. Choices matter.more coming

My History of Magic and my short piece on revolution distill what I see as most important to digest from Sir James Frazer’s monumental The Golden Bough. That seminal anthropological book is towering and encyclopedic, staggeringly researched, incisively argued. I’ve spent decades with that work and feel confident in my simplification, however sweeping.

I hope you’ll notice that Prigogine’s points are directly relevant to points I’ve ridden on Frazer’s back to make: human confidence in its ability to determine cause and effect has been misguided. When we want to become the cause and to be certain of the outcome, our confidence is pathological.

Prigogine’s book is new. But I see it as even more important than The Golden Bough. The mental models of reality we learn from science and philosophy are themselves due for a spring cleaning. Prigogine gives it to them.

My first awareness of my preference for Becoming over Being came to me in my twenties, due in large part I am sure to my voracious reading of George Bernard Shaw. Shaw cites Butler as his source. I’ve since studied Butler and Butler’s sources. Hooray (Wallace/) Darwin. I’m helping Epicurus-Darwin-Prigogine the best I can despite my disabilities. Some of what’s here is already implicit elsewhere on this site. Most of the rest will be siphoned off to more appropriate locations.

Notes for more:

Scientists too have shared Descartes’ longing for certainty, for simple logical connections, for simple cause and effect relationships … Descartes launched his campaign for certainty with the “syllogism” Cogito: ergo sum. Cogito? No argument. Sum? No argument. Ergo? Balderdash.

A view of time common in many religions is that it has an inside and an outside. Men and other creatures are inside it; God is outside it. With the right magic we can get outside with Him. Beyond mortality and mutability.

Science is in part descended from our age old pursuit of control, our assumptions about simple cause and effect. Prigogine traces man’s pursuit of simple cause and effect. If I do A, then B must happen. I want also to be certain about C through Z. If magic doesn’t work, we’ll try technology … as another form of magic.)

(The above duplicates a footnote to a story on high school math.)

Do not imagine that my couple of quick references are an adequate substitute for knowing the Prigogine work referred to directly. If you too are traumatized by mathematical notation or are less than literate in it, read the opening sections and final chapter of The End of Certainty. If you are already conversant with the history of science as well as of the history of philosophy you will find it not only accurate but illuminating.

Here’s some scrap that accompanied this or the other transplanting of the above:

2001 05 19

It’s been my intention since the inception of my home page to have the individual modules load quickly and read in a couple of bites. Notes were typically put in an accompanying file. Today more and more people have faster CPU’s, more memory, faster modems … and I merge some files (& separate others).

This particular file however is as hairy a bear as any of my problem sections. Entropy Magazine asked to publish the section on Prigogine. Great, but that section is a part of this file, which in turn is part of my indoctrination folder, which interweaves with the entire home page (as it does with my entire life).

Entropy agreed to let me develop the theory of Macroinformation first. Years are slipping by and still none of it is published: except here (where it most belongs).

Cosmology Menu

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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