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Sisyphus, In His Own Words

By Friedrich Dionysus in Culture
Thu May 12, 2005 at 01:20:23 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Welcome to my mountain, Dear Friend. I am Sisyphus, and I am very glad you could join me here. Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus that "One should imagine Sisyphus happy". Whether one imagines it or not, Dear Friend, it is true- I am happy. Indeed I am amongst the happiest and freest of men. I must walk down to the plain now, but if you will come with me I will explain to you why I should be happy, and why it is that your predicament, Dear Friend, is just like mine.

As we make our way down this mountain to the rock which I must push back up to the peak only to watch it fall again, you may be wondering how it is that I could be happy. It might not seem like an enviable situation, I know. But if you will indulge me, I shall tell you how it can be, that a man as unfortunate as myself can smile on a day like this.

You see this futile endeavour, which I must perform for all time, is absurd. It is absurd rather like a Lewis Carroll story, or a playground rhyme.  It is absurd in that it is crazy, meaningless and without end. But it is in the midst of all this that I have found my fate- I am rising above meaning. To help me explain how I do this, I would like to start by singing a song. It is called Topsy-turvy World.

If the butterfly courted the bee,
And the owl the porcupine;
If the churches were built in the sea,
And three times one was nine;
If the pony rode his master,
If the buttercups ate the cows,
If the cat had the dire disaster
To be worried, sir, by the mouse;
If mamma, sir, sold the baby
To a gypsy for half a crown;
If a gentleman, sir, was a lady,-
The world would be Upside-Down!
If any of these wonders
Should ever come about,
I should not consider them blunders,
For I should be Inside-Out!

- Lewis Carroll

Absurd! But as enjoyable as it is, I did sing it for a reason, and it is this: "If any of these wonders should ever come about, I should not consider them blunders, for I should be Inside-Out." And such is my position, Dear Friend. For wonders and the absurd are my everyday experience and I myself too, am a wonder, an absurdity. So you see I cannot consider what I experience or my situation a blunder, for I too am Inside-Out. The visions of a pony riding its master do seem crazy from outside the Topsy-turvy World, but from within it would not seem strange in the slightest. Likewise, pushing a stone up a mountain for all eternity may seem unfortunate to the rational mind, but from the perspective of the absurd mind (the natural mind) it is bliss.

I am happy with the absurdity because I understand quite well that this world is topsy-turvy. It is a mess of contradictions and paradoxes. Why, even God Himself is a hypocrite with his Goods and Evils- He professes universal love with His right hand while slapping man across the face with famine and war with His left. This can be quite disconcerting for man, who has made a religion of rationality, predictable phenomena and definite outcomes. Alas, the world is not that way Dear Friend. And we are not, either! It is a gross misunderstanding of ourselves to believe that we can reduce everything to rules and ways and laws.

Even mathematics, the pinnacle of all that is logical, is a system plagued by absurdity. The mathematician Kurt Gödel showed that however you set up a logical system, it must always contain undecidable statements. He used a mathematical version of the following statement to demonstrate his theorem:

"This sentence cannot be proven true."

If the above statement is false, then it can be proved true, thus it contradicts itself. So, the statement must then be true. But that means you cannot prove the statement! As you see Dear Friend, not even logic is safe from the facticity of the absurd!

When you were young, were you ever told a story about a strange place or character that scared you until your knees gave way? I was told many such stories, Dear Friend. Absurdity is not such a pleasant thing. And so it is with the world. Though, instead of three-headed monsters with legs for arms and arms for legs, we must contend with a meaningless universe with no absolute values. This idea may not frighten a child, but for the mind of a grown man it can be enough to reduce him to tears, or worse, insanity.

Without the guiding hand of an absolute entity to lead us and without the universal wisdom of eternal immutable laws, we are lost. Looking into the eyes of the vacuum we see nothing but blackness and feel that if our legs gave way we would fall and never see the bottom. But take heart Dear Friend. It is precisely the same unfounded fear we felt as children that freezes us now as we stare into the void. As children we are scared that perhaps such a monster exists, and worse we are scared of what it might mean for nothing to exist. What would happen to me? I can tell you that you have nothing to fear, as our parents told us we were just being silly, but this will not comfort you. After some time, experience, and a few peaks under the bed, Dear Friend, you will no longer be scared. On the contrary, you will sport an unflinching smile.

I cannot prove to you that there is nothing to fear, but I can perhaps tell you something of the absurd itself. When the gods condemned me to this futile existence I saw it as such. There was no purpose to my being, nor, I discovered, had there ever been. No matter how I thought of the situation, it was nothing but silliness. I cannot think of this punishment in terms of what it is, or what it is not. I cannot think of it at all in any rational way, for it is not a rational world. All I can do, Dear Friend, is feel. As I strain against the rock I feel its huge weight against my dirt-clogged hands and hardened shoulders. Heave! One foot closer to nothing. My face screwed up, my arms outstretched, the rock finally reaches the top of the mountain. And there it stops for just a moment before it starts to roll back down the mountain, gathering speed, before coming to rest at the foot of this, my home. And in the rich, lucid experience of my downward journey I feel a happiness that wells up in my throat and lifts the edges of my smile. Every inch of my skin feels like it is being caressed with silk.

To feel unhappy about this punishment of mine would be lunacy. What would the feeling be based on? Could I be unhappy with myself for disobeying the gods to begin with? No, for that would be like erecting a cage around myself, wrapping my hands around my neck and giving a good squeeze- doing the gods' deeds for them. No, none of that. I am not unhappy because, as Camus said, "Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth." Even if I were to be rid of this imprisonment, I would not be able to escape absurdity. Trying to escape fate is like running for your own shadow- it only tires you. And the irony of the situation is that this seemingly terrible existence is in fact greater than any heaven.

And you Dear Friend, walking down this mountain with me, are more like me than you might imagine. There is but one certainty in your life, and that is your death. It is your ultimate fate. Me myself, I am immortal, but instead I must heave this rock however. Details aside, we have this in common: our fate. Mine is the rock, yours is your death. In addition to this, our fates are both meaningless. Your death is the end of a life without purpose, as Macbeth realised:

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Raising the stone to the top of the mountain leads only to its descent back to the bottom, accomplishing nothing. You leave a trace in people's memories and the world of matter and forms. I push the rock up the groove in the mountain and it falls back, running along the same line. If you cannot look forward to eternity, Dear Friend, what have you?

More divine than any god is the freedom of the present moment- the now which is free for you to experience. The present moment is above the toils of the past and the worries of the future. It is a timeless place, forever escaping the clutches of the rational mind, which is far too slow, cumbersome and limited to be able to fathom its vastness. It is in the present moment that you will find absurdity at its most striking. Forms will move, noises will swarm, heat will radiate. You will notice the rational mind, in all its exuberance, reaching out into the wonders of the absurd, trying desperately to bring it down to the level of concepts. As if it ever could. The rational mind does this mostly out of fear, and partly out of curiosity, for the rational mind fears that which does not conform to understanding. But it tries in vain, and it might be best to let it know that its efforts to understand will go on without reward. The absurd, which pervades the present moment, swimming through it with no meaning or purpose, is no one's property. Those that try to own it, or command it, suffer the fate of Lucifer.

It is because you cannot contain the present moment that it delivers you from fate to happiness, Dear Friend. Like me, you have a fate that is immovable. It is not, however, insurmountable. For your fate does not exist in the future, your fate is with you here, in the present moment. And the present moment is absurd. And the absurd and happiness are two sons of the same earth.

I must leave you now, as we are approaching the base of the mountain. You too are now at the foot of your own mountain, and you have your own rock to heave. Do not run from your shadow, Dear Friend. Heave!


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Display: Sort:
Sisyphus, In His Own Words | 73 comments (49 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
Intriguing (2.50 / 2) (#1)
by Mylakovich on Tue May 10, 2005 at 10:12:58 AM EST

Definetly gets the +1FP from me.

+1 FP (none / 0) (#3)
by gzur on Tue May 10, 2005 at 10:57:35 AM EST

Wrap it up and ship it off to voting.

"I'm not looking for work, but I wouldn't say no to a Pacific rim job."
[ Parent ]
-1 Greek pretend mathematicians (none / 1) (#9)
by khallow on Tue May 10, 2005 at 01:03:26 PM EST

This was amusing when Plato did it 2500 years ago, but historical or mythological figures making fictional jabs at mathematics has grown old. And you make an absurd error in your attempted proof that math is plagued with absurdity. To wit:

"This sentence cannot be proven true."

But there is no problem here. It is well known that some sentences have indeterminant true value. Self-referential statements such as the one above are a classic example. Let's assume without justification that logically unprovable statements are absurd. Then there still is the question of how prevelant these statements are in real mathematics. As it turns out, the existence of logically unprovable statements hasn't prevented mathematics from producing useful methods and theories for every area of human endeavor.

I challenge you to produce a case where mathematics has produced an absurd result in a field that is actually used, say differential equations or linear programming.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Right, so... (none / 0) (#10)
by Friedrich Dionysus on Tue May 10, 2005 at 01:22:05 PM EST

Since when is Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem something of Plato's time?

I challenge you to produce a case where mathematics has produced an absurd result in a field that is actually used, say differential equations or linear programming.

It has more to do with first-order logic. Which I guess is not actually used? I think you knew that already, so I won't bite any further.

But if you like, read: P. S. Novikov. On the algorithmic unsolvability of the word problem in group theory. Trudy Mat. Inst. Steklov 44 (1955), pp 1-143.

[ Parent ]

good rebuttal (3.00 / 2) (#14)
by khallow on Tue May 10, 2005 at 02:06:07 PM EST

It has more to do with first-order logic. Which I guess is not actually used? I think you knew that already, so I won't bite any further.

I've read a little of both Gödel (BTW, so that's how you do an umlaut!) and Novikov. These results are in themselves not absurd. They merely indicate that proving things (and equivalent operations) is not only very difficult but can be undecidable. Absurd would have been, for example, to forge ahead with the Hilbert program (find the fundamental axiomization of all of mathematics) while ignoring this critical evidence.

My point is that this hasn't happened. Mathematics continues to be an anchor of rationality in an otherwise absurd world.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

There is a way out (3.00 / 2) (#15)
by trane on Tue May 10, 2005 at 02:12:36 PM EST

of that particular "this sentence is a lie" paradox; you can use fuzzy logic to assign a 50% probability to the sentence being true or not, so in a sense it is both true and not-true at the same time.

Godel's theory would then presumably apply to the system of fuzzy logic in turn, and there should be some example of a proposition in fuzzy logic that would be undecidable based on the axioms of fuzzy logic. But that paradox should in turn be explainable by some larger system that contains fuzzy logic or is external to it. And so on...

So my understanding of Godel's incompleteness theorem is not that it makes all logic absurd, but that it only makes any logic that assumes it knows everything, absurd...

BTW I meant to vote +1FP on this story but somehow failed it.

[ Parent ]

Doh (none / 0) (#20)
by tetsuwan on Tue May 10, 2005 at 03:41:11 PM EST

It's not even in voting yet.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

what? (none / 1) (#24)
by trane on Tue May 10, 2005 at 05:19:35 PM EST

i'm stoned out of my gourd but even i can go up to the "Voted against" listbox, click on the arrow, and view my name.

[ Parent ]
yeah (3.00 / 3) (#26)
by tetsuwan on Tue May 10, 2005 at 05:27:00 PM EST

but I was even MORE stoned when writing that inane comment.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

I can (3.00 / 5) (#22)
by SocratesGhost on Tue May 10, 2005 at 03:49:58 PM EST

Wormholes. That if I turn on a flashlight while going 99% the speed of light, it doesn't emit at 199% the speed of light. If you want more mundane examples: the earth revolves around the sun; that we evolved from apes.

The reasons these are absurd is because of the non-obvious nature of all of these. We must learn these absurdities. But, then, like the article describes, if we continue calling them absurd we'll be Inside-Out. With math and science, they make sense. Without math and science, they are absurd (albeit truth). Part of the human condition is that there is a lot more truth than we have math and science to cope or employ for explanation.

Perhaps you're talking about a different kind of absurdity than the author is talking about. Maybe you're talking about inconsistency or contradiction, neither of which completely encapsulate the absurd. Consistency is no great achievement and neither is contradiction. The trick is to explain things that don't make immediate sense like my example of the speed of light. We might make it intelligible, but then we're just dealing with this absurd phenomena as it is and not as we'd prefer it. This is the same as Sisyphus' condition. For him to roll a rock up a hill is no different than us to propose a heliocentric model from a geocentric perspective.

Remember that scene from Monty Python where they were trying to determine whether the woman was a witch? Would you call it absurd to weigh a woman against a duck to determine her witchiness? Does the absurdity of the situation arise because of the method or the way it was derived? Obviously both are absurd but if we were to treat them seriously, we could say that their faulty reasoning may have been based on the best knowledge of their time: absurd logic and an absurd experiment makes the entire situation--say it with me--absurd.

Is modern science less capable of absurdity in exactly the same way?

I drank what?

[ Parent ]
Stars had to explode for this. (none / 0) (#46)
by Russell Dovey on Thu May 12, 2005 at 04:01:58 AM EST

And for me to eat a sandwich.

Stars had to explode so that the Pope could have sex. And what does he do... he blows it! (or doesn't, which is bad!)

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan
[ Parent ]

So.... (none / 0) (#51)
by khallow on Thu May 12, 2005 at 12:30:34 PM EST

I gather your argument is that we can find anything absurd, we just need to find someone who sufficiently fails to understand. But IMHO what makes Monty Python classically absurd is that these situations reflect the reality of our society. That there's someone somewhere in a position of respectability and authority, who should in theory know better, performing the modern equivalent of the witch versus duck comparison test.

In this particular case, the knight starts by acting as a voice of reason who sets out to make things right, and then veers into absurdity.

Here's my counterexample. I recently watched (as part of a mathematics talk) the Monty Python skit, the Ministry of Silly Walks where serious people in serious suits prance around with really bizarre gaits. The classic scene is where a would-be inventor seeks government funding to perfect their particular not-so-silly walk. Here, silly walks aren't an area of ignorance. We aren't (to steal an example from the skit) going to fall behind the Japanese. We can't say, oh this poor official, he doesn't understand that silly walks are silly. After all, he does. It's in the name after all.

Having said that, I recall after discussion with a K5 lurker, John Flux that there is indeed some absurdity in mathematics. To wit, in quantum field theory, a particular renormalization developed I think during the 60's or 70's was found to be equivalent to claiming an infinite sum of 1's (1+1+1+...) is equal to -1/2. I gather that Joe Polchinski in a 1986 paper, determined why this was the case.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

yes, absurdity is a perspective (none / 0) (#59)
by SocratesGhost on Fri May 13, 2005 at 10:46:02 AM EST

There are two ways to look at it, though: that a particular phenomena is absurd but you'll seek to rationalize it or that a particular phenomena is not absurd by you'll seek to rationalize it anyway. Our rationalizations of a thing say very little about whether we find it absurd or not.

I like to think of this type of absurdity as expectation. For example, in all my experience knees look about the same on every creature. My expectations about knees indulges me with a momentary amusement when I look at the flamingo, though. Now, I can investigate and find more about why the flamingo appears as it does and expand my knowledge about both knees and birds, but the initial absurdity is what encourages me to find out more. I find myself motivated by it. Far from discounting the absurdity, I embraced it. But even knowing the answer (what we see as the knee is actually its ankle), I can still look at the flamingo and get a good chuckle over its ill-placed knees.

Now, take that experience with the flamingo and let us consider other phenomena--suppose we look at the last example from my previous list: we don't all agree on the truth. If we accept it merely as it is, we are not motivated to go further. However, accepting that it is absurd perhaps I'll learn more about human nature or minimally I'll probably develop theories to try to account for it. It won't necessarily change the fundamental statement about human disagreement, but perhaps our investigations can uncover a cause for this.

This, then, is one of the benefits of embracing absurdity, that it encourages us to rationalize why things are. It's not a proposition of failing to understand but a wonderment for the phenomena presented to us through existence. On this level scientific curiosity is curiosity about absurdities. At least, that's how I've come to understand this essay.

I drank what?

[ Parent ]
Easy (none / 0) (#43)
by Thought Assassin on Thu May 12, 2005 at 02:16:14 AM EST

The halting problem (effectively a reformulation of Godel) leads to all manner of undecidable program properties that those who write compilers, design type systems, optimise code, or try to automate the process of proving programs correct would dearly love to be decidable.

[ Parent ]
I gave Bonita a bowling ball with my name on it (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by MichaelCrawford on Tue May 10, 2005 at 02:16:34 PM EST

... for her birthday in 2000, just two weeks after our wedding.

That's what she called it anyway. I had to special order it because I couldn't find it in any of the bookstores in St. John's:

A copy of Godel, Escher, Bach: the Eternal Golden Braid.

The reason I thought she might enjoy it is that she had independently discovered the concept of formal systems when she was only twelve years old.

What I failed to understand is that what this discovery actually meant to her was that the whole discipline of mathematics was completely pointless.

I haven't given her many books since then.


Live your fucking life. Sue someone on the Internet. Write a fucking music player. Like the great man Michael David Crawford has shown us all: Hard work, a strong will to stalk, and a few fries short of a happy meal goes a long way. -- bride of spidy

Yeah.. (3.00 / 3) (#23)
by kcidx on Tue May 10, 2005 at 04:58:47 PM EST

My thoughts while reading this story were pretty much like, "Creatively written. Looks like someone picked a copy of G.E.B. recently." My ex bought me my second copy of that book after I loaned and lost the first one. She never had the faintest idea what I was jabbering about.

[ Parent ]
Tell her (none / 0) (#25)
by trane on Tue May 10, 2005 at 05:25:23 PM EST

sex is no more or less pointless than mathematics. That's Camus' point i think...

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I noticed that. (none / 1) (#44)
by ubernostrum on Thu May 12, 2005 at 02:29:04 AM EST

What I failed to understand is that what this discovery actually meant to her was that the whole discipline of mathematics was completely pointless.

I read about Gödel's proof and the next day I found that two and two was suddenly five.

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]
0, nothing to discuss here (1.25 / 4) (#17)
by Ptyx on Tue May 10, 2005 at 02:19:52 PM EST

The whole thing is absurd...
-- "On voudrais parfois ętre cannibale, moins pour le plaisir de dévorer tel ou tel que pour celui de le vomir... " Cioran
Good luck getting this voted up (1.83 / 6) (#19)
by morewhine on Tue May 10, 2005 at 03:23:54 PM EST

It's definitely a +1 FP, but considering that such a huge number of K5 users place extreme importance on the notion that the world is objectively orderly, rational, and predictable, holding extreme faith faith that mathematics and science will INEVITABLY explain everything that is currently unexplainable, you will probably get voted down.  Hopefully, I am wrong.

As a rational thinker (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by tetsuwan on Tue May 10, 2005 at 03:47:25 PM EST

I have to vote this + 1FP

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance

-1 not a nullo (1.00 / 3) (#29)
by Phssthpok on Tue May 10, 2005 at 06:41:01 PM EST

The beauty of k5 is that a well-written article can be submitted under an appropriate false name.

affective flattening has caused me to kill 11,357 people

On Absurdity (3.00 / 3) (#34)
by brain in a jar on Wed May 11, 2005 at 04:26:09 AM EST

The absurdity of this existance is something I have been persuaded of for some time. I however have difficulty in seeing why anyone can or should be happy about it.

You don't really cover this here, other than by making the unsupported assertion that:

"the absurd and happiness are two sons of the same earth".

As much as I would like to, I'm not sure that I buy that.

More absurdity: Some horses have hayfever...

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.

life is absurd (3.00 / 7) (#36)
by circletimessquare on Wed May 11, 2005 at 12:41:09 PM EST

it's just a giant turd
and it's so boring here in the burbs
guess i'll go light up some herb

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

I don't know how I missed this in the queue (2.25 / 4) (#45)
by ubernostrum on Thu May 12, 2005 at 02:32:08 AM EST

But confusing incompleteness with absurdity is one of the more interesting errors of thinking I've seen lately.

You cooin' with my bird?
The fact that we can't know how it all works... (2.00 / 2) (#47)
by Russell Dovey on Thu May 12, 2005 at 04:07:09 AM EST

...isn't absurd to you?

All these scientists, philosophers, etc: all on a futile crusade to understand something which can't be understood!

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan
[ Parent ]

Doesn't follow. (1.50 / 2) (#48)
by ubernostrum on Thu May 12, 2005 at 04:53:33 AM EST

"In any formal system there are theorems which are undecidable within that system" does not imply "we can never understand it all". Especially not in the realm of science, since I know of no scientific disciplines which also happen to be formal systems. Most philosophic systems are, likewise, not formal systems.

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]
first-order logic (none / 0) (#49)
by Friedrich Dionysus on Thu May 12, 2005 at 05:20:31 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Yes. (none / 0) (#50)
by ubernostrum on Thu May 12, 2005 at 07:24:37 AM EST

However, I know of no scientific discipline which is founded upon first-order logic. And the only serious philosophic systems founded on it have gone rather far out of fashion.

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]
Yes, but you must have faith in science then (none / 0) (#52)
by morewhine on Thu May 12, 2005 at 06:20:45 PM EST

Yes, simply because we do not understand certain characteristics of the universe NOW does not mean that we will NEVER understand them, but you must admit that you must then exhibit FAITH in the ability of science to eventually answer those questions.  

Science has a good track record, and while our understanding of the universe has expanded, it is still extremely tiny in relation to some of the most fundamental questions of life/the universe.  

At least admit that you have FAITH in science to reveal answers to questions that we currently have.  Personally, I believe that while science will inevitably lead towards a greater understanding, it is naive to think that science will inevitably be able to answer everything.

[ Parent ]

I do. (none / 0) (#56)
by ubernostrum on Fri May 13, 2005 at 12:22:01 AM EST

I don't have any issues with the problem of induction, so saying "this method has worked well in the past, thus it is likely to continue working well in the future" poses no problem to me.

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]
Thanks for admitting (none / 0) (#57)
by morewhine on Fri May 13, 2005 at 03:00:49 AM EST

that faith in science is still faith.  Granted, science has actually led to tangible results regarding the improvement of both our understanding of the universe and our ability to manipulate our environment, generally to improve our lives, but the point here is that one must still have faith in the 'inevitable' progress of science to eventually provide us with answers to questions that are currently unanswerable.

I personally don't feel the same extreme degree of faith in science as you do.  That's not to say isn't useful or important, just that I am skeptical regarding the possibility that science will some day be able to answer every known question we have about the universe.  And if that day ever did come...well, there really wouldn't be much of a point in living anymore, now would there?  'Everything has been discovered.  We now know the answers to every question imaginable' = horribly boring and depressing because all of the mystery of life has been taken away.

[ Parent ]

Well. (none / 0) (#58)
by ubernostrum on Fri May 13, 2005 at 03:54:41 AM EST

There's a type of faith involved, but it's more a faith in empirical observation, that the information coming to me through my senses is reliable. My belief that since scientific method has been useful in the past it'll continue to be useful in the future is less 'faith' and more of an inductive inference.

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]
Inductive reference is still faith, though (none / 1) (#60)
by morewhine on Fri May 13, 2005 at 04:38:26 PM EST

"Inductive reference?"  It's quite a HUGE prediction though - a great degree of faith must be placed in science, particularly at this point in time with very little scientific progress in comparison to the large questions about life that still remain and that science has only been able to put a dent into answering or solving.

One example of a reason that I place less faith than you in science to eventually solve every possible mystery of the universe/life is that even with such vaunted "scientific progress" we STILL have an overall cancer death rate that is actually not significantly better than it was fifty years ago.  Progress in other medical fields yes, but not cancer.  That is just one example, and the reality is that cancer is only miniscule in comparison to the larger questions of the universe.  My point is that when I actually see some type of significant understanding of the universe/life come into existence that is proven and not constantly mutating or changing, then I will place as much faith in science as you do to ultimately be able to answer every single question we have about our existence.

[ Parent ]

Except (none / 1) (#62)
by ubernostrum on Fri May 13, 2005 at 10:00:44 PM EST

I don't see many of those "larger questions" as falling within the realm of empirically falsifiable theories, and hence they are not the sort of thing science will ever deal with. The initial comment I was responding to claimed that, because of Gödel's theorem, science is relatively powerless -- that somehow the incompleteness theorem would apply to the ability of scientific disciplines to thoroughly understand their subject matter.

I responded that this was an incorrect assertion, because Gödel's theorem only applies to formal systems and no scientific disciplines of which I'm aware are or are based solely upon formal systems.

Philosophic questions about existence are, by definition, outside the magisterium of science and thus don't enter into the picture for me at all; I simply believe that, based on its past track record, the scientific method is likely to lead us to understanding of most or all of the observable phenomena we encounter in the universe.

You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]
Cancer and death rates (none / 0) (#67)
by tetsuwan on Mon May 16, 2005 at 11:42:30 AM EST

Remember that your chance of surviving ten years after a cancer diagnose is much better now than 50 years ago. Your complain boils down to "cancer still kills the very old and weak". As "death from old age" is not a valid cause of death, overall death cause statistics is not a valid basis for your argument. Most important, it will always sum up to 100%.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

You're wrong (1.50 / 2) (#70)
by morewhine on Tue May 17, 2005 at 08:23:24 PM EST

Cancer is NOT just killing the very old or very weak.  You need to view the statistics and trends from google.  They basically show that cancer is still a generally fatal disease, and that any "advances" we have made (chemo-therapy and radiation have been around for 30-40 years) have not put a significant dent into the percentage of people dying from cancer.

[ Parent ]
Even you are a science ideologue (none / 1) (#63)
by cronian on Sat May 14, 2005 at 01:16:35 PM EST

"Granted, science has actually led to tangible results regarding the improvement of both our understanding of the universe and our ability to manipulate our environment"

Under what standards do you judge this statement? Are you applying scientific standards? If not, you still face the meta dilemma.

The only real question is where you truly place your faith. Although, some ideologies are more easily corruptible than others. Some require greater training, and some are the corruption of others.

We perfect it; Congress kills it; They make it; We Import it; It must be anti-Americanism
[ Parent ]
Very good, I agree with your post (n/t) (none / 1) (#64)
by morewhine on Sat May 14, 2005 at 07:13:34 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I have a theory... (none / 1) (#61)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri May 13, 2005 at 07:19:36 PM EST

Those most inclined to make loose allusions to Godel's incompleteness theorem happen to also be those who stopped reading GEB halfway through and continued on with just the dialogue chapters, confident that they had already got the gist of it.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
aren't they? (none / 0) (#65)
by Delirium on Mon May 16, 2005 at 03:09:26 AM EST

There is a thesis that the human brain is a formal system (i.e. a "biological computer"), and therefore anything it does is done within a formal system.

[ Parent ]
Nice. (2.50 / 2) (#53)
by pbkobold on Thu May 12, 2005 at 06:25:00 PM EST

I generally don't like reading ontology pieces, but this one was enjoyable. Maybe it was the kinda narrative form that did it for me.

Hmm. (1.00 / 2) (#54)
by ertelc on Thu May 12, 2005 at 10:27:45 PM EST

Didn't really enjoy this ontology.
[%] Free Ringtones
Godel (none / 1) (#55)
by Lzygenius on Thu May 12, 2005 at 11:46:57 PM EST

The sentence: "This sentence cannot be proven true." is an invalid arguement because it is circular logic.

Stupid philosophers... (none / 0) (#66)
by clambake on Mon May 16, 2005 at 10:19:50 AM EST

This sentence cannot be proven true.

This sentence CAN be proven to be true... In that it has the ability to be proven true.  It CAN be proven that 2+2=5.  It just won't be, because it's not 5.  The consequences of that ability have nothing to do with the ability itself.  

CAN does not mean MUST BE.  CAN just implies that something possible, not that it will happen.  

Taking my 2+2=5 equation...  In non-euclidian space, this is indeed a possibility.  So, actually, 2+2=5 will infact be proven to be true in the confines of the space-time we live in are changed somehow.

Some kind of non-boolean universe where things can exist in different states simultaneously, something would be both true and false at the same time.  In such a universe a patently false thing could be true.

Unfortunately, most philosophers are small-minded nitwits who think that the questions that they posit have no answers just because they can't think of any for themselves.

you don't know what you're talking about (none / 0) (#69)
by SocratesGhost on Tue May 17, 2005 at 11:24:56 AM EST

In your zeal to point out an error, you demonstrated yourself to be a small-minded nitwit.

Part of the problem of Gödel's proof (and philosophy in general) is the tendency to think that if someone gives you a conclusion that the underlying support should be either immediately obvious or easily demonstrated, even though we never expect this in any other discipline. If this essay discussed E=mc2 and the speed of light, we'd probably avoid showing our ignorance by saying "Of course we can go faster than light, they do it in the movies all the time." Right now, that person is you. You're the person who just heard the Cliff's Notes of Rousseau "Man is born free and everywhere is in chains." and then pointed out that you're not a slave.

In short, your example is silly and here's why: Gödel wasn't talking about that sentence. He was talking about properties within meta-mathematics. It's linguistic equivalent is that particular sentence but even if you develop language such that you could accomodate that sentence, we're no longer talking about the same language. You need to prove it within this language that we all already understand, just as you would need to determine if 2+2=5 is true in the traditional math that everyone presumes we are talking about. Moreover, if you do change language (or the math system), you're no better than you were before because the problem follows you. You may make a particular proposition true1 but you'll make other statements false or impossible and somewhere in there, there will be an indeterminable statement. It's a game of whack-a-mole that never ends.

Want the proof? Here you go. If you want a more legible version, pay the couple of dollars to get Nagel's excellent book. Come back when you're less of a nitwit.

1 In fact, trying to make it true as you did is missing the point--we don't care if it's true or false. What we do care about is whether we can even determine if it's true or false. Even in a modified system in which a determination of that statement is possible, the whack-a-mole problem still exists.

I drank what?

[ Parent ]
silly rabbit... (none / 0) (#72)
by clambake on Mon Jun 06, 2005 at 10:02:32 AM EST

we'd probably avoid showing our ignorance by saying "Of course we can go faster than light, they do it in the movies all the time."

You CAN go faster than light fool...  Light can be slowed down by passing it through various mediums.  Light in a particular bose einstein condensate can be slowed down that you can walk faster than it.

If you had said "speed of light in a vacuum" it's be a different story, which you did NOT...  Which makes this part of your post wonderfully ironic.

[ Parent ]

godel and incompleteness (none / 0) (#71)
by keylaeris on Thu May 19, 2005 at 10:19:01 AM EST

is consistently oversimplified by even the better minds that i know.

wiki link

its not as simple as self referencing paradoxes guys...

to quote the article :

"The following rephrasing of the second theorem is even more unsettling to the foundations of mathematics:

    If an axiomatic system can be proven to be consistent from within itself, then it is inconsistent.

Therefore, in order to establish the consistency of a system S, one needs to utilize some other system T, but a proof in T is not completely convincing unless T's consistency has already been established without using S. The consistency of the Peano axioms for natural numbers for example can be proven in set theory, but not in the theory of natural numbers alone."

i like to think of heisenberg's uncertainty and godel's incompleteness as brothers in arms -- what a wonderfully weird universe we live in, and it gives us meaning because we act as the only sentient probes into the unknown.

ps. i like dune a lot, does it show?

circular logic (none / 0) (#73)
by mrcloudy on Wed Jul 06, 2005 at 01:43:56 PM EST

the following statement is false,
the previous statement is true.

each defining the other answer, kind of a symbiotic relationship

*no one likes what i like, thats why i like it*
Sisyphus, In His Own Words | 73 comments (49 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
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