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Author Topic: Is infinity an illusion?  (Read 68351 times)

Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #350 on: 24/10/2013 13:59:47 »
The same argument can be made for the difference between a piece of wood and a bacterium, say, because although a bacterium is nothing like a human being it is even less like a piece of wood!
I'm aware of the varying complexities of wood, bacteria, and humans. But it's not just complexity that's relevant. A dead person is far more complex, yes, and dynamic, than a bacterium. But which has conscious experience (if either) ?

So, to repeat the question, are you saying that bacteria, fungi, plants, etc., all have conscious experience and can use it to generate the illusion of time?

If so, can you explain precisely what you mean by 'conscious experience' ?


A dead person is actually decomposing and is inactive, so on that level there is no complexity at all in terms of living processes. I think we have to make a distinction between an organism's parts and the ability to be greater than the parts due to conscious awareness.

Lower lifeforms certainly have the ability to organise how they eat, avoid predators and other dangers, mate and so on, so, yes one would have to attribute at least this degree of consciousness to them. Now, as you can imagine, the concept of time is crucial to being able to achieve all of this since time is crucial in reacting to stimulii which promotes the chances of an organism's survival. Cause-and-affect is equally crucial because otherwise an organism would not be able to distinguish between what is danger and non-danger. So you can see that the ability of living things to navigate their way through their environments demands that they have the ability to experience time and space. When you ask me, however, to define exactly what a consciousness experience is you are asking me something philosophers, scientists and poets have been trying to answer from time immemorial! There is no simple all-defining answer to that question since it depends on the perspective the question is framed in.
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #351 on: 27/10/2013 18:32:33 »
A lot of interesting points have been raised in this protracted thread, and a lot of re-capping would be necessary to be able to summarise it, so I think I might pass on that.

I appreciate the efforts of other posters, and would like to make a start on some feedback.  Experience teaches that a little at a time is the best way forward.

It is important to note that I distinguish between the Universe and the cosmos in an attempt to avoid confusion as to what I am trying to say.  It is also important to note that references to nothing mean “absolutely nothing” unless otherwise qualified.

In this thread, by applying rigorous scientific terminology and reasoning, we seem to have established that it is scientifically meaningless to state that “had there ever been nothing, there would be nothing now”, because nothing is not defined in science. 

To apply this reasoning to the Universe, or to the cosmos, by extrapolation from the Universe; and thus to reason that the cosmos must be eternal, is also scientifically meaningless.  The basis on which this is seen to be scientifically meaningless is that because our knowledge is predicated on our observations of the Universe, we cannot know if, outside the Universe, the laws of physics which we observe would still apply.  Therefore, it might be possible for something to come from nothing, either without cause, or by some process of which we have, and can have, no knowledge.  To reason from such a standpoint would not be science. 

 

Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #352 on: 28/10/2013 15:40:00 »
Yep, that's basically my view of it, which I think is valid (and my credentials are a Ph.D. in physics and years of work and study in the field). 

This could all be overturned in an instant if someone were to come along and figure out how to measure "absolutely nothing," but I can't even imagine a way that could happen. 

This discussion might benefit from some professional philosophers who crack open the concept of absolute nothingness.  As a scientist, it's an idea that's very alien to me...
 

lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #353 on: 28/10/2013 16:21:00 »
This discussion might benefit from some professional philosophers who crack open the concept of absolute nothingness.  As a scientist, it's an idea that's very alien to me...
Perhaps the concept of absolute nothingness is an unique trait of intelligence, with no such 'state' (want of a better word) as absolute nothingness found anywhere in an infinite universe. And those which talk of it should be made to explain why it should be part of science.
Ps, As you can see I'm no philosopher.
« Last Edit: 28/10/2013 16:35:01 by beany »
 

Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #354 on: 28/10/2013 17:10:45 »
... those which talk of it should be made to explain why it should be part of science.
I don't see how it can be part of science - by definition it isn't there, & by inference it doesn't exist!
 

lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #355 on: 28/10/2013 18:34:09 »
... those which talk of it should be made to explain why it should be part of science.
I don't see how it can be part of science - by definition it isn't there, & by inference it doesn't exist!
Yes, I agree.
I did have Bill's post in mind
Quote
To apply this reasoning to the Universe, or to the cosmos, by extrapolation from the Universe; and thus to reason that the cosmos must be eternal, is also scientifically meaningless.  The basis on which this is seen to be scientifically meaningless is that because our knowledge is predicated on our observations of the Universe, we cannot know if, outside the Universe, the laws of physics which we observe would still apply.  Therefore, it might be possible for something to come from nothing, either without cause, or by some process of which we have, and can have, no knowledge.  To reason from such a standpoint would not be science.

Bill, If there are laws and processes which we don’t know of or can know of, why do you reason that it automatically follows that somewhere there must  be laws or processes requiring the concept of absolute nothing? 
 Something like the up side down Egyptian pyramid here.

« Last Edit: 28/10/2013 18:56:56 by beany »
 

Offline AndroidNeox

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #356 on: 29/10/2013 00:15:15 »
Within a causal system, infinity isn't observable. Consider Feynman diagrams... events happen one at a time. For any observer to see/interact with an infinite amount of information would require infinite time and infinite energy and the observer would have to have infinite information capacity. Observation isn't special, either. No interaction, event, can include an infinity.

Simple rules of causality are sufficient to explain why no infinities are observable though QM suggests they exist.
 

Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #357 on: 29/10/2013 14:50:33 »
The hope for those trying to measure if the universe is infinite or not would be that there would be some finite parameter(s) that could be measured that might tell us if the universe is infinite.

Of course, it might also be that we can never distinguish between "really, really big" and infinite.
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #358 on: 29/10/2013 19:37:28 »
Quote from: Beany
Bill, If there are laws and processes which we don’t know of or can know of, why do you reason that it automatically follows that somewhere there must  be laws or processes requiring the concept of absolute nothing?

I don’t have time to check back to see if I really did say that.  If I did, I was playing devil’s advocate.  It has been known.   :)

The fact is that I cannot, logically, see how there can ever have been nothing, which seems to be tantamount to saying I believe there is no such “thing” as nothing.  OK, that’s not science, that’s a belief.  In my own defense I would add that the reverse of this would be to assume that nothing is “something real”.  Manifestly, there is something now, so if nothing is a real concept it must have existed in what we perceive as the past.  Ergo, there was nothing, but now there is something.  Nothing became something.  To argue that this could have happen would necessitate making an assumption which, as far as I am aware, has no basis in any known reality.

On the other hand, if nothing is not a real concept, there can never have been nothing; thus there must always have been something.  Something is eternal.  Since we cannot measure, or even really imagine eternity, this also involves making an assumption. 

At this point we have to make a decision; either we decide which assumption is likely to be the more valuable to follow, or we have to say “don’t know – can’t think about it".  How far would science have progressed over the past 300 years if scientists adopted the latter position?
 


 

lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #359 on: 30/10/2013 18:58:52 »
On the other hand, if nothing is not a real concept, there can never have been nothing; thus there must always have been something.  Something is eternal.  Since we cannot measure, or even really imagine eternity, this also involves making an assumption.
I can see where your coming from.
When I think of laws or unknown processes, there is a 'something' to be covered by a law or 'something' to be part of a process, even if that process is unkown or can't be known to us.

My starting point was asking the question: “Can there ever have been a time when there was nothing?”
When running the equations of the Universe backwards the contents and spacetime become undeterminable, but, there's still something, even though it's undeterminable.
The person who wants to add an absolute nothing to the mix should explain where that fits in.
« Last Edit: 30/10/2013 19:04:56 by beany »
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #360 on: 30/10/2013 19:11:53 »
Quote from: Beany
  The person who wants to add an absolute nothing to the mix should explain where that fits in.

Agreed, but the way to avoid that sort of difficulty is to argue that there might have been nothing, and that there could have been a mechanism, of which we have no knowledge, which might have made it possible for something to appear spontaneously.  Come back God, all might be forgiven.  ;P

 

lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #361 on: 30/10/2013 19:40:14 »
Quote from: Beany
  The person who wants to add an absolute nothing to the mix should explain where that fits in.

Agreed, but the way to avoid that sort of difficulty is to argue that there might have been nothing, and that there could have been a mechanism, of which we have no knowledge,
A mechanism is a 'something'/process existing.

To play the devil's advocate,  I would ask...If it makes sense to say there is an unknown mechanism to get a Universe from an absolute nothing,then it makes the same kind of sense to say... there could be an unknown mechanism to make a Universe into an absolute nothing, what happens to your idea of eternity then?
« Last Edit: 30/10/2013 19:53:09 by beany »
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #362 on: 31/10/2013 21:35:09 »
Quote from: beany
A mechanism is a 'something'/process existing.

Absolutely!  The more one thinks about nothing, the less likely it seems that there could ever have been nothing.
 

lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #363 on: 01/11/2013 16:57:04 »
Quote from: beany
A mechanism is a 'something'/process existing.

Absolutely!  The more one thinks about nothing, the less likely it seems that there could ever have been nothing.
I did make the point about unknown laws and unknowable processes having to be for a ‘something’ here...
When I think of laws or unknown processes, there is a 'something' to be covered by a law or 'something' to be part of a process, even if that process is unknown or can't be known to us.

Your next post went on to introduce an argument for an unknown mechanism.
Didn't you think a mechanism needs a 'something' to be a mechanism for?

Agreed, but the way to avoid that sort of difficulty is to argue that there might have been nothing, and that there could have been a mechanism, of which we have no knowledge, which might have made it possible for something to appear spontaneously.  Come back God, all might be forgiven.  ;P
My bold.

« Last Edit: 01/11/2013 17:25:49 by beany »
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #364 on: 01/11/2013 18:10:47 »
Quote from: Bill S
Agreed, but the way to avoid that sort of difficulty is to argue that there might have been nothing, and that there could have been a mechanism, of which we have no knowledge, which might have made it possible for something to appear spontaneously.

I think I wasn’t very clear here.  I cited that line of argument as the sort of counter one often meets; not necessarily as an argument I would use.  However, if scientists use it, it is best to be aware of it and to factor it into one’s thinking.

Quote
Come back God, all might be forgiven.  ;P

This was intended to draw attention to the similarity between arguments based on unknown/unknowable factors and some arguments founded on religious beliefs.
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #365 on: 01/11/2013 18:19:48 »
Quote from: beany
Didn't you think a mechanism needs a 'something' to be a mechanism for?

I would go further and say that a mechanism is something, as is a potential or a possibility.  Your point that “a mechanism needs a 'something' to be a mechanism for” is correct, but it is step 2 in the chain of reasoning.
 

lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #366 on: 03/11/2013 10:14:50 »

I would go further and say that a mechanism is something, as is a potential or a possibility. 
Further??
I also made that point too...check it out
A mechanism is a 'something'/process existing.
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #367 on: 03/11/2013 23:40:15 »
Quote from: beany
I also made that point too...check it out

You did indeed.  I was responding only to the specific quote. 

It would be interseting to make a comparison to see to what extent we are "on the same page".
 

Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #368 on: 04/11/2013 09:32:08 »
Those of us interested in the idea of 'nothing' from a science point of view, might be interested in a new book from New Scientist magazine called, appropriately, 'Nothing'.
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #369 on: 04/11/2013 17:09:34 »
Those with access to the venue may also be interested in:

Nothing is the intriguing theme of the latest book from New Scientist, to be published on
7 November. Take zero, a critically important number to our modern world with a difficult birth. Anaesthetics that take our consciousness to the brink of nothingness. Or the nocebo effect, where just a few words can kill.

Discover more by joining the team from New Scientist and our panel of guest speakers (including Marcus Chown & Helen Pilcher) for an entertaining evening of amazing insights into nothingness:

When?
Wednesday 13th November from 6:30pm - 8:30pm (doors open at 6pm)

Where?
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL

Tickets:
£10 (inc. booking fee & copy of Nothing book) in advance from NSnothing.eventbrite.co.uk
or £10 on the door if available (not including book)*.

Make sure you don't miss this fascinating event, and if you know someone who may be interested in attending, share this link with them: NSnothing.eventbrite.co.uk
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #370 on: 04/11/2013 17:11:33 »
Sorry folks, I've just checked and they are sold out.
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #371 on: 06/11/2013 00:08:17 »
Quote from: JP
This could all be overturned in an instant if someone were to come along and figure out how to measure "absolutely nothing,"

Arguing that there can never have been nothing seems tantamount to asserting that "nothing" does not "exist".  I fail to see why this calls for a precise definition of "nothing".  Other than as "the absence of anything"; how could we define something that does not exist?
 

Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #372 on: 06/11/2013 01:29:38 »
Quote from: JP
This could all be overturned in an instant if someone were to come along and figure out how to measure "absolutely nothing,"

Arguing that there can never have been nothing seems tantamount to asserting that "nothing" does not "exist".  I fail to see why this calls for a precise definition of "nothing".  Other than as "the absence of anything"; how could we define something that does not exist?

It depends if you want to discuss science or metaphysics.  Science involves the measurable, whereas metaphysics involves ideas, which may not be measurable. 
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #373 on: 06/11/2013 18:44:19 »
This may seem to be off topic, but it should find its way back, so I’m not starting a new thread. 

I would appreciate comments on my reasoning.

Where does the energy for the formation of virtual particles come from? 
Does this process violate the law of conservation of energy?

1. Energy is borrowed from the vacuum energy.

2. Repayment of the energy is to the vacuum.

3. The vacuum is an integral feature of the universe.

4. If it were possible to observe the energy while it was being borrowed, it would not be where classical physics says it should be.  However, it must still in the Universe.

5. At no time does energy leave or enter the universe; therefore, conservation of energy is not violated.
 

Offline woolyhead

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #374 on: 06/11/2013 20:45:44 »
I have no quarrel with infinite sets/series as mathematical tools.  As far as the extremely small is concerned, I am fine with “infinitesimally small”.  I wish scientists would use it instead of “infinitely small”, which, in my opinion, is tantamount to saying it cannot be further divided, even in principle.  If space is continuous, this must be the same as saying it is nonexistent.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no term, equivalent to “infinitesimal”, to cover things that are “sort of” infinitely large.     

I would certainly not “jump into the no-infinity boat”.  Without infinity, what would I argue about?  :)

Seriously, though, I see no realistic way round the idea that something must be eternal/infinite, otherwise we would not be here.  This has caused me to do a lot of thinking about infinity, which might well be considered as being philosophy rather than science.  I would not argue with that, except to say that if it is something so fundamental to our existence, then perhaps it has as much right to a place in scientific thought as does the underlying “reality” of QM.
In one of the very few theories that successfully combine quantum theory with relativity, Rovelli's "loop quantum gravity" sets a minimum dimension of space as being the Planck length. Space is seen as consisting of discrete loops. Time is viewed in the same way, ie separate loop from space loops on this scale. Thus space and time are separated on this scale. Whatever you may think about it going against Einstein's idea of spacetime, his theory works. So space is not infinitesimal. I would suggest that through symmetry considerations it looks as if it not infinitely big either. Indeed, if space was created at the big bang 15 billion years ago, it is 15 billion light years across. That's big but it's not infinite.
« Last Edit: 06/11/2013 20:49:18 by woolyhead »
 

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
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