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Faith in the Game
August 26, 2003 11:12 PM   Subscribe

The game has eleven rules. Do you play? What's the difference between knowing something and just knowing the name of it?
posted by majcher (32 comments total)

 
The author assumes in the last few paragraphs that this method of tile-building will eventually reach all destinations in the game-board

There is nothing inherent in the game that supports that assertion.

I also would question who sets the rules and why. I know this can get very meta, but I venture that the rules are upheld most strongly by the engineers, delighted with their new tiles, than by the scientists who are simply working out their own theories about how to build a multitude of tiles - to unify their construction not just assemble fact after fact aftr fact.

The major armchair philosophy I encounter on the web seems to be heavily slanted by programmers (no surprise) who seem to see everything in terms of an algorithm.

This is not so thinly veiled reductionism. That we can always break down a path into little component tiles. That all great understandings can be broken down into smaller understandings. Here I quote Feynman:

It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time...i have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple...But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make - 'I like it','I dont like it' - and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.

- from The Character of Physical Law
posted by vacapinta at 11:57 PM on August 26, 2003


Good point, vacapinta. The idea that everything in the universe can, and given enough time will, eventually be explained and understood by humans seems as much a product of faith as the idea that a supreme being cares whether I tell a lie or have premarital sex.
posted by hilatron at 4:23 AM on August 27, 2003


The idea that everything in the universe can, and given enough time will, eventually be explained and understood by humans...

I still stand by Gödel who says that although this might be true of humans, it still allows for a lot of true things that never can be proven.

And I would like to point out that Kurt actually used St. Paul as an example of his proof:

Titus 1:12-13 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;

O the conundrum, Oh the humanity!
posted by Dagobert at 5:13 AM on August 27, 2003


This is very interesting - especially as I've been thinking about the difference between faith and science lately.

Thanks, majcher

But I can't for the life of me figure out what the seductively attired fox/human hybrid has to do with it...
posted by spazzm at 6:07 AM on August 27, 2003


To be fair, the author only mentions as a possibility understanding how God works.

Still, I think the argument is misguided, or if it isn't misguided, it doesn't get us very far. Scientists proceed by building upon experiment and prior knowledge, those of a religious bent proceed by faith. What's new? The article centres on a human problem: that is, those on either side of the divide don't understand each other. That's a given, and even if with the help of this metaphor the two sides do start understanding each other that won't stop both believing that their method is right.

I don't adhere to any set of religious beliefs these days, but I know that the point of religion is faith. Once scientists say 'look, we've got to the end of the board, discovered everything, and proved categorically that God doesn't exist' all the believers have to do is go on believing that he does. Scientific proof is antithetical to faith, which is why Jesus is said to chide Thomas for not believing till he sees him risen from the dead: the whole point is that you're supposed to believe, and not need to rely on evidence.
posted by calico at 6:18 AM on August 27, 2003


The author says we're working toward the goal of explaining everything, but isn't consistent on the matter of whether we'll reach the goal given enough time or will simply make steady eternal progress.

One other element of the game makes me a bit uncomfortable: by what rules do tiles go next to other tiles? Clearly the intent is that one builds upon previous understanding to find new questions and new answers, but are these questions sitting there waiting to be asked or are they chosen by the those laying down the tiles? This looks like a pretty heady philosophical matter, but it seems essential to have an answer in order to play the game as described (whereas I don't think most scientists feel the need to know the answer in order to do good science).

On preview: you can't exactly prove that something doesn't exist. But while those with faith might not desire explanation, there are an awful lot of them who'd be very interested in personally witnessing a miracle or other proof of the divine. I would think these people would be more upset by the author's goal of making god no longer "special" by explaining Him.
posted by Songdog at 6:27 AM on August 27, 2003


Not just Gödel. The Heisenberg uncertainty Principle (Change in Position times Change in Momentum >= Planck's Constant) means that it is not possible to completely know the state of the universe to an infinite level of accuracy. When you're dealing with subatomic particles, the more accurately you know a particle's position, the less you can know about the particle's momentum, and visa versa.

Then, we have Erwin Schrodinger's Eigenstates -- situations where, without observation, we cannot make predictions on the state of the world, only state probabilities. Furthermore, in such an eigenstate, *both* outcomes have and have not occurred, simultaneously -- the correct statement is not "Either this or that has occurred in the box" but "Both this and that have occurred, and the probability field will not collapse until it observed. When that happens, only then can we state either this or that." Or, in the famous thought experiment, the cat is both alive and dead. So, there's a large part of the universe that's both true and false -- and possibly, neither (since eigenstates can have more than two states inherent.)

Now add in Gödel incompleteness theorems. The simplest form is that it is possible, in any system, to make a statement that says "I cannot be proven in system S." The first incompleteness theorem was related only to math -- "In any consistent formal system of mathematics sufficiently strong to allow one to do basic arithmetic, one can construct a statement about natural numbers that can be neither proven nor disproven within that system." Then there's the second incompleteness theorem, which extends things just a bit -- "Any sufficiently strong consistent system cannot prove its own consistency," or, in harsher terms "Any consistent system that can prove statement S is inconsistent."

This also ties to the first comment....

"The author assumes in the last few paragraphs that this method of tile-building will eventually reach all destinations in the game-board"

Well, yes. Most game players do, when they start. But, in the Scientific Method, there is no such certainty. Right now, the tiles on one part of the state that matter cannot travel faster than the speed of light, period -- any edge of the board that can only be reached by superluminal travel is currently unreachable. It may be that they are truly unreachable. It may be that they are reachable, we haven't found the tiles, yet. Or, in a nod to Gödel, we may never know -- we may just end up with a rolling sea of tiles laid, then sunk, as we try theory on theory, and shoot each down in turn.

(And, of course, note that as an analogy of the Scientific Method, it will almost certainly be incomplete. There's more to faith that belief in "God". There's the tiles that Gödel has played -- and that nobody has sunk yet.)
posted by eriko at 6:27 AM on August 27, 2003


The saying is that God works in mysterious ways. I contend that it isn't God that works in mysterious ways, it's human beings. We seem to need to explain the unexplainable in "magical" terms such as "faith" and "belief", yet the unexplainable, such as Jesus' ability to walk on water or his return from the dead, are more likely events based on allegory and metaphor rather than fact, events that were likely invented by "believers".

the whole point is that you're supposed to believe, and not need to rely on evidence.

It's important to realize that any religion has a very strong socio-political agenda, as the Roman Catholics (among many others) have been proving for many centuries who use "belief" to manipulate the "believers". How and when do we distinguish between what is "real" godliness and what is "manipulated" godliness. When the manipulation has gone on for so long that the manipulators have forgotten the truth, faith and belief inevitably break down into blindness. Often, on not very careful scrutiny, what we are told is religious fact (such as creationism, not to stir the pot) is obviously impossible, yet the proof is denied due to the hold faith has on people. Yet where in the Bible does it say that we can't question the facts of our faith? (I'm sure it's in there somewhere, but who put it there? One of the Popes? One of the Kings? Some bigwig Roman? We know it wasn't Jesus are any of the Apostles, since the Bible was written many years after their death.

On the other side of the coin, why can't scientists get to the end of the board and categorically prove that God does exist?

Anyway, I ramble incoherently and most likely off topic.
posted by ashbury at 6:43 AM on August 27, 2003


Not all religions place such a priority on faith. In Judaism, for example, you're supposed to question, prod at, understand what you're taught, not just absorb it passively. There are many other examples.

Religion |= Faith
posted by signal at 7:02 AM on August 27, 2003


Excuse my beginner's mistake in my last post: of course you can't prove a negative.

ashbury: yes, but I think that that confuses the sociological thing that is 'a religion' with all its power structures and politics with the original tenets of faith of any religion. It's not contradictory to hold beliefs that the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury is wrong at the same time that Jesus was right. What I was talking about is the kernel of the religious experience, which is that a believer has faith in a metaphysical something. And that that trying to scientifically prove or disprove the object of that faith can't be done because faith by its nature leaps over logic.

And sorry to go on, but I don't really see that the author claims that everything can be known. I see that he claims that we'll know the answer to inertia, which perhaps we won't. But bringing in Goedel seems a bit unfair: perhaps he thinks we'll know everything "within the set of things that can be known by humans" Oh, I'll stop now, I'm way out of my depth with Goedel (haven't found the umlaut yet)
posted by calico at 7:22 AM on August 27, 2003


The game itself is a tile.
posted by joquarky at 7:29 AM on August 27, 2003


"What the faithful aren't appreciating is that the point of the game is to get from here to there by obeying the rules."

That explains why so many cars that pass me on the interstate have little fish on the trunk lid or a bumper sticker reading "god is my co-pilot". ;-P
posted by mischief at 7:52 AM on August 27, 2003


Take Gödel, add some Heisenberg, mix in complex systems theory until emergent phenomena appear. Add a good helping of quantum chromodynamics. Stir on high (set mixer to 'c') for around fifteen billion years. Add a pinch of the strange loop you get out of joquarky's observation that the game itself is a tile, to taste. Serve when cooled to approximately 2.735 degrees above absolute zero.
posted by snarfodox at 8:34 AM on August 27, 2003


The game itself is a tile.

Exactly. Reductionism such as metaphysical-inquiry-into-board-game inevitably begs the question of the wider rules - a la Carroll's Achilles and the Tortoise. In other words, "The Game Has Eleven Rules," plus the rule about how many rules the game has, etc.
posted by soyjoy at 8:51 AM on August 27, 2003


Eriko: I hate to nitpick, but "eigenstate" has a very specific meaning in quantum physics, namely a state in which the outcome of a given measurement in certain. For example, if you measure the ionization energy of a hydrogen atom in its ground state, you'll always get 13.6 eV since the ground state is an energy eigenstate. It's true, though, that eigenstates of one observable are not necessarily eigenstates of another observable; for example, position eigenstates are not momentum eigenstates, and hence we have the Uncertainty Principle.

Songdog: The second rule posited by the author should probably read something like, "The game board is divided into squares, but you're not told how many squares wide or long it is, or even if the board is finite." (italics are my addition) We certainly don't know that every interaction in the Universe can be described by a finite set of laws. It's possible that there are exceptions all the way down, and while every new theory we postulate will be better at predicting nature, no model that we come up with will be precise.

As for how the tiles fit together, they don't necessarily need to. Granted, it's almost always easier to build off of someone else's work, but if you invented a tile out of whole cloth and it held weight, so much the better. This kind of thing isn't terribly common, though: the closest example I can think of is Srinivasa Ramanujan, perhaps the most brilliant mathematical mind of the 20th century. He would frequently have dreams in which the Hindu goddess Namakkal would appear and present mathematical formulae, which he would verify after waking.

Actually, on a little more reflection: another example might be Johann Balmer, who noticed that the frequencies of the lines of the hydrogen spectrum were all of the form constant * (1/n^2 - 1/m^2), where n and m are integers. This tile basically stood as an island — i.e. the formula worked remarkably well, but nobody knew why — until the tile was connected to the "mainland" via Niels Bohr and the discovery of quantum mechanics.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:00 AM on August 27, 2003


Excuse my beginner's mistake in my last post: of course you can't prove a negative.

Sure you can. There's no difference between a negative and a positive statement except the way you state the problem. I could say "There is no car in the garage"; this is a negative statement, but you can easily turn it into "The garage is empty", a positive statement. Either one can be proved by observation.

Perhaps you mean, "you can't prove the nonexistence of a proposed entity", which is closer, but still only true if the definition of said entity does not contradict itself or specify attributes which can definitely be observed. One can prove the nonexistence of the car in the garage by going to the garage and looking for it; but it is much harder to disprove the existence of an invisible pink unicorn in the garage, simply because it is invisible. I suppose you could try it by spilling a quantity of sand on the floor and looking for hoofmarks; if your challenger then replies that the invisible pink unicorn is capable of levitation, or that it is not necessarily located in the garage, but possibly anywhere in the universe, or perhaps outside of the universe, the resulting frustration you are likely to feel will closely resemble that experienced by rationally-minded people attempting to discuss God with the faithful.

Still, it is even possible to prove the nonexistence of an invisible entity that cannot be perceived directly; the Michelson-Morley experiment from the late 1880s is one famous example. Physicists had previously suspected that light travelled through a medium called the "luminiferous ether", much as sound travels through air; in an attempt to discover the nature of this imperceptible ether, Michelson and Morley ended up demonstrating that it could not possibly exist.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:04 AM on August 27, 2003


Not all religions place such a priority on faith. In Judaism, for example, you're supposed to question, prod at, understand what you're taught, not just absorb it passively. There are many other examples.

Like Islam in the medeival era, where scientific inquiry and discovery brought us such goodies as the zero and medicine.

It seems that whenever any scientifically-minded folk attempt to brigde the gap between science and "faith", they immediately latch onto the fundamentalist, Bible-waving Christians. Moreover, they use that rather absurd extreme to tar all religious or spiritual movements. Which would be just as absurd as using Lamarck to discredit all science. Plenty of "faiths" have room for scientific inquiry. To focus on the brain-locked is both futile and disingenuous.
posted by solistrato at 9:39 AM on August 27, 2003


Exactly. Reductionism such as metaphysical-inquiry-into-board-game inevitably begs the question of the wider rules - a la Carroll's Achilles and the Tortoise. In other words, "The Game Has Eleven Rules," plus the rule about how many rules the game has, etc.

I think perhaps the author is referring to Karl Popper's 'critical rationalism' thesis when describing the scientific method. If so it may be the case that all he or she is trying to do is establish a simple language game to illustrate Popper's thesis and intended no statement in the philosophy of science at all.

Reductionism begs lots of higher order complexity questions. Network theory can provide a mechanism with which to describe how much information is lost when a network is disconnected. We can at least then be aware that our analytic choices are information-destructive and make them while conscious of that fact.
posted by snarfodox at 10:13 AM on August 27, 2003


Dagobert quotes St. Paul, quoting Epimenides the Cretan, taking his famous paradox (which is not strictly a paradox but merely a lie) seriously. I'm going to be amused by this, no end.
posted by wobh at 10:35 AM on August 27, 2003


snarfodox has is right.

The author isn't saying that science == the 11 rule game.

He's just trying to create an approximate metaphor so that non-scientist can understand what scientists are thinking and how they think. He's also trying to point out why so many people have problems with faith-based reasoning.

No, not every square on the board is reachable, and I don't think the author really assumes that. There are a lot of questions in the universe that are probably unanswerable (i.e. are primes able to be algorithmically determined).

And, no, the game itself is not a tile. That's a stupid thing to say.
posted by bshort at 10:46 AM on August 27, 2003


Hmmm. I think whether the game is or is not a tile is defined by Rule 11.

I think joquarky's "the game is a tile" is not only possible, but useful, because it leads to a wonderful infinite regression which illustrates nicely the limits of human understanding and the mootness of any arguments of "faith vs. science". It seems to me that such arguments are merely each side yelling "my game/tile is more meta than yours!", when in fact, they are playing different games while insisting that the other game follows their rules. Using tools from their respective bags labeled "Objective" and "Subjective", each ascribes meaning to observation and calls it Truth, apparently forgetting that they are playing a game.
posted by buzzv at 11:14 AM on August 27, 2003


Hmmm. I think whether the game is or is not a tile is defined by Rule 11.

Huh? How?

11. A player is defined as someone who obeys the rules. If you stop obeying the rules you cease to be a player until you start obeying the rules again.

Yeah, I'm just not seeing it.
posted by bshort at 11:22 AM on August 27, 2003


And, no, "the game itself is a tile" is not a stupid thing to say. That's a stupid thing to say.
posted by soyjoy at 11:23 AM on August 27, 2003


The seductively attired fox is clearly an occult Gonterman reference.
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:53 AM on August 27, 2003


ok, so "the game itself is a tile" eh?

What does that possibly mean?

Is the game a tile in itself? No, that makes no sense. After all, if you laid down a tile that was the overall game, could that tile ever break (through some sort of proof of falsity)? And if it did, would that mean that the whole game is a failure?

Of course not. The "game" is a thought experiment, carefully set up to describe science, and so even if you were able to set it up so that the "game" failed, would that say anything about science in the real world? Of course not.

So are you saying that the game is a "tile" in a larger ur-game?

In that case, what would another tile in the ur-game look like? Would it be another game with slightly different rules? What would it mean to move from one tile to another? What would it mean if one tile in the ur-game broke? Is there any possible relationship between two tiles in the ur-game?

Is there some other relationship between the game and it's rules that you're trying to imply? If so, what are they?

Or, are you just making inscrutable statements because you fancy yourself an intellectual?
posted by bshort at 12:17 PM on August 27, 2003


bshort:And, no, the game itself is not a tile. That's a stupid thing to say.

The author posits that a tile is an answer to a question about the universe. What about questions such as "Are all questions answerable using this method?","Is Induction ultimately a sound method for uncovering truth?","Do we invent the universe or do we discover it?"

The point is that a true scientist is always questioning how science works (not an engineer who just builds their bridges). His/her quest is to gain a greater understanding of the world not just to proselytize the scientific method.

You are always questioning the game. Maybe there is a better way to link tiles. Maybe we can create tile islands that dont link to the mainland.

Some of these can be tiles or they can be rules or assumptions. That is, we stick with the game because it can produce tiles we can stand on and hey! thats pretty good.

I think most people need less of an illustration of how science works than of how it is incompatible with faith. If the latter was the authors intent, I think this fails.

bshort: Or, are you just making inscrutable statements because you fancy yourself an intellectual?

Stay away from personal attacks. Clear, insightful argument should suffice.
posted by vacapinta at 12:36 PM on August 27, 2003


What about questions such as "Are all questions answerable using this method?","Is Induction ultimately a sound method for uncovering truth?","Do we invent the universe or do we discover it?"

According to the Game setup, those would each get their own tile. There is no need to resort to "the game is a tile" to answer any of these questions. Especially since a question about the game is not a question about the real universe.

Besides, the first question is not a question about the universe (it's a question about the game), the second question is implicit in the setup of the game and is supported by a rational view of the universe and of cause and effect, and the third question appears to be asking whether we create our own reality, which is irrelevant to the game.

Still, though, how does this address whether the game is a tile?

Stay away from personal attacks. Clear, insightful argument should suffice.

Actually, it was a question. And, sometimes personal attacks can be very effective as a form of argument.
posted by bshort at 12:50 PM on August 27, 2003


My interpretation of Rule 11 is that the game (an oncological system) is granted existance by consensus of the players on the boundaries of the game (how far we will look for definitions). Stating whether the game can or cannot be a tile seems like a rule in itself that players can either agree with and play, or disagree with and thereby leave that particular game.

So I'm taking my tiles and leaving, bshort. You win.
posted by buzzv at 12:53 PM on August 27, 2003


o my god. make that ontological. sheesh.
posted by buzzv at 12:55 PM on August 27, 2003


*cries*
posted by bshort at 1:23 PM on August 27, 2003


I'm reluctantly agreeing with bshort - there's no need to claim that the game is a tile, apart from the pseudo-intellectual pleasure one might derive from such recursive statements, because the object of the game is not to figure out the universe; the object of the game is to follow the rules of the game.

However, that's all beside the point because the point of the article was not to explain in detail how science works or to present a framework for solving all problems - it's just a metaphor for the differences between science and faith.

I'm still confused about the fox, though. Did the artist initially draw a stereotypical scientist, and was told to "sex it up a little, add a foxy lady or something" or is he/she simply a closet furry, finding outlet for repressed desires trough his/her work?
posted by spazzm at 3:06 PM on August 27, 2003


The article mentions aspects of the greatest game, but, in my experience, doesn't capture it completely. The thing this "game" misses is the devotion one has to have to observation. Truth is not some capital-T, revealed TRUTH, truth is the conviction that the most modest observation is RIGHT, that truth is not something you want it to be, but what IS.

Learning to accept what is, rather than what is "true" is what separates true knowledge from faith.
posted by bonehead at 6:58 PM on August 27, 2003


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