Physical Laws, Ontological Underdetermination, God and Fine Tuning

There are probably lot of ways to look at the physical laws, here I will point to two and in relation to those discuss possibility of God.

a)Laws governing the Universe

In the first way the laws are seen as governing the universe. Given the state of the universe at the time t1, the physical laws determine how the universe will be at the t1+dt.

This view is incompatible with the idea of God, as according to this there can’t be any talk about God taking part in determining the events in the Universe. It is then said that God might have made the universe, created those physical laws, set everything in motion, but that from that moment everything happens according to those laws which were set. At this point, a person that believes in God can bring up the fine tuning argument also – that is… that physical laws and constants are set in just the right way for appearance of life (and thus intelligent life). If you change those constants and laws just a little bit, it becomes impossible for this to happen.

Of course it is also possible to take this position with further note that God can and does do things which go against the laws of physics – some kind of miracles. Also there is the possibility that God made the laws in such way that they leave him open hands for intervening without breaking those laws. In such way for example, given the quantum mechanical indeterminacy (we don’t know of a law that fully determines the collapse of a QM system), God has freedom of doing anything, without in fact breaking the laws of physics. We may say, that the laws are intentionally left not fully determining what will happen (I will call this ontological underdetermination, not sure if it is good term, but can’t think of a better one), so that either God is constantly guiding (to some amount) the events in the Universe, or alternatively he is throwing dices when he doesn’t really prefer how certain collapses would happen.  Now, that is I guess consistent position, it does provide a way to make sense of God (and further it makes fine tuning argument possible), but in my opinion it is quite inelegant all over. The explanation is full with choices which are made just to defend the possibility of God, and which explain nothing more but that possibility.

b)Laws as necesary relations between measurables

And that brings us to the second way to view the physical laws. In this view the laws are necessary relations which hold among different measurables (what kind of necessity this is – is it metaphysical necessity, or is it just a necessity in the actual world is separate issue which I will touch on later). In this kind of view the laws are not seen now as governing the universe. So, they are not things which are moving the state of the universe at time t to the state at time t+dt. In fact, the time is now seen as just another measurable, and what the laws tells us is the necessary relations in which the measurables will stand – measurables which are aspects of the Universe (where it is seen as becoming, so that it includes temporal facts). I think firstly that this kind of view of laws is much better than the previous one – it seems really much closer to the actual way the physical laws are specified in physics (through equations, and not through ‘if system is X at t, it will be Y at t+dt’ kind of formulations), and secondly by seeing time as another measurable it is much more inline with the modern theories of physics (relativity and quantum mechanics).

Other interesting stuff is though that ontological underdetermination can now be presented not as an incidental feature of the laws which we add to our explanations post hoc, but as something which can be made sense of metaphysically. Let me try to explain this…

When we speak about measurables, we imagine that those have independent existence in the world, and that they are self-subsistent. So that there is definite fact about how long something is, or that there is a definite fact about how much mass something has, and so on. Now, we should be clear that measuring does incude more than just the reality of the property being measured, as it includes comparing, and thus inevitabely all kinds of complications which are related to that. So, we might measure something in inches or meters, we can’t measure it in nothing. Further, as we know from relativity, when we do the measuring, it will come up differently depending how we (as “measurer”) move. But putting all this aside, I think we usually do allow for the reality and selfsubsistence of the property being measured. It has certain length by itself, certain mass by itself, and so on. But, I don’t think this is cearly true also. It would be true if things would exist as some kind of “bag of independent properties” – in that case we would have to allow reality to each of them, and we would have to allow that it has certain mass, certain volume which is independent from that mass, certain speed which is independent from the volume and the mass, and so on. It might also be, however, that what is ontologically primary is the thing itself, and that those measurables can be thought of only as aspects of it, which don’t have reality of their own, so that there is no *certain mass*, *certain volume* and so on to speak of. Given this, the necessary relations are among the ideal forms of those measurables, where we are just treating them as having self-subsistent reality – we are ignoring that they have no such nature. What we have then described as “governed” by those necessary and fully deterministic laws are the systems in their ideality. But those systems are actual, and there are more facts about them than this ideal description. And thus we should expect that sooner or later, we will see how we can’t figure out the behavior of the system deterministically treating it as mere bag of mutually-determining properties.

The picture we basically have now is this – if, and only as long a concrete system falls under the abstract description (in this case physical description), the relations between the aspects of that physical description will be necessary. But as long we move from that ideal cases to the real world, what is happening in the Universe is underdetermined in relation to those necessary relations. So, QM indeterminacy in this kind of view is not incidental, it is a metaphysical consequence of the physical description failing to fully determine the world. Now, we have, which I think is, more elegant way to make sense of non-physical reasons affecting the world – what is denied is that the world is merely physical in first place. In that way we not only make metaphysical sense of quantum indeterminacy, but also we make sense of the possibility for non-physical reasons being behind the changes of the physical measurables.

Metaphysical necessity, or just neccesity in actual world?

At the end, let me return to the issue of the kind of necessity of the physical laws. It might be that those are necessary just in the actual world, or it might be that they are metaphysically necessary. What I especially see as metaphysically elegant possibility is this second option. It seems to me that it makes lot of sense for them to be metaphysically necessary relations. So, not just that those happen to be such in the actual world, but that those relations have to  be such in any possible world. Or if we use logical in the wide sense of the world, that it is logical for those relations to be the way they are. Now this kind of result (if we ever get to it), is good because it answers why laws are same everywhere in the universe, it can give explanation of the relativity, symmetries, and so on… And basically it would be a way to make sense of there being such necessary relations in first place.

Let me try then to give an analogy with a metaphysical relations that we know hold, and for which we understand why they hold – the arithmetical relations. We can say this – as far a group of individuals don’t disappear or multiply, said simply – as far they fall under the certain mathematical abstraction – say e.g. – ‘being 5 things’, there will be metaphysically (in this case mathematically) necessary relations. Such that for any particular thing in this group, there will be four more things. Or that, those can’t be divided to 3 groups, such that in each group will be identical number of things. So – we have certain necessary relations, which hold just as far the thing at hand falls under the abstract description. But it is clear that real things aren’t reducible to those descriptions – sooner or later, for no reason apparent within the abstract description, the thing will no more fall under that description. We may have 3 rabbits, and they might become 4 rabbits. But that won’t be something which is result merely of the mathematical description. The necessary relations among physical measurables should be then be taken analogously to think case.

It might not be common for a person who beliefs in God to take physical laws as metaphysically necessary relations, which even God can’t change (for simple reason that there is no sense in even thinking of the concept of changing of metaphysically necessary relations), however to me it seems as the most elegant metaphysical view, which even in its metaphysical necessity doesn’t restrict the possibility for non-physical reasons for the changes in the physical aspect.

What should be pointed to is though, that if a person buys this, the Fine Turning no more points to existence of some kind of plan – if the laws have to be the way they are, then there is no sense in asking how come that they are such as they are. I do believe in this metaphysical picture of things, so I can’t count fine tuning as a reason why I should believe in God. However buying this picture does present a reason why one should believe that there is something further than what can be put in the physical descriptions, and is one of the reasons why I believe in God.

Two sentences walked into a bar

Few posts ago I expressed my opinion that sentences can’t be true or false. That what can be true or false is what is claimed. Also that “what is claimed” there shouldn’t be understood as some kind of entity (be it called “proposition” or “claim” or “statement”). Claiming is an act where something is claimed, like – I might claim that I had eggs for breakfast. I don’t claim any “claim” or “proposition” or “statement”. I simply talk about me having eggs for breakfast.

What I said is that given that we don’t accept that sentences can be true or false, it kind of removes the issues of sentences like “this sentence is false”. Both “this sentence is false” and “this sentence is true” , or “the second sentence from the first paragraph is true” are nonsense, as sentences can’t be true or false. Sure, the sentence might be “Earth is fifth closest planet to the Sun in the Solar system”, and we can say that sentence is false *meaning* that it is not true that Earth is fifth closes planet to the Sun in the Solar system, however whatever we actually mean has nothing to do with sentences, it has to do with Earth being or not being the fifth closest planet to the Sun in the solar system. That we speak of this in the context of what somebody has written in a book is maybe important for the way we will say it, because we are considering and commenting on it only because we are reading that, but what we are considering, the intentional matter of our thinking  – has nothing to do with sentences. So, we may say “that sentence is false” meaning that, but I think that saying that in that way is asking for trouble, and sooner or later we will get into paradoxes and problems.

Anyway, what I wanted to say here is that it seems to me that it is not just the talk of sentences as being true or false which is making problems, but also any  self-referencing in sentences. It might seem as quite a different thing, but the basis of being critical of this is the practically the same one.

Namely it is people (or other conscious beings) who can consider things, get to belief that things are such and such, and further can claim that things are such and such, can ask if things are such and such, etc… But, what is claimed is something that can be believed and considered. Like, I might consider if I had eggs for breakfast, or I might come to believe that Earth is third planet of the Solar System. And I can further claim or express my opinion that Earth is third planet of the Solar System, or that I had eggs for breakfast. Sure, somebody might approach my speech act of expressing opinion or claiming, and on another different level – of actual performance of the act (I guess we may say as a purely locutionary act), and be able to locate such things as “sentences” there. But I don’t think that expressing opinion, or claiming something involves some intentional creation of sentences, or looking for a sentence,  such that it will have some kind of meaning that we are intending to express.

To get back to the self-referential sentences – given that we agree that considering if things are such and such, and believing that things are such and such, is what is behind expressing the opinion that things are such and such or claiming that things are such and such – if we can’t find such acts which would correspond to the claims like – “this sentence has five words”, I don’t think we can make sense of these kind of claims. So to say – one can’t wonder if this sentence has five words, and then express his claim that this sentence has five words… The claim is not a sentence, the sentence is something that appears *while* making the claim. And certainly there is no sentence to speak of when we merely wonder about things. We may think of course about the sentence “this sentence has five words” having five words, but in doing so, we are considering the sentence as a subject matter. The claim that would correspond than would be that sentence “This sentence has five letters” has five letters. Of course, the same claim can be expressed in English or German or any other language.

So to say there is no sense in wondering if this sentence ha five words (which sentence?), there is no sense in forming opinion if this sentence has five words (again – which sentence), and in same way there is no sense in claiming that this sentence has five words. As mentioned before I don’t think that talking about ‘statements’, ‘propositions’ or ‘claims’ helps much, we don’t consider or form opinion about propositions, only if things are such and such or otherwise.

One can say – that maybe we consider if the world is according to some description/statement/proposition, so that the proposition/statement/description may be located as some separate entity, but is this anything but adding an aditional step which doesn’t solve anything? Because “the world is according to some statement/proposition” is again something that is claimed – should now consider this as a new proposition/statement/description?

There happen to be gaps

Thinking about what we mean by our words for kinds of things (“lions”, “gold”, “trees”, etc…), it seems clear to me that what we have in mind are not some essences. (This is of course separate issue from the issue if in fact the individuals which we see as belonging to the certain kind in fact share some essential characteristic.)

It can’t be that we have the essence in mind, because we aren’t aware of this essence. We can for sure think of “the essence which is shared by all those things” without knowing it, but even before that we need to have “those things” in mind in first place. Some kind of grouping of things into a kind needs to be done even before common essential characteristic is assumed.

So, given that it is not some essential (or defining) characteristic that is base of seeing individuals as belonging to one kind, what is it?

Last year, I was saying that it is some similarity on base of which we see individuals belonging to some kind – that is… we become aware of group (multitude) of individuals sharing some similarity, and it is that what we have in mind (the multitude of individuals [actual or possible] sharing some similarity) and that we baptize that when we introduce common nouns. So, to say – there happens to exist this multitude of things which are similar in some way, and we think of them when we use those common nouns. Be it the case where we talk about lions, trees, water etc…

As part of this kind of stance, in other posts I said I’m suspecting that there aren’t such things as concepts – e.g. LION, WATER, TREE, which would be what is meant by our common nouns. That is because, first I think the basis of using common nouns is in thinking of multiplicity and not of one single thing which has some properties; and second because that what we refer to are groups of things which happen to exist (that is what we have in mind) – we don’t have in mind some abstract criteria.

I think there is another part for this my story to make sense – and those are the gaps in the “similarity space”. If we put attention on the things that happen to exist, even if we can’t specify some defining characteristics of them, it so happens that there are gaps in their similarity. That is, it so happens that we have lions which are similar to each other, and then we have a gap of similarity to some other species. It is this fact, I think, that even in the absence of defining features, enables us to think of kinds of things – so it happens that there are not individuals which would fall in the similarity space between lions and e.g. tigers.

Of course, there might happen to be one individual (something between a tiger and a lion) but that wouldn’t really mean that there are no two groups of individuals which are separated by a gap. It would be two groups and one individual between them. But if instead of this individual, there happened to be lot of individuals which would fill the similarity gap between tigers and lions, it is hard to imagine that we would be able to discuss two kinds of things as we are today. What we could do is maybe paying attention on some feature, and do arbitrary setting of some border, but that would be quite different I think.

Because our thinking of lions and tigers as two different kinds today IS based on the fact that there is a real gap, not of our making, and that we have in fact group of things which are similar among each other. It is this actual phenomenon that we are thinking of. So, while there are no defining features, and even no defined borders of when does a lion stop being lion (and becoming something else),  there is a real phenomenon. While in the case where we would arbitrarily define what would be counted as lion, we are moving in thinking about quite another thing. We are not thinking of things which happen to exist, but we are defining kinds based on features – and this kind of definition is unrelated to the issue if individuals exist which satisfy this feature or not.