Skip to main content

A quote from Alfred North Whitehead

Image result for alfred north whitehead philosophy

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, 'Seek simplicity and distrust it.'

I like that. But simply allowing my train of association to chug along its own tracks, this thought about science brings me to the issue of cosmogony, and the issue of the apparent demise of the old steady state theory of the cosmos. 

The great motivating factor of the theory was the immensity of infinity, the infinite expanse that opened in the past and presumably too in the future. The contrary Big Bang theory, with its definite moment of beginning and its threat of a heat death of the whole-she-bang, cuts one off from that lovely prospect. Also, relatedly, the Big Bang is sometimes defended as a way in which something might have come out of nothing, and THAT is a strongly counter intuitive notion, which inspires a counter move in some minds. 

Yet the steady state theory may be too simple a way to get the various conceptions it offers. There may be another way, a more complicated way, which passes through the Big Bang theory rather than denying its validity. The error of Hoyle and the others then may have been that they failed to distrust the simplicity of their beautiful hypothesis. 

If what looks like a black hole from the point of view of one universe is in fact the big bang of another, then the universe (understood as a particular continuum of space and time) is one of many in the universe (understood as the totality of that which is the case). Call the latter the multiverse for convenience, and you can credibly posit an infinite duration for the latter, measuring either backward or forward.

Big Bang and Steady State have their reconciliation.


Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …