And I Have Touched the Sky: The Appeal to Plenitude Error
It is not that the contentions founded upon an appeal to infinity are necessarily and existentially incorrect, rather simply that the appeal itself is premature under the definition of what constitutes good science. So I replaced the word god, with the word infinity – OK, good; but have I really accomplished science through such an action? Wittgenstein challenges this notion. The context in which ‘infinity’ is abused as an obvious scientific alternative or worse, apologetic employed in order to leverage social conformity (pseudoscience), are outlined inside what is called the Appeal to Infinity (or Plenitude) error.
Don’t get me wrong, I have both pondered the mathematical, scientific and philosophical ramifications of the concept of infinity in our observable universe, as well as frequently used such precepts of expansive/endless domain as a justification behind why incredibly unlikely things are observed to have occurred. (Please note that the context of ‘infinity’ here includes use of ‘suitable large numbers’ which might allow for a special pleading instance not constituting infinity, yet still remain suitably large enough to accomplish the same goals.) Such an approach is not an invalid domain of scientific reasoning as the basis for the beginning of hypothesis formulation – but neither does such a rationale set constitute finished science according to Popper (nor in reality Wittgenstein either). Obviousness does not stand tantamount to verity for Wittgenstein, nor does simply the formulation of an idea stand tantamount to hypothesis for Popper. Infinity (also known as ‘plenitude’ based theory), as a explanatory construct rendering infinitesimally unlikely things as now likely (set aside the existential nature of its mathematical and philosophical uses) only serves as a placeholder inside science, and albeit one which can someday hopefully be matured into a truly scientific hypothesis, stands as a placeholder nonetheless.
‘You’ are a trivial happenstance wrought through an infinity of possibility; yet upon this infinite basis ‘you’ could not possibly have happened before, nor sustain, and can never happen again.
~ The Existential Nihilist employs the concept of infinity as a hypocritical appeal to both special plead and deny in the same breath
I remember fondly, one night staring out the back sliding glass doors of my childhood home, my father engrossed inside his nightly television routine nearby in the den of our house. I was seven years old, as to my recollection the leaves were colorful and newly removed from the trees surrounding the house, which we had also newly occupied. Our pregnant cat scurried urgently about examining every nook and cranny in the entire house for some amazing plot on her mind. This late hour and bare tree condition allowed me to observe and ponder again the nighttime sky for the first time in several months. Summer was ending and that exciting cyclical period of life where I was able to stay up past dark had commenced once again. I commented to my father as I stared through the glass doors at the nascent night sky “Dad, if there is endless time, and endless stars, why would the sky not be daylight all day and all night?” Wow consider the possibilities, playtime 24 hours a day – except for during that horrid waste of time they forced us into, called school. I hated school.
School was the place where uber-rules-followers used social demeaning as a tactic of class stratification (not that I used those words then). A tactic which some immature instructors even bought into as well. I was barely a C-average student every year of my young life until the day that I scored at a college freshman level in science, in my fifth grade achievement tests. Again in seventh grade I scored a perfect score on the science achievement tests. After asking if I had cheated (both times), my school finally broached the idea that perhaps I needed to be taught in a different way. So ended the track of memorizing spelling words and formulas and facts, and thus inaugurated the track of pursuing projects, ideas, goals and research. The spelling, facts and Laplace Transformations simply fell into place along the way. Don’t stand over me, hands on hips (figuratively) forcing me to make journal entries. Rather allow me to explore my passions through journalism, and I will teach you how to write a journal. Don’t teach me facts about the Punic Wars, let me model the Naval Battles and how they were fought, and maybe could have been prosecuted even better. Tolstoy is a far better teacher of grammar than is sentence diagramming. Anna Karenina’s winding family hierarchy bore with it kind gifts of Russian-challenged complexities in English language, both in logical calculus and structure. Such folding of reality inside out transitioned me from January of my soul into vernal brightness – an evolution of elegant whisper kissing my forehead and changing my life, forever.
I was invested from a young age into ideas, and not simply social protocols and procedures. This is part of my nature as a philosopher. Thankfully there existed standardized tests in those days, or I would have been relegated to a dunce track. No, this perception on my part is not in any way seeking to impugn specific jobs nor career tracks, as fake skeptics are wont to suggest; rather merely to point out that such a track would have been unfulfilling to me. All a result of my failure to comply with the standard mold they so sought in education.
My dad apparently regarded my sliding glass door observation to constitute a pretty astute question. He was a trial lawyer and enjoyed skills in the art of argument. But he always plied his wisdom with me by means of a Folgerbergian ‘thundering velvet hand’. I learned the nature of argument from him, and him alone. He calmly replied “well perhaps there is not endless time and/or there are not endless stars?” I watched the sky for some time before being rushed off to bed by my mom; petitioning the same question to her, to which she replied “God made just the right number of stars and the right amount of time, so that you can enjoy the night sky.” What a great answer. That made sleeping so much more a pleasant experience. Wow, God set all this up just for us.
For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky
So there we had it. The three alternatives inside of which I was imprisoned for the next 15 some odd years of my life. There are finite sets of stars and time, god set up the stars and time just right, or – maybe the assumptions which I brought to the argument were incorrect in the first place. It was probably around age 12 or so where I began to protest against the concept of finite-ness as compared to infinity. I often quipped to my eye-rolling buddies in high school (I had been moved a year ahead of my normal age group) – ‘The only thing less palatable than infinity, is finite-ness.’ I considered the idea that, once existence was observed, then infinity was a fortiori. For how could one then truly define a boundary, much less find it? Such a boundary was rendered absurd in an existential context, surely only a boundary-state (a brane or transition if not) and not indeed the end of infinity. “For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky” was one of my favorite Star Trek episodes (although by this time well into syndication), not only from the perspective that Dr. McCoy got it on with some hott alien chick, but also because this issue was touched. In the plot, a man crawls to the end of the ‘sky’ and touches it, only to find it a tactile boundary, a dome of deception – the sense of which drove him to an insanity of just desserts for violating the strictures of the ‘god’ which ruled their planet and forbade such arrogance – as asking questions.
One should bear in mind that in certain contexts, an appeal to infinity is no more scientific than is an appeal to God. It just appears more scientific to the non-philosopher.
Perhaps the best take-away from that Star Trek episode is one which I carry to this very day.
The universe is at least in part incomprehensible. It is not that it is simply unmeasurable, as this claim actually constitutes an organic untruth. The fact is that we cannot seek to measure that which we do not comprehend in the first place. Our skills of measure are not as limiting for man, as are our skills of comprehension – that is our boundary, our dome of deceit after all, and not this fictitious field-of-measurability which nihilists claim they have identified.
Don’t get scared, just deal with and expect it. Embrace the unknown, embrace the absurdity. Do not substitute a pretense of knowledge as a methodology towards feeling better about the unknown – this is no different than appealing to God. Your mind does not yet possess the tools to survey reality from the right perspectives. Such were the whispers which reverberated in my mind each night. Accordingly, began my track of leveraging the bookends of infinity (the absence of finite-ness) in contrast with the finite-ness of the hand of God. I roiled against such a bifurcation, again questioning infinity as an adequate argument against the ‘god’ argument which I had already come to reject in the ensuing years.
And here is why I reject infinity as a bifurcating excuse of science, situations wherein it is used simply as a lever and apologetic in opposition to those who make ‘God of the Gaps’ claims (which I equally eschew). An appeal to infinity (or suitable large number/domain thereof) is NOT a scientific idea for several reasons of demarcation:
- Infinity does not bear a measurable nor definable set of features in an epistemological sense (the same as ‘god’ in reality under an Appeal to Elves argument)
- Infinity is easier to propose and codify than it is to resolve, reduce, induce or deduce (this is the reverse trajectory from Wittgenstein defined science)
- The antithetical idea can neither be defined nor tested, in order to offer Popper falsification of infinity as a null hypothesis
- The concept of ‘infinity’ as the proposed hypothetical answer, answers the wrong question at hand under the scientific method. I am not burdened with answering the question ‘how did consciousness or life originate?;’ rather, ‘How did the 3 letter codon basis of DNA-protein synthesis originate in Archaea on Earth so quickly?’ The former question is asked out of sequence and stands as a non rectum agitur fallacy. And this would be OK, if it were not used to beat people over the head in promotion of nihilism. What created life? God! Infinity! Yawn – these are the same exact unsinnig (Wittgenstein: nonsensical) answer.
- Infinity moves quicker as a handle, a term, than it does as a true philosophical/scientific concept. The concept is not easily intelligible nor observable, however it can be sustained under a Wittgenstein set of knowledge features. This renders the concept of infinity vulnerable to being used as a baseball bat to enforce proper thinking.
- It can explain everything, much as Marxist class struggle theory and the Freudian psychology of sex, plenitude can explain the existence of anything and everything. This is not science.
All these things are anathema to sound science. It is not that the contentions founded upon an appeal to infinity are necessarily and existentially incorrect, rather simply that the appeal itself is premature under the definitions of what constitutes good science. But you will observe social skeptics appealing to infinity as if they are applying good science. This is not correct in the least. The context in which infinity is abused as an obvious scientific alternative or worse, apologetic employed in order to leverage social conformity (pseudoscience), are outlined inside what is called the Appeal to Infinity error:
Appeal to Infinity (Plenitude)
/philosophy : pseudoscience : argument : error in logical calculus/ : a variation of an appeal to magic wherein the infinite size (or other suitably large scale) of the containing domain is posited as the all powerful but scientific rationale behind the existence of a stack of incredibly unlikely happenstance. A closure of scientific argument and refusal to consider other alternatives, especially when an appeal to infinity hypothesis is unduly regarded as the null hypothesis – and further then is defended as consensus science, without appropriate underlying reductive science ever actually being done.
Appeal to Lotto – Informing a person who has been harmed that their instance of harm is extremely uncommon (‘they won the Lotto, simply because someone had to win’ scam). A double appeal to infinity involving convincing a target regarding the personal experience involved in a remote happenstance. A million dollars just fell out of the sky in neat little stacks and then subsequently, you just happened to be the first person to walk by and observe it – two appeals to infinity stacked upon one another. Often used as a sales pitch or con job. Any instance where a ‘Law of Large Numbers’ is used as an apologetic to justify why a person was harmed or an extremely unlikely occurrence emerged.
Omnifinity – any argument which ascribes to a theoretical god, such powers, knowledge and capability such that the god in question is simultaneously able to do anything, and at the same time evade any level of comprehension on our part. This type of god is simply a placeholder argument (the ultimate special pleading) which is a parallel argument to the Infinity of the Gaps argument below. These are twin arguments, which contrary to superficial appearances, are the same exact argument. Neither one constitutes science.
Infinity of the Gaps – any argument where an appeal to infinity is simply employed to avoid the appearance of using a ‘god of the gaps’ explanation, when in reality the employment of infinity as the explanation for an infinitesimally remote chance occurrence is virtually as ridiculous or lacking in epistemological merit as is the god explanation – see Appeal to Elves.
Infinity as Science – any argument where an appeal to infinity is spun as constituting a superior scientific explanation, in comparison to, and in an effort to avoid examining the underlying assumptions which precipitated the invalid perception/belief that an event or series of events are extremely rare or statistically next to impossible in the first place.
Explanitude – the condition where a theory or approach has been pushed so hard as authority, or is developed upon the basis of unacknowledged domain uncertainty (such as Marxist class struggle theory or Freudian psychology of sex), that it begins to provide a basis of explanation for, or possesses an accommodation/justification for every condition which is observed or that the theory domain promotes. A theory or approach which seems to be able to explain everything, likely explains nothing (Popper/Pigliucci).
I am sure that I will never truly understand neither infinity nor finite-ness. It makes it very difficult however, to stomach abiogenesis now, knowing that life began right on the heels of the Heavy Bombardment period for Earth – and no, an Appeal to Infinity falls hollow in the face of such a tightening window of finite-ness. Nor however, will I gain fully an explanatory alternative to the prevailing beliefs of abiogenesis and consciousness. Such a sad state of affairs. But I can discipline my mind to be robust against falling prey to a misuse of infinity in the meantime. I can say “I do not know” or ‘I do not possess an adequate explanation/definition for that’ – and yes, be conducting real science.
I do not have to, nor will I as an ethical skeptic, pose inside such a costume of social conformity.
No comments yet.