Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Argument From Particularity

About three hours ago I was finishing up my closing shift, which at that moment involved me running a broom over the floor of the store, when I had a tiny thought pop up that seemed to clarify another largely unspoken impression that I had been carrying for some time. Initially I figured I would write down a brief outline of the idea, and then file it away in my list of trains of thought to follow when I had more time and clarity of though. But, now as I am preparing to go to bed, I find that I don't really feel like reading tonight, and instead I want to see if this idea goes anywhere.

I call this idea the Argument from Particularity. Off the bat let me make it clear this is an imperfect argument, in the sense that one of its premises is unable to be proven or disproven, and consequently the entire argument belongs to that realm of things that could be true but must be disregarded because its truth is equally likely as its falsehood. For that reason, I submit this as a kind of imaginative philosophy - philosophical fiction you could call it - that may bring fleeting comfort, irritation, intrigue, or interest if it is successful. My argument runs as follows:

It has been said that this world appears very much the way we should expect the world to be if there were no God.

However, the world operates according to very particular rules. First according to what we call the rules of logic, which we typically hold to apply absolutely. Secondly to those particular laws which we discover through empirical observation - what we call scientific law.

Given our ability to create artificial worlds - whether using the age-old method of literature or the new method that involves computer technology - we see that creating involves the creation of new rules. In a book, for example, we can imagine a plot being woven wherein it becomes a rule that all immoral people must suffer or a plot wherein all selfish and creative people emerge successful in their endeavors. Such rules do not exist in our world, but our stories are created by implementing more rules than those that exist in real life.

Or, as a better illustration, imagine a man sitting down at a brand new computer, intending to play a game on it. The computer, however, has no video game for him to play. In that moment, there is nothing but possibility, hindered only by the rules that govern the player's own world (the game can't involve anything that would involve violating the law of non-contradiction, for example). The player, because no game has yet been made, could end up playing a mystery game, a simulator, a first-person shooter, an RPG, or even some sort of innovative game that has not yet been attempted. The protagonist, since he has no appearance, could have any appearance. The villain likewise. The game mechanics are hindered only by the limitations of the hardware and the rules of the real world. But, once the player creates a game for himself, or once he downloads a game to play, all these possibilities disappear. Particularity sets in, the protagonist looks like this, the game is played like this, the environment looks like this. The transition from possibility to actuality is accomplished through limits and rules.

Because our own world operates only because so many rules have been implemented (such as it being impossible for a spot in the visual field to be both blue and green at the same time in the same way; or, like the speed of light being 299,792,458 meters per second) it is unlikely that our world is the ultimate reality. Given the way that artificial worlds are brought about by an increase in rules, it follows that the ultimate reality would either be ruleless or have some bare minimum number of rules.

Consequently, it is likely that our universe is artificial, as it certainly contains so many particular rules that certainly exceed any bare minimum number of rules.

Problems With this Argument

The last part of the argument, the conclusion, contains the unverifiable claim that our universe contains so many rules that we certainly exceed any bare minimum number of rules. After all, we do not know what the bare minimum number of rules might look like. It might look remarkably like our own world.

However, at the very least, it seems that it should at least be possible for a world to exist without the limitations of space and time. And for that reason, at least, it should be possible for a more ruleless world to exist, one that could be responsible for the creation of the space and time limitations of our own world.

The truly critical problem with the argument is that we do not know for sure if it is always the case that creation is the act of laying down limitations. We know that this is the case in our world - literature is always the acceptance of one possible plot as opposed to all others, photography is always the choice of one angle and one set of settings and one subject and background as opposed to any others - but it does not necessarily mean that this would apply outside of our world. Nor does it necessarily mean that everything with a limit is necessarily created. All created things are limited, but not all limited things are necessarily created.

The Value of the Argument

If there is a value in the argument, and I imagine it would need a lot of polish first, it is that it articulates that feeling one gets that the world is very arbitrary and particular and very much like a work of art. It seems that were we without a director, the world would be much more chaotic. Instead, whatever chaos there is that exists, exists within a strict web of order and structure. This structure, however, seems arbitrary. And we do not expect chance to obey arbitrary laws, only essential immutable laws. It causes one to imagine a lawgiver, an artist, a God who articulated the structure of the world.

The argument, I do not believe, actually makes the existence of God one bit more likely. But maybe it puts into words a feeling that one sometimes gets. And if so, then I say that it is valuable.

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