[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

 

Carl Sagan Sketch by M.R.P. - The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence - Brandon Carter - Anthropic Principle, physical laws

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

I should start by saying that I am well aware that Carl Sagan was not (in the strictest sense) a philosopher. His areas of expertise, as you may well know, were biology, physics, and mathematics. But he was a scientist who, unlike many of today’s most famous science advocates, had a deep respect for and interest in the humanities.

Indeed, in Sagan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on contemporary neuroscience and anthropology, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, he writes (when concluding a section on the research results concerning the partial specialization of the two halves of the brain), “I think the most significant creative activities of our or any other human culture—legal and ethical systems, art and music, science and technology—were made possible only through the collaborative work of the left and right cerebral hemispheres” (Sagan 195).

And in that same book, Sagan references and engages with philosophical work by Plato, St. Augustine, Sigmund Freud, and Henry David Thoreau (among others). I have striven in this series to stress the need for mutual respect, mutual education, and even fruitful overlap between philosophy and science, and have upheld other individuals who endorse that confluence. Carl Sagan was one such individual.

Toward the end of The Dragons of Eden, Sagan engages briefly with the topic of the comprehensibility of the universe (in a passage from which I draw a lengthy quotation below). When I first read that part of his book, it occurred to me quite suddenly that Sagan, while not spot-on in my reckoning, was pointing toward a very promising low-level explanation for the seemingly remarkable notion that the fundamental physical laws strike us as mathematically simple—or at the very least comprehensible. In order to explain my interpretation of Sagan’s thought, I would like to first briefly discuss a closely related subject: the Anthropic Principle.

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[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

was last modified: January 22nd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Logic, Mathematics, Pascal’s Wager, Philosophy of Language]
A Logical Infinite:

The Constrained Probabilistic Definitions of Chance and Infinity in Blaise Pascal’s Famous Wager

 

Introduction:

Blaise Pascal - Pascal's Wager - chance - infinityThe reasons for the lasting impact of Blaise Pascal’s writings, and specifically ‘Pascal’s Wager,’ are not difficult to discern. That piece represents at once the work of a devout Christian and a thoughtful, if self-assured, philosopher (for a work that pits a devout Christian against a thoughtful, if self-assured, philosopher, see my article on C.S. Lewis and James Rachels). In existing as such, Pascal’s Wager seems a seasoned pontification which has stood up to much historical as well as modern criticism of its mathematics and its logic, regardless of how its flaws yield a failure by scope (detailed below).

Despite being famous as an exercise in reason, Pascal’s Wager is a passage grounded on the unstable foundation of chance and built of the inherently unknowable within theology. This text’s utilization of chance is particularly fascinating due to the fact that it shares meaning between an older conception of chance as pure randomness—arising from the potentially providential turning of some wheel of fortune—and a newer conception implemented in probability theory—wherein that same purity of randomness begets a clarity of logic in cases of ever-mounting complexity.

Indeed, despite its having been written by a man supposedly holding to the tenets of fatalism under the umbrella of Jansenism, ‘chance’ is therein nearly conflated with ‘probability,’ as it would later come to be understood. In Blaise Pascal’s Wager, his use of language turns chance itself into a predictable and knowable tool in the application of logic, and in doing so presents a discourse concerning chance which remains relevant to a modern society of dubious piety to the Wager’s ultimate conclusion.

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[Topics: Logic, Mathematics, Pascal’s Wager, Philosophy of Language]
A Logical Infinite:

The Constrained Probabilistic Definitions of Chance and Infinity in Blaise Pascal’s Famous Wager

was last modified: January 25th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski