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On the Cosmological Argument, Part 5

Posted by Michael S. Pearl, 21 March 2010 · 296 views

On the Cosmological Argument, Part 5


Continued from here

The Nature of Possibilities


Traditionally, possibilities are regarded as abstract things, where “abstract” is supposed to be a contrast to “physical”. Where “physical” by definition indicates the space-time context, the possibilities which constitute the singularity (the apparent first context) would, of course, not be physical. However, if there are possibilities which are somehow mind-independently constituent of the physical (context), then it hardly makes sense to insist that possibilities are always and everywhere abstract (where “abstract” indicates “non-physical”).

Are there mind-independent possibilities constituent of the physical?

Possibilities can well be constituent of the physical even if they are not – or might not ever be – constituent of physics, a study of the physical context formalized generally around the notion that “if you can't measure it, then it doesn't exist”20, or, at the very least, if it is not measurable, then it is not an issue with which physics is concerned, which is to say that, if it is not measurable, then it is a matter which physics ignores.

Of course, probabilities are intended to be a sort of possibilities measurement, but such probabilities fall within the physics domain as described above only when the initial state basis for the probability calculation is itself a measurable – meaning at least a presumably fully determinate - initial state.

Be that as it may, there are ways to begin considerations into the nature of the possibilities as constituent of the physical, even if these considerations do not fall within the arbitrarily restricted and resultant narrow bounds of formalized physics.

According to some quite conventional contemporary scientific (or science-based) cosmologies, regardless of whether such cosmologies are aspects of physics or of philosophy or whether they are science-philosophy hybrids, events are supposed to pertain to things or locations within space-time21, 22. Smith identifies or equates each event with “being a point” within space-time, but Smith may well be mistaken here, because, even if an inescapable - a necessary - characteristic of an event were that it has location within space-time, the fact is that an event is most commonly regarded as having some dimensionality within the physical context – meaning some space-time duration, but a point has no such dimensionality.

Based on previous parts of this discussion, if there were any events which are space-time points, then those events could well be akin to the possibilities constituent of the singularity inasmuch as events, via the non-dimensionality of these events, would be abstract things. If there were no way of distinguishing events and points, and if it were the case that, as Smith says, the “universe is … the set of events, each event being a point in a 4-dimensional space-time continuum”, then the universe is at its most basic level a set of abstract things.

In that case, not only would the source of the universe – the singularity – be a non-physical thing constituted by non-physical things (possibilities), but the universe itself would at its most basic level also be constituted by non-physical things.  

But, if that is the case, then any distinction between the physical and the non-physical – if there is such an invariantly valid distinction -  would have to rest with something that differentiates space-time points from events.

If events are not points, if events instead have some space-time dimensionality, some space-time duration or extension, and if the universe, the physical context, really were a sequential totality of all events with space-time dimensions, then, perhaps, the universe would not be actually or genuinely constituted at its most basic level by abstract things.

Perhaps.

There could still be sensible reference to “points” as abstract (which is to say dimensionless and therefore non-physical) things, and these particular abstract things, these points, could even be distinguished from the presumably mind-independent abstract things such as the singularity or the possibilities constituent of the singularity. These dimensionless points within space-time could be concepts, which is to say that these points described as being within space-time would be mind-dependent abstract things.

In contradistinction to dimensionless points, events with space-time extensiveness would not necessarily be either abstract things or mind-dependent. However, realizing events as having space-time dimensionality in order for there to be a way out of having to conclude that the universe is constituted at its most basic level by mind-independent abstract things, depends on other factors pertaining to the nature of events.

To this point we have events as things which occur within space-time and which exhibit duration, extension, or dimensionality within space-time. This still leaves us with having to distinguish between events, and, in order to avoid having the universe constituted of mind-independent abstract things, the distinction between events would have to have some sort of mind-independent basis. This is to say that events – and the distinctions between events - would have to be something other than mere concepts.

We certainly conceive of events, but, just because we conceive of – or think in terms of – events, that does not mean that events are mere conceptions or concepts, abstract things or even always only mind-dependent. Nonetheless, in order for an event to be mind-independent, whatever is the basis we use to (conceptually) distinguish between events – which is to say whatever it is that defines or delimits events – has to be something about the universe which is mind-independent.

At first blush, the identification of an event as something having an extension within space-time suggests that an event need have both beginning and end. However, since (as discussed earlier) some cosmologies hold to there being no actual (singular) beginning to space-time, if space-time is the sequential totality of all events (having space-time extension), then at least some event(s) can be without beginning. This would then suggest that, regardless of whether or not a particular event has a beginning, each event must have a terminus in order to be identifiable as an event (as distinguished, at least semantically, from a process which need not similarly have an end).

How, then, is the terminus which delimits an event to be identified and characterized?

An event is most often defined by - its terminus is most often identified with – there being alternatives for what sequentially follows. This is to say that an event ends with there being alternative possibilities for what follows. (There might be sequences which end without there being any possibility for anything else to sequentially follow; this is to say that there might be sequences which terminate. Alternatively, and speaking in a more temporal fashion, given that events have space-time extension, events could be dynamic event-courses or event-segments or segment-courses or sequence-segments delimited either according to the possibilities for subsequent sequence alternatives or by an end without any possible following sequence. In either case, a termination to sequence possibilities does not preclude there being in the sequence possibilities which are event-termini.)

This is to say that events are defined, delimited, or characterized in terms of possibilities, and this, in turn, means that, in order for events to be mind-independent, possibilities must be mind-independent. This is to further say that mind-independent possibilities are not only the source of space-time, but mind-independent possibilities also constitute the physical, the universe, at its most basic level, regardless of whether events are abstract, dimensionless and, therefore, non-physical points or whether events are extended and exhibit space-time dimensionality. The “laws of physics” seem to provide a good description of regularities within space-time, but these descriptions, these “laws”, do not depend on an utter absence of mind-independent possibilities.

Of course, mind-independent possibilities and, thereby, events can be correctly denied if space-time is not at all constituted by mind-independent possibilities. In that case, space-time, the universe, would be wholly determinate and in that way distinct from its source, the singularity.

On the other hand, if mind-independent possibilities are constituent of space-time, then, even though there are no “laws of physics” that “connect the singularity to” the universe, there would seem to be at least mind-independent possibilities to connect the singularity to the manifest universe. Indeed, such possibilities need not just connect the singularity and the universe; such possibilities could be expected to persist into the universe. But, in any event, if there are possibilities constituent of space-time, the contrast between the physical and the abstract is not so great as conventional science would (like to) have it.

With regards to the Cosmological Argument and God, Robert C. Koons says, as has been previously noted, that “the result of the cosmological argument is quite useful to the project of natural theology”, but, in the case of the Cosmological Argument as discussed here, this means that whatever are the additional arguments necessary to make the case for theism, those arguments would seem to have to  be related to the possibilities here discussed in terms of being mind-independent.

Does such mind-independence preclude there being God? No. But what has here been rendered as mind-independent possibilities can significantly affect the characteristics of the God which could be supported by other arguments for theism.

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20 Casti, John L., 1989, Paradigm Lost, New York: William Morrow and Company, p. 463.

21 See http://plato.stanfor...l-argument/#4.4

22 Smith, Quentin, “The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe”, Philosophy of Science (1988), Vol. 55, No. 1, pp. 39-57; also available at http://www.infidels....h/uncaused.html




These are some good posts, Michael.  What is so great about the cosmological argument is that it is really a family of arguments.  Even assuming that the universe is eternal, which is contrary to the current and overwhelming scientific evidence any way, God's existence is still needed in order to ground contingencies.  For example, where "contingent" is understood as "possibly not-existing" and "necessary" as "must exist":1. Every existing being is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)2. There is a possible state of affairs in which no contingent being exists. (Premise)3. It is necessarily the case that possible states of affairs are at least partially explicable. (Premise)4. It is necessarily the case that something is explicable only if something exists. (Premise)5. Therefore, a necessary being exists. (Conclusion)I'm not even convinced that S5 is needed in order for this argument to work.  All that remains is to show that the necessary being/entity in question possesses intelligence and/or personality, and we have a bona fide argument for God's existence.
This is Doug, from "Fides et Ratio," by the way.
Doug,Thank you for visiting us here at TGL, and thank you for letting me know you got some enjoyment (or any other kind of benefit) from this blog series. As might be expected from the emphasis placed on possibilities and the nature of possibilities (including their relationship to events), I, too, have an interest in the nature of necessity. And that is a topic which I hope to get around to eventually. My current interest in necessity could be described as pertaining primarily to whether (modal) necessity is ever - even in theory - detectable or discernible (and, clearly, I mean something other than a merely definitional necessity) and how such a necessity might relate to the commandment about not taking God's name in vain. But, as I said, I will get to that eventually.Michael

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