God's mind

I think it was Bishop Berkeley who proffered the following argument, taking empiricism to new heights/depths:

Reality can only be said to be present in the mind because reality as we see/hear/feel it is filtered by the senses and interpreted by our minds. However, since we can perceive a thing directly with our mind (say your house), remove it from our sphere of perception, and return knowing it (almost certainly) to still be there, is to say that there is a greater mind (God’s) which supports the existence of things when they are not being observed.

Can this argument be refuted? I would say that most people would not accept it easily, but I find it quite compelling. Is it not also in line with the idea of the “observer principle” in quantuum mechanics (something I know nothing about)?

Another point to support the “reality is mind” argument: when we deduce a law of nature from experiment, where does the law exist? In our minds? In nature? How can the law, which is an abstract principle, exist in a purely physical universe?

I don’t think that argument works. You can have one of the following:

  1. Reality exists only in the mind.
  2. There is an objective reality.

(Yes, there are other possibilities. These are the two used in that argument though)

These are in a sense equivalent statements, even though they seem to say very different things, because you can’t distinguish between them by observation. But you still have to be careful.

In particular you cannot use 1 to prove the existence of things, because the premise of it is that nothing but yourself exists. 1 and 2 may be essentially equivalent, but you can’t really use them both at the same time as they contradict eachother.

It’s worth noting that if you’re working from 1 then basically what you are assuming is that you have the ability to store an infinite universe in your mind perfectly (Well. I suppose you could also be assuming that you forget things and don’t notice because you’ve forgotten them.). Essentially that god exists and you are he (or she). But seeing as it also basically means you’re the only thing that exists that’s not a terribly helpful statement…

The observer principle is from the copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. A version of QM which, while AFAIK isn’t strictly speaking wrong, is confusing and generally not regarded to be terribly useful.

I’m not sure I understand your argument about physical laws… Surely a universe isn’t just a collection of objects, it has structure to it - laws which those objects must obey. Otherwise everything would just sit there doing nothing.

If functions collapsed as a result of God observing them, then there could be no ‘observer principle’ (assuming an omniscient God - able to observe everything at once) - he wouldn’t be able to ‘not observe’ anything and allow it to be in an uncertain state.

The laws of physics are idealized representations of the way the world works. For example, a projectile follows a parabolic path if air resistance is small enough to ignore and if the variation of gravity is small enough to ignore and if the object is small enough to treat as a point particle, and …

The (ideal) parabolic trajectory exists only in the mind. I would say that all physical laws exist only in the mind. Even if we knew of laws that were exact (arguably the Standard Model of particle physics) these would still exist only in the mind.

Why the universe can be represented in this mathematical way is another question.

I’ve never really seen that to be a particularily problematic question. Mathematics is just a collection of starting assumptions, together with rules for deducing new statements (and many many many definitions). The point is that we’ve chosen our definitions, axioms and rules of inference to coincide with how we observe the universe to behave. So essentially what we’re assuming is that:

There are laws of physics.
They are recursively axiomatisable. (Given perfect knowledge about the system you can determine wether a statement is an axiom or not)

In fact the second one can be weakened to “There exist arbitrarily good approximations to reality which are recursively axiomatisable.”

Yeah. I’m a mathematician. Does it show? :slight_smile:

Is it perhaps because we share similar realities within our own minds.

Kitarak tossed out this ultimatum:

  1. Reality exists only in the mind.
  2. There is an objective reality.

I can see both 1 and 2 being possible. We, through common history, are able to communicate with eachother, and share many of the same ways of perceiving our worlds. If mathematics were read in another way, the interpretation would be different. I am obviously not a mathematician, but through different types of mathematics do we not come to different conclusions for the same phenomenon?

I may have made an argument for #1 above rather than argue the possibility of both. Lemme think for a sec…

OK, maybe it just means that our realities overlap in many places.

I’ve always wondered about this. How does another person perceive the color red? Do they associate it with crayons while I associate it with blood? Words - we learn words through context, which is completely subjective. Mathematics is less contextual (not purely without though), but again, depending on how we come up with number systems, everything that’s “out there” can be interpreted differently.

You just got to dig those cosmic questions :slight_smile:


Surely as reality is an object of the mind, it can be called objective?

kuroashi made the point that peoples perceptions, and hence their perceived realities can differ. Many different realities, but somehow connected…

Am I making sense?

This is like a five-sided triangle, where the words are redefined in the middle of talking about them.

Define your words, and stay with those definitions through the whole sentence.

Try this: Perception can only be said to be present in the mind because reality as we see/hear/feel it is filtered by the senses and interpreted by our minds.

You can’t take the thing being filtered, and say that it is identical to the result of the filtering process. It makes the whole argument meaningless.

As I understand it, the argument goes something like this:

  1. We don’t have direct access to reality, all we have is the testimony of our senses.

  2. Our stable internal reality is the product of our minds. Without our minds ordering the chaos of our senses this internal reality wouldn’t exist.

  3. We can deduce that a stable external reality exists because of the consistency of our sensory input.

  4. However we know that our stable internal reality only exists by the effort of our minds. It follows that the stable external reality must also exist only by the effort of a mind – God’s.

  5. Therefore, there is a God.

The big mistake here is assuming that the internal reality and the external reality share similar properties. Merely because something is true of the map, that doesn’t mean that it’s also true of the landscape. The same reasoning can be used to prove the Grand Canyon is three inches long and made of paper.

You also ask “How can [a law of nature], which is an abstract principle, exist in a purely physical universe?” The answer is that it doesn’t. Scientific theories and laws are models (maps) that approximate certain features of reality (the landscape). Really good theories (like the Laws of Thermodynamics) model the behavior of reality very well. But it’s important to remember that The Map Is Not The Landscape. A rock warming in the light of the sun doesn’t “know” the Laws of Thermodynamics, even though it seems to be obeying them.

I like the way you broke that down, Pochaco. Now I can use those points to explain why I disagree with Bishop Berkely’s argument.

No, consistency of our sensory input allows us to induce a stable external reality.
And I avoid solipsism by assuming that external reality exists regardless of my internal representation of reality. Therefore, I disagree with point four. I do not require an infinite external mind to exert effort that causing the universe to exist.

sounds like anthropomorphizing God.

isn’t that blasphemy? LOL!

if you look at pictures from the hubble telescope. figure out some of the distances referred to in astronomy. 10,000,000,000 light years!!!
then think that some being, God, created all this. contemplating the mind of God is an exercise in futility. there is the saying “God is unknowable”

140,000 people die every day. does reality disappear with them?

Dal Timgar

I think you are doing Berekeley an injustice here, unless there is more than one Berkeley that discussed a need to abandon a theory of objectivity. Someone remind me to check out Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” when I get home! :slight_smile:

Here’s a quote from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy that summarizes Berkeley’s position: