The Universe Doesn’t Have to Play Nice

It’s often helpful to think about the root cause of your disagreements with other people and it seems to me that one such cause is that I believe the universe doesn’t have to play nice in terms of our ability to know anything, while other people do.

Here are some examples of where this assumption can be used:

  • The problem of skepticism—How do we know that any of the objects that we seem to perceive are real? Countless philosophers have tried to answer this question, but I’m happy to bite the bullet as I don’t see any reason for believing that the universe has to give us this ability

  • Godel’s theorem/​incomputability: It may seem obvious that every mathematical truth has a proof or that we can write a program to compute everything, but we now know this is false

  • Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: We might imagine that if we were clever enough we could find a scheme for gaining perfect information about a particle, but this isn’t the case

  • Problem of induction—Induction may have worked in the past, but we can’t conclude that it’ll work in the future without using induction itself which would be a circular argument

  • Boltzmann Brains—Universes where the majority of consciousness is Boltzman Brains may seem absurd, but we could construct a simulation where the majority of agents would be Boltzmann brains so it is theoretically coherent. I haven’t checked the maths, but maybe we just can’t know if we are a Boltzmann Brain or not.

  • Bayesianism—How do we form a prior given that the prior is before any observation that could help us determine a reasonable prior? Some people see this as an argument against Bayesianism, but I see it as just another way the universe isn’t nice

  • Theories that can explain anything—Evolutionary psychology has often been criticised as being able to provide just-so stories for whatever we observe. I don’t believe that the universe is always kind enough to provide us with a nice clean empirical test to determine if a theory is true or not as opposed to subtly impacting our expectations over a wide range of results. This becomes worse once you take into account varying positions within a theory, as there could be dozens of incompatible schemes for constraining expectations based on a theory with almost nothing in common

  • Non-empirically testable facts—Some people believe if there isn’t a clean empirical test to falsify a theory then it is irrelevant pseudo-science rubbish. But reality doesn’t have to give us such clear cut boundaries. There are lots of things that are reasonable to posit or lean towards, but where we can’t expect to ever know for certain.

  • Qualia—Many people believe qualia don’t exist because we wouldn’t be able learn about them empirically. But it seems spurious to assume nothing exists outside of our lightcone just because we can’t observe it

Sometimes the universe will play nice, but we can’t assume it.

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