Posts Tagged ‘Whitehead’

Most Incomprehensible

According to Jaki, Einstein’s favorite personal saying was that “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

For this pithy word, Jaki gives him vast credit, because although he did not have the tools to consider the philosophic ramifications of his remark, he had the intuitive sense to love this great mystery: that we can know the universe.

What does that mean?

Is it accidental?

For the Darwinian who sees mankind as accidental, and for a man like Whitehead who sees the universe as going through all possible forms, this mystery can be only one accidental event among quintillions of quintillions – nothing worthy of note. This accidentalist approach to reality became increasingly pervasive through the 20th century, even working its way into the arts, though it was never totally triumphant.

Einstein challenges this world-view that keeps layering accident upon accident, in a campaign to bore the human heart out of its natural wonder. He correctly observes that of all the wonders we meet in this stunning universe, the possibility of man knowing the universe is the most stunning.

It is also one of the most instructive. Why is the universe knowable – and by one of its constituent parts? That is the key to one vast part of the question: Is there a Universe? It is a philosophic key, not a scientific one, but it is important: Yes, Linde, consciousness is part of the universe. Consider, Mr. Whitehead: not every possible form of physical universe would allow consciousness, and whatever form forbids it is not part of this universe.

Give that some thought. This universe is the physical totality that allows a self-reflective entity to develop within its boundaries and subject to its laws yet free to evaluate their meaning. That’s the kind of universe it is.

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Richard Bentley was a younger contemporary of Isaac Newton. After Newton had formulated his law of gravitation, he observed, in a letter to Richard Bentley, that if all the stars are drawn to each other by gravitation, they should collapse into a single point. One will be drawn to another; that star will grow and pull in still more and more. In time, everything must be drawn in.

How is the universe constructed so as to prevent this from happening?

It did not occur to Newton, or perhaps to anyone before the 20th century, that the universe is a changing space-scape. It has a history, at the start of which (in Big Bang theory) its matter was ejected apart; so far, it does not have the energy to re-gather everything in a universe-crushing event. Or maybe I should say that its momentum is still too great to be overcome by its gravity. Either way, it could face gravity collapse, but not yet.

Bentley’s Paradox (which maybe should be called Newton’s Paradox, since it is odd to name an insight after its first recipient, rather than its author) is similar to Olbers’ Paradox in that it does suggest a finite universe: an infinite universe would have infinite gravity and would certainly collapse.

Well, again, perhaps you’d have the Kelvin/Boltzmann suggestion of a universe with pieces far enough apart not to respond. But this suggestion only serves to indicate the distant (really distant!) possibility of a kind of multiverse. Unless it can be tested, it is not a scientific hypothesis, though it is an interesting thought experiment.

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