|A Thought Experiment|
|A final test for a successful "Theory of Everything"|
here is nothing new about the experiment I am about to describe. But anyone who fancies they have come up with a "theory of everything" needs to conduct this one last experiment to demonstrate the theory's putative completeness. I invite them (and yourself, my reader...) to try the experiment in imagination if they have not yet completed the theory in fact, and, a fortiori, to try this experiment in reality once they are convinced they've got the theory right and finished.
he goal of this experiment is to construct a repeatable type of situation in which what the theory predicts does not necessarily happen, thus showing that the theory does not apply to this kind of situation: the activities of social and personal life. To do this, we need to get a prediction that describes a straightforward ordinary daily life situation in which the experimenter feels confident he or she will be able to choose and act normally, and also be able to compare the prediction to what in fact happens. Most ordinary life situations should be able to meet the criteria, so good test cases should be easy to produce. We assume that the experimenter will try to "break the theory", i.e., that the experimenter will try to do something different than he or she knows he or she is predicted to do.
he experiment should be quite simple to conduct. Since the successful theory of everything presumably can predict anything, the experimenter should "run the numbers" and find out what he or she will be doing, say 30 minutes hence. The prediction should be something simple and inconsequential, like: "The experimenter will be looking at his or her wrist watch, see the time is 18:43, and remove the watch from his or her arm and lay it on the desk."
f the first prediction does not come out thus "nicely", e.g., if it predicts that experimenter will be about to flee the building due to just having heard a fire alarm, the experimenter may wish to run the numbers again for a different time. If the prediction places the experimenter in a state of unconsciousness or death at the specified time, the experimenter needs to keep trying different times until he or she gets a predicted situation in which the experimenter will be consciously present to verify whether the prediction is confirmed.
he target situation must be one in which the experimenter will be aware he or she is in the experimental situation when he or she is in it, and it must also be a situation in which the experimenter will not be feeling in the situation coercive pressure to do what the prediction says he or she will do. For the prediction to "come true" but for the experimenter not to be conscious of this occurrence as it happens, is not good enough, since we only accept as an initial condition a prediction in which the experimenter is conscious, so that he or she can (1) see what happens at the time and in the situation to which the prediction refers, (2) compare this with the prediction, and (3) report the result.
et's consider 2 cases: the wristwatch prediction, and the fire prediction. In the case of the wristwatch, the experimenter, who is committed to trying to bring to bear all evidence that might disprove the theory, will see the time is 18:43, and do something like clasping his or her other arm firmly to his or her side (to keep it from removing the watch from the wrist) and wait several minutes before observing and announcing that the prediction was falsified because he or she never removed the watch from the wrist. In the case of the fire, the experimenter will avail him or herself of the foreknowledge of danger, to leave the building before the appointed time, not just to provide evidence against the theory, but to save him or herself from possibly being injured or killed in the predicted fire. --Of course, the experimenter could instead have chosen to do exactly what was predicted, in which case we would not know whether (1) the theory predicted correctly or (2) the experimenter acted in such a way as to make it look like the theory predicted correctly. (But our assumption was that the experimenter shall, in good faith, try to disprove the theory in the most straightforward way.)
hat are the alternatives? (1) The experimenter feels a powerful force pressing him or her to do what the prediction predicted? But that feeling was not part of the prediction, so the prediction (i.e., the theory) fails. (2) The experimenter somehow does what is predicted, but does not remember doing it? But being aware of what he or she is doing is one of the experimental conditions, so again the prediction (i.e., the theory) fails. (3) The experimenter does what is predicted, but does not remember the prediction? But being aware of the prediction to be able to compare it to what actually happens is another of the experimental conditions, so again the prediction (i.e., the theory) fails. (4) Can you think of any other alternatives? (~ If the theory only predicts actions we would do that we could never recall having done, it would not be a theory of everything, unless we never again have any experience which we can recall.)
he "net": I propose the experiment shows there is no way to get a theory of everything to include the ordinary daily life activities of the experimenter (or experimenting group, which, at least potentially in principle, includes all humanity). No theory can encompass more than the totality of things we can think about, i.e., every "thing 'x'". But this is not "everything" in an all-encompassing sense because it does not include the consciously self-aware living human experience of the experimenter thinking about "x", e.g., the experimenter considering -- rightly or wrongly -- "how the theory encompasses everything (etc.)". No matter how inclusive we make "x", the experimenter qua living person -- who in this case happens to be a scientist constructing an experiment -- remains a perspective upon, and therefore not just a part of "x". The experimenter generally does this in practical ways, such as monitoring if the experimental conditions are being properly set up and maintained [which is not a proper part of the role of objects being experimented on!].... Of course, the experimenter may enter him or her self as a physical object into the equations (or the calculations), as "an object", but not as an experiencing living person who deals with things (a surgeon can operate on "him or herself"). Often we can predict things that will happen to our physical bodies (e.g., if we see the outside thermometer reads minus 5 degrees, we can expect to feel cold if we go out). But such predictions do not require any "theory of everything": they only require limited knowledge of specific kinds of physical objects and their properties.
o repeat: No predictive theory, not even a mathematical or computational "theory of everything" can encompass the living human life situation of the experimenters who make use of the theory. Its proponents can say it does, but our experiment above has shown that such a claim cannot be operationalized (i.e., persons cannot make use of it in their daily life activities). As a community of peers in conversation, persons (as a living we) do have a kind of perspective upon everything: the theory and all its results, and everything else too, for instance, whether it's time to take a rest before pursuing our experiment further. This community's members choose how they (we) will live their (our) lives, taking into account, among other things, the theory and its predictions, etc....
his is a political, not a scientific perspective: It is a deliberative, not a predictive perspective. It aims not at deducing what will happen due to "natural forces" but at deciding what should happen due to our own agency. This human personal and collaborative social agency stands above the vicissitudes of predictive theories: whether the theories prosper or get into trouble, we have to decide what we want to do in the personal and social -- the political -- situation the theories not only help define for us but also help us define. The role of scientific theories is advisory: to ever further enrich our understanding of the objective circumstances "we are up against", and of the resources we can avail ourselves of and the alternatives they open up for us to deal with those circumstances. ("Man makes himself on the basis of conditions he has not made.")
aveat: Our thought experiment in no way excludes the possibility of persons being able to trick us into doing ("make us do...") things which we imagine we are doing "of our own free will". But there is nothing "theoretically interesting" about this. If somehow persons are able to get us to believe that our situation is one that has in fact been manipulated ("staged") by them, then we will act on the basis of our false beliefs which we unwittingly (and despite our best efforts to find "holes" in them!) believe to be true, and, if the situation is set up in such a way as to "make us an offer we can't refuse", we will likely choose to accept the offer, in the belief, which we find to be well supported by the [unbeknownst to us, dummied up...] evidence, that we have no more appealing alternative. Some Mission Impossible TV episodes sometimes did this, as also the movie The Truman Show. Virtual Reality makes it ever more feasible. But these all too real possibilities are practical results of human trickery, which remain -- albeit in a derivitive and perverse way --, within the realm of our social life. They are not scientific conclusions derived from a reductive "theory of everything", which would prove we are "determined" in the way the behavior of objects in our experience can be determined by attributes of the objects being made inputs of predictive computations from universal objective laws.
o we humans, we humanists, should be receptive to "scientific" theories of everything, because they may give us better information on the basis of which to decide together (i.e., to politically deliberate...) how to make our shared social and personal world as satisfying for ourselves as possible. We should also be on the lookout for adversaries who would try to manipulate our experience of life for purposes we would not endorse if we ever find out about them. And we need to keep vigilant against falling into the fallacy of thinking that every-thing is EVERYTHING, i.e., we need to keep vigilant to understand that we are perspectives on the world and not just inframundane contents ("objects"), of such kinds as: "human resources", "workers", "consumers", "students", "voters", etc. It all comes down to, and finds its place in -- to once again quote Hans-Georg Gadamer's phrase: "the conversation we are".
e are not part of "everything" -- or at least we are not primarily that. We are part of a community, and theories of everything, and the "everything" the theories of everything are about, and everything else... are part of what we have to concern ourselves with and hopefully can find ways to make constructive use of, in sustaining and, again, hopefully, creatively further elaborating our community. [My presentation here is a political act which attempts to encourage us to get our self-understanding on the right track: to see ourselves emphatically as agents of political creation, rather than equivocally as objects of "scientific explanation".] For as long as we live in the existential sense of knowing we are alive, politics subsumes physics (but it can do this better, the better we appreciate how it does it, or, to be precise: how we do it).
Another way to look at the absurdity of any theory purporting to explain all human experience [as a part of "everything"...] is to consider that the success of such a theory should lead to the replacement of "peer reviewed" journals by something else, perhaps: "brain scanned" journals? -- since the judgments of reviewers would be predictable and explainable by the theory.
|urgen Habermas says something critically important here: "The systematic sciences of social action, that is economics, sociology... have the goal, as do the empirical-analytic sciences, of producing nomological knowledge. A critical social science, however, will not remain satisfied with this. It is concerned... to determine when theoretical statements grasp invariant regularities of social action as such and when they express ideologically frozen relations of dependence that can in principle be transformed. To the extent that this is the case, the critique of ideology, as well, moreover, as psychoanalysis, take into account that information about lawlike connections sets off a process of reflection in the consciousness of those whom the laws are about. Thus the level of unreflected consciousness, which is one of the initial conditions of such laws, can be transformed. Of course, to this end a critically mediated knowledge of laws cannot through reflection alone render a law itself inoperative, but it can render it inapplicable. (Knowledge and human interests, 1968/1971, p. 310)[fn.113b]|
|This suggests that perhaps only those persons who both are and also understand themselves to be shapers of their shared social and personal life may escape scientific predictability. What differentiates these persons from the others are: (1) education to understand the difference, and (2) social acceptance as a peer in the social milieu of those who in fact shape their shared social and personal life. The reader will note that in my "thought experiment", I pervasively emphasized that the person who disproves the universal applicability of the scientific "theory of everything" needs to be consciously aware precisely how he or she is doing this. Habermas's contention is that such predictive laws may fail only when their predictions are known in advance by those to whom the predictions apply. If this is true, the person who "runs the numbers" faces the choice between (1) being right at the expense of keeping his or her fellows in the dark, or (2) giving those persons a hand up in life at the expense of spoiling the experiment.|
|Let me spell this out perhaps more clearly: My contention is that it is not possible to predict the behavior of persons engaged as peers in "the conversation we are", i.e., the conversation in which "I" (e.g., you, dear reader...) am participating in the living present moment here-and-now, either "by myself" or with other interlocutors' whose words I try to understand as meaningful discourse, and to whom I speak in the hope they will try to understand my words are meaningful discourse. But this conversation may include among its objects discussed other persons who are not peer interlocutors (e.g., a jury may deliberate about a defendent; a team of scientists may deliberate about a human "experimental subject"...). I propose it is a whole other question whether the behavior of these "third persons" (i.e., persons treated as objects of discourse not as co-subjects) can be predicted. But this latter question should be relatively unimportant, since we should try to minimize the occasions in which persons function as objects of discourse instead of as co-subjects (peer interlocutors) in discourse. Ideally, this latter question would be about an object domain with zero instances.|
|Are we free? (Try the question another way!)|
Ask yourself: What is this [whatever] an instance of?
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