Friday, 27 February 2015

Are some scientists from the planet Vulcan? (In honour of Leonard Nimoy)

I first published this post in 2011 but am republishing it now in honour of the passing of Leonard Nimoy who played Mr Spock in the original Star Trek series. As a keen viewer since the 1980s I have come to feel like an old friend of the missionaries on the Enterprise as they spread western ideals of love, foregiveness, justice and respect throughout the Galaxy - though never daring to mention the ultimate source of these.

 Mr Spock was often teased or rebuked by his crewmates for not understanding aspects of reality that could not be deduced or induced by logic. Love and affection, for instance, are not logical and therefore should not be acted upon. Presumably, being from the planet Vulcan, Mr Spock was not familiar with Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem, published on Earth in 1931 under the rubric Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems I.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem states that ‘in any sufficiently powerful, logically consistent formulation of logic or mathematics there must be true formulas which are neither provable or disprovable’.

Separately, the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy entry on this theorem states the following: The implied moral is that truth in some way outruns provability, at least when that is considered formally.’

This theorem is a landmark in philosophical and mathematical logic. It proves that a scientific theory of everything is inherently impossible and, by implication, we have to go to something transcendental to connect with a greater truth than that reachable by logic alone (important though logic is). What is staggering is that some cosmologists and theoretical physicists of high intelligence persist in ignoring this theorem, often, it seems in a fruitless attempt to pretend there is no creative agency behind the universe. Are they aware of the theorem or is it they don’t understand it or is it just that they don’t want to know?

Unlike scientists, mathematicians on the frontiers of computer technology are forced to adhere to it because it is a powerful tool in gauging the computability of certain mathematical functions.

For an excellent and clear account of Goedel’s world shattering theorem and its implications click here.

Finally, a disclaimer – I am not a mathematical logician or professional philosopher. I am not even intelligent by any conventional measure. However, I am interested in a lot of things and persistent and as one who believes in God I am committed to truth.