Saturday, July 21, 2012

What Are You Assuming?

During this last week, I have been involved in a fun discussion about infinities over on Cross Examined (Part 1, Part 2). We spent a lot of time discussing whether or not it is possible for there to be an infinite amount of time in the past. Another commenter claimed to have a proof that an infinite past was impossible, and I said his proof was flawed. Ultimately, I think the flaw came down to a hidden assumption that he didn't realize he was making.

This got me thinking a little bit more in general, how often do we do this kind of thing? We come across so much information all the time that there is no way we can process it all properly. How many decisions do we make based on assumptions and ideas that we haven't thought about in a long time, if ever? How often do we get so used to our point of view that we forget to consider and important part of things? If viewed from a different angle perhaps we can find a better solution. Or at the very least, we can see that someone who disagrees with us is being reasonable and logical, they just came to a different conclusion because they have different starting assumptions.

A good example of this is from earlier in the week in the section "A Living Sacrifice" in Romans 12. As often happens, when I read it I found a negative side to the scripture. I can see a potential harm in "giving yourself over to the lord" when there is no lord there. If you think God is talking to you but you are just talking to yourself, you can potentially justify some pretty terrible things. Furthermore, it will be hard for your mind to be changed once you think your idea is backed by God. But this negative view is based on the assumption that God is not real (or at least the idea that he might not be real). But if God was real, then this action actually makes sense. Different conclusion from the same data because of different starting assumptions.

This is why I think it is so important to try to have discussions with people who you disagree with. At the very least, we should be trying to understand each other's points of view. If we can really get to the heart of the matter and figure out the underlying ideas we have a better chance of convincing each other of things. This is good whether I convince you of something or you convince me of something. I'd love to convince you I'm right about things, but I also want to know when I'm wrong. But even when nobody changes their mind, if we at least understand each other it will reduce the thoughts along the lines of "well he's just stupid". And I think that is good for everyone.


  1. I skimmed the post on Cross Examined and the comments, but I'm not a math wiz like you, so I didn't bother commenting.

    Couldn't one version of an infinite past still include a theoretical starting point? The Big Bang created time and space, we're somewhat certain of this. Could it be possible that time didn't move at a steady rate in this early, super-high energy period right after the Big Bang? Maybe time moves exponentially slower the closer the universe is to the singularity. From what little I understand about quantum physics, which would be at play at this scale, it could be possible...maybe.

    1. That is a really good question. From a mathematical perspective, this does make some sense to me. Like, think about the open interval (0,1). 0 is the "beginning" of that interval, but it is not included in the interval. So you can keep getting closer to the zero without ever reaching it. It let's you have a beginning without being able to reach it.

      Unfortunately, from a physics perspective I don't think this idea pans out. I heard a similar question asked once to a physicist and they said that when they calculate 14.6 billion years, that is the most possible time from any frame of reference. I think that would eliminate this possibility for an infinite past in this way. Take this answer with a grain of salt though, I don't recall the source of that interaction (probably titanium physicist but who knows) and I am not sure I completely understood the answer to it's fullest.

    2. Interesting, but I don't get it. :-) Infinities, quantum mechanics, even relativity kinda blows my mind. Still, I like thinking of possible scenarios, even if we may never know for sure.


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