The hubris of thought

A very common trap we fall into with our thinking is the belief that reality has to conform to our thinking.

This is shown in the ontological argument for the existence of God.

The ontological argument goes:

God is that than which nothing greater can be thought.

That than which nothing greater can be thought (we’ll call it god from here on in. Think of God as a variable; like an x in algebra) can be thought of as existing and not existing.

God existing is greater than god not existing therefore we cannot think of God as not existing.

All well and good but the final clause in the argument is the trap I am talking about.

Therefore God must exist. (implicitly: because we cannot think of God as not existing)

What we have done here is show that using certain laws for thought – playing a certain thought game as Wittgenstein would put it – you cannot think of God as not existing. The trap is to then extend this beyond the limits of thought itself. Why should reality conform to laws of thought?

This trap is so common because I believe it is something we are born believing. It’s behind the belief called naïve realism. We all believe that the world outside of our experience must conform to the world of our experience without ever having any proof for or against this belief.

Another example of this way of thinking, of how we extend the rules of thought to illegitimately (without any ground) make claims about reality is the idea of infinite divisibility.

Numbers come from counting and counting is a process that is reversible. You can go on into infinity and you can go back to infinity. You can also count within a number (1, ½, 1/3, ¼ etc). This capacity is something our brains can do.

We can do loops and such things with ease. But is reality infinite? Is the space out there that we experience infinitely divisible? This is of course an empirical question and because of that and the nature of infinity it is impossible to answer. But we just assume without too much trouble that this must be the case.

Always try to maintain the distinction between the thought and what it is a thought about and let the thought be determined by the object of thought. Don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole.

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