October 31, 2012

III.  Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man

Intro-   This is Part III of the overall argument: God is Possible. I titled this part A Preemptive Reply originally because I wished to make ... a preemptive reply ... to an objection I am likely to receive to the argument in Part II.  But, honestly, which of the two titles conveys more about string theory?  One about Johnny Cash picking on a sideways-turned guitar (...wait for it...), or one using language found in a legal brief?   zzzz

Here are some of Johnny and June's words:

Johnny:  Well, I'm gonna start out walkin' / just you wait and see
June:  Uh-uh guitar picker / you ain't leavin' without me
Johnny:  Oh, you big mouthed woman
June:  You long-legged guitar pickin' man
Both:  Well, we can work this out
Johnny:  Uh-huh, yes ma’am, I think we can

You can find several live performances of the song on the web. Here's one posted by YouTube: PeterRabbit59.

But just so's I don't mislead you by my use of this analogy, no, I do not think of God as being a long-legged guitar pickin' man.  String theory itself is what I think he is closer to being like, or yes, maybe the creator or sustainer of string theory.

Okay, on to Part III.

III.  Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man;  Alternate Title - A Preemptive Reply

To summarize, Professor Oerter analogized God to a Purple Elephant on Pluto, seeking material evidence for that. He bolstered his argument by analogizing to a complicated theory in particle physics called string theory. String theory postulates that the energy of the universe comes in teeny tiny little bits of vibrating activities (energy) which might occupy a variety of different dimensions and may combine in a variety of different ways.

By combining in different ways, these teeny tiny "strings" produce or become the mysterious little particles of particle physics. And those become atoms, molecules, stardust, rocks and humans.

We do not know that string theory works like that. We do not know if string theory works at all. Professor Oerter said that, and I agree with him, and feel comfortable relying on him for that. There is little if any evidence yet to support string theory. So we should not treat string theory as fact. Oerter argues, by analogy, God's existence should also not be treated as any kind of fact.

Analogy is a logical tool. It is a type of inductive logic, rather than deductive logic.

Inductive logic works like this: "Every willow tree I have ever seen has green leaves. I have been to a lot of places all over the planet and have seen a lot of willow trees. Therefore I conclude that all willow trees have green leaves."

Clearly I do not know that all willow trees actually do have green leaves. Maybe there is one out there I missed, and it has red leaves. But based on the evidence I have seen, I infer that they all have green leaves. As we gather more and more information about trees in general and willow trees in particular, we humans can refine, modify or reject my conclusion that all willow trees have green leaves.

See?  Everybody is a logician.  Logic, correctly understood, does seem to be possible. I recently wrote some comments about that, and back in 2008 I wrote a piece about sound judgment.

Moving on.

Deductive logic works differently. It works like this:
"- All willow trees have green leaves.
- This tree is a willow tree.
- Therefore this tree must have green leaves."

Of course you can look at this tree and see that, but humor me. Pretend you are looking at the trunk of the tree and can't see any of the leaves above you. Nonetheless, you deduce that the leaves are in fact green without looking.

Although it is not really relevant here, but as an aside - please note: deductive logic often sounds more conclusive, more accurate somehow, than inductive logic ... because it is usually written in such strong positive terms. But, frankly, deductive logic is often just inductive logic in disguise, as in our example here. The "must have green leaves" clause rests on the primary premise's assertion that "All" willow trees have green leaves. So ... deductive logic can sound more accurate because that primary premise ("All x is y") is stated as if it is true. But as you can see, at least as to our willow tree example, we do not actually know if our primary premise is true or false. Remember, our primary premise was originally derived by inductive logic, which is inherently open to dispute.

Now back to our chain of thought.

Analogy works like this: "An acorn is to an oak tree, as a kitten is to a ... what? Answer: As a kitten is to a cat."

In other words, there is something similar in the relationship between acorns, which grow into oak trees, and kittens, which grow into cats.  We can all see that, even though the concept of growing was not openly referred to anywhere in the analogy.

Okay, so as to Professor Oerter's use of string theory as an analogy, he is saying that, since it is reasonable to not count on string theory as fact in the absence of evidence, it is likewise reasonable to not count on the existence of God when the "existence of God" suffers from a similar absence of evidence. (My quotes).

I agreed with the professor as to this specific use of his analogy as it applies to statements of fact about both God and string theory. I then tried to turn the use of the professor's analogy around.

I tried to do so essentially by expressing this thought: (i) string theory provides a complicated explanation for the operation of the known universe; (ii) God is like string theory in that he, too, provides a complicated explanation for the operation of the known universe; (iii) string theory is possible; (iv) therefore, by analogy, since the theory of God 's existence is like the theory of vibrating strings of energy, God, too, is possible.

I know that bit of logic is not as easy to follow as acorns, kitty cats, and growth of same.  So take a moment, reread it, and tell me what my conclusion depends on? I'm just trying to be scrupulously and intellectually honest here.

Yes ... the conclusion depends on whether "the theory of God 's existence is like the theory of vibrating strings of energy" in sufficiently relevant ways.

I think it is.

But analogy is a form of inductive logic, which, as said earlier, is inherently open to dispute. Perhaps the possible existence of God is nothing like the possible existence of vibrating strings of energy. After all, how do we settle on  what types of existence are possible?

I repeat, that I think the analogy is a good one. But further discussion about that needs to wait for another day.  Or for the comments.

It's Halloween, and children will soon be knocking on the door for candy.

And I'm still tired from watching much of the conclusion last night, live, of the World Series of Poker 2012 at the Rio.

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Ed. Note: Aristotle liked to use acorns and oak trees, as well as horses, and animals (including at least one tiger), in his writings. He is one of the first to work out analogical logic. For those interested, here is a link to an article in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy related to the subject.
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[space reserved here for two pictures to be included in an update]

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- Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man; Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Marshall Grant (author of this song) (1971), later with Carl Perkins (author of Blue Suede Shoes).
- wsop.com
- youtube.com
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at plato.stanford.edu

Shout outs:
- to three Indiana lawyer friends of mine, who helped me in 2009, one of whom who put away his motorcycle before I could properly thank him; and to a fine former worker and friend of mine, who will soon be one of those Indiana lawyers; here's to clear logic and interesting questions of fact

Deep Thoughts and Reflections:
- for all who have been harmed by Hurricane Sandy; death toll now 74 and damages now reaching ....

October 30, 2012

II.  God is Possible

Intro-  Good Morning, America, how are you?  Say, don't you know me?  I'm your native son.  I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans.  I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Family heritage, a funny thing. Our fathers and mothers come from somewhere. As did their fathers and mothers before them. But who really knows much about their own actual heritage beyond that?  Backwards in time, I should say, beyond the names and home locations of our own grandparents? Surprising how little we do know ... given the nature of how values get passed through.

What's that thought got to do with the price of rice?  Not all that much, but here's to the City of New Orleans, to a grand old house sitting between St. Charles Avenue and the levees, and, oh yes, to Willie Nelson, Arlo Guthrie, Steve Goodman (1971) and anyone else who ever went to, sang or rode on the City of New Orleans.

Ok, on to Part II of the argument.

II:  God is Possible

When I left this subject late last night, the picture of the purple space elephant was just exactly where I had left it, about a third of the way down in Part I's post. Then I woke early in the morn and it was gone. Still I have not found it so I haven't been able to put it back in its spot. 

Yes, I do have a back-up copy on my phone, but for the life of me I cannot figure what went wrong with the HTML code for the pic ID. Maybe it's meant to be. Maybe not.

Sans one purple pic.

Now where are we?  Professor Oerter uses string theory (see footnote below)* as a logical analogy to support his argument -- that is to say, we should not accept an argument for the existence of God without evidence to support that argument.

What the professor is saying (I think) is that he is not looking at this time for a rational argument that proposes to show God's existence. Nor is he looking for a testimonial or spiritual approach to "find" God. (My quotes around "find" not Oerter's).  Instead, he is looking for an empirical approach, like the type used in developing scientific theories.

This is why (I suspect) he wants to use string theory as an analogy as part of his argument. Scientists look at complex data, and undertake a large number of experiments, to find out how things work. They then craft a theory which might be used to explain all the results. 

String theory is one such theory. But no scientist is going to "accept" string theory "as a fact" unless the evidence from scientific experiments is adequately explained by that theory. (Oerter's words in quotes).

Well, I agree with that completely.  In that sense I do not believe that God is a proven fact.  Nor do I believe, given what we empirically know in 2012, that God is going to become a proven fact in the near future (barring any miraculous events). 

But that is equally true for string theory. 

Yet, that does not stop scientists from investing a lot of intellectual capital into the exploration of string theory.

So ... Professor Oerter's analogy to string theory backfires, so to speak.  After all, it is certainly "accepted" that string theory, while not proven, is possible.  Professor Oerter's analogy to string theory reminds us that the theory for the existence of God, while also not proven, is also a reasoned case which provides an "explanation for the patterns of elementary particles, and so forth."  (Oerter's quotes about string theory). Thus God's existence, like string theory, must be accepted as possible.

Thus, God is Possible.

Next, Part III.
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*  It can be seen from the argument made that we don't need a detailed understanding of string theory to follow the argument.  In fact, all we need is an appreciation that physicists understand the theory and are sufficiently committed to it to test it out in the laboratory. 

For those interested, however, here is a link to a Wikipedia article:  "String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything ... a self-contained mathematical model that describes all fundamental forces and forms of matter."  (My italics).  More sophisticated articles are also available on the 'net'.
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- the City of New Orleans, in song, verse, and physical reality.
- my parents and grandparents, some of whom lived in New Orleans and some of whom lived in Philadelphia
- anyone harmed by Hurricane Sandy

October 28, 2012

I.  Oerter's Purple Pachyderm

Intro-  This is a three part argument which I shall refer to, overall, as The God is Possible Argument.

The three parts are:

I:  Oerter's Purple Pachyderm
II:  God is Possible
III:  A Preemptive Reply

I grew up in a world that constantly debated science versus religion, or religion versus science. Fundamental issues, for sure, yet somehow it always struck me that it was the wrong debate ... or the right debate, just incorrectly structured.

But I love philosophy (the unexamined life and all that). And I love spooky science, Stephen Hawking, big bangs, string theories, dark energy and the like.  I recently found Robert Oerter's blog which combines these topics. This put me in Hog heaven, as in Harley hog heaven.

So Proud Mary's wheel began to turn. Thank you, Robert Oerter, for pouring such good energy into your blog.  And thank you, John Fogerty, for cleaning a lot of plates in Memphis, and then writing songs about it.

Ok, on to Part I of the argument.

I:  Oerter's Purple Pachyderm

To restate the argument's name accurately it is The Purple Pachyderm Argument by Robert Oerter.  

Robert Oerter is a physics professor and the author of The Theory of Almost Everything (2006), an easy-to-read book which explains the Standard Model of quantum physics to ... well ... everyone.

Professor Oerter posted The Purple Pachyderm Argument on his blog, Somewhat Abnormal, on October 18, 2012, at this link:


I encourage you to go there now to read Oerter's argument, which is an argument against theism. Also, I encourage you to read the comments there ... to follow the action so to speak. It is Oerter's first comment (the 4th comment down in his comment section) which got my big wheel turning. I will quote some of Oerter's material below, but read it all there first. 

Here is a visual I found on photobucket.com to get your motor running.

Purple Space Elephant, by osbornebn
[Ed. Note: I'll put the pic back when I find out where it went! Sorry, editor]

Now from Oerter's blog, which sets out a fictitious dialogue between Pachydermist and Apachydermist, we read as follows:

"Pachydermist:  I believe there are purple space elephants living on the planet Pluto."

"Apachydermist:  Um, OK, what evidence do you have for that belief?"

... and so they argue on ... (my italics)

Apachydermist insists on material evidence before he is willing to accept the notion that purple elephants (God) exist. Every time Apachydermist presses a point about what it means to exist Pachydermist changes the description about what it means to be a purple space elephant, until Apachydermist finally leaves the scene "shaking his head sadly."

In the comments which followed the argument, Ben Yachov (a defender of theism) takes Professor Oerter to task. He does this primarily on the grounds that Oerter has not addressed the problem from the correct standpoint of classic philosophical theism. Yachov says, "You[r] argument is meaningless to anybody who believes in the God of TLS, Aquinas, Scotus & or the Historic Judeo-Christian God."

[TLS is short for The Last Superstitution (2008), a book by Edward Feser, which opposes modern atheism using classical arguments].

Yachov provides various useful links, including one discussing Bertrand Russell's "celestial teapot" argument (see William Vallicella's link in the credits below).  What I take Yachov's arguments to mean is that Oerter's thought experiment represents too shallow an understanding of the classical arguments for the existence of God.

Yachov says:  "Oh Prof Rob when are you going to pick fights with real Gods instead of wasting your time with bit players?"

The Professor comes back with this very interesting remark (quoting Vallicella's blogpost):

"Whether 'a reasoned case can be made for theism' is not the point of the analogy (Russell's or mine). The point is whether there is any EVIDENCE for theism... I can make out a reasoned case for string theory, as unifying the known forces, providing an explanation for the patterns of elementary particles, and so forth.  But until I have some actual EVIDENCE for string theory, I'm not going to accept it as fact."

I was troubled by this remark / argument for days.  Restless even.  Having been trained as a scientist ... accustomed to empirical research ... yet steeped in religion ... while conversant in logical arguments in philosophy and the law ... I had been fully prepared to view (and treat) the Purple Pachyderm Argument as heading to an inevitable draw.

Yet Oerter's argument by analogy had arrested my thought.  Not the general analogy he was making between purple elephants (or celestial teapots) and God. That analogy seemed straight forward enough.  It was the Professor's other analogy, the one between string theory and proof of God's existence, that had me stumped.

Then it occurred to me, perhaps the good professor has proven too much?

What I mean is this: whatever help the string theory analogy brings or does not bring to Oerter's main argument -- that theists lack evidence to support the existence of God -- the use of string theory, as an analogy, supports a different argument, namely the argument that God is Possible.

It is to that argument -- God is Possible -- to which I shall now turn, in Part II.

- Somewhat Abnormal, blog by Robert Oerter, somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/
- Photo, Purple Space Elephant, by osbornebn, photobucket.com
- John Fogerty, johnfogerty.com
- Maverick Philosopher, blog by Bill Vallicella,

October 27, 2012

So the Journey Goes

A short late morning walk
turns into a lunchtime hike 
which becomes an afternoon 
excursion. With pics too.

Research and verify.

See what's new, rest and refresh ... 

and reprovision for a long night ahead.

By the way, the rodeo is in town.


Pictures courtesy c emerson (October 27, 2012)

October 26, 2012

Is Logic Possible?

This is more a set of comments than a post. In a sense it is also a spoiler alert for a future post.

The question is: Is logic possible?

We know some things. Like 2 + 2 = 4. I don't mean just that one sum. I mean arithmetic itself. And also things like triangles, circles, lines, and colors, and the sizes of things. Like that.

[Some people are not sure we know things like colors in the same way as numbers because we each see colors differently, so if you are thinking along those lines now, then substitute the idea of colors in place of any specific colors.]

Okay. Now coming at the problem from another direction, there is an old boy scout song that goes something like this (I've used this before elsewhere):

Great green globs of greasy grimy gopher guts,
Mutilated monkey meat,
Itty bitty birdy feet,
French-fried eyeballs floating in a pool of pus,
And me without a spoon.

What do we make of that?  Is it something we know something about, like arithmetic? I know it is a silly song, but no sillier than the story of Rat, Mole and Toad. I could just as well have used this from Dylan:

Grandpa died last week
And now he's buried in the rocks
But everybody talks about
How badly they were shocked
But me, I expected it to happen
I knew he'd lost control
When he built a fire on Main Street
And shot it full of holes
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again

Here's the point. I think of all songs and stories as conveyances, and as art. And therefore I come to think of life as a conveyance, and as art.

Coming back to Logic, I found one definition that renders it to mean "a science that deals with the principles and criteria of validity of inference and demonstration ..."

Another renders it as "reason or sound judgment, as in utterances or actions."

So, I wonder, is logic possible? And if so, does it take us anywhere?

- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
- Dictionary.com
- Wikipedia
- boyscouttrail.com
- bobdylan.com

October 25, 2012

Wind in the Willows

It's a peculiar thing the way a mind works, be it a sane one or one infirm. A puzzle of enormous depth.  But the day may come when the neuroscientists of this world say they have unraveled it all.

I have an 8 cylinder mind, which is running on ten cylinders at the moment. As I lay resting last night, trying to bring sleep to weary portals, the 9th cylinder missed and then exploded, conjuring up poor Mister Toad of Toad Hall, deranged, delusional, eyes wide and bleary, deliriously obsessing over securing just one more MOTORCAR.

Where in the world I thought did that come from? (I've given up trying to be grammatical). Then I saw barely lit against the shadows of the night the name Wind in the Willows, with Rat, Mole, and the whole gang of weasels occupying Toad Hall. Who was it who had come to save the day for poor Mr. Toad? Who? Who? I simply could not fire the neurons for the missing hero. BLAST. Where were the neurons, the missing 10th cylinder, when I needed them, or it, the most!

Wikipedia to the rescue. When flesh and blood fails, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters. And there it was, right there in the plot description, synopsis, summary, whatever: Badger to the rescue, secret tunnel and all.

Finally I could sleep again, restfully, peacefully. And think about tomorrow's chores tomorrow. What was hiding there, I could only half sense, as I began drifting once again across the surface of the quiet peaceful river just out my back door, something, something about leaves to rake, under my oak and willow trees?

- Dedicated to my family, while I lay here, not raking leaves, but drawing pictures in the sand
- And to a friend living in Toad Hall South

- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, 1908


October 24, 2012

It's All In The Music

Philosophy, logic, particle physics, it is all so difficult, yes?  Not really, because we do not need words per se (at least not complicated ones). What we seek, what we need, is not words, but communication.

Thank goodness we can find that elsewhere, because that is not found just in words, it is found anywhere we are comfortable looking for it

Put as simply as possible:  It's all in the music.

Whether you hear it in Old MacDonald or Chopin, whether you are 4 or 64, you hear it in the music.

Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.


- Dedicated to a friend

October 23, 2012

I Would Rather Be Riding My Harley

I don't have an active internet connection for my computer. I don't remember much about using the word processing tools here at Blogger. There is only so much I can do with this iPhone, although it's obvious it's more than I originally thought.  But it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe ... I think Bob Dylan said that.

I am back on for a reason. There is a line of argument about something I want to pursue, when I finish figuring out how to express it. I'm grateful to some people though, for causing me to wake up again, at least for awhile. There's my wife.  And my mother.  God bless 'em.  Man, I sound like that character Howard Wolowitz, the aerospace engineer, on TV's the Big Bang Theory. Well, that's okay, I like the Big Bang Theory. There is also my father, my brother, my sister, my 4 daughters, my friends, D, W, B, my uncle, my aunts ... and a bunch of others. Cheez. What is this, a hoedown?

Still, I have something I feel I have to say - nay, want to say.  Soon.

But, quite frankly, I would rather be riding my Harley.