Problem of understanding an illogical reality

Dana asked:

Is the nature of fundamentally understanding reality intrinsically illogical, and would this subsequently imply that reality itself is fundamentally illogical (since reality is defined by perception/understanding)?

Since a fundamental explanation for reality must explain itself (be a self-contained explanation), it would be, by definition, unsubstantiated by external means, and therefore without any external evidence supporting it. Thus, any final or fundamental explanation for what we call ‘reality’ must be unexplained by any external reasoning, thereby making it illogical as it would have no means of inference by which to prove such an explanation, and such the ability to make such an inference is essentially the means by which we define something to be logical, if I am not mistaken.

How could an ultimate theory or understanding of reality and everything possibly retain any sense of reason without continuing forever and reaching no definite conclusion (and therefore not truly being an ‘ultimate’ theory or understanding of reality and everything)? Is mankind’s quest for understanding inherently limited despite our greatest efforts? Because reality seems to contain an innate tendency to refute logic at its most fundamental level.

Also, this would lead to many consequences, such as the inability for science, or logic, to ever refute God, since logic itself breaks down at the essence of existence, and therefore the rules by which we govern any means of defining what explanations may or may not be sensible.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

In all such arguments or questions, you must examine your own presuppositions – especially where they come from. In this case, the idea of logical entailment. It is absolutely compelling, but at some stage you might listen to the little whisper in your ear which suggests that you are privileging a human faculty with God-like prescience without any evidence other than what this same faculty adjudges to be ‘real’ and ‘illusory’, ‘illogical’ and ‘proved’.

It is a fact, after all, that we cannot describe the nature and performance of this faculty in terms other than presuppositions about a reality that is independent of human input. But this depends in turn on a conception to which this faculty must first give birth! And so we go round in circles.

So you can see that understanding is prior to logic. This is supported by human history as well. Prior to Aristotle, we did not have much of an idea of logical entailment; hence logical thinking was a product of deliberations on how chains of demonstrations must be linked in order to have the understanding giving its consent to the compelling intellectual force of a logical argument.

It seems, indeed, that our notions of reality and our effort to apply criteria of logic to it, emanate from the Greek idea of the world as a cosmos, which is an ‘ordered’ entity. The problem conjoint to this notion is that we then proceed to distinguish what the mind conceives from what the senses perceive. We seem to be happy enough to declare that sensory perception is not characterised by logic, and is therefore not entirely trustworthy.

Yet this argument falls down on a quite fundamental issue – actually two of them. The first is, that in order to have a standard by which to measure the amount of reality conveyed to us by the senses, we must first collate all the knowledge they confer on us and then take note of the exceptions. This is why, e.g. Descartes’ hyperbolic doubt is an ultimately silly exercise, and as you know he suppressed this priority of sensory before logical knowledge. The second issue is, that ‘reality bites’, and if you ignore this by declaring your senses to be unreliable, then you may pay the consequence of having much pain or even becoming extinct.

This answers the first two parts of your question.

But you may still have the last arrow of solipsism in your quiver. Lacking external reasons, can we still claim existence for reality? There are two further indefeasible arguments against this.

First, that our knowledge of the work of the senses (under logical criteria!) shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not work autonomously by ‘creating’ an external reality and projecting the same into your mind as imagery. The sensory system is responsive to stimuli received from beyond the periphery of the body; and in birth, there is a massive over-production of sensory fibres for the purpose of eliminating those which have found nothing to respond to in the external world. Therefore you end up, at a later stage in life, with a system that has been ‘primed’ by the world to report reliably to you the conditions of existence in your world. Therefore it is logically compelling to accept the existence of an external world and that its constitution corresponds to the possibilities of interpretation and understanding that is built into into our perceptive apparatus. Again this has adapted to reality, since extinction awaits those organisms who get the ‘wrong’ message.

The second argument is, that ‘matter’ (i.e. chemical elements) has no sensory or perceptive equipment, therefore the condition we call ‘life’ in the only means to establishing existence as a reality. Without the possibility of sensing existence, there is no existence!

On to your further questions with their ‘absolutist’ dimension. If you can smell smoke from a fire, and then calibrate an instrument which cannot smell, but can be designed so as to detect the molecules that comprise smoke, you have proved something. Namely that perceptions, understanding, reason and logical entailment do have a leg to stand on. That they argue convincingly and in concert for existence. The only difference between your nose and your fire alarm is the ‘consciousness’ of your nose. But this consciousness, as mentioned, is the decisive criterion for existence. Even supposing that a fire alarm could come into existence by itself, it would not report fire, but only the presence of certain molecules in its vicinity. The logical connection between smoke, fire and existence has to be performed by consciousness.

Finally God. No, science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. You should acquaint yourself with Kant on this issue, who solved this problem 200 years ago, though admittedly over the heads of millions of people who chose to disbelieve his proof. This is not logical behaviour; but as you know logic is too difficult in any case for many people.

The point (keeping it simple) is this: that all existents are forms of energy; but in your and my dimension these energies may be perceived in varying degrees of solidity. Thus to you a table top may be hard and impenetrable, a microbe however may crawl into the pores and right through it. This difference is covered by the term ‘phenomena’. We humans necessarily perceive phenomena and our sensory system must decide from their strength such questions as ‘can I walk through this wall or not?’ In other words, phenomena are species of vibration. But God, spirits, ghosts, as well as magic and sorcery do not fall into this class of existents. They do no ‘vibrate’. Accordingly they cannot be perceived. From which the logical conclusion of an either/or must be derived. Either, that they don’t exist (are impossible) or else that there are forms of energy or vibration which we cannot detect even with our most sensitive instruments.

It stands to reason under those circumstances that it is futile practically, theoretically and logically, to make claims for or against their existence. Some, like sorcerers, can be absolutely declared to be false conceptions since they are humans and cannot command the powers they are supposed to have. Ghosts because they project phenomena without a substrate, which is impossible. Gods and spirits? Well, you decide.

Answer by Shaun Williamson

I don’t understand any of the things you say, they paint pictures but what do they mean. How are we (or you) supposed to decide if they are true or false.

Here are two quotations from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. ‘Philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday.’ ‘How high the seas of language rise, lets get back to dry land’.

I would suggest that that you get a better understanding of logic by taking a course of study of symbolic logic i.e. propositional calculus, predicate calculus and the proofs of their consistency and completeness.

You talk about the inability of science or logic to refute God. Logic is about valid arguments, God isn’t an argument so it makes no sense to talk about refuting him.

Science studies and explains the physical world, science doesn’t refute things. God isn’t part of the physical world, scientists have nothing to say about God but then neither do physiotherapists.

Reality is neither logical or illogical (except in a metaphorical sense). People can be logical or illogical.

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