Vanity thought #1768. I cannot compute

Before continuing with Vedic Cosmology I want to say a few words about a nice metaphor I found in author’s article on Dandavats in November last year. I missed it then, sadly.

The article discusses devotees’ approach to science and it’s hard to summarize it in one post so I’ll just pick one apt comparison that illustrates the problem. We know world to be illusory. There are disagreements on the exact nature of this illusion in various schools on Hinduism and sometimes we ourselves are hard pressed to define our exact understanding of it. Regardless – illusion is involved in one way or another.

The consequence of this fact is that material nature produces falsities. Once again, we can argue if things are false or only our understanding of them is, but, in general, it means māyā convinces us that there’s no God. This particular aspect is compared in the article to a computer that prints out statements like “I cannot compute”. How can we interpret them?

Scientists can take the statement at face value – there’s no evidence of God’s existence in our empirical experience so there must be no God. This will lead to incomplete knowledge of reality – God is there but we don’t know it. The article shows that this kind of knowledge would be a falsity, avidyā, comparing to studying Vedic scriptures which make up inferior knowledge – aparā-vidyā.

The difference is quite important but I don’t want to talk about it today. Scientific knowledge is based on false representation of reality, on māyā, and so it does’t produce any truth. This seems like an overstretch at first but, methodologically, all moderns scientific theories are false and are waiting to be replaced by something better, which will also be eventually found false and replaced again.

Another food for thought in that article is that when we think that avidyā or apara-vidya relate to this world while parā-vidyā relates to spiritual world where we all want to go then this thinking is aparā-vidyā in itself because it implies seeking liberation from this world rather than correct understanding of it. Parā-vidyā is not somewhere out there but how we should see THIS world correctly, too. Parā-vidyā is a vision of paramahaṁsas and they are not seeking liberation and transfers to anywhere else – they see Kṛṣṇa in everything already.

Back to confusing “cannot compute” prints. If we accept God’s existence it would be contradictory to what māyā prints out for us. In practice it would lead to endless questions that start with “If your God was real, then why..?” Once again, our experiences are created by māyā and her work is to deny God every step of the way, so there will always be contradictions between “beliefs” and “real life”.

The author applies “cannot compute” contradiction differently and I don’t fully get it. I think it goes like this – regardless of whether a devotee or a scientist, a person would accept some things as literal truth and will try to interpret what appears to be false. That is, if we accept the fact that railway tracks run parallel as literal truth than the vision of them converging on the horizon appears as falsity and, therefore, needs an interpretation (solved as visual illusion) – it is not taken literally for what it is. Devotees take the opposite approach – we declare deities, gurus, and scriptures as truth and interpret the rest of the world because it appears to us as false.

Unlike the devotees, scientists take the lie (“I cannot compute”) as truth but this lie contains a contradiction (a computer that computes that it cannot compute) and so everything that starts from here will have more and more contradictions piling up. This is why science always have new theories because old ones can’t explain contradictions, and it resigns to the fact that new theories will have contradictions of their own, too.

What is not clear to me is why both incompleteness and contradiction rise from the same literal interpretation of the statement. In fact, two statements seem to be considered here, or rather two different readings of the same one. The reading that leads to incompleteness denies existence of either God or a computer, and the reading leading to contradictions implies acceptance of God – the “I” in “I cannot compute”. Scientists do not accept God so the second case should not apply to them but rather to religionists.

Contradictions, however, are an important feature of modern science and it’s the one all of them should always be aware of, though it might not be taught at schools. I think the author argues that scientific theories are either incomplete or inconsistent because he discussed Gödel’s theorems elsewhere. I thought I understood these theorems but now I realize that my brain is not what it used to be and, presented formally, they become undecipherable. In short – we can create theories with axioms and solid logic but in the end our theories will be incomplete, and if we make them complete they will become inconsistent. This is a law that we can’t avoid and it has been widely accepted with only a few holdouts that argue the theorems has not been proven.

It would be nice to demonstrate how our different approaches to “I cannot compute” statement resulted in logical systems described by Gödel, that the results would be either incomplete, or, if complete, it would be inconsistent. Perhaps Ashish Dalela covered it somewhere else but this is what we have in this article and Gödel is not even mentioned.

I don’t disagree with the author when he says that modern academia runs in problems with consistency if they accept “I cannot compute” statement as true, I just feel that this approach fits more with religionists than with scientists.

In any case, the important point for us here is that all of this arises from science not recognizing the world as illusory but going along with the illusion instead. Even Christians and Muslims don’t include illusion in their theology so they are constantly dogged by questions about the source of evil and others in the same vein. Knowledge of māyā is indispensable to having a correct knowledge of reality.

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