Friday, January 25, 2013

A Mobius Model of Reality

The sciences, both physical and social, attempt to understand reality by first breaking it into parts, and then studying each part, each aspect, individually.  This is the method of analysis.  There is much to be gained from this method of enquiry and understanding, as the current state of our technology readily attests to.  This method, however, also has its limitations and its built-in blind-spots.  It can lead us to conclusions about the nature of reality which are incorrect, despite their being based on apparently logical foundations.

Imagine that two people, Mike and Maya, are confronted by a very large mobius strip.   It's so large, in fact, that they can't even see the whole thing from where they're standing. 

Mike says to Maya, "Weird.  I wonder what that thing is?"

Maya responds, "You know, it kind of looks like a big mobius strip to me."

Mike: Mobius strip, what's that?

Maya: It's something I heard about once.  It's a form that only has one side and one edge.

Mike: What?!? That's ridiculous!  How is that even possible?

Maya: I don't really understand the details, but I'm pretty sure it is possible and that this is one of them, just a really big one.

Mike: Well, how about we test out this little hypothesis of yours?  Obviously this thing is too big to consider all at once, but we can cut sections out of it and examine them.  If we look at a bunch of sections, we should be able to get an idea about the whole thing, right?

Maya: I don't know if that will work or not.

Mike: Why not?

Maya: I can't really say for sure, it just doesn't feel right to me.

Mike: Whatevs.  If you don't have any other suggestions, I'm going to start studying this thing one section at a time.  We'll see how many sides this "mobius strip" really has.

[Mike pulls a pair of scissors out of his pocket and begins cut sections out of the strip]

Maya: Why do you have a pair of scissors in your pocket?

Mike: Because this is a hypothetical situation.  Are you gonna help me or not?

Maya:  I think I'll let you handle this one.

Mike: Fine. [begins to examine the pieces of strip he's cut out]

Mike: Maya, come here and look at this.  I've got all these pieces here and every single one of them has two sides and four edges.  How is it possible to take a bunch of two-sided things, put them together, and come out with a one-sided thing?

Maya: I don't know how, but I still think it only has one side.

Mike: Think whatever you want. I've studied the matter and I can tell you, every piece of this thing has two sides, therefore the whole thing must also have two sides.  I don't know what a "one-sided form" even means.  Sounds like superstition to me.
The problem here is obvious.  The only way to directly verify that a mobius strip has only one side and one edge is to trace along its entire length, but in our hypothetical situation that is not possible.  So Mike tries to test Maya's claim through analysis, i.e. by breaking the whole down into its constituent parts.   But while this might be a good way to understand a car engine, say, it is not a valid way to understand a mobius strip (or at least not a valid way to answer the question of how many sides it has).  The act of analysis itself ensures that the incorrect conclusion will be reached.

The whole must be understood in terms of the whole, not in terms of the individual parts.  Inasmuch as the sciences claim to provide a comprehensive worldview, a perspective on the whole of reality (or at least to be working in that direction), their methodologies will ultimately, necessarily, lead them astray.

Someone may say to them, "Life and death are one," and they will respond, "Nonsense! Life is one thing and death merely the absence of life.  Your statement is meaningless and you are obviously a superstitious bumpkin!"  Another person may say, "There is no difference between rich and poor," and they will say, "Ridiculous! The rich live in palaces and buy yachts for their yachts, while the poor must scramble and scrape just to pay the rent.  You have no idea what you're talking about."

But they are trying to understand the whole through analysis of the parts.  The knowledge that they have gained by analysis is valid and true, but there also exist truths that cannot be had through analysis.  Denial of those truths is known as "scientism": the superstitious belief that the whole of reality can be understood through scientific analysis.  

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