Much ado about nothing

March 15, 2012

A few interesting articles about science or philosophy of science:

  • William Carroll criticizes several recent statements about nothing by prominent physicists. That might sound like an odd thing to do, or like an awfully easy thing to do, but it is neither — well, maybe it is fairly easy. I recall that Stephen Hawking, in his most recent book, made a statement that deserved some kind of award from the Association for Short Term Memory Loss, for by the time he reached the end of the sentence he appeared to have forgotten how he started it. To wit: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.” One is tempted to ask, “What part of nothing don’t you understand?” Clearly, there is some conceptual confusion here, and Carroll is doing his part to try to clear it up.
  • Edward Feser gives a nice summary of Karl Popper’s arguments against the computational theory of mind. If you’ve ever passed an unpleasant afternoon reading contemporary philosophy of mind, you’ll have run into the idea: the mind is a computer program and the brain is a biological computer. Popper’s argument, which is essentially an argument against any causal theory of intentionality — where ‘causal’ means the kind of spatio-temporal causation relevant to physical science — is quite fascinating, and even thrilling. It has given rise, in the hands of folks like John Searle and others, to a suite of related arguments, all of which hinge, more or less, on the materialist’s own ‘interaction problem’, namely, the fact that there is a difference between physical causation and logical causation. Good stuff, and Feser’s writing is clear and accessible.
  • Finally, I am delighted to inform you that the Super Mario Bros. video game has been proved NP-hard. The march of knowledge is truly relentless.

10 Responses to “Much ado about nothing”

  1. Vince Says:

    Does this mean I’d finally be able to finish Mario Bros. 2 on a quantum computer NES emulator?

  2. Janet Says:

    Somehow this reminds me of the joke about the patient who asks his doctor if he will be able to play the piano after his surgery.


  3. Mac Says:

    I’m not a philosopher and certainly not a scientist, but I’ve been making that point about the concept of nothing for a long time. I can’t understand how someone as accomplished as Hawking can miss it.

    WordPress has recognized my email address and is insisting that I log in before posting. So I changed the email address.

    • cburrell Says:

      Do you have a WordPress account? You must, because I can’t think how it would otherwise recognize you. Sorry for the annoyance.

      Yes, I’m with you. To hear them talking this way makes them seem unusually obtuse, which they are not. Perplexing.

  4. Janet Says:

    Well, it’s not so great, although maybe you can tell it better.

    Patient: Doctor, will I be able to play the piano after this operation.

    Doctor: Yes.

    Patient: That’s great! I never could play it before.


    Although I’m not exactly sure how that is for the greater glory of God, unless He likes silly jokes, which He may.

  5. cburrell Says:

    Heh. That’s good.

  6. John Says:

    But what if no-thing-ness is the nature of Reality altogether before we slice IT up into seemingly separate things with our dualistic language games?

  7. cburrell Says:

    I am not sure if you mean to propose a relevant distinction between no-thing and nothing.

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