Sunday, 10 October 2010

Animism in the sciences

Scientists today practice animism: the brain is supposed to have functions, purposes, and processes; robots are supposed to have identity because they mimic our actions and look like us; information is supposed to travel through the air and be resident in physical objects. And of course, and simply, AI.

Logic and mathematics provide Science with its higher foundations, but there is nothing esoteric about the animism that backs them up.

By employing Cantor's diagonal slash Godel animated the syntax in his incompleteness theorems. These were an animistic variation on the idea that symbols and propositions can, under their own steam as it were, refer to their own position in a (mathematical) text. Elsewhere, old favourites such as an object is identical to itself, A=A, and "this sentence is false (true)" become strangely animated, as if endowed with anthropomorphic hands, with the power to point back to theiir own position on the page which they are printed on.

This casual animism baptises all mathematical objects with a hidden identity, an identity that can, like the genie in the bottle, be summoned for some (mathematical) task. And no greater summons is more evident than Goedel's incompleteness theorems which, so the promo goes, passes judgement on the whole mathematical enterprise and on the natural kingdom itself. This is ironic, as it is only in the natural kingdom that identity, as the same pundits have it, can be found.

Philosophy provides Science with its deepest foundations, but even here animism rules the roost. Most philosophers are "transcendental realists" that is, they believe that objects are themselves the source of their own properties and physical limits - animism.

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