Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Testing the Impartial Observer

Good to see that someone has applied the Method of the Impartial Observer I mention in my previous post.

I was heading in this direction, but Goatboy has pre-empted me, so I'll continue on now.

Goatboy's comment raised an important point:

Science does not dictate what you should or should not do in any given situation, only that whatever happens will be governed by the laws of science*, to which nothing and no-one are exempt. This is unlike religion, whereby any 'rules' can be overturned or ignored by supernatural beings as they wish, and which dictates that certain behaviours must be obeyed to appease higher powers and thereby secure perceived benefits. The point here is that 'good', 'bad' and 'moral action' are human inventions, not preordained by some higher power. Therefore, the so-called "ten commandments" did not come from some 'god', but rather arose from what the followers of a particular individual commonly believed to be in their best interests for a variety of reasons.

* Before getting into a discussion about laws and rules being human inventions, I would agree that they are indeed. The 'laws' of science are nothing more than a vast amount of empirical evidence that lead us to certain conclusions. A fundamental and major aspect of these laws is that they are consistent. If an exception to a scientific theory is encountered, scientists are forced to re-evaluate their world-view. Take for instance the theory of relativity, which replaced Newton's classical mechanics, which I have mentioned elsewhere.
In my opinion, the amount of robust evidence provided by science for particular conclusions dwarfs any so-called evidence presented by theists for conclusions that they support. Much of their 'evidence' is pseudo-scientific at best, or else outright fiction. However, this is not to say that their arguments are without value.

Method of the Impartial Observer

When considering certain philosophical questions, try using the point of view of a computer acting as a completely impartial observer.

Consider this: You are a computer, floating in space, observing the activity of human beings on the earth's surface through a telescopic lens. Humans perform actions: some of these will turn out to be beneficial for them, and others will not. Making no judgement either way, from the computer's point of view 'good' or 'bad' are concepts created by humans in their attempt to define and understand the relationship between their actions and the favourability of the outcome for them. In any case, the computer is not interested in the reasoning behind a human's actions, only the events themselves.

Imagine the situation wherein the earth is barren of all living things, humans, animals and plants included. If, for example, a volcano was to erupt, covering half of the planet with hot ash that prevented the sun's light reaching the earth's surface, would this event be 'good' or 'bad'? To the computer, it would make no difference whether the volcano erupted or not. It would be just another event. Now if the earth was densely populated and teeming with life - both flora and fauna - would a volcanic eruption that caused the death and destruction of half of all living things be 'good' or 'bad'? Again, the computer is unconcerned for the welfare of living things, and merely records the event and outcome.

Now consider that there is no computer recording all these events. Is any event 'good' or 'bad'?
It all comes down to the interpretation, which the computer neglects.

What can we deduce from this particular foray? That 'good', 'bad', an 'moral action' are human inventions. That events continue on unabated in our absence.

Give it a go. I'd be interested to hear of other questions viewed using this method, or of other methods for considering problems.