While science has nothing of value to say on the great and aching questions of life, death, love and meaning, what the religious traditions of mankind have said forms a coherent body of thought. . . . There is recompense for suffering. A principle beyond selfishness is at work in the cosmos. . . I do not know whether any of this is true. I am certain that the scientific community does not know that it is false.
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At some time in the history of the universe, there were no human minds, and at some time later, there were. Within the blink of a cosmic eye, a universe in which all was chaos and void came to include hunches, beliefs, sentiments, raw sensations, pains, emotions, wishes, ideas, images, inferences, the feel of rubber, Schadenfreude, and the taste of banana ice cream.
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Ultimately, Leibniz argued, there are only two absolutely simple concepts, God and Nothingness. From these, all other concepts may be constructed, the world, and everything within it, arising from some primordial argument between the deity and nothing whatsoever. And then, by some inscrutable incandescent insight, Leibniz came to see that what is crucial in what he had written is the alternation between God and Nothingness. And for this, the numbers 0 and 1 suffice.
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An axiomatic system comprises axioms and theorems and requires a certain amount of hand-eye coordination before it works. A formal system comprises an explicit list of symbols, an explicit set of rules governing their cohabitation, an explicit list of axioms, and, above all, an explicit list of rules explicitly governing the steps that the mathematician may take in going from assumptions to conclusions. No appeal to meaning nor to intuition. Symbols lose their referential powers; inferences become mechanical.
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Before you can ask 'Is Darwinian theory correct or not?', You have to ask the preliminary question 'Is it clear enough so that it could be correct?'. That's a very different question. One of my prevailing doctrines about Darwinian theory is 'Man, that thing is just a mess. It's like looking into a room full of smoke.' Nothing in the theory is precisely, clearly, carefully defined or delineated. It lacks all of the rigor one expects from mathematical physics, and mathematical physics lacks all the rigor one expects from mathematics. So we're talking about a gradual descent down the level of intelligibility until we reach evolutionary biology.
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Darwin's theory of evolution is the last of the great nineteenth-century mystery religions. And as we speak it is now following Freudians and Marxism into the Nether regions, and I'm quite sure that Freud, Marx and Darwin are commiserating one with the other in the dark dungeon where discarded gods gather.
Every computer divides itself into its hardware and its software, the machine host to its algorithm, the human being to his mind. It is hardly surprising that men and women have done what computers now do long before computers could do anything at all. The dissociation between mind and matter in men and machines is very striking; it suggests that almost any stable and reliable organization of material objects can execute an algorithm and so come to command some form of intelligence.
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More than sixty years ago, mathematical logicians, by defining precisely the concept of an algorithm, gave content to the ancient human idea of an effective calculation. Their definitions led to the creation of the digital computer, an interesting example of thought bending matter to its ends.
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Leibniz endeavored to provide an account of inference and judgment involving the mechanical play of symbols and very little else. The checklists that result are the first of humanity's intellectual artifacts. They express, they explain, and so they ratify a power of the mind. And, of course, they are artifacts in the process of becoming algorithms.
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For all the great dreams profitlessly invested in the digital computer, it is nonetheless true that not since the framers of the American Constitution took seriously the idea that all men are created equal has an idea so transformed the material conditions of life, the expectations of the race.
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If moral statements are about something, then the universe is not quite as science suggests it is, since physical theories, having said nothing about God, say nothing about right or wrong, good or bad. To admit this would force philosophers to confront the possibility that the physical sciences offer a grossly inadequate view of reality. And since philosophers very much wish to think of themselves as scientists, this would offer them an unattractive choice between changing their allegiances or accepting their irrelevance.
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The world of shapes, lines, curves, and solids is as varied as the world of numbers, and it is only our long-satisfied possession of Euclidean geometry that offers us the impression, or the illusion, that it has, that world, already been encompassed in a manageable intellectual structure. The lineaments of that structure are well known: as in the rest of life, something is given and something is gotten; but the logic behind those lineaments is apt to pass unnoticed, and it is the logic that controls the system.
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At the beginning of the new millennium, we still do not know why mathematics is true and whether it is certain. But we know what we do not know in an immeasurably richer way than we did. And learning this has been a remarkable achievement-among the greatest and least-known of the modern era.
Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for zyklon b, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental missiles , military space platforms and nuclear weapons? If memory serves it was not the Vatican.
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An axiomatic system establishes a reverberating relationship between what a mathematician assumes (the axioms) and what he or she can derive (the theorems). In the best of circumstances, the relationship is clear enough so that the mathematician can submit his or her reasoning to an informal checklist, passing from step to step with the easy confidence the steps are small enough so that he cannot be embarrassed nor she tripped up.
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