If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning — just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning. Similarly, the fact that eyes exist suggests that light must exist. And the the fact that we have spiritual longings … the fact that we even have a meaningful category of thought and speech called spirituality … Suggests that there is some corresponding reality out there which we have the capacity to “sense”. That capacity would be called faith, and that reality, God.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943, p. 46)
The skeptic doubts one set of propositions because he believes another. None of us live with absolute, unassailable certainly about anything; we all live by faith. What someone thinks or feels absolutely certain of is really relative certainty. It’s certainty based on faith that they are right. The fact that they are certain is proof that they possess great faith. Likewise, one who doubts yet believes also demonstrates that some degree of faith is inescapable and runs through all that we claim to know.
Albert Einstein once said that there is no knowing without believing.
As far as the propositions of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
The supreme task of the physicist is the search for those highly universal laws from which a picture of the world can be obtained by pure deduction. There is no logical path leading to these laws. They are only to be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love.
The mechanics of discovery are neither logical nor intellectual. It’s a sudden illumination, almost a rapture. Later, to be sure, intelligence and analysis and experiment confirm (or invalidate) the intuition. But initially there is a great leap of the imagination.
— Albert Einstein
The Data Says So … Doesn’t it?
The paradox of alternate realities
Be careful out there! It’s been a very long time since I slogged through my social statistics classes as an undergraduate Sociology major. But, one thing I learned that stuck with me is a simple truth. If you’re good with the math you can make the data say whatever you want it to.
Case in point…
The ongoing, regular and constant conversations about disparity in gender and race amongst the ranks of elite classical musicians in American orchestras. When you look at the data you see a world dominated by white Anglo Saxon men. Sure, you can debate and argue nuances involving the rise in the numbers of Asian men and women, or whether or not you should make distinctions between western and eastern European origins. But why bother?
The fact is – most American orchestras have been practicing blind auditions for decades. This means that auditions are held behind a curtain. The path to the performance spot on the stage is carpeted to avoid the sound of heals on wood. The applicant is not allowed to speak to avoid exposing their gender through the sound of their voice. The applicants audition is judged on artistic merit only.
Yet, the numbers aren’t wrong. Facts are facts. So, the pundits go on and on about the glass ceilings that cause the social inequity that is enumerated by the data. But, they make a very common mistake. They confuse correlation with causation. The data certainly correlates. But that doesn’t mean that one thing causes another.
For example – the number of African American women is disproportionately low compared to the general population, and the magnitude of the difference is statistically significant. There is a data correlation. Many may assume that there is a social barrier that exists that must be influencing the balance which results in the data we see. But, it’s equally possible that the real culprit is not a negative limiting factor, where one group is actively excluding another. It’s possible that the root cause is sociological and a result of a simple fact. The underrepresented group has less desire to be counted among the group being measured. They exclude themselves because they have no interest in being included.
Of course, we can debate why this is so, and I’m sure someone will propose that the reason they don’t aspire to be among elite classical musicians is because some other group in society oppressed them systemically which resulted in a shifting of cultural values that plays out as a lack of interest in the classics.
As you see, we can paint the picture any way we like using the existing data if we’re clever and committed to proving our position.
Outside the realm of data analysis and statistics we often see that this same phenomenon holds true. Reality is dependent on the perceptions of the observer. Multiple people can behold the same object or event yet ascribe completely different meaning to it. Much like elusive quantum particles that can only be detected when observed – the act of observing disturbs and influences the particle – reality can be disturbed by observation.
Multiple possibilities. Multiple observers. Multiple realities. All in conflict with one another, yet all correct.