Category Archives: Design & Engineering

René Descartes (1596-1650)

I. General Observations

René Descartes (picture) is justly considered the father of modern philosophy and the founder of the rational method as applied to philosophical research. In fact, he is the first philosopher to begin with the impressions which are in our intellect (intellectual phenomenalism) and lay down the laws which reason must follow in order to arrive at reasonably certain philosophical data.

This phenomenalism does not find its full development in Descartes. Indeed, Descartes reaches metaphysical conclusions which are no different from those of Scholastic philosophy. He maintains the transcendency of God, upholds human liberty and Christian morality.

But pantheism is sown deep in every form of immanentism. The rationalism of Descartes was to be quickly and logically bent in this direction by Spinoza, while other Cartesians, such as Malebranche and Leibniz, tried — with less logic — middle-of-the-road solutions between pantheism and the transcendence of God.

II. Life and Works

Descartes was born in 1596 at La Haye in France of a noble family, and was educated in the celebrated Jesuit college of La Flèche, where he received a philosophical and scientific education according to the principles of the Scholasticism of his day. Not fully satisfied with this first education, and urged on by a desire to better himself, he went first to Paris, and then enlisted in the army during the Thirty Years’ War.

On the ninth of November, 1619, while still in the service in winter quarters, he gave himself up to meditating on how to apply the mathematical method of the sciences to philosophy. During this time he conceived the four laws which he described in his work Discourse on Method. He then abandoned the army, but before dedicating himself completely to philosophical meditation he undertook long travels throughout Europe.

In 1629 he retired to Holland, which offered him tranquillity for meditation and writing. He remained there until 1649. During these twenty years he wrote nearly all his books. In 1649 he went to the court of Queen Christina of Sweden, being summoned there by the Queen, who wished to study philosophy under his direction. Unable to resist the rigors of winter, he died in Sweden during 1650.

Descartes was a scientist and a philosopher. As a scientist he is noted for his studies in mechanics, physics and mathematics. As a philosopher he opened the period of modern philosophy.

Not all the philosophical works written by Descartes were published during his lifetime. His Rule for the Direction of the Mind was published posthumously, as was his treatise on The World.

The philosophical works published by the author were four: Discourse on Method; Meditations on First Philosophy, in which he proves the existence of God and the immortality of the soul; Principles of Philosophy, in four books, a systematic work reviewing the entire thought of the author; The Passions of the Soul, treating of the problem of morality.

III. The Laws of the Cartesian Method

Descartes, in his work Discourse on Method, after giving a criticism of the education which he had received (a criticism which is indirectly an attack on the Scholasticism of his day), goes on to set up the new method, according to him, must be the basis of all scientific and philosophical research.

These laws are four:

  1. To accept nothing as true that is not recognized by the reason as clear and distinct;
    To analyze complex ideas by breaking them down into their simple constitutive elements, which reason can intuitively apprehend;
  2. To reconstruct, beginning with simple ideas and working synthetically to the complex;
  3. To make an accurate and complete enumeration of the data of the problem, using in this step both the methods of induction and deduction.
  4. To better understand these laws, we must note that for Descartes the point of departure is the ideas, clearly and distinctly known by the intellect — the subjective impressions on the intellect. Beyond these clear and distinct ideas one cannot go, and hence the ultimate principle of truth consists in the clearness of the idea. Clear and distinct intuitions of the intellect are true. For Descartes, such clear and distinct intuitions are thought itself (“cogito”) and the idea of extension.

Having arrived at this starting point (clear and distinct ideas), the intellect begins its discursive and deductive operation (represented by the second and third rules). The second law (called analysis) directs that the elementary notions be reunited with the clear and distinct ideas (the minor of the Scholastic syllogism). The third law (synthesis) presents them as the conclusion flowing from the premises. The final law (complete enumeration) stresses that no link in the deductive chain should be omitted and that every step should be logically deduced from the starting point (i.e., from the clear and distinct ideas). Thus, working from one step to the next, there will be achieved a system of truths all of which are clear and distinct, because all participate in the same degree of truth enjoyed by the first idea, which was clear and distinct.

This, as we know, is the method adopted in mathematics. Descartes transferred it to philosophy with the intention of finding clear and distinct concrete ideas, and of deducing from these, through reason alone, an entire system of truths which would also be real or objective.

The Aristotelio-Scholastic method (as well as that of classical realism in general) is also deductive, but it is very different from that of Descartes. Scholastic deduction is connected with objective reality because ideas are abstractions of the forms of the objects which experience presents. Thus both the concreteness of the ideas and the concreteness of the deductions based on these ideas are justified.

In Descartes ideas do not come from experience, but the intellect finds them within itself. Descartes declares that only these ideas are valid in the field of reality. Thus the concreteness (or the objective validity) of an idea is dependent upon its own clearness and distinction.

IV. Metaphysics: From Methodical Doubt to “Cogito Ergo Sum”

Descartes, as a result of the principles already established in his method, had first of all to seek out a solid starting point (a clear and distinct concrete idea), and from this opens his deductive process. To arrive at this solid starting point, he begins with methodical doubt, that is, a doubt which will be the means of arriving at certitude. This differs from the systematic doubt of the Skeptics, who doubt in order to remain in doubt.

I can doubt all the impressions that exist within my knowing faculties, whether they be those impressions which come to me through the senses or through the intellect. Indeed, I may doubt even mathematical truths, in so far as it could be that the human intelligence is under the influence of a malignant genius which takes sport in making what is objectively irrational appear to me as rational.

Doubt is thus carried to its extreme form. But notwithstanding this fact, doubt causes to rise in me the most luminous and indisputable certainty. Even presupposing that the entire content of my thought is false, the incontestable truth is that I think: one cannot doubt without thinking; and if I think, I exist: “Cogito ergo sum.”

It is to be observed that for Descartes the validity of “Cogito ergo sum” rests in this, that the doubt presents intuitively to the mind the subject who doubts, that is, the thinking substance. In this, Cartesian doubt differs from that of St. Augustine (“Si fallor, sum”), which embodies a truth sufficiently strong to overcome the position of Skepticism. In Descartes, “Cogito ergo sum” is assumed, not only in order to overcome the Skeptic position but as a foundation for the primary reality (the existence of the “res cogitans”), from which the way to further research is to be taken.

This is the point which distinguishes the classic realistic philosophy from Cartesian and modern philosophy. With Descartes, philosophy ceases to be the science of being, and becomes the science of thought (epistemology). Whereas, at first, being conditioned thought, now it is thought that conditions being. This principle, more or less realized by the philosophers immediately following Descartes, was to reach its full consciousness in Kant and modern Idealism. (See: Meditations on First Philosophy, I and II; Discourse on Method, IV.)

V. From “Cogito” to the Proof of the Existence of God

The “cogito” reveals the existence of the subject, limited and imperfect because liable to doubt. It is necessary to arrive at an objective and perfect reality, i.e., to prove the existence of God.

Descartes makes use of three arguments which can be summarized thus:

“Cogito” has given me a consciousness of my own limited and imperfect being. This proves that I have not given existence to myself, for in such a case I would have given myself a perfect nature and not the one I have, which is subject to doubt.
I have the idea of the perfect: If I did not possess it, I could never know that I am imperfect. Now, whence comes this idea of the perfect? Not from myself, for I am imperfect, and the perfect cannot arise from the imperfect. Hence it comes from a Perfect Being, that is, from God.

The very analysis of the idea of the perfect includes the existence of the perfect being, for just as the valley is included in the idea of a mountain, so also existence is included in the idea of the perfect. (the argument of St. Anselm). (See: Meditations on First Philosophy, V; Discourse on Method, IV.)

Regarding the nature of God, Descartes ascribes to it more or less the same attributes as does traditional Christian theistic thought. In Descartes, however, these attributes assume a different significance and value. God, above all, is absolute substance: the only substance, properly so-called (hence the way is open to the pantheism of Spinoza). An attribute which has great value for Descartes is the veracity of God.

God, the most perfect being, cannot be deceived and cannot deceive. Thus the veracity of God serves as a guarantee for the entire series of clear and distinct ideas. They are true because if they are not true, I, having proved the existence of God, would have to say that He is deceiving by creating a rational creature who is deceived even in the apprehension of clear and distinct ideas. Thus, with the proof of the existence of God, the hypothesis of a malignant genius falls of its own weight.

Regarding the origin of ideas, Descartes holds that the idea of God, all primitive notions, all logical, mathematical, moral principles, and so forth, are innate. God is the guarantee of the truth of these innate ideas. Alongside these innate ideas Descartes distinguishes two other groups of ideas:

  • the adventitious, which are derived from the senses; and
  • the fictitious, which are fashioned by the thinking subject out of the former.

Both groups are considered of little worth by Descartes because they do not enjoy the guarantee of the divine veracity, and hence are fonts of error. Only innate ideas and the rational deduction made from them have the value of truth. (See: Meditations on First Philosophy, III.)

Continued…

Original article: René Descartes

The End of Civilization As We Know It? Part 2

If an ice age is coming soon, how will our lives be affected? In my first blog post in this series, I described the latest scientific research that demonstrates how continued global warming will bring on the next ice age and approximately when we can expect its onset. In this post I will describe the consequences the onset of the next ice age will create for modern civilization. In the final post in this series I will briefly summarize our options for delaying the dawn of the next ice age and review what preparations we should make ahead of its arrival.

Ice Age Consequence #1: Too Much Ice

Right now, only about 10 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by ice. At the height of the last ice age, about 23 percent of Earth’s surface was covered by ice. Figure 1 shows the regions of the northern hemisphere that were covered by at least 3 kilometers’ thickness of ice. In the southern hemisphere, New Zealand, Tasmania, and the southern part of Chile were covered with similarly thick layers of ice.

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Figure 1: Maximum Extent of Thick Ice Cover of the Northern Hemisphere during the Last Ice Age. The turquoise-colored parts of the map indicate those regions covered by at least a 3-kilometer (2-mile) thickness of ice. Winter sea ice extended as far south as Mexico in the Pacific and North Carolina and Spain in the Atlantic. Image credit: John S. Schlee, United States Geological Survey and Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

In addition to those parts of Earth covered by ice 3 kilometers thick, there were many other regions covered by tens or hundreds of meters of ice. For example, in North America ice cover sufficient to prevent agriculture and the building of cities and transportation arteries extended south to Southern California.

Ice Age Consequence #2: Too Little River Water Flow

Regions of the world not covered by ice fields also would suffer. People there would find the water flow from rivers that they depend on to grow food largely locked up in ice that is not melting.

Ice Age Consequence #3: Depletion of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Growing food would be a huge challenge for another reason—the depletion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The greater the percentage of Earth’s surface covered by ice, the less concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

This consequence occurs because greater ice coverage and lower global mean temperatures alter ocean currents. As a carbon isotope study revealed, these altered ocean currents remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transport it to the deep ocean where it remains stored until ice coverage recedes and global mean temperatures rise.1

During the last ice age, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration dropped down to 180–190 parts per million.2 The minimum requirement for plants to make any food at all through photosynthesis is 150 parts per million at sea level, 167 parts per million at 3,000 feet elevation, 187 parts per million at 6,000 feet elevation, and 210 parts per million at 9,000 feet elevation.3 At levels of 150–500 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there is a direct correlation between that CO2 level in the atmosphere and the amount of food plants can produce through photosynthesis. Thus, it would be impossible to grow enough food to feed more than a billion humans under ice age conditions.

Ice Age Consequence #4: Extreme Climate Instability

It would be impossible to feed that many humans under ice age conditions for yet another reason. Only for the last 2.59 million years of Earth’s 4.566-billion-year history has there been an ice age cycle. Except for the past 0.009 million years, the ice age cycle has been characterized by extreme climate instability (see figure 2).

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Figure 2: Temperature Variability during the Last Ice Age. The blue and purple tracings portray the global mean temperature indicated by the GRIP and NGRIP Greenland ice cores, respectively. Image credit: Leland McInnes/Wikipedia Commons, CC-by-3.0.

This climate instability was characterized by unpredictable global mean temperature swings of up to 20°Fahrenheit (11°Celsius) on time scales of 2–3 centuries. Such radical climate instability explains why humans living during the last ice age were unable to launch and sustain any kind of large-scale civilization or sustain a large population.

Ice Age Consequence #5: Species Extinction

Because the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau are continuing to rise to higher elevations as a consequence of the ongoing tectonic collision between the Indian subcontinent and Asia, geophysicists confidently predict that the next ice age will be more catastrophic to life than the previous one. Specifically, they demonstrate that very likely the next ice age will result in even greater ice coverage, lower global mean temperatures, and lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels than the previous ice age.

Most species of life presently on Earth, with appropriate human assistance, are capable of surviving these more dire consequences. However, many are not. The probable extinction of hundreds, if not thousands, of species of life will inevitably disturb ecosystems and eco-balances. Such disturbances will then impact human civilization.

Technological Fixes?

Today, we possess the technology to ameliorate some of the more dire consequences brought on by the next ice age. For example, we could build glass-enclosed greenhouses on top of the more stable ice fields. We could heat these greenhouses and, at appropriate time intervals, augment the carbon dioxide concentration inside them. Since soil would be in much shorter supply and difficult to transport, we could employ hydroponic technology to grow crops inside greenhouses. Since fresh liquid water also would be in short supply, we could use a variety of energy sources to melt the abundant ice. However, no matter how much technology we marshal toward food production, it is highly unlikely that we could produce as much food as we do today.

In my third blog post, I will discuss other possible technological fixes aimed at ameliorating the consequences the next ice age is bound to bring. I will also briefly summarize to what degree we can use technology to delay its onset and review the preparations we should undertake right now in anticipation of the arrival of the life-altering event.

Original article: The End of Civilization As We Know It? Part 2

The Change

eye

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

1 Corinthians 2:9

Allow me to paraphrase:

No man has ever seen, or ever heard, or ever imagined in his wildest dreams those things God has prepared for His children.

Many people confuse the prophecies of the Bible with mere poetry simply because they lack the imagination to see them as mechanical statements.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Isaiah 46:10

If you had told someone in the 1st century that Man will one day fly through the sky across the world, even to the moon and beyond, he would have scoffed at you, believing that you were selling allegory or a child’s fable.

Why? Because he lacked the imagination and future engineering to conceive of your claim, let alone embrace it.

Of all the Free Will operating in the world, the entity we crudely refer to as “God” has the lion’s share of it.

Of course, the problem with 1 Corinthians 2:9 is the opposite is also true:

No one can conceive of what Hell is truly like: it is beyond anguish.

The so-called “Problem of Evil” doesn’t even exist. It is only a stumbling block that unbelievers concocted to trip up other unbelievers and only the skeptic is tricked by it.

After the 21st chapter of Revelation, there is no “problem of evil”.

Unveiling a Mystery of Cosmic Dark Matter

The nature of cosmic dark matter, the exotic matter that makes up about 5/6 of all matter in the universe, ranks as one of the two biggest unsolved components of the biblically predicted big bang creation model. (The other big unsolved component is the nature of dark energy.) The exotic property of cosmic dark matter is that, unlike ordinary matter (matter comprised of protons, neutrons, and electrons), it does not interact or very weakly interacts with light. Now, a recent paper published in Nature by two Harvard University astrophysicists brings us one step closer to comprehending the nature of cosmic dark matter and thereby giving us yet more reasons to believe in the biblical description of the origin, history, and nature of the universe.

All the evidence that astronomers possess for the existence of cosmic dark matter relies on its gravitational pull on ordinary (or baryonic) matter. I offer an extensive review of this evidence in chapter 5 of the recently released book, The Creator and the Cosmos4th edition, and in a blog posted on January 22, 2018. The breadth of this evidence leaves no doubt that cosmic dark matter exists and that much more of it exists than baryonic matter.

However, astronomers are not satisfied. They want to know the origin and nature of cosmic dark matter. They also want to know in much more detail how cosmic dark matter influences the cosmic creation model and the design of the universe that is needed to explain the existence of life and of human beings in particular.

Nongravitational Evidence for Cosmic Dark Matter

More than two decades ago, theoretical physicist David Kaplan noted that a small degree of nongravitational coupling between cosmic dark matter and baryonic matter could explain the much greater abundance of cosmic dark matter compared to baryonic matter. Two years ago, a team of five astrophysicists showed that even a tiny degree of nongravitational coupling between cosmic dark matter and baryonic matter could resolve the small-scale discrepancies (properties of the innermost regions of cosmic dark matter halos and the population of dwarf galaxy satellites accompanying the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies) in the currently most successful cosmic creation model, the lambda cold dark matter cosmic creation model.

In a previous blog post, I explained how the EDGES (Experiment to Detect the Global EoR Signature) Collaboration used a sky-averaged radio spectrum to determine that 180 million years after the big bang creation event, the temperature of baryonic matter was less than half of its expected value. In that same blog I described how astrophysicist Rennan Barkana offered an explanation for how the universe’s baryonic matter cooled at that time. He showed that the cooling could be explained by scattering between baryonic particles (protons and neutrons) and cosmic dark matter particles.

Now, Harvard astrophysicists Julian Muñoz and Abraham Loeb provide an alternate explanation for the observed cooling of baryonic matter 180 million years after the cosmic creation event. Muñoz and Loeb show that (1) if a little less than one percent of cosmic dark matter particles possess a charge about a million times smaller than the charge of an electron; and (2) if the mass of most of the cosmic dark matter particles lies between 1–100 times the electron mass, “then the data from the EDGES experiment can be explained while remaining consistent with all the other observations.” They also demonstrated that serious inconsistencies arise if the entirety of cosmic dark matter particles possesses a mini-charge.

Muñoz and Loeb end their paper with suggestions on how observers and theoreticians can further probe (with existing technology) the nature of the nongravitational coupling between baryonic and cosmic dark matter. Their efforts and the ones they suggest are bound to yield more knowledge and understanding of the nature of 25.5 percent of the total composition of the universe. That progress promises to yield even more confirmation and understanding of the biblically predicted cosmic creation model.

Original article: Unveiling a Mystery of Cosmic Dark Matter