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Models

This post is about the boring kind of model.  For the good kind click here.  Most of the groundwork has already been laid in recent posts so I will cut to the chase.  The conception of god laid out on this blog is a way of organizing knowledge of reality.  The important essence of this approach is to organize reality into levels and to appreciate the different boundaries to knowledge at each level.  The physical world is one level.  God (I will stop adding “as defined” or anything like that from now on) is on a higher level.  From that level our reality looks different than from ours.  Furthermore this means that there is a wall past which we cannot see because of our limited perspective.  This wall is dynamic, it moves as we learn more, but it cannot be eliminated.  We can understand how gravity works but we can’t understand why gravity works.  We can understand that we like cheetos but we can’t understand why.

The easiest way to understand this concept of god is to understand the concept of a model.  This is because models represent the level below our own.  I make models for a (meager) living.  When one does this in economics the process is more or less the following:

1. Speak some actor or actors into “existence.”

2. Define some parameters describing the situation with which they are faced.

3. Define some rules prescribing how they will act.

4. Figure out what happens.

The whole point of doing this is that once you complete the first 3 steps the 4th step is determinate.  This allows us to say what happens with certainty.  There is no deficiency in our knowledge because we had to specify everything when constructing the model.  All the laws governing the model must be constructed out of nothing.  Of course when making an economic model much of this has already been done and can be taken for granted–for instance mathematics.  Mathematics is just a large and complex model.

If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behooves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics. – Roger Bacon.

The important thing to understand about mathematics and other models in economics and physics and any other discipline is that they have no physical existence.  That is to say they don’t exist on our level.  They are a level below because they were created by mankind our of nothing.  Because of this we have complete knowledge of them.

To understand the different dimensions I have mentioned previously, notice that when we create a model we can put in things such as probabilistic outcomes.  But when we do this we know what all the possible outcomes are and what the probabilities are.  It is not that one of them actually “happens.”  This notion of “happening” only exists if you are trapped within the model and only experience one dimension.  The modeller sees all dimensions simultaneously.  The same phenomenon is true of concepts like time.  When making an economic or physics model it is often helpful to include a variable for time.  But as the modeller you do not experience time linearly, you see all time at once as any other variable.  You can change an initial condition and see what happens at every time.  The model is like a snapshot.  This doesn’t mean time doesn’t exist it just means that it looks different to the modeller than to the modeled.

I could go on about this but I think I will just leave it at that for now and see if I get any comments and deal with them if/when they come up, except to say, for my objectivist friends, that when organizing things this way many other characteristics commonly attributed to god (or God) kind of make sense.  For instance:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him…

 

P.S. If objectivists relaxed their initial disgust for religion, they might find much of the meaning in the early part of Genesis very agreeable.  Maybe I’ll write a post about that…

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  1. Frank Stein
    August 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    “Because of this we have complete knowledge of them.”

    Mathematics is a good example of a model where the rules are known but all the consequences of the rules are not known by us. There are still unsolved problems, and there are some problems so complex we have to rely on computers for the proof (four color theorem for example).

    So even when one creates the model and lays out the rules, it is possible for the resulting system to grow in complexity beyond the creator’s ability to “know” what the state of that model will be at any given time.

    I am not taking on the question of whether our “model” entails a creator or not, just the smaller point that given a creator it does not follow that he is all-knowing.

  2. Free Radical
    August 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    you are right about us not knowing all of the consequences of a model but the consequences are knowable from our perspective. That’s the main point of this. Similarly, whether our model entails a “creator” or not just seems to me like semantics. The fact is, we can imagine the perspective a creator would have, and any question about the physical nature of such a creator is nonsensical because by definition such a creator exists on a level above our physical world. So it’s basically just a matter of what you call it: God, nature, creator, etc.

  3. W. Knowlton
    September 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Once again, allow me to point out that the so-called “disgust with religion” by objectivists is largely attributed to the collectivism involved in it, which you usually overlook. Having an issue with the existence of a creator is different from having an issue with the “groupthink” of most organized religion. What do religions preach about sacrifice? And what does John Galt say about sacrifice in his epic speech?

  4. Free Radical
    September 7, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    First, I think the answer to your question (what do religions preach about sacrifice?) isn’t as straightforward as you might think. And that kind of leads into my main point which is that if you just ignore anyting having to do with religion or God because some people turn it into something collectivist then you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re throwing the intellectual baby out with the bathwater. By the way Christianity is quite individualistic. I will try to demonstrate this in future posts.

  5. W. Knowlton
    September 9, 2011 at 7:09 am

    The Mormon tinge of Christianity is not very individualistic. There is no “we suggest you don’t drink alcohol or swear or have sex before marriage, but if you can handle it that’s fine”, there is only “you must not -God WILL be upset if you do at all. You WILL need his forgiveness.” They tell you what to wear, what age to marry, what and whom to give your money to. There is a reason Ayn Rand rejects religion in her philosophy. I recognize your basic, sweeping view it as individualistic but it often is quite controlling. Voluntary (in this country) sure, but nonetheless it affects how people want to use the government to control others (how to define abortion, how the federal gov should define marriage) I don’t get why you always accuse atheists of being religious in a collective, progressive sense, and yet you never *notice* how other prominent religions are that way. Many of them preach to stifle one’s existence in this realm for a shiny one after they die. Jesus died because we all sinned and he wants to take responsibility and *sacrifices* his life. Then we are all taught in Sunday School to be like him……. pray tell, what figurative stretch can you give me for how that one absolves individuals from the moral duty to live their lives for the sake of others?

    Oh there’s also the classic about Mother Theresa advocating that suffering was next to Godliness and one should live their life suffering so they could be close to God. I have never encountered a religion (certainly not organized Christianity) which encouraged living the way one wants and doing whatever they wish with their produce. There is always some prescription to achieve godliness. And it’s often arbitrary.

  6. Free Radical
    September 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    You say it’s arbitrary but you’re not considering whether these prescriptions are actually worth while you’re just calling them all arbitrary because they are attached to some religion and you are working from the premise that all religion is arbitrary. It’s not as though Ayn Rand doesn’t tell people how she thinks they should live their lives. Telling people how they should live is not inherently collectivist. It’s collectivism that is constantly trying to eradicate every fount of wisdom passed down to us from previous generations telling us how to live our lives so that they can replace them with their own prescriptions. Man has to believe in something.

  7. W. Knowlton
    September 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    The prescriptions are often arbitrary and even some of them negated by science. “Don’t have sex til marriage” is likely not worthwhile, for the person who marries at 20 because they’re body tells them to reproduce but doesn’t have enough wisdom until 30 to find an ideal marriage partner (this describes a lot of people). Also, there is a difference between not drinking too much and not drinking at all. I would argue the latter is not worth while because many people get enjoyment out of drinking, but know how to moderate it. Moreover, people study the health affects and negatives of drinking for a reason. Science doesn’t say “don’t drink”. Its more specific – for a reason. Much of Christianity, as far as I know, is against the practice of homosexuality. Homosexuality is not a fad, it’s not a phase usually, it’s not just for fun, and it’s not unhealthy. Some people (I heard 8% somewhere) just ARE gay. There is no changing it. So to prescribe that someone not be gay is arbitrary, and actually ridiculous.

    I know a lot of religious teachings do have there place. Most of the ones I’m referring to are in the 10 commandments. This is fine and I don’t disagree with you about that. But others are too narrow for me to respect them as a general advisory. And they don’t work, nor should they. Also, Ayn Rand tells people how to think and be logical, independent, prosperous, and effective. But she does this by telling them to be of a certain character, not by giving them prescriptions for external things such as marriage, drinking, clothing, when to have children etc. I’ve found that she quite deliberately respects these differences in people’s lives and their freedoms to choose them.

  8. Free Radical
    September 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Science can’t say “don’t drink” or “drink” for that matter. Science can only make positive statements. It can only tell you what will happen if you drink (usually holding other things constant by the way). It can’t tell you whether or not you should choose those things. Man cannot live by science alone. And you’re telling me things that Christians believe that you don’t like but that’s entirely beside the point. I don’t know why you always drag things like homosexuality into this when I’m not saying anything about that. Wait, actually I do know. You are just mad at Christians because you think they aren’t fair to gays and that’s fine but it’s not a good reason to deny the existence of God. It’s exactly the thing I’m trying to tell you makes no sense. Also, if you read the bible and the Fountainhead I think you will find them equally prescriptive. There’s nothing wrong with creating a system of morals that prescribes how people should live their lives. There is something wrong with using physical force to make people follow it. The distinction is important.

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