You are hereThe year of the KURT

The year of the KURT

By eric.verhulst - Posted on 02 January 2016

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The sun's energy and carbon, the source of all life.

Many of you expect to receive my annual poem at the year's transition. I must admit, becoming a poet once per year is getting harder. I guess our brain evolves eliminating gradually the free-form associations, our life experience patterns taking over. Nevertheless, for those who prefer to skip the next philosophical ramblings, I still managed to write a short one.

This being said, best wishes for an inspiring new year!

(The sun's energy and carbon, source of all life).


                The year to come could be a long one. It even comes with a day more. 

                The year to pass was a long one. It even had a day less. 


                The turmoil has stayed. Should I now be scared? 

                The world hasn’t gotten any worse, the world hasn’t gotten any better. 

                The quest for progress is a slow one today. 

                The descent from the trees was just yesterday.


                Enchanted by Ganesh, we removed Gödel’s obstacles. 

                Being free is looking beyond what someone else beliefs. 

                After we made it to the Rosetta stone, we left the system and visited Pluto. 

                It’s now time to get entangled riding the fifth dimension.

                Best wishes for 2016!


The world has also made great jumps forwards

As a regular subscriber of the Gizmag newsletter which focuses on science and technology, here is its 2015 year overview. While the world is in turmoil, it is refreshing to see how many people seek to prepare for a better future. A future that is very often invisible to the naked eye, either because it's too small or too far away, and only became in reach because we developed mental models that allowed us to access these worlds. The power of reason transcends our human failings. Have a look yourself on Gizmag's website. 

Who is KURT?

Now who is KURT? For those who follow Altreonic, you might know it is the name given to our novel electric vehicle. You might notice the phonetic association with “kart”.  Or you might know that it is the first name of a famous mathematician Kurt Gödel, whose last name appears on our GoedelWorks environment and our Gödel series of booklets. The incompleteness theorems of Kurt Gödel in 1931 were disruptive and ended a long quest for writing the last book on mathematics. The hope of Frege, Hilbert and Russell was that mathematics was a complete, final system and that it was a matter of finding all the last axioms. Everything else could then be deduced and proofed. Kurt Gödel proved that this was an illusion that could only lead to a contradictory system. Logic prevailed over belief. He actually used the technique of contradiction to prove the following logical theorems:

         1. If the system is consistent, it cannot be complete.

         2. The consistency of the axioms cannot be proven within the system.

While the theorems apply to number systems, many systems can logically be mapped to number systems (each composing entity can be represented by a unique number). Systems differ by the nature of its composing entities and the relationships amongst them. My personal interpretation is that any closed system always has at least one base axiom that cannot be proved, at least in that system. Often, it will be a hunch, a general observation or simply an act of faith to give meaning to life. One can then derive a set of other axioms, read rules, based on this base axiom. If done well, these axioms should define a coherent set. The simplest illustrations are found in classical geometry. Depending on when parallel lines cross, we obtain different geometries (flat, concave or hyperbolic) and even triangles with different properties. Although, the hidden assumption is that we stay within a single surface. The more dimensions we add, the more difficult it gets.

Besides the difficulty of deriving a consistent set of axioms, two questions arise. The first one is to know when we have all axioms that can be discovered. The second one is more fundamental. As we can’t prove the base axiom, how do we know it is a good one? Logically speaking, no axiom is ever a good or a bad one. In logic, something is true or false, or we might not have a proven method yet that allows us to classify them as good or bad. At least in the specific system that we are exploring. How do we even know if a proposition is a valid one in a specific system? Hence, the concept of good or bad is outside the realm of logic. But it is not outside the realm of our morality and ethics.

What’s the base axiom of social systems?

It is my assumption that Gödel’s theorems also apply outside the domain of numbered systems. We might not have all the logical tools yet to deal with these systems, because they are a lot more complex. Many ideologies (and that includes religions, politics, philosophies and even sometimes science) have somewhere a base axiom that members of these communities are not supposed to question. Yet, they base their whole life on a set of derived axioms, in essence rules that govern their actions. In a societal context ideologies can be build on very divergent base axioms. Some believe that the individual is supreme, other believe that only a collectivist society will bring welfare and well-being. Other then invoke the existence of a supreme being that passed on his rules and message through selected human beings or angels. Who is right?  Often none of them. More than once, it is a matter of believing, not a matter of knowing. More than once, it a matter of being convinced and not of having learned by investigation. Look beyond the official statements and there will be some people, if not a single one, that have a lot of interest that everyone believes that their ideology is the right one. Machiavelli’s rules prevail. I guess they can because life is too short for most of us to investigate the truth value of the axioms and hence a lot more people belief and mistake it for knowing.

When Kurt meets Karl

True scientists (yes, there a lot of fake ones) know that absolute truth does not exist. As Karl Popper pointed out, something can only be accepted as being the truth until a counter-example is found. This explains why for example Einstein’s theory is still being challenged by new experiments more than 100 years after he published the theory. If we find a counter-example, it could be the door to a new system with a different set of boundaries and unexplored possibilities. Newton’s theory of physics is not invalidated as such by relativity theory and quantum physics, it is only valid enough to be accepted as useful and correct if the relative speeds are relatively low versus the speed of light.

Hence, when we take Popper’s approach it becomes clear that the scientific approach is one of finding “models”, each having its set of axioms and derived rules. As Gödel proofed, there is no such thing as the only model, aka theory, that holds the truth once and forever. No, we have models as closed systems in which we can derive a set of truth statements but each model has its unprovable axiom and is only applicable within well defined boundary conditions. The quest is to find the derived rules that keep the system consistent. Finding a rule that violates it might be the stepping stone to change the model to a new and better one. 

People can deal with conflicting models

While above applies certainly to the realm of scientific logic, it certainly applies as well to the non-scientific domain, in which we as humans spend most of our time. One observation that strikes me often is how people seem to be at ease with contradictions. They can have their actions guided by a complete different set of rules depending on the context. This is most striking when ethics and morality are at stake. People can kill in cold blood but become soft when they return to their family. Even scientists can be believers in unproven ideologies or religions while applying Popper’s method upon entering their lab. Even in the lab, their minds can be fooled. Seeing a pattern does not mean that the pattern is real, especially if the data cannot be trusted. Then faith and material advantages take precedence. I still wonder why in quantum physics they speak of the Kopenhagen interpretation and why consensus by a self-elected group can be positioned as the truth. Terms like interpretation, believers, deniers and consensus have no place in a scientific context. Nevertheless, the battle for the minds should not be underestimated. It is the opposite of Popper’s approach. Rather than looking for the flaws, the flaws are masked. It is easier to play Machiavelli with a not to be questioned world model than with a world model that is known to be incomplete and flawed. Doubt is an essential condition for progress. The true intellectual knows how to cope with doubt. "Panem and circenses" is for the rest.

The meaning of life

So, what is good or bad? As we can’t know it from within, we must look from the outside. Even if we know that the ultimate unified model is unlikely to exist, it is good to look for it. People who do, look beyond the boundaries of their knowledge and beliefs. The model we look for will not be consistent by throwing all axioms in a single one. One must look for higher level axioms. If life has a meaning, then it doesn’t matter which model is right. A model is only right if it gives meaning to life. Of course, this seems like a big logical jump. Many people have a different culture and that gave them their first model of how life should be. There is comfort in having a common let’s call it cultural model. It also means that as habits take over, it is increasingly difficult to escape from it because often the rules will inhibit or even prohibit from looking beyond the borders of one’s own culture. This is the main source of conflict in the world. A closed culture is often one where its members are not equivalent. Those at the top of the pyramid have more rights and will often do anything to preserve that position, including going to war and kill innocent people. Clearly all cultures are not equivalent. 

A plea for more rationality

Humans are certainly not the only species endowed with some form of intelligence. The latter is a relative concept. What we call logical thinking is often a sophisticated form of pattern matching and associative reasoning. Its origins are to be found in a quest for survival, often at the expense of less adapted creatures of the spontaneous evolution of life. Today, we still carry this past in us but we created a vastly different world to live in, that no longer requires us to hunt for the food as we did some millennia ago. The difference was made by knowledge acquisition and exchanging it with others. Those who don’t read and listen to others are hence doomed to be left behind. Those who can’t control their primitive emotional instincts are doomed to be left behind. The wise ones exercise a long term planning, seeking better models that work for all of us. 

Wishes 1992-2016.pdf4.94 MB



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