Thursday, July 2, 2009

In which I persue a Baccalauréat

According to blogger SandWalk, all French university students must pass a philosophical test that they call Baccalauréat , which probably shares the same linguistic roots as the "Bachelor's" degree I'm pursuing.
Sandwalk says that the student has four hours to put together a comprehensive paper on one question. I'm going to try to answer both:

If you were one of the science students the questions were ....

1. Is it absurd to desire the impossible?
2. Are there questions which no science can answer?

Is it absurd to desire the impossible? This depends on the scope of impossible. The grossly unfeasible, the limited by reality, and the manifestly logically impossible all are dismissed under this one umbrella term. If we limited ourselves by feasibility, science would stagnate. After all, this computer I'm using now was grotesquely unfeasible a mere hundred years ago, yet here it is. And what is impossible now due to technological limits may be overcome in the future. If I did not butt my head against these things, I would be unworthy of the title of my blog.
However, some things are genuinely impossible, and cannot be overcome no matter how many resources are brought to bare. There are the logically impossible things, in which all results are disqualified. A four-sided triangle, for instance. Any figure you draw with four sides cannot be a triangle, so the task is a waste of time. Tasks which violate the universe's laws of physics, also, are futile. Since one never gets fruit from one's labors this way, wanting a logically impossible thing is absurd. The physically impossible is also absurd to desire, because your every attempt will be a failure. It is like trying to stand in mid-air, you get no result at best and at worst hurt yourself in the process. (By the way, just because we think it's physically impossible, that doesn't make it so, but thousands of failures with nothing approximating success tends to be a big hint.)
Since I see science as understanding the world in order to better enjoy it, pursuing unfeasible, unusual things is actually sane and rational, but pursuing the logically and physically impossible is an insane waste of time.
Are there questions no science can answer? Yes. Absolutely. Scientific ideas must be testable and falsifiable. "Falsifiable" means that there are in fact ways of proving that the idea is actually wrong. "What is the meaning of life?" is a non-falsifiable question, if I answer it in a ridiculous way, it can't be proven that my idea is wrong. If someone was to claim that the meaning of life was to collect 34 of all possible objects, I could not disprove that.
Other questions science cannot answer include "How should I live my life?" "Do deities exist?" "Why is there something instead of nothing?" and "What if none of this is real, it's all a simulation or just in my head?"

Okay, I think I just flunked out of French college, but in American college, I'm doing fine.

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