Newton’s Laws and the Open Set

For this month I return to my old tricks: speech against entrenched scientific doctrine. It may seem rash, destructive to do this work. One may counter that the indoctrination that is required is equally rash and destructive. I know that the young often have to learn lessons in an unpleasant way. The reason I write urgently about people’s faith in science is because I am basically a skeptic. I believe that holding a belief as absolutely true, without exception, does not create concord. When people are inflexible about ideas there is more fighting among people, within families, communities and internationally, not less. On one hand the people who strongly believe the doctrine cannot abide people who have another mind on an issue, they can’t even talk to them, thinking them beneath reproach. So far a hive mind has not been successfully implemented (and to my mind should not be implemented), no matter how scientific that hive mind might be. On the other hand, the people who can’t bring themselves to agree with a scientific “party line” tend to look down on themselves as well, feeling that it is their fault and they simply don’t understand. Sometimes they seek out alternative beliefs that are just as conceited as scientific beliefs. As a way to counteract solid beliefs, they create other solid beliefs. They believe that not having an equally entrenched belief to combat scientific belief, that is, to merely argue against a scientific belief, is destructive. A basic skeptical idea is that solid belief breeds discord and strife.

One way to see the drawbacks in having overconfidence about one’s knowledge is looking at the concept of “mansplaining.” The basic problem with the concept of mansplaining is it assumes that someone or other “really” knows about something. Often engineers and math buffs love their subject because of a love of the obvious. They want to return again and again to what they think they “really” know, like recounting the gold coins they’ve collected. And the person on the receiving end of this type of personality gets annoyed either because they don’t care to know, or feel that they really know, and the person mansplaining doesn’t “really” know. So we’re in a contest of who knows better. The skeptic completely avoids this contest, because she isn’t sure if anything is”really” known. The only thing skeptics believe, the only thing that keeps skeptics from nihilism, is they acknowledge that there are certain impressions in the present moment; they do not commit to where the impressions come from (external objects, or internal thoughts, or somewhere else), what it is that receives this impression they call the soul, but what the soul is I don’t know. They avoid a philosophical point of view on what these impressions (Greek phantasiai) are. The main goal of the skeptic is Ataraxia, which is peace of mind from not accepting any dogmatic doctrine. By thinking carefully about pro and con of various dogmatic doctrines, effectively counting the gold coins, getting involved in the richness of one doctrine, and then looking at a counter belief, counting the gold coins and richness, the skeptic can’t decide between the two piles of gold, the two doctrines. After doing this type of comparison a lot, the mind in Ataraxia becomes like a fortress, and a mansplainer will have almost no hold on such a skeptic, even if the topic is new. They may observe that the mansplainer appears rather rash in deciding they know so much, but they will not be moved to believe what the mansplainer believes because they have already weighed conflicting beliefs, nor will they be moved to criticize the mansplainer, because the skeptic doesn’t have an alternative belief to defend except what seems or appears to them through the senses/mind in the given moment.

My argument here seems to be an argument against Newton’s laws of physics. That the theory is “false.” However, I am not making the claim that Newton’s laws are false, I am rather asking if Newton’s laws of physics make sense–if Newton’s laws are neither true nor false. Like the person on the receiving end of a mansplainer, I feel merely puzzled, at a loss, unsure if I understand. Unlike people in physics classrooms who in the end look down on themselves deciding “I can’t do physics” or “I can’t do math” I believe anyone taking the position that they can’t make sense of these “laws” is a respectable position to take. This is the reason for the heavy use of the word “Seems.” It may be assumed that “It seems to me” can be added to all of what follows, and everything in this blog.

Newton’s laws of physics are only true in a perfect vacuum. The funny thing is that the basic notion that defines mathematical space, the open set, seems to assert that there is no such thing as a perfect vacuum. So, if Newtonian physics were logical, it would have to either abandon mathematical space, which would do away with line and point the way it is used in physics texts, or it would have to abandon Newton’s laws. The problem I’m running into is that the open set, the basic building block of mathematical space is defined by starting with a point, and then asserting that any “neighborhood” (or circle if you like, but circle depends on point and space already being defined) around that point, no matter how small, contains another point inside the neighborhood (circle). It is clear that space must have points in it, but could a point or a really small neighborhood still be considered empty space? It seems to come down to the question: What is a point?

The common understanding is that a point is a place, not a thing, and that it is such a small place that nothing can be in that place, because if something could be there, say the smallest neutrino, to say the least, there would then exist something of no size. Could there be a place (indeed many, many places) where only nothing can possibly be? It seems to be a contradiction in terms. A place is a place where something could be, and if nothing can be in this place, then it is no place at all. If we did away with the idea of a point to define the open set, say we used progressively smaller circles or neighborhoods instead of points…. that would result is a very different understanding of what is a circle or neighborhood, basically what space is would change: this new idea of space would not be ordered by the real numbers because they are defined in space as points. Instead space would have to be ordered by neighborhoods, if at all. This may be possible, and even worthwhile, but for the present it would make mathematical space stand on its head.

If there is a smallest particle, say take the smallest subatomic particle, or whatever, the smallest neutrino, I don’t know, and then take a neighborhood that is smaller than that, it seems then you have a perfect vacuum…assuming you can still locate points in this very small neighborhood.  That doesn’t tell us what points are, but at least we can then say that there are very small neighborhoods of perfect vacuums where Newton’s laws can hold true. But to get to this conclusion we have sacrificed a lot: we have admitted that we don’t know what a point is. It seems that any neighborhood smaller than the smallest particle would have the same problem a point has: it would be a place that only nothing can possibly be in, which seems to be no place at all. Also, we have assumed we know what the smallest particle is.

It is safe to say that we can never know when we’ve found the smallest particle, because there will always be sizes beyond our reckoning.

Finally, it seems we are lucky to find a truly empty space large enough to claim that Newton’s laws are absolute and inflexible truths (in such spaces). Such a space is a situation that doesn’t matter much. In the world of breath and bodies, Newton’s laws of physics are approximations of more or less pragmatic use, not absolute truths. And mathematical space doesn’t seem to make sense either. Neither mathematical space nore Newton’s laws ought to be believed inflexibly as though other ideas are beneath reproach


Science is magic

Science is magic in the same sense that knowledge is power. To say knowledge is power we at least need to know what knowledge is. Not easy. After that it is pretty much impossible to know what power is. For example, to squeeze the problem down as much as we can, take potential energy. Where is the energy? The simple example is a round rock at the top of a hill. It has the potential to roll down the hill. It has this potential because it has not rolled yet, so already we get the idea that power is not, but there are so many other situations that could also create potential energy, so many that potential energy is really impossible to define. Thats just one small part of what power could be. So to say knowledge is power, or even Foucault’s power is knowledge, is very pessimistic. It assumes that power isn’t anything more than what we know about it. How do we know that? We don’t. We just sort of wish our knowledge were that magnificent. Or in Foucault’s case, we wish our power could always be known, maybe by the magnificence of our power.

So science has the same relationship to magic as knowledge does to power. It is silly to say as soon as it becomes a science it is no longer magic. That is merely an uninsightful, semantic argument. But magic could be so much more than what has been reduced to a science. We choose to keep our eyes where the flashlight beam in the dark is shining, maybe because we like to see (know), maybe because the vague, shifting shapes we would see in the dark, if we looked beyond our beam of light, are too frightening.

Degrees of Identity

I was in conversation with my brother many years ago and he was talking about an experiment where social pressure could make people believe that the longer line was the shorter, and the shorter the longer. I believe his point was that when social reality doesnot correspond to physical reality, the social reality is wrong.

I pointed out that other contradictory ideas, for example, that two things can be both alike and different, so a triangle and a star can be alike in being polygons, but different in how many angles they have, is also a contradiction, much like the longer line being the shorter and the shorter, longer. Admittedly they are slightly different because “like” is a two-way relationship while “larger” only goes one way, from the larger to the shorter, but that there is another contradictory relationship that we find acceptable is enough.

Much later my brother argued that paradoxical relationships of likeness and difference can be resolved by making them a matter of degree. Two things are “like” 30% and “unlike” 70%, for example.

The problem with this is that = and ≠ are related to likeness and difference, they are types of likeness and difference. Equality is a type of likeness, and ≠ is a type of difference, and they are used in analysis books to build the concept of number. We can’t have the natural numbers without the idea that 1+1=2. So = and ≠ are prior to matters of degree. To be clear, if = means strictly identity, so two apples are not equal to each other (if they were, they would be both = and ≠). One apple is equal to itself. Now, evoking Wittgenstein, we would not bother to say, or be interested in the slightest in, 1+1=2, if 1+1 and 2 were not slightly different from each other. The same way we never say “This apple is this apple”. One could say that 1+1 is the act of grouping two apples, and 2 is the apples already grouped. Looked at in this way 1+1 ≠ 2 ; 1+1 and 2 do not have the same identity.

Because the same problem of likeness and difference arises with = and ≠, we cannot use degree to solve the problem and use = and ≠ to solve what we mean by degree, that is circular.

It may be that this is related to Buddha’s idea of anatta (not-self). The parts of one’s self do not add up to the self we perceive, yet those parts, we say, are what the self is. Buddha uses exactly this argument about a cart– that no-where in the parts of the cart do we find the essence of the cart: 1+1 does not contain the idea of 2, or as Western philosophers including Kant have noticed, 1+1=2 is synthetic.

This is a good thing. Remember Buddha’s talk of the “Deathless” is beyond duality, beyond death and life, self and not-self. If the concept of identity were defensible, or a duality such as = and ≠ could create a system of numbers that could fully describe reality, there would be no escape, no ascendance to the Deathless.


On Gravitational Waves

There is a glaring problem with the popular explanation of gravitational waves.

Consider: An isolated sphere of vacuum space, with no gravity coming from outside it. Now consider two massive bodies suddenly appearing in the vacuum, initially without any motion. According to gravity they will be attracted to each other and collide. Before the collision, gravity is working, but are there gravitational waves?

The basic problem here is that they detected a wave because of a specific situation where black holes were spinning around each other. Take away that specific situation, and there is no telling if gravitational waves are a general property of gravity. So why all the hype? Why wouldn’t scientists mention that the general hubbub is potentially misinformed? My guess is because they need PR stunts just like any political enterprise.

The Sokal Affair was a paper published following postmodern-sounding ideas, but after it was published the author Sokal claimed the article is nonsense. It was a blow to critics of science, and Sokal, in a statement about what he had done, accused the editors of being intellectually lazy for publishing the paper.

Strangely, the whole gravitational waves thing, making an appearance in the movie Interstellar, and found in popular books, (including the “general relativity for babies” book I have read to my toddler a few times) enjoys a lot of popular support but for equally lazy reasons.

The belief paradox

The belief that there are universal laws, can they be merely believed? And if you believe them, musn’t you also believe that your belief is not a belief?


1) The next statement is true
2) The previous statement is merely a belief

The confusion above makes it clear that the difference between belief and universal truth is not always well defined.

Why should it be that “perception must be understood in terms of knowledge?” Why should it be that, since most people don’t believe that belief and knowledge are the same, it is likely that belief and knowledge are different? Could it be that this belief in knowledge as different from belief is exactly what enforces ignorance? It is dogma that blinds us from the malleability of reality, and what allows others, who supposedly know more or understand more than us, to dominate us.


A claim to know a place is ordinarily a claim to knowledge how (see Ryle), to an ability to find one’s way about in it.” Vol. 3 Encyclopedia of Philosophy 1967 p 347 What kind of knowledge is knowing when? When in the past is remembered, when in the future is prophetic, and when in the present is all kind of knowledge at once, whatever crosses one’s mind or is evident to the senses. Since the only real knowledge is knowledge in the present, knowledge of time is a synthesis of all other knowledge.

I’ll give the last word to Hume.

“…Descartes, who held that assent is a matter of will that can be freely given or withheld, and Hume, who represented us as largely passive in belief, which he conceived as a feeling that we find ourselves with and must put up with whether we like it or not, much as we find ourselves equipped with desires and aversions.”p351 Vol. 3 Encyclopedia of Philosophy 1967

“On Hume’s side is the fact that it seems no more possible to resolve to believe something one actually does not believe than it is to increase one’s height or eradicate one’s distaste for endives by a simple effort of will. What one can do is to fortify or undermine one’s belief in a proposition indirectly by voluntarily concentrating one’s attention on the evidence for or against it.”p352 Vol. 3 Encyclopedia of Philosophy 1967

Rest isn’t as easy as it seems

In my dissertation I make the case for rest.

“Shapiro uses an example called the “forced march” to display the power of his theory to handle vagueness with “competent speakers.” The forced march is done by a group of such speakers who examine the hair on the heads of 2000 men arrayed from entirely bald and progressing gradually to Jerry Garcia. They must reach a consensus each time, and Shapiro is concerned with the eventuality that, starting with Jerry Garcia, and inferring that a a small tuft of hair less on the next man preserves hairiness, the inference will break down and the competent speakers, one by one, will be filled with conflict until they decide that one of the men is bald (well before they get to the entirely bald man at the other end of this continuation). Shapiro argues that on breaking the inference with a particular man (lets call this man B(a)), classical logic requires that this break spreads to the men near B(a), so they are now also “bald” even though some of them were only a moment before considered “not bald.” Interestingly where exactly this spread of baldness around B(a) ends, and end it must before Jerry Garcia, is unknown, or deferred to further investigation. Needless to say, the deliberation of competent speakers on which men are bald and which men are not is neverending. Instead of admitting that logic is wrong, we are directed to work and deliberate on the problem forever, and if we ever throw up our hands and stop working, the consistency of classical logic would be questionable. (Nightingale 2018, pg 12)”

Rest, and “the rest”, is an ultimate concept upheld in the dissertation, and it has serious consequences for logic as we know it, and seems to stand in opposition to pragmatism. Rest, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Buddhist monks do quite a lot of work for the sake of rest. As I got older I learned that rest is hard, because you have so many people around you and before you, working and having worked so hard. If you don’t wear the orange robe of a monk, people will look down on you for, not just resting, but striving to uphold rest as a concept that is defensible.
Ultimately we work for the sake of rest. We want to “have done” something so that we can kick up our feet and relax with some entertainment. Of course it is also true that we rest for the sake of work, but “rest” seems to have fallen as a concept and “work” was in the ascendant.
I practice meditation 3-4 hours a day, and I have discovered that to meditate successfully one must also practice ‘sila’ or virtue, such as the 8 precepts in Buddhism. Not lying, taking care not to hurt little critters, help your concentration inside and outside meditation. As Buddhist monks propose, it must be realized that “striving for peace” can only be truly successful if such striving is also restful. To have rest be a means as well as an end, requires ‘sila,’ at least the 8 precepts, Here is a good explanation of the 8 precepts, which means you have to give up that entertainment you were looking forward to after work. All of the 8 precepts are a matter of ‘abstaining’ from certain actions and speech. There is nothing to do. You have to spend your restful hours striving for true rest.


“Only disobedience can threaten authoritarians”

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Personally I think culture defends people against authority too. Trump owes some of his success to appearing to defend American culture. Hence MAGA and white male supremacy, but that doesn’t make culture a bad thing to be used against authority. Just because Trump misuses white culture to divide Americans doesn’t mean white culture, and culture in general is a bad thing. What I see in Thailand is a strong sense of culture that makes people agree on issues and behave in ways that unite and protect, regardless of what the “authorities” say. In a sense that amounts to disobedience, but Thai people barely feel that they are being disobedient when they disobey a political leader or policeman, they are just being obedient to their culture. What to do in America with so many cultures and religions? In a sense the divisions in America are very real, not merely caricatures created by a fascist leader.

Feyerabend is my favorite philosopher of science. He says that he wrote his book arguing that science uses no method because he was faced with teaching philosophy of science to people of distant cultures such as Native Americans. He recognized that western science is a product of Western culture. Maybe “science as culture,” or better “science as practice,” is the way to unite the USA. The way to do that is for people who support science to stop pretending its universal, stop making it “above” any discourse with other belief systems. Science has to make peace with religion and culture through dialogue. This means that the ultimate concepts of Difference and Work found in science need to be softened (not to mention the Continuum, which, as Heidegger noticed, replaced all models for struggle, political between the right and left, or otherwise). Being different, or an individual, or working really hard to “make a difference” are not as great as they are touted to be. Dialogue about difference, love based on difference (like between male and female), and faith in difference are easy to allow into this “science as culture.” But also things like friendship and culture, things that really unite people have to be allowed into science as well. “Science as practice” may be the dominant way science unites the USA, and that means using social media, “phones” if thats what they are anymore, and voting machines (not to mention the legal apparatus that elections follow, which owes its authority to its machine-like appearance). Unfortunately mathematical algorithms that are supposed to make the flow of social capital “fair” is too easily manipulated.

In my dissertation, instead of saying “farewell to reason” as Feyerabend did, I try to soften the main ways that science tries to make itself above social, political, cultural, religious discourse. The main ways science tries to do this is through a claim to being logical or reasonable. The other authority claim science makes: that of being empirically based, is not divisive, except that for some reason the empirical basis pretends to exclude accounts of people (except other scientists) and appear to be based on… what? Chomsky reports that science has no clear agreement on what the “Physical” is anymore, so “Nature”? “Difference”? “Work”?. However, classical logic has as a foundational axiom the LEM: that differences between A and not-A, for any A, are absolute and universal. Calling probability a theory and not a logic allows mathematical logic to take its seat as the One True Logic, with its universal and absolute law of Difference, or so it is made to appear in mathematics curriculum that I have seen as a mathematics teacher. My dissertation is meant to argue that the LEM is not acceptable, with the important result that without the LEM, science is able to take on the important role of uniting the USA in “science as culture”.

Science as culture involves adopting other normative values. It would no longer make the pretense of being a neutral descriptor of… again what? not the Physical… Ethical considerations, such as how much work is too much, how much interrogation of the earth is probing too deep, or is too dangerous to the environment, or to our humanity. The atomic bomb, atomic waste, and excessive carbon pollution, and plastic and other pollution, pandemics, and other side effects of a scientific community should render their causes  unscientific.

I am not sure where this outpouring leads. I feel sympathetic to the plight of Americans in the US. Make no mistake: our actions, our beliefs, our inclusions and exclusions, reverberate across the world. But our institutions are more powerful than our individuality. They must be disobeyed. We should be ruled by people, not law, be it scientific law or otherwise.

Proof of substance

The proof of substance shows that the universe is not entirely empty. Some people will think this goes against what the Buddha taught, but the Buddha chose to be neutral on the issue of whether anything was endowed with substance, or a “self.” And by self he meant identity. As in his example, even a cart, when examining its parts, the substance of the cart cannot be found, or no part of the cart is the cart itself, and since the cart is made of parts, none of which is the cart itself, the cart has no substance, it is only an amalgamation of parts. So the argument goes.

Now my proof of substance does not go against what the Buddha taught, because it is merely a proof that substance exists. And this proof doesn’t matter much, because a Buddhist should strive to notice emptiness, especially in oneself. This striving can be successful, and we will see how substance is fundamentally connected with ignorance. And how the existence of substance is merely the existence of ignorance, and ultimately results in the first noble truth: the existence of suffering.

1 The first step of the proof is asking: “Is this a question?”

It is like asking if ignorance exists. We cannot decide if it is or isn’t, because deciding would resolve its ignorance, but resolve it in the opposite way we decided: if we decide that it is a question, whether it is a question is no longer in question. After all, how can this question be, if its being were not in question?

2  The next step of the proof is asserting that “is this a question?” while it is undecidable on whether it is a question, is still a tangible thought.

What kind of thought we have when we ask “Is this a question?” is not known. This leads to the third step of the proof:

3 Because “Is this a question?” cannot fit in any form, and it exists, the only option for it is to be substance.

“Is this a question?” cannot necessarily be a question. If it isn’t then what is it? It seems that there isn’t any other kind of “what” it could be, and so it lies outside a what question, even though we know that it is. This is the fundamental ignorance.  As you can see, it is fruitless to argue over whether it exists or not, which is what the Buddha said of the doctrine of self (by which he meant substance). Asserting “is this a question?” is a question yields a paradox, so it may be best to let this question remain in question. In either case, it may be going too far to assert that it is something. After all, a thing is a “what” and this ignorance cannot be categorized or partitioned. Yet it persists.



Fund Me: Barnhurst News

One project that has been knocking around in my mind for many years (12+) is a news filter that is publicly filtered. By publicly filtered I mean that people are in charge of how a search yields news results, not a mathematical algorithm, not elite editors. I am sure this idea has been thought of before and the reason I think it isn’t already out there is there are powerful people in America who don’t want people to be able to consciously filter their news for themselves. So, I will probably need to hire a lawyer at some stage during this project.

The main innovation is that the program will have more than just a simple “like” way to vote on news. The facebook system is still one-dimensional even though you can choose “laugh” “cry”, etc. For this news filter you can react to a news article more than once using the following dimensions (at first)

Scales (instead of binaries) on the following: “about people vs about institutions” “Democratic vs Republican vs(?Anarchism?)etc” “asks a lot of questions of the reader or tells them statements” “How factual vs how interpretive” (and a separate discussions of the facts and the interpretations available for comment) Also just a rating of how much they liked/disliked the news article. Perhaps you could add the conventional classifications “world, local, science, etc” In addition, I’d like to have people offer and vote on other classifications. Also they can vote on news outlets and filter according to that as well, and the votes could be revealed publicly, so people actually know where most others are getting their news, or like getting news.

There will be two settings: an entry setting that allows you to vote on any news article online, and the other setting is the search setting, that allows people to search based on these votes putting in the search criteria (the same criteria that is voted upon in the entry setting).

Here is a very preliminary sketch. Depending on the amount of donations I can make this much better or hire to work on it.

This is where you come in. I am putting a donation button below, donations will let me know how much time I should devote to this project, and how easily I can argue with my wife that time should be devoted to it. I promise to do this project, and that it will remain 100% free to use. However how pretty, how streamlined, and how much time it takes to finish this project depends on the donations I receive. Thank you

click the link and type in zweihanderdawg at gmail dot com to donate to my paypal. Thank you.


and the most expensive, in that it takes the largest bite out of your donation, is a gofundme: