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Robert G. Brown's Philosophy Page

Things on the site itself that may be of interest to students or philosophers of any age or generation include complete online books of poetry, various support materials for the study of physics, and links related to beowulfery. All materials on this site that are authored by Robert G. Brown are Copyright 2004. The details of their Open Public License (modified) can be viewed here. If you use or enjoy anything at all on this site -- free textbooks, stories, programs, or other resources, consider hitting to help spread the word so others can find it as well. Note, Robert G. Brown is generally either rgb or rgbatduke on many external sites crosslinked here.

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This page is devoted to links to various philosophical writings. All of these materials authored by Robert G. Brown are published under a modified Open Publication License that permits unlimited free noncommercial and personal use. The materials (books, presentations, or otherwise) may not be published in any form or media that is sold for profit. The details of the license can be viewed here and in each available version viewed below. Stats for this page can be viewed here.

Commercial publishers interested in producing an actual book (or other media form) of the material below are encouraged to contact the author.


A bit of a Zen ramble on religion, philosophy, physics, and Zen. Take it with a grain of salt -- it is deliberately lighthearted, isn't finished yet (and who knows when I'll next have the time to work on it) but I pretty much mean it. (05/09/03, rgb)



Version 0.6.0 Draft!

Robert G. Brown (rgb)

Warning Warning Warning! This is totally a draft release and is liable to change without warning, to contain twinned chapters, to contain material that will not be in the final version, and to be incomplete and inconsistent or worse!

It is being released as a draft as an open invitation for further comments and suggestions from the many people that found even the very short pre-draft form. It's probably going to get worse before it gets better again, alas... Stumble It!

Axioms has also been translated into certain languages by volunteers:

The Belorussian translation, thanks to the efforts of Bodhan Zograf:

German translation, thanks to the efforts of Valeria Aleksandrova:

This is the official pre-publication distribution website for the Axioms project. This work is basically about what we know: the foundations of all human knowledge. It is revealed that we don't know much of anything -- that the basis for most of what we know are a set of assumptions that are rarely enumerated or examined (at least outside of mathematics and science) because even to examine them requires additional assumptions. These assumptions are the axioms upon which the whole shaky edifice of human knowledge is built.

Here is a very short outline of how they book may eventually be organized:

Reason and Its Limitations
A look at the so-called "laws of thought", at set theory, at Jaynes' notion of conditional belief or probable belief, and at the closely allied ideas of logic (including what might be called "zen logic"), mathematics, and computer science. Godel's theorem is examined in some detail. Finally, it is shown that when it comes right down to it, we cannot prove a whole lot about the world we see using these tools one at a time or all together.
Here it is shown (basically restating the conclusions of the first part in context) that Philosophy is Bullshit. This is a deliberately provocative way of phrasing it, a way that that no longer admits any possibility that there is an answer out there to be found by means of pure reason, let alone that some particular answer is the One True Answer. It asserts that as a necessary prior condition for any sort of philosophical discussion all participants need to agree on their axioms, the unprovable assumptions and methods of reasoning upon which their conclusions are ultimately based. It then examines at least some of the near-infinity of often mutually contradictory and self-referential axioms that underlie major subsystems of human society. Only the axioms of mathematics and science are seen to be reasonably consistent and clearly stated (if still largely unknown even to many scientists), and even there the axioms are "bullshit" in the sense that they are logically unprovable assumptions.
In this section a first pass is made at proposing (or if you prefer and more honestly, cobbling together from the previous efforts of many philosophical giants) a set of axioms upon which human society might be based. It differs significantly from previous axiom sets (at least those from outside of science) in that it is openly acknowledged from the beginning that it is neither complete nor correct, merely provisional and practical. It is intended to be discussed, argued over, tried and rejected, modified and tried again, with the stated goal being (paradoxically enough) a rational society based on irrational assumptions that -- work. In this society there is room for God, for Self, for realization and enlightenment. Humans can talk about what they know in the full understanding of what it means to say that they "know" anything at all. The one thing that is no longer possible in such a society is to claim that one is in possession of absolute truth, as it is absolutely true that no such thing can be proven to exist.

Fairly ambitious, to be sure. This work strips off the undergarments of the philosophical basis for knowing anything and lays it out naked for us all to see that -- there is nobody and nothing there. Far from the Emperor being there and the clothing being imaginary, we find the Emperor entirely missing and that all the Reality that we've every seen or imagined is nothing but traditional and colorful undergarments! Fortunately, the clothes do make the man, metaphorically speaking...

If you accept its conclusions, this will be the last work of philosophy you'll ever need to read. When you're done, you may or may not know the deepest answers to the deepest pseudoquestions, but you'll at least be able to tell a real question (one with a real -- derivable -- answer) from a pseudoquestion (one with no derivable answer, only a meta answer -- an axiom -- for an answer). You'll understand that all real answers are connected by inevitable chains of logic and reason to axioms, and hence are always subject to doubt.

At the end of it all, you should end up well-equipped to choose your axioms as the most important human freedom, the one that underlies all the rest. A wise choice can lead to the greatest human society that one can imagine. Foolish, conflicted choices can lead to the extinction of the human race. Can't do any better than that. Really.

Hmmm, maybe philosophy is bullshit, but just maybe it is important bullshit as well...

A Theorem Concerning God

An Actual Theorem Concerning God

by Robert G. Brown (rgb)

It is rare in the history of mankind that an actual theorem has been stated, let alone proven, concerning God. This lack of provable results has been one of the major stumbling blocks to rational religion, and of course that which is not, or cannot, be made rational remains irrational to our great dismay and mutual destruction.

This document proves an actual theorem concerning God and the Universe that might be of interest in the eternal conflict between those that allege that God "created" the Universe and those that allege that there is no God and that the Universe didn't require a creator. The theorem does not resolve the question of whether or not there is a God (as Hume showed long ago that neither reason nor inference are sufficient to prove God's existence), but it puts an end rather nicely to the question of whether or not any consistently proposed God could have created the Universe.

By analyzing the question of God using information theory and Godel's theorems, by using set theory in straightforward ways, it demonstrates that only one model of God can be made to satisfy the "standard properties of God": Omniscience, Omnipresence, Omnipotence. It therefore establishes strict constraints on theisms. Most theistic religions of the world are, to put it bluntly, not in accord with this theorem. Because the theorem is based on reason, and indeed its axioms are such that they can hardly be challenged and end up with a system of rational knowledge at all, this is simply too bad for those religions. They are wrong! Not just incorrect at their periphery, flawed in some relatively minor manner of scripture. Not just flawed in their scripture. Flawed at the core -- the basic conception of God they advance is self-contradictory and impossible.

In most cases this is painfully obvious from even a cursory examination of their theistic mythology anyway, but again the lack of an actual constructive theorem concerning God has left a tiny window of possibility that the core belief and description of God as a dualistic creator of the Universe it isn't actually unreasonable, irrational, impossible so that those theism could be correct. This window is now closed.

Be Warned! The article contains a gratuitous polemic against theist scripture-based religions, especially those whose mythological roots lie in the Bronze Age, a time when life on earth was ugly, nasty brutish, and short (the mean life expectancy in central Eurasia was only around 18). To quote Thomas Jefferson:

The priests of the different religious sects ... dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they live.

The advances of science have long since diced all of the duperies (contained in the supposedly "divinely inspired" scriptures that define their creed) upon which they live, demonstrating (for example) that the entire book of Genesis is pure myth and is absolutely disproven by science. It is precisely as reasonable to believe that the computer screen upon which you are reading these words will transmogrophy into a cloud of butterflies (violating any number of laws of physics) than it is to believe Genesis. Simple common sense and everyday experience suffices to reject it. Yet recent surveys suggest that as much as 60% of the population of the United States still believes that the events in Genesis actually happened!

This kind of self-deluded belief is not harmless, and is not without consequences. We live in an age where single individuals can control destructive powers that vastly exceed all of the armies in all of the world of the Bronze Age, and to attempt to govern that power with a Bronze Age morality, the morality expressed by Moses in Numbers 31 as he commanded his troops to commit genocide and slaughter the Midianite captive women and children, sparing only the young virgin girls whom he gave to his troops as sex-slaves, is unthinkable. The world currently lives in a perpetual state of global war -- religious war, founded in ancient conflicts between competing mythological superstitions. No country is immune, no person is safe as long as these superstitions are insulated from the forces of reason by common custom.

Those who choose to believe these fantasies have every right to do so, but they have no right at all to expect that their beliefs should be safe from being questioned by their neighbors in public forums, as this too is a natural right of all freethinking humans. To again quote Jefferson:

Of publishing a book on religion, my dear sir, I never had an idea. I should as soon think of writing for the reformation of Bedlam, as of the world of religious sects. Of these there must be, at least, ten thousand, every individual of every one of which believes all wrong but his own.
In this I respectfully disagree with Jefferson. It is my duty to correct this situation every bit as much as it is my duty to correct students in their errors in physics problems, and for the same reason. Both exhibit an incorrect application of reason to the world in which we live, and if evil exists at all in the natural world, its name is unreason. Nothing is more frightening that the human who acts against the dictates of reason; we call such individuals insane. Why then, should we not give this same term to collective institutions that systematically promote unreasonable propositions as if they were truth and call this profusity of religious diversity insane?

A hallmark of science, that is to say, reasonable belief founded in a mixture of empirical observation and consistency with a network of equally well founded beliefs with detailed predictive and explanatory power, is that when presented with the same data and arguments, two reasonable humans will, in general, agree on the correctness or plausibility of the conclusions that are drawn from them. Every student that studies Euclidean geometry proves the same theorems from the sufficient axioms of the theory. A Muslim, a Hindu, a Christian, and a Jew may disagree violently about precisely which foods are unclean and forbidden by God (through divinely inspired scriptures written by ignorant male humans in the dark ages of the past) to eat, but presented with a telescope and verifiable astronomical data and taught the calculus they will all agree that Newton's Law of Gravitation correctly describes the motions of the little lights that seem to move about the night sky, and that upon closer examination those tiny lights are actually enormous worlds that companion our own as it orbits the truly enormous sun.

Reason leads them to a common answer, and takes a dogmatic theistic assertion of Genesis and proves it false. To continue to hold to a belief that the sun goes around the earth, or the belief that Genesis itself is still divinely inspired truth, is insane. This work is therefore advanced in the pious hope that if humans wish to continue to hold to a religious belief in God -- something that is a matter of purely personal choice, given the evidence of their own lives and observations -- they begin by applying the test of reason to any theistic system they wish to adhere to by ensuring that its core theology is compatible with the theorem.


God the King, the Father, the Brother, the Ghost

God the King, the Father, the Brother, the Ghost is a currently (very) short article on the distortion of the image of God caused by the frequent use of human metaphors in scriptural writings. It is concluded that God is not a King or mundane ruler in any sense of the word, is not a Father (or Mother or any other human/sexual parent), is not even a Brother in the sense that certain humans are God to the exclusion of others. God is the Holy Spirit, the very essence of awareness and existence itself. Consequently God is both very simple and yet very difficult indeed to get a conceptual grip on.

A Few Modest Proposals for an Improved World

The following small list of ideas in presented in the hope that someday, somehow, enough people will read them that they will "emerge" in the sea of public consciousness and transform themselves into realities. Each idea is presented together with a brief discussion in which the reasoning underlying the idea is laid out. Feel free to forward these proposals or a URI to this page to your favorite politicians.

Note well, this is a rather disjoint collection. The ideas are not necessarily related. Each idea is accompanied by a short block of text explaining why the idea is (in my opinion) worth trying and might improve life if it were.

Politicians, in particular, should feel free to steal these ideas and present them as their own brilliant concepts, if that is the only way they are willing to make use of them. Play right on through, Please!

As you'll see, not all of these ideas originate strictly within me anyway (although quite a few do and likely will in the future) and by the time even the most modest of them is implemented even discussion and development of the ideas will have occurred that even the ones that are mine alone will be mine alone no longer.

If I ever record enough ideas to make it worthwhile I may organize the ideas into broad categories, but in the meantime the list is presented in no particular order. Enjoy.

Home Top Metastructure Axioms Belorussian Translation of Axioms A Theorem Concerning God God the King... Ideas Contact About

This page is maintained by Robert G. Brown, available at rgb at phy dot duke dot edu. This address is also associated with rgbatduke in e.g. stumbleupon or google code, in case you are looking.