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Claim #1: We cannot be certain of the universe as we perceive it.

Claim #2: So isn't using reason to define it impossible?

(devils advocate)

asked Sep 29 '10 at 19:58

capitalistswine's gravatar image

capitalistswine ♦


The question is unclear and poorly worded. What does it mean to be "certain of the universe"? What does it mean to "define the universe"? What's the connection between these points?

Are you questioning the validity of perception? Or just the validity of reason? Are you asking how we can know anything, or be certain of anything? Or what exactly?

Thanks for the clarification.

(Sep 30 '10 at 02:55) jasoncrawford ♦ jasoncrawford's gravatar image

This appears to be another example of misunderstanding the "uncertainty" principles in physics. I am not a physicist but my understanding is that the uncertainty refers to not being able to know at a given moment exactly where or in what status a subatomic particle is in. It does not doubt the existence of such particles nor does it imply that one cannot make very accurate observations, predictions, and measurements of multiple such particles.

(Oct 03 '10 at 15:33) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

For those interested in the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in modern physics, there is a fairly long article about it on Wikipedia:


If it is claimed that the original questions represent a misunderstanding of modern physics, how so? Such a claim needs far more explanation and justification than merely asserting the claim and offering a very brief summary of the physics. Why would the questions and ensuing philosophical discussion be assumed by a rational observer to be a misunderstanding of physics? The original questions never said anything at all about physics (unless one infers it from a belief that physics is the ultimate arbiter of questions about existence and certainty of human knowledge, a premise that Objectivism disputes).

(Oct 06 '10 at 01:38) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image
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If this question was meant to be this: In the case of the universe itself, the evidence of the senses falls far short of revealing the whole thing, so how can we suppose reason can legitimately characterize it? Here's an answer:

The sort of knowledge we have of the universe--and "defining" the universe is a non-problem--is very highly abstract. All the variations of all the existents of all time are abstracted over to reach metaphysical principles. Metahysics pertains to the unknown regions and objects of the universe because it pertains to existing, and the universe is defined "only" over existing things.

The question supposes the unknown regions and objects of the universe might embody such as living contradictions or objects without features or natures at all, if it envisions that metaphysics is overgeneralized to the universe.

Looked at upside-down and sideways, it's like this: if you found a living contradiction, identity would have to be re-defined to include being contradictory, which would mean contradiction would have to be re-defined, since being contradictory was not self-negating, which means the thing you found wouldn't be a contradiction, which means you can revive the old concept of identity, etc.

So the answer is that scientific generalizations over what is categorically unknown would be one thing, but metaphysical generalization over all that exists is another one. Epistemologically, the metaphysical generalization to unknowns of the universe remains within the scope of metaphysics, which is existence (or knowing) per se.

answered Jan 05 '11 at 16:56

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

Several very important concepts are expressed in this question, and several more are omitted. For a quick but highly informative introduction to the key concepts, refer to The Ayn Rand Lexicon, especially the entries on "Perception," "Reason," "Concepts," "Concept-Formation," "Universe," "Certainty," "Definitions," and related topics cross-referenced in each of these.

The biggest problem with the question is the apparent assumption that reason is perception. Objectivism regards perception as the essential starting point from which reason begins, but reason involves far more. This, in turn, implies that reason does not define the universe, but identifies what's in it, through a definite process involving the formation and application of concepts integrated from sensory-perceptual material. "Sensations" are a good topic to look up in the Lexicon, also, along with "Consciousness" and "Free Will."

answered Sep 29 '10 at 23:57

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Sep 29 '10 at 19:58

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Last updated: Jan 05 '11 at 16:56