Absolut(e)

Had an interesting talk about the notion of absolutes over on 12Stone today, to wit: Is there such a thing as an absolute?

So: Is there such a thing as an absolute?

Without defining a specific thing as being “absolute”, we are dealing with abstract mental models. So in my opinion something which is absolute must exists wholly unto itself and have neither external influences or external dependencies. Therefore an absolute must be a closed system. Assuming the ultimate truth of the laws of Thermodynamics, the universe could be said to be a closed system. At least, from the inside it is a closed system. From the outside…well. Things get a little more complicated than your standard Venn diagram.

The set containing the numbers {1,2,3,4,5} is a closed set. From within it is exactly and only those five numbers, and the existence of the number 6 does not alter the existence of the first five. Neither does the existence of the numbers 1,2,3,4, and 5 influence in any way the number 6. Using mental models any number (heh) of absolutes can be discovered.

When trying to apply the notion of ‘absolute’ to ‘real’ things the argument immediately breaks down. Buddhist tradition has it that no single thing truly exists, because there are no things which exists completely unto themselves. A coffee cup is a combination of the materials of which it is constructed, the time involved in creating it, and the human-imposed concept of ‘cupness’. Take away any one of those things and it is no longer a coffee cup. That which we call ‘coffee cup’ is an identifiable point in a process which started at the beginning of the universe and which will (might?) stop at the end.

So where does that leave the Absolute? An absolute can be identified when the sum total of it is observable. That knocks everything out of the running except the Universe, and that must be taken on faith because, stuck in the warp and woof of it as we are, it is impossible to see it from an outside perspective. And let us not get into the religious ideas of the Absolute.

An absolute is a thing which must exist free of context.

So this whole long discussion ended up fragmenting, as online discussions often will. I have a lot to contemplate. One of the participants posted a link to a fascinating Socratic dialogue regarding free will, called Is God A Taoist? , which I enjoyed immensely.