Creativity / Incompleteness / Philosophy / Religion

Omniscience and Creativity – A Note on Creationism

File:God-Architect.jpg

Rationality and logic seem to be connected. However, any limited body of knowledge allows only a limited (though possibly infinite) realm of statements to be derived from it. Any finite body of knowledge that is used in a logical way has a limited reach. In order to create new knowledge, we have to use processes of experimentation, of trial and error. We have to make jumps in our thoughts that are not justifiable by any logic and might turn out to be wrong later on. If our thinking is to expand beyond what we know already, we have to embrace our fallibility. Creativity and innovation are inevitably connected to accidental discovery and the possibility of error. Rationality without error is sterile.

People believing in intelligent design seem to reject the idea of evolution because in evolution, there is a place for accident and chance. They do not like to think of themselves as a product of a process involving accidental events. They want to be the product of rationality. But this idea involves a mistaken idea of what rationality is. The creator these people imagine is totally infallible and rational in the logical sense. The creator is imagined to be omniscient and thus infallible. But how can an infallible being be a creator? It would have to contain the correct answer to any possible question beforehand, containing an infinite amount of information. Such a being would be entirely uncreative and noninnovative since creativity involves the production of new information from a state where this information is not yet there. Evolution, as well as human thinking, are examples of processes that are creative in this sense, and they both involve chance and error.

An infallible god, on the other side, would not be able to create any new information. Everything must be there already. Such a god would not even have a history. A history requires change. The human being would not be created by it because all the knowledge involved would have to be there already. As it turns out, the idea of an omniscient creator is a logical contradiction. Either there is a creator, then it cannot be omniscient, or there is a omniscient being, then it cannot be a creator. It could develop into something, like a seed or egg that already contains the program for what it will become, or a computer that boots up, but it would not create. A creator, on the other hand, would have to be a system that starts from a state with less information and develops into a state with more information.

The universe we are observing is such a system. It contains processes that produce new information. And these processes involve, among other things, accidental events. In this sense, we could call the universe the creator.

Even if there was an intelligent designer, it would have to have a fallible, partially chance-based rationality. An omniscient system, on the other hand, would not be intelligent in any sense. It would be an algorithm of infinite size, but with no trace of intelligence or creativity. Intelligence is about generating knowledge, not applying it. Applying knowledge is something mechanical. An omniscient system could only apply knowledge.

So I think that the idea of an omniscient creator is based on a misunderstanding of what intelligence, creativity and rationality really are. A wrong model for human cognition is projected into the infinite and out pops the omniscient creator. Human cognition is able to invent all kinds of nonsense. This is a necessary consequence of its universality. An infallible system would be limited, an algorithm. The idea of the omniscient creator god, it turns out, is one of those unavoidable instances of nonsense.

(The picture is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:God-Architect.jpg)

35 thoughts on “Omniscience and Creativity – A Note on Creationism

  1. Awesome, brilliant, superb! You are exactly, positively correct! My book has a chapter dedicated to this very subject. Here’s a segment which I think compliments your piece:

    “To experience pleasure, the Omnimalevolent Creator must suspend this talent, His omniscience, or live out an existent of impossible, oppressive, insufferable boredom.

    The alternative is, after all, unthinkable.

    To be omniscient means to have never been surprised, excited, amazed, thrilled or impressed by anything, as nothing can be new.

    Ever.

    No enjoyment can be extracted from any single event, an earthquake or a war for example, if one already knows with perfect clarity the totality of that event: the affairs leading up to it, the time of its happening, the actors, their emotions, and the sum total of effects that ripple out and away as the occasion recedes into a history that is, for the omniscient being, inseparable from both the present and the future.
    To an omniscient being, nothing in all of Creation can be original, fashionable, or even distinct, as every event, thought, action, adventure and discovery is occurring simultaneously in one stretched-out moment. To be omniscient means to have never felt even the slightest twang of curiosity, for there can be no unexpected twists if every outcome to every drama and experiment is already known. Without the capacity for curiosity it is, therefore, impossible for the omniscient being to be interested in anything, let alone be attentive to His own pleasure, as pleasure is inaccessible if all of Creation is, from His great perspective, perfectly flat and of a uniform temperature.

    To grasp even the outer edges of this sense-wrecking revelation is to then understand that the very proposition of an omniscient Creator is, by definition, an obscene scourge on even the most primitive notion of a life worth living: a life that can be considered internally meaningful. Such an existence—cursed with omniscience—would be intolerable, as to bear this power means to be perfectly and maximally inert, and therefore indistinguishable from no-thing.

    Indeed, to be omniscient means to have never savoured a fond memory, or ever even held a memory at all, for remembrance is beyond the scope of possibilities for a being whose knowledge is perfect, immediate, and permanent. To be omniscient means to have never dreamed, for no future event is unknown. To be omniscient means to have never made a choice, as choice implies having an option, and having options is not an option for an omniscient entity.

    To possess and exercise omniscience is to never have sensed temperature, experienced a single emotion, or practiced a single vice. It is to have never been amazed, concerned, analytical, or sympathetic. By exercising omniscience, an Omni-maximum being could not move, be moved, or inspired. Such a being could not interfere, empathise, interject, alter, adjust, or give advice.

    Ever.

    Such a being could not devise a plan, hear music, imagine a story, or recognise art or deviancy in any guise, for it could never differentiate creativity from cold reality. Such a being could not know doubt, desire, success, or failure. It could not, therefore, know itself, and if it is incapable of that, then it is incapable of experiencing pleasure.
    To mitigate this inconceivably hopeless reality, the Impartial Observer sees only one possible and freakishly vile course of action available to the Omnimalevolent Creator: He must self-harm and suspend His omniscience, or face an existence of perfect and perpetual inertness.”

      • As I was writing that bit, as the thought was coming free, I was left asking myself why other’s hadn’t already seen this problem. It seems so obvious. The resolution i propose is that the talent is suspended, which appears to be the only alternative.

        • You, the atheist, solve the riddle why the creator created… Is there not a bit of irony in this? The mental attitude you need to see these things is closed from the theist, it’s a forbidden thougt.

          Buy the way, if I am on the right track with my ideas about what beauty is (elsewhere on this blog) such a being would also not experience beauty. I think, all these “cognitive” emotions like interestingness, curiosity and beauty (but also boredom) are there to guide our acquisition of information. They make sense only for a being that exists in time and always has incomplete knowledge. Even processes of thinking only make sense to gain understanding. An omniscient being would only be an infinitely large database. For anything interesting to happen, it would have to give up its omniscience. Be careful not to start a new religion (or have you converted yourself already)🙂
          One could also view simple organisms as omniscient. Simple animals are omniscient of the simple world as they see it. They sometimes die because the world as they see it is not the world as it is (as a Ding an sich). But from their own point of view, they are omniscient. They are not “open” (see https://asifoscope.org/2013/01/18/on-algorithmic-and-creative-animals/ and https://creativisticphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/world-views-and-evolution/). So an omniscient being would be like a giant insect or a giant paramecium.
          However, I think in reality, ,complex things develop from simple things and information is growing from non.information. The world does not start with all the knowledge being there already. The idea of design as the way things came along was invented by people who had learnt to make things. If you know how to make a tool from a piece of flint, and that tool has some order, and you observe that there is order around you, its easy to come up with the idea that that order is made. But you had to learn how to make the tool, through a process involving a lot of broken stones, and your ancestors had to figure out how to do it. And there is no other way. Knowledge does not come from a process of totaly clear logic, it arises from interaction with the things. The idea of the designer arises out of a misunderstanding of how knowledge comes about. Or rather, the process of experimentation and interaction is viewed as something imperfect, and it is confronted with a notion of perfection. But the lack of perfection is an intrinsic part of creation.

          This idea, by the way, was implicitely contained in my “mythological” pieces of Prometheus (taken as an allegory of creativity – https://asifoscope.org/2013/08/18/prometheus/) and Eurydice (https://asifoscope.org/2013/08/09/eurydice-and-orpheus/) where the gods appear as an allegory of cold and perfect laws of nature.

    • “there can be no unexpected twists if every outcome to every drama and experiment is already known” and “no future event is unknown”. John, these statements indicate a form of omniscience that knows not only everything that could be known by virtue of it having already occurred, or by being extant, but also knowing all that could potentially occur, perhaps by chance and necessity, yet which are as yet to. Is not this a rather unusually liberal definition, such that it suggests more a form of omnipotence rather than a so-called ‘Inherent Omniscience’ (chosen knowledge) or ‘Total Omniscience’ (all as-yet-possible knowledge)? You seem to be wiping away the element of time in your definition: “occurring simultaneously in one stretched-out moment”.

      • But Omniscience means just that: total knowledge. Nothing is outside the gods purview. These are maximal powers, but we see, if one were to exercise this particular maximal power then it could never taste any experience for it could never differentiate anything.

        • I completely understand and respect your argument John, but I am uncertain it is predicated on the same understanding of omniscience as the religious, and certainly not of all such religious conceptions. I am not trying to defend any such nonsense by the way, but there at the very least the two definitions of omniscience I have mentioned, and others besides once we bring in Indo-Oriental, theistic and non-theistic perspectives. None of these posit your given interpretation.

          • I always thought (assumed?) there was just one definition of omniscience. I see Merriam Webster has the traditional version (1: having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight
            2: possessed of universal or complete knowledge), but yes, ever-faithful wiki does describe the inherent and total flavours. Religious philosophy really is a slippery snake, is it not? Everything awkward can be described away by simply inventing new definitions.

            • Yes, it all seems to rest on the thorny issue of time John. Given that humankind has not yet determined beyond argument that time exists – Julian Barbour et al – then we’re left with the appearance of time as the repository of all potential knowledge, and all of which time and knowledge has already happened (so to speak) i.e. Total Omniscience. My ‘go to’ dictionary is The Shorter Oxford English vols. I & II, and that, like Merriam Webster, makes no mention of omniscience containing any element of predictive knowledge. Perhaps we ought pray to the dictionary gods for an answer?😉

              • How can we not adore the apologist who says god cannot be known, but then dresses him in finely tailored suits which they say are the correct fit🙂

              • Hi Hariod and John, its great that a real philosophical dialog is happening here on these pages. I did not have the time to take part over the week, but let me add my own (partially half-baked) thoughts here. I am inserting it at an arbitrary place into this thread, it is directed at both of you.
                I think the concept of omniscience, as it appears in religions, is a naive one in the sense that people do not think it to the end. Within religions, thinking it really through is forbidden territory and people stop before really looking into its consequences. The concept emerges by putting the word “All” (omnia) in front of the word “know” (scire). Language allows that, but does it make sense? Language is capable of expressing all kinds of nonsense and if it weren’t, its expressive power would be greatly reduced. But I think if you really think the concept of omniscience through you arrive at something like what John is thinking.
                We take ourselves as a model (as conscious, but limited beings with perception, thougt, feeling and action) and remove all the limits, by using operators like “all” (omni-) and “not” (un-, in-), to arrive at the idea of an infinitely powerful, infinite mind. It is not, like Descartes had it, that in order to have this idea, it must be innate and in can only be there by being implanted by such a god itself, but rather it arises from applying such operators to a description of ourselves, from (limited) knowledge to unlimited knowledge, from limited power to unlimited power, etc.
                But I think the way the human mind is depends on these limits and if the limits are removed, what comes out is not a super-mind but no mind at all.
                It seems to me that experiencing time, in fact experiencing anything and being conscious, makes sense only to an observer of something. An observer does not know everything. An observer has sense organs to get new information from an outside. An observer has an ability to make inferences, to derive consequences, to make hypotheses and plans. All of this only makes sense for a limited being that has incomplete knowledge at any time. And the function of that mind is to live inside a world.
                A being that has complete knowledge (including knowledge ahead of events) would, on the other hand, not need any perception. It would not need the ability to make any inferences, to derive consequences, to make hypotheses, to plan actions. It would not need any cognitive process. It would not need any cognitive emotions like interest, curiosity, boredom, surprise, doubt, fascination, confusion, beauty, or the euphoric “heureka” feeling of discovery, emotions that guide our processes of acquiring new information and getting knowledge. Any focus of attention, any selection of information, any judgement of relevance, of importance or irrelevance of bits of information, any creativity only makes sense for a being with a limited knowledge and a limited mental capacity. All of these cognitive and emotional capabilities exist exactly because we are limited beings with incomplete knowledge. In a similar way, social emotions like compassion etc. only make sense for a social being living in a community.
                Now the concept of divinity is constructed in an anthropomorphic way, by thinking of god as a human-like (i.e. perceiving, thinking, planning, deciding, feeling) being (god has plans, love, judgement, wrath etc.), but by removing all limits. What people failed to see is that by removing all the limits from a mind dissolves the mind.
                If all that could be perceived is already known, there is no need for perception. If any result of any possible thinking process is already know, there is no need of thinking processes. What remains is the set of all true facts (if that is a meaningful concept, which I doubt). The infinite mind is holding all that knowledge in its consciousness at the same time. What does it think? The outcome of its thinking process can only be that same set off all knowledge again, with nothing new being added. So the thinking process of an infinite omniscient mind just maps that set of knowledge onto itself. As a result, there is no need for any such process. The knowledge just sits there. It is dead. It is neither applied nor interpreted. It is like the knowledge in the books of a library that nobody is reading. But without a process using it, knowledge is not really knowledge. It is dead. Knowledge makes sense for a limited, incomplete system only.
                The omniscient being then appears to be like an infinite library without a reader, containing all kinds of irrelevant facts, like the structure and position of every dust grain in the universe or the mathematical fact that 57361982 – 3581755559 = -3524393577.
                If you restrict the knowledge to what is a fact at a certain time, and you leave some insecurity about future developments or about sub-systems in a superposition of states, then the set of all facts that are determined in the universe is represented by the universe itself. But you do not need to postulate a conscious, mind-like being holding all that information.
                In a similar way, religions attribute “life” to god. God is thought of as a living thing. But real living things are dissipative systems that maintain their state by taking up low-entropy energy and shedding the entropy they produce. They are always limited systems living on limited resources. The structure of living organisms is closely linked to the restrictions they are experiencing. The leaf of a tree, for example, exists because the tree can harvest the energy of sun light (a low entropy form of energy) and then turns that energy into high-entropy thermal radiation. Thus maintaining its structure. The tree has to work, to make an investment and build the leaf. In a similar way, structures of living things are answers to environments with limited resources. Take away the limits and nothing inherent in the concept of life makes any sense again any more. If there are no limits, no structure would ever emerge. We have hands because there are things to grasp and we need to work, legs because we are not everywhere at once, eyes because we are not omniscient. We have a digestive tract because that is how we take up energy, etc. Where there are no limits, on the other hand, no function is needed.
                So while a lot of the theism-atheism debate centers on the question if god exists or not, we should ask if the kind of god theists are thinking of is a meaningful possibility or if this concept is self-contradictory in some way.

                • Thank you for this wonderfully comprehensive addition Nannus; I appreciate you taking the time for this. To defend the indefensible, I would add the following:

                  “It seems to me that experiencing time, in fact experiencing anything and being conscious, makes sense only to an observer of something. An observer does not know everything. An observer has sense organs to get new information from an outside.”

                  Does memory require an observer, a subject with agency that accesses it? When you remember your name, is anything happening other than memory revealing itself to itself and as itself? There is no homunculus viewing the memory. In the human animal, memory requires a brain to, in effect, store representations of sense contacts, but is your brain your ‘observer’? No, it’s a necessary partial facilitator only. The memory observes itself, but not within a paradigm of subject and object; it is just potential actualised.

                  “A being that has complete knowledge (including knowledge ahead of events) would, on the other hand, not need any perception.” And: “What people failed to see is that by removing all the limits from a mind dissolves the mind. If all that could be perceived is already known, there is no need for perception.”

                  If we conceive of this complete knowledge (omniscience) as stored memory, not literally stored, but memory that is not yet revealed to itself, [i.e. it remains a potential] then again, could we not say that in order to realise that potential then it would indeed need to perceive itself – not as a perceiving agent or quasi-homunculus, but simply as itself? You address this in the following:

                  “. . . the thinking process of an infinite omniscient mind just maps that set of knowledge onto itself. As a result, there is no need for any such process. The knowledge just sits there. It is dead. It is neither applied nor interpreted. It is like the knowledge in the books of a library that nobody is reading. But without a process using it, knowledge is not really knowledge. It is dead. Knowledge makes sense for a limited, incomplete system only.”

                  Is this putative omniscient God not a creator? She is; so they say. Does she not create the world in her own image? She does; so they say. If that were true, then my (hypothetical!) God as memory, in expressing herself as potential becoming actual, is not ‘dead’, but on the contrary is remarkably busy.

                  “Now the concept of divinity is constructed in an anthropomorphic way, by thinking of god as a human-like (i.e. perceiving, thinking, planning, deciding, feeling) being (god has plans, love, judgement, wrath etc.), but by removing all limits.”

                  With respect, that clearly is only one conception of God, the narrow and monotheistic one used for story-telling in bibles and the one portrayed so that children can grasp it for indoctrination purposes. ‘God’ is one of those words you refer to that can ‘express all kinds of nonsense’, and invariably does in different cultures and times; yet the god-conceptions may of course vary in sophistication and in the degree of those gods’ spheres of alleged influence. It is indeed hard to defend the naïve concept of an omniscient anthropomorphic divinity, which, as you demonstrate, is self-contradictory, not so much a theology as a tautology perhaps?

                • Brilliantly enlightening. I must thank you both. I was preparing a paper on omniscience for submission to Cambridge’s Religious Studies journal, but this conversation has given me pause. Best not be surprised by new information which smacks you in the face after you’re standing naked on the stage.

                  Hariod, to this point of yours:

                  it remains a potential

                  Is it really “potential” only when it can be accessed, tested, and experienced, at any moment?

                • Hand in your paper (maybe after reworking it). It is time for atheists like you to start doing theology🙂

                • Hi John!

                  “Is it really “potential” only when it can be accessed, tested, and experienced, at any moment?”

                  Not quite sure of your question here, but will respond in any case:

                  Memory, as we understand the concept of it, has two states. In one it is hidden to itself (or to awareness if you like), and in the other it is revealed, or made actual as an appearance. I would maintain that memory is not experienced (to use your word) by any subject. We bring along that idea only because we conceive of ourselves as subjects with agency, which in other words means as thinkers of thoughts and as experiencers of experience. We conceive of the memory as an object that we as a subject have accessed, almost as if there existed a homunculus inside our heads that by its own agency reads (as an imagined output) this object: “I recall a memory” and “I experienced a memory”. I am saying there is experience, yet no experiencer – the experiencer is just imagination, an evolutionary artefact and product of the evolving mind.

                  What I am suggesting is that we strip that imagination away, and instead regard memory as one coin with two sides – the potential to actualise and the actualisation. In this, there is no potential output that is to be read by a subject. This flip-flop of the coin occurs in time of course, and you seem to be suggesting that because not all of our memory may be actualised at any one moment, then for the most part it should not be considered as potential. Yet potential by definition rests dependently within time of course, otherwise everything of it would be actual, and not actually potential! So, potential itself rests in its dormancy within time, and time manifests within conditions or circumstance. It is these conditions that potential rests dependently within. If conditions are right for a certain memory to actualise then it will, and vice versa. There is no subject as agent calling it into being or reading it as output; we simply imagine that.

                  I am unsure whether I have addressed your question John, and apologise in advance for blathering aimlessly should that be so. And just to anticipate the next question, which is how does a memory-god create time so that it can exist as potential, then I might just have to pray for an answer on that one. Like I suggested before, defending the indefensible is hard going, and takes an awful lot of faith.

                • Hey Hariod, thank you for this great reply. And don’t ever think you’re blathering. I savoured every word.

                  Now, I think I’m understanding your position here…. or, at least, the position you’re arguing for in this instance. Where I’m a little confused is whether you’re talking about a human (in which case your explanation makes perfect sense), or an Omni-maximum god (in which case “time” would be, in my humble opinion, irrelevant). Apologies if my original question was a tad vague, but I guess this brings it a little more into focus. Time is meaningless to a timeless being, so I would think then that potential might also be sliding toward the meaningless. It’s all there, in one moment, the past, present and future all wrapped into one node of total experience.

                  I apologise in advance if I’ve completely misunderstood you. It’s freezing here today, and as a Queenslander by birth my body rebels quite horribly in cold weather🙂

                • I am talking about memory as we commonly and erroneously conceive of it John, and also as it actually obtains within the human animal (as I see it). I was addressing your own question about the nature of my posited ‘potential’ as that obtains within the context of memory. As you did not specify what the context of the memory itself was in your question – God or human – then as I say, I wrote of it as we both erroneously think of it, and actually experience it as human animals ourselves.

                  Whether time would be irrelevant to an omniscient god depends on the specific god-conception itself of course, and I know nothing of such fanciful ideas. In my positing a (wildly hypothetical) omniscient god which was deemed to be so in its existence as a ‘held’ potential knowledge as memory, then this conception itself must rest within time, which is why I previously made a stab at what question might come next – i.e. “how does a memory-god create time so that it can exist [partly] as potential?”. In other words, we get back to the problem of a first cause, and which I will side-step and leave to the expert god-conceivers to explain I think.

                  My argument was somewhat narrower, in that omniscience does not necessarily connote a complete unfolding of a knowledge which you originally described as “occurring simultaneously in one stretched-out moment.” Nor does it imply a predictive knowledge (in either of our respective dictionaries). I don’t see that the idea of “one node of total experience” can make any sense within or without a nonsensical god John. Why? Because experience is time dependent; put another way, existence is change which in turn is time dependent i.e. no time, means no existence, means no experience. Therefore, a timeless node of experience is nonsensical.

                  I know you too are saying this conception you quote is absurd, but I have argued that that conception is not universally applied in the plethora of all fanciful god-conceptions, and that we must be specific about what conception it is which we are attacking, and also define precisely our use of the term ‘omniscience’, which as we have seen, has differing interpretations, though none which includes a predictive knowledge.

                • experience is time dependent

                  Absolutely, for humans. The Omni-maximum god, as proposed by many an apologist, would see Creation (a contingent, finite thing) as something resembling a book, a complete work where everything contained within is occurring simultaneously. In this instance, the capital G God could open any page and go to any line to “experience” the happenings, but as a totality, Creation is still bound within the front and back cover.

                  How does that sound?

                • “How does that sound?”

                  To me John, it sounds like a god which stands (magically) outside of time and yet which, therefore in some equally magical sense, also experiences time.

                  There can be no meaningful exchange of ideas with the believer who conceives of the possibility of a ‘timeless experience’*, whether they posit time as finite or not.

                  Quite how the apologist can, with a straight face, posit such a concept is beyond me, though doubtless you are correct and some do – better they ‘do a Wittgenstein’.

                  * As an aside and on the human level: There are deep meditative states in which the subject does not experience time, though it should be recognised that time itself cannot ever be experienced – it is apprehended by virtue of sequential phenomenal appearances alone and inferred from those. It should be understood that this state itself is not an ‘experience’ because no phenomena whatsoever appear before the mind and nothing is known during the course of it, not even the notion of nothingness. It therefore cannot correctly be called an ‘experience’ as nothing whatsoever is experienced – there is no subject/object dichotomy in play. The state itself is known to have occurred only upon reflection, once it has passed in time. Even then, it is not remembered [put together again] as a representation; it is instead inferred. One might call it the Tabula Rasa of an objectless and pellucid mind, but not any consciousness as it is not ‘with knowledge’ – ‘con science’.

                • Thanks for the link Nannus, and I greatly look forward to reading your further thoughts on the matter, hopefully in a fleshed-out article. It is tricky threading things together here in the comments beyond a certain point.o_O

    • My thoughts are based on Ammon’s theory of creative systems. If there is any philosophical tradition into which this approach can be put, it is probably that of pragmatism. I see a conneciton there (Kurt Ammon once gave me a book by Peirce as a birthday gift).
      One basic idea is that every theory of cognition is incomplete. If you make a formal theory of cognition, it is incomplete. You can extend it, you get an incomplete theory again. There is no higher order theory or bird’s eye view from which to describe the process. Any such theory would be incomplete itself. There are heuristical proce
      sses, but they are always different and the heuristic rules you are using are themselves modified in the process.
      The classical view of rationality, on the other hand, thinks of it as perfect logic. But that is not how cognition really works. Logic and algorithms are part of it, but they are not the whole. The system can incorporate information from the ouside and thus be modified.

  2. Pingback: God’s temporal dilemma | no sign of it

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