Have you come across a supernatural event 1

About miracles

A mystical worldview and its overcoming

In the ten years of my membership in the Society for the Scientific Investigation of Parasciences (GWUP) and at events of the Humanist Association of Germany (hvd), I have come across people for whom everything is based on the applicable laws of nature. This point of view aroused my resistance and in these disputes I sharpened my point of view: I learned a lot about miracles and also about the connection between miracles and creativity.

How do you think of miracles in circles of so-called skeptics? Inge Hüsgen and Martin Mahner write on November 12th, 2011: "A miracle is an event that contradicts general experience, is impossible under natural law, and was therefore caused by a supernatural being."

The skeptic chief reporter knows "(immutable) laws of nature" (GWUP blog, March 16, 2014). I responded to this view as follows: “Even the idea of ​​the '(immutable) laws of nature' is ultimately a matter of faith.” The chief reporter replied: “Sure, I'll have a break soon, I'll jump from the fourth floor - I'm sure that gravity is only is a matter of faith. "(March 17, 2014)

Compared to such gross slackness, Martin Mahner comes across as rather subtle (indispensability and reach of ontological naturalism, 2007). But he too knows fundamental and non-questionable laws of nature and calls them postulates. These postulates stand for a basically static worldview.

One of the most powerful reasons for this, ultimately in the Number mysticism Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner provides the rooted point of view. In his essay "The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences" (1960) he offers a justification for Galileo's famous statement that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics (1623). This view goes back a long way to Plato and Pythagoras, to whom one ascribes the saying “Everything is number”. (The “Philosophy of Physics” by Norman Sieroka, 2014, gives an introduction to the subject area addressed here.)

Wigner describes something that we can only wonder about: a miracle.

An interview with Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek was recently published in Spiegel (33/2015). The Nobel Prize winner says: “It is a great fact that if we get to the bottom of nature, we can understand nature in its innermost being. The only, but deeply speculative, explanation could be that some star maker, an engineer is responsible for the design of this world. "

From all this speaks a mystical understanding of science: There are eternally true laws of nature. Most of these are still in the dark, but with our reconnaissance spotlights we are illuminating ever larger parts of this landscape.

That is an unbiological point of view. It is reminiscent of the idea of ​​intelligent design, a school of thought thoroughly despised by the “skeptics”. It does not do justice to the evolutionary character of the emergence of the world view. Science only took off when it stopped asking "what holds the world together at its core". That is why there are also ingenious responses to the mystical conception of the structure of the world, for example Richard Hamming's answer to Eugene Wigner (1980). Let's see if he succeeds in disenchanting the miracle.

Hamming's counter-position has its roots in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. In 1897, the eminent physicist Ludwig Boltzman formulated the basic idea of ​​critical rationalism (later called by Popper): “We regard the brain as the apparatus, the organ for the production of world views, which because of the great usefulness of these world views for the preservation of According to Darwin's theory, Art developed just as much perfection in humans as the neck of the giraffe and the beak of an unusual length in the stork. "

In his inaugural lecture in 1900, Boltzmann went on to say: “I am convinced that the laws of thought arose from the fact that the connection between the inner ideas that we create from the objects is more and more adapted to the connection between the objects. All linking rules that led to contradictions with experience were discarded and those that always lead to the right were recorded with such energy [...] that we finally saw axioms or innate necessities of thought in such rules. "


The natural scientist with a mystically founded worldview can still indulge in the illusion that he can identify miracles as such. He thinks he knows some of the immovable laws of nature. The critical rationalist with an evolutionarily based view of the world has a harder time. He already lacks the concept of “supernatural being” and consequently also the idea of ​​an event caused by such an entity. He has no means of distinguishing such an event from one with an as yet unknown but ultimately testable mechanism of action.

Martin Mahner follows the mystic's simple recipe: Miracles are violations of the applicable laws of nature. And there cannot be anything that violates the laws of nature.

Most of the time the naturalist and “skeptic” is right: dowsing, astrology, homeopathy, thought transmission and much more can be condemned in this way without error. But in all of these cases the argument that there is a violation of the current scientific understanding is actually not needed: the alleged miracles are testable effects that evaporate in the course of the test, that is, they do not withstand the test. The argument that they contradict existing laws of nature adds nothing to this.

Anyone who rejects miracle reports in bulk by referring to the well-known laws of nature, loses sight of the wonderful, of interesting anomalies, the investigation of which leads to new knowledge. The fight against the Belief in miracles has, as well as the contempt for the illusory thinking, a counterproductive downside: you throw out the baby with the bathwater.

As soon as we disregard the elusive supernatural aspect, access to the concept of miracle becomes easier. From a purely this-world view, i.e. consistently settled in our world of experience, there is

  1. the everyday miracles of nature and life,
  2. the miracles, which are based on already known but hidden mechanisms of action, and there are
  3. wonderful inventions and discoveries.

I can still wonder that a stone falls to the ground, that airplanes fly and that we know the laws of nature that allow us engineers to build machines that make life easier for people.

Despite all the advances in biology and artificial intelligence, the wonders of life remain mysteriously overwhelming. The essay "Robots with Ego" by Tony Prescott (Spectrum d. Wiss. 8/2015, pp. 80-85) made this clear to me again: It's amazing how slow the science of Artificial Intelligence is despite all the great things Proclamations of their apologists moving forward.

The 14th verse of Psalm 139 expresses this astonishment at the miracles of the first kind: "I thank you for being wonderfully made."

But these miracles of the first kind are certainly not what we mean when we speak of miracles: a miracle is no longer a miracle for us if it can be traced back to everyday and well-tested things.

This repatriation is not always easy. Some miracles cannot simply be disenchanted. For this reason alone, it is completely wrong to speak of supernatural miracles: We couldn't distinguish them from miracles that can in principle be disenchanted and that persistently evade disenchantment.

In the following two miracles of the second kind, there are almost trivial mechanisms behind the miraculous effects. You just have to recognize them.

The mass does it

“On August 18, 1913, there was a remarkable event in Monte Carlo. In the legendary casino, where the upper classes of half of Europe came together in tails and evening wear, the roulette ball landed on black a proud twenty-six times in a row ”(Frankfurter Allgemeine, June 30, 2012).

On many occasions for a "miracle" one appears every now and then. In order to produce this special casino “wonder”, the roulette wheels have to be turned a few hundred million times at most. It is very worldly.

For those interested in mathematics: The number of game rounds at the roulette table until black appears for the first time is not too large. The expected number of rounds until such an event occurs is only 134,217,726, or about 134 million. With the large number of gaming tables around the world, such a number of rounds is something quite earthly. One should be surprised if such an event does not occur at some point (problem collection Querbeet, task 24 Coincidence or not?).

Hidden structures

Here is another example of trivia masquerading as miracles. It is assigned to entertainment mathematics. I will now give you a little arithmetic problem.

Write any number that is non-negative and less than ten thousand on a piece of paper. Write this number with four digits; if necessary, add leading zeros to the number. Now rearrange these four digits to create the largest and smallest possible number. Now form the difference between the two numbers. We call this new number the following number to the first chosen one. From this number we form the sequence number again using the same procedure, and thus again and again. If we start with 7777, the process delivers this sequence

7777 → 0000 → 0000.

So we land at the number 0, which is no wonder. It becomes interesting if we initially select a number with digits that are not completely identical, for example 0021. This then results in the sequence

0021 → 2088 → 8532 → 6174 → 6174 → …

We land at the number 6174. And the strange thing is: No matter which of the 9990 possible numbers we start from, the result is always 6174. The number 6174 seems to have a wonderful magical attraction. Some mathematicians have been fooled by it.

Disenchantment (again for those interested in mathematics): We summarize all essential numbers for the set K0 together. Of the numbers that are created by rearranging the digits, we only include one representative in the set. That makes a total of 715 numbers, significantly fewer than the ten thousand that were initially introduced. Now let's go to the crowd K1 the representatives of the direct successors of these numbers above. Then we form the set K2 of all successors of the numbers K1. And so on. A series of sets is created K0, K1, K2, ... The calculation rule for the successor has the effect that each subsequent set contains only elements of the respective predecessor set, but - and that's the joke - sometimes only a small part of them.

In our case, the number sets shrink quite quickly from 715 to 31, 18, 13, 9, 6, 3 and finally to just two numbers together. K7 contains only the representatives of the numbers 0 and 6174.

It cannot be avoided that after a few steps, here there are seven, only a few numbers remain and that this set of numbers cannot be reduced any further. The last set must contain only cycles of numbers, in which the successor relationship leads back to the original number at some point. Such a cycle is expected to be quite short, in extreme cases it consists of only one element.

With four-digit decimal numbers, these are two cycles of just one number each: 0000 and 6174. The number 6174 is seen as nothing magical or wonderful.

If you experiment with other numbers of digits and base values ​​(octal system, hexadecimal system), you also come across small cycles. With the two-digit decimal numbers, in addition to the zero cycle, there is also the cycle of five numbers:

09 → 18 → 36 → 45 → 27 → 09

With the two-digit numbers in the place value system on base seven, there is finally only the 0 cycle: No matter which of the 49 possible numbers you start with, you always end up with 00.

Inventions and Discoveries: Serendipity

What is a miracle to most people (for example, the fact that the speed of light is an upper bound on the propagation of energy or the movement of bodies) is no longer a miracle to the physicist. But he too - and he in particular - is constantly encountering new miracles. The world is full of wonders simply because we are not aware of many mechanisms of action. Obviously, whether something is a miracle or not depends on the level of knowledge of the beholder. The concept of miracle in the third sense is subjective and time-dependent.

It is a fallacy to think that such miracles can be tracked down within the framework of massive research funding and with huge teams. In my article "Skeptics" versus Skeptics about Creativity in Science "I address this.

New solutions and discoveries are never approached in teamwork and in a targeted manner. The flash of inspiration always occurs in a single head! Most of the time, the geniuses discover solutions to problems that they actually didn't even have by chance. And that's wonderful.

This view is held by many authors who write about the nature of creativity. The process of inventing and discovering is usually explained in their books using the fairy tale of the “three princes from Serendip”: By chance and wisdom, these three make unexpected discoveries. This view of things has even found its way into the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary: Serendipity stands for a lucky coincidence, or more precisely: for the accidental observation of something that was not originally sought and which turns out to be a new and surprising discovery.

Echo chambers and miracle prevention

Anyone who thinks they have to fight against miracles runs into two major difficulties; the first is formal and the second concerns the practical consequences.

  1. Whoever wants to prove supernatural miracles as non-existent has to say what he understands by such a miracle. And he will not be able to do that with his completely this-worldly set of instruments. There is no criterion for events caused by an over-nature. They cannot be distinguished from events that have not yet been adequately investigated and whose mechanisms of action are not yet known.
  2. Anyone who understands by miracle everything that contradicts today's natural science and previous experiences becomes blind to new things, insensitive to the wonderful. He closes himself in a Echo chamber one that only echoes what he already knows well.

The second point seems to be particularly important to me. It reflects the zeitgeist of rampant comfort. If I want to order a book on the Internet today, I get purchase suggestions from Amazon that are based on the traces I have left on the Internet, especially on the basis of my previous orders and elections. Cass R. Sunstein dealt with these questions in detail in his book “Choosing not to choose” (2015): “There is a risk to learning and development in any situation in which people are defaulted into a kind of echo chamber, even if they themselves took the initial step to devise it ”(page 109). "The problem, in short, is that if defaults are based on such choices, the process of personal development might be stunted. When your experiences are closely tailored to your past choices, your defaults are personalized, which is highly convenient, but you will also be far less likely to develop new tastes, preferences, and values ​​”(page 161).

Sunstein speaks of standard rules that are imposed on us by interested businesses. The echo chambers created in this way hinder our mental development.

The Internet offers an almost limitless freedom to obtain information. At the same time, we are caught in a new paradox: “The modern industrial society, which is linked by high-density networks […], can no longer be organized centrally […]. Correspondingly, with the densification of the network and the corresponding degree of complexity of modern living conditions, our dependence on forms of lively political self-organization, not least in small units and communities, grows ”(Hermann Lübbe in“ Modernisierung und Nachgelasten ”, 1997, p. 20). The homogeneous mass society breaks down into homogeneous, isolated sub-masses that lock themselves in their echo chambers.

One example of this isolation process is the 2004 US presidential campaign. For the first time, the political discussion on a large scale was shaped by blogs, neatly separated into Red Believers (Republicans around President Bush) and Blue Believers (Democrats around the challenger Kerry)."Technology made it possible to nationalize the sense of community, help people find political soul mates and search for their personal truths online; but the political class also helped peel people apart. Both parties redrew districts to be more political homogeneous, marginalized their centrists, elevated their flamethrowers, viewed with suspicion anyone who sounded temperate or reached across the aisle. ” (Time, September 27, 2004, p. 42)

The scientist who believes that he has at least partially recognized the essence of things does something similar: He relies on what is already known and forms his own echo chamber. That makes him inattentive to the surprisingly new. And that brings us back to our starting point: The focus of the defense on “supernatural miracles” - a term that is basically meaningless - ensures that the mind is narrow.

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