# How it's possible to describe something if description itself is action that changes universe?

This is some sort of paradox or a fallacy and I want to make sense of it.

This is how I would formulate the problem. To describe Universe we need to take an action - to say the description, write it down, think it. But the action affects the universe and changes it and thus invalidates the description that was produced and so on and so fort indefinitely.

How to resolve this paradox? Are there known solutions? Is there a name for such a paradox?

• Do you have any source at all for this, or at least what inspired you to come up with this? Maybe a better way to setup the paradox is: "Please write down everything you have written down so far in your life". Anytime you try, you add more that would need to be added. A somewhat related paradox is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, but it's only marginally related. Apr 25, 2022 at 9:00
• Just because writing something down makes a change in the universe, that does not imply that it falsifies what you have written down. If I write, "the car is white", my act of writing that doesn't make the car non-white. Apr 25, 2022 at 14:09
• You could write, "This is the last thing I am going to write" but it might turn out to be true or false later on. You could also write the negation and also have it turn out true or false. But you probably wouldn't carve "Ahhhrgh...." to quote Monty Python. Apr 28, 2022 at 10:31

Well Hegel would say things are forces since our conception of them continually changes. When we attempt to describe something we are caught in a dialectical cycle which can be described as follows:

Note: Hegel never used thesis-antithesis-synthesis but its a convenient naming of his dialectical stages.

• Say you look at a wall and conclude it appears as a discontinuous barrier(Thesis).

• But, then you examine it closely & realise it is a collection of bricks. This is a negation of your first conception of the wall and it neutralises the initial impression (Antithesis)

• But then you reason, is a pile of bricsk a wall ? Well no, a pile of bricks is not a wall for it doesn't act as a barrier like the wall does, and is not glued together by cement.

• Therefore you renewed your conception of the wall, from a whole object acting as a barrier, to a pile and back to a fuller understanding of why it isn't just a loose pile but a whole object. This is a negation of the negation and gave you a fuller conception of the wall closer to it's reality.(Synthesis)

Our mind alternates between this dialectical cycle of perceiving objects as appearances and then negating that appearance by it being broken into parts and then negating that negation by forming another whole made up of parts and so on, till we get to realise it's true description.

Obviously however, Deleuze would argue that we don't get more accurate but go from one abstraction to another without ever getting to a sound conclusion of what the wall is, since this dialectical cycle can continue infinitely. Eg.- is a pile of bricks glued together by cement joining a ledge to another a wall ?

• OMG Programming! Apr 27, 2022 at 23:35
• @ScottRowe I am indeed a programmer by profession. Sus how dya know Apr 28, 2022 at 3:03
• You clearly described the aspect of learning things, then getting confused, then understanding better, then going off inventing new things... All while getting completely out of shouting distance of anyone else, including perhaps other programmers! There is some old Zen story like that also. When I realized what your last paragraph says is when I quit studying Philosophy in college. Math is not much better but at least you can use it for practical things. Apr 28, 2022 at 10:16

Basically the thing must be made into a description of itself. One might write upon an answer:

This answer is part of this universe, one of whose functions is to describe itself, as itself.

Naturally, one cannot expect a referent's internal description to encapsulate fully the referent, unless that description is the referent, as for example:

This string describes its characters in full.

Another solution may be possible when the information needed to describe the referent is smaller than available space, using data compression, as for example:

xxxxxxxxxxThis string, plus ten x's on either side, describes the referent.xxxxxxxxxx

On a side note, a similar problem exists in computer science where a file should contain a cryptographic hash of itself. A hash is a fixed-length string of bits, usually denoted as letters, numbers, and maybe some other symbols, that within the bounds of some system pseudo-uniquely and efficiently distinguishes one piece of data, such as a file, from another. The hash is normally calculated based on contents, so that two exact copies of a file have the same hash. The problem is that putting a hash of a file within that file would change the file's hash, so as the contained hash no longer reflects the file.

One solution to the self-contained hash problem is to exclude the hash bits from the calculation. An alternative is to find a hash which matches a data sequence containing itself in a particular encoding and position. In theory, such a hash should exist in most, if not all, cases, but finding it could be extremely computationally expensive, especially for cryptographic hashes.

• But AFAIK it's normally should not be possible to write hash of a file into this file or am I missing something? Could you pls expand? Apr 25, 2022 at 19:27
• @GillBates -- I have expanded the answer. Apr 27, 2022 at 10:42
• Yeah, it's kind of like a perpetual motion machine, or a car with a big magnet at the back and metal plate at the front. A flashlight that runs off a solar panel... Etc. Children have to break their brains on these ideas. Apr 28, 2022 at 10:20

I think you’re describing time here - at one instant you observe the universe as it is, and once you’ve recorded that description it’s different. There’s no contradiction.

• "Time is Nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once." Apr 28, 2022 at 10:36

This happens in philosophy due to lack of understanding between causality and interaction. From a historical point of view we liked that every phenomena to have a cause for example apple falls due to the earth's gravity, earth gravity is the cause and apple falling is the effect. But when we model same size particles for example 3 electrons causality fails. Because what you said happens. And this is called causality fallacy, to be honest I made it up by myself, when you expect an interaction to obey causality. Causality is a small subset of interactions. For example all inclusive-exclusive interactions violate causality. Causality is an approximation and only works when you can neglect the effect of the particle on the field, aka in your case when you neglect yourself comparing to universe or the apple comparing to the planet earth.

I think you are talking about the Observer Effect, which historically was confused with the Uncertainty Principle.

Godel's theorems are anti-foundationalist - a 'final vocabulary' is not possible. This is because minds, who create and use language, are strange loops, with tangled hierarchies, that include self-references and feedback loops. For a mind to understand the world, it must also understand itself, which complicates itself, requiring more understanding, a task which can never be completed. Minds are dynamic, creative, and exist as interactions, including through intersubjectivity. The best possible understanding must also be dynamic, interacting, alive.

From my answer here: Is a complete mathematical description of reality possible? about how self-reference and feedback loops require a kind of mindliness in the models, to be properly modelled.

This makes me look positively towards Universal Constructor theory, as a way to understand how strange loops avoid the Halting Problem, through comparing counterfactuals in terms of computational intensity. Pursue different branches of expectation, and if one becomes intractable drop it. That's like pruning tree searches for a game without fully computable outcomes (like, most ordinary human interactions).

• I think that strange loops produce awareness because they are simplified approximations. Pruning, yes, and remembering what happened before, and guesswork. A city is not just lots of bricks, it is hierarchical organization. Apr 28, 2022 at 10:25
• Why would approximating, produce awareness? Algorithmic tree searches are an AI learning methodology. Cities can be reasonably regarded as a type of organism: youtu.be/9pVDUoFOvpo Apr 28, 2022 at 11:37

I assume that by "Universe" you mean the reality as a whole. Then let's consider a conscious observer producing a description (D) of the Universe (U). Let's further assume that the universe is a set of information and that a description of the universe is a given encoding of this information (e.g. a transcription in a given language).

Any object within the universe would be a subset of it and therefore D would be a subset of U. Since D contains all the information within U, either D=U or U is made of something more than what can be described.

In the first case there is no contradiction, the description of U is U itself and there is no contradiction in considering an object (in itself) as a total description of itself.

In the second case you are asserting that a total description of the universe is impossible therefore the fallacy vanishes as something out of grasp.

What if you mean the descirption of an object in general (not necessarily the whole universe).

Then you would have to consider two cases:

1. The description of the object do not interact with the object.
2. The description of the object interact with the object.

In the first case there is no contradiction. In the second case you are indeed caught in a strange loop where the nature of the object is a function of its description and, assuming that the description is a function of the object nature, you are forced to apply recursively both functions.

The universe is in constant change: atoms constantly change, things are microscopically moving all the time, you are evolving, the river is never the same, etc. The second time you see a thing like a chair, or even yourself in the mirror, you are not anymore seeing the same thing or person you've seen in the first place. The thing has changed. You are not anymore the same person.

So, strictly, there are no static things, everything is permanent change.

But when you see a rock in the ground (or a person in some situation), it seems completely static. And, following your question, you can describe it, because it doesn't apparently change.

The epistemological issue here is that knowledge is a model of the world, like a map is a model of the terrain.

But the map is not the terrain. In this case, what changes is the terrain, not the map, like a river changes continuously into the terrain, but it is completely static in the map. So, when something is described, an object on the map is what is described (what you interpret about the object), not the object itself. On your map, trees and rivers don't change, you can use the same map for years, and still consider it valid, although the terrain could have changed a lot.

So, knowledge gives the impression that things are static, although they are not. Knowledge is an abstraction of the world, like a map is an abstraction of the terrain.

That's why you can describe a thing. This is not a paradox, it's just the way the mind works. But it is certainly a fallacy, I would call it fallacy of statism: things are perceived as being static, but they are in constant change.

What was described above is a large simplification of profound epistemological and philosophical debates centered around metaphysical idealism (the view that says that things don't correspond to what our perception indicates), perhaps at its best expressed by Immanuel Kant as Transcendental Idealism on his Critique of Pure Reason, where he does not only affirms that the thing-in-itself (what exists out of our minds, the noumenon) is not the same as the fallacious object we perceive (the thing as we know it, the phenomenon), but that even space and time are subjective constructs that give the world its shape.

A different problem: quantum mechanics:

A different issue is the specific description of quantum mechanical entities. As it's known, a photon can't be directly observed, because the light itself that our eyes need to observe it is made of photons. What we call "observation of a photon" is usually interacting with it, it's like throwing rocks to a specific rock in order to know it. And evidently, interacting with the proton changes it. But that's not a fallacy. You are not describing a specific photon when you destroy it in order to know it, but the generic object photon.

Evidently, if you throw small rocks to a big rock of type X, and the big rock breaks in two parts, the big rock does not exist anymore. But the description is not useless, now you know it, and it's kind, and now can create scientific knowledge, for example, "Rocks of type X are fragile".