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I just got baptized - Yea!
Arthur Kalliokoski
Second in Command
February 2005
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the natural laws as I'm calling them are eternally true.

How do you state these natural laws? If you can't (because we don't know about them yet) aren't they "supernatural" in themselves? They're unknowable and immutable after all.

The only way Trump is going to be involved in a landslide is if the land surrounding the White House collapses into the Earth's core. -- bamccaig

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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And, sorry, but I'll have to refrain from answering any questions from people other than Evert, as he's apparently the only person who can both remember what has already been said and respond in a meaningful way.

:-X My bad, I'll shut up!

That's a lie, I don't know how to shut up. I will try to be more careful of what I say, though.

bamccaig
Member #7,536
July 2006
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I can understand the argument that the supernatural cannot be understood, assuming the literal definition of supernatural and not just human ignorance. I best envision this as the "state" of the universe literally just changing without cause, like bits flipping in computer memory without intervention from the computer. The problem that I have is that there's no reason to believe that the supernatural exists at all. There never will be as it's basically impossible to sufficiently record. All there will ever be are human accounts of what they believe happened, which is perhaps the least credible source of information on the planet due to our ability to imagine.

Evert
Member #794
November 2000
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Ultimately, though I can't really agree with the idea that the supernatural can never be explained or understood by nature. If the supernatural effects nature, then it stands to reason that we could study the effect it has on nature and, indirectly, study the supernatural phenomenon itself.

Nail on head.

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Of course, then we get to argue if the supernatural could effect nature without actually being natural.


Which is why I say that the distinction is ultimately one of semantics based on incomplete and imperfect knowledge and why I explicitly stressed known laws of physics. ;)

But I'm sure I've said that before.

As I've already stated, the natural laws as I'm calling them are eternally true. I'm not speaking of our modern understanding of them.

But those "natural laws" are unknown. So the question is (as you've pointed out), is something that contradicts the known laws an indication of a "supernatural" event, or an indication that the knowledge is incomplete?
Assuming perfect knowledge, would that knowledge not include knowledge of the supposedly "supernatural"? And if it does, why would you make the distinction between "natural" and "supernatural"? And if it does not... well, then it's hardly "perfect knowledge" now is it?

So that brings us back to arguing about semantics, where you argue based on what label you initially stick on something and what meaning you've given to that label. Which is ultimately pointless.

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In response to the generics of your question, either our understanding is inadequate or that thing is supernatural. And if you don't believe in the supernatural, then obviously the only explanation is that our understanding is not sufficient.

I would (as I've done) phrase that differently by saying that things that appear to be supernatural only appear to be so because our understanding is incomplete, and given complete understanding those things would no longer be called "supernatural". I suppose you could simplify that by saying I don't believe in anything supernatural, but to me that's not quite the same thing.

By the way, physical systems (in particular quantum systems, but also relativistic systems) can behave in ways that are more bizar than you could have thought possible. Which is probably part of why I'm inclined to say that supposedly "supernatural" only appear to be so because our understanding is incomplete.

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There is no rational person who could try to defend the Christian God by saying that everything he does can be explained by science. He is most definitely either supernatural or completely made up.

I disagree. :P
Either everything he does is perfectly possible and explainable by natural laws (assuming we'd have perfect knowledge of what they are, which we don't), or the abilities that are attributed to him are partially made up (or exaggerated), or he doesn't exist except perhaps as a metaphore.
Of course, if your belief in said God's abilities is of the "all-or-nothing" kind with regards to the Bible, then the middle category is not for you.

Anyway, I guess that's cleared everything up for everyone then?

Oh, and as for how I'd set about proving water turning into wine? It's actually really simple, I build me a probe that can detect the chemical alteration (say, by measuring the composition, conductivity, opacity, acidity, etc. of the fluid), then I build a time machine and head back in time to record the event. 8-)

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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Evert said:

Either everything he does is perfectly possible and explainable by natural laws (assuming we'd have perfect knowledge of what they are, which we don't), or the abilities that are attributed to him are partially made up (or exaggerated), or he doesn't exist except perhaps as a metaphore.

This I have to argue with. Why do you assume that natural laws can explain everything that exists? You're still working with the supposition that the supernatural does not and can not exist, and that anything that seems to be supernatural can be explained by currently unknown natural laws. I see no reason to just assume this to be true.

Arthur Kalliokoski
Second in Command
February 2005
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OK, just call them "laws" then. What's so super about some of them?

The only way Trump is going to be involved in a landslide is if the land surrounding the White House collapses into the Earth's core. -- bamccaig

bamccaig
Member #7,536
July 2006
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This I have to argue with. Why do you assume that natural laws can explain everything that exists? You're still working with the supposition that the supernatural does not and can not exist, and that anything that seems to be supernatural can be explained by currently unknown natural laws. I see no reason to just assume this to be true.

On the contrary, there is no reason to just assume it to be false. ;)

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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bamccaig said:

On the contrary, there is no reason to just assume it to be false. ;)

If you assume it to be true, then even if the supernatural exists you will ignore any evidence of it, dismissing such evidence as "currently unexplained". Like has been said before, you'll simply decide before seeing any evidence that the supernatural doesn't exist.

Arthur Kalliokoski
Second in Command
February 2005
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I'd like to play religious roulette. What you do is stand with some friends at the top of a hill, and use the name of your favorite deity in vain. The last one to get hit by lightning wins! Some would say "the lightning is unexplained" and others would say "the lightning was supernatural" but the losers would still be ashes just the same.

The only way Trump is going to be involved in a landslide is if the land surrounding the White House collapses into the Earth's core. -- bamccaig

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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I like to do drive-by envangelisms. As I'm riding in a car, I'll roll down the window and fling a Bible at someone walked by. The King James Version is the best translation for this purpose. As you drive away, scream loudly at them, "JESUS LOVES YOU!"

That had nothing to do with the current discussion, but Arthur reminded me of it. I did this to an agnostic friend of mine at a movie theater, and people thought I was actually attacking him. ;D

Arthur Kalliokoski
Second in Command
February 2005
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So when you meet atheists, you literally "throw the book at them"?

The only way Trump is going to be involved in a landslide is if the land surrounding the White House collapses into the Earth's core. -- bamccaig

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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Yes. Yes I do. ;)

Matthew Leverton
Supreme Loser
January 1999
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Evert said:

Either everything he does is perfectly possible and explainable by natural laws (assuming we'd have perfect knowledge of what they are, which we don't), or the abilities that are attributed to him are partially made up (or exaggerated), or he doesn't exist except perhaps as a metaphore.

The thing is, though, that in terms of describing an abstract concept such as god and proving that he exists, the attributes you give him are important. If two friends, a Christian and an atheist, end up in an afterworld that is ruled by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, can the Christian claim to have been more enlightened and correct in their previous arguments?

i.e, If one wants to claim that his god exists, then I think it's important to focus on the attributes that he describes.

Evert
Member #794
November 2000
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Why do you assume that natural laws can explain everything that exists? You're still working with the supposition that the supernatural does not and can not exist, and that anything that seems to be supernatural can be explained by currently unknown natural laws. I see no reason to just assume this to be true.

http://www.allegro.cc/forums/thread/605278/885580#target
http://www.allegro.cc/forums/thread/605278/885731#target
and even
http://www.allegro.cc/forums/thread/605278/885768#target
:P

The answer is essentially in those posts, as well as your own earlier statement:

Ultimately, though I can't really agree with the idea that the supernatural can never be explained or understood by nature. If the supernatural effects nature, then it stands to reason that we could study the effect it has on nature and, indirectly, study the supernatural phenomenon itself.

Of course, then we get to argue if the supernatural could effect nature without actually being natural.

Anyway, coming back to this:

If you assume it to be true, then even if the supernatural exists you will ignore any evidence of it, dismissing such evidence as "currently unexplained". Like has been said before, you'll simply decide before seeing any evidence that the supernatural doesn't exist.

First, a question. What do you do when you find something that is unexplained by current understanding of physics? Say you call it supernatural. Then our understanding improves, and it turns out you were incorrect in calling it "supernatural". It only seemed supernatural because of incomplete knowledge.
So the "it's supernatural" card comes with a great big warning that you should not play it too soon, if you should play it at all. But you can, of course, always play it when you don't understand something - which is why it's not an acceptable card to play in science: it ends the discussion and doesn't encourage you to search for alternative explanations.
Secondly, my own position here, which is simply this: any complete knowledge of the workings of the natural world must include the so-called "supernatural" if that affects the workings of the natural world, otherwise the knowledge is not complete. But then, "supernatural" is nothing more than an arbitrary label that we've assigned due to incomplete knowledge that doesn't tell us anything new. We don't have such complete knowledge. We may never do.
Third and last, many things that were deemed "supernatural" in the past today are no longer considered as such (also known as "God of the gaps" if you're trying to discredit the existence of a god). Extrapolating that by induction says all things that are considered supernatural can be understood this way. That does not have to be true, since this is an empirical statement rather than something that can be shown mathematically. But every gap in our understanding that is filled in chips away at the available room for anything "truly supernatural" and makes it at least intuitively more likely that all gaps can be filled this way, at least in principle.

So, caveat: does perfect knowledge, complete understanding of the physical world, exist? I don't know, but I think it does. Doesn't mean we have that knowledge, doesn't mean we ever will, doesn't mean we ever can. But a "supernatural god", if he exists and has the powers attributed him, surely has such knowledge (doesn't mean he knows what every person everywhere is thinking, or what the outcome of all events will be) - so in that case that knowledge certainly exists. Which again doesn't mean we'll ever have it.

To put that differently, is the "supernatural" still "supernatural" if you're God, or is it just a natural part of the "world" you live in?

Arthur Kalliokoski
Second in Command
February 2005
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And here's something else to chew on. Assuming God exists, who's to say he doesn't have Gods (bosses) of his own to obey? It'd be several kinds of stupid to tell us about it.

The only way Trump is going to be involved in a landslide is if the land surrounding the White House collapses into the Earth's core. -- bamccaig

Evert
Member #794
November 2000
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If one wants to claim that his god exists, then I think it's important to focus on the attributes that he describes.

Maybe. On the other hand, I have fairly general objections to what could be (and has been) called the "God-hypothesis" that arguing about specifics is not likely to remove, and even stronger objections to invoking "God" as an explanation for anything particular.

That's a separate discussion though.

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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Evert said:

So the "it's supernatural" card comes with a great big warning that you should not play it too soon, if you should play it at all. But you can, of course, always play it when you don't understand something - which is why it's not an acceptable card to play in science: it ends the discussion and doesn't encourage you to search for alternative explanations.

You're exactly right here (and I should have said something about this before). I don't like to assume a supernatural explanation to anything, because of exactly what you said, it ends discussion and doesn't encourage you to search for alternative explanations.

On the other hand, I also can't agree with just assuming the supernatural doesn't exist at all.

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Third and last, many things that were deemed "supernatural" in the past today are no longer considered as such (also known as "God of the gaps" if you're trying to discredit the existence of a god). Extrapolating that by induction says all things that are considered supernatural can be understood this way.

I don't really have a good counter for this argument. Darn you and your superior reasoning skills! I'm too used to arguing with people who don't even understand their own position! :P (Not talking about anyone on A.cc)

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any complete knowledge of the workings of the natural world must include the so-called "supernatural" if that affects the workings of the natural world, otherwise the knowledge is not complete.

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To put that differently, is the "supernatural" still "supernatural" if you're God, or is it just a natural part of the "world" you live in?

What do you mean by "complete knowledge of the workings of the natural world"? If you mean a complete and accurate understanding of the natural laws that govern our universe, then I don't think your argument works. The supernatural breaks the laws that govern our universe. I don't mean it breaks the laws as we understand them, I mean the actual, true laws that we don't have a full understanding of yet.

With perfect knowledge of the natural laws that govern our universe, we would be able to easily spot any supernatural influence (just look for things the natural laws cannot explain), but that doesn't mean we could understand those supernatural influences themselves.

If, by "complete knowledge of the workings of the natural world", you mean an understanding of the cause of everything that happens in our universe, then you have just extended the definition of "natural" to mean "anything that effects the natural world".

Heh, I got distracted and you guys posted while I was away.

Evert said:

Maybe. On the other hand, I have fairly general objections to what could be (and has been) called the "God-hypothesis" that arguing about specifics is not likely to remove, and even stronger objections to invoking "God" as an explanation for anything particular.

I'd be interested in hearing these objections (although probably not arguing about them). Not in this thread, though. It's gone off-topic enough!

I always turn these discussions into quote-fests. Sorry about that. :-/

Evert
Member #794
November 2000
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I don't really have a good counter for this argument.

There isn't one, I think, except that induction doesn't have to hold true. Which is all you need if you want a counter argument. You can't proof things by induction in natural science.

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What do you mean by "complete knowledge of the workings of the natural world"? If you mean a complete and accurate understanding of the natural laws that govern our universe, then I don't think your argument works. The supernatural breaks the laws that govern our universe. I don't mean it breaks the laws as we understand them, I mean the actual, true laws that we don't have a full understanding of yet.

And I say that if it breaks those laws, then your understanding of those laws was incomplete, and there is another set of laws that under specific conditions reduces to the former set (like Einstein's theory of General Relativity reduces to Newton's theory of Gravity at low energies, or quantum mechanics reduces to classical mechanics for macroscopic systems) but that also allows "breaking" of said former set of laws.
As I said earlier,

Evert said:

I suppose you could simplify that by saying I don't believe in anything supernatural, but to me that's not quite the same thing.

The distinction is subtle.

then you have just extended the definition of "natural" to mean "anything that effects the natural world".

On the conterary. I think you artificially and arbitrarily limit the meaning of "natural" if you insist that some things are "natural" and some things are "supernatural".

This is a philosophical point. In the absense of perfect knowledge, you can not show the difference between "supernatural" (using the strong definition of the term) or "apparently supernatural" (using the weaker definition I gave earlier).

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I'd be interested in hearing these objections (although probably not arguing about them). Not in this thread, though. It's gone off-topic enough!

Probably true. They're broadly similar to what I've said about invoking "the supernatural" as an explanation for anything though; the two questions are related, as is evident by "God" making an appearance in the discussion now and then.

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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Evert said:

And I say that if it breaks those laws, then your understanding of those laws was incomplete, and there is another set of laws that under specific conditions reduces to the former set

Any laws that govern the supernatural don't directly effect our universe, but instead they govern supernatural things which then effect our universe. Imagine some two-dimensional people living on a sheet of paper. A pencil writing on that paper would be supernatural to them. They could see the line forming, study that line and reason about that line, but they could never actually see the pencil because it exists outside of their universe.

That's a bad analogy, really. I'm not even sure if higher dimensions would be supernatural (could we, in theory, directly study things in higher dimensions?). But, assuming the 2D people are unable to see into the third dimension, and given your obvious intelligence, I think it will get my meaning across.

I still think the quote above sounds like you're dismissing the possibility of something supernatural existing right from the start. But:

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The distinction is subtle.

I'm probably just not getting the distinction. I'm a fairly bright kid (and so modest!), but I'm sometimes slow to wrap my mind around new ideas, and I often have trouble understanding exactly what people mean.

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On the conterary. I think you artificially and arbitrarily limit the meaning of "natural" if you insist that some things are "natural" and some things are "supernatural".

To be clear, I'm assuming that something supernatural is something that we cannot directly study, because it is unreachable to instruments in our universe. And so we can only learn about it by studying the effects it has on things we can directly study.

Mark Oates
Member #1,146
March 2001
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i.e, If one wants to claim that his god exists, then I think it's important to focus on the attributes that he describes.

I arrive here a lot in conversations like this.

It seems to me that all the attributes God is known for are (strangely) examples of human ideals, as in, made up by humans. I think if this uni-conscious supernatural deity were real, his true nature would be so far removed from that which we presume, that worshiping our image of him is as futile as worshiping a golden calf.

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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Are the ideals made up by humans, or do humans follow those ideals because the god created them to act that way?

I doubt we'd ever agree on an answer to that question, unless one of us converted to the beliefs of the other. It's just too dependent on our own preconceived notions.

Evert
Member #794
November 2000
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Any laws that govern the supernatural don't directly effect our universe, but instead they govern supernatural things which then effect our universe.

Ok. So why would you make an arbitrary distinction between what you call "natural" and "supernatural"? Why don't you consider both at the same time?

The interaction that binds quarks together within a proton is the strong nuclear force. It doesn't directly affect how the proton behaves when you place it inside a hydrogen atom. So should we call the laws that describe a proton inside a hydrogen atom "natural" and the laws that describe the quarks inside the proton "supernatural", or should we just call both of them "natural"?

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Imagine some two-dimensional people living on a sheet of paper. A pencil writing on that paper would be supernatural to them. They could see the line forming, study that line and reason about that line, but they could never actually see the pencil because it exists outside of their universe.

That's a bad analogy, really.

No, not really. It's quite good, actually. It's like the sphere who visits Flatland and tells the Square about the Third Dimension.
Although the Flatlanders may live on a 2D surface ("manifold" in technical terms), they can infer that this 2D manifold is embedded in a larger 3D space that can interact with their 2D space - for instance by a line forming out of nowhere, or a Circle that can change its size, appear, disappear and reapper in different locations, at will.

These things only seem supernatural to them if they don't realise that their 2D world is a subspace of a larger 3D world.

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I'm not even sure if higher dimensions would be supernatural

You know what I think.

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could we, in theory, directly study things in higher dimensions?

That's a question that very smart people are trying to answer, and something that they hope the LHC at Cern will help them with.

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given your obvious intelligence

Lets not exaggerate here.

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I'm probably just not getting the distinction.

I'm not saying "it doesn't exist", I'm saying the distinction is artificial and unnecessarily limiting. I don't have to say "it doesn't exist" because that follows immediately if you think the distinction is false.

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I'm assuming that something supernatural is something that we cannot directly study, because it is unreachable to instruments in our universe. And so we can only learn about it by studying the effects it has on things we can directly study.

Sure, that's fine.
But you get into a tricky situation because you haven't defined the meaning of "our universe". What does it mean? Our 4D patch of space-time? The 11 dimensional beast of string theory? The observable universe? The loosely connected patches of space-time with localised laws of physics that show up in some theories (which some people would call a "multi-verse", reserving "universe" for each particular patch that has a particular set of physical laws)?
In such a multi-verse picture, our "universe" is just a small patch of all that exists, and our physical laws are just one particular set out of all the possibilities - but there are still natural laws and principles that govern this multiverse. Do you want to call all the rest "supernatural"? If you do, why?

Obviously, that's going into very speculative theory, close to the edge of what we know. It's not clear what models do and can work and which can't, or how you'd even test them. But people are seriously studying these things.

Arthur Kalliokoski
Second in Command
February 2005
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Evert said:

could we, in theory, directly study things in higher dimensions?

That's a question that very smart people are trying to answer, and something that they hope the LHC at Cern will help them with.

This reminds me of the guy who said we'd never know what the stars were made of, and only 10 or 20 (?) years later the spectroscope was telling us exactly that.

The only way Trump is going to be involved in a landslide is if the land surrounding the White House collapses into the Earth's core. -- bamccaig

Neil Black
Member #7,867
October 2006
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Evert said:

These things only seem supernatural to them if they don't realise that their 2D world is a subspace of a larger 3D world.

In my view, these things are supernatural to them, because the Flatlanders can't observe or detect the sphere, just the things it causes in their world.

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But you get into a tricky situation because you haven't defined the meaning of "our universe". What does it mean? Our 4D patch of space-time? The 11 dimensional beast of string theory?

Anything that we can (in principle) directly observe, I would consider to be part of our universe.

I had a very long argument once about whether or not anything could exist outside of our universe. My friend insisted on defining "our universe" to mean "absolutely everything that exists, has ever existed, and will ever exist". At the same time, he insisted that "our universe" also meant "anything we can, in principle, directly observe". I find these two definitions to be incompatible. I also find my tangent here to be irrelevant.

Evert
Member #794
November 2000
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In my view, these things are supernatural to them, because the Flatlanders can't observe or detect the sphere, just the things it causes in their world.

Emphasis added.
So it's not supernatural, they think it's supernatural because their understanding of their world is limited. We, as 3D beings, know better (as does the Sphere). It's the same as my earlier question: if you're God, is what you might call "supernatural" still "supernatural", or is it natural to you?

The Flatlanders can infer the presence of the Sphere by observing its effect on their world, so it's not true that they cannot detect it (but you've argued that yourself earlier as well).

Also consider this: if the laws of nature tell us that our universe is embedded in a higher dimensional space (as string theory would tell us), by what logic would you call those higher dimensions /super/natural?

So you can make the distinction, but I say that distinction is artificial and unnennesary, only due to your incomplete understanding of the world around you. Your Flatland example only reinforces that point.

(By the way, if you haven't read Flatland, do, it's an interesting read).



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