Friday, May 14, 2010

The ontological argument for Formula 1

Mark Hughes writes a fascinating piece in this week's Autosport which argues that Formula 1, defined as the pinnacle of motorsport, must necessarily exist:

"If the sport exists at all, then by definition F1 exists - and we happen since 1947 to have called it F1. If the all about going as fast as possible around a road-type circuit, then there has to be an ultimate form of it. F1 (or Grand Prix racing) thus birthed itself with the very inception of the sport...As soon as the very idea of motor racing was conceived, so there had to be an ultimate expression of it. Like a quantum quark, it magic-ed itself into existence and we eventually labelled it F1."

There appear to be two different strands to this argument. One is a reification argument: the idea of the pinnacle of motorsport, once conceived, automatically gave birth to its physical realisation. The other is formally analogous to the ontological argument for the existence of God: F1 is defined to be the pinnacle of motorsport; something cannot be the pinnacle of a profession without being realised; therefore F1 must exist. The ontological argument for the existence of God simply substitutes 'God' in the place of 'F1', defines God as the most perfect entity, asserts that something cannot be perfect without being realised, and concludes that God must exist.

The definition of F1 and God share the concept of being the maximal entity in their respective domains. Both ontological arguments attempt to derive existence from maximality, and both arguments are vulnerable to Kant's dictum that 'existence is not a predicate', and Sartre's maxim that 'existence precedes essence'. In the case of F1, however, the argument is not that F1 exists by unconditional logical necessity, but that given the existence of motorsport, the pinnacle of motorsport also necessarily exists.

Mark's argument is an argument for both the existence and uniqueness of F1, so let us now consider the uniqueness question. The collection of different motorsport formulae and categories possesses the mathematical structure of a poset (a partially ordered set). A linearly ordered set (typically called a totally ordered set by mathematicians) can be thought of as a single chain of entities, in which each element is either greater than or less than any other. In contrast, in a poset, there is a criss-crossing lattice of chains. Some elements are greater than or less than others, but other pairs are effectively parallel to each other and deemed to be non-comparable, (hence the set is only partially ordered). Thus, in motorsport terms, Formula Ford, F3, GP2 and F1, all lie on a linear chain, but rallying, Indycar racing, sportscar racing, and touring cars, are arguably neither greater than or less than each other.

Now, one thing about a poset, which potentially undermines Mark's argument, is that it can possess an arbitrary number of maximal (or minimal) elements. A maximal element in a poset is simply one which has no greater elements; there is no need for a maximal element to be greater than every element in the poset. And arguably, the presence of multiple maximal elements can be seen at times in various different professions. For example, CART and Indy League racing were, in the late 1990s at least, premier motorsport categories of equal prestige in the USA. The existence of multiple pinnacles is clearly a logical possibility, and one which is realised in the real world. However, the example of CART and Indy League racing is an interesting case in point, because the two series eventually merged, and there is good reason to postulate that the existence of multiple pinnacles is an unstable state of affairs in the real world. When multiple pinnacles exist, they do so temporarily, and ultimately collapse into one. Thus, we may formulate the following hypothesis:

There is a universal psycho-socio-economic process, operating in all human professions, which renders the existence of multiple pinnacles an unstable state of affairs.

Thus, the creation of a profession doesn't itself logically create a unique pinnacle, but there are psycho-socio-economic processes which, over time, achieve exactly that.

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