Dear Salon – Science Does Not Disprove Unicorns Either

Salon’s second piece is just as bad as the first. Okay it may be better since it doesn’t use a Godwin to make it’s point.

The question about consciousness is key to everything we are discussing. Modern cognitive science relies on the principles of evolution and posits that consciousness is something that can be produced artificially. Life-forms become more and more advanced through evolution, and eventually consciousness is the outcome. Thus, many cognitive science practitioners believe that machines can develop a consciousness as well, although this has never happened. Consciousness has never been produced in the lab, not even close.

But unconsciousness is pretty much an artform.

Just 30 years ago when people postulated mobile phones we laughed. Phones that could fit into your pocket but carried an enormous amount of processing power and utility. My phone has more processing power than the Lunar Landers and the Space Shuttle. It’s Camera is more powerful than many dedicated cameras and is miles ahead of most cameras back then.

Saying something is possible doesn’t mean it’s possible right now. Imagine 30 years ago, someone postulating that we will live in a world where the mobile phone would be cheap, small and powerful. If you demanded he make this phone RIGHT NOW he would be befuddled.

The same goes with AI. There are massive strides being made towards a true AI. A conscious computer, but just because we don’t have that now doesn’t mean it will be so later.

An alternative explanation is that God gave us the mental abilities and that extra something we use in making decisions and in creating great works of art, sublime music, magnificent architecture, beautiful literature, and science and mathematics. Our incredible brains can do all these things because they contain some ingredients that science has not yet found or explained and whose origin remains one of the deepest mysteries in all of science.

That’s not really an alternative.

Let’s take an example. You have a beer in the fridge. You have a flatmate. You desire aforementioned beer so you open the fridge and to your shock the beer has vanished. Now there are four choices of event.

1. Flatmate took it

2. You had a guest around who took it

3. You yourself took it and forgot about it

4. It was the beer fairy.

Three of these things are alternative explanations. One of them is not an explanation, but a statement where a fantasy creature committed beer burglary.

There is a tragedy in this. We know a lot about the brain from people who have head injuries. And one of the things we know is that different parts of the brain govern skills like art and music and appreciation of architecture.

The reality is that Sunflowers, Beethoven’s 5th, the Hagia Sofia, Harry Potter, Evolution and Calculus all came out as products of skill and development of art over the centuries. Just because something is beautiful doesn’t make it magical. One can equally point out that the wonderful Onchocerca Volvulus is just as beautifully created with that divine spark that lets it cause river blindness by being a worm that lives in your eye.

Our incredible brains do all of this because we evolved powerful brains to survive. Not because they are magical. If you think a mundane brain is not wonderful then you don’t quite understand how the brain actually functions.

You are intelligent chemistry. Your  entire brain has both structural components and chemical components that interact together to form a complex software that allows you to interpret the world around you and control how the body.

This is a loss of a sense of your own body. Your brain becomes a puppeteer. The man cannot sense relative position of his limbs. So walking is impossible unless he can visualise the limbs. He literally has to tell which muscle to move. The fact you can walk without looking at your feet is something he cannot do.

The brain is far more amazing because we KNOW how it works. And it’s not by magic but by just chemistry and structure. That’s all there is to it but all of that means so much more. A Van Gogh was created by the same chemistry that I use to draw stick figures. And that’s more marvellous and magical than simply claiming that it’s a mystery because somehow the brain to you is mundane.

The only reason it has to be a mystery is so that you can insert a god there.

Shame on the Salon for their second article pushing the tired old argument that the brain is irreducibly complex and so we must throw rocks at Elton John.


  1. says

    God gave us the mental abilities and that extra something we use in making decisions and in creating great works of art

    Apparently someone doesn’t think other animals are capable of creativity. Because, you know, bird-songs are different from Mozart, and bower-birds are different from Bauhaus and baseball is totally different from horse-play, and, uh, what?

    I know it’s crucial for god-believers to believe there’s something special and different about humans, but there’s no sign of that specialness. Oops.

  2. Bruce Martin says

    Thank, Avi. This is such a beautiful statement:

    “You are intelligent chemistry.”

  3. says

    I also get extremely annoyed when believers treat consciousness as something special. Apparently they’ve never spent time around horses, pigs, dogs, or other primates. Or stroke victims! Because we can see that consciousness is an emergent property of our brain activity and nothing more magical than that (it’s flippin’ magical enough!) Again, it’s important to believers to treat human consciousness as special because otherwise they are stuck with a really silly conclusion, namely that perhaps god made the universe for the cows and not the people, at all.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    … beer burglary. There is a tragedy in this.

    It goes beyond tragedy. Beerglary upsets all human order and destroys entire societies!

  5. sarah00 says

    While it’s not germane to your point, I watched a few minutes of the video you linked to and was so interested I went and watched the whole thing. It was incredibly interesting, thank you!

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