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Reality constrains the possibilities

Gary Marcus, the psychologist who wrote that most excellent book, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, has written a nice essay that tears into that most annoying concept that some skeptics and atheists love: that without a proof, we’re incapable of dismissing certain especially vague ideas. It’s a mindset that effectively promotes foundation-free ideas — by providing an escape hatch from criticism, it allows kooks and delusional thinkers, who are not necessarily stupid at all, to shape their claims to specifically avoid that limited version of scientific inquiry.

Marcus goes after two representatives of this fuzzy-thinking concept. Schmidhuber is an acolyte of Kurzweil who argues for a “computational theology” that claims that there is no evidence against his idea, therefore the universe could be a giant software engine written by a great god-programmer. Eagleman is a neuroscientist who has gotten some press for Possibilianism, the idea that because the universe is so vast, we should acknowledge that there could be all kinds of weird possibilities out there — even god-like beings. “Could be” is not a synonym for “is”, however, and science actually demands a little more rigor.

Some people love to claim that an absence of a single definitive test against an idea means that it is perfectly reasonable to continue believing in it. Marcus will have none of that.

In particular, Eagleman, who drapes himself in science by declaring to “have devoted my life to scientific pursuit,” might think of each extant religion as an experiment. Followers of many religions have looked for direct evidence of their beliefs, but (by Eagleman’s own assessment) systematically come up dry. And, crucially, statisticians have shown decisively that a collection of failed efforts weighs more heavily than any single failed effort on its own. The same thing happened, of course, when scientists looked for phlogiston, and cold fusion, too. Nobody has proven cold fusion doesn’t exist, but most scientists would assign a low probability to it because so many attempts at replicating the original have failed. Any agnostic is free to believe that his favorite religion has not yet been completely disproven. But anyone who wishes to bring science into the argument must acknowledge that the evidence thus far is weak, especially when it is combined statistically, in the fashion of a meta-analysis. To emphasize the qualitative conclusion (X has not been absolutely proven to be false) while ignoring the collective weight of the quantitative data (i.e., that most evidence points away from X) is a fallacy, akin to holding out a belief in flying reindeer on the grounds that there could yet be sleighs that we have not yet seen.

That’s why I’m an atheist. Not just because there is no evidence for any god, but because all the available evidence points towards natural processes and undirected causes for the entirety of space and time. I wish people could get that into their heads. When we atheist-scientists go off to meetings and stand up for an hour talking about something or other, we generally aren’t reciting a religious litany and saying there’s no evidence for each assertion; rather, we go talk about cool stuff in science, how the world actually works, what the universe really looks like…and our explanations are sufficient without quoting a single Bible verse.

Comments

  1. opposablethumbs says

    “je n’ai pas eu besoin de cette hypothèse” :-)

    Very nice. (do people like Eagleman have a wriggle round the null hypothesis, or do they just ignore the whole point?)

  2. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    @1

    You might say they feel no need for THAT hypothesis

  3. Dhorvath, OM says

    Failed explanations ought to be discarded, it’s horrifying how often they are embraced all the tighter.

  4. Zeckenschwarm says

    Possibilianism, the idea that because the universe is so vast, we should acknowledge that there could be all kinds of weird possibilities out there — even god-like beings.

    That philosophy seems rather useless… Everything that hasn’t been ruled out ‘could be’ true, that doesn’t tell us anything about reality.
    And it doesn’t get much more vague than “there could be the possibility that god-like beings exist”. It doesn’t even tell us wether or not that possibility even exists.

  5. says

    The number of things that *could* be true (ie: the hypothesis can be stated coherently, and hasn’t yet been falsified) is probably infinite. The number of things that actually are true, while numerically very large, is probably a rather small subset of that. So for any random hypothesis, and given no other information, the a priori chances of it being true are vanishingly small.

  6. says

    One trouble with evidence-free beliefs is that it’s entirely possible that they’re just made-up shit.

    A rather worse trouble is that we have evidence that evidence-free beliefs are just made-up shit–especially since we know something about psychology.

    Glen Davidson

  7. says

    Eagleman is a neuroscientist who has gotten some press for Possibilianism, the idea that because the universe is so vast, we should acknowledge that there could be all kinds of weird possibilities out there — even god-like beings.

    Isn’t our entire universe governed by the same set of physical laws? Sure, I could think of a unicorn that farts rainbows, but rainbows aren’t gas powered.

    Unless we’re talking about something being possible in one of an infinite number of universes, but that seems like an even more useless idea.

  8. Sastra says

    But anyone who wishes to bring science into the argument must acknowledge that the evidence thus far is weak, especially when it is combined statistically, in the fashion of a meta-analysis.

    The crux of the argument is right here: should we bring science into the ‘argument’ over whether God exists or not?

    In fact, the real issue may even be deeper: should there even be an argument or debate over whether God exists or not? Maybe we should just treat this issue as a private, personal matter and settle for a mutually beneficial state of detente. Those who feel the need to believe in God for emotional reasons can keep doing so with ‘no argument from us’ as long as they keep it to themselves, stay away from claiming they’ve got scientific support, and agree that it’s entirely a matter of irrational faith. And those skeptics who don’t believe in God can stop trying to use science on religion in public and agree that yup, it’s all faith and just as it should be. That only seems fair: everyone gets what they want.

    We get to think they’re being irrational on this particular issue … and they get to think we’re fundamentally spiritually blind, morally corrupt, emotionally empty, heartlessly superficial — but smart. Smart. Intelligent.

    Whoa. Shiny. Me like.

    Wait, no. This deal is not appealing to me. It shouldn’t appeal to any of us. It’s not exactly fair, is it? God is a conclusion — an empirical matter, a proposed explanation, a hypothesis. That’s why we are atheists. We’re being consistent. We’re not being less sensitive or any of that crap. We’re not looking at ‘God’ the wrong way — they are.

    Skeptics who believe in God are pretty much united on one basic principle: science shouldn’t be brought into religious belief because the commitment or decision to believe in God is faith and faith is personal. Believing in God is like believing that love matters, or hope matters, or people matter. Faith reflects your state of mind, your heart, your capacity to need and love and feel and relate. It’s identity. It’s who you are. It’s private.

    Awwww. Okay then.

    Wait, no. This framework isn’t right. None of us should accept it — including and especially anyone who considers themselves a scientific skeptic. The existence of God is supposed to be an important fact about the nature of reality. It’s not a taste, a preference, a lifestyle, an identity, or a therapeutic program.

    This flip-flopping between categories is not only intellectually dishonest. It’s also not very nice to the skeptics who really don’t believe in sacred cows.

  9. consciousness razor says

    That philosophy seems rather useless… Everything that hasn’t been ruled out ‘could be’ true, that doesn’t tell us anything about reality.

    Yeah, but from what I can tell, Eagleman’s not claiming anything substantially different from what any of the prominent new atheists have been saying. He’s just leaving out the part where anyone comes to a conclusion, because he doesn’t know about (or isn’t spending the time to engage) the evidence or reasoning those conclusions are based upon.

    He (somewhat unfairly) characterizes an “agnostic” as someone who passively sits there and remains uncertain about one particular claim; instead, he wants to go out and explore the infinite possibility-space. (Presumably, given the emphasis on science, he means physical possibility, not logical possibility which is even more nightmarish.) The “possibilian” also remains uncertain, because there’s no way, no matter what we do or how long we do it, to finish that exploration. And that’s it.

    And people of the religion-atheist debate (on both sides of course) are just too damn certain because they’ve at some point made some conclusions about some things, rather than continue his never-ending task indefinitely. How you can get some form of certainty, he just doesn’t address, as far as I can tell. It’s all in the journey, not the destination. *eyeroll*

  10. schweinhundt says

    One quibble: I don’t grok how an agnostic can have a favorite religion.

  11. Sastra says

    I think people who want to limit scientific inquiry to only those claims which are directly testable — and God is not testable — have been conned into thinking that an immunizing strategy is essential to a definition. They’ve been confused into accepting an old but revered bit of trickery called “faith” and allowed it to distract them. Is God really conceived as undemonstrable by scientific methods — so much so that this can be considered a necessary part of the concept? You need faith? It’s embedded in the very concept?

    No. Consider this analogy: reiki and the “human energy fields” the practitioners claim to manipulate to improve the health of their clients. HEF are often defined as “energy fields which no scientific instrument can measure — it takes human sensitivity.” But is this ‘fact’ necessary to the definition?

    What would happen if some pro-alternative medicine ‘scientist’ suddenly developed an instrument which COULD measure the human energy field — and did so consistently and to the satisfaction of skeptical mainstream scientists? Everything the instrument measures tracks perfectly and exactly with what the reiki masters were claiming. Physicists start to re-write all the textbooks, experiments explode, and they get down on their knees and go “we were wrong! You were right! Reiki was there ahead of us and you all knew what we have finally learned: vitalism is true! There ARE human energy fields! Oh, how sorry we are, o wise ones!”

    What would the advocates of HEF do?

    Would they say “no, stop that. Whatever that instrument is measuring, it can’t be the HEF. The HEF is, by definition, incapable of being measured by any instrument. It can never be verified by science. Please, no more praise. This discovery means nothing to us.”

    Like hell they would. And that’s my point. The whole “beyond what science can ever know” is only stuck in there as a tactic to disarm criticism. It’s not intrinsic. It’s not a characteristic of the supernatural or paranormal — it’s what’s called an immunizing strategy. It can and would and COULD be removed the minute it’s no longer necessary.

    And the concept of “God” in particular and the supernatural in general is the same damn thing. All those theists who insist that no, nothing scientists ever discover impacts their belief in God because God’s essential nature is beyond the physical world and science only deals with the physical world blah blah blah faith is how we know blah blah blah would throw that out in a heartbeat the minute the headlines all read “Science Finds God” and God chooses to reveal itself to scientists on the terms and conditions of science.

    Metaphysical my ass. It’s a trick no magician should fall for.

  12. Sastra says

    consciousness razor #9 wrote:

    The “possibilian” also remains uncertain, because there’s no way, no matter what we do or how long we do it, to finish that exploration. And that’s it.

    Science by its very nature is tentative and open to revision. Frankly, this guy just seems to be playing a social game — or a psychological one. He doesn’t care very much about what the universe is like — but he DOES care very much about playing around.

    Wow, am I ever open. I like every idea. Anything is possible. I like to entertain possibilities because they entertain me. Do I entertain you? I should. You should be impressed by my optimism and how bloody open-minded I am. I certainly am. Tell me whatever crackpot idea you have and I’ll nod and say “could be, could be.” What’s not to like? This is fun.

    Uh huh.

  13. says

    One trouble with evidence-free beliefs is that it’s entirely possible that they’re just made-up shit

    Combining with the previous, it’s namely that they’re most likely made up shit.

  14. says

    should there even be an argument or debate over whether God exists or not? Maybe we should just treat this issue as a private, personal matter

    Because our notion of “exists” depends on understanding criteria by which we accept that a thing does or does not exist, it is important that we treat this as a public – and important – matter.

    If you want to treat someone as being unhealthy because they imagine that they have a playmate that nobody else can see, we must ask anyone who claims knowledge of a supreme being “how?” they gained that knowledge.

  15. says

    I am actually quite comfortable asserting with confidence that purple winged monkeys are not going to come swarming aloft out of my butt tomorrow morning.That’s because a) they haven’t in the past b) there’s no theory of why they might in the future so I treat that likelihood as vanishingly small. Anyone who does otherwise is expecting that miracles happen constantly on demand. (and by “miracles” I mean “events of a vanishingly small likelihood”)

  16. says

    PS – if purple winged monkeys DO come flying out my ass, I’ll admit “I was wrong” and begin studying them. Until then, I won’t expect anyone to assume a priori that those purple winged monkeys exist, nor will I establish a doctoral programme in purple winged monkey studies and call it ‘theology.’

  17. says

    You know, I’m in my mid-30s now, and as much as I enjoy a nice stoned college-dorm style discussion about the unknowable nature of reality, I’ve come to understand that it’s also important to pay attention to what we DO know about reality and what it’s possible to do in reality. At a certain point, the “Well you can’t KNOW for sure” response gets tiresome. Yes, it’s true that we can’t know for sure. SO WHAT? We still have to make decisions in the real world based on our incomplete, provisional knowledge. And that incomplete provisional knowledge says that there are no gods. Just like our incomplete provisional knowledge tells us that evolution is the process by which species evolve, etc., etc.

    I’m starting to feel like tearing my hair out. Seriously.

  18. unclefrogy says

    things we don’t know === “the idea that because the universe is so vast, we should acknowledge that there could be all kinds of weird possibilities out there”
    imagining anything

    reality what we can verify as true
    where we live and die.
    uncle frogy

  19. Scientismist says

    PZ:

    Some people love to claim that an absence of a single definitive test against an idea means that it is perfectly reasonable to continue believing in it.

    The problem with this narrow view of science, wherein complete falsification is taken to be the only valid scientific method, is that such killer experiments are very rare (and strictly speaking, probably mythical). So you are left with only a few accepted “facts” and a lot of room for free-wheeling speculation (“Possibilianism?”), allowing reputation, expertise, politics and authority to become the justification for consensus, and leading to such scientistic cults as that of Lysenko.

    “Scientism” was once reserved for such cases of a claim of purported science being insulated from criticism. It’s remarkable that, in the last half-century, it has come to mean much the opposite, and is now widely used as an epithet against those who would suggest that observation and induction, and the probabilistic (not “possibilistic”) calculations of science, are applicable to all forms of purported knowledge. So, is human knowledge more corrupted by letting science challenge authoritarian dogma, or by letting such speculative dogma pretend to speak for science?

  20. Azuma Hazuki says

    @8/Sastra

    For what it’s worth, I happen to BE one of those skeptics who suspects very strongly there is a God, just nothing like the genocidal maniac the Canaanites believe in. More like a sort of universal Mind-with-a-capital-M of which we’re all parts. Obviously there’s no humdrum heaven or horrific hell in this belief.

    And I would call it, if not scientific per se, at least reality-based reasons for suspecting this. They have to do with a few things the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have been sitting on for a while now. Probably you’d all think I was crazy if I went into further detail though :(

    But don’t worry, if anything this belief has made me even more dedicated to humanist principles and even more opposed to traditional theism, since one of the consequences of it is “you get what you give.”

  21. notsont says

    And I would call it, if not scientific per se, at least reality-based reasons for suspecting this. They have to do with a few things the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have been sitting on for a while now. Probably you’d all think I was crazy if I went into further detail though :(

    Seriously? You have sekrit knowledge that the Catholics and CoE are hiding and Pharyngula is where you think you will get away with using it as evidence?

  22. says

    “That’s why I’m an atheist. Not just because there is no evidence for any god, but because all the available evidence points towards natural processes and undirected causes for the entirety of space and time. “

    I agree. Talking to theists, they think that they’re well justified and even epistemically ahead of people like us, merely by asserting that since we can’t prove there’s no magic behind the evidence that “seems to” point away from magic, they’re in a better position because they accept both the evident natural entities and the magical ones that seem to exist in their opinion, based on religious narrative and magical thinking. Which is complete bullshit, obviously as they reject “our” opinion and keep theirs which are both on the same level even in their own misguided argument (based on “seeming”), so they should at least accept that in their own argumentation, magic existing and not existing are both equally likely. But as the article states, they ignore the weight of the existing evidence in favor of the preferred quality of the absence of evidence – they simply don’t accept that the heavy evidence has weight. If you can’t understand what evidence is for, you won’t understand why placing bets on absent evidence is ludicrous.

  23. Azuma Hazuki says

    @21

    Like I said, that’s why I think you’d all say i was crazy if i mentioned anything. It’s obscure, but it’s not “secret” per se; you just need to be weirdly interested in the middle-tier workings of the Vatican, and have a thing for the CoE’s history. There’s nothing really conspirational about it, it’s just that most people aren’t willing to dig into boring, obscure minutiae of the Vatican or what some Anglican Archbishop did three-quarters of a century ago.

  24. says

    that’s why I think you’d all say i was crazy if i mentioned anything

    I think you’re crazy either way; you’ve rather brilliantly checkmated yourself.

  25. Sastra says

    Azuma Azuki #20 wrote:

    … More like a sort of universal Mind-with-a-capital-M of which we’re all parts.

    Yeah — that’s the God I don’t believe in any more.

    This form of God isn’t significantly different from the more traditional flavors of theism — and it’s pretty common. When you get down to it they are all universal Minds (or mental products) unconnected to any physical substrate or prior history. But our discoveries in science have lead in a bottom-up, not top-down direction: not only is “mind” the activity of a brain, but it has the features it has (intent, values, emotions, creativity, agency) because they developed against and within an environment in which living things had to negotiate. Mind is what it is because, like everything else, it got that way. If you are indeed a scientific skeptic, then this is a huge stumbling block. Huge. As Dawkins has pointed out, if minds are the result of a long process of evolution, then we’re not going to start out with one as original skyhook. It’s completely inconsistent with our other related conclusions.

    And I would call it, if not scientific per se, at least reality-based reasons for suspecting this. They have to do with a few things the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have been sitting on for a while now.

    Oh come on. This sort of super-secret esoteric “reality-based reason” kept away from prying eyes is probably going to be something like an anecdote — or something like an artifact. Given the nature of the claim it couldn’t possibly be enough to be convincing to someone who seriously understands WHY science is set up the way it is — out in the open.

    Probably you’d all think I was crazy if I went into further detail though :(

    No, we probably wouldn’t.
    For one thing most of us are far too sensitive to the discrimination and stigma against mental illness to bandy around charges of being “crazy” as a casual judgement and insult. And for another thing we are all aware that the majority of people in our culture (well, the U.S. at least) believe in God, ghosts, miracles, ESP, conspiracy theories, angels, alt med, and an awful lot of other unscientific nonsense … all while claiming to be ” as skeptical as anyone.” Your evidence for God is not likely to shock or alarm us any more than all the other amazing tales — particularly if it’s attached to established churches.

    Let me guess …. you loved Zeigeist, didn’t you? Da Vinci Code?

  26. Owlmirror says

    More like a sort of universal Mind-with-a-capital-M of which we’re all parts. Obviously there’s no humdrum heaven or horrific hell in this belief.
     
    And I would call it, if not scientific per se, at least reality-based reasons for suspecting this. They have to do with a few things the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have been sitting on for a while now.
     
    [...]
    since one of the consequences of it is “you get what you give.”

    Mm. It sounds like you’re reinvented the idea of karma, or maybe the Just World hypothesis.

    Something that Sastra wrote some years ago, in response to a Thomist advocating teleology as an argument for God:

      You’re missing the critical step: Because matter has no goals or intentions of its own, the logical explanation for the fact that matter seems to behave “as if” it is being driven to an end, is that this apparent teleology is an artifact of the human mind which is doing the interpreting. This is the simplest solution to the disconnnect. The goals and intentions are being read into a situation. What you are seeing at work is not the Mind of God — it’s the mind of man. Your own mind. Both you, and Aquinas, are anthropomorphizing nature, and have mistaken yourselves, for God.

    It possible, of course, that the mind you’re detecting is not your own mind, but the minds of the sources of whatever you’ve been reading. Or even the minds of the members of the churches that are being written about. Or some combination of all of the above.

    What makes you think that there’s a mind without a body that is distinct from all of those minds?

  27. Owlmirror says

    Probably you’d all think I was crazy if I went into further detail though

    I’ve argued with far too many people — creationists, non-creationist theists arguing apologetics, and, of course, heddle — to think that believers in general are “crazy”, despite the fact that they defend their beliefs with arguments that don’t make much sense.

    I’m curious why you think that further detail would make the idea seem worse rather than better. Usually, that’s a sign that the original idea is badly flawed.

    Contrariwise, when geologists go into detail about why a global flood cannot have happened, the details support that negative contention. And, contra-contrariwise, flood geologists who go into detail end up contradicting flood geology, as Phil Senter showed.

    Maybe you realize that more details will contradict your own idea?

  28. Stacy says

    I think you’d all say i was crazy if i mentioned anything.

    I promise I won’t think you’re crazy, or stupid.

    Now of course you’ve got a lot of us intrigued. Spill!

  29. unclefrogy says

    OK that concept of universal mind with a capital M is so broad as to be without any useful significance other than a poetic image. When taken to the extreme logical end does not lead to anything outside of the a personal experience of being.
    What did “god” make the world out of when there is nothing inside or outside of god? The mind that perceives the reality of this essential oneness then understands the allusion of a separate ego existing in time.
    This whole thing is just an unneeded complication, the last attempt at personification of reality by calling it god.
    While it has meaning as an emotional expression of our connection with and our love of life and reality and expresses a kind of personal humility in the face of everything.
    it is a big so what as being very helpful
    uncle frogy

  30. David Marjanović says

    Possibilianism, the idea that because the universe is so vast, we should acknowledge that there could be all kinds of weird possibilities out there — even god-like beings

    …I’m really surprised that a case-sensitive search of this page for Q doesn’t return any hits!

  31. David Marjanović says

    (Star Trek: Yes, there is a godlike being out there, and it’s majorly annoying. :-þ )

    In fact, the real issue may even be deeper: should there even be an argument or debate over whether God exists or not?

    Metametaphysics!

    And I would call it, if not scientific per se, at least reality-based reasons for suspecting this. They have to do with a few things the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have been sitting on for a while now. Probably you’d all think I was crazy if I went into further detail though :(

    …Do tell.

    Seriously, please, do tell.

    I don’t care if here, in the [Lounge] or in the [Thunderdome], just tell me where if it’s not here.

    Consider: you could become the next Diagoras of Melos who published the Eleusinian Mysteries!

    Da Vinci Code?

    “Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence.”

    Couldn’t resist.

    What did “god” make the world out of when there is nothing inside or outside of god?

    Strikes me as a useless word game.

  32. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I would contend that the Universe is comprehensible only to the extent that any extant deities do not muck about in it’s cosmic clockwork–unless you want to start practicing divine psychology. As the Universe has revealed itself to be quite comprehensible, this suggests that deities are possible only to the extent they leave the Universe alone. And if deities do not interact with the Universe, then for all practical purposes, they don’t exist.

    There is such a thing as an ill-posed problem–one that cannot be answered definitively because it is logically inconsistent. The entire problem of deities is an example. No one can quite define what one is or how we would recognize it if it manifested in front of us. This leads to all sorts of epistemological mischief.

  33. Sastra says

    Azuma Hazuki #20 wrote:

    Probably you’d all think I was crazy if I went into further detail though :(

    No. If you went into further detail we’d all think you “happen to BE one of those skeptics who suspects very strongly there is a God.”

    By refusing to bring out your best case and ask “okay … where is this wrong?” — by caring more about what people think about you and caring less about whether your hypothesis actually stands up to scrutiny among a critical group — now we all think you happen to BE one of those ordinary, garden-variety unskeptical believers who is afraid their suspicions might be wrong so they won’t go into any detail. We’d be right.

    So no. You’re not a skeptic. Not because you believe in God — but because you don’t think like one. A skeptic wants peer-review of a cherished idea. They seek it out. If they’re shown to be wrong they don’t lose — they learn. And if they make their case then the rest of us learn. The issue matters. It’s not all about you.

    I remember when one of my friends explained that someone she thought had real psychic ability would never allow herself to be tested by scientists because she was too humble: the psychic had explained her refusal of the Randi challenge with “she had nothing to prove to anyone.”

    My response was to explain that no, this is the opposite of being humble. It’s breathtakingly arrogant. How was this about her? Who the HELL cared about her? If she can really do what she says she can do under controlled conditions and this consistently sticks then the consequences for human knowledge and progress are HUGE. The paranormal exists? It changes everything! Not only would science be re-written, but exciting new possibilities of experiment and invention would open up. Advances everywhere, in all sorts of fields — including those which “help people.” It would be one of the most amazing and important and beneficial discoveries ever!

    And her response is … what? “I’ve got nothing to prove.” As if someone heard she had a good singing voice and said they don’t believe it so sing something and no, she doesn’t feel like it and is secure enough that she doesn’t have to defend her vocal abilities. Me, me, me, me. My friends believe me and that’s enough. I don’t have to deal with skeptics.

    Nothing to prove. Shame on all of you.

  34. unclefrogy says

    @ 32
    yes that is what I finally understood

    “God” reality now with wonderful pleasing human personality ™
    uncle frogy

  35. says

    (Star Trek: Yes, there is a godlike being out there, and it’s majorly annoying. :-þ )

    Indeed. I actually skip all the Q episodes. Because fuck his smarmy face, and and all the moral masturbation that ensues.

  36. David Marjanović says

    My response was to explain that no, this is the opposite of being humble. It’s breathtakingly arrogant. How was this about her? Who the HELL cared about her? If she can really do what she says she can do under controlled conditions and this consistently sticks then the consequences for human knowledge and progress are HUGE. The paranormal exists? It changes everything! Not only would science be re-written, but exciting new possibilities of experiment and invention would open up. Advances everywhere, in all sorts of fields — including those which “help people.” It would be one of the most amazing and important and beneficial discoveries ever!

    QFMFT!!!

  37. neuroguy says

    I’m a skeptic, and I have a few questions here. My background on all of this is on the basis of Bayes’ Theorem.

    @5:
    “The number of things that *could* be true (ie: the hypothesis can be stated coherently, and hasn’t yet been falsified) is probably infinite. The number of things that actually are true, while numerically very large, is probably a rather small subset of that. So for any random hypothesis, and given no other information, the a priori chances of it being true are vanishingly small.”

    I can’t agree, for several reasons. For any hypothesis, its negation is also a hypothesis. (“God exists” is a hypothesis; “God does not exist” is also a hypothesis.) But, according to this reasoning, the a priori chances of it being true should also be vanishingly small; obviously the priors of both cannot be approaching zero. And if the prior probability is vanishingly small, then there is no amount of evidence that can possibly overcome it; and science disappears. Furthermore, if the number of things that can actually be is infinite, and the number of things that actually are is finite, the prior is not “small”, but zero. If the number of things that actually are is infinite as well, then a prior probability is undefinable on this basis (e.g. all even integers is indeed a subset of all integers, but the number of even integers is not “one-half” the number of all integers; half of infinity is infinity).

    @OP:”That’s why I’m an atheist. Not just because there is no evidence for any god, but because all the available evidence points towards natural processes and undirected causes for the entirety of space and time. ”

    What counts as “evidence” for a model (such as the existence of God) in a Bayesian sense, is that the model restricts the hypothesis space and that restricted space includes (in a probabilistic sense) the actual data. That’s why there’s such powerful evidence for evolution: the model restricts what species should arise at given times; and why models can be falsified (the restricted space does not include the actual data); even PZ himself, I am sure, would deny evolution in a heartbeat if a rabbit fossil were found in the Precambrian.

    But the existence of God does not restrict the hypothesis space. What possible evidence is inconsistent with it? Thus, the posterior will be equivalent to the prior (and finding a good way to estimate priors is the big weakness in Bayesianism). Why shouldn’t a deist God exist? (And don’t bring up Occam’s Razor; I can accept P(deist God) < P(~deist God) but that doesn't tell me whether P(deist God) = 0.4 or P(deist God) = 1e-15.)

    Also, I do not know exactly what is meant by "natural processes" or "undirected causes". If this simply means "happening without the will of a God", then this is simply begging the question. If you claim to actually have evidence against God, then please state it; however, I don’t think this can be, for the same reason evidence for God can’t be possible either.

  38. Sastra says

    neuroguy #39 wrote:

    But the existence of God does not restrict the hypothesis space. What possible evidence is inconsistent with it?

    But this I think is where the trick comes in and the theists include an immunizing strategy (faith) as if it were a necessary part of the hypothesis — when it is only contingent on its failure. There is in theory potential evidence which could and would point strongly towards the existence of God — or at least the supernatural. Atheists would have to change their minds given certain situations: naturalism is falsifiable.

    But with faith added in to the mix the normal situation where the lack of such evidence indicates the lack of the phenomenon is suddenly supposed to not count. “Faith” involves a moral commitment to believe no matter what and spin any result in a positive direction. Let your imagination run wild in order to meet the challenge.

    But as I argued in #11… this disingenuous tactic should not be included in the concept of God. If we’re to take the God hypothesis seriously and not just play games with ourselves (“I have to find a way to believe!”) then the existence of God should and does restrict the hypothesis space. Under fair rules a universe which is fundamentally mental and moral to the core would look very different from one which wasn’t.

    That no possible evidence is supposed to count against God isn’t in the model. It’s in the modelers — the believers. Theists are like dowsers who wait confidently to see how well they did in finding those hidden bottles of water: when they are shocked to discover their magic rods did no better than chance, they then and only then insist that “you can’t test dowsing with science” and so THAT evidence isn’t inconsistent with the hypothesis, not at all. But if science could confirm dowsing (or God) then you don’t get to change the rules.

  39. Azuma Hazuki says

    I knew I was going to get jumped on. Stupid of me to have said anything. Before continuing, one thing: this is provisional. I’m not entirely convinced yet. I have a lot more research to do.

    So, here it is, the two things.

    First: in 1938, then-Archbishop in the CoE, Cosmo Lang, had two commissions convened. I believe the first one was basically sanity-checking the CoE’s basic articles of belief, and that one came back about the same as one would expect: “yes your holiness, all this is perfectly coherent and sane and in no circumstances does it ever contradict itself.”

    The second one was an investigation into what is commonly called “spiritism,” specifically, the ability of people to talk to the dead. He expected a similar result to the first. What he got was a strong majority report which more or less said “Holy shit this is real! Um…ahem…yes, well, while we believe we are certainly talking to the discarnate, spiritism is only a pale shadow of the glorious Church of England, and these phenomena may, if used strictly in accord with CoE teachings, help to better bring people closer to Our Lord and Savior *sweat sweat*…”

    So what did he do? He buried it, deep. Instead of touting it around to the flock and tearing it apart with CoE doctrine, he buried it. Someone leaked it years and years later, but by then no one really gave a damn.

    The damning thing (pardon me) here is Lang’s reaction to it. Had he not felt truly threatened, he would have paraded it around in front of the believers and deconstructed it. Or simply shitcanned it. Instead, he had it buried, like some kind of amateur comic-book villain.

    The second thing: in 1996, Gino Concetti, a Vatican theologian, wrote in the Osservatore Romano (this is the Vatican newspaper!) that “According to the modern catechism the Church has decided not to forbid anymore to dialogue with the deceased,” citing “new discoveries within the domain of the paranormal.”

    Now, i am well aware that all this means is that the people involved around Lang, and Concetti and whoever else was involved with him, have themselves been convinced. This is not direct proof.

    But it’s very, very strange, and Lang’s behavior especially makes me raise en eyebrow. There’s apparently a good deal of work going on trying to find a scientific explanation for this stuff, and it seems to go back a long way. I mean early-20th-century long (Arthur Findlay for example).

  40. Azuma Hazuki says

    Something else to consider: none of this threatens you or your movement. The “God” being revealed by this could very well be called the “God of Atheists,” as it seems not to care much or at all what we believe, and does not itself judge us after death (it leaves that to us, and the door to advancement is supposedly always open).

    The beliefs that would, and do, arise from this are humanism, self-determination, self-responsibility, and a strong desire to solve global problems. That’s why i say you don’t need to feel threatened by me provisionally believing these things; if anything they make me more attuned to the general sentiments expressed here.

    The message these seekers constantly got back was along the lines of “What you believe isn’t important; what you do is.”

  41. John Phillips, FCD says

    @Azuma, you’re really going to try and peddle that pile of bovine excrement here, it’s not even worth wasting the time refuting it. You sound like your average conspiracy theorists. And no, no serious scientist is truly investigating talking with the dead today, that horse has long bolted. Perhaps you should try speaking to the dead horse instead of flogging it.

    @Sastra, and yet again, in post after post in this thread, you knock the ball right out of the park. One of the reasons I love reading your posts.

  42. Azuma Hazuki says

    @43

    Okay, I won’t bring it up again. It’s entirely possible you’re correct; as I said, provisional. But I was asked, and so I wrote it out.

    Though I think it would be worth the time to refute it, really. I’d love to see the refutation, and am perfectly open to the idea that Lang’s commission was a lot of credulous fools and Concetti and his crew have been bamboozled.

    Understand, I don’t want to believe any of this. I can only go on what I know.

  43. Owlmirror says

    even PZ himself, I am sure, would deny evolution in a heartbeat if a rabbit fossil were found in the Precambrian.

    Actually, I heard a lecture he gave where he said that such a fossil would not falsify evolution. It’s possible he was thinking of something I posted: this discussion of why a Precambrian rabbit would not falsify evolution.

    I posted it again here.

    I am reposting it, yet again, adding on the comments that followed up each posting, even if some of them were a bit silly.

  44. Owlmirror says

    [Repost of comment on to thread "Episode LX: Revenge of the bunny" originally made on May 27, 2010 10:32 PM]
    So.
    Bunnies. Let’s talk bunnies.

    Bunnies aren’t just cute like everybody supposes.
     They got them hoppy legs and twitchy twitchy little noses
     And what’s with all the carrots?
     What do they need such good eyesight for anyway?

    So let’s say that you’re a paleontologist who is interested in investigating the changes in life forms between the Precambrian and the Cambrian. So you go to do some fieldwork in a nice Precambrian Lagerstätte, such as in Mistaken Point, Newfoundland. And you manage to find some forms that have never been seen before, by searching harder: maybe by levering off or up some big slabs; maybe by rappelling down a cliff to a fresh exposure. Anyway, in addition to all the Precambrian life, you turn your head, and there you see embedded in the same rock is the skeleton of… a rabbit.
    Well, crap. Now what?
    Let’s posit, for the sake of argument, that there is no evidence of a hoax; no discontinuities between the rock, the Precambrian fossils, and the rabbit skeleton embedded with them.
    So you call over your fellow investigators, and you all take high-resolution photographs, and maybe even an impression or a cast. And you wonder what the hell it means. Is evolution falsified now?
    You take the photographs and whatnot to a vertebrate zoologist, to figure out exactly what species of Leporid this is. And the zoologist looks up references, and compares the characters to the photographs &c, and says that it’s definitely in the Lepus genus, probably Lepus europaeus. And then wonders what all the weird marine lifeforms overlying and intermixed with the rabbit skeleton are. “They’re Precambrian”, you say. The zoologist stares and says “Wait, what?”
    Does this mean that evolution is falsified now?
    The theory of evolution explains the differences in living organisms: offspring differ from parents, some of those differences are inheritable, and these differences can lead to better survival rates for those offspring that have them. Different traits can aid survival in different ways, too: one set of individuals may have traits that enable coping with warmer or cooler climate, while another may have traits that lead them to shun those climate changes. Both work in different ways to enable survival. Evolution is not prescriptive; there is nothing that says that changes must happen. There is nothing that makes one set of traits “better” except in how they permit survival for those organisms that have those traits. In modern evolutionary biology, these inherited differences are specifically linked to the units of inheritance; to genes made of DNA.
    How does the rabbit skeleton falsify any of that?
    The theory of common descent is often conflated with the theory of evolution, but it isn’t exactly the same. It basically looks at the organisms alive today in light of the theory of evolution, and extrapolates backwards: Given the differences and similarities that exist between different species now, those species are best understood as the descendant populations of a single ancestor species, and this extrapolation can be repeated indefinitely going backward in time to older single populations that split, until a single and unique ancestral population is reached. Since geochemists have discovered that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, this means that there was plenty of time for these changes to have taken place, given the small amount of changes per generation. Hence, the tree of life.
    There are certain reasonable assumptions that palaeontologists usually make about fossils: that an individual or group of individuals fossilized actually represent a much larger population; that that population itself may well have quite a few sister and cousin species; that the organism lived in a particular ecosystem and climate, and had a particular diet and living environment, and its remains may well reflect that.
    Do those assumptions make sense in the case of this Precambrian rabbit? For the sake of this scenario, all that is found is the rabbit skeleton itself. There is no sign of pollen indicating the sort of plants that rabbits eat (such plants did not evolve until at least another hundred million years after the end of the Precambrian).
    How about an alternative scenario?
    Consider watches; wristwatches and pocket-watches. We have a theory as to how watches come about: Human beings make them. The design of the watch is drafted by a human. Humans find the metal, refine it, pour it into molds of the desired shapes, or flatten it into sheets which are then cut up or punched out. In modern watches, tiny jewels are cut to seat some of the metal pieces. The pieces are assembled into movements according to the design. All this is either done by humans, or done by machines themselves made by humans.
    What if you found a watch in the Precambrian strata, instead of a rabbit? Would this falsify the theory of how watches come about? Would it matter if the watch had markings or writing on it that clearly indicated Arabic or Latin numerals, and some human language or some obvious descendant of human language? How about if it was clearly marked with a manufacturer’s brand like ROLEX?
    Let’s consider a few theories to account for a watch showing up in the Precambrian.
      1) It spontaneously self-assembled.
      2) An omniscient and omnipotent God, knowing that watches exactly like it would eventually be manufactured by humans, created it and put it in the strata to eventually be found, for reasons completely opaque to us.
      3) Intelligent beings evolved on Earth before the Precambrian, developed a manufacturing process and language identical to that of modern humans, and left no sign of themselves besides the watch.
      4) Aliens from outer space had a manufacturing process like ours, and spoke and wrote the same language as what humans would eventually evolve to speak, and dropped the watch there.
      5) Time travel of some sort is possible. The watch was manufactured in the near past or will be manufactured in the future, by humans, and somehow went back in time to the Precambrian.
    Which of these theories is the most parsimonious and probable, best able to explain the watch as it appears? I’m going with number 5. Does anyone want to defend any of the others? Are there theories that I might have left out?
    Getting back to the Precambrian rabbit scenario:
    We have a theory of how rabbits arose, just as we have a theory of how watches come about. It involves lobe-finned fish evolving from craniates; tetrapods evolving from lobe-finned fish; synapsids evolving from tetrapods; mammals evolving from synapsids; and rabbits evolving from mammals. It’s not something we have as good a “picture” of as a watch factory — there are plenty of pieces still missing, and some that that are arguable about where and how they fit — but is well-supported by everything we know about rabbits, mammals, and other tetrapods.
    In analogy to the watch, let’s consider some theories to account for a rabbit showing up in the Precambrian.
      1) The rabbit, or its skeleton, spontaneously self-assembled.
      2) An omniscient and omnipotent God, knowing that rabbits exactly like what we know of would eventually evolve, created the rabbit and put it in the strata to eventually be found, for reasons completely opaque to us.
      3) Vertebrate mammalian life evolved on Earth before the Precambrian, and left no sign of itself besides the one rabbit.
      4) Aliens from outer space evolved life exactly like what we have now, and dropped the rabbit there.
      5) Time travel of some sort is possible. The rabbit is one that was born of rabbits that evolved as described by the theory of evolution, following the timeline (tetrapod-synapsid-mammal-rabbit) as currently understood, and this one individual somehow went back in time to the Precambrian, leaving its skeleton to puzzle paleontologists.
    I’m still going with number 5 as the most parsimonious and probable explanation. Any disagreement? Is there a possibility I didn’t think of?
    Thus we refute Haldane…

    2011 Addendum:

    I have to admit, it occurs to me now that while it might be possible to rule out a hoax made with current technology, it might not be possible to rule out a hoax made using nanotechnology of a level of sophistication that it appears identical to what the real thing would. Presumably by very sophisticated (and contemporary) aliens, with a very sophisticated sense of humour.

    This goes for both the Precambrian watch scenario, and the Precambrian rabbit.

    =========================

    Some responses:
    ======
    llewely | May 27, 2010 11:00 PM :
    ======
    Owlmirror | May 27, 2010 10:32 PM:

    I’m still going with number 5 as the most parsimonious and probable explanation. Any disagreement? Is there a possibility I didn’t think of?

    You left out an important hypothesis.
    666. Satan planted the rabbit in order to turn you into a creationist.
    ======
    David Marjanović | May 28, 2010 7:44 AM:
    ======

    Which of these theories is the most parsimonious and probable, best able to explain the watch as it appears? I’m going with number 5. Does anyone want to defend any of the others?

    Number 5 suffers from the problem that faster-than-light travel and time travel seem to come in a package. So I wonder about 3 and 4, but of course those require insane amounts of coincidences.
    4 is to be preferred over 3, simply because it so conveniently outsources the question of how the fuck intelligent life could have evolved that early.

    Are there theories that I might have left out?

    Hm… combinations of your 5 (time-travelling aliens and stuff), but of course those just pile up their components’ unparsimonious assumptions.

    =========================

    Responses to second posting:

    ======
    Kemist | 6 November 2011 at 10:22 pm (UTC -5):
    ======

    Are there theories that I might have left out?

    Somebody on Magrathea made a mistake with Earth mark II.

    The mice are going to be mad.

    ======
    KG | 6 November 2011 at 10:38 pm (UTC -5):
    ======

    I’m still going with number 5 as the most parsimonious and probable explanation. Any disagreement? Is there a possibility I didn’t think of? – Owlmirror

    6. Rabbits appear from a parallel universe. They do so throughout spacetime, but of course rarely appear in places suitable for rabbits to live.

    Why, you may ask, is it specifically rabbits that appear? It may be that they are made in God’s image; or perhaps simply because in that parallel universe, just as here, rabbits breed like rabbits.

    Clearly, this traffic is not one way: it’s well known that biros and odd socks vanish from our universe on a regular basis – so maybe the parallel universes are in fact conscious beings, and for reasons of their own are trading rabbits for socks and biros.

    ======
    Owlmirror | 6 November 2011 at 10:52 pm (UTC -5):
    ======

    and for reasons of their own are trading rabbits for socks and biros

    Perhaps socks and biros are all that are meant to be traded, and the appearance of a rabbit demonstrates that the sock exchange has suffered hyperinflation and crashed.

    ======
    Hazuki | 6 November 2011 at 11:21 pm (UTC -5):
    ======
    [Editor's note: Responding to the 2011 Addendum]

    In other words, to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, “sufficiently advanced (and dickish) aliens are indistinguishable from God” :)

    ======
    What a Maroon | 7 November 2011 at 2:51 am (UTC -5):
    ======

    Are there theories that I might have left out?

    Obviously you’ve found an ancestor of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

    ======
    David | 7 November 2011 at 5:41 am (UTC -5):
    ======
    Owlmirror says: “Is there a possibility I didn’t think of?”

    6) a worldwide flood

    [Editor's note: "David", above, is David Buckna, quite possibly one of the stupidest creobots ever to inflict upon Pharyngula the most painfully idiotic combinations of copypasted links from creationist sites, copypasted quote-mined texts, and his own dull and incomprehending interpretations of said copypasta. Unlike the other responses, his is not actually meant to be intentionally humorous.]

    [links redacted, but copypasta included for clarity]

    As for gaps in the fossil record, Dawkins says, that is like detectives complaining that they can’t account for every minute of a crime–a very ancient one–based on what they found at the scene. “You have to make inferences from footprints and other types of evidence.” As it happens, he notes, there is a huge amount of evidence of evolution not only in the fossil record but also in the letters of the genetic code shared in varying degrees by all species. “The pattern,” says Dawkins, “is precisely what you would expect if evolution would happen.” Dawkins insists that critics of Darwin are wrong to say that evolution has become an article of faith among scientists. He cites biologist J.B.S. Haldane who, when asked what would disprove evolution, replied, fossil rabbits in the Precambrian era, a period more than 540 million years ago, when life on Earth seems to have consisted largely of bacteria, algae and plankton. “Creationists are fond of saying that there are very few fossils in the Precambrian, but why would there be?” asks Dawkins. “However, if there was a single hippo or rabbit in the Precambrian, that would completely blow evolution out of the water. None have ever been found.”

    ======
    Owlmirror | 7 November 2011 at 6:19 am (UTC -5):
    ======

    Owlmirror says: “Is there a possibility I didn’t think of?”

    6) a worldwide flood

    David, what you have just written is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this thread is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    “However, if there was a single hippo or rabbit in the Precambrian, that would completely blow evolution out of the water.

    Dawkins, like Haldane, is simply wrong. When you have a theory as well-supported by world-wide evidence as evolution, no single anomaly can disprove it. Rather, such an anomaly would demand a new theory to explain it.

    ======
    StevoR | 7 November 2011 at 7:07 am (UTC -5):
    ======

    @Owlmirror : 7 November 2011 at 6:19 am

    “However, if there was a single hippo or rabbit in the Precambrian, that would completely blow evolution out of the water.”

    Dawkins, like Haldane, is simply wrong. When you have a theory as well-supported by world-wide evidence as evolution, no single anomaly can disprove it. Rather, such an anomaly would demand a new theory to explain it.

    Time travel would spring instantly to mind as apossible explanation. Time travellers who have a strange fondness or need for rabbits or hippos as the case may be.

    Such a discovery would certainly raise a lot of questions but not necessarily – on its own – disprove evolution, I’d agree.

    Even if you somehow did disprove evolution – durn hard to do in itself – that wouldn’t be the same as proving Creationism or the Bible’s cosmogony.

    ======
    hotshoe | 7 November 2011 at 7:08 am (UTC -5)
    ======

    “However, if there was a single hippo or rabbit in the Precambrian, that would completely blow evolution out of the water.

    Dawkins, like Haldane, is simply wrong. When you have a theory as well-supported by world-wide evidence as evolution, no single anomaly can disprove it.

    Well, I would let Dawkins statement stand – not as simply wrong – meant as a vivid easily-understood example of why evolutionary theory is not a matter of blind faith which can’t be tested (the common slander from the sleazy creationists, that “evolutionist” is a faith position no better, not even as good as, their own christer faith. ) It’s easy for most laymen to see why finding a rabbit in the Precambrian would be a stiff test of evolutionary “faith” and Dawkins used it to show that scientists would NOT blindly cling to a “faith” position in that case but would in fact re-evaluate their science. Yes, that’s a huge amount to pack into a relatively short sentence or two. I give him credit for doing the best he could – since the real explanation of how scientists would incorporate such a finding into the theory is going to take much more than a soundbite.
    That specific Dawkins quote is taken from an interview just prior to the Dover trial.
    Since then, I think we’ve all learned something about how carefully we need to speak to avoid leaving opportunities to be deliberately misunderstood by those creationist liars. Dawkins should not have said it would “completely blow evolution out of the water”. But given what he was trying to accomplish in that interview for the future of science education, I’m more charitable than to say “it’s simply wrong”.

    ======
    StevoR | 7 November 2011 at 7:27 am (UTC -5):
    ======

    D’oh! That’s what I get for skimming the thread isn’t it?

    Now I see :

    #470. Owlmirror : 6 November 2011 at 9:52 pm

    [Editor's note: large blockquotes from the original text, and responses, have been redacted]

    Okay, so all these options have issues and raise a lot of questions.

    Physics currently rules out time travel – but will we one day come up with a theory permitting it – like the Wormholes speculation.

    Early sentient life seems unlikely but plausible – but why would they have rabbits?

    We’d certainly have a mystery on our hands to solve – and how would we go about solving that?

    By using science! That’s how!

    I’d say either 4,5 or 6 are most probablye perhaps in some combination thereof.

    ======
    StevoR | 7 November 2011 at 7:37 am (UTC -5):
    ======
    PS. Also of all those hypothetical “Precambrian rabbit” explanatatory options note that only one option – (7)the worldwide flood one argues in favour of Creationism.

    Only two involve Christian theology even with (&) being added to in that category by option (666) the “Satan diddit” one.

    Because option (2) does not necessarily invoke an *Abhrahamic* religion at all simply a possible diety (or dieties) with an inordinate fondness for rabbits rather than beatles.

    In all those cases what we’d do is study – scientifically – the mystery rabit and surrounding rocks for clues. BEcause prayerand IDiotism, / doesn’t take uh=get us very far at all.

    ======
    StevoR | 7 November 2011 at 7:41 am (UTC -5):
    ======
    Arrgh.Sorry. Make that :

    Whatever the answer regardless of which solution was correct – what we’d do is study – scientifically – that mystery wascally rabbit and the surrounding Precambrian rocks very meticulously and thoroughly for clues.

    We wouldn’t pray or convert to ID / Creationism.

    Because prayer and IDiotism, just doesn’t get us very far at all.

    ======
    Owlmirror | 7 November 2011 at 8:01 am (UTC -5):
    ======

    Time travellers who have a strange fondness or need for rabbits or hippos as the case may be.

    Neither affection nor requirement need be involved — although those are valid hypotheses, I suppose.
    I was thinking that a temporal researcher might use a rabbit simply because they are a convenient and common organism.
    A hippo would be more unusual, but could be written off as accidental.

    Even if you somehow did disprove evolution – durn hard to do in itself

    I am not so sure that it can even be done. I have a much longer argument on falsifiability that I’ve been pondering, but this margin is too small I am too tired to go into it just now.
    I think the best case scenario for ID-proponents is that they would quantify what “design” is and what it looks like at the genetic level, and demonstrate that some organisms have that sort of genetic signature. This would not disprove evolution per se, but would rather add on design analysis to the theory of evolution.
    But they won’t ever get that far, because they’re all IDiots.
    ======

    Physics currently rules out time travel

    To the best of my knowledge, it does no such thing.
    I mean, it hasn’t proved it possible. But it hasn’t proved it impossible either. As I understand it, physicists are still arguing the matter.
    Frex, I recently read Sean M. Carroll’s From Eternity to Here, and there’s a whole chapter on closed time-like curves.
    ======

    With a few flippant suggestions with good Hitchhikers Guide and Monty Python references as well.

    My #477 “alien hoaxers with sufficiently advanced nanotech” was not entirely flippant.
    On the other hand, I utterly reject “a worldwide flood” as being in any way viable as an explanation. You can’t use something that never happened to explain something that (putatively) has happened, especially when, even if it had happened, it could not have done what needs to be explained.

    ======
    raven | 7 November 2011 at 9:50 am (UTC -5)
    ======
    Did you get to the creationists faking the rabbit fossil option yet?
    They do fake fossils when they aren’t just lying about them.
    In Texas there is a dinosaur trackway. The creationists have carved human footprints into them so they can claim humans lived with dinosaurs.
    If their religion was true, they wouldn’t have to lie all the time.
    Creationists prove that the gods don’t exist.

    [Editor's note: Creationists faking the fossil isn't an option because the fossil (putatively) stands up as valid even under close, microscopic scrutiny. That's why aliens would need nanotech to do the fake, as per the addendum.]

  45. Owlmirror says

    First: in 1938, then-Archbishop in the CoE, Cosmo Lang, had two commissions convened.
    [...]
    The second one was an investigation into what is commonly called “spiritism,” specifically, the ability of people to talk to the dead. He expected a similar result to the first. What he got was a strong majority report which more or less said “Holy shit this is real! [...]”
    [...]
    So what did he do? He buried it, deep. Instead of touting it around to the flock and tearing it apart with CoE doctrine, he buried it. Someone leaked it years and years later, but by then no one really gave a damn.
    [...]
    The damning thing (pardon me) here is Lang’s reaction to it. Had he not felt truly threatened, he would have paraded it around in front of the believers and deconstructed it.

    *facepalm*

    Really? Seriously?

    The possibility that either the Archbishop, or his underlings, or some combination of them, were gullible, is not your first hypothesis?

    Especially since all of them were members of an organization founded in superstitious thinking anyway?

    You’ve really never heard of cold reading; of the many instances of medium-debunking, both during the Spiritualism craze and in modern times; of the numerous “psychic” frauds who claim to be able to speak to the dead whose methods have been dissected seventeen different ways from Sunday by magicians and psychologists?

    Really?

  46. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Azuma Hazuki:

    The “God” being revealed by this could very well be called the “God of Atheists,” as it seems not to care much or at all what we believe, and does not itself judge us after death (it leaves that to us, and the door to advancement is supposedly always open).

    Metaphorical gods ain’t actual gods, that much is true.

  47. Azuma Hazuki says

    @48/owlmirror

    Yes, I did think of those things. I thought of them first, actually. Please see post 42 and the end of post 41. Remember how long I’ve been here, please, and that I’m not joking about skepticism.

    As I keep saying, this is all provisional. I’ve had only one direct experience with this stuff, which really can’t be put down to cold reading, but there are other explanations (“super ESP,” my entire family being in on it from halfway across the country, some kind of internet archive that recorded something my long-deceased grandfather said back in the 70s…).

    I am not convinced…yet But I suspect, and believe provisionally, that there is more to reality than is readily apparent.

    Why is this a threat to anyone here? As i keep saying, these beliefs make me more aligned with you all, give me more reason to fight the good humanist fight and oppose traditional theism wherever it appears. Because if they are true, it means Reality-with-a-capital-R has a “liberal”/humanist/non-theist “bias,” and that you’re all doing exactly the right things at the right times in the right places.

    I don’t believe in the supernatural, because I don’t believe any such thing exists; there’s only “natural but not yet understood.” If these things and these phenomena are real, they are natural and normal. Even Dawkins has said as much.

  48. John Phillips, FCD says

    It’s not a threat to anyone here, that sounds like the kind of riposte we get from fundies, simply something that has never stood up to proper scrutiny. BTW, you have heard of coincidence I presume to account for your experience, or even delusion or hallucination, you again don’t give any details to form an opinion, only assertions. An argument from incredulity is not an argument for anything, as you should now if you really are a skeptic.

  49. Azuma Hazuki says

    @51

    Well, concerning my grandfather…someone who calls herself medium told me she got a message from him, and it included a phrase that made no sense at the same time: “I’m not a tennis shoes kind of person.”

    It sounded like the usual cold-reading claptrap you’d expect: he supposedly said “You’re like me, you read entirely too much. This interest in religion skips a generation. But you’re hurting yourself and putting yourself in a mental bubble. Get outside in nature more.”

    Anyone could cold-read that from me. The part that made no sense, though, was the tennis shoes comment. I had no idea what it meant, since he died four years before I was born and we as a family never talked much about him.

    I asked my mother, and she got all quiet and then went “…he used to say that to your father. Him and your uncle. He always thought your father was elitist for playing tennis. Marissa, where on earth did this come from suddenly?”

    So. I don’t know what to think. I know we never discussed this, as he was not a pleasant person and my mother disliked him intensely. So that means this woman either was talking to my mother before we met, somehow, and my mother was in on the act. Or she was somehow reading this from past history somehow (“super ESP,” which raises its own slew of questions). Or…i don’t know what. The most parsimonious explanation really is that the woman was talking to my grandfather. He was an obsessive reader of religious studies too, and had constant anxiety attacks like I do.

    I don’t know what to think. I want the “when your dead you’re dead” version of reality to be true. But I don’t think it is.

  50. Drolfe says

    Does the guess “I’m not a tennis shoes kind of person.” have more or less probability than all of physics being wrong?

  51. Drolfe says

    (Or hell, is your mom’s perception of coincidence more or less probable than all of physics being wrong.)

  52. David Marjanović says

    “The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined that time travel is impossible.”

    The damning thing (pardon me) here is Lang’s reaction to it. Had he not felt truly threatened, he would have paraded it around in front of the believers and deconstructed it. Or simply shitcanned it. Instead, he had it buried, like some kind of amateur comic-book villain.

    ~:-| That he felt threatened doesn’t mean he was. Does the CoE do exorcisms (or did they back then)? If so, he already believed in spirits, so the only question was whether there was a way of talking to them that wasn’t in the Bible. :-|

    Really, you’ll need to show (to yourself first and foremost!) that he and the writers of the report didn’t just fall for a few charlatans.

    The second thing: in 1996, Gino Concetti, a Vatican theologian, wrote in the Osservatore Romano (this is the Vatican newspaper!) that “According to the modern catechism the Church has decided not to forbid anymore to dialogue with the deceased,” citing “new discoveries within the domain of the paranormal.”

    The Catholic Church conducts plenty of exorcisms even today. See above. As to the “new discoveries”, as long as he doesn’t show them to us, they didn’t happen – he just fell for charlatans or simply ignorance of statistics.

    Why is this a threat to anyone here?

    …I honestly don’t understand where you get “threat” from. ~:-|

    where on earth did this come from suddenly?

    (BTW, did you mean to reveal your first meatspace name?)

    Well, there are plenty of options. Where did he get this phrase from? Is it something people used to say in his time? If he didn’t come up with it himself, the “psychic” may well have figured it’s the kind of thing he’d have said.

  53. Drolfe says

    Where did he get this phrase from? Is it something people used to say in his time? If he didn’t come up with it himself, the “psychic” may well have figured it’s the kind of thing he’d have said.

    Right. Exactly. So is the likelihood of this guess about grandpa greater than all of physics being wrong? (I.e., how would a spirit exist, if it existed, how would it speak to us? What particles would mediate that?)

  54. says

    @ David Marjanović

    The kind of thing people say:

    I’m definitely a tennis-shoe kind of person. I try to be someone else — I once spent an entire year trying to be a “city girl” — but the truth is, I’m happiest in jeans and tennis shoes.

    (Someone’s blog is about to get a lift: Linky)

    Gramps might have expressed an attitude of this sort (well, the opposite actually). It is easy to fill in the memory gaps to get from city gent to “not tennis shoe kind of person”.

    The charlatan probably throws out dozens of quirky expressions, and when they stick they definitely stick (as we have seen) – even if its not exactly what the person ever said in their lifetime.

  55. says

    I’m glad to hear that Gary Marcus is good for something. I read his book on learning to play guitar and thought it was a wretchedly ignorant waste of paper (I’m a music teacher).

  56. Owlmirror says

    I’ve had only one direct experience with this stuff, which really can’t be put down to cold reading, but there are other explanations (“super ESP,” my entire family being in on it from halfway across the country, some kind of internet archive that recorded something my long-deceased grandfather said back in the 70s…).

    …you told someone what your grandfather said and forgot about it and word got around, your communications with your family have been hacked or otherwise overheard or seen without your realizing it, the medium talked to one or more family members or has an accomplice who did so (does not require “collusion” with your family; the medium or accomplice might have misrepresented what the conversation was about while fishing for details), your grandfather made that statement in some letter or statement that entered the public record or private record, and the medium hired a private investigator (or maybe the medium is a PI, or has PI training) to dig it up (in the 1970s, it wouldn’t be an “internet archive”; it would be on microfilm/microfiche/paper)…

    Investigate non-supernatural possibilities first.

    Why is this a threat to anyone here?

    SIWOTI!

    Or rather:

    If there are ghosts or spirits, the fundamental understanding of physics is wrong. “Ghosts exist” is a very extraordinary claim.

    If you’re being defrauded, you should be aware of it.

    As i keep saying, these beliefs make me more aligned with you all, give me more reason to fight the good humanist fight and oppose traditional theism wherever it appears.

    I’m not sure how to articulate this.

    You shouldn’t have good values because of reasons that are comforting but false; you should have them because of things that are true. And at least one of the values you should have is actually valuing truth.

    I don’t believe in the supernatural, because I don’t believe any such thing exists; there’s only “natural but not yet understood.” If these things and these phenomena are real, they are natural and normal.

    That is certainly one perspective, but you should read this:

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

  57. Owlmirror says

    The part that made no sense, though, was the tennis shoes comment. I had no idea what it meant, since he died four years before I was born and we as a family never talked much about him.

    I asked my mother, and she got all quiet and then went “…he used to say that to your father. Him and your uncle. He always thought your father was elitist for playing tennis.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if your father and/or uncle brought up that tennis shoes phrase right after he died as something quirky and memorable that made it into your grandfather’s obituary, or something similar?

  58. says

    [Desperately trying to wrest the thread back from discussions of time-traveling bunnies, spiritualism, and bad flashbacks to talk.origins]

    @39: Fair enough. If I rephrase that to apply only to existence claims, ie: “There exists X, such that {list of characteristics}”, does that salvage the argument? Because the original discussion was about the existence of God.

  59. says

    Confirmation bias, line one. Line one, confirmation bias.

    Seriously, that’s the most non-skeptical thing I’ve seen here in literally years.

    “Psychics” and “mediums” say random things that are quite literally have zero meaning. Only later do you impute meaning to one of the things this person has said … and you think it’s “spooky”.

    This is classic self-delusion. Hucksters like John Edwards and all the other “talking to the dead” con people out there make a great living doing this. They might actually believe themselves that they have this “gift”. What they have is a talent for tapping into confirmation bias.

  60. lekteur says

    I agree that the absence of testable claims is not an excuse to justify believing in anything. However, if you are using this argument as a generalization of the position of the skeptics you are currently divorced from, then it is a strawman attack. The way I understand the current disagreement, it is unfair to say that a skeptic who decides not to address questions of religious faith because the claims are not testable de facto claims that such religious faith is justified. He just decides to not address that issue.

  61. John Morales says

    lekteur:

    The way I understand the current disagreement, it is unfair to say that a skeptic who decides not to address questions of religious faith because the claims are not testable de facto claims that such religious faith is justified. He just decides to not address that issue.

    Then you misunderstand; the disagreement is that a skeptic who decides not to address questions of religious faith because the claims are not testable de facto claims that such questions are not amenable to skepticism and thus cannot address that issue.

  62. Sastra says

    Azuma Hazuki #41 wrote:

    The second one was an investigation into what is commonly called “spiritism,” specifically, the ability of people to talk to the dead. He expected a similar result to the first. What he got was a strong majority report which more or less said “Holy shit this is real!

    I’ll mention 2 of the problems I’m seeing with your reasoning here:

    1.) The church investigators are neither scientists nor skeptics. They already believe in all the background assumptions which make spiritism likely and they probably had very little understanding of how to apply critical thinking skills or do a proper investigation — particularly back then, before skeptics were writing books or forming committees.

    2.) People in traditional religions like the C of E and the Catholic Church are conflicted in how they react to spiritualism. Some think it is real and comes from God; some think it is real and comes from the devil; some think it’s not real and people who believe in it are deluding themselves. That last group, however, is rather small. Religious people know that if they point the finger at other religious people and accuse them of gullibility … the other four fingers point backwards.

    The modern tendency is for everyone who believes in God to fall all over anything that looks like scientific evidence for the supernatural — whatever it is. There are no doubt Catholic priests who get excited over reincarnation stories. The number one goal is to dispel doubt. Get potential converts to become fervently “spiritual.” The religious details can be added later.

    Something else to consider: none of this threatens you or your movement.

    You’re missing the point. Please re-read my #34 again. Our #1 focus is on truth — not on fighting the politics of people we don’t like. That’s just a side issue. Even ESP would change our understanding of the nature of reality and be a big, huge, significant exciting deal (exciting, not scary.) Cranes become skyhooks. We new atheists are not concerned about “protecting” our atheism. We are concerned with following the evidence where it leads, first and foremost.

    Well, concerning my grandfather…someone who calls herself medium told me she got a message from him, and it included a phrase that made no sense at the same time: “I’m not a tennis shoes kind of person.”

    One of the most important things skeptics learn when we study the subject is that our memories are not little perfect video cameras. Eyewitness testimony is usually the weakest kind.

    So I can’t say for certain, of course, but my own first thought is that someone, somewhere, at some point may have misremembered a phrase or word. What the medium actually said may not be exactly what you remember her saying. What your grandfather used to say may not be exactly what your mother remembers him saying. What your mother said may not be exactly what you remember her saying. And so on. A slight change in phrasing coming from anyone — not “tennis shoes” but “white shoes” or “sneakers” or “shoes” or something similar — suddenly makes the coincidence much less compelling.

    This sort of thing happens a lot. And, unfortunately, the more certain you are that NO, you have made no mistake because you very clearly and specifically recall all the details very, very well … then the more likely the memory is reconstructed. Certainty is suspicious because again and again tests show that our recollections are sloppy. Particularly if emotions have been triggered.

    It may also have been what cold readers call a “dazzle shot.” Many professional psychics always try to throw in one or two off the wall statements into every reading. “Your father was buried with cigarettes in his pocket … but they were the wrong brand.” “When you were a child your aunt used to pretend that her little doggies were singing to you on your birthdays.” “You always cover your mouth and hum when you see a bee, don’t you?” 99% or more of the time they fall flat. It’s a completely random shot and a miss is never remembered.

    But IF you ever manage to get it right — you’re made. They’re dazzled. It just couldn’t be a coincidence. No way. It had to be real.

    Everyone is easier to fool than they think they are … if they don’t know what to watch for. And even then. Priests would be even more over-confident, I suspect.

  63. Owlmirror says

    It’s a completely random shot and a miss is never remembered.

    And it can be excused by such lovely handwaving as: “Sometimes some new presence tries to get an urgent message across. These séances draw the attention of many more beings than one’s loved ones. We don’t know who the message is from or who it’s intended for, alas.” or “Sorry, must be some spiritual crosstalk.”

    Hooray for bullshit.

  64. Azuma Hazuki says

    Okay, I give up. It was dumb of me to share something that freaked me out here. Silly. Will still answer a few things that came up though, since they were asked:

    I had NO IDEA my grandfather ever said anything like that. I had never heard the phrase “not a tennis shoes kind of person” before, ever, in any conversation that involved him. I remember very well what the exact phrase was because I asked the woman about it, saying it didn’t make sense, and she said apparently that isn’t unusual and to ignore it if it didn’t seem to match anything. I found it odd how little confidence she had in herself, which is very unlike the known charlatans like Sylvia Browne; she said she hates the idea of doing things like this on television or for pay, and she works a full-time job.

    I am also half a country away from my family at the moment, and if my family were in on this, they are far better actors than I would in my wildest dreams ever have suspected. Especially because my sister is violently (very literally violently) anti-anything-spiritual and my mother doesn’t believe any of this stuff.

    I know my father never mentioned the phrase around me, and while I could probably find my grandfather’s obit with enough work I’m sure it wouldn’t appear there. My grandfather alienated his own family pretty well and by all accounts wasn’t missed, or mourned, very much. It definitely did not appear during my uncle’s funeral or obit (another one who levelled the same accusation at my father), and I know because I was present for that one.

    @53 and 54/Drolfe

    Honestly, I don’t think any of this would prove any of physics wrong, just incomplete. I can postulate, for example, multiple “planes” vibrating slightly out of phase with one another, each having somewhat different values for certain physical constants, which would allow them to exist in effectively the same “space,” i.e., interpenetrating one another. They’d all be the same basic stuff-reality-is-made-of, just manifested differently.

    I say the same to OwlMirror at #59, incidentally one of my favorite commentators here: there’s a hidden assumption or three built into “ghost,” already defined as “something physics as I know it says is impossible.” Why would it be? Why does a ghost need to be anything else but “someone’s body, just on a different set of wavelengths?” Supposedly, and I am ONLY echoing back what Findlay et. al are themselves guessing, they’re just as material as we are, just a slightly different kind of material, and have said as much.

    tl;dr: we don’t need to assume an entirely new or even vastly different physics for this to have a plausible mechanism.

    @ 65 (and 34) Sastra

    Yes. I know all this. I don’t want any of this to be true. That’s what makes this so bizarre and unnerving, that I’m not the kind of person who wants any of this to be real. It jars all the science we know (then again, so did QM in the 1910s…), it means a tremendous amount of rethinking the very basic assumptions of physics (as did QM), and perhaps threateningly to some, it means they need to start dealing with people who peddle metaphysics as something other than complete quacks.

    Still, I can think of some fairly simple additions or extrapolations to what we already know that would accommodate this easily. And honestly, it sounds no kookier than string/M-theory, or the “many worlds” interpretation; if anything, it would be a cleaner “many worlds” hypothesis. Very advanced physics already sounds like something someone would come up with on expired ayahuasca.

  65. Owlmirror says

    I remember very well what the exact phrase was because I asked the woman about it, saying it didn’t make sense, and she said apparently that isn’t unusual and to ignore it if it didn’t seem to match anything.

    Which looks like the “dazzle shot” Sastra mentioned.

    A question to ponder: Why is your grandfather so hung up on his classist resentment of your father that he expresses it from beyond the grave in a putative conversation with you?

    while I could probably find my grandfather’s obit with enough work I’m sure it wouldn’t appear there. My grandfather alienated his own family pretty well and by all accounts wasn’t missed, or mourned, very much.

    Just out of curiosity, have you ever seen his tombstone?

    (another one who levelled the same accusation at my father)

    Baffling. This was a thing?

    Why does a ghost need to be anything else but “someone’s body, just on a different set of wavelengths?”

    What does that even mean?

    I’ve seen similar references to “wavelengths” and/or “vibrations”, in newage material, but it looks suspiciously like gobbledygook. Wavelengths of what? Where is this putative “body”, and how exactly does it even get there?

    we don’t need to assume an entirely new or even vastly different physics for this to have a plausible mechanism.

    Convince physicists of this. E.g.:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/05/23/physics-and-the-immortality-of-the-soul/

    And honestly, it sounds no kookier than string/M-theory, or the “many worlds” interpretation; if anything, it would be a cleaner “many worlds” hypothesis. Very advanced physics already sounds like something someone would come up with on expired ayahuasca.

    That’s something to beware of. “Advanced theoretical physics sounds wacky, therefore, this wacky sounding idea is just as good as advanced theoretical physics!”

    No. Just no.

  66. Sastra says

    Azuma Hazuki #67 wrote:

    It jars all the science we know (then again, so did QM in the 1910s…), it means a tremendous amount of rethinking the very basic assumptions of physics (as did QM), and perhaps threateningly to some, it means they need to start dealing with people who peddle metaphysics as something other than complete quacks.

    I think there are far too many unknowns in this personal anecdote — as well as alternative explanations (including the ‘dazzle shot’) — for even you to conclude (or worry) that all of science is going to have to be rethought from scratch. Keep in mind the scope and power of the claim and realize that it’s very unlikely that a completely new form of energy or whatever would only manifest itself in small and essentially trivial little incidents here and there. If you really think you “can think of some fairly simple additions or extrapolations to what we already know which would accommodate this easily” my guess is that this is probably because you don’t know a lot about physics. Neither do I — but I think it involves math … and predictions.

    What happened then with the psychic? I don’t know. Not enough information. We’ve simply been throwing out some ideas because it’s interesting. So you shouldn’t feel “dumb” unless what you really wanted was reassurance that yes, it’s all true (which you say you don’t want.) Skepticism isn’t about “debunking.” It’s about being an investigator. And, as the OP pointed out, doing so while being constrained by probabilities. You should still be curious. I think it’s too soon (and too little) to draw even personal conclusions.

  67. Anri says

    neuroguy:

    But the existence of God does not restrict the hypothesis space. What possible evidence is inconsistent with it?

    There can be no evidence against a god that was totally uninvolved in the creation or operation of the universe. On the other hand, there would be literally no difference to the universe of such a god’s existence or lack thereof.
    As soon as you posit that god in some way alters the universe, then every single time you find an example you take to be such interference, and it proves to have a more prosaic cause, that’s evidence against that version of god existing. An eternally undefined god can have no evidence brought against it, but that’s not consistent with any version of god that’s actually bandied about by any religion I’m aware of.

    To echo your own challenge, if you have evidence that someone actually believes in such a completely undefined and non-acting god, and believes the existence of such a being to be significant, please present it. Otherwise, we can safely restrict our debunking to actual god-beliefs, and not make up hypothetical god-beliefs just to make things harder for ourselves.
    If someone begins an argument with, “Wouldn’t it be an interesting thought experiment to assume…”, you can always answer, “No, not really.”

    To put it another way: tell me what god does, and I’ll be able to tell you what would be evidence against god doing it.

  68. says

    Does it occur to you why your anecdote wouldn’t be allowed as evidence in a trial, AH? Nor in science, FWIW. Honestly, there’s just nothing there for us, because we don’t have the misses, we only have a “hit” that depends upon the memories of two individuals. And we also know that there is a long history of supposed communications from the dead that proved to be wrong.

    It just doesn’t pass any kind of test that matters. We don’t know what information the medium might have had, we have no exact record of anything that was said either by the grandfather and by the “channel,” we have no controls nor anything that can be checked by statistics. If it means something to you, then it does, but it’s impossible to see why it’s supposed to mean anything to us.

    What we know is that when the proper controls are in place it never seems to work at all. Are we really supposed to accept that it works reasonably well when the proper investigative tools are not in play?

    My uncle swears that he heard a voice warn him that something was about to fall on him, which it would have if he hadn’t moved. God, says he. What am I to make of that? What am I to make of the voice that warned Hitler to move away from where a bomb, or shell or whatever, hit seconds later, according to him?

    They’re just anecdotes. No one quite manages to win big at the stock market over any data that only some dead person knows (you’d probably get a few who swear that they did, but fail to produce a pattern that’s convincing). Has any psychic managed to convincingly solve a murder? Or better, to prevent one? No, it’s always the anecdotes, they convince many people, but why doesn’t anything manage to nail it?

    Why don’t we want to accept it? Because we never get the evidence that would do it, that’s why.*

    Glen Davidson

    *Oh, everybody? Course not, we all have a stake in being right, and I’m sure that some would balk at very good evidence. Many of us did leave magic (religion in my case) in large part because it never seemed to work, and would have loved it if it had. Sastra was in the New Agey stuff, again, would have loved it to have worked, but didn’t want to cling to junk that never has the evidence, only some really nice anecdotes that obviously appeal to many people.

  69. consciousness razor says

    Honestly, I don’t think any of this would prove any of physics wrong, just incomplete.

    But it wouldn’t do that. I don’t think you’re appreciating what it would take to prove physics incomplete. (Owlmirror’s link in #68 is a very good one on this point.)

    We’ll come across unusual events sometimes, and a lot of naturalistic explanations for them might seem very unlikely. But that does not make them physically impossible, just unlikely. It’s not as if unlikely things don’t happen. They just don’t happen much. So, for example, when people think they see an alien spaceship, maybe it was instead just some unusual circumstances in the atmosphere or an object flying around that wouldn’t normally be there. If no one has any information about it and no way to collect that information after the fact, it might ultimately remain unsolved. Maybe the natural explanations are unlikely in some way (e.g., this was a one-off event where a kid let go of a balloon, you were at just the right angle, the light happened to reflect it a certain way….) but that certainly doesn’t imply it’s more likely that it was a spaceship, or that our entire understanding of how the world works and what it’s made of is is fundamentally wrong.

    So let me ask you this: how much energy does it take to transmit a psychic message, to some person living or dead? When has anyone ever observed that? How exactly does that information get transmitted between two people? If not with some kind of energy, then by what mechanism which isn’t already ruled out by physical laws?

    And when physicists do look at what happens in the world (including in our heads), and don’t see any such thing ever occurring and wouldn’t have any way to fit it into our understanding of the world, what do you make of that? What you would have to make is an alternative theory (about physics, plus this other magical stuff). You couldn’t just say “well, some guy said something which is really odd and such a wild coincidence that I don’t think I can ever really be satisfied with that answer.” You’d have to actually do the work to show how it happens and fits with everything else we see happening.

  70. Azuma Hazuki says

    All right, I give up. No more of this. We’ll go our own separate ways on this. If any of you are truly interested in investigating, find a copy of Findlay’s “On The Edge of The Etheric” (email me and I’ll send you a PDF) and see what you think.

    I fully admit that a) it doesn’t convince me all the way either and b) I’m probably not the most careful/”dissective” reader out there, especially compared with some people here.

    I just think there’s more to reality than current science tells us there is. We may not be seeing more because there isn’t more, or we may not be seeing more because we don’t know where/how to look. What is dark matter? Where does consciousness come from and where does it reside? Why the fuck do the electrons in the dual-slit experiment care whether someone’s watching them or not, and how?

  71. consciousness razor says

    Why the fuck do the electrons in the dual-slit experiment care whether someone’s watching them or not, and how?

    They don’t. To put it another way and stick with the metaphors for a second, they also “care” when another electron (or photon or whatever) is “watching” them. The point isn’t that elementary particles are sentient. That’s just not what “observation” means in this context; it basically just means “interaction.” So, the “observer” could just be an instrument or it could be anything at all.

  72. chigau (違う) says

    My Hungarian Grandmother had direct personal experience of Witches.
    They had pointy chins.
    Why would I doubt my Granny?

  73. says

    David Marjanović, @55 above:

    Does the CoE do exorcisms (or did they back then)? If so, he already believed in spirits, so the only question was whether there was a way of talking to them that wasn’t in the Bible.

    I rather gather this is something the CoE doesn’t explicitly advertise they do – I rather gather it’s one of the things they prefer to ‘keep on the q.t.’ (quiet), that there are priests within the clergy who informally are known to be exorcists. One of my religious friends in the Anglican clergy claimed (in semi-private conversation with me and another friend) to have performed an exorcism (following one of the Catholic rites of exorcism) when he was stationed in one of the dioceses in Western Australia; from the way he described having become involved, I gathered it involved some rather disturbing behaviour by a person within a parish being reported to the parish priest, who then referred to the local bishop asking for help, who finally passed it on to him.

    On the other hand, the Catholics are well-known for having priests who are explicitly and publicly named as exorcists. The particular arm or stream of the Anglican church which tends to follow the various Catholic rituals (but without loyalty to Rome) are the same group that tend to have clergy prepared to do exorcisms.

    So… yeah no. I have no doubt my friend was sincere in having claimed to have performed an exorcism. However, I doubt the ritual has anything more to it than merely the psychological version of the placebo effect, and thus quite mundane – but instead it’s ‘out there’ as being some sensational crap owing to those films with weird special effects of spinning heads and projectile vomit.

  74. neuroguy says

    @40:

    I see your point here, but I think one should distinguish between hypotheses that are wrong (e.g. falsified) and “hypotheses” which are “not even wrong” (e.g. unfalsifiable) even if the tactics adopted by their proponents are similar.

    There is in theory potential evidence which could and would point strongly towards the existence of God — or at least the supernatural. Atheists would have to change their minds given certain situations: naturalism is falsifiable.

    Please state an example of this theoretical potential evidence, and I will show you that it doesn’t – in fact – point to the existence of God. And also, again, what exactly is naturalism, not defined in a question-begging manner as “the hypothesis that all things happen apart from God”.

    If we’re to take the God hypothesis seriously and not just play games with ourselves (“I have to find a way to believe!”) then the existence of God should and does restrict the hypothesis space.

    I accept the syllogism but deny the consequent; I’ll grant the hypothesis shouldn’t be taken seriously since the existence of God does not in fact restrict the hypothesis space (this is due to the definition of God being omnipotent). That’s my point all along. It’s like claiming the validity of a ten-parameter model using ten datapoints.

    I’ll agree the problem comes when theists attempt to claim other things about God and then, when these are falsified, fall back on the unfalsifiability of God. That’s where the intellectual dishonesty lies.

    Under fair rules a universe which is fundamentally mental and moral to the core would look very different from one which wasn’t.

    I assume you are proposing the evidential argument from evil, which argues that P(evil|God) << P(evil|~God). The same argument applies as originally stated; these probabilities are undefined since the number of possible worlds is infinite.

    If instead you are proposing the logical argument from evil P(evil|God) = 0, the burden of proof is on you to show there cannot possibly be any greater good we don't see (which has not been met by any atheist philosopher to date, which is why this argument is out of favor among atheist philosophers).

    That no possible evidence is supposed to count against God isn’t in the model. It’s in the modelers — the believers. Theists are like dowsers who wait confidently to see how well they did in finding those hidden bottles of water…

    Well yes and no. Theists want you to believe something else than what’s actually in the model, whereas dowsers change the model post hoc.

    @61:

    Fair enough. If I rephrase that to apply only to existence claims, ie: “There exists X, such that {list of characteristics}”, does that salvage the argument? Because the original discussion was about the existence of God.

    No, because the number of possible worlds is infinite, and therefore the prior probability of X is either zero (if it exists only in a finite number of possible worlds) or undefined (if it exists in an infinite subset) or one (if it exists in all possible worlds). Obviously this isn’t too helpful which is why priors need to be defined using background knowledge which narrows the relevant possible universes to a finite subset.

    @70:

    As soon as you posit that god in some way alters the universe, then every single time you find an example you take to be such interference, and it proves to have a more prosaic cause, that’s evidence against that version of god existing…”

    This begs the question: it assumes the existence of something (an “unaltered” universe) denied by the existence of an omnipotent God. In other words, it’s assumed the universe would be a certain way without the “action” or “alteration” of God; but with an omnipotent God God’s action is also necessary to make the universe the supposedly “unaltered” way.

    To echo your own challenge, if you have evidence that someone actually believes in such a completely undefined and non-acting god, and believes the existence of such a being to be significant, please present it. Otherwise, we can safely restrict our debunking to actual god-beliefs, and not make up hypothetical god-beliefs just to make things harder for ourselves.

    Deism.

    To put it another way: tell me what god does, and I’ll be able to tell you what would be evidence against god doing it.

    OK, I’m telling you God does everything.

  75. Owlmirror says

    I am also half a country away from my family at the moment, and if my family were in on this, they are far better actors than I would in my wildest dreams ever have suspected. Especially because my sister is violently (very literally violently) anti-anything-spiritual and my mother doesn’t believe any of this stuff.

    Sigh. You keep on not getting it. They don’t have to be in on it. No-one is positing that the medium called them and said “Hey, I want some details about your father/grandfather so as to have something unusual to freak out your daughter/sister by pretending to get a message from him.” Because that would be dumb.
     
    But what if one or both received a friendly call from someone claiming to be from a historical society, or alumni association, or best of all, claiming to be tracing a genealogy, and wondering if your families link up? And then they bring up your grandfather as someone they’re trying to find out more about?

    ============

    All right, I give up. No more of this.

    Awwww.

    If any of you are truly interested in investigating, find a copy of Findlay’s “On The Edge of The Etheric”

    Who?

    (Wikipedia:)

    Arthur Findlay MBE JP (1883- July 1964) was a writer, accountant, stockbroker and Essex magistrate, as well as a significant figure in the history of the religion of Spiritualism, being a partial founder of the newspaper Psychic News and also a founder of the International Institute for Psychical Research.
    [...]
    Bibliography
    On Spiritualism
    —————–
    On The Edge Of The Etheric: Being An Investigation Of Psychic Phenomena, 1931, in which Findley examines the theory that spirits are linked to subatomic physics.

    (I see that a PDF edition of the book more boldly proclaims its subtitle as being: “Survival After Death Scientifically Explained”)

    Well.

    I’m probably not the most careful/”dissective” reader out there

    I’ll say. You’re also not the most careful theorizer.

    I mean… first you bring up some coy hints obscure church history, the details of which when revealed are obviously unconvincing with regards to your thesis, even if said Archbishop “felt truly threatened” (which doesn’t actually follow from what you relate). Then you mentioned an anecdote about your dead grandfather, which was more interesting because it was at least something you saw/heard directly. Now you’re bringing up this book by Findlay, a Spiritualist with no background in science but who apparently provides an appealingly “sciencey” narrative for ghosts to exist.

    Why did you lead off with your weakest dataset as though it was somehow the clincher?

    I just think there’s more to reality than current science tells us there is.

    Well, duh. That’s why science still continues.

    We may not be seeing more because there isn’t more, or we may not be seeing more because we don’t know where/how to look. What is dark matter?

    Irrelevant to the question of ghosts. See the essay by Sean M. Carroll (and additional essays on the same topic).

    Where does consciousness come from and where does it reside?

    It comes from our brains and is inside our brains. If it isn’t, why does a blow to the head cause confusion?

  76. consciousness razor says

    Please state an example of this theoretical potential evidence, and I will show you that it doesn’t – in fact – point to the existence of God. And also, again, what exactly is naturalism, not defined in a question-begging manner as “the hypothesis that all things happen apart from God”.

    If we found that a mind isn’t reducible to physical interactions, then naturalism is false.

    If there were a god, then it would be a sort of mind which isn’t reducible to physical interactions. It doesn’t have neurons or electrical circuits or any other body or system doing the work of giving it a mind. It’s just pure Love, or pure Hate, or Being Itself, or whatever: it’s an agent, capable of thinking, awareness, intention, etc., without any of the parts that make it happen in agents like people or robots or jellyfish or thermostats. You might even say it’s “outside spacetime” or “immaterial” or lots of similar things, but the point is that there’s no engine under the hood. Thus, it’s the sort of thing which would falsify naturalism, because it has mental properties but those aren’t due to non-mental stuff.

    (You could also stipulate that a god is “omnipotent” or “benevolent” or that it does what the Bible says it does, what the Koran says, what the Tao Te Ching says, what Joe Schmoe says, etc., but these aren’t generally necessary for just any old god that anyone whatsoever might believe exists. Those sorts of claims are just a sideshow and can be refuted or discarded, affecting particular flavors of god but without saying much of anything about what all gods have in common.)

    The same goes if people have immaterial souls, or if, say, elementary particles have mental properties not derived from their physical ones, like in panpsychism. That sort of thing has never been observed (and practically speaking, there’s no chance they ever will be), but its existence wouldn’t be logically contradictory, so in principle, if it existed, it could be studied and would show that naturalism is false.

  77. Owlmirror says

    And also, again, what exactly is naturalism, not defined in a question-begging manner as “the hypothesis that all things happen apart from God”.

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

    If [naturalism] is true, then all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely caused by natural [i.e. fundamentally nonmental] phenomena. But if naturalism is false, then some minds, or some of the contents or powers or effects of minds, are causally independent of nature. In other words, such things would then be partly or wholly caused by themselves, or exist or operate directly or fundamentally on their own.

    To put it another way: tell me what god does, and I’ll be able to tell you what would be evidence against god doing it.

    OK, I’m telling you God does everything.

    Or in other words, pantheism. God is thus synonymous with reality, yes?

    So by this thesis, either God is not a person, or reality is a person that pretends to be indistinguishable from a reality that is not a person.

  78. Azuma Hazuki says

    @78/Owlmirror

    I’ll ask about the historical society approach. I’d briefly considered that but thought it so unlikely as to be beyond usefulness to investigate. I am sending my mother an email right now and will post the result I get (duly sanitized to protect the innocent, and as asked earlier, no, I don’t mind people knowing my name is Marissa).

    [Consciousness] comes from our brains and is inside our brains. If it isn’t, why does a blow to the head cause confusion?

    Um…the first objection someone would make to that is the old reply, “Well, the brain is just a receiver, like a radio antenna, and if you damage the radio the signal drops out.”

    This is not even close to being a knock-down, drag-out argument. Not that the riposte is falsifiable (or at least I can’t think of a way to falsify it…), but that’s making a lot of assumptions I’m not sure we have the right to make.

    I’ll say. You’re also not the most careful theorizer.

    I mean… first you bring up some coy hints obscure church history, the details of which when revealed are obviously unconvincing with regards to your thesis, even if said Archbishop “felt truly threatened” (which doesn’t actually follow from what you relate). Then you mentioned an anecdote about your dead grandfather, which was more interesting because it was at least something you saw/heard directly. Now you’re bringing up this book by Findlay, a Spiritualist with no background in science but who apparently provides an appealingly “sciencey” narrative for ghosts to exist.

    Why did you lead off with your weakest dataset as though it was somehow the clincher?

    I thought the “weakest” dataset would be the strongest, personally, because the various Churches are essentially giant multinational corporations which deal in social control. This is especially true of the RCC, and at the time was true of the CoE/Anglo-Catholic Church (as we now know, Britain is rather godless…).

    So, my reasoning goes, if the reaction from Lang was not to simply dismiss it, or hold it aloft in front of the believers, it means he felt threatened by it. It may have been nothing more than “Oh, shit, this is going to cause all sorts of confusion if it gets out,” but it could very well be closer to “If this gets out the religion is ruined!”

    And I think the wording of the report itself, which was so specifically loaded with apologia for the CoE and whining about how the phenomena needed to be understood and used in the service of the CoE’s teachings, points to the latter. Deceived or not, the commission knew it was playing with theological dynamite.

    As to Concetti and the RCC, despite it being my natal church I am still mystified by a lot of that organization. I know that, especially among the Jesuits, there’s more flexibility than the catechism would have a casual reader believe, but still.

    And it is the fact that Concetti specifically says the modern catechism no longer forbids contact with the deceased that got my attention. I don’t know how high up Concetti was/is, but to be able to make a statement like that about the catechism itself suggests that he is far from the only one to hold this belief.

    Regarding Findlay, he may not have had any scientific training, but is it truly necessary? At least read On The Edge Of The Etheric and The Way Of Life all the way through before judging. I can get you those, as well as both volumes of The Curse of Ignorance, which is a world history he wrote that is not at all kind to Christianity or indeed religion at all. He was no scientist, but maybe he didn’t need to be. OtEotE makes multiple references to his holding down the medium (John C Sloan) and holding his ear to Sloan’s lips, and still the voices persisted, and said things there was no possible way Sloan could know, sometimes in languages Sloan couldn’t speak.

    I know this all sounds insane. I wonder sometimes if I am insane, if too much trauma has snapped my mind. But I think this all bears further investigation, and I don’t think modern scientists are approaching it unbiased.

  79. Owlmirror says

    Um…the first objection someone would make to that is the old reply, “Well, the brain is just a receiver, like a radio antenna, and if you damage the radio the signal drops out.”

    Gah. And that objection is bullshit from beginning to end. It makes no damn sense at all.

    (Ironically, I had a similar conversation with heddle recently, which ended, as usual, with him abandoning the discussion).

    It might have some support if the brain were purely perceptual; if nothing about the way the brain works cognitively was affected by physical reality. But the opposite is the case. The brain is a modular system with components even for very basic parts of cognition.

    If one part of the brain is damaged, no new event memories can form.
    If another part is damaged, some very basic emotions are not felt.
    If yet another part is damaged, it’s no longer possible to produce speech.
    If still another part is damaged, it’s no longer possible to understand speech.
    And if still another part is damaged, moral choices change.

    Nothing about these, and other aspects of cognition that change when the brain changes, is in any way consistent with the brain being something so stupidly passive as a “receiver”.

    I thought the “weakest” dataset would be the strongest, personally, because the various Churches are essentially giant multinational corporations which deal in social control.

    And that makes no sense. For pity’s sake, you’re trying to support the thesis that ghosts exist. The nature of the Churches is not relevant at all. What the Churches think is true about ghosts — the opinion of believers already predisposed to believe in spooks — is not relevant.

    Only actual evidence for ghosts existing should be considered as even relevant to the question of whether ghosts exist.

    Really, this is like those Christians who claim that there’s historical support of Jesus — when all of the historians they cite were writing about Christians who believed that Jesus existed.

    Regarding Findlay, he may not have had any scientific training, but is it truly necessary?

    Holy shit, yes! He was by damn making scientific claims, and he damn well needed to be able to support them with an understanding of how science works.

    OtEotE makes multiple references to his holding down the medium (John C Sloan) and holding his ear to Sloan’s lips, and still the voices persisted, and said things there was no possible way Sloan could know, sometimes in languages Sloan couldn’t speak.

    And how was this different from auditory hallucinations?

    http://www.hearing-voices.org/

  80. Azuma Hazuki says

    Gah. And that objection is bullshit from beginning to end. It makes no damn sense at all.

    (Ironically, I had a similar conversation with heddle recently, which ended, as usual, with him abandoning the discussion).

    It might have some support if the brain were purely perceptual; if nothing about the way the brain works cognitively was affected by physical reality. But the opposite is the case. The brain is a modular system with components even for very basic parts of cognition.

    If one part of the brain is damaged, no new event memories can form.
    If another part is damaged, some very basic emotions are not felt.
    If yet another part is damaged, it’s no longer possible to produce speech.
    If still another part is damaged, it’s no longer possible to understand speech.
    And if still another part is damaged, moral choices change.

    Nothing about these, and other aspects of cognition that change when the brain changes, is in any way consistent with the brain being something so stupidly passive as a “receiver”.

    Heddle can go burn in his own hell for all I care. I’ve rarely met anyone so vile; he’s what happens when someone who ought to know better flat refuses to, and I’d be simultaneously intrigued and frightened to learn how he accepted Calvinism of all things. What’s the payoff?

    As to the rest of this, none of the modularity proves or disproves the brain-as-receiver hypothesis. I know why you’d say it does, but it doesn’t. At best it’s circumstantial evidence. All it means is that specific areas of the brain output to specific functions of the body and outward expressions of mind, and if you damage them, those functions are impeded or shut down. There’s nothing passive about it.

    OtEotE makes multiple references to his holding down the medium (John C Sloan) and holding his ear to Sloan’s lips, and still the voices persisted, and said things there was no possible way Sloan could know, sometimes in languages Sloan couldn’t speak.

    And how was this different from auditory hallucinations?

    http://www.hearing-voices.org/

    …did you not see the part about “languages Sloan couldn’t speak?” Will you please at least read these things all the way through before you judge? I had all the same objections you did, honestly. Email me (it’s a gmail account, not hard to figure out what it is) and I’ll send you all the material. At least read it all the way through before you judge.

    This is not an area which has received much unbiased attention, and I believe the majority of people who claim abilities in this area are frauds. Unfortunately they’re also the ones who get loud and belligerent and look for people to test them (and then promptly fail).

    Sloan never advertised. It’s a large part of Findlay’s description of him that he was an ordinary working man, not too bright or too educated, and actually a bit of a complainer. He never asked for money, and did all this right up until old age where his memory and vision were failing him (and supposedly this didn’t affect the quality of his readings at all).

  81. John Phillips, FCD says

    You do know what the phrase ‘auditory hallucinations’ means? I.e. he was hearing things and so the source internal or anything that Sloan might have actually been saying was being ‘filtered’ by his brain. Skepticism? You’re doing it wrong.

  82. Azuma Hazuki says

    This isn’t the place for this. I’ll reply to Owlmirror with the results of the email i sent, but i’ve got no chance of properly explaining this here. Heaven knows it took me months and months of continuous study to overcome these very same objections, and I’m still not entirely convinced.

    No single piece of this is enough; it’s the gestalt.

  83. consciousness razor says

    So, my reasoning goes, if the reaction from Lang was not to simply dismiss it, or hold it aloft in front of the believers, it means he felt threatened by it. It may have been nothing more than “Oh, shit, this is going to cause all sorts of confusion if it gets out,” but it could very well be closer to “If this gets out the religion is ruined!”

    That may well be the case. Our assumption shouldn’t be that his judgment is infallible or that he must have been acting rationally. So some guy thought it was bad for his religion or that it was good — who cares either way? We still have no reason at all to believe that what he thought was correct. Your metaphysics is just plain broken if it depends on what some guy believed one time, without even trying to check whether or not his beliefs were right.

    And it is the fact that Concetti specifically says the modern catechism no longer forbids contact with the deceased that got my attention. I don’t know how high up Concetti was/is, but to be able to make a statement like that about the catechism itself suggests that he is far from the only one to hold this belief.

    Who cares how many people believe it? Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy.

    As to the rest of this, none of the modularity proves or disproves the brain-as-receiver hypothesis. I know why you’d say it does, but it doesn’t. At best it’s circumstantial evidence. All it means is that specific areas of the brain output to specific functions of the body and outward expressions of mind, and if you damage them, those functions are impeded or shut down. There’s nothing passive about it.

    Huh? Read Carroll’s essay. Tell me what kind of signal it could possibly be, if the brain is functioning like a transmitter/receiver. Is the signal electromagnetic, gravitational, or what? How could this possibly fit into everything else we know about the world?

    How does a material object like a brain react to some transmission to/from an immaterial soul (or immaterial consciousness or whatever you call it)? It can’t be that there is no physical effect at all, because then your claim amounts to saying it isn’t receiving anything or doing anything with it. So there must be something to observe in the brain, if it is a kind of receiver/transmitter. So it’s some physical interaction, all of which have been ruled out already, even though you may not realize that yet. If it were something like electromagnetic energy, then the energy required to do that kind of transmission (to where? some other dimension? wherever souls are?) would basically make your head melt, which does not in fact happen.

  84. David Marjanović says

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

    That’s a good article.

    Honestly, I don’t think any of this would prove any of physics wrong, just incomplete.

    Same thing. :-)

    I can postulate, for example, multiple “planes” vibrating slightly out of phase with one another, each having somewhat different values for certain physical constants, which would allow them to exist in effectively the same “space,” i.e., interpenetrating one another. They’d all be the same basic stuff-reality-is-made-of, just manifested differently.

    …As Owlmirror said, “vibrating” would be 1960s newage, not physics as we know it. Physics (even string theory, AFAIK) does not postulate that spacetime vibrates.

    I say the same to OwlMirror at #59, incidentally one of my favorite commentators here: there’s a hidden assumption or three built into “ghost,” already defined as “something physics as I know it says is impossible.” Why would it be? Why does a ghost need to be anything else but “someone’s body, just on a different set of wavelengths?”

    I don’t understand what that would even mean. The wavelength of a particle is inversely proportional to its energy, and by that I mean such things as heat and velocity.

    Supposedly, and I am ONLY echoing back what Findlay et. al are themselves guessing, they’re just as material as we are, just a slightly different kind of material

    You don’t seem to notice that you’re postulating a whole new kind of matter here. It can’t be dark matter, because dark matter only interacts with visible matter by gravity. It can’t even be supersymmetric particles, because those are way too unstable if they exist at all.

    Perhaps physics does need a huge extension, but it would be huge indeed.

    the voice that warned Hitler to move away from where a bomb, or shell or whatever, hit seconds later, according to him

    No, once he left the room just before a bomb exploded there, and another time he happened to bend over a big granite table right when a bomb exploded under it. He attributed his survival of these and about 40 other assassination attempts to “Providence” without ever going into detail or claiming voices.

    The point isn’t that elementary particles are sentient. That’s just not what “observation” means in this context; it basically just means “interaction.”

    Not just “basically”. It means exactly “force acting on it”.

    So, the “observer” could just be an instrument or it could be anything at all.

    And indeed that’s what it is in the vast majority of cases. That’s why we only see quantum superpositions in very carefully maintained, very empty places.

    I rather gather this is something the CoE doesn’t explicitly advertise they do – I rather gather it’s one of the things they prefer to ‘keep on the q.t.’ (quiet), that there are priests within the clergy who informally are known to be exorcists.

    I see, thanks!

    If yet another part is damaged, it’s no longer possible to produce speech.

    Those are several different parts, and damaging them has different results – look up Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas for a start.

    …did you not see the part about “languages Sloan couldn’t speak?”

    I’d like to know details. Did Findlay speak those languages? Had Sloan been exposed to them earlier? Or… a colleague once lived in Spain for a while, and it took somebody he was living with two weeks to find out that he had never learned Spanish. He was just reconstructing it on the fly from Latin and French. Similarly, I can read scientific papers in Spanish and Italian pretty fluently, but I’ve been taught very little Spanish and no Italian ever (yeah, well, 10 words maybe).

  85. David Marjanović says

    …a colleague of mine, that is. The things I notice while clicking “submit”. *sigh*

    To provide some stark contrast, this weekend will be Pentecost. About that, the Bible says that the apostles spoke Elamite among many others. Elamite is not something you can fake from knowing other languages plus a bit of linguistics (the colleague I’m talking about had an amazing highschool education).

    Is the signal electromagnetic, gravitational, or what? How could this possibly fit into everything else we know about the world?

    In more detail: reductionism has been so successful that there are only five known forces in the universe: electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force, gravity, and dark energy. (And it’s possible that dark energy can be “reduced” to one of the others; and electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force are actually underlyingly the same thing, called the electroweak force, and chances are very good that the strong force is actually the same, too.)

    So, if it’s not one of those, you’re proposing a big expansion of physics as we know it. (Again.)

    Applying electrodes to the brain or very strong magnets to the outside of the head has all kinds of reproducible, understandable effects on behavior, from movements to moral choices and back. Why would a receiver for whatever else be able to be influenced this way?

    Why does the brain consist of nerve cells???

  86. consciousness razor says

    Why does the brain consist of nerve cells???

    Exactly. Poring over old ghost stories and speculation from unreliable sources is no replacement for actually looking at a brain. Just once. What exactly is the nervous system doing, if a soul is doing all the work? If the brain has functions, what are they? Do they all amount to sending and receiving signals From Beyond™? If not, then which of the “processing” functions does the brain do, and which are done by the soul? And if there are any cognitive functions which aren’t being done by a brain, how do you know that? Where’s the evidence for it?

  87. Azuma Hazuki says

    So much to reply to! Bear with me, this is likely going to be a little disjointed as my insane work hours have left me badly frazzled…

    @86/Consciousness’ Razor

    And it is the fact that Concetti specifically says the modern catechism no longer forbids contact with the deceased that got my attention. I don’t know how high up Concetti was/is, but to be able to make a statement like that about the catechism itself suggests that he is far from the only one to hold this belief.

    Who cares how many people believe it? Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy.

    Do you not see the significance of this?! It means the largest and oldest and most powerful (and likely most corrupt) church on the planet, one which claims over a billion members, is collectively so impressed by what it considers evidence for something that runs completely counter to its central dogmas and indeed its very reason for being that it allowed one of its well-respected theologians to get away with posting it in its own newspaper!

    Step back from automatically looking for fallacies and take this in its own little vacuum here. The RCC has zero reason to publish this. It harms its credibility immensely with the people it’s been terrorizing.

    Furthermore, study of early (pre-Nicene) Church fathers shows that there is precedent for this: Tertullian, gloomy old hellfire-and-brimstone Montanist that he was, gives a record of what moderns would call “materialization mediumship” in De Anima (“on the soul”):

    For seeing that we acknowledge spiritual charismata, or gifts, we too have
    merited the attainment of the prophetic gift. We have now amongst us a sister
    whose lot it has been to be favoured with sundry gifts of revelation, which she
    experiences in the spirit by ecstatic vision amidst the sacred rites of the Lord’s
    day in the church. She converses with the angels, and sometimes even with the
    Lord; she both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men’s hearts
    she understands, and to them who are in need she distributes remedies.
    Whether it be in the reading of the Scriptures or in the chanting of psalms, or in
    the preaching of sermons, or in the offering up of prayers, in all these religious
    services, matter and opportunity are afforded her of seeing visions.
    It may possibly have happened to us, whilst this sister of ours was rapt in the
    spirit (in trance), that we had discoursed in some ineffable way about the soul.
    After the people are dismissed at the conclusion of the sacred services, she is in
    the regular habit of reporting to us whatever things she may have seen in vision;
    for all her communications are examined with the most scrupulous care, in order
    that their truth may be probed.

    “Amongst other things,” says she, “there has
    been shewn to me a soul in bodily shape, and a spirit has been in the habit of
    appearing to me; not, however, a void and empty illusion, but such as would
    offer itself to be even grasped by the hand, soft and transparent and of an
    ethereal colour, and in form resembling that of a human being in every respect.
    This was her vision, and for her witness there was God; and the Apostle Paul
    most assuredly foretold that there were to be spiritual gifts in the Church.

    And yes, I KNOW this doesn’t increase the credibility of the phenomena at large, but it means this goes back a long, long way. There is a history of this in the church, stretching to back before the council of Nicaea corrupted Christianity into the pagan mishmash we’ve known and been oppressed by for 1700 freaking years.

    “Charismata” would properly mean “psychic/spiritual gifts” in modern English, and they are legion through the Bible as well as the apocrypha and in secular and other religions’ contemporary texts. Paul’s “visions” are a classical case of trance mediumship by those definitions, and the Pentecost, which started the Disciples on their speaking tour (the Gospels say they just went back to fishing, or praising God in temple, depending on which one you read) sounds similar.

    “The spirit descending on [Jesus] like a dove” followed by a voice speaking would be what is now called “direct voice” mediumship, and it is the kind which Findlay was particularly impressed with when he sat with John Sloan, as according to his writings Sloan would himself be talking while there were other voices.

    Even the Old Testament has a story concerning this, when Saul goes to the Witch of Endor and has her “bring up the shade of Samuel.” Samuel tells him that he sucks, that God thinks he sucks, and that he’s going to lose his wars and die soon.

    Huh? Read Carroll’s essay. Tell me what kind of signal it could possibly be, if the brain is functioning like a transmitter/receiver. Is the signal electromagnetic, gravitational, or what? How could this possibly fit into everything else we know about the world?

    How does a material object like a brain react to some transmission to/from an immaterial soul (or immaterial consciousness or whatever you call it)? It can’t be that there is no physical effect at all, because then your claim amounts to saying it isn’t receiving anything or doing anything with it. So there must be something to observe in the brain, if it is a kind of receiver/transmitter. So it’s some physical interaction, all of which have been ruled out already, even though you may not realize that yet. If it were something like electromagnetic energy, then the energy required to do that kind of transmission (to where? some other dimension? wherever souls are?) would basically make your head melt, which does not in fact happen.

    Also David M./@87

    You don’t seem to notice that you’re postulating a whole new kind of matter here. It can’t be dark matter, because dark matter only interacts with visible matter by gravity. It can’t even be supersymmetric particles, because those are way too unstable if they exist at all.

    Perhaps physics does need a huge extension, but it would be huge indeed.

    I think we’re looking at matter from the wrong end, as it were. My hypothesis is that what we observe as physical matter is just “condensed” energy, that there’s much less difference between energy and matter than we think, and that physical matter as we know it is only one possible expression of a universe-filling “ether” of sorts. Could very well be Higgs-field-based.

    I also think the dismissal of “vibrations” is premature. Just because you normally hear it from woo-woo 60s acidheads in context doesn’t mean there’s nothing to it. What in physics is not vibration? Elementary particles themselves are different “modes” of vibrations in reality. QM has taught us that everything has some wave character (de Broglie wavelength IIRC), even if it’s ridiculously small for anything much more massive than an electron.

    Why could there not be a parallel universe, as postulated by the Many-Worlds interpretation of QM, that had similar values for the charge of the electron but different ones for, say, Planck’s constant or some kind of Higgs-coupling constant? That would result in extremely tiny masses but identical charges per particle, as well as a local value of “c” much exceeding ours; this would easily allow such a parallel universe to interpenetrate, and yet still interact with, the one we know. Far from being massively energetic, “brain-melting” as was put, these particles would be literally ethereal.

    And now that quantum entanglement has been measured at minimum 10,000*c, this may actually be an explanation: what’s quantum to us could be “classical” at a deeper level, and the supposed spooky action at a distance could be the two endpoints of an “arc” of particle-particle interaction in higher/different planes or dimensions.

    None of this is any more insane-sounding than string/M theory. Less, if you’re tired when you read Brian Greene.

    @89/Consciousness’ Razor

    Exactly. Poring over old ghost stories and speculation from unreliable sources is no replacement for actually looking at a brain. Just once. What exactly is the nervous system doing, if a soul is doing all the work? If the brain has functions, what are they? Do they all amount to sending and receiving signals From Beyond™? If not, then which of the “processing” functions does the brain do, and which are done by the soul? And if there are any cognitive functions which aren’t being done by a brain, how do you know that? Where’s the evidence for it?

    By this hypothesis, the brain isn’t so much a receiver as it is an intermediary, allowing the physical matter of the body to interact with something “higher” via the common interface of charged particles and quantum effects. We’re starting to see evidence of tunneling in processes like photosynthesis, for example, and it may partially explain more complicated processes like quorum sensing in bacteria.

    The difference is one of degree, not kind; supposedly, people speaking from the “other side” say as much, that there isn’t so much an “other side” as “another way of being” and that we give death far too much power over our minds. They’re not “signals from beyond” because “beyond” is right here.

    What exactly is the nervous system doing, if a soul is doing all the work?

    Handling all the “down here” stuff that needs to be done keeping these immensely complicated bodies, forged in the fires of 4 billion years of evolution, running as smoothly as it can given all the ridiculousness in our “design” :)

    Why does a receiver for an unknown radiation consist of almost literal electric cables?

    Because it’s not unknown; I believe there is a heavy, heavy electro-magnetic component to it. Besides, remember, intermediary: the physical body propagates nerve impulses via electricity, and the brain is Command and Control.

  88. John Morales says

    Azuma:

    And now that quantum entanglement has been measured at minimum 10,000*c, this may actually be an explanation: what’s quantum to us could be “classical” at a deeper level, and the supposed spooky action at a distance could be the two endpoints of an “arc” of particle-particle interaction in higher/different planes or dimensions.

    Putting your hope in hidden variables is a desperate move.

    Because it’s not unknown; I believe there is a heavy, heavy electro-magnetic component to it. Besides, remember, intermediary: the physical body propagates nerve impulses via electricity, and the brain is Command and Control.

    <snicker>

    Electromagnetic field events are very, very detectable.

    (Souls, not so much)

  89. Azuma Hazuki says

    It seems there’s nothing I can say that will convince you. Shit, I’m still not totally convinced and I’ve been studying this for going on a year now. That’s understandable.

    All I ask is that you not fall victim to the prejudice that we understand everything through the laws of physics. WE made those laws; they are not laws so much as descriptions of reality as we understand them. I’m no Pyrrhonian skeptic, either…but I’m humble enough to admit that.

    We go through our whole lives trapped in our own skulls. We can’t even agree to what degree we experience qualia (“redness,” “coldness,” etc) the same between all of us. What, really, do we know? What is knowledge? If you say “properly justified belief,” how do you justify knowledge? Certainly not in any foundational way.

    I’ve seen more of this than you have. I know there’s bullshit out there. Sylvia Browne is scum. But I suspect that for every hundred Sylvia Brownes, there’s one Leslie Flint or John Sloan. And these things are starting to become more acceptable to investigate in the mainstream; very soon, CSICOP and their ilk may be the odd men out, not the other way ’round.

  90. Azuma Hazuki says

    Something else that bears pointing out: I don’t believe the brain is “receiving signals from Somewhere Far Far Away (TM).”

    The entire point of the other plane(s?) interpenetrating this one is that they do interpenetrate, i.e., share coordinates in spacetime. It’s not distance, it’s vibration or “mode” that varies. Think of it as a set of matryoshka dolls, except they’re all roughly the same size.

  91. Azuma Hazuki says

    No, Theophantes. The Laws are things we invented.

    Nature/reality has shown amazing uniformity in all things we have observed…thus far. Even in things we didn’t understand at first, we eventually found patterns of uniformity for. Our descriptions of these, in our incredibly anthropocentric hubris, we called and still do call laws. But they are descriptive, not proscriptive.

    This is not to deny the uniformity of nature. But my earlier point is that if any of what I’m seeing and coming to believe is true actually is true, it is no more supernatural than gravity, or fusion, or the transcription of DNA. If they are real, they are just as much products of natural law as our bodies are, and apparently, the people speaking from the other side say as much. Oh, they mention a God, but they also call it Mind or Source, and are adamant that a person’s religious beliefs mean nothing except insofar as they help that person be humanistic and moral.

  92. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Azuma Hazuki,

    You appear to completely lack self-insight. Everything you’ve said comes straight out of the newage/conspiracist/scientists-are-so-closed-minded playbook. Nothing in the least original or interesting. It’s just sad that you’ve clearly learned nothing from years of following this blog.

    Do you not see the significance of this?! It means the largest and oldest and most powerful (and likely most corrupt) church on the planet, one which claims over a billion members, is collectively so impressed by what it considers evidence for something that runs completely counter to its central dogmas and indeed its very reason for being that it allowed one of its well-respected theologians to get away with posting it in its own newspaper!

    Step back from automatically looking for fallacies and take this in its own little vacuum here. The RCC has zero reason to publish this. It harms its credibility immensely with the people it’s been terrorizing.

    Except, it quite obviously didn’t. If the higher-ups noticed the article at all, it clearly didn’t worry them, or it wouldn’t have appeared.

  93. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    AH, your point about this paranormal/spiritualist stuff having been investigated since the early 20th century (longer than that,in fact). It’s extraordinary that you don’t see what a devastating point this is against your belief that there’s something in it. A century and a half of investigation, and no solid empirical results or theoretical progress whatever; obvious conclusion – nothing interesting to investigate.

  94. Azuma Hazuki says

    I don’t know how to put any of this that won’t make you go “Aha, Hazuki’s playing the conspiracy card!” It really sounds like there’s been a pre-commitment made never to take any of this seriously.

    Being that it is futile to attempt any other way, I will go and say it: you don’t know the tenth part of what’s been done as far as the research goes. I have repeatedly presented offers to send anyone interested everything by Findlay I have. You can read his 2 volume “The Curse of Ignorance” as a superb history, and edit out any references to PSI you dislike; he is absolutely unsparing of Christianity, in ways we need to hear.

    I also don’t see any acknowledgement of possible extensions or amendments to physics as we know them. I don’t think I’m proposing anything impossible, certainly nothing as outre as M-theory; higher physics has looked more like theology than anything for a good while now to me anyway. What, exactly, would prevent a parallel universe or more with different values for physical constants that would allow it to interpenetrate this one? If anything that’s the only way the Many-Worlds interpretation could work.

    It just looks like I’m hitting a wall of willful refusal to step into new territory. I understand it; it means that a lot of assumptions we hold need to be re-examined and possibly discarded. I don’t want any of this to be true. But it looks from here like at least some of it is, and one way or another I intend to get to the bottom of this. No one compels you to come along.

    And I will thank you to keep your insults to yourself. Not everyone who starts with some different assumptions than you is an idiot or is uncritical. “Complete lack of self-insight?” Remember, when one finger points, three or four point back. I am not a metaphysical naturalist; sue me.

  95. John Morales says

    Azuma:

    I also don’t see any acknowledgement of possible extensions or amendments to physics as we know them.

    So, you’re speaking of nothing supernatural.

    I don’t think I’m proposing anything impossible, certainly nothing as outre as M-theory; higher physics has looked more like theology than anything for a good while now to me anyway.

    <snicker>

    It just looks like I’m hitting a wall of willful refusal to step into new territory. I understand it; it means that a lot of assumptions we hold need to be re-examined and possibly discarded. I don’t want any of this to be true. But it looks from here like at least some of it is, and one way or another I intend to get to the bottom of this. No one compels you to come along.

    Mirages aren’t territory, the assumptions physics holds are necessary and warranted assumptions, your protestation that you don’t want it to be true is belied by your wishful thinking about it, and nobody claimed you were seeking to compel others to your view.

    I am not a metaphysical naturalist

    God forbid reality be entirely natural!

  96. Azuma Hazuki says

    All right, I’m done. This isn’t a good place to step out of line with the prevailing scientific thought (not that I almost ever do; I come here mostly for PZ’s biology lessons, which are fantastic).

    Regarding metaphysical naturalism, I don’t see it as a useful distinction; Carrier’s definition of supernatural as basically “mind ungrounded in matter” isn’t something I hold to either, as the entire point of all this is that “spirits” are plenty solid and material, just not precisely the same kind of matter we usually know. The vehicle is less important than the content anyway, isn’t it?

    Mirages aren’t territory, the assumptions physics holds are necessary and warranted assumptions, your protestation that you don’t want it to be true is belied by your wishful thinking about it, and nobody claimed you were seeking to compel others to your view.

    Let me rip this one apart here and now: I do not want this to be true because I have been so shattered by trauma that all I want to do is sleep forever. This world is completely insane and by all indications we’re about to enter a new dark age. I have had enough.

    But it appears there’s more to reality than I thought, and I have no real chance of resting in peace, as it were. So it behooves me to investigate these things, and find my way to the truth, whatever it is.

    I don’t fear oblivion; I fear not getting it when I need it. Do you understand now? I am tired of this. I don’t want to do it. I have no choice.

  97. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    I don’t know how to put any of this that won’t make you go “Aha, Hazuki’s playing the conspiracy card!” – Azuma Hazuki

    That’s not exactly what I said. I said your screed was all out of the newage/conspiracist/scientists-are-so-closed-minded playbook, which it is. As far as the “conspiracist” bit goes, I was thinking specifically of your interest in the minutiae of what goes on within the RCC and CoE hierarchies. Why the fuck should anyone with a sceptical bone in their body care if a bunch of believers in miracles and afterlives think there’s something in spiritualism?

    It really sounds like there’s been a pre-commitment made never to take any of this seriously.

    A conspiracy!!!1!!!eleventy!

    you don’t know the tenth part of what’s been done as far as the research goes.

    So, you’re a telepath?!

    I have repeatedly presented offers to send anyone interested everything by Findlay I have. You can read his 2 volume “The Curse of Ignorance” as a superb history, and edit out any references to PSI you dislike; he is absolutely unsparing of Christianity, in ways we need to hear.

    Again, why the fuck would anyone with a sceptical bone in their body be interested in reading early 20th century books on spiritualism and the paranormal by someone with no scientific or historical qualifications or reputation, just on your recommendation?

    higher physics has looked more like theology than anything for a good while now to me anyway

    What expertise do you have in “higher” physics?

    And I will thank you to keep your insults to yourself. Not everyone who starts with some different assumptions than you is an idiot or is uncritical.

    True; but you’ve made it abundantly clear that you are.

  98. Azuma Hazuki says

    Why the fuck should anyone with a sceptical bone in their body care if a bunch of believers in miracles and afterlives think there’s something in spiritualism?

    For its own sake. It may be quixotic, but given that I was brought up in that horrible Church, there would be something cathartic about seeing it contradicting itself in its most horrendous and evil doctrine. Even if it has no bearing on me personally, this gigantic, blood-drinking machine affects world politics in immense ways.

    I want to see the end of the abuses and excesses. The church has been, over the last century, somewhat defanged, and I see it about to decline sharply.

    higher physics has looked more like theology than anything for a good while now to me anyway

    What expertise do you have in “higher” physics?

    Enough to know that string/M theory haven’t made testable predictions yet. That is philosophy, not science. Or, perhaps, theology.

    Again, why the fuck would anyone with a sceptical bone in their body be interested in reading early 20th century books on spiritualism and the paranormal by someone with no scientific or historical qualifications or reputation, just on your recommendation?

    The Curse of Ignorance is a two-volume history, not a book on spiritualism. There are occasional references to his hypothesis that religions sprung from visions and/or PSI events, but you can easily ignore these and still get some important information, in particular, details of just how badly the Christian machine has screwed humanity for nearly two millennia. He writes very well.

    And I will thank you to keep your insults to yourself. Not everyone who starts with some different assumptions than you is an idiot or is uncritical.

    True; but you’ve made it abundantly clear that you are.

    I love you too, Nick. Are you done?

  99. John Morales says

    Azuma,

    I don’t fear oblivion; I fear not getting it when I need it.

    “To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
    For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come”

  100. Azuma Hazuki says

    @104

    And anyone who’s had the kind of mind-flaying nightmares I have does not want to know.

    Why do you think I’ve been so obsessed with religion? I find a lot of anti-religious arguments rather poor, which is why my focus of research has been on the historical and linguistic rather more than the philosophical, though I’ve learned my share of that to fight off apologists, who are some of the slimiest psychopaths I’ve ever met.

  101. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Azuma Hazuki,

    Why the fuck should anyone with a sceptical bone in their body care if a bunch of believers in miracles and afterlives think there’s something in spiritualism?

    For its own sake. It may be quixotic, but given that I was brought up in that horrible Church, there would be something cathartic about seeing it contradicting itself in its most horrendous and evil doctrine. Even if it has no bearing on me personally, this gigantic, blood-drinking machine affects world politics in immense ways.

    I want to see the end of the abuses and excesses. The church has been, over the last century, somewhat defanged, and I see it about to decline sharply.

    Its decline has fuck-all to do with anything it or anyone else has said about spiritualism. And I was asking about why sceptics should be interested, not why you are.

    The Curse of Ignorance is a two-volume history, not a book on spiritualism. There are occasional references to his hypothesis that religions sprung from visions and/or PSI events, but you can easily ignore these and still get some important information, in particular, details of just how badly the Christian machine has screwed humanity for nearly two millennia. He writes very well.

    See, given the credulous garbage you’ve been spewing here, I have zero confidence in your judgement on anything. Nor do I have any confidence in the historical knowledge or judgement of a wooist without relevant qualifications or reputation writing nearly a century ago. If I want to know more than I already do about the historical record of Christianity, I’ll read professional historians specializing in that area who have up-to-date knowledge of the sources.

  102. says

    Being that it is futile to attempt any other way, I will go and say it: you don’t know the tenth part of what’s been done as far as the research goes.

    Most of us don’t know a tenth of any woo. That’s life, we can’t “go into new territory” over just any evidence-free claim, we need a reason to invest time. You’ve given us no reason, just the typical rhetoric that we always hear.

    I have repeatedly presented offers to send anyone interested everything by Findlay I have. You can read his 2 volume “The Curse of Ignorance” as a superb history, and edit out any references to PSI you dislike; he is absolutely unsparing of Christianity, in ways we need to hear.

    Actually, I prefer histories that treat both Xianity and Spiritualism as human constructs.

    I also don’t see any acknowledgement of possible extensions or amendments to physics as we know them.

    You write that just prior to bashing the acknowledgments of possible extensions, things like M-brane. You’re not making sense.

    I don’t think I’m proposing anything impossible, certainly nothing as outre as M-theory; higher physics has looked more like theology than anything for a good while now to me anyway.

    So you don’t know the bases of such admittedly speculative physics (at least still awaiting anything like confirmation). Are you afraid to enter new territory, or is this really just a way of attacking science to leave space for woo?

    What, exactly, would prevent a parallel universe or more with different values for physical constants that would allow it to interpenetrate this one?

    What, exactly, prevents you from dealing with this matter according to the evidence we have, instead of falling back on a version of, “can you disprove God?” Of course there could be bizarre physics allowing we know not what, you need to give us evidence of this.

    If anything that’s the only way the Many-Worlds interpretation could work.

    It just looks like I’m hitting a wall of willful refusal to step into new territory.

    Not without a reason to do so.

    I understand it; it means that a lot of assumptions we hold need to be re-examined and possibly discarded.

    Like what? Like that we die and that’s it? I don’t mind losing that at all, I just don’t have any reason to think otherwise, a lot of nonsense notwithstanding.

    I don’t want any of this to be true. But it looks from here like at least some of it is,

    Where’s the evidence?

    and one way or another I intend to get to the bottom of this. No one compels you to come along.

    No one gives us any good reason to, either.

    And I will thank you to keep your insults to yourself. Not everyone who starts with some different assumptions than you is an idiot or is uncritical.

    Your line is the antithesis of critical thinking.

    You don’t get the “different assumptions” dodge. We’re stuck with some intersubjective agreements at the very beginning, but from there the proper “assumptions” come from experience and productivity. Nothing useful comes from just assuming the Bible is true, or that spirits float through the walls (sure, it’s not “that,” so what’s better about it?).

    “Complete lack of self-insight?” Remember, when one finger points, three or four point back. I am not a metaphysical naturalist; sue me.

    You’re not an empiricist either, it would seem.

    Glen Davidson

  103. Azuma Hazuki says

    Okay. Fine. Chalk it all to stress and lack of sleep if it makes you feel better. I’m still going to be one of the regular readers and learners here, i just won’t bring this up again.

    Meanwhile, can you point me to your favored historical sources for the early Christian church, the origins and evolution of the doctrines of hell, resurrection, and so forth? I’m not being sarcastic here, I genuinely want to read the more modern stuff because Findlay is a good 70 years out of date.

    Aside from Ehrman I don’t know much else to read, and my lack of high-level training in early Christian history is making me paranoid because I don’t know how to counter most historical apologia by, e.g., Lee Strobel or N.T. Wright.

  104. consciousness razor says

    Okay. Fine. Chalk it all to stress and lack of sleep if it makes you feel better. I’m still going to be one of the regular readers and learners here, i just won’t bring this up again.

    This is not the conclusion you want to reach, ever, when thinking about something. How many times have you indicated that you want to close off discussion? This isn’t a “sore subject.” You don’t have to take it personally. This is about the way things really are. Do you care about that or not? And if you do, why wouldn’t you bring it up again? Because you don’t want to be told you’re wrong or not thinking clearly? Because you don’t want to tell others that? Why?

  105. consciousness razor says

    Why could there not be a parallel universe, as postulated by the Many-Worlds interpretation of QM, that had similar values for the charge of the electron but different ones for, say, Planck’s constant or some kind of Higgs-coupling constant?

    SIWOTI about arcane sciencey details which are probably irrelevant since you’d change your speculations about them at the drop of a hat anyway /
    Many-Worlds doesn’t involve “worlds” with different physical laws. By definition, they all have the same laws. This is not the same thing as cosmological models involving universes different laws. But why worry about what actual physics is like, when we can dream about souls and ghosts, am I right?

    /END SIWOTI

    By this hypothesis, the brain isn’t so much a receiver as it is an intermediary, allowing the physical matter of the body to interact with something “higher” via the common interface of charged particles and quantum effects. We’re starting to see evidence of tunneling in processes like photosynthesis, for example, and it may partially explain more complicated processes like quorum sensing in bacteria.

    The difference is one of degree, not kind; supposedly, people speaking from the “other side” say as much, that there isn’t so much an “other side” as “another way of being” and that we give death far too much power over our minds. They’re not “signals from beyond” because “beyond” is right here.

    This is not an answer to any of my questions. I want to know what a soul does and how it works. The brain does things, correct? So what is left for the soul to do? And how you know about it?

    What exactly is the nervous system doing, if a soul is doing all the work?

    Handling all the “down here” stuff that needs to be done keeping these immensely complicated bodies, forged in the fires of 4 billion years of evolution, running as smoothly as it can given all the ridiculousness in our “design” :)

    So what makes you think there’s “up there” stuff to do?

  106. Azuma Hazuki says

    This is not the conclusion you want to reach, ever, when thinking about something. How many times have you indicated that you want to close off discussion? This isn’t a “sore subject.” You don’t have to take it personally. This is about the way things really are. Do you care about that or not? And if you do, why wouldn’t you bring it up again? Because you don’t want to be told you’re wrong or not thinking clearly? Because you don’t want to tell others that? Why?

    The bolded part, actually. I’m not a professional researcher, and as stated, I’ve been badly shattered by nightmares and trauma. My brain (and notional “heart,” i.e., ability to love) doesn’t seem to work properly any longer.

    But whenever I offer up the material, not even saying “This is why I believe it” but “This is interesting stuff, it offers a new perspective, and I’m still working through it. As many eyes make bugs shallow, why not read with me and help?” I get…well, I get insults.

    I’ve already been called idiot, told I have no basis whatsoever for even being interested in investigating these things, told I have no ability to think critically, and more.

    And this misses the point. I provisionally believe some of these things; and I also don’t trust my own mind at all. Too much trauma, too little sleep, too many nightmares.

    So I was wondering if anyone here would read through some of what I did and weigh in. But no, all I get is the usual knee-jerking. That is very disappointing from a supposedly freethought blog. I counted more instances of the genetic fallacy here that I’ve seen in a long, long time.

  107. consciousness razor says

    So I was wondering if anyone here would read through some of what I did and weigh in.

    We’ve weighed in. What you’ve given us to ponder is a lot of bullshit.

    But no, all I get is the usual knee-jerking. That is very disappointing from a supposedly freethought blog. I counted more instances of the genetic fallacy here that I’ve seen in a long, long time.

    The beliefs and motivations of psychics, ministers, churches, how those fit or contradict with other institutions or traditions or beliefs, etc., are entirely irrelevant to what the universe is actually like. I hope you understand that. This is not the genetic fallacy. It simply a confusion — a category error — between beliefs about the world and what the world actually is.

    We can speculate about it. It might be an interesting subject or give us some insight about some things. (I’m quite bored hearing about Christianity all of the time, as if it were alone in the world of religion and other harmful absurdities, but that’s me.) But other than the beliefs and cultural relations involved in the churches, or spiritualist or quantum-woo movements, etc., it doesn’t tell us how the world works. Plain and simple.

  108. Azuma Hazuki says

    No, you have not “weighed in.” You have flatly refused to read any of it. Jumping Buddha on a pogo stick, you don’t see the problem with this?!

    The Big Bang theory was invented by a priest, Georges LeMaitre, for the specific purpose of putting a theistic slant on the origins of the known universe as well as fitting to known data. If people then had reacted the way you do here (and IIRC some did), saying “Well he’s a loonie who believes in jeebus and debbils and fairies,” where would modern astronomy be?

    Even people who are dead wrong about some things get others right. Einstein was wrong, wrong, wrong about QM, but much else in his theory has been tested and proven (or at least not falsified). Jesus was wrong, wrong, wrong about the world ending by 120AD, but the Golden Rule is still a good ethical basis.

    Whatever else you want to think about Findlay, he started off as I did, completely skeptical of the whole thing, and decided to attend one of these sittings on a lark. You may argue a failure of skepticism at some point after this, but he grew up a Scots Calvinist and was quite materialistic in his daily life, as a businessman.

    And all I’m asking is that you read the material before dismissing it, as I nearly did.

  109. consciousness razor says

    No, you have not “weighed in.” You have flatly refused to read any of it. Jumping Buddha on a pogo stick, you don’t see the problem with this?!

    The Big Bang theory was invented by a priest, Georges LeMaitre, for the specific purpose of putting a theistic slant on the origins of the known universe as well as fitting to known data.

    There’s data. That makes quite a difference, wouldn’t you say?

    What data is there for any of your claims? Not “data” about what people said or wrote or believed — I want data about how the world works, evidence which actually supports your claims. This has been asked many times already, and you’ve flatly refused to provide any.

  110. Azuma Hazuki says

    Where do I even begin? Start with Ian Stevenson’s work. Examine some of the near-death experience reports (I personally don’t believe most of these prove anything as they’re very cultural and some are nonsensical or clearly coming from the experience’s mind…but not all). They’re being taken seriously, too, and you’re going to have to look beyond the holy trinity of Wiseman, French, and Blackmore to get a wider perspective.

    In cases like these, the data are going to be the results of attending the sittings themselves; in a very literal sense, the medium is the message. I’m not saying “read this and believe,” I’m saying “read this and filter it through your own experience.” These things are essetially Findlay’s research notes, not a piece of propaganda.

    There is nothing unnatural at work here, no angry, genocidal old Jew on a celestial throne. Really, all it says is that materialism/naturalism and (philosophical) Idealism are two sides of the same thing, that everything boils down to matter which is also mind which is also energy, and that evolution and the laws of cause and effect are in force everywhere and at all times.

  111. consciousness razor says

    Examine some of the near-death experience reports

    I have. You want me to do it again? Describe one which convinces you, and say something convincing to me about it.

    There is nothing unnatural at work here, no angry, genocidal old Jew on a celestial throne. Really, all it says is that materialism/naturalism and (philosophical) Idealism are two sides of the same thing, that everything boils down to matter which is also mind which is also energy, and that evolution and the laws of cause and effect are in force everywhere and at all times.

    It’s not clear what you’re saying, but no matter how much you want to compare them, in materialism, there’s definitely no life after death. So you can try to pretend we’re all on the same side or whatever, but that simply isn’t the case.

  112. Amphiox says

    Azuma, you are overlooking a critical practical aspect of skeptical freethinking here, which is the assessment of a priori likelihood. It might be different if we all had unlimited time and mental capacity, where we could freely consider everything without cost, but that is not how it is. See, every second and joule I expend considering your material is a second and joule that I cannot use to consider something else. My attention is limited commodity, one that I would not be wise to spend frivolously.

    You are in competition for my attention with a host of other concerns and interests, and if you cannot present an a priori possibility that there is something to your claims to warrant my expenditure of effort on them over other alternatives, then it is simply going to be “no sale” and I will walk away.

    Your choices then are either to accept rejection gracefully, or to seek to alter the terms of sale. You can present something that increases the a priori likelihood that your claims are worth paying attention to, or you can present your material in a fashion that makes it easier of more enticing for me to pay attention to it. If it is “cheap” enough in its cost to me to consider it then I will be more likely to spend that cost even with a low a priori likelihood.

  113. Azuma Hazuki says

    And you say not to just give up and stop talking about it here. Sorry, I’m done here. Just don’t think any of this means I’m any less on your side, okay? If anything it all confirms the way humanist atheists act is the correct way, and gives further impetus to fight against harmful forms of theism.

  114. consciousness razor says

    And you say not to just give up and stop talking about it here. Sorry, I’m done here. Just don’t think any of this means I’m any less on your side, okay? If anything it all confirms the way humanist atheists act is the correct way, and gives further impetus to fight against harmful forms of theism.

    Belief in an afterlife or a soul is harmful all by itself. Are your beliefs, relatively-speaking, less harmful than others? Yeah, I’m sure they are. But please don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s harmless.

    It isn’t true, and in any case, there’s nothing to fear about death. There’s also nothing to fear about not knowing every last detail of how brains work (or quantum physics or cosmology or whatever); we’ll get a better picture of it over time as we do with everything else. But pointless excursions into nonsense and wishful thinking and superstition do exactly the opposite of the intended effect, which is understanding the world and coping with its problems.

  115. John Morales says

    Azuma:

    Jesus was wrong, wrong, wrong about the world ending by 120AD, but the Golden Rule is still a good ethical basis.

    The Jesus-character in the Christian mythos was not the originator of that little ethical dictum, and it’s a simplistic and rather crappy one that puts one’s own preferences as the basis for how to treat others; that it’s better than bad doesn’t mean it’s good.

  116. Azuma Hazuki says

    I know very well Jesus didn’t articulate it: Confucius got to it 500 years before him in positive/active form, and it’s existed in just every religion there is.

    Also, if the “preference” is just “Don’t do things you have a reasonable intuition others won’t like, and learn a little about them before you take action,” is that still bad? I’d prefer people did that when interacting with me, and so make it my rule to live by.

    Is that no longer the Golden Rule? Should it be a Diamond or Platinum Rule, “treat others as they wish to be treated?”

  117. consciousness razor says

    Is that no longer the Golden Rule?

    It’s a different rule. So, yes, assuming “rules” take on a particular form not just anything vaguely resembling it, that is not the golden rule.

    Should it be a Diamond or Platinum Rule, “treat others as they wish to be treated?”

    Even though the platinum rule is an improvement over the golden rule, it still isn’t any kind of “good ethical basis.” It doesn’t give definite answers for any real-world situation. If it weren’t pretty much stuck already as the conventional name, I’d rather not call it a “rule” because it’s so vague and unable to generate a pattern of predictable results (as I’d expect a “rule” to do). It’s a handy tool sometimes, for working out which methods of solving ethical problems might be good or effective, but not much of a foundation at all.

  118. John Morales says

    Azuma:

    I know very well Jesus didn’t articulate it: Confucius got to it 500 years before him in positive/active form, and it’s existed in just every religion there is.

    Well then; such credit as that prescript’s authorship may deserve doesn’t belong to the Jesus character — and it’s hardly the central tenet of Christianity which is “Obey God (or else)”.

    (Being good merely for the sake of being good is an otiose concept when morality is doing what God dictates)

    Also, if the “preference” is just “Don’t do things you have a reasonable intuition others won’t like, and learn a little about them before you take action,” is that still bad?

    That’s not the Golden Rule, which I didn’t claim was bad.

    Is that no longer the Golden Rule? Should it be a Diamond or Platinum Rule, “treat others as they wish to be treated?”

    You might as well say ‘do what you think is best’ is also the Golden Rule, if you’re going to be that general! :)

  119. Azuma Hazuki says

    Now we’re getting into deontology vs consequentialism…this stuff makes my head spin.

  120. Owlmirror says

    Heddle can go burn in his own hell for all I care. I’ve rarely met anyone so vile

    I really don’t understand this characterization.

    he’s what happens when someone who ought to know better flat refuses to

    Irony.

    I’d be simultaneously intrigued and frightened to learn how he accepted Calvinism of all things. What’s the payoff?

    Comment #119, here, gives the basics.

    He’s acknowledged that something might have gone wrong in his brain, but he’s presumably decided for additionally non-rational reasons to stick with the religious model: God magically changed his mind for him.

    Why would you say that he’s wrong about that?

    All it means is that specific areas of the brain output to specific functions of the body and outward expressions of mind, and if you damage them, those functions are impeded or shut down. There’s nothing passive about it.

    So how do you explain in your scenario how minds without brains can retrieve and form memories and talk? Why don’t those with damaged brains fall back on the non-brain mind to retrieve and form memories and talk? You can’t claim that the receiver is broken when the rest of the brain is working.

    Your thesis needs to explain everything we see in how brains and minds work, and fail to work, or it fails as a thesis.

    …did you not see the part about “languages Sloan couldn’t speak?”

    I saw it, and it was precisely that that made me think “auditory hallucinations”. Findlay could speak those languages (presumably — you don’t say he couldn’t), and heard voices speaking them. As hallucinations.

    Why is this so hard for you to understand?

    Email me (it’s a gmail account, not hard to figure out what it is) and I’ll send you all the material. At least read it all the way through before you judge.

    Bleh. I have enough trouble finding the time to try to make sense of coherently presented ideas; I really don’t need to wade through sciency-sounding newage nonsense.

    I’ll see how I feel about this.

    ========

    Do you not see the significance of this?! It means the largest and oldest and most powerful (and likely most corrupt) church on the planet, one which claims over a billion members, is collectively so impressed by what it considers evidence for something that runs completely counter to its central dogmas and indeed its very reason for being that it allowed one of its well-respected theologians to get away with posting it in its own newspaper!

    Or… They sometimes contradict themselves, and don’t care that they’re contradicting themselves.

    My hypothesis is that what we observe as physical matter is just “condensed” energy, that there’s much less difference between energy and matter than we think, and that physical matter as we know it is only one possible expression of a universe-filling “ether” of sorts. Could very well be Higgs-field-based.

    Or it could be tapioca-pudding based.

    I also think the dismissal of “vibrations” is premature. Just because you normally hear it from woo-woo 60s acidheads in context doesn’t mean there’s nothing to it. What in physics is not vibration? Elementary particles themselves are different “modes” of vibrations in reality. QM has taught us that everything has some wave character (de Broglie wavelength IIRC), even if it’s ridiculously small for anything much more massive than an electron.

    If you can’t quantify what is vibrating and how it’s doing so, you might as well claim that the tapioca-pudding is vibrating.

    Why could there not be a parallel universe, as postulated by the Many-Worlds interpretation of QM, that had similar values for the charge of the electron but different ones for, say, Planck’s constant or some kind of Higgs-coupling constant? That would result in extremely tiny masses but identical charges per particle, as well as a local value of “c” much exceeding ours; this would easily allow such a parallel universe to interpenetrate, and yet still interact with, the one we know. Far from being massively energetic, “brain-melting” as was put, these particles would be literally ethereal.

    I don’t know what this means, and neither do you.

    The difference is one of degree, not kind; supposedly, people speaking from the “other side” say as much, that there isn’t so much an “other side” as “another way of being” and that we give death far too much power over our minds. They’re not “signals from beyond” because “beyond” is right here.

    Why is it that no-one from the “other side” has explained this in testable physical terms? Are there no dead physicists to provide the math and experiments?

    Why is the only putative communication that you’ve putatively received from a dead relative a banal complaint that you’re too obsessed with religion (and how does he know that, anyway?), and a banal expression of class resentment?

    Because it’s not unknown; I believe there is a heavy, heavy electro-magnetic component to it.

    Sigh. What should neurophysiologists be looking for? And why has every single one of them missed it up to now?

    But I suspect that for every hundred Sylvia Brownes, there’s one Leslie Flint or John Sloan. And these things are starting to become more acceptable to investigate in the mainstream; very soon, CSICOP and their ilk may be the odd men out, not the other way ’round.

    If any of them are real, they can win a million dollars from the Randi foundation. After all, it’s all scientific and stuff, right? The JREF just sets up the experiments to test the science.

    The entire point of the other plane(s?) interpenetrating this one is that they do interpenetrate, i.e., share coordinates in spacetime. It’s not distance, it’s vibration or “mode” that varies.

    Woooooo…. I don’t know that this means, and neither do you.

    Did you ever read Daniel Pinkwater’s “Alan Mendelsohn: The Boy from Mars”?

    I also don’t see any acknowledgement of possible extensions or amendments to physics as we know them.

    I acknowledge any extension and amendment to physics that comes from actual evidence-based theory and experiment.

    I don’t think I’m proposing anything impossible, certainly nothing as outre as M-theory

    M-theory is based on evidence; your theory… is based on non-evidenced-based theory.

    higher physics has looked more like theology than anything for a good while now to me anyway.

    Looked like theology, how?

    What, exactly, would prevent a parallel universe or more with different values for physical constants that would allow it to interpenetrate this one?

    What, exactly, does this even mean?

    It just looks like I’m hitting a wall of willful refusal to step into new territory.

    What I’m refusing to step into is not “new territory”.

    Pinkwater mined it for humorous fiction 30 years ago, and it had been around for a long time even then.

    The trouble is, you don’t know enough physics or neuroscience to understand why these ideas don’t make sense, just like YECs don’t know enough science to understand why a young earth and a global flood don’t make sense.

    I am not a metaphysical naturalist; sue me.

    Actually, I am pretty sure you are, based on what you’ve said (supernatural is meaningless).

    Although it depends on the definition of “naturalism”.

    This isn’t a good place to step out of line with the prevailing scientific thought

    If you’re going to step out of line, you need a better line. So far, this has not been presented.

    Regarding metaphysical naturalism, I don’t see it as a useful distinction; Carrier’s definition of supernatural as basically “mind ungrounded in matter” isn’t something I hold to either, as the entire point of all this is that “spirits” are plenty solid and material, just not precisely the same kind of matter we usually know.

    I think Carrier actually covers this scenario. Look at the paragraphs on Theostoa.

    Let me rip this one apart here and now: I do not want this to be true because I have been so shattered by trauma that all I want to do is sleep forever.

    I am genuinely sorry that you are distressed.

    And anyone who’s had the kind of mind-flaying nightmares I have does not want to know.

    Oddly enough, I’ve been having more nightmares recently myself, and was woken by a really unpleasant one just last night. Where the hell do these things come from, anyway?

    The Big Bang theory was invented by a priest, Georges LeMaitre, for the specific purpose of putting a theistic slant on the origins of the known universe as well as fitting to known data.

    And yet, the theory made predictions about what could be discovered cosmologically, and was not inconsistent with what had already been discovered.

    If people then had reacted the way you do here (and IIRC some did), saying “Well he’s a loonie who believes in jeebus and debbils and fairies,” where would modern astronomy be?

    Probably where it is now, given that the cosmic background radiation pretty much clinched the evidence for the big bang.

    Although that reminds me: In addition to accepting ghosts, the church also does believe in demons, and their Biggest Spook of All, and so on and so forth.

    What makes them right on the one and wrong on the others?

  121. Amphiox says

    Because it’s not unknown; I believe there is a heavy, heavy electro-magnetic component to it.

    Well great then. If there is one thing modern science and technology is very, very, very, very, very good at, it is detecting and manipulating electro-magnetic phenomena.

    So go and detect your damn phenomenon, or find some else who can. Then come back with the evidence and win historic accolades.

  122. David Marjanović says

    I think we’re looking at matter from the wrong end, as it were. My hypothesis is that what we observe as physical matter is just “condensed” energy,

    No. Mass is a form of energy. There’s no “condensation” going on.

    physical matter as we know it is only one possible expression of a universe-filling “ether” of sorts. Could very well be Higgs-field-based.

    That is just technobabble. I’m sorry, but it’s not even wrong – it doesn’t mean anything in terms of what we know.

    What in physics is not vibration? Elementary particles themselves are different “modes” of vibrations in reality.

    That is specifically string theory. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying it’s specifically string theory and not mainstream physics. You can’t just state it as a fact.

    Why could there not be a parallel universe, as postulated by the Many-Worlds interpretation of QM, that had similar values for the charge of the electron but different ones for, say, Planck’s constant or some kind of Higgs-coupling constant? That would result in extremely tiny masses but identical charges per particle, as well as a local value of “c” much exceeding ours; this would easily allow such a parallel universe to interpenetrate, and yet still interact with, the one we know.

    To interact, particles must be in the same spacetime, don’t you think? After all, different spacetimes aren’t anywhere with respect to each other; to say they “interpenetrate” is not even wrong.

    Now, different values for the same constants in the same spacetime???

    And now that quantum entanglement has been measured at minimum 10,000*c, this may actually be an explanation: what’s quantum to us could be “classical” at a deeper level, and the supposed spooky action at a distance could be the two endpoints of an “arc” of particle-particle interaction in higher/different planes or dimensions.

    Follow the link John Morales provided, and then scroll up there.

    None of this is any more insane-sounding than string/M theory. Less, if you’re tired when you read Brian Greene.

    I don’t care how insane it sounds. String/M theory is capable of being wrong; it’s not technobabble.

    By this hypothesis, the brain isn’t so much a receiver as it is an intermediary, allowing the physical matter of the body to interact with something “higher” via the common interface of charged particles and quantum effects.

    What? How so?

    We’re starting to see evidence of tunneling in processes like photosynthesis, for example,

    o_O Tunneling isn’t magic. Hydrogen bonds depend on tunneling! So does a whole class of mutations in DNA!

    and it may partially explain more complicated processes like quorum sensing in bacteria.

    What’s left to explain about quorum sensing? I was taught it in excruciating detail. I can’t even imagine what you mean.

    The difference is one of degree, not kind; supposedly, people speaking from the “other side” say as much, that there isn’t so much an “other side” as “another way of being” and that we give death far too much power over our minds. They’re not “signals from beyond” because “beyond” is right here.

    That, too, is technobabble.

    I believe there is a heavy, heavy electro-magnetic component to it

    Technobabble again. Radiations don’t have “components”, electromagnetic radiation would have been detected, and Ockham’s Razor is all-powerful.

    All I ask is that you not fall victim to the prejudice that we understand everything through the laws of physics. WE made those laws; they are not laws so much as descriptions of reality as we understand them. I’m no Pyrrhonian skeptic, either…but I’m humble enough to admit that.

    That’s all true. “Law” is a bad metaphor, they’re descriptions.

    But you have fallen among the scientists. If you disagree with the descriptions, you have to show your work!

    We go through our whole lives trapped in our own skulls. We can’t even agree to what degree we experience qualia (“redness,” “coldness,” etc) the same between all of us.

    I’m with Dennett on that one. He quines qualia.

    higher physics has looked more like theology than anything for a good while now to me anyway

    Honestly, it shows.

    So I was wondering if anyone here would read through some of what I did and weigh in. But no, all I get is the usual knee-jerking.

    What, from all of us? I’m reminded of my sister saying “mom, the boys!” whenever my brother or I annoyed her.

    Really, all it says is [...] that everything boils down to matter which is also mind which is also energy,

    So, are you saying it provides reasons to think that the mind isn’t what the brain does?

    and that evolution and the laws of cause and effect are in force everywhere and at all times.

    Evolution = descent with heritable modification. Entities that don’t reproduce can’t evolve.

    Cause and effect everywhere and at all times? That would be hidden variables again. *headshake*

    Just don’t think any of this means I’m any less on your side, okay?

    Fuck sides! I have SIWOTI syndrome! :-)

    …Actually, when I think about it, it’s an insult to imply I wouldn’t call out mistakes just because somebody “on my side” happens to have made them. I’m not insulted, I’m sad.

    Oddly enough, I’ve been having more nightmares recently myself, and was woken by a really unpleasant one just last night. Where the hell do these things come from, anyway?

    Thunderstorms in the stressed brain.

  123. Azuma Hazuki says

    *sigh* I really ought to know better, but I’m going to reply to this. If it helps, think of it as purely a gedanken; as I said, this is what I provisionally believe, and am constantly testing to see if it fits in with what we already know. The replies from those who understand more physics and neurology than I do are appreciated; I’ve never been good at math, and my background is natural and earth sciences rather than the rarefied abstractions of higher physics. Just go along with it as a thought experiment, okay?

    I should first begin by saying that the misconception I see here is that people seem to think there’s only the physical brain and some kind of isolated, self-contained “mind-stuff.” That is not what I’m saying at all: the entire point is that there are three layers here: physical matter, “ether-body” (what the woo-woo types call the subtle body, what the Egyptians called the “ka,” and so on), and mind. The ether-body is a kind of intermediary between dense physical matter and mind, and the physical body/ether-body interface is the brain, which uses electromagnetic interactions to link the two.

    Think of the ether-body as a sort of template, one which feeds back into physical matter and helps it keep its…I suppose, its self-concept. The physical body is a dense duplicate of it expressed through baryonic matter; think of it as the lowest-vibration expression of the same single concept on several levels.

    Also, despite the snarky “I don’t understand what this means and neither do you” comments, the concept is not hard. I just don’t know how to explain it any better: imagine a separate vibrational mode, part of the same underlying reality as this one but with differing values for a notional mass-energy coupling constant (Higgs constant?) but similar or identical electrical-charge constants. This wouldn’t be a parallel universe so much as another mode of existence, taking up the same spacetime coordinates as (in other words, interpenetrating) this one but interacting with it nongravitationally, or so weakly-gravitating as not to matter. You’d get similar if not identical charge/energy dynamics but much weaker mass/gravitational effects. When we’re done with this body (when we die), what’s left is the other stuff, the ether-body and the mind animating it.

    Now, for specific replies:

    To interact, particles must be in the same spacetime, don’t you think? After all, different spacetimes aren’t anywhere with respect to each other; to say they “interpenetrate” is not even wrong.

    Now, different values for the same constants in the same spacetime???

    Please see above. They wouldn’t be different universes so much as different ways of being or existing in the proverbial “timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly ball” that is All of Existence. Imagine a fan spinning at 60 times a second, and a wise-ass fly that was able to zip back and forth 360 times a second; it would buzz in and out of each two adjacent fan blades (6/number of fan blades) times, and never touch it, but it would be there. However, the moving air from the fan and from the fly’s wings would still interact, even if the fly itself never actually smacked into the blade and got mangled. I really suck an analogies; this is the closest I can get.

    No. Mass is a form of energy. There’s no “condensation” going on.

    We’re saying the same thing here.

    By this hypothesis, the brain isn’t so much a receiver as it is an intermediary, allowing the physical matter of the body to interact with something “higher” via the common interface of charged particles and quantum effects.

    What? How so?

    As explained above, the brain, with its massive electric and electrochemical potentials, is the interface between solid baryonic matter as we know it and the other “mode” where the matter has the same or similar charge properties but very different values for whatever coupling constant determines mass and gravitation. Think of it as a capacitor, not a generator.

    So, are you saying it provides reasons to think that the mind isn’t what the brain does?

    The other way: the brain is how the mind manifests in physical (and, apparently, “ethereal”) matter. The brain is what the mind does and how it appears when cloaked in matter. It is a very sensible and useful and flexible vehicle for information when information needs to be mediated by and stored in an electric and chemical (that is, matter-based) substrate.

    He’s [Heddle] acknowledged that something might have gone wrong in his brain, but he’s presumably decided for additionally non-rational reasons to stick with the religious model: God magically changed his mind for him.

    Why would you say that he’s wrong about that?

    Because deep study of what the early church fathers believed, and of the surrounding and previous thought, shows that the ideas he is deciding God bludgeoned into his head are both fairly recent developments in Christianity, and are wrong. They did not exist in the forms he believes they did when Jesus walked the earth; furthermore, the early church fathers were largely Universalist, and there are strong undercurrents of mystery religions in early Christianity, cf. the assertion that Jesus spoke to those “outside” in parables only “lest in hearing they should repent and be saved.” The writings of Origen look distinctly mystery-religion-ish, and the specific anathemas Justinian pronounced against him are describing mystery religions and Theosophy-like belief systems in their entirety. Then there’s the early Christian iconography borrowing heavily from Greek and Mithraic sources. Point is, he has internalized the exoteric, literal, carnalized doctrines, and they have taken him over.

    He has presupposed that ideas only a few centuries old (some, admittedly, going back over 1500 but not 2000 years) are the truth; I suspect he just broke under strain at some point and dissociated briefly. There is much he does not know, and now will not learn because, like William Lane Craig, he is a presuppositionalist and presupposes that he has had self-authenticating witness. Remember what Nietzsche said about faith, and a casual stroll through a lunatic asylum. I don’t think he’s insane as most people use the term, but I think he’s pathologically compartmentalized and has so much invested in this that his self-identity would fall apart if it were ever to be taken from him.

    I’d bet good money that he knows little or nothing of these subjects, let alone much higher criticism. Calvinism is ultimate cognitive surrender, and he has my pity even as he arouses my deep disgust. Even so, I can sympathize; had I not learned what I did about these things in my own “dark night of the soul,” I would very likely have taken the same path as him. And that is a horrible thought, but no less true for its horror.

    If any of them are real, they can win a million dollars from the Randi foundation. After all, it’s all scientific and stuff, right? The JREF just sets up the experiments to test the science.

    I don’t believe Randi ever intends to concede that prize, and I think he and the rest of CSICOP have, like any Calvinist, presupposed that nothing will ever happen to make him. I also think that the reason there’s so much hostility to the idea is worlds like “supernatural” and “paranormal” etc. If these phenomena are real, there is nothing unnatural about them; there is only natural law that we don’t yet understand.

    If it were up to me, I’d get ahold of people claiming to be “materialization mediums” and bind them hand and foot, and mark them all over with chalk, paint, etc to make sure we’d know if they were moving or doing any sort of legerdemain, then have them “channel” or “materialize” and having it all photographed in a wide range of the EM spectrum, from radio to microwave to infrared to UV. Ideally, this would be done in a hermetically-sealed chamber with its own air supply, and there should be no requests such as “bring my grandmother here” or “whistle up Maxwell and have him tell us about this stuff from the other side;” what materializes, materializes, if anything, and they go from there.

    Claims are made about “ectoplasm,” that it is a part of the medium’s body and that it is a composite material, part of it (and the molding of it) coming from the “other side” and being used to form a sort of cross-vibrational interface for people on the “other side” to speak through; essentially, a kind of condensation layer that lets them vibrate the atmosphere (“direct voice”) or even mold into a temporary form (“materialization”). This should in principle be detectable somewhere on the EM spectrum, in IR or radio if not visible light.

    Quite why no one’s attempted the sort of experiment I mentioned yet (as far as we know anyway) is a mystery to me, especially because there are people in Brazil who are constantly tooting their own horn about being materializers; Chico Xavier comes to mind. The Society for Psychical Research (yes, there is such a thing) is curiously silent on the matter, and as far as I know no one in it is doing anything with “mediums” at this point. There are a few people who are making a lot of noise about it, but the little I saw of one of them (Victor Zammit) made me run shrieking in the other direction; these people cannot for the life of them design a website or articulate these ideas in ways that don’t look like Gene Ray in full-on Timecube mode.

    So far the defining experiments on this have been the Scole Group and a set of “cross-correspondences.” However, I am suspicious of the Scole Group’s methodology since apparently they weren’t keeping close tabs on the mediums, and the cross-correspondences might still have been contaminated in ways I can’t think of but that nevertheless might have happened. This is essentially social science, and we all know how skull-meltingly difficult it is to keep confounders out of social science.

    Evolution = descent with heritable modification. Entities that don’t reproduce can’t evolve.

    Cause and effect everywhere and at all times? That would be hidden variables again. *headshake*

    Isn’t science all about ferreting out hidden variables? Aren’t all variables hidden until we know about them? This sounds like a cognitive self-defense mechanism here; yes, I’m aware “hidden variables” has a specific meaning, but are you using it, or are you throwing up the phrase in order not to have to consider some of what’s being said here?

    And evolution doesn’t just mean descent with modification; that is its large-scale manifestation within the biosphere. The word means unrolling or unfolding, almost like an unfolding flower. In this sense, people (individually and collectively) evolve morals, systems of epistemology, civilization, culture, arts, technology, and so forth; it is a memetic descent with modification, as what works stays and what doesn’t gets thrown out. with the crucible of history and individual thought as both generating and testing grounds.

    I think this is all I’ve got at the moment. Sorry it’s so disjointed. If someone who knows a lot more physics than me could prove to me that it’s impossible for the postulated other modes of vibration etc. to exist, I will listen.

  124. Amphiox says

    There is no fruit to be gained in rehashing semantic games. The word “evolution” has a very specific and defined meaning when pertaining to biology. It is NOT a subset of some larger phenomenon encompassed within the colloquial meaning of the word, except where we arbitrarily create such distinctions in our own minds. And the specificity of the definition is important. That which vaguely encompasses everything specifically and usefully encompasses nothing.

  125. consciousness razor says

    I should first begin by saying that the misconception I see here is that people seem to think there’s only the physical brain and some kind of isolated, self-contained “mind-stuff.”

    No. We’re not dualists. We’re monists. There’s just one kind of stuff. This is a conclusion based on the evidence: if there were evidence to the contrary (and there logically could be), then that alternative would be the best conclusion we have. But there is no such evidence to the contrary.

    That is not what I’m saying at all: the entire point is that there are three layers here: physical matter, “ether-body” (what the woo-woo types call the subtle body, what the Egyptians called the “ka,” and so on), and mind. The ether-body is a kind of intermediary between dense physical matter and mind, and the physical body/ether-body interface is the brain, which uses electromagnetic interactions to link the two.

    There’s no need at all for your other two kinds of stuff, or modes of existence or whatever you want to call them. (And there’s no evidence whatsoever for them, so your “provisional belief” is unwarranted.) I’m not a strict reductionist, so just to be clear, I’m saying minds emerge from physical stuff, similar to the way societies emerge from collections of organisms made of physical stuff. They’re all made of the same stuff and cannot do anything other than operate according to the laws of physics. There may be more useful descriptions for how emergent “levels” work (like minds or societies or ecosystems or other macro-scale systems), but they never contradict “fundamental” physical laws.

    Yours, on the other hand, would violate physics if it were true. There would be evidence of it, because the “violation” would take the form of different laws which describe it. But we know that sort of thing has been ruled out already, so your idea is not merely lacking in evidence. It’s false.

    I think this is all I’ve got at the moment. Sorry it’s so disjointed. If someone who knows a lot more physics than me could prove to me that it’s impossible for the postulated other modes of vibration etc. to exist, I will listen.

    Do you expect it to logically follow somehow, without regard to what physics is actually like, that these things are impossible? That is, would they need to introduce a logical contradiction, simply to say “this is not what we should (provisionally) believe,” or do they only need to be inconsistent with regard to the evidence of what physics is actually like?

  126. Ichthyic says

    Now we’re getting into deontology vs consequentialism…this stuff makes my head spin.

    that’s the intent of the construction.

    your response is the correct one.

  127. Azuma Hazuki says

    @131/Consciousness’ Razor

    I think we’re both monists, truth be told. It’s just that you’re a materialist monist and I’m either an Idealist monist or an “it’s all the same shit” monist.

    I just don’t understand how consciousness proper can emerge from non-conscious matter. I know that there are gradations of consciousness, that as you go from bacteria to bugs to bandicoots to Bavarians there’s more and more scope of consciousness, and I know that the cerebral cortex and especially the frontal lobes are vitally important. I’ve read Ebon Musings’ excellent Ghost in the Machine post, which forcefully makes many of the points you do about brain function.

    But I don’t find it entirely convincing. Different parts of the brain control different functions, yes, because we evolved that way. And I suspect the answer to the amazing plasticity of the human brain is to be found in the glia and the connective matrix, more than the neurons. But even the function-specific breakdowns caused by damaging specific areas of the brain don’t prove that consciousness emerges from the brain; if anything, it just means that the particular piece of the brain responsible for interfacing with Mind has been damaged, and therefore the associated function here in the dense body has been abolished. If a radio doesn’t receive on a given station but does receive on others, while other radios pick that station up normally, the problem isn’t with the broadcast tower.

    We both seem to have the same ideas but a different version of how emergence and evolution proceeded; yours is bottom up, mine is top down. Honestly, I think we meet in the middle; I’ve just got some ideas that aren’t accepted by the mainstream, is all.

    Yours, on the other hand, would violate physics if it were true. There would be evidence of it, because the “violation” would take the form of different laws which describe it. But we know that sort of thing has been ruled out already, so your idea is not merely lacking in evidence. It’s false.

    It violates some of the known laws of physics as we believe we know them. We can only know what we’ve been clued in to look for. And there are plenty of hardline materialists who simply would not be able to handle the ego damage if the fundamental axiom of their worldview (there is nought but matter) were to be shaken; even if unconsciously, I suspect there’s a kind of prejudice against this sort of research in the wider scientific community. And it’s not helped by all the frauds, cold-readers, shady magicians, and others of their ilk. I’m not sure a single properly-run experiment (triple-blind, sealed off, measured across the EM spectrum) has ever been run, and I’m rather annoyed with both CSICOP and the SPR for this; either institution could do it.

    Also, I don’t have the same confidence in the laws of physics that you do. In order for the Big Bang to work, there needs to have been an era of inflation…but what stopped that inflation? Why didn’t it continue, leading to an unimaginably tenuous, weak-tea broth of lonely subatomic particles quintillions of light-years apart? Why can’t we reconcile GR with QM? Why has string/M theory not made a single testable prediction yet?

    Personally, I suspect the Bang was less of a Bang than a sort of Freeze-Out, a phase change in an expanding (but not necessarily rapidly inflating!) ultra-high-density spacetime, such as is said to have existed before the Bang Bang’d. In this case, the production of fermions, bosons, and radiation itself would produce an expanding spacetime, as before this everything was not only crunched together but basically homogeneous. We know that the notional fabric of spacetime is expanding, and that the expansion is getting faster everywhere we look; what is causing this?

  128. consciousness razor says

    I think we’re both monists, truth be told. It’s just that you’re a materialist monist and I’m either an Idealist monist or an “it’s all the same shit” monist.

    This isn’t true. Maybe you just don’t understand what the terms mean. If you can talk about physical stuff like the brain on the one hand, then shift gears to it “interfacing with Mind” on the other, you’re a dualist.

    I just don’t understand how consciousness proper can emerge from non-conscious matter.

    So what?

    We already know our brains don’t violate physics. Your three-tiered physical/Egyptian-woo/super-woo model is inconsistent with how the world actually works. There is no interaction which you can point to (not just ignorantly pull out of your ass) that does what you say it does. We know this because people have studied physical systems for a very long time and have never come back to report that some kind of magic weird stuff happened which has any effect on people brains or their conscious (or unconscious) experiences. Not vibrations from another dimension, not dark matter or dark energy, not any of the other bizarre, spooky I-just-don’t-get-it kind of stuff you’ve been pointlessly speculating about. Never, not once.

    We both seem to have the same ideas but a different version of how emergence and evolution proceeded; yours is bottom up, mine is top down. Honestly, I think we meet in the middle; I’ve just got some ideas that aren’t accepted by the mainstream, is all.

    Laughable. No, we do not and will not meet in the middle.

    It violates some of the known laws of physics as we believe we know them. We can only know what we’ve been clued in to look for.

    First, get a clue about how science works and what it actually says. Then maybe you can say something relevant about epistemology.

  129. John Morales says

    Azuma:

    I think we’re both monists, truth be told. It’s just that you’re a materialist monist and I’m either an Idealist monist or an “it’s all the same shit” monist.
    [...]
    I just don’t understand how consciousness proper can emerge from non-conscious matter.

    Because your thinking is incoherent.

    (If you are (as you claim to be) an Idealist monist, then both what you don’t understand is how non-conscious matter can emerge from consciousness proper)

    And there are plenty of hardline materialists who simply would not be able to handle the ego damage if the fundamental axiom of their worldview (there is nought but matter) were to be shaken; even if unconsciously, I suspect there’s a kind of prejudice against this sort of research in the wider scientific community.

    You are projecting; some people care more about being right than about their egos.

  130. Azuma Hazuki says

    Why did I reply in the first place? Let this die already; I’m inarticulate and you’re prejudiced. This has come to a complete standstill. We will go our separate ways on this. Who knows, maybe I’ll come around to your viewpoint eventually. In the mean time, this is going nowhere.

  131. John Morales says

    Azuma, you’re articulate enough, you’re just confused.

    If you’re a monist, you perforce hold that there’s only one kind of ‘stuff’, whatever that may be.

    (The rest follows, ineluctably)

    In the mean time, this is going nowhere.

    Only if you withdraw from the conversation.

    [meta]

    Is That All There Is?

  132. David Marjanović says

    This has come to a complete standstill.

    :-) How can you say it’s a standstill when I haven’t even replied yet?

    I do what I always do, as a scientist: when there are n hypotheses, at least n – 1 of them are wrong, and I want to find out which one(s). So, let’s roll.

    I should first begin by saying that the misconception I see here is that people seem to think there’s only the physical brain and some kind of isolated, self-contained “mind-stuff.” That is not what I’m saying at all: the entire point is that there are three layers here: physical matter, “ether-body” (what the woo-woo types call the subtle body, what the Egyptians called the “ka,” and so on), and mind.

    Oh. So what you’re postulating is even less parsimonious than I thought.

    More extraordinary claims need more evidence.

    think of it as the lowest-vibration expression of the same single concept on several levels

    Here you’re presupposing string theory (including M-branes and stuff): only string theory postulates that different particles are actually the same thing vibrating at different frequencies.

    I’m not saying this makes it wrong; string theory is (unfortunately) not testable with currently available equipment, and the same holds for loop quantum gravity, the only contender I know. I’m just saying you’re starting from one of two and can’t explain why we should do that.

    Only string theory says that fundamental particles vibrate.

    taking up the same spacetime coordinates as (in other words, interpenetrating) this one but interacting with it nongravitationally

    That would have to involve the weak nuclear force, because we’d have discovered it long ago if electromagnetics or the strong nuclear force were involved. Now we need a theoretical physicist to tell us whether the weak nuclear force can be ruled out, too. If it can, you’re postulating a whole new fundamental force. That’s a big thing.

    As explained above, the brain, with its massive electric and electrochemical potentials, is the interface between solid baryonic matter as we know it and the other “mode” where the matter has the same or similar charge properties but very different values for whatever coupling constant determines mass and gravitation. Think of it as a capacitor, not a generator.

    Still, how does it interact with the other “mode”, and why aren’t we seeing any of this? How does the weak nuclear force (or whatever) open ion channels?

    The other way: the brain is how the mind manifests in physical (and, apparently, “ethereal”) matter. The brain is what the mind does and how it appears when cloaked in matter. It is a very sensible and useful and flexible vehicle for information when information needs to be mediated by and stored in an electric and chemical (that is, matter-based) substrate.

    But the brain processes information, too. It’s a network of logical gates, much like a computer chip. It’s not a harddisk.

    If it were up to me, I’d get ahold of people claiming to be “materialization mediums” and bind them hand and foot, and mark them all over with chalk, paint, etc to make sure we’d know if they were moving or doing any sort of legerdemain, then have them “channel” or “materialize” and having it all photographed in a wide range of the EM spectrum, from radio to microwave to infrared to UV. Ideally, this would be done in a hermetically-sealed chamber with its own air supply, and there should be no requests such as “bring my grandmother here” or “whistle up Maxwell and have him tell us about this stuff from the other side;” what materializes, materializes, if anything, and they go from there.

    Good.

    [...] This should in principle be detectable somewhere on the EM spectrum, in IR or radio if not visible light.

    Yes!

    Quite why no one’s attempted the sort of experiment I mentioned yet (as far as we know anyway) is a mystery to me

    I guess it’s difficult to get research funding…

    …or mediums that actually believe what they claim.

    Isn’t science all about ferreting out hidden variables? Aren’t all variables hidden until we know about them? This sounds like a cognitive self-defense mechanism here; yes, I’m aware “hidden variables” has a specific meaning, but are you using it, or are you throwing up the phrase in order not to have to consider some of what’s being said here?

    ~:-| Of course I’m using the specific meaning it has in quantum physics. My point is that uncaused events happen all the time. Virtual particles have no cause, and therefore radioactive decay has no cause, it happens just because it can. That’s why it’s impossible to predict or influence when any particular nucleus will decay.

    And evolution doesn’t just mean descent with modification; that is its large-scale manifestation within the biosphere. The word means unrolling or unfolding, almost like an unfolding flower.

    Yeah, etymological fallacy. Unfortunately, it has come to mean very different things in different sciences (as Amphiox said in comment 130); and in biology, before it acquired its current meaning late in Darwin’s lifetime, it used to mean what is now called “development” or “ontogeny”, because that was thought to be a more literal unwrapping. I guess my intellectual ancestors should have stuck to the word Darwin actually used, “transmutation”… except that has connotations of alchemy…

    Seriously, what’s happening in the biosphere is not an unfolding of something preexisting. Mutation, selection and drift bounce the gene pools around like tennis balls. Mutation and drift are random; selection is caused by the environment, but the environment changes at random. “The sea goes, and the sea comes”, say the geologists, and they’re not talking about what Bill O’Reilly means.

    Probably (I haven’t read enough history of science), a factor that contributed to the use of the word “evolution” in biology is the fact that, in Darwin’s lifetime and well into the middle 20th century, most biologists thought the three factors I mentioned couldn’t be doing it all alone, there had to be directional forces inherent in the organisms that contributed, too. These all turned out not to exist. Even Lamarckian inheritance, which Darwin (but not Wallace) expected to exist, is practically inexistent (a very small part of gene regulation can be inherited for a generation or two, that’s it).

    In this sense, people (individually and collectively) evolve morals, systems of epistemology, civilization, culture, arts, technology, and so forth; it is a memetic descent with modification, as what works stays and what doesn’t gets thrown out. with the crucible of history and individual thought as both generating and testing grounds.

    Indeed, this has often been called “cultural evolution”. The biggest difference to what’s happening in the biosphere is that cultural evolution has Lamarckian inheritance to work with.

    I just don’t understand how consciousness proper can emerge from non-conscious matter.

    What is consciousness?

    What is life?

    It turns out life isn’t actually anything: not a substance, not a force, nothing of that sort. It’s an activity. It’s a sum of chemical reactions and their effects on each other. This is why it’s so hard to define “life” to everyone’s satisfaction, and why – philosophers would recoil in horror – biologists have simply given up on defining the subject of their discipline: there’s no point. :-) “Are viruses alive” isn’t a question about reality, it’s a question about definitions.

    Why should consciousness be any different?

    But even the function-specific breakdowns caused by damaging specific areas of the brain don’t prove that consciousness emerges from the brain;

    It is, however, the most parsimonious hypothesis.

    if anything, it just means that the particular piece of the brain responsible for interfacing with Mind has been damaged

    Then why does every kind of brain damage have such an effect (even if only temporarily)?

    It violates some of the known laws of physics as we believe we know them.

    See, that’s our point.

    Newton’s physics was wrong, it needed extensions. But – on the scales of space and time, and the energies, we’re used to – it is almost perfectly correct.

    You’re probably saying modern physics is not almost perfectly correct at the scales and energies we’re used to dealing with.

    And there are plenty of hardline materialists who simply would not be able to handle the ego damage if the fundamental axiom of their worldview (there is nought but matter) were to be shaken

    Too bad for them. Put the evidence on the table, and most of them will change their minds (seriously, do you know how quickly plate tectonics was accepted?), while the rest will die out.

    In order for the Big Bang to work, there needs to have been an era of inflation…but what stopped that inflation? Why didn’t it continue, leading to an unimaginably tenuous, weak-tea broth of lonely subatomic particles quintillions of light-years apart?

    Well, start here, I guess. I’m out of my depth there, though.

    Why can’t we reconcile GR with QM?

    There’s no reason to think it’s fundamentally impossible. Nobody has succeeded yet, that’s all.

  133. Azuma Hazuki says

    @138/David M

    Aha, now you’ve given me some great science to chew on! I’m perusing that Wikipedia link you showed me, specifically the section about “new inflation.” This is something I did not know existed, although I have previously thought “Well, if Guth et. al were wrong, wouldn’t it be something like a variable-speed decay from false-vacuum rather than a sharp transition?”

    Apparently I’m not completely hopeless when it comes to physics, even if it needs to be done intuitively :)

    The part about reheating is also new to me, and it speaks to something about the fundamental, lowest (or at least lower) level of existence being shaken violently in order to manifest such massive changes, five whole orders of magnitude back and forth. More and more, our universe of baryonic matter feels like a thin, painted shell on the expanding bubble of deeper reality.

    Also, from my laywoman’s perspective, Penrose’s criticisms of this hypothesis need to be taken seriously. IIRC, he’s another one who’s trying to link QM to consciousness. Just because someone is fringe doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong. Yes, they laughed at Bozo the Clown, but they also laughed at the Wright Brothers.

    Here you’re presupposing string theory (including M-branes and stuff): only string theory postulates that different particles are actually the same thing vibrating at different frequencies.

    I’m not saying this makes it wrong; string theory is (unfortunately) not testable with currently available equipment, and the same holds for loop quantum gravity, the only contender I know. I’m just saying you’re starting from one of two and can’t explain why we should do that.

    Only string theory says that fundamental particles vibrate.

    Not so. Ever since understanding, truly experientally understanding, what E=mc^2 meant when I was not quite 10 years old, I had this insight. At that point I had never heard the term “string theory” or, indeed, taken a basic physics course. But the obvious conclusion was “Okay, Einstein says energy is equivalent to a shitload of mass multiplied by a really big number, so there has to be a real-world conversion factor somewhere. Which means there’s really no such thing as just matter or just energy; it’s like ice and water, they’re both still H2O.” Pretty heavy stuff for a 10 year old, huh?

    But the brain processes information, too. It’s a network of logical gates, much like a computer chip. It’s not a harddisk.

    You know…we’re not as far apart as you seem to think. I think the main difference is that I believe information (pattern, basically) is a first-class citizen in the makeup of reality alongside energy and matter…which, as we’ve seen, are the same thing.

    Are you familiar with the concept of the Boltzmann Brain? Essentially what I believe is that all of reality is one of these, that you may call it God if you wish but “Ultimate Mind” is a more accurate description, and that we smaller minds are fractal, holographic facets of it.

    Fractal because we’re essentially the same “shape” (the one way that “created in the image of God” makes ANY sense…) and holographic because the whole is reflected in its parts. This says nothing different from what physics today believes except that it admits of the possibility that consciousness is just another aspect of energy is just another aspect of matter.

    Where this causes problems for you and other hardline materialists, I think, is the counterintuitive notion of matter without a physical substrate…but that’s not at all what I’m saying! I’m saying the substrate itself is conscious and is consciousness, that Mind is just as primal and uncaused as Matter (and you say the same when you say Mind emerges from Matter), and that there is no duality because there is nothing to be dual with. Matter, energy, pattern, are all three aspects of Reality. This is a real “holy trinity,” and not one that needed some pseudepigraphic help (Johannine Comma) to get started.

    What is consciousness?

    What is life?

    It turns out life isn’t actually anything: not a substance, not a force, nothing of that sort. It’s an activity. It’s a sum of chemical reactions and their effects on each other. This is why it’s so hard to define “life” to everyone’s satisfaction, and why – philosophers would recoil in horror – biologists have simply given up on defining the subject of their discipline: there’s no point. :-) “Are viruses alive” isn’t a question about reality, it’s a question about definitions.

    Why should consciousness be any different?

    We’re asking the same questions here. I think, though, you’re assuming we know more or are correct about more than we actually do/are. Reading over that Wiki article, I was again struck with the “higher physics is theology” feeling, but this time in a bottom-up sense:

    We are trying to put all this in terms of math. Remember what Godel said, and proved, about any given system of formal logic.

    If this doesn’t give you the screaming epistemological willies, you have not thought hard enough about it. Part of the tradeoff for accepting induction, and for using a probabilistic system like QM to descrive reality, is that we lose the ability to have more than a given degree of certainty about these things. Yes, we can keep testing and refining our hypotheses, but how do we know our mental tools are in 1:1 correspondence with underlying reality?

    Yes, science is a hypothetico-deductive method. Yes, the only inductive part of it is hypothesis testing. But our own senses, or thinking about the impressions of same, is in a sense inductive. This is the problem of qualia (and please explain what “quining qualia” means; I didn’t get it). Problems like this lead people to go down the “just experience it” path; mysticism is the surrender of the egoic idea that we can rationalize everything. We can’t; we’re tiny and finite and limited. Sometimes, we just have to be.

    My point is that uncaused events happen all the time. Virtual particles have no cause, and therefore radioactive decay has no cause, it happens just because it can. That’s why it’s impossible to predict or influence when any particular nucleus will decay.

    How do you know there’s no cause? Just because you don’t know of a cause doesn’t mean there isn’t one. This is starting to sound like apologetics; I understand now where some theists get the idea that “atheism is a religion, and requires more faith than I have.” That’s dead wrong of course, but given the average theist’s cognitive toolkit I can understand why they say it, and things like this (“We don’t know of any cause, therefore there’s no cause”) are prime ammunition for their attacks.

    Not that a vengeful, angry, scatalogical, genocidal, bearded old Jew in the sky makes any more sense; that is Christians conflating the “Philosopher’s God” (Deism) with their bible bogey.

  134. consciousness razor says

    IIRC, he’s another one who’s trying to link QM to consciousness. Just because someone is fringe doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong.

    First, we need to acknowledge QM works on things which are not what we’d consider “conscious.”* Quantum effects work on everything, from particles to rocks to planets to whatever you want to name. So, if there are any such effects which have some influence on consciousness, you’d still have to pinpoint what it is about conscious systems that differentiates those from non-conscious systems. Makes sense? So you have to talk about brains (or even AI systems, etc., if we can someday make those with the right properties). So we’re already right back to straight-up physicalism here, whether or not Penrose’s ideas are even close to correct about QM and consciousness. In other words, we’re not relying on some notion of a “Mind” (or an intermediary) which is metaphysically distinct from physical stuff.

    *But now I’m reading your later stuff (unrelated to Penrose), and I have to back up and think about what “not what we’d consider ‘conscious'” means. I’m thinking of stuff like particles and rocks and galaxies and so on. But you are apparently saying “pattern” or “information” is enough for “consciousness,” so that everything exhibits it somehow. In which case, you’ve totally lost me. When I’m talking about consciousness, I mean stuff like awareness, memory, feelings, emotions, and other cognitive functions. I don’t mean something as nebulous as a “pattern,” because any kind of regularity would count, so that there wouldn’t be a meaningful distinction between something like me and something like a rock.

    Are you familiar with the concept of the Boltzmann Brain? Essentially what I believe is that all of reality is one of these, that you may call it God if you wish but “Ultimate Mind” is a more accurate description, and that we smaller minds are fractal, holographic facets of it.

    Err… this is simply bizarre. So a “god” (aka a Boltzmann brain and aka the whole universe) fluctuated into existence according to physical processes, and presumably outside of this “god” the rest of existence is in thermal equilibrium? There aren’t many things which are less likely than this, but I just don’t understand what makes you think reality itself would (or should or could) have any consciousness at all.

    I don’t know if “information” is fundamental, but I’m not talking about information. I’m talking about consciousness, which is being aware, intelligent, etc., like I described above. Reality as a whole isn’t aware of itself. You don’t need awareness or understanding or anything of the sort to have information in the technical sense. (That’s kind of the whole point of computer science: computers don’t need to “know” math, or be “conscious” of doing math, in order to do math. They can work with the information without any of that.)

    This is the problem of qualia (and please explain what “quining qualia” means; I didn’t get it).

    Named after W.V.O. Quine, one of Dennett’s teachers. Here’s the essay.

  135. John Morales says

    Azuma:

    Where this causes problems for you and other hardline materialists, I think, is the counterintuitive notion of matter without a physical substrate…but that’s not at all what I’m saying! I’m saying the substrate itself is conscious and is consciousness, that Mind is just as primal and uncaused as Matter (and you say the same when you say Mind emerges from Matter), and that there is no duality because there is nothing to be dual with. Matter, energy, pattern, are all three aspects of Reality. This is a real “holy trinity,” and not one that needed some pseudepigraphic help (Johannine Comma) to get started.

    That’s not the converse claim of “Mind emerges from Matter”; you say Mind and Matter (and Pattern, too?) emerge from your un-named substrate rather than ‘Matter emerges from Mind’.

    Perhaps this substrate is Conscious Matter?

    (Wouldn’t consciousness be expected to be ubiquitous if Reality’s substrate were Conscious Matter?)

  136. David Marjanović says

    The part about reheating [...] speaks to something about the fundamental, lowest (or at least lower) level of existence being shaken violently in order to manifest such massive changes, five whole orders of magnitude back and forth.

    I’m not sure about that at all.

    Penrose’s criticisms of this hypothesis need to be taken seriously.

    The section on criticisms in the Wikipedia article has 3 paragraphs. The 2nd explains one by Penrose that is refuted earlier in the article. :-|

    The 3rd, though, presents Steinhardt’s (citing Penrose). It’s simply beyond me, I can’t evaluate it.

    IIRC, he’s another one who’s trying to link QM to consciousness.

    Penrose has proposed that quantum state superpositions safely hidden inside microtubuli could rescue the brain from determinism and thus allow free will (…if you confuse random will with free will, that is). Microtubuli are far too large (they’re composed of lots of individual protein molecules, and there’s water in them!) and far too warm to allow quantum state superpositions.

    Ever since understanding, truly experientally understanding, what E=mc^2 meant when I was not quite 10 years old, I had this insight. At that point I had never heard the term “string theory” or, indeed, taken a basic physics course. But the obvious conclusion was “Okay, Einstein says energy is equivalent to a shitload of mass multiplied by a really big number, so there has to be a real-world conversion factor somewhere. Which means there’s really no such thing as just matter or just energy; it’s like ice and water, they’re both still H2O.” Pretty heavy stuff for a 10 year old, huh?

    Great. How do you get vibrations from any of this???

    Also, “energy is equivalent to a shitload of mass” is simply not correct. Any given amount of energy corresponds to a certain amount of mass; huge amounts of energy correspond to a shitload of mass, small amounts of energy correspond to very small masses indeed.

    Are you familiar with the concept of the Boltzmann Brain?

    No, but Wikipedia is. :-) What can I say? In a universe that is infinite in size and age, everything that is allowed by the laws of physics has happened an infinite number of times and will continue to do so. (Quite horrifying, but never mind.) This universe is neither infinite in size nor in age.

    Essentially what I believe is that all of reality is one of these

    Why so complicated?

    Where this causes problems for you and other hardline materialists, I think, is the counterintuitive notion of matter without a physical substrate…

    I don’t even understand what you mean by this.

    I’m saying the substrate itself is conscious and is consciousness, that Mind is just as primal and uncaused as Matter (and you say the same when you say Mind emerges from Matter)

    Quite the opposite. I’m saying that mind is an activity of brains. By no means is it uncaused or a primary ingredient of the universe. It’s electrochemistry.

    If this doesn’t give you the screaming epistemological willies, you have not thought hard enough about it.

    “System” has a very specific meaning in the context of Gödel’s theorem (BTW, if you can’t copy & paste ö from the character map, use oe). Quantum physics is not a system in that sense.

    how do we know our mental tools are in 1:1 correspondence with underlying reality?

    How do you know they conspire to produce such a specific, highly non-intuitive picture of reality?

    Yes, science is a hypothetico-deductive method. Yes, the only inductive part of it is hypothesis testing.

    what

    No, induction is completely useless in science, except for generating hypotheses that can then be tested. The exact same holds for dreams (keyword Kekulé).

    mysticism is the surrender of the egoic idea that we can rationalize everything. We can’t

    If you give up trying, how can you tell? :-)

    How do you know there’s no cause? Just because you don’t know of a cause doesn’t mean there isn’t one. This is starting to sound like apologetics;

    Not only don’t I know of a cause, but

    1) I know no cause needs to be postulated to explain the observations, quantum physics works fine (and with incredible precision) without one, so you have Ockham’s Razor to deal with;

    2) all this stuff leaves extremely little room for a hidden-variables theory. An argument form personal incredulity is still a logical fallacy when Einstein makes it.

    Matter, energy, pattern

    At least replace “pattern” by “forces”. Patterns are made by forces, and forces aren’t matter or energy.

  137. consciousness razor says

    In a universe that is infinite in size and age, everything that is allowed by the laws of physics has happened an infinite number of times and will continue to do so. (Quite horrifying, but never mind.) This universe is neither infinite in size nor in age.

    Perhaps not in size or age, but there’s good reason to think the future is infinite. We don’t know exactly how large the universe is spatially; but it would be awfully hard to explain how, past the “observable universe” from our point of view, everything becomes radically different all of a sudden or even gradually over some arbitrary distance. But this is all moot, since an infinite future, with or without an infinite past or infinite space (these distinctions being basically meaningless in relativity anyway), is all you actually need. If you can find a way to end time, then you’ll get rid of the problem.

    The hypothesis that either of us is a Boltzmann brain is certainly false (just look around you: no thermal equilibrium), but that’s not to say that nothing ever will be a Boltzmann brain (or a Boltzmann brontosaurus, Boltzmann egg, Boltzmann spoon, Boltzmann piece of toast with Jesus’ face on it, etc.).

    You can go back to being horrified now. :)

  138. David Marjanović says

    there’s good reason to think the future is infinite

    Oh yes. But the expansion is speeding up, making the heat death impossible; the Big Rip is as final an end as any… :-)

  139. consciousness razor says

    Oh yes. But the expansion is speeding up, making the heat death impossible; the Big Rip is as final an end as any… :-)

    Err, there’s apparently not enough acceleration for a catastrophic sort of “Big Rip” if that’s what you mean. Nuclei aren’t going to fly apart or whatever.

    I forgot to mention the infinite numbers of Boltzmann Teapots. I refute it thus, Russell. *kick*

  140. David Marjanović says

    there’s apparently not enough acceleration for a catastrophic sort of “Big Rip” if that’s what you mean.

    Oh. Do you have a reference?

    I forgot to mention the infinite numbers of Boltzmann Teapots. I refute it thus, Russell. *kick*

    + 1

  141. Amphiox says

    In a universe infinite and size and age, god exists. Or at least something similar enough to god as to make any distinction meaningless.