Comments

  1. Murat says

    Consciousness and Thursdays do not match in any way. I would disagree with Ram, too, but the way Russell handled that particular issue was a bit clumsy.

  2. Gregory says

    Murat, I agree. Thursday is a man made concept of something that exist within the universe. Where consciousness necessarily exists throughout the universe. I really didn’t like how he blew the guy off and ended the call with a terrible joke. I think exploring consciousness is a very important part of life.

  3. Gregory says

    Murat, I agree. Thursday is a man made concept to describe the concept of time. Consciousness would exist with or with out human. In a way could necessarily be part of the universe. But I don’t like how they blew him off and then made that joke and hung up on him. Exploring consciousness is an important part of life.

  4. Murat says

    I didn’t understand the situation with Keith and his girl friend. It seemed that she was uncomfortable with headwear and some similar stuff, therefore was willing to step out of religion, while avoiding to upset her family. If that is the case, she would be giving up one set of misinformation for another.

    Scarves and other stuff women wear (willingly or not) has almost nothing to do with the faith itself. These are cultural codings that have been interwoven with religious belief in the course of centuries. The only reference to covering the hair in Islam’s “official” holy book is quite vague and it’s the male-dominant desert culture that seems to have carried it away with additional “hadith” etc. just to oppress and exploit females.

    I also got the feeling that she is stigmatized due to fitting a certain stereotype. If she is more interested in how she is “seen by the others” than what her mindset actually is, then, confronting the family will be like saying “I don’t like to wear sombreros, so I no longer want to be a Mexican”.

    For Keith mentioned China, I got the feeling that she was a minority not only now in the USA, but also back where she was born and raised, hence, some kind of clothing and rituals were important for her family not exactly because of religious dogma, but because of some need to preserve the (“Hui”, maybe?) heritage.

    The way this was discussed made me think that, stepping out her traditional clothing was the main issue here. If so, she doesn’t really have an idea on the theological aspects of her family’s / group’s religion, and is willing just to fit in better with her current environment. I would suggest her to discuss with her family this trivial cultural stuff without any mention of exiting the religion. Because that doesn’t seem to be the case for her.

    Before questioning and leaving behind a belief system, one should be able to comprehend it well enough to distinguish the essence of it from the trivial aspects. If not, there won’t be enough depth for the person to swim in the actual waters of “free thinking”.

  5. Wiggle Puppy says

    @ Murat #1: “Consciousness” is the label we apply to a phenomenon that takes place in the brains of certain animal species, while “Thursday” is one of the labels we put on the phenomenon of the Earth’s rotation on its axis. Russell was right to keep responding “I don’t know what that means” when Ram claimed that consciousness is an intrinsic part of the universe. Without further explanation, it’s an incoherent statement.

  6. Nathan says

    Gerard and his semantics are boring, seriously don’t care if he doesn’t like the atheist term, but that was a pointless call.

  7. Chancellor of the Exchequer says

    Didn’t hear about Rebecca’s story, will check that out.

    Allyson, we don’t know, so don’t stress the afterlife stuff. Just focus on enjoying the life you know about.

    Gerard, I’m crying, I can’t wait to read the comments to come.

    Russell nobody is claiming 100% certainty, reasonably sure and confident is what I usually encounter from hard atheists.

    Ram called in before, no?

    I’m sick of this “universe is ah conscious and stuff cuz we r conscious n stuff.” What a useless evaluation.

    Sources say that Ram enjoyed that nothing.

    John was a dud.

    Flower the chat function on utube is where the terrible flourish. Lotta doucheBAGS on that platform. Sorry you had to bear that crap.

    No shade to southerners but I’m glad I wasn’t born into the farm lifestyle.

    Josh, go talk to scientists about it. I personally believe a rogue frankfurter multi universal force caused it.

  8. Orphan Black says

    God, that Gerard is getting hung up on terms. Like Matt says “tell me what you believe and why?”

    “A god that does not manifest in reality is indistinguishable from a god that does not exist.” MD

    ——————————————————
    Ram is just one of these people who has to believe in a god no matter how asinine the “god” sounds.

  9. Monocle Smile says

    Gerard needs to leave Connecticut, because it sucks. Leaving might un-suck his thinking. 23 months there was 22 months too long.

    He could also work on being less butthurt in general. Find something more important to give a shit about. Russell got right to the heart of it…”why does this bother you so much?” I don’t believe Gerard’s answer at all. He’s not engaging honestly with Russell, just like he doesn’t engage honestly here. Why bitch about American Atheists when you’re calling into AXP?

    Gerard, you can shut the fuck up about “most atheists.” Throw on some preparation H and fuck off. This incessant whining strikes me as a desperate need to feel superior to others, just like pretty much every comment you make on this blog. You’ve been asked time and time and time and fucking time again what actually brings you to your snotty-ass ‘agnostic’ position and you have consistently avoided answering because you probably realize that it’s all hot air. It’s intellectual cowardice, pure and simple.

  10. Chancellor of the Exchequer says

    *prepares popcorn and other snacks ‘n beverages*

    I don’t deserve this. *wipes tear*

  11. StonedRanger says

    Jesus H. Christ. Gerard, we get it. You don’t like being called an atheist. Would you fucking get on with it? Is there more to your conversation than that? Because if there isn’t you really need to move on. At this point the irritation caused by your constant whining is only superceded by the irritation I feel when the hosts don’t just say ‘Thanks for your input.’ and move along. But its their show so they gotta do what they gotta do.

  12. RationalismRules says

    @MS #8
     

    You’ve been asked time and time and time and fucking time again what actually brings you to your snotty-ass ‘agnostic’ position and you have consistently avoided answering

    Gerard is on? I know which part of the show I’ll probably be skipping over.
     
    He did eventually make an attempt to answer (thread 21.15). As you would expect, it was vague. He said:

    The big thing that made me change my general worldview was that I used to think the universe was all there was to reality, but then I came to believe, to some degree, that what we observe isn’t all there is to existence. So, that opened the door to a whole world of metaphysical possibilities, and I couldn’t say “eh, I’m pretty sure there’s no god” anymore.

     
    I responded:

    Presumably, at that point, you could also no longer say “eh, I’m pretty sure there are no fairies” anymore. Despite them being entirely a product of the human imagination, generated as a pseudo-explanation for unexplained events, for which there is no valid evidence of any kind. Because ‘metaphysics’.

    Strangely, we didn’t hear any more from Gerard on that thread…

  13. Mobius says

    I’m glad Russel finally mentioned Recovering From Religion to Flower. While I can’t recall any names of organizations, I know there are help groups out there for ex-Muslims and I’m certain that RFR will know how to contact them. While it may seem that way to them, Flower and her significant other are not alone out there.

  14. Bret Frost says

    The show sorely needs a better producer. Letting one or two monopolize the show is stupid. You need to set goals as to what the show is. Is it marriage counselling? No. The guide the caller to seek help and move on. Letting one guy eat up 50% of the show on one misguided topic, where the goal is to burn up the shows time is suicidal. This show used to be good. I would stay up to watch it live. Now I’ll just watch the recording so that I can skip the crap bits. Theists have won. The one Atheist show can be destroyed by a single caller because the ‘hosts’ have no idea what they are trying to achieve. Stupid format. In a 90 minute show. One third given over to bullshit from the hosts. Half and hour given over to one caller. 20 mins of Marriage Counselling, then 10 mins of the real stuff, then the credits. Way to make a show guys.

  15. Murat says

    @Wiggle Puppy #4

    “Consciousness” is the label we apply to a phenomenon that takes place in the brains of certain animal species, while “Thursday” is one of the labels we put on the phenomenon of the Earth’s rotation on its axis.

    I think you’ve forced it a bit too much with the definition of what Thursday is, while I agree with the first part about consciousness.

    Concepts like hunger, lust, search, memory etc. would balance much better what the caller was implying, because they could well be replaceable for the motivational role he claimed consciousness to have on the universe.

    Anyway, it was already technically impossible for the hosts to communicate with Ram, so maybe a future call from him under improved conditions may help clear things out.

  16. Simon & Mrs Wendy Hosking says

    Someone needs to get Russel some decent LSD or Mushrooms – it seems he doesn’t understand what profound and deep meditation can get you.

    I have become one with the chair I was sitting on before becoming one with the entire universe. I have seen God and seen that I am God. I’ve even alternated quickly between these two states!

    Of course this is all in my head and there is no reason to think this has any correlation with reality. I mean apart from the Neil DeGrass Tyson concept that we are all stardust and that we are all products of the big bang – which is cool and all, there is no real evidence I’ve seen that says we are one with the universe.

    Meditation (with or without chemical enhancement) doesn’t prove anything and I’d really liked to have Russel or Phil say that.

    As always though thanks for the show the AXP are doing great work.

    – Simon

  17. says

    I can’t believe screeners are even letting Gerard through these days. His baseline assertion—there must exist, or likely exists, some ineffable, timeless, spaceless, transcendent “being”—is utterly worthless and merits no further discussion, no matter how he chooses to bore us with a “new” approach week to week.

    Interesting that the name Deepak Chopra popped up during the call from India. Chopra and his ilk like to argue that consciousness exists in reality almost the way space and time do. They are unwilling to entertain the possibility (IMO likelihood) that it is an emergent property of matter, but they have exactly zero evidence of their assertion that it is otherwise.

  18. RationalismRules says

    @Simon #17
    I thought the stardust quote originated with Laurence Krauss. On the other hand, it sounds like something Carl Sagan would have said. A quick Google search hasn’t helped. Anybody else know?

  19. says

    Carl Sagan, I believe in the original Cosmos series. “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

  20. says

    @19 RR

    Sagan’s version was “star stuff”. It pops up a few times:

    https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

    For instance,

    We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to selfawareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.

    … which is somewhere in the 1980s Cosmos series.

  21. Monocle Smile says

    @Bret Frost
    Nice youtube comment. For some reason I feel like someone, maybe you, has dropped the inane “theists have won” line before. Let’s see if you can flounce properly.

  22. Loover says

    This is what I think Ram was saying: Imagine a universe in which no consciousness ever exists, past, present or future. Then, imagine _being_ (yourself) in such a universe. If you imagine that, you imagine a contradiction. The only world you can imagine without consciousness, is a world you could never be in. If you could never be in it, in what sense does it exist? It is unobservable, and therefore, unscientific. It is like Kant’s “thing in itself”. Speculation about it is futile. The observable world always contains, has contained, or will contain consciousness.

    Therefore, consciousness is a fundamental element of the universe.

  23. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover
    Cool. Too bad it’s all word salad.

    The only world you can imagine without consciousness, is a world you could never be in. If you could never be in it, in what sense does it exist? It is unobservable, and therefore, unscientific

    There’s so much wrong here, starting with the bald assertion that the existence of a universe is entirely dependent upon the existence of a particular “person.” Once you get over the idea that humans and “consciousness” aren’t special and that the universe existed long before life or anything resembling “consciousness,” this ceases to be a problem.
    I don’t know if you share Ram’s ideas or not, but that post does not strengthen his position.

  24. Loover says

    It would have been interesting if Russell had accepted that consciousness is essential to the existence of reality, and asked what follows from that? I would like to have heard how that makes for a God-belief, and how Russell and Phil would have analyzed it.

  25. Loover says

    Monocle, it is not the existence of a particular person the universe “depends” upon, but the existence of at least 1 conscious awareness, capable of observing it for at least one infinitesimal moment.

  26. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover
    That’s still just a bald assertion. We have loads of evidence that “conscious observation” doesn’t affect existence whatsoever and no evidence to the contrary. This seems akin to claiming that a falling tree makes no sound if there aren’t life forms around to hear it. We know that’s not true. I have no clue how people come up with this evidence-free ideas.

    What neuroscience and psychology have taught us is that the human mind is far more limited than people like Deepak Chopra think it is. What we can possibly “conceive” is utterly irrelevant to the state of reality.

    Please, please, please don’t be yet another sucker who references the observer effect with zero understanding.

  27. Wiggle Puppy says

    @ 22 Jasper: Yes, let’s forget about the term “atheist.” What Matt was trying to say in the quote Gerard referenced was that either one believes in a god or one does not. That’s it. There’s no middle ground between accepting a claim and not accepting a claim. Gerard tries to make that simple dichotomy was, way harder than it ever should be.

    @ 24: Loover: I can’t imagine being in a universe without consciousness. I can, however, imagine a universe that does not contain consciousness. Those are two different things.

    @ 27 Loover: No. If humanity somehow wiped itself out along with all other life on Earth, and there was no other life on any other planet, would the universe cease to exist? Of course not. It simply would contain no life. Did other galaxies come into existence only at the moment that we discovered them? No. This line of thought is baffling.

  28. Loover says

    @Wiggle Puppy You can imagine it, but no one could ever observe it.

    If all life were wiped out (assuming only ‘living’ things are conscious) what evidence is there that the universe would continue to exist? There is indeed evidence – but it has been gathered by conscious beings. That is not true of the theoretical universe that NEVER has consciousness during its entire theoretical existence.

    All I’m saying it consciousness is necessary for anything to exist, in any observable sense. (It’s a tautology.) And what it the point of reasoning about what cannot be observed? This is not a statement about the existence of God, unless you want to equate consciousness and existence with God. If so, you are just adding the word ‘God’ to consciousness and existence.

    I think there must be some background to this argument, where somebody was arguing something different than I am. Another way to put it is: Any universe that might the the subject of science, contains at some point a conscious being that can observe it. So it is fair to say, existence is dependent on consciousness, or in some way directly connected.

    I am really interested in hearing a good argument how that is not the case, because intuitively, it does seem the material universe is independent of consciousness. But, best as I can tell, that is just bad intuition, like thinking a rock would fall faster than a feather in a vacuum, or that light from a speeding spacecraft would travel faster than light from an object at rest relative to the observer.

  29. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover

    Another way to put it is: Any universe that might the the subject of science, contains at some point a conscious being that can observe it. So it is fair to say, existence is dependent on consciousness, or in some way directly connected.

    That is a non sequitur. Science is dependent on consciousness, not existence. You’re conflating epistemology and ontology in the worst way. What do you think existence actually is? Does a tree make a sound if it falls in the forest and there are no conscious beings around to hear it? What evidence do you have that it doesn’t? Because we have plenty of evidence that it does. Starlight that originated long before humans existed is just now reaching Earth. We’ve confirmed that there are galaxies 13 billion light years away. Please explain this under your system.

    And what it the point of reasoning about what cannot be observed?

    “Things we observe” and “things that exist” are two sets with elements in common. They are not the same set. Not sure why this is escaping you.

  30. says

    Yes, I was also thinking they should recommend ex-Muslims. Because there’s difficult issues about leaving Islam that ex-Christians have not had to face. There’s probably lots of ex-Muslims in that group that have had to deal with similar family issues, and could provide much better support for Flower than any of us who have never been part of that community.

    But I appreciated Russell recommending marriage counseling. Poor Flower is being leaned on by her family to be Muslim (or at least make a convincing enough show of it) and her spouse is leaning on her not to, and she’s caught in the middle of what sounds like an impossible situation. She can’t please her family and please her spouse, but she apparently wants to keep them all happy. I hope there’s a better resolution for her, because this doesn’t sound like a situation that can last for long without somebody exploding.

  31. Loover says

    @Monocle If a tree falls in the forest, it probably makes vibrations in the air, that would constitute “sound” if heard by a creature capable of hearing.

    Starlight reaching the earth is observed by conscious beings who exist when it reaches us. I’m not saying the observers have to exist the entire time that the universe exists. But if there were never any observers, there would never be any evidence. Without evidence, we are just making things up.

    “Things that exist” can become “things we observe” only if observers (at least 1) exist in the universe at some point in time. A universe that never has observers is just a fantasy, as far as anybody can know.

    Thanks for your responses!

  32. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover
    None of that matters. None of it. Things clearly exist regardless of whether or not conscious observers exist. The universe existed before any conscious observers. Consciousness is just an emergent property of sufficiently networked Turing machines or something similar, as far as we can tell. There’s nothing special about it. The claim “consciousness is a fundamental element of the universe” is just random words thrown together in a sentence, as far as I can tell. It’s a category error AND it’s false.

    But if there were never any observers, there would never be any evidence. Without evidence, we are just making things up.

    Are you getting to a real point, or are you going to continue to spout nonsense? Again, you can’t seem to separate epistemology and ontology for whatever reason.

  33. Torsten Pihl says

    Ram and other consciousness mystics love fooling themselves. They arrogantly take their experience and feelings of truth as actual truth, regardless of credible evidence. Guiding or tricking your fallible mammal brain into feeling truth is easy, which is why it’s such an unreliable way to actual truth.

  34. says

    ‘Isn’t he a lovely sight?’ said Tweedledum.

    Alice couldn’t say honestly that he was. He had a tall red night-cap on, with a tassel, and he was lying crumpled up into a sort of untidy heap, and snoring loud— ‘fit to snore his head off!’ as Tweedledum remarked.

    ‘I’m afraid he’ll catch cold with lying on the damp grass,’ said Alice, who was a very thoughtful little girl.

    ‘He’s dreaming now,’ said Tweedledee: ‘and what do you think he’s dreaming about?’
    Alice said ‘Nobody can guess that.’

    ‘Why, about you!’ Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. ‘And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?’

    ‘Where I am now, of course,’ said Alice.

    ‘Not you!’ Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. ‘You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!’

    ‘If that there King was to wake,’ added Tweedledum, ‘you’d go out— bang!—just like a candle!’

    ‘I shouldn’t!’ Alice exclaimed indignantly. ‘Besides, if I’m only a sort of thing in his dream, what are you, I should like to know?’

    ‘Ditto,’ said Tweedledum.

    ‘Ditto, ditto!’ cried Tweedledee.

    He shouted this so loud that Alice couldn’t help saying ‘Hush! You’ll be waking him, I’m afraid, if you make so much noise.’

    ‘Well, it’s no use your talking about waking him,’ said Tweedledum, ‘when you’re only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you’re not real.’

    ‘I am real!’ said Alice, and began to cry.

  35. Yaddith says

    Loover:

    A thing is “observable” if it has the potential to be observed. If a tree falls, that event is observable whether or not an observer is present, Likewise, if a universe exists, it has the potential to be observed whether or not an observer is present.

  36. Loover says

    Yaddith:

    You assumed the existence of an observer, which could be present or not at a location in this theoretical universe.

    In a universe without an observer, nothing ever has any potential to be observed. If a tree falls in a universe without an observer, there is no possibility it will be observed. It is 100% certain that it will not be observed. It doesn’t matter whether the non-existent observer is not present or not 🙂

  37. RationalismRules says

    @Loover
    Here’s how I see the issue:
    If things don’t have an independent existence, ie. if consciousness were required for anything to exist, why would one particular thing (eg. a rock) manifest in the same way to different people? Wouldn’t we expect that different observers would experience the rock differently according to their own consciousness? Why would a non-conscious machine be able to make a non-conscious facsimile of it – a photograph, for example?

  38. RationalismRules says

    @Loover #38

    You assumed the existence of an observer, which could be present or not at a location in this theoretical universe.

    This is incorrect. Yaddith’s “whether or not an observer is present” does not assume the existence of the observer. If no observer is present, it may be the case that no observer exists.
     

    In a universe without an observer, nothing ever has any potential to be observed.

    No. Potential refers to future possibility. “Capable of development into actuality” (Merriam-Webster)
    If a tree falls in a universe with no observer, you are correct that there is no possibility of it being observed. However, until the event actually occurs there may be the possibility that an observer would appear. So the tree does have potential to be observed. The only case in which the tree does not have the potential to be observed is if there is no possibility of the universe ever having an observer.

  39. Loover says

    39) RationalismRule: Describing stuff that might happen in the theoretical observer-less universe, would require an observer. Things may appear different, or facsimile machines might operate, but we are not arguing at that level. There would never be any evidence for anything that happened, because it would not be observed.

    40) I am arguing for a very limited proposition – that consciousness is an essential to reality. If you take the negation of this, I think you have to say that a universe _could_ exist without EVER, at any time, having any observer. If you can’t agree with that, you are agreeing with _me_.

    If a universe can be said to exist because there is the possibility of an observer appearing at some point, my point is still proven – consciousness is an essential element of reality.

  40. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover

    There would never be any evidence for anything that happened, because it would not be observed.

    For the fourth time, this doesn’t mean that things don’t happen. All sorts of stuff happens in the next room where there are no observers.

    I am arguing for a very limited proposition – that consciousness is an essential to reality

    Oh, so you’ll just ignore everything to the contrary? Is that what you mean? Because this is an extraordinary claim for which you need to provide assloads of evidence.

  41. Loover says

    Bring out the evidence for universes without observers, and I promise not to ignore it!

  42. Monocle Smile says

    /facepalm
    “You can’t demonstrate that a universe exists without observers, therefore consciousness is essential to reality” is a non sequitur. That has nothing to do with anything. Prove that things disappear when nobody is looking. This should be trivial to demonstrate now that we have recording equipment.

  43. RationalismRules says

    @Loover #41
    Re #40, I wasn’t taking a position on your proposition, I was pointing out that your two statements that I quoted were logically invalid, not with regard to any particular proposition, but in themselves.

    The statement “whether or not an observer is present” does not necessarily imply the existence of an observer. It can be interpreted in two different ways:
    – “whether or not any observer is present”. That does not imply the existence of an observer, because “not any observer is present” includes the case where no observer exists.
    – “whether or not a given observer is present”. That does imply the existence of an observer. I’m guessing this is how you read it?
     
    The second statement:

    “In a universe without an observer, nothing ever has any potential to be observed”.

    is logically invalid for the reasons I pointed out above. If you want your universe to lack even the potential of observation, then you would have to specify that there was no possibility of an observer, not just that there was no observer.
     

    If a universe can be said to exist because there is the possibility of an observer appearing at some point, my point is still proven – consciousness is an essential element of reality.

    No, I’m going to be nit-picky here, but this is also logically invalid. “The possibility of consciousness” is not the same thing as “consciousness”, so it does not lead to your conclusion.

    This is a fairly counter-intuitive point, so let me break it down:
    – The ‘possibility of consciousness’ includes both the following cases: ‘consciousness exists’ and ‘no consciousness exists’
    – So a universe with the ‘possibility of consciousness’ could possibly be a universe where ‘no consciousness exists’
    – If a universe where ‘no consciousness exists’ is possible, then consciousness is not an essential element of that universe (and therefore of ‘reality’)
    – Therefore: If a universe can be said to exist because of the possibility of an observer appearing at some point, the reverse is proven – consciousness is not an essential element of reality

    It’s so counter-intuitive that I feel like I must have made a mistake somewhere, but I can’t find any flaw in the logic. I’m interested to see if anyone else finds one.

    Now my brain hurts too much to address #39, and anyway I need to give it more thought.

  44. Yaddith says

    Loover:

    Your argument seems to boil down to your contention that “consciousness is essential to reality.” Not so. Consciousness is only essential to the perception of reality. Evidence exists even if no one exists to evaluate it.

    RationalismRules:

    Thanks for doing the heavy lifting for me! You beat me to the punch.

  45. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover
    Are you in fact pushing Bishop Berkeley’s subjective idealism? Because we’ve known that’s nonsense for a few centuries now.

  46. Loover says

    It is intuitive to me that things exist in themselves, without reference to any observer, and that a universe could perfectly well exist without consciousness. It makes sense that consciousness is just a quirky quality that develops because it enhances survival value. I hated Berkeley when I first read him, and still find him annoying. I found Kant unreadable.

    But I find my intuitions here must be wrong, if I don’t assume or fantasize about things I have no evidence for. The essential role of consciousness to reality seems logically unavoidable to me. What is “evidence” if no one exists to evaluate it? For whom would it be evidence? The word “evidence” implies a conscious observer.

    I don’t want to beat a dead horse or annoy you, and I think we have exhausted the argument about the “essential role of consciousness to reality”. But what I AM interested in is – what makes this an argument about religion? Some people here could probably fill me in on where the argument goes, when someone starts from “essential role of consciousness to reality”, and reasons to the existence of their God. I think it is partly because consciousness is so hard to define. I am defining it as that which has the ability to make observations. How do others define it?

  47. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover

    What is “evidence” if no one exists to evaluate it? For whom would it be evidence? The word “evidence” implies a conscious observer

    The map is not the place. Places can exist without maps. I feel like you’re conflating the two.

    But what I AM interested in is – what makes this an argument about religion?

    Heavy doses of nonsense. “Panpsychism” goes from “consciousness is fundamental to reality” to “therefore, the universe is a big mind, which is god’s mind.” There’s all sorts of wrongness in there. Other theists babble on about consciousness in order to advance the idea of a soul. If consciousness isn’t this magical woo dust, then there’s no room for anything remotely like a “soul.”

    There’s a broader point here that might help you understand. Religion is running out of dark corners in which to hide among first-world civilizations. As we learn more about reality, “god” seems to less and less required to explain things, even among the religious. This triggers reactions to push deeper into what gaps in our understanding still exist, regardless of how badly they clash with the actual theology.

    I think it is partly because consciousness is so hard to define. I am defining it as that which has the ability to make observations. How do others define it?

    Bacteria make observations, because they respond to stimuli. I wouldn’t call them “conscious.” I hate the term anyway; we can discuss degrees of sentience and sapience instead. I see sapience as an evolution of cognition, but I’m not an expert or anything close.

  48. Yaddith says

    Loover:

    Protagoras said that “man is the measure of all things,” but I don’t know that even Protagoras would claim that the universe would not exist if man was not around to measure it. Yes, the word “evidence” does imply a conscious observer. That is because it is a word created by a conscious observer. Obviously our mental construct of “reality” is confined to what little we can perceive through our pitifully limited senses (see H. P. Lovecraft’s story “From Beyond”).

  49. Loover says

    Excellent answer! Bacteria is conscious to some degree, or maybe “sentient” is a better word. Dictionary.com has the definition of sapience as “having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment,” and I know that is not what you mean. Are sentience and sapience qualitatively different?

    The consciousness-is-fundamental-to-reality discussion is important to me, because, to paraphrase Descartes, conscience experience is the only thing I can know for certain. It is often useful to keep in the back of your mind the possibility that your entire concept of the world is illusion. Example – current US politics. People are living in completely different worlds.

  50. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover
    http://casinerina.blogspot.com/2014/01/sentience-or-sapience.html

    The consciousness-is-fundamental-to-reality discussion is important to me, because, to paraphrase Descartes, conscience experience is the only thing I can know for certain

    Solipsism has been discussed on AXP and by Matt Dillahunty for years and years. Are you new to the show? The discussion, while important, is not very interesting or worth going over more than once. All solipsism does is prohibit absolute certainty. But so what? We don’t need absolute certainty to believe or think or act.

  51. Loover says

    I’m new-‘ish’. Been enjoying it a lot lately, but probably saw it sometime ago.

    We certainly don’t need absolute certainly to think or act. (good thing, that) But sometimes things happen that are so outlandishly unexpected, you have to rethink a lot of your ‘map’, regardless of how logical and evidence-based you thought it was. It may never have happened to you, though.

  52. indianajones says

    @ Loover
    Did Gravity waves exist before they were detected by LIGO (I think)? Higgs Boson before it was detected by the LHC recently? Or was theorised to exist in the 60’s? The AIDS virus before it a reliable method of detection was established, noting of course that it had been killing people for a while before then?

    Things exist without being observed, and I’m prepared to bet any sum at any odds you like that there are things that exist right now that have never been observed.

  53. Loover says

    @indianajones
    You are talking about this universe, that has observers. My point was limited to theoretical universes that have no observers at any point in time, and saying you can’t claim they exist in the scientific sense, since we can, in principle and in fact, have no evidence for them. And all that just to support the idea that consciousness is an essential element of reality. And to go no further than that.

  54. Scrungus says

    Couldn’t one posit a Rick and Morty style microverse? Like, I can physically see this tiny universe and observe it externally, but there’s no conscious beings inside the boundaries of that universe?

    Not saying that’s the case IRL, but its seems false that a universe’s lack of internal observers necessarily entails it is unobservable.

  55. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover
    There’s a fallacy of composition lurking in there. You’re basically saying that if any part of the universe is observed, then the entire universe counts as being observed.

  56. Loover says

    That’s an interesting point. Could you elaborate on how that affects the argument? I’m not saying the entire universe has to be under constant observation (though maybe it is), but just that if there are never ANY observers, NO observations can be made.

  57. meskibob says

    @Loover, 59

    if there are never ANY observers, NO observations can be made.

    I doubt anyone would argue that since it’s by definition (observations necessitate observers).
    But you then seem to convert that to the woo-ish statement (in comment 56)

    consciousness is an essential element of reality

    What does that additional statement add for you? It looks like empty fluff to me.
    There’s also a switch from observations in a universe to “element of reality“. The latter is fuzzy dependent on your definition reality (e.g. reality is the label for how observers experience the universe).

  58. Vivec says

    Somethings’ existence doesn’t necessarily entail that it can be observed or even demonstrated to exist. There’s nothing logically contradictory about a universe with no conscious entities in it, just like there’s nothing contradictory about a room with no conscious entities in it.

    If we’re doing some solipsist “How can you be certain your bedroom continues to exist when you’re no longer observing it” nonsense, I don’t think there’s any reason to have this conversation.

  59. Vivec says

    By “existence doesn’t necessarily entail that it can be demonstrated to exist”, what I mean is that, for example, gravity existed long before there was any understanding of what it was, or even any people to comprehend it.

  60. Murat says

    @Gregory #2, #3

    Thanks, I’m glad we agree. Russell is one of my favorite hosts and I’m sure he could challenge the question with a much better fitting counter-example. As for your statement below:

    Consciousness would exist with or with out human. In a way could necessarily be part of the universe.

    I’m not too sure about what you mean there. Yes, I agree that consciousness is not a trademark for just one species; also animals certainly do have it (though expressed through a different mechanism than we homosapiens of today use), plants, umm, unlikely at best… But if what you mean is that, even if there was no animal life on any planets and the universe existed as a continuing chaos of colliding objects and masses of compressed substance orbiting around each other, there still would be “consciousness”… Well, I think that’s a supposition, one that probably provided Ram (the caller) with the mindset to throw away the question.

    It’s quite in line with that notorious inquiry about whether there would be a “sound” if a tree collapsed in the middle of a forest in which there are no creatures with hearing abilities.

    Debatable.

  61. Ethan Myerson says

    @ #56

    …My point was limited to theoretical universes that have no observers at any point in time, and saying you can’t claim they exist in the scientific sense, since we can, in principle and in fact, have no evidence for them. And all that just to support the idea that consciousness is an essential element of reality.

    You seem to be saying that since we cannot observe an observerless universe, that such a universe is a logical impossibility. I can’t follow you there. If you were to say that we have no reason to believe such a universe exists, I could agree with you. But the fact that it can’t be observed (even the fact that such a thing logically couldn’t ever be observed) doesn’t preclude its actual existence. Yes, it would be irrational to claim that such a place definitely does exist, but I don’t think anyone’s making that claim.
    .

    I certainly don’t see any justification for the claim that a universe can only exist if there is consciousness (isn’t that what it means to claim that consciousness is an “essential element of reality”?) If the justification for that is that there is consciousness in the one currently testable universe, well, that’s a weak argument. There are also light blue fuzzy slippers in this universe, but I don’t think you’d call them an essential element of reality. If the justification is that consciousness is required for observation, and that only through observation could we justify belief in a thing, that may be true, but that doesn’t obviate a universe without consciousness; it only makes irrational any knowledge claim about the existence of such a universe.

  62. Loover says

    64. Ethan Myerson
    You framed that objection very well. I do seem to be making a claim that goes further than just saying we could never know anything about an observer-less universe. Could something exist for which we could never in principle have evidence? I don’t know why not. So, sure, it could exist, just like a God could exist, for whom we will never have evidence. (btw, I have no interest in such a God!)

    So, if we stipulate a universe that never has observers, and ask whether it could exist in principle, I guess I have to say yes. Now my question is whether that kind of universe can be considered fundamentally the same sort of thing as our actual universe, such that you could say there is no substantive difference between it and ours, and therefore consciousness is optional to reality. I have to think about that some more. Considering such a universe as possibly real leaves behind any evidence-based position. My brain had a hard time with Kant, like I said before. In fact, I don’t know whether he would have said yes or no to that. Anybody know?

  63. Murat says

    @64

    I certainly don’t see any justification for the claim that a universe can only exist if there is consciousness (isn’t that what it means to claim that consciousness is an “essential element of reality”?) If the justification for that is that there is consciousness in the one currently testable universe, well, that’s a weak argument.

    It’s all about the wording: It can’t be PROVEN TO exist without consciousness. This is, like, saying consciousness has to exist either inside or outside that universe in question, for there has to at least be a RECIPIENT of the claim for the existence to be registered.

  64. Vivec says

    Could something exist for which we could never in principle have evidence?

    Sure, why not? Things don’t stop existing when no one’s observing them.

    So, sure, it could exist, just like a God could exist, for whom we will never have evidence.

    I think you’ll generally find very few atheists who take the hard atheist stance against the existence of literally any god concept ever. That being said, every atheist would lack a belief in a god that literally can’t be proven.

    So, if we stipulate a universe that never has observers, and ask whether it could exist in principle, I guess I have to say yes.

    Okay, conversation done, I guess?

    Now my question is whether that kind of universe can be considered fundamentally the same sort of thing as our actual universe, such that you could say there is no substantive difference between it and ours, and therefore consciousness is optional to reality.

    Well, aside from the substantive difference of there being no people there to observe it, yeah.

    Considering such a universe as possibly real leaves behind any evidence-based position.

    Well, first off, this is a thought experiment, so duh?

    But if you put any stock in the reliability of induction, it’s pretty easy to get evidence for the claim that “Things don’t cease to exist when they’re not observed.” Every time you leave your bedroom and come back to find the bedroom right where you left it, you have a datapoint.

    It’s not hard to go from “To our best knowledge, things do not cease to exist when unobserved” to “A universe identical to ours in every way aside from a lack of observers isn’t logically contradictory.”

  65. Murat says

    @67

    But if you put any stock in the reliability of induction, it’s pretty easy to get evidence for the claim that “Things don’t cease to exist when they’re not observed.” Every time you leave your bedroom and come back to find the bedroom right where you left it, you have a datapoint.

    Don’t they put us in mental institutions if we claim we don’t find our bedroom where we leave it?

    The way observers are approached is the weakest ring of the chain in such cases.

  66. KsDevil says

    Garard says ‘Atheist’ and ‘Theist’ are not a dichotomy. But he never presented a third alternative. He never said why it was wrong.
    I suspect he is yet another person that confuses the position for a god (theist/atheist) and a position of knowledge (gnostic/agnostic) And can’t get past that idea.
    Much like many people, once fixated, further understanding can’t occur. Hopefully he will finally realize this and learn from it.

  67. RationalismRules says

    @KsDevil #69

    I suspect [Gerard] is yet another person that confuses the position for a god (theist/atheist) and a position of knowledge (gnostic/agnostic) And can’t get past that idea.

    This is exactly correct. There’s a lengthy argument with him on this subject in the Ep 21.12 comments, if you want to read it, although I would suggest poking your eyes out with a pencil would be less painful…

  68. KsDevil says

    On the position of consciousness being fundamental part of the universe.
    That idea comes from the ego wishing to validate itself. A sort of God Of The Gaps argument, but in this case, a consciousness of the gaps where ‘consciousness’ is really just an avatar of the self.
    That is why all the arguments entangle consciousness and the universe.
    But as far as science has discovered, consciousness is an emergent property of a brain. And brains are not a requirement for a universe. Not one mathematical model of the big bang includes a brain in the formula.
    It’s woo, and that is why, in all the attempts to explain themselves, the woo masters fail to find coherent explanations.

  69. Murat says

    @KJWalker #70

    Speaking of May the 4th, I have a question for whoever will be presenting the next episode:

    In the SW universe, do those who believe in the Force count as theists? Or, given that their definition of the Force is not a creator, is it possible for them to carry that particular faith (maybe even enlist as a Jedi candidate?) and still use the label “atheist”?

  70. RationalismRules says

    @Loover #65

    I do seem to be making a claim that goes further than just saying we could never know anything about an observer-less universe. Could something exist for which we could never in principle have evidence? I don’t know why not.

    This is the same point that Yaddith made back in post #47 and that underlies several of MS’s posts (albeit less clearly). I am so glad Ethan has found a way to express it in terms that make sense to you.

    I think what makes it difficult to see this point is because your proposition is framed in terms like “does not exist in any observable sense”, This assumes the conclusion – that existence is dependent on an observer – in the premise itself. It’s a begging-the-question fallacy.
     

    Now my question is whether that kind of universe can be considered fundamentally the same sort of thing as our actual universe, such that you could say there is no substantive difference between it and ours, and therefore consciousness is optional to reality.

    Clearly they are not fundamentally the same, because one excludes the possibility of conscious life. However, that does not mean it cannot exist, it simply means that its existence cannot be known.
    The only thing we can know about your hypothetical observer-less universe is that we cannot know anything about it, including whether or not it exists. (Lao Tzu: “The wise man knows what he does not know”). Since we cannot determine whether or not it exists, we cannot draw any conclusion on whether or not consciousness is fundamental to it.
     
    P.S. In looking into definitons of ‘reality’ I came across this short video from NewScientist, which you may enjoy:

  71. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Murat

    Scarves and other stuff women wear (willingly or not) has almost nothing to do with the faith itself. These are cultural codings that have been interwoven with religious belief in the course of centuries.

    Except where it does. And lots of countries have a large majority of the Muslim clerical establishment that says that women must wear such clothing as a requirement of Islam. You don’t get to judge which is the “one true Islam”, just like Catholics don’t get to decide what his the “one true Christianity”. Loosely put, if there’s a whole country of people who say that some practice is religious, then it’s religious. In other words, what makes a cultural practice religious is the intent of the practitioners.

    The only reference to covering the hair in Islam’s “official” holy book is quite vague and it’s the male-dominant desert culture that seems to have carried it away with additional “hadith” etc. just to oppress and exploit females.

    This assumes that the books are the only source of religious practice. This is wrong. For example, informed Catholics will strongly disagree with this notion. It’s one of the fundamental differences between Catholics and Protestants.

    Now as a counter-example. It’s my understanding from several NPR programs that female genital mutilation is actually not a religious Muslim practice, at least as far as a large majority of Islamic clerics and scholars say. Of course, maybe the individuals who do it largely believe it to be required by Islam, and then it shows the problem of trying to detach “religion” from “culture” – it’s can be very hard to find a line between “religious cultural practices” and “non-religious cultural practices”, precisely because there is no objective definition of what is religious except for intent.

  72. Murat says

    @EL #76

    Yeah, more or less we’re saying the same thing. In the example of Keith’s gf, I got the feeling that she was going to some kind of an extreme measure whereas the actual problem she was dealing with required a different, simpler path.

    It was difficult to tell, of course, because it wasn’t her who tried to express the situation.

  73. Marcel says

    Not to beat a dead horse, but I think Gerard’s issue with the terms is similar to Ozy’s take on them (though Ozy doesn’t make a big deal about it).

    My understanding of Ozy’s position is this. His working definition of atheist aligns with strong atheism. The dichotomy he would express is theism/non-theism. So, in that situation, you could have a non-theist who is neither a theist nor an atheist.

  74. RationalismRules says

    @Marcel #79

    Not to beat a dead horse, but I think Gerard’s issue with the terms is similar to Ozy’s take on them (though Ozy doesn’t make a big deal about it).

    Gerard effectively considers belief to be a trichotomy atheist/agnostic/theist. No big deal, many people share that position. Where Gerard goes off the rails is that he thinks that because he doesn’t consider himself an atheist it’s not valid for anybody else to apply that label to him.

  75. Yaddith says

    RationalismRules:

    The way I think of it is that I was born an atheist and have never had occasion to change my mind. I don’t think it would ever have occurred to me to reject the idea of God if someone else had not postulated his existence, so the definition of an atheist as someone who lacks a belief in God just seems natural to me.

  76. Murat says

    @RationalismRules #80

    Gerard effectively considers belief to be a trichotomy atheist/agnostic/theist. No big deal, many people share that position.

    For the trichotomy to work fine, shouldn’t it be expressed as “antitheist / agnostic / theist”?

  77. Devocate says

    I don’t see the difference between a Universe separate from ours and unobservable by us with observers, and a Universe separate from ours and unobservable by us without observers. We have evidence for neither, how can one be more ‘real’ in any sense?

  78. Loover says

    The hypothetical observer-less universe is not a separate-from-us, real universe. It is a thought experiment to answer the question, “Does it make sense to say that consciousness is a necessary element of reality?” If such a universe existed, in what sense would it be real, since there would be no observer to make observations, and other determinations (evidence), of whether it is real of not?

    I think this whole argument was made in great detail by Immanuel Kant. I wish someone with knowledge of Kant and his critics would come on the show and help me understand it. It seems to me to be an argument about concepts – like the one that came up before: the existence of evidence is dependent on the existence of one to whom it is evident – the observer. The existence of reality, or the Universe (in its original sense of ‘everything that is”) is dependent upon thought. These ideas are related to Bishop Berkeley’s idealism (I think, but I am not motivated to study up on it.) It says that reality is just like it seems, except it is more like a movie, that goes away when the mind is turned off. It says, calculate all the physical behaviors of matter, and expect it to behave exactly as it does, in accordance with physical laws. But DON’T expect anything else. Don’t postulate an ultimate particle, of which all material is made, that is eternal and unchanging. Have all the theories of physical interaction you want, and use them. But don’t believe in some eternal, unchanging, indestructible, underlying “matter.” All that we see as matter is patterns of change and repetition, and as such, they are creatures of mind.

    I imagine most of you will say that is ‘woo’, but it is solid historical philosophical reasoning. (I hope it is reasonably close to Kant, and you might say Kant is ‘woo’.) It has nothing to do with a supernatural Daddy in the sky. It does make you want to look closer at the nature of consciousness, from the inside. It is not the naive idea that reality goes away when we are not looking at it, with the implication that physical change would have to be chaotic if there weren’t an underlying ‘matter’. When the movie picks up again, the milk has gone sour, or the mountain has worn down. All the (seemingly) material things are just as they are, but the concepts about them are contingent, and always dependent on evidence. It is a non-hubris-tic stance. If you start from this philosophical position, you have a better chance of coming upon a new scientific paradigm. It also matches up pretty well with what the physicists are saying these days.

  79. RationalismRules says

    @Loover #84

    If such a universe existed, in what sense would it be real, since there would be no observer to make observations, and other determinations (evidence), of whether it is real or not?

    Now that you’ve separated exist from real I think I finally understand the point of your proposition. I was baffled as to why anyone would think existence was contingent on observation, which appears to be what we’ve all been arguing over for the entire discussion up to this point.

    Beyond that, it’s ultimately definitional. If you regard ‘reality’ as a conceptual framework through which we consider existence, then that requires consciousness. (It also requires complex intelligence, but so far nobody seems to have proposed that complex intelligence is fundamental to reality)
    If you regard ‘reality’ simply as ‘the set of all existent things’, then no consciousness is required.

  80. Monocle Smile says

    @Loover
    I still largely disagree with how you express your ideas. It still reeks of naive subjective realism that Berkeley advanced and I have no goddamn clue what your posts have to do with physics.

  81. billgarthright says

    Jesus Christ, guys! Genesis is exactly the same as what scientists have discovered about the Big Bang? Why did you let him get away with that?

    OK, I just now listened to this episode, and I haven’t read the comments here. But this episode made me want to pull my hair out! Good thing I’m already bald, huh? 🙂

    I still love the Atheist Experience, though.