‘Proving’ a negative


There has been an interesting discussion in the comments on my post When can we conclude that dark matter does not exist? with commenter Establishment Liberal taking strong exception to my statement that one cannot prove the non-existence of entities. I started posting my response in the comments but it got rather long and I thought, what the hell, why not make it into a separate post? All these are things that I go into in some detail in my forthcoming book The Paradox of Science but I will sketch out my response here.

EL has made many postings in that thread and John Morales has responded to some of the points but the main one that I will respond to is this one and my comments will be in response to points made there.

EL is correct that I am saying that “one cannot prove that there are no immaterial human souls”, or “one cannot prove that there are no unicorns”.

The point I am making is that questions of the non-existence of entities are arrived at using reasoned judgments based on a preponderance of evidence, not on proof, because determined believers in the existence of anything can always add ad hoc explanations for the lack of positive evidence. This is why, for example, conspiracy theories never die and people continue to believe in all manner of superstitions. I am saying that we cannot prove with 100% certainty that there are no unicorns (or T rexes or whatever) because believers can always posit explanations for the lack of evidence, which is why the Loch Ness monster still has its supporters. This is why arguments with people who believe in ghosts and immaterial souls rarely convince them that they are wrong. If such arguments are so definitive, how come we still have believers? As the TV character House said, “Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise there would be no religious people.” At some point, some of us people come to the conclusion that these proposed escape clauses are preposterous and that it is not reasonable to believe in them and proceed to live their lives as if they do not exist. They leave the believers to their own devices.

EL does define the word ‘prove’ to mean “demonstrate the truth of the claim beyond all reasonable doubt, but not all possible doubt”, but the key word in that definition is ‘reasonable’, because getting agreement on what is reasonable to believe and what is not is the sticking point. It requires making a judgment and getting agreement on judgments depends on many factors that do not command universal acceptance.

EL’s argument using the Standard Model in particle physics is interesting but unconvincing because it posits a certainty about it that is not held even by physicists. For one thing, while the SM is the best one we have for sub-atomic particle physics, it is by no means considered the last word by all physicists. The SM is a composite of all manner of theories, including QCD and electroweak theories, that are patched together with and gravity tacked on. It is by no means a complete, closed system even within the realm of particle physics that has answered all the questions. And it comes nowhere close to addressing, let alone answering, the questions in chemistry, biology, geology, and other areas of science. It is only the extreme reductionists who argue that the SM has ‘solved’ the problems in other areas.

Furthermore, take EL’s statements.

The Standard Model is now a complete and accurate theory of every single experiment that has ever been done on Earth.

There is new physics to be discovered, but none of that physics is happening on Earth, and we know this because the math of Quantum Field Theory says so and because of our experiments with particle accelerators.

In order to entertain the epistemic possibility that supernatural stuff exists, you also have to entertain the epistemic possibility that the Standard Model is very, very wrong, and that is not a reasonable thing to do in light of the incredible evidence that we have in favor of the Standard Model.

These statements are so strong and sweeping that I suspect that few physicists would accept them. The idea that the SM is the last word in science that pretty much has explained everything that happens on Earth is simply wrong. No scientific theory has ever explained all the phenomena that fall under its purview. There are always things it does not explain and the SM is no exception. Furthermore, all scientific theories are underdetermined by the data, in the sense that no set of data, however large, uniquely determines a scientific theory. It can never be shown that SM is the only theory that we can construct to explain the data.

The SM does not require anything supernatural as part of its explanatory structure but that is different from saying that it leaves no room for their existence. Furthermore, EL is saying that it is not reasonable to reject that SM. The use of that word supports my contention that accepting SM is a judgment based on evidence, not on proof. EL makes that same point about reasonableness again later:

For angels and gods that actually do something, they cannot exist, because by definition they are something above materialism, and the Standard Model and the evidence for it leave no room for such things. If some thing exists and obeys the Standard Model, then it’s probably not reasonable to use the word “supernatural” to describe it, and for postulates that there exists something that has effect on our material world in a way that does not conform to the Standard Model, we can be sure that such things do not exist because of the overwhelming evidence in favor of the near universal applicability of the Standard Model.

Again, to repeat my main points, no scientific theory has ever explained all the data that falls under its purview. Furthermore, no set of data ever uniquely determines a theory. This is why believers in the supernatural can always find reasons for belief. In fact, that is the whole basis for Intelligent Design. The best we can say is that it is not reasonable to hold those beliefs. So while I agree with EL’s concluding statement that “the evidence strongly supports an impersonal, material world that evolves according to simple, impersonal, material, mathematical laws”, it is quite a different matter to go from there to argue that therefore we have proved it to be so with any sense of certainty.

As I said, establishing these points involve looking in depth at the history and philosophy of science as well as the field of epistemology, and I can at best sketch the main outlines of the argument here. I hope those who are interested in exploring such questions more deeply will read the book when it comes out, possibly later this year.

Comments

  1. DonDueed says

    No reasonable person could have voted for Donald Trump. Therefore Hillary Clinton will be sworn in next week.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    You cannot fully disprove that I have an invisible, stealthy, shy dragon in my basement – but a quick visit to my house will show I do not have a basement.

  3. Brian English says

    Still saying you can’t prove something doesn’t exist while allow you can prove something exists a free pass Mano? Just kidding. When you unpack proof, is where the issue lies. Either you mean proof in logic, which means show a tautology or contradiction or proof means preponderance of evidence. I think I’m repeating myself.
    As for proving there are no immaterial whatevers. I don’t think one needs to prove that. They can exist in their own ‘realm’ all they like. The problem is interaction. It’s time for me to wade in way over my depth. Physicists be gentle! The universe is closed under causation (however you unpack that) and conservation of energy. For a immaterial thing to alter the material, new energy has to introduced or at least exchanged. But immaterial things have no energy, for that is a property of material things. Of course, immaterial things interacting with material things is logically incoherent, so I don’t fuss about immaterial things existing, just that we could have no logical, or if you grant the logical may be coherent, physical reasons for believing the possibility of anything not material affecting the universe.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL wrote:

    The Standard Model is now a complete and accurate theory of every single experiment that has ever been done on Earth.

    Utter nonsense.

    1) The proton radius puzzle.
    2) The anomalous magnetic moment of the muon.

    There is new physics to be discovered, but none of that physics is happening on Earth, and we know this because the math of Quantum Field Theory says so and because of our experiments with particle accelerators.

    (my emphasis). Huh? How does “the math of QFT” say this?

    In order to entertain the epistemic possibility that supernatural stuff exists, you also have to entertain the epistemic possibility that the Standard Model is very, very wrong…

    No, you just have to “entertain” that the SM isn’t complete. And it most certainly isn’t complete.

  5. mnb0 says

    “one cannot prove that there are no immaterial human souls”,
    Depends on what standard your use for proof. I’d say something is disproven if we can show that the concept is incoherent. A nice example is provided by Rowling in her Harry Potter series. At one hand her ghosts can float through walls and can’t eat – ie can’t interact with matter (see also Brian just above). At the other hand they can speak and hear – ie interact with matter. I think that enough proof for the non-existence of her ghosts.
    The same applies to the concept of the immaterial human soul and the concept of an immaterial god (the Mormon god is claimed to be material). Herman Philipse argues this in his God in the Age of Science. He uses the example of “God loves you.”

    “I am saying that we cannot prove with 100% certainty that there are no unicorns”
    In science we cannot prove anything with 100% certainty. That’s the same difference. Philosophy has shown since long that we can’t prove anything with 100% certainty by using either deduction or induction alone. As a teacher math I can convincingly prove Pythagoras’ Theorem. All my pupils will accept it. If I change one of Euclides’ axiomata it’s easy to construct an example that disproves the Theorem. Something similar applies to induction.

    In this blogpost you mix “to prove” with “to be capable of convincing others”. After several years of having discussions with theists on internet it has become clear that many of them use a double standard for “proof”. So of course it becomes impossible to convince them. If you set the bar low for yourself and high for opposing views (and that’s very human) you are right almost by default.
    But nonetheless it’s totally possible to formulate standards for especially disproof. Mine are: contradicting empirical evidence (see the famous quote of Richard Feynman), inconsistency and incoherence. I have little doubt we can formulate more, but I’m only an amateur.

  6. grasshopper says

    A recent post by Richard Carrier illustrates quite lucidly the problems with trying to support an unlikely claim with further claims.

    … if you must add an element to a claim in order to make that claim fit the evidence better (in other words, to make the evidence more likely on that claim than the evidence would be on that claim without that added element), then the prior probability of the claim is reduced by the probability of that element being true. And if you must add many elements, then all their probabilities multiply to reduce the prior probability of the claim.

    There is no logically valid way to avoid this.

    For example, if the evidence is unlikely on claim A, but becomes likely again if we add element X to A (so our claim now becomes X+A), and we have no reason to believe X is likely or unlikely, then the probability of X is 50% (or 0.50), and the prior probability of A is then reduced by 50%. In other words, P(A) becomes P(A) x P(X) = P(A) x 0.50. The prior probability is thus halved, just by claiming X.

    This means that adding excuses for why a claim doesn’t fit the evidence usually does not rescue that claim, but makes that claim less probable, not more probable.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    mnb0 @5:

    At one hand her ghosts can float through walls and can’t eat – ie can’t interact with matter (see also Brian just above). At the other hand they can speak and hear – ie interact with matter. I think that enough proof for the non-existence of her ghosts.

    No, because you’re talking about two different phenomena. Gravitational waves also float through walls and can’t eat. But they do interact with matter, just very weakly.

    I don’t know why we’re using words like “prove” or “disprove”. We simply don’t consider certain entities (e.g. ghosts) because there is no compelling reason to do so.

  8. Mano Singham says

    Brian English @#3,

    As Rob says in #7, the words prove and disprove in the mathematical sense are not really appropriate here. You are absolutely right that the key issue is a preponderance of evidence. And it is the nature of that evidence that differs for existence claims and non-existence claims.

    When one says that something exists, one can and should make predictions of how that existence manifests itself. Then when the results bear that out, the evidence for existence builds up.

    But when one says that something does not exist, the kinds of predictions that one can make are of a much different and vaguer kind. For example, if I make the claim that ghosts do not exist, what predictions can I make that could provide evidence of that claim?

  9. Mano Singham says

    Pierce @#2,

    Existence claims for entities that are self-contradictory or paradoxical (four-cornered triangles, for example) whose existence is ruled out purely logically are not at issue here.

    We are talking of things that could exist but for which there is no evidence. So proving that your “invisible, stealthy, shy dragon” does not exist is not possible.

  10. Brian English says

    Mano, isn’t the burden on the person who proposes the phenomena? If someone says ghosts exists, then let them provide the evidence. The person doubting the existence can weigh the evidence, and finding it lacking say, nope, don’t exist or at least suspend judgement and not give a free pass to claims that rely on the existence. I guess likewise if your proposing the existence of a new particle, you provide the evidence, whilst it’s lacking, its OK for others to suspend judgement.

    Now, to prove that ghosts don’t exist, have the proponent say what is evidence for the ghost, then show that the evidence is better explained by natural phenomena. If the person moves the goal posts, point out they’ve changed the rules and are special pleading/cheating. When you show something exists, you don’t have to show that everything exists, why would you have to show that everything ‘ghostlike’ doesn’t exists to show that this ghost doesn’t exist? It seems we accept more than required when we say we can prove something doesn’t exists, which is why we get lost in vagueness.

    But I think ghosts, immaterial beings that a person can perceive is a logically impossibility, as the material is affected by the material, the immaterial isn’t part of the universe and unable to interact with it. It makes me smirk when ‘ghost hunters’ use ‘EMF meters’. They’re admitting that they believe ghosts are material and not supernatural.

  11. says

    “one cannot prove that there are no immaterial human souls”

    Wouldn’t the action of immaterial souls on material bodies violate some conservation laws? And, those violations would have been detected by now. Therefore either conservation does not obtain, or there are no immaterial souls that act on material bodies. If they don’t act, and aren’t detectable, then they don’t exist, and “there are no immaterial human souls” is proven definitially: that’s what the ‘no’ in “there are no” means.

  12. Brian English says

    Marcus, you thief! I’m claiming conservation laws as a scientific proof that the immaterial can’t interact with the material. I still think it flows a fortiori from the incoherence that material and immaterial can interact.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @11:

    Wouldn’t the action of immaterial souls on material bodies violate some conservation laws?

    If something acts on material bodies, it is, by any reasonable definition I can think of, material*. So this is just a linguistic game. We should define ‘immaterial’ before we talk about it. If you define it as something which can’t interact with matter, you’ve effectively defined it out of existence before you even need to talk about conservation laws.

    *I’m including massless particles like photons (or gluons, or gravitons) as ‘material’.

  14. Brian English says

    Rob, but immaterial souls are things that are not material. It’s not a linguistic game. They aren’t part of the furniture of the universe, it’s not a matter of not having mass.

  15. Brian English says

    This probably explains what I’m trying to get at with immaterial v material.

    For example, if causal power was flowing in and out of the physical system, energy would not be conserved, and the conservation of energy is a fundamental scientific law.

    The system being the universe, not a person, but you know…

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    Brian @14: If they’re not material, they can’t be detected, directly or indirectly. So you’ve defined them in such a way that they can’t exist*. Yes, that’s a linguistic game.

    The point about including photons wasn’t that ghosts might be massless. It’s just that we often talk about matter and radiation separately.

    *Of course, here I’m implicitly defining ‘existence’ so that stuff that exists must be, at least in principle, detectable. Is that reasonable?

  17. John Morales says

    Consider the concept of the light cone.

    Under the current models of physics, no information about the outside our light cone is available, yet there is good reason to believe the universe extends well beyond it; the implication is that things exist about which we can have no knowledge, even in principle.

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @17:

    no information about the outside our light cone is available

    Not so. You could have observed a photon whose entire existence was outside my light cone. But you could tell me about it, or show me pictures or documents, because our light cones overlap.

  19. Mano Singham says

    Brian and Marcus,

    Yes, an interaction of an undetected entity with any known systems would violate conservation laws such as energy, momentum, and angular momentum of the known system. In fact, it was such seeming violations that resulted in the postulation of the existence of neutrinos to restore the conservation laws. But that only granted the neutrinos provisional existence. It took the direct detection of them, via predictions based on their postulated properties, that resulted in them being granted existence status.

  20. John Morales says

    Rob @18, obviously, if I’m older than you, my light cone is bigger than yours…

    Point being, you’re not actually disputing the implication I noted, are you?

  21. Rob Grigjanis says

    John: Bet mine’s bigger.

    Yes, I am disputing the implication. Give me an example of something we can know nothing of because of light cones.

  22. Brian English says

    Mano, right. So, a ghost, god, or immaterial soul if it interacts with the system, is material (immaterial material?) and we can measure it, in theory. Failure to measure anything seems to me to show that that particular claim of existence is false. All the times these claims are tested, they’re false, so the prior probability of any claim is near zero. Seems to me the preponderance of evidence is these things, don’t exist. That’s the best you can do for proving a negative of existence. To believe it does exist after that seems to be irrational. Anyway, reminds me of Tim Minchin’s line that ‘every mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic’

  23. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @22: That’s not because of light cones; it’s because of the way the universe is expanding. In the current dark-energy-dominated era, the expansion is almost exponential. That‘s what gives Hubble’s law. If the universe were expanding via a power law rather than exponentially, even objects that had an expansion speed (relative to us) greater than that of light would eventually become ‘visible’, although the wavelengths would be very red-shifted.

    if I could give you a specific example of something, then something about it would be known (that it is an example), so your request is paradoxical

    Your original point was about anything outside our light cone. So anything should do as an example, no?

  24. Brian English says

    Rob, Of course, here I’m implicitly defining ‘existence’ so that stuff that exists must be, at least in principle, detectable. Is that reasonable?
    Then to the believer who knows god acts on prayer but it’s not detectable, you’d agree that god doesn’t exist?

  25. John Morales says

    Rob,

    Your original point was about anything outside our light cone.

    Yes, and the context is actual observability, not inferred existence.

    Whatever the mechanism, do you really dispute that science currently implies that there are things which cannot even in principle be observed but are with good reason expected to exist?

  26. Rob Grigjanis says

    Brian @25: If we’re talking about believers who want to convince us, the onus is on them to demonstrate the existence of whatever being they are talking about. They haven’t done so. There is simply no compelling reason to believe in such things.

  27. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @27:

    Whatever the mechanism…

    John, a conversation with you is like a game of football (Aussie rules if you like) played on a pitch of shifting sand. It can be fun, but…

    Yes, you’ve managed to get me to admit that things outside the observable universe are not in fact observable.

  28. John Morales says

    I don’t mean to be irritating, Rob. Point being that, contrary to EL’s claim, under current science non-observability doesn’t entail non-existence, so that that the immaterial not being observable doesn’t entail its non-existence.

    (Which is not to say it’s not irrelevant!)

  29. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To everyone
    We don’t need a precise definition of “immaterial” for the purpose of this discussion. All we need is an understanding an agreement that the hypothesis of “(immaterial) human soul that survives material braindeath” refers to a “soul” that is not made solely out of electrons, neutrons, protons, and other standard particles of the Standard Model, in our local spacetime. Whatever else it is, I don’t really care right now.

    To Rob Grigjanis in 4.

    I stand corrected. I should not trust Sean Carroll so much, and/or I should recognize some hyperbole when I see it. I think Sean’s position, and my own, can survive this just fine though. (He made this hyperbolic claim in the Skepticon talk linked below. His actual text post was much more circumspect.)

    To Mano, with lots of points that are relevant for others.

    Goddamnit Mano. You spend the first part of your OP attacking a strawman by using one definition of “proof”, and then later you admit that I carefully and explicitly defined terms otherwise. It’s a giant poisoning-the-well fallacy in the forms of a strawman and moving the goalposts. You specifically ascribed to me a position that I did not write, and quite clearly so, only moments later in the same OP to say “oh, but that’s not really his position”. That’s grossly unprofessional and unreasonable, bordering on dishonest. If you want to use this discussion in order to lecture to a wider audience, you don’t have to misrepresent my position to do so!

    Quoting Mano:

    These statements are so strong and sweeping that I suspect that few physicists would accept them. The idea that the SM is the last word in science that pretty much has explained everything that happens on Earth is simply wrong.

    For example, does Sean Carroll count as a “physicist”?

    > “Physics and the Immortality of the Soul”
    > by Sean Carroll
    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/05/23/physics-and-the-immortality-of-the-soul/

    Quoting large portions of the post:
    Bolding in quote below is added by me:

    Admittedly, “direct” evidence one way or the other is hard to come by — all we have are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences, plus a bucketload of wishful thinking. But surely it’s okay to take account of indirect evidence — namely, compatibility of the idea that some form of our individual soul survives death with other things we know about how the world works.

    Claims that some form of consciousness persists after our bodies die and decay into their constituent atoms face one huge, insuperable obstacle: the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood, and there’s no way within those laws to allow for the information stored in our brains to persist after we die. If you claim that some form of soul persists beyond death, what particles is that soul made of? What forces are holding it together? How does it interact with ordinary matter?

    Everything we know about quantum field theory (QFT) says that there aren’t any sensible answers to these questions. Of course, everything we know about quantum field theory could be wrong. Also, the Moon could be made of green cheese.

    Among advocates for life after death, nobody even tries to sit down and do the hard work of explaining how the basic physics of atoms and electrons would have to be altered in order for this to be true. If we tried, the fundamental absurdity of the task would quickly become evident.

    Even if you don’t believe that human beings are “simply” collections of atoms evolving and interacting according to rules laid down in the Standard Model of particle physics, most people would grudgingly admit that atoms are part of who we are. If it’s really nothing but atoms and the known forces, there is clearly no way for the soul to survive death. Believing in life after death, to put it mildly, requires physics beyond the Standard Model. Most importantly, we need some way for that “new physics” to interact with the atoms that we do have.

    […]

    [Insert the Dirac Equation – see link for the Latex]

    As far as every experiment ever done is concerned, this equation is the correct description of how electrons behave at everyday energies. It’s not a complete description; we haven’t included the weak nuclear force, or couplings to hypothetical particles like the Higgs boson. But that’s okay, since those are only important at high energies and/or short distances, very far from the regime of relevance to the human brain.

    If you believe in an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies, you need to believe that this equation is not right, even at everyday energies. There needs to be a new term (at minimum) on the right, representing how the soul interacts with electrons. (If that term doesn’t exist, electrons will just go on their way as if there weren’t any soul at all, and then what’s the point?) So any respectable scientist who took this idea seriously would be asking — what form does that interaction take? Is it local in spacetime? Does the soul respect gauge invariance and Lorentz invariance? Does the soul have a Hamiltonian? Do the interactions preserve unitarity and conservation of information?

    Nobody ever asks these questions out loud, possibly because of how silly they sound. Once you start asking them, the choice you are faced with becomes clear: either overthrow everything we think we have learned about modern physics, or distrust the stew of religious accounts/unreliable testimony/wishful thinking that makes people believe in the possibility of life after death. It’s not a difficult decision, as scientific theory-choice goes.

    […]

    There’s no reason to be agnostic about ideas that are dramatically incompatible with everything we know about modern science. Once we get over any reluctance to face reality on this issue, we can get down to the much more interesting questions of how human beings and consciousness really work.

    This blog post unfortunately doesn’t contain all of Sean’s arguments. There is one last crucial argument which he makes. The only source I know offhand is the Skepticon talk.

    > Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality – Sean Carroll – Skepticon 5
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

    The part of the talk that is relevant to us starts around the 33 minute timestamp.

    Sean again says that

    Let me try to relate the short version: The insight that Feynman made regarding quantum field theory is this: Suppose that there is an interaction of any new “particle” with any existing particle. According to the math of QFT, this necessarily means that we can create this new particle by smashing together two existing particles in a particle accelerator. Feynman diagrams. The only reason why we might not have created such a new particle or noticed it yet is for two possible reasons: 1- It requires too much energy. But if it requires too much energy, then it would not exist in everyday life. 2- It’s too weakly interacting. But then it’s largely irrelevant to the physics of the brain, and it cannot fulfill the role required of “immaterial human souls”.

    The crux of the argument is laid out in the large quote above by Sean Carroll; in short, if there was a soul, it needs to interact with the normal electrons, protons, and neutrons in the brain, and that means that you have to believe that the electrons, protons, and neutrons in the brain are doing something quite different than these particles in other situations, and that is an absurd thing to believe on the basis of the existing evidence. It amounts to the belief the the particles obey different physics in human brains vs elsewhere, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and in spite of the massive and obvious special pleading that this hypothesis is.

  30. Brian English says

    Rob, there’s no compelling reason for non-believers, though it does link to this proving a negative conversation. I think I mentioned that we don’t have to prove a universal negative, just that a knowledge claim is false or better explained, sort of an error theory. But I was getting at your definition, which anything that exists is capable of being measured or detectable. That sort of definition itself seems to be linguistic game as in the things being contested aren’t planet X outside the Oort cloud, but soul/immaterial minds, gods, magic, etc that are always shifted into the gaps of science and said not to be detectable.
    You say you have no interested in these things, and that’s cool, nor I, but when they are used to impinge upon my rights and rights of others. That’s why I think it’s worth the time to argue that we can say dualism is false because of the law of conservation of energy (scientific), or because an immaterial mind can’t interact with a material brain/body (philosophical/logical) and prove that negative. Of course, I’m a scientific and philosophical naif, so I’m probably not even wrong. 🙂

  31. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @31: I never much cared for Carroll’s argument. For example, he writes

    If you believe in an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies, you need to believe that this equation [Dirac] is not right, even at everyday energies. There needs to be a new term (at minimum) on the right, representing how the soul interacts with electrons.

    That strikes me as awfully naive. If you knew the Dirac equation, but nothing about macroscopic magnets, and I told you about this wonderful property of some objects, would you automatically look for a new interaction term in the Dirac equation? I hope not. You would have to know about the Pauli exclusion principle, electron shells in atoms, and Goldstone’s theorem, and so on. Then you’d have an idea how magnets come about.

    I’m not saying that the soul is an emergent property of fundamental physics, but saying that if it exists it must be manifested at the level of the Dirac equation is just silly. We don’t talk about souls in physics because there is no reason to. Period.

  32. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob Grigjanis
    Ok. I think the important issues here are two: 1- life, e.g. conscious experience, after clinical braindeath of the material brain, and 2- the impact on the discussion of “free will”.

    Suppose the soul is an emergent thingy of the material things and forces in the material human brain. What good does that do you? Does that give you life after death? No. It’s abusing ambiguity in the definition “soul”, when the real and obvious target is “life after death”. Do you actually believe that there’s a plausible “chance” of life after death? In other words, no one cares about that kind of soul, and that’s never the thing that is meant when someone purports the existence of a soul. Of course you can redefine the word “soul”, and wrongly interpret Carroll’s argument, in order to make the argument be wrong or absurd.

    I’ll skip the “free will” discussion for now.

  33. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I sohuld add and respond:

    I’m not saying that the soul is an emergent property of fundamental physics, but saying that if it exists it must be manifested at the level of the Dirac equation is just silly. We don’t talk about souls in physics because there is no reason to. Period.

    “Is there life after death?” is a scientific question. In principle, if there was a reasonable epistemic chance of this being correct, then this is a vitally important thing to discuss. It’s hard to imagine more important things to discuss. Very relevant to this question is the question “how might this occur?” and “is this possibly consistent with our existing knowledge and evidence?”. That is where questions of “soul physics” comes in. And again, current physics leaves practically zero room for a soul, or any other mechanism or phenomenon, that allows for life after death. Any sort of “life after death” amounts to a giant special-pleading in contradiction to all known evidence about physics, and a giant special pleading in contradiction to all known evidence about the brain, qualia, and the connection between those two (the “free will” discussion).

  34. John Morales says

    EL:

    “Is there life after death?” is a scientific question.

    Surely, scientific substantiation of that would require a sufficiently straightforward definition of life and of death.

    Semantically, it’s an obvious oxymoron; the very meaning of death is the (state of) cessation of life.

    (Surely you see how “life after the cessation of life” is an incoherent concept)

  35. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To John Morales
    Dishonest cherry picking as ever. Come back when you can read my full posts and respond to it intelligently and honestly.

  36. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @34 & 35: How have I wrongly interpreted Carroll’s argument? He claims the existence of a soul (or life after death, of you like) would require a modification of the Dirac equation. Is there some subtlety I missed? Rhetorical question.

    “Is there life after death?” is a scientific question.

    So is “is there a teapot orbiting Alpha Centauri?”. I’m not wasting any time on it though. Or on further comments in this thread, especially since you’ve invoked the spectre of “free will”. *Shudder*.

  37. David Warman says

    I can’t help thinking Godel has something pithy to say about all this. We won’t be able to settle the existence or non-existence of DM until we have language to describe what and how to make the definitive observations and what to expect. And either finding it or finding something else. Not the first time something initially seemingly just a patch to a theory turned out to have deep implications.

    btw I do not mean Language as in English, or any other human language. I mean a system of logic, with axioms and productions and decider engines. And the observations that lead to them can not be used to prove them. Its productions (aka predictions) must lead to new observations.

    We also are far from such tools for the soul and life after death arguments. hence the arguments. no such system at all exists there. DM at least has the benefit of emerging from observations that did not conform to existing models.

  38. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#13:
    If something acts on material bodies, it is, by any reasonable definition I can think of, material*. So this is just a linguistic game.

    I don’t think it’s “just” (as in: attempt to dismiss by minimizing) a linguistic game. We use words as poor tools to talk about attributes of things. If we are using “immaterial” to mean “not made of matter” then it’s understood in that meaning that an immaterial is not made of matter, i.e: not even a ‘thing’. We know a great deal about how to detect matter. When people talk about an immaterial soul what they are doing is sheltering it from the easiest way of arguing it doesn’t exist: that it is immeasurable (doesn’t interact with anything) and does not exist because interacting with things is what things that exist do.

    Saying that’s merely playing with definitions ignores the alternative – that there’s something that is both nonexistent and yet exists. There are such things: we call them “figments of the imagination” – which is a good way of describing them because it encapsulates that an imaginary thing exists within a real substrate: the imagination.

    The simplest approach to the question of immaterial souls is to ask the proponent of the theory to outline their theory of ensoulment and any supporting evidence, then ask them to suggest a test that can be performed to distinguish an actual soul from an imagined one.

  39. says

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#37:
    Dishonest cherry picking as ever. Come back when you can read my full posts and respond to it intelligently and honestly.

    From here it appears that John Morales was choosing a piece of your comment, and commenting on it, rather than performing a blow-by-blow line-by-line analysis of your entire comment. Lacking established Rules Of The Internet, I don’t see that as inappropriate. Unless the point he was raising was one your entire comment depended upon, then he’s discussing a sub-point of your comment and is not considered to have refuted the whole thing.

    That’s not cherry picking. It may just be that’s what he chose to respond to.

  40. says

    Let’s try a thought experiment:

    Suppose that THOG (the hand of god) is immaterial and therefore, as a pure manifestation of the divine imagination, is undetectable, by which we mean it does not interact with matter in a way such that it can be detected. The words “cause”, “do” and “move” probably need to be stretched a bit to apply to THOG but let’s not be strict in our language. However THOG is a cause of effects in reality: the divine will is that a sparrow does not fall and THOG alters causality somehow to prevent the sparrow from falling. Or, whatever. Here’s the problem: as we understand causality, in principle there would suddenly be an apparently uncaused effect that is detectable. Did the air around the sparrow just get warmer because of excess energy resulting from conservation laws kicking in now that THOG has done its work? Unless THOG undoes the effects of its doing, it will be detectable through second-order effects – the only way it can be undetectable is by doing nothing because otherwise it alters cause and effect.

    I used to think about this with “souls” instead of THOG but I find people’s sense of ensoulment is harder for them to think about than THOG, which is more abstract. Scientists now have brain sensors that are pretty fine: if we had souls – even immaterial ones – in our heads, messing with cause and effect, our heads would have to be full of cause/effect violations. Would any of that eventually be detectable? Wouldn’t our heads be slightly hotter than metabolism plus the action of nerves would explain?

  41. says

    Now I am thinking divine omniscience is hard to implement, too. The omniscient divine knows whether the cat is alive or dead, without affecting the experiment. Therefore quantum!

  42. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    That’s not cherry picking. It may just be that’s what he chose to respond to.

    Thanks, but this is rather old behavior from him. He’s always a dishonest shit to me. I’m not going to encourage his behavior here. Don’t feel like it right now.

    Now I am thinking divine omniscience is hard to implement, too. The omniscient divine knows whether the cat is alive or dead, without affecting the experiment. Therefore quantum!

    There’s another, perhaps bigger, problem. Under any reasonable understanding of “intelligence” and “epistemology”, there is no way for an omniscient intelligence to actually confirm to itself to 100% confidence that it is omniscient. It would just be a tentative scientific fact, just like any other empirical fact, subject to being overturned with compelling evidence.

    Scott Clifton compellingly makes this point in his Skepticon 7 (IIRC) talk.

  43. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob Grigjanis
    I don’t understand your position and rebutals. Legitimately. A teapot orbiting Alpha Centauri is not a terribly interesting question in and of itself. Questions of conscious experience (e.g. life) after death of the material brain (e.g. death) (colloquially known as “life after death”), assuming even remote plausibility, is a very interesting question. To repeat myself, it’s hard to imagine a question of more importance and more impact on how we live our lives on this planet. Ex: Imagine you had not just approx 100 years to live, but millions, or infinite. That would change your perspective and priorities. You don’t agree on just this mere point? That is absurd.

  44. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @46:

    Questions of conscious experience (e.g. life) after death of the material brain (e.g. death) (colloquially known as “life after death”), assuming even remote plausibility, is a very interesting question.

    The whole idea arose from superstition. It’s a religious hangover that apparently even some atheists can’t shake off. I don’t find it remotely interesting.

  45. Holms says

    To my mind, this entire conversation hinges on EL’s definition of prove: “demonstrate the truth of the claim beyond all reasonable doubt, but not all possible doubt”. He is simply going by the less rigorous definition, and could have cleared everything up by simply avoiding the word proof altogether, as that word is typically read as the more rigourous mathematical sense, i.e. ‘beyond all possible doubt’.

    I wish those two meanings were clarified by using different words; the statement that we cannot prove a negative would be a lot less contentious if it was evident that a) there are two different sense of the word ‘prove’, and b) the statement has the rigorous sense in mind.

  46. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob Grigjanis
    I have to cite xkcd now. You should know the one.
    https://xkcd.com/774/
    > Personally, I find atheists just as annoying as fundamentalist Christians.
    > Well, the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to both.

    In particular, the important thing (sarcasm) is that (seemingly, as far as I can tell), you’ve found a way to simultaneously take a proverbial shit on atheists who publicly make arguments against the existence of souls, while also holding roughly the same beliefs for roughly the same reasons.

  47. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @49:

    you’ve found a way to simultaneously take a proverbial shit on atheists who publicly make arguments against the existence of souls, while also holding roughly the same beliefs for roughly the same reasons.

    It’s weird that you think that, since my posts tend to be pretty short and (I hope!) not too hard to read. But I’ll summarize what my points in this thread have been;

    1) I don’t take the idea of souls seriously because it is a religious leftover with no evidence to back it up.
    2) Unlike some atheists, I don’t find the idea of souls, or the after life, at all interesting (see (1)).
    3) Carroll’s argument that the standard model rules out souls is a bad argument.

    How you translate these points into the quoted sentence is beyond me.

  48. Rob Grigjanis says

    I’ll add a new point;

    4) xkcd is way overused. Especially annoying is when it’s accompanied with ‘obligatory’ (or ‘have to cite’, etc).

  49. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob Grigjanis
    You’re still dancing around and not being as clear as you could be. Please explain yourself better and answer the questions.

    You said that you don’t take the idea of souls seriously? Does that mean that you belief it’s likely that they don’t exist? I’m coming from a standard Bayesian epistemology approach, where “agnostic / undecided” means “I have a belief that the odds of it being true are about 50%”. What are you beliefs on the topic? For, against, undecided / agnostic / 50%? Or are you going to reject my terms and epistemological foundation outright, and claim that you can be agnostic and also without at least some haphazard estimate of the odds of the existence of souls?

    You also say that you don’t take it seriously because it’s religious, and because it has no evidence in favor, and because it is based on superstition. Especially that last part sounds like fallacious reasoning, specifically the fallacy fallacy. In other words, the mere fact that someone has made a bad argument in favor of a proposition should have basically no effect on your beliefs about the proposition.

    Now, I believe that you can make this sort of reasoning into valid reasoning, but you need a bit more structure and extra premises in order to make this into a valid and sound argument. In particular, I would make this valid and sound by saying: Religious claims and claims that are based on this kind of superstition are almost always false, and barring very strong evidence that is particular to the case at hand, then the case is almost certainly false. I know this because of my many past experiences and background knowledge with religious claims and claims based on superstition without evidence, and my background knowledge is that such claims have been falsified many, many times, and never (or almost never) has such a claim actually been verified. Thus, it’s a simple extrapolation, or inductive reasoning, to reach my conclusion.

    To put the previous paragraph in other words, I used science in order to reach the scientific conclusion of philosophical naturalism and materialism. This is the basis of using tentative methodological naturalism in science. Methodological naturalism in science is a tentative “conclusion” of science – not a premise!)

    What sort of argument did you mean to make? Can you make it more clear for me please?

    3) Carroll’s argument that the standard model rules out souls is a bad argument.

    Why? Thus far, as I recall, you just said that you’re not interested in the argument. You did make some rather weak noises about how Carroll’s argument doesn’t work when you change the definition of “soul”; however, Carroll’s argument works great when you use Carroll’s meaning of the word “soul” instead of some other meaning.

  50. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Holms
    I was trying to make a rhetorical point with the word “proof”. This all started when Mano used the word “proof” (or was it “prove”, whatever) in the previous thread in a reply-post to his blog post. In it, he said that you cannot prove a universal negative. I took issue with this, because it seems like it’s placing an extra special burden on proving a negative compared to proving a positive. Further, based on further and previous discussion with Mano, I believe that this is the case. Mano’s epistemology and philosophy of science is highly suspect. Proving a negative is just as easy as proving a positive, and proving a universal negative is just as easy as proving a universal positive. I believe Mano would take issue with that, and Mano would be wrong. IIRC, AFAICT, Mano subscribes to a wrong-headed Pure Popper-view of falsifiability regarding science and epistemology, whereas I subscribe to a proper Bayesian approach to epistemology and falsifiability.

  51. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL: You really like typing, but your reading skills don’t seem to be very good.

    Does that mean that you belief it’s likely that they don’t exist?

    ‘Belief’ doesn’t come into it. If someone presents you with a proposition X without any support for it, why would you even bring belief up? If they want you to accept the proposition, they should provide evidence. If they don’t provide evidence, there is another option besides “against, undecided / agnostic / 50%”, and that is “not worth considering”. Do you seriously do Bayesian analysis of everything anyone tells you?

    Carroll’s argument works great when you use Carroll’s meaning of the word “soul” instead of some other meaning.

    Then you can explain to me how the existence of Carroll’s version of “soul” necessarily means that the Dirac equation would have to be modified. I have solid training and work experience in quantum field theory (and so, of course, the relevant mathematics), so don’t worry about it being over my head. And please don’t say “read Carroll’s article”, because I have, and that explanation isn’t there.

  52. Mano Singham says

    EL @#53

    You say:

    IIRC, AFAICT, Mano subscribes to a wrong-headed Pure Popper-view of falsifiability regarding science and epistemology, whereas I subscribe to a proper Bayesian approach to epistemology and falsifiability.

    Where did you get this idea?

    In my book I argue that neither Popper’s naive falsification model nor Bayesian probability are helpful when it comes to judging the validity of scientific theories.

  53. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Mano Singham
    Well, my apologies for inferring your beliefs incorrectly.

    I still disagree, though I should probably wait to read your book, or some other response / prepared text of your actual opinion. Would I have to buy the book, or is there some other source for the basics of your epistemology, esp as related to this discussion?

  54. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    ‘Belief’ doesn’t come into it. If someone presents you with a proposition X without any support for it, why would you even bring belief up? If they want you to accept the proposition, they should provide evidence. If they don’t provide evidence, there is another option besides “against, undecided / agnostic / 50%”, and that is “not worth considering”.

    Really?
    So, Einstein was wrong for working on his mathematics of relativity before he had evidence for it? It’s hard to get hard evidence for some new idea before considering the idea. Often one has to go out of their way to look for evidence, and one is unlikely to go out of their way to look for evidence without some particular untested idea in mind.

    By this kind of fallacious reasoning, one can never make new advances in physics. Today, generally one has to first write down the new equations of motion in order to determine what would be evidence “for” or “against” to know where to look for the evidence! Dynamic collapse models, superstring “theory”, etc., all rely on thoroughly examining a proposition before having any evidence for it.

    The position that you just enunciated is akin to taking a proverbial shit on the entire scientific enterprise.

    Do you seriously do Bayesian analysis of everything anyone tells you?

    The short answer is “yes”. I hinted at the longer complicated answer above, which is that it’s necessary to develop heuristics instead of applying the full formal math every time, and it’s necessary to develop other heuristics to determine when it’s even worth one’s time to spend time to run the math or the heuristics, etc. The entire structure is Bayesian-like in principle, but it is an inexact, approximation, lots of heuristics.

    And of course, I’m not a perfect human being, and I make mistakes all of the time, in addition to the limitations of using heuristics.

    Considering that I believe that the definition of what it means to be a rational actor, I generally try to do this, yes.

    Then you can explain to me how the existence of Carroll’s version of “soul” necessarily means that the Dirac equation would have to be modified. I have solid training and work experience in quantum field theory (and so, of course, the relevant mathematics), so don’t worry about it being over my head. And please don’t say “read Carroll’s article”, because I have, and that explanation isn’t there.

    I know very little quantum theory, and I totally grant that your knowledge is much better than mine on this topic. It’s over my head. Thankfully, the argument is independent of the exact math and exact model. The argument works about as well on Newtonian mechanics. However, the argument is more solid with knowledge of modern neuroscience, and knowledge of the relative completeness of the Standard Model for the realm of everyday phenomena ala Sean Caroll’s claim “the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood, and there’s no way within those laws to allow for the information stored in our brains to persist after we die.”.

    And again, because it seems that you’re going to be difficult here, let me try to better define what we’re talking about. It’s a combination of several hokey claims of religious believers.

    I will use the word “material” as per the meaning of “materialism”, also known as “philosophical naturalism”. A material brain is the electrons, neutrons, protons, of the (human) brain, and all of the other associated particles, forces, fields, potentials, etc., of the Standard Model, and all of the emergent (but reducible) properties of the brain, such as intelligence, capabilities of emotions, trust,
    etc.

    The claims under consideration:

    1- Religious believers have this idea that their first-person experience, their consciousness, their qualia, will continue past the death and destruction of their brain.

    2- It is also posited that the thing that holds memories, receives input from the material body’s material senses, makes decisions, and takes actions through the material body, is more than just the material body and material brain. Further, it is posited that this extra something is something in addition to the protons, neutrons, and electrons in the brain – it is not a mere emergent property. It cannot be reducible to mere materialism. It is something other than materialism. This extra something is given the name “soul”.

    3- Finally, it is posited that this “soul” will survive past the death and destruction of the material brain, and this enables their first-preson experience, their consciousness, their qualia, to continue past the death and destruction of the material brain.

    It is Sean Carroll’s position, and my position, that the totality of these claims is clearly and demonstrably wrong in a normal scientific sense.

    There are several ways to address these claims. Sean Carroll’s argument is but one of them.

    -Argument A-
    For (some) decision-making of a human to happen (at least partially) outside of the brain, in this “soul” thing, the result of that decision-making must be communicated back to the material brain and body. This should be obvious. If someone makes a decision, and vocalizes that decision or takes any other bodily action based on that decision, then there needs to be some causation from the soul to the material body. The soul must have a causal power on the body.

    The body is a mere collection of protons, neutrons, electrons, and the other aspects of modern physics. The body is nothing more than the collection of its pieces (plus any emergent – but reducible – properties), and therefore it is necessary true that in order for the soul to have this causal power on the body itself, it must have causal power on the individual pieces of the body, the neutrons, electrons, protons, etc.

    Obviously, our equations of motion permit no such influence from this “soul” thing on the material brain and body. That’s the point of Sean Carroll’s argument. We know the equations of motion, and they are complete in terms of everyday non-nuclear physics. We know enough about neuroscience that for the soul to do what it does, and for the soul to interact with the body in order to vocalize decisions, it must act at the level of neutrons, protons, and electrons, (or at some higher level, such as neurons, but any interaction at the level of a neuron is equivalent to some interaction at the level of neutrons, protons, and electrons).

    There’s just no room to add “interaction from soul”. To add such a thing would violate parsimony. and Occam’s razor. It would be a giant special pleading, with zero evidence for, and with lots of indirect evidence against – namely every experiment ever done that supports the equations of motion of the Standard Model. The evidence is strong that there is no such thing.

    In particular, how we can be justified in making this argument is: The math is consistent. We cannot just add some new term that says “only for human brains” without blowing up the whole endeavor.

    Further, if we trust what the math is telling us, it’s telling us that the interaction of the soul on the body should happen according to some new quantum field ala quantum field theory, and again according to theory, if there was such a thing, we would have created it already in a particle accelerator, and we have not created such a particle, and therefore it does not exist. The only kinds of particles that we have not created in a particle accelerator are precisely the kinds of particles that cannot do the work of a soul: the ones that are too weakly interacting, and/or the ones that require too much energy and that don’t exist in everyday life and the human brain.

    The alternative is even more obviously false – the suggestion that souls operate entirely outside of the domain of mathematical models and formula starting with Newton and proceeding to modern Standard Model. Again, it’s obviously because it’s a giant violation of parsimony and Occam’s razor; it’s a giant special pleading, contrary to a huge amount of indirect but general evidence.

    So, to allow for the soul to exist and do the work that it needs to do on the human body, we need a giant special exception to the rules of physics, and the very simplistic materialistic mathematical nature of physics, which is quite obviously false.

    In other words, every time someone has posited a magical explanation of something in the world, a violation of the basic uncaring, unintelligent, mechanistic, atomic view of matter first laid out clearly AFAIK by Baron d’Holbach, it has been shown to be false, or it currently resides in a gap in our knowledge. That is textbook positive evidence for the falsity of that family of claims.

    -Argument B-
    There’s a second argument that I really like, which doesn’t deal in basic particle physics at all. It deals entirely at the much higher level of abstraction of neuroscience.

    We have plenty of case studies of unique and rare kinds of brain damage, and from these case studies, we know the following: We know that when someone receives the right kind of brain damage: Someone can lose their ability to generate grammatically correct human language, but still retain the ability to understand and parse that language. Someone can lose their ability to understand and parse human language, but still retain the ability to generate grammatically correct human language. Someone can lose the ability to form long term memories. Someone can lose the ability to recognize faces. Someone can be strongly influenced and much more likely to become a compulsive gambler. Someone can lose the ability to do basic mental math. And so on.

    This list is so exhaustive that it raises the question: “Exactly what of conscious experience is left after we remove these things?”. The answer is obvious and simple: Nothing. If all of these things are lost when certain parts of the brain are damaged or destroyed, then they are lost when the whole brain is damaged or destroyed, which means that there is no first-person experience, no consciousness, no qualia, after the death and destruction of the brain.

  55. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @58:

    So, Einstein was wrong for working on his mathematics of relativity before he had evidence for it?

    OK, you’ve convinced me that you have no fucking idea what you’re talking about when you venture into physics. Read the fucking wikipedia page at least. Better still, read the bleedin’ paper. Einstein wasn’t presenting a proposition without evidence.

    I know very little quantum theory, and I totally grant that your knowledge is much better than mine on this topic. It’s over my head.

    Yet you present Carroll’s argument without question, and with statements like

    There is new physics to be discovered, but none of that physics is happening on Earth, and we know this because the math of Quantum Field Theory says so and because of our experiments with particle accelerators.

    That’s nonsense. You’re incapable of supporting any of this, but you keep going anyway. How does that work? Which fallacies apply?

    Obviously, our equations of motion permit no such influence from this “soul” thing on the material brain and body.

    Obviously? Tell me how our equations of motion permit ferromagnetism. Or consciousness! When you can do that, you can lecture us on the soul.

    if we trust what the math is telling us, it’s telling us that the interaction of the soul on the body should happen according to some new quantum field ala quantum field theory, and again according to theory, if there was such a thing, we would have created it already in a particle accelerator, and we have not created such a particle, and therefore it does not exist.

    What is “the math” telling you? Please tell me, because I have no idea what you’re talking about. If you can tell me what the math says, please do so. Please, please stop talking about “according to theory” when you have no fucking idea what the theory says.

    The rest of what Everything you wrote is just gibberish, and I’m done with you.

  56. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#50:
    1) I don’t take the idea of souls seriously because it is a religious leftover with no evidence to back it up.

    Like a trout to the fly… I must…

    I don’t think that souls are a religious leftover as much as they are a leftover flawed assumption about how we experience life. The sense of duality between mind/body is still present in some atheists, and appears to have been present even in notable not-particularly-religious ancient skeptics. It has always seemed to me that the idea of a “soul” is not something we were originally taught by goddites, but rather something goddites seized upon to manipulate to further their story. After all, most of us who experience thinking about ourselves thinking about ourselves, get this weird sense that there is something else doing the thinking (because, I suspect, in order to think about our own thoughts and selves, we have to reify them into being “something else” because that’s how brains think about things other than themselves.

    Anyhow: tl;dr – I don’t think it’s a left-over bit of religion, I think religion is a left-over cognitive mistake in self-reflection.

    2) Unlike some atheists, I don’t find the idea of souls, or the after life, at all interesting (see (1)).

    I agree with that, except as how those things offer us a view into how bad ideas come about. Studying human cognitive biases is one great way to avoid making mistakes.

    3) Carroll’s argument that the standard model rules out souls is a bad argument.

    I agree. He grants the opposing idea more legitimacy than it is due, which is counter-productive.

    Usually when someone wants to talk to me about souls, I hit rewind and ask them ‘what are you talking about?’ Usually by the time they start talking about “life after death” and I’ve asked them “isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” they back away toward nebulous feelings, and (if I care to pursue, which I usually don’t) I ask them how their feeling that they have a soul is any different from imagining they have wings and can fly. Feels the same, right? Easy to falsify. Have at it.

  57. says

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#52:
    I’m coming from a standard Bayesian epistemology approach, where “agnostic / undecided” means “I have a belief that the odds of it being true are about 50%”.

    Why are you assuming it’s 50/50?? It seems like your starting odds should always be zero for everything, until you have some evidence to move the needle upward.

    Starting odds that you have wings and can fly: 50/50?
    Starting odds that there’s a little man in your head: 50/50?
    Starting odds that when all the processes we consider part of “life” stop, they continue: 50/50?

    Bayesian epistemology is a contradiction in terms: you cannot use statistical models to get around the problem of induction. The best you can say is that you’ve got such-and-such-a-chance given a certain selected set of priors. And then the “bayesians” cherry-pick the priors.

    Let me give you an example: What’s the probability you’re right about life after death in light of all the times you’ve been wrong, ever? It ain’t 50/50. Unless you’re talking about zeroes to the right of the decimal point.

  58. says

    “Is there life after death?” is a scientific question

    Can we end it here: Look, there’s a very good chance that some of your molecules will eventually be incorporated in other living things. So, yes, you have an afterlife: as a cynobacterium.

  59. John Morales says

    Marcus above,

    Usually when someone wants to talk to me about souls, I hit rewind and ask them ‘what are you talking about?’ Usually by the time they start talking about “life after death” and I’ve asked them “isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” they back away toward nebulous feelings, […]

    🙂

    re #62: Well, used to be someone was considered dead if they lacked breath and their heart was not beating… and they would be, back then.

    Now? Miracle Max to the rescue!

    (They may be only mostly dead)

  60. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    OK, you’ve convinced me that you have no fucking idea what you’re talking about when you venture into physics. Read the fucking wikipedia page at least. Better still, read the bleedin’ paper. Einstein wasn’t presenting a proposition without evidence.

    How obtuse can you be!? Of course Einstein presented several pieces of evidence when he submitted his papers on relativity. I remember markedly that Einstein himself became convinced that he was right after he ran the numbers and derived the precession of the perihelion of Mercury. However, he could not make those calculations without first considering the idea of relativity, creating / deriving the equations of motion, and test the equations of motion against the orbit of Mercury. He did not have the evidence that it matched the orbit of Mercury before he wrote down the equations.

  61. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus
    Let me try to cut to the chase. Unfortunately, it seems that you have many basic misconceptions.

    I never said that Bayesian reasoning solves all problems. You’re attributing positions to me that I never espoused, and which I’ve never seemed claimed. It seems very much like a tortured strawman of a naive opponent.

    Let me offer a direct analogy: Consider someone who promotes the use of simple syllogistic reasoning and the use of valid and sound arguments. Does that solve all problems? No. Anyone can derive a faulty conclusion by using a logically valid argument in form, or by using false premises. In other words, the use of formal logical arguments and justifications does not remove all possibility of error. Two reasonable people can disagree on the truth of a proposition, and both can have perfectly valid arguments in favor of their contradictory opinions. However, there is still value in forming arguments in logical terms even in cases like this. By formalizing arguments in this way, often two people who disagree on a conclusion can narrow down their point of disagreement to a point of disagreement on one of the premises, which is often a simpler problem to tackle. Further, sometimes this can even help make progress in a conversation: by picking out a narrower and simpler point of disagreement, further progress could be made for one party to convince the other party.

    Bayesian epistemology is directly analogous. If you choose choose garbage priors, or garbage for your “p(e|h)” aka “likelihood that we find X evidence on the truth of hypothesis proposition h”, then you can get garbage results. Just like simple syllogistic logical arguments, “garbage in, garbage out”. But just like the use of logical arguments, by using Bayesian math, one can find the underlying, simpler points of disagreement. That has value on its own, and it also might allow one side to convince the other side of an error.

    Further, assuming that one picks reasonable priors, i.e. not 0% and not 100%, then as the amount of evidence increases on a certain proposition, then the confidence levels of all reasonable people will converge on the same value. That’s another benefit of Bayesian reasoning. More evidence can overcome reasonable differences in priors and reasonable differences in “P(e|h)”.

    And don’t misunderstand me. Any value for “P(e|h)” is going to be an asspull number. It’s fundamentally an asspull number. However, every premise in a syllogistic logical argument is also an asspull. Either both parties accept a premise, or they have to haggle over the premise itself, and they will haggle over a premise by constructing new logical arguments (or new Bayesian arguments) taking the old premise as a conclusion in the new argument.

    One point about the method of Bayesian epistemology. If you start with a literal 0% or a literal 100%, then the math says that no amount of evidence will change your mind. Rendered in English: If I have an actual 100% confidence in the truth of one of my beliefs, then no amount of evidence will ever change my mind. This is not a bug. This is a feature. The flaw is ever allowing a 100% (or 0%) confidence prior. The math itself will never reach 100% (or 0%) – it will asymptically approach with increasing evidence, which leads to another desirable conclusion: every belief is tentative, and every belief is subject to being overturned with enough evidence and reason.

    At the first degree of approximation, 50-50 priors are reasonable. Someone much more informed and technical than me might start making arguments that one should have priors according to the kolmogorov complexity of the “text” of the proposition or some such, but I’m not so daring, even though I think it’s close to the right idea (but I don’t know exactly what the right idea is here).

    Finally, concerning your examples, I think you’re making the implicit argument that we have no specific evidence concerning these propositions, and therefore on my approach we should have a 50-50 estimation of the odds, which is absurd because (insert reason). I would counter by noting that it’s only absurd because of very strong reasons, very strong evidence. In particular, I know about people trying to fly by attaching “wings” to their arms, and failing every time. I know about people running the math on human muscle strength, and human mass, and how the physics simply prohibits this from working. This is all relevant evidence which I must take into account. Again, just like any other method, if I get to ignore evidence for free, then I can arrive at absurd conclusions. Bayesian reasoning is no different.

  62. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Oh, and PS:
    Of course adopting Bayesian epistemology doesn’t solve the problem of induction. I don’t know anyone who would make such a silly claim. If anything, the Bayesian method is simply a refinement of induction, and it avoids many problems that are hard to solve in naive induction. One must still solve the problem of induction in the usual ways.

  63. John Morales says

    EL:

    If you choose choose garbage priors, or garbage for your “p(e|h)” aka “likelihood that we find X evidence on the truth of hypothesis proposition h”, then you can get garbage results

    &

    Further, assuming that one picks reasonable priors, i.e. not 0% and not 100%, then as the amount of evidence increases on a certain proposition, then the confidence levels of all reasonable people will converge on the same value.

    → {garbage priors}={0,1}
    → {reasonable priors}=¬{0,1}={[0+ε … 1-ε]}

    (That’s leaving aside the proportion of the totality of evidence one can access and ignoring misleading evidence)

  64. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @64:

    How obtuse can you be!?

    Not a patch on you, sunshine. I was (obviously!) talking about the motivations for the theory, not the predictions that the theory makes. For special relativity, Einstein postulated the invariance of physical laws in inertial frames and the constancy of the speed of light. For general relativity, he came up with the equivalence principle. Brilliant insights, but all firmly anchored in the real world.

  65. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL: And you still haven’t explained this nonsense;

    if we trust what the math is telling us, it’s telling us that the interaction of the soul on the body should happen according to some new quantum field ala quantum field theory, and again according to theory, if there was such a thing, we would have created it already in a particle accelerator, and we have not created such a particle, and therefore it does not exist.

    How is the math telling us any of this, EL?

  66. says

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#65:
    I never said that Bayesian reasoning solves all problems. You’re attributing positions to me that I never espoused, and which I’ve never seemed claimed. It seems very much like a tortured strawman of a naive opponent.

    I never said that you ever said anything like that.

    I quoted your statement that you “are coming from a standard bayesian epistemology approach” and asked you on what basis you presumed a prior probability was 50%. That strongly implies you think the basic odds that there is “life after death” are random, which is a problem because our definition of “life” is the antithesis of “death” and “life after death” is a contradiction in terms. The probability of a circle being a square is zero. The probability of a 2 being 3 is zero. The probability of life after death is zero.

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#65:
    It seems very much like a tortured strawman of a naive opponent.

    Are you being intentionally ironic, falsely accusing me of strawmanning you right after you appeared to be saying I had mischaracterized your position, when I did not?

    Your characterizing me as oppositional to you is also odd. I am playing with ideas, and taking playful slaps at bad ideas where I encounter them. I’m not engaging as your opponent. Don’t get so defensive. If you don’t like people calling you on bullshit, stop shovelling it.

  67. says

    Of course adopting Bayesian epistemology doesn’t solve the problem of induction. I don’t know anyone who would make such a silly claim.

    But isn’t that the whole point? To argue that in the past certain things tended to occur, therefore there is a probability that in the future things will resemble the probability distribution of the past? Otherwise there is no point worrying about statistics at all – yet statistics do not predict black swans, they merely tell us how unlikely they are when they occcur.

    Statistics are a red herring, an attempt to apply sciency-looking bullshit to shore up what is basically an argument from cherry picked data. When you hypothesized 50/50 prior chance of “life after death” you were bullshitting because you pulled that number out of your anal region. That’s ok but you have to expect people here to call you on it.

    For one thing, if you were really trying to explore prior probabilities, you’d define your terms first. Probability of WHAT? What is “life after death”? I offered one possibility that has a nearly 100% probability – namely that some of your former materials live again in the form of bacteria that incorporate your nommable bits as food. Is that what you mean? Or do you mean something else? Perhaps a simulation of you – a perl script that posts like you do based on markov chains? Is that “life after death”? You’re blowing smoke when you speculate about prior probabilities of undefined something or others.

  68. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus Ranum
    Sorry, I’m not trying to be hostile.

    But isn’t that the whole point?

    Still, I strongly suspect that you’re laboring under a complete misunderstanding of the Bayesian epistemology approach.

    1-
    Proponents of the Bayesian approach do not say that it’s meant to solve the problem of induction in real world epistemological use cases. That’s just silly. I don’t know who told you that, but that’s counter to everything that I’ve seen on it.

    2-
    Further, proponents of Bayesian epistemology do not claim that it makes it completely objective either. I don’t know who says that. The P(e|h) number is an asspull. It has to be an asspull. There is no way that it cannot be an asspull. (Maybe in extremely simple and contrived cases, like rolling dice, one could argue that there are obviously correct objective numbers for P(e|h), but the real world is much too complicated for that. And even here, to get those “objective numbers”, they would still need to assume a uniformity principle or some such to overcome the problem of induction.)

    3-
    Further, I suspect that you’re still working under another misconception, a confusion between two things. For want of better terms, physical probability, and epistemic probability, aka confidence of belief. I suspect that fundamentally you still do not understand the Bayesian approach.

    Physical probability can be inherent in the rules of physics, such as what is the case in quantum physics under the Copenhagen, dynamic collapse, and Everett models. Physical probability can also be a mere result of our lack of information, such as quantum physics under the Bohm model.

    Our epistemic probability, e.g. our amount of confidence in a belief, is something different. For example, I play D&D. I use 6-sided dice. For a particular 6-sided die in my collection, I am reasonably confident that every time that I roll it, it has a 1/6 chance that it will show “6” face-up. In this case, “1/6” is a physical probability. It’s a description of the outcome of an event, and the randomness of the outcome is a result of my lack of information.

    Look again at the claim:
    I am reasonably confident that every time that I roll this particular 6-sided die in my collection, it has a 1/6 chance that it will show “6” face-up.
    There is the physical probability “1/6”. There is also another probability in there. I didn’t give a specific number for it, but I did refer to it with the phrase “reasonably confident”. That’s an epistemic probability, e.g. epistemic confidence level. Maybe it’s 95%. Maybe it’s 98%. In other words, the claim is this: I believe that there is about a 95% (epistemic) chance that the following claim is true: Every time that I roll this 6-sided die in my collection, it will show “6” face-up about 1/6 of the time. In other words, if I was a gambling person, I would take a bet where I win 1 dollar if further testing would show it is a fair die, and I would lose 19 dollars if further testing would show that it is a non-fair die (1 to 20 odds, which is 95% probability).

    When I suggested that 50:50 priors are a reasonable approximation at this early point of explanation, I am not making the absurd claim that I believe that there’s a 50% physical probability that there is life after death ala Christianity and other religions. I’m not even sure what that could mean. It’s seemingly nonsensical. At least, I don’t know what sort of meaning to apply to such a thing. It’s not like a die roll where we can talk about discrete events and different independent outcomes for each event. Compare with my earlier dice example with two probabilities, physical and epistemic. In the case of the Christian “life after death” hypothesis, there is only one probability, the epistemic probability.

    The Bayesian approach is to think like a gambler. To suggest 50:50 priors is to suggest adopting the mindset of a gambler, and evaluate one’s own utility function (ala utilitarianism approaches – adjust as necessary) with the odds of each outcome at 50:50 odds. Generally, this is a very prudent thing to do with a literal complete lack of information. Often, the outcomes are serious enough that the agent will not be satisfied with 50:50 odds, and they will do further research and analysis, in order to move their epistemic probabilities in either direction, to gain more certainty. Again, this is not making the claim that there is some repeatable event out there, which has two distinct outcomes, and the outcome are independent, and each outcome will happen on about 50% of the total events, randomly chosen. That is not what epistemic probability is. Epistemic probability under the Bayesian approach is there only to inform your gambler-like cost-benefit risk analysis according to one’s own utility function.

    Put another way: Following from the previous paragraph, epistemic probability is similar to a physical probability where the probability results from a lack of information. Another way to think of it is thusly: Proverbially speaking, there are a near endless number of epistemically possible worlds, and I do not know which world that I am in. Naively, and prudently, one could argue that one should adopt a reasonable gambler’s approach of assuming roughly equal odds for each epistemically possible world, and evidence should adjust these odds. These odds are for doing risk analysis, cost benefit analysis, in order to decide what sort of action to take. The action that one should take depends on what world that one is in, but one does not know which world that one is in. As one gathers more evidence, one can start to probabilistically narrow down the set of worlds that one is (probably) in. None of these adjustments of probabilities actually reflect anything that is really going on in the world. There is only one world, and this person was in the same world from the start. These probabilities reflect the person’s knowledge about the world, and not the actual world itself.

    For example, when I am about to roll a 6-sided die, I do not know which world that I am in. Assuming that it’s a fair die, I know that the set of epistemically possible worlds is {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6}. Let’s assume that the laws of physics are sufficiently deterministic that the outcome is perfectly predictable even before I roll the die. I don’t know which world that I am in, but I know that I am in one of these worlds. I need to develop odds for which world that I am in. For dice throwing, it’s often not important to develop odds rigorously, but this sort of example is very instructive and analogous to all decisions that one ever makes, because this sort of gambler risk analysis is at the heart of being a rational actor.

    Further, I did assume that the die is fair in the previous paragraph, as a simplification for presentation. Maybe I’m only 99% confident that the die is fair. That is, there is another set of worlds that I need to consider {the die is fair, the die is not fair}. Initially, absent all information, 50:50 odds is roughly prudent. However, I have a lot of background knowledge about physics, and about the manufacture of dice, which leads me to a much higher odds that the particular die is fair, even before doing any particular testing on the die. Particular testing of that specific die would be more evidence, and that would adjust my odds appropriately – the odds on which world that I inhabit, the world where the die is fair, and the world where the die is not fair.

    And so on.

    PS:
    Starting with a literal blank slate, and assuming 50:50 odds for everything, will quickly arrive at obvious logical contradictions. That’s why I mentioned the bit above about information complexity. Further, I’ve already mentioned that doing this formally is very, very hard. Also, this is part of what priors and background knowledge are for. In principle, one should be able to derive roughly the same priors based on the totality of background knowledge, but that’s extremely difficult to do in practice. Thus, one just takes a number as a prior that’s “about right” based on the background knowledge. Again, this is no better nor worse than having a set of accepted premises in use of a syllogistic argument – if there is disagreement over one of the priors, then that prior can be broken down and examined, just like a premise of a syllogistic argument under dispute can be broken down and examined. Please see previous post for a longer-winded description of this.

  69. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob Grigjanis
    I know that you’re talking past me, and apparently I’m talking past you. I still suspect ill-intent on your part, at least a lack of principle of charity and a lack of effort to read for full comprehension. Regardless, I don’t know what to say now. What you wrote is baffling to me, and I don’t even know where we are in conversation any more.

    I believe that you are stuck in a particular wrong-headed mindset, and I don’t know how else to attack it. Especially with your bad faith interactions, I believe that I am stuck.

    I will say this:
    Quoting you:

    We don’t talk about souls in physics because there is no reason to. Period.

    How have I wrongly interpreted Carroll’s argument?

    So is “is there a teapot orbiting Alpha Centauri?”. I’m not wasting any time on it though. Or on further comments in this thread, especially since you’ve invoked the spectre of “free will”. *Shudder*.

    The whole idea arose from superstition. It’s a religious hangover that apparently even some atheists can’t shake off. I don’t find it remotely interesting.

    1) I don’t take the idea of souls seriously because it is a religious leftover with no evidence to back it up.
    2) Unlike some atheists, I don’t find the idea of souls, or the after life, at all interesting (see (1)).
    3) Carroll’s argument that the standard model rules out souls is a bad argument.

    Every time that I try to defend the position and argument, you come along and say that it’s just a silly argument, because we shouldn’t even think about it, because it’s based on silly reaasons. And you also call the argument bad, maybe because you think it’s just too silly to talk about. And yet, you also ask me to defend the position and argument. You’re trying to have your cake and eat it too.

    If you don’t want to talk about the evidence for and against the Christian “afterlife” hypothesis and the Christian soul hypothesis, then shut up already. Don’t come in and say “I don’t find it remotely interesting” (exact quote) as some sort of pseudo-justification to then say “Carroll’s argument that the standard model rules out souls is a bad argument” (exact quote). “A bad argument” implies that the argument is not sound, e.g. a logically invalid structure, or a false premise. “I don’t care” is not a good reason to say that an argument is bad. Invalid logical structure, false premises, being overly verbose and obscure – those are good reasons to say that an argument is bad. This is extremely frustrating to deal with.

    Loosely, either it’s actually true or it’s actually false. Either the reality that we inhabit has the Christian afterlife, or it doesn’t. This is a legitimate scientific question, just like the truth of astrology is a legitimate scientific question. Of course, both are obviously false.

    And the fundamental difference between you and I is that I say that both are false, and I will say that are both are clearly false based on the evidence. Whereas, you just say “not interesting”. Your way of doing things is irrational. You would fail a test on the flaws of Pascal’s Wager. That’s really what this is all about. It’s all about the generic Pascal’s Wager. I don’t use astrology because I know that astrology is wrong. You cannot answer Pascal’s Wager for astrology. All you have is “it’s based on bad reasoning”, which is the fallacy fallacy, which should not adjust your opinion on the matter. You need to resolve the wager for astrology. This is what a rational actor requires.

    I am not demanding a full blown mathematical analysis. I am not demanding pages and pages of argument.

    I am demanding the following: Consider the scenario: I say (for the sake of argument) to you “You should live your life according to the results of my favorite astrologer”, then you will scoff at me, and then you will decide clearly to not do such a thing.

    On what basis and for what reasoning do you make that decision? To rationally make that decision, that means you needed to analyze the claim well enough to determine the likelihood of the truth of the claim, and you needed to determine that the claim is likely false. That should be what you really mean by “the claim is not interesting”. You should really mean “the claim is so obviously false that it’s not worth my time, barring you gathering extreme evidence and reasoning to the contrary, and I’m not going to waste any time trying to find any evidence and reasoning myself”.

    “Not interesting” is not a legitimate position to hold in this case. “Not interesting” does not allow you to reach the rational conclusion “I will not visit the astrologer”. Further, “undecided / agnostic” just gets you 50:50 odds, which is definitely not enough to take the reasonable course of action of immediately dismissing the idea of visiting the astrologer. You need the hard position where you are firmly convinced that astrology is false in order to be rationally justified in taking the action of dismissing the idea and dismissing that course of action.

  70. John Morales says

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a much clearer explanation about the difference between the degree of certitude for a belief and the degree of certitude for a proposition — in particular note the restriction 0<P>1 is only applicable to the former:

    If unconditional probabilities (e.g. P(S)) are taken as primitive, the conditional probability of S on T can be defined as follows:

    Conditional Probability:
    P(S/T) = P(S&T)/P(T).

    By itself, the definition of conditional probability is of little epistemological significance. It acquires epistemological significance only in conjunction with a further epistemological assumption:

    Simple Principle of Conditionalization:
    If one begins with initial or prior probabilities Pi, and one acquires new evidence which can be represented as becoming certain of an evidentiary statement E (assumed to state the totality of one’s new evidence and to have initial probability greater than zero), then rationality requires that one systematically transform one’s initial probabilities to generate final or posterior probabilities Pf by conditionalizing on E — that is: Where S is any statement, Pf(S) = Pi(S/E).

    In epistemological terms, this Simple Principle of Conditionalization requires that the effects of evidence on rational degrees be analyzed in two stages: The first is non-inferential. It is the change in the probability of the evidence statement E from Pi(E), assumed to be greater than zero and less than one, to Pf(E) = 1. The second is a probabilistic inference of conditionalizing on E from initial
    probabilities (e.g., Pi(S)) to final probabilities (e.g., Pf(S) = Pi(S/E)).

    It sure seems to me EL has been equivocating between the two probabilities.

  71. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @73:

    Don’t come in and say “I don’t find it remotely interesting” (exact quote) as some sort of pseudo-justification to then say “Carroll’s argument that the standard model rules out souls is a bad argument”

    Christ, you’re a fucking dimwit.

    1) I’m not interested in ‘soul’
    2) Carroll’s argument is crap.

    (1) is not a pseudo- or any other kind of justification for (2). They are two independent things.

    You have yet to justify your claim (parroting Carroll) that the soul’s existence would require a new fundamental field at the level of the Standard Model. All we’ve had is crap like “the math of quantum field theory is telling us…”, when it seems you actually mean “Carroll is telling us…, and I like his conclusion so I’ll just pass it on as though I understand it”.

    There are about 30 orders of magnitude in size/mass and multiple organizational layers between the level of the Standard Model (quarks, electrons, etc) and the neuronal interactions that give rise to whatever we call ‘consciousness’, so it would be the height of absurdity to suggest that consciousness corresponds to a new fundamental field, or an additional term in any of the SM equations of motion (like the Dirac equation). Why is it all of a sudden OK to talk about the soul as arising from a new fundamental field? Cue more fucking clueless handwaving from EL…

  72. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You have yet to justify your claim (parroting Carroll) that the soul’s existence would require a new fundamental field at the level of the Standard Model.

    I legitimately don’t understand. You’re not being clear enough. Please point out agreement or disagreement, and other comments, for each of the following steps.

    1- This is primarily a discussion about the Christian afterlife, not souls. In other words, continued first-person experience, aka qualia, after the death and destruction of the brain.

    2- The particular idea being attacked can be defined as thus: There is this thing called a “soul”. We don’t know what it is composed of. We do know that it is something in addition to the standard, normal, materialistic view of the human brain and body. The soul also takes part in the human decision making progress. The soul survives intact after death and destruction of the brain, and this is the “mechanism” that enables and takes part in life after death, aka the Christian afterlife.

    3- We can discount solipsism, including brain in a vat, The Matrix, the world is a simulation, etc.

    4- In order for a human soul to take part in the human decision making progress, such as vocalizing a decision, the soul must have causal power on the standard, normal, materialistic particles in the human brain and body. For example, for me to decide to eat spaghetti instead of a hamburger today, if any part of this decision making process happens in a soul, then this must be communicated back to my human brain and body, and that must present as some observable effect on the motion of the bits of my human brain and body. Obviously so, because I asked the person behind the counter for spaghetti, and not a hamburger, and that is a description of standard, normal, materialistic reality, which is composed of these particles. Remember, by definition, the soul is not composed of the standard, normal, materialistic particles of the Standard Model.

    5- Our equations of motion in the Standard Model of physics do not include this interaction of the causation from hypothesized souls to the standard, normal, materialistic particles in the human brain and body.

    6- Our equations of motion of the Standard Model of physics are inconsistent with any causation from the hypothesized souls to the standard, normal, materialistic particles in the human brain and body.

    7- If souls exist, then the Standard Model of physics is incredibly wrong / incomplete concerning the physics of standard, normal, materialistic particles that compose everyday objects, at everyday scales of length, time, and energy.

    8- The Standard Model of physics is not incredibly wrong / incomplete concerning the physics of standard, normal, materialistic particles that compose everyday objects, at everyday scales of length, time, and energy. We know this because of the wealth of evidence.

    9- Thus, the hypothesis of Christian souls, spelled out in #2, do not exist.

    10- Thus, the Christian afterlife, as envisioned in #2, does not exist.

    11- This can be readily generalized to many (all) sorts of purported afterlifes of modern religions, and this shows that they do not exist.

  73. John Morales says

    EL:

    1- This is primarily a discussion about the Christian afterlife, not souls. In other words, continued first-person experience, aka qualia, after the death and destruction of the brain.

    Um. Catholic belief (at least supposedly, it was recited in Church when I used to be an altar-boy) is actual bodily resurrection — from the Credo (Apostles’ Creed):

    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting.

  74. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To John Morales

    Based on my reading from Richard Carrier, I think it’s a little more nuanced. I don’t know about actual modern Catholic dogma, but I do know about Carrier’s sensible interpretation of Paul’s understanding of resurrection. In Paul’s world view, there is a bunch of stuff in heaven. There’s dirt, trees, etc. For example, in some non-canon scriptures, it is said that Adam is buried in heaven, Adam’s Earthly body composed of Earthy substance, in heavenly dirt. In particular, Paul preached that the substances of heaven are superior to the substances of Earth. For example, an Earthly body will die, but a heavenly body is indestructible and it will last forever.

    As best as I can tell, there was this other thing called the “soul”. From my limited understanding, the earlier words for “soul” in the original language was the same(?) word as “breath”. They believe in some ephemeral additional substance that was necessary for (human) life, and its close associated with life. It separated living creatures from rocks. It’s comparable to Phlogiston. So, the heavenly body composed of heavenly substances is not alive until your soul is put into it.

    Some quick googling of modern Catholic dogma seems to fit my understanding. Ex:
    https://www.catholic.com/tract/resurrection-of-the-body

    Having said that, I do recall discussions of other conceptions of resurrection in Christian history from reading Carrier.

  75. John Morales says

    EL, yeah. In Catholic mythology, the soul is eternal, it doesn’t die — only the body dies — and accordingly there can be no “life after death” for the soul since it never dies. The “life after death” refers to the physical resurrection, which will occur on Judgement Day. Kinda hard to detect that, since it’s in the future.

  76. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To John Morales
    If that last line was meant as a rebuttal, this only shows that – again – you didn’t bother to read what I actually wrote. Please try again.

    Otherwise, no particular comment.

  77. John Morales says

    EL, it wasn’t any more so than my previous comments.

    If it’s now about the Christian afterlife rather than souls, as I quoted you claiming @78, then it’s factual that, at least in Catholic theology, any afterlife itself is in the future, so there’s nothing to investigate at present.

    If it’s about your original claim (which, as noted in the OP, was about souls) where you had claimed the soul’s existence was amenable to scientific scrutiny, and furthermore that it was a scientifically-disproven claim, then again, at least in Catholic theology, the soul departs the body to be with God after the body’s death (as noted in your adduced link to the Vatican site), so that again there is nothing to investigate after bodily death.

    I refer you to my #36, wherein I note that for life-after-death to be a scientifically determinable claim it would require a sufficiently straightforward definition of life and of death, to which you responded that it was an unintelligent and dishonest claim.

    (It was not I who conflated souls with life-after-death and has relied on vagueness of concepts to make assertions)

  78. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    If it’s now about the Christian afterlife rather than souls, as I quoted you claiming @78, then it’s factual that, at least in Catholic theology, any afterlife itself is in the future, so there’s nothing to investigate at present.

    I really encourage you to read the whole post, instead of skimming for bits that you can use to construct a strawman to attack. It’s quite obvious that you haven’t actually read it. I also assume you mean post #77. #78 is your post.

  79. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Oh wait, I see, I cannot read. You did mean your post 78 which quotes my 77. Still, please read the whole post. It’s obvious that you haven’t.

  80. says

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#72:
    Still, I strongly suspect that you’re laboring under a complete misunderstanding of the Bayesian epistemology approach.

    I don’t know if it’s a misunderstanding or not; I’ve been exposed to some bayesian reasoning in reading various bits by Richard Carrier. It’s possible that there’s a better argument for bayesian reasoning than Carrier makes. I have now invested some time reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Bayesian Epistemology (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology-bayesian/#ObjSimPriConRulInfOthObjBayConThe) for what that’s worth. It appears that my instinctive objection to bayesian reasoning was a fairly common one, also for what that’s worth. Because I hadn’t studied any of the bayesian epistemology arguments, I didn’t show all my work, which is:
    – Epistemology, is the study of systems of knowledge
    – Knowledge concerns things that may or may not have happened in the past
    – The reason we are concerned with knowledge is because of the future
    – The future includes things like changes to our future belief systems based on study of knowledge about the past
    – If we are concerned about past prior probabilities regarding “life after death” it is going to affect our beliefs about the future, since death is part of all of our futures
    – Reasoning about the probability of life after death is kind of a pointless curiosity unless we are doing that so that we can establish beliefs (not knowledge) about what is likely to happen to us
    – I argue that approach is flawed because we do not have reliable information from which to make measurements about the past
    – I argue therefore that the approach is flawed for establishing beliefs about the future

    That’s basically what they are talking about in the Stanford write-up at 6.2 combined with the objection at 6.1b For example:

    Consider Goodman’s “new riddle of induction”: In the past all observed emeralds have been green. Do those observations provide any more support for the generalization that all emeralds are green than they do for the generalization that all emeralds are grue (green if observed before now; blue if observed later); or do they provide any more support for the prediction that the next emerald observed will be green than for the prediction that the next emerald observed will be grue (i.e., blue)? Almost everyone agrees that it would be irrational to have prior probabilities that were indifferent between green and grue, and thus made predictions of greenness no more probable than predictions of grueness. But there is no generally agreed upon explanation of this constraint.

    Goodman’s Riddle (I had never encountered this before) – illustrates my point: we don’t engage in bayesian reasoning about the past except as a way of trying to inductively establish rules of ‘knowledge’ regarding the future. If we conclude based on probability that “all emeralds are green” we are simply waiting for a blue emerald to turn up. I have no problem with saying “in the past, all things we have defined as emeralds are the color we have defined as green” because that’s pretty much a matter of defintion. But then we’re not proving anything, we’re just defining our terms: there are no black emeralds because emeralds aren’t black because we say emeralds are all green based on our definition of “emerald” and “green”

    The quality of the priors is, of course, also hugely important. That’s 6.2F in the Stanford write-up, but it’s what I meant about how you simply pick your priors carefully (again: by defintion, everything I say is green emerald is green, and emerald) As the Stanford piece appears to be pointing out in 6.2F if you are sloppy selecting your priors you wind up with garbage in/garbage out.

    Perhaps bayesian epistemologists are not concerned with future probabilities. If they say that, I say they are liars, because there is not much point in examining the past except to learn, which affects and defines our future.

    Further, proponents of Bayesian epistemology do not claim that it makes it completely objective either. I don’t know who says that. The P(e|h) number is an asspull. It has to be an asspull. There is no way that it cannot be an asspull.

    The word “objective” first appears in this thread in your comment @#72. I didn’t say bayesian epistemology was attempting to claim objectivity.

    I will note, however, that epistemology, is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with systems of knowledge – is about separating opinion from fact. When people talk about being “objective” I believe they are trying to say they are dealing with facts, not opinions – truth not fiction, knowledge not imagination. Etc. If there’s an epistemology that isn’t concerned with objectivity, it’s not epistemology; that’s a problem.

    And, as I argued earlier, the problem of induction is what epistemology is trying to solve: “if A is an emerald, it will be GREEN” is an inductive rule; we would use such a rule to build systems of knowledge – ideally to be able to make statements like “all emeralds are green” not “all the things in the past which I have called ’emerald’ are the color I call ‘green'” Carrier, whose writings about bayesian reasoning are the first places I encountered it, seems be trying to bootstrap claims of knowledge based on probability.

    Here’s another point: if I already had an objective test for emerald that yielded the rule that all emeralds were green, I wouldn’t be wasting my time trying to infer from past probabilities. It seems to me that the very fact that someone is using bayesian methods amounts to hoisting the white flag.

    [explanation]I am reasonably confident that every time that I roll this particular 6-sided die in my collection, it has a 1/6 chance that it will show “6” face-up…
    In other words, the claim is this: I believe that there is about a 95% (epistemic) chance that the following claim is true: Every time that I roll this 6-sided die in my collection, it will show “6” face-up about 1/6 of the time.[explanation]

    Thank you for that.

    OK, So you’re saying that the bayesian epistemological approach is how you establish your own beliefs regarding your perception of the behavior of the die. I can buy that. And you’re saying that, based on your beliefs, you expect it will continue to behave the same way. As long as there’s enough waffle stacked around that, that it’s your belief and your expectation, etc. then we’re good. You’re not saying that there’s a particular probability distribution in the future, merely that you expect there to be, you haven’t tried to produce an inductive rule.

    I would rephrase that as that you know your beliefs. It’s an epistemology about what you expect and not what someone else or everyone else expects. Of course, you could transmit your opinion about your die to me, by saying “I believe it is a fair die” and I might adopt your belief. Is that it?

    I’m OK with all of that, other than: why bother with all the math, then? If all you’re saying is that your opinions/beliefs are consistent and were formed based on past observation, then join the club. That’s how opinions work.

    I really appreciate your taking the time to explain that to me, and I find your explanation is consistent with what I’ve gone and read in the last hour or so.

    My confusion stems from things like Carrier’s “Proving jesus” book, which claim to prove that jesus didn’t exist, using bayes’ theorem. That’s a bit stronger statement from “my analysis of my own belief system is that I don’t believe jesus existed because of my estimates of the prior probability.” But I understand you’re not here to defend Carrier’s argument any more than I am to try to go through it again, myself.

    I will observe that many people promoting the use of bayes theorem are not talking about the probability that they believe something, but rather the probability that what they believe is true i.e.: (per wikipedia)
    Posterior probability: the statistical probability that a hypothesis is true calculated in the light of relevant observations.
    In other words they want to make inductive claims: given that I believe this die will roll a 1, 1/6 of the time, that it will roll a 1, 1/6 of the time.

  81. says

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#73:
    It seems to me that part of the problem is that if we seriously discuss every hypothetical, we will do nothing else with the rest of our lives. Evidence-based reasoning is a way of cutting short the process of arguing about every hypothetical by asking, “hey, since it’s your hypothesis, what’s your evidence supporting it?” and what I think I see Rob Grigjanis saying is that there isn’t enough evidence to make that discussion worth having, so let’s not. There is another approach in evidence-based reasoning that cuts short the process of arguing about every hypothetical by proposing some evidence that makes the hypothesis harder to defend – that’s what I was trying to do when I pointed out that “life after death” smells like a contradiction in terms, and that “life after death” of the sense I’ve encountered before would violate a bunch of conservation laws. To me that seems like a reasonable exchange: before the proponent of a theory gets started explaining their theory, we try to head it off at the pass by saying, “please consider these objections in advance in order to save my time listening to you, if your theory doesn’t overcome those objections.” So, someone who wanted to propose a theory of “life after death” – if they were arguing fairly – would now be expected to propose a theory that explains how “life after death” violates no conservation laws. Otherwise it is not worth talking about per Rob Grigjanis, because a theory that doesn’t address the most obvious objections to it isn’t enough of a theory that it’s worth talking about.

    Usually when I get into “life after death” or “souls” I try to head the discussion off at the pass by asking my interlocutor what their theory of ensoulment(or whatever) is. And I even warn them that I’m going to ask, if they propose that souls are undetectable by science, “how do you know it exists, then?” Because a theory of ensoulment (or whatever) that doesn’t have a way of arguing that there is actually a soul, isn’t much of a theory of ensoulment and isn’t worth talking about.

    I appreciate Rob Grigjanis’ response to the question of “life after death” because basically he’s throwing the student’s paper back at them with a big red ‘F’ on the front, and the words “show your work” in big letters. That is, actually, a reasonable response to some of this stuff, and it’s unreasonable because it’s pointless to try to engage with an argument that’s not even fully-formed enough to engage with. That’s why I usually try to point out that “life after death” is a contradiction in terms and anyone offering a theory of “life after death” has some work to do before we can even have a discussion about it.

    That is why I offered my own theory of “life after death” – that some of our molecules get re-used and are alive as part of other life-forms (though, please, when I die, don’t let any of my molecules get re-incorporated into any “compassionate conservatives” KTHX) I will note that my theory of “life after death” does not contradict any of the conservation laws, so, yay me! I will live off and on for the millions of years.

  82. says

    When I say:
    So, someone who wanted to propose a theory of “life after death” – if they were arguing fairly – would now be expected to propose a theory that explains how “life after death” violates no conservation laws.

    I am thinking of the many many instances where I’ve seen people remise propositions that have been fairly thoroughly refuted. For example, William Craig, who keeps making his kalam cosmological argument in spite of the fact that every time he does, philosophers kick smoking holes in it. It’s dishonest for him to keep making that argument because he uses it without improving it. If he kept coming back with versions of it that were better and better, then the hole-kicking would be exciting. But when someone keeps coming up with a theory that already has holes kicked in it, I don’t believe they are being intellectually honest: instead of trying to convince me by throwing the same argument again and again, they’re “shopping it around” hoping they’ll find a sucker who doesn’t notice the holes.

    Most of the “life after death” discussions I’ve had fall into the latter category.
    ^^^^^ (prior probability)

  83. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus
    I must apologize and clarify. And thank you for having a good and productive conversation!

    Richard Carrier

    I believe that I’m defending substantially similar ideas.

    However, having said that, I think Carrier et al are trying to do a much more ambitious project than what I will endorse and defend (as Carrier is wont to do). I apologize for any confusion on my part. Perhaps “Bayesian epistemology” includes a lot more baggage than what I first believed. I suspect that Carrier adds a lot more to it than what should be properly understood as Bayesian epistemology, but I admit that I don’t actually know.

    I do not advocate for Bayesian reasoning as a replacement to the requirement of taking something like the uniformity principle “on faith”. I’m a kind of presuppositionalist. In particular, I might describe my epistemology as a combination of foundationalism and coherentism, sometimes known as coherentism. I believe that the proper way to think about epistemology is to have a small subset of beliefs which are foundational, and which are mutually reinforcing (the coherentist part). The vast majority of my beliefs are outside of this foundational set. The rest of my knowledge and beliefs are simply the result of the proper application of inference rules given in my foundation, applied to my foundational beliefs and my available observations.

    Consequently, the grue problem may pose a problem for Carrier, but it doesn’t pose a problem for me, because of my use of the uniformity principle.

    I will note, however, that epistemology, is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with systems of knowledge – is about separating opinion from fact.

    I disagree. The distinction between facts and opinions is one of a continuous spectrum. A fact is just one kind of opinion and belief, just like knowledge is one kind of opinion and belief.

    For example, consider the recent proof of the Kepler conjecture.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphere_packing
    During the time of the initial proof, referees are said to be “99% certain” that the proof is correct. Here is a question of pure mathematics, and we are using terms about confidence levels, degrees of belief, etc. I grant that there may be an absolute right or wrong answer to the correctness of that proof (in the particular axiomatic domain), but also we do not have direct access to these facts. All we have is indirect and probabilitistic access, ala Bayesian reasoning. This is the sensible interpretation when the referees said that they were “99% certain”. Even for the simplest mathematical proof, one can never be absolutely certain that it is correct. There might be an error in there. The odds of error are ridiculously, unimagably small, but the odds of error are still strictly greater than 0.

    Epistemology is not about separating facts from opinions in some sort of hard division. Rather, epistemology is about developing rules and guidelines for determining the “correct” amount of confidence / certainty that one should place in one’s own beliefs. 1- Facts, or more properly our beliefs about facts, are distinguished from 2- “mere opinions” and guesses, on 3- the strength / confidence of our belief (whether it is a belief about “facts”, or mere opinions, or guesses), and the strength / confidence of our beliefs should be determined by the strength of justification that we have for the beliefs.

    I will observe that many people promoting the use of bayes theorem are not talking about the probability that they believe something, but rather the probability that what they believe is true i.e.: (per wikipedia)
    Posterior probability: the statistical probability that a hypothesis is true calculated in the light of relevant observations.

    You lost me. This is my expectation about future events. It guides my decisions. Obviously, in some very real sense, I believe that my beliefs map onto the world. I’m not exactly sure what you’re driving at. If I have a 99.9% confidence in the proposition “the die is fair”, I am not saying “there’s a 99.9% chance that I believe that the die is fair”. That’s nonsensical. Presumably I have enough access to my own beliefs, especially beliefs like this, where, in practical terms, I can be absolutely certain. When I say that I have 99.9% confidence, I am saying that I have a belief “the die is fair”, and I am saying that I am very confident in the belief. I am saying that I strongly (but not absolutely) convinced that the die is fair. The “99.9% confidence” is a measure of my degree of confidence. It’s a measure of my confidence. It’s a measure of my certainty of belief. It’s a measure of my strength of belief. It’s also a measure of what sort of gambler odds that I might take on the belief being true vs false. It’s both of those things at once.

    Carrier et al might be doing something different, and I again apologize for using the term “Bayesian epistemology” which carries far more baggage than I intended.

    My confusion stems from things like Carrier’s “Proving jesus” book, which claim to prove that jesus didn’t exist, using bayes’ theorem. That’s a bit stronger statement from “my analysis of my own belief system is that I don’t believe jesus existed because of my estimates of the prior probability.” But I understand you’re not here to defend Carrier’s argument any more than I am to try to go through it again, myself.

    I like Carrier’s work in “Proving History”. The approach is probably too hard in this case. It’s probably too hard to even agree on what events are independent, what are reasonable ranges, etc. However, I still like the approach. I don’t remember too much that was disagreeable in the book. Let me explain.

    As I already said, the use of Bayes equation is just a tool to aid analysis. All of the input numbers are asspulls. All it really does is help you and an opponent narrow down points of disagreement (which then may yield progress in the dispute, and perhaps even enable one side to change their mind). Again, this is exactly comparable to the use of formal logical syllogistic arguments et al – anyone can asspull a bullshit premise, but often there is still utility in the use of logical arguments in conversational argument. I think that Carrier was quite clear on this point in the book.

    It seems to me that part of the problem is that if we seriously discuss every hypothetical, we will do nothing else with the rest of our lives. Evidence-based reasoning is a way of cutting short the process of arguing about every hypothetical by asking, “hey, since it’s your hypothesis, what’s your evidence supporting it?”

    Agreed. The way I put it: I think we all need heuristics. We all have ideals of the proper way to do an in-depth analysis and examination of a hypothesis, but we all have heuristics that approximate and short-cut this ideal, because time itself has value, and examination and analysis take time.

    Similarly, why use the math? I think it’s useful to know what “ideal” probabilistic and evidence-based reasoning looks like, even if you don’t ever do math. It allows you to identify fallacious reasoning in conversational English, just like knowing formal syllogistic logic can also help identify fallacious reasoning in conversational English. IIRC, Carrier made this point quite clearly and strongly in the book “Proving History” which you mention.

    I think I see Rob Grigjanis saying is that there isn’t enough evidence to make that discussion worth having, so let’s not.

    And that is perhaps the point of disagreement, because I think that the evidence is extremely overwhelming. I think that there is has been a mantra developed, which today is best described by Gould’s NOMA. It’s a flaming crock of shit. I think it puts blinders on people like Mano and Rob, who stick to their ridiculous notion that science cannot speak to religious and supernatural claims, and it blinds them to the obvious and overwhelming evidence against the common Christian conception of souls and the afterlife.

    would now be expected to propose a theory that explains how “life after death” violates no conservation laws.

    I believe that this is roughly comparable to the approach that Sean Carroll and I were taking. I expect that Rob would object for similar reasons, whatever those reasons are. I do not yet understand where Rob is coming from, except for my strong suspicion that it has to do because of a wrong-headed adherence to Gould’s NOMA.

    Further, please look two quotes up – where you say “I think I see Rob Grigjanis saying is that there isn’t enough evidence to make that discussion worth having, so let’s not”. To me, you seem to be contradicting yourself. I really like the argument based on conservation laws, but it seems like you’re trying to say “we don’t have evidence which is relevant for the hypothesis” and simultaneously also trying to say “we have lots of evidence, evidence for the conservation laws, evidence which contradicts your hypothesis”. You cannot have it both ways.

  84. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Just to be sure, let me say this, just to be extremely clear:

    In the Bayesian approach, one does not simply have “beliefs”. Every belief that one has also has an associated “number”, a level of conviction, which is often known as “confidence”, “certainty”, etc.

    For example, I can believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, and I can be extremely confident in that belief. I can also believe that massive and widespread use of nuclear power is a requirement of any workable plan to combat global warming and ocean acidification, but I’m less confident of this belief than the earlier belief. I know I’ll get the numbers wrong, but for the sake of argument, if my amount of confidence in the “sun will rise” proposition is 99.99%, then perhaps my confidence in the nuclear proposition is only “99%”.

    The Bayesian approach that I endorse and advocate is to recognize that you can never be absolutely certain, and all of your beliefs have an associated level of certainty, and when you use beliefs to derive new beliefs, the levels of certainty should be used to determine the level of confidence of the new belief, and finally and most importantly, there are some simple and obvious mathematical rules, Bayes equation, which underlie all proper empirical and evidence-based reasoning. When you get a new piece of evidence, it doesn’t matter if the evidence is consistent with the hypothesis or not. What actually matters is whether the evidence is “more expected” or “more likely” on the hypothesis, compared to all alternative hypotheses. That’s the math of Bayes equation. In other words, if some piece of evidence is predicted by a hypothesis, but also predicted by a competitor hypothesis, then the piece of evidence isn’t actually evidence in favor of either hypothesis.

  85. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @90:

    I think that there is has been a mantra developed, which today is best described by Gould’s NOMA. It’s a flaming crock of shit.

    Yes, it is a flaming crock of shit.

    I think it puts blinders on people like Mano and Rob, who stick to their ridiculous notion that science cannot speak to religious and supernatural claims

    Of course science can speak to supernatural claims, if they’re framed in the right way. But this isn’t NOMA blinders, EL. It’s humility. It’s the difference between saying “there is no evidence of X” and “there is no room for X in our theory”. The latter should make anyone who takes science seriously very nervous. I’m happy to say that I don’t see how the Standard Model could accommodate an immortal soul, but you and Carroll seem to need to take that extra step to certainty.

    Carroll writes

    If it’s really nothing but atoms and the known forces, there is clearly no way for the soul to survive death.

    Really? Clearly? The only clear answers I know in QFT arise from simple concrete questions like “what is the anomalous magnetic moment of an electron?”. And we run into problems even when we ask simple concrete questions like “what is the anomalous magnetic moment of a muon?”. Note that these are low (“every day”) energy questions. As is the proton radius puzzle.

  86. Mano Singham says

    EL @#90,

    Where did you get the idea that I am an advocate of Gould’s NOMA?

    In my first book Quest for Truth I criticized quite severely his book Rocks of Ages where he expanded upon the idea. I did so again later in an article The Science and Religion Wars that was published in Phi Delta KAPPAN, vol. 81, no. 6, p. 424, February 2000 that was later reprinted in the book Powerweb: Physical Science/Integrated Science, McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, Guilford, CT, 2001. Here is a blog post from 2007 that again criticizes Gould’s view.

    Also contrary to your post, I do not make the claim that “science cannot speak to religious and supernatural claims” and in fact my current book deals with the question quite extensively, about how we can arrive at judgments about the supernatural. I simply disagree with your statement that “The Standard Model is now a complete and accurate theory of every single experiment that has ever been done on Earth” that has definitively ruled out the possibility of the supernatural.

  87. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Mano
    …. Again, my apologies. I should really wait for the book I guess.

    To Rob
    You have too much humility. It reminds me of the saying, “don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out”. I’m still waiting for you to explain which steps / premises that you agree with, and which you disagree agree with, in my post #77 in this thread. Until you do that, I am forced to conclude that you’re being purposefully obscure. It shouldn’t be that hard, i.e. “1-5 agree, 6-11 disagree”.

  88. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Mano
    Just a couple quick questions please. Concerning the classical text on this matter, Carl Sagan and “The Dragon In My Garage”. Look at the ending of it.

    Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

    The word “reject” on its own is ambiguous, and permits an interpretation in the style “I neither confirm nor deny the existence of garage dragons”. However, the last bit of the sentence uses the word “delusion”, which is a much stronger term. “Delusion” as commonly defined includes the requirement that the belief is held in spite of an overwhelming amount of contradicting and falsifying evidence. Thus, Carl Sagan is saying that we have more than enough evidence to falsify the garage dragon hypothesis. Do you agree as to the meaning of this text, and Carl Sagan’s beliefs?

    If you agree with me on Carl Sagan’s meaning and beliefs, then I would further ask: Do you disagree with Carl Sagan on this point, on the ability to falsify the existence of garage dragons? I take the answer as “yes”.

  89. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS: I would also argue that Carl Sagan is being a good Bayesian in his analysis.

    Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they’re never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself. On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons.

    Here, he is doing the proper Bayesian analysis: He looks at the “fit” of the evidence on the hypothesis, and also on alternative hypotheses, which is what is required for all proper empirical reasoning.

  90. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL: I’ve said my piece, and your inability or unwillingness to understand it is your problem. The “you must address all my points!” schtick is really tired. You can conclude whatever you like. I can only conclude that you’re a dogmatist who writes things like “the math is telling us…” without having a clue about the math, or how it’s used.

  91. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob
    If you continue with your appeal to authority to your own authority, to overrule both my own reasoning and the authority of Sean Carroll (and others), I will not be moved.

    If you choose to continue to be purposefully and needlessly obscure, I will not be moved. I have heard your arguments, and I believe that I have met them and countered them.

    If you want to move me, and if you want to take part in an honest and constructive dialog, I again urge you to address the specific step(s) in the argument of Sean Carroll, as interpreted by myself, that you find objectionable. I’m sorry that you find this to be “really tired”, but how progress is often made in conversations like this is by clearly laying out the structural form of the argument, step by step, and clearly identifying premises, so that points of disagreement can be narrowed down, which often allows further progress to be made. You’re objecting to debate 101, and thus I will have to be quite “dogmatic” in my insistence on following proper procedures in resolving this debate. If anything, I thank you for giving me such a praiseworthy appraisal of my dogged insistence on the use of proper logic and reason in a debate like this.

  92. John Morales says

    Brian @10,

    Mano, isn’t the burden on the person who proposes the phenomena?

    Now that the hurly-burly has stagnated, I take the opportunity to respond to this.

    Depends on one’s epistemology; the faithful believe in (Divine) Revelation purely on faith, and many see that as a necessary virtue. The Catholic Church certainly does.

    So, though the philosophical “burden of proof” of a claim is on its proponent, nonetheless the religious can appeal to (religious) faith as a way of knowing (fideism). Theology has a long tradition, and it was never grounded in empiricism.

  93. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Brian English

    Mano, isn’t the burden on the person who proposes the phenomena? If someone says ghosts exists, then let them provide the evidence. The person doubting the existence can weigh the evidence, and finding it lacking say, nope, don’t exist or at least suspend judgement and not give a free pass to claims that rely on the existence. I guess likewise if your proposing the existence of a new particle, you provide the evidence, whilst it’s lacking, its OK for others to suspend judgement.

    I find that the “burden of proof” is often misunderstood.

    If someone makes a claim, and does not supply enough support, and you, the audience, already have enough evidence to justify the claim, then you should really accept that the claim is true. This is part of what it means to be an honest, rational, and reasonable person. It shouldn’t matter if someone made the claim or not. What should matter is the relevant known evidence regarding the claim.

    However, consider when someone makes a claim, and does not supply enough support, and you, the audience, do not have enough evidence to justify the claim. In this particular circumstance, sometimes the speaker might demand that you “go google it” and “look up the evidence yourself, it’s out there on the internet”, then there is a problem. In this particular circumstance, the speaker is attempting to place an onus on you to do work in order to justify the speaker’s claim. That’s unethical. In this case, the burden of proof is simply a fairness rule in our culture. It’s a cultural rule to ensure that one person will not waste the time of another person. In particular, it’s not really a rule of epistemology. It’s a rule about fairness in conversations, and a rule that says it’s abusive for one to demand that someone else do research to support one’s unusual and non-mainstream and, well, crank-sounding claims.

    In criminal law, the prosecutor also has the burden of proof. It was decided (quote unquote) that a jury that merely suspects the defendent of guilt is not good enough, because that would lead to undesirable social outcomes. Instead, it was decided (quote unquote) that the jury must be strongly convinced that the defendant is guilty in order to return a “guilty” verdict. This is just another cultural rule. It is not a rule about epistemology.

    What is the relevant epistemological rule? The onus is on you at all times to use all of your available information in order to make the best judgments that you can. One might call this “a burden of proof”.

    PS:
    Regarding your use of “material” and “supernatural”. I think it would do you well to read this peer reviewed paper in philosophy of science.
    > How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism
    > (final draft – to appear in Foundations of Science)
    > Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, Johan Braeckman
    https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism

    Also Scott Clifton’s Skepticon 7 talk.

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