When can science stop being skeptical?

Oct 27, 2013


Discussion by: Steve Zara

Scientists should be skeptics. We (if you will forgive me identifying as a scientist after a couple of decades away from any laboratory) should hold beliefs about the world lightly, being willing to give them up when contrary evidence turns up. Because of this, I sometimes hear scientists and rationalists say that we can't deny the existence of telepathy, or ghosts, or life after death, because physics might change in a century or two.

But is such skepticism really necessary? I started to question this after watching a great talk by the physicist Sean Carroll in which he explained that the physics of the human-scale world is complete. There are plenty of areas of physics where there is continuing mystery, but they are at scales of reality which have absolutely no consequence for our human existence. For example, the question of the nature of dark matter has nothing to do with biology. We don't notice the trillions of neutrinos that pass through our bodies each second, and dark matter is vastly less interacting with the world around us. And yet, I have, several times, come across people who say that dark matter might have something to do with consciousness or the soul! No, it definitely can't!

It seems to me that even though theories of how the world works can be refuted, this doesn't apply to the same degree to discoveries about what exists. We really aren't going to get evidence that DNA is not involved in human inheritance, or that electrons don't exist, or that the Earth is not orbiting the Sun.

So, do we apply the same degree of certainty to questions of mind and soul? The human-scale world has been explored in trillions of experiments and as a result we can talk of scientific certainty about principles of conservation of energy, principles which (it seems reasonable to say) render the existence of a soul physically impossible. At what point do we accept some ideas as facts?

131 comments on “When can science stop being skeptical?

  • Skepticism isn’t like a coat one puts on or takes off. Science isn’t an entity that chooses to be skeptic today and not tomorrow. We can accept that evolution happened. We now have a Theory of evolution but the science part is all about the details. There is much yet to learn. What science is skeptical about is what we learn that is new. These subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) new facts often require verification, peer review and attempts at falsifying. That is the nature of scientific skepticism and it will always be a fundamental part of science. We may understand the basic laws of physics and even bits of quantum mechanics but nobody pops in and out of different dimensions yet and faster than light travel awaits the discovery of when the laws of relativity don’t apply, much like the way in which the laws of “normal” physics break down in the quantum world. We may never discover faster than light travel. Our species is most likely going to be limited in its time but while we exist and while we continue to be curious, the inherent nature of science means that skepticism will always play an important role.

    We have learned facts like DNA being involved in inheritance, that electrons exist and the Earth orbits the Sun. We have no need to test for their existence, but we continue to learn about subtleties even there. What is the ultimate structure of an electron? Maybe we know that. I’m not sure. But I know that at a quantum level, sub atomic particles are not known to the degree they are of no further interest.

    Our mind….the chemistry…the physics…the nature of consciousness…remains ripe for study. There is plenty of factual knowledge but clearly we are just beginning to understand our bodies.

    The soul is a different … so far, no evidence of anything to be skeptical about.



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  • 2
    Mr DArcy says:

    Steve Zara:

    At what point do we accept some ideas as facts?

    At the same point as in deciding whether or not to cross the road, we rule out the invisible unheard, 42 ton lorry hurtling towards us as highly unlikely to be there.



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  • 3
    God fearing Atheist says:

    Steve, you forgot to link Sean Carroll’s talk:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k.

    I recommend everyone sees it.

    I see a 4 part argument in relation to religion and mind-body duality:-

    1) A few years ago a poster (I think it was Tyler) on RD.net told the story of a Byzantine Emperor who locked a condemned prisoner in an air tight box and waited for him to die. He then opened the flap over the keyhole expecting to see the man’s soul escaping to the afterlife. We may laugh (or cry) now, but it was a scientific experiment.

    2) As explained in Sean’s talk, Ken Wilson got the Nobel in 1982 for working out the scales of interaction of Quantum field theory.

    3) Last year the Higgs boson was found which means the corner of the graph where we exist has been fully mapped out.

    Theism now has three choices:- a) Do the maths to prove Wilson wrong. b) Do the “prisoner in the box” experiments properly to demonstrate which known particles make up the soul, or c) admit theism is wrong.

    4) Deism escapes the above, but falls foul of Occam’s razor. If a god can’t interact with us at all, what relevance does that god have to human affairs? Do I give a fig about a neutrino god who attempts to talk to me, but not only fails to interact with any of my electrons, but is so irrelevant that he falls through the entire planet at the speed of light almost unnoticed by any electron at all?

    The same arguments apply to Cartesian dualism. If my soul is a puppet master in another place telling my physical body to move, show me the wi-fi module, because Wilson showed there has to be one. If it “conciousness” is another property of matter, then show it in the LHC.

    As Sean Carroll pointed out, and repeated several times, there is still a huge amount of science to be done on complex systems. One of those complex systems is our brain and how it generates our conciousness.

    Sean Carroll has shown me that the discovery of the Higgs really did kill god. I am no longer an atheist who says “there is no evidence for God”, but one who can now state that “the evidence proves God either does not exist, or is utterly irrelevant”.



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  • I advise people to be careful when using what I call “double negative” skepticism. An example would be those who are skeptical of the skeptics of homeopathy. Many forms of “denialism” fit into this category. If someone presents belief in faeries at the bottom of the garden, you can rightly demand that evidence be produced for that positive assertion, and when none is given you can reasonably discard it. If someone takes a skeptical position of your skepticism about said faeries, then that person is, nearly but not quite, making a positive assertion without evidence. I say be careful, because I can’t reject double negative skepticism categorically, and that is because there are situations where we don’t have enough evidence to make a judgement for or against, so valid skepticism can exist on both sides. The argument that you don’t have enough evidence to reject the faeries, goes to the question of have you looked thoroughly enough such that absence of evidence becomes evidence of absence. I agree with Steve that at some point the chance that we are going to find spooky interaction with mental states, is now so low as to become evidence of absence.



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  • 5
    Alan4discussion says:

    When can science stop being skeptical?

    @OP – But is such skepticism really necessary? I started to question this after watching a great talk by the physicist Sean Carroll in which he explained that the physics of the human-scale world is complete.

    Hi Steve! Good to see you back and active.

    I think one of the best explanations of this is at skepticalscience.com

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.htm

    Science achieves a consensus when scientists stop arguing. When a question is first asked – like ‘what would happen if we put a load more CO2 in the atmosphere?’ – there may be many hypotheses about cause and effect. Over a period of time, each idea is tested and retested – the processes of the scientific method – because all scientists know that reputation and kudos go to those who find the right answer (and everyone else becomes an irrelevant footnote in the history of science). Nearly all hypotheses will fall by the wayside during this testing period, because only one is going to answer the question properly, without leaving all kinds of odd dangling bits that don’t quite add up. Bad theories are usually rather untidy.

    But the testing period must come to an end. Gradually, the focus of investigation narrows down to those avenues that continue to make sense, that still add up, and quite often a good theory will reveal additional answers, or make powerful predictions, that add substance to the theory.

    So a consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer. Scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over time. Not only do scientists stop arguing, they also start relying on each other’s work. All science depends on that which precedes it, and when one scientist builds on the work of another, he acknowledges the work of others through citations. The work that forms the foundation of climate change science is cited with great frequency by many other scientists, demonstrating that the theory is widely accepted – and relied upon.



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  • 7
    Steve Zara says:

    In reply to #3 by God fearing Atheist:

    Steve, you forgot to link Sean Carroll’s talk:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k.

    I recommend everyone sees it.

    I see a 4 part argument in relation to religion and mind-body duality:-

    1) A few years ago a poster (I think it was Tyler) on RD.net told the story of a Byzantine Emperor who…

    Thanks for the link. I don’t know the site’s policy regarding such links, so I was cautious and avoided it.



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  • In reply to #6 by Sample:

    One may say 0.999 recurring = 1. That’s how I envision the strength of evolution. The infinitesimal becomes meaningless.

    Mike

    On the contrary, I think that last decimal point is meaningful. It says that if someone came along with a new theory that revised or challenged some fundamental concept of evolution we wouldn’t just dismiss the theory on that basis alone.



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  • 9
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #3 by God fearing Atheist:
    >

    As Sean Carroll pointed out, and repeated several times, there is still a huge amount of science to be done on complex systems. One of those complex systems is our brain and how it generates our conciousness.

    There is some groundbreaking work being done on this.

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/imaging/bigbrain-project-makes-terabyte-map-of-a-human-brain

    For the first time ever a complete 3-D digital map of a post mortem human brain will be available online for neuroscientists and anyone who wants a better idea of what their grey matter really looks like. The new ultra-detailed model, consisting of a terabyte of data, is part of the European Human Brain Project, created in a joint effort by Canadian and German neuroscientists. With a resolution of 20 micrometers it’s the only model yet to go beyond the macroscopic level. At this degree of resolution cells 20 micrometers in diameter are visible. Although individual smaller cells can’t be seen, it’s possible to identify and analyze the distribution of cells into cortical areas and sub-layers. Previous brain mapping efforts had resolutions one-fiftieth as fine.

    http://www.euronews.com/2013/07/23/watching-the-brain-in-action/ (with video)

    Just imagine being able to surf through the brain and its 86 billion neurons – well now you can.

    Scientists have developed the first high-definition 3D model of a complete human brain – it is called Big Brain.



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  • In reply to #8 by Red Dog:

    On the contrary, I think that last decimal point is meaningful. It says that if someone came along with a new theory that revised or challenged s…

    I interpret Steve’s challenge as being a notational one. I think scientists/educators fail us when policies don’t contain levels of certainty for a particular fact (fail might be the wrong word here). It seems to me, the infinitesimal translates too closely to probable when it’s nothing of the sort. That needs to be addressed, imho. A new notational standard of certainty could be invented for claims?

    Mike



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  • I love the question because it is so easy to assume the answer is an obvious one only to run right into difficulties.

    I wonder if we might find an answer in the nature of the conjecture of things like a soul i.e. from what it arises, its properties etc vs the nature of scientific conjecture regarding what may exist but has yet to be discovered.

    Maybe in there we can find relief from the problem of skepticism. I think where I’d hope to go with that is to the question of whether or not it is even reasonable to assume the problem of skepticism applies equally well to all claims about reality.



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  • 13
    Steve Zara says:

    In reply to #1 by digibud:

    Skepticism isn’t like a coat one puts on or takes off. Science isn’t an entity that chooses to be skeptic today and not tomorrow. We can accept that evolution happened. We now have a Theory of evolution but the science part is all about the details. There is much yet to learn. What science is skepti…

    I realise we have much to learn about the structure of the electron, but surely we can no longer doubt that electrons exist. Would any scientists today when asked if electrons existed reply “well, you can’t be sure about anything in science”? I think not, indeed I hope not!

    As for consciousness, the success of scientific materialism in telling us precisely what our human-scale world is made of (including that dark matter is of no consequence for biology) means that questions we can sensibly ask about consciousness are vastly less that is commonly understood. It becomes difficult to pin down exactly what the mystery of consciousness really is if we accept that our thoughts about consciousness are necessarily physical! There are very deep philosophical consequences to the success of scientific materialism, consequences that really haven’t entered the awareness of the general public in the way that, say, evolution has.



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  • 14
    crookedshoes says:

    Steve,

    Hey man, great that you are hosting such an interesting thread. So so so many threads have been opened lately where the OP is posited and then the person who posts it never heard from again. If any of those people are here and paying attention, Steve is doing it right. You host the discussion, because it is YOUR discussion. Good form sir, good form.

    Science cannot ever stop being open to new information about any topic. The book is never closed. However, we have confidence in certain ideas that varies with the available evidence. At the present moment, I really think the book is close to closed on the physics of the human scale world. However, the biology and chemistry of that world is still pretty wide open!!!

    As for souls and such, the confidence is very very very very very very low because there has never been any evidence other that “because i think so” that has been furnished to establish these things as even “subjects” of research. Bullshit is bullshit (I bet you thought I would have changed by now — nope same old jerk as ever!) And EMOTIONAL as well!

    The soul is a different … so far, no evidence of anything to be skeptical about.

    No evidence indeed.

    PS. Great to “see” you.



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  • When can science stop being skeptical?

    When it becomes a religion?

    But even religions are skeptical to the extent that its adherents don’t always agree with all its tenets, hence all the splits leading to different sects.

    Science, it seems to me, is at its best when its conclusions are always contingent upon the best available evidence — which is the evidence that has explanatory power and has been shown by experiment to be robust. If this is the case, it means the scientist must always adopt a skeptical stance, even where s/he is convinced that a particular fact about the world is so supported by evidence and experiment as to be considered all but settled — the “all but” (the skeptical stance) is still there though.



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  • 16
    CdnMacAtheist says:

    In reply to #3 by God fearing Atheist:

    Steve, you forgot to link Sean Carroll’s talk:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k.
    I recommend everyone sees it.

    Hi GFA. Thanks for the link to this excellent talk for non-scientists by Sean Carroll.

    My understanding of Quantum Field Theory is now a little bit above Absolute Zero…. 😎

    Now I can talk more clearly about the possibility of god(s), per your last sentence…. Mac.



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  • For the longest time meteorites were dismissed as folklore. One night a meteor shower smashed all the windows in the
    French academy and they were given a second look. Science is the study of repeatable causable phenomena. I think it is grandiose to claim that gives it domain too over rare and spontaneous phenomena.

    On the other paw when a phenomenon is repeatedly caught in humbuggery, that for all practical purposes closes the question. I am quite sure there is no way to make rabbits appear in hats or statues weep without legerdemain.



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  • Thanks for the link. I don’t know the site’s policy regarding such links, so I was cautious and avoided it.

    Here is how I understand the rules, discovered empirically:

    1. you can link to someone’s site not related to you.
    2. you will be blocked from posting if you link to your own site, no matter what the material or its relevance.
    3. If you submit a news item, it can be on your site.

    There is a strange syntax for generating a clean http link. See “help with formatting”.



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  • 19
    Peter Grant says:

    I have no idea what evidence for a “soul” or anything supernatural would look like. I am skeptical that such terms even have any real meaning at all.

    Consciousness is subjective.



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  • 20
    theGreatFuzzy says:

    In reply to #6 by Sample:

    One may say 0.999 recurring = 1. That’s how I envision the strength of evolution. The infinitesimal becomes meaningless.

    0.99999… is not equal to 1 in non standard analysis, it’s infinitesimally short of 1, and infinitesimals exist in such systems. Google “0.99999 = 1 non standard” should get you a wiki-pedia hit. But I take you point, and maybe I’m splitting hairs 😉



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  • In reply to #4 by Quine:
    Sean Carroll’s talk

    There is no life after death. If you believe in life after death, tell me what particles contain the information that moves your soul from place to place. Is it electrons? Because those would be easy to notice because electrons are electrically charged. It is actually quite a lot of charge. Is it atoms? But the atoms don’t move very much when you die. If you believe that there is some way you have an immortal soul, that travels from place to place, then you are not just saying we don’t know how it works, you are saying that current knowledge of the laws of physics is wrong [And by extension, all technology based on this knowledge does not work. For example, computers and nuclear weapons must be a sham.] which means you had better give me a good reason to believe our current knowledge of the laws of physics is wrong, because it is not.
    ~ Sean Carroll (born: 1966-10-05 age: 47)



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  • In reply to #18 by Roedy:
    >

    1. you can link to someone’s site not related to you.
    2. you will be blocked from posting if you link to your own site, no matter what the material or its relevance.
    3. If you submit a news item, it can be on your site.

    — 4. even without linking you cannot mention your own site, even indirectly. Whereas you can mention a site not related to you such as the excellent blog, WhyEvolutionIsTrue, by Jerry Coyne (if you are not Jerry) or Steve Zara’s blog, zarbee (if you are not Steve).



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  • At what point do we accept some ideas as facts?

    • What are the scientific foundations of your ‘theory’.
    • What experiments can you do to prove or disprove it.
    • Publish said experiments and results so it can be reproduced and checked.

    Simple, no?



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  • In reply to #21 by Pabmusic:

    In reply to #20 by theGreatFuzzy:

    0.99999… is not equal to 1 in non standard analysis,

    Your point being?…

    Well, 0.33333… = 1/3 and if you multiply both sides by 3 you get:

     3 * (0.33333...) = 0.9999... = 1
    

    You can think of it this way: just as infinity + or – 1 = infinity, so does x + or – dx = x so even if you think of 0.9999… as 1 minus an infinitesimal, that is still equal to 1. Q. E. D.

    P.S. When I was first told that 0.9999.. = 1 back in 7th grade, I was skeptical. I did not stop being skeptical until my math teacher took me aside in the 9th grade and explained that he was going to have to show me how to do convergent series from Calculus in order for me to see why it was true. Well, he did that, and after having putting up a fight on this issue for a couple of years, I saw that it was time to set that skepticism aside, because I had the direct evidence.



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  • 27
    theGreatFuzzy says:

    In reply to #13 by Steve Zara:

    I realise we have much to learn about the structure of the electron, but surely we can no longer doubt that electrons exist. Would any scientists today when asked if electrons existed reply “well, you can’t be sure about anything in science”? I think not, indeed I hope not!

    AIUI, we have evolved to understand/interpret the world in terms of particles and waves. When we come to take a deeper look at nature we build models of it in terms on particles and wave, that’s all we can do as that’s all we understand. So first off our model of the atom is an impenitrable solid ball. Then some guy (Rutherford) uses alpha particles to show the atom consists of a central nucleus with orbiting electrons. This model is better than the old in that it makes better predictions, but is more complicated. That model is pushed till it breaks, thus we learn the limits of that model. We find we can fix the model by giving the electron spin – but this spin is a little abstract as it turns out the electron has to rotate twice on its axis to return to its original orientation! Still, this model makes better predictions than the one it was derived from. And so we go on, creating models that are better at predicting than the one before, that are more complex and that involve more abstract concepts (such as the spin just mentioned, symmetry, group theory from mathematics, etc).

    Do electrons exist?

    Yes, in the sense something exists that we can model in terms of what we understand (particles and waves plus other abstract stuff we invent along the way), and these models predict how the electron will behave in given circumstances (we use the simplest model for those circumstances, of course, so models are never wrong they’re just not suitable for the task in hand). I think Sean Carroll is saying our model of the electron is complete, at least for all but those involved in the leading edge of research (but I’m not dead sure, yet).

    However the map is not the terrain. Our models are models, they’re not the electron, what ever it is.

    Could someone come up with totally different set of models, starting from a totally different base model? Seems highly unlikely, besides a lot of work, and for little gain (AIUI, quantum models are extremely successful). Still, what about beings other than us? From another planet. I guess they may have models that differ from ours. It’s a question I’d love to know the answer to, but highly unlikely I will. Well, unless there’s an after life and they do science there. Actually, that’s an awful thought, isn’t it, to live for eternity and to eventually know everything so that you’d have nothing to discover – and so spend the rest of eternity bored. Poor old god, you have to feel sorry for him. Still, he’s omnipotent so can always top himself.



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  • 28
    theGreatFuzzy says:

    In reply to #25 by Quine:

    In reply to #21 by Pabmusic:

    In reply to #20 by theGreatFuzzy:

    0.99999… is not equal to 1 in non standard analysis,

    Your point being?…

    Well, 0.33333… = 1/3 and if you multiply both sides by 3 you get:

    Not in non-standard analysis. It’s an infinitesimal short of 1/3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/0.99999



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  • 29
    theGreatFuzzy says:

    In reply to #21 by Pabmusic:

    In reply to #20 by theGreatFuzzy:
    :

    0.99999… is not equal to 1 in non standard analysis,

    Your point being?…

    0.99999… is not equal to 1 in non standard analysis,



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  • 30
    Pabmusic says:

    In reply to #29 by theGreatFuzzy:

    0.99999… is not equal to 1 in non standard analysis,

    To which I repeat my question. What is the purpose of pointing out so obvious a fact?



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  • Let’s say you tuned into CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio to listen to two pundits review two books about the history of the Algonquin people in Canada. Pundit A liked book A and said book B was rubbish and pundit B liked book B and said book A was rubbish. Then you discovered Pundit A had read both books, but pundit B had only read book B. Whose opinion would you value more? Christian pundits are like pundit B, trashing science without knowing the first thing about it, or why we think it is so, or the consequences to our technological world if science were indeed completely wrong. They are as fraudulent as pundit B.

    Most Christians seem to have less than a grade 2 science education. They say some of the most ignorant things. They have absolutely no idea how mountainous the evidence for various scientific assertions is. Further, they have no idea how interconnected it all is. Parts of it can’t be wrong without the whole thing being wrong. Further they don’t realise the consequences of it all being wrong. None of our technology would work. But it does work..

    If Creationists are correct and the earth is flat and four cornered, modern navigation of airplanes and ships is impossible. GPS phones could not work. But they do work. So the creationists have to be wrong.



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  • In reply to #23 by Quine:

    In reply to #18 by Roedy:
    — 4. even without linking you cannot mention your own sit…

    Can you say I once wrote an essay on that called “xxxxx” on my website.
    or I once wrote an essay on that called “xxxxxx”?

    I think the intent of this rule is to stop people putting in irrelevant links to ads. I find it quite frustrating. I indirectly pointed someone to a formatted table of universal constants. It turns out that was illegal. There is no way to import the material to display inline.



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  • The Christian assertion is god intervenes only rarely in the working of the universe, but never when scientists are watching. This vaguely reminds me of the plot of some fairy story I heard as a pre-schooler. This also reminds me of magician Uri Geller’s excuse when he could not do one of his tricks.



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  • 34
    theGreatFuzzy says:

    In reply to #30 by Pabmusic:

    In reply to #29 by theGreatFuzzy:

    0.99999… is not equal to 1 in non standard analysis,

    To which I repeat my question. What is the purpose of pointing out so obvious a fact?

    In your original post you’re referring to the reals, in which 0.9999… = 1, but as I say this is not true in non-standard analysis. I doubt this is a well known fact. So my point is while something may seem intuitively obvious in one theory it may not be so in some other. Much like straight lines behave differently in euclidean and non-euclidean geometries.

    However, looking back at your original post, I can see why you consider my reply pointless in the context of whether evolution is true or not.



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  • 35
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #4 by Quine:

    The argument that you don’t have enough evidence to reject the faeries, goes to the question of have you looked thoroughly enough such that absence of evidence becomes evidence of absence. I agree with Steve that at some point the chance that we are going to find spooky interaction with mental states, is now so low as to become evidence of absence.

    For those who have not previously seen this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/the-evidence-against-god_b_682169.htmlAbsence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence.



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  • 36
    SaganTheCat says:

    I think it’s ok to say “we could, theoretically, be wrong about [insert any scientific theory]” but such statements should be given only as an example of the “going nuclear” falacy.

    in theory, science could prove there is a soul. that it looks like a person, in their clothes, but a bit see through and its interraction with the material world is entirely convenient (e.g. walks through walls but doesn’t fall through floors), but only on the proviso that all the rest of established science is wrong. therfore every scrap of evidence observed, recorded and replicated, is an illusion. Science could prove this through observing an experiment that renders everything we know about physics to be one big, constantly repeated mistake.

    so i think such polite skepticism is a waste of time. to say homeopathy might be effective but only if molecular chemistry (and by extension quantum physics etc…) is wrong still means that homeopathy is effective compared to, well nothing because baby and bathwater are long since out the window now and we must strive to find a completely new model of science that fits around water memory beliefs and still explains how our computers work and why planes stay up.

    if homeopathy can be real then so can creationism (however, either/or, not both) and so on. along with all these quack belief systems, any one could be right in its own universe but no two. a science built around homeopathy is unlikely to fit in with the science that supports healing crystals.

    Skepticism has its place, at the fringes of new scientific discoveries, but these will never have anything to say about the human experience. the polite skepticism is basically saying to the Deepak Chopras of this world; “here, have some new ways of saying what cave men used to say about a strange noise they heard”.

    for me, when an idea does not require starting science up again from scratch. it should be accepted as true a fact as you will ever need



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  • 37
    Lonevoice says:

    Dipping my toe into this discussion with a degree of trepdiation: but the OP touches on what is known as the supernatural.

    Where those who are committed to naturalism fall down is that they expect everything to be evidenced in the natural realm. By definition, however, anything supernatural will be outside of that. It’s like a man looking inside the box for evidence of something that is outside the box, not finding any and saying “Aha, it doesn’t exist!”



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  • 38
    God fearing Atheist says:

    In reply to #37 by Lonevoice:

    Dipping my toe into this discussion with a degree of trepdiation: but the OP touches on what is known as the supernatural.

    Where those who are committed to naturalism fall down is that they expect everything to be evidenced in the natural realm. By definition, however, anything supernatural will be…

    Watch the video, watch the video, watch the video!

    Now:-

    1) Which quantum fields make up the supernatural?

    2) How do they interact with the quantum fields we are made of?

    3) What corrections are required to Ken Wilson’s work?



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  • 39
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  • 40
    Seraphor says:

    In reply to #37 by Lonevoice:

    Dipping my toe into this discussion with a degree of trepdiation: but the OP touches on what is known as the supernatural.

    Where those who are committed to naturalism fall down is that they expect everything to be evidenced in the natural realm. By definition, however, anything supernatural will be…

    If you’re proposing that anything supernatural is not of the natural world and therefore cannot influence or have any effect on the natural world, then you are by extension claiming that anything supernatural cannot affect the material world. If it did have any effect on the material world we could observe and measure it and it would exist, but it doesn’t and therefore does not fall within the box labeled ‘exists’. If it did exist, then it would effect the material and natural world and would therefore be part of the natural world and cease to be supernatural.

    By definition, anything that is not in the ‘exists’ box does not exist.

    Of course I’m not claiming we know everything that’s in the ‘exists’ box, but as long as we’re playing a game of semantics…



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  • 41
    SaganTheCat says:

    In reply to #37 by Lonevoice:

    Where those who are committed to naturalism fall down is that they expect everything to be evidenced in the natural realm. By definition, however, anything supernatural will be outside of that. It’s like a man looking inside the box for evidence of something that is outside the box, not finding any and saying “Aha, it doesn’t exist!”

    fall down? really?!

    to use your box analogy, naturalism simply refers to the observed universe. that is the inside of the box. whatever goes on outside the box has no observable impact on what’s inside.

    so yes there may be ghosts and telepathy and all sorts of supernatural stuff, but the minute you make any supernatural claim, you are by definition of doing it within this universe, making a naturalistic claim.

    you see a ghost; this means one of 2 things. 1. photons have hit your eyes which must have either bounced off atoms or originated from an energy source (1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics apply in each case), which has caused your brain to construct an image that you call a ghost. 2. your brain has constructed the image without option 1, which it’s more than capable of due to the way you evolved to construct a working model of reality with minimal data which has conveyed a survival advantage over alternative designs.

    Both of these processes are explicable within nature. similar naturalisitc processes go for hearing noises, noticing a chill, or getting a strange feeling. positing there’s a 3rd option, i.e. what went on in your brain is proof of something supernatural you belive in, is an argument from personal revelation. unless you are speaking on behalf of another in which case it’s an appeal to authority.

    the man looking inside the box, claiming it doesnt exist is not a skeptic. a skeptic would say i can’t see anything in htis box, and when told it’s outside the box might well ask why you claimed it was in the box.

    any supernatural claim carries it’s own burden of proof, however, every supernatural claim ever made, is by definition a claim about nature



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  • 42
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #37 by Lonevoice:

    Dipping my toe into this discussion with a degree of trepdiation: but the OP touches on what is known as the supernatural.

    Where those who are committed to naturalism fall down is that they expect everything to be evidenced in the natural realm.

    Of course! Beyond evidenced naturalism, there is only whimsicality – defined or otherwise. It is unreasonable to expect fiction to intrude into the physical universe, Naturalist arguments, far from the asserted “falling-down”, are the only ones which stand up to testing!

    By definition, however, anything supernatural will be outside of that. It’s like a man looking inside the box for evidence of something that is outside the box,

    Ah! The weak analogies that require the invention of imaginary boxes and imaginary “outside of reality box-wall partitions”

    not finding any and saying “Aha, it doesn’t exist!”

    @35 Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence. There are no “boxes”or mysterious “outsides” within millions of light-years of Earth. The video @3 and Roedy @22 explain the material fields which would show the presence of anything else if it existed on or near Earth.



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  • “So, do we apply the same degree of certainty to questions of mind and soul?”

    Is mind a product generated by matter when matter reaches a high degree of complexity as in the human brain? Or, could it be that mind has a different origin altogether and that, instead of being generated, is subsumed into matter when matter reaches a high enough degree of complexity? Could it be that mind has been waiting all along for the human brain to evolve to incorporate it?
    If that were the case, mind would control matter and certainly be affected by it, possibly permanently so, but ultimately mind would not depend on matter and would survive its destruction.
    Where would mind come from? We don’t know. What we do know, however, is that there is a remarkable and inexplicable convergence between the workings of the cosmos and the ability of our minds to comprehend them. Why does the configuration of the cosmos resonate so elegantly with mind? Is it a coincidence, or are the source of mind and the source of the cosmos one and the same thing?

    Questions of the human scale world are by no means complete because the problem of the origin of mind is nowhere near to being resolved.



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  • 46
    Seraphor says:

    In reply to #44 by Joeboy:

    “So, do we apply the same degree of certainty to questions of mind and soul?”

    Is mind a product generated by matter when matter reaches a high degree of complexity as in the human brain? Or, could it be that mind has a different origin altogether and that, instead of being generated, is subsumed in…

    Yet another nebulous comment.

    “Is mind a product generated by matter when matter reaches a high degree of complexity as in the human brain? Or, could it be that mind has a different origin altogether and that, instead of being generated, is subsumed into matter when matter reaches a high enough degree of complexity?”

    All evidence points to the former. There is no evidence to suggest the latter. What is this level of complexity define as? Where is the cut off point? Surely the point at which a physical brain becomes complex enough to ‘receive’ this superior mind should be clearly defined, because the “minds” of beings without it would bare no resemblance to those with it. Yet we’re consistently reminded by various studies with animals that many species previously thought to be lower than us experience much the same as we do in the way of emotions and logic processing, there are even those with superior mental abilities than us in some respects.

    “Why does the configuration of the cosmos resonate so elegantly with mind?”

    I wasn’t aware it did. From my experience and from reading various articles, the configuration of the cosmos does not seem to be easily reconcilable with our limited human mind. The vast majority of scientific discoveries in the past century have emerged through incredibly abstract thinking that even some of the scientists who figured them out still don’t understand fully. These things defy all common sense and yet the evidence suggest they’re true. Our minds clearly weren’t intended to understand these things, our minds appear suited to understand a much simpler, flatter world.

    ” Is it a coincidence, or are the source of mind and the source of the cosmos one and the same thing?”

    Even if it were the case, this would be a false dichotomy, you’re missing out one much more realistic explanation. It is neither a coincidence, nor is it a case of design and perfect synergy. It is a result of positive feedback, evolution, natural selection. We live in this world and so the minds with the greatest capability of deciphering and navigating this world are better suited to surviving in it. Which adequately explains why our minds aren’t suited to understanding the things we don’t experience like the quantum world.

    “Questions of the human scale world are by no means complete because the problem of the origin of mind is nowhere near to being resolved.”

    Spoken more from your own personal ignorance on the subject than from any evaluation of current scientific understanding of the mind.



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  • 47
    parotia says:

    To answer Steve’s question directly, I would say ‘never’. It would be extremely arrogant to ignore our legacy of scientific revolutions. It may appear reasonable to consider certain theories as ‘certain’ for all practical purposes, but having been a scientist for 30 years, I am disconcerted by the current arrogance of the scientific establishment (climate science comes to mind). Denying the possibility that even our favorite theories may be wrong would expose science to the same shortcomings as those of religion. As a postscript I would submit that evolution by means of natural selection, a favorite subject here, is outside the scope of this discussion because I believe it is a tautology, a logical construct, rather than an empirically-based theory. As a result it is skepticism-proof.



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  • 48
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #44 by Joeboy:

    Questions of the human scale world are by no means complete because the problem of the origin of mind is nowhere near to being resolved.

    This is nonsense. We know that the features vaguely described as “mind”, are the evolved features of the brain. A brain which has millions of years of shared ancestry with other vertebrates.



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  • 49
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #47 by parotia:

    o answer Steve’s question directly, I would say ‘never’. It would be extremely arrogant to ignore our legacy of scientific revolutions. It may appear reasonable to consider certain theories as ‘certain’ for all practical purposes, but having been a scientist for 30 years, I am disconcerted by the current arrogance of the scientific establishment (climate science comes to mind).

    I was right with you up to that last sentence above. Who are you talking about that is a climate scientist and is “arrogant”? Because at least compared to anyone else in the public world scientists as a rule are as non arrogant as anyone and from my experience that applies the most to climate scientists who have to constantly watch their back for politically oriented BS.

    If anything I think as people who support critical thinking we should be supporting climate scientists. Politics always makes science harder one way or another whether it’s academic politics or funding politics but the climate scientists have it far worse, there are people going over every single email they ever sent to find some way to discredit them. I’ve heard plenty of climate scientists on TV and radio and they are always like Prof. Dawkins, calm and reasonable even when being attacked by mindless fools.



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  • 50
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #48 by Alan4discussion:

    This is nonsense. We know that the features vaguely described as “mind”, are the evolved features of the brain. A brain which has millions of years of shared ancestry with other vertebrates.

    So are you claiming we know everything that can be known about how the mind works? That is all I think Joeboy was saying that the mind is still a wide open problem and I agree with him on that.



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  • 51
    Seraphor says:

    In reply to #50 by Red Dog:

    In reply to #48 by Alan4discussion:

    This is nonsense. We know that the features vaguely described as “mind”, are the evolved features of the brain. A brain which has millions of years of shared ancestry with other vertebrates.

    So are you claiming we know everything that can be known about how the…

    Read Joeboy’s comment again Red Dog, he’s proposing that gap of knowledge of the mind is so wide open we can fit all sorts of gods and faeries in there. It may not be shut, but we’ve closed it a fair deal more than he’s suggesting.



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  • 52
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #47 by parotia:

    but having been a scientist for 30 years, I am disconcerted by the current arrogance of the scientific establishment (climate science comes to mind).

    I think by parading your denial hat, you have just lost any credibility you might have had as a sceptical scientist! The ad-homs against scientists in general in place of constructive evidenced comment on the OP / video, would further support this lack of credibility.

    The inability to recognise a consensus of 12,000,+ peer-reviewed climate studies is not a scientific qualification!

    To the ignorant, all knowledge is arrogant!



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  • 53
    QuestioningKat says:

    Good to see you Steve. Hope you have a finished book in hand.

    Since, I am not a scientist, I will only comment on the personal dynamics of the situation….

    Because of this, I sometimes hear scientists and rationalists say that we can’t deny the existence of telepathy, or ghosts, or life after death, because physics might change in a century or two.

    Perhaps this is said because someone (maybe a family member) has had an experience which was “fuzzy” and their mind filled in the details to create an understandable story. Are the listeners/scientists not considering that this is a psychological/neurological issue and are “keeping” an open mind”? or not? Consider a very real possibility that they do not want to rock the boat by being confrontational. Many rational people do not want to push an issue because it could make them look bad in front of friends or family members and create a personal dynamics in which they are viewed as a problem person. IMO, if someone doesn’t listen to the factual reasons that people are addressing here, call them out on it. Are you trying to protect cherished views of someone by being polite, or do you really think this is possible considering these facts? What gives?

    There are plenty of areas of physics where there is continuing mystery, but they are at scales of reality which have absolutely no consequence for our human existence….And yet, I have, several times, come across people who say that dark matter might have something to do with consciousness or the soul! No, it definitely can’t!

    Are these scientists or new age deists? I had a thread long ago about people having a problem tracing situations back to its origin or cause. To do so takes knowledge and the willingness to accept that one is not educated in all aspects of life and certain topics or subjects. (Sometimes it takes the willingness to listen to someone else who is an expert in an area other than your own rather than thinking the facts aren’t all in yet.) The process can also be hair splitting and stressful since much effort and objectivity can be involved. Some people would rather see that Divine Spirit flowed through someone rather than acknowledging the decades or experience and practice, trial and error, attempts at mastery, good higher education, the pursuit of excellence, educational techniques utilized by a superior teacher, parental involvement, appropriate personality, temperament, intellect, exposure to peer influences and professional development, etc……….. lead to their exceptional abilities.

    Frequently, I have noticed that scientists who refute evolution or accept woo are those that have no background in a directly related science. In the past, I’ve noticed a dentist, engineer, neurosurgeon and others who are highly opinionated at expressing their pro woo or creationist views. Being an expert in one area does not necessarily translate or apply to another. Unfortunately, they don’t see it this way.

    Personally speaking, I shake my head in confusion that people who are more scientifically literate than I am cannot see through their flawed thinking. As I have stated in the past, I am a nonbeliever because of many reasons other than science. Perhaps these individuals need to be exposed to another approach in order for them to see the irrationality of their views; obviously, facts have not made a difference or at least they have not been exposed to any relevant ones. Expose them to crucial information and if they still overlook the information, recognize that something else is going on.



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  • 54
    Peter Grant says:

    I’ve always looked at it this way. If I lived in a universe where the supernatural was possible I’d just Know it. I’d also probably try to kill it, like in the show Supernatural.



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  • 55
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #51 by Seraphor:

    Read Joeboy’s comment again Red Dog, he’s proposing that gap of knowledge of the mind is so wide open we can fit all sorts of gods and faeries in there. It may not be shut, but we’ve closed it a fair deal more than he’s suggesting.

    Oh. Well that’s BS of course.



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  • 56
    parotia says:

    In reply to #52 by Alan4discussion:

    I think by parading your denial hat, you have just lost any credibility you might have had as a sceptical scientist! Th…

    You just illustrated my point about arrogance. And I am not talking about the repeated use of exclamation marks.



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  • 57
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #56 by parotia:

    You just illustrated my point about arrogance.

    Still nothing of substance to say? – No evidence, no reasoning, no science!

    And I am not talking about the repeated use of exclamation marks.

    . . . . . .. .Or anything else of consequence!

    To the ignorant and superficial, all knowledge is arrogant!



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  • 58
    Peter Grant says:

    In reply to #56 by parotia:

    You just illustrated my point about arrogance. And I am not talking about the repeated use of exclamation marks.

    Your intellectual arrogance is much greater.



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  • 59
    Red Dog says:

    I was just reading a book by Chomsky (this is Chomsky the linguist not the political Chomsky) where he made a point that I think is relevant here. He starts out talking about the vision system. We know that humans are predisposed to view things certain ways. For example, the data your brain gets from your eye when an object is receding from you could actually be interpreted multiple ways. The way we see it is because the visions system is predisposed to think it’s always seeing solid objects moving through space (as opposed to objects that can arbitrarily shrink or grow in size). Chomsky then says there are analogies in Linguistics, for example the way we interpret sentences that are gramatically ambiguous follow certain patterns and these patterns are interestingly enough consistent across various languages.

    The speculation he makes is that these are examples of a more important phenomenon, that is that there are inherent constraints on the way we understand the world that are imposed by our evolutionary past. It’s obviously true in the vision example but he makes a good case that it is true in Linguistics as well and then he makes the interesting point that these constraints could even be hard coded into the fundamental paradigms we use to understand the world. A possible example is the law of cause and effect. Try to imagine a world where that doesn’t hold, I find it impossible to imagine. But in quantum entanglement you can make a case that cause and effect is just right out the window.

    So the point is that part of our limits to understanding may be hard coded into our brains via our genes. As we learn more we may find more examples such as entanglement where the common sense concepts we inherit from our genes break down when we consider things that our ancestors never had to worry about.

    That is a long rambling way of saying I don’t have any fears that science is going to end soon and I see absolutely no valid reason why we should suddenly say that we need to pretend that we have some final knowledge and should now speak of facts rather than theories.



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  • 60
    God fearing Atheist says:

    In reply to #54 by Peter Grant:

    I’ve always looked at it this way. If I lived in a universe where the supernatural was possible I’d just Know it. I’d also probably try to kill it, like in the show Supernatural.

    We do live in a “supernatural” world. Imagine taking someone from the 16th century for a ride on a maglev train while taking to a mate on your mobile. It would freak them out. But, oh no, that “supernatural” is not good enough for fucktards.



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  • 61
    Peter Grant says:

    In reply to #60 by God fearing Atheist:

    I like your comment, except my understanding of supernatural feels like something unclean. Perhaps this is an example of the naturalistic fallacy, but it is only a feeling…



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  • 62
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #50 by Red Dog:
    >

    In reply to #48 by Alan4discussion:

    This is nonsense. We know that the features vaguely described as “mind”, are the evolved features of the brain. A brain which has millions of years of shared ancestry with other vertebrates.

    So are you claiming we know everything that can be known about how the mind works? That is all I think Joeboy was saying that the mind is still a wide open problem and I agree with him on that.

    No. I am claiming that the physics described in the OP and the video, eliminates claims of “new ‘supernatural’ physics” interacting with the physical world on Earth, without being detected from effects in known (magnetic, gravitational etc) fields.

    We don’t know all of how the brain works, but that does not mean we do not know that it works on atoms and energy! That is the point both Steve and Sean Carroll’s linked video make!



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  • 63
    SaganTheCat says:

    In reply to #47 by parotia:

    As a postscript I would submit that evolution by means of natural selection, a favorite subject here, is outside the scope of this discussion because I believe it is a tautology, a logical construct, rather than an empirically-based theory.

    what sort of scientist are you?



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  • 64
    parotia says:

    In reply to #63 by SaganTheCat:

    In reply to #47 by parotia:

    what sort of scientist are you?

    Avian ecologist, if that’s of any interest. And yes I do publish regularly in peer-reviewed journals. As for the comment on evolution/natural selection, I realize it may sound heretic to many readers of this excellent website, but I invite you to ckeck out “A Critique for Ecology” (1991) by the late Robert Henry Peters, who developed the idea in detail. It’s an incisive book, which led me to question a lot of received wisdom in my field, to become a skeptic.



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  • 65
    parotia says:

    In reply to #63 by SaganTheCat:

    In reply to #47 by parotia:

    what sort of scientist are yo…

    Oh and in case of doubt, I do completely subscribe to the idea of evolution by means of natural selection, don’t get me wrong.



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  • 66
    foundationist says:

    Hi Steve, as always very stimulating ideas and an interesting discussion so far. I think the problem with most “supernatural” – I don’t really like the word – claims is that it is almost impossible to imagine what would constitute valid evidence. Most of them are deliberately constructed to be untestable, hence the name.

    I think one therefore has to employ both the principled stance of the skeptic scientist (“I cannot completely rule out the existence of consciousness without a material basis.”) and the practical stance of a rational person (“I cannot even begin to imagine what evidence for such a claim could look like.”). For all practical purposes I adopt the second stance, but as a matter of abstract principle I follow the first one.

    Red Dog:

    The speculation he makes is that these are examples of a more important phenomenon, that is that there are inherent constraints on the way we understand the world that are imposed by our evolutionary past.

    That is a sort of speculation that I also like to engage in. It took us several thousand years to realize that the deeply ingrained notion of what a straight line is like was flawed because of our “middle world” evolution. The same is true for quantum mechanics. The famous Landau-Lifshitz course on quantum mechanics begins with the observation that we inhabit a world in which the speed of light is infinite and Plancks constant is zero. If you insert this in the relativistic and quantum mechanical equations you get classical physics, the physics we can intuitively understand.

    Now, what if at some fundamental level the universe violates a rule that our brains are so hard-wired for, that we simply cannot let go of it? What if one or more of the fundamental rules of logic are not universally true? That would mean there really are things we can never understand. This is after all true for every other species we know of. There are truths about the Cosmos even the most sophisticated Chimp can never understand, not because they are not understandable in principle, but because he is a Chimp.

    Of course, it would be strange in the extreme if these things beyond our understanding would have been correctly described in our ancient fairy tales and superstitions, the origins of which we understand all too well.



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  • 67
    SaganTheCat says:

    In reply to #64 by parotia:

    In reply to #63 by SaganTheCat:

    In reply to #47 by parotia:

    OK well 1991 was a long time ago, before the Lenski e coli results were published even. I just thought stating it’s not an emperically based theory was a bit rich considering it’s consinued survival over the last 150odd years of deniers screaming for evidence

    edit: googled it and realise it’s not a critique on natural selection, sorry!



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  • 69
    parotia says:

    In reply to #67 by SaganTheCat:

    OK well 1991 was a long time ago, before the Lenski e coli results were published even. I just thought stating it’s not an emperically based theory was a bit rich considering it’s consinued survival over the l…

    I agree that would be rich (to say the least) to claim there is no empirical evidence to support Darwin. Peters’ point was rather that Darwin’s idea does not require evidence, because it is entirely a logical construction. An extraordinarily simple and powerful one, which offers no room for skepticism, unless one is prepared to throw logic out the window. What is open to skepticism here (to stay in the topic) is the precise way in which evolution played out over the millions of years. Skepticism is welcome here, since new evidence keeps challenging theories about various aspects of our evolutionary history.



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  • To those who argue that all the evidence points to mind being generated by matter, by the brain to be precise, I have a problem.

    If you are right, the tendency of baryonic matter to arrange itself into ever more complex carbon based configurations suggests that the universe has been on a progressive path towards self awareness ever since the first hydrogen molecules were formed soon after the big bang. What I find hard to accept, however, is that this self awareness achieved by the universe, in the form human beings, is capable of comprehending the workings of the universe that spawned it. If life had stopped developing, say, at the animal stage, where self awareness is limited to and focussed on its own survival, which is what I would expect self-awareness to be, then perhaps I could accept that mind comes from matter.

    However, the fact that the universe is intelligible to the human mind, that its workings are the same here as they are one billion light years away, or the same now as they were a billion years ago, and are even the same we suspect in those parts of the universe we can never see, or would have been the same in those parts that no longer exist, points to a capability which utterly transcends the impetus to survive. How could this extraordinary capability have emerged out of mere baryonic matter? That is the problem I have.



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  • 71
    godzillatemple says:

    In reply to #70 by Joeboy:

    However, the fact that the universe is intelligible to the human mind..

    Well, to some human minds, at least. Or so they claim. I just finished watching Sean Carroll’s talk and found it utterly fascinating. I have no way of telling whether any of it is actually true, however, since my brain simply cannot comprehend the notion that particles do not exist and that all matter is made up up waves interacting with fields. Or something like that. I also get a bit nervous when he talks about the things we know are true, such as the existence of gravitons, which I thought were still just considered to be hypothetical and impossibly impractical to ever actually detect. And then, of course, there’s all the talk about string theory and 10-dimensional space which may all perhaps be true, but which the average human mind is just not equipped to understand.

    So, yeah. On the whole, I’d have to say that the fundamental deep mysteries of the universe are in no way intelligible to my mind, and I sometimes question whether they really are intelligible to anybody’s mind…



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  • In reply to #28 by theGreatFuzzy:

    Thank you very much for that link. I did not know that this item of skepticism was common in education, as I was the only student in my classes to have this problem (much to the displeasure of other students who wanted me to give it up and “just believe”). It makes me feel much better about those memories to know that the issue is not so trivial in education. I especially liked this paper about trying to help such students.

    It does bring up the point of when it is reasonable to put a given skeptical position aside and to go with the presented evidence. Science has the luxury of waiting, in general, for evidence to be made stronger by repeated experiment. Law often does not, and juries must make a decision based on what evidence is available, and move on. Something like taking action to reduce Global Warming is somewhat in between because of the potential great cost of waiting for the representation of skeptics to be reduced by another couple of percentage points.

    For me, it took learning how to do convergence calculations in infinite series to drop my skepticism about 0.9999… but it was a good lesson in following evidence and being willing to change positions based thereon.



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  • 73
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #70 by Joeboy:

    If you are right, the tendency of baryonic matter to arrange itself into ever more complex carbon based configurations

    There is no evidence of any such general tendency. The complexity of life forms can increase or decrease. Evolution has no purpose or direction. It just explores the possible, with natural selection picking out what works in the current environment.

    suggests that the universe has been on a progressive path towards self awareness ever since the first hydrogen molecules were formed soon after the big bang.

    Not at all. It merely suggests that nuclear fusion creates heavy elements which are capable of chemical reactions. There is no evidence of “self awareness” in 99.99999999%+ of the universe.

    What I find hard to accept, however, is that this self awareness achieved by the universe, in the form human beings, is capable of comprehending the workings of the universe that spawned it.

    Currently it isn’t. Like other animals, humans only understand parts of it, and then only some individuals understand some parts of it. Self awareness is a property of living organisms not “the universe”.

    If life had stopped developing, say, at the animal stage,

    While human brains have features which are further developed than in many other animals, there is no evidence that they are fundamentally different. Indeed for millions of years humans shared common ancestors with the rest of Earth life.

    where self awareness is limited to and focussed on its own survival, which is what I would expect self-awareness to be,

    This just looks like personal incredulity. Lots of research is turning up features in animals on which humans previously claimed exclusivity. Humans are just another animal which has some special adaptations.

    then perhaps I could accept that mind comes from matter.

    If you can understand animal minds running on the normal basis of atoms and energy, it would appear that some theist mind-block or egotism, is your only problem obstructing your understanding the physical basis brain functions. There is no evidence that the brain functions of “mind” come from any other source.

    How could this extraordinary capability have emerged out of mere baryonic matter? That is the problem I have.

    The disparaging view of “mere chemistry” is your problem!

    There is absolutely nothing unusual in an animal brain remembering and interpreting a map or 3D map, or understanding some of the properties of materials at particular locations. Numerous mammals, birds, and insects, are capable of this, with some showing much greater capability than the average human.



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  • 74
    foundationist says:

    In reply to #70 by Joeboy:

    How could this extraordinary capability have emerged out of mere baryonic matter?

    It ain’t the meat it’s the motion….

    The mind is not the sum of the atoms, it’s the dance of the atoms, layers and layers of complexity, strange loops and levels of self-reference, the most intricate active pattern in the known universe, as removed from the stupid neurons as the plot of a literary masterpiece is from the letters that are used in it, all designed through hundreds of millions of years of evolution through natural selection. It’s mind boggling, but no longer a fundamental mystery.



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  • Neat discussion so far. It’s difficult to think outside of the box on this one but I’m trying. So I think we all agree that skepticism is a type of “triumph” of the brain. I think a nuanced take on the word instinct could be used as a precursor to skepticism along a metaphorical spectrum of cognition. Is there a place for something beyond skepticism on that spectrum? Certainty X? What are the knowable pros and cons of such a position?

    Mike



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  • 76
    spicciurro says:

    I kind of want to add to this with a bit of a rant involved if that is okay, I am studying Neuroscience and during my perceptions course we were discussing the differences in male and female perceptions. I’m someone who has a lot of interest in this area considering after I finish the study I’m interning on right now I want to write my own thesis and start networking to find someone to start doing more research on critical hormonal periods in the females brain chemistry and how it relates to the severity of their degree of mental illness and coping strategies. Anyways, back to what I was saying, the professor who has a Ph.D in Cognitive Psychology didn’t seem to know much about the subject! So of course I was adding to it and was somewhat teaching the class with a lot of my knowledge of how evolutionary biology plays a role in a sex’s role in society and perception of society based on the conditioning of the brain over time. Example: A man is better at problem solving because that has been his role to solve practical problems, while the female has more emotional connections because that has been their role over time. This is FACTUAL information in which there have been studies done to provide supporting empirical evidence. My professor stops me from what I was saying and adds “What you are saying isn’t valid information because it can only be believed if you believe in evolution”. I started to giggle out of impulse because I was in absolute shock. Then I proposed if she wanted me to provide her with the name of the studies and what journals she could find them in and she seemed pissed.

    I just didn’t know how to compose myself in the situation, and since I’m a young grad student and have a lot to learn still, I would love some advice about how to approach a professor who is so ignorant bred with arrogance.



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  • 77
    suzeeveronica says:

    I kind of want to add to this with a bit of a rant involved if that is okay, I am studying Neuroscience and during my perceptions course we were discussing the differences in male and female perceptions. I’m someone who has a lot of interest in this area considering after I finish the study I’m interning on right now I want to write my own thesis and start networking to find someone to start doing more research on critical hormonal periods in the females brain chemistry and how it relates to the severity of their degree of mental illness and coping strategies. Anyways, back to what I was saying, the professor who has a Ph.D in Cognitive Psychology didn’t seem to know much about the subject! So of course I was adding to it and was somewhat teaching the class with a lot of my knowledge of how evolutionary biology plays a role in a sex’s role in society and perception of society based on the conditioning of the brain over time. Example: A man is better at problem solving because that has been his role to solve practical problems, while the female has more emotional connections because that has been their role over time. This is FACTUAL information in which there have been studies done to provide supporting empirical evidence. My professor stops me from what I was saying and adds “What you are saying isn’t valid information because it can only be believed if you believe in evolution”. I started to giggle out of impulse because I was in absolute shock. Then I proposed if she wanted me to provide her with the name of the studies and what journals she could find them in and she seemed pissed.

    I just didn’t know how to compose myself in the situation, and since I’m a young grad student and have a lot to learn still, I would love some advice about how to approach a professor who is so ignorant bred with arrogance.



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  • In reply to #76 by spicciurro:

    I had just written my first paper on group selection and was driving to Harvard to convince E.O. Wilson to sponsor it for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences. I decided to visit George at Stony Brook along the way and strode into his office with the words “I’m going to convince you about group selection.” His response was to offer me a postdoctoral position on the spot. Evolution for Everyone

    The epitome of how a professor should behave, imho: “I’ll give you a job to prove me wrong.”

    Mike



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  • 79
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #76 by spicciurro:

    I kind of want to add to this with a bit of a rant involved if that is okay, I am studying Neuroscience and during my perceptions course we were discussing the differences in male and female perceptions. I’m someone who has a lot of interest in this area considering after I finish the study I’m inte…

    Actually, I think you are over generalizing in the way you describe male/female roles. Saying that women are “emotional” and men are good “problem solvers” is not warranted from the stuff I’ve read, although that is I’m sure not as extensive as what you have in mind. Actually, I would be curious for a reference or two.

    But I think I know what point you are making, I’ve made similar points on different threads here. That is just amazing about the teacher. So was she saying that she just doesn’t believe in evolution (in which case she has no right teaching a science class) or that she just felt that for political or methodological reasons evolution wasn’t relevant to psychology (almost equally stupid but at least not completely unheard of unfortunately).

    As for advice,… get used to it. Actually I never completed a PhD so I’m not a good person to advise on the topic but from my experience with Academia you have more frustration like that (although hopefully not quite that blatantly stupid) ahead.



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  • 80
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #74 by foundationist:

    The mind is not the sum of the atoms, it’s the dance of the atoms, layers and layers of complexity, strange loops and levels of self-reference, the most intricate active pattern in the known universe, as removed from the stupid neurons as the plot of a literary masterpiece is from the letters that are used in it, all designed through hundreds of millions of years of evolution through natural selection. It’s mind boggling, but no longer a fundamental mystery.

    For those who need to expand on their understanding from a baseline, I have just put this link

    Neuroscience For Kids – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

    on this thread: http://www.www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2013/10/28/smart-neurons-single-neuronal-dendrites-can-perform-computations#

    There is often a misconception that neurons could be binary calculators like computers. As you point out, – They are not!



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  • 81
    Lonevoice says:

    In reply to #42 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #37 by Lonevoice:
    Ah! The weak analogies that require the invention of imaginary boxes and imaginary “outside of reality box-wall partitions”

    You don’t believe thousands of years of spiritual writings, and I don’t accept 200 years of evolutionary theories. You surely didn’t expect me to say anything that would settle the matter in 7 or 8 lines, did you?



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  • In reply to #80 by Lonevoice:

    You don’t believe thousands of years of spiritual writings, …

    And, I don’t believe hundreds of thousands of years of my ancestors claiming that the world is flat.



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  • 83
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #80 by Lonevoice:

    You don’t believe thousands of years of spiritual writings,

    Virtually all religions & cultures have various supernatural entities

    Did you have in mind some particular method of choosing the ones not to believe in? – Or do you believe in all of them?

    and I don’t accept 200 years of evolutionary theories.

    That lack of personal knowledge makes absolutely no difference to the workings of observable evolutionary processes!



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  • In reply to #73 by Alan4discussion:

    There is indeed strong evidence of the tendency of baryonic matter arrange itself into more complex carbon based compounds, as any deep observation of giant molecular clouds or planetary nebulae will reveal. The galaxy is literally awash with the building blocks of life. To declare otherwise is to go in the face of the evidence.



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  • In reply to #74 by foundationist:

    “It’s mind boggling, but no longer a fundamental mystery”

    Your explanation of how mind emerges from matter, although mind boggling, does nothing to shed light on this fundamental mystery.



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  • 87
    Pabmusic says:

    In reply to #80 by Lonevoice:

    In reply to #42 by Alan4discussion:
    You don’t believe thousands of years of spiritual writings, and I don’t accept 200 years of evolutionary theories.

    No amount of writings – nor their age – can make what they contain true. This alone is a good reason for not accepting ancient writings as an explanation for our world. (This is quite independent of the fact that there are so many ancient writings that are contradictory. Which ones do you mean? And why do you select them and not other ancient writings?)

    Now just why is it that you reject “200 years of evolutionary theories”? It can’t be for lack of evidence, for that is overwhelming and comes from many different scientific disciplines. Indeed, evolution may well among be the best-evidenced of scientific theories, on a par with the germ theory of disease or atomic theory.

    Understanding why you reject something that looks suspiciously like truth in favour of belief in ancient writings might help answer the OP’s question, after all.



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  • 88
    Pabmusic says:

    In reply to #85 by Joeboy:

    A greater understanding of the functioning of the brain does not explain the creation of mind.

    Mmmm… But a greater understanding of the workings of the brain does help use to realise that the “mind” is a property of the brain and not something independent of it.



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  • 89
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #85 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #79 by Alan4discussion:

    A greater understanding of the functioning of the brain does not explain the creation of mind.

    Actually it helps, but the formation of the “mind” is the evolution of the brain – once one discounts magic spells and magic fairy-dust as a pseudo-explanation!



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  • In reply to #85 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #79 by Alan4discussion:

    A greater understanding of the functioning of the brain does not explain the creation of mind.

    A greater understanding of legs and feet does not explain running. However, if you are going to get to understand running, it does help to understand legs and feet.



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  • 91
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #83 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #73 by Alan4discussion:

    There is indeed strong evidence of the tendency of baryonic matter arrange itself into more complex carbon based compounds, as any deep observation of giant molecular clouds or planetary nebulae will reveal. The galaxy is literally awash with the building blocks of life. To declare otherwise is to go in the face of the evidence.

    That is so, but it is not your original claim. Your erroneous claim was:

    @70 – If you are right, the tendency of baryonic matter to arrange itself into ever more complex carbon based configurations suggests that the universe has been on a progressive path towards self awareness ever since the first hydrogen molecules were formed soon after the big bang.

    Alan – There is no evidence of any such general tendency. The complexity of life forms can increase or decrease. Evolution has no purpose or direction. It just explores the possible, with natural selection picking out what works in the current environment.

    ..and my reply made it clear I was talking about life processes. Organic chemicals do not have “a progressive path towards self awareness”! Neither do simple life forms, Nor do hydrogen atoms have any “tendencies or paths towards self awareness”! They only have tendencies to clump under the influence of gravity and to fuse when under sufficient pressure – or to form molecules in combination with other atoms.

    As I pointed out:-

    Alan @73 – Not at all. It merely suggests that nuclear fusion creates heavy elements which are capable of chemical reactions. There is no evidence of “self awareness” in 99.99999999%+ of the universe.

    they are simply chemical processes, producing molecules, some of which may or may not, be incorporated in life processes, and which may or may not, lead to some intelligent life in a diversity of life forms.

    You seem to be playing some slippery semantics to angle for a bit of supernatural gapology!



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  • In reply to #90 by Alan4discussion:

    “Organic chemicals do not have “a progressive path towards self awareness”!”

    Yes they must if you argue that mind is the product of matter. All it takes are the right conditions. Once those exist, organic chemicals develop into simple life, simple life evolves into complex life, and complex life generates mind. What is lacking is not the propensity of matter to achieve self-awareness, but the ideal conditions under which each process towards self awareness can be achieved. The potential is always there. It is built into the universe from its very inception, from the time the first hydrogen nuclei were formed.

    You seem to be in denial in the face of overwhelming evidence concerning the behaviour of baryonic matter.



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  • In reply to #89 by Quine:

    “A greater understanding of legs and feet does not explain running. However, if you are going to get to understand running, it does help to understand legs and feet”.

    Legs and feet on their own do not explain running any more than they explain skipping or hopping. It is the mind which determines the act of running, skipping or hopping, not the legs and feet.



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  • In reply to #88 by Alan4discussion:

    ” ..the formation of the “mind” is the evolution of the brain..”

    So you keep saying but you produce no evidence of it.



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  • In reply to #87 by Pabmusic:

    “a greater understanding of the workings of the brain does help use to realise that the “mind” is a property of the brain and not something independent of it”

    In what way does a greater understanding of the brain lead to the conclusion that mind is a property of it? All a greater understanding of the brain leads to is a greater understanding of the brain.



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  • 96
    Steve Zara says:

    In reply to #85 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #79 by Alan4discussion:

    A greater understanding of the functioning of the brain does not explain the creation of mind.

    I believe it logically has to. Why? Because ‘mind’ is a concept present in our physical brains. It has to be present in our physical brains for us to be able to talk about it. The origin of the concept of ‘mind’ therefore has to be entirely physical. Whatever we may think about our minds, all of those thoughts are physical processes, because if they were not, we could not talk of them!

    This is one of the areas where I see that science has passed the point at which continued scepticism is necessary – the brain and its thoughts are physical, arising within a biologically evolved system. Some philosophy and theology may struggle and squirm to escape that fact, but it’s just not going to work – our mind has a purely physical origin, as every thought we think, including our feelings and experiences, are present in the ever-changing network of neural activity.



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  • 97
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #91 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #90 by Alan4discussion:

    “Organic chemicals do not have “a progressive path towards self awareness”!”

    Yes they must if you argue that mind is the product of matter.

    No they don’t The vast majority of organic chemicals in nebulae have nothing to do with life or minds.

    All it takes are the right conditions. Once those exist, organic chemicals develop into simple life,

    Only a tiny percentage of those in the Solar system , let alone the galaxy have done so, although “the right conditions” begs the question!

    simple life evolves into complex life,

    In a minority of cases. – Taking billions of years on Earth.

    and complex life generates mind.

    In a small minority of species.

    What is lacking is not the propensity of matter to achieve self-awareness,

    Neither matter nor life has a propensity to evolve into intelligent or to have the ill -defined term “self awareness”. These are simply thrown up by evolution in a very small minority of species, using a tiny percentage of available matter. The vast majority of organisms are single cells or very simple life-forms.

    but the ideal conditions under which each process towards self awareness can be achieved.

    This is a circular argument attributing purpose with the benefit of hindsight. As I pointed out earlier, evolution does not have purposes, objectives, or achievement targets. Organisms simply adapt to compete. Most past or present organisms were neither intelligent nor living in “ideal conditions”.

    The potential is always there. It is built into the universe from its very inception,

    There is no evidence the universe was “built”. Similarly there is no reason to attribute anthropomorphic purposes or potentials to the universe. All the evidence is that it simply runs on the laws of physics with gradually increasing entropy. If you are suggesting some sort of creator-god you need evidence of its existence and how IT came to be created. Occam would be against you in this!

    from the time the first hydrogen nuclei were formed.

    Actually it has been running on the laws of physics since before the first hydrogen atoms formed.

    Graphical timeline of the Big Bang

    You seem to be in denial in the face of overwhelming evidence concerning the behaviour of baryonic matter.

    Nope! You seem to be confusing “physics” with “anthropomorphic objectives and purposes”, for which there is no evidence whatever.

    I would have thought someone quoting ” baryonic matter”, would have been aware of processes in the big-bang prior to the first hydrogen nuclei being formed, and the absence of any anthropomorphic “purposes” in the processes involved.



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  • 98
    Pabmusic says:

    In reply to #94 by Joeboy:

    … In what way does a greater understanding of the brain lead to the conclusion that mind is a property of it? All a greater understanding of the brain leads to is a greater understanding of the brain.

    In reply to #92 by Joeboy:

    … Legs and feet on their own do not explain running any more than they explain skipping or hopping. It is the mind which determines the act of running, skipping or hopping, not the legs and feet.

    No. It is the brain that determines running, by numerous signals to muscles and to other parts of the brain (including that which allows us an awareness of what’s happening).

    You seem to calling these functions of the ‘mind’, and then asserting that the mind is separate from the functions of the brain. In other words, there is an entity (the ‘mind’) that exists apart from the brain.

    There certainly seems to be no evidence for that, but plenty of evidence that our sense of awareness comes from the brain, which can be fooled into believing that we can exist outside our bodies (the rubber arm illusion is the classic here –

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFjY1fAcESs#t=11).



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  • 99
    Steve Zara says:

    In reply to #94 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #87 by Pabmusic:

    “a greater understanding of the workings of the brain does help use to realise that the “mind” is a property of the brain and not something independent of it”

    In what way does a greater understanding of the brain lead to the conclusion that mind is a property of it? A…

    Because if the mind was not a property of the brain then it could not have causal influence on the brain and we could not talk of it (unless the mind was abstract or fictional).



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  • 100
    Pabmusic says:

    In reply to #98 by Steve Zara:

    Because if the mind was not a property of the brain then it could not have causal influence on the brain and we could not talk of it (unless the mind was abstract or fiction

    Exactly.



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  • 101
    thebluepill says:

    At what point do we accept some ideas as facts?

    Well, the point at which something becomes a fact is when it is beyond dispute that our descriptions about something we are observing are correct. That there can be no other explanation or description for whatever we are observing than that the world works in the way we are describing or explaining it. That decision is taken when repeated observations are made by independent witnesses who concur that the observations are correct. If you talk about the soul then first you have to observe the soul in some way that is observable. Your observations would have to locate the soul. You would have to say where the soul is and what observations you have made about it. Where do you begin? What instruments could locate the soul for us? Suppose I asked you if science should investigate the nature of the muhuganumph. You would rightly ask me where we should begin, and if I said well its rumoured to exist but I dont know where then you would be right to ask how I know it exists. If I say “oh I dont know it exists I just have a feeling it does” you would be of sound mind to keep your research money safely locked away where my muhuganumph exploration laboratory cant get hold of it



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  • 102
    Joeboy says:

    In reply to #95 by Steve Zara:

    “Because ‘mind’ is a concept present in our physical brains. It has to be present in our physical brains for us to be able to talk about it. The origin of the concept of ‘mind’ therefore has to be entirely physical. Whatever we may think about our minds, all of those thoughts are physical processes, because if they were not, we could not talk of them!”

    Consider the logical consequences of what you are claiming.

    If you claim that mind emerges from matter, how does one account for its capability which utterly transcends the needs of matter? Such capability includes not only a comprehension of the universe and an awareness of the current limits of that comprehension, but also speculation as to why the universe exists at all.

    If mind emerges from matter, then the universe is configured to create self awareness where conditions permit it. We represent the universe becoming self aware and, inasmuch as we question our own existence, it is the universe which is questioning its existence. The universe must then be a living thing, still relatively young in the scheme of things, which over aeons of time will create more and more instances of self awareness as matter coalesces to create life.

    This conclusion flies directly in the face of claims that the universe is hostile to life and that life is a freak occurrence in an otherwise sterile meaningless cosmos. Thanks to orbital telescopes and more powerful radio telescopes, what is emerging is a galaxy brimming with complex carbon based chemicals, all of which are waiting for the right conditions to achieve intelligent life. Multiply that billions of times across the cosmos and you have a universe destined for widespread self-awareness in the billions of years to come.



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  • 103
    Joeboy says:

    In reply to #96 by Alan4discussion:

    “If you are suggesting some sort of creator-god you need evidence of its existence and how IT came to be created.”

    No I am not; there is no need. In a universe where mind emerges from matter, it is the universe itself which is the creator-god, but it is a god which is continually creating itself towards greater complexity and ultimate self awareness.



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  • In reply to #102 by Joeboy:

    No I am not; there is no need. In a universe where mind emerges from matter, it is the universe itself which is the creator-god, but it is a god which is continually creating itself towards greater complexity and ultimate self awareness.

    “I reject your reality, and substitute my own”. Fitting words.



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  • 105
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #102 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #96 by Alan4discussion:

    “If you are suggesting some sort of creator-god you need evidence of its existence and how IT came to be created.”

    No I am not; there is no need. In a universe where mind emerges from matter, it is the universe itself which is the creator-god,

    This is simply an anthropomorphic projections on to the natural forces described by physics.

    but it is a god which is continually creating itself towards greater complexity and ultimate self awareness.

    I have already made the point that the quantity of matter involved in “self aware” (however that is defined) organisms, is infinitesimal in proportion to the matter in the universe. Life needs external energy from an external source just to exist at all against the flow of entropy.
    The whole definition of “consciousness” and “self-awareness” is usually a circular question-begging definition of “human mentality” – often based on theist or deist egotistical needs to exclude other intelligent animals and put humans at the centre of the universe as an up-date development of geocentricism.

    It is the supernatural claim that humans exclusively at some time in their history acquired “souls”. There is no credible explanation of how this could have happened without suspending evidenced rationality and invoking god-magic!

    @101 -to Steve – If you claim that mind emerges from matter, how does one account for its capability which utterly transcends the needs of matter?

    The assertion that human or other intelligent thought “transcends the needs of matter” is unevidenced, and incoherent question begging.
    Does science say matter has needs???

    Such capability includes not only a comprehension of the universe and an awareness of the current limits of that comprehension, but also speculation as to why the universe exists at all.

    This is a non-sequiteur based on the earlier false assumption. Many animals have a mental map of their environments at various scales and at various levels of completeness. The suggestion that this is in some way exceptional other than purely a matter of scale is simply personal incredulity. – Not to mention, that the vast majority of humans have a tiny sphere of perceptions in proportion to those of space scientists, let alone perceptions of the scale of the Earth, Solar System, galaxy or universe.

    If mind emerges from matter, then the universe is configured to create self awareness where conditions permit it.

    Again, – There is nothing special here. Intelligent life is merely a side effect which affects a tiny proportion of matter.

    We represent the universe becoming self aware and, inasmuch as we question our own existence,

    This assertion, is simply egocentricity running wild!
    Humans do not “represent the universe” Humans are a tiny insignificant part of space and time in a very tiny area of the universe. We can’t even see a large proportion of the universe, let alone “represent it”!

    it is the universe which is questioning its existence.

    This is pure egocentric whimsicality projecting human curiosity on to the universe.

    With modern technology SOME humans can see and understand a bit more of the universe, than ancient Egyptian astronomers or navigators, or migrating birds, who in turn, could see further than village bound peasants or bees.

    Nature is awesome, but let’s not let our egos get carried away into fantasies of self-importance.
    Humans are a tiny feature of the Solar System on one tiny planet orbiting one star of the multi-billions of stars which exist in the billions of galaxies.
    We are not a major or central feature of the universe, whatever some egos may wishfully think!



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  • 106
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #93 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #88 by Alan4discussion:

    ” ..the formation of the “mind” is the evolution of the brain..”

    So you keep saying but you produce no evidence of it.

    Thought processes stop when the brain dies, – as can be measured using physics and chemistry.
    If you don’t understand how, watch the linked video on quantum physics.

    It is your assertion that “mind” is something separate from the brain, which is unevidenced, and raises a whole load of unanswered questions!
    (When in the evolutionary process did this mind appear if it is separate from the brain? Was it in ancestral single cells?) As I said earlier, – there are no credible explanations for such a feature or descriptions of species in which it features. There is not even a coherent scientific definition of such a separate entity.

    If you have scientific answers present them – and collect your Nobel Prize! The onus of proof is on you!



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  • 107
    godzillatemple says:

    In reply to #92 by Joeboy:

    Legs and feet on their own do not explain running any more than they explain skipping or hopping. It is the mind which determines the act of running, skipping or hopping, not the legs and feet.

    Sorry, are you saying that all life forms that run, skip or hop, including insects, have a mind? If so, I’m wondering if your definition of “mind” may be different from the one the rest of us are using in this conversation.



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  • 108
    foundationist says:

    In reply to #84 by Joeboy:
    >

    Your explanation of how mind emerges from matter, although mind boggling, does nothing to shed light on this fundamental mystery.

    Of course not, that can´t be done in the space of an internet forum comment. However, there are a number of very good books on the subject of how the mind arises from that complex pattern. The best recent one to my mind is Douglas Hofstaedters “I am a Strange Loop”, but of course there are others that strongly disagree with him about the details. When I said there is no longer any fundamental mystery I don´t mean that we have really worked out in detail how the mind arises, I was referring to the fact that thanks to computers we can now see complex behavior arising out of very stupid and dull builing blocks. This means the fundamental mystery of evolution including the emergence of complex adaptive systems like our minds is solved, even if many of the details are unclear.



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  • 109
    canadian_right says:

    Science should never stop being skeptical, but at the same time there are facts that science agrees are very unlikely to change – so unlikely we call these things facts.The beauty and key to sciences success is its skepticism. It is healthy for science to turn an eye towards things thought settled, especially if new evidence comes to light.

    Some religious folks can’t bear the idea of not having a 100% true base of ideas and beliefs. They crave certainty in a world that lacks certainty. 99.99999% sure will never be good enough for them.

    To them I say, the most dangerous person in the world is the one who thinks he knows the truth.If you know the truth you can justify any action to support your truth, and your mind can’t be changed, easily, as it is always a truth that forms the core of their being.



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  • 110
    SaganTheCat says:

    From post #70

    If you are right, the tendency of baryonic matter to arrange itself into ever more complex carbon based configurations suggests that the universe has been on a progressive path towards self awareness ever since the first hydrogen molecules were formed soon after the big bang.

    I can help you resolve this problem. the answer is “yes” it has. along with every other emergent quality of the universe of which human consciousness is just one minuscule part, in itself unable to be emperically studied in any way and is only accepted on the basis of concensus. we all claim to have it therefore it probably exists. atoms, molecules, galaxies, biological organisms… all can be measured, categorized and described.

    Consciousness comes from advanced minds, just like fairies. therefore the universe has also been on a progressive path towards the invention of mythical flying apes. I would advise caution in trying to argue for dualism with SZ at the best of times but this is a very poor and outdated mode of thinking even for an ape. the fact you care about your consciousness makes it central to your universe. Your consciousness however is far from central to the real universe.

    I recommend you google “Douglas Adams” and “Puddle”



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  • 111
    BanJoIvie says:

    In reply to #44 by Joeboy:

    […] What we do know, however, is that there is a remarkable and inexplicable convergence between the workings of the cosmos and the ability of our minds to comprehend them. Why does the configuration of the cosmos resonate so elegantly with mind? Is it a coincidence, or are the source of mind and the source of the cosmos one and the same thing? […]

    “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ ”

    ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt



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  • In reply to #44 by Joeboy:

    “So, do we apply the same degree of certainty to questions of mind and soul?”

    Is mind a product generated by matter when matter reaches a high degree of complexity as in the human brain? Or, could it be that mind has a different origin altogether and that, instead of being generated, is subsumed in…

    This comment has all the hallmarks of a “deepity” from where I stand. On first glance it appeared very profound. What on earth could this mean? On closer inspection the comment leads to some fairly ridiculous conclusions. On trying to visualise your proposal, I came up with the spectre of a swarm of disembodied minds hanging about, waiting for a brain to inhabit. I’m sure this is not what you meant. Perhaps you envisage a universal mind responsible for creating consciousness in the billions of brains in existence?

    I’m also struggling with the concept of the cosmos resembling the human brain. In what way? I take it that you mean the appearance of distant stars, galaxies etc resemble firing neurons? You have managed to match these images ( helpfully provided by very modern technology) and see the answers you are looking for.

    I can only speak for myself, but is find these notions fanciful. I think you’ve put in a lot of mental effort in constructing a scenario to allow for the continuation of the mind after the brain has ceased to function. It probably impresses many, but not me I’m afraid.



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  • Is mind a product generated by matter when matter reaches a high degree of complexity as in the human brain?

    It’s not the matter, it’s the patterns in the matter that interact in a context of energy flowing to make lower entropy locally, at the cost of higher entropy globally.



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  • In reply to #85 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #79 by Alan4discussion:

    A greater understanding of the functioning of the brain does not explain the creation of mind.

    Maybe not, but at least we know that when the brain stops functioning there is no consciousness. If this were not so, a doctor would not be able to pronounce someone dead. Who knows, the consciousness could spring into action again! The anaesthetist would not be able to reliably perform their task. We may not know exactly how the mind comes to be but we do know what happens when various parts are damaged. We also have a very good grasp of how learning takes place. Studying the development of mind in children has yielded many valuable insights into brain function.



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  • In reply to #91 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #90 by Alan4discussion:

    “Organic chemicals do not have “a progressive path towards self awareness”!”

    Yes they must if you argue that mind is the product of matter. All it takes are the right conditions. Once those exist, organic chemicals develop into simple life, simple life evolves…

    You are suggesting that evolution is directed towards creating a brain to understand the process and the nature of the universe. What would make you assume that this is the case?



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  • 118
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #88 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #85 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #79 by Alan4discussion:

    A greater understanding of the functioning of the brain does not explain the creation of mind.

    Actually it helps, but the formation of the “mind” is the evolution of the brain – once one discounts magic spells and magic fairy-dust as a pseudo-explanation!

    Keeping it simple, – I have yet to hear how any undetected fairy-dust can exist in the electrical circuitry or biochemistry of these processes: –

    Neuroscience For Kids – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

    Absence of evidence (where evidence should be expected) is evidence of absence!



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  • 119
    publius says:

    I don’t think we can ever say something is certain: but, like the higgs particle, we can say it is 5 sigmas of variation away from being false!
    Likewise we can’t prove god doesn’t exist but we can assert that he is not omnipotent: Can he make a brick so big he can’t pick it up? Or, Can he make a sinner so corrupt that he cannot save him. B. Russell on self reference and ‘saying all or every’ is generally a mistake.



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  • 120
    Tlhedglin says:

    Far as I can tell, all humans, not simply scientists, need to remain skeptical. We should never be so patently certain of anything that we fail to consider contradictions that might further our understanding, revision brings about revolution. This, however, does not mean we should act like solipsists, there are things we can be sure beyond reasonable doubt about. Just leave enough room in any belief to revise it if necessary.



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  • 121
    nick keighley says:

    In reply to #17 by Roedy:

    For the longest time meteorites were dismissed as folklore. One night a meteor shower smashed all the windows in the
    French academy and they were given a second look. Science is the study of repeatable causable phenomena. I think it is grandiose to claim that gives it domain too over rare and spo…

    “Gentlemen, I would rather believe that two Yankee professors would lie than believe that stones fall from heaven.”



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  • 122
    nick keighley says:

    In reply to #20 by theGreatFuzzy:

    In reply to #6 by Sample:

    One may say 0.999 recurring = 1. That’s how I envision the strength of evolution. The infinitesimal becomes meaningless.

    0.99999… is not equal to 1 in non standard analysis, it’s infinitesimally short of 1, and infinitesimals exist in such systems. Google “0.99999 = 1 n…

    let d = 0.9..
    => 10d = 9.9..
    => 9d = 10d – d = 9
    => d = 9/9 = 1



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  • 123
    nick keighley says:

    In reply to #37 by Lonevoice:

    Dipping my toe into this discussion with a degree of trepdiation: but the OP touches on what is known as the supernatural.

    Where those who are committed to naturalism fall down is that they expect everything to be evidenced in the natural realm. By definition, however, anything supernatural will be outside of that. It’s like a man looking inside the box for evidence of something that is outside the box, not finding any and saying “Aha, it doesn’t exist!”

    yes. exactly my attitude. and?



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  • 124
    Alan4discussion says:

    In reply to #37 by Lonevoice:

    Where those who are committed to naturalism fall down is that they expect everything to be evidenced in the natural realm.

    Of course falling is the evidenced natural realm of gravity.

    By definition, however, anything supernatural will be outside of that.

    So by definition does not exist or intrude into the material universe.

    It’s like a man looking inside the box for evidence of something that is outside the box, not finding any and saying “Aha, it doesn’t exist!”

    Aha! IMAGINARY BOX! A delusion which is not in the real universe – Material universe in evidence – No box – no outside!



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  • 126
    jeffhaley49 says:

    “We” recognize that each “fact” has a probability of being wrong. For human scale physics, those probabilities are very small – so small we can ignore them for all practical purposes.

    BTW, this paper argues that you are quite right to call yourself a “scientist” but that for marketing reasons it would be more effective to call yourself an “evidist”: http://freethinker.co.uk/2013/11/06/for-effective-marketing-we-need-a-better-label-than-naturalist-skeptic-or-bright/



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  • 127
    Malaidas says:

    In reply to #102 by Joeboy:

    In reply to #96 by Alan4discussion:

    “If you are suggesting some sort of creator-god you need evidence of its existence and how IT came to be created.”

    No I am not; there is no need. In a universe where mind emerges from matter, it is the universe itself which is the creator-god, but it is a god w…

    I assume you are deist from these view points and in which case I have some very simple arguments

    1) if a none revealed god exists how do we know this to be the case, by definition, he created the laws and stood by them, therefore you can make no assumptions as to anything other that what can be observed. His existence is a question of desire and anything else you would like to presume is fantasy without significant proof

    2) The human species even form a deist point of view is definitely insignificant, we are not the centre of the universe, so to suppose something special to our ability to think is just frankly madness. Consciousness is strange, but it doesn;t imply external iunfluence or a soul. there is no evidence of a soul, none at all. Every experience humans experience that would suggest any sort of supernatural element has far more rational and provable answers. ‘That’s all folks’

    3) if you need other evidence, M-Theory shows no need for God, Dawkins has shown that the chances of god existing are unlikely… I could go on, we cannot disprove your deist god, but there is no reason to suggest he exists and no reason therefore to assume there is anything other than material biology giving us intelligence, even if we don;t fully understand it at the moment.



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  • 128
    Catfish says:

    A skeptic should not say the human soul is impossible, they should say something like “at present there is no evidence for the existence of a “soul” and so no reason to include it in our world view.”
    Skeptics do not view a lack of evidence as proof of something does not exist. It is just a lack of evidence which means further work will have to be done to find this evidence (if you think the effort is justified and likely to pay off)



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  • 129
    Malaidas says:

    The problem I would argue is the degree of certainty which you can apply to non-existence.

    in order to be true scientists we should hold a degree of doubt as to anything science claims to be true, no matter how basic, but this is obviously shades of grey, we can be virtually certain about certain things, at least to the point where doubt has no real meaning. Whilst yes it is incredible unlikely that the basic physics etc. we have described are not correct, at least in our current position in space-time. However in contrast to this, we have to remember that the very basis of science is in certain axioms. Which have thus far been shown to be true, but tomorrow things could change, highly unlikely, but they could.

    I would hold therefore that to be sceptical is a scientists duty, but also to demand suitable evidence to change our minds about something, the more understood and repeatedly proven something be the more extraordinary the evidence should be to contradict it. And we should always hold to the idea, that whilst something for which we have no evidence may be true, we should consider the case weaker, the more the evidence fails to be shown when we would expect it.

    In support of this idea, I bring the ‘God Particle’, this was repeatedly shown not to be found, but we believed it existed anyway, the maths said it should and in this case we found it. This backs up our claims even more, but we can never be 100% sure, especially when dealing with something where evidence is inferred.



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  • 130
    Joseph Wolsing says:

    Dr. R. Dawkins: “We should be open minded, but not so open minded that our brain falls out!” This is the point in all these discussions The one making a claim that is highly improbable has the burdon of proof not the one doubting that claim!



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  • 131
    Joe Wolsing says:

    Dr. R. Dawkins: “We should be open minded, but not so open minded that our brain falls out!” This is the point in all these discussions The one making a claim that is highly improbable has the burdon of proof not the one doubting that claim!



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