Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The value of pessimists… the necessity of optimists

I have long maintained that the greatest blessing and curse of humanity has been our near infinite capacity for delusion.  To firmly believe things that are illogical or improbable, or even decisively disproved by blatant facts.  This gift is what empowers great art -- and we fiction authors have learned to weave ornate incantations, catering to a public need to believe (temporarily) in imaginary events. 

Alas, the downside of this talent is obvious.  We are terrible at perceiving and appraising our own delusional mistakes – witness the almost unalloyed litany of horrid statecraft perpetrated by kings, lords and priests, when their delusions could go unquestioned and unaccountable.

We’ve found a partial solution.  Criticism is the only known antidote to error. If you are blind to some mistakes, others may not be, and they will often be delighted to point out those errors of yours, without charge! (Will you listen: even gritting your teeth?)

The greatest advantage of a free and open society is not the pleasure of liberty (though that’s great). It is the high proportion of disastrous blunders that we manage to catch, in time, that led to our unprecedented ratio of success to failure. Science fiction plays a role, through “self-preventing prophecies,” like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which girded millions to fight against the worst possible failure modes. But other professions do their bit, as well.  


Especially Journalism. Yes, much-maligned (sometimes deservedly) journalism.  One of the 'expert castes' currently under attack in the War-Aganst-All-Spartypants. Individually they are as flawed as any of us. But a profession that lives by asking questions... are you sure you want to dismiss them, across the board?)

== Do warnings bring action? ==

In his book “Lights Out,” Ted Koppel reveals that a major cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating, and that the United States is shockingly unprepared. Imagine a continental blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Koppel maintains that a well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure. 

Let me add that terrorism isn’t the only way it can happen. A “Carrington Event” – a massive solar flare like one that fried telegraph systems in the 1850s – could have devastating effects upon our grid and unlinked electronics in the home, (possibly even zapping the rooftop solar systems that are our last bulwark against darkness, unless we learn how to buffer them well). 

Moreover, the 1850s event was apparently not as bad as they come. Studies of carbon isotope anomalies in tree rings suggest that the Sun occasionally belches prodigiously, giving our planet truly major electrical shocks. And note that I have not even discussed another threat – EMP or electromagnetic pulse – that some enemy might use to accomplish the same end.

Surely more attention should be paid to these dangers.  And I regularly consult about such threats with “agencies” who have come to appreciate the unfettered darkside imaginings of science fiction authors.  You want potential failure modes?  Ones not yet on anyone’s horizon? I got ‘em.

And yet, how to reconcile that with the rampant accusations that “Brin is an optimist”?  Easy.  Unlike the certifiably insane cynical grouches all around us, I am able to notice the clear fact that things are (still tentatively) very very good for us, right now.  That our ancestors – including the Greatest Generation so extolled by the Right – would have laughed in the faces of today’s dolor-merchants and their dismal mewlings.  Nor is the mad-right the only locus of grumpy ingrates. Civil libertarians who decry the rising surveillance state are justified (!) and useful… until they neglect to ask – “So, how did we get the present day peak of freedom that I so-worry we’re about to lose?”

Asking that one, simple question empowers us to see a simple truth.  That we did not get here by cowering and hiding.

In fact when we open our eyes to positive trends, we discover they are easily as big as any list of negatives.  From Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined to Peter Diamandis’s Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think to Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, some of the smartest people alive are pointing out the good news… and how much more there may be, if just a few game-changing breakthroughs line up.

Even in the blogosphere, where the cynical curled lip and playground bully sneer assail any hint of positivity, a few have spoken up, as in this piece listing 11 Reasons Why 2015 Was a Great Year For Humanity.” Wherein the writer, Angus Hervey, opines that: “We are living through the most astonishing period of human progress in history. And nobody’s telling us about it.”   

Indeed, he could have made it a clean dozen reasons, by mentioning something I’ve been saying for the last month or so… that 2015 was by far humanity’s best year in the exploration and understanding of space, the cosmos and our place in the universe.

And the ease of self-deception...

Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind, by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower asserts an answer to one of the great questions of biology; why so many species, ranging from dolphins and chimps to corvids (ravens) and parrots, sea lions and elephants, and prairie dogs, all cluster close to each other under what I’ve called theglass ceiling of sapience,” displaying similar, basic capabilities at tool-use, proto-language and self-awareness. Varki and Brower propose that there is a lethal zone, just a little higher, wherein creatures become fully aware of their inevitable death. Any species who rise into this zone lose fitness because individuals become obsessed with their own mortality, to the detriment of all other considerations, like reproduction.

Under this hypothesis — clearly influenced by the mid-20th Century Freudian “thanatos” complex — humanity burst beyond the glass ceiling by counter-balancing any thanatos obsession with another exceptional skill, that of denial.  Self-distraction, using various mental tricks to ignore — for the most part — the glaring prospect of personal doom.

Alas, my response (admittedly without yet reading the book) is that Freudian and meta-Freudian  models are artifacts of a time when we had a much less clear understanding of the workings of evolution.   In this case, we have a just-so story of creatures becoming so terminally obsessed with mortality that they neglect their offspring. Tasty... but...

Refutation is simple.  Those who find a way to prioritize their progeny higher than scrabbling for an extra few months… those are the ones who will pass on genes, including for the trait of such prioritization.  Indeed, nature is filled with examples of courageous mothers and dads who do exactly that. All that is needed is for parenthood to be an addictive high — and those channels are already present in every species that abides near the glass ceiling. Oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine levels, all reward parental care with overwhelming ferocity. At which point the thanatos distraction will have a potent rival, one far more correlated with fitness and success at the game of genetic procreation.  In other words, sorry. I’m not buying it.

There are other, more plausible, hypotheses for why humanity shattered the glass ceiling by orders of magnitude.  In nature, whenever a trait experiences rapid runaway, the first culprit to appraise would be sexual selection.  In my neoteny paper I posit a rare two-way cycle of sexual selection, in which female and male humans engaged in fierce judgementalism toward each other, demanding ever-inflating sets of exaggerated traits, foremost of which was intelligence.

Jumping to the other end… In Rationality: From AI to Zombies, Eliezer Yudkowsky explains the science underlying human irrationality with a mix of fables, argumentative essays, and personal vignettes.  A decision theorist and researcher at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Yudkowsky is also author of the popular amateur novel Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. 

== And Alack ==

Word arrives here about the recent or imminent passing of the great science fiction editor, David Hartwell.  I am bummed and will have more to say about this soon.

186 comments:

Daniel Duffy said...

Though not exactly a“thanatos” complex obsessed with death, religion (no matter how irrational) may be a necessary survival mechanism to stave off the abject nihilism inherent in atheism.

Rationality may be over rated.

David Brin said...

Maybe Daniel. But note that the Olde Testament has almost no hint of afterlife rewards or punishments, which were mostly the imposition by Paul of Tarsus borrowing Greek and Egyptian afterlife cult tropes. Sure, there are penalties in the OT... but eternal threats and rwards? nope

Jumper said...

I find no necessary nihilism inherent in atheism. Unless you predefine a belief in existence itself as a form of theism. A question on which I am, granted, undecided. Even if you posit that infinity equals zero, that's a hell of an equation. Where'd that come from?

Robert said...

You actually touched at something that could help explain the Fermi Paradox.

If human civilization arose in a fairly quiet period of the Sun's lifespan... then humanity may have lucked out big-time. Would we ever have invented lightbulbs, or really any form of electronics if ol' Sol was belching out massive flares left and right? If exposed metal could start sparking because of flares, a civilization may very well never advance significantly, because civilization never designs electrical technologies. And a civilization may have gotten to a point of advancement in the chemical fields and in other aspects... but even once their sun goes into a quieter stage, people may never bother researching electricity because multiple generations already know that wires spark and melt and thus you can't build electronics.

This does make for an interesting scenario - intelligent civilizations that are stuck at a certain level because their environmental problems make certain technologies unfeasible.

Rob H.

Daniel Duffy said...

Without a Creator, the Universe is merely a fortunate accident without meaning or purpose or reason for existing. Only a deliberately created universe can have inherent meaning - accidental universes cannot.

Nihilism on the macro scale.

The human consciousness does not exist. The Self and Free Will are mere illusions making it impossible for an individual to create their own meaning in a meaningless universe. The creation of purpose and meaning would require free will, volition and sense of self to accomplish - none of which exist.

Nihilism at the micro scale.

Daniel Duffy said...

Keeping up with the latest advances in brain science, without a soul, the human mind is nothing but an illusion. This can be shown using Dawkin's own meme theory.

Dawkins and his protege Susan Blackmore have taken their hard reductionism to new heights (or lows) with their elimination of the "Self". Dawkins, etal have always hated DesCartes "I think, therefore I am" because it implies some sort of ghost in the machine which can't be accounted for by purely mechanistic explanations. Dawkins meme concept has been taken to its logical conclusion by Susan Blackmore who makes the claim that the Self is merely an illusion. Dawkins has adopted this position. Let the following quotes illustrate this:
In a recent joint lecture, Dawkins asked his colleague Steven Pinker:

"Am I right to think that the feeling I have that I'm a single entity, who makes decisions, and loves and hates and has political views and things is a kind of illusion that has come about because Darwinian selection found it expedient to create that illusion of unitariness rather than let us be a society of mind?"

Pinker answered affirmatively that "the fact that the brain ultimately controls a body that has to be in one place at one time may impose the need for some kind of circuit . . . that coordinates the different agendas of the different parts of the brain to ensure that the whole body goes in one direction." That hypothetical circuit is all that remains of the illusion of a free-acting self. [The Dawkins-Pinker exchange is available in the archives at www.edge.org]

And from a recent interview:

Stangroom: One final question about hard determinism. I think at the end of The Selfish Gene you said that one of the important things about human beings is that they are able to choose to act otherwise than perhaps their selfish genes would have them. Obviously, however, for a hard determinist the choices we make are themselves determined. In an interview with The Third Way you indicated that you had some sympathy with Susan Blackmore's view that

"The idea that there is a self in there that decides things, acts and is responsible.is a whopping great illusion. The self we construct is just an illusion because actually there's only brains and chemicals."

Is your position then that statements about consciousness or selfhood will ultimately be reducible to statements about neurons and chemicals?

Dawkins: I suppose that philosophically I am committed to that view because I think that everything about life is a product of the evolutionary process and consciousness must be a manifestation of the evolutionary process, presumably via brains. So I think that has got to mean that consciousness is ultimately a material phenomenon."

Without a soul, Blackmore and Dawkins are quite right, mind, consciousness and self awareness are mere illusions. So the entity which calls itself Jumper doesn't really exist, its all just an illusion. Dawkins is correct when he claims that illusions are not capable of true volition, meaning or purpose. There is no Jumper to create his own meaning. The lights are on, but there isn't anybody at home.

Without a God, existence is a meaningless accident. Accidents are inherently meaningless and without purpose.

Without a Soul, the individual is but an illusion. Illusions are incapable of creating meaning or purpose.

Atheism leads inevitably to total, abject and complete nihilism.

TLDR: I never said atheism was wrong, only that it is inherently nihilistic - a conclusion few atheists have the balls to face.

Daniel Duffy said...

Dr. Brin - the OT did have the promise of a physical resurrection at the end of time.

matthew said...

David suggested this might happen: I just saw Spike Lee on ABC News wearing a union blue kepi. Good prediction, doc.

John M. said...

Embrace uncertainty. At least every now and again.

By this process one can entertain the irrational without the errors of firm belief and question the rational free from the errors of firm conviction.

Uncertainty also allows one to be both optimistic and pessimistic with a lesser degree of cognitive dissonance.

Effectively employed, this perspective does not necessarily preclude action or decision making. It might very well help in the process and prevent counter-productive bickering.

Robert said...

Daniel Duffy, while I am not strictly Atheist (I'm more agnostic who can explain away his encounters with the supernatural as hallucination and his encounter with a female divine presence as wishful thinking caused by loneliness and solitude) I actually find the concept of Atheism to be truly liberating.

Why? Because this life is all we have. There is no afterlife. There is no soul. There is nothing once we die. Our immortality is through our actions and our creations. As such, I do not need fear being punished by some divine busybody who feels superior to me. There IS no such thing.

(Though to be honest, the pagan faiths tend to be more of the "personal responsibility" ilk, which is one of the greatest aspects of their faith - not to rule through fear, but to let someone know if they fuck things up, they are responsible for this and must forgive themselves and fix their errors.)

So where do Atheists get their ethics? From personal decisions. I fully agree with the sentiment that a Christian who feels Atheists need Big Daddy in the Sky to tell them not to rape and murder is far more worrisome, because they could very well decide then to rape and murder and then beg for forgiveness... rather than to CHOOSE not to be a rapist and murderer because they take responsibility for their actions.

I'm reminded of an old comic from the 90s, probably, in "The New Mutants" in which the half-demon character Illyanna Rasputin tells Magneto, tearfully, "I'm only good because I choose to be" and he laughs... and tells her kindly "We ALL are only good because we choose to be."

I choose to be a good person. I choose to have morals and ethics that are prosocial and minimizes harm to others. My choices may very well be dictated as a result of neurochemical tendencies that have been inherited and encourage altruism so that our genetic lineage has a greater chance of spreading... but how is that more horrifying or wrong than prosocial behavior because God Said So?

Rob H.

David Brin said...

On Quora I was asked to name "forgotten" sci fi authors. Others were naming Zelazny etc... huh? Of course Zelazny and Farmer but they are not "forgotten." Rather, for my own answer I dug deeper. Robert Sheckley, the greatest of all short story writers. John Boyd's "The Last Starship From Earth." If you like adventure, then H. Beam Piper and William Burkett. James Blish! Linda Nagata. Murray Leinster. Richard C. Meredith!! Philip Wylie. Charles Sheffield. Fred Pohl is not forgotten but he was the greatest true SF author and Poul Anderson was the greatest storyteller. William Tenn. Cordwainer Smith. Andre Norton!!! I second Panshen and Pangborn.

John M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John M. said...

Why do these arguments always have to boil down to religion vs. atheism?

It seems to me that there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed-- ones that can actually be resolved.

There is way too much ink being spilled over this tired business.

Tony Fisk said...

"If I'm an illusion, then who am I kidding?"
(This argument may come down to a failure of language)

Speaking of delusions, has anyone seen the Saudi scholar insisting that the Earth does not rotate?
(It's contrary to his reading of the Quran. Truly, the Faith of a good Imam is beyond reason.)

John M. said...

maybe forgotten: James Tiptree, Jr., Henry Kuttner, Avram Davidson, Thomas M. Disch

Jumper said...

A unitary consciousness is not necessary for "cogito ergo sum." A verb tense is all the rewording needed. And I object to terming consciousness as "only" an illusion. The illusion is just as impressive as the fiction.

Ajit Varki said...

Regarding your comments about the book I wrote with the late Danny Brower (DENIAL), I suggest you do actually read it before jumping to conclusions about what it says. There are no "Freudian and meta-Freudian models" presented the entire thesis is based strictly on evolutionary principles. Being busy with many other life goals, I have not had the time to do the usual publicity activities for this book. But I do try to respond to such comments. Ajit Varki

Th said...

Regarding hardening solar panels against an EMP/Carrington event type of electrical surge, the main danger appears to be being connected into the main power grid. Backflow? Induced currents burning out the inverter? I'm not sure, but a simple fix (if you had time) might be to simply throw the main switch at your junction box, and separate yourself for the duration of the event. I'm giving serious consideration to getting a small generator, purely for purposes of powering the inverter if the power goes out; a Tesla-type battery system is also on my wish list.

The thing that currently cheeses me off is that the local power company is coming up with ever more Byzantine regulation in an attempt to slow the number of people adding solar power cells to their roof and cutting their electrical bills. First it was because solar power was 'unreliable' and was whipsawing the local grid, then it was rearranging how you would receive credit for power fed back into the grid. Now it's limiting the credits to the current owners of the systems; if you sell your house, the power company can decide not to credit you for any power you return to the grid.

David Brin said...


On Quora I was asked to name "forgotten" sci fi authors. Others were naming Zelazny etc... huh? Of course Zelazny and Farmer but they are not "forgotten." Rather, for my own answer I dug deeper. Robert Sheckley, the greatest of all short story writers. John Boyd's "The Last Starship From Earth." If you like adventure, then H. Beam Piper and William Burkett. James Blish! Linda Nagata. Murray Leinster. Richard C. Meredith!! Philip Wylie. Charles Sheffield. Fred Pohl is not forgotten but he was the greatest true SF author and Poul Anderson was the greatest storyteller. William Tenn. Cordwainer Smith. Andre Norton!!! I second Panshen and Pangborn.

Daniel, I respectfully disagree that religion is needed, in order to have goodness, accountability and even spiritual soulfulness. I say that even though I am not an atheist. BTW please cite for me where in the OT there is explicit theologically clear afterlife, other than Isaiah being very very vague….

In any event, the rewards and punishment thing is very questionable, ethically. The Saint’s Bargain… suffer for an hour for eternal bliss?... is not very impressive, morally.

Matthew got an image of Spike Lee and the kepi?

Jumper said...

A.E.VanVogt, Clifford Simak, Zenna Henderson, Fritz Lieber, Randall Garrett. I can continue but it would take a while.

Jumper said...

L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, and Sturgeon.

Jumper said...

Jumper is just a story I tell, so that's a degree of freedom, and without meaning that's another degree of freedom. That freedom stuff is just baked in, isn't it?

ZAPKVR said...

Dan mate. I am an atheist.I am not a nihilist. I think what you do is called begging the question. Cheers

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel: Let me offer you the perspective on an atheist. Technically, I’m a nontheist which when defined sounds a lot like an agnostic, but when I’m pressed I’ll usually side of the atheists.

Without a Creator, there is little we can say about the Universe except that it wouldn’t make sense for it to have purpose unless that property emerges from Creation itself. Maybe it could, but I rather doubt it. Purpose implies Mind, but my inability to see Mind does not imply a lack of Purpose. All it means is I’m inclined to behave as if there is no Purpose external to Me that should be relevant to me.

I have Purpose (the emergent type), so I’m not a nihilist. Mind enables Purpose. I consider the arguments describing Self and Free Will as illusions to be nonsense. Self is obvious, but I see no conflict with those who look at the physical host and point out the illusion. They are simply looking in the wrong solution space. Self is easiest to see if one is willing to accept the temporary existence of information patterns. Doing this makes use of a useful ‘delusion’ where we categorize existing objects into different ‘worlds’. For example, Beethoven’s fifth symphony exists in at least three worlds. There are physical copies of it printed on paper and in digital form. There are currently active mental experiences of it within the minds of those listening to it right now. There is also the abstraction we call “Beethoven’s Fifth” that he created. Each of the three worlds is tangent to each of the others during a performance. Self is a thing in each that recurses upon itself. (Hofstadter describes some of this in his ‘I am a strange loop’ book, but the multi-world stuff I mention comes from Popper.)

Your view of how atheists think is a tad old school. We aren’t all the same and we certainly aren’t all like Dawkins. The mental space we inhabit is considerably richer than you probably imagine it can be. I’ve never given much credence to theism OR nihilism. Both strike me as mentally impoverishing, but they both have strong selling points that seem to work for their adherents. Theism obviously helps comfort many who might fear what they do not know. Nihilism obviously frees many who might fear what others think is known.

ZAPKVR said...

Daniel my friend with or without a "god" the universe only has the meaning we assign to it. It is not necessary or even desirable the universe has meaning.

ZAPKVR said...

Daniel my friend with or without a "god" the universe only has the meaning we assign to it. It is not necessary or even desirable the universe has meaning.

ZAPKVR said...

Dan mate. I am an atheist.I am not a nihilist. I think what you do is called begging the question. Cheers

atomsmith said...

Daniel Duffy -

You seem to be using "nihilist" mostly in the narrow sense of moral nihilism, or moral anti-realism, the term this atheist prefers ("nihilism," as a word, has connotational baggage).

That the theist's and atheist's theories of morality must be different seems clear enough.

But there is no reason to throw out free-will, metaphysical theories, epistemology (etc.) with the bath water!

vastman said...

Eloquently said, David... I really appreciate your nature...and endevour to participate in this adventure in a similar fashion.

ANDRE NORTON.... OMG I grew up with her imprinting my spirit... now as an urban farmer/climate songwriter I have to say I'm amazed she's not more talked about. The recent discussion of female Sci Fi greats never uttered her name.

Tony Fisk said...

Alan E Nourse, Brian Aldiss, Olaf Stapledon, 'Doc' Smith, James Inglis*, Fred Hoyle...

*Inglis apparently only ever wrote one SF story, although Aldiss saw fit to include it ('Nightwatch') in his anthology of greatest SF. Forgettable enough?

Anonymous said...

There is a hypothesis that humans evolved alongside psychedelic fungus, the effects of which are reportedly quite divine (literally). A class of drugs called entheogens (root words meaning "generating the divine within") can produce mystical experiences where "ego death" occurs - one views oneself as part of the constant environmental flux instead of as an individual person. This is perceived by the mind as being one with the universe, or "God", or cosmic consciousness, etc.

Humans living with regular access to these substances (perhaps as part of a pagan cult ritual celebrating the solstice) would ingest them and have mystical experiences resulting in psychological changes in behavior. This would produce, in theory, a more cooperative society, less concerned with individual death and more concerned with caring for the greater community and population.

-Andy

Paul SB said...

Anonymous Andy,

I figured someone would show up talking about entheogens, after reading the last couple dozen posts. I did a paper on hallucinogens in college and came across the term then. It's a good hypothesis to an certain extent, though not all locales have the same hallucinogens. However, there aren't a lot of human cultures that did not at one time use mind-altering substances to generate their religious beliefs. But you don't even need mind-altering drugs to do that. In fact, no drug actually does to our brains anything that our brains are not capable of on their own. We have a neurotransmitter called dimethyl tryptamine that is released when we dream at night. Dreaming itself seems to be a process of memory consolidation, though through most of history humans have interpreted dreams as supernatural communication. But DMT is not only released during sleep. When we undergo severe, life-threatening stress, our brains will sometimes release DMT, causing hallucinations. It's not entirely understood, but it may be a way of anesthetizing ourselves near the moment of death. All it takes is a walk in the desert with no food or water for a few days. This is why holy men back in Roman times went for desert asceticism - exposure to the elements causes "visions." Of course, it doesn't have to be desert. Plains Indians sent their adolescent males on a spirit quest around the age of 16 (varying from tribe to tribe) in which they would lay out a ring of stones on the ground (the ones I have seen were mostly oval) in which they would stay, chanting and praying until the gods sent them a vision. Of course, the thing about hallucinations is that, like dreams, they are culturally mediated. Native Americans did not see visions of Jesus or angels, they saw the spirits and gods they believed in. Likewise Middle-Eastern desert ascetics didn't see the Yellow Eagle, they saw angels and the like. Knowing nothing about brain chemistry (and we are still only on the cusp of understanding this stuff) it is no surprise that our ancestors reached the conclusions they reached.

Oh, and one thing many people get wrong is the idea that hallucinations are all transparent and speak with ghostly voices. This is a convention in movies and TV, but not how real hallucinations work.

As far as that tendency leading to a more cooperative human nature, that might be a piece of the picture, though I doubt that is the whole story. We have a whole lot of neurochemistry that makes us social, and for the most part decent, people. The roles of oxytocin, vasopressin, prolactin, monoamine oxidase and others that are likely to have started out as motivators for parental behaviors that were increasingly extended to others over many generations. Cooperation and sociability is deeply engrained in our nature, in spite of what the Abrahamic religions insist (how else can you have a monopoly over your subjects if you don't tell them that they are naturally evil and can only overcome their evil nature by joining our club. The irony that people would want to perceive themselves as good in the first place goes right over the heads of believers and leaders alike).

Alfred Differ said...

Are the hallucinogens supposed to help explain recent social changes or are they supposed to deal with issues during our days as homo erectus/habilis? As I understand it, we had our modern brain size notably before we adopted the social behaviors that make us the modern humans we are today.

I suspect the truth would be many things happened around the same time and the cumulative effect was our break through. While I like the two-gender selection effect impact, I suspect that mattered most as we split away from the chimps and bonobos. We aren't really male or female dominant choosers/displayers when it comes to mate selection while chimps and bonobos went opposite ways. It seems to me the branch that became hominids split in three parts with only one continuing along an inflationary path regarding brain size.

The modern adaptation away from hunter/gathering doesn't need hallucinogens. Our brain size was already large enough for a growing meme library, so stress should be enough.

What interests me is the era when we began to domesticate each other (in a sense) through trade. Humans probably didn't change much at the individual level, but the macro animal sure did.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

@Th

Geomagnetic storms, even very large ones that may be 20 times the Carrington Event or larger, appear to pose no significant threat to solar panels at ground level or to other electronics at ground level.

Nuclear EMP is a different matter. Nuclear EMP is a grave threat to solar panels as well as to unprotected electronics.

The danger of geomagnetic storms from solar events is to the AC electrical grid. Large transformers are designed only to handle AC currents. Geomagnetically induced currents are similar to DC. A DC current reaching ten percent of a transformer's AC current rating is typically enough to burn it out. Protective devices like circuit breakers and reclosers are also designed only for AC overloads and for lightning. They usually offer very poor protection against DC getting into an AC circuit.

Geomagnetic currents from solar events cause extremely distorted waveforms in transformers before they burn out. This extreme distortion could damage electronics equipment, although the overall power grid usually collapses long before there is significant damage caused by this extremely distorted AC waveform.

The mistaken equivalence of EMP with solar storms happened when the head of the U.S. EMP Commission realized that solar storms and nuclear EMP had many overlapping effects. The effects do overlap significantly, but they are not the same.

The EMP danger to solar panels and other parts of solar power systems is finally going to be looked into very seriously this year by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Military base micro-grids are mostly solar power systems which are unprotected from EMP. If an economical solution is found for solar power systems on military bases, the intention is to extend that solution into civilian critical infrastructure. Hopefully, that EMP solution will become available to individual consumers for their solar power systems.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, I agree about multiple lines leading to our current state. Humans had our modern bodies w/ our modern cranial capacity a little more than 200,000 years ago, but they didn't start to act in ways we would consider recognizably human until around 40,000 ya. Given what we know about neuroplasticity, it may have been less about brain size and more about slow changes in the social environment that led to the explosion of human-like behavior at that time.

The sexual selection argument goes back to Darwin's "Ascent of Man." However, humans have some reproductive peculiarities you don't see in other animals that are no doubt important factors. Hidden menstruation and year-round fertility have made the mating dance very different for us than any other species. And that might be part of that Fermi Paradox, too. Sexual selection for increasing intelligence, especially the kind of social intelligence that leads to artistic skills (singing, no doubt, then story-telling and eventually visual arts like Lascaux) would have taken many generations to set in across the species.

As to the entheogens, other animals besides us imbibe. Reindeer eat hallucinogenic mushrooms, and chimps will leave fruits out to ferment in the sun, then get drunk and fall out of their trees. No doubt our use of entheogens predates the genus Homo, though it would not have been until around 40,000 ya that the 'theo' aspect of them became part of our consciousness. It would have been a slow process from hallucination to false causation (superstition & personification of natural forces) to shamanism to the kind of formal, institutionalized religion we have had since the rise of civilization.

Paul SB said...

Jerry, it's good to have a person with your electrical engineering knowledge around. I had always assumed that EMP affected all electronics. Knowing that DC circuits are unaffected changes the picture in important ways.

Ricardo Montachio said...

"TLDR: I never said atheism was wrong, only that it is inherently nihilistic - a conclusion few atheists have the balls to face."

No, most atheists face it calmly.

Things are what they are. If the universe is like this, so be it. Deal with it.

Of course a omnipotent deity made of love that grants you eternal life is the better alternative.

But, as there are no evidence or clues of such a thing existing, we simply have to face life as it is.

Meaning is something you have to make for yourself as no divine being will hand you it because they don't exist.

If you want to go the nihilistic way, more power to you. Others will build meaning out of nothing at all.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

PaulSB,

Nuclear EMP does affect both AC and DC unprotected electronics.

Geomagnetic storms generally only affect AC systems. There can be exceptions, though. Those exceptions occur when DC systems are connected to very long lines. This rarely happens any more (although there are some very-high-voltage DC long-distance transmission lines in some power grids).

Geomagnetic storms caused havoc in the DC telegraph lines during the solar storms of 1859 and 1921. The telegraph system used relatively low voltage batteries connected to very long lines. The 1921 geomagnetic storm caused a New York Railroad telegraph office to burn to the ground after telegraph paper caught fire. There were also several significant telegraph paper fires caused by the 1859 event, but no reports of buildings burning down during that eaarlier event.

Fortunately, we don't have those old telegraph lines any longer. The main threat of geomagnetic storms is to very large transformers in the power grids since those take a very long time to replace. We've been lucky that we haven't had a really large-scale geomagnetic storm since 1921. That is one factor in the large amount of technological progress made over the last century.

The transformer problem has finally gotten some wider recognition in the last year or two. Progress in the area of transformer protection and replacement parts, though, is just extremely slow.

Jumper said...

It's more the cost of fast-trip breakers which make line and transformer protection a problem. The faster the waveform, the smarter and faster the breaker has to be. To interrupt a path which will arc if not slammed open very effectively is not easy. (not cheap) Or so my thinking tells me.

Jon S. said...

That's one argument I've never understood.

"Without God, the universe has no meaning!" And? Why is this a problem?

My life has meaning, with or without Deity-Concept-Of-Choice, because I, the being riding inside this skull, choose to interpret my life that way. The meaning of my life has to do with increasing the well-being of those around me, which increases my own well-being. This may be because I freely choose to feel this way; this may be due to the immanent Presence of Deity; this may be due to a mere accident of chemistry and electricity. That part is not important, at least not to me.

Seriously, why does the entire flipping universe have to have a capital-M Meaning, one that relates to mere humans no less, in order to avoid collapsing into nihilistic despair? There appears to me to be a leap in the chain of reasoning there, and I'm not following it.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Jumper, the problem with geomagnetic storms is keeping the DC-like currents out of the transformer windings. The best solution that I've seen for that is one that senses when the output waveform becomes distorted and instantly switches in DC-blocking circuits and sends a warning to system operators that something is badly wrong.

Laurent Weppe said...

From the previous thread:

About Star Wars

* "We are told by Palpatine that the Republic is corrupt and weak, but what we see is... nothing. The entire galaxy consists of 8-10 people and a few trillion zombies in their dormant phase."

We see a trade conglomerate sendings its troops to invade a whole planet to retaliate against elected officials who decided that too much tax havens were hurting the galaxy's economy, only to remain mostly unpunished after their defeat and free to keep conspiring against the state. Basically the Bundy bunch with the Koch's money plus nukes, killer bots and spaceships: that's a good enough hint that's there's something very rotten in the Republic of Far Far Away.

The main problem is that convincingly portraying the mix of resentment cynicism, apathy and Lake Wobegon syndrome that leads a large chunk of a population who never directly suffered under a despot to enthusiastically support a would-be autocrat is actually very hard, especially given that the movies are too focused on the light-saber and spaceships to portray the turmoils of ordinary Farfarians and, being shorter than a full fledged series or long novel series, have less room to go into tangents depicting what's happening bellow the military, economic and political elites feuding among themselves, even if the desire to portray the aforementioned ordinary Farfarians in detail had been there. (Also Lucas sucks at writing dialogue: there's several scenes that were wasted golden opportunities to make Palpatine's rise to power look more believable because of that). Hence the citizenry who start to look like "dormant zombies".

***

* "This would help explain why Ben Solo was in fact so powerful. He was the child of two Force-Sensitives, one of whom was the Skywalker bloodline."

If there's one thing that strains credulity it's the low number of force sensitive people: being force-sensitive is basically an hereditary trait -found among pretty much every sentient species- that allows you to fuck causality sideway: it shouldn't take long for such a darwinian advantage to spread until virtually everyone was force-sensitive.

One could make the argument that out of necessity the Jedi had to focus on the most precocious individuals -those who exhibited conscious control over the force at a very young age-, but it would have made more sense if the series had explicitly told us that everybody was force sensitive to a certain degree.

***

About Not-Star-Wars:

* "So I hold to be self-evident, the truths that a certain percentage (exact amount to be argued separately) of the wealth of society belongs to the commons"

I would go farther: not only a certain fraction of society's wealth must belong to the commons, but the lion's share of any nation's total wealth must remain outside the upper-class grasp.

Right now, half of the world's wealth is owned by 1% of Humanity: even if we lived in a ruthlessly meritocratic globalized civilization where the 1% richest were also the 1% best and brightest, such an equilibrium wouldn't last. Very soon, the hyper-competent hyper-rich would realize that most of their offsprings wouldn't belong to the next generation's 1% best and brightest, and were fated to lose the material comforts they were born in unless they rigged the system.

The only way to keep the temptation to cheat at a manageable levels is to make the difference in material comforts between the upper and middle class small enough that elites can more easily accept the possibility that their kids won't be on top on the food-chain: if the concentration of wealth at the top is too high, then the elites WILL become a parasitic social class within a couple of generation at most.

raito said...

You guys make me laugh. Your lists of forgotten writers reads like my reading list.

Seriously, and probably to my detriment, I have a hard time finding authors I like past the early 80's or so. It's partly circumstantial. I no longer read at least a book a day.

Part of it is backlog. I'm currently working through a carful of books I got when a dead friend's belongings were liquidated.

Part of it is Gutenberg. I can mine the past anywhere.

Part of it is being an old fart. I fight that, but it's hard to do.

And part of it is that I don't much like going to bookstores these days. Along with which it's always hard to pick winning stuff out of current media.

Joseph Ratliff said...

@Daniel Duffy
"Without a Creator, the Universe is merely a fortunate accident without meaning or purpose or reason for existing. Only a deliberately created universe can have inherent meaning - accidental universes cannot.

Nihilism on the macro scale."


So what? Atheism, which is a belief system, doesn't bring that about. What you call a "fortunate accident" is the event itself ... that doesn't mean I, as an Atheist, subscribe to nihilism (not in the least). My meaning is derived from my eternal curiosity and wonder about the Universe (and the World) we live in, and the willingness to explore the miracle that brought me about (NO, not some "divine" miracle either).

Then you move to...

"The human consciousness does not exist. The Self and Free Will are mere illusions making it impossible for an individual to create their own meaning in a meaningless universe. The creation of purpose and meaning would require free will, volition and sense of self to accomplish - none of which exist.

Nihilism at the micro scale."

So what? I don't need to "have" free will to be experiencing the feeling of meaning and purpose derived from looking up and wondering "What or who is out there?" ... "Why am I here?" ... or "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

I might not be "creating" my meaning, but I sure as hell am feeling it. And it feels good (most of the time). I don't need some made up divine Creator to be part of the story that is unfolding right in front of me, even if that story is what you might (key word "might") call mechanized, biological, meaningless nihilism.

The story tells itself just fine without some Deity to tell it. Besides, why would some "creator" stop short at creating something so supposedly meaningless? (My intention is not to hijack this into a religious discussion).



ElitistB said...

"TLDR: I never said atheism was wrong, only that it is inherently nihilistic - a conclusion few atheists have the balls to face."

Why does having a deity make something not nihilistic? Instead of having no purpose, you have an arbitrary purpose, decided upon by a being which faces the exact same situation you do if there were no deity.

Basically, if you think you have no purpose because there is no deity, then it is reasonable to assume that the deity is faced with the same predicament if it doesn't have a super-deity. All it does is kick the nihilism up a level.

James Simmons said...

One forgotten author worth reading is Howard L. Meyers (AKA Verge Foray). There is a collection of his stories on Amazon published by Baen which you can download for free.

locumranch said...


Personally, I fail to see the connection between Atheism, Nihilism & Pessimism, excepting the human propensity for dichotomous 'either-or' prejudice. Wherein Atheism is defined as 'a lack of belief in the Absolute' and Nihilism is defined as the belief in 'an absolute lack of meaning and/or value', Pessimism is defined as the probabilistically accurate tendency to stress the valued likelihood of 'negative or unfavorable' outcomes over those thought 'positive and favorable', meaning that Nihilism & Pessimism have little congruence because Nihilism preaches 'an absence of value' whereas Pessimism recognises (and values) the positive & negative value system.

From this perspective, we see that Optimism represents an all-to-human rejection of Statistical Probability (and a near-infinite capacity for self-delusion), being best defined as the probabilistically inaccurate tendency to expect the (unlikely) 'positive and favorable' outcome because of the belief that we humans somehow 'deserve' the good, positive & successful because of our relative 'deservingness' (???), known to some variously as 'looking backward' Narcissism, Affluenza, Survivorship Bias & the Religion of Progress, so much so that the Cult of Human Progress seems to be based on little more than the Infinite Monkey Principle, probabilistically speaking.

Remember that, while 'nothing succeeds like success', 'nothing fails like failure' wherein (1) success amounts to little more than persistence in the face of repeated failure and (2) failure is the most likely & probable outcome in almost any worthwhile (valuable) human endeavour. Remember, also, the illogical nature of 'deservingness' when you buy that Lottery Ticket (with a chance of 1 success out 300 million failures) or when you expect to be the sole human 'winner' of some great prize (despite a chance of 1 success out of 7 billion failures).

Herein lies the the Wisdom of the Greatest Generation who tempered their Victories with the knowledge of their potential (and highly probable) Failures:

Choose your Battles Wisely; Soldier On; and, "There, by the grace of Probability (and/or God), Go I".



Best

Marino said...

First, thanks for the hidden Gramsci quote ("optimism of the will, pessimism of the reason")😊
Re: forgotten sci-fi writers...well, almost no one of them seems forgotten to me. The big problem is with dead autors, as once dead, their works become outdated, based on disproved science or extrapolation.
Atheism and nihilism...it's an argument so utterly threadbare. I'm an atheist and my life has a lot of meaning.

KB said...

@Marino

Do they always, though? PKD's "Flow My Tears" is full of 60s tech, but the overarching themes seem strikingly relevant today to the debate over surveillance and authoritarian politics in the US. Alfred Bester's stuff has kind of an old-timey diction to it, but I found it riveting.

On the other hand, I found Arthur Clarke pretty musty, and Harlan Ellison to be just ghastly. (I enjoyed him as an angry teenager, but not at all thereafter.)

I wonder what gives a work timelessness?

matthew said...

Locum thinks he's Murphy, but really he's just word salad. This tirade against optimism is just another symptom of his madness. "The Religion of Progress?" From a (supposed) doctor? So, Dr(?) Locum, tell me from whence your medical tools and knowledge come from, if not progress? How about those antibiotics? Or your general background in anatomy? Or were you brought into this world fully vested in your trade?

Locum wastes our time with his per-adolescent attempts at sophistry.

I'm going to start sending you billable hours for the time I waste reading your insanity. If you're going to treat this forum as your personal crapping ground, I should at least get paid for criticizing your bad ideas. I feel I am giving away my valuable CITOKATE to him for free.

Jumper said...

"There but for the grace of God go I" is attributed to John Bradford, burned at the stake by Mary of Tudor. His last words were optimistic:
"Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!"

Anonymous said...

@Paul SB

Ah yes, DMT. The ultimate hallucinogenic, found naturally at low levels in most plants and animals and famously used in the South American shamanic brew ayahuasca. Quite a bit of tourism being created around that! Some speculate it is produced in the pineal gland in the center of the brain. Its position seems to correspond to the position of the "third eye" (the origin of the Hindu dot on the forehead - the sixth chakra) and often seen on depictions of Buddha as well).

There is a hypothesis that massive amounts of DMT are released when close to death, which could possibly explain near death experiences. And yes, crazy experiences were definitely triggered by intentional asceticism, spirit quests, etc.

I believe that most religions have at their root various entheogens. Hinduism speaks of a drug called "soma" which is said to "roar" and to be the bringer of the gods. South American shamans have ayahuasca, native Americans tribes have peyote and mushrooms, the ancient Greek mystery cults used some sort of drug mixed into wine. Moses speaking to a bush that burns yet is not consumed certainly sounds like something from an acid trip!

I agree that if anything it is only a piece of the puzzle. Many other forces were certainly at play, but it seems plausible that the use of these substances could create lifelong beneficial changes in behavior which affected the survival and evolution of the population.

-Andy

David Brin said...

Paul: Darwin was “Descent of Man.” Ascent was Jacob Bronowski’s brilliant TV show. Also it turns out some other primates have concealed estrus. And some of the changes 40,000 years ago may have been partly genetic (speculated in EXISTENCE.) Still, good thoughts.

‘Of course a omnipotent deity made of love that grants you eternal life is the better alternative.”

Not if he’s secretive, manipulative and unfair. Like decreeing the vastly-evil notion called Original Sin, then not openly and clearly TELLING all peoples about it, with booming sky-voice so there’s no ambiguity. Then allowing a slender escape clause that you only tell one culture about, with lots of confusing ambiguity even there. Sorry, that’s not on my list of possible deities worthy of respect.

Locum was above average this time. Even interesting. Still, zero-summing that Optimism has to be based on “deserving.” Which is drivel. We are the rich and lucky beneficiaries of a combination of luck and design and pragmatic tools discovered across 6000 years of insipidly stupid feudalism. Tools that enabled us to try something else.

Out system has a disadvantage… it is only metastable, not a stable attractor like feudalism. But its advantages are immense, in that it is more productive of creativity, invention, error-avoidance, wealth, freedom and happiness — and avoiding stupid waste of talent — than any — make that ALL combined — prior civs.

Sure, the lack of stability and being subject to regularly recurring attempted oligarchic-feudalist putsches tempts one to pessimistically conclude the experiment is temporary and doomed.

OTOH, anyone who does not see in this some cause for guarded optimism, is not only a myopic, tunnel-visioned fool… but an incredible ingrate.

LarryHart said...

Ricardo Montachio:

"TLDR: I never said atheism was wrong, only that it is inherently nihilistic - a conclusion few atheists have the balls to face."

No, most atheists face it calmly.
...
If you want to go the nihilistic way, more power to you. Others will build meaning out of nothing at all.


Exactly! The notion that there is no reason to go on living if we weren't created for a creator's own purpose is inherently authoritarian. True Liberals can find reason to go on living without worrying about whether we're doing the will of a leader. Republicans of the Sarah Palin ilk probably can't even parse what those words mean in that order.

LarryHart said...

Jon S:

That's one argument I've never understood.

"Without God, the universe has no meaning!" And? Why is this a problem?

My life has meaning, with or without Deity-Concept-Of-Choice, because I, the being riding inside this skull, choose to interpret my life that way.


Look at it from the point of view of authoritarians. To someone who believes that only an elite decides what needs to be done, and the purpose of our free will is to decide whether to follow or to rebel, the argument makes perfect sense.

This is one of those "There are two kinds of people in the world..." things, and across the chasm between them, there can be little to no communication.

Anonymous said...

@Alfred Differ

According to the "stoned ape hypothesis" as told by Terence McKenna, hallucinogens may have affected our evolution millions of years ago as we came out of the trees and found mushrooms growing under cow patties. Low levels of psilocybin purportedly increase visual acuity as well as sexual activity. Visual acuity would be important for finding food, and obviously more sexual activity will pass your genes on as well. Therefore those organisms that sought out and consumed hallucinogenics tended to thrive. The novel neural connections made perhaps helped in the development of language and communication.

Problems with this include McKenna possibly misrepresenting the study on psilocybin and visual acuity, as well as not much evidence for hallucinogenic mushrooms in Africa.

I agree that it was likely a minor influence in our evolution, if at all. However I do think these substances led to the creation of religion.

-Andy

LarryHart said...

raito:

You guys make me laugh. Your lists of forgotten writers reads like my reading list.


I was going to say that the whole concept of "lists of forgotten writers" is funny in and of itself.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Without a Creator, the Universe is merely a fortunate accident without meaning or purpose or reason for existing. Only a deliberately created universe can have inherent meaning - accidental universes cannot.


How so? The universe is as it is, whether it was created intentionally or not.

Someone who "doesn't believe in gravity" is still bound to the earth by it. You don't change or escape from reality by virtue of a belief system. Neither do you change the nature of life, the universe, and everything (!) by your belief or lack thereof in a Creator.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

From this perspective, we see that Optimism represents an all-to-human rejection of Statistical Probability (and a near-infinite capacity for self-delusion), being best defined as the probabilistically inaccurate tendency to expect the (unlikely) 'positive and favorable' outcome


It's an ill wind that blows nobody good.
The news may be bad
For one Argentine lad,
But, it's good news for Argentine flies.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: Thanks. I’ve long suspected that recognizably modern humans had to date to something closer to 130K-70K years ago because we left Africa to displace our cousins who left in earlier waves. Weren’t we arriving on the Australian continent by 40KYA? That’s just being picky about dates, though. It seems there is good evidence that our modern physiology did NOT lead immediately to the social changes that make us what we are. Maybe the ‘theo’ part dates to 40KYA, though. I wouldn’t know how to know. 8)

My suspicion is we slowly domesticated each other through trade. Those who weren’t quite as xenophobic and their neighbors had a slight advantage if there were opportunities to trade outside their family groups. Like the less frightened wolves turning into dogs over many generations, a fringe social capability would have grown to dominate us. A time gap would be required between the arrivals of modern brain capacity and modern behavior. If true, the changes would be so gradual no one would notice without a time machine.

My other suspicion is the gradual collapse of our inclination toward xenophobia created the potential for a pack mind. We fail to notice the creature that is evolving here if we focus on individual humans. I can’t imagine a way to explore this topic, though, except through science fiction. The rules for turning observations into objective information run into trouble when we examine ourselves, but stories work perfectly. 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
The idea of "domesticating by trade" grated on me and I was thinking about other explanations when it occurred to me

Size and interrelationship of a "band"
You were talking about relationships from one social grouping - band - to another
But it occurs to me that the change may have been due to the size of the "band" and the structure of the interrelationships
Chimps have relatively small bands organized in strict hierarchies,
Human hunter gatherers have larger bands and don't have the strict hierarchy,
A strict hierarchy does not need much in the way of brains or thought - chickens manage it!
A more open system may well require a lot more thought - joint actions are negotiated not ordered
This more open structure may be the "Killer App" that drove humans into developing our brains

The inter-group domestication would have followed as you say - again I differ I would NOT call it "trade" - that word has too much of modern tit for tat heritage -
WE would be talking about interrelationships - much more to do with gossip than any actual "trade" of physical artifacts

Tony Fisk said...

Humans can maintain larger social groups because they can 'groom' multiple individuals (3-4) at a time by talking, rather than picking off fleas.

Of course, that raises a question: did we start talking because we were forming larger social groups?

Jumper said...

In other words, the group is more than human.

Daniel Duffy said...

What you all seem to be missing is that it is not physically posible for you create your own meaninging in an inherently meaningless universe. There is no "you" to create meaning in the first place.

You.
Do.
Not.
Exist.

The Self and Free Will are mere illusions. Brain studies show this conclusively, and it has some serious philosophical implications. And sorry, the science is settled. There is no free will, it's an illusion. So is the Self. So is consciousness. Under these circumstances it is not possible for any individual to create their own personal meaning and purpose.

Those too are illusions. All atheists have is a fantasy of being able to create meaning and purpose, a fantasy no different than what you accuse theists of. You accuse them of believing in a non existent "God" while you believe in the nonexistent "Self".

And you both do it out of fear.

From Tom Wolfe's brilliant essay "Sorry But Your Soul Just Died":

"Neuroscientists involved in three–dimensional electroencephalography will tell you that there is not even any one place in the brain where consciousness or self–consciousness (Cogito ergo sum) is located. This is merely an illusion created by a medley of neurological systems acting in concert. The young generation takes this yet one step further. Since consciousness and thought are entirely physical products of your brain and nervous system—and since your brain arrived fully imprinted at birth—what makes you think you have free will? Where is it going to come from? What "ghost," what "mind," what "self," what "soul," what anything that will not be immediately grabbed by those scornful quotation marks, is going to bubble up your brain stem to give it to you?..."

"A hundred years ago those who worried about the death of God could console one another with the fact that they still had their own bright selves and their own inviolable souls for moral ballast and the marvels of modern science to chart the way. But what if, as seems likely, the greatest marvel of modern science turns out to be brain imaging? And what if, ten years from now, brain imaging has proved, beyond any doubt, that not only Edward O. Wilson but also the young generation are, in fact, correct?"

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I'd argue that the group is Human while the individuals are human. We need another word that doesn’t imply something mystical.

@Duncan: The first time I read about the Invisible Hand it grated on me too. I’m a sovereign individual gosh darn it! How dare they! I learned to see the humor in my response later when I came to understand that the invisible hand only works with sovereign individuals. Enslave me and I can no longer participate. The Visible Hand prevents it.

I don’t mind loosening my term from ‘trade’ to ‘relationships’ if you really want that, but I think the important thing is that people involved in these new relations were trading stuff. Some of it was physical, some of it was what we would call intellectual property, and some of it was promises for future trade. Obviously, relationships are required for trade, but without trade the people involved would have remained as self-sufficient as they had always been. Trade of any kind undermines the desire for self-sufficiency and I think THAT is the key difference defining ‘modern’ human behavior. We are more interdependent with each generation and through that our ‘pack’ mind is evolving.

KevinC said...

Laurent wrote:

"If there's one thing that strains credulity it's the low number of force sensitive people: being force-sensitive is basically an hereditary trait -found among pretty much every sentient species- that allows you to fuck causality sideway: it shouldn't take long for such a darwinian advantage to spread until virtually everyone was force-sensitive."

My own head-canon explanation for this is that both the Jedi and Sith Orders were engineered to keep this from happening. The Jedi are pro-social and capable of forming an enduring society, but they're monastic. They can only perpetuate themselves by mining the Galaxy for Force talents--then separating them from the very concepts of love and family life at the youngest possible age and, for all practical intents and purposes, sterilizing them.

The Sith *can* reproduce, but their Ayn Rand-Meets-Genghis-Khan "ethical system" prevents them from forming a cooperating society. As soon as you get more than a few of them in one place, they start betraying and killing each other in their struggle to be the top dog. Presumably, every now and then a Sith would do the usual thing, and set themselves up as a god-king/queen with a collection of sexual partners and minions to raise the children. Then, the Jedi would "come to the rescue," defeat the Sith, and snap up all the Force-sensitive children.

Being a cooperative society, the Jedi would have an overwhelming tactical advantage over even the strongest lone-wolf Sith. However, their society is set up to spawn new Sith: "Beware the Dark Side!"--but fear *is* of the Dark Side, and leads to it, so living in constant fear of going bad, plus all the bottled-up, suppressed emotions, would cause a steady stream of defectors. Thus, the Jedi can never achieve final victory and cause Force-talents to go extinct. This dynamic is portrayed through Anakin's story arc.

The more numerous the Jedi Order becomes, the greater the statistical likelihood that one or more of them will "turn to the Dark Side," and re-start the Jedi vs. Sith conflict. This conflict itself is a homeostatic method of keeping the numbers of Force-sensitives down. Note that their signature weapon, the lightsaber, is devastatingly lethal, not exactly designed with subduing a foe in mind.

When the EU was still a "thing," the Jedi and Sith both had "Codes" that were very similar to each other in structure, implying a common origin. Although, IIRC these "Codes" first appear in the Knights of the Old Republic games, which I've heard (but not confirmed) are still canon in the Disney regime.

(to be continued)

KevinC said...

Result: A homeostatic balance that prevents Force-talents from forming a cooperating society that can also reproduce, which constantly thins their numbers, but does not eliminate them entirely, so long as the Jedi and Sith orders are able to bogart all the Force talents between them. Which leads to the question: who, or what, set up this arrangement in the first place?

Which, IMO could have led to a more interesting plot for Force Awakens. What differentiates Luke from the Force-talents of "the old days," is that he had the opportunity to grow up in a loving family environment before being exposed to the Force or Jedi teachings. He loved Beru and Owen enough to refuse "the Call" to his quest as long as they lived. Learning that they were in danger, he rushed home despite great peril, and over Obi-Wan's warning. Later, he ignored both Obi-Wan and Yoda when they urged him to be indifferent to the suffering of people he cared about and, again, faced death to save them. Then, he continued to care about both his friends and his enemy--Darth Vader--becoming the only person in the Galaxy to love him. Because of this, he was able to have passion and even anger without turning into a Sith sociopath.

In other words, he found a Way that was neither Jedi nor Sith, that could both cooperate *and* reproduce. But...that was somehow aborted between RoTJ and TFA, so that Luke ends up going into Obi-Wan Lone Ascetic Mode. More interesting plot opportunity (IMO) that will probably be lost: Luke Skywalker and his Students of the New Way vs. whoever/whatever (some kind of secret, Second Foundation-like cabal?) set things up to limit Force talent to a tiny elite in the first place.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Daniel
I am willing to take your word for the fact that you don't exist

Me?
I know I exist!

I see no issue in their not being a miniature man in my head
Look up "emergent properties" -

As far as free will is concerned modern science basically says that anything OTHER than free will is totally impossible
Heisenberg proved that about 100 years ago

Daniel Duffy said...

In summary, if the mind is purely material in nature,then free will is not physically possible.

You delude yourself if you think otherwise.

Lacking free will, you cannot create personal meaning.

Your belief that you can create your own personal meaning is therefore no different than a belief in God or unicorns.

As such you are no different than a theist.

And even if "You" did exist it still wouldn't matter:

"The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified "Yes," advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism. In retrospect, it was an anecdote tinged with desperation because in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless. Enter nihilism."

locumranch said...


The articulation of my worldview seems to have upset our lower-case matthew, so I'd like to clarify a few points for his amusement:

First, I love Antibiotics & I like Modern Medicine yet, as any Preventative Medicine textbook can tell you, our Increased quality-of-life & life expectancy is largely due to public health measures like clean water, better shelter, adequate nutrition & vaccination rather than the relatively modest advantage given us by Antibiotics.

Second, I like Modern Technology & I love Technological Improvement, yet I despise the term 'Progress' because (1) it conflates 'Forward Motion' with social, economic & technological improvement, (2) it is poorly & capriciously defined, and (3) its adherents assume that it exists as a predictable, linear, exponential or complexity-based certainty.

For, once the way is lost, Forward Motion (and/or Progress) does NOT necessarily represent an 'Improvement' in self-location (1);
One man's foodish opinion of 'Improvement' may or may NOT coincide with another man's poisonous opinion of the same (2); and Improvement (which often coincides with simplification) does NOT necessarily coincide with the increased complexity inherent in Moore's Law & Kurzweil's Accelerating Returns (3).

Progress is a Fool's Errand -- wherein the 'Progressive' is the bigger fool -- because the Progressive confuses 'more of the same' (and, with it, advancement towards an unsustainable 'dead end') with Improvement AS IF greater income inequality represents an 'improvement' over a diamond-shaped middle class, mass-produced food-like substances reflect an 'improvement' over healthy organic cookery, the rise of an omnipresent police state represents an 'improvement' in personal liberties, an increase in the quantity of university graduates reflects an 'improvement' in the singular quality of education, or the automated production of more & more petrol-burning automobiles represents an improvement in our alternative energy strategies.

We rush headlong to our destruction & we call it 'Progress'.


Best
______
@LarryH:

So what happens now?
Another suitcase in another hall.
So what happens now?
...

Don't ask anymore.

Daniel Duffy said...

Duncan,

"Since consciousness and thought are entirely physical products of your brain and nervous system—and since your brain arrived fully imprinted at birth—what makes you think you have free will? Where is it going to come from?"

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel: What nonsense. You are making assumptions many of us flatly reject.

1: Self can exist in a meaningless universe. Soul can too. I argue they are the same.
2: Brain studies do not show what you think they show. When they say they can’t find a certain thing, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If you want to learn about this stuff, consider reading Hofstadter.
3. Your argument that we are guilty of believing a fantasy reminds me of theists believing theirs. It’s a decent analogy, but I’m inclined to argue that there is no way to know Reality well enough to resolve this, so we are arguing uselessly.

KevinC said...

Daniel wrote:

"You.
Do.
Not.
Exist."

Then...who are you talking to? And who's talking?

"The Self and Free Will are mere illusions. Brain studies show this conclusively, and it has some serious philosophical implications. And sorry, the science is settled."

And so is the solidity of matter: at the fundamental level, it's all just magic sparkles dancing around in a way that certain equations of physics can model accurately...but that doesn't mean "you" wanna go drop an anvil on "your" foot now, does it?

"There is no free will, it's an illusion. So is the Self. So is consciousness. Under these circumstances it is not possible for any individual to create their own personal meaning and purpose."

Any sufficiently realistic illusion is indistinguishable from reality. The problem with "God" (why singular, big-G instead of a whole population of them?) is that "he" is not sufficiently realistic. Not by a long shot. We all experience our "Selves" every waking second of every day, to the extent that "you" are talking to "us" as if we all have "Selves" (if we don't, who's gonna repent and turn to Jesus to save us from the Nihilism Bogeyman?) while simultaneously striving to say we don't. And you accuse atheists of self-contradiction?

"Those too are illusions. All atheists have is a fantasy of being able to create meaning and purpose, a fantasy no different than what you accuse theists of. You accuse them of believing in a non existent "God" while you believe in the nonexistent "Self".

I think it was Daniel Dennett who said "I do have a soul; it's just made up of lots of tiny robots." But how, exactly, is that different from having one that's made of "spirit?" If "spirit" existed, scientists could discover it and tease it apart into its component "spirit-particles" or whatever, and then you'd be in the same position, noticing that the Gods and Goddesses don't have homuncui, either.

So?

Jumper said...

In no particular order, some disconnected remarks:
1. Daniel uses the word "merely" a lot. I am suspicious of that.
2. My remark ("In other words, the group is more than human." was a joke response to Alfred's interesting comment ("We fail to notice the creature that is evolving here if we focus on individual humans. I can’t imagine a way to explore this topic, though, except through science fiction.") This is the punchline:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_Than_Human
3. locumranch, most thinkers (worth paying attention to) already recognize that the idea of "progress" depends on arbitrary moral values. When used in a way which conflicts with yours it's probably clearer to state your exact objection rather than rail against the term itself.
4. Determinism is dead. Determinism is dead. Determinism is dead.

KevinC said...

Locoranch wrote:

"Progress is a Fool's Errand -- wherein the 'Progressive' is the bigger fool -- because the Progressive confuses 'more of the same' (and, with it, advancement towards an unsustainable 'dead end') with Improvement AS IF greater income inequality represents an 'improvement' over a diamond-shaped middle class...[etc.]"

Could you please provide some examples, with links to their writings, of some Progressives who actually believe this? There's a word for a person who wants more of the same: Conservative.

David Brin said...

KevinC that is an intelligent effort to rationalize the blithering idiocy of George Lucas’s faux-eastern claptrap mythology. Alas, your approach kinda falls before the high tech called sperm banks.

DD, sure consciousness is a surface illusion created by a community of sub-personas. So? I should panic over that? Declare that “I” don’t exist? Silly. The universe is filled with examples of “e pluribus unum.” Melanges of cells that compete and collaborate to make organisms. Melanges of organisms that compete and collaborate to form ecosystems. Melanges of people who compete and collaborate to form societies. Marvin Minsky’s The Society of Mind is about the many components that merge to form a person.

All right it’s obvious that my consciousness is like Sigourney Weaver’s character in Galaxy Quest — reciting aloud what my sub-selves vote to have be the surface thought, each instant. So? Does that mean there is no “me”? Nonsense. I am an emergent property of complexity. This is what AI is likely to be, as well, and woe be unto that nascent brilliant mind, if it ignores the lessons in all of this, striving instead for “Samaritan” levels of (fragile) unity and control.

Dang, locum eat whatever it is you consumed recently. You seem much better myelinated. That was dour, dyspeptic and reached the wrong conclusion. But it was sanely and cogently argued. I respond that it is progress when the resulting situation results in a wider stance - a society whose diversity, openness and maximized access to talent enables it to discover mistakes far more rapidly, adjust more agilely and respond with vastly greater resources of energy and innovation. That is a “direction” in one sense, though contingent and not teleological.

Note, it is exactly what you need, in order NOT to “rush headlong into destruction.” In fact it is the only way not to.

Alfred Differ said...

@Jumper: I read that book as a teenager. I didn't much like how the gestalt mind managed things. It seemed to waste some of its resources. Still... it was thought provoking enough that I've incorporated some of it as conceptual foundation stones for these thoughts. If someone says Homo Gestalt, that book is one of the stories that pops into my mind.

Since I've only recently caught up on some of V.Vinge's work, "pack" and "choir" have also been added to the foundation. It seems to me that the more interdependent we are, the higher the bandwidth demands are between individual human minds. There ARE compression techniques for the information we pass with 'price' being an OLD one, but we've invented tools over the ages that support the demand. I don't see that stopping any time soon.

David Brin said...


Just today on the NPR site, refuting the notion that Atheists are sad folks who feel meaningless.
http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/01/21/463837966/an-unkillable-myth-about-atheists

Mind you I am not - strictly or even liberally speaking an atheist, though I sure am doctrinally. But I do deem that anyone responding to "spirituality" based on threats and rewards has no basis to wag moral fingers at anyone.

Alfred Differ said...

The greatest advantage of a free and open society is not the pleasure of liberty (though that’s great). It is the high proportion of disastrous blunders that we manage to catch, in time, that led to our unprecedented ratio of success to failure.

Being slightly picky... I know. 8)

I place this as the #2 best advantage. My #1 is that people ACT on what they know when they live in a free and open society. Maximal use of talent.

Obviously a wise actor will test her ideas against her neighbors, but that she acts at all is why we must preserve her liberty to do so.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Those too are illusions. All atheists have is a fantasy of being able to create meaning and purpose, a fantasy no different than what you accuse theists of. You accuse them of believing in a non existent "God" while you believe in the nonexistent "Self".


Serious question--who are you trying to convince? And why?

And why "atheists"? How does the existence of God affect the situation one way or another?

Jon S. said...

If "I" do not exist, and free will is an illusion, then I suppose atheists are merely predestined to fail to Believe, arguing about it is pointless, and the Deity that created them in order to damn them for all eternity for something they have no control over sounds more like Satan than God to me.

Meanwhile, I keep hearing in my head...

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that's clear, I will choose free will!

Tony Fisk said...

Free will is a fractal: a state that cannot be precisely predicted *even in a purely classical Universe*.

(Here's how (a) God might respond to the idea of non-existence ;-)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Just today on the NPR site, refuting the notion that Atheists are sad folks who feel meaningless.


I just this moment realized that this particular fallacy of how religious people think atheists must feel is the same as the way right-wingers thing liberals would act in their situation. It's the religionists who would feel sad and meaningless without the comfort of God, so they presume atheists feel that way all the time.

@Daniel Duffy, I'd still like to know how the scientific fact that the self does not exist is affected one way or the other by the existence of God. If the scientific situation is both 1) true and 2) unbearable, isn't that still the case if God exists?

@locumranch

So go if you're able
To somewhere unstable,
And save it.
Whip up your hate
In some tottering state,
But not here, dear.
Is that clear, dear?

LarryHart said...

Can someone please prove scientifically that Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin don't exist?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Daniel

"Since consciousness and thought are entirely physical products of your brain and nervous system—and since your brain arrived fully imprinted at birth—what makes you think you have free will? Where is it going to come from?"

You don't understand - even if they were identical at the atomic - sod it - subatomic level after a short amount of time they would be different
And there is no way - none at all - to predict what they would be like at the very fine scale of cell development
If fact Heisenberg showed us that it is theoretically completely impossible to predict at that level

So we have random factors and filters - which between them can easily produce "Free Will"

Paul SB said...

Jerry, thanks for the correction again. I'm still checking the site before caffeination, so I'missing things. Still, it's a very good argument against those fools who think that government should have no role. Very few businesses would go to the expense of defending the grid against such an unpredictable threat as a Carrington Event. Too bad its those same fools who are running the government.

Andy, we may have read the same book. I remember it being one that had a lot of good information, but tried too hard to show that its hypothesis applies to absolutely everyone everywhere. The general idea of entheogens makes perfect sense, but you can't assume that it was always fungal. Where I live, the Native Americans used a flowering plant that goes by the name of Jimson Weed or Angel's Trumpet. An infusion of the huge, white flowers produces visions, but it has a reputation for giving bad trips. I see it all the time in people's gardens or growing along the highway, and inwardly grin, as so few people have a clue what it is. I have no doubt there would be people cultivating it if they knew.

Alfred,

"My other suspicion is the gradual collapse of our inclination toward xenophobia created the potential for a pack mind. We fail to notice the creature that is evolving here if we focus on individual humans. I can’t imagine a way to explore this topic, though, except through science fiction."

Actually, an archaeologist named Ian Hodder had an interesting idea along those lines. He was examining habitation sites in Europe during the Neolithic and he noticed an interesting pattern. In the Early Neolithic, people tended to live in small family groups and dispose of their garbage just outside their domiciles, but buy the end of the Neolithic they were building their domiciles closer together and disposing of their garbage outside their villages. His contention was that where you dispose your garbage says a lot about who you include in your "group." So in the Early Neo, the group was pretty much just the family, and you dumped your garbage right outside your family property because all those other people out there just don't matter. By the Late Neo, people were thinking of themselves as members of much larger groups, so they did not want to dump their trash on their neighbors. That was in "The Domestication of Europe" which, unfortunately, I lent to someone who got transferred to a different team a week later, and I never saw the book again.

However, you might try your hand at writing some prehistoric fiction to explore the ideas further.

Dr. Brin - descent & ascent - I mix those two up all the time...

Paul SB said...

It's fun to note the obsessions people show in this forum. Alfred is obsessed with trade, loci is obsessed with regressivism, Larry is obsessed with comic books, and Daniel Duffy suffers from that very common obsession with trying to make everyone in the world be just like him - what informs most people's religious sensibilities. I'm sure someone will be glad to point out my obsessions - self-absorption is often best left to others. However, it is unlikely any of us will give up our obsessions easily.

Since today seems to be pick on Daniel Duffy Day, I'll address that one here. There's a couple problems with logic that makes his statements easy meat, and Dr. Brin already alluded to one of them. The idea that the human brain is made of many different parts rather than one single part that can be identified as "you" is really naive. It's based on the old hierarchical assumption that everything must have a single control center, be that the King, God (the King's supernatural justification) or "the Brain." The fact that different parts do different jobs does not in any way mean that we have no free will or that there is no actual "you" in there, it only means that we all have many different parts that do different things. It would be like saying that cars are an illusion just because there is no single part of the car that does all the things a car has to do to function. This illustrates the infinite twistability of human logic, because behind every chain of reasoning is an army of unspecified assumptions without which the chain of reasoning collapses.

When someone asks if free will is real or not, the answer is "correct." Or in other words, it's really both. Every thought we have is guided and molded in part by our instincts, which are at least in some sense genetic, but also our cultural expectations that have been absorbed unconsciously, and personal histories that have left marks on our neural pathways. All these influence our decisions in subtle ways we are mostly not very cognizant of. But then, we also have those frontal lobes, the executive centers that focus and concentrate, weighing choices and working things out. It isn't 100% either way, but there are numerous sects that demand that it be 100%, and that debate has been going on since long before John Calvin. Reality, as usual, turns out to be much more complicated than all our trite little dogmatic slogans, sayings and proverbs suggest.

Paul SB said...

The second issue, which is actually encapsulated well by a quote Dr. Brin took from Mr. Duffy but answered in a different way, has to do with the nature of logic itself. I have been to plenty of churches where they described god as being "made of love" - never mind the irony of all the hate and invective they hurled in the name of their god of love. So how, actually, can something be made of an intangible, emotional quality. I'm all for love. It's built right into our instincts, though some of us have more of the appropriate wiring than others. But no actual thing can be "made of love" or "made of hate" or made of any other abstract, emotional quality. This is a case of metaphorical thinking, or analogical reasoning, rather than truly logical reasoning. It is a kind of logic, but a lazy kind of logic that conflates superficial appearances with actual causal relationships. It is also the kind of logic that makes silly superstitions, like throwing salt over your shoulder or triskaidekaphobia, voodoo cults and the dunking stool. This is exactly the kind of logic that science rejects in favor of careful observation and a modicum of objectivity.

Analogical reasoning comes all too easily to the human mind, and there are no humans anywhere who don't do it. George Lakoff's "Metaphors We Live By" is an eye-opening read that shows just how pervasive anagogic is in human thought. Given that, I can't really be too judgmental - but I can ask that others return the courtesy.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226468011?keywords=metaphors%20we%20live%20by&qid=1453442990&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

David Brin said...

All that said, let me add that Daniel is VERY welcome here! This is one of the oldest and most elevated sites on the Web, almost never visited by bona fide trolls, and very seldom does the tone drop below the level of an occasional brotherly snarl.

You want free will? I know I am delusional. I base my self-worth on the fact that my wife actually - on balance(!) - approves of me. And that folks sometimes tell me a rite gud. And that my communities tend to be clusters of quasi-almost grownups motivated almost as much by curiosity and goodwill, as they are by flaming ego.

That'll do. For now. Till we build those who will be better enough than us to build others who can build the builders of genuine Star Trek.

And to be honest? We need guys like Daniel around. Heck, there are others I can name, as well.

Daniel Duffy said...

I appreciate the kind words Dr. Brin.

But what you all are claiming is that you can act as if the Self and Free Will existed.

And that is no different than acting as if God and the Soul existed.

Which is the point of Tom Wolfe's essay

LarryHart "I'd still like to know how the scientific fact that the self does not exist is affected one way or the other by the existence of God."

They don't and that wasn't wasn't my point. God's non existence forces us to conclude thate Existence is pintelss and meaningless. The Self's non-existence makes it physically and logically impossible to create our own meaning and purposs.

We're just meat puppets pulled by strings we aren't even aware of.

Daniel Duffy said...

I really can't recommend Tom Wolfe's essay enough:

http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/Wolfe-Sorry-But-Your-Soul-Just-Died.php

It has a disturing finish that predicts the ultimate victor of nihilism over human morals:

But before you atheists run up your flags of triumph, he said, think of the implications. "The story I have to tell," wrote Nietzsche, "is the history of the next two centuries." He predicted (in Ecce Homo) that the twentieth century would be a century of "wars such as have never happened on earth," wars catastrophic beyond all imagining. And why? Because human beings would no longer have a god to turn to, to absolve them of their guilt; but they would still be racked by guilt, since guilt is an impulse instilled in children when they are very young, before the age of reason. As a result, people would loathe not only one another but themselves. The blind and reassuring faith they formerly poured into their belief in God, said Nietzsche, they would now pour into a belief in barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods: "If the doctrines...of the lack of any cardinal distinction between man and animal, doctrines I consider true but deadly"—he says in an allusion to Darwinism in Untimely Meditations—"are hurled into the people for another generation...then nobody should be surprised when...brotherhoods with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of the non–brothers...will appear in the arena of the future."

Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century "on the mere pittance" of the old decaying God–based moral codes. But then, in the twenty–first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of "the total eclipse of all values" (in The Will to Power). This would also be a frantic period of "revaluation," in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old. But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not."

Why should we bother ourselves with a dire prediction that seems so far–fetched as "the total eclipse of all values"? Because of man's track record, I should think. After all, in Europe, in the peaceful decade of the 1880s, it must have seemed even more far–fetched to predict the world wars of the twentieth century and the barbaric brotherhoods of Nazism and Communism. Ecce vates! Ecce vates! Behold the prophet! How much more proof can one demand of a man's powers of prediction?


Daniel Duffy said...

And the triumph of nihilism over rationality and science itself:

Ironically, said Nietzsche, this unflinching eye for truth, this zest for skepticism, is the legacy of Christianity (for complicated reasons that needn't detain us here). Then he added one final and perhaps ultimate piece of irony in a fragmentary passage in a notebook shortly before he lost his mind (to the late–nineteenth–century's great venereal scourge, syphilis). He predicted that eventually modern science would turn its juggernaut of skepticism upon itself, question the validity of its own foundations, tear them apart, and self–destruct.

Recently I happened to be talking to a prominent California geologist, and she told me: "When I first went into geology, we all thought that in science you create a solid layer of findings, through experiment and careful investigation, and then you add a second layer, like a second layer of bricks, all very carefully, and so on. Occasionally some adventurous scientist stacks the bricks up in towers, and these towers turn out to be insubstantial and they get torn down, and you proceed again with the careful layers. But we now realize that the very first layers aren't even resting on solid ground. They are balanced on bubbles, on concepts that are full of air, and those bubbles are being burst today, one after the other."

I suddenly had a picture of the entire astonishing edifice collapsing and modern man plunging headlong back into the primordial ooze. He's floundering, sloshing about, gulping for air, frantically treading ooze, when he feels something huge and smooth swim beneath him and boost him up, like some almighty dolphin. He can't see it, but he's much impressed. He names it God.

Daniel Duffy said...

I understand why you all reject the idea the "You " do not exist and desparately cling to hope against all of the evidence.

It's not easy to star into the abyss.

As Nietzsche observed, the abyss begins to star back at you.

The man who accurately predicted the Death of God - and the horrible wars of the 20th century that would result from God's death - also predicted the Death of the Self.

What comes next, "the total eclipse of all values" will be far worse than mere war.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

Very few businesses would go to the expense of defending the grid against such an unpredictable threat as a Carrington Event. Too bad its those same fools who are running the government.


Running the government "like a business", no less.

As if society should downsize, dump its externalities, and be concerned with nothing but the next quarterly profit report.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

I understand why you all reject the idea the "You " do not exist and desparately cling to hope against all of the evidence.


No, you really don't.

I happen to find absurd the notion that "I" (whether real or not) need to cling to a hope that I exist.


It's not easy to star into the abyss.


Some of us already went through that (and came out the other side) around age twelve.


As Nietzsche observed...


What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.


KB said...

@Daniel Duffy

Aren't you kind of assuming people form their beliefs and subsequent actions based on consistency with first principles? I have never met another person whose behavior supported that assumption, ever.

Taking every assertion of yours as true, what then? Am I to then feign belief? I'd love to be a believer, truly, but some of us just aren't capable of hearing the music of the spheres in your preferred way. And it's my understanding that your god gets quite angry at insincere expressions of faith.

Lastly, if I have to choose between delusions, I would prefer Self. I'm with Dr. Brin when he says that civilized entities do not behave like the God in the Bible. If something like that does exist, I think we would be morally obligated to ignore it.

Anonymous said...

@Daniel Duffy

I largely agree with what you have been saying. We use language and concepts to create dividing lines: between self and not-self, between car and not-car; but when looked at from another perspective we see that everything is one. All is energy and quantum potentials in a giant dance, blending together and constantly in flux. "You" don't exist separately. You are part of your environment, you ARE your environment - we replace all our atoms every 7 years or so. A temporary pattern of energy, just as a whirlpool is a temporary pattern of water.

How much did Nietzsche know about Eastern philosophy and religion? For though the external, monotheistic God is dead or dying, our inner divinity and oneness of all life is beginning to shine. It is here where we can construct new meaning for the 21st century, after old values have crumbled.

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to sign above comment.

-Andy

Jumper said...

More disconnected pieces, much like my self:
1. It's been pointed out before me that the final frontiers, Africa and Antarctica, were explored right before science fiction took off. Tarzan led to John Carter. Exploration, the root of so much adventure fiction (and of the dreams of the young and young at heart) had to go to a frontier which was vanishing. Space, science, psychology became new frontiers.
2. Simultaneously, quantum theory and Kurt Godel overturned much of the foundation of Western thought (and much of all human philosophy in all cultures, giving a pass to more mystical areas of a few non-Western religious philosophies.) Predestination paradoxes dissolved. It took until the last of the 20th century before Godel and quantum theory began to be absorbed, even by working scientists outside physics, as well as ordinary educated folks. (I don't think Tom Wolfe is able to give up his Newtonian precepts; nor see that they guide him.)
3. Freudianism died. LSD did not.
4. The word "just" is often used similarly to the word "mere."
5. Some of my friends get quite exercised when I stand up for Bush's remark that God grants us freedom. I explain that in a "stopped clock twice a day" sense, as metaphor, this is sound: we live in a universe that is non-deterministic and non-computable, with the curious property baked into it that unreal entities (us) can affect its outcome in ways which are unknowable.

Jon S. said...

Daniel, you still have not addressed the basic dichotomy in your position.

If "free will" is illusory, and all our choices are dictated by mere chemistry, then those who believe differently than you are predestined to think the way they do. They literally have no options. In this context, few religions make any sense - the Christian faiths, in particular, with their emphasis on failure to believe leading to eternal damnation and punishment in Hell, make no sense if you can't choose whether to have faith. In this worldview, God would be quite literally creating people for the specific purpose of viciously torturing them for all eternity. Now, perhaps it's just my chemical predestination to feel this way, but that's not the sort of God I can bring myself to worship.

As for Nietzsche, he seemed terrified of a universe in which he personally was unimportant, viewing that as a universe with "no purpose", a nihilistic view indeed. He always came across to me as the world's oldest goth teenager, forever lamenting "the abyss" of purposelessness. I went through a phase like that myself once, back when I was about fifteen I think, before I came to fully accept that no, the world does not revolve around me, that in fact to (at the time) around six billion people I didn't matter at all. It's okay, though, because to around five or six of them, I'm a pretty big deal. :-) My purpose, one which I have chosen, is to assist those people directly, and all the others indirectly, to live as well as they can manage. That purpose has sustained me for decades now, and the fact that it is completely meaningless to the Grand Universe At Large bothers me not in the least. I don't give half a rancid rat's ass what the Grand Universe At Large thinks, or even if it does; what my wife, my cohusband, and our children think is very important, however.

Paul SB said...

I think we can take some meaning from the title Dr. Brin chose for this thread. It is entirely consistent with what he said about Daniel Duffy above, to whit:

"All that said, let me add that Daniel is VERY welcome here!" and "We need guys like Daniel around"

It isn't necessary to see eye-to-eye about everything to have a good conversation and to learn something from one another. If no one ever disagreed about anything, the conversation would get awfully dull. On the other hand, if it gets too rancorous, no one wants to speak to each other ever again.

Forgive me for saying this, Mr. Duffy, but every time you come on this list typing away about the Big G Upstairs, you come across as being just like all the priests and preachers, Sunday School elders and street-corner Bible bangers I have ever known - absolutely desperate to make everyone the same as yourself. There's a subtext to what you are saying. It says: anyone who disagrees with you is stupid. We get that from little loci and his sapling sidekick all the time. But when you go at it from the religion perspectives, there is another subtext that traditionally goes with it: anyone who doesn't go to your church is not just stupid, they are evil and will be punished for it unless they change their ways and conform utterly to the norms and expectations of your church.

Paul SB said...

Many people here have repeatedly refuted your assertions about the meaninglessness of their lives, about their inherent immorality and all the despair they must, absolutely must feel. No matter how many people tell you that they are not you, the message just doesn't get through. You just wait a few months, then come back with the same thing, supported by a new batch of highly selective quotes.

I could tell you that what your prominent California geologist said was actually just a colorful way of expressing what every trained scientist feels going through grad school. I could recommend you read Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" if you want to gain a better understanding of how science actually works at the macro level (in fact, I'm pretty sure I've made this recommendation before). That "ooze" sensation is a result of the contrast between the public misrepresentations of science as a thing that is absolute and unchanging and the reality that real scientists experience, which is that scientists are just as human and fallible as preachers. The difference is that scientists recognize this fact, while the religious caste continue to teach their own infallibility.

This stuff is only a problem if you think in very simplistic, black-and-white terms. I've had these conversations more than I care to remember. When the guys who knock on my door find that I agree with them on one thing, then they start prying to find more. They very quickly start getting mad, though, because I don’t agree with everything. How could it be possible for any individual human being to agree with another on everything? But what they want is not human beings to calmly and politely discuss matters, they are looking for panting lapdogs who will nod and wag their tongues in absolute agreement with every word they say. Eventually I stopped being polite and started slamming the door in their faces like most people do.

Paul SB said...

Not long after the Shrub began his pointless invasion of Iraq, I started seeing bumper stickers that said, “Regime Change Start at Home.” I don’t do the bumper sticker thing myself – I have known too many people whose cars were vandalized or whose lives were seriously threatened for expressing their vehicular freedom of speech (and note that the people who were threatened were expressing views that were contrary to the religious right, not the views offensive to the liberal left). If you are serious about persuading people, your approach isn’t working here. Harping on the existence vs. non-existence of God isn’t convincing anyone, because they see something you do not. The God you are advocating for is a playground bully in divine clothes. People are rejecting your conception of God for the very reason you have been to believe in Him – on moral grounds. If you want to win converts, you’re going to have to show that God really is “made of love.” That is a pretty tall order, given all the atrocities done in His name, and the insistence that this loving god will damn everyone to eternal torture for not bending over and doing everything His representatives here on Earth claim he told them to do. Indeed, regime change has to begin at home.

I’m all for conversing with people who have very different views from my own. How else can you grow? But simplistic, obsessive, black-and-white thinkers aren’t worth the effort. Nothing is gained but a momentary burst of glucocorticoids. All it does is turn people into outrage addicts, like my brother. I’m not going to live my life that way. I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy.

Berial said...

This whole religious debate "thing" has been going on a VERY long time. I doubt it's going away anytime soon.

Example:

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
- Seneca the Younger (4 BC - 64 AD) Roman Philosopher

Jumper said...

How about "God is a positive-sum game?" Will that work?

Jumper said...

"All events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God." “nothing happens but what [God] has knowingly and willingly decreed.” -- John Calvin
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predestination_in_Calvinism
I really do think between him and Newton, determinism has so imbued itself in our minds that for some it's like fish unable to grasp the concept of water.

locumranch said...


The term 'Progress' is defined (variously) as "Forward or onward movement, as towards a destination, goal or purpose", "advancement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage", "the development of an individual or society in a direction considered superior to the previous level" or "an advance towards completion, maturity, or perfection", the problem being that the destination, goal or arbitrary moral end-state of what constitutes progressive 'perfection' is neither agreed upon nor well-defined.

So, in response to KevinC's query, I offer up a quote of unquestionable providence that demonstrates the progressive impulse to insist that the present (and, by extension, the future) is "superior to the previous level", adding only that the progressive is someone who wants 'more of the same' in terms of improvement, whereas a conservative is someone who desires 'the same amount of same' as in little or no advancement:

"Angus Hervey, opines that: “We are living through the most astonishing period of human progress in history. And nobody’s telling us about it. Indeed, he could have made it a clean dozen reasons, by mentioning something I’ve been saying for the last month or so… that 2015 was by far humanity’s best year in the exploration and understanding of space, the cosmos and our place in the universe."

[And, I thought that the modern educational conformity factory, the loss of a coordinated space program & our March-to-War was something of a setback]

To Daniel Duffy, I agree that the Nietzsche's observations are mostly accurate; his predictions are fairly valid; his conflict between the Self's & the Lack of Self is irreducible; and, his worldview can be intense, intoxicating & overwhelming. That said, he is without humour, and a man without humour is like a champion bicyclist without testicles or accolades. Kierkegaard said that "The more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense for the comic"; Victor Borge said "Humor is something that thrives between man's aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else"; and, Wittgenstein said "A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes". (I almost quoted Bill Cosby here).

To Jumper, I thank him for his "arbitrary moral value" quip and add that BF Skinner's 'Soft Determinism' is alive, well & scientifically supportable.

To Ajit Varki, you have my empathy, for David's progressive mindset is such that all data, argument or opinion must subserve the official narrative of predestined human perfectibility and "Uplift".

To LarryH, I say:

I had to let it happen, I had to change
Couldn't stay all my life down at heel
Looking out of the window
Staying out of the sun

So, I chose freedom
Running around, trying everything new
But nothing impressed me at all
I never expected it to


Best

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Larry is obsessed with comic books,


Not that you're wrong, but really? That's your take-away from me?
:)

You should have seen me in the late 1970s.

David Brin said...

“But what you all are claiming is that you can act as if the Self and Free Will existed. — And that is no different than acting as if God and the Soul existed.”

Sorry Daniel, but you are acting as if all four exist AND accepting doctrinal demands and models that conflict with scientifically instrumented facts, just because some earlier, more primitive humans had special hallucinations of their own.

If you want to believe all four chimeras, fine, but inflicting Bronze Age hallucinations on others, especially children, when those hallucinations are in themselves morally at-best dubious, is where we have problems with formal dogmas.

Fact is, enlightenment deists and scientific -contingent agnostics and spritually confident atheists are far more “reverent” in a basic sense — they are more willing to take on the task that any decent Creator laid before us — to become more like Him.

The Great Sermon is “I am staying behind the curtain. Act as if I am not here at all.” No Big Booming Voice. No unambiguous “miracles.” We are clearly being TOLD to act agnostic and solve our own problems. Who am I to disobey?

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

Perhaps unlike Brin, I most often, when positing a creator of the universe, have left behind the Abrahamic god long ago, and look at all the less well-explored possibility space. The whole concept seems suspiciously simian in essense, so I have doubts about the meaningfulness of it, however. I do find it interesting to explore the boundary.
locumranch, Skinner is indeed trapped in the old school of determinism. I would bet he'd claim that the result of a roll of the dice is predetermined. And I say it is not.

Anonymous said...

@Jumper

"I would bet he'd claim that the result of a roll of the dice is predetermined. And I say it is not."

So, if you were to "rewind" time, and roll the dice again, you think the result could be different? Why?

-Andy

Anonymous said...

The Great Sermon is “I am staying behind the curtain. Act as if I am not here at all.” No Big Booming Voice. No unambiguous “miracles.” We are clearly being TOLD to act agnostic and solve our own problems. Who am I to disobey?

I like that :) Salvation lies within!

-Andy

raito said...

LarryHart said that Nietzsche said,

'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.'

One of the bigger lies, along with 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me'.

Dr. Brin,

'metastable' is a good word for it. I'd got a bit further and say that our system requires energy (not just can't deal with disturbances). If we don't put any energy in, it'll head for the lowest level for sure.

LarryHart said...

raito:

LarryHart said that Nietzsche said,

'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.'


Actually, the way I quoted it is from a pop song. It shows that my daughter is a teenager. :)


One of the bigger lies, along with 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me'.


Well, I think the lie is that "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger." The assertion fails for some things, but for other things, it does apply.

BTW, I always hear the "sticks and stones" line the way I was first introduced to it in an Underdog cartoon, where the superhero said:
"Sticks and stones can't break my bones. And bullets never hurt me."

Robert said...

It's not just the religious who get trapped in religious-style mentality.

My recent arguments with anarchists suggests to me that they are likewise in a religious mentality. It's just their thought processes are anarchy instead of God. One eye-roll I suffer from is their assertion "we don't need government" but "if someone hurts someone else, the harmed party can sue!"

Except... courts are a form of government.

Money exists because of government - without government saying X is currency, then you could offer me gold and I could say "well, you need food badly. I have all the food. So I want one brick of gold per loaf of bread. Because I don't see the value of the gold, and you're not offering me anything else I want." (In short, all forms of money are fiat currency.) So lawsuits don't make much sense seeing the money offered may not be what's desired. And how do you enforce a court ruling? If the sued party says "I don't recognize the authority of the court" then what, send a mob after them?

It's religious thinking. Get rid of government and everything is fine. Compare that to Everyone worships my God, and everything is fine. Except it's not. In either case.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: My obsession with trade (exchange in its broadest sense) comes from a growing feeling that we are growing a corpus callosum connecting us all. Trade in the simplest form can be found in language where emergent order alters each host brain. We’ve gone further, though, with our additional markets and now with the internet. We already have experience with singularity and I’ve no doubt we will again, though probably not as anyone currently thinks we will. 8)

Trade isn’t really my primary focus, though. I want to help make this a multi-world spanning civilization and getting there requires that we understand how we got here. Trade has played a large role in that.

@Daniel Duffy: And that is no different than acting as if God and the Soul existed.

I’m going to agree with you on this. Personally I’m inclined to think God does not exist while Soul does, but I recognize the analogy you are making. Illusions abound.

Where I’ll take a different course is in the use of the word ‘illusion’. Suppose every musician in the world put down their instruments. Would that make Beethoven’s Ninth an illusion? Suppose we burned all copies of it. Is it gone? I’d argue it still exists in Popper’s third world sense because someone remembers it and will probably write it down again. While they write it, they are experiencing it, so it exists in the second world too. These worlds are philosophical constructs meant to provide a home to experience, information patterns, and other abstractions, but they also provide a way to describe the recursion that is occurring. If I can describe the pattern in a recursive loop, the abstraction is real enough that I won’t use the ‘illusion’ word.

If I do this, I have to argue that God DOES exist… within you and those who believe. I can accept that.

Jumper said...

Given that "rewinding the tape," Andy, is an impossibility so far as I know, I would answer "yes" to your question on possibility of a different result. Virtual particles suggest so. I can't eliminate a mutable past.

David Brin said...

Robert Ayn Rand never said “no-government.” Most libertarians even randians say government should have a monopoly on force… but that is inherently dangerous and so govt must be held strictly accountable and no larger than necessary. We agree on all that! But not over where to draw the line. If govt’s sole job is to defend against threats, suppress violence and to enforce court adjudicated contracts, then you have perfect system for enforcing the privileges of oligarchs and feudal lords. What you have, indeed, is exactly the system Adam Smith and our founders rebelled against.

Which is why Rand is a destroyer of the libertarianism of Smith and (when he was cogent) Hayek. It is legitimate for us to have joint-shared projects that we decide upon by negotiation and politics, even if that means coercive adjustment of income and property through taxation and allocation. Such coercive allocations bear burden of proof! The best-defended ones are those that clearly increase the number of skilled and confident new competitors to feed into our markets of ideas, goods, services, policies etc. Smith himself supported public education, health, infrastructure.

Many leftist meddlings do not satisfy this criterion. As a Smithian libertarian I deem them to face a stiffer burden of proof. Arts classes for kids and concert halls. Hm. Maybe. Subsidies for artists? My reflex is not. No field of human endeavor is more fiercely competitive than art and more deserving of the stimuli called “suffering” and “laissez faire.”

David Brin said...

Jumper I am a theologian in that I examine possibility space, hunting God. There are zones of possibility space that are not disproved, though almost no religions today occupy those spaces. (Some overlap enough to let me say "well, maybe.") But those zones require either a reduction in omnipotence, or omniscience, or love... or else posit that His/Her/Its/Their "plan requires hands-off detachment.

Within those zones, there are even some in which He gets to be morally off-the-hook for culpably leaving us in ignorance, having to figure out even the simplest truths for ourselves.

Robert said...

That's just it, Dr. Brin.

They believe government should NOT have a monopoly of force.

And they also believe that people would be polite to one another because everyone would be armed. They even prove the lie of that belief when I point out what could happen and they say "we'll kill that person with our guns" - which negates the whole polite society aspect.

It's like they want the trappings of civilization without the foundation that holds it up. And can't comprehend that this sandcastle will fall apart with the first hard rain, or the tides coming in.

I'm almost tempted to write up a short story about an anarchist society that falls apart. Except I suspect I'm not a good enough writer to do this.

Rob H.

Daniel Duffy said...

Alfred - you alone have gotten my point. Everybody needs illusions. Atheists cling to Self and Free Will for the same reasons theists cling to God and the Soul.

As the song said, "whatever gets you through the night".

But let us hope that Nietzsche is wrong about his fourth prediction concerning the "total eclipse of all values". God help us if he's right (no pun intended).

As a Catholic I believe in all of the above Dr. Brin. I take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith over the abyss of nihilism.

But you may be happy to know that the Catholci church for all its faults does not reject scence. Whether its accepting the Big Bang and evolution as fact or performing valuable astrophysical research at the Vatican Observatory, the Church has always believed that God reveals Himself through two books, the Bible and the book of Life. And it has always taken the stance that truth cannot contradict truth. So if scientific research conflicts with an interpretation of Bible verse, the interpretation has to change - not science.

So by being a catholic I avoid the Scylla of fundy ignorance and the Charbdis of Atheistic nihilism.

Daniel Duffy said...

@Alfred - Your concept of God as a recursive loop is fascinating. "God within us" is not such a difficult concept (compared to quantum physics its actually pretty straightforward) and fits in with the characteristics that a truely universal God would have to have.

A truely universal God cannot be bounded by space time and limited to traveling and acting at a speed no greater than the speed of light. Such a God would have to exist simultaneously everywhere and every-when, experiencing every moment of past, present and future and every point in the unverse simultaneously as HERE and NOW. Not so diffuclt to believe when quantum entanglement allows particles to affect each other simultaneously across the universe. Even the concept of the Trinity is a mere trifle compared to electrons being both wave and particle, or passing through two slits at the same time.

Maybe someday we'll find God in an atom smasher.

P.S. What I find most appealing about my Christianity is its uniqueness. All other faiths demand that its believers make sacrifices to their Gods. In contrast, the Christian God sacrifices Himself for us. I find that a deeply profound concept.

And unsettling when you remember that a universal God experiences all of time (past, present and future) simultaneously as NOW. That includes His agony on the cross. So since the begining of the universe (which included the creation of time itself) unto the end of time God will be forever in agony.

For our sakes.

KB said...

"I take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith over the abyss of nihilism."

And should I be unable? What then? Or perhaps you take the tack that anyone who God has not graced with faith is simply not trying hard enough. That I am insincere in my lack of emotional connection in religious services.

Then there's the fact that pretty much every traditional faith would call me an abomination for having a loving, committed relationship with someone of the same gender. They think that God has called me to live either live bereft of love, companionship, and intimacy, or one built on lies and deception. Is that the sort of meaningful life I should strive for? Why should I, or anyone choose that?

I respect the value faith has brought to your life, but you are offering some pretty thin gruel here.

Daniel Duffy said...

As for Nietzsche's prediction of abject moral nihilism and the "total eclipse of all values", the counter argument from atheists that they personally are not nihilists is irrelevent.

What matters is people as a whole, not individuals.

To quote from one of my favorite movies:

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

So you canprotest that you yourselves are imune to nihilsm. It doesnt' amtter. What matters is the effect of this belief on the human race as a whole.

The results won't be pretty.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Alfred - you alone have gotten my point. Everybody needs illusions. Atheists cling to Self and Free Will for the same reasons theists cling to God and the Soul.


But it doesn't work as an analogy the way you state it. I would wager that most religious people also believe in a Self and Free Will. The tenets of most religions require it. For example, if there is no Self and no Free Will, then who exactly is going to Hell, and why?

So I don't understand your fixation on what "atheists" cling to.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Robert
Larry Niven did a good short story on that - The Cloak of Anarchy"

Andy
The roll of the dice,
A lot of the processes that control things are probabilistic (which atom will decay)
So if the reel was run again they would NOT happen the same way, we don't and cannot have enough data NOW to completely describe the universe THEN - and that applies to a THEN that is in the past as well as the future

Daniel
Nietzsche predicted massive wars at the end of the 20th century,
But in actual fact the 20th Century was more peaceful than the 19th century (despite the WW1 & WW2)- which was more peaceful than the 18th century
In fact war, murder, and violence have been going down ever since man started living in states
This tends to diminish his authority as a prophet

Catfish N. Cod said...

Wow, so much philosophy.

And yet I can't help but think the late great Sir Terry Prachett, who wrote fantasy but also worked with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen to turn it into a weird form of science-fiction as well in _The Science of Discworld_, put it best at the end of Hogfather:

“All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"

MY POINT EXACTLY.


.....but do you have to have a particular construct of God, or Soul, or Free Will, or Self, or Nirvana or Heaven or Hell or whatever to have those?

The available evidence, which shows Justice and Mercy and Duty to be universal but the details and memetic framework around them to be variable, suggests not. (I happen to think all those things exist, but there is plenty of room to quibble on details or even disagree.)

Paul451 said...

Daniel,
So you're arguing that God is a delusion which you know is a delusion, but you believe in anyway because you feel bad (or at least uncomfortable) when you don't?

Duncan
Re: Nietzsche and the 20th Century of War.
"But in actual fact the 20th Century was more peaceful than the 19th century (despite the WW1 & WW2)- which was more peaceful than the 18th century"

Moreso, both World Wars were in the first half of the 20th century, when the effects of Darwinism and atheism would be at their least, followed by 50 years, now 70, without a global war. Or even a particularly large regional one. In spite of things like Darwinism being much more ingrained into the common consciousness.

The scale of those two big wars was not driven by the Darwin and atheism making us tribal-crazy, but by the power of technology.

Would the Crusades with machine guns and cannon have been gentler than WWI? Would the Hundred Years War or Thirty Years War or the Seven Years War have been less violent than WWII if they were fought with tanks and bombs? Would Napoleon, or Alexander, or Genghis have done less than the modern US if given a force equivalent to the modern US army? (Or more pertinently, would they have done less than communist Russia?)

Paul451 said...

Speaking of things which may or may not exist:

Planet X is back. (Or Planet IX now.)

Michael Brown, who heads the team that's discovered Eris and many of the large KBOs beyond Pluto, has published a paper analysing the orbits of KBOs. They apparently show a suspicious bias in their eccentricity, which suggests that there's Something On The Other Side.

The single image that explains enough that you don't have to read the entire damn paper.

And the entire damn paper.

(A new god of gaps.)

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel: Whenever I’m tempted to express my annoyance in a Dawkins style, I’ll admit to a soft spot in my heart for Catholics. Trace my father’s family and you’ll find a lot of them. I’m not that forgiving when the Church has moral failures or process, but it is too easy to see individual people as being like my family. I tend toward tolerance as a result. However, while modern Catholic scholars aren’t a problem when it comes to known science, they can be quite resistant to exploring new ideas. One should never forget what the Jesuits did to suppress the notion of infinitesimals and why they did it. Exploration of the unknown is a risky venture. It takes a stout heart to face errors of faith.

Where you will run into conflict with atheists is with your use of ‘cling’. You are implying that we care. In my case, I enjoy a good debate now and then, but the best way to describe my belief system is that I’m a ‘DoNotCare-ian’. I give faith topics almost no mental bandwidth because they aren’t relevant to my life. Think of me like a war orphan who grows up on the streets never learning to read or write. Try to teach him later and he might look at you and explain that he doesn’t need those skills. Why should he bother learning? He might be well adapted to his environment and capable of personal growth. What an odd thing. 8)

I’m disinclined to posit a truly universal God, but not because I think there isn’t one. It’s just that I don’t see how it could matter to me unless such a being chose to reach out to me. A billion Catholics telling me He exists is not convincing.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

P.S. What I find most appealing about my Christianity is its uniqueness. All other faiths demand that its believers make sacrifices to their Gods. In contrast, the Christian God sacrifices Himself for us. I find that a deeply profound concept.


It makes a great story, sure. But that's not factually correct, is it? I don't know of any sacrifices required by modern Judaism. Islam either, for that matter.


And unsettling when you remember that a universal God experiences all of time (past, present and future) simultaneously as NOW. That includes His agony on the cross. So since the begining of the universe (which included the creation of time itself) unto the end of time God will be forever in agony.


Ok, you're making me drag out an old argument I used to have with a Christian on the "Cerebus" fan board. The idea that God "gave His life" for us is somewhat mitigated by the fact that, in the words of Monty Python, "He got better." When most of us talk of "giving our lives" for a cause, we're not talking about doing so for a long weekend.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

So you canprotest that you yourselves are imune to nihilsm. It doesnt' amtter. What matters is the effect of this belief on the human race as a whole.

The results won't be pretty.


One might have said the same thing about Christianity.


Duncan Cairncross said...

Re Planet 9

Even if it exists and is 10 times the size of earth it's not a planet,
It can't be because it has not cleared it's orbital

A Giant Dwarf Planet ??

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel: The “God within us” notion I mentioned doesn’t have much room for a truly universal God. What it CAN handle is providing the tiny door through which the God you believe exists can reach us. It all comes down to understanding what love is. 8)

‘To Love’ is what we do when we try to copy another person into our Self.

If there is an omniscient, omnipotent God, then having Him love us is an obvious path to immortality for the Self. His copy of us would be perfect and eternal, right? Spiffy… as long as He wasn’t what V.Vinge described as a perversion. Horrific if He is.

If there is no such God or He takes the approach David suggests, we are better off loving each other as the closest thing we have for a path to immortality for the Self. Our copies of each other are less than perfect, but it is a learnable skill and there is no reason why we can’t choose to get some tech involved. David’s books help us perfect our copies of him as do his words here. Right? Trades involving bits of our persona helps traders perfect and synchronize copies. Isn’t that what we do every day? Love Thy Neighbor? Does this lesson apply only to atheists or deists? Nah. I’ve seen it mentioned in the New Testament.

Robert said...

Duncan, thank you.

That story was perfect and proved my point (to me at least).

While I'm sure the anarchists will whine and say "but we're not like that!" and claim "but they didn't have guns to protect themselves!" it still shows that when you remove the monopoly of force preventing widescale violence... then the "perfect anarchy" will fall apart and become something unpleasant.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Larry,
Larry is obsessed with comic books,


Not that you're wrong, but really? That's your take-away from me?

No, actually I love reading the barbs you trade with the absolutists on this list. You have a soul - and one that will not sit back and take the kind of bull forced down our throats on a regular basis. You certainly have better come-backs than I do, anyway. But if I had a dollar for every time you came up with a Dave Sim analogy in the last couple years, I wouldn't have to worry about next month's mortgage. :] Anyway, I was just using you as an example. I hope you don't feel too used.

Alfred,
I love your corpus callosum analogy, though you can see that some spots are not as well myelinated as others. Your point about relevance regarding divinities is well said. Dr. Brin entertains possibility space, as do I, but if we are entertaining possibilities, we must also discuss relevance. If you assume the existence of a creator god, you are assuming a relationship of debt. That is, we owe our lives, and therefore our obedience, to that creator. This point was not lost on our ancestors - it was, in fact, the whole point of a creator god. You hear the same vestigial logic whenever a parent yells at a prodigal child that "I brought you into this world!" Of course, since the gods themselves never actually arrive on the scene (except in ancient and unverifiable circumstances) then the relevance is purely political - who claims to represent the gods here on Earth expects your obediance/taxes/military service/corvee labor etc. So while in theory gods are possible, their relevance is another issue (see the Seneca quote above brought to us by Berial:

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
- Seneca the Younger (4 BC - 64 AD)

The rulers would not find it useful if the common people did not regard it as true. I'm not willing to throw my hat in with the wise, either, and not just because it comes across as haughty (and arrogance annoys thew shit out of me). I just know that I'm clueless, and I figure I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. No good god would damn a person to the eternal flame for admitting to be human. Its the arrogant prigs who think they know who have more to worry about, if God truly is good.

The faux Eastern mystical idea of "god within us" has its implications, too. That's a fun one to contemplate.

Alfred Differ said...

I enjoy a good book that works through a possible theory for our origin as a glass ceiling breaker, but I'm always on the look out for the test that on failure would disprove the theory. I have my own pet theory, but I struggle with finding a decent falsifiable test.

Being able to deny reality strikes me as inherent in any mind trying to model reality. For us, the model IS reality until we are confronted forcefully with something the model can't handle. Our outward senses are low bandwidth channels feeding perception models, so I'm not convinced we 'deny' much of anything. Instead, we fail to perceive it.

I suspect denial comes from our attachment to our models. We don't want to surrender hard earned understandings easily. Denying self-death, therefore, could be modeled as a failure to model it. I am not Them. Would my cheap model stand up in a society that sees a lot more death, though? Seems unlikely. I've yet to see it with my own eyes, so I should be cautious of extending my model to others.

In two alt worlds where Ajit Varki's notion is correct and incorrect, what differences would we expect to detect? Fun to think about. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: I'll throw my hat in with the wise, thank you very much. I'll risk being wrong to avoid being ruled. 8)

The debt obligation to a creator god DOES sound like the debt relationship within family. We reject some of this obligation in the US and fight it with SOA propaganda, so I have to conclude that SOA is part of the old Liberal war against the Church. Individualism is the vaccination for a pernicious disease. 8)

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The debt obligation to a creator god DOES sound like the debt relationship within family.


Or like the obligation of client species to their patrons in the "Uplift" universe.


We reject some of this obligation in the US and fight it with SOA propaganda


"We" rejected it on Uplift-Earth too.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

"Not that you're wrong, but really? That's your take-away from me?"

No, actually I love reading the barbs you trade with the absolutists on this list. You have a soul - and one that will not sit back and take the kind of bull forced down our throats on a regular basis. You certainly have better come-backs than I do, anyway. But if I had a dollar for every time you came up with a Dave Sim analogy in the last couple years, I wouldn't have to worry about next month's mortgage. :] Anyway, I was just using you as an example. I hope you don't feel too used.


Actually, you're spot on, but I'm surprised it shows that much here. When I used to regularly post on the "Cerebus" board, I could talk "comic book" all day long and expect to be understood. Here, I try to keep it to things that more non-comics people will be aware of (like "Watchmen") or to very clearly explain the in-jokes I'm referring to.

If we had been talking to each other in my high school years, "obsessed with comic books" would have been an even more characteristic phrase for me.

Jon S. said...

Daniel, again I ask you -

If Free Will is an illusion, as you maintained earlier, if all seeming choice is merely the inevitable outcome of various neurochemical processes, then what is "faith"? How can you choose to believe in God, or gods, if you can't in fact make a meaningful choice?

How can you possibly justify a Christian belief, particularly a Catholic Christian belief, if sin is committed because the sinner had no choices? What kind of a God would create little organic robots, then punish them for all eternity because they followed the programs He gave them?

Alternatively, if Free Will is not illusory, then what justification can there be for maintaining that all Atheists must of necessity be nihilists, that not believing in God means not believing in anything at all? Free Will, after all, implies free choice - including the choice to find one's own meaning in a universe that doesn't care.

I'd love to see this question addressed, because that's my major sticking point with your argument - and the argument of old John Calvin, for that matter.

Paul SB said...

Jon S., I could be wrong, but I doubt Daniel will answer you. It has always been easy for church people to ignore non-conformists - they just define them as non-people (be they 'sinners' or 'satanists' or whatever term is popular in their church. And it is even easier on a blog. Then again, I might be just uncharitable here. This thread has well over 100 posts at the moment, and its hard to keep track of all the mental clutter. I know there are other people I wanted to say something to, but the overloaded mind starts going blank (this coming from a guy whose mother used to tell him that if his buns weren't tied on, he'd forget them, too).

BTW, I spent a lot of time in a Presbyterian church back in larval stage, and that particular sect is an offshoot of Calvinism, so I am familiar with the arguments. The one obvious flaw I saw in Calvin's assumption that no one else seemed to get is that just because God knows the future doesn't mean we know the future. Therefore we still have to make decisions as if we have free will. The fact that we do make decisions basically demonstrates that we do, even if we don't understand all the invisible forces that help to shape our decisions.

I also spent a lot of my larval days in a Catholic church, and to hear a Catholic argue against free will is pretty odd. But then, no matter what group we claim allegiance to, we are all still individuals, entirely incapable of interpreting anything in precisely the same way as any other, so individuality quietly persists even under the most tyrannical demands for conformity.

Paul SB said...

Larry, maybe I'm not as off as I thought I was. But, then, I have to keep my ego in check, or I start to disgust myself... :[
I had a comic-reading phase when i was in school, too, and even tried my hand at creating my own, but without any formal training I just wasn't any good. Life got busy. Now I live vicariously through my daughter, who has developed the skill I never had the time or the money to. I can't even do stick figures anymore (am I starting to channel Eeyore?).

Alfred, some of us reject this fictive kinship obligation, but huge numbers of people do not, not even realizing that religion IS authority. It doesn't fall neatly along Liberal/Conservative lines. I have known plenty of liberals who hold the view that they owe God their life and loyalty, not any human government. They still support government, but only so long as it appears to live up to their religious values, meaning charity for the unfortunate and forgiveness, avoidance of war, you know - liberal stuff.

Robert said...

Personally I think Dr. Brin should do at least part of a post on science fiction webcomics. There are some good ones out there like Freefall, Outsider, Schlock Mercenary, and Quantum Vibe, as well as some good ended ones like Crimson Dark.

And you must admit... science fiction found on the Internet is apropos. :)

Rob H.

Robert said...

As for free will, I actually realized how you could have omniscience and free will. It came as a thought experiment because a character in a story I was writing had been cursed by God to not have free will (if he breaks the chain of what will be, he will Fall). Then I realized that meant the character would break the Free Will of others... especially as he saw the future and thus had that choice.

Eventually it dawned on me - he didn't see THE future. He was ALL of the futures. Free Will exists... and he sees every action, even moment. Anyone can choose to act however they want. His own actions in all of those futures though was set in stone.

Thus God sees the future in a quantum state. God would see every future, every choice. And like Shroedinger's Cat, they are in a state where they both exist and don't exist until the moment happens and that quantum waveform collapses.

It's not real, obviously. But it's an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

If God is truly omniscient, then He is not bound by quantum uncertainties. He would know exactly where all particles are and their exact motion. This is not a paradox, because He would not discern their position and motion by bouncing photons off of them--He'd just...know.

I have no trouble reconciling God and free will by noticing that one is free to act as one wishes, but not free to choose what he wishes. If God exists, He would know me well enough to know in advance which choices I will make in any circumstances. The idea that we are puppets on strings because our choices are forced to be "whatever God knows they are" is putting the cart before the horse. The free will choice is the cause. God knowing the outcome is the effect.

Is there something wrong with the effect "happening" before the cause? Only in the sense that a weather forecast happens before the actual weather hits.

LarryHart said...

Back on the old "Cerebus" comics message board I keep referring to, we had a long discussion with a fellow poster who was depressed--I mean seriously depressed--about the notion of not having free will because a four-dimensional model of space-time was fixed, and nothing he could do would change it.

I argued that he was misinterpreting the model, applying temporal concepts like "change" and "already happened" to a model in which time is a dimension--that he should be more concerned with "constructing" the future portion of the model rather than "changing" it.

Finally, he conceded that the only thing wrong with not being able to change the shape of space-time is that he didn't like the fact. Someone then pointed out that it's kind of ironic to choose to be depressed about not having free will.

I'm not sure how much that helped him, but it did lend some tension-breaking humor.

Anonymous said...

greetings.. Have you seen this?
http://futurism.com/physicists-propose-first-scheme-teleport-memory-organism/

KevinC said...

Daniel Duffy wrote:

"But you will fail, he warned, because you cannot believe in moral codes without simultaneously believing in a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger*** and says 'Thou shalt" or 'Thou shalt not.'"

It's really too bad the Catholic Church doesn't believe in a god like that. If they did, they wouldn't be the world's largest pedophile club. If only, if only Daesh believed in a big, angry male god, they would have morality instead of beheading and enslaving people, and destroying priceless historical sites. Think how much more moral the Saudi royal family would be, if only they had a religion!

[Cue "Stalin! Mao! Pol Pot!" in 3...2...]

Can atheists do horrible things? Sure, if their positive beliefs (say, in the virtue of a totalitarian State) motivate them to. On the other hand, nothing beats a secular democracy (e.g. Sweden, Japan, etc.) for beneficent social outcomes. I'm not even claiming that atheists are necessarily more moral than believers (though I do not think they are less), just debunking your claim that morality proceeds from the barrel of a patriarch-god's lightning bolt cannon.

But hey, if belief in an angry Sky King is the one delicate thread that keeps you being a decent person instead of running around raping and murdering little girls or committing some other sort of atrocity, then by all means, please continue to believe. However, just because belief in Celestial Authoritarianism is (presumably, based on your claims about the nature of morality) the only thing that keeps you from becoming a monster, doesn't mean that your particular preferred faith owns the patent and trademark on all decency and civilized behavior.

Could you be moral, without believing in an angry, punishing Cosmic Patriarch? If not, please run, do not walk, away from here and anywhere else you might be exposed to critical thought. At least until you can develop an internal conscience and self-control that can function independently of belief in externally-imposed punishment and reward in an afterlife as the "only" basis for morality.

***Aside: Forefinger? Would a tentacle work just as well, or does it have to be anthropomorphic? ;)

Daniel Duffy said...

KevinC - your emphasis is on individuals. Mine is on people.

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

A person may not need God. But people do.

Paul SB said...

Anonymous, that was an interesting article, but it was very short and did not go into much detail about what this quantum state teleportation would be good for. I thought of two possibilities off the bat. One would be medical, in which the quantum state of a healthy individual - or more likely organ within an individual - is teleported to another, unhealthy individual. The other possibility would be to use it as a means of long-distance data transfer using the quantum states of microbes to convey information. Any other practical applications you can think of?

Rob, Dr. Brin has mentioned web comics on the blog before, though he hasn't dedicated an entire thread to it. I would be tempted to second the motion. Many people out there see comics as necessarily children's fare, and low class, low quality at that. There is good, thoughtful, adult-level literature in graphic form out there, though it's not the mainstream by far. it wouldn't do me a lot of good, as I have little time for reading anything these days, but there are a lot of people on the blog who might get something out of it.

On the subject of reading, I wanted to give a nod to Catfish for taking the time to type out that extended Terry Pratchett quote. Great stuff, and completely relevant. (I only know Pratchett because I was able to find his books on CD at local libraries - I wish I could find Brin books that way - too much time trapped on the highways!) What did you think of the movie version (and have you tried that catfish recipe)?

KevinC said...

Daniel Duffy wrote:

"As a Catholic I believe in all of the above Dr. Brin. I take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith over the abyss of nihilism."

So, let me get this straight:

1. There is no such thing as a "Self" or "Free Will." The scientific proof of this is ironclad and inescapable.

2. Belief in an angry male deity that makes rules and punishes wrongdoing is the only possible way to have morality and civilization.

3. Therefore, atheism will inevitably lead to nihilism, chaos, mayhem, and destruction, thus saith Nietzsche the Prophet (pbuh).

4. In order to escape this inherently inescapable conundrum, the "Self" you do not have uses "Free Will" that does not exist to choose to believe in Roman Catholicism, thereby...making your Self, Free Will, Morality, and "God"*** exist...somehow?

***The structure of your argument is aimed at making our non-existent Selves want to believe in Yahweh/Jesus, as if that matters to the question of whether or not he/they actually exist(s). IOW, you're using a "wishing makes it so" approach (we should want to believe Yahweh exists so we can have Selves, Free Will, and Morality, therefore Yahweh exists). If Yahweh existed independently of our (supposedly) needing and/or wanting him to exist, this argument would be both unnecessary and ridiculous.

Jon S. said...

Paul SB writes: "But hey, if belief in an angry Sky King is the one delicate thread that keeps you being a decent person instead of running around raping and murdering little girls or committing some other sort of atrocity, then by all means, please continue to believe. However, just because belief in Celestial Authoritarianism is (presumably, based on your claims about the nature of morality) the only thing that keeps you from becoming a monster, doesn't mean that your particular preferred faith owns the patent and trademark on all decency and civilized behavior."

Or, as Penn Jillette said (paraphrasing here), "Sure, without God, I get to rape and kill as much as I want. And the amount I want is zero."

Paul SB said...

KevinC - your emphasis is on individuals. Mine is on people.
"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."
A person may not need God. But people do.

An interesting statement that has some interesting implications. One is that it is not actually necessary for a god to exist, only that people believe it does. That kind of makes it obvious that gods are mechanisms of manipulation, used by governments to keep the people in line. This isn't exactly a new idea - it was already a couple millennia old when Marx wrote his famous opinion of religion. of course, many people would not be happy to know that they are being manipulated by government. The saddest part is that they are not even being manipulated by their own government, they are being manipulated by the political leaders of the very first human civilizations, long dead, buried and forgotten.

It is always important to look at social issues at more than one level. In this case, the social level proscribes freedom of choice at the individual level. Religions control masses through claims to universality, making no exceptions for individuality. The dynamic was somewhat different under polytheism. If an individual was unsatisfied with, say, Zues, he or she could join a different cult. Monotheism was a way for individual political leaders to cut out the competition (thus Emperor Constantine's adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire). Monotheism is a tool for oppression - far better than paying for huge numbers of secret police, because the people police themselves, more or less. This is why monotheism has been so successful in the past couple millennia. It is so politically useful, regardless of whether or not any specific god exists. God may be one thing, but what Man does with God is another matter entirely.

It seems obvious to me from reading Western history that the increase in the number of religious sects correlates with the increase in democratic institutions in the West. I can't say if that correlation necessarily implies causation, though. Martin Luther's Theses came centuries before any modern democracies, though Italy had its tiny republics before then. I'm not sure how this works out in the East. Eastern religions have somewhat different characteristics, and the Far East never had the example of past, glorified ancestral democracies to harken back to, like Athens or the Roman Republic.

Daniel Duffy said...

Jon - and what about those people (and they are legion) who do want these more than zero?

You naively assume that mankind is basically good. Truth is, we are a nasty species, which is one of the reasons we are so successful. Just ask the Neanderthals:

http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674736764

Civilization is a recent software add on that conflcits with our basic OS that evolved from millenia "red in tooth and claw". Should a Carrington event or equivalent disaster plunge civilization into a new dark age we will revert very quickly - at least those that survive will.

What keeps our dark impulses at bay longenough to allow civilization to exist is exactly what Nietzsche described: a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not."

Again, you can claim al you want that you yourself would never succumb and that you will retain an upright moral code even if the consequences for doing evil are eliminated. And I tell you that the individual doesn't matter, what matters is the group. People will do horrible things in groups that they would never dream of doing on their own.

So once again:

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

Paul SB said...

Jon,

I like and agree with your Penn quote, but the quote you attributed to me actually came from someone else - Kevin C, I think.

Daniel Duffy has been through this and told these things several times before on this forum. If he can't accept that human decency is a real product of our genetic history, he isn't likely to change. It does bring up an interesting point, though. While you, me and Penn have no real desire to murder and rape, there are those out there who do. And if those desires are at least in part genetic, then we have a much better understanding than what you get from the holy books of Bronze Age priest/kings. Like all genetic traits, there is variability within any given population. Some of us don't need angry sky daddy to threaten us with eternal retribution because we have a genetic predisposition toward social behavior. Others may have inherited genes that do things like fail to produce adequate amounts of oxytocin in their brains, set testosterone levels high, etc, resulting in people who are disposed to either care very little about others (low oxytocin) or have violent tendencies (high testosterone). The relative need for angry sky daddy would depend a whole lot on the relative frequencies of these genes in any given population.

However, it isn't as simple as gene frequencies, because we are talking about human here. Humans transcend their genes to a certain extent through the realm of ideas - what Dawkins called 'memes' (which is only tangentially related to how that word is bandied about on social media these days). This is why it's really important to examine the logical implications of even our oldest and most sacred memetic systems, and why so many people are rejecting them.

Daniel Duffy said...

@KevinC "There is no such thing as a "Self" or "Free Will." The scientific proof of this is ironclad and inescapable."

Only in the absence of a Soul. In apurey material universe Free will is not possible nad the Self is mere illusion.

But assume the existence of the Soul (a non scientific cocnept that can't be proven or disproven since the Soul by definition is non material and therefore undetectable by science).

Assume a Soul, and both Free Will and the Self then become real, and nihilsm avoided.

David Brin said...

One crucial factor that has warped theology has been “flattery inflation.” When theologians met to argue, the one who came out victorious was almost always the one who flattered God more, upping proclamations of omniscience, omnipotence and all that. Because even if you’re wrong, how can you be punished just for sucking-up a bit more? Hence Constantine over-ruled all the early Christians who deemed Jesus to be a man, whose fear and sacrifice would have meaning. Instead, he went along with those whose flattery inflation made Jesus God all along, and perfect and sin-free and fully aware of his own nature all along… and thus flattery inflation had the ironic effect of ruining the story of his “sacrifice” - making it like you or me wincing, briefly, as we clip a hangnail.

Flattery inflation applies also to whether God knows in advance the future course of events, a Calvinist lunacy that makes no sense. In countless Biblical passages, the Creator acts as if He is watching to find out the outcome of uncertain events., starting very early, during his very first interaction with us, when he brings the animals to Adam, to see what names the man would give them.

Jonah is a central moment in the OT, stating clearly God’s contingent willingness to change his mind, which not only undermines predestination but the entire premise of the Book of Revelation. Even if those psychotic, bloodthirsty ravings by John of Patmos did represent actually-inspired tantrum threats from above, clearly God subsequently Changed His Mind… as he does in Jonah and countless other places. Nowhere else does such a threat stand in abeyance for even a dozen years, let alone two thousand. Yet millions of our neighbors are holding their breath in gleeful expectation that all the folks who disagree with them will commence bloody tribulation. Any Day Now.

How can an omniscient being not know the future? Simple! “Omniscience" has many layered meanings and it is quite likely that flattery inflation has exaggerated the Creator’s. Otherwise, why should he care about outcomes and/or preach for us to alter our paths? Also, it is not for us to judge HOW he manages his own omniscience. Can it not be by running zillions of parallel simulations? With each separate one uncertain in outcome, but the sum total of them all adding up to an all-knowing model? Will you deny Him that blatantly obvious tool?

Some theologians have also suggested that He suspends disbelief or surety, exiling them to other corners of His own mind, so that He might participate in the unfolding drama below, or watch it with some suspense. Would you deny Him that pleasure?

David Brin said...

Thanks for quoting the single most spectacularly dumb moment in the clever-witty Men in Black series: "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

Yes, mobs can be stupid… but they can also be much smarter than the sum of their parts. How ironic Tommy Lee Jones says the line with New York humming away and functioning well behind him, so well that it is a mecca of hope for beings across the cosmos.

Daniel… WE are what He cares about. The Christian obsession with the individual human soul is just plain dumb and arrogant and it puts the Creator into a position where He cannot be anything other than a cruel monster. It is a spectacularly egotistical doctrine proclaiming “MY SOUL is all important!!!” But clearly the only thing that gets better, every year, glacially, is not “me” but rather “us.”

Moreover, if WE are the thing being improved, then maybe… just maybe… He gets some forgiveness for the grotesquely unfair situation that most individual humans find themselves in.

Daniel Duffy said...

"The Christian obsession with the individual human soul" -

- provides the only basis for the dignity of the individual human being.

Jon S. said...

Daniel, your logic still runs up against itself. Are you maintaining that Free Will is illusory, because your scans didn't pin it down? If so, then one cannot choose to believe - it is instead predetermined by neurochemistry. In this case, the Soul is meaningless, as its eternal destination is determined entirely by physical laws and it has no choice in the matter.

A "Soul" can only have meaning if choice is possible. And this does not require a deity-concept of any sort. (That, incidentally, is the true meaning of "begging the question" - you assume that the answer you want is the only possible answer to the question.) You keep sidestepping my question - if there is no Free Will, how is your God, who creates souls predestined to Hell, any better than a young sociopath tormenting flies?

And if there is no free will, how do you expect to persuade anyone to agree with you, when we can't choose to?

Jumper said...

Is an honest answer to "how much does religion succeed in preventing sin?" possible?

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

You naively assume that mankind is basically good. Truth is, we are a nasty species, which is one of the reasons we are so successful. Just ask the Neanderthals:
...
What keeps our dark impulses at bay long enough to allow civilization to exist is exactly what Nietzsche described: a god who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not."


Again, nothing in your argument proves, or even demonstrates, that God exists. The most it does is assert that civilization depends upon convincing the unwashed masses that He exists.

With that in mind, I think you're saying something different from how most of us (myself included) are hearing you. Are you asserting that atheists have been let down by society--that they (we) haven't been successfully indoctrinated into a faith that would satisfy us with imagined purpose? And therefore, we're self-hating nihlists because of that failure?

Dr Brin:

and thus flattery inflation had the ironic effect of ruining the story of his “sacrifice” - making it like you or me wincing, briefly, as we clip a hangnail.


He gave His life for us...for a long weekend.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Hence Constantine over-ruled all the early Christians who deemed Jesus to be a man, whose fear and sacrifice would have meaning. Instead, he went along with those whose flattery inflation made Jesus God all along,


If Jesus is His Own Son, then by a few steps of logic, He could easily (and truthfully) sing that old song about "I'm My Own Grandpa".

And all of those words would have to be capitalized. :)

Daniel Duffy said...

Jon I believe in free will because I beleive in the existence of an immaterial soul.

However, absent the Soul, free will is not physically possible.

Therefore atheists are kidding themselves if they think thay can create their own personal meaning and purpose in a meaningless and pointles univers (one that lacks a God).

Daniel Duffy said...

As for the immortal Soul I refer you to William James' lecture on Human Immortality, still logically valid after more than a century, for how such an imateiral soul may inerface with the brain:

http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/jimmortal.html

The first of these difficulties is relative to the absolute dependence of our spiritual life, as we know it here, upon the brain. One hears not only physiologists, but numbers of laymen who read the popular science books and magazines, saying all about us, How can we believe in life hereafter when Science has once for all attained to proving, beyond possibility of escape, that our inner life is a function of that famous material, the so-called `gray matter' of our cerebral convolutions? How can the function possibly persist after its organ has undergone decay?

Thus physiological psychology is what is supposed to bar the way to the old faith. And it is now a physiological psychologist that I ask you to look at the question with me a little more closely.

It is indeed true that physiological science has come to the conclusion cited; and we must confess that in so doing she has only carried out a little farther the common belief of mankind. Every one knows that arrests of brain development occasion imbecility, that blows on the head abolish memory or consciousness, and the brain-stimulants and poisons change the quality of our ideas. The anatomists, physiologists, and pathologists have only shown this generally admitted fact of a dependence to be detailed and minute....

When the physiologist who thinks that his science cuts off all hope of immortality pronounces the phrase, ``Thought is a function of the brain,'' he thinks of the matter just as he thinks when he says, ``Steam is a function of the tea-kettle,'' ``Light is a function of the electric circuit,'' ``Power is a function of the moving waterfall.'' In these latter cases the several material objects have the function of inwardly creating or engendering their effects, and their function must be called productive function. Just so, he thinks, it must be with the brain. Engendering consciousness in its interior, much as it engenders cholesterin and creatin and corbonic acid, its relation to our soul's life must also be called productive function. Of course, if such production be the function, then when the organ perishes, since the production can no longer continue, the soul must surely die. Such a conclusion as this is indeed inevitable from that particular conception of the facts.*4*

But in the world of physical nature productive function of this sort is not the only kind of function with which we are familiar. We have also releasing or permissive function; and we have transmissive function....

In the case of a colored glass, a prism, or a refracting lens, we have transmissive function. The energy of light, no matter how produced, is by the glass sifted and limited in color, and by the lens or prism determined to a certain path and shape. Similarly, the keys of an organ have only a transmissive function. They open successively the various pipes and let the wind in the air-chest escape in various ways. The voices of the various pipes are constitued by the columns of air trembling as they emerge. But the air is not engendered in the organ. The organ proper, as distinguished from its air-chest, is only an apparatus for letting portions of it loose upon the world in these peculiarly limited shapes.

My thesis is now this: that, when we think of the law that thought is a function of the brain, we are not required to think of productive funtion only; we are entitled also to consider permissive or transmissive function. And this the ordinary psycho-physiologist leaves out of his account.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Some theologians have also suggested that He suspends disbelief or surety, exiling them to other corners of His own mind, so that He might participate in the unfolding drama below, or watch it with some suspense. Would you deny Him that pleasure?


I've often thought that it helps explain things to think of God as a Writer (One with a sense of humor as well). You're suggesting it might also help to think of Him as a Reader.

About knowing the future, someone once described that (paraphrasing) you can watch Rocky, knowing how it ends, and still root for Rocky to win. Someone else responded that you could even know how it ends but still root for Apollo Creed to win, which added some irony to a discussion of omniscience. The second person had forgotten how Rocky (the original) actually ended.

Daniel Duffy said...

@LarryHart "Again, nothing in your argument proves, or even demonstrates, that God exists."

I'm not trying too since proving or disproving the existence of God is not possible either empirically or logically. All either side can do is marshal evidence either pro (Martin Rees six numbers) or against (the problem of pain) - evidence whose meaning is subject to counter interpetations.

Instead, what I'm trying to prove is God's necessity, not His existence.

Daniel Duffy said...

@ Dr. Brin "and thus flattery inflation had the ironic effect of ruining the story of his “sacrifice” - making it like you or me wincing, briefly, as we clip a hangnail."

From my earlier post:

A truely universal God cannot be bounded by space time and limited to traveling and acting at a speed no greater than the speed of light. Such a God would have to exist simultaneously everywhere and every-when, experiencing every moment of past, present and future and every point in the unverse simultaneously as HERE and NOW. ...

And unsettling when you remember that a universal God experiences all of time (past, present and future) simultaneously as NOW. That includes His agony on the cross. So since the begining of the universe (which included the creation of time itself) unto the end of time God will be forever in agony.

Jonathan Sills said...

You're failing, Daniel. You presuppose that a "soul" cannot exist without a God to create it - and more, the particular God in which you have faith.

It is, however, entirely possible that what you think of as a "soul" is an emergent property of a sufficiently complex neural system running up against quantum uncertainty (a topic on which William James knew nothing). Your "proofs" are completely circular statements that beg the question - that is, statements that presuppose certain answers, as with your repeated claim that atheists must of necessity be nihilists, believing in nothing, because they don't believe what you do.

By the way, if you should manage to prove God's necessity to the satisfaction of anyone besides yourself, there's a position available for you at the Vatican, because nobody else has managed the trick over the past thousand years or so.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

Instead, what I'm trying to prove is God's necessity, not His existence.


Your argument tries to demonstrate the necessity of convincing others that God is watching and judging them. It says nothing about the necessity (or lack thereof) of an actual God.


@ Dr. Brin "and thus flattery inflation had the ironic effect of ruining the story of his “sacrifice” - making it like you or me wincing, briefly, as we clip a hangnail."

And unsettling when you remember that a universal God experiences all of time (past, present and future) simultaneously as NOW. That includes His agony on the cross. So since the begining of the universe (which included the creation of time itself) unto the end of time God will be forever in agony.


But doesn't He also experience all the other times when He wasn't in pain for all eternity? How can you argue that what He experienced for one holiday weekend overrides everything else He also experiences eternally?

And if what you say is true...if the God we're supposed to love has been condemned to unbearable agony for all time, this is supposed to be good news? I'm trying to think of how I would react to find out that my (earthly) father or my wife or my daughter had been tortured to death in order to save my life. I would not be happy about that.

David Brin said...

DD says ‘ The Christian obsession with the individual human soul" -- provides the only basis for the dignity of the individual human being.’

Sorry, my friend, but this is absolutely diametrically wrong. Our mortal lives are brief blips of self-important drama, fire and fury, performed amid stunning ignorance that He contrived! In order to leave us utterly confused and misled. We then are dumped into either eternal bliss or eternal horror, based upon GUESSES that we make, often in utter sincerity, as to what His will is, based on things our parents told us. (The intensely emotional verification that believers then get, from prayer, is no proof... those chemicals can be triggered in ANY religion, it's been proved.)

How is that fair, when a simple and unambiguous Booming Sky voice would give 99% all they need in order to freely choose that eternal bliss thing. No, there is only one excuse for him to have eternal reward-punishments systems, without TELLING us unambiguously the rules. And that excuse is that we individuals are not punished for thoughts. And that we are not the core product, any more than God cares deeply about individual neurons and skin cells.

I am a huge egotist! And yet, I am forced by the vastness of space, time, history etc, to conclude that my little tale is not all that important. There are important things going on! And I get a great big dose of “meaning” from being involved in those.

Starting with my family and posterity. A civilization that is actually, despite many obstacles and morons, actually improving. But also the dazzling beauty of art and especially science, as we — that’s us — pick up the very tools of creation!

What a glorious thing! I personally cannot be a creator except in small works. But We — us, humanity — may get to do it on ever-vaster scales! Why should I not identify with that Godlike project, beyond this sniveling little temporary cro magnon shell? This person may amuse Him slightly. I do not aim for a pat on the head and a harp. My aim is to be a cell in something that might make him awed and proud.

As much as you pity those who have not been washed clean by the lamb… that much - yes that much(!) — I pity those who cannot see the stunning beauty and soulfulness and spiritual wonder of our macro project. A project we were clearly made for.

And yes. That provides me with plenty, plenty of "meaning."

===
LarryHart: “I've often thought that it helps explain things to think of God as a Writer (One with a sense of humor as well). You're suggesting it might also help to think of Him as a Reader.”

Which brings up another cost of flattery inflation… demanding that He be Alone. I identify with this idea that He might be creating art to be appreciated by other peers! The Mormons believe this, by the way.

David Brin said...

"So since the begining of the universe (which included the creation of time itself) unto the end of time God will be forever in agony."

Um, no? Crucified men usually suffered for a week. The spear piercing limited his to a few hours. I could name relatives who far exceeded that. Some, like Elie Weisel, overcame their PTSD and moved on to art and love and forgiveness, instead of turning the instrument of their (brief) torment into a SYMBOL justifying two millennia of persecuting others.

...

Sigh.

But never mind.

I have a new posting. This was one huge and interesting comment round!!

Feel free to continue here! But also to continue under the next thread.

You guys are among the best communities on the web.


onward

onward

Daniel Duffy said...

Actually he was already dead when piereced by the spear. That formality was a traditional coup de gras administered by the Romans to make sure their victims were dead. The torture he recieved (loss of bloood, shock, etc.) made sure he died sooner. The two thieves next to him were still alive and got their legs broken to accelerate their deaths (death on the cross was by asphyxiation).

Daniel Duffy said...

@ Dr. Brin "Our mortal lives are brief blips of self-important drama"

I a purely material world this would be true. The concpet of the Soul saves us from individual insignificance.

@ Dr. Brin - "In order to leave us utterly confused and misled. We then are dumped into either eternal bliss or eternal horror, based upon GUESSES that we make, often in utter sincerity"

You show profound ignorance of christian and Catholic doctrine. The Fundies who get thier Christianity from a Jack Chick cartoon may believe this but it is contrary to scripture:

"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them" Romans 2:14-15

IOW, non Christians are saved by following their conscience, which all men have. Now this is probably the strongest statement from the hand of Paul and it answers the question non-Christians ask Christians more often than any other, "What about the people who have never heard of Jesus Christ?" Paul's answer to this question is that they will be judged by their own standards. God judges men, not according to what they do not know, but according to what they do know. They will be judged by their own standards.

If anything Christians, will be judged more harshly since we should know better.

Pope Francis reiterated this when he recently stated that atheists are also saved:

Pope Francis affirmed that God’s forgiveness and mercy is open even to the godless… and the key task for unbelievers is to “obey their conscience”: Given that – and this is fundamental — God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.

Daniel Duffy said...

@larryHart "But doesn't He also experience all the other times when He wasn't in pain for all eternity? "

He would experience all moments of time equally and simultaneously.

Daniel Duffy said...

@ Dr. Brin " How ironic Tommy Lee Jones says the line with New York humming away and functioning well behind him"

Are we talking about the same species that can't go through a simple blackout without looting a city?

Like New York in 1977.

Daniel Duffy said...

@Jonathon " if you should manage to prove God's necessity "

History and human nature have already done that for me.

Jon S. said...

Daniel, you presuppose that your arguments are correct. Which is fine, for faith - but if you want to convince this bunch of contrarians that your statements are more than egotistical nonsense designed to prove how much better you are than anyone else, you'd best muster some reasoning, some logic, and for preference some solid evidence.

None of which you have managed. Again, I'm sorry for you, that you can only find meaning in following the dictates of men who are trying to interpret a book filled to the brim with poetry and allegory, but not all of us are so handicapped.

Daniel Duffy said...

@Jon "Which is fine, for faith"

Without faith, nihilism is inevitabel and unescapable.

"preference some solid evidence."

How about existence itself? Why is there something instead of nothing?

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

"But doesn't He also experience all the other times when He wasn't in pain for all eternity? "

He would experience all moments of time equally and simultaneously.


Then why focus so exclusively on one Bad Weekend as if it overrides the other eternally-experienced times?


" if you should manage to prove God's necessity "

History and human nature have already done that for me.


Other than having proved God's necessity by demonstrating what happens in His absence, I don't see what you mean by this. Since you believe that human nature sucks, and you believe God exists, doesn't that mean God's necessity doesn't help?

Or is that a separate question about God's sufficiency.

See, when I put it that way, I'm coming from the opposite side of the equation from you. History and human nature disprove the sufficiency of God. Unless He doesn't exist.


Why is there something instead of nothing?


Well, first of all, because in all the alternate universes in which there is nothing, the question never gets asked.

Also, what makes you think the probability of "nothing" is so much better than "something"? You might as well assert that God must have had a hand in the fact that last night's winning lottery numbers weren't all zeroes, as if that fact is improbable without an Invisible Hand.

Daniel Duffy said...

@LarryHart "Then why focus so exclusively on one Bad Weekend as if it overrides the other eternally-experienced times?"

How can something infinite be subdivided unequally?

"doesn't that mean God's necessity doesn't help?"

No it means that lack of God would make things far worse. Nietzche is correct, belief in a God who points at you with his fearsome forefinger and says "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not" is what makes civilization possible for our savage species.

"because in all the alternate universes in which there is nothing"

Like God, the existence of alternate universes cannot even in principle be proven or disproven. As such they would ba an equally unscientific faith claim.

LarryHart said...

Daniel Duffy:

How can something infinite be subdivided unequally?


To me, it looks as if that's what you are doing.



Like God, the existence of alternate universes cannot even in principle be proven or disproven. As such they would ba an equally unscientific faith claim.

I was poetically describing probabilities. If there were nothing rather than something, the question of "why?" would never be asked.

David Burns said...

Daniel, there may be no me to type this, but it got typed somehow. Creating meaning may be harder than typing, but that argument missed the target.