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Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics & Consciousness Message Board › Who wants a soul?

Who wants a soul?

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 283

[ ..Continued .. ]

I might debate the point but I would hope not to laugh at anyone who claims that or any similar belief because I am aware that science has its own set of limitations. For that reason I regard atheism as fundamentally unscientific. Richard Dawkins is a very good scientist I am sure, but his strident fundamental atheism marks the point where he departs from the true ethos of science by espousing his own fixed belief.

That is an amazing -- indeed insulting -- misrepresentation. “Laughing” doesn’t enter into the scientific assessment enterprise at any point. However, the concept of god or gods is sui generis in a sense not intended by its proponents.

When one looks into the alleged nature of any of these gods one immediately sees that even the technical specification is internally contradictory. For instance (as far as the big monotheistic Abrahamic religions are concerned) God/Allah/Yahweh is supposed to possess at least an analogue of human moods. He is allegedly eternal and unchanging yet intervenes in a revelatory fashion within human history. (Contradiction number one!)

Just a few of the straightforward, philosophical/scientific reason for the nonexistence of god or gods singular or plural:

• What created the universe?

Response: alright; what created God?

• He's self-existent.

Response: .. And the universe itself? Are you confident that you can rule out a similar property belonging to it?

• Why is there something rather than nothing?

Response: I bet that I can show that you cannot in logical terms even satisfactorily define "nothing". (After all, you're speaking and writing about "it", aren't you?)

The default approach in regard to any existence-claim in general is to place the burden of proof on the person who makes any sort of unusual claim -- unusual either in everyday or scientific terms that is. So for instance if I told someone that I had been kidnapped by aliens in some UFO and started to describe their appearance and clothing and language and technology and so on, then I at least would expect to be looked at as some sort of nutcase or, at best, a misguided attention-seeker.

So, no offence intended by the comparison, but it's the fact that both theological claims and flying-saucer claims (to name just 2 categories of such claims!) are so radically out-of-the-ordinary which predisposes the average rational judgement toward skepticism, to say the least. As the Greek philosopher Pyrrho said: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". I would even go as far as to say that the only reason that the traditional "big religions" (outstandingly, of course, both Islam and Christianity in terms of numerical affiliation) still have any belief-support in our current scientifically and technologically speaking very sophisticated state of worldwide-available knowledge in their favour is the persistence of, evidentially speaking, non-rational -- but nevertheless extremely persuasive and powerful -- social forces which "tie up" the claimed historical circumstances and the critical assessment of the nature of the properties of the particular god in question in such a way that it becomes impossible to treat such claims as impartially and detachedly as one would automatically feel inclined to treat the claims of someone who insists that they have been kidnapped by aliens from outer space. Why? Because the social conditions which always attach to religious teachings are fundamentally different from those which attach to people who go around invernting crazy UFO tales.

The most obvious of these social conditions is morality.


One other point. In the 21st century there are going to be huge changes in the world, some good and some not so. New technology and medical advances are likely to enable the gradual transfer of brain operations, ie the mind, from organic grey matter to photonic computers or some such technology. Immortality of minds is a prospect for some. If your mind can become immortal, then you will be able freely to travel through space and future time almost without limit, and then you will know that you have a soul.

Maybe we’ll make a physicalist of you yet, Andrew. That is, of course, precisely what we are after, other than dry, theoretical satisfaction!

PS Will, if you ask me again to be silent then I will honour the request so long as Ian does the same!

Touche!

Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 46
I'm just off to Nick Lane at UCL, so you won't have to read much from me, have no fear.
But a couple of points to be going on with.

Morality may not be a strictly religious phenomena.
Not only does it seem that brain areas chiefly in the temporal lobe promote peak experiences but related phenomena such as the "feeling of a looming presence nearby" can be magnetically induced thereabouts too e.g. by the Persinger Helmet. (Although, see how critical thinking may inure us to the conclusion from the original effects, Richard Dawkins did not feel the presence, just a few peculiar bodily sensations of stretching etc.)

Also, children have an area light up to do with tracing actions in the outer world particularly to attributing agency to various aggregates out there, I'm sure you've all read these reports. All this suggests that our brain is predisposed to imagine external agency for lots of immediately unexplained issues. Hence, the idea of external evaluation and possible action rebounding against us, might seem to be an ancient brain trait.

Morality might additionally be considered as a form of qualitative assessment on chosen measurement axes.
For example, when we say something is "unlikely", we are making a meta assessment in the context of whatever hopes we entertain about the case. It looks like an assessment both on figures in some way but also one that translates into 'values' in the other humanistic sense of the word (and I'd argue animals share some of these) based on the context at the time.

I have been thinking recently that this would appear to be a way we might have developed values from facts/figures, contra Hume; clearly biological systems have achieved this in some way, so it requires thinking about.

It's a form of evaluation but not merely the naturalistic clustering indicating short cuts to any measurable quantity - aka to take but one modern example, Sam Harris' book The Moral Landscape. In fact, this type of evaluation is implicated specifically with the neural networking form of categorisation, á la Edelman etc.

BTW, I'm unimpressed with the soul as electrical field argument - or any type of field - why not let a radio have one then, with it's pulses going on forever, information carried beyond the light cone, etc? Looking for physical effects, even eventually just taking the information inferred in this case, to replicate non material terms may be a category error, as I'm sure someone will already have pointed out. There can still be various biological effects from an organism's makeup without having to tie these down piecemeal reductionistically, Will. I'm a non reductive metaphysician whilst an explanatory reductionist, so probably field effects are instrumental in sub-neural communication whilst not necessarily being the last word as to what comprises the self-awareness and consciousness aspects of the self which it seems you want to talk about here. I appreciate that this is a subject put forward for more humanistic and creative people who might read this thread. But we do seem rather to have wandered onto all sorts of more usual not strictly related matters here.

Ditto, the idea that downloading present memories onto non carbon substrates with whatever twiddle mechanism actually causes consciousness would then BE our minds and could happily continue as such, put through time travel and other reference boggling alterations without the full source of sensation information for any sort of orientation, might be a mistake too. There is evidence that since our gut has a mini brain, that neural networks are in other places about our bodies, in short that to get our mind fully functioning with emotional responses onboard needed embodiment. What this then may lead to in a disembodied copy from that point onward, remains to be tested.


Must dash, you'll be relieved to hear.

A former member
Post #: 65
Hi Andrew
"I strongly believe in the ethos and methods of science."
Years ago I was doing post grad History and Philosophy of Science with a bloke called David Papineau at King's College. There were people with different backgrounds, lots of maths and physics graduates, as I remember, so we all started off speaking entirely different languages, but it quickly became apparent that nobody could give a clear description of what science is. I was used to that because no one knows what philosophy is either. The key figures at the time were Popper, who was still across the road at the LSE, and Feyerabend. Kuhn and Lakatos were up there and a lot was expected of van Fraasen, but I was convinced all the serious work had been done by the first two. Popper was surely right, what ultimately makes something scientific is whether or not it predicts something that can be seen (heard, smelt etc) to happen. The scientific method, to a large degree, is dictated by the precision needed to record the set up and results so that other groups can repeat and verify or falsify them. A case in point at the time was cold fusion; people were desperate for it to work, but careful repetition of the original experiment showed nothing; you can’t force neutrons into a strip of palladium in a glass of tap water (or something). Feyerabend was also surely right that it really doesn’t matter what you believe or how you come to believe it. It is technology ultimately that decides whether something is scientific; can something we don’t understand cause something to happen to something we do understand, a position I summed up as ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that ping,’ which got Ian all high and mighty. (Not that I mind.)
So I would agree with:
“For that reason I regard atheism as fundamentally unscientific.”
I can’t quite bring myself to say ‘wholeheartedly’, because anyone with a philosophy background knows you never commit to anything you can’t later retract, or at least qualify.
“One other point. In the 21st century there are going to be huge changes in the world, some good and some not so.”
That I can agree with unreservedly.
“PS Will, if you ask me again to be silent then I will honour the request so long as Ian does the same!”
Once was presumptuous, twice would be rude; you carry on!
A former member
Post #: 66
Hi Ian
“Ah, but the Earth’s gravity, being constant, is responsible for the everyday madness.”

“Arf. (Squared.)

> … ~~~//~~/~/~~ …”

You like that one?

“All of which demonstrates what a delicate thing consciousness is and how sensitive to external influences. Like the Moon.”

“Ah .. but in all seriousness (just for now) Will, I think that you’ve inadvertently switched subject-matter.”
Not so keen, eh?

“>I regretfully conclude that there's unlikely to be any scientific reality to your conjecture, Will.”

“I think that is almost certainly true.”

“That response genuinely surprised me. I appreciate that you were trying to “get others going” but it hadn’t occurred to me that you are perfectly prepared to flog the dead-in-advance horse in order to achieve your purpose!”

Methodological anarchy. Besides, it engages people, which are much more interesting than science.


“That’s the only way anyone will persuade me there is any such thing. How about you?”

“Sorry that I hadn’t stressed the point sufficiently: I was and still am saying that I don’t think that there is any such “phenomenon” to be explained”.

You made your point perfectly clear and I agree with you. My point is not that there is a soul, but any such claim that is devoid of hypothetical verification is meaningless; if it exists, it is part of this world.

However I am observing that the soul is a piece of antiquated ontology. It has no more legitimacy within contemporary scientific discourse than do the Ptolemaic crystal spheres, caloric, phlogiston or indeed Daltonian atoms.

Well the difference is that there are better explanations for those. I’m not convinced that the ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’, despite their secular appeal, are credible noumenal alternatives (how could they be, eh?) Not that I collar you with such fancies necessarily.


“If there were a phenomenon that some might attribute to the paranormal, you and I would be quite certain there was a natural explanation.”

“.. But as said only if we were convinced that there actually is any object of discourse,”

For example: a book falls off a shelf, someone shouts ‘It’s a ghost.’

“apparently we were just following your rules in tracking the development of a not-believed-in argument just for the hell of it!”

Rules? Sir, you insult me. (Not really.)

“Yes Will but they wouldn’t in any case be explaining anything interesting since they would only be talking about the (as it were) physical carrier of whatever is going on, mechanistically speaking. (If we are to be conscientiously scientific about the matter then the mechanistic approach is of course the only option.) The situation would resemble – in fact, at the present time, still does – the ragbag yet strangely beautiful appearance of the subject of biology before the insights of Darwin and Wallace were accepted by the general scientific community. For an engineering analogy, imagine being able to describe the goings on inside a nuclear fission reactor in accurate, entity-descriptive detail, but without the assistance of essential, entirely general explanatory theoretical abstractions such as energy!”


This is fairly typical of the sort of stream of consciousness that is much harder to follow than I suspect you imagine. After the third or fourth somersault I run out of essential, entirely general explanatory theoretical abstractions.

“let's be clear, I am not trying to stimulate interest in our exchanges.”

“Oh I see. Well Andrew must be generally right: I must be jumping the gun too often, but..

.. my (empirically driven!) problem is that a couple of mails back you explicitly declared that intention!”


On the contrary, much as I enjoy and learn from our exchanges, they are about as popular as muddy boots with the rest of the members. I thought it might be nice to see if anyone else could get a word in edgeways.
A former member
Post #: 67
Hi Camilla

“All this suggests that our brain is predisposed to imagine external agency for lots of immediately unexplained issues. Hence, the idea of external evaluation and possible action rebounding against us, might seem to be an ancient brain trait.”

For a ‘conscious’ creature such as ourselves I think that makes perfect evolutionary sense, but as an ancient brain trait, do you think it still has value?

“Morality might additionally be considered as a form of qualitative assessment on chosen measurement axes.”

Isn’t the problem with this that moral qualities are difficult to quantify?

“For example, when we say something is "unlikely", we are making a meta assessment in the context of whatever hopes we entertain about the case.”

I’m not sure why it should be a meta assessment or how our hopes influence likelihood.

“ It looks like an assessment both on figures in some way but also one that translates into 'values' in the other humanistic sense of the word (and I'd argue animals share some of these) based on the context at the time.”

“I have been thinking recently that this would appear to be a way we might have developed values from facts/figures, contra Hume; clearly biological systems have achieved this in some way, so it requires thinking about.”

This is an extremely interesting claim. What biological systems do you have in mind?

“It's a form of evaluation but not merely the naturalistic clustering indicating short cuts to any measurable quantity - aka to take but one modern example, Sam Harris' book The Moral Landscape. In fact, this type of evaluation is implicated specifically with the neural networking form of categorisation, á la Edelman etc.”

This isn’t really my field, I think I’ve heard of Edelman, but Sam Harris is new to me. Could you summarise?

“BTW, I'm unimpressed with the soul as electrical field argument - or any type of field”

Me too.

“I'm a non reductive metaphysician whilst an explanatory reductionist,”

So for the hard of thinking, specifically me, how does that work?

“so probably field effects are instrumental in sub-neural communication whilst not necessarily being the last word as to what comprises the self-awareness and consciousness aspects of the self which it seems you want to talk about here.”

Well you can’t have moving electric charges without EM fields, but I have no idea whether they have any role in consciousness.

“I appreciate that this is a subject put forward for more humanistic and creative people who might read this thread. But we do seem rather to have wandered onto all sorts of more usual not strictly related matters here.”

Ah well, that’s the nature of discussion.
A former member
Post #: 183
Fair enough Will, you are making a real effort to get some conversation going, hopefully with other members of the group as well as the usual suspects. So I will do my best and continue to disagree with Ian.

Ian, I said that "Richard Dawkins is a very good scientist I am sure, but his strident fundamental atheism marks the point where he departs from the true ethos of science by espousing his own fixed belief."  You said "That is an amazing --  indeed insulting -- misrepresentation."  Perhaps I should grab the low-hanging fruit and withdraw the apparently insulting misrepresentation that Dawkins is a very good scientist.  

You continue  : "...........However the concept of god or gods is sui generis in a sense not intended by its proponents."   Although I did learn some Latin for two years some half a century ago and therefore maybe feel  less offended by your elitist use of an elitist dead language than some others, I still need to have the dead language translated for me. When that is done I will also require translation of the translated sentence into plain English please. Though when all that is done I suspect that the residual meaning of the twice translated sentence, if any, will be scarcely worth the bother. For God's sake can we please cut out the pompous obscure fancy talk and use proper plain English?! Or would that leave the emperor visibly lacking in clothes?

Speaking of God I have noticed, Ian, your several unsolicited attempts over the past year or two to copy Dawkins and sneer at the religious and their cultural beliefs. I reckon that if I spent the time I could also pull out from the archives of this message board your very own agreement with me that religion is personal and is not a topic for discussion here. 

By the way, Camilla and Will, please excuse me from not commenting on your contributions but I am just passing through a phase of having a go at Ian. Who knows when I will be nice to him again?  Ian, you think you might be able to make a physicalist of me. Well of course, that word is Philosophese not English so I had to look it up. Well I must say that Wikipedia and Stanford Enc both struggle to give clear precise definitions of what this really means. They try heroically, saying that you have to start with the concept of 'supervenience', a neat move that has the merit of giving the false impression that a precise definition has been achieved. 

I have suggested before that philosophers here should restrain themselves from trying to classify me in any particular respect, especially as mistakes always seem to be made. Perhaps I should be less concerned, as even the best philosophy references struggle  to define their own terms with any rigour even remotely approaching that of mathematics and the hard sciences.
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 284
[Reply to Camilla's Post#:46]:

Morality may not be a strictly religious phenomena.

I wasn’t making that claim, Camilla. I was pointing out that the freedom to postulate novel ontology in accordance with evidential warrant which is enjoyed by scientific professionals whenever they’re wearing their scientific hats – as opposed to the hats which they might wear within the context of some religious family or organisation – cannot be enjoyed within such specifically religious contexts owing both to the doctrinal obligation to believe one particular version of pertinent historic events and on the other the rigidity of epistemic outlook which is largely mandated by the perceived-disastrous or indeed heretical consequences of accepting certain more empirically responsive modes of thinking, such that it (for instance) becomes a “sin” to question a range of core tenets.

Not only does it seem that brain areas chiefly in the temporal lobe promote peak experiences but related phenomena such as the "feeling of a looming presence nearby" can be magnetically induced thereabouts too e.g. by the Persinger Helmet. (Although, see how critical thinking may inure us to the conclusion from the original effects, Richard Dawkins did not feel the presence, just a few peculiar bodily sensations of stretching etc.)

Good point! It would seem that there is no such animal as a specifically “religious experience”.

Also, children have an area light up to do with tracing actions in the outer world particularly to attributing agency to various aggregates out there, I'm sure you've all read these reports. All this suggests that our brain is predisposed to imagine external agency for lots of immediately unexplained issues. Hence, the idea of external evaluation and possible action rebounding against us, might seem to be an ancient brain trait.

Yes. Even domestic pets automatically track the eyes of other animals – including people – in order to try to gauge intent.

Morality might additionally be considered as a form of qualitative assessment on chosen measurement axes.
For example, when we say something is "unlikely", we are making a meta assessment in the context of whatever hopes we entertain about the case. It looks like an assessment both on figures in some way but also one that translates into 'values' in the other humanistic sense of the word (and I'd argue animals share some of these) based on the context at the time.

I think that nowadays the mensurable statistical sense has more or less ousted any prior, different senses.

I have been thinking recently that this would appear to be a way we might have developed values from facts/figures, contra Hume; clearly biological systems have achieved this in some way, so it requires thinking about.

I think I see “where you’re going” with this one (?) in that as far as you’re concerned there are as it were “felt value qualia” which present as being as difficult to account for in terms of naked physical ontology as are the secondary qualities of sensation and emotion themselves, right?

(For those who reject the primary/secondary distinction, as said long ago: tough. I prefer to stick to actual physics!)


It's a form of evaluation but not merely the naturalistic clustering indicating short cuts to any measurable quantity - aka to take but one modern example, Sam Harris' book The Moral Landscape. In fact, this type of evaluation is implicated specifically with the neural networking form of categorisation, á la Edelman etc.

For the benefit of strangers to this debate, Nobel prize-winning immunologist Gerald Edelman developed the concept of value-laden “re-entrant loops” from and to the brain during the late 1980s.

BTW, I'm unimpressed with the soul as electrical field argument - or any type of field - why not let a radio have one then, with it's pulses going on forever, information carried beyond the light cone, etc?

Well not beyond the light-cone. That would mean that some signal could propagate faster than the speed of light! Otherwise, I completely agree that the mere wave of the hand in saying “consciousness is electromagnetic” tells us as said nothing interesting, because so also is every electrical and electronic device ever built, and no-one’s contending that they are conscious .. except perhaps for a few hard-core AI brainwashees who remain convinced that computers are conscious!

Of course, the brain operates electrochemically, but ..

.. so what? That’s trivially uninteresting. So does the neural net of a medusa!


Looking for physical effects, even eventually just taking the information inferred in this case, to replicate non material terms may be a category error, as I'm sure someone will already have pointed out. There can still be various biological effects from an organism's makeup without having to tie these down piecemeal reductionistically, Will. I'm a non reductive metaphysician whilst an explanatory reductionist,

E.g. by analogy with Davidson’s sense. (“Non-reductive physicalism”. That is, the view first advanced by Donald Davidson during the ‘70s to the effect that there is no consistent reductive mapping between subvening neurological structures on the one hand and supervenient “mentality” on the other.)

so probably field effects are instrumental in sub-neural communication

... agreed – at least in the case of electromagnetic fields it is possible to achieve arbitrarily precise local feedback.

Ditto, the idea that downloading present memories onto non carbon substrates with whatever twiddle mechanism actually causes consciousness would then BE our minds and could happily continue as such, put through time travel and other reference boggling alterations without the full source of sensation information for any sort of orientation, might be a mistake too.

If both the network topology and the local inductive feedback loops are an exact replica of the human or animal case, then I can see no convincing reason to deny the presence of consciousness within the technological artefact also, or have you become some sort of crypto-carbon fascist just lately (!?!)

There is evidence that since our gut has a mini brain, that neural networks are in other places about our bodies, in short that to get our mind fully functioning with emotional responses onboard needed embodiment. What this then may lead to in a disembodied copy from that point onward, remains to be tested.

I disagree. Remember the Hofstadter/Dennett essays to the effect “Who am I?” The “embodiment thesis” – shades of Margaret Boden, Heidegger et al – doesn’t work as long as the signal conduction time between physically separated functional sub-units is many orders of magnitude faster than the intra-nodal signal conduction time within each discrete entity.
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 285

[From Post #65]:

[Will]: Years ago I was doing post grad History and Philosophy of Science with a bloke called David Papineau at King's College.

Interestingly enough, Dave has recently come out as a neutral monist – an ontological fence-sitting position which has as far as I know been effectively extinct ever since its final airing shortly after The First World War by Bertie Russell. Camilla and I were lucky enough to hear the unexpected announcement (after the conclusion of the day’s business of reading, hearing and critiquing the day’s slough of papers!) and Papineau then announced,off-the-cuff:

“I can’t see how anyone could actually claim to be a physicalist without first being a neutral monist.”

One immediately understands the course of the supportive argument on the basis of inference alone, but my disagreement with its conclusion is as you might all (“all”?) anticipate far too lengthy to be dwelt on here. If anyone’s interested we could start yet another thread to discuss ideas not held by any of us! (I appreciate that Will's particularly partial to that sort of pastime; me, I prefer to play Blind Man's Buff at Xmas time.)


There were people with different backgrounds, lots of maths and physics graduates, as I remember, so we all started off speaking entirely different languages, but it quickly became apparent that nobody could give a clear description of what science is.

Oh so you don’t fancy piecing together any of my own highly dispersed “in-response-to” commentary by way of enlightenment, then? (Hint: It only goes back 3 years or so.)

I was used to that because no one knows what philosophy is either.

I agree. It would be insane to make even such an attempt by writing any such explanatory essay shorter than, say, 20,000 words (minimum).

However, a cursory answer – delivering I’d say around 75% of the whole truth, boils down to the single-sentence answer:

Philosophy is to science as science is to physical reality.

(“Traditional” philosophy scarcely figures in my book, so I’ve discounted any putative contributions from that quarter.)


Popper was surely right, what ultimately makes something scientific is whether or not it predicts something that can be seen (heard, smelt etc) to happen.

That (very nice) take lies I think more strongly in the direction taken by Reichenbach. ( .. And by myself, as his intellectual clone in broad-brush tones. Not too happy about his actuarial appropriation of the notion of “probability” though.) One shouldn’t forget that Popper was first and foremost a rationalist, rather than an empiricist, and he lambasts empiricism quite extensively within The Logic of Scientific Discovery, of course.

The scientific method, to a large degree, is dictated by the precision needed to record the set up and results so that other groups can repeat and verify or falsify them. A case in point at the time was cold fusion; people were desperate for it to work, but careful repetition of the original experiment showed nothing; you can’t force neutrons into a strip of palladium in a glass of tap water (or something). Feyerabend was also surely right that it really doesn’t matter what you believe or how you come to believe it. It is technology ultimately that decides whether something is scientific; can something we don’t understand cause something to happen to something we do understand, a position I summed up as ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that ping,’ which got Ian all high and mighty. (Not that I mind.)

So I would agree with:

(“So” you would agree with .. ? How does any of the foregoing incline toward the following conclusion then?)

“For that reason I regard atheism as fundamentally unscientific.”

.. on the basis of Feyerabend’s extreme liberalism alone? Presumably you would for identical reasons regard any profession of disbelief in, e.g. fairies, goblins, pixies, trolls, etc. as equally unscientific .. ?

I am not sneering at "religion" here. I'm simply reiterating the earlier-made point that science and religion inhabit -- and forever must inhabit -- entirely disjoint worlds intellectually speaking. Their assumptions and modus operandi simply fail to overlap, hence my recourse to Gould's NOMA,earlier mentioned. The sciences deal, ultimately, in verifiable observations. The religions deal, ultimately, in hopes and social cohesion. They couldn't even in principle be playing the same ball-game.

Just to re-stress a point made earlier in response to Andrew: Popperian falsification doesn’t endorse the provisional acceptance of any internally consistent set of definitions and postulates which also at the time of first formulation happen to fit the real world in terms of observational pay-off as well as, say, GR or QM. The point is that any such contender is obliged to be relevantly plausible, not just “plausible” (in the sense of being logically consistent!)

A good illustration of this feature is the conflict just before 1965 between GR and the Brans-Dicke scalar-tensor theory. Perhaps ironically, one of the chief planks in the earlier general acceptance of GR had been its “prediction” of the (already observationally established) precession of the perihelion of Mercury, but it became realised by the 1960s that we really didn’t have sufficiently accurate observational confirmation of the Sun’s oblateness to be able to conclude with confidence that such precession was not after all some function of the Sun’s internal mass distribution rather than the structure of spacetime as described according to GR. Calculation showed that a not-too-oblate Sun could be responsible for the precession. More precise measurements on the Sun’s figure – principally by radar – soon established the extreme minimality of its oblateness, and the slimmer, leaner, fitter theory of GR swiftly rehabilitated itself on Occam’s Razor grounds.

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 286

From Post:# 66
Methodological anarchy. Besides, it engages people, which are much more interesting than science.

Hmmm .. That depends on their shape, smell, smoothness of skin and .. certain other attributes (but let's run the risk shifting subject-matter once more.

[Will on the soul once more]: I’m not convinced that the ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’, despite their secular appeal, are credible noumenal alternatives (how could they be, eh?) Not that I collar you with such fancies necessarily.

What? Fancies such as Kantian noumenality as opposed to phenomenality you mean? You’re right, I don’t. Kant seems to have been afflicted early on by an outbreak of the blight of “why is there anything at all?-ness”, thereby drawing the absurd conclusion that existence is the thorny problem, whereas appearance isn’t (!)

As (I hope) most of have by now appreciated, the problems facing any science with aspirations of completability at least as far as biology, planetary sciences and chemistry if not (of course) physics itself are concerned are, respectively:

1) The origin of life (but not its easily graspable physical nature), and ..

2) The (physical) nature of consciousness (but not its origin). This problem arises because of the inevitable primary/secondary quality distinction. (That is, what “consciousness” is actually about as opposed what most populist neurologists, scientific journalists and – most inexcusable of all – contemporary philosophers of mind tend to babble on about!)


“If there were a phenomenon that some might attribute to the paranormal, you and I would be quite certain there was a natural explanation.”

“> .. But as said only if we were convinced that there actually is any object of discourse,”

For example: a book falls off a shelf, someone shouts ‘It’s a ghost.’

If that someone were C. G. Jung, he would instead say: “It’s a catalytic exteriorisation phenomenon”.

(Ut’s the wa-ay ah tale um. Ut dopponds on yeer ahntahlogy, laik.)

> “Yes Will but they wouldn’t in any case be explaining anything interesting since they would only be talking about the (as it were) physical carrier of whatever is going on, mechanistically speaking. (If we are to be conscientiously scientific about the matter then the mechanistic approach is of course the only option.) The situation would resemble – in fact, at the present time, still does – the ragbag yet strangely beautiful appearance of the subject of biology before the insights of Darwin and Wallace were accepted by the general scientific community. For an engineering analogy, imagine being able to describe the goings on inside a nuclear fission reactor in accurate, entity-descriptive detail, but without the assistance of essential, entirely general explanatory theoretical abstractions such as energy!”


This is fairly typical of the sort of stream of consciousness that is much harder to follow than I suspect you imagine. After the third or fourth somersault I run out of essential, entirely general explanatory theoretical abstractions.

Erm .. Maybe you have managed to single out one of my very few stylistic shortcomings, but the para above is certainly not unduly long, nor indeed at all dense. Which parts did you not understand?
(Asked not with the implied intonation of some U. S. Marine Drill-Sergeant. No need to hit the deck and give me fifty.)

In any case, the question has since been covered -- or rather, chronologically speaking it has already been covered -- by Camilla in her critique of those species of Incredible who actually believe that the mere pointing out of the fact that the brain operates electrochemically somehow puts us in any sort of position to explain what consciousness is.


“let's be clear, I am not trying to stimulate interest in our exchanges.”

> “Oh I see. Well Andrew must be generally right: I must be jumping the gun too often, but..

> .. my (empirically driven!) problem is that a couple of mails back you explicitly declared that intention!”
On the contrary, much as I enjoy and learn from our exchanges, they are about as popular as muddy boots with the rest of the members. I thought it might be nice to see if anyone else could get a word in edgeways.

If only! What might they be inclined to say?

A former member
Post #: 69
“ nobody could give a clear description of what science is.”

“Oh so you don’t fancy piecing together any of my own highly dispersed “in-response-to” commentary by way of enlightenment, then? (Hint: It only goes back 3 years or so.))"

No thanks, would you care to review everything I have said and agree with that? Besides, I think it’s a waste of time trying to define, well, pretty much anything to be frank. The beauty of words is that with a bit of effort you can discover what other people mean, but only if you allow for variations in their understanding and use of words and language. I think you said somewhere that logical atomism is silly, yup, but only slightly less so is insisting that any given concept must be identical for all people. As I said to Peter Cyriax, unless the terms used to define defined terms are themselves defined terms you are none the wiser, which is pretty much what Russell decided. Even scientists can’t agree what counts as science, but the one thing they have to agree one is the empirical data; it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that ping, or as you put it
“The sciences deal, ultimately, in verifiable observations.”

Because not everyone will believe something they haven’t seen with their own eyes, especially if it conflicts with their own theories, scientists need to record enough information for others to reproduce the same experiment. Once it is established that a phenomenon is real, as far as I am concerned, it makes absolutely no difference to the data what you think is causing it, pixies, elves or giant spaghetti monsters. Newton, with his hypotheses non fingo didn’t even care.

"The religions deal, ultimately, in hopes and social cohesion. They couldn't even in principle be playing the same ball-game."

All the religions that I know of have a creation myth. The Enuma Elish, the Theogeny and the bible all start with how we got to be here. I know the first two better than the bible as it happens, both are in agreement with what was contemporary ‘scientific’ thinking in that they give a version of creation based on the transmutation of 'elements'. The Enuma Elish was written in Mesopotamia where the Tigris and Euphrates carry enough silt to make 50 metres more Iraq every year. The land forming at the mouth of the river was interpreted as water turning into soil, the rotting vegetation in the resulting marsh creates marsh gas, methane, which can be seen bubbling up through the water and just happens to be flammable. Hence water turns to soil, turns to air, turns to fire and everything is a mixture of these. In Egypt the annual flooding of the Nile gave rise to a similar 'theory'. The theogeny, by contrast was written on a mountainside (Helicon if you're interested) by a shepherd no less, where water emerges from the soil as springs, so the Greeks thought the primordial stuff was Gaia, Earth, which emerged from chaos.

Without"essential, entirely general explanatory theoretical abstractions such as energy"people resorted to the one 'force' they were familiar with, life, to which they attributed all movement and change. So there was a beginning, ‘matter’ and ‘energy’. Apart from the occasional wedding or funeral I’ve not had much to do with church, but I know enough to understand that god the father, god the son and god the holy ghost represent the same things.

It is only when people insist that 'god works in mysterious ways', stopping things going ping in a way that can be predicted, that god becomes unscientific. But that opens the door to the possibility that we will eventually have such a good understanding of nature that there are certain phenomena which we can only attribute to god playing silly buggers, thereby proving his existence scientifically.

This is not likely to happen soon, if ever.

Of course if you choose to define religion as that which is unscientific, that’s up to you, but scientists, philosophers and theologians as well as everyone else will study whatever they find rewarding, regardless of what anyone thinks they should be doing. Quite right too.

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