Monday, December 7, 2009

The Cannibals of the Scientific Revolution


"All revolutions devour their own children." - Ernst Rohm

Rohm was a despicable bastard, but his life and death is a testament to this valuable truth. From an historical perspective, all revolutions – even the most worthy ones – have a habit of going too far and eventually – generations later – destroying those who benefit from it.

I was reminded of this line while participating in a comment thread at the Common Sense Atheist website.

During a discussion on the nature of consciousness, one commenter – Urbster 1 – wrote…

There is no “I”; Dennett explains this in his book, where he proposes a “multiple drafts” view of consciousness, in stark contrast to the “I” view (he calls it the “Cartesian theater” view) of consciousness. In Dennett’s view, our brains evolved to do lots of parallel processing tasks; consciousness, then, is like a virtual serial “I” machine running on top of these parallel processors.

I wrote back…

Dennett is a very dishonest man. To say – as he does – “there is no ‘I’” and then smugly wipe his hands clean of the subject is preposterous. That doesn’t answer anything. There is DEFINITELY an “I.” Who is writing this question? Me. “I.” Who is reading it? YOU! (Another “I.”).

The irony, of course, is that Dennett is merely taking materialism to its logical conclusion…If materialism can’t explain “I,” then “I” can’t exist.
Brilliant!

While Dennett sips his margarita on the beach, I have some real questions to ask: What is consciousness? What is it made of? Where did it come from? How does it work? These are serious questions that deserve serious research, not just smoke and mirrors from atheist propagandists.

Urbster 1 continued to insist that “The ‘I’ IS reducible. It’s not just one thing; it’s many parts of the brain that come together to form this ‘story’ of an ‘I.’"

I wrote back…

“I” exist. I would also point out that “I” is the foundation of science. Don’t you remember Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am?” To postulate that the “I” is an illusion is to destroy reason and thus destroy the scientific enterprise in the long-term. You are making science intellectually defenseless to the theists you claim to oppose. Why science allowed itself to descend into this abyss I’ll never understand.

Nietzsche would be sympathetic to the point I’m trying to raise.

As told by Tom Wolfe in his essay Sorry but Your Soul Just Died

[Nietzsche] 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. I thought about that in the summer of 1994 when a group of mathematicians and computer scientists held a conference at the Santa Fe Institute on "Limits to Scientific Knowledge." The consensus was that since the human mind is, after all, an entirely physical apparatus, a form of computer, the product of a particular genetic history, it is finite in its capabilities. Being finite, hardwired, it will probably never have the power to comprehend human existence in any complete way…

This, science's Ultimate Skepticism, has been spreading ever since then…If only Nietzsche were alive! He would have relished every minute of it!...

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.

The Scientific Revolution bloomed in 1637 with Descartes’ earnest statement, “I think, therefore, I am.” Nearly 400 years later, by joyfully killing the “I,” the Scientific Revolution is eating its own children.

If there was ever a reason to move beyond materialism, this my friends, is it.

Note: This isn’t a full transcript. See the full comment thread at Luke’s website.


**UPDATE, DEC. 17, 2009**

Click below on the Comment section to read a fun exchange between me and "Ian." One clip...

Ian: “The only difference between the rock and the rabbit is that the rock's chemical processes are somewhat less complex, but that is a difference in quantity, not quality.”

TW: No. It’s more complicated than that. And I’ll try to create an analogy: Let’s compare, say, a mousetrap and a VCR. Both are made up of the same “stuff” but the thing that makes the VCR work is electricity. The “stuff” by itself (all those wires and buttons) can’t make the VCR work by itself. The electricity is essential. Ditto for life itself. There is a something “extra” in Life that science can’t explain, and even more worrisome, science doesn’t seem interested in trying to explain it (as shown by your flippant approach to this subject).

11 comments:

Ian said...

Todd, your points are ridiculous. Between your "materialism is dead" post (oops, actually meant dying) rife with scientific inaccuracies, to the logical fallacies you've repeated at Luke's blog and this post, I'm having trouble taking you seriously.

Your "Darwinism" break-down in your linked post is incredibly flawed. If one is generous, points 1 and 2 are basically the same; rather, if you take point 2 at face value, you are completely wrong: life is made of non-living matter, known as atoms. Point 1 is a field of active research, while 3 and 4 are trivially supported by any non-biased view of the evidence.

Furthermore, the evidence for NDE, remote-viewing and precognition imply that the mind is more than the brain? I agree, if there was evidence for those things, it would imply simple neuronal models would be insufficient. Unfortunately, since there is no evidence, the conclusion isn't supported.

You further misread the argument put forward by Urbster, and jump from "no single coherent source of consciousness" to "unraveling the scientific enterprise". This is putting the cart before the horse. The scientific enterprise has more to fear from you and those as illogical as yourself, than the results of a scientific assessment of human cognition.

Todd White said...

Ian: I think – with all due respect – you have allowed your fidelity to materialism to distort your ability to objectively evaluate what are facts, what are falsehoods, and what are genuine mysteries.

For example, you assert I am “completely wrong” when I say that the materialistic paradigm is flawed when it asserts that “life can come from non-living matter.”
As evidence for my mistake, you say, “life is made of non-living matter, known as atoms.”

But here’s the thing…We have no evidence that matter – through some random, evolutionary process – can give birth to “life.” After all, a rock is a rock. A rock will not become “alive” after millions of years. But a rabbit IS alive. Yes, the rock and the rabbit are both made up of atoms, but that misses the point. The rabbit is obviously different from the rock. It has something “extra” that we don’t understand. And understanding that difference should be a major research area of science. It’s not of course, because it might lead to conclusions that would unsettling to the materialist paradigm.

Also, there is plenty of evidence for NDEs, remote-viewing, and precognition. To say that there is “no evidence” is flat-out wrong. If you’re not aware of that evidence, I’d be happy to share it with you, but I know from experience that “people see what they want to see” and all of that evidence may have no effect on you.

As for Urbster’s argument…as I said in some of my newer posts on Luke’s site today, we should be inherently suspicious of any so-called “research” that says that a cohesive “I” which imposes order on my thoughts and actions doesn’t exist. That is so foreign to the experience of most people that it puts the credibility of science into doubt (as it should).

The descent into the Reductionist abyss is bad for science, but inevitable as long as the materialist paradigm is held together through coercion. Thankfully, though, the materialist paradigm is dying. It no longer fits the scientific facts. The only thing left to do is give it a proper funeral.

Ian said...

Todd, you just repeated the same statements, without adding anything.

You are still wrong about life, Darwinism and the rest. The only difference between the rock and the rabbit is that the rock's chemical processes are somewhat less complex, but that is a difference in quantity, not quality. The chemical reactions occurring between the rock and it's environment, and the rabbit and it's environment, are the same type of reactions. There is nothing "extra". Organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry are just that: chemistry. No magic required.

I am aware of what has been presented as evidence (various university studies of dubious quality), plus the evidence for strictly neuronal brain processes. Which set of evidence is more convincing? Hint: the one with repeatable experimental support.

Finally, your statement that ordinary experience should trump scientific investigations is ridiculous. Plenty of scientific (and therefore materialistic) results are not within the ordinary experience of most people, but that doesn't impact their validity. Relativity, evolution and quantum mechanics are considered highly accurate models due to their predictive power, and are generally outside our everyday experience.

I think _your_ non-material bias blinds you from legitimate scientific and philosophical results. Luckily, the facts speak for themselves.

Todd White said...

Ian: “The only difference between the rock and the rabbit is that the rock's chemical processes are somewhat less complex, but that is a difference in quantity, not quality.”

TW: No. It’s more complicated than that. And I’ll try to create an analogy: Let’s compare, say, a mousetrap and a VCR. Both are made up of the same “stuff” but the thing that makes the VCR work is electricity. The “stuff” by itself (all those wires and buttons) can’t make the VCR work by itself. The electricity is essential. Ditto for life itself. There is a something “extra” in Life that science can’t explain, and even more worrisome, science doesn’t seem interested in trying to explain (as shown by your flippant approach to this subject).

Ian: I am aware of what has been presented as evidence (various university studies of dubious quality), plus the evidence for strictly neuronal brain processes. Which set of evidence is more convincing? Hint: the one with repeatable experimental support.

TW: I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Are you referring to my statement that “there is plenty of evidence for NDEs, remote-viewing, and precognition.” If that’s the case, I don’t know what you’re talking about. NDEs, for instance, have been so overwhelmingly and consistently reported that if it was a typical materialist phenomenon – say, the mating habits of a mollusk – it would be accepted without question.

See here, for instance…

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/09/near-death-experiences-first-word.html

Ian: “Your statement that ordinary experience should trump scientific investigations is ridiculous. Plenty of scientific (and therefore materialistic) results are not within the ordinary experience of most people, but that doesn't impact their validity.”

TW: I think you misunderstand my point, and it’s possible I didn’t explain it very well. Let me try again: If the evidence accumulated from consciousness research is “fuzzy” and still in the early stages, it’s not unreasonable for us to be highly skeptical toward conclusions (such as Dennett's) that are the total opposite of most people’s experience. For example, if science said tables can float at some temperatures, until we had some “definitive proof” it wouldn’t be unfair of us to remain skeptical since we NEVER see tables float in our daily experience. Again, I think my statement is relatively uncontroversial; it’s only controversial if someone is 100% committed to materialism.

Ian: “I think _your_ non-material bias blinds you from legitimate scientific and philosophical results.”

TW: I don’t think I’m biased. After all, I was essentially a materialist in high school. But then – in my 20s - I decided to do my own research and came away with a different conclusion. I’m only interested in the facts and I honestly don’t care where they lead.

Ian said...

Todd, vitalism has been disproved. If you think there something "extra" to life, you are mistaken. I'm not trying to be flippant, I'm just trying to be accurate. Basic knowledge of biology or organic chemistry disproves your claim. What's more, science hasn't stopped being interested in the study of life, _you're_ no longer interested in the answers.

NDE evidence is explainable via brain reactions to various dead (or near-death) brain modules, and remote viewing and precognition have no positive results when confirmation bias and unblinded studies are accounted.

I think you should revisit your high-school studies. An introductory set of science classes should bring you up to speed on the fundamentals of the current scientific evidence for and against various theories and the rationales behind them. Until then, you will continue to make basic logical mistakes and bring up falsified ideas.

Todd White said...

Ian: vitalism has been disproved. If you think there something "extra" to life, you are mistaken.

TW: I wouldn’t go so far as to say “vitalism has been disproven.” I know mainstream science abandoned vitalism at least a century ago – although whether that was because of ideological reasons or frustration over the repeatability of the results I don’t know.

One thing I know, though: The mysteries I raised in my previous comment are valid. And as such, it might be useful to start bringing vitalism back into the conversation. A few months ago, I read a very intriguing book called “The Vital Dimension” by Carl Gunther which elaborates on how mysterious life truly is and how far short materialism falls in trying to explain it.

In a similar vein, you may be familiar with Rupert Sheldrake’s research into morphic fields, as described in his controversial book, The New Science of Life.

Bottom line: If astronomers are becoming comfortable with the idea that 95% of the universe is “dark matter” (which we can’t see or study – yet), it’s not clear to me why vitalism should be totally ruled out, unless there's some smoking gun that disproves vitalism (and needless to say, I seriously doubt that has happened).

Ian: NDE evidence is explainable via brain reactions to various dead (or near-death) brain modules, and remote viewing and precognition have no positive results when confirmation bias and unblinded studies are accounted.

TW: Sorry, both of those statements are inaccurate. No honest observer would say NDEs are “explainable” through “brain modules.” There is - as of yet - no theory which can fit NDEs into a materialist paradigm (and given the nature of the experience, I would wager it never will be).

Furthermore, there is enough evidence for precognition and remote viewing to make any honest materialist respectful of the possibility that the power of the mind far exceeds what reductionist biology alone can explain.

I’m not saying an honest person HAS to believe in those things; I am merely saying that anyone whose looked at ALL of the evidence would at least be open to the possibility that those things exist, and if they DO exist, the implications for the materialist paradigm would be devastating. Needless to say, I personally am convinced of the validity of both remote viewing and precognition (especially precognition).

Ian: I think you should revisit your high-school studies.

TW: There’s a line used by one of the characters in my book, and in a fun twist, that line has also been used on me a few times as I romp around the blogosphere.

I did pretty well in high school biology; I think I got an A- if my memory serves me right. And I enjoyed it.

Since I took the classes which propagate your convictions, I don't think it's unfair of me to ask: Have you ever done any primary research concerning the other side of the argument? For example, have you read a book or even a medium-length essay by someone like Sheldrake or Gunther who advocates a different vision? At the risk of being pedantic, I think that’s essential for anyone who wishes to be considered an honest, informed contributor to these types of discussions.

Todd White said...

Gunther Book:

http://www.amazon.com/Vital-Dimension-Quest-Memory-Thickness/dp/0595402976/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260307462&sr=8-1


Sheldrake Book:


http://www.amazon.com/New-Science-Life-Rupert-Sheldrake/dp/0892815353/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260307571&sr=1-5

Ian said...

Typed on my iPod, so excuse the brevity. I've read pentode and hameroff's ideas of quantum explanations of consciousness and haven't been convinced, especially with my own research into neural networks, artificial life and other AI fields. Penrose puts too much faith in the idea that human cognition is unconstrained by godel's incompleteness theorems.

A-, hunh? You may want to research the idea of "grade inflation".

Todd White said...

I'm not familiar enough with Penrose to make a definitive judgment on his ideas. However, if you are skeptical about the link between quantum mechanics and consciousness, I share some of your skepticism. Indeed, I’ve been critical about some of the New Age ideas (expressed in books like “The Secret”) which use quantum mechanics as the foundation for some sort of strange mystical wish fulfillment.

Having said all that, the evidence for a non-material dimension to the mind is quite good, IMHO. A nice introductory book is The Spiritual Brain by Mario Beauregard, a Canadian neuroscientist. Another solid book – which looks at consciousness from an even larger perspective – is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot.

Also, fwiw, I would say that Godel’s theorem is one of the most abused and unhelpful concepts in all of philosophy. It’s on the same level as Berkeley’s idea that a person can never know that an object “is”; he can only know his “perception” of that an object. True enough, I say, but the perception – not the IS – is what we Earthlings have to deal with.

Is Reality Real?

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/06/is-reality-real.html

Scientists Confirm Reality is Real!

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/03/scientists-confirm-reality-is-real.html

The Spiritual Brain

http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Brain-Neuroscientists-Case-Existence/dp/0061625981/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260372321&sr=1-1

The Holographic Universe

http://www.amazon.com/Holographic-Universe-Michael-Talbot/dp/0060922583/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260371666&sr=8-1

Ian said...

Sorry Todd, you are wrong again. Experiments done at IQOQI seem to imply that realism isn't correct.

http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/the_reality_tests/

With regards to Beauregard's book,
I would normally ignore anything even remotely associated with Denyse O'leary. She is consistently wrong, and unwilling to objectively view the evidence. I'll add it to my reading list, but I'm not hopeful.

Rather, you should read "Feynman's Lectures on Physics", "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter, and "How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker. Perhaps if you learn how the world actually works, you'll be less taken in by these cranks and charlatans. Hell, even "The Mapmakers" would be a good start, if only to learn the basics of geology, which lead to evolutionary evidence.

Todd White said...

Ian: Thanks for the article suggestion. I’ve bookmarked it, and I’ll try to read through it over the next few days.

However, please note that your article was published in 2008, which is before the article I linked to which suggests that new experiments validate my philosophy. Thus, your article might be out-of-date.