Friday, 18 October 2019

Reminiscing about Old Photographs

            Photo is of Ironmongers in Maidenhead in 1900

It is a sobering thought to reflect that in 200 years’ time, in 2219, we will all have been long dead. No-one alive at this future time will remember us. For the vast majority of us nothing we write is likely to have survived. It'll be as if we had never existed. Indeed, time eventually renders us all anonymous.

But, what if a photograph of us still existed? Even if people 200 years hence don’t know our name or who we were, they might reminisce and wonder what we were thinking when the photograph was taken, what our life was like, what it was like to live in the early 21st Century.

Likewise, when we look at old photographs, say from the late 19th or early 20th Centuries, we too may connect to the past. It may initiate an emotional response in us, a whimsical reflection in what it was like to live in those times, how they viewed the world, their preoccupations, what their day to day lives were like.

Perhaps they were worried about their jobs and how to get promoted; perhaps they worried about making ends meet; perhaps they worried about their relationships with spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, or work colleagues. All the everyday concerns that people have, which, when viewed from our perspective 100 years hence, seem no longer important. We are looking at a world that has now disappeared, we are looking at people together with all their preoccupations and everyday concerns, which no longer exist.

What were they feeling when their photograph was taken? Photographs taken back then will have been very few and far between, so they will have been aware their photographs might attract some attention. Perhaps it is even possible for one or two of them to have speculated that people in the future -- perhaps a 100 years hence -- are viewing them “now” just as the photograph were taken. A moment gone just as the shutter clicks, but yet a moment also captured that might last for hundreds of years.

Without photographs we would, to a large measure, be emotionally shut off from the past. Viewing old photographs, that frozen moment in time, allows us that emotional identification.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

The Limits of Science

Why can't science tell us why the Universe exists and why physical laws take on the form they do?

Here's an analogy.

Consider the game of chess. Let's suppose one knows nothing about how to play the game. By playing against a chess computer one can gradually discover the rules of chess by trying various moves and seeing which moves the computer will permit you to make. But, discovering the rules of chess tells us nothing about why the pieces are allowed to move the way they do, least of all of who invented the game of chess and why. Nor do we know how the computer works. Why and how does it register certain moves as illegal?

Likewise, discovering the physical laws that describe or govern our physical reality tells us nothing about why physical laws are as they are. Nor can it tell us why there is a Universe at all. Such questions simply do not reside within the scope of science.

(The above is a slightly simpler version of my What philosophical questions does science answer?)

Monday, 12 August 2019

Skeptical Inquirer attempts to explain why psi could not possibly exist.


I read the following article:

Why Parapsychological Claims Cannot Be True

It says:
The entire field [of parapsychology] is bankrupt—and has been from the beginning. Each and every claim made by psi researchers violates fundamental principles of science and, hence, can have no ontological status. 
We did not examine the data for psi, to the consternation of the parapsychologist who was one of the reviewers. Our reason was simple: the data are irrelevant. We used a classic rhetorical device, adynaton, a form of hyperbole so extreme that it is, in effect, impossible. Ours was “pigs cannot fly”—hence data that show they can are the result of flawed methodology, weak controls, inappropriate data analysis, or fraud.

This is pivotal to the impasse between parapsychologists on the one hand, and paranormal skeptics on the other. The latter regard psi as simply being impossible as they regard it as contravening what science has told us about the world. Hence, no matter how compelling the evidence for psi is, it cannot be what it seems.

But how exactly does psi violate science? They go on to say:

We identified four fundamental principles of science that psi effects, were they true, would violate: causality, time’s arrow, thermodynamics, and the inverse square law.

Okay, so let's see what they have to say about each of these.


They say:
Effects have causes. Bridging principles identify the causal links for observed effects. The appropriate response to circumstances that lack such a mechanism is skepticism or an existential agnosticism—and, historically, this has been the case. Newton’s notion of gravity as “action at a distance” was considered suspect until rescued by Einstein’s relativity theory.

Within the study of psi, there are no causal mechanisms, and none have been hypothesized.

There are all sorts of issues here. But the most crucial one is that there is also no mechanism for the production of the very existence of consciousness itself, nor how it is able to affect the body in the case of our voluntary behaviour. Our current physics, dealing as it does only with the measurable aspects of reality, necessarily wholly leaves out consciousness in its description of reality. Indeed, given the immaterial nature of consciousness, no tinkering with current laws can be fruitful in this regard. This is why we have what has been labeled the mind-body problem, a problem that has been particularly acute since the birth of modern science in the 17th Century. We require a radically new theory that doesn't just deal with the measurable aspects of reality but has consciousness at its core.

The important point to make here is that if we have no mechanism or explanation for why consciousness exists, then, of course, we could not expect to be able to discern any mechanism for any possible abilities of consciousness, such as psi. However, if such a mechanism or explanation were to be found, it may be that we will come to understand that psi is brought about as a consequence of that very same mechanism or explanation.

My own view is that I regard it very likely that consciousness is fundamental in the same way that the elementary constituents of reality are (electrons and quarks? superstrings?). We normally explain the existence of something by reference to the parts it is composed of. But, what of the ultimate constituents of reality? Such things simply exist as a brute fact with the properties they possess existing as a brute fact too. So, if consciousness is fundamental, then psi might be such a property, as indeed might the causal power of consciousness initiating our voluntary behaviour. No mechanism for psi is then required, although of course we still do require a scientific theory that incorporates such a fundamental consciousness.

Regardless, the bottom line is that it is only if we have a scientific theory at our disposal that incorporates consciousness could we hope to infer what properties and causal powers it has. Hence, once we have such a theory we will be in a better position to stipulate whether we can expect consciousness to exhibit psi abilities and whether such psi abilities require a mechanism. But, at the present time, we lack any such theory.

I should point out that my response here has no relevance should modern materialism be true since it holds that consciousness is identical to some physical processes, or at least what those processes do. In which case we already know how consciousness is produced. In particular, it is tied to specific brains and arguably, if psi is to exist, we then have a problem in that we need some method of communication between brains. Possible mechanisms to explain such communication would seem to be thin to non-existent.

There are 2 points I should immediately make here:

  1. To presuppose modern materialism is largely question-begging.
  2. Modern materialism is incoherent.  See a blog post by me.

Largely question begging since most of those who accept the existence of psi will reject modern materialism, and indeed any form of materialism.

But, even if modern materialism were correct, I question whether we necessarily need to propose theoretical mechanisms, that is mechanisms that are not directly observable. They mention Newton's law of gravity and that the concept of a gravitational force was suspect. Then Einstein came along and replaced it with the more satisfactory idea of warped space-time. The idea here is that influences have to be contiguous. Gravitational force fails to fulfill this criterion since it acts at a distance. Warped space-time, in contrast, allegedly does fulfill this criterion. My own position is that the job of physics is merely to map, predict, and manipulate our environment via mathematical models -- a position which Newton himself subscribed to. Proposing that reality exhibits patterns as circumscribed by invisible mechanisms seems to me to completely ignore the underdetermination of scientific theories by data thesis. I briefly talk about this here. More generally, I think they're confusing metaphysics with science (although, to be fair, most scientists are just as guilty). For an elaboration of my views on this topic go here. Finally, I should mention that the phenomenon of entanglement pays scant regard to this demand for a mechanism.

Inverse Square Law:

Related to this issue over a mechanism the article states:

In telepathy, the distance between the two linked persons is never reported to be a factor, a claim that violates the principle that signal strength falls off with the square of the distance traveled.

Should modern materialism be correct this objection has more force than the demand for a mechanism. But what if one rejects materialism? Personally, I do not buy into this idea that each of our streams of consciousness are isolated, that is confined to our individual brains. I think that although our essences are individual selves, we also to a degree partake in a universal consciousness. Telepathy is not then a signal passing from one stream of consciousness to another, nor is there any transference of energy, that is simply an entirely wrong way of looking at it. Rather the ability to sense others feelings, thoughts and so on is innate since our separateness is not as absolute as we might suppose. Indeed, I suspect that communication via telepathy might be the natural state of affairs in an afterlife realm or realms. However, whilst we're embodied, the brain serves to inhibit or diminish such abilities.


They claim that psi, at least in the form of precognition, would violate the conservation of energy. They say:

 Again, take precognition. If the future affected the present, it would violate the thermodynamic principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system. The act of choosing a card from a fixed array, a common procedure used in psi research, involves neurological processes that use measurable biomechanical energy. The choice is presumed to be caused by a future that, having no existential reality, lacks energy.

This is all terribly confused. Are they, for the sake of argument, supposing that the future exists or not? They initially appear to assume that it does, but then contradict this by saying it has no existential reality. If the future does exist (implying we exist in a block Universe), then it's not true that the future lacks energy. If the future doesn't exist, implying the past doesn't either, then neither the future or past have energy. But our memories influence present actions without violating energy conservation, so what is problematic for future "memories" doing likewise? In the final analysis, this objection seems to collapse into the time's arrow objection that we will now address.

Time's Arrow:

They say:

Within parapsychology time is turned upon itself, most glaringly in precognition.

Here they are thinking precognition would only work by the future actually existing and causally influencing the past. But, despite some parapsychologists favouring this notion, why assume this? Perhaps only the present exists. In which case, there isn't a future that is causally influencing the present. Instead, precognition might simply be an implicit awareness, similar to telepathy, of how present events will play out should no preventative action be taken. If this strains one's credulity I suggest it's because they have bought into the mechanistic conception of reality. But, as I previously intimated, we are in no position to dictate to reality how it can or cannot behave; specifically, we are in no position to demand that it must exhibit patterns as circumscribed by invisible mechanisms. We must rely on what our experiences tell us.

If psi effects were real

The authors say:

[I]f psi effects were real, they would have already fatally disrupted the rest of the body of science. If one’s wishes and hopes were having a psychokinetic impact on the world—including computers and lab equipment—scientists’ findings would be routinely biased by their hopes and beliefs. Results would differ from lab to lab whenever scientists had different aims. The upshot would be empirical chaos, not the (reasonably) ordered coherent picture developed over the past several centuries.

This implies that scientists' findings are not biased by their hopes and beliefs, and indeed what will be financially lucrative. Is there any good evidence that this is the case? I feel also that they are overstating the effects of psi. I've had a few psi experiences in my life, mostly in my childhood, but I haven't experienced anything that I would judge to be psi for a fair few years. Why do they think that if it exists it has to be operating all the time regardless of one's psychological states? And even if it is omnipresent, why can't the effects be very slight? Or why can't various psychokinetic effects from differing people cancel each other out? If I'm in a casino mightn't any very marginal psychokinetic effect from me wanting a certain outcome be cancelled by other people wanting other outcomes?

It's either science or psi?

They also say:
[P]arapsychology cannot be true unless the rest of science isn’t.
So, psi cannot exist otherwise we wouldn't be able to get to the moon? We wouldn't be able to make smartphones? We wouldn't expect objects near the earth's surface to fall at an acceleration of around 10 m/s^2? This is clearly preposterous.

There's this persistent misunderstanding -- and one that the authors, Arthur S. Reber and James E. Alcock seem to share -- that scientific theories describe reality both with complete precision and in their totality. So if there's some aspect of reality a theory fails to describe -- namely some phenomena that contravenes what we should expect from the theory -- then that theory is simply not correct and hence it cannot adequately describe any aspect of reality. But that's not what we learn from the history of science. The history of science teaches us that our old scientific theories are often perfectly adequate to describe a given domain, but break down when attempting to describe that which resides outside that domain. Also, it teaches us that our theories give approximations only even if those approximations might be very close. Thus, the science prior to relativity and quantum mechanics is, in a sense, "wrong", however, that does nothing to prevent the Newtonian mechanical description of reality being able to be used to get us to the moon and back. In addition, the classical mechanics espoused before the advent of Quantum Mechanics is perfectly adequate to describe the macroscopic realm even though it might be "wrong". Quantum Mechanics is only needed when we describe the microscopic realm.

It seems that our present science describes reality where consciousness is not involved to a very close approximation, just as classical mechanics describes the macroscopic realm to a very close approximation. But that it breaks downs when it comes to consciousness, just as classical mechanics breaks down with the physics of the very small. So we need a new physical theory that incorporates consciousness. Once we have such a theory we might be able to judge from the consequences of such a theory whether consciousness requires a body, whether it is causally efficacious, whether it has psi abilities. But, until then, we can only go on the evidence. And the evidence very firmly says psi does exist, not just the evidence from parapsychological research, but also the collective experience of humankind throughout history and across virtually all cultures.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Moderators sometimes abuse their powers

Let me say up front that I think a certain minimal amount of moderation of comments on the net is essential.  People threaten each other, or perhaps post something that is totally off-topic, or post links to sites that have nothing to do with the topic under discussion, etc.  Unfortunately, it seems moderation comes at a price; namely that often dissenting opinions are silenced, especially if the dissenting opinions are forthright and/or combative.

My own experiences very much reflect this problem as often I find my comments under various articles on the net are deleted, or indeed never appear in the first place should all the comments be moderated.  I'm also sometimes kicked out of Facebook groups.

For example, I submitted a comment on an article dismissing the paranormal. I reproduced my comment here. When another person became aware that this comment from me had been deleted (that she hadn't seen or read) and queried it, the author of the original article claimed I had been harassing him.  Of course, one could see I had done nothing of the sort if they only had access to my comment!  Not only that, even when months later I tried to make further comments on that article, I find they are simply not appearing.

And in Facebook groups too sometimes I am kicked out of the group.  The other day I posted a message in a group called "Philosophical Atheism (insiders)". I asked the following question:

Does anyone have the capacity to advance any reasons to suppose an afterlife is unlikely? 

I got many replies from many people, but only one person who actually addressed the question.  He mentioned the fact that our mentality is inextricably bound up with the brain, hence it is highly unreasonable to suppose that there could be disembodied minds.  OK, that's a good reasonable response -- although ultimately unconvincing as I explain here.  But, every other reply was simply irrelevant.  Probably most of the responses claimed that if I believe in an afterlife, then I must present the evidence. These responses implicitly suppose that the no afterlife hypothesis is the more reasonable one and if it is to be jettisoned then compelling evidence needs to be presented for an afterlife.  But it is this very presumption that I was questioning, that I wanted them to somehow justify.  Pointing all this out to them was futile though; I may as well have been addressing a brick wall.

Apparently, I constantly attack straw men, I constantly beg the question, oh yes, and one individual -- a moderator --  kept warning me in the various sub-threads that I am being "intellectually dishonest".  All these accusations bear not the slightest resemblance to reality.  But, it is being called dishonest that I particularly took umbrage with as I am generally loathe to lie about anything.  I'm not even sure what intellectual dishonesty means.  At a guess, that in reality I'm convinced that the arguments against an afterlife are compelling, but am pretending otherwise? And what arguments might these be anyway, they never gave any!  Of course, this accusation is preposterous.  I tried to ignore it, but then another moderator repeated the same accusation.  At this point, I said that if anyone else accuses me of being dishonest, I will be blocking them.  Then I was bounced from the group.

I mentioned at the beginning that it is correct to prohibit links to sites that have no relevance.  But often I link to my blog to a post that has direct relevance, and either my comment doesn't appear at all, or I get a message saying a moderator needs to check it.  But, even in the latter case, so far as I can recollect, my post never appears.  This is silly since my post is directly relevant to the issue, and there are no advertisments on my blog.

I tend to post on sites that hold contrary views to my own, and to be honest I feel that this is the most relevant factor here.  Frequently my comments are  deleted, comments linking to my blog where I explain in more careful detail never appear, or I get bounced from groups/forums etc.

So this is the downside to moderation.  Peoples' views that are consonant with the prevailing view of the group/forum/newspaper in question will rarely get their views censored.  What I find interesting is the question of why moderators find it so difficult to be objective and dispassionate.  

Friday, 19 July 2019

A Tiny Blue Marble

We all live on the surface of this tiny blue marble floating in an infinite sea of nothingness, a nothingness utterly inimical to any life. Everyone who has ever existed has lived on this tiny blue marble. For all we know this tiny blue marble might be the only place in this entire universe that has creatures who are conscious. And we are united in not knowing what the world is and why it exists, why we exist, whether there's an afterlife, and what it all means if anything.

Despite this most of us spend our lives on the trivialities of existence and conforming. Getting a job, making money to buy things, getting married, drinking, sleeping, arguing about nothing, and eventually dying. None of which appears to mean much, if anything, in the grand scheme of things.

Perhaps we'll find out what it all means when we die, or maybe we'll just enter into an eternity of nothingness. Perhaps we might wonder if everything is just a huge joke and our lives and the Universe are simply a fortuitous fluke and ultimately nothing means anything. But, even if our lives are a fluke and we enter into an eternity of nothingness when we die, surely our lives and the human race, together with all other life on Earth, are still very special?

It is depressing then that the human race has devoted much of its time to killing others in wars and finding more efficient ways of doing so. And it is also depressing that people only care about their material comforts and pay no heed to environmental degradation to pay for those comforts. Is it really a great idea to seek short term gains to the detriment of the environment and perhaps to eventually render this beautiful blue marble as uninhabitable for future generations? We all live in the same boat, or rather we all live on the surface of the same tiny blue beautiful marble. We desperately need to change our attitudes.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

The BBC and Advertising

Just read this article:

BBC confirms plans to make over-75s pay TV licence fee

This article was linked to on twitter and many on there are saying the licence fee should be abolished and the BBC should show adverts. That people can skip the adverts or get a cup of tea, go to the toilet and so on during the adverts if they don't like them.

I think they're failing to grasp the bigger picture. If the BBC get paid for showing the adverts, then who is paying for these programmes?  It'll be the ones that pay the BBC, the companies who goods and services are advertised. So where do they get the money from? They take a hit on their profits? Unlikely, I imagine they'll increase the prices of their goods and services to cover the cost. Meaning we all pay anyway, but on average more than the license fee (as the programmes AND the adverts now need to be paid for) and we have to suffer the adverts to boot!

And to what avail? The total amount spent on goods and services is unlikely to change significantly as a result of adverts, the money spent just gets shifted to those products that are the most heavily advertised. So other companies have to spend more on advertising to compete, resulting in higher prices still. It's all just so irrational.

The world would be much better if there were no adverts on TV and we just paid for it all directly.

Edited to add (30 mins after posting the above):

Someone mentioned to me on twitter that my misgivings about adverts are met by the fact that one can have either a free service with adverts, or we can pay for the service and have an ad-free experience.  He appeared to suggest that this happens with some apps on smartphones (I don't know since I don't possess a smartphone).

If this is true then we need to be aware that those who are paying for a service, rather than a "free" service with adverts, are paying twice over.  They are paying directly for an ad-free experience and they are also paying the same amount as everyone else for the goods and services that are advertised.  But, as I point out, the price of goods and services are inflated so as to allow companies to recuperate the cost of adverts.  

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Russell's argument for the mind being created by the brain

Bertrand Russell (a famous 20th Century philosopher) once said:

"The mind grows like the body; like the body it inherits characteristics from both parents; it is affected by disease of the body and by drugs; it is intimately connected with the brain. There is no scientific reason to suppose that after death the mind or soul acquires an independence of the brain which it never had in life".

Something can be dependent on something else without being created by that something else.  For example, when someone is in a building their ability to see the sky is dependent on windows and the glass in them being relatively clean and so on. But such a dependence only applies when inside the building.  It doesn't depend on the window if they were to venture outside.  Their view of the sky would be, if anything, enhanced.

So Russell needs to say more to justify that the mind or soul couldn't have such an independence.  The mind-body correlations are insufficient in themselves to establish there is no afterlife.

Reminiscing about Old Photographs

            Photo is of Ironmongers in Maidenhead in 1900 It is a sobering thought to reflect that in 200 years’ time, in 2219, we will ...