Monday, 29 June 2020

God of the Gaps

Julien Musolino in the soul fallacy says:

Thanks to Fox News celebrity Bill O’Reilly, the logic of god-of-the-gaps argument has become viral. During an interview with David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, O’Reilly challenged his baffled guest to explain how the tides so predictably and regularly go about their business. “You can't explain that!” O’Reilly told Silverman. But if you assume that God exists, as O’Reilly says he does, then everything makes perfect sense and you can understand how the tides work.
Some people (known as “pinheads” in the anchor's colorful jargon) informed O’Reilly that we do know how the tides work, and that we have known for more than three hundred years. Undaunted, O’Reilly posted a clip on YouTube in which he pushed the argument one step further. Fine, he concedes, the gravitational pull of the moon explains the tides. But where did the moon come from? (For an amusing parody demonstrating the existence of mail fairies using O’Reilly logic, YouTube is also an excellent resource—because you can't explain the superb regularity with which the mail gets delivered, and if you can, you sure can't explain where the mailman came from.)

The mail analogy is a very poor one - or at least it is if one is attempting to mock the notion that any type of "God" or metamind could be responsible for the predictability of tides. The "superb regularity with which the mail gets delivered" is, after all, due to conscious agents with an end in mind. So, if anything, the analogy suggests the regularity of the tides is also due to some conscious agency with an end in mind.

People might object that in the case of the tides that we know this is due to the existence of gravitational force. However, this buys into a certain conception of physical reality that it is constrained to behave as it does due to innate physical causes such as gravitational force. But this goes beyond what we can legitimately infer. Physical reality exhibits patterns, those patterns can be captured via mathematical equations. And, ultimately, that's all that physics deals with. I go into detail about this here. Indeed, physics has absolutely nothing to say about such a suitable conception of "God". I try and illustrate this here.

Granted this conception of God is not a God of the gaps one. But did Bill O’Reilly actually state that he was defending such a conception of "God"? I would imagine not. The God of the gaps is a silly one as I address here.







Friday, 26 June 2020

The Tabletop Illusion

I'm currently reading the soul fallacy by Julien Musolino. In it he tries to stress that we are constantly being fooled by our subjective first person perspective and in our judgements. That we need the objective third person perspective as provided by science to tell us how reality really is.

He tries to illustrate his point by the following perceptual illusion of two tables (the Roger Shepard tabletop illusion).



I think we would all agree that the two tables are different shapes. But, when we rotate the left table 90 degrees clockwise and move it over the other table, we find they are both exactly the same shape! Moreover, even when we are made aware of this fact we cannot help but see that the tables are very different shapes. Julien Musolino finds this very significant. In the the soul fallacy he says:

[This illusion] pits our first-person perspective—what our senses subjectively reveal to us—against the third-person perspective—what the result of objective measurement demonstrates. The story of the demise of the soul, to a large extent, reflects the triumph of the third-person perspective over its subjective, first-person counterpart. But there is more to Shepard's illusion than meets the eye. The analogy contains two additional virtues. After this brief demonstration, I do not know anyone who would continue to insist that one tabletop really is longer than the other because of the way they look ... The analogy's second virtue is that it reveals to us how stubborn first-person impressions can be in the face of objective evidence.

I think this is flawed reasoning. Indeed, it seems to me to be inappropriate to call this an illusion at all.

First of all, we need to draw a distinction between the image of the tables, and the actual tables themselves that they represent. The above picture is an image of two tables.

Having put that aside, let's suppose there are two tables in front of us that are in our visual field. When looking at the tables, let's also suppose that the image of the tables on our retinas closely approximates to the image of the tables we see above on our computer screens. Just as the shapes of the images of the two tables is the same on our computer screens above, so too will the shapes of the two images of the tables on our retinas be the same.

Are we fooled in the latter case? I would say not since if we approached the two tables, look at them from different angles, run our fingers over them and so on, we would definitively establish the two tables are of differing shapes. Likewise, if we are to take the drawing of the two tables above as actually depicting tables rather than arbitrary lines representing nothing, it is not fair to say we are being fooled here either. In other words, there is no illusion, as such.


We need to understand how are senses work. We don't simply passively perceive what's out there. The data we receive through our senses is hopelessly inadequate for us to see the world as it truly is in and of itself. The actual ability to see is supplied by our implicit expectations gained from our previous acquaintance with the world. That is to say, what we actually see is shaped and moulded by all of our previous visual experiences. In effect, we have an implicit unconscious theory about how the world is and this is instrumental in shaping what we actually perceive.

Without such an implicit theory, we wouldn't be able to perceive at all, at least not a 3D world of objects at various distances. We'd just see a splodge of colours in a 2-dimensional plane. In other words, we'd see the world as a computer or robot would; namely as depicted from a third person perspective shorn of any "illusions" that any minds can add.

In short, this "illusion" is not an example of us being fooled. If we didn't experience such "illusions", then we wouldn't be able to see at all! This is why autonomous cars -- which do not have the benefit of illusions to apprehend the environment correctly -- shouldn't rely upon cameras alone. They need other instruments to effectively detect the environment, such as LIDAR. Even then, they are not as proficient as human drivers in urban environments. My personal expectations are that fully (level 5) autonomous vehicles will not be widespread for a few decades yet (back in 2014 the date I gave was 2060).


So, is the subjective first person perspective inferior to the objective third person perspective as Julien Musolino claims? Certainly not when it comes to visually apprehending the environment. So much for, as he puts it, "the triumph of the third-person perspective over its subjective, first-person counterpart". This is not to deny that we are often fooled and that the third person perspective, as provided by science, is the more accurate. But I don't think this has any relevance for deciding whether, on the one hand, our essence is a soul or, on the other hand, a sophisticated biological machine. But I'll address that issue when I come to reviewing his book.

Two other relevant similar blog posts by me are:

Are Perceptual illusions always necessarily illusions?  (essentially the same argument I make in this blog post, but I wrote it over 9 years ago).

Perceptual illusions show our minds construct reality

Friday, 19 June 2020

Is there a better alternative to capitalism?

People often say that socialism or communism don't work, that Russia and China have shown this to be true. Contrariwise, that modern democratic capitalism does work. But is it true that capitalism works?

It depends on what people mean by saying it works. Clearly, the way we live now is unsustainable. The world's escalating population, climate change, insects disappearing, rain-forests getting smaller, and a whole host of other issues regarding the degradation of the environment, are very worrying indeed. Of course, one might argue that it is modern industrial society rather than capitalism per se that is the main culprit here, but they are deeply intertwined.

Let's just consider a few other detractions of modern capitalism.

Capitalism creates gross inequalities. Indeed, in the USA, apparently the bottom 80% of people have a mere 11% of all wealth!  I find myself unable to adequately convey how utterly shocking this is. 80% (4/5ths) of people in the USA only have 1/9th of the total wealth? So just 20% (1/5th) of them have the other 89% (8/9ths) of the wealth? This is a complete disgrace beyond words. 

Capitalism has killed many millions of people, even if only indirectly. Consider the Native Americans and Africans captured to become slaves. Consider those who died as a result of poor health care, poor housing, overworking in unsafe environments. Consider those who have died from pollution caused by corporate greed and from drugs over-sold to consumers. Consider the members of the armed forces of capitalist nations that have been used as canon-fodder in wars to protect and enhance corporate interests.

The rise of modern capitalism and the introduction of the division of labour to maximise profits has resulted in many people living their lives as wage slaves, obliged to do work that is dull and repetitious. Repetitious work for five days a week taking up most of the day is surely deeply unsatisfactory and unfulfilling.  Indeed, a good proportion of the population seem to effectively clock-watch, hoping that 5 pm and the weekend quickly roll by so they can let their hair down. Thus they are effectively wishing their lives away. All this is somewhat ameliorated by the camaraderie of the workplace. But, considering they live such brief lives, is it a satisfactory state of affairs to engage in unfulfilling work wishing their time spent doing it quickly passes by?

Democracy too is deeply flawed. In order to win and keep power leaders are incentivised to pander to the electorate and avoid, as much as possible, unpopular policies. They slip and slither and slide around every issue to make sure the voters keep on voting them back into office. This often results in very bad decisions that are highly detrimental to society as a whole.

So, my conclusion is that modern democratic capitalism does not work, or at least only works extremely poorly. It is a poor show indeed if it is quite impossible to improve upon this dire state of affairs.

So, will any other system lead to even worse outcomes? One thing is for sure. Any alternative system can't just be cobbled together without a huge amount of forethought and planning that will be necessary to deal with all the immense complexities and problems engendered by millions of people interacting with each other. The most noteworthy problem is the tragedy of the commons.

In my opinion, so long as people are estranged from each other, so long as each person is an island who only cares about his or her own self-interests and of their close family, so long as prestige and adulation are measured and evoked by a person's wealth and fame, then any type of "socialism" or "communism" will be impossible. The tragedy of the commons will ensure that.

It is therefore absolutely essential that we have a feeling of connectedness, empathy, and affiliation towards others, or at least for those in our immediate community. We require, in other words, closely-knit communities that encourage co-operative and caring behaviour, that encourage empathy and a feeling of responsibility towards others. That is, we require social harmony. But it seems to me that our modern world could scarcely be more antithetical towards this ideal. For it fosters an attitude where our prestige and worthiness is measured by our wealth. Unfortunately, it seems to me that multiculturism is also antithetical to this ideal since a closely-knit community cannot be achieved when the newcomers do not integrate and assimilate.

I see the modern world, global capitalism, as being deeply antithetical to our deepest needs and what makes us happy. This constant striving for economic growth doesn't appear to be making us any happier and is destroying the planet to boot. We seriously need to find a better way to live.


Saturday, 16 May 2020

Admins and a flawed argument against an afterlife

I attempted to submit a post (scroll down to under dashed line) to a private Facebook Group called Science, Philosophy, and Psychology Discussion that currently has a staggering 65,508 members. It was rejected.

I sent the following (in blue) to the moderating thread in that group:
I submitted a post concerning a flawed argument by a certain Matthew Alpe against an afterlife. My post has not been permitted. The following "reason" was given:
to see the blog post one must be a member. this is not going to fly. the mature (sic) of the post is already problematic as it assumes a god and a heaven and is trying to be persuasive that this is true. this is akin to preaching.
My post has absolutely nothing to do with any "God", it is pertaining to an argument by a certain Matthew Alper against the afterlife. His argument is an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum -- namely by assuming the existence of an afterlife, this leads to an intractable problem about what it is that actually survives. My argument in turn essentially is that he is question-begging. I don't want to reiterate the arguments here though. The point being is that to claim I'm assuming either a God or an afterlife displays a complete lack of understanding of my post.

Nor of course do counter-arguments constitute "preaching". Of course, the admins may not agree with my argument. But not allowing an argument to be seen by labeling it as "preaching" is truly deplorable. Is this a group for those who subscribe to the modern western metaphysic and will allow no dissent? It seems so to me. Which contradicts what it says in the description of the group where it states "[t]he entire range of science and philosophy are open to analysis and discussion" and "[t]he administrators of this group pride themselves on free speech and will never censor posts or comments on the grounds of disagreement". To put it mildly, this appears to be contrary to the reality.

If one is an admin and their responsibility is to judge the suitability of posts, they really need to establish what the post is actually about. This involves reading and attempting to understand the content. Being an admin should also involve the capacity to understand arguments. The admins should especially have the capacity to distinguish between demonstrating an argument is flawed, and preaching.

Anyway, here is the post full of preaching about God and Heaven!

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An interview with Matthew Alper author of The "God" Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God.  In the interview he says:

So I have people say, “When I die I’m going to be in heaven with my family.” So I’ll say like, “Okay, you’ll be in heaven. Let’s even assume that’s true. You’re going to go to heaven. Who you are is going to live forever. You, Joe, is going to be around for eternity.” But then I say, “But let me ask, what if Joe gets dementia, Alzheimer’s tomorrow, and then you die a year into it, where your last self didn’t know whether to go to the bathroom or eat an apple, you didn’t know the difference between the two. You didn’t remember the names of your own children, your wife, let alone your own self. So is Joe the demented going to be floating around in this eternal headspace for eternity, or do you have this idealized version that it’s you, Joe, now as you’re talking to me?
Dementia is due to an impaired brain. Now, if there is an afterlife, the self/soul would have to be an entirely distinct entity from the brain. Hence, the impaired brain would be an irrelevance to our cognitive abilities. Consider if one has on a pair of eyeglasses. The lenses might be cracked, hence affecting one's vision. But that has no implications for one's vision when we take the eyeglasses off.

Immediately after the above Matthew goes on to say:
Or maybe is it going to be Joe 10 years ago, or Joe when you were five? We’re all chameleons. We’re a thousand different people in our lifetimes based on our periods of life.
We might have a 1000 different pairs of eyeglasses we could wear, all affecting our vision in differing characteristic ways. But our unaided vision is unaffected and perhaps our vision is different from the vision from all of the eyeglasses.

The real self is that which makes one the same self from childhood to adulthood, the same self regardless of whether one is drunk or sober etc. Go into all this in more detail in a blog post.

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I often seem to have problems with moderators both with facebook groups and various discussion boards as I also discuss here.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

A Purposeless Existence?

At the following link in the comments underneath a lady called violagirl says:
After my husband died of a 13 year illness I spent a lot of time reading, meditating, doing yoga, hiking, etc and here's what I learned; life is purposeless and meaningless. When we die it is over unless there was something huge we did. My husband was a brilliant NASA engineer, but his work is not "his", it belongs to NASA. We live then we die and it does not matter one little bit what we do in that time. It would be nice to think we would at least aspire to be moral and ethical, but greed and stuff are what is lauded and that is another reason humans and their lives do not matter.
I feel for her and I understand why she and so many others feel this way. Her sentiment is due to the underlying message that our culture is giving us -- namely that we are biological machines with no set purpose apart from living this one life. The Universe just is, there's no meaning behind it, there's no reason for it. We live our very brief lives, and that's it.

But I think she is very wrong. I feel that our lives and the Universe are ultimately mysterious, and we are all on this adventure. That perhaps part of the mystery will be revealed when we die. I feel that life is exciting and even though it may appear to be dreary and monotonous, that this is illusory. We get a brief glimpse of how things truly are during moments like mystical experiences.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The Coronavirus

It almost feels like I'm in a dream and that I'll wake up at some point then tell everyone on Facebook that I had this bizarre dream -- a worldwide pandemic, people confined to their homes, empty streets, supermarket shelves empty. Then my next-door neighbour starts to cough (which he has) . . the dreaded cough, signalling he's one of the infected... But then I wake up! Or, perhaps I'll wake up after completing this blog post...

It's extraordinary that we've found ourselves in such a mess. This needn't have happened.  Back on the 24th January on Facebook, I said:

"if it's possible that millions might die, it is surely sensible to completely terminate all international flying".




Unfortunately, the vast majority of other people simply didn't share my assessment of the danger.  For example, here's a screenshot of another Facebook post regarding the virus one week later on the 31st of January.




I've rubbed out the names and photographs of the 3 comments made by 3 different people, but they are all good Facebook friends of mine who usually tend to be levelheaded and whose opinions I value. Just in case the comments can't be read, they are as follows:

Person 1:
Whatever happened to "Keep calm and carry on?"
Person 2
This virus is no worse then the flu. It’s much ado about nothing.
Person 3
Incredible amount of sensationalism. The question I'm asking is who benefits from all the hoo-ha? You might want to read this Ian.
My Response:
I make no claims about how much this virus will spread and how many will die. I have absolutely no idea. The one worrying thing is the claim that people can pass it on when displaying no symptoms themselves.
Following from my comment back then, we now know that many people who get the virus -- perhaps as many as 50% -- do not have any symptoms, yet they can still pass the virus on! This is the key to the spread of this virus. What is also extremely important is that each infected person infects on average 2.5 others. Contrast this with seasonal flu where each person infects on average only 1.3 others. Hence, the claim that many people make -- at least until very recently -- that this virus is no more worrying than seasonal flu, is simply preposterous. I elaborate on why it's preposterous here.

All this information was known back in January.  So why on earth was allowing people to gallivant around the planet more important than taking the appropriate measures back then to snuff out any possible danger?  Of course, we didn't know it would end as bad as this, but it was always on the cards.

Even now people are being highly irresponsible.  Last weekend, when it was sunny, many people were visiting seaside resorts.  Many young people justify such behaviour by saying that they'll be unlikely to die.  This misses the point.  Even if they suffer no symptoms whatsoever, they will infect others.  These people will be indirectly responsible for killing many others. They need to dwell on this, they need to grok this.

Yes, it's difficult not socially interacting, especially when we might have to forfeit this pleasure for possibly many months.  I suffer from social anxiety and will not be as anywhere near as bothered by it as others, but even I miss the occasional visit to the pub etc.  But, unless we try to limit our interactions, then the number of infected will continue on its exponential growth rate and the NHS and other countries' health services will be overwhelmed.  If this happens millions could die.  We need to do the right thing and to isolate.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Who's to say what's extraordinary?

Somebody who had spent her whole life in a tropical climate with no contact with the rest of the world would regard the notion that water could turn solid as being contrary to everything she had ever discovered about water. Water simply doesn't, and couldn't, do that sort of thing.

Our science is only applicable to a given domain. With the very fast, or the very small, different laws are required. And I suggest our contemporary physics only applies to non-conscious reality. We need new laws to understand consciousness and how it relates to (fits in with) the rest of reality. Once we have those new laws, once we know how consciousness fits in with the rest of physical reality, then we can say whether psi is to be expected, or a "life after death" etc. But, until that moment, we're simply not in a position to declare psi or an afterlife are extraordinary claims.

God of the Gaps

Julien Musolino in the soul fallacy says: Thanks to Fox News celebrity Bill O’Reilly, the logic of god-of-the-gaps argument has become ...