Tuesday, 12 October 2021

The Anguish of Being

 


Ha Ha!  I love this.

Let's imagine that we conclude life and the Universe are devoid of all meaning, that we will soon cease to exist forevermore, that the human race will eventually cease to exist and that might not take too long, that the Universe itself will, at some far distant time, be wholly devoid of any life and nothing will ever happen again, that our existence is pure happenstance and our lives and the Universe are ultimately absurd.   

We can believe all this.  But we nevertheless find ourselves miraculously alive, having experiences now.  Exploring the world, having experiences, wondering what it all means, enjoying this very brief flicker of existence.  So life is still very much worth living.

But, I nevertheless still think that people don't really grok how radical this is.  They prefer not to think about it, to lose themselves in the trivialities of existence.  And, perhaps, that's just as well if they truly do believe their lives and the Universe are ultimately absurd.  That it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I just took a pause here and reread my previous paragraph.  It sounds like I emphasise with the guy on the left. Not at all!  If, contrary to my beliefs, I were an atheist and naturalist, I would very much agree with the guy in the tree. But, regardless of our beliefs here. Regardless of our ultimate fate. Regardless of what we ultimately are. Regardless if the Universe came into being by happenstance or is a result of something more mysterious. It still remains life is an adventure to be experienced and cherished.


Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Reincarnation and its Critics, Part 1: The Increasing Population

Introduction

 

This is the first part of an intended series of posts addressing alleged problems with the concept of reincarnation. Perhaps I should state my own position at the outset.  It is that I think it is very likely that reincarnation occurs. Why do I think this?  First of all, and most importantly, because of the evidence and the fact that it is very difficult to dream up alternative hypotheses to explain this evidence.  And, secondly, because I do not find the objections to reincarnation, and more generally an afterlife, convincing.  In regards to the latter, see this post of mine.

I shall refer to the environment we find ourselves in-between lives as the otherworldly realm.  But it shouldn't be imagined that this necessarily refers to, or consists of, simply one place or one type of environment.  Indeed, it may 
consist of many different realms or realities, possibly of radically differing natures. Regardless, when I employ the phrase otherworldly realm, I simply mean any environment that we happen to inhabit before or after our present lives on Earth.

So, what is this evidence? I recommend people read this excellent summary in the form of young children recollecting previous lives.  It is written by a certain Jesse Bering, an associate professor in science communication at the University of Otago who is himself sceptical that reincarnation occurs and indeed sceptical that there is any type of afterlife at all. 

Incidentally, it is only the critiques of the spontaneous memories of apparent previous lives that I will be considering in this series of posts.  I will not be addressing the critiques of reincarnation based on alleged memories of past lives elicited from hypnotic regression.  Memories elicited from hypnotic regression are far less reliable, and indeed, there has been far less success in corroborating such alleged memories.  

The Population Problem


Currently, the world's population is around 7.9 billion*. In the year 2000, it was 6.1 billion.  In 1900 it was 1.6 billion.  In 1500 it was 450 million (0.45 billion).  In 5,000 BCE (7 thousand years ago) it was 5 million (0.005 billion)*. Many people claim that such dramatic population growth is incompatible with the idea of reincarnation.  

Unfortunately, people generally tend to be unforthcoming as to why they think there is an incompatibility here, but I think there's a number of assumptions they're making.  Let's list them:

  1. All the souls that exist are currently alive on Earth.  This suggests no souls are currently dwelling in any otherworldly realm.
  2. Everyone reincarnates. 
  3. No souls are ever created nor destroyed.  Hence, the total number of souls is fixed at a specific number throughout time.  
  4. There is no inter-species reincarnation.  
  5. There are no other planets or parallel Earths or anywhere else where we can reincarnate.
  6. We can only reincarnate sequentially in time.  Hence when I die -- say in 2051 or whenever -- my next life will commence at or after this time.  I cannot have my next life, say, commencing from 470 BCE.
  7. Souls can't merge into each other so that hitherto different souls now occupy the same body.  Nor can the same soul occupy more than one body.

The late philosopher, Paul Edwards, in his book Reincarnation: A Critical Examination held that should reincarnation occur all these assumptions are reasonable.  Indeed, he held that to deny any of them would themselves be assumptions and "noxious ad-hoc assumptions" at that.  Thus, to deny that people reincarnate straight away, and instead hold that they dwell in some otherworldly realm in-between lives, constitutes a noxious ad-hoc assumption. So he thinks the basic default reincarnation position would be to accept all of the seven above.  Contrariwise, the failure to do so is simply a desperate attempt from those who subscribe to reincarnation to try and circumvent the growing population problem.


All the souls that exist are currently alive on Earth?

I do actually find 3 through to 7 plausible.  Moreover, as I hope to make clear, accepting 3 through to 7 doesn't pose any difficulty for reincarnation in any case. So I won't be contesting them (I might or might not explain why I find 3 through to 7 plausible in subsequent blog posts in this series).  However, accepting 3 through to 7 does mean we need to reject 1, but I shall shortly argue we have excellent reasons for doing so. I shall also argue we can accept 2 without it constituting a problem for reincarnation.  But if we were to reject 2, this then allows no upper limit to the total number of souls that might exist. 

Those familiar with the evidence for reincarnation will know that the evidence doesn't bear out "1".  That is, most of us do not immediately reincarnate.  There can be months, years, decades and even centuries between lives*.  Moreover, around 20% of those that can recollect a previous life also recollect the time between lives*.  Of course, sceptics do not find such evidence compelling, but it's not as if people are simply making an assumption here, noxious or otherwise.  They are letting the evidence guide their beliefs. 

 
There are other aspects to this we should bear in mind, though.  For the sake of argument, what if prior to any research we all agreed that reincarnation, should it happen, should occur immediately after death?  Given that the evidence contradicts this expectation, this would then give us some reason to doubt the evidence.  Contrariwise, if our prior expectations are that we would spend time in some otherworldly realm in-between lives, and since the evidence implies that we do, then clearly this gives us greater confidence in the evidence than we would otherwise have.

However, Paul Edwards failed to advance any reasons why, from an a priori perspective, we should think reincarnation would work the way he thinks it should. My suspicion is that he is simply averse to the existence of an otherworldly realm.  But, regardless of whether we feel such aversion or not, it is my position that we should indeed expect to dwell in some otherworldly realm in-between lives.


To understand why I think this w
e need to bear in mind none of us can simply reincarnate forevermore, at least not on this planet.  Human beings, at least in their present form, have only been around 200,000 years or so and they will become extinct sometime in the future.  So if reincarnation occurs there will, for all of us, be a first life and a last life. Might our souls be created with the onset of our first lives, and destroyed at the end of our last life?  That would contravene "3" above that no souls are ever created nor destroyed.  But if we, for the sake of argument, accept that souls can be created, then why can't they be created on a continual basis? This would then mean that an ever-increasing population might then be a result of the continuous creation of souls. 


So, in order to subscribe to "1" and for it to create a problem for reincarnation, sceptics would need to suppose souls are not created at the onset of their first life.  Rather, souls would need to originate from some otherworldly realm at the onset of their first life and return there after their last life but never enter this realm in between lives.  I certainly concur with the notion that souls inhabit an otherworldly realm both before their first life and after their last life.  But I don't see how the belief that we would never enter such an otherworldly realm in-between lives could be justified. 
If such a realm exists, why wouldn't we be able to enter into it in-between lives?   

Hence, even from a philosophical perspective, it seems to me that the idea that we all simply reincarnate straight away is implausible.  Moreover, the evidence vindicates this conclusion.  And it's not just all the research into reincarnation that tells us most people do not reincarnate straight away.  There is other evidence too.  For example, near-death experiences and mediumship communications that intimate an otherworldly realm that people enter into after death. 

I conclude that both from a philosophical perspective, and in terms of the evidence, "1" is untenable.

So is an increasing population a problem for reincarnation?


Does the population argument still have force?  Let's take a look.

Let T = the total number of souls that exist.  We're assuming this is a constant and of course cannot be less than 7.9 billion, the current population of the Earth.

Let E = the souls currently on Earth

Let A = the souls currently inhabiting the otherworldly realm.

So T = E + A.

Hence the population living on Earth can increase so as long as it's matched by a corresponding decrease in the population in the otherworldly realm.  Is this problematic?  It's very difficult to say since we have no idea of the value of T!
 

One possibility is that T -- the total number of souls -- is hugely large, perhaps a trillion.or more.  However, since it has been estimated that only roughly 117 billion people have ever lived*, this not only means that most souls have not been reincarnated (contravening "2"), it also means that most souls have never lived any lives on Earth whatsoever!  But why would this necessarily be problematic?  Why can't there exist trillions of souls with only a very small subset of these ever living on Earth who regularly reincarnate?   The rest perhaps subsist in differing areas in the otherworldly realm who may not even have any knowledge of Earth. 

Another possibility is that the total number of souls (T) might be much smaller, but as the population of the Earth increases, they spend less and less time in-between lives.  Such a possibility is argued for in the following paper 
Can Population Growth Rule Out Reincarnation? A Model of Circular Migration.  

As the author concludes, a reincarnation model where T is relatively low and adheres to 2 through to 7 above, can be reconciled to the historical facts of human population growth if we suppose the average time in between lives continually decreases as the population rises.  But is it plausible that thousands of years ago the time between lives was, on average, vastly longer?  Perhaps this might not seem so implausible if we bear in mind that, prior to human beings evolving, none of us ever had any lives at all on Earth.  Presumably, we simply subsisted in the otherworldly realm, then with the appearance of human beings, we initially on rare occasions get born on the Earth.  As time progresses, and the population increases, we become incarnated more and more frequently.  Again, is this plausible?

One factor that will surely strongly influence how rapidly we will be able to reincarnate is the availability of fetuses that souls can "inhabit". With a rapidly increasing population, there will be more readily available fetuses.  Hence, given that at least some people desire to be reincarnated and their desire has some causal influence, then one might expect, on average, that 
with an increasing population, people will more rapidly reincarnate.  It is interesting to note in this context that research reveals that the median time between lives varies between differing cultures.  Indeed, while the median average across all cases investigated worldwide is just 15 months in-between lives, in the West the median time is something in the order of 35 years!*  This is an astonishing difference and I imagine many factors account for this.  But might one of those factors be the fact the West isn't undergoing rapid population growth?

Conclusion

I think we can conclude that the growth in population doesn't pose any difficulty for the notion that we reincarnate, at least not in any obvious way.  Indeed, we can even accept reincarnation occurs and, at the same time, accept 2 through to 7 above.  However, accepting 2 through to 7 imposes a constraint on the total number of souls that can exist. 

But it is also conceivable that the total number of souls is extremely large, most of whom have never had any lives on Earth (hence rejecting 2).  This, in turn, might suggest that reality -- and I'm not just thinking of our material reality here, but rather the whole of reality -- is vastly greater in scope than we can possibly imagine.  I have no idea whether this might be the case or not, one can only speculate.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Can we be certain that other people are conscious?

How does an individual know anyone else is conscious at all? How does an individual rule out the possibility that every other person is merely a sophisticated biological robot wholly lacking any experiences?  After all, we never actually see anyone else's consciousness. So, is it at least conceivable that everyone -- apart from you, the reader -- are simply unconscious automatons, or what philosophers refer to as p-zombies? That no-one else, apart from you, has an inner conscious life? 

The answer, of course, is that an individual cannot be absolutely certain that others are conscious. But that it is highly likely since other people act like us. They scream in pain when hurt, display appropriate emotions on their faces under the relevant circumstances, and so on. So one can confidently infer that everyone else is conscious, just like oneself. That's the commonsensical view and certainly the view that I hold.

There is an apparent intractable difficulty here though.  One of the mainstream suppositions of scientists is that the world is causally closed, meaning that every event that ever happens has a full explanation in terms of antecedent material causes. This includes us human beings too, and so includes all the material processes occurring within our brains. But if everything people ever do and say are purely due to material causes occurring in their brains rather than being an expression of their consciousness, then it seems we cannot infer that other people are conscious! 

Let me try to convey this very important point again. Suppose a robot declares it is conscious; that it feels fear, hope and so on. We could check that out by disassembling it.  We will find out that the robot says all these things, not because it is conscious and actually experiencing such emotions, but because it is programmed in such a manner to say these things. That being so, we surely have zero reasons to ascribe consciousness to it. Similarly, given the important proviso of causal closure, the exact same applies to us human beings. We can examine the inside of someone's brain and by noting the material chains of causes and effects, we can, at least in principle, figure out exactly why that person behaves and says what he does. It's all just material causes and effects playing out, and we have no more reason to ascribe consciousness to that human being than we did the robot.

How do those who advocate causal closure escape this absurdity?  How can anyone who subscribes to causal closure believe that anyone else is conscious at all given that everyone's behaviour is just the result of material causes playing out?  It seems we have no more reason to ascribe consciousness to anyone else than we have reason to ascribe consciousness to the Earth as it orbits the Sun, or a boulder as it rolls down a hill.

They allegedly escape this ostensibly intractable difficulty by espousing materialism.  Materialists advocate something of highly questionable intelligibility.  They maintain that consciousness is quite literally the very same thing as certain material processes.  Examples are behaviourists who hold that consciousness is literally identical to behaviour.  Or identity theorists who hold that consciousness is literally identical to brain processes.  Or functionalists who hold that consciousness is literally identical to the causal role of such brain processes (there are many flavours of materialism). 

In which case, given the behaviour of a person or the material processes occurring in their brains, their consciousness is logically entailed in much the same way that 2 + 2 = 4 is entailed. That we can look or examine the physical processes occurring in the brain and somehow, derive, have complete certitude, that that person is experiencing consciousness.

Incidentally, this is why materialists hold that p-zombies are conceptually incoherent or metaphysically impossible.  Since consciousness is the very same thing as the relevant material processes, then a being who looks like us, and has a working brain like us, metaphysically necessarily must be conscious, just like the area of a perfect circle must necessarily be πr²

However, the materialist position here just seems to me to be straightforwardly incorrect.  Regardless of whether we are looking at a person's behaviour or the processes occurring in their brains, we could never be absolutely certain that they are having conscious experiences.  How could we?  How does observing any material process allow me to be acquainted and have full knowledge of another person's consciousness?  It just doesn't.  Yes, the material processes might cause consciousness, might somehow elicit consciousness, but it's literally nonsensical to assert that such material processes are the very same thing as consciousness.  And this shouldn't be of any surprise since material processes are cashed out exclusively by their physical properties -- mass, momentum, charge and so on.  Conscious experiences, on the other hand, apparently wholly lack any such physical properties.  Hence, by definition, consciousness cannot be the same as the correlated physical process and therefore there is no identity, nor any necessarily entailed connection, from one to the other.

The obvious alternative is to deny both causal closure and materialism. Instead, and as commonsense dictates, consciousness in and of itself really does play a causal role in the world.  So, for example, the words and sentences you are reading now are the result of my consciousness.  The material processes alone are insufficient.  It is true that, unlike the materialist, we cannot have absolute certainty that others are conscious. But, via the notion that similar causes have similar effects, we can have a very high confidence.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Neither we nor the Earth are special?

Annaka Harris, the wife of Sam Harris, says in a recent article:

Each transformative shift in our understanding of the universe has delivered the ego-shattering message that we’re not special—Earth is not the center of the universe, and life, including the human brain, is made up of the same particles as the stars.


This is a widespread view, particularly amongst academics. But, I don't regard it as being accurate. 

We need to bear in mind that the notion that we are not special is, to a large measure, a result of the birth of the mechanistic philosophy in the 17th Century and the materialism it engendered (see my Science, the Afterlife, and the Intelligentsia). 
At least amongst educated people, this resulted in the widespread conviction that we are merely sophisticated biological machines and that our apparent free will is illusory.  This, in turn, seemed to imply that there is no God, no soul, that we are mere puppets of external forces, and, to cap it all, this is the only life we have.

However, as I have extensively argued in this blog, we have no reason to believe any of this. On the contrary, we are obliged to conclude the following:

  1. Consciousness is fundamentally different from any material thing or process (see my Why the existence of consciousness rules modern materialism out).
  2. That it's very much an open question whether brains somehow produce consciousness (see my Brains affecting Minds do not rule out an Afterlife).
  3. That our consciousness is necessarily causally efficacious (see my A Causal Consciousness, Free Will, and Dualism).

   

What about the Earth?  Is it true that it is not special?

It might be true that Earth isn't at the centre of the Universe.  Indeed, current understanding tells us there is no centre.  But, nevertheless, Earth might be special, indeed extremely special should the rare Earth hypothesis be correct.   The argument here is life arose on Earth due to a long series of extremely improbable events, all of which had to take place before the Earth had any chance of developing complex life. 

Then there is the fact that the constants of nature appear to be eerily fine-tuned so as to allow life to appear in the Universe (even if the Earth is the sole planet in the Universe to actually harbour complex life).

Then there is the nature of the material world and the laws that govern it. Our  investigations of the microscopic realm have revealed the existence of a bewildering plethora of subatomic particles whose behaviour is described by quantum mechanics rather than the classical mechanics of commonsense.  If the world were as it seemed prior to just 200 years ago -- that is governed by Newtonian mechanics and lacking such an intricate structure -- then virtually none of our modern technology would have been possible.  Is this just fortuitous, or is something else going on?

On this note it is curious that the world, on the one hand, is of sufficient complexity to allow the existence of our modern-day technology, but, on the other, is not so abstruse that we human beings are unable to grasp it and profit from its complexity in the creation of our technology. A complexity that human beings are capable of fathoming, but apparently no other animal on this planet.
So, arguably, it is almost as if the world were contrived, somehow, to be like this?

I think we live in a very curious and perplexing Universe.  Not only stranger than we imagine, but, perhaps, stranger than we can imagine. Indeed, arguably, it seems contrived by something -- whoever or whatever that something might be -- to allow for the existence of complex life, even if it only exists on this one planet. In summary, in my opinion, we lack compelling reasons to justify the assertion that neither we nor the Earth are special.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

The recklessness and foolishness of "Freedom" Day

Here in the UK we're heading towards deep trouble in just 11 days time when the UK relaxes most covid rules; the so-called "freedom" day. 😟

The delta variant is around 55% more transmissible than the alpha variant. The Alpha variant, in turn, is about 50% more transmissible than the original Wuhan virus.

The R figure for the original Wuhan virus was around 3. That is to say, given we freely intermingle and no one is immune to the virus, then each infected person will, on average, infect 3 others.

Assuming that figure of 3 was roughly correct, then the alpha variant R figure is 50% higher than this figure of 3, or 1.5 times 3 = 4.5. The delta variant is 55% more transmissible than the alpha variant. That's 4.5 + (0.55 times 4.5) = 6.975. Let's just call it 7. The R rate for flu is only 1.3.  7 compared to 1.3!

So, in a world where just one person has the delta variant and no-one is yet immune, the number of infected will very rapidly increase:

1

7

49

343

2,401

16,807

117,679

823,543

5,764,801 etc

In order to avoid exponential growth of the number of infected the R figure has to drop below 1. R is 7 given no-one is immune. In order for that to dip below 1 then over 6 out of 7 people, or 86% of the population, will have to be immune. Note that this is the entire population, not just adults.

In the UK about 85% of adults have been vaccinated. But that's adults only. Around 21% of the population are below 18 years of age, and hence 79% are adults. So that's 85% of 79%, in other words 67% of the entire population. 

So 67% of the population have been vaccinated and 86% of the population have to be immune for R to dip below 1. Moreover, vaccines are far from perfect. So we can conclude that the virus will continue to spread despite so many people having been vaccinated. To prevent this, not only should freedom day be cancelled, but since the current R rate is estimated to be about 1.3 to 1.4, the current rules need to be tightened.

Relaxing most covid rules, and especially relaxing the rules about face masks is, quite frankly, reckless and foolish. Not just for the UK, but for the whole world. It's going to allow the virus to spread even more rapidly than it already is. And it's not just deaths we should be concerned about. There's also long covid. But, most concerning and of crucial importance, is the possibility of new variants being created that our vaccines are less effective against.


Update 24/07/2021 Just read the following Guardian article. It says:
The threshold for herd immunity with the Delta variant is unclear, but scientists estimate that transmission would need to be blocked in about 85% of the population.

That's the same as my calculation above.  I concluded roughly 86% of the entire population need to be immune.  

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Asking Boris Johnson about God.

In the following article the author Robert Peston says:

"I followed up by asking whether he believed in God, mentioning that the Labour leader Keir Starmer said he did not. In response Johnson paraphrased the bible, saying "the foolish man has said in his heart there is no God". 

What "God" is or means is highly ambiguous. It would be more useful asking him whether he believes there is an underlying reason and meaning behind all things. Whether the Universe and our lives exist due to blind happenstance, or whether there is an intelligence underlying and coextensive with reality as a whole.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

More on George Berkeley and his Immaterialism

As a preliminary people might like to read my brief introduction to Berkeley's metaphysic:

A very brief introduction to Immaterialism

Incidentally, what I haven't mentioned before is that I did part of a Ph.D thesis on Berkeley's metaphysic; specifically on immaterialism's implications for the ontological status of the microscopic realm i.e in what sense do objects/processes exist that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. I never completed it, but I think I have an excellent grasp of his ideas. 

 

Alleged Difficulties for Immaterialism 


I have just read the following recent article:

Mind over matter: the contradictions of George Berkeley

The author says:

"Some asked how hallucinations fit into his picture, alleging that they sever the link between ideas and reality in some distinct way his system cannot account for. Another classic objection has it that the corollary of believing that things do not exist unless they are being perceived is that objects must be continually popping in and out of existence depending on whether they are being looked at or not, which is metaphysically untidy to say the least."

First of all, it's worth pointing out that the way of establishing whether something is a hallucination or not is precisely the same regardless of whether one subscribes to Berkeley's metaphysic or not. A hallucination would be a creation of one's own mind rather than part of God's conception of the world. So it would lack certain characteristics of real things. Typically, one might appear to see something, but on approaching it and reaching out one's hand, fail to experience the associated appropriate tactile sensation.

This notion that whenever we look away, or close our eyes, objects spontaneously disappear under his metaphysic, is question begging. They appear to be assuming there is a material reality independent of our perceptions, but that also, paradoxically, its reality is dependent on whether we are looking at it or not. But, Berkeley thought the external world is entirely cashed out by our perceptions.  So, it is incorrect to suppose that objects are constantly appearing and disappearing out of existence.  That erroneously ascribes a position to him that he did not hold.

Incidentally, unlike the author, I wouldn't appeal to the limerick by Ronald Knox to resolve this alleged problem.   Here's the limerick:


There was a young man who said “God

Must find it exceedingly odd

To think that the tree

Should continue to be

When there’s no one about in the quad” 
Reply:
“Dear Sir: Your astonishment’s odd;

I am always about in the quad.

And that’s why the tree

Will continue to be

Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.”

First of all, as I have just said, there isn't any problem in the first place.  Apart from that, I think it's simply not correct to say that Berkeley held that the external world exists by being observed by God.  That, again, seems to imply that the external world has some type of prior existence, and it is God's perceptions of it that keeps it in existence.  No, the external world is simply a conception within God's mind that he conveys to us.

To elucidate, our relationship to the external world might be compared to playing an online multiplayer computer game.  The numerous players seem to see and interact within the same environment.  The reality of objects in that environment -- such as a tree -- are represented by appropriately lit pixels. But, the pixels representing the tree, change depending on the perspective and distance the character controlled by the player is in relationship to that tree.  And, of course, there won't be any pixels representing the tree should the character be turned so that he is facing away from it.  As I said in my first blog post on Berkeley, this is explained by the fact that the computer game environment is governed by rules implemented by a computer programmer.  Likewise, our external world exhibits uniformity due to physical laws with such physical laws simply being directly caused by God.

Extending the computer game analogy further, although the character we control is within the computer game environment, we ourselves certainly are not.  We are sitting in our bedrooms or wherever we are when we play such games.  Indeed, we could not be part of that game environment as our existence is not captured by lit pixels!  In a similar manner, immaterialism holds we are not literally within the "material" world.  What we label the "material" world is nothing but our perceptions, and it is therefore nonsensical to suppose we are part of it.  Of course, our bodies are part of the "material" world  i.e the those perceptions we identify with our bodies, but our selves and their conscious states are not part of that reality.

Support from Quantum Mechanics  


I think Berkeley's metaphysic gets some support when we consider the implications of quantum mechanics. Or, at least it gets support in as much as it presents arguably insurmountable difficulties for those who suppose that reality is of a certain definite character considered entirely independent of one's perceptions or measurements.   

The main difficulty is that subatomic particles, such as electrons, can either be particles or waves, but cannot simultaneously be both (just like an object cannot simultaneously be both a sphere and a cube).  Yet, depending on the particular experiment, electrons behave either exactly like particles, or they behave exactly like waves.  So what are they?  Does their nature, their essence, change depending on how we measure/observe them? But that makes no sense since a thing's nature shouldn't change depending on how we observe it.

There is no problem under Berkeley's immaterialism though. Berkeley would have thought that a subatomic particle's reality (be it a photon, an electron or whatever) is purely a question of whether it plays a fruitful role in our scientific theories or not. It doesn't matter if, say, electrons exhibit particle like behaviour within one experimental context and wavelike behaviour under another since the reality of an electron cannot be abstracted from our perceptions/measurements of them.  All that matters is that nature exhibits regularities that we can mathematically describe. In this regard, quantum mechanics is a runaway success.

It's important to note that this doesn't amount to the denial of the existence of electrons and other subatomic particles any more than it is a denial of everyday macroscopic objects (see near the end of my first blog post on Berkeley).

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Why are only the extreme positions permissible?

Why are only the extreme positions permissible? Hence, if I complain about the top 10% in the USA having 77% of total wealth, people always assume the only alternative is that everyone must be absolutely equal in wealth. Why? Clearly in between such extremes is possible e.g. the top 10% only have around 46% of the wealth in the UK (which is a vast difference to the USA). 

Or, if I complain about people owning vast tracks of land so that one cannot walk anywhere in non-urban areas without walking over private land, then I must also believe that people shouldn't have their own gardens. Why?

Or, if one decides modern life is unfulfilling, and hence decides to and live a simpler lifestyle somewhere remote, one must make no use of any technology whatsoever (not even a manufactured knife) otherwise one is being a hypocrite. How so?

Or, if one rejects the idea that we human beings are not just biological machines who will soon cease to exist forevermore, then I must believe in orthodox Christianity and believe that we spend an eternal afterlife in Heaven or Hell. Why? Why can't I believe that there is no punishment in an afterlife, that there is a beforelife as well as an afterlife, that reincarnation exists etc? Why are the choices restricted to the extremes of either materialism or fundamental Christianity?

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Does the key to consciousness lie within our brains?

I've just read the following article:

Does the key to consciousness lie within our brains?

Under the main title the article says:


Much recent research supports the view that science can describe consciousness.

Then the recent research is necessarily flawed. Science describes the material world, by which I mean the quantifiable/measurable aspects of reality.  Our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, although having quantifiable aspects, are not exhausted by their quantifiable aspects e.g. the patch of green I see may be of a certain size and shape and shade and reflect a certain wavelength of light, but the greenness itself resides outside the ambit of science.   This blog post by me is of relevance. 

Article says:


The study of consciousness remained solidly in the philosophical realm up to recent times as science had no way to measure it. That changed in the early 2000s with the arrival of brain scanning machines such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The Brain scanning machines scan the brain, not consciousness.

Article says:


It is a common belief that humans are exceptional and superior to other animals, because we are conscious and self-aware.

It is only a few scientists and other mavericks that would deny that all non-human animals lack consciousness.  Self-awareness?  I always have regarded this as meaning to be aware that one is a self i.e a distinct entity that endures through time.  In which case, I would imagine most non-human animals lack it, but certainly not all.

Article says: 


Scientists remain unsure why consciousness first evolved, or what survival advantage it gave us and other animals.

Scientists hold the view that consciousness per se has no causal efficacy.  If they are correct, then it could not evolve, nor convey any survival advantage. 

Article says:

Higher consciousness took millions of years to evolve, so scientists believe it gave our human ancestors a big survival advantage.

Then they are being inconsistent.  If consciousness gives humans a big survival advantage then necessarily it must be causally efficacious.

Article says: 


There are others, such as Daniel Dennett, professor of philosophy at Tufts University who counter that since consciousness is the by-product of a working brain, that it is well within the grasp of science and scientists to study, describe and understand it. 

Let's leave aside how Dennett and others know that consciousness is a by-product of the brain.  Even assuming this, how does it follow that science is able to study it?  As I said at the beginning, it can't.  Even if consciousness is somehow produced by the brain it nevertheless resides outside the ambit of science.

Article says:

There has been much research over the past few decades that supports the view that science can describe consciousness. For example, neuroscientists know that looking at certain colours, such as red, influences brain activity, which can be read in a scanner. 

That's not science describing consciousness unless one identifies the experience of seeing red with characteristic brain activity.  So, here this is much more than the claim that brain activity somehow elicits consciousness, rather it would have to be the very same thing as consciousness.  But, it's not, and it's not for the simple reason that brain activity is exhausted by all possible measurements we can make of it.  In other words, its reality is cashed out in terms of all its physical properties.  Consciousness, on the other hand, such as the experience of redness, has no physical or measurable properties.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Guardian Article on Near Death Experiences (NDE's)

I read the following Guardian article:

What do near-death experiences mean, and why do they fascinate us?

Of the afterlife, [Kevin] Nelson [a neurologist] told me: “This claim is the most extraordinary in science, and there is no ordinary, let alone extraordinary, scientific evidence to support it.” (He added: “These are matters of faith.”)


A few comments:

What constitutes an extraordinary claim? A claim is deemed to be extraordinary if it is not consonant with our background beliefs about the nature of the world.  Those background beliefs are the assumption that materialism is correct, more precisely that the discoveries of science exhausts reality.  However, if we assume materialism, then there cannot be an afterlife, at least not in the form of a soul dwelling in some afterlife realm.  That doesn't just make an afterlife extraordinary, it makes it impossible.

So, since a proponent of an afterlife would scarcely embrace modern materialism, Kevin Nelson is transparently begging the question.  He would need to justify that modern materialism is very likely to be correct.  But I have argued that modern materialism is simply not compatible with the existence of consciousness, and here we're simply talking about our everyday embodied consciousness.  See my: Why the existence of consciousness rules modern materialism out.  In short, it seems to me that this assertion that an afterlife is an "extraordinary claim" cannot be substantiated.


Also, Nelson appears to be construing "scientific evidence" in the sense that we cannot derive a continued consciousness after death from everything we know about the material world and its structure.  That's true, but it conveniently leaves out the fact that we cannot derive normal everyday embodied consciousness from the  material world and its structure either!  Consciousness needs to be causally efficacious before we have evidence of it, and the causal efficacy of consciousness is denied by most scholars (we're talking here about consciousness per se rather than its neural correlates). 

Again, this can be circumvented by saying consciousness is identical (not merely caused, elicited etc) to neural activity. So yes, we can then have embodied consciousness, but not any unembodied consciousness.  But that again is to transparently assume modern materialism (NB I am specifically talking about materialism here, not just any position that holds the brain produces consciousness).  


And what is meant by saying an afterlife is a "faith"? Why is the hypothesis that our consciousness continues after the death of our bodies labelled a faith, but not the extinction (annihilation) hypothesis? By labelling the survival hypothesis a "faith" he appears to be implying that the "no afterlife" thesis should be the default, more reasonable, one. But why is it? I deny that it is. See my Brains affecting Minds do not rule out an Afterlife.

The article also says:

Daniel Kondziella, a neurologist affiliated with the department of neurology at Copenhagen University Hospital, told me that if “people are able to describe and report their experiences, even many years later”, then surely “they have been processed by the brain and stored in its memory centres.”

To say that memories are stored appears to me to deny that memories are a property of a [non-material] self.  I discuss such a self here.   So arguments are required as to why my conception of the self is unsatisfactory.  Apart from that, it seems that Kondziella is also begging the question since if the brain stores memories, then surely the brain produces the rest of our consciousness?  Besides, which, it seems this whole notion that memories can be stored is fatally problematic as I explain here.  Memories just exist and the fact that brains can impede access to them has no more significance then the fact eyeglasses can impede vision if the lenses are cracked. 

 

Friday, 5 March 2021

Lack of Meaning to Life in our Modern Western Culture

I read the following article that I entirely agree with and I highly recommend people read it.

Meaningfulness, Its Moral Implications and the Path Forward

Article says:

[T]he average person will spend about 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. Most people report saying they are not satisfied with their current job and are mostly disengaged. In sum, the average person spends one-third of their lives unengaged and unfulfilled.

and

The majority of occupations under poorly-regulated capitalist societies manifest themselves to turn workers into cogs in machines; most work is either unengaging or tedious, which sucks the spirit out of the worker and leaves them drained for when they actually have time to do what they might find meaningful. 

I agree, and I have said much the same myself.  See the 5th paragraph in my Is there a better alternative to capitalism?  

Work doesn't have to be like this.  People need to be intimately and emotionally involved in the product they're creating, or the service they're providing.  I do not subscribe to the widespread belief that how much we get paid for some work is responsible for how much effort we put into it and, hence, our productivity.  Indeed, I wonder what evidence or justification there is for believing this?  Instead, I strongly suspect that what motivates people to work hard is the sense of achievement in producing something that other people really appreciate, together with the knowledge that not many others have the requisite skills to do what you've done. It's working towards some goal that has real value, and for others to exclaim "wow" when they see the result. It's pride in producing something, or providing some service. This, in turn, also makes the work enjoyable. So productivity and enjoyment go hand in hand. Unfortunately, as the author of the article points out, work in our modern industrialised capitalist society generally isn't like that. And, on that note, this article also may be of interest.  

Oh well, at least we have our loving spouses to greet us when the workday finishes? Well... as the article goes on to say:

Half of marriages end in divorce and nearly half of those that don't end in divorce are riddled with unhappiness—the latter frankly being a conservative estimate.

What we're all after is love, a total and complete mutual appreciation of another person's essence, a total empathetic identification with their being that will turn our souls inside out.  But, it seems, in the real world, that this is very rare.  Whether or not this is just simply the way we are, and love -- at least as I have defined it -- is extraordinarily difficult to attain, surely we can improve upon this present dire state of affairs? If love is not achievable, surely at least a life-long friendship with one's spouse is? 

Again, I think at least part of the problem here is the nature of capitalism where success and prestige are measured by one's wealth, whilst affiliation and empathy for others all too often takes a backseat.  We are all in competition with each other.  We are compared, all too harshly by our partners and others, against the "success" of our peers.  This can give rise to mutual resentment.

But surely our well-being and happiness are significantly enhanced by our other relationships? What about our close friends, work colleagues and so on?  The article says:

54 percent of adults also report that they regularly feel as if no one knows them well, nearly half report frequently feeling lonely or left out. Forty-three percent report that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others, and 59 percent feel that those around them do not share their interests and ideas.

Speaking on a personal level, I don't think anyone knows me! Least of all shares my interests and ideas, although, to be honest, I'm surprised that this figure is as high as 59%.

It seems to me that a lot of us live bleak, unfulfilling, lives, both at work and at home. And to what end? A decent wage allows us to buy the latest technological gadgets, but do they really bestow long term happiness? Not so far as I can see. I continually encounter people who declare they are depressed.

I have read that depression is virtually absent in hunter-gatherer societies.  Crucially, in those societies, life was full of danger.  Close brushes with death with the consequent comradeship and camaraderie when others save your life, and you theirs. The collective outpouring of emotions, the bitter and sweet taste of life in the raw. All this with the implicit feeling that death is just another journey and all will come right in the end.

Of course, I'm not suggesting a life full of danger is ideal.  But I do suggest that life ideally should be an adventure. A journey with ongoing meaningful experiences. And grounded with the feeling of purpose.  And that death is just another journey, rather than oblivion. That the Universe is full of love and meaning, and we are part of it.

I think that the way we live in our modern western industrialised world, together with our Weltanschauung, is simply not desirable. Happiness is not measured by our wealth, nor our technology. And our technology is destroying the planet to boot.  So, a radical change is required. A new way to live. A new relationship with the planet. A new outlook regarding what we are and our place in the world. But I can't see anything changing in a very long time. 

Friday, 12 February 2021

The Filter Hypothesis of the Mind-Brain Relationship



In the Myth of an Afterlife there's a chapter called The Dualist’s Dilemma.  The authors of this particular chapter (different chapters are penned by different authors) are Keith Augustine and Yonatan I. Fishman.  At one point they criticise the filter hypothesis of the consciousness-brain relationship.  The filter hypothesis rejects the idea that the brain produces the self and consciousness and, at least in its most simplistic interpretation, holds that the brain serves to constrain, limit and focus our consciousness.  They say:


If the mind is “not generated by the brain but instead focused, limited, and constrained by it” (Kelly et al., 2007, p. xxx), the filter theory entails that a brainless mind will be expanded, less limited, and unrestricted by brain function. 

So, in an unembodied state as in an afterlife realm, we ought to be more conscious.  This seems to be supported by accounts from those who have undergone NDE's who often report that during their NDE they felt more conscious than they have ever felt in their lives.

They continue:


[No] brainless minds are available to clinicians for study, this is not a falsifiable prediction in itself. But it does have falsifiable consequences, most obviously that the greater the disruption in brain function, the “freer” the mind will be from its neural confines, and hence the clearer one’s cognitive function will be. For example, we would expect the progressive destruction of more and more of the brain’s “filter” by Alzheimer’s disease to progressively “free” more and more of consciousness, and thus increase Alzheimer’s patients’ mental proficiency as the disease progresses. Just as removing sections of a dam would increase the flow of water going through it, the degenerating “filter” would become increasingly ineffective in limiting consciousness as more and more neural pathways were destroyed.

But nothing could be further from the truth. As the dependence thesis straightforwardly predicts, the more that brain functioning is compromised, the more that the mind itself is compromised.

Well, in the context of Alzheimer's there is the phenomenon of terminal or paradoxical lucidity, but anyway... 

Often the metaphor of a TV set is employed to illustrate this filter hypothesis. Just as a TV set doesn't produce the programmes that are shown, but merely alters the TV signal in certain characteristic ways, so too brains don't produce consciousness but rather alters consciousness in a certain characteristic way.  Now, clearly, a damaged TV doesn't result in enhanced picture quality, so why would a damaged brain result in one becoming more conscious?

Their mistake is to ignore the fact that while the self is attached to the brain, then it will be subject to the condition of the brain.  Compare to my vision when I wear eyeglasses with the lenses progressively fogging up.  My vision won't be enhanced, rather it will be compromised.  But not so when I take the eyeglasses off.

They go on to say:


[O]n the filter theory we would expect more robust brains to be better filters of an otherwise unrestricted mind, and thus for the minds of those who possess the most complex brains to be the most mentally handicapped. But then wouldn’t the organisms with the simplest brains be the most mentally proficient, rather than those with the most complex ones? And wouldn’t children with the least developed brains be the most mentally proficient, while those transitioning into adulthood became increasingly impaired by the greater filtering imposed by their progressively developing brains?

Not at all.  Again, if we refer to the TV set metaphor, we would scarcely expect an old-fashioned B&W TV set to produce the best picture quality, and a more technologically sophisticated  smart UHD TV set, to produce the worst.

Incidentally, they're taking the notion of a brain being a "filter" too literally.  The brain doesn't merely filter, it will have a somewhat more involved role than that.

PS I have a ~13,000 word review of The Myth of an Afterlife.  Go here.  




Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Over 100,000 dead in the UK from Covid-19

Yes, yet another post about the virus.  I know, I know, all very boring compared to my philosophical output, but I am perplexed, frustrated, angry and bemused by the (UK) Government and all the colossally bad decisions it's made regarding the virus. The official tally dead in the UK from the virus is now above 100,000.  And, I heard that the death rate from the virus is the worst in the world. Compare over 100,000 deaths with New Zealand's, which has seen only 25 deaths.

The insane decisions made by the UK Government regarding this virus are simply never-ending. 

1. Right from the off, ideally as early as January 2020, everyone arriving in the UK, including British people returning to the UK, should have been quarantined for at least 10 days.  But there were no border controls for months!  We just allowed anyone, even from China, to come in.  People weren't even tested, least of all quarantined.

2. As soon as the virus arrived in the UK and started to spread, a severe lockdown should have been imposed.  Not doing so allowed the virus to infiltrate everywhere. So, by the time the first lockdown was imposed in late March, it was already too late.

3.  Now the virus was established in the UK, the rate of infection R had to be driven right down.  In as much as the lockdown was relaxed, it couldn't be relaxed so much as to allow the R rate to go above 1.  That would simply ensure the virus would, once again, proliferate.  

So what did the Government do?  They relaxed the lockdown.  They allowed international and domestic travel, opened the schools, told students to attend University, implemented the Eat Out to Help Out policy, reopened pubs, cinemas etc, dropped the 2 metre social distancing rule, and employees were permitted to return to the office.  This was insane.  Such policies, at least as a collective whole, simply ensured that R would rise well above 1 leading inevitably to a further lockdown down the line.

4.  And now the latest news is that only those entering the UK from high risk countries, not all countries, will be quarantined.  See here.  I'm perplexed, what's to stop people from the high-risk countries simply travelling to the UK via another country first?

Presumably the motivation for all these staggering bad decisions was to save the economy.  But I'm not sure that simply continually imposing and relaxing these type of "lockdowns" is helpful in this regard.  Just one lockdown, but a radical one, was required in order to drive the R figure right down and control the virus.  Like what New Zealand and other countries did. 

My posts on the virus in chronological order spread across my 2 blogs:

The Coronavirus
Herd Immunity and the Coronavirus
Peoples' indifference to the coronavirus
Lockdowns to contain the Virus

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

The Mantra "We don't have Free Will"

I'm sick of people claiming that free will is an illusion, that it is rational and scientific to hold this.  Yet, they seem extremely reluctant to specify what this actually means.  That my consciousness doesn't actually do anything? So, I'm typing out these words, but it's not my consciousness doing it?

Frequently they might say they believe in "determinism" but without specifying exactly what is meant by this term.   I guess they mean that the four forces in nature, (gravitation, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces) represent true innate causes in the world and all change in the physical world is due exclusively to the interaction of these four forces?  Well, at least that's clear. So they really do mean my consciousness does absolutely nothing, not even in any train of thought I might entertain! Which it is very easy to refute as I do in the first three paragraphs of an essay I wrote.

But then they shift and obfuscate and claim we don't have free will as the environment influences our behaviour! Well, yes . . when I'm thirsty I'm more likely to drink water (or ribena at least). But no one in the history of the Universe has denied our bodily needs influence our behaviour! And even here, I can ignore my urge to drink.  

Or they say that we don't have free will as our behaviour is in principle predictable. Well gosh, people will stoop down and pick up a £50 note if they see one lying on the pavement outside. So they don't have free will as their behaviour was predictable!  But why does the predictability of peoples' behaviour entail we lack free will?  They never say! I address this issue in the same essay I linked to above under the heading Free Will and Determinism.

So this initial claim we don't have free will is watered down and down until it means nothing so far as I can tell. One would have to behave randomly to satisfy their apparent definition of "free will". But then, predictably enough, they say acting randomly isn't free will either.  Little wonder they reject it.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Commenting on a negative review of the Netflix series "Surviving Death"

As a preliminary, I should point out that I haven't watched this series of programmes, nor have I read the book that the series is based on. Since, though, there's plenty of reviews of this series of programmes, I am now sufficiently intrigued that I plan to watch both the series and read the book, and possibly review both. So, for the first time ever, I'll be subscribing to Netflix!

Anyway, here's a negative review of the series from The Daily Beast that I'll make a few comments on:

‘Surviving Death’: Netflix’s New Series on the Afterlife Is Crackpot Nonsense

First thing to say is that there aren't any detailed arguments here.  It adopts a flippant dismissive tone rather than a measured approach.  But, for what it's worth, let's look at what it has to say:

The article says:

[E]lderly hospice patients often state that they see, and speak to, their deceased relatives. Alas, Surviving Death ignores any non-supernatural explanation for these phenomena—say, that cultural programming inspires like-minded deathbed visions, or that aged men and women whose minds are deteriorating, and who’ve lost everyone they cherish, might naturally retreat into comforting family-reunion fantasies.

So, cultural programming or fantasy might make you see someone and talk to them.  My immediate reaction here is to ask why not prefer the more obvious and straightforward explanation that they are in actual communication with them?  From what I've read they certainly seem to be.  Of course, they might have retorted that the notion they are really in communication with dead people is an extraordinary claim.  But, in the review, they don't say that and no argument is presented to support that contention.   And besides, as I have extensively argued in my blog, for example here, I do not think the notion that it is an extraordinary claim can be justified.

The article also says:

Everyone spotlighted by Surviving Death agrees that grief is at the root of people’s desire to believe in the afterlife.

For many people that might well be so.  And, of course, having a desire that something is true doesn't make it any more likely to be true.  But, also, it doesn't make it any more likely to be false either.  In short, it doesn't matter that many people have a desire to believe in an afterlife. What are relevant are the reasons and evidence that can bear on this issue. 

The article also says:

Where are the bitter, angry ghosts who want to vent to those they left behind?

Communication, whether via mediumship or perceiving an apparition, will presumably be of a telepathic nature.  Are anger and bitterness conveyed in general telepathic communications? Of course, it might be that the anger has dissipated in the afterlife realm -- this is suggested by NDEs who often report feeling unconditional love from the beings they perceive.  

The article also says:
Surviving Death boasts an extremely limited view of the afterlife—one in which all ghosts communicate in the same indirect-clue fashion, and have the same unrevealing things to say.
I do agree that the "unrevealing things to say" accusation makes mediumship somewhat less convincing than it otherwise might have been.  Having said that, we need to remember that the alleged communication isn't conveyed by words, but rather telepathy.  Can telepathy convey the same information as a spoken language? Telepathy might be elicited via an emotional resonance between two or more beings, which primarily convey feelings rather than "cold" information.  So, a detailed description of the afterlife via telepathy might be difficult.

The article also says:

 And there’s also one woman’s extended tall tale about foreseeing her death at the moment of her child’s birth|.

I'm not sure that premonitions are completely impossible.  I have more to say on this issue in another blog post here.   But, even granting it's a "tall tale", it is not generally disputed there's a great deal of nonsense out there.  But, how does this negate the more convincing evidence, or the fundamental problem that if there is no afterlife how the brain somehow produces consciousness?

The article also says:

[I]n late passages about children who claim to be reincarnated souls, the show doesn’t cast a single sideways glance at the adults and kids making these assertions.

Not sure what this means? With Ian Stevenson and his successors, it's not as if children are simply believed, their claims are thoroughly investigated. If investigations reveal their memories match up to past events, and which couldn't have been obtained by any normal obvious manner, then we need to entertain the various hypotheses. Reincarnation is the most straightforward obvious one and that fits all the facts.  Of course, we should be extremely sceptical about anyone claiming to have been a famous person.

Well, that's it.  I need to watch these programmes!

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Lockdowns to contain the Virus

I keep reading people say that "lockdowns" to contain covid-19 don't work.  I'm not sure what they mean.  At least in England, lockdowns are a reactive policy.  The number of infected and R number goes up and up, and so, in a panic, the Government imposes a lockdown to stop the increase, which it does, but then when the lockdown ends the numbers obviously increase again.  So, effectively, lockdowns are a policy of desperation.  They do work as in keeping the numbers in check, but of course, they don't get rid of the virus!  

The Government needed and needs to apply pro-active policies, and should have done so from the off back last January.  I suggested at that time the banning of all international flights (see a blog post of mine here). Certainly, something should have been done.  Perhaps the isolation for 2 weeks of all arrivals to the UK and which was strictly enforced, including those coming back from holiday.  If not implemented in January, then February or, at the very latest, early March.  Moreover, the Government have continued to make the wrong decisions throughout.  For example, back in September, why on earth were schools allowed to be re-opened and students told to go back to University?  Of course, the numbers of infected were low then -- 1 in every 900 people in the UK compared to 1 in 50 now -- but that was the very time to drive the numbers and the R rate even lower.  Not allow the R number and the number of infected people to rise again!  It was a deeply foolish policy.

New Zealand  implemented the correct policies from the off and life is pretty much normal there now and has been for months with a mere 25 people having died from the virus (see this article).  Contrast that to the U.K where around 75,000 are dead and counting, approximately 1 person in every 50 people is infected, and we're currently in our 3rd lockdown with no end in sight.

So, I really just don't get it.  The Government has scientific advisors, so they will have been aware of the dangers of the virus.  Of course, there would have been a lot of opposition to implementing the correct policies.  But objections such as the negative economic impact were always ludicrous given that those who are asymptomatic can spread the virus.  Hence a global pandemic was always on the cards.  As I said on Facebook back on the 31st January 2020: "The one worrying thing [about this virus] is the claim that people can pass it on when displaying no symptoms themselves".

Then there is the somewhat silly objection of border controls, forced quarantine etc impacting on our freedoms.  The problem here is that freedom to do what we want shouldn't be universal.  In particular, freedoms need to be curtailed where they impact on other peoples' freedoms (have any of these people read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty?  I surmise not!).  It was surely better for New Zealand to encroach upon "freedoms" and implement the policies they did, so that New Zealanders now enjoy normal lives free of the fear of getting the virus, then simply to have done nothing and allow the virus to spread throughout the population with all the negative consequences this entails.

So, why on earth was absolutely nothing done in the UK?  Yes yes yes, I'm aware that Governments have to pander to the electorate and avoid, as much as possible, unpopular policies. Slip and slither, slide around every issue to make sure the voters keep on voting them back into office. But this often results in very bad decisions that are highly detrimental to society as a whole.  In the case of the virus, the death of many thousands of people and hundreds of billions of pounds!

The whole problem with democracy and why it's such a bad system of Government is that leaders are incentivised to make bad decisions because the general populace have only a very superficial understanding of political issues and vote due to crude sentiments or a misplaced notion of the party that will most benefit them.

We need leaders who paradoxically do not want to be leaders, who do not crave the power.  Who are rational, think in the long term, who are above all pro-active.  Plato had the best idea.

Monday, 4 January 2021

More on Autonomous Cars

I've just read the following article:

'Peak hype': why the driverless car revolution has stalled 

It says:

[E]xperts admit the autonomous vehicle challenge is bigger than anticipated.

And goes on to say:

By 2021, according to various Silicon Valley luminaries, bandwagoning politicians and leading cab firms in recent years, self-driving cars would have long been crossing the US, started filing along Britain’s motorways and be all set to provide robotaxis in London.


And:

Prof Nick Reed, a transport consultant who ran UK self-driving trials, says: “The perspectives have changed since 2015, when it was probably peak hype. Reality is setting in about the challenges and complexity.”

Back in June 2014 I predicted that by 2060 fully self-driving cars will have taken over the world.  I mentioned back then the formidable problems of having a mixture of both self-driving and human driven cars on the same roads.  I subsequently concluded that not only are the problems formidable, they are insurmountable.

I wonder why most "experts" failed to realise what I realised?     

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Education and Scientism

It is generally thought that education is an unadulterated good thing.  However, I have reservations.  It seems to me that one of the detractions of education, and specifically a scientific education, is that it indoctrinates people into passively accepting certain ideas about the world. Ideas that, strictly speaking, are philosophical rather than something science entails.  For example, that we are sophisticated biological robots with no free will. That colours, sounds and smells don't literally exist out there.  That psi, an afterlife, rain-dancing, magic spells, dowsing are all hooey etc (it's possible the last 3 are hooey, I have no idea).

Even if we are to suppose that they are correct on all these issues, I find it interesting that people can never argue to justify their certainty on any of them.  When I ask people the origin of their convictions they often content themselves with asserting that I only think such things are possible because I want them to be true  Of course, here they are assuming that their own beliefs are highly likely to be correct and the reason I do not consent to their beliefs is because my yearning for such things overrides my reason.  They do not take a blind bit of notice of my actual arguments.

I also often hear the mantra, "where's the evidence". By "evidence" it transpires they mean something repeatable in a lab and that anyone, even skeptics, can unerringly replicate. There appears to be no room in their worldview for spontaneous or capricious phenomena, nor where a certain psychological state is a crucial ingredient for the manifestation of the phenomenon of interest. 

The fundamental point is this, if people assert something doesn't exist, they need to provide reasons for their belief.  Not simply be content to say "prove me wrong".  But I do not think it is an exaggeration to say I never actually hear any valid arguments.  At best I am told that such phenomena, if they exist, are simply impossible, that it would break the laws of physics and even render the whole scientific enterprise as fundamentally wrong.  But, we need to understand that the so-called "laws" of physics are simply a mathematical description of the patterns we find in the world. What these people are doing is reifying such a description and demanding that reality dances to its tune. In other words, they're putting the cart before the horse. However, reality has no obligation to conform to what we regard as "physical laws". Physical laws are general -- we lack compelling reasons to believe our current "laws" describe reality in its totality. In particular, they leave out consciousness in their description of reality. (I cover this issue in greater depth herehere, here and here.)

I think it's the power of our culture imposing its belief system on educated people. People just soak up the beliefs of their culture and their peers.  We live in a scientism infatuated culture that fosters the view that physics provides a literal depiction of the ultimate nature of reality.  Hence, all the qualitative features of reality -- that is, colours, smells, sounds and of course conscious experience itself -- are relegated to either being illusory, or are deemed to be translatable, without remainder, into the interactions of the ultimate entities that physics describes.

This is unfortunate.  Ideally education should make people think. To question prevailing beliefs and "wisdom". Indeed, to be a sceptic in the original meaning of that word. There's precious few people who are rational intelligent independent thinkers. And I can't see that ever changing.

Monday, 2 November 2020

Does the brain store memories?

The idea that brains store memories has a difficulty. Memories would presumably have to be stored via information. All information can, in principle, be represented by a string of numbers, say 100011011000.  But how would we know what memory that such a string of numbers represents? Books can contain lots of info, but we only understand them as we know the meaning of English words. We also have to remember the meaning of English words. Likewise we have to remember what memory 100011011000 stands for. As it stands it's not a memory any more than a knot in a hanky is.

So we need further info.  Something like 111001? But then we get the exact same objection. How do we know what 111001 stands for? Yet more info? Then we get an infinite regress.

My view is that memories cannot and are not stored.  We have to be in touch with them directly, so to speak.  Compare to vision.  We may not be able to see something clearly, even misinterpret what we are seeing.  But that doesn't rule out we are not directly seeing that something i.e we are not just acquainted with a representation of the seen object in our minds.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

What do people mean when they say there's no evidence?

It's interesting that people on the web constantly say "there's no evidence for an afterlife", or "there's no evidence for psi". For this seems to be straightforwardly false. Take reincarnation. There's research into alleged past lives of young children that appears to show that they are getting accurate information about a person that had previously lived. Or take psi. Parapsychologists have provided plenty of evidence for it. 

Obviously, most of these people are presumably just repeating each other. But what justification could be given for the origin of this claim that there's no evidence for such things?

Consider the case where someone declares that we have evidence that beds are dangerous as people disproportionately die in them compared to elsewhere. Would this be evidence that beds are dangerous, even if only very weak evidence?

It depends on what people mean by "evidence". I would say yes, but I think most science educated people would say no. One reason why they would say no is because we already have a good explanation for why people die in beds -- namely because they go to bed when they are ill. But, another more compelling reason, is that it seems there's no conceivable mechanism whereby beds in and of themselves could somehow play a causal role in precipitating death.

Let's, for the sake of argument, accept for the moment these peoples' conception of "evidence" as requiring a possible mechanism.  
Now, consider reincarnation. Even though young children appear to recollect previous lives, people assert there's no conceivable causal mechanism whereby consciousness can depart from a person who has died, to then appear in a fetus or new born baby. Hence, until someone proposes a possible mechanism, there can be no scientific evidence for reincarnation. Same applies more generally to an afterlife, or to psi.

There's a deep problem here though. There appears to be an implicit assumption that our everyday embodied consciousness being produced by brains is entirely unproblematic and hence that there will be a mechanism whereby this is achieved even though we have yet to discover it. Or, even if it's not entirely unproblematic, we can be confident that brains do somehow produce consciousness because of all the ways that brains affect our mind-states -- especially when we consider such debilitating conditions as dementia.

I would maintain, though, that the mind-brain correlations that supposedly prove that brains produce minds, appears to be no more persuasive than eyeglasses- acuity of vision correlations prove that eyeglasses produce vision. In the case of the eyeglasses, there clearly is no conceivable mechanism. And we know that vision already exists, it is merely changed by the eyeglasses. However, it seems to me, brains are in the same boat. There is nothing about the ultimate particles that brains are made of that could possibly produce our phenomenological experiences. So, similar to eyeglasses-vision, perhaps consciousness already exists with brains merely changing it.

But, regardless of whether I am right or wrong about the brain somehow producing consciousness, it seems to me we don’t have any conceivable mechanism for how the brain does this. Hence, if despite the correlations we have no evidence that beds precipitate death, then likewise, despite the mind-brain correlations, and since we lack a conceivable mechanism, we also have no evidence that brains produce consciousness. So even if – contrary to my position – the thesis that brains produce consciousness is at least conceivable (unlike eyeglasses producing vision), we have no evidence that brains actually do so (least of all do we have proof).

Indeed, we have a more plausible scenario; namely consciousness exists all along with brains merely changing it i.e. consciousness is fundamental. And if that should be the case, then consciousness can exist independently of brains just as vision exists independently of eyeglasses.  If this is so then the demand for a mechanism is misplaced.  Indeed, demanding a possible mechanism appears to presuppose that consciousness is material and hence is question-begging.

Now let’s consider psi. Even if the notion of the brain producing consciousness is unproblematic, the fact still remains we have no causal mechanism for how it is produced. But psi, if it exists, will be an ability or property of consciousness. If we lack a causal mechanism for the very existence of consciousness, how on earth can we expect anyone to produce a causal mechanism for psi? Further, if I am correct and consciousness is not produced by the brain, how can we a priori declare what properties consciousness must have?

When people say psi is impossible due to no possible causal mechanism, they have in mind that physics pretty much describes the entirety of reality and it doesn’t allow for psi. But physics leaves out consciousness in its description of reality; indeed it suggests consciousness shouldn’t exist. If it suggests this, it is scarcely likely to suggest a property of consciousness like psi should exist, or even free will or a causal role for consciousness.

The Anguish of Being

  Ha Ha!  I love this. L et's imagine that we conclude life and the Universe are devoid of all meaning, that we will soon cease to exist...

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