Recently been hearing this argument...

shelley
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Recently been hearing this argument...

I ran across this letter to the editor in an Iowa paper today:

... columnist Rekha Basu describes the Freedom From Religion Foundation as an "...association of 'freethinkers' (atheists and agnostics)." If this is Basu's definition of a freethinker, it's a forgivable shortcut. But if atheists are describing themselves as freethinkers, they are on shaky historical ground, as the original freethinkers of the Enlightenment were mostly deists and unitarians.

They are also indulging in an ironic conceit.
If everything transcendent is mere superstition, then your every thought is determined in minutest detail by a chain of natural cause and effect stretching back to (and beyond) the Big Bang. You can't be an atheist and call yourself a freethinker.

You are obliged to believe that you are nothing more than a machine, freewill is illusion, and your mind is a mere epiphenomenon, a dead-end byproduct of the chain of cause and effect.  (emphasis added)

I've been seeing this argument a lot recently - Frank Turek also used a similar argument against Hitchens in the VCU debate.   At that time I thought he was confusing atheism with determinism.  Sometimes I've seen it phrased in ways that pull off of our lack of free will, as well.  While there are tons of ways to phrase it, I simply picked the letter above because it was already typed up for me... anyway, I'm interested in your thoughts. 


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Well, the whole underlined

Well, the whole underlined part is a non-sequitor to begin with...


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At the beginning of the

At the beginning of the year, there was a discussion with Marty Fields that was similar to this. His argument was extremely subtle, much more subtle than this, but it amounted to the same thing: mind/brain dualism. Paisley came at it in a ham-handed fashion, but had the same argument: that materialistic positivism (which is often equated with atheism) means we must believe we are simply machines, and that we cannot call ourselves free thinkers.

In fact, that letter sounds very much like dear old Paisley.

Really, even if "the original freethinkers of the Enlightenment were mostly deists and unitarians," how does that negate the atheist claim to free thinking? How much of their deism was itself historically and socially-based, rather than as a direct result of their free thinking? Atheism has a greater claim to the label "free thinker" than theism, in general, as many people arrived at their atheism using the groundwork laid by the Enlightenment. Just because the deists and unitarians of the Enlightenment didn't fully comprehend the ramifications of their intellectual revolution doesn't mean we have to be bound by their own ignorance.

In any case, our quest for artificial intelligence indicates that we believe, at heart, that intelligence is acheivable without divine influence. Our inability to create AI notwithstanding, our growing science of information theory curently hints at true intelligence as an emergent property of stochastic, physical systems, in the same way that life is an emergent property of a stochastic, physical system.

And if we are merely intelligent meat machines, big deal. If the universe is strictly deterministic, big deal. What does it truly change? What is the honest outcome? Are we not here? Do we not at least have the illusion of making decisions? What does materialistic positivism really change?

More important, what does it matter if there is a Deistic God? What does it gain us to contemplate it? There is no current way to gain insight into the nature of this God, and so there is no practical difference between the Enlightenment deists and modern intellectual atheists. A deistic God does not require worship or any other form of ego-stroking. A deistic God would not be interested in the outcome of one tiny little speck of life over another. It gives us no moral imperative, no epistemological methodology greater than the scientific method. From a practical standpoint, there is no difference between a deistic God, and no God whatsoever. It's like saying that somewhere in space is the most beautiful thing ever, but nobody will ever see it, and it will exert no influence over anything else in the universe. From a practical standpoint, it might as well not exist.

Ultimately, this is still an argument from ignorance. Strip away the metaphysics, and the argument is, "We can't explain our intelligence, so God did it."

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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The reality is that, even in

The reality is that, even in a strictly deterministic universe, the complexity of the interacting events which 'determine' our thoughts at any instant  make them just as unpredictable in any practical sense as if 'free will' was true.

When you have a such a sequence of interactions going all the way back to the singulrity, there is no way to pre-calculate the exact state of the Universe at any given instant of time. That state can only be found by actually letting the Universe, or an exact simulation, ie a particle for particle copy,  play out at its normal speed.

Of course that is without throwing in the essentially randomising effects of Quantum Mechanics.

A 'Free thinker' is someone whose past history of study and experience and interactions with others has 'caused' them, when combined with any predispostions to certain thought patterns which their genetic inheritance has 'caused' them to acquire, to develop an approach to assessing truth of propositions put to them which dismisses or downplays arguments from authority, or popularity, or degree of social or cultural acceptability.

Not negated by determinism or absence of 'free will', 'freethinker' is just a description of the way their head computer has been 'programmed' by their life experience to construct its world-view.

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

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shelleymtjoy wrote:then your

shelleymtjoy wrote:

then your every thought is determined in minutest detail by a chain of natural cause and effect stretching back to (and beyond) the Big Bang. You can't be an atheist and call yourself a freethinker.

If you have a chain of natural causes with just a few variables, then yes, the outcome could be fairly narrowly defined.  Given the amount of variables within the human experience, how could someone who is intelligent think that thought and the conclusions drawn from those thoughts would fall within a narrowly proscribed spectrum?  Your biological make-up does not mean you are absolutely going to act in a certain manner and draw certain conclusions in life. 

It's like comparing a life to a simplistic equation with just a few variables - easy to map out.  Each human life I've encountered seems so much more complex (undefinably so) to me.  Being an atheist does not mean you cannot see yourself as a freethinker.  It does not mean that life is predetermined at all to be able to see cause and effect and understand probabilities of action.  Actions that are improbable still occur. 

 

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anniet wrote:shelleymtjoy

anniet wrote:

shelleymtjoy wrote:

then your every thought is determined in minutest detail by a chain of natural cause and effect stretching back to (and beyond) the Big Bang. You can't be an atheist and call yourself a freethinker.

If you have a chain of natural causes with just a few variables, then yes, the outcome could be fairly narrowly defined.  Given the amount of variables within the human experience, how could someone who is intelligent think that thought and the conclusions drawn from those thoughts would fall within a narrowly proscribed spectrum?  Your biological make-up does not mean you are absolutely going to act in a certain manner and draw certain conclusions in life. 

It's like comparing a life to a simplistic equation with just a few variables - easy to map out.  Each human life I've encountered seems so much more complex (undefinably so) to me.  Being an atheist does not mean you cannot see yourself as a freethinker.  It does not mean that life is predetermined at all to be able to see cause and effect and understand probabilities of action.  Actions that are improbable still occur. 

 

 

Exactly. I'd like to invoke  chaos theory here.

 

Even in a classical physical system, if there are more than a few changing variables, the result can be very close to pure mathematical randomness.

 

For instance, all you need is a simple iron pendulum and a few variable electromagnets to create a chaotic system which no mathematical equation can describe; or at least no soluble mathematical equation.

 

The universe has so many variables, so many causes to so few effects, that to call it "deterministic" is somewhat of a stretch. It is true that the actions of cause and effect determine the future, and in that sense, the universe is deterministic, but there are so many variables, so many factors, that the description of the universe must be very close indeed to pure mathematical randomness.

 

Throw in quantum physics, and you've got yourself a pretty non-deterministic universe.


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I'll admit, I've always had

I'll admit, I've always had a bit of a problem with the way the word "freethinker" is used by modern atheists.  The way it is used now is nothing at all like the way it was used during the Enlightenment.  The thing is, I understand that words necessarily evolve, but it is a bit ironic/humorous that an ideology positing itself free from dogma is so completely contingent upon science, the great dogma of our age.  Also:

nigelTheBold wrote:
And if we are merely intelligent meat machines, big deal. If the universe is strictly deterministic, big deal. What does it truly change? What is the honest outcome? Are we not here? Do we not at least have the illusion of making decisions? What does materialistic positivism really change?

Kettle, we've got Pot on line 2. 


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BobSpence1 wrote:The reality

BobSpence1 wrote:

The reality is that, even in a strictly deterministic universe, the complexity of the interacting events which 'determine' our thoughts at any instant  make them just as unpredictable in any practical sense as if 'free will' was true.

... which is exactly why people can go around in circles arguing about this and it never goes anywhere. It's the most feverish moot point imaginable.

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jmm wrote:... but it is a

jmm wrote:

... but it is a bit ironic/humorous that an ideology positing itself free from dogma is so completely contingent upon science, the great dogma of our age. 

Wha ... dje ... oh no you DI-ent!

I wouldn't be pissed off if it were someone stupid who wrote that. You're not stupid. The scientific process is hardly dogmatic. If something's wrong, it can be proven wrong. That doesn't apply to dogma, wherein if something's wrong, it's still right. Completely different, and you know it.

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jmm wrote:but it is a bit

jmm wrote:

but it is a bit ironic/humorous that an ideology positing itself free from dogma is so completely contingent upon science, the great dogma of our age.

Here is the actual definition of dogma:

1 a: something held as an established opinion ; especially : a definite authoritative tenet b: a code of such tenets <pedagogical dogma> c: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds (my emphasis)

2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dogma

Science is not dogma.  Science has ways of changing and adding new information if what is postulated can be proven.  Religion has no such mechanism as it is based on emotion and belief.  There is a huge difference between the 2.  I've found that people who make such claims as science being dogma do so from a position of ignorance. 

May I suggest picking up any Stephen Hawking book?  He writes well enough that the average person can understand the physics he is talking about if you read slowly and think through each paragraph.  At the very least, don't try and talk about science as if you know what you are talking about. 

 

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jmm wrote:I'll admit, I've

jmm wrote:

I'll admit, I've always had a bit of a problem with the way the word "freethinker" is used by modern atheists.  The way it is used now is nothing at all like the way it was used during the Enlightenment.  The thing is, I understand that words necessarily evolve, but it is a bit ironic/humorous that an ideology positing itself free from dogma is so completely contingent upon science, the great dogma of our age.  Also:

nigelTheBold wrote:
And if we are merely intelligent meat machines, big deal. If the universe is strictly deterministic, big deal. What does it truly change? What is the honest outcome? Are we not here? Do we not at least have the illusion of making decisions? What does materialistic positivism really change?

Kettle, we've got Pot on line 2. 

Hardly. I can see how you might interpret it as dogmatism, but it isn't.

It's a simple concept, really, one which can be illustrated with this simple thought experiment:

Imagine the universe is not real. Imagine instead that in the real universe, there exists a super-intelligent race that has been in existence for millions of years. They have reached the point where they can model the entire universe in a computer simulation. They do this for one simple reason: they wish to explore how intelligence evolved.

So, they create a computer model of the universe that is, to the constructs of the simulation, indistinguishable to the real universe. We are nothing but constructs in a simulation that is indistinguishable from the real world. Now, does it matter to us, the constructs? After all, we are mere simulations of intelligence reacting to a simulated, and not "real," universe.

This is the same situation with "real free will" vs. the "illusion of free will." (Substitute "intelligence" for "free will," if you desire.) All we really have is some suspicion of what "free will" and "intelligence" really mean. We don't have a method of distinguishing between real or simulated free will or intelligence, whatever they might mean.

So, all I'm saying is, whether the universe is fundamentally deterministic (that is, if the setup were exactly the same, it would play out exactly the same) is irrelevant to our own perception of reality. Whether we're in a perfect simulation of the real universe, or in the real universe itself, makes absolutely no difference as far as our ability to gain knowledge is concerned.

That's all I was saying.

I'm failing to see how that is dogmatic in any way. Also, I don't quite understand what you mean that science is the great dogma of our age. The reason we accept the scientific method as the greatest epistemology is because it works, where no other epistemology works. It gives results. How is it dogmatic, if it has given us real knowledge of our real or simulated universe?

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HisWillness wrote:jmm

HisWillness wrote:

jmm wrote:

... but it is a bit ironic/humorous that an ideology positing itself free from dogma is so completely contingent upon science, the great dogma of our age. 

Wha ... dje ... oh no you DI-ent!

I wouldn't be pissed off if it were someone stupid who wrote that. You're not stupid. The scientific process is hardly dogmatic. If something's wrong, it can be proven wrong. That doesn't apply to dogma, wherein if something's wrong, it's still right. Completely different, and you know it.

Oh, I know that the scientific process isn't especially dogmatic itself.  But what process is? 

Lots of the folks who adhere to science, on the other hand, are dogmatic--especially in the "not to be disputed" aspect of the word. 


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anniet wrote:jmm wrote:but

anniet wrote:

jmm wrote:

but it is a bit ironic/humorous that an ideology positing itself free from dogma is so completely contingent upon science, the great dogma of our age.

Science is not dogma.  Science has ways of changing and adding new information if what is postulated can be proven.  Religion has no such mechanism as it is based on emotion and belief.  There is a huge difference between the 2.  I've found that people who make such claims as science being dogma do so from a position of ignorance.

Granted, I'm not a scientist, but I'd hardly classify myself as "ignorant".  I'm familiar enough with the history of ideas to at least feel my way around. 

Quote:
May I suggest picking up any Stephen Hawking book?  He writes well enough that the average person can understand the physics he is talking about if you read slowly and think through each paragraph.  At the very least, don't try and talk about science as if you know what you are talking about.  

I'm familiar with Hawking.  I actually started reading him as a teenager.  He's a good example of a relatively un-dogmatic scientist, along with Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan.  Those guys seemed genuinely interested in dispensing information, which is quite different than the impression I get from most scientists/scientific texts I've encountered--many of them seem to pride themselves in being incomprehensible to "regular folks".  I don't dig that sort of elitism. 


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Those 3 are/were all

Those 3 are/were all non-theistic by the way (Hawking is the only living one. )


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jmm wrote:I'm familiar with

jmm wrote:

I'm familiar with Hawking.  I actually started reading him as a teenager.  He's a good example of a relatively un-dogmatic scientist, along with Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan.  Those guys seemed genuinely interested in dispensing information, which is quite different than the impression I get from most scientists/scientific texts I've encountered--many of them seem to pride themselves in being incomprehensible to "regular folks".  I don't dig that sort of elitism.

Whether true or not, these comments having nothing to do with being 'dogmatic'. You are definitely not using the word in its normal sense.

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

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You mean his whole argument

You mean his whole argument boils down to: "You chose a word that has a possible ironic interpretation."

Guilty as charged.

First, I didn't pick the word freethinker.  I prefer rationalist, but to each his own.

Second, we are the result of a chain of natural cause and effect stretching back to (and possibly beyond, but not necessarily) the Big Bang.

Third, I can call myself a glass of chocolate milk if I like.  Words are symbols.

Fourth, I am just a machine, as are you, as is everybody.

Fifth, freewill is an illusion.  Ironically, you don't have to be a determinist if you recognize this.  Read more on this farther down.

Sixth, it's simplistic to call mind a mere epiphenomenon, as the mind can certainly be the cause of physical events.  However, it is correct to note that any decision the mind reaches is the result of physical events.  The two are interdependent.  On balance, if someone wants to view mind as an epiphenomenon, I'm ok with that, but in doing so, they give up the right to quibble over my use of "freethinker" because both are equally shaky uses of concepts.

Seventh, read this essay:

Free Will: Why we don't have it, and why that's a good thing.

 

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To me there's an element of

To me there's an element of relativity to the definition which must be addressed before any comparison between theist and atheist on the question of "free thinking" can ever be made.

 

As pointed out above by several people in different ways and for probably different reasons there is no good definition for "free thinking" since it is easy to demonstrate how thought processes can be influenced and determined conditionally, and how thinking is as much a product as it is a process in any case. Strictly speaking the term is an oxymoron.

 

But few or no people who employ the term "free thinking" mean to imply an absolute freedom to think unrestrained by any influence or rule. Just the notion itself is idiotic to contemplate - it implies that thinking devoid of logic when addressing a problem of logic, for example, is somehow preferable to a process of thinking which applies logic. While lateral thinking might sometimes resolve such problems, even this is the application of a seemingly unrelated logic in order to arrive at a result. It is not random, and is therefore not "free".

 

But the term does mean relatively unfettered by unhelpful restrictions and this is where the chasm opens up between those influenced by religious dogma and those who, for example, operate within the restrictions imposed by scientific analysis. In the age of enlightenment, as we have come to refer to the era, those people who stepped even marginally outside the hitherto restrictive intellectual shackles imposed by organised religion, achieved remarkable insights by the standards of the day - some of which continue to benefit society in some meaningful way. Through the prism of history however we can now evaluate much of what passed for enlightened thought with these same people as hopelessly rigid and thoroughly unenlightened in modern terms, though this is a pointless observation given the long-term benefits we have derived from the bits they did and got right. But even more importantly, for religious people to hold them up now as "champions" of free-thinking fellow theists is equally absurd. Their enlightened attitudes were formulated as much through a rejection of prevalent religious principles and notions as to an adherence to them, and in many cases were achieved completely despite them. The same people however did further develop and popularise a completely other kind of restriction on the thinking process - the absolute requirement to be sensible.

 

Hamby is right to prefer the term "rational", especially since the term "free thinking" has increased in ambiguity since it came to mean in more recent times that thinking "any old thing" was intellectually viable behaviour. However when used in the correct context it retains the meaning it held three hundred years ago. Ironically therefore the atheistic and rationalistic "free thinker" requires a very disciplined mind, and above all one which is not disciplined by religious dogma (which in its insistence on confusing assertion with truth negates intellect completely). The "free thinker" must identify, in other words, that which insensibly attempts to influence their judgement and reason, and in doing so eliminate it. They must then recognise the limitations imposed by that which sensibly dictates the perimeter of reason. Only then can they proceed in any constructive way to "think" about anything.

 

The author of the piece quoted at the start of this thread is attempting to devalue this adherence to sense and reason, not by comparing the relative values of the two different sets of shackles that science and religion apply, but by falsely assuming that the religious adherent recognises his shackles while the atheist (rationalist) thinks he is free of any and is therefore misguided.

 

It is therefore either scurrilous writing by a person who knows the real truth of the matter but chooses for the purpose of his religious point to misrepresent rationalism, or else it is simply ignorant writing by a person who hasn't a notion of the true liberation of the mind when it no longer has to accommodate irrationality at all in its thinking process.

 

One can't help but feel that its author has indulged in just a little too much "free thinking" himself, and in the worst modern sense of the term.

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jmm wrote:Lots of the folks

jmm wrote:

Lots of the folks who adhere to science, on the other hand, are dogmatic--especially in the "not to be disputed" aspect of the word. 

Well there are facts that are difficult to dispute. Y'know, like the mechanics of gravity, or the process of evolution. I don't know if saying those kinds of things are fact is dogmatic, is it? That's just being descriptive.

If you're talking about people being jackasses and saying, "It's science and you can't argue with science," well ... there are always jackasses. Not much to do about that. But my experience with the scientific community (friends) has shown a consistent humility. Maybe that's just them.

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HisWillness wrote:jmm

HisWillness wrote:

jmm wrote:

Lots of the folks who adhere to science, on the other hand, are dogmatic--especially in the "not to be disputed" aspect of the word. 

Well there are facts that are difficult to dispute. Y'know, like the mechanics of gravity, or the process of evolution. I don't know if saying those kinds of things are fact is dogmatic, is it? That's just being descriptive.

If you're talking about people being jackasses and saying, "It's science and you can't argue with science," well ... there are always jackasses. Not much to do about that. But my experience with the scientific community (friends) has shown a consistent humility. Maybe that's just them.

Eh, I'm probably just projecting. 


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Nordmann wrote:But few or no

Nordmann wrote:


But few or no people who employ the term "free thinking" mean to imply an absolute freedom to think unrestrained by any influence or rule. Just the notion itself is idiotic to contemplate - it implies that thinking devoid of logic when addressing a problem of logic, for example, is somehow preferable to a process of thinking which applies logic. While lateral thinking might sometimes resolve such problems, even this is the application of a seemingly unrelated logic in order to arrive at a result. It is not random, and is therefore not "free". 

That's exactly what I was trying to say.  Thank you. 


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nigelTheBold wrote:In fact,

nigelTheBold wrote:

In fact, that letter sounds very much like dear old Paisley.

I thought exactly the same thing.

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Hambydammit wrote:Fifth,

Hambydammit wrote:

Fifth, freewill is an illusion.  Ironically, you don't have to be a determinist if you recognize this.  Read more on this farther down.

Can you expand on how one can accept that we do not have free will yet not accept some form of determinism?  (I promise I did read your initial essay and all the posts here I'm just having some difficultly following the argument.)


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Well, shelley, the problem

Well, shelley, the problem is in the definitions, as per usual.  Neither "free will" nor "determinism" has one set meaning.  Both have essentially "hard" and "soft" interpretations, much like atheism.

When I say that free will is an illusion, I mean that decisions are made and then we become aware of them.  Like I said in my essay, the "computation" has to occur before the state of decision can be reached.  Therefore, once we have reached a decision, it is beyond the laws of time for us to go back and reverse it.  At any given moment in time, we can only be in the state we are in, and that state was determined before we became aware of it.

The flip side of this is that we can make decisions which, if viewed from a slightly different perspective, can be considered a sort of limited free will.  That is, from a practical point of view, strict determinism is sort of irrelevant.  If we take the restaurant example from my essay, there is no practical way to know with certainty whether my dinner guest will choose fish or chicken.  For that matter, if asked beforehand, there is no way for me to know my own future preferences.  Even though in reality, the state of preference, and the logical processing of that preference through a filter of other considerations like diet, cost, etc, is unavoidable and inevitable, there is no way for a human to experience life without the perception that choices are being made.

Here's another way to think of it.  Take the next ten minutes and try not to make any choices.

[/cue Jeopardy Theme for 10 minutes]

Ok.  You couldn't do it, right?  The thing is, when you are faced with options, you can't help but weigh them.  The mental machinery that makes the decision doesn't operate instantaneously.  Sometimes (often) we take quite a bit of time to reach a decision.  Imagine the restaurant again, and suppose that you don't have any clear opinion on whether fish or chicken would be better.  You have to make a choice, but neither one is jumping out at you.  You'll spend several minutes imagining various scenarios.  You'll imagine yourself eating each dish, imagine what each one will taste like, how you will feel, etc, etc.  During this process, the same kinds of things are going on.  Each moment of awareness is the result of pre-conscious mental calculations.  Even so, to you, it feels like movement from one place to another.  You are having to consciously think about what you want.

This is where the apparent paradox happens.  Theoretically, there is a set of causal events that has made your course inevitable, but you cannot mentally exist in that awareness.  Practically, though, there is no way for a human to utilize or even be consciously aware of, this fact.  Here's where the classic "brain in a vat" comes in handy.  Remember that the usual answer to the brain in a vat problem is that if the illusion is so complete that there is no way for humans to pierce it, then for all practical purposes, the illusion is real.

The same applies to humans with regard to free will.  Our perception is limited to the appearance of choices.  We are incapable of perceiving ourselves as not choosing, so the illusion is essentially complete.

If it helps you to think of it in a different way, consider the following two statements, both of which are true:

1) My chair is made almost entirely of empty space.

2) My chair is a solid object.

Both statements are true, despite being apparently paradoxical.  The reason "My chair is a solid object" is true is that I cannot help but perceive it at the level of human perception.  I am incapable of perceiving it on a quantum level.  The illusion of solidity is complete for me, and therefore, the illusion is pragmatically real.

So, I can understand intellectually that determinism is real.  Yet, I cannot help but perceive the complete illusion that I am making choices, so at the same time, I perceive free will.

 

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Thanks Hamby.  I just

Thanks Hamby.  I just looked through my e-mails and Turek's rephrased argument is that there is no rationality if we are just a product of evolution.  However I personally don't feel like realizing our flaws (if you even want to call it that) is a reason to just throw in the towel.

This might sound weird but I'm wondering if anyone else is a bit disappointed to realize we have less control over our lives than we perceive we do?


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Quote:I just looked through

Quote:
I just looked through my e-mails and Turek's rephrased argument is that there is no rationality if we are just a product of evolution.

Well, that's just horse shit.

Logic is the codification of the way we think.  Nothing more.  We think the way we do because rationality, in most cases, survives better than irrationality.  Suppose there is a rodent gathering food on a plain.  A shadow passes overhead.  Logically, the best thing to do is run as fast as possible to the nearest shelter.  Whether it's an owl overhead or not, quick retreat is the most logical course.  Rodents who retreat consistently are going to survive better than those who don't.  Evolution chooses the most rational creatures, whether they are aware of their rationality or not.

As I elucidated in my essay, sentience isn't really an on/off switch, and the philosophical divide isn't particularly important.  Consciousness developed very gradually, just like every other thing about... well.. everything.  As we began developing the ability to think abstractly, and to use language and symbols, evolution did just what it always does.  It favored creatures that, whether conscious or not, followed the most rational course most of the time.  Why would we think that as consciousness evolved, rationality would somehow disappear?  That would be very surprising indeed!  Why would evolution suddenly dispense with rationality?

I think the problem your interlocutor may be having is in the realization that simple math produces rationality.  That is, evolution, as a purely mathematical and non-conscious process, produces creatures that behave rationally.  It helps to try to imagine the opposite.  Try to imagine a system by which evolution could produce creatures which consistently make decisions that don't make any sense at all.

Quote:
However I personally don't feel like realizing our flaws (if you even want to call it that) is a reason to just throw in the towel.

Calling it a flaw is giving more respect to theist dogma than is necessary.

Quote:
This might sound weird but I'm wondering if anyone else is a bit disappointed to realize we have less control over our lives than we perceive we do?

Nah.  Again, we function as if free will is true, and for the most part, we have the power to change our lives in ways that will make them better.  Think about it.  Evolution wouldn't have favored creatures that weren't out to improve their own lot in life.  Whether it's deterministic or not, when we get the chance to go to a four star restaurant, we perceive the choice as real, and feel damn good about ourselves as we descend into an orgiastic mastication festival.

 

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Freewill?    I didn't

Freewill?    I didn't decide to be born, nor to pass on .... but while alive no master knows what I may decide. Free will philosophy seems pretty worthless. Am I missing something?


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I AM GOD AS YOU

I AM GOD AS YOU wrote:

Freewill?    I didn't decide to be born, nor to pass on .... but while alive no master knows what I may decide. Free will philosophy seems pretty worthless. Am I missing something?

Nahh. You didn't miss anything. We're still having freethought defined for us by people incapable of experiencing it.

Who is the more free: The person who must have a god or the one who has no need for one?

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Hambydammit wrote:Quote:I

Hambydammit wrote:

Quote:
I just looked through my e-mails and Turek's rephrased argument is that there is no rationality if we are just a product of evolution.

Well, that's just horse shit.

No kidding.

Hambydammit wrote:
Logic is the codification of the way we think.  Nothing more.  We think the way we do because rationality, in most cases, survives better than irrationality [...]  Evolution chooses the most rational creatures, whether they are aware of their rationality or not.

I like this stretch of the word "rational". It's closer to how economists use it, like in the phrase "rational self-interest", but actually contains more information. The implication there is that rational creatures are successful. Also that fear itself is rational because its development comes from the drive to survive. It's an interesting take. But I think it only really applies to humans.

We developed rational behaviour most likely as a result of some pressure on our population, that much is certain. But to say that rational behaviour (that is, behaviour that results from a rational process) is the norm might be a stretch. The norm for creatures in general is following instincts that are "rational" in the sense that they're successful to a high degree of probability, but that can't be compared to the success of humanity's rationality. Despite the fact that the average person also runs largely on irrational behaviour, humanity as a whole has managed to produce engineering, medical science, and the bicycle. That, surely, gives us a monopoly on the use of the word "rational" above all other creatures. 

Hambydammit wrote:
[The evolutionary process] favored creatures that, whether conscious or not, followed the most rational course most of the time.

That's certainly the process that happened to US, but I don't know if you can include squirrels or ants in that statement. A human mind in the position of the aforementioned squirrel or ant might be able to employ a rational process, and not wander in a semi-random pattern to find something.

Hambydammit wrote:

Quote:
This might sound weird but I'm wondering if anyone else is a bit disappointed to realize we have less control over our lives than we perceive we do?

Nah.  Again, we function as if free will is true, and for the most part, we have the power to change our lives in ways that will make them better. 

I second that. People are ALWAYS surprised to find out they have less control over their lives than they actually do. Especially if they've been brought up in post-world-war-two North America, where you can be and do anything you want (and remember, kids, buy our shit).

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     If this is true

 

 

 

 

 

If this is true for atheists:

You are obliged to believe that you are nothing more than a machine, freewill is illusion, and your mind is a mere epiphenomenon, a dead-end byproduct of the chain of cause and effect. 

then this must be true for theists:

You are obliged to believe that you are nothing more than a machine, freewill is illusion, and your mind is a mere epiphenomenon, a dead-end byproduct of the chain of events initiated by the creation.

 

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HisWillness wrote:(and

HisWillness wrote:

(and remember, kids, buy our shit).

There was a question about this on Good News Week (Australian TV -- Current Affairs with side of a Comic Game Show)...

Source

Peter Gosnell wrote:

VERY wealthy prophet of fiscal woe Marc Faber wrote recently in one of his uplifting Boom, Gloom and Doom reports of the difficulties of saving America's economy when everything worth buying comes from overseas.

"The Federal Government is sending each of us a $US600 rebate.

"If we spend that money at Wal-Mart, the money goes to China. If we spend it on gasoline, it goes to the Arabs.

"If we buy a computer it will go to India.

"If we purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

"If we purchase a good car it will go to Germany.

"If we purchase useless crap it will go to Taiwan and none of it will help the American economy," he opined.

"The only way to keep that money here at home is to spend it on prostitutes and beer, since these are the only products still produced in US.

"I've been doing my part," he added, a little curiously since Faber spends most of his time in Asia.

Okay so it's not strictly true... in fact it's not even true; actually, the American wholesalers and distributors will reap a considerable share and plunge it directly into high risk mortgage funds where it will disappear into an LHC (Lost/Low-income Housing Crisis) created Black Hole whereupon they will hit the US taxpayer up for a Cayman Island fund to retire on... oh wait...

oops, sorry Shelly I was still in residual take the piss mode from watching GNW; I'd better stop derailing the thread now.

 

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Quote:But I think it only

Quote:
But I think it only really applies to humans.

I'm guessing you're not quite understanding the extent of my argument, then.  I'll try to explain in a sec.

Quote:
We developed rational behaviour most likely as a result of some pressure on our population, that much is certain. But to say that rational behaviour (that is, behaviour that results from a rational process) is the norm might be a stretch.

I'm not saying that.  I'm saying that pre-conscious behavior is selected for rationality.  That is, the paramecium that moves toward food sources rather than away from them will survive better.  It has no rational mental processes, yet it behaves rationally.

As we move up the chain of brain size and complexity, we move closer and closer to conscious rational thought.  (I would argue here that apes, chimps, dolphins, and parrots have all shown the ability to use rudimentary abstract logic, so it's not just humans that can do it.)  It would be a staggeringly improbable event for conscious thought to develop without rationality.

Quote:
The norm for creatures in general is following instincts that are "rational" in the sense that they're successful to a high degree of probability, but that can't be compared to the success of humanity's rationality.

Why not?

Quote:
Despite the fact that the average person also runs largely on irrational behaviour

I stringently disagree.  I submit that 99% of all the actions you've performed in the last week have been essentially rational, as have those of virtually every human alive.  When was the last time you tried to eat through your nose?  Dunked your head in the toilet when your bowels hurt?  Screamed "NO MOMMY!!! I DON'T WANT THE ANAL PROBE!!!" when asked whether you'd like fries with your burger?

I think what you're trying to say is that in a post-industrial society that is vastly different from our evolutionary environment, we often fail to make the most rational decision.  This doesn't mean we're mostly irrational.  It means we are not perfectly rational.

Quote:
That's certainly the process that happened to US, but I don't know if you can include squirrels or ants in that statement. A human mind in the position of the aforementioned squirrel or ant might be able to employ a rational process, and not wander in a semi-random pattern to find something.

I really think you're reading too much into this.  Conscious rationality is rather superfluous.  If you pretend like all the things we think are important aren't important and look at humans from about a mile up, we look an awful lot like ants.

Quote:
I second that. People are ALWAYS surprised to find out they have less control over their lives than they actually do. Especially if they've been brought up in post-world-war-two North America, where you can be and do anything you want (and remember, kids, buy our shit).

If I ever get around to my third career, I'm going to be a confidence man.

 

 

 

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Hambydammit wrote:  When

Hambydammit wrote:

  When was the last time you tried to eat through your nose?  Dunked your head in the toilet when your bowels hurt?  Screamed "NO MOMMY!!! I DON'T WANT THE ANAL PROBE!!!" when asked whether you'd like fries with your burger?

 

Funniest thing I've read this week at least!

 

 

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Eloise wrote:Okay so it's

Eloise wrote:
Okay so it's not strictly true... in fact it's not even true; actually, the American wholesalers and distributors will reap a considerable share and plunge it directly into high risk mortgage funds where it will disappear into an LHC (Lost/Low-income Housing Crisis) created Black Hole whereupon they will hit the US taxpayer up for a Cayman Island fund to retire on... oh wait...

OMFG!  Lost/Low-income Housing Crisis, LHC?  Large Hadron Collider, LHC?  This whole financial crisis was just a conspiracy by the scientists to create a black hole via one means or another!  First they caused two world wars and the holocost (according to ben stein) and now this!  WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!! *adjusts tin-foil hat*

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Quote:Nah.  Again, we

Quote:
Nah.  Again, we function as if free will is true, and for the most part, we have the power to change our lives in ways that will make them better.  Think about it.  Evolution wouldn't have favored creatures that weren't out to improve their own lot in life.  Whether it's deterministic or not, when we get the chance to go to a four star restaurant, we perceive the choice as real, and feel damn good about ourselves as we descend into an orgiastic mastication festival.

I care to interject here, largely because I know that a theist is going to read this and immediately leap to, "Ha! See! The atheists think they know everything / believe in fate / think we are all pre-programmed zombies / *insert bogus argument here* "

 

Theists, none of the above are true. Please check this baggage at the door.

 

What Hamby's essay (which I know you didn't bother reading) is pointing-out is the chain of causation, and how your 'Free Will!' argument gets it ass-backward. Our genes built us in order to survive at least long enough to pass them along, and to do said passing along; our decisions and our perspective both happen within this framework.

Nobody is saying you're not free to do as you wish (...Well, not in this particular thread... Sticking out tongue ) - what's being said is that it's impossible to make a decision that isn't inherently somehow a human decision, because existing as a human being is all you, or any other human being, has ever known. If you think that's somehow a 'limitation', you're being absurd; it's like arguing that any matter is 'all the same' just because it's all made out of atoms.

It's a huge mistake to see our ordered universe as anything other than a tremendous boon; a completely chaotic and unpredictable entity would be worthless to study, given that it would have no static principles or attributes to judge anything else by.

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Thanks, KB.Just to put an

Thanks, KB.

Just to put an even finer point on it, think of a gigantic super-computer that could contain absolutely every bit of relevant data pertinent to a decision you're going to make.  We must realize that this computer is the stuff of fantasy, for the amount of information would surely be more than could be held by all the computers ever made on earth, with only a small fraction of the data being accounted for.  It's staggering to think of how many bits of data would be required for such a task.  Even with modern miniaturization, the computer would likely be continent-sized, and this would be just to make one human decision.

Even so, let's imagine such a computer.  It would know absolutely every single detail of your entire life, right down to the moment of conception.  It would have a complete and 100% accurate knowledge of every piece of your DNA, and would know with 100% accuracy each and every chemical reaction that had ever taken place in your body.  (When you consider that we have trillions of cells, each of which engages in virtually constant activity, you realize just how staggering this amount of data is.)  Furthermore, it would know each and every perception you had ever had, through all of your senses.  It would know the exact way your brain is built, and thus, exactly how each neuron would fire, and exactly how this firing would manifest in your consciousness.

If such a computer was to exist, and we asked it to predict your "choice" when asked if you prefer fish or chicken for lunch, it ought to be able to get it right 100% of the time.  That's because you're just as much a product of the laws of survival of the stable and survival of the most able to survive as anything else in the universe.  (Seriously.  Read the essay, dammit!)

If we accept this as true, it's impossible not to be a determinist in one sense of the word.  The thing is, there is no such computer, and it's rather naive to suppose there ever could be.  Even if such a powerful computer could be built, the logistics of feeding it 100% accurate and complete data about a human would be insurmountable.  The fact is, nobody will ever be able to predict human behavior with 100% accuracy.

What you're going to do in ten minutes is somewhat predictable in many cases, but there are so many unpredictable forces in the universe that there will always be a sense of uncertainty.  More importantly, humans are incapable of not making choices.  We are also incapable of not thinking of them as choices.  Determinism is an exercise in philosophy, not a viable way of life.  Like a brain in a vat, we are totally immersed in our own awareness, which cannot help but recognize choice as a moment of decision in time, and we cannot help but see ourselves as the agents of these changes.

 

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Hambydammit wrote:Quote:We

Hambydammit wrote:

Quote:
We developed rational behaviour most likely as a result of some pressure on our population, that much is certain. But to say that rational behaviour (that is, behaviour that results from a rational process) is the norm might be a stretch.

I'm not saying that.  I'm saying that pre-conscious behavior is selected for rationality.  That is, the paramecium that moves toward food sources rather than away from them will survive better.  It has no rational mental processes, yet it behaves rationally.

So you are using the word "rational" here to mean "in its best interests". I know that's the norm with economic thought, but I wasn't sure if that meaning held in biology. In that definition of "rational", though, even what is usually called "irrational" behaviour is, itself, rational. That is, it has been selected. That's why I'm confused at your definition of "rational".

Hambydammit wrote:
As we move up the chain of brain size and complexity, we move closer and closer to conscious rational thought.  (I would argue here that apes, chimps, dolphins, and parrots have all shown the ability to use rudimentary abstract logic, so it's not just humans that can do it.)

A dolphin cannot and does not manipulate its environment to the same extent that a human being may. A dolphin has never been seen to design and implement a power tool much less a more complicated piece of electronic equipment. There is a gigantic difference in behaviour between human beings and chimps, despite their genetic proximity to us. 

Hambydammit wrote:
Quote:
The norm for creatures in general is following instincts that are "rational" in the sense that they're successful to a high degree of probability, but that can't be compared to the success of humanity's rationality.

Why not?

Even if we settle on your definition of "rational" as meaning "previously selected", humanity has had unprecedented success at manipulating its environment to the point where we actually engage in artificial selection of each other and other creatures. And on a mass scale! Sharks may bite a couple of us here and there, but we're wiping them out.

Hambydammit wrote:
I submit that 99% of all the actions you've performed in the last week have been essentially rational, as have those of virtually every human alive.  When was the last time you tried to eat through your nose?

But now we're defining rational as success in a different environment. At least provided that your goal is not to amuse people by eating through your nose. Tom Green would be rational in that context, as his goal is (was?) to be outlandish, and he is often successful, leading to sexual selection by the likes of Drew Barrymore.

Hambydammit wrote:
I think what you're trying to say is that in a post-industrial society that is vastly different from our evolutionary environment, we often fail to make the most rational decision.  This doesn't mean we're mostly irrational.  It means we are not perfectly rational.

No, what I'm trying to say is that you're equating "rational" with "good" or "successful", despite the fact that "rational" usually means "based on or in accordance with reason or logic". Superstition is a behaviour that has been very successful, but is not necessarily in accordance with reason. I understand that logic and reason have lead to our hypersuccess as a species, but it seems odd to equate selective success with rationality.

It's my contention that the above example of the paramecium doesn't describe a rational process, so there's no reason to call it rational. It may be successful (the paramecia that eat survive, after all) but that wasn't a rational decision on the part of a paramecium to eat.

Hambydammit wrote:
I really think you're reading too much into this.  Conscious rationality is rather superfluous.  If you pretend like all the things we think are important aren't important and look at humans from about a mile up, we look an awful lot like ants.

Ants who can launch a rocket right past you at a mile up. Conscious rationality has a clearly demonstrable effect on our capacity to organize. While you could view it as "rather superfluous" if you wanted, the difference between human beings and ants regardless of what we find important is our ability to process our environment. We can record our thoughts, for crying out loud! Even as a superfluous behaviour, it's clear that it's an unprecedented behaviour. Instead of bungling our way through several million designs of a rocket, we can design just the one pretty good one awfully fast, and we do these things based on mathematics, logic and reason. The ant does what has been successful for millions of years, and would not be able to employ logic or reason to change its behaviour.

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 Quote:No, what I'm trying

 

Quote:
No, what I'm trying to say is that you're equating "rational" with "good" or "successful", despite the fact that "rational" usually means "based on or in accordance with reason or logic". 

AHA!

I see the problem.  I mean "rational towards the end of good or successful."  The difference is slight, but important.  Humans have learned to be rational towards ends that are not always good or successful because we've learned to think in the abstract so well that we can fuck ourselves up.  We can also artificially manipulate DNA and so forth.

The broad point I'm trying to make is that it should be no surprise that abstract thought, once evolved, would develop a system of quantifying and codifying logic.  Everything in nature functions rationally towards the end of "good" and "successful" (and yes, I know we can quibble over "good."  I think you know what I mean.)  The point is, when humans became able to decide what is good and successful, rather than move towards it blindly, it should be no surprise that they figured out how to do it rationally.

I'm also trying to say that with all its bells and whistles, abstract logic has given humans a lot of things that humans think are really important, but we're not doing anything qualitatively different from any other animal.  We're different from ants by a huge degree, but not in kind.  Just possessing the capability of abstract thought is not particularly interesting when we recognize it as just another adaptation.  Ants have six legs.  Humans only have two.  Dolphins have echolocation.  Humans don't.  (Yes, I know we can find walls with echolocation.)

Remember, animals have been hunting other animals to extinction since before humans came along.  They've been ruining their habitats.  They've been over-multiplying.  Everything humans are doing is just being done on a much grander scale.

If you think about it, natural selection through competition is artificial selection.  When a tree mutates and proliferates because its leaves are higher off the ground, it's responding to selection from the giraffe.  The giraffe responds to selection by the tree and grows a longer neck.  They are selecting each other.  Human selection is conscious, and that's interesting to be sure, but it isn't really all that different.  Like any other animal, we are molding our environment through our actions.  We just happen to be conscious of what we're doing.

 

 

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Quote:A dolphin cannot and

Quote:
A dolphin cannot and does not manipulate its environment to the same extent that a human being may. A dolphin has never been seen to design and implement a power tool much less a more complicated piece of electronic equipment. There is a gigantic difference in behaviour between human beings and chimps, despite their genetic proximity to us.

Well, to be fair...

Opposable thumbs.

 

We're the only species we know of that has these magnificent things, so it follows that we're the only ones who can build anything. Birds, dolphins and chimps certainly to appear to have at least some capability to abstract on a relatively complex level - but they don't have the biological tools for manufacturing things.

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- Leon Trotsky, Last Will & Testament
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Yes there is a big

Yes there is a big difference in human society now and chimp groups in the jungle, but many studies suggest there is certainly not a 'gigantic' difference in many attributes of the mind and behaviour. It doesn't take major differences to cross some critical threshold and allow rapid divergence in some aspect, which is pretty much what seems to have happened here. Its like how a few percent difference in our genome has lead to the significant physical and mental difference with chimps.

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BobSpence1 wrote:Yes there

BobSpence1 wrote:
Yes there is a big difference in human society now and chimp groups in the jungle, but many studies suggest there is certainly not a 'gigantic' difference in many attributes of the mind and behaviour. It doesn't take major differences to cross some critical threshold and allow rapid divergence in some aspect, which is pretty much what seems to have happened here. Its like how a few percent difference in our genome has lead to the significant physical and mental difference with chimps.

I recently saw a segment on a study done to determine the main thing seperating the minds of humans and chimps.  We both have empathy and emotional attachments, memory, we both use tools, we both have opposable thumbs, we both teach our young etc.  What they found was that humans are more adept at intuition.  We can look at a problem and figure out what will and won't work intuitively before we actually take action.

The way they found this was by numerous puzzles designed to test various aspects of our minds.  One of them was a puzzle where the goal was to get a piece of food.  The most direct route to the food also left it out of reach, but by going around the obstacle by first reaching to the side of the obstacle (rather than through the center of it) it could be reached.  Chimps (I'm using this term genericaly, I'm not certain whether it was ape, chimp, or some other species - which ever is generally considered the closest to us evolutionarily) had to be shown numerous times before they reached for the food the correct way.  When taken away from the puzzle for an amount of time and then put in front of it again, they'd go back to the incorrect way.

Now, I don't know how thorough this study was.  As I said, it was just a segment in another show (I can't even recall what show it was).

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deludedgod
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Quote:the impression I get

Quote:

the impression I get from most scientists/scientific texts I've encountered--many of them seem to pride themselves in being incomprehensible to "regular folks".  I don't dig that sort of elitism.

Don't be ridiculous. Most scientific texts are written for scientists. The bulk of scientific texts are either textbooks or journals. I don't think that when the authors of these journal articles or (especially) textbooks are writing them, they are thinking "how do we make this as incomprehensible as possible to most people"? I think they are thinking "How do we communicate to our audience of undergraduate/graduate/professional scientists"? The fact that such material is incomprehensible to most people is because you have to crawl before you can walk. You won't be able to pick up a journal article on the evolution of quantum systems without being able to solve basic problems of linear algebra and vector calculus. This requires hard work, not a decoder ring and a super-secret password.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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Hambydammit

Hambydammit wrote:

 

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No, what I'm trying to say is that you're equating "rational" with "good" or "successful", despite the fact that "rational" usually means "based on or in accordance with reason or logic". 

AHA!

I see the problem.  I mean "rational towards the end of good or successful."  The difference is slight, but important.  Humans have learned to be rational towards ends that are not always good or successful because we've learned to think in the abstract so well that we can fuck ourselves up.  We can also artificially manipulate DNA and so forth.

I figured we agreed, and we were just quibbling over terms. That seems to be the norm. I say "polenta", you say "grits". 

Hambydammit wrote:
The broad point I'm trying to make is that it should be no surprise that abstract thought, once evolved, would develop a system of quantifying and codifying logic.

Absolutely. The only way we have to justify our esteem for logic is that it works! It works in effecting our immediate environment, and irrefutably so.

Hambydammit wrote:
Remember, animals have been hunting other animals to extinction since before humans came along.  They've been ruining their habitats.  They've been over-multiplying.  Everything humans are doing is just being done on a much grander scale.

A much grander scale. I think the only species that we aren't threatening come from domesticated animals, insects and bacteria. As an aside, we've selected for cleverness: crows, for example:

 

Hambydammit wrote:
Like any other animal, we are molding our environment through our actions.  We just happen to be conscious of what we're doing.

Which is exactly what I'm saying. Other creatures may coincidentally produce rational behaviour, but we do so consciously.

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deludedgod wrote:Quote:the

deludedgod wrote:

Quote:

the impression I get from most scientists/scientific texts I've encountered--many of them seem to pride themselves in being incomprehensible to "regular folks".  I don't dig that sort of elitism.

Don't be ridiculous. Most scientific texts are written for scientists. [...] This requires hard work, not a decoder ring and a super-secret password.

As brief as my scientific education was (I did two years of physics before realizing that I would be better suited to other things) it taught me - more than anything else - the concerted effort that science requires. Not just in an educational setting, but more so in the application of the scientific method. The amount of time, energy and sacrifice it takes is huge.

To echo Sam Harris's statements from earlier this year, we don't tell Lance Armstrong that he's an "elitist" for winning the Tour de France. We don't tell Curtis Joseph to let some pucks in the net once and a while so he doesn't make the opposing team feel bad about their skills. The whole freaking Olympic Games is about finding the elite, and they have to work.

Yes, to get to a level of understanding where you're in the game of competing ideas is becoming part of an elite. Even just being a spectator requires a certain amount of "elite" knowledge. But not that much. Once you understand the game, it's not difficult to watch rugby, for instance, and understand what's happening. It is at first, but that's because you don't know what's going on. That's not a matter of elitism.

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deludedgod wrote:Quote:the

deludedgod wrote:

Quote:

the impression I get from most scientists/scientific texts I've encountered--many of them seem to pride themselves in being incomprehensible to "regular folks".  I don't dig that sort of elitism.

Don't be ridiculous. Most scientific texts are written for scientists. The bulk of scientific texts are either textbooks or journals. I don't think that when the authors of these journal articles or (especially) textbooks are writing them, they are thinking "how do we make this as incomprehensible as possible to most people"? I think they are thinking "How do we communicate to our audience of undergraduate/graduate/professional scientists"? The fact that such material is incomprehensible to most people is because you have to crawl before you can walk. You won't be able to pick up a journal article on the evolution of quantum systems without being able to solve basic problems of linear algebra and vector calculus. This requires hard work, not a decoder ring and a super-secret password.

 

And a lot of patient friends.

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