I have often commented that it is the arguments of theistic evolutionists, as opposed to those offered by Creationists, that have convinced me that evolution and Christianity can not be reconciled in any reasonable way. A good case in point is Francisco Ayala.

Via Ed Brayton I came across this profile of Ayala from Tuesday’s New York Times. In it we find items such as this:

Dr. Ayala, a former Dominican priest, said he told his audiences not just that evolution is a well-corroborated scientific theory, but also that belief in evolution does not rule out belief in God. In fact, he said, evolution “is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design. If God has designed organisms, he has a lot to account for.”

Consider, he said, that at least 20 percent of pregnancies are known to end in spontaneous abortion. If that results from divinely inspired anatomy, Dr. Ayala said, “God is the greatest abortionist of them all.”

Or consider, he said, the “sadism” in parasites that live by devouring their hosts, or the mating habits of insects like female midges, tiny flies that fertilize their eggs by consuming their mates’ genitals, along with all their other parts.

So far, so good. I’m assuming that a “personal” God refers to an omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity. It is certainly true that ID, in the form proposed by the Dembski/Behe crowd, really ratchets up the problem of evil. Behe, in a rare fit of intellectual honesty, admitted this forthrightly in The Edge of Evolution. If you have God constantly intervening to tinker with his creations, a flagellum here a blood clotting cascade there, then all of the nastiness and cruelty of nature is placed right at his feet.

But how does evolution solve the problem?

For the midges, Dr. Ayala said, “it makes evolutionary sense. If you are a male and you have mated, the best thing you can do for your genes is to be eaten.” But if God or some other intelligent agent made things this way on purpose, he said, “then he is a sadist, he certainly does odd things and he is a lousy engineer.”

That is also the message of his latest book, “Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion” (Joseph Henry Press, 2007). In it, he writes that as a theology student in Spain he had been taught that evolution “provided the ‘missing link’ in the explanation of evil in the world” — a defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence, despite the existence of evil.

“As floods and drought were a necessary consequence of the fabric of the physical world, predators and parasites, dysfunctions and diseases were a consequence of the evolution of life,””he writes. “They were not a result of a deficient or malevolent design.”

I think it is highly debatable whether floods and drought are a necessary consequence of the fabric of the physical world. (Note that necessary has to mean logically necessary if this is to serve as a resolution to the problem of evil.) Leaving that aside, how does recognizing awfulness like “predators and parasites, dysfunctions and diseases” as inevitable consequences of evolution somehow absolve God of responsibility?

God, after all, set the evolutionary process in motion. It was He who decided that the appropriate way to create a species with human-like intelligence was several billion years of evolution by natural selection (helped along by numerous mass extinctions, we should add). If we find it unlikely that a benevolent God would directly create parasites and the rest, why should we find it likely that God would set in motion a process that has parasites as a near-inevitable consequence?

The only way out of this is to argue that in some way God was logically compelled to create through evolution. He grieves regularly over the general awfulness of nature, but accepts it as the price He had to pay to achieve His goals. Ken Miller takes some steps in that direction in Finding Darwin’s God. He writes:

Clearly, many people look at the string of historical contingencies leading to our species as something that diminishes the special nature of humankind. What they fail to appreciate is that the alternative, a strictly determined chain of events in which our emergence was preordained, would require a strictly determinant physical world. In such a place, all events would have predictable outcomes, and the future would be open neither to chance nor independent human action. A world in which we would always evolve is also a world in which we would never be free. (pp. 273)

I’m sorry, but isn’t that paragraph just obvious nonsense? Strict determinism is hardly the necessary consequence of human inevitability. A human baby is the inevitable result of purely material processes playing out during the nine months of pregnancy, but that baby eventually grows up and becomes a free and independent person. God could simply have brought us into existence instantaneously, and then, His creation finished, could have granted us the freedom to explore our world at will.

I find it interesting that Miller’s fellow theistic evolutionist Simon Conway-Morris bases his theological views on precisely the opposite premise. From the preface of his book Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe:

Contrary to popular belief, the science of evolution does not belittle us. As I argue, something like ourselves is an evolutionary inevitability, and our existence also reaffirms our one-ness with the rest of Creation. Nevertheless, the free will we are given allows us to make a choice. Of course, it might all be a glorious accident; but alternatively perhaps now is the time to take some of the implications of evolution and the world in which we find ourselves a little more seriously.

Well, which is it?

Unless Ayala can explain why God felt compelled to create through evolution by natural selection, I’m afraid he has done nothing to resolve the problem of evil.

People like Ayala, Miller and Conway Morris are surely among the best theistic evolution has to offer, yet their arguments represent the crassest sort of desperation and special pleading. Ayala’s argument for why evolution resolves the problem of evil is afflicted with obvious holes. (Lest you think that the Times article was too short for him to develop his argument seriously, let me assure you this is not the case. I have read his book, and he does not provide any additional illumination there.) Miller’s argument is based on an obviously false premise, and even taken it at face value does not explain why Darwinian evolution specifically had to be the mechanism through which God created. Conway Morris’ argument is almost certainly false biologically, but even leaving that aside it leaves us in no better position theologically than the ID folks. If we can not explain why God directly creates nasty creatures, we also can not explain why he sets in motion a process that inevitably leads to nasty creatures.

Why are such intelligent people willing to tie themselves into these knots? Why not simply acknowledge the more likely branch of Conway Morris’ dichotomy? The reason the relentless march of science seems so constantly to menace religion is that we are, indeed, just a glorious accident?

Comments

  1. #1 The Flying Trilobite
    May 1, 2008

    Insightful, Jason!

    Dang, I had trouble even writing a response to this. When I was a kid playing with Hot Wheels, I often had trouble getting them to successfully jump from one track to the other. I think I’d have to practice doing the same jumps and loopdey-loops just to follow how exactly the being responsible for everything could still not be responsible for evil or suffering, even though he’s responsible. But not.

  2. #2 TomJoe
    May 1, 2008

    … over the general awfulness of nature …

    I assume you’re not using “awful” to mean “inspiring awe”. To which I suppose: One man’s awfulness is another man’s elegance.

  3. #3 386sx
    May 1, 2008

    Why are such intelligent people willing to tie themselves into these knots?

    I dunno. What are they even arguing about? They don’t even have a starting point from which to argue do they?

    Do they have conversations with their god or something? Otherwise, how would they even have a clue? Even if they do talk to their god, how do they know it’s telling them the truth?

  4. #4 miller
    May 1, 2008

    I disagree, in part. If evolution cannot be reconciled with religion in any reasonable way, it’s because the problem of evil cannot be reconciled in any reasonable way. Evolution by itself doesn’t present any additional problems, no more than it presents additional solutions.

  5. #5 386sx
    May 1, 2008

    Surely these guys must be having converstions witht heir god, right? Otherwise why would they sound like they know what they’re talking about? Good luck getting them to admit that though. At least fundamentalists will admit that they’re having chat sessions their god all the time!

  6. #6 john-riley harper
    May 1, 2008

    Miller: I think that is what Jason is saying: the theistic scientists have not found any reconciliation in evolution. They are back to square one. Religion, once again, simply pushes the question back a step and announces it has figured something out and that things make sense.

  7. #7 Ed Darrell
    May 1, 2008

    I’m not sure why you think Miller’s view is at odds with Conway-Morris’s view.

    And theologically, evolution fits nicely. The story of Jesus is the story of the greatest of people, the king of kings, being born neglected, in a stable. From the humblest of beginnings, great things come, in other words.

    How does evolution differ?

    Don’t get hung up the way creationists do, assuming scripture must somehow explain exactly, scientifically, how life originated. That’s not what scripture is for.

  8. #8 386sx
    May 2, 2008

    And theologically, evolution fits nicely.

    Of coarse it does because you want it to. Theologically creationism fits nicely too. The story of Jesus is the story of the greatest of people, the king of kings, being created “poof” in Mary’s womb.

    If theologically evolution fits nicely, then what took the theologians so long. Theologically whatever you want fits nicely with whatevah.

    I don’t think being visited by three wise men and having the angels in the heavens blowing trumpets sounds like “being born neglected”.

    Soon as science discovers something else, then theologically that’s going to fit nicely too. Unless you don’t want it to. Then it won’t.

    Don’t get hung up the way creationists do, assuming scripture must somehow explain exactly, scientifically, how life originated. That’s not what scripture is for.

    Okay thanks.

  9. #9 caynazzo
    May 2, 2008

    “And theologically, evolution fits nicely. The story of Jesus is the story of the greatest of people, the king of kings, being born neglected, in a stable. From the humblest of beginnings, great things come, in other words.”

    Ed, what’s going on here with this graph? It’s a string of non sequiturs. What are you getting at?

  10. #10 386sx
    May 2, 2008

    8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

    14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

    Theologically that doesn’t sound like being born neglected. I’m sorry.

    Boy those shepherds must have really been scared there for a minute what with the glory of the Lord shone round about them and whatnot!

  11. #11 386sx
    May 2, 2008

    Don’t get hung up the way creationists do, assuming scripture must somehow explain exactly, scientifically, how life originated. That’s not what scripture is for.

    Mr. Darrell, why is it that it is science that determines what scripture is for, but religion is utterly irrelevant in that regard? Why is that?

  12. #12 Pseudonym
    May 2, 2008

    386sx:

    Mr. Darrell, why is it that it is science that determines what scripture is for, but religion is utterly irrelevant in that regard? Why is that?

    I’m not Ed, but this is just a silly comment. You don’t need science to tell you that large parts of the Bible are historically understood to be non-literal, since later authors quote earlier bits non-literally.

    (Disclaimer: I’m insufficiently familiar with the sacred texts of other religions to know if this argument is more generally applicable or not.)

  13. #13 snafu
    May 2, 2008

    Spot on, as usual. Quit that book Jason, and get some more blogging done.

    Worth mentioning that Ayala invokes NOMA:

    “Science and religion concern nonoverlapping realms of knowledge…”

    As has been said so many times, what a load of nonsense. The day religion restricts itself to purely metaphysical claims is the day we all have nothing to say any more. As Ayala / Miller are at the Catholic end of the spectrum (and it’s my area of expertise), let’s list a few:

    1. God actually works miracles in this world. Today. Shame no-one seems able to release well-documented evidence thereof.

    2. Prayers and petitions to saints achieve something.

    3. If a loving husband and wife with 5 children have sex using a condom (in order to prevent the burden on their family of another child), it’s a gravely immoral act.

    I could go on.

  14. #14 royniles
    May 2, 2008

    Gods were invented by previously evolved humans (and maybe even sensed by an ape or two) to explain and control the good and evil “forces” which had previously been conceived of by those same humans (and perhaps sensed by an ape as well) to describe what appeared to be the purposeful vagaries of an otherwise godless nature. You might then say that evolution created the gods, making it rather difficult for that evolution to have been the tool of its own invention.

  15. #15 Wes
    May 2, 2008

    And theologically, evolution fits nicely. The story of Jesus is the story of the greatest of people, the king of kings, being born neglected, in a stable. From the humblest of beginnings, great things come, in other words.

    How does evolution differ?

    That’s a grossly oversimplified christology, and an even more grossly oversimplified view of evolution. I could easily “reconcile” any fictional story to any scientific theory if I were permitted to water each down to the point where they can be summed up in a single vague platitude.

    “Theologically, plate tectonics fits nicely. The Eqyptian book of the Dead has the Sun god Amon-Ra rising and falling, rising and falling, and giving forth fire and heat.

    How does plate tectonics differ?”

    “Theologically, the germ theory of disease fits nicely. Leprechauns are tiny, mischievous beings who can do incredible things.

    How do germs differ?”

    “Theologically, quantum mechanics fits nicely. In Ghostbusters, the ghosts pop in and out of existence unpredictably, and can only be detected and controlled by being blasted with light.

    How does quantum mechanics differ?”

  16. #16 386sx
    May 2, 2008

    I’m not Ed, but this is just a silly comment. You don’t need science to tell you that large parts of the Bible are historically understood to be non-literal, since later authors quote earlier bits non-literally.

    Yeah but large parts of the Bible were historically understood to be literal too, but now they ain’t. The “religious method” is useless for determining which parts are literal and which parts aren’t. If something was understood to be non-literal then it must have been something obviously non-literal. No religion necessary for determining the obvious, homie!

    Did the later authors of the Bible quote the earlier bits about the flood or the creation story or the exodus non-literally after having determined the stories were non-literal via the wonderfully accurate religious methodology? I don’t think so dude!

  17. #17 386sx
    May 2, 2008

    I wish the author(s) of the creation story had let us know if they “historically understood” the creation story to be non-literal. That would probably help a lot. Thanks a lot!

  18. #18 Russell Blackford
    May 2, 2008

    Some discussion here as well: http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2008/02/ayalas-darwins-gift.html

    And I have a review of his book coming out in Cosmos magazine; however, that probably won’t be on the internet for a considerable time.

  19. #19 386sx
    May 2, 2008

    I wish the author(s) of the creation story had let us know if they “historically understood” the creation story to be non-literal. That would probably help a lot. Thanks a lot!

    Actually the religious method is extremely helpful for determining that the creation story is indeed meant to be taken very literally. Gee thanks a lot religious method!

  20. #20 Lofcaudio
    May 2, 2008

    I wish the author(s) of the creation story had let us know if they “historically understood” the creation story to be non-literal. That would probably help a lot. Thanks a lot!

    Though your statement is a rhetorical one with no interest in digging at the heart of the matter, you raise a good point which Hugh Ross handles rather well in his book The Genesis Question. I actually find Ross more convincing than Conway-Morris and Miller when it comes to reconciling the Bible with evolution.

  21. #21 Rich Blinne
    May 2, 2008

    You need to understand to whom all those quotes are directed to. It’s to the religious side of the house. First a disclosure. I am one those theistic evolutionists. I have argued on the American Scientific Affiliation list that it’s pointless to argue the theodicies above because all historical theodicies ended up with a bigger problem than they tried to solve. Case in point, Leibniz’ theodicy that this was the best of all possible worlds was brutally satirized in Voltaire’s Candide.

    But, back to my point. What Ayala et al are saying is that contrary to the impression many religious people have evolution is less of a problem than intelligent design to a person of faith. The ID folk have made out evolution to be some atheistic conspiracy when it has not. In order to defend ID, Behe in the Edge of Evolution implies that God is specifically tinkering with the Plasmodium parasite to resist our attempts to eradicate it. (I think one of the reasons why Behe doesn’t specifically identify the intelligent designer to be one and the same God he as a Roman Catholic believes in is because of the implications vis-a-vis theodicy here.) As monstrous as you might think Ayala’s God is that’s even worse and that’s what Ayala and others are trying to communicate to their religious peers.

    Ayala’s mistake in my opinion is trying to specifically identify God’s higher purpose(s) and because of it you have ably dispatched his argument in short order. Not only has theological history shown this to be a fool’s errand it is also highly offensive — and rightly so — to those who are suffering.

  22. #22 386sx
    May 2, 2008

    Though your statement is a rhetorical one with no interest in digging at the heart of the matter, you raise a good point which Hugh Ross handles rather well in his book The Genesis Question.

    Lofcaudio, there is no “digging at the heart of the matter”. People can project whatever intentions they want into the minds of the authors of the creation stories. And so they do. Because they can.

  23. #23 Ed Darrell
    May 2, 2008

    If theologically evolution fits nicely, then what took the theologians so long.

    What? Theologians have noted that creation stories are not literal for the past 5,000 years or so. See the story of Lilith; see the writings of Augustine and Aquinas, among others. What took you so long to notice?

  24. #24 Explicit Atheist
    May 3, 2008

    Posted by: Rich Blinne | May 2, 2008 7:36 PM

    “Ayala’s mistake in my opinion is trying to specifically identify God’s higher purpose(s) and because of it you have ably dispatched his argument in short order. Not only has theological history shown this to be a fool’s errand it is also highly offensive — and rightly so — to those who are suffering.”

    But where, in Jason’s or anyone else’s argument that ably dispatched the higher purpose assertion, is that dependence on their own personal suffering that you are magically pulling out of a cloud somewhere? Aren’t we ably dispatching the higher purpose claim using impersonal, unemotional, facts and logic? Or is acknowledging that too much to ask of a theistic evolutionist?

  25. #25 Explicit Atheist
    May 3, 2008

    Ed Darrell, Lilith is from the Sumerian prologue to the The Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from Ancient Mesopotamia, which has nothing to do with Genesis.

    Aquinas, following the lead of Augustine, argued that the natural sciences serve as a kind of veto in biblical interpretation. Augustine says that if physicists show us that there cannot be physical light without a luminous source then we know that this particular passage does not refer to physical light. The Bible cannot authentically be understood as affirming as true what the natural sciences teach us is false. Yet the same problem remains: Prior to science identifying what must be vetoed, what we now consider non-literal passages from the bible were considered to be literally true, including the passages about the night and day before the sun, etc. Religion itself never veteod biblical interpretation, only science did that, even in the time of Augustine and Aquinas. Today that veto covers all of the Genesis version of the origins of the world but in Aquinas’ time it was just a partial veto.

  26. #26 NP
    May 3, 2008

    The problem of evil has theological answers that have to do with “free will”. This would be quite compatible with a view of evolution as a deistic natural process, and I think that is what Miller is trying to get at.

  27. #27 Explicit Atheist
    May 3, 2008

    Posted by: NP | May 3, 2008 2:12 AM

    ‘The problem of evil has theological answers that have to do with “free will”.’

    As Jason wrote in his article here in response to Miller’s argument “God could simply have brought us into existence instantaneously, and then, His creation finished, could have granted us the freedom to explore our world at will.” How does a need for human “free will” justify evolution with the very long history of chance sequences of events that could have taken very different paths from that which it did and which incorporates predators and prey and parasites and disease and all that, and then there are non-biological, physical natural disasters, etc.? At what point in evolution did humans acquire a “free will” that is unique to humans and absent from other primates, mammals, etc.? I know, its all about faith, that is the fallback, but isn’t invocation of faith here an evasion?

  28. #28 Russell Blackford
    May 3, 2008

    You know, Riche Blinne seems like the kind of sensitive, moderate, liberal theist with whom I have no serious quarrel, if I can judge from this from the one comment that I’ve read. If all theists were like that, there’d be no need for any heat in discussions of religion.

    But I must add that, when I (so often) read or hear religious people say explicitly that they think all attempts at theodicy are failures, I don’t know why they don’t draw the further inference that it is irrational to believe in a God whose ways are justifiable (in the sense that they are the ways of a loving, providential, omnicompetent deity). In other words, why not draw the inference that belief in such a God is contrary to reason, and therefore false, and with it the adherence to any form of religion that involves belief in such a God?

    It’s no big deal: hey, may all the hardline fundamentalists in the world become nice religious liberals of various kinds! That would improve the world greatly.

    But I still don’t get it.

  29. #29 386sx
    May 3, 2008

    What? Theologians have noted that creation stories are not literal for the past 5,000 years or so. See the story of Lilith; see the writings of Augustine and Aquinas, among others. What took you so long to notice?

    Thanks Mr. Darrell I’ll read up on that sometime. Sorry for the wisecracks up there. I get in a hyper mood sometimes. Hope I didn’t offend anybody. Thanks Mr. Darrell!

  30. #30 James Newland
    May 3, 2008

    “At what point in evolution did humans acquire a “free will” that is unique to humans and absent from other primates, mammals, etc.?”

    Humans acquired free will when they were created human by God. God took the dust of the earth (on the evolutionary hypothesis, an animal–some primate–with an animal soul whose body had developed over time into whatever the earliest human form was) and infused it with a human soul (a soul possessing the power of intellection, as opposed to the merely sensitive, animal soul). At that point the species Man came to be. We were no longer of the species Ape or whatever, due to the specific difference of rationality that we now possessed.

    The reason why being created human caused us to have free will is that it is the presence of the intellective soul that makes free will possible, inasmuch as the will is the rational appetite. Objects of desire–of appetite–are apprehended through the senses, a decision is made by the intellect through reasoning to either obtain or not obtain the object, and the will is conformed to that choice. Because we are able to move toward or away from things solely on the basis of conclusions drawn through ratiocination, our choices are not constrained, but free.

    Choice, in the full and proper sense of free choice, is only possible in creatures possessed of intellect (since you don’t believe in God or angels, that would limit it to man). Animals have a natural power of estimation that mimics in some ways the power of rational choice in man, but inasmuch as animals do not reason their “choice” is not free. It is constrained by what you would call “instinct.”

    ————————————————————

    Note that except for the part about how man acquired his free will (which I was obliged to include because that’s what you asked), this is all the product of purely secular, Aristotelian philosophy.

  31. #31 James Newland
    May 4, 2008

    “But I must add that, when I (so often) read or hear religious people say explicitly that they think all attempts at theodicy are failures, I don’t know why they don’t draw the further inference that it is irrational to believe in a God whose ways are justifiable…”

    I understand your bewilderment. It doesn’t seem, as stated, to make much sense. On the other hand, I’ve never heard a believer say that they think all attempts at theodicy are failures absolutely. Maybe that’s because I run with the wrong crowd or something, but what I have heard people say is that they think it’s a waste of time to try to use such arguments to convince hostile unbelievers. I agree with them in that. There is no argument, no matter how logical or rational, that can force anyone to believe what they’re determined not to believe.

    I’ve never had a lot of trouble with the problem of evil myself. The Christian position is that evil entered the world with sin. Prior to Adam’s sin, man suffered no evil. However, Satan was permitted by God to tempt Adam, such temptation being seemingly evil, yet not really, insofar as it could easily have been resisted. Adam suffered nothing in being tempted; it was only after he freely chose to share in Satan’s evil that he himself, and the human race following him, suffered.

    I liken fallen man to a previously well-behaved dog that has picked up a habit of biting its master. Whereas before punishment and obedience training were unnecessary, now they are. Moreover, there is the fact that God, being completely without any need for us, owes us nothing. We exist only insofar as He permits us to exist. Thus, we’re not in a position to complain that anything we suffer is unjustified. It is fully justified, from God’s perspective. We’re just a pack of vicious dogs who, really, unless we choose to submit, the world would be better off without. (And be without us it will, should be die in our vicious state…)

    But I see the difficulty unbelievers have, insofar as it is often the meekest among us who suffer the worst evils, while the worst biters seem to get off scot-free. There are many reasons for this, I think, not least among them God’s desire to mask, or obscure, His actions in the world from unbelievers. If appropriate earthly punishments always and infallibly accompanied man’s transgressions, there would be no question of faith; of freely chosen love of God. We would be obliged by direct experience to acknowledge God’s existence and obey Him, like slaves obeying the whip of their master. But that isn’t what He wants. He wants our, for lack of a better word, “pure” love. So he obscures His lessons and His reproofs, masking them in ways that only those “with ears to hear” can hear.

    Now, since we are all destined for a supernatural end–either an unutterably joyful one in heaven, or an eternity of well-deserved torment in hell–those who suffer in this world can turn it either to their advantage or disadvantage by suffering either willingly or unwillingly. Let’s take the case of a saintly person, who is least of all deserving of earthly suffering. The saintly person suffers such evils patiently, because he/she wishes to cooperate with God’s will. In doing so, she builds up her treasure in heaven: her real, ultimate destination, which nothing on earth can compare to. The defiant man, on the other hand, whines and cries about the injustice of it all, when in fact it’s not, particularly given his reaction, unjustified at all. He begs to be dumped in the river and drowned like the ugly, hateful specimen he is.

    (Admittedly, innocent babies and children who have not reached the age of reason are a hard case. They are vicious dogs by nature, but they haven’t actually bitten yet–or they’re at least not yet culpable. Christians have struggled with this question since the beginning and there’s no hard agreement about it. Yet it is, in principle, answerable. I will, however, demur for now.)

    So I hope I’ve at least suggested how the ways of God can be rationally justifiable to the Christian, while not to the unbeliever. Again, if one rejects the teaching of man’s fall from grace and his alienation from God, then of course the presence of evil in the world seems arbitrary and unjust. But if one accepts it, it all makes perfect sense.

  32. #32 Iapetus
    May 4, 2008

    I know that James Newland´s arguments are hardly original, but as it is Sunday and I have some spare time available I can not resist.

    James Newland

    “There is no argument, no matter how logical or rational, that can force anyone to believe what they’re determined not to believe.”

    I do not think so. I would rather say that the arguments that are presented are not very convincing. Let´s take a look at yours.

    “I’ve never had a lot of trouble with the problem of evil myself. The Christian position is that evil entered the world with sin. Prior to Adam’s sin, man suffered no evil. However, Satan was permitted by God to tempt Adam, such temptation being seemingly evil, yet not really, insofar as it could easily have been resisted. Adam suffered nothing in being tempted; it was only after he freely chose to share in Satan’s evil that he himself, and the human race following him, suffered.”

    I am afraid that your attempt at theodicy is as good as doomed right from the start. Our scientific knowledge lets us conclude that the likelihood of a single man being the ancestor of all humanity is so low that it is indistinguishable from 0. But for the sake of argument I will play along.

    You hit the next wall when you state that Adam was rightly punished for giving in to Satan´s temptation because he could have resisted. However, we are talking about an OMNISCIENT deity here, i.e. God knew beforehand that Adam would not resist. So what is the point of punishing a creature that God himself created in full knowledge of its flaws? Why did he have to “test” Adam at all as he knew all along what the result would be? A test only makes sense if you are unsure of the outcome.

    And finally, concerning this preposterous notion that every descendant of Adam is inherently sinful and in need of redemption, how does that square with God being merciful and loving toward his creation? Sounds more like collective punishment to me. But I see that you provide a “reasonable” explanation for this in the next paragraph.

    “I liken fallen man to a previously well-behaved dog that has picked up a habit of biting its master. Whereas before punishment and obedience training were unnecessary, now they are. Moreover, there is the fact that God, being completely without any need for us, owes us nothing. We exist only insofar as He permits us to exist. Thus, we’re not in a position to complain that anything we suffer is unjustified. It is fully justified, from God’s perspective. We’re just a pack of vicious dogs who, really, unless we choose to submit, the world would be better off without. (And be without us it will, should be die in our vicious state…)”

    Ahh, what a kind and benevolent deity, which results in an equally loving, healthy and positive picture of human beings. So we are just wretched little scum, which can but grovel at the feet and lick the hand of its master in the hope of being forgiven for something that a distant ancestor once did. Meanwhile, every evil, misfortune and calamity that befalls us is nothing more than we deserve. Charming. Is anyone else reminded of a cosmic Genghis Khan at this point? Somehow I am having difficulties to see a loving and caring deity in this picture. But that may be just me.

    “But I see the difficulty unbelievers have, insofar as it is often the meekest among us who suffer the worst evils, while the worst biters seem to get off scot-free. There are many reasons for this, I think, not least among them God’s desire to mask, or obscure, His actions in the world from unbelievers. If appropriate earthly punishments always and infallibly accompanied man’s transgressions, there would be no question of faith; of freely chosen love of God. We would be obliged by direct experience to acknowledge God’s existence and obey Him, like slaves obeying the whip of their master. But that isn’t what He wants. He wants our, for lack of a better word, “pure” love. So he obscures His lessons and His reproofs, masking them in ways that only those “with ears to hear” can hear.”

    Aha, so God wants our “pure”, freely chosen love. I would like to know how that fits into your next paragraph where you state that anyone who fails to obey God will receive his/her just reward in the form of eternal punishment in hell. If you really believe this, it seems to me that you have as much freedom in this matter as if someone puts a gun to your head. Such a behaviour would be appropriate for a petulant, malevolent bully.

    I also note that you did not fail to employ the really worn-out “You must believe it to understand it” line. I realize its attractiveness for the religious apologist, since it absolves him from producing evidence and/or a reasonable argument in favor of his position. Unfortunately, this maxim can be used to justify even the most ludicrous and psychopathic propositions and must therefore be rejected.

    I would further be interested to hear how you KNOW all these things about the mind of God, e.g. that he wishes to obscure his lessons, that he wants our pure love etc. As it is, these are just assertions that you trot out to bolster your argument.

    And then we have this little gem:

    “Admittedly, innocent babies and children who have not reached the age of reason are a hard case. They are vicious dogs by nature, but they haven’t actually bitten yet–or they’re at least not yet culpable. Christians have struggled with this question since the beginning and there’s no hard agreement about it. Yet it is, in principle, answerable. I will, however, demur for now.”

    Nonono, please do not just demur. Please explain how it is rational to believe in an omnibenevolent deity that punishes little babies and children for Adam´s sin. After all, this is a consequence of the proposition you have tried to defend here. These babies and children who die agonizing deaths through floods, earthquakes, malnutrition, mistreatment etc. justly get what God metes out, right? They are just vicious dogs that can be treated as God sees fit, or not? Who are you, a fellow vicious dog, to say that they are not culpable if your master decides they are? I would REALLY like to hear your answer to this.

    “So I hope I’ve at least suggested how the ways of God can be rationally justifiable to the Christian, while not to the unbeliever. Again, if one rejects the teaching of man’s fall from grace and his alienation from God, then of course the presence of evil in the world seems arbitrary and unjust. But if one accepts it, it all makes perfect sense.”

    Well, I would not presume to speak for others, but in my view to say that you have fallen short would really be an understatement.

    It is not only the fact that your first premise of a literally existing Adam who was tempted by the Devil is scientifically untenable. What is even more damning IMO is that your arguments, which were targeted (at least I hope so) at defending the notion of an omnibenevolent, loving and caring God ended up portraying a deity with attributes that are anything but. Furthermore, it seems to me that in order for your argument to make any sense you would have to deny God his omniscience.

    Looking forward to your answer.

  33. #33 Chiefley
    May 4, 2008

    Iapetus,
    I think this notion of falling from grace into sin and the subsequent punishment is interpreted all wrong. It is a narrow interpretation of The Fall, it is a popular one, but it is also a nonsensical one.
    The Fall is described in allegory as man eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This should tell you something about what is going on. Why wasn’t it simply a regular old tree whose fruit was forbidden? Because the nature of that fruit is the important thing. The eating of the fruit allegorically alludes to that point in the evolution of humans when they acheived consciousness, self-awareness, and imagination. At that point, suddenly free-will, morality, empathy for the suffering of others, modeling our own possible role in that suffering, modeling the consequences of potential actions, etc, all become valid subject matter for discussion. This is the point where “knowledge of good and evil” become possible. These abilities are creative abilities and as such, they are abilities cast in the image of the God, the Creator himself.
    As far as we know, or certainly as far as ancient man knew, other species do not have this capacity, therefore they don’t share the responsibility of it. Although my dog seems to have a really affectionate personality, she is mostly carrying out aspects of her biological programming. She doesn’t alter her behavior based on conviction of abstract concepts such as democracy or a God. The potential actions of my dog might be endearing or they might be horrible if she kills some child like an enraged pit bull. However, there is no way you can call the actions of my dog moral or immoral.
    Since that moment (or time period) when these human mental abilities evolved, all subsequent progeny inherited the same capacity. Once Adam can imagine an evil act, model its outcome, and consider his own role within it, he can truly be evil and as his heir, so can I. Adam is the first person who can sin (meaning the first hominid who can deliberately bring about the suffering of others through action or abstaining from action, with full foreknowledge of the result.) and as heir to his mental abilities, so can I.
    As far as I am concerned, Genesis is a book of astonishing wisdom for being written thousands of years ago.
    How does this square with evolution? I will certainly not claim that Genesis was written with an awareness of evolution. But I will claim that Genesis is not in conflict with it unless you choose to interpret it literally.
    But then, interpreting it literally reduces it to a disney cartoon with apples and talking snakes.
    I know this doesn’t answer the theodicy problem, but at least it shows Genesis to be something more than an interesting fable.

  34. #34 Chiefley
    May 4, 2008

    As for the theodicy problem, Genesis also contains some wisdom regarding that. Unlike the creation stories of other religions, Genesis is unique in drawing a huge distinction between the Creator and his creation.

    Genesis tells a story of a Creator who deliberately empties out his omnipotency and creates a “region” where an imperfect Creation exists and operates through its own natural processes. It is this very notion that gave Judeo-Christian adherents the notion that the Creation was something that could be observed and understood scientifically. Although it took a long time, it was the this understanding of Genesis that gave religious Judeo-Christians “permission” to consider natural processes as something worthy of study.

    This emptying out of God’s omipotence in the “region” where God creates The Creation, is called by a Greek word, kenosis.

    The Book of Job, which is considered to be the oldest book in the Bible, is an allegory about theodicy and kenosis. The highly successful Job’s life is ruined by Satan messing with Job’s destiny. (Satan is always represented as part of Creation, by the way, not a co-equal with the Creator).

    Job ends up destitute, his beautiful family dead, and he is lying in the mud with his skin falling off and crying out for an explanation from God. An ancient theodical “Why Me??”. Job’s friends all come and attempt to console him with the kind of folk religion theodicies we here even today. “God has a plan for you”, “Everything happens for a purpose.”, “What you sow, so shall you reap.”, etc.

    Job is dissatisfied with all of these explanations and in his final demand for an accounting from God, God appears to answer his question. God’s answer, however, is a long and terrifying description of aspects of The Creation. In other words, God starts discussing natural processes. In effect, he is telling Job that the chain of causality for processes in the universe is so complex, that mere Job will never figure it out. So Job might as well simply remember that “Shit happens.”

    In Job, God declares his kenosis. For the most part, the universe works through its own natural processes.

  35. #35 Iapetus
    May 4, 2008

    Chiefley

    “I think this notion of falling from grace into sin and the subsequent punishment is interpreted all wrong. It is a narrow interpretation of The Fall, it is a popular one, but it is also a nonsensical one.”

    I agree with you that a literal interpretation of Genesis is both scientifically false and also results in logical contradictions regarding the attributes of God. Since James Newland seemed to start off from this premise, I accepted it for the sake of argument.

    “The eating of the fruit allegorically alludes to that point in the evolution of humans when they acheived consciousness, self-awareness, and imagination. At that point, suddenly free-will, morality, empathy for the suffering of others, modeling our own possible role in that suffering, modeling the consequences of potential actions, etc, all become valid subject matter for discussion. This is the point where “knowledge of good and evil” become possible. These abilities are creative abilities and as such, they are abilities cast in the image of the God, the Creator himself.”

    Well, I would be tempted to deem the last sentence an assertion lacking any evidence. Furthermore I doubt that there was a defined point in time during human evolution when mental capacities like self-awareness, empathy, free will (the presence or absence of which in human beings is highly contested amongst philosophers and neuroscientists alike, BTW) suddenly appeared from nothing. Behavioural, cognitive and molecular studies in higher mammals indicate that the ability to feel empathy towards the suffering of others, to recognize oneself as a distinct entity etc. is present at least to some extent in e.g. apes, dogs and cats. Therefore it is sensible to infer that the cognitive capacities of modern humans emerged gradually over time and were not the result of a sudden, maybe even supernaturally assisted leap. This however raises the question as to when a human being is sufficiently evolved to be regarded as capable of sinning. How does God decide this? Is a speculative proto-human safe from punishment of sin because he has not crossed that threshold? I think that when a hypothesis raises these kinds of questions which allow only for an arbitrary answer or none at all, it is a sign that the fundamental premises are incorrect.

    “Since that moment (or time period) when these human mental abilities evolved, all subsequent progeny inherited the same capacity. Once Adam can imagine an evil act, model its outcome, and consider his own role within it, he can truly be evil and as his heir, so can I. Adam is the first person who can sin (meaning the first hominid who can deliberately bring about the suffering of others through action or abstaining from action, with full foreknowledge of the result.) and as heir to his mental abilities, so can I.
    As far as I am concerned, Genesis is a book of astonishing wisdom for being written thousands of years ago.”

    But this interpretation of Genesis can not be right because according to the literal view Adam was punished for DOING evil, i.e. consciously disobeying a command by God. In contrast, you seem to understand original sin to be merely the CAPABILITY of committing this sin, which Adam did not even choose to have as it was thrust upon him by evolution. Unless you posit that there is no “sin” we have to be redeemed from and that Genesis is merely a parable of our ability to do evil. However, then I have to ask: What did Jesus die for?

    “How does this square with evolution? I will certainly not claim that Genesis was written with an awareness of evolution. But I will claim that Genesis is not in conflict with it unless you choose to interpret it literally.
    But then, interpreting it literally reduces it to a disney cartoon with apples and talking snakes.”

    And why would that be clearly false? How do we decide whether or not the writers of Genesis meant everything, something or nothing to be taken literally? Why not go one step further and posit that this curious, invisible “God” character is just a colourful metaphor for our innate moral conscience that punishes us with remorse when we perpetrate an evil act? I would say that you are in danger of a form of retrograde thinking, i.e. you realize that many parts of the Genesis story (and the Bible as a whole) are bound up with an obsolete view of the world, yet you do not want to discard it completely. The answer then is to try and fit our current knowledge into the Biblical narrative by declaring some parts which collide with known facts a metaphor while holding on to the rest. I believe that this is not a good way of pursuing the truth.

  36. #36 Explicit Atheist
    May 4, 2008

    Posted by: James Newland | May 4, 2008 2:00 AM

    “Humans acquired free will when they were created human by God. God took the dust of the earth (on the evolutionary hypothesis, an animal–some primate–with an animal soul whose body had developed over time into whatever the earliest human form was) and infused it with a human soul (a soul possessing the power of intellection, as opposed to the merely sensitive, animal soul). At that point the species Man came to be. We were no longer of the species Ape or whatever, due to the specific difference of rationality that we now possessed.”

    That could work, if there was a point of time when the power of intellection began. Intellection proceeded Homo sapiens sapiens, it is found in other primates and non-primates, and other sub-species such as Homo sapiens idaltu and Homo neanderthalensis were intelligent. There was a step by step increase in brain volume among Homo species over time. It is difficult, I think it is impossible, to reconcile the notion of a sudden introduction of the power of intellection with the historical record. Of course, religion as we know it “begins” only after humans acquired written langauge. But that is a logical necessity, and to interpret that as indicating humans were given written language by God is like interpreting the rising and falling of the sun as evidence that the sun circles the earth, it is interpreting the sequence backwards. Gods were all created by Human intellection, not the other way around.

  37. #37 Chiefley
    May 5, 2008

    I just wanted to add that I was not proposing that intellection suddenly popped into being with one particular person called Adam. I was just showing how Genesis has wisdom beyond the cartoon notions of talking snakes, apples, and original sin.

    Also, the notion of The Fall referring to intellection is not an attempt to fit Genesis into a framework of what is known now from modern science. The authors of Genesis did not need modern science in order to observe that man seemed unique in those abilities.

    I believe the authors of Genesis did think that intellection appeared all of a sudden, but that is no more important than the talking snake. It is interesting that in Genesis, Creation is what bestows intellection on Man.

    Also, the notion of original sin was a construct from the second century and made popular by St. Augustine later on.

    Thanks for the great comments Iapetus and Explicit Atheist.

    Martin Luther felt that we know nothing of God except that what is revealed through Jesus. Jesus makes that claim a few times in the NT. So it is interesting to consider the accounts of Jesus’ short lifetime in the world. Like the previous poster said, Jesus was born a helpless baby to an unwed mother in a pig trough. He grew up undoubtedly suffering from some childhood diseases. Throughout his ministry he performs some miracles that for the Creator of the Universe are really no more than simple parlor tricks. He heals a few infirmities, but that healing is local. He does not heal all blindness or cure all those who are lame.

    He finally allows himself to be done in by petty politics and jealousy and is nailed to a tree to die a painful death in which he does not intervene.

    So his whole life, from birth to death is a dramatic submission of the Creator of the universe to the very natural processes that he created. Jesus exhibits the same Kenosis that is implied by Genesis. According to the story, Jesus’ death serves a cosmic purpose, but that purpose is carried out outside the world, after he dies.

    Jesus’ career in the world is decidedly “low impact” when it comes to natural processes. I believe this is an important point when thinking about theodicy.

  38. #38 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth [SKEPTIC GRIGGSY]
    May 5, 2008

    Thanks for making this point! I find that theistic evolution is an oxymoron in trying to reconcile dysteologica[[ atelic] natural selection with teleological God. It is the new Omphalos argument that albeit the weight of evidence shows no pre-conceived plans ,there is deception in that there are those plans! No, selection contradicts any teleology and also is its own boss [unless Will Provine is right that other natural forces are its boss.]
    We no more need God as a personal explanation, contrary to Richard Swinburne, than we need gremlins in addition to mechanical laws to explain mechanical failure, demons in addition to psychology to explain mental illness or Thor in addition to meteorology to explain the weather.
    Furthermore, God is otiose: He amounts to the unimformative tautology that God wills what He wills or God did it- a pseudo-explanation.
    Contrary to the indefatigable Eugenie C. Scott, the weight of evidence shows no cosmic teleology ! She alleges that scientists who so aver, are not making a scientific point but a philosophical one but that ignores that weight and the demarcation problem as Paul Draper points out to me in an email.
    She can, for all I care, try to get creationists to see that they can have their God and evolution and find divine purpose but not with this assertion of hers. From the side of religion , she is so right but from the side of science, she goes too far!
    Furthermore, her concern is with the creationists whereas mine and others is with the truth that there is probaly no God. She should not bash us for that! Dawkins shows that there is no design but patterns.
    Furthermore, teleological arguments beg the question of design – that we or other intelligent animals had to arrive.
    All theodicy is a series of rationalizations like Ayala’s to exonerate God from the imperfections and evil! See the problem of Heaven in my friend Graham Oppy’s thorough “Arguments about God.”

  39. #39 Reginald Selkirk
    May 5, 2008

    The problem of evil has theological answers that have to do with “free will”. This would be quite compatible with a view of evolution as a deistic natural process, and I think that is what Miller is trying to get at.

    1) Free will does not explain non-anthropogenic evil, i.e. natural disasters. 2) Attempting to save one incoherent concept by appealing to another is not forward progress.

  40. #40 royniles
    May 5, 2008

    If it’s non-anthropogenic, it’s not evil.

  41. #41 JimCH
    May 5, 2008

    “If it’s non-anthropogenic, it’s not evil.”
    God(s), should it exist, most certainly would have evil to answer for (I can’t imagine to whom, but nevertheless).

  42. #42 royniles
    May 5, 2008

    Evil is a human concept, where causation of harmful, painful, and destructive events was attributed to supernatural forces of nature. The concept involves intent and purpose. But the only beings that we know of where such intent and purpose are demonstrated would be life forms. We know of no extra-terrestrial life forms (except the imaginary) that operate with any specific intent to impose such evil upon life forms here on earth.

    By our own imaginings, if Gods exist, it is because we had traced their evil deeds back to that source. We might thus have only ourselves to blame.

  43. #43 conradg
    May 6, 2008

    I have to say, I found most of Jason’s article pretty good. Except maybe the stuff about free will. Biological determinism undermines the notion of free will.

    What I find missing (on a metaphysical level) from most of the Christian theological speculation about evil is the concept of reincarnation. The Christian conception of creation simply doesn’t make a lot of sense of evil if we are only here once and have to deal with how the cards are dealt one and once only. It’s like basing your entire life on the outcome of one hand of poker, rather than a long series of hands that determine general playing skill in the face of all the good and bad hands that can be dealt. Reincarnation puts evil into perspective – that we are here over and over again until, so to speak, we get it right. Evil is part of what we have to deal with in ourselves and in others. Evolution can then be seen as a mechanism that produces the full range of possibilities in order to test us under all possible conditions, and to enable us to learn and grow by the hard knocks of life. Even the worst outcome in any individual life – horrible death by torture, say – is still only one lifetime among many, and could actually help us to grow and mature. Nietzsche’s dictum that whatever does not kill us makes us stronger leaves only the “makes us stronger” if we don’t actually die, but reincarnate. Reincarnation also makes it possible for us to make the kind of turnabout necessary to change our own evil ways, sometimes, perahps, by being the victims of evil ourselves.

    Now, this kind of thinking is abhorent to some – both religious Christians and atheists. But it certainly is a lot more coherent and sensible explanation for why the world would have evil in it if God created it. But it does throw out the window the notion that the purpose of creation is to create a Utopia of Good. It is not. It suggests that God created the world as a place for souls to grow and learn how to be compassionate in the face of terrible randomness and tragedy.

  44. #44 ctw
    May 6, 2008

    “it certainly is a lot more coherent and sensible explanation for why the world would have evil in it if God created it.”

    However, even ignoring whether “coherent” and “sensible” are apt, if one puts this God/reincarnation-based concept and nihilism in adjacent barbershop chairs, I believe the latter comes out smoother. Though, of course, not necessarily more appealing.

    - Charles

  45. #45 conradg
    May 6, 2008

    Charles,

    I’m not clear on what your point is in comparing reincarnation to nihilism, in relation to this issue of theodicy. Reincarnation is not nihilistic, and is not indifferent to the problem of evil.

  46. #46 Iapetus
    May 6, 2008

    conradg,

    I believe Charles refers to Occam’s Razor, i.e. a theodicy that requires a concept like reincarnation looks an awful lot more complicated than the assumption that the class of omnibenevolent, omnipotent creator gods is empty and therefore we have no need of a theodicy of any kind.

  47. #47 ctw
    May 6, 2008

    lapetus:

    You should consider a career in cryptology.

    - Charles

  48. #48 Iapetus
    May 6, 2008

    Charles,

    Thanks. But you know what they say: Every dog has his day…;-)

  49. #49 conradg
    May 6, 2008

    Iapetus,

    Thanks. I thought something along those lines too. I just don’t see how that factors into this particular thread, in that we don’t seem to be debating the issue of which is the simplest explanation, but how any theology can deal with the issue of theodicy and also accept evolution. If we start with the presumption that all theology is bullshit, then why even bother with the discussion?

  50. #50 Iapetus
    May 6, 2008

    conradg,

    “I just don’t see how that factors into this particular thread, in that we don’t seem to be debating the issue of which is the simplest explanation, but how any theology can deal with the issue of theodicy and also accept evolution. If we start with the presumption that all theology is bullshit, then why even bother with the discussion?”

    I do not wish to speak for Charles, but I have not understood him as saying that all theology is bullshit from the start. Rather, the question is which concept is more parsimonious, corresponds best with the known facts and involves the least hand-waving and special pleading (and therefore according to our experience is more likely to be true): that reality does not care one way or the other whether human beings suffer pain, disease, misfortune etc. as it was never intended as a place of enjoyment for us since we are not an inevitable or even likely outcome of the evolutionary process.

    Or the alternative view is correct that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being created this reality with us in mind. However, this position runs into the problem of having to be reconciled with the gratuitious misery and suffering that befalls us so often, not to mention that evolution by natural selection as we currently understand it seems to be as a-teleological as you can get. Consequently we watch these elaborate twists and turns like those reported in Jason’s article or your idea of reincarnation. However, quite apart from the lack of concrete evidence for any of these attempts at theodicy, Occam’s Razor should lead us to conclude that the first option is the most likely.

    That is not to say that it is impossible to come up with a theodicy that reconciles evolution and God. You can ALWAYS erect these kinds of mental constructs that serve to rescue your favourite idea from outright refutation. But this does not mean that the result is plausible or likely to be true.

  51. #51 ctw
    May 6, 2008

    “I do not wish to speak for Charles”

    Please do – I could never speak for myself so eloquently.

    And I have not, in fact, said “all theology is bullshit” (at least not in a public forum like this ~(:>)). However, a common theme through what little theology I’ve read seems to be “Let me explain how one might think about the god that I must assume exists in order for me to carry on.” I don’t denigrate that posture – life is, in fact a bitch, and one must cope somehow; it’s just the posture of neither me nor numerous friends. We all “carry on” quite satisfactorily without the need for (cosmic, of course) purpose, meaning, hope, justice, etc.

    - Charles

  52. #53 Caledonian
    May 6, 2008

    Look, theology takes its conclusions for granted. It has no place in logical argument for that reason. Considering hypotheticals is one thing, but talking about assumptions as though they were demonstrated facts is another.

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  54. #55 Lofcaudio
    May 6, 2008

    lapetus: I would say that you are in danger of a form of retrograde thinking, i.e. you realize that many parts of the Genesis story (and the Bible as a whole) are bound up with an obsolete view of the world, yet you do not want to discard it completely.

    I disagree that the Genesis story portrays an “obsolete view of the world.” I would instead argue that you along with Young Earth Creationists (“YEC”) have used your own interpretations of said story to conclude things which frankly, are not supported in the Biblical account.

    lapetus: The answer then is to try and fit our current knowledge into the Biblical narrative by declaring some parts which collide with known facts a metaphor while holding on to the rest.

    The Genesis account is an ancient writing written in an ancient language for an ancient group of people to be passed down and applied over a lengthy period of time. Yet you (and presumably many others) can easily dismiss it because your own interpretation does not align with “known facts.” Can you give me an example where the Bible “collides with known facts”? Just one will suffice.

    lapetus: I believe that this is not a good way of pursuing the truth.

    Pursuing truth is using any and all sources of evidence. Ignoring credible sources is the definition of ignorance (which is why those YECs look silly when they badmouth science). You obviously feel that the Bible is not a credible source for anything. I would disagree in that I think that the Bible is an excellent resource on many things, but only those things that it was intended to be a resource.

  55. #56 conradg
    May 6, 2008

    Iapetus,

    I don’t have a problem with your voicing the view that any form of theism is inferior to atheism, or that atheism passes the Occam’s Razor test, while all forms of theism do not. But that seems to me a different discussion than the one Jason opened up here, which has to do with whether the specific theological forms of theism he cites (all Christian) which attempt to resolve the issue of theodicy, can reconcile themselves with the facts of evolution. I think he does a very good job of essentially destroying those attempts, and pointing to their internal inconsistencies. Other religious commenters here, such as James Newland, who attempt to defend Christian notions of theodicy, introduce so many internal contradictions into their argument as to virtually refute it all on their own, without much commentary. I’m more addressing these commentators, and pointing out that the weaknesses in the general Christian view of a benign Deity creating a world in which evil clearly exists among men, and uncaring randomness in world events, are generally solved by introducing the concept of reincarnation.

    So if we are to stick to the thread topic, it would certainly make sense to use Occam’s Razor to compare the Christian cosmology to a reincarnation-based cosmology, and see which more efficiently reconciles itself with the facts of evolution and evil in the world. I think the reincarnation model wins that test. Now, maybe you’re not much interested in that discussion, and wish to point out that you think both of them are so far inferior from atheism as to be virtually identical in implausibility. That’s fine, but it seems to be a departure from the discussion of whether any theological system can show internal consistency in relation to theodicy. I don’t think the Christian system does, but I think the reincarnation system works pretty well in that regard, even if it were incorporated into general Christian notions of metaphysics.

    I’m flattered that you think I’ve invented the whole idea of reincarnation just to try to create some metaphysical system that can make sense in relation to science and evolution and the general problem of evil. But I think you well know that reincarnation is a very ancient religious belief, and that even many early Christians believed in it. It was not considered heresy among Christians until about 600 AD if memory serves me correctly. It was certainly not invented to solve the problem of theodicy, or to satisfy the criticisms of scientists or atheists. There’s many variants of reincarnation to look to and see which are most easily reconcilable with the facts of evolution, but it’s also simply true that many such systems, such as the Hindu and Buddhists systems, already posited evolution as a part of their cosmology many thousands of years ago. They didn’t describe it in terms of natural selection, but they did clearly see the reincarnation model as an evolutionary model, unlike the Christian one, and this was certainly achieved to some degree simply by adopting a more naturalistic view of God than Christians do.

    I understand that Jason and most here prefer to criticize Christianity, given their involvement in the whole creationist movement, but it remains the case that Christianity is just one of many theological systems out there, and that pointing out the flaws in Christianity does not constitute a generalized criticism of religion, or religious approaches to the problem of evil existing in a universe created by God.

  56. #57 Iapetus
    May 6, 2008

    Lofcaudio,

    “I disagree that the Genesis story portrays an “obsolete view of the world.” I would instead argue that you along with Young Earth Creationists (“YEC”) have used your own interpretations of said story to conclude things which frankly, are not supported in the Biblical account.”

    This is a rather vague, general statement. Could you be more specific as to what you think my interpretations are and in which way they are not supported by the Biblical account?

    “The Genesis account is an ancient writing written in an ancient language for an ancient group of people to be passed down and applied over a lengthy period of time. Yet you (and presumably many others) can easily dismiss it because your own interpretation does not align with “known facts.” Can you give me an example where the Bible “collides with known facts”? Just one will suffice.”

    I feel in a generous mood and will even give you two:

    1. A single man (“Adam”) being the ancestor of humanity.

    2. A global flood which killed off every animal except those that were passengers on Noah’s Ark.

    “Pursuing truth is using any and all sources of evidence. Ignoring credible sources is the definition of ignorance (which is why those YECs look silly when they badmouth science). You obviously feel that the Bible is not a credible source for anything. I would disagree in that I think that the Bible is an excellent resource on many things, but only those things that it was intended to be a resource.”

    I would not say that the Bible is not a credible source for anything. It certainly gives insights into the worldview of some of the people living in a small part of the Middle East 2-3000 years ago, what their cosmology, their moral system or their societal conditions looked like. In that regard I concur with you and see the Bible as a valuable resource for historians and anthropologists. However, I have a feeling that this is not what you had in mind. Therefore I will add that I would be very careful to assign any validity to the supernatural claims regarding the feats of Yahweh or Jesus.

  57. #58 conradg
    May 6, 2008

    Charles,

    I know you’re too decent a guy to say something like “All theology is bullshit”. That’s just my way of crudely summarizing your view. But I think you have put the same sentiment in less crude terms here. I simply don’t find how that is germane to the thread itself, which involves an actual discussion of the specifics of various theologies, rather than just a benevolent dismissal of them all as irrelevant. You argument seems to be with Jason himself, who addressed these specifics, rather than just dismiss them as not worthy of discussion.

  58. #59 conradg
    May 6, 2008

    Iapetus,

    I think Lofcaudio is looking at Genesis as mythical, metaphysical allegory rather than as scientific reporting. As mythical metaphysical allegory, he thinks it works fine. I think even there it requires a lot of fudging to imagine that it works.

  59. #60 Lofcaudio
    May 6, 2008

    lapetus: I feel in a generous mood and will even give you two:

    1. A single man (“Adam”) being the ancestor of humanity.

    First of all, no where in Genesis does it say that Adam is the ancestor of all of humanity. Genesis 3:20, however, does refer to Eve as the “mother of all living” (which would not necessarily collide with the facts). Secondly, more than likely much (if not all of these first chapters of the Bible) is symbolic. Now just because I am suggesting that this portion of Genesis is symbolic doesn’t mean that it can be inaccurate. However, your statement regarding Adam is typical in that it is a poor reading of what the Bible actually says.

    2. A global flood which killed off every animal except those that were passengers on Noah’s Ark.

    Again, Genesis does not say that the flood was global. It instead says that “the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered.” This is a statement where point of view is important. Was the narrator on the moon looking down on the earth or was the narrator more than likely on the ark? (I know you think this is all fiction, but for argument’s sake, just play along.) The narrator of the flood account would have been on the ark and from his perspective, would have seen water from horizon to horizon and would have described such a sight in similar terms to how it was described there in Genesis 7. What I am suggesting is that the Genesis flood could have been a local flood which covered the known earth at that time which would have been the Mesopotamian Valley, a small sliver of present-day Iraq.

    Obviously, this would mean that only those animals that lived in that region would have been destroyed by the flood, and it would have been those local animals that came aboard the ark. Can such a view align with what is actually said in Genesis 6 and 7? I think it can.

  60. #61 ctw
    May 6, 2008

    conradg:

    Although I seldom respond, I have actually read many of your comments on this and other threads. Although I find some quite interesting, I have noticed a few problems. Your 4:42PM comment highlights two of these.

    First, you keep relating various commenter’s positions to “atheism”. There have been exactly three occurrences of that word in this whole thread, all in that single comment of yours. Neither I nor my friends – with the exception, interestingly enough, of my 93 year old mother – self-identify as “atheist”; nobody else has used it, in particular lapetus, who did not use it in his post to which you were responding. I consider “atheism” a relatively useless – possibly even borderline anachronistic – word and seldom use it at all unless the precise intended meaning is very clear in context.

    Second, you inferred a posture that “theism is inferior to atheism” where none was voiced. My suggestion was that nihilism avoids the need for the additional complexity attendant to the reincarnation-based system you described. This says nothing about inferior/superior. Although a Maserati is presumably (I don’t know diddle about contemporary cars, especially high-end models) more complex than a Toyota Camry, it clearly isn’t inferior in general. But if you just need transportation to the grocery store, it does seem like overkill. For whatever reason, some of us don’t require the benefits attendant to some religious beliefs, but we don’t necessarily (some do, of course) conclude that we are “superior”. Different strokes, etc.

    Although there are some who admittedly hostilely challenge and attack believers, it would help to focus on what individuals say and adopt different strategies for those who do and those who don’t behave that way – like ignore the former. As I have complained in the past, generalizations like “X-ists believe/think say/etc blah, blah” are typically meaningless and can be insulting if “blah, blah” is something unattractive.

    - Charles

  61. #62 conradg
    May 6, 2008

    Charles,

    I appreciate your diplomatic approach, and your sensitivity to nuance. I’m not trying to pigeonhole anyone with labels. I use the term “atheist” simply in the most general sense of the word, aware that there are many important distinctions within that general term – just as there are within theism. If you don’t like being referred to as an atheist, that’s fine with me. I didn’t realize you see an important distinction between your views and the general view of atheism that is prominent on this blog. I’m happy that there’s a range of views here, but it doesn’t seem incorrect to generalize that most here are atheistic in orientation, some quite aggressively so, and some not so much. Jason is of course an atheist, and he started this thread with an atheists criticism of theodicy. He seems to attract quite a few characters who are either atheists or sympathetic to atheism. I don’t mind that at all. In fact, I comment here specifically to engage in discussion with atheists, or those who could generally be categorized as such in the broad scheme of things, such as yourself.

    My inference that you think atheism is superior to theism isn’t a reference to some kind of social class distinction. I merely infer that you think atheism is a superior conclusion to come to based on logic and evidence. I use the term in a technical sense, not in a high school hierarchy sense. (As in, all the really hip people are atheists). You clearly seem to think that atheism is superior at passing the Occam’s razor test. I don’t take that as a put-down, merely an opinion.

    I understand your analogy about the grocery store. In some respects, it’s actually flattering to theism.

    All that said, I’m probably going to continue using the category of “atheism” and “atheists” simply for brevity’s sake. I hope you understand my reasons and intentions. It’s not to denigrate atheism or atheists, it’s simply a way to reference a category of views. Just as it makes sense to refer to theism, if one recognizes this as a category, rather than a specific set of beliefs.

    I must say that I remain puzzled by your comparison of reincarnation to nihilism. Could you explain that better in your own words? Were you refering to the issue of Occam’s Razor, or were you trying to imply that reincarnation is nihilistic? If it’s the first, I fail to see how nihilism is more in tune with Occam’s Razor than reincarnation. If it’s the second, I fail to see how reincarnation is nihilistic.

  62. #63 Explicit Atheist
    May 6, 2008

    Posted by: Lofcaudio | May 6, 2008 7:29 PM

    “Again, Genesis does not say that the flood was global.”

    English translation of Genesis 8:9 but the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned to him into the ark; for the waters were on the surface of the whole earth.

    OK, what is the difference between “whole earth” and “global”?

  63. #64 conradg
    May 7, 2008

    OK, what is the difference between “whole earth” and “global”?

    I think you have to recognize that in biblical times, the “whole earth” was not a very big place. They had no conception of the wider world outside their very small regional experience. Taking such words literally must take into account what was literally known at the time these words were written.

  64. #65 cl
    May 7, 2008

    Now this I like and think all should adopt it, if I may be so dogmatic:

    “As I have complained in the past, generalizations like ‘X-ists believe/think say/etc blah, blah’ are typically meaningless and can be insulting if ‘blah, blah’ is something unattractive.” -ctw

    For example sees David Mills’ “Atheist Universe” or Rush Limbaugh’s “The Way Things Ougtta Be.”

  65. #66 Iapetus
    May 7, 2008

    Lofcaudio,

    “First of all, no where in Genesis does it say that Adam is the ancestor of all of humanity. Genesis 3:20, however, does refer to Eve as the “mother of all living” (which would not necessarily collide with the facts). Secondly, more than likely much (if not all of these first chapters of the Bible) is symbolic.”

    Well, unless Eve was capable of parthenogenesis, she would need the help of Adam to get humanity started, since he was the only man around. Thus Adam could conceivably be called the (male) ancestor of humanity. But I think these discussions (just like the scientific likelihood of the Flood) are really moot, as we both agree that these things can not be literally true.

    So where do we go from here? You state that stories like Genesis or Noah’s Ark must be seen symbolically, metaphorically. This is certainly a reasonable position. These are attempts of people who lived in a pre-scientific era to make sense of the world they found themselves in, to explain their origins etc by using a colourful language that their contemporaries could relate to. I have absolutely no problem with this stance.

    What I DO have a problem with is when people who recognize and concede that the Bible is inextricably linked to the worldview of the people who wrote it a long time ago can not bring themselves to apply this insight universally. When it comes to propositions which carry an emotional investment for them, the special pleading sets in: “Yeah, this Genesis story is too weird to be taken literally. Nonetheless, Yahweh exists and Jesus is his son, that’s for sure.”. This is just not the way it works. If you start from the (reasonable) premise that the Bible is a historical document like many others, written by mortal men who lacked our current scientific knowledge a long time ago for specific purposes instead of a divinely inspired, unique document, do it consistently. To reiterate, I am not advocating that a literal interpretation of everything in the Bible is the only possible or even most sensible position. However, this is not a free pass to go cherry-picking through the book as suits your needs. You have to apply the same standard throughout. That being said, I am not sure how much of mainstream Christianity would survive in the process.

  66. #67 conradg
    May 7, 2008

    “To reiterate, I am not advocating that a literal interpretation of everything in the Bible is the only possible or even most sensible position. However, this is not a free pass to go cherry-picking through the book as suits your needs. You have to apply the same standard throughout. That being said, I am not sure how much of mainstream Christianity would survive in the process.”

    I like that. I don’t think enough would survive intact to suit many mainstream Christians.

    In regards to cherry-picking, I think some allowances have to be made for the fact that the Bible is not even consistent in its metaphorical and allegorical content. Sometimes, in some places, it is indeed trying to be an historical record. In other places, it is using metaphors and symbolism to communicate esoteric ideas. SOmetimes it is doing both at the same time. This makes it very difficult to separate the various methods of myth, literature, scripture, symbolism, and history. It was written in such a fashion as to deliberately make this difficult, so unraveling these things is not the easiest task. Doing so honestly, without cherry-picking one’s favorite passages and interpretations, is almost impossible to do in an objective manner. Even so, your point about consistency stands. It’s just difficult to apply a consistent approach to an inconsistent text.

  67. #68 Iapetus
    May 7, 2008

    conradg,

    I would not say that it is a deviation from the general theme of this thread to discuss whether any attempts at theodicy, in addition to being internally consistent, are also likely to reflect reality. Notice that although I agree with Jason’s criticisms, he does not conclusively prove that Ayala, Miller or Conway-Morris are logically or factually wrong. For all we know, one of them could be spot on. Maybe God really was compelled for some unfathomable reason to select evolution by natural selection as the means to bring about humanity since any other method would have resulted in infinitely more evil and suffering. As I said before, it is always possible to construct elaborate and convoluted mental edifices which are not obviously self-contradictory for the purpose of saving your proposition of choice. But is it not equally important to ask whether they are likely to be true? Hence the need for Mr. Occam and his friends Empirical Evidence, Explanatory Parsimony et al.

    But since I like to argue and debate, I will take your theodicy at face value and accept reincarnation. Let’s see if it fares any better than classical attempts.

    If I understand you correctly you argue that while gratuitious evil seems inexplicable if this one life is all we have, a multitude of lives solves the problem by giving us more than one go so that evil becomes a sparrings partner for our self-improvement.

    I must confess that I am slightly puzzled as to why you think that this is so. Do you really believe that the best way for our ethical/moral maturation an omnipotent and omniscient deity could come up with involves letting kids die from leukemia at the age of 5 or crippling them for life with some hideous disease? What are they supposed to take from this experience into their next life?

    I also do not understand how evolution fits into this. If it is, as you say, a mechanism to produce variety then I would guess that God could have chosen another way that did not have to rely on several mass extinctions and did not involve the suffering of countless creatures for hundreds of millions of years. Not to mention that a necessary premise would have to be that humans were the intended outcome of the evolutionary process. This is simply irreconcilable with our current understanding of evolution by natural selection.

  68. #69 Lofcaudio
    May 7, 2008

    Explicit Atheist: English translation of Genesis 8:9 but the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned to him into the ark; for the waters were on the surface of the whole earth.

    OK, what is the difference between “whole earth” and “global”?

    So you think that dove flew around the world a couple of times and never found dry land? The Hebrew word which has been translated into English as “earth” is very similar in that it means “ground, soil, dirt.” The writer of Genesis was not thinking of the earth as the third planet from the sun, but instead talking about the ground in the immediate vicinity of the ark. As conradg pointed out, the whole earth at that time was a pretty small area.

  69. #70 Lofcaudio
    May 7, 2008

    lapetus: If you start from the (reasonable) premise that the Bible is a historical document like many others, written by mortal men who lacked our current scientific knowledge a long time ago for specific purposes instead of a divinely inspired, unique document, do it consistently.

    Absolutely. But by “consistently”, I don’t think you apply the same standard to the whole Bible because the Bible is a collection of writings that span thousands of years. As conradg pointed out, some of the Bible was written to provide historical facts, some is clearly poetry while some is a collection of personal letters written to various groups of people. To be consistent, you have to understand the context, theme and intent of each of the books of the Bible.

    lapetus: To reiterate, I am not advocating that a literal interpretation of everything in the Bible is the only possible or even most sensible position. However, this is not a free pass to go cherry-picking through the book as suits your needs.

    I agree.

    lapetus: You have to apply the same standard throughout.

    As stated above, I disagree. Applying the same standard to the Gospel of Mark as you would to the Song of Solomon makes no sense, unless your only desire is to discredit the Bible. In reading The God Delusion, I was disappointed with the approach that Dawkins took in critiquing the Bible. Not only did he come across as being ignorant of the Bible as a whole, but all of his arguments were specifically those that you would expect of someone who really isn’t interested in discussing the merit of a piece of work, but instead only wanting to ridicule said work. Obviously, that was his intent, but resorting to a number of fallacies weakens his argument considerably.

  70. #71 Iapetus
    May 7, 2008

    Lofcaudio,

    “So you think that dove flew around the world a couple of times and never found dry land? The Hebrew word which has been translated into English as “earth” is very similar in that it means “ground, soil, dirt.” The writer of Genesis was not thinking of the earth as the third planet from the sun, but instead talking about the ground in the immediate vicinity of the ark.”

    So to summarize:

    our current scientific knowledge leads us to dismiss the notion of a truly global flood, i.e. a literal interpretation based on a supernatural intervention is ruled out. Therefore we either dismiss the Noah story out of hand or try to find another interpretation. A sensible option appears to be that the writer(s) wanted to relate the memory of a very localized flooding event, e.g. an abnormally high river tide resulting from a sudden snow melt in the mountains.

    Fine. This is certainly a plausible and rational explanation. Now, what would your conclusion be, employing the same methodology, with regard to the following topics:

    1. The existence of a deity called Yahweh and his supernatural powers and deeds?

    2. The story of a man who was simultaneously a god, was conceived and born while his mother remained a virgin, had supernatural powers and was brutally killed in atonement for all humanity?

  71. #72 Iapetus
    May 7, 2008

    Lofcaudio,

    “Absolutely. But by “consistently”, I don’t think you apply the same standard to the whole Bible because the Bible is a collection of writings that span thousands of years. [...] To be consistent, you have to understand the context, theme and intent of each of the books of the Bible.”

    Of course one reads a love poem differently from a dish washer manual. This is not what I mean by “consistent”.

    If you deem certain parts of the Bible to be implausible when interpreted literally due to the fact that they would go against our current scientific knowledge, you have to come to this result regardless of whether you have a personal interest in this or not. In other words, it would be intellectually dishonest to happily declare those parts of the Bible one considers tangential to one’s faith a “metaphor” while strenuously defending other parts which are equally unlikely to be true, but which happen to be central to one’s faith.

  72. #73 ctw
    May 7, 2008

    conradg:

    I have no objection to the label “atheist” if clearly defined; in fact, if appropriate I admit to being one if “theism” is taken to mean belief in a personal god that plays an active role in human affairs and the “a” is understood to mean “not an”. Unfortunately, that isn’t the sense of the word typical in popular usage. And although I am very supportive of Dawkins (et al) for his contributions to bringing non-belief “out of the closet”, I don’t think his failure to emphasize that there is a range from “weak” atheism (roughly what I define above) to “strong” atheism (belief that no gods exist) helps. Eg, although his quip “… we just go one god further” is cute and a crowd pleaser, it’s implication strikes me as philosophically and logically flawed: the former because some concepts of “god” are sufficiently vague to be believable by almost anyone (eg, “something undefined but manifest in the wonder of nature”), the latter because it isn’t clear what it means to believe that something unspecified and/or undetectable doesn’t exist.

    In any event, compared to being regularly called by my beautiful, loving wife of 40 years another seven letter word beginning with “a” that is unequivocally derogatory, occasionally being mislabeled “atheist” is no big deal.

    “I don’t take that as a put-down, merely an opinion.”

    And you are correct. As a result of my late-in-life introduction to the world of philosophy, I have come to consider almost everything essentially “merely an opinion”. I may consider the evidence for my opinion on some issue stronger than that for another’s and vigorously so argue, but I try (often unsuccessfully, of course) not to let disagreement degenerate into personal antagonism. I too come to these fora to learn and to try for a better understanding of other positions, not to spat.

    “Could you explain [nihilism vs reincarnation etc] better in your own words?”

    I was quite serious in my 5/6 10:37AM reply to lapetus: his explanation of the intent of my Occam allusion was at least as accurate and complete as any I could compose. There are a few words here and there that I might change, but I have nothing substantive to add or delete. And to emphasize, I did not mean to suggest simpler -> better.

    - Charles

  73. #74 ctw
    May 7, 2008

    “resorting to a number of fallacies weakens [TGD']s argument considerably”

    As hopefully can be inferred from my last comment, it is not my intent to be an apologist for Dawkins (who could hardly do worse than me even if he needed one) and I have my own complaints about TGD. But I do think criticism even of those with whom one disagrees should be accurate.

    I just did a quick scan of the pages referenced in the TGD index entries for “Bible”, “OT”, and “NT”. Ignoring some occurrences of flattering comments, all if not most of the critical ones seemed to be generally of the form “The text either specifies this action as immoral and possibly even punishable by death, which is appalling” or “The narrative describes with apparent approval this morally appalling action”, both in support of the assertion that the Bible is not necessarily the impressive source for moral guidance it is often claimed to be. So, can you cite a specific instance or two of a “fallacy”, as distinguished from an opinion with which you may disagree?

    And to anticipate a possible “it isn’t intended to be taken literally” response, keep in mind TGD’s target audience (explicitly defined in the Preface) which comprises neither theologians nor exegetes but everyman, a large fraction of whom take essentially everything in the Bible literally, as Dawkins – also anticipating the response – emphasizes.

    - Charles

  74. #75 conradg
    May 7, 2008

    Iapetus,

    The “probability issue” and Occam’s Razor issue (which are roughly the same) is far more subjective than you and many others here like to think. How exactly does one calculate such probabilities? Subjectively, it would seem. Some people put the subjective chance of there being a God next to zero, others put it next to one. Why? Subjective arguments that seem logical to each, but which remain subjective to the mind of the arguer.

    When you suggest that the chances that a benign and loving God would create a world such as ours are very, very small – hence the chances that there is a God is very, very small – you are making a subjective moral judgement and trying to turn it into an objective probability event. Not really good “science”. What we are in fact arguing about in such a case is morality and our subjective sense of what is “just”.

    We are also arguing over which of all the theistic arguments is “best”, which is also a subjective moral issue. There are many, many theistic arguments and models, even many reincarnation arguments and models. I can’t argue for all of them, I can only argue for the model that I find “best”. This is no different in kind from a scientist arguing for the scientific model that he considers “best”, meaning one that fits best with the evidence. In my case, I am not just considering objective evidence, but subjective evidence as well – since this is a subjective matter we are arguing about. When you suggest it is possible to construct elaborate mental edifices in order to save one’s model of choice, that argument could be used against science itself, or atheism, or any proposition which requires complex details to answer objections to its premise. And lets face it, all propositions require a fair amount of complicated explanations, science not least of all. Science certainly passes the Occam’s Razor test if only objective matters are involved, but the subjective moral issues of theodicy, and all other subjective issues, don’t leave science in the forefront of that debate – in my subjective opinion. So as I say, I can put forward my own best notions of reincarnation, dualism, cosmology, and see how they fare in relation to subjective issues. But keep in mind that in my view objectivity itself is an illusion – even the physical world itself is actually subjective in nature, rooted in consciousness, in other words, rather than existing on its own, in and of itself. But that’s a wider issue.

    So I’m basically happy that you are willing to argue to some degree on the premise of accepting theism and reincarnation, for the same reason you do – I like to debate and argue, and if we have to operate under the premise that theism is itself a virtual zero as far as probabilities go, there’s no point in arguing. I hope you simply will allow me to argue what I think is the very best theistic and reincarnation model (the most probable in my own idiosyncratic view), not merely some generalized, non-specific model.

    That out of the way, let’s get to the meat:

    “If I understand you correctly you argue that while gratuitious evil seems inexplicable if this one life is all we have, a multitude of lives solves the problem by giving us more than one go so that evil becomes a sparrings partner for our self-improvement.”

    That’s true, but incomplete, in the sense that I’m not arguing that reincarnation alone solves this issue, but an understanding of what reincarnation involves altogether – how and why it comes into being – does do that. The premises behind reincarnation are themselves important to the debate. The first is that the universe is a conscious event, composed of consciousness in every part. The second is that universal consciousness is by its very nature unitary, non-separate, non-dual, and of the nature of love. One could call this non-separate consciousness “love”. Within this non-separate consciousness forms arise, like patterns of light on an oil slick. The patterns are not separate from one another, but by a kind of “optical illusion” they can seem to be. These patterns, made out of consciousness, seem to experience what can perhaps, in deference to our Christian brethern, be called a “fall”. They can conceive of themselves as separately existing beings, rather than as a unifed, non-separate whole. They can experience themselves in this manner because they have free will – they are free to make errors as well as free to live in love and harmony. Living by the concept of separation creates an experience that seems to be separate – hence, a “fall” from the loving Grace of their own true nature, which is God. In such a view of the universe, the patterns of God appear to be opposed to one another – dualism arises, and conflict between dualism, and life becomes a struggle. The nature of existence appears to be a dualistic struggle with “others”, rather than a spontaneous flowering of non-separate forms in unity. In this process, a whole universe of universes comes into being, each of them seemingly separate from one another, depending on one’s immersion in the separative veiwpoint. All the while this seems to be occuring, however, the being of God remains non-separate. Separation is merely a viewpoint which arises in God, a consequence of free will and the capacity for error and ignorance, not an actual act of separation. But within the mind of those who live in separation, it seems more and more to be so, to the point where no other reality seems possible. And this is how evil arises.

    Evil, in this view, is merely the rationale of separation played to the hilt. In this view, death is the ultimate form of separation, the horror awaiting all separate forms. In God, however, death does not exist – not because forms don’t change and disappear, transforming into new forms – but because consciousness is continuous under all circumstances, even those of death. There is no separate between any form and the consciousness of that form, and the consciousness of all other forms. Hence, death is not real. There is simply an endless play of forms. To the dualistic mind of separation, however, death seems a horror. In reality, it is not.

    Reincarnation is, in one sense, the inevitable consequence of this cosmology. Forms will indeed change and die, that is inevitable. But their consciousness will not die, but simply be transformed into some new form. It cannot vanish. However, the specific consciousness associated with any particular form will, indeed, die. It will pass through a dissolution of identification with that form, and emergy into a new form, with no “memory” of the form it used to be. So all forms reincarnate.

    How does God feel about all this? Well, God remains non-separate from this. He is the unity of consciousness that each form thinks he is separated from, and tries to re-unify with. However, all kinds of blocks seem to appear in the mind that make this difficult, nearly impossible. Foremost of these is the presumption of separation itself, but this takes many seemingly concrete forms in the life lived. God thus enters into our lives as an intelligence that is able to see beyond separation, arising in and through us, as a re-emergence of our own nature. God “works” through the innate wisdom of each individual form, trying to break through the imposed sense of separation. And because it works from the deepest heart of reality, God also appears through every form in nature, and even through nature as a whole, even in the midst of its seeming separation.

    The appearance of seeming evil in the world is a consequence of our own viewpoint, our own conviction of separation. In reality, there is no metaphysical evil, there is only a viewpoint of separation that has to be overcome. How do we overcome this? By listening to our own hearts, our own consciousness, our own self-awareness, which is at its source the reality of God, of non-separation. Obviously it’s not that simple in the workings of our actual lives, however. One of the problems is that our lives are so brief that we hardly get a chance to learn to break through any of these separative presumptions before we die. In dying, we move into another form, and forget most of what we learned. Which is why the specific form of “ensouled” reincarnation that humans experience arose.

    In the metaphysics of the appearance of forms, there is a dimensional depth to form. There is physical form, and there is subtle, “astral” form, which is much less concrete, more plastic, less obviously fixed and separate in nature, and there are deeper forms than this, which I won’t go into as yetm buyt suffice it to say that they all have their own evolutionary patterns. In the evolution of subtle forms, a phenomena known as a “soul” appeared. This is an astral form which has durability and persistence to it, and a unique ability to interact with a physical form. It is able to connect itself to a physical form in the physical world, and allow itself to experience whatever that physical form experiences. This benefits both to a great degree. The physical form gains intelligence that it would not be able to produce on its own very easily, and the subtle form gains the experience of physical life without being entirely subject to its death and dissolution. In other words, it can continue to grow and make use of the unique experience of a physical world without entirely forgetting its wisdom from life to life. While it is alive through a physical form, the subtle being does indeed forget itself, and is subsumed by the powerful experience of a physical body and world, but it is yet able to bring into that life its own intuitive wisdom, and it is able to grow that wisdom from life to life, enabling an accumulation of wisdom that is not possible in the “normal” cycles of the birth and death of forms. Thus, an ensouled human being is a kind of hybrid – part physical being, part subtle being, working together, or not, to gain the wisdom to go beyond separation and regain the non-separate understanding of our very nature, God. This is why in many reincarnation theologies, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, human birth is considered a rare and fortitous event – human beings have a unique ability to grow in wisdom and acheive “enlightenment”, the conscious re-awakening of our own non-separate being. Most other forms simply don’t have the realistic capacity to do this, because they are continually bound to a cycle of birth and death which doesn’t allow for much wisdom to grow, at least not at the rate of ensouled beings, or at least until they, too, evolve into the ensouled stage.

    So, sorry for that long cosmology, but it’s necessary to describe some of the background for reincarnation to understand how it explains theodicy. Evil, in this sense, doesn’t exist. But the appearance of evil certainly does. So why should evil exist? First, it’s not a consequence of “God’s Creation”. It’s a consequence of ignorance, and the illusion of separation. Evil arises because we have convinced ourselves, through ignorance, that the world is a separate place from God, filled with separate beings who will die and never come back to life. Beings who think that way have a strong disposition to act in a fashion we would call “evil”. When they appear in the physical world, which is the most concretely “separate” of the dimensions of space-time, the tendency towards “evil” is particularly strong. And it is even exacerbated by the problems of ensouled beings, who are challenged by the specific technical problems in interfacing with a physical body. A fair amount of what passes for “evil” in the world is simply the result of people not responsibly interfacing with their own physical body, and producing aberated and unhealthy patterns in which the physical mind or body “gets away from” the astral soul, and acts out in a negative way. The primary challenge of physical ensoulment is being able interface with the physical body and brain in a positive manner, even in the face of the randomness of the physical world.

    “Do you really believe that the best way for our ethical/moral maturation an omnipotent and omniscient deity could come up with involves letting kids die from leukemia at the age of 5 or crippling them for life with some hideous disease? What are they supposed to take from this experience into their next life?”

    This doesn’t take into account the fact that while the body of a child is quite young, its soul is not. Its soul may have passed through many hundred or thousands of lives, and be quite ready to deal with this kind of challenge. I’m sure what it takes from such an experience differs in every individual case, but in general it will take an increased compassion for others, for the tragic sufferings of others, having gone through it themselves. This helps develop empathy for others, which is one of the primary ways of passing beyond the seeming separation of life. That is the goal, to move beyond the conviction of separation. Empathy and love are the primary developments in that process. They are that process. And suffering actually helps us in that respect. It breaks down the ego, meaning the sense of separation, and helps us move into the disposition of love. Going through lifetime after lifetime in a world created by randomness and “natural selection” perfectly suits this process. It helps us see the real consequences of a life of separation, and it helps us become motivated to change, to develop love and compassion and base our lives on some intuition of the unity of existence rather than on the struggle for survival and domination over others and the world itself.

    So on the one hand you could say that God didn’t create the universe in which evil exists, we did. You could also say that we are the God who created this universe, and we made a mistake, and have to correct ourselves. You could also say that we created the process of reincarnation to help ourselves out of this mess. You could also say that there is no mess, and cut through the illusion immediately. That’s certainly an option open to us, but it would require total self-sacrifice and total love, and most of us can only very, very gradual learn those lessons. That is why we could also say that God created the ensouled reincarnation process in order to help us with that project. Encounters with the evil in ourselves and within the creation we have made for ourselves is part of the process of transcending the very separation that gives rise to evil in the first place. One could say there’s no other real way beyond it. One has to accept responsibility for what one has created, and not pretend it is being imposed upon us from outside us. The issue is choice. We have chosen to be born in this world. Even a little girl dying of leukemia has chosen that life, knowing the likelihood of such a fate, because the soul wishes to grow. It’s a courageous and daring thing to do, being born human. Everyone should feel proud to have made this kind of choice. Everyone should learn as much as they can in the process, and die with the knowledge that none of it is in vain.

    Okay, that’s way too much information for one post, I know. But that’s the general gist of my own argument. I think you can see how this can fit in with a number of theological viewpoints, primarily the Hindu/Buddhist, but even to some degree the Christian. It’s not a final vision, it’s just what I’ve come up with over the years in trying to understand these things.

  75. #76 conradg
    May 7, 2008

    Charles,

    I understand what you mean that, in the general public sphere, the word “atheist” has many negative connotations. I have simply assumed that this forum is a very different kind of sphere, not guided by such popular notions, and that the word “atheist” doesn’t have those kinds of negative connotations here, but is taken to means simply what you stated earlier – a person who does not accept theism. As you say, there are many forms of atheism, soft, hard, and hardcore among them. Some of them are simply categorical defaults for those who just don’t feel any need for theism, like yourself, and don’t really well describe what is left over when theism is gone.

  76. #77 bobyu
    May 7, 2008

    conradg,
    Where do the animals fit into your cosmology?

  77. #78 Dr. Nooooo
    May 7, 2008

    Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…
    “conradg,
    Where do the animals fit into your cosmology?”

    For the love of all that is holy … why?

  78. #79 bobyu
    May 7, 2008

    The evil made me do it.

  79. #80 conradg
    May 8, 2008

    Bobyu,

    “Where do the animals fit into your cosmology?”

    Hey, I aim to entertain.

    But stabbing at an answer, my sense of it is that many higher mammals are often ensouled, whereas most animals are not. I think this is the reason one finds such religious ideas as in the Bible that humans are endowed with souls and reason, and are given responsibility for the earth. This doesn’t mean that these unensouled animals are without Divine consciousness at heart, it just means that they don’t have the complex combination of astral soul wedded to material body that we have.

    Also, contrary to various reincarnation traditions such as the ancient Buddhist and Hindu systems, I don’t believe that humans can be born as animals or vice-versa, at least not without a significant transformation of their astral souls, which have grown to interface only with one species at a time. However, for further entertainment purposes, I would suggest that alien souls that normally reincarnate into sentient alien bodies, if they are similar enough to human beings, can also incarnate, with significant adjustment times, into human bodies. It’s a form of immigration.

    “The evil made me do it.”

    Yes, I often think that’s why I post here too.

  80. #81 AndyD
    May 8, 2008

    “I’ve never had a lot of trouble with the problem of evil myself. The Christian position is that evil entered the world with sin. Prior to Adam’s sin, man suffered no evil. However, Satan was permitted by God to tempt Adam, such temptation being seemingly evil, yet not really, insofar as it could easily have been resisted. Adam suffered nothing in being tempted; it was only after he freely chose to share in Satan’s evil that he himself, and the human race following him, suffered.”

    It seems to me that this opening part of your very long statement does not fit at all well with any sort of evolutionary theory and so is irrelevant in regards to the discussion of theistic evolution.

  81. #82 ctw
    May 8, 2008

    conradg:

    re probabilities, subjectivities, etc, you might find this concept of “belief” interesting, or at least amusing. It is my attempt to:

    1) put religious “faith” on the same evidentiary plane as non-religious belief (ie, counter the claim that “faith is belief without evidence”)

    2) avoid the problems you perhaps had in mind by saying “objectivity itself is an illusion”. My concept of “belief” is pragmatic, not Platonic; specifically, whether or not a belief corresponds to reality, is objective or true, etc, play no role.

    Unfortunately, the definition (a cut-and-paste from a previous comment – on this blog, as I recall ) is in more-or-less formal mathematical language – I hope the informal idea isn’t totally obscured by that.

    Let G and C be a prospective benefit and the estimated cost respectively associated with an action A. Let E be a set {Ei,Wi; i=0,… ,n} of evidentiary elements and credibility weights relevant to the likelihood that A will in fact result in achieving G. Then a belief B is a function of A, G, and E the value of which is essentially a confidence measure that A will result in achieving G. Symbolically, a belief is a function B(A,G,E) with the range [0,1]. By establishing a threshold D(C), B becomes a decision function:

    Take A iffi B(A,G,E) is greater than or equal to D(C).

    Clearly, this formulation has no objective content – the weights and the threshold are set subjectively, not by actually doing a numerical calculations. But I think a couple of interesting things can be said about it nonetheless.

    - It makes explicit the critical role of action in holding a belief, consistent with what I assume James intended in “Will to Believe” by distinguishing between “live” and “dead” beliefs. If there is no action and therefore neither cost to be incurred nor decision to be made, the confidence measure cannot be “computed”. Ie, B is a “dead” belief.

    - Let A be “behaving as if God exists”. Pascal’s wager is (I think) essentially the argument that since G is extremely large, D(C) should be set so low that for almost any C,E, and B, A should be taken.

    - It highlights the role of evidence elements and associated credibility weights and that presented with the same evidence elements, two people can get dramatically different values for B depending on the credibility weights each assigns those elements.

    Note that an evidence element need not be objective. Eg, “I have a sense of the presence of God” counts, notwithstanding that some of us would weight such evidence very, very low in computing our own value for B.

    - Charles

  82. #83 conradg
    May 8, 2008

    Charles,

    I think that’s a fun way to approach the matter. As you say, the variables are all subjective, but the general gist tries relate them in a manner that shows some kind of benefit from religious belief. Of course, the benefit of believing could also be there whether the actual belief is true. Believing in angels (or unicorns) could make one happy and loving regardless of whether angels or unicorns actually exist. On the other hand, believing in something like “hard” atheism could make one deppressive and cynical, and have detrimental effects, even if it were true. So I’m not sure these equations serve the debate well, even if they may serve one’s living well.

    On the other hand, there’s much to be said for any belief that produces positive actions, and there’s much to said against any fact that produces negative actions. There’s a kind of higher truth to the notion that being right isn’t important if it makes you unhappy and thus inclined towards unhappy activity, whereas being wrong but happy, and thus inclined towards happy activity, is a superior way to live. In some sense, it becomes important to decide whether one want to be happy, and live happily in relation to others (doing actions that promote happiness) rather than trying to be factually correct, if being so correct does not promote happiness. It may turn out that correctness is a lower and even deluding form of knowledge, compared to being happy.

  83. #84 tabuhan
    May 8, 2008

    Thanks is Good Job

  84. #85 bobyu
    May 8, 2008

    Evolution promoted the maxim that more of those who survived were happy because they were right than those who were happy in spite of it.

  85. #86 conradg
    May 8, 2008

    “Evolution promoted the maxim that more of those who survived were happy because they were right than those who were happy in spite of it.”

    If that’s true, then religion must be right, since it survived and prospered in such massive quantities over so many generations.

  86. #87 shortie
    May 8, 2008

    Someone has assumed that religion was the only source of happiness that figured in the evolution of the emotions from the time such mechanisms developed in the animals that supposedly had no religion.

    Of course we can see from another thread that the same someone doesn’t believe much in that (if in any) aspect of evolution.

  87. #88 bobyu
    May 8, 2008

    Thanks shortie, but i really don’t need your help here.

  88. #89 by-stander
    May 8, 2008

    bobyu,
    It seems to me that this is an open conversation. Shortie didn’t address you, so what makes you think that you get to dictate dialog flow?

  89. #90 bobyu
    May 8, 2008

    There seemed to be an implication in shortie’s response that even though it was my “maxim” under discussion, I wouldn’t be able to respond adequately to the objection. Plus shortie injected an air of hostility that I had hoped to avoid.

    I might add that not only do I not get to dictate dialog flow, no-one seems to have any control of that flow at all.

  90. #91 conradg
    May 9, 2008

    Bobyu,

    I don’t think shortie is consciously trying to undercut you. He just has a massive hard on for me, and can’t resist any opportunity to show it off. We’re supposed to be in awe.

  91. #92 Iapetus
    May 9, 2008

    conradg,

    Oh boy, where to start.

    Although I realize that this is in all likelihood an extreme minority position around here, let me say that despite the fact that I disagree with a lot of your posts, I definitely enjoy them. Your take on many things is if nothing else quite unique and a welcome change to boring creationists. There is so much I could respond to, but for the sake of other readers (provided there are any left at this time) I will concentrate on the issues I find most relevant.

    In my previous post I stated that I would be willing to accept your premise of reincarnation at face value for the sake of argument. However, now that the whole package is on the table, I find it impossible to do so. If I may quote myself: “As I said before, it is always possible to construct elaborate and convoluted mental edifices which are not obviously self-contradictory for the purpose of saving your proposition of choice.” And what a beautiful example you provided. I do not know if this is the best theistic reincarnation model out there. It might well be and I believe that you have put much energy and mental effort into it. But what evidence is there that it is TRUE?

    You talk about the universe being a conscious event, composed of consciousness in every part. What leads you to assume this? The only being you can assign consciousness to with a reasonable amount of certainty is yourself and with less certainty other humans and maybe some higher mammals (although the ground already gets shaky there). That’s it! To jump from there to the inference that the whole universe is a single consciousness is simply unwarranted. And I am afraid that to say that you rely on subjective evidence for this won’t do, as inner feelings, emotions, intuitions etc. can not be shared by other persons and thus carry no weight in rational argument.

    You talk about astral forms and souls and even describe their properties and behaviour. How could you possibly know this? What evidence/inference led you to conclude that these things really exist? Furthermore, how could a purely metaphysical entity interact with a physical entity? If it did, it would become at least partially physical itself and thus detectable.

    You say that the soul of a child which died young will take with it an increased compassion for others into the next incarnation. What is the evidence for this? Should we then not expect people to have at least vague memories of their former lives, especially if they number in the thousands? Do you have them?

    I realize that this is probably not the discussion you are interested in. But I feel it is also rather pointless to engage in wild speculation and flights of fancy in a sort of “angels dancing on a pinhead” way without checking whether the premises of the particular model under discussion are even remotely likely to reflect reality.

    I also have to object to your discussion of Occam’s Razor, science and objectivity vs. subjectivity.

    First of all, although I agree that it is not a law of nature or rule of logic, Occam’s Razor is more than just a “he said/she said” device based on purely subjective criteria that can justify every conclusion you wish. If we have to decide between two competing hypotheses to explain a certain phenomenon, it is prudent to accept the one which employs the least parameters that do not require additional explanations and starts from the simplest premises. Consider as a (crude) analogy the two following hypotheses that account for the motion of the Earth around the sun:

    1. The mass of the sun distorts the spacetime in its vicinity, forcing the Earth to move in a circular fashion around it.

    2. An army of invisible, undetectable angels constantly pushes the Earth around the sun.

    Now, while option 2 is capable of explaining the observed phenomenon, it is burdened with so many additional premises that require further explanation compared to option 1 that Occam’s Razor would lead us to choose the latter.

    In my view the same applies to your attempt at theodicy. I look at the contortions you go through, the bold (to phrase it charitably) metaphysical speculations that are required for this construct to hold up and I am baffled that you believe this is an adequate representation of reality. Can you entertain even for a second the notion that you are mistaken about all this and that we are just the chance product of a material process in a universe that is absolutely blind and indifferent to us? Would this explanation, while lacking the emotional comfort provided by your and other theistic systems, conform to the facts just as well? I think it is really obvious what Occam’s Razor should lead us to conclude here.

    “When you suggest it is possible to construct elaborate mental edifices in order to save one’s model of choice, that argument could be used against science itself, or atheism, or any proposition which requires complex details to answer objections to its premise. And lets face it, all propositions require a fair amount of complicated explanations, science not least of all. Science certainly passes the Occam’s Razor test if only objective matters are involved, but the subjective moral issues of theodicy, and all other subjective issues, don’t leave science in the forefront of that debate – in my subjective opinion.”

    I am really beginning to wonder why you have to include a science-bashing part in so many of your posts. I did not mention science once in my post to you. I never said that science logically disproves God or renders any attempts at theodicy futile from the start or anything else to this effect. If we are talking about purely metaphysical or moral/ethical propositions, science has nothing to say whether they are true or false. I fully agree with you there. But I never implied otherwise.
    That being said, I would be interested to hear which complicated premises science requires. Other than methodological naturalism, I am not aware of any.

    “We are also arguing over which of all the theistic arguments is “best”, which is also a subjective moral issue. There are many, many theistic arguments and models, even many reincarnation arguments and models. I can’t argue for all of them, I can only argue for the model that I find “best”. This is no different in kind from a scientist arguing for the scientific model that he considers “best”, meaning one that fits best with the evidence. In my case, I am not just considering objective evidence, but subjective evidence as well – since this is a subjective matter we are arguing about.”

    I am afraid that does not follow. Of course the notion of what is or is not evil and the resulting need of a theist for a theodicy is a human construct and in this sense subjective. Nevertheless, since nobody has access to your consciousness but you, any argument based on personal insights, revelations, feelings, intuitions etc. is not relevant for other persons and can be dismissed. This is simply an indispensable rule for rational discussion.

  92. #93 conradg
    May 9, 2008

    Iapetus,

    Oh boy, where to start.

    I agree. You’ve opened up a lot of different avenues to discuss, and I don’t think we can go down all of them at once. There’s these at the very least:

    1.The consciousness issue – Is the universe conscious?
    2.Is reincarnation a valid model to consider? (and is my model the best)
    3.How valid is the notion that people retain wisdom from past lives?
    4.Occam’s Razor – objectivity vs. subjectivity
    5.What is evil, and how can it be explained.

    I think, for simplicity’s sake, that I’ll start with the first issue, and only try to touch lightly on the others at first. We’ll see how it goes. I just don’t want to overwhelm, which is my tendency. And btw, I’m glad you have some appreciation for what I’m saying, even if you strongly disagree. Obviously I’m not here because I expect agreement. As my own theology shows, I find that I learn a lot from encountering strong challenges and disagreement. So what you and others offer is precisely what I am looking for, not pats on the back and agreeable nonsense. So please, don’t feel that you have to hold back or anything. I even benefit from shortie, despite his ill-temper.

    So, the consciousness issue:

    You talk about the universe being a conscious event, composed of consciousness in every part. What leads you to assume this? The only being you can assign consciousness to with a reasonable amount of certainty is yourself and with less certainty other humans and maybe some higher mammals (although the ground already gets shaky there). That’s it!

    I agree with that whole-heartedly. And that’s where it all begins: the examination of our own consciousness, our own being, and our own experience. I suggest that we do just that, and see what we find. Do we ever actually find anything outside of our own consciousness? Even if we presume that all our information comes to us through the five senses, do we ever actually receive any of that information except in our consciousness? In other words, unless it appears in our consciousness, can we ever say it exists? I don’t see how. That’s the basis of empiricism. Unless we observe something, we don’t know it exists. Ergo, nothing can be verified as existing except within our consciousness. Even a report we hear about of black holes in distant galaxies isn’t real to us until we hear of or read the report. Science isn’t real to us until we actually learn it in our own consciousness, or experience its effects in our own conscious life. Hence, even at the most basic level, the entire universe is, in our experience, only existing in consciousness, because that is the very foundation of our own existence and experience. Hence, for all practical purposes, there is no world outside of our own consciousness. The world is an event taking place in our consciousness. So, what is the world made out of? Is it made out of material “stuff” that exists apart from our own consciousness? How could we possible prove that to be the case, since any observation of material “stuff” must occur within our own consciousness to verify its existence? Hence, even material stuff is actually, at base, composed of consciousness. In other words, the practical basis for the entire material world is consciousness, since it cannot be observed outside of and apart from consciousness. Thus, there is no such thing as an objective world. The objective world appears in consciousness in the same way that subjective thoughts and feelings do.

    This can be verified. Look at a cup, or a lamp, or anything in the room. The image you see is not “out there”, it is in your mind, in your consciousness. The form you see before you is composed of conscious light in your mind, not objective light in the world around you. It is of the same nature as a thought, a dream, an image in your mind. It is simply very clear and seemingly solid. It occupies a particular dimension in your consciousness, not a dimension outside of consciousness. One could say that, within consciousness, such perceptual forms differ from other perceptual forms like thoughts and memories, but the division is artificial, in that consciousness is continuous between them.

    What I’m suggesting about consciousness is that there’s a direct way of understanding ourselves as conscious beings that recognizes the fundamental unity of our experience in consciousness, and that allows for an exploration of the world around us as a conscious event rather than as an artificial division of the world into objective and subjective dimensions. If one begins to examine experience in this way, you might be quite surprised at what you find. The kinds of spiritual experiences spoken of in mystical literature begin to open up, and even seem no more “remarkable” than any other form of experience. Theology becomes less of a “angels dancing on the heads of pins” abstracted logical silliness and more a real investigation of how consciousness really operates at all kinds of different levels of the mind and life.

    So it’s not necessary to imagine that the universe “out there” is actually composed of consciousness. All we do know is within our own consciousness, even the world “out there”, and hence it can’t be composed of anything else. This doesn’t negate science, it merely includes science as one of the features of our own consciousness. But it includes more than science, because it doesn’t make an artificial distinction between objective and subjective realms. It simply tries to understand how these things relate to one another within our consciousness. It doesn’t presume our consciousness to be subjective, and our experience of the world to be objective. They are both part of our own consciousness.

    To jump from there to the inference that the whole universe is a single consciousness is simply unwarranted. And I am afraid that to say that you rely on subjective evidence for this won’t do, as inner feelings, emotions, intuitions etc. can not be shared by other persons and thus carry no weight in rational argument.

    But inner feelings, emotions, intuitions, etc., can and are shared by others. That is what allows human beings to actually relate to one another. If we didn’t actually feel what others feel, or intuit what others intuit, we wouldn’t be able to get through the day without killing one another. We wouldn’t be able to love or relate or get angry or any of the things which compose actual human intercourse. We wouldn’t be able to have this conversation. It is because we are not robots who are objectively separate from one another and unable to form a conscious bond that we can do this. Human beings are able to create bonds in consciousness with one another, not merely in the so-called “objective” world. We are not all masters of this, but we are all capable of it, and aware of a great need for this. When people talk to one another, they are not merely exchanging words, they are exchanging psychic energy, they are exchanging consciousness. This isn’t just a fancy new-age way of stating the obvious, it really ought to be obvious that consciousness is the basis for all communication, and it is the primal “content” exchanged in all communication.

    You talk about astral forms and souls and even describe their properties and behaviour. How could you possibly know this? What evidence/inference led you to conclude that these things really exist? Furthermore, how could a purely metaphysical entity interact with a physical entity? If it did, it would become at least partially physical itself and thus detectable.

    First, I’ve certainly had plenty of metaphysical experience, mystical experience, etc., and I personally know a whole lot of people who have had similar experiences, and I’ve shared them at the same time, like any other kind of experience, and so I feel I have a whole lot of very good reasons to think this sort of thing is real. Virtually anyone who starts to investigate their own consciousness directly will start to experience these sorts of things. It’s like science in that respect – if you actually do the investigation in a serious way, you begin to gather data. What you make of the data is always an issue, but the fact that the data can be gathered isn’t really in question for those who have done it. I’m certainly the last person who’s going to claim that my interpretation of the data – my own and all the many people who have written about these things throughout the ages – is the correct one, but it’s just the best I’ve been able to put together, and it is certainly an evolving process by which I grow by getting by affirmation and criticism from others. Like I say, I’m not expecting any affirmation here, just criticism, and that’s fine. And of course no one here need believe me when I say that I’m operating from actual data, but it’s not like I’m going to completely doubt everything I’ve experienced in my life because some guys on an internet forum tell me I’m full of it. Nor would I expect you or anyone else here to on the basis of my own opinions.

    You say that the soul of a child which died young will take with it an increased compassion for others into the next incarnation. What is the evidence for this? Should we then not expect people to have at least vague memories of their former lives, especially if they number in the thousands? Do you have them?

    This gets a bit into the second issue of reincarnation, but yes, I’ll say that I have had some memories of past lives, and I’d refer you to some of the literature out there on reincarnation. Stevenson and Tucker have done some very good research on children’s memories of past lives, which doesn’t prove anything conclusively, but does seem to indicate some very vivid examples of children having information of previous lives that has been confirmed by actually finding the people they seem to have been in that past life, and interviewing relatives and friends, etc. In my own experience with friends and relatives, I’d say quite a few people have some basic memories of past lives. There’s also the work of Newton, Weiss, and others on hypnotic recall of past lives which has proven very useful in the medical, therapeutic setting. Again, one can’t actually prove anything for certain here, because in essence all we have is information transfer, and technically it could be something other than reincarnation going on. But it certainly doesn’t appear to be easily explained by anything other than reincarnation, though of course skeptics will differ.

    The point I’d make is that reincarnation only seems implausible if one takes the view that there is an objective world outside of consciousness, and that our inner world of thoughts and memories and subjectivity is a completely separate dimension. If one begins to actually examine experience itself, this perspective begins to be seen as an illusory separation, and then such matters as reincarnation begin to seem very natural and even matter of fact. So the Occam’s Razor issue changes dramatically when one recognizes consciousness as the basis of all experience, rather than as a by-product of biological processes. It quickly becomes rather obvious that there’s a kind of “law of the conservation of consciousness” , just as in science there’s a law of the conservation of mass/energy. Just as mass/energy can be changed and transformed, but not destroyed, so can consciousness be changed and transformed, but not destroyed. Hence, reincarnation is merely the means by which our own consciousness is changed and transformed from life to life, but never destroyed.

    As for the issue of evil, like I say, evil is a judgment made by human beings, rather than something objectively existing. A flood, a plague, a human being killing others to further their own survival, all these things are just part of nature. We only judge them as evil as part of our own metaphysical view. So evil can’t even be discussed without admitting that one has already created a metaphysical category. How else could the concept of evil be addressed, therefore, except through metaphysics?

    As I’ve said, in my view there is no such thing as metaphysical evil. A serious look at the metaphysics of the universe will see that there is no such thing as evil in it. There are merely natural patterns of birth and death that endlessly cycle through. One thing I will admit, however, is that there may not be any need for an ultimate Deity to explain either reincarnation or evil. The non-dual schools I generally subscribe to either don’t take Deities terribly seriously or don’t consider them to be absolute, but rather merely highly evolved individuals who are still far short of ultimate understanding, or just as psychic archetypes whose reality is not of the same nature as individuals – who themselves are not taken seriously as real entities.

    One thing I’ll also add in connection to your comment that my “construction” is highly elaborate. First, it’s not my construction. Everything I’ve said has been part of one tradition or another for thousands and thousands of years. Those traditions are far more elaborate on these issues than I have put forward. And I don’t understand the objection to it being elaborate. Isn’t nature extremely elaborate? Isn’t the knowledge we have gathered even scientifically about the world elaborate to an almost unbelievable degree, and we’ve barely touched the surface of it all? If you went to someone who knew about neither of them, some intelligent peasant living a thousand years ago in Mongolia, and explained to him the elaborate findings of science, and my own elaborate metaphysics, which do you really think he would find more unbelievable, more far-fetched, and less in agreement with Occam’s Razor.?

    And be reminded, Occam was a theologian who did not find his theology to be made irrelevant by the principle of Occam’s Razor, so it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is being used properly by critics of theology to suggest that it should.

    Anyway, I appreciate your giving me the time of day, for what that’s worth.

  93. #94 bobyu
    May 9, 2008

    conradg,
    Cuts and pastes reveal the following, selected more or less at random as they caught the eye:

    “Reincarnation puts evil into perspective – that we are here over and over again until, so to speak, we get it right. Evil is part of what we have to deal with in ourselves and in others.
    **
    Reincarnation also makes it possible for us to make the kind of turnabout necessary to change our own evil ways, sometimes, perahps, by being the victims of evil ourselves.
    **
    It suggests that God created the world as a place for souls to grow and learn how to be compassionate in the face of terrible randomness and tragedy.
    **
    As for the issue of evil, like I say, evil is a judgment made by human beings, rather than something objectively existing. A flood, a plague, a human being killing others to further their own survival, all these things are just part of nature.
    **
    As I’ve said, in my view there is no such thing as metaphysical evil. A serious look at the metaphysics of the universe will see that there is no such thing as evil in it. There are merely natural patterns of birth and death that endlessly cycle through.
    **
    Everything I’ve said has been part of one tradition or another for thousands and thousands of years. Those traditions are far more elaborate on these issues than I have put forward.”

    A lot of questions go begging here. One being that if there is no evil force in nature (and in fact I agree with another commentator that there isn’t), what is it that we have to get right through a series of lives in which we learn what to do or not do based on not being able to remember what it is we did wrong the previous times around? If these were evil ways, yet not from some sprits of evil, what are the more benign spirits that enabled the reincarnation process concerned with having us learn?

    (This is a rhetorical question in the sense that the asker has little reason that it will elicit any substantive response.)

    Taking bits and pieces from other traditions that not only aren’t consistent in their appeal, but are in many ways mutually exclusive, is no less weird a way to calm our fears of the unknown than to do as the Christians and others have done with their cobbled together bibles, korans, and torahs.

  94. #95 conradg
    May 9, 2008

    Bobyu,

    Rhetorical or not, these are good questions:

    A lot of questions go begging here. One being that if there is no evil force in nature (and in fact I agree with another commentator that there isn’t), what is it that we have to get right through a series of lives in which we learn what to do or not do based on not being able to remember what it is we did wrong the previous times around? If these were evil ways, yet not from some sprits of evil, what are the more benign spirits that enabled the reincarnation process concerned with having us learn?

    I’m not sure how satisfying my responses will be, but I’ll give it a try.

    The basic answer is that we have to “get right” is knowing directly who we are, as consciousness. So it’s all about self-knowledge. Spirits in nature are faced with a single problem when it gets down to it. They don’t know who they are, and they yearn to find out. The problem boils down to attention: spirits become what they put attention on. At least they seem to become what they put attention on. In reality, by putting attention on any “thing”, they lose the knowledge of who they are. They lose the knowledge of who is at the source of attention, the Self. This is not merely a problem among physically embodied spirits, it is a universal problem in the spirit world. The spirit worlds are less difficult, less disturbing, than the physical worlds, because they are essentially “mental” worlds, dream-like worlds made of mental projections. The question of evil hardly even arises there, except in relation to the physical world and the lives spirits have gone through there. The reason many earthly religions talk about “going to heaven” after they die is simply because the after-death spirit worlds really are so much more enjoyable and easeful than the embodied worlds. It’s far from perfect, but in comparison to the physical world its a piece of cake. The problem is that in the spirit worlds the basic issues of attention and self-knowledge are still confusing and unresolved. In fact, these issues are even more difficult to resolve in the spirit worlds because they are so amorphous and indefinite. All of our ignorance floats about in mind alone, and never gets pinned down enough to penetrate. There are plenty of spirits who don’t even bother to incarnate. Some think they are beyond such matters, others are simply frank in their revulsion towards the whole process.

    The basic problem that thwarts self-knowledge in both the spirit worlds and incarnate worlds is what are called “samskaras” in the Buddhist tradition or “vasanas” in the Hindu. This means, roughly, “impurities”, “desires”, and “tendencies of mind”. Spirits suffer from these in their spirit worlds just as much they do when embodied in physical realms. The advantage of embodiment is that these desires get played out in the most dramatic way, allowing us to actually see what they are about in a concrete fashion. Rather than being abstract and merely mental in nature, they become fully enacted, lived out, made definite and inspectable when we incarnate through physical form. The consequences of our desires become obvious, and this is how evil actually emerges. Deeper tendencies of the mind create conflicts in the material world which are not present in the spirit worlds, but which nevertheless exist and prevent deeper understanding from emerging. In a paradoxical way, it’s by going lower and crudely enacting these desires that we are best able to understand them and transcend them, and be purified to the point where we can actually address the central issue of consciousness without constantly being pulled this way and that by the latent tendencies of the mind. So evil is simply the dramatic acting out of tendencies which exist in all of us at the level of spirit, but which don’t get that far because the spirit worlds have more ways of softening these tendencies such that they never become reified. The problem with the spirit world is that they never become entirely purified either, or at least it takes a much, much longer time. The advantage of embodiment is that it throws all these things directly in our faces, and forces us to deal with our tendencies and desires so directly that we can’t ignore their consequences and implications for very long.

    The issue of not being able to remember our past lives is a little complex. Part of the reason is simply practical. The physical body contains memories of only its present life. When the physical brain dies, so do those physical memories. They are not transferred to the next physical body because there is no physical connection between them. The spirit body retains these memories, but it doesn’t keep them in the forefront, for the same reason that we don’t remember every detail of yesterday – memory clogs us up, and too much of it prevents us from dealing with present circumstances. How much do you really remember of your own childhood? Probably not very much, and for good reason. It’s necessary to forget in order to live on and be present in the moment. Memories of one’s past lives are not terribly important in the living of this present life. In fact, forgetting those memories is actually more important than living them out. Physical immortality is actually not terribly desirable in the spiritual sense. It would interfere with out ability to function fresh and clear, free from the impositions of the past. Widsom, on the other hand, is not about retaining memories, or remembering certain past lessons. Real wisdom has an actual direct impact in our consciousness, in our actual disposition in any moment, and it is lasting. We achieve a certain disposition in relation to whatever happens to be arising, whatever body we are associated with, whatever its circumstances and qualities might be. That is what we bring with us wherever we go, whatever body we are related to, whatever world or mind impinges upon us. If you have any experience with children, you know that kids bring something to this world which is not explicable by mere environment or genetics. They bring a wisdom, or lack of the same, that shapes their choices, and their disposition. I used to work with hundreds of children, and I’ve seen the difference in their eyes. This of course carries on into adulthood. People are not merely their physical mechanism. They are an awareness and an intention that moves into life, and makes choices and experiences this world through conscious intent, and learns from it some profound lessons about their own consciousness.

    Ultimately, the purpose of that could be called “enlightenment”. But that’s just a fancy word for knowing who we are. That means going beyond the desires of the mind and simply resting in our own being, and knowing ourselves as the very consciousness that has been addicted to objects, physical and spiritual, in ignorance. That knowledge is what is called “liberation from the cycle of birth and death”, because it is no longer bound to the ignorance that requires birth and death to purify itself and learn who we are. But that’s only a way of saying what it is not, rather than what it is. What it actually is, is best described by the word “love”. And probably the best way of describing the actual process of learning through incarnation is to say that we grow in our ability to love, and to intuit the reality of love as the foundation of not only the universe, but of our own consciousness.

    Taking bits and pieces from other traditions that not only aren’t consistent in their appeal, but are in many ways mutually exclusive, is no less weird a way to calm our fears of the unknown than to do as the Christians and others have done with their cobbled together bibles, korans, and torahs.

    I’m not really taking bits and pieces from a lot of traditions. What I’ve described is often referred to as “the sanatana dharma” of Hinduism/Buddhism. Yes, I make a few modifications based on my own attempts to separate what is merely mythical from what is the actual metaphysical reality being referred to, but it’s not really a cobbling together of anything. It’s pretty much recognizable by anyone familiar with that general tradition. As far as consistency, while there is always plenty of debate in the whole of Hinduism/Buddhism, there’s a pretty consistent basic vision of these things that is not exclusive within that debate, but simply open to interpretation on many levels. That is not the case, however, within the monotheistic traditions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, which emphasize exclusivity, and create theologies based on exclusivity. This approach is able to incorporate Christianity into its general understanding, and actually does, whereas the reverse is not true. But even within those traditions there is a mystical core that has always approached things in this general way, whether or not they acknowledge reincarnation. Although it should be mentioned again that even within Christianity many early Christians believed in reincarnation, up till the time it was declared heresy within the Church, at around 600 AD.

    I would also not say that the aim of this approach is to calm our fears of the unknown, because I don’t think it actually does that for one. Reincarnation simply provides a larger model within which our fears of the unknown are constantly challenged. The emphasis is on self-knowledge, and it makes clear that the only way to actually calm our fears is to grow in self-knowledge, not merely to belief in this or that metaphysics. If you actually do believe in this metaphysical view, it requires that one engage in the process of self-knowledge, love, and real growth, and not be satisfied with mere belief. Of course, the very core of the Christian teachings of Jesus has a similar message, but it gets corrupted, I think, into the notion that mere belief is enough, when it is clearly not. In many respects, belief is the enemy of this message, because it leads people to think that they merely have to believe in some thing or other, or, in the new-age prosperity-delusional fashion of “The Secret”, merely to change their minds rather than their actual life.

  95. #96 bobyu
    May 9, 2008

    Well, conradg, I presume you know that all of this is something that fits or may only fit your particular mindset, as it’s not something that you arrived at independently or objectively, or that you could convince many others to agree with who were not otherwise so disposed, or that you could establish as a probability to even the most open minded among us, or that could be said to have any scientific basis, or especially be tested on that basis, or that dovetails in any but the most fanciful ways with the evolutionary sciences. Or that anyone could demonstrate was the wrong way for you to think by any of our usual methods of discourse or persuasion.
    In fact what you have is almost an anti-theory of creationism that sets up what can be used as an impregnable defense to materialism, and by no-one else but you. Why you would want or need such a defense is something only you can answer, and the catch is that it’s only you that can ask yourself that question.

    I still think you need to fill in some holes where animals and their souls (those that have them anyway) fit in this picture – that could still be a chink in your armor.

  96. #97 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    Bobyu,

    Well, that’s a lot of fairly categorical statements which naturally I don’t much agree with, except that it’s not a scientific theory, and that I don’t expect anyone to agree with it unless they’ve actually begun to inspect their own self-aware consciousness to the degree that the consicousness-perspective begins to become a reality, rather than just a theory. It’s not a mindset that is required, in other words, but a conscious inspection of the mind.

    In fact what you have is almost an anti-theory of creationism that sets up what can be used as an impregnable defense to materialism, and by no-one else but you.

    I’m not sure if you mean by that, a theory anti-thetical to Christian creationism. If you do, then I’d agree. As religious theories of creation goes, I think the Christian one is among the least plausible and least helpful. But the notion that this reincarnation model is something held true by me and me only is simply factually innacurate. There are at least a billion Hindus in the world who believe in this, and another 300 million Buddhists who do, and I’d bet several hundred million other people of various faiths or idiosyncratic beliefs who believe in reincarnation. Details may differ, but the basic model is roughly the same. So let’s not pretend that I’m alone in this. There are massive theologies built around these ideas that have nothing to do with my personal needs or desires.

    As for being an impregnable defense against materialism, I wouldn’t go quite so far as that. While reincarnation is based on a model that rejects materialism, it’s not necessary to adopt reincarnation in order to reject materialism. As I wrote earlier, I reject materialism for very direct reason based on the direct inspection of consciousness and self-awareness. Based on that, reincarnation is quite plausible, but it doesn’t necessarily follow, and it isn’t required. In other words, I could be convinced that reincarnation isn’t true, and still find materialism untrue. For one thing, I can’t see how materialism can explain the simple fact of self-awareness and free will. For me to adopt materialism, I would have to reject my own self-awareness and free will, and since I find self-awareness to be self-evident, I dont’ see how that can happen. Reincarnation, on the other hand, is not self-evident, and is simply a theory I think has quite a lot going for it. If one examines creation models, I think it is the best of the lot, and while that’s just my opinion, I think there’s plenty of logical reasons why it works, certainly a helluva lot better than the Judeo-Christian-Islam creation model.

    As for animals, I admit that I haven’t given a full description of that process. Many reincarnation models presume that a soul can incarnate through animals and humans interchangeably, and that it’s a kind of reward for an animal to become a human, and a punishment for a human to go to an animal. My sense is that this is a myth about reincarnation, that the soul evolves to fit particular species, and doesn’t necessarily change to another species without good reason, and without a significant “reformating” of the astral soul. An animal can certainly “move up” to the human level, but to do so it has to go through a significant transformation at the astral level, under the guidance of human souls, and then learn almost from scratch how to be human. It doesn’t go backwards from there except perhaps in very rare circumstances, nor could it without going through a very difficult process of reconfiguration. Likewise, animals lower than a certain level of sentience don’t figure into the reincarnation process simply because there’s not enough for a reincarnating soul to work with there. So it’s generally confined to more advanced mammals, and maybe some birds. Domesticated pets are probably the animal souls who are most likely to “move up” to the human level, and their relationship with humans is part of the process of familiarizing themselves with the human experience, and becoming attracted to it. But like everything else in the reincarnation process, it is all done by choice and free will.

  97. #98 bobyu
    May 10, 2008

    Conradg, but in fact the version of reincarnation you have outlined is peculiar to your particular mindset, an adaption you have conceded to earlier. The usual reincarnation model has a different view entirely of animals, and if I’m not mistaken, presumes memories are accumulated in the souls, even if only to remain in the unconscious mechanisms of the individual life forms. Many forms of reincarnation provide for sins and their punishment, or good and its rewards, by the level of animal life a soul may ascend to or descend to. So in a sense, every version is tailored to it’s audience, and the mind set of that audience, to a significant extent.
    And I use the term audience to relate to the oral tradition involved in passing on this particular genre of mythology. And to advocate it in general to a largely western audience is to know on one level that such a literal culture requires more than an emotional appeal to instill confidence in an essentially foreign construct.
    Much of the construct has to be taken on trust, when reason is the coin of the realm in such a society.
    And my understanding of the process is that it hardly leaves room for choice and free will, when one’s fate, if not predetermined –
    and after all, it’s the fatalistic cultures that most embrace reincarnation- is post-determined by ever vigilant spirits.
    And materialism, which for the most part accepts randomness in a non-determinate universe, is more consistent with the free will concept than with any supernatural constructs. The supernatural almost never needs to be invoked except as an explanation for a purposeful being or spirit with specific intent to force it’s will on the animal life under its control. In the West, we look for logical consistency, whether that’s an ultimately justifiable stance or not.

  98. #99 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    Bobyu,

    I thought I made it clear that reincarnation models differ considerably, while retaining the same general form. The details of what may or may not occur with animals is not terribly significant in the overall model. Likewise with the issue of sin and punishment. The general view, in virtually all cases, is of a progressive learning process that gradually releases the individual from ignorance and the desires that arise from ignorance. Some see this in terms of sin and punishment, others in terms of action and reaction, others in terms of natural consequences of attention. Most incorporate all such views in one way or another. And virtually all see one’s choices as a matter of free will, in spite of the momentum of karmic tendency. To say that each version is tailored to a specific audience is a circular argument – which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    I would agree that there are biased cultural traditions at work here, and mythic structures involved in the process which don’t necessarily represent a literal representation of facts. Navigating through such structures requires some individual judgment, which is also part of these traditions. Unlike the monotheistic traditions of the Middle East, the eastern traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism are much more individualistic and lacking in a catechism. People are free to believe as they wish, and be attracted to whichever sect or dharma or viewpoint appeals to them. This is considered not only acceptable but encouraged. It is considered that all such paths lead to the same goal if by a different understanding and route. You can look at that as a sign that these ideas are designed for an audience, but this turns the approach into a passive one of acceptance rather than an active one of participation, and it is participatory knowledge that is being advocated here. One tries on and feels into each of these teachings and views and sees whether they seem to work or not. If they do, fine, if not, one moves on. That’s not the monotheistic way, I know, but monotheism isn’t how most of the world’s religions work, and growing up in a monotheistic culture can distort one’s expectations of religion.

    I don’t think you appreciate that taking these things on trust isn’t the way it works. It’s more like trying on a number of outfits until one finds one that fits and pleases one’s soul. Some people find that scientific atheism fits and pleases their soul. Nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, some like to think that if they find an outfit that fits them and is pleasing to their soul, it must fit everyone, and if it doesn’t fit everyone, there must be something wrong with all those other people. That’s not what I am suggesting at all about the particular outfit I am describing. It pleases me, and quite a few other people, but if it doesn’t attract or please you, that is fine too. Even if reincarnation is true, it doesn’t need to be believed in to work. Likewise with science. Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, if it is true you will be reborn again and again anyway. Whether or not you believe in gravity, if you jump up you will fall back down. If reincarnation is not true, then it won’t happen. It just takes longer to find out. What’s import isn’t believing in the right things, but taking a path that brings wisdom and love into your life. Some people genuinely love science, and that is an indication that they should follow that path. It’s all a matter of following one’s heart. Believing in God isn’t even necessary, except in the sense that God is love, and it is necessary to believe in what one loves, regardless of what form that takes. So if one loves science, then science is one’s God, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

    I’m not sure why you think it’s wrong to advocate these kinds of reincarnation models based on non-dual spirituality to western audiences. I’m a westerner, and it works for me. I’m certainly not the typical westerner, but I’m hardly unique. There are millions of westerners who follow this kind of teaching, from Buddhist to Hindus to new agers to various eclectic Christians and others. There are even quite a few scientists among them. You would probably be surprised. David Bohm comes to mind. And I personally know plenty of westerners myself who are quite sympathetic to these things.

    Fatalism is certainly an issue among eastern cultures, but it’s not the widespread norm either, so I think it’s inaccurate to describe Hinduism or Buddhism as fatalistic. There’s certainly a thread within those teachings which suggests that everything is predetermined, and yet even there they usually teach that one can’t actually live that way, that one must assume total free will in every moment, in part because one simply cannot know what one’s destiny actually is.

    And materialism, which for the most part accepts randomness in a non-determinate universe, is more consistent with the free will concept than with any supernatural constructs. The supernatural almost never needs to be invoked except as an explanation for a purposeful being or spirit with specific intent to force it’s will on the animal life under its control. In the West, we look for logical consistency, whether that’s an ultimately justifiable stance or not.

    I don’t see how materialism can support free will, when it cannot support the notion of a subjective will in the first place, free or not. If everything is material in nature, and even our own consciousness is the product of material processes, then our very sense of being self-aware is an illusion – there is no one here making decisions, there are only material processes operating on their own, completely independent of “us”. We are merely an effect of those processes, not an entity or an awareness deciding anything, or acting at all. We are just the echo of a material process, an illusion generated by something that has already happened, and every action that follows will be of the same nature – a material process acting by itself, creating an “echo” of awareness that doesn’t ever actually do anything.

    All this is of course contained in the ancient myth of Narcissus, which is one of the primal models for the ignorance I’ve spoken of. Narcissus was the beloved of the Gods, betrothed to the lovely Echo, but he fell in love with his own image in the pond, and forgot everything else. He didn’t recognize the image as himself, he actually thought it was an “other”. And so he took that “other” (the material world) to exist in and of itself, and apart from him. So he became locked in an endless search to find love within it, but he could not. His lover, Echo, kept calling to him, but he could not see her. He could only hear her voice. Eventually, her body faded away, she died, and only her voice remained, and it could not say anything on its own, it could only repeat the words of others. Eventually Narcissus himself dies all alone, of a broken heart. This is the fate of materialism. It cannot conceive of its own being as anything but an echo in the wilderness, no longer alive in consciousness, but consigned to the fate of “dead” materialism. That is also the fate of those who fall into the materialist trap. It’s not necessary, however, because it’s not even true. Self-awareness is not merely an echo, but the living nature of existence. Coming out of the pond of Narcissus restores us to this understanding, and in essence that’s what all this is about.

  99. #100 bobyu
    May 10, 2008

    conradg,
    You can advocate anything you like, as long as you accept it’s advocable because you like it.
    The wrong comes in when your advocacy strays from making that simple claim, with no further evidence that others should follow suit. You may point to those you say have gone down the same path, but in all likelihood, neither the path nor it’s destination were the same as yours. You cannot make the contrary true by minimizing the significance of difference.

    Your singular mindset has been clearly your guide here, whether you can see it from where you sit or not. You are as much about Narcissus as any of those others gazing into their ponds – except you are in a way the other gazing out.

    I doubt, for example, that anyone in this forum finds your presentation persuasive as to either the path or its promised destination (a word that envisages destiny, the antithesis of a freed will). And Bohm was a materialist, by the way, with a world-view and mindset much different from yours.

    At bottom, you can find as many ways to say you are right as make you happy with yourself, and we can and will find as many ways to pat you on the head and say, don’t worry, be happy, and not believe a word of it.

    Self-awareness is the living nature of existence? Only if you were truly the center of the universe would that have meaning.

  100. #101 Iapetus
    May 10, 2008

    First of all, could I get some feedback here whether anyone is still bothering to read this thread and is interested in its continuation? If not, it might be better if this discussion is terminated lest it becomes a form of spam.

    “In other words, the practical basis for the entire material world is consciousness, since it cannot be observed outside of and apart from consciousness. Thus, there is no such thing as an objective world. The objective world appears in consciousness in the same way that subjective thoughts and feelings do.”

    Oh no, idealism rears its ugly head. So the problem is worse than I thought…. just kidding ;-)

    The above argument has two deficiencies:

    1. Even if correct, it would only show that we can not assume without contradiction that there are material, external things that do not both exist and are simultaneously registered in our consciousness. However, it absolutely fails to prove that what we perceive as material, external objects only exist as a function of our consciousness.

    2. It undercuts your own position in the sense that your experiences of metaphysical entities like astral forms and any other non-material propositions are likewise only a product of your consciousness as they exist only insofar as you register them. In other words, you are arguing for solipsism.

    There are further problems. If it is as you say and everything that exists are ultimately ideas that register in our consciousness, where do these ideas come from? Who or what plants these ideas in my consciousness? It must be something external since otherwise you would again end up with solipsism.

    What do you make of the fact that this (as you see it) illusion of an objective, independent material world composed of physical objects with defined properties, a detailed microstructure and forces like electrical charge that we can only indirectly perceive is so compelling? Unless you can give a reasonable explanation for this, I think dualism would be a more conservative choice.

    As I see it, at least at the moment materialism or dualism accounts for the properties of what we perceive as outside world in such a detail and with no apparent contradiction that any other metaphysical theory can not compete. You seem to peg your rejection of materialism on its alleged failure to explain consciousness and free will. Without wanting to open another can of worms here I would simply point out that this is an ongoing field of research that can not be finally judged. If you want to discard materialism, fine, but in order for other people to accept it you would have to show why materialism is in principle unable to do the job.

    Finally, it seems that there is a contradiction with regard to your theory of reincarnation. If the physical world does not exist, how can you talk about astral forms attaching to the physical form? Would it not be correct to say “Ideas of astral forms attach to ideas of physical forms.”?

    “But inner feelings, emotions, intuitions, etc., can and are shared by others. That is what allows human beings to actually relate to one another. If we didn’t actually feel what others feel, or intuit what others intuit, we wouldn’t be able to get through the day without killing one another. We wouldn’t be able to love or relate or get angry or any of the things which compose actual human intercourse. We wouldn’t be able to have this conversation.”

    You confuse basic feelings like love or hate that we presumably share to a certain extent or the fact that we can have empathy with the suffering of others with exactly re-living specific experiences so that we can accept them as a basis for rational argument. Again, if you wanted me to accept something you say entirely on the basis of one of your intuitions, emotions, experiences etc., I would have to be able to read your mind. Since I can not do that, I am entitled to dismiss any such argument. Therefore I will not discuss what you said about having metaphysical/mystical experiences. I do not doubt that they seemed real to you, but that is all there is to it.

    “Human beings are able to create bonds in consciousness with one another, not merely in the so-called “objective” world. We are not all masters of this, but we are all capable of it, and aware of a great need for this. When people talk to one another, they are not merely exchanging words, they are exchanging psychic energy, they are exchanging consciousness.”

    Wow, you almost blew me out of my chair with that one. Maybe I am badly misreading this, but are you seriously suggesting some form of telepathy here or a Vulcan mind-meld? But hey, this is at least an empirically testable claim! So if you or anyone you know are actually capable of reading the minds of other people, I am sure that every neuroscientist in the world would like to hear from you.

    Concerning alleged reports about memories of past lives, I have not studied the literature on this in detail. However, a quick survey via wikipedia seems to indicate that findings in support of this notion are not generally accepted.

    “So the Occam’s Razor issue changes dramatically when one recognizes consciousness as the basis of all experience, rather than as a by-product of biological processes.”

    But that is begging the question. You POSTULATE consciousness being the basis of all experience. So first you have to show that this hypothesis is correct or at least more likely to be true than its rival hypothesis before you can apply Occam’s Razor.

    “It quickly becomes rather obvious that there’s a kind of “law of the conservation of consciousness” , just as in science there’s a law of the conservation of mass/energy. Just as mass/energy can be changed and transformed, but not destroyed, so can consciousness be changed and transformed, but not destroyed.”

    Could you please explain the logical steps or empirical observations that led you to discover the “law of consciousness”, or is this merely an allegory for “Well, that sounds really good to me.”?

    “As I’ve said, in my view there is no such thing as metaphysical evil.”

    I agree.

    “So evil can’t even be discussed without admitting that one has already created a metaphysical category.”

    Not so. One can define an act as evil by declaring it in breach of the demands of an ethical system. Said system can be entirely subjective, hence the “evil” only exists within this framework and not in an objective sense.

    The fact that most attempts at theodicy propose the existence of metaphysical evil IMO has to do with the fact that most of these systems also propose that there exists a metaphysical, objective good. Some call it God.

    “If you went to someone who knew about neither of them, some intelligent peasant living a thousand years ago in Mongolia, and explained to him the elaborate findings of science, and my own elaborate metaphysics, which do you really think he would find more unbelievable, more far-fetched, and less in agreement with Occam’s Razor.?”

    I have no idea. However, I also fail to see the relevance. The findings of science, even if you would want to call them elaborate, are based on independent corroboration and thus deserve a high level of confidence. Furthermore they are build on simple premises. This can not be said of your construct, which severely lacks in both departments, although you will naturally disagree with me there.

  101. #102 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    Bobyu,

    Of course I can advocate anything I like, and of course I do so because I like the things I advocate. How am I any different from you or anyone else here in that respect? I don’t mind the judgment if you are so willing to judge yourself in the same manner. If not, I think you are being partial to your own likings, and trying to make me out to be of a different order of animal, which I am not. You don’t like what I have to say, because you don’t like it, is that all you’re saying? If so, you’re not saying very much.

    I am not suggesting your follow suit without evidence. I have been saying the opposite: that you should test what I’ve said by directing inspecting your own consciousness. If you don’t, that’s of course your business, but it doesn’t give you much right to say that I’m just choosing to believe things to my liking, rather than forming an informed opinion based on actual investigation of the matter.

    I’m certainly advocating a mystical approach, and if you don’t want to take that approach, fine, but stop pretending it’s some kind of nonsense if you won’t even do the experiment. Whether I am persuading anyone here is beside the point. No one can be persuaded unless they put in the time and effort to do the experiment of self-investigation. Whether I’ve done the experiment is what matters for me, and whether you’ve done it is what matters to you. I have, and I’ve found plenty of evidence to support the view that consciousness is primary to our experience. It doesn’t take much intelligence to repeat that experiment and confirm it. It just takes interest. If you lack that, I certainly can’t supply it for you.

    And of course my ‘singular mindset’ has been my guide here. So has yours. How on earth are you any different from me then, aside from having a different mindset? We all have singular mindsets, or haven’t you noticed? You (apparently – correct me if I’m wrong) simply have a singular mindset that is devoted to science, and scientific methods for knowing truth, and that believes science to be the one and only path to truth. Well, I’ve heard that kind of thing before from lots of religious people. It’s no more convincing coming from them as it is from you. Although you’d like to think you’re different from them, you’re not. You just hang with people who think similarly, so you think it’s the norm, but it’s not. And even all the people on this forum have singular mindsets of their own, each at least somewhat different from each other, each using that mindset as a guide. And yet, you never point that out to them, or to yourself. Why single me out? Obviously, it’s to reinforce the notion that your own mindset is the norm, and that I am the aberration, because somehow what I’ve advocated is a little threatening. Well, sorry to upset the applecart, but maybe you need exposure to some mindsets radically different from your own.

    Look, let’s face it, you are evading actually getting into these issues because you don’t really know how to respond. You scoff at the notion that self-awareness is the living nature of existence, but you won’t even take a minute to examine your self-awareness and tell me where it comes from, and what exists outside it. Are you sure you’re NOT the center of the universe? How would you know unless you actually examine yourself fully? At the very least it would give us some actual data to compare. But I understand that to a whole lot of people, even to a lot of religious people, this is a very threatening proposal. So I understand if you aren’t interested. Look where it got me, after all.

  102. #103 tabuhan
    May 10, 2008

    Congratuliatons

  103. #104 JimV
    May 10, 2008

    Reincarnation falls into the “not even wrong” category in my personal world view, sorry.

    The first objection which occurred to me long ago is that if we are talking about human “souls”, the number must be increasing over time along with our geometric population growth, so we have to add a “soul-generator” to the mix. (And if we are talking about the total number of sentient creatures in the universe, that too must have grown since the Big Bang.) Which brings Occam’s Razor out, in comparison to a materialistic philosophy, by which consciousness is purely a brain function.

    Secondly, all the hard evidence we have, and we have a lot, is consistent with the theory that consciousness is purely a brain function. I’m not an expert on this, but Dr. Steve Novella over at NeuroLogica Blog is, and has done several posts on this.

    Thirdly, physicist Dr. Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance says that while we don’t have a complete physical theory of the universe, we know enough to rule out certain things, including undetected forces or particles that could be used to transfer thoughts from one brain to another directly, or from a brain to some sort of cosmic computer that would upload and download them to drive the process of reincarnation. If such forces or processes existed, they would have to have enough of a physical effect to be detected by extremely sensitive experiments which have already been done.

    Fourthly, if reincarnation has some point, it would have to allow for the accumulation of experience over time (I have already assumed this above), which is known as memory. If memories of past lives actually exist, rather than just being tall tales or anecdotal coincidences, they would be easy to prove. Here’s how: while building Stonehenge, or some other edifice which will last many lifetimes, inscribe a message hidden somewhere in the edifice (on the bottom of a specific stone, say). Such as, “Kilroy was here,” or any specific message. Then, in a future life, take the James Randi challenge and win a million dollars as well as proving your theory of reincarnation, by revealing the location and the message. Things which would be easy to prove if true and have never been proved probably aren’t true.

  104. #105 bobyu
    May 10, 2008

    For conradg,
    I will interrupt here only to say that you, conradg, had said earlier that, “It’s not a mindset that is required, in other words, but a conscious inspection of the mind.” When I insisted that it was, you then said, “And of course my ‘singular mindset’ has been my guide here. So has yours. How on earth are you any different from me then, aside from having a different mindset? We all have singular mindsets, or haven’t you noticed? ”
    But of course I noticed as that is what I said to you initially. To ask haven’t I noticed, is a question you already had the answer to.
    As to self-awareness, the mythology that you so trust has struggled for centuries to look inside its collective mind, assuming it was a collective, with only intuition to work with. A powerful tool, but in my view the trust in that method was clearly misplaced, as the true self of our minds has necessarily been hidden from us by the evolutionary process. Even the Jungians with all their sprituality, believe that.
    I’m simply saying (and simply doesn’t mean simple) that I find evolutionary sciences much more persuasive as a tool to lift the veil that mythology has failed to do for a large percentage of us in the West.
    You react to this with hostility and the emotion that you, from the point of view of the intelligent observer, are singularly unaware of as the source of your beliefs. That is not the part of mind you want to call your consciousness.
    It’s interesting to us to hear your explanation of your beliefs. If you were under the impression such a recitation is persuasive to those who have found other ways, it’s not. The revelation that it fits your personal mindset, and others who wish to rely on the various traditions of the ancients, is just not a mind changing event to those with a more scientific mindset. We have heard all of this and more in the past, or haven’t you noticed?
    And of course you haven’t convinced us that you’re right by your methods any more than we have convinced you that without our method of belief, born of a different tradition, you would still be sitting in a chant circle under some form of candlelight.

  105. #106 ctw
    May 10, 2008

    “The objective world appears in consciousness in the same way that subjective thoughts and feelings do.”

    Is this really true?

    It seems to me that when discussing whether there is an objective (which I interpret as “material”) world, these adjectives may be somewhat misleading given concepts of modern physics. If atoms are almost entirely empty space and particles are just blobs of localized energy, certainly in a sense there are no literally “material” objects. But if you try to walk through a wall, there will consistently be certain consequences; and in that sense, you and the wall do “exist”.

    But that isn’t the way I interpret the view that “we create our own reality”. If “you” tell “me” that there is a six foot high red brick “wall” on our left, it is true that each of the quoted words stands for a complex object the details of which (shape, color, height, etc) are entirely created in your mind through sensations that are interpreted in the mind. And those details seem to be analogous to so-called subjective feelings. They are concepts that we create in our minds as a consequence of sensations but which don’t necessarily capture the “reality” of the object in question – whether one that is seen, felt, or heard or one that is loved, pitied, or envied.

    I can easily imagine an ancient mystic perceiving the “nonexistence” of objects in the latter sense; it would have required “only” following conradg’s advice to look closely at what one’s own mind was up to. It’s much harder to imagine them perceiving it in the former sense in the absence of any insight at all into particle physics (notwithstanding that some descriptions are eerily reminiscent of what seems to go on at the subatomic level).

    As to feee will, I wonder if it’s importance isn’t somewhat overblown. Suppose as a believer (nonbeliever) in free will you were to discover tomorrow that there is conclusive proof that it does not (does) exist. What would you individually do differently from that moment forward? Collectively we might need to rethink some legal and religious issues, but individually it is not at all clear to me what one should – or even could – change in their own behavior.

    Admittedly, there may be an asymmetry here. As one who leans way over toward nonbeliever (in both senses), if I were to discover that I in fact had free will, I don’t think I’d do anything differently because it’s not an issue to which I give much thought anyway (other than in these types of exchanges). However, those who believe in free will and punishment of sins might be relieved to discover that they are off the hook – assuming their god is reasonable and doesn’t punish one for inalterable behavior. But they would still be accountable to the law (as appropriately modified, for the better IMO – but that’s a separate topic), their fellows, and their own consciences. So, there might not be all that much available change for them either – especially if they already engage in a lot of sin notwithstanding fear of divine retribution.

    - Charles

  106. #107 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    Bobyu,

    I don’t think you understand my comments about mindsets. What I say is that it doesn’t take any particular mindset to do the direct investigation of consciousness. Anyone can do it regardless of what their mindset is. Secondly, I acknowledge that I do indeed have a mindset, and that it has been formed in part by doing this direct investigation of consciousness. In other words, doing such an investigation alters one’s mindset. It has certainly altered mine. So it’s rather backwards to say that only people of a certain mindset will be attracted to the investigation of consciousness, when the mindset of those people has been altered by that investigation. Not everyone who does the investigation will propound ideas of reincarnation. It’s just a fairly common by-product.

    Second, if I’m a little frustrated, it’s not because you don’t accept what I say, but because you don’t give good arguments against it, stating instead only a personal preference for other models. Like I’ve said, I’m here to encounter good arguments. If you have any against the notions of consciousness I’ve put forth, fine. Or if you have any showing how materialism can explain self-awareness and free will, that’s fine also.

    On the other hand, if that doesn’t interest you, there’s simply the original points raised by Jason in this thread, which is that the usual arguments for theodicy contain so many internal contradictions as to be useless. I think I’ve given a good counter-example to that. I think some here have acknowledged that, while rejecting it for other reasons. Perhaps I should simply appreciate small victories.

    As for sitting in a chant circle under moonlight, I don’t even find that an insult. Was it meant to be? Would you consider it an insult if I said you were the kind of guy who hangs out in the lab with test tubes all day? Both suggest a certain kind of preferential mindset. Neither is particularly ‘wrong’. But obviously each arrives at that mindset through an examination of evidence through very different kinds of lenses. I at least have examined evidence through the scientific mindset, before arriving at this one. Have you done the opposite? Don’t pretend that there are no scientists who see things as I do. I’ve known plenty of nuclear physicists who chant by moonlight.

  107. #108 bobyu
    May 10, 2008

    conradg, I’d think if you were really interested in a substantive debate, you would have replied to the last post of Iapetus , JimV, or ctw.

    But let me close, if that is my choice, with the following quote from your colloquy:
    “Fatalism is certainly an issue among eastern cultures, but it’s not the widespread norm either, so I think it’s inaccurate to describe Hinduism or Buddhism as fatalistic. There’s certainly a thread within those teachings which suggests that everything is predetermined, and yet even there they usually teach that one can’t actually live that way, that one must assume total free will in every moment, in part because one simply cannot know what one’s destiny actually is.”

    In case you hadn’t noticed, this is precisely the assumption used by materialists, who not only see the necessity to live with uncertainty, but find that position one of ultimate satisfaction, both emotionally and intellectually.

    But those with the mindsets of your preference need to get their emotional satisfaction from a belief that clearly involves pre-determinism and its promise of certainty, and yet for purposes of their survival, need to rely on their rational faculties to satisfy their ultimate purpose in life, certainty be damned. Cognitive dissonance personified, or theosophied if you prefer.

  108. #109 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    JimV,

    Reincarnation falls into the “not even wrong” category in my personal world view, sorry.

    No apologies necessary. I brought it up as a counter-example to the notion that there are no good examples of theologies that address the issue of theodicy well. If one categorically finds all theologies irrelevant, it doesn’t reflect badly on reincarnation, it just reflects a choice of world views. Still, for the sake of conversation, it could be interesting to discuss reincarnation, which I suppose is why you bother. I won’t assume any other motive on your part.

    The first objection which occurred to me long ago is that if we are talking about human “souls”, the number must be increasing over time along with our geometric population growth, so we have to add a “soul-generator” to the mix. (And if we are talking about the total number of sentient creatures in the universe, that too must have grown since the Big Bang.) Which brings Occam’s Razor out, in comparison to a materialistic philosophy, by which consciousness is purely a brain function.

    I would agree that reincarnation requires a “soul generator”. I don’t see why that violates Occam’s Razor. Evolution requires a “gene generator”, which is found by the discovery of DNA and genetic mutation. Why is it hard to propose some mechanism in nature which generates souls, “Divine” or otherwise? In fact, despite all the religious mythologies, I’d have to admit that the reincarnation model could be compatible with a non-theistic naturalistic mechanism that merely expands science into new dimensions, rather than “proving” theism. One could certainly suggest that the religious mythologies about reincarnation reflect an underlying truth, while misrepresenting the mechanism as Divine in nature, rather than merely naturalistic. Similarly to how primitive tribes attribute the healing powers of various plants to spirits, when it’s actually in their biochemistry, as modern scientists have often shown.

    Secondly, all the hard evidence we have, and we have a lot, is consistent with the theory that consciousness is purely a brain function. I’m not an expert on this, but Dr. Steve Novella over at NeuroLogica Blog is, and has done several posts on this.

    It’s one thing to come up with a theory like this, quite another to prove it. I haven’t heard of any science which actually proves the material origin of consciousness. If it comes up, I’ll look at it with great interest. Logically however, I don’t see how it is even possible, as such evidence itself couldn’t exist without consciousness generating it – the consciousness of the scientist in question. So it would seem that consciousness is the pre-requisite of such proof, which contradicts that notion that consciousness is secondary.

    The point I’ve been trying to bring up about the primal nature of consciousness is that everything we experience arises in consciousness. Even scientific investigations of consciousness begin in consciousness, and are carried out in consciousness, and each piece of laboratory equipment arises in consciousness, as does the whole process of creating such equipment. Every single detail of our existence exists in our consciousness. The scientific process is a conscious process, and its findings arise in consciousness, as elements of our consciousness. I am of course using the term consciousness not merely in the common sense of “waking mind” in opposition say, to “unconscious mind”, but in terms of “phenomenal mind”. All phenomena arise in consciousness, even the “unconscious”. What we call “unconscious” is merely those aspects of consciousness which we are not presently focused upon. To become aware of the “unconscious”, to know it exists, it must either become conscious to us, or its effects must become conscious to us. In either case, it exists in consciousness all the same. The presumption I am attacking is that if we are not presently conscious of something, it exists outside of consciousness. To demonstrate that, however, it has to enter into our consciousness. I don’t know of any counter-examples.

    Thirdly, physicist Dr. Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance says that while we don’t have a complete physical theory of the universe, we know enough to rule out certain things, including undetected forces or particles that could be used to transfer thoughts from one brain to another directly, or from a brain to some sort of cosmic computer that would upload and download them to drive the process of reincarnation. If such forces or processes existed, they would have to have enough of a physical effect to be detected by extremely sensitive experiments which have already been done.

    I’m quite skeptical of anyone who claims they can rule things out without actually knowing what they are ruling out. I don’t think brain science is anywhere near the level of sensitivity required to investigate such things, or even aware of what they need to look for. It’s not that I think what he’s talking about is impossible. I just am highly skeptical that the state of the art is that precise as of yet. I think we are at the very least many decades away (and that’s assuming Singularlity rates of scientific progress on the issue) and maybe many centuries.

    Fourthly, if reincarnation has some point, it would have to allow for the accumulation of experience over time (I have already assumed this above), which is known as memory. If memories of past lives actually exist, rather than just being tall tales or anecdotal coincidences, they would be easy to prove. Here’s how: while building Stonehenge, or some other edifice which will last many lifetimes, inscribe a message hidden somewhere in the edifice (on the bottom of a specific stone, say). Such as, “Kilroy was here,” or any specific message. Then, in a future life, take the James Randi challenge and win a million dollars as well as proving your theory of reincarnation, by revealing the location and the message. Things which would be easy to prove if true and have never been proved probably aren’t true.

    These sorts of arguments presume that it’s intended that we remember past lives. Whereas the purpose of reincarnation in the first place is to start off fresh, without the encumbrance of past life memories. Many spiritual teachers have pointed out that much of the “unused” areas of the brain are not meant to be used, that they serve precisely to block out perceptual experience of the psychic, of past life memories, etc. The whole point of reincarnation would be useless if we remembered our past lives. Why have reincarnation at all then, when you could simply live in a physical body essentially forever? The point is that memory acts as a blockage at some point. As I’ve noted, even within this life we are designed to forget far more than we remember. How much of our childhood do we remember? Precious little. And memories of past lives would not even exist in the physical brain of this life, so to access them would require a reversal of the direction of attention, since attention in this life is directed outward into association with the physical world, not inward towards the psychic or astral. To perform that reversal of attention would require a very disciplined, systematic effort, which is precisely what “spiritual practice” of that kind requires – a reversal of the process of outward-going attention. It’s not impossible. Plenty of people have reported such things, and the results, while anecdotal, are quite interesting. And then there’s the studies by Stevenson and Ticker and others of verified past-life memories in children. Again, plenty of anecdotal examples of findings similar to what you’ve suggested. And if you want intentional past-life findings, look at the examples of Tibetan Tulkus like the Dalai Lama.

  109. #110 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    Bobyu,

    conradg, I’d think if you were really interested in a substantive debate, you would have replied to the last post of Iapetus , JimV, or ctw.

    I thought I had replied to them. Have I missed something? If so, it’s not intentional.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, this is precisely the assumption used by materialists, who not only see the necessity to live with uncertainty, but find that position one of ultimate satisfaction, both emotionally and intellectually.

    I’m not opposed to many of the philsophical conclusions of materialist or atheists. Sartre is a favorite of mine, and a strong influence. I consider “Being and Nothingness” one of the greatest comic novels ever written. But I don’t share their materialist conclusions about life itself. One need not be a materialist to conclude that believing in free will is the only rational way to live.

    But those with the mindsets of your preference need to get their emotional satisfaction from a belief that clearly involves pre-determinism and its promise of certainty, and yet for purposes of their survival, need to rely on their rational faculties to satisfy their ultimate purpose in life, certainty be damned. Cognitive dissonance personified, or theosophied if you prefer.

    But my mindset doesn’t require pre-determinism or promises of certainty. You are attributing attitudes to me that I simply don’t have, in order to feel justified in dismissing my views. Likewise, you are arguing that I believe as I do out of some lower and uninspected emotional needs that one presumes you have risen above. Have you? I’ve know many scientists and atheists, and while I respect them, I don’t notice them to be more emotionally mature than religious people. They often seem to be driven towards their views by the same emotional deficiences that many people have. Science can be a very “safe” haven for certain emotional types, you know?

    I’ve read quite a bit about cognitive dissonance, and I’ve seen quite a lot of it, both among religious folk and the scientifically inclined atheists. Make sure you are not living in a glass house when you throw those stones.

  110. #111 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    I noticed that Bobyu is right, there’s comments by Iapetus and Charles above I haven’t yet responded to. Will do so soon.

  111. #112 bobyu
    May 10, 2008

    conradg,
    The difference between us is that I recognize the existence of unconscious inferences that operate outside of what others consider our natural logical pathways. You think you recognize everything that forms your consciousness, and call that self awareness. Yet the hidden constituency of that self is way beyond your or anyone else’s ken.
    As Joseph Campbell for one has pointed out, our dreams become our mythologies, none of which can be predicted in advance, but stay with us as revelations until we learn to know more about their inner rather than a presumptive outer origin.
    I think he also said that the existence or non-existence of a glass house does not negate the effectiveness of the well thrown stone.

  112. #113 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    Iapetus,

    Oh no, idealism rears its ugly head. So the problem is worse than I thought…. just kidding ;-)

    I don’t consider my views to be classical idealism. It’s simply what I would call consciousness realism. In other words, whether we like to admit it or not, the basis of all our experience is consciousness. We can’t have an experience, a thought, a perception, a conversation, a theory, without being conscious. Likewise, all our experience arises in consciousness, regardless of the form it takes. This, I would suggest, is just an empirical fact. What one makes of it is another matter. But philosophical orientation aside, I don’t see how this simple observation can be called anything but realism. Do you disagree?

    1. Even if correct, it would only show that we can not assume without contradiction that there are material, external things that do not both exist and are simultaneously registered in our consciousness. However, it absolutely fails to prove that what we perceive as material, external objects only exist as a function of our consciousness.

    First, how is this observation of the primal nature of consciousness incorrect? As I stated, it’s not really an “if”. It’s pretty much self-evident if one actually looks at one’s experience. So I don’t see that there’s any “if” about it. We have to deal with this as a given, and figure out what it means, certainly, but we can’t pretend it’s somehow undetermined as of yet.

    If there exist things which do not enter into our consciousness, why should we presume they exist? I think this falls into the Occan’s Razor category of logic. If we obtain evidence of their existence, isn’t this only because such evidence has entered our consciousness by means of perception, logic, thinking, etc.? Well, all those factors are things we have already established are functions of consciousness, arising in consciousness, perceived in consciousness. It’s pretty much a Catch-22 that establishes the ever-present primacy of consciousness to all our experience. The basic problem is that we always view every object that enters our consciousness as an “other”, as something outside ourselves. We actually even tend to do this with our own thoughts and emotions. It’s a habit of interpretation that breaks down when we actually inspect consciousness. I’m simply pointing out what ought to be fairly obvious but isn’t because of our habitual disinclination to see that our experience arises within our own “water” of consciousness. A simple inspection of consciousness dispels this presumption fairly quickly.

    2. It undercuts your own position in the sense that your experiences of metaphysical entities like astral forms and any other non-material propositions are likewise only a product of your consciousness as they exist only insofar as you register them. In other words, you are arguing for solipsism.

    Now this is true. I have to admit that metaphysical entities and astral forms are also mere appearances within consciousness, not objective perceptions. This is one of the higher spiritual truths often pointed out by guys like Buddha, and it’s not to be taken lightly. It doesn’t make them any more or less real than materialism, but it does undermine certain spiritual points of view such as “eternalism”.

    There are further problems. If it is as you say and everything that exists are ultimately ideas that register in our consciousness, where do these ideas come from? Who or what plants these ideas in my consciousness? It must be something external since otherwise you would again end up with solipsism.

    Now this is the 64 trillion dollar question. At bottom, solipsism is the great fear which drives us towards objectivity. It’s a kind of asymtopic curve which goes to infinity, and this is considered a no-no. But this kind of spirituality is about infinity at core, and being willing to divide by zero, so to speak. The notion that only an objective, external device can account for the universe is something to be investigated, not presumed. The point is to follow the source, the self-awareness at the core of our experience, and directly discover where it comes from. So we are that self-awareness, this isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it’s not easy either, since it means giving up the conventional views not just of materialism, but of spirituality and religion themselves. This is why these teachings usually arrive either at conclusions that are utterly elusive, of either a transcendental Self, or Nirvana. Essentially, they are beyond mind and concepts, because they go to the source of mind and concepts, rather than the objects of these. I’d refer you to Buddha, Nagarjuna, the Upanishads, Shankara, Guadapada, Ramana Maharshit, etc., for more details on the chain of logic here. It’s not easy going however.

    What do you make of the fact that this (as you see it) illusion of an objective, independent material world composed of physical objects with defined properties, a detailed microstructure and forces like electrical charge that we can only indirectly perceive is so compelling? Unless you can give a reasonable explanation for this, I think dualism would be a more conservative choice.

    I see this as a way of looking at the fine details of one aspect of consciousness – the physical dimension. What should be noticed is that the further one breaks this dimension down into constituent parts and forces, the less “material” they become, and the more of the nature of consciousness they reveal themselves to be, as is found in quantum mechanics and relativity theory, for example. The findings of these more esoteric sciences are pretty much what you would expect to find if consciousness were their primal nature, rather than simple material. I’m suggesting that science is itself a function within consciousness, a way for consciousness to know itself in the physical dimension, and that it ends up turning back on consciousness itself at the far end of the spectrum. As we see in these sciences. The Copenhagen interpretation is simply a way of putting aside these issues in order to avoid dealing with matters that would be extremely uncomfortable if faced head on.

    As I see it, at least at the moment materialism or dualism accounts for the properties of what we perceive as outside world in such a detail and with no apparent contradiction that any other metaphysical theory can not compete.

    I’m not sure why one would expect anything different? Looking at the physical world using only physical evidence would seem to reinforce the viewpoint of the physical world, and be self-consistent within that realm. And yet, as I say, stretch it far enough and it begins to fall apart where the edges fall off. But if one introduces non-physical matters, such as our own self-awareness and free will, materialism doesn’t hold sway for most of us. Can you honestly say you walk around the street thinking of yourself as a material machine that is purely driven by material processes, and not as a conscious individual interacting with the material world as it arises in your awareness? I will bet you it’s the latter. Well, why then argue differently here?

    You seem to peg your rejection of materialism on its alleged failure to explain consciousness and free will. Without wanting to open another can of worms here I would simply point out that this is an ongoing field of research that can not be finally judged. If you want to discard materialism, fine, but in order for other people to accept it you would have to show why materialism is in principle unable to do the job.

    I think I already pointed out in a previous post (maybe it was to someone else) that even if this materialist research were to completely pan out, and it was established beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are entirely material beings driven by entirely material processes, that there is no psychic dimension, no astral, no causal dimension, nothing at all but his material world, and that our very consciousness and self-awareness were simply the result of material processes, wouldn’t that completely negate the whole notion not only of free will, but of a conscious self who acts at all? Wouldn’t our own awareness merely be an meaningless echo of those material processes? Wouldn’t all our choices be illusory, an after-the fact illusion that merely reflects material processes that have already occurred? After all, if its non-conscious material forces that drive all action, what do “we” have to do with it? What are we but a mere echo of reality, rather than a meaningful process within it? Thus, I don’t see how anyone could defend the notion of free will at all. Nor even the notion that we exist as conscious individuals. Talk about nihilism.

    So like I say, I reject that conclusion as insensible, and thus I feel I have to reject materialism as well, since it leads inevitably to that conclusion. Call that a prejudice if you will, but I do believe in intrinsic self-awareness, and free will. Like I say, if you can show how materialism could be compatible with free will and self-awareness, I’m all ears. I just don’t as yet see it.

    Likewise, as I’ve said long ago here on other threads, I don’t see how materialism can explain self-awareness. I can understand how materialism could explain sensory awareness and material processes which which take all sensory information into account and produce what is essentially a biological AI program through natural selection, but I don’t see how or why that would produce the purely subjective phenomena of self-aware consciousness. It seems superfluous and redundant, and doesn’t pass the Occam’s Razor test. It’s as superfluous as notions of God or “self”. And yet, clearly we are all self-aware. As I think you pointed out, self-awareness is the only thing we can be totally certain of. I think that means something. If material processes can produce something as superfluous as self-awareness, why not “God”? Why not reincarnation? So in the end, if materialism can produce self-awareness, one ends up with all the things that materialism is supposed to make obsolete. So what’s the point again of materialism in the first place? I think it ends up destroying its own viewpoint.

    Finally, it seems that there is a contradiction with regard to your theory of reincarnation. If the physical world does not exist, how can you talk about astral forms attaching to the physical form? Would it not be correct to say “Ideas of astral forms attach to ideas of physical forms.”?

    Technically speaking, you are correct. All forms, physical or astral, would be of the same nature as consciousness at root. But this is precisely why they are able to connect, in that they are already connected on a deeper level. Think a bit of Bohm’s “Implicate order”, in which everything is connected at a deeper level. Now take that principle and apply it not merely to the physical world, but to all possible worlds that consciousness can give rise to. Of course, I am also talking about a more “ordinary” level of connectivity as well, that presumes a functional relationship between physical and astral dimensions. In reality, they are all “ideas” one might say, but in their functionality they have an actual structure and form to them, like everything else that appears in consciousness, and various laws and processes governing their interactions.

    You confuse basic feelings like love or hate that we presumably share to a certain extent or the fact that we can have empathy with the suffering of others with exactly re-living specific experiences so that we can accept them as a basis for rational argument. Again, if you wanted me to accept something you say entirely on the basis of one of your intuitions, emotions, experiences etc., I would have to be able to read your mind. Since I can not do that, I am entitled to dismiss any such argument. Therefore I will not discuss what you said about having metaphysical/mystical experiences. I do not doubt that they seemed real to you, but that is all there is to it.

    I don’t need to discuss my particular metaphysical experiences with you to demonstrate that we are both consciously interacting with one another right now, in a way that goes beyond mere words typed on these screens. If you think I am confused about the nature of feelings like love, intimacy, strong emotions, etc., I think you ought to explore human relationships more. Be attentive to your own mind, and to the minds of others, and I think you will see what I’m talking about. The particular content of my own experience is never going to be the same as yours, but we can recognize one another’s experience by means more tangible and direct that mere language. It’s important to understand that even language isn’t “mere language”. Poetry is more than a material phenomena, in other words. “Reading minds” is not what you might think. It’s not a parlor trick, or a lab experiment in telepathy. It requires paying attention to one’s own mind first, and being able to recognize the nature of mind in oneself and then in others as well.

    Wow, you almost blew me out of my chair with that one. Maybe I am badly misreading this, but are you seriously suggesting some form of telepathy here or a Vulcan mind-meld? But hey, this is at least an empirically testable claim! So if you or anyone you know are actually capable of reading the minds of other people, I am sure that every neuroscientist in the world would like to hear from you.

    I’m suggesting something much more interesting and valuable than telepathy. I’m suggesting a conscious connection in everything, including of course human interaction. The fantasies of telepathy and Vulcan mind melds are just how the materialistic mind tries to make sense of what actually goes on between us. It’s actually deeper and more meaningful than that.

    Concerning alleged reports about memories of past lives, I have not studied the literature on this in detail. However, a quick survey via wikipedia seems to indicate that findings in support of this notion are not generally accepted.

    Well of course not. I suggest you read the research, and judge for yourself what it means. It’s by no means conclusive in the scientific sense, but how could it be? Unless a physical mechanism can be found to explain these phenomena, what could science possibly have to say about it?

    But that is begging the question. You POSTULATE consciousness being the basis of all experience. So first you have to show that this hypothesis is correct or at least more likely to be true than its rival hypothesis before you can apply Occam’s Razor.

    I’m not postulating it. I’m just pointing out the obvious. Take a look. What do you see that isn’t arising in your consciousness? Have you ever seen anything that isn’t arising in your consciousness? Could you ever see anything that wasn’t arising in your consciousness? I don’t see how that could be. If the only thing you can know for certain is your own self-awareness, and your own self-awareness is the only means you have for verifying the apparent existence of anything else, isn’t your own self-aware consciousness the primal ground of all your experience. I haven’t seen you or anyone else here address this matter, even though I’ve laid it out numerous times. Why won’t anyone address it?

    Could you please explain the logical steps or empirical observations that led you to discover the “law of consciousness”, or is this merely an allegory for “Well, that sounds really good to me.”?

    Sure. I examined my own consciousness, and found it to be independent of all phenomenal causes, including death. I’ve investigated the death process, experienced death, and found that consciousness survives. I’ve reconnected in that process with the astral form of my deeper self, and considered a great many details about this life and its value to me. You could do the same. Many others have. My notion of a law of the conservation of consciousness is just a general rule of thumb, however, I admit that. But I am personally aware with a great degree of certainty that consciousness survives death and transformation. The details of that aren’t for this kind of forum, however, because they are intensely personal, and can’t be believed. Even mentioning this breaks a kind of taboo, as I’m sure you’re aware of, and is probably a mistake on my part. But maybe not.

    One can define an act as evil by declaring it in breach of the demands of an ethical system. Said system can be entirely subjective, hence the “evil” only exists within this framework and not in an objective sense.

    Yes, but then it’s not really appropriate to use the word “evil”, which is a metaphysical category. It’s best, I think, to keep one’s categories semantically pure. Redefining evil to mean a merely ethical violation has no value that I can see, it only confuses the issue. When people react in horror to some unspeakable act, and call it evil, they are responding with the same metaphysical mindset that accords other acts as being Godly or Divine. Such as when a guy wins the Super Bowl and thanks God. That’s no different than when a serial killer strikes and we call it evil. It’s attributing a metaphysical cause or quality to an act. We don’t generally think of serial killers as merely having violated some kind of ethical agreement.

    I have no idea. However, I also fail to see the relevance. The findings of science, even if you would want to call them elaborate, are based on independent corroboration and thus deserve a high level of confidence. Furthermore they are build on simple premises. This can not be said of your construct, which severely lacks in both departments, although you will naturally disagree with me there.

    I think the findings of science should be accorded a great deal of confidence in relation to physical matters. I don’t think the findings of science have much relevance to metaphysical matters one way or another. Life is more than a series of merely physical processes. It is primarily a conscious process, and while science has much to help us with in secondary, material matters, in the primary matter of our own conscious life, it isn’t all that much help. We need to rely on an intelligence that is more primal than science.

  113. #114 bobyu
    May 10, 2008

    And conradg, if you want to resort to insults rather than observations, yes I have risen above the emotional need to believe in something to a certainty. If you have chosen such a belief as your own, yet for intellectual rather than emotional satisfaction, you are indeed singularly delusional.

  114. #115 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    Bobyu,

    The difference between us is that I recognize the existence of unconscious inferences that operate outside of what others consider our natural logical pathways. You think you recognize everything that forms your consciousness, and call that self awareness. Yet the hidden constituency of that self is way beyond your or anyone else’s ken.

    I’ve certainly read enough psychology to know that this is true, both of me and of you. But since I already knew this, it isn’t a difference between us, it’s a similarity. I don’t object at all to the point being made, only to the constant inference you keep making that I am not aware of these things, or taking them into account, whereas you are. If your whole argument against me boils down to an argument that I am unconscious of my own reasons for thinking as I do, whereas you are, it falls apart very quickly, and becomes just another form of one-ups-manship.

    As Joseph Campbell for one has pointed out, our dreams become our mythologies, none of which can be predicted in advance, but stay with us as revelations until we learn to know more about their inner rather than a presumptive outer origin.

    Joseph Campbell, however, was not a materialist. He studied under a Hindu Guru who believed in reincarnation, among other things. He did not regard dreams as merely personal fantasies, but of containing real knowledge of the wider nature of consciousness, and that mythologies built upon these elements were a way of communicating basic wisdom about consciousness through a particular mindset and language. The fact that their origin is inner is not an argument against their wider validity. He was of course a Jungian, and believed that the conscious mind was connected at deeper levels to a universal Self, which he interpreted not merely in Jungian terms, but in Hindu terms as well. He was not a Freudian who attributed all religious imagery and truth to neurotic sexual and potty training issues.

    I think he also said that the existence or non-existence of a glass house does not negate the effectiveness of the well thrown stone.

    I would second the motion, and throw my own non-existent stone at your inner glass house.

  115. #116 conradg
    May 10, 2008

    Bobyu,

    And conradg, if you want to resort to insults rather than observations, yes I have risen above the emotional need to believe in something to a certainty. If you have chosen such a belief as your own, yet for intellectual rather than emotional satisfaction, you are indeed singularly delusional.

    I’m not sure why you think it’s an insult if I suggest that maybe you haven’t risen about the emotional need to believe in something to a certainty (such as scientific ideas about reality) while at the same time not seeing that your own accusations about me on the very same matter as not being insulting? Or are you simply saying that it’s okay for you to insult me, but not vice-versa? I’m not sure if that’s in the official rules for this forum, but if so, let me know.

    And when people start calling others delusional on internet forums, it’s generally a sign of projection. Or immaturity. Or at the least, a lack of good argument skills.

  116. #117 bobyu
    May 10, 2008

    conradg, Joseph Campbell understood mythology. He did not turn that understanding into a belief system. Quite the contrary. To the extent that he was a Jungian, he accepted a lot of what Carl Jung saw as the way our brains had formed our myths, but did not accept the modern Jungian beliefs that those myths in turn have inhabited our brains. He did not believe in “the shadow” as they profess to understand it, for example – especially that it was a modern version of demonic possession.
    I saw where you strenuosly resisted any recognition that our unconscious even existed as the calculative mechanism for our short term survival, or that it in any way resembled the animal brains from which psychologists and neuroscientists believe it sprang – or that they understand, as some unfortunately earnest poster aptly put it, that this “brain” is the final arbiter of the accuracy of our thoughts and consequent actions. Now you profess to know all about it, while saying all you had to know for self-awareness is to look into and examine the workings of which you also now admit is essentially an invisible entity.
    And yet you say,
    “And when people start calling others delusional on internet forums, it’s generally a sign of projection. Or immaturity. Or at the least, a lack of good argument skills.”
    Which is exactly what you resort to on every occasion when someone probes and hits any area (and there are multiple) where you are vulnerable, emotionally and intellectually.
    Which came first, the pot or the kettle? The answer is that you are clearly the pot.
    If there’s anything you should believe in that fits your true persona, it should have all the attributes of a duplicitous yet seriously befuddled chameleon that was convinced by an apparition of the devil it had a commutable soul and a human-like brain of the ultimate in transparent plasticity.
    How’s that really working for you?

  117. #118 shortie
    May 11, 2008

    bobyu has seemed to have had the inevitable meltdown, holier than thou not withstanding.

  118. #119 conradg
    May 11, 2008

    Jeez, when shortie comes to my defense, things must really be going badly.

  119. #120 conradg
    May 11, 2008

    Bobyu,

    I’m not a big Joseph Campbell reader, but I do like a lot of his work, and think its a good step up for those who aren’t very familiar with that territory. I’m not entirely sure what his personal religious belief were – I think he tried to keep that fairly close to his vest – but from his strong associations with Hindu Gurus, Jungians, Krishnamurti, and others, my impression is he’s far from being a materialist, but more of a pantheist. That’s fairly well what the Wikipedia entry on him says here:

    A fundamental belief of Campbell’s was that all spirituality is a search for the same basic, unknown force from which everything came, within which everything currently exists, and into which everything will eventually return. This elemental force is ultimately ?unknowable? because it exists before words and knowledge. Although this basic driving force cannot be expressed in words, spiritual rituals and stories refer to the force through the use of “metaphors” – these metaphors being the various stories, deities, and objects of spirituality we see in the world. For example, the Genesis myth in the Bible ought not be taken as a literal description of actual events, but rather its poetic, metaphorical meaning should be examined for clues concerning the fundamental truths of the world and our existence.

    Accordingly, Campbell believed the religions of the world to be the various, culturally influenced ?masks? of the same fundamental, transcendent truths. All religions, including Christianity and Buddhism, can bring one to an elevated awareness above and beyond a dualistic conception of reality, or idea of ?pairs of opposites,? such as being and non-being, or right and wrong. Indeed, he quotes in the preface of The Hero with a Thousand Faces: “Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.” which is a translation of the Rig Vedic saying “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanthi.”

    I would not be surprised, given this background, if he subscribed to ideas like reincarnation, but I’m not familiar enough with him to be certain. Whether he had a personal “belief system” I don’t know. I rather think everyone does. But I don’t think he wanted his own personal belief system to interfere with his scholarship, so he tried to keep it out of his works unless it was relevant.

    I’m not exactly sure why you bring up Campbell, because I don’t think he much helps your cause. I’m certainly not aware that he tried to ascribe religion, myth and mysticism to various brain functions and centers, such as the mythic “lizard brain” theory you and shortie seem very attached to. As I’ve pointed out previously, there’s no evidence that lizards have religious systems, or religious responses. In fact, there’s no clear evidence of religion in any species until very recent humans, and this coincided with a dramatic increase in cultural and technological intelligence in humans which appears to have created modern mankind as we know it. That’s certainly evidence that whatever brain functions religion is associated with, they are very advanced ones.

    You seem to confuse the psychological concept of the Unconscious with the notion of that there are various brain functions operating in the background. They are not in any sense the same theory. I suggest you read up on psychology if you think otherwise. In any case, all I’ve said is that I’m aware of the various factors that go into the idea that our conscious life is controlled by unconscious factors, and that people will beleive things for reasons they are not consciously aware of. My view of “consciousness” is not of some flatland model that only contains waking factors. It contains much in the unconscious, subconscious, and superconscious, and all kinds of other things that are revealed if you actually begin to inspect consciousness. Jung and Campbell were examples of two people who were devoted to inspecting consciousness, and uncovering its various layers. Hindus Yogis would be examples of other individuals doing similar research. Jung and Campbell valued the findings of these yogis, and Campbell even studied under some of them. They did not consider them to be crazy, delusional characters, but people who had great wisdom about the nature of consciousenss. They even based many of their theories of consciousness upon their findings, and their traditions as a whole. Campbell, for example, did not discover non-dualism on his own. He discovered it through the writings of Hindus and the teachings of his Hindu Gurus. All of which makes me wonder why you bring him up when his history so clearly contradicts your own message. It’s almost as if you are arguing my case for me.

    And btw, I don’t believe I’ve ever called you or anyone else here delusional, so where do you get off claiming that’s my response to everyone here who hits some sore spot of mine? And before you go off on another tangent about kettles and pots, I think you should smoke some first, and settle down. I know I can be rather frustrating, but let’s not get personal here. We’re among friends of a kind.

  120. #121 bobyu
    May 11, 2008

    conradg, I bring up Campbell precisely because he understood without belief, and in contrast, you believe without understanding.
    Campbell knew that those who were born in a tradition had just cause to believe in it, and that their culture taught them ways to use that belief successfully – things that were never written down, but the visceral knowledge that every culture passes on to the next generation. It works for them and its truth is incidental to its success in getting through the darkest days. The common thread is that there is more than one way to skin the cat and the same goes for cooking it.
    And Campbell knew that those not born into that culture had little reason and much less of an excuse to find either comfort or belief there, and it was thus his job to offer understanding.
    He found it only slightly less than odd however that those alienated from their birth culture would come seeking solace from a system they could only pretend to understand, and persuade themselves that blind belief was the equivalent of some deeper knowledge. The wisdom of the yogi exists within the context of his culture, not without. You can hear it, but you can’t have it as your own.
    And as far as I know, lizards and other life forms had no religion, as they had little facility for abstraction, but they had the makings of the fear of nature’s wrath from which all mythology makes an offer of protection. And we do have the vestiges of those brains, and the functions that they serve require no conscious examination, nor were they constructed to allow it, yet are crucial to our survival. Neuroscientists know this, and you might find the Dalai Lama that you cited knows it better than you want to believe.

    And so your understanding of the unconscious as another form of consciousness is just gibberish. If words and logic have no meaning in your world, is that in itself the attraction? Is delusion a new side of reality, or is reality itself a delusional concept of the plodding materialist?

    This is actually the point most crucial to your lack of understanding, that you are under the illusion you have seen into a crucial area of mind that sits forever in the dark.
    To not know this has to be a deliberate resort to ignorance.
    Ask yourself that if self deception and self delusion exist in others, why have you somehow accepted that they don’t exist in you. Because to believe you have thoroughly examined even the smallest part of your unconsciousness is delusional.
    Unfortunately, the defensive system that comprises your philosophy prevents you from seeing it’s own weakness, as that is of course its purpose.

    There is nothing much that anyone else can do except poke and shake your tree and watch the weirdest things fall out. And then show them to you and amuse ourselves at your responses..

  121. #122 JimV
    May 11, 2008

    condrag: in reply to your reply -

    I’ll give you points for your response to my soul-generator issue. Intuitively it seems to me that if new souls are being formed all the time, that eliminates any need to recycle them, but I’ll concede I haven’t made a very good argument there.

    Your response to my scientific issues is to deny the evidence, unexamined (although I am sorry I did not include specific links – aside from sheer laziness, I dislike having my comments stuck in moderation for several hours), and to hide behind the shibboleth of “proof”. There is no proof in science, just probability based on evidence. (See “Edge The World Question Center 2005″, Keith Devlin’s entry in particular.) The difference between our positions is not that one of us has mathematical proof, but that one of us has lots of replicable evidence.

    For example, as you could find sources for at NeuroLogica Blog and elsewhere, changes to the brain can cause changes in personality, memory, ability to perform specific skills, and ability to think rationally. As we get better tools, such as fNMR scans, it becomes clearer and clearer than no mental activity takes place without brain function (and, no, there are no unused portions of the brain).

    Since physical changes are needed to, for example, store memories in the brain, any means of thought transference would require fields or forces which would be detectible at the magnitudes required – again, see Sean Carroll’s post on this for an expert opinion.

    On your anecdotal evidence, I have had a friend (who unfortunately has been diagnosed as bi-polar) tell me that God appeared to him one night, raised his IQ temporarily to 10,000, and proved to him that every word of the Bible is true. I believe he was sincere, but since he brought back no evidence from that experience (such as Fermat’s way of proving Fermat’s Last Theorem) I can think of more likely explanations for what he thought happened.

  122. #123 conradg
    May 11, 2008

    JimV,

    Regarding brain studies, I don’t mean to suggest I discount these things. I find them fascinating and useful. I also acknowledge that any information transfer would definitely require some kind of physical process of reception in the brain, and hence some kind of detectable process. I just doubt that the science is subtle enough at this point to detect something like that directly. Theoretically its certainly possible, but if it occurs at the quantum level as many suggest, it’s not terribly easy to detect such things in a living brain. But I do think this is one area in which such theories could be tested – if and when real theories about how this might happen emerge. What kinds of “fields of force” would exist in this process is hard to say, however. It seems premature to speculate and then rule anything in or out.

    As for your friend, there is a wide range of religious experience that varies in reliability. Pointing to one end of a bell curve doesn’t say much about the other end. There are plenty of mad scientists who come up with unreliable results as well.

  123. #124 JimCH
    May 11, 2008

    As for your friend, there is a wide range of religious experience that varies in reliability. Pointing to one end of a bell curve doesn’t say much about the other end. There are plenty of mad scientists who come up with unreliable results as well.

    Could you open this up a little further? It would seem like the “mad scientist” category doesn’t necessarily fit on the bell-curve that you introduced. It seems to me that the other end of that particular graph might be the “sober scientist who develops the soundest & most parsimonious of hypotheses, yet never produces meaningful results” category. I’m not sure how this detail would alter anyone’s argument but I can’t picture the graph you have in mind, given your outliers (at least in terms of the argument you’re trying to formulate.)

  124. #125 shortie
    May 11, 2008

    For a picture of a conradg graph, check this out:
    http://www.graphnow.com/Image/vf_nt_sum.jpg:

  125. #127 conradg
    May 11, 2008

    Bobyu,

    I think shortie is right that you are having an emotional meltdown. Really, take a walk or something and be reasonable.

    The idea that Campbell “understood without belief,” whereas I “believe without understanding” is just a false dualism that Campbell himself would reject out of hand. I talk about my beliefs in the ordinary sense of the term, as simply “how I think things are”, which is no different than how Campbell believed, or you believe, or Einstein believed. I’m not talking about my beliefs in terms of faith, but just, at the end of the day, how I currently see the world. Campbell believed that myths were one of the primal pattern of human consciousness, and I’d agree. However, he also believed that there was a deeper, non-dual truth behind all these myths, these “masks of God”. I’d agree also. I’m not sure why you think Campbell’s and my agreement on these issues is different, or that he came to these conclusions without belief, but somehow I have, except that you are forced into this posture by your inability to actually debate me on the issues, so you fall back on a personal line of attack. This is not impressive, dude.

    As for being alienated from our culture, that’s simply not the case. I live quite a happy life here. I’m not crazy about the mad materialism of the West, but neither was Campbell. I’m not alienated from science, certainly. I have a lot of respect for it, training in it, and I’ve worked with it. I have two sons studying physics, computer science, and pre-med in top universities. One of them has physics classes with the dude who came up with dark energy and dark matter theory, and whose ideas are being tested at the LHC at CERN this summer. I’m friends with a scientist who was on the cover of Time Magazine for his work with anti-matter, and who I’m told is quite impressed with me. I’m simply not drawn very much to western spirituality, because I think it is simply lacking. It’s no different than an Indian fellow being drawn to study western science. Is that a sign of being alienated from his culture? Of course not. Western science is just where scientific ideas have been best developed. Likewise, eastern religion is where religious ideas have been best developed, in my opinion.

    The idea that Hindu or Buddhist ideas of spirituality have no place outside their culture is as silly as the notion that western scientific ideas don’t work for non-westerners. Many of the insights of eastern spirituality are simply universal, as Campbell himself discovered. That’s the whole point of his “Hero With a Thousand Masks” idea. I’m simply a little more judgmental than he is about western religious myths and wisdom. I studied quite a lot of Christian and Sufi mysticism, and I simply think it falls short in many areas. The non-dual tradition that Campbell feels is the primal truth behind all these “masks”, is of course not explicitly found in the western traditions, but only in the east. So Campbell himself is showing a marked preference for eastern religion by emphasizing this as the core value.

    And Campbell knew that those not born into that culture had little reason and much less of an excuse to find either comfort or belief there, and it was thus his job to offer understanding.

    If you interpret Campbell as being a hometown booster for western religion, and a xenophobic critic of eastern religion, I think you are mistaken. And assuming that westerners who are attracted to eastern religion do so because they are “seeking solace” based on “blind belief”, whereas westerners who are attracted to western religion are “seeking truth” based on “understanding” has the situation largely reversed. It’s pretty much laughable to make such a contention, and shows that you simply have no real familiarity with either scene.

    The wisdom of the yogi exists within the context of his culture, not without. You can hear it, but you can’t have it as your own.

    That’s absurd on both the theoretical and practical level, and is completely contradicted by Campbell’s own work. As I pointed out, he studied under Hindu Gurus. He worked with the Ramakrishna order of monks on “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna”, one of the great classics of modern bhakta literature, and one of my own personal favorites. If he can do that, why can’t other westerners?

    And as far as I know, lizards and other life forms had no religion, as they had little facility for abstraction, but they had the makings of the fear of nature’s wrath from which all mythology makes an offer of protection. And we do have the vestiges of those brains, and the functions that they serve require no conscious examination, nor were they constructed to allow it, yet are crucial to our survival. Neuroscientists know this, and you might find the Dalai Lama that you cited knows it better than you want to believe.

    You are imputing ideas to the Dalai Lama that simply aren’t true. He doesn’t see religion as emanating from the “lizard brain”. Equating religion with fear-response, and fear-response with the lizard brain, and thus religion with the lizard brain, is a junior high school level of logical error. Get over yourself, please, if you want to be taken seriously. The Dalai Lama is quite interested in neuroscience, and has had his monks cooperate in scientific studies about brain waves and meditation practices, but these studies have not shown some process involving the “lizard brain”, but quite the opposite – an involvement in higher brain centers and marked changes in higher brain function due to meditative practice.

    And so your understanding of the unconscious as another form of consciousness is just gibberish.

    Wow, please let Freud, Jung, and the world of psychology know about this as soon as possible. They have undoubtedly been waiting for genius insights like these for decades.

    If words and logic have no meaning in your world, is that in itself the attraction? Is delusion a new side of reality, or is reality itself a delusional concept of the plodding materialist?

    I never said that words and logic have no meaning in religion. I merely said, like Campbell, that the deepest truths of religion are beyond the mind, at the source of the mind itself. Some people are too attached to the mind to imagine this, however, and lash out as if this is an “illogical” position to argue. It isn’t, of course. The mind is not the ultimate.

    This is actually the point most crucial to your lack of understanding, that you are under the illusion you have seen into a crucial area of mind that sits forever in the dark.

    It’s exactly the opposite.

    To not know this has to be a deliberate resort to ignorance.

    Since when do you get to define “ignorance”?

    Ask yourself that if self deception and self delusion exist in others, why have you somehow accepted that they don’t exist in you. Because to believe you have thoroughly examined even the smallest part of your unconsciousness is delusional.

    Quite the contrary – self-deception and self-delusion do exist in me. I’ve been aware of that all my life, and have worked quite hard to go beyond them. And I’m certain that I haven’t eliminated them all. You simply assume that all self-deception and delusion are to be found in religious life, whereas they are to be found everywhere, including our ordinary, materialistic, daily life of unconsciously accepting these dualisms of conscious and unconscious, subjective and objective, scientific and non-scientific, etc. The way beyond these illusions is to inspect oneself directly, in consciousness. If you haven’t done that, you haven’t encountered even your most basic illusions, much less the deepest ones. You need not believe I’ve examined my unconscious, but why should you, and what does it matter? What matters is whether you have, and you’re the only one who can answer that.

    Unfortunately, the defensive system that comprises your philosophy prevents you from seeing it’s own weakness, as that is of course its purpose.

    Sorry, but I haven’t evolved this understanding as a defense. Like most people, I’ve just tried to understand my experience as well as I can.

    For example, how am I to explain the simple fact that every day, with every breath, I experience the quite wonderful sensation of “prana” moving through my lungs and body? I’ve been practicing spiritual life, meditation, etc, for a very long time, and one of the simple fruits of that practice is that what the Hindus call “prana”, what the Taoists call “chi”, this simple, subtle energy of life that circulates through the body, primarily through the breath, is experienced by me almost continuously. This isn’t something I can simply dismiss. It’s as natural to me as, well, breathing. It’s a fluid, relaxing, sensual pleasure I experience virtually all the time now, without trying, without elaborate rituals or mind practices. In fact, I never practiced anything in order to feel this except feeling and breathing itself, in a deep sense of the word. It makes my life measurably more enjoyable, and it makes my relationships and my functional life measurably more enjoyable. It corresponds quite well to what is described in the yogic traditions of Hinduism and Taoism, but I don’t actually care one way or another about that. It’s just an example of how what they are describing is simply a universal truth, discoverable by anyone who cares to look. Of course, you do have to go through a somewhat difficult process of feeling beyond the kinks and neuroses of ordinary life to develop this, but that’s true of anything worthwhile. And yes, you have to go beyond fear, because fear does lock up the body and feeling in a neurotic fashion that prevents us from feeling the natural energies of the mind and breath. Being full of fear is what drives people to be materialistic, because they can’t feel anything else but material sensations when they are in that mode of life. Some people create a whole ideological world-view out of that fear-based mode of life. It’s a little sad, really.

    There is nothing much that anyone else can do except poke and shake your tree and watch the weirdest things fall out. And then show them to you and amuse ourselves at your responses..

    Yes, keep doing that. You might learn at some point why you are addicted to this way of relating to other people, and what it says about you. It might not be very pretty.

  126. #128 conradg
    May 11, 2008

    JimCh,

    THere’s many ways of constructing bell curve graphs on the issue. I was simply thinking that at the other end of the “crazy guy who talks to God” bell curve there is the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Ghandi, Buddha, Jesus, Ramana Maharshi, etc.

    If you took a bell curve of scientists, running from crazy to sane, you have at one end the zero-point energy enthusiasts, the manic-depressives who never get anywhere with their nutty inventions, the people who apply for the TV show “American’s Next Inventor”, and at the other end, the Einsteins, Newtons (at least the early Newton), Heisenbergs, Edisons, Von Neumans, etc. The mediocre guys are in the middle somewhere. It depends on what measure you are taking, I guess.

    Also, I really like shortie’s graph of me. Not a bad approximation, really.

  127. #129 bobyu
    May 11, 2008

    conradg,
    Debate? You are unable to reply to any statement without first inferring the opposite. That’s referred to in the literature as the fallacy of cognitive dissonance – it really is, you know.
    Your son knows a scientist who is impressed with you? His colleagues on this forum remain strangely silent – having been called idiots by you in the past, no doubt. Do you let those science minded kids see these posts before you send them out as a permanent testimony to your pathology? Would they have the temerity to tell you you’re a nut before at least their student loans are satisfied?

    What Campbell was writing about has completely escaped you. You accidently alluded to it when you mentioned this:
    ‘However, he also believed that there was a deeper, non-dual truth behind all these myths, these “masks of God”.’
    Exactly. And “masks of God” is another metaphor for the mask in our brain behind which the need for an answer to life’s search for purpose in the universe is constantly with us. And, as in your case, all “knowledge” gained needs constant reinforcement, because there are no answers to any certainty in our universe that we are equipped to understand.

    You cannot see into your unconscious. That’s categorically as true as anything that neuroscientists and psychologists profess to know. It could only be untrue if you could demonstrate there was no such area in our minds/brains. Or that you and your wise men were somehow physiological freaks of nature. Which I’ll grant could be the case, which begs the question of what a freak can see that’s representative of the whole of his species.

    You have asked your unconscious what you should believe, and it can give you gibberish for an answer without ever letting you examine the process. You cannot see its range of hidden premises, yet have said again this only proves they aren’t there. No, it only proves that if they were, you haven’t seen them. And in the end you grudgingly concede that something is there unseen, but that only proves (to you) it’s of no importance.

    And you cannot see that your unconscious calculates it’s predictions for the future with a logic system geared to answer questions with importance to the immediate present. These answers are so satisfying to those with imminent and fearful concerns to allay that the rational is routinely brushed aside. Fear feeds on uncertainty more in some than others, and clearly your sort are among the some.

    Deny your fears as you clearly must, your unconscious has become your master, and your consciousness its slave. Can you reverse the situation? Only with the help of science.
    But the catch is your defenses are such that they won’t allow you to ask.
    You’re pretty much screwed.

    Sorry I wasn’t able to help.

  128. #130 Iapetus
    May 11, 2008

    conradg,

    “I don’t consider my views to be classical idealism. It’s simply what I would call consciousness realism. [...] Likewise, all our experience arises in consciousness, regardless of the form it takes. This, I would suggest, is just an empirical fact. What one makes of it is another matter. But philosophical orientation aside, I don’t see how this simple observation can be called anything but realism. Do you disagree?”

    Wholeheartedly. If you would want to classify your position as realism, you would have to acknowledge the existence of a world, material or immaterial, outside and independent of your own consciousness. This is precisely what you are denying, so in philosophical terms you are not a realist.

    “If there exist things which do not enter into our consciousness, why should we presume they exist? I think this falls into the Occan’s Razor category of logic. If we obtain evidence of their existence, isn’t this only because such evidence has entered our consciousness by means of perception, logic, thinking, etc.? Well, all those factors are things we have already established are functions of consciousness, arising in consciousness, perceived in consciousness.”

    Why should we presume they do not exist? Of course, solipsism, like any metaphysical model, is ultimately not refutable. But likewise your argument absolutely fails to lead anyone to adopt this model.

    Occam’s Razor is not a rule of logic. Now while a model that posits reality as being one lonely consciouness presumably contains less parameters than a model that posits a consciousness plus an outside world, this is not the end of the story. We also have to take into account other factors, e.g. the immense richness in detail of this illusory outside world and the remarkable success that competing metaphysical models like materialism or dualism have in explaining this fact. IMO this tilts the scale hugely to the detriment of solipsism.

    “I have to admit that metaphysical entities and astral forms are also mere appearances within consciousness, not objective perceptions. This is one of the higher spiritual truths often pointed out by guys like Buddha, and it’s not to be taken lightly. It doesn’t make them any more or less real than materialism, but it does undermine certain spiritual points of view such as “eternalism”.”

    I would say it does a bit more than that. For instance, it renders your whole theodicy and theory of reincarnation superfluous and/or incoherent. According to you there are no other human beings with a consciousness and capability of suffering comparable to your own that experience evil/misfortune and undergo reincarnation. They are only figments of your consciousness. Hence no need for a theodicy. There is also no real person named Buddha who lived before you. There is only you.

    You can not have it both ways. Either there is no external world outside of your consciousness or there is. If there is, it may just as well be a material one.

    “Now this is the 64 trillion dollar question. At bottom, solipsism is the great fear which drives us towards objectivity. It’s a kind of asymtopic curve which goes to infinity, and this is considered a no-no. But this kind of spirituality is about infinity at core, and being willing to divide by zero, so to speak. [...] Essentially, they are beyond mind and concepts, because they go to the source of mind and concepts, rather than the objects of these. I’d refer you to Buddha, Nagarjuna, the Upanishads, Shankara, Guadapada, Ramana Maharshit, etc., for more details on the chain of logic here. It’s not easy going however.”

    I would think that, because as far as I can see we are dealing with an obvious self-contradiction here. However, since you have adopted this worldview, you should be able to relate its reasoning in your own words.

    “I see this as a way of looking at the fine details of one aspect of consciousness – the physical dimension. What should be noticed is that the further one breaks this dimension down into constituent parts and forces, the less “material” they become, and the more of the nature of consciousness they reveal themselves to be, as is found in quantum mechanics and relativity theory, for example.”

    I fail to see what the theory of relativity has to do with consciousness. As for quantum mechanics, I should have known that it would come up sooner or later. Well, if you wanted to indicate that certain interpretations of the wave function collapse are indicative of consciousness being the elemental building block of reality, you are clutching at straws. The interpretation I can think of that would come nearest to where you want to go would be Wheeler’s Participatory Anthropic Principle. However, in my view (and AFAIK those of the vast majority of physicists) it is inferior to the Copenhagen and even the Many-Worlds interpretation.

    But even assuming for the sake of argument that consciousness plays a part in shaping the structure of reality, it is still a long way to go from there before we could conclude that materialism is false.

    “Looking at the physical world using only physical evidence would seem to reinforce the viewpoint of the physical world, and be self-consistent within that realm. And yet, as I say, stretch it far enough and it begins to fall apart where the edges fall off.”

    I believe that the second sentence contradicts the first. Were you not arguing above that as we look ever closer at the material world, we see more and more evidence that it is made of consciousness at root?

    “Can you honestly say you walk around the street thinking of yourself as a material machine that is purely driven by material processes, and not as a conscious individual interacting with the material world as it arises in your awareness? I will bet you it’s the latter. Well, why then argue differently here?”

    Because, and I think this is something you really ought to take much more into consideration, what you or I deem obvious or not carries no intrinsic guarantee of its own correctness. In other words, what we deem absurd/self-evident/obvious solely on the basis of introspection without corroboration can be totally misleading. While I operate under the assumption that I am a conscious, autonomous individual, there is no guarantee that this is so. Are you familiar with recent neurological studies that showed parts of the brain getting active and initiating an action before the participants were aware of it, yet nonetheless claiming that they freely chose this action? It would indicate that the conscious part of the brain (at least under certain conditions) merely rationalizes an unconscious action, throwing tremendous doubt on our perceived free will.

    Concerning the general topic of a materialistic account for consciousness and free will, I think it would be too long for a blog post to give a detailed account of the various models. I will just say that there are several attempts that in my view are very convincing. If you are interested, I can point you to further reading material.

    “I don’t need to discuss my particular metaphysical experiences with you to demonstrate that we are both consciously interacting with one another right now, in a way that goes beyond mere words typed on these screens.”

    That does not address the relevant issue. Let me say it for the third time now: if you want me to accept one of your arguments based solely on the fact that you have had a certain experience/intuition/personal insight etc., I would have to be able to perfectly recreate it in my mind. I can not do that, consequently any such argument carries no validity in our discussion. I do not know why this seems so hard for you to accept.

    “I’m suggesting a conscious connection in everything, including of course human interaction. The fantasies of telepathy and Vulcan mind melds are just how the materialistic mind tries to make sense of what actually goes on between us. It’s actually deeper and more meaningful than that.”

    That sounds very profound and deep, but without further clarification what you are really talking about here I am afraid that I do not follow.

    “If the only thing you can know for certain is your own self-awareness, and your own self-awareness is the only means you have for verifying the apparent existence of anything else, isn’t your own self-aware consciousness the primal ground of all your experience. I haven’t seen you or anyone else here address this matter, even though I’ve laid it out numerous times.”

    I am not sure what you are getting at here. If you are saying that conscious experience requires consciousness, then this is a tautology. If you claim that experience is unthinkable without consciousness, I would point to studies with newborn infants and little babies that seem to indicate that they lack a consciousness comparable to adults, i.e. they have no defined sense of Self. Would you deny the proposition that they have experiences?

    “I’ve investigated the death process, experienced death, and found that consciousness survives. [...] But I am personally aware with a great degree of certainty that consciousness survives death and transformation.”

    Again, I believe that you are sincere about this and that it seems real to you. It is just no basis for rational argument. Sorry.

    “Yes, but then it’s not really appropriate to use the word “evil”, which is a metaphysical category.”

    Only in absolutist ethical systems that many religions adhere to. Systems that espouse ethical relativism likewise deem acts as being “evil”, but do not attach a transcendent and/or universal meaning to it.

    “I don’t think the findings of science have much relevance to metaphysical matters one way or another.”

    Only in the sense that they can affect the likelihood of certain metaphysical models being true or false. However, a direct refutation can not be achieved.

    “It is primarily a conscious process, and while science has much to help us with in secondary, material matters, in the primary matter of our own conscious life, it isn’t all that much help. We need to rely on an intelligence that is more primal than science.”

    That may be as it is. However, you raised the topic in connection with the question whether Occam’s Razor would favor your worldview or the elaborate findings of science in the mind of a hypothetical observer who had no scientific background. I responded by pointing out that science confirms its results by independent corroboration and that these results, even if elaborate, deserve a high level of confidence, in contrast to your metaphysical construct. Thus, what would our hypothetical observer conclude by wielding Occam’s Razor? I think it is obvious.

  129. #131 shortie
    May 11, 2008

    Hmm, perhaps the illustrative graph from the hypothetical observer’s onjective point of view now looks more like the following:
    http://www.graphnow.com/Image/anisin2d.gif

  130. #132 ctw
    May 11, 2008

    “If you are interested, I can point you to further reading material. [re material basis for consciousness]”

    Whether or not conradg is, I am, so please do – especially more recent stuff, like the last five years or so.

    Thanks – Charles

  131. #133 ctw
    May 11, 2008

    “Can you honestly say you walk around the street thinking of yourself as a material machine that is purely driven by material processes, and not as a conscious individual interacting with the material world as it arises in your awareness?”

    Why are these incompatible? If one believes the former and that consciousness is just one of those “material processes”, the latter follows logically, no?

    (Of course, the direct answer to the quoted question is “neither”, since the vast majority of the time – which is what I infer is meant to be conveyed by “walk[ing] around the street”) – one doesn’t fret about such things.)

    - Charles

  132. #134 bobyu
    May 12, 2008

    If you ever thought you could deal with conradg on the basis of the minimum necessary common assumptions needed to expect successful transfer of ideas through logical inference, check this out and be thoroughly disabused.

    http://www.iskcon.com/icj/3_2/3_2suhotraswami.html

  133. #135 conradg
    May 12, 2008

    Iapetus,

    Sorry, been busy today what with Mother’s Day and all. Will get back to you soon.

  134. #136 conradg
    May 12, 2008

    Charles,

    This is the problem with checking in here after 2:00 AM. I see a short post by you, get to thinking, and have to reply, when I just let Iapetus’ long post go by all day because I’ve been busy with the family. Arrrrggghhh.

    Why are these incompatible? If one believes the former and that consciousness is just one of those “material processes”, the latter follows logically, no?

    I think I see what you’re getting at, which is not quite what I’ve been assuming. I’ve been assuming the proposition is that somehow consciousness is not itself a physical process, but is being proposed by yourself and others to be the result of a physical process. I though that notion had been dropped long ago, but apparently not. So are you suggesting that consciousness, like say electricity or magnetism, is a physical field, force, particle, object of some kind existing as a physical material? Something that itself exerts force, does “work” in the physical sense of the word, has mass/energy, and is thus measurable, detectable, and manipulable in the same way as an election, a magnetic field, or a molecule? If not, then how can you possibly say it is a material process. And if not, why hasn’t this material process been detected so far? It’s an incredibly common phenomena, present in every human being, and seemingly in at least many higher animals. I would think it would have been detected in some manner. If it could be demonstrated that consciousness itself is actually a material process, rather than merely an effect of material processes, that would be an incredible discovery, maybe the greatest discovery in the history of the world. It would be tantamount to discovering “life” itself. And if that’s what you think neuroscience is on the verge of discovering, then all I can say is wow, my hat’s off to them. That would sure bring religion to an end, my own included. At least that’s my initial reaction.

    Of course, I’m not holding my breath, and not just because I’d have something to lose. Or would I? If I’m just holding onto an illusion, I certainly wouldn’t be holding onto anything at all, so that would be great.

    On the other hand, as I think about it, if consciousness can be found to be a material process, is it possible God could be a physical process also? And could reincarnation be a physical process too? isn’t it possible that all these phenomena actually do exist as physical processes, in the same way that consciousness does? Couldn’t there be a God-particle, force, field, etc., that could be discovered along with this consciousness-particle? (We could call it the Chiton, “chit” being the sanskrit word for consciousness). So maybe everything we have called metaphysical is really physical after all, if consciousness is actually a material phenomena.

    The problem then is that perhaps materialism doesn’t actually eliminate all the things that we’ve considered metaphysical, if in fact they are actually physical in nature. As yet, no one has ever established any physicality to the phenomena of consciousness, but if they do, it certainly suggests that other metaphysical things could be physical as well.

    What do you think? And where is this consciousness particle-force-field hiding? Why is it so hard to detect? It’s flowing all through every one of us, you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard to find. Doesn’t that make you a little suspicious?

    As for the walking around business, I simply mean “what mode of awareness do you simply assume, without conceptually thinking about it?” In other words, I’ve been assuming that the forum has been arguing that consciousness is merely a by-product of material processes, an “echo”, rather than itself a material process. My observation of myself and others is that we assume ourselves to be in conscous control of ourselves. Yes, not in complete control of course, we don’t regulate our heartbeat and breathing etc., but basically in control in the way that a driver is in control of an automobile even if he isn’t controlling all the pistons and rods of the engine, etc. If we are a material process, however, then there is no “we” in control, there is merely a material process, like a computer running its progam, like gravity and electricity doing obeying their laws. Not an iota of free will, in other words, at any step in the process. Now maybe that’s the truth. My point is that we simply don’t feel that to be the case, we don’t think as if that’s the case, and we don’t act as if that’s the case. Certainly we never say to ourselves, there’s no point in me making a decision here, I am simply going to do whatever the material in my brain says I’m going to do, and that’s that. I’m not sure why, if that were really the case, this would be a problem for any of us. I’m not sure why it would be necessary for us to come up with any subterfuge about the process, including God, religion, psychology, etc. What would be the point? We could just be happy robots doing our thing, instead of fretting endlessly about metaphysical matters, including worrying about death and so forth. Why would a material process fear death, since there’s nothing to die? It doesn’t seem very productive. The whole vision certainly seems entirely nihilistic, doesn’t it, Charles? Aren’t you the guy who talks about nihilism. Okay, put your materialism in a chair next to nihilism, and explain the difference to me.

    Anyway, more tommorrow. My love to all the material processes out there.

    (Of course, the direct answer to the quoted question is “neither”, since the vast majority of the time – which is what I infer is meant to be conveyed by “walk[ing] around the street”) – one doesn’t fret about such things.)

    - Charles

  135. #137 JimV
    May 12, 2008

    It seems premature to speculate and then rule anything in or out.

    That has a faintly ironic tinge to me. As I see it, there is lots of evidence that is consistent with my positions (that brains cause consciousness and that direct thought transference is physically impossible), and no reliable evidence that isn’t. (The neurological study mentioned by Iapetus above has been blogged about over at NeuologicaBlog, if anyone is interested.) Therefore I see the speculation as mainly on the other side.

    As for your friend, there is a wide range of religious experience that varies in reliability. Pointing to one end of a bell curve doesn’t say much about the other end. There are plenty of mad scientists who come up with unreliable results as well.

    My point was that the only way to distinquish valid results from delusions or fakes (whether in religious experience or science) is by evidence. I used an extreme case to illustrate that, but a true one. None of us (in my view) is born knowing how the universe works. As a child, I was told the moon was made of green cheese, and had no reason (at first) to disbelieve it. My friend, who is an intelligent person, would rather believe something which you evidently consider to be way beyond reasonable than to believe that his brain has a malfunction which produces delusions. We are all superb at rationalizing whatever we wish to believe. The only hope of getting beyond such rationalizations is to examine the evidence, rather than ignoring it so as to leave gaps into which our desired theories can fit.

  136. #138 shortie
    May 12, 2008

    conradg and others,
    Check out this site as one example of how science is being used to undertake the understanding of consciousness as essentially a consequence of a brain function, with no more of a material or spiritual consistency than a picture reflected on a screen, a holographic image.
    The bigger question of course, is why we have functions that are unconscious, along with the question of why we assume animals don’t see pictures similar to ours, when clearly they need such a sensuous interface with the world around them as much as we do – even though their ability to interpret what their senses “see” will clearly differ.

    http://www.secamlocal.ex.ac.uk/people/staff/mrwatkin/zeta/marcer.htm

  137. #139 ctw
    May 12, 2008

    conradg:

    It might help if I address this first:

    “Certainly we never say to ourselves, there’s no point in me making a decision here, I am simply going to do whatever the material in my brain says I’m going to do, and that’s that. I’m not sure why, if that were really the case, this would be a problem for any of us.”

    Strange as it may seem to you, I frequently do say words to that effect to myself – although more often born of frustration than of neurological insight (of which I have none). And it turns out, it in fact isn’t a problem for some of us. As I indicated in an earlier comment, if it were proved conclusively tomorrow that either we are “robots” with no free will or that we aren’t, I can’t imagine what I personally would do differently.

    “So are you suggesting that consciousness, like say electricity or magnetism, is a physical field, force, particle, object of some kind existing as a physical material?”

    The advantage of having all these smart, knowledgeable commenters is that I can answer such questions by just referencing them. I mean material process in the sense of JimV’s last comment: “brains cause consciousness”. Now, being relatively ignorant of theories of consciousness, my view is no doubt simplistic and naive. But I can imagine consciousness as just a logical – though, of course, incredibly complex – extension of a simple organism’s reaction to sensations, augmented by a memory function and a mechanism for modeling the (now complex) organism’s environment. And with that view, self-awareness doesn’t seem (to me, anyway) all that mysterious since our physical selves are elements of our total environment as modeled by our minds.

    Finally, I don’t understand your contrasting a materialistic view of consciousness and nihilism. I see the latter as a logical consequence of the former – at least as I understand those concepts.

    - Charles

  138. #140 bobyu
    May 12, 2008

    Charles, just to get to this one comment makes the extended effort of suffering through conradg’s elaborate efforts to construct his edifices of rationalization ultimately worthwhile.

    “But I can imagine consciousness as just a logical – though, of course, incredibly complex – extension of a simple organism’s reaction to sensations, augmented by a memory function and a mechanism for modeling the (now complex) organism’s environment. And with that view, self-awareness doesn’t seem (to me, anyway) all that mysterious since our physical selves are elements of our total environment as modeled by our minds.”

    Bravo!

  139. #141 ctw
    May 12, 2008

    bobyu:

    Wow – my hope was at most not to receive a response along the lines of “hey, fool, go learn a few things, then come back”. So a “bravo” makes my day – thanks!

    Although I still wouldn’t be surprised to get a “hey, fool, …” response. (:>)~

    - Charles

  140. #142 bobyu
    May 12, 2008

    Charles, the day is still young. The important thing is you pointed out that even the simplest of organisms need to have a form of self awareness, because to evaluate its requisite reaction, either defensively or offensively, the organism has to have in its mechanistic mind a view of where its own self stands in the picture its senses gave it of its immediate environment. And you did so in a way that relates to all organisms developed since the beginning of the evolutionary process.

  141. #143 conradg
    May 12, 2008

    Where to begin? There’s a barrage of excellent comments and questions to choose from, from a number of people, often making similar points. I’m going to choose a selection of the comments to respond to, and hope I haven’t missed anything important. If so, point it out to me.

    First, after reading the commments last night, particularly Charles’, I felt compelled to really make an honest effort to “try on” materialism as a point of view about consciousness. I like to do that with such things, really “wear” them so to speak, and as Johnny Cochran might have said, “If the glove don’t fit, you’re full of shit”. So far I’m having a hard time making the glove of materialism fit the hand of consciousness. Of course, even when I try to jam it on, I can’t help wondering what difference it really makes? If consciousness is a material process, it’s an amazing one. It’s a material process that is self-aware, and that can examine itself in great detail. So what happens when consciousness examines itself, rather than its material causes?

    It’s been suggested that consciousness is caused by material processes in the brain. Fine in theory. But then consciousness itself must be a material “thing”, a field, a force, a particle, etc. Why can’t we see it ir detect it in and of itself, in the same way that lightning can be broken down and seen as electrons moving very fast, rather than merely in its material causes or effects? How could something be materially causes, and produce material effects, without itself being conscious?

    Charles tries to clarify his views by saying:

    I mean material process in the sense of JimV’s last comment: “brains cause consciousness”.

    But this doesn’t answer the question of what consciousness itself is. As noted, asking the question “what is lightning?” isn’t satisfied by saying, “it’s caused by material processes in clouds”. One has to posit a material substance to lightning itself. The scientific answer, of course is, “lots of electrons moving very fast”. So the question of what consciousness is must have a similar material answer if materialism is the explanation for consciousness.

    The problem with that of course is that nothing remotely like this has been detected, or for that matter, even theorized. yes, there’s plenty of brain studies linking brain processes with awareness and thinking processes. But self-awareness isn’t the same as sensory processes or even cognition itself. Consciousness is a phenomena of self-awareness itself. It isn’t the same as a mechanical process of detecting data, processing data, and spitting out results. The brain and nervous system can be so described in such a way, but why should that produce the phenomena of consciousness that we all experience as the core of our very existence?

    Take a camera. It’s a simple mechanical device that senses data, processes, and produces a fairly accurate image that reflects the world around it. Is there any reason we should presume that the camera is self-aware? That it has an inner consciousness as we do that is aware of the picture it takes? I think we would all probably agree that such an assumptions is both a little silly, and unnecessary. Okay, now take a digital camera, now hook the camera up to a computer, and let the images be processed by that computer to operate an automobile. This has been done of course by hundreds of scientists in the recent DARPA competition for AI vehicles. Are any of these vehicles conscious? Is there any reason to think that they are? They are capable of sensing data, processing it, and controlling a vehicle that navigates through the material world. But where does consciousness come in? Okay, keep making this vehicle more and more complex. Does it ever become conscious of itself? Does it ever need to? And if it did, what material process would be responsible for it becoming conscious, and more important, what would that consciousness be as a material “thing”. Where would that self-awareness reside as a material process? In the electrons flowing through its sensors and processors? If so, then should we also presume that lightning is self-aware, or that rocks are self-aware? They have huge numbers of electrons flowing around in them also. Or does the electron flow have to be associated with complex organic chemicals to create this “self-aware consciousness” phenomena we all find ourselves to be?

    My sense is that you guys aren’t really asking yourselves these tough questions about consciousness as a material process. For examle, when Charles says:

    But I can imagine consciousness as just a logical – though, of course, incredibly complex – extension of a simple organism’s reaction to sensations, augmented by a memory function and a mechanism for modeling the (now complex) organism’s environment. And with that view, self-awareness doesn’t seem (to me, anyway) all that mysterious since our physical selves are elements of our total environment as modeled by our minds.

    He doesn’t bother to ask himself how this process can really come about in any organism, even a simple one. Yes, you can increase the complexity of a sensory process device that responds to its environment, but why should the phenomena of “self-aware consciousness” arise in the process? I can certainly see the value of an AI program that has incredible degrees of self-referential programming that manipulates data through logical pathways far more complex and efficiently than our own brain, but why would this need to produce self-awareness as a phenomena, and how would it even do this?

    In other words, if the world is purely material in nature, then why should it also produce “consciousenss”? As Charles himself says:

    As I indicated in an earlier comment, if it were proved conclusively tomorrow that either we are “robots” with no free will or that we aren’t, I can’t imagine what I personally would do differently.

    Exactly. I know you make this argument against the notion that consciousness is metaphysical, but it also argues against the need for consciousness at all. If you are merely a material process, obviously there is no “you” to decide anything at all anyway. It’s already decided by material processes. If consciousness is a material process, it doesn’t need to be self-aware in the internal manner that we experience in order to arrive at the decisions we arrive at and act upon them. Nothing would change by adding this epiphenomenal experience.

    JimV talks about his bi-polar friend as an example of what people can claim to be true based on lapses in brain function. I have no problem with this view. There are many such examples of people suffering from mental illness who make religious claims, or claims of all kinds of things that seem delusional in nature. He suggests “My point was that the only way to distinquish valid results from delusions or fakes (whether in religious experience or science) is by evidence.” But if his friend’s problems are solely material in nature, a dysfunctional brain, what evidence does JimV have that his friend is conscious at all? I don’t say that flippantly, but for real. What evidence does JimV have that any of us are self-aware of ourselves at all? His friend could be simply a biologically based AI machine that is misfunctioning and spewing out distorted results. In fact, unless this actual material phenomena of consciousness can be found in any of us, there’s no actual evidence that it exists aside from our own anecdotal, subjective experience. And why should anyone else believe us? So while it’s fine to suggest that JimV’s friend’s ideas are delusional, isn’t our belief in consciousness itself delusional? And isn’t even the notion that consciousness is somehow “caused” by material processes, but is not itself a material thing itself, an example of delusional thinking?

    Even mirrors and the light bouncing off them are material in nature. Holograms are material in nature, as are the images formed by them. The brain and nervious system are material in nature. How does any of that produce something that is not material in nature. In the materialistic model that’s just as silly as presuming some metaphysical force behind the brain and nervous system. So then we are left with the notion that consciousness is itself material in anture, a material substance or particle of force field of some kind that can be measured. And if scientists, as someone suggested, I think it was JimV, feel confident that their devices are sensitive enough to detect forces that might account for telepathy of reincarnation transfers of information, but don’t find such things, shouldn’t they be sensitive enough to find whatever material forces or particles are responsible for consciousness?

    Okay, enough there. I’ll address some of the other topics in another post. Thanks for the input everyone.

  142. #144 conradg
    May 12, 2008

    There’s a brain-fart typo in my last post at the end of the third paragraph, which should read:

    “How could something be materially caused, and produce material effects, without itself being material?” (last word not “conscious”.)

  143. #145 bobyu
    May 12, 2008

    What you can’t deal with conradg, you conveniently ignore. Such as:

    “Check out this site as one example of how science is being used to undertake the understanding of consciousness as essentially a consequence of a brain function, with no more of a material or spiritual consistency than a picture reflected on a screen, a holographic image.”

    “But I can imagine consciousness as just a logical – though, of course, incredibly complex – extension of a simple organism’s reaction to sensations, augmented by a memory function and a mechanism for modeling the (now complex) organism’s environment. And with that view, self-awareness doesn’t seem (to me, anyway) all that mysterious since our physical selves are elements of our total environment as modeled by our minds.”

    “The important thing is you pointed out that even the simplest of organisms need to have a form of self awareness, because to evaluate its requisite reaction, either defensively or offensively, the organism has to have in its mechanistic mind a view of where its own self stands in the picture its senses gave it of its immediate environment. And you did so in a way that relates to all organisms developed since the beginning of the evolutionary process.”

    And we note again the sly reference to those who don’t persuade you as therefor “full of shit.”

    But conradg, consider that having shit for brains is not the requirement for understanding the rationale of science, but the problem that interferes with that capacity. If you don’t at least understand, the elementary lessons of biology 101, it’s you who have the capacity problem.

    Those rationalization handbooks like Doubt and Certainty In Krishna Consciousness could be the source of any bullshit that wasn’t there already.

  144. #146 bobyu
    May 12, 2008

    While I have the opportunity, I’d like to add something else to what Charles said, even though I didn’t ask if he’d agree, and am not assuming that he’d approve of my interpretation of his words in any case. These are mine:

    The important thing is you pointed out that even the simplest of organisms need to have a form of self awareness, because to evaluate its requisite reaction, either defensively or offensively, the organism has to have in its mechanistic mind a view of where its own self stands in the picture its senses gave it of its immediate environment. And you did so in a way that relates to all organisms developed since the beginning of the evolutionary process.

    I’d add that in order to survive the organism has to assume that any movement or change perceived or sensed in that environment is purposeful. It neither has the capacity to rule that out or the luxury of doing so. This early survival mechanism was clearly heritable, and it’s basics would have remained largely the same until organisms gained sufficient capacity to form an abstract concept of causality that could separate purpose and intent from that of accidental and purposeless causation.

    And by that time, the mechanism that found purposefulness in acts of nature, even if otherwise discovered to be largely benign, continued to offer up the inferential fact that such purposefulness had never disappeared.

  145. #147 conradg
    May 12, 2008

    Bobyu,

    I get the impression you either didn’t read my post, or didn’t understand it. I was very specifically responding to the points you say I ignored. I specifically address the issue of self-awareness in simple organisms NOT implying consciousness on their part. Do you not grasp this?

    Organisms don’t need to make any kinds of internal, scoinscious presumptions about anything, any more than my computer has to make conscious presumptions about the data streaming into it through the WWW in order to process that data, display it on my screen, and respond to inputs from me. If I were replaced by an AI computer driven by natural selection, this process wouldn’t be changed a bit. Nowhere in the process is self-awareness either implied or necessary. All that is necessary is that a certain amount of raw processsing power be available to drive a natural-selection evolved intelligence to direct the traffic flow. So I don’t see how materialism can explain consciousness. Maybe you could refrain from the condescending commentary for a post or two and just walk me through the process.

  146. #148 conradg
    May 12, 2008

    Bobyu,

    By the way, my joke about “if the glove doesn’t fit, you’re full of shit” would apply equally to myself, and my religious views, if they don’t fit. So it wasn’t a sly attack on you or other atheists. You would do better here if you took that chip off your shoulder.

  147. #149 bobyu
    May 12, 2008

    conradg, I’ve never seen any admission from you that the if the glove didn’t fit, you would admit it, so the inference was clear. And we were pointing out that the organism was self-aware, consciously or not. Also consciousness is a word that covers several facets of experience – we infer the applicable meaning from its context, while you play around with both context and meaning as if there were no connections. Either you lack a subtle mind, or pretend to as a deceptive device.
    “Conscious” is used to apply to a physical state as well as a mental state, where an organism is aware of what its doing without being aware of why or how its doing it.
    You have stretched its meaning to include the contention that in humans there is no unconscious, just an inability to make the effort to examine it. What gives some that ability and not others apparently involves their relative place in the incarnation spectrum or some such.

    Charles saw it as an evolutionary extension of an organism’s simple self-awareness, a form of being aware of itself at the very start of life, if you will. It was I who pointed to the development of abstract thought, requiring a different level of wakefulness – one in which we openly examined that particular thought process.
    But since you don’t agree that we have at least these two competing processes – both of which confer, both of which may succeed in the debate, but only one of which can monitor the operation of the other – then I see no prospect of deepening, or perhaps shallowing, this particular discussion.

    And I’m an agnostic rather than an atheist. And that does involve a distinction with a difference.

  148. #150 bobyu
    May 13, 2008

    Incidentally, there’s a new book out in which it is alleged that Johnny Cochran had O.J. stop taking aspirins and other medication to alleviate his arthritis, which, in absence of medication, caused his hands and knuckles to swell. They did this deliberately as soon as they were aware O.J. would be afforded the chance to try on what they were already sure were the gloves he had used to murder his wife.

    So much for the conradg analogy as to the apparent accuracy of certain forms of evidentiary analysis.

  149. #151 ctw
    May 13, 2008

    “But then consciousness itself must be a material “thing”, a field, a force, a particle, etc.”

    No, in my view the only material thing is the brain; consciousness is a process. External phenomena cause sensations which result in signals to the brain, and the brain somehow interprets these signals to create perceptions of stimulating phenomena. These perceptions combine to form a model of the environment, updated continually by new sensations. This process of continual updating is what I assume is meant by “consciousness”.

    Assuming this view is essentially correct, I’m not sure it’s correct to say that consciousness can’t be detected. Various brain processes are currently being analyzed with fMRI et al, and one or some combination of those may comprise the consciousness process.

    I also think that if this view is correct, a mechanical robot that maintains a continually updated model of it’s environment can be fairly said to be “conscious”. This grates because of our bias that we aren’t just complex robots but are something “special”. But if you fight down that bias, you can get more-or-less comfortable with the idea that we aren’t fundamentally different, just biological instead of mechanical, and much more complex.

    The disconnect I see throughout your last comment is that you seem to assume consciousness is an entity that exists somewhat independently of the human organism; so you ask “what is it?”. I assume that it is merely a functional feature of the organism, so I ask “how might it work?”. Your analogy with lightening is apt: you similarly ask “what is lightening?” and reject the explanation “this is how it works”.

    And that pretty much leaves us at an impasse.

    - Charles

  150. #152 bobyu
    May 13, 2008

    conradg wrote:
    “Organisms don’t need to make any kinds of internal, scoinscious presumptions about anything, any more than my computer has to make conscious presumptions about the data streaming into it through the WWW in order to process that data, display it on my screen, and respond to inputs from me. If I were replaced by an AI computer driven by natural selection, this process wouldn’t be changed a bit. Nowhere in the process is self-awareness either implied or necessary. All that is necessary is that a certain amount of raw processsing power be available to drive a natural-selection evolved intelligence to direct the traffic flow.”

    Don’t you realize, conradg, that was one of the dumbest things you have ever written?

    Unless somehow you believe your brain is no different from a computer and requires some sort of a god to effect it’s operation. Which evidently you do.

  151. #153 ctw
    May 13, 2008

    bobyu:

    The reason I didn’t respond promptly is that I wasn’t sure how to do so. All I meant to say about self-awareness in that first comment was that I see it as a special case of general awareness, which I take to be synonymous with consciousness. If one views consciousness as a brain process, a simple brainless organism couldn’t be self-aware, contary to what I think you were assuming I had suggested.

    But maybe I’m being too parochial. If one views consciousness more generally as whatever biological process supports an organism’s dealings with its environment, I suppose it would follow that the organism is in a sense “conscious”. However, the environment modeling function that I assumed for consciousness is missing in very simple organisms, so I’d have to say that such an organism actually isn’t conscious and therefore can’t be self-aware.

    Gee, I hope I didn’t just argue myself out of my “bravo”.

    - Charles

  152. #154 bobyu
    May 13, 2008

    charles, if I’m not mistaken you were pointing out, perhaps without conscious intent, that an organism that models its environment has to place itself somewhere in that model. In that sense it is aware that it is there, which is necessarily the first step to any sort of developing self-awareness. It would also be necessary for it to distinguish itself from objects that could be potential predators or otherwise dangerous.
    Any simple organism that has a functional probing mechanism would qualify as one that can distinguish others from itself. And I have noted in my research that even the simplest of organisms have such a mechanism.

    The simplest forms of life have what we conceive of as expectations. Those cannot be formed without some facility to both probe for and receive sensory input, no matter how simple the mechanism. And that organism, in recognizing something different from itself (whether outside or inside), has the rudiments of self-awareness.

    Conceivably there are exceptions to this, but if so, I’d argue that by that very exception they would not long survive to qualify as self-replicating life forms, which I presume are the starting points for any evolved species.

  153. #155 JimV
    May 13, 2008

    I’ll second (or nth) the notion that consciousness is a process, not a material field. One of the characteristics of our brains which I believe makes this process mysterious and difficult to grasp is that the brain has no nerves which monitor itself. For example when we are trying to remember something, we get no progress bar (… searching neuron cluster 11871, searching neuron cluster 11872 …). The results just seem to poof into existence magically.

    Having no such nerves has a sound evolutionary basis, it also seems to me, for the same reason that a CEO does not want to know what is going on in the mailroom on an hourly basis, but it has led to the mind/body dualistic fallacy which we are stuggling against here.

    We can only see the how the lightning of consciousness works by external studies (such as fNMR scans), not by looking within ourselves. That is also how we get evidence that is consistent with the theory that those around us are also conscious; and in fact how we get evidence of anything about the physical reality of this universe. (The standard for which is not absolute proof, but proof beyond a reasonable doubt.)

  154. #156 ctw
    May 13, 2008

    bobyu:

    I did assume that when an organism creates a model of its environment, the organism is itself part of that model. The disconnect is that I tend to think of that modeling in terms of what we do, ie, at the high end of the complexity scale. So, I find it difficult to think of some very simple organism that only retracts when it encounters an irritating phenomenon as “having a model of its environment” and hence of its being conscious. But since none of the terms are all that well defined, I won’t argue the point.

    Unfortunately, this is essentially an admission that in my initial comment I didn’t mean to extend the concept of self-awareness to even the simplest organism as you inferred. So, I must honorably return my “bravo” as undeserved. Oh, how fleeting is fame!

    - Charles

  155. #157 bobyu
    May 13, 2008

    Charles, all of our concepts as to how we see things have a tendency to assume that at some point a simpler mechanism didn’t do things in at all the same way. Perhaps it’s because our language formed long before we learned that we all came from the same root, and there were vestiges of virtually all our traits and their mechanisms from the beginning. That we evolved from some miniscule organism was a thought we would have rejected out of hand, had we even been inspired to think it, and of course creationists still cringe at that thought.
    But I didn’t say that simple organisms were conscious as we know it. Self-aware in the most elementary sense is the only claim I make. Able to include their presence in their calculations. For even that simple organism that retracts from irritating phenomena has made the most rudimentary of calculations that to be irritated in that way may not be in its best interest.
    And Charles, keep the bravo. You may have had more prescience than you were consciously aware of.

  156. #158 windy
    May 13, 2008

    And if not, why hasn’t this material process been detected so far? It’s an incredibly common phenomena, present in every human being, and seemingly in at least many higher animals. I would think it would have been detected in some manner. If it could be demonstrated that consciousness itself is actually a material process, rather than merely an effect of material processes, that would be an incredible discovery, maybe the greatest discovery in the history of the world. It would be tantamount to discovering “life” itself.

    Are you suggesting that some such “life” remains to be discovered, as in the vitalist spark of life? If not, why erect these strawmen questions about why we haven’t found a separate material “consciousness”, when there’s the obvious precedent: life is not a separate material thing but an umbrella term for certain complicated material processes. You might as well ask why matter “needs” to be alive when self-copying lifeless robots would function just as well.

    Life appears to imbue matter with certain characteristics and goal-orientedness and yet it’s all just predictable biochemical reactions. We are not so far yet in breaking down consciousness into its constituents but it is at least possible, and IMO likely, that it follows the same pattern.

    We could just be happy robots doing our thing, instead of fretting endlessly about metaphysical matters, including worrying about death and so forth. Why would a material process fear death, since there’s nothing to die?

    Obviously a material process can end, even if the matter goes on. Why would an offshoot of an all-compassing transcendent consciousness fear death?

  157. #159 conradg
    May 13, 2008

    Bobyu and Charles,

    Bobyu wrote:

    The simplest forms of life have what we conceive of as expectations. Those cannot be formed without some facility to both probe for and receive sensory input, no matter how simple the mechanism. And that organism, in recognizing something different from itself (whether outside or inside), has the rudiments of self-awareness.

    The problem here is that you are using a different definition of the term “self-awareness” than I am talking about. In the sense you use it, of course all living organisms are at least rudimentarily self-aware. So is a digital camera that adjusts itself to the light in a room automatically. But this is not the same as my use of the term “self-aware consciousness”, which refers to the subjective experience of being conscious, alive, awake, existent – the epiphenonemal experience we all have of being conscious beings. Words somehow fail to adequately refer to this central matter adequately. I do trust all of you understand what I’m referring to? Charles seems to, but Bobyu may not.

    In any case, while a digital camera may be self-aware in the mechanical sense, we all doubt that it is self-aware in the conscious sense. At least I don’t see how a materialistic model can claim that it would be. And that is the issue here – how to explain the clear existence of our own self-aware consciousness, not how to explain our bodily capability to respond to material events with a sensory feedback mechanism. The first is not at all necessary to explain the second in a materialistic model

    Chalres says:

    No, in my view the only material thing is the brain; consciousness is a process. External phenomena cause sensations which result in signals to the brain, and the brain somehow interprets these signals to create perceptions of stimulating phenomena. These perceptions combine to form a model of the environment, updated continually by new sensations. This process of continual updating is what I assume is meant by “consciousness”.

    First, the creation of a model in the brain need be no different than the creation of a model inside a computer – no sense of conscious self-awareness of the model needs to exist. My computer doesn’t need to understand what my spreadsheets are referring to in order to process them. It doesn’t need to form an “image” in its “mind” to engage the process. It doesn’t need a “mind” at all. It merely crunches the numbers.

    Second, the notion that external phenomena create “sensations” and “perceptions” presumes that there is already a “conscious being” of some kind to sense and perceive them. Where is this conscous being residing in the machinery? If that “conscious being” is created merely as an effect of processing information in a feedback loop, how on earth is this accomplished, and where, and what is actually produced as a result? When it comes down to it, you are simply postulating a form of magic. We perform some ritual in a closed box, and out comes self-aware consciousness. We are supposed to believe this to be a rational explanation for the epiphenomena of consciousness, and merely accept that as logical. Well, no, it’s not logical. You can of course choose to believe it, but I can’t see how logic supports the idea. That is why you find yourself at an impasse – because you have chosen to believe in a magical process. At least that’s my interpretation of this explanation.

    For example, when you say “consciousness is a process”, you neglect to define what kind of process. I notice you don’t say “consciousness is a material process”. Is this because you admit that it isn’t a material process? Again, how can that be, in any materialistic model? Materialism requires that all processes are material in nature. To explain consciousness in a materialistic model, we must show that consciousness is also material in nature, not merely that is it is somehow magically caused by some other material process. Can you give any precedents for this, some other “process” that is the result of a material process, but is not itself material in nature? Because it doesn’t seem that science has ever resorted to such an explanation before. It seems like something made up simply to try to explain away consciousness without actually demonstrating the material nature of consciousness.

    And Bobyu, regarding my O.J. reference, you say:

    conradg, I’ve never seen any admission from you that the if the glove didn’t fit, you would admit it, so the inference was clear.

    I find this an odd claim, since in the post immediately preceding my O.J. reference, I said:

    If it could be demonstrated that consciousness itself is actually a material process, rather than merely an effect of material processes, that would be an incredible discovery, maybe the greatest discovery in the history of the world. It would be tantamount to discovering “life” itself. And if that’s what you think neuroscience is on the verge of discovering, then all I can say is wow, my hat’s off to them. That would sure bring religion to an end, my own included. At least that’s my initial reaction.

    This is why I wonder if you actually read my post, or if you are just running on some kind of emotional trajectory that isn’t really paying attention to what others are saying. When I wrote the O.J. comment, I was still thinking very much along the lines that a truly materialistic explanation of consciousness (as itself a material process) would destroy my arguments, and all my religious views. I still feel that way, in fact. I don’t see how that can be demonstrated, but if it could, as I said, hat’s off to whoever does it.

  158. #160 conradg
    May 13, 2008

    Windy,

    Are you suggesting that some such “life” remains to be discovered, as in the vitalist spark of life?

    No, I’m not referring to that. (Though it’s a decent enough question on its own).

    I’m merely suggesting that, at least in my experience, “being alive” means being conscious in a self-aware manner, even merely of being conscious. It isn’t enough, for example, that my body is alive in a biological sense. If I were a zombie, a golem, merely alive in the biological sense, but with no internal sense of self-aware consciousness, I wouldn’t consider that “being alive”. Those mythic creatures were created in part to demonstrate precisely this point – that we consider ourselves alive because we are self-aware conscious beings, not merely because we are biologically functional. The Frankenstein myth demonstrates this – somehow Frankenstein creates a creature which is not only biologically functional, but which is self-aware also. If that is what you mean by “the spark of life”, then fine. But I was not referring to some spark that is other than conscious self-awareness.

    Obviously a material process can end, even if the matter goes on. Why would an offshoot of an all-compassing transcendent consciousness fear death?

    Yes, this is true, but the subject of the debate is whether consciousness is in fact a material offshoot of the material processes of biological life, and how this can be materially demonstrated. If it can, that would resolve the conundrum. If it can’t, I think it invalidates materialism as an explanation for consciousness, and thus, it invalidates materialism generally.

  159. #161 bobyu
    May 13, 2008

    conradg,
    A digital camera has no calculating apparatus that makes decisions as to whether to fight or take flight based in part on where it stands in its environment and the level of protection offered therein or thereby. It has no functional self-awareness, period. These type of analogies are just not apt, to say the least.

    And of course I’m talking about the rudiments of self-awareness. And that it’s clearly an evolved and still evolving function. As is the consciousness that is evolving from that function in turn.

    And by the way, I’ve never met a computer that has shown any particular concern for its own survival in considering the nature of any answers it has been asked to provide by the humans who designed it in large part because those humans, and their inherent calculating apparatus, were inescapably concerned with questions of survival.

  160. #162 windy
    May 13, 2008

    If that is what you mean by “the spark of life”, then fine.

    No, I was making an analogy between the phenomena of life and consciousness. You ask why we haven’t discovered a force or elementary particle of consciousness – well, we haven’t discovered such a force or particle of life, contrary to the vitalists’ expectation of a “vital spark”, and yet most agree that biological life is material.

    Yes, this is true, but the subject of the debate is whether consciousness is in fact a material offshoot of the material processes of biological life, and how this can be materially demonstrated.

    It’s the most parsimonious inference from the current data, like the conclusion that life itself is material.

    And you didn’t answer my last question: it seems that you tossed fear of death and its implications to materialism out as a red herring.

  161. #163 conradg
    May 13, 2008

    Iapetus,

    Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. The debate has gotten very much focused on the issue of materialistic explanations for consciousness, and your post got left behind in the rush.

    conradg wrote:
    “I don’t consider my views to be classical idealism. It’s simply what I would call consciousness realism. [...] Likewise, all our experience arises in consciousness, regardless of the form it takes. This, I would suggest, is just an empirical fact. What one makes of it is another matter. But philosophical orientation aside, I don’t see how this simple observation can be called anything but realism. Do you disagree?”

    Iapetus replied:Wholeheartedly. If you would want to classify your position as realism, you would have to acknowledge the existence of a world, material or immaterial, outside and independent of your own consciousness. This is precisely what you are denying, so in philosophical terms you are not a realist.

    Yes, but that is precisely why I wrote, “But philosophical orientation aside…”. Meaning, I understand the philosophical definitions of the words “realism” and “idealism”. I was referring to a more down to earth usage. In other words, it’s not that I’m denying the existence of a material world per se, I’m simply pointing out that even the material world around us is only observable and thus demonstrable to us because we are conscious of it. Our consciousness of the material world is what makes it “real” to us. Thus, there is no “realism” that is not based in consciousness. This is merely a “realistic” observation of life as we know it. I think that’s the best way to put it. And this is true of every aspect, every moment of our experience. We only have “experience” because we are conscious, aware, awake. Without that, we are just zombies, golems, mechanistic creatures devoid of self-aware consciousness. The fact that we are not zombies should tell us how central self-aware consciousness is to us – it is what makes us “who” we are. That is why the Advaitic approach is generally oriented to finding out “who” we are, what consciousness is in our direct experience of being.

    Conradg wrote: “If there exist things which do not enter into our consciousness, why should we presume they exist? I think this falls into the Occan’s Razor category of logic. If we obtain evidence of their existence, isn’t this only because such evidence has entered our consciousness by means of perception, logic, thinking, etc.? Well, all those factors are things we have already established are functions of consciousness, arising in consciousness, perceived in consciousness.”

    Iapetus wrote: Why should we presume they do not exist? Of course, solipsism, like any metaphysical model, is ultimately not refutable. But likewise your argument absolutely fails to lead anyone to adopt this model.

    Why presume the existence of anything we are not in some way aware of? Should we presume the existence of aliens before we become aware of them? Why not sky fairies and Gods? I thought this was one of the primary logical arguments of atheists, that we should not presume the existence of anything for which we have no evidence. I thought it was one of your own primary arguments. Now you want to toss it away? That seems odd to me.

    Now, I’m not actually advancing a solipsistic argument. I’m offering a fundamental argument that consciousness is the ground of all existence. This is no more solipsistic than materialism is, which argues that material processes are what everything in existence boils down to, and constantly refers back to. If you want to call that solipsism then materialism is just as guilty of it as the consciousness-based theory of existence. So I don’t really see how that factors into negating the consciousness-based theory. Any theory that purports to explain the universe through one particular mechanism – whether that is string theory or materialism or whatever GUT wins out – always refers back to itself as the mechanism behind all phenomena. I am merely postulating consciousness as that fundamental mechanism. Why is this considered anathema in principle to you?

    Occam’s Razor is not a rule of logic. Now while a model that posits reality as being one lonely consciouness presumably contains less parameters than a model that posits a consciousness plus an outside world, this is not the end of the story. We also have to take into account other factors, e.g. the immense richness in detail of this illusory outside world and the remarkable success that competing metaphysical models like materialism or dualism have in explaining this fact. IMO this tilts the scale hugely to the detriment of solipsism.

    I’m not presuming “one lonely consciousness”. I’m just starting out with a description of the simple facts of individual consciousness. In the final analysis, I’m presuming One All-Inclusive Consciousness that is incapable of being lonely because everything arises within it, in the way that all forms arising on a television screen are part of one, single image, and are not actually composed of separate and discrete objects. I’m proposing consciousness as the multi-dimensional space-time “screen” within which all phenomena appear, including material phenomena. So I’m not suggesting that material phenomena don’t exist, only that at base they are phenomena in consciousness. As I say, this is a form of realism in practice, even if philosophically one would classify it as “idealism”.

    I get the sense that perhaps I haven’t given the best impression of my overall views, and that you’ve gotten the sense that I’m arguing, for example, that if you close a door and don’t perceive the next room anymore, that it ceases to exist, and that ultimately, we are each the only person in the universe. There’s actually a Vedantic dharma that uses this approach, and teaches that it’s a valid way to approach these deeper truth to posit oneself as the only being in existence, and that all other arising beings, including the whole universe, are merely apparitions arising in one’s own consciousness, and that it is oneself who is the only “God” in existence. This is rarely actually used, but it’s considered at least meaningful exercise. But that’s not what I’m arguing. I’m merely, at this point, arguing for the central primacy of consciousness even in our everyday life, moment to moment, and pointing out that everything we do depends upon it, even all these arguments we make, even the very existence of a philosophical system at all, including materialism. In some sense the philosophical argument of materialism self-negates. If we really are just material, why would we even develop a philosophy of materialism? Why develop philosophy at all? Only conscious beings need philosophy. Material beings don’t.

    The Vedantic argument of consciousness does advance beyond individual consciousness. It ends up proposing that the individual (jiva) is at root a transcendental conscious Self (Atman), and that Atman is in reality identical to Brahman, the universal Divine Being. Hence, every individual is, at the ultimate root, the very Divine Being of all beings, God, in other words, and can discover this truth directly by inspecting his own consciousness with due diligence.

    conradg wrote: “I have to admit that metaphysical entities and astral forms are also mere appearances within consciousness, not objective perceptions. This is one of the higher spiritual truths often pointed out by guys like Buddha, and it’s not to be taken lightly. It doesn’t make them any more or less real than materialism, but it does undermine certain spiritual points of view such as “eternalism”.”

    I would say it does a bit more than that. For instance, it renders your whole theodicy and theory of reincarnation superfluous and/or incoherent. According to you there are no other human beings with a consciousness and capability of suffering comparable to your own that experience evil/misfortune and undergo reincarnation. They are only figments of your consciousness. Hence no need for a theodicy. There is also no real person named Buddha who lived before you. There is only you.

    Again, no, I’m not arguing that there are no other human beings with a consciousness, only that all human beings and their consciousness are appearing within consciousness itself, unbroken and universally present in and through and around all things, like the television screen on which the whole universe appears and changes. Individual human beings are figments of universal consciousness, not figments of one individual’s consciousness. Individual consciousness is itself merely a subset of universal consciousness, but connected by that to all other subsets. In reality, the apparent divisions between individual consciousnesses don’t exist, in the same way that there is no actual division separating the forms which appear on a TV screen. It is merely a convention of perception and habit to see things that way. Look closely at the screen, however, and one sees no actual dividing lines, as you wold say, on a color-by-numbers illustration. We merely interpret light, shadow, and emptiness to be dividing lines when they are no more real than the boundary lines on a political map.

    You can not have it both ways. Either there is no external world outside of your consciousness or there is. If there is, it may just as well be a material one.

    Yes, there is no external world. Everything does appear in consciousness. The reason I call that “Realism” is that it is so demonstrably and really true. Nothing does appear outside of consciousness. We see and experience everything through the medium of consciousness. If we can’t ever experience the world any other way, what sense does it make to say that it actually does exist “outside” our consciousness? As you have said, why believe in something for which there is no evidence?

    I fail to see what the theory of relativity has to do with consciousness. As for quantum mechanics, I should have known that it would come up sooner or later. Well, if you wanted to indicate that certain interpretations of the wave function collapse are indicative of consciousness being the elemental building block of reality, you are clutching at straws. The interpretation I can think of that would come nearest to where you want to go would be Wheeler’s Participatory Anthropic Principle. However, in my view (and AFAIK those of the vast majority of physicists) it is inferior to the Copenhagen and even the Many-Worlds interpretation.

    I’m not trying to use relativity theory or QM to buttress my view of consciousness as primary. I’m merely pointing out that these are the kinds of physical theories one would expect to find operative in a material world if it were based in consciousness, rather than simply material all the way through. I would think that there’d be some kind of material “ether” in which everything physical arises, as most materialistic scientists believed back in the 19th century. But I’m not suggesting that relativity or QM “proves” anything metaphysical. I’m not falling into that trap, give me more credit than that.

    But even assuming for the sake of argument that consciousness plays a part in shaping the structure of reality, it is still a long way to go from there before we could conclude that materialism is false.

    It doesn’t seem to be a very long way, but I’ll give you space to argue that gap at least. Unless you can demonstrate that consciousness is itself a material process, and not merely try to link it to one, or suggest that it’s somehow produced by a material process, while not itself being material, then I think you have to accept that materialism simply fails to adequately explain consciousness or its role in shaping the structure of reality. This doesn’t immediately make any particular metaphysical system true, but it does make us look at them much more realistically.

    “Looking at the physical world using only physical evidence would seem to reinforce the viewpoint of the physical world, and be self-consistent within that realm. And yet, as I say, stretch it far enough and it begins to fall apart where the edges fall off.”

    I believe that the second sentence contradicts the first. Were you not arguing above that as we look ever closer at the material world, we see more and more evidence that it is made of consciousness at root?

    Yes, the second sentence is meant to contradict the materialistic presumption of the first sentence. In other words, because even the material world is actually rooted in consciousness, when you explore the material world using only material methods, at some point it trails off into nebulousness, which is what is going on at the far reaches of QM, relativity, and all the current GUTs out there. The point is that while materialistic approaches have certain practical applications if one isn’t too concerned about the fine detail, they can’t offer ultimate answers, because the only ultimate answers come when looking at the nature of consciousness, using consciousness itself, and not material methods.

    “Can you honestly say you walk around the street thinking of yourself as a material machine that is purely driven by material processes, and not as a conscious individual interacting with the material world as it arises in your awareness? I will bet you it’s the latter. Well, why then argue differently here?”

    Because, and I think this is something you really ought to take much more into consideration, what you or I deem obvious or not carries no intrinsic guarantee of its own correctness. In other words, what we deem absurd/self-evident/obvious solely on the basis of introspection without corroboration can be totally misleading. While I operate under the assumption that I am a conscious, autonomous individual, there is no guarantee that this is so. Are you familiar with recent neurological studies that showed parts of the brain getting active and initiating an action before the participants were aware of it, yet nonetheless claiming that they freely chose this action? It would indicate that the conscious part of the brain (at least under certain conditions) merely rationalizes an unconscious action, throwing tremendous doubt on our perceived free will.

    While I agree that the obvious can’t be taken at face value, we can’t dismiss the obvious either. Yes, I’m aware of those neurological studies. But that’s the point – I can be aware of these things, and take them into account. I don’t need neurological studies to tell me the human brain and body and nervous system are imperfect mechanisms. This is just basic common sense. As a conscious being, I’m aware that the bodily vehicle I’m driving, so to speak, has all kinds of limits and distortions and imperfections that can’t be made to go away. But as a being, I’m still functioning as a conscious individual in the midst of that, aware that I can’t rely entirely on my own mechanism. Even so, self-aware consciousness is still the very center of my existence and being, and even at the core of my interactions with both body and the world, all of which appear within my consciousness, not outside of it, just as all objects on TV appear within the TV screen, and not outside it – even if by casual appearances they seem to be independently existing.

    And yes, it’s clear that many of our bodily mechanisms are not governed by free will. I’ve never suggested they are. Obviously we don’t willfully beat our hearts or breath our breaths. I’ve merely suggested that even in the midst of that, we have free will as conscious individuals to make our own decisions. We can even decide to override our heartbeats and breath and kill ourselves. The key of course is being able to locate our consciousness and act from that, rather than on the basis of unconscious factors. This is what I would call “basic intelligence”, and it has little to do with IQ.

    Concerning the general topic of a materialistic account for consciousness and free will, I think it would be too long for a blog post to give a detailed account of the various models. I will just say that there are several attempts that in my view are very convincing. If you are interested, I can point you to further reading material.

    Yes, I’d be interested in that.

    Let me say it for the third time now: if you want me to accept one of your arguments based solely on the fact that you have had a certain experience/intuition/personal insight etc., I would have to be able to perfectly recreate it in my mind. I can not do that, consequently any such argument carries no validity in our discussion. I do not know why this seems so hard for you to accept.

    I don’t know why you asked me about this in the first place if you didn’t want me to mention it. You can’t ask me whether I have any personal experience that leads me to think this way, and then when I openly offer it, tell me that’s inappropriate. I am in no way suggesting that my arguments are solely based on my personal experience. You asked about it, I answered, that’s all. I didn’t realize you were trying to build a trap for me. I of course in no way rely on my personal experience for these arguments. But if I’m asked about my personal experience, don’t be surprised if I answer in terms of personal experience.

    I am not sure what you are getting at here. If you are saying that conscious experience requires consciousness, then this is a tautology.

    No more so than materialism is a tautology. In fact, less so, because we actually are fully aware of being conscious right now, so I don’t have to make any logical arguments in support of that. In other words, this isn’t a logical tautology, it’s an inescapable fact of life. That’s my point. It isn’t dependent on a logical argument, but on the most basic observation of the facts, on the mere fact of observation itself. I’m sorry if our very existence promotes this “tautology”, but it just so happens that it does. What am I to do about that? Deny it? Pretend that consciousness is just a logical definition? It isn’t. It’s the most real “thing” we know, and the very means by which we know anything to be “real”. Don’t blame me if that’s the facts of life, such as they are.

    If you claim that experience is unthinkable without consciousness, I would point to studies with newborn infants and little babies that seem to indicate that they lack a consciousness comparable to adults, i.e. they have no defined sense of Self. Would you deny the proposition that they have experiences?

    Again, you are confusing the development differences in the bodily capabilities of thinking and sensory perception with the fundamental experience of being conscious. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that babies aren’t conscious. They are just suggesting they don’t have the same highly developed cognitive skills that adults do. The sense of self is not all that well defined in adults either, in case you hadn’t noticed. The sense of self is defined by our identification with the body, and hence with the body’s functional awareness and cognitive capabilities. But conscious self-awareness is not dependent on that, it’s merely that the body we consciously identify with and function through determines what our “self” is in any particular moment. If we are an undeveloped baby, our conscious sense of self is that of a baby. If we are a highly developed adult, our conscious sense of self is that. If we are a mentally retarded adult, that’s how our self is seen. But each of these have basic conscious self-awareness.

    “I’ve investigated the death process, experienced death, and found that consciousness survives. [...] But I am personally aware with a great degree of certainty that consciousness survives death and transformation.”

    Again, I believe that you are sincere about this and that it seems real to you. It is just no basis for rational argument. Sorry.

    Then don’t ask me about such things. I’ve never volunteered such things unless asked. I thought you just wanted some personal background, since we are having a friendly exchange here. I didn’t think you would use it to accuse me of arguing from personal experience. That’s really not very fair.

    “I don’t think the findings of science have much relevance to metaphysical matters one way or another.”

    Only in the sense that they can affect the likelihood of certain metaphysical models being true or false. However, a direct refutation can not be achieved.

    Yes, I agree. After posting I realized this statement of mine was too strong. Science does have some interplay with metaphysical models that directly contradict scientific findings, such as Christian claims that the earth is only 6,000 years old. But in general, purely metaphysical claims, such as the existence of God, are not the province of science one way or another. When Dawkins claims that the existence of God is a scientific proposition, and tries to debunk it in a scientific matter, I think he has misunderstood and misused both religion and science in a serious way.

    That may be as it is. However, you raised the topic in connection with the question whether Occam’s Razor would favor your worldview or the elaborate findings of science in the mind of a hypothetical observer who had no scientific background. I responded by pointing out that science confirms its results by independent corroboration and that these results, even if elaborate, deserve a high level of confidence, in contrast to your metaphysical construct. Thus, what would our hypothetical observer conclude by wielding Occam’s Razor? I think it is obvious.

    Not in relation to the basic fact of consciousness, I don’t think that would be the case. Which is what we have been arguing about. The scientific approach to trying to prove that consciousness is a material process simply doesn’t pass the Occam’s Razor test. Not yet. It’s incredibly elaborate and unwieldly, compared to the basic religious notion that the world arises in consciousness. Which is why, as I’ve argued on other threads, throughout all of human history no culture has ever arisen based on these scientific ideas about consciousness and life, whereas all cultures that have arisen have been religious cultures. The only scientific culture that has ever arisen has done so on the back of religion, and that’s only in very recent times. So I think it’s fairly clear that the “untutored human” experiment has already been done millions of times throughout history, and the result has always been religious in nature, not scientific. Not that this necessarily proves that religion is superior to science, only that it is more “obvious”.

  162. #164 conradg
    May 13, 2008

    Windy,

    No, I was making an analogy between the phenomena of life and consciousness. You ask why we haven’t discovered a force or elementary particle of consciousness – well, we haven’t discovered such a force or particle of life, contrary to the vitalists’ expectation of a “vital spark”, and yet most agree that biological life is material.

    Yes, I understand your analogy. I agree that there is no need to postulate a “vital spark of life” to explain why biological mechanisms are alive and move about and function as they do, because the mechanisms involved can be explained in physical, material ways with physical, material results.

    Consciousness has as yet not been detected as a physical, material process. Please be aware that I mean consciousness as a self-aware epiphenomena, not merely as the sensory feedback mechanism. The sensory feedback mechanism has certainly been detected and studied, but consciousness itself has not been. This is a little puzzling, isn’t it?

    I’m not sure what consciousness would be if it were a material process itself – I’m just throwing out there various examples of other physical mechanisms that explain otherwise natural phenomena. But it would need to be something that is material, just as the mechanism that beats the heart, or that drives any other material process, is material as well.

  163. #165 conradg
    May 13, 2008

    Bobyu,

    A digital camera does take information, process it, and reconfigure itself to conform to this new information. It can even protect itself from overexposure or underexposure by refusing to open its aperature if the light is too bright or too dark. Do you think the camera feels “fear” when it does this? This is definitley a primitive form of functional self-awareness. And it can certainly be made more self-aware in the mechanistic sense by increasing it’s programming, just as living forms can through natural selection.

    Likewise, computers have plenty of built-in self-correcting mechanisms that detect problems and solve them before they shut down the computer. Or so Microsoft leads us to believe. So computers do show a “concern” for their own survival, in that they are programmed to detect such “threats” and deal with them, even if that means the computer has to “hang” for a few minutes while it does so. Very annoying, but it definitely is how they “survive”. Likewise, there are all kinds of automated computer systems that are fully functional survival programs – such as the autopilot feature on an airliner.

    What I’m asking is, what’s the difference between that and a human brain, except many orders of magnitude differences in complexity and a self-evolving program? We already have many examples of self-evolving AI programs that can actually work evolutionary wonders on a small scale. The basic principle is the same. So why aren’t these machines internally “conscious”? Or are you saying they are?

  164. #166 windy
    May 13, 2008

    Consciousness has as yet not been detected as a physical, material process.

    Of course it has; it has been located in the brain (may be so obvious to us now that it’s not worth mentioning, but it wasn’t always so) We don’t know the details of this process as well as life, but our knowledge of the process of life is hardly perfect either. It’s a bit misleading to say that we have “detected the material process of life”. There is no such single process. Science hasn’t “disproved” the vital spark or created life from scratch, but any additional non-material ingredient is judged unnecessary nevertheless.

  165. #167 bobyu
    May 13, 2008

    conradg,
    These machines of yours don’t evolve without human help and programming. They are not self-replicating, they have no ability to form expectations independent of their programming. And they clearly do not recognize threats to their survival that aren’t preprogrammed, and they don’t adapt independently as a response to unanticipated threats.
    We have tried to make them more like ourselves, but so far we have failed to come close. In life forms, evolution has provided for the growth of much more complicated machines (that even now are assisting in their own evolution) than any machines that these evolved “living” mechanisms (humans, et al) have so far been able to construct to aid them in that evolutionary process – let alone any that can evolve in any independent fashion.

    And what you see as self-evolving programs are not self-evolving machines that have been given the benefit, by their calculations, of the self awareness necessary to any such evolution.

    And an autopilot is a fully functional survival program? Give us all a break from such asininity.

    These machines of yours, or mechanical tools if you will, can no more be called self-aware than they can be called alive. To persist with this kind of analogy is to expose what may be an incurable lack of analytical skills. You of course will assert the opposite.

    In which case you will have forced another in a long succession of impasses with those who inevitably become your antagonists.
    Which apparently in your fantasy world is a win.

  166. #168 conradg
    May 13, 2008

    Windy,

    Of course it has; it has been located in the brain (may be so obvious to us now that it’s not worth mentioning, but it wasn’t always so) We don’t know the details of this process as well as life, but our knowledge of the process of life is hardly perfect either.

    Of course it hasn’t actually been located. All we know is that certain centers in the brain are associated with our consciousness. But we already knew that the body is associated with consciousness. That’s a basic given. I’m talking about actually locating consciousness as a physical “thing” of some kind – a force, a field, a particle, etc. Where is this “stuff” called consciousness?

    As mentioned before, with lightning we don’t say it’s merely something that happens in clouds, and we’re sure that we will find this as we study clouds better. No, we find lightning in the actual phenomena of electricity – of electrions moving very very fast. That’s what lightning is – electrons in motion, giving off physical heat and light. Can we say that same thing about consciousness – that it is some particle or other in motion, giving off physical energy of some kind?

    Take physiology, for example. It used to be people didn’t understand how food nourished the body. Was there some mystical soma in food that did the trick? No, there’s a physical mechanism all the way up and down the line that can be explained chemically.

    THe problem with explaining consciousness in a similar manner is that we can’t even locate consciousness itself as a physical phenomena. You point to alleged precursors to consciousness, certain biochemical processes in the brain. But a precursor to what? I know that carbohydrates are precusors to glucose, and that there’s a mechanism in the digestion of carbohydrates that turns them into glucose which is then carried through the blood and into cells, which burn them and use the energy to carry out their various functions. But what is it that the process in the brain converts into “consciousness”? And what is it that is the result of that process, what is this product called “consciousness”. It has to be some kind of physical, material stuff, or at least a detectable field of force of some kind, like magnetism. We can’t just pretend it’s imaginary – we experience consciousness constantly in every moment. It’s how we know all these things in the first place.

    The problem, of course, is that consciousness is always on the “other side” of any observation. There are all these seeming objects we observe, including the brain and nervous system, and then there is this consciousness that observes them, using the brain and nervous system. If consciousness is a material part of the brain and nervous system, it ought to be directly observable. But that would imply observing the subject of observation itself, which is some kind of terrible contradiction I’m sure. There’s a very good argument that this simply can’t be done, at least not using some kind of intermediary function.

  167. #169 windy
    May 13, 2008

    I’m talking about actually locating consciousness as a physical “thing” of some kind – a force, a field, a particle, etc. Where is this “stuff” called consciousness?

    Where in the body is this “stuff” called life?

    Can we say that same thing about consciousness – that it is some particle or other in motion, giving off physical energy of some kind?

    Consciousness is brain activity. This should be easy to falsify by demonstrating consciousness in the absence of brain activity. Before that happens, materialism appears the most fruitful way to proceed.

  168. #170 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    Windy,

    Consciousness is brain activity. This should be easy to falsify by demonstrating consciousness in the absence of brain activity.

    And what would be considered proof of consciousness in the absence of brain activity? Is your hypothesis falsifiable?

    Also, what would be considered positive, objective proof of consciousness even in the presence of brain activity?

  169. #171 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    Windy,

    How’s this for evidence of consciousness in the absence of brain activity?

    http://www.near-death.com/experiences/evidence01.html

  170. #172 JimV
    May 14, 2008

    I find consciousness to be quite detectible. Dogs have it to a high degree. Most chimpanzees are smarter than most humans of the same age up to about age five, due to the slower but more prolonged brain development in humans. Ants have it to a very low degree. As with size and other physical characteristics, I see a wide variation of consciousness within the animal kingdom. Plants appear to have none, at least on my time scale. Rocks certainly have none. It is characterized by purposeful behavior which is not always predictable in advance, including the ability to solve problems. I can’t directly know that other creatures experience consciousness the same way I do, just as I can’t know that we all see the same color green (and in fact many creatures don’t so that is a bad example), but it seems the simplest and most reasonable assumption to me, and anyway I don’t really care if my green is your purple.

    It also seems reasonable to me that my consciousness would not “fit” in an ant’s brain, and would be considerably dulled in a dog’s brain (others may disagree). (In my earliest childhood memories, before my brain was fully developed, it also was dulled – not fully sane – highly subject to irrationalities such as nightmares.) These reflections make me suspicious of theories involving “souls”, such as reincarnation, apart from modern scientific evidence.

    Let’s talk about lightning, which all here agree is a material phenomenum. It consists of the flow of electrons, tiny material particles which human senses cannot detect individually, stimulated by a material phenomenum called “charge”. At this point we can predict future behavior of electrons quite well by Maxwell’s Equations of Electro-Magnetism and by Quantum Electro-Dynamics, but we don’t yet know why “charge” exists and why it follows the rules we have discovered for it. Maybe String Theory or some other theory will shed more light on this, but I expect that underlying questions will remain.

    In other words, phenomena need not be completely understood by everyone, or even anyone, in order to be “material”. Dark matter and dark energy are also classified as material phenomena, and are not well-understood, I believe.

    It took humanity a long time, and the development of powerful tools, such as cyclotrons, to understand electrons as well as we do. Good tools for studying what goes on in people’s brains have only been developed comparatively recently, and we do not have the same lack of ethical considerations in smashing brains to see how they tick as we do smashing atoms, but neurological research has entered a phase of rapid advancement. Some experts say that the combination of refined neurological models and more powerful computers will result in true artificial intelligence in about 30 years. (Currently it takes our most powerful computers to simulate one column of neurons of a rat’s brain, which involves a huge amount of neural connections.) Meanwhile, we have already gotten some useful technology from these studies, such as the neural network algorithm, just as we have from the study of lightning. Science marches on.

  171. #173 Iapetus
    May 14, 2008

    conradg and everyone else,

    due to this pesky thing called “real life” currently taking up most of my time, I will not be able to post at any length for the next several days. I fear you have to soldier on without me for a while…(-;

    Stay tuned…

  172. #174 shortie
    May 14, 2008

    re: http://www.near-death.com/experiences/evidence01.html

    What should interest conradg is that the woman, supposedly in the form of her soul floating free, saw her deceased relatives, still recognizable in human form, presumably looking as they did prior to death, who evidently had not as yet been reincarnated, and who also gave some sort of sustenance to a her soul that we had heretofore not known would need to be fed in the afterlife.

    If not for the the absence of any discernible brain activity, the experience would have been remarkably like a dream that we recall, or become “conscious” of, when we awake and regain “consciousness.”

    Which would seem to indicate the woman had experienced a dream in the absence of discernible brain activity – not consciousness in any case – and the soul went sleep-walking. Or was it dream walking?

    Possibly also a Christian belief interferes with the reincarnation process. So many questions, dear lord. So few reliable answers!

    Oh and remarkable how the unconscious brain, even when appearing dead, can receive input from the senses, take the patterns formed by sensory information, and compare them with such accuracy to memories which contain the visual recognition as well of instruments she had seen and heard (or heard of) in the past. (Which was not included in the article so as not to interfere with what had to be the truth, regardless of such distractions.)

  173. #175 windy
    May 14, 2008
    I’m talking about actually locating consciousness as a physical “thing” of some kind – a force, a field, a particle, etc. Where is this “stuff” called consciousness?

    (me:)
    Where in the body is this “stuff” called life?

    conrad, it would be less exasperating to talk to you if you didn’t simply ignore questions like this. Don’t you see that you are applying completely different standards to life and consciousness re: materialism? Where is the “stuff” called life?

    How’s this for evidence of consciousness in the absence of brain activity?

    Something in that format would work, but the information received by patients while “out of their bodies” would need to be airtight, preferably repeatable, and something they could not have guessed or found out any other way.

  174. #176 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    Windy,

    Where in the body is this “stuff” called life?

    I thought it was rather clear, as I have said, that the physical mechanisms of the body are the stuff of life. They are alive. What you are not addressing is the fact that consciousness is not the same as “life” in that it is a subjective experience. We do not experience “life” subjectively – except as consciousness. We do experience consciousness subjectively, as an epiphenomena. The claim being argued is that this epiphenomena is a material process. I ask, what material process? Where can we find the “material” of this material process. You point to the brain, but when we cut open the brain, we do not find an epiphenomenal material in it. We do not find anything which actually “is” consciousness.

    On the other hand, when we cut open the chest, we do find a physical heart which pumps physical blood through physical veins and arteries. These don’t just correspond to “life”, they are life in the material sense. But that’s rather easy, in that “life” in the material sense isn’t something abstract. We can look at a body, and see its life quite directly as a material process. We seem not to be able to look at the material body and see its consciousness. You certainly don’t seem able to do so. You keep avoiding this question:

    “Also, what would be considered positive, objective proof of consciousness even in the presence of brain activity?”

    What exactly objectively proves the existence of consciousness in living creatures? Do you have a series of tests you can perform to show whether any physical mechanism (biological or otherwise, with brain activity or otherwise) is actually consciousness in the self-aware sense? Can you define and detect consciousness itself as a material phenomena?

    I don’t think you have tackled the hard question involved here. Like most people, you seem to be relying upon a presumption of self-aware consciousness in other people, higher animals, along with personal, subjective testimony, etc. But science isn’t supposed to be about one’s presumptions or relying on personal, subjective testimony. It is supposed to rely on material facts and evidence. Where is the material evidence for consciousness existing at all, even in the presence of a functional human brain? One would think one should detect “consciousness” objectively, and then relate this material phenomena to some material process. After all, the subjective experience of consciousness is supposed to be an illusion, that in fact there is no subjective experience, only an objective material phenomena. So where is this phenomena. The “life” question doesn’t have this problem, unless one defines “life” as the experience of being conscious. The body could function quite well as a material process without being subjectively conscious, unless consciousness is itself a necessary material process also. So where is this material of consciousness?

    Also, do experiences like the NDE I’ve linked to give you any pause to consider that you might be wrong about consciousness being purely a brain phenomena?

  175. #177 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    Shortie,

    First, could you address me in the future in the first person, rather than the third? It’s just too fricking wierd.

    As far the NDE possibly being a dream, hard to say, it’s obviously one possible explanation. But that’s not the issue. The issue is how can someone consciously dream without any brain activity? Consciousness, even dreams, are supposed to require brain activity. Dreams have been studied well enough to prove this. The brain must go into a REM state to dream. This is easily detectable. In her case, no such thing ever happened. There were no brain waves, no brain chemistry even. And yet, she had this very consious dream-like experience during the time of her surgery. Seems that consciousness is not dependent on physical processes in the brain.

    As for the various questions you bring up, these are good questions for someone encountering this kind of phenomena for the first time. But they are also easily answered if you study the literature about this kind of thing. First, the “dead relatives” experienced are not physical bodies. Their appearances, especially to the newly dead, take on the forms most familiar to people from their last lifetime simply because that’s what’s usually most comfortable to them. The mind constructs a form and sees them through that form. This is the astral world, a “mind-realm”, a nebulous place of indistinct forms that can be molded by the mind into various shapes almost at will. After the initial shock of death is over, one supposedly begins to see others merely as energy, or as bodies one knew them as in previous lives. So it’s not as if these visions define the people encountered once and for all as in the physical realm. It’s almost entirely plastic.

    As for their being “not yet reincarnate”, this isn’t necessarily the case at all. When we reincarnate, our astral energy-bodies don’t actually “enter” the physical body. A part of them merely associates itself deeply with the physical. The greater part of our astral self actually remains in the astral and continues to function there. In fact, it’s entirely possible to incarnate through several physical bodies simultaneously. That is certainly the testimony of Tibetan Tulkus, and of some people recalling past-life memories under deep hypnosis, and has a long history in the literature of reincarnation. So it is to be expected to find not just dead relatives who may already have reincarnated, but even some living relatives further on, and that is the case in some of these experiences.

    The general correspondence of after-life experience to dreams is quite apt. The after-life realm is, essentially, a “dream” – it just isn’t a physical dream, associated with the physical brain, but a dream nonetheless. Fluid, plastic, ephemeral. But not generally chaotic as in brain-based dreams. Instead, very clear, lucid, and fully conscious.

    Not sure what you mean about Christian belief interfering with the reincarnation process.

    And the point of these experiences is that the deeper mind is able to experience the world without physical sensory input. Freed of the physical body, apparently some other form of sensory experience is involved. One presumes the astral body has sensory functions of its own that come into play. So her ability to see what was going on in the room implies astral sensory functions and obviously an astral “nervous system” as well. I’m not sure why that would be illogical.

    Of course, I know these aren’t serious questions on your part. You are just trying to case doubt on the content of her experience. If there weren’t a large body of such experiences to refer to, those doubts would make sense, but since there is a large body of experience to refer to, one can at least see a logic within them that implies an actual structure to the world as it is so experienced after death. One certainly can’t put individual experiences like this forward as some kind of proof, but the collective experiences of so many people having a similar pattern begins to take on some weight, if one bothers to look at them. Again, read the literature with an open mind and see if it isn’t at least a little bit thought-provoking.

  176. #178 bobyu
    May 14, 2008

    Consciousness may at times be an illusion, but in essence it’s no more than abstract visual or other sensuous representations of experiences. It’s no more “material” than the concepts behind the abstractions – no more a tangible material than sensations of pain, hunger, ad infinitum.

  177. #179 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    Windy,

    I realize that your question about detecting “life” would be much simpler if you would define “life”. That would make designing a detection process much simpler.

    Likewise, define “consciousness”.

  178. #180 shortie
    May 14, 2008

    This one stands out among too many other conradg gaffes (putting it kindly) to mention:

    ‘So her ability to see what was going on in the room implies astral sensory functions and obviously an astral “nervous system” as well. I’m not sure why that would be illogical.’

    But can he be sure why he finds it logical?

  179. #181 JimV
    May 14, 2008

    RE: the near-death experience (NDE) cited above.

    It is similar to those whose studies are illustrated here (YouTube clip):

    which appear to be material phenomena caused by stimulating brain tissue. The difference is the specific information allegedly gained at a time when the person had no brain activity. That is very interesting, if true and not fakery or delusions added after the fact. As shortie and windy imply, the most generous position we could take is “trust, but verify”.

    The less generous, easy answer at this point is to say, contact James Randi to confirm this experience with a controlled test – you will win a million dollars and revolutionize the field of neuroscience. Until you are willing to submit to this test, why should we credit you? (I will be very sad when the Randi prize is no longer around – it is such a great filter.)

    But science isn’t supposed to be about one’s presumptions or relying on personal, subjective testimony. It is supposed to rely on material facts and evidence. Where is the material evidence for consciousness existing at all, even in the presence of a functional human brain?

    My irony sense is tingling again. As noted previously, I have much less difficulty detecting consciousness in other creatures than I do in detecting electrons or dark matter. (For that matter, my understanding of its fundamentals is probably better, although in all cases I still have a lot to learn and more to comprehend.) I could devise a protocol based on my detection methods which others could use to replicate my results, in a proper scientific manner. If you are looking for the organs that produce it, they seem to be the brain and the nervous system. If you are defining consciousness in some way such that it cannot be detected, even by its effects, you are in the same boat as those who tell Randi their supernatural effects cannot be tested by scientists because they do not operate in the presence of critical thinkers.

    (Apologies for misspelling “phenomenon” several times in my last comment. Evolution does not produce perfect organs, including brains.)

  180. #182 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    JimV,

    I find consciousness to be quite detectible.

    I’m sure you do, in your subjective mind. But we are talking about objective, material science here, in which subjective experience is not supposed to count. I find God quite detectable for what it’s worth, and yet most people here don’t seem to find that very convincing. So why should your ability to subjectively detect consciousness be at all convincing?

    It’s quite another thing to set up a series of object tests that actually detect consciousness. What would those tests be, if they didn’t rely on subjective testimony? We can’t simply presume that someone is conscious simply because they say so. We have to actually detect consciousness itself. If someone says they are conscious, fine, but let’s prove it objectively. How do you do that?

    As for your comparisons of the animal kingdom, I see consciousness everywhere, because I see everything through the prism of my own mind. Just as the pictures on a TV screen purport to come from somewhere else, in the actual experience of watching TV, everything I see is simply a series of electronic images on a screen. Likewise, every experience I have, whether it purports to come from some “outside world”, is also always experienced solely on the screen of consciousness, and I never actually get to “see” this outside world directly. So the so-called “objects” I see around me are actually images in consciousness, not the “real” things. I never actually see the so-called “real world”. I only experience the world in my mind, and all those “things” are made out of consciousness. Look at a blade of grass. What you see is your own consciousness forming an image in your mind of “grass” This is all you ever experience of anything and anyone. So what about any of it isn’t consciousness?

    It also seems reasonable to me that my consciousness would not “fit” in an ant’s brain, and would be considerably dulled in a dog’s brain (others may disagree). (In my earliest childhood memories, before my brain was fully developed, it also was dulled – not fully sane – highly subject to irrationalities such as nightmares.) These reflections make me suspicious of theories involving “souls”, such as reincarnation, apart from modern scientific evidence.

    I see those impressions as supporting the notion of reincarnation, not diminishing it. It merely suggests that your own “soul” has evolved to attach itself to human bodies, not ant bodies or dog bodies, and that in attaching itself to human bodies, it has to patiently grow its connections to that body as it slowly develops through the years. As for scientific evidence, read the literature on the subject, such as Stevensen, Tucker, Newton, and Weiss.

    I just so Weiss the other day on Oprah of all places, talking about his work with hypnotic regression to past lives. He was a highly respected medical psychiatrist, head of the psychiatry department at Mt. Sinai in Miami, published, etc., with no beliefs in reincarnation whatsoever, scientifically minded, when he began treating a woman for psychiatric disorders. She was likewise without any reincarnation beliefs, a Catholic woman with no new age tendencies. After a year of treatment without success he began to try hypnotherapy to recall early life traumas. This was successful, but in the course of treatment the woman began spontaneously recalling traumas from past lifetimes in some detail. Intrigued but not presuming this to be anything other than an overwrought imagination, he probed further. She began describing death experiences in those lifetimes, and then after-death experiences. She described meeting her dead relatives, and then, meeting Dr. Weiss’ dead relatives, including his father and son. She described how they had died in detail, including his son’s congenital heart defect that killed him ten years earlier at only three weeks of age – that his son’s heart had been reversed, put in backwards like a chickens, and this had proven very accurate. She was able to also give his father’s Jewish name, not known on any records. Weiss began to realize that this was not mere imagination, that some other phenomena was going on. His patient was not a stalker trying to fool him. This information wasn’t even part of any public records. So he began to investigate the process in much greater depth, first with this woman, and later with many more patients, totaling into the thousands over time. Dr Newton’s story is similar. What they independently describe through many years of treating patients is a very consistent picture of reincarnation and after-life phenomena. The greater value of it is that patients would recover from life-long chronic problems through these treatments, suggesting that it was not a symptom of their illness to fantasize about reincarnation, but a conscious process that healed them of their illnesses.

    So let’s not pretend there is no data out there to examine. It’s just a question of examining and interpreting the data.

    Let’s talk about lightning, which all here agree is a material phenomenum. It consists of the flow of electrons, tiny material particles which human senses cannot detect individually, stimulated by a material phenomenum called “charge”. At this point we can predict future behavior of electrons quite well by Maxwell’s Equations of Electro-Magnetism and by Quantum Electro-Dynamics, but we don’t yet know why “charge” exists and why it follows the rules we have discovered for it. Maybe String Theory or some other theory will shed more light on this, but I expect that underlying questions will remain.

    I’m quite open to a “string theory” of consciousness that has actual content, proposes particles or fields of some kind that can be detected and confirm the theory, etc. I’m not aware of anything even remotely like that actually existing, however. But even if something like that does come into being, and is even confirmed, I wouldn’t be surprise if, rather than refuting such phenomena as reincarnation, it actually ends up confirming them. We can’t possibly say as yet, which is why I think it’s silly of scientists to presume that a true study of consciousness will close the door on these matters. It may well open them even wider.

    In other words, phenomena need not be completely understood by everyone, or even anyone, in order to be “material”. Dark matter and dark energy are also classified as material phenomena, and are not well-understood, I believe.

    Yes, and it may well be that we will one day consider “astral matter” to be real as well. If materialism expands in that direction, rather than contracting into a “nothing else out there” mindset, I think that’s fine. If consciousness can be shown to be an actual “material”, this is good. When I’m issuing challenges to detect it, I’m of course talking about detecting the ordinary forms of matter we know of. If the study of consciousness reveals subtler and new forms of matter, that’s all fine and well as far as I’m concerned. Personally, my sense is that it will some day. It would just require a very different way of thinking about consciousness than is currently in vogue among most scientists, or most of those debating me on this blog.

  181. #183 shortie
    May 14, 2008

    If you are programmed to look for material evidence of the supernatural, because the program says it’s certain to be out there, you will inevitably find it and be certain that you knew it when you saw it. (shortie’s maxim #22)

    Conradg thinks he he’s a participant in a debate. In the sense that many people regard a debate as essentially a lying contest, then that illusion, from his point of view, may be justified. From most others’ points of view, there is no debate, as nothing he says in their minds involves a debatable proposition – they are invariably presented as patently undeniable assertions.

    The only purpose his adversaries can see themselves as having is one of disabusing him of his illusions in some fashion (and making a study of a form of religious pathology in the process).

    It’s thus a contest that no-one but conradg can “win” as long as he sticks to arguments that self-reinforce that pathology. If he succeeds in getting anyone else to agree with him, that’s merely a bonus to what he has already guaranteed himself to win.

    Lots of wins so far, but bonuses have been few and far between.

  182. #184 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    Shortie,

    You continue to evade the question of how someone can dream without any brain activity. Avoiding questions like that may be why you don’t find yourself in an actual debate, but instead a rather shameless grandstanding exercise.

  183. #185 shortie
    May 14, 2008

    No-one can dream without brain activity. Unless of course it’s on an astral plane. Or would that be illogical? Or discernible?

  184. #186 JimV
    May 14, 2008

    I just found another good science blog, which covers the subjects we’ve been discussing here so much better than I can, that I feel like a fool for even trying. Here is a recent post, and check out the list of controversial topics on the left side for other relevant information:

    http://scienceblogs.com/developingintelligence/2008/05/99_genetic_individual_differen.php?utm_source=readerspicks&utm_medium=link

    Conradg, if you are interested in accurate, up-to-date, well-researched views on the mind, try this blog, and good luck.

    One last irony blast:

    But we are talking about objective, material science here, in which subjective experience is not supposed to count. I find God quite detectable for what it’s worth, and yet most people here don’t seem to find that very convincing. So why should your ability to subjectively detect consciousness be at all convincing?

    My point was that if my detection ability can replicated by others in controlled experiments, which I believe it can be, then it is not subjective, as I understand the term. You could as well say that a scientist who performs an experiment to measure a property of electrons is having a subjective experience, so why should we believe the results. Precisely the difficulty with the notion of God as popularly understood by the Christian religion and others, is that in modern times he never shows up in controlled experiments, and that there seems to be multiple, contradictory impressions of him.

  185. #187 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    Shortie,

    No-one can dream without brain activity. Unless of course it’s on an astral plane. Or would that be illogical? Or discernible?

    That’s obviously the implication here – that she had a conscious experience of some kind without any brain activity involved. It would imply that consciousness extends beyond the brain, and is not caused by brain activity.

    Or are you suggesting that she did in fact exhibit brain activity that the sensors failed to pick up, simply because she had this conscious experience, which can’t be explained any other way? Sounds tautological.

  186. #188 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    JimV,

    Thanks for the links. Will check them out.

    My point was that if my detection ability can replicated by others in controlled experiments, which I believe it can be, then it is not subjective, as I understand the term.

    Yes, and if my God-detection ability can be replicated by others – and the presence of so many churches out there suggests very strongly that it can – then are you saying it isn’t subjective? That if enough people subjectively detect God, it isn’t subjective anymore? So much for atheism then.

    The problem with your “test” as you call it, is that it is of course entirely subjective. It requires that we take other people’s word for it that they are conscious, in the first place. In the second, what faculty are they using to “detect” consciousness? Might it be – consciousness? Or might it just be, “looks like me”? If they are using their senses, and certain “cues”, what are they? And do these cues really detect “consciousness”, or do they just detect something familiar? A scientist would probably say the latter.

    You could as well say that a scientist who performs an experiment to measure a property of electrons is having a subjective experience, so why should we believe the results.

    Although I’m on record as saying that all experience is subjective in nature, a scientist would not. But we are then talking about two distinct uses of the term “subjective”. A scientist observes electrons through what he considers objective means. I’m merely saying that to scientifically observe consciousness, we must be able to detect it by a similar scientifically objective method. If consciousness is material in nature, like electrons, it should be detectable at some level, rather than just mysteriously shuffled to the side and described as a scientifically unobservable “process” of some kind that is the magical outgrowth of a material process that can be scientifically observed, like brain activity. If brain activity causes consciousness to appear, that appearance must be scientifically observable as a material “thing” of some kind. What other kind of “thing” is considered scientifically valid without actually being observed by material means?

    Precisely the difficulty with the notion of God as popularly understood by the Christian religion and others, is that in modern times he never shows up in controlled experiments, and that there seems to be multiple, contradictory impressions of him.

    There’s at least a billion and a half people who disagree. They feel that God shows up all the time to them. They feel that they are involved in a personal relationship with God that they feel within themselves, just as they feel themselves to be conscious. I’m sure they’d be happy to do that in a laboratory and report their ongoing experience of God. I’m not sure what it would prove, but I have little doubt that a large majority of them would say that God is still with them in the lab, that He pervades everything. Is that good enough proof for you?

    If there are multiple, contradictory impressions of him, it merely suggests he has many different ways of interacting with many different people. In case you hadn’t noticed, many people have multiple, contradictory impressions of our leading political figures, movie stars, and popular music. This doesn’t lead scientists to conclude that these people and things don’t exist.

    I hope you know I’m arguing half tongue in cheek here, but it’s a serious point nonetheless.

  187. #189 shortie
    May 14, 2008

    There almost certainly was brain activity because the woman remembered things about the operation that should not have been remembered if she had simply returned to life after the surgery. Therefor it would have been unconscious activity that was not discernible by present monitoring devices. And this would not have been the first time this has been observed, and these other observations involved comas, etc., without the necessary component of out of body or other “supernatural” imaginings.

    And I’m discounting the remote possibility that the woman was able to fill in the blanks for the time she was essentially lifeless by what we often observe in humans as the fertilest of imaginations.

    There was clearly no conscious experience, and thus no necessity to invoke the rigors of syllogistic analysis, which some here honor most by studiously ignoring them.

    The unconscious brain functions receive input from our senses at all times, asleep or awake, including the visual. Some people like to confuse the concept of being conscious with consciousness in such a way that they can argue that even when we are unconscious we are conscious. Proof of concept is not done by mixing and matching parts of the otherwise distinctly different, if the intent is to achieve reliable data.

    Those that are required to believe in the supernatural as the most likley explantion, and especially the most desired, will continue to offer the lack of monitoring results as proof of their convictions. Those that find satisfaction in the more objective and open minded approaches will not.

    Forgive me if refrain from feeding the troll for an extended period while I attend to more meaningful sources of idle amusement.

  188. #190 conradg
    May 14, 2008

    Shortie,

    This one stands out among too many other conradg gaffes (putting it kindly) to mention:

    ‘So her ability to see what was going on in the room implies astral sensory functions and obviously an astral “nervous system” as well. I’m not sure why that would be illogical.’

    But can he be sure why he finds it logical?

    He can. Conradg points out that the patient describes having a kind of bodily form, made out of astral energy of some sort. This suggests not only a body, but a sensory system, a means of perception, and a way of processing perceptions – in other words, an entire astral body with a complex nervous system made out of some kind of astral matter, with capabilities of its own, and limitations of its own most likely also. Conradg finds it perfectly logical that astral bodies, if they exist, would have these basic structures, regardless of what matter they were made out of or what their capabilities were. The patient in this case seems to report a very logical process that is clearly not to be interpreted by the conventions of physical life.

  189. #191 bobyu
    May 15, 2008

    conradg,
    You’ve been tricked again, because in demonstrating why you were sure you found the proposition logical, you were forced to use the most illogical of constructions to do it.
    The patient has a subjective experience of being temporarily converted to a form of what seemed to be astral energy. Not much of a factual premise to begin with. To say that it suggests an entire body with a complex nervous system, without going through the necessary steps that logic has set forth as necessary for moving from a premise to a believable conclusion – or for arriving at truth to a reasonable, at least, certainty – are missing almost in their entirety. You didn’t even arrive at an approximation of reliability.

    And the patient in this case was, even in her own mind, reporting what she realized was in fact the most illogical of processes.
    But you already knew that.

  190. #192 conradg
    May 15, 2008

    Bobyu,

    I’m not trying to come to a reasonable conclusion, just offering a reasonable explanation for shortie’s criticisms. A real conclusion would require a helluva lot more information that is in her experience. The explanation I’ve offered comes from information on this type of thing that comes from multiple sources.

    But none of that is even the point. The point is that, whatever the actual explanation, it’s an example of consciousness operating without brain activity present. That was the issue in contention, and I offered this evidence solely to demonstrate that point. The rest is just speculation on our parts.

    Shortie ignores the core issue because he can’t wrap his head around it. So naturally he just focuses on peripheral matters. It’s probably not even helpful for me to respond to those matters, as it only distracts from the real point.

  191. #193 conradg
    May 15, 2008

    Shortie,

    There almost certainly was brain activity because the woman remembered things about the operation that should not have been remembered if she had simply returned to life after the surgery. Therefor it would have been unconscious activity that was not discernible by present monitoring devices. And this would not have been the first time this has been observed, and these other observations involved comas, etc., without the necessary component of out of body or other “supernatural” imaginings.

    I don’t think you understand that the monitoring devices detected no brain activity whatsoever. Your insistence that she had to have been experiencing brain activity, or couldn’t have had the experience, is a tautology. It assumes the premise under contention, which is whether brain activity causes or creates consciousness. You claim that consciousness and conscious sensory input has been observed in similar cases of brain-dead states. Please show us where this has been demonstrated. Comas still show brain activity, and occur with the body operating in its normal temperature range where biochemical reactions are active. In this case, the entire body was cooled to a temperature at which these biochemical reactions simply don’t occur, and these physiological processes are literally dead.

    There was clearly no conscious experience, and thus no necessity to invoke the rigors of syllogistic analysis, which some here honor most by studiously ignoring them.

    There was indeed a conscious experience, but not through the medium of the body and brain. Trying to deny that she had a conscious experience seems like a very large stretch. The explanation is up in the air, but the fact of it seems very hard to dispute. At the very least, it shows that consciousness is not itself caused by any material process in the brain or body, that there is some other mechanism within consciousness that allows for experience, even sensory experience, of some kind.

    The unconscious brain functions receive input from our senses at all times, asleep or awake, including the visual. Some people like to confuse the concept of being conscious with consciousness in such a way that they can argue that even when we are unconscious we are conscious. Proof of concept is not done by mixing and matching parts of the otherwise distinctly different, if the intent is to achieve reliable data.

    But not even her unconscious was active, since that can be detected by brain wave activity. Even your cherished “lizard brain” was rendered completely inoperative. There was no heartbeat, no breathing, no discernable biological activity of any kind. Extreme cooling of her body produced a body and brain state indistinguishable from death. That’s how the operation is able to work – the body doesn’t even need oxygen in this state, because there is no activity present to require oxygen. So this isn’t merely an “unconscious state”. It’s a death state, without even an unconscious mind present. Or at least it there shouldn’t be, if the materialistic thesis is correct. And yet, not only was she fully conscious, but lucidly so, not in a groggy, drugged condition, but as she describes, more aware than at any other time in her life. This should correspond to a very active brain state, not a dead one, if the materialistic thesis is correct. Since the opposite was the case, it severely damages the materialistic thesis.

    Those that are required to believe in the supernatural as the most likley explantion, and especially the most desired, will continue to offer the lack of monitoring results as proof of their convictions. Those that find satisfaction in the more objective and open minded approaches will not.

    There’s no need to suggest that a supernatural explanation is necessary. It merely suggests that nature of consciousness goes beyond the material brain. There’s no need to believe the content of her experience to be true in and of itself. That would need other data about extra-bodily experience to compare it to.

  192. #194 bobyu
    May 15, 2008

    conradg,
    You constantly use the term “suggests” as if it were the equivalent of valid logical inference.
    You need to try to “wrap your head” around the fact that it isn’t. And try to “wrap your head” around the nature of the difference if at all possible.

    Neurologists will tell you that in the state this woman was in, which you refer to “indistinguishable from death,” but apparently not actual death as we define it, does NOT stop all brain activity, and the instruments in use that show when the person in this preoperative state is ready for that operation were not intended to show the type of continued activity that neurologists could have otherwise detected.
    I trust their informed opinions on this much more than the anomalous sources of mystical lore to which you turn for the appropriate suggestions that fit your momentary fanaticisms.
    Being conscious of sensory input while in a sleep state is simply not what we define as being in a conscious state. Your definition of consciousness cannot be used to delineate differing states of mind, if you define all recognition of sensory input from birth to death, sleep or not asleep, near death, comatose, or whatever, as consciousness.
    In such a world, life would be consciousness and death unconsciousness. Which even the ancients from which you derive your philosofantasies were hesitant to believe.

    I agree with others however that is just plain silly to respond to your never-ending defensive evasions, and I’m out of here for good this time.

  193. #195 JimV
    May 15, 2008

    I’ll make a few more last observations before conceding the endurance contest to conradg:

    Dreams are not time-stamped, so there is no way of being sure at what point prior to their telling that they occurred.

    If I propose a test for consciousness, such as “reacts to verbal sounds” (there are much more meaningful tests discussed at the Developing Intelligence blog, this is just a silly example), I expect both I and Conradg and many others would get results in controlled trials which would have a degree of correlation that would be well beyond random (which is all that is required for a scientific result, IMO). I doubt if a test for detecting the presence of God would produce any correlation over the same sample (unless it were defined in such a way that God could never fail to be detected).

    To the extent that there are multiple, contradictory impressions of a political figure, those impressions, in the aggregate, are not scientific – some of them must be wrong.

  194. #196 conradg
    May 15, 2008

    Bobyu,

    Before you go, I’d appreciate a link or reference to the neurologists who state that a person in the “cold death” state of suspended animation this patient was in can have meaningful brain activity that could produce a “dream” of the kind reported. You make this claim, but offer no evidence.

    Thanks for participating in this exchange.

  195. #197 conradg
    May 15, 2008

    JimV,

    Thanks for the ideas. I don’t think “responds to sounds” is a very good test, however, in that a very simple machine could be built to do that. There’s basic problems to these kinds of tests, in that they don’t actually detect consciousness, only certain mechanical responses that a machine could make that wasn’t conscious. A more complex test only requires a more complex machine, not a conscious one. Devising a test that distinguishes between such a machine, and a conscious being, is what is necessary. Offhand I can’t imagine one, but maybe someone out there has.

    A “God test” would have similar problems. How would one distinguish between the detection of “God”, and a response that merely fulfilled certain mechanical requirements? Is an actual “miracle” necessary? Or only a certain pattern of brain-waves among meditators who claim to be “feeling God”?

    Since this is at an end, I’ll just mention another thought I had recently about the general “emergence” theory of consciousness, which windy and charles have suggested as an explanation for consciousness. I’ve pointed out that I think it’s an unprecedented claim in science. I don’t think any other process in the material world is explained in this manner – something that can’t itself be detected, but which is considered to “emerge” from a complex material process. If consciousness is an example of this phenomena, then doesn’t it show that other subjective experiential realities could emerge from a complex material process. I’m thinking about “God”, for example. In a materialistic view, isn’t it possible that God, as an actual subjective experience, similar in nature to consciousness, could emerge from the complex material process that is the universe itself? In other words, that the “Big Bang” produces God as an effect of that whole process, in a manner similar to how complex brain processes are said to produce consciousness? So maybe religion is right about the existence of God, but has the creation process backwards – that the Big Bang created God? In this sense, God would still exist, and pervade the entire universe, but himself be undetectable in the way that consciousness is not itself detectable, and yet also be “obvious” in the same way that consciousness is obvious to us. I’ve tried in all these different threads to make the point that consciousness and God are of the same nature, that God is no more a material “thing” than consciousness is. If the emergence theory of conscousness is correct, however, then perhaps the consciousness of God appeared at the instant of the Big Bang, or shortly thereafter, and has been present ever since, detectable only by other emergent processes – like human consciousness. So perhaps it is so that the only way to “detect” consciousness, and the only way to “detect” God, is to use the emergent properties of our own consciousness, rather than the non-emergent properties of mere matter.

    Just a thought to leave you all with. Good luck and good day.

  196. #198 Iapetus
    May 17, 2008

    So it seems I have come too late and this thread is already clinically dead. Well, I guess I will make him twitch for one last time.

    conradg,

    “Yes, but that is precisely why I wrote, “But philosophical orientation aside…”. Meaning, I understand the philosophical definitions of the words “realism” and “idealism”. I was referring to a more down to earth usage.”

    Ok, but since these words already have a distinct meaning in these forms of discussion, it can lead to confusion when everyone defines their terms differently. But if you prefer your definitions, be my guest.

    “In other words, it’s not that I’m denying the existence of a material world per se, I’m simply pointing out that even the material world around us is only observable and thus demonstrable to us because we are conscious of it.”

    Then you have severely overstated your case thusfar. You have repeatedly said that you consider the objective, outside, material world an illusion and ultimately rooted in your own consciousness. This is a totally different proposition than mereley saying that you deem your consciousness to be the only available detecting device to explore this outside world. However, I have the impression that you are somewhat confused about this since you argue against that very proposition (the existence of an independent material world) in your next paragraph:

    “Why presume the existence of anything we are not in some way aware of? Should we presume the existence of aliens before we become aware of them? Why not sky fairies and Gods? I thought this was one of the primary logical arguments of atheists, that we should not presume the existence of anything for which we have no evidence. I thought it was one of your own primary arguments. Now you want to toss it away? That seems odd to me.”

    This is a somewhat childish argument, don’t you think? We have evidence for an outside, material world, since we are aware of it and experience it most of the time outside of sleep. This experience can be repeated countless times and leads to roughly the same results for different people. I am not aware that anyone has shown this to be the case with gods.

    “Now, I’m not actually advancing a solipsistic argument.”

    Yes, you are (or at least you did before you seemed to backtrack in your previous paragraphs).

    See here for another example:

    “Yes, there is no external world. Everything does appear in consciousness.”

    You have then gone and muddied the waters a bit by stating this:

    “I’m not arguing that there are no other human beings with a consciousness, only that all human beings and their consciousness are appearing within consciousness itself, unbroken and universally present in and through and around all things, like the television screen on which the whole universe appears and changes.”

    That is all fine and well, but then we have this:

    “The Vedantic argument of consciousness does advance beyond individual consciousness. It ends up proposing that the individual (jiva) is at root a transcendental conscious Self (Atman), and that Atman is in reality identical to Brahman, the universal Divine Being. Hence, every individual is, at the ultimate root, the very Divine Being of all beings, God, in other words, and can discover this truth directly by inspecting his own consciousness with due diligence.”

    And therefore, since every “individual” consciousness is in reality only a figment of Brahman, there is only one ultimate consciousness and nothing else. This is solipsism, I am afraid, although of a convoluted flavor. Consequently my point about the superfluousness and/or incoherence of your theodicy and reincarnation theory stands, because no “real”, independent human beings suffer any evil. It is only Brahman talking to himself here.

    “I’m not trying to use relativity theory or QM to buttress my view of consciousness as primary. I’m merely pointing out that these are the kinds of physical theories one would expect to find operative in a material world if it were based in consciousness, rather than simply material all the way through.”

    I fail to see the difference between sentences 1 and 2. You are (mistakenly) using the findings of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics to bolster your claim that reality is made of consciousness at root, because you deem these results to be too strange to explain under materialistic premises.

    “Unless you can demonstrate that consciousness is itself a material process, and not merely try to link it to one, or suggest that it’s somehow produced by a material process, while not itself being material, then I think you have to accept that materialism simply fails to adequately explain consciousness or its role in shaping the structure of reality.”

    There is no scientifically accepted role for consciousness in shaping the structure of reality. As I said, Wheeler’s PAP is a fringe view. Therefore, you would first have to show beyond reasonable doubt that consciousness is capable of this before materialism would be required to come up with an explanation for it.

    As for a materialstic account for consciousness, I will say again that it is not sufficient to point to a gap in the explanatory power of a metaphysical model to draw the conclusion that it is false. You would have to show why this particular model is unable to provide an explanation IN PRINCIPLE. Can you do that aside from saying “I can’t think of any explanation.”? I would also urge you to procure some reading material on neurology or neurophysiology or to browse some of the relevant ScienceBlogs sites to get an inkling of the remarkable progress these sciences have made under purely materialistic premises. It shows IMO conclusively that the mind and its functions are inextricably linked with and based on the function of the brain.

    In that regard, I would like to hear something about the explanatory power of your metaphysical model. You incessantly demand that materialists give a detailed account of consciousness. Of course you do not have to carry this burden, since your model conveniently labels it “basic”. But what about this intense illusion of a physical world? How does that come into being? Why is it so different from my emotions, dreams, fantasies etc.? If all you can say is that these are different manifestations of consciousness, then your model explains precisely nothing, because it can explain everything in the same way. So why should anyone adopt it?

    “While I agree that the obvious can’t be taken at face value, we can’t dismiss the obvious either.”

    No, but my impression is that you do the exact opposite, which I see as a fundamental flaw in your whole approach. You seize what to you seems obvious/self-evident with both hands and run off with it, never looking back. While it may be acceptable as a starting point to try and examine one’s consciousness, thoughts etc., to think that doing so alone would lead to fundamental insights about the ultimate nature of reality is totally ludicrous. We have ample evidence that our minds can be fooled, that what we consider obvious can be 100% false and that we can get caught in a self-reinforcing cycle where our expectations shape our experiences and vice versa.

    “I don’t know why you asked me about this in the first place if you didn’t want me to mention it. You can’t ask me whether I have any personal experience that leads me to think this way, and then when I openly offer it, tell me that’s inappropriate. I am in no way suggesting that my arguments are solely based on my personal experience.”

    In your post of May 7, 7:11 PM you wrote: “In my case, I am not just considering objective evidence, but subjective evidence as well – since this is a subjective matter we are arguing about.”
    I pointed out that this does not follow, i.e. although we are talking about subjective matters, it is not possible to base your arguments on subjective evidence since I can not verify it. You refused to accept this or maybe did not understand what my point was.

    “Again, you are confusing the development differences in the bodily capabilities of thinking and sensory perception with the fundamental experience of being conscious. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that babies aren’t conscious. [...] If we are an undeveloped baby, our conscious sense of self is that of a baby. If we are a highly developed adult, our conscious sense of self is that. If we are a mentally retarded adult, that’s how our self is seen. But each of these have basic conscious self-awareness.”

    No, new-born infants do not develop a sense of Self before the age of 3 or 4. Look up the catchword Mirror Test for more information on this.
    I think a major problem in your whole argumentation, as others have already pointed out is that the term “consciousness” dazzles in all colours of the rainbow. Sometimes you seem to mean the ability to reflect one’s own thoughts in an abstract way, sometimes (as in the cited paragraph above) it seems to suffice to have simple awareness of one’s own body in space and time and to process incoming stimuli. This is of course something that very young babies are capable of doing, but in THAT sense even a computer steering an automobile would be conscious.

    “Not in relation to the basic fact of consciousness, I don’t think that would be the case. Which is what we have been arguing about. The scientific approach to trying to prove that consciousness is a material process simply doesn’t pass the Occam’s Razor test.”

    You are shifting the goalposts here. When you first introduced this comparison between the findings of science and your worldview regarding Occam’s Razor, you talked about the “elaborate” findings of science and that they have barely scratched the surface of Nature. If was clear from the context that this was not a comparison confined to the single topic of consciousness.
    Now while your worldview might be “simpler” in the sense that consciousness is declared basic, whereas science has to explain it as an emergent phenomenon, this is not the whole of the story. Occam’s Razor also considers the explanatory power of the respective hypothesis. Why do we lose our consciousness while asleep or in a coma? Why does damage to the illusory material organ of the brain alter our consciousness? Why can transcendental experiences be induced within our consciousness by stimulating certain parts of the illusory material brain? Science has answers to all these questions, while your worldview severely struggles here. So even in this regard I would put my money on science surviving Occam’s Razor less scathed.

  197. #199 fongooly
    May 17, 2008

    conradg will now respond as always with a 20 page suggestion that logical inference cannot be valid when applied to the non-material.

  198. #200 conradg
    May 18, 2008

    Iapetus,

    Conradg: “In other words, it’s not that I’m denying the existence of a material world per se, I’m simply pointing out that even the material world around us is only observable and thus demonstrable to us because we are conscious of it.”

    Iapetus: Then you have severely overstated your case thusfar. You have repeatedly said that you consider the objective, outside, material world an illusion and ultimately rooted in your own consciousness. This is a totally different proposition than mereley saying that you deem your consciousness to be the only available detecting device to explore this outside world.

    You misunderstand my argument because you conflate “objective” with “material”. I am saying that the objectivity of the material world is illusory, but the material is not. I am saying that the fundamental “material” of the material world is consciousness, not some physical “material” existing in and of itself in some objective manner. I have never said that my consciousness is the only detecting device that can see the physical world. I am simply pointing out that whatever detecting devices we might use, even seemingly “objective” ones, only exist within our consciousness. If you look through a telescope, whatever you see will still appear within your consciousness, as does the telescope itself.

    We have evidence for an outside, material world, since we are aware of it and experience it most of the time outside of sleep.

    Where is this evidence for an “outside” world? Any evidence you might produce must be observed, read, thought about, etc. So it must be “taken in” to our minds, our consciousness. Thus, even the evidence for an objective world appears in our minds, which is not proof of an objective world at all, but that the world appears in consciousness under all circumstances, even the most remotely referential. The point here, which I’ve repeated close to a million times, is that consciousness is the primal experience regardless of what content appears in our consciousness, including the content of a so-called “external world”. How can one posit the externality of a world which can only be observed in consciousness?

    This experience can be repeated countless times and leads to roughly the same results for different people.

    I agree. Everyone who observes the world observes it in their own consciousness. No one observes it objectively. So how can we call it an objective world? Even if people see similar things, this only shows that there is a commonality in our consciousness, and that the world arises within a collective consciousness we all share, rather than that it is objectively existing. The objectivist conclusion is irrational and not based on evidence, but on some kind of wishful thinking.

    I am not aware that anyone has shown this to be the case with gods.

    Yes, Gods appear within consciousness also. The content of the “God” might vary from culture to culture, but the experience of God always arises within consciousness. That’s why some suggest that consciousness is the only “true” God.

    Conradg: “The Vedantic argument of consciousness does advance beyond individual consciousness. It ends up proposing that the individual (jiva) is at root a transcendental conscious Self (Atman), and that Atman is in reality identical to Brahman, the universal Divine Being. Hence, every individual is, at the ultimate root, the very Divine Being of all beings, God, in other words, and can discover this truth directly by inspecting his own consciousness with due diligence.”

    Iapetus: And therefore, since every “individual” consciousness is in reality only a figment of Brahman, there is only one ultimate consciousness and nothing else. This is solipsism, I am afraid, although of a convoluted flavor.

    It is less of a a solipsism than to say that everything is material in nature, and even all concepts and thoughts boil down to material facts. It doesn’t say that “nothing else” exists but consciousness, but that everything arises in and is made out of consciousness. This is no more solpsistic than the scientific theory that everything is made out of quarks and photons. It’s merely a GUT of the universe that uses consciousness as its base “material”.

    Consequently my point about the superfluousness and/or incoherence of your theodicy and reincarnation theory stands, because no “real”, independent human beings suffer any evil. It is only Brahman talking to himself here.

    As I said, I don’t believe in metaphysical evil, but reincarnation theory doesn’t say that our experience of physical suffering and pain in this world is unreal, only that it is not objective to us, or caused by some objective outside influence, either God or the Devil, but is an outgrowth of our own consciousness, specifically the ignorance we have adopted in thinking that our experience is objective and objectively caused. The reincarnation model is a model for responsibility, in which we are able to recognize that we are the sole party responsible for our suffering, and that we are the sole party who can bring it to an end, by seeking and end to our ignorance through the self-inspecting “light” of consciousness, or “enlightenment. That is why the Buddha summarized his teaching as “be a light unto yourself”. Using one’s own consciousness as the light that brings ignorance to an end is a self-responsible path not dependent on either objective technology or subjective belief. In that sense, it is superior to both science and conventional theism.

    I fail to see the difference between sentences 1 and 2. You are (mistakenly) using the findings of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics to bolster your claim that reality is made of consciousness at root, because you deem these results to be too strange to explain under materialistic premises.

    As I said, while QM and relativity theory are consistent with the consciousness model, I am not suggesting they are actually direct evidence for it. And yes, I do find it strange that a materialistic model would require such convolutions that involve semi-mystical elements of the observing consciousness to make sense of the world. Others might disagree, but shouldn’t a genuinely materialistic model be independent of the observer, whereas in both QM and relativity, the observer changes the outcome of actual observations, and is essential for the theory to work at all. I think it has to be at the least just a little bit disturbing to hard-core materialists that this is how these theories work out. Do you think these theories really do support the notion of a purely objective material reality?

    There is no scientifically accepted role for consciousness in shaping the structure of reality. As I said, Wheeler’s PAP is a fringe view. Therefore, you would first have to show beyond reasonable doubt that consciousness is capable of this before materialism would be required to come up with an explanation for it.

    I would largely agree. But I’m not arguing for a scientific theory of consciousness, I’m merely arguing that consciousness is clearly primary to our experience. A real, bona-fide scientific theory that takes consciousness as primary is probably still a ways off. I’m arguing that it’s best not to wait for science to figure out a way to deal with consciousness. We can deal with it directly by inspecting consciousness directly, using our own consciousness as the “detecting device”. That’s what spiritual life is about in my view. That’s the Buddha’s approach, as well as many other mystics. It’s hardly a blasphemy towards science to suggest this.

    As for a materialstic account for consciousness, I will say again that it is not sufficient to point to a gap in the explanatory power of a metaphysical model to draw the conclusion that it is false.

    Yes, I’d agree. But I think you meant to say “physical model” there? I’m not suggesting that the lack of a good materialistic explanation means that materialism is false. As I’ve said, if a genuine physical explanation for consciousness comes up, I’m all ears. What I object to is the opposite – the insistence that even though no material explanation for consciousness has been proven, we should reject out of hand all metaphysical explanations under the assumption that a material explanation will someday be proven.

    You would have to show why this particular model is unable to provide an explanation IN PRINCIPLE. Can you do that aside from saying “I can’t think of any explanation.”?

    Well, I have pointed out that even any materialistic explanation will only arise not merely in our thinking, but in our consciousness of thinking. Again, even in the area of scientific materialism, all observation, thinking, logic, rationality, theorizing, testing, data-gathering, and evaluation of evidence occurs in our consciousness. How then is consciousness not primary to all of these things? How do these exercises purport to explain the very thing they cannot exist without? I think that’ s a pretty strong principle to overcome, and I notice you haven’t even tried, which should tell us something.

    I would also urge you to procure some reading material on neurology or neurophysiology or to browse some of the relevant ScienceBlogs sites to get an inkling of the remarkable progress these sciences have made under purely materialistic premises. It shows IMO conclusively that the mind and its functions are inextricably linked with and based on the function of the brain.

    I have, and I agree that these researches are wonderful and eye-opening. But they are all being done by conscious beings, in their own consciousness. The results are also completely compatible with the consciousness model I’ve proposed, including the reincarnation model. Unless they come up with findings that specifically negate that model, I don’t see how you can cite them as evidence for materialism. The reincarnation model specifically recognizes the physical reality of the brain and it’s cognitive processes, but sees the brain as being wedded to the reincarnating “soul”. There’s no doubt in that model that the brain’s functions are necessary for the soul’s experience of the physical world while wedded to the brain and body.

    Now, you may suggest that there’s no scientific evidence for a soul being wedded to the body. I say, look at your own experience. Right now, you are aware of yourself as a conscious being who is experiencing the physical world through a physical brain and nervous system. You are observing all of that from a position that is not the brain or nervous system. You can be aware of the brain and nervous system. Example. A couple of years ago some friends convinced me to take some psilocybin mushrooms for the first time in my life. I did, and it was quite wonderful in many ways. However, in that my spiritual practice is self-enquiry, I remained focused in consciousness throughout the experience. I was able to observe that the mushrooms were definitely changing my mind, my brain functions, etc. I could see that it was doing a certain “violence” to the brain, distorting it, producing subjective feelings of euphoria, visual sensations, etc. And yet, in a very basic sense it wasn’t affecting me at all. “I” remained the same throughout the experience, unaffected by it. I was simply the same conscious being with our without these chemicals in my brain . And that’s simply the case for all of us all the time. Our brains definitely have a chemistry to them that affects our cognitive and sensory functions, but we are not identical to either our brain our our cognitive and sensory functions. We are the consciousness that observes these functions. Even if those functions are messed up, we remain consciousness in the midst of that. Consciousness is prior to the brain and its functions. This can be observed, even now, and with a little training, it can become a very useful bit of wisdom to live by.

    In that regard, I would like to hear something about the explanatory power of your metaphysical model. You incessantly demand that materialists give a detailed account of consciousness. Of course you do not have to carry this burden, since your model conveniently labels it “basic”. But what about this intense illusion of a physical world? How does that come into being? Why is it so different from my emotions, dreams, fantasies etc.? If all you can say is that these are different manifestations of consciousness, then your model explains precisely nothing, because it can explain everything in the same way. So why should anyone adopt it?

    I think this is a very fair set of questions. I just don’t think the answers could be kept brief enough for the purposes of these exchanges, and still be satisfying. There’s a whole world of spiritual and mystic literature out there to read up on, and I could give you suggestions if you are interested.

    To be brief, however, there are many different levels and dimensions of consciousness. The reason your fleeting emotions and fantasies aren’t directly reflected in the world is because they exist in different dimensions of consciousness. The physical dimension of consciousness is created at a deeper level of “mind” than are superficial emotions and fantasies. There are deep emotions and desires which draw you into association with the physical world, and with various elements of the physical world. If you can get in touch with those deeper emotions and desires, you can, indeed, begin to see their correspondence with your experience of the physical world, and by purifying yourself of them, your physical experience in the physical world can change as well. This is how, in essence, people make real changes in their lives, by feeling into their own emotional and desiring depth, and changing themselves there, and subsequently changing their world. It’s simply “natural”, so to speak, to do this. Again, I’m not suggesting that the physical world is an illusion. Objectivity is the illusion. The physical world exists in your consciousness, in the depth of your feeling and desiring. It reflects those feelings and desirings back and forth like a mirror. You can actually observe this and live on that basis, learning to purify yourself and your world in this manner.

    While it may be acceptable as a starting point to try and examine one’s consciousness, thoughts etc., to think that doing so alone would lead to fundamental insights about the ultimate nature of reality is totally ludicrous. We have ample evidence that our minds can be fooled, that what we consider obvious can be 100% false and that we can get caught in a self-reinforcing cycle where our expectations shape our experiences and vice versa.

    I think that a single man inspecting his own consciousness directly has often proven to be the most effective method for gaining fundamental insights into reality. Whether you look at Buddha or Shankara or Einstein I think you have to say that there’s great power in the mind that few of us realize can be taken advantage of through direct means. Obviously we have the power to fool ourselves, but if we do, we also have the power to see through our own illusions. Also, consider that objectivist materialism may just be one more way we have fooled ourselves.

    No, new-born infants do not develop a sense of Self before the age of 3 or 4. Look up the catchword Mirror Test for more information on this.

    I’m not suggesting they have a fully developed sense of self, only that they are conscious. The brain must develop in order to develop a bodily sense of self, but the basic consciousness behind the body is already there.

    I think a major problem in your whole argumentation, as others have already pointed out is that the term “consciousness” dazzles in all colours of the rainbow. Sometimes you seem to mean the ability to reflect one’s own thoughts in an abstract way, sometimes (as in the cited paragraph above) it seems to suffice to have simple awareness of one’s own body in space and time and to process incoming stimuli. This is of course something that very young babies are capable of doing, but in THAT sense even a computer steering an automobile would be conscious.

    To a materialist, yes, a computerized car would be considered “conscious” in some rudimentary sense. But to most everyone else it would not be, whereas a baby who can’t even walk would be considered conscious. But I agree that the word “consciousness” has a great many meanings, contexts, and usages that make this confusing. I’m not sure how to resolve that.

    Now while your worldview might be “simpler” in the sense that consciousness is declared basic, whereas science has to explain it as an emergent phenomenon, this is not the whole of the story. Occam’s Razor also considers the explanatory power of the respective hypothesis. Why do we lose our consciousness while asleep or in a coma?

    But do we “lose consciousness” in these states? We certainly lose the brain functions that give us cognitive awareness of the material world, but I would suggest that we remain “conscious” even in sleep and coma. We ask one another in the morning, “How did you sleep last night?” Why would we do that unless we had an experience of sleep to ask about? And we usually answer the question, and say we slept very restfully, or not. In both cases, there’s a basic experience going on in sleep that we can recall, even while not having been aware of an outside world. I’d suggest something similar occurs in comas.

    Why does damage to the illusory material organ of the brain alter our consciousness?

    It alters our perception and cognition, but it doesn’t alter the fact of being conscious itself. Again, if the astral soul is wedded to the physical brain and body, it’s going to experience the world through these organs. If they are damaged, our ability to be aware of the world is damaged. If our foot is amputated, our ability to walk is damaged. This affects our consciousness as well. We become “one-footed Dave”. People born retarded are limited in their functional awareness by that characteristic of the brain. Consciousness wedded to the physical become dependent to a degree on the physical. But not entirely. We can learn to cope with our physical limitations. Even healthy people have limitations to their brain and body that must be dealt with.

    Why can transcendental experiences be induced within our consciousness by stimulating certain parts of the illusory material brain?

    In part, because much of our brain is devoted to keeping mystical experiences at bay, so that they do not interfere with our ability to function in the physical world. Drugs that allow us to have mystical experiences function, primarily, by temporarily disrupting, even damaging, the brain, and allowing these mystical functions into the brain, though usually in a rather chaotic manner. That’s why they are not generally recommended except very occasionally for religious use, if at all. Even some mystical practices essentially do the same thing. Many spiritual traditions actually warn against the dangers that can be faced by forcing the body and brain to experience various mystical experiences, such as Kundalini. It is often warned that people can go insane, that they can damage their brains, if they don’t do these things properly. And there are examples of people suffering precisely that. Too much mysticism of this kind can make a person dysfunctional, even crazy. There are much safer and sounder forms of mystical experience, however, which don’t damage the brain, but quite the opposite, enhance its health and natural capabilities.

    Science has answers to all these questions, while your worldview severely struggles here. So even in this regard I would put my money on science surviving Occam’s Razor less scathed.

    I don’t find it at all a struggle to answer these questions. And I don’t think materialism has anything but reductionist answers to these questions that fail to understand or enhance the virtues of consciousness. Science need not be limited to the materialist perspective in order to function. I would suggest the opposite, that science is actually hindered in its growth by materialistic philosophy.

  199. #201 fongooly
    May 18, 2008

    My prediction: “conradg will now respond as always with a 20 page suggestion that logical inference cannot be valid when applied to the non-material.”

    I was wrong. It only took 14 pages.

  200. #202 conradg
    May 18, 2008

    I was going to predict that after I posted, fongooly would post a brief, content-free non-sequitar, but saying so might have changed the outcome. Or maybe not – perhaps it’s just a knee-jerk response out of his conscious control.

  201. #203 JimCH
    May 18, 2008

    conradg…
    Wouldn’t your perception of fongooly just be an expression of the depth of the feeling & desiring of your consciousness, reflecting back & forth like a mirror? I’m not sure that you’re learning to purify yourself, much less your world.

  202. #204 fongooly
    May 18, 2008

    conradg used to argue that there was nothing “out of his conscious control”, because there was no such thing as the unconscious.
    I “suggest” he’s stuck in a culture where the language is entirely inappropriate for an attempt to describe the nature of his present incarnation – where the astral material/nonmaterial that it’s made of cannot be formed into a working model of an adaptive unconscious. As an immortal entity, its sensory functions have no need to consider the problems of short term survival (just for starters).

  203. #205 conradg
    May 18, 2008

    JimCH,

    I think my perception of fongolly on this forum, and fongooly’s own posts, reflect only a superficial level of mind reflecting back and forth. And yes, it’s purifying at that level, and amusing, but clearly there’s lots of work left to do. But nothing terribly deep.

    As Freud often said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  204. #206 conrad
    May 18, 2008

    fongooly,

    “conradg used to argue that there was nothing “out of his conscious control”, because there was no such thing as the unconscious.”

    You seem determined not to understand anything I’ve said, and now you seem determined to make things up that I never said. I never said there’s no such thing as the “unconscious”, at least as psychologists use the term. I merely said there was no specific area in the brain where this unconscious mind exists. It’s not an actual physical place in the brain machinery. Likewise, I never said there’s nothing “out of my conscious control”. I merely said there’s nothing outside of consciousness. I would argue that everything is consequence of one’s own choices at some level, but that doesn’t mean everything is under our immediate, conscious control. Control is probably the last word that would describe our position in consciousness.

    Your second paragraph strikes me as a failed attempt at sarcasm. Do you have something meaningful in there for me to address? If you want a serious conversation, I’m willing to forget your past remarks and give it a shot. If not, c’est la vie.

  205. #207 fongooly
    May 19, 2008

    conradg, if Iapetus couldn’t get anything out of you but defensive gobbldygook and just plain astral idiocy, no-one else could be expected to. It has become abundantly clear that you are simply out of your league here and those that at first thought you might be educable are now embarrassed by your presence.

  206. #208 conradg
    May 19, 2008

    fongooly,

    It’s tempting to say something unkind here, but I think I’ll let it pass. Any time you feel like saying anything substantial, give it a whirl.

  207. #209 Iapetus
    May 19, 2008

    conradg,

    “You misunderstand my argument because you conflate “objective” with “material”. I am saying that the objectivity of the material world is illusory, but the material is not. I am saying that the fundamental “material” of the material world is consciousness, not some physical “material” existing in and of itself in some objective manner.”

    Ah, then you just phrased it a little unclear in the previous post and you are still arguing for solipsism. Okay.

    “The point here, which I’ve repeated close to a million times, is that consciousness is the primal experience regardless of what content appears in our consciousness, including the content of a so-called “external world”. How can one posit the externality of a world which can only be observed in consciousness?”

    And as I have already pointed out, that is a non sequitur, i.e. a logical fallacy. The premise that all our experiences of an outside, material world presuppose consciousness (which I would dispute anyway, but nevermind) does not logically and necessarily lead to the conclusion that our consciousness PRODUCES this outside world from nothing. The same premise would be consistent with the fact that an outside, material world does in fact exist and is more or less accurately reflected in our consciousness.

    “I agree. Everyone who observes the world observes it in their own consciousness. No one observes it objectively. So how can we call it an objective world? Even if people see similar things, this only shows that there is a commonality in our consciousness, and that the world arises within a collective consciousness we all share, rather than that it is objectively existing. The objectivist conclusion is irrational and not based on evidence, but on some kind of wishful thinking.”

    That last sentence really drips with irony.
    Why is it that religious people so frequently mutate into hyper-scepticists when defending their belief system? I agree, no single person can perceive reality objectively, otherwise the term “objective” would be an oxymoron. However, while our experiences of an outside world and the findings of science that are based on these experiences are not as objective as analytical truths from logic or mathematics, they are based on independent corroboration and in this sense not subjective.
    How about this: go atop a 100m high tower and drop a lead ball to the ground, measuring the time it takes. Repeat this 500 times. Ask 500 different people to do it 500 times and collect and compare all results. This is what independent corroboration is all about. I would wager that the results will be nearly identical, as we should expect if they are produced by a reality outside of our consciousness. Are these findings also compatible with a “consciousness-only” world? Sure, if you are prepared to include additional explanations as to why some aspects of consciousness (those pertaining to the physical aspect) are replicable indefinitely to near infinite precision while others (those pertaining to the subjective, emotional, transcendent aspect) are vague, diffuse and only in the most general sense alike. As I said, solipsism is not conclusively refutable, but for this and other reasons I do not see it as the most likely model to explain the facts.

    “It is less of a a solipsism than to say that everything is material in nature, and even all concepts and thoughts boil down to material facts. [...] This is no more solpsistic than the scientific theory that everything is made out of quarks and photons.”

    Simply false. I know your penchant for re-defining terms, but it is non-sensical to label materialism solipsistic. What you presumably have in mind is that both solipsism and materialism are MONISTIC models, i.e. they hold that reality is ultimately based on a single principle.

    “It doesn’t say that “nothing else” exists but consciousness, but that everything arises in and is made out of consciousness.”

    So if everything arises in and is made out of consciousness, could you please name one thing that exists in your model that is different from consciousness? To recap: the material world is an aspect of consciousness, while in turn your own consciousness and that of everyone else is in reality a subset of the World Consciousness Brahman. If there is a difference to solipsism in here, I do not see it.

    “As I said, I don’t believe in metaphysical evil, but reincarnation theory doesn’t say that our experience of physical suffering and pain in this world is unreal, only that it is not objective to us, or caused by some objective outside influence, either God or the Devil, but is an outgrowth of our own consciousness, [...]”

    Why do you talk about “our” consciousness? This presupposes a real distinction between your consciousness and mine, a genuine difference. There is none, everything is an aspect of the all-encompassing consciousness of Brahman. It would make as much sense to talk about the individuality of characters in my dreams.
    Of course our experience of physical suffering and pain is unreal, since the physical is an illusion and the individual that experiences it likewise. There is simply no need for a theodicy here, reincarnation-based or otherwise, since nobody is really suffering. Some aspects of Brahman’s consciousness have taken on a life of their own, but they ultimately remain part of this consciousness and therefore fictitious nonetheless.

    “As I said, while QM and relativity theory are consistent with the consciousness model, I am not suggesting they are actually direct evidence for it.”

    Many metaphysical models are “consistent” with quantum mechanics. That is not the point. But I am glad that you have watered down your assertion of quantum mechanics being supportive of your model. However, I would still like to know what the theory of relativity has to do with consicousness.

    “Others might disagree, but shouldn’t a genuinely materialistic model be independent of the observer, whereas in both QM and relativity, the observer changes the outcome of actual observations, and is essential for the theory to work at all.”

    Quantum mechanics does not in any way, shape or form require consciousness to work, neither from a mathematical nor from a physical point of view.
    I have no idea what a genuinely materialistic model is nor what we should expect it to look like, and neither have you. You are merely trying to inject some mysticism into what you perceive to be an appropriate gap.
    If I were to argue like you in support of materialism, I would say that I would expect consciousness to play a part in this since it is a purely material phenomenon and so a consciousness that influences reality is nothing but one cogwheel grasping into another. But I will not argue in this way because it would be pure speculation.

    “Again, even in the area of scientific materialism, all observation, thinking, logic, rationality, theorizing, testing, data-gathering, and evaluation of evidence occurs in our consciousness. How then is consciousness not primary to all of these things? How do these exercises purport to explain the very thing they cannot exist without? I think that’ s a pretty strong principle to overcome, and I notice you haven’t even tried, which should tell us something.”

    It should tell you that this is patently ludicrous. According to this logic, we should not be able to explain the sense of sight using visual means, since we are investigating with our sense of sight the very thing we purport to explain.
    The fact that we use methods that are intertwined with consciousness to explain consciousness has absolutely no a priori bearing on the likelihood of success. Let me help you along here: in order to show that a materialistic account of consciousness is impossible in principle, you would have to demonstrate that even a complete physical description of the brain will leave an explanatory gap. If you can not do that, your ruminations are mere speculation.

    “The results are also completely compatible with the consciousness model I’ve proposed, including the reincarnation model. Unless they come up with findings that specifically negate that model, I don’t see how you can cite them as evidence for materialism. The reincarnation model specifically recognizes the physical reality of the brain and it’s cognitive processes, but sees the brain as being wedded to the reincarnating “soul”.”

    It is irrelevant if the results of neuroscience are “compatible” with your model. Any metaphysical model can be made compatible with the facts of science if you are prepared to include enough hand-waving and ad-hoc rationalizations. The results of science are supportive of the materialistic model because they were compiled on its premises, i.e. that what we perceive as mind and its functions has its basis in and is produced by a real, physical organ called brain. Furthermore, there is as of yet no data that contradicts that model.

    How can the reincarnation model recognize the physical reality of the brain when it denies that anything like physical reality exists? According to you, the physical aspect of consciousness somehow exerts an influence on the rest of consciousness when prodded (by other aspects of consciousness, I presume, since the phyical is an illusion), while this physical aspect is simultaneously wedded to the astral aspect of consciousness or something like this. It almost gives me a headache trying to think in such a convoluted fashion.

    “To be brief, however, there are many different levels and dimensions of consciousness. The reason your fleeting emotions and fantasies aren’t directly reflected in the world is because they exist in different dimensions of consciousness. The physical dimension of consciousness is created at a deeper level of “mind” than are superficial emotions and fantasies.”

    Yes, this is what I expected. It is the explanation that follows logically from solipsism, and it conveniently is of the one-size-fits-all, compatible with anything, irrefutable variety.

    “I think that a single man inspecting his own consciousness directly has often proven to be the most effective method for gaining fundamental insights into reality. Whether you look at Buddha or Shankara or Einstein I think you have to say that there’s great power in the mind that few of us realize can be taken advantage of through direct means.”

    No further comment on that one seems necessary, apart from one question: What is Einstein doing in that list?

    “Obviously we have the power to fool ourselves, but if we do, we also have the power to see through our own illusions.”

    This is very reassuring. Could you give some insight on the methodology for achieving this? If it does not exceed the advice to investigate my consciousness and see what I find, don’t bother.

    “I’m not suggesting they [new-born infants and babies] have a fully developed sense of self, only that they are conscious. The brain must develop in order to develop a bodily sense of self, but the basic consciousness behind the body is already there.”

    You have it exactly backwards. They have a bodily sense of self as they are aware of their body in space and time, otherwise they would be unable to grasp your hand, for instance. However, they lack the abstract sense of Self that adults have, which is why they fail the Mirror Test.

    “To a materialist, yes, a computerized car would be considered “conscious” in some rudimentary sense. But to most everyone else it would not be, whereas a baby who can’t even walk would be considered conscious.”

    This is not about aesthetic or metaphysical preferences or anything like this. If you water your requirements for consciousness down to the level of mere bodily awareness in space and time, a machine fulfills them.

    “t alters our perception and cognition, but it doesn’t alter the fact of being conscious itself. Again, if the astral soul is wedded to the physical brain and body, it’s going to experience the world through these organs. If they are damaged, our ability to be aware of the world is damaged. [...] In part, because much of our brain is devoted to keeping mystical experiences at bay, so that they do not interfere with our ability to function in the physical world. Drugs that allow us to have mystical experiences function, primarily, by temporarily disrupting, even damaging, the brain, and allowing these mystical functions into the brain, though usually in a rather chaotic manner.”

    These rationalizations would at least make rudimentary sense if you would argue for a dualistic model. How can you talk about an astral soul wedded to a physical body as if they were real? If you would take your own model seriously, you would have to say that a physical part/aspect/dimension/whatever of your consciousness is wedded (through consciousness?) to an astral part/aspect/dimension and that this somehow confuses your consciousness when the physical part/aspect/dimension is disturbed. As if that were not enough, all of these aspects of your consciousness are itself an illusion and in reality only a figment/extension/part of the ultimate consciousness Brahman. I look at this mess and can only stand in awe before the power of the human mind to rationalize even the absurd.

    “I don’t find it at all a struggle to answer these questions.”

    Yes, and it seems that you think it makes perfect sense, too. One could say that this worldview, aside from being true and answering all questions, fits you perfectly. What a coincidence.

    “And I don’t think materialism has anything but reductionist answers to these questions that fail to understand or enhance the virtues of consciousness.”

    And here we have one of the core reasons why you reject materialism in favor of your model: you consider it aesthetically and emotionally more attractive. If I may paraphrase from memory: “We are shining beings, Luke, not dead matter.”. Unfortunately, an explanation does not have to be emotionally attractive to be correct.

    “I would suggest the opposite, that science is actually hindered in its growth by materialistic philosophy.”

    Sadly, I think you are even serious about this, without realizing that adopting your way of thinking would be a deathblow to science in more than one respect.

  208. #210 Iapetus
    May 20, 2008

    My latest comment has been stuck in moderation for 18 hours now. Does anyone know if it can take this long or should I try to re-post it?

  209. #211 ctw
    May 20, 2008

    I’ve always found comments to post immediately. Please repost.

    - Charles

  210. #212 Iapetus
    May 20, 2008

    All right, here it goes…

    conradg,

    “You misunderstand my argument because you conflate “objective” with “material”. I am saying that the objectivity of the material world is illusory, but the material is not. I am saying that the fundamental “material” of the material world is consciousness, not some physical “material” existing in and of itself in some objective manner.”

    Ah, then you just phrased it a little unclear in the previous post and you are still arguing for solipsism. Okay.

    “The point here, which I’ve repeated close to a million times, is that consciousness is the primal experience regardless of what content appears in our consciousness, including the content of a so-called “external world”. How can one posit the externality of a world which can only be observed in consciousness?”

    And as I have already pointed out, that is a non sequitur, i.e. a logical fallacy. The premise that all our experiences of an outside, material world presuppose consciousness (which I would dispute anyway, but nevermind) does not logically and necessarily lead to the conclusion that our consciousness PRODUCES this outside world from nothing. The same premise would be consistent with the fact that an outside, material world does in fact exist and is more or less accurately reflected in our consciousness.

    “I agree. Everyone who observes the world observes it in their own consciousness. No one observes it objectively. So how can we call it an objective world? Even if people see similar things, this only shows that there is a commonality in our consciousness, and that the world arises within a collective consciousness we all share, rather than that it is objectively existing. The objectivist conclusion is irrational and not based on evidence, but on some kind of wishful thinking.”

    That last sentence really drips with irony.
    Why is it that religious people so frequently mutate into hyper-scepticists when defending their belief system? I agree, no single person can perceive reality objectively, otherwise the term “objective” would be an oxymoron. However, while our experiences of an outside world and the findings of science that are based on these experiences are not as objective as analytical truths from logic or mathematics, they are based on independent corroboration and in this sense not subjective.
    How about this: go atop a 100m high tower and drop a lead ball to the ground, measuring the time it takes. Repeat this 500 times. Ask 500 different people to do it 500 times and collect and compare all results. This is what independent corroboration is all about. I would wager that the results will be nearly identical, as we should expect if they are produced by a reality outside of our consciousness. Are these findings also compatible with a “consciousness-only” world? Sure, if you are prepared to include additional explanations as to why some aspects of consciousness (those pertaining to the physical aspect) are replicable indefinitely to near infinite precision while others (those pertaining to the subjective, emotional, transcendent aspect) are vague, diffuse and only in the most general sense alike. As I said, solipsism is not conclusively refutable, but for this and other reasons I do not see it as the most likely model to explain the facts.

    “It is less of a solipsism than to say that everything is material in nature, and even all concepts and thoughts boil down to material facts. [...] This is no more solipsistic than the scientific theory that everything is made out of quarks and photons.”

    Simply false. I know your penchant for re-defining terms, but it is non-sensical to label materialism solipsistic. What you presumably have in mind is that both solipsism and materialism are MONISTIC models, i.e. they hold that reality is ultimately based on a single principle.

    “It doesn’t say that “nothing else” exists but consciousness, but that everything arises in and is made out of consciousness.”

    So if everything arises in and is made out of consciousness, could you please name one thing that exists in your model that is different from consciousness? To recap: the material world is an aspect of consciousness, while in turn your own consciousness and that of everyone else is in reality a subset of the World Consciousness Brahman. If there is a difference to solipsism in here, I do not see it.

    “As I said, I don’t believe in metaphysical evil, but reincarnation theory doesn’t say that our experience of physical suffering and pain in this world is unreal, only that it is not objective to us, or caused by some objective outside influence, either God or the Devil, but is an outgrowth of our own consciousness, [...]”

    Why do you talk about “our” consciousness? This presupposes a real distinction between your consciousness and mine, a genuine difference. There is none, everything is an aspect of the all-encompassing consciousness of Brahman. It would make as much sense to talk about the individuality of characters in my dreams.
    Of course our experience of physical suffering and pain is unreal, since the physical is an illusion and the individual that experiences it likewise. There is simply no need for a theodicy here, reincarnation-based or otherwise, since nobody is really suffering. Some aspects of Brahma’s consciousness have taken on a life of their own, but they ultimately remain part of this consciousness and therefore fictitious nonetheless.

    “As I said, while QM and relativity theory are consistent with the consciousness model, I am not suggesting they are actually direct evidence for it.”

    Many metaphysical models are “consistent” with quantum mechanics. That is not the point. But I am glad that you have watered down your assertion of quantum mechanics being supportive of your model. However, I would still like to know what the theory of relativity has to do with consciousness.

    “Others might disagree, but shouldn’t a genuinely materialistic model be independent of the observer, whereas in both QM and relativity, the observer changes the outcome of actual observations, and is essential for the theory to work at all.”

    Quantum mechanics does not in any way, shape or form require consciousness to work, neither from a mathematical nor from a physical point of view.
    I have no idea what a genuinely materialistic model is nor what we should expect it to look like, and neither have you. You are merely trying to inject some mysticism into what you perceive to be an appropriate gap.
    If I were to argue like you in defense of materialism, I would say that I would expect consciousness to play a part in this since it is a purely material phenomenon and so a consciousness that influences reality is nothing but one cogwheel grasping into another. But I will not argue in this way because it would be pure speculation.

    “Again, even in the area of scientific materialism, all observation, thinking, logic, rationality, theorizing, testing, data-gathering, and evaluation of evidence occurs in our consciousness. How then is consciousness not primary to all of these things? How do these exercises purport to explain the very thing they cannot exist without? I think that’s a pretty strong principle to overcome, and I notice you haven’t even tried, which should tell us something.”

    It should tell you that this is patently ludicrous. According to this logic, we should not be able to explain the sense of sight using visual means, since we are investigating with our sense of sight the very thing we purport to explain.
    The fact that our tools for investigating consciousness are intertwined with consciousness has absolutely no a priori bearing on the success of the endeavor.
    Let me help you along here: if you wanted to show that materialism is unable in principle to account for consciousness, you would have to demonstrate that even a complete physical description of the brain would leave an explanatory gap. If you can not do that, your ruminations on this subject are mere speculation.

    “The results are also completely compatible with the consciousness model I’ve proposed, including the reincarnation model. Unless they come up with findings that specifically negate that model, I don’t see how you can cite them as evidence for materialism. The reincarnation model specifically recognizes the physical reality of the brain and it’s cognitive processes, but sees the brain as being wedded to the reincarnating “soul”.”

    It is irrelevant if the results of neuroscience are “compatible” with your model. Any metaphysical model can be made compatible with the facts of science if you are prepared to include enough hand-waving and ad-hoc rationalizations. The results of science are supportive of the materialistic model because they were compiled on its premises, i.e. that what we perceive as mind and its functions has its basis in and is produced by a real, physical organ called brain. Furthermore, there is as of yet no data that contradicts that model.

    How can the reincarnation model recognize the physical reality of the brain when it denies that anything like physical reality exists? According to you, the physical aspect of consciousness somehow exerts an influence on the rest of consciousness when prodded (by other aspects of consciousness, I presume, since the physical is an illusion), while this physical aspect is simultaneously wedded to the astral aspect of consciousness or something like this. It almost gives me a headache trying to think in such a convoluted fashion.

    “To be brief, however, there are many different levels and dimensions of consciousness. The reason your fleeting emotions and fantasies aren’t directly reflected in the world is because they exist in different dimensions of consciousness. The physical dimension of consciousness is created at a deeper level of “mind” than are superficial emotions and fantasies.”

    Yes, this is what I expected. It is the explanation that follows logically from solipsism, and it conveniently is of the one-size-fits-all, compatible with anything, irrefutable variety.

    “I think that a single man inspecting his own consciousness directly has often proven to be the most effective method for gaining fundamental insights into reality. Whether you look at Buddha or Shankara or Einstein I think you have to say that there’s great power in the mind that few of us realize can be taken advantage of through direct means.”

    No further comment on that one seems necessary, apart from one question: What is Einstein doing in that list?

    “Obviously we have the power to fool ourselves, but if we do, we also have the power to see through our own illusions.”

    This is very reassuring. Could you give some insight on the methodology for achieving this? If it does not exceed the advice to investigate my own consciousness closely and see what I find, don’t bother.

    “I’m not suggesting they [new-born infants and babies] have a fully developed sense of self, only that they are conscious. The brain must develop in order to develop a bodily sense of self, but the basic consciousness behind the body is already there.”

    You have it exactly backwards. They have a bodily sense of self as they are aware of their body in space and time, otherwise they would be unable to grasp your hand, for instance. However, they lack the abstract sense of Self that adults have, which is why they fail the Mirror Test.

    “To a materialist, yes, a computerized car would be considered “conscious” in some rudimentary sense. But to most everyone else it would not be, whereas a baby who can’t even walk would be considered conscious.”

    This is not about aesthetic or metaphysical preferences or anything like this. If you water your requirements for consciousness down to the level of mere bodily awareness in space and time, a machine fulfills them.

    “Again, if the astral soul is wedded to the physical brain and body, it’s going to experience the world through these organs. If they are damaged, our ability to be aware of the world is damaged. [...] In part, because much of our brain is devoted to keeping mystical experiences at bay, so that they do not interfere with our ability to function in the physical world. Drugs that allow us to have mystical experiences function, primarily, by temporarily disrupting, even damaging, the brain, and allowing these mystical functions into the brain, though usually in a rather chaotic manner.”

    These rationalizations would at least make rudimentary sense if you adopted a dualist position. You talk about the physical and the astral forms as if they were real. They are not. If you would take your own model seriously you would have to say that the physical part/aspect/dimension/whatever of your consciousness is somehow wedded to the astral part/aspect/dimension (through consciousness, I presume), somehow resulting in a disturbance of the latter and causing it to perceive the world, which is another part of consciousness, in a distorted manner. As if that was not enough, this whole consciousness with its physical and astral parts and whatnot is itself only a figment/extension/part of the REALLY real World Consciousness Brahman. I look at this mess and can only stand in awe of the power of the human mind to rationalize even the absurd.

    “I don’t find it at all a struggle to answer these questions.”

    Yes, and you obviously believe that it all makes perfect sense too. Your worldview, besides being true and answering all questions, also fits your emotional needs perfectly. What a coincidence.

    “And I don’t think materialism has anything but reductionist answers to these questions that fail to understand or enhance the virtues of consciousness.”

    And here we have one of the core reasons that you reject materialism in favor of your model: because you find it aesthetically and emotionally more appealing. If I may paraphrase from memory: “We are shining beings, Luke, not dead matter.”. Unfortunately, the emotional attractiveness of an explanation has no bearing on its truth.

    “I would suggest the opposite, that science is actually hindered in its growth by materialistic philosophy.”

    Sadly, my impression is that you sincerely believe this, without realizing that adopting your way of thinking would be a deathblow to science in more than one respect.

  211. #213 tabuhan
    May 20, 2008

    Nice Site, Thanks You.. Blogcu

  212. #214 conradg
    May 20, 2008

    Iapetus,

    conradg:”The point here, which I’ve repeated close to a million times, is that consciousness is the primal experience regardless of what content appears in our consciousness, including the content of a so-called “external world”. How can one posit the externality of a world which can only be observed in consciousness?”

    Iapetus: And as I have already pointed out, that is a non sequitur, i.e. a logical fallacy. The premise that all our experiences of an outside, material world presuppose consciousness (which I would dispute anyway, but nevermind) does not logically and necessarily lead to the conclusion that our consciousness PRODUCES this outside world from nothing.

    I have never claimed that consciousness “produces” this “outside world”. I don’t need to theorize about the origin of the world to demonstrate that all evidence for this world appears in consciousness. It’s not an unreasonable hypothesis to say that the world originates in consciousness, but it’s not necessary to even make that suggestion, much less prove it, to demonstrate the primacy of consciousness to all our knowledge of “the world”.

    The same premise would be consistent with the fact that an outside, material world does in fact exist and is more or less accurately reflected in our consciousness.

    No, it isn’t consistent with that, in that there’s no reason consciousness should exist at all in a materialistic universe. Consciousness adds nothing to such a universe, and should be just another process of the physical senses, rather than the subject of them. The subjective nature of consciousness is simply not consistent with an objective, materialistic world. You only say it is consistent because we are self-evidently conscious, and obviously naturally so, and thus you presume that consciousness must be the natural product of a materialistic world. But that’s a tautology. You presume a logical consistency because to argue otherwise would be self-evidently foolish. And yet, materialism in effect must argue otherwise, if consciousness is a material process of the brain and senses. Materialism in effect is arguing that the subject is identical to its own object. Consciousness being the subject, and the body-brain its object. But this is of course logically impossible. In order to short-circuit this logical impossibility, materialism resorts to fancy dodges, such as the “emergent” theory of consciousness, which is another way of waving a magic wand and trying to make all subject-object distinctions disappear.

    This boils down to the fact that while you think materialism is consistent with our experience as subjective beings, it’s simply a logical fallacy which many of us have become attached to through repetition. This involves an emotional attachment to a worldview which seems to take responsibility away from ourselves, and places it on the “great Other” of the wider, objective world. We are very emotionally attached to this notion, because otherwise we have to take responsibility for ourselves in every sense of the word. Instead, the objectivist fallacy allows us to blame an objective God, an objective Devil, an objective evolutionary process, our objective DNA, our objective parents, etc., for all that is wrong in ourselves and the world. To let go of that means that whole world comes crashing down on our shoulders, literally, and we cannot accept that burdern. There’s a tremendous emotional investment in this vision of the world that reinforces itself at every step, whether we are religious or atheistic or mystical. Having no one left to blame makes us feel very much alone and culpable for the state we are in. And very few people are mature enough to accept that much responsibility for themselves.

    conradg: The objectivist conclusion is irrational and not based on evidence, but on some kind of wishful thinking.”

    Iapetus:That last sentence really drips with irony.

    I intended it to be received that way.

    Why is it that religious people so frequently mutate into hyper-scepticists when defending their belief system? I agree, no single person can perceive reality objectively, otherwise the term “objective” would be an oxymoron. However, while our experiences of an outside world and the findings of science that are based on these experiences are not as objective as analytical truths from logic or mathematics, they are based on independent corroboration and in this sense not subjective.

    I am not arguing with that notion of “subjectivity”. I’m arguing that even all of this “scientific activity” occurs in consciousness, every last drop of it. Which means that whatever one concludes scientifically, it is irrational to conclude that consciousness itself is material in nature, or a by-product of material processes. It doesn’t support the notion of an objective world outside of consciousness. It merely says that the physical world that we observe inside our consciousness obeys consistent laws as science has observed them. This in no way invalidates the observations of science. It merely negates the false philosophical attribution of materialism to these observations. It suggests that whatever consciousness actually is, or where it comes from, it is consistent with scientific findings that show consistent results regardless of which conscious individuals observe them. That only shows a universality to our consciousness, not an absence of consciousness in these observations.

    How about this: go atop a 100m high tower and drop a lead ball to the ground, measuring the time it takes. Repeat this 500 times. Ask 500 different people to do it 500 times and collect and compare all results. This is what independent corroboration is all about. I would wager that the results will be nearly identical, as we should expect if they are produced by a reality outside of our consciousness.

    Again, you are falling back on the false notion that I am arguing that each individual’s consciousness is somehow a separate universe unto itself, and that each individual consciousness should have different laws of physics. I am not. That would be an extreme solipsism. We find consistency in the world because our basic consciousness is consistent, even if our physical brains are inconsistent, arising as they do frame the same substratum. If we are to hypothesize that the physical world is itself created out of consciousness, it is logically consistent that every individual consciousness within it would have a consistent experience of the physical world that created them both. In other words, that individual consciousness is just as much a creation as the physical world, the bodies and objects in it, and the relations between them.

    Are these findings also compatible with a “consciousness-only” world? Sure, if you are prepared to include additional explanations as to why some aspects of consciousness (those pertaining to the physical aspect) are replicable indefinitely to near infinite precision while others (those pertaining to the subjective, emotional, transcendent aspect) are vague, diffuse and only in the most general sense alike. As I said, solipsism is not conclusively refutable, but for this and other reasons I do not see it as the most likely model to explain the facts.

    I think those explanations follow quite well. What you seem to ignore, however, is that materialism must also explain these consistencies in the world process as well, rather than just take them for granted, but it does not. Materialism observes various laws, consistencies, etc., but has no explanation for why they are so. Why a third law of thermodynamics? There’s no explanation, just an assumption that it’s a given. My views of primary consciousness, on the other had, allow one to go much deeper and explain why these things appear as they do, as conscious creations with a genuine conscious purpose which can be discovered by delving directly into our own consciousness. Materialism has huge problems explaining anything at all, including the basic question of why is there material at all, rather than nothing? Why is there quantum mechanics at all, such that we should even have quantum fluctuations creating a Big Bang every now and then? And why should any material process produce consciousness at all?

    Simply false. I know your penchant for re-defining terms, but it is non-sensical to label materialism solipsistic. What you presumably have in mind is that both solipsism and materialism are MONISTIC models, i.e. they hold that reality is ultimately based on a single principle.

    Yes, that is what I meant. And by that, I mean that they are both self-referential. Solipsism is the term used to describe a self-referential subjectivity, and in the same but opposite manner materialism is a self-referential objectivity. They both have the same problems in that respect, is all I meant.

    So if everything arises in and is made out of consciousness, could you please name one thing that exists in your model that is different from consciousness?

    Obviously one could not, if by “different” you mean of an entirely different fundamental nature. There is certainly room for all the different appearances of form and structure one finds in the natural world, however.

    To recap: the material world is an aspect of consciousness, while in turn your own consciousness and that of everyone else is in reality a subset of the World Consciousness Brahman. If there is a difference to solipsism in here, I do not see it.

    This is obviously not the standard form of solipsism, which presumes that there are no other minds but one’s own. Instead, this is what might be called “universal solipsism”, which is that all minds are subsets of One Universal Mind. Generally speaking, this is just called “religion” .

    Why do you talk about “our” consciousness? This presupposes a real distinction between your consciousness and mine, a genuine difference. There is none, everything is an aspect of the all-encompassing consciousness of Brahman. It would make as much sense to talk about the individuality of characters in my dreams.

    This depends on the perspective. The sense of difference is only operative on the level at which one examines the self. On one level you are an independent self defined by your body. But break down the body into individual cells, and this falls apart. Break it down to the molecular and atomic levels, and it really falls apart. Rising up, we are part of a family, a town, a state, a country, etc. The individual is a convention of speech and perspective. Likewise with consciousness. It makes sense at a certain level of perspective to speak of ourselves as being different from one another. But go far enough up or down the scale of things and this falls apart. It’s a conditional “difference” therefore, not an absolute. But simply because it is conditional, we can’t say that it is unreal. It’s reality is merely conditional, which is simply how things are. And yes, the individuality of characters in your dreams makes sense at some level, but then breaks down on closer inspection. Just as the individuality of characters on TV shows makes sense at some level, and falls apart on others.

    Of course our experience of physical suffering and pain is unreal, since the physical is an illusion and the individual that experiences it likewise.

    First, I’m not sure how this would be any different in a materialistic model, which doesn’t recognize any ultimate individuality at all, or any reality to our subjective feelings of suffering and pain, which it explains as purely physical phenomena. But the consciousness model does not say that our physical suffering is unreal, only that it occurs in consciousness, and that what makes it so difficult to endure is our ignorant presumption that it is objectively caused. If we understood our physical experience as being primarily an experience of consciousness, we would know better how to deal with it, and overcome it. But by giving up our primary position in consciousness, we consent to a position of irresponsible victimology, in which these things just happen “to” us, as if we are an object of fate rather than the subject who dreams/experiences it. Remember, people in dreams still suffer, sometimes even more so than in the waking state.

    There is simply no need for a theodicy here, reincarnation-based or otherwise, since nobody is really suffering. Some aspects of Brahma’s consciousness have taken on a life of their own, but they ultimately remain part of this consciousness and therefore fictitious nonetheless.

    Yes, ultimately this is true. But one must actually know this directly rather than merely state it as if it were some kind objective truth. The goal then is not one of bringing an end to suffering in the material sense of creating a perfect world in which nothing goes wrong, but of being dis-illusioned of the objective nature of our suffering, and of ourselves as individuals, and finding out who we really are in consciousness, by studying the depth of our own conscious being. If we find out who we are then the superficial and material aspects of our suffering no longer disturb the deeper understanding of our real being.

    Many metaphysical models are “consistent” with quantum mechanics. That is not the point.

    It’s the only point I was trying to make.

    I would still like to know what the theory of relativity has to do with consciousness.

    Relativity theory is based on the idea that the material universe looks different based on the position and velocity of different observers. It introduces the notion than observations are not absolute, but relative. I would say that has a lot to do with consciousness. So would most of the avante-garde artists of Einstein’s time, who seem to have already been aware of this transformation of perspective at the same time it was occurring to Einstein and other scientists.

    Quantum mechanics does not in any way, shape or form require consciousness to work, neither from a mathematical nor from a physical point of view.

    It requires observers to be postulated, whose observations collapse the wave functions and thus affect the material universe. It makes for some really interesting results, such as not doing experiments in order to prove various conclusions. It paints a very strange picture of the universe indeed. If you want to pretend it’s consistent with materialism, fine. It just seems like a stretch to me.

    I have no idea what a genuinely materialistic model is nor what we should expect it to look like, and neither have you. You are merely trying to inject some mysticism into what you perceive to be an appropriate gap.

    If you don’t know what a genuinely materialistic model is, then how can you argue for materialism? If you are skeptical of the consciousness model and try to poke holes in it, why not do the same for materialism, and see which model holds up best? But if you don’t even have a model for materialism, I guess I can understand why you don’t. It just seems inconsistent. And I’m not trying to inject mysticism into the gaps, I’m merely saying that mysticism predicts that there will be insurmountable gaps in any materialistic model. Not just gaps that we haven’t yet filled in, but gaps which are simply impossible to ever fill in, that the materialistic model will inevitably break down at a certain level of find detail, and never find the actual “material” that the world is made out of. What is the basic “material” of the physical universe, after all? Quarks? What are they made of? Energy? How insubstantial are these “things”? Shouldn’t we find some kind of actual, basic “material” at the root of a materialistic world? And yet, we seem not to. Things get fuzzier and fuzzier, more and more abstract. More than one particle physicist has turned to mystical cosmologies as a consequence of studying these things.

    If I were to argue like you in defense of materialism, I would say that I would expect consciousness to play a part in this since it is a purely material phenomenon and so a consciousness that influences reality is nothing but one cogwheel grasping into another. But I will not argue in this way because it would be pure speculation.

    Well, I wish you would argue this way, because at least that would make sense. The problem is, you would then have to come up with the “material” behind materialism. You would have to come up with some kind of material that is consciousness, something physically linked to consciousness as an actual phenomena such that it can actually fit into the cogs and wheels of the brain and nervous system. If consciousness is material in nature, and it actually influences reality, it should be detectable in that manner. If not, the give up on materialism as a model for reality. That doesn’t mean you have to suddenly believe in reincarnation or chant mantras. But you do have to find some other model for reality.

    It should tell you that this is patently ludicrous. According to this logic, we should not be able to explain the sense of sight using visual means, since we are investigating with our sense of sight the very thing we purport to explain.

    But sight is an objective, material method for gathering sensory date. It isn’t the very means by which we evaluate the data. A better example is an AI computer program that analyzes visual data. We cannot use that computer program to evaluate its own effectiveness, because that creates a logical feedback loop. We cannot use a computer program created by the original program to do that either, because any faults in the original program will get translated to its progeny. We would have to use a computer program created entirely independent of the first one to fault-check it. But with consciousness, we don’t have the option of creating something entirely independent. We are always in the position of our original consciousness, trying to evaluate everything that appears in our consciousness, using our own conscious intelligence as the guide. We are always in the subject position, and we can’t step outside of that to evaluate it. We can run tests on brain function, but we can’t step out of our consciousness, look back at it, and test and evaluate it. We can’t see the very thing we are, neither visually nor even metaphorically, because sight removed from its subjective basis is an objective function.

    The fact that our tools for investigating consciousness are intertwined with consciousness has absolutely no a priori bearing on the success of the endeavor.

    You assert this as if it were self-evident, but you have no basis for this assertion, other than that your entire argument collapses without it. Would you ever argue this for any other phenomena? If the study of bacterial cultures was constantly being contaminated by your own bacteria, would you consider its conclusion valid? Of course not. And this situation is even worse than that, because you can’t quarantine your own consciousness. You can’t even “see” it. It can’t be objectively studied at all, because it’s an entirely subjective phenomena. You can study the brain and nervous system, but you can’t study consciousness at all. Even if you presume it is material in nature, you can’t actually find this “material” that is consciousness. That isn’t simply a solipsism, it’s just reality. If it suggests that there is something solipsistic about reality, then too bad. We must have made it this way for a reason. Best to find out what that reason is than try to argue it out of existence.

    It is irrelevant if the results of neuroscience are “compatible” with your model. Any metaphysical model can be made compatible with the facts of science if you are prepared to include enough hand-waving and ad-hoc rationalizations. The results of science are supportive of the materialistic model because they were compiled on its premises, i.e. that what we perceive as mind and its functions has its basis in and is produced by a real, physical organ called brain. Furthermore, there is as of yet no data that contradicts that model.

    You are arguing a tautology. First, you assume materialism, then confine the data to physical facts of a material nature, then say we have no data that contradicts the model. Not very shocking, except, of course, that we do have data that contradicts the model. Consciousness itself is the data that contradicts the model, because the materialistic model doesn’t account for the existence of consciousness. It admits it’s existence because it has to, but it can’t account for it. It can’t even deal with consciousness itself, because it isn’t a material fact, so we can’t include it in the model we are studying, which is, oddly enough, consciousness. So consciousness gets excluded from the study of consciousness.

    As I’ve said maybe a thousand times, the primary thing we have is consciousness. Everything we know is built from that base. That’s not a solipsism, that’s a fact you haven’t denied. Consciousness is the very thing that we are operating from when we do science to study consciousness – or anything else for that matter. To study consciousness as if it were an objective phenomena is to deny the reality of what we are, and make it into an object of study rather than the subject that studies. If it were something like sight, fine, but it isn’t like sight. It is the very “observer” who looks out through the eyes, through the sense, that not only thinks thoughts, but observes the thinking of thoughts. It is always there, observing every and all phenomena. Ask yourself whatever object you may be observing, “Who am I?”. If a thought arises, ask yourself “who is observing this thought”​? If emotions rise up, ask yourself, “To whom is this emotion arising” You will notice if you do this that you are always the subject of every experience, every observation. Trying to attribute this observer to any “thing” being observed is putting the cart before the horse. This is not hard to see.

    How can the reincarnation model recognize the physical reality of the brain when it denies that anything like physical reality exists?

    No, it doesn’t deny the reality of the physical brain. It says that the physical arises in consciousness, as does the astral, and that the astral soul links with the physical brain in the process of reincarnation. It merely says that the physical brain has linkages beyond the physical, which is possible because both the physical and the astral arise in consciousness, and thus have many, many potential links.

    According to you, the physical aspect of consciousness somehow exerts an influence on the rest of consciousness when prodded (by other aspects of consciousness, I presume, since the physical is an illusion), while this physical aspect is simultaneously wedded to the astral aspect of consciousness or something like this. It almost gives me a headache trying to think in such a convoluted fashion.

    I’ll go into a little more detail. The physical body exists autonomously, and has a life and even an awareness of its own. Without a soul, it would live, eat, procreate, and survive just as any other creature, though obviously more complex and higher on the food chain than most. Its consciousness would be just as much a part of “Brahman” as anything else in the universe, and it might even have religious intuitions about that. God really knows. Likewise, the astral “soul” is a body made out of astral matter, with it’s own properties and characteristics. These souls have evolved and adapted an ability to link up with human physical bodies in a mutually beneficial fashion, such that the soul is able to grow a connection to the human physical body through its “pranic body”, which is a level of the astral that is really almost coincident with the physical life. The pranic body from the time of conception grows in coincidence with the physical form. The astral soul is able to grow connections to this pranic body, even while the physical body is growing in the womb. It is through the pranic body that the astral soul makes its connections to the nervous system, and over time, it’s experience is subsumed in that. The physical creature allows this to happen, because it has itself become adapted to this symbiotic relationship over time, in part one might say through design, in part through adapative evolution. The physical creature gains an intelligent partner in its struggle for survival, and the astral soul is able to live out its own desires and dreams in a physical form, rather than in a merely mental one. Yes, this ought to give you a “headache”. It actually does hurt a bit, and the ability to grow and maintain these connections in the brain are in many ways the best measure of our success as human beings. If we don’t grow these connections properly, or we abuse them, or just irresponsibly exploit or ignore them, various pathologies can result.

    But let’s not pretend that this is really all that convoluted in the overall scheme of things. Studying even the basic physiology of any living creature is immensely complex, and occurs on so many interconnected levels as to make the mind spin. One would expect astral physiology to be at least as complex as physical physiology.

    Yes, this is what I expected. It is the explanation that follows logically from solipsism, and it conveniently is of the one-size-fits-all, compatible with anything, irrefutable variety.

    These kinds of responses remind me of the first Terminator movie, when the young hero sent back to save Sarah Connor is arrested and tells his story to the police. They all amusedly laugh at how well this guy has created a logically irrefutable story that has all these conveniently created answers to every question. They of course dismiss it as crazy. And then the Terminator attacks and kills them all. The Terminator, of course, is a literary metaphor for materialism, the golem-machine that has no soul, no consciousness, no living feeling for the beauty of consciousness as we experience it. Some people would like to think that materialism can explain everything, but their own philosophy is devouring and killing them without their even knowing it.

    What is Einstein doing in that list?

    I put Einstein on the list because, unlike most scientists, he didn’t actually base his theory of relativity on previous models or data or anything much like that. Instead, as he described it, he started with his own mind, and tried to think of the perfect way for the universe to be, if he could create it himself. And from that approach came the whole theory of relativity, special and general. It’s almost unique in the history of science for someone to actually work that way. Most people who think that way end up as crazy cranks, or religious mystics. But somehow, Einstein found a way to make it work. I’m not sure he’s a good role model for most scientists to follow, but it worked for him. So I’d put him in that rare category of men who study their own mind for insight into how the world works.

    This is very reassuring. Could you give some insight on the methodology for achieving this? If it does not exceed the advice to investigate my own consciousness closely and see what I find, don’t bother.

    I could certainly go on for quite a while elaborating upon this, but I think it would be best for you to do the research yourself. Read some Buddhism, some Advaita, some Ramana Maharshi, etc. It would involve meditation and study of a kind I’m not sure you’re inclined towards, however. You never know, though.

    You have it exactly backwards. They have a bodily sense of self as they are aware of their body in space and time, otherwise they would be unable to grasp your hand, for instance. However, they lack the abstract sense of Self that adults have, which is why they fail the Mirror Test.

    I think that the bodily sense of self grows with the body. Yes, they have a nascient sense of bodily self as infants, but not much of one. It grows with the body, even all through one’s life. The old man is not the same bodily self as the young boy. The abstract sense of self is merely a reflection t of the body and brain developing higher functions. The consciousness behind these remains the same, however, and the astral self wedded to one body will see and respond to things differently than another astral self would. Even identical twins develop distinct personalities and motivations.

    These rationalizations would at least make rudimentary sense if you adopted a dualist position.

    In relation to the body, I do adopt a dualistic position. In relation to ultimate reality, I am a non-dualist. This is not a contradiction.

    You talk about the physical and the astral forms as if they were real. They are not. If you would take your own model seriously you would have to say that the physical part/aspect/dimension/whatever of your consciousness is somehow wedded to the astral part/aspect/dimension (through consciousness, I presume), somehow resulting in a disturbance of the latter and causing it to perceive the world, which is another part of consciousness, in a distorted manner. As if that was not enough, this whole consciousness with its physical and astral parts and whatnot is itself only a figment/extension/part of the REALLY real World Consciousness Brahman. I look at this mess and can only stand in awe of the power of the human mind to rationalize even the absurd.

    You have narrowed things down to much to the individual mind, which is not the place within which the world-appearance arises. The individual mind itself arises from the deeper consciousness. It is also a function that we observe from the position of consciousness. You seem a bit overwhelmed by all these levels of consciousness, as if it’s too complex to be anything but absurd, when it’s more a function of your just not being familiar with these ideas. Of course there are many more complexities to scientific theories of the universe like string theory which are far more headache inducing, so I don’t think that’s a function that is associated with absurdity, unless you regard string theory as absurd also.

    The basic model you try to describe really works the other way. First, there is non-dual Infinite Consciousness, Brahman. From that comes dualism, the illusory division of Consciousness from its own Energy. This separated consciousness devolves into the “observer”, first as a transcendental “Witness”, and then through various dimensional perturbations, from the most subtle to the most gross. In tandem, energy devolves and divides as well into various realms and forms, from the most subtle to the most gross. By the time we get to the physical world, consciousenss has been “reduced” by almost endless divisions to the simple awareness of a mind, and energy has been reduced to the simple form of a body. Yet every conscious being exists on all these levels simultaneously, but remains ignorant of most of them. Worst of all, he feels separate from his own form, his own energy. The process of becoming “ensouled” is just how we have evolved as human beings in the midst of this madness. Other beings and organisms have evolved differently. You could say that all observe the world in a disturbed and “unreal” manner, in that they observe it as being separate from themselves, and they crave to re-unite with it. But the source of the disturbance is not found in the results of that disturbance, but at the source, which is most primal. Reincarnation is not the answer, and I don’t offer it as one. It’s just a description of a part of the chain that we experience. The solution comes in penetrating the illusions of separation in our fundamental consciousness, which is not “far away” as we think.

    Yes, and you obviously believe that it all makes perfect sense too. Your worldview, besides being true and answering all questions, also fits your emotional needs perfectly. What a coincidence.

    As does your world view and the answers you have come up with. I think it is so with everyone. The real question is whether we have inspected our own emotional needs sufficiently to understand why we are attracted to the world views that we are. We will each have to answer that question ourselves.

    To be honest, my own world view doesn’t answer all my questions. I am still asking many, many questions, and changing the answers I come up with. I’ve just given you a brief description of just a part of the views I currently find most plausible and true. Ask me in a few years, and the answers could be quite different. I hope yours will be also.

    conradg: “And I don’t think materialism has anything but reductionist answers to these questions that fail to understand or enhance the virtues of consciousness.”

    Iapetus: And here we have one of the core reasons that you reject materialism in favor of your model: because you find it aesthetically and emotionally more appealing. If I may paraphrase from memory: “We are shining beings, Luke, not dead matter.”. Unfortunately, the emotional attractiveness of an explanation has no bearing on its truth.

    This isn’t an aesthetic reason for rejecting materialism, it’s a practical one. Materialism, as I said, doesn’t offer a sound way to explore and make use of the great capacities of consciousness, and to enhance its virtues. If it did, I wouldn’t have any serious problems with it. On a basic level, I could really give a rat’s ass about philosophy. I’m interested in direct knowledge and practical applications of it. I appreciate guys like Sam Harris who can explore the mystical without being a theist, but I wouldn’t call him a materialist either. I think he’s agnostic on that issue, which is fine, but frankly not very convincing. And yes indeed, we are shining beings, not dead matter. The truth of that statement is something that most of us have to wrestle with our whole lives. I’m not suggesting one merely believe in it without wrestling with it first. And while emotion isn’t a reason to believe in something, it’s not immaterial either. One has to resolve emotion down to a useful core, which isn’t possible through materialistic methods, it’s only possible by dealing with emotion in consciousness, and refining it using the philosopher’s stone, not cold material methods. That refined stone of true emotion is what will take you past the materialist delusion to the place where our shine comes from.

    BTW, I’m not sure we have all that much more to say without endlessly repeating ourselves. Let’s not go over the same ground again and again. If you have something you want to elaborate on, or something more specific to address, fine, but let’s get annoyed at each other simply because we have very different points of view. I’ve enjoyed this quite a lot, and hope you have too. Obviously we disagree about a great deal, but that’s apparently how consciousness works! Vive le difference!

  213. #215 shortie
    May 21, 2008

    conradg, who thinks he sees into his inaptly named subconscious, does so, paradoxically, because he can’t see it at all, as it has told him there is nothing in his”mind” except the part that all the rest must see as well. He is at a loss to understand why everyone else has found a way of deducing that there is an unconscious that is the source of all our emotions, “gut” decisions, sensory input examination, dreams, and in the end, all our final decisions.
    When his unconscious talks, he thinks it’s his spirit guiding him through a universe of consciousness. He talks of logical fallacies, when he hasn’t a clue as to the nature of valid logical inference. In fact he recognizes inference as conscious truthiness, its validity confirmed a priori.
    He actually thinks he knows how Einstein thought, as he sees himself with a similar facility for an intuitive grasp of the makeup of the universe. Hilarious and pitiful at the same time. An example of self-delusion that should go down in the annals of cyberspace as seminal.

  214. #216 fongooly
    May 21, 2008

    Shortie,
    You make it sound like he has a lesion in the prefrontal cortex area. If so, there’s little that can be done to change his thought processes by an appeal to the rational and/or executive functions of that part of the brain.

  215. #217 JimV
    May 21, 2008

    Conradg’s argument, as I see it, rests on his inability to accept that the state and process we call consciousness can emerge from purely materialistic brains and nervous systems. This is a given for him, and he accepts all evidence that seems to support it and ignores or attempts to rationalize all evidence which doesn’t.

    As I have said before, none of us is born knowing how this universe works. Gravity could conceptually have as well been repulsive as attractive. The only way to get some understanding with which to guide ourselves is to look at the evidence. (And Einstein was well aware of lots of experimental evidence when developing his theories, and had his theories confirmed by experimental evidence, such as the precession of Mercury.)

    Facts:

    We see a wide variation of cognitive abilities in the animal kingdom, which correlates to the size and complexity of the brain and nervous system.

    Children of our own species show increased cognitive ability as their brains develop physically up through their teenage years.

    Along with cognitive ability, overall scores on lists of tests for consciousness (as listed in a post over at the Developing Intelligence blog cited above, e.g. the mirror test) also increase with brain size and development.

    Injuries to brains have been observed to cause changes in cognitive skills and personality.

    The number of neurons and neural connections in a rat’s brain is far beyond the capability of any current computer system to simulate. However, small parts of a rat’s brain have been simulated on a large super-computer.

    The field of neuroscience has made predictions based on the lack of any brain/mind duality and had those predictions confirmed by experimental results (examples at Neurologica Blog, e.g. fNMR scans show brain activity prior to “conscious” decision making).

    No means of thought transference other than physical signals has ever been discovered, and no physical means by which “soul” information could be transmitted or stored outside of brains seems possible within the physical laws of energy and force which our experiments have shown govern this universe.

    Looking “deep within ourselves” to gain an understanding of mental activity is impossible because there are no nerves which monitor brain function.

    Unlike the above, “data” on NDE, ESP, etc. cannot be distinguished from coincidence, delusion, or fakery by either non-fake-able evidence (such as predictions of messages to be found hidden in ancient structures, placed there during past lives), or by replication under controlled, blinded experimental conditions.

    Although I might take some comfort from the notion of having a soul by which my personality might survive the destruction of my brain, this hypothesis seems unnecessary to me (in addition to being unproven), given what I have learned so far. There is always the chance that some new data will change the way I understand the universe, but until then I make predictions to guide myself through the future based on what I have seen so far, such predictions as:

    Like Houdini, I will never have any further contact with anyone after my brain permanently ceases to function (a relief to some).

    At some point, if humans don’t destroy themselves first, there will be computers powerful enough to simulate human neural structures. These computers will then be able to pass all the tests we ourselves pass for the existence of consciousness.

    Do I understand in detail how this thing called “consciousness” emerges from the interactions of billions of neurons? No, and still less do I understand how gravity emerges; nor can Conradg explain to me how Brahma or whatever drives his process of reincarnation emerged; and a troop of chimpanzees around a smoldering log after a lightning strike will never figure out either electricity or the process of combustion. Brain, please give me the humility to accept the universe as it is, whether I understand it or not.

  216. #218 windy
    May 21, 2008

    When his unconscious talks, he thinks it’s his spirit guiding him through a universe of consciousness.

    Are you saying that his mind is bicameral? :)

  217. #219 shortie
    May 21, 2008

    It’s bipolaroid-cameral.

  218. #220 JimCH
    May 21, 2008

    Are you saying that his mind is bicameral?

    I bet this depends on whether or not conradg considers his spirit part of his mind. He probably does & maybe he’s said, but if he’s not going to make any attempt at concision then it’s difficult to justify spending the time to wade through his cosmic manifesto.

    conradg…
    When you state that you’ve mentioned something “a million times” you’re not the only one who’s noticed this. If you have to mention something “a million times” it might be because the idea isn’t being bought, or the argument isn’t being sufficiently made. If the idea is not understood, expect someone to say so.

  219. #221 Iapetus
    May 22, 2008

    I agree that this dicussion seems to have run its course. I guess neither of us seriously expected to persuade or be persuaded of the opposing point of view. Since a detailed response to all points would be in nobody’s interest, I will only touch on the issues that really stuck out for me and/or where I think your argumentation is most clearly lacking.

    “No, it isn’t consistent with that, in that there’s no reason consciousness should exist at all in a materialistic universe. Consciousness adds nothing to such a universe, and should be just another process of the physical senses, rather than the subject of them. The subjective nature of consciousness is simply not consistent with an objective, materialistic world.”

    This is the assertion you repeat again and again without ever conclusively demonstrating why this should be so. Furthermore, in this particular case it is not even relevant, since the argument I made simply stated that the premise that your awareness of an outside world rests on consciousness is consistent with the conclusion that an outside world exists and is reflected in your consciousness. It says nothing about whether this outside world produces your consciosness, as well. If you wanted to rule this out, however, you would have to absolutely proof materialism false.

    “In order to short-circuit this logical impossibility, materialism resorts to fancy dodges, such as the “emergent” theory of consciousness, which is another way of waving a magic wand and trying to make all subject-object distinctions disappear.”

    That booming noise was my Irony-Meter exploding. It is really rich that you of all people, who is wielding the Mother of All Magic Wands inscribed “CONSCIOUSNESS”, would accuse other people of doing so.

    “Materialism observes various laws, consistencies, etc., but has no explanation for why they are so. Why a third law of thermodynamics? There’s no explanation, just an assumption that it’s a given. My views of primary consciousness, on the other had, allow one to go much deeper and explain why these things appear as they do, as conscious creations with a genuine conscious purpose which can be discovered by delving directly into our own consciousness.”

    This sort of “explanation” is scientifically worthless as it can not be falsified and predicts nothing that is empirically testable. You are not explaining anything, you are merely grafting your consciousness-based ontology onto everything and call it an explanation.

    “If you don’t know what a genuinely materialistic model is, then how can you argue for materialism? If you are skeptical of the consciousness model and try to poke holes in it, why not do the same for materialism, and see which model holds up best? But if you don’t even have a model for materialism, I guess I can understand why you don’t. It just seems inconsistent.”

    I will let you in on a secret: I am no die-hard materialist of the sort you probably imagine, since I find the term not that useful because we do not even know what “matter” really is. I only argued in favor of materialism here because as I see it even the most naive materialism has tons more evidential support going for it than your introspection-derived metaphysical flights of fancy, which are propped up by cobbled-together parts of Eastern Mysticism.

    If I would want to label myself, it would be a skeptical fallibilist and a naturalist. I try to go where scientific evidence leads me. If we ever have reliable indications of a soul, a mind independent of brain, ghosts, you name it, I will incorporate it into my map of reality. Until reliable evidence is in, I remain skeptical.

    “You are arguing a tautology. First, you assume materialism, then confine the data to physical facts of a material nature, then say we have no data that contradicts the model. Not very shocking, except, of course, that we do have data that contradicts the model. Consciousness itself is the data that contradicts the model, because the materialistic model doesn’t account for the existence of consciousness. It admits it’s existence because it has to, but it can’t account for it. It can’t even deal with consciousness itself, because it isn’t a material fact, so we can’t include it in the model we are studying, which is, oddly enough, consciousness.”

    Again, a full account of consciousness is currently an explanatory gap for materialism. Saying it refutes this model is begging the question. Despite all your rhetoric, you have not provided any cogent argument to bolster this assertion. What we have here is basically an argument from ignorance, hidden under layers of verbosity. You believe that it is impossible, therefore it is.

    Science is not confined in its investigation to “material” things, whatever you mean by that. It can study processes and emergent phenomena, such as those we correlate with being alive and being conscious. Furthermore, scientific enquiry does not only consist of passively studying things. It also incorporates e.g. modelling and simulations. Efforts are currently underway to simulate simple neural functions in mammals. These are the first baby steps towards a whole new understanding of cognitive functions. Will we ever be able to simulate an entire human brain with all its higher cognitive activities including consciousness? I have no idea, and neither have you. But your arm-chair reasoning is certainly not sufficient to rule it out.

    “To be honest, my own world view doesn’t answer all my questions. I am still asking many, many questions, and changing the answers I come up with. I’ve just given you a brief description of just a part of the views I currently find most plausible and true. Ask me in a few years, and the answers could be quite different.”

    I really have trouble believing this. I can imagine that your reincarnation-theory gets modified here and there, but your basic worldview is so thoroughly shielded from the realm of empirical falsifiability as to relieve you from ever having to basically revise it. But as they say, hope springs eternal.

    So in order to end this on a happy note, I would say that overall I enjoyed this exchange for the opportunity to once again realize how differently we can see the world.

    Wish you well.

  220. #222 baboo
    May 22, 2008

    Hope springs eternal as the genesis of mythology run amok.

  221. #223 conradg
    May 22, 2008

    Iapetus,

    I too have enjoyed our exchange. For what it’s worth, I have sensed that you aren’t a rock-bottom materialist, but have only been arguing that side of the equation because you think it at least makes more sense than mine. I’m glad to hear you confirm it.

    Although I’ve tried to offer a rather open-ended alternative to materialism in terms of reincarnation and non-dualism, as I’ve stated many times, my arguments against materialism don’t require proof of any alternative. My ideas about reincarnation and so forth could well be entirely wrong. I don’t think they are, but I would definitely state they are very likely wrong to some serious extent. As I’ve said, I really am just cobbling together the best ideas I’ve come across with a mix of skepticism and personal bias. I continue to change my general and specific ideas about these things. But you are right that it’s unlikely I will trash the whole thing unless very compelling evidence arises to contradict it. I don’t pretend to be purely objective and founded in an absolute reality. I don’t form all my ideas about the universe from scientific studies. Science is a work in progress, whereas reality is already complete. I don’t think science has even come close to figuring out a true picture of reality, and thus I don’t think it makes sense to use it to draw metaphysical conclusions about anything. But I understand that you still think it is better than the alternatives. As deeply flawed as the alternatives are, I still disagree on that count. The evidence of my own conscious experience simply counts for more to me than scientific studies do in this area.

    The “gaps” in materialism I’ve pointed to are a lot more serious than you’ve acknowledged in this debate. I think they account for why you can’t even consider yourself a materialist, which to suggests they are a lot more serious to you than the gaps, say, in evolutionary theory. I would take it that despite those gaps, you have a basic faith that evolutionary theory is true, and the gaps will be filled, whereas I don’t sense that about you in relation to materialism. I can understand why you don’t think reincarnation is the best way to fill those gaps, which is why I haven’t pushed those ideas very hard, but I think you understand the gaps are not very easily filled by materialism itself. As you say, we don’t even know what matter is, what is “material” about it. I was just thinking about that this morning, and I’m glad you said it first, or you might have disagreed with me!

    Most of my arguments against materialism have been directed at the fundamental flaws in its outlook, which are more than mere “gaps” of evidence. I’ve rested my main argument in the self-evident reality of our own personal existence resting upon consciousness, and not the material dimension of the brain or body. I suppose I could summarize my argument against materialism by saying that it is an attempt to deny us our own personhood by objectifying it as an outgrowth of the body, rather than seeing the body as an outgrowth of our personhood, our being. The question of who we are is not answered by looking at our bodies or brains, and those who think it is end up going down a path that is in denial of our conscious natures as spiritual beings. There are real consequences to such a path. If I am arguing in favor of any agenda here, it is merely for an openness to questioning that path, and seeing that it has some real and terrible liabilities associated with it.

    I am arguing instead for a path that puts our own consciousness in the primary position, not “material”. This is not an anti-science approach, but it’s not an approach that allows science to be the final or only arbiter of truth and reality. I understand that you like to proceed based on evidence, and as I’ve said, the primary evidence to consider is our own conscious existence as it simply is, not as we might try to “explain” it through material processes. You are right that the approach of directly examining our own consciousness is not a scientific approach. I am simply suggesting that this doesn’t make it inauthentic. Quite the contrary, it relies upon the only real arbiter of authenticity we have, which is our own consciousness. To devalue our own consciousness at the expense of an external “reality” leaves us denuded of the very power that makes us living, authonomous beings. It takes away our own conscious responsibility for ourselves and gives it to external forces that we are at the mercy of, and even dependent upon for our very existence as conscious beings. At some point, it’s important to consider whether this accurate describes our true position in the universe. All I’m asking is that you have an open mind in relation to all that.

    Again, I’ve enjoyed this, and thanks for all your input and skepticism. There’s probably not much more to say about this. Life beckons.

  222. #224 baboo
    May 22, 2008

    conradg writes: “You are right that the approach of directly examining our own consciousness is not a scientific approach. I am simply suggesting that this doesn’t make it inauthentic. Quite the contrary, it relies upon the only real arbiter of authenticity we have, which is our own consciousness.”

    Except that the real arbiters of all human decision making are our unconscious calculating mechanisms which compare what we hope is true with whatever evidence that favors the alternative, and if our hopes are strong enough, meaning also that our fears in the absence of hope are equally strong, we will discount all evidence that diminishes our expectations accordingly.

    And in severe cases, evidenced by the type of extreme defensiveness conradg has exhibited, the person won’t acknowledge that there are any unconscious mechanisms at work at all, because he has been taught by spiritual agencies how to recognize them, and in the attempt, has seen past any barriers that might otherwise have stood in the way of total self-awareness.

    He then asks others to have a mind as open as he has found his own to be. He is like the man who was given a key that he was told opens all the many rooms in the building from the outside, when in fact at least half the rooms could only be opened from the inside. The man therefor concludes that if what appeared to be a door could not be unlocked, there as no room behind it. When the man slept, the” spirits” living in those room came out and whispered in his ear. They told him to never try to look for the hidden nooks in his cranny again.

  223. #225 conradg
    May 22, 2008

    Baboo,

    “Except that the real arbiters of all human decision making are our unconscious calculating mechanisms which compare what we hope is true with whatever evidence that favors the alternative, and if our hopes are strong enough, meaning also that our fears in the absence of hope are equally strong, we will discount all evidence that diminishes our expectations accordingly.”

    Are you saying that even scientists are ruled by the unconscious when developing their theories? If so, why should it be trusted?

  224. #226 baboo
    May 22, 2008

    conradg asks, “Are you saying that even scientists are ruled by the unconscious when conradg asks, “Are you saying that even scientists are ruled by the unconscious when developing their theories? ”
    I am saying exactly that, as scientists such as Freud (who has been called the biologist of the mind) were primarily responsible for scientists in general acknowledging that the subconscious not only exists, but is essential to our intuitive ability to form hypotheses to begin with. And Freud was also a philosopher and understood the nature of intuition in that connection, and that all scientific hypotheses were philosophical in nature, but scientific because of being fashioned by the rational part of our brains to be testable propositions.
    This testability was consciously intended to to sort out, as much as possible, the effects of unconscious bias that we all have – both heritable and cultural – from the more valid inferences that we necessarily use in all logical systems, and which themselves operate as fodder for our unconscious calculations.

    The attempt at classifying logical fallacy was also done for purposes of assigning validity to unconscious inference (of which the Greeks were not unaware, if only as a mystery that needed to be solved).

    Does this make the scientific process trustworthy, especially as compared to the metaphysical? Since both processes arise from the unconscious, and one has obtained results from application that the other has not, and those results can be expected to consistently occur in a reliable fashion, then by any objective or objective standard, scientific methodology is to be trusted.
    I won’t fall into the trap of claiming it is the king of the trustworthy, as it doesn’t claim to arrive at any answers to a certainty, and thus has no designs on the throne that the religious theories now claim title to.

  225. #227 baboo
    May 22, 2008

    A few typos above, including saying “objective or objective” when I meant “objective or subjective.”

  226. #228 conradg
    May 23, 2008

    I wasn’t thinking of psychologists as scientists, but had hard scientists on my mind. Are you saying that physicists base their decisions and conclusions on unconscious emotional patterns?

    Regarding the issue of conscious/subconscious/unconscious, I think we are using different meanings of the term “consciousness”. I use the term to refer to the fundamental, numinous experience of self-awareness, of being aware of things in a self-aware field of self-evident personal existence. Obviously the unconscious and sub-conscious are a part of that total “consciousness”. I’m not merely refering to the “conscious mind” in the psychological sense, but it the sense of being an observer of whatever content arises within, or affects our consciousness in any way. In other words, a memory is not something we are conscious of until we recall it. It resides in the “unconscious” part of our consciousness.

    Now, when I say that even all our experience resides in consciousness, the implication is that not just memories, but the actual “exterior” events of the world also exist in consciousness. We are simply “unconscious” of them for the moment, in a similar way that we are “unconscious” of memories when not consciously bringing them to the for. THe process of “bringing to the fore” of our consciousness elements of the world is more strictly mechanical – we tell our bodies to walk around, get in a car, call somone on the phone, read the internet, etc. When something comes to our attention through one of these means, it could be said that it “emerged from our unconscious”, just as a memory recalled does, though by a different mechanism.

    If you treat both our inner memories and states of mind and thoughts, and our outer perceptions of “objective” events, as phenomena arising in consciousness, abeit by different mechanisms, then you begin to see that the world can be understood as a phenomenon in consciousness, and can be studied this way.

    The key to consciousness is that it is the “observer” of any content that arises within its field of attention. This observer is always present in every experience. It is “who” we are. The objects of attention constantly change, but the observer behind all attention remains constant. We think different thoughts all the time, and we see and sense different things all the time. Each of these appear as objects within our consciousness. Even the “subconscious” and “unconscious” appear as objects, or classifications of objects. But the subject to whom they appear does not change. To say that the unconscious controls the decisions of the conscious mind does not change this dynamic in any fundamental way, because they each appear in consciousness, even if subtly. A desire, an impulse, an emotion, even if not cognized and analyzed by the mind, is still directly experienced by the mind, and thus it takes the form of a “thought”, an appearance in the mind that is a part of our direct perception. Whether we conceptually understand it, or try even to hide it, the evidence of even “unconscious” motivations controlling our appearance is still evidence of a process in consciousness, not of “mere matter” in the brain doing its biochemical dance, since even “mere matter” is arising in our consciousness, unconsciously or not.

  227. #229 baboo
    May 23, 2008

    Freud WAS a biologist. That’s a hard science. And yes, physicists form hypotheses in the same way, with the same intuitive process, as any other scientist, or other human. And their unconscious calculative apparatus always participates in the final examination of the utility of their decisions. This is how we receive and evaluate information, how we select it for short or long term memory, how we constantly fit it into patterns, how, in short, we learn, and how our apparatus, if we have a bit of luck along the way, is able to properly train itself. Being exposed to scientific principles at a young age is part of that luck. Being exposed to false promises of the certain rewards for magical thinking is the bad part of that luck.
    What you have said in the end about mere matter arising in our consciousness, unconsciously or not, is pure nonsense. Consciousness by your all encompassing definitions becomes a meaningless concept..
    Freud thought at first we used the unconscious as a place to hide unwanted thoughts that we had once been conscious of. He was shown to be wrong, and we have learned that the subconscious processes had never been “meant” to be otherwise. We arose from “lower” forms of life, and only the interface where the senses stimulated emotional responses from “observations” were conscious (yes, animals have emotions). The calculating processes that turned all this input into a plan of action, and gave it the go ahead were unconscious. The action itself then started a repeat of process of interfacing with the rest of nature, and being conscious of the sensations involved. And round and round we went.
    And so it goes with sentient beings, such as ourselves, with additional layers of brain material to process abstract concepts and calculative processes to assist in longer range predictions. And to utilize language appropriate to communicate these abstract concepts.
    So is there a line in evolution where there is no language and no communication and no related consciousness? Probably not. Is there a line where the unconscious processes have disappeared in higher life forms? Definitely not. Can we monitor those processes in any way that can be legitimately called more than an awareness that feelings are being generated? No. Can we tell from those feelings the nature of the memories and instinctive strategies that generated those feelings? No, and when we think we can, we are always basing that belief on the illusion that any inference must be at least close to accurate. and we are most often wrong again.
    I could go on, but what would be the point. You either would have gotten this long ago, or you simply don’t want to deal with the emotional consequences of realizing you’ve not seen any of the things you have long thought to be supportive of your world view..

  228. #230 ctw
    May 23, 2008

    “only the interface where the senses stimulated emotional responses from “observations” were conscious”

    “an awareness that feelings are being generated”

    All you just wrote is consistent with my (relatively ignorant) view of the process. But I don’t understand the sense in which you are using “emotional” and “feelings” in this quote. Could you elaborate?

    In such discussions there is often a dichotomy, explicit or implicit, between “emotional/subjective” responses to stimuli and “unemotional/objective” responses. My simple “stimuli sensor/sensation processor/memory-based environment modeling” view of the process is not sophisticated enough to make this distinction. Any suggestion for refinement would be appreciated.

    (An emotional-conscious vs unemotional-subconscious dichotomy seems implicit in your comment, but if that’s intended, I don’t why – unless you are using “emotional” in some sense other than the one of common speech. Eg, I seem to be quite conscious of both the sensation of being cold and an intense hatred of that sensation.)

    - Charles (ex-pat from warm TX)

  229. #231 baboo
    May 23, 2008

    ctw,
    There are scientists such as Antonio Damasio who argue that what we commonly refer to as emotions are the conscious feelings that our emotional processes generate, and that the emotions themselves are essentially unconscious.
    Feelings can come from other than the emotions, so that may be where Damasio and others want to make the distinction. Being exposed to coldness, thus becoming cold, causes the senses to feel the cold without and within, and in that “sense” we feel the cold consciously. That feeling, transmitted simultaneously to the emotional centers, causes a conscious warning, or feeling, that cold is expected to be harmful and should be avoided if possible. So if we look carefully at such feelings, we can consciously observe their content is more detailed than we might have thought, yet was generated through an unconscious process.

  230. #232 conradg
    May 23, 2008

    Baboo,

    For the record, Freud was a medical doctor working in the new-fangled soft-science of psychology, not the hard science of biology. He was not doing biological experiments on patients, or prescribing drugs. He was using the soft-science approach of psychoanalysis. I defy you to cite a single biological finding in ?The Interpretation of Dreams?.

    But that’s a bit beside the point, in that you say that even physicists are governed by their unconscious in developing their theories. I don’t know that you’d find much support for that idea, even among those here who think I’m full of it. I’m not sure I support it either. I will certainly acknowledge that all human beings have unconscious mechanisms that influence their thinking, and physicists are not immune to that, but I think you are not quite understanding Freud’s basic theory, which puts a premium on the development of the conscious ego, not the unconscious id. In his view, emotional maturity involves the development of an highly conscious ego that can be aware of an override the unconscious patterns of the id, or whatever unconscious patterns have developed in the course of a man’s life. That is the whole point of psychoanalysis, to bring these unconscious patterns to consciousness, so that the conscious ego can master them. A scientist would have to go through this kind of process himself to ensure that his scientific theories were not being distorted by his unconscious drives ? as would anyone. Not meaning that they would have to actually go through psychoanalysis, but they would have to go through a higher human process of maturing which involves just that, whether or not one actually engages in psychoanalysis under the guidance of a trained therapist.

    The issue of what the ?unconscious? actually is remains an issue of contention. Some people, like you, see it merely as a set of biologically determined functions of the brain. Freud was open to this idea, but the research was not well developed in his day. However, the ?unconscious? he discovered in the course of his therapeutic work with people does not appear to be the same ?unconscious? that is being discovered by biological research. There’s a difference, perhaps, between the hardware of the biological brain and the software of our own developmental psychology. The symbolic language of the unconscious he discovered in ?The Interpretation of Dreams? does not yet seem to have a clear biological correlate. And much as you are hopeful that such a correlation will be found, I am not.

    ?What you have said in the end about mere matter arising in our consciousness, unconsciously or not, is pure nonsense. Consciousness by your all encompassing definitions becomes a meaningless concept.?

    Not meaningless, but certainly a different meaning than you or Freud would have found meaningful in the context of your world views. I’m perfectly aware that I’m putting forward an entirely different basis for the unconscious than either you or Freud have done, so I’m not surprised that you reject it. I’m just not sure if you understand it, and I don’t mean that’s your fault, it’s just not something you’ve probably been exposed to much. I can’t find the exact quote, but Nisargadatta in his famous book ?I Am That? probably puts it best when he says that we are each, in reality, the Supreme Godhead, but in separating ourselves out from that, we identify with only a small portion of our real Self, the body-brain-mind. In that process, the rest of who we are becomes our ?unconscious?, and most of it is then projected before us as ?the world?. So what we call the ?world? is merely that part of our consciousness which we have dis-identified with, and allowed to function as if it is ?other? to us.

    But this is of course not just a very different kind of definition of the ?unconscious? than Freud was looking at, it’s a different subject of study altogether. Freud was limiting himself to the strictly personal conception of an interior consciousness composed of various personal elements that may or may not be linkable to the brain and nervous system, but were definitely not existing beyond these. Jung introduced a different concept of the unconscious which linked the personal to various universal aspects of consciousness, in the form of archetypes, and suggested that there is some kind of ?collective unconsciousness? shared by us all at some level. This is at least a bridge to the mostly eastern religious notions of the ?unconscious? that I am referring to, but even Jung hesitated to ?go all the way?. Eastern Adepts do not. So, whatever our differing views might be, we need to be clear that we are talking about very different notions of the unconscious, and different phenomenal categories altogether.

    The biological and evolutionary study of the brain and nervous system is one way of trying to understand the unconscious, and Freud and Jung are a different way, though one would expect some correlations. However, there is no requirement that we view scientific study of these things from a materialistic perspective. We certainly can, if we are so inclined, view these things from a non-material perspective, even the radical one of these eastern spiritual Adepts. It does not contradict them, it merely gives a different context within which to place these findings. In other words, this eastern approach says that we are not the body-mind to begin with, and thus whatever we find out about the body-mind doesn’t describe our fundamental consciousness, only the extent to which our consciousness is identified with the body-mind. If we fully and completely identify with the body, then yes, even our consciousness seems to be purely material in nature. But the less we identify with the body, the looser our association becomes, and the more we are able to see the subtler nature of consciousness, and even experience our own consciousness in a less ?material? manner. The problem with many scientific materialists is that they are precisely the people who are most identified with their body-minds, and thus least able to consider their own consciousness with the freedom and expansiveness required to ourselves as we are. And thus, their own arguments are actually a product of their own unconsciousness, in a way that creates a self-reinforcing loop of unconscious materialism. It’s very hard to shake loose from that mindset, because so much of it is not only unconscious, but actually determined to remain unconscious of the very reality it is unconscious of. That, I would suggest, is the real liability that many materialists face when they do scientific research. It merely tends to confirm an unconscious world view that is held to with great emotional strength regardless of what our own consciousness actually is. It is for this reason that people will argue that their own consciousness is the product of material processes, when the fact of their own consciousness stares them in the face, literally.

  231. #233 ctw
    May 23, 2008

    baboo:

    Well, I have wondered for days (weeks?) why I persisted in reading these later entries despite considering them pretty much go-nowhere – and now I know. A google search on Damasio led me to some wonderful papers (not necessarily by Damasio) which will be extremely helpful. Thanks so much!

    Coincidentally, this one:

    http://www.hedweb.com/bgcharlton/awconlang.html

    actually addresses an issue raised by conradg, viz, is consciousness “necessary”. Altho I haven’t begun to digest the (longish) paper, a quick skim revealed that the author offers the opinion that it isn’t, being just another evolutionary contingency – a bonus feature, so to speak. without which we could, in fact, be “zombies” (his word).

    And the paper appears to suggest that as expected, materialistic explanations suffice for the “mysteries” of awareness, consciousness, emotions, feelings, et al, once each is sufficiently well defined so as to allow coherent discussion of them in terms of known neurological phenomena.

    - Charles

  232. #234 baboo
    May 23, 2008

    Conradg,
    Whatever. But for the record, Freud was a neurologist, one of the biological sciences, and a promising zoologist. Of course neurology then and neurology now are quite different disciplines.

    Freud was cited to give historical context to the discoveries that a large part of our calculative processes, including the short term existence and survival processes, were inaccessible to our more conscious processes. Scientists have reason to see the functions differently today, but it took the Freuds and the Jungs to recognize the functions, if not the exact purposes. The Jungians have persisted with a mystical explanation of these purposes, so of course you would find them more to your liking.

    You really haven’t addressed the explanation of how the unconscious works, and in particular it’s executive functions. If you really want to know more than you can learn through your confrontational methods here, you should study the works of Antonio Damasio. the latest being The Feeling of What Happens. You can accept his teachings or not, with no necessity to report back defensively that none of it has had an effect on your views.

  233. #235 baboo
    May 23, 2008

    Charles, Thanks for the referenced article. I haven’t had time to study it as yet. As to whether some trait is necessary to a species, evolution hasn’t depended as much on necessity as on serendipity. But in the context of the differences between species, necessity may refer to the utility that best accounts for the differences.

  234. #236 conradg
    May 24, 2008

    Baboo,

    ?You really haven’t addressed the explanation of how the unconscious works, and in particular it’s executive functions. If you really want to know more than you can learn through your confrontational methods here, you should study the works of Antonio Damasio. the latest being The Feeling of What Happens. You can accept his teachings or not, with no necessity to report back defensively that none of it has had an effect on your views.?

    Thanks for the Damasio links. I’ll explore them. Based on Charles’ take, however, I’m not sure I’ll find them very satisfying:

    Charles:?[Damasio] actually addresses an issue raised by conradg, viz, is consciousness “necessary”. Altho I haven’t begun to digest the (longish) paper, a quick skim revealed that the author offers the opinion that it isn’t, being just another evolutionary contingency – a bonus feature, so to speak. without which we could, in fact, be “zombies” (his word).?

    I would in general say that explanations of consciousness that call it a ?bonus feature? of some evolutionary process are, in effect, saying ?magic somehow occurs, don’t ask us how.? This in no way explains how or why consciousness would somehow ?emerge? from any of these evolutionary processes, or address the issue of why we are not merely zombies mechanically enacting very complex biological functions without self-awareness of it all. I think my reincarnation-consciousness theory at least makes working sense at these levels. In other words, matter emerging from consciousness and producing biological life forms that are conscious certainly makes a lot more sense than consciousness emerging from inert matter. In the first case, matter is itself seen as a form of consciousness, and thus it isn’t a stretch that it can be associated with consciousness when it takes the form of a living body, but if matter is in itself devoid of consciousness, it’s pretty hard to explain how consciousness ever emerges from it. Hard to get blood from a stone, so to speak.

    As for the general question of how the unconscious works, I have to ask ?which unconscious?? The Freudian, Jungian, scientific neurological, or Advaita Vedantin version? I’m not going to pretend I have a good working answer to any of those versions of the unconscious, but I’m not sure if anyone does. At least it’s a good question to explore. But I think you’d have to be a little more specific for me to even try to make sense of a question like that.

  235. #237 baboo
    May 24, 2008

    conradg, your personal subconscious evidently conceals itself behind a mirror, so that when you think you are looking into it, everything comes out backwards.
    Matter emerging from consciousness makes more sense than consciousness emerging from matter? Give us a break.
    Why use the word consciousness when by its very definition it emanates from life forms.
    Otherwise what we call matter you simply call consciousness.
    We are describing what we observe. You on the other hand clearly don’t trust your own senses if you find the opposite of those observations a more sensible description.

    And Damasio didn’t raise the issue of consciousness being necessary, it was the writer of the paper Charles gave a link to, one Bruce G Charlton MD, Reader in Evolutionary Psychiatry, Department of Psychology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, England.

    Damasio is so well known in the scientific as well as philosophical communities, it’s amazing you’ve never heard of him. Well, actually it’s the opposite of amazing in your case, all definitions considered.

  236. #238 ctw
    May 24, 2008

    random responses:

    My comment re “necessary” was intended only to be a playful poke at conradg (I try not to take these discussions too seriously). They were definitely not intended to summarize the cited paper’s argument, which I am singularly incompetent to do.

    re “consciousness”, et al – as suggested in my last comment, in the cited paper Prof Charlton defines what he means by these terms in the context of his (materialistic) model of brain functions. Until one reads the paper, critiquing ideas therein – especially any channeled (noisily) through me – is quite pointless.

    Neither had I heard of Damasio, and notwithstanding my relatively recent introduction to this field of exploration, in light of the glowing intro to this book review (also by Prof Charlton), “amazing” does seem an appropriate response to that situation:

    http://www.hedweb.com/bgcharlton/damasioreview.html

    - Charles

  237. #239 JimV
    May 24, 2008

    Charles and Baboo: thanks for the references. I have downloaded the Charlton paper, and requested one of Damasio’s books from my local library.

  238. #240 conradg
    May 24, 2008

    Baboo,

    I’ve been aware of Damasio’s work for some time, I was just thanking you for links to it so we can examine them. My feelings about his work are mixed. I think he does a great job trying to puzzle out some very difficult issues about how the brain works. On the other hand, I think he fails rather fantastically at explaining consciousness itself. This isn’t really his fault, however. He even tries to suggest we shouldn’t even deal with this question, but focus instead on the issue of sensory awareness. His division of awareness into an inner and outer milieu is simply the conventional view, and his attempt to understand inner thoughts and emotions as brain states is accomplished simply by viewing them as biological objects of attention rather than sensory objects of attention. Self-awareness, by his definition, is simply an internal mechanism by which we keep track of various brain states, and while that is a useful way of defining it for scientific purposes, because it gives him something to actually study, it doesn’t answer the zombie question, of why we need to have this self-aware field of self-evident being for the brain to perform these functions. I don’t want to repeat myself endlessly, but even these internal mechanisms, like the internal mechanisms in an AI robot, are simply that – mechanisms – and their existence in no way explains the proposed epiphenomena of consciousness. Again, it’s merely a way of saying that all these internal monitoring systems in the brain somehow go “abracadabra”, a puff of smoke obscures our vision, and “consciousness” emerges.

    Damasio tries to ignore the paradoxes of his materialist explanation by skirting around it as much as possible, and saying in effect, let’s just assume that consciousness is a materialist epiphenomena, because otherwise this would all get very messy. Again, it’s putting the cart before the horse. Consciousness is the very means by which he even comes up with this theory, but he tries to make it secondary within the theory itself. Why? Because science requires that he do so, because science requires that all phenomena it studies be material in nature. Science is a tool, like a hammer, just more complex, and as the old adage goes, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. So on the one hand I appreciate what Damasio is trying to accomplish with the tool of science, I just think the problem is not a nail, and is not best addressed by scientific tools. Nonetheless, I think it’s very valuable to study how the brain does interact with its own bodily states, and the relationship it has with emotion. As I’ve said, this is still important and relevant research to the “consciousness-primary” view that all phenomena, internal and external, are at their root forms of primal consciousness-energy, modified into the forms of complex biological life, which is why life is inherently conscious, rather than its consciousness being a product of that complexity. Consciousness identified with a living form simply allows itself to be limited by that form, which includes the complex biology that Damasio has studied.

    “conradg, your personal subconscious evidently conceals itself behind a mirror, so that when you think you are looking into it, everything comes out backwards.”

    That’s an interesting way of formulating things, reminiscent of my own use of the metaphor of narcissus staring into the pond, and not recognizing that the image he sees in the pond is himself. He takes it for an “other”, and this is how we take the world itself. We think it is an “other”, but it is simply our selves reflected back to us in a form we don’t recognize as ourselves. In Buddhism they describe the discovery of this “mirror-mind” principle as a primal insight into how the world actually works. I’m not saying this is what Damasio has discovered, only that it fits the basic pattern.

    “Matter emerging from consciousness makes more sense than consciousness emerging from matter? Give us a break. Why use the word consciousness when by its very definition it emanates from life forms.”

    That’s not the definition of consciousness. It’s certainly not the definition I use.

    But yes, I think it’s simply logically less difficult for a consciousness-based understanding of matter to explain why matter that forms itself into biological life would be self-conscious, rather than a mere zombie, in that it’s purely natural for it to be conscious, since that is the nature of all its matter. The idea that consciousness “emerges” from matter is confronted with how and why questions that simply don’t make logical sense. Take the analogy of ice, water, and clouds. If we observe rain falling from the sky, we could theorize that rain, while being not at all cloud-like in nature, somehow “emerges” from clouds because of some complex process we just don’t understand. Or, we can say that ice, water, and clouds are all simply different forms of water, and simply say that they represent different states of the same fundamental material. I think the second explanation is logically simpler and less difficult to understand, whereas the first requires an unknown process to explain this “emergence”.

    “Otherwise what we call matter you simply call consciousness.”

    In a sense, yes, but only in the same sense that what we call a chair, a physicist calls a collection of quantum fluctuations taking place in N-space, building up layers and layers of subatomic forces and fields into atoms, molecules, photons, and so forth to give the visual impression that a chair is there in front of you. What is actually there is not a “chair” at all, not as we generally define it. In the same way, even sub-atomic forces and fields and particles, and atoms and molecules are, at root, consciousness modified into these primal forms. So yes, in a sense you could call this “material”, that consciousness is a “material”, except that in saying so, one is describing a “material” that is not objective in nature. It is only an “optical illusion” so to speak that allows us to see our own consciousness as objective to us, split off from our own self. It is this optical illusion, assumed to be reality, that science is studying very assiduously.

    “We are describing what we observe. You on the other hand clearly don’t trust your own senses if you find the opposite of those observations a more sensible description.”

    No, you are not describing what you observe. This is the point I can’t hammer home enough. You are abstracting away from what and how and why you actually observe things in order to come up with this materialist explanation for consciousness. It’s not that I don’t trust my senses, I merely observe that whatever my senses might be, they are dependent on consciousness. They arise in consciousness, as extensions of consciousness, and all their findings are only experienced as thoughts, images, and feelings within my own consciousness. Consciousness, in other words, is primary even to the process of scientific observation and study. This doesn’t make it a secondary bi-product, but the primary principle of our very life. All this is obvious if you will actually observe your own consciousness and the structure of how all objects are related to yourself as the conscious observer of objects, whether of a seemingly internal or external nature.

  239. #241 baboo
    May 24, 2008

    conradg, no-one would mind if you agreed to disagree, or that you don’t really expect that others should see things the way you do. The problem is that you always end up by insisting that they must. You don’t come here to learn, you come here only to reinforce your own beliefs. Learning involves a certain amount of unlearning. It’s the unlearning we have seen no evidence of.
    If Damasio can’t help you broaden your understanding of consciousness and awareness, no-one can. He doesn’t actually skirt anything by the way – it’s that old mirror image problem again. And I expect all you’ve read is summaries of his work, not the actual book or books.
    Anyway, goodbye and good luck. You’re going to need it.

  240. #242 conradg
    May 24, 2008

    Baboo,

    I appreciate your well-intentioned attempt to resolve this debate by imposing your interpretation of consciousness, and Damasio’s, upon this discussion, and seeing any resistance on my part as closed-mindedness, but this simply doesn’t make sense. Turning the scientific materialist world view into the only acceptable form of “sense” is a formula for cultic thinking. Of course I’m not going to accept that as the basis for any discussion here, and of course that doesn’t make me “someone who only comes here to reinforce his own beliefs”. That would sound like an accurate description of your approach to this discussion, though, wouldn’t it? I mean, be honest for once. You have no intention of actually talking to me in order to learn something new, you talk to me to either convince me that scientific materialism is the one and only truth, or simply to make fun of me for not seeing and acknowledging that one and only truth.

    At least I can say that I like learning about scientific materialist arguments, and I’ve learned about them here on this forum, and some of those arguments I’ve learned to appreciate, and others not so much. But is even that much true of you? Are you even interested in anything other than scientific materialist arguments? Have you even for a moment considered that the Advaitic arguments may have some serious validity to them? I don’t think so. If I’m wrong, that’s great, you’ve just hidden your appreciation of these things very well.

    Well, if you are interested in something well outside your comfort zone, here’s a link to an online version of Nisargadatta’s “I Am That”, a modern classic of Advaita that consists of conversations with mostly westerners, so it’s more accessible than most such works.

    http://www.celextel.org/wp/ (scroll down to “Nisargadatta Maharaj’s “I Am That” – English).

    I’m sure you won’t like it, in fact I’m sure you’ll hate it and consider it pure rubbish, but who knows, you might at least learn something from it. It’s certainly a very different world-view than the one you come from. If anything, that’s my main interest here, in coming up against world views that are different from my own. I have no interest in converting anyone to my world view, and I find it odd that you’d think I’m supposed to convert to your world view, or it means I am closed-minded. But I do like the clash of differences, which has the potential for at least a little creativity. Sorry if you aren’t that kind of guy. I wish you well, but I don’t think that’s how it’s turning out for you, because you not only have created a self-reinforcing loop around yourself, but you have convinced yourself that you’re living in the one true reality. Kind of sad, really, because that’s so hard to see from inside the scientific amterialist bubble. You will definitely need much more than luck. You need a little Grace.

  241. #243 baboo
    May 25, 2008

    conradg, I’ve learned something here from numerous other posters, but I’m a rational person and have found nothing in your most consistently held views that meets my standards for even preliminary consideration. But most importantly, no-one else here has found it either. That should at least give you pause, but you handle that by just getting angry, or by denigrating the poster. You thirst for total approval and any sort of compromise leaves you with those pesky doubts. They are of course unconscious and just ‘feelings,’ and getting emotional in return seems to you appropriate.
    Consider this – that everyone here you engage with has close to my own views, and clearly we are those whose respect you most seem to need. Yet invariably you are angered because you don’t get it.
    And I expect will never get why you don’t get it. You are the Rodney Dangerfield of blogdom, perhaps.

  242. #244 conradg
    May 25, 2008

    Baboo,

    You mistake my criticism for anger. You also mistake my disagreement for an insistence that you agree with me. Where in this whole discussion have I insisted that you agree with me? You’re the guy who keeps insisting that I buy into scientific materialism as the only truth that can logically be inferred from the facts of life. You suggest that I should agree to disagree with you, but you fail to notice that I’ve taken that attitude from the very beginning. I just don’t see that as the end of a conversation, but as the basis for one. I assume – for good reason, I think – that you and everyone else here disagrees with me about most everything, and that’s fine with me. I don’t particularly like all the personal attacks I tend to attract here, but I don’t mind the disagreements at all.

    And honestly, where is the evidence of any “unlearning” on your part in this discussion with me? All you have done is steadfastly parrot the scientific materialist party line without the slightest variation from what has been decreed by the prominent advocates of this dogma. There’s not the slightest evidence that you question a single element of it, or are even able to “unlearn” that point of view enough to examine the assumptions it is based upon. So why do you insist I do what you are not willing to do yourself? Lead by example, dude.

    I’m amused by your undoubtedly well-intentioned attempt to resolve this debate by imposing your interpretation of consciousness, and Damasio’s, upon this discussion, and seeing any resistance on my part as closed-mindedness, but this simply doesn’t make sense. Turning the scientific materialist world view into the only acceptable form of “sense” is a formula for cultic thinking, and an insurmountable barrier to any real conversation between people of differing views. Of course I’m not going to accept the tenets of scientific materialism as the basis for any discussion here, and of course that doesn’t make me “someone who only comes here to reinforce his own beliefs”. That would sound like an accurate description of your approach to this discussion, though, wouldn’t it? I mean, be honest for once. You have never had any intention of actually talking to me in order to learn something new, you talk to me to either convince me that scientific materialism is the one and only truth, or simply to make fun of me for not seeing and acknowledging that one and only truth. It’s more than a little hypocritical of you to accuse me of having the very attitude you have never once shown the slightest sign of relinquishing.

    At least I can say that I like learning about scientific materialist arguments, and I’ve learned about them here on this forum, and some of those arguments I’ve learned to appreciate, and others not so much. But is even that much true of you? Are you even interested in giving the slightest credit to anything other than scientific materialist arguments? Have you even for a moment considered that the Advaitic arguments may have some serious validity to them? I don’t think so. If I’m wrong, that’s great, you’ve just hidden your appreciation of these things very well. If you are interested in something well outside your comfort zone, here’s a link to an online version of Nisargadatta’s “I Am That”, a modern classic of Advaita that consists of conversations with mostly westerners, so it’s more accessible than most such works.

    http://www.celextel.org/wp/ (scroll down to “Nisargadatta Maharaj’s “I Am That” – English).

    I’m sure you won’t like it, in fact I’m sure you’ll hate it and consider it pure rubbish, but who knows, you might at least learn something from it. It’s certainly a very different world-view than the one you come from. If anything, that’s my main interest here, in coming up against world views that are different from my own. I have no interest in converting anyone to my world view, and I find it odd that you’d think I’m supposed to convert to your world view, or it means I am closed-minded. But I do like the clash of differences, which has the potential for creativity. Sorry if you aren’t that kind of guy. I wish you well, but I don’t think that’s how it’s turning out for you, because you not only have created a self-reinforcing loop around yourself, but you have convinced yourself that you’re living in the one true reality. Kind of sad, really, because that’s so hard to see from inside the scientific amterialist bubble. You will definitely need much more than luck. You will need a little Grace.

  243. #245 conradg
    May 25, 2008

    “conradg, I’ve learned something here from numerous other posters, but I’m a rational person and have found nothing in your most consistently held views that meets my standards for even preliminary consideration. But most importantly, no-one else here has found it either.”

    I find this a strange comment, in that I’ve noticed that when I engage in any serious discussion on this site, the number of comments in that thread mushrooms to 4-5 times that of most other threads. Apparently people do find reasons to engage me, and I won’t pretend to know why, but it completely contradicts your assessment. Maybe it’s just train-wreck fascination, but there’s been quite a few lengthy back and forths that have gone beyond any “preliminary” status. Why this need to constantly denigrate me by even self-evidently false claims? Where’s the spirit of “agree to disagree” that you have been suggesting I adopt. Or is it only I who is supposed to adopt that mode, while you are free to abuse anyone who disagrees?

    (Oh, and my last post got mangled in posting and was reposted in its fuller form just above).

  244. #246 baboo
    May 25, 2008

    conradg,
    Many posters have actually proposed to agree to disagree, and have been called idiots in return for their efforts to disengage. I could name at least ten, but so can you, so what’s the use. And of course these are ?preliminary? discussions, and your technique is to discuss things you know they already agree with in part, such as some slightly divergent view of materialism, and you basically suck them into what you laughingly have called a debate.

    But any agreement at that point is not about the views you have been waiting to slip into the argument about the supernatural aspects of consciousness, for example. You seem to think that once you have established some commonality of interest in your opinions, your opponents (which is what they inevitably become) will then consider that your views on the supernatural might have some semblance of rationality. Where others have described that as an attempt to trick them into some sort of agreement, I see that as having repeatedly deluded yourself that this style of approach will be persuasive.
    It is these “preliminary” forays into that field where the disagreements inevitably take on a consistent singularity.
    If agree to disagree has ever been, in your view, the basis for your discussions, it has been a deceptive ploy on your part to start a conversation about some “preliminary” aspects of a discussion you had always intended to turn into some polemic about Eastern mysticism. Since most here are well informed about that subject to begin with, they don’t need to explore your citations (the latest of which requires a login to open) to know quite well what’s coming, and it’s never anything that was original to you.
    As to unlearning, most of us do that every time we add some new bit of “knowledge” to the way scientists have discovered evolution works, for example. It’s relatively easy, because we have never held that any of our “knowledge is true to any degree of certainty. We instead see things to degrees of probability. Your beliefs can’t be seen that way, even though you invariably protest that they can
    And why do people persist in engaging you? That’s due to our own assessments that by your initial approach, you have exhibited some semblance of rational thought. And you inspire a feeling that you are seeking to learn as much as to impart.
    And in fact you are, except that you don’t know it. You are stuck in this vein of Hindu-like sacred bullshit, and hoping to accomplish the impossible – to reinforce these otherwise outrageous convictions (indoctrinations might be a better word) while at the same time hoping for some informational key that will unlock the hold these superstitions have on you. Your audience will inevitably include some who think they might be able to offer that key. They have inevitably been found wrong.

    You ask, “Why this need to constantly denigrate me by even self-evidently false claims? ”
    Because, I suppose, none of what all others agree to as patently false has been self-evident to you.

  245. #247 baboo
    May 25, 2008

    Oh, and why do so many persist in the exchange? Perhaps just to see how big a record you are willing to make of inanities that you can never disown, as they will float in the blogosphere forever. Maybe it’s that humongous compilation already in existence that increasingly requires justification in lieu of an otherwise impending ignominy.

    If you want the last word, you’d be well advised to simply post, “I agree to disagree.”

  246. #248 conradg
    May 25, 2008

    Baboo,

    I’m not sure what the purpose of analyzing my involvement with this forum is, but since you seem interested in talking about it, here goes.

    Let’s be honest right up front: there’s been far more hostility directed at me here than I have directed at others. I think that’s just an empirical fact. It’s not as if I have never been hostile to others here, I have at times gotten pretty pissed and told people off. However, I think it’s only fair to point out that I’ve only done that after enduring long periods of rather relentless personal attacks. I recall telling only one person that they were an idiot. I’ve had the converse hurled at me countless times. You could argue that I’ve deserved it, but you can’t argue that it’s been proportional, or somehow that I’m the instigator of hostility here. I’ve tried my damnedest to be patient here, and I think the longer I’ve been here, the more successful I’ve been at that. As, I think, have a lot of people here.

    And yes, I understand that you feel “tricked” by me in some respects, in that I can certainly argue quite rationally on a number of topics about which we might not have any great disagreement. But clearly there are a number of core topics about which most everyone here has very strong, emotionally charged views. I don’t expect people to agree with me on these topics. I don’t even expect people to talk about these things without emotion. And I understand that many think I am suddenly flipping gears and arguing from a purely emotional, belief-based form of logic, rather than using the rationality I might have displayed earlier on less controversial topics. I simply find the charge rather hypocritical, as it is in these areas that most of the people here are themselves relying upon an emotional, belief-based logic, and yet seem to be in deep denial about that fact. One of my primary arguments against scientific materialism is that it is not actually based on rational argument. It begins with a rational, scientific approach, but wherever it confronts its own internal contradictions, and the contrary evidence of our own conscious experience, it simply leaps past logic and asserts its own truth as if it were just another cult that doesn’t need to inspect its own assumptions with any rigor.

    I’m not going to pretend that all my arguments are purely rationalistic. Clearly some of them are not. But I do think the confrontations I’ve had over the last few weeks have exposed a strong thread of irrationality among the scientific materialists here as well. And I would suggest that it is this exposure, rather than my own particular faults or weaknesses, that is the source of the consternation stirred up by my presence here, and why people get so worked up by me. I don’t think I’ve been the greatest at arguing or presenting the ideas I’ve tried to advocate, but I do think I’ve been pretty good at bringing to the fore a strong force of emotional insecurity lying dormant in the materialistic views that dominate this forum. The stronger I get attacked, the more obvious that emotional insecurity is, and the more it gets projected onto me as if I’m some crazy bad guy. I find that pattern interesting.

    Part of the reason I began posting here was just to see what’s up with the atheistic, scientific materialist community out there. I find the best way to find out about such people is to actually mix it up with them. Likewise, I personally just enjoy and profit from the friction generated by encountering contradictory and opposing viewpoints. It forces me to think things through more thoroughly that I might on my own, and it might even change my views on some fundamental matters. I’ve actually been a bit surprised by all this outraged hostility and aggressive put-downs. I was a regular for many years at a spiritual forum that was renowned for its cowboy spirit of wild west argumentation with all kihds of opposing viewpoints regularly aired. The only time I ever encountered the kind of hostility I regularly find on this forum was when the topic turned to actual cults, and cult members and critics would have at one another. Which is why I can recognize quite well all the arguments and emotional stances of a cult among many here. It’s just that in this case, it’s a cult of scientific materialism rather than of some religious belief system. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much difference on the human level between the two, and as we delve into the actual arguments for materialism, it becomes clear why. Materialism isn’t a terribly rational system at all. It only promotes itself that way. But most cults promote themselves as rational systems as well. In fact, it’s been shown that most cults are composed of quite intelligent people, and that high intelligence people are actually more disposed towards cult membership than others. Studying cults and cultic thinking became one of my personal interests, and so coming here and encountering the very same kind of cultic thought processes operating behind a facade of scientific rationalism is frankly quite fascinating to me.

    I know that on this forum I’m pretty much a minority of one, and it’s pretty easy to pretend that I represent some wierd, strange form of “belief” that no sane person could possibly accept. But that’s just another sign of the cult-thinking that goes on here. In the real world of the 6.6 billion human beings alive on this planet, it is scientific materialism that is the tiny minority, not people with religious views such as reincarnation, which in itself represents at least a billion and a half people out there. Even within the world of abstract western philosophical systems, materialism doesn’t seem to have a very committed following. Even within the scientific community, there is no consensus about materialism either. Science itself doesn’t imply or prove materialism, in spite of the claims of many materialists. What I’ve tried to make clear is that there’s no scientific need to adopt materialism as a either an empirical or a philosophical stance. In fact, there’s plenty of good reasons not to, and I’ve argued a few of those. I haven’t encountered any serious refutations of many of these arguments here, just a kind of denialism that sputters into emotional rage, paralysis, or the usual cult claim “you just don’t get it”. I understand that you might think you’ve tried as hard as you can to make me see the light, the problem is you just haven’t come up with convincing counter-arguments. It’s not because I’m either an idiot or a genius, I think it’s simply because there aren’t any good counter-arguments for many of these criticisms of materialism. Materialism doesn’t rest on solid ground.

    That doesn’t mean that eastern mysticism is the default. From the outset of my time here, I’ve made it quite clear that I am a religious person, that I have studied and practiced various mysticisms almost my entire life, and that it’s not very likely I’m going to be converted to scientific materialism by you guys. I’ve tried to argue from a fairly secular viewpoint, however, using the empirical approach that I’ve used my whole life, and that I thought would be at least in some small way appreciated here. I’m certainly not trying to promote my particular views or beliefs, or win converts. This is one of the last places on earth I would go to if that were my intention. But I must take exception to the notion you put forward that people here are well-educated about eastern mysticisms. I haven’t encountered a single person here who seems in the least bit educated about that subject. Maybe those who are don’t make themselves known. I find it very difficult to make references to that body of tradition with any expectation that people have even a clue what the landscape is and what the references mean.

    What I do find rather odd is the degree to which you, and quite a few others here (but by no means everyone) somehow feels it advances your arguments to almost constantly say things like this:

    “You are stuck in this vein of Hindu-like sacred bullshit, and hoping to accomplish the impossible – to reinforce these otherwise outrageous convictions (indoctrinations might be a better word) while at the same time hoping for some informational key that will unlock the hold these superstitions have on you.”

    A pretty loaded observation that is essentially meaningless except as a form of personal venting. What’s the point exactly? That somehow I’m “stuck” in my views, but you are not stuck in your views? This kind of purely partisan bickering and charges of personal bias can be made on both sides, and it doesn’t really come to anything. I’ve pointed out the emotional stuckness of materialists as well, but it seems not to matter. If everyone here seems to agree with you about me, is that really evidence that I’m screwed up, or is it evidence of the narrow range of views that are even allowable in this particular little fraction of humanity.

    What I notice about those who “take me on” here is that the general strategy is to try to find the weakest possible peripheral issue in any argument I make and focus in on that, rather than actually try to answer the strongest and most difficult central arguments I make. Instead, the strong arguments are just derisively pushed aside. Oftentimes I know I’ve made a strong argument only because of the deafening silence I get in response. Those who can’t refute an argument outright simply ignore it, or turn to personal invective, or just give up and consider it my fault that I don’t “get it”. Well, look guys, I’m just not that easily fooled. I know there’s a lot of very weak ground you’re standing on when it comes to materialism, and I know you just can’t bring yourselves to admit it, at least not openly. I hope I’ve at least stirred up some doubts. Other than that, I have no expectations of praise, acceptance, or respect. I think it’s hilarious that people accuse me of looking for respect, as if I’m really that stupid to think that this is a place that would ever accord anyone who wasn’t a scientific materialist any respect. It’s a pretty immature game, really. In most of the world people don’t have a problem giving respect to people who don’t share their basic views. Here, the insecurity level is so high that respect is withheld at all costs, in a silly attempt to enforce cultic peer pressure. As if anyone really cares! What is this, high school? Well, maybe. My guess is that a lot of the people on this forum are quite young still, and like to mouth off with the arrogance of guys who are youthful enthusiasts about scientific materialism, and think it’s the one true answer to everything. Well, life has a way of tearing down these illusions. Materialism only holds together through the emotional force of one’s needy enthusiasm. If one looks too closely at its assumptions and contradictions, it falls apart. One is left in a state of conscious uncertainty, which seems to be the last thing a lot of people here want to face up to. Kind of like a lot of religious people, who love the certainty of their faith. Materialism is just another form of faith that seems to be reinforced by everything one sees, until one begins to realize one has been looking at everything through the self-reinforcing logic of materialism itself, and without that, it just falls apart.

    Anyway, analyzing me and this forum is probably a waste of time. I had kind of thought this thread was done when me and Iapetus were finished. I thought for a moment that you actually had something to say, but it turns out to be a false alarm. I’ve been on the verge of just letting this whole thing go for a while now, but someone or something keeps pulling me in for another round. But maybe that’s finally done with. No hard feelings, guys.

  247. #249 baboo
    May 25, 2008

    Why bother to justify yourself endlessly to people whose opinions you don’t respect? And why the mirror thing again, trying to switch the inability to deal with uncertainty from yourself to those who are quite happy accepting uncertainty? You have no concept of how that could feel, do you? You are compelled to persistently reject all tendrils of doubt that beckon, seductively – the sin of temptation common to all belief beckons, doesn’t it? The thirst by the intellect for some freedom from that pesky god gene, perhaps.

    And you just can’t say the magic words that you “agree to disagree.” Because you are desperate for that slim chance that the key to freedom will be somewhere in the offing.

    The brass ring, the holy grail, the ringing out of the antiphonal, of freedom’s proclamation. Ah, but it’s the quest that is the key, my dude, not the apparition at the end of the promenade, of the great stairway, or the avenida de los ladrillos amarillo.

    You cannot say those words for fear of that goat-like animal that draws you to that place where the sun has yet to shine – and where the quest shall be no more.

  248. #250 conradg
    May 26, 2008

    Baboo,

    First of all, while I definitely disagree with many people and their views here, I also respect them. And I don’t just mean that in some phony way. I wouldn’t even bother arguing with people here if I didn’t respect them and their views. In my world, arguing and disagreeing with someone is a way of showing them respect.

    As for uncertainty, I deal with that all the time, every day. I’m constantly questioning myself – it’s the very core of my spiritual practice. If you understood Advaita and the various teachers I’ve mentioned as well as you claim you’d understand this. The whole point of such an approach is to remain in a state of uncertainty, in which one knows almost nothing for certain, except that one consciously exists. “I am” is the only certain statement I can make – the rest is up for grabs. And sometimes I even wonder about the “I am”. When I say that I’ve had to actually confront materialist arguments here, I mean it. I’ve had to literally ask myself if it’s possible that “I” really am just a fiction of inert matter, and all that this would mean. I’ve had to feel into that as deeply as I can and examine it from the first person perspective – something I think you might benefit from yourself. And I’m not 100% certain of the answer. That lack of certainty is a good thing in my view, it keeps me asking myself the right questions.

    As for saying the magic words “agree to disagree”, I’ve already done that numerous times. How often do you want me to write it on the blackboard? As I said, for me that’s the basis for beginning a conversation, not the way to end it.

    As for freedom, yes, that is my basic interest, but it’s certainly not why I converse here. Do you honestly think I imagine anyone here is free, or has some secret to freedom that can help me? Please, don’t flatter yourselves. It’s just my personal impression, but people here don’t seem particularly happy, free, or even mature in the basic human sense.

    Now, if you want to end the conversation, that’s fine. We have always agreed to disagree, even before it began. I wish you well. Keep questioning yourself.

  249. #251 conradg
    May 26, 2008

    btw, the link I sent you to the Nisargadatta book “I Am That” does requires registration, but it is completely free and only asks for an email address where a password can be sent, I assume for purposes of eliminating spam.

    http://www.celextel.org/wp/

  250. #252 baboo
    May 26, 2008

    conradg,
    You question yourself, but not your teachers – you question only that you have understood them as well as you should, and you question if you ever really could. You are uncertain only that your belief has met their standards and thus will meet your needs. That’s not the uncertainty of the agnostic, or of the scientist – not the uncertainty of any purposefulness in the universe. No, that’s only questioning that you really know the nature of that purpose that you are certain exists. That’s the questioning of the way the soul must work that you are certain exists. The certainty of the supernatural world is in everything you write – the certainty of duality. That’s the context in which we all use “certainty” – even you if you’d admit it. That’s the certainty you can’t be free of.
    Because “agree to disagree” has never been evident as a condition of your discourse. If it was, your would have been a lot more civil and your tactics a lot less devious.
    You just can’t say it at the end, now can you. Because if you do, you will never hear from me again. Can you handle that? Then say it.

  251. #253 conradg
    May 26, 2008

    Baboo,

    You are correct that I am not an agnostic, and haven’t claimed to be. Questioning oneself can also lead to some basic convictions and conclusions about things. Otherwise you are tacitly admitting that atheists are essentially people who have given up questioning things.

    As for questioning my “teachers”, I’m guessing you don’t know much about them, since they actually strongly encourage people to question them. The book I referred you to was of people rather strongly questioning the teacher in a manner that is not terribly supine.

    As for the specifics of my views on the reincarnation process, I don’t really understand your objections. I’ve stated numerous times that I’ve only been speaking from the perspective of “this is how I currently see these things”, not from some perspective of certain knowledge at all. I’ve stated numerous times that I’m probably wrong about a number of issues. That’s not the point. The point was simply to offer a model, however imperfect, that can at least in a general sense address the issue of theodicy more effectively than the standard Christian model. Trying to suggest that I have some unquestionable belief system I cannot see past simply isn’t true. It’s a viewpoint that is easily questioned, and that I question quite often. I’m sure the answers I come up with to those questions will change in the future, since they have changed in the past as well. But at any moment I ahve to go with what I currently find the most plausible scenario, just as you do. What exactly is wrong with that? Obviously we have different standards we use to construct our “most plausible scenario”, and its fine to examine those standards. But pretending that materialism is the “most plausible scenario” simply betrays a deep personal prejudice on your part, just as one could say the same about my view that reincarnation is the most plausible scenario. I just think that an examination of consciousenss makes materialism implausible, and a consciousness-based scenario the most likely. That doesn’t necessarily lead to adopting reincarnation, but I do think that reincarnation has a lot going for it once one accepts that the consciousness-based scenarios are the most plausible overall. If one doesn’t, and instead adheres to a materialist line, then of course it doesn’t seem at all plausible. Which is why I’ve take the issue of consciousness to be the primary “battleground” in this discussion, not reincarnation itself.

    As to your conclusion that I have never taken the attitude that we can “agree to disagree”, you obviously have all kinds of presumptions about what that means, as well as presumptions about me, that betray a severe bias on your part. I’m not in the business of dispelling anyone’s biases. As I’ve said, I don’t think “agreeing to disagree” means an end to conflict, it is what sets the stage for a very spirited discussion of conflicting views, understanding that the discussion is not aimed at the conversion of one another, but merely the deeper articulation of one’s arguments, because that process helps us learn better. If in the process one’s views actually change, it occurs in an organic manner, rather than by force.

    As to my “tactics” being devious, I have to laugh very hard at that one. Oh, my.

    And yes, I can completely “handle” not hearing from you again. But can you stop yourself from posting? We shall see, won’t we?

  252. #254 baboo
    May 26, 2008

    conradg,
    If you could handle it, you would write the words. And you are not so much arguing as begging. You have, as you say, offered your model. But you just can’t leave it at that, so clearly that was not the point after all. You thirst for more than understanding, you need acceptance to ease your doubts. Because you say you too live with uncertainty. Surely you do, but unlike us, it gives you no pleasure. That is the essence of the value of living with uncertainty – the ultimate in satisfaction of our emotionally and intellectually manufactured conundrums.
    You cannot find it as long as you cannot reconcile the two.

    And we do understand your model. some of us much better than you. Precisely why we don’t accept it. So try to get over it.
    You want the last word? Just write the magic phrase. But you can’t. Talk about hilarity.

  253. #255 conradg
    May 26, 2008

    Baboo,

    Again, you seem to know nothing of me or my spiritual path. “Not knowing” is the bedrock pleasure of mysticism, my friend.

    I notice you can’t stop posting, but blame me for it. A fitting irony.

  254. #256 baboo
    May 26, 2008

    Ah, but mysticism, my dude, is not a mystery to the true believer. That is the fundamental paradox that none of you can solve, and if it had given you a measure of the pleasure that can come from doubt itself, you would not be crying out for help – unless perhaps you sense a greater pleasure must await somewhere. I sense that the nature of that paradox itself is beyond your ken.

    You are hoist here by your own petard, and don’t understand that mystery either. There is no blame I can take responsibility for. You have only yourself to search for its source.
    You cannot utter the words to seal the ultimate of agreements that in the end is unconditional. Somehow you fear that you will have acquiesced without sufficient protest, mistaking perseverance for sufficiency. Even the Advaita has warnings to assist one with that failing.

  255. #257 conradg
    May 26, 2008

    Baboo,

    “Ah, but mysticism, my dude, is not a mystery to the true believer.”

    That’s why true believers are never mystics.

    You might notice that in most fundamentalist, true-believer circles, mysticism is virtually taboo and considered heretical. There’s been far more mystics put to death by the Church than atheists or scientists.

    In fact, if you weren’t such a true believer yourself, you might realize that mysticism is a much better destroyer of religious fundamentalism than is either science or atheism, which is why so many true-believer religions abhor it. But then again, that’s precisely why you abhor it – because it’s also a threat to true-believers of every dogma, including the scientific materialist belief system rigidly adhered to on this forum.

  256. #258 baboo
    May 26, 2008

    conradg,
    Your deniability syndrome has turned your brain and even its own self-image inside out in the most remarkable fashion. We are almost helplessly attracted to this spectacle of living self-dissection in the most bizarre sense – it’s as if you are some sort of human cephalopod, turning yourself by some new process of inversion into every shape, hue and color imaginable to camouflage the nature that you fear to even see yourself. We prod and you fall apart and rearrange the pieces as we stare in wonderment at a process we recognize but nevertheless are hard pressed to believe.
    Mysticism is heretical only to another mystic, shape them as you will. Science is only rigid in respect to its resistance to the truly dogmatic (or falsely dogmatic if you will).
    It makes us wonder if cephalopods have fooled themselves in the process of fooling others. Do they somehow think or need to believe they have become what they pretend to both resemble and abhor? Oops, should be asking that question to a scientist and not the cephalopod. Not the creature in its own zoo. Oh, look, is that petard still hoist?

  257. #259 conradg
    May 27, 2008

    Baboo,

    I think I’ve given you every opportunity to engage in a human conversation here. If you choose not to take it, that’s up to you. The attempt to de-humanize the “enemy” is the classic tactic of all cult-believers. If you can’t see what you are doing, or if you do and just happen to really like relating to me this way, there’s nothing I can do to stop you. When your rationalizations self-destruct someday, just remember you can always fall back on your humanity. In other words, you can always love, if you make that choice.

  258. #260 baboo
    May 27, 2008

    conradg,
    Love and the caste system never seemed congruent. Hard to warm up to a naked Swami even in the best of circumstances. Not too keen on widow burning either.

  259. #261 by-stander
    May 27, 2008

    Would you two get a divorce … for the kids sake?

  260. #263 Chat Sohbet
    January 2, 2009

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