Pharyngula

If you go to the main ScienceBlogs page, you’ll discover that the Buzz for the day is this little gem, triggered by one of our newbie bloggers:

Spirituality and Science

Over the last few hundred years, science has provided a mind-boggling richness of answers about the workings of the universe. For many people the importance of religion, at least as an explainer of the natural world, has shifted. Is it possible to believe what science teaches us about nature, and also be a person of faith? A Galactic Interactions post about being a Christian and a scientist has ignited an explosive debate.

Appropriately enough, the latest Templeton Prize has just been awarded. $1.5 million for this rubbish:

Professor Taylor has written extensively on the sense of self and how it is defined by morals and what one considers good. People operate in the register of spiritual issues, he said, and to separate those from the humanities and social sciences leads to flawed conclusions.

“The deafness of many philosophers, social scientists and historians to the spiritual dimension can be remarkable,” Professor Taylor said in remarks prepared for delivery at the announcement of the prize at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York this morning. This is damaging because it “affects the culture of the media and educated public opinion in general.”

There’s also much more at the Templeton Prize site. He blathers on and on about “spiritual thinking” and a “spiritual domain” without ever telling us what the heck it is, although it does seem to be all tied up in believing in a religion, any religion. So, someone tell me, how am I supposed to hear this “spiritual dimension”? What is it supposed to mean?

Near as I can tell, it means making up vague nonsense about special values only religious people can have, and getting a cool million five for insisting on it. What a sweet scam, and what a useless lot of hot air.

(via Butterflies and Wheels)

Comments

  1. #1 notthedroids
    March 15, 2007

    Somebody should come up with a better word than “spiritual” for the consciousness of being connected with something greater than onesself, but not necessarily having to do with ghosts, angels, or fairies. “Unsolipsistic” doesn’t really do it.

  2. #2 notthedroids
    March 15, 2007

    I am not opposed to this sentiment (http://www.templetonprize.org/bios.html):

    Conversely, Taylor has also chastised those who use moral certitude or religious beliefs in the name of battling injustice because they believe “our cause is good, so we can inflict righteous violence,” as he once wrote. “Because we see ourselves as imperfect, below what God wants, we sacrifice the bad in us, or sacrifice the things we treasure. Or we see destruction as divine…identify with it, and so renounce what is destroyed, purifying while bringing meaning to the destruction.”

  3. #3 nodoze
    March 15, 2007

    people also blather on about art, morality, metaphysics, and a host of other vague things of a transcedent or metaphysical nature that are “real” but defy science and, for that matter, truth. they are the serious business of mankind, in Popper’s words the “ultimate questions,” and there is no way to distinguish their serious answers from nonsense, as far as science can say. obviously science isn’t enough. it has limits. oh well!

  4. #4 CalGeorge
    March 15, 2007

    Oh, that Charles Taylor. The one who wrote Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity.

    Got it. Here’s a quote from him:

    “It is probable that the unremitting struggle to desacralize the world in the name of an undivided devotion to God waged by Calvin and his followers helped to destroy the sense that the creation was a locus of meanings in relation to which man had to define himself.”

    http://www.vernonpratt.com/conceptualisations/d06bl2_2mindself.htm

    That’s enough for me. Toodleloo, Charles.

  5. #5 NeoLotus
    March 15, 2007

    PZ, try reading the Introduction portion of Roger Ames translation of “Sun-Tzu: The Art of War” where it deals with the differences between the two-world view of the West and the one-world view of the East or watching “The Last Samurai” or perhaps just learning about Eastern philosophy.

    Shorter version of spirituality: treating the living world/universe with respect and humility and learning to live in harmony with it.

    The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity. Is there something in this you fail to understand?

    Oh, something you might understand is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as a place to begin.

  6. #6 AL
    March 15, 2007

    There’s nothing vague or “transcendent” about art, morality or metaphysics. As far as aesthetics and ethics, science can’t tell us the “oughts,” but there are certainly reasonable descriptions for why aesthetics and ethics exist from an evolutionary, psychological and sociological standpoint.

    As for metaphysics, there are reasonable discussions one can have about epistemology, ontology and other areas of metaphysics while sticking to reason and empiricism and without the need to invoke anything “mysterious,” “transcendent,” or “ineffable.” The latter is the hallmark of bad philosophy anyway, as it just means you’ve thrown your hands up and given up on attempting to come to an understanding.

  7. #7 Baratos
    March 15, 2007

    Shorter version of spirituality: treating the living world/universe with respect and humility and learning to live in harmony with it.

    This definition contradicts the one most people in my country use, as far as I can tell. The people who are considered to be spiritual are the ones running my nation into the ground by violating our Constitution and sending infirm soldiers into combat.

    Also, I had thought spirituality would have something to do with spirits.

  8. #8 tomh
    March 15, 2007

    notthedroidswrote:
    Somebody should come up with a better word than “spiritual” for the consciousness of being connected with something greater than onesself …

    It might be easy to come up with a better word if you would explain what you’re talking about. Perhaps starting with just how you’re “connected” and what is it that is “something greater than onesself”.

  9. #9 Mick
    March 15, 2007

    “Shorter version of spirituality: treating the living world/universe with respect and humility and learning to live in harmony with it.”

    I don’t see what’s so spiritual about that.

  10. #10 Chris Bradley
    March 15, 2007

    Shorter version of spirituality: treating the living world/universe with respect and humility and learning to live in harmony with it.

    Says you. I mean that in the sense that, y’know, that’s what you say. A lot of other people say a lot of other things about spirituality. To a fundamentalist Christian, that isn’t spirituality — they’ll talk about living with the fullness of Jesus in their lives, and what that means varies considerably from Christian to Christian.

    In short, unless you bother to actually specify what you mean, the use of the word spirit is just a lot of noise. Or, worse, it’s an intentional rhetorical trick. You use the word “spirit” without any meaning and know that most of the audience will project their own definitions into it (as you seem to have done) and respond favorably. It’s one of the most used rhetorical tricks, nowadays — use an emotionally charged word or term, don’t bother to define it, but know your audience will, largely, do so for you in a way that inclined them to favor what you say. (Other terms that are treated this way are “freedom”, “family values”, “national security” — ask any ten people what they mean, you’ll probably get 8 different answers.)

  11. #11 beepbeepitsme
    March 15, 2007

    When they start to replace the word “spiritual” with “emotions” and the word “soul” with “mind”, then I might consider that they have a chance at making sense.

  12. #12 AL
    March 15, 2007

    “Mind” is definitely a better term than “soul,” but even the word “mind” carries some dualistic, Cartesian baggage. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

  13. #13 AL
    March 15, 2007

    Chris Bradley,

    There’s a term for what you describe. It’s called a “glittering generality.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glittering_generality

  14. #14 Pun the librarian
    March 15, 2007

    A comic on the subject of spirituality:

    http://www.wondermark.com/d/273.html

    And it reflects my understanding that “spirituality” is often just a front for intellectual laziness.

  15. #15 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 15, 2007

    In short, unless you bother to actually specify what you mean, the use of the word spirit is just a lot of noise. Or, worse, it’s an intentional rhetorical trick.

    For a non-native speaker, the terms “spirituality” and “spiritualism” are so overloaded that they seem to be invented by someone dipping into too much of the sauce.

    Spirituality:

    1. The state, quality, manner, or fact of being spiritual.
    2. The clergy.
    3. Something, such as property or revenue, that belongs to the church or to a cleric.

    ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dict.asp?Word=spirituality )

    The spiritual, involving (as it may) perceived eternal verities regarding humankind’s ultimate nature, often contrasts with the temporal, with the material, or with the worldly. A sense of connection forms a central defining characteristic of spirituality — connection to something greater than oneself, which includes an emotional experience of religious awe and reverence. Equally important, spirituality relates to matters of sanity and of psychological health. Like some forms of religion, spirituality often focuses on personal experience (see mysticism).

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality )

    Spiritualism:

    1.
    a. The belief that the dead communicate with the living, as through a medium.
    b. The practices or doctrines of those holding such a belief.
    2. A philosophy, doctrine, or religion emphasizing the spiritual aspect of being.

    ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/spiritualism )

    Spiritualism is a religious movement that began in the United States and was prominent in the 1840s – 1920s, especially in English-speaking countries. The movement’s distinguishing feature is the belief that the spirits of the dead can be contacted by mediums.

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritualism )

    The useful definitions seems to be either about the verities (lasting facts) or personal experience.

    The former is question begging. Which facts about humanity can be justified besides what we observe? Folk psychology on the human condition (“mystery” et cetera) doesn’t give justified knowledge, but is describing the later (experiences) in an effort to understand them and predict or own and others behavior.

    Which gets us right back to spirits. On methods of getting and valuing experience, what says that a religious experience is to be valued higher than, say, a glass of a good wine? After all, a small amount of alcohol do your health good and lift your spirits, but any amount of religion seems to be downright harmful to the sanity of your mind.

  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 15, 2007

    In short, unless you bother to actually specify what you mean, the use of the word spirit is just a lot of noise. Or, worse, it’s an intentional rhetorical trick.

    For a non-native speaker, the terms “spirituality” and “spiritualism” are so overloaded that they seem to be invented by someone dipping into too much of the sauce.

    Spirituality:

    1. The state, quality, manner, or fact of being spiritual.
    2. The clergy.
    3. Something, such as property or revenue, that belongs to the church or to a cleric.

    ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dict.asp?Word=spirituality )

    The spiritual, involving (as it may) perceived eternal verities regarding humankind’s ultimate nature, often contrasts with the temporal, with the material, or with the worldly. A sense of connection forms a central defining characteristic of spirituality — connection to something greater than oneself, which includes an emotional experience of religious awe and reverence. Equally important, spirituality relates to matters of sanity and of psychological health. Like some forms of religion, spirituality often focuses on personal experience (see mysticism).

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality )

    Spiritualism:

    1.
    a. The belief that the dead communicate with the living, as through a medium.
    b. The practices or doctrines of those holding such a belief.
    2. A philosophy, doctrine, or religion emphasizing the spiritual aspect of being.

    ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/spiritualism )

    Spiritualism is a religious movement that began in the United States and was prominent in the 1840s – 1920s, especially in English-speaking countries. The movement’s distinguishing feature is the belief that the spirits of the dead can be contacted by mediums.

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritualism )

    The useful definitions seems to be either about the verities (lasting facts) or personal experience.

    The former is question begging. Which facts about humanity can be justified besides what we observe? Folk psychology on the human condition (“mystery” et cetera) doesn’t give justified knowledge, but is describing the later (experiences) in an effort to understand them and predict or own and others behavior.

    Which gets us right back to spirits. On methods of getting and valuing experience, what says that a religious experience is to be valued higher than, say, a glass of a good wine? After all, a small amount of alcohol do your health good and lift your spirits, but any amount of religion seems to be downright harmful to the sanity of your mind.

  17. #17 MartinC
    March 15, 2007

    Too much spirituality can obviously be bad for you.
    I think the maximum recommended dose is 3 milligrams per kilo.
    Unfortunately its taking rather a long time to invent a spiritual weighing scale. Don’t worry though, I’m sure it will turn up soon, just like Demski’s ‘Specified complexity measurer’.

  18. #18 NC Paul
    March 15, 2007

    “…watching “The Last Samurai” or perhaps just learning about Eastern philosophy.”

    All I learned from “The Last Samurai” was:

    A: Though not a bad film, Ken Watanabe was too good to be in it
    B: Tom Cruise’s ego knows no earthly bounds (now would be a good time to shout “Zenu!”)
    C: Western audiences need the presence of a toothsome, if diminutive American leading man to be in any way interested in a story about far away foreign people long ago
    D: Romantic attachment to feudal traditions attracts the unwelcome attention of ninja and may, therefore, damage your health
    E: Spirituality is apparently trumped by Gatling guns.

  19. #19 Sam
    March 15, 2007

    I would have thought the maximum dose for a human was 21 grams. Overdosing woud be more than a spirit could handle without accidentally evolving. Perhaps I am wrong.

  20. #20 Dutch Vigilante
    March 15, 2007

    I believe in spirituality and the need of religion and all that nonsense and I know enough vague terms to write a book about it, now where is my million dollars? Then again, almost everyone can do that… Millions of dollars for everyone!

  21. #21 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Guys, have you ever considered that the consciousness of being connected with something greater than onesself – or, better, the “feeling” or “sensation” thereof, has a genetic substrate and there is individual variation within the human species?

    Just because none of you have this consciousness/feeling (and I don’t, either), doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t exist in ohers. Sometimes (often) is gets translated into religion, and sometimes into something more like treating the living world/universe with respect and humility and learning to live in harmony with it.

    We would do better in concentrating on reducing the political effects of (organised) religion, and making sure that people who don’t have the spiritual consciousness/feeling don’t feel they have to pay lip-service to religion, than in wasting our time trying to convince those people who do have it that they are wrong to do so. IMHO the latter is much like trying to convince gay people that they shouldn’t be gay. Or, perhaps, to convince heterosexual men that looking at a woman’s legs as she walks down the street is ALWAYS wrong and “treating her as a sex object”.

  22. #22 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    Yeah! Yeah! spirituality is undefined, dumb and hopelessly demeaned by close association with a lot of CRETINS.
    But where does spirituality comes from?
    Not out of thin air, not out of randomness.
    (Hint: stupidity comes AFTER spirituality, not before, not the source, and “gods” too comes AFTER)

  23. #23 Leigh Mortensen
    March 15, 2007

    I think the idea that spirituality and religion are synonymous could not be farther from the truth, depending on the religion, at least insofar as most religion these days is being used as a form of mass control and power gaming. Spirituality is, for me, at least, very simply, the realization that the self is not in fact the limit of consciousness. That at the core we are all merely facets of an ultimate, central consciousness, which has chosen to manifest in multiplicity in order to increase it’s knowledge of itself by experiencing that which it is not. Finite and separate. Any apparent division between the schools of materialist thinking and spiritual thinking are just that, an appearance, for nothing in knowable reality is truly separate. Quantum physics teaches us of the likelihood that material existence is something that is solidified, if you will, by being observed by consciousness, so the real question to be answered is, is mind an emergent property of matter or is matter an emergent property of mind. I think at the end of the day we may all be surprised by the answer to that question.

  24. #24 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    See, Leigh Martensen has a feeling of spiritulaity, and I literally can’t understand his comment at all, especially at the core we are all merely facets of an ultimate, central consciousness, which has chosen to manifest in multiplicity in order to increase it’s knowledge of itself by experiencing that which it is not.

    I prefer scientific method ie induction, and keep wanting to try to apply it to what he writes. But why do I prefer induction? After all, inductive method it not logically justifiable (the “problem of induction” see here, for example. I am forced to the conclusion that I prefer induction because I have an evolved tendency to do so.

  25. #25 Ron
    March 15, 2007

    If we are going to reject one pole of Cartesian dualism-spirit or soul-as something that really exists, then we also have to reject the notion of the ‘material world’ that goes with it, the idea that what is real is inert ‘stuff’, matter, things we bump our shins on in the dark etc. What is real then must be process, events, ‘things’ that are impermanent that are born, grow and die, giving rise to further events/things of the same nature.
    Whitehead, who thought a lot about this kind of philosophy said that each event/thing (he called them ‘actual entities’ or equivalently, ‘actual occasions’) has a physical pole and a mental/conceptual pole. Unlike Kant though he reversed things–subjective experience arises from the world, not the reverse.

    Think of a concept such as ‘species’. How does such a ‘thing’ exist? Is it just a category in biologists imagination? Or is it a real ‘thing’. Both, of course, and the mental/conceptual dimension cannot be ignored, it is part of the reality of the actual entity that is a species. It also shades into ‘value’ (even ‘spirits’ for say a Maya shaman) and other uncomfortable notions for the classical scientific ‘materialist’. I think including the mental/conceptual pole of reality is what Taylor and others refer to as a ‘spiritual’ dimension as an unavoidable part of the real world.

  26. #26 Ginger Yellow
    March 15, 2007

    So is this guy doing any actual research? If not why does he need a prize? If his book’s that good, surely it will sell. It’s not like pablum about spirituality is a niche market in the US.

  27. #27 daenku32
    March 15, 2007

    consciousness of being connected with something greater than onesself
    Does earth count?

  28. #28 SteveC
    March 15, 2007

    The word spirituality is too tainted to permit me to think it is a good idea to use it for anything. Ditch it altogether and find another word if you must. I find it a useless word anyway, and when I encounter it, I instantly think the user of the word either doesn’t really know what the hell they want to say in a clear way, or, worse, is an idiot.

  29. #29 CCP
    March 15, 2007

    “at the core we are all merely facets of an ultimate, central consciousness, which has chosen to manifest in multiplicity in order to increase it’s knowledge of itself by experiencing that which it is not…Quantum physics teaches us of the likelihood that material existence is something that is solidified, if you will, by being observed by consciousness, so the real question to be answered is, is mind an emergent property of matter or is matter an emergent property of mind.”

    Ow! ow!! My eye-rolling muscles are cramping up!

  30. #30 Will E.
    March 15, 2007

    “I’m spiritual but not religious” = “I like candles, herbal tea, cats, and those little daily affirmation books.”

    Spirituality is bullshit, to not put too fine a point on it.

  31. #31 quork
    March 15, 2007

    Appropriately enough, the latest Templeton Prize has just been awarded. $1.5 million for this rubbish:

    Thank you for that link to an article in the NYTimes Science section.

  32. #32 MysticOlly
    March 15, 2007

    RE Ron, #24
    He wrote,

    “Think of a concept such as ‘species’. How does such a ‘thing’ exist? Is it just a category in biologists imagination? Or is it a real ‘thing’. Both, of course, and the mental/conceptual dimension cannot be ignored, it is part of the reality of the actual entity that is a species.”

    This is just wrong. ‘species’ is NOT part of the reality of the actual entity that is a species. It is part of the abstraction that human nervous systems have developed to deal with/organise the ‘reality’ of the actual entities.

    Do I need to remind people that, “The Map is NOT the territory.”?

    Oli

  33. #33 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    Quantum physics teaches us of the likelihood that material existence is something that is solidified, if you will, by being observed by consciousness, so the real question to be answered is, is mind an emergent property of matter or is matter an emergent property of mind.

    “Quantum physics teaches us”. . . No, it doesn’t.

    I wish I could be more Saganesque about this, but it’s too early in the morning and I’ve heard this too many times. You sound like a nice person, but really, you’ve been fed a line. One of the main triumphs of quantum physics in the last half-century — really, since Dieter Zeh’s work in 1970 — has been to reduce the glory which must be accorded to “conscious observers”. Once upon a time, one could have claimed that it took consciousness to turn quantum strangeness into a solid, classical world, but now we know that jittering molecules can do the job without the need for an emergent mind. As Tegmark and Wheeler say, “Loosely speaking, decoherence calculations show that you don’t need a human observer to get this effect — even an air molecule will suffice.”

  34. #34 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    Will E: “I’m spiritual but not religious” = “I like candles, herbal tea, cats, and those little daily affirmation books.”

    Spirituality is bullshit, to not put too fine a point on it.

    May be you mean : “Calling candles, herbal tea, cats, and those little daily affirmation books is bullshit”?
    If you have doubts about the definition of Spirituality you can hardly criticize it.
    If you don’t have doubts could you tell us where you fetched your definition?

  35. #35 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    Kevembuangga asked:

    But where does spirituality comes from?
    Not out of thin air,…

    Actually, Kevembuangga, it does come out of thin air. Look up the etymology of the word.

    http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/mind.html

  36. #36 poke
    March 15, 2007

    “Spirituality” is a positive term for anti-atheist/materialist sentiment. It’s like “white pride.”

  37. #37 geneticblend
    March 15, 2007

    PZ, I’ve been reading Pharyngula for over a year now, and posts like this make me want to hit the ‘unsubscribe’ option on my Google Reader. This wholesale rejection of anything with the label “spiritual” strikes me as subjective, blindly biased, perhaps even bigoted.

    I agree that spirituality and religion should be strongly critiqued. But there is nothing sophisticated about your criticism–it’s just an outright dismissal of a concept in a manner that would make any creationist or other religious fundamentalist proud. I’m glad that your commenters have added a layer of complexity and nuance to this topic.

    I agree that “spirituality” is a problematic word. But it’s used by many people who are disenchanted by institutional religion who are trying to overcome existential angst. These are subjective feelings, yes, and difficult to quantify, but the struggles are real. By stomping on ‘spirituality’ wholesale without any examination of the multiplicity of its meanings, you’re communicating that science has nothing to offer some who are taking refuge in the word and that their crisis is trivial.

    For all of his unrelenting (but carefully thought out) criticism of supernatural claims, Carl Sagan still found a way to appeal to that human sense of wonder and that equally human but irrational desire that many have to feel connected to the universe.

  38. #38 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    I think a few of the posts on this forum reveal an important aspect of spirituality, and a very human one – social position. Claiming spirituality allows a person to put themself above others because of their “connection” to “something greater” – an unquestionable and unknowable connection. If you don’t understand it then, hey, that’s your loss we’ll look down on you (if less influencial) or crowd you out (if more). This is presumably the source of the indignancy with which a couple of posters have responded – without ever telling us anything about their supposed great spirituality.

    Neolotus implies that PZ is defective for not understanding that “the feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity”. If we don’t understand this cryptic vagueness then, instead of getting a straight explanation, we are told to go to other sources or watch a Hollywood movie. Kevem is outright hostile: “But where does spirituality comes from?
    Not out of thin air, not out of randomness.
    (Hint: stupidity comes AFTER spirituality, not before, not the source, and “gods” too comes AFTER)”. No Kevem, we are not stupid. Please explain to us *exactly* what you mean.

    “material existence is something that is solidified, if you will, by being observed by consciousness” – I think this is a slight misunderstanding. While observation causes wavefunction collapse, this observation does not have to have anything to do with consciousness itself. Observation simply by instrument (with no conscious person observing the result) can cause the collapse of a 45 degree polarised photon to horizontal/vertical, for example; no observation leads to no resolution of polarisation. Naturally, this does not rule out consciousness on a philosophical level!

    One of my favorite quotes: “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.” 🙂

  39. #39 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    Norman Doering : Look up the etymology of the word.

    Oh! Yeah?
    And it is appropriate for atheists to endorse the definitions from the religionists?
    FYI I am an atheist and even a “nasty” one (been temporarily banned by Rob Knop who whitheld some of my comments until I told him he was dishonest)

  40. #40 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    The origin of the word “spiritual” doesn’t really have anything to do with “religionists” – more latin. From etymology.com:

    “c.1250, “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” from O.Fr. espirit, from L. spiritus “soul, courage, vigor, breath,” related to spirare “to breathe,”

    Hence respire, aspirate and similar words. So we are dealing with thin air.

  41. #41 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Oh pleeease somone respond to my two posts above. I don’t mind being told I’m stupid or naive, or even flamed. But I would really like to know if anyone thinks I’m right, or indeed wrong, and preferably why.

    (Kevembuangga, were you in fact responding to me? I took it that you were, and agreeing that “spirituality might have a genetic base, but maybe it was just a coincidence of timing).

  42. #42 stogoe
    March 15, 2007

    My favorite movie spirituality (from A Mighty Wind):

    “Terry and I worship an unconventional deity. The power of another dimension. Now you are not going to read about this dimension in a book or a magazine because it exists nowhere… but in my own mind. Through our ceremonies and rituals we have witnessed the awesome and vibratory power… of color.”

    “This is not an occult science. This is not one of those crazy systems of divination and astrology. That stuff’s hooey, and you’ve got to have a screw loose to go in for that sort of thing. Our beliefs are fairly commonplace and simple to understand. Humankind is simply materialized color operating on the 49th vibration. You would make that conclusion walking down the street or going to the store.”

    “No, ladies and gentlemen, we don’t ride around on broomsticks and wear pointy hats. Well, we don’t ride on broomsticks. “

  43. #43 Flex
    March 15, 2007

    Torbjörn Larsson wrote, “After all, a small amount of alcohol do your health good and lift your spirits, but any amount of religion seems to be downright harmful to the sanity of your mind.”

    As often as I usually say to myself, ‘Torbjörn hit that one right out of the park’, I’m afraid that I don’t necessarily know what you are talking about with this sentance. (Unless you are working toward a pun on spirits.)

    As I see it, the words ‘spiritual’, ‘religion’, and even ‘sanity’ are not particularly clearly defined. At the broadest sense, religion is often considered to mean accepting something without evidence, i.e. faith.

    Organized religion includes a lot of ‘traditional’ knowledge which the worshipers are supposed to accept strictly on faith. That’s one of the real problems with a rapidly changing world which has invalidated this ‘traditional’ knowledge. I would certainly agree with you that any doctrine which claims that ‘traditional’ knowledge is superior to evidential and testable knowledge is an indication of less than rational thinking. Whether irrational thinking means reduced sanity, I’m not so sure about. Although that would be a great topic of discussion over a few beers.

    But to say that the very broad term ‘religion’, which covers a large spectrum of human conditions and behaviors, is linked to a loss of sanity is a little excessive. We all engage in faith-based thinking to a greater or lesser extent. We should be aware of when we are accepting things on faith, and we should be able to differentiate testable vs. non-testable faith. For example, much of the knowledge in the science articles P.Z. Myers summerizes here I have to accept on faith, but I give this knowledge a higher weight simply because I believe that with the right equipment I could test the knowledge myself.

    This is an example of testable faith. I not only have faith that P.Z. is not miss-representing the knowledge, but also faith that I could reproduce the results if I had the desire and means. Non-testable faith is different. If someone says that a deity spoke to them, there is no way I can test that claim. Personally, I would have doubts about that person’s sanity, but other people may not.

    When P.Z. rails against religion, I take that as a shorthand for disgust at the manipulative nature of religious leaders, the claim that ‘traditional’ knowledge trumps testable knowledge, the deliberate fostering of uninquisitive followers, and the arrogant presumption that incomprehensible texts (or ineffable spirituality) determine morality. I share that disgust.

    Back to spirituality. One definition that you didn’t include in your list is found in many unabridged dictionaries, and that is a feeling of being incorporeal. This definition covers a lot of mystical feelings, including that of being inter-connected to all things. I would like to point out, however, that there is nothing in that definition that excludes scientific study of that feeling.

    I don’t mind admitting that at times I’ve experianced the pleasure of feeling connected to everything around me, including a feeling of noncoporealness. (And the only mind-altering substance I’ve ever used is alcohol.) In my case, it’s a very intellectual pleasure (I can’t get this feeling while drink). I don’t gain any knowledge from the feeling, I’m limited to the knowledge I already have.

    How do I know this? Simple; as I acquire additional knowledge about physics, chemistry, or biology this knowledge is incorporated into my experiances of interconnectedness. But this additional knowledge wasn’t present in my experiances of interconnectedness before I learned it. Thus; the experiance of interconnectedness only incoporates knowledge I’ve previously gained, it doesn’t add anything new.

    However, I can easliy see people feeling that they gained some insight into the world though experiances like these. It’s a very euphoric experiance.

    There is nothing in this noncorporeal experiance relating to morality or ethics, nor is there a ‘spiritual dimension’ involved. There is nothing that suggests that this noncorporeal experiance cannot be examined by the process of science.

    Finally, it’s pretty clear to me that any moral or ethical feelings which derive from such noncorporeal experiances are simply reflections of the personality of the experiancer. Which suggests that there are some very scary people out there.

  44. #44 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    Etymology of spirit:

    c.1250, “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” from O.Fr. espirit, from L. spiritus “soul, courage, vigor, breath,” related to spirare “to breathe,” from PIE *(s)peis– “to blow” (cf. O.C.S. pisto “to play on the flute”). Original usage in Eng. mainly from passages in Vulgate, where the L. word translates Gk. pneuma and Heb. ruah. Distinction between “soul” and “spirit” (as “seat of emotions”) became current in Christian terminology (e.g. Gk. psykhe vs. pneuma, L. anima vs. spiritus) but “is without significance for earlier periods” [Buck]. L. spiritus, usually in classical L. “breath,” replaces animus in the sense “spirit” in the imperial period and appears in Christian writings as the usual equivalent of Gk. pneuma. Meaning “supernatural being” is attested from c.1300 (see ghost); that of “essential principle of something” (in a non-theological sense, e.g. Spirit of St. Louis) is attested from 1690, common after 1800. Plural form spirits “volatile substance” is an alchemical idea, first attested 1610; sense narrowed to “strong alcoholic liquor” by 1678. This also is the sense in spirit level (1768).

    So, the ancestor of our word “spirit” meant “breath”. (Likewise, the similarity between atmosphere and the Hindu atman is not an accident; atman in Sanskrit means “breath”, “soul” or “life”, and is cognate with the Greek atmos, “vapor”.) We now know that breaths are material, composed of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapor and various more complicated organic molecules derived from garlic. Does this mean that my spirit smells like a pepperoni and jalapeno stuffed-crust pizza from Cecilia’s, imperfectly masked by a sweet peppermint?

  45. #45 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    Tryptamine: Kevem is outright hostile: “But where does spirituality comes from?
    Not out of thin air, not out of randomness.
    (Hint: stupidity comes AFTER spirituality, not before, not the source, and “gods” too comes AFTER)”. No Kevem, we are not stupid. Please explain to us *exactly* what you mean.

    I am “outright hostile” to whom?
    I do need to explain myself better 🙂

    Not out of thin air, not out of randomness.
    I looks like if “spirituality” has been around for quite a while there must be some reasons for it to emerge, isn’t it?
    Scott Atran provides at least some partial explanations, there are probably more to be found, so dismissing spirituality as “just nonsense” is idiotic.

    stupidity comes AFTER spirituality

    Stupidity comes from simpletons when they ask themselves “spiritual questions” and are content with fairy tales which are fed to them.

    and “gods” too comes AFTER

    The gods are invented as a (lousy) answer to existential anguish.

    Spirituality is questionning about our “inner experiences” and trying to relate them to the world at large, usually it doesn’t goes too well…
    It may turn you insane.
    But rejecting spirituality may ALSO turn you insane!

  46. #46 Ron
    March 15, 2007

    MysticOlly:
    “This is just wrong. ‘species’ is NOT part of the reality of the actual entity that is a species. It is part of the abstraction that human nervous systems have developed to deal with/organise the ‘reality’ of the actual entities.”

    It’s not wrong. Whitehead would have no truck with a dualism between ‘abstraction’ and ‘reality’. The conceptual pole is a necessary element in the ‘concresence of an actual entity’, to use his rather obscure language.

    A species is a real entity, not ´just’ an abstraction. What you are calling abstraction is part of its reality.Ie the ‘abstraction’ is part of the world, not a creation of the human nervous system. The world created the human nervous system, not the other way around.

  47. #47 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    A Mighty Wind? The air theme continues…

    Beautifully said flex – if only the majority claiming spirituality could be so explicit (and articulate) as yourself! I think your description of spirituality as a fundamentally human emotional response is the important factor – perhaps this is the difference between the sort of spirituality PZ is railing against and the more secular stuff we could agree is useful (and important)?

  48. #48 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    Hello Kevem –

    Thanks for clarifying your position. Maybe you were just being more stident than hostile!

    I’m sure spirituality does have a cause, as do most other things. But why does that make it important? Foolishness, I’m sure, also has a cause, but that’s no reason to respect it! Homeopathy has a cause – a lack of confidence in the barbaric medical procedures of the time, coupled with wishful thinking and the placebo effect – but that doesn’t mean it’s not nonsense, even if it’s interesting nonsense.

    Secondly, the definition of spirituality is so broad that many things that *are* just nonsense and bluster (such as PZ’s example above) can be passed off in its name without scrutiny. This makes the study of things spiritual for their own sake a business that becomes fraught with nonsense, and so argues against studying beliefs purely because they are spiritual.

    I’m not sure I quite understand your characterisation of stupidity coming after spirituality. Surely one can be stupid without spirituality, and vice versa? Are the two things even that intimately connected for any cause and effect relationship?

    As for insanity – “there is a joy to being mad that only madmen know” 🙂

  49. #49 Molly, NYC
    March 15, 2007

    Actually, I feel sorry for the Templeton Prize folks (or would, if it weren’t for all that money). They’re well-meaning people who really are trying to find some evidence that supports their beliefs, they aren’t primarily an elaborate PR firm like the Discovery Institute or a big scam like Scientology or the religious right. If some true physical proof of God’s existance showed up, the Templeton organization would absolutely be the go-to guys–they’d have the numbers, the measurements, all that.

    Which is why they’re one of the biggest arguments for atheism I know. These are smart, sincere, well-funded people. If anyone’s likely to find the proof they’re looking for, it’s Templeton. Every year, they stick their hand out to find the best evidence they can. But they always pull back a fist full of air.

  50. #50 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    Blake Stacey wrote:

    So, the ancestor of our word “spirit” meant “breath”.

    Yep, that’s what I was trying to get at. It’s from the Latin spiritus, and it meant ‘breath’ originally. Spiritual and respiratory both derive from the same root. Spirit literally does come “out of” thin air. It’s not just latin and Sanskrit, in Hebrew too:

    http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/mind.html

    …if we check in the Greek and Hebrew bibles to see which words are translated as ‘soul’, etc., in the King James Version, we will find many whose literal meaning is ‘breath’ or ‘wind’. For example, the Hebrew word neshamah (literally meaning ‘breath’) is twice rendered as ‘spirit’, once as ‘soul’. The Hebrew-Aramaic word ruach (lit., ‘wind’) is rendered 240 times as ‘spirit’, six times as ‘mind.’ The word nephesh (lit., ‘breath’) is rendered ‘soul’ 428 times) ‘mind’ 15 times, ‘ghost’ twice, and ‘life’ 119 times. Turning to the Greek Bible, we find pneuma (lit., ‘breath’) rendered as ‘ghost’ 91 times (including the rendering ‘Holy Ghost’), 292 times as ‘spirit’.

    Blake Stacey lastly asked:

    Does this mean that my spirit smells like a pepperoni and jalapeno stuffed-crust pizza from Cecilia’s, imperfectly masked by a sweet peppermint?

    Yes.

    It also means most of the ancients made the same mistake when thinking about the difference between life and death. They looked at a newly dead body, say someone died of a heart attack, and the only visible difference to them is that it’s not breating and it’s heart is not beating. Then they noted that wind moves things — maybe it got inside people and moved them when you breathed.

  51. #51 Flex
    March 15, 2007

    Tryptamine wrote, “more secular stuff we could agree is useful (and important)?”

    Just to clarify. I’m not claiming that there is anything necessarily useful or important about noncorporeal spiritual experiances. As far as I can tell, they provide pleasure, but not insight. This doesn’t make them bad either, except that we make them so.

  52. #52 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    You make an interesting point, Molly, and I’m sure you’re right about the sincerity and competance of the Templeton people. But here’s the thing – if you’re looking for physical evidence of a phenomenon, aren’t you doing natural science?

    Let’s think about what sort of evidence would be appropiate to support the existence of God. Certainly showing that natural selection is wrong or evolution had not occured would not be effective, unless we fall back on the old creationist false dichotomy of evolution/creation (there are other possibilities such as the seeding of life on this planet). Finding, say, God’s signiture in a glacier (a la Hitch hiker’s guide) would hardly be convincing, since such a thing could be readily faked, and even if it couldn’t would only demonstrate the existence of phantom glacier writers, not God. So what sort of proof do you envisage?

    The only thing I can think of is some sort of summoning of God, followed by demonstration of some miracles (and even this hardly proves omnipresence, for example). But even if you found convincing evidence for God, what happen next. Fine, atheists like myself cease to be atheists and believe in God for the same reason that I belive DNA is double helical or humans descended from apes. But the spiritual aspect is completely removed. Why should I refrain from sin, apart from fear of punishment? Why should I go to worship what would essentially be reduced to a natural phenomenon. I beieve (and have evidence!) the big bang created the universe as a natural process – and I don’t worship that!

    You also mustn’t forget there are some pretty good purely logical arguments against Gods existence, which (personally) I find more convincing than simple lack of evidence (because of the problems described above).

  53. #53 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    Ron : Ie the ‘abstraction’ is part of the world, not a creation of the human nervous system. The world created the human nervous system, not the other way around.

    You are right on the second point but wrong on the first!
    The world created the human nervous system for sure but the human nervous system creates an IMAGE OF THE WORLD to its own use.
    This is the ONLY THING we know about, “the map is not the territory”, the ‘abstraction’ is NOT part of the world but part of this “world image”.
    All bickering about “reality” between atheists, religionists and whatever any other fancy philosophical standings comes from confusing “the world” with our current opinion about the world.

  54. #54 Sonja
    March 15, 2007

    My best definition of spirituality is “the titillation of the unknown”.

    I have the same issue as PZ with the word, so when people use it I ask them what they mean. So, this is anecdotal, but I have found that the experiences people describe have the same things in common.

    Imagine you are walking through a strange woods that you have never walked through before. You will experience feelings — everyone will — atheists, christians, buddhists. You will see and hear strange things. You’re imagination will be sparked. Exciting. Very human.

    Now imagine walking through the woods by your house that you walk through every day. There are no feelings. There is no mystery, no unknown. Therefore no titillating feelings of mystery.

    Scientists, by the nature of their work, explore at the edges of the known world. The irony is that this makes scientists the biggest junkies of this titillating feeling of the unknown.

    However, “spiritual” people want to think that they are unique somehow — that it takes some special rituals to get that feeling back.

  55. #55 NeoLotus
    March 15, 2007

    To Geneticblend #36: thank you very much for your post.

  56. #56 NC Paul
    March 15, 2007

    “– even an air molecule will suffice.”

    Air molecule?

    Sorry Blake, my inner pedant made me do it…

    Otherwise – I agree, quantum physics does not imply that you need consciousness for stuff to materially exist and any suggestion of such is wootastic.

  57. #57 Ron
    March 15, 2007

    Kevembuangga
    If the a species did not have its own nature in the world, then how could we make an image of it? Where would our knowledge to make such an abstraction come from? The mind of God? No, the ‘abstraction’ has to be there before the human nervous system can find it.

  58. #58 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    Hi Flex –

    Oh yes – this gets us into the interesting realm of the function of aesthetics in personal life and society 🙂 If we accept that, like art, the content of you noncorporeal experience is essential aesthetic in nature then it is the emotional impact, rather than the actual content, that is to be taken seriously. Nobody expects Romeo & Juliet to be a *true* story – we understand it to be a fiction, but the manipulation of our emotions through the play is still pleasurable, and for complex reasons. Part of this is a desire to transcend our own bodies, our understanding, and our lives in order to get over the banal details of everyday life and focus on larger patterns, fears and desires.

    I personally think narrative, metaphor and storytelling is a huge part of human life – presumably related to our gift for languages and to cement our culture. Religion plays into this in complex ways. And why not use science as a source of this? When the story being told is *true* – as well as thrilling – then I think the impact is all the greater.

    This is all very personal, of course, but I have some idea of the experiences you describe and I find them to be very useful in my life. Knowing that humans have really only existed for a blink in the eye of the universe; that all my atoms were once part of a star; and how amazing (not unlikely, but still amazing) the evolution of life as complex as humans is gives my strength to overcome day to day pain, to forgive others, and enthusiasm in my (scientific) work. I don’t like to call this “spirituality” (mostly because of bad associations) – but maybe I should.

    Anyway, any thoughts? 🙂

  59. #59 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    potentilla : Kevembuangga, were you in fact responding to me?

    No I wasn’t but I roughly agree on some of your claims that some inner feelings surely have some genetic basis and may differ from one individual to the other.
    Given that inner feelings are our ONLY source of information from the outer world (colors, pitches, tastes, warmth, etc…) if for some they include feelings of a “presence” (like in the controversial Persinger’s experiments) it is certainly difficult to convince those people to ignore them.

  60. #60 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    God damn. I guess a PHD in the sciences gives you universal competence to write pronouncements about anything. You can feel free to dismiss the work of another PHD out of hand, without having to read a book or even a journal article of theirs. Reading two pages on the Internets is plenty good enough.

    Evidence schmevidence. PZ Myers observes that attacking a religion PHD makes him feel good, and attracts sycophants to his blog. No effort to examine Taylor’s work is even necessary. Great scientific thinking here.

    No wonder the sciences and the humanities got a divorce.

    Oh, and how about those humanities professors with their bags of money? Of course, people coming out of universities with science degrees don’t make anything.

  61. #61 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    “Oh, and how about those humanities professors with their bags of money?”

    Erm … presumably that’s ironic?

  62. #62 Dan H
    March 15, 2007

    DI, AIG, Templeton all are pathetic reactionary, and increasingly impotent signs of the frustration of last generation’s non-thinkers .. Don’t worry to much Science marches on.

  63. #63 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    “Erm … presumably that’s ironic?”

    Yes, very. The guy won a 1.5 million dollar prize. But I’m sure he didn’t become a humanities professor to get rich.

  64. #64 Taxorgian
    March 15, 2007

    I suspect one of the points of confusion could be addressed by answers to a specific question: “Are hallucinations real?” And the discord comes from the different meanings of the word “real.” So, for example, there can be a definable, reproducible phenomenon that occurs during various types of stress on the brain during hallucination, so it is in this sense real. But the various visions, senses of transcendence and so on do not have corresponding objects external to the hallucinator’s own brain, so it is also NOT real.

    The various things most commonly associated with “spirituality” are similar to things ‘seen’ during hallucination experiences.

  65. #65 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    “Erm … presumably that’s ironic?”

    I don’t think you get me. At least in my country, humanities graduates find it notoriously difficult to find jobs while scientists are under high demand, especially the biological sciences. The Templeton is extremely unusual as a big prize in the humanities, being set up deliberately (and slightly childishly) to be a bit bigger than the Nobel prize.

  66. #66 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    Ah, found the link. From BBC:

    “Chemistry and physics graduates earn £98,000 more on average during their careers than students who get a degree in history, a study suggests.”

  67. #67 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    “The various things most commonly associated with “spirituality” are similar to things ‘seen’ during hallucination experiences.”

    Well I don’t think you’ve ‘seen’ some of the work on cognitive psychology and religion having to do with metaphor and embodied mind. Not that you’d be interested.

  68. #68 RedMolly
    March 15, 2007

    RedMolly’s five-second definition of “spirituality,” as it applies to me:

    Go outside at night. Look up at the sky. Think about how many stars you can see; then think about how many you can’t see. Think about how you’re made of the same kind of stuff as those stars, and how billions of years ago the atoms in your body were part of the clouds that birthed those same stars.

    Think how unimaginably tiny you are in comparison to all that stuff; then think how cool it is that you’re around at all, considering the astronomical odds against your conception and birth. Think how cool it is that other people are around, too, considering the astronomical odds against their conception and birth. Go back inside and hug some of those people and take a second to appreciate them. Scratch behind your cat’s ears. Have another glass of wine.

    Wow… a sense of transcendent connectedness with the universe, with no visions or gods or “universal consciousness” required. And it makes you feel like being nice to people and other critters, too.

  69. #69 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    “Well I don’t think you’ve ‘seen’ some of the work on cognitive psychology and religion having to do with metaphor and embodied mind”

    Ah, and we’ve gone full circle – somebody claiming that spritituality is ineffable, and if we don’t understand we’re beneath being told exactly what it is. Try telling us in clear language what great insights cognative psychology and the embodied bind yield!

  70. #70 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    “I don’t think you get me. At least in my country, humanities graduates find it notoriously difficult to find jobs while scientists are under high demand…”

    Yes, we agree about that. My point is that people on this site are shedding alligator tears about the unfairness of this guy getting 1.5 million dollars. When was the last time you heard about someone with a humanities career making 1.5 million dollars? Oh, the injustice, say the scientists.

  71. #71 Tryptamine
    March 15, 2007

    Ok – I don’t think people on this site (though I can only speak for myself) are particularly bothered about how much money they guy makes – people have made far more money from far sillier things (just look at ‘epic movie’) – and the Templeton trust is entitled to give its money to who the heck it likes. It’s more the rewarding of intellectual dishonesty and vagueness, and a cry of protest against an apparently learned organisation recognising what we consider to be nonsense.

  72. #72 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    RedMolly– I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is these prosletyzing atheists minding everyone else’s business.

    Leave Dr. Taylor and his students alone.

  73. #73 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    Ron : Where would our knowledge to make such an abstraction come from? The mind of God? No, the ‘abstraction’ has to be there before the human nervous system can find it.

    Either you assume an a priori knowledge built in the “human nervous system” (unlikely, very close to “The mind of God” indeed) or you are a Platonist, I am NOT a Platonist.
    I am sorry I will not repeat all those lengthy arguments.

  74. #74 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    “Intellectual dishonesty and vagueness”

    Has anyone here read his work besides the two pages PZ linked to? He’s dishonest just because he used the word “spiritual”? Does everyone have to be a scientific materialist, or they’re being intellectually dishonest and vague?

  75. #75 PZ Myers
    March 15, 2007

    Leave Dr. Taylor and his students alone.

    But I already bought the plane tickets!

    This is ridiculous. The hypersensitivity of the faithful reaches legendary new heights: a dithering theist gets $1.5 million, but some people finding his work vague and useless and commenting on it on a web site are oppressing him.

    Sorry, guy, would it be enough if I destroyed the web site and erased the archives, or do I also have to have my tongue cut out and my fingers broken?

  76. #76 notthedroids
    March 15, 2007

    ‘It might be easy to come up with a better word if you would explain what you’re talking about. Perhaps starting with just how you’re “connected” and what is it that is “something greater than onesself”.’

    Absolutely. (1) Electromagnetically (for example), (2) the rest of the universe (for example), and (3) your mom.

  77. #77 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    Tryptamine:

    Nobody expects Romeo & Juliet to be a *true* story – we understand it to be a fiction, but the manipulation of our emotions through the play is still pleasurable, and for complex reasons.

    One of those complex reasons — at least for a literature nut like me — is the correlation of the art with historical reality. It adds another layer of appreciation: we can hunt for the stories upon which Shakespeare based his play, we can find reflections of Elizabethan England in what “should” be Renaissance Italy (names, dialect, references to recent history), we can smoke out clues which might point to Shakespeare’s personal life, and so forth. Factual knowledge adds to our experience of the play as art, just as a factual understanding of our pale blue dot’s place in the Cosmos deepens that sense of wonder which some people, by personal preference, choose to deem “spiritual”.

    By the way, say hi to Phenethylamine for me. (-:

  78. #78 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    “– even an air molecule will suffice.”

    Air molecule?

    Sorry Blake, my inner pedant made me do it…

    Hey, talk to Tegmark and Wheeler, not me! 😉

    Actually, I think it’s a reasonable term, given that we don’t actually care whether the molecule in question is N2, O2, CO2 or one of several other choices. If I say, “Animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide,” I don’t need to specify whether I’m thinking about a python, a wombat or a politician.

  79. #79 Steve_C
    March 15, 2007

    Boohoo. 1,5 million reasons to make fun of the “work”.

    If my “spirituality” measurement is 0 does that mean I’m less conscious or moral than someone whose number is hunderds of points higher?

  80. #80 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    It’s not just you, PZ. There’s a lot of this in-your-face prosletyzing atheists out there on the Internet. Full disclosure: I’m an agnostic myself, but I have respect for religion. I studied it in college.

    You guys say you have Enlightenment values. One of those values is tolerance and respect for others’ beliefs–not just scientific beliefs. Voltaire was impressed when he visited England and saw how many different beliefs could coexist (fairly) peacefully. I think you guys have ditched this part of the Enlightenment legacy.

    Not all belief is the same. Not all believers are the same. But I’ve seen places on this site where you denigrate “the religious” whole cloth. I have relatives that were and are “religious.” And they were good people. I’ve been known to attend a Unitarian church sometimes. These are fine people as well–even if some of them couldn’t tell you much about the law of conservation of matter, or whatever.

    Now what you promulgate on this site is highly marketable these days. I think rights in the public square is fine. I don’t want to see a big ugly rock with the 10 commandments on it either. And George Bush and his minions have screwed over the country in a big, big way.

    But I think you guys would be much better off if you stuck to taking on *fundamentalism*, and abuses of the church state divide. The problem is *ideology.* I don’t think the problem is solved by replacing it with another ideological dogma–in this case scientism.

  81. #81 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    I said, “rights in the public square is fine”

    I should say *more* than fine. I’m glad you guys are fighting for that.

  82. #82 Bryson Brown
    March 15, 2007

    Taylor is an interesting case– this vague talk of spirituality may have won him the prize, but I’m really unsure of just what he means by it. Philosophy is a minefield of small distinctions, and to say that omitting spirituality from your understanding of human beings and their societies is a mistake may well mean only that, if you fail to take account of this aspect of their culture & beliefs, you won’t be able to understand or deal with them effectively. This is the lowest degree of ‘spiritual involvment’: That ‘spiritual’ beliefs (a pretty crude category) play an important role in much of what people do. I wonder if Taylor really means anything more than this (I find his work in general to be pretty opaque)– and I wonder how the Templeton people would feel if it emerges that this is really all he means?

  83. #83 jb
    March 15, 2007

    You know, it strikes me as utterly bizarre that a tiny minority of human beings (who may be lacking some genetic programming that ‘normal’ human beings have) run about beating their hairy chests and screaching about how insane ~95% of human beings are for their ‘normal’ range of experience.

    Looks to be ass-backwards to me…

  84. #84 Steve_C
    March 15, 2007

    Wow. JB you’re an ass.

    And anyone who uses the term “scientism”. That means you JJ.

    Stick your spirituality in the nearest black whole.

  85. #85 jb
    March 15, 2007

    JB you’re an ass.

    No, I am a ‘normal’ human being. ‘Normal’ being, as it is, a merely statistical mean.

    None of the asses (or horses) I know can type.

  86. #86 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    It’s not the “experiences” that are in doubt, it’s the wholly unsupported insinuation that they come from someplace other than the experiencer’s brain.

  87. #87 Steve_C
    March 15, 2007

    We could argue that the 95% of the population are just less evolved if you want…
    statistically normal yet rationally inferior.

    I mean if you want to play that game.

  88. #88 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    SLB: come from someplace other than the experiencer’s brain

    Not really an useful distinction.
    The taste of sugar comes “from” the experiencer’s brain, not from the chemical formula of sugar, not from the gustatory papillae, nor from the nerve impulses to the brain, nor etc…
    At SOME POINT there is a feeling which emerges out of all the stimulis, wherever you want to catch them.
    The fact that you can tweak the stimulis and change the feeling does NOT mean that the stimulis ARE the feeling.
    And the “feelings” of any kind ARE our primary evidences, don’t you need visual feelings of contrasting letters just to read any “scientific” statement and even this blog?
    I would translate your statement to :
    Are reported “spiritual” experiences related to intersubjectively noticeable stimulis?

  89. #89 Brad S
    March 15, 2007

    Not all belief is the same. Not all believers are the same. But I’ve seen places on this site where you denigrate “the religious” whole cloth. I have relatives that were and are “religious.” And they were good people. I’ve been known to attend a Unitarian church sometimes. These are fine people as well–even if some of them couldn’t tell you much about the law of conservation of matter, or whatever.

    No one said that believers are inherently bad people, just irrational. I’m not saying they beat puppies, I’m just saying that what they think is all in their head.


    But I think you guys would be much better off if you stuck to taking on *fundamentalism*, and abuses of the church state divide. The problem is *ideology.* I don’t think the problem is solved by replacing it with another ideological dogma–in this case scientism.

    I don’t think we would. Theres a reason fundamentalism is beyond the touch of criticism, and thats because the middle of the road theists are always screaming about how they need to be left alone because their unreason is justified. Well if your unreason is justified, then why isn’t the slightly crazier people using the same logic and rationality?

  90. #90 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    I’ll say it again. It’s no wonder that the sciences and the humanities got a divorce.

  91. #91 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Steve_C, why do you believe – supposing that you do – that inductive (ie scientific) method is the best way of acquiring knowledge?

  92. #92 jb
    March 15, 2007

    I mean if you want to play that game.

    “LESS” evolved? Wow, I seem to recall someone mentioning somewhere, at some time or other, that there is no “Great Chain of Being,” thus no life form is greater or lesser than any other. So as to explain away the continued existence of the full range of life forms from prokaryotes to humans after ~3.5by of active ongoing evolution.

    But I don’t mind if you want to claim that an apparent lack of perceptual/cognitive hardwiring for the experience of things that can be described as “ineffable” is a positive evolutionary development in human brain evolution. Or that your ‘kind’ are destined by virtue of your superior success at bedding nubile young women (and producing an unusual number of offspring with your particular genetic makeup) to take over the world.

    But I would mention that such claims remain to be 1) established, and 2) accomplished. As of this point in time, the lack of this trait is an outlier on the statistical scale, which makes the claim dubious at best.

  93. #93 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    The sciences and the humanities never got divorced. They’re actually siblings who have indulged in an incestuous relationship since the emergence of the human species, marked with many acts of illicit cross-fertilization and carnal consilience. They have had many children out of wedlock. . . .

  94. #94 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    Kevin- yes, that’s precisely my point. An experience in and of itself is no sort of evidence at all for the existence of something “out there” causing it. Much more evidence is required. Some “experiences” are just hallucinations.

    Wake me up when there’s intersubjective, testable evidence for some sort of “spiritual” plane of existence.

  95. #95 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    potentilla, can you name any other ways? As well as justifying the claim that what they yield is properly called “knowledge”?

  96. #96 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Steve LaBonne – no, I can’t, I am personally much attached to inductive method. But given that the validity of inductive method is a circular argument (or at least, I don’t know of any successful attempt to overturn Hume’s argument that this is so), I forced to the conclusion that the reason for my attachment is probably both emotional and genetic in origin. Not “rational”.

    I would love it if someone could make a successful case for belief in inductive method being rational.

  97. #97 Chuck
    March 15, 2007

    I just want to add a couple of points. First of all, any scientist who believes in the gods of popular religion is kidding himself. Second, there is room in the naturalist and materialist world view for an appreciation of the fundamental mystery of existence – which science can never touch. Third, as rationalists, the best we can do for society is promote rationalism and defend scientific theories and fight to the death any proposals for government to curtail science or science education – but we cannot, and will never, end superstition. The best we can hope for is a population in which the most irrational elements are checked at every turn, and for the bulk of the populace to have its inevitable superstitions checked by good humor and common sense. There is a kind of Jacobinism to atheists like Dawkins and PZ, who think that religion and superstition can be banned outright from human society and human nature. As many studies in evolutionary psychology are showing, there seems to be an inherent bias towards personalizing the blind forces of nature in the human mind. People like Rob Knop are not the enemy: you will never eradicate spiritual emotions from people, but you can eradicate fundamentalism in the same practical sense that racism is eradicated – meaning it has no currency as an idea; it certainly exists, but it is underground.

    Trying to put principles above the realities of human nature is always mistaken, and will always lead to failure or disaster.

  98. #98 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    And here is a good explanation of the problem of induction, for anyone not already familiar with it.

  99. #99 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    Like everything when you get down to the most fundamental level, the rational argument for scientific induction unavoidably has a circular component- it appeals to the induction that the inductive method has always, up till now, been the one that has provided us with knowledge that is reliable in the sense that it enables reproducibly successful prediction and control of observable phenomena.

    You are one of very many people confused about what Hume established- which is not that induction is impossible, but merely that it cannot be deductively valid. Which of course it can’t. It is a form of non-exact, non-demonstrative, or what have you, inference. That doesn’t make it useless.

  100. #100 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    Trying to put principles above the realities of human nature is always mistaken, and will always lead to failure or disaster.

    Funny, that’s exactly what I would say about trying to shield one’s ideological prferences from criticism by reifying them into supposedly immutable features of human nature.

  101. #101 greensmile
    March 15, 2007

    PZ, you are entitled to your dim view of spirituality as long as we can all play fast and loose with that word’s definition. A large part of Taylor’s lament is that most people on both sides of the debate over supernatural forces are knocking something without haveing tried it, [in the intellectual or judicial sense of “try”]. That part, I can respect. I do not at all share Taylor’s apparent assumption that feelings of awe, reverence and unexplainable hopefullness we may have only make sense in the framework of conventional relgions But I do not share what appears to be your assumption that feelings about our place in the universe can’t be anything but wrong or irrelevant. Face the fact that “feeling” our way through life preceeded all of the language-enabled dealings, scientific method included, we have with this world. It seems mighty likely the pre-verbal is an adaptation as much as the verbal tools albeit a demonstrably inferior kit of tools. You cannot succeed by being at war with our very natures.

    Nottedroids, who said “we need another word for sensing a connection to a higher power” was begging the question that, after reading a lot of William James, I think only has wrong answers.

    But others were on a far less theistic tack in their understanding of “spirituality”.

    Its an abusable label, it is applied to a great swamp in which some bits of intelligence are still found…but dismissing the 80% of humanity that operate off of intuition alone is not helping.

  102. #102 Louie
    March 15, 2007

    Back in the days when I was a (ahem) parapsychologist, I did want to punch my colleagues in the face, whenever this most horrid of words was used…

  103. #103 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    No, not at all confused. My original question was to Steve_C, who was using the word “rational”. It does not seem to me to be necessarily more rational to believe in inductive method (which, as you say, cannot be shown deductively – that is, logically – to be valid) than to believe in supernatural explanations. I only wish it did.

    Which leads me to the hypothesis, already set ot wwayyy up this thread, that both “attachment to supernatural explanations” (for which “spitituality” is not a bad name) and “attachment to inductive method” may have (independent) genetic substrates, which could account for why we feel so passionately about them.

    Do you think this hypothesis unlikely? If so, why?

  104. #104 CalGeorge
    March 15, 2007

    Barf and double barf!

    Something he wrote in 2000:

    To take the cosmos, there was a shift from the enchanted world to a cosmos conceived in conformity with post-Newtonian science, in which there is absolutely no question of higher meanings being expressed in the universe around us. But there is still, with someone like Newton himself, for instance, a strong sense that the universe declares the glory of God. This is evident in its Design, its beauty, its regularity, but also in its having evidently been shaped to conduce to the welfare of His creatures, particularly of ourselves, the superior creatures who cap it all off. Now the presence of God no longer lies in the sacred, because this category fades in a disenchanted world. But He can be thought to be no less powerfully present through His Design.
    […]
    This presence of God in the cosmos is matched by another idea: His presence in the polity. Here an analogous change takes place. The divine isn’t there in a King who straddles the planes. But it can be present to the extent that we build a society which plainly follows God’s design. This can be filled in with an idea of moral order which is seen as established by God, in the way invoked, for instance, in the American Declaration of Independence: Men have been created equal, and have been endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.

    http://www.iwm.at/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=237&Itemid=413

  105. #105 Gelf
    March 15, 2007

    Vague, undefined “spirituality” is more immoral than either religion or materialism. “Spiritual” typically describes an egoist putting on a preening grand show of his humility as a way of rounding out the image he presents to the world. “Spirituality” is unprincipled. Religion is actually a step forward insofar as the religious actually adopt and frequently cling to relatively firm principles. I happen to question the source and efficacy of those principles, but at least I can debate an honest religious person on that basis. The very nature and intent of “spirituality” is to avoid both thinking and criticism, while still receiving attention for having done so. It’s saying nothing at maximum volume and expecting applause.

    The Templeton Prize is a joke. It was founded by just such a shallow egoist to award a prize with no defined criteria beyond the ability to play a particular social game effectively. Its cash value is intentionally pegged higher than that of the Nobel Prize as a self-righteous political statement about how empty fluff is “more important” than measurable accomplishment. I was not familiar with Taylor prior to this post, but what I’ve been able to gather of his philosophical position suggests he does indeed merit such a prize. He seems to be one of those that conveniently rejects all the western philosophical traditions whereby someone could object to anything he says, allowing him to sweep away any criticism with such grand waves of the hand as, “you’re just caught up in your Cartesian assumptions of a universe that’s knowable outside of the discursive social context.” Pure twaddle.

  106. #106 Chuck
    March 15, 2007

    Steve LaBonne,

    My ideological preference is the same as yours (presumably). I would be thrilled if everyone was freed from religion and superstition, and if they recognized the materialist basis of reality and were scientifically literate. I recognize that that’s not the case. Also, if you think that certain features of human behavior are not hardwired genetically, you are as scientifically illiterate as a creationist.

  107. #107 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    Do you think this hypothesis unlikely? If so, why?

    No, I don’t. But that simply has no implications at all for their relative validity and usefulness. Another thing you mught want to consult Hume about is the naturalitic fallacy.

  108. #108 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    Chuck:

    Trying to put principles above the realities of human nature is always mistaken, and will always lead to failure or disaster.

    Steve LaBonne:

    Funny, that’s exactly what I would say about trying to shield one’s ideological prferences from criticism by reifying them into supposedly immutable features of human nature.

    Me, taking a line from David Brin: CITOKATE. Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error. When we’re playing for high stakes, like truth, no assertion constructed to be immune to criticism is worth our time. They’re banned from the table, whether their immunity derives from an intrinsic vagueness or an attribution to some unquestionable authority.

    I don’t believe in “eternal human verities”. All evidence to date indicates that our minds are material in origin and contingent upon our evolutionary history. We’ve got the traits we have thanks to being the descendants of a trillion generations of lucky winners. Had velociraptors achieved sentience and technology, their philosophers might deduce a significantly different set of “universal” moral and aesthetic principles, although velociraptor verities might share common elements with the human kind — derived, perhaps, from a shared need to protect the young of the species.

  109. #109 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    I recognize that that’s not the case.

    “Recognize”? Where’s your evidence?
    Note that the ubiquity of religion is no evidence at all that it has a biological basis in “human anture”; at most it might suggest that religious memes might be exploiting some aspect of neurobiology.

  110. #110 Rieux
    March 15, 2007

    JJWFromME wrote:

    I’ve been known to attend a Unitarian church sometimes.

    So have I–in fact, I’m a member of a Unitarian Universalist church.

    I’m also just as much an atheist as PZ is, and I’m a big fan of his. So are plenty of other UUs.

    One of the stated “Sources” of the UU tradition is “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.” Seems to me PZ is one of the best expositors of that idea in public life at the moment–and “idolatries of the mind and spirit” are pretty much exactly what he’s accusing Taylor of here.

    You can stop using my church to bash this blogger now.

    You guys say you have Enlightenment values. One of those values is tolerance and respect for others’ beliefs–not just scientific beliefs.

    What rot. A fundamental principle of the Enlightenment is that any belief (and religious belief especially) exists in an open marketplace of ideas–that such ideas deserve only as much “respect” as they have earned. The special protection you (and millions of others) expect to be afforded to religious ideas is exactly the kind of stagnatory nonsense that the Enlightenment was a reaction against.

    People deserve respect. People possess the freedom of conscience as part of their basic human rights. And (unlike countless theistic autocrats) PZ has never said or behaved otherwise.

    Beliefs, meanwhile, are fair game for criticism–criticism as savage as they may deserve–and it is not “intolerant” to treat them that way.

  111. #111 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    Steve LaBonne:

    Note that the ubiquity of religion is no evidence at all that it has a biological basis in “human nature”; at most it might suggest that religious memes might be exploiting some aspect of neurobiology.

    A few days ago, this came up here and at Jason Rosenhouse’s EvolutionBlog, prompted by a New York Times article which several people agreed needed fisking. In his post, the good Mr. Rosenhouse said,

    What strikes me about this debate is that the byproduct theory and the adaptionist theory do not seem to be mutually exclusive. Religion is not a single thing, after all. It is some combination of a propensity for belief in supernatural entities, a desire to carry out certain rituals or live according to sometimes difficult strictures, and some desire for cohesive social groups. Why could not some aspects of religion have evolved because of their immediate adaptive value, while other aspects evolved as a byproduct of other adaptations?

    Down in the comments, I pointed out that the article neglected the “selfish meme” idea, and threw in a few more thoughts about Jason’s point:

    A general predisposition to see human faces in the clouds and understand natural phenomena in human terms may be a spandrel. It’s the accidental consequence of evolving in a particular environment to cope with particular hazards. In the wild, a false negative can kill you: that shape lurking in the shadows was a leopard after all. Optimize to avoid false negatives, and you breed yourself the potential to suffer from false positives. If these don’t kill you as often, or if you move into a new environment where the standards your ancestors evolved don’t apply so well anymore, then you’ve set yourself up for perceptual distortions.

    Perhaps a tendency to animism is a by-product, a spandrel, while the things which give our madness method — doctrines, statements about which gods to worship and how — are the memes which exploit our vulnerabilities. It’s our brains which make us see a face in a grilled cheese sandwich, but it’s the memetic virus which makes that face into the Virgin Mary.

  112. #112 Steve_C
    March 15, 2007

    Are you saying that the scientific method is no more rational than the human tendancy to give intention or mystical powers to the world because of lack of understanding?

    Before there were scientific explanations for the natural world humans made assumptions about the world because they did not understand it… The sun rose because… “it was riding on a chariot”. Is there a genetic reason for people to give meaning and purpose to things that have no meaning and purpose? I don’t see any proof of that other than humans have evolved with an incredibly creative and robust mind. That same creativity gives us rational problem solving too.

    To say that rationality and spirituality are a genetic disposition doesn’t seem to make sense.

    That humans are incredibly creative and can think abstractly seems to be a better explanation.

  113. #113 Sam C
    March 15, 2007

    When creationists and other know-nothings make claims about his area of expertise despite their total ignorance, PZM rightly objects. Why does this rule not apply to PZM (and many others in this thread) making claims about Charles Taylor? Whatever you think of his claims, he’s an important, interesting philosopher, who’s thought and written a great deal, none of which people here have apparently read. PZM: I defer to your expertise in its area. But in this case, you don’t know what you’re talking about. How about having the intellectual maturity to admit it?

    Probably ineffectual attempt to ward off flames: I’m an atheist, with no interest in ‘spirituality’. But I do actually know what I’m talking about in my area of expertise, which is philosophy, and I get a bit tired of silly remarks from people who don’t.

  114. #114 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Steve LaBonne No, I don’t. Neither do I *sigh* But that simply has no implications at all for their relative validity and usefulness Usefulness, certainly, I agree with you. But validity? If you can’t believe in inductive method either because of deductive or inductive proof (and you can’t), what method are you left with for establishing validity?

    My point really was that the cleverer-than-thou crowd on here had better pay attention to this issue.

    Note that the ubiquity of religion is no evidence at all that it has a biological basis in “human anture”; at most it might suggest that religious memes might be exploiting some aspect of neurobiology “At most”? Don’t you think that might be a bit overstated? Good post here on Gene Expression on the topic.

  115. #115 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    My point really was that the cleverer-than-thou crowd on here had better pay attention to this issue.

    Oh, please. There are entire libraries’ worth of work, whose existence you seem not even to suspect, on Bayesian and other forms of probabilistic and/or non-demonstrative inference that would have been far beyond Hume’s ken. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

    The “Gene Expression” post more or less agress with what I said. As its author comcludes, “A ‘strong form’ adaptationist model is, to my mind, implausible”.

  116. #116 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Are you saying that the scientific method is no more rational than the human tendancy to give intention or mystical powers to the world because of lack of understanding?

    If that was addressed to me, I’m saying that I am sadly afraid that that is the case, given that scientific method cannot be validated either inductively or deductively.

    To say that rationality and spirituality are a genetic disposition doesn’t seem to make sense Why? If either or both had selective advantage in the past, or were a side-effect of one or a number of things than did have selective advantage?

    (See references to Hume on induction, GNXP on religion as a natural phenomenon and someone’s summary above of Jason Rosenhouse on the latter subject, if any of this is material which is unfamiliar to you).

  117. #117 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    Rieux– You probably go to church much more than I do.

    But let’s take a look at the headline of this post: “”Spirituality”? Another word for lies and empty noise.” Do you agree with this? And do you think PZ can dismiss with a sneer a body of work that he hasn’t read?

    And I disagree with you that tolerance isn’t an important part of the Enlightenment. Each of the 13 colonies had completely different church establishment. Yet the founding fathers refrained from sniping at each other over those differences. Also, as I said before, Voltaire was impressed with all the non-conformists and establishment churchgoers all living in London and getting along with each other.

    I think that at least this post by PZ Myers lacks this spirit. And it’s also ill-informed.

  118. #118 Chuck
    March 15, 2007

    “All evidence to date indicates that our minds are material in origin and contingent upon our evolutionary history.”

    This is exactly what I’m talking about when I refer to ‘human nature’. I’m not talking about some kind of Platonic, typological, essentialist “human nature”. I’m talking about the fact that our minds have been shaped by evolution. They continue to be shaped by evolution, but the pace at which this happens is literally geological. The pace of cultural change so outstrips the rate of biological change that we can refer to the realities of human nature as shaped by our evolutionary heritage. Tribalism, religious thinking, and other phenomena are caused this, and to pretend, like the Jacobins did, that we can just make man anew by imprinting atheism upon the blank slate, we are sadly mistaken. Genes don’t determine destiny, but they do weigh upon it.

  119. #119 Sonja
    March 15, 2007

    Are reported “spiritual” experiences related to intersubjectively noticeable stimulis?

    Kevembuangga, you hit the nail on the head with this question. I have been asking this for years and, in talking to people about their “spirituality”, have found the answer to be “yes” (see my comment at #53).

    I am interested in understanding what is actually happening (psychologically, physiologically, sociologically) when people describe their “spiritual” experiences, rather than this pointless debate of whether or not we’re allowed to have this conversation.

    Because I suspect that whether you are “spiritual” or not, all human being share these feelings. I don’t practice any kind of religion or “spirituality”, but I play violin, piano, draw, read, exercise, and think etc. There is no kind of woo that will work for me to reach that transcendent feeling — it is all too inane. But I experience these very human feelings nonetheless.

    It is the religious/spiritual people who cannot comprehend people like me, not the other way around.

  120. #120 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    Yet the founding fathers refrained from sniping at each other over those differences.

    Horse pucky. Several of them frequently and publicly denounced the clergy as enemies of freedom and enlightenment. Pay attention to PZ’s random quotes for a while and you’ll see a couple of examples.

    Tolerance means toleration of misguided individuals, not misguided ideas. Or if you’ll pardon the expression, love the sinner but hate the sin. 😉

  121. #121 Flex
    March 15, 2007

    Tryptamine wrote, “Anyway, any thoughts? :-)”

    Aside from the paucity of the English language requiring us to use the same term for both inexpressible experiances as well as clamorous proselytizing? 😉

    Well, I’d like to make clear the hazard of sharing these experiances. Even though I don’t think there is any additional insight or knowledge gained through noncorporeal experiances, since these experiances are ineffible there is a risk that in trying to relate these experiances a person will acquire a reputation for wisdom or insanity (or both I suppose).

    Especially if the person relating these experiances believes that they did gain additional insight or knowledge gained by their noncoporeal experiance.

    Blake Stacey indicates above how curiousity about a topic inspires us to learn more about it. We get curious about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and we start studying the period, which increases our enjoyment of the play. Our aesthetic enjoyment is strongly influenced by our knowledge. Like RedMolly, I can experiance the feeling of insignificance, but it’s because of the knowledge I already have.

    The noncorporeal experiances of spirituality where I feel the interconnectedness of all things is directly related to the level of knowledge I have about how things are interconnected. It gives me pleasure, but it does not add any new knowledge.

    This perception of noncorporealness is not on a ‘spiritual’ (in another sense of the word) plane. It exists as a manifestation of my own consciousness. It can, should be, and probably is being studied using the methods of science. It’s enjoyable, but it doesn’t add insight into the world, and anyone who claims it does is (IMHO) missunderstanding the experiance.

    I think it is related to the sense of wonder you describe at knowing where the atoms of our bodies were made. It may even be related to our ability to shift our point of view to understand someone else’s viewpoint, which we often call empathy.

  122. #122 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Steve LaBonne – ah, the courtier’s reply, plus a small ad hominem. Perhaps you would care to point me to a small corner of one of the libraries, so that I can see if I have left them unexplored?

  123. #123 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    I’m most familiar with, and persuaded by, Bayesianism so I recommed starting here: http://tinyurl.com/ywlbov

  124. #124 Chuck
    March 15, 2007

    Also, I’m not saying that religion and mysticism is as valid an approach to truth as rational thought! I’m not sure if that comment was directed at me, but it is certainly ridiculous that that’s what someone took what I was saying. Has anyone here advocated on behalf of religion or mysticism and then took refuge in “human nature” to stop argument? All I’m saying is that there are two approaches rationalists can take in seeking to make the public sphere more rational. One excludes people like Rob Knopp, categorizing them as just as dangerous as Osama bin Laden and Pat Robertson. The other takes a more nuanced approach, recognizing that anyone who accepts empirical observations and the scientific models that account for them as good approximations of the truth, and does not exclude people because they cling to irrational emotions that are probably inherent in a statistical majority of the population.

    Also, specific religious doctrines do not have a root in human nature – their origins lie in specific historical contexts. However, the urge to believe, and the willingness to personalize aspects of nature – are probably rooted in some psychological process arising in the brain.

  125. #125 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    “Several of them frequently and publicly denounced the clergy as enemies of freedom and enlightenment.”

    Yes, the priesthood. The point was you didn’t need the priesthood for your spirituality. That’s a little different than bloviating, “”Spirituality”? Another word for lies and empty noise” and telling a professor at a respected university that he’s putting out a “useless lot of hot air” without even reading one of his journal articles or cracking one of his books.

  126. #126 Steve_C
    March 15, 2007

    There is no evidence of a “spirituality” gene or a “rationality” gene.

    The brain has evolved to be more complex. The ability to think more abstractly and to
    understand what is not experientially evident is the same brain which produces cubist paintings and virtual technology.

    Knowledge and superstition are learned… not genetically passed down. The mind that can maintain these learnings are the same genetically.

  127. #127 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Thank you. (I should perhaps make clear that the comment about cleverer-than-thou was not intended to refer to you, nor indeed to Steve_C. I just get very tired of the level of invective, and indeed, hardly ever comment here, on that account).

  128. #128 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    One could compile a very long list of total hooey that some “respected professor” or other has promulgated. The technical term for the fallacy JJW is committing is argumentum ad verecundiam.

  129. #129 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    potentilla, it really is tiresome, and tends not to put people in the best of moods, when someone- alas, including you- uses A FREAKING COMPUTER, fer chrissakes, to broadcast a pretence to radical scepticism about scientific knowledge. Think about it.

  130. #130 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    There is no evidence of a “spirituality” gene or a “rationality” gene. No indeed – they are concepts worthy only of a tabloid newspaper. That is not to say, however, that there is no evidence that evolution has had no effect on the way we think in areas that could reasonably be called “rationality” and “spirituality”, either adaptively or as a spandrel.

    Knowledge and superstition are learned… not genetically passed down. But there might be variability in the readiness of the minds of individuals to acquire and retain certain sorts of knowledge and superstition. The mind that can maintain these learnings are the same genetically.Your evidence?

  131. #131 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    argumentum ad verecundiam

    Not at all. There are plenty of imbiciles with tenure. But before you take issue with someone’s life’s work, someone who’s gone through a certain process, and gotten an award from someone, shouldn’t you try to read more than two pages on the Internets before passing judgement? Oh no!! He said “spiritual”!! Therefore he must suck. I’ll go write something on my blog and my commenters will all pile on.

  132. #132 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Steve LaBonne – I don’t have a radical scepticism about scientific knowledge. I am an atheist and, as I mentioned above, strongly committed to inductive method, and thus to scientific knowledge. I just want to find out WHY I am strongly committed to inductive method. Because I don’t know.

    I’m sorry I put you in a bad mood.

  133. #133 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    Chuck:

    This is exactly what I’m talking about when I refer to ‘human nature’. I’m not talking about some kind of Platonic, typological, essentialist “human nature”. I’m talking about the fact that our minds have been shaped by evolution. They continue to be shaped by evolution, but the pace at which this happens is literally geological.

    OK, fine by me.

    The pace of cultural change so outstrips the rate of biological change that we can refer to the realities of human nature as shaped by our evolutionary heritage. Tribalism, religious thinking, and other phenomena are caused [by] this, and to pretend, like the Jacobins did, that we can just make man anew by imprinting atheism upon the blank slate, we are sadly mistaken. Genes don’t determine destiny, but they do weigh upon it.

    Why is “religious thinking” a necessary part of our genetic heritage? Two points:

    1. For the vast majority of our evolutionary past, the concept of religion was simply irrelevant. Bacteria, fish, shrews and monkeys (to list a few categories into which our ancestors fell at various times) have no concept of religion. Other species use tools and even wage war, but this one is all our own. Territoriality, tribalism, family, sex, curiosity and fear all exist outside the human realm. Why aren’t these the ineradicable traits with which all plans for human destiny must deal?

    2. As Jason Rosenhouse pointed out (see the snipped I quoted above), “religion” is not a monolithic thing. Some aspects, such as a tendency to interpret the non-human world in human terms, may be genetic and thus for all practical purposes “writ in stone”. Other aspects are almost certainly memetic, and can in principle be offset or even eradicated by other ideas. Compare this with sex, which certainly has a longer evolutionary history than religious belief — over a billion years compared to twenty thousand or so. Our nerves are placed by instructions coded in DNA, but in the past few decades we’ve shifted (and diversified) our cultural viewpoints on premarital sex, homosexuality and a few other things. We invented contraception which works, changing gender relations forever.

    Many people have compared the “New Atheism” (a silly term) to LGBT liberation movements. Even if we can’t change our biology, we can take a whack at our ideas, and the history of all progressive movements right the way back to the abolition of slavery says that ideas are not as fixed as the Zeitgeist often insists. And never forget how we do change our biology: ours is the first civilization in which a child can reasonably expect to live a full “threescore years and ten”, and we damn sure didn’t do it by hewing to the prohibitions of Leviticus. We alter our minds in ways whose consequences we can barely foresee, by ingesting chemicals from Prozac to LSD. (If I really wanted to poke a hornet’s nest, I’d suggest that psychedelic drugs are the birth-control pills of a spiritual revolution. . . but hey, it’s 2007, not 1968.)

    And as for any assertion that a particular human trait is biologically based, let alone inviolate, I can only say. . . CITOKATE.

    (Note: Prozac is apparently on the Banned Words List!)

  134. #134 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    It works, that’s why. Even Hume, who was not able to see the way to non-demonstrative justifications for inductive inference, recognized that in practice we can’t do without it. Nowadays, though there certainly isn’t one agreed framework for how to justify it and there remain many controversial questions (Goodman’s “New paradox”, for example, continues to generate much argument after all these years), we can certainly do a bit better than that. But when you get right down to it, that very fact that you and I can communicate by means of this elaborate science-based technology (which would have seemed like pure magic to anyone living in Hume’s time)shows that it works.

  135. #135 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    Steve_C said something I should have referenced in my previous post:

    Before there were scientific explanations for the natural world humans made assumptions about the world because they did not understand it… The sun rose because… “it was riding on a chariot”. Is there a genetic reason for people to give meaning and purpose to things that have no meaning and purpose? I don’t see any proof of that other than humans have evolved with an incredibly creative and robust mind. That same creativity gives us rational problem solving too.

    Yes. From a certain perspective, the division between rationality and religion is a false dichotomy. Religious explanations of natural phenomena (“the sun rises because it’s pushed by the kheper-beetle”) are rational explanations invented in a time when we knew more about beetles than about stars. Why we hang on to these explanations when better ones come along. . . now that’s where irrationality enters the picture.

  136. #136 Steve_C
    March 15, 2007

    The evidence?

    People raised with religion who give it up. The same mind has learned the superstition but eventually gains the knowledge to let it go.

    Epicurus was around before christianity existed.

  137. #137 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    I wonder how much JJW thinks one would have to read in the oeuvre of, say, a chemist publishing about phlogiston in order to recognize him as a crank.

  138. #138 Madam
    March 15, 2007

    “The problem is *ideology.* I don’t think the problem is solved by replacing it with another ideological dogma–in this case scientism.”

    You’re not by any chance a postmodernist humanities scholar with science envy, are you?
    🙂

  139. #139 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Of course it works, and of course we can’t do without it (yes, as Hume understood). But “it works” is an inductive justification! And even if there was an agreed “answer to Hume”, it wouldn’t be the reason that I, sitting here, believe strongly in induction, because I don’t know it. So I am forced to the conclusion that there is some other reason that I believe in induction. And I can’t think of any candidate other than an evolved tendency to be receptive to induction as a methodology.

    I’m sorry, I will go away for a while and see if I can eat supper and stop being irritating. Thank you for engaging in the discussion.

  140. #140 poke
    March 15, 2007

    I find it odd, potentilla, that you have these two forms of reasoning, one that has been highly successful and the other that has been a historical failure, but you’ll accept that the latter can pose a genuine challenge to all the results of the former. Inductive scepticism is obviously false; if it were true that there isn’t a good response to it, that would reflect more poorly on the sort of reasoning that typifies philosophy than on science.

    Regardless, most modern philosophers only take inductive fallibilism seriously, rather than inductive scepticism. Once of the answers is to make inductive reasoning probabilistic as Steve LaBonne pointed out. Personally, I think the whole range of arguments from empiricism to inductive scepticism/fallibilism are nonsensical: empiricism of that sort requires some unjustified a priori notion of what’s given to our senses. But what’s given to our senses is a matter for science. Observables, therefore, must be defined in terms of the ontology of science, which already includes unobservables, and this precludes any questions as to whether moving from observables to unobservables is justified.

  141. #141 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    So I am forced to the conclusion that there is some other reason that I believe in induction. And I can’t think of any candidate other than an evolved tendency to be receptive to induction as a methodology.

    And once you start thinking about WHY such a tendency might have evolved then, in the form of “evolutionary epistemology” that can IMHO be quite a good answer.

  142. #142 khan
    March 15, 2007

    On a tangent:

    I heard on the news that there has been a recent significant increase in house/apartment fires caused by people burning candles.

    They should have stuck with the tea and the cats.

  143. #143 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    Madam– No, I’m a technical writer with humanities scholar envy who wishes he discovered Isaiah Berlin much earlier. Stuff like postmodernism was a big reason why I lost interest in my first year of grad school in English Lit several years back. (And as I said above, I studied religion as a liberal arts undergraduate.)

  144. #144 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    And once you start thinking about WHY such a tendency might have evolved then, in the form of “evolutionary epistemology” that can IMHO be quite a good answer.

    Yes indeed. Which makes it quite satisfying as the only other candidate. But still means that I am committed to induction for a reason that I can’t justify by logic.

    you have these two forms of reasoning, one that has been highly successful and the other that has been a historical failure, but you’ll accept that the latter can pose a genuine challenge to all the results of the former No, I don’t accept that. As I have stated several times above, I have a strong committment to inductive reasoning. Inductive scepticism is obviously false But one reason that you (and “most modern philosophers”) have that opinion could be an evolved predisposition as above. I apologise, but I don’t have the energy right now to enter into the debate in the end part of your comment.

  145. #145 Dave M
    March 15, 2007

    Taylor’s not a crank. I actually like him (but I’m pretty broadminded for a philosopher …). I’ve never seen the word “spirituality” in anything of his that I’ve read (e.g. this and this). On the other hand he is indeed a critic of naturalism, which non-philosophers naturally (no pun intended) take as an attack on science itself, which it is not. That’s probably what the Templeton people like about him; plus in his (less familiar to me) political works he tries to say something of behalf of a Catholic version of modernity (or something). My main gripe with him, should you care, is that he doesn’t get Davidson (doesn’t even seem to have read the later Davidson) and thus doesn’t get McDowell either, making his criticism of Mind and World rather off base.

    But that doesn’t make him a crank – or you’d all be cranks. 😎

    Oh, and what poke said, except I’m not a fallibilist either (and we do not want to get into that!).

  146. #146 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    But still means that I am committed to induction for a reason that I can’t justify by logic.

    Logic does not provide any kind of foundation for knowledge, it’s simply the study of the structure of statements and arguments. And deductive logic is by no means the only kind. So I would call this complaint both philosophically naive, and misguided. Evolutionary epistemology, whatever its actual merits, is certainly the kind of thing that in principle could provide a perfectly workable justification of induction.

  147. #147 Chuck
    March 15, 2007

    Blake,

    I think we are pretty much in accord. I just think it is important to recognize that we’re not going to have a rational public overnight. It’s going to take time – a long time. And in the meantime we might even find some allies among people who are nominally Christian, like Knopp. We shouldn’t reject them from the movement because their views aren’t 100% in line with the mainstream. Along the way we can prod them out of the last grips of irrationality.

    By the way, I am also intrigued by the effects of psychedelic drugs on the brain. One of the people who wrote me a reference for graduate school was David Nichols, who does fascinating work in that area. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Nichols

  148. #148 E L
    March 15, 2007

    All logics are based on certain axioms. It doesn’t mean they are circular arguments or lead in any way to epistemic relativism.

    The whole ‘Problem of Induction’ argument rests on the premise that abstract thought, unlike experiences, exists outside of time and reality, which I don’t personally accept. It first assumes humans can make observations, form cognitive memories and reason abstractly, then goes on to assume a “non-uniform” universe where induction and predictions cannot be taken for granted and the present has no relevance to the next instance in time. Where is the justification in saying observation, memories and logical reasoning are possible in that scenario?

  149. #149 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Logic does not provide any kind of foundation for knowledge, it’s simply the study of the structure of statements and arguments Agreed. And I am talking about the structure of an argument justifying inductive method as a source of knowledge. philosophically naive, and misguided Quite possibly. Perhaps you’d care to expand?

  150. #150 CalGeorge
    March 15, 2007

    …and thus doesn’t get McDowell either, making his criticism of Mind and World rather off base…

    McDowell’s “frictionless spinning in the void” – my favorite philosophical expression!

    That’s what I think a lot of philosophers do for a living – spin frictionlessly in the void.

    Nice job if you can get it.

  151. #151 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    What I’m saying is that evolutionary epistemology, which you appeared to endorse, has at least the form of a perfectly good justification, and that therefore, if you accept it, continuing to complain that you can’t justify induction “logically” makes no sort of sense.

  152. #152 Jason
    March 15, 2007

    It looks like Potentilla is playing the role of extreme epistemic relativist. Since all claims of knowledge rest on unprovable axioms, one’s choice of axioms, and thus one’s claims of knowledge, are a matter of preference, not reason. All claims of knowledge are thus equally justified and valid. “The moon is made of cheese” is no less valid a claim of knowledge than “The moon is made of rock.”

    I doubt he really believes this. Almost no one does. He’s just playing games.

  153. #153 JJWFromME
    March 15, 2007

    Taylor’s not a crank.

    Wow. So he’s still standing after PZ’s devastating sneer intellectual critique?

    Hmm. So someone can still be considered intellectually respectable even after he uses the word “spiritual” during a national radio broadcast? Who’d a thought?

  154. #154 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    No, Jason, I am not playing any role, or indeed games, and your characterisation is incorrect. (And it’s “she”, btw). I am just trying to find out why I feel what I feel. My cognitive functioning is not that great at the moment due to cancer-induced jaundice, so I don’t suppose I have expressed myself as clearly as i would prefer.

    Steve, I will go away and think about whether I agree that evolutionary epistemology can play the role which you propose for it (ie be a “perfectly good justification”). And also about ELs second para. Thank you again.

  155. #155 Tulse
    March 15, 2007

    Evolutionary epistemology, whatever its actual merits, is certainly the kind of thing that in principle could provide a perfectly workable justification of induction.

    It seems to me that the whole notion of evolutionary epistemology is engaged in question-begging. The entire basis of the the approach, as I understand it, is essentially “what worked in the past got selected, so that approach must be correct/true/valuable”. And that, of course, falls directly back into the problem of induction, namely, presuming that the past will resemble the future. Just because it is “nature” that is doing the induction doesn’t mean that induction is on any firmer philosophical footing.

    In practical terms, the problem of induction isn’t a big deal, since, as many have pointed out, it seems to generally work OK if we use induction, and doing so has given us technology. But that doesn’t mean that the problem is solved, just that we are able to go about our business without solving it.

  156. #156 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    The IMHO devastating reply to this from Tulse:

    The entire basis of the the approach, as I understand it, is essentially “what worked in the past got selected, so that approach must be correct/true/valuable”. And that, of course, falls directly back into the problem of induction, namely, presuming that the past will resemble the future.

    was already given above by EL:

    The whole ‘Problem of Induction’ argument rests on the premise that abstract thought, unlike experiences, exists outside of time and reality, which I don’t personally accept. It first assumes humans can make observations, form cognitive memories and reason abstractly, then goes on to assume a “non-uniform” universe where induction and predictions cannot be taken for granted and the present has no relevance to the next instance in time. Where is the justification in saying observation, memories and logical reasoning are possible in that scenario?

  157. #157 WillG
    March 15, 2007

    The purge begins…..
    The brownshirts are coming the brownshirts are coming!!!!!
    The Southpark episode on Dawkins/atheists will be considered prescient in due time.

    Steve LaBonne-

    Hume’s doubts about human knowledge led him to be skeptical of all phenomena. Using his ideas to justify your certainty about spiritual phenomena is not only absurd but also reveals a deep misunderstanding of Hume. Being skeptical also entails an openness to ideas that this echochamber of a forum lacks.

  158. #158 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    Hume’s doubts about human knowledge led him to be skeptical of all phenomena. Using his ideas to justify your certainty about spiritual phenomena… is absurd…

    Rather, it might be- had I done any such thing. Learn to read.

    I’m not “certain” about the non-existence of a “spiritual” realm. I stand ready to consider empirical evidence for its existence- which has yet to be produced, lo these many millenia. So it is fair to say that I’m not optimistic about the prospects…

  159. #159 Stephen Wells
    March 15, 2007

    If you assume that the future will resemble the past (in terms of e.g. the laws of physics), then you can plan for the future on that assumption.

    If you don’t make that assumption then you can’t make any plans whatsoever. Your next breath is based on the assumption that breathing will sustain your life. If the future doesn’t resemble the past, then oxygen might suddenly be poisonous. You might suddenly be a giant spiny beetle in orbit around Proxima Centauri. And you have no grounds for expecting any particular one of the infinitely many things that might happen. You have no reason to even believe that you’ll continue to exist.

    In short, the “problem of induction” is nothing compared the problem of non-induction.

  160. #160 Kagehi
    March 15, 2007

    No, the ‘abstraction’ has to be there before the human nervous system can find it.

    By this same logic World of Warcraft “existed” *someplace* well before anyone thought about coding it. Taken to its logical conclusion, the only valid answer to such a statement about abstraction, never mind knowledge, is the sort of bizarro world suggested by some people who have yet to present evidence, only arguments, for the universe being really a infinite set of probabilities and our “consciousness” flitting back and forth between “possible” versions at a whim. Like some sort of goofy “choose your own adventure” novel. The whole problem being fundimentally that their isn’t any explanation in their theory as to how many “minds” are actually flitting about, how they can be aware of each other as anything other than probabilist oddities in the morrass of possibilities, or how precisely time can appear to be linear and non-reversible, in any context where their own theory seems to imply that these flitting conscousnesses should be able to jump to some completely different path, with a completely different historical context. Or, more to the point, why this is even useful, since the implication of the lack of “knowing” that this has transpired in the context of the physical world is that no awareness of *having* shifted to a new set of historical events is even possible.

    Its all pretty damn useless imho, since it does nothing to explain anything in any useful context and invalidates *everything* including existence as we know, or any capacity “to” know if its factual, if it was true.

    As to the complaints that PZ or any of the rest of us are not “qualified” to address spiritual matters or that we haven’t “tried” some things. The people making such accusations are forgetting that many of the people that do post here, despite now being atheists, started out among believers. And more to the point, the nature of ones own mind, and thus by extrapolation, other people’s, never mind what constitutes spirituality, are close to home. One might as well try arguing that having never *seen* the feet of Professor Taylor that any declairation about the expected number of toes, how many feet he has, where they are attached to his body, or where he might walk with them are “unkown to PZ, and thus cannot justifiably be commented on.” Its a bullshit argument. You want to argue about the scholarship of PZ talking about some aspect of Taylor’s descriptions (assuming he made such a study and used it as the central theme of a paper) that arose from studying nose ring fetishes in Amazon rainforests, you would have every right to call him on it, assuming of course that the complaint was that Taylor knew nothing about nose rings or Amazon tribes. But we are not talking about abstract scholarly knowledge here. There is nothing taylor can said to have done in getting his PHD, other than studying the same sort of stuff PZ and others here have shelves full of themselves, since actually reading it was what led most to reject religion, *or* being handheld through the study of those materials so that Taylor got the “right” answers from doing so, that justifies the claims that PZ is less qualified to comment on them. And frankly, the sort of hand holding, and “These are the spiritual and religious answers you *must* get to pass this class, since any other interpretation is wrong.”, type of learning is precisely why, if anything, Taylor should be the one to whom the complaint of lack of qualification gets applied. PHDs are expected to figure out “why” the answer makes sense, using critical thinking, not sitting in a room for years being taught the *correct* answers by rote and then being given a multiple choice test at the end to see if they learned that 2*3=6. PHDs are expected to know *why* 2*3=6, not just that its the “correct” answer, or at bare minimum, ask if maybe it is the right answer in the first place. This thread shows clearly a lot of people “thinking” about what the correct answer might be on the subject of spirituality. Taylor’s work isn’t about finding the answers though, or even asking the question in the first place, its about justifying why he and the others that Templeton rewards don’t bother finding answers or asking any questions.

  161. #161 Steve LaBonne
    March 15, 2007

    You have no reason to even believe that you’ll continue to exist.

    And that’s the nub of the problem right there. Entities like us would not be around to ask these questions, because they could not exist, in a universe so lawless as to make induction quasi-useless. Postulating the possibility of such a universe is merely one of those silly yet traditional philosphical red herrings, like solipsism.

  162. #162 Molly, NYC
    March 15, 2007

    But here’s the thing – if you’re looking for physical evidence of a phenomenon, aren’t you doing natural science? (Tryptamine at 51)

    Absolutely.

    And as far as that sort of discovery turning the supreme being into a phenomenon to know about, rather than to worship–you’re right about that too.

    That’s what facts do. The Holy Joes’ sense that education in general, and science education in particular, detracts from the wonderment that religiosity requires is completely accurate–much as the optimism and sense of possibility that accompany the purchase of a lottery ticket evaporate when exposed to the reality-check of the actual winning numbers.

  163. #163 David Harmon
    March 15, 2007

    potentilla, Kevembuangga, et al, I’m with you too. As somebody pointed out, we should probably avoid the portmanteau word “spirituality”. The point we seem to have focused on is also called the “experience of transdescence”.

    Neurological experiments strongly suggest that this commonplace and easily inducible experience is on a continuum with more dramatic “occult” experiences such as NDE’s and “abduction experiences”, and common experience links it to religion and magic in general. Religion could be considered a parasitic outgrowth based on controlling access to this experience (and later, all competing pleasures).

  164. #164 Tulse
    March 15, 2007

    Entities like us would not be around to ask these questions, because they could not exist, in a universe so lawless as to make induction quasi-useless.

    That misses the point entirely, as I think Goodman pointed out. First off, what you describe as “lawless” could be perfectly lawful (an object has always been grue, even if it was green before and blue now), and yet not allow us to make justified inductions. And, for that matter, what was a lawful universe in the past could become “lawless” tomorrow, since lawfulness is itself an induction. (And before it is claimed that this kind of argument has no bearing on reality, keep in mind that one major question in physics is whether universal constants are, or will be, truly constant, or whether they can change.)

    Let’s be clear — science works just fine even if we don’t have a solid justification for induction, just as apples fall even though we don’t have a solid theory of gravity. This isn’t an issue of science, it is an issue of epistemology, and one that infects any domain of supposed knowledge, including religious (if “religious knowledge” is not an oxymoron). I’m not anti-science (quite the opposite), but I’m also not anti-philosophy, which I suspect many who typically argue for the justified nature of induction are. But even if Hume (and Goodman) can’t be shown to be wrong, that’s not any more of a problem for day-to-day science than Goedel’s insight is for day-to-day mathematicians (or accountants, or engineers, or casino operators…).

  165. #165 Sam C
    March 15, 2007

    Kagehi said:

    As to the complaints that PZ or any of the rest of us are not “qualified” to address spiritual matters or that we haven’t “tried” some things. The people making such accusations are forgetting that many of the people that do post here, despite now being atheists, started out among believers.

    The point that I and several others have made is that PZM, and a number of other people dismissing all of Taylor’s work, are not philosophers, and don’t know anything much about either philosophy in general, or Taylor’s work in particular. Whether you ‘started out among believers’ has nothing to do with this point.

    But we are not talking about abstract scholarly knowledge here. There is nothing taylor can said to have done in getting his PHD, other than studying the same sort of stuff PZ and others here have shelves full of themselves, since actually reading it was what led most to reject religion, *or* being handheld through the study of those materials so that Taylor got the “right” answers from doing so, that justifies the claims that PZ is less qualified to comment on them.

    Taylor is a distinguished professional philosopher, not some backwoods preacher, so yes, we are talking about abstract scholarly knowledge, in a field you and others have demonstrated no expertise in. I seriously doubt that PZM has ‘shelves full of’ work on Taylor’s areas of expertise: Hegel, the history of thought about the self, moral theory, liberal and anti-liberal political theory, the nature of culture and cross-cultural understanding, etc. He’d probably doubt that I have shelves full of work on the evolution and development of squid (I don’t, which is one reason I usually like reading this blog).

    I repeat: you don’t know what you’re talking about. You are attacking a straw man you have invented entirely on the basis of seeing the word ‘spirituality’ in a report of the award of a prize you dislike. This behaviour would rightly be despised and ridiculed if it were a creationist attacking an expert in evolutionary biology.

    I’ve responded in particular to Kagehi, but he/she is just an example of the depressing tendency for this blog and its commenters to take on the worst characteristics of its enemies. To PZM in particular: you wouldn’t put up with the level of ignorant misrepresentation displayed here about Charles Taylor and about philosophy, if it was about your own expertise. You’d be right not to. Why do you think it’s OK here?

  166. #166 Ron
    March 15, 2007

    Kevembuangga
    (sorry for the delay, I got on a plane)
    “Either you assume an a priori knowledge built in the “human nervous system” (unlikely, very close to “The mind of God” indeed) or you are a Platonist, I am NOT a Platonist.”

    You are not a Platonist, so, since its your only other choice, you must assume ‘a priori knowledge’, ie you are a Kantian. If you restrict things to just those choices, I would have to side with Plato, in the sense that temporal objects (organisms, actual entities) exists through its participation in ‘eternal objects (universals, eg ‘species’). Just can’t swallow Kant’s ‘a priori’ metaphysics.

  167. #167 Ron
    March 15, 2007

    Bravo, well said, Sam C!

  168. #168 Caledonian
    March 15, 2007

    Provide a justification for induction?

    Well, I’d love to, but all I can work with are specific substantiations of concepts. The concepts themselves are presumed to be universal – through induction – and so I can’t make any logical claims about existence in general, only specific existences.

    That means that the argument I just made is invalid, but I can’t make expressions without induction, either.

  169. #169 Tulse
    March 15, 2007

    Sam C, I think PZ is responding the same way he would if someone were granted a million-plus prize for homeopathy, or feng shui, or alien abduction research — it’s not the depth of the arguments, but just the subject matter that is the problem. The issue is not Taylor’s entire body of work, but his invocation of “spirituality”, and I for one think I’ve seen enough excerpts of his writings on this subject to get a very good idea as to where he comes down on the issue. There is no subtle argument here to comprehend, at least that I can see — you are welcome to present the opposing case.

  170. #170 Keith Douglas
    March 15, 2007

    Leigh Mortensen: Quantum mechanics tells us no such thing. What variable in any equation in quantum mechanics has anything whatsoever to do with psychological faculties of any kind?

    Ron: Events are still of something. See my MA thesis, for example.

    Ginger Yellow: Taylor is arguably Canada’s most famous philosopher. He’s also, IMO, an antiscientific obscurantist. His biggest peeve seems to be psychology and the social sciences. For example, when I was an undergraduate I read a paper of his where he defended psychoanalysis basically on the grounds that it was more humanistic than that “bad” scientific psychology and emphasized language.

    JJWFromME: Taylor is a philosopher, and has had appointments also in political science departments. Doesn’t matter, of course. Bogus arguments are bogus arguments.

    Bryson Brown: Taylor’s a Catholic who thinks that the state and social relations should have more religion injected, though he’s (often) careful to say “of any kind”, not just his pet kind. (He’s somewhat liberal and a Liberal, as I recall, after all.)

    Blake Stacey: Ironically, it is Taylor’s sort that wants to divorce them. See above.

    potentilla: Scientists do not use induction very often – Hume’s argument ignores consilience and abduction.

  171. #171 Colugo
    March 15, 2007

    Speaking of science and spirituality, this should get some people’s blood boiling:

    ‘What Is Enlightenment’ magazine (“Redefining spirituality for an evolving world”) has a special issue on “The Real Evolution Debate”

    WIE’s diagram of 12 schools of evolutionary thought, divided into ‘Science,’ ‘Integration,’ and ‘Spirit’ – with everyone from Richard Dawkins to Madam Blavatsky to Jonathan Wells! One big continuum of ‘evolutionary thought.’
    http://www.wie.org/evolution-debate/map-unlocked.asp

    Article on the 12 categories/schools of evolutionary thought:
    http://www.wie.org/j35/real-evolution-debate.asp

    (I thought it interesting but somewhat flawed both conceptually and descriptively. I believe that the most scientifically viable aspects of ‘schools’ 2-5 will eventually become integrated into Modern Synthesis ‘orthodoxy’ as part of an ongoing developmental synthesis.)

    What Is Enlightenment’s directory of individuals who have contributed content to WIE features David Sloan Wilson, Jane Goodall, Ken Wilbur, and many others.
    http://www.wie.org/directory/default.asp

    WIE’s “about” page:
    http://www.wie.org/misc/about-wie.asp?ifr=hp-nav

    “WIE is the engaged, evolutionary movement that has emerged from our passionate pursuit of the question of what enlightenment really is, and what it means in the world today.”

  172. #172 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    PZ’s appearance over at Good Math, Bad Math inspired (in-spirit-ed?) me to say the following, which might bear repeating here. Spirit is such a warm and pleasant word that, I suspect, it acts rather like grease in the wheels of discourse. It lubricates ideas, lets them slide into the brain’s crevices more easily. A few people try to use it to reverse the demonization of science (thanks, Carl — I hope you’re having a blast up in Atheist Heaven) while a great many more people insulate themselves with a self-assurance which obviates the need for critical thought. Sad, really.

    To paraphrase The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think most people think it means what you think it means.”

    I think I’ll be laying off the use of spiritual, for much the same reason that I’m not eager to trot out Einstein quotes about “God” having such-and-such an attribute. This is one reason why I’ve started pulling out other deities’ names when I’m tempted to make some Spinozan or Einsteinian remark. Thus: “I cannot believe that Loki plays dice with the Universe,” or, “The good Lady Isis is subtle but not malicious.” The ironies of such statements are often built in, which is also a good thing.

    A while back, somewhere in these Ariadnian threads, I mentioned a model of the early Universe called string gas cosmology, in which the reason why the Cosmos has three dimensions is essentially the same as the reason why knots can exist in three dimensions but not more or less. (In 2D, there’s not enough “room” for a string to overlap itself, and in 4D or higher, there’s too much room, and a knotted loop can always “slip free”, returning to a simple circle.) If we wish to anthropomorphize this idea, we could perhaps say, “Maybe Isis likes to be tied up in knots.”

  173. #173 Stogoe
    March 15, 2007

    It’s all just so much Courtier’s Reply. “Oh, but you have to study for decades the beautiful and complex intricacies of my particular Bullshit before you can discuss the Bullshit.”

  174. #174 David Marjanovi?
    March 15, 2007

    potentilla… you are not committed to induction. You are committed to the scientific method. That’s not the same thing, and I really can’t see why you think otherwise.

    In science, we come up with an idea — by induction, by dreaming, by reading some holy writ, it doesn’t matter –, deduct predictions from it, and then observe nature (whether on a lab bench or not) to test these predictions. In other words, we make up an idea about the general, deduct a prediction about the particular, and then look at the particular. That’s not inductive, that’s hypothetico-deductive as Popper apparently called it: from the general to the particular, not from the particular to the general as in induction.

    I think this approach can test and thus justify itself, but it’s past 3 at night, so I’m not able to think this through 🙂

    “I cannot believe that Loki plays dice with the Universe”

    Sure he does. He likes playing in general. He just cheats, as usual. But I think your example is deliberate :o)

  175. #175 David Marjanovi?
    March 15, 2007

    potentilla… you are not committed to induction. You are committed to the scientific method. That’s not the same thing, and I really can’t see why you think otherwise.

    In science, we come up with an idea — by induction, by dreaming, by reading some holy writ, it doesn’t matter –, deduct predictions from it, and then observe nature (whether on a lab bench or not) to test these predictions. In other words, we make up an idea about the general, deduct a prediction about the particular, and then look at the particular. That’s not inductive, that’s hypothetico-deductive as Popper apparently called it: from the general to the particular, not from the particular to the general as in induction.

    I think this approach can test and thus justify itself, but it’s past 3 at night, so I’m not able to think this through 🙂

    “I cannot believe that Loki plays dice with the Universe”

    Sure he does. He likes playing in general. He just cheats, as usual. But I think your example is deliberate :o)

  176. #176 AL
    March 16, 2007

    For those of you defending the notion of “spirituality” against charges of vagueness and ambiguity: can you please tell us what spirituality is then? Preferably without, you know, being VAGUE and AMBIGUOUS about it.

    Again, if spirituality is something as mundane as feeling a sense of connectedness or wonder or awe, fine…but be honest now, this isn’t really the sort of spirituality the Templeton prize is awarding, is it?

  177. #177 Steve LaBonne
    March 16, 2007

    Scientists do not use induction very often – Hume’s argument ignores consilience and abduction.

    I would tend to agree but would also add that in a sense this doesn’t affect the argument- we still must assume the stability of the laws of the universe, and it is really this stability, rather than the specific move of induction per se, whose lack of justification Hume believed he was exposing. But Hume recognized that we can’t avoid it in practice, and had he lived a bit later in the scientific era I think he would have realized exactly why we can’t- as I said, it’s because creatures like us couldn’t exist in a universe that did not exhibit such stability.

  178. #178 Tulse
    March 16, 2007

    Hume recognized that we can’t avoid it in practice, and had he lived a bit later in the scientific era I think he would have realized exactly why we can’t- as I said, it’s because creatures like us couldn’t exist in a universe that did not exhibit such stability.

    What is so special about the scientific era with regards to evidence of universe stability? Surely the world’s mere existence for a huge period of time, and the sun coming up and going down over that period with some regularity, would give you as much evidence as is possible. If anything, I’d think that such scientific phenomena such as quantum uncertainty and possible fluctuations in universal constants would suggest that induction is even shakier than one would gather from everyday life of Hume’s era.

    The “stability” of the universe to this point says nothing about the justification of induction, since you are simply inducing such stability from past history. That’s the whole point — the past does not provide a justified foundation for inducing the future. That’s just as true for the qualities of the entire universe as it is for anything more limited.

    Now, you can try to make the Kantian argument if you want, but that has implications and commitments (such as an inability to perceive actual “noumenal” reality) well beyond what has already been claimed, and Kant’s response still doesn’t help with Goodman’s problem.

  179. #179 Steve LaBonne
    March 16, 2007

    Hume didn’t know what we know about the way physics and chemistry need to work for entities like us to be possible. And QM is actually very lawful sort of theory (which is what makes all the woo about it so funny)- it doesn’t support your point at all.

    Sure, the laws of phsyics could have been stable up till now and then could suddenly change. But why on earth shoudl anybody take such a supremely “gruesome” theory seriously? No reason at all. As I said, the whole thing is one of those silly philosophers’ games, like pretending to take solipsism seriously.

  180. #180 Sam C
    March 16, 2007

    Stogoe said:

    It’s all just so much Courtier’s Reply. “Oh, but you have to study for decades the beautiful and complex intricacies of my particular Bullshit before you can discuss the Bullshit.”

    No, it isn’t: it’s the common-sense claim that in order to know whether or not X is bullshit, you have to know something about X. The claim ‘that’s bullshit’, made in ignorance, it’s just another version of the creationists’ favourite ploy, the argument from personal incredulity. Yet again: you would rightly refuse to put up with this coming from the other side, so why do you do it yourself?

    Tulse said:

    I think PZ is responding the same way he would if someone were granted a million-plus prize for homeopathy, or feng shui, or alien abduction research — it’s not the depth of the arguments, but just the subject matter that is the problem.

    Taylor’s subject is human life: how to live it, how to understand it. Do you mean to suggest that PZM thinks these are analogous to questions about feng shui? Or just that he already knows the answers? Neither claim seems very plausible.

    The issue is not Taylor’s entire body of work, but his invocation of “spirituality”, and I for one think I’ve seen enough excerpts of his writings on this subject to get a very good idea as to where he comes down on the issue. There is no subtle argument here to comprehend, at least that I can see — you are welcome to present the opposing case.

    OK: Taylor’s talk of ‘spirituality’ connects to his interests in 1) how humans orient themselves in the space of reasons and goods, and therefore understand themselves and their goals; 2) the possibility of a science of human nature; and 3) the centrality of interpretation to self-understanding and liberal politics. I can well see why, in an interview, he’d gather these ideas together with a useful if vague label. I don’t have any brief to defend his views – I think they’re largely mistaken – but I do want to defend the common-sense claim stated above. It is a matter of basic intellectual maturity to accept that there are expertises other than one’s own, and that one should refrain from comment about one’s areas of ignorance. I note, though, that I wasn’t thinking of Tulse as an example of this mistake: he/she’s been entirely sensible, so far as I can see.

  181. #181 Caledonian
    March 16, 2007

    No, it isn’t: it’s the common-sense claim that in order to know whether or not X is bullshit, you have to know something about X. The claim ‘that’s bullshit’, made in ignorance, it’s just another version of the creationists’ favourite ploy, the argument from personal incredulity. Yet again: you would rightly refuse to put up with this coming from the other side, so why do you do it yourself?

    Yes, yes, we have to know “something”, but that something doesn’t always have to be very much at all.

    With most stupid ideas, we don’t need to study them in depth before detecting their stupidity.

  182. #182 Tulse
    March 16, 2007

    Hume didn’t know what we know about the way physics and chemistry need to work for entities like us to be possible.

    That’s completely irrelevant to the issue of induction, since what we know about physics and chemstry is the product of induction. This isn’t a matter of “we just learn more about the Universe and the problem goes away”, since the problem is about how we learn about the Universe, and whether such learning can be justified. This can’t be solved by science, since the problem is philosophical.

    And QM is actually very lawful sort of theory (which is what makes all the woo about it so funny)- it doesn’t support your point at all.

    Hume lived in an age of Newtonian physics, where every action is predictable from prior actions. QM, to paraphrase Einstein “plays dice with the Universe” — individual particle action is much less predictable, and thus provides a far less stable platform for induction.

    Sure, the laws of phsyics could have been stable up till now and then could suddenly change. But why on earth shoudl anybody take such a supremely “gruesome” theory seriously? No reason at all.

    Well, as I pointed out earlier, there are many physicists who argue that various universal “laws” have changed dramatically over time, and may still be changing. But again, that’s more about the science, and is really irrelevant to the issue of justifying induction. To flip the question around into its classic form, the universe has been stable up till now, but why on earth should anyone believe that will be the case in the future? Note that saying “because the universe has been stable up till now” is not an answer, but just restates the question. That’s the whole point of the problem of induction.

    As I said, the whole thing is one of those silly philosophers’ games, like pretending to take solipsism seriously.

    You are absolutely right that the problem of induction is a philosophical problem, not a scientific one, so sure, if you have no interest in philosophy, you needn’t worry about it. Hume wrote that when he was troubled by these issues, “I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.” And yes, the world continued to work as it did in the past when he went to dinner.

    For a practicing scientist, the problem of induction is not an issue, any more than Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem is an issue for accountants. So if you find it silly to worry about, that’s fine — I’m sure most CFOs don’t get worked up about Kurt’s musings either. But that doesn’t mean that the philosophical foundations of knowledge (not just scientific knowledge, but knowledge in general) have been secured, and no amount of scientific information is going to do that (just as no amount of neuroscience would give an answer to solipsism).

  183. #183 Caledonian
    March 16, 2007

    The difference is that the GUTs would eventually be a problem for people trying to make perfect models of the universe.

    Induction is never actually a problem. We simply remain open to new evidence, always.

  184. #184 Steve LaBonne
    March 16, 2007

    The proposal that the fine-structure constant may have changed over time doesn’t affect the argument at all; only during periods when it remains very close to its current value can scientists exist to ask questions about it. And if the variation is real it will still eventually be subsumed under a lawlike regularity that explains how and why it changed. (For those who take string theory seriously I understand there have actually been some proposals along those lines from that camp.)

    I am not anti-philosophy. But taking the “problem” of induction too seriously is bad philosophy, just like taking solipsism seriously. Neither is in any real need of an “answer” from within philosophy, let alone science. And as you undoubtedly know, there are plenty of philosopers who agree.

  185. #185 Caledonian
    March 16, 2007

    Incorrect, Mr. LaBonne. Bad philosophy is believing that solipsism is somehow distinguishable from non-solipsism. Good philosophy recognizes that it’s equivalent to its negation and is therefore without content.

  186. #186 Tulse
    March 16, 2007

    But taking the “problem” of induction too seriously is bad philosophy, just like taking solipsism seriously. Neither is in any real need of an “answer” from within philosophy, let alone science.

    Obviously Hume would disagree. And Kant (one of the true giants of philosophy) thought that Hume identifed a serious problem (he famously said that Hume awoke him from his “dogmatic slumber”). Popper, perhaps the best known philosopher of science, thought the problem worthy of attacking explicitly. Quine, one of the most important modern philosophers, also devoted much effort to the issue. And of course Goodman provided a re-working of Hume. So, some of the most eminent philosopher of science of all time all recognized that it needed to be addressed, which seems to gainsay the notion that it is “bad philosophy”. (And I know of no philosopher who has a generally agreed-upon solution for the problem.)

    As I’ve said, this is no big deal for a practicing scientist, who can go about their business without pondering this issue. But to say it is “bad philosophy” misrepresents the long philosophical history of discussion of this issue by a lot of very smart folks. Furthermore, it is just like saying incompleteness is bad philosophy — just because we do math on a day-to-day basis doesn’t make that issue go away, and just because we do induction successfully on a day-to-day basis doesn’t make that problem go away.

    Just to be clear, I am on your side regarding science — I have a PhD in a scientific discipline, I’m a thoroughgoing atheist, and I have no patience at all for “woo”. And on a day-to-day basis, I don’t worry about whether my inductions are justified (any more than I worry about Goedel when I balance my checkbook). And any problems that induction poses for science are just as nasty for religious knowledge, since the same issues apply. So I’m not trying to undermine science or support religion, just trying to illuminate an interesting problem in epistemology.

  187. #187 Steve LaBonne
    March 16, 2007

    I certainly agree about Hume’s eminence. So I will end by noting that what Hume’s real attitude toward this “problem” actually was, is notoriously difficult to pin down. After all, he did write:

    Thus the sceptic still continues to reason and believe, even tho’ he asserts, that he cannot defend his reason by reason; and by the same rule he must assent to the principle concerning the existence of body, tho’ he cannot pretend by any arguments of philosophy to maintain its veracity. Nature has not left this to his choice, and has doubtless, esteem’d it an affair of too great importance to be trusted to our uncertain reasonings and speculations. We may well ask, What causes induce us to believe in the existence of body? but ’tis in vain to ask, Whether there be body or not ? That is a point, which we must take for granted in all our reasonings.

    That sounds to me an awful lot like what I’ve been saying here. Of course it’s subject to, and has received, all sorts of interpretations.

  188. #188 CalGeorge
    March 16, 2007

    … but I do want to defend the common-sense claim stated above. It is a matter of basic intellectual maturity to accept that there are expertises other than one’s own, and that one should refrain from comment about one’s areas of ignorance.

    Bosh! I knew next to nothing about Taylor before he won the prize. I knew of him. I nonetheless feel qualified, as an atheist and a person of common sense, to comment on his efforts to promote ever more spirituality in an already god-intoxicated world. What we need today is more common sense, not more transcendental narcissism and bloody ignorant other-worldly spirituality.

    People who say stuff like this are full of it:

    Perhaps the only way fully to escape the draw towards violence lies somewhere in the turn to transcendence, through the full-hearted love of some good beyond life.
    http://gvanv.com/compass/arch/v1402/ctaylor.html

    Vague crap! Maybe the real problem is that he didn’t encounter enough ignorant naysayers while he was developing his theories of spirituality.

  189. #189 Tulse
    March 16, 2007

    Steve, I agree that you, and Hume, and even I have to take induction for granted. So if that’s you’re point, I’m with you — I don’t worry about it when I’m doing research. But that, I’d argue, is a psychological fact (we simply can’t get along in the world worrying if induction works). Whatever Hume’s psychological response to the problem, it’s clear that he thought we “cannot pretend by any arguments of philosophy to maintain its veracity”. That’s my only point (a point I think is still true today, despite many other very smart folks attempting to provide such arguments).

    So I don’t think we’re really all that far apart. Induction is a problem that no one but philosophers worries about, and since I love debating philosophy, I was motivated to address the issue when it came up. As I see it, it’s still a live philosophical issue, but it’s only relevant to philosophers — practicing scientists can do just as Hume suggests, and take it for granted, and dine and play backgammon with their friends.

  190. #190 Foggg
    March 16, 2007

    Tulse:

    Quine, one of the most important modern philosophers, also devoted much effort to the issue.
    And Quine is most famous for his “naturalized epistemology” (dovetailing eventually with evolutionary epistemology per Dr. Labonne’s mention) and Quine pointed out the death spiral which results from traditional epistemological foundationalism – a foundationalism which seems to be the unconscious view expressed by several “problem worriers” in this thread.
    As another great 20th cent. philosopher Peter Strawson said, adopting inductive practices & principles constitutes our very conception of rationality. No need to demonstrate it.

  191. #191 Steve LaBonne
    March 16, 2007

    Larry Laudan is famously of the opinion that relativists are really disppointed foundationalists. 😉

  192. #192 David Marjanovi?
    March 16, 2007

    Sure, the laws of phsyics could have been stable up till now and then could suddenly change. But why on earth shoudl anybody take such a supremely “gruesome” theory seriously? No reason at all.

    That’s still induction.

    But we have a reason for not taking that “theory” seriously: Ockham’s Razor.

    Remember the battle scene in Conan the Barbarian? Remember the ridiculous huge ax Conan swings? That’s what Ockham shaved himself with every day.

    If you can’t falsify a hypothesis by testing a deduction from it, just hack it to pieces. 😐

  193. #193 David Marjanovi?
    March 16, 2007

    Sure, the laws of phsyics could have been stable up till now and then could suddenly change. But why on earth shoudl anybody take such a supremely “gruesome” theory seriously? No reason at all.

    That’s still induction.

    But we have a reason for not taking that “theory” seriously: Ockham’s Razor.

    Remember the battle scene in Conan the Barbarian? Remember the ridiculous huge ax Conan swings? That’s what Ockham shaved himself with every day.

    If you can’t falsify a hypothesis by testing a deduction from it, just hack it to pieces. 😐

  194. #194 Tulse
    March 16, 2007

    And Quine is most famous for his “naturalized epistemology” (dovetailing eventually with evolutionary epistemology per Dr. Labonne’s mention) and Quine pointed out the death spiral which results from traditional epistemological foundationalism – a foundationalism which seems to be the unconscious view expressed by several “problem worriers” in this thread.
    As another great 20th cent. philosopher Peter Strawson said, adopting inductive practices & principles constitutes our very conception of rationality. No need to demonstrate it.

    And those answers have always struck me as equivalent to saying “No it’s not!” in a very loud voice. Just because traditional epistemological foundationalism is problematic (and it is) doesn’t give us warrant to abandon epistemology for psychology (which is what Quine effectively does) or punt on the issue altogether (which is what Strawson does). I think the mere fact that so many people are still wrestling with this issue indicates that we do not have a satisfactory, generally acknowledged solution.

    That said, I sense we are getting very far afield from the original issues. So I’m happy to agree to disagree, and leave it there.

  195. #195 Kagehi
    March 16, 2007

    I’ve responded in particular to Kagehi, but he/she is just an example of the depressing tendency for this blog and its commenters to take on the worst characteristics of its enemies. To PZM in particular: you wouldn’t put up with the level of ignorant misrepresentation displayed here about Charles Taylor and about philosophy, if it was about your own expertise. You’d be right not to. Why do you think it’s OK here?

    First off, you have *no* idea what PZ or anyone else has on their shelves, so claiming they “lack” sufficient expertise is just as stupid as Taylor insisting that his pet version of spirituality is a valid description of what anyone else thinks it is. Second, what is being misrepresented here? That he has a vague, mostly useless, and vacant definition, or that it *includes* the precept that the only valif version of it has to include a transendent being, because without one you can’t get spirituality? The former we reject for the same reason we reject the constant whining from the IDists about evidence they don’t have, the later we reject because its *entirely* philosophical and thus not only ignores, but in some ways flat out rejects any evidence suggesting that the presuppositions being made by him may be invalid, or at least seriously imcomplete. It is *literally* like having someone claiming expertise in Chakra points and energy channels commenting that all fields of nueroscience are incomplete or invalid because they don’t include Yin and Yang…

  196. #196 les
    March 16, 2007

    If Taylor’s appreciation of spirituality is so rarefied that a group of bright, educated, curious people are unfit to discuss and judge it, it seems to me his writing is just masturbation. Expensive masturbation, but…

  197. #197 potentilla
    March 16, 2007

    Thanks, Tulse. I won’t risk reigniting the flames by linking the problem of induction back to the reason I originally raised it on this particular thread!

  198. #198 Kevembuangga
    March 16, 2007

    Responding to many.

    Ron : You are not a Platonist, so, since its your only other choice, you must assume ‘a priori knowledge’, ie you are a Kantian.

    No, it’s NOT my “only other choice”, it was the alternative I thought YOU had, but since you confirmed you are a Platonist…
    I am neither a Platonist nor a Kantian.
    I you want to know read my comments in the links I provided.

    Sonja : It is the religious/spiritual people who cannot comprehend people like me, not the other way around.

    Yes, mostly because they insist on the “reality” of their specific beliefs.
    There is a relevant book by Canadian psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Valla which never got translated to english “Les états étranges de la conscience”
    A rough Google translation of the summary :

    This book presents a scientific study of the strange states of conscience (EEC) lived by the mentally normal people. From the accounts of 50 people interviewed in Montreal, the author studied these mental phenomena formerly considered as religious experiments. The material collected was confronted with the psychological theories into force, which associate these strange states the psychosis. The study highlights their reactional, but nonpathological character. An event which places the self-awareness in the center of the field of conscience however makes the states strange of the conscience different from the usual state of consciousness. Although they are spontaneously generally short, the strange states of the conscience can give rise to the famous oceanic feeling and to curious experiments of unfolding called out of body experiments by the Anglo-Saxon authors. The strangeness of these states caused multiple interpretations which should not however be confused with the state which gives them birth and which they seek to explain.

    David Harmon : Neurological experiments strongly suggest that this commonplace and easily inducible experience
    Even more so with the so-called entheogens psychotropics.
    An especially interesting one is Iboga because people just get to their preferred gods, the Bwiti meet the Forest Spirits, Christians meet Jesus, Hindus meet Ganesh, etc…
    This seems to both confirm the veracity of the psychological side of the spiritual experiences AND the looniness of the specific attached beliefs.
    You may also want to look at Valla’book above.

    I want to emphasize that one should not belittle spiritual experiences as “only a fancy psychological feature”, on the contrary, deep psychological drives make all the difference between despair and happiness as well as between mental health and insanity.

  199. #199 Norman Doering
    March 16, 2007

    Kevembuangga noted neurological experiments that suggest religious experiences can be induced. I’m not up on the new drugs, but in the 60s Leary was saying much the same about LSD.

    I noted it in a post on my blog:
    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/

    Look for “Are we losing this generation?” and find this:

    3) Encourage your child to use psychedelic drugs

    If your child is claiming to have had a born again experience it’s going to be tough to convince him that the experience was just in his head, just neurons firing and producing a waking dream. Such experiences can seem incredibly real and they always have a heavy emotional weight. The cure for this might be more such experiences but had through a different method; psychedelic drugs. These drugs demonstrate that such experiences can be easily and regularly induced with a subtle change in brain chemistry and are not gifts handed down by God. If you want to see God, just look in the mirror because your God is created in your own image.

    Timothy Leary’s “The Religious Experience: Its Production and Interpretation” claims that when giving religious professionals LSD his ‘conservative’ estimate was that 75 percent of the subjects reported “intense mystico-religious responses, and considerably more than half claim that they have had the deepest spiritual experiences of their life.”

  200. #200 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 16, 2007

    As often as I usually say to myself, ‘Torbjörn hit that one right out of the park’, I’m afraid that I don’t necessarily know what you are talking about with this sentance. (Unless you are working toward a pun on spirits.)

    Thank you. But yes, here I played loose and fast, and you caught me on it. (And yes, I tried to connect to the booze mentioned in the beginning of my comment.)

    OTOH there can be harmful things. For example cognitive dissonances or the mindset that condemns other groups behavior just because they are different can probably be sources for real problems.

    I think the mere fact that so many people are still wrestling with this issue indicates that we do not have a satisfactory, generally acknowledged solution.

    To say that science “is inductive” or “have a problem of induction” or “have a problem with infinite regress” are among my pet peeves. As David noted, this isn’t taking into account how science mostly works, or how most scientists think. We test our theories, which is a different method, and the success of science gives validity to that, and by all means, also a certain validity to realism.

    I haven’t read Quine or the others, so I don’t know how they try to motivate that it is induction. But it seems to me it must be a specious or at least difficult argument.

    What we don’t have is a satisfactory, generally acknowledged description of all of science methods. I’m not sure if it is possible.

  201. #201 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 16, 2007

    As often as I usually say to myself, ‘Torbjörn hit that one right out of the park’, I’m afraid that I don’t necessarily know what you are talking about with this sentance. (Unless you are working toward a pun on spirits.)

    Thank you. But yes, here I played loose and fast, and you caught me on it. (And yes, I tried to connect to the booze mentioned in the beginning of my comment.)

    OTOH there can be harmful things. For example cognitive dissonances or the mindset that condemns other groups behavior just because they are different can probably be sources for real problems.

    I think the mere fact that so many people are still wrestling with this issue indicates that we do not have a satisfactory, generally acknowledged solution.

    To say that science “is inductive” or “have a problem of induction” or “have a problem with infinite regress” are among my pet peeves. As David noted, this isn’t taking into account how science mostly works, or how most scientists think. We test our theories, which is a different method, and the success of science gives validity to that, and by all means, also a certain validity to realism.

    I haven’t read Quine or the others, so I don’t know how they try to motivate that it is induction. But it seems to me it must be a specious or at least difficult argument.

    What we don’t have is a satisfactory, generally acknowledged description of all of science methods. I’m not sure if it is possible.

  202. #202 Sam C
    March 17, 2007

    Caledonian in 179, expressing what seems to be a quite widely-shared belief:

    Yes, yes, we have to know “something”, but that something doesn’t always have to be very much at all. With most stupid ideas, we don’t need to study them in depth before detecting their stupidity.

    I disagree. Very often, if we think ‘that’s stupid’ on the basis of shallow aquaintance, we’re just reinforcing our own prejudices. That’s certainly my own experience (and I’ve made plenty of foolish mistakes on that basis). It’s also my experience of many students I’ve taught. Sure, life is short and most ideas aren’t very good, so we have to make snap judgements about what’s worth pursuing in depth. I’m just suggesting that using an impression drawn from a few remarks as the basis for blanket dismissal of a lifetime’s work, is silly, and worryingly similar to creationist rhetoric: substituting loathing for engagement and ridicule for argument, appealing to personal incredulity, refusing to appreciate technical terms, quoting out of context, assuming that people who disagree with you are dishonest, stupid, or motivated by personal gain, etc. That’s the point I’ve been making all along, and I think I’ve defended it as much as is worth the bother. I’ll now go back to reading Dr Myers’s fascinating posts on his specialism, and ignoring the occasional bile, as I normally do. Thanks for the conversation, folks.

  203. #203 Tulse
    March 17, 2007

    We test our theories, which is a different method, and the success of science gives validity to that

    I promised myself I’d bow out, but I just can’t let this go. The whole point of the problem of induction is that past success provides no warrant for future success, without circularly invoking the very thing you are trying to warrant. It doesn’t matter what specific methodology or approach you use — the issue isn’t about methodology, it’s about the foundations of epistemology.

    I swear I’ll shut up now.

  204. #204 David Marjanovi?
    March 17, 2007

    the issue isn’t about methodology, it’s about the foundations of epistemology.

    As I said: testing deductions from hypotheses, and using Ockham’s Razor to distinguish between those hypotheses that have been tested but not falsified. What have I missed?

  205. #205 David Marjanovi?
    March 17, 2007

    the issue isn’t about methodology, it’s about the foundations of epistemology.

    As I said: testing deductions from hypotheses, and using Ockham’s Razor to distinguish between those hypotheses that have been tested but not falsified. What have I missed?

  206. #206 Caledonian
    March 17, 2007

    Falsification is no more possible than confirmation is. You’ve been reading the wrong philosophers.

  207. #207 Bo Babbyo
    March 17, 2007

    When any two groups agree to reject religion and philosophy and embrace rationality, inevitably you will see a rift develop about what type of rationality to pursue. That’s not saying anything about the relative values of religion, philosphy, reason, etc., — it’s saying something about what it means to be human. For me, the idea that the behavior of human beings can be completely rational is the greatest delusion of all.

    Whether the transcendent is identified as spiritual or otherwise, I can see no denying that the most powerful motivators of human behavior remain outside of reason. I like to call it aesthetics, but call it what you will, if reason were all we operated upon, we could agree on one best car, one best house, one best system of government, etc. We would save trillions of dollars and untold woe, but try to get any five entities to agree on a “basic, no-frills” ANYTHING and you’ll see how challenging such seemingly rational pursuits really are.

  208. #208 Kevembuangga
    March 17, 2007

    Bo Babbyo : For me, the idea that the behavior of human beings can be completely rational is the greatest delusion of all.

    It is not “the behavior of human beings” which has to be rational (it cannot and should not!) but it is human society which should rest on rational premises about the way to reconcile conflicting interests, NOT TAKING SIDES with any private personal or group interests whatsoever.

  209. #209 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 18, 2007

    The whole point of the problem of induction is that past success provides no warrant for future success,

    And the whole point with theories is that they give reliable predictions. To do that we need to assume some global symmetries such as time and space invariance. But as other theories and assumptions they are verified by tests.

    This reliability in observations and verified theories is why we justifiably trust scientific theories, instead of merely believe that they will work tomorrow or merely believe that they work elsewhere. So we have a warrant, by the way our theories work.

    As I said earlier, “We test our theories, which is a different method, and the success of science gives validity to that”.

  210. #210 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 18, 2007

    The whole point of the problem of induction is that past success provides no warrant for future success,

    And the whole point with theories is that they give reliable predictions. To do that we need to assume some global symmetries such as time and space invariance. But as other theories and assumptions they are verified by tests.

    This reliability in observations and verified theories is why we justifiably trust scientific theories, instead of merely believe that they will work tomorrow or merely believe that they work elsewhere. So we have a warrant, by the way our theories work.

    As I said earlier, “We test our theories, which is a different method, and the success of science gives validity to that”.

  211. #211 Tulse
    March 18, 2007

    And the whole point with theories is that they give reliable predictions. To do that we need to assume some global symmetries such as time and space invariance. But as other theories and assumptions they are verified by tests.

    Again, I think you’re missing the point. These assumptions are only “verified” because we also assume that the future will be like the past. This assumption cannot be verified by past experience (including any scientific tests, using any methodology), precisely because such verification implicitly assumes that the future will be like the past — in other words it assumes what it is testing.

    I understand that this is a hard issue to get your head around, especially if you approach it from a science background. But honest, it’s a genuine problem in philosophy, and not one that any amount of science will solve.

  212. #212 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 18, 2007

    I understand that this is a hard issue to get your head around, especially if you approach it from a science background. But honest, it’s a genuine problem in philosophy, and not one that any amount of science will solve.

    No, I believe I understand the philosophical problem, and I am certainly not out to solve it for philosophers.

    What I am saying is that science method and most scientists thinking differ. There is no difference in assuming global symmetry over time or over space. And everything that goes into a theory is tested – theories assumes what is tested. Observations independently verify the theories, and especially verify the methods.

    It is a difference in outlook, and if a philosopher feel the need to choose a description that involves circularity or infinite regress to claim that this is a genuine problem, it is possible. It is always possible to claim an outlook that is functionally equivalent with solipsism.

    But it is also possible to choose descriptions that are close to what we observe, for example by separating the abstract theory from the (assumed) reality of the observations. This is what I think science is compelled to do. And it works.

    What I think is outright wrong here is when you claim that there is “no warrant for future success”. If knowledge is justified beliefs, global time symmetry is certainly justified. Now, a philosopher can claim that he isn’t satisfied with the justification and the knowledge, but that is another question. Specifically, he will probably not convince a scientist that it is an unjustified, unwarranted belief.

  213. #213 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 18, 2007

    I understand that this is a hard issue to get your head around, especially if you approach it from a science background. But honest, it’s a genuine problem in philosophy, and not one that any amount of science will solve.

    No, I believe I understand the philosophical problem, and I am certainly not out to solve it for philosophers.

    What I am saying is that science method and most scientists thinking differ. There is no difference in assuming global symmetry over time or over space. And everything that goes into a theory is tested – theories assumes what is tested. Observations independently verify the theories, and especially verify the methods.

    It is a difference in outlook, and if a philosopher feel the need to choose a description that involves circularity or infinite regress to claim that this is a genuine problem, it is possible. It is always possible to claim an outlook that is functionally equivalent with solipsism.

    But it is also possible to choose descriptions that are close to what we observe, for example by separating the abstract theory from the (assumed) reality of the observations. This is what I think science is compelled to do. And it works.

    What I think is outright wrong here is when you claim that there is “no warrant for future success”. If knowledge is justified beliefs, global time symmetry is certainly justified. Now, a philosopher can claim that he isn’t satisfied with the justification and the knowledge, but that is another question. Specifically, he will probably not convince a scientist that it is an unjustified, unwarranted belief.

  214. #214 Scott Hatfield
    March 18, 2007

    TL: As usual, I learn things from your posts, which in my views justifies my ‘belief’ that you warrant a Molly. As you know, I hold a few unjustified beliefs of my own, but that doesn’t keep me from assenting to your general line of reasoning here: this particular epistemological concern seems like a non-starter to me, too.

    The practice of science doesn’t guarantee any particular outcome, especially in a universe where the laws *might* change in the future, but we have very good reason to prefer its provisional, testable, and partially-justified claims to those which, like an unknown future, are dogmatic and impossible to test.

  215. #215 Tulse
    March 18, 2007

    it is also possible to choose descriptions that are close to what we observe, for example by separating the abstract theory from the (assumed) reality of the observations. This is what I think science is compelled to do. And it works.

    It has worked in the past. The whole point of the problem of induction is how we justify that it will work in the future, without circularly invoking the assumption that the past is like the future.

    Another way of looking at it that may make more sense to someone steeped in the scientific tradition is to consider Goodman’s statement of the problem. Consider an emerald. You can say that it is currently green, and it will be green in 2008 — this is the property you assign to it based on past experience, “what we observe”. But I say that it is actually “grue”, where “grue” means “green now, but blue in 2008” — this is the property that I assign to it also based on the same past observations, and that past experience equally supports both inductions. The property “grue” is just as validly derived from past experience as the property “green”, and anything that you say about “green” objects in the past is just as true if they were “grue”. In other words, past experience does not support uniquely defined laws.

    If knowledge is justified beliefs, global time symmetry is certainly justified. Now, a philosopher can claim that he isn’t satisfied with the justification and the knowledge, but that is another question.

    In the case of the “problem of induction”, that is the question, but as I’ve said many times before, it’s not a problem that should keep scientists up at night. There are very many foundational problems in philosophy, but those don’t keep pratical work from continuing.

    Specifically, he will probably not convince a scientist that it is an unjustified, unwarranted belief.

    Sure, and as I’ve pointed out earlier, an accountant isn’t going to sweat the fact that arithmetic isn’t formally provable, even though mathematicians recognize the validity of Goedel’s theorems. You can’t do science if you’re worried about the validity of induction. That doesn’t mean that induction has a philosophical foundation (after all, as PZ points out, there are plenty of people who do theology despite having no reasoned foundation for the existence of the entity/entities under study). But it does mean that it is hugely impractical for scientists to worry about the issue.

  216. #216 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 18, 2007

    There are very many foundational problems in philosophy, but those don’t keep pratical work from continuing.

    I’m surprised you are saying this. How isn’t practical work or my abstract analysis above not philosophical stances? Philosophy is assumed to cover everything, right?

    the fact that arithmetic isn’t formally provable,

    Arithmetic is formally provable, in a more powerful system.

    What we don’t know is if it is consistent (but it is believed to be), and what we know is that it isn’t complete (since a counterexample is known). Now G(F) is independent of F, so we can have F+Not(G(F)) consistent. (What we can’t do is assume Con(F) as an axiom, since then F+Con(F)+Not(G(F)) is not consistent.)

    In any case, when your accountant does his calculations, he is using justified knowledge, the same mathematics as the mathematician has showed works.

  217. #217 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 18, 2007

    There are very many foundational problems in philosophy, but those don’t keep pratical work from continuing.

    I’m surprised you are saying this. How isn’t practical work or my abstract analysis above not philosophical stances? Philosophy is assumed to cover everything, right?

    the fact that arithmetic isn’t formally provable,

    Arithmetic is formally provable, in a more powerful system.

    What we don’t know is if it is consistent (but it is believed to be), and what we know is that it isn’t complete (since a counterexample is known). Now G(F) is independent of F, so we can have F+Not(G(F)) consistent. (What we can’t do is assume Con(F) as an axiom, since then F+Con(F)+Not(G(F)) is not consistent.)

    In any case, when your accountant does his calculations, he is using justified knowledge, the same mathematics as the mathematician has showed works.

  218. #218 Greg Byshenk
    March 18, 2007

    Tulse wrote (in #199):

    The whole point of the problem of induction is that past success
    provides no warrant for future success, without circularly invoking the very thing
    you are trying to warrant.

    This is true — if the question revolves around “trying to warrant” something.
    That is, it is quite true that — absent some solution to the problem of induction —
    there is no guarantee that induction will work, or that the future will be like
    the past. But one might well ask: “why do you need a guarantee?”

    It seems to be a fact of the univerese that it is coherent and consistent. All of
    our experience tells us that day (or event) n is similar to to day (or event)
    n – 1, and thus that day (or event) n + 1 will be similar to day (or
    event) n. Further still, our experience gives us no indication that the
    universe is incoherent or inconsistent. Which means that, while we have
    no proof or guarantee that the sun will rise tomorrow, we have every reason to believe
    that it will, and no reason to believe that it will not.

  219. #219 Tulse
    March 18, 2007

    it is quite true that — absent some solution to the problem of induction — there is no guarantee that induction will work, or that the future will be like the past. But one might well ask: “why do you need a guarantee?”

    You don’t if you just want to continue doing science. But philosophers want to know why induction works, why that assumption seems correct. They want to be able to justify it.

    All of our experience tells us that day (or event) n is similar to to day (or event) n – 1, and thus that day (or event) n + 1 will be similar to day (or event) n. Further still, our experience gives us no indication that the universe is incoherent or inconsistent.

    The whole issue is whether whether are justified inferring about the future from such past experience.

    while we have no proof or guarantee that the sun will rise tomorrow, we have every reason to believe that it will

    …with one of those reasons being that we assume the future will be like the past.

    As I’ve said, these kind of foundational problems are really only a worry for philosophers. Generally speaking, only they are the folks who are bothered by these issues — no one else need wrestle with them, or actually worry that emeralds will suddenly turn blue. But nonetheless, it’s a really interesting puzzle, and one for which there is no agreed-upon solution.

  220. #220 Kevembuangga
    March 18, 2007

    Tulse : But nonetheless, it’s a really interesting puzzle, and one for which there is no agreed-upon solution.

    Just about as “interesting” than : “Is the present king of France bald?”

    A grammatically correct interrogative sentence does not necessarily make a semantically valid question.

  221. #221 Caledonian
    March 18, 2007

    You don’t if you just want to continue doing science. But philosophers want to know why induction works, why that assumption seems correct. They want to be able to justify it.

    It doesn’t, and it’s not – in the same sense that deduction works and is correct. (Even deduction can err, in practice – in practice, there’s no fundamental difference between deduction and induction, because there’s no way to confirm that the statements deduction works on are correct or that the process was carried out appropriately.)

  222. #222 JJWFromME
    March 18, 2007

    Well said, Sam C in #198.

    I apologize if I’ve been a bit blunt, but as that’s the custom on this site, that’s the approach I took. Thanks, all…

  223. #223 Kevembuangga
    March 18, 2007

    JJWFromME : Well said, Sam C in #198.
    You mean this?
    Sam C : I disagree. Very often, if we think ‘that’s stupid’ on the basis of shallow aquaintance,

    Then I have to disagree with the disagreement, once you are knowledgeable in chemistry and physics you don’t need to study alchemy to know that trying to turn lead into gold is stupid.
    Just like you don’t need to study theology to know that religious fairy tales are nonsense and that “spirituality” albeit a tremendously moving range of emotions is a neurophysiology artefact.

  224. #224 croghan27
    March 18, 2007

    I am in no way a physicist, nor can I be described as very spiritual yet ……

    Spirituality to me involves etherial, immaterial matters, subjects that are commonly not the perview of science. Spirituality being: “c.1250, “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” Works for me, so long as it cannot be measured.

    With the dominance of Quantum Mechanics/matrix theory/string theory in small particle/wave thinking I see some hints of spirituality creeping into the physcial sciences.

    What can be more spiritual than something that is one thing and at the same time something else? According to Heisenberg and his conjugical variables we cannot know two things at the same time, is this not in the realm of the spirit?

    Strings apparently cannot be tested, observed or proven, yet they are the object of intense study.

    Perhaps the idea of spirituality has been been changed by physics, as it has changed so much else; and that of science, as the study of what physically is, has moved too.

  225. #225 potentilla
    March 18, 2007

    A grammatically correct interrogative sentence does not necessarily make a semantically valid question. True, but I don’t see why it has to do with the problem of induction? What is the semantically invalid question which you imply?

    Caledonian – ie the ultimate premises of a deductive argument can only be supported by induction?

    Of course we can logically go on doing science (as well as practically) since any scientific theory is ultimately still provisional, and I don’t see why that should not also apply to the methodology.

  226. #226 Greg Byshenk
    March 18, 2007

    Tulse:

    The whole issue is whether whether are justified inferring about
    the future from such past experience.

    And we are justified, for the reasons I already stated. Note that ‘justified’
    is not equivalent to ‘guaranteed’; for example, a belief that is false can nonetheless
    be justified.

    To be sure, some philosophers are very concerned about how/why it is that
    induction works, and such “foundational problems” as whether we can prove that
    science gets at the truth — but many others (including some philosphers of science)
    are not.

    Further, the fact that one cannot come up with a foundational proof does not
    mean that “the future will be like the past” is an unjustified assumption. It is an
    unproven assumption, but not an unjustified or unreasonable one. As already
    noted, we have every reason to believe that the universe is coherent and consistent,
    and no reason to believe the contrary, and thus the “assumption” is entirely reasonable.
    Yes, it is unproven, and it could turn out to be wrong — perhaps tomorrow
    we will learn that emeralds are ‘grue’ — but there is no reason whatsoever to think
    that such is the case, and until we see a ‘grue’ emerald, we are quite reasonably
    justified in concluding that emeralds are (and will remain) ‘green’.

  227. #227 Kevembuangga
    March 18, 2007

    potentilla : What is the semantically invalid question which you imply?

    “But philosophers want to know why induction works, why that assumption seems correct.”

    Assuming that you find an answer to this “why”, WHY would this answer be correct?
    Where do you stop?
    LOL

  228. #228 Kagehi
    March 18, 2007

    With the dominance of Quantum Mechanics/matrix theory/string theory in small particle/wave thinking I see some hints of spirituality creeping into the physcial sciences.

    Been reading Chopra have we?

    Seriously though, this suggesting is utter nonsense. All the quantum theory stuff just says that if an otherwise random particle, with no local frame of reference, *hits* something that does have one, it suddenly gains that frame of reference. In other words, if you fire a particle off, which you know nothing of its spin, direction, etc., what you *do* know about it later depends on what it hits first. There isn’t anything “spiritual” about that, its just a slightly wacky form of, “You can’t know where the pachinko ball will land until it hits all the pegs.” The only thing making it “look” spiritual is the current lack of any means to “see” the pegs well enough to have a clear enough idea what will happen, unlike with pachinko balls, where knowing the position of the pins and where the ball started, can give you a very high probability of predicting the final point it stops.

    All the spiritual stuff leaking in is from people that don’t get that, or are making screwy predictions about what it *might* mean, if we can’t find the pegs. In other words, if the pegs don’t exist, then they are right to interject some class of spiritualism into it. But, at this point doing so is about as reasonable as early fears from Japanese people that trains where run by “ghosts” because the steam coming out of them looked spooky and they didn’t believe the explanation Westerners where giving them for how it worked. Nothing inanimate could *possibly* move something so large after all, no matter how hot you made it…

  229. #229 Blake Stacey
    March 18, 2007

    Kagehi:

    The only thing making it “look” spiritual is the current lack of any means to “see” the pegs well enough to have a clear enough idea what will happen, unlike with pachinko balls, where knowing the position of the pins and where the ball started, can give you a very high probability of predicting the final point it stops.

    Actually, what with all the experiments done to test Bell’s Inequality, the odds are pretty good that there are no hidden pegs, and that the randomness observed in quantum phenomena is an intrinsic feature writ into the quantum laws. So it goes. Still, even the absence of “hidden variables” is not a good reason to dive headfirst into mysticism.

    One of the main triumphs of quantum physics in the last half-century — really, since Dieter Zeh’s work in 1970 — has been to reduce the glory which must be accorded to “conscious observers”. Once upon a time, one could have claimed that it took consciousness to turn quantum strangeness into a solid, classical world, but now we know that jittering molecules can do the job without the need for an emergent mind. As Tegmark and Wheeler say, “Loosely speaking, decoherence calculations show that you don’t need a human observer to get this effect — even an air molecule will suffice.”

    (By the way, the basic ideas of decoherence could have been invented decades before Zeh and company worked them out. The same formulas might well have been devised in the 1930s or ’40s, except everyone was busy inventing quantum electrodynamics or something. Bad luck.)

    Quantum physics indicates that at the sub-atomic, atomic and sometimes molecular levels, Nature is fundamentally probabilistic. When we deal with things that small — and we’re talking about things less than one ten-billionth of a meter across, here — we can only make statements about likelihoods. Complete knowledge seems forever out of our grasp, through no fault of our own, and yet was that kind of total information ever necessary? Incomplete understanding is a staple of life. Somehow, more or less, we deal with it. At least here in Massachusetts, for example, neither men nor women understand their wives, yet the institution of marriage goes trundling on. Likewise, the discovery of the quantum laws did not make physics implode in upon itself (quite the contrary), nor has it had to make room for mystical notions of some sacred subjectivity.

  230. #230 JJWFromME
    March 18, 2007

    Kevembuangga, neither you nor PZ read anything of Taylor’s to get a sense of what he meant by the word “spiritual,” or what he made of the “neurophysiology artifact” (to use your words).

    There was just an assumption made.

    Sam C also said that “an impression drawn from a few remarks as the basis for blanket dismissal of a lifetime’s work, is silly, and worryingly similar to creationist rhetoric: substituting loathing for engagement and ridicule for argument…”

    Yup.

  231. #231 Keith Douglas
    March 19, 2007

    Steve LaBonne: Laudan is sort of correct. Think of it via a “data structure” analogy. The refusal to have any foundations at all is analogous to the empty list or the null string, but in the data structure of foundations. (“Coherentism” is really playing another game.) Haack, Bunge, Wittgenstein, and little me have written about various aspects about what one might call “transient foundationalism”, which solves many of the problems. In particular, it should remind us that the idea that because chemistry, physics, sociology and all the rest are the products of “induction” they have nothing to say about Hume’s problem(s) [I think there are several, often confused] is naive. Instead, look at how scientists solve the problem, albeit tacitly. I.e., it seems so overwhelmingly likely that we do have knowledge of a kind – how does it work? In this sense I am a weak pragmatist. (IMO, the answer to Goodman’s “new riddle” is trivial and Hume’s questions are more or less self-defeating, but those are other stories for other times.)

    I might add that none of these foundational questions (if that’s what they are) are, to my knowledge, the sort of thing that Taylor was concerned about.

  232. #232 Steve LaBonne
    March 19, 2007

    Taylor is another Catholic obscurantist “philosopher” pining for the good old medieval days, like Alasdair McIntyre. Feh, say I. And by spiritual, he means the same nonsensce that any other deluded religious believer means by it. PZ was on the money.

  233. #233 Blake Stacey
    March 19, 2007

    I like this:

    The randomness in quantum mechanics comes from invisible coin-flipping aardvarks. (They flip the coins with their snouts.)

    From Scott Aaronson, on his blog Shtetl-Optimized. The thread in question discusses the lecture in his quantum computing course (PHYS771 at Waterloo) entitled, simply, “Penrose”. The lecture notes begin in the following way:

    So, you guys finally finished reading Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind? What did you think of it?

    (Since I forgot to record this lecture, the class responses are tragically lost to history. But if I recall correctly, the entire class turned out to consist of — YAWN — straitlaced, clear-thinking materialistic reductionists who correctly pointed out the glaring holes in Penrose’s arguments. No one took Penrose’s side, even just for sport.)

    It’s worth reading, though since it’s the 10.5-th lecture in the class, some background in Gödelian topics and P-vs.-NP stuff may be helpful.

  234. #234 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 19, 2007

    What can be more spiritual than something that is one thing and at the same time something else? According to Heisenberg and his conjugical variables we cannot know two things at the same time, is this not in the realm of the spirit?

    No, not really. David Griffiths’s introductory quantum mechanics textbook has an illuminating analogy on this point. Consider a long rope, attached to a fence post at one end. Take the other end, pull the rope fairly taut, and shake it up and down. If you make the rope shake at a definite frequency, then you can see it has a certain well-defined wavelength, but the idea of the “position of the wave” isn’t meaningful. What’s the “position” of a perfect sine wave? You can make an oscillation which travels along the rope with a fairly well-defined position — a wave packet — but you have to superpose many different frequencies, shaking the rope in a more complicated way.

    This is the domain of the mathematical technique known as Fourier analysis. Basically, the take-home message is that a wiggle on the rope can have either a well-defined position or a well-defined wavelength, but the more you try to make one quantity clear, the more uncertain you are forced to be about the other. And this is just talking about a rope tied to a fence!

    Strings apparently cannot be tested, observed or proven, yet they are the object of intense study.

    Perfect circles and precisely equilateral triangles don’t exist in the real world, either. Is Euclidean geometry “spiritual” merely because it describes useful idealizations of the real world? And of course, much of the “intense study” is aimed at finding ways to observe the little wiggly things, to make the ideas more useful. Physicists didn’t just say, “The strings are too small and the math is too hard. Let’s go shopping!” That’s not a way to solve problems.

    A growing body of evidence suggests that string theory may be useful for understanding the properties of a highly excited state of matter known as a quark-gluon plasma. This caught people rather by surprise, and many of the details remain to be figured out. Personally, I expect the worst case scenario is that string theory as applied to QGPs will be roughly analogous to Mendelian genetics in biology: a useful first step, historically significant, but lacking deeper insights.

  235. #235 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 19, 2007

    As I’ve said, these kind of foundational problems are really only a worry for philosophers. […]
    But nonetheless, it’s a really interesting puzzle, and one for which there is no agreed-upon solution.

    Not so, science must and have been able to justify trust in physical laws over time.

    Frankly, I find the suggestion that we should deny that we trust laws instead of just believing in them rather ridiculous also for philosophers. It seems to be a basic definition of philosophy that knowledge is justified beliefs. And this knowledge is here what we call trust.

    What would be the reason to deny that science type of justifications is indeed a justification?

  236. #236 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 19, 2007

    As I’ve said, these kind of foundational problems are really only a worry for philosophers. […]
    But nonetheless, it’s a really interesting puzzle, and one for which there is no agreed-upon solution.

    Not so, science must and have been able to justify trust in physical laws over time.

    Frankly, I find the suggestion that we should deny that we trust laws instead of just believing in them rather ridiculous also for philosophers. It seems to be a basic definition of philosophy that knowledge is justified beliefs. And this knowledge is here what we call trust.

    What would be the reason to deny that science type of justifications is indeed a justification?

  237. #237 Scott Hatfield
    March 19, 2007

    Keith Douglas: regarding ‘transient foundationalism’, I’m interested in learning more about your views there. Do you have any articles/sources handy you could share?

    Sincerely….SH (epigene13@hotmail.com)

  238. #238 Dustin
    March 20, 2007

    Scott, it’s better to break your e-mail address up into something like:

    epigene13 at hotmail com

    so that the spambots have a harder time parsing it.

  239. #239 Dustin
    March 20, 2007

    If I could expand on Blake’s comment, this:

    According to Heisenberg… we cannot know two things at the same time

    is sloppy language. The uncertainty relation really says that the products of the standard deviations of measurements on position and measurements on momentum is always nonzero. That isn’t to say that we can’t know two things at the same time, but only that in the long run, repeated measurements on identically prepared ensembles will result in distributions of the data that have certain constraints on their standard deviations. It shows up as the “we can’t know both at the same time” because the result, like most others in quantum mechanics, is very robust and can withstand a lot of abuse. The point is that it isn’t a commentary on individual measurements of individual particles. It’s a theorem regarding the standard deviations in repeated measurements, it’s just strong enough that we can get away with saying otherwise.

    And, if the Copenhagen Interpretation is correct, it isn’t just that we can’t know the two things at the same time (sloppy language), it’s more that, when we observe one of the two incompatible observables, the other simply isn’t well-defined anymore — there isn’t even anything there to be known.

  240. #240 Dustin
    March 20, 2007

    So here’s another way of thinking about the uncertainty relation (I don’t remember if this came from my QM professor or Griffiths). Think about a bass and a flute. When a flautist makes a mistake, you know it right a way, while bass players can get away with a lot. More than that, when you hear a high pitch, you know where it came from, and with a bass note, you have a very difficult idea telling where it came from. The reason is an example of an uncertainty relation. The flute has a wavelength that is short with respect to the duration of the note, and so your ears and brain have a lot of opportunity to establish exactly which note is being played. Bass notes, on the other hand, have a larger wavelength being sent over the same duration, and this means that the pitch of the note is less well-defined, and your brain has a harder time knowing when it’s off.

    That’s how uncertainty works, and it’s also why you need to shoot one of two flautists to get them to play in tune.

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