A general predilection for delusion

The first review of my talk yesterday is in! Too bad it is from somebody who wasn't there and who is a world-class fool. Yes, it's Michael Egnor again, and he's got a lengthy post up with the pretext of giving me advice on future talks, but is really an attempt to preempt my arguments and chide me for my crazy materialist position. He doesn't even come close to any of my arguments, and he makes false assumptions all over the place about what I and the audience think. I'm used to straw men from creationists, but this is ridiculous.

Here's what I actually said at the talk.

The first half was about the successes of the materialist paradigm. We really have made great advances in understanding how neurons and small networks of neurons work, and in understanding fairly big picture features of the overall organization of the brain. Yet I also said there are huge parts of brain function we do not understand, and even outright admitted that we can't positively disprove anything like a "soul" or whatever. However, there are two things we do know: 1) the physical/material approach of neuroscience works and has accomplished great improvements in our understanding, so anyone who wants to advocate something else needs to demonstrate some kind of pragmatic utility to their approach that will complement or improve neuroscience, and 2) any metaphysical/spiritual theory of the mind must accommodate existing knowledge, and apologists for ghosts have not done so. I'd like to know how the spirit does its work — does it phosphorylate CREB proteins, or does it toggle ion channels?

The second half tried to consider some of the hypotheses for the evolution of religious thinking, but really, was more of a discussion of my own ideas about evolution of complex behavioral attributes. I spent a fair amount of time on a basic concept that I see misused often: function vs. adaptation. Many of the books on the evolution of religion out there are basically catalogs of cultures throughout history that have shown the utility of religion, which I don't deny. I also asked the audience of godless atheists if they knew of any advantages to religious belief: Crazy Egnor would probably be shocked to learn that they had no problem listing quite a few good things about religion. However, my point was that coming up with functions is not equivalent to demonstrating an adaptive history of selection. I reject the notion that showing that someone has found a use for a behavior means that that behavior has been the product of selection. Showing that something is the product of selection is very, very hard, and it has not been done for religion.

My own argument is that there probably are heritable behaviors that have been subject to selection, but that they are much more general than the religious impulse — socially advantageous basic cognitive substrates like empathy or inference of intent — and that religion is simply one natural (and erroneous!) derivative of these lower level properties of the brain. My final message was that religion is not a necessary outcome of those properties, and that the challenge for atheism was to build social structures that were as good at addressing those more basic (and actually desirable) features of humanity as the bogus interpretations of religion.

Go ahead, take a look at Egnor's freaky imagined version of an atheist talk and my summary of the real one. Just keep in mind that I was actually at the talk, and that I'm not a deluded kook. That'll help you figure out which one of us actually has any credibility.

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Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that it's been quite a while since I've featured the antics of a certain character who's become a bit of the bête noire of my fellow surgeons. I'm referring, of course, to Dr. Michael Egnor, a renowned neurosurgeon from SUNY Stony Brook who's made 2007…
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During the first few years of ScienceBlogs there was a lot of talk about religion. Yes, there's talk about religion now, but it's toned down in the wake of the ebbing of the publicity around The God Delusion. Naturally in the wake of the New Atheism a raft of conventional apologetics have been…

But, if altruism is not located in the brain then perhaps understanding is not located there either. Thus, Egnor does not need to have physically been at your talk. His dissociated "understanding" could have gone to the talk and he could use that to write a devestating critique of the talk.
And, he is a neurosurgeon whose accent I have not heard, while you stand convicted of being American. Thus, I trust Egnor.

By Donalbain (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

instead of linking to that DI tripe, why not just link to a page that says "Blah blah blah fart blah blah blah", and get the same reasoned discourse? The simple fact that the page is on the DI site destroys its credibility instantly.

I had expected to disagree with the entirety of what was in that link, but I did find one thing I strongly agreed with -- this quote:

"Hopefully P.Z. will post a transcript, or put up the Powerpoint file."

The rest was a rather painful abuse of logic and assumptions, as expected. But that's no excuse not to follow through on the sole sensible recommendation!

MnAtheists will be putting up a video, and I'll announce when it is available. Then people will have something I actually said to criticize!

I have something in common with Dawkins now: people don't feel any need to consider what I actually say or write to invent a criticism.

It is not a reach to claim that the whole history of intellectual disputation in the twentieth century can be viewed as a battle between materialism/naturalism versus idealism/spiritualities. Mentalism and all its priestly pretentions is best viewed as a tool of power.

The ease with which mentalistic explanations can be conjured up on the spot should give us some indication how much attention we should pay to them.

By gerald spezio (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

PZ Myers:

MnAtheists will be putting up a video, and I'll announce when it is available. Then people will have something I actually said to criticize!

Glad to hear it.

I have something in common with Dawkins now: people don't feel any need to consider what I actually say or write to invent a criticism.

Heck, that happened to me the moment I opened my mouth about "framing". Oh, and also with "Blake's Law". Shrug.

One very telling detail - if Egnor really believes that disproof only exists in a realm where proof is found, then he really has no idea of what science is.

PZ, you may be on to something: Holy Spirit-gated ion channels? Hey, how about Satan-gated ion channels? There...a complete set of proximate behavioral mechanisms.
Next problem?

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

All this aside, I'm sure Myers did fine. He had a very receptive audience, and I'm sure my conundrums listed above never occurred to any of them. Cognitive dissonance isn't a big problem for materialists.

What do you suppose is more ironic? Someone who believes in the metaphysical transference of guilt from all populations living and dead to a half-god entity chiding materialists for ignoring cognitive dissonance, or the fact that such irony will never occur to such an individual?

Well, I clicked on the link to see what he said.

Holy Frak, this guy pulls people's brains apart for a living? That's scary. I hope I never need one but if I do need a neurosurgeon I hope he ain't that delusional.

my point was that coming up with functions is not equivalent to demonstrating an adaptive history of selection. I reject the notion that showing that someone has found a use for a behavior means that that behavior has been the product of selection. Showing that something is the product of selection is very, very hard

Alas, this is a lesson that most of evolutionary psychology has failed to learn...

Material reality at the quantum level only sharpens into focus when it is observed by a mind.

Infinite error-to-content ratios are hard to find, but I believe Dr. Egnor's physics point has reached this enviable goal.

gracias jon... anyone for a satirical discovery group blog? i'd love to spoof those fools. the best thing to do to lying gasbags is to mock them mercilessly.

Shorter Egnor: "PZ! Under no circumstances should you base your talk on these numerous strawmen I just cooked up! You'll look silly! Although, if you did, boy, could I go to town on them! You think the brain is meat! Meat meat meat... mmmm, meat."

I'm just glad I was at a presentation by PZ and not, apparently, Mr. Egnor, who appears to be coming a bit unglued. I was very happy with the talk, which, in all honesty, was fairly gentle on theism (I know, I'm going to get accused of slander), and did little, if any, of the jargon abuse that Egnor presupposes.

I believe PZ did mention Dennet's parallel-processing theory (with a slight disclaimer, if I recall), but I didn't notice anyone start bleeding from the nose and screaming "oh god, it's superficially described to resemble a computer it must be Jesus aieeeeee," or whatever Eggie thought was supposed to happen.

Well I find his "booga booga boogas" very persuasive. As a well respected genius once said "what a maroon!".

The computer is a beautiful model of intelligently designed dualism.

Wait a minute, isn't Egnor a substance dualist? Is he saying that computers have souls?

Can physics and chemistry ascertain truth?

Computers have no problem determining that "2 < 3" is true, and, shocking as it may be to Egnor, everything that a computer does is reducible to the laws of physics.

By secondclass (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Michael Egnor wrote

It leads to the uncomfortable observation that the paradigm Dennett uses to explain the brain (i.e. the computer) is an intricate piece of manufactured hardware run by software that is written by programmers. The computer is a beautiful model of intelligently designed dualism.

Speaking as somebody pretty familiar with the functioning and design of microprocessors at the fundamental level, I think he may be confused about the applicability of "dualism" to that scenario. I don't doubt that any such system would be generally designed by many people, but I fail to see how that supports a view of dualism in the machine.

What do you think he means by this? Dennet's paradigm seems exactly right to me... and I have no idea how it supports "dualism" in any way. Can anybody help? Is he trying to say that a computer has a soul?

By Brain Hertz (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

secondclass beat me to it...

By Brain Hertz (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

If natural selection works on both of them, then natural selection is true regardless of the substrate on which it acts. Doesn't that imply that natural selection is a tautology?' Bad denouement. Don't push the gene-meme thing too far. People do just fine studying ideas without recourse to 'natural selection'. They might see that they can do just fine studying biology without recourse to 'natural selection'.

Awesome. A non-sequitur wrapped in a fallacy, smothered with ignorance.
Can anybody recommend a wine pairing?

My favorite quote so far:

If your mind is merely an emergent property of your brain, then your opinions are completely determined by your neurophysiology. But neurophysiology is determined by physics and chemistry. Can physics and chemistry ascertain truth?

Hot things burn me. Can heat feel pain? If it can't, then clearly I can't feel pain as a result.

I think in Garth we've finally found someone who understands theology enough to discuss it on a level that will satisfy that (curiously smug) godbot, David.

I must say, even I the materialist did not expect this reaction from Egnor. What dismissive arrogance! Well, perhaps Dr. Egnor can give his own theory of brain function then, instead of continuously cursing the light from the candle that someone else has lit!

At any rate, Dr. Egnor did not materalize at this talk, and I certainly would never presume to "summarize" any lecture by an intelligent design advocate that I did not actually attend. What a pity he is so incurious about a group of people that he doesn't know, and obviously doesn't want to, since I at least have indeed wrestled mightily with why a materialist explanation of the brain does not inevitably lead to behaviorism as envisioned by Skinner. I have always questioned theories of religion that I thought were too insulting to and dismissive of religious experience, certainly PZ stressed that the existence of religion is not due to simple stupidity. But the Dr. Egnors of the world don't want to hear that - they just want to fight about nothing. They need enemies, especially pretend ones.

What do you think he means by this?
Brain = hardware Soul = software
Setting aside the childish readiness to argue from facile analogy, the real irony is that Dennett specifically warns against being mislead by this idea in Consciousness Explained.
Egnor is so enamored of this notion that there must be something deeply wrong with materialism --after all, HE has a soul, right?-- that he's apparently not even compelled to make sense on the matter.
"My arguments are just laughably incompetent... Therefore God! QED."

OMG, this is just too much!:

"It leads to the uncomfortable observation that the paradigm Dennett uses to explain the brain (i.e. the computer) is an intricate piece of manufactured hardware run by software that is written by programmers. The computer is a beautiful model of intelligently designed dualism."

Of course, Egnor ignores the fact that Dennett has devoted quite a bit of effort and space in every book written on the subject (e.g., Consciousness Explained, Sweet Dreams, as numerous essays and lectures) to explaining the evolution of conscious. And btw, a computer isn't an example "dualism", there is nothing immaterial about the instruction passed to the computer by code. What an idiot.

Here's a review from someone (me) who actually did attend PZ's presentation.

1. In person, PZ does not breath fire. Certainly not literally, and even figuratively, he's only a bit warm, with no flames or even smoke in sight (a good thing, since we were in a library).

2. The first half was an audience-appropriate neuroscience 101. It hit the high points of how complex the whole network of cells and communications links of the brain are, and how neuroscientists try (and to a small extent have achieved) delving into it. I think there was a certain feeling of non-climax to anyone who has had scientific training. The introductory neuroscience was fun as far as it went, but of course I didn't expect that any sort of ghost would be needed or found. So to have PZ stand up there and actually state in public that there is no ghost was sort of like having him say water is wet: not very exciting, and maybe even a little embarrassing.

3. The second half was actually more fun. Hypotheses about whether there is some evolutionary basis for why people actually believe in the supernatural are intriguing. I think PZ's points concerning taking care not to be too quick and glib about asserting heritable adaptation based on some conceptual ideas of apparent utility were a very useful caution. His suggestion of candidates for selected heritable behaviors was nicely presented, and while some of us had heard these before, at least a couple of folks near me had some light bulbs go on and were intrigued.

4. During the question/answer session there were two points that came up that I found interesting, mostly because PZ was quite matter of fact about them. First, (and I'm afraid this will sound like framing), I understood him to say, essentially, that he is playing atheistic bad cop, thereby hoping to create a good cop space that others can occupy to be generally persuasive to a broader audience than will ever really open-mindedly listen to PZ. The second point was that getting rid of religion is NOT the end goal here. That's much too unrealistic. The goal is to establish in the minds of our friends and neighbors that atheism is an acceptable (perhaps even well-founded and honorable, though that may be too much to hope for) position that they need not fear and ought not to loathe. (And if we can get at least some of them to think more rationally, that would be a good thing, too, but that may be frosting).

So, I thought the talk overall was quite interesting, somewhat informative, but not wowwy-zowwy. But then, I'm maybe just a little jaded, and it's hard for someone to get too far up my wowwy-zowwy scale.

"Can anybody recommend a wine pairing?"

I'm working on it. I figure something a bit obnoxious, and yet clueless, with a hint of supercilious snottiness.

- sgage

Yeah, it's hard to be wowwy-zowwy with such a general topic, but at the same time, this was an audience of non-scientists, so you have to cover the basics and generalities. The last time I talked to MnAtheists it was on comparative genomics and synteny, and I think it was a very wowwy-zowwy topic, but it was way, way, way over everyone's heads.

...

...

I looked at the home page for the Discovery Institute's "Evolution News & Views," and was delighted to read the following in their mission statement on the left column:

The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site.

...

...

I forgot to mention one important point: PZ's statement that the hideous brain injuries received by so many soldiers in Iraq right now are teaching people a great deal about brain function through sheer necessity. Dr. Egnor's objections seem downright selfish to me. He could be on the front lines of this research instead of cursing it.

Certainly if valor and sacrifice were indications of a supernatural soul, these soldiers would have enough soul to be healing themselves instantaneously, but of course that's not what happens, and we owe them more than just best wishes in the form of prayers and desperately underfunded VA hospitals.

Material explanations place treatments and cures within our hands. Supernatural explanations do not. It's that simple. First we must look at the brain as it really is - then if people want to add nice supernaturalism and stir, I can't prevent that.

"Material explanations place treatments and cures within our hands. Supernatural explanations do not. "

What do you mean? You just pray for a miracle!

It's as simple as that!

;-)

Of course, Egnor ignores the fact that Dennett has devoted quite a bit of effort and space in every book written on the subject (e.g., Consciousness Explained, Sweet Dreams, as numerous essays and lectures) to explaining the evolution of conscious. And btw, a computer isn't an example "dualism", there is nothing immaterial about the instruction passed to the computer by code. What an idiot.

Well to be fair, Dennett's stuff isn't cast in stone and there are many critics of his work. Maybe "dualism" is referring to the logical independence of software from it's substrate. But as for this latest dollop of Egnorian excrement, I'm at a loss for words. I'm fairly open to various interpretations of mind and consciousness, but that was incoherent.

IIRC, the introduction of metal-jacketed military ammunition in the early 20th century (e.g. Russo-Japanese war 1904-5) led to a dramatic increase in the number of survivable head injuries on the battlefield, with educational consequences for medical neuroscience.

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

OK, so Egnor is truly an idiot, and a religious whackjob to boot, and I hold no truck with him. That said, some of the arguments here are less than convincing. E.g.:

Computers have no problem determining that "2 < 3" is true, and, shocking as it may be to Egnor, everything that a computer does is reducible to the laws of physics.

Computers don't determine that arthimetic statements are true -- at the level of physics all they do is push around electrons in a pre-specified way. The results they generate have to be interpreted by us. There is no semantics in physics, and no logic, and thus no notion of "truth". We can talk about whether a specific physical theory (i.e., human interpretation of the world) corresponds with the world, and we can thus assign that theory a truth value. But the notion of truth is a purely abstract one -- stars can't be "false", and electrons in a computer can't be "true".

Egnor ignores the fact that Dennett has devoted quite a bit of effort and space in every book written on the subject (e.g., Consciousness Explained, Sweet Dreams, as numerous essays and lectures) to explaining the evolution of conscious.

As the quip goes, Dennett's book should have been entitled Consciousness Explained Away, since its "explanation" of consciousness is that there isn't any. In a very real sense Dennett is simply an eliminativist materialist without the courage of his convictions.

I confess I rather enjoyed Egnor's irony (OK, OK, so I suffer from childish naiveté due to an overly sheltered life). But the content....sheesh, what an ignoramus. But I'll offer just one of the many needed corrections:

Egnor said:

Material reality at the quantum level only sharpens into focus when it is observed by a mind.

Egnor obviously has never heard of quantum decoherence.

By Tim Tesar (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

"Well to be fair, Dennett's stuff isn't cast in stone and there are many critics of his work. Maybe "dualism" is referring to the logical independence of software from it's substrate."

Well, there are critics, but Egnor couldn't have misrepresented Dennett any more in what he wrote. Dennett's model is anything but "dualist", if Egnor had even read Consciousness Explained or Sweet Dreams, for starters, he would know that. And much of his work goes to explaining the evolution of consciousness.

And as far as "logical independence of software from it's substrate" goes, if that's Egnor's argument, then he's conflating two separate "dualisms". What he's invoking in that case is property dualism, but what he's advvocating is a form of substance dualism. The only way software is actually separate from hardware in a computer is as a layer of abstraction. There's no "ghost in the machine" on your desk, and Egnor is being dishonest is implying that there is any connection to Cartesian models of the mind.

"As the quip goes, Dennett's book should have been entitled Consciousness Explained Away, since its "explanation" of consciousness is that there isn't any. In a very real sense Dennett is simply an eliminativist materialist without the courage of his convictions."

This has nothing to do with what I said. My point was that Egnor had misrepresented both Dennett and illogically connected his misrepresentation to some "dualist" explanation for the operations of a computer. Sorry if I was vague.

BTW, I'm not aware of Dennett ever claiming that consciousness doesn't exist. I've heard the claim many times, but never seen a justification for it. What I do know is that he disputed the relevance and coherence of the notion of "qualia", but I'm unaware of him denying subjective experience (what I mean when I invoke "consciousness").

PZ said, "...there's no room for ghosts, souls, or spirits, and no need for them, either." Egnor criticized this.

Egnor's a brain surgeon, right? So he cuts up brains, eh. Well, maybe he's found souls in brains, eh? Maybe he's gonna write a paper on it?

Or maybe he hasn't found a soul yet, but keeps poking about looking for one when he's supposed to be carrying out neuro-surgical prcedures. I sure wouldn't want to be his patient. What a dork!

By Richard Harris, FCD (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Altruism isn't located anywhere. Altruism is a social construct... it isn't material and thus cannot be "located" anywhere. As a species, we are probably slightly predisposed to altruism after thousands of years of having to put up with each other because we have determined that helping each other - at least occasionally - is more likely to ensure our ongoing survival than screwing each other over.

Asking where altruism is located is as pointless as asking where lust or love or war is located.

Brain = hardware Soul = software

I seem to remember being taught that anything one can implement in hardware can also be implemented in software, and vice versa -- at least for the Von Neumann Architecture, if not necessarily for something arcane like a Quantum Processor.

That being the case, "Soul == software" is merely an assertion without theoretical basis. There is no reason the soul could not also be hardware.

This is fun. Egnor said:

Your argument that "religion itself is a kind of conceptual parasite" is brilliant! After all, ideas copy themselves and spread from organism to organism. You've got variation, natural selection, the whole Darwinian package! Why not call it a 'meme' or something. But you have to be careful here, too. An astute atheist might say: 'how can natural selection apply to ideas, just like it applies to genes? Ideas and genes are completely different things. If natural selection works on both of them, then natural selection is true regardless of the substrate on which it acts. Doesn't that imply that natural selection is a tautology?'

Wow, if this rock falls, and this book falls too, then gravity is true regardless of the substrate on which it acts. Doesn't that imply that gravity is a tautology?

By Spaulding (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Ha! Check the bottom of that DI site.

"The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site." And a fine job of misreporting they do, too.

Tyler DiPietro:

BTW, I'm not aware of Dennett ever claiming that consciousness doesn't exist. I've heard the claim many times, but never seen a justification for it. What I do know is that he disputed the relevance and coherence of the notion of "qualia", but I'm unaware of him denying subjective experience (what I mean when I invoke "consciousness").

Someday, somehow, I'm going to be able to use the phrase "stuffed with roasted qualia." I'm just looking for my opportunity.

My other standard joke on the philosophy of mind goes like this.

"You spend all this time attacking creationist claims about 'the mind,' but you haven't put forth your own ideas about what the mind is."

"The mind is a product of the motion of atoms in the brain, constrained by but not directly predictable from physics and chemistry. To quote the famous philosopher Daniel Dennett, 'Who are you and how did you get in my house?'"

"What?"

"Well, that's what he said when I asked him about it."

I actually did cross paths with Dennett once, about six years ago. I should write about that.

Since even Egnor's more intelligent than his article, we know he's lying when he calls the brain "meat". Gee, Egnor, they did teach you the difference between muscle and brain, didn't they?

There's not much to say, really. It's kind of like the condensed version of UD and the DI, blah blah atheist commies killed a lot of people (implied), blah blah chemistry and physics can't think (can't you discuss neurophysics, Egnor? Of course you can't, you poseur), treat the brain like it's merely a computer and needed programming (showing that Egnor doesn't know that a brain is in many ways unlike a computer (Dennett could learn a bit about this, too)). Well, we've been through all of this before, it's just a way of using words to cover up the fact that Egnor knows little about science, including neuroscience, and certainly has no evidence for his own claims.

Of course the recent title "Egnor mangles the history of eugenics" was too charitable. Any time the words "Egnor mangles..." are written it ought to be a list, including neuroscience, biology, evolution, Verizon wireless service, the rules of evidence, what "materialism" is, science, and the meanings of words. That's just a sample, naturally.

I think he's into his dotage, far past any point at which he's interested in learning and/or discussing matters on their own terms, and interested only in propping up his life of appalling ignorance (with possibly a narrow exception for brain anatomy--well, let's hope so) as being some grand accomplishment and the peak of brilliance.

This latest was only a list of common IDiot misunderstandings and over-generalizations, not an attempt to do anything but sop any IDiot doubts with the usual blithering. Clearly he's not trying to convince anyone outside of the IDiocy any more.

Glen D
http://www.geocities.com/interelectromagnetic

... more ironic? ... or the fact that such irony will never occur to such an individual?

Egnor is, as any of the more plastic IDiots, simply reflecting the terminology of his opponents. (For another example, see "quantum level".) I doubt that he has really reflected over what he says, though. :-P

[Egnor:] ... an intricate piece of manufactured hardware run by software that is written by programmers.

Obviously, Egnor has never heard of mighty Orac, who seems to have no need for puny hardware.

And he completely ignores the fact that neuroscientists have noticed symbol-like behavior in neural network models of the prefrontal cortex.

The brain is spontaneously programming itself when it learns - should we be surprised by that? If Egnor is suggesting that our personalities are fully created and engraved by his designer, he will end up in deep doodoo among his fellow religious creationists.

As for the IDiots magical micro- to macroevolutionary barrier, Egnor must come up with a sensible demarcation property as soon as he suggests this. But as usual he has forgotten to engage brain before mouth.

One doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to understand some things about the brain. But we would reasonably expect a brain surgeon to know a few things..., well, at least one thing... ehrm, hello...?

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

"As the quip goes, Dennett's book should have been entitled Consciousness Explained Away, since its "explanation" of consciousness is that there isn't any. In a very real sense Dennett is simply an eliminativist materialist without the courage of his convictions."
This is such a hackneyed claim. I echo a previous commenter: Let's see an actual passage from the book that substantiates this. He spends quite a bit of time doing his best to dispel this "argument," so may I recommend you start there?
*scare quotes, since "lalalalala I can't hear you!" is not generally recognized as an argument.

Bah, the loon babbles about quantum mechanical dualism too.... is he pinch-hitting for Deepak Chopra? Yack, such twaddle.

Does Dennett dismiss qualia because of that godawful "zombie argument"? The one which goes "Imagine a world where everything's physically the same but there are no qualia. No, I'm not assuming my conclusion at all."

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

This comment is not on Michael Egnor's foolish flappery, it is on your / PZ Myer's talk yesterday at the Roseville Library. IMHO this deserves a lot more feedback then does Egnor's dipshit diversion.

Unlike Egnor, I showed up (the 1st such event I've ever attended), after biking 10 miles (which I haven't done for about 30 years).

The grounding on neuroscience and the success of materialist / natural explanations was well done. PZ responded to a number of questions along the way - hearing and understanding each, and responding with solid answers and comments. He has a wonderful down-to-earth, up-beat, yet extremely articulate style.

The discussion at the end regarding the process evolution may have played in religious proclivities, the possible advantages this may have in society, and how non-believers can establish similar social institutions made it worth the trip for me.

If we continue to be viewed by most moderate believers as smug, fringy athiests and continue poll as poorly as we do, our ability to influence public opinion and public morality issues will continue to be anemic.

We need to be more of a voice in society - e.g. we need to be sought out by journalists for our opinions when someone like Tammy Fae Baker passes away.

PZ may speak as a firebrand at times, but he also provides a model for speaking up with a voice of authority, making inroads in science journalism and academic free speech.

More voices like PZ's need to be heard, and PZ's voice needs to be heard by many more, as well. We need to help people loosen their grip on their "father in heaven" (a point that I brought up) as they did with Santa, and "grow up" (a comment from PZ that brought a big round of applause near the end of the talk).

As for PZ's journey, is there a non-religious equivalent for Godspeed?

By Tim Schultheis (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Torbjörn Larsson, OM:

If Egnor is suggesting that our personalities are fully created and engraved by his designer, he will end up in deep doodoo among his fellow religious creationists.

This presumes that his fellow religious creationists actually care about the content of his statements, rather than merely enjoying the noise they make. He doesn't have to be logical or consistent; he just has to have an anti-"Darwinist" stage presence.

Of course, maybe a creationist can go too far. Behe's assertion that (a) Old Earth and Common Descent are true, but (b) God hand-crafted malaria might have been too much for his compatriots to swallow.

"My final message was that religion is not a necessary outcome of those properties, and that the challenge for atheism was to build social structures that were as good at addressing those more basic (and actually desirable) features of humanity as the bogus interpretations of religion."

Laying aside the spiritual benefits a believer has access to because an atheist cannot comprehend those, the social benefits alone are a huge obstacle to overcome in hopes of replacing religion with something more desirable.

A believer on a trip may chose to worship in any town with another group of fellow believers and know a sense of community and belonging. There is a sense of "family" even when you are among those you have never met before or if you have no family of your own. It transcends culture and language barriers. There is a network to tap into for all sorts of needs. There are a variety of social opportunities and the benefits of learning from those in other stages of life. There are resources for those wanting to be better parents, or to improve their relationships. There are opportunities to join with others in serving the community at large or to do humanitarian work in another country. People to help you celebrate life's victories and cry with you when life hurts. There is help for those who have lost loved ones and those with addictions and no one else to turn to.
Is the "church" perfect hardly, but at its best it sure provides a lot of what people long for. It is a tall order for the atheist world to replace all that.

By Louise Van Court (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

I think Dennett has claimed a few times to just not know what anyone means by "phenomenal consciousness." The consciousness he tries to explain is more like self-consciousness (which is why he thinks language is a prerequisite). I think that stands as a denial of what most people mean by "consciousness."

Tulse, I'm going to have to disagree with this:

Computers don't determine that arthimetic statements are true -- at the level of physics all they do is push around electrons in a pre-specified way.
And brains do nothing more than push around electrons and molecules in a pre-specified way. If computers don't determine that arithmetic statements are true, then humans don't either.

But it seems a little strange to say that computers don't assign a truth value to "2 < 3" (translated to the appropriate machine code), when it's obvious that computers do exactly that, as do humans.

The results they generate have to be interpreted by us.

Not at all. My computer is making a slew of boolean evaluations as I'm typing this, the results of which are meaningful to the computer without me being aware of them at all.

There is no semantics in physics, and no logic, and thus no notion of "truth". We can talk about whether a specific physical theory (i.e., human interpretation of the world) corresponds with the world, and we can thus assign that theory a truth value. But the notion of truth is a purely abstract one -- stars can't be "false", and electrons in a computer can't be "true".

Again, if we make a philosophical argument that computers can't ascertain truth, it seems that the argument would apply to humans as well.

By secondclass (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Sorry, the formatting was messed up in the above comment. Here's the repaired version...

Tulse, I'm going to have to disagree with this:

Computers don't determine that arthimetic statements are true -- at the level of physics all they do is push around electrons in a pre-specified way.

And brains do nothing more than push around electrons and molecules in a pre-specified way. If computers don't determine that arithmetic statements are true, then humans don't either.

But it seems a little strange to say that computers don't assign a truth value to "2 < 3" (translated to the appropriate machine code), when it's obvious that computers do exactly that, as do humans.

The results they generate have to be interpreted by us.

Not at all. My computer is making a slew of boolean evaluations as I'm typing this, the results of which are meaningful to the computer without me being aware of them at all.

There is no semantics in physics, and no logic, and thus no notion of "truth". We can talk about whether a specific physical theory (i.e., human interpretation of the world) corresponds with the world, and we can thus assign that theory a truth value. But the notion of truth is a purely abstract one -- stars can't be "false", and electrons in a computer can't be "true".

Again, if we make a philosophical argument that computers can't ascertain truth, it seems that the argument would apply to humans as well.

By secondclass (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Louise Van Court said:

Is the "church" perfect hardly, but at its best it sure provides a lot of what people long for. It is a tall order for the atheist world to replace all that.

There are plenty of secular institutions that serve all the needs of people - just think about all the non-religious activities available anywhere such as sports, entertainment, education, public service groups, libraries, clubs, etc.

Perhaps no single institution serves all these needs in one place as a church does. I've always said, "Church is a great idea! It's just too bad it's spoiled by religion." And in fact there are atheist churches. Some years ago, the Unitarian Church in my city was, in effect, an atheist, or more accurately, a secular humanist church. I attended often. But then the minister changed and the church began a slow slide into its current state of typical Unitarian mushy spirituality, which I cannot stomach.

By Tim Tesar (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Does Dennett dismiss qualia because of that godawful "zombie argument"? The one which goes "Imagine a world where everything's physically the same but there are no qualia. No, I'm not assuming my conclusion at all."

Actually, from my reading of CE, it was the opposite. He noted, in his discussion of color for instance, that our experience of color matches very poorly to physical reality. A specific example I remember is taste, where Dennett pointed out the experience of someone who acquired taste in beer. At first, beer was horrible; now it's delicious. So which experience, the horrible taste or the delicious one, was the quale of the beer? That's how I recall it from memory, at least.

BTW, to resolve ambiguity, I didn't mean the Dennett was using the zombie argument, I mean that people who propose the existence of qualia tend to use it.

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Can there be a corollary to Blake's Law that the level of the patronizing tone in an IDist(DIist) argument is inversely proportional to the ignorance of the argument?

I think Dennett has claimed a few times to just not know what anyone means by "phenomenal consciousness." [snip] I think that stands as a denial of what most people mean by "consciousness."
2 points on this.
You're oversimplifying. He's saying that there are not facts of the matter about your subjective experience. He is emphatically not denying that you have experiences, he's denying that these experiences are anything more than how it seems to be you in whatever internal state you may happen to occupy at a point in time. Think about the example of the taste of beer that Tyler brings up: beer used to taste bad; now it tastes good. Is it the same qualia but your interpretation of it is different? Or has the qualia of beer changed due to some discriminative facuty you now possess? There simply is no fact of the matter; the concept is worthless.

Second, if "what most people mean by 'consciousness'" is an unexamined folk concept that might not be meaningful to the empirical study of mind, then it should be denied in the context of such study, no?

Tyler writes:

I'm not aware of Dennett ever claiming that consciousness doesn't exist.

Consider Dennett's response to the "zombie" problem, which is that a zombie could "monitor" its own "internal states" -- he calls this entity a "zimbo" and says : "'the zimbo would (unconsciously) believe that it was in various mental states - precisely the mental states it is in position to report about should we ask it questions. It would think it was conscious, even if it wasn't!' (Consciousness Explained, p. 311)

Which then leads him to say:

"We're all zombies. Nobody is conscious" (Consciousness Explained, p. 406)

That seems pretty clear to me.

secondclass writes:

My computer is making a slew of boolean evaluations as I'm typing this, the results of which are meaningful to the computer without me being aware of them at all.

The computations your computer is doing are not determinations of "truth" and "falsity", any more than there are colours in a Photoshop file, or sounds in the bits of an MP3 file, or walls in a CAD application. We, as conscious entities, interpret the behaviour of the physical machinery, but that doesn't mean that that interpretation somehow exists independent of us. You could just as readily run your Photoshop files through an audio application -- would the sounds produced somehow be "coloured"? If you produced a graphic representation of an MP3, would that be "false" or "incorrect" use of the data?

Or put it another way: if we are talking solely about the physical properties of computers, what makes them calculators of truth and falsity, and not other physical objects, such as see-saws and buildings and jet engines? All of these things are also physical systems, but we don't ascribe the capacity of truth-ascertaining to them. And that's because truth does not reside in the physical system, but in our interpretation of it. We have constructed computers to instantiate the abstract rules we have devised, and thus interpret their behaviours in that manner. But it is only an interpretation -- a useful one, but no more inherently "true" than if you used a computer as a boat anchor (or used a series of tin cans and string to do boolean logic).

if we make a philosophical argument that computers can't ascertain truth, it seems that the argument would apply to humans as well.

If we make the philosophical argument that computers can ascertain truth, it seems that argument would apply to cars and forests and tin cans and televisions as well.

How humans come to have abstract ideas like truth is indeed a problem, but not all answers to it mean that computers have abstract ideas as well (and the answers that do assert that claim have serious problems, as outlined above).

Consider Dennett's response to the "zombie" problem, which is that a zombie could "monitor" its own "internal states" -- he calls this entity a "zimbo" and says : "'the zimbo would (unconsciously) believe that it was in various mental states - precisely the mental states it is in position to report about should we ask it questions. It would think it was conscious, even if it wasn't!' (Consciousness Explained, p. 311)

Which then leads him to say:

"We're all zombies. Nobody is conscious" (Consciousness Explained, p. 406)

That seems pretty clear to me.

Me too.
Dennett thinks the entire concept of a philosophical zombie is incoherent. The zimbo argument is an attempt to demonstate this via the rhetorical device of reductio ad absurdum. That part, I can accept you've just misunderstood. But your second quotation is a quotemine worthy of a creationist. Follow the logic: Having demonstated that the kind of consciousness that could distinguish between a real, live conscious human and a philosophical zombie can have no effects whatever on behavior or brain activity, or any other feature of the universe, he concludes for that (fictional) kind of consciousness, that nobody has it. He doesn't say nobody has experiences.

Look at it this way. S.J. Gould was fond of attacking the idea that evolution is a progressive process, leading inexorably toward greater intelligence and complexity. To a great many ill-informed people, however, this is what evolution "is." Would it be honest of me, were I one of these, to say "S.J. Gould said there's no such thing as evolution!"?

Oh dear. Did Dr. Egnor get up out of a chair and leave his brain consciousness behind again?

As for PZ's journey, is there a non-religious equivalent for Godspeed?

I think the non-religious upper limit is Lightspeed.

Tulse:

If we make the philosophical argument that computers can ascertain truth, it seems that argument would apply to cars and forests and tin cans and televisions as well.How humans come to have abstract ideas like truth is indeed a problem, but not all answers to it mean that computers have abstract ideas as well (and the answers that do assert that claim have serious problems, as outlined above).

The only problem I see is one that's endemic to philosophical arguments, namely that claims can't be verified empirically without operational definitions. I suppose you could operationalize what it means to "have abstract ideas" in a way that would include humans and exclude current computers. For instance, you could say that, by definition, something "has abstract ideas" iff it can pass the Turing Test, but then you would be leaving the door open for future computers.Your argument seems Searle-esque to me, so I disagree with it, but I respect it and I'm not really interested in pursuing philosophical issues.

By secondclass (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Or put it another way: if we are talking solely about the physical properties of computers, what makes them calculators of truth and falsity, and not other physical objects, such as see-saws and buildings and jet engines? All of these things are also physical systems, but we don't ascribe the capacity of truth-ascertaining to them. And that's because truth does not reside in the physical system, but in our interpretation of it.

Whose interpretation, exactly? What makes *us* calculators of truth and falsity in a way computers supposedly aren't? *We* are physical systems; if the truth doesn't reside in physical systems then where the hell *does* it reside?

A see-saw can calculate the truth of the proposition "The total weight*leverage on the left side of the fulcrum exceeds the total weight*leverage on the right side of the fulcrum". But that isn't what we mean by "ascertaining truth" - so what exactly DO we mean and how are we going to know it when we see it?

Dennett, I think, shines a light on a great many unexamined conceptual underpinnings. For example, what does "meaning" mean (and how do you know)?

Your argument seems Searle-esque to me
The term is "Searle-y"

CJO writes:

Dennett thinks the entire concept of a philosophical zombie is incoherent. The zimbo argument is an attempt to demonstate this via the rhetorical device of reductio ad absurdum.

That's certainly not the way I read that chapter. Dennett defines his zimbo as a complex zombie that "monitors its own activities, including even its own internal activities in an indefinite upward spiral of reflexivity" and that has "recursive self-representation", and would "think it was conscious, even if it wasn't" because "it would be the 'victim' of the benign user illusion of its own virtual machine". I don't see how this is fundamentally any different than his explanation for human consciousness.

Chris writes:

Whose interpretation, exactly? What makes *us* calculators of truth and falsity in a way computers supposedly aren't? *We* are physical systems; if the truth doesn't reside in physical systems then where the hell *does* it reside?

I used to program in Fortran on a mainframe, using paper tape as the storage medium for my program. Later, I moved to using magnetic media to store my programs, and later still I could archive them on optical discs. Did the program change when the physical media so radically altered? Of course not, because the physical media was irrelevant to the abstract information that it stored.

I can program my Mac to calculate pi to an arbitrary number of decimals. I could also construct a computing device out of bamboo that would also calculate pi to an arbitrary number of decimals. If I were from an advanced super alien race, I might be able to move stars and planets such that they formed a gigantic computer that calculated pi. What is the common feature of those physical systems? The only thing they have in common is the abstract property of computation, and the only reason they have that property is because we interpret them as having it.

Just keep in mind that I was actually at the talk, and that I'm not a deluded kook. That'll help you figure out which one of us actually has any credibility.

Barring the possibility that DesCartes' Evil Demon didn't delude all 85 (plus video camera) of us who were there, I must concur that what PZ sez is the Troot. One thing that PZ left out of this summary is the relationship through common descent of four sample mammalian brains, and how knowing the structure of the other three aids in the understanding of the 4th (human) brain. (Except the olfactory region in the human is rather diminished.)

Egnor ignores it:

People do just fine studying ideas without recourse to 'natural selection'. They might see that they can do just fine studying biology without recourse to 'natural selection'.

I might add that the 19th century religious paradigm tried to deny this relationship, in the person of Richard Owen. Of course, another 19th century materialist proved him wrong by actually comparing monkey brains to human brains. Egnor and Owen would have been "best buds."

As Louise Van Court points out, the sense of belonging is one of the strongest forces in rewarding religious behaviour.

Anyone can walk into any church gathering and if you talk the talk or even just indicate that you are 'searching', you will be welcomed and quickly assimilated.

Not too surprising then, that a willingness to trust based on very little evidence will be taken advantage of, sooner or later.

In the last couple of years several scam artists have made the local news by fleecing fellow church attendees. Pyramid schemes, off shore investments, all kinds of stuff that worked because of the easy access to large numbers of people predisposed to be gullible.

We need a category for people who claim to be religious but show by their immoral actions that they don't literally believe the tenets of that faith. No fear that their God will get them, of an eternity in Hell, at all.

Untheist? Subtheist? I really don't want to share my atheist pigeon-hole with them.

By JohnnieCanuck, FCD (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

I think the non-religious upper limit is Lightspeed.

Posted by: Azkyroth | July 23, 2007 05:57 PM

"Warpspeed"

Tulse,
The property of calculation does not depend on all the properties of the media you used to store a computer code. Hence the switch from paper to magnetic storage is possible, however both had the property of registering two states corresponding to 1 and 0 and of keeping those states in a permanent sequence so the pattern was preserved. (Of course you can overwrite the magnetic ones but that's irrelevant to my point.)

Similarly for your Mac or a galactic calculator there are important properties which must hold true to be used as a calculator. The "intrinsic truths" if you will or these systems are the arrangement of their physical constituents, it is true of false that this voltage is above that threshold, this planet is at least so far from that sun, etc. Because these things reflect necessary mathematics and logic we can use them, in careful arrangements, to do specific computations. If we do our programming wrong we can get wrong answers not because the underlying system lacks truth but because we have incorrectly coded/identified the relations of the terms in our computational question with the properties of the substrate we are running it on. Hence truth, concerning a calculation, resides both in the substrate and in the coding we use to evaluate it. If the property of calculation depended only on our interpretation then we could interpret anything as an accurate computer.

Josh writes:

The "intrinsic truths" if you will or these systems are the arrangement of their physical constituents

Precisely -- it is the arrangment, and not their actual physical constitution, that is the relevant property. In other words, it is the abstract relations.

it is true of false that this voltage is above that threshold, this planet is at least so far from that sun, etc. Because these things reflect necessary mathematics and logic we can use them, in careful arrangements, to do specific computations.

Right, we arrange them, and we can use them by interpreting the resulting physical configuration. In other words, they are tools. But if we weren't interpreting, they wouldn't be calculating, any more than a ball does calculus when it is thrown in a gravity field. Tools are defined by their function, the function we ascribe. We provide the description of the physical system's behaviour in a way that is useful to us, but that description is by no means privileged in some objective, absolute Truth sense relative to any other that fits the system. I can use a rock to pound nails, but that doesn't mean a hammer has been sitting there for millions of years waiting for me to pick it up.

The universe is big, really big, so it would not at all be surprising to find that there is a completely natural arrangement of stars and planets that, under some way of describing it, can be used to calculate pi. Would such a completely natural system be a computer inherently, or just because we choose to describe it that way?

"Did the program change when the physical media so radically altered? Of course not, because the physical media was irrelevant to the abstract information that it stored."

The program actually did change, this notion that the physical media was "irrelevant" is a Platonic fallacy. You're assuming that the information has some existence outside of it's physical implementation based on a concept of it's similarity. Information storage isn't that complicated, and Turing equivalence is pretty easy to achieve. It's also a stretch to say that the storage formats were "radically different". They were fashioned in a similar way to allow a computer to interpret them.

One should also note that you can make the same argument about human brains and consciousness. I'm conscious, and I perceive conscious traits in others. That means the only reason people are conscious is because I interpret them as having it! It's the same deal: consciousness is itself a concept, and you're noting similarities in it's external manifestations. From this you draw the conclusion that the property doesn't exist without you. It's a rhetorical recurrence loop that is admittedly difficult to get out of.

What we generally call the 'program' is a small subset of the physical properties of the hardware running it.

And the hardware is just a small subset of the physical properties of the matter making it up.

Technically speaking, there's no such thing as abstractions. There are only smaller and smaller subsets of properties.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

"But if we weren't interpreting, they wouldn't be calculating, any more than a ball does calculus when it is thrown in a gravity field."

Well, that's a bad analogy. The math being used in the latter sense is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and vice versa in the case of the former. A computer is crafted to meet an objective standard, i.e., emulating any computation in the repotoire of a Universal Turing Machine (Turing equivalence). A ball isn't designed to perform calculus operations.

Tyler:

The program actually did change, this notion that the physical media was "irrelevant" is a Platonic fallacy.

You'll have to unpack this more -- how did the program change? I can input the same abstract characters on a tape punch or in a text editor, and get the same result from the program. If I were patient enough, I could even carry out the operations by hand, translating the Fortran into assembler and then machine code, and I'd get the same results. What else do you mean by the program changing? Isn't generating the same computational states sufficient to demonstrate that they are identical?

Garth, excellent! I particularly like the pygmies and dwarfs!

When you think of woo, and look at the success of snake-oil salesmen in the past, it does seem like we might be hardwired to look or quick, easy solutions. It is also clear that our regular thought process is the opposite of scientific. Without special training, humans look for evidence to support their ideas, not disprove them. I would think these tendencies would make religion quite likely.

Isn't generating the same computational states sufficient to demonstrate that they are identical?

They don't generate the same computational states, necessarily speaking. The point is that the relationships between the symbols in the output is the same, given the same relationships between the symbols in the input - that's what "being the same program" means.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

"You'll have to unpack this more -- how did the program change?"

Because it's physical implementation changed. You have a concept of them being identical based on them being similar. Take, for instance, the similarity of factoring. There is a radical difference in running time between quantum factoring algorithms and classical factoring algorithms. Shor's algorithm, which uses the Quantum Fourier Transform, can factor in polynomial time, while all known classical algorithms can only factor in superpolynomial (or "exponential") time. The factoring operating is the same, but the physical system was different. That clearly shows that the physical implementaton of something is hardly "irrelevant".

Different kinds of classical computation have similar, albeit not identical, distinctions from one another. Vacuum tube computers aren't as fast as electronic semiconductors, although they don't alter the classical running-time complexity of the algorithms they implement.

"I can input the same abstract characters on a tape punch or in a text editor, and get the same result from the program."

You can, but that similarity is crafted into it. The physical system isn't "radically different". It has an important physical similarity that allows it to meet the technical standard need to be called a computer.

"Isn't generating the same computational states sufficient to demonstrate that they are identical?"

But that's the thing, you're tossing aside the fact that the states are different but similar in a way that allows them to meet a technical standard. When we say an algorithm has a certain running-time complexity, we mean that on paper it takes a certain amount of steps before termination. But that algorithm when implemented on your garden variety electronic semi-conductor is different from your garden variety vacuum tube computer, and both are different from what will be your garden variety plasomic semi-conductor under some proposed models.

Caledonian:

Technically speaking, there's no such thing as abstractions.

How the hell do you do your banking?

The point is that the relationships between the symbols in the output is the same, given the same relationships between the symbols in the input - that's what "being the same program" means.

And those relationships aren't abstract?

Tyler:

The math being used in the latter sense is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and vice versa in the case of the former.

Why does this matter? If I toss a ball with particular force at a particular angle in a particular strength gravity field, it will land the same distance whether I was just playing catch with someone or I was using it as an analogue computer. Description vs. prescription is a matter of intent, but doesn't impact at all on the actual physical system.

A computer is crafted to meet an objective standard, i.e., emulating any computation in the repotoire of a Universal Turing Machine (Turing equivalence). A ball isn't designed to perform calculus operations.

If "design" is relevant, then it seems to me you agree that a physical system isn't inherently computational, irrespective of our human description of it.

you're tossing aside the fact that the states are different but similar in a way that allows them to meet a technical standard. When we say an algorithm has a certain running-time complexity, we mean that on paper it takes a certain amount of steps before termination.

Right, and that algorithm is an abstract representation, instantiatable in various physical systems. Sure the physical substrates may change, and indeed there are constraints on how the physical systems are set up. But that does not mean that the computation isn't itself an abstraction, a description that can be applied to that particular physical system. (Note that I am not worried about the time it takes to carry out operations, as I don't think that is relevant to my point -- a computer made of tin cans and string would presumably be slower than a Core 2 Duo, but the abstract operations they carry out could be the same to an arbitrary level.)

"Why does this matter? If I toss a ball with particular force at a particular angle in a particular strength gravity field, it will land the same distance whether I was just playing catch with someone or I was using it as an analogue computer."

The difference is in the modeling. Do you have a means of processing inputs and outputs? Can it perform an effective enumeration of all partial recursive functions? Those criteria are objective and not merely abstractions. They have abstract components, but so do all sciences. For example, how you model chemical compounds is an abstract approximation, but your mind doesn't invent chemical compounds, and the compounds aren't there only because you "perceive" them to be.

In the same way, computations are different on a fundamental level when implemented differently. They have important technical similarities, but that doesn't change their real differences.

Tyler:

In the same way, computations are different on a fundamental level when implemented differently. They have important technical similarities, but that doesn't change their real differences.

They don't just have technical similarities -- the algorithm carried out is the same, which is my point. But perhaps we are just talking past each other at this point.

How the hell do you do your banking?

With numerals written on pieces of paper, mostly. Electronic impulses and magnetic domain patterning takes up the slack.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

We need a category for people who claim to be religious but show by their immoral actions that they don't literally believe the tenets of that faith. No fear that their God will get them, of an eternity in Hell, at all.
Untheist? Subtheist? I really don't want to share my atheist pigeon-hole with them.

I think the word you're looking for is 'crook'. But if you really, really need a word that refers to their relationship with theism, I suggest 'psuedo-theist'.

#88: The algorithm is the same, but the actual implementation by which it is carried out is different. Therefore it's similar in some ways, different in others. The two programs may be isomorphic without being identical (for suitable definitions of "isomorphic").

In mathematical theory, the functions f(x)=x2+2x+1 and g(x)=(x+1)2 are considered the same function. But in computer science the functions
float f(const float x) { return (x*x)+(2.0*x)+1.0; }
float g(const float x) { return (x+1.0)*(x+1.0); }
are *different* functions. They produce different internal states of the computer when run with the same input, they have different representations in memory, they may take different amounts of time to execute, and depending on how the floating point implementation works they may even produce different answers (due to rounding and other errors of calculation).

In math a function is defined by its (input, output) pairs. But in computer science a function is defined by its source code. That's why two different functions can be implementations of the same function.

A believer on a trip may chose to worship in any town with another group of fellow believers and know a sense of community and belonging. There is a sense of "family" even when you are among those you have never met before or if you have no family of your own. It transcends culture and language barriers.

As a post-theistic person, I've felt this kind of "fitting-in" with fellow skeptics / free-thinkers / etc while attending Randi's Amazing Meetings (TAM's 2, 3, and 4). Standing in line for the lunch buffet, an idle comment would easily bloom into a full-depth philosophical discussion with the five nearest strangers, including common references and shared in-jokes (Sagan, Python, and Douglas Adams usually among these).

It was a weird and wonderful feeling to have so much in common with so many others. This must be the kind of joy in camaraderie that religious folks enjoy.

Blake Stacey, OM:

This presumes that his fellow religious creationists actually care about the content of his statements,

My secret assumption is that most theists are creationists in the wider sense, and some of them are quite reasonable. But of course the IDiots themselves just like the sound of egnorance.

Yeah, Behe is pushing it. Close to the Edge.

Tulse:

But that does not mean that the computation isn't itself an abstraction, a description that can be applied to that particular physical system.

Computability, as well as information, is a measurable property of systems with physical consequences. (Information can't be transmitted faster than lightspeed in vacuum; Church-Turing implies that computations can't work over timelike closed loops, ie the loops doesn't exist.) So while it is true that these properties are contingent on the system, they aren't entirely free abstractions either.

More importantly, they can be used to distinguish between your "same"-ness of algorithms. Not that I think it matter much, we already know that the specifics of the wetware of the brain is part of the algorithms and makes up concrete relations. (See the link in comment # 49.)

The more interesting question for me isn't the lower levels of computability but the more abstract levels of spontaneously formed symbol-like behavior. (Though their formation and behavior is still concretely tied into the wetware, #49 again.) The spontaneity means AFAIU that the interpretations are forced upon us, and that such a spontaneous and introspective system is what some prefer to call consciousness.

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 24 Jul 2007 #permalink

Stephen Wells: Yes, he has a whole section on how preposterous philosophers' zombies are.

Tulse: Why? Could there not be systems that have evolved a steady input-output pattern so that they compute in virtue of their properties independently of us. This is Chalmers' answer to Searle. (My answer is no, your wall isn't running Wordstar because you can't press control-k-d to save your work on it!)

At #77 you claim that relations are abstract. Why? (And what precisely do you mean by abstract.) Concrete properties like length, duration, etc. are relational, after all so I am not sure I get you.

Chris: Except that what counts as the source is not immediately obvious. (See my similarity in computer programs papers.)

Torbjörn: "Church-Turing implies that computations can't work over timelike closed loops, ie the loops doesn't exist" - what do you mean here?

Keith:

Scott Aaronson has a paper where he argues that NP != P is probably a fact of nature that must be axiomatized as 2LOT is. (Because NP = P would mean a much different world, and NP != P seems unprovable.)

For NP != P to hold, AFAIK the Church-Turing thesis (C-T) must hold, that Turing machines are the most powerful computing systems. For example QC (quantum computing) is believed to generally give only square root speedup, not break down the NP != P complexity class implication.

And for C-T to hold, a lot of physics must be "nice". For example, if we could send back results (or even parallelize computing resources outside of the light-cone of causal physical systems) by using timelike closed loops in spacetime as time machines, C-T would fail by enabling "super-Turing" machines.

I hope I got the implications of Scott's ideas correct - I don't know anything about computer science (CS) really. The acceptance of NP != P seems reasonable to me, because sundry CS blogs have presented results that apparently nearly shows the unprovability of it. In any case it is exciting that a result in CS may have physical implications, whether it pans out or not.

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 26 Jul 2007 #permalink

... more ironic? ... or the fact that such irony will never occur to such an individual?

Egnor is, as any of the more plastic IDiots, simply reflecting the terminology of his opponents. (For another example, see "quantum level".) I doubt that he has really reflected over what he says, though. :-P

[Egnor:] ... an intricate piece of manufactured hardware run by software that is written by programmers.

Obviously, Egnor has never heard of mighty Orac, who seems to have no need for puny hardware.

And he completely ignores the fact that neuroscientists have noticed symbol-like behavior in neural network models of the prefrontal cortex.

The brain is spontaneously programming itself when it learns - should we be surprised by that? If Egnor is suggesting that our personalities are fully created and engraved by his designer, he will end up in deep doodoo among his fellow religious creationists.

As for the IDiots magical micro- to macroevolutionary barrier, Egnor must come up with a sensible demarcation property as soon as he suggests this. But as usual he has forgotten to engage brain before mouth.

One doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to understand some things about the brain. But we would reasonably expect a brain surgeon to know a few things..., well, at least one thing... ehrm, hello...?

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 23 Jul 2007 #permalink

Blake Stacey, OM:

This presumes that his fellow religious creationists actually care about the content of his statements,

My secret assumption is that most theists are creationists in the wider sense, and some of them are quite reasonable. But of course the IDiots themselves just like the sound of egnorance.

Yeah, Behe is pushing it. Close to the Edge.

Tulse:

But that does not mean that the computation isn't itself an abstraction, a description that can be applied to that particular physical system.

Computability, as well as information, is a measurable property of systems with physical consequences. (Information can't be transmitted faster than lightspeed in vacuum; Church-Turing implies that computations can't work over timelike closed loops, ie the loops doesn't exist.) So while it is true that these properties are contingent on the system, they aren't entirely free abstractions either.

More importantly, they can be used to distinguish between your "same"-ness of algorithms. Not that I think it matter much, we already know that the specifics of the wetware of the brain is part of the algorithms and makes up concrete relations. (See the link in comment # 49.)

The more interesting question for me isn't the lower levels of computability but the more abstract levels of spontaneously formed symbol-like behavior. (Though their formation and behavior is still concretely tied into the wetware, #49 again.) The spontaneity means AFAIU that the interpretations are forced upon us, and that such a spontaneous and introspective system is what some prefer to call consciousness.

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 24 Jul 2007 #permalink

Keith:

Scott Aaronson has a paper where he argues that NP != P is probably a fact of nature that must be axiomatized as 2LOT is. (Because NP = P would mean a much different world, and NP != P seems unprovable.)

For NP != P to hold, AFAIK the Church-Turing thesis (C-T) must hold, that Turing machines are the most powerful computing systems. For example QC (quantum computing) is believed to generally give only square root speedup, not break down the NP != P complexity class implication.

And for C-T to hold, a lot of physics must be "nice". For example, if we could send back results (or even parallelize computing resources outside of the light-cone of causal physical systems) by using timelike closed loops in spacetime as time machines, C-T would fail by enabling "super-Turing" machines.

I hope I got the implications of Scott's ideas correct - I don't know anything about computer science (CS) really. The acceptance of NP != P seems reasonable to me, because sundry CS blogs have presented results that apparently nearly shows the unprovability of it. In any case it is exciting that a result in CS may have physical implications, whether it pans out or not.

By Torbjörn Larsson, OM (not verified) on 26 Jul 2007 #permalink