Sunday Sacrilege: That other thing we don't believe in

Atheists don't believe in God. We deny the Holy Spirit. Jesus was just a man, at best, as were Buddha, Mohammed, and every other prophet and religious figure in history. That much everyone seems to be able to pick up on, but I think there's something even more important that we reject.

We don't believe in souls.

Now that's a heresy, and should be even more distressing to people than our denial of gods. There is no immortal, constant part of any of us that will survive after death — our minds are the product of a material brain. We are literally soulless machines made of meat, honed by millions of years of ruthless, pitiless evolution. And so is everyone else.

When we die, there is no paradise, no hell, not even a grim gray afterlife of darkness and regret…we are just gone. Everyone who has ever lived has or will simply end, and become nonexistent.

i-d2592a4ec523d3262e15d11a21f93ea8-legos.jpeg

That should be the scariest, most depressing part about being an atheist. No future? How awful.

But it isn't.

I have several replies to believers who think we should be miserable because we don't have an afterlife to look forward to; they usually can't comprehend any one of them, which is far more depressing than mere death.

One answer is that a lie is not reassuring at all — telling me that I'll get to go to heaven when I die is about as believable as telling me that I'll be rewarded with beer volcanoes and strippers for my irreverence. I'd rather be honest and aware then deluded and oblivious.

Another answer is that we are alive right now — I simply do not worry about what will happen after I'm dead. Life is for the living of it, it's wasteful to spend it fretting over what you'll do when it's gone. One reasonable response to mortality is to enjoy life now.

We do have hope for the future, too. Think for a moment about your community a century from now. Does it make you feel good to think that there will still be people living there then? That they will be talking about things that you find interesting, that they will be doing activities you also enjoy? Do you hope that life will be better for them? Even though we will be gone, we can still aspire to perpetuate our culture, and find satisfaction while we are alive in advancing that cause.

The hardest explanation for theists to grasp, though, is the understanding that none of us have ever had this unlikely clot of vapor called a soul. If the soul is an imaginary fantasy, then Mozart's music, Michaelangelo's sculptures, Picasso's paintings, the Wright brothers' plane, every work of art and technology produced by people whose names have been lost to us, every child, every dream, has been created by us, mere mortal flesh unled by a magic puppeteer in the sky, unaided by angels or spirits. I find that wonderful.

We do not have immortality, but that also means we can throw away the irrelevant crutches of god-belief. We've walked successfully without them — cast them away, stand as a proud human being and meet fate without the wishful delusions of faith. That's why this thought is a sacrilege — it says that we have no need of priests or gods or persistent ghosthood, ideas that have only hobbled us.

More like this

Afterlife? What afterlife? Religion has always fluorished in ignorance. What is it but a collection of stories and claims to explain the mysteries of life — wherever there is something we don't understand, that we lack real knowledge about, there is a priest ready to rush in and fill the gap with a…
Religion has a real problem with incentives. As long as they're all in an invisible afterlife, it's hard to take them seriously. The religion I grew up in was rather vague about the consequences — there was a Hell which was not discussed in polite company, and Heaven was a place brought up at…
Jesse Bering has an interesting article on why many people have so much difficulty holding a realistic view of death — why they imagine immortal souls wafting off to heaven, and why they can't imagine their consciousness ceasing to exist. He's trying to argue that these kinds of beliefs are more…
From the Catholic News Service: After several years of study, the Vatican's International Theological Commission said there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven. In a document published April 20, the commission said the traditional concept of limbo -- as…

It's not unthinkable that some one who isn't that sexual by nature could be raised also with so little understanding of it that they don't notice.

hmmm, yes, I can see that. if you don't actually have much of a drive to do any rubbing, then you're not going to figure it out...

There were girls I went to catholic school with who were subject to intense conditioning and sheltering on the sex front. The only thing these girls knew, upon becoming women and getting married was that now, somehow or another, a baby would happen. They had no knowledge whatsoever in regard to the act of sexual intercourse.

that's some impressive sheltering.

anyway, clearly my unsheltered central European upbringing did not prepare me for the possibility of such strong conditioning that could prevent one from figuring this out, accidentally or otherwise.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

But then there are a lot of emotionally self-destructive actions we can take upon ourselves. Such as eating poorly, or suicidal depressiveness.

I think one of these things is not like the other. Depression is a mental illness, not a choice, jackass.

By Pygmy Loris (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Mr. Spock is Teh Man. (Well, half Teh Vulcan, but still.) He said what Kirk needed to hear, not what Kirk wanted to hear. He spoke logic to power. And he was often fascinated.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

There is entirely too much self pride getting in the way of all intelligent responses to my second and third entry. I was looking for a discussion, and instead I got a whole bunch of butt-hurt reactions. Look, never was I saying depression was a choice. I was strictly pointing out that when someone is so emotionally upset, they are capable of ending their one and only life. And I believe the point of every life is to live, therefore emotions must be more powerful than hundreds of thousands of years of programming in your DNA to keep living.

Also, people. Dogs humping legs doesn't change my mind about that dog's instinct to have sex so it can reproduce. Nor does the "argument" that masturbating is strictly done for fun. Wise up. Get past your pride and think about it. Where is your urge to masturbate coming from. You saw someone do it once and you thought that would be fun? Dammit. That urge is deep within you, just like the baby's urge to root for the nipple like someone else said. Your body wants sex, your body makes you think about getting off, you take action to make that urge go away. Even if you have become habitual about it, that's you're own doing. But, the basic ANIMAL INSTINCT (hahahah i said it again, we're animals hahahha!! Oh that hurts to hear doesn't it. Oh so much pride so much pride) is to spread and intermix DNA. And to do that you must mate. End. Jesus christ!

By anotherhuman (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

"I was looking for a discussion."

Sorry, that's down the hall. It's Being Hit On The Head Lessons in here.

Your body wants sex, your body makes you think about getting off, you take action to make that urge go away. Even if you have become habitual about it, that's you're own doing. But, the basic ANIMAL INSTINCT (hahahah i said it again, we're animals hahahha!! Oh that hurts to hear doesn't it. Oh so much pride so much pride) is to spread and intermix DNA. And to do that you must mate.

you're a fucking moron. we're fully aware we're animals. we're also fully aware that we are our bodies, and that hormones don't have desires or plans. There's no instinct that "wants" us to reproduce and for that "goal" "makes" us want to have sex.

biology simply doesn't work that way. an instinct is not a willful, planning entity.

By Jadehawk, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Yeah, but such beliefs can come about quite innocuously.

I remember being momentarily confused when I first heard that a man and a woman "sleeping together" can make her pregnant. I was already familiar with the regular mammalian way from nature documentaries, so this alternative mode of reproduction seemed unlikely.

huh? how do you get 3 genders out of a mythological being that's 2/3 god, 1/3 human?

Well, if the guy had a full god parent and a human parent, he would be half and half.
1/3, 2/3 suggests some sort of weird supernatural threesome between two gods and a lucky (or unlucky) mortal.

By hkdharmon (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

I ran the numbers once on that 2/3 god, 1/3 human business, although I may have used human races instead--I think someone said that they were 2/3 Cherokee. I could not make 2/3 out of any number of ancestors and mixes. But, now that I think of it, I left out incest.

There's something to think about as I try to sleep.

By Menyambal (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

There is entirely too much self pride getting in the way of all intelligent responses to my second and third entry.

Hey, jump straight for the ad hominem. But the fact is that you posted a bunch of stupid shit and we've explained why it's stupid.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Where is your urge to masturbate coming from. You saw someone do it once and you thought that would be fun? Dammit. That urge is deep within you, just like the baby's urge to root for the nipple like someone else said.

Hmm ... perhaps anotherhuman isn't actually human and has never masturbated and doesn't know anyone who has. More likely, though, anotherhuman is just plain stupid -- certainly too stupid to understand PZ's "There is a pretty good hardwired stimulus/response pathway between your genitals and your brain". People discover masturbation (like one of David's facts) -- sometimes in fact by seeing someone else do it or or having someone else tell them about it -- and when they do they find it very pleasurable and that creates an urge to do it again. Again, as PZ said, "That's been good enough for our evolution".

Your body wants sex

Again with the category mistakes and misattributed teleology. You are wired in such a way that you get pleasure from sex, which makes you want it.

the basic ANIMAL INSTINCT [... idiocy that completely misjudges the audience snipped ...] is to spread and intermix DNA

There is no such instinct, you arrogant fool; such behavior is far to abstract and forward-looking to be instinctual. Rather, there is a set of mechanisms -- generated by evolution -- that produce that result; instincts are just one mechanism that generate behavior.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

By anotherhuman's reasoning, shooting meth must be instinctual -- why else would anyone do it? And we should all know the kama sutra instinctually -- no need to see, or read about, doing something pleasurable in order to do it.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

There is entirely too much self pride getting in the way of all intelligent responses to my second and third entry.

I really had no idea what this cretin was talking about until I got to

hahahah i said it again, we're animals hahahha!! Oh that hurts to hear doesn't it. Oh so much pride so much pride

BWAHAHAHAHA! This is a fucking evolutionary biology blog, moron! You know, where we evilutionists think that people are some sort of monkey with fish and worms for grandparents.

Really, if you're "looking for"a discussion", you're going to have to go find people who share your intellectual level.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 12 Apr 2010 #permalink

Talking about masturbation is almost as much fun as masturbating itself; but rather than pile on another hapless visitor to the site, I'll share another poem I like:

On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood:
'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
Today the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

--A.E. Housman

The others I've posted haven't gotten much response (sniff). Maybe some of you can share what you think about gloomy old Housman (a sentimental favorite of mine).

By Aaron Baker (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Greetings, Aaron,

I've been a fan of Housman since high school. Never thought he was gloomy -- just realistic. I missed your other Housman postings, or I'd have replied earlier.

But men, by whiles, are sober,
And think by fits and starts --
And when they think, they fasten
Their hands upon their hearts.

(Quoting from memory, don't have the preceding stanzas handy.)

a view of nature and human nature totally supportive of science

PZ...2,300 years ago Epicurus (340-270 BCE) devised a philosophy of nature based on atomism and a philosophy of life (an ethic) based on a rational pleasure principle. You're simply "rediscovering" views coherently presented at length by Lucretius.

Xianity has hated Epicurus ever since Paul (fl 50-60 CE) was laughed at when he tried to "convert" Stoic and Epicurean philosophers to his new god (Acts17:18 NIV). Whatever xians hate deserves a closer look as something likely to be good.

...live like a god among ordinary people. - Epicurus

Epicurus' conclusions drawn from his atomism are distilled into four statements. Tetrapharmakos = 4-fold cure for anxiety: what's the best life to lead?; what about gods, suffering, death?

Don`t fear god,
Don`t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure. -- Philodemus (100 BCE)

Epicurus' own advice to a follower:

Think about these things...yourself, and with a companion like yourself, and you will never be disturbed while awake or asleep.

But you will live like a god among ordinary people. For those who live among immortal blessings are not like mortal beings.

the anti-supernaturalist

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

• a thought experiment in freedom of conscience you can try at home

Dare to exercise your rights to disbelief and to be free from religion. Consider what rejection of “spiritual” discourse brings with it. There would be no supernatural agents, locations, states, or objects of any kind whatsoever:

1. No supernatural agents: minds, souls, spirits, ghosts, godlings, gods, God (Allah, YHVH), cosmic soul, the absolute.
2. No supernatural locations: hell, purgatory, heaven, buddha realms, moral world order, Platonic/Plotinian world of forms
3. No supernatural states: the numinous, sin, grace, revelation, life after death, illumination, nirvana, buddha mind.
4. No supernatural events: mysterium tremendum, redemption, resurrection, rapture, mystical union, karma, or reincarnation.
5. No supernatural objects: crystals, semen, menstrual blood, sun, stars, moon, cross, icons, statues, bread, beer, wine.

the anti_supernaturalist

The de-deification of western culture (including science) is our task for the next 100 years.

By https://me.yah… (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage (#346), as far as I know, everything imaginary - or something that might as well be there - is beyond the senses and measurement.-listener

Imaginary things exist between your ears. I just read that Intel has been making inroads into distinguishing between imagined things people are thinking about. The technology is already here, though it is at an early stage, to definitively discriminate between things you imagine. So you are wrong.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

this is what aratina was responding to:

aratina cage (#346), as far as I know, everything imaginary - or something that might as well be there - is beyond the senses and measurement.
And, yes, monado (#390), that is exactly my point: that scientists don’t have to allow for that variant invisible pink unicorn, the soul, to weigh into their calculations. Though there is an infinitesimal chance of invisible pink unicorns existing, we don’t spend time arguing for their existence or otherwise, or including it in calculations. In fact, you don't even expend time on derision when it can be better spent elsewhere.
Truth machine (#394) addressed some of what I am saying when he wrote that "science isn't in the business of "utterly" dismissing anything [by which he clarified elsewhere he means ideas], and can't, because you can't prove a universal empirical negative."

I am surprised to learn that we can distinguish between things people imagine are real - such as a god or a soul - and things that people imagine up intentionally. I don't know if the circuitry is as definite as that.
While I have considerable confidence in the scientific method, I worry that its practitioners can sometimes to almost religious zealotry. For me, science is about evidence, and about opinion not too many levels beyond that evidence. Using that model, I would be loath to argue for or against gods, souls or the unfortunate unicorns I keep dragging out.
If you say you have the evidence that souls don't exist, that is certainly worthy of congratulation. But till such time as there is clear evidence that souls, gods or those pink unicorns don't exist, we could perhaps try to stick to what we can actually measure.
Regards...

listener #516,

Where do you draw the line between what's real and what isn't? Ponies are real, so why not flying ponies, or My Little Ponies™, or fire-breathing ponies? Well, they are real in the mind, on paper, or in plastic form, but they are not part of the biological world. They are human creations, creatures of fiction. What does it even mean to ask for evidence that a character in a story is not real or that a colorful plastic toy is not real or that a pony with superpowers is not real? Those things are real in the sense of them being characters in stories, toys, and figments of the imagination, but they are not real features of natural life and never have been.

There are so many reasons why those things (a flying pony, a My Little Pony, and a fire-breathing pony) cannot be real lifeforms produced by evolution. Souls, too, have no place in evolutionary history and no place in the biological realm. They explain nothing in modern science and are recorded as being imagined historically by humans as explanatory devices at an early stage in our accumulation of knowledge about reality. The concept of a soul has not withstood the test of time. You can safely discard it now as a relic of the past. No amount of clinging to it will make it a real part of biology.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

I worry that its practitioners can sometimes to almost religious zealotry

Your concern is noted.

Using that model, I would be loath to argue for or against gods, souls or the unfortunate unicorns I keep dragging out.

Sigh. Contrary to the erroneous claim seen in these parts and elsewhere that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", lack of evidence for something stands against it -- that is very much "about evidence". The harder we search for evidence for something, the more the lack stands against it. Absence of evidence isn't proof of absence, but is it evidence -- support for the claim -- of absence.

Beyond that, the default position concerning anything made up for no evidential reason is that it doesn't exist -- this is again very much "about evidence". The view that we have no basis to argue for or against things that we simply make up -- such as pink unicorns -- is stupid, a real lack of intelligence, a rather severe failure to think logically and coherently.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

Listener's view seems to be that you can't argue against the existence of anything, even if it defies logic, because science is about evidence, and there's only evidence of things. It's a ludicrous position, and not one that has anything to do with actual science.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

From listener's #54

....cannot claim something does not exist, however improbable the chances...can we prove it wrong?....In the scientific world, we could argue that the proponent have to prove that souls indeed do exist....We cannot prove that invisible pink unicorns from another universe will not cross a brane and invade earth, but it is impossible to deny this admittedly unlikely possibility....

Were you dropped on the head at birth or something? Why else would you repeat this strawman about proof over and over again? One need not disprove something to disbelieve it.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Imaginary things exist between your ears. I just read that Intel has been making inroads into distinguishing between imagined things people are thinking about. The technology is already here, though it is at an early stage, to definitively discriminate between things you imagine. So you are wrong.

First, I wouldn't believe everything I read. Second, you've committed a serious category mistake, or perhaps a use/mention mistake here -- listener referred to imaginary things, whereas you are referring to thoughts about imaginary things. I can assure you that no pink unicorns exist between my ears.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

JPS, FCD,

thanks for your input on Housman. On this thread I haven't posted anything else by Housman--just other poems by other realists, e.g. Philip Larkin.

However, here's a short (not sweet) one by Housman that I especially like:

Stars, I have seen them fall,
But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.
The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault;
It rains into the sea,
And still the sea is salt.

By Aaron Baker (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine, OM #521

First, I wouldn't believe everything I read.

I'm not sure what reason there is to not believe this one. Could you elaborate? Here is the AP press release and a different one by RedOrbit:

'Mind-reading' brain-scan software showcased in NY

Intel Unveils Mind-Reading Software

From that, I gather that we can indeed measure differences between some things people are thinking about.

Second, you've committed a serious category mistake, or perhaps a use/mention mistake here -- listener referred to imaginary things, whereas you are referring to thoughts about imaginary things. I can assure you that no pink unicorns exist between my ears.

I don't think the use/mention distinction matters in this case, and I don't understand how it is a category mistake. What I am saying is that the soul is an imaginary thing and that is all it is and has ever been. The imaginary thing is what believers have been projecting onto reality, and we should be able to detect them in their natural environment, the brain. Imaginary things are thoughts, are they not?

By aratina cage (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm not sure what reason there is to not believe this one.

Uh, general principles of skepticism, and specific knowledge of journalism and the state of neuroscience. You did not report the article accurately; it is not about thinking of "imaginary things", but rather of words. (And those words, such as "bear" and "hammer", happen to refer to real things, although that may not be relevant.) It's important to note that they are not detecting what the subject is thinking about, but rather are detecting which of two predetermined patterns of brain activity are occurring.

Imaginary things are thoughts, are they not?

Uh, no; my brain produces thoughts of pink unicorns, but it does not produce pink unicorns. Brain activities are not imaginary, and are not "beyond the senses and measurement", to use listener's words, whereas pink unicorns, being imaginary, cannot be sensed or measured. That you don't get that this is a category mistake makes me feel for you, but I won't try any harder to get it across to you.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage (#517), would not argue for placing souls in evolutionary history or biology, just for the impossibility of denying what apparently cannot be measured. And, if it is still isn’t clear, this is not an argument for the soul (though you believe I’m ‘clinging’ to it), but for the inability to contest its existence empirically. As for a test of time, I am not sure that survival over time is some kind of test for a theory’s legitimacy.
Truth machine (#518), you said, ‘Absence of evidence isn't proof of absence, but is evidence – support for the claim – of absence.’ I don’t think I argued otherwise, though, when dealing with real world data, I would always wonder if there was other evidence we haven’t found.
I don’t know if, as you said, the ‘lack of evidence for something stands against it’ ($518). It possibly does nothing to advance the argument’s cause but it does not reject it. Science often deals with entities there is no direct evidence for, but seem possible, or there is evidence for but seem improbable. Consider the graviton, the gorilla, the platypus.... True, it is hard to accept some constructs without evidence, but it would be hard to decide if it existed or not. If my eyes are bound, I cannot tell you whether the picture you may or may not be holding before me is in red tones or not.
And no, I do believe I can argue ‘against the existence of anything, even if it defies logic.’ That would be rather easy - if it defied accepted logic. It is just that believers in the supernatural discuss a logic that lies well outside my purview – and I don’t believe my ego is wedded to proving them right or wrong.
To me, this is not a 'ludicrous' position, it is just that science cannot address untestable hypotheses. This question cannot be addressed using science any more than archaeology can be used to argue for or against Apollo’s alleged role in the Trojan war.
Your conclusions involving my intellect may be bang on, but I will just put that assessment down to passion.
If I have yet been unable to make my point – due to error or an unbridgeable divide – it is time I ceased and desisted and let others take the argument on to the conclusion they desire.
Regards…

but for the inability to contest its existence empirically

Lack of empirical evidence for something is certainly grounds to contest its existence, and it takes some sort of brain damage not to grasp this.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

To me, this is not a 'ludicrous' position, it is just that science cannot address untestable hypotheses.

While science per se might not address it, the scientific method can be applied, especially the requirement that positive evidence for the hypothesis be presented. And the burden of proof is upon those making the claims. You want god, souls, homeopathy, or invisible gold dragons to exist? Show some real evidence other than your desire that they exist. That is our point. Lack of evidence is simply that. Continued lack of evidence allows parsimony to say what is being investigated is non-existent/imaginary. Until real evidence is found. Evidence. The problem that theists have, due to their lack thereof.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

This question cannot be addressed using science any more than archaeology can be used to argue for or against Apollo’s alleged role in the Trojan war.

Except, of course, that it can. We would begin for searching for archeological evidence of Apollo's existence, and from there, work out the likelyhood of his interference in any given conflict.

Did we ever even get a definition of 'soul', in any case? Presumably, either a 'soul' must be able to influence physical objects (such as nerve cells), and therefore must be detectable - or it cannot, in which case it is indestinguishable from 'non existant'.

To put it another way, what's the difference between something that can neither change nor be changed by the real world, and something that doesn't exist at all?

This is the problem with asking questions about the supernatural - one can never seem to pin down just what is meant by supernatural. It always seems to boil down to 'something that's there, but isn't really there, you know what I mean, dude?' And when that is answered with 'No, actually, I don't.', the typical response is 'Well, man, you just don't get it!' or some variant (examples: 'keep an open mind', 'stop being dogmatic', 'use the Force, Luke').

It would be nice if someone would just state what they think the 'soul' is, and go from there.

truth machine, OM #524

You did not report the article accurately; it is not about thinking of "imaginary things", but rather of words.

You could be right, but from my reading of it they were not thinking of the letters of the words or how the words were put together or the image of the letters as a word, they were thinking about the semantics of the words, about the things the words represent.

It's important to note that they are not detecting what the subject is thinking about, but rather are detecting which of two predetermined patterns of brain activity are occurring.

They were able to predict what the subjects were thinking about:

The system works best when a person is first scanned while thinking of dozens of different concrete nouns — words like "bear" or "hammer." When test subjects are then asked to pick one of two new terms and think about it, the software uses the earlier results as a baseline to determine what the person is thinking. (from the AP report)

The things the subjects were thinking about were not imaginary, however, but real things. I wonder if fantastical things would work with this experiment.

my brain produces thoughts of pink unicorns, but it does not produce pink unicorns. Brain activities are not imaginary, and are not "beyond the senses and measurement"...

Of course it doesn't, they don't exist! But your thoughts about them do exist and are all that they are. I am saying that pink unicorns are brain activities.

That you don't get that this is a category mistake makes me feel for you, but I won't try any harder to get it across to you.

I find it laughable that you have any feelings for me, so please cut the crap. You seem to be saying that thoughts are different from imaginary things and I disagree. Well, I guess I would say that imaginary things have elements of reality to them but do not exist in reality as they do in the mind where they come to life. That said, I'm not educated in philosophy while you are (from what I know of you here) and so I hope I do eventually learn why you are right and I am wrong on this matter.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Truth machine (#526), I did not say lack of evidence is not grounds to contest its existence. I thought I just said that it still permits for evidence that may not yet be available though I don't think there can be any evidence for the soul. If I can't detect subatomic particles I cannot see I don't claim they doesn't exist.
But then you may be right about brain damage - as, I have this nagging suspicion, you perhaps always are.
Nerd (#527), how could we apply the scientific method to an untestable, unfalsifiable assertion? The burden of proof/evidence only applies in a scientific context. If something cannot be measured, it is not science. Therefore I would not address it - to accept or deny - unless it takes on testable theories that I can indeed test.

aratina cage wrote:

Of course it doesn't, they don't exist! But your thoughts about them do exist and are all that they are. I am saying that pink unicorns are brain activities.

You can't have it both ways. Either pink unicorns are brain activities about pink unicorns, and do exist, or they're not brain activities (but putative external objects) and do not exist.

Put another way: Thoughts about pink unicorns do exist; pink unicorns do not. It follows that pink unicorns cannot be the same as thoughts about pink unicorns, because the same thing cannot simultaneously exist and not exist.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Andreas Johansson,

I do not think I am having it both ways. A material, biological pink unicorn does not exist, but the material memories that go into the brain activity do. This is not true for real material, biological things like bears where you can distinguish between the thought of a bear and a real bear, but just as with pink unicorns, thinking about a bear does not make a bear suddenly instantiate before one's eyes. And of course we can communicate our thoughts so you can have descriptions and representations of pink unicorns, none of which make them real lifeforms.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage:

my brain produces thoughts of pink unicorns, but it does not produce pink unicorns. Brain activities are not imaginary, and are not "beyond the senses and measurement"...

Of course it doesn't, they don't exist! But your thoughts about them do exist and are all that they are. I am saying that pink unicorns are brain activities. [my emphasis]

The problems is saying "pink unicorns are brain activities" (P = B), which could be interpreted as meaning the same as "brain activities are pink unicorns" (B = P). I will have you know that I, for one, do not consider my brain activities to be pink unicorns.

Also, Since we think about things other than pink unicorns, it would be more correct to say P ∈ B, but even then it's not as if that is necessarily true. There are likely some brains which have and will never think anything about any kind of unicorn. Not mine, unfortunately, but there is still some hope left in this world.

Another problem is that by itself, P (as an actual or possible organism) isn't identical to the P in "P ∈ B", because actual or possible unicorns don't exist within or as element of our brain activities -- only brain activities relating to them.

It's obvious to me what you actually meant here, but generally it's bad form because it can be confusing. For instance, if they were invisible pink unicorns, I would be totally lost right now.

I thought I just said that it still permits for evidence that may not yet be available though I don't think there can be any evidence for the soul. If I can't detect subatomic particles I cannot see I don't claim they doesn't exist.

Yes, machines can substitute for your senses. Now, show us how to build the soul machine...

The burden of proof/evidence only applies in a scientific context.

Then you are a fool. Try the legal system. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is upon the prosecution. Likewise, with the burden of proof is upon the claimants in cases where they claim the existence of bigfoot, deities, Jebus, souls, and other imaginary things. Show the conclusive evidence, or STFU. Welcome to science.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Oh, and the null hypothesis and parsimony say something doesn't exist without evidence for it. So, either show us your evidence, or go away. Continued yapping about imaginary things is a sign of mental weakness.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Continued yapping about imaginary things is a sign of mental weakness.

yapyapyapyapyapyapyap

You know what, I bet that's the problem: my neighbor's dog found Jesus.

It was probably surfing the net and saw that picture of the Jeeb they discovered on a dog's ass.

Mr. T,

Thank you for taking the time to make the logic clear. I was thinking that saying, "Pink unicorns are brain activities", is no different from saying, "I am a person", brain activities obviously being the processing of memories and not a pink horse with a horn stomping around inside someone's brain. :P

It isn't difficult to imagine a pink unicorn, though. Take a horse, color it pink, put a horn on its forehead, and voilà, so it is an easy thing to communicate or dream up if you know about horses, horns, and the color pink. The difference between a pink unicorn and a bear is the evidence, the fact that you don't have to dream up a bear.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd (#535), I'm not going to argue for the soul, with or without a machine attached, or anything else that I find no reason to believe in, even if I cannot reject the unlikely possibility.
I don't know if the statistical ideas you cited, or even the legal system, are not based on the same scientific method we rely on, even if the legal system is clumsier at it.
But, yet again, I reiterate, the scientific method cannot take on what supposedly cannot be measured, even if they are as imaginary as those invisible pink unicorns.

But, yet again, I reiterate, the scientific method cannot take on what supposedly cannot be measured, even if they are as imaginary as those invisible pink unicorns.

Wrong. While science itself won't investigate, the scientific method can be applied. With the proviso you have to demonstrate evidence, physical evidence, for what you claim. Otherwise, it doesn't exist except between your ears. Like a soul or deity. No evidence for either. Ergo, both are fictional until physical evidence is presented otherwise. Show the evidence or shut up. You see, if you can't describe something physically, you can't prove it exists outside your delusional mind. And it can't interact with the real world. Which makes it worthless as any explanation, except that you are delusional.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

But, yet again, I reiterate, the scientific method cannot take on what supposedly cannot be measured, even if they are as imaginary as those invisible pink unicorns.

My position is that we've got no reason to assume that there exists anything that cannot be measured, so why bother?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd of Redhead, OM:

You see, if you can't describe something physically, you can't prove it exists outside your delusional mind. And it can't interact with the real world.

Yep. It's interesting that those defending the soul never bring up all the instances of people who have searched for the soul, or more specifically, its location in the human body. No one was ever successful, and the so-called location of the soul kept changing. The only soul one can honestly claim to have is the idea of one.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

But, the basic ANIMAL INSTINCT (hahahah i said it again, we're animals hahahha!! Oh that hurts to hear doesn't it. Oh so much pride so much pride) is to spread and intermix DNA. And to do that you must mate. End. Jesus christ!

Underwhelming, anotherhuman. You announce with each new comment that you are far stupider than we previously suspected.

Do you seriously think that people who hang out on a blog dedicated to biological evolution are ashamed to think of ourselves as animals? You are not talking to drive-by commenters who might be IDiots. Most of the people arguing with you are longtime regular commenters well respected by the community here, and all are atheists who understand evolution. Many take a particular interest in evolution as hobbyists or professionals. I am one of those hobbyists, and I have spent many hours here advocating that people should give more serious consideration to our shared characteristics with non-human animals. If I am proud, I am proud to be an animal.

One of those professionals is your blog host, PZ Myers, a professor of biology at UMM who specializes in evolutionary developmental biology. PZ left a message for you, though you appear to be too stupid and/or dishonest to address it.

Obviously you do not understand what an instinct is. Hint: it is not simply "whatever animals do." Animals also have learned behavior, and in many birds and mammals such behaviors are reliably transmitted with specificity that can be understood as culture. Some behavior, like fucking, is so easily rediscovered by individuals that it does not need to be transmitted by either instinct or culture.

In order to support your positive assertions, you will have to present peer-reviewed scientific literature that specifically identifies an instinct, in humans, to have children. If you need a few years to go to college first and study the relevant basics here, take your time.

By strange gods b… (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd (#539), do spend some time reading Popper's views, though it could be sacrilegious. Or perhaps you are religious in what you deem to be the scientific method.
And it might help to consider that allowing for another viewpoint does not amount to an endorsement of it - which, given the few criticisms I have seen here of my argument, is what I'm supposed to be doing.
And if it is the scientific method and falsifiability you wish to discuss, you could perhaps start with a primer, though it does not address the soul: http://undsci.berkeley.edu/teaching/misconceptions.php#c1.

listener, I find it exceedingly amusing to see your patronisation of Nerd.

A bit like a chihuahua sniping at a rottweiler, only more so. :)

By John Morales (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener,

Look, I could sit here and assert there are such intangible things as jergerwoozies that rumble and rattle causing you to laugh. When I do that, what will you do? Will you believe it? Will you say that you'll never know since you can't sense jergerwoozies and then start telling strangers that jergerwoozies might be there, they'll never know, but they better not say jergerwoozies don't exist? Why don't you just come out and say I'm full of crap about jergerwoozies and move on?

Without any kind of evidence for jergerwoozies and with no reason whatsoever to need something like jergerwoozies for laughing to work, the existence of jergerwoozies is unnecessary and they might as well be treated as if they do not exist.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener:

And it might help to consider that allowing for another viewpoint does not amount to an endorsement of it

Another coward. You aren't going to get anywhere by attempting to weasel out of what you've said before. It's very simple - state what it is you believe. Then there's the basis for discussion.

You aren't going to get anywhere trying to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs, so to speak. Try being straightforward, and stop trying so hard to be superior, it's not working.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener, if you don't want me to think you are full of shit, try this:

1) You have something that cannot be sensed or detected that you postulate. It doesn't interact with the real world. Show how it is useful in any sense whatsoever, except for bad philosophy. Examples of this are the invisible gold dragon in the garage, a vague deity, or a soul. You might as well masturbate than talk about it. You can give all sorts of imaginary attributes, and write novels about. But it, and talking about it, changes reality in no way. This is a time waster and shouldn't even be discussed at an evidence based site like this.

2) You have something that cannot presently be sensed or detected, but is likely there. Say Yahweh, who did interact with the world according to the babble. Describe the attributes and interactions so it can be tested by science. This is what is required to begin to have an honest discussion. So far, failure for any evidence.

I don't do philosophical games. Either pony up the attributes, or let your inane idea drop. Welcome to science.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Still some talk of defining a/the soul. (By the way, many of the discussions here are based on the varying unspoken definitions of terms, and I think that religionists will switch definitions midstream (but you know that)).

I was reading a book some time ago, I think it may have been _A_Canticle_For_Liebowitz_, and recall a soldier saying to a priest something like, "How do I know I have a soul? I have never seen or noticed it." And the priest replies, "You are a soul."

Which stuck in my mind partly because it sounded to my teen mind like he said, "You arsehole." And partly because I like the definition.

My soul is me, my psyche, my personality, my worries, my thoughts, my love and hate, my desire to make this comment coherent. My soul is everything that is not immediately physical. My soul is what I am in the stilly darkness with my eyes closed.

My soul is my mind. Yes, I know it lives in my brain, but that is what I mean when I hear the word "soul".

Actually, I never use the word "soul". I would prefer "psyche", but I most like "mind". It is what comes to my mind, anyhow.

So when somebody trots out weird definitions of soul that sound like some sort of brain parasite, or something that isn't me, I say to hell with the crazy atman or mana or flinkytootle, it never does anything for me--it never even calls.

Or when Christians talk about my soul changing radically so it can enjoy Heaven, I say to Hell with all of us. It ain't me.

For purposes of religious discussion, then, my soul is composing this comment, my body is doing the keyboarding under the direction of my soul, and it's sending sleepy signals back up. My body is tired, my soul is thinking about going to bed.
At least that's how it seems in my mind.

NOTE: The above is just to define "soul" as "mind", to allow for discussions of an afterlife, but is not intended to agree that there is an immortal soul.

By Menyambal (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

ildinia121 wrote in #4:

And while Lucretius does believe in a soul, it is in no way supernatural. It is made up of atoms, the same as all other matter, and when we die, it too disperses.

But "atoms" are category:hardware, while "soul" is category:software. (No wonder it keeps not being found at hardware inventory.) Naturally it stops running when the hardware shuts down.Nothing "supernatural" about that. So what's the fuss?It's just another word for the "mind", the "anima", what "animates" the body, makes us "animals" that move around of our own volition instead of plants or minerals that forever stay in one place. (Think of the first of the "twenty questions".)

By jslsingleton (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

jslsingleton, thank you. That is well said.

By Menyambal (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

My position is that we've got no reason to assume that there exists anything that cannot be measured, so why bother?

Just want to nitpick that one because I don't think it's entirely correct.

There are examples of things we have reason to assume they exist but cannot be measured or observed.

Examples:
the non observable universe
the multiverse
the Higgs Boson
superstrings
dark energy
etc...

Now note that some of these cannot be measured yet, but might be measured in the future. But more importantly, for all these things there exists a coherent definition, a rational justification for assuming their existence, a theoretical framework ...
The soul is not only a useless concept because it supposedely can't be measured, but particularly so because it fails on all these accounts. Same is valid with Gods btw.

If someone could at least give a coherent definition of the term soul, a theoretical framework, a justification for assuming this hypothesis, then we could treat it as any other scientific hypothesis, discuss its merits, work on it if it's worthy of doing so, debate, etc... But there's nothing, zilch, just warm wishy washy feelings and gut feels.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd (#547), getting down to personalities doesn't address problems, it just vitiates the discussion. And I have no problem dealing with philosophical issues, even the purely hypothetical. Or do I have to measure argument by your standards of victory and defeat, rather than try to find an underlying structure?
You needn't welcome me to science; I know to find my way around it, perhaps not with the fuzzy religiosity you invest in it, but certainly with a more clearminded focus, and a wish to understand nuances than win an argument.
I thought a science blog allowed for the possibility that other viewpoints, even those I don't necessarily believe in, could co-exist. To date, I was certain it did. If you can convince me differently, I will accept that science, too, is a religion with its own rituals, its own priests, its own fundamentalists.
But somehow, I don't believe that's true, and think that complex thought can exist. Do prove me wrong.

Without quasi-mathematical notation, a plainer correction to aratina cage's misconception above ("You seem to be saying that thoughts are different from imaginary things and I disagree") is: when you are thinking of a real object (say, a particular bear), it would be very strange to maintain that the bear is the thought you are having. Different set of properties altogether; likewise, imaginary objects* (are imagined to) have properties equally different from those of thoughts.

*(including the bear I just told you was 'real')

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener, you refer to Nerd's comment @547, but don't actually address it; rather, you've evaded its substance.

BTW, just how you consider Nerd's requirement for empiricism to be "fuzzy religiosity" is beyond me.

By John Morales (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

I thought a science blog allowed for the possibility that other viewpoints, even those I don't necessarily believe in, could co-exist. To date, I was certain it did.

Of course they are allowed. But if someone supports a viewpoint for which he cannot even give a rational justification for why he supports it, then we can't even discuss its merits, so we reject it.

If opinions are purely in the domain of the subjective, for instance, I prefer vanilla icecream to strawberry, then fine. If opinions have some elements of objectivity, then we can discuss this. But people need to be prepared to justify them.

You still haven't proposed a single cogent point as to why one should assume the existence of things such as souls that cannot be measured, or not even coherently defined, or aren't at least amenable to some reasonable justification.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

And listener, YOU'RE NOT FUCKING LISTENING AT ALL! Read the Nerd's #547 again and take the invective to heart, because you deserve it. Or else read for comprehension.

jslsingleton: "Naturally it stops running when the hardware shuts down."
Yeah, but we could also define 'soul' - relative to some particular technology - as what can be uploaded from the individual machine to another system, rather than the running process itself. Might fit the religious concept better that way, and also the idea of cultural immortality mentioned in early comments (like the Woody Allen reference).

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

negentropyeater wrote:

There are examples of things we have reason to assume they exist but cannot be measured or observed.

True - I should have qualified my statement a little more, since 'measured' isn't (as you've demonstrated) specific enough.

Then again, the difference between what's on your list and 'souls' is that we've found something (the complexity of the human brain) that accounts for what we once use the term 'soul' to describe; the same can't be said for things like dark matter and string theory and so forth - at least to my (admittedly limited) knowledge of science we haven't.

Or, in short, we've moved past the stage of scientific illiteracy that required the postulation of the concept of a 'soul'.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Then again, the difference between what's on your list and 'souls' is that we've found something (the complexity of the human brain) that accounts for what we once use the term 'soul' to describe; the same can't be said for things like dark matter and string theory and so forth - at least to my (admittedly limited) knowledge of science we haven't.

Sometimes it can also be that it's the prediction of a theoretical framework (eg Higgs Boson). But I don't see any form of justification for hypothesing the existence of souls. Not even a coherent definition to begin with.

It's actually even worse than pink unicorns.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

Morales, I would assert that he evaded what I'd tried to point out in a rather basic link: http://undsci.berkeley.edu/teaching/misconceptions.php#c1.
And I never argued for a soul, so claiming that I postulated one is, in my view, a result of fuzzy logic. And to demand that I clarify whether I believe in a soul or not is not, again in my view, part of the scientific method.
And that was what I sent over in that link, which was ignored because it was inconvenient. Such belief in one's own views, that touching faith, I usually attribute only to the religious.
Yet again: Science does not try to gauge untestable data, deeming it beyond its purview.
And Scanlon, I hear you, but will wait it out for considered rebuttal, not invective.

listener wrote:

And Scanlon, I hear you, but will wait it out for considered rebuttal, not invective.

Would you like us to note your concern?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage wrote:

This is not true for real material, biological things like bears where you can distinguish between the thought of a bear and a real bear

But you can distinguish between the thought of pink unicorns and pink unicorns. The former detectably exist in the real world - the later do not.

To maintain logical consistency, you have to disagree with at least one of the following statements:

1. Pink unicorns don't exist.
2. Thoughts about pink unicorns exist.
3. Pink unicorns are thoughts about pink unicorns.

2 is incontestable - it's proved true by the existence of this conversation. To reject 1 whole maintaining 2 & 3 is the same as saying that bears and thoughts of bears are the same thing, which should be obviously unacceptable. You should therefore be rejecting 3.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

John Scanlon FCD,

a plainer correction to aratina cage's misconception above ("You seem to be saying that thoughts are different from imaginary things and I disagree") is: when you are thinking of a real object (say, a particular bear), it would be very strange to maintain that the bear is the thought you are having. Different set of properties altogether; likewise, imaginary objects* (are imagined to) have properties equally different from those of thoughts.

OK then John, point to a live pink unicorn for me, one that is not a thought. Go ahead, I'm waiting.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

#562, see #561.

But see, I'm pointing. Look! See it?

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener @559, you posted a link to Misconceptions about science in an attempt to patronise Nerd, a professional scientist who has taught at tertiary level; have you heard the expression "don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs"? :)

Now, regarding your claims:

And I never argued for a soul, so claiming that I postulated one is, in my view, a result of fuzzy logic.

But Nerd did not so claim.

And to demand that I clarify whether I believe in a soul or not is not, again in my view, part of the scientific method.

But Nerd did not so demand.

And that was what I sent over in that link, which was ignored because it was inconvenient.

You seem very sure of this.
What specific item in the page you linked to is relevant?

Such belief in one's own views, that touching faith, I usually attribute only to the religious.

What seems like touching faith to you, to me seems like well-founded confidence.

Yet again: Science does not try to gauge untestable data, deeming it beyond its purview.

You here evince a misunderstanding of what constitutes data; also, yet again, I refer you to grannies and eggs.

By John Morales (not verified) on 13 Apr 2010 #permalink

It might perhaps help if nonlistener would specify what they mean by "god". Without some kind of definition, we can't even have a helpful discussion. All the gods I know of are fictional characters. Please specify what a non-fictional one is supposed to be. If it's nothing but a deist universe-causer, then it's unnecessary, and if it's a theist universe-influencer, then it's testable.

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

I thought a science blog allowed for the possibility that other viewpoints, even those I don't necessarily believe in, could co-exist.

Wrong. Some ideas can't co-exist. Claiming vague ill-defined things exist that don't interact with the real world in a meaningful way is an example of that. It is mental masturbation, and is totally irrelevant to reality. If you have an idea, present it. Say "this is what I believe, and this is the evidence to back it up". The latter makes it science and reality. Failure to be able to do that is woo. Woomeisters are one step below doggie doo. We get too many bad philosophers here who can't make or get to a cogent argument about reality. So, either present your argument with evidence, so we can discuss it as a part of reality, or you have nothing but illogical woo, and should go away.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Andreas Johansson,

But you can distinguish between the thought of pink unicorns and pink unicorns. The former detectably exist in the real world - the later do not.

What distinguishes an object in thought from an extant object is the evidence for it. No one has made the jump from the pink unicorns we imagine to an unimagined object, and until someone does, pink unicorns will only exist in the imaginations of people.

To maintain logical consistency, you have to disagree with at least one of the following statements:1. Pink unicorns don't exist.2. Thoughts about pink unicorns exist.3. Pink unicorns are thoughts about pink unicorns.

#3 does appear to be heading towards an infinite regression the way it is written. #1 is the kind of thing listener is arguing against saying. #2 is redundant because you cannot separate the thought from the pink unicorn without evidence of the existence of pink unicorns.

2 is incontestable - it's proved true by the existence of this conversation. To reject 1 whole maintaining 2 & 3 is the same as saying that bears and thoughts of bears are the same thing, which should be obviously unacceptable.

When you think of a bear, the thought is not a real bear, but it does represent real things. Fictional things like pink unicorns, on the other hand, do not exist in reality apart from being remnants of human brains as far as we know.

You should therefore be rejecting 3.

It would be better to say that pink unicorns have not made it out of the realm of ideas yet. They have not crossed from our imaginations into reality for lack of evidence of their existence. The same is true for souls.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

John Scanlon FCD,

#562, see #561.But see, I'm pointing. Look! See it?

I was being rhetorical. Of course you cannot point to evidence for a pink unicorn (and I shouldn't have said alive but rather evidence that one was alive or is alive).

There seems to be a contingent of people on Pharyngula who object to the phrase, "God is between your ears.", on philosophical grounds. This has been news to me.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina, you're being obtuse.

Of course imaginary entities (being abstractions) have no existence outside our thoughts, but that does not imply that those abstractions are our thoughts; rather, they are the result of our thoughts.

Of course you cannot point to evidence for a pink unicorn

I beg to differ: here's evidence.

It may not be compelling, or even credible; but it is evidence — just like there is evidence for Bigfoot. :)

By John Morales (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage wrote:

What distinguishes an object in thought from an extant object is the evidence for it. No one has made the jump from the pink unicorns we imagine to an unimagined object, and until someone does, pink unicorns will only exist in the imaginations of people.

"Exists only in the imagination" is metaphor for "does not exist".

(You're not going to claim that brain activities exist only in the imagination, are you? Yet that is the logical consequence of your claims that imaginary objects (such as pink unicorns) exist only in the imagination and that imaginary objects are brain activities.)

#3 does appear to be heading towards an infinite regression the way it is written.

If so, appearances are deceiving. It's simply an specific instance of your general claim that imaginary objects (such as pink unicorns) are brain activities.

#1 is the kind of thing listener is arguing against saying.

I'm not responsible for listener's delusions.

#2 is redundant because you cannot separate the thought from the pink unicorn without evidence of the existence of pink unicorns.

You can tell unicorns from dragons, right? Why, then, do you affect to be unable to tell unicorns from actual real objects?

(I'm using "object" slightly loosely here, to include things that might ordinarily be rather considered processes.)

It would be better to say that pink unicorns have not made it out of the realm of ideas yet. They have not crossed from our imaginations into reality for lack of evidence of their existence. The same is true for souls.

One might metaphorically say that, but it doesn't license one to claim actual identity between things that exist and things that do not.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage wrote:

There seems to be a contingent of people on Pharyngula who object to the phrase, "God is between your ears.", on philosophical grounds. This has been news to me.

I don't object to it as a rhetorical flourish (tho I may doubt its effectiveness). I do object to it if it's intended as a literal description of the world.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener,

Yet again: Science does not try to gauge untestable data, deeming it beyond its purview.

Call it rationality or science or whatever, but if you have two hypothesis that are equally consistent with the evidence (e.g, X does exist and X does not exist) then the most parsimonious explanation is the most likely: X does not exist. Furthermore, the more complex X is the less likely it is to be true.

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

If opinions are purely in the domain of the subjective, for instance, I prefer vanilla icecream to strawberry, then fine.

It's high time I published The Strawberry Delusion to show those irrational strawberry ice cream lovers just how superior and rational vanilla is.

It will be a bestseller!

John Morales,

aratina, you're being obtuse.Of course imaginary entities (being abstractions) have no existence outside our thoughts, but that does not imply that those abstractions are our thoughts; rather, they are the result of our thoughts.

Perhaps I am obtuse on this matter, but I really don't understand how abstractions exist apart from thoughts.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Andreas Johansson #570,

You're not going to claim that brain activities exist only in the imagination, are you?

We have evidence for brain activities, but that does not imply that pink unicorns were or are real biological creatures simply because the brain can imagine them.

If so, appearances are deceiving. It's simply an specific instance of your general claim that imaginary objects (such as pink unicorns) are brain activities.

Let me explain what I meant. You wrote, "3. Pink unicorns are thoughts about pink unicorns." This could be expanded to "Pink unicorns are thoughts about (thoughts about (thoughts about (...)))." If you take away the "about", you get what can then be reduced to a circularity, "Thoughts are thoughts.", which is not informative, but pink unicorns are a specific kind of thought distinguishable from other thoughts and so, "Pink unicorns are thoughts.", is informative in the way "Black bears are mammals." is informative. So I did not feel utterly stupid saying that pink unicorns are thoughts, but I did think it was rather obvious until truth machine intervened.

You can tell unicorns from dragons, right?

I am wondering if there is some underlying idea being held here that thoughts are a big amorphous goo where no two parts are distinguishable from each other instead of highly structured interactions.

Why, then, do you affect to be unable to tell unicorns from actual real objects?

Unicorns have not been observed and no evidence has been found for them outside of human imagination (see the link in #569, for instance).

One might metaphorically say that, but it doesn't license one to claim actual identity between things that exist and things that do not.

I do not think I was speaking metaphorically. These things we call unicorns (of any color or transparency) are imaginary, products of our brains.

I don't object to it as a rhetorical flourish (tho I may doubt its effectiveness). I do object to it if it's intended as a literal description of the world.

I see. That might be why this has gone unchecked during my interactions here until now.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

So it is an appeal to authority, is it, Morales (#564)? Because someone you know has taught at the tertiary level, he automatically knows it all. Absolutely, Morales. And so, as you so pertinently pointed out, I will not teach your friend to suck eggs. Naturally, I expect, my own qualifications will not measure up, since that is the criterion for my view being acceptable.
You quoted my earlier note where I said ‘I never argued for a soul, so claiming that I postulated one is, in my view, a result of fuzzy logic.’
And responded: ‘But Nerd did not so claim.’
This is what the gentleman wrote (and I suspect from his interesting language in general that he is male, though I could be wrong):

You have something that cannot be sensed or detected that you postulate.

And to demand that I clarify whether I believe in a soul or not is not, again in my view, part of the scientific method.
You say:

But Nerd did not so demand.

Well, do check these then:
(#527) ‘You want god, souls, homeopathy, or invisible gold dragons to exist? Show some real evidence other than your desire that they exist.’
(#535) ‘So, either show us your evidence, or go away.’
(#539) ‘Show the evidence or shut up. You see, if you can't describe something physically, you can't prove it exists outside your delusional mind.’
You asked which specific item in the page I linked to is relevant?
Here it is an interesting bit from http://undsci.berkeley.edu/teaching/misconceptions.php#c1:
‘Science contradicts the existence of God. Because of some vocal individuals (both inside and outside of science) stridently declaring their beliefs, it's easy to get the impression that science and religion are at war. In fact, people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural entities — like God.’ I would argue that the soul too fits in here, though I wouldn’t bet on it.
But, as you pointed out to me, (#544):

‘listener, I find it exceedingly amusing to see your patronisation of Nerd.
A bit like a chihuahua sniping at a rottweiler, only more so. :)

About my original argument, the gentleman pointed out (#566) that ‘some ideas can't co-exist.’
True, mutually exclusive ones – maybe outside the realm of quantum physics – cannot.
But he went on to say that ‘Claiming vague ill-defined things exist that don't interact with the real world in a meaningful way is an example of that. It is mental masturbation, and is totally irrelevant to reality.’
Colorful imagery, but I don’t think that follows.
I have always argued for the scientific method, even taught it, but this exchange here, and the bad humour surrounding it has made me wonder if faith is only the preserve of the ‘woomeisters’ who ‘are one step below doggie doo.’ Ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, appeals to ridicule, personal attacks… A great many logical fallacies all thrown in just to win an argument. And that is sad.
I didn’t ever want to bring this up, but personally, I don’t believe in a soul or a god or anything else that I cannot measure.
I am more than comfortable accepting my reality to be circumscribed by scientific limits. But for the life of me I don’t know why that matters, why my own reality should be the right one and, not just better, the only one. To me, that intolerance is consistent with most religions.
I wasn’t just playing devil’s advocate, I truly believe that my view is the only one, and everyone who believes otherwise
I’ve always avoided commenting here, and, when I uncharacteristically did, was horrified at some of the prejudice and, now, clannishness that I see.
I argue all the time with people with opposing viewpoints, including creationists and the religious, admittedly often with the intention of converting them to what I think is my balanced view based on some of that ‘well-founded confidence’ in science. But, because I listen, I do get some good ideas even from the most bigoted of them.
I'd come here for thoughtful argument, a little room for doubt. Clearly, in the case of you and your friends, there is no room for doubt.
I don’t think you or some or the other vocal members here speak for all science. I believe that while I stepped forward this time, like me there are many others who usually just follow the argument most often and are not wholly subject to strident evangelism at the cost of reasoned argument.
As you have always endeavoured to, do prove me wrong.

There was an incomplete thought, I left in there by error. Here it is, in toto: 'I wasn’t just playing devil’s advocate, I truly believe that my view is not the only one, and that everyone who believes otherwise is an idiot.'
Thanks...

Ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, appeals to ridicule, personal attacks… A great many logical fallacies all thrown in just to win an argument. And that is sad.

Thy concern is scribbled, peasant!

listener,

I am more than comfortable accepting my reality to be circumscribed by scientific limits. But for the life of me I don’t know why that matters, why my own reality should be the right one and, not just better, the only one. To me, that intolerance is consistent with most religions.

When you put it that way, it is almost like history never happened. You might be content to allow people under their own delusions to do what they please as if it will have no impact, but others of us are not, and we are willing to argue against and refute those delusions for the better. What is wrong with snapping people out of their delusions? No, we don't respect delusions here, and if that seems intolerant instead of grounded, too bad.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener,

And to demand that I clarify whether I believe in a soul or not is not, again in my view, part of the scientific method.

I, and probably others here, know that's your view. We just think it's wrong.

Here it is an interesting bit from http://undsci.berkeley.edu/teaching/misconceptions.php#c1

The website seems to be from the NSF. Insisting religion and science aren't necessarily oppose to each other may or may not be good PR, but it's not reasonable position to hold.

In fact, people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion.

So what? We've heard this before, many times. Just because many people, even very bright people, don't see a contradction between science and religion doesn't mean there isn't one. People are able to hold contradictory ideas in their heads. In fact, they do it all the time.

I didn’t ever want to bring this up, but personally, I don’t believe in a soul or a god or anything else that I cannot measure.

This contradicts your entire argument. If science can't say anything about things we can't measure then how can you say that you don't believe in souls, gods, etc.? On what rational basis have you come to reject these ideas? Or do you believe that their existence/non-existence are equally likely?

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage wrote:

We have evidence for brain activities, but that does not imply that pink unicorns were or are real biological creatures simply because the brain can imagine them.

Nobody is saying that pink unicorns are real biological creatures. I'm saying that they don't exist - you are, incoherently, claiming that they simultaneously do not exist and are brain activities.

Let me explain what I meant. You wrote, "3. Pink unicorns are thoughts about pink unicorns." This could be expanded to "Pink unicorns are thoughts about (thoughts about (thoughts about (...)))." If you take away the "about", you get what can then be reduced to a circularity, "Thoughts are thoughts.", which is not informative, but pink unicorns are a specific kind of thought distinguishable from other thoughts and so, "Pink unicorns are thoughts.", is informative in the way "Black bears are mammals." is informative. So I did not feel utterly stupid saying that pink unicorns are thoughts, but I did think it was rather obvious until truth machine intervened.

The "about" part was to specify that pink unicorns (on your account) are a specific kind of thoughts, and that that same specific kind of thoughts is the one meant in both 2 and 3. (There's no contradiction, after all, in asserting that one sort of thoughts exist and that another is identical with something that doesn't exist.)

I am wondering if there is some underlying idea being held here that thoughts are a big amorphous goo where no two parts are distinguishable from each other instead of highly structured interactions.

I hold no such idea and am mystified as to what would make you think I do. My example of dragons v. unicorns would make no sense if I didn't think the ideas clearly distinguishible.

Rather, it seems to me that you are failing to distinguish, namely between ideas and their referents.

I do not think I was speaking metaphorically. These things we call unicorns (of any color or transparency) are imaginary, products of our brains.

I realize you didn't mean to be metaphorical. That's why I'm troubling to try and explain why you are wrong.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Feynmaniac (#580), you may believe that I need to clarify my own belief before arguing for the opposite. That is fine.
But as far the Berkeley link goes, the most relevant bit to me was what I see as a Popperian conclusion: 'Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural entities — like God.'
And when I say I don't believe in a soul, god or anything else that isn't evidence-based, I am saying it is just my personal view, based on what I think is the evidence.
I don't think that the existence/non-existence of souls are equally likely; in my view, because there is no evidence I can work with, I consider
the matter irrelevant and beyond discussion.
But there may be other views that may have their own consistency that I've never heard or read about. I may doubt that they exist, but I cannot reject the possibility because it is inconsistent with the worldview I have decided is right.

But as far the Berkeley link goes, the most relevant bit to me was what I see as a Popperian conclusion: 'Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural entities — like God.'

There are many problems with the Popperian view of science. In this particular case the idea that you are restricted to talking only about natural phenomena. There's no way you can ever falsify the idea that there's a greatest prime number or an unmarried bachelor. To pick an example closer to science, it's still possible there's aether permeating the entire universe. However, physicists dropped the idea because it was shown to be unnecessary. Many ideas in science have been discarded not because they were shown to be falsified, but because they were shown to be superfluous.

And when I say I don't believe in a soul, god or anything else that isn't evidence-based, I am saying it is just my personal view, based on what I think is the
evidence.

I'm confused. It isn't evidence-based but is based on what you think is the evidence? Can you explain?

I don't really care whether you define it as being part of science or not, but do you at least agree that rejecting (or conidering very unlikely) the existence of souls, gods, etc. is the rational thing to do?
See my comment at #572.

in my view, because there is no evidence I can work with, I consider
the matter irrelevant and beyond discussion.

Do you feel the same way about the Greek gods, invisible pink unicorns, the Flying Sphagetti Monster, etc.?

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine @ 451

Huh. I thought that was your argument.

My argument is primarily that belief doesn't imply faith; I seem to recall that you introduced the idea that we were giving in to the faithheads by refusing to use the word, but I could well be mistaken -- I can't find the thread I was thinking of.

That might have been me, over in the Deep Rifts thread. It's one of my Don't Let Them Fuck Up Important Words hobbyhorses. (Another is "moral.")

It's not at all original, though. People always have to clear away that kind of perverted word use undergrowth in any area where they regularly talk about beliefs. (Epistemology, AI, opinion polling, whatever.)

BTW I agree with you about "believe in" as well. People regularly use that phrase for regular old believing that something exists or is valid. (Or more generally, has some particular attribute under discussion, or satisfies some relevant criterion. E.g., "I don't believe in recycling styrofoam" meaning that it doesn't work or isn't worthwhile.)

The religious sense is parasitic on that. When you "believe in" Christianity, that may mean that you think it's true, but it likely also means that you trust it to do what it says on the tin.

That's one of the complexities of talking about religious "belief" or "faith." It's often mostly not directly about belief per se, but about an attitude like trust or optimism, or commitment involving being trustworthy. (E.g., "Keep the faith" meaning be trustworthy and trust God and/or others, and stay the course through the hard shit, and things will work out for the better.)

Unfortunately, religious apologists ofen latch onto skeptics' interepretation of "belief" or "faith" and say that they've got it wrong, and religious belief or faith is not mostly about beliefs in the sense of truth values of propositions, but about attitudes and practices or something---it's not something you think, but something you do.

I think they sorta have a point. Religous belief/faith often involves issues of commitment and trust that are not the same as belief, and are intertwined with a sense of moral commitment.

Unfortunately they generally don't follow that line of reasoning where it really goes, and explore the propositional beliefs presupposed by the attitudes, and reinforced by the practices. (E.g., Doesn't trusting God presuppose believing in God? Aren't "transcendental" mystical practices akin to self-hypnosis and self-brainwashing, bypassing our critical faculties and reinforcing such beliefs?) They typically just dis the skeptics, muddy the waters and change the subject. (Karen Armstrong is a great example of that.)

By Paul W., OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Andreas Johansson #581,

Nobody is saying that pink unicorns are real biological creatures. I'm saying that they don't exist - you are, incoherently, claiming that they simultaneously do not exist and are brain activities.

How is it incoherent when there has never been any evidence given for biological pink unicorns? The ones that do "exist" are things of the imagination. When you talk about pink unicorns, you are not talking about something that exists outside of human conceptions. It's the bigfoot problem all over again. People imagine a bigfoot (a thought), become enthralled with the idea, and then go out and sweep the forests for tracks, never noticing that they (or some other person) made it all up to begin with. It's a delusion to think that real pink unicorns or real bigfoot exist without evidence of their existence.

There's no contradiction, after all, in asserting that one sort of thoughts exist and that another is identical with something that doesn't exist.

Here's my question: if something doesn't exist outside of human imagination but we can imagine it, then what is it?

Rather, it seems to me that you are failing to distinguish, namely between ideas and their referents.

Right, I get that. And I am asking you to point objectively to those referents. John Morales called them abstractions, but abstractions make no sense if they cannot be transformed into thoughts; I am thinking that abstractions, at their most basic level, are thoughts or more likely the intelligible instructions for building thoughts.

I realize you didn't mean to be metaphorical. That's why I'm troubling to try and explain why you are wrong.

Well thank you, but I'm not getting it yet. It still seems to me that we will get nowhere assuming that any one thing we think about has an immediate referent that is external to our minds.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

There are many problems with the Popperian view of science. In this particular case the idea that you are restricted to talking only about natural phenomena. There's no way you can ever falsify the idea that there's a greatest prime number or an unmarried bachelor. To pick an example closer to science, it's still possible there's aether permeating the entire universe. However, physicists dropped the idea because it was shown to be unnecessary. Many ideas in science have been discarded not because they were shown to be falsified, but because they were shown to be superfluous.

That is certainly a reasonable argument. And yes, ideas have been discarded for their superfluity. No argument again on that. Aether is a good example of an idea not being roundly discredited by scientists, perhaps because they were spending their time doing something better. Do correct me if I'm wrong there.
The only area I think I differ with you is to consider that my view of scientific reality is all that there is, just because I don't know of anything better.
I am not used to blogging and this is the only time I've spent so much time on posting. That may be one reason I wasn't as clear as I wanted to be when I said this:
And when I say I don't believe in a soul, god or anything else that isn't evidence-based, I am saying it is just my personal view, based on what I think is the evidence.
What I meant was that I go by the evidence as I understand it: evidence I can measure even if I always cannot. For example, I accepted the then reasonable view that new brain cells are not formed until Elizabeth Gould came up with irrefutable evidence to the contrary. So what I had accepted as legitimate evidence changed as I came across more details. My belief in the absence of the supernatural is based only on the evidence I consider legitimate; I allow for other evidence – the kind the theists believe in – that I may have not yet encountered, though, again in my personal view, that may be unlikely.
I do think that rejecting the existence of souls, gods, etc. is the rational thing to do. But I am always uncomfortably aware that I have had to modify and change my views even within science and so have to allow for other possibilities. I have my problems in allowing for absolute certainty.
And yes, because I have no no evidence of Greek gods, invisible pink unicorns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, though they are certainly interesting ideas that over time and with varying levels of crudity helped us get a handle on complex ideas. Other than as conceptual props and interesting ideas, I do consider them irrelevant to my worldview. But again, that is my worldview.

my brain produces thoughts of pink unicorns, but it does not produce pink unicorns. Brain activities are not imaginary, and are not "beyond the senses and measurement"...

Of course it doesn't, they don't exist! But your thoughts about them do exist and are all that they are. I am saying that pink unicorns are brain activities.

You seem to be badly broken.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

That might have been me

It wasn't -- that is, it's not you I was thinking of, but SC.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

I don't think that the existence/non-existence of souls are equally likely; in my view, because there is no evidence I can work with, I consider
the matter irrelevant and beyond discussion.

But of course there is evidence one can work with -- everything that has ever been attributed to the workings of the soul has been shown to have some other cause, and nothing we should expect to be true if souls exist is true; that is why the belief in souls has been abandoned by scientifically educated people. Since souls are reduced to something that has no effect, they are indistinguishable from nothing at all; they are like undetectable-in-principle horns on the foreheads of horses, making the horse actually be unicorns. What's the difference between horses being horses and horses being that sort of unicorn? Nothing at all -- it is mere wordplay.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

My belief in the absence of the supernatural is based only on the evidence I consider legitimate

You keep contradicting yourself. Your belief in the absence of the supernatural is evidence-based, just as PZ's is.

I allow for other evidence – the kind the theists believe in

What "kind" is that?

that I may have not yet encountered

We all allow for the possibility that we will encounter evidence that we haven't yet encountered. But talk of evidence that we haven't encountered is incoherent, reification of a mere possibility.

But I am always uncomfortably aware that I have had to modify and change my views even within science and so have to allow for other possibilities. I have my problems in allowing for absolute certainty.

Again with the signs of having been dropped on the head; "absolute certainty" is a strawman; no one here claims to have it.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine,

You seem to be badly broken.

You do have a habit of making pointless points like that in between all the good stuff you write.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage:

Here's my question: if something doesn't exist outside of human imagination but we can imagine it, then what is it?

Typically, if the human imagining thinks it actually exists, we'd call that a hallucination or a delusion.

You seem to be abusing the word "exist."

In normal usage, to say that something you imagine (like a unicorn or God) exists is to say that it has some form of existence distinct from your conceiving of or imagining it.

That even applies to largely mental phenomena that we would say actually exist.

For example, money exists, even though what makes something money is a matter of people regarding it as money and systematically treating it as money.

Just imagining money isn't the same thing as money existing. Just imagining that something existent is money isn't either. I can't imagine money into real existence, or just imagine some existing thing into being money.

(More's the pity, except that without crucial constraints on collectively imagining it into existence or moneyness, it wouldn't really be money anyway.)

By Paul W., OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener #582 wrote:

But as far the Berkeley link goes, the most relevant bit to me was what I see as a Popperian conclusion: 'Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural entities — like God.'

I don't see anything in the methods of science which stipulate, in advance, anything about the natural, or the supernatural, or what it can deal with. How are you defining "supernatural?"

What if we approached religious beliefs about the supernatural, as if they were hypotheses about the nature of reality? Surely, religious believers themselves think they have confirming evidence: they don't claim to have randomly free-associated imaginary pleasant things they enjoy pretending to believe in just for their own amusement. (Well, hardly ever: in the Calvinball that is religion, never say never.)

listener @ #586,

I had more points, but truth machine wrote them better than I could @ #590.

The only area I think I differ with you is to consider that my view of scientific reality is all that there is, just because I don't know of anything better.

That's not exactly my view. My view would be that given our current evidence we have to designate things that haven't been seen and for which there is no positive evidence as extremely unlikely. If in the future there is new evidence or a new theory that adds weight to a concept then we change our mind. However, the rational thing to do for now is to dismiss these things as improbable.

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener, science doesn't do absolute knowledge. You have been repeatedly told that. Absolute knowledge requires 100% certainty. Science can't get there, but with some theories, like atomic theory and evolution, it is on an asymptote that can approach very, very closely, but never achieve that 100%. 99.99999% is good enough.

The scientific method can be used for almost anything with slight modifications. The most important thing to keep in mind is that without evidence to date, hard physical evidence, the proper starting point is that an object doesn't exist. This is not an absolute statement. Here the knowledge asymptote approaches zero probability though. It still allows for the presentation of new evidence to demonstrate that the object, say a soul, actually exists.

Science is not as dogmatic as you appear to think. The scientific method is a powerful tool for building knowledge. It sheds the bullshit arguments looks at the hard facts. It constantly tests and refines itself. Science will listen to ideas, but ideas without evidence are rejected. Which is why it works so well.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

You do have a habit of making pointless points like that

It wasn't pointless; saying "I am saying that pink unicorns are brain activities", even after having it pointed out that that is a category mistake, indicates a serious cognitive failure.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

if something doesn't exist outside of human imagination but we can imagine it, then what is it?

It's fictional. By your lights, Tom Sawyer and the Loch Ness monster are brain activities. But that's a category mistake; Tom Sawyer is a character in a book, and the Loch Ness monster is a mythical creature. If the Loch Ness monster turns out to be real, does that make it no longer a brain activity? That's nonsensical (and one must be badly broken to think that way). Thoughts of the Loch Ness monster are brain activities, regardless of whether it exists or not. Thoughts of Tom Sawyer and of Tom Cruise are both brain activities, while Tom Sawyer is a character in a book and Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and an actor.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratine cage:

Here's my question: if something doesn't exist outside of human imagination but we can imagine it, then what is it?

Rather, it seems to me that you are failing to distinguish, namely between ideas and their referents.

Right, I get that. And I am asking you to point objectively to those referents.

Let's compare an imaginary squid to an imaginary unicorn. The squid you're imagining doesn't exist as a squid, but as an imagination based on your experiences. If you say, "This imaginary squid exists", you're referring to a thought's existence, which doesn't depend on a thing existing external to your thoughts. That real squid exist in nature at all is a different matter from whether you can have thoughts about them. Also, the existence of real squid has only a tenuous relationship with your thoughts about them. Even if there is a real squid which you can directly observe and subsequently remember, your sensation/perception of it is not identical to the thing itself.

Likewise, you can imagine a "unicorn", but it is not a real unicorn, just an imagination as in the case of the squid. Entirely separate from that is the fact that there are no real unicorns. Of course you can't observe real unicorns because real ones do not exist, but at the same time your imagination of them does exist.

When I think of a pink unicorn, I can draw on experiences like seeing illustrations of them, verbal descriptions, augmenting memories of seeing horses with additional concepts like "pink" or "has a horn on its head", and so on. I can only throw all of that crap together as my best attempt at imagining one. Other than that, I can think about how I've never seen one in real life, nor to my knowledge has anyone else. Rhinoceroses also spring to mind. A fictional referent like a cartoon or a myth is enough to produce an imaginary unicorn, but that does not entail that unicorns exist, or don't exist, or that these imaginary unicorns are fundamentally different experiences than those of imaginary squid.

Feynmaniac (#594), I, too, believe things I can't see (despite some effort) as being unlikely.
I believe we differ only on details, such as my acceptance of a viewpoint that I cannot assess from within the limitations I have set upon myself - that being the scientific method as I understand it.
And while I, too, dismiss these things as improbable in my worldview, I am willing to allow it is not impossible if another valid worldview existed.

Nerd (#595), thank you for that... Am in absolute agreement with with most of what you said.
For me, the nuance comes in here:

Science will listen to ideas, but ideas without evidence are rejected. Which is why it works so well.

As I see it, ideas without evidence are rejected in a scientific framework. Being limited to it, I would agree with you there. But I do know that non-Euclidean space exists, and that quantum theory allows for either/or states. Given that there is a chance - any chance - of another reality outside the scientific framework as we understand it, I allow for it without necessarily succumbing to it.

And I am asking you to point objectively to those referents

Consider "the current queen of England" and "the current king of England". The former has a physical referent and the latter does not, but that doesn't make the latter one a "thought" or "brain activity". Both the former and the latter are descriptions, just as "pink unicorn" is. For every description, there is a set of things in the real world that fit it, and some of those sets are empty -- that's the case for "the current king of England", "pink unicorns", and "souls" (almost certainly).

"you are, incoherently, claiming that they simultaneously do not exist and are brain activities."

How is it incoherent when there has never been any evidence given for biological pink unicorns?

Uh, you say that pink unicorns are brain activities, and that pink unicorns do not exist. But those brain activities exist; therefore the claim is incoherent. That shouldn't be hard to follow by anyone who isn't broken.

Let's go back to what listener wrote:

as far as I know, everything imaginary - or something that might as well be there - is beyond the senses and measurement.

This is quite true; that which is imaginary (that which does not exist) or that "might as well be there" (which I take to mean something with no physical consequences) is beyond the senses and measurement. You wrote:

Imaginary things exist between your ears. I just read that Intel has been making inroads into distinguishing between imagined things people are thinking about. The technology is already here, though it is at an early stage, to definitively discriminate between things you imagine. So you are wrong.

No, you are incredibly dense. The report is about distinguishing between thoughts -- different mental activities -- and those mental activities are quite real, not imaginary. It isn't possible for an apparatus to distinguish between two different imaginary things because imaginary things do not exist.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Sastra (#594), religion is a often a bit like Calvinball but, for that same reason, I don't know if they can reasonably be judged using the scientific method. They fall outside the purview of science and, because of that, I would not apply scientific rules to what claims to be supernatural.

truth machine #601,

No, you are incredibly dense. The report is about distinguishing between thoughts -- different mental activities -- and those mental activities are quite real, not imaginary. It isn't possible for an apparatus to distinguish between two different imaginary things because imaginary things do not exist.

This, what you said right here, is my stumbling block. You are granting imaginary things the status of nonexistence; I am not fully disagreeing but am arguing they are existent as thoughts but not as real objects seeing as how there is no evidence for any real objects to which they can refer.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Better minds have coined better arguments, but here's one I'm proud of:

To anyone who tells you that the idea of permanent death, with no afterlife, is a depressing idea, ask them:

Which is more depressing: the idea that some pain lasts forever, or the idea that all pain is temporary?

By Pluto Animus (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

they are existent as thoughts

No they don't. Thoughts of them exist, but they do not "exist as thoughts". Apples and oranges. Thoughts are thoughts, imaginary objects are imaginary objects. Saying pink unicorns exist as thoughts of pink unicorns is no more true than saying George Washington exists as a painting of George Washington. Sure, such paintings exist, but to say that a painting of George Washington is George Washington is silly because George Washington is not a painting.

Given that there is a chance - any chance - of another reality outside the scientific framework as we understand it, I allow for it without necessarily succumbing to it.

I don't deny the possibility, just that physical evidence, not personal revelation (how is that determined to be different from a delusion?), be supplied. That is where we differ, including the application of the scientific method to everything. If it effects the world, science can measure it. If it doesn't effect the world, it is a meaningless idea/hypothesis. Which can be safely ignored and swept into the dumpster where it belongs. I don't worry that I might be wrong, because new physical evidence will always change my mind. For example, I'm still waiting for the reproducible cold fusion experiment where the excess heat is matched by the number of neutrons given off and is confirmed by many teams world-wide...until then, cold fusion is junk science.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina cage:

The report is about distinguishing between thoughts -- different mental activities -- and those mental activities are quite real, not imaginary. It isn't possible for an apparatus to distinguish between two different imaginary things because imaginary things do not exist.

This, what you said right here, is my stumbling block. You are granting imaginary things the status of nonexistence; I am not fully disagreeing but am arguing they are existent as thoughts but not as real objects seeing as how there is no evidence for any real objects to which they can refer.

They are not existent as thoughts. They are not existent at all.

The fact that a thought of something exists doesn't mean that the thing exists. The thought is a thing, but it's not the same thing as the thing it's a thought of.

We sometimes say that something "exists in" an imagined universe. For example, in the Harry Potter universe, dragons "exist."

That doesn't mean that dragons exist, full stop. If I simply say that "dragons exist," that's saying that they exist in this world, the real world, and are real---they're not just fictitious entities in a fictitious world. Saying that they "exist in" the Potterverse is very different---it's does not imply that they actually exist.

Likewise, saying that something "exists in" our thoughts is sloppy misleading metaphorical talk, if we want to talk about actual existence. An imagined unicorn or dragon may "exist in" some imagined universe or situation, or just "exist in" my thoughts, ready to be plugged into some imaginary situation, but again, that doesn't mean it exists in the central sense of the word.

Imaginary existence of a thing is not a kind of actual existence of that thing. It is only the existence of a thought.

Saying that something exists in fiction or in our thoughts is not saying that it exists. It's saying that it fictitiously exists, or is imagined to exist, which is something else.

By Paul W., OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener,

So it is an appeal to authority, is it, Morales (#564)? Because someone you know has taught at the tertiary level, he automatically knows it all.

Not so; it was because you'd assumed Nerd needed schooling in the basics of science, though you were apparently lacking knowledge of his posting history here.

In short, you'd first engaged in an appeal to his lack of authority, about which you were therefore corrected.

You quoted my earlier note where I said ‘I never argued for a soul, so claiming that I postulated one is, in my view, a result of fuzzy logic.’
And responded: ‘But Nerd did not so claim.’
This is what the gentleman wrote (and I suspect from his interesting language in general that he is male, though I could be wrong):

You have something that cannot be sensed or detected that you postulate.

I'm pretty sure Nerd was responding to your claim that belief in souls is not amenable to scientifically-based dismissal; that "you" he used is a form of speech referring to a generic believer in souls, where he splits the possibility space into that which has observable effects and that which doesn't, and indicates that for it to be considered rather than rejected as otiose certain conditions must be met.

And to demand that I clarify whether I believe in a soul or not is not, again in my view, part of the scientific method.
You say:
But Nerd did not so demand.
Well, do check these then:
(#527) ‘You want god, souls, homeopathy, or invisible gold dragons to exist? Show some real evidence other than your desire that they exist.’
(#535) ‘So, either show us your evidence, or go away.’
(#539) ‘Show the evidence or shut up. You see, if you can't describe something physically, you can't prove it exists outside your delusional mind.’

Clearly, Nerd is referring to your wish that such may exist, based on your claim that the possibility is not to be rejected.
I grant that this is an unwarranted inference, and you're just playing devil's advocate.
Again, note he is using "you" in a generic sense, and again, the request for you to show your evidence refers to why you think such concepts are not to be rejected.

[...] But he went on to say that ‘Claiming vague ill-defined things exist that don't interact with the real world in a meaningful way is an example of that. It is mental masturbation, and is totally irrelevant to reality.’
Colorful imagery, but I don’t think that follows.

If you think it doesn't follow, then you should show how it's meaningful to say such exist, other than as imaginary entities (that, admittedly, affect the beliefs and behaviour of humans).

I have always argued for the scientific method, even taught it, but this exchange here, and the bad humour surrounding it has made me wonder if faith is only the preserve of the ‘woomeisters’ who ‘are one step below doggie doo.’

An odd thing to write; if your views and attempted defense of them are challenged, we're operating on faith?

Your concern about tone is duly noted.

Ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, appeals to ridicule, personal attacks… A great many logical fallacies all thrown in just to win an argument. And that is sad.

What's sad is your mischaracterisation of what has been a robust exchange.

I didn’t ever want to bring this up, but personally, I don’t believe in a soul or a god or anything else that I cannot measure.

Why your reluctance to bring it up?
Regardless of your personal belief in such, what you've been challenged on is your claim that such unevidenced and ill-defined entities are not to be dismissed, pending evidence or explanatory necessity.

I am more than comfortable accepting my reality to be circumscribed by scientific limits. But for the life of me I don’t know why that matters, why my own reality should be the right one and, not just better, the only one.

Why it matters? Are you serious?
BTW, what does it even mean to say there may be more than one (objective) reality?

To me, that intolerance is consistent with most religions.

That intolerance is towards accepting nonsensical beliefs and basing behaviour upon them; when people's beliefs are non-congruent with reality, this is problematic (do I need to explain why?).

I’ve always avoided commenting here, and, when I uncharacteristically did, was horrified at some of the prejudice and, now, clannishness that I see.

If you can get over your dismay over tone, and the fact that contentious claims tend to get dog-piled upon, you will find that you can have a genuine and substantive discussion.

I'd come here for thoughtful argument, a little room for doubt. Clearly, in the case of you and your friends, there is no room for doubt.

Really.
Have you considered that perhaps you've generalised from insufficient data?
As I see it, you've put nothing forward that challenges commenters' extant opinions, so as to engender doubt about them.

I don’t think you or some or the other vocal members here speak for all science.

Good, neither do we. Your point? :)

I believe that while I stepped forward this time, like me there are many others who usually just follow the argument most often and are not wholly subject to strident evangelism at the cost of reasoned argument.

We know there are many lurkers; the rest of that is just tone-trolling and rhetorical mischaracterisation.

As you have always endeavoured to, do prove me wrong.

About what, specifically?

By John Morales (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'd come here for thoughtful argument, a little room for doubt. Clearly, in the case of you and your friends, there is no room for doubt.

We've had many discussions on that topic here previous to your arrival. We treat all unevidenced claims as bogus until proven otherwise. Why not? No evidence, no changing of our minds...

Kinda reminds me of a quote attributed to Calvin Coolidge: "If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you." Most possible unknowns, likes deities and souls, are bogus, and will hit the ditch logically without evidence. Just be ready for the real one that has evidence. There's probably a Nobel prize there...

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

I'm always fascinated by comments like this:

I'd come here for thoughtful argument, a little room for doubt. Clearly, in the case of you and your friends, there is no room for doubt.

and this:

I believe that while I stepped forward this time, like me there are many others who usually just follow the argument most often and are not wholly subject to strident evangelism at the cost of reasoned argument.

If I say 2+2=4 (in base 10) and insist that anyone who says otherwise is wrong, does that make me strident? a dogmatist? A fundamentalist? An evangelist? Religious in my defense of two-plus-two-equals-fourism?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina:

These things we call unicorns (of any color or transparency) are imaginary, products of our brains.

No. The things you're talking about, which are products of our brains, are not unicorns. They are thoughts. Those things we call unicorns don't actually exist anywhere. Only representations of them---thoughts, pictures, etc.---actually exist. The unicorns themselves don't exist.

Saying that a thought of a unicorn is a unicorn is like saying that the portrait on this dollar bill here actually is George Washington. It's simply not George Washington. George Washington is a dead person turned to dust in a hole in the ground. The portrait is just a little picture on a piece of paper. (And it's not even a good likeness anymore.)

Sure, the portrait exists. That doesn't mean that George Washington exists in my pocket when I put a dollar bill there. What exists there is just a dollar bill, which includes a representation of George Washington.

The fact that dollar mental representations of unicorns are entirely real does not mean that unicorns exist---abusing the term that way blurs the utterly crucial distinction between actual things and representations of things.

You may say, metaphorically, that you've got a unicorn prancing in your mind, because you imagine one doing that, but you don't really have a unicorn in your mind, which is in your head. If you did, your head would explode.

By Paul W., OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener #602 wrote:

religion is a often a bit like Calvinball but, for that same reason, I don't know if they can reasonably be judged using the scientific method. They fall outside the purview of science and, because of that, I would not apply scientific rules to what claims to be supernatural.

Again, what do you mean by "supernatural?" Are you saying that you would not apply scientific rules to supernatural beliefs because people will just shift the goal posts? That doesn't necessarily mean that the supernatural is outside of science in principle.

Consider dowsing. You can easily set up a fair test for the ability to detect water with a stick. The fact that dowsers will then desperately try to come up with strained excuses when they fail doesn't mean that "you cannot apply scientific rules to dowsing." It means that the defenders of dowsing are not being intellectually honest.

If you carefully examine what the dowsers claim, they're talking about a force that directly responds to human wishes: supernatural force.

listener, what reasoned arguments? None from you. All I hear is irrational doubt. Grow a pair, and quit being afraid of your own lack of decision. You will be wrong sometime. As I keep telling the Redhead, make a decision and live with the consequences, like any adult...

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Paul W., OM #592,

You seem to be abusing the word "exist."In normal usage, to say that something you imagine (like a unicorn or God) exists is to say that it has some form of existence distinct from your conceiving of or imagining it.

I didn't think I had given up that distinction about the meaning of the word "exist". I was saying that you can look at a thought as something that exists and continue on with the observance that unicorns and gods are distinct thoughts and then realize that all that they are are thoughts, things comprised of brain activities in the space between one's ears. I was thinking that if they have an existence, that is where it is.

money exists, even though what makes something money is a matter of people regarding it as money and systematically treating it as money.Just imagining money isn't the same thing as money existing. Just imagining that something existent is money isn't either. I can't imagine money into real existence, or just imagine some existing thing into being money.

First I just have to say, nothing outside the mind can be imagined into existence (which would be a case of real magic). That is just silly even though it makes good fantasy. I thought that truth machine was making it seem like I was oblivious to that when he schooled me with, "[my brain] does not produce [real] pink unicorns", the opposite of which is ludicrous on two levels: 1) brains do not physically instantiate objects that they imagine into reality, and 2) no evidence has been given that real pink unicorns exist at all.

As for "money", it seems like a rather loose term for things that exists in many real forms because a plurality of people agree on the things it can be as well as something that people knowingly made up to satisfy economic needs. You can say it exists with good reason for without it many things about reality would not make sense.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine #597,

If the Loch Ness monster turns out to be real, does that make it no longer a brain activity?

No, it would not make it no longer a brain activity, but I was thinking it would give it a real biological thing to refer to rather than keeping it strictly imaginary.

By your lights, Tom Sawyer and the Loch Ness monster are brain activities. But that's a category mistake; Tom Sawyer is a character in a book, and the Loch Ness monster is a mythical creature.

Possibly continuing with glaring misconceptions, I am wondering if we can we really separate characters in books and mythical creatures from our thoughts? A book or movie is meaningless without them.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina, you might wish to review your ontology of categories of existence; because you seem to be hung up on the semantics of the term.

By John Morales (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Mr T #598,

If you say, "This imaginary squid exists", you're referring to a thought's existence, which doesn't depend on a thing existing external to your thoughts.

Yes, that's what I was thinking. Even though real squid exist, this imaginary one does not really exist except as a thought. And I don't see any reason why that thought could not hypothetically be detected as it is active in the brain.

A fictional referent like a cartoon or a myth is enough to produce an imaginary unicorn, but that does not entail that unicorns exist, or don't exist, or that these imaginary unicorns are fundamentally different experiences than those of imaginary squid.

OK, but cartoons and myths are made by people, intentionally or not. They don't provide a compelling enough reason to say, "That biological thing you're thinking about, it's real." I was also thinking that the imaginary squid and the imaginary unicorn (heh, since when are unicorns not imaginary?) are fundamentally different since they are not the same thoughts and would not be built out of the same memories.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Paul W., OM #607

The thought is a thing, but it's not the same thing as the thing it's a thought of.

If something doesn't exist, how can it be anything but a thought?

saying that something "exists in" our thoughts is sloppy misleading metaphorical talk, if we want to talk about actual existence. An imagined unicorn or dragon may "exist in" some imagined universe or situation, or just "exist in" my thoughts, ready to be plugged into some imaginary situation, but again, that doesn't mean it exists in the central sense of the word.

Hrm. I'm trying to understand how imaginary things cannot be thoughts but it doesn't make sense to me from a materialistic point of view.

Imaginary existence of a thing is not a kind of actual existence of that thing. It is only the existence of a thought.

I really think that's what I'm saying. These imagined things are just thoughts.

Saying that something exists in fiction or in our thoughts is not saying that it exists. It's saying that it fictitiously exists, or is imagined to exist, which is something else.

This is where I get boggled. How can it not exist as a thought? Why doesn't existence apply to thoughts?

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

John Morales, #616

aratina, you might wish to review your ontology of categories of existence; because you seem to be hung up on the semantics of the term.

Yes, but it will be more of a study than a review. I'm kind of depressed that I can't use the "between your ears" gambit anymore until I understand the topic.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina:

How can it not exist as a thought? Why doesn't existence apply to thoughts?

There's really no such thing as something "existing as a thought." That's just a metaphorical shorthand for saying that you imagine it.

Existence does apply to actual thoughts.

If I think of a unicorn, that thought exists. It's a real representation in my head. But the unicorn that it represents does not actually exist.

Saying that a unicorn "exists in my imagination" is just a sloppy metaphorical shorthand for saying that a unicorn is represented by a representation of a certain sort in my head. Literally speaking, it's just false.

The fact that a representation of some thing exists does not mean that that thing exists. It only means that the representation exists, and that's a whole different thing.

When talking about whether God exists, it's bizarre to interpret "exists" to mean "is represented in my head" because it should be obvious to everyone that it's represented in your head in the usual sense---you're thinking and talking about it.

It's clear that anybody who's concerned with the question of whether God exists is not talking about that, so you want to avoid the sloppy metaphorical shorthand of referring to something being represented in your head as existing in your head. It is actually represented by something else that does really exist, but that is not a form of existing itself.

By Paul W., OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

If something doesn't exist, how can it be anything but a thought?

Things that don't exist aren't even thoughts. They are nothing. The thought is something, but the object is nothing. You need to separate the thought from the object it concerns. Just as the portrait and the subject are distinct, so are the thought and the object.

Hrm. I'm trying to understand how imaginary things cannot be thoughts but it doesn't make sense to me from a materialistic point of view.

Because things and thoughts are different categories. Are non-imaginary things thoughts? Is your foot a thought? And if you don't know if something is real or imaginary then how do you know if it's an object or a thought? It's a category error. This idea about thoughts of imaginary things seems similar to memories of real things. I have a memory of a friend, but that friend is not a memory they are a person (either dead or alive). The memory and the person are separate things. It's the same with thoughts and things.

This is where I get boggled. How can it not exist as a thought? Why doesn't existence apply to thoughts?

Thoughts do exist. I'm not sure what that means. Thoughts are activities of the mind, and I've never heard of a unicorn being described as an activity of the mind. What about imaginary things that have not yet been imagined. How would you categorize them? I'd categorize them as things. Specifically as things that don't exist.

Now all this isn't to say that I don't sort of see where you're coming from. In English we use a lot of shorthand in this area. We say that something is "just a dream" or "only a memory." But when we say those things what we really mean is that the thing does not exist anymore or never did, and has left behind only memories.

Very badly broken.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

By "I'm not sure what that means" I meant I'm not sure what your question of existence applying to thoughts means. Sorry about the ambiguity there. Heavy editing sometimes introduces errors of its own.

Thanks Paul W. That, #620, actually made a lot of sense to me.

Saying that a unicorn "exists in my imagination" is just a sloppy metaphorical shorthand for saying that a unicorn is represented by a representation of a certain sort in my head. Literally speaking, it's just false.The fact that a representation of some thing exists does not mean that that thing exists. It only means that the representation exists, and that's a whole different thing.

OK. That is what I meant because I can rephrase my thoughts to say that the representation of a unicorn in our imaginations is as real as unicorns will ever be (that is, to the extent that the representations in our imaginations are real) without evidence of the existence of unicorns.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Very badly broken.

Mu.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

aratina:

the representation of a unicorn in our imaginations is as real as unicorns will ever be (that is, to the extent that the representations in our imaginations are real) without evidence of the existence of unicorns.

OK, except that "as real as unicorns will ever be" is not real at all; having representations that are real is an entirely different attribute than being real. (Which is the point of saying that something is imaginary.)

(You do seem reveal that you get this when you say "without evidence of the existence of unicorns"---you get that being imagined isn't actually a form of existing.)

By Paul W., OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

tm, I'm broken too, by your standard.

So what?

aratina is endeavouring to clarify his concepts, willingly engaging others, and seems honest enough in his endeavours.

To expect more than that seems perverse, and indeed arrogant. If anything, I laud him for it.

By John Morales (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

I can't use the "between your ears" gambit anymore until I understand the topic.

Atheist don't believe that God exists, so they certainly don't believe that God exists between people's ears. "God only exists in your head" employs a kind of joke about semantic categories that is immediately grasped by non-broken people who can actually distinguish between the categories and so aren't confused by the joke. What the phrase actually means is "God doesn't exist, only your thoughts about God exist".

Back to how this got started: listener referred to "imaginary things" -- by which s/he meant the members of empty sets the descriptions of which have been imagined, such as pink unicorns -- the set of pink unicorns is empty. S/he said that these "things" cannot be sensed or measured -- this follows, since there are no such things; the sets are empty. You then said that listener was wrong because of work by Intel. But that work is to distinguish between a person having one sort of thoughts, say thoughts about pink unicorns, and a person having different sorts of thoughts, say thoughts about souls. This is not a distinction between different imaginary things, pink unicorns and souls, its a distinction between very real things -- people with differing brain patterns. Those people don't have pink unicorns or souls between their ears -- not really.

One need not be educated in philosophy to grasp this.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

the representation of a unicorn in our imaginations is as real as unicorns will ever be

Representations of unicorns aren't unicorns, so they don't impart any degree of reality to unicorns.

that is, to the extent that the representations in our imaginations are real

They are plenty real -- we're materialists, remember?

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

That is what I meant because I can rephrase my thoughts to say that the representation of a unicorn in our imaginations is as real as unicorns will ever be (that is, to the extent that the representations in our imaginations are real) without evidence of the existence of unicorns.

First, what you wrote here does not at all mean the same thing as what Paul W. wrote, so what he wrote can't be what you meant. Beyond that, even what you wrote here is not what you meant, because you wrote many things that are not equivalent to that. In particular, you wrote that listener is wrong to say that imaginary things cannot be sensed or measured, which says something quite different, although it hinges on the same persistent conflation between things and their representations in our imagination that you engage in yet again above.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

To expect more than that seems perverse

Indeed, which is why I wrote "That you don't get that this is a category mistake makes me feel for you, but I won't try any harder to get it across to you", but you know me, I'm like a dog with a ragdoll, I just can't let it go.

and indeed arrogant

Who? Me? No, how can you possibly say that?

If anything, I laud him for it

So what?

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

I hope it's not too late to mention that we don't have to see someone masturbating to learn about it: late-term fetuses imaged by ultrasound have been caught masturbating and seen apparently having orgasms. It's truly something you're born with.

By sciencenotes (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

late-term fetuses imaged by ultrasound have been caught masturbating and seen apparently having orgasms

A single instance of a female fetus, as far as I know.

It's truly something you're born with

You're born with masturbating?

Again:

"People discover masturbation."

and

"You are wired in such a way that you get pleasure from sex, which makes you want it."

That's enough to explain observations of four year old boys or even a single instance of a female fetus masturbating.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S. I brought up masturbation as a counter to a claim that we have a basic animal instinct to spread our DNA around. Obviously, being born with an urge to masturbate wouldn't further that claim.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

tm @631, touché.

By John Morales (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

FFS

By Antiochus Epiphanes (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

KOPD #623 and Paul W. #626, thanks for the further explanations. Tip of the hat to John Morales #627.

truth machine #629,

Representations of unicorns aren't unicorns, so they don't impart any degree of reality to unicorns.

Ah, but listener was talking about souls and other imaginary things, this being a thread about the afterlife, and some people do think that their thoughts about souls and other imaginary things impart a degree of reality to souls and other imaginary things. This is where I was going with the attempt to equate pink unicorns with the thoughts themselves. They say "pink unicorns" but they mean "thoughts of pink unicorns". What they are really going on about are their own thoughts.

from #628,

What the phrase actually means is "God doesn't exist, only your thoughts about God exist".

I have known that ever since I used the phrase, and it is what I was trying to get across for listener's benefit (*sheepish grin*): the thoughts exist, the object does not.

again from #628,

You then said that listener was wrong because of work by Intel. But that work is to distinguish between a person having one sort of thoughts, say thoughts about pink unicorns, and a person having different sorts of thoughts, say thoughts about souls.

But remember, I was coming at it from the "between your ears" line which says that only the thoughts exist, not the imaginary thing itself. So if listener would have said, "You cannot detect souls.", I would have been replacing that with, "You cannot detect thoughts about souls.", which I thought (wrongly, taking your word that I misread the press release from Intel) may not be true much longer.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

I have known that ever since I used the phrase, and it is what I was trying to get across for listener's benefit (*sheepish grin*): the thoughts exist, the object does not.

It is you who said that listener was wrong to say that imaginary things can't be sensed or measured -- wrong because Intel is sensing them; but Intel is not sensing souls, it is sensing patterns. Listener was right, you were wrong, and the confusion between objects and thoughts about them is all yours.

So if listener would have said, "You cannot detect souls.", I would have been replacing that with, "You cannot detect thoughts about souls."

Doing that is foolish because listener was talking about souls, not thoughts about souls.

wrongly, taking your word that I misread the press release from Intel

No, actually you were right about it and I was wrong, having read it very sloppily -- the subjects thought about the things represented by words, they didn't just think of the words.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Ah, but listener was talking about souls and other imaginary things, this being a thread about the afterlife, and some people do think that their thoughts about souls and other imaginary things impart a degree of reality to souls and other imaginary things. This is where I was going with the attempt to equate pink unicorns with the thoughts themselves. They say "pink unicorns" but they mean "thoughts of pink unicorns". What they are really going on about are their own thoughts.

Wait, so you think listener is some sort of unscientific faithhead or woomeister and you were setting hrm straight? What irony.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

seems honest enough in his endeavours

After #637, I really don't think so.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd. (#606), you said:

If it effects the world, science can measure it. If it doesn't effect the world, it is a meaningless idea/hypothesis.

I think negentropyeater (#551) pointed out some things that may exist, are reasonable within their scientific context, and affect the world in some fashion and yet are not measurable, such as dark energy and superstrings, the Higgs boson, maybe the graviton…

I'm still waiting for the reproducible cold fusion experiment where the excess heat is matched by the number of neutrons given off and is confirmed by many teams world-wide...until then, cold fusion is junk science.

I spoke to a few people on both sides of the argument soon after it this became a scandal, and I got the impression that those who worked closely with the accused – people of some scientific solidity – genuinely believed the experiments were legitimate. That is often the risk of belief. You always can go a bit beyond data and come up with what may be a wrong conclusion.
Which is why I have trouble with your assertion (#609):

We treat all unevidenced claims as bogus until proven otherwise. Why not? No evidence, no changing of our minds.

Sometimes the evidence is tainted; and sometimes evidence is not available – even in science.
As for (#613), I will naturally give it a pass.
Wowbagger (#610), you said,

Religious in my defense of two-plus-two-equals-fourism?

The moment you say that, I’d say you have stepped beyond scientific purview and cannot be taken seriously within that context. Once you say have an untestable hypothesis, even if it is true, would deem it legitimate as an argument but be3yond science.
Sastra (#612), you asked twice what I meant by ‘supernatural?’ I didn’t address it he first time, but was using the commonly used definition of that which is purportedly beyond any plausible scientific explanation now or in the future.
Given that members of faith groups are far more variable in their views than scientists because of the subjective nature of religion, I do worry about shifting goalposts. Again, my argument is narrow about the supernatural: if someone claims it is not science, that there is no discernible effect on nature, then they cannot use the rules of science to prove their point. Dowsing does, and so it is exposed to empirical testing such as the frequency with which the contraption does whatever it does above/near water.
ID was a more insidious attempt to do the same thing – but once it claimed it was science it was fair game.
Yet again, I make no argument for the supernatural/soul/god//IPU (but not the poor FSM). But I do believe that if believers are working on faith, I cannot/will not judge them by scientific standards.
It reminds me of the joke about the doctor who told a creationist patient infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria that since he did not believe in evolution, he was fine. In a real hospital, the doctor would just try to find some novel way to treat the man, and not expend a great deal of energy explaining what might be wrong.
But while there are always unreasonable faith-based arguments, there are always studied views that have not gained acceptance. As Nerd pointed in one of his best posts for a variety of reasons (#595), ‘science doesn't do absolute knowledge.’ In science, I am often happy with the 95 percent confidence interval, far short of the 99.99999 he described; when it is non-science, it does not matter to me.

Wowbagger, forgive me my typos. What I meant was:
The moment you say that, I’d say you have stepped beyond scientific purview and cannot be taken seriously within that context. Once you say you have an untestable hypothesis, even if it is true, it would be legitimate as an argument, even if a weak one, but beyond science.
And Sastra (#612), I fear I morphed an article into a personal pronoun but I hope that the general idea is there.
Apologies again.
Regards...

So if listener would have said, "You cannot detect souls.", I would have been replacing that with, "You cannot detect thoughts about souls."

The more I read this the more I find it an absurd and dishonest reconstruction. It is plenty clear from #346 that aratina knew full well that listener was talking about souls as undetectable supernatural phenomena, not as thoughts about souls that might be detected by scientists at Intel:

But souls are not beyond the senses or instruments. You are playing the same game with souls that sophisticated theologians do with gods when asked to provide evidence for their god and suddenly we find that God is indescribable, immeasurable, beyond the senses. No doubt your ideal definition of a soul has now morphed to elude being torn apart by empirical evidence like watching a person's mind deteriorate and eventually disappear with the onslaught of Alzheimer's, or by the innumerable cases of debunking of paranormal and psychic claims, or by the logical difficulty in explaining how a soul plays any part in the mechanics of our bodies.

I agree with this, except that I believe aratina misidentified listener's problem. It is a more basic failure to grasp that absence of evidence really is evidence of absence -- that a hypothesis, such as "Xs exist", has implications and that a failure of those implications to manifest is reason to reject the hypothesis.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine, OM #638,

It is you who said that listener was wrong to say that imaginary things can't be sensed or measured -- wrong because Intel is sensing them; but Intel is not sensing souls, it is sensing patterns. Listener was right, you were wrong, and the confusion between objects and thoughts about them is all yours....Doing that is foolish because listener was talking about souls, not thoughts about souls.

and #639

Wait, so you think listener is some sort of unscientific faithhead or woomeister and you were setting hrm straight? What irony.

Yep. Pretty much. I accept that listener was not a woo-addled believer in those instances and that it was I who jumped to conclusions and careened off track.

#640,

P.S.seems honest enough in his endeavoursAfter #637, I really don't think so.

Meh. Your opinion of me hasn't changed at all then.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener,

But I do believe that if believers are working on faith, I cannot/will not judge them by scientific standards.

Why not?

If their faith-based beliefs lead to fact-based claims, such claims are amenable to the scientific method; if these claims are unsustainable, then withholding judgement is naught but appeasement.

Note that cannot and will not are qualitatively different; the latter implies that you could, but choose not to.
Which is it?

You earlier referred to informal fallacies, do you not understand that special pleading constitutes one such?

But while there are always unreasonable faith-based arguments, there are always studied views that have not gained acceptance.

What do you mean by this?

By John Morales (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine, OM #643,

The more I read this the more I find it an absurd and dishonest reconstruction. It is plenty clear from #346 that aratina knew full well that listener was talking about souls as undetectable supernatural phenomena, not as thoughts about souls that might be detected by scientists at Intel:...

I don't think it is a dishonest reconstruction from what I can recall after reading #515, but we are talking days between some of the comments here so my thoughts from the times when I wrote each comment have slipped my mind.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener wrote:

The moment you say that, I’d say you have stepped beyond scientific purview and cannot be taken seriously within that context. Once you say you have an untestable hypothesis, even if it is true, it would be legitimate as an argument, even if a weak one, but beyond science.

That wasn't my point. My point was to illustrate that wholesale rejection of claims, by more than one person, ≠ religious fervour, strident fundamentalism, evangelism or whatever other terms you tried to apply.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Morales (#645) As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone. But when they say there is scientific proof of what they say - as happens with people who argue for a scientific basis for ID, or Deepak Chopra, who argues for ... well, something if anything - they have to finally plan for testable, falsifiable hypotheses of some sort.
And because I cannot judge followers of faith as long as they don't say there is scientific evidence for their claims, I will not.
When I said there are always studied views that have not gained acceptance, I speak about the many ideas science has had difficulty accepting at different levels in its development. I still see papers that question the existence of dark matter, and at least one noted cosmologist told me that the claim was bunkum. Yet another believes there was a big bounce rather than a big bang, at a time that peers are comfortable with the idea of a big bang.
I cited the case of neurophysiologists showing that the accepted view that no brain cells are formed is wrong.
Of course, because my readings are largely limited to a scientific context, I come up with these examples. You can find the same arguments in macroeconomics, anthropology, paleontology, and a great many other subjects.
While I may not be able to show why faith-based views may be invalid, I am not for their rejection - or acceptance - till such time I can.

Listener, thanks for the response to my #654, and please feel free to address me as 'John' — BTW, are you going to respond to my #608 or do you concede my position therein? :)

Regarding your #648:

As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone.

Not necessarily so; it may be the case that what they base on faith or intuition is in fact scientifically testable.

(e.g. Number of Ribs.)

Can you actually name even one single faith/intuition-based claim that is both (a) not otiose and (b) not amenable to scientific examination?

And because I cannot judge followers of faith as long as they don't say there is scientific evidence for their claims, I will not.

I note that, if you cannot, you have no choice as to whether you will or you will not.
Hence, to say you "will not" is but fatuous and pompous rhetoric.

That said, I repeat: Can you actually name even one single faith/intuition-based claim that is both (a) not otiose and (b) not amenable to scientific examination?

When I said there are always studied views that have not gained acceptance, I speak about the many ideas science has had difficulty accepting at different levels in its development.

Uh-huh. However, you seem to be eliding the relevant fact — that those ideas either (a) had explanatory power not accounted for by extant theory or (b) had supporting evidence that made them testable.

I still see papers that question the existence of dark matter, and at least one noted cosmologist told me that the claim was bunkum.

Dark matter is relatively uncontroversial these days, and indeed provides both explanatory power and has evidence in its favour.

Yet another believes there was a big bounce rather than a big bang, at a time that peers are comfortable with the idea of a big bang.

Who, and on what basis?

I cited the case of neurophysiologists showing that the accepted view that no brain cells are formed is wrong.

Indeed, and that view was corrected because the proposition was well-defined and testable.

Of course, because my readings are largely limited to a scientific context, I come up with these examples.

None of which are comparable to ill-defined and untestable hypotheses such as the 'soul'.

I refer you to Nerd's post @547, which posed questions you have yet to directly address.

You can find the same arguments in macroeconomics, anthropology, paleontology, and a great many other subjects.

I very much doubt you can find ill-defined and untestable propositions in those fields, except from cranks; I also suspect that such as may exist are no less ridiculed by economists, anthropologists, paleontologists etc.

While I may not be able to show why faith-based views may be invalid, I am not for their rejection - or acceptance - till such time I can.

Well, that's a relief!

I'll pass that on to my twin brother, who is a highly-intelligent teratomic outgrowth from my anal cavity named Kuatu — most people would disbelieve me when I mention him, but you are one of the enlightened ones. He translocates to Pluto when anyone other than myself might see him, you know (he can do this because he also has powerful psychic abilities).

</sarcasm ref="Total Recall">

By John Morales (not verified) on 14 Apr 2010 #permalink

Had some problem signing in...
Thank you, John (#649).
About what I said in (#648):

As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone.

Maybe I should add a qualifier there: ‘As long as people are relying solely on faith…’ I think I addressed that farther down when I said it was
Not necessarily so; it may be the case that what they base on faith or intuition is in fact scientifically testable.

Can you actually name even one single faith/intuition-based claim that is both (a) not otiose and (b) not amenable to scientific examination?

The argument that an intangible, immeasurable soul exists and serves some ineffable purpose in the afterlife. Is it true? I doubt it. Can I test it? I don’t think so. But if the soul supposedly serves a purpose, I cannot bring myself to call it otiose.
And if that makes you feel better, I’m fatuous and pompous. Go for it.
And yes, when I speak about the many ideas science has had difficulty accepting at different levels in its development, I am indeed talking of testable theories. Because I’m not a theologian of some sort, I cannot (will not?) dabble in fields I haven’t studied at any length, even if it is because I prefer to stick to falsifiable information.

Dark matter is relatively uncontroversial these days, and indeed provides both explanatory power and has evidence in its favour.

Do check the popular science sites for these and related stories:
Does dark matter really exist
Galaxy study hints at cracks in dark matter theories”
John Moffat says dark matter does not exist”

Yet another believes there was a big bounce rather than a big bang, at a time that peers are comfortable with the idea of a big bang.

Abhay Ashtekar: From the Big Bang to a Big Bounce

None of which are comparable to ill-defined and untestable hypotheses such as the 'soul'.

True. But my argument is that given my knowledge I amn’t qualified to reject or accept data that purportedly lies outside my field of knowledge and/or experience. Because I don’t accept it does not automatically invalid, other than, perhaps, in an area where I have some knowledge. Then, too, I may have erred.

I refer you to Nerd's post @547, which posed questions you have yet to directly address.

I was unwilling to stop anyone from thinking that I ‘was not full of shit’ and that I ‘might as well masturbate than talk about it.’ Nor was I willing not to indulge in ‘philosophical games.’ While I thought the posting disjointed (to be fair, an accusation he has made of me, too), I had also decided that, at best, I would argue only for the right to speak of people who have a completely different worldview from mine. I may hold out but I try not to do the machismo thing.
About macroeconomics, anthropology, paleontology, you said you doubt if there are ill-defined and untestable propositions, except from cranks.
In economics, perhaps the trickle-down effect, the Laffer curve and the Phillips curve qualify as such concepts.
In anthropology, there have been arguments over Margaret Mead’s depiction of a sexually free Samoa, the spread of an epidemic among the Yanomami, and the early descriptions by many Western anthropologists of a variety of tribes as primitive and savage based on their experiences in their own civilizations.
Paleontology has had its own difficulty placing humans in a timeline, including the ‘hobbits’ and with the recent flap over Australopithecus sediba.
In science, it is easier to settle an issue, though in some cases it can take a few decades. But the process is generally slower than the average in the ‘soft’ sciences.

I find it curious---and in fact a sort of cognitive dissonance---when my fellow non-believers say things such as, "Not having a soul means we alone accomplished X, and we alone get to make our lives what we will."

So you don't believe in a soul; a supernatural disembodied spirit driver? OK. And yet you seem to believe in free will, which by definition requires independent agency.

And "independent agency" is synonymous with "supernatural spirit driver."

Don't embarrass yourself. Just stop at meat machine, maybe toss in the ILLUSION of free will, and call it a day.

and affect the world in some fashion and yet are not measurable, such as dark energy and superstrings, the Higgs boson, maybe the graviton…

Sorry, they are measurable by their effects on other things. We may not be able to do direct measurements, and that isn't what I said or meant. Reality is like that

Sometimes the evidence is tainted; and sometimes evidence is not available – even in science.

Yep, which is why science tries to replicate the experiments if possible. That removes the taint. Like when the Jacques Benveniste claimed he found homeopathy worked. Turned out to be experimental error, lack of true double blind for the technician, a believer in homeopathy, who fudge the results, and the expected results, no activity, were obtained with proper and rigorous testing. You have a problem with science. Why don't you express it directly, and not indirectly by constantly and irritatingly expressing nonsensical doubts.

Again, my argument is narrow about the supernatural: if someone claims it is not science, that there is no discernible effect on nature, then they cannot use the rules of science to prove their point.

No, if it has no detectable effects, it is worthless as an explanation. Address that. Why would you want it to be anything else?

As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone.

WRONG...This is a totally inane point. It excuses the woomeisters. They need to be vigorously questioned.

But I do believe that if believers are working on faith, I cannot/will not judge them by scientific standards.

Why should we give a shit about your inane opinion on this subject. We don't care what you believe. You are attempting to create a space where you don't question folks with the hard questions. That's BS.

You are hung up on this concept that we can't see everything. Describe what we can't see, and why it is important, or if you can't, STFU about it.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

skidoo,

I find it curious---and in fact a sort of cognitive dissonance---when my fellow non-believers say things such as, "Not having a soul means we alone accomplished X, and we alone get to make our lives what we will."

Well, first, you don't sound like a non-believer, but rather someone pretending to be one.

Second, what makes you think anyone here believes in your simplistic version of "free will"?

And "independent agency" is synonymous with "supernatural spirit driver."

To you, perhaps. But then, you're a believer in the supernatural, despite your transparently stupid protestation otherwise.

By John Morales (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

So you don't believe in a soul; a supernatural disembodied spirit driver?

No, no solid evidence for one. Show the physical evidence for one.

which by definition requires independent agency.

Ah, a religious sophist. No, evolution explains it quiet nicely. No need for any agencies, which is nothing but bad philosophy.

Just stop at meat machine, maybe toss in the ILLUSION of free will, and call it a day.

No illusion. Prove otherwise with physical evidence, not bad philosophy.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener,

I have followed your argument with some interest. What I don't quite understand is how you separate some things as non-rejectable and some things as pure fiction. It seems to me that by your argument all supernatural beliefs which do not impinge on the material world are equally valid (why dismiss the FSM - he may only be a rhetorical device but his existence has an equal amount of evidence as any of the supernatural beliefs - is the seriousness of belief a quality that defines what may be true?)

By Usagichan (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone.

So, if someone were to say 'according to my intuition, the earth does not move', you would not have a problem with that statement? You would consider that statement to be beyond the realm of science?

But when they say there is scientific proof of what they say - as happens with people who argue for a scientific basis for ID, or Deepak Chopra, who argues for ... well, something if anything - they have to finally plan for testable, falsifiable hypotheses of some sort.
And because I cannot judge followers of faith as long as they don't say there is scientific evidence for their claims, I will not.

So, once again, if one of the honestly faithful were to bring a charge of witchcraft against someone, based on nothing but their intuition in the matter, you'd be perfectly fine if they ignored any factual evidence in the case?
Indeed, if I am reading you correctly, so long as the only statement given by the accuser(s) consisted of 'I believe in my heart that (name) is a witch and evil!', you would wish to prevent anyone else from looking at the facts of the case, yes?

To put it melodramaticly, if a mother looks at her infant child and believes she sees the devil in him, is she justified in drowning him, based on her intuition?
And if she is not, how will you defend that position without judging her intuition with facts?

Thank you, John (#649).
About what I said in (#648):

As long as people are relying on faith - on intuition or some similar construct - they are working in a scientifically untestable zone.

Maybe I should add a qualifier there: ‘As long as people are relying solely on faith…’ I think I addressed that farther down when I said it was
Not necessarily so; it may be the case that what they base on faith or intuition is in fact scientifically testable.

Can you actually name even one single faith/intuition-based claim that is both (a) not otiose and (b) not amenable to scientific examination?

The argument that an intangible, immeasurable soul exists and serves some ineffable purpose in the afterlife. Is it true? I doubt it. Can I test it? I don’t think so. But if the soul supposedly serves a purpose, I cannot bring myself to call it otiose.
And if that makes you feel better, I’m fatuous and pompous. Go for it.
And yes, when I speak about the many ideas science has had difficulty accepting at different levels in its development, I am indeed talking of testable theories. Because I’m not a theologian of some sort, I cannot (will not?) dabble in fields I haven’t studied at any length, even if it is because I prefer to stick to falsifiable information.

Dark matter is relatively uncontroversial these days, and indeed provides both explanatory power and has evidence in its favour.

Do check the popular science sites for these and related stories:
Does dark matter really exist
Galaxy study hints at cracks in dark matter theories”
John Moffat says dark matter does not exist”

Yet another believes there was a big bounce rather than a big bang, at a time that peers are comfortable with the idea of a big bang.

Abhay Ashtekar: From the Big Bang to a Big Bounce

None of which are comparable to ill-defined and untestable hypotheses such as the 'soul'.

True. But my argument is that given my knowledge I amn’t qualified to reject or accept data that purportedly lies outside my field of knowledge and/or experience. Because I don’t accept it does not automatically invalid, other than, perhaps, in an area where I have some knowledge. Then, too, I may have erred.

I refer you to Nerd's post @547, which posed questions you have yet to directly address.

I was unwilling to stop anyone from thinking that I ‘was not full of shit’ and that I ‘might as well masturbate than talk about it.’ Nor was I willing not to indulge in ‘philosophical games.’ While I thought the posting disjointed (to be fair, an accusation he has made of me, too), I had also decided that, at best, I would argue only for the right to speak of people who have a completely different worldview from mine. I may hold out but I try not to do the machismo thing.
About macroeconomics, anthropology, paleontology, you said you doubt if there are ill-defined and untestable propositions, except from cranks.
In economics, perhaps the trickle-down effect, the Laffer curve and the Phillips curve qualify as such concepts.
In anthropology, there have been arguments over Margaret Mead’s depiction of a sexually free Samoa, the spread of an epidemic among the Yanomami, and the early descriptions by many Western anthropologists of a variety of tribes as primitive and savage based on their experiences in their own civilizations.
Paleontology has had its own difficulty placing humans in a timeline, including the ‘hobbits’ and with the recent flap over Australopithecus sediba.
In science, it is easier to settle an issue, though in some cases it can take a few decades. But the process is generally slower than the average in the ‘soft’ sciences.

I accept that listener was not a woo-addled believer in those instances and that it was I who jumped to conclusions and careened off track.

Good to hear.

Your opinion of me hasn't changed at all then.

I take it back. I now agree with JM's #627.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

And "independent agency" is synonymous with "supernatural spirit driver."
Don't embarrass yourself. Just stop at meat machine, maybe toss in the ILLUSION of free will, and call it a day.

Irony. The fact is that we are unavoidably committed to talk of agency -- see Dennett's "The Intentional Stance", "Freedom Evolves", and other works.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

But then, you're a believer in the supernatural, despite your transparently stupid protestation otherwise.

I think you're mistaken. skidoo has a valid point -- the notion of libertarian free will permeates our language and thought, even the thought of many if not most materialists -- it's nearly impossible to avoid, as skidoo demonstrated by using such language and concepts hmrself, as I highlighted above.

For some evidence of where skidoo really stands, I googled and found only this other comment:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/expelled.php#comment-795346

You don't even have to give the creationists a shovel. They dig their own graves just fine with their fingernails.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

However,

"Not having a soul means we alone accomplished X, and we alone get to make our lives what we will."

is a strawman; it is not an accurate portrayal of PZ's

We do not have immortality, but that also means we can throw away the irrelevant crutches of god-belief. We've walked successfully without them — cast them away, stand as a proud human being and meet fate without the wishful delusions of faith. That's why this thought is a sacrilege — it says that we have no need of priests or gods or persistent ghosthood, ideas that have only hobbled us.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

I really don't want to wallow any more in listener's depths of confusion, but this, which was quoted above, caught my eye:

affect the world in some fashion and yet are not measurable, such as dark energy and superstrings, the Higgs boson, maybe the graviton…

Uh, dark energy is only measurable -- we don't know anything about it, but it appears to be about 71.3% of the universe. And Higgs bosons are a prediction of a model but may not exist if the model is wrong. Until the Large Hadron Collider was built we didn't have the means to detect them -- if they exist. Likewise with superstrings -- the Large Hadron Collider will be used to run experiments that test predictions of some superstring hypotheses. And gravitons also are posited entities to explain observations; if they exist, then they both affect the world and are measurable.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

No need for any agencies, which is nothing but bad philosophy.

I would not credit the Nerd as any sort of authority on what is good or bad philosophy.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S. The irony is that skidoo said the same thing as Nerd -- that there's no need for agency. But that's based on a false dichotomy, the notion that something is either produced by material mechanism or by agency. But agency need not be viewed as an alternate cause, but rather as a different level of description. Dennett has laid this out in his theory of three "stances", the physical, design (I think that is a misnomer -- mechanical would be better), and intentional stances. These stances provide increasingly powerful frameworks for prediction. For a physical object such as a stone, we can make predictions based on its physical attributes. For a mechanism such as a liver, we can also make predictions based on its attributed function. And for an agent, such as a person, we can also make predictions based upon its goals, intentions, and other attributed mental states.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

why dismiss the FSM - he may only be a rhetorical device but his existence has an equal amount of evidence as any of the supernatural beliefs - is the seriousness of belief a quality that defines what may be true?

"exist" is a funny word. Is it logically coherent to talk of, say, undetectable-in-principle ectoplasmic horns on the foreheads of horses by virtue of which horses are actually unicorns? I contend that it is not, because there is no semantic difference between saying that such horns exist and saying that they do not exist; the "existence" of such things does not amount to anything. And the same is true of "souls" with attributes so reduced that they have no consequences. I believe that we can confidently say that things with no consequences do not exist, as a matter of the semantics of "exist".

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

test...

I was not able to post in here all through today for whatever reason.
But if in my many postings I could not make my case for tolerance for a viewpoint beyond our own, then perhaps I've failed.
Either way, I thank you all for that spirited discussion.
Regards...

listener #665 wrote:

But if in my many postings I could not make my case for tolerance for a viewpoint beyond our own, then perhaps I've failed.

'Tolerance?' Certainly. Forbearance? No. You respect a viewpoint best by engaging with it seriously, not by treating it with delicate hands and waving it off.

Regards...

then perhaps I've failed.

No perhaps about it. You failed due to an utter lack of coherent argument, and a need to give special credence to "it isn't examinable by science". To which any skeptic worth his name repeatedly says "BULLSHIT".

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine,

Thanks for that in #656. I thought #663 was a little treat to read and would like to see it developed further.

By aratina cage (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

You respect a viewpoint best by engaging with it seriously, not by treating it with delicate hands and waving it off.

I agree with Sastra.

I once saw a T-shirt that read, "Prayer Is The Ultimate Weapon". To snicker slightly and go back to my studies was not at all respectful. To dive across the desk, wrestle the wearer into a sleeper hold and phone for a SWAT team would have been taking the wearer seriously.

To wear a shirt like that is just goofy, and is setting up the premise for a failure.

To argue that there are seriously powerful things going on that we just can't detect is also goofy, and often goes against the very premises of the claim.

Take being afraid of ghosts. Ghosts most probably don't exist. If they do exist, they are formless wraiths of immaterial souls of people. Yet some folks act as as if they are powerful, malevolent beings who can and will rip your head off and shit in it.

We have no reason to suspect that ghosts are real, and many reasons to sneer at those who believe in them. To actually engage with such people is a moment of taking them seriously, and is actually what many of them wish.

Snickering at something, and saying it is beyond the bounds of science, are both easy to do, and are done the same way--by ignoring it.

Try it. Say, "Well, that is beyond the bounds of science." Say it with awed respect, say it with sarcastic eye-rolling. Now say, "That is interesting, let us examine it further."

By Menyambal (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd (#667), I feel a little sorry for you.

then perhaps I've failed.

No perhaps about it. You failed due to an utter lack of coherent argument, and a need to give special credence to "it isn't examinable by science". To which any skeptic worth his name repeatedly says "BULLSHIT".

Until this conversation, I thought being a skeptic was about doubt.
You clearly see it as an alternative ill-humored religiosity, one that involves invective and shouting down anything that doesn't match your own brand of zealotry and which allows for no heretic. As I said before, that's sad.
I didn't ever claim a need to give special credence to any view, just limiting science to what the scientific method claims to do.
But it's quite clear that is against your novel canon of science.
Well, if that is what science is, you win. Congratulations.
But I will respond as I can, as long as I don't have the difficulty I had earlier today in getting my messages posted.
Regards...

listener wrote:

Until this conversation, I thought being a skeptic was about doubt. You clearly see it as an alternative ill-humored religiosity, one that involves invective and shouting down anything that doesn't match your own brand of zealotry and which allows for no heretic.

What part of Nerd's position isn't based on doubt? He quite clearly doubts your claims; you could present something support them, but you haven't bothered to even try and demonstrate why he shouldn't doubt you - you've just repeatedly asserted that he's wrong to do so.

The 'heretic' wouldn't get shouted down if he or she came bearing something substantial - i.e. evidence and/or compelling argument - to support his or her claims.

Simply making assertions based entirely on what appears to be ignorance and personal incredulity is wasting everyone's time.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener,

Whilst Nerd is quite capable of defending his own position, as an observer of the exchange I would say that your description of his position

as an alternative ill-humored religiosity, one that involves invective and shouting down anything that doesn't match your own brand of zealotry and which allows for no heretic

is a mischaracterisation in which you confuse tone with substance. It seems to me that what you are perceiving in terms of invective against you is more an expression of frustration because you are asking for acceptance of something without being sufficiently specific as to what you want to accept.

It is fine to limit the discussion of science to the realm of science, as long as you are able to provide valid criteria for subjects that are 'outside' the realm of science, and are prepared to defend those criteria from valid criticism. Vague assertions of 'tolerance' strike me as both intellectually dishonest (awareness that the position they support is untenable, but acknowledge them as valid to avoid conflict)and patronising (thousands of years and no valid arguments, but we'll give the poor dears a chance to come up with something).

It is my observation that given something with which to engage, the regulars here are glad to undertake substantive arguments. Nebulous pronouncements on tone and inclusiveness are given the short shrift they so richly deserve. I'm afraid to say that without a little more substance, your comments seem to fall in the latter category!

By Usagichan (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

Wowbanger (#671), you mean he doubts that methodological naturalism should triumph over a philosophical one? Perhaps.
And actually, I've repeatedly stated that the scientific method is limited to testable data. Or do you doubt that?
As far as shouting down heretics go, both evidence and compelling argument are only what the faithful accept as true.
And I certainly agree with your assertion here:

Simply making assertions based entirely on what appears to be ignorance and personal incredulity is wasting everyone's time.

Any side can make that argument, assuming their own viewpoint is the naturally correct one.

Usagichan (#672): Yes, I do think the tone is generally loutish, but the substantial difference between the two viewpoints here is that I believe the scientific method is limited to methodological naturalism, while the opposing view is for philosophical naturalism.
The comments are strewn with examples, even from people whose view may philosophically differ from mine.

The problem, listener, is that you haven't presented anything that we can consider, analyse (logically), weigh up (figuratively), contemplate, dwell upon, chew over - or whatever particular expression you'd might prefer to use - through the lens of either methodological naturalism or philosophical naturalism.

All you've done is assert 'souls exist' and then defend that by claiming 'methodological naturalism might be wrong.'

Even if methodological naturalism is wrong, it doesn't change the fact that you haven't given any support - of any kind, appropriate to or valid in any kind of worldview - to your assertion.

You still need more than that to justify your claim.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

wowbagger (#675):

Even if methodological naturalism is wrong... you haven't given any support - of any kind, appropriate to or valid in any kind of worldview - to your assertion

actually I think I argued for it, not against it. As far as the rest goes, I don't know what more evidence I can give. You may find some of my posts still up there...

Listener,

I understood the position you were taking - however my point is that you do not seem to be taking a view opposing Philosophical Naturalism, which would involve some form of argument and justification, you were simply acknowledging the possibility of valid opposing views.

If you oppose Philosophical Naturalism what alternative do you propose? What are the limits of reasonable alternatives? What reasons are there for assuming there is anything beyond what can be observed or inferred?

Reading your posts again I don't think that you are actually "opposing" Philosophical Naturalism, which would require taking an intellectual position, but you seem to be implying that it is simply one of a number of valid alternatives - my problem is that I can't see what makes the alternatives valid.

If I have misunderstood your position, I would be happy to see any clarification.

By Usagichan (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener wrote:

As far as the rest goes, I don't know what more evidence I can give. You may find some of my posts still up there...

Posts, yes. Coherence, no. Try again - it's simple: just provide what you think justifies your belief that souls exist, according to whatever worldview you subscribe to. A simple list would probably suffice.

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

usagichan (#677), I am not opposing philosophical naturalism, I'm arguing that science is limited to studying the observable (which would be methodological naturalism). And because it relies on observable data or hypotheses that has strong theoretical or empirical underpinnings, it cannot talk about constructs that fall outside these limitations.
How can science test the untestable, whether it be invisible pink unicorns, ghosts, gods or souls. This is not to argue that anything that people conjure up is valid. Indeed, the moment they claim that their construct have a direct or otherwise measurable effect on natural phenomena, it can be tested - to be accepted or debunked. They are safe only as long as their construct
is sequestered from the world of natural laws. But, given that faith-based groups have such diverse - and perhaps inchoate - views it is impossible to lop off every new head that that metaphysical hydra generates.
The scientific method has no use of the untestable - and so neither accepts or rejects it.
It is the restrictions that science puts upon itself - that of being limited to data or scientifically plausible theories - that give it solidity. But this also means that science cannot take on arguments that fall outside this zone.
So the argument that an intangible, immeasurable soul exists and serves some ineffable purpose in the afterlife cannot be tested. Is it true? I doubt it. Can I empirically find out either way? I don’t think so.

listener wrote:

But this also means that science cannot take on arguments that fall outside this zone.

First the person making the argument has to demonstrate that there is a 'zone' that things can fall outside of.

Why do you assume there is one?

By WowbaggerOM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

But if in my many postings I could not make my case for tolerance for a viewpoint beyond our own, then perhaps I've failed.

This is a ridiculous strawman and a dive into deep ad hominem waters; you might as well complain about your failure to make the case for not beating our spouses. The substantive question is not whether we "tolerate" a "viewpoint", but whether what we say about it is sound. This sort of drivel about failing to make a case that we should change our nasty behavior looks like avoidance of the real and valid criticisms of the things you have written.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener,

A follow up question then - Moral decisions have a measurable effect on the physical world - should these be informed by Scientific Methodology or are they outside its zone?

By Usagichan (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

How can science test the untestable, whether it be invisible pink unicorns, ghosts, gods or souls.

You call yourself "listener", but you are nothing of the sort; you have your ears plugged. I for one have explained several times that the failure to find any evidence of something strongly suggests that it doesn't exist. And I noted in #663 that, if something is defined or described in such a way that it has no consequences, then by the semantics of "exist", it doesn't exist.

The scientific method has no use of the untestable - and so neither accepts or rejects it.

Wrong; Ockham's Razor is part of the scientific method; that which is explanatorily unnecessary is rejected by the scientific method. Science can't prove that the untestable doesn't exist -- that's for logic and semantics to do.

So the argument that an intangible, immeasurable soul exists and serves some ineffable purpose in the afterlife cannot be tested. Is it true? I doubt it.

Why do you doubt it? If there were no scientific or logical reason to doubt it, then your doubt would be groundless, it would be irrational. But it isn't, just because you are too thick to understand your own reasons.

Can I empirically find out either way? I don’t think so.

Empirical tests are not the only element of the scientific method; it is also based on logic and Bayesian reasoning (which Ockham's Razor is a part of). People often make the mistake of thinking that an two alternatives are equally likely (this is the source of the error in the Monte Hall problem and similar puzzles), but they usually aren't. The likelihood that there are undetectable souls is much much less than the likelihood that there aren't. That is the case with any such arbitrary construction. Consider the likelihood, for instance, that exactly 5 minutes from now you will transform into a cabbage. Science can't test this -- it is completely outside of the normal workings of physical law. But there are innumerably more possible worlds in which that doesn't happen than possible worlds in which it does.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

All you've done is assert 'souls exist'

Wrong.

just provide what you think justifies your belief that souls exist

listener has expressed no such belief.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

I believe the scientific method is limited to methodological naturalism, while the opposing view is for philosophical naturalism.

I don't think anyone here is against methodological naturalism. However, I don't think it can stand on its own as a complete philosophical viewpoint.

So the argument that an intangible, immeasurable soul exists and serves some ineffable purpose in the afterlife cannot be tested. Is it true? I doubt it. Can I empirically find out either way? I don’t think so.

For example: If you relied solely on methodological naturalism, what reason do you have to doubt that the supernatural exists? Clearly you haven't tested it. Neither have we. It can't be tested. We know that. So do you have a point?

Unless you do for whatever reason think something supernatural exists, or is somehow a meaningful concept, or you're holding off until someone verifies it through "other ways of knowing", you basically have to make the assumptions as a philosophical naturalist. Do you not realize this or not want to admit it?

How can science test the untestable, whether it be invisible pink unicorns, ghosts, gods or souls. This is not to argue that anything that people conjure up is valid. Indeed, the moment they claim that their construct have a direct or otherwise measurable effect on natural phenomena, it can be tested - to be accepted or debunked. They are safe only as long as their construct
is sequestered from the world of natural laws.

But people do make those very claims. Ghosts go bump in the night, they communicate at seances, etc.; if they had no consequences for the world of natural laws, they wouldn't be ghosts -- they wouldn't be anything. And souls and gods were invented as the causes for phenomena that we now understand the actual causes of. The soul is the "ghost in the machine", that which does the mental as opposed to physical activity. But we now know that there is no such division. To remove that attribute from souls makes them no longer souls; it makes them nothing. aratina cage's #346, while it wasn't fair to you, is a valid complaint -- people try to protect their fantasies with that sort of retreat or "sequester"ing, but it's dishonest, because they still retain their belief that souls and gods have real properties that affect the world, even if they deny it when it is pointed out how they conflict with our scientific knowledge.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

It can't be tested. We know that.

I don't. I think that the concept of "supernatural" is incoherent -- that as a matter of semantics everything that exists is "natural" so if, for example, ghosts exist, they are natural phenomena. But putting that aside, most people consider ghosts to be supernatural and so a haunted house is supernatural or the result of the supernatural. But one can test, and people have tested, houses to see if they are haunted. They do this by determining whether there are any "unexplainable" occurrences -- unexplainable by science. We are generally able to demonstrate that supposedly haunted houses are not haunted, that everything attributed to ghosts/spirits/demons can be explained by normal physics.

But then there are people like listener who will say that maybe the house is haunted anyway and we just didn't detect it, or it maybe the ghosts are devious and only haunt the house when scientists aren't checking, or maybe haunting doesn't have any consequences at all and so it's unmeasurable. However, these objections perverse and no rational person need consider (or "tolerate") them -- if we did take such objections seriously, we could never conclude anything.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

I believe the scientific method is limited to methodological naturalism, while the opposing view is for philosophical naturalism.

If philosophical naturalism is a correct view, then a limitation of science to methodological naturalism isn't a limitation at all, because there is nothing that isn't natural. And who are you to say that it isn't a correct view?

I actually think that science incorporates philosophical naturalism, not just methodological naturalism. The laws of physics, such as the law conservation of matter and energy and the second law of thermodynamics, are assertions that there are no "supernatural forces"; miracles do not occur. If miracles can occur, then we are left with no more than that these laws hold except when they don't.

In addition, the success of science is strong evidence that philosophical naturalism is true. From http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/naturalism/

In utilizing methodological naturalism, science and history do not assume a priori that, as a matter of fact, supernatural causes don't really exist. There is no conceptual conflict between practicing science or history and believing in the supernatural. However, as several of our authors argue below (e.g., Augustine, Fales, Forrest, and Oppy), methodological naturalism would not be as stunningly successful as it has in fact been if metaphysical naturalism were false. Thus the de facto success of methodological naturalism provides strong empirical evidence that metaphysical naturalism is probably true.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine, I agree with everything in #687.

It makes little difference whether something can't be tested because the concept behind it is incoherent, or because it supposedly doesn't interact with the natural world at all, or somehow isn't detectable. There are of course many different ways of retreating into dishonesty and delusion, but they are all a waste of time and not worth taking seriously.

They are safe only as long as their construct
is sequestered from the world of natural laws....
The scientific method has no use of the untestable - and so neither accepts or rejects it.

I have already noted that people's actual concepts are not "sequestered from the world of natural laws", and that, from Bayesian considerations, arbitrary proposals like the existence of invisible pink unicorns or listener turning into a cabbage 5 minutes from now are extremely unlikely to to be true. But there's another point here, which is that, if people's constructs are "sequestered from the world of natural laws", then they have absolutely no reason to believe in them. The scientific method does not just consist of testing, it is based on reasoning -- hypothesis and theory formation depends heavily on logic and on argumentation, the giving of and evaluation of reasons. Thus the scientific method and rational people should rightly reject any assertion that is not so based.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

Usagichan (#682), good point there - and one a little outside my experience.
I guess, sometimes morality is often just a matter of convention (things like whether people wear clothes or not, marry or not). In such cases, science has always been used although scientists are rarely the final arbiters.
Even if that morality addresses high-intensity issues, such as crime, more progressive legal system has tended to rely on scientific advice - which, for example, is why insanity is a plea.
But again, usagichan, given all the people who study ethics, game theory and suchlike, it would be up to them, not me, to address the matter.

usagichan (#677), had lost this in the clutter...
I am not arguing for the validity of those alternatives, just allowing for them.
In the real world as I know it and understanding the limits of my knowledge, I would personally have no reason to argue for them. But given that we haven't got access to all knowledge, it is salutary to allow for something/anything we might not understand.
This is not an argument for the supernatural, only for other possible viewpoints, however implausible they are within our context.

Listener, you seem to have grasped that any claim about a supernatural entity- god, ghost or soul- affecting the observable world in any way whatsoever is testable. Science can be brought to bear on it. Therefore the only untestable or science-immune claims about supernatural entities are those that make no observable difference in the world. These claims are therefore unevidenced. Hence there's no reason to believe them true. This is not some kind of nasty narrow-mindedness, it's simply consistency.

Furthermore, if the claims made by some religious tradition- say, that a global flood wiped out all but a very small population of life on Earth within the last few thousand years- were in fact true, then scientific investigation on the subject would confirm that they were true. Science is a threat to continued belief in myths not because science is intrinsically exclusive of myth claims but because those claims always turn out to be empirically wrong. If prayer actually could heal the sick and move mountains, we would see that happening.

So what are you complaining about?

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Just a quick followup- your lines about "allowing for things we don't know about" implies that most scientists assume that we currently know is all there is to know. This is in the not-even-wrong category: WE ARE THE ONES DOING RESEARCH, you wibbling fool, we are actively seeking for things we don't know yet. If any of that unknown stuff turns out to correspond to any form of fiction, myth, or woo, we'll find that out when we get there. There is no need to keep a special category for things which somebody has preached.

By Stephen Wells (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

I thought being a skeptic was about doubt.

No, wrong again. It is about questioning everything. Including the "off-limits" topics. Utter politeness is for wimps. And who gives a shit about your inane, vague and wrong opinions?

I've repeatedly stated that the scientific method is limited to testable data. Or do you doubt that?

Why should your opinion of overdue respect triumph over a proven method used successfully by CSI to debunk vague supernatural claims. You want to change minds. Real hard evidence will do that, not vagueness and doubt.

just allowing for them.

Show some real evidence. Otherwise, you have nothing to separate reality from delusions. Tell us how to differentiate such claims. With hard concrete evidence.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener, you keep reiterating your contention (that any claim, if it's either not falsifiable or provides explanatory power over extant scientific theory, should be neither criticised or dismissed) whilst ignoring all our rebuttals.

Gah.

We get your position (inane as it is), but you don't seem to get that your argumentum ad nauseam will achieve nothing except boring everyone.

Why do you so assiduously avoid substantively responding to Nerd's post @547, if not because you fear to critically examine your inane position?

You are being an intellectual coward — are you proud of that?

By John Morales (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Bah, I screwed up during editing and didn't preview my previous comment. I am embarrassed.

"if it's either not falsifiable or provides explanatory power over extant scientific theory"

should read

"if it's either not falsifiable or provides no explanatory power over extant scientific theory".

(Inclusive-or, of course!)

By John Morales (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener #691

I have been trying to understand what it is about your position I find so uncomfortable. The thing about these other beliefs which you allow as valid is that the act of belief has an impact on the behaviour of the believer, and that affects the real world. While the substance of belief may be beyond the boundary you set for yourself, the action motivated by belief is not. However, by placing the substance of belief beyond your purview, you lose the authority to question the physical actions provoked by the holding of belief.

Others have put the arguments for Natural Philosophy far better than I could have. I just wanted to add there are moral implications for your position as well as pure theoretical ones.

By Usagichan (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Wells (#693):

...the only untestable or science-immune claims about supernatural entities are those that make no observable difference in the world. These claims are therefore unevidenced. Hence there's no reason to believe them true.

No argument here.

Wells, (#694):

..."allowing for things we don't know about" implies that most scientists assume that we currently know is all there is to know. This is in the not-even-wrong category: you so WE ARE THE ONES DOING RESEARCH, you wibbling fool, we are actively seeking for things we don't know yet.

While arrogant and condescending, I think you still make a larger point, one I have never argued against: science does not know all and is about the search.
I am not seeking a 'special' category for all things preached; to me, special suggests something on the lines of special needs... While all the evidence I have seen and am likely to does militate against the possibility of anything supernatural, I think I have problems with categorical assertions that something does not exist.
Nerd (#695):

I thought being a skeptic was about doubt.

No, wrong again. It is about questioning everything. Including the "off-limits" topics.

Other than your own.

Utter politeness is for wimps.

I see that intolerance in most of your posts all over the site.

And who gives a shit about your inane, vague and wrong opinions?

Of course, it is clear that you deem them beneath rebuttal.

Morales (#696):

...any claim, if it's either not falsifiable or provides explanatory power over extant scientific theory, should be neither criticised or dismissed

Or accepted. That's also important to me. In the scientific universe, it remains in intellectual limbo until it can be decided upon using strong theoretical or empirical means.
And about your question to why I don't answer a ill-tempered and childishly worded post, I'd say that while I do choose what to respond to, in this case, I actually did. But it is true that I don't always feel the need to.

usagichan (#698):

The thing about these other beliefs which you allow as valid is that the act of belief has an impact on the behaviour of the believer, and that affects the real world ... there are moral implications for your position as well as pure theoretical ones.

You are absolutely right there. And, while my argument is for philosophical maturity, it does not address the behaviour of believers. The faith-based often are certain that their truth is the only one, to the exclusion of all others. I have seen the horrific impact of religiosity run amok myself.
I also worry that these arguments can be picked upon by people who believe only what they want to as a sign of some huge rift. It is not. My argument lay only in the details...

My error about the link in (#699), John. It was http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/04/sunday_sacrilege_that_other_…. And, though you believe otherwise, I have addressed all the issues he has raised in the rather exhaustive exchanges here.
Still, knowing that philosophical 'games' are beneath him - though crude invective isn't - I would rather address questions that allow for them.

it is salutary to allow for something/anything we might not understand

Allowing for them is not the same as saying that they equally likely to be the case as not -- that is why your entire argument, from beginning to end, is addressed at a strawman. No one here is "absolutely certain" of anything, but one is entitled to reject the very very very unlikely -- else we could not conclude anything. But you will fail to address this, as you have failed to address all my posts.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Hence there's no reason to believe them true."
No argument here.

But you have argued against that -- or rather, you have argued against believing them to be untrue. But having no reason to believe something to be true is a reason to believe it to be untrue.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

while my argument is for philosophical maturity

This truly is ad hominem. That people disagree with you is not because they are philosophically immature (well, I grant that of Nerd, but not generally).

This is not an argument for the supernatural, only for other possible viewpoints, however implausible they are within our context.

What does this even mean? If you have an argument for some other viewpoint, what is that argument? But that isn't really what you mean, is it? Nor is it that those viewpoints exist -- of course they do. No, it seems that it's argument against a stance concerning those viewpoints -- that we shouldn't "reject" them. But without an argument for those viewpoints, you haven't a leg to stand on -- we should reject viewpoints that are unsupportable; that's fundamental to rationality. From Edward T. Damer's A Code of Conduct for Effective Rational Discussion:

The Resolution Principle

An issue should be considered resolved if the proponent for one of the alternative positions successfully defends that position by presenting an argument that uses relevant and acceptable premises that together provide sufficient grounds to support the conclusion and provides an effective rebuttal to all serious challenges to the argument or position at issue. Unless one can demonstrate that these conditions have not been met, one should accept the conclusion of the successful argument and consider the issue, for all practical purposes, to be settled. In the absence of a successful argument for any of the alternative positions, one is obligated to accept the position that is supported by the best of the good arguments presented.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener, why don't you live up to your moniker and actually listen to us instead of trying the preach the gospel of accommadation. Nobody is agreeing with you, because you are wrong from the start of your pitiful and cowardly mewlings. And if you don't like our attitudes, your ability to cease posting here is definitely one you need to use. You've shown no hard evidence to change my mind. My mind is not set in steel, but no vague philosophical argument will change it. Show some real evidence.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

I also worry that these arguments can be picked upon by people who believe only what they want to as a sign of some huge rift.

You inflate your own importance.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

While all the evidence I have seen and am likely to does militate against the possibility of anything supernatural

This flatly contradicts much of what you have written previously. This is the same position as that of PZ and most others here.

I think I have problems with categorical assertions that something does not exist.

And this is the same stupid strawman that you have repeated over and over and that has been rebutted over and over. "I believe (for a variety of good reasons) that there is no god" is not a "categorical" assertion that god does not exist.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

While all the evidence I have seen and am likely to

How do you calculate the likelihood that you will see some evidence that you haven't seen?

does militate against the possibility of anything supernatural

How can evidence militate against that, if the supernatural is sequestered from the laws of the natural world? You have claimed over and over that science can't touch the supernatural because science deals in evidence, and yet now you say that evidence militates against the supernatural!

Not only are you philosophically immature, but you are philosophically inconsistent -- in fact, you are downright intellectually dishonest. Here's something a propos:

What I have been calling nefarious rhetoric recurs in a rudimentary form also in impromptu discussions Someone harbors a prejudice or an article of faith or a vested interest, and marshals ever more desperate and threadbare arguments in defence of his position rather than be swayed by reason or face the facts. Even more often, perhaps, the deterrent is just stubborn pride:
reluctance to acknowledge error. Unscientific man is beset by a deplorable desire to have been right. The scientist is distinguished by a desire to BE right.
-- Willard V. O. Quine

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Of course, it is clear that you deem them beneath rebuttal.

What about my arguments, which you have steadfastly ignored?

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

I've repeatedly stated that the scientific method is limited to testable data. Or do you doubt that?

That isn't even coherent, it's a category mistake -- "data" is the sort of thing that is testable, hypotheses are. And hypotheses are tested by applying logic and Bayesian analysis to observation. If, for instance, one hypothesizes that X exists, but no logic or observation supports the existence of X, then the hypothesis should be rejected. And science has rejected the existence of many things for which there is no evidence. Bring forth adequate evidence or logic and science will reverse its conclusion, since all scientific conclusions are tentative, not "categorical".

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Correction:

"data" isn't the sort of thing that is testable, hypotheses are.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

I just read this:
'We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.'
That about sums up up my view about the soul and other untestable phenomena: it's improbable, impossible to disprove, and perhaps even unnecessary. And yet, there is some (little) room provided for the possibility.

And yet, there is some (little) room provided for the possibility.

They all don't exist without evidence. Period, end of story. Welcome to parsimony and science. We've heard you. Ad nauseum. We know what you think, and don't agree. You are not changing our minds without showing evidence. We are open to seeing the evidence. But not giving any possibility without some evidence.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

That about sums up up my view about the soul and other untestable phenomena: it's improbable, impossible to disprove, and perhaps even unnecessary. And yet, there is some (little) room provided for the possibility.

No, that's the view of PZ and most others here -- it is a view which you repeatly denied above, insisting that there is nothing one can say one way or the other. Here's a clue for you: probability estimates are within the purview of science.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

P.S.

No, that's the view of PZ and most others here

Which, of course, should be obvious, because they share the view of Richard Dawkins, the author of the well known statement that listener (sic) quoted.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener,

Two questions come to mind from your various responses. Your position suggests that you do not extend the principle of parsimony beyond Methodological Naturalism - why not simply say that one must consider all of these concepts (including that of the soul) as false unless evidence appears to the contrary. The problem with the fine philosophical distinction you draw is that the believer will not distinguish between 'valid and equally likely' and 'valid but incredibly unlikely' but will attach themselves to the 'valid' to justify their position.

The second question is do you believe that there is some 'other' way of knowing, giving insights into these remote possibilities?

It seems to me that if the behaviour of most sincere believers were dispassionately examined without the system of 'respect' that has been imposed by those affected, much of it would rightly be considered mental illness. However it is the victims of the condition that insist that it is not an illness - no doubt the bulk of untreated mentally ill people believe the same. Yet it is conceivable that the schizophrenic has heard the voice of 'God'. Is it not our responsibility to understand the condition and not engage in philosophical hair splitting to their detriment?

By Usagichan (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

Usagichan (#716), it is true that within the scientific method, we rely on parsimony as a reliable rule of thumb. But we don’t make it dogma, because it is sometimes not easy to decide which is the simpler option.
While I try to avoid jargon and avoid tossing in peripheral examples, Dieter Gernert makes an interesting point about parsimony in one paper (http://vixra.org/pdf/0907.0020v1.pdf). And there are doubts about raised about using parsimony as the best tool to judge between theories. Here are some examples from mathematics ((http://www.springerlink.com/content/r34x3661q71x4023/fulltext.pdf?page=1), biology (http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/13/1/1) and chemistry (http://www.hyle.org/journal/issues/3/hoffman.htm). There are more examples out there in the literature. (Because of the risk of promoting polemicists of different hues, I’ve tried to stick with peer-reviewed material or scientifically secular material that is available free of cost but, hopefully is still accessible to the educated lay audience).
So even within methodological naturalism, there is more than parsimony to deal with. But to reject it altogether is something like saying that because a kitchen knife cannot cut through everything, it should be discarded.
Within science, yes, we certainly can ‘consider all of these concepts (including that of the soul) as false unless evidence appears to the contrary.’ But the scientific method limits itself to the testable, and because I accept that – at a personal level – I do, too.
And, yes, believers of every hue often have this difficulty distinguishing ‘between 'valid and equally likely' and 'valid but incredibly unlikely.’’ Within an empirical context, I wouldn’t even consider it valid. But I am just allowing for other viewpoints that, however unlikely they may seem, may just be outside my ken.
While there may some other way of gaining insights into the supernatural, I don’t know of any. It may be the fact that I’m limited by my reliance on theory, followed by observation and measurement but I can’t go on a limb I don’t even know exists.
While space is allowed for other viewpoints, the information we have of events leading up to religious revelations bear some similarities with data from people who may have chemical or neural anomalies of a temporary or permanent nature. Consider stroke patients, schizophrenics and Michael Persinger’s temporal lobe stimulation subjects. And strokes have often been associated with height, particularly mountain climbing (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=brain-cells-into-thin-…). Quite a few religious leaders have found their revelations when they went up there. Because the Buddha lived in the mountains, and so may have been immune to hypoxia, he may have got his revelation as a result of starvation – I don’t know.
Religion and the Brain (http://www.newsweek.com/id/79341), an article in Newsweek, and This Is Your Brain on God (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.11/persinger_pr.html), in Wired magazine, covers some of this ground. So, yes, it certainly makes sense to understand that religious fervour could be an epiphenomenon of mental illness. But I don’t know if behavior associated with an abnormal also means that the behavior itself is abnormal – though it might be. And did strokes just help them distill their various inchoate ideas into a clear whole? Again, I don’t know.
The room I give other viewpoints is more about an acceptance that my knowledge is limited to the empircally knowable; it is not a bow to political correctness. Politeness is one thing, intellectual dishonesty in a rigorous setting is quite another.
Truth machine, throughout my argument was limited to a narrow point: that we cannot accept or reject untestable data, leaving them in intellectual limbo until such time we can.
You brought up some interesting arguments but perhaps, in your desire for lively exchange, may have missed the forest for the trees. I refer to the larger argument I was making, summed up in the quote that you correctly attributed to Dawkins:
If we allow that we cannot disprove God and so consider him as improbable as a great many imaginary creatures, I don’t see what the fundamental difference is between our viewpoints. Indeed, for all I know, there may be none.

Usagichan (#716), it is true that within the scientific method, we rely on parsimony as a reliable rule of thumb. But we don’t make it dogma, because it is sometimes not easy to decide which is the simpler option.
While I try to avoid jargon and avoid tossing in peripheral examples, Dieter Gernert makes an interesting point about parsimony in one paper (http://vixra.org/pdf/0907.0020v1.pdf). And there are doubts about raised about using parsimony as the best tool to judge between theories. Here are some examples from mathematics ((http://www.springerlink.com/content/r34x3661q71x4023/fulltext.pdf?page=1), biology (http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/13/1/1) and chemistry (http://www.hyle.org/journal/issues/3/hoffman.htm). There are more examples out there in the literature. (Because of the risk of promoting polemicists of different hues, I’ve tried to stick with peer-reviewed material or scientifically secular material that is available free of cost but, hopefully is still accessible to the educated lay audience).
So even within methodological naturalism, there is more than parsimony to deal with. But to reject it altogether is something like saying that because a kitchen knife cannot cut through everything, it should be discarded.
Within science, yes, we certainly can ‘consider all of these concepts (including that of the soul) as false unless evidence appears to the contrary.’ But the scientific method limits itself to the testable, and because I accept that – at a personal level – I do, too.
And, yes, believers of every hue often have this difficulty distinguishing ‘between 'valid and equally likely' and 'valid but incredibly unlikely.’’ Within an empirical context, I wouldn’t even consider it valid. But I am just allowing for other viewpoints that, however unlikely they may seem, may just be outside my ken.
While there may some other way of gaining insights into the supernatural, I don’t know of any. It may be the fact that I’m limited by my reliance on theory, followed by observation and measurement but I can’t go on a limb I don’t even know exists.
(More)

(Continuing)
Usagichan (#716), while space is allowed for other viewpoints, the information we have of events leading up to religious revelations bear some similarities with data from people who may have chemical or neural anomalies of a temporary or permanent nature. Consider stroke patients, schizophrenics and Michael Persinger’s temporal lobe stimulation subjects. And strokes have often been associated with height, particularly mountain climbing (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=brain-cells-into-thin-…). Quite a few religious leaders have found their revelations when they went up there.
Religion and the Brain (http://www.newsweek.com/id/79341), an article in Newsweek, and This Is Your Brain on God (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.11/persinger_pr.html), in Wired magazine, covers some ground.
Because the Buddha grew up in the mountains, he may have been immune to hypoxia there. While he didn't see God, his own epiphany could be a result of starvation - hallucination is among the symptoms but because I have not studied the effect of a lack of food on religious behavior, I leave the matter by pointing out that fasting is endemic in religious practices around the world.
So, yes, it certainly makes sense to accept that that religious fervor could be an epiphenomenon of mental illness. But I don’t know if behavior associated with an abnormal situation also means that the behavior itself is abnormal (association, causation and all that) – though it might be. And could strokes have helped them distill their various inchoate ideas into a clear whole? Again, I don’t know.
The room I give to other viewpoints is only an admission that my knowledge will always be limited to the empirically knowable; the 'respect' is not a bow to political correctness. Politeness is one thing, intellectual dishonesty in a rigorous setting is quite another.

Truth machine, because of other matters I have at hand, I’ve been limiting myself to responding to posts that address my main thesis or go beyond it, though in a few cases, I’ve admittedly spent more time than I possibly should have on addressing the minutae.
Throughout, my argument was limited to one narrow argument: that we cannot accept or reject untestable data, leaving them in intellectual limbo until such time that we can.
You brought up some interesting arguments but perhaps, in your desire for lively exchange, may have missed the forest for the trees. I refer to the larger argument I was making, summed up in the quote that you correctly attributed to Dawkins.
So if we allow that we cannot disprove God (or a soul, a celestial teapot, or an invisible pink unicorn) and so limit ourselves to considering him/it improbable, I don’t see any fundamental difference between our viewpoints. Indeed, for all I know, there may be none.
Regards…

Dieter Gernert makes an interesting point about parsimony in one paper (http://vixra.org/pdf/0907.0020v1.pdf). And there are doubts about raised about using parsimony as the best tool to judge between theories.

One of the objections made here is that in addition to simplicity you also have to take into account how well the data fits the model. No one here has ever advocated only considering the simplicity of the model. Of course you have to take both the fitness and the simplicity into account.

Another objection is there doesn't exist an objective measure of "simplcity". That's simply not true. There exists the Kolmogorov complexity. Now, that are theoretical or practical issues with using KC, but a measure of "simplicity" does exist.

Here are some examples from mathematics ((http://www.springerlink.com/content/r34x3661q71x4023/fulltext.pdf?page=1)

The paper doesn't repudiate the principle of parsimony. All it is doing(based on the introduction) is adding something else to it:

Thus what is needed is a counterpart to the Law of Parsimony - so to speak, a Law against Miserliness - stipulating that entities must not be reduced to the point of inadequacy and, more generally, that it is vain to try to do with fewer what requires more. This law, too, has what might be loosely called ontological as well as semantic applications. It condemns gaps in ontology just as Occam's law repudiates redundancies; and it may be construed as a maxim denouncing equivocations just as Occam's law opposes synonyms.

By Feynmaniac, Ch… (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener, you don't get it, do you? Your attempt at being open-minded leads to not being able to discard any belief, even incoherent or counter-factual ones.

There is an infinite number of possible beliefs that are, even in principle, unfalsifiable; your decision is to consider them all as merely improbable without regard for plausibility or relevance.
You leave yourself nowhere to draw a line.

Note: That there may exist definitions of something labelled 'god' that are not falsifiable is different to saying that all extant (or possible) definitions a 'god' are not falsifiable (they're not; for example, when such a definition is self-contradictory, the such cannot exist, a priori¹).

--

¹ Well, by logic as we know it.

According to your stated belief, if someone were to claim that self-contradictory things do exist (because the principle of non-contradiction is false²), you would respect that opinion too, and so grant the possibility of any god-construct existing.

² Consider that the Christian god, which you leave room for, is a Trinity. For it to exist, the principle of non-contradiction must be false.

By John Morales (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

And there are doubts about raised about using parsimony as the best tool to judge between theories.

That is badly phrased, due to hidden assumptions; clearly, the best tool to judge between theories is their explanatory and predictive power.

Hence, what is meant is "the best tool to judge between otherwise equally explanatory and predictive theories".

Let us apply a reductio ad incommodum: Take a theory T and append a clause that does not detract from its explanatory and predictive power, yielding T' (which, clearly, is less parsimonious than T).
Repeat, yielding T", which is less parsimonious than T'.
Etc.

So, listener: Is there a better tool to distinguish between that set of theories than parsimony?

By John Morales (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

Feynmaniac (#721), among the last things I want to ever do is reject the principle of parsimony. I hope I’m not being willfully misunderstood, but I was only pointing out that there are multiple tools used, and that parsimony, while a useful tool in science, is not the only one, and not infallible, if only because defining simplicity is difficult when there is a paucity of data. Newton's theories are simpler than Einstein's but the latter explains more than the former. You could argue for god being a first cause in the origin of life (What's the problem? The Big Chap plonked down those animals down there, you know) but Stanley and Miller came up with a more complex explanation that, over several iterations, provides a more plausible explanation.
Again, as I said, parsimony is a very useful tool in science, but it is not the only one.

John (#722):

listener, you don't get it, do you? Your attempt at being open-minded leads to not being able to discard any belief, even incoherent or counter-factual ones.

I certainly can reject those that, within a scientific framework, are theoretically tenable and/or empirically testable.
‘That there may exist definitions of something labelled 'god' that are not falsifiable is different to saying that all extant (or possible) definitions of a 'god' are not falsifiable’
I certainly was not saying that. I can only say that of any definition of a god/soul that, as I repeat, is theoretically tenable and testable in a scientific context.
As far as self-contradictory things go, given that the supernatural, by definition, claims to lie outside the natural law, these concepts have rest in intellectual limbo (in scientific terms) unless they allow themselves to be gauged.
If they cannot be tested in some fashion and yet can live on in splendid self-contraction in some ethereal realm, they are free to it. That, John, is where I draw the line. To be accepted – as against not being rejected – and be taken as a serious alternative in a scientific context they need to be willing to go beneath the empirical scalpel.
I expect believers have a problem accepting light as a particle and a wave at the same time because they lack or reject the theoretical and experimental tools needed to wrestle the concept. I have a similar problem accepting god and the Trinity, limited as I am to a scientific worldview.
I am not defending any religious position, but, as long as central dogmas do not limit itself to scientific limits – and with their miracles and others claims to the supernatural, most can’t – they fall outside the purview of science.
The moment they say that the power of God represents these many extra molecules of ATP in the Kreb’s cycle for so and so reason, and we can test it to show that there is no other explanation using modern science, then oh yes, we may even have evidence for the God Superparticle.
Note also that truth can hide among those many incoherent views. Both Occam and Copernicus were religious and believed they were doing god’s work.

John (#723), as far as Theory T goes, the quote that Feynmaniac drew from Menger does cover it: ‘entities must not be reduced to the point of inadequacy and, more generally, that it is vain to try to do with fewer what requires more.’ So Theory T is quite adequate without the addition of the element that makes it T’.
Parsimony is a very good tool but, as you pointed out, it is particularly helpful deciding between otherwise equal scientific theories. I would be very hesitant to use it to compare natural apples with supernatural oranges.
Again, I am not rejecting parsimony as a scientific tool, or arguing that it made any argument for religion (I would leave that to the religious leaders who have). It was part of a point I was making when discussing some details with usagichan (#716).

listener:

listener, you don't get it, do you? Your attempt at being open-minded leads to not being able to discard any belief, even incoherent or counter-factual ones.

I certainly can reject those that, within a scientific framework, are theoretically tenable and/or empirically testable.

If I put it to you that I believe that we're not in the ultimate reality, but are a simulation in the Matrix, and that the ultimate reality allows for the existence of self-contradictory entities (who both are and are not, simultaneously), is that even theoretically testable?

If not, by your contention you must withhold judgement on the truth-value of such a belief.

If so, how would you propose a testing, even in principle, its veridity?

To be accepted – as against not being rejected

I put it to you that Kuatu (cf. #649) really, truly, physically exists (and is laughing at you right now).

Do you accept that proposition as true?

NB: Any answer but "yes" indicates you do not accept it.

IOW: Can you elucidate the sense in which, if a proposition is put to you which you do not accept, you are not in fact rejecting it, even if only pro tempore?

By John Morales (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener:

Parsimony is a very good tool but, as you pointed out, it is particularly helpful deciding between otherwise equal scientific theories. I would be very hesitant to use it to compare natural apples with supernatural oranges.

The history of science is one in which, over time, each and every one of its theories has supplanted extant supernatural "explanations", due to their pragmatic utility no less than to their superior predictive and explanatory power.

Not one scientific theory, once extant, has been supplanted by a supernatural one, but only by a more developed scientific one.

The remaining gaps are damn small now, and shrinking ever more.

Care to name but a single supernatural theory that exceeds (or even equals) in explanatory power and/or predictiveness its natural counterpart, but remains to be falsified?

In short, what "supernatural oranges" are there that merit comparison with "natural apples"?

By John Morales (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

They're really, really tiny supernatural oranges, smaller even than the wavelength of orange light itself. That is, they would be that small if they existed in nature and could be observed.

But alas, the mere possibility of their presence can only be surmised by intrepid theologians who need not concern themselves with the arcane trivialities of science.

One day, if anyone bothers to waste their time studying such things, the revolutionary new supernatural fruit sciences may come to.... fruition. Thus I must not reject them out of hand now, for it is not my area of expertise. The theologians' powers of semantic conjuring are indeed strong, and as a finite being I am unable to dismiss an infinite amount of untestable bullshit.

No, John (#728), like god, we cannot disprove the Matrix, though there is no evidence I know for one or the other.
If Kuatu ‘physically exists,’ I would usually assume you mean his presence can be gauged in scientific terms. In that case, yes. But since you say your proctologically derived twin cannot be measured in scientific terms (unless we can calculate tiny percentage shifts in the mass of Pluto), in our limited context it will be a no: we will have to consign him, too, to intellectual limbo until such time as we can empirically assess his existence.
Kuatu is free to laugh at me (unlike you who are too polite to); I have no ego invested in earning his respect and so am happy to learn of his good humor.
To grow up beyond sarcasm, if I tell you I am drinking water now, can you accept or reject it unless you have some statistical evidence of my honesty, of your designated observer, of any instrument you set up to observe me, or your own judgment? Even though drinking water is a very reasonable thing to accept as being true, I don’t know how you can accept or reject my assertion that I am indeed doing that without some independent stream of data.

Listener, are you glad you don't have a soul?

By strange gods b… (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

John (728):

The history of science is one in which, over time, each and every one of its theories has supplanted extant supernatural "explanations", due to their pragmatic utility no less than to their superior predictive and explanatory power.

Not one scientific theory, once extant, has been supplanted by a supernatural one, but only by a more developed scientific one.

The remaining gaps are damn small now, and shrinking ever more.

True, true, and true.

Care to name but a single supernatural theory that exceeds (or even equals) in explanatory power and/or predictiveness its natural counterpart, but remains to be falsified?

No. I don't see them, and in a scientific context, don't allow for them. If anyone claims it cannot be measured empirically, it is beyond me to accept or reject.

In short, what "supernatural oranges" are there that merit comparison with "natural apples"?

Ah, that is a different thing altogether.
Actually I was agreeing with you that parsimony is particularly helpful when deciding between otherwise equal scientific theories. The supernatural is not scientific. And so I said I found it difficult to compare natural apples with supernatural oranges.

Strange gods before me (#731), I have some difficulty being glad about the existence of something I (personally) don't have any empirical reason to believe exists. : )

Listener

Thanks for the detailed responses - the links are interesting (the Gernert paper raised some good points) - I have not had time to go through them all but I'm sure I will.

I think you misread Strange gods comment - though why you should be glad you don't have something I'm not sure (unless it means you are glad to be free of the psychological baggage that goes with such a metaphysical construct?).

I'm afraid I was also unclear in my second point. Rather than the association of religion with mental illness (it just seemed the obvious example) I was trying to suggest that the way in which you present your position is apt to be misused by those desperate to believe (to avoid the mental illness example, think of a child terrified of ghosts - I wouldn't say to that child ghosts could potentially exist but the balance of probability is that they don't - the child would hear only the possibility and not comprehend the probability).

In fact if I understand your position correctly you could just as honestly say that you do not believe in souls (or [insert metaphysical phenomenon here]), pending some form of proof to the contrary. Disbelief then becomes the focus of the position, and the explanatory addition prevents dogmatism. I think presenting the argument in this way you would have fewer dissenters amongst the regulars here.

By Usagichan (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener,

like god, we cannot disprove the Matrix

So what; by now, it should've been clear to you that it's perfectly reasonable (via Occam's Razor) to reject the theory that we're in the Matrix, since it explains nothing, predicts nothing and makes no objective difference us whether it's true or false.

BTW, you've already as much as said you reject Trinitarian conceptions of god because of their self-contradictory nature.

I put it to you that Kuatu (cf. #649) really, truly, physically exists (and is laughing at you right now).
Do you accept that proposition as true?

If Kuatu ‘physically exists,’ I would usually assume you mean his presence can be gauged in scientific terms. In that case, yes. But since you say your proctologically derived twin cannot be measured in scientific terms (unless we can calculate tiny percentage shifts in the mass of Pluto), in our limited context it will be a no: we will have to consign him, too, to intellectual limbo until such time as we can empirically assess his existence.

Nope, Kuatu is indeed detectably in any normal sense — you could see him, touch him, hear him, smell him (oh gawd, the stench!) if he chose to allow you to do so. It's just that he's very shy that way, and his immense psychic abilities allow him to know when he's going to be observed, and so far he's not chosen to allow himself to be thus observed.

Remember, I asked you "Do you accept that proposition as true?", to which you have answered both in the affirmative and in the negative, pending further information.

Since your 'yes' [my emphasis in your quoted response above] was predicated on his being physical and detectable, and I have just informed you that he is, presumably now you believe in him.

To grow up beyond sarcasm, if I tell you I am drinking water now, can you accept or reject it unless you have some statistical evidence of my honesty, of your designated observer, of any instrument you set up to observe me, or your own judgment?

I can reject it, on the basis that it's beyond plausibility that you were drinking water whilst simultaneously typing on a keyboard, and that you were very likely only trying to make a point (even if poorly, because water-drinking is an unremarkable and well-known phenomenon).

See, I'm perfectly capable of making choices and forming provisional beliefs, even when I lack complete information, and I'm not so weaselly as to avoid doing so.

By John Morales (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

Usagichan (#735), thanks for making an effort not to misunderstand me.
About the soul thing, that it is hard to be glad about something I have no (personal) reason to believe in. I mean, if it was never there and had no reason to be, there's no reason I should be happy or sad about it. That was all. Again, a personal opinion.

In fact if I understand your position correctly you could just as honestly say that you do not believe in souls (or [insert metaphysical phenomenon here]), pending some form of proof to the contrary. Disbelief then becomes the focus of the position, and the explanatory addition prevents dogmatism.

I thought I did say that but if it wasn't clear in all my posts, thank you for putting it down in way it can be.
Strange gods (#734), like Crick, I've always had problems believing in a god in any religion.
John (#736), I did say Occam's razor does not always apply. I could be wrong but I thought that, being bound with the principle of simplicity, Occam's razor does not only apply if it 'explains nothing, predicts nothing and makes no objective difference us whether it's true or false'; as you said, it is useful to some degree when dealing with two otherwise equal scientific ideas.

listener, you are articulate, and I certainly make you out to be an accomodationist; perhaps you might consider making a response at Salty Current's, where there is a post asking Questions for accomodationists.

SC is a social scientist who is interested in genuine responses.

By John Morales (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener,

I could be wrong but I thought that, being bound with the principle of simplicity, Occam's razor does not only apply if it 'explains nothing, predicts nothing and makes no objective difference us whether it's true or false'

It's unclear to me whether the subject of your above quote is the Razor or that to which I'm applying it; surely, though, you should be able to see that it's quite applicable to otiose beliefs (those being unnecessary entities).

By John Morales (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

John (#738), as usagaichan (#735) put it much more articulately and in far fewer words: 'You could ... say that you do not believe in souls ... pending some form of proof to the contrary. Disbelief then becomes the focus of the position, and the explanatory addition prevents dogmatism.'
As I see it, accomodationists are about living and letting live, avoiding confrontation and encouraging pragmatism.
I could be wrong but I think I fall well outside that definition. If I find a test to eject the supernatural from the mix, I will. But I cannot test scientific ideas in a supernatural (or some other nonscientific) context - because I don't see sufficient consistency in the supernatural and don't know what other (unborn?) context applies.
Trouble is, because the supernatural claims to be beyond any empirical test, it is safe from scrutiny.
So, given what I think is the definition of an accomodationist, I really don't believe I am one.

listener:

As I see it, accomodationists are about living and letting live, avoiding confrontation and encouraging pragmatism.
[...]
So, given what I think is the definition of an accomodationist, I really don't believe I am one.

This doesn't square with what you wrote in your initial post @54: "In taking on the unscientific, we risk getting polarized, taking up a stronger position that is perhaps necessary."

You seriously don't think the avoidance of taking on the unscientific is a clear example of "living and letting live, avoiding confrontation and encouraging pragmatism" with respect to the theists and woomeisters?

By John Morales (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener #724

but Stanley and Miller came up with a more complex explanation

That's Urey and Miller. Stanley was Miller's first name.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 17 Apr 2010 #permalink

Yawn, still boring, still pointless, still an accommodationist, and still not listening. Still not understanding that making people start from ground zero, that is total disbelief, requires them to produce the appropriate level of conclusive evidence to convince other people. Doubt strongly, but listen to and look at the evidence. That is the only appropriate position of a skeptic who wishes to get to the truth, be it deities, souls, the Matrix, or ghosts. Guess what. It works.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 18 Apr 2010 #permalink

I hope I’m not being willfully misunderstood, but I was only pointing out that there are multiple tools used, and that parsimony, while a useful tool in science, is not the only one, and not infallible, if only because defining simplicity is difficult when there is a paucity of data.

If you're pointing this out then you're the one who's misunderstanding. No one here has said that parsimony is the only tool or that it follows that the simplest explanation that fits the facts is always right.
In short, how probable a hypothesis is determined by:

simplicity + 'how well it fits the data'

Using your example, Newtonian mechanics is simpler but fits the data less than relativity. Overall, relativity wins. Conversely, it's also possible to have an overfitted hypothesis.

By Feynmaniac, Ch… (not verified) on 18 Apr 2010 #permalink

Tis Himself (#742):

That's Urey and Miller. Stanley was Miller's first name.

That was a silly error. Thanks for pointing it out.
Regards...

Feynmaniac (#744):

No one here has said that parsimony is the only tool or that it follows that the simplest explanation that fits the facts is always right.

Point taken, Feynmaniac. I thought some of that was implied but if not, we're in complete agreement.
And the point about overfitting is a very good one.
Thank you.

Trouble is, because the supernatural claims to be beyond any empirical test, it is safe from scrutiny.

I have to agree, with TM, that the supernatural being beyond any empirical test makes it utterly incoherent as a concept.

It's only useful as a label for the sorts of cognitive mistakes that people make about things they think do exist, or might exist -- like "illusion" is useful for empirically real things that trick the human sensory systems.

If the supernatural actually worked, it would simply be part of the natural.

And really, on what basis are the claims being made, if they are indeed beyond any empirical test?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

Truth machine, throughout my argument was limited to a narrow point: that we cannot accept or reject untestable data, leaving them in intellectual limbo until such time we can.
You brought up some interesting arguments but perhaps, in your desire for lively exchange, may have missed the forest for the trees. I refer to the larger argument I was making, summed up in the quote that you correctly attributed to Dawkins:
If we allow that we cannot disprove God and so consider him as improbable as a great many imaginary creatures, I don’t see what the fundamental difference is between our viewpoints. Indeed, for all I know, there may be none.

What a pathetic bullshitter.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

You brought up some interesting arguments but perhaps, in your desire for lively exchange, may have missed the forest for the trees.

Or perhaps you're a stupid and dishonest asshole, because my "interesting arguments" addressed the very things you are referring to -- your "narrow point" and your "larger argument" -- and pointed out the numerous logical errors and inconsistencies that you commit.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

Your attempt at being open-minded leads to not being able to discard any belief, even incoherent or counter-factual ones.

A point that I made in one of my "interesting arguments" which listener dismissed as "missing the forest for the trees" and didn't respond to because of limits resulting from "other matters I have at hand".

listener is a disgusting sack of intellectually dishonest shit that I regret wasting my mental energy on.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

It's only useful as a label for the sorts of cognitive mistakes that people make about things they think do exist, or might exist

I think that hits the nail on the head.

And really, on what basis are the claims being made, if they are indeed beyond any empirical test?

Another point that I made in one of my "interesting arguments" that the sack of shit is too busy to respond to because -- as he/she/it reaches deep into the ad hominem depths -- I miss the forest for the trees.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

Point taken, Feynmaniac. I thought some of that was implied but if not, we're in complete agreement.

No, moron, you aren't. Ockham's Razor does not have to be infallible for it to justify the scientific rejection of a claim. This is the same idiotic strawman that, as I have noted, you have pursued throughout. "You can't proooooove there aren't any souls, god, etc." Right, cretin, we can't, and we don't claim to be able to.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

But we don’t make it dogma, because it is sometimes not easy to decide which is the simpler option.

When one option is X while the other option is X + completely undetectable Y, it's plenty easy to decide, you fucking idiot.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

I predict that, whereas "listener" has completely ignored the content of my many substantive rebuttals and refutations, sh/she/it will take notice of my more recent posts, but only to comment on their "tone".

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine :)

I could be wrong but I thought that, being bound with the principle of simplicity, Occam's razor does not only apply if it 'explains nothing, predicts nothing and makes no objective difference us whether it's true or false'; as you said, it is useful to some degree when dealing with two otherwise equal scientific ideas.

Not merely wrong, but dumb as dirt. Something that 'explains nothing, predicts nothing and makes no objective difference us whether it's true or false' is the sort of thing that OR most readily cuts away.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine :)

All of my substantive criticisms of your arguments and claims remain unanswered, you intellectually dishonest sack of shit.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

You could argue for god being a first cause in the origin of life (What's the problem? The Big Chap plonked down those animals down there, you know)

The problem, moron, is that "The Big Chap" and how it "plonked" anything remain unexplained.

but Stanley and Miller came up with a more complex explanation that, over several iterations, provides a more plausible explanation

No, idiot, it is not a more complex explanation because "goddidit" isn't an explanation at all.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

It's only useful as a label for the sorts of cognitive mistakes that people make about things they think do exist, or might exist
I think that hits the nail on the head.

It results from thinking about a (actually, more than one) long comment by Paul W. about the supernatural, summarizing Pascal Boyer ... starting about here, describing different ways that people have of thinking about reality, and different sorts of conceptualizations of the supernatural (not just dualism, but triplism, etc).

======

I took a look at this page from #719 (http://www.hyle.org/journal/issues/3/hoffman.htm), "Ockham's Razor and Chemistry", and pretty much facepalmed while reading the abstract:

We first present a context for questioning, within chemistry, the fundamental assumption that underlies Ockham's Razor, namely that the world is simple.

It astonishes me that actual scientists don't understand this (or as I see reading more, deliberately misconstrue it), but the principle of parsimony makes no assumptions about the world or about the nature of the word.

It's part of the heuristic that is the scientific method, because that is about epistemology, about incrementing what we know, about what we have as ideas -- or rather, as justified belief -- in our heads about the world.

The authors of the paper pretty much acknowledge this in the next sentences of the abstract:

Then we argue that in more than one pragmatic way the Razor proves useful, without at all assuming a simple world. Ockham's Razor is an instruction in an operating manual, not a world view.

Hmpf. OK, so it looks like the paper is actually arguing against a naïve interpretation of parsimony, in the attempt to clarify what parsimony is.

Still, the abstract could have been written better to reflect this. There's a certain deceitfulness about they way they explicitly claim without qualification that Ockham's Razor involves an assumption about the world -- before arguing against that.

I think it's a very poorly written and confusing paper, in that regard.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

Owlmirror (#762), that is certainly a valid point. They may perhaps have been arguing for a more rigorous definition - seeking that it be used as a a principle, not some sort of law. Even if it were poorly written, it is good that we all appear to agree on the fundamental point raised.
Thank you for pointing out that neat post from Paul W. I particularly enjoyed the next one, in which he addresses how explaining religious issues in a naturalistic context could undermine religion. Thanks.

the fundamental assumption that underlies Ockham's Razor, namely that the world is simple

What a stunningly stupid strawman; no wonder listener cited it.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

It results from thinking about a (actually, more than one) long comment by Paul W. about the supernatural, summarizing Pascal Boyer ... starting about here, describing different ways that people have of thinking about reality, and different sorts of conceptualizations of the supernatural (not just dualism, but triplism, etc).

Oh yeah, that thread, where Sastra and Paul W employed tortured sophism to argue that "supernatural" entails "mind-like", despite plenty of counterexamples like astrology, vitalism, and bad luck from walking under ladders. Of course one can claim that only a mindful universe could keep track of who walked under ladders and mete out luck accordingly, but the same claim could be made about the 2nd law of thermodynamics or the conservation of matter and energy, and it's not necessary to invoke a mindful universe to explain bad luck and surely most people don't think it through that far.

But Paul did present some good stuff there, and if it primed your thoughts then all the better. :-)

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

I particularly enjoyed the next one, in which he addresses how explaining religious issues in a naturalistic context could undermine religion.

LOL! Here's what he says of your position:

A lot of people think that religion itself is impossible to explain scientifically, both because religion is about things that science can't say are false, and because religion itself is the kind of mysterious thing that science can't deal with.
Even a lot of atheists and especially "agnostics" believe that NOMA-esque nonsense.
It's bullshit ....

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Oh, and

(Dear Dog am I sick of smug accommodationist agnostics and even atheists who think that science is agnostic toward religion, such that the "New Atheists" are out of line for pushing their "personal, philosophical" views "as though they were scientific." I've spent way too much time over at the Intersection lately, dealing with the epidemic of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome among the accommodationists. Wow.)

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

They may perhaps have been arguing for a more rigorous definition - seeking that it be used as a a principle, not some sort of law.

But that is in fact exactly what it is used as. It isn't a "law".

They were indeed creating a strawman -- a deliberately misconstrued interpretation of the principle -- and then "attacking" that.

They even confess to this -- in the paper itself, they say:

"In our guise as critics of Ockham's Razor, we are, perhaps, guilty of pulling off a philosophical sleight of hand."

Except that the word "perhaps" should be struck from the sentence.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 20 Apr 2010 #permalink

Right. So are you saying that because the writers used 'philosophical sleight of hand' it suggests that the simplest explanation is the best? I don't think so. I don't want to deliberately misunderstand you though the favor isn't always returned.
The authors argue against the 'dangers to the chemical imagination from a rigid adherence to an Ockham's Razor perspective' and cite examples, including a personal one, finally referring to a paper that asserts that we could just be indulging in dogma ourselves:
'Ockham's razor is perhaps the most widely accepted example of an extraevidential consideration. Many scientists accept and apply the principle in their work, even though it is an entirely metaphysical assumption. There is scant empirical evidence that the world is actually simple or that simple accounts are more likely than complex ones to be true. Our commitment to simplicity is largely an inheritance of 17th-century theology.'
Now I put to you that this example being itself is a straw man.
My point throughout has been confined to the need to allow science to have limits and laws within which to work. If everything were allowed, it wouldn't be science. By their nature, these laws provide the best fit we know for reality as we know it. I allow for incomplete knowledge and ignorance even though I don't claim or personally believe that something outside this reality exists. As long as that alternative reality does not militate against facts that can be empirically assessed its adherents are free to hold them.
But if I become an accommodationist because I don't sneer at highly unlikely events, well, that's fine by me. I don't think I'm arguing for the validity of the alternative view when placing it in intellectual limbo, any more than a judge are asserting the innocence of an accused man when granting him bail. While that example is in a legal - and therefore different - context, it should give a flavor of the skepticism I personally view faith-based interpretations with - even if that skepticism is unwarranted.

Typo/sense alert: 'This being itself is a straw man...'
I meant the use of that example from chemistry...

Listener, I, a scientist and skeptic, will make the decision on what science can or can't investigate, not you. I refuse to listen to folks who claim that this or that can't be scientifically investigated. Because it usually can. And they are usually pulling some type of con job, be it alternative medicine, religion, or paranormal. By giving them control of that decision, you give them control of the argument. Which is why real skeptics can never allow that to happen. Otherwise, they are already conned.

What scam are you running? Otherwise, you wouldn't be still arguing your inane points. A tankard of grog says you are trying to set one up.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Well, Nerd, there is a flawed assumption there that I'm not a scientist or a skeptic. I find no need to flash my research credentials, but I find it more than a little surprising that you believe that only you, a scientist and skeptic, are allowed to decide on what science should investigate.
Despite the respect I have for its methods, I don't see science as a priesthood, and I have seen some work by high school students - limiting themselves to the scientific method - that didn't call either for a degree or a dogmatic disbelief but still measures up as very good science.
I am not sure you are right in saying that only someone with the qualifications you deem worthy can decide what science is or isn't.
And I wouldn't worry too much about divesting control. Unless there is evidence, there is no reason to accept a view in a scientific setting; not rejecting something doesn't amount to acceptance.
I agree with you on most things except perhaps that I see science as being a cautious enterprise, limiting itself to a data measurable in some way, while you seem to invest it with near omniscience.
I have no scam to run - everything needn't have a political intent. And so, yes, you'd lose that tankard. :)

So are you saying that because the writers used 'philosophical sleight of hand' it suggests that the simplest explanation is the best?

I am saying that: in the absence of additional evidence that suggests that the simplest explanation is not correct, there is no reason to reject the simplest explanation in favor of more complicated ones, or to suggest that more complicated explanations might actually be correct. That doesn't mean that the simplest explanation is correct -- only that it's closer to being correct in the absence of additional evidence in favor of greater complexity.

Consider this:

http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm

Almost two and half thousand years ago, Aristotle offered good evidence in favor of a an explanation of the Earth as being round over a flat model:

First, certain stars disappeared beyond the Southern Hemisphere as one traveled north, and beyond the Northern Hemisphere as one traveled south. Second, the earth's shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse was always the arc of a circle. Third, here on the earth itself, ships disappeared beyond the horizon hull-first in whatever direction they were traveling.

Now, if someone had gone to Aristotle back then, and proposed that the Earth was actually a slightly oblate sphereoid, the fact that this happens to be true isn't reason for Aristotle to accept this new explanation, if no new evidence were offered in support of it. We know it's true because we have the actual measurements -- what does the new theorist offer to Aristotle, if it isn't evidence?

Aristotle: Why do you think the Earth an oblate spheroid?

New theorist: I like squashed spheres!

Obviously, this is a complete logical non sequitur, and Aristotle has no reason to accept this more complicated model.

On the other hand, if the new theorist is some sort of proto-combined-Galilei-Kepler-Newton genius, and responds along the lines of:

"I think that all matter has an attractive force which would pull the mass of something as large as the Earth towards its center, as you argue [which Aristotle did], but in addition, I have made these other observations of physical systems [and more data on mechanics goes here], and I also think that the Earth is in fact spinning on its axis as it goes around the sun, based on [astronomical and physical observations and logic goes here], and would thus bulge out very slightly perpendicular to the axis of spin. Consider this suggestion of oblateness as a prediction based on all of these prior observations, which would be consistent with my model, and help support it, if later careful and precise measurements of the size and shape of Earth are eventually made."

Now, that is a reason -- or rather, an empirically-supported sequence of reasoning -- that should indeed be persuasive to Aristotle that the oblate spheroid model is plausible, despite being more complex than a true sphere.

Note also that the prediction is falsifiable -- the Earth might not bulge, for some additional reason that the genius simply was not aware of. Only the actual measurements would demonstrate oblateness.

I allow for incomplete knowledge and ignorance even though I don't claim or personally believe that something outside this reality exists. As long as that alternative reality does not militate against facts that can be empirically assessed its adherents are free to hold them.

In a free society, they can continue to express their beliefs in non-empirically-testable-things, and we can continue to express the point that those beliefs are cognitive mistakes that are not consistent with anything empirically observable or logically defensible, and for them to hold those beliefs in the absence of empirical evidence and supporting logic is to compound the cognitive mistakes with additional cognitive mistakes -- which may be understandable psychologically, but is utterly incoherent.

But if I become an accommodationist because I don't sneer at highly unlikely events,

I'm not sure what "highly unlikely events" you're referring to.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

I am not sure you are right in saying that only someone with the qualifications you deem worthy can decide what science is or isn't.

Well, the point deliberately missed is that those without scientific training, and skeptical training, are not the ones to be making that decision. Nor by scientists and alleged skeptics who give too much credance to what they say. The scientific method can be applied to almost anything. Results, as far as hard evidence, may not be possible. But indirect evidence may be.

But if I become an accommodationist because I don't sneer at highly unlikely events,

But still, what evidence do you have that anything supernatural exists, like your ill-defined and apparently undefinable unlikely events. And without evidence, why should they be taken seriously? Possiblity is meaningless, and is used by the delusional folks and con men to press their game. Hard evidence is meaningful, and the bane of con men. That has been your downfall ever since you started your little attempt to make science back down in the face of the supernatural. It doesn't need to. And your opinion is getting more worthless with every repeat of your inane opinion. That appears to be all you have. Opinion and an agenda that requires science to allow for the supernatural. And not a well reasoned opinion at that. You sound like Behe in the Dover trail. Not a compliment.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Owlmirror (#773):

...In the absence of additional evidence that suggests that the simplest explanation is not correct, there is no reason to reject the simplest explanation

No argument there.
only that it's closer to being correct in the absence of additional evidence in favor of greater complexity.

That doesn't mean that the simplest explanation is correct -- only that it's closer to being correct in the absence of additional evidence in favor of greater complexity.

As in Aristotle's as the spherical earth, the simpler explanation was not necessarily better but offered better fit, given the data.
Somehow, I don't think we really differ on this issue.

In a free society, they can continue to express their beliefs in non-empirically-testable-things, and we can continue to express the point that those beliefs are cognitive mistakes that are not consistent with anything empirically observable or logically defensible, and for them to hold those beliefs in the absence of empirical evidence and supporting logic is to compound the cognitive mistakes with additional cognitive mistakes -- which may be understandable psychologically, but is utterly incoherent.

No argument there, too.

I'm not sure what "highly unlikely events" you're referring to.

Unlikely souls gaining unlikely levitation to go up to an unlikely god. I have questions about this, including the practical one about whether up means perpendicular to the Earth? In the southern hemisphere, would the departing soul head for Carina, and in the northern for Cygnus?
For an adult, this is a petty argument, given its non-scientific context, I guess, but these questions consumed me in my formative years, ultimately making it clear that the spiritual life was not for me.
Nerd (#774), I think I have been quite insistent that I cannot argue for the supernatural; just that I am personally unable to accept or reject information without evidence, given the scientific context I prefer to operate in. I keep repeating this point in the face of constant demands that I prove something exists in the scientific context - from someone also working from withing that context.
I have no agenda to get science to allow for the supernatural; I do prefer to stay within what science does best: facts that are measurable or are likely to be. As for Behe, I don't think any comparison would ever be a compliment :)
Cheers

So are you saying that because the writers used 'philosophical sleight of hand' it suggests that the simplest explanation is the best?

Dumber than dirt.

I don't think so. I don't want to deliberately misunderstand you though the favor isn't always returned.

Asshole.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

There is scant empirical evidence that the world is actually simple or that simple accounts are more likely than complex ones to be true.

It's a theorem of information theory that, given two theories that both account for all known evidence, the simpler one is less likely to make false predictions.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

I do prefer to stay within what science does best: facts that are measurable or are likely to be.

And there is your failing. Sometimes, the facts are indirect. Like with Reiki/therapeutic touch. Proving the "energy field" they posit could be hard for science. But, even a pre-teen, could demonstrate the inability of the "adepts" to read the "energy fields", and got a paper published in JAMA for her efforts. That is evidence listener. Listen to the evidence, not your imaginary doubts. You have no evidence for your vague claims. Science is not as limited as you think, and the con men, religious nuts, and woomeisters are more lying and bullshitting than you think they are. Quit deluding yourself and face reality. I did 25+ years ago. Which makes you both very slow, and not listening...

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener, when I ask for physical proof of a deity, I always state (much to the boredom of the regulars) it must pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers. I include the latter two because scientists can be a bit naive with respect to supernatural claims, but not the magicians, who presume a trick and can probably duplicate it, and professional debunkers who a trained in thinking far outside of the box that scientists use. So far, no one has even attempted to present any evidence to pass that test...

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Science is not as limited as you think

As I have mentioned above, science is based not just on evidence but also on logic, including Baysian inference (of which Ockham's Razor is an element) -- but listener (sic) is a ignorant and dishonest moron who dismissed every single one of my arguments with the absurd excuse that he is too busy to respond, and the bullshit claim that my arguments didn't address the core of his and that they miss the forest for the trees. I was fairly polite to him before that, but he's proven to be disgusting scum who does not deserve my respect.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd (#778), never had any issue on anything testable/falsifiable at least in some fashion. And I don't know if my doubts are imaginary, even if I have good reason to believe that the subjects of my doubt are.
And I'm not going to argue that if you don't accept my viewpoint that makes you slow. But when it comes to listening, perhaps we both aren't doing enough...
I don't know about deities (#778), but when it comes to supernatural claims about how the para/supernormal affects the ordinary world, James Randi has done some extraordinary work in putting scientists to rights. But if there is nothing changing, nothing to see, nothing to gauge - at least in the context we would seek it in - I doubt that we can address it. Yet again, am not arguing for the supernatural or for any evidence for its existence in a scientific context.
Truth machine (#780), if your mature behavior is contingent upon me replying to you, your mental state is rather brittle, and, at least as I see it, steeped in childish petulance.
You assume you can goad people to response by insulting them. Not everyone's ego is that fragile, not everyone is that anxious for approval. If you choose to spew bilge, I choose not to sift through it. That's all there is to it.

Unlikely souls gaining unlikely levitation to go up to an unlikely god.

Not just unlikely, though, but actually utterly incoherent. What reason or evidence is there to think that souls or god could exist?

The analogy I offered had at first an oblate spheroid being offered because the one making the offer liked oblate sphereoids. What if instead he had said "a cube" because he liked cubes, thus actually going against the evidence for a round Earth that Aristotle knew of?

People suggest that there are souls, or might be souls, not because they have evidence of souls, but because they like the idea of not really dying. People suggest a caring God because they like the idea of their undying selves being cared for, and an angry and punishing God because they like the idea of those they don't like being punished. They result from peoples' preferences for their lives to continue on without end, and enjoying that continuing existence.

But everything we know about brain and bodies, and life and death, is evidence that these ideas are not just wrong, but cannot be right. It's not just missing evidence, but contrary to the evidence we have.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Owlmirror (#782), I don't know about incoherent, except from within a scientific context. And, yet again, I don't claim or (personally) believe that they could.
As far as the shape of the earth, some religious person may have, purely by accident, argued for an oblate sphere. Or an early version of Huygens may have found good data for an oblate sphere, but the understanding could be beyond the ken of our version of Aristotle.
I'm not arguing for who had it right here. Both got it right - one by accident, the other through understanding. If there is an absence of some knowledge - as in the case of the otherwise well-informed Aristotle - both of them would still be rejected for the almost correct answer.
It's the difficulty to get complete knowledge - or to know that the available knowledge isn't complete - that makes us comfortable with the zeitgeist. Or so I think.
I do think that souls are a fanciful yet comforting construct and have no other empirical reason to exist. I agree that they fly in the face of all the evidence we have in a scientific context. But, again, as long as believers claim that the soul has no direct effect on empirically measurable data - in some fashion - we cannot claim to disprove or prove them, accept or reject them. As in the case of a prime suspect, he remains free only so long as the body is not found.

listener #783

But, again, as long as believers claim that the soul has no direct effect on empirically measurable data - in some fashion - we cannot claim to disprove or prove them, accept or reject them.

There is a non-zero possibility of a soul. In a similar way I cannot prove to a non-zero certainty there isn't an invisible pink unicorn living in the garage, so I should watch my step going out to the car to keep from stepping in piles of invisible pink unicorn manure.

The possibility of souls existing is at the same level of the possibility of invisible pink unicorns. So tell us, listener, do you step carefully when walking around your garage?

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Tis Himself (#784), if there is a non-zero probability of souls or invisible pink unicorns you should allow for a non-zero probability of your driveway being littered with IPU manure.
But, going by what you say, if I don't step carefully near my garage, souls don't exist?
If true, that's interesting, to say the least. But I'd rather not limit myself to my original argument - that while I don't myself see any real likelihood of these creatures/constructs existing I cannot accept or reject them as long as they don't claim to influence natural phenomena and thus become measurable.

Yet again, am not arguing for the supernatural or for any evidence for its existence in a scientific context.

Why not unscientifically too. If you can't consistently describe the what you think should be given a consideration of existence, why bother with it. And if there isn't even any indirect evidence for it, why bother with it?

Or so I think.

You appear to over think. Makes you doubt where you shouldn't. That has been our points all along.

But, again, as long as believers claim that the soul has no direct effect on empirically measurable data - in some fashion - we cannot claim to disprove or prove them, accept or reject them.

That is where you over think and create unreasonable doubt. There is no reason either that they get to make the decision of limiting the evidence for you. You make the decision. Look at the evidence (none). Ergo, they are full of shit. Welcome to real science and skepticism.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Correction in (#785): 'I'd rather not limit myself to my original argument.' That first 'not' was in error.
Regards...

I cannot accept or reject them as long as they don't claim to influence natural phenomena and thus become measurable.

We don't give a shit about your attitude toward this. We care about ours, which is based upon saying something doesn't exist without evidence. Extremely small possibilities are the same as non-existence to us, and will not change, as it works. Your argument is not convincing to us, as it is an argument from authority (you being the authority). Continuing your posts with the same wording will not convince us either.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

But, going by what you say, if I don't step carefully near my garage, souls don't exist?

Only if you're deliberately trying to misread what he wrote.

By Rev. BigDumbChimp (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd (#786), at many levels I'm in agreement with you there. And it's certainly very probable that I'm reserving a seat for a no-show in empirical terms.
And I do tend to allow for very remote eventualities. And I have always agreed that I personally have seen no empirical evidence for the supernatural (not being a theologian or even a believer, I'm handicapped many times over). But I can appreciate that there is very remote possibility that I could be the analogue of some uniplanar flatlander coming across three dimensions or non-Euclidean space. I have no reason to believe it, but cannot reject or accept that infinitesimal possibility.
I hope you see my dilemma there.

listener,

I hope you see my dilemma there.

Kuatu¹ tells me there is no dilemma; only a rationalisation for your intellectual cowardice.

You're so very scared of potentially being wrong, however minuscule the odds, that you tell yourself you must avoid even provisional disbelief in the most ridiculous propositions.

Since you dare not stand up to the "psychics", woo-healers, astrologers and cultists, you are very much the accomodationist.

--

¹ In whom you don't disbelieve, to your disgrace.

By John Morales (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

I hope you see my dilemma there.

No, I see a dithering idjit, who can't make a decision for fear he will be wrong. As a true scientist, if I'm not wrong early in the game every so often, I'm not pushing the envelope hard enough.

There is nothing wrong in being wrong, learning from it, and going on. Your inability to discount imaginary things, that is not make a solid decision on their non-existence, means you can't be the authority we will listen to on this question. YOU make the decision for you. Quit tying to make the decision for me and the blog. If you listened to all our posts in response to you, you would understand where we come from and why. Either agree with us or go away. But, you aren't listening, and are merely preaching your doubts. Which we don't agree with, and won't agree with.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

When one begins to discuss probabilities of an entity existing, one is of necessity in the realm of subjective probability. An object either exists or it does not. Even in quantum mechanics, the superposition of states of "existence" and "nonexistence" gives us problems primarily because of our linguistic and conceptual limitations more than anything else.

Yes, it is true that in subjective or Bayesian probability, the Prior probability distribution must be nonzero for any event that could conceivably occur (including discovering an entity exists. What deists often forget, though is that data are even more central to Bayesian analysis than the Prior. Thus, before we can even begin to discuss whether a "soul" exists, we must have some idea of what data would indicate its existence or nonexistence.

Ouiji board? Nope.

Seances? Nope.

Hauntings? Nope.

Until you have enough of an idea of what a soul is to actually come up with a test for it, it makes zero sense to even consider a probability for its existence. Same with God. Same with any other comforting lie we tell ourselves.

By a_ray_in_dilbe… (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Morales (#791), oh exemplar of sterling courage, I bow to your for being able avoid the unlikely, and I cringe in immortal shame because I allow your invisible nonpink but malodorous twin to exist under the weird laws you dredge up.
Nerd (#792), had no doubt that anyone who disagrees with you is naturally a 'dithering idjit.'
I didn't ask you to agree with me. And I believe I certainly understand where you are coming from even if I may disagree with you.

Either agree with us or go away.

That about sums up your worldview, I guess. :)

a_ray_in_dilbert_space (#793):

Until you have enough of an idea of what a soul is to actually come up with a test for it, it makes zero sense to even consider a probability for its existence. Same with God. Same with any other comforting lie we tell ourselves.

Have no disagreement with that in a scientific context.
But the faithful claim to lie outside that, and so cannot be respected or judged by those standards unless they come up with their Ouija boards, seances and hauntings, which claim to have a direct impact on nature as we know it.

Before we can even begin to discuss whether a "soul" exists, we must have some idea of what data would indicate its existence or nonexistence.

Have yet to seen any such data.
The argument is not for the faithful but only against a view that we have every answer we need - a point some other posters also raised.

Morales (#791):

Since you dare not stand up to the "psychics", woo-healers, astrologers and cultists, you are very much the accomodationist.

Who told you I don’t stand up to them? Or does it mean that because I believe scientists - among themselves - should allow for unlikely complexity and nuance I am for the '"psychics", woo-healers, astrologers and cultists?' Either I'm with them or against them, is it? Nice one to sneak in.
Still, I do think you prefer polarized views: I expect if the believers accepted Darwin for some reason, you'd eye him with suspicion, too, because your dogma prescribes it.
I have repeatedly said that if believers ever say their claims affect the real world, they automatically open their method to scientific investigation. But actually, given all of your posts, you know that's what I think.
Disagreement is fine, but deliberate mischaracterization is not, Morales.

Yawn, still nothing new from Listener. Same old same old. He can't make the decision on the non-existence of souls. Ergo, we, the scientific and skeptical community, must follow his lead. We won't, as we decree souls don't exist without evidence. Other peoples belief in souls is not evidence. His lack of proper decision making is not transferable to us, as he, by his indecision, shows himself not to be the authority figure required to make that decision for us. There is no need to continue the argument listener, unless you have something new. We have heard you, we contemplated your opinion, and we reject your opinion.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Nerd (#797), you're no skeptic; you're a believer :)
You are free to reject my opinion, but I have nothing new to add to my argument. And so you are also free not to respond.
Regards

You assume you can goad people to response by insulting them.

It is true that you cannot be goaded into responding to my numerous substantive rebuttals of your arguments because you are a dishonest bag of scum. My insults are not to goad you but to display my contempt for you, asshole.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

If you choose to spew bilge, I choose not to sift through it. That's all there is to it.

No it isn't, you lying sack of shit. In #723 you wrote

Truth machine, because of other matters I have at hand, I’ve been limiting myself to responding to posts that address my main thesis or go beyond it, though in a few cases, I’ve admittedly spent more time than I possibly should have on addressing the minutae.

That was your blatantly dishonest excuse for never responding to any of my posts, which were not "bilge" -- you called them "interesting arguments". You also tossed your "forest for the trees" ad hominem at me. It was because of your despicable behavior, you immense bad faith, your complete refusal to engage my substantive comments, that I turned to pointing out what a foul sack of pus you are.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine (#800), you did have some interesting arguments all right. But it was marinated, then blended so well into the bilge, that teasing out your argument often took more time than it was worth. Sometimes I did it because, as I said, there were valid points in there. But for the rest, there was just inchoate rage.
And missing the 'forest for the trees' is ad hominem?? Oh well, okay...

Listener--

Present evidence for the unlikely, and scientists will look at it. "You can't prove that something that is undetectable and has no effect on reality" is not evidence for the unlikely. It's an attempt to move the goalposts.

If something is not measurable, and cannot affect reality, what does it mean to say that it exists. Seriously: I want to know what the meaning of "is" is, in this context.

Somehow those who defend the idea of the soil on this basis don't spend a lot of time thinking about the soul of my pen, or even my cat: either of which is exactly as supported by evidence as that they, or I, have souls.

And finally, truth machine (#800), you were forced by my 'despicable behavior' in not answering your 'substantive comments' to become a foulmouthed grouch whose idea of argument would get any high schooler tossed out of a debate.
And since you have no more 'substantial argument' while you spew your bile, I'll leave you to your own devices until I think I have the time and inclination to respond.
Enjoy.

Nerd (#797), you're no skeptic; you're a believer

No, I'm a skeptic who puts very small chances for existence into the non-existent category. Until conclusive evidence is presented. Oh, and Listener, anytime you get real evidence for supernatural claims, I will listen, like any good scientist and skeptic. My skepticism isn't carved in stone.

Still nothing new from the Listener. Given his behavior, it almost fits the classical case of the concern troll. Someone who appears to agree, but really disagrees, and trys to sway the thread to their opinion. I still think he is trying to create room for supernatural things, where no room is needed.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

vicki (#802), that was no attempt to move the goalposts. As stated before, there is no need to accept any claim that actually exposes itself to scientific scrutiny. The goalposts define the limits of what is testable/knowable. Whatever falls outside it is irrelevant.
It could just be fear of exposure that makes believers keep their claims fuzzy. Or it could be inchoate thinking.
I would rather leave such claims in limbo and outside science until such time I can see them in some clear empirical light. There is no need to accept or reject that which is untestable and unfalsiable on some empirical measures.
If someone claims a Lego house has a different soul from that of a Lego helicopter, that each individual piece, atom of subatomic particle has its own soul, or that your pen, or cat has one apiece, they are welcome to their opinion as long as they don't assert that their claim falls within science and is therefore somehow testable.
Not rejecting the possibility that the unfalsifiable can exist outside the testable zone is very far from a ringing endorsement for it; indeed, it amounts to all but rejection.

Yawn still nothing. Another wasted post by listener. Who is not listening....

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

I tried to discuss this topic with you, listener, but when you convert my statement into a strawman then I wash my hands of you. You whine that Truth Machine is being rude to you. Wah fucking wah. I think your dishonesty was much ruder than anything TM's said to you.

TM is right. You are a dishonest asshole.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Tis Himself (#807), I have no idea how or when I converted what you said about manure around my garage that I converted into a straw man.
I argue my point about what science limits itself to and if that makes me dishonest, I'm all for it. I didn't say a thing about rudeness, just about the immaturity of arguing for a win. Rudeness is at best one of the symptoms. I thought you didn't exhibit them, and so responded, but you've shown me better, haven't you?

Listener, what part of you were departing don't you understand? Like any troll, you attempt the last words. You have nothing left to say to us. Not that you had anything cogent to say in the first place...

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener:

I argue my point about what science limits itself

You have not argued cogently for ages (not that I think you had a cogent case to begin with, you didn't) and now you just won't fucking go away because you want the last word. FFS, give it a bloody rest already. Go away, or if you find yourself simply unable to do that, move on to a different subject, a different post, you know, something current.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Caine (#810), actually I think I've made my point very clearly and made every effort not to be sidetracked.
I came in here to make one point and found myself in a far more involved discussion that I'd intended.
I will decide whether to go away from the club, but do agree that the last word should go to the most trite.
Enjoy.

you did have some interesting arguments all right.

Which refuted your blather but you never responded to any of them -- you're a walking talking sack of bad faith.

But it was marinated, then blended so well into the bilge, that teasing out your argument often took more time than it was worth.

And you're a fucking liar.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

I think I've made my point very clearly and made every effort not to be sidetracked.

That's just it with assholes like you -- you're here to make a point, and not be sidetracked by ... refutations. You know you're right and you will repeat your claims ad nauseam no matter how thoroughly they have been demonstrated to be mistaken, until the whole world agrees with you. But you have completely failed in that enterprise here, because your position is full of error.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Caine (#810), actually I think I've made my point very clearly and made every effort not to be sidetracked.

No, listener. If all you cared about was "making a point" then that was done hundreds of posts ago. What upset you was that no one agreed with you. I'll grant you, that's a tough thing to deal with. However, you didn't do what most of us here strive to do: you didn't listen, you didn't consider other points of view, you didn't exhibit any interest in expanding the conversation in an honest attempt to explore ideas.

Personally, I don't give a damn whether you stay or not. It's past time for you to move on. This thread should be dead, much like the "point" you have been beating mercilessly is dead. Get over it. And while you're at it, get over yourself. Please.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

just about the immaturity of arguing for a win

What irony.

Rudeness is at best one of the symptoms.

Fallacy of affirmation of the consequent; you would make a very poor doctor (or scientist).

you've shown me better, haven't you?

You have been shown better about many things but you have ignored all those demonstrations, since they challenge your "point". Such bad faith is "rude" to the process of rational inquiry.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

I will decide whether to go away from the club, but do agree that the last word should go to the most trite.

Pwoor liddle fecal matter for bwainz cannot even come up with a decent taunt.

Here is a little suggestion for you; next time, pull the fucking silicon ear plugs out of your ears.

By Janine, Mistre… (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener's original post was #60; it was full of strawmen and epistemological confusion, and he hasn't improved since. He has never grasped or addressed any of the points made against his claims, such as that rational people are entitled to deny claims even if they cannot disprove them; if not then they could not deny any empirical claim, such as that Abraham Lincoln died in his sleep or that the moon has a core of green cheese. These claims are at least as plausible as that there is an afterlife.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

truth machine, OM:

listener's original post was #60

Ugh. No wonder it seems like listener has been posting the same crap for months on end.

By Caine, Fleur du mal (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

listener

from my perspective there were two things I found irritating about your posting - firstly I felt you were going out of your way to accommodate a position which opposes your own. I guess it was not your intent but you ended up sounding as though you were giving far more weight to the other side of the argument [of the original blog entry] than it deserves.

Secondly, I'm afraid you were too concerned with the tone of other contributors. I find that the robust expression of the regulars here is actually a useful tool, establishing whether someone is able to engage with the substance of what is being said rather than being hung-up over form.

By Usagichan (not verified) on 22 Apr 2010 #permalink

Listener, around here the person who complains about tone knows they are losing the logical argument. You acknowledged early on by your tone complaints you were losing the argument. We knew you were losing from the first time you couldn't refute our positions. Your technique of appearing to agree is not the same as refutation, nor does it sweep our arguments away. It just confirmed to us that you had nothing, and probably knew it yourself.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 23 Apr 2010 #permalink

Actually, listener's first post was @54.

I composed a post relating to listener's last effort addressed to me, but even my SIWOTI ain't that acute, so I've ditched it in favour of summing up.

@54:

In the scientific world, we could argue that the proponent have to prove that souls indeed do exist. But, more reasonably, instead of denying the possibility, we could exclude it until such time that such a claim is defensible.

@805 (my emphasis):

As stated before [JM: ad-nauseam!], there is no need to accept any claim that actually exposes itself to scientific scrutiny. The goalposts define the limits of what is testable/knowable.
[...]
Whatever falls outside it is irrelevant.
[...]
Not rejecting the possibility that the unfalsifiable can exist outside the testable zone is very far from a ringing endorsement for it; indeed, it amounts to all but rejection.

That last emphasised part is rather amusing ;)

By John Morales (not verified) on 23 Apr 2010 #permalink

I felt you were going out of your way to accommodate a position which opposes your own

It's quite amusing that, in #714, he went so far as to equate his view with that of Dawkins, whom he quotes (without mentioning that it's Dawkins, apparently thinking himself clever) -- the very same view held by PZ, myself, and most of the rest of us.

Actually, listener's first post was @54.

You're right; 60 was a slightly edited repost of the same content.

By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 24 Apr 2010 #permalink