The Data So Far…

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 2, 2011 in Funny

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan M March 2, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Shots fired! Take cover!

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Zeb March 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Let’s beat the old dead horse: if they were confirmed by experiment, they would no longer be supernatural. Experiments show such claimed powers to either A)not exist, to B) work by natural mechanisms, or to C) work by an as yet unknown mechanism. And, to flagellate another expired equine, consciousness is the first example of the latter case that springs to my mind.

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Bradm March 2, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Of course, if you believe Popper, that’s true of everything.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Zeb,

I really should come up with a way to make a lot of money from bets made with people who think consciousness will still not be understood as a physical process in 50 years time the way that “life” is understood as a physical process.

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Zeb March 2, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I would take that bet (though it would probably be hard to find mutually agreeable conditions for fulfillment), but even if you’re right, you’re demonstrating my point. You’re taking my option C. How would a power be confirmed to be supernatural, anyway? As long as you can maintain that a natural mechanism may yet be found, the ‘supernatural’ power has not been experimentally confirmed. Which kind of relates to Bradm’s point (I think) – experiments really only disconfirm or fail to disconfirm claims.

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Robert March 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Luke, Here you go: http://www.longbets.org/

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Robert March 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm

… except you don’t get to keep the money!

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Scott March 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm

xkcd, right? What’s the alt-text? Hell, where’s the source link?

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Scott March 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Clever…click on the picture to see the source…carry on…

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thepowerofmeow March 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I will have to agree with Zeb (leaving the subject of consciousness aside).

If something is confirmed by experiment again and again, then it is natural. Anything truly supernatural would be unknowable.

It just doesn’t make sense to refute supernaturalism with the rules of naturalism. Just as it does not make sense to claim supernatural causes for things. If there are supernatural causes then they are still unknowable because evidence is contingent on naturalistic relationships.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Robert,

Yeah, I’m just not sure how to specify the condition under contention. “Consciousness will be scientifically understood by 2060″ is not precise and measurable.

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Zeb March 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Luke, how about “The people who in 2011 think that consciousness can be scientifically understood will by 2060 think that it has been.” I’d bet along with you on that one. :)

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Wade March 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Anything truly supernatural would be unknowable? So, then all that have claimed to have supernatural knowledge were just making stuff up? I knew it!

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Steven R. March 2, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Well then, it seems to me that if the concept of the supernatural is unprovable and can never be confirmed, it wasn’t useful to begin with. In other words, not my problem, but yours (here meaning anyone who makes supernatural claims).

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Wade March 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Yeah, correlation is not causation! The mere act of my swinging a bat at your head does not prove that I caused your memory loss! The crack in the bat & the large imprint on your head reading “louiseville slugger” do not prove anything. The causal factors of consciousness are still not completely understood, for all we know, little interdimensional beings could be changing your memory to serve their goals. Of course they cannot be detected, since they are by definition undetectable, they can shift dimensions at will. Although we have no way to detect them, interact with them, indeed it’s as if they aren’t even there, but rest assured, we can know that they have a desire to manipulate human memory. We can use our intuition, which is at once not evidence & also better than your primitive “look & see” method. You going to trust me or those lying eyes of yours?

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thepowerofmeow March 2, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Yeah, I do think that anything truly supernatural would be unknowable. So claims would have to invoke intuition concerning any ultimate explanations for things – or a person could certainly stay completely agnostic about such things, of course.

The problem is that people use their intuition for things that can be cross-checked empirically, then they ignore the empirical evidence when it doesn’t match their pre-existing bias.

That said, there is nothing wrong with invoking our intuition concerning things that may be beyond what we can measure or understand. Surely our understanding will always relate to the totality of our experience as parts to a whole.

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Zeb March 2, 2011 at 9:44 pm

thepowerofmeow, when you said,

If there are supernatural causes then they are still unknowable because evidence is contingent on naturalistic relationships. 

I assumed you were only speaking of knowing by scientific method, such as by experiment. That would be because empirical evidence can only confirm (with caveat) mechanistic causes, which by definition are not supernatural. But would you allow that if there are other ways of knowing, then it is possible that supernatural causes (and non-causal entities) could be known by those ways? I thought that was what you meant by

It just doesn’t make sense to refute supernaturalism with the rules of naturalism.

but this seems to be a stronger statement:

Yeah, I do think that anything truly supernatural would be unknowable.

It’s one thing to argue that the supernatural can’t be known through experiments (or, more broadly, through scientific method), it’s another to argue that scientific method is the only way that anything can be known.

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Wade March 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Actually, there would be everything wrong with invoking intuition concerning things we can’t measure or understand. At one time we couldn’t measure or understand bacteria & viruses, & there were grave consequences of using intuition to proclaim that disease is caused by an “imbalance” of some bodily fluids or energy fields.

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Adito March 2, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I think it’s completely possible in principle for us to have excellent reasons to believe a supernatural event has taken place. For instance a test could show that some people can read others minds. I’m pretty sure we all would agree on the kind of evidence we’d need for that. An event like this would simply not fit with any of our background knowledge and would give us excellent reason to think that causal forces are not limited to physics.

Here are some other examples of possible experimental outcomes that strongly suggest supernatural things exist. Consistent prayer fulfillment for a certain religion, someone predicting the future, messages being consistently written in the clouds and people coming back from the dead after ten years in the ground. I don’t see how we could fit events like that into our current understanding of physics without incredibly ad-hoc reasoning. So why should we believe no supernatural forces exist? Because nothing even remotely close to the examples I’ve suggested has ever happened.

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Patrick March 3, 2011 at 1:48 am

Phenomena that are claimed to be supernatural can fall into two categories, namely phenomena showing design-imposed, as defined by Jack Collins (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2003/PSCF3-03Collins.pdf), and phenomena that lack such a feature. The latter are unfalsifiable and therefore irrelevant in this respect. A good example of such claims is the idea that God directs evolution. As for the former category I can hardly think of any phenomenon once thought to be supernatural that has been conclusively shown to be natural. The only one may be the stability of the solar system, which Isaac Newton believed to have a supernatural cause.

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Patrick March 3, 2011 at 2:20 am

Even if the all claims of supernatural powers had been refuted, the conclusion that the existence of the supernatural is improbable would be unjustified, as it is based on the seriously flawed “Argument from the History of Science” (http://www.skepticalchristian.com/argumentfromthehistoryofscience.htm).

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Patrick March 3, 2011 at 2:39 am

Zeb: “It’s one thing to argue that the supernatural can’t be known through experiments (or, more broadly, through scientific method), it’s another to argue that scientific method is the only way that anything can be known.”

Another way to confirm claims of supernatural powers is the historical method. Let’s assume that a famous person, who for quite a while has been known to be incurably ill would in the presence of many witnesses immediately recover after being prayed for. Let’s further assume that the person who had prayed was asked by scientists to repeat this kind of action in a scientific experiment, but he would fail to succeed in it. In this case the miracle would be historically confirmed, but not scientifically. But I assume that nevertheless many people, even sceptics concerning miracle claims, would regard this as evidence of the existence of the supernatural.

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Kevin March 3, 2011 at 3:47 am

“In this case the miracle would be historically confirmed, but not scientifically.”

You mean like in the case of Sam’s Mum?

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Patrick March 3, 2011 at 4:08 am

Kevin

My hypothetical example is aimed at showing how a miracle could be confirmed, even if it’s not done scientifically. Whether or not there are such historically confirmed miracles is a matter apart.

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Kevin March 3, 2011 at 4:50 am

“My hypothetical example is aimed at showing how a miracle could be confirmed”

Only if by miracle, you mean a prayer preceded a medical anomaly. However, that is not what a miracle is, a miracle necessarily needs a supernatural mechanism. The problem with picking out single examples and touting a mechanism is that you can’t weed out pure chance. If you actually take the efforts to weed out pure chance, then the proposed mechanism turns out to indistinguishable from being non-existent. So, one, miracles can’t be confirmed by “historical method”. And two, when miracles are examined by a method that can confirm them, the results turn up negative. Failure to realize this is the basis of superstition.

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thepowerofmeow March 3, 2011 at 7:27 am

“Consistent prayer fulfillment for a certain religion, ”

I think that if prayers were consistently fulfilled from one religion, then it would be deemed a natural phenomenon. We just would not understand the mechanism – just like we didn’t understand electricity and I am sure it was evidence of magic to any reasonable person hundreds of years ago. Same with reading minds.

The only way that a supernatural claim could have points in its favor is if there is a lack of naturalistic explanation – but then it’s still reasonable to assume that there will be some sort of natural explanation at some point. so there is difficulty when truly considering the implications of what supernatural means.

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PDH March 3, 2011 at 7:56 am

thepowerofmeow wrote,

“Consistent prayer fulfillment for a certain religion, ”I think that if prayers were consistently fulfilled from one religion, then it would be deemed a natural phenomenon. We just would not understand the mechanism – just like we didn’t understand electricity and I am sure it was evidence of magic to any reasonable person hundreds of years ago. Same with reading minds.

But so what? It would still be evidence for God and most people who call themselves naturalists would have to change their beliefs significantly. The words we use are not what’s important here.

The argument can be easily salvaged just by putting aside terms like ‘supernatural’ and ‘natural’ and focussing on what the words refer to. We can just talk about, for example, how often claims that God has performed some action have been verified vs. how many times non-theistic explanations for similar phenomena have been confirmed by experiment, instead. There are plenty of ways to group much of what is considered ‘supernatural’ together and assess how useful these hypotheses have been. If the answer is ‘not very’ that’s still a problem for supernaturalists, regardless of definition.

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thepowerofmeow March 3, 2011 at 8:44 am

But why, if prayers were answered consistently, would we assume there was a supernatural cause? If it’s repeatable and predictable, then wouldn’t it be better to assume there was some sort of natural cause behind it? And even if it were God, if He is completely consistent and predictable, wouldn’t we still consider the event natural? After all, there is no real reason that there is electricity or that there are certain fundamental forces. They are just there.

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BenSix March 3, 2011 at 9:00 am

Some may not have been confirmed but haven’t been refuted: ESP research, for example. Quoth Richard Wiseman -

I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.

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Adito March 3, 2011 at 9:44 am

I think that if prayers were consistently fulfilled from one religion, then it would be deemed a natural phenomenon. We just would not understand the mechanism –

Consistent and large violations of statistical norms would eventually become overwhelming evidence that supernatural causal forces exist. A natural phenomenon must fit a huge set of background data and I don’t see any way for consistent miracles to do that. Of course locating the source of the miracle would be pretty tricky.

And even if it were God, if He is completely consistent and predictable, wouldn’t we still consider the event natural?

God would know how our minds work and could structure His miracles in such a way that they would be undeniable. That’s a pretty easy task for an omnipotent being.

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thepowerofmeow March 3, 2011 at 9:48 am

But if prayers were answered predictiably, it would be a statistical norm. And I am sure that electricity was not once understood in the context of background data – or QM perhaps is a better, more recent example?

And if the miracles were structured as to make them undeniable – how would this work? Our mind are naturalistic entities – even if we see evidence with our eyes, how do we conclude that it’s a miracle? We would have to use logical inference which totally depends on the naturalistic background data you mentioned, which the supernatural entity would have no need to follow?

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DaVead March 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

I think we may eventually nail down neuronal correlates for 99% of mental states, but I think questions like, “Why do chicken taste like it does?”, or “Why does redness look reddish?”, are not scientific questions. You can determine what chemicals or brain processes account for the phenomenological experience, but I can’t conceive of how we could scientifically explain why the specific phenomenology of any given X feels like it does to us, and why not some other way. There a lot of problems other than the hard problem of consciousness to solve, and we’ll definitely have a much better hand at solving those in the future. But as for the nature of subjective experience and why it feels and is like it is, I don’t see how we can account for that scientifically. It has a first person ontology, as Searle says.

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Adito March 3, 2011 at 11:15 am

And I am sure that electricity was not once understood in the context of background data – or QM perhaps is a better, more recent example?

Right, we can still see if some phenomenon shows agency though. QM and electricity do not so they do not apply. My example of writing in the clouds would be an example of an act we could reasonably conclude shows agency. And consistent miracle fulfillment for only a single religion would be completely contrary to statistical norms as we understand them. I don’t even know what a naturalistic explanation for them would look like. The set of events in “I spewed some air-vibrations to some-god and then the natural world changed to fit my goals” does not fit any of our background knowledge about how the world works.

And if the miracles were structured as to make them undeniable – how would this work?

Doesn’t matter. The fact is that it’s logically possible and anything that’s logically possible is possible for God to do.

You can determine what chemicals or brain processes account for the phenomenological experience, but I can’t conceive of how we could scientifically explain why the specific phenomenology of any given X feels like it does to us, and why not some other way.

I don’t understand this. The first part of your sentence answers the second. The fact that certain brain processes and chemicals accounts for phenomenological experience necessarily entails that a given X feels like it does to us and not some other way. We perceive X in the way we’re built to perceive X.

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Wade March 3, 2011 at 11:33 am

The response to this & the post about physicalism really reinforces (for me) the reasons for Luke’s decision to shift his focus from philosophy of religion to more productive subjects. It seems that for some people it is impossible to learn from the history of science, no matter how many times supernatural explanations fail, there are going to be those nay-sayers that want to stubbornly cling to the ever-shrinking chance that a supernatural explanation will somehow ‘magically’ (lol) become plausible. Not POSSIBLE, but plausible. It also seems that some have just completely ignored all the posts discussing the criteria for what constitutes a good explanation. At a certain point, it becomes just too tedious, time-consuming, & downright depressing to have to continually go over the same material with people who value their ‘gut feeling’ over actual controlled experiments. Luke said it all, if you argue for this, then you just don’t understand why we do science in the first place. I ,for one, applaud Luke’s shift in interest, I’ve been feeling the same thing & been focusing more on political philosophy, something that affects us every single day. You can’t spend all your time worrying about the people that are just never going to get it. “You can’t rearrange village life to suit the village idiot”.

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Zeb March 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

Adito

Consistent prayer fulfillment for a certain religion, someone predicting the future, messages being consistently written in the clouds and people coming back from the dead after ten years in the ground. I don’t see how we could fit events like that into our current understanding of physics without incredibly ad-hoc reasoning. So why should we believe no supernatural forces exist? Because nothing even remotely close to the examples I’ve suggested has ever happened.

All the observations you name could be accomplished naturally by unknown technologies and unobserved [natural] agents. From a medieval person’s point of view, we do every one of those things you mention – our ‘magic potions’ heal where their’s don’t so well, meteorology allows us to predict the future, we do put messages in the clouds (sky-writing and airplane banners), and, well, the last one we could cause to appear to happen such that they could not discover or explain how, and if cryogenics pans out then we’ll have a true equivalence. Those are all unknown technologies (to the medieval person), and as for the unknown agent hypothesis, suppose we wanted to convince a isolated Amazonian skeptic that the neighboring tribe prays to the right god while his tribe prays to a non-existent one. You can probably imagine lots of ways we (I mean, competent agents from our society) could pull this off without the skeptic noticing the agents, and in such a way that the skeptic could not explain his observations using his background knowledge of nature. If we (who are natural phenomena on naturalism) could do it to people who are (in a sense) only 10,000 years less advanced primates than ourselves, why if we observe amazing and inexplicable phenomena would we assume it is most likely caused by a supernatural agent rather than a natural phenomena? So I think you are wrong when you say that nothing remotely like supernatural phenomena has been observed; it’s just that when it has it has been either explained as natural left deemed “as yet unexplained.” Anyway, I think consciousness is WAY more surprising and amazing on naturalism than mind reading or clairvoyance would be. That, the existence of anything at all, and the specificity of what exists are what impress me about reality, and what I judge to not fit with our background knowledge of physics.

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thepowerofmeow March 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Adito,

Yeah, I agree with Zeb that if we saw writing in the clouds, it would just not be reasonable to assume that it was some specific supernatural force rather than human, or something else unknown. The same would true if it were writing in English on Pluto. Why not go with time/interstellar travel rather than assume that a supernatural cause, which is a big epistemological zero, did it?

To believe in a specific supernatural cause, once must find a hole in the naturalistic evidence and plug in a supernatural cause which is completely comprised of elements of faith. I am not being critical of that, but I cannot see naturalistic evidence piling up to support a definite supernatural cause in any way that isn’t full of epistemological problems.

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woodchuck64 March 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Zeb,

Anyway, I think consciousness is WAY more surprising and amazing on naturalism than mind reading or clairvoyance would be

I get what you’re saying, but in another sense, I find it far more difficult to imagine naturalism without consciousness. Imagine being a naturalist and granting some measure of truth to naturalist beliefs: the multiverse hypothesis is probably true, the origin of cellular life is probably by natural means, the human brain has evolved from simpler brains, consciousness (qualia) has no measurable effect on an organism’s behavior, and evidence for the supernatural remains elusive and inconclusive. Naturalism can then be seen to have demonstrated that it is possible to evolve complex biological organisms that think like we do, that reason like we do, and that argue strenuously about the hard problem of consciousness, all without necessarily being conscious. And that’s where I find the difficulty: how can complex organisms argue about the hard problem of consciousness without actually experiencing consciousness? It’s easier for me to believe that consciousness must somehow accompany or emerge from the information-processing ability of an organism to reflect on it’s own mental states, and that philosophical zombies are actually metaphysically incoherent.

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Adito March 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Zeb

All the observations you name could be accomplished naturally by unknown technologies and unobserved [natural] agents.

I agree. The problem is that we have no reason to think this technology exists. If such events occurred then I would not say we immediately have reason to think some non-physical cause is responsible. Of course we’d need to thoroughly research the phenomenon and see it replicated. The more the event in question fails to match our background information the more evidence we’d need in its favor. This background evidence includes the fact that a massively superior natural intelligence could fool us but all of this is not an unsurmountable obstacle. Eventually we’d have to be able to reach two conclusions

1. It’s incredibly unlikely the laws of physics can describe the event.

2. The event shows agency (in other words, it fits our background information on what agents do).

It’s fairly easy to imagine a circumstance were 1 occurs and 2 seems perfectly plausible in principle so long as we assume non-physical minds are possible.

I think consciousness is WAY more surprising and amazing on naturalism than mind reading or clairvoyance would be. That, the existence of anything at all, and the specificity of what exists are what impress me about reality, and what I judge to not fit with our background knowledge of physics.

There’s nothing very surprising about a biological computer computing things. This fits perfectly with our background information. As for why anything at all exists… I’m not sure that’s a question we have the ability to answer. Plugging “God” or “some unknown sort of natural cause” into the explanation only sounds like an answer because we want the question to be answered and we like the sound of the answer. It doesn’t actually tell us anything.

thepowerofmeow

once must find a hole in the naturalistic evidence and plug in a supernatural cause which is completely comprised of elements of faith

Not at all. See conclusion 2 above. Our evidence in favor of a supernatural agent causing something can be entirely based on what we know. It just wouldn’t be completely composed of “naturalistic evidence.”

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Zeb March 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm

woodchuck64, as Adito says, “There’s nothing very surprising about a biological computer computing things.” And while the spontaneous natural evolution of biological computers itself is surprising and amazing (and yet I believe that is what we find), it would not be surprising to me, given the randomness of their origin, if those computers were full of lots of nonsensical ‘code’ which they spent lots of energy processing and communicating. Which is to say, those computers could contain code for “consciousness” and talk a lot about it without that code representing anything real. How is it different from “God,” which as I think you are an atheist you would say we talk about without having experience of? What’s surprising to me is not that natural humans can talk about consciousness, or beleive they are conscious (besides my general surprise at naturally evolved computers), but that they are conscious. And I’m just saying it’s surprising that consciousness could happen naturally even if it does. Maybe this is subjective but I think it is even harder to say that you should expect qualia given a whole lot of matter, energy and time than that you should expect self replicating information processors given the same – and so consciousness would be an even more impressive ‘miracle’ to count as evidence for supernaturalism than would be mind reading or sky writing, etc. if I thought that a naturalist could have reason to accept amazing unexplained phenomena as evidence for the supernatural, which I don’t.

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Zeb March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Adito

1. It’s incredibly unlikely the laws of physics can describe the event.

How would you judge that? Do you think we are at a privileged point in the history of science where we can make that call? That may be, and I’d like to hear the argument if you think so. Not so long ago people were saying that about lots of things we have natural explanations for now.

Plugging “God” or “some unknown sort of natural cause” into the explanation only sounds like an answer because we want the question to be answered and we like the sound of the answer.

How does that statement not apply to mind-reading or future-prediction, or whatever?

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Steven R. March 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm

But why, if prayers were answered consistently, would we assume there was a supernatural cause?If it’s repeatable and predictable, then wouldn’t it be better to assume there was some sort of natural cause behind it? And even if it were God,if He is completely consistent and predictable, wouldn’t we still consider the event natural? After all, there is no real reason that there is electricity or that there are certain fundamental forces.They are just there.  

Well it depends on what you define as “natural”. Sure, if it’s something consistent, reliable and predictable, I suppose that such a thing would be deemed “natural”. On the other hand, no, there would be good cause to think it is God if you only got the effects of, say, prayer answered once you started following the rules, beliefs or what have you that said deity supposed wants to promote. This gives us good reason to think a personal agent is acting.

—-

The low probability of consciousness arising isn’t a testament to God. This is just a variation of the Fine-Tuning argument and the whole criticisms of it apply here. A public revelation of God, verifiable and unexplainable would indeed be very good proof in favor of God, on the other hand. Lastly, even if consciousness does give us good reason to think a powerful agent is behind it, I can’t tell whether it should be a disembodied, all-powerful mind or a trans-dimensional unicorn who can alter and mess with our own dimension.

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Rob March 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm

What about 1 Kings 18:16-40? Elijah tested the magical powers of Yahweh vs. Baal and Yahweh came through with flying colors.

So, if you take the bible seriously, and any good Christian should, then God’s supernatural powers can be tested and confirmed.

Any Christians care to perform such a test today? If not, why not?

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Zeb March 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm

A public revelation of God, verifiable and unexplainable would indeed be very good proof in favor of God, on the other hand.

How would you know it was verifiable and unexplainable?

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woodchuck64 March 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Zeb,

it would not be surprising to me, given the randomness of their origin, if those computers were full of lots of nonsensical ‘code’ which they spent lots of energy processing and communicating. Which is to say, those computers could contain code for “consciousness” and talk a lot about it without that code representing anything real.

But truly useless, nonsensical code should be trimmed by natural selection, so we can be fairly sure all code has some purpose (even if far from clear). And if some code allows a computer to see colors, and other code allows a computer to reflect on seeing color (no small feat), and even more evolved code allows interactive communication with other computers about the status of respective internal states (gargantuan feat), couldn’t we eventually expect a discussion of the “raw feels” of “what it’s like to see red”? That’s the point at which I feel like I would be willing to grant that real consciousness is being experienced. It just seems more strange to me to imagine “nothing really going on in there” with that level of complex introspection and information processing. This is like a Turing Test for consciousness.

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thepowerofmeow March 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm

If we saw something occur that current physics could not explain, and it displayed agency – I still wonder why we would posit a supernatural cause rather than a hypothetical natural one that we do not understand?

And of course, talk of “God” requires a lot of pre-packaged notions. Just think “supernatural”, meaning outside the chain of causation and naturalistic relationships of any kind. If some strange, unexplainable occurrence displays human-like agency, then wouldn’t a time-traveling-human-from-the-future scenario make more sense than just making something up and calling it supernatural?

I think there is a place for “God talk” in religion and philosophy, but “proving” something supernatural with an allegedly supernatural event (which could have no connection or subservience at all to anything we base our epistemology on) just doesn’t make too much sense to me.

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Zak March 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm

DaVead,

I think we may eventually nail down neuronal correlates for 99% of mental states

According to every cognitive scientist I have read, 100% of mental states have already been nailed down.

All conscious states are caused by brain processes. There aren’t any exceptions. Every single conscious state is caused by brain processes. -John Searle

New imaging techniques have tied every thought and emotion to neural activity. And any change to the brain—from strokes, drugs, electricity or surgery—will literally change your mind. -Steven Pinker

All mental processes, even the most complex psychological processes, derive from operations of the brain. -Eric Kandel

It never ceases to amaze me that all the richness of our mental life, all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions, our love life, our religious sentiments, and even what each of us regards as our own intimate, private self, is simply the activity of the activity of these little specks of jelly in your head: your brain. There is nothing else. –VS Ramachandran

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DaVead March 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Zeb,
By “nail down” I didn’t mean determine that they are caused by brain states, but rather gain an intimate understanding of what the neuronal goings-on are actually doing such that they produce this particular experience.

Adito,
What I meant was that the extrinsic and and functional properties of mental states fail to explain their intrinsic properties. We know that neuronal event A causes experience B. But this doesn’t explain the intrinsic nature of B, since it seems that B needs to already have its intrinsic properties before it can stand in extrinsic relations. And the discovery of strong causal and dependency relations alone doesn’t explain why these particular neuronal events give rise to these particular experiences. Those questions make up the hard problem.

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DaVead March 3, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Sorry, not Zeb, I meant Zak.

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Zeb March 3, 2011 at 7:25 pm

woodchuck64,

That’s a good explanation and I see what you mean. As far as what is likely/surprising, the gargantuan amount nonsense DNA in humans suggests that nonsense concepts may not be trimmed, and anyway I would think natural selection would trim according to a pragmatic theory of truth, not a correspondence theory of truth – God and free-will were probably useful concepts even if they were nonsense. Nevertheless your account of computers talking meaningfully about “raw feels” makes sense to me. And yet I would ask why “That’s the point at which I feel like I would be willing to grant that real consciousness is being experienced.”? I think you are saying that when you recognize a certain amount of the third-person-observable phenomena that accompany known instances of consciousness (which may be only your own), you choose to presume that consciousness accompanies those phenomena. Or are you saying that consciousness just is the combination of detection, reflection, and communication about sensations?

Certainly I agree that natural objects can detect, reflect, and communicate in response interaction with other objects. In fact it might be hard to account for any natural object ever failing to do those three things in a sense; does a mirror not detect the image of the sun, store information about that image, and communicate what it’s like to be hit by the sun? Much more analogous to humans would be digital cameras, which detect images, store them, translate them into symbol, create and store secondary information about the images, and communicate the images both in re-creation and in symbol form in a way that other digital cameras can use. In fact you might say they are much better at “talking about raw feels,” I can’t describe red to you, all I can do is tell you that I know what how red looks. A digital camera can put “red” into another digital camera with perfect fidelity. But being physically impacted by 650 nm electromagnetic waves, being impacted by that impact, reacting in such a way as to recreate a material pattern very similar to the initial impact, generating a recursive loop of physical interactions that recreate the pattern in various transformations in multiple bodies – where in here is the experience of red? Personally I can’t make the jump to say that things that seem a lot like things that are conscious must also be conscious.

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Steven R. March 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm

How would you know it was verifiable and unexplainable?  

Because everyone would be able to see it. It wouldn’t be this “Oh I felt touched by God” crap that is always used to try and justify God. It would be unexplainable because, say, a voice out of the sky saying “I am the one real God” in all the world’s languages and heard by all would indeed have no natural explanation. That seems much, much more like the action of a personal agent.

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Zeb March 4, 2011 at 5:39 am

Steven R.,
How about the miracle of the sun?

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Patrick March 4, 2011 at 8:56 am

In my view it is reasonable to regard phenomena as supernatural, if they show design-imposed, as defined by Jack Collins, and cannot be accounted for naturalistically. The feature of design-imposed is necessary to distinguish phenomena with apparent supernatural cause from merely unexplained phenomena.

In the paper mentioned above Jack Collins defines “design-imposed” as “the imposition of structure upon some object or collection of objects for some purpose, where the structure and the purpose are not inherent in the properties of the components but make use of these properties.” A good example of such a phenomenon is the fine-tuning of the universe.

Claims of supernatural powers can only be refuted if they are falsifiable. Such a claim is falsifiable if the phenomenon it tries to explain appears to show design-imposed. If the phenomenon once thought to show design-imposed turns out to lack such a feature, the supernatural explanation is falsified. As far as I can see there have been hardly any claims of supernatural forces concerning such phenomena that have been refuted.

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Patrick March 4, 2011 at 9:23 am

BenSix: “Some may not have been confirmed but haven’t been refuted: ESP research, for example. Quoth Richard Wiseman -

I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.”

If Wiseman’s statement that by the standard of any other area of science remote viewing is proven is correct, the existence of supernatural forces is indeed scientifically proven, as this phenomenon meets the requirements of my definition of the supernatural. In view of the fact that hardly any supernatural claim has been disproven it might even turn out that supernatural claims confirmed by experiment outnumber those refuted by experiment.

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woodchuck64 March 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Zeb,

As far as what is likely/surprising, the gargantuan amount nonsense DNA in humans suggests that nonsense concepts may not be trimmed, and anyway I would think natural selection would trim according to a pragmatic theory of truth, not a correspondence theory of truth – God and free-will were probably useful concepts even if they were nonsense.

Noncoding DNA is nonsense DNA from the perspective of protein coding or direct organism use but from a higher perspective it may function as raw material for new alleles and new functions way down the evolutionary road. But your point is still reasonable: whatever happens via a natural process won’t necessarily make any sense from the organism’s perspective. I would agree that a pragmatic theory of truth is a safer bet for naturalists.

But to the issue of whether naturalism cares that complex biological organisms are right when they claim to experience consciousness, I’m adding in my own experience that evolution at least got this one right. However, I’m not saying that my consciousness proves naturalism can evolve consciousness, but rather that if naturalism can evolve complex biological organisms that argue about the hard problem of consciousness (which seems at least tentatively true), I then find it easier to believe they are conscious after all and that consciousness somehow occurred sleight-of-hand: when and where we weren’t looking (which I take as one of Dennett’s general points that is often misinterpreted as denying conscious experience.)

I think you are saying that when you recognize a certain amount of the third-person-observable phenomena that accompany known instances of consciousness (which may be only your own), you choose to presume that consciousness accompanies those phenomena.

Yes. Part of that is habit I’m sure, but part of it is thinking my similarity to another being, and hence my reason for thinking they experience consciousness the way I know I do, is most seen in their ability to recognize the novelty of being a first-person observer. I can’t imagine a being that clearly appears to be amazed and astonished at being a conscious observer but is not really a conscious observer.

Or are you saying that consciousness just is the combination of detection, reflection, and communication about sensations?

Also yes, but in a sense far more vague than I would like.

But being physically impacted by 650 nm electromagnetic waves, being impacted by that impact, reacting in such a way as to recreate a material pattern very similar to the initial impact, generating a recursive loop of physical interactions that recreate the pattern in various transformations in multiple bodies – where in here is the experience of red? Personally I can’t make the jump to say that things that seem a lot like things that are conscious must also be conscious.

Yes, the less human it is, the more difficult the intuition. I find it only works for me when its a being fully capable of agreeing with and reflecting on, say, cogito ergo sum.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I love how single-image posts so often get more comments than a tightly-written article. No wonder Tumblr is so popular!

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Mo March 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm

The data so far….

Yeah, that about sums it up.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Steven R.,
How about the miracle of the sun?  

What about it? Many events may cause the sun to look weird or different and can be explained scientifically. I also imagine that people staring or looking up at the sky where the bright sun is would also cause the eyes to look at things weird. That, coupled with expectational bias of something special occurring would seem to explain it. Add to it that we have priors of people in groups having mass delusions and seeing things that they aren’t there and we have a very unconvincing case, and this is just a cursory view of it. By its very nature, a miraculous claim should be given very low credibility.

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Zeb March 6, 2011 at 6:46 am

What about it? Many events may cause the sun to look weird or different and can be explained scientifically. I also imagine that people staring or looking up at the sky where the bright sun is would also cause the eyes to look at things weird. That, coupled with expectational bias of something special occurring would seem to explain it. Add to it that we have priors of people in groups having mass delusions and seeing things that they aren’t there and we have a very unconvincing case, and this is just a cursory view of it. By its very nature, a miraculous claim should be given very low credibility.  

I agree that your theory about the miracle of the sun is most likely true, but you’ve revealed the failure of your earlier position. Only by special pleading or ad hoc explanation can you qualitatively distinguish between this unexplained mass phenomenon and “a voice out of the sky saying “I am the one real God” in all the world’s languages and heard by all.”

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