News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 5, 2009 in News

Most desired scientific discoveries on reddit, along with my own predictions on when they will be achieved (which are more pessimistic than those of the scientists working on these problems):

  1. Immortality [consciousness uploading; 2150]
  2. Alien life with which we could meaningfully communicate [millions of years if ever; too far away...]
  3. Cure for cancer [2090]
  4. Cheap/clean/abundant renewable energy [2070]
  5. Warp drive [never?]
  6. Affordable female android sex slaves [2050]

Also, Vox Day has published his 6th letter to me.

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{ 125 comments… read them below or add one }

Kutuzov December 5, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Immortality by 2150? Don’t tell Ray Kurzweil, he’s certain this will happen in his lifetime, even if he has to extend his lifetime with self-experimentation!

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Ryan December 5, 2009 at 6:41 pm

You’re telling me I’ll have to wait forty years to get an affordable female android sex slave? Damn. I guess I’ll just have to find a wife in the mean time ; )

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Consciousness is not a material thing, so it can never be “downloaded.”

Also, the android sex slave won’t be as revolutionary as you might think. People will always prefer the real thing over robots, because a large part of the pleasure of sex is the emotional/spiritual aspect, and that can only be done with another authentic human being.

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Rhys Wilkins December 5, 2009 at 6:51 pm

For such an articulate intelligent guy, Vox’s world philosophy is very bizarre.

Why does Vox think that sadism is such strong evidence for metaphysical Biblical evil? For starters it is classic God-of-the-gaps, and secondly, there are so many explanations that make so much more sense then something contained in a 2000 year old pandemonium of fallacies and contradictions.

Why, Vox, why?

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lukeprog December 5, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Ryan,

If you get a wife, she won’t let you get a female android sex slave when Target starts selling them. Skip the wife; wait for the good stuff. :)

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Rhys: I wouldn’t waste a lot of time trying to understand Vox’s logic. That’s why I stopped reading these exchanges after Part 2. I rather fold my socks.

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Justfinethanks December 5, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Consciousness is not a material thing, so it can never be “downloaded.”

A “song” isn’t a material thing, so that must be why it’s impossible to create an MP3.

People will always prefer the real thing over robots, because a large part of the pleasure of sex is the emotional/spiritual aspect,

Yes, and that’s why pornography and prostitutes are in such low demand, because men like “spiritual” sex.

/sarc

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Just: If you asked 100 men whether they’d prefer to watch porn or have real sex with a girl, how many of them would rather watch porn? Tell me.

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Just: A song IS a material thing; it’s words set to music.

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Charles December 5, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I don’t understand #1.

As far as I know, I am a brain. I can imagine having my “self” transferred to another body or hooked up to wires in a vat someplace, but uploaded? I don’t see how my uploaded “self” could be anything other than a copy.

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Justfinethanks December 5, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Just: A song IS a material thing; it’s words set to music.

It is? What would you say are the primary elements of a “song.” Is it mostly Hydrogen? Is “song” carbon based, like life? Or perhaps something more exotic like selenium?

A “song” is the product of material things, like a guitar, vocal chords, drums, but the “song” itself is merely an emergent property of these combined things. Much like “consciousness” is merely an emergent property of neurons, chemicals, and electrical discharges.

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Just: See, that’s your mistake. You assume consciousness is an “emergent property” of matter when there’s no evidence of that, and a lot of evidence against it. Consciousness interacts with matter, but is not equal to matter; it is a non-material agent. And as such, it cannot be uploaded into a machine.

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Charles: Yes, that’s a great point. Even if we ARE just material things, the goal of “uploading the self” is still impossible. At best, the “new self” would be an excellent copy, but it could never be the true self.

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josef johann December 5, 2009 at 7:31 pm

I actually did a blog post of my own based on that thread. What was stunning to me was how many people tried to rationalize toward impossibility however they could. It’s the same kind of helplessness one tends to find in new age thinking about how “science can’t solve everything”.

If you look at the reddit thread, I bet you will find under every subject at least one person claiming that the wish is impossible or leads to absurdities, etc. There is an impulse toward helplessness, that grants you the relief from thinking of the details of how it might really work, that I think many people find seductive.

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urbster1 December 5, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Todd White: See, that’s your mistake.You assume consciousness is an “emergent property” of matter when there’s no evidence of that, and a lot of evidence against it.Consciousness interacts with matter, but is not equal to matter; it is a non-material agent.And as such, it cannot be uploaded into a machine.  

Bleh. What? How is this just an “assumption”? Neuroscience couldn’t work if this were the case. Of course there’s tons of evidence for consciousness being produced by the brain (by contrast, no one has ever produced evidence for the existence of any kind of “soul” or extraphysical, dualist property or successfully explained such an interaction with physical matter). Namely, when a part of the brain is removed, so is its respective function, regardless of the brain involved. Let’s not forget all the evolutionary evidence, either. Also if you were to fire a bullet through your brain, you would cease to be conscious. That doesn’t mean that what we call “consciousness” isn’t more complicated than just brain-level activity, for example, because it also requires human interaction, socialization, etc. for anyone to become fully ‘conscious’ in another sense of the word. But I am strictly speaking about things like qualia and self-awareness and conscious experience that people reference when they’re discussing consciousness at the level of the brain. Have a look at some Dennett, particularly Consciousness Explained for some detailed philosophical discussion of this topic.

As for the list, #2 and #5 might be possible if we can invent superintellgence; I’m sure Kurzweil has something to say about this, but maybe I’m not as informed as I should be.

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Urb: To take one example most people can relate to, let’s look at the placebo effect: Who is the “I” that thinks he’s getting healthier, and MAKES his body healthier, even if the pill he took is just a sugar bill? To the Reductionist, the “I” just an illusion. But the facts of science (plus common sense) suggest there really is an “I” (distinct from the body) who can influence the body.

The title of Dennet’s book is laughable; science cannot define consciousness, never mind explain it.

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Bill Maher December 5, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Todd White: Charles: Yes, that’s a great point.Even if we ARE just material things, the goal of “uploading the self” is still impossible.At best, the “new self” would be an excellent copy, but it could never be the true self.  

Todd have you heard of the teleporter problem? In regards ST, there are alot of people who think it is impossible to teleport a person’s consciousness, so the machine kills the teleportee and assembles a copy of them with their memories. So, the teleported is actually a clone.

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Thomas Reid December 5, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Of course there’s tons of evidence for consciousness being produced by the brain…

I would be interested to know your definitions of the terms “consciousness” and “produced”.

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Kutuzov December 5, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Thomas Reid: I would be interested to know your definitions of the terms “consciousness” and “produced”.

Yikes, philosophy of mind is a big subject! I second reading Daniel Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained” (incidentally, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is such a great book I can’t not recommend it also)

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Jeff H December 5, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Todd White: Urb: To take one example most people can relate to, let’s look at the placebo effect: Who is the “I” that thinks he’s getting healthier, and MAKES his body healthier, even if the pill he took is just a sugar bill?To the Reductionist, the “I” just an illusion.But the facts of science (plus common sense) suggest there really is an “I” (distinct from the body) who can influence the body.The title of Dennet’s book is laughable; science cannot define consciousness, never mind explain it.  

Interesting questions, but the “I” is a complex concept that is developed in individuals over time. I am not sure what the research says about whether newborns can distinguish themselves from the outside world or not, but work done on the egocentrism of children shows that young children are unable to distinguish between their own perspectives and the perspectives of others (they assume that everyone sees and knows what they do). I have also heard of some work that has suggested that there may be no coherent “I” structure, but rather a network of related concepts that can be made more or less relevant at different times. So, a person could describe themselves differently at different points in time, depending on what situation they are in at the time.

The placebo effect is also not really evidence of a separate “I” entity – it’s a mind-body connection at the most. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how it works, of course, but they know that it has to do with expectations and beliefs, that can then influence the body. This says nothing about some sort of distinct “I” entity; we know that the brain can have profound effects on the body – it’s the control center for the entire operation! It sends out nerve impulses, hormones, and other chemical signals to operate the body. We just don’t know the specific methods that the brain is using when the placebo effect is functioning.

Now with all that said, I am open to the idea of a “soul”, if such a thing can be tested. I think it’s essentially something unfalsifiable, but I also don’t think that the evidence held up to prove that the mind and brain are one and the same is all that good, either. We know that the mind and brain, even if they are distinct, are still very much connected and can influence each other. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the mind is then simply an emergent property of the brain, but at the same time, it does not provide any evidence against that hypothesis either. Occam’s Razor would seem to shave off the idea of a soul, but were we to map out the brain in more detail and find that the consciousness function eludes us, it might still be plausible to come up with some notion of a “mind” or “soul”. But until then…

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 9:40 pm

I’m not a big fan of Occum’s Razor (especially in science, ironically). The universe is a pretty big, complicated place, and while every generation of scientists answers some questions, they usually get dwarfed by the number of new questions that spring from the tremendous complexity that is the world and life itself.

I’m just glad there wasn’t an Occum’s Razor’s in Galileo’s time. I’m sure the Church would’ve used it against him: “The Earth goes AROUND the sun? Surely, you jest Galileo! That goes against Occum’s Razor.”

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Jeff: The placebo effect is also not really evidence of a separate “I” entity – it’s a mind-body connection at the most.’

TW: Since mind is not matter, I’m comfortable saying that evidence of a “mind-body connection” is also evidence of an immaterial self.

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Fortuna December 5, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Todd:

The brain can physically influence the rest of the body in a variety of ways through good old, plain-jane chemistry. The placebo effect, and related instances of biofeedback, do not strictly require us to postulate anything spooky or ethereal.

Also, Occams’ razor slices complex things all things being equal. Galileo had evidence that unbalanced that equation.

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 10:38 pm

FTA: “The brain can physically influence the rest of the body in a variety of ways through good old, plain-jane chemistry.”

TW: Yes, of course, but I’m suggesting that the mind is not equal to the brain.

FTA: “The placebo effect, and related instances of biofeedback, do not strictly require us to postulate anything spooky or ethereal.”

TW: I don’t think there’s a “strict requirement.” However, if you take the placebo effect (and similar evidence), and then contrast it with the materialist paradigm, I would argue that “an inference to the best explanation” leads one to conclude that the best explanation is that the mind has a non-material element.

FTA: “Also, Occams’ razor slices complex things all things being equal.”

TW: True, but too often, Occam’s razor is used for scientific enterprises in which so much of our data is fuzzy (like consciousness studies). Unfortunately, the mere fuzziness leads people to use Occam’s Razor in favor of materialism, and I think that’s lazy – especially when, as I said before, we know from experience that the universe is a pretty big, complicated place.

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Fortuna December 5, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Todd;

I don’t think there’s a “strict requirement.” However, if you take the placebo effect (and similar evidence), and then contrast it with the materialist paradigm, I would argue that “an inference to the best explanation” leads one to conclude that the best explanation is that the mind has a non-material element.

How do you propose to “contrast” biofeedback with the materialist paradigm? We know that the brain has a great deal of chemical interplay with the rest of body, up to and including dramatically altering various aspects of your physiology.

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Todd White December 5, 2009 at 11:27 pm

FTA: How do you propose to “contrast” biofeedback with the materialist paradigm?

TW: I’m not sure if I understand the question. The way I see it, biofeedback exists in a pro-mind paradigm too. Mind can influence the body, and vice versa. But the mind does not equal the body.

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Fortuna December 5, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Biofeedback, of which the placebo effect is an exemplar, occurs when the operation of the brain influences the operation of other parts of the body, via biochemical channels, and vice versa. There’s no need to postulate an immaterial anything to account for it.

That’s why I wonder how you plan to make the case that an immaterial mind “makes the body healthier”.

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Thomas Reid December 6, 2009 at 3:47 am

Kutuzov:
Yikes, philosophy of mind is a big subject! I second reading Daniel Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained” (incidentally, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is such a great book I can’t not recommend it also)  

Thanks. I must say I find Dennett’s work almost deliciously ironic – all that effort devoted to explaining his ideas to entities he doesn’t believe exist. The second someone ascents to his conclusion in that book after thinking it over for a while, they give evidence to themselves that nullifies his project.

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Lee A. P. December 6, 2009 at 3:55 am

Yo Vox, your common fucking house cat kills for pleasure and plays with its dead victim(s), often for hours without so much as taking a nibble.

Dumbass.

This is the type of shit I thought of and used to defend theism when I was 12 years old. There are tons of examples of animals killing for pleasure.

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Jeff H December 6, 2009 at 9:29 am

Todd White:
TW: Since mind is not matter, I’m comfortable saying that evidence of a “mind-body connection” is also evidence of an immaterial self.  

I used “mind-body connection” because it is a term already used. “Brain-body connection” might have been more accurate. But the question at hand is whether the mind and the brain are the same thing or something distinct but related. And it’s a valid question. But we have ample documentation of the brain being able to change the body; it does it all the time. As I’m typing this, my brain is sending electrical impulses to the appropriate fingers. That pathway of brain -> body might be extended backward as mind -> brain -> body, but to postulate that the pathway is ACTUALLY mind -> body would be strange, to say the least. I think it would be odd to say that my mind or soul or consciousness is sending ethereal messages to my fingers without my brain playing any role.

It’s the same with the placebo effect. Because we know that the brain controls the body, it seems reasonable to assume that the brain would be responsible for the placebo effect (an effect on the body). What we don’t know is whether the mind is separate from the brain and somehow telling the brain how to produce the effect. And unfortunately, we have little evidence either way on this one. Obviously, we know that the brain can affect consciousness (the “mind”), and that consciousness can affect the brain. But this tells us nothing about whether they are the same or separate. It only tells us that they are closely connected.

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Ari December 6, 2009 at 11:50 am

Todd White: I’m not a big fan of Occum’s Razor (especially in science, ironically).The universe is a pretty big, complicated place, and while every generation of scientists answers some questions, they usually get dwarfed by the number of new questions that spring from the tremendous complexity that is the world and life itself.I’m just glad there wasn’t an Occum’s Razor’s in Galileo’s time.I’m sure the Church would’ve used it against him:“The Earth goes AROUND the sun?Surely, you jest Galileo!That goes against Occum’s Razor.”  

Actually, Occam’s Razor was the primary reason the heliocentric theory was supported at all at that time. The Ptolemaic theory of an Earth-centered solar system needed vast numbers of “epicycles,” or circles within circular orbits, to work. The Copernican theory greatly reduced the number of epicycles needed to explain the motions of the planets.

Not until later did the realization that orbits were elliptical, not circular, render the whole concept of epicycles unnecessary.

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urbster1 December 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Todd, the data that composes my Windows operating system resides on the hard drive of my computer. But the Windows operating system is not the hard drive itself. The Windows operating system arises as a result of the computing functions done by the hardware. You can’t open up my hard drive and find this text, all you’ll find is magnetic particles aligned in a certain way. My computer wouldn’t be able to produce this text where you can read it without also being connected to other computers. Likewise, my mind is a result of the computing functions done by the neurons in my brain, and consciousness results from this along with interactions between other brains (socialization, as I mentioned before). There is no “I”; Dennett explains this in his book, where he proposes a “multiple drafts” view of consciousness, in stark contrast to the “I” view (he calls it the “Cartesian theater” view) of consciousness. In Dennett’s view, our brains evolved to do lots of parallel processing tasks; consciousness, then, is like a virtual serial “I” machine running on top of these parallel processors. I’ll let you read the book before responding further.

Interestingly, recent studies have shown evidence of spinal cord involvement in placebo analgesia: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/326/5951/404

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Summa December 6, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Lee A. P.

Yo Vox, your common fucking house cat kills for pleasure and plays with its dead victim(s), often for hours without so much as taking a nibble.

Dumbass.

This is the type of shit I thought of and used to defend theism when I was 12 years old. There are tons of examples of animals killing for pleasure.

Luke’s alter ego is SCARY. But you gotta give him this: He;s got range. He would do well to pursue an acting career. First project? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I’ll be first to buy tickets.

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Summa December 6, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Ryan,If you get a wife, she won’t let you get a female android sex slave when Target starts selling them. Skip the wife; wait for the good stuff. :)

The “good” stuff, hmm? ;) I see.

This was a very revealing glimpse into Sir Luke’s attitude towards women, which–at least by the flavor of this quip–appears to be either indifferent, misogynistic or a strange hybrid of the two.

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Rhys Wilkins December 6, 2009 at 1:19 pm

The only way we would be able to fully upload our consciousness would be to do it via quantum entanglement or Bose-Einstein condensates, and that is a very long time away. Entanglement is a notoriously difficult state to hold in place and only exists for nanoseconds at a time. Bose-Einstein condensates are also extremely hard to make.

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Rhys Wilkins December 6, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Todd White: I’m not a big fan of Occum’s Razor (especially in science, ironically).The universe is a pretty big, complicated place, and while every generation of scientists answers some questions, they usually get dwarfed by the number of new questions that spring from the tremendous complexity that is the world and life itself.I’m just glad there wasn’t an Occum’s Razor’s in Galileo’s time.I’m sure the Church would’ve used it against him:“The Earth goes AROUND the sun?Surely, you jest Galileo!That goes against Occum’s Razor.”

The basic premise of O.R. is that the most simple explanation is the best explanation, not the most simple explanation is the truth. It always leaves open the possibility of more evidence coming in and altering the theory.

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anothersecretLuke December 6, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Summa,

your a terrile person and horrible judge of character.
It is self-evident now.
You may be left to your own devices.

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Sharkey December 6, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Rhys: The only way we would be able to fully upload our consciousness would be to do it via quantum entanglement or Bose-Einstein condensates, and that is a very long time away

Assuming that neurons, their connections and current state are what defines the mind and therefore consciousness (an assumption not universally accepted), you can take advantage of that idea and replace the neurons one by one with software equivalents. Slowly replace each neuron with a software replica, and forward the biological connections to the software ones (and vice versa). Eventually, you have a software brain and nothing remaining of the biological one. Still very hard, but only requires cellular-scale technology rather than quantum-scale.

For those that deny the initial assumption: considering that the atoms that make up a human brain completely change at least once every few years*, it can be inferred that it’s the higher-level pattern that’s important, and not the substrate. Keep the pattern, keep the mind.

(* I’ve seen various numbers of the atomic and molecular replacement rate, so I chose a relatively conservative estimate.)

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Lee A. P. December 6, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Summa: Luke’s alter ego is SCARY. But you gotta give him this: He;s got range. He would do well to pursue an acting career. First project? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I’ll be first to buy tickets.  (Quote)

I’ll thank you for the compliment!

I’ll leave Luke to chastise you for what is an insult from his POV.

The only alter ego’s on this site is you and “ayer”.

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lukeprog December 6, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Summa,

That was an obvious joke. Please stop making wild guesses about who I am and what I believe. I can tell you directly what I believe, right here in hypertext.

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lukeprog December 6, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Lee,

I think ayer is much different than Summa. Summa I am just ignoring now.

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Josh December 6, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Lee,

I agree with Luke. Ayer may be wrong about everything (well most everything) but at least he’s coherent ;-).

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Todd White December 6, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Fortuna: In the case of the placebo effect, the act of thinking itself is what drives the biochemical changes. What I am suggesting is that the origin of thinking (the irreducible “I”) is an immaterial process. There is no inherent reason to believe that matter can create mind; it’s a theory of materialist science. I won’t be arrogant enough to say it’s an illogical theory or a theory that could never be proven, but I don’t think it fits the evidence discovered by science over the past century.

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Todd White December 6, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Jeff: “Because we know that the brain controls the body, it seems reasonable to assume that the brain would be responsible for the placebo effect (an effect on the body).”

TW: If thinking was on the same level of complexity as digestion, that might express my opinion too. But thinking/consciousness is on an order of complexity so startling that science today struggles to even define it, never mind explain it. Thus, I don’t feel inhibited in suggesting that we are grappling with something which can not be understood in strictly materialist terms, and has has a non-material dimension.

I don’t know to what extent you’re familiar with the writer John Derbyshire, but he’s a proud Darwinist and a critic of Christianity who – despite all that – feels the “hard problem of consciousness” is so vexing, he rejects atheism.

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Todd White December 6, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Derbsyhire after attending the “Toward a Science of Consciouness Conference,” concluded…

“How far do we still have to go ‘toward a science of consciousness’? A long way yet, was my parting impression. In his 2007 Teaching Company lecture series Consciousness and its Implications (which I recommend), philosopher Daniel Robinson remarks that: ‘Despite the tremendous growth of knowledge over recent decades, the problem of mental causation … is pretty much where it was in the time of the ancient Greek philosophers.’ That matches my own conclusions from the Tucson meeting.”

http://www.johnderbyshire.com/Opinions/HumanSciences/scienceofconsciousness2.html

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urbster1 December 6, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Todd White: Fortuna: In the case of the placebo effect, the act of thinking itself is what drives the biochemical changes.What I am suggesting is that the origin of thinking (the irreducible “I”) is an immaterial process.There is no inherent reason to believe that matter can create mind; it’s a theory of materialist science.I won’t be arrogant enough to say it’s an illogical theory or a theory that could never be proven, but I don’t think it fits the evidence discovered by science over the past century.  

The “I” IS reducible. It’s not just one thing; it’s many parts of the brain that come together to form this “story” of an “I.” As Dennett says it’s like a virtual serial machine running on parallel processing hardware. What “evidence” are you talking about that doesn’t fit this picture? Cognitive science and AI along with neuroscience, psychology, anatomy, evolutionary biology… I could go on and on. They all point to the “I” being all in our brain. Our brains are the most complex machines in the universe. That ought to be enough to not need anything else to make consciousness. You really ought to read this book (Consciousness Explained); it might even change your mind!

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Todd White December 6, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Urbster: There is no “I”; Dennett explains this in his book.

TW: Dennett is a very dishonest man. To say – as he does – “there is no ‘I’” and then smugly wipe his hands clean of the subject is preposterous. That doesn’t answer anything. There is DEFINITELY an “I.” Who is writing this question? Me. “I.” Who is reading it? YOU! (Another “I.”).

The irony, of course, is that Dennett is merely taking materialism to its logical conclusion…If materialism can’t explain “I,” then “I” can’t exist.

Brilliant!

While Dennett sips his margarita on the beach, I have some real questions to ask: What is consciousness? What is it made of? Where did it come from? How does it work? These are serious questions that deserve serious research, not just smoke and mirrors from atheist propagandists.

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Todd White December 6, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Urb: The “I” IS reducible. It’s not just one thing; it’s many parts of the brain that come together to form this “story” of an “I.”

TW: “I” exist. I would also point out that “I” is the foundation of science. Don’t you remember Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am?” To postulate that the “I” is an illusion is to destroy reason and thus destroy the scientific enterprise in the long-term. You are making science intellectually defenseless to the theists you claim to oppose. Why science allowed itself to descend into this abyss I’ll never understand.

Urb: What “evidence” are you talking about that doesn’t fit this picture? Cognitive science and AI along with neuroscience, psychology, anatomy, evolutionary biology…

TW: All of those disciplines have evidence which support my paradigm, except for evolutionary biology (and that’s because evo-bio has nothing to say on the subject either way).

Urb: “Our brains are the most complex machines in the universe. That ought to be enough to not need anything else to make consciousness.”

TW: I don’t see how anyone could agree with that assertion.

Urb: You really ought to read this book (Consciousness Explained).

TW: I’m familiar enough with Dennett’s work to know that he’s a propagandist and an intellectual lightweight; certainly not a man with a sincere passion for truth.

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Jeff H December 6, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Todd White: If thinking was on the same level of complexity as digestion, that might express my opinion too.But thinking/consciousness is on an order of complexity so startling that science today struggles to even define it, never mind explain it.Thus, I don’t feel inhibited in suggesting that we are grappling with something which can not be understood in strictly materialist terms, and has has a non-material dimension.

I don’t have a problem with that in principle. However, your argument is akin to that of ID’s “irreducibly complex” systems – in other words, consciousness is too complex to have a simple natural origin! Obviously it is complex, but similar to other systems that have developed over time, we can see a certain evolutionary development in other animals. Some mammals can pass the mirror test (indicating that they are self-aware), for example. But regardless of that, I try to place my own beliefs on the evidence that we have, and leave it open to adjustment as further evidence comes in. Right now, you’re right – science has difficulty defining and understanding consciousness. But that gives us no reason to assume that there must be some immaterial explanation because we can’t understand something. Especially since neuroscience, and psychology in general, are still essentially in their infancy. In time, as the picture of the brain becomes more complete, perhaps we can adequately answer this question. Until then, regardless of your dislike of it, Occam’s Razor provides the most logical solution.

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Jeff H December 6, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Todd White: Dennett is a very dishonest man.To say – as he does – “there is no ‘I’” and then smugly wipe his hands clean of the subject is preposterous.That doesn’t answer anything.There is DEFINITELY an “I.”Who is writing this question?Me.“I.”Who is reading it?YOU!(Another “I.”).

I haven’t read Dennett’s book, but as a student of psychology myself, what he is saying is backed up by solid research. I mentioned previously that we can see development of an “I” concept in the brain in children. I also mentioned that we don’t necessarily have a unified concept of what “I” am. Research on roles, scripts, and schemas shed plenty of light on this. In one situation, a certain script comes into effect, and we take on a certain role. Thus a person may be a “doctor” when he’s at work, but when he comes home, he is a “father” and “husband.” But the role of doctor doesn’t necessarily stay with him. Obviously, it’s still in his memory and such, but it’s not always a part of his self-concept at all times.

Similarly, psychologists can influence a person’s self-concept in the lab. I recently finished a paper on stereotype threat, which is a situational effect where a stereotyped person will do poorly on a task simply because they are trying hard not to confirm the stereotype (which they end up doing). There have been studies that showed that women doing math tests will do worse if they are reminded of their gender (and the negative stereotype along with it), but will do much better if reminded of their status as college students (with a positive stereotype). Such a simple manipulation, as easy as checking a box on a page, can radically influence their self-concept, and in turn influence their performance on a task. This does not lend itself well to the idea of a unified “I” concept. I wouldn’t personally go so far as to say there is no “I” at all, but I suspect Dennett is trying to say that it is not a unified one rather than that it doesn’t exist entirely.

While Dennett sips his margarita on the beach, I have some real questions to ask: What is consciousness?What is it made of?Where did it come from?How does it work?These are serious questions that deserve serious research, not just smoke and mirrors from atheist propagandists.  

Yes, these are serious questions that deserve serious research, but that does not mean that we cannot make justified conclusions based on the research that has already been done. Scientific discoveries are always subject to revision in light of new evidence, but so far there has been little to suggest an ethereal soul separate from the material body. Dennett can only use the evidence that currently exists.

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Fortuna December 6, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Todd;

In the case of the placebo effect, the act of thinking itself is what drives the biochemical changes. What I am suggesting is that the origin of thinking (the irreducible “I”) is an immaterial process. There is no inherent reason to believe that matter can create mind; it’s a theory of materialist science. I won’t be arrogant enough to say it’s an illogical theory or a theory that could never be proven, but I don’t think it fits the evidence discovered by science over the past century.

On the contrary, the evidence with which I’m familiar has only ever suggested that biochemical changes drive the act of thinking. Neurons fire, and then one wills their arm to move, or tastes ice cream, or gets angry, or what have you. As far I know, whenever we have been in a position to observe the matter, we have never observed the chain of causality flowing from thought to brain chemistry, only the reverse.

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Todd White December 7, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Jeff: I wouldn’t say your position is consistent with “Occam’s Razor.” Rather, I would say, it’s an act of faith – an act of faith in materialism. I know “faith” is a negative term in atheist circles, so maybe I should substitute “faith” with a “high level of trust that goes beyond the evidence at hand.” Personally, I don’t have much faith that materialism alone will solve the “hard problem of consciousness”, especially if – as another commenter articulated – the final destination of materialism is that “I don’t exist.” If that’s the materialist conclusion on the nature of consciousness, I’ll take a pass.

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Todd White December 7, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Jeff: A person may be a “doctor” when he’s at work, but when he comes home, he is a “father” and “husband.” But the role of doctor doesn’t necessarily stay with him. Obviously, it’s still in his memory and such, but it’s not always a part of his self-concept at all times.

TW: The doctor/father/husband is always “Joe Smith” [or whatever his name is]. The ability of human beings to play roles doesn’t negate the existence of consciousness.

Jeff: Similarly, psychologists can influence a person’s self-concept in the lab. I recently finished a paper on stereotype threat, which is a situational effect where a stereotyped person will do poorly on a task simply because they are trying hard not to confirm the stereotype (which they end up doing).

TW: I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that I’m not even 1% convinced that these examples do anything to undermine the idea that “I” (a coherent consciousness) exist. I’ve gotten “A’s” and “F’s” on tests for a variety of reasons (from anxiety to fatigue to whatever) and yet it was still “I” who got the grade. The fact that a self-concept can (as you say) be “influenced” doesn’t lead the conclusion that the “I” is either fragmented or doesn’t exist.

Jeff: Dennett can only use the evidence that currently exists.

TW: I don’t share your positive evaluation of Dennett’s work. He is an ideologue. I don’t have the slightest hope that Dennett objectively looked at ALL the evidence and reached the conclusions he did. No, he is an apostle for atheism and that clearly distorts his work – assuming of course, that there’s even a “he” we can refer to.

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Geoffrey of Ballard December 7, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Luke, what’s your ETA for immortal alien sex slaves with built-in warp drives?

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Todd White December 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm

FTA: The evidence with which I’m familiar has only ever suggested that biochemical changes drive the act of thinking. Neurons fire, and then one wills their arm to move, or tastes ice cream, or gets angry, or what have you. As far I know, whenever we have been in a position to observe the matter, we have never observed the chain of causality flowing from thought to brain chemistry, only the reverse.

TW: I’ve seen some research which suggests that, and other research which contradicts it. However, I have to cast a skeptical wye toward research which suggests that “I” am just a random firing of neurons, and that this cohesive “I” which imposes order on my thoughts and actions doesn’t exist. I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that that totally contradicts my daily experience, and the experience of most civilized people, for that matter. The research is legit, I’m sure, but I’m confident it will be superseded by better research in the future.

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Todd White December 7, 2009 at 12:31 pm

I’m surprised no one has challenged me yet on my assertion that “to postulate that the ‘I’ is an illusion is to destroy reason and thus destroy the scientific enterprise in the long-term.”

Using Nietzsche as a reference, I elaborate on that thought in a new essay I posted today, “The Cannibalism of the Scientific Revolution…”

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/12/cannibals-of-scientific-revolution.html

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Jeff H December 7, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Todd White: I wouldn’t say your position is consistent with “Occam’s Razor.”Rather, I would say, it’s an act of faith – an act of faith in materialism.

This, after I said that I am not opposed to dualism? Come now…there’s a difference between methodological naturalism (or materialism if you like) and metaphysical naturalism. Science uses the former in order to get at the natural explanations that exist (or may exist). If indeed you are correct and there is a soul, I wouldn’t expect science to necessarily find it, but I wouldn’t take a hard line against the possibility of a soul. All I was arguing was that neuroscience is still young, and we are nowhere near understanding something as complex as the brain. It seems wise to at least hold off on forming a solid opinion on the matter before we’ve thoroughly examined the data.

Personally, I don’t have much faith that materialism alone will solve the “hard problem of consciousness”, especially if – as another commenter articulated – the final destination of materialism is that “I don’t exist.”If that’s the materialist conclusion on the nature of consciousness, I’ll take a pass.  

You seem to be equivocating on the use of the term “I”. When someone says that the “I” construct does not exist, it merely means that there is no “pilot”, so to speak, behind your actions. Rather, it’s more like a set of modules that are integrated to form a loosely collected whole. Certainly no one’s denying that you exist…just that perhaps the experience you feel does not actually match up to the structure behind it. Think about it – a person may talk about the decision that “a business” made. But the business itself is made up of people, and the decision-making construct is a board of directors, none of which have sole decision-making power. But certainly “the business” still exists, and it still can take actions. There is just no single entity that makes decisions for the whole.

The doctor/father/husband is always “Joe Smith” [or whatever his name is]. The ability of human beings to play roles doesn’t negate the existence of consciousness.

I hope you’re not arguing that our identity is solely wrapped up in our name. Does a child with no name have no soul? Does a person who changes his name change his soul as well? I would argue that “Joe Smith” is merely a good distinguishing feature, so we can set him apart from John Doe.

I’ve gotten “A’s” and “F’s” on tests for a variety of reasons (from anxiety to fatigue to whatever) and yet it was still “I” who got the grade. The fact that a self-concept can (as you say) be “influenced” doesn’t lead the conclusion that the “I” is either fragmented or doesn’t exist.

Fair enough. But how about a drunk person? They are clearly in an altered state of consciousness, and sometimes they make very different decisions than their sober self. In some countries, courts distinguish drunkenness and mental illness as mitigating factors, so that a drunk person will receive a lesser sentence (I’m not sure about the US, but Canada does). The recognition is that the “drunk I” is very different from the “sober I”. This, of course, may just be another “influence”, as you say, but people also have similar effects when angry, depressed, elated, etc. It’s not at all clear that the “I” we experience is as unified as we think it is.

I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that that totally contradicts my daily experience, and the experience of most civilized people, for that matter.

Our experience is often incorrect. We often feel that we are objectively viewing a situation, when there are many, many cognitive biases that influence how we see the world. Our experiences often lead us astray; thus, our daily experiences are a poor basis for justifying our belief systems. That’s the reason the scientific method was developed in the first place – to try and get around those biases and counteract them.

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Brian G December 7, 2009 at 3:55 pm

In my view the problem with Lebet’s experiment is that it asked people to record the time when they felt the will to act. The problem is that it neglects an obvious part of the choice. As soon as the researcher explains the experiment, the person is making judgments about what he is going to do. The person might be thinking, “ok, it makes no difference which button I press, so I’ll just press the one I ‘feel like’ pressing.” But this itself is part of the choice. The person chose to let their subconscious do the work in selecting an arbitrary button. Then the researcher finds that the readiness potential proceeds the conscience choice. But the real choice was made when the person first was given instructions, and this had to be done through the conscious mind or else he could not understand the instructions of the experimenter.

To me it seems that the “I” must really be doing something. I would expect this even if it could be shown to be only a product of evolution. If the I doesn’t do anything, why is it there? Natural selection is only interested in survival, not in giving us a show. A conscious mind that makes real choices, could help in survival. A conscious mind that only thinks it’s making real choices cannot help survival.

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Fortuna December 7, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Todd;

I’ve seen some research which suggests that (brain chemistry drives thought), and other research which contradicts it.

I’d like you to cite the contradictory research please.

However, I have to cast a skeptical wye toward research which suggests that “I” am just a random firing of neurons, and that this cohesive “I” which imposes order on my thoughts and actions doesn’t exist.

Whoever said they were random?

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Lee A. P. December 7, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Anyone who thinks the placebo effect shows or leans towards showing, or comes close to showing that the brain and mind are not material in nature has not done ANY research on the placebo effect at all. At ALL! It is positively stupid to suggest that the placebo effect gives evidence to mind outside of brain.

A basic, rudimentary investigation into the topic of placebo would show that it has nothing to do with what Todd White thinks it does. This guy seem to care nothing about truth but only about attempting to gather selective, fringe evidence for his absurd pet theories. Its like the guy just got the internet a few months ago. Like this stuff is all new to him.

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urbster1 December 8, 2009 at 9:55 am

Todd, your ad homs against Dennett are annoying enough, but not ONCE here have I actually seen you try to rebut an actual argument. You’ve called him “dishonest” but you haven’t provided any proof whatsoever that he’s lied about something, instead choosing to mischaracterize statements. How could it possibly be that the brain can produce emergent consciousness? Well, how could it be that complex computers can produce emergent (“artificial”) intelligence? What about increasing animal intelligence as seen in the evolution of mammal brains? Do these require “faith” in materialism? How much do you really understand about the brain? You say you’re familiar with his work but that you haven’t read the one book I’m proposing has some decent answers to the “hard problem” of consciousness (namely, there isn’t one) and you’re dismissing it outright.

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Todd White December 8, 2009 at 10:32 am

Jeff: When someone says that the “I” construct does not exist, it merely means that there is no “pilot”, so to speak, behind your actions. Rather, it’s more like a set of modules that are integrated to form a loosely collected whole. Certainly no one’s denying that you exist…just that perhaps the experience you feel does not actually match up to the structure behind it.”

TW: OK, I think your analogy is better, and I commend you for that. However, even though your analogy is more palatable and dare I say “reasonable,” I still think most people would (and should) resist it because they DO feel like a pilot. An airplane – like a robot – could perform mechanical functions without being conscious. But the experience of being conscious necessitates a “pilot,” wouldn’t you agree?

Jeff: “I hope you’re not arguing that our identity is solely wrapped up in our name.”

TW: No, I am saying “Joe” is the same uniformed consciousness even if he reads from different scripts during the course of the day. Personally, I act differently around my boss than I do with my fiancé, but I KNOW I’m acting differently, and while inevitably some of that acting originates on an unconscious level, I am still in control of it and could change it if I feel so inclined.

Jeff: How about a drunk person? They are clearly in an altered state of consciousness, and sometimes they make very different decisions than their sober self.”

TW: I could give a few rebuttals, but the most pragmatic would be to say that the act of drinking causes serious “interference” in the consciousness, until – once the alcohol/interference leaves – the full consciousness re-emerges.

Jeff: Our experience is often incorrect. We often feel that we are objectively viewing a situation, when there are many, many cognitive biases that influence how we see the world.”

TW: I don’t disagree, and it’s possible I didn’t explain my point very well. Let me try again: If the evidence accumulated from consciousness research is “fuzzy” and still in the early stages, it’s not unreasonable for us to be highly skeptical toward conclusions (such as Dennett’s) that are the opposite of most people’s experience. For example, if science said tables can float at a certain temperature, until we had some “definitive proof” it wouldn’t be unfair of us to be skeptical since – in our daily experience – we NEVER see tables float. When rephrased that way, I don’t think my statement is very controversial.

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Todd White December 8, 2009 at 10:34 am

That’s a great point, Brian. I’m going to quote you on my website.

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Todd White December 8, 2009 at 10:59 am

FTA: I’d like you to cite the contradictory research please.

TW: There’s one study in particular that I found compelling enough that it stays in my “consciousness.” It’s in a book I have at home. Let me see if I can the official name of it and a link to its asbtract. Will respond soon.

FTA: Whoever said they were random?

TW: Maybe “random” isn’t the best word; maybe I should say “disordered” as in “beyond the ability of the individual to order” his thoughts/behaviors, etc.

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Todd White December 8, 2009 at 11:19 am

Lee: Anyone who thinks the placebo effect shows or leans towards showing, or comes close to showing that the brain and mind are not material in nature has not done ANY research on the placebo effect at all.

TW: If the placebo effect is so easy to understand, why did The New Scientist (a conventional science mag) list the placebo effect as it’s No. 1 mystery in its article, “13 Things That Do Not Make Sense?”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18524911.600-13-things-that-do-not-make-sense.html

The section concludes: “We have a lot to learn about what is happening here, Benedetti says, but one thing is clear: the mind can affect the body’s biochemistry.”

At a minimum, we should agree that the mind does NOT equal the brain, and resolving the connection between the two is a “mystery” that requires further study.

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Todd White December 8, 2009 at 11:42 am

Urb: Todd, your ad homs against Dennett are annoying enough, but not ONCE here have I actually seen you try to rebut an actual argument. You’ve called him “dishonest” but you haven’t provided any proof whatsoever that he’s lied about something, instead choosing to mischaracterize statements.

TW: In a speech delivered at TED, Dennett described religion as a “parasitic meme.” If Dennett was a spoiled 14-year old boy, I’d ignore him, but considering he portrays himself as a major philosophic thinker (and others accept him as such), for him to say something so malicious against religion – without any evidence to back it up – is more than ignorant; it’s dishonest. It’s a statement of a propagandist; not an objective scholar.

Urb: “How could it possibly be that the brain can produce emergent consciousness? Well, how could it be that complex computers can produce emergent (”artificial”) intelligence?”

TW: What is often billed as “artificial intelligence” is not even close to “biological intelligence.” It’s not even intelligence; it’s just algorithms.

Urb: “What about increasing animal intelligence as seen in the evolution of mammal brains? Do these require “faith” in materialism?”

TW: I thought the topic was consciousness, not evolution, but since you brought it up, didn’t the Neanderthals – who died out tens of thousands of years ago – have bigger brains?

Urb: How much do you really understand about the brain? You say you’re familiar with his work but that you haven’t read the one book I’m proposing has some decent answers to the “hard problem” of consciousness (namely, there isn’t one) and you’re dismissing it outright.

TW: I read Francis Collins’ book, “The Astonishing Hypothesis.” His astonishing hypothesis was that “I” don’t exist (which sounds similar to Dennett’s hypothesis/conclusion).

For a different interpretation, I would recommend “The Spiritual Brain” by neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and science writer Denyse O’Leary.

http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Brain-Neuroscientists-Case-Existence/dp/0060858834

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Todd White December 8, 2009 at 11:43 am

Sorry, I meant “Francis Crick.”

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

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Jeff H December 8, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Todd White: I don’t disagree, and it’s possible I didn’t explain my point very well.Let me try again: If the evidence accumulated from consciousness research is “fuzzy” and still in the early stages, it’s not unreasonable for us to be highly skeptical toward conclusions (such as Dennett’s) that are the opposite of most people’s experience… When rephrased that way, I don’t think my statement is very controversial.  

I agree – we definitely should be skeptical. However, your skepticism then takes you into postulating a non-material soul that somehow interacts with a material body in a coherent way. Without evidence of that, that’s far from a skeptical attitude.

Now, the evidence you give is our everyday experience, but as I mentioned, that’s poor evidence. Add to that the fact that the idea of consciousness as an emergent property of electrical firings in the brain does not deny that we would feel an “I” construct. The two are not mutually exclusive; consciousness as an emergent property could very well lead to a feeling of being in control. Thus, the naturalistic explanation also includes the explanation for the everyday experience that we feel.

So someone following a skeptical methodology should a) realize that personal experience is a poor source of evidence, and b) refrain from making unjustified conclusions based on poor evidence.

At a minimum, we should agree that the mind does NOT equal the brain, and resolving the connection between the two is a “mystery” that requires further study.

I would change this to: We should agree that the mind MAY not equal the brain, and resolving the connection between the two is a “mystery” that requires further study. Would that satisfy you?

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urbster1 December 8, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Todd, your ignorance on this matter is astounding. I can’t tell if you’re just deliberately trying to be obtuse. You’re claiming that it takes “faith” in materialism to produce emergent consciousness. I am saying, NO, look at 3 facts:

1. Computers work. Does this take faith to believe? Computing is an EMERGENT phenomenon. Clearly we only believe our computers are material objects, and nothing more, and we have developed sophisticated machines that can do all kinds of high-level math and information processing. It is certainly no doubt that these feats of searching and sorting and highly complex mathematical functions are outside the scope of capabilities for the average individual with a human brain.

2. Animals’ brains have evolved. We can show that the more highly complex the brain is, the more intelligence an animal has. Surely it’s not just “conscious” or “not conscious” but there is a range of conscious behavior; some animals are more self-aware than others. Some animals can predict things farther ahead into the future and recognize objects and words. Therefore it is possible for evolution to produce conscious beings.

3. Consciousness comes about in human beings, who have the most complicated brains designed by evolution. Which makes us capable of designing our own computers and studying our own brains and modeling computers in brains and building brain-like computers. They’re the same things. Because the brain is so complex, however, there are many details to be discovered about exactly how it all operates, as you well know. However, even if we choose to separate talking about ‘the mind’ from ‘the brain,’ the mind is still just a function of my brain like the Windows operating system is the function of the computing processes of the electronic hardware. It’s not a “mystery,” it’s just a large puzzle that has to be put together, but you are right that we will study the brain to find out.

As for the placebo effect, please see this article: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/326/5951/404

As for Dennett, of course there are as many examples of religion acting as a “parasitic meme” just as there are parasites in the natural biological world. It makes me wonder if you even understand what a “meme” is and what it means to be a “parasitic meme;” you continue to quote Dennett out of context to try to deliberately marginalize him. However, it still has nothing to do with his theory of consciousness, which you have admitted you know nothing about; along with your lack of knowledge about the human brain, it makes you seem unfit to continue an informed discussion on this topic.

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Todd White December 9, 2009 at 8:46 am

Jeff: The idea of consciousness as an emergent property of electrical firings in the brain does not deny that we would feel an “I” construct…Consciousness as an emergent property could very well lead to a feeling of being in control.

TW: Yes, it *could*. I’m certainly not arrogant enough to rule it out. However, we should realize that the standard theory that “consciousness is an emergent property of matter” is just that: a theory; a hope; dare I say, a matter of faith. Why? Because it’s far from clear – actually, it’s totally perplexing – HOW and WHY consciousness *would be* an “emergent property of matter.”

An honest scientist (and by that, I exclude people like Dennett and Dawkins) should be willing to admit that the connection between consciousness and matter is something we aren’t even close to explaining. We are – to rephrase that John Derbyshire quote I pasted above – still stuck in the landscape of the Ancient Greeks: groping toward the truth with the small amount of research done so far opening up more mysteries than it solves.

Jeff: We should agree that the mind MAY not equal the brain, and resolving the connection between the two is a “mystery” that requires further study. Would that satisfy you?

TW: For the most part, yes. It definitely requires further study. And those studies may lead to surprising conclusions for all of us. I would add however – and this is just my personal opinion based on the evidence – that those studies are more likely to suggest a non-material dimension to the mind, rather than bolster the conventional wisdom that the mind is a strictly material phenomenon.

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Todd White December 9, 2009 at 9:33 am

Urb: Computers work. Does this take faith to believe? Computing is an EMERGENT phenomenon.

TW: I think your statement indicates a common misperception of what consciousness is and how it compares to strictly material objects like computers. As I hinted at above, there is no comparison between a human being and a computer. A computer can perform many seemingly intelligent functions (like Spellchecker or organizing newspaper articles alphabetically) but that intelligence does not require – and shows no evidence of – consciousness. Is the Internet conscious? Does it think and act and emote on its own volition? Of course not. And it’s reasonable to suggest it never will. As I said above, the idea that “consciousness emerges from matter” is a theory but not a fact, and given the evidence accumulated so far, it’s actually better described as a hope; a wish; a matter of faith. See for instance, “Why the Mind is Not Like a Computer.”

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/10/why-mind-is-not-like-computer.html

Urb: The more highly complex the brain is, the more intelligence an animal has. Surely it’s not just “conscious” or “not conscious” but there is a range of conscious behavior; some animals are more self-aware than others. Some animals can predict things farther ahead into the future and recognize objects and words. Therefore it is possible for evolution to produce conscious beings.”

TW: I’m OK with everyone you said until the final line, “Therefore it is possible for evolution to produce conscious beings.” That conclusion does not necessarily follow from the evidence you provide. In fact, there is no reason to believe that consciousness is a product of evolution. See for instance, Rob Rosenbaum’s recent article, “The Dangerous Mysteries of Consciousness.” Rosenbaum is a Darwinist but he’s upfront on how Darwinism cannot explain consciousness, and probably never will.

http://www.slate.com/id/2236563/

Urb: Even if we choose to separate talking about ‘the mind’ from ‘the brain,’ the mind is still just a function of my brain like the Windows operating system is the function of the computing processes of the electronic hardware.

TW: Again, that is a faulty analogy based on a misconception of what consciousness is.

Urb: There are as many examples of religion acting as a “parasitic meme”…It makes me wonder if you even understand what a “meme” is.

TW: I understand “memes” very well, which is precisely why I object to Dennett’s statement. The only legitimate description of “meme” is a “good idea which aids survival.” From that description, 3 problems arise: 1) Dennett apparently believes that “memes” are something of a biological nature; something that is mentally equivalent of genes. That is – at a minimum, unproven; at a maximum, absurd. And in either case, it puts Dennett’s credibility into doubt. But further, there are more problems. A “parasitic meme” is a contradiction in terms; either it’s a “meme” or it’s not. A parasitic meme would not aid survival and is thus NOT a meme. So again, Dennett is using sloppy language to advance his agenda. And finally, I genuinely object to the causal statement that “religion is a parasitic meme.” It is atheism – not faith – that is a destroyer of happiness and culture.

See, for example, “The Despair of the Selfish Gene”
http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/03/despair-of-selfish-gene.html

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Fortuna December 9, 2009 at 11:20 am

Todd;

I know this wasn’t addressed to me, but;

The only legitimate description of “meme” is a “good idea which aids survival.”

Say WHAT? Since when?

My understanding of the term merely implies that memes are ideas that can replicate themselves through transmission from person to person. There’s no requirement that they have any particular effect on their hosts, analogous to the way that certain genes may be good at getting themselves passed on, as it were, while still having the potential to cause either beneficial or deleterious effects on their host organism.

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Fortuna December 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

I also feel obligated to challenge this;

In fact, there is no reason to believe that consciousness is a product of evolution.

While I’ll be the first to agree that there’s a long way to go yet in understanding consciousness, it is simply not the case that there is no reason whatsoever to think that consciousness is a product of evolution. We know that all life on the planet evolved, and that it exhibits a range of ability with respect to sustaining consciousness that correlates to evolved brain structure. That in itself is a powerful reason to infer that consciousness evolved, although you are correct to say that it doesn’t follow with deductive certainty.

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Fortuna December 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Oh, and this;

It is atheism – not faith – that is a destroyer of happiness and culture.

See, for example, “The Despair of the Selfish Gene”
http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/03/despair-of-selfish-gene.html

Except, of course, that that is empirically false. There is no necessary connection between atheism and unhappiness; the vast majority of atheists are doing just fine, thanks, just like the general population. Ditto the destruction of culture; last I checked, Scandinavia was doing just fine.

I’m also disheartened that you didn’t spot the contradiction in your own blog post. You claim that teaching people about natural selection (which is an empirical fact, by the by) will somehow poison peoples’ outlook on life; and yet what do your own quotes from the high school killers say?

“I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection.”

That’s artifical selection. If your own chosen example had actually understood natural selection, he wouldn’t have done a damn thing, because actual “failures of natural selection” don’t survive and/or don’t reproduce, without any conscious interference on anyones’ part. I hate to break it to you buddy, but preventing organisms with traits that you personally happen to dislike from breeding has been around for a very long time indeed, and yet I don’t see you heaping blame on farmers for poisoning the youth.

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Todd White December 10, 2009 at 8:19 am

FTA: There is no necessary connection between atheism and unhappiness; the vast majority of atheists are doing just fine, thanks, just like the general population.

TW: As The Economist notes, “sociologists agree that the practice of a faith and broad happiness with life do seem to be related, though nobody has much idea why.” In fairness, that same article also suggests that atheism *might* be more conducive to happiness than agnosticism, and for a predictable reason: Atheism – like Christianity – is a “life philosophy” which can provide people with some sort of ethical guidelines on how to live life; agnosticism – almost by definition – can not do that.

http://eliotsj.blogspot.com/2008/03/atheism-and-happiness.html

FTA: Ditto the destruction of culture; last I checked, Scandinavia was doing just fine.

TW: I don’t have the data in front of me, but I’m pretty sure it would be inaccurate to call Scandinavia “atheist.” I’m pretty sure most people in Scandinavia believe in God (and probably even the Christian God) but they lack the emotional investment in Christianity that we see in other parts of the world (like the U.S.). Also, on a related note, I would call Scandinavia a culture in decline and inferior in most ways to the Anglosphere (where Christianity is more vibrant).

FTA: you claim that teaching people about natural selection (which is an empirical fact, by the by) will somehow poison peoples’ outlook on life.

TW: I resist the assertion that natural selection (in the context of macroevolution) is an “empirical fact.” I would never call it a “fact” in the same way other scientific laws are facts, such as gravity.

FTA: That’s artifical selection. If your own chosen example had actually understood natural selection, he wouldn’t have done a damn thing, because actual “failures of natural selection” don’t survive and/or don’t reproduce, without any conscious interference on anyones’ part.

TW: I don’t disagree that those killers were morons, but if they were alive, they would probably say: We can see where natural selection is going. It weeds out the “unfit.” I am a mortal being and I will not live long enough to see the climax of natural selection millions of years from now. I want to live in a society without the unfit NOW. And that’s precisely what they did. Eugenics is an idea with a long scientific pedigree; Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galston, boldly used Darwinism as the foundation of eugenics. Eugenics is unpopular today because the Holocaust tainted it, but I would wager that – if current secular trends continue – it’ll make a nice comeback in the next 15-30 years.

http://www.discovery.org/a/7251

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Todd White December 10, 2009 at 8:25 am

FTA on memes: “My understanding of the term merely implies that memes are ideas that can replicate themselves through transmission from person to person.”

TW: To define “memes” as “ideas that can replicate themselves” – as you and Dennett do – is, IMHO, a real stretch of the imagination, to put it mildly.

On a theoretical level, the problem with memes is the same as the one with “selfish genes.” It assumes intent for something that – by definition – cannot have intent. Ideas are not conscious. They have no purpose…They have no desire to “replicate”…They are just, um, ideas!

At Neuroanthropology.net, Greg Downey (who favors Darwinism) states…

I think ‘memetics’ is one of the bigger crocks hatched in recent decades, hiding in the shadow of respectable evolutionary theory’…

It’s one thing to reify a concept, it’s another thing to start attributing it a whole complex personality, drives, desires, and levels of different reification. If defining gene as ’self-replicating’ is playing a little free with the details, defining meme, as ’self-replicating’ beggars the imagination it’s so stupid….

Arguing this reveals so little understanding of how brains work, especially how hard it is for ANY pattern to repeat completely. That is, even repetitive action typically involves constant changes in patterns of neural activation; maintaining consistency requires constantly shifting neural resources, even slightly, to take account to changes even in the organism itself…

Has anyone, ever, anywhere, seen an idea ‘replicate’ itSELF? Although this may seem like a semantic point, I think it’s a bigger logical problem with reifying culture as ‘memes’ and then attributing agentive power to the memes.

http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/06/12/we-hate-memes-pass-it-on/

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Todd White December 10, 2009 at 8:31 am

FTA: It is simply not the case that there is no reason whatsoever to think that consciousness is a product of evolution. We know that all life on the planet evolved, and that it exhibits a range of ability with respect to sustaining consciousness that correlates to evolved brain structure. That in itself is a powerful reason to infer that consciousness evolved.

TW: I think in some way you are validating my criticism of Dennett (and other materialists). They basically argue: “If life is a product of evolution – and nothing else – then consciousness must – someWAY, someHOW – be a product of evolution too.

As I said, that’s a theory worthy of consideration, but there is no evidence to support that theory (yet); it is merely a deduction based on a materialist philosophy.

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Todd White December 10, 2009 at 8:47 am

FTA on brain research: “I’d like you to cite the contradictory research please.”

TW: I think this example should qualify, but if it doesn’t, let me know:

In 1991, investigators told a group of 48 men who were about to watch porn to suppress their sexual arousal – and surprisingly enough (according to penile plethysmography), while watching the porn, they were able to do so.

This, in my mind (pun intended), is evidence that “I” exist; “I” is capable of using reason to suppress instincts; and the very act of using reason can initiate biochemical reactions.

This example comes from “The Spiritual Brain.”

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060858834/103-2386546-9549463?ie=UTF8&tag=accessresearc-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=0060858834

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drj December 10, 2009 at 9:10 am

Todd White: I am a mortal being and I will not live long enough to see the climax of natural selection millions of years from now. I want to live in a society without the unfit NOW. And that’s precisely what they did. Eugenics is an idea with a long scientific pedigree; Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galston, boldly used Darwinism as the foundation of eugenics. Eugenics is unpopular today because the Holocaust tainted it, but I would wager that – if current secular trends continue – it’ll make a nice comeback in the next 15-30 years.

http://www.discovery.org/a/7251

If your getting any of your science information from the DI, you are bound to be very misinformed, FYI.

Its now a widely held belief that broad genetic diversity in populations is one of the most important, if not the most important, measure of a populations fitness. Old forms of eugenics are actually counter-productive to that measure of fitness.

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drj December 10, 2009 at 9:18 am

Also, referring to natural selection as having some sort of “climax” is all kinds of wrong.

Let’s not smuggle teleology into a mindless process. Its precisely that kind of wrong-headedness that causes people to believe it has “goals” and “a conclusion”, so that they then see it as a duty to help move it along, sometimes in nefarious ways.

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drj December 10, 2009 at 9:28 am

All that aside, eugenics may come around again, albeit in a different form.

Should our technology advance to the point where we can do in vitro genetic tinkering, the demand to cure genetic conditions will make some forms of eugenics inevitable. Want to give your embryo genes for bigger muscles or greater neuron density while you’re in there removing its genes for cystic fibrosis?

This certainly raises some ethical perils, but it will hardly be ancient Sparta or the holocaust again.

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Todd White December 10, 2009 at 11:41 am

DRJ: Its now a widely held belief that broad genetic diversity in populations is one of the most important, if not the most important, measure of a populations fitness. Old forms of eugenics are actually counter-productive to that measure of fitness.

TW: I can think of at least one group of Darwinists who disagree: Those involved in the “Human Biodiversity Movement.” They are pro-Darwin atheists who are entranced by the link between race and evolution. For example, they encourage high-IQ racial groups (specifically, whites and Asians) to avoid reproducing with low-IQ racial groups (basically everyone else). They believe that the blending of the races in America is weakening the collective IQ of our country and thus, weakening our economy, national security, etc. That’s why they want to ban immigration, rescind racial discrimination laws, etc.

Steve Sailer is one of their most vocal advocates.

She his article, “Darwin’s Enemies on the Left.”

http://www.isteve.com/Darwin-Enemiesonleft.htm

Needless to say, I don’t endorse Sailer’s views; I’m merely showing that “ideas have consequences” and even decent people (like yourself, presumably) can’t always control those consequences.

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Fortuna December 10, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Todd;

I don’t have the data in front of me, but I’m pretty sure it would be inaccurate to call Scandinavia “atheist.”

I’m sure you’re right about that. My point is that they have a very large percentage of atheists/agnostics/religiously apathetic people. If atheism is nothing less than a destroyer of culture, that ought to have a measurable effect, and yet those countries are doing fine.

Also, on a related note, I would call Scandinavia a culture in decline and inferior in most ways to the Anglosphere (where Christianity is more vibrant).

Meh, different strokes. In my own biased opinion, Scandinavia is just fine, on the whole. It threw me a little bit how cold their demeanour can be towards other people when I visited, but a little investigation will show you a vibrant, quirky culture that is full of life.

I resist the assertion that natural selection (in the context of macroevolution) is an “empirical fact.”

You can’t even assent to the proposition that organisms that are less able to survive and/or reproduce than their peers will have their genes progressively less well-represented in subsequent generations? Ye gods.

I don’t disagree that those killers were morons, but if they were alive, they would probably say: We can see where natural selection is going. It weeds out the “unfit.”

Keeping in mind that biological fitness means being able to survive and reproduce under natural conditions, it makes no sense whatsoever to gun down a bunch of kids at random, or because you don’t like them personally, and call yourself a “natural selector”.

I am a mortal being and I will not live long enough to see the climax of natural selection millions of years from now.

What “climax”?

I want to live in a society without the unfit NOW. And that’s precisely what they did.

As I said above, there is no apparent connection between their chosen victims and said victims’ biological fitness.

Eugenics is an idea with a long pseudo-scientific pedigree; Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galston, boldly used Darwinism as the foundation of eugenics, over Darwin’s pointed objections.

Fixed that for you.

On a theoretical level, the problem with memes is the same as the one with “selfish genes.” It assumes intent for something that – by definition – cannot have intent. Ideas are not conscious. They have no purpose…They have no desire to “replicate”…They are just, um, ideas!

There is no assumption of intent implied in the selfish gene concept. I have to wonder how much of the primary literature on the subject you’re actually familiar with, because I can’t really even discuss this with you until you understand just how bad of a misconception that is.

Similary, I can’t begin to respond to any criticisms of the meme concept that you may have until said criticisms are no longer spurious. There is no attribution of agency going on, nor is there any need to reify memes for the concept to cohere, but I don’t think you will grasp these things fully until you “get” the selfish gene concept.

I think in some way you are validating my criticism of Dennett (and other materialists). They basically argue: “If life is a product of evolution – and nothing else – then consciousness must – someWAY, someHOW – be a product of evolution too.

As I said, that’s a theory worthy of consideration, but there is no evidence to support that theory (yet);

Apart from the evidence that generated the theory in the first place! Sheesh.

it is merely a deduction based on a materialist philosophy.

It’s an inference based on the evidence. It’s not a deduction.

This, in my mind (pun intended), is evidence that “I” exist; “I” is capable of using reason to suppress instincts; and the very act of using reason can initiate biochemical reactions.

The act of using reason is itself initiated by biochemical reactions.

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Fortuna December 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Needless to say, I don’t endorse Sailer’s views; I’m merely showing that “ideas have consequences” and even decent people (like yourself, presumably) can’t always control those consequences.

Indeed, there is no way to control for misinformed racists eager to seize on data that they hope will vindicate them.

Sadly for them, we also have data that shows that racial differences in IQ evaporate when one controls for education and socio-economic background.

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 6:43 am

FTA: “There is no way to control for misinformed racists eager to seize on data that they hope will vindicate them.”

TW: Unfortunately, that doesn’t jive with my analysis of the HBD movement. They are not “misinformed racists.” No, they are highly-educated young men who found materialist science as a gateway drug to racism and sexism. See, for instance, the words of HBD blogger, “Thursday…”

“Two of the biggest shocks in my life came when, first, I discovered the truth about race and intelligence through people like Steve Sailer, Arthur Jensen, Charles Murray, Vince Sarich and then later discovered the truth about women and sex through Roissy and the seduction community generally. Suddenly, things that you have seen all around you start to make sense. You realize that, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been lied to all my life.’”

http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com/2009/11/dont-let-lies-make-you-paranoid.html

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 7:06 am

FTA: “If atheism is nothing less than a destroyer of culture, that ought to have a measurable effect, and yet those countries are doing fine.”

TW: They’re doing relatively OK for now. Let’s check back in 10-25 years, though, as the growth of their Muslim population hits a critical mass. I’m not optimistic. Atheists, almost by definition, are not people who are going to risk their lives for abstract ideas like “freedom” and “democracy.” They would rather be slaves than corpses.

FTA: “You can’t even assent to the proposition that organisms that are less able to survive and/or reproduce than their peers will have their genes progressively less well-represented in subsequent generations?”

TW: That’s microevolution. So yes, I accept that.

FTA: “It makes no sense whatsoever to gun down a bunch of kids at random, or because you don’t like them personally, and call yourself a ‘natural selector.’

TW: It’s not rational, I agree; but rationality is an all too rare trait among our species. Indeed, I’m tempted to say atheism itself is irrational.

FTA: What “climax”?

TW: In retrospect, “climax” isn’t the best word. I’ll suggest “progression” as a substitute. The “progression” of the human species. The arrival of Nietzsche’s “Superman,” or something to that effect.

FTA: “There is no assumption of intent implied in the selfish gene concept. I have to wonder how much of the primary literature on the subject you’re actually familiar with, because I can’t really even discuss this with you until you understand just how bad of a misconception that is.”

TW: With all due respect, I’m tempted to repeat that line back to you. How else would interpret this line by Richard Dawkins, the author of the “selfish gene” concept: “Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.” That implies the genes have “intent,” does it not?

FTA: Similary, I can’t begin to respond to any criticisms of the meme concept that you may have until said criticisms are no longer spurious. There is no attribution of agency going on.”

TW: A quote from Dennett: “There is considerable competition among memes for entry in as many minds as possible. This competition is the major selective force in the memosphere, and, just as in the biosphere, the challenge has been met with great ingenuity. For instance, whatever virtues (from our perspective) the following memes have, they have in common the property of having phenotypic expressions that tend to make their own replication more likely by disabling or preempting the environmental forces that would tend to extinguish them.” And it goes on from there. And it’s all B.S.

FTA: The act of using reason is itself initiated by biochemical reactions.

TW: That is an assumption based on a materialist paradigm, but there is no solid proof of that. Indeed, based on the seeming impossibility of matter to account for the mind, I have no qualms about positing a non-material source for consciousness.

A quote from the Dalai Lama:

“I said to one of the scientists: ‘It seems very evident that due to changes in the chemical processes of the brain, many of our subjective experiences like perception and sensation occur. Can one envision to reversal of this causal process? Can one postulate that pure thought itself could effect a change in the chemical processes of the brain?’ I was asking whether, conceptually at least, we could allow the possibility of both upward and downward causation.

The scientist’s response was quite surprising. He said that since all mental states arise from physical states, it is not possible for downward causation to occur. Although out of politeness, I did not respond at the time, I thought then and still think that here is as yet no scientific basis for such a categorical claim.

The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact. I feel that, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, it is critical that we allow the question to remain open, and not conflate our assumptions with empirical fact.”

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Drj December 11, 2009 at 9:52 am

Todd White: FTA: “There is no way to control for misinformed racists eager to seize on data that they hope will vindicate them.”TW: Unfortunately, that doesn’t jive with my analysis of the HBD movement.They are not “misinformed racists.”No, they are highly-educated young men who found materialist science as a gateway drug to racism and sexism.See, for instance, the words of HBD blogger, “Thursday…”“Two of the biggest shocks in my life came when, first, I discovered the truth about race and intelligence through people like Steve Sailer, Arthur Jensen, Charles Murray, Vince Sarich and then later discovered the truth about women and sex through Roissy and the seduction community generally. Suddenly, things that you have seen all around you start to make sense. You realize that, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been lied to all my life.’”http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com/2009/11/dont-let-lies-make-you-paranoid.html  

So what?  We can find Christians protesting military funerals with signs that say “God hates fags” on them.  Without looking very hard, we can find even more Christian White Nationalists who think Hitler was a swell guy who did a great service to the world.

Your singlinging out some fringe here, who defy what most relevant experts view as the commonsense conclusions of our scientific knowledge of the differences and similarities between races and sexes.

It seems as if your trying to vaguely dance around the old argument that such racist beliefs (school shootings and the like too) are the inevitable result materialist science, but without actually saying it so matter of factly.  If you are, in fact, trying to make a case that materialist science leads people towards anti-social beliefs, like racism, then you’ll need to back it up with more than anecdotes of people in the fringe.

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 10:39 am

DRJ: “It seems as if your trying to vaguely dancing around the old argument that such racist beliefs (school shootings and the like too) are the inevitable result materialist science, but without actually saying it so matter of factly.”

TW: No, let me clarify: Fortuna said that the Columbine killers were “irrational” according to Darwinian principles. I challenged that view. I said it really wasn’t clear whether “weeding out the unfit through violence” is “rational” or “irrational.” Using Darwinism alone, that can’t be determined. The Darwinist fetish for eugenics, for example, seems to indicate that the question is an open one.

DRJ: “If you are, in fact, trying to make a case that materialist science leads people towards anti-social beliefs, like racism, then you’ll need to back it up with more than anecdotes of people in the fringe.”

TW: This is a complicated subject, and there’s no way I can summarize my views (at least not persuasively) in one comment. However, I’ll make a few assertions and you can critique them as you wish…

1) If you a materialist, the most logical religion is atheism.
2) If you an atheist, ethics either don’t exist or should be founded on materialist/Darwinist principles

3)Darwinian principles are ambiguous (as I just explained). Using Darwinism, you could justify the Holocaust (as Hitler did) or you can justify liberal democracy (as contemporary scholars like Larry Arnhart do). I will say this, though: I do think the Darwinist denigration of humanity (“we’re just apes who wear pants”) makes it easy for people to initiate violence and/or tyranny. A tolerant form of theism (such as 21st Century Christianity) is superior in that regard.

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Fortuna December 11, 2009 at 11:53 am

Todd;

Unfortunately, that doesn’t jive with my analysis of the HBD movement. They are not “misinformed racists.”

They are misinformed. Did you not read what I said? Racial differences in IQ evaporate when you control for education and socio-economic background.

They’re doing relatively OK for now. Let’s check back in 10-25 years, though, as the growth of their Muslim population hits a critical mass. I’m not optimistic.

Yes, do lets.

Atheists, almost by definition, are not people who are going to risk their lives for abstract ideas like “freedom” and “democracy.” They would rather be slaves than corpses.

Are you fucking serious? I can’t believe an otherwise intelligent person like you could say something so bug-fucking arrogant and misinformed.

That’s microevolution. So yes, I accept that (natural selection occurs).

Natural selection is not synomous with micreovolution, but whatever. I’m getting too tired to hone in on the distinctions. Could you please just make an effort to tighten up the use of your terms?

It’s not rational, I agree

So much for your case that learning about natural selection causes school shootings, then. Can we put that canard to bed?

In retrospect, “climax” isn’t the best word. I’ll suggest “progression” as a substitute. The “progression” of the human species. The arrival of Nietzsche’s “Superman,” or something to that effect.

OH FOR THE LOVE OF PUDDING! YOU VEX ME SIR!

Look, just….no. No. Nietzche’s “superman” is not a scientific concept. Evolution isn’t teleological, natural selection is not interested in progress.

“Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.” That implies the genes have “intent,” does it not?

Not for a second! Have you read his book, in its entirety? I’m not going to play a game of “quote the bits out of context that seem to support my position” with you. Have…you…read….his…work? Because I don’t think you have, and I don’t think this discussion will be fruitful if you intend to throw quotes at me with only the most superficial understanding of what’s being discussed.

And it goes on from there. And it’s all B.S.

You’re welcome to your opinion, but I’m here to tell you that you are categorically wrong to think that;

A.) Memes have to aid survival to be considered memes at all

and

B.) Memes have to be treated as having intent, by definition

Whatever your criticisms of the meme concept, and there are many legitimate ones, those two are total bullshit.

That is an assumption based on a materialist paradigm, but there is no solid proof of that.

No, it fucking well is not an assumption. Have you not been reading a thing I write? Every time we are in a position to observe the matter, brain chemistry happens first and then thought follows, including higher reasoning. There is research to back this up, and I’ll happily reference it for you if you like, but you need to stop assuming that I’m just tossing philosophical assumptions out there.

No, let me clarify: Fortuna said that the Columbine killers were “irrational” according to Darwinian principles. I challenged that view. I said it really wasn’t clear whether “weeding out the unfit through violence” is “rational” or “irrational.”

The problem you haven’t addressed is that the Columbine killers did not act to weed out the unfit. As far as I know, the majority (if not the entirety) of their victims were not otherwise likely to die young or be unable to reproduce. They were fit.

Using Darwinism alone, that can’t be determined.

Evolution is purely descriptive, so indeed it should not be surprising that it doesn’t tell you what you should do. That would be like looking to the theory of gravitation to determine the desirability of falling off a tall building (or the morality of pushing someone else off).

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drj December 11, 2009 at 12:40 pm

OK, my mistake on misunderstanding your point. Thanks for clarifying.

The Darwinist fetish for eugenics, for example, seems to indicate that the question is an open one.

What fetish for eugenics? Whats with the Christian fetish for protesting funerals with “God hates fags” posters?

1) If you a materialist, the most logical religion is atheism.
2) If you an atheist, ethics either don’t exist or should be founded on materialist/Darwinist principles

Why should a materialist model his ethical systems on darwinian principles? Basically, you seem to be proposing that materialist should ignore his own will, whatever that may be, and replace it with what he perceives as the “aims” of natural selection. But that is like saying a materialist should, after observing that the Mississippi river empties into the Gulf of Mexico, make it his purpose in life to build a gigantic water pump to speed the process along. It simply does not follow at all.

If anything, under materialism, one would probably look to ones own desires, and the desires of others for ethics, since those most directly affect the condition of our experience in this life. In some form or another, its the condition of sentience or experience that creates a need for ethics in the first place.

Note: I am not really speaking of Luke’s pet moral theory, Desirism, here.

3)Darwinian principles are ambiguous (as I just explained). Using Darwinism, you could justify the Holocaust (as Hitler did) or you can justify liberal democracy (as contemporary scholars like Larry Arnhart do).

I will say this, though: I do think the Darwinist denigration of humanity (“we’re just apes who wear pants”) makes it easy for people to initiate violence and/or tyranny. A tolerant form of theism (such as 21st Century Christianity) is superior in that regard.

Granting for a second that 21st century Christianity can be described as “tolerant”, it would be remiss to assume that this be a permanent condition. Given its history till now, this tolerant time would be the anomaly, not the pattern. Certainly, violence and totalitarianism are more in tune with the nature of the institution as it has existed for centuries, than the virtue of tolerance.

Although “apes with pants” is trite and simplistic, it is true in a sense and I don’t see that its denigrating at all. Why would it be so?

PS – Hitler was not a believer in evolution, not in the least.

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 12:54 pm

FTA: Did you not read what I said? Racial differences in IQ evaporate when you control for education and socio-economic background.

TW: Personally, I don’t want to touch that issue with a 10-foot pole. I’ll just humbly say that if you talked to those guys, they would happily whip out different studies which show the opposite conclusion.

FTA: Nietzche’s “superman” is not a scientific concept. Evolution isn’t teleological, natural selection is not interested in progress.

TW: I never claimed that the “Superman” was a scientific concept. No, it’s an ideological goal – a goal that Nietzsche, Hitler, and many others shared, while using Darwinism to justify it.

FTA: Have…you…read….his…work?

TW: Yes, I read The Selfish Gene.

FTA: You are categorically wrong to think that A.) Memes have to aid survival to be considered memes at all and B.) Memes have to be treated as having intent, by definition

TW: I’ll take this one at a time.

I originally wrote, “A ‘parasitic meme’ is a contradiction in terms; either it’s a ‘meme’ or it’s not. A parasitic meme would not aid survival and is thus NOT a meme.”

It’s not clear to me why you consider my statement inaccurate. To quote Wikipedia, “Richard Dawkins introduced the word ‘meme’ in The Selfish Gene as a basis for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena”…As we all know, the main evolutionary principle is “survival of the fittest” …If religion is a “meme” and a meme is a fitness strategy, it’s not clear to me why – in Dennett’s words – religion is a “parasitic meme.” I’m almost tempted to say it’s illogical; “a contradiction in terms.”

Onto the next point…

Personally, I don’t believe in “memes” so debating whether or not they have intent is the equivalent of debating “does the flying spaghetti monster have intent?” If Dennett believes that memes don’t intent, fine…but then he should STOP talking about them as if they DO have intent…See the Dennett quote I used above…Another Dennett quote: “Thousands of memes, mostly borne by language, but also by wordless ‘images’ and other data structures, take up residence in an individual brain, shaping its tendencies and thereby turning it into a mind.” Again, this sounds like intent; memes compete for minds, become part of the mind, and then that mind tries to spread its memes to other minds…If there’s any confusion on this issue, Fortuna, blame Dennett; not me.

FTA: The problem you haven’t addressed is that the Columbine killers did not act to weed out the unfit. As far as I know, the majority (if not the entirety) of their victims were not otherwise likely to die young or be unable to reproduce. They were fit.

TW: The Columbine killers would probably define “fitness” the way Darwinists do: Anyway they like! :)

FTA: Every time we are in a position to observe the matter, brain chemistry happens first and then thought follows, including higher reasoning. There is research to back this up, and I’ll happily reference it for you if you like.

TW: I’ll take a look at the research – assuming it’s not like a 40-page research paper; a 5-7 pages news article or Wikipedia page will suffice.

FTA: Evolution is purely descriptive, so indeed it should not be surprising that it doesn’t tell you what you should do. That would be like looking to the theory of gravitation to determine the desirability of falling off a tall building.

TW: I respect your opinion, but that doesn’t change the fact that many scientists such as Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, and others ARE using evolution as the basis of moral theory. And needless to say, it’s an endeavor I don’t support.

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Fortuna December 11, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Todd;

Incidentally, I’m also somewhat curious why you tossed out a quote from Dennett with the post-script “and it goes from there”. Why exactly do you disapprove of what he said? What he’s saying could be correct or incorrect based on the strength of the evidence and the utility of the concept he’s working with, but the sentence you’ve quoted isn’t obviously, trivially bullshit. Without any elaboration, I’m left with the impression that you don’t like him stringing big words together.

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drj December 11, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Todd: I think our language is structured in such a way that its simply much more convenient than not to describe things and processes, in humanizing ways. Even mindless things. Sometimes there’s just no way around it. Its just a bias of our language, and it can sometimes take a lot of counter-intuitive thinking to unravel it.

Memes and genes are certainly not things with intent. They move and bounce in certain patterns, just like water flows downhill, but they have no goals.

I can only imagine that things are even worse in languages like Spanish, where they go so far as to give EVERYTHING a gender.

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 1:09 pm

DRJ: What fetish for eugenics?

TW: I’ll quote from the Wikipedia article on “Eugenics:” “The modern field and term were first formulated by Sir Francis Galton in 1883, drawing on the recent work of his half-cousin Charles Darwin.” It goes on from there.

DRJ: “If anything, under materialism, one would probably look to ones own desires, and the desires of others for ethics, since those most directly affect the condition of our experience in this life.”

TW: That’s fine. What you’re describing – which sounds like Desirism – is a legit possibility. Of course, the bad new is that Desirim is vulnerable to the same criticisms that I made toward the other materialist philosophies.

DRJ: Although “apes with pants” is trite and simplistic, it is true in a sense and I don’t see that its denigrating at all. Why would it be so?

TW: The conventional theistic view that “we are God’s children” and that each of us is sacred because “we are made in His image” is a more uplifting view of humanity and more conducive to peace.

DRJ: Hitler was not a believer in evolution, not in the least.

TW: You’re kidding, right?

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 1:15 pm

FTA: I’m also somewhat curious why you tossed out a quote from Dennett with the post-script “and it goes from there”. Why exactly do you disapprove of what he said?

TW: The only thing I disapprove of is that it’s false; everything else is OK.

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Fortuna December 11, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Todd;

I’ll just humbly say that if you talked to those guys, they would happily whip out different studies which show the opposite conclusion.

Like what?

I never claimed that the “Superman” was a scientific concept. No, it’s an ideological goal – a goal that Nietzsche, Hitler, and many others shared, while using Darwinism to justify it.

You can’t “justify” an ideological goal with science that is, by its nature, non-prescriptive and that renders the goal in question incoherent.

Yes, I read The Selfish Gene.

To no apparent avail, I must sadly conclude.

If religion is a “meme” and a meme is a fitness strategy,

Hold it right there. There’s the misconception. Using evolutionary principles to discuss the propagation of ideas does not neccessarily imply that the ideas themselves are evolutionary survival strategies for the organism holding them. In this context, survival of the fittest is being applied to the ideas, not the organism that holds them.

If Dennett believes that memes don’t have intent, fine…but then he should STOP talking about them as if they DO have intent…

I have yet to see a quote from you in which he talks about memes as if they have intent.

“Thousands of memes, mostly borne by language, but also by wordless ‘images’ and other data structures, take up residence in an individual brain, shaping its tendencies and thereby turning it into a mind.” Again, this sounds like intent; memes compete for minds,

I see your problem exactly. It’s the same problem you have with genes, and its why you don’t understand that genes can compete with no intention and no agency.

Genes compete with one another because they are subject to differential levels of representation in subsequent generations, in accordance with the physical effects they have on their host organism. They don’t have to be aware of what’s going on, all they have to do is have an effect on the phenotype of the organism that carries them. ..which they most assuredly do. It’s somewhat analogous to letting several balls coated in different materials roll down a slope…they “compete” with each other insofar as their coefficients of friction will hinder them to different degrees, but the balls themselves have not a damn clue what’s happening, nor do they need to.

The Columbine killers would probably define “fitness” the way Darwinists do: Anyway they like!

For fucks’ sake man, I gave you an airtight scientific defintion of biological fitness already. If you’re just going to ignore me, I’m gonna give up.

I’ll take a look at the research – assuming it’s not like a 40-page research paper; a 5-7 pages news article or Wikipedia page will suffice.

Right-O, then. I’ll throw some stuff together.

I respect your opinion, but that doesn’t change the fact that many scientists such as Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, and others ARE using evolution as the basis of moral theory.

Citation is needed.

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 1:35 pm

DRJ: I think our language is structured in such a way that its simply much more convenient than not to describe things and processes, in humanizing ways. Sometimes there’s just no way around it.”

TW: True.

DRJ: Memes and genes are certainly not things with intent. They move and bounce in certain patterns, just like water flows downhill, but they have no goals.

TW: As I said in one of my first posts on the topic, “The only legitimate description of ‘meme’ is a “good idea which aids survival’” (or “seeks to aid survival”). So clearly I personally DON’T think memes actually have intent. Also, it’s perfectly reasonable to say – as Fortuna did – that Dennett probably doesn’t believe they have intent, either. However, here’s the most likely explanation: The dude’s confused. Bottom line: He can just as easily use standard terms like “ideas” and “minds,” but he seems to prefer the term “meme” as a catchy, state-of-the art term for his reductionist ideology. That’s his prerogative, or course. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to take him seriously.

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drj December 11, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Todd WhiteTW: I’ll quote from the Wikipedia article on “Eugenics:” “The modern field and term were first formulated by Sir Francis Galton in 1883, drawing on the recent work of his half-cousin Charles Darwin.”It goes on from there.

Another quote from Wikipedia: “A few scientific researchers such as psychologist Richard Lynn, psychologist Raymond Cattell, and scientist Gregory Stock have openly called for eugenic policies using modern technology, but they represent a minority opinion in current scientific and cultural circles”

So, we have a few outliers, who go for some type of eugenics, while the vast majority of the establishment remains opposed. You are simply overstating its presence in modern thought.

”TW: That’s fine.What you’re describing – which sounds like Desirism – is a legit possibility.Of course, the bad new is that Desirim is vulnerable to the same criticisms that I made toward the other materialist philosophies.

I would say that my ethical philosophy is some species of consequentialism, but I don’t know if I would call it Desirism. I’m sure it has some problems and inconsistencies. But there isn’t an ethical philosophy in existence that has no significant (or even fatal) problems. This is especially true for theist ethics.

But back to the point… I think my example made it pretty clear why doesn’t seem to be any rational path from materialism, to the conclusion that it provides a compelling reason to become an “agent of natural selection”. Maybe some people fall into the trap, but its not a rational, or sensical one.

TW: The conventional theistic view that “we are God’s children” and that each of us is sacred because “we are made in His image” is a more uplifting view of humanity and more conducive to peace.

That certainly depends on your point of view. It takes little work to view Christianity as one of the most self-deprecating belief systems out there, where even the saintliest of people are lowly scum, who will never EVER be worthy of anything from God. In fact, it was this type of view that made the orthodox church into such a monster of oppression for centuries.

As an atheist, I certainly don’t view Christianity as uplifting. You guys wear torture devices around your neck, for goodness sake;)

DRJ: Hitler was not a believer in evolution, not in the least.

TW: You’re kidding, right?  

If we can trust Hitler’s own words on the topic, no I am not kidding at all. He was not Dawinian, *at all*. Take a perusal through Mein Kampf, and at some parts you will swear that you are reading a creationist manifesto.

The history of all things totalitarian and evil did not start with Darwin, despite the creationists tunnel vision on this topic. The concepts and thinking that underpins eugenics and all forms of population engineering have their roots in things that predate the written word, like animal husbandry.

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 2:08 pm

FTA: Like what?

TW: “The Bell Curve” by Charles Murray

FTA: You can’t “justify” an ideological goal with science that is, by its nature, non-prescriptive and that renders the goal in question incoherent.

TW: Some people think you can. And they’re pretty big names: Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, etc.

FTA: Using evolutionary principles to discuss the propagation of ideas does not neccessarily imply that the ideas themselves are evolutionary survival strategies for the organism holding them. In this context, survival of the fittest is being applied to the ideas, not the organism that holds them.

TW: That’s confusing, to say the least. That only makes sense if memes have intent, and I was just told by several folks (including you) that memes DON’T have intent.

FTA: I have yet to see a quote from you in which he talks about memes as if they have intent.

TW: (Tapping his microphone) “Is this thing on?” I’ve used at least 2 Dennett quotes.

FTA: For fucks’ sake man, I gave you an airtight scientific defintion of biological fitness already.

TW: Since my joke didn’t go over too well, I’ll elaborate: Basically, there is no agreement among Darwinists as to what constitutes “fitness” from a cultural perspective. Take the following 3 people: A poor, unemployed guy from Somalia with 2 wives and 9 kids…A middle-aged, married German factory worker with 2 kids…Or a billionaire American with 10 mistresses and no kids. Who’s the “fittest?” “Well, that depends,” is the typical response. And that’s the point: With no standard definition of fitness, we make up our own definition. Hitler would want the German guy. And Dawkins would want the American billionaire to finance his atheist propaganda (a la Paul Allen). And so it goes.

FTA: Citation is needed.

TW: It’s long, but you asked for it: “The Biological Basis of Morality” by E.O. Wilson

http://www.darwiniana.tripod.com/wilson_am_281_4_53-70.html

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 2:26 pm

DRJ: Another quote from Wikipedia: “A few scientific researchers such as psychologist Richard Lynn, psychologist Raymond Cattell, and scientist Gregory Stock have openly called for eugenic policies using modern technology, but they represent a minority opinion”

TW: Yes, I’m aware of that. But eugenics was very big in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then the Holocaust happened. And it scared the Darwinists sh*tless. They rarely bring it up anymore. But I’m sure it’ll make a comeback. The Chinese, for example, aren’t too burdened by Holocaust guilt. They might pick up the mantle.

DRJ: It takes little work to view Christianity as one of the most self-deprecating belief systems out there, where even the saintliest of people are lowly scum… As an atheist, I certainly don’t view Christianity as uplifting.

TW: I won’t argue that point. After all, I’m not a Christian. I am a theist, however. Thus, for me the Darwinian perspective should be compared to the one proposed by theism, not Christianity specifically.

DRJ: If we can trust Hitler’s own words on the topic, no I am not kidding at all. He was not Dawinian, *at all*. Take a perusal through Mein Kampf, and at some parts you will swear that you are reading a creationist manifesto.

TW: Hitler hated Christianity and loved Darwinism. That’s pretty common knowledge, IMHO.

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Todd White December 11, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Guys: Just FYI, I’m going to have only sporadic Internet access this weekend, so if it takes a while to respond, I apologize. I am enjoying the discussion, though.

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drj December 11, 2009 at 4:28 pm

TW: Hitler hated Christianity and loved Darwinism. That’s pretty common knowledge, IMHO.

That’s certainly a common claim in creationist and intelligent design literature. As for it being common knowledge, I don’t think that’s the case. Its not so simple.

If one is going to lay blame on a worldview for the holocaust, a big share of the credit would probably have to be assigned to Christianity. Christian anti-semitism was a key ingredient, through which Hitler was able to numb, or even gain the support of Christian Germany. He ultimately wanted to replace Christianity, but that doesnt change the role that it played in the events of history. Its not quite so simple to say he “hated Christianity” – it was one of his best utilized tools.

Sure, in that time period, there were all kinds of free floating ideas sort of labelled as Darwinian, regardless of how well they actually matched up against a good understanding of Darwin’s true ideas. But claiming that these ideas actually influenced or directly inspired Hitler and the Nazi’s, or just provided a comforting justification, is not so easily determined.

Mein Kampf is replete with creationist or Lamarkian ideas as Hitler takes you through his dreams for a pure German race – all of which are completely contradictory to Darwinism. In it, he also shows no lack of praise for Martin Luther, the German responsible for the Protestant reformation and author of the influential “On the Jews and Their Lies”.

For a good read, check out this article that responds to some of the claims in Expelled (and its written by a theist). Skip to page 14 for the relevant stuff. Here’s a good quote:

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Schloss200805.pdf

But for purposes of argument, what if Darwin does lead to devaluation, at least for some thinkers? Contrary to what the film claims and what it might seem on the face of things, it is actually not the deprivileging or devaluing of human life that was necessary to fuel the Holocaust fires. Rather, it is the selective deprivileging and devaluing of some lives. It is not that humans are claimed to be mere animals with no value, terrible though this would be. It is that some humans are super valuable – Ubermenschen – and others are subhuman, toxic pollutants. This is the essence of monstrous notions of “race hygiene” and, in fact, is the core of all genocidal attempts to eliminate groups of people who are viewed as evil or inferior. People are treated inhumanely, when they are viewed as distinctively inhuman or somehow essentially different than ourselves.

This has nothing intrinsically to do with Darwin. It is a tragically archetypal human problem embodied in the self-deluded profession of the Pharisee, “I thank you, Lord, that you have not made me like that other man.” And the modern versions of this sentiment, so destructively tied to racism, are themselves pre-Darwinian. The monumental race based interpretation of human history that inspired all future versions – On the Inequality of Human Races – was written by the 19th Century Frenchman, Arthur de Gobineau, before Darwin ever published anything about evolution.

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Todd White December 13, 2009 at 11:14 am

DRJ: While it’s likely that Hitler privately believed in some sort of God (most people do, after all), the evidence strongly suggests that Hitler was anti-Christian.

In 1933, Hitler told Hermann Rauschnig that he intended “to stamp out Christianity root and branch.” Why? Because he knew Christianity was antithetical to his race struggle ideology. During his tyranny, the German churches were usually always a source of resistance to the Nazis’ plans. And during WWII, many churches throughout Europe took proactive measures to rescue Jews.

Christianity was never the motivation of Hitler’s anti-Semitism…Consider: Hitler was not anti-Semitic until he arrived in Vienna at the age of 21…It was in Vienna that he discovered and immersed himself in the modern “scientific” anti-Semitism rooted in Darwinism.

The standard biographies of Hitler almost all point to the influence of Darwinism on their subject.

In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock wrote: “The basis of Hitler’s political beliefs was a crude Darwinism.” What Hitler found objectionable about Christianity was its rejection of Darwin’s theory: “Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.”

In a very real sense, Hitler was merely fulfilling Darwin’s prophecy that “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races…”

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/06/from-darwin-to-nietzsche-to-hitler.html

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Fortuna December 13, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Todd;

“The Bell Curve” by Charles Murray

The chapters dealing with race and IQ have virtually no cache left in the scientific community. You are sorely mistaken if you think that there’s anything in there that refutes the research I alluded to.

Some people think you can. And they’re pretty big names: Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, etc.

They are not attempting to justify Nietzsche’s “Superman”.

That’s confusing, to say the least. That only makes sense if memes have intent,

No, it doesn’t. What is still giving you trouble here? All they have to do is exist, and affect their hosts in different ways, just like with genes. You can dispute either of those things as being actual facts about the real world, but they absolutely do not require intent on the part of the memes themselves.

(Tapping his microphone) “Is this thing on?” I’ve used at least 2 Dennett quotes.

Neither of which require us to treat memes as having intent.

Since my joke didn’t go over too well, I’ll elaborate: Basically, there is no agreement among Darwinists as to what constitutes “fitness” from a cultural perspective. Take the following 3 people: A poor, unemployed guy from Somalia with 2 wives and 9 kids…A middle-aged, married German factory worker with 2 kids…Or a billionaire American with 10 mistresses and no kids. Who’s the “fittest?” “Well, that depends,” is the typical response.

It doesn’t “depend”, at least not on how you define terms. Seriously dude, reading comprehension…where the fuck is yours at? Your ability to survive and sucessfully pass on your genes under natural conditions is the measure of biological fitness. The Somalian and the German are the fittest in this scenario; which of them is fitter is dependent on how likely their kids are to survive, which we don’t know, but that is a problem of underdetermination with your example, not on how fitness is defined.

And that’s the point: With no standard definition of fitness, we make up our own definition.

Your ability to ignore standard definitions when they are served up to you on a platter is staggering.

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Fortuna December 13, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Also:

While it’s likely that Hitler privately believed in some sort of God (most people do, after all), the evidence strongly suggests that Hitler was anti-Christian.

The evidence is mixed…and of course, Hitler may have been somewhat schizoid, especially in his last years of life, so it may never be the case that we can know for certain what he believed, or if he even had a coherent set of beliefs on the subject.

That said, perhaps you should keep these quotations in mind:

My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. …Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. …

- Adolf Hitler, speech on April 12, 1922

The fact that the Curia is now making its peace with Fascism shows that the Vatican trusts the new political realities far more than did the former liberal democracy with which it could not come to terms. …The fact that the Catholic Church has come to an agreement with Fascist Italy …proves beyond doubt that the Fascist world of ideas is closer to Christianity than those of Jewish liberalism or even atheistic Marxism…

- Adolf Hitler in an article in the Völkischer Beobachter, February 29, 1929, on the new Lateran Treaty between Mussolini’s fascist government and the Vatican

By its decision to carry out the political and moral cleansing of our public life, the Government is creating and securing the conditions for a really deep and inner religious life. The advantages for the individual which may be derived from compromises with atheistic organizations do not compare in any way with the consequences which are visible in the destruction of our common religious and ethical values. The national Government sees in both Christian denominations the most important factor for the maintenance of our society. …

- Adolf Hitler, speech before the Reichstag, March 23, 1933, just before the Enabling Act is passed.

Today Christians … stand at the head of [this country]… I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity .. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past … (few) years.

- Adolf Hitler, quoted in: The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1 (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pg. 871-872

I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.

- Adolf Hitler, to General Gerhard Engel, 1941

….the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.

- Adolf Hitler (following the position of Martin Luther), Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 11

In short, the results of miscegenation are always the following: (a) The level of the superior race becomes lowered; (b) physical and mental degeneration sets in, thus leading slowly but steadily towards a progressive drying up of the vital sap. The act which brings about such a development is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator. And as a sin this act will be avenged.

- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 11

I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.

- Adolf Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936

The Catholic Church should not deceive herself: if National Socialism does not succeed in defeating Bolshevism, then Church and Christianity in Europe too are finished. Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the Church as much as of Fascism. …Man cannot exist without belief in God. The soldier who for three and four days lies under intense bombardment needs a religious prop.

- Adolf Hitler in conversation with Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Bavaria, November 4, 1936

While it’s certainly the case that Hitler was anti-Christian in some respects and/or at particular times, you can’t just say he was anti-Christian and leave it at that.

Christianity was never the motivation of Hitler’s anti-Semitism…

Never is too strong a word by far given the copious evidence that he thought he was acting on behalf of the Christian God.

During his tyranny, the German churches were usually always a source of resistance to the Nazis’ plans.

Their record is mixed. The Catholic Church signed a concordat with the government, parish churches handed over birth records indicating Jewishness, and while various churches did rescue a small minority of Jews, the Vatican on one notable occasion demanded payment, and stipulated that Jewish children would be hidden on condition that their parents couldn’t come with them (leaving them free to be baptized and raised Christian).

Consider: Hitler was not anti-Semitic until he arrived in Vienna at the age of 21…It was in Vienna that he discovered and immersed himself in the modern “scientific” anti-Semitism rooted in Darwinism.

Well, technically the account of his childhood friend August Kubizek contradicts that. But let’s say we ignore that and take Hitler directly at his word that he became an anti-semite in Vienna. You’re still ignoring a fuck-ton of other anti-semitic influences on his thinking from that time and place, as well as his own stated reasons for becoming an anti-semite.

I also must point out that claiming that the “scientific” racism of early 20th century Vienna was rooted in Darwinism is untrue. It was certainly given a heavy gloss of biological-sounding, science-y pseudo-justification, but that is a very different beast from being “rooted” in Darwinism.

The standard biographies of Hitler almost all point to the influence of Darwinism on their subject.

In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock wrote: “The basis of Hitler’s political beliefs was a crude Darwinism.”

By which I presume he means that Hitler thought only the ruthless and the strong should survive. Which I suppose is fine if you want to talk about “crude” Darwinism, but it would be disingenuous in the extreme to propose that that is Darwinism encapsulated, or that such logically follows from Darwinism, as you seem to be doing. Again, evolution is not prescriptive, and the definition of biological fitness that it relies on does not reduce down to just the most physically strong or violent perpetuating themselves at the expense of others.

What Hitler found objectionable about Christianity was its rejection of Darwin’s theory: “Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.”

The implicit fallacy here again being that Christianity is (nominally) about altruism, contrasted with evolution, which is all about violent selfishness. Natural selection, working through survival of the fittest (those able to successfully survive and reproduce), favours the development of reciprocal altruism in social species (of which we are one). I scratch your back, you scratch mine, we both survive and prosper.

In a very real sense, Hitler was merely fulfilling Darwin’s prophecy that “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races…”

Darwin was referring to indigenous peoples around the world being colonized by the Europeans, which from his perspective at the time, he had every reason to suspect would be wiped out. It wasn’t a prescription, and he wasn’t happy about it.

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Todd White December 13, 2009 at 3:41 pm

FTA: “The chapters dealing with race and IQ have virtually no cache left in the scientific community. You are sorely mistaken if you think that there’s anything in there that refutes the research I alluded to.”

TW: Hey, don’t shoot the messenger! I’m merely paraphrasing their arguments. Personally, I have no opinion on the matter.

FTA: Your ability to survive and sucessfully pass on your genes under natural conditions is the measure of biological fitness. The Somalian and the German are the fittest in this scenario.

TW: That’s your interpretation. But other Darwinists might interpret it differently. That’s one of the reasons eugenics was popular 100 years ago. They saw the “primitive” races outbreeding the “civilized” races and saw that as reason to interfere with nature. They wanted to level the playing field for the truly “fitter” races.

Again, I’m not endorsing this way of thinking; I’m merely saying that even among Darwinists the definition of “fit” is controversial; to interpret it in a strictly reproductive way as you do is not a unanimous conclusion.

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Todd White December 13, 2009 at 3:56 pm

A few counter-points. First, Hitler was a politician, especially from 1920-1933, when Germany was a democracy, and thus, Hitler needed to coax the masses to accept his program. Therefore, it would make sense for Hitler to say some nice things about Christianity in public venues. Even when Hitler was dictator after 1933, his position wasn’t totally secure, and it made sense for him to be on decent terms with the church. Thus, when the church protested his first sterilization program in 1937/38, he withdrew it, and waited til the chaos of WWII to commit genocide.

Second, Hitler’s private comments should carry more weight than his public comments, and here we have Hitler’s ruminations that Christianity is a slave morality that prevented Aryans from forcefully achieving their natural superiority over other races. Since this accords better with his behavior as a genocidal dictator, I think it’s a truer reflection of his inner faith.

Last but not least, Hitler’s behavior was “unChristian” to put it mildly. And this is actually an important point. If Hitler committed the Holocaust in the name of Christ (in the way, say, Osama bin Laden commits crimes in the name of Allah), that would be one thing; but Hitler committed the Holocaust in a quest for racial domination. That is totally against the spirit of Christianity.

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Fortuna December 13, 2009 at 4:18 pm

That’s your interpretation.

It’s not my interpretation. Biological fitness means just what I said it does in the context of evolution. It’s totally uncontroversial. The only way you can claim it’s up for interpretation is if you want to go full-metal postmodern and start assigning your own preferred meaning to words.

That’s one of the reasons eugenics was popular 100 years ago. They saw the “primitive” races outbreeding the “civilized” races and saw that as reason to interfere with nature. They wanted to level the playing field for the truly “fitter” races.

Who gives a shit? You’re referring to a totally different usage of the word “fit” from what it means in biology. What next, will you be interpreting evolution through your personal trainers’ definition of fitness?

Re: Hitler, my main point is that calling him anti-Christian devoid of the context of his public remarks on the subject is misleading. His public behavior was decidedly pro-Christian on many occasions, and that matters, regardless of his private beliefs.

You also may genuinely not consider him a true Christian, which I agree is perfectly legitimate. However, you don’t seem willing to extend the same courtesy to his beliefs with respect to evolution, no matter how apparent it is that they are based on a distorted, cherry-picked version of the theory.

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Todd White December 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm

FTA: Who gives a shit? You’re referring to a totally different usage of the word “fit” from what it means in biology.

TW: Dude, you’re not listening to what I’m saying. Yes, from a “reproductive” perspective, the Somali is the most “fit,” but from the perspective of the culture, we don’t always associate reproductive fitness as the most important form of fitness. It’s a debatable issue, even among Darwinists. After all, is Richard Dawkins trying to nail as many broads as possible? Would he say that would be the best use of a Darwinist’s time? Of course not. Sorry. I know I’m right about this.

FTA: You also may genuinely not consider him a true Christian, which I agree is perfectly legitimate. However, you don’t seem willing to extend the same courtesy to his beliefs with respect to evolution, no matter how apparent it is that they are based on a distorted, cherry-picked version of the theory.

TW: It depends. I stand by my earlier assertion that Hitler “loved Darwinism,” but I’m inclined to agree with you that Hitler’s understanding of Darwinism was poorly thought out and the Holocaust was an “irrational” extension of his “survival of the fittest” ideology. However, the fact that Hitler used Darwinism as a justification for his ideology should – even now – make Darwinists realize that their philosophy is vulnerable to much abuse and can lead to major destruction.

At a minimum, Darwinists should not try to make their theory of nature into a theory of human morality (the way that people like Dawkins and Wilson do). It will fail. It can never succeed.

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drj December 13, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Todd White: TW: It depends. I stand by my earlier assertion that Hitler “loved Darwinism,” but I’m inclined to agree with you that Hitler’s understanding of Darwinism was poorly thought out and the Holocaust was an “irrational” extension of his “survival of the fittest” ideology. However, the fact that Hitler used Darwinism as a justification for his ideology should – even now – make Darwinists realize that their philosophy is vulnerable to much abuse and can lead to major destruction.

Since the main thrust of your point seems to be that “beliefs have consequences”, you should pause for thought at just what Christianity enabled Hitler to do. It matters not, whether Hitler personally liked it as he abused it to gain followers in the German population. What were the consequences of Christian belief in Germany before the Holocaust?

I can’t help but think as if you are holding the theory of evolution up to a double standard.

At a minimum, Darwinists should not try to make their theory of nature into a theory of human morality (the way that people like Dawkins and Wilson do). It will fail. It can never succeed.

But youre the one who keeps telling us that its the only logical thing for all of us materialists/naturalists/atheists/whatevers to do! Mixed messages here! :)

And are you referring to some specific ideas or quotes from Dawkins here? Every word I have heard or read from him says the opposite of what you imply. He is always belaboring the point that evolution and natural selection are descriptive, not prescriptive, and should any moral systems try to emulate them, they are bound to be horrible and ghastly.

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Todd White December 13, 2009 at 5:34 pm

DRJ: I can’t help but think as if you are holding the theory of evolution up to a double standard.

TW: I don’t think I am. If the topic was the Crusades, I’d bash Christianity as a motivation for inexcusable horror; since we’re discussing the Holocaust, I vouched for the fact that Darwinism was used as a justification for genocide.

I hold no brief for Christianity or Darwinism. Christianity was a disaster for humanity for about 1,900 of its 2,000 years. I hope we can get ride of Darwinism sooner than that.

DRJ: But youre the one who keeps telling us that its the only logical thing for all of us materialists/naturalists/atheists/whatevers to do! Mixed messages here!

TW: No. I’m saying SOME materialists/ atheists do that. Wilson, Dawkins, etc.

DRJ: And are you referring to some specific ideas or quotes from Dawkins here?

TW: Dawkins has said that materialism leads to atheism plus the death of free will. Unlike Stephen Jay Gould, who advocated “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” between science and religion, Dawkins believes that science has made religion redundant, and that materialistic atheism should become the new ethical foundation of society.

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/10/dawkins-wins-again.html

http://mustardseednovel.blogspot.com/2009/11/reductionism-and-responsibility.html

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drj December 13, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Todd White: TW: Dawkins has said that materialism leads to atheism plus the death of free will. Unlike Stephen Jay Gould, who advocated “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” between science and religion, Dawkins believes that science has made religion redundant, and that materialistic atheism should become the new ethical foundation of society.

I don’t read that quote from Dawkins on your blog as implying what you suggest at all (ie. that Dawkins et al. want to model ethics and morality on “Darwinism”).

Avail yourself of the full article:
http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_9.html#dawkins

Its quite clear he’s speaking about retribution as an element in modern justice, and that its obsolete. He is suggesting that the death of free will would naturally dissolve that element, and make justice purely a tool of rehabilitation. That doesn’t sound like any kind of endorsement of “Darwinism as morality” to me.

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Todd White December 13, 2009 at 6:36 pm

DRJ:I don’t read that quote from Dawkins on your blog as implying what you suggest at all (ie. that Dawkins et al. want to model ethics and morality on “Darwinism”).

TW: I said that Dawkins believed that “materialistic atheism should become the new ethical foundation of society.” I don’t think that’s a bold statement on my part considering that Dawkins is getting buses to run ads promoting atheism and opening summer camps promoting atheism for kids.

DRJ: Its quite clear he’s speaking about retribution as an element in modern justice, and that its obsolete. He is suggesting that the death of free will would naturally dissolve that element, and make justice purely a tool of rehabilitation. That doesn’t sound like any kind of endorsement of “Darwinism as morality” to me.

TW: Not “Darwinism as morality;” “Materialistic atheism as morality.”

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Todd White December 13, 2009 at 6:40 pm

One caveat though: To the extant that Darwinism is a facilitator of materialism/atheism, there is a connection there (what you might call “Darwinism as morality”).

As Dawkins said, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

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drj December 13, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Todd,

This tangent was kicked off by this, from you:

At a minimum, Darwinists should not try to make their theory of nature into a theory of human morality (the way that people like Dawkins and Wilson do). It will fail. It can never succeed.

Which was preceded by all the woes of Darwinism’s impact in the Holocaust. So it really sounds like you were implying Darwinism when you said “theory of nature”. At the very least, it seems implied that Dawkins et al are somehow building their moral theories in a Hitler-ish fashion, to which I strenuously object.

There are a wide variety of ethical theories developed in godless worldviews. Dawkins, from what I know appears to be somewhere in the secular humanist territory (and the link doesn’t do anything to contradict this).

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Todd White December 13, 2009 at 7:07 pm

DRJ: it really sounds like you were implying Darwinism when you said “theory of nature”.

TW: Well, materialism directly; Darwinism indirectly. To the extent that Darwinism facilitates a materialist/atheist worldview (and it does), Darwinism should be part of the mix.

DRJ: it seems implied that Dawkins et al are somehow building their moral theories in a Hitler-ish fashion, to which I strenuously object.

TW: Oh goodness, no. I don’t think Dawkins et al have malignant intentions, just like I don’t think Darwin himself had malignant intentions. Dawkins is an academic, with all that implies. As Plato might say, he doesn’t a “tyrannical soul.”

DRJ: There are a wide variety of ethical theories developed in godless worldviews.

TW: Yes, but some ethical theories are more logical than others given a materialist/atheist foundation, and dare I say, over time, the more logical ones will have more influence over the less logical ones.

DRJ: Dawkins, from what I know appears to be somewhere in the secular humanist territory.

TW: Yes, and dare I say, that is one of the “less logical” foundations.

To quote the Darwinist writer John Derbyshire…

“A Darwinian view of human nature really is quite sensationally revolutionary. In particular, it makes a hash of intrinsic human equality. We may of course — and we should, and I hope we ever shall! — hold equal treatment under the law to be an organizing principle of our civilization; but that is a social agreement, like driving on the right, not a pre-existing fact in the world.”

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Fortuna December 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Todd;

Dude, you’re not listening to what I’m saying. Yes, from a “reproductive” perspective, the Somali is the most “fit,” but from the perspective of the culture, we don’t always associate reproductive fitness as the most important form of fitness.

I hear exactly what you’re saying, what I’m telling you is that it’s irrelevant. We are discussing whether Darwinists may justifiably define Darwinian fitness however they like, and that is simply not an option. Darwinian fitness has precisely one definition, and it does not matter, for the purposes of THIS SPECIFIC ISSUE, if you want to start pointing to cultural definitions of fitness.

After all, is Richard Dawkins trying to nail as many broads as possible? Would he say that would be the best use of a Darwinist’s time? Of course not. Sorry. I know I’m right about this.

Well Q-E-fuckin’-D, I guess.

However, the fact that Hitler used Darwinism as a justification for his ideology should – even now – make Darwinists realize that their philosophy is vulnerable to much abuse and can lead to major destruction.

It’s not a philosophy, it’s a description of how life changes over time. That there are people who are willing to fixate on their distorted versions of the theory (and you seem to agree that Hitler’s version was distorted) is regrettable, but what the fuck are we supposed to do about such nutjobs? “Oh well, I guess our theory could be abused by people who don’t understand it fully. Shut down the labs, no point trying to cure HIV after all.”

At a minimum, Darwinists should not try to make their theory of nature into a theory of human morality (the way that people like Dawkins and Wilson do). It will fail. It can never succeed.

Well, Dawkins would agree with you. Remember how he’s said he wants society to function in as un-Darwinan a fashion as possible?

That said, I see what you’re saying, and I agree to the extent that we ought not succumb to the is-ought fallacy. However, I do hope you don’t expect us to shy away from evolutionary descriptions of how human morality came to be as it is. That would be silly.

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Todd White December 15, 2009 at 6:46 am

FTA: It’s not a philosophy, it’s a description of how life changes over time. That there are people who are willing to fixate on their distorted versions of the theory (and you seem to agree that Hitler’s version was distorted) is regrettable, but what the fuck are we supposed to do about such nutjobs?

TW: Well, I can think of at least 1 thing, and it’s a pretty important one: NOT making that “description of how life changes” INTO a life philosophy.

It seems to me that we agree that Darwinism should limit itself to its sphere of science. Where we DISagree – or perhaps where I haven’t convinced you yet – is that there are plenty of people who refuse to do that – and they’re not all “nutjobs;” they’re heavy hitters in science, including Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, etc. Those guys help pave the path for the less attractive crowd – people like Hitler or Galton or the HBD gang.

FTA: I see what you’re saying, and I agree to the extent that we ought not succumb to the is-ought fallacy.

TW: OK, yes. We’re finding common ground. Bon.

FTA: However, I do hope you don’t expect us to shy away from evolutionary descriptions of how human morality came to be as it is. That would be silly.

TW: I have no inherent problem with that type of research, as long as scientists remain humble that a lot of evolutionary psychology is speculation (there is almost nothing we can learn about the morality of our ancestors 50-100,000 years ago). And there should be a recognition that even the useful parts of evo psyche can never provide a complete picture of human nature; that we are multi-faceted creatures whose thoughts and behaviors can never be totally reduced to what benefits our selfish genes.

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drj December 15, 2009 at 9:14 am

TW: Well, materialism directly; Darwinism indirectly. To the extent that Darwinism facilitates a materialist/atheist worldview (and it does), Darwinism should be part of the mix.

….

It seems to me that we agree that Darwinism should limit itself to its sphere of science. Where we DISagree – or perhaps where I haven’t convinced you yet – is that there are plenty of people who refuse to do that – and they’re not all “nutjobs;” they’re heavy hitters in science, including Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, etc. Those guys help pave the path for the less attractive crowd – people like Hitler or Galton or the HBD gang.

So its OK to talk about evolution, just as long as you don’t do it with a materialist worldview? If one does so, then one is promoting holocausts and genocides? That seems to be what youre saying, since Dawkins et al are on record as being vehement opponents of social Darwinism, or any moral theory that superficially emulates natural selection.

Here is a quote, one of many, from Richard Dawkins on the topic. The whole thing is directly pertinent to the thread, so you may want to follow the link.

4. Now, to the matter of Darwin. The first thing to say is that natural selection is a scientific theory about the way evolution works in fact. It is either true or it is not, and whether or not we like it politically or morally is irrelevant. Scientific theories are not prescriptions for how we should behave. I have many times written (for example in the first chapter of A Devil’s Chaplain) that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to the science of how life has actually evolved, but a passionate ANTI-Darwinian when it comes to the politics of how humans ought to behave. I have several times said that a society based on Darwinian principles would be a very unpleasant society in which to live. I have several times said, starting at the beginning of my very first book, The Selfish Gene, that we should learn to understand natural selection, so that we can oppose any tendency to apply it to human politics. Darwin himself said the same thing, in various different ways. So did his great friend and champion Thomas Henry Huxley.

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/2488

As for your claim that the presence of a naturalistic theory for the origins of life makes it less difficult to be a materialist, I agree. However, you move from this fact, to the position that Dawkins et al are “Darwinists” who are using it in some inappropriate way outside the sphere of science. Just what is this inappropriate way?

Now surely Dawkins et al hold evolution as a feature in their worldview. Presumably it explains many things in their worldview, and it is also explained by many things in their worldview. To expect otherwise, would be most unreasonable, just as it would be unreasonable to demand that the laws of physics be disallowed, as a feature in a worldview. Surely, many discoveries about physics make it easier to be a materialist too, just as most new discoveries in any of the natural sciences tend to do. There are a couple notable exceptions, but not many. All these discoveries inform our worldview in SOME fashion or another, and it would be folly for them not too.

Few, if any people today (and least of all Dawkins) advocate any kind of social Darwinism, or moral model based on natural selection, that you so fear.

So if you want to criticize evolution for making materialism easier, fine, we can discuss that. But this does not give you ground to make the move that evolution and those who accept it (and unavoidably integrate it into a worldview), are encouraging the next holocaust. Heck, you might as well broaden the conversation to natural science as a whole, and talk about how the whole enterprise, in the infamous words of Ben Stein, “leads to killing people”.

But even still, the more narrow underlying concept is equally absurd and needs to be dispensed with, which is that anyone who uses the theory of evolution to inform their worldview, is directly or indirectly facilitating holocausts and genocides.

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Todd White December 15, 2009 at 10:54 am

DRJ: We might have to agree to disagree on this one. I’m not sure else what I can say beyond what I’ve already said. Besides, I’m starting to fear Fortuna might come after me with an axe ;)

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Fortuna December 18, 2009 at 5:11 pm

It seems to me that we agree that Darwinism should limit itself to its sphere of science. Where we DISagree – or perhaps where I haven’t convinced you yet – is that there are plenty of people who refuse to do that – and they’re not all “nutjobs;” they’re heavy hitters in science, including Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, etc.

I’ll give you EO Wilson, since you kindly provided a link, but I don’t have to give you Dawkins, especially since I and drj have both pointed out his opposition to Darwinian models of societal conduct. I’m also curious about your “etc.”..who else is on your list?

I must note, though, that you’ve equated two different things without noticing, apparently. I said that nutjobs focus on their own distorted versions of the ToE to justify their actions, you said that some scientists refuse to limit the ToE to the sphere of science. Those aren’t the same thing. As far as I know, at no point has EO Wilson started insisting that blood type is predictive of criminality, something the Nazis cheerfully pulled out of their asses.

Those guys help pave the path for the less attractive crowd – people like Hitler or Galton or the HBD gang.

I’ll agree insofar as trying to pull prescriptive statements out of the ToE commits the is-ought fallacy, and arguing from a fallacious premise allows you to derive absurd conclusions. At which point, one has poor grounds from which to criticize other people’s crappy reasoning.

I have no inherent problem with that type of research, as long as scientists remain humble that a lot of evolutionary psychology is speculation (there is almost nothing we can learn about the morality of our ancestors 50-100,000 years ago). And there should be a recognition that even the useful parts of evo psyche can never provide a complete picture of human nature; that we are multi-faceted creatures whose thoughts and behaviors can never be totally reduced to what benefits our selfish genes.

I quite agree.

These posts sum up some of the relevant observations in neuroscience that support the inference that the mind is what brain chemistry does, rather than vice versa.

http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=297

http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=438

http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com/2009/05/science-vs-free-will-again.html

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Todd White December 19, 2009 at 1:17 pm

FTA: I’m also curious about your “etc.”..who else is on your list?

TW: I’m tempted to put Jerry Coyne on the list for the same reasons I’d keep Dawkins on there (although I do agree that E.O. Wilson is the best example of all): Coyne is an advocate of breaking down the traditional wall between science and religion, and using science as a philosophical dirty bomb (for lack of a better analogy) against religion. However, I don’t know if Coyne shares Wilson’s view that science (specifically, evolution) SHOULD BE the foundation of a moral system, while Dakwins’ views are a little more ambiguous (and dare I say, possibly contradictory). I just haven’t done enough research to know either way. As for other examples: I’m only aware of the most famous atheist spokespeople (“it’s not crowded at the top)” so I can’t fairly evaluate the perspective of the next tier of atheists (I don’t even know who they are). However, I’m guessing they have a lot in common with Wilson/Dawkins/Coyne. I certainly don’t recall any prominent atheist taking on those guys as being “wrong.”

Also, just for the record, I DO think an atheist can be an advocate for the “good”, but it’s very, very hard, and even when it CAN be done, it’s still unnecessarily vulnerable to folks who want to say “Homey don’t play that.” Exhibit A: Islamic Fundamentalists.

FTA: I must note, though, that you’ve equated two different things without noticing, apparently. I said that nutjobs focus on their own distorted versions of the ToE to justify their actions, you said that some scientists refuse to limit the ToE to the sphere of science. Those aren’t the same thing. As far as I know, at no point has EO Wilson started insisting that blood type is predictive of criminality, something the Nazis cheerfully pulled out of their asses.

TW: I think I’ve distinguished between folks like Wilson whose intentions are benevolent (but wrong-headed), and those whose intentions are malignant, and use the moral paradigm advanced by Wilson to support a malevolent agenda (such as racial discrimination). And I’ll do so again here: I don’t think Wilson, Dawkins, et al are comparable to Nazis, or even Klansmen. They’re academics with all that implies.

FTA: Trying to pull prescriptive statements out of the ToE commits the is-ought fallacy, and arguing from a fallacious premise allows you to derive absurd conclusions. At which point, one has poor grounds from which to criticize other people’s crappy reasoning.

TW: Yes, that sounds about right. I’m pretty sure I agree.

FTA: These posts sum up some of the relevant observations in neuroscience that support the inference that the mind is what brain chemistry does, rather than vice versa.

TW: Thanks. I’ll get around to reading them soon (although, admittedly, probably not in the next few days). Right now, I’m working on an essay which elaborates on the point I raised above: Why even the best form of atheism is unnecessarily vulnerable (and perhaps fatally vulnerable – I haven’t decided yet) to those who aren’t atheist, and oppose everything the atheists value (such as Islamic fundamentalists).

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Todd White December 20, 2009 at 12:32 am

Actually, it looks like I might be able to read those articles sooner than I thought, since I just finished writing that essay of mine. I don’t think atheists should read it though because it’s pretty devastating ;)

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lukeprog December 20, 2009 at 1:11 am

Which essay, Todd?

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Todd White December 20, 2009 at 1:33 am

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