David Wood’s review of Richard Carrier

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 20, 2010 in Reviews

I’m blogging my way through Sense and Goodness Without God, Richard Carrier’s handy worldview-in-a-box for atheists. (See the post index for all sections.)

I would like to share a few thoughts on David Wood’s long and  critical review of the book, available here. Carrier’s response to Wood is here.

On pages 5-6 of his book, Carrier explicitly requested “intellectual charity.” That is, if you think his book is inconsistent or uses false facts, Carrier requests you to email him for clarification. David Wood never did that.

Let me work through Wood’s complaints and see if they have merit.

(1) Wood complains that Carrier’s book is “one-sided throughout.”

Well, duh. Carrier’s book is not an introduction to worldviews. It is explicitly a defense of one particular worldview.

(2)  Wood says that Carrier’s prediction that the human race will eventually virtualize itself onto computers is silly.

Let’s wait 200 years and see about this. Most technologists and futurists I know of are quite certain this will happen.

(3) Wood complains that some of the book goes off the topic of a worldview.

Specifically, Wood seems to think aesthetics and politics are not part of a worldview. Most scholars of worldview studies would disagree. In any case, who cares? Carrier is the author; he can write about what he likes.

(4)  Wood says Carrier’s political ideas are not feasible.

Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. I don’t know. Politics and social systems are very complicated, and Carrier’s proposed system has not yet been tried.

In any case, Wood misrepresented many of Carrier’s political positions.

(5) Wood says that “when a person argues that the universe formed on its own for no reason or that randomly colliding molecules produced life, Richard believes whatever he is told.”

Wrong. Carrier’s conclusions in the book are much more cautious and skeptical than this. Here is Carrier:

In contrast to Wood’s false depiction, see pages 71, 83, 84, and 166-67. Hence Wood misrepresents my book as asserting such things as fact, instead of as hypotheses presented as tentative philosophical conclusions about what the evidence currently suggests, which is how I actually present these claims (pp. 4, 59, 68, 213, 324-25, 411).

(6) Wood  claims that Carrier dismisses the “claims that God created life or that Jesus rose from the dead” as “socially acceptable insanity.”

Wood links his citation to this article by Carrier. Read it for yourself. Carrier says no such thing. (The relevant section is “Addendum: Debating Online.”)

(7) Wood claims that Carrier offers big female breasts as evidence against God.

False.  (The relevant pages are 198-202, 361-63.)

That’s just the beginning, and that’s as much of Wood’s review as I’ll bother covering. Wood’s review of Carrier is one of the most astonishingly deceptive and untrustworthy I have ever seen.

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{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan April 20, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I’m surprised you even felt you needed to cover Wood’s review of Carrier’s book at all. When Wood claimed that Carrier contradicted himself by asking for peace and by also asking others to “fight” for the right to remain secular, that showed what an idiot Wood is.

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Martin April 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm

(6) Wood claims that Carrier dismisses the “claims that God created life or that Jesus rose from the dead” as “socially acceptable insanity.”

Wood links his citation to this article by Carrier. Read it for yourself. Carrier says no such thing. (The relevant section is “Addendum: Debating Online.”)

Hmmm. I don’t know if it’s as crystal clear as Carrier says it is.

He’s talking about how some religious people are nutso, and then: “They need professional help, but you will have to accept the fact that they will never get it–religion is a socially acceptable insanity, and thus our culture throws out of nearly everyone’s mind the very notion that a religious person can be sick.”

He is obviously talking about a specific subset of religious people, but seems to say that, indeed, religion in general is a socially acceptable insanity so that these crazy people are never called out for being crazy.

At the very least, it doesn’t look as quote-miney as I expected it to be.

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Ryan M April 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I think the only thing devastating about Wood’s review is its lack of honesty.

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Haecceitas April 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm

(2) Wood says that Carrier’s prediction that the human race will eventually virtualize itself onto computers is silly.

Let’s wait 200 years and see about this. Most technologists and futurists I know of are quite certain this will happen.”

This is too brief and vague to interpret with any certainty, but it could be that he’s objecting to the idea that a virtual person in the computer simulation is in any meaningful sense the same person as the biological person that it’s based on. After all, didn’t Carrier propose this type of a scenario as some kind of an “afterlife”? In that context, I’d say that to call it silly is an understatement.

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justfinethanks April 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I’m surprised you even felt you needed to cover Wood’s review of Carrier’s book at all.

Actually I think there can be a lot of value in reviewing works that have little intellectual content occasionally, if only to learn the kind of dishonest tactics people can (and do) employ to argue for their position.

I read this a while ago. While the misrepresentations and confusions on Wood’s part certainly were startling, what really stuck with me was the conclusion, which is an ad hominem tour de force:

Richard isn’t an atheist because he’s been infected by a disease; he’s an atheist because he’s angry at God. His mind has been poisoned by rage, and this rage has led to his irrational war against Christianity [...] Anyone who looks at the life of Jesus and sees nothing but cruelty, violence, and evil has got a serious problem. It is a sign that atheism may be pathological for some after all. Jesus died on the cross for our sins because he loves us and wants us to experience all the joys of knowing him. To focus all our aggression on such a sacrifice is a sure sign that there is such a thing as spiritual rebellion [...] For Richard to become so illogical and impassioned in his war against God strongly implies that he doesn’t consider God to be a nonsensical character in a fairytale. It also implies that his book probably isn’t meant to convince the world that atheism is true. It’s most likely meant to convince himself.

I must say, I have been patronized, insulted, and had my motivations questioned for simply being an atheist before, but I’ve had nothing even close to this unhinged screed directed at me.

AWESOME JOB DR. CARRIER!

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Sharkey April 20, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Haecceitas: I wouldn’t consider it any less silly than other afterlife claims. For instance, I don’t recall Christian notions of the afterlife implying that the “same person” was in heaven. At the very least, the person’s corporal form is removed, and considering that radical behaviour changes are assumed, neither is their mind the same.

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David April 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I hope Al (who posted the link to Wood’s review in the “4 Favorites Book” post) takes the time to check out Carrier’s response.

This pretty much sums up what I’ve come to expect from Answering Infidels.

I ordered the book last week based on a recommendation you made in an older post, Luke, and look forward to reading it.

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Jeff H April 20, 2010 at 3:16 pm

(7) Wood claims that Carrier offers big female breasts as evidence against God.

Hmm, that’s funny. I’ve always thought that was the strongest evidence in favour of God’s existence…

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Ben April 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

It seems that Wood’s reply, “Carrier’s Objections, Wood’s Replies Part I” (http://www.answeringinfidels.com/answering-skeptics/answering-richard-carrier/carrier%E2%80%99s-objections-wood%E2%80%99s-replies-part-i.html) has been a dead link for a long time. I wonder what he had to say for himself.

Ben

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John D April 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm
Ben April 20, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Use archive.org “wayback machine”  

Yeah, I thought I’d done that unsuccessfully many months ago. Don’t know why it worked now. Thanks!

Ben

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justfinethanks April 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm

See here,

Interesting. Some clarifications. But also a lot more misrepresentation.

I did a spit take when I read this line:

To be sure, I think I did show manners and respect when I responded to Richard.

Compare that thought to the paragraph I posted above.

Also, there’s this gem of honest, fair, and respectful discourse:

Richard’s atheism ultimately boils down to “I want force fields! I want Bibles that glow! I want God to get rid of breasts! I want people to follow rules that I don’t bother to follow!”

Ugh.

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Ben April 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Yes, Wood is fixated on Carrier’s sense of humor at the expense of everything else.

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John D April 20, 2010 at 4:43 pm

His most bizarre article is the one comparing Carrier to Aristotle.

http://web.archive.org/web/20061004164740/www.answeringinfidels.com/content/view/99/48/

Leaves me speechless to be honest.

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Ben April 20, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Leaves me speechless to be honest.  

He seems to be equivocating philosophical prestige with raw qualification.

Every display of ego is latched onto and blown out of proportion. It’s like some kind of atheist profiling from Christian critics. It gets tiring since Christian after Christian after Christian (no matter how sophisticated) has virtually the same stereotypical response and tunnel vision.

It’s always nice when they manage to step outside of those bounds, but it doesn’t seem to happen very often. Then we get people like Wood who take their Christian cognitive biases against criticism to the extreme. And they can’t be talked out of it. Oh well.

Ben

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Joshua Blanchard April 20, 2010 at 5:15 pm

What does he mean by “one-sided”? Aside from books containing actual debates, I can’t think of multi-sided presentations. But does he just mean that he doesn’t think Carrier represents the opposing side charitably? That seems like a legitimate critique, however boring and unsurprising. I wonder what Woods thinks of Christian apologetics in this regard.

The interesting thing about these criticisms is that it is a waste of time pointing it out if your opponent has done a bad job representing the other side. If an author really is being “one-sided” in some unsavory fashion, then it should be especially easy to refute them; one should just proceed to do so.

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lukeprog April 20, 2010 at 6:17 pm
Bill Maher April 20, 2010 at 6:19 pm

One of my professors is a philosopher of technology (i’ve taken a few classes) and I can say confidently that no 2 is something that pretty much all people in this area agree with.

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lukeprog April 20, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Bill,

Meaning they agree with Carrier, right?

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RA April 20, 2010 at 6:35 pm

What exactly does “virtualize itself onto computers” mean?

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Bill Maher April 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Luke, yes.

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ildi April 20, 2010 at 6:53 pm

What exactly does “virtualize itself onto computers” mean?  (Quote)

I recommend Greg Egan’s novel “Permutation City” (from a cyberpunk perspective).

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lukeprog April 20, 2010 at 7:05 pm

RA,

Here’s one possibility: Neuroscientists figure out how the brain work. Since computers are turing machines, we can simulate the brain on computers. So then we dump our consciousnesses onto computers and live out out lives in computers, with robot bodies or whatever else we decide to physically implement.

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Bill Maher April 20, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Luke, a great suggestion for understanding it is the anime “Ghost in the Shell”. It covers all of the stuff and is a classic.

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lukeprog April 20, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Bill,

Yeah, but it’s anime.

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Hermes April 20, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Haecceitas: In that context, I’d say that to call it silly is an understatement.

The virtualization of humans — even being ‘the same’ — is credible given the progression of computing technology. There’s a clear potential progression of specific technologies that are necessary for that current speculation to become actual. It’s important to note, though, that any detailed roadmap has to keep in mind that computers aren’t neurons, and that an identical mapping would require that the computing device(s) used mimic neurons either by force of computing power (and then done in software) or by some different structure of devices that more closely matches our actual neural configuration and features (including restructuring adaptations). My bet is that the hardware will beat out the software and will be desired preferentially in the long term.

This differs from mind/body dualism where there is no clear progression from one state to another, and quite a bit showing that it just doesn’t happen.

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Hermes April 20, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Luke, note that brains aren’t linear logic devices but parallel fuzzy biology, so a Turing Machine isn’t the right way to approach it even if there was no limit to the available raw power that could be applied to this problem. The current track is to reverse engineer brains and that is quite a difficult task that some IBM scientists unfortunately over hyped their progress on a few years ago.

That said, yeah, there is enough interest in the precursors to full virtualization, so I would be stunned if it doesn’t happen before the end of this century.

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lukeprog April 20, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Hermes,

As you know a Turing machine can simulate fuzzy human brains, even if it’s inefficient. We may come up with a better way to do it, I’m just saying that the simulation part isn’t a conceptual barrier.

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Bill Maher April 20, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Luke, GITS is a classic. It isn’t like I am advocating becoming a weaboo.

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Ben April 20, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Don’t watch it, Luke. I want to keep the entire series, both movies, and the video games to myself. :)

It actually dabbles in techno-mysticism more than I’d like, but that’s probably still accurate given that people will probably still hold on to some kind of irrational conception of the soul (or “ghost”) even if brains and people can be copied and loaded on computers. *shrug* There’s no winning.

Ben

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lukeprog April 20, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I’ve seen an episode or two. Just not my thing.

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Hermes April 20, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Luke, fair enough.

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Haecceitas April 20, 2010 at 11:31 pm

The virtualization of humans — even being ‘the same’ — is credible given the progression of computing technology.

Are you saying that it is possible for you, rather than an identical copy of you, to exist as a virtualized individual in a computer simulation? What that would imply is that the specific stream of consciousness that you are currently experiencing would have as its future part a set of conscious experiences that are the experiences of a virtualized individual. Note that a type-identity isn’t sufficient for this. You’d need a token-identity (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type-token_distinction ).

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MarkD April 20, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Nick Bostrom has postulated that it is probable that we are already living in a computer simulation:

http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html

I haven’t read Carrier but the intrusion of economic and aesthetic asides covered in the Wood review and Carrier response do distract from the titular thesis. An editor’s careful eye might have helped and given Woods less ammunition.

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Haecceitas April 21, 2010 at 12:49 am

Nick Bostrom has postulated that it is probable that we are already living in a computer simulation

That wouldn’t refute my point, though. Even if mental states can be realized in a substrate-independent way, there’s no reason at all to think that this would go beyond type-identity. So it would be possible to make your “identical twin” live in the simulation, but it wouldn’t be you.

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Haecceitas April 21, 2010 at 1:25 am

His most bizarre article is the one comparing Carrier to Aristotle.
http://web.archive.org/web/20061004164740/www.answeringinfidels.com/content/view/99/48/Leaves me speechless to be honest.  

The part that leaves me speechless is the quotation from Carrier:

“At the very least, Wood cannot argue against the fact that I am no less a philosopher than Aristotle or Hume. My knowledge, education, and qualifications certainly match theirs in every relevant respect.”

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Haecceitas April 21, 2010 at 1:31 am

That wouldn’t refute my point, though. Even if mental states can be realized in a substrate-independent way, there’s no reason at all to think that this would go beyond type-identity. So it would be possible to make your “identical twin” live in the simulation, but it wouldn’t be you.  

Perhaps I didn’t make my point clear here. Even if we grant that we are in fact currently living in a simulation, the point still applies. The exact same individual won’t be realized by creating a type-identical individual in a different substrate.

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Rhys Wilkins April 21, 2010 at 2:51 am

I don’t think the Hard problem of consciousness will be solved for a while. It really is a persistent puzzle. How on earth does a grey lump of axons, neurons and synapses give rise to a hetero-phenomenological world? The more I think about it, the more bizarre it seems.

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Charles April 21, 2010 at 3:21 am

Neuroscientists figure out how the brain work. Since computers are turing machines, we can simulate the brain on computers. So then we dump our consciousnesses onto computers and live out out lives in computers, with robot bodies or whatever else we decide to physically implement.

I am highly skeptical “uploading” can ever constitute a true continuation of consciousness. Seems like you are just making a copy and killing the original.

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Bill Maher April 21, 2010 at 4:33 am

Charles, that is the (Star Trek) transporter dilemma :-D

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Ben April 21, 2010 at 4:34 am

I am highly skeptical “uploading” can ever constitute a true continuation of consciousness. Seems like you are just making a copy and killing the original.  

Duh. That’s why you get nanobot injections into your brain over the course of seven years. That way, the tech slowly replaces the organic in a way that is already going on as cells die off.

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Hermes April 21, 2010 at 5:30 am

Are you saying that it is possible for you, rather than an identical copy of you, to exist as a virtualized individual in a computer simulation?

Thanks for the link. I’m still saying yes. This isn’t a question of abstract forms vs. implementations, but of identity.

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Haecceitas April 21, 2010 at 5:51 am

Thanks for the link.I’m still saying yes.This isn’t a question of abstract forms vs. implementations, but of identity.  

OK. Let’s explore this a bit further if you don’t mind.

Can there be more than one token/instance of some individual person (you, let’s say) such that each of them exists at the same time and each of them is that one and the same individual?

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David April 21, 2010 at 6:06 am

The part that leaves me speechless is the quotation from Carrier:“At the very least, Wood cannot argue against the fact that I am no less a philosopher than Aristotle or Hume. My knowledge, education, and qualifications certainly match theirs in every relevant respect.”  

Carrier made a correction on that quote, which you can find at the bottom of the page of his reply.


Note of Correction: I previously used the phrase “no less a philosopher than” with respect Aristotle and Hume, which Wood then took out of context as a reference to my equivalence to them in fame or accomplishment, rather than what the context clearly established as my meaning, which is my equivalence to them in being a philosopher. Wood also ignored the word “relevant” and babbled on about such irrelevancies as my not knowing as much about octopus biology as Aristotle, which has nothing to do with philosophy or being a philosopher. I also changed the word “match” to “comparable” to prevent anyone thinking I ever meant my knowledge is identical to theirs. For those with the patience of Job, Wood’s arduously long ramblings about this can be read in Richard Carrier: Equal to Aristotle?

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Reginald Selkirk April 21, 2010 at 6:59 am

(6) Wood claims that Carrier dismisses the “claims that God created life or that Jesus rose from the dead” as “socially acceptable insanity.”

Wood links his citation to this article by Carrier. Read it for yourself. Carrier says no such thing.

If he had said such a thing, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 7:10 am

Haecceitas,

You’ve got to read it in context. But really, it shouldn’t be shocking. Anyone who applies themselves in the current society can easily have access to more knowledge, better education, and higher qualifications than Aristotle (and maybe Hume), which is exactly why the earlier accomplishments of Aristotle and Hume are all the more impressive.

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Briang April 21, 2010 at 8:02 am

It would seem to me that if you could really move the consciousness from a human brain into a computer (as opposed to just making a copy and destroying the original), this would show that we have souls that are independent from the brain. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to move the consciousness, at best we’d only be able to copy it.

Although, it would be nice to have solid scientific evidence for the soul, I find the dangers of this technology a little disconcerting. Someone, for instance, could kidnap your consciousness and demand money from your family to have it returned. A wicked government could punish a revolutionary indefinitely by up loading his consciousness into a computer. At least now the worst a wicked government can do will end in death.

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Hermes April 21, 2010 at 8:09 am

OK. Let’s explore this a bit further if you don’t mind.
Can there be more than one token/instance of some individual person (you, let’s say) such that each of them exists at the same time and each of them is that one and the same individual?

Do you want to delve into something along the lines of what would tickle Zeno’s fancy?

Personally, I’m more interested in application not theory.

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Hermes April 21, 2010 at 8:20 am

Haecceitas, note that I am responding to your comments including “any meaningful sense the same person as the biological person”.

If there is no meaningful difference, then the request has been satisfied.

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Sharkey April 21, 2010 at 8:48 am

Briang: “It would seem to me that if you could really move the consciousness from a human brain into a computer (as opposed to just making a copy and destroying the original), this would show that we have souls that are independent from the brain.”

In a way, you’re correct. The “soul” is the pattern of neural activations embedded in a space and time, but technically independent of the substrate. However, it’s more complicated than that. The discussed “technique”1 to move a consciousness is an attempt to reduce biological squeamishness over the idea of having a separate mental clone that will outlive the original; however, once the neural activations are freed from actual physical neurons, it’s possible that a copy of consciousness will be considered a useful option, especially if the clone and the original are long-lived.

In other words, the “soul” is only unique due to a fluke of history, namely biological and physical brains, vs. substrates without the same limitations (i.e., prohibitively expensive to make copies). We have an instinctual preference to ensure uniqueness, but that preference is not a requirement.

1. (put in scare-quotes because it’s all simply conjecture)

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Reginald Selkirk April 21, 2010 at 9:00 am

It would seem to me that if you could really move the consciousness from a human brain into a computer (as opposed to just making a copy and destroying the original), this would show that we have souls that are independent from the brain. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to move the consciousness, at best we’d only be able to copy it.

Of course what they talk about doing is copying, not moving. If there is a duplicate of me in a computer somewhere which lives on after I myself die, why should I care? It’s not really me, it’s a copy.

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Haecceitas April 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

Haecceitas,You’ve got to read it in context. But really, it shouldn’t be shocking. Anyone who applies themselves in the current society can easily have access to more knowledge, better education, and higher qualifications than Aristotle (and maybe Hume), which is exactly why the earlier accomplishments of Aristotle and Hume are all the more impressive.  

What Carrier calls the “relevant sense” (and apparently you agree) in which he can claim to be no less a philosopher than Hume or Aristotle is in my opinion the least relevant sense, since it essentially focuses on external factors (access to information, educational system, etc.) rather than the person himself.

My point is not that Wood’s review and critique is completely fair (clearly it isn’t). But at the same time, the pattern seems to be that in most cases, Carrier has himself provided the ammunition that his critics use (perhaps in excess). Let’s take “the argument from blue butt-monkeys” as an example. Carrier writes:

“Since there is no observable divine hand in nature as a causal process, it is reasonable to conclude that there is no divine hand. After all, that there are no blue monkeys flying out my butt is sufficient reason to believe that there are no such creatures, and so it is with anything else.”

Clearly, Wood’s interpretation of Carrier is uncharitable in the extreme (since no sane person would make the argument that Wood attributes to Carrier, it is reasonable to assume that this can’t be what Carrier means). But at the same time, Carrier’s remark that the meaning he provides in his reply is “not only sensible and correct, but obviously the conclusion intended by the context” is simply false. When you substitute “blue monkeys flying out my butt” in the place of “such creatures”, you get “After all, that there are no blue monkeys flying out my butt is sufficient reason to believe that there are no blue monkeys flying out of my butt, and so it is with anything else.” which is a completely uninformative tautology and also breaks down the analogy with the “divine hand” example.

So it seems to me that part of the blame goes to Carrier, though clearly Wood is not being charitable in his interpretation (just as some would argue Carrier isn’t when critiquing Christian apologists).

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Haecceitas April 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

Of course what they talk about doing is copying, not moving. If there is a duplicate of me in a computer somewhere which lives on after I myself die, why should I care? It’s not really me, it’s a copy.  

And that would be exactly my point. This can’t provide the grounds for the continuity of personal identity, so scenarios of this type don’t constitute “the Secular Humanist’s Heaven”. So if this is the point of Wood’s critique, it isn’t (in my opinion anyway) unreasonable for him to call such a view “silly”.

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Haecceitas April 21, 2010 at 9:23 am

Haecceitas, note that I am responding to your comments including “any meaningful sense the same person as the biological person”.If there is no meaningful difference, then the request has been satisfied.  

If you can continue to exist in a computer simulation after the death of your physical body, it implies that you can even exist in the computer simulation (actually, even multiple simulations) while you are still alive as a biological creature as well. So there can be multiple persons who are one person, which doesn’t seem to make sense (this won’t fit within the constraints of the so-called principle of the indiscernibility of the identicals).

If one tries to avoid this by saying that uniqueness is a necessary criterion for the continuity of personal identity, so a person can continue his life in a simulation only if there are no duplicates that prevent the uniqueness criterion from being fulfilled (such as the physical person who’s still living) we are left with the rather bizarre consequence that one way to “kill” a person is to produce an identical copy of that person, so that he won’t be unique and thus there are no sufficient grounds for the continuity of personal identity.

All of this is cleared up once we just accept that the person who lives in the simulation (or in any other kind of a relevantly similar environment that future science may make possible) is not the same person, but just completely similar person.

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Hermes April 21, 2010 at 9:51 am

Haecceitas, maybe it would help if I mentioned that I reject the idea of a ‘soul’ and the immutable aspects of that concept. It is meaningless as it does not appear when looked for. As such, yes, ‘I’ can exist in two places. No, ‘I’ do not need to agree with ‘me’ either. It’s still ‘me’ and there is no meaningful difference, in the same way that ‘I’ have not died yet ‘I’ am not who I was a few years ago.

If you want to specify what meaningful sense an identical copy isn’t me, then you need to say how not just make an assertion based solely on philosophy. What’s the mechanism?

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Eneasz April 21, 2010 at 10:01 am

OK. Let’s explore this a bit further if you don’t mind.
Can there be more than one token/instance of some individual person (you, let’s say) such that each of them exists at the same time and each of them is that one and the same individual?

Yes. As long as their experiences haven’t diverged then they are the same person. Of course having identical experiences is impossible when you are spatially separated, so the two instances would only be the same person at the instant of transfer. Relevant post by Robin Hanson.

I find the dangers of this technology a little disconcerting. Someone, for instance, could kidnap your consciousness and demand money from your family to have it returned.

This already happens all the time.

A wicked government could punish a revolutionary indefinitely by up loading his consciousness into a computer. At least now the worst a wicked government can do will end in death.

Yes. Before we discovered nuclear fission, a wicked government couldn’t destroy the entire human species. Now they can. That didn’t change the possibility of human-caused nuclear reactions.

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Robert Gressis April 21, 2010 at 10:33 am

Hey lukeprog,

Do you think that we’re Turing machines? If not, what do you think the difference is between us and Turing machines? You don’t have to have an answer to each of these questions, I was just wondering what you thought. (For the record, my answers are: no, we’re not Turing machines; and we’re not Turing machines because we understand things. If you ask me what it means to understand something, I confess that I don’t have a good grasp on what it means to understand something.)

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Haecceitas April 21, 2010 at 10:59 am

Haecceitas, maybe it would help if I mentioned that I reject theidea of a ’soul’

That’s what I’ve assumed so far. But can you categorize your view of the philosophy of mind any further (eliminative materialism perhaps)?

It is meaningless as it does not appear when looked for.

In what sense should the soul “appear”, assuming for a moment that it exists?

As such, yes, ‘I’ can exist in two places.No, ‘I’ do not need to agree with ‘me’ either.

If you ask me, these seem like rather dogmatic assertions that don’t jive with our 1st person experience of personal identity.

It’s still ‘me’ and there is no meaningful difference, in the same way that ‘I’ have not died yet ‘I’ am not who I was a few years ago.

To me, the meaningful difference would be that if there’s just one ‘I’ at the moment t4, and at t5 there will be two of ‘I’ (call them ‘I1′ and ‘I2′), it is still a fact that there is a succession of mental events (M1…M4) that began at some point in the past, and will continue with the mental event M5 that takes place at t5. You may say that it’s the precise same event M5 that takes place within the consciousness of both ‘I1′ and ‘I2′, but unless you are denying that there even is such a thing as a succession of mental states, it remains true that it’s either ‘I1′ or ‘I2′ – not both of them – that has in fact experienced the prior events M1…M4 in the succession. The other will just have a memory of having experienced that succession. (Or do you disagree?)

If you want to specify what meaningful sense an identical copy isn’t me, then you need to say how not just make an assertion based solely on philosophy.What’s the mechanism?  

When discussing matters that are removed from the realm of that which is directly empirically observable or logically necessary, one can assert just about anything without the fear of total refutation. It’s just that each assertion comes with its own philosophical price tag. What I’m trying to establish is that your position leads you to affirm further positions that can be held consistently only if one is willing to pay a very high price in terms of having to reject various aspects of human experience for no other valid reason than the willingness to hold on to a theory of mind that requires such rejection. Of course I may be wrong, but this is how it looks like to me.

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Sharkey April 21, 2010 at 11:05 am

Robert Gressis: You’re in good company: Roger Penrose and John Searle both agree with you that the human brain is not reducible to a Turing machine. Searle’s classic thought experiment against the Turing hypothesis is the Chinese Room, while Penrose appeals to Godel’s proof and the properties of quantum mechanics. Your statement about “understanding” has connections to both positions.

I think both individuals are mistaken, and so do a large number of AI researchers, neuroscientists and physicists. A minority position doesn’t imply falsity, but it doesn’t help. Searle’s Chinese Room is an argument from absurdity, and Penrose conflates the mystery of consciousness with the non-intuitiveness of quantum mechanics.

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 11:41 am

I’ve very much doubt the human brain is a Turing machine; but that of course remains for the neuroscientists to tell us.

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Damian April 21, 2010 at 12:00 pm

What Carrier calls the “relevant sense” (and apparently you agree) in which he can claim to be no less a philosopher than Hume or Aristotle is in my opinion the least relevant sense, since it essentially focuses on external factors (access to information, educational system, etc.) rather than the person himself.

Only if you further ignore the context. As far as I am aware, Carrier said that in the context of being accused of not being a (natural) philosopher, as he describes himself. While he doesn’t have PhD in philosophy — his is in “ancient history, specializing in the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, particularly ancient philosophy, religion, and science” — he has published in philosophy journals and written a book that qualifies as a work of philosophy, as well as numerous other articles that he has been paid to write.

So, in the only relevant sense that matters (i.e. in context), he was simply pointing out that he has as much right to call himself a philosopher as Aristotle and Hume. Hence the need to actually understand the context.

Qualifications are only really relevant in specific circumstances, like when looking for a position in academia (or another job), or so that the public can figure out who might be worth trusting. It doesn’t matter whether you have a PhD in any subject if your work is accepted by journals, and you have no interest in finding a position in that field. Of course, it might help, but it is thankfully not a prerequisite.

When you substitute “blue monkeys flying out my butt” in the place of “such creatures”, you get “After all, that there are no blue monkeys flying out my butt is sufficient reason to believe that there are no blue monkeys flying out of my butt, and so it is with anything else.” which is a completely uninformative tautology and also breaks down the analogy with the “divine hand” example.

I disagree, completely. The point in both examples is that our inability to detect something means that it is reasonable to think that it isn’t there. It could still be and we simply can’t detect it at this point, but that says nothing about what we should currently accept.

And that works both for a divine hand, as well as blue monkeys flying out my butt. There could be invisible blue monkeys flying out of my butt, for example, but it is not reasonable to believe that it is so, unless I can somehow detect it, and then rule out all other explanations to the satisfaction of the most qualified people.

And so it is with a divine hand:

“After all, that we cannot detect a divine hand in nature is sufficient reason to believe that a divine hand is not at work, and so it is with anything else.”

Of course, you can quibble with this point in numerous ways, but as a general statement, it is hard to disagree with. Our inability to detect a divine hand in nature is indeed sufficient reason to think that one isn’t there, unless you can offer other reasons, such as philosophical argument, say.

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Sharkey April 21, 2010 at 12:08 pm

lukeprog: “I’ve very much doubt the human brain is a Turing machine”

As a pedantic computer scientist, I agree, but only because a Turing machine is a conceptual device that cannot be implemented in reality (as a TM requires an infinite tape). Could you clarify what you mean?

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Reginald Selkirk April 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Robert Gressis: You’re in good company: Roger Penrose and John Searle both agree with you that the human brain is not reducible to a Turing machine. Searle’s classic thought experiment against the Turing hypothesis is the Chinese Room, while Penrose appeals to Godel’s proof and the properties of quantum mechanics. Your statement about “understanding” has connections to both positions.

Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment has been ably criticized elsewhere. The workers in the room are comparable to neurons. Neurons do not have intelligence. But the entire assemblage may have properties not attributable to the individual parts, this is emergence. Penrose’s hackneyed attempts to contribute to neuroscience, in which he has no training, is discussed in Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and also by neuroscientists:

Is the Brain a Quantum Computer?
Abninder Litt, Chris Eliasmith, Frederick W. Kroon, Steven Weinstein, Paul Thagard

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Ben April 21, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Briang,

…I find the dangers of this technology a little disconcerting. Someone, for instance, could kidnap your consciousness and demand money from your family to have it returned. A wicked government could punish a revolutionary indefinitely by up loading his consciousness into a computer.

That’s actually what Ghost in the Shell is about. It’s like the CSI of cybercrime. If you really want to be afraid of a transhumanistic future, it’s a great show to watch.

Sharkey,

The discussed “technique” to move a consciousness is an attempt to reduce biological squeamishness over the idea of having a separate mental clone that will outlive the original

Uh, yeah. You seem to talk like that’s a bad thing. Sure, it’s speculative, but it’s all speculative. I just think its important to start talking about plausible alternatives so the topic doesn’t seem quite so freaking scary to people. Like, “oh, maybe they’ll do it in some sensible way.”

Reginald Selkirk and Haecceitas,

Of course what they talk about doing is copying, not moving. If there is a duplicate of me in a computer somewhere which lives on after I myself die, why should I care? It’s not really me, it’s a copy.

and

This can’t provide the grounds for the continuity of personal identity

Did you guys read the alternative option I presented? Because if there’s something objectionable about something like a gradual nanobot takeover of your brain material you could also say that you have no reason to care about your future *biological* self either since all your cells are replaced all the time.

Everyone is so going off on some wild tangent about whether identical copies of people are the “same” person or not… *yawn* I hate philosophers. Thanks for reminding me. :p

Luke,

Anyone who applies themselves in the current society can easily have access to more knowledge, better education, and higher qualifications than Aristotle (and maybe Hume), which is exactly why the earlier accomplishments of Aristotle and Hume are all the more impressive.

Very true. I was going to make the point myself, but oh well.

Haecceitas,

the pattern seems to be that in most cases, Carrier has himself provided the ammunition that his critics use (perhaps in excess).

I agree. I always try to point that out. Sometimes Carrier listens.

clearly Wood is not being charitable in his interpretation (just as some would argue Carrier isn’t when critiquing Christian apologists)

I would be one of those “some“.

Ben

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Sharkey April 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Yep, great points. I’ve been slowly working my way thru Penrose’s “Road to Reality”, and it’s obvious that Penrose is a highly-intelligent and capable mathematician/physicist. It’s just his positions on neuroscience and computer science that are wrong.

Penrose and Hameroff wrote a response to your linked paper. I skimmed it a while back, and it seemed like the usual: hiding in the gaps of experiments are the quantum-connected nanotubules. I’d be interested in your thoughts, if you read their paper…

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Sharkey,

Sorry, yes, I’m talking about a ‘universal Turing machine’ but one with really, really long tape, not necessarily infinite tape. I’m just talking about the system’s ability to simulate any other non-infinite Turing machine.

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Ben,

I like your post on the Carrier-Marshall stuff.

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Are ‘brain as quantum computer’ proponents proposing that the data and processes in our head literally work at the quantum level? I find that highly implausible prima facie, but it would certainly explain how we can fit so much stuff in our tiny lumps of grey matter. That would be rather amazing if evolution had produced something that works directly at the quantum level, though!

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Hermes April 21, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Haecceitas: That’s what I’ve assumed so far. But can you categorize your view of the philosophy of mind any further (eliminative materialism perhaps)?

Covered somewhat elsewhere in detail, and that’s where I’m going to focus now so I can wrap that one up. So far, I’ve spent several thousand words on those topics;

* ‘Not my theology’ and Hypocracy

* The death of Pascal’s Wager

As for the rest of your comments in this thread, I have to leave them unread for now. I may or may not read and address them later depending on how the other two time consuming threads take to discuss.

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Sharkey April 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Luke: “Are ‘brain as quantum computer’ proponents proposing that the data and processes in our head literally work at the quantum level? I find that highly implausible prima facie, but it would certainly explain how we can fit so much stuff in our tiny lumps of grey matter. That would be rather amazing if evolution had produced something that works directly at the quantum level, though!”

More or less. Penrose and Hameroff’s model is Orch-OR. Microtubules in the brain use quantum mechanical effects to produce consciousness, and they point to the chlorophyll effect as supporting evidence for the hypothesis; recent theories suggest quantum mechanics is why plants are so efficient at energy conversion. As usual, Wikipedia has a decent summary of all the points, for and against.

Now, I think the combinatorial space implemented using just our neuronal connections gives us plenty of room in our heads, and therefore I don’t think quantum mechanics would be required to fit more stuff. But, my head-space is pretty small, so take my opinion with a grain of salt :)

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