The Age of Wonder

If you search the internet, it’s not hard to find New Agers and others who think that the dawning of the age of reason was a mistake. They envision a more “holistic” approach, one that properly pays heed to the mystery and complexity of existence, and castigate science for being cold, unfeeling, heartless in its probing, reductionist scrutiny of the natural world. For example:

The reason things are advancing so slowly… is that science has neglected the (spiritual) indications necessary for its efficient performance – “with all your heart and all your soul….” — indications that govern higher creativity and exist for the specific purpose of breaking the cosmic bank. The upshot is that science has become excessively expensive, bureaucratic and materialistic. The integration we need, external and internal, requires an incomparably more intense confrontation between the spirit of the researcher and the natural phenomena he is contemplating than what is currently practiced by even the most zealous of researchers.

And yet, the age of reason is also an age of wonder. The devotees of superstition and pseudoscience do not know what they are missing. In grasping after fool’s gold, they have missed the true vein. The universe is a grander, more majestic and more beautiful place than any human being has ever imagined, or can imagine. The unsubstantiated and anthrocentric claims and inventions of people can never compare to the wonder and mystery held by reality as it truly is, and now that we truly have begun to understand how the cosmos works, we are at last getting a glimpse of that awe and wonder.

Consider what we witness when we peer into the cosmos with our telescopic eyes. We see light born billions of years ago in the crucible of dying stars, shining out across the cosmos and becoming ever more diffused, until at last our telescopes captured the lonely few photons that arrive bearing news of stupendous, ancient catastrophes. We see colliding galaxies, matter swirling into the abyss of black holes, and stars exploding with titanic force, sending out jets of energy visible across the known universe.

Our astronomy bears witness to births as well as deaths. We sift invisible light and see the ripples in the faint microwave glow that bathes all of space, distant echoes of the incomprehensible cauldron of heat and density in which the universe itself was born. We see dense nebulae where new stars are being born, burning away the dusty cradles of their formation like sunrise through fog. We see young planets circling their parent stars, their gravity cutting clear swaths through the veils of gas surrounding them. Most of the planets we have detected are hot Jupiters, but perhaps in some of these systems lurk embryonic Earths, awaiting their chance to cool and condense and one day become cradles of life of their own.

Turning closer to home, our emissaries have explored the solar system and brought back news of the other shores that await us. We have seen the shadows of the setting Sun creep across the mountains of the satellites of Jupiter, and we have seen the Earth rise in the night sky from the surface of the Moon. We have traveled the surface of Mars with our robot rovers, and sent landers parachuting down to the methane seas of Titan. Our age, for the first time ever in our planet’s history, has sent ambassadors voyaging so far beyond our own shores that they could look back and see the Earth itself, our one and only home, as a pale blue point of light drifting in infinite dark.

Closer still, we have turned our gaze back upon ourselves, exploring our world in all its complexity. We have learned of the web of evolutionary kinship that connects all life on Earth. Everything – from human beings to redwood trees, from the lowliest cyanobacterium to the fluorescent tube worms on the ocean bottom – is a branch of the same family tree, every living creature a cousin, however distant, to every other.

We have delved down to the molecular roots of life itself, glimpsing the intricate choreography that turns inanimate molecules into living, growing cells, and the equally intricate assemblage that builds living cells into living beings. We have begun an effort to survey the tree of life, discerning the family relationships among countless species living and dead, and mapping the vast, frozen structure branching multidimensionally through those sections of design space that evolution has so far explored.

Traveling down into Earth’s history, we have learned to read the record of the rocks and the chronicles they tell. We have retraced the multimillion-year drifting of the continents and learned of the planetary convulsions that wiped out whole branches of the tree of life and ushered in new ones in their place. We have glimpsed primordial eras long before humanity and envisioned the strange landscapes that once existed where we now place our feet.

All these findings far exceed the most fantastic imaginings of ancient mythology or modern pseudoscience, not least because they are true. In what other age of human history has anyone been able to look on a shooting star or a volcano and know what it really is? In what other age have we known the true age of the planet or understood the power source of the sun? These wonders and countless others, most of which are familiar and mundane to us, would have made people of past ages gasp in awe.

Out of the entire span of human history, these breathtaking discoveries have been made only in the last few hundred years, when we began to think and explore rationally. It was not crystals or prayer or Tarot cards that brought us these things. It was not superstition that was responsible, nor mysticism, nor credulous acceptance of extraordinary and unverified claims. It is the scientific method – institutionalized skepticism, rigorously and comprehensively applied – that has given rise to these wonders of understanding and accomplishment. As long as we human beings were willing to blindly accept the claims of others, to be meek and easily led, to believe without questioning, we remained frightened, brutish, short-lived and ignorant. There are some today who would gladly have us return to that state. Worse, there are some whose methods would inadvertently lead us back to that state, even as they hypocritically seek to take credit for the fruits and innovations of science while rejecting its rules.

But as for me, I remain a skeptic. I am proud to call myself a rationalist. And I will always fight against the proponents of darkness and unreason, because I believe that humanity has barely begun to tap its potential, and that if we continue the path of science, we may some day create wonders we currently lack the ability even to dream of.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    Shades of Sagan!, that is a nice essay. Well done, Adam.

    I, too, cannot fathom the need for people to turn their sense of wonder, call it their spiritual sense, into a belief in the supernatural. The leap of logic is far greater than the distance to the most distant star, in my opinion, yet they leap it each and every time, without breaking a sweat. There’s enough to be in awe of without creating what are, really, very limiting and even unimaginative entities. Gods were created in the vacuum of human ignorance, and so cannot, in any way, match the reality we now know.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Adam, that was amazing. A first for me on your site getting a bit teary-eyed. I’m going to repost this on BSJ (with a link, of course) because I think it’s an outstanding piece of writing and my subscribers deserve to read it!

  • jack

    Beautifully put and right on target. The heebie-jeebie website from which you took the quote is so typical of the current trend in popular antiscientific thought. In part I think it speaks to the failure of public schools to convey not just the content of science, but the mechanism and power of its method. Many of my friends and acquaintances, who are otherwise intelligent and educated, love this woo-woo drivel. One of the most popular examples is What the Bleep Do We Know?, a documentary film, heavy on the eye-candy and quantum mysticism, that seems to revel in human ignorance.

    While in such a rational, reductionistic mood, I can’t resist pointing out a minor flaw:

    we have seen the Earth rise in the night sky from the surface of the Moon

    Actually that was seen from lunar orbit. As seen from any one place on the surface of the Moon, the Earth never rises or sets.

  • paradoctor

    Compare the cosmology of the middle ages to our present cosmology. You’d think that Ptolemy’s closed, fussy human-scale clockwork was theorized by rationalist technocrats, and that our titanic, exploding, relativistic, curved-space, quantum-weird world was dreamed up by romantic mystics. Yet it is the other way around! Curious…

  • http://godlessradio.com/flyswatter Laura Ross

    A beautiful piece of writing. I am sending on the link to a couple of people, if you don’t mind!

  • 2-D Man

    This reminds me of Thunderf00t’s 1000 Years of Creationist ‘Achievements’.

  • Justin

    As seen from any one place on the surface of the Moon, the Earth never rises or sets.

    If I recall correctly, an Earthrise can be observed on the Moon, because the side that always faces the Earth “wobbles” a bit in lunar orbit. You might see the Earth rise a little bit above the Moon’s horizon and then sink back down if you are at the correct place at the correct time.

    PS. Excellent article Ebonmuse!

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    One of your best essays, for sure. I can’t believe that New Age idiot thinks that “things are advancing slowly.” I think that, considering the fact that we’ve only been applying and refining scientific methods of problem-solving and investigation for a couple of hundred years, humankind has made remarkable progress in expanding knowledge; most of that progress has come in a very short time frame. Don’t the New Agers get anything right?

  • Brad

    I personally classify skepticism and the scientific method under a more general heading of curiosity and honesty.

    In response to paradoctor’s comment,

    1. Einstein resisted the name “theory of relativity,” preferring instead the name “theory of invariance.” Relativity theory doesn’t truly posit a relativistic universe – it posits relativistic description and measurement of an invariant, constant universe. It also exposes the observer-centric notion of absolute frame (position, velocity, time, etc).

    2. Curved space works in the math equations just like regular clockwork, just with a bit fancier gears in its motions. Newton and Ptolemy merely didn’t have the magnifying glass powerful enough to inspect these gears.

    3. Quantum mechanics, albeit weird, are still precisely describable in theory and (barring Heisenberg) empirically observable. It’s been verified on the microscopic domain to a high degree of confidence by science experiments.

    4. New Age ideas are vague, designed to be incomprehensible, inexplicable, unverifiable, unfalsifiable, etc, all in order to avoid being sniped down by simple critical thinking.

    (Not that paradoctor was harboring New Age tendencies or anything.)

  • MS Quixote

    Consider what we witness when we peer into the cosmos with our telescopic eyes.

    NASA’s got some exciting developments on the way, as well. We are preparing to test the James Webb Space Telescope at the Johnson Space Center. The JWST will be able to out-perform the Hubble in many ways from a comparatively deep space orbit.

    Prospects for launching the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer via the shuttle look promising as well. Among other things, the AMS should be able to evaluate certain aspects of relativity.

    These two, not to mention other upcoming NASA missions, should add to the wonder and knowledge referenced in EM’s post in the very near future.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Ebon

    When you allowed me the privilege of reviewing your book draft I made the following observation.

    I also missed a solid reference to the scientific evidence available. I know you can write knowledgably on evolution, astronomy etc and while I appreciate that Dawkins, Sagan et al have made the definitive points at length a paragraph or two from you would have been welcome

    This essay proves what an absurd understatment this was. You have demonstrated,, yet again that you are one of the most eloquent and informed atheist spokespersons of our generation.

  • Leum

    I’d like to thank you for including the Earth, biology, and geologic history in your depiction of awe. All to often people making your point focus exclusively on astronomy and cosmology, but I think the true wonder is in the complexity and diversity of life, the age of the continents, and forces in the Earth and the atmosphere that shape our world.

  • http://www.wordsthatsing.wordpress.com Lirone

    Thanks for this… powerful writing!

  • TommyP

    Really, the universe from the smallest parts to the largest, and everything in between, how mindblowing and amazing! Every time I talk to people abot this kind of stuff, I get so excited it gets hard to talk, it gives me a bad/good case of the shivers. When I’m trying to really comprehend the extent of the universe and it’s wonder, I know I fail on many orders of magnitude. But stretching your mind that far, and how it feels to hold in your mind for just a few moments part of that, what a wonderful, uplifting way to fail! I think that by routinely trying to understand the various sciences and theories, I’ve made progress and I can’t help but feel that the more I learn and understand, the more alive I feel and become.

    Ah, thanks for a good awe post!

  • goyo

    Ebon:
    Incredible post! This really brings it all home.
    One of the worst comments theists make when I ask the question
    why didn’t god tell us about science, is to say god gave man
    the knowledge. How conceited and downright stupid.
    Thanks for the link 2d man. I hadn’t seen this video.

  • John

    hi,
    cue the obligatory theistic counterpunch:

    first of all, I would say with all the rest, beautifully-written post. You evoke the majesty and beauty of the universe with eloquence. I would be the first to encourage scientists to probe further, always with an attitude of respect, into the mysteries of the cosmos. Having said that, I would be interested to hear responses to a couple of points:

    1) Do you (any of you) think that believing that all this beauty is the work of an intelligent and loving being, who is the source of all beauty and goodness and order, necessarily makes things less beautiful, less wonderful, less coherent?
    2) Do you not feel that the sense of beauty is undercut by a lack of foundation? What I mean is, part of the beauty of a great painting seems to be the fact that it proceeds from an intelligent, sensitive artist who wanted to communicate something by means of his art. Its beauty is thus founded in the artist’s desire to communicate through his artistic medium: in other words, beauty is an expression of something true or felt to be true by the artist.
    In the universe, however (assuming the atheist position), the aspect of intentionality and communication is absent. Beauty, therefore, will be “post hoc”: it will be present strictly “in the eye of the beholder”, in the apprehension and aesthetic judgment of human subjects. Yet these subjects themselves are able to make such judgments only as a result of the blind material processes that led to the evolution of complex life. The category “beauty”, therefore, is reduced to a certain cerebral-physiological response to phenomena displaying order, proportion, or a certain irreducible “pleasingness” (this, I think, is the key point). Is that all you want to say with the term “beauty”? And if so, is that very beautiful? Does it not, in its very analysis of beauty, empty beauty of all its meaning and radically undermine its relationship with truth? And hence, does the atheistic position not undercut beauty at its very foundations, even while seeking to affirm the beauty of a blind and wholly material universe?

  • Chet

    John:

    1) Yes.
    2) No.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    John

    What Chet said.
    I’d also add in response to item 2, that although I am fully aware that my visceral experience of emotions like love, also arise “as a result of the blind material processes that led to the evolution of complex life”, but that makes them no less beautiful or important.

  • Alex, FCD

    John:

    1) Not in principle, but in practice (at least for me) the feeling of wonder was a bit undermined by the fact that the hypothesis that God is the source of said beauty didn’t make any damn sense even then (when I was about 12). It’s a bit more difficult to appreciate the beauty of a garden, in other words, when you’re busy worrying about why the faeries won’t present themselves.

    2) Nope. My field is evolution, and I happen to think that the beauty of whatever structure I happen to be looking at through the microscope is enhanced by the thought that it didn’t have to be consciously engineered. My evolved brain is entirely at a loss as to why the fact that it evolved should take away from its appreciation of beauty, and that “radically undermine [beauty's] relationship with truth” stuff is going to need a bit more justification than your evolved brain is providing for it. (My evolved brain is also starting to hurt itself by constructing sentences referring to itself in the third person.)

  • velkyn

    wow, that first quote is so full of vague BS that one can assign any meaning to it. Typical theist nonsense.

    My heart is a muscular pump and my soul, well, that has yet to be shown to exist at all. And these are to help in research?

  • Valhar2000

    John, in response to your second quesiton and in addition to what others have said: even if the beauty of the Universe is somehow undercut by a lack of foundation, how does religion aid that?

    You must understand that I and (I suspect) many others consider religion to be false until proven otherwise. In other words, to me religion if a set of unsubstantiated platitudes, and those platitudes would not be any more acceptable just for a lack of an alternative.

    Therefore, if the lack of a foundation undercuts the beauty of the Universe, we just have to man up and accept that, because wishing for somethign won’t mak eit so.

  • John D

    Chet,
    not much to go on there, I’m afraid… however, see Steve, below… I would be interested in how you arrive at your conclusions, not just the conclusions, which are not in themselves all that interesting…:-)

    Steve,
    Fair enough. But WHAT importance would you attribute to them, and what beauty? Take love: why is it important and beautiful? Due to the fact that it is important to you? That it seems beautiful to you? But according to your principles (it seems to me), you are not in a position to judge whether it really IS important or beautiful: your judgment emerges from the hard-wiring of your cerebral cortex (or whatever bit of the brain does things like this).
    Your judgments about beauty and importance therefore seem to reduce to statements about roughly similar subjective states, which are the direct result of neuronic activity and organism-environment interface. Your judgment itself is the result of the physical phenomena; how then can it be a true (or indeed false) judgment?

    Alex,
    1)Fair enough, the distinction between principle and practice is essential, and what I was getting at was the principle. Sure, in practice, I appreciate that not everyone sees it as I do. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be an atheist, I guess…
    2)Your aesthetic faculty is more responsive to the idea that organic structures which manifest beauty are not engineered consciously. I have sympathy with that; I too think that a picture of the universe that involves evolution, and a complexity that is gradually wrought out of the inherent regularities of nature, is more beautiful than one that lacks this insight. However, this remains an aesthetic judgment, for me as for you: regardless of its content, it is subject to the same limitations of all aesthetic judgments as such (as you indicate in your post: “my evolved brain…”).
    My key point is that, as I say to Steve above, in an atheistic interpretation of human evolution, the value of your aesthetic judgment is precisely zero in terms of its relationship to truth. I am asking you to use the critical-rational faculty of your evolved brain to examine the value of the aesthetic-intuitive judgments carried out by the same; and I am arguing that the result of this examination is that they can have no value qua JUDGMENTS (because your judgment is determined, hence not a true judgment), but only as enunciations of subjective states, bearing no necessary relation to things as they are.
    The same critique is applicable, I believe, for any human judgments, including scientific ones.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I would think the god as artist argument would also place us as the subjects of the art, not the objects. IOW, god would not have created any of this for us, but rather created us in order to express his art. We would be like the characters in any other painting, simply there in order for the artist to show some facet of her thought processes. Is this what the religious apologist is going for? I have a feeling that most apologists see the universe as god’s artwork that he is presenting to us.

  • John D

    Valhar2000,
    fair enough. Accepting your hypothetical statement and its consequences (your concluding sentence) – hypothetically of course – I would have to disagree with Ebonmuse’s original post, maintaining that an attitude of stoical, manly acceptance is most appropriate, rather than wonder and awe, given the nature of our act of aesthetic judgment (neuronal activity…etc), regardless of the wonderfulness of its content. Would that be a fair corollary to your additional argument?

  • John D

    OMGF,
    interesting point, which requires a clarification. I do see a certain analogous relationship between the universe and God, and art and the artist. But insofar as we humans can also appreciate the art, we stand in an ambiguous relation to the universe-as-art. On one hand, we are as you say God’s “work of art”, like the rest of creation. On the other hand, we are given both the ability to interpret the art of God (through science AND through simple appreciation of beauty; in fact, science itself is very beautiful) and the ability to be artists ourselves, since this too is involved in our being made in the “image of God” (Gen 1:26).
    So yes, in a way we are objects “just like any other”, and real “expressions” of God-as-artist; but in another way, we are totally unlike any other, subjects as well as objects. In fact, it is precisely because we are the highest expression and reflection of God in creation (objective dimension) that we are “like him” in going beyond the merely objective, and in sharing in subjectivity, too.

    This is my view as a believer, and I offer it simply for your information.

  • Christopher

    John,

    Do you not feel that the sense of beauty is undercut by a lack of foundation? What I mean is, part of the beauty of a great painting seems to be the fact that it proceeds from an intelligent, sensitive artist who wanted to communicate something by means of his art. Its beauty is thus founded in the artist’s desire to communicate through his artistic medium: in other words, beauty is an expression of something true or felt to be true by the artist.

    Oh contrare – beauty only exist as an idea, one made by the mind that conceives of it! If it’s an expression of anything, it’s that of the observer of the thing deemed by it as being “beautiful” concerning what its personal taste in aesthetics are (as what appears “beautiful” to one may be deemed “repulsive” by another observer).

    Just because an entity observing something deems it “beautiful” doesn’t mean that the thing observed has intrinsic beauty – let alone an artist that created said “beauty.”

  • http://blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    John D,

    Your entire point evaporates when you actually take the time to understand subjectivity/objectivity and frames of reference.

    The universe exists, independent of observers. People can choose whether or not a God-centered or organic origin is more pleasing to them. That doesn’t change anything at all about the universe or our knowledge of it.

    Science involves observations. Observations are only valid when they can be corroborated independent of one’s frame of reference. So science moves observations into the category of theory and fact if and only if strict observer-independent criteria are met. So in the context of science, it doesn’t matter what someone prefers. That’s what’s different about it, and why it doesn’t involve judgment.

    Like Christopher said, subjective phenomena such as love or beauty don’t have to have any meaning except to the observer. There is no better or worse.

    Thing is, I’m pretty sure you understand all this John. I can’t accept you’re that stupid, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to be the first one here to call “bullshit.” It doesn’t matter what you “believe.” You are simply playing word games and pretending not to understand the subjective/objective divide. If I’m wrong and you just need help, there are plenty of articles out there. Start with Wikipedia.

  • Leum

    1) Do you (any of you) think that believing that all this beauty is the work of an intelligent and loving being, who is the source of all beauty and goodness and order, necessarily makes things less beautiful, less wonderful, less coherent?

    2) Do you not feel that the sense of beauty is undercut by a lack of foundation?

    I’m going to disagree with my fellow atheists:

    1) Yes.

    2) Yes.

    As you rightly point out, a work of art has intent and meaning not only for the observer, but for the artist. Looking at a painting and deciding what it means for me and wondering what it means for the artist is a superior experience to looking at paint splatters (let’s assume I’m looking at abstract art, so as to ensure roughly similar paintings).

    However the horror I feel when looking at pictures of starving children, seeing homeless people huddle from the snow, watching lions slaughter zebras, and learning about the asteroid that contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs is lessened by the knowledge that no one wanted it to happen (well, in a meta-sense. We could debate the politics of poverty forever).

    So for me, any loss of meaning in the beauty of the world is made up for by knowing that its horrors aren’t the design of a demon.

  • Leum

    D’oh!

    I meant to say:

    1) No.

    2) Yes.

  • John D

    BlackSun,
    a couple of things:
    1) are you talking about my original post, or my reply to OMGF (1:17pm)? Just to be sure.

    2) You say “subjective phenomena such as love or beauty don’t have to have any meaning except to the observer. There is no better or worse”. I am currently wondering what relationship this statement bears to Ebonmuse’s original post. Did he not want to claim that science has discovered a great deal of wondrous beauty, and that this is a good (better) thing?

    3) How do we decide upon the “strict observer-independent criteria” involved in scientific verification? It is the observers themselves who have realised the insufficiency of one isolated subjective frame of reference, and created these criteria to arrive at a higher level of objectivity. But this involves judgments: for one, the judgment that “the universe exists, independent of observers”, as you succinctly put it. That is an intelligent human judgment, and on it is predicated the whole enterprise of modern science. So strictly, the statement that science “doesn’t involve judgment” is a false one.
    Or take a scientist who is trying to decide on the experiment which is most suitable for the verification of some hypothesis or other. Will his final decision not involve a judgment of a practical nature?
    Not to mention the fact that judgment is the basic means we have of understanding reality, way before any scientific method is applied. Our language expresses concepts, ideas; when we use one of these to describe a particular thing, we make a judgment, eg. “this thing here is a tree”. That is a judgment. Could we do science without judgments of this kind? How could we understand trees scientifically, if we could not even identify a tree among all the other realities that surround us? And is this form of judgment not intimately involved at every stage of the scientific process, even if in the background?
    So when you say “science doesn’t involve judgments”, I’m sorry but I just don’t agree, and I have given three reasons for that above. Of course I see your point. But I think you should be more careful before making such rash statements as “science doesn’t involve judgments”.

  • John D

    Leum,
    I thought your comment was thoughtful and interesting. I personally find the most difficult question re. my own (Xtian) faith is the suffering of innocent animals before humans came on the scene. Suffering after that could (at least in theory) be attributed to human choice, in that this is a power capable of NOT doing the will of God. But what about Dawkins’ famous example of the wasp and the caterpillar? For me, it’s an open question, I don’t know the answer, although I do have thoughts. I think the Xtian faith has the possibility of providing an answer in that, for us, the mystery of God is revealed precisely in and through suffering. But how and why,…

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    mjohn

    Fair enough. But WHAT importance would you attribute to them, and what beauty? Take love: why is it important and beautiful? Due to the fact that it is important to you? That it seems beautiful to you? But according to your principles (it seems to me), you are not in a position to judge whether it really IS important or beautiful: your judgment emerges from the hard-wiring of your cerebral cortex (or whatever bit of the brain does things like this).

    On a strictly objective level l(L)ove is the hormonal, genetically proscribed phsical response that it is. I understand that I love my children (no matter how obnoxious they may be) because they are mine, I understand that I love my fiancée (not yet a mother of my children) because she appeals to my procreative instinct (young, pretty and fit as..). I also understand that I am evolved to respond and behave this way. None of the above prevents me from appreciating(subjectively) all the beatiful (subjective), inspiring (subjective)and frustrating (subjective)consequences of that. Much as it may be “nice” for all of this to have a higher purpose, in my universe it just doesn’t. That definately does not mean it is any less important, in fact the knowledge that my emotional life begins and ends in the here and now makes it all the more intense and precious.

  • John D

    Christopher,
    my point was this: that the notion of the artist is part of a person’s SUBJECTIVE experience of beauty when he considers a work of art. The causal dimension is not entirely external and irrelevant

    If on the other hand, you are happy to simply cut the ties between subjective aesthetic judgments (“the universe is beautiful”) and truth (the universe is actually neither beautiful nor un-beautiful), then I have no quarrel with you! You clearly disagree with Ebonmuse’s original post glorifying the beauties of the cosmos, or would like to relativize it all into a purely subjective, personal paean to the majesty of mother nature; which amounts to the same thing.

  • Brad

    Good questions, John D. My responses:

    1. No. If you take out the word “necessarily,” then my answer would change to “most of the time.”
    2. No, the lack of intentionality does not subtract from its beauty, but adds to it for me.

    I am open to further explaining my above answers, why I take those stances, etc. Now, in additional comments, you appear to imply two ideas which I would like to question you about.

    1. Why must judgments be undetermined? That theoretical quality is not necessary in the definition of “judgment,” “decision,” or “perception.”
    2. If beauty is objective and intrinsic (something “in and of itself,” not a “subjective state”), then what constitutes it? How is it defined? How can we measure it? What qualities of things correspond to our word “beautiful” so that we may correctly and incorrectly label things with it?

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    John D,

    But this involves judgments: for one, the judgment that “the universe exists, independent of observers”

    Epic fail. More word games and bluster. You have no argument. This is close to trolling. Sorry I took the bait.

  • Brad

    You clearly disagree with Ebonmuse’s original post glorifying the beauties of the cosmos, or would like to relativize it all into a purely subjective, personal paean to the majesty of mother nature; which amounts to the same thing.

    I’m not going to put words into Christopher’s mouth, but how did you come to the conclusion that relativism is equivalent to disagreement? I say that beauty judgments/perceptions are relative (but may have some universal characteristics behind them). And yet, I agree with EM that the universe is wonderful. Are these stances self-contradictory? How so?

  • John D

    Well, Steve, I appreciate the straight answer. There’s nothing much to add I suppose – other than this: do you think, then, that you can decide to love someone? I think of my love for people as involving a decision, as a commitment to the good of the other, and a readiness to put myself out for their sake.
    What about these questions (if you would be so kind):
    1. can one DECIDE to love in a committed way?
    2. can one love people for whom there is no physiological-emotional “love-feeling”? (for me as a Christian I think I am supposed to love everyone, in the sense I described it above)
    3. do animals love each other (since they too have procreative instincts)?

    Thanks

  • Christopher

    John D,

    I am currently wondering what relationship this statement bears to Ebonmuse’s original post. Did he not want to claim that science has discovered a great deal of wondrous beauty, and that this is a good (better) thing?

    I believe that was ebonmuse’s intentions: he thinks that the natural world is more “beautiful” than the one of ancient mythology – that’s his opinion on the subject of “beauty” and he’s entitled to it. But don’t expect readers like us to always share his sentiments (I for one share very few of them – both on this subject and others).

    But this involves judgments: for one, the judgment that “the universe exists, independent of observers”, as you succinctly put it. That is an intelligent human judgment, and on it is predicated the whole enterprise of modern science. So strictly, the statement that science “doesn’t involve judgment” is a false one.

    The judgements he was referring to were of a more metaphysical nature – that of judgements related towards values and “morality.” Yes, science can make judgements regarding the whats wheres and whens of existence but the answers to the “why” questions can’t be addressed by science – this is where philosophy comes in.

    And in that arena there is little consensus on those questions as answers range from great metanarritives (existence being a struggle between classes [Marxism], chaos and order [primitive essensism], the individual and the tribe [the philosophies of Nietzsche and Sterner], etc…) to issues of “moral” duty (Kant’s Catagorical Imperitive, Humanism, Utilitarianism, etc…) to individual narratives (Postmodernism and political Nihilism) to no real answers at all (epistemological Nihilism – the one school of nihilist thought I avoid).

    In short, while science can make some judgements (measures of distance, speed, material qualities, etc…) there are some judegements it just can’t make. Those are the judgements that Blacksun was referring to…

  • John D

    BlackSun,
    “you have no argument”.
    Look at your own post and then say that with a straight face.

  • Christopher

    John C,

    If on the other hand, you are happy to simply cut the ties between subjective aesthetic judgments (“the universe is beautiful”) and truth (the universe is actually neither beautiful nor un-beautiful), then I have no quarrel with you! You clearly disagree with Ebonmuse’s original post glorifying the beauties of the cosmos, or would like to relativize it all into a purely subjective, personal paean to the majesty of mother nature; which amounts to the same thing.

    You’re right – I do seek to cut the ties between value judgement and “truth.” That said, as much as I disagree with Ebonmuse’s reasoning, I do share (on an aesthetic level) a similar appretiation for the “beauty” I see in nature: the desert sandstorms, the precision of the preditor in hunting prey, the hardiness of lifeforms such as cactus and cockroaches, etc… And I do find it to be more “beautiful” than the cosmologies of primitive nomads.

    Of course, my appreciation of nature stems very different source – as I live in right in the middle of nature, whilst he resides in the center of urban culture; in my opinion it’s hard to *really* appreciate nature when one is so far removed from it by civilization…

  • John D

    Brad,
    re. your second post (5:52pm):
    no they are probably not contradictory, I added that last phrase hastily, without giving it proper thought (apologies, Christopher). I would just like to clarify as well that I do think that in an important sense beauty is something essentially subjective. It is within the horizon of subjective aesthetic judgment that I want to introduce the notion of the “artist”, and hence with him – within this same horizon – a (sense of) beauty that precedes the subjective judgment.
    I will get back to you on your first post tomorrow – I will try to at any rate.

  • Chet

    Do you (any of you) think that believing that all this beauty is the work of an intelligent and loving being, who is the source of all beauty and goodness and order, necessarily makes things less beautiful, less wonderful, less coherent?

    I would respond with a few simple points. A) Gilded lilies are less beautiful than regular lilies. B) Any man can make an arch; they’re not all that impressive. But everybody who passes by a natural rock arch takes a picture, because when such a structure is formed by nothing but wind and time, it’s all the more captivating. So, yes. Believing in God takes something away from the appreciation of the natural world. How could it not?

    Do you not feel that the sense of beauty is undercut by a lack of foundation? What I mean is, part of the beauty of a great painting seems to be the fact that it proceeds from an intelligent, sensitive artist who wanted to communicate something by means of his art.

    But the intent of the artist is only one small aspect of the importance and significance of a work of art. The audience brings something to the art, as well, and often that is much more important.

    The category “beauty”, therefore, is reduced to a certain cerebral-physiological response to phenomena displaying order, proportion, or a certain irreducible “pleasingness” (this, I think, is the key point). Is that all you want to say with the term “beauty”?

    What does wanting have to do with it? If that’s all the beauty that there is, then that’s all the term can describe. Whether or not we’d prefer to inhabit a universe under the stewardship of God is irrelevant; at least, it’s irrelevant unless the term “wishful thinking” means nothing at all to you. Reasonable people don’t allow wishful thinking to dictate their conclusions about what is and isn’t true, though.

    But according to your principles (it seems to me), you are not in a position to judge whether it really IS important or beautiful: your judgment emerges from the hard-wiring of your cerebral cortex (or whatever bit of the brain does things like this).

    You draw a false distinction. We are the hard-wiring. The wiring is us.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    1. can one DECIDE to love in a committed way?
    2. can one love people for whom there is no physiological-emotional “love-feeling”? (for me as a Christian I think I am supposed to love everyone, in the sense I described it above)
    3. do animals love each other (since they too have procreative instincts)?

    1 Probably not, although I suppose one could decide to try. Different people trigger different responses from others, in the same way that art or comedy or natural phenomena affect different people differently. I found last nights supperposition of the moon, Venus and Jupiter fascinating and compelling to look at. My colleague in the car with me said “duh, so what?”.

    2 No, see above.

    3 Probably depends on how self aware they are. Big subject, very moot and not on topic for this thread.

  • John D

    Christopher,
    thanks for clearing that up about BlackSun’s comment, I really hadn’t got onto it at all. If that is the case, I quite agree, science isn’t competent to make judgments of that kind.

  • John D

    Steve,
    once again, I do appreciate your gift for giving a straight answer, and I find your answers interesting. Your idea of what love is must be completely different from mine…

    Brad,
    I think your answers to my questions are sufficient; you notice the key word “necessarily” in the first, and your second I cannot argue with, as a subjective aesthetic judgment.
    Yet your second response does overlap with the issue you raise in your first question to me (also a good question). I think that it is philosophically incoherent that a judgment which may be described as true or false should be a (materialistically) determined judgment. Forgive me if this seems long, but I want to try to give a satisfactory response to a complex question.

    Firstly, let me exclude the judgments I am NOT talking about: I’m not talking about judgments of what we can broadly denominate “utility”, such as we all make, and such as sheep make in fleeing from wolves. This kind of “judgment” can be understood as an instinctive response to danger or to something desirable, part of the “hard-wiring”. They don’t admit the predicates “true” and “false”, since the danger or desideratum perceived is such only “for me”; the most we can say then is that the judgment is “true for me” – which is not what we want to say with (for example) scientific judgments or (I would claim) moral, and even aesthetic judgments (if you disagree here, let’s just ignore these two).

    With these judgments, I want to be able to say “true” or “false”, not just with regard to me, but with regard to reality, to the world as it is. Even forgetting science (which comes later), my judgment “this thing is a tree”, or “this thing is alive” DOES admit the predicates “true” and “false”, since it RELATES what is going on in my head to what is actually the case outside it. Judgment that admits of truth or falsehood can only come about through a relation of this kind; otherwise, there is no measure against which I can verify my percepts, and knowledge stops at the level of perception, of what is “true for me”.
    People here have argued that this “measure” is provided precisely by science and its strict criteria of objectivity. But this is posterior to a more fundamental measure or criterion, that of the concept. When I judge “this is a tree”, I am measuring a given percept (non-conceptual sense impression of tree) according to a certain rational criterion (the concept expressed in the word “tree”). It is by means of this act of “measuring” (commonly, judgment) that we are able to know reality as it is, not simply as it “is for me”.
    If you raise the objection, How does the concept afford knowledge of things “as they are”, since it remains within a purely subjective frame of reference?, I would reply that
    1) the reality of language is a social reality, and since it is the primordial medium through which we come to know reality, it cannot be said that our initial knowledge of things (through the judgments I have described) is purely individualistic and subjective, containing as it does the guarantee of objectivity that comes from language (as expression of concepts) itself
    2) IN FACT, we all do it, and any knowledge, or methods of gaining knowledge (eg scientific method) arising after this process depend on the same process and are founded upon it.

    So then, these judgments (like “this is a tree”) are the foundation for all subsequent judgments; further, they are the precise location in human experience where the question of truth can first be raised. But analogously to scientific experiments, these too depend upon an accurate (instrument of) measure. In science, this involves some apparatus: light sensors, pH meters, thermometers…whatever. In our basic judgments, the “apparatus” is the concept. It’s the measure and means by which we judge. The question of truth therefore is precisely the question of the correspondence of the concept (expressed in words) to the percept.

    With regard to the percept, allow me to concede that it is a determined thing (so as not to get waylaid in more distinctions); but what of the concept? Let us postulate that it is determined too. It follows that a judgment of truth arises from the correspondence of two entirely determined things; but this is impossible.
    Why?
    Because that which measures is the same as that which is measured, and therefore is in no position to measure TRULY. That is, what is materially determined (concept) measures the percept (also materially determined); but then we will need an independent measure to measure the original measurer (concept). Will THIS one then be non-determined and non-material? If not, then we need another one, and so on ad infinitum. If so, then by Ockham’s razor, we should just admit that the concept itself is not reducible to pure materiality and pure determinism.

    I think therefore that we have to adopt the other thesis: that the concept is not in fact wholly materially determined, but is the result of an act of true understanding, operated by a being that is not entirely material (according to the truism that the activity should be proportionate to the doer). This is precisely what Aristotle meant when he claimed that the percept is intelligible “in potency”: it requires the interpretation of an intelligent being to be intelligible “in actuality”.
    (does the concept bear ANY relation to the percept, then? Yes, indeed, as the actuality of an inherent potency, actualized by the non-material intellectual act of a material-spiritual (and free) being).

    This, then, I submit as an argument as to why judgments that admit of true or false cannot be wholly determined and material: since they depend ultimately on concepts; and concepts are not the result of purely material, determined forces alone.

    I know that’s a long answer to a short question, but it needs to be comprehensive to be adequate. Other questions are raised here too (eg around material-spiritual beings), but let us not get sidetracked into that for now.

  • John D

    “the hard wiring is us”
    That’s a judgment, Chet, which you believe has truth-value. Yet on your scheme, your act (affirming and believing that the hardwiring is us) is nothing but a function of the same hard wiring. So why should I believe you any more than I believe a parrot that repeats over and over “the hard wiring is us, the hard wiring is us…”?

  • rob

    My mother-in-law likes to point out that science is reductive in a very real sense. It wasn’t too long ago that scientists believed that you could understand anything by understanding its fundamental parts, yet relatively recently (even in the scheme of the scientific revolution, which means it’s like yesterday if all of human culture was mapped to single lifetime) scientists recognized complexity and emergence, phenomena that allow a group of elements to exhibit properties that are more the sum of their parts. Then she likes to use this as an argument for God.

    It’s a tarted up god of the gaps theory. It basically suggests that because science seeks to understand things fully rather than superficially, it can never be as accurate as just guessing based on a vague impression.

    The other place you see it that drives me crazy is new-agey “medicine” and “health food,” with labels like “Scientists don’t yet understand how compound A64-B03 combines with compound G47-323, but we know that the great spirit works through these magical particles to make our bodies immune to disease!” Well, yeah, because before scientists can make a definitive statement, they are going to try to understand the effects of A64-B03 all by itself on every organ in your body, and then on every system in your body, and then they’re going to do the same for G47-323, and only then will they start to combine them, and then they’ll test it again on every organ and system in your body, and only then will they begin looking at how changing a system or organ in the manner of A64-B03 combined with G47-323 will affect the rest of the body. Sure, it takes longer. Possibly it will even come up with the same result as the anecdotal claims about G47-323 and A64-B03. The difference is that 1) it’s thorough and 2) you actually know something now, rather than just guessing.

  • Brad

    John, I think you should condense such sophisticated responses a ton. I don’t want to wade through another essay to get to your otherwise simple argument.

    First off, the fact that we cannot have perfect certainty about our concepts is not a contradiction, it is plain reality. We must continually check our ideas because we are imperfect. If that disallows perfect collective certainty of all one’s judgments, so be it. And no, we don’t have to review our concepts ad infinitum, only just as much as we so choose.

    Second, how does undeterministic judgment knock down that which you pose as the issue? In other words, why do we not have to infinitely recheck our concepts for perfect certainty given undeterministic judgment? Magic? Additionally, how does this explain the fact the we do have to check the accuracy of our concepts?

    Plus there’s still my second question, which I think is the more important one because it relates to the original essay and your original reply to it.

  • rob

    Hey, can somebody explain what the hell John D. is talking about? It sounds like he is saying that we cannot say definitively that a tree is a tree, because the only way we know what trees are is through our experience of other trees. But that would just be silly, so I assume there’s some technicality that I’m missing.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    John
    If I understand your argument correctly (and who could blame me if I didn’t)I think you are getting too hung up on the role of language in perception of reality. Granted there is no guarantee that the model of reality I hold in my head (forgive the cartesian shorthand, but I’m not D.Dennett)resembles “actual” reality, whatever that is. However I have evolved to perceive materiality in a way that allows me to interact with it. I don’t have to know that a tree is called a tree unless I want to communicate the belief that I am experiencing “tree” to someone else. Imagine I have no language. I will still experience a tall brown and green thing, which I may identify as part of a bigger set of tall brown and green things and I will not expect it to chase me.

  • Chet

    That’s a judgment, Chet

    It’s a conclusion, actually, from about a decade of neuroscience.

    So why should I believe you any more than I believe a parrot that repeats over and over “the hard wiring is us, the hard wiring is us…”?

    If it’s true, why wouldn’t you believe it? Because you wish it wasn’t true? Because you’d prefer it if something else were true? What does that have to do with anything?

  • John D

    That’s 3 people said that my response was too convoluted, so apologies for that, and for consequent lack of comprehension – I take the blame.

    Brad,
    Personal apologies, my post was unreasonably convoluted. In fact, I shall have to cease posting here, not because I don’t like it, but because I am spending too long at it. So before posting this one, which will have to be my last, let me thank you for the discussions we have had.

    With respect to your points in response to mine, the force of my argument (as I see it) is not to simply disallow “perfect” collective certainty, but to disallow certainty as a category, full stop.

    This is because the measure has to of a different genus than the measured. It works like that in science too, where the measured are events, and the measure is number. Analogously, but by the same principle, we can’t measure (judge) concerning a material percept unless the measure (means of judging – concept) is not-material. If it is, how can the subsequent judgment lead to knowledge? How can it be open to truth or falsehood?

    The non-material, non-determined concept does need to be checked, and they don’t bring about “perfect” knowledge. But they do bring knowledge, that is the difference. As soon as I have a measure that is different from the measured, as number is to matter, the infinite regress stops.

    Re. your second point (on “subsistent” beauty), I would not want to say that beauty is not subjective; it is in an important way. But I don’t think that’s the end of the story. Concretely, I think that aesthetic judgments do admit of a certain objectivity: like if someone says “Bach’s passion music is utterly lacking in beauty”, or “the universe has no beauty at all”, I reckon that is wrong, not just that I happen to think otherwise.
    What measure do we use? It’s not obvious. What measure do we use to describe something as “good”? Not obvious either. But I wouldn’t want to reduce either of them to mere subjective enunciations empty of any truth other than a “truth-for-me”.

    I will come back to read your response, if you write one, but I’m definitely not going to write any more.

  • John D

    Final word to Chet:
    I am reasonably familiar with the key developments of contemporary neuroscience. In no way, IMO, do the findings of this science necessitate the conclusion that “we are the hard wiring”. Some people do interpret it in that way, such as yourself, and a large section of the relevant scientific community. But you should recognize that this is an interpretation of data, and not a part of it; if it is a conclusion (which by the way doesn’t mean it is not also a judgment), then it is a philosophical one based on the scientific data. I draw a different conclusion, as do many within the relevant scientific community, based on the same data, but with a different philosophy.
    If you are not willing to accept that, and insist that the starting point for any discussion on the subject is the indisputable fact that “we are the hard wiring”, then I would call that arrogance.

  • Brad

    John D, I just have a few points I want to mention. Perhaps this should be my last say, too, because we are getting off topic somewhat.

    First, immaterial and nondeterministic are not equivalent qualifiers. Second, you ask “how can [material-based judgment] lead to knowledge?” This is essentially a “gap” argument – an argument from incredulity. My answer is that materially encoded cognition is what synthesizes sense information, in a “sufficiently reliable” way (via evolution of the brain), and additionally ascribes various value judgments as well. The latter is where beauty comes in. Third, you didn’t really answer my Q#2. Beauty may in some ways be universal, or nearly so (as in the case of Bach), but that doesn’t mean it is objective. Objective statements are those that are completely independent of values.

    To relate this to the original essay: perhaps the next wonder we will figure out is consciousness.

  • Chet

    I am reasonably familiar with the key developments of contemporary neuroscience. In no way, IMO, do the findings of this science necessitate the conclusion that “we are the hard wiring”.

    Then I would submit that you are not familiar with the body of contemporary neuroscience. Sure, it’s easy to explain how lacunas in the brain can rob a soul of sight, or of mobility of limb, or even access to our memories. If you break off the lever for the crane, the hook at the end can’t be made to move by the man in the cabin no matter what he does.

    But only a material explanation of the brain can explain how damage to the brain can alter personality, bestow language or musical ability, literally change who we are on a fundamental level – all of which has been scientifically observed. The brain is not simply an antenna for picking up control transmissions from souls; the brain is the organ of the self. It’s where we reside. The soul does not exist because it is not necessary for it to exist; all of the things that souls supposedly do happen in, and are done by, the brain.

    The only members of the scientific community that do not accept this conclusion are the ones whose ideology stands in the way – the religious minority of scientists who cannot allow themselves to follow where this chain of evidence leads.

    If you are not willing to accept that, and insist that the starting point for any discussion on the subject is the indisputable fact that “we are the hard wiring”, then I would call that arrogance.

    Answering the question (whether we’re wired, or not) on the basis of the evidence must surely be the starting point for the discussion, must it not? Otherwise you’re attempting to answer the question based on what it would be most convenient to believe, and that’s not a rational basis from which to arrive at a conclusion.

    If beauty is only our perception of it, it doesn’t matter what we want “beauty” to mean; it doesn’t matter if we’d prefer there to be a Universal Arbiter of Ideal Beauty so that the term might be more meaningful. If that’s not true, then beauty as a subjective experience is all the meaning the term can possibly have.

    Do you see my point? You’re asking me what I’d like to believe, telling me that it’d be better if I believed what you believed – the flowers would grow more colorful, beauty would be more than the eye of the beholder, whatever – but that’s irrelevant. What I believe is based on what is true. Dictated by it. If it’s true that beauty is only our subjective experience of it, an accident of a certain brainstate that prizes some configurations over others, then it really doesn’t matter that I might prefer it another way – to use the term “beauty” is to mean what is beautiful, and that’s determined by a material brain, not a nonexistent God.

    You keep asking “which would be better.” The only relevant question is which would be truer.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Chet,

    I’ve been following along with you and John D and I see your point clearly. Actuality is the measure of truth, and wishful thinking irrelevant. That’s all fine and dandy, but how did someone of your caliber let this slip into an ostensibly rational discussion:

    The soul does not exist because it is not necessary for it to exist; all of the things that souls supposedly do happen in, and are done by, the brain.

    Nothing in this statement is falsifiable, it contains at least two unknowables, it commits the every-and-all fallacy, and it’s a close cousin to the circular argument.

    That being said, I still agree with you if you are positing that actuality is the measure of truth, and that wishful thinking is irrelevant.

  • Chet

    Nothing in this statement is falsifiable, it contains at least two unknowables, it commits the every-and-all fallacy, and it’s a close cousin to the circular argument.

    To the contrary. It’s eminently falsifiable; it’s simply not false. Show me one aspect of human behavior or cognition for which the soul is supposedly responsible, and I can point to research showing its material origin in the brain.

    Like I said – the theory that the brain is merely the body’s control panel, worked by the soul, is at least consistent with brain damage that eliminates mobility, or sensation, or even memory (although that last one is a sticking point if the soul, presumably, is expected to carry one’s memories after death. If the soul holds your memories, how could brain damage disconnect your consciousness from them?)

    But that theory cannot explain how other kinds of brain damage can literally alter personality. It can’t explain, for instance, how something like a serotonin imbalance can literally alter (by depression) your entire perspective on life. It can’t explain brain damage that miraculously bestows ability – if your “soul” knew how to play piano all along, why did it take a bump to the physical noggin to enable that ability in your consciousness?

    The falsification is that the soul-brain dichotomy theory makes certain predictions – that brain damage can affect motor ability and sense ability, but not personality and judgment – that turn out to be false. Ergo, it is falsifiable and falsified.

    Anyway it’s a bit off-topic. But I have to conclude that anybody who has no trouble reconciling modern neuroscience with ages-old ideas about immortal souls is profoundly ignorant of the neuroscience. To everyone but ideologues who can’t accept a material mind, the debate is over. Consciousness is a material phenomenon of material brains. The conclusion is really inescapable.

  • Kaltrosomos

    “Consciousness is a material phenomenon of material brains. The conclusion is really inescapable.”

    This raises a question for me. If humans are wholly material, are they also wholly deterministic? Do we bear any responsibility for our actions?

    If we say man has no more choice in what he does than a rock or a stream, we have little justification for trying to persuade anybody of truth, or trying to uphold justice. Any crime committed would just be the inevitable result of the interactions of matter. Any ‘wrong’ opinion would simply be the inevitable flower of evolution, something that was ordained from the beginning by the starting conditions of the universe.

  • http://blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Just what I thought would happen. Theist John D comes into forum, turns a simple post about wonder and beauty into a soapbox. Recites painfully tired arguments from incredulity, “god of the gaps,” commits numerous fallacies of equivocation, pushes ideas of absolute standards for the appreciation of beauty, paradoxically flogs relativism/solipsism with respect to the ability of science to establish facts, asserts without proof the immortal “soul,” sends everyone spinning into a tizzy refuting his non-arguments, accuses people of being “arrogant,” then smugly leaves because it’s taking too much time. Hmm.

  • Christopher

    This raises a question for me. If humans are wholly material, are they also wholly deterministic? Do we bear any responsibility for our actions?

    No more than any other lifeform – you live with the results of your actions, but there’s no reason not to do it if you can live down the consequenses…

  • Kaltrosomos

    “No more than any other lifeform – you live with the results of your actions, but there’s no reason not to do it if you can live down the consequenses…”

    I’m not sure you understand what I mean. Do we choose our actions, or are our actions chosen for us by the causes and effects that preceded us?

    Obviously some of our character is determined by our environment, but are we completely determined by that same environment? Are we deterministic? If somebody could know the complete starting conditions of the universe, would they be able to predict in detail my entire life before I lived it?

  • Chet

    If humans are wholly material, are they also wholly deterministic? Do we bear any responsibility for our actions?

    Why would determinism absolve us of responsibility (or, more specifically, punishment) for our actions? Pretend I’m the judge and you’re the thief. Perhaps you argue that you bear no responsibility for your crimes, since you had no volition in committing them – you were simply doing what your deterministic self had no choice but to do, following the laws of physics. You certainly can’t expect to be punished for following the inescapable laws of nature, right?

    I, the judge, counter that, in punishing you for your crimes, I’m doing the exact same thing. I have no choice but to follow my own deterministic programming and punish those that commit crimes. It simply can’t be helped – we’re programmed to evaluate our actions as though we aren’t programmed; we have no choice but to act like we have choice.

    Determinism is a double-edged sword like that. You can’t claim a lack of choice on your part and then demand that others choose not to punish you for what you’ve done. If they’re about to punish you for a crime, it’s because they’re programmed to do that in response to crime. Arguments about programming don’t really justify a failure to punish transgressions.

    we have little justification for trying to persuade anybody of truth, or trying to uphold justice.

    If the criminal is programmed for injustice, we’re programmed for justice; hence, we need no justification.

    Any crime committed would just be the inevitable result of the interactions of matter.

    So would the punishment. In the end determinism is a difference that is no difference; it’s irrelevant to morality.

    Are we deterministic?

    Technically, the universe isn’t. Randomness exists. Bell’s inequality basically proves it, doesn’t it?

  • Leum

    I don’t know if free will exists, Kaltrosomos. Thing is, I don’t see how a non-physical component to existence changes the situation.

    The case against free will (with souls):

    Our souls, temporarily assuming they exist, certainly respond to external factors, are shaped by environmental pressures, and act in ways that are relatively predictable (hence I know when one of my friends panics that it’s normal and not a sign of anything terrible, but if one of my other friends panicked, I’d probably panic too). These are the observed facts, and having a soul doesn’t allow us to escape the fact these pressures and factors exist and more or less determine how we will act.

    The case against determinism (without them):

    The quality of human experience is such that everyone perceives himself (or herself) to make choices almost constantly. Although this could be an illusion, it seems probable that free will could be emergent from consciousness, much in the same way that life emerges from non-living components. Having free will could have evolutionary benefits (being able to correct bad behavior after one failure is superior to needing to be classically conditioned). In any case, the human mind is too complex to be wholly determined, and although it could be argued that the non-determined aspects are entirely random, random chance does not, qualitatively speaking, seem to be a component of thought.

    Please note that the above arguments are off the top of my head and are pulled from old recollections of introductory readings on free will. For a more complete, accurate, and properly analyzed answer, please consult your local philosopher.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Ebonmuse,

    I’ve read this a few times now and it really is a nice piece of writing. The use of metaphor and the flow of the language really does captivate. Surely you’ve thought of it, but IMO it’s the type of piece that deserves prominence in your book, you know, intro / outro material, backcover / inside flap, etc. The overwhelmingly positive and encouraging responses here seem to affirm this.

    Also, not that I have anything against people who embrace New Age ideas, but I’m also glad to see the scope of your criticisms expanded. Of course, the New Age movement might not be as publicly prominent, politically connected or bullying as fundamentalism, but it is every bit as involved in not only the public but global advancement of religion, and people of all stripe tend to overlook this.

    Chet,

    The falsification is that the soul-brain dichotomy theory makes certain predictions – that brain damage can affect motor ability and sense ability, but not personality and judgment – that turn out to be false. Ergo, it is falsifiable and falsified.

    I can see you have substantially different conception of the soul than I do. I reject the soul-brain dichotomy and IMO, at present, the existence of ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ is not falsifiable. Also, a reasonable exegesis of the Bible does not support Cartesian dualism, but tripartism, so we’re already in separate contexts from the outset. What you think of as ‘soul’ seems closer to what I would call ‘spirit’ but it’s hard to tell. At any rate, I’ll expand on my criticisms a little, but just remember that I agree with your overall point as stated to John D, if I’ve understood it correctly to be that actuality is the measure of truth and wishful thinking irrelevant.

    Even when facts themselves are completely authoritative, our interpretations of them are surely not always so. Although at present I agree the concept appears entirely unfalsifiable, it is entirely reasonable that the human apparatus might in fact resemble something like an interface for a variety of intermingling dimensional energies or realities. Sounds wacky, but this is not to say I reject the findings of neuroscience. Quite the contrary. The findings of neuroscience demonstrate overwhelmingly that aspects of consciousness are predictably affected by the physical configuration of the brain.

    Essentially, you are making Ebonmuse’s argument as advanced in AGITM:

    Some mental functions are localized, while others are more diffuse, but there is no aspect of the mind that does not correspond to any area of the brain… The evidence shows that (aspects of consciousness) are completely determined by the physical configuration of the brain, and that a change to this configuration can alter or eliminate any of them. In short, I will show that, as the materialist position predicts, every part of the mind is entirely dependent on and controlled by the brain.” (paren. and ital. mine)

    You said,

    Show me one aspect of human behavior or cognition for which the soul is supposedly responsible, and I can point to research showing its material origin in the brain.

    I feel both of these are fallacious.

    First, I would argue that actually, at best you can point to said behavior or cognition’s area of material correspondence in the brain.

    Second, on what grounds might either of you state empirically that there is no aspect of the mind that does not correspond to any area of the brain? This is an out-of-scope quantifier. To make such a statement accurately, one would have to possess sufficient knowledge of all aspects of the mind and brain, and I think that’s a pretty lofty appeal for even our best neuroscientists.

    Third, that a phenomenon changes or ceases to exist by destroying that through which it manifests does not entail that said phenomenon is ‘entirely dependent upon and completely controlled by’ that through which it manifests. This argument is tantamount to, “Because the light stops when I break the bulb, the light must be caused entirely by the bulb.” We all know that is incorrect.

    What I’m saying is, yes, actuality is the measure of truth. But overwhelming evidence that one needs an intact brain to function properly is not overwhelming evidence that one only needs an intact brain to function properly. The findings of neuroscience demonstrate overwhelmingly that aspects of consciousness are predictably affected by the physical configuration of the brain, and nothing in this statement is even remotely construable as evidence against the tripartite interpretation of body, spirit, and soul.

  • Chet

    What you think of as ‘soul’ seems closer to what I would call ‘spirit’ but it’s hard to tell.

    Qualitatively there’s no difference between souls and spirits. What you call “tripartism” is just a redundant dualism.

    Although at present I agree the concept appears entirely unfalsifiable, it is entirely reasonable that the human apparatus might in fact resemble something like an interface for a variety of intermingling dimensional energies or realities.

    And monkeys might be about to fly out of my ass. Absent an explanatory mechanism for either, they have equal likelihood of being true – basically zero.

    There’s no part of the human brain that is an “interface for intermingling dimensional energies” or whatever. No part of it can detect “alternate realities.”

    First, I would argue that actually, at best you can point to said behavior or cognition’s area of material correspondence in the brain.

    Then I wonder in what sense anything can be said to do anything. Sure, take the engine out of your car and it doesn’t run, but to you that doesn’t prove that the engine of your car is the source of its motive energy; merely that it is the region of correspondence with motive energy.

    What a demon-haunted world you must live in, if you cannot successfully connect components and functions under any circumstances. Me, I feel that it’s beyond question that cars run on the chemical energy in gasoline, not motive energies claimed from other dimensions in the same general vicinity as the car’s engine (which itself has no known purpose if it doesn’t exist to move the car.)

    Second, on what grounds might either of you state empirically that there is no aspect of the mind that does not correspond to any area of the brain?

    The empirical observation that all aspects of the mind correspond to areas of the brain. It’s really very simple. And the counterargument is simple, too, if it’s correct – you need only to show us one aspect of mind that cannot be linked to the brain.

    This argument is tantamount to, “Because the light stops when I break the bulb, the light must be caused entirely by the bulb.” We all know that is incorrect.

    It’s only trivially incorrect. It’s substantially true, however. Electric wiring by itself doesn’t produce light. But light bulbs do produce light; they’re not simply innocent bystanders that just always happen to be there in regions of space that are spontaneously producing light.

    The fact that artificial electric illumination always seems to happen inside light bulbs is a pretty good indicator that they’re responsible for the process. Indeed I wonder how you can doubt this to be true. How does it work around your house? A light bulb burns out and you insist “wait, no need to replace it – it doesn’t have anything to do with producing light, after all. I’m sure if we just wait here patiently, light will emerge from an alternate dimension, as normal.”

    You must be in the dark quite a bit. Figuratively as well as literally.

    nothing in this statement is even remotely construable as evidence against the tripartite interpretation of body, spirit, and soul.

    I’ve actually made an argument to the contrary, you know. Instead of just saying “nuh-uh, isn’t so”, maybe you could address what I said?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Very well argued, Chet. :) One gets the sense, from reading these comments, that what cl is arguing for isn’t dualism so much as a rejection of the very concept of cause-and-effect reasoning.

    Leum: You may be interested in my On Free Will post series from 2006.

    I also have to comment on:

    This argument is tantamount to, “Because the light stops when I break the bulb, the light must be caused entirely by the bulb.” We all know that is incorrect.

    Um… possibly I’m missing something here, but how is this incorrect? Why is it inaccurate that light emitted by a light bulb is caused entirely by the bulb?

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Chet,

    I disagree that light bulbs produce light, and I don’t see such as grounds for denigration.

    You must be in the dark quite a bit. Figuratively as well as literally.

    Working out my own thoughts and ideas in these forums is important enough to me that I’ll put up with stuff like this; it really just reveals and confirms (to me at least) that atheism is really not that different from religion, just with a different set of dogmas, a better reading list and a higher collective IQ.

    Absent an explanatory mechanism for either, they have equal likelihood of being true – basically zero.

    I disagree on two points: 1) Absence of an explanatory mechanism does not preclude a proposition’s truth, or else science couldn’t work; 2) Explain how you’re justified to assign probabilities to presently unfalsifiable constructs.

    Qualitatively there’s no difference between souls and spirits. What you call “tripartism” is just a redundant dualism.

    Not only is this incorrect from a biblical standpoint, but do you realize how silly that sounds coming from an atheist? Of course there’s no difference to you! You see no evidence for either.

    The fact that artificial electric illumination always seems to happen inside light bulbs is a pretty good indicator that they’re responsible for the process. Indeed I wonder how you can doubt this to be true. How does it work around your house? A light bulb burns out and you insist “wait, no need to replace it – it doesn’t have anything to do with producing light, after all. I’m sure if we just wait here patiently, light will emerge from an alternate dimension, as normal.”

    Come now. You can’t denigrate my intelligence and then go there. After our last little ditty I would have thought you’d think more of me than that. I’m sorry if you aren’t grasping the analogy. No need to appeal to an extra dimension when GE brings good things to life.

    Ebon,

    I didn’t think Chet’s response was well argued. I’ve got a five-part response to AGITM (three currently posted) and I would suggest checking them out. I would imagine you’d include AGITM in your book, but it is significantly flawed and nowhere near the “slam dunk against theism” resident backpatters purport. I’ll even predict that if you don’t at least consider what I’m saying in my responses, people will accuse you of considerable misunderstanding of the Bible.

    One gets the sense, from reading these comments, that what cl is arguing for isn’t dualism so much as a rejection of the very concept of cause-and-effect reasoning.

    A few things here. I don’t argue for dualism and never have, and yeah, I’m just another dumb believer who violates reason by rejecting the very concept of cause and effect. Like I said to Chet, testing my beliefs and ideas in these forums is important enough to me that I’ll put up with little pokes like this. It’s not that I’m a ‘whiner’ as certain people claim, it’s just that stuff like this usually only detracts from the quality of the debate. I’m not here to make wise cracks. Just know that I’m trying my hardest to respect others and be aware of how others perceive me at DA.

    Why is it inaccurate that light emitted by a light bulb is caused entirely by the bulb?

    You make the same mistake as Chet and surely somebody of your intelligence knows the answer to this.

  • Kaltrosomos

    Chet,
    “In the end determinism is a difference that is no difference; it’s irrelevant to morality.”

    I disagree. Morality is, as I understand it, based on the idea of responsibility for actions. If we bear no responsibility for what we do, we have no good reason for believing a moral life is preferable. People may act moral anyway, but they bear no responsibility for being moral since they didn’t choose to be. Is a rock moral when it doesn’t crush a man to death? Is the sea merciful because it doesn’t drown a sailor? I think it makes all the difference whether or not men are responsible for their actions.

    I’m also not sure of your position. Do you believe humans are deterministic or not? If you do believe we’re deterministic, how would matters be different if we were non-deterministic?

    Leum,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I remain unsure of the issue. The universe is a very strange place, no? My reason can hardly make sense of it sometimes.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    cl,

    Let me try your argument in a somewhat different context:

    I believe that computers have souls, and that’s ultimately how they get their processing done. Yes, it’s true that you can disable aspects of the computer’s function by removing its physical parts – the video card, the hard drive, the RAM, the motherboard – but that doesn’t prove that those parts actually perform those functions. At best, they prove that those parts are the areas of material correspondence for those functions.

    And what does it prove that I can destroy my computer by running a magnet over it? Just because a phenomenon changes or ceases to exist by destroying that through which it manifests does not entail that said phenomenon is entirely dependent upon and completely controlled by that through which it manifests. I say that computation transcends the physical organization of the computer, and there’s no way for you to prove otherwise.

    Is this argument a good one for computers as well as for human beings? If not, what is the relevant dissimilarity?

  • Chet

    I disagree that light bulbs produce light, and I don’t see such as grounds for denigration.

    Well, excuse me. I hold a different opinion – if you can’t arrive at conclusions about the world around you by a process of observation and rational thought, I do see that as grounds for denigration. I mean nobody deserves to be as denigrated as the willfully ignorant.

    Working out my own thoughts and ideas in these forums is important enough to me that I’ll put up with stuff like this

    Oh, you poor put-upon soul. How dare I trample on your right to show up on the internet and say stupid shit.

    Of course there’s no difference to you! You see no evidence for either.

    There’s no difference because there’s no difference in effect. Either our “self” survives death or it doesn’t. Whether you call the part that carries that self into the afterlife the “soul” or the “spirit” or whathaveyou is irrelevant; it’s the same thing. What we’re talking about is a putative “self” that is you, your consciousness, separate from your brain.

    But if it’s separate from your brain, malfunction in the brain shouldn’t change who you are. But that’s exactly what we see. Back to the crane operator analogy – if you break off the lever on the control panel, the man inside can’t make the hook move anymore. Sure, that makes sense.

    But what we’re talking about now is the observed phenomenon that if you break off another lever, the man inside suddenly doesn’t like chocolate anymore, or suddenly can only communicate in Spanish. It doesn’t make any sense in a model where consciousness – “self” – is separate from the material brain. It makes perfect sense only in a model where “self” is the material brain.

    This is the argument to which you have consistently failed to respond. Play a little less of the self-pity card and actually address what I’m saying.

  • Chet

    If we bear no responsibility for what we do, we have no good reason for believing a moral life is preferable.

    If we bear no responsibility for what we do, we don’t need a good reason to prefer a moral life. We just do prefer it, as a result of programming.

    Do you see what I’m trying to say? If you’re wondering whether programming results in having no basis from which to, say, prosecute crimes, you’re only applying determinism to one-half of the equation. If we’re going to say that criminals of otherwise sound mind are determined (and here I draw a distinction between mental-normal criminals and persons who, because of mental illness, are legally not responsible for their crimes), and therefore lack responsibility, we have to say the same thing about judges.

    The point of justice, in many ways, is to dissuade people from committing crimes. I don’t see how that’s any less effective with deterministic humans. Deterrence works just fine if all we are is stimulus-response machines. Indeed it probably works better that way.

    I’m also not sure of your position. Do you believe humans are deterministic or not?

    Didn’t you hear me, before? It doesn’t matter, because whether or not we’re deterministic has no bearing on my moral actions. If we’re non-deterministic then I as a choosing person have to puzzle through moral judgments on my own. If we are deterministic, then my programming will force me to puzzle through the mental motions of moral judgment.

    Either way I have to arrive at moral judgments and put them into action.

    The truth is I have no idea whether we’re deterministic or not, but my guess is “not”, because the universe is non-deterministic. I believe that we as humans are entirely material – I don’t believe in a spiritual component to consciousness, except as a metaphor for subjectivity – but I don’t see that a material consciousness necessitates a deterministic one in a universe where randomness exists.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Ebonmuse,

    Let me try your argument in a somewhat different context: I believe that computers have souls {SNIP}.

    That’s not my argument but an inaccurate caricature of it. I do not believe the human soul or spirit is the processor. Unless people just aren’t interested in understanding what I’m getting at, I fail to see why they continue to make zero effort to distinguish what I mean when using the words soul and spirit.

    Is this argument a good one for computers as well as for human beings? If not, what is the relevant dissimilarity?

    Of course not. The dissimilarities are many but mainly your analogy fails because you and I have both pre-agreed on a definition of soul that refers to human personality traits. You and I have not pre-agreed that computers manifest anything remotely comparable to human personality traits and to frame my argument as such is misleading.

    Chet,

    ..if you can’t arrive at conclusions about the world around you by a process of observation and rational thought, I do see that as grounds for denigration. I mean nobody deserves to be as denigrated as the willfully ignorant… Oh, you poor put-upon soul. How dare I trample on your right to show up on the internet and say stupid shit.

    Save it! I tried to make it clear I wasn’t interested in a flame war but logic, and I find these comments and your ascending impatience and hostility noteworthy. You essentially reveal that you prefer to attack or denigrate those you don’t understand, and your argument here is essentially, “What cl is saying does not make sense to me, so cl is worthy of denigration, willfully ignorant, and says stupid shit.”

    Interesting. Whatever that may be, it’s not the voice of reason, and makes those with appeals to an objective reliance on reason seem rather convoluted.

  • Mathew Wilder

    cl, You keep saying there is a difference between soul and spirit, but have yet to tell us what that difference is. What, pray tell, is a soul, and what is a spirit and how do they differ?

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Mathew Wilder,

    I’m happy to answer your question, but Chet’s mind appears to be made up, and my definitions of soul and spirit have no bearing on my original claim in the thread anyhow. Before deflecting criticism of his own argument by insulting me for stating that I do not believe a lightbulb produces light, Chet made the following statement:

    The soul does not exist because it is not necessary for it to exist; all of the things that souls supposedly do happen in, and are done by, the brain.

    I wasn’t feeling it, and replied,

    Nothing in this statement is falsifiable, it contains at least two unknowables, it commits the every-and-all fallacy, and it’s a close cousin to the circular argument.

    Chet then argued to me that the soul-brain dichotomy was falsifiable because it made certain predictions. BTW, a construct is not falsifiable simply because it makes predictions. At any rate, I never said anything about whether the soul-brain dichotomy was unfalsifiable or logically flawed – I was alleging Chet’s words as stated were unfalsifiable and logically flawed.

    Will you really argue that Chet’s original statement I took issue with is logically cogent, does not contain unknowables, and is not very analogous to a circular argument? Tell me with a straight face that the conclusion is not in the premise here:

    The soul does not exist because it is not necessary for it to exist;

    I mean come on! When believers go here at DA they get ripped a new one, and rightly so. Where’s the consistency?

    To answer your question, a reasonable exegesis of scripture supports tripartism (ie 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 4:12) and I posit that soul is to body / spirit as light is to bulb / current.

  • Mathew Wilder

    I don’t care at all about your argument with Chet.

    I just wanted straightforward answers. I’m not sure I understand your analogy, though. So the spirit flows through the body and creates the soul, just like the current flows through the bulb and creates light. Is that correct?

    Something seems a little off about this analogy, to me, thought. It is actually the filament that creates the light, right? The bulb merely houses the filament. So where is the filament in the analogy?

    Also, that still doesn’t really answer the question “what is a soul and what is a spirit?” All I’ve been given is an analogy to describe a relationship between the things. I don’t know what the things are, and i’m not that clear on their relationship for that matter.

  • ex machina

    To answer your question, a reasonable exegesis of scripture supports tripartism (ie 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 4:12) and I posit that soul is to body / spirit as light is to bulb / current.

    I think I understand you, but aren’t we right back where we started? What difference does it make what kind of permutation of non-physical elements make up the divine portion of the human? There is evidence that shows that human morality, decision making, memory, you names it, has physical origins. You can poke around in someone’s brain and erase memories and change personalities (hence Ebon’s computer analogy). If that’s true, then the soul, or spirit, or whatever taxonomy you’re describing is unable to manifest itself physically and affect thought or behavior. What’s the difference between that soul/spirit (that can’t overcome physical limitations, or is completely dependent on them), and no soul/spirit at all?

  • Brad

    I really haven’t seen cl argue his case except Biblically. I’ve only seen him trying to explain what his position means by use of analogy. An atheist could say that it is unparsimonious to make supernatural theories about the mind because we have reduced so much of it to physical causation. (I couldn’t tell you how much – I’m not a neuroscientist.) Whereas a theist could counter by saying belief comes with the territory, that (say) the tripartite nature of man can be reasonably believed if the Bible (some specific configuration and general scheme of interpretation) is sufficiently evidenced and thus we may rationally believe what it says relating to the brain and humans. Thus, the entire debate around this subject is grounded in what our starting assumptions are.

    From a purely scientific standpoint, the materialistic theory holds the most water. We have not come across anything other than matter and our own states of consciousness with which to compare to brain function, and thus Occam’s razor would cut out unsupported supernatural theories. That doesn’t 100% prove anything, but (in my opinion) it’s the best we can hope to do with our knowledge.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Thus, the entire debate around this subject is grounded in what our starting assumptions are.

    How so? What assumptions is the atheist making in saying, “We have no rational grounds to put the “soul” into the equation?”

  • Chet

    I fail to see why they continue to make zero effort to distinguish what I mean when using the words soul and spirit.

    Who cares what you mean? If you mean something other than what we’re talking about, you’re just introducing red herrings into the issue.

    We’re talking about what’s doing the thinking, when you think. The knowing, when you know. The feeling, when you feel. What’s doing that stuff? Neuroscience says “the brain.” You seem to have a different view. If you don’t believe “the soul”, or “the spirit” are the answers to that question, then we’re not talking about souls or spirits but whatever spiritual entity or construct or energy force you think forms your consciousness.

    That’s why we’re making “zero effort.” We assumed you were here to talk about the topic at hand. Apparently we were wrong?

    I’m happy to answer your question, but Chet’s mind appears to be made up, and my definitions of soul and spirit have no bearing on my original claim in the thread anyhow.

    Gawd! Then why make such a huge deal out of it? Just to waste our time?

    I tried to make it clear I wasn’t interested in a flame war but logic, and I find these comments and your ascending impatience and hostility noteworthy.

    The hostility you’re detecting is my frustration with people who would rather waste my time than engage with my arguments. This is the third time you’ve done that. After our earlier exchange I’m quite disappointed.

    BTW, a construct is not falsifiable simply because it makes predictions.

    Er, that’s precisely the definition of falsifiability – whether or not a model makes testable predictions.

    That’s the second thing you’ve been spectacularly wrong about. Are you the same cl that was posting here the other week? I see no indication of it. The other cl was much less inclined to say transparently stupid stuff, or to prefer to engage in self-pity and defensiveness instead of argument. Does he know you’re posting in his name? Does he know you’re treading on his good (if small) reputation?

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Mathew Wilder,

    I don’t care at all about your argument with Chet.

    That’s okay, I’m not asking you to. I’m asking you or anyone whether his statement in question bears resemblance to a circular argument. My intent wasn’t to come here and get sucked into the fools’ errand of trying to define spirits and souls. I wanted to debate over whether a particular statement contained certain logical fallacies or not. Of course, you retain the right to decline participation in such a discussion, but if you won’t answer my questions, why should I answer yours?

    Even so, I’ll take this:

    …that still doesn’t really answer the question “what is a soul and what is a spirit?”

    A sufficient starting point is contained in the analogy. In the same way that a lightbulb does not produce light, I argue that brain does not produce soul. You’re correct about the distinction between bulb and filament, BTW. I’ve been using the terms interchangeably when they are not technically interchangeable. Such was a good call on your part.

    Besides, it would really be a bit presumptuous and unnecessary for me to tell you exactly what soul or spirit is in order to make my point. I don’t really know exactly what they are, and I don’t need to provide sound or even workable definitions of soul and spirit to refute the line-point hypothesis as argued in Chet’s comment in question, and also in AGITM.

    For example, how do you reply to Nielsen and Sedgwick’s claims of instinct and emotion in an anencephalic infant without thalami? How would you respond to Spiegel, Wycis, et al. in their conclusion that “..it is not possible to refer emotional reactions to a single circumscribed nucleus within the diencephalon or to connections with the frontal lobes, but there exists a multiple representation of this function?” How do you reply to Grinker’s strong symposium against the absolute extendability of line-point mechanisms?

    Brad,

    I don’t want to talk metaphysics, I’m getting sucked into providing definitions for terms that thousands of years of philosophy still need a shotgun wedding for, and such is useless in this particular rational discussion. IMO, the tripartite concept of human existence is reasonable, especially, when there are real-world examples of tripartite systems. The lightbulb is a real-world analogy for a tripartite system, not a biblical analogy. Though framed incorrectly, Chet and Ebonmuse’s examples of the computer and the car are also reasonably analogous. Although there are exceptions, a tripartite system is in principal Gestaltian and can be considered any system in which an impetus flows through a scaffolding to produce a result that is not possible in either the impetus or scaffolding alone.

    Surgical incisions and electrode stimulation merely alter circuitry and do not post hoc establish the origin of emotion in any spatial place. There are tripartite systems here, in this universe, and given the very real lack of consensus on the degree to which line-point mechanisms govern emotions, that consciousness might resemble a tripartite system is IMO reasonable. Over-stressing physical representation invites the flawed phrenological explanations of Gall, Spurzheim, et al. that there are ‘innate ideas’ running around in our head.

    From a purely scientific standpoint, the materialistic theory holds the most water.</blockquote

    Well of course! Science investigates observable phenomena so why would you expect otherwise? Such is tantamount to faulting a coffee shop for not serving beer. I respect your position as much as I respect my own, and if you can justify it better than I deem I’ve justified mine, I might even accept your position. So please, be my guest at answering any of the questions thrown to Wilder, because I’ve never seen them addressed in a way I felt was compelling.

    ex machina,

    Yes, you’re correct, we are right back where we started! That’s why I don’t want to get sucked into useless deliberation over spirits and souls. I’ve come attacking what I feel to be a gratuitous extension of line-point mechanisms to argue a philosophical opinion (materialism). There is evidence of correspondence, not origin. Correspondence does not automatically entail a point of origin. Feel free to tackle any of the above, especially whether Chet’s statement resembles a circular argument, or any of the comments to Wilder. Also, note I don’t need to provide sound definitions of soul and spirit to challenge what I perceive as a gratuitous interpretation of the line-point hypothesis.

    Chet,

    Let’s rewind. I came here taking issue with a statement of yours. That particular statement was not falsifiable. That particular statement reeks of circular argumentation, and that particular statement commits the every-and-all fallacy. You have not responded to these claims, save by stupid and annoying insults based on your inability to see what I mean when I posit as an analogy that a lightbulb does not produce light, and an unconvincing argument that I don’t understand falsifiability:

    ..that’s precisely the definition of falsifiability – whether or not a model makes testable predictions. That’s the second thing you’ve been spectacularly wrong about.(emph. mine)

    Nice try. Did I ever claim the soul-brain dichotomy was or wasn’t unfalsifiable? Be honest now. I claimed that your statement was not falsifiable. The key word is ‘testable’ and your statement as framed makes no testable predictions. I know what I mean when I refer to falsifiability.

    Now, tell me with a straight face that the conclusion is not alluded to in the premise here:

    The soul does not exist because it is not necessary for it to exist;

    Then feel free to tackle any of the comments in my last paragraph to Wilder. Maybe then you’ll quit alleging I’m avoiding ‘your’ argument.

    That’s the second thing you’ve been spectacularly wrong about.

    Really? What was the first?

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Whoops – omitted a closing bracket..

  • Mathew Wilder

    cl,

    I wrote:

    So the spirit flows through the body and creates the soul, just like the current flows through the bulb and creates light. Is that correct?

    You wrote:

    In the same way that a lightbulb does not produce light, I argue that brain does not produce soul.

    So then I misunderstood what you were trying to say. What does produce the soul then? Or what role does the soul play? What role does the spirit play? (Both vis-a-vis the body, I guess.)

    You wrote:

    it would really be a bit presumptuous and unnecessary for me to tell you exactly what soul or spirit is in order to make my point.

    That seems awfully convenient for you doesn’t it?

    Throw out the debate over materialism with Chet. I’m just interested in getting a handle on what you think. You’re right that trying to provide definitions of “soul” and “spirit” are probably impossible tasks. It was the great philosopher of science Popper who argued that getting bogged down in definitions slowed science. What matters is description and prediction.

    So what I’m asking, I guess, isn’t for a definition of “soul” and “spirit” but a description of what they do. Those two words are, for me, without any cognitive content. I don’t know what they mean, what they refer to, and I have no idea what the words are supposed to be used to explain. What are you saying when you talk about “soul” and “spirit”?

    If you’re not interested in explaining your viewpoint, that’s fine. I guess I’ll just have to remain in the dark. (Pun intended :-)

  • Chet

    That particular statement was not falsifiable.

    I explained how it was.

    That particular statement reeks of circular argumentation, and that particular statement commits the every-and-all fallacy.

    You’ve made these assertions, and I’ve denied them, and you have not presented an argument in support.

    You have not responded to these claims

    It appears to me that I’ve already successfully refuted them. You, on the other hand, have consistently opted not to respond to my argument (call it the “crane” argument.)

    your inability to see what I mean when I posit as an analogy that a lightbulb does not produce light

    When you “posit as an analogy” something that I know to be false – even as an analogy – you’re right that I’m completely unable to see what you mean. Nontheless, you completely reiterated that you believe that lightbulbs do not produce light – not as an analogy, but literally. If that’s not what you meant to say then take another chance to express yourself more clearly, if you like.

    But even as an analogy, the salient feature of lightbulbs is that they produce light. Hence, “lightbulb.” They’re not called that because they’re lower in calories than regular bulbs, you know.

    The key word is ‘testable’ and your statement as framed makes no testable predictions.

    I’ve repeatedly informed you what the testable predictions were, and how they were tested. This is the part of the argument that, again, you do not appear to have replied to.

    Now, tell me with a straight face that the conclusion is not alluded to in the premise here:

    My face is completely straight, and I’m telling you – the conclusion is not alluded to in the premise. I honestly don’t see where you’re getting that.

    Then feel free to tackle any of the comments in my last paragraph to Wilder.

    What’s to tackle? None of those things contradict a material origin of thought or necessitate a soul.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    The dissimilarities are many but mainly your analogy fails because you and I have both pre-agreed on a definition of soul that refers to human personality traits.

    Except that those traits, just as in my computer analogy, can be altered by physical changes to the brain. If you remove or damage the graphics card from a computer, that computer can no longer display video. If you remove or damage the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain (for example), the affected person loses the desire to speak or act, and will simply lie where they are – awake and alert, but with no reaction to stimuli and no volitional will. If you’re willing to believe that certain functions of a computer can be produced by material causes, but certain functions of consciousness arbitrarily can’t, then yours is nothing but an argument from incredulity.

    Unless people just aren’t interested in understanding what I’m getting at, I fail to see why they continue to make zero effort to distinguish what I mean when using the words soul and spirit.

    cl, since you yourself have said you don’t know how to define those words (“it would really be a bit presumptuous and unnecessary for me to tell you exactly what soul or spirit is in order to make my point. I don’t really know exactly what they are…”), it seems to me you have little right to complain about being misunderstood. You’ve repeatedly avoided presenting a position that can be criticized. The frustrated reactions you’re getting are fully understandable given the circumstances. If you want people to know “what you’re getting at”, it would help if you first made up your own mind about that.

  • Brad

    cl,

    The lightbulb is a real-world analogy for a tripartite system, not a biblical analogy.

    Specifically applied to the nature of humans, though, it is a Biblical analogy. You argue this yourself on your blog, based on scripture. Not that I say it must be exclusively Biblical, but the triparte system is posited in there according to your interpretation.

    Although there are exceptions, a tripartite system is in principal Gestaltian and can be considered any system in which an impetus flows through a scaffolding to produce a result that is not possible in either the impetus or scaffolding alone.

    Isn’t a computer a tripartite system, then? Impetus = input; scaffolding = architecture; result = output. Mere input doesn’t change into output by itself, and computer architecture without being called upon by instruction doesn’t do anything. The brain, I think, could be described similarly. The only difference between this and a soul-embodied computer is that the latter idea calls upon unexplicated supernatural elements.

    Furthermore, by your definition above, in order to keep a supernatural triparte description of human beings, one must show that brain function is “not possible” with nothing but physical causes. In other words, the soul must be a necessary entity.

    As well, I think it could be fruitful to hypothesize how the spirit transfers soul to the brain. Does it, say, feed information into wave-function collapses, thus transferring physical information to cytoskeletel microtubules, thereby providing an impetus for the brain to compute and relay out to the body? Plus, why and how does information go the other way? How can the soul react intelligibly to the world – an energy source for the lightbulb doesn’t get anything from the outside world!

  • Kaltrosomos

    Chet, I don’t understand you.

    You try to excuse determinism as having little effect on life, and then tell me you think the world probably isn’t deterministic anyway.

    Why excuse something you don’t believe in?

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Chet,

    Nontheless, you completely reiterated that you believe that lightbulbs do not produce light – not as an analogy, but literally. If that’s not what you meant to say then take another chance to express yourself more clearly, if you like.

    In a literal sense, a lightbulb does not produce light. I’m not arguing such purely analogously. You understood me correctly back when you were calling me willfully ignorant and accusing me of saying stupid shit. Hopefully we’re clear now.

    The soul does not exist because it is not necessary for it to exist; all of the things that souls supposedly do happen in, and are done by, the brain.

    Again, nothing in this statement is falsifiable, it contains at least two unknowables, it commits the every-and-all fallacy, and it’s a close cousin to the circular argument. You did offer the soul-brain dichotomy as an example of something falsifiable, but your claim as stated is not falsifiable. What testable prediction does it make? That all soulical function resides in the brain? Even if I grant that your conclusion is not alluded to in your premises, which I do not, you still have other charges here.

    As for your crane analogy,

    ..malfunction in the brain shouldn’t change who you are. But that’s exactly what we see. Back to the crane operator analogy – if you break off the lever on the control panel, the man inside can’t make the hook move anymore. Sure, that makes sense. But what we’re talking about now is the observed phenomenon that if you break off another lever, the man inside suddenly doesn’t like chocolate anymore, or suddenly can only communicate in Spanish. It doesn’t make any sense in a model where consciousness – “self” – is separate from the material brain. It makes perfect sense only in a model where “self” is the material brain.

    I don’t accept your free lunch. I disagree from the outset, and I’m sorry you can’t see another viable interpretation, but that doesn’t make me willfully ignorant or stupid. In my model, consciousness is not separate from the material brain; rather, consciousness is in every way connected to and dependent upon the normal functioning of the brain as light is in every way connected to and dependent upon a working filament. Variance in the particular expressions of light (soul) can result either via damage to the filament (body), or via perturbations of electricity (spirit). So malfunction to the brain should affect soulical expression in tripartism and your crane analogy as expounded here applies nil to my life, thank you.

    What’s to tackle? None of those things contradict a material origin of thought or necessitate a soul.

    I disagree, Chet. Claims of instinct and emotion in an anencephalic infant without thalami directly challenge the argument from mind-brain unity. How do you respond to them?

    Furthermore, if this argument is true, explain the fact that one need not even perturb brain matter to evoke demonstrable and predictable changes in soulical expression, i.e. the well-documented tonsillectomy studies of the Italian brothers Calderelli showing that the emotions and personalities of tonsillectomy patients were noticeably and predictably affected?

    Mathew Wilder,

    So then I misunderstood what you were trying to say.

    You seem to have the basic concept IMO, and I appreciate that instead of assuming I’m willfully ignorant or stupid, you grant me the benefit of the doubt and inquire further. I really appreciate that.

    That seems awfully convenient for you doesn’t it?

    No, not given the original scope of my comments…

    So what I’m asking, I guess, isn’t for a definition of “soul” and “spirit” but a description of what they do. Those two words are, for me, without any cognitive content. I don’t know what they mean, what they refer to, and I have no idea what the words are supposed to be used to explain. What are you saying when you talk about “soul” and “spirit”?

    At times I think of the spirit as the entity that transcends physical death, and the soul as the temporary product of spirit and body. Under tripartism, the soul is better described as a liquid-like state than a tangible or transcendental entity. As an impetus, electricity (spirit) needs scaffolding (body) through which it can flow to produce any singular instance along the spectrum of electromagnetic energy we call light (soul). Variance in the particular expressions of light (soul) can also result via damage to the scaffolding (body), or perturbances of electricity (spirit).

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Ebon,

    You’ve repeatedly avoided presenting a position that can be criticized.

    I disagree. I’ve supplied working definitions to Mathew Wilder. Sorry if you missed them. Either way, the point is moot – initial discussion of souls vs. spirits arose when Chet said he could demonstrate that all behaviors souls are allegedly responsible for have their root causality in the brain. I initially sought to avoid getting drawn into a futile discussion over definitions of what may be unfalsifiable constructs, and seriously, why do I need to provide any definitions of soul or spirit if what I’m objecting and what I want to argue about is this so-called argument from mind-brain unity?

    If you remove or damage the graphics card from a computer, that computer can no longer display video. If you remove or damage the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain (for example), the affected person loses the desire to speak or act, and will simply lie where they are – awake and alert, but with no reaction to stimuli and no volitional will.

    Yes, I’ve conceded that much, and such proceeds logically from my argument as well as yours.

    If you’re willing to believe that certain functions of a computer can be produced by material causes, but certain functions of consciousness arbitrarily can’t, then yours is nothing but an argument from incredulity.

    First, the examples you give are not examples of functions being produced; they are examples of functions being reduced or eliminated. Second, I don’t believe certain functions of a computer can be produced by material causes. I believe certain functions of a computer are affected by material causes, just as I believe certain soulical expressions are affected by material causes.

    Ebon, how do you reply to Nielsen and Sedgwick’s claims of instinct and emotion in an anencephalic infant without thalami? How would you respond to Spiegel, Wycis, et al. in their conclusion that “..it is not possible to refer emotional reactions to a single circumscribed nucleus within the diencephalon or to connections with the frontal lobes, but there exists a multiple representation of this function?” How do you reply to Grinker’s strong symposium against the absolute extendability of line-point mechanisms? How does your argument from mind-brain unity square with the well-documented tonsillectomy studies of the Italian brothers Calderelli showing that the emotions and personalities of tonsillectomy patients were noticeably and predictably affected?

    Brad,

    Isn’t a computer a tripartite system, then? Impetus = input; scaffolding = architecture; result = output. Mere input doesn’t change into output by itself, and computer architecture without being called upon by instruction doesn’t do anything. The brain, I think, could be described similarly.

    Yes, I said a computer and a car were both reasonable examples, and I agree with the rest of your statement as worded.

    ..by your definition above, in order to keep a supernatural triparte description of human beings, one must show that brain function is “not possible” with nothing but physical causes. In other words, the soul must be a necessary entity.

    I disagree. One must show that soulical expression is not possible without a spirit, and I think we can both agree such is currently a fool’s endeavor.

    Now – please answer any of these – how do you reply to Nielsen and Sedgwick’s claims of instinct and emotion in an anencephalic infant without thalami? How would you respond to Spiegel, Wycis, et al. in their conclusion that “..it is not possible to refer emotional reactions to a single circumscribed nucleus within the diencephalon or to connections with the frontal lobes, but there exists a multiple representation of this function?” How do you reply to Grinker’s strong symposium against the absolute extendability of line-point mechanisms? How does the argument from mind-brain unity square with the well-documented tonsillectomy studies of the Italian brothers Calderelli showing that the emotions and personalities of tonsillectomy patients were noticeably and predictably affected?

  • Mathew Wilder

    What might cause peturbations in the spirit that can then affect the body? Since the spirit isn’t really electricity, it isn’t ruled by the same laws as electricity. What laws is it ruled by?
    It still seems to me like a Cartesian schemata, only a little more complicated. How is this not a case of some mysterious interaction between material and immatrial “substances”?

    I don’t understand what is meant by “transcendental entities.” Saying the spirit is an “impetus” smacks of vitalism, which we know is false. There is no elan vital.

    So I still don’t know what a spirit does, or why it is necessary to posit it to understand anything about human functioning.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    So I still don’t know what a spirit does, or why it is necessary to posit it to understand anything about human functioning.

    Remember when you told me forget my argument with Chet? Well forget any mention of spirit and soul. That’s not my argument. My argument is that line-point mechanisms are not absolutely extensible. Surgical incisions and electrode stimulation merely alter circuitry and do not post hoc establish the origin of emotion in any spatial place. If we are the wiring, what sayest thou to Sedgwick and Neilsen’s claims of instinct and emotion in an anencephalic infant without thalami?

    Such is an extremely pertinent question that nobody’s taken a stab at.

  • Jeremy

    I just stumbled onto your site via the google reader feed pack for atheism, and I thought that was one of the most gorgeous pieces of writing I’ve read in a long time. A brilliant essay that shows that we there really is a place for reverence in our lives, simply that it need not be directed towards superstition.
    Thank you :)

  • Chet

    Chet, I don’t understand you.
    You try to excuse determinism as having little effect on life, and then tell me you think the world probably isn’t deterministic anyway.

    What’s not to understand? It’s two separate positions:

    1) I don’t consider the determinism question to be interesting, troubling, controversial, or significant; it has the same effect on my life as whether or not there’s a teapot in orbit of Alpha Centauri. I think I’ve made the case for how moral reasoning isn’t meaningfully impacted by the spectre of determinism.

    2) But if you push me on it, like you did, my guess is that human behavior probably isn’t deterministic, since the universe is nondeterministic at it’s lowest level. But I don’t think that’s an ironclad proof of anything. It’s just a guess.

    I don’t know, I don’t see the contradiction. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand.

  • Chet

    In a literal sense, a lightbulb does not produce light.

    But that’s patently absurd. I’m looking at a lightbulb right now (ouch) and it’s producing light. Quite a bit of it, actually. (Gonna stop looking now.) As I said, it’s sort of the point of lightbulbs – the production of light.

    I mean, photons in the visible spectrum are literally being created by energized electrons in the atoms of a portion of the light bulb. I don’t know how you can get more “literally producing light” than that.

    Is this what you want to spend your time arguing about?

    Again, nothing in this statement is falsifiable, it contains at least two unknowables, it commits the every-and-all fallacy, and it’s a close cousin to the circular argument.

    Right, I heard you the first time. Did you miss the part where I rebutted these assertions? The conclusion is not being assumed in the premise, there’s no scope issue that would cause an every-and-all fallacy, falsifiability criteria have been repeatedly given, and it’s can’t contain any unknowables, because I know all of the ideas represented in the sentence.

    I don’t see how you could possibly be more wrong. Repetition of your assertions does not seem to be making them any more correct.

    That all soulical function resides in the brain?

    …what?

    Variance in the particular expressions of light (soul) can result either via damage to the filament (body), or via perturbations of electricity (spirit).

    So brains produce souls, in your view?

    Then where are they? Integral to the whole idea of the soul – indeed, the reason belief in souls persists – is the idea that the soul is the “man behind the curtain”, a supernatural actor whose presence cannot be discerned by direct experience, but only by inference from the soul’s influence on the material world. The soul is supposedly the puppetmaster pulling the strings from off-stage of the universe.

    Your model seems to have it completely backwards. The way you talk we should be able to observe souls streaming out of the brains where they are produced.

    We don’t see that, I notice. I apologize for having argued against something you’re not advancing, but honestly, your concept of the soul seems to make even less sense than the classical formulation. I mean it’s beyond any need for me to respond to it; the idea of the soul/spirit you’ve put forth is fundamentally self-refuting.

    Claims of instinct and emotion in an anencephalic infant without thalami directly challenge the argument from mind-brain unity. How do you respond to them?

    They’re not in any sense a direct challenge. For one thing, the thalamus (it’s singular, you know, when you’re only talking about one infant) isn’t believed to be the center of either instinct or emotion, so its absence is irrelevant. Secondly anencephalic individuals do, in fact, possess some parts of the brain. Repeat – they are not wholly without brains.

    Thirdly it’s fairly common for humans to apprehend emotions where they don’t exist. Anybody who thinks they’re loved by their pets, for instance, is probably doing that. (Certainly anybody who thinks their computer is mad at them is doing that, as another example.) It’s not exactly anthropomorphizing (since the “object” is actually a human) but it’s close.

    Furthermore, if this argument is true, explain the fact that one need not even perturb brain matter to evoke demonstrable and predictable changes in soulical expression, i.e. the well-documented tonsillectomy studies of the Italian brothers Calderelli showing that the emotions and personalities of tonsillectomy patients were noticeably and predictably affected?

    Again I don’t see the challenge. Obviously human beings respond to stimulation without needing to have their brains prodded. Can you explain the challenge, here? I don’t see it.

    How do you reply to Grinker’s strong symposium against the absolute extendability of line-point mechanisms?

    This, incidentally, is gibberish.

    Such is an extremely pertinent question that nobody’s taken a stab at.

    No, it’s an irrelevant red herring.

  • Kaltrosomos

    Okay, Chet. I see what you mean. I still disagree on whether or not determinism matters though.

    For one thing, it seems like a phrase such as “moral reasoning” becomes a lot less meaningful and pretty absurd if determinism is true. The phrase presupposes that an actual decision is being made. But if determinism is true, there are no decisions; stuff just happens.

    Maybe if I try to illustrate the difference that will make it clearer.

    Let’s say that in the future androids are commonplace. Further, let’s say that a man has an android which looks like his twin. He has programmed the android to act exactly as he does. The android, however, cannot be said to have sentience; it only has a sophisticated and deceptively human sort of hardwired response.

    Now, imagine two scenarios. In scenario 1, the man goes shopping and happens to pass by an open cargo truck, and he sees an expensive watch or other item that he can steal. He decides to leave the item alone, and walks on his way. Was his action moral? Why or why not?

    In scenario 2, the man sends the android shopping. The android passes by the cargo truck, and acts just as the man would per his programming and doesn’t touch the item. Does this make the android moral? Why or why not?

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Chet,

    I mean, photons in the visible spectrum are literally being created by energized electrons in the atoms of a portion of the light bulb.

    Correct. Such directly challenges the idea that the material filament produces light, or that the illuminated material filament is the light.

    ..and it’s (sic) can’t contain any unknowables, because I know all of the ideas represented in the sentence.

    No out-of-scope quantifiers or unknowables? Wow, you must be smarter than our most eminent neuroscientists then, if you can make the claim that all of the things that souls supposedly do are done by the brain. Such assumes knowledge of all soulical aspects which I hope you would avoid the mistake of claiming.

    The soul does not exist because it is not necessary for it to exist;

    No allusion to conclusion in premise? How about this useless theological classic:

    God exists because it is necessary for God to exist.

    I suppose that one doesn’t hint of the conclusion in the premise, either?

    There’s much I’d like to say about your subsequent claims, but by the time I got to this I threw in the towel:

    I apologize for having argued against something you’re not advancing, but honestly, your concept of the soul seems to make even less sense than the classical formulation.

    Apology accepted, along with the concession that your argument all along was that I’m saying stupid shit and worthy of denigration because you didn’t understand me. Hmph.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Chet,

    You know, this is just comedic. After calling me willfully ignorant and accusing me of saying stupid shit based on your own misunderstanding, I just caught this patently absurd comment of yours:

    For one thing, the thalamus (it’s singular, you know…)

    Excuse me? No, it’s not. I use the plural thalami to accurately denote a paired gland. Barring occurrences of adhesio interthalamica, the thalamus is not singular – all healthy humans contain two thalami, Chet, so your correction on this point is really amusing.

    Then,

    (the thalamus) isn’t believed to be the center of either instinct or emotion, so its absence is irrelevant. (paren. mine)

    Technically, the thalamic nuclei show strong and reciprocal affiliations with the cerebral cortex, forming thalamo-cortico-thalamic circuits that are believed to be involved with consciousness, so I opine its absence is relevant, but feel free to state your counterpoint.

    As for,

    ..anencephalic individuals do, in fact, possess some parts of the brain. Repeat – they are not wholly without brains.

    Well golly gee willakers, thanks yous for dat dere insight, yuck-yuck! (cl spits into spitoon)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    This thread has gone far off-topic, and I’d be inclined to let it continue if there was a fruitful discussion going on, but there isn’t. Since cl still refuses to state his position in any substantive way, except for vague metaphors, I see little point in continuing the argument.


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