Forms and Essences

In the past, I've written about the origins of religion and how belief in gods likely arises from one of humanity's most common psychological fallacies, the tendency to attribute agency where none exists. (When was the last time you got angry at your computer and felt as if it was trying to balk you? It happens to me much too often - even when I know there's no one inside there.)There's another, related tendency that often manifests in religious belief, which is that human beings are concrete, … [Read more...]

On Agent Causation

Among the band of philosophers who hold that free will is supernatural, one of the reigning ideas is called agent causation. This hypothesis states that volitional acts are a special category of event, one that is caused not by any other event but - in some deeply mysterious way - by the agent itself. Philosopher Roderick Chisholm describes this as follows:If we are responsible... then we have a prerogative which some would attribute only to God: each of us, when we act, is a prime mover … [Read more...]

Dawn of the Dead: Are Zombies Possible?

Inspired by a recent post on Philosophy, et cetera, I want to talk a little about zombies and what they imply for a materialist theory of the mind.When I say "zombie," I don't mean the shambling, flesh-eating undead of horror films. This thought experiment is about philosophical zombies, which are a different beast altogether. The philosophers' zombie is a hypothetical creature which, to all outward appearances, is indistinguishable from an ordinary human. The difference is that they lack … [Read more...]

The Default

Back in March, I commented on a Beliefnet debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan. In part 4 of that debate, Andrew Sullivan made what I thought was an astonishing concession:But I can say that [this experience] represented for me a revelation of God's love and forgiveness, the improbable notion that the force behind all of this actually loved us, and even loved me. The calm I felt then; and the voice with no words I heard: this was truer than any proof I have ever conceded, any … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions VII: Alien Abduction

Back in August, in "Some Thoughts on Fermi's Paradox", I proposed some explanations for why there's no evidence of intelligent alien species. But I left out what seems like the most obvious explanation of all: they do exist, and they're already here.This may well be the most popular answer. To judge by polls like this one from 2002, almost half of American adults believe that intelligent aliens have visited the Earth. (Ironically, The Onion actually gets this percentage right in its deadpan … [Read more...]

The Asch Conformity Experiment

Solomon Asch. "Opinions and social pressure." Scientific American, vol.193, no.5 (1955), p.31-35.Back in April, I wrote about the classic Milgram experiment and what it shows about how disturbingly willing people are to submit to authority, even in the presence of strong countervailing reasons. What about when the pressure to obey comes not from an authority figure above us, but from our peers? How will people fare then?A classic study was done on this question in 1955 by Solomon Asch. … [Read more...]

Inducing Superstition

The human brain is a belief-forming machine. It is what defines us as a species: we guide our actions by creating mental models of the world and using those models to hypothesize about what will happen under a given set of circumstances. Our ability to create such models far surpasses that of any other species, and accounts for our unprecedented degree of deliberate technological control over the world.However, though we are intelligent, we are not infallible. Humans of every culture and … [Read more...]

Book Review: The God Part of the Brain

(Author's Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)Summary: Contains many interesting ideas, but the informed reader will find much to take issue with.Atheist Matthew Alper's The God Part of the Brain seeks to explain the religiosity of humankind in terms of human evolution and the biology of conscious experience. Alper's hypothesis is that the increased intelligence that gave human beings an evolutionary advantage also … [Read more...]

Blockbuster

A Response to Ned Block's "Blockhead"In a classic 1981 paper titled "Psychologism and Behaviourism", the philosopher Ned Block proposed a thought experiment that has been dubbed "Blockhead" in his honor. Block's experiment has to do with the Turing test, itself a classic proposal on how to test for the presence of intelligence in a machine (or some other suitable non-human agent). The Turing test consists of a human, the judge, conversing via computer terminal with two agents. One of the … [Read more...]

Priming the Mind

In a previous post from Daylight Atheism titled "On Presuppositions" (all the way back in February 2006!), I wrote about how subconscious biases and prejudices, instilled in us by culture and surroundings, can exert a disturbingly measurable effect on our behavior. However, there is more to this story that deserves to be told. In the previous post, I wrote about persistent biases, those that are apparently supported and reinforced frequently enough over long enough periods of time to become … [Read more...]


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