May 27 2010

Barriers to the Acceptance of Science

For those of us trying to increase scientific literacy – understanding of the methods, philosophical underpinnings, common pitfalls, and current findings of science – it can be a frustrating endeavor. Sometimes it seems we are caught in a Catch-22: some people don’t care about science because they don’t understand it, and they don’t want to learn about science because they don’t care. Even worse, at times (most times) we seem to be coming up against emotions and patterns of thought deeply rooted in evolution that nothing short of transcendence will solve.

Three recent studies reinforce our worst fears about human nature and make it clear how much of an uphill battle we face. The first looks at attitudes toward the MMR vaccine and which sources parents trust the most. The researchers found:

Five key themes emerged. Parents felt they didn’t have enough information, especially in relation to the dangers associated with not vaccinating. Government sources were not trusted. By contrast, other parents were trusted: ‘Parents trust advice from other parents,’ one mother said. ‘[You] take it on board. You listen to them.’ Parents also revealed they were biased towards risk-related information. And they misunderstood balance, believing that pro- and anti-MMR arguments should be given equal weight even though the scientific evidence overwhelming favours MMR vaccination.

Part of this seems solvable, but part is inherent. The solvable parts include parents not having enough information regarding the dangers of not vaccinating. Lack of information is always the easiest problem to solve – make the information more readily available, especially to people when and where they are making decisions that will be informed by that information.

The other two elements are due to evolved human nature, and therefore are tough nuts to crack. Parents rely on information from other parents – more generally, people find stories much more compelling than data. It makes sense that our natural instincts would be inclined toward stories from our peers. It also makes sense that we would tend to believe and remember such stories, that they would be emotionally profound. In our evolutionary milieu, there was probably more to lose from being doubtful or forgetful of cautionary tales told to us by our peers, than from heeding them. In our complex modern society with phishing scams, used car salesmen, and urban legends, being gullible is probably more of a detriment than being skeptical, but even still we find ourselves riveted by a ripping yarn, especially one of harm that could have been avoided.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that there are numerous grassroots parent groups forming that are basically built on parents or patients educating each other. Such groups come in all flavors – some are guided by a strong dedication to the science, others mix science with anecdote and myth without discrimination, and still others wonder off into a fantasy land of pseudoscience and conspiracy. They each develop their own subculture, mainly driven by person to person communication.

Further, the study shows that people are more compelled by fear than reassurance. Medical decisions are best informed by a careful assessment of risk vs benefit – but emotionally we are much more compelled by the prospect of risk than the prospect of benefit. (Actually, this relationship is more complex and depends on context. People will accept great risk if the potential benefit is huge, like a cure for a terminal or serious illness. If the benefit is more abstract, like preventing a problem they do not currently have, then they focus on  risk.) Here again, we are much more likely to be compelled by one story of a side effect, than all the statistics about preventing illness. The difference in our emotional response to statistics vs our emotional response to dramatic stories largely explains why some people are afraid to fly, and why others fear vaccination.

The other two components of this research – lack of trust in government and favoring balance (even when the information is not balanced) may be more cultural than hard-wired. Either way, they are further barriers to educating the public about vaccines.

The second study is, in some ways, even more disturbing than the first, because it strikes right at the heart of skeptical activism. Researchers find that when people are confronted with scientific information that directly challenges  a cherished belief, their typical response is to argue for the impotence of science – science is unable to prove or disprove my belief. That much is predictable, and any skeptic can tell you that this is a common response. However, the study takes it one step further – they found that people also, after being confronted, shift their belief toward thinking that science in general is impotent. This probably is a mechanism to reduce cognitive dissonance, but in any case confronting people with disconfirming scientific evidence tends to reduce their confidence in science in general.

We have seen this in action with the anti-evolutionists. They not only reject the science of evolution, in their defense of their religious beliefs they often reject science as a methodology. The Discovery Institute has certainly done this, arguing that the materialistic paradigm of science (i.e. science) is crumbling (i.e. impotent). Once you distrust science it is easy to reject any scientific position you don’t like, so the DiscoTute has happily also chucked out modern neuroscience and climatology as well – it’s all an atheistic, materialistic, liberal conspiracy. It’s the snowball effect of anti-science. This study just confirms that.

The third study is in line with the previous two, but looks at belief in ESP. Essentially they told several groups that ESP was either supported by 10% of the public vs 90% of the public or that it was either supported by or rejected by the scientific community. Every permutation of these two variables was tested. The results – people were more likely to regard ESP favorably if they were told that the majority of the public believed in it – we are compelled by the beliefs of our peers. We want to fit in. This is not surprise.

Disturbing, however, was the fact that people in this study were more likely to accept ESP if they were told scientists rejected it rather than accepted it. They took the opposite opinion of the scientific community. What process is at work here? Are they reflexively rejecting authority? Do they assume that scientists are closed-minded about the paranormal if they reject it, but if they accept it does that trigger some natural skepticism?

Regardless of the explanation, it seems that the natural instinct is the opposite of what it should be.

Conclusion

It’s easy to become depressed by this trifecta of studies, but they really don’t paint a picture different than what we already knew – people believe stories over science and come to their conclusions mostly for evolved emotional, rather than dry rational, reasons. These studies are helpful because they illuminate the details and hopefully will provide some guidance as we continue to search for strategies to promote science and reason.

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298 responses so far

298 Responses to “Barriers to the Acceptance of Science”

  1. SARAon 27 May 2010 at 9:46 am

    I am a proponent of changing how we present Science to the general public. The issue is that Scientist are trained to think in terms of facts, statistics and careful removal of bias. Its an unappetizing picture to the vast majority of the world that thinks emotionally. That is not the technical way to say that, but it is how I discuss it.

    They build their beliefs around stories at the dinner table with friends, or around the water cooler with associates. Stories are inherently told to be entertaining and therefore tend not be overly fact based.

    We need to start to come at people sideways. Tell stories and let them spread at the dinner tables and water coolers. Once people are willing to accept the story, they can hear the facts. (or those who want to know more can.) But they won’t hear the facts until they accept the story.

    Show people the picture of a baby who died because of anti-vaccers. Tell about the horror of that. Then people want the facts. Then they can look at the next layer of information that is fact based.

    Use story methods like this comic: http://tallguywrites.livejournal.com/148012.html

    As you say, we need to change strategy. And it needs to be a multi layered organized strategy.

  2. Pinkyon 27 May 2010 at 10:38 am

    Anecdote(s) incoming!

    In my role as a volunteer at a football club I deal with youngish kids particularly in the 14-16yo bracket where it’s ‘cool’ to have the view that ‘maths sucks’.

    I started to question where this view has actually come from. Maths does anything but suck! It allows us to describe our physical reality quite elegantly. (Mostly! *cough* Theoretical solution to Navier-Stokes anyone?)

    The only conclusion that I can make about why maths might suck is poor teaching from unenthusiastic teachers bored with repetitive assesment criteria and rigid and enforced course delivery.

    As a sessional lecturer in structual engineering and optimisation I am lucky enough to have great freedom in my own course delivery and I am able to tailor content to a particular audience to make it interesting and relevent.

    I think this ability has been taken away from secondary teachers as their responsibility in educating the next generation is reduced along with their financial reward.

  3. Pinkyon 27 May 2010 at 10:40 am

    Since my comment doesn’t seem to contain any point, please allow me to add one: I think the problem might be in early and middle education.

  4. mufion 27 May 2010 at 10:59 am

    Dr. Novella: The link to the second study is broken (i.e. the target page apparently assumes that one is already logged into the site).

    BTW, I hope you don’t mind that I cited you recently in some comments to another blog re: the physical/material basis of consciousness.

    Sure enough, a dualist reader reacted negatively to it – but without going so far as to attack science in general. I’d say that he mostly just attacked me and (less directly) you (i.e. by just asserting that there is no evidence that the brain causes consciousness, only some correlations that do not prove causation, yada yada—oh, and with some quantum woo thrown in for good measure). However, if I had invested (significantly) more time & effort than I already had in the thread, and managed to refute (despite my layperson status) his fallacious counter-arguments [e.g. by explaining that, as you put it, "all the correlations we would expect to see from the brain-causes-mind hypothesis we do see", and that quantum indeterminacy is practically irrelevant to the topic], then I too predict that he would eventually have resorted to an anti-science stance, as your second study suggests.

  5. mattdickon 27 May 2010 at 11:03 am

    Could it be, referencing the last study on ESP and scientific support, that one important control was not in the mix? I’m thinking that another permutation needed to be added: requesting people answer whether not they believed in something that has scientific plausibility. As them if they accept the theory of the expanding universe.

    Do they then still go the opposite direction of scientists? I’m afraid that without that variable addressed, we don’t know if this tells us more about people’s trust of scientists, or more about how people react to scientists who are debunking a fantastic claim.

  6. TimonTon 27 May 2010 at 11:08 am

    Thanks very much for this.

    I have followed the skeptics “movement” for a long time. It has always done an excellent job of pointing out the fallacies in non-scientific thinking. But it has not generally done a good job of addressing the psychology of belief and, more importantly, of empirically investigating methods for trying to educate poeple.

  7. SpicyCupcakeon 27 May 2010 at 11:56 am

    I can’t help but wonder if the reason that people are not motivated more by science is that it is often reported poorly and unscientifically. Headlines are drawn from inconclusive results; the cure for cancer is always around the corner, jets packs in a decade, cloaking, synthetic life forms and all of these have been misreported in some way. The general public feel like scientist get excited about potential and overstate what they have done, when it is really people and the news that engage in this behavior. Just the other day ABC world news reported an artist rendering as an actual picture. Considering I had seen this story on bad astronomy eventually way before ABC, I knew what it was when they showed it.

    http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/3462/hottest-planet-ever-being-gobbled-its-star

    Ill informed people don’t blame the news for the things they get wrong about science; they blame science. ABC’s error was an easy slip. However, a layperson that does not know the difference will feel mislead by science if they find out the difference later.

  8. alfon 27 May 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I wonder if it was easier to convince previous generations of parents to vaccinate their children. You would think that the baby boomer’s parents, having lived with all of these childhood diseases and seen or experienced them first-hand, would have an easier time making the decision to get the jab.

  9. ccbowerson 27 May 2010 at 1:31 pm

    We have to reincorporate a reverence for science into our culture. I’ve been to japan a few times, and they seem to incorporate science learning seamlessly into many programs, including daytime talk shows. I remember watching a show similar to the ‘Today Show’ and they had a diagram up of kidneys/nephrons demonstrating how diuretics work. This would never happen in in the U.S. I know that the Japanese are not completely lacking in the Woo department (e.g. blood types), but the battle is much easier if the people are open to science.

    Part of the problem is that most people learn science through the media, and the media has done a poor job in this area. I think part of the distrust of science has a lot to do with the media’s role of making science seem indecisive. Also, we have to be better at making science entertaining and interesting, and convey why each of us finds it so. Currently there are few mechanisms for conveying science in an entertaining way that is accessible to everyone… the internet has improved this, but it is still mostly available to the people who are looking for it.

  10. chaos4zapon 27 May 2010 at 2:25 pm

    ccbowers,

    I totally agree with your statement. Just as media coverage can breed racism; it too can create an unfair and negative view of the scientific community. We only hear about the drugs that are approved and then later recalled when found to have unforeseen side-effects and interactions. It’s like many things in life, when things are going good, we take for granted the things that are behind the scenes making things good. Little credit and acknowledgment is given to those people and advancements that work so diligently to keep the gears of our lives turning smoothly and to keep us moving forward. At this point, I think it’s too much to hope for that the majority of the general public will be coming around anytime time. That being said, the media needs to take more responsibility. They cannot continue to play the Oprah card and claim that the general public has the means and desire to fact check what’s being said on TV and actually come to a reasonable conclusion. The catch 22 as i see it is that things will probably not change until we have a majority in our government that cares more about logic, evidence and what’s actually best for the country and humanity at large, but even a single Politian would have little too no nope of being elected for anything if they made public their dedication to science, critical thinking, logic and what’s really best. Has politics in our country really become this pathetic? Where being ignorant is considered as a virtue?

  11. locutusbrgon 27 May 2010 at 3:22 pm

    I have often wondered if bringing out a bunch of Polio sufferers to talk to school children about what they suffered in the 40′s and 50′s would be a good method to get in on the ground floor with Anti-Vacc crowd. Since teen are predisposed to think they know more than their parents.
    Speaking to TimonT and Alf suggestions.
    I have always found chronic polio sufferers compelling arguments for vaccines. Even thought the ANTI-V people could roll out a few who got the disease from some oral Vac complications. On an individual basis, local schools, universities.
    Steve are you aware of any programs like this??

  12. Brian Lynchehaunon 27 May 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Merely presenting counterfacts to someone doesn’t address the errors in reasoning that they made to get where they are now. Furthermore, they likely have emotional commitments to their argument, and have successfully argued against their peers on this topic (and by ‘argue’, I mean any kind of discussion that started from a disagreement regardless of how minor).

    As such, presenting (in their eyes) an untested idea against their tested-and-successful idea is a waste of their time. It’s a criticism of them, personally, for believing the ‘wrong’ thing. Given that you both disagree, only one of ye can be correct, and it’s them. Given that you claim science on your side, science must also be wrong.

    I agree with SARA that presentation is part of the problem. I would contend that the fundamental problem is a lack of reasoning skills.

    For the ‘skeptic on the street’, a better strategy is (I think) *not* to present facts unasked for, but to visit the woo-er’s belief system and help them find the contradictions. When the contradictions are dismissed, provide analogies to situations where the contradiction provides a genuine concern for the person (a life-threatening situation for them, or their family).

    Until facts are asked for, when dealing with someone who doesn’t hold facts in a high regard, facts are counter-productive.

  13. jsmusgraveon 27 May 2010 at 4:45 pm

    What’s the best way for a layperson to get access to acadmic articles like these? Seems like a challenge for non-academic skeptics, and perhaps something for the NESS to discuss.

  14. ccbowerson 27 May 2010 at 5:24 pm

    chaos4zap-

    That is a good point about perspective and “news.” It applies to all areas of news and learning about our world… the news rarely gives proper perspective, because the sensational is the story worth reporting for ratings. For example “Drug X is removed from market” is a story, while “Drug X helps another patient” is not (and I’m being generous with the factual wording of those example titles). Therefore people associate drugs (in a general sense) with adverse effects more than the clinical benefits

  15. ccbowerson 27 May 2010 at 5:35 pm

    So for the intellectually lazy (and most people are for at least some topics) where does the proper perspective come from? It appears that many, if not most, get some of the perspective from some broad ideology that they identify with (conservative, liberal, libertarian, conspiracy theorist, various religions, etc). This usually results in improper perspective on various issues, depending upon the ideology. This issue is more complicated than this of course, its just a thought

  16. addisontreeon 28 May 2010 at 12:47 am

    There are a lot of good comments on this excellent post. Two other points to consider:

    (1) Drug advertisements from legitimate pharmaceutical companies: The advertising of prescription drugs directly to the patient through television, magazines, etc. is not doing science any good. The ads (like all ads) are designed to impact the emotions and do no real education at all. And they reinforce the idea that the patient knows better than the doctor what condition they have or what medication they should use. When legitimate science is marketed the same way as pseudo-science why should we expect the uneducated to see a difference?

    (2) Perhaps the skepticism movement shouldn’t have as a goal the conversion of a large number of people to more rational schools of thought. We should continue to strive to point out the flaws and dangers of pseudo-science and make rational thought and scientific thinking as accessible and visible as possible. There will always be a significant fraction of the population ready to embrace science so long as we make sure they have access to it. Rational thinking communities serve as a kind of “safety valve” to help make sure the dangerous irrational ideas don’t get too far out of hand. So we pick the most dangerous pseudo-science issues (like the anti-vaccination movement) and tackle those issues a few at a time. We don’t need 95% of the country thinking scientifically we just need 10% thinking scientifically and 95% *acting* rationally about these issues. Of course it might be nice if 95% of the country actually thought rationally, but I think moving from a belief system towards a more critical mode of thinking is not easy and not quick. We could grow disheartened if we think our goal is a major increase in the number of people who employ critical thinking. A rising percentage of critical thinkers in the population will come, but slowly.

  17. Meghanon 28 May 2010 at 9:21 am

    My browser is having trouble with the link to the second study. Would you please post a bibliographical reference?

  18. chaos4zapon 28 May 2010 at 12:45 pm

    addisontree,

    I think that’s a very valid point about the advertising for drugs. People will often tell me “just look at those longs lists of side effects they quickly go through at the end, it’s all poison” Of course, what they don’t understand is that if there were an advertisement for aspirin, the list would probably be fairly extensive as well. You can’t win..if you don’t disclose the side-effects then big Pharma is hiding them. If you do disclose, then it’s poison. The lay person doesn’t seem to understand the whole, more good than bad for the majority of the population thing. Their ideology glasses only allow them to see what they want to.
    About advertisements in general, I can understand why they might be necessary. Sure, in a general sense, if a drug works, then it works and should be prescribed….end of story. The problem is that there is often not just a single drug for any single ailment. Different drug companies have different solutions and to make up the cost of research, testing, production, etc… They have to play the game and compete somehow. I would also say that they serve the purpose of educating the public about something new for a condition that people didn’t know could be treated, things that people wouldn’t even think to ask their doctors about. The example of erectile dysfunction comes to mind. I’m sure there was a time not too long ago where people just accepted ED as a part of life, as unfortunate as that may be. Once the drugs were developed, in order for people to know they existed…they would almost have to advertise. The drug companies couldn’t expect MD’s to ask each male patient “oh, by the way….do you have ED by chance?” In summary, I guess all I can say is that I don’t like drugs being advertised the same way we advertise cars, but I understand, to a certain degree, that it’s a necessary evil from a practical viewpoint.

  19. ccbowerson 28 May 2010 at 3:43 pm

    “I would also say that they serve the purpose of educating the public about something new for a condition that people didn’t know could be treated, things that people wouldn’t even think to ask their doctors about.”

    I always found this argument a weak one. Education through advertisements and marketing? Please. The last place people should be looking for objective and balanced information is from someone trying to sell you something. Sure there are examples such as ED for which commercials have ‘increased awareness,’ but you ignore the downside: Patients are also prescribed meds that they don’t necessarily need, because marketing works. If the marketing didn’t work, then the companies wouldnt put money into it. Sure it is up to physicians to only prescribe what is necessary, but the bottom line is we are all human and subject to manipulation even when blatant. Also, they don’t advertise cheap drugs (off patent) so it also drives up drug costs. So you have to balance “increased awareness” with increased cost and increased in unnecessary use of medications.

  20. Paisleyon 29 May 2010 at 1:47 am

    Steven Novella: “The Discovery Institute has certainly done this, arguing that the materialistic paradigm of science (i.e. science) is crumbling (i.e. impotent).

    What exactly is the “materialistic paradigm of science?”

  21. Paisleyon 29 May 2010 at 1:57 am

    Steven Novella: “Once you distrust science it is easy to reject any scientific position you don’t like.

    Materialists are also guilty of rejecting scientific evidence that does not accord with their worldview.

  22. BillyJoe7on 29 May 2010 at 3:06 am

    Paisley,

    New post. Same nonsense.

    The materialistic paradigm of science is the assumption that everything has a natural/physical/material explanation *

    The reason that science makes the materialist assumption is a purely practical one: It is possible to prove that, if phenomena do indeed have natural/physical/material explanations, that this is actually the case.

    On the other hand, it is impossible to prove that phenomena have supernatural/non-physical/immaterial explanations**

    In other words, the only way forward is to make the materialist assumption. This is what science has done. This IS science. And just look at the progress that has been achieved over the last few centuries since science evolved from, and largely displaced, religion and philosophy.

    ——-

    *Note the word assumption.
    This does not mean, as your little friend bindle proclaimed in the other thread, that science takes the material paradigm to be absolutely true. Assumption means assumption, not “sacred cow”.

    **It is, however, possible to prove that phenomena that have been assumed to have supernatural explanations actually have natural explanations. In fact, the history of science is laden with examples of material explanations replacing assumed supernatural explanations.

  23. bindleon 29 May 2010 at 5:50 am

    Thanks BillyJoe for prompting me to repeat what I had actually said where you’re concerned:
    “BillyJoe won’t be responding with that open mind he claimed to have because he can’t – not without the house of cards that protects his entire mechanist belief system collapsing.
    His mechanistic determinism, as we’ve said before (and to lift from Wikipedia), assumes that every event has an unbroken chain of prior occurrences – that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, and action, is causally determined by the environment – the view that one’s life is predetermined before one is even born – that there’s a predetermined unbroken chain of prior occurrences back to the origin of the universe.
    He and the others here that may share those views require that their science be built within what is essentially that philosophy. Show him some science that threatens the integrity of that philosophical house and to him (and them) it can’t be science.
    The irony is of course that science is all about doubts and threats to prior structures, as is skepticism, while BillyJoe’s mechanistic determinism can only be about certainty.”

    Where’s the assumption that science takes materialism to be absolutely true when I specifically wrote the opposite about science? Do you assume that you, with your admitted absolute determinism, represent science? Science has left philosophy, you say? Unholy Mammon, give us a break.
    Your determinism IS a philosophy, and if anything, has left science and taken you with it. Of course that’s a figure of speech in your case, since determinism, where nothing needs an explanation to be true, is about as supernatural as has yet been got by man.
    Or do you now deny that I’ve described it correctly? And your convictions in the bargain?

  24. BillyJoe7on 29 May 2010 at 8:15 am

    bingle,

    I accept the scientific view, meaning that I assume all phenomena are natural/physical/material. Therefore, when you criticised my view as being a conviction, I thought you were criticising science. My bad. That just means that you misunderstood my view…or assumed what it was…or something. It’s often hard to work out what you’re trying to say. So much overstatement, exaggeration, and hyperbole and all.

  25. ccbowerson 29 May 2010 at 10:30 am

    Man, these philosophy majors get hung up on ideas that don’t imact the science being discussed (in that they don’t affect the final conclusion we should make). Always throwing in their irrelevancies. We don’t have to trace causes back to the beginning of the universe… who is making that claim? With all your writings, what is bottom-line utility of your thoughts?

    Its not that these gusy can’t think their way out of a cardboard box, but they actively think their way into the same cardboard box regardless of the topic discussed.

  26. bindleon 29 May 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Another parrot squawking from its deterministic cage.

  27. Adrienneon 29 May 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Science vs emotional reactions – of course, science should prevail. However, when it comes to health issues, we no longer have a level playing field. The pharmaceutical Mafia has literally taken over. We cannot trust their results of “science” – how many people had to die before they took Vioxx off the market after it had passed all the scrutiny of science. And this is not a solo incident.

  28. BillyJoe7on 29 May 2010 at 5:42 pm

    bindle,

    Show him [BillyJoe] some science that threatens the integrity of that philosophical house….

    What science? What evidence?

    All you ever do is quote scientists who, as far as I can tell, you either misunderstand, or who extrapolate wildly beyond the evidence, or who have a philosophical axe to grind.

    What they, and you, have never been able to do is to supply the evidence that will force us to abandon the materialist philosophy.

    And to be replaced by what?
    You never quite manage to say.

    The irony is of course that science is all about doubts and threats to prior structures, as is skepticism, while BillyJoe’s mechanistic determinism can only be about certainty.

    It’s not irony. It’s just misdirection on your part. I’m talking about the underlying philosophical assumption of science. You misdirect by commenting about the actual practice of science based on that assumption. The underlying philosophical assumption of science is that all phenomena have natural/physical/material explanations, and this assumption has not been threatened in 400 years of scientific investigation.

    Your determinism IS a philosophy, and if anything, has left science and taken you with it.

    Talk about a sqawking parrot.
    Show me the knock down evidence that refutes deterministic cause and effect at the macroscopic level.

    If you think quantum physics is your evidence, think again. Otherwise show me any experiment in quantum physics in which the outcome is not completely predictable. Wave functions, Heisenberg uncertainty, and Coherence exist only at the quantum level. Here, in our macroscopic world, deterministic cause and effect rules. That is a fact that remains unrefuted.

    And, even if quantum effects were observed at the macroscopic level, how is that any support for your alternative philosophical assumption. Of course, at this point I can only guess at what that philosophical assumption might be.

  29. BillyJoe7on 29 May 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Damn! The last quote is my response to bindle…

    Your determinism IS a philosophy, and if anything, has left science and taken you with it.

    Talk about a sqawking parrot.
    Show me the knock down evidence that refutes deterministic cause and effect at the macroscopic level.

    If you think quantum physics is your evidence, think again. Otherwise show me any experiment in quantum physics in which the outcome is not completely predictable. Wave functions, Heisenberg uncertainty, and Coherence exist only at the quantum level. Here, in our macroscopic world, deterministic cause and effect rules. That is a fact that remains unrefuted.

    And, even if quantum effects were observed at the macroscopic level, how is that any support for your alternative philosophical assumption. Of course, at this point I can only guess at what that philosophical assumption might be.

  30. bindleon 29 May 2010 at 6:19 pm

    If uncertainty or the indeterminate exists, as you concede, at any level of a common structure, determinism at some other level could not. If you really knew good science, you’d know that. But all you really “know” is bad philosophy.

    And note how you require the evidential refutation of a faith that required no evidence for those of you who’ve chosen (make that “been chosen”) to believe it.

    And as to the hierarchical structure of scientific understanding, your mechanistic crap leaves off where life begins.

  31. Eric Thomsonon 29 May 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Let’s not downplay the weirdness of quantum mechanics. I’m just not sure what this garden path has to do with the original post. Scientists realize QM is weird and nondeterministic.

    Whether we end up needing quantum, classical, or both types of mechanisms depends on the phenomenon we are discussing. For instance, as a neuroscientist, I would not be surprised if we needed QM to explain single ion channel function or photon transduction in the retina. However, the real work is in the empirical investigation of these concrete cases, not the offering of a generic hunch.

    Generic arguments, without specified targets, about determinism come off as dilettantish and sophomoric in the context of a discussion of how science actually works.

  32. Eric Thomsonon 29 May 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Common fallacy from bindle:
    If uncertainty or the indeterminate exists, as you concede, at any level of a common structure, determinism at some other level could not.

    Fallacy of composition.

    Egads I think I’ll just stick with the main posts. Is the comments section here always so polluted?

  33. bindleon 29 May 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Hey Eric, aren’t you the one who worships that deterministic Koch?

    To label that a fallacy of composition is just plain stupid. Determinism is not the structural material, it’s analogous if anything to the force that gives the structure its integrity. No scientist (except perhaps the scientist you claim to be) has contemplated or lobbied for a universe with one part indeterminate and the other not.
    Unless the indeterminacy was predetermined. Is that the way you see things? The fallacy of bad philosophy.

  34. bindleon 29 May 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Paisley called that cognitive dissonance at play and he was even righter than I realized.

  35. Eric Thomsonon 29 May 2010 at 10:43 pm

    bindle: I suggest starting by reading about the correspondence principle.

    Most of biology is, and can be, done without any knowledge of quantum mechanics. As I said in my comment above, whether the formalism QM is important for a particular phenomenon is an empirical question that is answered on a case by case basis. As I said, retinal phototransduction may require it. But lots of things don’t. E.g., diabetes.

    As for Koch, there you go again ascribing views to me. Have fun playing with that straw man. I said his book on consciousness is a good representative example of the neuroscience of consciousness. You then see an unrelated online interview with him on free will, and somehow think I subscribe to everything he says on that different topic?

    Could this guy be a troll? I’m starting to think I’m being had….

  36. bindleon 29 May 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Eric, You butted in on an exchange of mine and made an ass of yourself, and now you’re being had?
    I know all about the correspondence principal, or at least more about it than you. Calling someone a troll who has your number is intellectual dishonesty at its finest.
    And when you defend the deterministic views of the conceptually challenged, it’s fair to suspect you share them, and from whence they came.
    And I only entered this thread when the biggest troll of all misstated my position on another. What’s your excuse for trolling?

  37. Paisleyon 29 May 2010 at 11:43 pm

    BillyJoe7: “The materialistic paradigm of science is the assumption that everything has a natural/physical/material explanation.”

    Yeah, that’s “methodological naturalism.” But you are overstating the assumption. It does not assume that everything has a natural (or physical) explanation. It only assumes that those things which can be explained scientifically have a natural explanation. IOW, some phenomena might simply be beyond the purview of science

    Also, there are different schools of thought on the methodology of science. For example, critical rationalism (formulated by Karl Popper…arguably the most influential philosopher of science in the 20th century) “holds that unbiased observation is not possible and a demarcation between natural and supernatural explanations is arbitrary; it instead proposes falsifiability as the landmark of empirical theories and falsification as the universal empirical method.” (source: Wikipedia’s article on “science“)

  38. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 12:08 am

    BillyJoe7: “I accept the scientific view, meaning that I assume all phenomena are natural/physical/material.

    But this is the problem. There really is no “scientific worldview.” Science is a methodology, not a metaphysical position. Moreover, as I pointed out in my previous post, science does not necessarily preclude the possibility of supernatural explanations. It only requires that the hypothesis be falsifiable.

  39. ccbowerson 30 May 2010 at 12:12 am

    Ignore the trolls and they will go away…
    Don’t waste your time with people who cannot concisely state their points. What have we learned here? What utility do these ideas hold? Can we make a concise point without resorting to name-calling and pigeonholing? Its time to move on. Let them think themselves in circles. There is obviously pure ideology behind these ramblings, so there is no hope in reaching out intellectually

  40. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 12:16 am

    ccbowers: “Man, these philosophy majors get hung up on ideas that don’t imact the science being discussed (in that they don’t affect the final conclusion we should make). Always throwing in their irrelevancies. We don’t have to trace causes back to the beginning of the universe… who is making that claim? With all your writings, what is bottom-line utility of your thoughts?

    This article is listed under the category of “logic/philosophy” and “skepticism.” So, our comments here are relevant.

  41. ccbowerson 30 May 2010 at 12:47 am

    “This article is listed under the category of “logic/philosophy” and “skepticism.” So, our comments here are relevant.”

    Really? So all of philosophy is relevant to this post? I was referring to the actual content of the comments. Some of the barriers to the acceptance of science has to do with philosophy, but that doesnt mean everything is relevant to the topic being discussed. Bindle is taking a liking to the ad hominem in these comments, when its not clear what his beef is, and how its relevant to barriers of science.

  42. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 12:49 am

    Eric says, “Most of biology is, and can be, done without any knowledge of quantum mechanics.”
    And so it is, which sounds an awful lot like an excuse for how it’s been done badly rather than a testament to it’s accuracy.
    But the people at the forefront now are not your usual mechanists. They see life, as of course do I, as a purposeful intelligent choice making mechanism. That’s not all it is by any means, but it’s no less than that. And if these mechanistic determinists were right, neither choice nor purpose would exist at all – let alone intelligence..

    And as the BillyJoes and Eric-like defenders say, non-living strategic mechanisms haven’t exhibited individual purposes or choice, at least for study purposes, so why should some related mechanism loosely identified as life? Especially in what has proved to be a deterministic and purposeless world where choice had no need or capacity to evolve.
    But perhaps now that we’ve studied life, and found intelligent choice, we might consider having second thoughts about the mechanistic view itself.

    Present mechanistic babblers excluded.

  43. Eric Thomsonon 30 May 2010 at 1:38 am

    OK, I’m now convinced by Paisley and bindle. I was completely missing their point, and now see the logical force of their arguments. Sorry guys I was wrong about you.

    How silly for biologists to determine, on a case by case basis, the best way to explain something. These biologists expect us to believe that quantum mechanics is needed to explain some things, but not others? Which is worse with this szhizophrenic position: its myopia or its inconsistency?

    Obviously this ideology results from biology’s blithe genuflections at the altar of mechanistic determinism.

    Instead of their dogmatic attention to detail, we need to realize that only nondeterministic quantum principles, applied vaguely, can truly reveal the mechanisms of life. To truly be consistent, such principles must be applied to every single problem in biology: diabetes, HIV, diarrhea, body odor, the gout, and especially kidney stones.

    Oh you dogmatists that have treated kidney stones as mere stones in kidneys, you will rue the day!

    This new science of quantobiology will usurp the dogma that the human body is a machine lacking spontaneity and a vital spark of awareness and will.

    Even more importantly, we will cure your halitosis, your meunstral cramps, your asthma in ways that were unimaginable when your thinking was locked into those narrow pre-quantum automaton-based visions of life.

  44. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 2:00 am

    Yeah, you predeterminately nailed it.

  45. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 2:05 am

    BillyJoe7: “If you think quantum physics is your evidence, think again. Otherwise show me any experiment in quantum physics in which the outcome is not completely predictable. Wave functions, Heisenberg uncertainty, and Coherence exist only at the quantum level. Here, in our macroscopic world, deterministic cause and effect rules. That is a fact that remains unrefuted.

    This is not true. There is evidence that electronic quantum coherence plays a pivotal role in photosynthesis (see “Quantum Secrets of Photosynthesis Revealed“)

    BillyJoe7: “And, even if quantum effects were observed at the macroscopic level, how is that any support for your alternative philosophical assumption. Of course, at this point I can only guess at what that philosophical assumption might be.

    Consciousness causes the collapse of the wavefunction.”

  46. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 2:08 am

    Of course in a parallel universe the self determinate will have evolved themselves to live so long and healthily it seems just like forever.

  47. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 2:16 am

    ba da bing ba da boom

  48. Eric Thomsonon 30 May 2010 at 2:18 am

    Quantum effects aren’t only microscopic: superfluidity and lasers all involve coherence that manifests on the large scale. As I mentioned above, we should be careful about generalizing, and this also means overgeneralizing negative conclusions against QM just because some kooky new age types tend to project their quantum visions everyone they look.

    Biology is weird, we can’t be sure how far up or down the organizational heirarchy we will have to go to explain something.

    Even in brains (which are big, noisy, hot, and wet, all poor conditions for creating and maintaining quantum coherence), quantum effects can percolate up into the macroscopic domains, in theory. We don’t need fringe theories of consciousness collapsing the wavefunction cited from Wikipedia to see how this might work. We would just need more vanilla, geiger-counter like quantum randomness affecting some molecule in a synapse, so for instance neurotransmitter release was determined by indeterministic quantum mechanics, this would have effects that could easily be measured in the voltages in the postsynaptic cell.

    Note I’m not advocating such a theory of synaptic function, but the details of synaptic function are not well worked out. IN particular, in cortical synapses why, when there is a presynaptic action potential, is there a failure of neurotransmitter release 90% of the time? Is this “noise” better modeled using more classical models, or could it be a quantum stochastic variable that the brain tweaks via learning?

    We can’t be sure yet.

  49. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 2:31 am

    Eric Thomson: “You then see an unrelated online interview with him on free will, and somehow think I subscribe to everything he says on that different topic?

    Just curious. Where exactly do you stand on the subject of free will?

  50. Eric Thomsonon 30 May 2010 at 2:37 am

    It’s complicated.

  51. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 2:41 am

    Eric Thomson: “I suggest starting by reading about the correspondence principle.

    Yeah, what’s your point?

    The world of physics only appears determinate on the macro-level because the indeterminism on the micro-level cancels out in the aggregate due to the “law of large numbers.”

  52. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 2:47 am

    Eric Thompson: “It’s complicated.

    That’s an evasive response.

  53. Eric Thomsonon 30 May 2010 at 2:51 am

    My point was bindle was committing the fallacy of composition, and indeterminacy at one level doesn’t imply indeterminacy at every level. QM doesn’t bar my car from having a determinate position and momentum. Not everything in biology has to be treated as a quantum indeterminate phenomenon.

    My parody above should be enough to make my point.

  54. Eric Thomsonon 30 May 2010 at 2:53 am

    Paisley: I’m not going to get into the topic of free will here as we have already digressed enough for one thread.

  55. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 3:27 am

    Eric Thompson: “We don’t need fringe theories of consciousness collapsing the wavefunction cited from Wikipedia to see how this might work.

    It’s not a theory. It’s an explanation. And that’s what we need. We need an explanation for why the wave function collapses. On the materialist view, there is no role for consciousness to play. On the non-materialist view, there is. That’s the difference.

  56. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 3:33 am

    Eric Thomson: “I’m not going to get into the topic of free will here as we have already digressed enough for one thread.

    I think it’s time for you to come out of the closet. You’re really a flaming dualist…aren’t you?

  57. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 3:42 am

    Determinacy at one level implies determinacy at all levels, as indeterminacy anywhere could not be determinatively isolated in a common structure.

    “QM doesn’t bar my car from having a determinate position and momentum.” That’s a parody of logic in and of itself. How long ago was it first determined where your car would be today and what some choice making entity would decide to have it doing? When was it determined that this choice was the one to make? Or does the car spontaneously arise to the occasion without the driver?

    I had started to cite some very good papers written by biologists on the problems of purpose in biology, and specifically of the way we talk around it while tacitly acknowledging its function. But since you’ve said you had enough, I won’t.

  58. sonicon 30 May 2010 at 4:16 am

    Indeterminacy at a microscopic level would include a sound produced by a geiger counter.

  59. BillyJoe7on 30 May 2010 at 6:26 am

    bindle,

    “If uncertainty or the indeterminate exists, as you concede, at any level of a common structure, determinism at some other level could not.”

    Concede?
    I have never said otherwise.
    Indeterminate at the quantum level. Determinate at the macroscopic level.
    But I do concede Sonic’s geiger counter, and Eric’s photosynthesis.
    What I don’t concede is your “indeterminate at one level means indeterminate at all levels”. I think even Paisley won’t be supporting you on that one.

    “your mechanistic crap leaves off where life begins.”

    Come on, bindle, you’re getting so close but still you won’t reveal the subterranean philosophical motivations that drive your science.

    “And I only entered this thread when the biggest troll of all misstated my position on another.”

    Why don’t you acknowledge that I conceded that I made a mistake (as a result of a misunderstanding of something you said). On the other hand, why don’t you admit that your characterisation of my view as being one of certainty instead of assumption was a misunderstanding (or rather a jumping to conclusion) on your part.

    “now that we’ve studied life, and found intelligent choice, we might consider having second thoughts about the mechanistic view itself.”

    How do you distinguish non-deterministic choice from “choice” that is the result of a complex, multilayered network of deterministic processes?
    And can you provide an explanation for your how non-deterministic choice comes about?
    Oh, let me guess: Has it got anything to do with quantum effects on the brain (unproven) and your quaint idea that consciousness collapses th ewave function (wrong)?

    “in a parallel universe…”

    Hey, just a thought:
    If there are parallel universes, even quantum physics becomes determinate with every possibility deterministically occurring in what we might call the multiverse of parallel universes.

    “Determinacy at one level implies determinacy at all levels, as indeterminacy anywhere could not be determinatively isolated in a common structure.”

    Why are you repeating this nonsense.

  60. BillyJoe7on 30 May 2010 at 6:26 am

    oops, left a bit out…

    “purpose in biology”

    How do you distinguish non-deterministic purpose from “purpose” that is the result of a complex, multilayered network of deterministic processes?
    And can you provide an explanation for your how non-deterministic purpose comes about?

  61. BillyJoe7on 30 May 2010 at 7:17 am

    Paisley,

    “[Science] does not assume that everything has a natural (or physical) explanation. It only assumes that those things which can be explained scientifically have a natural explanation.”

    Same difference.
    From a practical point of view, science assumes natural causes because only natural causes are discoverable by science and because there is no conceivable way to discover supernatural causes.

    “IOW, some phenomena might simply be beyond the purview of science.”

    Possibly. But how could you prove that? None have been found to date. Conversely, puzzles that seemed to have no possible solutions have been solved (eg, the precession of Murcury untill realtivity theory; propagation of light through a vacuum)

    “Science is a methodology, not a metaphysical position.”

    I was talking about the philosophical basis of science. And the philosophical basis of science is materialism.

    ““Quantum Secrets of Photosynthesis Revealed”

    Oops, I attributed that to Eric.
    But it’s still a quantum effect acting at the quantum level. Macroscopic objects do not exhibit quantum effects.

    “Consciousness causes the collapse of the wavefunction.”

    That article contains the refutation of that view encompassed in the rhetorical question: “Was the wave function waiting to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single-celled living creature appeared? Or did it have to wait a little longer for some highly qualified measurer – with a PhD?” :D
    Is is also unfalsifiable.
    In fact, any interaction is capable of collapsing the wave function. Detectors placed at slits in double slit quantum experiments do it all the time.

    “The world of physics only appears determinate on the macro-level because the indeterminism on the micro-level cancels out in the aggregate due to the “law of large numbers.””

    Yeah, it’s been estimated that if you jump at a solid wall every second for a trillion trillion trillion years you still have about zero chance of landing on the other side.
    You just don’t see quantum effects with macroscopic objects.

  62. BillyJoe7on 30 May 2010 at 7:20 am

    Sonic,

    “Indeterminacy at a microscopic level would include a sound produced by a geiger counter.”

    Macroscopic objects can certainly record quantum events (otherwise they could never have been detected and we would not know they exist), but macroscopic objects themselves do not exhibit quantum effects.

  63. ccbowerson 30 May 2010 at 9:01 am

    Its clear that ideology is driving the arguments. Why they are hidden behind convoluted references to quantum physics is beyond me.

  64. Eric Thomsonon 30 May 2010 at 9:27 am

    Macrorealism (e.g., the view that Schrodinger’s cat is not in a superposition of dead/alive, but is either dead or alive) has testable consequences that are different from the predictions of QM. They were derived by Nobel Laureate AJ Leggett (for instance this paper). It is very similar to Bell’s derivation of his inequality which assumed local realism.

    It will be cool when the technology progresses enough to do the experiments, but unfortunately we are not there yet.

  65. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 12:54 pm

    The determinism that has been assumed, conceded, and defended here is the only ideology in question or in play. In a very telling way, it’s also been the enabler of the neo-Darwinist views of natural selection, while at the same time holding up the contending bones of the creationists.
    To pass it off as an assumption belies the fact that all your cardboard houses are latched on to what you seem to think of as affirmative material.
    Paisley hit it on the head that you are flaming dualists, closeted in that shaky room where the undetermined buck each other up to live anther predetermined day.
    Because the dirty little secret is that to mix determinism on one level with the indeterminate on another requires the help of some great predeterminer in the sky.
    One side then fleshes out their God and puts it on parade while the other cloisters it behind some oz-like curtain.
    We’ve tried to show you, boys and girls, that your Gods are lifeless but of course that’s only our assumption.

  66. ccbowerson 30 May 2010 at 2:43 pm

    “Because the dirty little secret is that to mix determinism on one level with the indeterminate on another requires the help of some great predeterminer in the sky.”

    No it doesn’t.

  67. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Something has determined that you jerk your knee. Was that or was that not a choice made for you?

  68. mufion 30 May 2010 at 3:27 pm

    ccbowers:

    “Its clear that ideology is driving the arguments. Why they are hidden behind convoluted references to quantum physics is beyond me.”

    Well, if one buys the interpretation that “consciousness causes [the wave function to] collapse”, then it seems to follow that conscious observers (or a Conscious Observer) are necessary in order for nature to unfold. (IOW, it’s a “mind over matter” way of looking at the world.)

    Even if you find that interpretation implausible (as I do, and for the same reasons that BillyJoe does), can you think of no reason why someone (say, coming from a dualistic religious perspective, be it old-time or new-age) might find it attractive?

    But I would agree that it might be nicer if people were more up-front about where they’re coming from. For example, in my case, it’s naturalism, and I don’t mind if someone characterizes that assumption as an “ideology” (as in “a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture”) or finds fault with it, so long as they do so honestly and respectfully. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, even that minimal request often seems like too much to ask.

  69. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 4:04 pm

    mufi, weren’t you complaining earlier that Paisley had mistreated you over at another blog – where your moniker is jcm? That’s putting it mildly as for a matter of little factual doubt it seems he cleaned your clock.

    And that deterministic naturalism, is by your own admissions, a bitch.

    “The direct appreciation of this “no meaning, no reason” aspect of existence can have a profound, and positive psychological impact: we are free of any confining purposes; we are free of the deadening certainty that we have a set role to play and a “correct” goal to achieve; we are liberated to be perpetually amazed at the sheer, startling fact that something exists, not nothing, and that we are part of it. Amazement, wonder and the feeling of connection are arguably central components of the spiritual experience.”

    Self deluded rationalization to the max.

  70. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Enter now Lysander to decry:
    That scorn and derision never come in tears:
     Look, when I vow, I weep; and vows so born,
     In their nativity all truth appears.
     How can these things in me seem scorn to you,
     Bearing the badge of faith to prove them true?

  71. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 5:27 pm

    BillyJoe7: “But it’s still a quantum effect acting at the quantum level. Macroscopic objects do not exhibit quantum effects.

    You are changing the terms of your argument. Previously, you implied that quantum events have no effect on the macro-level because subatomic particles do not maintain coherence. This is patently false. Quantum events play a critical role in photosynthesis. Also, quantum events are directly linked to random genetic mutations (the basis for variation in evolutionary theory).

    “Mutation and variation are inherently unpredictable means the course of evolution, is too. Evolutionary history can turn on a very, very small dime – the quantum state of a single, subatomic particle.” (source: pg. 207 “Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth R. Miller – noted opponent of “creationism” and “intelligent design”).

    Evolution (a macro-level process) is inherently unpredictable because quantum events are inherently unpredictable. If evolution were a strictly deterministic process, then very fact that you and I presently exists here and now is not a highly improbable event (as some materialists would have us believe), but a deterministic fact that could not have been otherwise. This is yet another example where “cognitive dissonance” rears its ugly head in the mind of the materialist. He simultaneously holds two viewpoints which contradict each other. If we live in a strictly deterministic world, then you cannot say that human life was basically a product of mere chance. Chance plays no role whatsoever in a strictly deterministic world.

    Also, even if quantum events were causally inert on the macro-level (which they are not), they still qualify as evidence which invalidates materialism. Why? Because materialism cannot explain why physical events are happening without physical causes. The argument that they do not happen on the macro-level is irrelevant.

    BillyJoe7: “That article contains the refutation of that view encompassed in the rhetorical question: “Was the wave function waiting to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single-celled living creature appeared? Or did it have to wait a little longer for some highly qualified measurer – with a PhD?”

    The collapse of the wave function represents the spontaneous behavior of a subatomic particle (e.g. the electron). Evidence exists that atoms, molecules, and macromolecules also exhibit spontaneous behavior (see “Wave Particle Duality Seen in Carbon-60 Molecules“). I live in an animated world, not a dead one.

    BillyJoe7: “Is is also unfalsifiable.

    It’s an interpretation of the theory, not the theory itself. All QM interpretations are, including the “many worlds” interpretation which you are promoting. The only difference is that “consciousness collapses the wave function” is the most parsimonious interpretation.

    BillyJoe7: “In fact, any interaction is capable of collapsing the wave function.

    Decoherence does not actually cause the the wave function to collapse.

  72. BillyJoe7on 30 May 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Paisley,

    “You are changing the terms of your argument.”

    I admit my wording was imprecise. I realised that after reading some responses to it yesterday. Hey, I’ll even admit the wording was wrong. Sorry for that. It’s a long thread (continuing on from another thread) and I have so little time to respond.

    I have since indicated how trivially true “quantum events have effects on the macro-level ” is by using the example of the double slit experiment where the macroscopic scatter and interference patterns are obviously the result quantum events at the quantum level. Sonic gave the geiger counter example where radioactiver decay at the quantum level is detectable with a geiger counter. And there is your photosynthesis example. In fact, quantum events have to be detectable at the macroscopic level, otherwise we would not know of their existence.

    So let’s move on.

    My point was that quantum uncertainty/coherence/collapse does not occur at the macroscopic level. Macroscopic object do not become entangled, they do not have wave functions that collapse, they do not exhibit uncertainty in position and momentum. And they certainly do not collapse when someone looks at them.

    Eric says that question has not been settled and requires experimental confirmation. Okay, but for the time being the question is totally preposterous. The existence of the moon did not wait for the evolution of consciousness beings. If you think so it is up to you to provide the evidence.

  73. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Actually it’s up to you to provide the evidence that it didn’t.

  74. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Hint: In a deterministic universe all causes are proximate and time is not a factor.

  75. Paisleyon 30 May 2010 at 9:08 pm

    BillyJoe7: “My point was that quantum uncertainty/coherence/collapse does not occur at the macroscopic level. Macroscopic object do not become entangled, they do not have wave functions that collapse, they do not exhibit uncertainty in position and momentum. And they certainly do not collapse when someone looks at them.

    But even if macroscopic objects do not exhibit these behaviors (and I am in no way conceding that this is indeed the case), the fact still remains that subatomic particles do. Therefore, my argument remains intact. The deterministic and materialistic hypothesis has been undermined by quantum theory. According to contemporary physics, nature is fundamentally indeterminate. (It seems to me that you simply want to sweep this little fact under the rug and just pretend it doesn’t exist. Sorry to disappoint you, but you don’t have that luxury.)

    BillyJoe7: “Eric says that question has not been settled and requires experimental confirmation. Okay, but for the time being the question is totally preposterous. The existence of the moon did not wait for the evolution of consciousness beings. If you think so it is up to you to provide the evidence.

    I have no idea what you or Eric are referring to.

    Previously, I stated that we have evidence to infer that subatomic particles such as electrons exhibit a rudimentary form of mentality based on its random or spontaneous behavior. There is also evidence that this behavior scales up to carbon macro-molecules. We have already provided you with evidence that bacteria (single-cell organisms) exhibit decision-making capacities and therefore we can infer that they are conscious. Speculating that there was a continuum of consciousness between the first self-replicating molecular systems and the first single-cell organisms is logically consistent.

  76. sonicon 30 May 2010 at 9:10 pm

    BillyJoe7–

    The uncertainty principle applies to all objects–

    http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/21st_century_science/lectures/lec14.html

    (It’s just too small to be ‘significant’ with larger objects– significant is a subjective adjudication- no?)

    The bigger point is that what Eric says is true– Macrorealism predicts things that are at odds with our best physics- the physics needs to be tested experimentally, obviously, but so far every thing that is predicted by QM has been found true- even the really odd stuff.

    I think it is ‘scientific’ to wait for the experiments before reaching a conclusion- but you seem to have reached the conclusion that is in opposition to the best physics we have without any experimental confirmation.

    I don’t mean to call you (BillyJoe7) out on this personally. Actually I think that this problem relates to the post–

  77. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Sonic, that was for me a valuable contribution to this thread. Rather than philosophical determinism, the sort of determinist theory you’ve pointed to involves the probability determination of the relations between causes and their effects – which is nothing like holding that these determinations can never vary and all choice and purpose is illusory. And what you’ve pointed to is consistent with what some philosophers have called the “loose fit” argument (aka: “loose determinism”) or more formally “a causal indeterminism theory.”
    To lift from another’s paper:
    “Causal indeterminism, as an argument, has the following premises:
    1. I have reason to act in accordance with a set of ranges as options.
    2. My having these relations gives me an objective (probabilistic) tendency to act accordingly.
    3. Whatever the probabilities, each of them is possible.
    4. My having these relations to act in such and such a way, will have been among the causal factors.”
    There’s more to this that I may or may not completely agree with on a strategic level, but you get the idea.

  78. bindleon 30 May 2010 at 11:42 pm

    And people should take special note of this from Paisley:
    “Previously, I stated that we have evidence to infer that subatomic particles such as electrons exhibit a rudimentary form of mentality based on its random or spontaneous behavior. There is also evidence that this behavior scales up to carbon macro-molecules.”

    I’ve referred to this (but not here) as electrons serving their particular strategic purposes. Which had made me think about the predictability function of the things we describe as natural laws, and to suspect that as reliable as they are, they will not guarantee that equal causes will have exactly equal effects if at the same time we accept that there is some level of indeterminacy in the universe. Leaving us with a system that operates with perhaps the highest degree possible of probability, yet to at least the smallest degree possible short of a certainty.

    Allowing perhaps for an hypothesis that the universe over time acquired its laws and strategies – rather than having, or needing to have, these items created for its use. Not ruling out as well that the acquisition process was the genesis of what we conceive of as intelligence, with the universe itself being the “intelligent” entity.

    But again I willfully digress.

  79. Eric Thomsonon 30 May 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Leggett has derived inequalities, analagous to Bell’s inequalities, based on “macrorealism” just as Bell’s inequality assumed local realism. Macrorealism is basically the view that objects above a certain size (e.g., Schrodinger’s cat) don’t exhibit quantum weirdness. Wikipedia has an entry on the inequality here.

    Even physicsts tend to share the intuition that Schrodinger’s cat is either dead or alive, not in a superposition of dead/alive. Indeed, that was sort of Schrodinger’s point, that QM has really strange consequences when it is mindlessly extrapolated beyond its original target. What is even weirder is that whenever QM is experimentally stretched beyond its original target, quantum mechanics has always won (Bell’s inequality violated, Aspect’s experiment, etc).

  80. Eric Thomsonon 31 May 2010 at 12:08 am

    Sonic: technically we still don’t know if HUP applies to cars. This is because cars are so far above the Planck scale, we cannot observe such uncertainty. Within the limits provided by our measuring instruments, things like cars and baseballs have a determinate position and momentum.

    What is nice about Leggett’s work is that he has made predictions that might actually be testable.

  81. sonicon 31 May 2010 at 1:38 am

    Eric-
    I agree with you about Leggett’s work. Perhaps you would be interested in this-

    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/27640

    HUP cannot be proven. It has held true for numerous tests for decades (and some of the tests are ingenious). At this point I would consider it applies until further notice (this seems to be in agreement with the lecturer that I linked to)

    Of course we might consider that cats (or all living things) are conscious and therefore can collapse a wave-function…
    (And that becomes circular on this thread and I’m out here)

    bindle-
    Thank-you. I will look into ‘causal indeterminism’– sounds interesting.

  82. Eric Thomsonon 31 May 2010 at 2:27 am

    Sonic: yes I remember when that original paper came out, though it is different than Leggett’s macrorealism stuff I’ve been talking about. It’s a different inequality he derived based on nonlocal hidden variables theories still on the microlevel.

    His stuff on macrorealism is independent of that, and gets more at people’s strong intuitions that regardless of weirdness at the level of electrons or whatever, surely things like cats being alive/dead are not subject to the same strange rules (as verified every day at vets’ offices).

    Also, their paper doesn’t apply to Bohm’s nonlocal hidden variable model, it applies to a different class of nonlocal hidden variable models (if you look at the original paper, p 872, they make an exception to Bohm’s model, which is probably the most well-known hidden variable model). This is what Aspect was referring to when he said, of the paper “There are other types of non-local models that are not addressed by either Leggett’s inequalities or the experiment”.

  83. mufion 31 May 2010 at 11:42 am

    As interesting as they are, how do all of these comments about determinism vs. indeterminism, or classical physics vs. quantum physics, relate to the original post? I mean, does anyone mean to suggest that the endeavor of science is invalid, since (at least above the level of single atoms) it rests on deterministic (or probablistic*) assumptions?

    If so, then the argument (insofar as it relies on scientific evidence) seems to undermine itself, or else to be reductionist in the extreme (i.e. by suggesting that all higher-order sciences – e.g. classical physics, chemistry, biology, and cognitive science – can be bypassed for quantum physics).

    Also, from a philosophical (as in aesthetic or perhaps ethical) standpoint, it’s unclear why someone should find randomness any more appealing than predictability. I presume that free will has something to do with it, but then both scenarios (i.e. deterministic and non-deterministic) seem problematic in that regard, and, in any case, wishful thinking can hardly settle the matter in an intellectually satisfying way.

    * as in “For almost all everyday non-microscopic occurrences, however, the probability of such random events is extremely close to zero, and can be approximated to almost certainty with statistics using the correspondence principle.”

    - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deterministic_system_%28philosophy%29

  84. bindleon 31 May 2010 at 1:01 pm

    The argument is not that biology, as mufi puts it, “can be bypassed for quantum physics,” it’s that quantum physics can’t be bypassed for or by biology.
    And the cited article about philosophical determinism doesn’t contradict that.

    Nor does the regurgitated material posted about whether the odd weird cat was actually chosen to be dead.

  85. Paisleyon 31 May 2010 at 6:23 pm

    mufi : “As interesting as they are, how do all of these comments about determinism vs. indeterminism, or classical physics vs. quantum physics, relate to the original post? I mean, does anyone mean to suggest that the endeavor of science is invalid, since (at least above the level of single atoms) it rests on deterministic (or probablistic*) assumptions?

    The problem is that Steven Novella (author of the OP) conflated the “materialistic paradigm of science” with “science” itself.

  86. ccbowerson 31 May 2010 at 8:39 pm

    “As interesting as they are, how do all of these comments about determinism vs. indeterminism, or classical physics vs. quantum physics, relate to the original post?”

    They don’t.

  87. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2010 at 12:24 am

    bindle,

    quantum physics can’t be bypassed for or by biology”

    The world’s prime expert in biology can be completely ignorant of quantum physics and be no less the world’s prime expert. IOW, quantum physics is completely irrelevant to an understanding of biology.

    I’ve referred to this as electrons serving their particular strategic purposes.

    Translation please.
    (I’m really hoping you’re not going to say that electrons are conscious. I mean that would solve the moon problem, but that would be the least of your problems. :D )

    Which had made me think about the predictability function of the things we describe as natural laws, and to suspect that as reliable as they are, they will not guarantee that equal causes will have exactly equal effects if at the same time we accept that there is some level of indeterminacy in the universe. Leaving us with a system that operates with perhaps the highest degree possible of probability, yet to at least the smallest degree possible short of a certainty.

    In short: the deterministic natural laws might possibly be upset every now and then by quantum probability.
    And if that happens once every trillion years?

    Allowing perhaps for an hypothesis that the universe over time acquired its laws and strategies – rather than having, or needing to have, these items created for its use.

    Acquired or evolved?

    Not ruling out as well that the acquisition process was the genesis of what we conceive of as intelligence, with the universe itself being the “intelligent” entity.

    From simplicity evolved complexity and from complexity evolved intelligence. But the universe the intelligent entity?

  88. bindleon 01 Jun 2010 at 12:58 am

    BillyJoe7,
    If putatively deterministic laws were upset even once in no matter how many eons, determinism is dead, probability reigns and choice will find its purpose.

    If you understood that you wouldn’t need to ask your usual litany of questions with their out of context implications.

    But at least you’re way ahead of ccbowers in understanding the meaning of relevance.

    And, to echo the words and sentiments of Paisely, “I live in an animated world, not a dead one.”

  89. Paisleyon 01 Jun 2010 at 1:49 am

    BillyJoe7: “The world’s prime expert in biology can be completely ignorant of quantum physics and be no less the world’s prime expert. IOW, quantum physics is completely irrelevant to an understanding of biology.

    This is patently false. I have already provided you with evidence that photosynthesis (that’s a fairly important biological process) relies on quantum computing.

    When It Comes to Photosynthesis, Plants Perform Quantum Computation

  90. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2010 at 7:29 am

    bindle.

    If putatively deterministic laws were upset even once in no matter how many eons, determinism is dead…

    If deterministic laws were upset once in many eons, the universe is deterministic apart from those rare events and, it would be almost certainly true that you and me have lived through a phase where the universe has evolved completely deterministically.

    “…probability reigns…”

    …for a vanishingly small period of time in an ocean of determinism.

    “… and choice will find its purpose.”

    The last time I asked for an explanation for a seemingly nonsense phrase like that I got an equally incomprehensible answer. It occurs to me that perhaps the philosophy that drives your science must be protected from ridicule at all costs by not seeing the light of day.

  91. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2010 at 7:31 am

    Paisley,

    The problem is that Steven Novella (author of the OP) conflated the “materialistic paradigm of science” with “science” itself.

    If science is powerless to prove that there are supernatural/non-physical/immaterial phenomena and, if science has been busily finding natural/physical/material explanations for putatively supernatural/non-physical/iimmaterial phenomena for over 400 years, what exactly is the difference?

    I have already provided you with evidence that photosynthesis relies on quantum computing.

    I’ve read a few references on quantum photosynthesis, including a couple that suit your point of view better than the one you gave ;) but it seems the last word has not been said on this phenomenon. If it pans out it would be an interesting development.

  92. Eric Thomsonon 01 Jun 2010 at 10:58 am

    It would be as strange to say QM has no relevance in any area of biology as it would be to say that no area of biology can be done without having expertise in QM. Both claims display a profound ignorance of how biology works.

    I don’t need QM to explain bird flight, but we might need it to explain single ion channel function. Much of organic chemistry is rooted in quantum theory, after all, and organic chemistry is extremely important in some branches of biochemistry.

    As I said above in my parody:
    “How silly for biologists to determine, on a case by case basis, the best way to explain something. These biologists expect us to believe that quantum mechanics is needed to explain some things, but not others? Which is worse with this szhizophrenic position: its myopia or its inconsistency?”

    This cuts both ways.

  93. ccbowerson 01 Jun 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Eric and BillyJoe last few posts are on point with a logical and concise assessments of the arguments. Is that the argument here… that if we don’t consider QM in everything then we are wrong in everything? The problem with that argument is that it obviously isn’t true… unless the argument is ‘everything we know is wrong.’ If that is the argument then we have wasted our time here.

    The problem here seems to be a problem of thinking. A type of pigeonholing or a false dichotomy.

  94. ccbowerson 01 Jun 2010 at 12:11 pm

    “If putatively deterministic laws were upset even once in no matter how many eons, determinism is dead, probability reigns and choice will find its purpose.”

    This is a great quote. It’s a complete sentence, but meaningless… almost like a Mad Libs.

  95. Paisleyon 01 Jun 2010 at 12:18 pm

    BillyJoe7: “If science is powerless to prove that there are supernatural/non-physical/immaterial phenomena and, if science has been busily finding natural/physical/material explanations for putatively supernatural/non-physical/iimmaterial phenomena for over 400 years, what exactly is the difference?

    The primary qualification for a scientific hypothesis or theory is that it must be falsifiable. The materialist hypothesis has been falsified by contemporary physics. According to quantum theory, the fundamental nature of nature itself is dualistic (i.e. nature has both physical and nonphysical aspects as depicted by the particle/wave duality).

    BillyJoe7: “I’ve read a few references on quantum photosynthesis, including a couple that suit your point of view better than the one you gave ;) but it seems the last word has not been said on this phenomenon. If it pans out it would be an interesting development.”

    The evidence that quantum processes are playing a pivotal role in living systems is mounting (see “That’s Life” by Stuart Hameroff).

  96. chaos4zapon 01 Jun 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I still stand by my statement (it’s way up there in the comments now). Sure, advertisements can lead to people being prescribed drugs they do not need, but this is an issue with the professional judgment of the doctor, not the patient. Regardless if a consumer is compelled by an advertisement or not, they still should not be able to go into their doctor and demand the product when they don’t truly need it. An example from personal experience (not that this single experience influenced my current view…I’m simply offering it as an demonstration of my point), I had at one point had issues with sleeping and staying asleep. I had no idea that they actually had drugs (other than the over the counter stuff that always made me overly groggy the next day) to treat the condition. In fact, I would still probably not know if I hadn’t seen so many commercials for Lunesta and the others that were on the market. I talked to my doctor about it and he said he didn’t want to prescribe any of those at that point because of the risk of dependence (they often advertise that they will not form chemical dependence, but we all know that anything that works will always carry some risk of becoming somewhat dependant on it). That’s how it should be. Regardless of the advertisements, the MD should know what they are prescribing and do so responsibly. I still stand by my point that I can see how advertisements can serve to make the public aware of new advancements. I certainly agree that it’s not the most ideal method for communication and certainly education of the general public. Saying we shouldn’t advertise because some people will be prescribed the medicine when they truly don’t need it is…..I believe the argument from final consequences? (I may be wrong about that one) However unrealistic it may be, people should view advertisements for what they are, someone that wants to sell you something. Just because they want to sell you something doesn’t, in itself, make the product right or wrong for you and your symptoms/condition and that’s where we must rely heavily on the professional judgment of our medical providers.

  97. Paisleyon 01 Jun 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Eric Thomson: “It would be as strange to say QM has no relevance in any area of biology as it would be to say that no area of biology can be done without having expertise in QM. Both claims display a profound ignorance of how biology works.

    This is a straw man argument. No one here has suggested that all areas of biology require expertise in QM. What has been suggested is that QM has relevance for biology. In fact, I have provided evidence that quantum computing is directly involved in photosynthesis (one of the most vital aspects of biology).

    Eric Thomson: “I don’t need QM to explain bird flight, but we might need it to explain single ion channel function.

    I see that you are seeking to hedge your position. “Quantum mind theories” are the only theories that are addressing the “hard problem of consciousness” by postulating that consciousness is fundamental.

  98. Eric Thomsonon 01 Jun 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Paisley: If you think what I said is a straw man, you haven’t comprehended what bindle and BillyJoe wrote above. At any rate, I’m glad you agree with me.

    Second, in every post in these two comment threads I have said QM is likely important for some things and not others in biology. If you think this is a change in my position (a new hedge), that just shows you haven’t comprehended one thing I’ve written, thereby confirming how much I have wasted my time here.

    The previous two paras suggest reading comprehension skill difficulty.

    On the “hard problem” of consciousness, I wrote about that here and will gladly discuss my position there. We also discussed, in the comments at that post, quantum approaches to consciousness.

    Back as an undergrad I used to be quite sympathetic to quantum approaches to consciousness, drank some of the Hameroff/Penrose tea, but then I realized my thinking was confused at multiple levels, and my sympathy pretty much dissipated.

    However, I look forward to seeing the first experimental results from the quantum consciousness folks, and we will be able to compare research progress in 20 years or so, if they actually have some data by then.

    I don’t claim to be able to kill that research program, even though I think it is generally confused and misguided. Rather than argue about it, I’ll wait for results and continue on with more mainstream neuroscience. I’ll be sure to include a section on quantum approaches in my book on consciousness, in the same chapter where I discuss dualism and behaviorism.

  99. bindleon 01 Jun 2010 at 2:57 pm

    What a hoot. BillyJoe7 and his follower ccbowers (and Eric Thomson bringing up the rear) thinking you can mix in a little random stuff with the determinate and you’ve undetermined nothing in the end. Nothing of course that wasn’t predetermined. The certainty remains, quite tolerant of uncertainty at a lower level.

    What I enjoy most in a perverse sort of way is that they can’t reach the conceptual abstraction level required to visualize these relatively simple propositions. Barriers to the Acceptance of Science indeed.

    Stay, you imperfect speakers,
    Say from whence you owe this strange intelligence?
    Or why upon this blasted heath you stop our way
    With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you.

  100. Eric Thomsonon 01 Jun 2010 at 4:40 pm

    OK must move on with my work, this thread is providing a very low payout to effort ratio. I pretty much nailed down what I wanted to say, indirectly, with my parody, and now we are just walking around in conceptual circles. Thanks for the discussion.

  101. Eric Thomsonon 01 Jun 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Note I now think that parody applies to bindle but not Paisley. Paisley seems to see things a little more clearly than bindle.

  102. bindleon 01 Jun 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I do think Paisley sees much that I can learn from, but unfortunately Eric either can’t or won’t.
    So if I didn