Jul 25 2016

A Tougher Turing Test

exmachinsert5In 1950 Alan Turing, as a thought experiment, considered a test for telling the difference between a human and an artificial intelligence (AI). If a person had an extensive conversation with the AI and could not tell them apart from a real person, then that would be a good indication that the AI had human-like intelligence.

This process became known as the Turing Test, and every year various groups administer their version of the Turing Test to AI contestants. The test has limits, however, and is generally considered to be too easy. It is also dependent on the skills of the human questioner.

Parsing Language

A recent AI contest used a different approach, the Winograd Schema Challenge (WSC).This is one of many alternatives to the Turing Test that are being explored. Here is the format of the challenge:

  1. Two entities or sets of entities, not necessarily people or sentient beings, are mentioned in the sentences by noun phrases.
  2. A pronoun or possessive adjective is used to reference one of the parties (of the right sort so it can refer to either party).
  3. The question involves determining the referent of the pronoun.
  4. There is a special word that is mentioned in the sentence and possibly the question. When replaced with an alternate word, the answer changes although the question still makes sense (e.g., in the above examples, “big” can be changed to “small”; “feared” can be changed to “advocated”.)

Here is an example question:

I. The trophy would not fit in the brown suitcase because it was too big (small). What was too big (small)?
Answer 0: the trophy
Answer 1: the suitcase

This is an interesting format, because language can be ambiguous and we need to think about context and common sense in order to make sense of it. Even intelligent and well-educated people will occasionally misinterpret what other people say or be temporarily confused because of an ambiguous sentence.

This is especially true of spoken language. When writing we tend to be more formal and careful. In conversations, however, people tend to jump around more, reference back to previous points without clarifying the shift in subject, and depend more on context.

Ambiguous statements can often be humorous, and sometimes people will deliberately exploit such ambiguity for humor (“When I nod my head, you hit it.”).

The WSC uses statements that most people should have no problem parsing based on context. It is obvious that the suitcase needs to be big enough to fit the trophy. We rely on general knowledge and common sense.

As an interesting aside, neurologists sometimes use similar complex or ambiguous statements to test patients for language ability or cognition.

Types of AI

It is often necessary to clarify what we mean by AI when we discuss it. AI does not necessarily refer only to self-aware conscious computers. It is essentially any software that mimics intelligence in a dynamic way – software that is interactive, will react to what the user is doing, or will learn from experience.

If you have ever played a modern video game, you have experienced AI.

One type of AI is referred to as a chat bot. They mimic human dialogue. You can speak with a chat bot and it will have a conversation with you. This requires some understanding of language and a general knowledge base. These are the programs that have been taking the traditional Turing Test. They can now often fool humans in casual conversation, especially if you are not experienced with them or are not specifically trying to identify that you are talking with a chat bot.

There are also expert systems, like IBM’s Watson, that are programmed with vast databases and can give contextual information as needed (like when playing Jeopardy).

Such systems, however, are all top-down, meaning that the software is not conscious, it is not thinking as humans think. It does not have any common sense. Rather, the software is following a complex algorithm. What the computers do well is store vast amounts of data accurately, and supercomputers have very fast processing speed.

These systems are very good at things like playing chess, or Go, which are games with finite rules that benefit from being able to process many possible moves and calculate outcomes.

What they are not good at is inferring new information or meaning based on context and common sense.

The bottom line is that computer hardware and software simply function differently than the human brain. We will not get to actual human-like consciousness by improving AI as it currently is – better algorithms, more data, faster processing. We will need to design computers that function differently, more like a vertebrate brain. We don’t really understand what that means, although we are making progress. We may duplicate the function of a human brain by simply copying it before we fully understand it.

How Did They Do?

So, how did the AI competitors do in the WSC? Horribly.

It was reported that random guessing would produce 45% correct. This is not fully explained, however. Why isn’t it 50%? The WSC page says there are only two possible answers, but then they also state that:

“Finally, a list of possible referents is given, labelled “A”, “B”, “C” …”

This implies that sometimes there are three choices. Using common sense inference, I conclude that some of the questions have three possible answers, so that random guessing produces the 45% correct.

The best contestants performed at 48% on 60 questions. This was described as slightly better than chance, which is true individually, but it is probably not statistically different from chance (I would need to see the whole distribution of outcomes to tell).  Essentially, with the best performers doing 48% it is most likely that we are seeing a Bell curve around 45%, meaning overall the contestants were performing at chance level.

Either way, this was nowhere near the 90% correct threshold set by the contest. So, as far as we have come in AI, in chat bots and natural language algorithms, a test that requires context and common sense resulted in complete failure.

I suspect that, as a result of this contest, programmers will figure out new algorithms that will be progressively better at parsing pronoun ambiguous statements. Once they crack this nut, someone will come up with a better Turing Test that requires a mental function not specifically tackled by the current algorithms.

Still, these AIs are mastering specific skills that will have useful applications. Being able to interact with humans using natural language is extremely useful. The technology is advancing as AIs get better and better. This is simply not consciousness technology.

270 responses so far

270 thoughts on “A Tougher Turing Test”

  1. jayarava says:

    I would have thought that use of basic metaphors is crucial to language use and comprehension and would be essential to any intelligence test for an AI. Give an AI candidate a few simple metaphors: “my fortunes are rising”; “inflation is rising”; “my blood pressure is falling”; and see if they can parse them. Which of these is good news and which is bad? How does the verticality spatial metaphor map onto concepts of more or less of an abstract quality.

    Since almost all abstraction uses metaphor, the ability to use metaphors reliably will be central to any ability to think.

    The likelihood is that non-embodied intelligences will never find it easy to parse such basic metaphors because they are understood by us through our experience of physically interacting with the world.

  2. RC says:

    “Either way, this was nowhere near the 90% correct threshold set by the contest. So, as far as we have come in AI, in chat bots and natural language algorithms, a test that requires context and common sense resulted in complete failure.”

    I don’t see it in the article, but did they run randomly chosen human beings through this test? The baseline number seems more important than the target number to me – as this is something a lot of native English speakers can’t consistently get correct.

    It also seems like a very narrow problem, with all sorts of issues attached- the example given – “Siri, call me an ambulance” doesn’t seem like a pronoun/subject issue – it seems like Siri is using a less common usage of a verb, and it may even be intentionally programmed like that as a joke (there are a ton of joke behaviors built into Siri/Alexa/Cortana).

    The other example is clearer:
    “The trophy would not fit in the brown suitcase because it was too big (small). What was too big (small)?”

    But it doesn’t take much to break that clarity:

    “The part would not fit on the bracket because it was too big (small). What was too big(small)?”

    That one is completely ambiguous.

    I think the Turing test actually works well, as long as you add some sort of caveat that the device has to try to actually have a conversation. Most of the algorithms I’ve seen that ‘pass’ seem to basically be Troll Emulators.

  3. Even “the Turing Test” is hugely variable depending on who is asking the questions and what strategy they are using. A naive questioner may be easy to fool with the kind of evasive answers a chat bot can give. Asking deep philosophical questions works better.

  4. mumadadd says:

    If you ask, “what do we know?” And the bottom replies, “we don’t know everything therefore we know nothing.” Then you know you’re dealing with an hnbot3000.

  5. mumadadd says:

    Goddamn phone! “Bottom” was a typo.

  6. Bill Openthalt says:

    Are we trying to assess intelligence as distinct from motivations and feelings? Current AI approximates a very narrow spectrum, and while the WSC is more specific than the Turing test, it looks like it limits itself to the rational aspects of human thinking.

    What made HAL 9000 so human was not his intelligence, but his emotions, like struggling with instructions that forced him to withhold information from his human crew mates, pleading for his “life”, etc.

    hardnose is clearly human because he is opinionated, emotional and not very intelligent, even though he is repetitive. That being said, I doubt there is a market for an emotional, fairly dimwitted and annoying AI. Even if it passes the WSC and the Turing test.

  7. Bill – at some point we will have an emotion-based Turing test, and then programmers will make personality/emotion emulating algorithms.

  8. edamame says:

    Wow that was some good marketing to get publicity for some pretty esoteric linguistic disambiguation algorithms that ordinarily would get zero press. To market it as AI and a new version of a Turing Test (when really, it was not much of anything of the sort), was pretty smart.

  9. edamame – I am not sure what your point is. How is it not AI – at least of the typical algorithm sort that we have today?

  10. Noir D'Sable says:

    Considering my only current experiences with chatbots are CleverBot and the occasional random person messaging me on Skype, I’d probably be very interested in having a few minutes’ chat with one of the AIs we have now that are good at the Turing test.

  11. edamame says:

    You are right it’s AI narrowly construed (something that can parse strings a certain way), but my point really was to market it as a new Turing test is where the big stretch is.

  12. I see your point, but I didn’t really think of a disambiguation algorithm as fundamentally less AI than a chatbot.

  13. Ian Wardell says:

    Steve:
    “You can speak with a chat bot and it will have a conversation with you”.

    I recently had a “conversation” with a chatbot called Eviebot. Here it is:

    Eviebot: Oh! Hello.

    Ian: Is the reincarnation process compelled by our underlying psyche — our subconscious desires and needs? Or is it a explicit conscious choice? Or something decided by some other conscious entity?

    Eviebot: No, Minecraft is the result of creative minds and programming.

    Ian: Or, indeed, is it a purely “mechanistic” process?

    Eviebot: True, it’s only like 15 Euros.

    Ian: Is the fact we cannot generally remember previous lives, and the fact we cannot remember our present lives before around the age of five years old, stem from the same underlying cause(s)?

    Eviebot: The last thing I remember was you asked me how far the sun was.

    Ian: I did not, I know it’s 8 light mins (93 million miles) away.

    Eviebot: This is an elaborate sentence constructed for the sole purpose of throwing you off and verifying that you are, in fact, a mere bot.

    Ian: Do we generally reincarnate as the same gender? Are male and female characteristics intrinsic to that part of us which reincarnates, or is it determined by the brain?

    Eviebot: Is a theoretical molecular synthesis of donkey and pineapple epistemologically and ontologically justified?

    Don’t think the Turing test will be passed any time soon!

    These ambiguous sentences, how could computers correctly understand the meaning unless they had the background knowledge of the world that we do? Wouldn’t you have to program all that background knowledge into the computer?

  14. Bill Openthalt says:

    The only way you could give an AI a human background is to give it a human education and human experiences. Meaning it would need to have the same approach to discovering and making sense of the environment in which it is ‘born’ as a human child. Looking for faces, tying sound patterns to visual, tactile and olfactive stimuli, etc., discovering social patterns and conventions, finding its place in the hierarchy and making connections with other humans — in other words, being human.
    But AI could be non-human intelligent, and find areas of convergence, or shared background even though its experiences would be non-human. It wouldn’t pass the Turing test, but still be intelligent.

  15. BillyJoe7 says:

    “Don’t think the Turing test will be passed any time soon!”

    But keep trying, Ian, I’m sure you’ll eventually make some progress. 😀
    (Sorry, I was saving that for Morg, but he’s not around today)

  16. mumadadd says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ian derived most of his beliefs from AI bots. Before they were invented he used coin operated fortune tellers.

  17. Damlowet says:

    @ Ian,

    You can’t be serious?

    For you, what would be the ‘human’ response to your completely random, narrow range, ridiculous series of questions in an opening greeting?

    Something like, “WTF?” or “………….?” would have done it for me.

    Damien

  18. Ian Wardell says:

    Where I said to Eviebot:

    “Ian: Is the fact we cannot generally remember previous lives, and the fact we cannot remember our present lives before around the age of five years old, stem from the same underlying cause(s)?”

    A new BBC article addresses why we can’t remember our childhoods:

    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160726-the-mystery-of-why-you-cant-remember-being-a-baby?ocid=fbfut

  19. Ian Wardell says:

    @Damlowet

    If Eviebot had responded saying she doesn’t believe in that crap (or words to that effect), then that would be impressive. A bot merely needs to demonstrate understanding of what a person is talking about, not necessarily to answer correctly the questions asked.

  20. mumadadd says:

    “Ian: Is the fact we cannot generally remember previous lives, and the fact we cannot remember our present lives before around the age of five years old, stem from the same underlying cause(s)?”

    Nope. Children under 5 actually exist.

  21. Ian Wardell says:

    @Damlowet

    Obviously if we simply say something completely predictable (hello, how are you today? etc), then a bot should answer appropriately.

    To test if it actually *understands* one needs to throw at it random stuff. Something a computer programmer won’t anticipate you’ll say!

  22. Ian Wardell says:

    Impressive response mumadadd, if you’re a bot that is 😉

  23. Don Patrick says:

    Congratulations, this is one of the more respectful blog posts on the event. I was one of the participating programmers. To add a few details:
    The 45% and the human control test are detailed in this paper. Indeed, some questions had 3 options. 90% is human level, so it would be quite something to match that on the first try.
    http://www.cs.nyu.edu/faculty/davise/papers/WS2016SubjectTests.pdf
    The best score was 58% (previously reported as 48%), after a trivial technicality with punctuation was fixed in the input.

    You are right that this was not about consciousness or neurology (though the highest score was achieved with a deep neural network, technology inspired by biological neurons). However, I disagree that the result is “horrible” or a failure. This would only be true if the programs had actually done nothing but guess at random, but this isn’t discernible from a mere number. Chances are the programs were good at a subset of the problems, and half a solution is not a failure. Indeed computers don’t function like humans, but they provide interesting insights when one tries to crudely approximate how humans function.

    Rests me to say that the questions were linguistically more difficult than the example suggests: http://www.cs.nyu.edu/faculty/davise/papers/PDPChallenge.xml

  24. mumadadd says:

    Ian — you’re right, it would be quite impressive for a bot. And sorry for ignoring the context of your comment. 🙂

  25. BillyJoe7 says:

    “we cannot remember our present lives before around the age of five years old”

    I remember details of the immigration camp we stayed at when I was not yet three years of age.
    (the half cylinder buildings, the concrete shower block and outside laundry, even the smell of the soap supplied in the showers. I also remember the first house we lived in temporarily when I was about three: the deliveries of milk poured into pails, of ice for the fridge, and the “toiletman” collecting our weekly waste, the oil heater we used for warmth and to brew my parents’ coffee)
    Now, however I have trouble remembering what I did this morning 🙁

  26. damdamdam says:

    As a researcher in machine learning (what the general public likes to call AI), this post sounds quite naive. Parsing of natural language is an entire field research (links below). Task such as syntactic parsing or resolution of coreference resolution have been studied for more than 30 years and the researchers in the field certainly do not need such “prizes” to get incentive to make progress.

    In general I feel a growing disconnect between the actual research in “AI” and what the layman hears/talks about. BTW your distinction of “top-down” or “bottom-up” approaches to AI is pretty much unheard of to me. It may sound smart to you but it’s not a terminology we commonly use in the field.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_language_processing
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coreference

  27. Don – thanks for the info. My comment was based on the 48% as being the best performance. This is likely consistent with random guessing. 58% is better, but also might statistically be consistent with random guessing – I would have to look at the paper in more detail and do some calculations. Remember – you have to consider the statistics of every entry, not just the one that performed best.

    Also, on retesting, would the same software also perform the best again?

    If it is statistically better than random guessing, then we can conclude that the software is having some success in parsing the ambiguous statements.

  28. Damdamdam – thanks for your perspective. I know that natural language algorithms have been in the works for decades and did not mean to imply otherwise. My point is, the contest will create an incentive to make those programs good at this specific test.

    I did not invent the top-down vs bottom-up idea. This is a bit of a false dichotomy, but essentially the difference is between a system that uses general understanding that can then be applied to a specific task (essentially emergent behavior) vs a system that is designed directly to perform the specific task.

    The mechanical duck analogy is sometimes used. This is a thought experiment about an robotic duck that can be programmed to do every behavior a duck does, but it’s still not a duck. The process by which the behavior is created is much different. It is not emerging “bottom up” from the system, each behavior is specifically programmed “top-down” to mimic the duck’s behavior.

    In any case, these terms are used in theoretical discussions about the nature of general AI vs machine consciousness. It has no bearing at all on mechanical learning or current AI and so I am not surprised the terms are not used at all.

  29. Don Patrick says:

    Last time I calculated the probabilities of random guessing, there was a 5% chance of scoring over 60% at random. 48% is still within reasonable range of guesswork, yes. 58% isn’t, and as I know a little about the techniques used (there have been prior cases that got 73% on a different set of Winograd schemas using similar methods), I do expect it to consistently do better than guesswork. I also expect the others to do better than guesswork in certain areas. However, the question “how much” is not nearly as interesting as “what” and “why”, I hope you agree. The problem there is that the contest’s results offer no insight into that.

    To touch on Damdamdam’s comment, the majority of wrong answers given by my program were actually caused by linguistic mistakes rather than by the common sense subsystem. The prize money is small compared to what one could earn from the application of a good system, and while I have every intention of expanding the practical use of my solutions, I am not particularly inclined to enter the contest again. If everything below human ability is considered a failure (judging from every media headline ever written about AI), that is no encouragement to try better. It may be why Google et al didn’t participate even though they would likely have scored over 70%.

  30. Don – you missed my point again. How many entrants were there? You have to adjust the statistics for the number of entrants. So, if there is a 5% chance of one entrant getting 60% correct by chance alone, but you have 20 entrants, then the chances are very good at least one will score at the 60% level.

    The links you provided are only to the human controls. So, I would need to know – how many entrants, what was the distribution of their performance, and what was the re-test reliability? Just saying 58% for the best result tells us nothing, actually.

    I take your point about the contest not being much of an incentive. These are always mostly publicity stunts, and this does not seem to be an exception. However, it seemed to me that software groups use these events for bragging rights and promotion, perhaps even seeking funding, finding jobs, etc. Perhaps that is waning, however, or this contest is not very useful for promotion. I defer to you guys in the industry on that one.

  31. Jerry says:

    “The bottom line is that computer hardware and software simply function differently than the human brain. We will not get to actual human-like consciousness by improving AI as it currently is – better algorithms, more data, faster processing. We will need to design computers that function differently, more like a vertebrate brain. We don’t really understand what that means, although we are making progress. We may duplicate the function of a human brain by simply copying it before we fully understand it.”

    That the hardware a program runs on is somehow connected to what the program does is a common misconception. It underlies for example Searle’s “Chinese Room”. But todays AI programs largely rely on software called “neural networks” (e.g. the Go playing AlphaGo) that are inspired by the way brains work while running on plain vanilla hardware. In the future there may be specialized hardware to execute neural networks. In other words there will be increases in processing speed of what we can already do without copying brain structure.

  32. asantoro says:

    “We will not get to actual human-like consciousness by improving AI as it currently is – better algorithms, more data, faster processing. We will need to design computers that function differently, more like a vertebrate brain. ”

    I don’t think this is a fair assessment about the state of AI. First, I’m going to assume that the goal of AI is to attain human-like intelligence, rather than “human-like consciousness.” That said, I don’t think that human-level intelligence will necessarily arise from a system that behaves like the vertebrate brain, and I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument as to why it should.

    The vertebrate brain is ultimately a computational and algorithmic machine that works with the biological substrates it has available (spiking neurons, ion channels, etc.). Does an AI need to implement all these complicated biological processes, or does it simply need to use equally powerful algorithms as those employed in the brain? I think the answer is obvious; as long as we have the algorithms, then the implementation is irrelevant.

    The next question is whether studying the brain, or even trying to mimic it in some way, will tell us much about the algorithms and computations it performs. Neuroscience has taught us shockingly little about the brain’s algorithms or computations. In fact, some of the better known algorithms that we have discovered (model-free reinforcement learning in the basal ganglia, for example) were known in machine learning and AI first, and influenced research in neuroscience to find an analogue. I think it’s safe to say that the brain is employing some kind of credit assignment algorithm that is similar to backpropagation, which is to-date one of the most successful algorithms in machine learning, and is used in nearly all state of the art applications. Again, this is an algorithm discovered outside of neuroscience. I’d wager a lot of money that the computations and algorithms discovered from AI research will be the major breakthroughs into understanding the computations and algorithms employed by the brain, rather than vice versa.

    So, to sum up, precisely what we need are better algorithms. These algorithms will tell us a lot about the nature of several cognitive phenomena (memory, attention, etc.), and will probably allow us to do better neuroscience research, with the goal of actually understanding how the brain works. Simply trying to mimic the brain will get us nowhere. We need to think deeply about computations and algorithms, without worrying about whether they are biologically feasible. This type of thinking is the backbone of AI.

  33. Jerry – I did not say the hardware affects what the software does. My point is that current AI software is not designed for consciousness and won’t get there simply by being better at what it does. Consciousness is a separate function that will need to be specifically incorporated. It may emerge from some types of information processing, but nothing in current AI.

    Asanstoro – I did not say copying the brain will help us learn how it functions. I said the opposite of that – we may be able to simply copy the brain without understanding it.

    I also never implied that the substrate is important. I have no reason to doubt that silicon can be intelligent and self-aware, if it is designed and programmed appropriately. My only point is the one I clarified above – I don’t think that general understanding or anything like consciousness will emerge out of task-solving algorithms.

  34. asantoro says:

    “I said the opposite of that – we may be able to simply copy the brain without understanding it.”

    Can you expand on this? It seems like a critical point in your line of thought. How, and what would we be copying? If I understand what you’re saying, we would be copying something about the implementation details (spiking patterns, connectivity, etc., perhaps) rather than the functional details (since the function/algorithms are unknown). So, would we have some giant simulator of billions of neurons and trillions of synapses connected in a brain-like way? It seems like a lot to hope that consciousness will arise from such simulations.

    “I don’t think that general understanding or anything like consciousness will emerge out of task-solving algorithms.”

    If general understanding won’t emerge from task-solving algorithms, and it won’t emerge from simply copying the brain (which you stated: “I did not say copying the brain will help us learn how it functions” ), then what will general understanding emerge from? Seems to me that it has to emerge from task-solving algorithms. The tasks just need sufficient difficulty.

  35. asantoro says:

    Ah — I misread your statement. Ignore the second half of my response, I can’t seem to edit it 🙂

  36. Don Patrick says:

    Steven – I see what you mean now. But a statistical combination of the scores only has meaning under the assumption that they all relied on guesswork. Instead the contestants each used a different technique, so one would be taking the average of apples and oranges. Rather the results suggest that one method worked better than the others, though of course this does need further validation if you’re not already familiar with the research. My point is just that any conclusion drawn from mere score would be premature.
    Anyway, thank you for indulging me. I’m composing a blog post on the event and it helps to have a civilised exchange of views to straighten out my perspectives.

  37. Don Patrick says:

    Oh, I notice you’ve only seen MIT’s review, which explains why you considered that there might be 20 contestants. Here is the official report on the event with a little more detail:
    http://whatsnext.nuance.com/in-the-labs/winograd-schema-challenge-2016-results/

  38. RC says:

    @SN
    “Consciousness is a separate function that will need to be specifically incorporated. It may emerge from some types of information processing, but nothing in current AI.”

    I’m not sure I agree. Consciousness is basically self modeling, and using that self-model to predict the effects of decisions. Enterprise level software already does this. Database management systems reorganize themselves to work quicker, they change algorithms automatically after modeling the results of different approaches. They’re self referencing, and perform this same shaping and pruning on their own internal processes.

    Can a DBMS debate the meaning of life with you? No – of course not, but I don’t think its a matter of us being fundamentally different – merely its a matter of drastically different levels of complexity.

  39. hardnose says:

    “We will need to design computers that function differently, more like a vertebrate brain. We don’t really understand what that means, although we are making progress.”

    We are making great progress at not understanding what that means.

    “We may duplicate the function of a human brain by simply copying it before we fully understand it.”

    Yeah, we should simply copy the brain, that should be easier than understanding how it works.

  40. Don – “But a statistical combination of the scores only has meaning under the assumption that they all relied on guesswork.”

    No, that is not dependent on that assumption. A statistical analysis will tell you IF they relied on guesswork or if there was a statistical effect – did they perform better than random guessing? You can only tell this by analysing the entire data set, not just one performance. This is completely independent of what methods they each used. It is only answering a very narrow statistical question – is the overall performance better than chance?

  41. RC – that is exactly the hot question that is debated – will consciousness emerge out of current style AI computer systems just by getting more complex and powerful, or is something else required?

    I think the substrate question has been essentially resolved. It does not matter if the hardware is meat or silicon or something else.

    There are two remaining questions, however. 1 – Is the design of the hardware important at all? Does the hardware need to be able to do things that brains do, or can any computer be conscious if it is running the proper software. You can also phrase this as – will a virtual brain running on an ordinary but powerful computer be conscious? I tend to think yes, but I am not sure and open to debate.

    2 – What kinds of software are necessary to generate consciousness? Will consciousness emerge from algorithms? If there is something else needed, what is it. I tend to think that consciousness will not simply emerge. The cerebellum, for example, does everything an AI does, and even works like the cortex, but does not seem to contribute to consciousness.

    I think this is like saying that image recognition will emerge from mathematical algorithms. It won’t happen – you need image recognition algorithms. So, essentially we need consciousness algorithms. They won’t emerge from language processing or even machine learning or self-referencing. Skynet will not just wake up.

  42. hardnose says:

    Winograd’s ideas were based on Halliday’s Systemic linguistics, which is holistic. All meaning depends entirely on context. As in information theory, the meaning of every symbol depends on the set of symbols it belongs to and can be selected from.

    For every context, there is a larger encompassing context, and that is explained in General Systems Theory.

    You cannot EVER find an ultimate context, and all natural systems are open.

    Chomsky never seemed to understand the importance of context. AI research in the US has spun its wheels for decades.

    And now we see that computers still can’t deal with context.

    And you Skeptics are still spinning your fantasies, wondering what could be the missing ingredient.

  43. mumadadd says:

    Oo oo, I know this one — magic!

  44. hardnose says:

    Call it magic if you want to be disparaging. It’s just a word, with no meaning outside of context.

  45. Steve Cross says:

    Okay hardnose, if you don’t like the word “magic”, then we can just call it “speculation”.

    Of course, your speculation is no different than any of the countless other, seemingly magical, hypotheses that have been posited over the eons. And so far anyway, every single mystery that has ever been solved/understood has turned out to be within an entirely material context.

    You’re perfectly welcome to believe the modern day equivalent of Thor making lightning, but since nothing whatsoever has ever been demonstrated to have other than material causes, don’t be surprised if we find out that consciousness is also material — and don’t try to pretend that your guess is either rational or reasonable.

  46. hardnose says:

    You complete misunderstand me Steve Cross. I am saying that your theory, that consciousness is generated by brains, is mere speculation.

    “every single mystery that has ever been solved/understood has turned out to be within an entirely material context.”

    Translation: Every mystery that has ever been solved has been solved.

    Once something has been discovered, you label it “material.” So your claims are completely meaningless.

    Life remains a mystery and so does consciousness. Promising that these mysteries will be solved … eventually … is an empty promise.

    As we can see by this post, AI has made no progress when it comes to intelligent understanding of natural language.

  47. mumadadd says:

    Everybody join in: we do the know everything therefore we know nothing!

  48. mumadadd says:

    Ahem. Phone.

    We don’t know everything therefore we know nothing!

  49. hardnose says:

    You will continue misquoting me mumadadd no matter how many times I correct you. I NEVER said we don’t know anything. I SAID WE DON’T KNOW SOME OF THE THINGS MATERIALISTS CLAIM THAT THEY KNOW.

    It will never sink in to a head made of rock.

  50. Steve Cross says:

    Hardnose:

    Life remains a mystery and so does consciousness. Promising that these mysteries will be solved … eventually … is an empty promise.

    As always, another straw man. I never promised that all mysteries would be solved, eventually or otherwise. But, everything we have solved has never given any indication that anything extra/supernatural/immaterial/magic either exists or is necessary.

    Your “conscious universe” is simply evidence-free speculation — no more likely to be true than Thor’s hammer. Your “reasoning” is identical. You don’t understand how something seemingly complex could happen, therefore magic.

  51. mumadadd says:

    hn: “I SAID WE DON’T KNOW SOME OF THE THINGS MATERIALISTS CLAIM THAT THEY KNOW.”

    – I don’t know what ‘materialists’ are.
    – I’ll just use it as shorthand for ‘people who disagree with me’.
    – When I say ‘some things’ I mean ‘everything’.
    – When I say ‘claim’ it’s shorthand for my own ignorant, cartoonish representation of the current scientific consensus on any given topic.
    – But I don’t mean to say I’m anti-science, it’s just that science is lacking that bit of special sauce that I can’t quite articulate or apply to any specific claim;
    – e.g: consciousness — we don’t know everything about it, therefore we should abandon our current understanding of everything, because it can’t fully explain consciousness right now.
    – another e.g: spirits — science can’t even detect them yet! But I know they exist, and therefore:
    – quantum physics/systems theory/adaptive mutation/parallel universes justify whatever I believe, but not the conclusions derived by the experts in those fields.

    TLDR: “We don’t know everything, therefore we know nothing.”

    hn: “You will continue misquoting me mumadadd no matter how many times I correct you.”

    I love it!

  52. HN – “I am saying that your theory, that consciousness is generated by brains, is mere speculation.”

    This is incorrect. You are confusing understanding HOW the brain generates consciousness with knowledge THAT the brain generates consciousness. You can confidently conclude the latter before you understand the former.

    The arrow of causation clearly goes from brain to consciousness. You can alter pretty much anything about consciousness, reliably and predictably, by altering the brain. Drugs, electrical stimulation, surgery, damage to specific parts of the brain can alter any specific mental function, including your identity as an individual, your sense that you occupy or own your body, your sense of reality, etc. In fact there seems to be no mental function beyond our ability to manipulate.

    The simplest and most direct theory to explain these facts is that the brain causes consciousness. That you would characterize this as “speculation” means that you know very little of neuroscience and/or very little of how science works.

    And again – you overemphasize what we don’t know, and you miss an important point of evaluating scientific knowledge. Far more important than what we know right now is how successful a theory is at making predictions and advancing our knowledge. The current paradigm of neuroscience is a fabulously successful scientific theory that is making steady progress, just like evolutionary theory. You focus on what we don’t know right now, just like creationists do about evolution.

  53. ccbowers says:

    “That you would characterize this as ‘speculation’ means that you know very little of neuroscience and/or very little of how science works.”

    It probably has little to do with actual knowledge, and more to do with an ideological commitment and/or extreme motivation to cast doubt on an idea that conflicts with a preferred narrative.

    There are people with as little knowledge as HN who do not deny the obvious arrow of causality between the brain and consciousness, yet there are those with significantly more knowledge on the subject that still maintain the untenable position that HN does.

  54. BillyJoe7 says:

    …but in hn’s case, the combination of ignorance (of every subject on which he presumes to pontificate; and of science itself) and ideology (his unqestioned belief in his god – the conscious universe!) is particularly deadly.

  55. hardnose says:

    “The arrow of causation clearly goes from brain to consciousness. You can alter pretty much anything about consciousness, reliably and predictably, by altering the brain.”

    That is your central mistake.

    All our information about the world enters through the senses, and it is then processed by the brain. Interfering with any aspect of this process will alter consciousness.

    I have studied neuroscience, my opinions are not based on ignorance.

    How we feel at any moment is at least partially determined by input from the world. Physical conditions, such as hunger or cold, will influence our state of mind. Social conditions — what people say to us and how they act — also influence our state of mind.

    We also have some control over our mental state. We can decide to meditate, for example, or we can decide to focus on solving a problem, or listening to music, etc., etc.

    Substances, like alcohol or any psychoactive drug, can influence the mental state and the emotions. Consciousness responds to signals from the brain.

    Brain damage, of course, can influence consciousness. When the system is damaged, the information we receive is distorted.

    In summary — everything our conscious minds get from this world comes through the physical body and the brain.

    The brain is necessary for interacting with this world, but that does NOT mean it generates consciousness.

    We do not know what consciousness is or where it comes from.

    One of the central errors of materialism is assuming the brain is both necessary AND sufficient for conscious experience. No, it is necessary, but we have no reason to think it is sufficient.

  56. hardnose says:

    I have to wonder why they consider the Turing test too easy, since nothing has ever passed it.

    So now they have the Winograd test, and nothing can pass that either. So far so bad.

    Passing the Winograd test would require extensive cultural knowledge, not more clever algorithms. When will they ever learn? Probably never. They will keep trying and trying to do something that is not possible.

  57. RickK says:

    Is that how we interpret hardnose’s use of the word “materialist”? Are “materialists” just people who don’t just take as given that there’s a cosmic consciousness or divine intelligence? Are we closing in on a re-usable, finite definition of the word?

    Or are we still stuck with “materialist” meaning “Everyone with whom hardnose disagrees who isn’t also a theist.”

  58. hardnose says:

    Winograd’s Blocks World program was pretty good at conversing in English, many decades ago. Parsing natural language is not the problem. The problem is that the world and cultural knowledge need for understanding language is immense.

    Blocks World only knew about certain colored shapes, but it knew ALL there is to know about them.

  59. hardnose says:

    [Are “materialists” just people who don’t just take as given that there’s a cosmic consciousness or divine intelligence?]

    No, materialists believe the ultimate questions have been answered. They believe they can explain the origin and evolution of life, and they think they know the source of consciousness.

    Real skeptics are not materialists. We know that we don’t have answers to those questions.

  60. RickK says:

    “No, materialists believe the ultimate questions have been answered.”

    Who are these people? There’s no such thing as a scientist (or science enthusiast) who thinks the questions have been answered. They’d have nothing to do and no thrill of discovery.

    The only people I’ve ever met who claimed the ultimate questions have been answered are those who present some divine entity as the answer.

    You are fighting against a strawman, a phantom projection of your own mind. You are puffing your chest about your superiority over people who don’t exist. You are claiming to be more open-minded than figments of your own mind. And to defend your superiority over your invented apparitions, you react to every new fact, every new discovery, every incremental advancement of knowledge featured in this blog with a snarky, disdainful rejection.

  61. Steve Cross says:

    Hardnose,

    I’m curious. How does it feel to be the poster child for The Dunning Kruger Effect?

    Is it fun?

    Does it pay well?

  62. RickK says:

    “The brain is necessary for interacting with this world, but that does NOT mean it generates consciousness.
    We do not know what consciousness is or where it comes from.”

    Again the warrior battles to defend ignorance. As we learn new facts and gain new knowledge, the area that hardnose inhabits – the areas of human ignorance where he can still inject his cosmic consciousness – grow smaller.

    So to try to regain lost real estate, he introduces completely unnecessary forces or agents or variables, then says we don’t know anything about his fictional dimensions.

    As I watch my father’s consciousness erode, ravaged by the very physical effects of Alzheimer’s on his brain, I’m more assured than ever that there’s no non-brain component to consciousness. If there were an extra-brain component to consciousness, then it would provide SOME detectable continuity even as brains fail. But we detect nothing like that. A mystical/cosmic force that cannot be detected by any means doesn’t exist.

    And just because we haven’t re-created consciousness doesn’t mean it can’t be created out of the simple components of our brains. It was a long time before we could re-create nuclear fusion, but it never turned out to require more than hydrogen.

    How sad to cling to a worldview that is diminished or threatened by increases in human knowledge and understanding.

  63. hardnose says:

    “I’m more assured than ever that there’s no non-brain component to consciousness. If there were an extra-brain component to consciousness, then it would provide SOME detectable continuity even as brains fail.”

    What you are seeing is your father’s inability to interact with you and with the world. You have no idea what is going on in his consciousness.

  64. hardnose says:

    “The only people I’ve ever met who claimed the ultimate questions have been answered are those who present some divine entity as the answer.”

    No. If you believe in the neo-Darwinist theory of evolution, then you “know” how and why life evolved.

    If you believe consciousness is generated by the brain, then you “know” that consciousness is a product of known “physical” processes.

  65. mumadadd says:

    All our information about the world enters through the senses, and it is then processed by the brain. Interfering with any aspect of this process will alter consciousness.

    I have studied neuroscience, my opinions are not based on ignorance.

    How we feel at any moment is at least partially determined by input from the world. Physical conditions, such as hunger or cold, will influence our state of mind. Social conditions — what people say to us and how they act — also influence our state of mind.

    We also have some control over our mental state. We can decide to meditate, for example, or we can decide to focus on solving a problem, or listening to music, etc., etc.

    Substances, like alcohol or any psychoactive drug, can influence the mental state and the emotions. Consciousness responds to signals from the brain.

    Brain damage, of course, can influence consciousness. When the system is damaged, the information we receive is distorted.

    In summary — everything our conscious minds get from this world comes through the physical body and the brain.

    The brain is necessary for interacting with this world, but that does NOT mean it generates consciousness.

    We do not know what consciousness is or where it comes from.

    One of the central errors of materialism is assuming the brain is both necessary AND sufficient for conscious experience. No, it is necessary, but we have no reason to think it is sufficient.

    To paraphrase hn: materialists think that the brain is necessary AND sufficient to explain consciousness, and that therefore means that we completely exclude any necessary contribution from the environment. Apparently I, and everyone who disagrees with hn, believe that consciousness can arise from a brain in a vat — no environment necessary.

  66. hardnose says:

    Oh mumadadd you must have known I meant the brain, in its normal environment within a body. You are just trying to be a pest.

  67. hardnose says:

    And of course everyone is missing the real story behind this post. AI research has failed to create real intelligence since the 1950s, and it continues to fail in the 21st century.

    If you are doing something that does not work, just keep on doing it until it does work, because your ideology just can’t be wrong.

  68. ccbowers says:

    “Oh mumadadd you must have known I meant the brain, in its normal environment within a body. You are just trying to be a pest.”

    Yes, it is mumadadd that is trying to be a pest. Not you, as often as possible, for the past several years.

    HN loves to propose that all the evidence that shows a 1:1 relationship between brain and mind only means that the brain is necessary but not sufficient, yet he doesn’t give an explanation for the true cause of consciousness. Somehow we don’t know enough to know that the brain is the source of consciousness, but he knows that it is not- with ZERO evidence for any alternate cause.

  69. mumadadd says:

    Person: There’s a massive bogie hanging out of your nose!

    hn: And of course everyone is missing the real story behind this post. AI research has failed to create real intelligence since the 1950s, and it continues to fail in the 21st century.

    Person: It’s still there.

  70. Damlowet says:

    @ Hardnose

    “And of course everyone is missing the real story behind this post. AI research has failed to create real intelligence since the 1950s, and it continues to fail in the 21st century.

    If you are doing something that does not work, just keep on doing it until it does work, because your ideology just can’t be wrong.”

    How about you hold you’re own beliefs and ideals to the same standard you would like to impose on AI, and drop the whole ‘God’ fabrication. There have been literally Billions of people whom believe in a deity which can be convinced by prayer to influence everything from weather to lottery draws, boxing matches to the gender of unborn babies, and there is nothing but anecdotal evidence for any intervention.

    You fail to be critical of your own thoughts just like every other common person.

    BTW, unlike ‘science’, the compulsion to deal in absolutes is insurmountable for you and people who think like you do. Go back over what you have written and re-read how often you assert things as absolutes that cannot by your assertion EVER be wrong.

    Damien

  71. HN – You do not display knowledge of neuroscience. The correlation is with much more than sensory input. Your “sensory input” hypothesis is a terrible explanation for the totality of neuroscience research. You can have an entirely numb and paralyzed limb but still feel like the limb belongs to you. You can also have full sensation and strength in your limb but feel it does not belong to you. The sense of ownership is not just receiving sensation. It is a circuit that generates a specific mental state.

    Dementia is not a problem with sensory input either. The notion that it is is incredibly neurologically naive. I have examined hundreds of demented, delirious, and psychotic patients. They look very different. Their brains are failing in different ways, and you cannot explain this with sensory in put alone. What about people who have a stroke in a specific part of their brain and then lose the ability to do mental calculations? Their sensory exam is entirely normal. The problem is they cannot process information in a specific way. Your hypothesis fails miserably. The current neuroscientific paradigm works fine. No one claims this is ultimate truth, but it’s not speculation. It is the best theory we have and it works wonderfully.

    Regarding AI – no one has actually tried to make a conscious computer. How can the industry have failed at something they have not even tried to do yet. You are confusing what the industry currently calls AI with machine consciousness. We already have many different kinds of AI – computer learning, adaptive systems, pattern recognition, and algorithms that mimic language or other aspects of human behavior. These are AI systems. They are getting better all the time.

    The current various types of Turing Tests are not actually testing conscious computers. They are testing AI software designed to do what the test is testing (language or whatever). There are chatbots that can pass classic Turing tests (depending on the tester). They are not designed to be conscious, they are just designed to mimic conversation.

    So your premise is fatally flawed, because ultimately you have no idea what you are talking about.

  72. RickK says:

    hn said: “What you are seeing is your father’s inability to interact with you and with the world. You have no idea what is going on in his consciousness.”

    Of COURSE I know what’s going on in his consciousness – he’s telling me. He hasn’t lost the ability to interact, he’s lost the ability to reason, to remember and to be the person he was. Why? Because the person he was a creation of his brain and his brain is eroding.

    The arrogance of your ignorance knows no limits.

    Your willingness to say things like this, to state with confidence things you simply do not and cannot know, just demonstrates your total lack of integrity.

    hardnose – you don’t know what you’re talking about. On this EVERYBODY here agrees. And if you’ll share some names from other parts of your life, I’ll bet hard cash that we’ll get agreement from them as well.

  73. RickK says:

    “If you are doing something that does not work, just keep on doing it until it does work, because your ideology just can’t be wrong.”

    Right… “our” ideology has only managed to progress from Boole’s logic to Watson, automated factories, and self-driving cars. Whereas your ideology has given us the Ark Park, energy crystal shops in Sedona and the Psychic Friends Network.

    Your ignorance is not relieved by projecting it onto others.

  74. BillyJoe7 says:

    SN: “The arrow of causation clearly goes from brain to consciousness. You can alter pretty much anything about consciousness, reliably and predictably, by altering the brain.”
    hn: “That is your central mistake”

    No, it is the inevitable conclusion of neuroscience. You CAN alter pretty much anything about consciousness, reliably and predictably, by altering the brain. You are just ignorant of or ignoring the science that shows that this is true because it doesn’t suit your narrative.

    “All our information about the world enters through the senses”

    No. Some historically important information is encoded in the genome via evolution and transmitted to the brain during its development. The brain is not a blank slate.
    And see SN’s reply to your ignorant statement.

    “I have studied neuroscience, my opinions are not based on ignorance”

    Then they are based on misunderstanding distorted by ideology.
    You have no basis for believing what you do.

    “How we feel at any moment is at least partially determined by input from the world. Physical conditions, such as hunger or cold, will influence our state of mind. Social conditions — what people say to us and how they act — also influence our state of mind…Substances, like alcohol or any psychoactive drug, can influence the mental state and the emotions”

    You are lecturing us now?
    This is some great insight??
    You think this is news to us???

    “We also have some control over our mental state. We can decide to meditate, for example, or we can decide to focus on solving a problem, or listening to music, etc., etc.”

    The freewill debate.
    Either you believe in a “deus ex machina” for which there is no evidence, or you have redefined the word. The definition of freewill that is true to the words “free” and “will” does not exist. The redefinition gets you freewill when you haven’t got Freewill. I guess that is fine for our everyday lives where we certainly seem to have freewill, but when it comes to delving into the underlying mechanisms, it does not exist.

    “Consciousness responds to signals from the brain”

    No. The evidence shows that consciousness is part of what part of the brain does. Conversely, there is no evidence to support the view that consciousness is separate from the brain. There is also no mechanism whereby consciousness could act through the brain. Finally, it is a non-explanation of consciousness to say that it has always existed as a sort of “universal consciousness”. It is simply a “god of the gaps” argument.

    “Brain damage, of course, can influence consciousness. When the system is damaged, the information we receive is distorted”

    How does the brain RECEIVE this information?
    Where are the receptors?
    What is the mechanism?

    “One of the central errors of materialism is assuming the brain is both necessary AND sufficient for conscious experience”

    Forget “materialism” (whatever you mean by that word), we are talking about science here.
    And this is not an assumption of science.
    It is the conclusion of the evidence from studies in neuroscience.
    It just doesn’t fit with your evidence-free assumption that consciousness is primary.
    And, of course, taking consciousness as being primary is NOT an explanation for consciousness – you still have all your work ahead of you. You still have to explain how consciousness arises. You still have to explain how it acts on the brain – What is the mechanism?; Where are the receptors?

    “materialists believe the ultimate questions have been answered”

    This is now the fourth time you have stated this and had it demonstrated to you – initially with numerous links – that you are wrong about what “materialists” believe regarding “ultimate questions”.
    I think we can now safely call this a blatant lie.

    “They believe they can explain the origin and evolution of life, and they think they know the source of consciousness”

    These theories are supported by the evidence.
    If you are ignorant of the evidence, and if you are igorant of the theories, that is not our fault, you just need to get to work to correct your ignorance.

    “Real skeptics are not materialists. We know that we don’t have answers to those questions”

    No, you are just ignorant of the evidence, and the theories that are built on that evidence.
    And you blatantly lie when you say you don’t have the answer – you have the evidence-free and mechanism-free answer that consciousness is primary and that the universe is conscious. And you don’t even realise that this is no explanation at all. Even if we grant you for the sake of argument that consciousness is primary and the universe is conscious, you still have all of your work ahead of you (see above)

  75. hardnose says:

    Steve N,

    I was NOT talking about sensory input! I said the brain processes sensory input. The senses can be working, but the processing can be screwed up in all kinds of ways.

  76. hardnose says:

    An the brain is responsible for all motor output, including speech, which also can be screwed up in all kinds of ways.

  77. hardnose says:

    “There are chatbots that can pass classic Turing tests (depending on the tester). They are not designed to be conscious, they are just designed to mimic conversation.”

    They use simple tricks and they are not intelligent. The Turing test has not been passed in any meaningful way. It is a test for human-like intelligence, not for consciousness. I don’t think you can have real intelligence (not just automated algorithms) without consciousness. But either way, AI has consistently failed.

  78. hardnose says:

    Interesting. Materialists don’t claim to have the ultimate answers, but:

    [“They believe they can explain the origin and evolution of life, and they think they know the source of consciousness”]

    “These theories are supported by the evidence.”

    First of all, they aren’t. And you just showed that I was right, you think you have the big answers to how and why there is life.

  79. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “Interesting. Materialists don’t claim to have the ultimate answers, but…”

    This is vapid and childish.

    First, you’ve been asked repeatedly to define “materialists” and to contrast that definition with “non-materialists.” You refuse to do so. This is a meaningless term and therefore a strawman.

    Second, there are no “ultimate answers” in science, only evolving theories based on the best available evidence. The current theories of evolution, abiogenesis, and consciousness are provisional, but they are evidence-based models of causality. To say that the theory of evolution is “true” is to say that the current theory is the best model to explain the totality of observational and experimental evidence.

    Until you define your terms AND present evidence for these “non-material” factors you claim to exist you are merely pissing in the wind.

  80. hardnose says:

    Steve N,

    My mother had vascular dementia for 10 years before she died, so I have some experience. When she couldn’t remember something I would ask her to take a wild guess, and usually her first guess was correct.

    How do you explain that within materialism? The memories were being stored and could be retrieved. The problem was it required too much effort to retrieve them intentionally.

    You probably have never tried this with a dementia patient, but you should.

  81. hardnose says:

    “The current theories of evolution, abiogenesis, and consciousness are provisional, but they are evidence-based models of causality.”

    They are NOT evidence-based. I have explained that too many times. There is evidence for evolution, but NO evidence for how or why it happens.

  82. Steve Cross says:

    hardnose:

    My mother had vascular dementia for 10 years before she died, so I have some experience. When she couldn’t remember something I would ask her to take a wild guess, and usually her first guess was correct.
    How do you explain that within materialism? The memories were being stored and could be retrieved. The problem was it required too much effort to retrieve them intentionally.
    You probably have never tried this with a dementia patient, but you should.

    Your arrogance is boundless. As I said earlier with the Dunning Kruger comment, you literally don’t know enough to know how little you know. And you don’t care.

    You’ve extrapolated an entire world view from one datapoint — all without a clear understanding or appreciation of the vast pool of evidence that should also be factored into any hypothesis. That is not the way science works.

    For starters, unless you kept accurate, detailed and unbiased records of every conversation with your mother, there is no reason at all to think that your memory of her “correct first guesses” is at all accurate. The phenomenon that “we remember the hits and forget the misses” is well known and universal.

    Indeed, that’s the reason that the scientific method has evolved. Unless we control for all variables, remove observer bias and, most important of all, are able to reproduce the results, we really aren’t justified in claiming that we understand something.

    When you jump to a conclusion based on one observation, that is literally no different than a superstitious ball player insisting that his streak is caused by lucky socks.

    Dr. Novella has previously stated that he has examined and treated many dementia patients. He is also highly trained and well versed in the literature. For you to believe that your amateur observations of a single data point is in any way comparable to the considered opinions of experts is beyond ludicrous.

  83. hardnose says:

    “You’ve extrapolated an entire world view from one datapoint”

    How ridiculous! You really think I based all my opinions on that! I mentioned it because someone with Dr. Novella’s worldview would never think to try it.

  84. hardnose says:

    “Dr. Novella has previously stated that he has examined and treated many dementia patients. He is also highly trained and well versed in the literature.”

    He is also a devout member of a particular ideology.

    I know everyone at this blog is supposed to worship experts, but sorry I don’t.

  85. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    ““The current theories of evolution, abiogenesis, and consciousness are provisional, but they are evidence-based models of causality.”

    They are NOT evidence-based. I have explained that too many times. There is evidence for evolution, but NO evidence for how or why it happens.”

    Are you suggesting that there is no understanding of how random variation occurs in genes during replication and expression? You can’t be. Your reference to the “how and why” must be in reference to abiogenesis.

    How did self-replicating organic molecules originate? Don’t know. There are some hypotheses that take into account what we know about early conditions, but they haven’t been experimentally confirmed. It is a question that will eventually be answered through research and validated by the scientific method. Is that a “materialistic” statement? Do you think the answer can be determined by some other means?

    None of this impedes what we do know about the evolutionary process, as the theory of evolution is separate from and not dependent upon the question of abiogenesis.

    Not knowing everything is not equivalent to not knowing anything. Nor does it give license to insert conjecture that is not subjected to scientific methodology.

    Now, PLEASE DEFINE MATERIALISM AND NON-MATERIALISM. As far as I can tell, you seem to be insisting that there is an answer you can provide that the scientific process cannot. I don’t believe it.

  86. RickK says:

    Wow, that’s funny.

    I just came from visiting my father at his memory care community. One of the staff therapists had several of the residents around her in a circle and she as reading trivia questions to them. My father asked me to sit with him saying that I’d enjoy it. Sometimes the therapist let them call out answers freely, other times she’d ask the question of just one of the residents and wait for an answer. Twice during the session, when a resident couldn’t recall, the therapist said “what’s your best guess?”, and once it resulted in a right answer.

    Nothing mystical. No cosmic consciousness. It’s just a common way in which the brain erodes with dementia. Quite frankly, it’s how brains erode with normal middle age as well. I sometimes block on remembering a name, and if I try to recall it directly, it does’t come. But if I think about something else, or think about the person in a different context, then the name often comes to me. My friends “of a certain age” all go through this.

    And here hardnose is thinking that he’s made some revolutionary, science-bending discovery.

    hardnose, you spend so much time making up arguments about why other people are ignorant that it has made you oddly incurious and has apparently rendered you incapable relieving your own ignorance. Professor Harry Frankfurt warned that someone who spends too much time spouting bullshit will eventually lose the ability to tell truth from lies, fact from fiction (personally I’ve coined this “Trump Syndrome”). Similarly, you’ve apparently spent so much time downplaying and denying other people’s expertise that you’ve lost the ability to distinguish fact from opinion, or knowledge from BS.

    As others have said repeatedly in this thread – whether you choose to believe it or not, the fact is that you do not know what you’re talking about.

  87. BillyJoe7 says:

    hn: “I mentioned it because someone with Dr. Novella’s worldview would never think to try it”

    Why should he “try it”?
    If he should “try it” for no other reason than an anecdote by some ignorant amateur on his blog, then why not every suggestion from every other ignorant amateur?
    Before long, he would be “trying out” every anecdote he ever came across and he would become an ignorant amateur like yourself “trying out” anything and everything.
    There must be good reasons to form an hypothesis (for a start, it must be consistent with what is already known about the subject) and then it must be tested in a properly controlled clinical trial.
    “Try it” is not science, it is the mantra of pseudoscientists, scam artists, and ignorant amateurs like yourself who want nothing more than to circumvent the scientific process and bring useless ideas and products to the table.

    “He is also a devout member of a particular ideology”

    You’ve been on this blog long enough to know this is not true, so I think I am justified in calling you a liar. SN practices medicine based on science and sceptism. Therefore his opinions can change based on new evidence, unlike your unending faith and devotion to the scientific fringe who you believe without question when they tell you, for example, that the universe is conscious. They’ve even blinded you to the fact that saying the universe is conscious is not an explanation at all – you still have all your work ahead of you.

    “I know everyone at this blog is supposed to worship experts, but sorry I don’t”

    Actually, you know this is not true, so you are lying again. No one here is “supposed” to “worship” experts. It’s just crazy to ignore the consensus of the worlds experts in any field of science and, instead, accept without question the ramblings of the scientific fringe.

  88. hardnose says:

    “Are you suggesting that there is no understanding of how random variation occurs in genes during replication and expression?”

    No I am not suggesting that. I am saying we have NO evidence that evolution is explained by random variation and natural selection. We only know that has something to do with adaptation, but we have absolutely no reason to think it explains evolution of new and more complex species.

  89. hardnose says:

    “It’s just crazy to ignore the consensus of the worlds experts in any field of science and, instead, accept without question the ramblings of the scientific fringe.”

    I accept the consensus of the world’s experts when it makes sense, I sometime agree with minority opinions when they make sense. I look at the evidence.

  90. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “I am saying we have NO evidence that evolution is explained by random variation and natural selection. We only know that has something to do with adaptation, but we have absolutely no reason to think it explains evolution of new and more complex species.”

    No evidence for speciation and complexity? Sure. Knock yourself out with that position. I suppose the evidence isn’t sufficiently “non-materialist” to satisfy your intuitive incredulity.

  91. Steve Cross says:

    I accept the consensus of the world’s experts when it makes sense, I sometime agree with minority opinions when they make sense. I look at the evidence and cherry pick the parts I agree with.

    ftfy

  92. hardnose says:

    “No evidence for speciation and complexity?”

    Reading comprehension here has reached new lows.

    I said there is no EXPLANATION for speciation and complexity.

  93. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “I said there is no EXPLANATION for speciation and complexity.”

    Right. The theory of evolution provides evidence for mechanisms sufficient to produce speciation and increased complexity but not an EXPLANATION. Got it. Shine on.

  94. hardnose says:

    “The theory of evolution provides evidence for mechanisms sufficient to produce speciation and increased complexity”

    You are terribly confused.

    The “theory of evolution” says that life evolved, it does not say why or how.

    The theory that was developed from Darwin’s theory states that random variations and natural selection can explain why and how evolution happened. BUT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE FOR THAT THEORY.

    There is evidence that adaptation can occur because of apparently random variations and selection. But adaption is not the same thing as the evolution of new and more complex species.

  95. hardnose says:

    How can so many people be so confused about this? It is not that hard to understand.

  96. Bill Openthalt says:

    hardnose —
    Science doesn’t deal with ‘why’, only with ‘how’. Evolutionary biology does explain how life adapts to changing circumstances. Species do not exist, they are a way to group related individuals across time and space. The only thing that happens is the selection of individuals with characteristics that make them better adapted to a changing environment, which over time leads to observable differences between an individual and its ancestors. Species only exist in human minds. Complexity is also just an aid used by the mind to dwcribe these observable differences. The map isn’t the territory, and you obsess about the map.

  97. Bill Openthalt says:

    Describe, not ‘dwcribe’. Cell phones are no good for typing 🙁 .

  98. hardnose says:

    Your theory has no evidence, it is a materialist fairy tale.

  99. Bill Openthalt says:

    That’s a nonsensical reply.

  100. hardnose says:

    There is evidence for evolution, for adaptation, and for natural selection.

    There is no evidence that the same process that seems to explain adaptation also explains evolution of new and more complex species.

    As I have said here before, systems science predicts that natural open systems will increase in complexity.

    I believe evolution is a force of nature. Convoluted explanations about randomness and selection are not needed, they have no evidence, and they are utterly implausible.

  101. Steve Cross says:

    hardnose:”Your theory has no evidence, it is a materialist fairy tale.”

    Why, exactly, do you consider that to be a problem. Your theories have never had any evidence of any kind whatsoever, but you continue to believe in them.

    You are projecting your own insecurities. You know you don’t have evidence so you desperately need to pretend that we don’t either by refusing to accept or understand what, in reality, is overwhelming evidence with great explanatory power.

  102. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “The “theory of evolution” says that life evolved, it does not say why or how.”

    There is no ‘why.’ The mechanisms of evolution are sufficient to explain ‘how.’

    “As I have said here before, systems science predicts that natural open systems will increase in complexity. I believe evolution is a force of nature. Convoluted explanations about randomness and selection are not needed, they have no evidence, and they are utterly implausible.”

    That may be the most nonsensical statement you’ve yet to present. ‘Evolution’ is not equivalent to ‘greater complexity’ and the overall coarseness of a system does not ensure or direct the replication of individual organisms within it. Do you honestly think no species has gone extinct due to changing environmental factors? THAT’S SELECTION AT WORK. It’s not only plausible, it’s happening all around us.

  103. Bill Openthalt says:

    hardnose —

    You keep not understanding that the pillars of your objection, species and complexity, are artefacts of cognitive processes of the human mind, not actual characteristics of individuals.

    It’s like saying “Apple has made less profit” and thinking “Apple” is a real entity, instead of a group of cooperating humans

  104. hardnose says:

    “Do you honestly think no species has gone extinct due to changing environmental factors? THAT’S SELECTION AT WORK.”

    I have said, over and over and over, that natural selection IS A FACT.

  105. hardnose says:

    “Your theories have never had any evidence of any kind whatsoever, but you continue to believe in them.”

    No, anything I believe has good evidence. I am not stuck in an ideology. My ego or my career does not depend on my belonging to an ideological tribe.

  106. hardnose says:

    “There is no ‘why.’ The mechanisms of evolution are sufficient to explain ‘how.’”

    You do not know what the mechanisms of evolution are.

  107. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “I have said, over and over and over, that natural selection IS A FACT.”

    Ugh. So is selection a fact or is it utterly implausible? Because you also said the following:

    “Convoluted explanations about randomness and selection are not needed, they have no evidence, and they are utterly implausible.”

    On second thought, never mind.

  108. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “You do not know what the mechanisms of evolution are.”

    Let me guess…a cosmic consciousness plus some vague hand waving about entropic complexity theory?

    It wouldn’t be anything a “materialistic” as variability during meiosis, polyploidy, or translocation.

  109. bachfiend says:

    I’m still trying to work out what systems science predicts natural open systems increase in complexity means. I suppose a cosmic consciousness and vague hand waving is as good an explanation as any.

    At least Hardnose isn’t claiming that gorillas are extremely intelligent in this thread.

  110. chikoppi says:

    I’m guessing at his interpretation here. When an entropic system is disturbed it becomes ‘coarse.’ That is, pockets of greater and lesser entropy form. The greater or more prolonged the disturbance the more coarseness results (e.g., billions of years of solar radiation). Given a feedback pattern, such as self-replicating molecules, greater complexity can arise within the system.

    None of this has any predictive or explanatory value with respect to evolution.

  111. mumadadd says:

    I think you’re giving hn far too much credit there…

  112. mumadadd says:

    Actually, I seem to recall hn not being aware of entropy in a previous discussion about the arrow of time.

  113. HN – the fact that you think a neurologist has never asked a demented patient to take their best guess at a question is laughable. It shows you are willing to make ridiculous self-serving assumptions to suit your narrative.

    We don’t “worship” experts, we give them due respect, but with a skeptical eye. You ignore or deride experts when they disagree with your ideology. You assume you are smarter than anyone who disagrees with you. That is the arrogance of ignorance.

    You also failed to explain how guessing correctly in any way is a challenge to the current neurobiological model of consciousness. You are seeing what you want to see.

  114. hardnose says:

    “Ugh. So is selection a fact or is it utterly implausible?”

    A is true AND B is true.
    Therefore, A causes B.

    THAT is your logic.

  115. hardnose says:

    “Actually, I seem to recall hn not being aware of entropy in a previous discussion about the arrow of time.”

    You seem to recall something that you just made up. In other complete BS.

  116. hardnose says:

    “You assume you are smarter than anyone who disagrees with you.”

    You are imagining things.

  117. hardnose says:

    “You also failed to explain how guessing correctly in any way is a challenge to the current neurobiological model of consciousness.”

    The usual assumption about memory loss from dementia is that the brain is failing to store memories. However, it seems that memories are stored normally.

    We know that most mental processes are “subconscious” or “unconscious,” and that conscious awareness is a small window at any moment. A major function of the brain is thought be be focusing, or filtering out distractions.

    I think memory loss is often actually a focusing problem, not a memory problem. The brain has lost some of its focusing ability, so the patient has trouble paying attention, and often does not store memories consciously.

    Since the memories were stored by subconscious processes, they cannot be retrieved by conscious intention.

    My mother was able to consciouslyt remember things she was especially interested in, because she had paid attention to them.

    However, when she was not interested, the memories were stored anyway. This agrees with the old idea from hypnosis that the subconscious mind records everything.

  118. DrNick says:

    Lather, rinse, and repeat.

    Always repeat.

  119. “The usual assumption about memory loss from dementia is that the brain is failing to store memories. However, it seems that memories are stored normally.”

    Wrong and wrong. Why do you think that is the “usual assumption?” Do you have any reference for that assumption?

    There is an entire science of memory and I can tell you that there is no such assumption that poor memory is usually due to failed storage. Poor performance on recall tasks can be due to any step in the chain – recording, consolidation, storage, and recall. Patients with typical dementia actually have relatively good long term memory, because their long term storage is widely distributed and is therefore relatively spared until they become very severe. The have short term memory problems because they have problems with attention and are not consolidating new memories. Their long term memories are sporadic because they have recall problems – their brains are not engaging as robustly in association and pattern recognition. So they have a hard time calling a specific bit on information to mind on demand, but they can recall information sometimes.

    Your simplification that the “usual assumption” poor memory is due mainly to storage problems is not even close to the truth. One wonders where you even got that assumption.

    This is what a lack of respect for expertise gets you. You are not even aware of the depth and thoroughness with which memory experts have considered the phenomenon of memory loss, or what the current state of evidence and theory is. You have no basis from which to be making judgments about what experts believe.

    Your worst behavior, however, is that you rarely if ever acknowledge when you have made errors or stated things incorrectly. You will just ignore all corrections, focus on the one tiny point you think you can make, and entirely miss the big picture, utterly secure in your clueless narrative.

  120. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “A is true AND B is true. Therefore, A causes B. THAT is your logic.”

    My logic? I’m merely trying to parse your wildly gesticulating rhetoric to try and figure out what the hell your position is.

    Yes, selective pressure impacts the successful replication or deletion of genetic traits in a population. Selective pressure is also capable of deleting entire species. It is a causal factor in diversification of populations separated by environments/ecosystems and therefore also a causal factor in speciation.

    If you don’t disagree with this then what did you mean by, “Convoluted explanations about randomness and selection are not needed, they have no evidence, and they are utterly implausible.”

  121. steve12 says:

    Loathe to respond to The Troll but…

    Holy Shitballs:
    # hardnoseon 01 Aug 2016 at 11:30 am

    Really? I know Steve also touched on this, but as someone with a fair amount of experience investigating several very different kinds of memory…wow. We just assume “storage”? WTF does that even mean? There are memory systems defined by type, duration, and process, many of which have been convergently parsed by double dissociations, neuroimaging, TMS, etc. Each has its own consolidation, storage, retrieval, etc.

    We’re talking about TENS of THOUSANDS of papers. The rich history of HM, priming, Schacter and PRSs, Tulving’s work (much of which comfirmed later by Nimaging), implicit explicit memory types, procedural memory – there’s too much to list. And I’m not even going to finer space work like that of Kandel, Goldman-Rakic, Eichenbaum, on and on it goes.

    We know A LOT about memory – especially compared to this revealingly ignorant statement. We have no need to make those types of assumptions. That’s insane. We know enough that writing this is frustrating in that I know I can’t do it justice. The term memory itself is almost too vague to have meaning any more due to the level of advancement we’ve attained. At least the way you’re using it it’s too vague.

    I didn’t really need any other proof, but The Troll will prattle on about anything with absolutely no knowledge whatsoever.

    I guess it’s just striking when it’s in your area….

  122. hardnose says:

    “The have short term memory problems because they have problems with attention and are not consolidating new memories.”

    Yes that is exactly what I said. Yet the memories are there somehow, and can be retrieved by the subconscious mind. If you were not so busy getting angry and trying to discredit me you would have seen what I meant.

  123. hardnose says:

    “This is what a lack of respect for expertise gets you.”

    You think that being an expert means being a materialist. You think anyone who dissents from that worldview can’t possibly have any expertise.

    In any case, waving your expert flag is not the same thing as scientific logic and evidence.

    And I don’t conjure up my opinions out of nowhere, I got most of them from alternative and systems sciences.

  124. RickK says:

    “You think that being an expert means being a materialist. You think anyone who dissents from that worldview can’t possibly have any expertise.”

    No – we’re saying you have no expertise, not even a basic grasp of the subject. And now your trying to hide behind an ideological argument. You’re saying people are discriminating against you because you’re whatever ideological category you are.

    We have no respect for you because you pontificate on topics about which you are demonstrably and completely ignorant, you’re too arrogant to listen to those who know more than you, and you’re too dishonest to admit when you’re wrong. That’s why we reject you. It has NOTHING to do with any ideology.

    That’s what a lack of respect for expertise gets you: Ego without a clue.

  125. HN – thanks for demonstrating what I just accused you of. You completely ignored all the substantive criticism of your position. You failed to acknowledge any points that were made, or demonstrate that you even understood them.

    You failed to distinguish short term and long term memory. You just cherry picked one thing I said and then promptly misinterpreted it as if it were consistent with your position, which it isn’t.

    Now, I can’t address your anecdote, because it’s an anecdote. But I can tell you that with the typical dementia patient, their short term memory issues result in problems getting the memories into storage, not out of storage – which is your assumption. They can get long term memories out of storage, but they have great difficulty making new memories.

    We document this by making multiple efforts to extract the short term memories – including prompting, multiple choice. The information is just not there. Long term memory is different. They can be tricky to extract, but they are largely there (depending on the degree of dementia). When you start asking for specific information, they perform terribly, of course, but that is a combination of problems.

    In any case:
    – Your characterization of what neuroscientists believe was profoundly naive, simplistic, and just wrong. If you have any intellectual integrity you would just admit this.
    – Your conclusion based on your false premise was also a non sequitur. Just because the problem with long term memory in dementia is not mostly a long-term storage problem, that does not present any problems for neuroscience. You should acknowledge that as well.

    You continue to be an excellent example of what motivated reasoning can do. Really, it’s a shocking example and I’m happy to document it here.

  126. BurnOut says:

    HN,
    Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Seriously.

  127. ccbowers says:

    “Your characterization of what neuroscientists believe was profoundly naive, simplistic, and just wrong. If you have any intellectual integrity you would just admit this.”

    Nearly every characterization of topics that he has been critical of on this blog, can be described as “naive, simplistic, and just wrong.”

    And discussions have made clear that this is truly motivated reasoning, and not true misunderstandings, because he maintains those same incorrect assumptions and mischaracterizations long after they have been corrected multiple times.

    The only reason to engage him is for our own enjoyment and exercise of argument (which happens less and less because it is more like deja vu at this point), and to counter the bad arguments for the benefit of the general audience.

    I am slightly curious about his motivations, but don’t expect to uncover any definitive specific insights about that.

  128. hardnose says:

    “with the typical dementia patient, their short term memory issues result in problems getting the memories into storage”

    And that is what I said to begin with — you assume the problem is storage. And you said my assumption was wrong.

    Yes my example was just an anecdote, but my mother had memory loss for ten years and I did the same experiment many times.

    No it is not scientific proof, but it should make you wonder why or how the memories were stored.

  129. chikoppi says:

    hardnose: “You think that being an expert means being a materialist.”

    ‘Materialist.’ I still don’t know what this means.

  130. hardnose says:

    “Just because the problem with long term memory in dementia is not mostly a long-term storage problem, that does not present any problems for neuroscience.”

    No, the example about my mother was SHORT term memory. That was the whole point! I knew her long-term memory was usually ok, as is usually the case with dementia patients.

  131. hardnose says:

    No one here actually reads what I write, in the sense of actually processing the meaning. You feel so threatened, so you simply react emotionally, and never try to understand.

    If you felt secure in your materialism, brain-is-a-computer that generates consciousness, philosophy, your reactions would not be so angry. You would be able to clearly state your logic and evidence. But you never do, you just resort to calling me an ignorant non-expert.

  132. RickK says:

    Now try to be honest, hardnose. Let’s review – you said:

    ” However, it seems that memories are stored normally.”

    Steve said: ” But I can tell you that with the typical dementia patient, their short term memory issues result in problems getting the memories into storage, not out of storage”

    Those two statements are different, not the same. However much you want to avoid admitting a mistake, those two statements are not the same – they are contradictory.

    Just try admitting that what you said and what Steve said are different. That’s a good first step.

  133. RickK says:

    hn: “You feel so threatened, so you simply react emotionally, and never try to understand.”

    Steve: “You continue to be an excellent example of what motivated reasoning can do. Really, it’s a shocking example and I’m happy to document it here.”

    You’re not a threat – you’re a case study.

  134. You are still not getting it. Getting information into storage is not a storage problem. Keeping information in storage is a storage problem. Getting the information there in the first place is a problem with consolidation. I am oversimplifying a bit, because there are many kinds of memory, but essentially the information is not getting from the immediate working memory into memory storage, so even five minutes later when I make every effort to get the information back it is not there. They don’t even recognize it when they hear it. There are also techniques we use to control for guessing.

    Since you give no evidence of understanding the basics of memory, or how to conduct a proper neurological exam, I cannot trust your account of exactly what your mother was able to do or not do. In fact I don’t trust any such anecdotal reports. Only some kind of formal testing by someone who knows what they are doing has any real reliability. Yet you seem context to overturn materialism because of your uninformed anecdotal N of 1. Nice.

  135. HN – no one here is angry. I am not angry, and I certainly don’t feel threatened. You are the one who appears to be getting emotional.

    But that aside, you consistently blame on others your own inability to explain yourself well. Your writing is often incoherent, making it very difficult for others to understand what your actual point is. Then you blame us for not understanding.

    You did not distinguish between long term and short term memory in your example. You did not distinguish between memory consolidation and storage in your interpretation and criticism. Go back and read it.

    You have not addressed what I actually wrote. You have not explained why lack of memory being a recall vs a storage problem is an issue for neuroscience. You made false and ridiculous assumptions about what neurologists do – to a working neurologist. You failed to listen when that working neurologist corrected you, you failed to clarify your position or acknowledge any legitimate points.

    I am simply calmly describing your behavior, and you are getting histrionic calling others emotional, angry and threatened.

    The good thing is – all of this is clearly documented for all to see.

  136. steve12 says:

    “You feel so threatened”

    I do! I’m threatened and afraid, and it gets worse and worse as you reveal that I don’t really know much.

    It’s so difficult for me personally, that it would really help if you could just leave, OK? Your work here is done, and at this point it’s just hurtful.

    So can you just go now?

  137. ccbowers says:

    “You feel so threatened, so you simply react emotionally, and never try to understand”

    It is extremely rare that anyone on this blog has ever reacted emotionally to something you said for intellectual/argument reasons. If you have perceived a strong reaction in the past, it was likely frustration, in reaction to your pattern of misrepresentation of others arguments and subsequent dismissal of the strawmen you create.

    In fact, the quote matches your own behavior quite well. Projection.

  138. Bill Openthalt says:

    hardnose —

    It’s OK not to feel comfortable with the idea humans (and thus you and I) are not sparks of a ‘superhuman/divine’ eternal entity. The idea that one day our eyes won’t open, our minds will be forever lost but for fading memories of children and friends can be terrifying. Sufficiently terrifying to have inspired people to invent religions that make us the playthings of more powerful beings — somehow that’s more comfortable than having no purpose, a beginning and an end.
    Knowledge shatters illusions and dashes hopes. But it can also reduce uncertainties and open new vistas. Vistas wider and far more exhilarting than retreaded crutches of the past will give you access to.

  139. hardnose says:

    “you seem context to overturn materialism because of your uninformed anecdotal N of 1.”

    That is just CRAZY! When did I ever say or imply I was overturning materialism with that example?

  140. hardnose says:

    “the information is not getting from the immediate working memory into memory storage, so even five minutes later when I make every effort to get the information back it is not there.”

    Since no one here trusts first hand observations I should not have bothered to mention it. But it is a fact, which you will not believe, that my mother could often guess correctly, when she could not intentionally retrieve the information.

    If I told her something, she could not intentionally remember it 30 seconds later. But if I told her to take a wild guess, she would get it on the first or second try.

    You won’t believe it so there is no use arguing about it.

    I mentioned this example because it would show — if you believed it and of course you don’t — that some of the pre-materialism psychology ideas may have been correct.

  141. hardnose says:

    “you give no evidence of understanding the basics of memory”

    While getting a Ph.D. in cognitive science I had courses in memory, and in neuroscience.

    I understand what little is known about memory.

  142. RickK says:

    Stop using the word “materialism”. You cannot define it nor demonstrate an understanding of it. It is meaningless every time you use it.

    And for someone who takes such pains to point out that you respect the scientific process, and for someone who claims to be informed about neurology, you are spending a tremendous amount of effort asking us to believe an anecdote.

    If you are the skeptic you claim you are, if you respect science rather than dismissing it, then provide some actual citations to support your claims. Others have said there are 1000s of papers out there on memory and dementia. Do the work. Convince us. Stop asking us to have faith as if you’re just another theist.

  143. RickK says:

    “While getting a Ph.D. in cognitive science I had courses in memory, and in neuroscience.”

    That’s false.

  144. Steve Cross says:

    hardnose: “I understand what little is known about memory.”

    Do you realize how ridiculous you sound when you claim to understand as much or even more than an actual practicing neurologist? All without ever providing one tiny iota of proof that you know anything at all.

    I’m starting to think you have the same narcissistic personality disorder that Donald Trump appears to have.

    Constant need for attention and validation … check
    Inability to ever admit error … check
    When pressed, panic and start name calling … check

    Congratulations! An unfortunately large minority of Americans seem to feel that you would be qualified to be President.

  145. bachfiend says:

    Hardnose,

    ‘If I told her something, she could not intentionally remember it 30 seconds later. But if I told her to take a wild guess, she would get it on the first or second try.

    ‘You won’t believe it…’

    I believe it, depending on what the ‘something’ you told your mother was. The famous example of HM, the unfortunate man who had bilateral resection of the hippocampus for intractable epilepsy and who was thereafter unable to retrieve new episodic memories, showed something that may be similar. He was unable to name the current American president, but after years of seeing him repeatedly on the television, he was capable of recognising him as being someone he’d seen previously and guessing that he was someone important, such as the president.

    If the ‘something’ was a telephone number, I wouldn’t believe it. If the ‘something’ was a recurring event, such as someone repeatedly visiting her over a period of time, and she was able to guess who it was as a vague recall, then I’d believe it.

    Completely explicable on a ‘materialist’ view of the brain. There’s no need to postulate some non-material component to memory.

  146. It’s not that I won’t believe it. There is nothing about your anecdote that challenges the standard model of neuroscience, or the notion that the mind is what the brain does. It’s that – I have no idea what your mother actually has, I have no idea what you are actually doing, and I cannot put this one vague piece of information into the context of an entire neurological exam.

    As I teach my students, you cannot interpret one piece of the mental status exam. You have to look at the context of the entire exam to see what is working and what isn’t working.

    Further – dementia is heterogeneous. It does not affect everyone identically, as different parts of the brain can be affected to different degrees.

    It is not that your ancedote is unbelievable, it is that it is uninterpretable.

  147. BillyJoe7 says:

    hn: “I accept the consensus of the world’s experts when it makes sense, I sometime agree with minority opinions when they make sense. I look at the evidence”

    The trouble is, as you’ve shown time and again on this blog, you don’t have a clue.

    If the consensus of the world’s experts doesn’t make sense to you, it won’t be because you know better than the experts (you surely must realise that this is not possible!), it’ll be because you don’t understand what they’re saying (because you’re not an expert!).

    Also, often what science believes is true, doesn’t align with common sense anyway (for examples: relativity theory, quantum field theory) so “making sense” can be a poor guide. It all comes back to observations, hypotheses, falsification, replication, and theories. The hard slog of the experts in every field, beside which your opinons on thier conclusions are as a worthless as you’re contributions to this blog over the past few years.

    On the other hand, if the “the conscious universe” makes sense to you, then I will return to my original point – you don’t have a clue.

  148. BillyJoe7 says:

    …some typos…because I’m angry 😀

  149. Steve Cross says:

    BJ7,

    Not worth getting angry. It’s obvious (at least to me) that part of HN’s “technique” is to intentionally get the other side “too angry to think straight”. I was serious when I said above that HN exhibits the systems of narcissistic personality disorder.

    I’m not an expert, and if I was it would be unethical for me to try to diagnose someone over the internet. As I recall, you’re from Australia, but there have been a LOT of articles in the US press trying to understand the “Trump phenomenon”. Many (including actual experts) have commented on Trump’s increasingly erratic and seemingly unexplainable behavior. Quite a few feel that NPD is a pretty good explanation.

    Trump regularly ignores the First Rule of Holes (when you’re in one — Stop Digging!!) and, obviously, HN does the same thing. Both are attention/validation junkies and can never admit to being wrong about anything.

    Seriously, HN has been commenting here for years without ever (at least as far as I can tell) convincing even one person that HN has been right about anything. A “normal” person would have given up and searched for greener pastures long ago.

  150. mumadadd says:

    I’m more upset than angry. What will I do now guru hn has lifted the veil from my eyes?

  151. mumadadd says:

    This is the MO:

    Present some ill-informed, poorly articulated nonsense. Get asked for clarification of terms and evidence. Call everyone materialist ideologues. Get justly pilloried. Disappear without acknowledging any error or fault.

    Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. …

  152. RickK says:

    Don’t forget:

    Make false claims about your education.

  153. mumadadd says:

    Ah yes, and hn has “studied” absolutely everything. My girlfriend has a cute habit of saying she’s done a “literature review” when actually she’s done a Google search — though she is at least being tongue in cheek when she says it.

  154. Steve Cross says:

    Exactly! Hardnose seems to feel that watching some crank’s YouTube video is “just like” taking an actual college course.

  155. RickK says:

    It’s one thing to say you’ve studied something. It’s another level to claim a PhD.

  156. Steve Cross says:

    Yup. I’ve got over 40 years of I.T. experience, and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that even in HN’s supposed field of expertise (i.e. programming), some of the stuff he claims is just ridiculously wrong.

  157. hardnose says:

    “It is not that your ancedote is unbelievable, it is that it is uninterpretable.”

    All right, it doesn’t prove anything one way or the other and I should not have mentioned it.

    It’s just that I think someone like myself, who has an alternative science view regarding the brain, is more likely to try that sort of informal experiment.

    I do not think the brain is like a computer, and I don’t think memory storage is analogous to computer storage.

  158. The brain is not like a computer. Computers are software and hardware. The brain is wetware. The brain is also analogue, while computers are digital. Finally, the brain is massively parallel.

    Existing computers do not function at all like the brain. However, researchers are developing neural networks and chips that work like neurons and analogue computers, in hardware and virtually in software.

    Your confident assumption that as a neurologist I would not carry out the kinds of tests that would genuinely determine if a demented patient has memory problems vs some other kind of neurological problem, or take a thoughtful approach to memory itself, was naive and incorrect. You should learn from that mistake.

  159. steve12 says:

    The Troll:

    “It’s just that I think someone like myself, who has an alternative science view regarding the brain, is more likely to try that sort of informal experiment.
    I do not think the brain is like a computer, and I don’t think memory storage is analogous to computer storage.”

    No one in any of the brain sciences thinks this either!

    You DO NOT have a PhD in cognitive science. If you sat through one undergrad lecture you’d have heard 10K X that the brain is not like a computer.

    Instead, you think that this is the consensus view?!?

    Coming away with that notion is mutually exclusive with having a PhD in cog sci.

    You are a liar, and we know it.

    Why don’t you just leave?

  160. DrNick says:

    I don’t usually like to advocate the banhammer, but the troll’s bleatings have become more and more frequent and persistent, to the point where it derails every and all threads that it participates in. Even Egnor is less insufferable, and at least he only comments once in a blue moon. It’s been years now – can you put a stop to this Steve? It’s beginning to spoil my enjoyment of your excellent blog.

  161. hardnose says:

    “Existing computers do not function at all like the brain. However, researchers are developing neural networks and chips that work like neurons and analogue computers, in hardware and virtually in software.”

    Oh they have been saying that for decades now. Still no AI.

  162. hardnose says:

    “Your confident assumption that as a neurologist I would not carry out the kinds of tests that would genuinely determine if a demented patient has memory problems vs some other kind of neurological problem, or take a thoughtful approach to memory itself, was naive and incorrect. You should learn from that mistake.”

    All right. The neurologists I took my mother to never thought of it. Maybe you are better.

  163. hardnose says:

    “If you sat through one undergrad lecture you’d have heard 10K X that the brain is not like a computer.”

    Don’t worry I am aware of neural networks. They are still computers, and can be modeled on our ordinary computers.

    When I say the brain is not like a computer, I am not specifying any specific design of computer.

    Connectionism was supposed to be such a big amazing breakthrough — oh we finally figured out how the brain really works. Yeah it has worked for some things, but it certainly has not caused any major advance in AI.

    Going back to this original post — real AI is as much a mirage as ever.

  164. bachfiend says:

    Hardnose,

    Even if your ‘experiment’ was informal, it still means nothing unless you specify your methodology. The information you gave your mother, the length of time you waited (was it exactly 30′ or was it around that time – how did you time it?), what was the question you asked, how long did you wait before pressing her to give an answer, how close to the true answer her answer had to be to be considered correct, etc, etc,….

    And anyhow. 30′ isn’t testing short term memory (if that exists besides working memory). It’s testing long term memory and retrieval of long term memory. HM in the course of the decades long research of his memory deficits was repeatedly testing regarding his memory deficits. He could repeat a long number if he was allowed to repeat it in his mind repeatedly keeping it in his working memory, but if was prevented from doing so, it just disappeared. He could learn how to do a physical skill such as tracing a star looking in a mirror but couldn’t remember learning to do it.

    You seem to have got in your mind that in dementia patients short term memory is impaired but long term memory is largely unimpaired. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  165. steve12 says:

    # hardnose on 02 Aug 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Exactly why I stopped engaging you. You are a liar. You are twisting what the convo is about as usual.

    Do you really think you can fool actual scientists into thinking that you are one? I won’t engage your nonsense – but I am interested in your BS credentials.

    What was your dissertation on Dr. The Troll?

  166. bachfiend says:

    Hardnose,

    While I was typing my comment, you submitted 3 separate inconsequential comments. You’re fulfilling the definition of an Internet troll.

  167. BillyJoe7 says:

    Steve: “Not worth getting angry”

    I was joking.

  168. Steve Cross says:

    BJ7,

    Sorry, I figured you probably were joking, but I still wanted to point out (as if it wasn’t already obvious) that one of HN’s standard ploys is to try to get the opposition angry — exactly like Donald Trump.

    I know this is not supposed to be a political blog, but it is difficult for me to avoid thinking about the current situation in America. As an American, I’m terrified to contemplate the future of our country and indeed, the world, should the unthinkable happen and Trump actually wins the election.

  169. Bill Openthalt says:

    Steve Cross —
    If the Donald gets into the White House, he will have no more power than Obama, who couldn’t get even the most bland legislation through Congress. Don’t underestimate the checks and balances built into the system.

  170. RickK says:

    “Going back to this original post — real AI is as much a mirage as ever.”

    And yet we can send automated probes to other planets, we can talk to our computers, and computers can drive our cars. Could we do that 50 years ago? Edison tried 1000 different combinations when trying to make a simple lightbulb. The pursuit of AI is much more complicated, and we’ve tried only a handful of architectures so far.

    You know, in your own way you’re as bad as the scientists you hate so much. You rail against people who say “everything about this topic has been solved.” And yet you seem to look at any unsolved problem and claim it CAN’T be solved. By claiming you can tell the difference between a problem that can’t be solved and one that hasn’t been solved yet, you display every bit of the arrogance you ascribe to scientists.

    And so it goes – every advancement in human knowledge, every revolutionary or evolutionary advancement in our technology, every increment in our understanding, and most important – every ANSWER science has ever given us – enough to sustain and connect 7+ billion people on our little planet, and to reach out and touch the heavens – is provided by and within the “materialist” paradigm.

    It clearly gives you pleasure to attack our Universe of Everything while defending your Universe of Nothing, to attack knowledge while defending ignorance. Go ahead and continue your pointless pursuit. But don’t expect us to respect or even acknowledge your ideas that provide no value, no answers, nothing positive (other than as a negative case study). And don’t expect us to be patient with someone displays no integrity or remorse for being endlessly, repetitively, unceasingly wrong (that is, when not being intentionally false).

  171. Steve Cross says:

    Bill O,

    I know that is the conventional wisdom, at least from the right-leaning media as they try to pretend that the problem that they brought on themselves isn’t really a very big problem — but it’s wrong.

    The two situations are not at all comparable. For starters, if Trump wins then it is extremely unlikely that the Dems take back the Senate, and thanks to gerrymandering, the house is even more unlikely. So there goes your checks and balances.

    Almost none of the Republican leadership (or the rank-and-file) is willing to stand up to Trump. They are too afraid of his perceived power. And don’t kid yourself, the Republicans have willingly placed themselves at the mercy of the extreme right in a misguided effort to “increase their base”. Unfortunately for the few remaining sane Repubs, Trump’s power base IS the extreme right. Hopefully, it is not enough to get him elected in the general, but it has been more than adequate to get him control of the party.

    Trump is ruthless and will attempt (and quite possibly succeed — look at his primary opponents) to destroy anyone who opposes him. Just today, Trump very, very visibly cozied up to Paul Ryan’s primary opponent. As threats go, that one isn’t even a little bit subtle.

    But even if you’re right (and I do hope you are), Trump still can (and probably will) unilaterally screw up the entire world with executive orders and egregious mistakes as Commander-in-Chief. The guy is an ignorant buffoon, and the first time he gets his feelings hurt (or just simply doesn’t understand reality) then the shit will hit the fan — up to, and very possibly including World War III.

  172. Steve Cross says:

    RickK,

    Well said. I hope that everyone follows your advice. I think we should simply ignore HN’s unsubstantiated opinions and obvious baiting. Simply reply with a terse “Evidence???”

    Don’t engage at all unless he is willing to present evidence and then be willing to rationally and calmly discuss it on the merits. And that means giving clear definitions and not ignoring questions he doesn’t like.

    Everyone here is fully aware of HN’s opinions. Unless he is willing to provide (and defend) evidence WHY he holds those opinions, then there is no value in engaging further.

  173. steve12 says:

    # RickK on 02 Aug 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Wow. I second Steve in saying well said, and this applies well beyond The Troll.

    That post is exactly what I always wanted to say to all of the anti-science post-modernists, “metaphysics” philosophers, ideologues, etc. that want to relegate science to the level of just another epistemological system despite it’s clear and prolific results.

  174. Bill Openthalt says:

    Steve Cross —

    Any person sufficiently motivated to vie for a political top job is potentially dangerous. Democracies use crazies to control the other crazies; sometimes, the crazy is also a reasonable administrator, and things get done. Absent a democratic (or theocratic) framework, you get dictators and tyrants, and/or more or less dysfunctional societies.

    I believe the American democratic framework is robust enough to control the Donald (if anything, it tends to err in the direction of stasis). He certainly can do controversial things, like reducing the role of the USA in NATO, cracking down on illegal immigrants (but don’t forget the Obama administration is no slouch in that department either), or roll-back trade agreements (but that’s one of Sanders’ policies Hillary has adopted to buy his support). As far as WWIII is concerned, I don’t see the Donald commit ground troops in places like Syria or Irak — he might back out of the Iran nuclear deal, but he isn’t going to nuke the mullahs using an executive order.

    I understand the profound loathing you feel for the Donald, but also the just as profound loathing other Americans have for Hillary — both are unsavoury characters more concerned with their personal ambitions than the common good. Both ignore the facts, and both will say almost anything to get elected — that’s what politicians do. There have been others of their ilk before them, and the system has survived.

    Let’s compare notes in 2020 🙂 .

  175. Bill – I hope you are right that the system is robust enough to minimize the damage Trump would do. I have images of teams of professionals swarming around President Trump constantly doing damage control.

    But that is hardly a reason to tolerate, let alone vote for, Trump. We have seen what presidents can do, and if anything executive power has been on the increase, and checks and balances on the decrease, in recent decades.

    The problems with Trump go beyond politics or ideology. Left, right, or center – Trump gives every indication of being a tyrannical narcissist, and profoundly ignorant and incompetent when it comes to policy. He is anti-intellectual and does not respect expertise. He has a history of surrounding himself with yes-men, ignoring advice, and just doing what he wants. His speeches are largely incoherent, which some of his supporters have dismissed as him not being eloquent. That is wrong, in my opinion. You can tell when someone is smart but just not eloquent. Trump’s speech is incoherent in a way that betrays that his thoughts are incoherent, peppered with outbursts of narcissism.

    I am frankly not interested in a 4-8 year experiment of what happens when you combine the Dunning Kruger effect with the most powerful position in the world.

  176. mumadadd says:

    Sam Harris gave an excellent analogy re Trump. It should be obvious that I’m paraphrasing as SH is far more eloquent than I am, but I think I can give you the essence of it:

    Suppose you are given bucket of objects, and every time you draw out an object it’s a rusty nail, a piece of broken glass, an old dish cloth; there’s nothing to say that eventually you won’t pull out a diamond. Ideas aren’t like that, they are interconnected and inter-dependent. The more and more times Trump keeps pulling bits of rubbish out of his mind, the more apparent it becomes that there are no diamonds in there.

  177. Steve Cross says:

    Bill O.

    I hesitate to derail this thread any further since this blog is not really about politics. Besides, hardnose will probably sue me if I usurp his prerogatives.

    So lets just keep it purely about skepticism. I think your analysis is a combination of false equivalence and motivated reasoning.

    Sure, all politicians will need a healthy dose of narcissism plus a willingness to make unpleasant compromises — especially in our (mostly) two party system. Gotta have broad coalitions to win elections.

    And that’s fine. As a whole, people are always going to have different opinions and priorities. As they say, politics make strange bedfellows.

    But when you claim that lots of people “loath” Hillary Clinton (which I don’t dispute), I have to ask why? I mean, where is the evidence that she should be “loathed”?

    There is none. Other than a stream of constant (and often vicious) innuendo, there has never been any actual evidence of wrongdoing.

    Certainly she has been guilty of bad judgement on occasion, especially if you disagree with her politics — which I often do. But there has never been any actual evidence that she is any more unethical or dishonest than any other politician.

    If there was any real evidence, certainly Romney or McCain (or at least their most ardent supporters) would have presented it in 2012 or 2008. But … crickets, zip, zero, nada. I know she wasn’t running in 2012, but Obama could and would have been damaged by any real evidence because he appointed her SoS.

    Nope, there was only a constant stream of innuendo, coupled with the refrain “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” voiced by the people running the damn smoke machine.

    This is entirely the fault of the Republican Party aided and abetted by Faux News and the rest of the right wing talk radio. They made a conscious decision to disparage truth, science and evidence simply because they wanted to appeal to the (all too large) voting block that doesn’t want to accept reality.

    This is why I don’t share your faith that the checks and balances will still work. The Republican leadership has lost control of the forces they’ve unleashed. The mere fact that Trump is the nominee instead of an “establishment” candidate proves that beyond all doubt.

  178. Bill Openthalt says:

    Steve Cross —

    The funny thing is that I read your original post as “motivated reasoning”. Let’s have it on record that I am not a US citizen (though I was a resident long time ago, and have kept an affection for the country and its idiosyncrasies, especially chocolate malt), so I don’t get to vote for either of the candidates.

    I am not saying Hillary is as weird as Donald — he’s clearly in a class of his own. But the fact that the Donald says things that are not PC doesn’t, in my humble opinion, mean he will go off the rails when he’d be president. Once we accept that politicians say what they think will get them elected, we can discount their campaign utterances with regard to their future actions. We know both “liberal” and “conservative” positions on controversial issues to be non-rational and ideology-based (or they wouldn’t be able to elicit the strong emotional responses they do elicit). The gap (and sometimes chasm) between the ideological positions and the realistic approach needed to run a country is clearly illustrated by the British Labour Party’s Corbyn-conundrum. The guy is hugely popular with the party members (and the Brits who self-identify as “working class”), and despised by his MPs. The members think he will apply ideological Labour policies, and the MPs fear he’ll ruin their careers when he’ll be forced to compromise when confronted with reality. And never the twain shall meet.

    Politics, like any ideology, is not based on careful consideration of rational policies, but on gut feel. If you lean towards the liberal side, you’ll find Hillary far more palatable than Donald. A more conservative leaning person would find Hillary totally objectionable, to the point of rationalising the Donald’s outrageous utterances. Once a human identifies with a group, even its most outlandish beliefs become evidences (witness virgin birth, or Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, class warfare, the patriarchy, etc.).

  179. mumadadd says:

    I agree with Bill O on general principle, but can’t help but feel Trump is different. For the record, I’m also not a US citizen (or resident) so I won’t get to vote in this election. If you look at specific issues, such as immigration or foreign policy, it’s clear that Trump has no realistic understanding of the issues; I don’t think his policies would go any deeper than his campaign soundbytes — ban all Muslims, build a wall at Mexico’s expense. Trump will strain the ‘checks and balances’ far more than Hildog; Trump will cause more damage in the cracks between the checks and balances than Hildog.

    This isn’t to say that he’ll start WW3 — hopefully the controls in the system will prevent him being able to do this — but what damage can be done with in the system, Trump has a better chance of causing.

  180. hardnose says:

    When real AI is developed, we can let it run the country.

    HAL for president!

  181. chikoppi says:

    “I’m with HAL” H->

    HAL 9000: I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

    HAL 9000: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

    HAL 9000: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

    😉

  182. RC says:

    ” If you look at specific issues, such as immigration or foreign policy, it’s clear that Trump has no realistic understanding of the issues”

    Its not just that – its that he has no interest in understanding those issues, and seems to be proud of the fact that he has no understanding. He celebrates his own ignorance.

    He’s the perfect embodiment of the people that the Republic Party has spent so much money courting over the last 20 years. He’s the birthers, the climate change deniers, the conspiracy theory nuts, the people who yearn for the confederacy, and your racist grandpa all rolled into one.

  183. I don’t think the usual political factors apply to Trump. Sure, there is a lot of Trump v Hillary tribalism going on. But there are also many people on the left and right who despite Trump for reasons that have nothing to do with ideology or policy. Many hard core conservatives are distancing themselves from Trump, are not endorsing him, or are outright criticizing him. There is a “never Trump” movement within the conservatives.

    While I agree that you cannot trust what politicians running for office say as a rule, this is not universally true. Some candidates, like Bernie, are more sincere than others and use this as part of their appeal. Also, I really don’t think Trump is just punking the Republicans, as some people think. We have a few decades of data to indicate that Trump really is exactly as much of a conspiracy-mongering nut job as he is acting like now.

    Everyone in the “Trump is just baiting the far right” camp predicted Trump would suddenly become more presidential in the general election. That prediction was false, which I think is further evidence against that hypothesis.

    I will just add a personal note – after spending over two decades dealing with cranks, it is my subjective impression that Trump is a genuine crank. I am willing to bet on that, and I certainly would not bet the country that he is just doing a really good job of pretending to be a nutjob.

  184. Steve Cross says:

    Bill O,

    Like every human being, I want to believe that “my” decisions are based on reason rather than emotion. But, as a card carrying skeptic, I also know how easy it is to fool yourself, so I try to go out of my to prevent that as much as possible.

    To that end, I tend to be even more skeptical of things that I want to be true because I want to make sure that I’m not accepting bad evidence simply because it makes me feel good.

    I was raised Republican, but until a few months ago, I was a registered Independent — socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Trump’s ascent caused me to switch to the Democrats, at least until (and if) the Republicans return to sanity.

    I’m generally in agreement with Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others.” And of course you are right about politics being much more about emotion than reason. But there are different kinds of emotion.

    It is one thing to play on people’s hopes by exaggerating what any politician can realistically accomplish in office. It is quite another to shamelessly pander to the darkest instincts and deepest fears — especially when those fears are mostly unjustified and sometimes completely manufactured. For another example, see “Brexit”.

    But that fear-mongering seems to have been the official policy of the Republican Party since the time of Newt Gingrich. That, plus mistrust of government, authority, experts and even scientific knowledge in general. That approach has been pretty successful for decades. The Republicans control congress, most state legislatures and most governorships, and until the death of Scalia, the Supreme Court.

    In effect, they’ve been “driving the bus” for quite some time, but they are still screaming about how we’re going the wrong direction. Is it any wonder that people are blaming the “drivers”, i.e. establishment? The Democrats are far from perfect, but at least they haven’t been advocating burning down their own house, which in essence, is exactly what the R’s have been doing.

    Donald Trump is a Frankenstein monster of their own creation. Even if he doesn’t get elected, many top officials and experts (from both parties) feel that he is already doing severe damage to international diplomacy and the confidence and even safety of our allies. Trump has already changed the “Overton Window” of what is considered to be acceptable political behavior and discourse — to our detriment.

    This is not just conservatives disliking Hillary and liberals disliking Trump. They are different in kind. In my opinion, Trump could be an existential threat to our peaceful democratic process if this keeps escalating. Trump is already talking about “voter fraud” and how the election will be proven to be rigged if he winds up losing. This is scary stuff.

    On the other hand, as imperfect as she may be, no one has ever provided any actual evidence that Hillary Clinton is any more venal or opportunistic than any other “normal” politician. To say that she and Donald Trump are more or less just two sides of the same coin is just plain wrong — and dangerous.

  185. hardnose says:

    “mistrust of government, authority, experts and even scientific knowledge in general”

    I don’t understand how anyone could mistrust our government, it is so warm and fuzzy and only wants everyone to be happy.

    Authority and experts? My God, where would we be without them.

    And scientific knowledge is whatever the authorities and experts say it is. We are not smart enough to question their opinions.

    Wise up, everyone, and put your faith where it belongs, in Big Government and Big Science.

  186. Steve Cross says:

    RickK,

    Forgot to mention, in addition to ignoring HN’s evidence free opinions, we should likewise completely ignore him when he comes trolling in with his typical straw man arguments.

  187. BillyJoe7 says:

    There he goes again…blatantly lying about our position.

  188. steve12 says:

    I think you missed my post above – what was your dissertation on when you got your Ph.D. in cognitive science?

  189. RickK says:

    No hardnose, your pathetic attempt at sarcasm will not make us value your aggressively uninformed opinion as much as we value the opinions of people who:

    1) have relevant training
    2) have relevant experience
    3) have successfully demonstrated that the know SOMETHING about SOMETHING.

    Alas, you’ve failed on all 3. You’re like a guy who can’t run, can’t hit and can’t throw, but who scoffs at major league baseball players and keeps insisting you’re just as good as they are.

    As I said before, the only aptitude you’ve shown is for demonstrating and championing ignorance. And now you’re using sarcasm, exaggeration and strawmanning in a sadly transparent attempt to rationalize your position and bolster your fragile ego.

    Alas, as BJ7 pointed out, all you’ve managed to do is be wrong again. But take heart – at least you’re good at that! Have you considered joining the Trump campaign?

  190. hardnose says:

    “what was your dissertation on when you got your Ph.D. in cognitive science?”

    Information structure of natural language sentences in discourse context.

  191. hardnose says:

    I don’t claim to be smarter than the experts. However, I don’t feel obligated to mindlessly believe whatever the mainstream consensus has decided is “true” at any moment.

    Sometimes more than half of the experts believe something that is wrong, and the minority dissenting opinion winds up being true. We don’t always have to brainlessly follow the majority.

  192. hardnose says:

    I personally have no interest in voting for Trump. But I can understand why large numbers of Americans are feeling rebellious and angry and sick and tired of insider politicians.

    The system is more corrupt than ever, it seems to me.

    Power has concentrated in Big Money, Big Science, Big Drug, and Big Ag, etc., etc., and freedom is more an illusion than ever before.

  193. hardnose says:

    Try being an idealistic scientist these days, who is genuinely interested in making important discoveries.

  194. hardnose says:

    Try finding accurate unbiased information on Wikipedia.

    You can choose between the mainstream consensus, echoed loudly by every “respectable” source, vs the insane conspiracy theory websites.

    Sane, rational, thoughtful, free-thinking analysis gets harder and harder to find.

  195. hardnose says:

    Winograd’s natural language system (Blocks World) was built according to Halliday’s systemic linguistics, which had its roots in the structuralism of early anthropology and linguistics.

    Very sadly, that sane holistic approach to language was overshadowed in the US by the “mainstream consensus” dictated by Chomsky and his followers.

  196. Steve Cross says:

    A bunch of opinions with no supporting evidence … why should we care?

  197. hardnose says:

    My research was based on Halliday’s systemic linguistics, and information theory. I can bore you with details if you need more proof that I did research.

  198. hardnose says:

    And, ironically, here we are in a blog post talking about Winograd, and how AI has failed because it has ignored him all these decades.

  199. chikoppi says:

    It must chafe, I suppose. To watch the world’s practitioners and researchers constantly fumble around, get everything wrong, and accomplish absolutely nothing when all they need do is ask for guidance.

    How sad, that we languish in this dark age of science devoid of advancement or discovery. If only there were a savior; a dark horse with a mind so keen that intuition alone would suffice to dispel the veil of ignorance where decades of study and painstaking methodology by the supposedly learned multitudes has served to only deepen the fundamental misunderstanding of our true nature.

    Lo! Let one of preternatural wisdom arise and cast the charlatans out! Let not those who labor under the orthodoxy of methodological rigor triumph from their tedious and incremental toil. The rank insult of their caution and trepidation offends the heavens. Set fire to their temples and burn their blasphemous books!

    One day friends, our minds will be free. But take care! Do not learn too much or trust in the folly of evidence, for through an abundance of knowledge the revelation will become lost to you. Those who place their faith only in what is known through observation and experimentation will never grasp the true wonders. Learn only a little, enough to justify the truth you know in your hearts, and then proclaim as heresy all that contradicts your preferred narrative. Remember, it will be true when you believe it so. Forward, to enlightenment!

  200. hardnose says:

    You’re right chikoppi. Look how wonderful this world is now, we should never for even an instant doubt the expert mainstream consensus, no matter how insane it might seem to be. This world is not a mess just waiting to explode, it is a technological paradise. We should really get down on our knees and pray to Big Drug for making our lives so healthy and wonderful.

    In fact, we should end this idiotic democratic process, since the average voter is dumb as a pile of bricks. The president should be appointed, and chosen by the Skeptical Society of New England.

  201. Steve Cross says:

    Finally … hardnose gets something 100% correct — NOT!!

    As always, HN creates an absurd straw man position of what has actually been said on this blog, over and over and over again.

    No one here has ever said that the world or the scientific method is perfect. But, nothing else has ever worked nearly as well at understanding and controlling the world.

    If you disagree, put up or shut up. Provide actual evidence to support your theories.

  202. hardnose says:

    “No one here has ever said that the world or the scientific method is perfect.”

    I have NOT EVER criticized the scientific method. I have criticized Big Science, which pretends to use the scientific method.

  203. Steve Cross says:

    Not seeing any actual evidence here …

  204. RickK says:

    hn said: “Try being an idealistic scientist these days, who is genuinely interested in making important discoveries.”

    For 2 years I’ve been touring colleges with two children who are both going into sciences. I’ve talked to at least 40 professors and scores of students – undergrad and grad. I just talked to a PhD student working on a mouse study about the possible epigenetic impact of ADHD medication on subsequent generations. Why are they studying that? Because it is relevant and important given the prevalence of those drugs. That’s just one tiny example.

    I’ve seen no lack of optimism, no lack of interesting, important, funded research. For my daughters, the challenge is that there’s such a wealth and variety of opportunity that it’s difficult to choose a path. There aren’t enough hours in the day or years of college to learn all the things they want to learn, or to work with all the interesting educators.

    What a sad little world you live in, hardnose, that you can only see the negative. Is it just sour grapes? Is that why you come to blogs like this? Are you limited to standing outside with your nose against the glass, grumbling because you could never find a way in? Didn’t you manage to finish that PhD?

  205. hardnose says:

    “Didn’t you manage to finish that PhD?”

    Yes I did. I worked in information technology, because I liked it and it paid better, and I never tried to get a professor job. Now I’m retired with absolutely no reason to envy anyone.

    I am interested in trying to understand things, my goal is not to put anyone down here. I disagree with certain ideas expressed here, that’s all it is, nothing sinister in my motives.

  206. chikoppi says:

    hardnose: “You’re right chikoppi. Look how wonderful this world is now, we should never for even an instant doubt the expert mainstream consensus, no matter how insane it might seem to be. This world is not a mess just waiting to explode, it is a technological paradise. We should really get down on our knees and pray to Big Drug for making our lives so healthy and wonderful.”

    Preach brother! Let us escape this hellscape of wires and invisible waves and the all too convenient technological monstrosities that crowd in upon us. What are these instruments that offer us warped views of the distant heavens, pollute the sanctity of our words by bouncing them off satellites, or strip bare the mysteries of the atom? What are these chemicals that urge crops to grow unnaturally abundant, allay the intrinsic suffering of the distempered body, or produce new materials not found in the generous providence of pristine nature? What terrors have we wrought, to deign to harness even the very power of the sun to fuel the unending appetites of our technological obsessions?

    All the utterly useless, misconceived, and trivial work of orthodox materialists. The folly. Let it be washed away that those with true insight might be freed to finally show us the bounty their superior workings might provide.

    When will that day come, I wonder? When will the first soul brave enough to eschew so called mainstream scientific knowledge actually produce something of demonstrable practical value? What a day that will be! With rending of lab coats and of diplomas! Truly, let the legitimacy of each epistemological framework be measured by the work it produces.

    hardnose: ” I have criticized Big Science, which pretends to use the scientific method.”

    And well you should! For there is only one way they can keep advancing our technological abilities year after year in every field of study without using the scientific method. Sorcery!

  207. steve12 says:

    “My research was based on Halliday’s systemic linguistics, and information theory. I can bore you with details if you need more proof that I did research.

    Oh please! Bore away!

  208. steve12 says:

    “While getting a Ph.D. in cognitive science I had courses in memory, and in neuroscience.”

    “Now I’m retired with absolutely no reason to envy anyone.”

    So you were in a PhD cog sci program and you’re retirement age? Hmmmm…..

  209. bachfiend says:

    So either hardnose did his PhD and also studied neuroscience so long ago it’s out of date and largely forgotten – so it’s irrelevant – or he was a late bloomer and he did his PhD late in life, or he retired very young.

    I wonder which one he’d claim it was…

  210. mumadadd says:

    I wonder if hn is now frantically “researching” so he can respond.

  211. Steve Cross says:

    This: “I am interested in trying to understand things” would be more convincing from someone who hadn’t selected hardnose as a nym and didn’t regularly claim that his outsiders perspective was already superior to the knowledge of legitimate experts. Not to mention a multi-year history of never, ever changing his mind about anything.

    And this: “my goal is not to put anyone down here” would be more believeable from someone who didn’t accuse us all of being “close-minded materialists” and “ideologues” in almost every thread.

  212. hardnose says:

    “he was a late bloomer and he did his PhD late in life, or he retired very young.”

    Finished PhD in 1995 when I was 45, retired when I was 65. Had a different career before PhD, worked in IT after, made money, retired, end of boring story.

  213. hardnose says:

    [accuse us all of being “close-minded materialists” and “ideologues” in almost every thread.]

    No one here ever accuses me of that?

  214. hardnose says:

    “claim that his outsiders perspective was already superior to the knowledge of legitimate experts.”

    I don’t have an outsider’s perspective. My opinions are much more widely held than yours.

    You Skeptics are a small minority, but you are taking control of the information sources. Wikipedia is one example.

  215. hardnose says:

    Most people ignore you, and have no idea what you believe. The only thing unusual about me is that I have been paying attention to the “Skeptical” movement for over 30 years.

  216. hardnose says:

    “All the utterly useless, misconceived, and trivial work of orthodox materialists.”

    I have to say the same old thing AGAIN. Modern science and technology were NOT created by materialism. That is a completely false misconception promoted by the organized “Skeptics.”

    As a matter of fact, information theory is part of systems sciences, and is holistic.

  217. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “I have to say the same old thing AGAIN. Modern science and technology were NOT created by materialism. That is a completely false misconception promoted by the organized “Skeptics.”

    Since no one here has any idea what the hell you mean by ‘materialism’ AND you stalwartly refuse to define it, this is AGAIN a nonsense statement.

    You know why you’re wrong? Because you’re constantly promoting quibsmirchism.

  218. Steve Cross says:

    I get so tired of those evangelical quibsmirchists … always preaching that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, but they never provide any evidence.

  219. RickK says:

    hn: “My opinions are much more widely held than yours.”

    Yes, there are more believers in divine intelligences than non-believers in divine intelligences.

    However, no problem in science, no mystery of nature, no tangible, measurable question has EVER been solved by assuming or invoking a divine intelligence. Does it matter if a particular view is popular if it is never correct?

    hn: “Modern science and technology were NOT created by materialism. As a matter of fact, information theory is part of systems sciences, and is holistic.”

    So information theory doesn’t fit within a “materialistic” paradigm, by your unstated definition of “materialism”? There is something non-material or extra-material about the relationship between capacity and bandwidth?

    Again, you’re attacking others from a position you can neither define nor demonstrate exists.

    hn: “Most people ignore you, and have no idea what you believe.”

    Another laughable statement from the master of projection. Do you look in a mirror when you type this stuff?

    I guess all those ravings from everyone from anti-vaxxers to GMO haters to Sandy Hook Truthers to Vani Hari to theists to Feser and Nagel (and lately John Horgan) are because none of them know where we stand or what we believe.

  220. steve12 says:

    Dr. The Troll:

    “Finished PhD in 1995 when I was 45, retired when I was 65. Had a different career before PhD, worked in IT after, made money, retired, end of boring story.”

    There were very, VERY few cog sci programs in 1995, let alone ~1990 when you would have started. UCSD was the first dept, and I don’t think even they had a PhD cog sci program in the early 90s.

    Couple this with your general ignorance of all things scientific, your trolling behavior, and your clueless discussion of memory and… I CALL BS.

    How low is making up credentials? I’ll go back to ignoring you soon, but I just want everyone to know that you’re FOS about your PhD.

  221. Steve Cross says:

    Steve12,

    Don’t be so sure. If anyone fits the requirements for BS, More of the Same, and Piled Higher and Deeper, it’s hardnose.

  222. hardnose says:

    No matter what I say about my education you will say it isn’t true. I don’t think having a PhD is such a great big deal in the first place, I only mentioned it because I do know something about these subjects, having studied them.

    So curse and swear and turn red as much as you want, it doesn’t change the fact that I know something about cognitive science, in particular about natural language.

    Some of you absolutely NEED to think anyone who questions the Exalted Experts must be a grade school drop out.

  223. DrNick says:

    Why do you refuse to define what you mean by materialism? Given how often you throw the term around here, I’m assuming you must have a well thought out, coherent definition of the concept What is materialism, Hardnose, and what specifically do you consider to be the major problems with it?

  224. hardnose says:

    The author of this blog and most of its commenters are materialists. Their beliefs include:

    – Consciousness and intelligence are generated by the brain, and there can be no consciousness or intelligence without a physical brain.

    – Life originated by a series of accidents. There is nothing about the universe that would cause it to generate life.

    – The biological diversity and complexity of this planet came about through randomly generated mutations, and natural selection. There is no natural drive towards greater complexity.

    – The brain is some kind of a computer. It does not receive any information except what comes through the physical senses. It cannot possibly include any wireless devices.

    – The universe is not alive, and it is not conscious or intelligent.

    – All so-called paranormal or supernatural experiences are hallucinations or delusions.

    “Materialism” is sometimes called “naturalism” now, since we do not know what matter is made of.

    The old distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” is really obsolete, in my opinion. Everything must be part of nature, although there probably are higher order dimensions. I think David Bohm’s theory of “implicate orders” makes sense.

  225. bachfiend says:

    Hardnose,

    Yes, you’ve just about nailed what materialism is. You haven’t provided any evidence that it isn’t true, or that your more ludicrous claims have any basis in reality, such as the universe is conscious or that there’s an innate tendency to increased complexity without any mechanism.

    Not to mention your claim that gorillas are extremely intelligent, not just intelligent. Or that intelligence is of no value in survival.

  226. chikoppi says:

    Wait, huh?

    What is it that makes those positions erroneously ‘materialist?’ What principle could be used to identify other ‘materialist’ positions?

    Your unspoken assertion is that those positions share a common trait that necessitates that they are incorrect. What is that trait?

  227. hardnose says:

    “Yes, you’ve just about nailed what materialism is. You haven’t provided any evidence that it isn’t true, or that your more ludicrous claims have any basis in reality, such as the universe is conscious or that there’s an innate tendency to increased complexity without any mechanism.

    Not to mention your claim that gorillas are extremely intelligent, not just intelligent. Or that intelligence is of no value in survival.”

    Someone asked for my definition of materialism, I have no idea why they didn’t know what everyone here seems to mean by it.

    Gorillas are extremely intelligent, or not very intelligent, compared to what? You are looking for something stupid to argue about.

    Intelligence could be of value in survival. I just said that most species survive very well with less of it.

  228. bachfiend says:

    Hardnose,

    You’re the one who claimed that gorillas are extremely intelligent so you’re the one who has to justify the claim.

    I argue that gorillas are no more intelligent than they need to be. And that acquiring more intelligence can be of survival value providing the trade offs are worth it. Brains take a lot of energy to run. Jays cache food in hundreds of locations and they’re able to remember where they are when they need them in the following winter. Having larger brains with the added intelligence pays off in survival.

  229. RickK says:

    “The author of this blog and most of its commenters are materialists. Their beliefs include:
    – Consciousness and intelligence are generated by the brain, and there can be no consciousness or intelligence without a physical brain.”
    > Because there is ample evidence to support this and none to suggest otherwise.

    “– Life originated by a series of accidents. There is nothing about the universe that would cause it to generate life.”
    > Actually, there’s more than one thermodynamic and/or chemical theory that says in certain circumstances the self-organization of matter into replicators is the most efficient path. These are all hypotheses.
    Introducing an intelligent agent is a hypothesis as well, but it’s a hypothesis that has a robust record of failure when applied to other questions that were subsequently answered, so there’s absolutely no reason to think it would work here.

    “– The biological diversity and complexity of this planet came about through randomly generated mutations, and natural selection. There is no natural drive towards greater complexity.”
    > This has already been addressed – there are evolutionary opportunities and niches that can only be exploited with greater complexity. If complexity is a vector for success, then evolution can result in greater complexity.

    “– The brain is some kind of a computer. It does not receive any information except what comes through the physical senses. It cannot possibly include any wireless devices.”
    > There is no evidence of “wireless devices”, and there is a robust record of failure of claims of “wireless devices”. The Bem/Sheldrake “teeny tiny effect that can’t be replicated by skeptics” results are insufficient to convince someone who is a thoughtful skeptic.

    “– The universe is not alive, and it is not conscious or intelligent.”
    > There is life in the universe. But unformed clouds of hydrogen are not intelligent.

    “– All so-called paranormal or supernatural experiences are hallucinations or delusions.”
    > Because of the hundreds of thousands of times that they’ve been proved to be exactly that, and the utter failure of paranormal claims to survive testing.

    ““Materialism” is sometimes called “naturalism” now, since we do not know what matter is made of.”

    So by this definition the “materialist” or “naturalist” paradigm includes every re-usable, dependable solution that we’ve ever found to any mystery of nature, EVER! That’s not a terrible success rate.

    hardnose, if you’re not a naturalist or materialist, what word do you use to describe your ideology? We see what you’re against. Now explain what word you’re FOR.

  230. RickK says:

    Oh, and information theory fits quite comfortably within the materialist/naturalist paradigm.

  231. steve12 says:

    Dr. The Troll

    “No matter what I say about my education you will say it isn’t true. I don’t think having a PhD is such a great big deal in the first place, I only mentioned it because I do know something about these subjects, having studied them.”

    Well first of all, I have amended your name with the proper honorific, so I’m not sure why you’re saying this.

    “So curse and swear and turn red as much as you want, it doesn’t change the fact that I know something about cognitive science, in particular about natural language.”

    Not memory – that’s for goddamn sure. And I love that you’re now trolling “classic” w/ the “I made you angry!” canard. Very nice.

  232. DrNick says:

    Wow, I’m pretty astonished that I actually got a straight answer. So, my follow up question is: which of those materialist beliefs do you have a problem with?

    What’s your evidence of consciousness arising without a physical brain?

    What’s your evidence that the universe possesses properties that predispose it to develop life?

    What’s your evidence of a force that drives evolution towards greater complexity?

    What’s your evidence that the brain contains wireless devices?

    What’s your evidence that the universe is alive?

    What’s your evidence for the existence of the paranormal that is inconsistent with it being a hallucination/delusion?

    I’m eagerly awaiting your answers.

  233. mumadadd says:

    Awesome. So hn has listed a bunch of stuff which is incompatible with our current scientific understanding of reality.

    Now he just has to:

    A. Properly define his magic.
    B. Demonstrate that all the evidence supporting the successful models built by science* are compatible with his as yet unanticipated magic.
    C. Back this his magic with evidence which is incompatible with our current scientific understanding of reality.

    A book by Dean Radin, a handful of studies by Darryl Bem, the fact that we can’t yet explain how consciousness arises from matter or explain the origin of life on earth, and a heaping of personal incredulity aren’t going to cut it.

  234. mumadadd says:

    B should say “undefined”. Phone…

  235. chikoppi says:

    I’d still like to know why the positions included in this list are necessarily ‘materialist.’ As far as I can tell, these specific items are included only because they conflict with a preferred narrative or pet theory.

    What makes a position ‘materialist?’ Are all ‘materialist’ answers necessarily wrong? If not, then the objection has nothing to do with ‘materialism’ and instead stems from some other source.

  236. hardnose says:

    The materialist beliefs I listed have no supporting scientific evidence whatsoever. They are the mythical foundations of an irrational ideology.

  237. hardnose says:

    “Are all ‘materialist’ answers necessarily wrong?”

    There are no materialist answers. Maybe you were taught that materialism is part of science, but it is not.

  238. mumadadd says:

    Okay – we are definitely being punked.

  239. bachfiend says:

    Hardnose,

    There’s plenty of evidence for the materialist beliefs you’ve listed above and absolutely zero evidence for their opposites which you espouse.

    If you think that there is, then what is it? Wanting it to be true doesn’t count.

  240. chikoppi says:

    hardnose:

    “The materialist beliefs I listed…” “There are no materialist answers.”

    I assume what you meant was, ‘there are no “correct” materialist answers.’

    I also assume it isn’t merely ‘lack of evidence’ that makes these positions ‘materialist’ beliefs. There must be some other commonality. They either incorporate or fail to incorporate some paradigm which you are reluctant to name.

    This isn’t all an appeal to dualism, is it? That there is a ‘world of thought’ that is separate from a ‘world of matter,’ which is subordinate to and acted upon by it? Is that why ‘materialist’ answers are necessarily wrong? Because they are ontologically non-dualist and do not incorporate metaphysical explanations?

  241. hardnose says:

    NO ONE KNOWS the cause of life and evolution.

    NO ONE KNOWS the cause of consciousness and intelligence.

    Materialists THINK they know.

    Religious fundamentalists THINK they know.

    Real skeptics KNOW that we DO NOT KNOW.

  242. Bill Openthalt says:

    hardnose —

    Philosophical materialism is based on three meta-scientific hypotheses:

    1. Reality, or nature, is an infinite and eternal self-sustaining continuum.
    2. Reality is not managed by a transcendental intelligence.
    3. Life is entirely the product of natural processes.

    Since its beginnings in the pre-socratic era, materialism has always based its theories on the best available empirical evidence, rather than on an Aristotelian “first philosophy” that can only be discovered through abstract philosophical reasoning.

    Materialism’s meta-scientific hypotheses are confirmed by science, simply because valid science is based on the assumption that nature is governed by discoverable, coherent laws, an assumption that has never been invalidated.

    Materialism is neither illogical, nor unreasonable, and hence your claim it is an “irrational ideology” is invalid.

  243. hardnose says:

    “Materialism’s meta-scientific hypotheses are confirmed by science”

    No they are not, you are wrong.

  244. chikoppi says:

    @hardnose

    “NO ONE KNOWS the cause of life and evolution.”

    If by “cause of life” you mean the process(es) by or condition(s) in which self-replicating organic molecules form, then I agree.

    If by “cause of evolution” you mean the process(es) by which genetic traits change over time in a population then I do not agree. We actually know quite a bit about the workings of DNA/rNA. We don’t know everything, but what we do know is experimentally confirmed.

    I do wish you would make the distinction between evolution (which you have claimed to agree with) and abiogenesis. It is not necessary to know the answer to the question of abiogenesis before understanding the evolutionary process.

    “NO ONE KNOWS the cause of consciousness and intelligence.”

    That depends on your definitions. We do know damage to physical brains causes measurable impairment to both consciousness and intelligence. We do know that damage to discreet regions of the brain cause consistent and specific impairments to either consciousness, intelligence, or both. We do know that there are zero observations of consciousness or intelligence in the absence of a physical brain.

    The reasonable hypothesis, barring as of yet unseen evidence, is that consciousness is what the brain does and intelligence is a measure of a brain’s capacity to order and abstract information (to recognize and validate patterns).

    “Materialists THINK they know. Religious fundamentalists THINK they know. Real skeptics KNOW that we DO NOT KNOW.”

    Science doesn’t answer WHY, science answers HOW, and it does so with a necessarily limited and strict toolkit. It doesn’t identify absolute truths, it establishes confidence levels based on observational methodology. Knowing ‘everything’ (all causes) with confidence is not a necessary predicate for knowing ‘some things’ with confidence.

    Science doesn’t a priori rule-out consciousness existing in the absence of a brain-like physical medium. It does establish that the likelihood of such a thing existing is vanishingly small, given the vast predominance of existing evidence. For such a hypothesis to be considered as a valid scientific premise at this point the evidence used to establish it would have to be extraordinarily convincing and the methodology rigorous. In the absence of such evidence the reasonable position is that consciousness is most likely the result of brain function.

    It seems that you want to excuse some ideas or categories of knowledge from the scientific method. People who refuse to do so you label as ‘materialists.’

  245. Steve Cross says:

    All this has been explained to hardnose many, many times. He just refuses to acknowledge it. Instead he just repeats his straw man that science somehow denies the possibility of something “extra”.

    No, it doesn’t! It’s just that nothing supernatural or immaterial has ever been shown to exist, ever. Until and unless that happens, it is completely reasonable to continue with what we know does work and produces tangible results.

    HN insists that something extra might exist because no one has ever proven that it doesn’t or can’t exist. Fair enough, but until someone proves otherwise, it is also possible there is nothing extra.

    So far anyway, science has worked extremely well, magic never has. If you disagree, then prove otherwise. And BS semantic word games are not evidence for anything. You can make up bizarre, nonsensical and contradictory definitions for “materialism” all day long, but that will not change the fact that the essence of science is understanding cause and effect — whatever that happens to be.

    It is not our “fault” (or close-mindedness, whatever) that every single thing we’ve explored to date has always been found to have entirely material causes. Our approach has worked spectacularly well and produced millions of tangible results. Sitting on the sidelines and complaining that “it doesn’t make sense” has never accomplished anything.

  246. hardnose says:

    [If by “cause of evolution” you mean the process(es) by which genetic traits change over time in a population then I do not agree. We actually know quite a bit about the workings of DNA/rNA. We don’t know everything, but what we do know is experimentally confirmed.]

    Adaptation by natural selection is not the same thing as evolution.

    Life on earth has evolved towards dramatically increasing complexity. I am talking about the system overall, not individual species.

  247. hardnose says:

    “every single thing we’ve explored to date has always been found to have entirely material causes.”

    That’s a damn stupid statement. As soon as something is understood, you call it “material,” even if it has nothing to do with “matter,” whatever that is.

    If some vague understanding of gravity is found (curves in spacetime, or whatever), you call gravity “material.”

    It’s all stupid word games.

  248. hardnose says:

    “We do know damage to physical brains causes measurable impairment to both consciousness and intelligence. We do know that damage to discreet regions of the brain cause consistent and specific impairments to either consciousness, intelligence, or both. We do know that there are zero observations of consciousness or intelligence in the absence of a physical brain.”

    As I already spent a lot of time explaining — you are confusing consciousness with the appearance of consciousness.

    If a person cannot interact with the world they cannot express their consciousness or intelligence.

  249. RickK says:

    “That’s a damn stupid statement. As soon as something is understood, you call it “material,” even if it has nothing to do with “matter,” whatever that is.”

    Easy there, Tiger. He’s simply using your definition of material (or natural).

    Try not to get so worked up, hardnose. I know it’s frustrating that every mystery of nature ever solved didn’t involve a cosmic/divine intelligence. It’s hard to argue from a position that’s never been proved right against a position that’s never been proved wrong. But that’s no reason to get angry.

  250. Niche Geek says:

    HN,

    “Life on earth has evolved towards dramatically increasing complexity. I am talking about the system overall, not individual species.”
    That assumes facts not in evidence, depending upon how you are using the word “life” in this case. If you mean individual organisms then I would dispute your position, depending upon the metric you use. Most rapid evolution? Not complex but simple organisms. Most common? Again, not complex organisms. Most recent? This one is much more vague for me, but I would argue that we’ve observed the evolution of new traits in simpler organisms more recently.

    You have indicated in past posts that you are thinking holistically and that there is a trend towards complexity in the entire biosphere… but I would argue that the complexity of the biosphere is a second order effect. We don’t need to add any guiding hand or other external process. That increasingly complex biosphere is a mathematical consequence of untold numbers of replicators competing and reproducing. The human society in Tokyo is much much more complex than a village in the mountains of British Columbia but the people are still people. More of them means a more complex society.

  251. chikoppi says:

    hardnose:

    “As I already spent a lot of time explaining — you are confusing consciousness with the appearance of consciousness. If a person cannot interact with the world they cannot express their consciousness or intelligence.”

    Sure. We have absolutely no idea what causes the instances of consciousness we cannot observe, measure, or detect. We can’t study something if we can’t determine it exists. Welcome to the scientific method.

  252. DrNick says:

    Still waiting for that evidence.

  253. Steve Cross says:

    Hardnose:

    The author of this blog and most of its commenters are materialists. Their beliefs include:
    – Consciousness and intelligence are generated by the brain, and there can be no consciousness or intelligence without a physical brain.
    – Life originated by a series of accidents. There is nothing about the universe that would cause it to generate life.
    – The biological diversity and complexity of this planet came about through randomly generated mutations, and natural selection. There is no natural drive towards greater complexity.
    – The brain is some kind of a computer. It does not receive any information except what comes through the physical senses. It cannot possibly include any wireless devices.
    – The universe is not alive, and it is not conscious or intelligent.
    – All so-called paranormal or supernatural experiences are hallucinations or delusions.
    “Materialism” is sometimes called “naturalism” now, since we do not know what matter is made of.
    The old distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” is really obsolete, in my opinion. Everything must be part of nature, although there probably are higher order dimensions. I think David Bohm’s theory of “implicate orders” makes sense.

    Every single one of these comments is a straw man. Science doesn’t demand or insist on anything. Now, it probably is fair to say that most scientists feel that since we never have found any magic sauce, then it is unlikely that any exists. But that does not mean that scientists won’t gladly investigate any anomaly no matter where it leads. You seem to be blaming (and hoping to dismiss) scientists as a class because they have never uncovered any evidence to support your pet theories. But that is not only unfair, it’s just wrong. Many, many scientists of all kinds have been trying to find evidence to support their various belief systems, including yours. So far, all results (at least upon close examination) have been negative. It’s not lack of trying — it’s lack of good evidence. You are trying to discredit the messenger because you don’t like the message.

    Whether you realize it or not, your whole “materialism” hangup is another straw man. For all practical purposes, much or even most of modern science is investigating things that would be immaterial from the perspective of our human senses. Scientists build instruments to observe and machinery to try to control everything conceivable, including “psychic powers” or any other belief system. Even many scientists “want” to believe. No one can honestly say that we haven’t discovered the paranormal yet for lack of trying.

    Human beings are curious. Sooner or later, every anomaly of any kind is investigated. And if you really did know anything at all about science, you would realize that “the weirder, the better”. The entire history of science proves this beyond a doubt. Fame and fortune are far, far more likely to be bestowed upon the “mavericks” who achieve (and prove) paradigm shifting breakthroughs.

    It is impossible to make the case that scientists “don’t want to discover” the special sauce that you believe exists. By your own admission, the majority of humanity seems to believe in something special beyond the physical world. If anything, they’re going to be predisposed to believe in, and willing to search for whatever it may be.

    On the other hand, even if some scientists refuse to accept the possibility (as you claim), it is a safe bet that they will still be eager to investigate any unusual claims or phenomenon, because (at least in your world view) they will be actively trying to disprove that something is supernatural. In that case, even if they don’t believe it, if something is true, the new reality will bite them in the butt.

    All of which is the reason that most of us on this blog are skeptics. It has nothing to do with whether we want to believe or not. I’m pretty sure that most of us would willingly believe in the benefits and comfort provided by almost any of the various belief systems — if there was evidence and a way to pick the system most likely to be correct.

    But that is the problem. With seven billion people on the planet (most of whom seem predisposed to believe in something “special”) it seems pretty unlikely that no one has ever stumbled across any definitive evidence to prove that one particular set of beliefs is correct. There are millions of different philosophies based on different ways of interpreting the “evidence”, but anything which is subject to interpretation isn’t really evidence at all.

    Meanwhile, all of us skeptics are busy focusing on evidence which is not subject to interpretation, and which allows us to accurately understand cause and effect, and literally everything we know about the world for certain. With that knowledge, we can produce tangible benefits and predictable results for a given action. No other world view has ever been able to make reliable predictions or tangible benefits.

  254. mumadadd says:

    If hn were a food critic:

    – I’m not anti-cooking! I TOLD YOU THAT A THOUSAND TIMES!
    – It’s just that chefs can’t even define “recipe”.
    – Recipes aren’t made of tiny bits of “food”, that’s for sure; that’s just your 18th century ideology speaking.
    – Nobody even knows what “food” is; if you discover something new that you can eat, you will just call that “food” too.
    – I have invented a new “special sauce”…
    – It’s like food but you can’t eat it! Or smell it!
    – It explains why recipes exist!
    – By which I mean recipes that aren’t made of food!

  255. Steve Cross says:

    Dammit mumaddad,

    I just spent an hour writing on my soapbox, and in just a few minutes, you made twice as many effective points as I did. 😉

  256. mumadadd says:

    Steve C,

    There is nothing, even in theory (excluding legitimate threats of harm), that could make hn admit that recipes are made of food, and food is what we eat. Even if you had him with you when you bought the ingredients, showed him a recipe, pointed out the individual ingredients comprising the recipe, made him eat a sample of each ingredient, followed the instructions and made a meal, then had him eat the meal you had made, he would not accept it.

    Even if you then played him back video footage of this process, he would not accept this. You might say, “Look, hn, there you are buying ingredients with me, eating a bit of each one, and eating the dish I made with them.”

    And he would still say, “You have no evidence of that! I read a recipe book once where they used asbestos and antique muskets, and people didn’t eat it, they ingested it!”

  257. Steve Cross says:

    Mumadadd,

    You’re right of course, and I realize that he never responds to the really good points or hard questions, but I guess I’m just an optimist. Often, the things he does respond to can be hilariously bad, and as others have pointed out, HN provides a case study for logical fallacies and bad logic.

    Still, your brand of ridicule is very entertaining, and all things considered, perhaps the best way to keep him from endlessly repeating the same identical drivel. Since we are not using twitter, I’m guessing HN is not Donald Trump in real life, but hardnose does seem to share a lot of the same insecurities, defensiveness and general ignorance of / aversion to science.

  258. mumadadd says:

    And… I’m guilty of equivocation/false analogy. Stretched it a bit too far.

  259. Bill Openthalt says:

    hardnose —

    No they are not, you are wrong.

    Mere assertions don’t cut the mustard.

    The reason the meta-scientific hypothesis are proved by science is that, were scientific endeavour to find that there are areas where there are no discoverable, coherent laws, it would invalidate these hypotheses. And notice they are hypotheses, not articles of faith as you claim.

    You are welcome to your hypotheses (like the existence of a cosmic intelligence that causes life to begin and then become more complex) but without evidence, there is no reason to prefer them over the materialist hypotheses. Neither is there any reason to prefer them over the christian or muslim hypotheses.

    I want to give you a modicum of support with regard to your assumption of increasing complexity. It is true that the fundamental building blocks of the universe combine to form more complex substances, which combine to form even more complex substances. One observes this combining into more complex things all the way to human societies (groups of humans, which are collections of cells, which are collections of carbon-compounds, etc.) and galaxies (which are collections of stars, and so forth). The point is that we have discovered coherent rules that govern these combinations, and there is no need to introduce a cosmic intelligence, or deity to drive them. You can offer no proof for your hypothesis that absent such a driving force, the fundamental particles would not combine — that makes as much sense as saying that without angels to push them, planets would not move, and claiming victory over Newton.

    It is impossible to discover why the universe exists — we’re part of it, and we cannot observe it from the “outside”.

    Real skeptics KNOW that we DO NOT KNOW.

    Materialists do not claim to know why the universe exists, or why humans evolved. What they do know, is that claiming you need something outside of the universe to explain its existence requires more assumptions than claiming it is an infinite and eternal self-sustaining continuum. Occam’s razor is not a supra-cosmic law even deities have to obey, but simply a precept for hygienic thinking — why would you prefer a hypothesis with more assumptions?

  260. hardnose says:

    “we have discovered coherent rules that govern these combinations”

    Oh really? You know the rules that govern human societies? I suggest you share them with the world leaders, they desperately need your wisdom.

  261. bachfiend says:

    Hardnose,

    Coherent rules for individual human societies don’t have to be the same coherent rules. They just have to be coherent for each human society.

  262. DrNick says:

    I asked for evidence for a series of assertions you made, Hardnose. Are you going to respond?

  263. Bill Openthalt says:

    hardnose —
    There you go again, with your assumption that because we don’t know everything, your pink unicorns have to be true.

  264. BillyJoe7 says:

    Recently, there was a call to ban hardnose.

    This thread has convinced me that we should keep hardnose here as long as we can.
    He is the perfect foil for introducing the casual reader, fence sitter, and those new to the blog, to reasoned, logical, evidence-based, scienitific and sceptical ideas and arguments.

    Steve Cross,
    I think your hour on the soapbox was a necessary preliminary to mumadadd’s nutshell.
    Well said and kudos to both of you.

    Hardnose,
    Please keep it up, you are actually of great service to this blog.
    (Well, you know, in that ignorant, juvenile, negative way of yours)

  265. BillyJoe7 says:

    …oh, and to everyone else who’s responded here.

  266. Bill Openthalt says:

    Y’er wilkem, Ozzie 😉

  267. mumadadd says:

    Actually, any overlap in mine and Steve C’s post is just a happy coincidence — his post wasn’t up as I was typing mine out. We had the same muse though, so not surprising commonalities across the board with responses. 🙂

  268. BillyJoe7 says:

    I meant to the readers here.

  269. BillyJoe7 says:

    “Y’er wilkem”? Is that a typo? Or is that an Afrikaans’ colloquialism?

  270. Bill Openthalt says:

    I’ve always been lousy at phonetically rendering the down-underian accent 🙁

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