Feb 06 2017

Why Are We Conscious?

Dennet-Book 2017In Daniel Dennett’s latest book,From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, Dennett explores a number of issues surrounding consciousness. I have not yet completed the book and so may come back to it again, but wanted to discuss one topic that Dennett covers – why are we conscious in the first place?

Dennett makes a distinction between competence and comprehension. Competence is the ability to perform some task, while comprehension is understanding the task and the process. The former is unconscious, while the latter is conscious.

This touches on Chalmers’ “P-zombie” problem – if we can imagine an organism that can do everything a human does without experiencing its own existence (a philosophical zombie), then why did consciousness evolve at all? There are several possible solutions to this problem. The first is that humans were “designed” to be conscious by whatever agent made us. This introduces unnecessary elements and contradicts established science, so I think we can set that aside.

The second solution is that consciousness is an epiphenomenon. We don’t need to be conscious, but we evolved consciousness as an evolutionary accident. This may be true, but is unsatisfying as it just side-steps the question of what use is consciousness.

The third solution, which I find compatible with the evidence and compelling, is that consciousness is inherent to the functioning of our brains and brings with it specific advantages.

Dennett focuses on two aspects of human behavior that he feels were critical in bootstrapping human-level consciousness – social interaction and language (which themselves are related).

Humans are intensely social creatures. This was one of our major evolutionary adaptations, we live and hunt in groups. The most obvious function that aids social interaction is communication, which is where language comes in. I think at least as important as language is that social creatures need to have what psychologists refer to as a theory of mind, which is an understanding that other people have thoughts, feelings, and motivations of their own.

If you are living in a social group, there is an obvious advantage to being able to predict that another member of that group is going to help you in a certain situation, or that they may be out to get you. Is that a friend or enemy? How will they react if I engage in a certain behavior?

At the group level, everyone will have a better chance of surviving if they get along, and can understand each other’s behavior and motivations. Group cohesion, including obvious things like hunting together, requires coordination of efforts. This not only benefits from more and more sophisticated language, but also from the ability to learn how to do the things that the group does – to mimic.

Mimicking, reading and conveying emotions and intentions, group cohesion, and communication all play off each other. Humans have the ability to feel what other people feel, to move like other people, talk like them, express emotions like them, even to think like them. We call this culture.

Culture is a powerful thing. Think about the people you know – they belong to a family culture, a regional culture, and a national culture. Think about your interactions with people from completely different cultures – everything they do is subtly different. Yes, there are human universals, but the effect of culture cannot be overestimated. How close we stand to other people, level of eye contact, how emotionally expressive we are, our posture, how we walk, eat, and of course our language and accents are all learned by copying those around us. Our brains literally mirror the brains of others in our group.

In order for me to predict what someone else might do based upon what I think they are feeling, what they know, their motivations, and their past behavior, I need to have an understanding of their mind. I know they are conscious because I am conscious.

Someone defending Chalmers might say that an unconscious predictive algorithm might do just as well, but that misses the point. Such an algorithm can only work because humans are conscious. Because we feel and think, and that drives our behavior. Further, the best algorithm for predicting how humans feel, think, and behavior is another human with a similar brain that thinks, feels, and behaves in a similar fashion. We literally run a model of other people in our own heads – we imagine how we might feel and behave as a way of predicting the actions of others.

Psychologists have a word for this too – projection. People are still individuals, we are not exact copies of each other. So predicting what someone else will do based upon what we would do is imperfect. It is also extremely revealing. Often, when we speculate about the motivations of others were are really just revealing our own motivations that we then project onto others. It takes insight and self-awareness to separate these two things.

The theory of mind and the demands of being a social creature are only part of the equation. Bees are social creatures, but they collaborate entirely with instinct. Humans also developed language, and Dennett follows Chomski on this topic – the idea that language is uniquely human and is critical to being human.

Perhaps we first started communicating with each other with simple and obvious hand signals. However, many animals use sounds for communication (warning sounds, mating sounds) and so our ancestors probably did this also. Eventually they started to use more and more sophisticated sounds and gestures to communicate more and more complex information.

The interaction of intense social interaction with evolving language was like rocket fuel to human consciousness. Out of this mix evolved culture. Dennett gets into the notion of memes, which he thinks of as tiny units of cultural information. The notions of memes has many critics, but I think this is actually incidental to Dennett’s main points. You don’t need to call them memes, or even to have a concept of a cultural unit. You can think of culture as a mish-mash of ideas and behaviors with no distinguishable units, and Dennett’s main point would still hold.

Essentially you have a positive feedback loop with language, culture, social interaction, and intellectual sophistication. The result was that our proto-human ancestors dramatically increased the size of their brains in a few million years. The evolutionary pressures for greater intelligence were apparently massive, once those factors all came into play.

The result was a creature that could think in words, that could think about what other creatures felt and thought, and that could contemplate, therefore, its own feelings and thoughts.

That’s consciousness.

231 responses so far

231 thoughts on “Why Are We Conscious?”

  1. chikoppi says:

    I generally agree with this position, but want to consider some nuance. There is a hazard of false dichotomy.

    First, I think most agree that consciousness isn’t all or nothing. There is likely a multi-threaded spectrum of neurological functions that contribute to degrees of consciousness, such that a lizard is “more” conscious than an ant, a corvid more conscious than a lizard, etc.

    Second, I think we assume the human experience of consciousness is typical. That may not be so. Humans evolved consciousness in a particular manner, reflecting a particular alignment and balance of neurological functions. There may be many potential “flavors” of consciousness, different evolutionary paths of sophisticated brains, that diverge quite radically from our own expectations (I wonder about those cagey cephalopods sometimes!).

    The complex construct of self awareness that humans possess may be only one of myriad possibilities. Considering a wider array of possible types of consciousness may shed light on our unique situation.

  2. BaS says:

    Anyone who finds these concepts interesting should immediately read the sci-fi novel “Blindsight” by Peter Watts. In addition to being awesome, it centrally deals with the distinction between intelligence and consciousness.

  3. Pete A says:

    Dr. Novella, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge. You have addressed some things that I’ve been thinking about over the decades of my life.

    Having only forward-facing vision is advantageous for distance estimation and for focussing our limited attention to fine detail, however, the disadvantage of being unable to see predators approaching from behind is offset by forming social groups, in which other members of the group serve as a proxy for having ‘eyes in the back of our head’.

    But this by itself doesn’t explain the advantage of consciousness. You wrote “Bees are social creatures, but they collaborate entirely with instinct.” Yes, because bees are very much smaller animals than humans and they can rely on instinct-based pheromone signalling due to their close proximity to one another and the whole colony. The larger the animal, the less it can rely on instinct plus close proximity; and the more vulnerable its species becomes to extinction by changes in its environment. One queen bee (or ant) can create a new colony; most of the much larger animals cannot, therefore conscious co-operation is advantageous to the survival of their species.

    Absolutely no disrespect intended by my following thoughts…

    It seems to me that asking “Why are we conscious?” is the wrong question to ask. It is similar to asking “Why did that person win the chess tournament?”, which leads to asking: Why do we have tournaments?; Why did chess become popular?; etc.; etc. The answer to which is: Because we have high-level consciousness. Which leads right back to asking: Why are we conscious?

    Similarly: “Why is the Moon orbiting Earth?” To which I would reply “I dunno, ask it why!” Whereas “How did the Moon form?” is requesting an evidence-based scientific answer.

    It seems to me that those who do not accept that our conscious self is just an illusion are predisposed to ask “why” questions. Whereas those who do accept that our conscious self is the most awesomely convincing illusion that we will ever experience, are predisposed to ask “how” questions.

  4. TheGorilla says:

    I’m not really seeing a response to Chalmers here? It’s possible there’s not intended to be, but the “just so” evolution story is preceded by mention of p-zombies, and there’s an explicit line addressing the proposition that an unconscious algorithm could do all this (to which “that would require consciousness” is not an attempt at rebuttal).

  5. BBBlue says:

    Doesn’t “understanding the task and process” result in less trial and potentially deadly error as novel challenges are met? That alone would seem to be a significant selective advantage.

  6. hardnose says:

    “Humans also developed language, and Dennett follows Chomski on this topic – the idea that language is uniquely human and is critical to being human.”

    It is not uniquely human.

  7. hardnose says:

    “Essentially you have a positive feedback loop with language, culture, social interaction, and intellectual sophistication. The result was that our proto-human ancestors dramatically increased the size of their brains in a few million years. The evolutionary pressures for greater intelligence were apparently massive, once those factors all came into play.”

    This is materialist mythology. It is NOT science.

  8. hardnose says:

    “Having only forward-facing vision is advantageous for distance estimation and for focussing our limited attention to fine detail, however, the disadvantage of being unable to see predators approaching from behind is offset by forming social groups, in which other members of the group serve as a proxy for having ‘eyes in the back of our head’.”

    So that means horses don’t form social groups?

  9. hardnose says:

    “The evolutionary pressures for greater intelligence were apparently massive, once those factors all came into play.”

    Are you talking about dolphins here, or whales?

  10. Pete A says:

    “So that means horses don’t form social groups?”

    Very obviously, not!
    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fuckwit

  11. Pete A says:

    “So that means horses don’t form social groups?”

    Very obviously, not!

    My comment that included an appropriate link to Oxford Living Dictionaries is currently awaiting moderation.

  12. As I mentioned in the article, many animals communicate with each other. However, there is nothing remotely like human language in any other animal. The difference is not just one of degree. That was Chomski’s position, which is why I referenced him.

    Cetaceans certainly have large brains. There is more than one path, obviously, to enlarged brains. Their brains are very different than humans in that they have far more white matter which appears to be dedicated to processing echolocation.

    This is just simplistic sniping. Typical from HN. That along with handwaving dismissal of anything he doesn’t like as “materialist mythology.”

  13. Pete A says:

    Stephen,

    My particular consciousness is the epitome of “materialist mythology”: I know damn well that my “self” is nothing other than an illusion. However, I continue to increase my understanding of the biology, chemistry, neurology, and physics that lead to the creation of my personal illusion.

    I thank the stars for it. By far the most stunning moment in my life was discovering that we are all made of stardust!

  14. Pete A says:

    Steven, My apologies for misspelling your name.

  15. TheGorilla says:

    Steve,

    What does it mean to say that consciousness is an illusion? Or that self is an illusion? To whom?

  16. TheGorilla says:

    I don’t know why I wrote Steve when I was responding to Pete.

  17. Steve Cross says:

    Peta A,

    I suspect he is used to it. It happens quite a bit to us “Steves”.

    On the other hand, I recall being quite confused when I received a birthday card just as I was learning to read. I could not understand what a “hen” sitting on a “step” had to do with my birthday.

  18. chikoppi says:

    [Steven Novella] As I mentioned in the article, many animals communicate with each other. However, there is nothing remotely like human language in any other animal. The difference is not just one of degree. That was Chomski’s position, which is why I referenced him.

    Steven Pinker (another Steve!) makes interesting observations about this. In particular, how linguistic expressions of of cognitive conceptual frameworks mirror the physical experience of objects in relation to the self and to each other

  19. hardnose says:

    “there is nothing remotely like human language in any other animal. The difference is not just one of degree. That was Chomski’s position, which is why I referenced him.”

    Chomski wants to say humans are so special. He has no scientific reason for saying that. But if Chomski said it, well it just HAS to be true!

    Humans have human language, other animals have other ways of communication. All communication systems have a lot in common.

    We don’t understand the communication systems of other animals. Therefore, we cannot assume ours is better and special and different.

  20. hardnose says:

    Human society and language and culture does NOT explain consciousness! If it did, then other animals would not be conscious!

    Where is the scientific evidence, where is the logic??

  21. Pete A says:

    TheGorilla,

    “I don’t know why I wrote Steve when I was responding to Pete.”

    It seems that you have answered your own question, which was: “What does it mean to say that consciousness is an illusion? Or that self is an illusion? To whom?”

  22. TheGorilla says:

    Hardnose,

    Are you really going to choose to battle over whether or not human language is special? Would you even argue about that if it weren’t being used as part of an account of consciousness? You’re right that Chomsky saying something does not make it right, but that’s not what anyone was arguing. I feel like if someone said that blowholes are unique you’d retort that other animals also breathe.

  23. Gorilla – “Illusion” is an imperfect word. We don’t have the vocabulary to really capture what is meant by this.

    Essentially, what you experience as your own consciousness is a constructed fiction. It is an active process that weaves together multiple sensory streams, that are dramatically filtered and tweaked, time-shifted, blended together, and then compared with what we think we know about the world, to create a narrative stream that we experience as our consciousness. That experience is largely an illusion, which does not mean that you don’t exist or that you are not truly conscious. It is the technical sense of an illusion, which neurologically means that your perception of reality is not accurate because of internal processing reasons.

  24. TheGorilla says:

    Pete,

    That’s not an answer. Saying those things are illusions is amazingly vague — it could be anywhere from patently ridiculous or trivially true, and nobody is going to know which if you won’t make some sort of explicit commitment.

  25. TheGorilla says:

    Dr Novella,

    Do you mean what I *experience* is an illusion — because in that case it seems that the experience is the reality, and there’s no room for a mismatch.

    Or do you mean that how I might *describe* my experience — an ineffable, private whole — does not match with the distributed activity in my body and brain?

    Or I guess another option is in the sense that there’s no color floating out in space, and when we perceive a red apple it’s what happens when our body interacts with certain stimuli?

  26. BillyJoe7 says:

    The “illusion of self” is the illusion that there is something over and above the brain that controls the brain. The brain produces this “illusion of self”. The illusion is real, but the idea that there is something over and above the brain that controls the brain is false.

  27. BillyJoe7 says:

    BTW, anyone have a fly swat. There are six of ’em sitting on my computer screen.

  28. chikoppi says:

    Subjectivity seems to be a construct born of neurology. Most people experience stimuli as something happening to “me,” and remember events accordingly. People with depersonalization disorder perceive similar events from a second-person perspective, as though they were watching the events occur to someone else. They may even disassociate the actions of their own body from conscious intent.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depersonalization_disorder

    The neurological organization of perception and memory seem to be responsible for our unique (and variable) concept of self. I can’t help but wonder if a bee or octopus wouldn’t have a very different experience of self and consciousness, given the divergent evolutionary paths.

  29. Sage47 says:

    I will tell you why you are conscious. You won’t pay any attention. But them’s the breaks.

    You are conscious because you are consciousness.

    It all starts with pure consciousness. The universe is an elaborate illusion. A more apt question than “Why am I conscious?” would be “Where does experience come from?” And there is absolutely no answer to that.

    Now let me know you about the physical constants. People ask, how could these constants be so finely tuned for life? And then they make up an infinitude of universes diverging from every point in the universe at every instant. Excuse me while I laugh myself silly.

    All of physics, along with the constants, are an illusion. The Creator of all this (who can’t be conceived, by the way) is entertaining us. Go seek a constant, the Creator will create a constant. The constant will support life because the Universe as presented by the Creator is consistent.

    I am sorry that you will dismiss this as insanity. I am quite sane.

  30. hardnose says:

    You make up theories that have no basis in scientific evidence. You think you are being scientific just because the theories are based in materialism.

    The post said that humans are conscious because of human language and human culture. That would mean other animals are not conscious! And there is no scientific reason whatsoever for saying other animals are not conscious!

    You pay no attention at all to what scientists actually know about other animals. And you pay no attention at all to common sense.

    Many, or most, other mammals are social. Being a social animal does not necessarily lead to increasing intelligence.

    This is obvious, should not need to be said. It is aggravating to see such a complete lack of concern for scientific evidence.

  31. Pete A says:

    TheGorilla,

    Dr. Novella’s reply to you is the best, succinct, description of the illusion that I have ever read.

    Further reading:
    Bruce Hood (2012). The Self Illusion: Why there is no ‘you’ inside your head.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Hood_(psychologist)

  32. Pete A says:

    “[hardnose] It is aggravating to see such a complete lack of concern for scientific evidence.”

    I know the feeling. You are an exemplar of a complete lack of concern for scientific evidence.

  33. hardnose says:

    Materialism and science are NOT the same thing. Trying to explain consciousness with materialist fairy tales is NOT scientific.

  34. pdeboer says:

    If consciousness is necessary for empathy, does that mean that sociopaths lack consciousness in some way?

  35. zefbuddha says:

    I agree. Also I think all of these articles on conciousness describe aspects of it and certain characteristics of our conciousness but I do not think we will fully understand the complete workings of it to say it is one thing or another until technology can provide better tools of measure, perhaps on a quantum mechanical scale, in this case perhaps most simply said we don’t have the ability to describe that which comes from a place without thought, conciousness perception comes from us being totally aware on all senses receiving as much information as our brains can intake, this inflow can not be complete with the interruption of our thought process or “working brain center” from my understanding. It’s simple, we do not know enough about it to know it’s language, therefore every time we try to explain it we seem to come shy.
    Perhaps our problem solving brain center is merely a reflection of our conscious perception center trying to make the best sense of this massive information upload and each observers reality is slightly different just as science has proven the way time relates to an observer.

  36. HN – you have completely misunderstood that article and my position and what people have said.

    Other animals are conscious, to some extent. There are different levels of consciousness. And of course we can’t know for sure what is going on inside the mind of other animals, but we can make intelligent inferences from studies of animal behavior and psychology. That is a field of study.

    Do they appear to recognize themselves in mirrors, for example.

    Dennett’s point, which I was expanding on, is that human consciousness expanded greatly because of the positive feedback of language and culture in an intensely social animal. Humans have the ability to contemplate their own existence and their own mental state, feelings, and motivations in an abstract and deep way that no other animal appears to have. Chimps and the other great apes are close, but it is interesting to think how they are different and how that relates to the absence of human-level language.

    You really are embarrassing yourself with your predictable straw men, your unwillingness/inability to understand and engage with what people write here, and your seemingly pathological need to be contrarian. There seems to be be no limit to your ability to shoe horn anything into your ridiculous anti-materialist narrative.

  37. randy says:

    “consciousness is inherent to the functioning of our brains and brings with it specific advantages.”

    I think this is correct, but a little vague. I think it is more accurate to say that consciousness is the subjective experience of an organism that can model its environment, including itself within that environment, and its internal motivational states, with enough memory to associate the events (causes) leading to those motivational states. The definition of model here is open ended, since the degree and quality of the models varies from 1) our own human modelling capability, which includes language, to 2) social animals which are aware of pain and pleasure, and the social interactions which lead to them, but have no capacity for symbolic thought, and to 3) organisms which may not be very social, but still have enough memory to associate events to motivational states. The subjective experience of consciousness will be different in each case, but present. The “illusion of consciousness” that we humans experience, is that our consciousness is something separate from the moment to moment operations of our neurons, that it has some existence independent of that operation. Chalmer’s zombie problem ( I take your word on this since I don’t know his work), or what I have in the past referred to as the “zombie axiom” which follows from the “Chinese room” argument, leads to the contradiction that something can behave like a conscious entity and not be conscious. For an entity to be conscious it must know what state it is in, and zombies and “Chinese rooms” do not, and can not answer such “un-programmed” questions about their internal state.
    These arguments hold weather or not you consider the obvious evolutionary advantages for an organism which can model its environment, and itself within that environment.

  38. hardnose says:

    “… human consciousness expanded greatly because of the positive feedback of language and culture in an intensely social animal.”

    One problem with your theory is that it depends on the idea that humans are more social than other animals.

    You explain the larger brain and increased intelligence of humans with this idea, that we are MORE social than other social animals.

    There is absolutely no scientific reason for believing that. Thinking that other animals are less social, less moral, less cooperative, less capable of love, is just not based in science.

    If other animals are NOT less social then we are, then your theory of consciousness just does not work.

  39. RickK says:

    “One problem with your theory is that it depends on the idea that humans are more social than other animals.”

    That is not what he said. Your misinterpretation is so consistent that it can only be deliberate.

    Dennett’s theory is that the feedback loop of the combination of sociability and communication caused an expansion of consciousness. To illustrate by comparison: one can assume that the combination of flight and nighttime insect density caused a feedback loop in bats that resulted in much more brain power and neurological systems being devoted to echolocation. Bats experience a rich mental simulation of their surroundings and their position in their surroundings just as humans experience a rich mental simulation of self and the self’s relationship to the surrounding culture.

    Does that require bats to be better at flight than all other flying creatures? No. A falcon can be a better flyer than a bat, just as some other animal can be more “social” than humans. That doesn’t in any way weaken Dennett’s conclusions.

    Why are you so afraid of the parsimonious conclusion: that consciousness is just as much a mental construct as our visual representation of our world (or a bat’s audio representation), and that it is just as much a product of evolution as any of those other brain-powered “illusions”?

    Try harder, hardnose. Stubborn, intentional denial without any thoughtful argument is just a waste of everybody’s time, particularly yours.

  40. hardnose says:

    “Dennett’s theory is that the feedback loop of the combination of sociability and communication caused an expansion of consciousness.”

    First, all social animals are sociable and they all communicate. Their social structures and communication systems are different from ours, but different does not mean inferior.

    Second, all animals are conscious. Maybe their consciousness differs in some ways from ours, but it is still consciousness.

    Third, no one here has bother to define what they mean by “consciousness.” Maybe Dennett is talking about a philosophical type of consciousness, which animals do not seem to have. I am sure dogs are conscious, but I doubt they worry very much about why or how they evolved.

    This “new” theory is just another convoluted effort to squeeze consciousness and intelligence into the materialist framework. Like everything else under the sun, it had to result, somehow, from natural selection.

  41. chikoppi says:

    [hardnose] Second, all animals are conscious. Maybe their consciousness differs in some ways from ours, but it is still consciousness.

    Third, no one here has bother to define what they mean by “consciousness.”

    Dennett doesn’t seem to imply that animals aren’t conscious. The distinction he draws, as Steven referenced in the post, is between competence (bacteria, trees, and termites) and comprehension (organisms with more sophisticated, self-referential brains). His hypothesis of socialization feedback seems to suggest a particular impact on the human experience, but doesn’t exclude the impact it may also have on other species (I haven’t read the book).

  42. bachfiend says:

    ‘First, all social animals are sociable’. That’s just word salad, with no consideration of the meaning of words. Bees and ants are social animals (or at least, many species are), but are they ‘sociable’ – agreeable etc?

    ‘Second, all animals are conscious”. Sponges, corals and sea jellies are all animals. Are they conscious?

    I can’t see any other plausible explain for consciousness other than property dualism. Consciousness, like the mind, is a property of brains. Material brains.

    If anyone, particularly hardnose, has another explanation for consciousness, then now the time to reveal it, rather than persistently trolling.

    Brains, along with minds and consciousness, don’t result from natural selection. Natural selection doesn’t cause anything. Brains are very useful in many environments and, as a result, are subject to natural selection, and develop from less complex nervous systems.

    If the environment changes, and brains are no longer useful and fail to repay their costs, then they disappear, as in many male anglerfish, which basically are just parasites on the much larger females, being just donors of sperm (many feminists – possibly justifiably – think the same of many males of our species).

    I wonder how Steve has managed to get hold of a copy. It’s only being released today – it’s on my list of books to read.

  43. BillyJoe7 says:

    Some people believe that even bacteria are conscious and sociable.
    Some even extend this down to molecules, atoms and subatomic particles.
    Some people are…crazy!

  44. edamame says:

    I actually agree with hardnose that it sounds like Dennett’s theory, as you’ve presented it, ignores the more fundamental aspect of consciousness that likely is shared by cats and other species that don’t have any language or significance social communication. There is a difference between sentience (intelligence like the ability to think about the future) and consciousness (the ability to be subjectively aware of how that candy bar tastes). Chalmers focuses on the latter, and most of the really thorny problems of consciousness lie therein. You’ve presented us with a theory of sentience, not consciousness.

    Why are we sentient? That seems pretty easy to answer. Why are we conscious, in the sense of why is this information processing accompanied by subjective experiences? That seems much harder.

  45. edamame says:

    Incidentally, Dennett has always had weird sympathies with Jaynesian views that limit consciousness to creatures with language, so he tends to conflate sentience and consciousness. I’ve noticed a strong Dennettian sympathy at this blog, and noticed this among a lot of people at neuro conferences I go to who seem to not know any better. But underneath his dogmatic demeanor and colorful thought experiments he actually says a lot of…very questionable things that don’t pass the smell test. E.g., weird claims about no diff b/w orwellian/stanilesque strategies, blithe dismissal of “Cartesian” dualism, silly things he says about the blind spot, multiple drafts model (basically a metaphor without any serious neuroscience behind it), and the fact that he basically denies that we are conscious in any significant sense. The Churchlands are actually much more in tune with actual neuroscience of consciousness, so it is weird that he tends to attract so many neuroscientists…

    He is better with sentience/intelligence/behavior than consciousness. He studied with Gilbert Ryle, the father of philosophical behaviorism, and Dennett is basically a very close cousin of the behaviorists. He is what you get when your guiding principle is: “Look at how people talk about consciousness, and correlate their talk with your theories of their cognitive states.” The theory is predictably anemic and devoid of…consciousness. It’s more a theory of how you might talk about consciousness (and hence..the tendency to overinflate the importance of language).

    So…I’d suggest Koch, Dehaene, Edelman, Damasio, Churchlands. People that study brains. Churchlands I include here as honorary neuroscientists.

  46. edamame says:

    bachfiend wrote :
    “Natural selection doesn’t cause anything.”

    Come again? Bacterial populations develop immunity b/c of it. What do you mean it doesn’t cause anything?

  47. tb29607 says:

    I think bachfiend meant that random mutations caused the beneficial changes. Natural selection was the process that made the changes a prevalent trait. Therefore natural selection is not a cause of anything.

    bachfiend please correct me if I have misunderstood your statement.

  48. Rogue Medic says:

    edamame,

    “Natural selection doesn’t cause anything.”

    Come again? Bacterial populations develop immunity b/c of it. What do you mean it doesn’t cause anything?

    Does natural selection cause the mutations that are selected for or is natural selection just a method of choosing among those mutations?

    Natural selection does not cause the mutations.

    Natural selection does not even cause the deaths of the less fit mutations.

    Natural selection is the cumulative result of some mutations making creatures better adapted to the contemporary environment.

    All creatures die, but some are able to reproduce at greater rates than others because they are able to reproduce and leave offspring that are expected to be better fit at doing the same thing.

    Natural selection does not mutate or reproduce.

    Natural selection may better be described as a result, than a cause.

    The result of the struggle to reproduce is that those better adapted to reproduce leave more offspring.

    Natural selection does not cause the mutations that do not result in no offspring any more than natural selection causes the mutations that result in abundant healthy offspring.

    .

  49. bachfiend says:

    edamame,

    Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics because their environment has changed in that it now contains an antibiotic. And natural selection is a mechanism of evolution in that it favours natural variants which are better adapted to the changed environment, which may be a result of new mutations. In bacteria, it may also be due to the horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance on plasmids from other bacteria, not even of the same species.

    The cause of evolution is a changing environment (which includes climate change, and changing competitors, predators and prey) acting on a reproductively isolated population – allopathic speciation in other words, such as Darwin’s finches on the Galápagos Islands when they were accidentally blown there from the South American mainland.

    Hardnose is very tiresome in that he has the idea that if evolutionary biology is true, then natural selection is the driving force – the cause – of evolution, not just a guiding or organising force of evolution.

    Evolution doesn’t have aims or goals. There’s no direction in evolution. A species can’t change in response to future environmental changes, not presently existing.

  50. sjh says:

    This may ??? be supportive of conscious as in being aware of what is going on ( in same capacity as watching TV ). But it offers nothing in support for conscience decision making.

  51. BillyJoe7 says:

    RTT: “I find it mildly upsetting that the title only works if you grossly mispronounce the name “Bach””

    “Bach” is pronounced as “bark”, and it fits perfectly with the title.

  52. SteveA says:

    BJ7: “BTW, anyone have a fly swat. There are six of ’em sitting on my computer screen.”

    Perhaps they’re being ‘sociable’. Perhaps they’re having a cocktail party.

  53. BillyJoe7 says:

    …perhaps they’re planning the next mutation in their genome to make them fitter to survive their environment which just had another antibiotic added to it.

  54. BillyJoe7 says:

    edamame,

    “There is a difference between sentience (intelligence like the ability to think about the future) and consciousness (the ability to be subjectively aware of how that candy bar tastes)”

    Consciousness is not synonymous with qualia. Qualia are a feature of consciousness. That feature of consciousness is not what is being discussed in this article. So, you are off-base in your criticism.

    “You’ve presented us with a theory of sentience, not consciousness”

    Nope, He presented us with a theory of how consciousness expanded rapidly – via culture and language. Maybe if you’re really nice to him and comment on what he has actually written about in this article, maybe he will get back to you with an article on your pet topic of qualia.

    “I’ve noticed a strong Dennettian sympathy at this blog, and noticed this among a lot of people at neuro conferences I go to who seem to not know any better”

    Take that you ignorant neuroscientists…and people called Steven!

    “I actually agree with hardnose”

    The troll never even mentioned qualia!

  55. SteveA says:

    BJ7: “…perhaps they’re planning the next mutation in their genome to make them fitter to survive their environment which just had another antibiotic added to it.”

    You’re right! They’re plotting something. That’s why they’re always rubbing their little hands together.

    I knew it…

  56. Pete A says:

    BillyJoe7,

    “Some people believe that even bacteria are conscious and sociable.
    Some even extend this down to molecules, atoms and subatomic particles.
    Some people are…crazy!”

    Atoms form strong bonds (highly sociable); whereas electrons find each other repulsive (antisocial)!

  57. edamame says:

    This notion that natural selection doesn’t cause anything is nonsense. You are being silly bach.

    BillyJoe7 obviously he can post about whatever he wants, but he can’t just say words mean whatever he wants. Dr Novell explicitly brought up Chalmers, p-zombies, and invoked this entire philosophical tradition that clearly is focused 100% on qualia. To act as if this discussion of higher-order social linguistic cultural-dependent sentient thought is just a different topic, when he specifically invoked such issues, would be disingenuous. It’s not some pet topic I randomly brought up.

    Sure, sentience and its connection to culture/language is a very interesting topic, I didn’t say otherwise. Love it. Great stuff. Dennett is very interesting on language, that has always been his thing. But it doesn’t get at the core issue of consciousness/subjective experience of the type that, say, a cat would have.

    Incidentally, your implicit appeals to authority don’t do anything to move the argument along.

  58. edamame says:

    BJ: Note I avoided any mention of qualia in my OP as that is a loaded term. I just pointed out that there is no reason to think consciousness (e.g., the subjective experience of tasting a candy bar, or toggling visual experience during binocular rivalry) depends on language or self-recognition or cultural scaffolding.

    So my agreement with hardnose was in the leaving out nonhuman consciousness, which clearly is not some crazy view. This is not some fringe position: the fringe position is that language and culture is required for consciousness.

    In neuroscience it is the standard view that monkeys, cats, dogs, most mammals are conscious in this sense. No need to focus on ‘qualia’ which is a technical term of the trade that tends to become its own distraction. I would never say that bacteria or whatever are conscious, but I do think that chimps and dogs and likely mice and even birds are. That is, creatures with nervous systems of a certain type.

    I know Dr Novella addressed this a little bit, but the (justified) antipathy toward hardnose made the response a bit too strong I think, and he focused on self-consciousness tests and such like mirror-recognition. That still misses the main point (no cat is going to pass such a test, but cats are conscious, seem to undergo perceptual rivalry, for instance).

  59. Pete A says:

    edamame,

    It is very important in science to differentiate between “A causes B” and “A results in B”. The word “causes” implies “designed to” or “intended to”; whereas “results in” is just a plain and simple fact with no implication of design or intent.

    If I press the following buttons on a calculator “2 + 2 =”, I cause the calculator to perform the calculation then display its result “4”. But, I did not cause 2 + 2 to equal 4: 2 + 2 does not cause 4; it results in 4.

    I’m not being pedantic for the sake of it. I’m highlighting the fact that science, when written in everyday language rather than in scientific language, often leads to misunderstandings, such as “natural selection causes …”.

  60. edamame says:

    Finally, I think it really isn’t that big a deal. Just don’t act like you are solving the problem Chalmers brought up, it’s a bit of a click-baity type title. By the time humans/monkeys came on the scene, consciousness_1 (subjective experience, which is what most people mean by the term these days) was already *long* on the scene!

    So what did sentience/language (or if you must, consciousness_2 give you)? Compositional semantics and syntax lets us differentiate things like ‘The dog bit me’ from ‘I bit the dog’, and this allows for levels of expression of contents between individuals that were literally impossible without language.

    Language gave us lightning-fast social (as opposed to sluggish and fickle biological) evolution. The ability to subject our reasoning to public scrutiny (i.e., logic). Once representational contents of our brains become publicizable as linguistic strings, these two strata can co-evolve, so that our brains become even better at manipulating and playing with these public representational systems (e.g., Deacon’s ‘Symbolic Species’).

    I’m not denigrating its importance, beauty, etc.. There is a reason monkeys don’t build skyscrapers.

  61. edamame says:

    Pete: lightning caused fire doesn’t imply intention or design. It implies cause. 🙂 Just like natural selection causes new phenotypes to emerge, and it is a very complex process that involves all sorts of things like mutations, animals dying, animals reproducing, and obviously not some godlike “selection” as a separate cause, that word is shorthand for a very complex set of processess. I think you are getting trapped in some weird philosophical/semantic worries of the type Fodor would seize on.

  62. Rogue Medic says:

    edamame,

    Natural selection describes the ways that less successful mutations are selected against.

    Lightning burns.

    .

  63. Pete A says:

    edamame,

    During my formal education in science, using the words “cause” or “caused” in the description of a process was deemed to be a display of scientific illiteracy.

  64. Steve Cross says:

    edamame,

    Pretty sure that the reason so many people here are sensitive about what is really going on with natural selection is that many of us are pushing back against hardnose’s unapologetically teleological view of the world.

    Sure, we can argue semantics about “cause” all day long, but the real issue is “agency”. In his primitive mind, hardnose is convinced that evolution is goal oriented and thus must have some “intelligent universe” or “natural genetic engineering” process calling the shots. He insists on creating a straw man version of the theory of evolution in which natural selection is the “CAUSE” and, at least in his ignorant opinion, is incapable of producing the results we observe.

  65. edamame – I admit I was not explicit in my transitions in the article. The point of Dennett’s I wanted to discuss “touches on” the hard problem, and I laid out some possible approaches, but then I transitioned to “human-level” consciousness, which is specific to the points I was discussing. I had planned to develop the bigger topic more but ran out of time so never circled back. Sorry if that caused any confusion.

    I clarified above, but to explicitly clarify – there are really two questions here. One is what Chalmers calls the hard problem, about why are living things conscious at all. I do think that, even for cats, consciousness carries with it some functional advantages, such as distinguishing memories from live experiences, and also motivated behavior in response to positive and negative stimuli. It may also be necessary to synthesize our sensory constructions with our constructions of self and other. How can our brains distinguish self from other without a concept of self? In fact it may be necessary to have a sense of self, of instantiation in our bodies, and of ownership and control over our body parts to make them work. Certainly in humans if these constructs fail there are functional deficits.

    The second question is what were the factors that lead from animal level to human-level consciousness? This is where social interactions, language, and culture come into play, and I think this is right.

    HN’s multiply-absurd position is that, there is no meaningful difference between human language and animal language, and there is no meaningful difference between human consciousness and animal consciousness. He further butcher logic by arguing that saying social interaction was one of several factors forming a positive feedback loop in human ancestors somehow means that other animals are not social. It’s hard to know where to even begin.

    Social animals are generally more intelligent than less social animals, so there is a nice correlation there. But with all the factors in place together they feed off each other. This happened in human to a level that just has not come together in other species.

  66. edamame says:

    Dr Novella, HN is off-putting I don’t interact with him directly anymore because he just spits out talking points and doesn’t actually engage rationally, but my worry was the justified animosity to him was obscuring some actual interesting points. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I think you make fair points here.

    Steve Cross wrote “During my formal education in science, using the words “cause” or “caused” in the description of a process was deemed to be a display of scientific illiteracy.”

    Well this truly sends an earthquake of doubt down my spine! Let us head over to the Journal of Neuroscience, the most recent issue (http://www.jneurosci.org/content/37/5?current-issue=y).

    Let’s look at the first article, oh my god:
    “The NPR knockdown caused an ∼60% decrease in EPSC amplitude that was fully reversed by NPR overexpression, whereas NPR overexpression in control neurons by itself had no significant effect.”

    Dear God no!

    Second article:
    “Less desensitization in Kctd12/16−/− than in Kctd12−/− neurons may thus be caused by reduced precoupling of the G-protein at the receptor and a consequent slower K+ current activation. K+ currents displayed significantly increased desensitization in Kctd16−/− neurons versus WT neurons.”

    More scientific illiteracy!

    I guess we have a lot to learn from your formal science education because we talk about causal interactions in the brain all the time in neuroscience. Thanks for sending me on the road to conceptual recovery.

    You guys are being silly.

  67. edamame says:

    Oh nuts: that quote wasn’t from Steve Cross but from Pete A, I am truly sorry Steve I wish I could go edit or delete my note. I will try to be more careful in the future, especially when I am going on the offensive like that. Sincerely apologize.

    Steve Cross yes I understand the push against teleology, but you don’t have to be a vitalist or teleologist to think that natural selection causes new phenotypes to emerge in a perfectly mechanistic sense. People are getting way too hung up on casual jargon. It’s the wrong fight to pick with hard nose.

  68. Pete A says:

    [edamame] Steve Cross wrote “During my formal education in science, using the words “cause” or “caused” in the description of a process was deemed to be a display of scientific illiteracy.”

    No, Steve Cross did not write that: I wrote it. And, I wrote it for a very good reason! Biology is not the only branch of science that is self-critical of its incorrect/misleading wording.

    The traditional way of writing scientific reports is well known for coming across to the general public as being boring/aloof/detached/disengaged. Sadly, the attempts to become fully engaged, and attention grabbing, have resulted in fuelling pop-science, pop-neuroscience, self-help gurus, and the multi-billion dollar empire of alternatives-to-medicine — “alternative facts”.

  69. Rogue Medic says:

    edamame,

    Did you come across any articles to support your actual statement?

    bachfiend wrote :
    Natural selection doesn’t cause anything.”

    Come again? Bacterial populations develop immunity b/c of it. What do you mean it doesn’t cause anything?

    .

  70. edamame says:

    Pete it is clear you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Rogue Medic: I brought up the articles to point out to Pete how useful his formal science training was for thinking about biology. Which is what we are discussing. But if interested, see ‘The Causes of Molecular Evolution’ by John Gillespie. Hint: natural selection is one of the causes….

    But my point is simple. Consider questions like: “What caused the emergence of antibiotic resistant straints of bacteria?” I am saying that ‘natural selection’ is a perfectly reasonable answer. Discussion of causes is not some esoteric off-limit thing in biology. It is ubiquitous. I studied molecular evolution as an undergrad, I was in there doing sequencing, and one of the key battles was whether natural selection was the primary force, vs neutral drift, or other factors were in play. This entire debate was about the causes of molecular evolution.

    You are fighting a minor semantic point: if anything important actually rides on it, in your battles with the vitalist nuttery of hardnose, then you guys are fucked. You can pick actually substantive fights here, you are being silly. I’m not just talking out of my ass here. I am telling you, you are being silly.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8693020

  71. edamame says:

    Pete it is clear you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Rogue Medic: see ‘The Causes of Molecular Evolution’ by John Gillespie. Hint: natural selection is one of the causes….Or see the paper ‘Natural selection and random genetic drift as causes of evolution on islands’. go from there.

    But my point is simple, and it isn’t about scientific publications (I brought up the articles because Pete was being pedantic and obviously knows nothing of what he speaks, so I just had some fun with him).

    My point is simple: Consider questions like: “What caused the emergence of antibiotic resistant straints of bacteria?” I am saying that ‘natural selection’ is a perfectly reasonable answer. Discussion of causes is not some esoteric off-limit thing in biology. It is ubiquitous.

    You are fighting a minor semantic point: if anything important actually rides on it, in your battles with the vitalist nuttery of hardnose, then you guys are F’d. You can pick actually substantive fights here. This is not the way to win a fight with a vitalist.

  72. Pete A says:

    Pete it is clear you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Thank you very much for that profound piece of factual information! I shall try my very best to keep it firmly in mind whenever I decide to respond to your comments.

  73. hardnose says:

    @SN:

    “HN’s multiply-absurd position is that, there is no meaningful difference between human language and animal language, and there is no meaningful difference between human consciousness and animal consciousness.”

    The Western tradition, at least since the Old Testament, has told us that humans are special and completely different from the other animals. This led to widely held but crazy ideas, such as that animals don’t have feelings, do not have moral codes, do interact socially.

    Our species may have the most of certain kinds of intelligence, but you are going way beyond that.

  74. hardnose says:

    @SN:

    “The result was a creature that could think in words, that could think about what other creatures felt and thought, and that could contemplate, therefore, its own feelings and thoughts.

    That’s consciousness.”

    That was the conclusion of the post, which you all seem to have forgotten. Obviously, he is describing our species, and obviously he is saying that only our species has consciousness.

  75. edamame says:

    Hardnose, in response some pushback on this topic, Dr Novella clarified what he meant. He was clear that he was talking about a specific type of higher-order thought, and has acknowledged (in two posts now) that there are lower-level processes (e.g., perceptual processes that you might find in a cat, sans language) that he left out of this post.

    The question is will you assimilate this new information or continue to beat a dead horse…

  76. Pete A says:

    hardnose,

    You are an exemplar of human consciousness being far less that it’s touted to be.

    No insult intended: “edamame” has clearly demonstrated that I am likewise an exemplar.

  77. hardnose says:

    We have NO IDEA what consciousness is like in a cat, or ape, or octopus or slug. It is just the expected arrogance that says we are oh so different and special and better.

    Scientists have recently studied dogs and found (to their astonishment) that dogs have feelings.

    All animals communicate. Even bacteria communicate. Just because we can’t understand the communication doesn’t mean it’s inferior.

    Intelligence and conscious are throughout nature, and the universe. You are not so special.

  78. hardnose says:

    It is just one more of the irksome things about materialist “skeptics.” They belong to the most intelligent and special species. But within that species, they set themselves apart from, and elevated above, the ignorant superstitious majority.

  79. Rogue Medic says:

    edamame,

    My point is simple: Consider questions like: “What caused the emergence of antibiotic resistant straints of bacteria?” I am saying that ‘natural selection’ is a perfectly reasonable answer.

    Here is the hard part.

    How does natural selection cause the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria?

    It would be a semantic point, not worth discussing, if not for the fake controversy over evolution created by the Creationists.

    This does produce the faulty appearance of a causative agent, which cannot be explained.

    It is important to be clear on what we discuss for those who read these discussions and evaluate the arguments, but might be persuaded by the nonsense of Michael Egnor , hardnose, or others.

    The easier it is for them to create this false appearance of a causative agent, the easier it is for them to make it seem as if there is evidence for their Incompetent Designer.

    This is a great place for Creationists, and other logical fallacy pushers, to dig themselves inextricable holes with their deception.

    The debate is never with these overgrown children, but for the children who are still growing in their understanding of the universe.

    .

  80. edamame says:

    Rogue don’t let them make you jump at shadows and become unreasonable in your use of reasonable expressions. If it gets you into the corner of saying ‘natural selection doesn’t cause anything’, then you have jumped at one shadow too many. Do you think they won’t seize on that and say “Ha, see they have given up on natural selection as a cause!”, and make that sound really bad? Come on guys.

    I don’t wanna rub it in or anything, but you guys clearly backed the wrong conceptual horse.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeoA4oe5Vmc&feature=youtu.be&t=9s

  81. bachfiend says:

    Hardnose,

    ‘Scientists have recently studied dogs and found (to their astonishment) that dogs have feelings’.

    Reference please. As a dog owner, I certainly know that dogs have feelings. My dog does seem to be upset when I go out during the day, and she does seem to be happy when I return (although I wonder about the occasions when she’s completely indifferent).

    The point is – you can’t just assume that dogs’ feelings are the same as human feelings (although, after thousands of years of co-evolution they do appear to complement each other to a large extent).

  82. backfiend – don’t confuse HN with logic and facts. He has his narrative and nothing will nudge him from it even to the slightest degree.

    I have already stated here and elsewhere that consciousness is a continuum. Of course many animals are conscious, and we cannot know what it is really like to be a bat. I have stated as much before.

    That does not mean we know nothing of animal consciousness. We can make intelligent and evidence-based inferences from the existing research. While animals are conscious, and often surprise us with their mental abilities (which was study and incorporate into our thinking about animal consciousness) it is absurd and an example of the false continuum fallacy to claim that there is no meaningful difference between human-level consciousness (the topic of this post) and animal consciousness. There is a really good reason why dogs, or even chimps, did not invent calculus.

    Further, I have written previously the fact that humans are, in fact, animals. We do not represent any discontinuity from other animals. We are just very clever chimps. So that is yet another straw man and false accusation based on the utter lack of the principle of charity and astounding self-righteous idiocy.

    We are very clever chimps, and you should not deny our connection to chimps, nor the significance of our cleverness (as a species, not necessarily every individual).

  83. Steve Cross says:

    “the significance of our cleverness (as a species, not necessarily every individual).”

    LOL

  84. michaelegnor says:

    Steven:

    [We do not represent any discontinuity from other animals. We are just very clever chimps.]

    Yet I search in vain for a blog written by chimps making the same claim in reverse.

    We are indeed animals– rational animals. “Rational” means that we have the ability to contemplate universals divorced from particulars. We can think abstractly, unlike non-human animals.

    This is an ancient insight, and its truth is self-evident.

  85. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] We are indeed animals– rational animals. “Rational” means that we have the ability to contemplate universals divorced from particulars. We can think abstractly, unlike non-human animals.

    This is an ancient insight, and its truth is self-evident.

    Chimps have also demonstrated the capacity for abstract reasoning and other species demonstrate the capacity for categorical abstraction. Evidence suggests a continuum of capability related to symbolic (visual or linguistic) cognition.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_cognition
    http://hrcak.srce.hr/file/148451
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13420-013-0103-0

  86. Wow – now I am getting it from the other ideological end of the spectrum. Read the whole statement (including the bit about calculus and dogs). I was just making the point above that humans have mental capabilities that no other animals have. That is the whole point of this post. Seriously – you need to be able to get out of your own way and read what people are actually writing.

  87. hardnose says:

    @SN: “We do not represent any discontinuity from other animals. We are just very clever chimps.”

    Clever chimps who mess around with things they do not understand.

  88. hardnose says:

    @SN: “don’t confuse HN with logic and facts. He has his narrative and nothing will nudge him from it even to the slightest degree.”

    Your narrative involves accusing everyone who disagrees with you of having a narrative.

  89. hardnose says:

    @bachfiend:

    “you can’t just assume that dogs’ feelings are the same as human feelings (although, after thousands of years of co-evolution they do appear to complement each other to a large extent).”

    I never said I assume dogs’ feelings are the same as ours. They seem to understand us better than we understand them, so we are never really sure what they think or feel.

  90. hardnose says:

    However, just one other thing about dogs:

    It seems pretty obvious that they are our equals, or better, when it comes to ability to love. It also has been shown scientifically that wolves (and all social animals probably) have complex moral codes. So we can assume dogs have moral codes also.

    Someone like ME — who needs to take the Christian bible as literally true and the Catholic pope as infallible — will tell you dogs are inferior, don’t have souls, all that BS.

  91. hardnose says:

    “Someone like ME”

    Not “me,” I meant Egnor.

  92. Kabbor says:

    Yes dogs are wonderful creatures. Unfortunately they still have a few unfortunate bits of their wolf heritage that are unpleasant to us humans. Despite being well fed do you really need the calories from that cat poop? I would say no, but my dog believes otherwise. If you spend most of the day indoors, never having hunted for food a day in your life, is it important to mask your scent by rolling in a dead animal? Again I would say no, but I am not my dog. She is much better at disaster preparedness than I am.

  93. Rogue Medic says:

    edamame,

    Rogue don’t let them make you jump at shadows and become unreasonable in your use of reasonable expressions.

    Do you consider that a reasonable response to my question?

    My question is How does natural selection cause the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria?

    .

  94. HN – your responses were non-responsive. Typical – never admit error, never admit you may have mischaracterized what someone else wrote. All that matters is that you know your are right in your heart, you are clearly better than everyone else because everyone else thinks they are better. Don’t let the irony of that fact slow you down or bother you for a second.

    But let me get this straight – above you were touting how humans have no idea what animals think or what their consciousness is and railing at arrogant “skeptics” for many any judgments about animal minds.

    Now you write that dogs “seem to understand us better than we understand them,” and that, “It seems pretty obvious that they are our equals, or better, when it comes to ability to love.”

    You also cite scientific evidence, “that wolves (and all social animals probably) have complex moral codes. So we can assume dogs have moral codes also.”

    So therefore, inference and scientific evidence regarding what animals are thinking is OK for you to cite to support your position, but if someone else cites evidence or inference about animal thinking or abilities they are an arrogant skeptic who just want to think that humans are special.

    Or are you now admitting that we can make reasonable scientific inferences about animal consciousness? Perhaps only you have the special ability to know what dogs think and feel. Apparently it’s “obvious.”

  95. michaelegnor says:

    Steven,

    [“it is absurd and an example of the false continuum fallacy to claim that there is no meaningful difference between human-level consciousness (the topic of this post) and animal consciousness. There is a really good reason why dogs, or even chimps, did not invent calculus…. We do not represent any discontinuity from other animals… We are very clever chimps, and you should not deny our connection to chimps, nor the significance of our cleverness (as a species, not necessarily every individual).]

    You contradict yourself. I agree wholeheartedly that the continuum between animal and human minds is a fallacy. But that means that we are not “very clever chimps”.

    We are rational chimps, which means that we can contemplate universals abstracted from particulars. That is a radical ontological difference between humans and animals.

    I was perhaps too quick to jump on one of your assertions, but my point remains. We are different, in a fundamental way, from non-rational animals.

    I point out, in reference to our prior debates, that the ability to contemplate universals abstracted from particulars is an immaterial power of the human mind, inherently. It is in that, and only that, that dualism is true.

    And Chomsky has asserted (and I agree) that the main function of language in humans is to make it possible for us the think abstractly, not merely to communicate. For if we think about universals that are not linked to particulars (which is the limit of animal thought), then we must have mental content that is not particular–which only language can provide.

    For example, when we think of the square root of negative one, we think of a universal concept, not a particular thing, because “the square root of negative one” exists only conceptually, not as a particular thing in the world.

    In order to think of the square root of negative one, we must have language, and abstract thought and the language that makes it possible are what make us human.

  96. Rogue Medic says:

    Today we rely less on superstition and tradition than people did in the past, not because we are more rational, but because our understanding of risk enables us to make decisions in a rational mode.

    – Peter L. Bernstein

    Against the Gods: the remarkable story of risk (1996)

    .

  97. michaelegnor says:

    @chi:

    [Chimps have also demonstrated the capacity for abstract reasoning and other species demonstrate the capacity for categorical abstraction. Evidence suggests a continuum of capability related to symbolic (visual or linguistic) cognition.]

    Chimps and other animals are able to compare and categorize particulars in their environment and memory. This is not contemplation of universals or abstract thought as I mean it. It is what Aristotle called “sensus communis”, which translates as common sense but which means something different in philosophy of mind than what we moderns mean by common sense.

    Sensus communis is the ability of animals (and humans) to contemplate particulars by comparison and categorization. My dog likes two biscuits more than one biscuit, and he certainly doesn’t like cats as much as he likes humans. He compares and categorizes things, but everything he thinks is tied to a particular–this biscuit, that cat, etc.

    Dogs don’t think of nutrition or of species, divorced from a particular particular food or animal.

    Sensus communis is not abstract thought.

    No animal research has ever shown any ability of any animal to contemplate universals. Animals don’t do square roots or complex numbers.

  98. michaelegnor says:

    @HN:

    [Someone like ME — who needs to take the Christian bible as literally true and the Catholic pope as infallible — will tell you dogs are inferior, don’t have souls, all that BS.]

    1) I’m not a biblical literalist. I’m Catholic, which means I specifically reject biblical literalism.

    2) The pope is not infallible, except on proclamations rendered ex-cathedra and specifically declared to be infallible. There have only been two infallible proclamations since infallibility was made doctrine–Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her Bodily Assumption. The Church teaches infallibly only on faith and morals. I believe that Pope is quite wrong on global warming and Muslim refugees and Islam in general. I remain a Catholic in good standing.

    3) Of course dogs have souls. All living things have souls, which has been taught explicitly by the Church since the 13th century (Aquinas). Dogs don’t have immortal souls, which is a different matter. Dogs’ souls are not subsistent, to use the technical term. Because dogs’ souls lack immaterial powers, they do not survive the death of the animal. The Church is agnostic as to weather they are recreated in heaven or permanently cease to exist.

    Feel free to disagree with me, but try better to understand what I believe.

  99. Michael – you misunderstood a bit. The “false continuum” logical fallacy means that because there is a continuum you deny any meaningful difference. That is the fallacy HN is committing.

    I am saying – there is a very real continuum from other animals to humans, but at the same time humans developed language and abstract thought to such a degree that we are massively ahead of even the closest animal (chimps). Again, the topic of this post is what factors lead to this massive difference for humans, our ability to contemplate really abstract and complex ideas, like calculus and philosophy.

    But – this is not a discontinuity from animals. The more we study our closest relatives the more we find that they have greater cognitive abilities than we thought. Perhaps the best way to state this is that they have proto-language, and proto-reasoning and abstraction. The elements are all there, they are just tiny compared to what they have been expanded into in humans.

    It remains a debate among philosophers and scientists if there is any ability that is uniquely human, without any antecedent in our closest relatives. I remain agnostic on this issue because the facts are still changing as we do further research.

  100. michaelegnor says:

    Steven,

    I agree with most of your comment. Animals have some mental abilities that are remarkable, and in some ways those abilities may exceed those of humans.

    The difference between animals and humans is, as I’ve noted, the ability to think without reference to particular things. The difference between thinking about food and thinking about nutrition is a good example. My dog thinks about food all of the time, and he has very sophisticated strategies to obtain it. But he’s always thinking about food in particular–that cookie on the table, or that roast in the oven. He’s not thinking about nutrition. He’s not thinking about calories and metabolism and digestion as abstract (universal) concepts divorced from any actual particular meal in front of him or in his memory or imagination.

    This contemplation of universals is what makes us human, and is what Aristotle meant when he said that man is a “rational animal”.

    Regarding claims about abstract animal thought, invariably when you look at the research it entails sensus communis, which is the comparison and contrasting of particulars, not the contemplation of universals without particulars.

    The really interesting point is this: when you look carefully at what contemplation of universals without particulars entails, it is an immaterial ability. This is what struck Aristotle and his philosophical progeny as so remarkable. This is what makes us ontologically different from animals–that we have a mental ability that is not a material ability. And it is in this sense, and only this sense, that I am a dualist.

    This is Thomistic dualism, not Cartesian dualism, which is the belief that all mental powers are immaterial (res cogitans), which I reject.

  101. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] Chimps and other animals are able to compare and categorize particulars in their environment and memory. This is not contemplation of universals or abstract thought as I mean it. It is what Aristotle called “sensus communis”, which translates as common sense but which means something different in philosophy of mind than what we moderns mean by common sense.

    I understood what you meant. Your assertion is incorrect with respect to chimpanzees, which have demonstrated analogical reasoning (though not as proficiently as humans, obviously).

    Recent studies of conceptual capacities in primates point to a fundamental distinction between monkeys on the one hand, and apes and humans on the other (Thompson & Oden, in press). The overall pattern of results suggests that monkeys, but not apes and humans, might be best regarded as “paleo-logicans” in the sense that they form class concepts on the basis of identical predicates (i.e., shared features). Their discrimination of presumably more abstract relations commonly involves relatively simple procedural strategies mediated by associative processes likely shared by all mammals. There is no compelling evidence that monkeys can perceive relations-between-relations, let alone judge them as equivalent. Thus far, this conceptual capacity for analogical reasoning has been found only in chimpanzees and humans.

  102. chikoppi says:

    Damn quotes.

    [michaelegnor] Chimps and other animals are able to compare and categorize particulars in their environment and memory. This is not contemplation of universals or abstract thought as I mean it. It is what Aristotle called “sensus communis”, which translates as common sense but which means something different in philosophy of mind than what we moderns mean by common sense.

    I understood what you meant. Your assertion is incorrect with respect to chimpanzees, which have demonstrated analogical reasoning (though not as proficiently as humans, obviously).

    Recent studies of conceptual capacities in primates point to a fundamental distinction between monkeys on the one hand, and apes and humans on the other (Thompson & Oden, in press). The overall pattern of results suggests that monkeys, but not apes and humans, might be best regarded as “paleo-logicans” in the sense that they form class concepts on the basis of identical predicates (i.e., shared features). Their discrimination of presumably more abstract relations commonly involves relatively simple procedural strategies mediated by associative processes likely shared by all mammals. There is no compelling evidence that monkeys can perceive relations-between-relations, let alone judge them as equivalent. Thus far, this conceptual capacity for analogical reasoning has been found only in chimpanzees and humans.

  103. michaelegnor says:

    @chi:

    “relations between relations” is a nice way to characterize thinking about universals. Perhaps “relations between relations without reference to particulars” would be even more accurate.

    Analogical reasoning is not inherent about universals–it is sensus communis about particulars, entailing comparison and contrasting of particulars.

    I am not aware of any research that demonstrates thought about “relations between relations without reference to particulars” in any animal except humans.

    The paradigmatic example of such thought about universals is abstract mathematics–not mere counting of particulars but thought about abstractions such as square roots, complex numbers, multidimensional vector spaces, etc. all of which are obviously beyond the mental powers of even the cleverest animals.

  104. michaelegnor says:

    @chi:

    And even if an animal could contemplate abstract mathematics, without language, how would the animal think about abstractions without particulars?

    What would the content of the thought be, if not a particular thing or words?

    I particularly agree with Chomsky’s insight that language most fundamentally serves human thought, not merely human communication. Without language, we can only think of particulars, because without language we would lack mental content for thought about non-particular things.

  105. Pete A says:

    Michael Egnor,

    The are two reason for my ability to conceptualize the square root of minus one:
    1. I was initially taught this concept, both formally and in my native language;
    2. My work relied heavily on i-notation (mathematics) aka j-notation (engineering).

    Without the depth that human communication provides via language, it would be impossible for me to conceptualize the square root of minus one — irrespective of whether I’m a chimp or a human.

    NB: A young child is totally unable to properly conceptualize the square root of minus one, let alone apply it for practical purposes!

    I think you chose a terrible example because your previous comments stronly imply that all animals who lack “immaterial powers” — they lack the ability to conceptualize such things as the square root of minus one — have souls that do not survive death.

    You wrote:

    The paradigmatic example of such thought about universals is abstract mathematics–not mere counting of particulars but thought about abstractions such as square roots, complex numbers, multidimensional vector spaces, etc. all of which are obviously beyond the mental powers of even the cleverest animals.

    Yes, all of which is well beyond the mental powers of the majority of humans, especially: children; people with learning difficulties; the elderly and infirm.

  106. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] “relations between relations” is a nice way to characterize thinking about universals. Perhaps “relations between relations without reference to particulars” would be even more accurate.

    Analogical reasoning is not inherent about universals–it is sensus communis about particulars, entailing comparison and contrasting of particulars.

    I am not aware of any research that demonstrates thought about “relations between relations without reference to particulars” in any animal except humans.

    Someone more familiar with the research than I will have to answer that question. I think you’re splitting a very fine hair with respect to cognitive function (albeit that fine hair clearly has significant impact on the capabilities of a species).

    Analogical reasoning is use of abstraction in problem solving; understanding categories of things based on similar properties (functional in addition to perceptual similarities). The ability to compare abstract conceptual models (“universals”) would be very difficult to test for in animals, as behavioral observation requires that the animal interact with particulars. We can’t observe a chimp contemplating philosophical concepts.

    Yet, I think this is all beside the point. There is clearly a spectrum of abstract reasoning capability found in the animal kingdom, with humans dominating. Human precursors first developed primitive stone tools about 3.3M years ago. Our genus subsequently evolved its nuanced cognitive abilities through a succession of species. Higher-order abstract reasoning is a fairly late-comer to the evolutionary timeline and while we may be the first to exhibit it there is no reason to believe equivalent capabilities won’t evolve among other evolutionary lines that show progress along the spectrum.

  107. chikoppi says:

    [michaelegnor] I particularly agree with Chomsky’s insight that language most fundamentally serves human thought, not merely human communication. Without language, we can only think of particulars, because without language we would lack mental content for thought about non-particular things.

    I’m inclined to agree. Though it does raise the chicken-and-egg question as well as questions to ponder with respect to animals that show a proclivity for language adaptivity (eg, CoCo) or rudimentary linguistic behaviors (whales and, IIRC, dolphin groups have been observed using common signals to communicate information about particulars).

  108. bachfiend says:

    I’m only about halfway through the book, but the take home message so far seems to be that animals that have to respond rapidly to changes in its environment, its Umwelt, have brains.

    The mind isn’t part of the brain. The brain is the mind. And there’s an unconscious mind, which does most of the work, and a conscious mind, to which we have access in ourselves. And which probably exists in many, perhaps most, other species.

    We don’t have direct access to the minds of individuals of other species. We can only infer what’s happening in the brains, or minds, of other species. When we manage to put a dog, after a lot of training and habituation, into a fMRI machine and expose it to some stimulus and detect some signal in its brain analogous to that which happens in human brains, we still don’t have any idea whether it’s conscious or unconscious.

    Why have conscious minds when the unconscious mind is perfectly capable of doing everything necessary for survival? Why have a conscious mind which has the illusion that it’s in charge, whereas it’s largely like the monkey on the back of an elephant, and which thinks that it’s directing the course of the elephant by pulling on its ears, whereas in reality the elephant is going where the elephant wants to go.

    Humans do appear to have the ability of abstract thinking, not just a theory of mind that other species do have, that no other species has. There does appear to be a true gap, not part of a continuum. There’s also a gap between humans and other species, with the twig of the tree of life containing humans having just one species – Homo sapiens. Just 50,000 years ago, there were 5 human species in existence, and 4 of them have gone extinct. If common chimps and bonobos ever go extinct, then the gap will get even larger.

    It would have been fascinating to have been able to interact with a different human species. Or would it have been impossible, because it would have invited genocide of the other species? If it had been possible, it would have allowed examination of different patterns in thinking in similar species, in the same way that we can do today with common chimps and bonobos.

  109. Pete A says:

    This isn’t the first time that I have agreed with hardnose on at least the essence of a specific point or two. Hardnose wrote:

    “there is nothing remotely like human language in any other animal. The difference is not just one of degree. That was Chomski’s position, which is why I referenced him.”

    Chomski wants to say humans are so special. He has no scientific reason for saying that. But if Chomski said it, well it just HAS to be true!

    Humans have human language, other animals have other ways of communication. All communication systems have a lot in common.

    We don’t understand the communication systems of other animals. Therefore, we cannot assume ours is better and special and different.

    Each species is indeed uniquely special, and categorically different: otherwise, it couldn’t be categorised as a unique species!

    Our species is unique (not better) in two very important ways:
    1. Many of the members are able to communicate via written language;
    2. We have, far and above all other species, the greatest ability to destroy not only each other, but also the ecosystems of our exquisite and delicate home in the universe: planet Earth.

  110. edamame says:

    Rogue medic:

    “My question is How does natural selection cause the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria?”

    I assume you know the basics of how natural selection works. That’s how. You are tilting at windmills.

  111. hardnose says:

    @ME:

    “We are rational chimps, which means that we can contemplate universals abstracted from particulars. That is a radical ontological difference between humans and animals.”

    You ignored all the research showing abstract thinking, and language, in some animals.

  112. hardnose says:

    And please @ME, don’t tell us the Catholic church knows whether or not dogs have immortal souls.

  113. Pete A says:

    edamame,

    You have made it abundantly clear that you wouldn’t even be able to describe how a light switch ’causes’ the light(s) to go on and off. You are the one who’s tilting at windmills.

  114. hardnose says:

    To summarize, it seems like the word “consciousness” was being used in a particular way by Dennett, and he didn’t mean awareness. He meant the kind of consciousness humans have while thinking in words.

    Now, for all of us loonies who meditate, that seems like a strange way to define consciousness. We actually become more conscious by NOT thinking in words.

    Thinking in words is useful for certain things, but it can also obstruct and confuse. You really need a way to shift gears in your consciousness.

  115. Pete A says:

    “[hardnose] And please @ME, don’t tell us the Catholic church knows whether or not dogs have immortal souls.”

    Even though I’ve become an atheist, I would never tell anyone that dogs do not have immortal souls. I don’t know! Guide dogs are more deserving of having an immortal soul than many/most humans.

  116. bachfiend says:

    Pete A,

    Obviously dogs have immortal souls just as much as humans have immortal souls. And you have a billion dollars just as much as I have a billion dollars.

  117. hardnose says:

    Heaven without dogs? Impossible!

  118. edamame says:

    Pete you disqualified yourself when you said the word ’cause’ implies ‘design’ or ‘intention’. If you want to know how natural selection generates diversity, read a book. Or Wikipedia. I cited some sources above. Have at it.

  119. Rogue Medic says:

    edamame,

    Do you have anything else?

    A quest to find a comment by you that might have something that might be related to the discussion, even though you cannot defend your comment is a waste of time.

    How does natural selection cause the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria?

    You keep avoiding this question.

    Provide an answer, rather than excuses.

    .

  120. bachfiend says:

    edamame,

    Natural selection doesn’t generate diversity, as you claim. It eliminates diversity as purifying selection, which was recognised before Darwin. With antibiotic resistance in bacteria, natural selection reduces diversity by eliminating the variants which are sensitive to the antibiotic

  121. edamame says:

    Rogue — natural selection causes the relevant allele frequencies (those that confer resistance, vs those that do not) to change over time in the population. How does it do this? Those that are marinated in antibiotics and do not have this resistance die. Those that do have the resistance do not die. Replication happens in those that did not die. Voila. That is how natural selection causes antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria to emerge.

    I frankly don’t care if you use the word, but you acting as if it is some gross mistake for others to use it is just laughable. If you like to police people’s language, run to the philosophy department and write a PhD treatise on the word ’cause’. Science isn’t like that. Your reasons for wanting people to not use the word make no sense.

    I cited two works above on the causes of evolution (one of them being natural selection). You ignored them and acted as if I mentioned nothing. If the first-order science is not for you, please read Ernst Mayer’s classic paper ‘Cause and Effect in Biology’ (1961). Pretty much required reading on this topic. After that, maybe ‘More on how and why: cause and effect in biology revisited’ by Laland et al., 2012, just to get a sense for how people are thinking about it now.

    This linguistic nonsense is a waste you guys have got yourselves in such a rabbit hole just forget it and study the science. Dear lord click and clack in here this is literally the silliest nonsense I have ever seen at this blog.

  122. edamame says:

    bachfiend I’m done arguing semantics see my previous response, you are being much too narrow in your reading of natural selection for one, and two it causes changes in allele frequencies if you want to be technical about it. But this is just silly nothing rides on this linguistic point. See the references (Gillespie’s book causes of molecular evolution, etc).

  123. bachfiend says:

    edamame,

    You’re still wrong. Natural selection doesn’t cause anything. It’s the changing environment (or ‘Umwelt’) that causes the change. No environmental change, no evolutionary change (with the possible exception of the symbiotic events which led to the first eukaryotes).

    I’d accept that evolution is caused by environmental change ‘by means of’ natural selection (although there’s other mechanisms too).

  124. Pete A says:

    In natural theology, a cosmological argument is an argument in which the existence of a unique being, generally seen as some kind of god or demiurge is deduced or inferred from facts or alleged facts concerning causation, change, motion, contingency, or finitude in respect of the universe as a whole or processes within it.[1][2] It is traditionally known as an argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, or the causal argument.

    The basic premise of all of these is the concept of causality and of a first cause. The history of this argument goes back to Aristotle or earlier, was developed in Neoplatonism and early Christianity and later in medieval Islamic theology during the 9th to 12th centuries, and re-introduced to medieval Christian theology in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas. The cosmological argument is closely related to the principle of sufficient reason as addressed by Gottfried Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, itself a modern exposition of the claim that “nothing comes from nothing” attributed to Parmenides.

    Contemporary defenders of cosmological arguments include William Lane Craig,[3] Robert Koons,[4] Alexander Pruss,[5] and William L. Rowe.[6]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument

    That is why I am not alone in strongly disliking the word “cause” being used in scientific literature.

    Q. What causes evolution?
    A. X, Y, Z.
    Q. What causes X, Y, Z.
    A. A, B, C.
    Q. What causes A, B, C.
    A. We don’t know.

    Conclusion: God was the first cause; or Intelligent Design; or quantum flapdoodle.

  125. Pete A says:

    Oops, I messed up the blockquote.

    In natural theology, a cosmological argument is an argument in which the existence of a unique being, generally seen as some kind of god or demiurge is deduced or inferred from facts or alleged facts concerning causation, change, motion, contingency, or finitude in respect of the universe as a whole or processes within it.[1][2] It is traditionally known as an argument from universal causation, an argument from first cause, or the causal argument.

    The basic premise of all of these is the concept of causality and of a first cause. The history of this argument goes back to Aristotle or earlier, was developed in Neoplatonism and early Christianity and later in medieval Islamic theology during the 9th to 12th centuries, and re-introduced to medieval Christian theology in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas. The cosmological argument is closely related to the principle of sufficient reason as addressed by Gottfried Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, itself a modern exposition of the claim that “nothing comes from nothing” attributed to Parmenides.

    Contemporary defenders of cosmological arguments include William Lane Craig,[3] Robert Koons,[4] Alexander Pruss,[5] and William L. Rowe.[6]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument

    That is why I am not alone in strongly disliking the word “cause” being used in scientific literature.

    Q. What causes evolution?
    A. X, Y, Z.
    Q. What causes X, Y, Z.
    A. A, B, C.
    Q. What causes A, B, C.
    A. We don’t know.

    Conclusion: God was the first cause; or Intelligent Design; or quantum flapdoodle.

  126. michaelegnor says:

    @Pete:

    [That is why I am not alone in strongly disliking the word “cause” being used in scientific literature.]

    A suggestion:

    When your ideology makes “cause” problematic, maybe it’s your ideology, not “cause”, that’s the problem.

  127. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    When your ideology makes “cause” a fundamental pillar, maybe it’s your ideology, not “cause”, that’s the problem.

  128. michaelegnor says:

    No causes means no science.

    It’s amazing what athesists will do to protect their religion.

  129. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    Since I was born, I was ruthlessly indoctrinated with not just religion, but also many other forms of belief systems. Being given homeopathy for my acute and life-threatening asthma attacks, while also being prohibited from mentioning these asthma attacks to our family physician (a GP: an MD registered with the UK General Medical Council), was a level of cruelty and suffering that I shall never forget nor forgive.

    It is indeed amazing what true believers will do to protect their religion; it is also hideously disgusting.

    I have slowly and painstakingly de-indoctrinated myself to become, not just an atheist (a non-theist), but also a secular humanist.

    Your relentless straw-manning of me, of other commentators on this blog, of Dr. Novella, of 21st-century epistemology, and of 21st-century science and its methods, in a pathetic attempt to support both your personal religion and the idiology of the Discovery Institute, comes as no surprise.

    Yes, your endless straw-manning is just your pathetic excuse for you to continue to self-justify your religion, and your affiliation with the Discovery Institute. It is little wonder that The Encyclopedia of American loons! desribes you thusly:
    http://americanloons.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/119-michael-egnor.html

  130. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA:

    [Since I was born, I was ruthlessly indoctrinated…]

    Sounds like a personal problem. Get help.

    It’s funny to be called a “loon” by a guy who denies “causes”.

  131. Steve Cross says:

    [michaelegnor] No causes means no science.

    Indeed!!

    Science is all about discovering and understanding the cause/effect relationship — and searching for empirical evidence to validate our understanding. As well as being able to recognize disconfirming evidence and then starting over with a new hypothesis.

    Science is most assuredly NOT just inventing a cause and trying to defend it without any evidence at all.

  132. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    “Sounds like a personal problem. Get help.”

    I received expert medical help. Obviously, you haven’t, and you never will.

    “It’s funny to be called a ‘loon’ by a guy who denies ’causes’.”

    It’s funny to see that you have deployed the fallacy of shooting the messenger in your reply 🙂
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_the_messenger

  133. TheGorilla says:

    Guys egnor isn’t just making things up about causation — this is an issue centuries old: Kant’s project was motivated by Hume’s writings on causation.

    Also, cosmological arguments do not “invent causes” or whatever. They are valid arguments that deduce the necessity of a first cause — if you don’t like it, find a problem with the premises, don’t make up some ridiculous stuff about the conclusion being some sort of invention. And the majority of CAs deal with causation in the sense of ontological grounding, not a temporal series of events; essentially ordered series vs accidentally ordered.

  134. Pete A says:

    QUOTE from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Egnor
    Intelligent design
    Egnor rejected evolutionary theory after reading Michael Denton’s book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and said “claims of evolutionary biologists go wildly beyond the evidence.”[2] In 2007 he joined the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News & Views blog.[3]

    Biologist Jerry Coyne responded to Egnor’s article by criticising Egnor’s lack of scientific credentials and claiming Egnor accepted widely discredited claims (claims recanted by Denton himself in a later book) and “Egnor is decades out of date and shows no sign of knowing anything at all about evolutionary biology in the 21st century.”[4] Egnor is a signatory to the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaign A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism and Physicians and Surgeons who Dissent from Darwinism.

    In March 2007, when the Alliance for Science sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic “Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution,” Egnor responded by posting an essay on the Discovery Institute’s intelligent design blog claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine.[5] Dr. Burt Humburg criticized him on the blog Panda’s Thumb pointing out the benefits of evolution to medicine and, contrary to Egnor’s claim, that doctors do study evolution.[6]

    Egnor appeared in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. In the film, Ben Stein describes this as “Darwinists were quick to try and exterminate this new threat,” and Egnor says he was shocked by the “viciousness” and “baseness” of the response.[7] The website Expelled Exposed, created by the NCSE responded by saying that Egnor must never have been to the Internet before.
    END QUOTE

    Michael, I remind you again that shooting the messenger (me, in this, and in my previous references) is a logical fallacy. You are the original messenger therefore you are pathetically shooting yourself.

  135. Pete A says:

    TheGorilla,

    We don’t make stuff up. The cosmological argument is, in this 21st Century, very obviously an ancient circular argument. Fortunately, science- and evidence-based reasoning has moved far beyond ancient philosophy. Whereas, theology remains forever clutching at the straws of ancient philosophy.

  136. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA:

    [Fortunately, science- and evidence-based reasoning…]

    There is no science or evidence-based reasoning, if there are no “causes”.

  137. TheGorilla says:

    Pete,

    That is literally not true and just betrays an ignorance of how cosmological argumentS — I mean, the first part is that you say “the” cosmological argument when it’s a blanket, family term that encompasses at least 10 different variations. The second part is that there is still contemporary work being done, including by atheists, on arguments surrounding God’s existence. Since you’re so into science and evidence (ps, arguments are evidence-based reasoning), I would think the fact that the experts in a field would laugh your opinion out of the room should give you pause, but, hey, that’s just me!

    Everyone is so quick to call these things ancient / debunked / fallacious / circular etc and when actually asked to provide evidence to back that up all that follows is silence or ridiculous miscomprehension.

  138. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    There is no need to, yet again, remind us of your ’causes’: the ideological agenda of the Discovery Institute:

    The Discovery Institute (DI) is a non-profit public policy think tank based in Seattle, Washington, best known for its advocacy of the pseudoscientific principle of intelligent design (ID). Its “Teach the Controversy” campaign aims to permit teaching of anti-evolution, intelligent-design beliefs in United States public high school science courses alongside accepted scientific theories, positing that a scientific controversy exists over these subjects.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_Institute

  139. michaelegnor says:

    PeteA:

    Here (again) is my version of Aquinas’ First Way, which is a cosmological argument.

    http://egnorance.blogspot.com/2011/08/aquinas-first-way.html

    Feel free to critique it, if you’re up to it.

    I’ll reply if any of your critiques pass minimal logical muster.

  140. Pete A says:

    TheGorilla,

    Okay, I’m ignorant, therefore, your statements are rendered true 🙂

  141. Rogue Medic says:

    Michael Egnor – the man who calls Pope Francis a criminal and a fraud for being honest about the human causes of climate change,

    What caused your Gods?

    What caused the cause of your Gods?

    Repeat ad infinitum.

    Why?

    Because.

    .

  142. michaelegnor says:

    @RM:

    [What caused your Gods? What caused the cause of your Gods?}

    The point of the cosmological arguments is that they demonstrate that that needs to be an uncaused cause/prime mover/necessary existence for the universe to exist as it does.

    This is not assumed, it is proven, using meticulous logic.

    If you wish to intelligently dispute the cosmological arguments, you must:

    1) Understand them.
    2) Dispute them with logic

    So far, you’re 0 for 2.

  143. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    I have previously addressed, on this website, your incessant appeals to ‘Saint’ Thomas Aquinas and his disgusting statements on issues of morality.

  144. Rogue Medic says:

    Michael Egnor – the man who calls Pope Francis a criminal and a fraud for being honest about the human causes of climate change,

    [What caused your Gods? What caused the cause of your Gods?}

    The point of the cosmological arguments is that they demonstrate that that needs to be an uncaused cause/prime mover/necessary existence for the universe to exist as it does.

    This is not assumed, it is proven, using meticulous logic.

    In order to cross the room, I must first move half way across the room.

    In order to move half way across the room, I must first move half of that distance.

    Repeat ad infinitum.

    Zeno proved that we cannot move with equally meticulous logic.

    Still, we move.

    You have convinced yourself that your infinitesimal move across the room god is the first god and the only god, because Zeno’s logic is pure.

    .

  145. Steve Cross says:

    Neurologica Blog – Cosmological Argument

    [michaelegnor] The point of the cosmological arguments is that they TRY TO demonstrate that that (sp?? there?) needs to be an uncaused cause/prime mover/necessary existence for the universe to exist as it does.

    FTFY. Simply declaring success in no way proves it to be true.

    Every version of the of the Cosmoillogical Argument boils down to exactly the same thing:

    “(I’m pretty sure that) Something had to start the ball rolling, and that something had to have the characteristics that match the thing I want to believe in.”

    Either the UNIVERSE had a beginning or it didn’t, and at the moment we don’t know which. To pretend otherwise is simply speculation and wishful thinking. To further try to assign properties to this hypothetical First Cause is ridiculous and completely unjustified by either logic or evidence.

    To claim that “it is proven, using meticulous logic” is absurd. No one has ever been able to logically prove that the supposed FC is somehow exempt from the same rules you have been using.

  146. Pete A says:

    “The point of the cosmological arguments is that they demonstrate…” only the abject incompetence and utter fu(kwittery of its proponents.

  147. chikoppi says:

    A) If we allow for an infinite universe there can be no ‘first’ anything (that’s not how infinity works).

    B) The cause of this (non-infinite) universe need not be within this universe or have any means to access or influence it beyond the precipitating event.

    C) Aquinas’ notion of ‘potency’ is quaint. An acorn is energy and mass. It can become chemical energy, its matter can be dissipated and undergo state change, its molecules can be chemically recombined, its atoms can be fused or decay into different elements, its neutrons can decay into protons and electrons. All due to ‘natural’ processes. There is no intrinsic ‘potency’ unique to an acorn or any other thing.

    D) Even were there a valid argument for a ‘first cause’ Aquinas’ progression tells us absolutely nothing about it. Slapping the name ‘God’ on it does nothing to illuminate properties or bestow agency.

    E) We don’t even know if the concepts of ‘causation’ or ‘time’ are valid prior to the first instant of the universe.

  148. Ian Wardell says:

    Steven Novella said:
    “Essentially, what you experience as your own consciousness is a constructed fiction. It is an active process that weaves together multiple sensory streams, that are dramatically filtered and tweaked, time-shifted, blended together, and then compared with what we think we know about the world, to create a narrative stream that we experience as our consciousness. That experience is largely an illusion, which does not mean that you don’t exist or that you are not truly conscious. It is the technical sense of an illusion, which neurologically means that your perception of reality is not accurate because of internal processing reasons.”

    In your first sentence what’s a fiction? Consciousness, or the self that has consciousness?

    The rest seems to be arguing that our perception of reality is an illusion.

    So that’s 3 different things which could be a fiction or an illusion!

    It’s just a load of confused twaddle…

  149. Steve Cross says:

    Yes, Ian, we all realize that you seem to be permanently confused.

  150. michaelegnor says:

    @RM:

    [Zeno proved that we cannot move with equally meticulous logic.
    Still, we move.You have convinced yourself that your infinitesimal move across the room god is the first god and the only god, because Zeno’s logic is pure.]

    Be careful of denying logic as an argument. You may notice that it undercuts all arguments, including yours.

    In fact, Aristotle pointed out the fallacy in Zeno’s argument. (Physics 206a9-b2)

    Aristotle observed that Zeno confused potential infinity with actual infinity. There are infinite midpoints from A to B in a race, but there are two kinds of infinities–potential and actual. Only if the infinity of midpoints is an actual infinity of midpoints, and not just a potential infinity, does the runner not reach B.

    Aristotle’s doctrine of potency and act resolved Zeno’s paradox, and in fact the resolution of Zeno’s paradox is a fine example of the sublimity of Aristotle’s doctrine of potency and act.

    To understand Aristotle’s point better, imagine that the runner runs from A and reaches B. He clearly does so, and there is no problem with infinities.

    Now imagine that the runner runs from A to B, and at each mid-point of the remaining course he stops and kneels on the ground. Of course, if he did this at each midpoint, he would never reach B, just as Zeno argued.

    Aristotle points out that just running from A to B, and doing an actual act at each midpoint between A and B are different things. The first is a potential infinity, the second is an actual infinity. Potential infinity can be crossed. Actual infinity cannot.

    So Aristotle provided better logic than Zeno, and resolved Zeno’s paradox. The answer to inadequate logic is better logic, not denial of logic.

    I also point out, historically, that mathematicians struggled with this concept in the development of calculus and the concept of limit, which is an infinity of infinitesimals. Limits became accepted concepts in calculus when mathematicians accepted that limits were potential infinities of infinitesimals, not actual infinities.

  151. Steve Cross says:

    “The answer to inadequate logic is better logic, not denial of logic.”

    Which, of course, is EXACTLY the point that Rogue Medic was making.

    Aquinas’ logic is inadequate to prove his (or your) point.

  152. Pete A says:

    “[Ian Wardell] It’s just a load of confused twaddle…”

    That is an excellent description of your blog.

  153. Steve Cross says:

    Pete A,

    Wait … what?? You mean that IW’s blog was not intended to be comedy???

  154. michaelegnor says:

    @SC:

    [Aquinas’ logic is inadequate to prove his (or your) point.]

    Be specific. How is Aquinas’ logic inadequate?

  155. Pete A says:

    Steve Cross,

    The comedy of IW’s blog is best appreciated while consuming fine ales, wines, or whiskies.

  156. Steve Cross says:

    @ME,

    chikoppi just gave you 5 reasons that Aquinas did not address/understand. Personally, I think each one is a showstopper, and I already mentioned a few of those five shortcomings in my own previous comments (although never as elegantly and succinctly as chikoppi is able to).

    But in a nutshell, Aquinas is simply defining his premises to support his desired conclusion. Especially;

    5) An essentially ordered series of elevations from potency to act cannot be in infinite regress, because the series must be actualized by something that is itself in act without the need for elevation from potency.

    which is as fine an example of circular logic as you will ever encounter.

  157. Rogue Medic says:

    Michael Egnor – the man who calls Pope Francis a criminal and a fraud for being honest about the human causes of climate change,

    Be careful of denying logic as an argument. You may notice that it undercuts all arguments, including yours.

    Logic can convince us of all sorts of things that are not true.

    Therefore, logically, we rely on evidence to determine where logic may be misleading us.

    Aristotle would have made fewer mistakes if he formed testable hypotheses and actually tested them.

    Tell me about this Creator hypothesis and how it has held up to experimentation.

    Brag about the success of demonstrating something that should be easier than crossing the room.

    .

  158. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    In the UK, medical practitioners have been struck off the list of licensed medical practitioners, and banned from ever again practising medicine, for promoting religion to their patients.

    Your mileage may vary, but that does not mean that you are less despicable for your blatant misuse of position, power, and/or authority.

  159. michaelegnor says:

    @chi:

    [A) If we allow for an infinite universe there can be no ‘first’ anything (that’s not how infinity works).]

    Aquinas’ (and Aristotle’s) cosmological arguments are based on causation in priority, not in time. Aquinas called these causes essential and accidental, respectively. An example of causation in priority is a static stack of books. The positions of the books depend on the book at the bottom–if the bottom book is removed, the stack falls. Time is irrelevant.

    An example of causation in time is descent from ancestors. You were “caused” by your father, who was caused by your grandfather, etc. The removal (death) of a cause in time is not relevant to your existence.

    An infinite universe necessarily depends on essential cause (causation in priority), although not accidental cause (causation in time). The need for causation in priority is demonstrated in each of the cosmological arguments (Aquinas had three).

    [B) The cause of this (non-infinite) universe need not be within this universe or have any means to access or influence it beyond the precipitating event.]

    I’m not sure what your point is in the first clause–God is not in fact within this universe. As for your second clause, causation in priority remains as long as the effect remains. Causation in time can go away, but Aquinas’ causes were all in priority, not in time.

    [C) Aquinas’ notion of ‘potency’ is quaint. An acorn is energy and mass. It can become chemical energy, its matter can be dissipated and undergo state change, its molecules can be chemically recombined, its atoms can be fused or decay into different elements, its neutrons can decay into protons and electrons. All due to ‘natural’ processes. There is no intrinsic ‘potency’ unique to an acorn or any other thing.]

    Potency is a central concept in metaphysics, and cannot be logically denied. It is widely used in science–potential energy is an example (“potential” refers explicitly to Aristotelian potency).

    Heisenberg, who unlike most modern scientists was philosophically literate, recognized that Aristotelian potency and act presaged the quantum mechanical concepts of superposition and collapse of the quantum waveform.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09/feser_on_heisenberg_on_act_and025451.html

    [D) Even were there a valid argument for a ‘first cause’ Aquinas’ progression tells us absolutely nothing about it. Slapping the name ‘God’ on it does nothing to illuminate properties or bestow agency.]

    Aquinas spent hundreds of pages in Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles demonstrating that the Prime Mover/First Cause/Necessary Existence must be omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc. The reasoning is tight and detailed. Read it for yourself if you’re really interested.

    [E) We don’t even know if the concepts of ‘causation’ or ‘time’ are valid prior to the first instant of the universe.]

    Causation in priority, not causation in time, is what Aquinas argued. Aquinas’ argument has nothing to do with the Big Bang.

  160. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA:

    [that does not mean that you are less despicable for your blatant misuse of position, power, and/or authority.]

    I’m “despicable”?

  161. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA:

    [In the UK, medical practitioners have been struck off the list of licensed medical practitioners, and banned from ever again practising medicine, for promoting religion to their patients.]

    What does my day job have to do with this?

    You imply that I should lose my medical license for discussing Aquinas, etc.

    Wow.

  162. Ian Wardell says:

    I don’t think it’s sensible to suggest that we humans have (or are) immortal souls, but a dog has a soul that is not immortal. I presume a dog’s soul is thus crucially dependent on its brain, or its whole body in some way, but a human’s soul is not so dependent. Why is this reasonable to hold? Because human beings are capable of abstract thought? I think the research on crows strongly suggests this is not correct.

    In addition, the existence of an immortal soul at least opens up the possibility that there is some ultimate purpose to our existence. But if only human beings survive their deaths, this means only our lives could have this ultimate purpose, and that other animals whose intelligence is not too far behind our own — for example dolphins, apes and elephants, crows — do not have any such ultimate purpose. But why would human beings be special in this way?

  163. bachfiend says:

    Michael,

    I don’t have any problem in thinking that the cause of evolution is environmental change (including climate change and change in competitors, predators and prey) acting on reproductively isolated populations, with sufficient natural variation present, mainly as a result of the mechanism of natural selection (plus some other mechanisms such as sexual selection and neutral drift).

    Many events and processes in the Universes have causes and are caused, even if their outcomes can’t be predicted precisely, such as evolution. Many other events and processes, just as a result of their ‘nature’, don’t have causes and are uncaused, such as quantum events which are probabilistic and not determinalistic. An unstable nucleus with a half life only has a probability of decaying in a certain time and it’s impossible to predict or explain why it decays when it decays. It’s completely uncaused.

    Another uncaused process is the appearance of virtual particles in the quantum foam. Why can’t our Universe haven’t arisen from a similar quantum fluctuation in the quantum foam of a larger Multiverse? The answer to the question – why did ‘something’ (the Universe) come from ‘nothing’? – is that the Universe is ‘nothing’. The total energy content of the Universe – the positive energy of ordinary matter, dark matter and dark energy is exactly balanced by the negative energy of gravity.

    Science is becoming very complicated and often counter-intuitive. The days of a polymath who understood everything known is long past. No scientist nowadays knows nothing more than a very tiny fraction of what is actually known (and also the ‘known unknowns’, let alone the ‘unknown unknowns’). Science papers often have hundreds of authors, none of whom know all the details in their papers. The Nobel Prize committees maintain the fiction by awarding their prizes, in particular in physics, to a maximum of 3 people despite the work recognised often being produced by hundreds if not thousands of scientists.

    You want to believe that our Universe is caused by your God using the naive intuitions of Aristotle and Aquinas, who had no idea of the seemingly counter-intuitive quantum physics. Why can’t the Universe be uncaused? Or result from an uncaused event in a larger Multiverse?

  164. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    “You imply that I should lose my medical license for discussing Aquinas, etc.”

    No, I did not imply that!

    But, you are a physician, and you replied to me “Sounds like a personal problem. Get help.”, which was a clear demonstration of unethical behaviour for a physician — irrespective of whether you issued that derogatory remark as part of your ‘day job’ or as part of your obsession with promoting your religion and the ideologies of the Discovery Institute.

    You wrote “I’m ‘despicable’?” Your comments on this website, let alone your trail of obnoxious comments on other websites, are doing nothing other than increasingly confirming it. But, you don’t need to continually confirm these evidence-based descriptions of your incompetence, fu(kwittery, ideology, and political agenda:
    http://americanloons.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/119-michael-egnor.html
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Michael_Egnor

  165. michaelegnor says:

    @Ian:

    The main philosophical argument for the immortality of the human soul, but not of the animal soul, goes like this.

    Humans are rational animals, which means that our souls (forms) can contemplate universals. Contemplation of universals is an immaterial power inherently, and while it depends on matter (vision, hearing, memory, awareness, etc), it is not generated by matter. Matter is necessary, but not sufficient, for normal contemplation of universals.

    When we say that something in nature ceases to exist, we mean that its matter loses its form. A chair that is burned in a fire loses its “chair” form, and becomes ashes, thereby ceasing to exist.

    For a human being with a rational soul, the aspect of the soul that is immaterial (the rational aspect) is not composed with matter to begin with–it is immaterial. So when our body dies, we don’t lose the form of our rational soul, because our rational soul was never completely composed to matter to begin with. The human soul can continue to exist (in an attenuated form), and can be reunited with a body at the resurrection.

    For animals, who lack rational souls, death of the body entails complete loss of the soul.

    Of course the animal soul can be recreated by God in the afterlife, but that is recreation, not survival.

    Now whether animals have rational souls is another debate. Animals can certainly be quite clever, and even more clever than humans in some ways, but I am not aware of any reason to believe that animals can contemplate universals without particulars, which is what “rational” in this sense means.

    Clever does not mean rational, in the sense relevant to this question.

  166. Pete A says:

    “Of course the animal soul can be recreated by God in the afterlife, but that is recreation, not survival.”

    How do we know this is true? Because Dr. Michael Egnor has told us that this is true. He can back it with the musings of a 13th Century philosopher who convinced the Catholic church.

    Dr. Michael Egnor is very wise: he knows that Pope Francis a criminal and a fraud for being honest about the human causes of climate change.

    Wow!

  167. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA:

    [“You imply that I should lose my medical license for discussing Aquinas, etc.”
    No, I did not imply that!]

    Of course you did.

    [But, you are a physician, and you replied to me “Sounds like a personal problem. Get help.”, which was a clear demonstration of unethical behaviour for a physician]

    Funny how atheists’ hurt feelings always seem to coincide with losing an argument. This is a pattern I see often with atheists: when they are losing an argument, they shift to ad hominem. I’ve been called a racist, a white supremacist, an unethical physician, etc, etc. It always seems to happen right after it becomes clear to the atheist that his argument is failing.

    […evidence-based descriptions of your incompetence, fu(kwittery, ideology, and political agenda:]

    And you’re lecturing me about professionalism and civility…

  168. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    You have claimed that the Holy Spirit speaks directly to you. Popes have made the same claim. When you claim that a pope is a criminal and a fraud, should we believe you, Pope Francis, or neither of you?

    http://americanloons.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/119-michael-egnor.html

  169. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA:

    When you get the personal attacks out of your system, perhaps you would like to discuss Aquinas.

  170. Steve Cross says:

    @ME,

    “perhaps you would like to discuss Aquinas.”

    I’m game. As I already said:

    But in a nutshell, Aquinas is simply defining his premises to support his desired conclusion. Especially;

    5) An essentially ordered series of elevations from potency to act cannot be in infinite regress, because the series must be actualized by something that is itself in act without the need for elevation from potency.

    which is as fine an example of circular logic as you will ever encounter.

  171. michaelegnor says:

    @bach:

    […Aristotle and Aquinas, who had no idea of the seemingly counter-intuitive quantum physics.]

    Hylemorphism presaged superposition and collapse of the quantum waveform (potency and act) and quantum entanglement (final cause).

    Quantum mechanics wasn’t counter-intuitive to Aristotle and Aquinas. Their metaphysics presaged it.

    [Why can’t the Universe be uncaused? Or result from an uncaused event in a larger Multiverse?]

    The only thing that can be uncaused is Pure Act. Any composition of potency and act presupposes a Prime Mover/First Cause/Necessary Existence (Aquinas’ first Three Ways).

    Everything in the universe is a composition of potency and act, and thus the universe cannot be uncaused.

  172. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    When you provide the written rebuttal from Pope Francis to your acidic attacks on him, I shall give it, and you, my consideration.

  173. michaelegnor says:

    @SC:

    [But in a nutshell, Aquinas is simply defining his premises to support his desired conclusion. Especially;
    5) An essentially ordered series of elevations from potency to act cannot be in infinite regress, because the series must be actualized by something that is itself in act without the need for elevation from potency.
    which is as fine an example of circular logic as you will ever encounter.]

    Aquinas defined his premises, as is necessary for a coherent argument. His premises are standard metaphysical premises, universally accepted in his time and generally accepted in our time.

    The deduction from premises to conclusion (potency and act in essential causes to prime mover) is a deduction, not a circular argument.

    If you wish to challenge either his premises or the logical structure of his argument, feel free to do so.

  174. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA,

    I saw him in Rome a couple of weeks ago (the truth!), and he didn’t mention it.

    He did wave, and gave a blessing.

  175. Pete A says:

    “Quantum mechanics wasn’t counter-intuitive to Aristotle and Aquinas.”

    There is a good reason for that: they were totally unaware of it!

  176. Pete A says:

    Deepak Chopra Faces a Real Theoretical Physicist:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qFGs-SIWB4

  177. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA:

    [“Quantum mechanics wasn’t counter-intuitive to Aristotle and Aquinas.”
    There is a good reason for that: they were totally unaware of it!]

    They were aware of the metaphysical basis for it. In fact, they discovered the metaphysical basis for it.

    Quantum mechanics seems strange to us, because we have internalized to mechanical philosophy of Descartes. Quantum mechanics would not seem strange to Aristotle and Aquinas, who taught that potentialities have a kind of existence and collapse into actual existence when they are measured (grasped by the mind). They also taught that the end of a process conditions its cause (teleology), which is a nice framework on which to understand quantum entanglement.

    As I said, some of the originators of modern qm (eg Heisenberg) were aware of the remarkable similarity between Aristotelian metaphysics and the quantum world.

    Those were the days when scientists were educated men.

  178. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    Many years ago, I saw the Queen of England (the truth!), and she didn’t mention my comments about the role of the Royal Family.

    She did wave, and gave a blessing.

  179. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA:

    [Many years ago, I saw the Queen of England (the truth!), and she didn’t mention my comments about the role of the Royal Family. She did wave, and gave a blessing.}

    I like the Queen and the Pope.

    Neither knows anything about global warming.

  180. chikoppi says:

    [ME] An infinite universe necessarily depends on essential cause (causation in priority), although not accidental cause (causation in time). The need for causation in priority is demonstrated in each of the cosmological arguments (Aquinas had three).

    As either time or space can be infinite, so too can structure be infinitely recursive…wherein there is no ‘fundamental’ framework, but an infinite regression (literally “turtles all the way down”). Aquinas simply asserts that causation cannot be infinite (this applies to the first two cosmological arguments, “unmoved mover” and “first cause”).

    If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, ‘How about the tortoise?’ the Indian said, ‘Suppose we change the subject.’ – Bertran Russell

    The third cosmological argument, “contingency,” is not necessary given the axiom that once it exists matter/energy can never be destroyed.

    I’m not sure what your point is in the first clause–God is not in fact within this universe. As for your second clause, causation in priority remains as long as the effect remains. Causation in time can go away, but Aquinas’ causes were all in priority, not in time.

    I’m fine with this, so long as it is stipulated that the fundamental substrate (“first cause”) of this universe is not necessarily the fundamental substrate of all universes and may itself exist without a cause.

    Potency is a central concept in metaphysics, and cannot be logically denied. It is widely used in science–potential energy is an example (“potential” refers explicitly to Aristotelian potency).

    This is fine IF we are adopting physics, not teleology, as the arbiter of “potential.” The distinction here is that the qualities of any macro entity are emergent (bottom-up, not top-down) and that “universals” are abstract descriptions of particulars.

    Aquinas spent hundreds of pages in Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles demonstrating that the Prime Mover/First Cause/Necessary Existence must be omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc. The reasoning is tight and detailed. Read it for yourself if you’re really interested.

    Reasoning that relies on the Argument from Degree and the Teleological Argument, neither of which I accept. I studied theology with the Jesuits. I’m familiar.

    [E) We don’t even know if the concepts of ‘causation’ or ‘time’ are valid prior to the first instant of the universe.]
    Causation in priority, not causation in time, is what Aquinas argued. Aquinas’ argument has nothing to do with the Big Bang.

    We don’t know if anything existed before the universe, if there is anything more fundamental than the universe, or if spontaneous inception is just a thing that can happen (something literally coming from nothing – the absence of a “first cause”).

  181. Pete A says:

    Michael,

    Please take this as not argumentative, but just in the humorous spirit in which I sincerely intend it:

    Prince Charles claims to know much about climate change. He has been advised to avoid lecturing Donald Trump when/if he visits England 🙂
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-prince-charles-climate-change-environment-uk-visit-queen-a7551701.html

    Despite our heated disagreements, I wish you no harm whatsoever. I sincerely thank you for the amazing work that you have done to save lives, and to drastically improve the quality of life for other patients.

  182. bachfiend says:

    Michael,

    The Pope does know something about global warming. He has a Pontifical Academy of Sciences, containing many eminent scientists such as Stephen Hawkings, to advise him regarding what is known in science.

    He knows that global warming is happening, just as well that he knows that the Higgs’ boson exists, neither of which is completely understood by any one person. He knows that global warming is happening because he sensibly accepts the advice of the best scientists (who would lie to the Pope?), whereas you ‘know’ global warming isn’t happening because you accept the advice of a minority of mavericks. Hopefully you’re sensible enough to have rejected their advice that cigarette smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer.

    You claim that Aristotle and Aquinas presaged quantum physics? And Muslim apologists have also claimed that the Qu’ran presaged human embryology too, so the Qu’ran is ‘true’. I don’t believe it. It’s easy to take some vague nebulous idea expressed many hundreds of years ago in archaic languages and translated later into more modern languages and twisting its vague meaning into modern understandings.

    You claim that everything in the universe has a cause, therefore the universe has a cause. Prove it – prove that everything in the universe has a cause. What causes an unstable nucleus to decay at one instant of time instead of another? What causes a virtual particle within a proton (and 98% of the mass of a proton consists of transient virtual particles which flash into and out of existence – only 2% of the proton’s mass consists of the three valence quarks which gives the proton its charge) to flash into existence at precisely the right time to collide with another transient virtual particle in another proton in the Large Hadron Collider?

    Quantum events are uncaused. The origin of our Universe may, and probably is, just another uncaused quantum event.

    There might be a deeper theory which will consume quantum physics and provide a cause (in the same way that Einsteinian gravity consumed Newtonian gravity and provided a cause, a mechanism, instead of just equations largely accurately describing reality). All you’re doing is replacing a possible deeper and truer theory to quantum physics with God, in the same way that Newton couldn’t understand how planetary orbits were stable over time, and had to insert God to give the planets a nudge from time to time.

    Laplace in 1802 explained the stability of planetary orbits, noting to Napoleon that he didn’t need the God hypothesis to do so.

  183. Steve Cross says:

    @Me,

    Aquinas defined his premises, as is necessary for a coherent argument. His premises are standard metaphysical premises, universally accepted in his time and generally accepted in our time.
    The deduction from premises to conclusion (potency and act in essential causes to prime mover) is a deduction, not a circular argument.

    Sorry, still circular. Regardless of your opinion on the metaphysics involved, it doesn’t mean those concepts are defensible — then or now. As a side note, the mere fact that the majority of professional philosophers are atheist should be a pretty good indication that Aquinas’ arguments are not persuasive — even if you are correct about ‘potency’ etc. being generally accepted premises (they’re not).

    In any event, TA’s argument is incoherent. This:

    5) An essentially ordered series of elevations from potency to act cannot be in infinite regress, because the series must be actualized by something that is itself in act without the need for elevation from potency.

    is literally saying (without evidence) that there MUST be an ‘ultimate cause’ because no series of events can be infinite — while simultaneously claiming that the ‘ultimate cause’
    does not need a cause (indeed, can not have a cause), once again without any evidence that it is true, or even logically possible.

    It doesn’t make any difference at all if the causal chain is temporal or by ‘priority’, the same logic applies. You can’t claim the existence of an infinite ‘god’ without simultaneously admitting that an infinite ‘uncaused’ universe is also possible.

    Seriously, if you wish to believe because you think that God spoke to you, that’s fine with me if it gives you comfort. But don’t try to pretend that Aquinas’ arguments are any more persuasive now than they were almost fifty years ago when I first encountered them in college.

    Here’s a good rule of thumb for life: If something hasn’t worked (or been persuasive) for hundreds of years, then it just might be a pretty bad argument.

  184. michaelegnor says:

    @PeteA

    Thanks.

  185. Rogue Medic says:

    Michael Egnor – the man who calls Pope Francis a criminal and a fraud for being honest about the human causes of climate change,

    Be careful of denying logic as an argument. You may notice that it undercuts all arguments, including yours.

    Logic can convince us of all sorts of things that are not true.

    Therefore, logically, we rely on evidence to determine where logic may be misleading us.

    Aristotle would have made fewer mistakes if he formed testable hypotheses and actually tested them.

    Tell me about this Creator hypothesis and how it has held up to experimentation.

    Brag about the success of demonstrating something that should be easier than crossing the room.

    Provide valid evidence.

    .

  186. hardnose says:

    @ME:

    “For a human being with a rational soul, the aspect of the soul that is immaterial (the rational aspect) is not composed with matter to begin with–it is immaterial. So when our body dies, we don’t lose the form of our rational soul, because our rational soul was never completely composed to matter to begin with.”

    A good example of why I hate philosophy (most of it).

  187. michaelegnor says:

    @HN:

    The hatred of philosophy is philosophy.

    You can run, but you can’t hide. There is no such thing as no philosophy. There is only good philosophy and bad philosophy.

    Most “hatred of philosophy” is just bad philosophy claiming a personal exemption from scrutiny.

  188. Pete A says:

    hardnose,

    I’m starting to hate (most of) philosophy since you wisely said “Heaven without dogs? Impossible!”

    If heaven exists, I want to know if it has in place adequate procedures to handle complaints and to give refunds to dissatisfied customers. If I arrive in heaven and my late dog isn’t there to greet me then I shall complain so vehemently that those still residing on Earth will be able to see and hear the sparks flying around!

  189. Steve Cross says:

    If I arrive in heaven and my late dog isn’t there to greet me then I shall complain so vehemently that those still residing on Earth will be able to see and hear the sparks flying around!

    Can’t believe that this is an uncommon sentiment. To the point where there must already be millions of dearly departed dog owners already in heaven.

    I think that this provides irrefutable evidence that EITHER:

    A) Dogs are indeed well represented in heaven.

    or else;

    B) There is no heaven (or at least we know it is sound and light proof).

  190. Pete A says:

    Steve Cross,

    Neither heaven nor hell has enough sound and light attenuation in place to mask what I shall do if my dog isn’t there.

    Some commentators refer to hardnose as The Troll, who in fun called me TROLL!! Yes, I shall honour and uphold that title if I end up existing after my death. Neither God nor Satan will want to endure, at the very least, my first trillion years solemnly devoted to making their lives as miserable as effing possible 🙂

  191. Steve Cross says:

    Pete A,

    Exactly. Something tells me that being the ‘Supreme Being’ might not be such a fun job. Even a tiny grain of sand in your shoe gets to be annoying after a few hours — not to mention days, years, millennia, etc. Now multiply that by millions or billions of dissatisfied ‘customers’.

    Not to mention the fact that ANY theology that doesn’t recognize the fact that a MUCH, MUCH higher percentage of dogs ‘deserve’ to go to heaven than the corresponding portion of humanity, is not a theology that can make any claim on benevolence.

  192. TheGorilla says:

    It’s incredibly frustrating to watch people be so convinced that something is nonsense while not understanding it at *all.*

    IE I’ve already said that this is not a concern about temporal causation (IE Aquinas is 100% cool with an eternal universe), but here there are comments about uncaused quantum events — despite their clear dependence on certain physical laws.

    Worse are the “for some reason God doesn’t need a cause” though, because that’s literally just forgetting how deductive arguments work because you don’t like the conclusion.

    Skeptics have such awful groupthink. They suffer like any other group does, but on top of that part of their image is being more rational and logical than other groups. While rejecting the mere idea of non-scientific evidence.

  193. TheGorilla says:

    And unsurprising that hardnose hates philosophy, considering his attitude toward thinking 🙂 🙂 🙂

  194. Rogue Medic says:

    Steve Cross,

    Pete A,

    Exactly. Something tells me that being the ‘Supreme Being’ might not be such a fun job. Even a tiny grain of sand in your shoe gets to be annoying after a few hours — not to mention days, years, millennia, etc. Now multiply that by millions or billions of dissatisfied ‘customers’.

    Things were so bad for this Supreme Being that he decided to create evil to make it better.

    There’s nothing wrong with this that a bunch of evil can’t cure.

    And if they don’t listen to you, rape the little kiddies. It’s OK, as long as you don’t get caught. If you do get caught, deploy logical fallacies.

    After centuries of slavery and genocide, this is mild.

    What person decides – This is the best possible source for morality?

    .

  195. chikoppi says:

    @TheGorilla

    The assertion that a universe requires an essential cause is an assumption, not a proof.

    For example, it is possible that each dimension n requires a dimension n+1 as its “cause.” In other words, a line (n=1) could not exist but as the intersect of a plane (n=2). That plane could not exist but as an intersect with a higher order dimension, etc. ad infinitum (turtles all the way down).

    In the QFT analogy there isn’t one essential cause, but multiple concurrent causes. Each field represents the complete set of all possible (potential!) states of quantum oscillations within that field. Interactions between the fields give rise to the observable laws of physics (they are descriptive, not proscriptive). Other fields may exist, but do not intersect with the fields that comprise our universe. There could in fact be an infinite number of these ‘essential causes.’

    Even granting a singular ‘first cause,’ Aquinas’ Argument from Degree and Teleological Argument are both problematic.

    The Argument from Degree asserts that perceived deviations from an imaginary “perfect form” implies that particulars are imperfect expressions of a more fundamental substance. This simply ignores that particulars are always unique entities categorized by group only through imposed, abstract, and artificial conceptualization.

    The Teleological Argument simply ignores the potential for emergent properties, that a thing which exists as a higher-order system can have properties that do not exist in its constituent parts.

    Absent the last two arguments, the attempt to assign the necessary properties of deistic agency to the ‘first cause’ is not possible.

  196. Steve Cross says:

    The assertion that a universe requires an essential cause is an assumption, not a proof.

    THIS — A thousand times this.

    We just don’t know what happened at the beginning of the universe — or if there was a beginning at all. To attempt to ‘prove’ otherwise via philosophy is pure hubris. As Rogue Medic commented earlier, many things have supposedly been ‘logically proven’ which have not (and probably can not) be empirically confirmed.

    Personally, I find philosophy to be fascinating. I studied it for several years in college, including one year when it was my declared major. But, for me at least, almost all philosophical discussions are inconclusive and ultimately unsatisfying. So I switched to a field (computer science) in which the rules of logic were just as important, but the initial assumptions can be empirically verified.

    Philosophers have be arguing about ‘reality’ for millennia and they are not even a little bit closer to any kind of generally agreed upon resolution. And it seems unlikely that will ever happen as long as people have the liberty to choose their initial premises/assumptions based upon their preconceptions. In other words, philosophy can be fun, but it is all too often simply an enabler of confirmation bias and motivated reasoning.

  197. Bill Openthalt says:

    And in any case, even the most perfect philosophical argument is merely words. It can be the basis of agreement between people, but it can never influence reality. Unless the argument leads to an independently verifiable proof, the author of such an argument cannot force others to accept it, no matter how erudite its formulation.

    To quote Eliza Doolittle (from “My Fair Lady — Show Me”):

    Words, words, words!
    I’m so sick of words
    I get words all day through
    First from him, now from you
    Is that all you blighters can do?

  198. BillyJoe7 says:

    TheGorilla.

    “It’s incredibly frustrating to watch people be so convinced that something is nonsense while not understanding it at *all.*”

    You don’t have to understand something that is nonsense on its face.
    In fact, you would be wasting your time trying to understand something that is nonsense on its face.
    Would I read a book on Angels? No I would not.

    “here there are comments about uncaused quantum events — despite their clear dependence on certain physical laws”

    Talk about nonsense and not understanding anything at all. Quantum events are probabilistic. They are described by Schrodingers wave function. The wave function is not a law that tells quantum fields how to evolve and interact. It describes how they evolve and interact.

    “Worse are the “for some reason God doesn’t need a cause” though, because that’s literally just forgetting how deductive arguments work because you don’t like the conclusion.”

    Oh, sorry then for being so ignorant. I see: Everything has a cause. Therefore there has to be a Firstthing that has no cause. WTF? But, of course, that’s okay, because that Firstthing exists in another dimension so it is exempt from the premise on which the whole deductive argument rests.
    I truly cannot think of a more stupid argument on which whole books have been written, and I truly cannot think of a more serious waste of time than reading even one of these books. As I said, it is nonsense on its face. It deserves nothing more than a derisive laugh.

    “Skeptics have such awful groupthink. They suffer like any other group does, but on top of that part of their image is being more rational and logical than other groups. While rejecting the mere idea of non-scientific evidence.”

    Non-scientific evidence? WTF?
    All evidence has to be viewed through the scientific lens to be of any use whatsoever.

  199. TheGorilla says:

    Wow it’s like a summoning ritual.

    This is so insane. Where do people’s reasoning faculties go? If the argument is valid then true premises mean a true conclusion. I’m sorry that upsets people, but you could try arguing against the premises instead of whining about stuff just being words. It’s embarrassing.

    Chikippi,

    You’re not understanding the difference between accidentally and essentially ordered series.

    BillyJoe,

    Evidence justifies belief. If you are going to say non-scientific evidence doesn’t exist, I’d like to see the scientific evidence for that claim.

    Baffling how you can be so proud of not bothering to understand something before dismissing it. If egnor came in here to say that evolution is BS in its face, my uncle isn’t a monkey, you’d rightly tell him how stupid that was. You are doing an identical thing, and only sheer arrogance and anti-intellectualism can account for your refusal-to see it. You’re the stereotypical New atheist to a T.

  200. chikoppi says:

    [TheGorilla] You’re not understanding the difference between accidentally and essentially ordered series.

    My understanding is that an accidentally ordered series is one in which the more fundamental order does not need to persist for the dependent order to continue. In contrast, an essentially ordered series is one in which the more fundamental order must persist for the dependent order to continue persisting. Do you have a different understanding?

    Both models I cited are examples of an essentially ordered series.

  201. bachfiend says:

    TheGorilla,

    If you’ve got any non-scientific evidence that God exists, I’m happy to examine it. There’s no scientific evidence that God doesn’t exist. Science just makes the God hypothesis unnecessary. Occam’s razor states that adding unnecessary elements is less probable than just leaving it out.

  202. Steve Cross says:

    TheGorilla,

    If the argument is valid then true premises mean a true conclusion.

    Pretty sure most people agree. Now if you will just provide the evidence that ME’s premises actually are TRUE, then you might have a point.

    The problem is that simple assertions are not always true –especially when they consist of logically contradictory statements (i.e. everything must be caused except the one magic cause that I’m declaring to be exempt). Sorry, Aquinas did his best to obfuscate the fact, but his premises are entirely circular and are merely his desired conclusion listed in slightly different terms.

    BTW, instead of just endlessly complaining that “we’re doing it wrong”, you might have better luck if you give specific examples of the supposed mistakes. Instead of just claiming that there is a misunderstanding about “essential ordered series”, please explain why exactly that a correct understanding proves your point.

    Several people have already observed that the essential problem remains the same regardless of the type of ’cause’. Either there is an infinite regress or an ‘ultimate cause’ — and we currently do not know which. But simply defining an ultimate cause into existence neither proves it to be true or tells us anything about it’s nature.

  203. BillyJoe7 says:

    TheGorilla,

    “Evidence justifies belief. If you are going to say non-scientific evidence doesn’t exist, I’d like to see the scientific evidence for that claim”

    Where did I say that non-scientific evidence does not exist. I said: “All evidence has to be viewed through the scientific lens to be of any use whatsoever”. You can count “revelation” as evidence and I would accept that as evidence. But, it we pass that evidence through a scientific lens, we would classity “revelation” as the lowect of the low level of evidence (ie anecdotal)

    “Baffling how you can be so proud of not bothering to understand something before dismissing it”

    Yes, I proudly dismiss Angels as nonsense without reading a single book on Angels. Sorry if that upsets you, but life is short and I must allow prior probability to determine what I spend my time on.

    “If egnor came in here to say that evolution is BS in its face, my uncle isn’t a monkey, you’d rightly tell him how stupid that was. You are doing an identical thing, and only sheer arrogance and anti-intellectualism can account for your refusal-to see it. You’re the stereotypical New atheist to a T.”

    Give it a rest Gorilla. If you think Angels are on an equal footing with Evolution, there is little else to say. Do you seriously want me to read a book on why animals go to heaven when they die. Seriously? Also:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courtier's_Reply

  204. BillyJoe7 says:

    …but no reply to this:

    “Oh, sorry then for being so ignorant. I see: Everything has a cause. Therefore there has to be a Firstthing that has no cause. WTF? But, of course, that’s okay, because that Firstthing exists in another dimension so it is exempt from the premise on which the whole deductive argument rests”

    Because there aint none. 😉

  205. Pete A says:

    Steve Cross, Here are my thoughts in case you find them interesting…

    Cause and effect versus correlation
    1. Cause (C) must occur before effect (E) otherwise C and E are, at best, just a correlation.

    2. When the sample size is inadequate, especially when it is 1, then statistical analysis is invalid. IOW, correlation is invalid therefore it is impossible to differentiate between causation and correlation.

    3. What caused (C) our universe (E) to exist? The concept of elapsed time in our universe would have to exist outside our universe before our universe came into existence. Otherwise, the concept of cause and effect is invalid, rendering C and E, at best, just a correlation.

    Two types of argument
    1. An inductive argument.
    2. A deductive argument.

    Inductive reasoning (as opposed to deductive reasoning or abductive reasoning) is reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying strong evidence for the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument is probable, based upon the evidence given.[1]”
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inductive_reasoning

    TheGorilla’s statement “If the argument is valid then true premises mean a true conclusion.” applies only to deductive arguments. Clearly, if there was a valid, deductive, cosmological-type argument — with testable premises — then we would be discussing only the tests already performed, and the tests waiting to be performed, on its premises. Nobody would be discussing whether or not such arguments are valid.

  206. Pete A says:

    I forgot to add…

    Even if God, or whoever claims to have created our universe, revealed themself to us directly, they would own the burden of proof for their claim that they created our universe. “Because I said so!” would not constitute even weak evidence, let alone proof. Neither would a demonstration of their ability to perform ‘miracles’.

  207. Steve Cross says:

    Pete A,

    In fairness to Aquinas (and Michael Egnor), the ‘proof’ is not about temporal causality.

    Suppose you have a carton of milk. Sure, at some time in the past, there MUST have been a cow, someone to milk it, transportation to market, etc. But, for the milk to exist in its current state, it must ALSO be sitting on a table or shelf, perhaps in a refrigerator, in a house, in a city, on a planet, in a solar system, in a galaxy, etc.

    So far, so good. The current (both temporal and spatial) STATE of anything/everything is
    contingent on (i.e. ’caused by’) the existence and influence of its surroundings — and by extension, everything else in the universe. Since everything does seem to interact with everything else, at least indirectly, this seems like a reasonable premise.

    To be clear, Aquinas is trying to sidestep the issue of ‘the beginning of time’ by ignoring it and focusing solely on what is necessary for anything to exist, or more importantly, ‘change’. I might quibble that change strongly implies a time element, but I’m willing to ignore that for the purposes of a First Cause. A lot of modern physicists think that the concept of ‘time’ as we understand/experience it might not apply before the big bang.

    The important point is that the current state of anything is the sum total of its intrinsic properties plus the effect of all external influences (i.e. ‘higher priority causes’), either spatial or temporal (and perhaps even extra-spatial or higher dimensional) . As I said, not unreasonable. But Aquinas tries to get clever by pretending that these influences are somehow special or significant, rather than simply inescapable. He is trying to sneak in the concept of agency or teleology.

    Which of course, he must do before he can ascribe specific properties to an, as yet completely un-demonstrated, agent. Or to declare that an agent must be necessary in the first place.

    As I’ve said several times, TA’s argument is completely circular. He words his premises in such a way as to define his conclusions into existence. He creates an agent from whole cloth and then simply declares that agent to be immune from the restrictions he places on everything else (i.e. required causality).

  208. Ian Wardell says:

    bachfiend said:
    Science just makes the God hypothesis unnecessary“.

    I find it stunning that virtually no-one — including scientists — actually understands the nature of science. Obviously whether God exists or not has absolutely nothing to do with science. Science isn’t in the business of explaining why a Universe exists, why there’s something rather than nothing, or indeed, strictly speaking, of providing any explanations at all. At least not in the original correct usage of the word “explanation”.

    To provide a scientific explanation of a given phenomenon is to show how it is ultimately derived from physical laws. Sometimes physical laws governing some aspect of physical reality can be shown to be derived from more fundamental physical laws. But these more fundamental physical laws appear to be simply a brute fact. In other words certain physical laws appear to govern the Universe and no one has any idea why such physical laws assume the form they do. Moreover, by necessity, an answer to this question could not come under the province of science since science assumes such physical laws at the outset.

    But then scientific explanations are not in fact explanations in the fullest sense of this word. It is of little avail to say we can explain the existence of X in terms of Y, if Y itself has no explanation and is simply a brute fact. This is why, contrary to what most people believe, science doesn’t strictly speaking provide explanations, but rather mere descriptions. Yes we can explain how a phenomenon is deduced or derived from physical laws, but this fails to provide any ultimate explanation if we don’t know why physical laws assume the form they do. Indeed since physical laws are simply a brute fact without any explanation, then in providing a scientific explanation we are only ever engaging in discerning specific patterns (some phenomenon) deduced from more general patterns (physical laws).

  209. mumadadd says:

    Ian W:

    But then scientific explanations are not in fact explanations in the fullest sense of this word. It is of little avail to say we can explain the existence of X in terms of Y, if Y itself has no explanation and is simply a brute fact. This is why, contrary to what most people believe, science doesn’t strictly speaking provide explanations, but rather mere descriptions. Yes we can explain how a phenomenon is deduced or derived from physical laws, but this fails to provide any ultimate explanation if we don’t know why physical laws assume the form they do. Indeed since physical laws are simply a brute fact without any explanation, then in providing a scientific explanation we are only ever engaging in discerning specific patterns (some phenomenon) deduced from more general patterns (physical laws).

    Which of course opens the door for people to just make sh*t up; e.g. what applies to things within the universe applies to the universe itself (everything needs a cause), and a long list of crank theories of everything espoused by philosophers over centuries that yielded little to no progress and have since been shown to be flat wrong.

    Yeah, sitting around and cogitating in ignorance sure seems a better method for understanding reality than actually doing tests.

  210. mumadadd says:

    And even better, you can flat out disregard the results of testing if your crank theory of everything (metaphysics) rules it out.

  211. BillyJoe7 says:

    Premise 1: In the four dimensions of our spacetime universe everything has a cause.

    Premise 2: There is a higher dimension in which there exists a first cause.

    Conclusion: The first cause that exists in the higher dimension is the first cause of four dimensional spacetime universe in which everything has a cause.

    That’s how bad that argument is.

    Premise 1 is actually false – at its most fundamental level, our universe is probabilistic (and, no, Schrodinger’s wave function does not cause quantum events, it describes them)

    Premise 2 is devoid of evidence (and, no, the hypothetical 10 or 11 dimensions of string theory that are hypothesised to be enfolded into three of the four spacetime dimensions do not, in any way, shape, or form, provide evidence for the higher dimension of the first cause),

    The conclusion is a self-contained self-referential circular argument stated in terms of one false premise and one evidence free premise.

    It truly cannot get worse than this.

  212. Pete A says:

    Steve Cross,

    Thank you very much indeed for your reply, in which you clearly explained some things that I had misunderstood and some other things that I wasn’t aware of. Please note that the following is in no way disagreeing with you, and I apologise in advance for my long-winded reply…

    During my childhood, I developed an exceptionally quirky way of thinking and understanding, which frequently puts me at odds with the vast majority of people. I was told many times during my career that my quirkiness is the very trait that enabled me to become a specialist in the few branches of applied science that are my forte. My head is filled mainly with facts that were essential to my work, but they would bore the hind legs off a donkey, so I try hard to keep them to myself. However, there are occasions when I hear an intended-to-be logical argument that causes me to shake my head in utter despair and to loudly exclaim “WTF?”

    Due to your knowledge of computer science, I shall provide an analogous example of my utter despair with many philosophical arguments…
    A company employee who understands both boolean logic and semiconductor devices is tasked to produce a circuit diagram for a new product. An external company is contracted to build a hardware prototype from the circuit diagram. The prototype circuit board is returned, but it doesn’t work. The employee and colleagues spend dozens of hours very carefully checking the logic of the design, and the interconnectivity of every component on the circuit board: nothing is amiss. Next, they spend dozens of hours replacing one-by-one every component on the circuit board in an attempt to locate the faulty component. It still doesn’t work.

    Out of desperation, the company seeks outside help from a specialist — let’s suppose they ask me. I ask for a thorough explanation the original design criteria. I then ask to study the circuit diagram. I then ask to physically inspect the prototype hardware. I think to myself “I’m fairly sure I know the cause of this problem”. To be certain, I design a test jig then run a series of tests to diagnose the exact cause of the problem. Here is a summary of my findings:
    1. The logic used in the design is valid.
    2. The circuit diagram is logically valid and the specified components are adequate.
    3. The connectivity between the components on the prototype circuit board is correct.
    4. None of the components on the prototype circuit board are faulty.
    5. However, the speed of signal propagation between the interconnected items on the circuit board is limited to circa nine inches per nanosecond.
    Conclusion: The prototype doesn’t work simply because everyone involved in the project failed to understand the difference between static logic and temporal logic. Especially, transmission line theory.

    In his book Water Logic: The Alternative to I am right You are Wrong Edward de Bono discusses the extremely important difference between traditional, static, “rock logic”, and the “logical flowscape” of real-world temporal logic.

    As you might imagine, I take an extremely dim view of all philosophers and all apologists who have failed to properly address, and/or have attempted to obfuscate, the fundamentally important temporal nature of cause and effect, and of connectivity/interconnectedness!

    It occurred to me several years ago that many people either don’t understand or outright reject anthropogenic global warming (AGW) because AGW is impossible to scientifically explain, let alone scientifically justify, using non-temporal static logic. This is why I personally detest the use of the term AGW. Whereas anthropogenic climate change is scientifically valid because it includes the temporal logic of heat flow through, and the delayed heat transfer between, interconnected objects and systems.

  213. Steve Cross says:

    Pete A,

    Your analogy expresses my perspective perfectly. And helps to explain what I believe are the most glaring shortcomings of Aquinas’ arguments. I’ve read many different critiques of Aquinas, but for me, the biggest problem has always been the completely wrong (IMHO) understanding of causality.

    Most of my professional life has been spent performing systems analysis as well as having primary responsibility for the system administration of very large networks of extremely diverse collections of computers and operating systems. As such, if I’ve learned anything at all, it is that the ’cause’ of an incident is not always attributable to one specific event. Rather, it is often the result of multiple different systems (or ’causes’) interacting in unanticipated ways.

    For all we know, the big bang may have been the result of some higher order electron getting too close to a higher order positron. The point being, that we don’t (and perhaps can’t) know if it was one event/cause or the confluence of many. To arbitrarily declare otherwise is completely unjustified.

    P.S. Love your analogy. Many years ago, I had the great good fortune of touring Cray Manufacturing (of supercomputer fame) and listening to Seymour Cray himself explain how they had to physically design their computers to minimize the distance between components because of propagation delay. Although primitive by today’s standards, they were pushing component and clock speeds to the limit.

  214. chikoppi says:

    Just to clarify what may be some confusion about terms, when Aquinas references ’cause’ he doesn’t mean it in the sense of ’cause and effect.’ Rather, he uses the term to mean ‘more fundamental essence.’

    Salt is a crystal. Its cause are sodium and chlorine ions. The cause of the ions are quarks and leptons and the fundamental forces. Etc.

    ‘First cause’ is a reference not to a precipitating event (causality), but to the most fundamental essence without which nothing of higher order could exist (substance).

  215. BillyJoe7 says:

    I think maybe ME and theGorilla would benefit from the rigourous logic involved in computer programming and design. Then perhaps we wouldn’t have to listen to their poor arguments. Then again, the troll claims to be a computer programmer, and his logic fails just as miserably. Many years ago I found and read a book called “C How To Program”, and then discovered that my son also had the follow up book: “C++ How To Program” so I read that as well, completing all the exercises at the end of each chapter. My most complicated program, which took ages to get right, was a four element three dimensional tic tac toe game that you could play against another player or against the computer. You could set the computer at one of three levels of difficulty. It did teach me a thing or two about logic, but obviously not to the depth of those posters here who have the practical everyday experience.

  216. bachfiend says:

    I’ve finished reading the book. My take on it is:

    1. All animals which have to react rapidly to changes in their environment have brains.

    2. The brain is the mind and the mind is the brain. There’s no discrete part or parts of the brain that encompasses the mind. There’s no immaterial something that’s the mind.

    3. All animals with brains have minds.

    4. Minds consist of a conscious part and an unconscious part (the latter doing most of the heavy lifting). The phenomenon of blindsight shows that it’s possible to be consciously blind but unconsciously able to react to visual stimuli.

    5. The wiring of the brain determines how much of the mind is unconscious and how much is conscious, and the wiring is determined either innately (genetically) or by experience. In humans, the transmission of memes (such as religion, the manufacture of technology or cooperation with non-kin) does a lot of the non-innate rewiring, and transmission of memes is facilitated, actually made possible, by language.

    6. There’s a big gap between humans and our closest relatives, common chimpanzees and bonobos, and all of our and their predecessors have gone extinct. We don’t know when language arose in the human lineage. If Australopithesicus afarensis were using tools to butcher carrion if the finding of knife marks on fossil bones 3 million years old suggests, then it’s plausible that they also had language in order to coordinate driving off other more formidable scavengers from kills. It’s possible that memes were being transmitted not just in Homo sapiens, but much earlier, and the expansion of the conscious mind has been a slow process, but favoured by natural selection.

    Chimpanzees don’t have language anywhere near to the same extent as humans, and transmission of memes is very limited. No matter how good an idea a chimp might strike upon, the chances of it passing it onto other chimps is very limited, save by imitation. Captive bonobos enjoy sitting around a campfire set by their human carers, but there’s no indication that they can be instructed on how to make their own fires for themselves, collecting the fuel and ensuring that they’re not creating a bonfire instead, etc. Transmitting the meme that campfires are a very good idea, and how to make them, without language is probably impossible.

    I think it’s worth rereading.

  217. BillyJoe7 says:

    Chikoppi,

    Which perhaps undercuts the temporal argument, though perhaps a little too cutely, but not the existence argument.

  218. Pete A says:

    Chikoppi,

    That is the fallacy of composition and the fallacy of division combined into a circular argument. It is a fine demonstration of the pseudoscientific method. Which is not surprising considering that he pulled it out his ass long before modern science and the scientific method.

  219. Pete A says:

    Steve Cross,

    Modern computers with their clock speeds of a few GHz and their parallel busses require circuit board layouts that minimize timing skew, which is nightmare for circuit board design.

    One of the most fun jobs I had was designing and builing microwave band (up to 100 GHz) modulators and demodulators. Anyone who looks at the circuit board would say “That can’t possibly work because the tracks form an electrical short circuit!” Well, yeah, from DC up to many GHz the layout is a short cicuit, but at the very-high frequency to which the layout is tuned it becomes a phase-shift modulator. It is impossible to draw a circuit diagram for such devices because it would be illogical. The only logical diagram of such devices is their precise circuit board layout including: the board material; its thickness; and the track widths. Such a device would be great fun to give to a group of theologians, who would conclude “If it works then it must be relying on, an as yet unknown, higher dimension.” To which I would reply: “I can demonstrate it working; and I can prove that the god named Pete created it!”

  220. chikoppi says:

    @ BJ7, Pete A

    I’m not defending it…just pointing out the distinction.

  221. Steve Cross says:

    Chikoppi,

    You seem to have a gift for explaining things clearly and simply. I was trying to get across the point that even ‘fundamental essence’ depends on things (i.e. sodium and chlorine) being in the right place at the right time — not to mention the many different fundamental forces which got them there in the first place.

    The point being that the farther up the ‘fundamental essence’ food chain that you look, things seem to get more complicated rather than less. It seems to me that any ‘first cause’ that encompassed the known universe would have to be exponentially more complex than its ‘creation’, and correspondingly less probable.

    So, far from being a simple, inevitable solution to the question of existence, Aquinas’ version of a First Cause really seems to be absurdly unlikely.

  222. chikoppi says:

    @Steve Cross

    Yup, I don’t disagree.

    To be fair to Aquinas, he addresses this in a way with the “Unmoved Mover” argument; that something must exist out of which complexity can arise (and that thing must itself be persistent). This is where I think the fields of QFT make for a nice analogy. The distribution of quantum probabilities within the fields change over time, but the fields themselves persist.

  223. BillyJoe7 says:

    God is the Schroedinger equation.

    Not sure how that would go down with ME, though that might satisfy his demand that God is simple, not the complex being that it seems to us he must be. Of course, for his argument to work, God HAS to be simple – in fact the simplest thing imaginable – otherwise he is not an explanation for anything. Nevertheless, it always amuses me when devoutly religious people say their god is simple – and pretend that it is not an insult – just so they can circumvent the argument that god must actually be the most complex thing imaginable and is therefore no explanation at all for the complexity that does exist.

    Of course, for the analogy to work, god would have to be waves (not a single wave) of evolving and interacting probabilities, because waves need to interact to produce the particles of which the universe consists. Maybe god is a self interacting wave of probability. Not sure how that works.

    Or maybe god exists only as a silly label you stick on something you don’t understand.

  224. Steve Cross says:

    @chikoppi,

    I have no problem with the idea ” that something must exist out of which complexity can arise (and that thing must itself be persistent)”. We do (appear to) exist in a (seemingly) real world. And we have countless examples of complexity emerging from very simple rules.

    But, to build on the infamous junkyard/tornado/Boeing 747 analogy, the level of complexity that would need to arise in a subsequent ‘creator’ to then be able to comprehend, design and build (effectively omniscient and omnipotent) the world/universe we inhabit, would be many, many, many orders of magnitude less probable than just getting here ‘by chance’.

  225. chikoppi says:

    @ Steve Cross

    Yeah, that actually also touches on my criticism of Aquinas’ last two arguments.

    The Argument from Degree would posit that the complexity and order of the 747 must not only exist within, but be exceeded by the essential cause (and that an actual 747 would be only an imperfect simulacrum of it). Our modern understanding of thermodynamics contradicts this premise.

    Then there’s the Teleological Argument; that the properties of a higher-order thing must also reside in its essential cause(s). Individual atoms don’t have the property of solid, liquid, gas, or plasma. Those states describe properties which emerge from the complexity of the higher order system, but don’t reside at the “more essential” level.

  226. Pete A says:

    BillyJoe7 wrote: “Or maybe god exists only as a silly label you stick on something you don’t understand.”

    Show me an animal, which has not yet developed spoken then written language, that slaps a god label on things it does not understand, then worships that god/creator who a few members of its species long ago plucked out of their ass.

    Human language was the enabler to group-contemplating the inevitable death of every living thing. Our level of cognition combined with our language, our plethora of cognitive biases and logical fallacies, our innate tribalism, and our love of story telling, will result in nothing other than inventing gods, evil spirits, ghosts, and at least 100,000 different belief systems to argue about and fight over. Evidence be damned!

    Being afraid of the unknown is a very common fear, which has been endlessly exploited for the purposes of the few gaining wealth, power, and control over the many.

    Weapons of mass destruction that can vaporise us in a fraction of a second are far less frightening to most people than the fear of having each and every of our thoughts, let alone our actions, eventually being examined by a god — the judge, jury, and executioner — who on a whim can condemn us to spend an eternity in hellfire.

    Many religions are, it seems to me, the most hideous carefully-crafted continuously-deployed weapons that any species has ever developed. The psychological suffering that they have caused, and still cause, is inestimable.

    The title of Dr. Novella’s article is “Why Are We Conscious?” This is the very question that caused the creation of religions and a plethora of other belief systems, including alternative medicine (aka: quackery; charlatanism):
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_medicine

    Consciousness provides the power of dominion: advantageous to the survival of the genes; not necessarily advantageous to the resulting organisms that propagate those genes!!!

  227. clgood says:

    I just finished reading “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. In it, Jaynes says that language was a prerequisite for consciousness. While I’m not qualified to evaluate the plausibility of his hypothesis, it does seem to potentially explain a lot of things about ancient religions and how they evolved. The idea that our currently understood notion of consciousness is only a few thousand years old is, at least, thought provoking.

Leave a Reply