Showing posts with label Neuroscience. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Neuroscience. Show all posts

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Most Difficult Questions When It Comes To Being Saved By Faith


The major religions of the world, particularly Christianity and Islam, emphasize the importance of belief in the right god and right religion at the moment of death. Christianity is split between whether belief alone gets you saved, or whether belief plus the right deeds and behaviors gets you saved. Either way, the right belief upon death is almost always part of the equation.

So what does god do when you have a person with two heads? Consider the Hensel twins of Minnesota. They have one shared body with two heads. If one was an atheist and the other was the right believer, what would happen to their soul? Do they have two souls or one? What makes the soul unique? Is it the brain? They have two brains, but one body. If one went to heaven and the other didn't, what kind of body would that one get in heaven? Would they be bodily separated? What if they were both the right kind of believers? Would they stay conjoined in heaven forever?


It's these kind of questions that make the idea of being saved by faith so perplexing.

And if that's not difficult enough, consider the scenario below. Neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran describes a scenario where a person whose brain was split in half developed two distinct personalities. One was an atheist, the other a theist! Same brain, same person, and presumably the same soul. If such a thing can happen, how is the idea of being saved by faith logically preserved? The same person can't go to heaven and hell. Does one half go to heaven and one half go to hell?


This opens up further questions for the theist: Is the soul divided when the brain is divided? How can an immaterial thing be divided when a physical thing is divided? If one's personality can be split when a brain is split, that indicates personality is dependent entirely on the brain, not an immaterial soul, and as such, we have no control over what brain we're born with. Given the relationship between belief and the brain the idea of salvation by faith in any way (whether by faith alone or not) is completely moronic. 

Thanks to Atheist Republic's tweet for inspiring this post.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Study: Brain Activity Remains After Clinically Being Pronounced Dead


The internet was abuzz recently with reports that brain activity can persist 10 minutes after the declaration of death. My initial thoughts were: might this be a naturalistic explanation for so called near death experiences?

According to the reports, 4 terminally ill patients were recorded with electroencephalographic (EEG) and showed delta wave bursts for up to ten minutes after being declared dead. This was recently thought impossible.

Also thought impossible, is brain activity by people without a heart beat and who were declared dead who were then revived (only to tell glorious tales of heaven). These near death experiences are "proof" some say, that consciousness is not dependent on the brain functioning. But these new results show that brain functioning may persist for considerably longer than previously thought after the declaration of death. And this might explain near death experiences in a perfectly natural way. Near death experiences can simply be just brain activity that was previously thought to not exist.

Read the paper here: Electroencephalographic Recordings During Withdrawal of Life-Sustaining Therapy Until 30 Minutes After Declaration of Death

Friday, November 24, 2017

Quote Of The Day: Is The Soul Discernible To Science?



Salon had an extended excerpt from a recent book by Julien Musolino rebutting the commonly held belief in the soul, and the charlatans who promote it, The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain From Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs.

It sounds like a good read, but unfortunately I have little time to read full books nowadays due to my hectic schedule and ADD. It does cover one thing very interesting, and that is whether or not the soul is discernible to science. As I've argued on my blog, the soul hypothesis is absolute in the domain of science, as Musolino affirms.

So how can we decide whether souls exist? Is this even a question about which science has anything to say? To many people, the answer to my second question is a resounding “No.” After all, science deals with phenomena that can be objectively observed and measured. The soul, by contrast, cannot be observed or measured because it is claimed to be immaterial. Therefore, soul beliefs belong to the realms of religion and metaphysics. This conclu­sion, however, is mistaken. The soul is a scientific hypothesis about the design and functioning of human beings (the stuff of biology, psychology, and neuroscience), and dualism makes claims about the detachability of mind and body and the existence of a substance capable of causal interaction with ordinary matter (the stuff of physics). As such, souls are fair game for scientific investigation, subject to the same criteria that apply to the evaluation of any other scientific idea (a line of reasoning developed more generally for other supernatural concepts by the physicist Victor J. Stenger in his book "God: The Failed Hypothesis"). After all, science can tell us what happened a fraction of a second after the big bang took place, some 13.8 billion years ago, when no one was around to make measurements or record anything. Is it so far-fetched that science would also have something to say about what we are made of and how we function? 

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Part 5


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.



Happy Thanksgiving!

A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.

If you're wondering why my posts denigrate him so harshly it's because he mocks atheists and calls atheism stupid. Here I'm just giving him a taste of his own medicine.


I continue with part 5 covering arguments 12 and 13. Starting with his response to argument 12, his words are in block quotes.


12) All the arguments for god fail


Continuing on with this sad excuse for rebuttal we come to some demographics on atheism. He writes,

Atheism is declining. The author is not up-to-date and relies on an old 2014 study.  According to the Pew Research, atheism is on the decline (see: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/07/why-people-with-no-religion-are-projected-to-decline-as-a-share-of-the-worlds-population/). Previous studies claiming that the "nones" is on the rise clearly specify that these "nones" are not atheists, but those who are indifferent to religion. In other words, they are people who simply do not adhere to organized religion but still believe in God.  Atheism or atheists who completely reject God and religion are in fact on the decline. It is nearly extinct in Russia (see: http://www.sacerdotus.com/2017/07/atheism-declining-in-russia.html).

Many mistakes here. First, taken at face value, that article doesn't say atheism or the unaffiliated is declining. It says the unaffiliated will decline as a percentage of the world's population only due to the rising number of Muslim births in third world countries. (And by this metric Christianity is also declining). It doesn't say the raw number of atheists or unaffiliated will decline. In fact, the number of unaffiliated is actually expected to grow from 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion. He'd know that if he actually read the article instead of reading the headline.


Secondly, I've already written a critique on my blog about the faulty methodology of PEW's projection methods. Read: Did Pew Project The Future Of Religion Accurately? I wrote that "It seems that they're not taking into account conversions and deconversions. Many theists are leaving their religions and becoming unaffiliated (which includes all deists, agnostics, and atheists) and this is especially true in the West, where the number of Christians is dropping precipitously. Their future projection of the percentage of the unaffiliated in the US by 2050 seems deeply suspect, and indeed, out of whack with their other data."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Part 4


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.



A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.

If you're wondering why my posts denigrate him so harshly it's because he mocks atheists and calls atheism stupid. Here I'm just giving him a taste of his own medicine.

I continue with part 4 covering arguments 10 and 11. Starting with his response to argument 10, his words are in block quotes.


10) Euthyphro's trilemma


And now we come to the Euthypho trilemma, one of my favorite areas to debate.

I wrote that Euthyphro's dilemma works with monotheism as well as polytheism. He ignorantly writes back saying,

It actually does not. The Euthyphro dilemma originates from Greece where polytheism was the norm. Euthyphro himself was a priest of a polytheistic sect. If he were alive today, he would not understand the argument the author is making and will probably be upset at the distortion the author is giving the dilemma that bears his name. 

The argument's logic is not dependent on polytheism, and Euthyphro would recognize the argument in a monotheistic context. In fact, the argument makes more sense on monotheism, because then there is only one god in which morality could be dependent on, instead of a council of gods, who might have conflicting views. It is irrelevant that the argument got started in a polytheistic culture. That Sacerdotus doesn't know this proves he can't possibly have a degree in philosophy.

Furthermore, I did not simply state "God is good." I wrote more than the author acknowledges. We can assume why he/she does not acknowledge my refutation. He/she cannot address it. Once again, the author restates his/her faulty premise.  

Um no. Let's review what he originally wrote in his response:

In reality, the atheist is the one who has the problem. God is good. God is the fullness of goodness and love. God is love (1 John 4:8). Goodness and love do not exist as separate entities from God.

All that does is assert the same idea: "God is good." It doesn't prove any of the assertions, it just asserts it! Prove god is good. Go ahead. Go do it. Quoting the Bible doesn't prove squat. Also, explain to my why is god good. Is god good because "God is love" as you state in 1 John? Then that means love is good independently of god. If love isn't good independently of god, then the burden of proof is on Sacerdotus to show why. He needs to tell us why love is good. You see, Sacerdotus is a typically lazy internet apologist. He literally thinks he can just say "God is good" and "God is love" and think that settles it. Oh my. I guess since some internet apologist with a fake degree said god is good then that settles it! Atheism is false! How imbecilic he is. The atheist has no problem here because the theist has no evidence. They just assert a claim and think they've won. The trilemma is unavoidable. If you can't explain why god is good you can't demonstrate the claim. And you can't explain why god is good without showing goodness exists independently of god.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Pt. 3


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.



A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.


Here I continue with part 3 covering arguments 7, 8, and 9. Starting with his response to argument 7, his words are in block quotes:


7) Brute facts are unavoidable


Next he continues falsely accuses me of plagiarism, saying,

Yes, that is what the word plagarize means.  The author wrote word-for-word an article from Wikipedia. Note, Wikipedia is not a valid source.  Anyone can edit it. Universities frown upon it and automatically fail students who use it as a source. The fact that this author derives his/her content from Wikipedia shows academic sloth. 

No I didn't. I merely copied the trilemma itself from the article in order to list it, that is different from plagiarizing an article. To plagiarize is to "take (the work or an idea of someone else) and pass it off as one's own." I didn't do that, and he even admits I never stated that I tried to pass it off as my own. That means his plagiarize claim fails. Wikipedia simply lists the trilemma so that he and everyone else can understand it, since it's obvious he's ignorant of it (despite his supposed degree!). It isn't to prove the trilemma is true. Wikipedia is actually a great resource for learning philosophy. Sacerdotus would learn a lot more if he spent more time on it. It's clear he has no thirst for truth. All he does is try and defend his preexisting views, albeit, really badly.

The Munchausen’s trilemma (also known as Agrippa's trilemma which goes all the way back to Diogenes) is a well known trilemma that everyone with a philosophy degree should known about. Apparently that's not Sacerdotus. Even his former professor Dr. Pigliucci affirms it, so it's hard for me to believe he has an actual degree. He's just so ignorant of basic philosophy it can't be real. Dr. Pigliucci for example writes,

Munchausen’s trilemma is a reasonable conclusion arrived at by logical reasoning. 

In other words, the trilemma is logically unavoidable and most, if not all people who are actually familiar with philosophy are aware of this thorny problem.

Moreover, I never stated that the author discovered the trilemma. He/she is clearly lying here. Nor did I claim that he/she claims God has an immutable nature etc.  This author clearly has reading comprehension problems. I stated that the author does not understand theology and the immutable nature of God. This is why his/her argument fails. The author claims that "God's will to create this universe is not necessary.." this premise is baseless. 

I didn't say he accused me directly of discovering the trilemma. If you accuse someone of plagiarizing, which again means to take (the work or an idea of someone else) and pass it off as one's own, then this implies that I tried to pass the trilemma off on my own. Because if I didn't try to pass it off as my own, then I didn't plagiarize. That's Sacerdotus's dilemma. Either I tried to pass it off as my own and I plagiarized, or I didn't try to pass it off as my own and I didn't plagiarize. He can't accuse me of plagiarizing material while acknowledging I didn't try to pass it off as my own.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Pt. 2


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.



A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.


Here I continue with part 2 covering arguments 3, 4, 5, and 6.Starting with his response to argument 3, his words are in block quotes:

3) Causality doesn't exist in the way we think it does


He writes,

Yes, the author does not understand causality.  

I understand causality way better than Sacerdotus does. Notice how he doesn't even bother to attempt to define causality. And notice that his assumption of causality presupposes presentism, which he has not ever even attempted to justify (because he's too ignorant to know he's even presupposed it!).

Yes, there is a consensus that the universe had a cause. This is taught in all cosmology, physics and astronomy courses.  Clearly, the author has never taken any of the aforementioned.

Prove it. Prove the universe had a cause. I asked him to show evidence for that in my last response post, and he still has provided no evidence. Better yet, he needs to define what he means by "causality." I defined what I mean by it, he has not. He's begging the question. This is an utter failure on Sacerdotus's part to demonstrate he's logical and knows how to debate. I've provided ample evidence for my claims, he's provided very little or none for his. Also, I took physics and astronomy courses. There was no mention of the universe having a cause. None. He's also not understanding the usage of "cause" in the colloquial sense versus what it really means to most physicists. He's confusing the colloquial cause with the scientific cause in the same way creationists confuse the colloquial "theory" with the scientific theory.

The author claims that I showed no evidence, yet in my previous post I provided the paragraph the author quoted with a hyperlink. Once again, the author misapplies the argument ad populum. The aforementioned is coined for criticism against common belief, not scientific fact. In science, a consensus is needed. This is why the peer review system exists. This is how science checks and balances itself. We see once again that this author simply is aloof to the facts.

Sacerdotus never provided any evidence that the universe had a cause, which is the thing in question. He provided a link to an article from Cern saying the universe shouldn't exist, but that's completely irrelevant. Yet another failure on his part to be logical and rational. You can't tell me I'm out of line with a consensus when you provide zero evidence for a consensus. My views are actually the mainstream view. Sacerdotus is too ignorant to realize that because all he knows is popular level apologetics.

The author then appeals to Sean Carroll in order to avoid addressing my reply. He/she does not realize that Sean Carroll is giving his personal opinion and does not even offer data or statistics to back up his claims. If you look at the pdf file linked, there is no data. It is just an essay that he wrote. Give me a break.

Carroll is just giving his opinion. He believes that events do not have purpose or causes, but does not show why. 

Wait, so when I quote a scientist, I'm just giving his "opinion," but when Sacerdotus quotes a scientist, it's somehow scientific fact? Give me a break. Look at that double standard. Carroll isn't giving his option. He's explain how, from his decades as a physicist working on cosmology and a fundamental understanding of the universe, there is no causality in the way people normally define the term. He explains this in the paper he wrote, that what we think of causes are really just

a description of the relationship between patterns and boundary conditions....If we know the state of a system at one time, and the laws governing its dynamics, we can calculate the state of the system at some later time. You might be tempted to say that the particular state at the first time “caused” the state to be what it was at the second time; but it would be just as correct to say that the second state caused the first.

Carroll further explains this in his excellent book, The Big Picture, and in his many talks and lectures. See here where I fast forwarded his talk to the relevant section on causality:



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sacerdotus Is (Even More) Stupid (Than Previously Thought) Pt. 1


Author's note: I know I just wrote that I'd be spending more time writing about social issues and lay off atheism for a bit, but a recent attempt to rebut my blog post on why I'm an atheist got my attention and prompted me to make a response. I'll get back to social issues when this is done.


A supposed "philosopher" who challenged me on my post Why I'm An Atheist, wrote a follow up to my follow up, and in it he claims again, that's he's refuted me and that I'm ignorant of science and philosophy. The exact opposite is true and I can easily show why. His arguments are so bad, they are laughable. And I don't mean this to be facetious, I mean this with all seriousness. He makes so many common argumentative mistakes and factual errors that I cannot take him seriously that he has a degree in philosophy and science. If he does have a degree, he should get a refund, because he apparently learned no serious critical thinking skills because of it. His arguments are on the caliber of the same old tired internet apologist, like the many wannabe William Lane Craig clones out there. Only he's at the low end of the spectrum.

The supposed philosopher's pen name is Sacerdotus and he accuses me of nothing more than ad hominem attacks. This is false, and a common misunderstanding of what an ad hominem attack is. An ad hominem attack is when you attack your opponent instead of attacking their arguments. I attacked his arguments, quite successfully, in addition to attacking his character. So I made no ad hominem attacks because I addressed his sad excuses for an argument, quite successfully. The reason why I call him stupid in most post (aside from being accurate, is because he calls atheism stupid. I'm giving him a taste of his own medicine, and he calls it an ad hominem! The irony.

I'm going to refute his attempt at refuting my refutation to show how he still just doesn't get it, and is making the same mistakes over and over. His words will appear in block quotes. In the beginning of his post he writes,

As Socrates said, "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser."  Well, we now see the loser show his/her face via ad hominem, so to speak.  He even calls me "gay," which shows he clearly is the losing party.

I called him gay because he is gay, not because it is a slander, and he's a Catholic who defends the church. I find that relevant. If you're going to defend a church that for centuries tried to destroy your existence, that is telling and relevant. If he's not actually gay, then I apologize.

Notice how his replies are just a restatement of his/her previous errors already refuted and how he/she avoids addressing my refutation directly.  I will once again re-refute his/her nonsense and show how they are false when vetted against science, philosophy, and theology just as I have before.  

The point is he didn't actually refute my original arguments. And so what I did was I just explained them further with more insight into why his responses didn't refute them. My arguments mostly went right over his head because they're too sophisticated for him, despite his supposed (and apparently useless) degree in philosophy. My arguments are the culmination of years and years debating theism and they are not entry-level arguments. They rely on a deep understanding of science and philosophy, like a deep understanding of special relativity, which Sacerdotus clearly doesn't have because he doesn't understand at all what special relativity implies for our understanding of time and causality.

So let me refute his attempt at a rebuttal one by one to show (very easily) how his arguments all completely fail. This will be done over several parts throughout this week. Starting with my first argument:

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Why I'm An Atheist - 13 Reasons & Arguments For Atheism



More than three years ago I wrote a post entitled Why I'm An Atheist, where I briefly explained some of the reasons why I don't believe in god. That post, which was long over due at the time, needs an update. With each passing year I get much better at understanding the arguments for and against the existence of god, and since that post came out I've created several new arguments of my own. Rather than write it in essay form, which I did in the original post, I'll instead outline the main reasons and arguments briefly, one by one. So here we go.

I'm an atheist because....

1) The traditional notion of god isn't coherent


In order to even consider the possibility that a god exists, we first need a coherent concept of god. The traditional notion of god in classical theism is that of a timeless, changeless, immaterial mind, who also must be infinitely good, infinitely wise, and can do anything logically possible. There are some variations on this concept, but almost all traditional or classical theistic gods have these basic characteristics. The problem is that a timeless, changeless being by definition cannot do anything; it's necessarily causally impotent and nonfunctional. Change requires time, and time requires change. This is logically certain. And to create something, one must do something. Doing requires a change, regardless of whether that change is mental or physical. A being that cannot do anything cannot be omnipotent. As a result, the traditional notion of god is self contradictory. The theist's only resort here is special pleading. That's why I like to get all theists to agree beforehand that god is not beyond logic. That is, god cannot do the logically impossible or be the logically impossible. Once a theist agrees with this, they've cut themselves off from special pleading as an option. Some theists think god is atemporal before creating the universe, and temporal after creating the universe. But it isn't logically possible to exist timelessly and then suddenly jolt yourself into time out of your own will, because your will was timeless and frozen. It couldn't change into the state to want to change.

Given the necessary rules of logic the traditional attributes of god are incoherent:

P1. It is logically impossible to do something without doing something.
P2. It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).
P3. It is logically impossible for change to exist without time.
C. As such, a timeless, changeless being cannot do anything.

The failure of theists to come up with a coherent description of god is enough by itself to warrant atheism, but there's many more reasons to think no gods exist.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Quote Of The Day: Free Will And Eternalism


A friend of mine linked me to a Business Insider video where professor Dean Buonomano at UCLA talks about neuroscience, free will, and eternalism.



Here's a transcript from the video:


It seems that everything in the universe has already happened under eternalism.

In the context of physics, there’s two general views of the nature of time. One we can think of is "presentism," which only the present is real. And the second, we can think of as "eternalism" in which the past, present, future are equally real. And under this view, now is to time as here is to space. In other words, just as I happen to be here now, it’s perfectly acceptable to me that there are other points in space I could be. Similarly, just as I am here now, under eternalism, there’s plenty of other points in time, the past and future, where perhaps other versions of myself or other parts of my world line exist and are as real as I am.

Under eternalism, the question of free will and determinism becomes much less clear because it seems that everything in the universe has already happened under eternalism. It’s called the "block universe" view in physics — in which everything has, in a sense, a manner of speaking, already happened. And this would mean that what we think of as free will is, in a sense, an illusion. But I think part of the challenge there is coming to terms of what free will means. I think in reality from a neuroscience basis, what we should think of free will is simply a subjective feeling of your unconscious brain making decisions. Pain might be a sense of what happens when somebody steps on our toe. Free will is the subjective sense — the feeling we get when the unconscious brain makes the decision giving us the impression that it was the conscious mind that just made that decision. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Steven Pinker Explains The Human Brain



This is an excellent introductory video on the human brain and how it functions. What's fascinating is how images we see are physically superimposed on the brain as a reflection. I had no idea that occurred. Neuroscience will slowly unravel the mysteries of the brain, revealing just how our thoughts are encoded in its tissues, and hopefully that will illuminate the nature of consciousness.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 5 Decent of the Modernists - Part 2: Inventing the mind-body problem)


iconInventing the mind-body problem

In this section of chapter 5 Feser begins by targeting the philosopher who seems to be his public enemy number one: Rene Descartes. It was he who rejected the Aristotelian account in favor of the "mechanistic philosophy" that we still know of today that rejects formal and final causes. But doing this inevitably results in an apparent "disaster": the complete undermining of the possibility both of moral evaluation and of reason itself. (186) Before getting there, Feser here summarizes the mechanistic view of the world for the most part accurately and notes the differences between primary and secondary qualities.

Primary qualities include solidity, extension, figure, motion, number and the like, and in particular any quality that can be mathematically quantified and which does not vary in any way from observer to observer. Secondary qualities include colors, sounds, tastes, odors, and so forth, and an object's having them amounts to nothing more than a tendency to cause us to have certain sensations. (189)

I would add that things like solidity wouldn't technically be a primary quality since solidity is nowhere to be found fundamentally, but is an emergent property of matter at higher levels. But this is not really relevant here. What is relevant is whether the secondary qualities exist in the objective world or they exist only in the mind of observers. On the "mechanistic" view the answer is no, Feser explains, and so a soul must exist that is separate from the physical body that interacts with it like a "ghost in the machine." But without this, the materialist seems to have a problem. How does the materialist explain qualia, the conscious experiences that determines what it's like to have it? A few examples would be in the experience of seeing red versus seeing green, of tasting coffee versus tasting cheese, or of feeling warm versus feeling cold. They're all different sensations, and yet "one cluster of neurons firing seems qualitatively pretty much like any other, and certainly very different from these sensations [such that] it is hard to see how any sensation could be reduced to or explained in terms of nothing but the firing of neurons." (191)

Yes it is hard, but not impossible. Here we still have the genuine mystery of qualia. Since the human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, it's going to take a bit longer to unravel its mysteries than many other things. One underlying assumption in Feser's above understanding is that the neurons in the brain fire the same way when you see the color red versus seeing the color green. But why should we think that's true? Different neurons fire when we see different wavelengths of light.

Cells in the retina called "opponent neurons" fire when stimulated by incoming red light, and this flurry of activity tells the brain we're looking at something red. Those same opponent neurons are inhibited by green light, and the absence of activity tells the brain we're seeing green. Similarly, yellow light excites another set of opponent neurons, but blue light damps them. While most colors induce a mixture of effects in both sets of neurons, which our brains can decode to identify the component parts, red light exactly cancels the effect of green light (and yellow exactly cancels blue), so we can never perceive those colors coming from the same place.

So different physical processes are at work when we see different colors. The experience of seeing red is just another way of talking about the physical brain undergoing the electrochemical signals travelling through it when the retina received the wavelength of red and certain neurons fire. It's similar to talking about an object as solid even though fundamentally it's just made up of empty space and quantum fields. We still don't know exactly how the physical brain gives rise to qualia but I have no reason to think there is anything non-physical involved that is causal.* I'm open to the mind possibly having a non-physical ontology that is epiphenomenal in nature, meaning, it's an emergent property of physical brains that's causally impotent. But any notion of an immaterial mind having a physical force on matter (like the kind Feser claims, see my review of chapter 4) is unambiguously ruled out by science. Not only do we fully understand all the laws of physics that govern the everyday realm which includes the brain (and therefore anything having to deal with consciousness) and which leaves no room for a mind force to causally effect atoms, but all of neuroscience has repeatedly shown unconscious brain activity precedes conscious awareness, exactly what we'd expect on materialism.**

Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 5 Decent of the Modernists - Part 1: Pre-birth of the modern & Thoroughly modern metaphysics)


iconIn chapter 5, titled the Decent of the Modernists, Feser explains his discontent on how rejecting A-T metaphysics has ultimately lead to the modern preponderance among academics (and I suppose society in general) of the secular and atheistic mindsets. Public enemy number one seems to be the "father of modern philosophy" himself, Rene Descartes (1596-1650). It was he, along with his predecessors John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham, the latter of whom helped foster nominalism and conceptualism to rival Aristotle and Plato's two versions of realism, lead to the "undoing of the Scholaic tradition". (167)

Pre-birth of the modern

According to Feser, both Scotus and Ockham's views on metaphysics and god lead them to conclude that god cannot be known through reason, and must be believed on faith. In other words, god's existence cannot be proved, they contend, and since Descartes' time this general theological view which rejects A-T metaphysics in favor of a more mechanistic view of nature has dominated Western thought. This, Feser says, is what many of the New Atheists pick up on in their critique of theism in general. Feser spends several pages on Hitchens' book god is not Great, criticizing his alleged ignorance of Ockham's razor. Feser argues that versions of it previously were addressed by Aquinas himself and even Aristotle. That may be so, but it doesn't show that change, causation, and final causality necessarily entail "God" — who is dispensed by the razor. Adding god into the mix just adds more unanswerable questions and logical problems.

Scotus' skepticism, Feser says, is motivated by an emphasis on god's will over his intellect.

So radically free is God's will, in Scotus's view, that we simply cannot deduce from the natural order either His intentions or any necessary features of the things He created, since He might have created them in any number of ways, as His inscrutable will directed. Ockham pushes this emphasis on the divine will further, holding that God could by fiat have made morally obligatory all sorts of things that are actually immoral; for example, had He wanted to, He could have decided to command us to hate Him, in which case this is what would be good for us to do. Thus we are brought by Ockham to the idea that morality rests on completely arbitrary demands rather than rationally ascertainable human nature. (168)

But wait a second. If god created that human nature, couldn't he have created us with a different nature, which would rationally entail a different kind of morality? Couldn't god, for example, have made humans reproduce by laying a large amount of eggs ensuring that only a few could possibly be raised to adulthood instead of giving birth to live young? What principle prevents god from doing that? In other words, was god's choice in creating our nature the way it is at all arbitrary, or is there some logically necessary reason why he created our nature the way it is? If so, what's that logically necessary reason? If not, then our morality is ultimately arbitrary even if it logically entails from our nature, because our nature itself would be arbitrary.

Feser takes a long swipe at Hitchens' critique of Ockham's views that we cannot prove a first cause with the traits typically associated with theism—omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, etc., and deal with the "unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator." (god is not Great, p. 71) But this was answered "long before Ockham was born" Feser states. (170) This may be so, but it would make little difference to the question of god's existence if A-T metaphysics ultimately fails to make a convincing case proving a first cause with typical theistic traits must exist, as I think it does. I do agree with Feser that Hitchens does not engage deeply with the metaphysical arguments for god. God is not Great doesn't set out to disprove the existence of god, it's primary goal is to show how religion poisons everything by critiquing religious history, belief, traditions, and institutions, especially the Abrahamic religions. And I think it does a damn good job doing so. But Feser is focused on the metaphysical arguments, which you're not going to get in great detail with Hitchens, who was best at showing how absurd, stupid, and harmful religion is.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

My Question To David Chalmers And Rebecca Goldstein On Consciousness


Late last year I attended several events hosted by Robert Wright on philosophy, science, and religion and I got to see some world renowned speakers, including Lawrence Krauss and Steven Pinker. In one event, called The Weirdness of Consciousness, Wright interviewed David Chalmers and Rebecca Goldstein about how and why an understanding of consciousness still seems to allude both scientists and philosophers.

Chalmers is an NYU philosopher specializing in the philosophy of mind. He came up with the term "the hard problem of consciousness" back in the 90s. Goldstein is an author and philosopher who has written extensively about consciousness and science. During the Q&A I asked them whether there is any good evidence that the mind "causes" the brain because it seems to me that all the evidence shows the opposite. And I wasn't quite happy with their responses. (I almost had a brain fart in the middle of my question because I forgot the last part I wanted to mention, but it eventually came out.)





So Chalmers basically says that it seems prima facie that both mind and brain cause each other but that it's admittedly difficult to reckon mind causing brain with physics and neuroscience. Goldstein then jumps in and tells an anecdote about being hooked up to an fMRI while being asked to solve mathematical equations and place money on bets as part of research for one of her books and says that the latest in neuroscience is compatible with any theory on mind, including dualism. Though she admits she's a materialist, she says given all the scientific evidence that "it's still wide open."

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Quote Of The Day: The Flow Of Time And Illusion


Reconciling our subjective experience of the flow of time with the fact that there is no flow of time, or any distinction between the past, present, or future in the fundamental laws of physics is perhaps one of our biggest challenges. If time is static, as is suggested by our best physical theories, why does it seem to flow as if it's dynamic? And if time flows, why doesn't science confirm that? Why does the universe seem to conspire against us? Physicist Gene Tracy gives us some insight, from his article in Aeon, A Science Without Time. I've kept its original font because it came out looking so good on my site.



It’s possible that our experience of the flow of time is like our experience of colour. A physicist would say that colour does not exist as an inherent property of the world. Light has a variety of wavelengths, but they have no inherent property of ‘colour’. The things in the world absorb and emit and scatter photons, granules of light, of various wavelengths. It is only when our eyes intersect a tiny part of that sea of radiation, and our brain gets to work on it, that ‘colour’ emerges. It is an internal experience, a naming process, an activity of our brain trying to puzzle things out.
So the flow of time might be a story our brain creates, trying to make sense of chaos. In a 2013 paper, the physicists Leonard Mlodinow of Caltech and Todd Brun of the University of Southern California go even further and argue that any physical thing that has the characteristics of a memory will tend to align itself with the thermodynamic arrow of time, which in turn is defined by the behaviour of extremely large numbers of particles. According to this theory, it is no puzzle that we remember the past but not the future, even though the microscopic laws of nature are the same going forward or backward in time, and the past and future both exist. The nature of large systems is to progress toward increasing entropy – a measure of disorder, commonly experienced as the tendency of hot or cold objects to come into equilibrium with their surroundings. Increasing entropy means that a memory of the past is dynamically stable, whereas a memory of the future is unstable.
In this interpretation, we are unable to see the future not because it is impossible to do so, but because it is as unlikely as seeing a broken window heal itself, or as a tepid cup of tea taking energy from the atoms of the surrounding room and spontaneously beginning to boil. It is statistically extremely, extremely unlikely.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 3: Faith, Reason, And Evil)


Faith, reason, and evil

In the final section of chapter 4 Feser defends the notion of faith and its relationship to reason in Christianity and addresses the problem of evil. He makes so many points I want to address that I apologize in advance for how long this chapter's review as become.

Faith, Feser defines, is "the will to keep one's mind fixed precisely on what reason has discovered to it." (154) In order to keep things relatively short, I'll accept this as a definition of faith for this review even though I have objections to it. We also get Feser's definition of a miracle, which is "a suspension of the natural order that cannot be explained in any way other than divine intervention in the normal course of events." (154) This is the traditional definition of a miracle, but not the only one. In fact, some Christians like Kenneth Pearce have even argued that such a definition is incoherent with the traditional notion of an omni-deity. If that's so, I'm afraid Feser's view on miracles would have to be false, and if they are false, the central argument in his book for theism is even less plausible. This is just an extra layer of falsity in addition to the fact that Feser's view is already incoherent for requiring libertarian free will while his metaphysics refutes it.

Feser machine gun blasts several dozen points rapidly here, so let me address some of them one by one. Regarding Christianity specifically, he says:

If the story of Jesus's resurrection is true, then you must become a Christian; if it is false, then Christianity itself is false, and should be rejected. (154)

Um, it's false. We can be fairly confident of that. There is no reason why any rational person should accept the historical or miracle claims in the New Testament, even if one believes there is a god, or a person (or persons) that the character of Jesus was based on. We have plenty of reason to doubt his existence and his divinity if such a person existed.*

Given that God exists and that He sustains the world and the causal laws governing it in being at every moment, we know that there is a power capable of producing a miracle, that is, a suspension of those causal laws. (155)

Feser is of course proceeding as if his previous arguments from before have stuck, but we have no good reason of thinking they have. Some of them are flat out refuted by science or are internally inconsistent. How does an utterly timeless being "lacking any potentiality whatsoever" produce a miracle, like impregnating an under-aged virgin who gives birth to himself as "God incarnate"?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quote Of The Day: The "Halle Berry Neuron" Helps Show The Mind Is Caused By The Brain


iconFrom The Myth of An Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, pp 55-56:

The physical structures of the brain are causally responsible for consciousness and its capabilities. A neuroscientist examining the scans of a stroke victim's brain can now predict, sometimes with remarkable accuracy, exactly what sorts of cognitive, conceptual, emotional, or psychological problems that the patient will experience as a result of his or her brain damage. The connection is too direct, too pervasive, too immediate, and too strong to be ignored. The physical foundation of mental functions shows that the alleged separation of the mind from brain posited by the dualistic survival hypothesis (hereafter simply "the survival hypothesis") will not occur. If a region of the brain is damaged or removed, the correlated mental capacity goes, memory is lost, emotional affects are abbreviated, conceptual abilities disappear, or the cognitive capacity is lost.
       In a remarkable study published in 2005, neuroscientists reported the discovery of what they called the "Halle Berry neuron." In order to isolate the location of the electrical chaos that induced their epilepsy, patients' brains were implanted with electrodes. Then each patient was shown a variety of pictures while the activity of neurons in the vicinity of the probes was recorded. In several instances, a particular neuron could be singled out whose activity spiked in response to specific images, such as those of Halle Berry, Bill Clinton, or the Eiffel tower. One neuron fired when the subject looked at a picture of Halle Berry in an evening gown, in a catwoman suit, and as a cartoon, and even when the words "Halle Berry" were displayed, suggesting that the neuron played an integral role in a large web or neurons responsible for a variety of abstract and high-level representations of Halle Berry, rather than some simpler function such as edge discrimination. The neuron did not respond comparably to the hundreds of other images used in the study (Quiroga et al., 2005). Contrary to what we would expect on the survival hypothesis, every year we discover more brain functions responsible for specific mental functions; and in none of the carefully investigated cases have we been able to find mental functions that appears to be autonomous from the brain.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 1: The Soul)


In chapter 4, Feser lays the ground work for the soul, the natural law theory of ethics, and the relationship between faith and reason using the concepts he's laid down in the previous chapters. I've decided to break this review into three parts because the review became so long.

In the beginning of the chapter Feser finds room for two more insults on Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris—Dennett for "sheer speculation" on evolutionary psychological explanations of religion, and Harris for apparently being boring in his book, The End of Faith. Certainly there's a lot of speculation in evolutionary psychology, but the argument for the naturalistic origins of over-active agency detection forming the basis of god belief I think are pretty strong and well supported by evidence. Anyway, onto the soul.

The soul

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Aristotelian conception of the soul. It differs significantly from the Cartesian conception where there is a physical body and a non-physical soul that operates the body like a "ghost in the machine." Although many lay people still hold to this concept of the soul, it has severely fallen out of fashion in the relevant sciences and philosophy, and is considered by most in those fields flat out false.

The Aristotelian-Thomistic (or A-T for short) soul is different. The "form or essence of a living thing is just what Aristotle (and Aquinas) mean by the word 'soul,'" Feser explains. The "soul" is "to refer to the nature of a living thing, whatever that turns out to be," adding, "The soul is just a kind of form." (121) But what if it turns out to be that we're just complex arrangements of matter and energy governed by the fundamental forces described by the laws of physics, with no free will of our own? This is after all what science is showing us more and more everyday. It seems to me that terms like "soul" at best are a metaphor, like when we refer to the "soul" of a city, and at worst an outright metaphysical falsehood.

The soul being form and essence means all things have a "soul" on the A-T view. But there are three kinds of souls that Feser describes (121-122) and this means that for you Christians (spoiler alert!), you sadly won't be seeing your cat or dog in heaven:

Nutritive soul: a form or essence that gives a thing that has it the powers of taking in nutrients, growing, and reproducing itself.
Sensory soul: a form or essence that gives a thing that has it both the powers of a nutritive soul, and also an animal's distinctive powers of being able to sense the world around it (by seeing, hearing, etc.) and to move itself (by walking, flying, etc.).
Rational soul: includes both the powers of the nutritive soul and the sensory souls and also distinctively human powers of intellect and will: that is, the power to grasp abstract objects - namely, the forms or essences of things - and to reason on the basis of them, and freely to choose different possible courses of action on the basis of what the intellect knows.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 3 Getting Medieval)


Feser starts chapter 3 lauding Aquinas' lifelong chastity and devotion to god, as if that's supposed to impress us. Religious obsessions with chastity always reminds me of how masochistic it is. There's also something about serious Catholics that I really don't like. I've always hated Catholicism, but it's hard to hate most Catholics today because most of them are so non-religious that they act almost indistinguishable from your average secular atheist. But the ones who take their religion seriously, like Feser, get me agitated. Feser is convinced his religion is true and wants the world to conform to it, and that's dangerous. I suppose then that it's a good thing he doesn't get much traction.

It's in chapter 3, called Getting Medieval, that Feser lays out his argument for god. He starts by making several insults about the New Atheists and their apparent failure to address the "greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages," especially Richard Dawkins, who is arguably the most famous atheist in the world. As a reminder once again, I haven't fully read The God Delusion, and so I unfortunately cannot speak on Dawkins' behalf. But, from what I did read, Dawkins does make a lot of common sense arguments against the belief in a theistic intervening god - the kind who ensures you have parking space at Walmart while he ignores the prayers of millions of kids starving to death. Hitchens' God is Not Great is really a critique of religion, specifically the Abrahamic ones. He doesn't really try and refute the existence of god per se. Perhaps this is a weakness, but I think his criticisms against Abrahamic theism are strong enough that no argument anyone can make could establish the probabilistic existence of Yahweh. The biblical god and the religions that derive from him are just too absurd to be taken seriously, even when Aquinas' arguments are met head on, as we're about to see.

Feser makes a big deal about the New Atheist's criticisms of William Paley's popular design argument. The reason why so many atheists mention Paley's argument is because it's a very popular argument that a lot of theists make. It's also a very simple argument; one doesn't need to learn complex, esoteric metaphysics like one has to do in order to understand Aquinas. That's why Paley's argument keeps coming up again and again, and the New Atheists (and atheists in general) have to make it a point to address it. Aquinas' arguments are generally too complex and require too much philosophical knowledge for your average wannabe apologist to successfully make. It's much easier for them to memorize the simple premises of the cosmological argument, or remember the scene involved in Paley's watchmaker analogy. It's fair to say that it isn't a straw man to attack design arguments of the Paley variety as Feser thinks on page 81. It's a legitimate argument for god, albeit a really bad one. No, a more proper straw man is like what Feser did in his opening chapter when he says your average secularist thinks strangling infants or fucking corpses or goats is perfectly normal in order to show how secularism is "irrational, immoral, and indeed insane," without even defining what he means by "secularism."

Feser's attitude seems to be that none of the New Atheist's arguments mean anything, until they refute Aquinas. And to be fair, the New Atheists have, by and large, not taken up Aquinas. Feser accuses secularists of swallowing "anything their gurus shovel at them." (80) But he must realize how absurd it is for him to make such a claim, when everyone knows it's organized religion that brainwashes its masses and requires its adherents make statements of faith, usually starting at childhood. And the Catholic Church is about as organized as organized religion can get.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quote Of The Day: Does Quantum Indeterminacy Allow Free Will?


Today's QOTD is by Caltech physcist Sean Carroll. Many people, theists and atheist alike, think that quantum indeterminacy allows for libertarian free will to take place. But this is a misunderstanding of quantum mechanics and the way probability works in it. On his blog, Carroll explains:

[I]f you want to use the lack of determinism in quantum mechanics to make room for supra-physical human volition (or, for that matter, occasional interventions by God in the course of biological evolution, as Francis Collins believes), then let’s be clear: you are not making use of the rules of quantum mechanics, you are simply violating them. Quantum mechanics doesn’t say “we don’t know what’s going to happen, but maybe our ineffable spirit energies are secretly making the choices”; it says “the probability of an outcome is the modulus squared of the quantum amplitude,” full stop. Just because there are probabilities doesn’t mean there is room for free will in that sense.

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