Politics, God and Religion vs. Science


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High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Nov 21, 2012 - 09:43am PT
I don't see much attention (alright, any attn) on the thread to the role neuro circuitry at a variety of levels and in a variety of forms is likely to play in generating consciousness (cf: memory) (e.g., consciousness as a process or stream). Now granted, since I used to be an engineer and a lot of my background is in hands-on circuit design, I might be guilty of a certain engineering and circuitry chauvinism. ;)

But then again, just consider the opening lines here...
Half a trillion neurons, a hundred trillion synapses

As you know, these thousands to billions (if not trillions) of micro events and structures aren't just laying about dishoveled, they're arrayed in order. It's how they're put together. A synergistic sum (cf: arithmetic sum) of sorts - a term lunko's under-appreciated if not ridiculed in the past. Arrays of circuits, "engineered" by an evolutionary process that was/is considerably unique, considerably powerful, considerably different - as compared to any that modern constructionists (like engineers or cognitive scientists) are used to working with.

In my view therein lies the secret(s) to the many and various emergent functions to our nervous system (incl sentience, the muther of these mysteries) evolved as a "controller" of the body - that we like to describe as "consciousness."

New article. How apropos.

The brain in the machine.


In my book, the "smart money" is on circuity - circuitry evolved by natural selection - circuitry that might tap into micro structures at the physical chemical subcellular level (to produce functionalities) that modern science and engineering together isn't aware of. Yet or forever.

As an aside, I think it's worth noting that IF modern science and engineering - in particular analytical bioengineering in neuroscience - were not constrained to work with dead brains and their products - needless to say, understandably so! - analyses and advances wouldn't have to be so circumstantial.

But my interest: it's all mechanistic, that is, it's all causally determined (prediction, predictional determinism aside). That remains the claim I find most reasonable, in addition to interesting; most challenging as a psychological hurdle to clear; and most worthy to be included into a larger model as a tool of the future for getting on in a truly modern practice of living.


In fact, in this lecture by Sam Harris on "free will" (one of his worst, I think, to date, btw) he alludes to this very view - along the lines that insofar as evolutionary theory was/is a psychological hurdle, our mechanistic nature (that precludes "free will" in the traditional philosophical sense) is one/ will be one even so much higher. Mercy!


P.S. Get a load of this channel: AllSamHarrisContent, lol!


Nov 21, 2012 - 11:24am PT
smaller scales mean higher energy, not a good thing for life

Ed, explain or point me to a better explanation, please. Not sure what law or dynamic you're referring to.


I think I'm having difficulty tracking the different ideas presented here. Whew. I'll try to summarize.

Ed seems currently interested in notions of life as the result of molecular machinery and genomes. Ed had also brought up Watson (implying Turing) and hinted that what is human is what humans do. The use of language socially seems to be a key factor in the definition of humanity for Ed.

Largo argued that Watson cannot glean experience; nor can Watson have (subjective) experiences at all. Largo complains that Ed is being too rational (via the discursive mind) or has bifurcated consciousness inappropriately into objective and subjective, when in fact they are an example of dualism.

I was commenting on free will vs. determinism: organisms are limited by their nature, with given characteristics within specific contexts that stipulate their functioning. Nature and nurture stipulate specific individualities and their behaviors. (My experiences and observations are bringing me to this position, and it has big implications.)

Slayton disagrees with me. He believes that many (infinite) choices are available to mind-body organisms.

Donald wants to know what consciousness is.

Rectorsquid is having a side argument with BB about evolution.

Werner seems to be suggesting physical experiments and actions to illustrate the extent of free will vs. destiny. Karma / action can lead to pain and destiny. (I sense there is a lesson about learning in his comments.)

As I understand Jstan now, he seems to be arguing that past experiences are gleaned and create physical mechanisms (learning) in organisms so that similar situations in the future are handled well--leading to survival of an organism. (This point of view, I think, seems to be an "evolution explanation," although there it was not made on a specie level.) Jstan claims this argument explains that all organisms have consciousness, and opens the door for different kinds of consciousness.

Cintune seems to be enjoying the view.

Dr. F. seems unhappy about something.

Not really sure what Go-B of BB or splitter is saying about any of these topics. (Sorry, guys.)

HF likes systems and designs of neurons (a great many of them) to explain sentience and consciousness. He thinks not enough consideration is being given to Neurobiology or neuroscience. For him, consciousness is causally determined, although I am not sure that he means the fact of consciousness alone or whether he includes the results of consciousness (e.g., decisions, specific feelings, emotions, or thoughts in specific situations).

Sooooooo, what I see is general split between materialists / objectivists, and a few of us who are, hmmmmmm . . . less so. Consciousness and free will seem to be the current topics. This "thread" often seems like a random walk. We just wander around. I guess that's how these things go, even when people know a lot in their own areas of experience and knowledge.

If I've mis-characterized what you said or were thinking, please correct it. If you see a nexus among the postings that I have missed, please note it.

EDIT: HF's background lies in neuroscience, not neurobiology.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Nov 21, 2012 - 11:31am PT
Sorry, my misread. I'm a biased dolt this morning chockful of ugly partisan chauvinism.

Post edited for rush to judgment.


EDIT: HF's background lies in neuroscience, not neurobiology.

They're pretty much one and the same.

Again, my apologies for a misdirected and misleading post.

Nov 21, 2012 - 12:28pm PT

Prediction hasn't been overlooked. It's more a question of how it is achieved. We multicellular organisms model parts of the external world in our nervous systems and use those representations to make guesses about what the future holds. Just how that happens needs a good explanation.

One opinion that prediction is consciousness:

from The I of the Vortex
R. Llinás

And what about single-celled life? There was a recent discovery that plankton can adjust their distance from the ocean surface according to how many of their predators, also single-celled, are in the area. How the plankton sense the predator isn't known.

Roger Penrose (and R. Llinás) point to microtubules as possible sensing and reacting elements in single-celled organisms. Whatever it is that is going on may be 'mechanical' in some sense, but when you watch protozoa under a microscope they seem anything but mechanical. Perhaps that is only to be expected, given a couple billion years of selection wherein each new generation may take less than an hour to be produced.

The first single-celled life on Earth is thought to have appeared 2 billion years before the first multicellular life. According to one opinion, the reason it took 2 billion years for cells to organize into cooperating communities was that a fairly sophisticated system of cell-to-cell communication had to come first. I wonder if humans will ever learn to communicate with each other?

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Nov 21, 2012 - 12:43pm PT
The problems with understanding life is to be able to describe molecular systems at finite temperature.

Ed, your post is way out there, I wish I could better understand it. But I'm glad you do and I'm glad there are others who can follow up on it. Maybe therein lies what we all seek?


when you watch protozoa under a microscope they seem anything but mechanical

I totally get what you're saying.

Then again, there's 19th century "mechanical" and there is 21st century "mechanical."



re: "mechanistic"

My preferred term of "mechanistic" or even "mechanical" stems from (a) the wide confusion over the terms determinism, deterministic (which I recognized as problematic and let go of 20 years ago now); (b) the wide usage of "mechanism of action" used thoughout the physical and life sciences; (c) the ubiquitous presence of these "mechanisms of action" across life, in the buildup of life, and in its metabolism.

A couple of things about "mechanistic." To my mind, (1) a mechanistic process or a mechanistic reaction doesn't imply or suggest an algorithm in any way (although the reverse seems to); (2) the term, unlike the classical "determinate" or "deterministic" or "determinant," does not necessarily imply computability or predictability, so less chance of confusion there.

Bottom line, it works for me. And it allows me to cut through, or to cut around, much of the ordinary confusion we see in varius publics regarding use of det and what we all mean by the term when we use it.

Nov 21, 2012 - 01:01pm PT
Anything mechanical still originally required the "Finger" to push the start button .......
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Nov 21, 2012 - 01:50pm PT
Werner, you're right. Sam Harris is my guru. On this Wed esp. Here, check this out, even just the first 10 minutes. Why? Because he's so crystal clear, ad hoc, off the cuff...



Social climber
An Oil Field
Nov 21, 2012 - 02:03pm PT

I broke down and hooked some speakers to my work machine. That guy is pretty sharp.

If I stop working hard, I will have to yank the damn things off.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 21, 2012 - 02:22pm PT
I raised the point quite some time back in the thread that predation is a prime evolutionary driver with [inherent] predictive capabilities essential to that evolution.

That simple sense / response behavior itself evolved in tandem with increasingly complex cellular forms with consciousness eventually emerging from those evolving predatory behaviors. Jstan's commentary on the role of time is central to that evolution of predatory behavior (both as predator and prey) and hence consciousness.

We can see the obvious evolution / emergence of 'consciousness' from simple behavior and predation in an observational sweep across the taxonomy of species which exist on the planet today.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Nov 21, 2012 - 03:47pm PT
BASE, but I hope you've had the opportunity to take in Sam Harris before now. I hope.

re: "death"

So much depends on how you look at it. "Look at it this way..."

Sam Harris, concerning the Abrahamic scriptures and their stories
"We are really prisoners of literature right now, we are constrained to talk either explicitly about these books or in some vague conformity to these books."

 "prisoners of literature"
 "constrained to talk..."

Indeed, just as they threads testify to. Eh, Gobee? ;)

"These books were written by people who... Every person in this room has more access to information and scientific knowledge and what is now basic common sense than the authors of the Bible and the Quran. In fact there is not a person in this room who has ever met a person whose worldview is as narrow, just by the sheer time in which they appeared in history, as the worldviews of Abraham or Moses or Jesus or Muhammad.

Until we grapple with that fact and honestly commit ourselves to a 21st century conversation about the possibilites of human wellbeing, we're just going to be at sea... "

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Nov 21, 2012 - 04:43pm PT
my point regarding Watson is that we don't know what goes on in Watson's "mind" but we are sure it is different than what goes on in our minds... but the only way we have of knowing is by communicating to Watson, which can be disconcerting because Watson appears to be able to talk to us about stuff... Watson is as incapable of describing that process as we are, that process being how we able to be "conscious."

This is an interesting take on mind but IMO it is important to realize Ed has parsed consciousness back to strictly neo-cortex functioning, in particular, what's commonly called left brain discursive functioning, which deals with objectifying people, places and things, the output of which is informatation, in the driest sense, facts and figures. So in a sense, Ed has separated out one of a myriad of human aspects, the very one that is most machine-like (quantifying info - data processing, etc.), but also, as every psychologist knows, is the least effective driver in human behavior. The language of the cortex is thoughts, and words.

But we have a triune brain, meaning three storied. The oldest, most powerful and least conscious is our brain stem, or reptilian brain, the language of which is sensation. The mamilian brain sits on top of that, and along with the limbic system, pumps out feelings. Sensations and emotions are the drivers behind behavior - which is why Vipassana or "Insight" meditation is so powerful because for the first time people see where their behavior comes from through tracking sensations. Otherwise we have no idea. At all.

Just a few rambling thoughts. And remember, my description of the turkey is different than the turkey itself. That is, the Map might not be the turkey, but the turkey is the meal nonetheless.

Happy thanksgiving to all.


What the hell's that red thing jiggling on the gobblers neck?  And wha...
What the hell's that red thing jiggling on the gobblers neck? And what are giblets, anyhow?
Credit: Largo


Lake Tahoe
Nov 21, 2012 - 04:55pm PT

I'm not sure if it has come up but there should be some discussion about the mind that includes instinct. The brain might very well turn a reference of a person into what is essentially numbers or nerve signals but those are weighted by instinct. The instinct comes from millions of years of evolution and has essentially preprogrammed kluges into the brain that alter perception in ways that are not immediately apparent.

For instance, there is no math for love but it exists. It likely comes from a tweaking of perception in special cases where the perception of a strong personal bond is important but isn't directly computed from the immediate surroundings or even from a person entire set of experiences.

In other words, there is certainly more to the mind than just brain computations. There is a set of values built in that have been good for the species in the past. Often, the skewed perceptions that make us see more than is in front of us might make us think that there is more to the mind and spirit than just a meta computer in our heads. If it is a meat computer than it has data in it beyond the experiences of any one of us. It has some amount of storage of the entire human evolutionary tree.

Spirituality might even be one of those pre-programmed things that helped the species survive (or helped those specific traits survive to be more accurate) once we got to having brains that were big enough to question everything around us.

Your dilemma with the nature of the mind, body, and spirit, might be an artifact of that hidden "information" in your meat computer brain! Now that would be ironic.


Trad climber
Cali Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
Nov 21, 2012 - 08:39pm PT
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.

I had just left the hospital where my gf/fiance had just had surgery after being hit by a car that had ran a red light. She pushed her two young daughters out of the way and was then struck. And I had gotten into it in the waiting room with her mother (basically didn't say anything, just caught a lot of shit). I loved Laura & her kids, but her mom was something else!

We were both in or late thirties and had been going together for some time. I'm not gonna get into the whole story, it really involves aspects of my whole life. But, I hit a wall, so to speak. As i was on my way home, I basically just said ef-it and decided to chuck everything I was doing, everything i was about, and take a time out (like i said long story). I kinda lost it.

So I did a very dumb thing. As I went over this bridge/overpass and was coming down the other side I said what I would now describe as an unholy prayer. I said, "I don't care WHO gets it for me, God or Satan, but I want enough crystal meth to drain my brain (or whatever/enough to temporarily escape). The thing about it was, I had never done meth/speed in my life. Hated the stuff for what it was doing to people. Other than once when i was working for this contractor from Fresno and the framing/joisting crew he hooked me up with one morning were putting it in their water containers and working/slamming nails from dawn to dusk. I was unaware of it being in the water. We were on top of a third floor apt building joisting and relied on the water containers (it was HOT/middle of summer). Well, before long I was slamming nails from dawn to dusk. lol I went home and came down and got sick as a dog and quit that job the next day. So I WAS familiar with what it was capable of doing.

So, ten years later, for whatever reason, it came to my mind and I said that damn "prayer"! I was coming down the far side of the bridge and noticed the light about 30 yards ahead was about to change and was about to gun it. But, the second I finished that "prayer" i heard an audible voice that said, "Turn left!" it was a command! I hit my brakes and skidded almost to a stop and hooked it left into this side street that paralleled the freeway I had just gone over, and pulled to the curb and stopped (i was on my bike). That whole instance from "unholy prayer" to turning and stopping took about 10-15 seconds!!

Right there at my feet was a baggy with, what turned out to be, an 8 ball of crystal meth (about 3.5 grams). That was the begginig of the end of my engagement/relationship with my gal. Likewise with a very dynamic Christian ministry in which I was very active. I believe it had something to do with the lives of two youth (16-17) being executed (it could have turned a lot different if i had been there for them like i was called to be). And so forth ... !

Like I said, my life has been a very long story, a very long spiritual path. And THAT, was one of the lowest points. I recall thinking, as I picked up the baggy, "OH, OH, WHAT DID I JUST DO?" I never went that way home, it was out of my way, a frontage road!!!!

Believe me, in the weeks that followed, I was "sifted like wheat"!!


BTW, I do not like telling these sordid stories here on ST, on the WWW/internet for the whole world to see! Why do i even bother? There are many, this one is really a rather minor one. But, I just wanted to tell it, because you guys (atheist) are clueless as to who exactly your dealing with.

"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
Dr. F.

Ice climber
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 21, 2012 - 10:03pm PT
Why do Christians always seem to have the worst Karma?
Does God want to punish them for being SOO far of the track of God's Message, or could it be the opposite, that God hates them so much, that he wants to torture them for not being subservient enough, and they must suffer hard to show their sacrifice of all to God.

and why do Atheists seem to have the best Karma, does God want to bless them for being so on track? yes

Or maybe us atheists just take better care of ourselves, since we know we are the only ones responsible for are lot in life.

Social climber
So Cal
Nov 21, 2012 - 10:09pm PT
Dr F.

Please give us an accounting of orphanages and hospitals created and funded by atheists.
Dr. F.

Ice climber
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 21, 2012 - 10:18pm PT
TGT check this site
it lists millions of atheist orphanages


or this one


Nov 22, 2012 - 12:33am PT
Anesthesia certainly puts an individual into an unconscious state. "Consciousness" is
tested by responses to verbal commands and questions. It is how we actually assess it

I think we make progress when we have trouble defining that which we wish to discuss.

It may well be what I and Joe have discussed is not consciousness but is awareness. Awareness
actually sounds more definable than is consciousness, burdened as it is by centuries of neo-
philosophy. Andy apparently has read some of Penrose so I would be interested to hear Roger's
working understanding. If I am to think more on the subject, Consciousness could be an
unimportant term compared to awareness, its importance just a matter of historical use. I clearly
need to do a little research.

The test on exiting anaesthesia sounds like something more specific than consciousness
however. More like a test to see if normal brain functioning has returned. Do you have the
expected answers to normal questions? Test questions generally have expected answers.

Since none of us wishes to have real time awareness of trillions of synaptic firings I think none of
us has reservations about accepting the concept of buried processing. (Here I will pass by the
concept of free will. That is just an artificial distinction generated by definition.) Neurological
data will prove to be the defining element, ultimately, on all of this.


Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 22, 2012 - 12:54am PT
Unfortunately, due to work, I haven't been able to get back to the bout of philosophy reading I was doing courtesy my near complete ignorance of the topic in these discussions with Largo. But from what I did read, it seems to me that Largo's take on the philosophical notions of 'emergence' and 'emergent properties' is central to his views here.

Largo, please correct me if I'm wrong on that (and maybe you could do a bit of a sidebar on the topic if that is the case).

Hebrews 1:3
Nov 22, 2012 - 07:33am PT
Leviticus 22:29 And when you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, offer it of your own free will

Psalm 26:7 That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, And tell of all Your wondrous works.

Psalm 50:14 Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High.

Psalm 69:30 I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.

Psalm 95:2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

Psalm 100:4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

Psalm 107:1 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

Psalm 107:22 Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, And declare His works with rejoicing.

Psalm 116:17 I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the LORD.

Psalm 136:1 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

Isaiah 51:3 For the LORD will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.

Jeremiah 30:19 Then out of them shall proceed thanksgiving And the voice of those who make merry; I will multiply them, and they shall not diminish; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small.

Jonah 2:9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”

Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

Colossians 2:7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;

Revelation 7:12 saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”


Nov 22, 2012 - 12:28pm PT
From that perspective, each living thing has a chemical structure that passed to them by forbearers stretching all the way back to the first life on the planet.

Nice perspective! We are obligatory keepers of the flame.

I wouldn't dare to guess at Roger Penrose's understanding of consciousness, even after reading quite a bit of his first 2 books on the subjects. I can tell you that he doesn't try to define what consciousness is, and he points out that people have surprisingly different ideas of what the word means.

Roger Penrose seems to be more interested in what it means to understand something. He believes that through an ability to understand things, humans can do things that computers cannot. As a mathematician Penrose builds his case in small steps, each appearing reasonable, towards a surprising conclusion. It is not easy to summarize his case, and if it were he probably wouldn't have written two lengthy books on the subject. He does go into detail on what he means by 'understanding.' When it comes to how we humans are able to understand things, Penrose only has guesses, but the following passage gives a look at the kind of understanding he is talking about:

"We shall find ourselves driven toward a Platonic viewpoint of things. According to Plato, mathematical concepts and mathematical truths inhabit an actual world of their own that is timeless and without physical location. Plato's world is an ideal world of perfect forms, distinct from the physical world, but in terms of which the physical world must be understood. It also lies beyond our imperfect mental constructions; yet, our minds do have some direct access to this Platonic realm through an 'awareness' of mathematical forms, and our ability to reason about them."

from Shadows of the Mind - A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness

If you take that beyond math, you see Roger Penrose sounding like Werner, again.

To get back to the definition of consciousness, in Roger Penrose's own words:

"When all is said and done, we must ultimately rely upon our intuitive comprehension of its meaning."
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