Politics, God and Religion vs. Science


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Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Nov 22, 2012 - 12:31pm PT
Well, the way I got to this point was just to ask a practical question: what does a nurse, who is responsible for assessing a post-operative patient's status coming out of anesthesia , do to establish that status?

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 ourselves...

So while there is a lot of other things going on in the brain, and in the mind, and even under anesthesia, these things are different from "consciousness" and are not accessible to consciousness, which lacks the vocabulary to describe them (as we have been grappling with in this extended discussion).

I think what Ed has done here is make clear how hard it is to establish "consciousness" in any third-person, objective way. That is, to "prove" that one is conscious. Since a third-party tests "Consciousness" in another by way of "verbal commands and questions" (meaning the symbolic/verbal output of a conscious being is the criteria for establishing consciousness), if we have a big enough data base of likely responses to questions, a Turing machine can essentially replicate these responses to the extent that another sentient being - or at any rate someone we believe is sentient - while looking at those responses on a computer screen, can not till the difference between Dr. Turing (a machine) and CoCo Joe (a real dude).

This "test" assumes that the "output" (verbal responses) is the proof of consciousness so far as we can vouchsafe this from a third-person perspective - that is, outside of the subjective bubble itself. This presents a conspicuous problem because we normally use quantifying to establish the verity or things. But with consciousness, we can only quantify the footprint of consciousness, so to speak, in the form of verbal and behavioral responses, much as we verify the footprint of life by way of biological signals like blood pressure, heartbeat, temperature, ambulation, stimuli response, et al. And if this footprint can be aped by a Turing machine, which seems entirely possible, from an objective viewpoint the human article can also be considered in terms of a strictly objective, mechanical entity which can learn to ape a Turing machine to the extent that other Turing machines could not decipher the difference between their fellow Turings and The Dude.

What people are left with is the fact that the only proof of subjective experience experience itself is - subjective experience. It doesn't live "out there" like all the other stuff, and so it can hardly be considered as "real" as said stuff. It is only "in our minds." That puts us in the wonky position of having the basic fact of our fundamental reality (subjective experience itself) being essentially unverifiable by objective means, which has led some to consider experience as nothing more that a kind of blowback from the matter, which is the really real thing after all.


Social climber
joshua tree
Nov 22, 2012 - 03:09pm PT
Jstan wrote;
"The expectation there will be another moment exists in every subsystem. This is true for every organism, so that they might survive, If this expectation is the basis for consciousness,

then every organism has consciousness."

PLANTS AREN'T ALIVE !! Then explain what Life IS.
Do you call "life" the moving of a mighty Oak tree, from a seed to a 50ft. giant, Life?
Under the evolutionist's, causation of the "mechanicism" through algorithm sequence.
The seed has got to expand and grow because the instilled recipe of elements and their reaction to external forces. They are basically a "machine". Their "expansion" occurs
From the intake of water. Awwwe Water! Maybe there's your "life form"?
Doesn't a seed must first "die" ( or come to a complete dryness) before it can
germanate? So where's the conscienceness in a "dead" seed?
Can water be the conduit that the "life conscience" flows thru?

Jus Creat'in

Nov 22, 2012 - 04:37pm PT
HF: As you suggested, I watched 10 minutes of the Sam Harris video you provided above. I saw derision, sarcasm, denigration, and disrespect of people he was talking to on stage. He had more digs than the SF Giants during the World Series. I also heard conclusions that did not rely upon data and analysis, but a certain amount of dramatic cleverness. Hence, I can't agree today with you and Base about just how "sharp" he is. Secondly, I think any presentation is biased when it cuts out the other people's speeches or comments who are on the same stage as the speaker under review. If Harris is a scientist, why isn't he talking like a scientist? What I saw were conclusion and evaluation after conclusion after evaluation. As we say in research presentations at my university: "show me the data."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 22, 2012 - 04:58pm PT
Who here believes any form of 'subjective experience' is available after death? And, if yes, do you also believe that 'subjective experience' is still uniquely identifiable as the same 'you' as in life?

[ You god-folk probably don't need to bother answering, but are certainly welcome to. ]

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Nov 22, 2012 - 06:34pm PT
Sam Harris is surely his own worst enemy. His passive/aggressive, know-it-all abrasiveness has rendered him a regular yokel in intellectual circles despite some viable ideas - overstated and simplistic, perhaps, but that's always the bane of the populist. But just listen to some of the ruckus the man has wrought:

With Harris the unholy trinity of recent Atheism is complete. The spirit is the same; the content doesn't change. Atheists never get tired of consuming the same tiring message -- and people like Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens provide.

"But, after reading his book, I am left feeling that he is a fanatic rationalist who leaves no room for nuance or interpretation. In his writing, Harris appears to feel so alone in his rationalism that he is compelled to shriek at his audience, using blasphemy and insults to get a reaction out of people of faith.

As I read "Letter to a Christian Nation", which one can easily do in an hour and a half, I started to feel that the author, perhaps deliberately, perhaps despite himself, transforms his monologue into the same fanatical, fundamentalist, incomprehensible dogma that he so thoroughly denounces."

Pascal Levensohn, "Book Review-- 'Letter to a Christian Nation' by Sam Harris."http://www.pascalsview.com/about.html

"He dropped out of Stanford, where he was an English major, in his sophomore year and started to study Buddhism and meditation. He flew around the country and around the world, to places such as India and Nepal, often for silent retreats that went on for months."

"Which gets us to another problem with Harris's work often cited by critics: He can preach only to those who have left the choir. As a critique of faith, "You people are nuts" isn't likely to change a lot of minds. There is the broader question, too, of whether religious moderates really are enablers for extremists. Maybe moderates are a bulwark against fanatics. If this is really a war of ideas, it is probably not a war between no religion (which is what Harris would like) and extremism. It's a war between moderation and extremism, which is a war one needs moderates to fight.

"You're not going to convert everyone to atheism," says Harvey, the retired Stanford professor. "Secular humanists like Harris ought to be concerned with allies, to win fights on questions like the separation of church and state. But Harris isn't concerned about the political implications of his arguments, because he thinks that anything supernatural is evil."

"Harris isn't against all religion. He endorses Jainism, a religion-philosophy from India that finds God in the unchanging traits of the human soul. But everyone who organizes his or her life around an ancient text that purports to convey the words and sentiments of God -- Harris would like you to surrender your prayers, history and traditions. You are welcome to check out Jainism, but Harris recommends that you accept his conclusion, which is that we live in a universe without God. Deal with it."

"The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" contain plenty to outrage just about everyone. Harris assails political correctness, evangelicals, liberals, right-wingers and even Judaism, which often gets a pass in such debates. (Harris charges that Jews have been complicit in their centuries-long persecution because they have insisted on setting themselves apart from the rest of the world.)

David Segal, "Atheist Evangelist.", http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/25/AR2006102501998.htm

If Harris is right, there can't be any genuine engagement between reasonable people (people like Sam Harris) and Christians or other religious believers. As Douglas Wilson observes, "It is one thing to say that we ought to move away from politically-correct euphemisms (which I agree with), and then to go on to say that everyone in the history of the world outside your little atheistic society is a raving psychopathic wackjob."
John Wilson, Book Review: "A response to Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation."

"Sam Harris has brought his brand of evangelical atheism back to the HuffPo with his aggressively named post, "Science Must Destroy Religion." It's filled with the language of intolerance, rife with logical flaws, and it fails to meet the standard of the great atheist Bertrand Russell, who said "I shouldn't wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine." Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "If you want to lift me up you must be on higher ground." Contempt and arrogance have no place on that ground."

"Clearly, religious moderation is the gravest offense of all in Harris' book.

"It is perfectly absurd for religious moderates to suggest that a rational human being can believe in God simply because this belief makes him happy, relieves his fear of death or gives his life meaning," Harris continues. Why? Harris' explanation takes the form of a flawed metaphor for religious belief - a man who believes there is a buried diamond "the size of a refrigerator" in his backyard.

The metaphor is a clumsy one on a number of levels. First, belief in a Supreme Being usually implies the existence of an overarching Consciousness (the Deity), and often suggests life after death and the existence of a soul. This not only provides comfort, but in most religions dictates a code of behavior as well. Would a giant diamond dictate behavior, or reassure the dying about an afterlife? Would such a man believe that "Diamond is Love"?

Of course not, because it's a poorly chosen analogy. And even if it were not, Harris fails to make the case that permitting "the diamond man" his belief would cause harm to anyone. He labels it - as psychotic behavior - but only after creating an analogy that might appear that way. If one is going to argue for logic over faith, it's a good idea to make your logical arguments a little stronger than this.

But logic isn't Harris' strong suit...

Says Harris in an interview, "... it is simply a fact that a tradition like Buddhism has developed far more sophisticated methods of introspection than we have in the West." So, let's see - if Harris finds something commendable about it, it's a "tradition." If not, it's a "religion."

And what about those other "religions"? When Harris isn't condemning religious moderates - those who believe in science - he's condemning religion for not believing in science. The non-theistic meditations in Buddhism - contemplating the Unknowable, for example - are presumably an acceptable 'tradition,' while the non-theistic meditations of Islamic Sufism (contemplating Allah as the Unknowable) are not.

Confused? That's understandable. It takes faith to accept these arguments at face value. That's especially true when Harris, who argues that religions are the cause for the world's political conflicts, addresses those who point out that Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot were all non-believers."

RJ Eskow, "Reject Arguments For Intolerance - Even From Atheists." http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/reject-arguments-for-into_b_13240.html

While Harris is correct that religion can become a pernicious and oppressive right-wing force, it also has the power to inspire, sustain and instigate compassionate social action of a profoundly leftist stripe. This is the Catholicism of Dorothy Day and liberation theology -- a tradition that Harris blithely ignores. As a pinko-liberal-feminist atheist, and as a person who has devoted my own life to expanding the public understanding of science, I too fear the dogma, meanness and narrow mindedness of the religious right, but I know from first-hand experience -- learned at my mother's knee -- that the left hand of God is also one of the greatest powers for social change on this planet.


Harris probably has some viable ideas, but his delivery and nuance needs a lot of work.

Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 22, 2012 - 07:08pm PT
When I'm asleep, or under anaesthetic, am I still "here" and "alive"? I'd probably fail the Turing test then.

Nov 22, 2012 - 08:44pm PT
. . . any form of 'subjective experience' is available after death?

No . . . and no to your next question: I don't think that there's any "you" as there was prior to death after death.

All experience comes through the body-mind organism. Without it there is no experience.

As for the "same 'you'", after death, don't worry. There's no "you" prior to death to begin with anyway. "You" is a construct. No construct should have any concern about its death.

No one really know what electricity is. (I'm sure the physicists will want to argue.) Electricity is what electricity does. We are like electrical gadgets. Without electricity, gadgets are dead and useless. Human beings--body-mind organisms--are dead and useless without consciousness. Crush or squash a gadget, and it is useless, but the electricity remains. It's stoopid for the gadget to complain either that it is in the wrong place in the universe or that its position or situation is unfair, or that it got squashed or destroyed. It's just a gadget, a concept. Just like you.


Somewhere out there
Nov 22, 2012 - 09:18pm PT
There are just too many points to the bible that make no sense unless you are an ancient desert dweller without knowledge of much of anything…

In Genesis, first god is supposed to have made light, dividing the light from the darkness calling the light day and the darkness night.
Second god is supposed to have made there be a difference between the water in the water and the water in the sky.
Third god is supposed to have made the water collect into once place and made the dry lands separate the waters. And on this land god is supposed to have created grasses, seed yielding herbs and fruit baring trees.
Next or fourth god is supposed to have created the lights we know as the sun and the moon….

Does anyone else have any questions about the validity of these writings given what we all know about plant life and photo-synthesis and how it relates to the sun?

Plants created before the sun…. hmmm, sounds fishy. More than likely it was pure imagination or clumsy writing.

Also, commandment #1 is "Thou shalt have no other god before me" right?
If this was truly the divinely inspired word of god then this is clearly the one who would supposedly know better than anyone else… Doesn't this mean that there are clearly more than one god?
If this is the creator of all telling man to not pay attention to any other god, it clearly means that he is not the only one and he knows it.

There you go…. God outdone by his own words.

So there's no real reason to believe. At least for me there isn't.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Nov 22, 2012 - 09:23pm PT
MikeL, I suspect you missed it, betrayed by your post.

I suspect if you had given that Harris link even a bit of its fair due diligence, you would've in short order picked up on the fact that it was something of a Harris montage edited by the youtube uploader to only show Harris. That was the Uploader's intention, after all.

Of course the complete interview unedited is avail on youtube for anyone with just a couple minutes search. Cal Tech is the location, btw, not The Crystal Cathedral. Cameo appearance by Leonard Mlodinow !! in the audience Q/A session, btw, in which he responds to the woo-woo master, Chopra.


Lunko, your post is just silly, start to finish.

Sam Harris is not the lunatic fringe but the crackerjack fringe. It's a pity you cannot gather this for yourself.

P.S. Here MikeL, I did your homework for you...


Nov 22, 2012 - 09:24pm PT
When I'm asleep, or under anaesthetic, am I still "here" and "alive"? I'd probably fail the Turing test then.

You don't need a Turing test. If you wake up to go pee, you exhibit consciousness. If you wet yourself, you don't.

Put a sleeping man with a full bladder in an MRI and we will locate the seat of consciousness.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 22, 2012 - 10:17pm PT
My ISP was down for almost 24 hours so I've fallen way behind here. With that in mind, I would like to go back to what fructose said about the structure of the brain, as he and I actually agree on that.

I also believe that an understanding of the molecular composition, even the interactions of neurons will not be enough to understand the biological basis of consciousness. Rather, a thorough understanding will only result from a knowledge of the circuitry of the brain and how the various circuits are connected to each other.

As helayje suggested, the brain is the result of a long evolution not just of the homonids, but of all life on this earth. If the ontogeny of the human embryo reflects previous phylogeny, then of course so does the brain, though harder to understand. Largo mentions the reptilian, mammalian, and specifically primate sections of the brain, but that must be the most elementary understanding (though only recently recognized).

The truly interesting finds will be figuring out the circuits and in what order they evolved. So far most of the emphasis has been on human's more or less unique higher functions, but I think the answers will lie in starting with the most primitive reptilian part of the brain and its connections to the spinal cord. Only when we understand the evolution of the autonomic nervous system, will we understand how the higher functions came to be added on later. To understand consciousness we have to first understand subconscious and unconscious systems. We have been trying to prove positively what consciousness is, without first knowing what it is not.

Ed defines it as the ability to communicate with language but even that is more complex than we first thought. There is a certain portion of patients who can understand and remember conversations in the operating room even while under anesthesia. As a result of these findings, surgical personnel are now trained to make only positive comments about the patient's condition even when supposedly unconscious, as it has been found that negative comments affect recovery, even though the patient may not remember and be able to communicate in language those comments for several weeks afterwards. Perhaps this indicates that memory can be processed by more than one circuit.

And finally, it strikes me that those forms of meditation that emphasize the chakras and kundalini, must be working with some of the oldest circuits in the brain and spinal cord, a better physical understanding of which, would be very beneficial to discovering the evolution of the brain. Those Tibetan monks who can raise the temperature of their fingers and toes 8.3 degrees celsius above the rest of their body, clearly have a mastery of at least one circuit science hasn't figured out yet.

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Nov 22, 2012 - 10:43pm PT

Well, heavens to betsy, gee wilikers, this might be a new beginning!

Happy Thanksgiving, Jan, and welcome back to the choss pile. :)

Nov 22, 2012 - 11:35pm PT
I think the answers will lie in starting with the most primitive reptilian part of the brain and its connections to the spinal cord.

One school of thought discussed by Roger Penrose was that the brainstem is where the sensation of consciousness resides. Lesions to the area can cause a permanent comatose state. But the brain is a highly interconnected system and if you cut a bunch of axons or damage a group of neurons and see some effect, you can't jump to the conclusion that you have located the generator of the missing activity. Other parts of the brain may participate in the activity normally, but without their usual input, or if a recipient of their output is damaged, the remaining intact parts may not be able to generate the expected behavior. The brainstem is a necessary connection between the spinal cord and hence the rest of the body, and the brain. It may participate in whatever consciousness is, but by itself it probably isn't what makes you conscious any more than the ignition switch is what makes your car go.

Roger Penrose gives several examples of how so-called artificial intelligence and human intelligence differ. I haven't read all his first 2 books yet, but so far he hasn't pointed out one difference: humans occasionally sustain severe injury to the brain and then recover almost fully, whereas there aren't many computers which, if you opened the case and ripped out a bunch of wires and chips, would bounce back.


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 23, 2012 - 12:11am PT
The fact that some people at least are able to switch functions from damaged areas of the brain to other regions seems to me to indicate that consciousness has more than one locus and is in fact a set of changeable inter-relationships.

This idea also coincides with the yogic theory that we have different levels of consciousness, most of which reside in the spinal cord and medulla but can be accessed individually through various techniques.

Perhaps the human innovation was to take all these overlapping circuits of consciousness and integrate them into one whole, which has been postulated in one form at least by the book, The Breakdown of the Bicameral Brain. Perhaps the function of the ego, which is so well developed in humans compared to other animals, is just that. Interesting to contemplate how that definition of the ego would fit into the Buddhist philosophy of the non substantiality of the individual ego.

Mountain climber
San Diego
Nov 23, 2012 - 12:22am PT
For all of you out there still mystified at how science and the Bible actually verify each other, check out Dr, Gerald Schroeder, The Science of God.

Also thoroughly check out "The Gap Theory." Much time is missing between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. You have to account for the Angelic era of time and the fall of Lucifer and 1/3 of the angels, the heavenly host falling and turning on G-d. Could be billions of years missing but accounted for elsewhere in the Bible,

The Pre-Adamite World and Origin of Satan, a.k.a. Lucifer

My speculation is that G-d brought judgement on the Angels in the period of time correlating to the Late Asteroid Bombardment and brought devestation among "the stones of fire" ( the terrestrial planets ).

Old Earth, 4.56B yrs, and Old Universe, 13.7B yrs and the Bible are in agreement. When the Bible mentions "Day," it can mean 12 hours, or 24 Hours, or a 1000 years, or a great length of time, like billions of years. Or it can mean no more time, eternity, as in the 8th day of creation as mentioned in 3 Enoch, when time will no longer exist. Timelessness of eternity. That's the way the Hebrew language is. One word in Hebrew can have many meanings. It depends on context and the Jewish acronym PARDES for interpreting scripture .

And yes there are fossils of Cambrian like organisms on Mars. Makes sense to me considering pre-adamic time and the era of Angels on "The Stones of Fire."

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Nov 23, 2012 - 01:00am PT
Sam Harris is not the lunatic fringe but the crackerjack fringe. It's a pity you cannot gather this for yourself.

The rub against Harris in the intelligentsia it that he is imprecise, illogical and simplistic, kicking festering straw dogs (theism, creation myths, etc.) while averting the hard questions he's put up to. He gleaned just enough from esoteric studies to be dangerous, but not enough to get past his own dualism. At the pop cultural level he's fine, but you can tell by many of those responses that the higher up the ladder Harris reaches, the less traction his ideas find. Fact is, intelligent people have little time or interest in a man on such a slow boil/rant. Just ask Harris what he has learned from those whose ideas are different than his own beliefs.

That's enough time spent on the man. The parade marched past him some time ago - of that we may be sure.


Ice climber
the ghost
Nov 23, 2012 - 01:17am PT
there aren't many computers which, if you opened the case and ripped out a bunch of wires and chips, would bounce back.
If you took a parallel system with 256 processors & pulled 16 out, a well written OS should be able to recover fully.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Nov 23, 2012 - 02:56am PT
There you go…. God outdone by his own words.

So there's no real reason to believe. At least for me there isn't.

The limitations of religions thousands of years old do nothing to disprove the existence of an ultimate spirit much like the limitations of the science of 3000 years ago do not discredit the physical laws of the cosmos



Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 23, 2012 - 06:45am PT
Granted you said that you don't have a solid definition but up to this point it did seem you were emphasizing language. Now you are saying communication which is less specific.

There are cases of people thought to be near unconsciousness who can't speak but can sing responses while a stroke victim who can't speak but can draw an evocative picture is also communicating and therefore conscious without language it seems to me.

A Japanese who writes in kanji is able to communicate even if the left side of the brain is damaged because that form of written language, based on art and symbols, comes from the right brain. A western person with a damaged left brain is unable to communicate because they have only used one side of their brain for written language. Does this mean the Japanese is more conscious or just more skilled?

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 23, 2012 - 09:00am PT
consciousness is a "behavior" related entirely to our ability to communicate that part of our "internal" state that is relevant to social interaction.

I can't say I really agree with that relative to how is consciousness is exhibited across the taxonomy of species and even with humans in various dysfunctional environs, states, and 'intactness', but I see where you're going with it. Also, I did attempt to explore the topic from the conscious / unconscious perspective about 5000 posts back without much traction so it's interesting to see it 'reemerge' even if trough the Turing rabbithole.

As I said back then, I've been rendered unconscious a number of times in life and if you've similarly been woken from an unconsciousness state then I think most would agree it's very hard to avoid the conclusion that 'mind', consciousness, and 'subjective experience' are wholly emergent properties of the brain. To claim otherwise is like saying photosynthesis happens independent of the leaf. But of course Largo's Chalmers won't have it:

Chalmers: So we can dismiss all claims that consciousness, mind and awareness are emergent properties of matter or brains, because we need the presence of a mind for emergent properties and phenomena to appear in the first place. The subjective activity of the mind of the observer, together with the 'objective' procedures and the structures upon which they operate, is an irreducible component of emergent phenomena.

And he brands his views as 'naturalitic dualism' which, to a layperson at least, falls broadly under Panpsychism:

Wiki: Many arguments for panpsychism claim physicalism is incapable of accounting for subjective experience or qualia. Also, the problems found with emergentism are often cited by panpsychists as grounds to reject physicalism.

To which Blamauer observes:

Now, to ask along with Royce, can this explanation be taken to be the very best possible? I think so - at least for those who wish to treat the mind not merely as a side effect of physical systems, but as a truly fundamental principle of what really is.

Good link for rolling up Chalmers' views in the form of a review of his book by Scaruffi, another author on the topic of consciousness (and well worth the read, as is Chalmers stuff):


I can see that take on things to a degree, but don't really buy the essential premise. But where I then find Chalmers more than a bit bizarre is that he is in fact probably one of Henry Markam's biggest cheerleaders - at least in terms of believing Largo would be able to upload his 'mind' into, and merge with, Henry's "Frankenstein" - and who knows, maybe between the marriage of Markram and Chalmers there really is a love story to be had in there somewhere.

[ Oh, and I do know what's 'going on' inside Watson, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with consciousness or intelligence as we know it in human terms. ]
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