Archive for the ‘ Science ’ Category

Who Am I?

Those of you who have been reading here for a while know that I have a particular idea about consciousness and all that this implies. My idea is not really in line with mainstream thought and if it is true, it abrogates much previous thought on consciousness.

THIS is what I’ve been talking about.

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We are machines that can remember and predict future events. The ‘I’ in that situation is nothing more than being able to remember the past, experience the present, and predict the future. It’s a reference point in the machine that keeps us from dying.

Thoughts?

Screaming rants about how stupid this is?

Ideas of where god fits in that situation?

PLEASE comment. The discussion about consciousness is far more important than it is usually taken to be. I believe it is the key to understanding all the problems that we currently face as a species.

 

Thank you

A Thought On: Human Desire & Awareness

Hero4Thought wrote a post titled Human Desire & Awareness  The post starts out with

As I reflect on my continued departure from having a belief in God I’m trying to pinpoint some of the important factors that bring believers and skeptics to diverge where they do.

That got me thinking the way that lots of things do. Cogito ergo sum

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The only thing that we can truly be certain of knowing is that we think, and therefore we somehow exist. We can be certain of no other thing. As children we learn about the world we are presented with and how it works. Empathy ensures that we like to see fairness and good outcomes, even for others. Of course, when you compare your feelings about those in Nepal recently you may feel no honest pity for them because their plight has not activated empathetic simulation of their condition.

The reality is that all we know of the life of another is merely a story being told in the simulation of the world that runs in our brains, and in that simulation the same nerves that interpret pain signals from our body are active when we see others in pain. In a way, all that is input to our brain is as real as anything we experience via our nerves.

The cut on your finger is not real, the sensation that you feel is merely electrical impulses sent to your brain to be input to the simulation. There the pain registers because your brain tells you that that set of signals causes pain and so other parts of your brain react to those signals in your brains simulation. It is theoretically possible to cause someone vast amounts of pain simply by inputting the right signals to the brain.

The reality is that nothing is real. Every last bit of it is reduced to electrical signals and input to our brains for the simulation. The tight connection between our nerves and senses and our brain gives us the illusion that we are part of a world that is outside and bigger than that of our body.

There is a confirmation bias at work. If we can appear to witness good things and justice happening for others, then in this world we seem connected to it must also be possible for us to experience both justice and goodness. Conversely, experiencing it vicariously drives a need to want it as a first hand experience.

When the rules we use to understand this impossibly unreal world are examined and compared to all the knowledge we have acquired in any way or form, our brains do the math to calculate outcomes of cause and effect scenarios. This is done in the simulation, or at least we are only self aware of the stuff that happens in the simulation. We stop being believers when we are forced by some knowledge to admit to ourselves that the math does not add up any more in consideration of gods and the supernatural. Then we use every tool available to square the problem to get the math to again work out right. Induction, deduction, anger, frustration, even fear. Then we eventually work out that if there is no god the math begins to work out again.

Knowledge is what makes us different from the believers. Not simply possession of that knowledge but the willingness and ability to apply it to the simulation of the world that we run in our heads. Believers don’t want to learn about biology, physics etc. To do so would cause pain, actual pain. Rearranging the rules in our simulation activates those bits which register pain from our nerves. In our heads both a paper cut and changing the rules around register as pain. Pain is bad and to be avoided. When you stay on the straight and narrow path you avoid the pain. The road less travelled is the one laden with pain brought on by new knowledge.

For me, this is where believers and non-believers part ways.

On Beauty And Where We Find It

… hitherto we have been permitted to seek beauty only in the morally good – a fact which sufficiently accounts for our having found so little of it and having had to seek about for imaginary beauties without backbone! – As surely as the wicked enjoy a hundred kinds of happiness of which the virtuous have no inkling, so too they possess a hundred kinds of beauty; and many of them have not yet been discovered.

from Nietzsche’s Daybreak, s. 468, R.J. Hollingdale transl

What is your favorite scientific beauty?

Like What You Want, Want What You Need

That will make sense once you’ve read about the work of Dr Kent Berridge, of the University of Michigan. He has figured out the mechanism in our brains that allows us to desire something that we don’t even know we will like. It’s a very interesting read though a bit long for the Internet attention span. I recommend it if you have 15 minutes or so.

Check it out at Wanting Versus Liking

“Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

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  • Have you ever heard someone say they are in love with being in love?
  • Have you ever known anyone that can change from sad to happy like a switch was flipped in their heads?
  • Have you ever known anyone that seemed to be without emotions? They’re always in the middle and can swing a little happy or a little sad?
  • Have you ever wondered what emotions are?

I have not seen easily accessible information before that identifies a mechanism for my thoughts on emotions. If we consider emotions to be a summary status of the chemical balance in our brains (though slightly more complex than that statement seems to make it out) we can get a glimpse of the chemical state of a normal functioning brain by what people reports as their emotional state. Further I opine that we can and do know how to manipulate that chemical state. There are those readers who know very well that it can be manipulated with a bit of help.

There are those that have experienced it but are not quite sure what I’m talking about. Let’s see it in pictures:

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Jesus Camp

What, is that too drastic?

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Beatlemania

Some readers will be well aware of other ways as well as how some of the brain soup chemical interact in odd ways.

So what’s the big deal?

Gradually, he says, a pattern of pleasure-generating areas started to emerge. “Lo and behold, it wasn’t random. All the sites that were doing it were clustered together in various brain regions.” The clusters were about a cubic millimetre in rats (so probably no more than a cubic centimetre in humans), and he called them hedonic hotspots—a series of tiny islands, scattered across a number of brain regions, but all connected to the same circuit. From the evidence so far, it looks as though this same entire circuit is activated for any pleasure, from food and sex to higher-order delights including monetary, musical and altruistic. The same gloss applied to very different events. — Dr Kent Berridge

Oh snap! So it’s possible that because of indoctrination we might be able to activate the pleasure (like) zones in our brains by doing the things we are comfortable with, acquainted with. Going to church can make you feel good or being with an abusive partner can make you feel good. There is no logic to it, it’s chemical soup. We can train our brains to alter the soup so that we don’t trigger the like/pleasure response so easily under given circumstances but when something becomes an addiction that is very difficult

I will further opine that some people are capable of managing the chemical soup so that status is always about the same. To many that would make them look emotionless yet to themselves it means avoiding the highs and lows of letting that chemical soup boil out of control. Some of this might make sense to you as you read it and I would appreciate your thoughts in the comments.

I am excited that we are finding the mechanisms which can explain emotions and what they really are. That way lies sanity. Like what you want, want what you need. In this we can be ‘happy’ without all the drama, or so it seems to me.

THE MIX OF FAITH AND EVIDENCE – A Reply

I don’t personally find the author of this post offensive but that doesn’t mean that he won’t from time to time say things that don’t seem right.

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Frank wrote a post called THE MIX OF FAITH AND EVIDENCE. If you want to read the whole thing, go ahead. You’ll have to visit to see the graphic he is alluding to. I just want to comment on some of the points in his post.

So, who insisted that Christianity is built entirely on faith? That’s never been my viewpoint and I’m struggling to think of even one Christian who makes this notion their line in the sand.

The point is that without the faith, the religion is pointless. Christianity without faith is not Christianity. It is the primary pillar of the faith, and it’s the part that is bad.

And yet, someone in an atheist Internet community posted this graphic and figured it would cause lots of people to nod in agreement.
But making a statement in a graphic doesn’t make it true. It would be like me insisting all atheists are militant, arrogant and patronizing. Equally false.

This is true, simply making a statement doesn’t make it true. It was a question: If Christianity is entirely built on faith, why do Christians use evidence?

Before I get going here, let me make it clear that faith is definitely a key part of following Jesus Christ (whom serious Christians believe is the son of God). In fact, a section of the Bible called ‘Hebrews’ spells it out: “Whoever comes to God must believe that He is real and that He rewards those who sincerely try to find Him.”
But nowhere does the Bible claim that evidence is irrelevant. Indeed, evidence is mentioned at key points.

He mistakes the claims as evidence, as we’ll see:

Consider the resurrection of Jesus, which is one of the most important parts of Christianity. In a letter that’s now part of the Bible, a missionary named Paul (who helped spread Christianity throughout the Mediterranean), told other Christians that after rising from the dead, “Christ appeared to more than 500 other believers at the same time. Most of them are still living today, but some have died.”

That certainly reads like evidence to me, especially as the underlying message is ‘if you don’t believe me about the resurrection, then go ahead and investigate for yourself’. If Christianity is built entirely on faith, why would this be in the Bible?

For the same reason that con artists lie, I would think. This fundamental belief that the bible is true, word for word, is a basic tenant of Christian belief. Even though he points it out that there are ways to interpret the book as saying you should investigate for yourselves the ‘evidence’ offered there is long gone and religions are famous for not encouraging questions. It doesn’t even mean that the original author was being honest. They didn’t mention anyone by name, no government officials, no ruling body, no religious leaders… just a claim that there were witnesses.

Here’s another example, from a section of the Bible called ‘2 Peter’: “We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes.” Again, more evidence.

This ‘evidence’ failed to convince most of the middle east. It was not strong enough evidence to keep him from being killed. In short, even in person very few people believed him to be the Christ. Among the few that did, even they had doubts.

The website FaithFacts.org has this take on the faith vs. evidence debate:
Blind faith is faith without evidence, which would be superstition. The Bible does not call us to blind faith. The Bible calls us to faith in evidence. We submit that various truth claims, including Christianity, should be evaluated on the evidence.

When people evaluate the ‘evidence’ contained in the claim (bible) and find it lacking Christians cry fowl or accuse such people of not having an open heart or enough faith or worse we hate their god or simply want to be immoral (as if not being Christian leaves you with no moral compass).

I can tell you, without any hesitation, that if I was called to follow Jesus based solely on faith, I probably wouldn’t be a Christian today. I was presented with evidence, then asked to make a leap of faith based on that evidence and based on the logic of Christianity. I made that leap and have never regretted it.

I can’t imagine what the evidence was. Clearly it was less evidence that I or others would require. That leaves us with a question: What standard of evidence should be used when evaluating truth claims? The only ones that I know of do not find religious belief to be truthful. If they did we’d not be having this discussion over and over again. Why is it that religion requires a different standard of evidence for it to be true? I rather think that this is special pleading regarding evidence gathering and evaluation.

So, where do you stand? Does a mix of faith and evidence make sense to you when considering Christianity? If it does, have you done any research? You may have friends or family members that discourage checking out the claims of Christianity, but this is important stuff.

April 25, 2015 by Frank King Photos

Clearly I don’t think the evidence for Christianity points to it being true never mind proving that it is. The people most likely to be accepting of the standards of evidence required for Christianity to be true are those of other faiths. Even they don’t believe in Christianity. If the ‘evidence’ can’t convince most or all of the people who sincerely ‘want’ to believe then how would it convince those that are simply looking for the truth?

God Is Great?

So is macaroni and cheese.

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Wait, don’t run away. Let’s define a few things:

    1. (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.
2. (in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity.

Then there is great:

1. of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average.
2. of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average.

That doesn’t really say much about the god of Abraham.

Did you notice anything about the definition of the word great? Yes, the word is a modifier for things which are measurable. The god of Abraham is not visible nor in any way measurably existent. Such a being or thing cannot be great. You might opine that I’m being a bit obtuse with the definition of great. I’m not. The god of Abraham is not great. The god of Abraham cannot be measured so to say that a god is great is to say that it is above average based on an opinion of what that god is rather than a measurement of what that god is.

Sure, some will argue that they know what their god is, but do they? How did they measure those values? Can they know the mind of their god? If they answer yes the question is how do they know the mind of a god? By what means? Are these means measurable, testable? For the very same reasons that the adherents of the Abrahamic faiths tell us that Zeus is a false god we can conclude that their YHWH is a false god. There are/were many gods which have many of the same supposed traits as the Jesus is said to have. How can he be great?

Without proof that a god exists that god remains nothing more than an idea. Just an idea. How is it that we measure one idea as being great? Well, we look at what measurable effects that idea has over others. Sliced bread was a great idea. Food canning was a great idea. Homogenization was a great idea. Doing cannon balls off the Brooklyn bridge was not a great idea.

Simply put, the god of Abraham is not great, cannot be great. If a god is not great why worship it?

The anecdotal evidence often supplied by believers for their god is no more effective than the wishful thinking of a sport team fan.

Sure, there is the claim that YHWH is omnipotent but there is no proof. There is the claim that YHWH is omniscient but there is no proof. There is the claim that YHWH is omnipresent but there is no proof. Without proof these are just claims with no more validity than those claims made of the flying spaghetti monster.

Okay, there is the argument that YHWH/Allah cannot be measure but remains great in the way that the ‘big bang’ was a great explosion. The ‘big bang’ as it is called left measurable effects where YHWH/Allah does not. Many will claim that god changed their life yet those life changes are not outside the expected capability of those that do not believe in a god so we cannot attribute those changes to a god. To attribute them to a god is to precisely say that such a god _IS_ average rather than considerably above average. God is not great.

Is Anti-Theism A Valid Position?

mephistopheles hesitant has a pretty decent post here in which they attempt to address, as a response, a post that was derogatory of anti-theists. I don’t want to go over the all of that territory as mephistopheles hesitant makes a fair go at it. I simply want to comment on some few sentences they used at the end. Their concluding paragraphs are below, complete, emphasis is mine.

The anti-theists have made a courageous engagement with questions about the place of religion in society. This is an important discussion that we need to have, not just because of Islamist terrorism and gay marriage, but because religious modes of thinking and being are part of our society and they compete in the marketplace of ideas. Anti-theists like to talk about religion as if it is a set of shackles from which we need to free ourselves. It is an extreme point of view, but we should acknowledge that some anti-theists sincerely want to help religious people to know that human beings are not inherently guilty, that we should not fear open questioning in the pursuit of truth, that you do not owe a cosmic debt—which you cannot physically or spiritually repay—to your Creator for a transgression you did not commit. Anti-theists are “spreading the good news” that you do not bear the mark of Cain or the stain of Adam. With this comes liberation and increased personal responsibility. If you commit an action so horrible that no person will forgive you, there is no hope of ultimate redemption. There is no second chance.

While they are not anti-anti-theist I take issue with some thoughts they have:

There are many shortcomings in the anti-theist arguments. They lack nuance. Mostly, they lack an understanding of the anthropology and sociology of religion. They’re not political science or psychology or philosophy experts, either. They’re informed citizens trying to open up dialogue about questions that matter. Is there purpose in the universe? Is there an afterlife? Is there an all-loving Creator? Do such beliefs, if false, serve any good purpose in the world? All theists have to do is actually defend their beliefs against criticism. That’s not asking much.

Now, don’t take offense at the anology but this is a lot like one of the Rabbi’s sitting down to dinner with Moses and trying to convince him that these Egyptian fellows really aren’t that bad and they deserve a more nuanced and civil discussion about the matter, and how being terse, impassioned, and sometimes angry really isn’t doing the Jews any favors. All the Jews have to do is defend their belief in freedom against tyranny. Maybe a couple of good debates or something?

I’m not anti-theist. It’s a mistake to believe ridding ourselves of religion is the only option, or the best option. It’s not practical, and people are right to sound the alarm bells of bigotry and intolerance. Anti-theists have so far been careful about walking the fine line of anti-theist and anti-Christian or anti-Muslim. GA42’s points are important to consider, because we know what happens when extreme views fall into the hands of the mob. We have to correct anti-theists when they characterize all religious people as “illogical” or “irrational” or “stupid.” We have to be wary of dogmatism and ideological homogeneity in our beliefs, theistic and atheistic.

Now, when you think this paragraph through it will make sense. Read it again, several times if you have to. What is being asked for here? Who is legislating thought crimes into law? Who is legislating oppression into law? Who is legislating theological thought into law? Don’t be bigoted toward the tyrants he asks. Interesting way of putting things. In the position of theology there is no central ground save perhaps for agnostics. A parley for compatibility is nothing less than asking the enemy to put their weapons down. We know how that works out in the effluence of human affairs. Yes, I’m sort of saying that any capitulation at all is complete capitulation. Despite the violence that religion reigns down on humanity this is not a war of attrition it is a war of ideas – once side fighting for complete dominance and the other fighting for a secular world with freedom of thought for all.

We can all improve our attitude, our tone of voice on the issue of religion. We’re perfectly capable of talking about religion without resorting to hostilities. We can have strong feelings about a subject and attack peoples’ ideas without attacking the person. Theists have long had a privileged voice in society, and my hope is that nonreligious persons will no longer feel afraid to express their beliefs openly. As obnoxious as the anti-theists are, they are affording us all the ability to be more public about our opinions on religion. We should thank them for that.

Anti-theists well can talk about religion without resorting to violence. It’s a position we’ve been forced to endure for many centuries because anything else meant death, often a horrible death. Some modern countries still have blasphemy laws that carry very harsh penalties and death. Anyone that forgets that has forgotten the lessons of war, of history, of humanity. We are still a very long way from living in a society where expressing atheist ideas is safe. To believe otherwise is to fail to understand this society at all. When it indeed is safe to talk about our thoughts on religion perhaps then it will be time to consider that more nuanced approach. Until that time theists are not deserving of a nuanced civil discourse. They will get it, but they are not deserving of it.

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