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Old 08-07-2013, 11:46 PM   #101
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Thoughts?
I've read through it a few times now. I thought it was wonderfully thought provoking (if a bit meandering and often the ideas seem scattered).

I don't quite see how it supports your position JT. Perhaps I missed his overall point (again to my point he really meanders after a strong start). He seems to be saying there is no possible objective view of consciousness.
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Old 08-08-2013, 01:09 AM   #102
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It perhaps meanders a bit because it's meant as a forward to one of his books. He's kinda touching on all the bases they'll cover later on, so I can see how it might seem a bit scatter brained and incomplete. Dennett is undoubtedly a materialist. I might be stretching that particular thought experiment a bit far (digitize? You've clearly got more experience in this field than me... I'm still a bit of a noob), but in arguing against the existence of an independent consciousness, this shows that it is an illusion linked to physical states in the brain. Dennett describes the idea of the 'self' as more of an abstraction (I think he likens it to a centre of gravity at some point; it's something apparent and something we can talk about, but not something that is physically made up of anything. It doesn't exist in any real sense). So when we talk about downloading a consciousness, there isn't anything there to download. You're downloading a physical state of matter, but the you having the apparent experience of self is not going to suddenly find himself occupying some other synthetic body.

It's late, so I hope I got that across alright.
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Old 08-08-2013, 11:40 AM   #103
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i haven't paid close attention to this thread, but i came across this long article and thought it relevant at least to the original title of the thread (science and religion), and apologies if it's already been posted:


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The term “scientism” is anything but clear, more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine. Sometimes it is equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters” or that “scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems.” Sometimes it is clarified with adjectives like “simplistic,” “naïve,” and “vulgar.” The definitional vacuum allows me to replicate gay activists’ flaunting of “queer” and appropriate the pejorative for a position I am prepared to defend.

Scientism, in this good sense, is not the belief that members of the occupational guild called “science” are particularly wise or noble. On the contrary, the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. Scientism does not mean that all current scientific hypotheses are true; most new ones are not, since the cycle of conjecture and refutation is the lifeblood of science. It is not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities; the promise of science is to enrich and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship, not to obliterate them. And it is not the dogma that physical stuff is the only thing that exists. Scientists themselves are immersed in the ethereal medium of information, including the truths of mathematics, the logic of their theories, and the values that guide their enterprise. In this conception, science is of a piece with philosophy, reason, and Enlightenment humanism. It is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals, and it is these that scientism seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life.

The first is that the world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves. These principles may in turn be explained by more fundamental principles, and so on. In making sense of our world, there should be few occasions in which we are forced to concede “It just is” or “It’s magic” or “Because I said so.” The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms. The processes of life, for example, used to be attributed to a mysterious élan vital; now we know they are powered by chemical and physical reactions among complex molecules.

Demonizers of scientism often confuse intelligibility with a sin called reductionism. But to explain a complex happening in terms of deeper principles is not to discard its richness. No sane thinker would try to explain World War I in the language of physics, chemistry, and biology as opposed to the more perspicuous language of the perceptions and goals of leaders in 1914 Europe. At the same time, a curious person can legitimately ask why human minds are apt to have such perceptions and goals, including the tribalism, overconfidence, and sense of honor that fell into a deadly combination at that historical moment.

The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief—faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, the invigorating glow of subjective certainty—are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. To understand the world, we must cultivate work-arounds for our cognitive limitations, including skepticism, open debate, formal precision, and empirical tests, often requiring feats of ingenuity. Any movement that calls itself “scientific” but fails to nurture opportunities for the falsification of its own beliefs (most obviously when it murders or imprisons the people who disagree with it) is not a scientific movement.

In which ways, then, does science illuminate human affairs? Let me start with the most ambitious: the deepest questions about who we are, where we came from, and how we define the meaning and purpose of our lives. This is the traditional territory of religion, and its defenders tend to be the most excitable critics of scientism. They are apt to endorse the partition plan proposed by Stephen Jay Gould in his worst book, Rocks of Ages, according to which the proper concerns of science and religion belong to “non-overlapping magisteria.” Science gets the empirical universe; religion gets the questions of moral meaning and value.

Unfortunately, this entente unravels as soon as you begin to examine it. The moral worldview of any scientifically literate person—one who is not blinkered by fundamentalism—requires a radical break from religious conceptions of meaning and value.

To begin with, the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken. We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history. We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree that embraces all living things and that emerged from prebiotic chemicals almost four billion years ago. We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes. We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small. We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are. And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.

In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities. By stripping ecclesiastical authority of its credibility on factual matters, they cast doubt on its claims to certitude in matters of morality. The scientific refutation of the theory of vengeful gods and occult forces undermines practices such as human sacrifice, witch hunts, faith healing, trial by ordeal, and the persecution of heretics. The facts of science, by exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet. For the same reason, they undercut any moral or political system based on mystical forces, quests, destinies, dialectics, struggles, or messianic ages. And in combination with a few unexceptionable convictions— that all of us value our own welfare and that we are social beings who impinge on each other and can negotiate codes of conduct—the scientific facts militate toward a defensible morality, namely adhering to principles that maximize the flourishing of humans and other sentient beings. This humanism, which is inextricable from a scientific understanding of the world, is becoming the de facto morality of modern democracies, international organizations, and liberalizing religions, and its unfulfilled promises define the moral imperatives we face today.

Moreover, science has contributed—directly and enormously—to the fulfillment of these values. If one were to list the proudest accomplishments of our species (setting aside the removal of obstacles we set in our own path, such as the abolition of slavery and the defeat of fascism), many would be gifts bestowed by science.

The most obvious is the exhilarating achievement of scientific knowledge itself. We can say much about the history of the universe, the forces that make it tick, the stuff we’re made of, the origin of living things, and the machinery of life, including our own mental life. Better still, this understanding consists not in a mere listing of facts, but in deep and elegant principles, like the insight that life depends on a molecule that carries information, directs metabolism, and replicates itself.

Science has also provided the world with images of sublime beauty: stroboscopically frozen motion, exotic organisms, distant galaxies and outer planets, fluorescing neural circuitry, and a luminous planet Earth rising above the moon’s horizon into the blackness of space. Like great works of art, these are not just pretty pictures but prods to contemplation, which deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and of our place in nature.

And contrary to the widespread canard that technology has created a dystopia of deprivation and violence, every global measure of human flourishing is on the rise. The numbers show that after millennia of near-universal poverty, a steadily growing proportion of humanity is surviving the first year of life, going to school, voting in democracies, living in peace, communicating on cell phones, enjoying small luxuries, and surviving to old age. The Green Revolution in agronomy alone saved a billion people from starvation. And if you want examples of true moral greatness, go to Wikipedia and look up the entries for “smallpox” and “rinderpest” (cattle plague). The definitions are in the past tense, indicating that human ingenuity has eradicated two of the cruelest causes of suffering in the history of our kind.

Science is not the Enemy of the Humanities | New Republic


and here's an NYT column that engages the (much longer) article:

Quote:
The Scientism of Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker has an interesting and revealing essay in The New Republic dismissing the charges of “scientism” that are often leveled by the philosophically, artistically and religiously-minded against certain authors, polemicists and science popularizers. “The term,” he writes, “is anything but clear, more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine,” which inspires him to try to reappropriate “scientism” as a positive descriptor — denoting, he suggests, a belief in the intelligibility of the world and a commitment to the difficult-but-necessary quest for real objectivity about its workings, both of which which should inform our understanding of non-scientific spheres as well.

If this is scientism then obviously no sensible person should have a problem with it. But the “boo-word” version of the phenomenon — the scientism that makes entirely unwarranted claims about what the scientific method can tell us, wraps “is” in the mantle of “ought” and vice versa, and reduces culture to biology at every opportunity — is much easier to pin down than Pinker suggests. Indeed, he helpfully supplies a perfect example of in his own essay, in his discussion of what modern science has allegedly meant for our understanding of personal and political morality:

Quote:
… the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken. We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history. We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree … We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes. We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small. We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are. And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.
So here we have a defensible-if-tendentious account of how the progress of science has undercut the world-pictures bequeathed to us by tradition, intuition and religion. Now an innocent reader might assume that the crack-up of these world pictures, with their tight link between cosmic design and human purposes, might make moral consensus more difficult to realistically achieve. After all, if our universe’s testable laws and empirical realities have no experimentally-verifiable connection to human ends and values, then one would expect rival ideas of the good to have difficulty engaging with one another fruitfully, escaping from the pull of relativism or nihilism, and/or grounding their appeals in anything stronger than aesthetic preference.

But obviously that isn’t where Pinker is going:

Quote:
In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities. By stripping ecclesiastical authority of its credibility on factual matters, they cast doubt on its claims to certitude in matters of morality. The scientific refutation of the theory of vengeful gods and occult forces undermines practices such as human sacrifice, witch hunts, faith healing, trial by ordeal, and the persecution of heretics. The facts of science, by exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet. For the same reason, they undercut any moral or political system based on mystical forces, quests, destinies, dialectics, struggles, or messianic ages. And in combination with a few unexceptionable convictions— that all of us value our own welfare and that we are social beings who impinge on each other and can negotiate codes of conduct—the scientific facts militate toward a defensible morality, namely adhering to principles that maximize the flourishing of humans and other sentient beings. This humanism, which is inextricable from a scientific understanding of the world, is becoming the de facto morality of modern democracies, international organizations, and liberalizing religions, and its unfulfilled promises define the moral imperatives we face today.
This is an impressively swift march from allowing, grudgingly, that scientific discoveries do not “dictate” values to asserting that they “militate” very strongly in favor of … why, of Steven Pinker’s very own moral worldview! You see, because we do not try witches, we must be utilitarians! Because we know the universe has no purpose, we must imbue it with the purposes of a (non-species-ist) liberal cosmopolitanism! Because of science, we know that modern civilization has no dialectic or destiny … so we must pursue its “unfulfilled promises” and accept its “moral imperatives” instead!

Since Pinker’s last book was an extended rehabilitation of the Whig interpretation of history, it’s not surprising to see him make this kind of case. But it’s intellectually parochial and logically slipshod, and it’s also depends on a kind of present-ist chauvinism: His argument seems vaguely plausible only if you regard the paradigmatic shaped-by-science era as the post-Cold War Pax Americana rather than, say, the chaos of 1914-45, when instead of a humanist consensus the scientifically-advanced West featured radically-incommensurate moral worldviews basically settling their differences by force of arms.

Like Sam Harris, who wrote an entire book claiming that “science” somehow vindicates his preferred form of philosophical utilitarianism (when what he really meant was that if you assume utilitarian goals, science can help you pursue them), Pinker seems to have trouble imagining any reasoning person disagreeing about either the moral necessity of “maximizing human flourishing” or the content of what “flourishing” actually means — even though recent history furnishes plenty of examples and a decent imagination can furnish many more. Like his whiggish antecedents, he mistakes a real-but-complicated historical relationship between science and humanism for a necessary intellectual line in which the latter vindicates the former, or at least militates strongly in its favor. And his invocation of “the scientific facts” to justify what is, at bottom, a philosophical preference for Mill over Nietzsche is the pretty much the essence of what critics mean by scientism: Empirically overconfident, intellectually unsubtle, and deeply incurious about the ways in which human beings can rationally disagree.

http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/201...n-pinker/?_r=0
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Old 08-08-2013, 02:54 PM   #104
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TL;DR


Based on my skim, I'll have to come back to that when I have the time to properly read it. Interesting stuff.
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Old 08-08-2013, 04:20 PM   #105
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This is a great find, Irvine - thanks for posting these.

When I was reading the first article - I was thinking the same thing the NYT writer states here:
Quote:
from the NYT article
...This is an impressively swift march from allowing, grudgingly, that scientific discoveries do not “dictate” values to asserting that they “militate” very strongly in favor of … why, of Steven Pinker’s very own moral worldview! You see, because we do not try witches, we must be utilitarians! Because we know the universe has no purpose, we must imbue it with the purposes of a (non-species-ist) liberal cosmopolitanism! Because of science, we know that modern civilization has no dialectic or destiny … so we must pursue its “unfulfilled promises” and accept its “moral imperatives” instead!
As I stated earlier - I think science is a great tool for everything in the universe that can be observed, tested, and verified. However, as we see in Quantum Physics - there is much of the universe that can't be observed, tested, and verified - and may never do so. This is where Philosophy and Theology (and art perhaps) enter the picture - and rightfully so. We've evolved or were created (or perhaps a bit of both) to not let "I guess we'll never know" be the final answer. So we keep tackling the Big Questions.
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Old 08-08-2013, 04:30 PM   #106
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, but in arguing against the existence of an independent consciousness, this shows that it is an illusion linked to physical states in the brain. Dennett describes the idea of the 'self' as more of an abstraction (I think he likens it to a centre of gravity at some point; it's something apparent and something we can talk about, but not something that is physically made up of anything.
That would seem to lend weight to the idea that it is more of a spiritual phenomenon? Or something not reliant upon a physical "container"? Yes?

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,
It doesn't exist in any real sense). So when we talk about downloading a consciousness, there isn't anything there to download. You're downloading a physical state of matter, but the you having the apparent experience of self is not going to suddenly find himself occupying some other synthetic body.
It think I'm in basic agreement with this - if only to prevent the paradox of multiple versions of me walking around with a sense of self. Perhaps this is where Quantum Physics kicks in - that our consciousness has endless probabilities within space/time, but can only have one instance at a time.

But let's say our mind is clearly attached to our one brain - how much can we augment that brain before we stop considering it a human brain?
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Old 08-08-2013, 06:12 PM   #107
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That would seem to lend weight to the idea that it is more of a spiritual phenomenon? Or something not reliant upon a physical "container"? Yes?
No, because it's all perfectly describable using purely physical phenomena. There's no need to evoke anything spiritual.

Consider my wild college days. There were a few occasions (keg parties, birthday parties, homecoming weekend, after finishing the last exam, pub crawl night, thursday) where I drank way too much and got what you might call 'black out drunk'. For all intents and purposes, my consciousness didn't exist. There would be nights when the entire last large portion of the night were completely missing. Would it make more sense that my 'spiritual consciousness' decided it didn't like booze and disappeared into the ether for the evening or that the physical areas of my brain that gave rise to the experience of consciousness had been inhibited? The answer to that is clearly evident.
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Old 08-08-2013, 06:21 PM   #108
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As I stated earlier - I think science is a great tool for everything in the universe that can be observed, tested, and verified. However, as we see in Quantum Physics - there is much of the universe that can't be observed, tested, and verified - and may never do so. This is where Philosophy and Theology (and art perhaps) enter the picture - and rightfully so. We've evolved or were created (or perhaps a bit of both) to not let "I guess we'll never know" be the final answer. So we keep tackling the Big Questions.
Quote:
Perhaps this is where Quantum Physics kicks in - that our consciousness has endless probabilities within space/time, but can only have one instance at a time.

I don't mean to be a dick, but there seems to be a great deal of hiding god in quantum spookiness going on. If quantum physics somehow affects the way our brains work, it isn't in the sense that our consciousness is contained within the quantum interactions. Nothing about quantum particles suggests that they might give rise to consciousness. Everything you look at has those exact same processes going on within it. If you want to attribute consciousness to quantum physics, then you'll have to concede that every single object in existence contains a consciousness. There is nothing special about the interactions going on at the quantum level in our brains. Placing god in quantum physics is no more truthful than placing him in the centre of the planet
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Old 08-08-2013, 06:30 PM   #109
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It think I'm in basic agreement with this - if only to prevent the paradox of multiple versions of me walking around with a sense of self.
But this is exactly what would happen. There's nothing paradoxical about it. All the experiences and memories and emotions you feel are because of the physical state of your brain; the interactions between neurons, the various distributions of neurotransmitters, electrical activity. To copy that state exactly as it is and create another brain out of it will give you another version of all those experiences.
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Old 08-08-2013, 07:02 PM   #110
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i haven't paid close attention to this thread, but i came across this long article and thought it relevant at least to the original title of the thread (science and religion), and apologies if it's already been posted:






and here's an NYT column that engages the (much longer) article:

Thanks for posting these, Irvine. I had started reading the Pinker article in line at the dmv yesterday, but didn't get a chance to finish until now.

The most important point made in those two articles is as follows:

"In which ways, then, does science illuminate human affairs? Let me start with the most ambitious: the deepest questions about who we are, where we came from, and how we define the meaning and purpose of our lives. This is the traditional territory of religion, and its defenders tend to be the most excitable critics of scientism."

So true and so very telling. Cries of scientism (man, I hate that word) boil down to "Your facts don't support my beliefs! I don't like it!"
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Old 08-08-2013, 07:20 PM   #111
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So true and so very telling. Cries of scientism (man, I hate that word) boil down to "Your facts don't support my beliefs! I don't like it!"
I think you will find less and less of that attitude in most churches these days.
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Old 08-08-2013, 07:31 PM   #112
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I think you will find less and less of that attitude in most churches these days.
I hope so. But would those people be whining about 'scientism'?
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Old 08-08-2013, 07:31 PM   #113
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But this is exactly what would happen. There's nothing paradoxical about it. All the experiences and memories and emotions you feel are because of the physical state of your brain; the interactions between neurons, the various distributions of neurotransmitters, electrical activity. To copy that state exactly as it is and create another brain out of it will give you another version of all those experiences.
I guess I feel that the paradox is that there can't be more than one version of "me" - yet, there would be. However - I'm thinking that the universe will not really "allow" this to happen. I'm going to disagree with Kurzweil that will one day be able to back up our minds (but I agree with him on most everything else). Maybe we can do this with small pieces of memory here and there - perhaps to fill in some gaps or jump start some connections after a trauma - but unless I'm mistaken, you can't record a quantum state in order to backup and restore a quantum state. As the article I posted clearly demonstrates - our mind is a constantly fluctuating quantum state.

It is much more likely that we will be able to extremely augment our brains and extend our mind through it. Also - we will be able to use nanotechnology to repair and enhance/repair/strengthen our brain tissue.

Yet, on the spiritual side (since we are allowing room for faith in the discussion) I still contend that in the end - it is the spirit/soul that is using the brain to establish two-way communication with this universe.
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Old 08-08-2013, 07:38 PM   #114
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I hope so. But would those people be whining about 'scientism'?
Well - there is still some of anti-scientism (yeah - that word sucks) folks. Also - there is an attitude of arrogance that some scientist emanate brings some of the criticism.

Just as some continue to point to the God in Gaps fallacy - so others point out that this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion there is no God.
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Old 08-08-2013, 07:47 PM   #115
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our mind is a constantly fluctuating quantum state.
Well, our brain is a constantly fluctuating quantum state, since the mind isn't really a physical thing. But why would it be surprising that our brain is a constantly fluctuating state? Everything is a constantly fluctuating quantum state. It would be unusual to discover the contrary
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Old 08-08-2013, 07:50 PM   #116
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I guess I feel that the paradox is that there can't be more than one version of "me" - yet, there would be. However - I'm thinking that the universe will not really "allow" this to happen.
But why wouldn't it allow this to happen? What if we were to map, atom for atom, the physical properties of a couch. Would the universe allow two atomically identical couches to exist?
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Old 08-08-2013, 08:00 PM   #117
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I don't mean to be a dick, but there seems to be a great deal of hiding god in quantum spookiness going on.
Sure - I'll take the blame for that. To be fair - I mention it only in that it "opens the door" to faith, not that it proves my point of view.
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Old 08-08-2013, 08:06 PM   #118
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Sure - I'll take the blame for that. To be fair - I mention that it only in that it "opens the door" to faith, not that it proves my point of view.
No need to take blame. It's not like you invented it
It just seems like such a fluffy argument to me though.

Quantum physics also opens the door to Lovecraftian Horror
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Old 08-08-2013, 08:27 PM   #119
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But why wouldn't it allow this to happen? What if we were to map, atom for atom, the physical properties of a couch. Would the universe allow two atomically identical couches to exist?
Yes - I think it would. Where I think we disagree is on where the "mind" exists -if it exists at all.

You seem to think the mind is nothing more than neurons doing their work - and part of that work is "consciousness" and "self awareness."

I am arguing that there is still no scientific consensus on what consciousness really is - and the little we do know - is that the quantum tunneling is needed for Calcium ions to cross the barrier to the synaptic vesicle at a probability rate of 10,000,00:1, for each trigger - yet this must and does happen on demand (this is from the article I posted earlier). And in order for this to happen on demand - something or someone beyond the material realm of the brain must be controlling the quantum events. It seems impossible - yet it happens every nanosecond. This is just as complex a Mystery as Dark Matter or Dark Energy - and I hope you would agree there is still very little known about those two phenomenon - yet they seem to make up the largest percentage of our universe.

It does seem that quantum mechanics rejects the classical materialist construct of reality. And because of this - it also must reject the classical materialist understanding of the brain. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that our consciousness and brain are separate from each other, yet somehow connected by quantum entanglement.
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Old 08-08-2013, 08:28 PM   #120
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Originally Posted by Jive Turkey View Post

Quantum physics also opens the door to Lovecraftian Horror
My brother-in-law is a HUGE fan of his. He's a bit too odd and creepy for my taste.
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