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Links With Your Coffee - Sunday

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  • Language Log » Ellipses Elided

    George Bush demonstrates, once again, what an asshole he is at his core. Don't like what Jeffereson really said, just excise the part that doesn't fit your demented world view.

    Errors in punctuation sometimes result in misinterpretation, but they usually don't arouse the moral outrage that plagiarism does. Some should.

  • The Satirical Political Report - An Offbeat Look at the Hot-Button Issues of the Day » Liberals Ask Obama: Are We ‘Stuck in the Middle With You?’

  • Sam Harris: The Boundaries of Belief - On Faith at washingtonpost.com
    According to a recent Pew survey, 21 percent of atheists in the United States believe in “God or a universal spirit,” and 8 percent are “absolutely certain” that such a Being exists. One wonders if they were also “absolutely certain” they understood the meaning of the term “atheist.” Claiming to be an atheist who believes in God is like claiming to be a happily married bachelor. Rarely does one discover nonsense in such a pristine state. Still this hasn’t stopped many people from concluding that there is a schism in the atheist community.

  • McCain Battles a Nemesis, the Teleprompter - NYTimes.com

  • The political establishment and telecom immunity -- why it matters - Glenn Greenwald - Salon.com
    What all of this is really about -- the reason why political elites like Nancy Soderberg are so eager to defend it -- is because they really do believe that lawbreaking isn't wrong, that it doesn't deserve punishment, when engaged in by them rather than by commoners. People who defend telecom immunity or who say that it's not a big deal are, by logical necessity, adopting this view: "Our highest political officials and largest corporations shouldn't face consequences when they break our laws as long as they claim it was for our own good." That's the destructive premise that lies at the heart of this deeply corrupt measure, the reason it matters so much. Just like the pardon of Nixon, the protection of Iran-contra criminals, and the commutation of Lewis Libby's sentence, this bill is yet another step in cementing a two-tiered system of justice in America where our highest political officials and connected elite can break our laws with impunity.

  • Dick Cavett and his literary lions | Jacket Copy | Los Angeles Times

  • 'The Dumbest Generation' by Mark Bauerlein - Los Angeles Times

  • Philosophy Now - Saving Truth
    Truth has been having a rather hard time in recent decades. Insults have been hurled at it from left and right. Truth, we are endlessly told, is relative to perspective, to viewpoint, to ‘where you’re coming from’. The most popular versions of such relativism connect truth with power: what counts as true is the world according to those who have the greatest political or institutional clout. Even the truths of science are less about nature than about discourses that have become dominant for reasons other than their ability to uncover reality. Nietzsche’s famous riposte to the positivist claim that there are only facts – that “there are no such things as facts, only interpretations” – is a favourite among humanist intellectuals.

    Such assaults on the notion of objective truth appear to have a lot going for them, at least if you’re in a seminar room rather than, say, dealing with a medical emergency or running for a bus. Some political and historical truths do indeed seem to be spin-dependent. And in many other circumstances, the selection and even the construction of facts will be influenced by the interests of those who are offering them as ‘the truth about such-and-such’. Relativism discredits itself, however, when it is generalised to all putative truths. Ultimately, the assertion that there is no such thing as truly objective truth is self-refuting, if it means anything: for there is no reason why this meta-truth about truth should be immune from its own radical attack on all truths. Is it true?



 

Comments

I would like to encourage everyone to read Glenn Greenwald's blog. He has very good insight and explains everything in a way that is easy to understand without being dumbed down, (but apparently not dumbed down enough to make those in congress understand why this FISA bill should NOT be passed).

I consider his blog to be required daily reading.

Not to dispute Sam's point; but in a way, I actually could call myself a "happily married bachelor."

I've been married eight years, but haven't lived with my wife for seven and haven't even seen or heard from her in about six years. Having no contact with her actually does make me happy. (Although... I'd certainly be happier if I could divorce her)

I've lived with a man for about eight years. Having contact with him actually does make me happy, so I stay with him. There is no marriage contract which forces us to stay together.

Andy, you should divorce her right away. Now. If you would be happier divorcing her, then do both you and her a favor and get it over with. Then the two of you can get on with your lives.

good links today, much food for thought.

hmm. i am an atheist who believes in god. it's not a contradiction, the way i define those terms, and if "god" is not a term open to myriad interpretations, then what is? my position is this: organized religion exists to control and exploit frightened people. they are frightened by their own mortality, the mortality of their parents, spouses, children, friends, everybody. fear of the unknown starts and ends with the fear of death. of not knowing what death brings.

is it all stop? does the consciousness simply die along with the body? could be. or does consciousness, the "soul" if you will, move into a new phase? as in heaven or hell in the christian church, or reincarnation as an ocelot or gnat in buddhism, eternity with a bevy of virgins or perhaps a transcendent merging with all that is? i especially like the mormon patriarchal plan of populating your own planet with dutiful wives whom you call by their secret name.

but finally, the number of living persons who know the answer to the question of what happens when we die = zero.
yet the number of living persons who claim to know the answer = many, many, many! clearly there is a popular desire to not deal with the simple fact that they don't know.

scientifically speaking, a case can be made that some form of life after death is very likely. in this physical universe, energy does not simply go away, it transforms. this expresses itself in a bazillion ways. now, since we don't know the exact dimensions and properties of own life force, it's impossible for us to say what happens to it when this body, the only body we are aware of ever having inhabited, ceases to live. what happens to the body? well, in nature, maggots and vultures and bacteria have a feast, and they in turn are feasted upon, so our protein sustains the world that has sustained our body while we lived. lovely. but it is that all? what of the life force? the soul? consciousness?

we just don't bloody well know, do we? i worship not knowing. "god" to me is the totality of all that we do and don't know. god is the sum total of every thing, in every dimension, in an infinite universe. it's a convenient word to describe the unlikely miracle that life, the universe, time and space, and our ability to see a small slice of all this, even exists at all.

religion exploits the fear of the unknown, to control and manipulate people here, in this dimension, in this life. theism as i understand it requires a particular dedication to worshipping a god that one can define. i worship all that i cannot define, because it impresses me and fills me with awe and wonder.

so as i understand it, i am an atheist, and i believe in god.

amorphousblob i, like norm, find belief in god to be contradictory to the idea of atheism. I'll leave it to someone else here to explain to you about the "god of the gaps" fallacy-

i worship all that i cannot define, because it impresses me and fills me with awe and wonder.

- but i love hearing ordinary people philosophizing about the deepest of subjects, and i think you'll enjoy this article i ran across in-don't laugh- "gentlemans' quarterly"-

http://men.style.com/gq/features/landing?id=content_6769

it almost made me long to become a "sanitation engineer".

One wonders if they were also “absolutely certain” they understood the meaning of the term “atheist.” Claiming to be an atheist who believes in God is like claiming to be a happily married bachelor. Rarely does one discover nonsense in such a pristine state.

Of course Harris is right that in a strict sense, 'atheist who believes in god' is about an oxymoronic , in traditional usage, as 'bachelor who is happily married'. Nonetheless, cultural phenomenon are typically more complex than that, and the survey is as much about how people understand their own beliefs as what the terms their using have traditionally meant. I find it entirely plausible that most who responded by claiming to be atheists while affirming the existence of a deity meant something roughly along the lines that amorphousblob articulated: a hostility to organized religion.

Now, I don't really find that a tenable position. Since there is no reason or argument which I can find that compels belief in such a deity, its existence is typically vouched for, not upon the basis of reasons, but some authority--namely, a church, which claims a special mediating function between the believer and the deity. And if you reject that authority, on what basis does one justify one's belief in a deity?

Still this hasn’t stopped many people from concluding that there is a schism in the atheist community.

I did not know there was such a community, any more than there is a community of people with blond hair, or a community of those who believe in heliocentric theory. A shared belief may be the basis of a community, but doesn't, by itself, constitute one. That is, simply because you believe as others do does not mean you belong to a community with them.

but finally, the number of living persons who know the answer to the question of what happens when we die = zero.

Just because we cannot have absolute certainty about a given claim does not mean we cannot have a reasonable opinion about it. It may be there is a tea-cup orbiting Mars right now, unbeknownst to me. But I have no reason to believe that, and so am comfortable simply rejecting it. Likewise life after death. This position is always open to being proven wrong by evidence. But in this case the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence.

in this physical universe, energy does not simply go away, it transforms.

I've never quite followed this argument. The human body ceases to function as as an organized biological entity upon death. But there is no mysterious 'dissolution of energy' that happens at death that would be even potentially inconsistent with the law of conservation of energy. The body decays--a form of energy expenditure-- parasites and bacteria proliferate and feed on it, the soil absorbs some of the proteins and nutrients, etc. Likewise if the body is cremated, energy is created in the form of heat. But I take that in either case, the "energy" (bacteria from putrefaction, heat from fire) are not "alternative" forms of life, just the usual and familiar permutations of physical matter. So I've never seen why 'oh but we persist as energy after we're dead' helps, since the forms of energy at issue are the perfectly familiar ones of chemistry, biochemistry and physics, not magical 'conscious energy' that cannot be tested and is taking another form. (I take it that 'energy' is the paradigm of a physical phenomenon--not something 'spiritual'--so if its effects cannot be either observed or reasonably inferred from observation, it doesn't exist).

No "marriage contract" forces anyone together, at least in this country. [cf: Divorce]

As to the Bauerlein book, I was almost convinced by Is Google Making Us Stupid from a couple of weeks ago... until I spent a week in the mountains and made it through 8 books, fiction and non-fiction, no problem. When kids interact on the web, they are reading and writing, after all.

The Dumbest Generation? I find it amusing that a generation who's messed up this country so bad has the gall to claim something like that. While we are behind many countries as far as education is concerned, I hardly think that's our fault. (Which generation is in power right now...hmmmm)

The truth is, we're much more intelligent than our previous generation as well as more diverse and open minded. Try reading "Generation Me". It's a much more accurate and researched account of today's generation.

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Americans have spent the last 30+ years voting to cut their own throats economically. Even after 8 years of Bush, the best they can come up with to oppose the Republican Disaster Machine are two right-tilting Corporatist Democrats(Obama and Clinton). The idiocy of Americans spans generations.

http://tinyurl.com/2qqvyg

According to a recent Pew survey, 21 percent of atheists in the United States believe in “God or a universal spirit,”

Ahhh, they have discovered the "there must be something" crowd. Personally I find the people that create their own religious beliefs to be the most irrational of those that believe in the supernatural. I think one of the central premises of religion has to be that its not made up, yet some people make it up themselves How can you believe something is real if you make it up yourself?

but finally, the number of living persons who know the answer to the question of what happens when we die = zero.

Actually there are these people called coroners that pretty much know exactly what happens.

We don't know what the experience is like, but we will all find out eventually.

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"Personally I find the people that create their own religious beliefs to be the most irrational of those that believe in the supernatural."

More rational to make up your own than stupidly accept what somebody else made up.

Actually there are these people called coroners that pretty much know exactly what happens.

LOL.

We don't know what the experience is like, but we will all find out eventually.

Perhaps it is not an experience one could have but the cessation of the possibility of having one. As the stoics used to say, we should worry about dying, since once you die, you'll never know it.

Here is the issue I have with the "consciousness as energy" argument.

Imagine you have a computer with really vast memory and processing powers. One day, your computer gets smashed to bits. Does it make any sense to ask, "Where did the 'energy' go that made it possible to store files and run several programs at once?" If the assumption is that this so-called 'energy' is something independent of the components that make up the computer, I'd say that's a pretty bad question. Obviously, those are functions that depend upon other underlying components (like a hard drive). And once those are destroyed, there is no special, addition thing that somehow needs to be explained about memory or processing powers, something that would be left over once the hard drive and the processor have been destroyed.

Understanding that self-referential issues and other logical conundra inherently arise whenever an individual attempts to generalize about the universe, nevertheless I believe (based on empirical evidence) that the universe, for lack of a better way of putting it, follows rules. Even though there is chaos, chaos has degrees of freedom and parameters. Even though there is randomness, there hierarchies of probabilities. So there is order, after a fashion.

Whatever is the "source" of that order, be it physics or metaphysics, happenstance or inevitable, mechanistic or consciously intended - it is the reason, or explanation if you prefer, behind everything and everybody.

What does it matter to that reason, or to me for that matter, whether or not you call it God? Unless the universe is far more peculiar than we think, the truth is independent of our beliefs.

Oh yeah, and all worship is self-worship. Can't forget that part.

the computer analogy is good, because it not only illustrates what we have in common with computers, but also what we do not. computers are not aware, as they process information, yet we are. the energy that cannot be measured by a coroner, or consumed as protein, is the bit we cannot quantify. frustrating as it may be, we don't know for certain that our consciousness is necessarily limited to the continued existence of our fleshy processor, RAM, and hard drive. you just don't know, i mean, please yourself if you are certain, but i maintain that we do not have the capacity with our senses and intellect to make a judgement about what happens to our consciousness in the absence of the only vehicle with which it perceives itself.

while i admit to a hostility to organized religion (because i think it is a bad thing that causes terrible harm), i think the question it tries to answer is a good one for individuals to ask. if nothing else, for amusement. "to be or not to be, that is the question." damn right it is. camus referred to suicide as the fundamental philosophical question. my answer: "what's the hurry?" gonna find out soon enough, and all speculation about it ends there. i don't hold a romantic view of it, i mean, if it's all stop, dark, nada, the end, so be it. as has been pointed out, there would be no one there to regret it. and when i said i worship not knowing, that's not really the right word. i enjoy not knowing is more like it. we insist on being able to prove or disprove everything, based on what we already know. but the amount of knowledge we do not have will always exceed the knowledge we do have. and knowledge of any after death experience is, and will remain, the province of the dead. so Adam, when you say "the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence" i concur, but we're having this discussion here among the living. so the evidence to be studied would necessarily be unavailable to us.

why is life after death a common theme in every human culture around the world? is it merely because we are so attached to life that we create a fantasy to look forward to, or one to dread and fear? religion steps in readily to use this as a means of controlling people, sure. but at the heart of it, why has this question been dealt with so extensively throughout the history of humanity? why have native americans and others maintained that there is a spirit world that exists alongside ours? and why with our technological age intellects would we be so certain we have the means to even assess the parameters of this question, in order to study it scientifically?

but finally, the number of living persons who know the answer to the question of what happens when we die = zero. yet the number of living persons who claim to know the answer = many, many, many! clearly there is a popular desire to not deal with the simple fact that they don't know.

Well, the number of people who know (with absolute certainty) what happens tomorrow = zero. That doesn't mean we can't have some level of confidence in our speculation about what happens tomorrow and at death.

How do you propose that we "deal with the fact" that we don't know (with absolute certainty) what happens tomorrow or at death?

in this physical universe, energy does not simply go away, it transforms. this expresses itself in a bazillion ways. now, since we don't know the exact dimensions and properties of own life force, it's impossible for us to say what happens to it

We don't even know that there is such a thing as "life force". Most would agree, though, that there is such a thing as, say, consciousness. Can we use the analogy of conservation of energy to argue for conservation of consciousness? I think the answer is obviously no.

Firstly, there is no theoretical basis for such a connection between energy and consciousness, in which continuity of the former implies a continuity of the latter. The fact that the population of the world isn't constant also suggest that the energy analogy is rubbish. If you can create more and more conscious people out of unconscious matter, why shouldn't the reverse also be possible, or indeed true?

Secondly, anyone can think of examples that pose difficulties to the idea of conservation of consciousness. When people become unconscious, does their consciousness temporarily go somewhere else? If so, how does it know when to return? If a person is subjected to a trauma to the head, or say a lobotomy, and their reduced mental faculties effectively make them "half the person" they used to be, did the other half go to heaven or become reincarnated? Or... did it simply disappear as a result of the physical deterioration of the brain? You sever some neural connections and as a result you lose a bit of your consciousness or memory. Matter and energy is conserved, but the "soul" simply isn't. There's really no reason to include magic in the equation to balance it. It adds noise and confusion and takes none away. It's like using astrology to predict what will happen tomorrow.

you just don't know, i mean, please yourself if you are certain, but i maintain that we do not have the capacity with our senses and intellect to make a judgement about what happens to our consciousness in the absence of the only vehicle with which it perceives itself.

Let me begin by isolating two parts of your argument. (1.) (a.) The argument from ignorance: we don't know what happens after death, (1b.) it is logically possible that the consciousness of the deceased persists post mortum. And (2.) The argument from possibility to probability: Given that we don't know, and given that it is possible that consciousness persists, it may even be likely or probable that consciousness persists.

Now, first, I think (2) simply doesn't follows from (1.): just because something is logically possible does not make it at all likely. As for the claim that we don't know what happens after death, let me reiterate something I've already said: Just because one cannot be absolutely certain about an issue does not mean that there is not a reasonable opinion to be had on the matter. And so appealing to human ignorance about what happens after death could not by itself justify the claim that it is at all likely. As plausibility goes, the case seems to me precisely the reverse:

(A.) No one has ever seen a dead body exhibit consciousness.
(B.) No one has ever encountered an unembodied consciousness, that is, a consciousness not connected to a body.
(C.) Conversely, it is possible to observe a human being who is alive but not conscious, as a direct result of injury to the brain (such as the poor souls in persistent vegitative states).
D.)Finally, since a major function of the mind is, plausibly, to register and represent the body's relationship to its physical and social environment--e.g., light of a certain frequency as being of a certain color; the inverted, patchy images on the optic nerve as continuous and right-side up, etc.--it might be doubted that we have any coherent notion of a disembodied mind at all, whether conscious or not. Conclusion: The fact that a human body can be living but not conscious, that it cannot be both death and conscious, and that no one has ever encountered a disembodied consciousness, all strongly suggests that whether we are conscious or not depends less on whether we are alive or dead than on the health of the body. But of course, it follows from that it is not plausible--even if logically possible--that consciousness survives the wholesale destruction of the body, that is, death.

As a side note, I see no reason to suppose that our common sense terms necessarily correspond to anything in our neurobiology. For instance: is a man with advanced Korsakov's disease, who literally cannot remember anything beyond a 90 second window because of pronounced neurological damage, conscious or not? I don't think that's a good question because it's two broad: consciousness is probably not an all or nothing affair, but depends upon a lot of other cognitive functions (memory, perceptual processing, etc.). To the extent that any of those is diminished, so too is so-called 'consciousness'.

Adam:

I agree, for the most part, with the results of your plausibility argument, but I think you need to shore up your logical justifications.

just because something is logically possible does not make it at all likely

But we're talking about a pervasive condition, not an event. Assuming we can agree on definitions of terms death and consciousness, the "likelihood" that consciousness persists after death is 1, 0, or DNE (does not exist) - by which I mean to say that, even if we agree on definitions, the logical constructs they represent and all of their attendant implications may nevertheless be incompatible with reality.

No one has ever encountered an unembodied consciousness, that is, a consciousness not connected to a body.

You can't be sure of that on any kind of sound logical footing, and it's not even a scientific hypothesis because it can't be tested. Your skepticism is appropriate, but not your certainty without conclusive evidence. The responsible stance would be akin to atheism - not disbelief (which is, itself, a negative belief, or the belief that a proposition is false) but nonbelief - an abstention from taking a position - due to lack of direct or conclusive evidence.

We can reasonably suppose that X-rays and microbes existed long before anybody was aware of them. Those who disbelieved in their existence (or the possibility of the existence of such things) were quite clearly wrong. As such, there had to be a logical error in their thought processes. (How could correct logic based on correct premises lead to incorrect results?)

The mistake was the disbelief itself. It was an incorrect premise, an assumption - based on their best (though probably very informal) assessments of "likelihood", based in turn on the body of empirical evidence available to them at the time - which nevertheless turned out to be false, because when the nature of reality meets our ideas about it, it's our ideas that must budge, not the other way around.

Of course, people who believe without evidence may turn out to be right once in a while, too, but for the wrong reasons. Their thought processes are still wrong.

So before X-rays and microbes were discovered, those who neither believed nor disbelieved, but whose mental plasticity, flexibility and resiliency allowed for the possibility of things not yet observed, had the most "correct" position on the matter.

When skeptics invoke scientific thinking to assert the perceived "correctness" of their disbelief, this is appropriately called pseudoscience. In science, it is much more appropriate and productive to say, "I don't know!" than it is to deny the validity of possibilities, due to lack of evidence.

I realize that by speaking of plausibility, you allowed for wiggle room in your overall conclusion. But you made no such allowance in your premise about unembodied consciousness.

the computer analogy is good, because it not only illustrates what we have in common with computers, but also what we do not. computers are not aware,

And if a computer becomes aware?

Meh, the only place to look for immortality is in temporal theory. I am still hoping that when I die, I will discover that time isn't linear.

In terms of smashing the human hard drive and still existing, sadly all evidence points to there being more brains without thoughts then thoughts without brains.

Consciousness can be measured. I can scan your brain to see it light up when you think. Energy is being expended. Without the brain, where would this energy be coming from?

If we have to consider that consciousness must transend the conservation of energy (the ability to be conscious without absorbing and converting energy) then this is a non-issue. No such thing exists, or can exist, in this realm we inhabit. If I rob your brain of energy, and stop supplying your brain with energy, your consciousness will cease to exist in this world. We have no proof or record of consciousness without a source, it violates the "rules".

These aren't the intermediate theories of Bacteria, where we guessed what made us sick, and we were wrong. This would be a complete throw away of newton's laws and every law based on those laws. To create new ideas and to continue consciousness, a transmitter of energy must exist.

If you must create a separate "world" to continue consciousness and argue that you continue to exist, and admit that we cannot measure that world and cannot see the effects of that world, why speculate at all? Can such a thing exist? Why does it matter?

BTW, I think what the Sam Harris article should say is "21% of athiests are actually agnostics, and 8% are actually deists"

And don't get me started on the "Stupid generation" link....

The Dumbest Generation' by Mark Bauerlein - Los Angeles Times

Baaah,

"...and their musics too loud. And in my day we didn't have a random button on out walkmans, we had to make the mix tapes ourselves...

Kids today..."

I love these articles. No real statistics, no real information, just complaining from aging boomers.

Go to rural America were it was hard as hell to find any book other then a bible 50 years ago. The availability of information is frying our attention spans, but its also giving information to lots of people. Everyone that writes these articles about how young people don't get history should be forced to have an education on just how stupid people used to be.

"...Back in the 60's me and my friends all read books, we were so smart, and we changed the world... Blah Blah Blah."

I love these articles.

And by article, I mean book.

damn I'm Dumb.

damn I'm Dumb.

It's the internet's fault.

I'll give you a copy of Hamlet and you can be real smart too, just like me.

Assuming we can agree on definitions of terms death and consciousness, the "likelihood" that consciousness persists after death is 1, 0, or DNE (does not exist) - by which I mean to say that, even if we agree on definitions, the logical constructs they represent and all of their attendant implications may nevertheless be incompatible with reality.

Let us distinguish logical possibility (a function of the variable possible in relation to one another) and real possibility (a function of weighting the variables in the light of actual evidence and on their own merits). So real possibility look not just at logic, but the facts. By you reasoning above, "There is a Tooth Fairy" has only the logical possibility of 1 (totally true) or 0 (totally false). But of course, the real possibility that there is a tooth fairy is vanishingly small, because we can give a convincing story about how that fiction came about, and how everything we know about the world contradicts the very idea.

Me:No one has ever encountered an unembodied consciousness, that is, a consciousness not connected to a body. Perspicio: You can't be sure of that on any kind of sound logical footing, and it's not even a scientific hypothesis because it can't be tested.

It is not a logical, but an empirical claim: literally, no one--no person--ever saw or ever likely will see such a thing. Am I absolutely certain? Well, like all empirical claims, it would be false if a counter-instance could be produced, e.g., if someone said, and could prove, "I just saw a disembodied consciousnesses." But that is a generality about the status of empirical claims--further evidence can show them wrong--not something deep about consciousness, or death.

Your skepticism is appropriate, but not your certainty without conclusive evidence. The responsible stance would be akin to atheism...nonbelief - an abstention from taking a position - due to lack of direct or conclusive evidence.

One needs no more 'conclusive' evidence for the above claim than as with claims such as "No one has ever seen the Easter Bunny." and "No one has ever seen the tooth fairy"
Is it reasonable to infer from these, all else being equal, that the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny don't exist? And is it certain? Reasonable yes; absolutely certain, no, because I don't believe anything is absolutely certain: it is logically possible that the Eastern Bunny and the Toot Fairy are very clever, and have been siphoning us tampered evidence that seems to disprove their very existence, because they don't want to be found out. But is it a real possibility that that is the case? No, it is not at all likely. Again, just because one cannot be certain does not mean one cannot have a reasonable opinion.

I don't understand, whenever people discussion religion and the after- life, why the argument that no one can be "fully certain" comes up so much, as it has no bearing whatsoever on the relative merits of the claims at all, as I have already explained. I don't see how it helps. There are countless absurdities we reject at face value--the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy--not because we have positive and certain evidence upon which to base that rejection, but because there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that they're real, and most of the stuff we know about the world rules out the ('real' rather than merely logical) possibility that they exist. That doesn't mean one couldn't ever change one's view: but you'd have to present some pretty overwhelming and convincing evidence to get most to change their views about the Tooth Fairy.

Not only has no one ever observed a conscious being unassociated with a physical body, our experience suggests how implausible such a situation is. For example, rare people who come back from lengthy comas do not report rich stories about other planes of existence where their consciousness resided while they were absent. Unfortunate individuals afflicted with Alzheimer's disease do not, in their more lucid periods, do not seem to have been "somewhere else" in the meantime. Sadly, their very personhood seems to slip away from them as the disease progresses – when so many of their memories have deserted them, is there a still fully formed individual somewhere else? Where does that old personality reside as one slips into dementia? After any of us dies, does our consciousness reassemble itself as it existed when one was forty years old? All memories intact? (Are they ever really perfectly intact anyway?) These questions obviously don't disprove the contention that consciousness persists after death, but the very silliness of the questions reveals, to me at least, the soft ground on which the idea stands.

Let me amplify one point Adam has already discussed. Even if one wants to believe that consciousness exists after life ceases, it is really bad idea to support that contention with the statement "the energy doesn't go away". Nope, it doesn't - energy flows are in fact measurable - and chemical/physical/biological processes that occur could, in principle, be carefully measured. Every chemical reaction, the cooling of the body, the work performed by gas expansion, etc... that occurs from the moment before death, to any point of decomposition - could be accounted for (try to get a research grant to study that!). I'm confident that no extra term for "departure of the consciousness" would be necessary to complete the energy balance.

Great Convo guys.

Alot of thoughts I have had in passing assembled in one place.

Great examples of Supernatural beliefs defying the most basic rules of Science and observation.

If an idea is really representative of the world around us, it leads to conclusions that can be tested and observed.

All forms mysticism are about answering questions for which you have insufficient information to answer or simply don't care to think about.

really, excellent conversation. i don't know what got me started, but thanks for all the great replies. i always learn something here.

Adam,

I appreciate your introducing the idea of distinguishing between "real" and "logical" possibilities. In order to avoid endless digressions, I'll resist the urge to "Wittgensteinize" the terms, and accept your usage of them. However, your description of a “real” possibility (a function of weighting the variables in the light of actual evidence and on their own merits) begs a cautionary note about allowing cognitive biases to affect the evaluation of said “merits”.

In discussing the ways one might interact with an unembodied consciousness, let's agree to use your original "encounter", or Tim’s "observe" (neither of which are restricted to direct sensory perception, as evidenced by the fact that we are able to encounter and observe our own thought processes), as opposed to "see", as you narrowed it to in your more recent post. The reason is obvious: Unless we’re going to assert that the process of seeing needn’t have an optical component, seeing an unembodied consciousness necessarily makes it a material phenomenon, contradicting the “unembodied” premise.

If we were to continue this discussion much further we would have to define, or at least greatly refine, what we mean by “consciousness”, and probably also, to a lesser degree, “unembodied”. As for “death”, I think we can agree to pin that down to cessation of biological function of an organism. Of course, we could preclude the conversation altogether by restricting all of these words to biological definitions, but that would amount to engaging in a semantic ploy in order to avoid addressing the proposition at hand - namely, that consciousness can persist beyond death – by rendering it trivially false. Of what use would it be to ask whether a biological function can persist beyond its own cessation?

Regarding your statement,

[S]ince a major function of the mind is, plausibly, to register and represent the body's relationship to its physical and social environment…it might be doubted that we have any coherent notion of a disembodied mind at all, whether conscious or not.

I think you may be conflating “mind” with “brain”. As I, and I believe most people, understand the term, “mind” necessarily implies consciousness. (But does consciousness imply mind? Does brain imply consciousness? All the more reason to define terms.)

On to your more recent post.

In your Tooth Fairy example, the main reason we can agree with almost complete certainty that this is a fiction is not merely, as you assert, because we can give a convincing story about how the fiction came about (which is actually a pretty weak argument, considering how frequently people are convinced of blatant falsehoods), but because we actually know that parents replace the teeth their children leave under their pillows with coins while they sleep. I utterly reject the idea that people disbelieve in the Tooth Fairy because it’s ridiculous on its face, and not because we have a better explanation. If children’s teeth were mysteriously being swapped out for coins, and nobody knew how it was happening, I daresay the Tooth Fairy proposition would start getting a lot more scrutiny.

The simple truth is, there is a much stronger body of positive empirical evidence supporting a different explanation than the body of evidence supporting the Tooth Fairy’s existence. While some children may be utterly convinced that the Tooth Fairy’s exists, this is generally not based on observation or experience, but on a story and trusting the storyteller. Even incidences in which children claim to have seen the Tooth Fairy may be effectively rebutted by (a) their parents’ counterclaim that they, in fact, were the ones who replaced the teeth with coins, and (b) the likelihood that the children were sleeping before and after the event, and thus are likely to have dreamt the event itself. These specific arguments are strongly supported by the fact, as you observed, that everything we know about the world contradicts the very idea of the Tooth Fairy. (Actually, to be more accurate, we should say that everything we know about the way the world works convinces us. Most of the myriad facts we know about the world imply nothing whatsoever about the question of the Tooth Fairy.)

Similar reasoning applies to the Easter Bunny proposition.

But we don’t have the benefit of such simple and strong evidences to refute the claim of the persistence of consciousness after death. There is a lack of direct, reproducible, empirical evidence either for or against the proposition. And a lack of empirical evidence is most assuredly not equivalent to empirical evidence of a lack. For example, the lack of evidence of X-rays in 1890 in no way reduced the logical or real possibility of their existence, and no empirical evidence for their existence played a role in their discovery. And so it well may turn out to be with consciousness after death. But again, we must define that term, “consciousness” to pursue the proposition further. At this point I’m just trying to point out what I perceive as the flaws in the reasoning set forth thus far.

Broadly, my point is that the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny propositions are not very directly analogous to the consciousness after death proposition, because the former are tongue-in-cheek explanations for widely observed, physical phenomena resulting from surreptitious human action, while the latter bears no resemblance to these conditions at all. Thus, arguments that effectively refute the former have no bearing on the latter. In fact, although I’m sure you didn’t intend it this way, you have effectively presented a straw man argument. No matter how implausible consciousness after death might actually be, a different argument would be necessary to successfully demonstrate that.

On a side note, I confess that I don’t really know what you’re talking about when you say,

But that is a generality about the status of empirical claims--further evidence can show them wrong--not something deep about consciousness, or death.

Wow, that was long. I hope someone reads it.

Adam Will best respond to most of what you say, but I am procrastinating on some work so I read you post and would point out a few items.

first

(neither of which are restricted to direct sensory perception, as evidenced by the fact that we are able to encounter and observe our own thought processes),

You start with part of your argument being untrue. Human brain functions are observed and studied regularly via a variety of brain scans.

Regardless of terminology used, the discussion is clearly about the human essence and whether that can exist, separate from the physical bodies we inhabit.

Evidence of the two existing separately is nill, and evidence that the physical and the thoughts are one and the same is plentiful.

(which is actually a pretty weak argument, considering how frequently people are convinced of blatant falsehoods)

Yeah, we know. So the difference in you mind is what? The bio electric functions of the brain, floating off to the clouds for all eternity is somehow less absurd then a bunny delivering eggs?

And this

And a lack of empirical evidence is most assuredly not equivalent to empirical evidence of a lack. For example, the lack of evidence of X-rays in 1890 in no way reduced the logical or real possibility of their existence, and no empirical evidence for their existence played a role in their discovery.

while on its face is a wonderful comparison falls apart when you really compare it to a theory of disembodied consciousness.

Tales of Ghosts/souls in most any interpretation of superstitions claim our otherworldly doppelgangers are interacting with the world around us in very significant ways. People of the 1890's were not likely exposed to large amounts of X-rays, and once the radiation was seen to act on observable items it has been analyzed and cataloged in less then a century. On the contrary, souls, these non-corporeal immortal lifeforms that we are to believe have had constant interaction and control over our physical bodies for all of human history, don't even have theoretical method for transmitting our essence from the ethereal plane to our brains. We know how DNA works, static electricity, microwaves cook, and synapses fire, yet for some reason all explanation of the existance after death, defies all measure or scientific observation.

What is the best explanation of that discrepancy?

You start with part of your argument being untrue. Human brain functions are observed and studied regularly via a variety of brain scans.

We do not see our own thought processes (a.k.a. observe them via direct sensory perception), but we are able to observe them in situ, without instruments and scanners. For example, I can recite a poem mentally without "hearing" or "seeing" the words. Thus, "observing" is not as restrictive as "seeing". Given that Adam brought up the idea of encountering an unembodied consciousness, but later talked about seeing one, I simply pointed out that the latter is trivially self-contradictory, so to have a meaningful discussion employing the concept we would have to stick to the former.

Regardless of terminology used, the discussion is clearly about the human essence and whether that can exist, separate from the physical bodies we inhabit.

See, it's good to clarify what we mean, because I wouldn't have made that assumption at all. The term "human" is meaningless to me unless it includes our biological characteristics. I have no idea what "human essence" is, if not perhaps our genetic makeup, or else something more general that nevertheless encompasses that.

The bio electric functions of the brain, floating off to the clouds for all eternity is somehow less absurd then a bunny delivering eggs?

As I pointed out, constraining the term "consciousness" to a biological definition precludes the conversation. Of what use would it be to ask whether a biological function can persist beyond its own cessation?

Tales of Ghosts/souls in most any interpretation of superstitions claim our otherworldly doppelgangers are interacting with the world around us in very significant ways.

Well, I'm not making that claim. You introduced it. By all means, prop it up & knock it down; it's irrelevant to me. I've said nothing whatsoever about ghosts or souls.

[S]ouls, these non-corporeal immortal lifeforms that we are to believe have had constant interaction and control over our physical bodies for all of human history, don't even have theoretical method for transmitting our essence from the ethereal plane to our brains.

This sure is a very encumbered idea of "consciousness" you're carrying around. Immortal lifeforms...ethereal plane...whew! Take a load off. Drop your assumptions & stay a while.

However, your description of a “real” possibility (a function of weighting the variables in the light of actual evidence and on their own merits) begs a cautionary note about allowing cognitive biases to affect the evaluation of said “merits”.

So long as the facts appealed to are not controversial, I don't see how the question could be begged. How we emphasize and interpret those agreed upon facts was the direct in which I wanted to shift the conversation. The force of appealing to a distinction between "real" and "logical" possibility was to show that the latter does not by itself lead to plausibility, as it seemed to me you argued.

Unless we’re going to assert that the process of seeing needn’t have an optical component, seeing an unembodied consciousness necessarily makes it a material phenomenon, contradicting the “unembodied” premise.

Precisely why I picked the term 'encounter'.

Of what use would it be to ask whether a biological function can persist beyond its own cessation?

Yes, that's trivially true. But my argument didn't beg that question, or if it did, not quite that blatantly. My claim was that all our experiences of 'consciousness' are related in various ways to bodily function (what I called above the agreed upon facts). Those facts motivated an argument for assimilating 'consciousness' to 'property of (just some?) living beings which are properly functioning', not the assumption of that claim. This is clear from the fact that a counter-instance would disprove my argument, whereas if I simply assumed this in a question begging way, there would be no way to address my claim without endorsing it yourself.

Me: Since a major function of the mind is, plausibly, to register and represent the body's relationship to its physical and social environment…it might be doubted that we have any coherent notion of a disembodied mind at all, whether conscious or not.

Perspicio: I think you may be conflating “mind” with “brain”. I think you may be conflating “mind” with “brain”.

I am, for the sake of conversation, willing to put the point more neutrally by simply saying that consciousness seems to be a relational property of minds. That is, consciousness isn't anything if it isn't OF or ABOUT something, and that of-ness or aboutness is cognitive. So if consciousness is unembodied, what is it conscious of? And we can check off the follow ones we're familiar with from our own experience: it's not of the body, not of the body's relationship to its environment, and it's not of anything in space, since being able to spatially locate something relative to oneself typically depends upon being concreted located oneself in some specific location.

More generally, I don't think the mind and the brain are exactly identical (although I do think the efficient cause of all behavior is the brain, body, and their interaction with an environment). Nonetheless, I was appealing to neurological experiments and observations--for instance, about Korsakov's--that demonstrate a direct connection between apparently "conscious" behavior or capacities and neurological function. Perhaps there is a conscious activity that is utterly unrelated to our neurological states. If you could show that, you would have a strong argument indeed. But as I cannot think of a single such instance, you'd have to tell me when that ever happens (while taking it for granted that 'only after death' would be question-begging). My full argument is: given that consciousness is always observably linked to biological changes in the body, what more needs to be explained, at a general level rather than one of detail, about their connection? And how likely is it, given their close interconnection, that the one 'persists' without the other, since we know from common experience (sleep, drunkness, etc.) that the degree and quality of consciousness are directly related to the state of the body? (Kristen's argument).

As I, and I believe most people, understand the term, “mind” necessarily implies consciousness.

I was being cautious: Officially, since you ask, I take any behavior that both depends upon abstraction (defined as the capacity to re-identify particulars over time as instances of general catagories) to be mentalistic or 'cognitive'. People usually mean something less directly cognitive by "consciousness," an talking of so-called 'qualia' or 'a 'what's it's-like-ness', say, the redness of red. It also seems to me that having a mind is an all or nothing affair (chimps have minds [i.e., engage in abstract reasoning and re-identification of particulars], rocks don't), while being conscious doesn't seem to be, as has already been suggested by myself and others.

Does brain imply consciousness?

Hmmm. I don't know. But I doubt it, unless you think that snails and slugs, which have brains, are also 'conscious' in the same sense we are. But that is why I don't like the term, and suggesting rejecting it.

If we were to continue this discussion much further we would have to define, or at least greatly refine, what we mean by “consciousness”,

I'm skeptical that would help, because I am skeptical it has a definition or a referent (cf. my remark on whether we have a right to expect common sense predicates--like 'is conscious'--to have precise neurological, behavioral, or cognitive correlates).

The Tooth Fairy.

You've misunderstood my tooth fairy example. I used it to explain the difference between real and logical possibility. I don't recall saying that the belief in an afterlife and belief in the Toothfairy were directly analogous, only that both were more logical possibilities than real ones, because there is not a single fact that so much as suggests the existence of either. While there are many differences between the two cases, your justification for an after life depends upon inferring that an after life is plausible from the claim that it is possible. And that is a fallacy.

There is a lack of direct, reproducible, empirical evidence either for or against the proposition.

I made no such claim.
I argued--accepting your more polished formulation--that everything we know about the way the world works contradicts the very idea of the Tooth Fairy. And I have been trying to say, everything we know about the way the conscious mind works contradicts--in a different way than the Tooth Fairy example--the idea of an unembodied consciousness. Your argument seems to have been "Well, we don't really know for certain, it's possible that..." Which possibility I accept, while arguing that it is not a plausible possibility.

And a lack of empirical evidence is most assuredly not equivalent to empirical evidence of a lack.

When there is no positive evidence for something, then the absence of evidence is indeed prima facie evidence of absence.

Positive claims bear a greater burden of evidence, than negative ones. Otherwise, I could simply assert countless absurdities--that fairies dance on the stars, that your hair has emotions you don't know about--and you would have no more evidence for denying them than than I do for asserting them, other than that you see no evidence whatsoever for it. And that is enough, that is itself a form of evidence, if I have nothing to back up what I say. To be sure, this does not mean you could never prove these--as your X-ray example, misleadingly implies--they are after all, still logically possible--only that you'd need evidence.

Mutatis mutandis, simply asserting the existence of X-Rays before there was any evidence for them doesn't make any sense at all. One had no reason to accept their existence until shown evidence. Moreover, such evidence typically plays a strong role in defining how we understand what-it-is that we've discovered: in the case of x-rays, the properties they exhibit when tested are part of our definition of what they are. Until such evidence could be produced, one would have had no reason to believe there were x-rays, nor is it even likely that one could have a clear understanding of what one was asserting.

We know how DNA works, static electricity, microwaves cook, and synapses fire, yet for some reason all explanation of the existance after death, defies all measure or scientific observation. What is the best explanation of that discrepancy?

The best explanation is whatever the truth is.

The best answer to the question of whether consciousness may persist after death depends on how you constrain the notion of consciousness.

The best way to express your beliefs is to start with "I believe...", and the best way to express your ignorance is to say "I don't know."

The best way I can think of at this moment to express why disdainful, cock-sure expressions of pseudoscientific rationalism that suggest an open mind are absurd is to ask:

How long have we known about dark matter?

Oh yeah, and:

How does it work?

This sure is a very encumbered idea of "consciousness" you're carrying around. Immortal lifeforms...ethereal plane...whew! Take a load off. Drop your assumptions & stay a while.

sure, now that you have made clear some of the things you are not talking about, mind letting us know what you are talking about?

My understanding was that this was a discussion of the belief by some that "life" after "death" is considered to be part of reality and conducted under the power of some "energy".

My encumbered idea is only the product of some boredom and a desire to indeed point to the contrived nature of most descriptions of the superstitious ideas of human existance.

The cut and dry version is that your "life" is pretty much any recognizable semblance of you, your thoughts, and memories existing and continuing to function together.

"Death" is the end of all biological functions in ones body.

And "energy" is something that enables one to exist after two.

Hmm...that last "best way" comment didn't quite come out right...but you get the point.

How long have we known about dark matter?

Oh yeah, and:

How does it work?

See, dark matter is a theory, a theory to explain observed phenomenon. From that theory, hypothesis are made and tested.

The afterlife is a theory, a theory to explain something we want to be true, but have not observed. From the theory that existence continues after the cessation of bodily functions I know of no hypothesis that has been tested, no expected phenomenon that has been observed in any controlled situation.

Do you?

The best explanation is whatever the truth is.

Indeed and that is likely the simplest explanation for the reality we observe.

The best answer to the question of whether consciousness may persist after death depends on how you constrain the notion of consciousness.

Is this where it didn't come out right?

As with the term god, if you accept vague definitions that really aren't definitions at all, then yes anything is possible.

But for someone intent on clarifying the definition of mind and brain for the sake of clarity of an argument, it seems contradictory to want to un-define something for the same reason.

oh my goodness. well. hmm. i s'pose we'll all find out in the end! goes to show the power of the question, tho. i wonder, if we will continue this conversation in another um, realm, dimension, area of parameters unknown.. heaven? i have no idea. not to be redundant, but that's the part of this that i love. no consensus can be reached on this by living mortals. is there an immortal aspect to us? why would we be so moved to even address that question? why do people invent the idea of an afterlife? is it ego? the idea that we are important? that our existence has meaning? perhaps beyond the duration of our physical manifestation? I DON'T KNOW!!! but you're all a very eloquent and insightful bunch, and i'm glad to meet you in this peculiar moment and space.

oh, btw, call your senator and tell them to vote against the fisa bill. um, and if you go to barackobama.com, sign up and join the "Senator Obama - Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity - Get FISA Right" group, that would be good too. i'm too lazy to make the links here, but i'll change my profile link to an alternet article that provides links and info. cheers. Norm, do you think you could post something on this? just a thought.

First of all, let me say to both of you (RedSeven and Adam) that I’m really enjoying this mental exercise.

However, your description of a “real” possibility (a function of weighting the variables in the light of actual evidence and on their own merits) begs a cautionary note about allowing cognitive biases to affect the evaluation of said “merits”.
So long as the facts appealed to are not controversial, I don't see how the question could be begged.

No, not begging the question, begging caution when evaluating the merits of variables, since this can be a very subjective process.

The force of appealing to a distinction between "real" and "logical" possibility was to show that the latter does not by itself lead to plausibility, as it seemed to me you argued.

As I said, I appreciate the introduction of the concept to the conversation. It was a good direction to go.

Perhaps there is a conscious activity that is utterly unrelated to our neurological states. If you could show that, you would have a strong argument indeed. But as I cannot think of a single such instance, you'd have to tell me when that ever happens (while taking it for granted that 'only after death' would be question-begging).
My full argument is: given that consciousness is always observably linked to biological changes in the body, what more needs to be explained, at a general level rather than one of detail, about their connection? And how likely is it, given their close interconnection, that the one 'persists' without the other, since we know from common experience (sleep, drunkness, etc.) that the degree and quality of consciousness are directly related to the state of the body? (Kristen's argument).

Indeed, this is a pretty strong argument, and it’s good for paring away a lot of mere speculation. But one first must accept the “given” part. And since we are alive, it would probably be impossible to demonstrate that any aspect of our own consciousness is utterly unrelated to – or, more to the point, independent of - our neurological states. So that effectively cuts that off as a primary avenue of inquiry. However, if we could demonstrate a phenomenon external to ourselves that suggests a consciousness without a plausible biological source, then we could perhaps correlate this with something in our own experiences and thereby add circumstantial evidence to the mix. But without that we can rightly remain skeptical of the concept of unembodied consciousness, and therefore the persistence of consciousness after death.

Officially, since you ask, I take any behavior that both depends upon abstraction (defined as the capacity to re-identify particulars over time as instances of general catagories) to be mentalistic or 'cognitive'.

There’s a “both” in there without a second condition. Just wondering what the other one was….

Does brain imply consciousness?
Hmmm. I don't know. But I doubt it, unless you think that snails and slugs, which have brains, are also 'conscious' in the same sense we are. But that is why I don't like the term, and suggesting rejecting it.

And substitute cognition? I’m game.

I don't recall saying that the belief in an afterlife and belief in the Toothfairy were directly analogous, only that both were more logical possibilities than real ones, because there is not a single fact that so much as suggests the existence of either.

I agree, there’s no single, consistently reproducible fact in the body of agreed-upon facts that suggests such a thing. There is indirect, circumstantial, and anecdotal evidence, and the people with anecdotes can claim direct experience or observation, but nothing in the public domain really pins the concept down for better observation. Kind of like a Higgs boson.

While there are many differences between the two cases, your justification for an after life depends upon inferring that an after life is plausible from the claim that it is possible. And that is a fallacy.

To be clear, I’m not trying to justify the premise of an afterlife. I’m just advocating forestalling the preclusion of the concept on shaky rational grounds. Demanding more “put up” in exchange for my lack of “shut up”, if you will. It’s not mere argumentativeness for its own sake, however. I do try to maintain sound rational footing.

When there is no positive evidence for something, then the absence of evidence is indeed prima facie evidence of absence.

Again, I must present the X-ray example. And dark matter. (Whether or not “dark matter” is, in fact, matter, is irrelevant. It’s a term we use for a persistent phenomenon unknown until recently.) I could as easily cite a host of other discoveries throughout the ages. Are you arguing that the lack of positive evidence for these things prior to their discovery was evidence of their absence? That the real possibility of the existence of these things depends on our perceptions? (Mutatis mutandis?) I can accept that on a model-formulating basis, but that’s difficult to swallow with respect to reality itself. These things are most probably inevitable, given other conditions of the universe, regardless of our awareness – although there are some ramifications to aspects of quantum theory that seem to cast doubt on that assertion (i.e. that the universe really doesn’t exist when nobody’s looking). But such possibilities, in and of themselves, tend to pose new questions about the nature of consciousness rather than settling old ones.

Positive claims bear a greater burden of evidence, than negative ones.

Agreed.

Mutatis mutandis, simply asserting the existence of X-Rays before there was any evidence for them doesn't make any sense at all. One had no reason to accept their existence until shown evidence. Moreover, such evidence typically plays a strong role in defining how we understand what-it-is that we've discovered: in the case of x-rays, the properties they exhibit when tested are part of our definition of what they are. Until such evidence could be produced, one would have had no reason to believe there were x-rays, nor is it even likely that one could have a clear understanding of what one was asserting.

I take it you don’t go in for string theory, either.

To be sure, science is a powerful methodology for ruling out impossibilities, and by cleaving to the simplest possible explanations that fit the available facts, we prevent the wholesale embrace of possibilities for which we have no evidence. But that doesn’t mean that the simplest explanation is the correct one, just that we take on as few assumptions as possible in pursuit of the correct one.

My overall point – and I’ve seen in the course of this conversation that you agree with it in principle – is that we’d be wise not to utterly rule out possibilities, no matter how absurd they may seem. Otherwise, when events change and new evidence becomes available, we may spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to rationalize it with our current model, even though the simplest possible explanation is to incorporate something new. Mars’ epicycles come to mind.

For the record, I do understand the point that you and RedSeven are making. Why believe something for which there is no evidence? I'm in full agreement.(If you read carefully you'll see that I've never posited an afterlife of any sort.) But at the same time, exploration of possibilities beyond the parameters of accepted reality is the creative drive of the scientific process.

We don’t have to believe in something to explore the possibility of it.

For whatever it's worth, and realizing that this will probably weaken my credibility in many people's eyes, the possibility that consciousness is not, or leastwise not necessarily, inextricably bound to biology remains intriguing to me despite my grounding in the physical sciences and critical thinking, not because of some craven, fear-based, irrational need to preserve my personality or ego for all eternity (I rather suspect this idea is pure vanity), but because of experiences I've had, including shared ones, that frankly force me onto some peculiar logical terrain where, if the biological model is correct, I must conclude that I am not (or at least was not) sane on more than one occasion.

And pardon me for saying so, but while I'm comfortable with that notion, I think I'm pretty darned lucid.

"And that's all I have to say about that."

For whatever it's worth, and realizing that this will probably weaken my credibility in many people's eyes, the possibility that consciousness is not, or leastwise not necessarily, inextricably bound to biology remains intriguing to me despite my grounding in the physical sciences and critical thinking

sigh. i've seen (and participated in) a lot of these discussions in my time here at ol' 1gm and this is a good one, don't get me wrong. but it makes me a little sad that someone would feel the need to qualify such a statement by saying "this will probably weaken my credibility in many peoples eyes." i mean, how many reasons do we need to hate each other? the "sin" being referred to is, essentially, entertaining a notion YOU have already closed the book on. i realize "hate" is an exaggeration, but that's where it's headed if you can disrespect someone for entertaining a notion. i realize there is a limit- some notions are so retarded, or dangerous, that catching your girlfriend entertaining one is grounds for divorce :)- but life after death, or the continuation of conciousness or whatever you want to call it hardly falls into that category.

i don't think the qualifier was necessary in this case, as everyone here so far seems both reasonable and non-hostile- and believe me, newcomers, it has not always been thus- but i understand that need to qualify and it depresses me, a little.

but, here's where my observation of the current high level of reasonableness and low level of hostility stands or falls.i'd like to make a point i've wanted to make here for a long time- run it past y'all. ahem.

the idea that there is some great Intelligence behind the workings of the universe may very well be a bunch of horseshit. but almost all the great scientific discoveries until 100 years ago- 200 max, and a high percentage since then- were made by men (and tragically few women) who believed just that. so, the idea i want to run past you is, isn't the assumption a priori of a unified intelligence behind everything a good thing for a scientist on the cutting edge? ahem. that is, isn't the ultimate, most basic, most EFFECTIVE starting point for, say, the theoretical physicist "what would i do if i were god?"

(by the way, i realize the evidence i brought to support my theory about great scientists operating from a what-if-i-were-god position is "appealing to authority" and probably 3 other fallacies, besides being a lone example. i thought about not mentioning it at all but...

see how this place makes you crazy?)

isn't the assumption a priori of a unified intelligence behind everything a good thing for a scientist on the cutting edge?

If it isn't true, then no, such a belief would only move to other false assumptions. The majority of scientists have likely had a slew of irrational beliefs in common, that doesn't make them a good thing. And religion is also a believe likely held by some of the dumbest people in history, so which correlation is most important to the value of religious belief

most EFFECTIVE starting point for, say, the theoretical physicist "what would i do if i were god?"

It's a great mental exercise that doesn't require a belief. If I were god, I would probably give the earth a second moon and make the two of them look like a giant set of tits, just to have a great joke on everyone. So its a mental exercise that may tell us more about human thinking then the nature of the universe.

It's a great mental exercise that doesn't require a belief.

well, that's exactly what i was saying. but if you're saying (as i gather from the humor that follows)you think it's greatness as a mental exercise is limited to the potential for amusement (a possibility i am, to my delight, also completely aware of, thank you) than i'd have to respectfully disagree.

re: said humor- if you're going for the amusement factor, imagination being the only limitation, wouldn't it be better to have an ACTUAL pair of giant tits crossing the sky every night? and while we're at it...

but: i would still say the scientist who operates a priori from "the great Intelligence behind everything is looking to, or at least is not above playing a joke on everyone" is STILL in a better position, in terms of results, than one who assumes there is no such intelligence. and, again, it makes no difference whether it's true or not.

But at the same time, exploration of possibilities beyond the parameters of accepted reality is the creative drive of the scientific process.

Yes, but the lack of evidence when studied does not lead a scientist to continue with a theory. We don't bleed anyone anymore because the evidence pointed away from "evil blood".

Many scientific studies have been done about the physicality of spirituality (not an oxymoron, i promise) and there has been no credible evidence of such a thing. Out of body experiences or prayer, etc., have all come out negative or inconclusive.

I utterly reject the idea that people disbelieve in the Tooth Fairy because it’s ridiculous on its face, and not because we have a better explanation. If children’s teeth were mysteriously being swapped out for coins, and nobody knew how it was happening, I daresay the Tooth Fairy proposition would start getting a lot more scrutiny.

Right. And if prayers were being answered and encouters with disembodied consciousnesses were occuring, then this "tooth fairy" proposition should be getting a lot more scrutiny and scientific study.

Now, I think you are arguing that there is a separate, unmeasurable, parallel plane of consciousness that we have no way of observing or measuring. And as it's been said before, that YES, such a logical possiblity does exist, the real possiblity has as much bearing as a tooth fairy.

you think it's greatness as a mental exercise is limited to the potential for amusement

No, It has genuine potential, that is limited by the prejudices of the individual.

to have an ACTUAL pair of giant tits crossing the sky every night?

Please, think of the children.

[I]t makes me a little sad that someone would feel the need to qualify such a statement by saying "this will probably weaken my credibility in many peoples eyes."

It wasn't a qualification per se, but an acknowledgement of a common phenomenon. The atmosphere of aggressive skepticism we enjoy here results largely from people actively rejecting the elsewhere-common habit of predicating layers of assumptions upon each other in a misguided effort to elevate untenable ideas to a semblance of respectability.

But what often goes unrecognized and unadmitted is that reactionary rationalists such as this sometimes (due, I daresay, to some unchecked emotionalism on their part) overshoot their mark and proceed to seek out and strike down ideas for which there is no countermanding evidence. They seem prone to going beyond the scientifically responsible attitude of neutrality in these cases. It is rationally acceptable to strike down the belief in those ideas (as TMEC put it, "the lack of evidence when studied does not lead a scientist to continue with a theory"), but not to zealously exterminate the ideas themselves.

The rationalist's common sin is his intolerance of ideas that cannot be logically falsified. While such ideas may have no intrinsic rational or scientific merit, all that really means is that they are useless at the moment as units in a conceptual model of the universe. But it's an intellectually poor man who utterly rejects or wantonly disregards all that is of no immediate, direct, measurable, practical use to him. Such a person needlessly trammels his own creative faculties; he effectively sizes up vast tracts of potentially fertile intellectual ground and proceeds to cast a whopper of a blanket assumption over them: namely, that rationalism itself is the only intellectual pursuit with a positive value, and that all else should therefore be suppressed.

I realize that practically nobody exhibits that degree of extremism, but many modern rationalists are biased in that direction. Witness the fact that I have not even once asserted a belief that consciousness persists after death, but only addressed the arguments for and against it on their own terms - and yet the people arguing against the idea that have responded to me have all assumed otherwise at one point or another. Although it would be impossible to extrapolate anything broadly with any confidence based on a data pool of 3, when one evaluates the merits of these people's otherwise solidly demonstrated capacity for rational thought, the unanimous, independent misconstruing of my position certainly seems to suggest the possibility that bias has played a role.

But it's an intellectually poor man who utterly rejects or wantonly disregards all that is of no immediate, direct, measurable, practical use to him. Such a person needlessly trammels his own creative faculties; he effectively sizes up vast tracts of potentially fertile intellectual ground and proceeds to cast a whopper of a blanket assumption over them: namely, that rationalism itself is the only intellectual pursuit with a positive value, and that all else should therefore be suppressed.

Please – who is overstepping here? These analogies,

We can reasonably suppose that X-rays and microbes existed long before anybody was aware of them. Those who disbelieved in their existence (or the possibility of the existence of such things) were quite clearly wrong.
How long have we known about dark matter?...How does it work?

are historically inappropriate. First of all, I think it is telling that the people who discovered X-rays and microbes and who have more recently postulated the existence of dark matter are just the sort of people you have caricatured in the first-quoted paragraph. It was their rationalist approach that led to their discovery and to their investigations. It is also instructive to contrast the historical evolution of these ideas (the first two of which we now consider to be so well established as to regard them as “facts” for all practical purposes) with historical evolution of mind-body dualism. X-rays, microbes and dark matter ideas arose because rationalists (or people following the rationalists’ approach) saw that their observations were new or were not accounted for by the then-current theories. Not so with the idea that “consciousness” might exist apart from physical bodies. The idea is old, and as far as I can tell, it is an idea that has no more support for it now than it did a thousand years ago – even if we accept “indirect, circumstantial, and anecdotal evidence” as valid, it is still the only kind of support the idea has. On the other hand, the idea that thought, awareness, and feelings are associated with chemical and physical events that occur in our brains is one that has acquired new evidence in its favor at a rapid clip.
Perhaps it would be useful to further specify what “consciousness” means - is it just cognition? Is the slate otherwise wiped clean? If consciousness after death doesn’t also retain memories – without which one can no longer distinguish one person’s consciousness from another’s – what is the point? Would anyone care if their consciousness survives if it survives stripped of the knowledge of who they are/were? Why does the idea consciousness after death persist? If we weren’t personally (or religiously) involved with the idea, would it persist? If I posited that the consciousness of gazelles persists after they are eaten by lions, but not after being eaten by hyenas – would rationalists’ disregard for my view be “wanton”? (I’m flexible on the lions and hyenas – it could be the other way around, or both.) Let’s put aside the modifiers “utterly”, “wantonly”, and “immediate” –mind-body dualism has been given plenty of rope and plenty of time and has nothing new or convincing to show for itself.

First of all, I think it is telling that the people who discovered X-rays and microbes and who have more recently postulated the existence of dark matter are just the sort of people you have caricatured in the first-quoted paragraph.

Let's not muddy the waters by playing mix & match with my arguments.

I brought up the appropriate scientific attitude toward ideas that cannot be falsified to spotlight the notion that there are valid and valuable intellectual pursuits that take place outside the bounds of rationalism. While rationalism may adapt to and incorporate new ideas, it is generally not a reliable source of them, nor is it the only source.

On the other hand, I discussed X-rays, microbes, and dark matter as examples of real phenomena that were discovered accidentally in order to illustrate that, while ideas without supporting empirical evidence do not, as you pointed out, warrant sustained scientific inquiry, they may nevertheless turn out to have merit. Whether each idea in these three cases antedated the evidence of the phenomenon, either as a theory or purely as a piece of fanciful speculation, or in fact had never been conceptualized at all prior to the phenomenon’s discovery, is immaterial to my point, since we should be able to agree that the signatory characteristics of each are, in fact, easier to imagine than to explain. There’s no reason to assume that direct evidence was necessary before one could imagine any of the following concepts:

  • invisible energy passing through solid objects,
  • tiny creatures smaller than the unaided eye can see
  • a substance pervading the spaces between material objects that nevertheless interacts with them on a far more limited basis than ordinary materials do

To forestall the notion that the third concept (arguably the most difficult of the three) didn’t exist before evidence of dark matter was discovered, I’ll point you here.

The point is that a priori rejection of ideas, on the basis that they have no immediate use (i.e. they do not fit within the accepted model), amounts to imposing an unnecessary restriction on one’s thought processes, which can inhibit one’s ability to consider all reasonable explanations for observed phenomena. (See my earlier reference to epicycles. Read up on them, and Aristarchus.)

Now, if you want to discuss the biographies of the individuals who contributed to these discoveries, you are welcome to do so - but then please provide salient facts to support your claims, too. And understand as well that even if you are able to show that these people are or were the paragons of rational thought you purport them to be, this does not bear meaningfully on the points I have made. These people discovered anomalies while engaging in methodical investigations. This type of endeavor is qualitatively different from the mental act of casting about outside the pool of accepted facts in order to develop new models to explain such novel phenomena as they discovered. The former is a matter of playing by the rules, while the latter amounts to formulating new ones. If formulating new rules were a purely rationalistic procedure, one should be able to produce a reliable algorithm for doing so. But because it necessarily requires thinking outside the bounds of established models, a viable algorithm cannot be developed. Thus, the continued development of a cohesive scientific model at times depends upon an element of non-rational, intuitive creativity.

If consciousness after death doesn’t also retain memories – without which one can no longer distinguish one person’s consciousness from another’s – what is the point? Would anyone care if their consciousness survives if it survives stripped of the knowledge of who they are/were?

The point is to know how things are, of course. Would anyone care? Of course they would!

Why does the idea consciousness after death persist? If we weren’t personally (or religiously) involved with the idea, would it persist?

Primarily because it is taught. But I submit that even if the idea could be eradicated from the minds of all living people, and all direct cultural references to it annihilated, it would quickly reassert itself, although how quickly it would become institutionalized again is questionable. But aside from being handed the idea by others, people do occasionally have experiences that seem to suggest and support the idea. Given that this amounts to empirical evidence for the individual involved in such an experience, is it inappropriate for that person to be personally involved with the idea?

If I posited that the consciousness of gazelles persists after they are eaten by lions, but not after being eaten by hyenas – would rationalists’ disregard for my view be “wanton”?

In adhering steadfastly to the tactic of attacking the idea of (not the belief in) consciousness/cognition after death, you have entirely missed my point about the utter rejection and wanton disregard of ideas. I did not talk about this behavior with respect to individual ideas, but rather with respect to the entire body of ideas that have no immediate use to a person. And the point wasn’t about the ideas themselves, but about the person who enshrines his rationalism and truncates his other intellectual faculties in this manner. I’d have to say you’re pretty much making my point for me. Wearing a rationalist’s cap 24 / 7 / 365.24 is, in its own way, as silly as bygone Mormons wearing holy underwear. That’s not to say it’s “wrong” – just very silly.

Perspicio. I'm having fun too, and I respect that you are, as you say, striving for 'sound rational footing' (just as I am). But let me begin by rejecting a tacit assumption you've made, and spell out why. To anticipate, everything hangs for me on all your examples of things which we didn't know to be true, but which turned out to be so, and on how to assess the significance of that kind of ignorance. So you say:

The best explanation is whatever the truth is.

This is correct: truth is mind-independent, at least in a rough, unphilosophical sense. But it seems to me crucial that our mode of access to how-things-are, 'the truth', crucially depends upon evidence that they are so. Evidence does not change in the least--not usually anyway--how things are; what it changes is our entitlement (or 'rational warrant) to beliefs about how things are.

What you keep insisting on is that ideas about things that turned out to be true--like X-rays--could have wrongly been rejected or dismissed before they were discovered. I assume that by this you intend to highlight our ignorance about the world by emphasizing how things that turned out to be true once seemed implausible. But I don't see how that emphasis on ignorance helps with your argument one bit: there are literally countless notions which have been proposed that have not been thus vindicated -- phlogiston, aether, witches, etc. And indeed, in the majority of cases, where there is neither evidence nor reason to believe something, it's usually false. The difference between the x-ray case and phlogiston is that the reason we know that x-rays are real, the reason we are entitled to belief in them, is because we found evidence that led us reasonably to conclude that they were. So it is literally true to say: one was not entitled, did not have rational warrant, to believe in x-rays before one had evidence to so believe, because, even though they turned out to be real, without evidence it would have simply been an accident, a contingency, that that belief actually turned out to be true. It would be an accident because one had no reason for holding that belief, it just contingently turned out that something you wanted or held to be true turned out to be. Our only non-accidental access to the truth is reason-giving and evidence because they supply a justification for believing things to be thus-and-so, a reason why we think that.

So your appeals to string theory, dark matter, x-rays, and whatever are beside the point. How do you distinguish between those things about which we don't know or may not believe in (but which turn out to be true, e.g., x-rays) and those things which we don't believe (and, in fact, ought not, e.g., witches)? My answer to that question is: evidence. That is the only standard.

At which point you make two further points: (1.) the standards of evidence I have proposed you find slanted and biased. (2.) we still don't really know for certain, and so keeping the possibility of an afterlife open is consistent with rational warrant. On the first point, you say:

And since we are alive, it would probably be impossible to demonstrate that any aspect of our own consciousness is utterly unrelated to – or, more to the point, independent of - our neurological states. So that effectively cuts that off as a primary avenue of inquiry.

Good, exactly, but I could just re-frame my question: why do we need to 'go beyond' the avenues of inquiry available to us? That seems to me tantamount to saying that the world we live in is not one that could provide evidence for the claim you endorse. Therefore, if you accept, as you say, that...

there’s no single, consistently reproducible fact in the body of agreed-upon facts that suggests such a thing [consciousess].

...then it seems to me you must either concede the argument or explain to me why the bare possibility that consciousness persists after death is enough to make it plausible or believable--consistent with rational warrant. Along these lines, you remark that you are

Demanding more “put up” in exchange for my lack of “shut up”,

Which is fine by me, so long as this is consistent with your acceptance of the idea that positive claims bear a heavier burden of evidence. So, moving on to point (2.) above, you say:

To be clear, I’m not trying to justify the premise of an afterlife.I’m just advocating forestalling the preclusion of the concept on shaky rational grounds.

See my point above about the relationship between evidence and truth. I don't see how we can be expected or for that matter at all entitled to keep open possibilities for which we have no reason or evidence to believe actual. This does not mean that we should be blind to evidence--should it ever present itself--only that positive believe in such a possibility does not have rational warrant prior to and in advance of such evidence.

Spelling out the plausibility line, you also say:

There is indirect, circumstantial, and anecdotal evidence, and the people with anecdotes can claim direct experience or observation, but nothing in the public domain really pins the concept down for better observation.

I'm unfamiliar with this anecdotal evidence, unless you mean so-called 'out-of-body experiences (which also, incidentally, are correlated with highly specified forms of neural activity, so those don't count either). But more generally: people with hallucinations of things that aren't really there claim "direct experience" of them. So that's hardly a criterion of evidence by itself, especially if you reject "consistency," "reproducibility," and "publicity" as standards in some cases. In addition, your argument could also be used to justify the existence of witch, ghosts, alien visitors, and all many of things of which people have claimed "direct experience", but I am, for generosity sake, that you don't believe in ghosts or witches.

Would anyone care if their consciousness survives if it survives stripped of the knowledge of who they are/were? Why does the idea consciousness after death persist? If we weren’t personally (or religiously) involved with the idea, would it persist? If I posited that the consciousness of gazelles persists after they are eaten by lions, but not after being eaten by hyenas – would rationalists’ disregard for my view be “wanton”? (I’m flexible on the lions and hyenas – it could be the other way around, or both.)

Tim, I think you are plainly nuts to be so neutral on the lion and hyenas question: surely, lions tear out the soul in a way that makes its continued immaterial existence impossible. Hyenas are more gentle.

More importantly, there is some really interesting evidence that we are 'hard-wired' to attribute intentions and mental states to some things. Drawing on this insight, some psychologists and anthropologists have been studying how this might inform how we interpret events and ascribe non-material causes to them: god, spirits, the dead, etc. See here for a fascinating look at some of this research.

The confusion is here:

I'm not advocating a belief. In fact, I'm advocating a rejection of warrantless belief. So we're really on the same page thus far.

But I'm also advocating neutrality (effectively abstinence) toward, rather than rejection of, ideas that cannot be falsified. We may reject them as hypotheses since they fail the basic litmus test (falsifiability), and we may therefore reject them as suitable subjects of scientific inquiry as well. But allowing ourselves to reject the ideas themselves, while immaterial to the truth, is an erroneous behavior, a cognitive misstep, and it can and sometimes does inhibit our ability to formulate suitable explanations for anomalous phenomena we may observe.

Epicycles, epicycles, epicycles. Aristarchus had it right, but his ideas were rejected because they didn't fit the accepted doctrine of the day. The doctrine of this day is that all ideas in which we are unentitled to belief must be rejected. This is false. We must reject the belief, not the idea.

To employ rational thought correctly, we have to understand and respect its limits. To employ scientific methodology, we must accept that the fact that nothing is ever proven, only disproven, and this carries with it the inescapable implication that there are intellectual limits to the method's efficacy. It's scientifically improper to utterly reject an idea because it has no scientific value. This notion sometimes offends or annoys scientists and rationalists, because they don't accept or haven't considered the intellectual limits of their disciplines. And then they run the risk of letting their emotional involvement distort their perceptions and misguide their behaviors.

I agree that it is annoying to have to smack down the same beliefs again and again. I sometimes wish we could get rid of certain ideas, just so we could stop having to contend with the mindless belief in them. But it just doesn't work that way. There's no scientific rationale for rejecting an unfalsifiable idea, only the belief in it.

My own experiences have provided extremely strong demonstrations of the fact that unquestioned assumptions are often unnoticed or forgotten assumptions, and they can become formidable obstacles to rational thought and scientific inquiry. So I have focused on the fact that rejecting ideas, or classes of ideas, as opposed to unwarranted belief in ideas, typically results from the acceptance of an incorrect, and often unnoticed, assumption about the propriety of doing so. As such, it represents a cognitive error. It may not lead to wrong conclusions, but it can prevent arriving at correct ones.

awesome. this SO beats obamanalysis (tm) for me. and adam coming in with the deadpan humor. what a great exchange. i hope the fact that you guys must have a lot of free time on your hands is at least as much fun for you as it is for me. :)

But I'm also advocating neutrality (effectively abstinence) toward, rather than rejection of, ideas that cannot be falsified. We may reject them as hypotheses since they fail the basic litmus test (falsifiability), and we may therefore reject them as suitable subjects of scientific inquiry as well. But allowing ourselves to reject the ideas themselves, while immaterial to the truth, is an erroneous behavior,

But here is the question: Which source of error is the more likely one in this case:

(1) rejection of the belief of disembodied consciousness (as you've described),

or

(2) acceptance of the same belief because one wants to believe it?

That, of course, was my point when I referred to amnesiac consciousness. I agree that even if we could wipe the idea of "life-after-death" out of the minds of people today, it would reassert itself tomorrow. But you and I both know why - because people don't want to die - many of us get over the fear of it - it's the nonexistence that's the bitch of it.

This is why your examples are inappropriate - while the discoveries you've given may have existed in the minds of their discoverers as their scientific "brain children" and while their egos may have become wrapped up in the ideas, the rest of us could be much more dispassionate about them. Disembodied consciousness is an idea that doesn't get much neutrality, and it is not dogmatic rejection of the idea that constitutes the serious problem on this - surely you know that.

i hope the fact that you guys must have a lot of free time on your hands is at least as much fun for you as it is for me.

It's definitely fun, but I'd rather have a job. Anyone need an inexperienced engineer? It doesn't necessarily have to be for something engineering-related, but it has to be ethically sound and pay the bills. Have brain, will travel.

Which source of error is the more likely one in this case: (1) rejection of the belief of disembodied consciousness (as you've described), or (2) acceptance of the same belief because one wants to believe it?

Well, (1) is not a source of error at all if there's no direct evidence against which to test the belief as a hypothesis.

The distinction between an idea, and a belief in an idea, is at the crux of my argument. The former is simply a concept. The latter is a concept with an assigned judgment value.

The rational basis for assigning such a value either for or against an idea is the measurability of its utility as an explanation for something. If an idea does not help explain a known phenomenon, we are obliged not to assign a positive judgment value to it. Likewise, if it is not antithetical to something we can observe, we are obliged not to assign a negative judgment value to it.

The idea that consciousness persists after death is such an idea. It neither helps explain, nor contradicts, any known phenomenon in the body of accepted fact. The proper scientific judgment value toward it is therefore null. The degree, if any, to which we deviate from this stance is a measure of our own bias. Anti-belief is a class of belief.

If you wish to argue that the idea of consciousness persisting after death is in conflict with a specific theory of consciousness, feel free. That would be an interesting pursuit. But prior to demonstrating the mutual incompatibility of the ideas, you would have to demonstrate that that theory meets the same criteria for serious consideration that you demand of persistent consciousness - first and foremost, falsifiability.

Yeah, yeah - I should have said ...idea of disembodied...

  • your point was clear, I was imprecise in recapitulating it. I think you're quibbling on mine. Would it satisfy you to say that I assign a priority to the idea, a very low priority to the idea? Scientific judgments involve more just evaluating the worthiness of ideas on the basis of how well they explain phenomena, but on how likely they are to yield new, interesting things in the pursuit, among other things. So, while the idea of disembodied consciousness is not quite as unworthy of one's time as, say, astrology (since the latter make predictions that prove untrue), it is only the smallest of steps above it. Considering all the time that people have devoted to it, and considering that nothing qualitatively new or interesting as come of it in a long time - the absolutely best treatment it deserves is Macawber's: wait until something turn's up, in the meantime do something interesting and/or useful.

Anyone need an inexperienced engineer? It doesn't necessarily have to be for something engineering-related, but it has to be ethically sound and pay the bills. Have brain, will travel.

best of luck to you, perspicio. maybe you should try something like this:

http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/an-ex-bankers-unusual-job-pitch/.

this guy is an old and dear friend of mine. his ex-wife, who is best friends with my girlfriend, and basically all the womenfolk from his bad old days in jerusalem, are clucking away with disapproval (sorry, JoAnn) but i've got a bet with them he gets hired before he has to move to oklahoma. so if you own a good suit, and a fearless attitude...he hasn't patented the idea, you know what i'm sayin'. :)

Would it satisfy you to say that I assign a priority to the idea, a very low priority to the idea?

As I see it, the idea of consciousness after death has no value at all within the accepted body of scientific knowledge. If it cannot explain any phenomena and cannot be tested on its own merits, I'd argue that it's not at all likely to add new, interesting things to the scientific dialogue. It therefore demands no assignation of priority. That doesn't mean it can't be an interesting idea to explore outside the bounds of science, however. If you choose to assign it a priority, high or low, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It's just an activity that takes place outside of scientific pursuit.

Considering all the time that people have devoted to it, and considering that nothing qualitatively new or interesting as come of it in a long time - the absolutely best treatment it deserves is Macawber's: wait until something turn's up, in the meantime do something interesting and/or useful.

True that.

For my part, the specific idea of consciousness after death is not nearly as interesting as examining the general nature of consciousness (including cognition, sentience and sapience). That's something we can do, since we know that these are real - albeit perhaps poorly defined - phenomena.

Scientific inquiry into consciousness is interesting and often yields fascinating results, many of which have been brought up by people other than myself during this conversation. But it tends to be constrained by what we can observe about neurobiological conditions.

By contrast, I have personally enjoyed examining the nature of consciousness through careful self-observation. One of the best opportunities to do so, because of the lack of external distractions, is in the lucid dreaming state. While inadmissible into the body of accepted scientific knowledge, it can nevertheless be highly engaging and instructive to the individual. In fact, my experiments in this area have been instrumental in elucidating the high incidence of unconscious, and therefore unquestioned, assumptions we (well, I - but realistically, we) tend to bring into situations, and how these assumptions may bear directly upon perception and the ability to perceive.

This is why I have assigned a high personal priority to discerning precisely what mental processes I engage in as a matter of habit. Right thinking, because it wastes no energy wrestling with false concepts (either adopted or auto-generated), can be amazingly efficient and effective.

Consider, for example, the mathematical feats of so-called "savants", compared to the mental mire we "normal" people often find ourselves slogging through. These people did not "learn" their mental abilities; they apparently just lack impediments most of us have.

In light of this, and for other reasons, it is well worth my time to engage in rigorous mental exercises, particularly when they've been proven effective in raising my personal unconscious assumptions to the threshold of consciousness, whereby I may dismiss them and think more clearly.

Awesome idea, JB. I tend to get my best jobs through informal or unconventional means, but I've recently begun applying a little more creative spark to how I go about it.

I recently sent a letter to Valcent, Inc. (check this out, by the way), which states that it is not seeking employees, in which I marketed myself as "a valuable energy transaction: a lucrative, low-risk investment with a strong potential for high returns."

No response yet.

regarding the glen kurtz thing on biofuel from algae that perspicio linked to above: there's a very deep israeli connection to the development of this technology i was just reading about last week, but i'm not even gonna go there. i'm starting to remind myself of chekov in the old star trek series, where he believes in all honesty that russians invented everything of any scientific importance, and the other characters just smile and wink at each other while he stands there in wide-eyed adorable innocence.

i can only hope i'm pissing SOMEBODY off.

regarding the glen kurtz thing on biofuel from algae that perspicio linked to above: there's a very deep israeli connection to the development of this technology i was just reading about last week

Soylent Biofuels are made out of people, its peeeeeeoooooppllee!

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