Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Atheist Forum Conversations 3

Here are excerpts from some of my conversations on a forum called Happy Atheist. It's really hard to edit a forum conversation to include all the relevant discussion without also including a lot of off topic banter. So there may be a line or two in reference to something not included. But I think I got the just of it here.



-SteveS-

Hi gang, I'm sure many of you have seen this little blurb before, but I wanted to share it with those of you who have not. It's an excerpt from Carl Sagan's book "The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark", and it's an illustration of skeptical thought and why disproving a claim is not required to reject the claim until proper evidence should be presented. I felt uncomfortable about reproducing the material here, so I found another site online that has the excerpt:

The Dragon In My Garage

I have a copy of the book, and I can honestly say that this is one of the most satisfying little blurbs I've ever read. I love it.

P.S.

The entire book is good, and I would recommend it. Just be aware that some sections, at least at the end, are very political. I personally don't agree with all of Carl Sagan's politics, but at least he has the good grace to warn you ahead of time that a particular section is "going political" (lol) and he points out that politics is not science, so his presentation is very palatable.

-Me (Scrybe)-

Is this contradictory?

"Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

Does not the word 'delusion' betray an attitude that is not open? And again, I want to know why atheists believe the only valid form of proof is physical. We humans have a huge spectrum of experiential collection and interpretation faculties. Why insist that many of these faculties must be delusional or foolish?

-Squid-

Not necessarily. Sagan was applying scientific rigor to the assessment. All conclusions are tentative in that they may be revised contingent upon future evidence. Were the evidence to completely overhaul our conclusion sometime later then the conclusion of it being a delusion would be revised. However, the conclusion is based upon the evidence available at the time.

As far as phsyical proof - simple - it's measurable, testable, we can create models from this data and make predictions and test them again and again if necessary. Our ability to test things which were formerly thought not testable have accumulated massively in the past couple of centuries.

What "experiential collection and interpretation faculties" do you think should be considered that cannot be measured or detected physically?

-Me (Scrybe)-

Squid wrote:

the conclusion is based upon the evidence available at the time.




I see. Thank you for clarifying that. And I agree that we need to make reasonable assessments about things in order to communicate and operate with any degree of efficiency. However, I think you are downplaying the power of (ostensibly) temporary assessments. For example, we both agree that the earth is roughly spherical in nature. We operate in our day to day lives with that assumption, never questioning it. We would probably be shocked if some new evidence were produced which proved it was actually flat. In fact, in order to even be heard, this evidence would have to be overwhelmingly powerful in order to even begin to go through any sort of peer-review process. Now suppose you have an assessment on a topic with much more nuance, requiring many more judgment calls and creative correlations. Suppose there is a truth in there, but you've dismissed it because it doesn't appeal to you. How much harder would that be to change you mind on the topic?

Squid wrote:


As far as phsyical proof - simple - it's measurable, testable, we can create models from this data and make predictions and test them again and again if necessary.



Philosophical questions can sometimes be shown to be tenable or untenable by holding certain conclusions to physical proof requirements. But most philosophical work does not reside in the realm of physical reality, and thus is not subject to such tests. You can not physically test whether or not humans have a purpose or a soul.

Squid wrote:

Our ability to test things which were formerly thought not testable have accumulated massively in the past couple of centuries.



Indeed. This makes me question a person who puts so much faith in our current generation of scientific facts. What new spectrum of reality will we be able to analyze next which may completely undercut our current understanding of reality?

Squid wrote:


What "experiential collection and interpretation faculties" do you think should be considered that cannot be measured or detected physically?




That's a great question. Honestly, one of the main reasons I'm here it to try to figure out a way to articulate what those… things… are. I think the difficulty lies in the intrinsic limitation of language. For example, I can't explain what beauty is. I can show you beauty, and you may or may not agree with my assessment. But I can't really lay it out in a scientific framework. I don't think that means that beauty does not exist, only that our methods of analysis and communication fail to adequately convey its essence. We can poke and prod at it with our blunt tools in an attempt to rationalize it and explain it scientifically, but in the process we lose what it is.

It's like love. We can measure chemical secretions and electrical impulses in the brain that accompany love. But it's quite myopic (with apologies to Penn) to declare that those secretions and impulses are love. As I'm sure you are aware, causation and correlation are two very different things.

So when dealing with matters that fall outside the boundaries of science, it seems a bit preposterous to try to use the tools, methods, and viewpoint of science to communicate about them. It seems to me (And please correct me if I'm wrong.) that atheists tend to want to stay within the confines of scientific communication and evaluation, deeming those things that fall outside of it as invalid, foolish, childish, or simply not worth their time. This seems to me to be the result of a philosophical disposition to subject to science things which it has no business ruling.

And to be clear, I'm not saying anything needs to be free from the rules of logic or reason, only the domain of scientific analysis; because it is intrinsically limited in what it can accomplish. As they say, when the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems appear to be nails.

-Squid-

Scrybe wrote:

I see. Thank you for clarifying that. And I agree that we need to make reasonable assessments about things in order to communicate and operate with any degree of efficiency. However, I think you are downplaying the power of (ostensibly) temporary assessments. For example, we both agree that the earth is roughly spherical in nature. We operate in our day to day lives with that assumption, never questioning it. We would probably be shocked if some new evidence were produced which proved it was actually flat. In fact, in order to even be heard, this evidence would have to be overwhelmingly powerful in order to even begin to go through any sort of peer-review process. Now suppose you have an assessment on a topic with much more nuance, requiring many more judgment calls and creative correlations. Suppose there is a truth in there, but you've dismissed it because it doesn't appeal to you. How much harder would that be to change you mind on the topic?



That would then depend on the person doing the assessment - what might not appeal to one person and thereby summarily dismissed may be entertained by another. For instance, with the question of say alien abductions. I don't think there are actual little green men floating around putting probes in people's colons but I still entertain the idea and am more than willing to consider evidence offered.

I often find myself when usually rummaging through the stacks of evolution vs. creationism vs. ID vs. whatever stuff I have occasionally just asking myself "am I wrong? Let's evaluate their evidence". However, my conclusion so far has been in favor of evolutionary theory. I know that may not be the perfect example but it was the first one I could think of.

Even people who do swear by empirical analysis will find themselves rejecting outright many things - most often because they are so completely outside the curve - Scientology for example. I don't think I've ever set down and thought...maybe Tom Cruise is and alien spirit in a human body. Also, most of us don't have the time, resources or want to take the time and consider every option there may be - so we use shortcuts and chop off the outliers. This is not just me, everyone does this - call it an aspect of human behavior if you will.

So ultimately it depends on the person and the item being analyzed.

Quote:

Philosophical questions can sometimes be shown to be tenable or untenable by holding certain conclusions to physical proof requirements. But most philosophical work does not reside in the realm of physical reality, and thus is not subject to such tests. You can not physically test whether or not humans have a purpose or a soul.



Philosophical questions are philosophical questions because of their nature of being outside the realm of the empirical - although, as you stated, sometimes offers sway over their conclusions. Thus, philosophy resorts to logic. Contemporary philosophers will often attempt a synthesis of philosophical logic and scientific application where they can especially philosophers of science - many are fond of mathematics (never understood that one). As for testing for a soul - that gets back to Sagan's point. If cannot be shown by any means such a thing exists but upon someone's say so then what's the difference between a soul or an intricate network of nuclei, chemicals and pathways interacting to produce what we call "us"?

Quote:

That's a great question. Honestly, one of the main reasons I'm here it to try to figure out a way to articulate what those… things… are. I think the difficulty lies in the intrinsic limitation of language. For example, I can't explain what beauty is. I can show you beauty, and you may or may not agree with my assessment. But I can't really lay it out in a scientific framework. I don't think that means that beauty does not exist, only that our methods of analysis and communication fail to adequately convey its essence. We can poke and prod at it with our blunt tools in an attempt to rationalize it and explain it scientifically, but in the process we lose what it is.

It's like love. We can measure chemical secretions and electrical impulses in the brain that accompany love. But it's quite myopic (with apologies to Penn) to declare that those secretions and impulses are love. As I'm sure you are aware, causation and correlation are two very different things.

So when dealing with matters that fall outside the boundaries of science, it seems a bit preposterous to try to use the tools, methods, and viewpoint of science to communicate about them. It seems to me (And please correct me if I'm wrong.) that atheists tend to want to stay within the confines of scientific communication and evaluation, deeming those things that fall outside of it as invalid, foolish, childish, or simply not worth their time. This seems to me to be the result of a philosophical disposition to subject to science things which it has no business ruling.

And to be clear, I'm not saying anything needs to be free from the rules of logic or reason, only the domain of scientific analysis; because it is intrinsically limited in what it can accomplish. As they say, when the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems appear to be nails.



Science is the closest thing we have to obtaining an objective, factual view of things. With logic and reason things are more fuzzy than something you can directly measure or quantify. You had mentioned love. Love is something of a vague term - ask several people and you'll get several different answers - why? Because they're subject assessments of the person experiencing that process. Neurochemically passionate love - the type most people think of when they refer to being "in love" is not much different than being addicted to cocaine. However, couple that dopaminergic reward system with psychological aspects such as idealizing an object of affection and so forth plus the obvious other physiological results like elevated blood pressure, heart rate and so forth - and you have a collection of items which we call "love".

When people talk about such concepts, you'll rarely have a quantifiable answer - "love is having butterflies in your stomach" or "love is feeling completely alive when you're with someone". We all know what those statements mean but as a reflection of physical reality they are meaningless and therefore we get nowhere with them. For purposes of critical analysis, they do us no good. It all depends on other factors that we can quanitify to make some kind of judgement - for instance having butterflies in your stomach (without knowing what this phrase means) - is it good? It doesn't sound good. However, when placed within the context of a person smiling and having a possible elevated tone of voice, particular body gestures - we could surmise that it is something good. Butterflies in the stomach could also mean nervousness or fear as well in another context, let us not forget that.

How would you describe the color red to a blind man? You can't really rely on telling him it's red (assuming that he's been blind his whole life) - you might resort to using descriptors like "vibrant" or "warm" which still do nothing to completely tell you what it is. What about quantifying it? This would assume the person understands the electromagnetic spectrum (you can always explain it to him. You can describe the color red as a particular wavelength within the spectrum of what we call "visible light". Within that particular framework it can have a more substantial meaning than being "vibrant".

My view is that you cannot completely separate something that is at the center of a critical analysis to make it meaningful within reality without some utilization of the empirical, the quantifiable - which I think only tends to make philosopher's arguments even stronger. And we again come back to Sagan's point - with us not having unlimited time, resources and want to ponder everything that is proposed to us - why should we consider everything, why should we take the time to analyze something that has very little or no support for it other than someone's say so?

Okay, I know I've rambled on and this became rather lengthy, so I'll just leave it at that before I turn this into some long winded treatise.

-Me (Scrybe)-

Squid wrote:

couple that dopaminergic reward system with psychological aspects such as idealizing an object of affection and so forth plus the obvious other physiological results like elevated blood pressure, heart rate and so forth - and you have a collection of items which we call "love".



Yes, and my point is that this is an inadequate expression of what love is. Inadequate precisely because it is limited to the physical, scientific lens of dissection. In that sense it is not honest because it does not communicate what our experience as humans are. A poem is better suited to the job. It will not get into the nitty gritty of dopamine levels, but that does not make it less true. Just as focusing only on the dopamine levels is not true. And that is the heart of the issue. We can not be completely objective when it comes to experiential matters. Not to the degree that we can compare quantifiable scientific data. I think our difference is in our expectations. You and Sagan expect any true thing to be quantifiable. I think it is clear that many aspects of our reality are not. They reside in the experiential and are simply invisible to the scientific lens.

The dragon analogy is dependent on a physically manifesting God who desires to be proven. But I'm not claiming that God is physically provable. I'm claiming that His interaction with humanity primarily takes place in the realm of experience. Arguments for or against His existence are not in the jurisdiction of science, and thus, juxtaposing them there is a straw man argument.

Since arguments for God exist within an experiential framework they must be dealt with in that arena. This is turf that seems to be summarily dismissed by materialists because of a preconception that physical material must be all that exists. Yet there is no possible way to prove such a claim. It is true that our experience could be completely comprised of physical phenomena. It seems equally plausible that it is not.

So as long as you have drawn your line in the sand and said that proof for God must occur within your own boundaries, then you are truly not open to further investigation. You can be, as Sagan puts it, "Open to future physical data." But the adjective betrays the closed attitude.

Squid wrote:


How would you describe the color red to a blind man?



This is my point. We are blind men. Our science can tell us certain things. It can not tell us all things.

Squid wrote:


My view is that you cannot completely separate something that is at the center of a critical analysis to make it meaningful within reality without some utilization of the empirical, the quantifiable - which I think only tends to make philosopher's arguments even stronger.



Good and evil, love and beauty, aesthetics, music, poetry, and most religion can not be tied to the physical. These are things that occur within the human experience and affect us in ways as big as the natural world does. They interface with the natural world, but can not be proven to be generated by it.

Squid wrote:


And we again come back to Sagan's point - with us not having unlimited time, resources and want to ponder everything that is proposed to us - why should we consider everything, why should we take the time to analyze something that has very little or no support for it other than someone's say so?



Couldn't the same argument be made for any physical, scientific inquiry? The simple process of elimination takes care of the vast majority of possibilities. Where do flies come from? Evil thoughts! No other physical things have been observed appearing from evil thoughts. Let's try something else. Rotting meat! Well, all other animals seem to be birthed from like animals, so let's set that aside and investigate further. There is no reason you can't apply the same reason to investigating the big questions of life.

If you were to work as hard at finding truth in the experiential realm as you do the physical, you would end up with only a handful of viable truth claims in a short period. Of course you can never know with complete certainty which candidate is correct. (Of course you can never know that you aren't a brain in a vat either.) But you can apply your logic and reason to make your best educated guess.

Squid wrote:


Okay, I know I've rambled on and this became rather lengthy, so I'll just leave it at that before I turn this into some long winded treatise.



Haha… don't apologize to me. Look how much wind I blow! Embarassed

-Squid-

Anyhow, back to the topic although instead of the go round we're going into I figured I'd come at this from a different point.

Scrybe, you say that outside of what science can quantify lay these "experiential" events. Now, my question would be, how are we to know these are a reality and not some anomaly of mind. For instance, a man tells me he has had a "vision", a wonderous vision which moved him and so on and so forth. How can anyone but this person possibly examine this man's claim? We just have to take it upon his word? What's to say it is actually some miraculous event and not simply the result of his temporal lobe epilepsy?



-Me (Scrybe)-

Squid wrote:


Scrybe, you say that outside of what science can quantify lay these "experiential" events. Now, my question would be, how are we to know these are a reality and not some anomaly of mind?



In the same way we can assess the reality of a physical phenomenon. Investigation. The difference in investigating an experiential claim and a physical claim must lie in the tools available to us. Though, as I said, sometimes these claims interface with the physical world in a way that allows us to utilize our scientific tools to investigate. (The incarnation of Christ being a prime example.) I will go into more detail in a moment, but first let me ask you this: How are we to know that bunnies are a reality, and not some anomaly of mind? The tools we have available to investigate a claim concerning a physical entity can all be shown to be subjective and potentially flawed. You can't prove that when you see, smell, touch, taste, or hear a bunny you are not dreaming or hallucinating. You can't prove that everyone else who claims to have seen bunnies are not dreaming, hallucinating or lying. What you can do is claim with relative certainty that there is a consensus concerning the reality of bunnies. (Though, you can't prove that other people exist either.) You believe that there are bunnies. You are convinced that they exist.

The only difference between your belief in a physical entity and an existential truth is a matter of degree, not kind. It is easier to believe in something that can be sensed with our physical senses because we have the consensus of other's to affirm our beliefs. We have the same thing in the existential realm, but it is harder to form a consensus because we are having to rely on undeveloped senses or modes of knowing. It is almost impossible to achieve consensus in detail. I'm sure you've heard the analogy of the blind men feeling up the elephant. One says it's like a tree, another like a snake, another like a broom, etc.

I'm guessing it's the conflicting beliefs and data that scare atheists away from a more open ontology. What I'm trying to explain is that your science is full of conflicting beliefs and data as well. Not to the same extent, but it seems enough to me to justify skepticism towards a view that assumes all of life's questions can be answered by science. When we approach the question, "What exists?" we need to recognize that science can only answer the physical part of the question. We must rely on the tools of philosophy to answer the rest. To simply excise the parts that don't fall under the physical category of existence seems simplistic and heavy handed to me.

-Squid-

Scrybe wrote:

Squid wrote:



Scrybe, you say that outside of what science can quantify lay these "experiential" events. Now, my question would be, how are we to know these are a reality and not some anomaly of mind?



In the same way we can assess the reality of a physical phenomenon. Investigation. The difference in investigating an experiential claim and a physical claim must lie in the tools available to us. Though, as I said, sometimes these claims interface with the physical world in a way that allows us to utilize our scientific tools to investigate. (The incarnation of Christ being a prime example.) I will go into more detail in a moment, but first let me ask you this: How are we to know that bunnies are a reality, and not some anomaly of mind? The tools we have available to investigate a claim concerning a physical entity can all be shown to be subjective and potentially flawed. You can't prove that when you see, smell, touch, taste, or hear a bunny you are not dreaming or hallucinating. You can't prove that everyone else who claims to have seen bunnies are not dreaming, hallucinating or lying. What you can do is claim with relative certainty that there is a consensus concerning the reality of bunnies. (Though, you can't prove that other people exist either.) You believe that there are bunnies. You are convinced that they exist.



This would way of investigation leads nowhere. If you work upon the assumption that all we know experiential or quantified is "possibly" some sort of illusion then we only spin our wheels and can never know anything. I remember Betrand Russell talking of this in his "Problems With Philosophy" but it's been a long while since I've read it. The problem is that we can never know anything in this view. However, it is not without merit in an adjacent perspective which is the tentative conclusion albeit within the framework of science it relies upon observation and/or quantification.

I'm not sure if that made any sense, it could be the Canadian Hunter whiskey talkin'. I think my point is that we must work off of some fundamental assumptions about reality otherwise we're just "spinning our wheels" so to speak. I think that whether this reality is as we view it, illusion or not - it is the same for everyone (basically speaking) and therefore if it is the reality of which we interact, live and die then no matter if it is "real" or not, for all intents and purposes to us, it is the only reality. The Matrix movies come to mind though. I usually don't like Keanu but he was pretty good in those...and Bill & Ted.

Quote:

The only difference between your belief in a physical entity and an existential truth is a matter of degree, not kind. It is easier to believe in something that can be sensed with our physical senses because we have the consensus of other's to affirm our beliefs. We have the same thing in the existential realm, but it is harder to form a consensus because we are having to rely on undeveloped senses or modes of knowing. It is almost impossible to achieve consensus in detail. I'm sure you've heard the analogy of the blind men feeling up the elephant. One says it's like a tree, another like a snake, another like a broom, etc.



Maybe I should have been more specific, how would you decide if someone was having a "revelation" or simply an epileptic seizure - for instance.



-SteveS-

Okay, I'll chime in here with some small additions (I know, I said I was going to leave this conversation alone, but I guess I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut Wink).

Squid wrote:

However, it is not without merit in an adjacent perspective which is the tentative conclusion albeit within the framework of science it relies upon observation and/or quantification.


I took this to mean that science is very aware of the limitations that Scrybe points out. We know we can be deceived. We know there are limits to our senses and experiences. This is why we are so careful to produce repeatable experiments. We take as truth those things that everyone can reliably observe, and we quantify exactly what they are observing, so that we can be as sure as possible. In fact, the level of error is even quantified in experiment, so that we can have some reasonable amount of certainty regarding what is uncertain. The entire process of scientific inquiry revolves around peer review, skeptical analysis, and error correction. It's not perfect, but it's the best we've got.

Squid wrote:

I think that whether this reality is as we view it, illusion or not - it is the same for everyone (basically speaking) and therefore if it is the reality of which we interact, live and die then no matter if it is "real" or not, for all intents and purposes to us, it is the only reality.


Exactly. If gravity is only a dream, it is a consistent dream. It is dreamt by everyone the same way, all the time, over and over. We dream it when we see an apple fall. We dream it when we watch the planets move. We dream it when we observe galaxies colliding. We dream it when we send spacecraft to the moon, other planets, comets, etc. So what does it mean to say that gravity is just a dream? It doesn't seem to matter whether it is or not, it works just the same.

So we employ Occam's razor. What is the difference between gravity as a natural law, and gravity as a shared dream? Nothing. This additional qualification as a dream, or shared hallucination, neither adds anything to, nor takes anything away from, our understanding. It is completely superfluous. So why bother with it?

Okay, since I broke my peace, I really wanted to mention one more thing from up a few posts:

Scrybe wrote:

Yes, and my point is that this is an inadequate expression of what love is. Inadequate precisely because it is limited to the physical, scientific lens of dissection. In that sense it is not honest because it does not communicate what our experience as humans are. A poem is better suited to the job.


I wanted to mention this, Scrybe, because I absolutely love the line "A poem is better suited to the job". It probably helps that I like poetry so much, but this is absolutely right-on. However, and to me this is important, it's right-on for the purpose of trying to "communicate what our experience as humans are". Not how our bodies are built, what we're made of, or how we experience things. To describe how our experiences work inside of us, under the hood, the scientific explanation is far better suited than a poem. There is a difference in purpose between these two means of communication, right? They both have value, but we have to understand what we are about to decide upon the best methodology for a given purpose. Both art and science are immensely valuable to humanity.



-Me (Scrybe)-

Squid wrote:


This would way of investigation leads nowhere.



I promise I'm not trying to be coy, but that really depends on where you are trying to go. Are you trying to get to Certainty-ville? Because I'm telling you the bus will always break down. I know this bugs a lot of people, but we just can't be certain of anything. As far as I can tell you can do two things with this fact. You can ignore it, sweep it under the carpet, and dismiss it at philosophical mumbo-jumbo, or you can let it inform your attitude and expectations concerning your life and the pursuit of truth. I choose the later. I find accepting this simple premise to yield a better footing from which to consider all possibilities. It makes me more humble than I would be otherwise. And it keeps me from mental or philosophical stagnation.

Squid wrote:


The problem is that we can never know anything in this view.



And this is only a problem if you are uncomfortable with that fact. If you need the psychological crutch Winkof false certainty, then you can go ahead and pretend you know it all and that science and the physical world is all you need.

Squid wrote:


However, it is not without merit in an adjacent perspective which is the tentative conclusion albeit within the framework of science it relies upon observation and/or quantification.



I have no idea what you just said.


Squid wrote:

I think my point is that we must work off of some fundamental assumptions about reality otherwise we're just "spinning our wheels" so to speak.



Now here, I'm getting you. You are right that if we just stay at square one, believing that we can't know anything, we will fail in life. We won't be able to make any judgment calls or decisions in any sort of organized fashion without moving beyond the "know nothing" stage. But as I said, there are two ways to move forward. One is to pretend you actually have answered some of the basic questions of humanity with certainty. This is what appears to be the modus operandi of both the religious fanatic and the atheist. They take very divergent turns at the beginning, but the certainty-without-proof unifies them.

I believe a better way to move beyond the 'know nothing' stage is to tentatively seek answers to the big questions. Investigate the various claims out there. Investigate how they align with the reality that you perceive. But always keep your thread tied to the entrance of the labyrinth. That door is the knowledge that you know nothing for sure. Investigating claims that answer the big questions inevitably leads to dead ends. But what I've observed in myself an others is an unwillingness to admit they are in a dead end and backtrack. There is too much comfort in old ideas. A community of likeminded friends or family make this all the harder to overcome. Besides that, there is the pride of 'being right', that feeling that you are better than the unwashed masses who foolishly follow another course. This is a lot of psychological tension to break free from. And I think it's nearly impossible without a basic recognition of the fact that we can not truly know anything. Sadly, when a philosophical or religious 180 occurs in a person, (such as switching from atheist to Christian or visa versa) many just hop from one extreme to the other without ever following the cord back and truly reevaluating their underlying assumptions.

So when it comes to practical application, we have to work with a variety of truth claims to order our thoughts and opinions. I have a world view that is comprised of many different influences, but is organized around a few basic philosophical/religious premises. I recognize that those premises could be flawed, since I am only human and lack the time and capacity to fully investigate, understand, and choose between every possible option. But the necessity to act forces me to make the best guesses that I can. So I go with what is most convincing to me. (As we all do.) But I don't demand that everyone else be just as convinced of these premises as I am. Nor do I find those who disagree with me to be stupid, ignorant, evil, weak, etc. (Sound familiar, atheists?) I understand that everyone has different tools to work with in this life. Different emotional, intellectual and spiritual maturity levels. And most likely I'm not at the top of any of those categories. So I simply operate as best I can, and communicate the best I can why I find my premises convincing.

I find that holding them up to the scrutiny of those who believe differently than I do to be terrifically beneficial in a Darwinian sense. If they are eaten alive then they probably shouldn't be directing my life.

Squid wrote:



for all intents and purposes to us, it is the only reality.




This is only true if we are not influenced by another reality that we don't sense clearly. If there is another reality, and our actions have ramifications in that reality and visa versa, then we had better take it seriously as a part of our lives.

Squid wrote:


how would you decide if someone was having a "revelation" or simply an epileptic seizure - for instance.



Investigation. You examine how any truth claim fits into the larger picture of reality. Obviously, if your picture of reality omits any aspects but the physical, you are going to dismiss any claims of revelation a priori. If however, you have found a particular religious claim to be tenable, and believe it with appropriate certainty, than you examine how the proposed revelation fits into the framework of your belief system. For example, as a Christian, (with caveats) I find Joseph Smith's claims of revelation to be untenable for any number of reasons. Those reasons are not based on materialist grounds, (through there is plenty of counter evidence in that arena) but on philosophical grounds. Because I find A most convincing, I will compare Y to it to determine Y's validity. We all do this.

SteveS wrote:


The entire process of scientific inquiry revolves around peer review, skeptical analysis, and error correction. It's not perfect, but it's the best we've got.



That is exactly my opinion of religion.

SteveS wrote:


Exactly. If gravity is only a dream, it is a consistent dream. It is dreamt by everyone the same way, all the time, over and over.



And I would make a parallel between gravity and a transcendent being. Both are consistently understood a certain way. As I pointed out, there is much less clarity in spiritual matters because our senses are dull in that regard. But the consensus can not be denied.

SteveS wrote:


So we employ Occam's razor. What is the difference between gravity as a natural law, and gravity as a shared dream? Nothing. This additional qualification as a dream, or shared hallucination, neither adds anything to, nor takes anything away from, our understanding. It is completely superfluous. So why bother with it?



We bother with it because it shapes our whole perception of ourselves and our attitudes. And our attitudes greatly impact our ability to perceive, understand, and organize input. When we dispense with the basic admittance that 'we can not know anything' as unnecessary, we become puffed up in our opinions and shut off other views that could help us.

I'm not saying we need to constantly reevaluate gravity, but as we tread the murky woods of less certain ideas we need to be vigilant and careful. It is important to understand that we don't know if gravity is true because it places it on a continuum of truth claims, rather than making an artificial division between what we can know and what we can't know. Science and philosophy, materialism and religion. These boundaries only exist in our heads because we like to oversimplify with tools like Occam's razor.

SteveS wrote:


To describe how our experiences work inside of us, under the hood, the scientific explanation is far better suited than a poem. There is a difference in purpose between these two means of communication, right? They both have value, but we have to understand what we are about to decide upon the best methodology for a given purpose. Both art and science are immensely valuable to humanity.



I agree mostly. But again, I see an unnecessary dualism in your point of view. You divide science from experience, and choose to examine a phenomenon from one lens or the other based on which category you feel it should fall into. I am claiming that a thing like love (as we humans experience it) does not exist apart from the physical processes and the existential processes. One without the other renders it as something fundamentally different. We need both lenses to understand it. And we need to know that when we see it through only one, it is an imbalanced image we are seeing.

I love science. I absolutely love the way it informs us. The way it structures us. The way it grows us. But I can not fathom a worldview that sees all of life through that lens only.

-Squid-

Scrybe wrote:

I promise I'm not trying to be coy, but that really depends on where you are trying to go. Are you trying to get to Certainty-ville? Because I'm telling you the bus will always break down. I know this bugs a lot of people, but we just can't be certain of anything. As far as I can tell you can do two things with this fact. You can ignore it, sweep it under the carpet, and dismiss it at philosophical mumbo-jumbo, or you can let it inform your attitude and expectations concerning your life and the pursuit of truth. I choose the later. I find accepting this simple premise to yield a better footing from which to consider all possibilities. It makes me more humble than I would be otherwise. And it keeps me from mental or philosophical stagnation.



How can you pursue the truth if you can never know if anything is a reflection of reality? The overwhelming possibilities making anything you think is true in this framework able to be doubted with extreme prejudice. You can't contend that we can't really know anything and then state it helps you find the truth - it can do nothing but hinder us from "knowing" anything.

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And this is only a problem if you are uncomfortable with that fact. If you need the psychological crutch Winkof false certainty, then you can go ahead and pretend you know it all and that science and the physical world is all you need.



Negative shipmate. I have decided to go with what works. Does gas make allow my car to go or is it a deity willing my vehicle to go? You can postulate an endless string of but "what if's" and "maybe's" and they will do nothing but hinder any sort of progress. You claim to utilize this knowledge to further your quest for truth when we just established if you leave open every possibility you get nowhere and are unable to really know any truth. Also, science never claims to have a patent on the "truth" - that's religion. Science only goes, as I said with what works time and time again (that's why all these pesky scientists do all that testing over and over).

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Squid wrote:


However, it is not without merit in an adjacent perspective which is the tentative conclusion albeit within the framework of science it relies upon observation and/or quantification.



I have no idea what you just said.



The tentative conclusion is one which is based upon the knowledge at the present time - it is then subsequently revised as more evidence is presented to support or contradict the currently accepted conclusion.

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Now here, I'm getting you. You are right that if we just stay at square one, believing that we can't know anything, we will fail in life. We won't be able to make any judgment calls or decisions in any sort of organized fashion without moving beyond the "know nothing" stage. But as I said, there are two ways to move forward. One is to pretend you actually have answered some of the basic questions of humanity with certainty. This is what appears to be the modus operandi of both the religious fanatic and the atheist. They take very divergent turns at the beginning, but the certainty-without-proof unifies them.

I believe a better way to move beyond the 'know nothing' stage is to tentatively seek answers to the big questions. Investigate the various claims out there. Investigate how they align with the reality that you perceive. But always keep your thread tied to the entrance of the labyrinth.



This is exactly what science does. It is not a static process - it is dynamic, in constant flux being built up in one place and torn down in another. Science never (as I mentioned before) has a rock hard, absolute answer - there are always more questions, always more to learn. Religion is the one with the static, absolute answers that never changes no matter what.

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That door is the knowledge that you know nothing for sure. Investigating claims that answer the big questions inevitably leads to dead ends. But what I've observed in myself an others is an unwillingness to admit they are in a dead end and backtrack. There is too much comfort in old ideas. A community of likeminded friends or family make this all the harder to overcome. Besides that, there is the pride of 'being right', that feeling that you are better than the unwashed masses who foolishly follow another course. This is a lot of psychological tension to break free from. And I think it's nearly impossible without a basic recognition of the fact that we can not truly know anything. Sadly, when a philosophical or religious 180 occurs in a person, (such as switching from athiest to Christian or visa versa) many just hop from one extreme to the other without ever following the cord back and truly reevaluating their underlying assumptions.



I can't say that I disagree with what you've said here.

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So when it comes to practical application, we have to work with a variety of truth claims to order our thoughts and opinions. I have a world view that is comprised of many different influences, but is organized around a few basic philosophical/religious premises. I recognize that those premises could be flawed, since I am only human and lack the time and capacity to fully investigate, understand, and choose between every possible option. But the necessity to act forces me to make the best guesses that I can. So I go with what is most convincing to me. (As we all do.) But I don't demand that everyone else be just as convinced of these premises as I am. Nor do I find those who disagree with me to be stupid, ignorant, evil, weak, etc. (Sound familiar, atheists?)



You'd be surprised how many times I've been called stupid, ignorant, evil, weak for contradicting what someone claims to be truth from the religious side - it goes both ways Scrybe - atheists as a whole do not hold the copyright on having jackasses in their midst.

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I understand that everyone has different tools to work with in this life. Different emotional, intellectual and spiritual maturity levels. And most likely I'm not at the top of any of those categories. So I simply operate as best I can, and communicate the best I can why I find my premises convincing.

I find that holding them up to the scrutiny of those who believe differently than I do to be terrifically beneficial in a Darwinian sense. If they are eaten alive then they probably shouldn't be directing my life.



Spiritual maturity?

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This is only true if we are not influenced by another reality that we don't sense clearly. If there is another reality, and our actions have ramifications in that reality and visa versa, then we had better take it seriously as a part of our lives.



It could be salient, however, if we are unable to sense or detect it by any sense of the word, then the only thing we could be able to deal with is the effects of it upon us. Even with just effects we can still work up functional ideas. I treat the symptoms of a disease without truly knowing what it is - physicians do this all the time, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Whether it is the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles which contribute to Alzheimers or the misfolded Tau protein, a BACE1 gene or aliens from the Xanadau dimension using reality control waves to make a person exhibit Alzheimer-like symptoms - we can still do what we can to treat the symptoms manifest in our reality. If it is the aliens causing the plaques and tangles (assuming this would be the cause of the deficits) we can still workout a way to possibly treat this and even stop it from happening even without knowing it's the aliens and their reality control waves. Similarly if a deity were to smite me with the plague - I can still get it treated. Even if there is no explanation for an event, this does not mean that we cannot work in any capacity at all or know anything at all about the event.

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Investigation. You examine how any truth claim fits into the larger picture of reality. Obviously, if your picture of reality omits any aspects but the physical, you are going to dismiss any claims of revelation a priori. If however, you have found a particular religious claim to be tenable, and believe it with appropriate certainty, than you examine how the proposed revelation fits into the framework of your belief system. For example, as a Christian, (with caveats) I find Joseph Smith's claims of revelation to be untenable for any number of reasons. Those reasons are not based on materialist grounds, (through there is plenty of counterevidence in that arena) but on philosophical grounds. Because I find A most convincing, I will compare Y to it to determine Y's validity. We all do this.



So you're make your conclusions based on what you think by comparing one event of which we cannot ever truly know the cause of against another event which we cannot ever truly know the cause of. Basically, you're making your own conclusion on your own experience which you cannot know isn't distorted in itself and so on and so forth as you argued earlier. It seems you wish to engage in a systematic assessment of this claim but if you want to work in the idea that we cannot really know anything for certain, let alone find any truth, then you will never know what it is. You are spiritual and think it could be a revelation and compare it to other claims and so forth. I am not spiritual or religious and stick the guy in a room with an EEG or maybe an fMRI.

But hey, I'm just working off the assumption that we know what epilepsy is and what it looks like, the assumption that the machines work in accordance to rules of physics we assume we know about and the assumption that the computer will work with the rules of magnetism and electricity we assume we know well.

Interestingly, TMS has been shown through the work of primarily Persinger that it can elicit similar experiences had by Temporal Lobe Epileptics.

-Me (Scrybe)-

Squid wrote:


How can you pursue the truth if you can never know if anything is a reflection of reality?



The same way a surfer searches for the perfect wave, or a photographer searches for the perfect shot. And I'm not nearly as cloudy as you are making me out to be. There are shades of certainty, you know. I'm saying we can be 99% certain about many things. Just never 100%.

Squid wrote:


The overwhelming possibilities making anything you think is true in this framework able to be doubted with extreme prejudice.



No. Some things are more doubt-worthy than others. I doubt what I perceive with my physical senses much less than what I perceive with my spiritual senses. We are the same in that regard. I only allow the possibility that such a reality exists regardless of my ability to accurately perceive it.

Squid wrote:


You can't contend that we can't really know anything and then state it helps you find the truth - it can do nothing but hinder us from "knowing" anything.



It can't hinder us at all, since the goal is impossible. The pursuit of Truth is an ideal, not a realistic goal. You want to "know" things. I'm saying that is impossible, and I'm content to hold tentative conclusions about things. If you think you can "know" anything, prove it. I've never heard or read anyone who could. Since we can't know anything with 100% certainty, I'm inclined to deal with the reality that we have been dealt, and will just accept the logic that I can only kind of know things. I believe there are other minds. I believe we are communicating right now over the internet. I believe things more if I find the sources credible. My tests for credibility are biased just like everyone else's so I just live with a certain amount of uncertainty. I believe in gravity with 99.9 percent certainty. You believe it with 100.


Squid wrote:

I have decided to go with what works. Does gas make allow my car to go or is it a deity willing my vehicle to go? You can postulate an endless string of but "what if's" and "maybe's" and they will do nothing but hinder any sort of progress.



Again, you speak of progress, and I ask "towards what?". It seems like you want certainty. But that can not exist. I agree that we go with what works. But if you make that the test for ascertaining absolute truth you are limiting your options. Life could be more complicated than you or I would like it to be.

Squid wrote:


You claim to utilize this knowledge to further your quest for truth when we just established if you leave open every possibility you get nowhere and are unable to really know any truth.



Our quests for Truth can only be symbolic. We are far too limited in our powers to make any real progress in such a quest. (Without some kind of communication from a source that does not share out limitations.) We live several decades in a linear time-line in an incredibly small percentage of history in an incredibly small part of the universe with only a handful of senses and tools at our disposal. So are we getting nowhere? Pretty much. Sorry, I think it's the cold, hard logic of our position.

Squid wrote:


Also, science never claims to have a patent on the "truth" - that's religion. Science only goes, as I said with what works time and time again (that's why all these pesky scientists do all that testing over and over).



Well, every time Science calls me, he's drunk and blathering on and on about how he knows everything. So maybe my impression of him is based on too few encounters. Wink Of course what you are saying is correct. But that's not the stance everyone I've ever heard who uses science to back up their view uses. They say, "X is proven to be true because of scientific study Y."

And if a religion is claiming to be The Truth, then I don't think they aren't being the kind of religion Jesus told us about, "True religion is this: feeding the hungry and caring for the orphans and widows." Jesus said HE was The Truth. So until one of us becomes Jesus, I don't think we will have The Truth.

Squid wrote:


The tentative conclusion is one which is based upon the knowledge at the present time - it is then subsequently revised as more evidence is presented to support or contradict the currently accepted conclusion.



Great. This the template for how I would like to operate in my quest of Truth. The only caveat I have is you are saying you base things on knowledge, which I can always disprove. There is no "knowledge", only assertions. I happen to believe many of them, just like you. I don't mean that none of us can claim to know anything. Only that ultimately, we don't.


Squid wrote:


Science never (as I mentioned before) has a rock hard, absolute answer - there are always more questions, always more to learn.



That's all I'm saying.

Squid wrote:

Religion is the one with the static, absolute answers that never changes no matter what.



Well, last time we talked, Religion said that you told her that those jeans she just bought made her butt look fat, so I think you two may have relationship issues.

Look. People want certainty. It's natural for us to look to some kind of authority for that certainty. For some it's religion and its false certainty. For others, it science and its false certainty. I opt for ditching both. Not to simply ignore what they have to say, but to reject their claims to ultimate certainty and Truth. You claim science does not make such claims. I say that the way it informs people's lives and the decisions they make shows that the assertion is implicit, whether or not it is explicitly renounced.

Squid wrote:



You'd be surprised how many times I've been called stupid, ignorant, evil, weak for contradicting what someone claims to be truth from the religious side - it goes both ways Scrybe - atheists as a whole do not hold the copyright on having jackasses in their midst.



Haha! Indeed.

Squid wrote:


Spiritual maturity?



Hmm… I suppose that's Christianeese. I'll just say it's so closely related to emotional maturity that we can just leave it at that.

Squid wrote:


Even if there is no explanation for an event, this does not mean that we cannot work in any capacity at all or know anything at all about the event.



Are you under the impression that I'm against finding natural causes for things?

Squid wrote:


So you're make your conclusions based on what you think by comparing one event of which we cannot ever truly know the cause of against another event which we cannot ever truly know the cause of.



Yup.

Squid wrote:


Basically, you're making your own conclusion on your own experience which you cannot know isn't distorted in itself and so on and so forth as you argued earlier.



Uh-huh.

Squid wrote:


It seems you wish to engage in a systematic assessment of this claim but if you want to work in the idea that we cannot really know anything for certain, let alone find any truth, then you will never know what it is.



Affirmative.

Squid wrote:


You are spiritual and think it could be a revelation and compare it to other claims and so forth. I am not spiritual or religious and stick the guy in a room with an EEG or maybe an fMRI.



You just hung a sharp corner and lost me... Are you comparing how we would react given an identical hypothetical situation involving a sick person? Or someone claiming to have a revelation? Oh, it must be that one. Right, now I see what you're getting at. Yeah, there's no problem with investigating metaphysical claims with physical procedures. I'm saying there is nothing wrong with investigating with philosophical tools either. And as I've said, simple logic will rule out most claims real fast. (Within a certain degree of certainty!)

Squid wrote:


But hey, I'm just working off the assumption that we know what epilepsy is and what it looks like, the assumption that the machines work in accordance to rules of physics we assume we know about and the assumption that the computer will work with the rules of magnetism and electricity we assume we know well.



And I agree with all those assumptions. Only with 99.9 instead of 100 percent certainty.

Squid wrote:


Interestingly, TMS has been shown through the work of primarily Persinger that it can elicit similar experiences had by Temporal Lobe Epileptics.



Uh... you lost me again. Laughing

Overall, I'm getting the impression that you think I'm against concluding that there are natural causes for many things that are presumed supernatural. I am not. I love science. I love that we have been given these incredibly complex minds capable of figuring out amazing things. My only objection is arguing that because there is a natural explanation for a thing, it by necessity, can not be a supernatural thing.


Switch to full edit form



-Squid-

Scrybe wrote:

Overall, I'm getting the impression that you think I'm against concluding that there are natural causes for many things that are presumed supernatural.



This was the impression I got, yes.

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I am not. I love science. I love that we have been given these incredibly complex minds capable of figuring out amazing things. My only objection is arguing that because there is a natural explanation for a thing, it by necessity, can not be a supernatural thing.



...aaaaand we're back to square one...where is that pesky dragon anyway?

-SteveS-

Scrybe, a few follow-ups for you.

Scrybe wrote:

I'm not saying we need to constantly reevaluate gravity


Eh, I think we better in this case. Gravity still doesn't jive with quantum mechanics Confused

Scrybe wrote:

But again, I see an unnecessary dualism in your point of view. You divide science from experience, and choose to examine a phenomenon from one lens or the other based on which category you feel it should fall into. I am claiming that a thing like love (as we humans experience it) does not exist apart from the physical processes and the existential processes. One without the other renders it as something fundamentally different. We need both lenses to understand it. And we need to know that when we see it through only one, it is an imbalanced image we are seeing.


Let me addressed the "duality". I don't want to be confused with a dualist, that would blow my rep as an atheist Wink. I see this more as levels of abstraction. I'm a software engineer by trade. I know that when I write code in Java, it is interpreted by a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) and runs as machine code local to my platform. But, when discussing how my programs work, I use a high-level abstraction in terms of software objects, methods, and interfaces. It's really machine code underneath it all, but depending on how I want to discuss this topic I use a different abstraction level. That's all I meant.

Summary: The science explains how my experience functions, the poetry conveys my experience to others. I hope this makes some sense.

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