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Sam Harris: The Language Of Ignorance


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http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/200608...uage_ignorance/

 

Sam Harris: The Language of Ignorance

Posted on Aug 15, 2006

 

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Illustration: Karen Spector

 

By Sam Harris

 

In this essay, the bestselling secularist author of “The End of Faith” delivers a scathing review of “The Language of God,” a new book by Human Genome Project head Francis Collins that attempts to demonstrate a harmony between science and evangelical Christianity.

 

Francis Collins—physical chemist, medical geneticist and head of the Human Genome Project—has written a book entitled “The Language of God.” In it, he attempts to demonstrate that there is “a consistent and profoundly satisfying harmony” between 21st-century science and evangelical Christianity. To say that he fails at his task does not quite get at the inadequacy of his efforts. He fails the way a surgeon would fail if he attempted to operate using only his toes. His failure is predictable, spectacular and vile. “The Language of God” reads like a hoax text, and the knowledge that it is not a hoax should be disturbing to anyone who cares about the future of intellectual and political discourse in the United States.

 

Most reviewers of “The Language of God” seem quite overawed by its author’s scientific credentials. This is understandable. As director of the Human Genome Project, Collins participated in one of the greatest scientific achievements in human history. His book, however, reveals that a stellar career in science offers no guarantee of a scientific frame of mind. Lest we think that one man can do no lasting harm to our discourse, consider the fact that the year is 2006, half of the American population believes that the universe is 6,000 years old, our president has just used his first veto to block federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research on religious grounds, and one of the foremost scientists in the land has this to say, straight from the heart (if not the brain):

 

As believers, you are right to hold fast to the concept of God as Creator; you are right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible; you are right to hold fast to the conclusion that science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence; and you are right to hold fast to the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted….

 

God, who is not limited to space and time, created the universe and established natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him. He also knew these creatures would ultimately choose to disobey the Moral Law.

 

According to Collins, belief in the God of Abraham is the most rational response to the data of physics and biology, while “of all the possible worldviews, atheism is the least rational.” Taken at face value, these claims suggest that “The Language of God” will mark an unprecedented breakthrough in the history of ideas. Once Collins gets going, however, we realize that the book represents a breakthrough of another kind.

 

After finding himself powerless to detect any errors in the philosophizing of C.S. Lewis (a truly ominous sign), Collins describes the moment that he, as a scientist, finally became convinced of the divinity of Jesus Christ:

 

On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains … the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.

 

If this account of field research seems a little thin, don’t worry—a recent profile of Collins in Time magazine offers supplementary data. Here, we learn that the waterfall was frozen in three streams, which put the good doctor in mind of the Trinity…

 

It is at this point that thoughts of suicide might occur to any reader who has placed undue trust in the intellectual integrity of his fellow human beings. One would hope that it would be immediately obvious to Collins that there is nothing about seeing a frozen waterfall (no matter how frozen) that offers the slightest corroboration of the doctrine of Christianity. But it was not obvious to him as he “knelt in the dewy grass,” and it is not obvious to him now. Indeed, I fear that it will not be obvious to many of his readers.

 

If the beauty of nature can mean that Jesus really is the son of God, then anything can mean anything. Let us say that I saw the same waterfall, and its three streams reminded me of Romulus, Remus and the She-wolf, the mythical founders of Rome. How reasonable would it be for me to know, from that moment forward, that Italy would one day win the World Cup? This epiphany, while perfectly psychotic, would actually put me on firmer ground than Collins—because Italy did win the World Cup. Collins’ alpine conversion would be a ludicrous non sequitur even if Jesus does return to Earth trailing clouds of glory.

 

While the mere sighting of a waterfall appears to have been sufficient to answer all important questions of theology for Collins, he imagines himself to be in possession of further evidence attesting to the divinity of Jesus, the omnipotence of God and the divine origin of the Bible. The most compelling of these data, in his view, is the fact that human beings have a sense of right and wrong. Collins follows Lewis here, as faithfully as if he were on a leash, and declares that the “moral law” is so inscrutable a thing as to admit of only a supernatural explanation. According to Collins, the moral law applies exclusively to human beings:

 

Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense, they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species’ behavior seems to be in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness.

 

One wonders if the author has ever read a newspaper. The behavior of humans offers no such “dramatic contrast.” How badly must human beings behave to put this “sense of universal rightness” in doubt? And just how widespread must “glimmerings” of morality be among other animals before Collins—who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes—begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn’t these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?

 

If one didn’t know better, one might be tempted to conclude that religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning.

 

Collins’ case for the supernatural origin of morality rests on the further assertion that there can be no evolutionary explanation for genuine altruism. Because self-sacrifice cannot increase the likelihood that an individual creature will survive and reproduce, truly self-sacrificing behavior stands as a primordial rejoinder to any biological account of morality. In Collins’ view, therefore, the mere existence of altruism offers compelling evidence of a personal God. (Here, Collins performs a risible sprint past ideas in biology like “kin selection” that plausibly explain altruism and self-sacrifice in evolutionary terms.) A moment’s thought reveals, however, that if we were to accept this neutered biology, almost everything about us would be bathed in the warm glow of religious mystery. Forget morality—how did nature select for the ability to write sonnets, solder circuit boards or swing a golf club? Clearly, such abilities could never be the product of evolution. Might they have been placed in us by God? Smoking cigarettes isn’t a healthy habit and is unlikely to offer an adaptive advantage—and there were no cigarettes in the Paleolithic—but this habit is very widespread and compelling. Is God, by any chance, a tobacco farmer? Collins can’t seem to see that human morality and selfless love may be derivative of more basic biological and psychological traits, which were themselves products of evolution. It is hard to interpret this oversight in light of his scientific training. If one didn’t know better, one might be tempted to conclude that religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning.

 

Having established that our moral sensitivities are God-given, Collins finds himself in a position to infer the nature of our Creator:

 

And if that were so, what kind of God would this be? Would this be a deist God, who invented physics and mathematics and started the universe in motion about 14 billion years ago, then wandered off to deal with other, more important matters, as Einstein thought? No, this God, if I was perceiving him at all, must be a theist God, who desires some kind of relationship with those special creatures called human beings, and has therefore instilled this special glimpse of Himself into each one of us. This might be the God of Abraham, but it was certainly not the God of Einstein…. Judging by the incredibly high standards of the Moral Law … this was a God who was holy and righteous. He would have to be the embodiment of goodness…. Faith in God now seemed more rational that disbelief.

 

I hope the reader will share my amazement that passages like this have come from one of the most celebrated scientists in the United States. I find that my own sense of the moral law requires that I provide a few more examples of Collins’ skill as a philosopher and theologian…

 

On the question of why God simply doesn’t provide better evidence for his existence:

 

If the case in favor of belief in God were utterly airtight, then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world, where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?

 

One is tempted to say that it might be more “interesting” than a world unnecessarily shattered by competing religious orthodoxies and religious war, only to be followed by an eternity in hell for all those who believe the wrong things about God. But, to each his own.

 

How does Collins settle the problem of theodicy—the mystery of why there is evil and misfortune in a world created by an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly benevolent God? He takes it very much in stride:

 

Science reveals that the universe, our own planet, and life itself are engaged in an evolutionary process. The consequences of that can include the unpredictability of the weather, the slippage of a tectonic plate, or the misspelling of a cancer gene in the normal process of cell division. If at the beginning of time God chose to use these forces to create human beings, then the inevitability of these other painful consequences was also assured. Frequent miraculous interventions would be at least as chaotic in the physical realm as they would be in interfering with human acts of free will.

 

But why was God obliged to make cell division susceptible to the perversity of cancer? And why couldn’t an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly benevolent God perform as many miracles as He wanted? There isn’t time to entertain such questions, however, as Collins must solve all outstanding problems in the science of cosmology:

 

 

The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation. It forces the conclusion that nature had a defined beginning. I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.

 

It is worth pointing out the term “supernatural,” which Collins uses freely throughout his book, is semantically indistinguishable from the term “magical.” Reading his text with this substitution in mind is rather instructive. In any case, even if we accepted that our universe simply had to be created by an intelligent being, this would not suggest that this being is the God of the Bible, or even particularly magical. If intelligently designed, our universe could be running as a simulation on an alien supercomputer. As many critics of religion have pointed out, the notion of a Creator poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress. If God created the universe, what created God? To insert an inscrutable God at the origin of the universe explains absolutely nothing. And to say that God, by definition, is uncreated, simply begs the question. (Why can’t I say that the universe, by definition, is uncreated?) Any being capable of creating our world promises to be very complex himself. As the biologist Richard Dawkins has observed with untiring eloquence, the only natural process we know of that could produce a being capable of designing things is evolution.

 

Any intellectually honest person must admit that he does not know why the universe exists. Secular scientists, of course, readily admit their ignorance on this point. Believers like Collins do not.

 

The major and inescapable flaw of … [the] claim that science demands of atheism is that it goes beyond the evidence. If God is outside of nature, then science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. Atheism itself must therefore be considered a form of blind faith, in that it adopts a belief system that cannot be defended on the basis of pure reason.

 

Is disbelief in Zeus or Thor also a form of “blind faith”? Must we really “disprove” the existence of every imaginary friend? The burden of producing evidence falls on those making extravagant claims about miracles and invisible realities. What is more, there is an enormous difference between acquiring a picture of the world through dispassionate, scientific study and acquiring it through patent emotionality and wishful thinking—and only then looking to see if it can survive contact with science.

 

Consider the following fact: Ninety-nine percent of the species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct. There are two very different questions one could ask about a fact of this sort, if one wanted to assess the reasonableness of believing in God. One could ask, “Is this fact compatible with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God?” Or, one could ask, “Does this fact, alone or in combination with other facts, suggest that an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God exists?” The answer to the first question is always, “Well, yes—provided you add that God’s will is utterly mysterious.” (In the present case, He may have wanted to destroy 99% of his creatures for some very good reason that surpasses our understanding.) The answer to the second question is “absolutely not.” The problem for Collins is that only the second question is relevant to our arriving at a rational understanding of the universe. The fact that a bowdlerized evangelical Christianity can still be rendered compatible with science (because of the gaps in science and the elasticity of religious thinking) does not mean that there are scientific reasons for being an evangelical Christian.

 

Collins’ sins against reasonableness do not end here. Somewhere during the course of his scientific career, he acquired the revolting habit of quoting eminent scientists out of context to give an entirely false impression of their religious beliefs. Misappropriation of Einstein and Hawking, while common enough in popular religious discourse, rises to level of intellectual misconduct when perpetrated by a scientist like Collins. Where either of these physicists uses the term “God”—as in Einstein’s famous “God does not play dice…”—he uses it metaphorically. Any honest engagement with their work reveals that both Einstein and Hawking reject the notion of Collins’ God as fully as any atheist. Collins suggests otherwise at every opportunity.

 

In his role as Christian apologist, Collins also makes the repellent claim that “the traditional lore about Galileo’s persecutions by the Church is overblown.” Lest we forget: Galileo, the greatest scientist of his time, was forced to his knees under threat of torture and death, obliged to recant his understanding of the Earth’s motion, and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life by steely-eyed religious maniacs. He worked at a time when every European intellectual lived in the grip of a Church that thought nothing of burning scholars alive for merely speculating about the nature of the stars. As Collins notes, this is the same Church that did not absolve Galileo of heresy for 350 years (in 1992). When it did, it ascribed his genius to God, “who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions.” Collins clearly approves of this sordid appropriation, and goes on to say that all the fuss about Galileo was, in the end, unnecessary, because “the claims that heliocentricity contradicted the Bible are now seen to have been overstated….” (And what if they weren’t overstated? What then?) It is simply astonishing that a scientist has produced such a pious glossing of the centuries of religious barbarism that were visited upon generations of other scientists.

 

If one wonders how beguiled, self-deceived and carefree in the service of fallacy a scientist can be in the United States in the 21st century, “The Language of God” provides the answer. The only thing that mitigates the harm this book will do to the stature of science in the United States is that it will be mostly read by people for whom science has little stature already. Viewed from abroad, “The Language of God” will be seen as another reason to wonder about the fate of American society. Indeed, it is rare that one sees the thumbprint of historical contingency so visible on the lens of intellectual discourse. This is an American book, attesting to American ignorance, written for Americans who believe that ignorance is stronger than death. Reading it should provoke feelings of collective guilt in any sensitive secularist. We should be ashamed that this book was written in our own time.

 

Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation. He is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and has studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of contemplative disciplines, for twenty years. Mr. Harris is now completing a doctorate in neuroscience. His work has been discussed in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, The Economist, The Guardian, The Independent, The Globe and Mail, New Scientist, SEED Magazine, and many other journals. Mr. Harris makes regular appearances on television and radio to discuss the danger that religion now poses to modern societies. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. Several foreign editions are in press. Mr. Harris lives in New York City.

 

His most recent book is “Letter to a Christian Nation” (Amazon)

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By Sam Harris

 

------------------

Francis Collins—physical chemist, medical geneticist and head of the Human Genome Project—has written a book entitled “The Language of God.” In it, he attempts to demonstrate that there is “a consistent and profoundly satisfying harmony” between 21st-century science and evangelical Christianity. To say that he fails at his task does not quite get at the inadequacy of his efforts. He fails the way a surgeon would fail if he attempted to operate using only his toes.

 

:)Hi Reverend! It seems to me, Francis Collins failed worse than a surgeon trying to operate using his toes! Seeing a frozen waterfall as justification of Jesus leaves a lot of loose ends. Yes, it is a shame, if it's true, that half of Americans think the earth is 6000 years old, however, I doubt this is true. I will start asking people this, if I can weave it into a conversation without intimidating someone.

 

Now, if you are denouncing all spiritual reality just because some guy comes up with these comical suggestions to the validity of spiritual ideology, is like me rejecting scientific advancements by showing how this guy has presented scientific evidence that the walk on the moon was done by movie studio theatrics. :rolleyes:

 

Actually, IMO, there are more and more scientific evidence promoting spirituality does exist! It is not that of just Christianity... nonfundamentalist style, but that of all spritual teachings that suggest there is something transcendent. This article here says this:

 

In other words, they did not challenge the material realists' view that everything is made up of matter. That view was never put to any challenge by any of these early books. In fact, my book was the first one which challenged it squarely and which was still based on a rigorous explication in scientific terms. In other words, the idea that consciousness is the ground of being, of course, has existed in psychology, as transpersonal psychology, but outside of transpersonal psychology no tradition of science and no scientist has seen it so clearly.

It was my good fortune to recognize it within quantum physics, to recognize that all the paradoxes of quantum physics can be solved if we accept consciousness as the ground of being. So that was my unique contribution and, of course, this has paradigm-shifting potential because now we can truly integrate science and spirituality.

 

Of course you are more informed in such science endeavors than I, as are many of those than frequent your topics, so I also included this additional material as to explain a little more of the above. I'm curious as to your response, as I always respect your opinion... even if I don't totally agree with it. :wicked:

 

Now this is called the "quantum measurement paradox." It is a paradox because who are we to do this conversion? Because after all, in the materialist paradigm we don't have any causal efficacy. We are nothing but the brain, which is made up of atoms and elementary particles. So how can a brain which is made up of atoms and elementary particles convert a possibility wave that it itself is? It itself is made up of the possibility waves of atoms and elementary particles, so it cannot convert its own possibility wave into actuality. This is called a paradox. Now in the new view, consciousness is the ground of being. So who converts possibility into actuality? Consciousness does, because consciousness does not obey quantum physics. Consciousness is not made of material. Consciousness is transcendent. Do you see the paradigm-changing view right here—how consciousness can be said to create the material world?The material world of quantum physics is just possibility. It is consciousness, through the conversion of possibility into actuality, that creates what we see manifest. In other words, consciousness creates the manifest world.
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Amanda I'm kinda with you on this one :grin:

 

Hi Reverend, I am not versed enough to debate this issue yet but i was wondering if you have ever read Alister McGrath's DAWKINS GOD. Just wondering what you thought of it ? I mention it becasue he seems to be in the same sort of boat as Francis Collins and I recognised Francis Collins as one of McGraths book reviewers.

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Amanda I'm kinda with you on this one :grin:

 

Hi Reverend, I am not versed enough to debate this issue yet but i was wondering if you have ever read Alister McGrath's DAWKINS GOD. Just wondering what you thought of it ? I mention it becasue he seems to be in the same sort of boat as Francis Collins and I recognised Francis Collins as one of McGraths book reviewers.

 

Can't say that I have. Alister, though, seems to have a lot of misconceptions about Atheism -- even though he claims he once was one. He thinks, for example, that Atheism is dying. He thinks that Atheists are all a bunch of gray haired folks and there's no youth left in our ranks. To this I say, "You have not been on MySpace!" There are an abundance of new Atheists. I meet new young people every day -- and they have it the roughest of all because they are still stuck at home and at the mercy of religious teachers, relatives and other authority figures who detest them simply because they openly declare they don't believe in their mythology. It was around 19 that I deconverted and so I missed most of this, but got both barrels from my parents. They came around, though, under the weight of my arguments.

 

Alister titled his book The Twilight of Atheism. He meant it to mean that the lights were going out for us. What he utterly failed to realize was that twilight occurs at two periods during the day. The true nature of where Atheism is, is the first, the morning! Our numbers are explosively on the rise! Just check out these stats:

 

http://www.reverendatheistar.com/rates_and_patterns.htm

 

I have to wonder about Dawkins' God as we all know that Richard Dawkins is an Atheist. Is this yet another example of his distorted thinking? It wouldn't surprise me. From what I've read from the guy, ever since his reconversion he's lost a lot upstairs. lol... As my wife's sticker reads, "Turn on to Jesus, Turn off your brain!" I know, it's not always true, there are some very intelligent Christians, but it happens enough to take notice of it. And in my ten years of Atheism I've seen quite a few of them. Wow, to just think back on just how incredibly stupid believers can be just makes my head spin in amazement. I have to wonder how these people get through their daily lives!

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Now, if you are denouncing all spiritual reality just because some guy comes up with these comical suggestions to the validity of spiritual ideology, is like me rejecting scientific advancements by showing how this guy has presented scientific evidence that the walk on the moon was done by movie studio theatrics. :rolleyes:

 

Actually, IMO, there are more and more scientific evidence promoting spirituality does exist! It is not that of just Christianity... nonfundamentalist style, but that of all spritual teachings that suggest there is something transcendent.

 

You know better. There is more than enough hard scientific evdience to easily declare souls and ghosts nothing more than anthropomorphic delusions. I've read what the other side has had to say in the past and still continue to read and watch what they say on the net and on tv, none of it is convincing. We are organic machines. Machines don't need souls. It's really that simple.

 

Now this is called the "quantum measurement paradox." It is a paradox because who are we to do this conversion? Because after all, in the materialist paradigm we don't have any causal efficacy. We are nothing but the brain, which is made up of atoms and elementary particles. So how can a brain which is made up of atoms and elementary particles convert a possibility wave that it itself is? It itself is made up of the possibility waves of atoms and elementary particles, so it cannot convert its own possibility wave into actuality. This is called a paradox. Now in the new view, consciousness is the ground of being. So who converts possibility into actuality? Consciousness does, because consciousness does not obey quantum physics. Consciousness is not made of material. Consciousness is transcendent. Do you see the paradigm-changing view right here—how consciousness can be said to create the material world?The material world of quantum physics is just possibility. It is consciousness, through the conversion of possibility into actuality, that creates what we see manifest. In other words, consciousness creates the manifest world.

 

This is nothing more than getting trapped in reductionism. It's like trying to explain the Civil War using atoms and molecules. lol... Come up a few levels. Look at the brain, itself, and how it works. Then it becomes easily understandable. Think of it this way. How difficult would it be trying to read one page of a book by using an electron microscope? At that level, a single letter is immense! In fact, it wouldn't even be recognizable as a letter! Do you see my point? Only when you back up can you see what is truly there. There is, of course, a time and place to go into more detail, but the way he's doing it is all wrong and I'm tempted to think he's doing it for the sole purpose of confusing the issue. After all, his agenda is perfectly clear!

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This is nothing more than getting trapped in reductionism. It's like trying to explain the Civil War using atoms and molecules. lol... Come up a few levels. Look at the brain, itself, and how it works. Then it becomes easily understandable. Think of it this way. How difficult would it be trying to read one page of a book by using an electron microscope? At that level, a single letter is immense! In fact, it wouldn't even be recognizable as a letter! Do you see my point? Only when you back up can you see what is truly there. There is, of course, a time and place to go into more detail, but the way he's doing it is all wrong and I'm tempted to think he's doing it for the sole purpose of confusing the issue. After all, his agenda is perfectly clear!

 

Now come on Reverend! :)

 

Surely every person has an agenda if that is what you want to call one's perspective. He clearly gave 'scientific' theory for his proposal and you danced around it and didn't give one specific reason why he was wrong! No one was talking about your perspective of soul's and ghosts, we were talking about the transcribing of possibility waves into actual manifestation, found in quantum mechanics.

 

I'm surprised at you! :begood: ------> :HaHa:

 

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Amit Goswami:

 

Originally from India, Goswami moved to the United States early in his career as a physicist and is the author of a university textbook on quantum mechanics. Now retired as a faculty, for many years he was professor of physics at the University of Oregon. He began his career specializing in nuclear physics, but later his research interests shifted to quantum cosmology, quantum measurement theory, and applications of quantum mechanics to the mind-body problem.

 

So, my friend, how can you just arbitrarily call him a crackpot? :shrug:

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This is nothing more than getting trapped in reductionism. It's like trying to explain the Civil War using atoms and molecules. lol... Come up a few levels. Look at the brain, itself, and how it works. Then it becomes easily understandable. Think of it this way. How difficult would it be trying to read one page of a book by using an electron microscope? At that level, a single letter is immense! In fact, it wouldn't even be recognizable as a letter! Do you see my point? Only when you back up can you see what is truly there. There is, of course, a time and place to go into more detail, but the way he's doing it is all wrong and I'm tempted to think he's doing it for the sole purpose of confusing the issue. After all, his agenda is perfectly clear!

 

Now come on Reverend! :)

 

Surely every person has an agenda if that is what you want to call one's perspective. He clearly gave 'scientific' theory for his proposal and you danced around it and didn't give one specific reason why he was wrong! No one was talking about your perspective of soul's and ghosts, we were talking about the transcribing of possibility waves into actual manifestation, found in quantum mechanics.

 

I'm surprised at you! :begood: ------> :HaHa:

 

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Amit Goswami:

 

Originally from India, Goswami moved to the United States early in his career as a physicist and is the author of a university textbook on quantum mechanics. Now retired as a faculty, for many years he was professor of physics at the University of Oregon. He began his career specializing in nuclear physics, but later his research interests shifted to quantum cosmology, quantum measurement theory, and applications of quantum mechanics to the mind-body problem.

 

So, my friend, how can you just arbitrarily call him a crackpot? :shrug:

 

Amanda:

 

A couple of things on this. Firstly, the measurement problem, as I understand it, is this: In any given QM experiment the results are probablistic (occuring as a wave function) until a measurement is actually taken at which point the wave function collapses and we find out how the system *actually* behaved. I'll take the example I understand best which is the two-slit/photon experiment. So you take something that shoots a single photon toward a target, interposed between the target and the photon gun there's a wall with two slits in it. The photon will pass through *either* slit ultimately but there is no way of predicting what path it will take beforehand. In fact, until one measures where the photon struck, the photon--mathematically--took every possible path to the target, meaning it blasted off through some other galaxy and then came around and hit the target. Of course, it ends up only having taken one. (This is a gross oversimplification)

 

Now, if I understand the argument you are making based upon the work of this Amit fellow he is saying that QM means that consciousnes is the ground of all being because only through consciousness (someone there to do the measuring) does the probability wave actually collapse. (If this is not what you are saying, please correct me.) Now, I will freely admit that this Amit fellow has forgotten more about QM than I realize there is to know, but I would still reject the idea that QM requires consciousness--or, more accurately, that the processes that QM models require consciousness. Subatomic interactions can and do happen without anyone being there to watch them. If you are familiar with the Uncertainty Principle you'll realize that it is inescapable because the Uncertainty Principle puts an absolute hard limit about what can be known about a given system if you are looking at it from the subatomic level. Since it is impossible to speak of a given quanta having position *and* momentum with high degrees of accuracy simultaneously (as I explained to Amy last week oveer in the Lion's Den) it is not possible for a divine entity, no matter HOW intelligent it might be to possess this knowledge. (And when I use the term impossible, I mean it in this instance. You can treat a quanta that you know the precise location of as having NO momentum, there is nothing, in fact, that you can say about it. The converse is also true--you can treat a quanta that you know the precise momentum of as having no position, in fact you MUST do so.

 

So what? Well, I would submit that because of that limitation of knowledge whatever causes quantum potentia to become actual is not, in fact, some consciousness observing it. It is only in a very limited sense that consciousness is necessary to measure what actually happens in the subatomic world--and that is when we are attempting to understand it. All the rest of it, the weak force causing atomic decay, etc. all just happens--no interventions necessary to get it going.

 

Btw. I really do feel the need to correct you on the use of the word 'theory'. I do so because whenever the discussion turns to spirituality and science that word gets bandied about and used in ways that scientists do *not* use it. What Amit (and you) have offered up is a hypothesis (at best) but it is not a theory. A theory is a explanatory model, built upon testable hypothesis, that explain a particular feature or features of the natural world within a naturalistic framework and subject to falsification. It is not a guess, it is not even an informed guess and no matter how much lay people try to use 'theory' when talking about science the way they use it when talking about, say, baseball the two terms do not mean the same thing in different context. When theory is used in relationship to science we *always* mean it in the sense I just defined. When lay people use it, they usually mean it in the sense of "my theory is that the Red Sox won't win another World Series for 50 years".

 

Theories of everything (picturesque names for the grand unified theory not-with-standing) really don't explain anything.

 

I would also agree with the Rev that Amit is guilty of greedy reductionism. In my area of study, molecular biology, no one invokes quantum forces on a regular basis. We can proceed, for the most part, as if quantum mechanics doesn't exist and no one *ever* invokes string theory because we really are able to proceed as if strings don't exist (and they may not but that's beside the point). Different problems, different resolutions. QM has no place in, say, population genetics because all of those subatomic interactions simply cancel one another out over time. You no more need QM to explain populations than you need calculus to explain Moby Dick.

 

I have more thoughts on this but need to leave the office. More later.

 

Cheers

Aj

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Surely every person has an agenda if that is what you want to call one's perspective.

 

Sure do and I never said they didn't. I was just pointing out that it looks to me like he just threw together some technical pseudoscience with the express intention of fooling the average person.

 

He clearly gave 'scientific' theory for his proposal and you danced around it and didn't give one specific reason why he was wrong!

 

I wasn't dancing, I was explaining. I was attacking his methodology because it was flawed and I gave specific examples as to why I considered it so. Where was the dance?

 

No one was talking about your perspective of soul's and ghosts, we were talking about the transcribing of possibility waves into actual manifestation, found in quantum mechanics.

 

Actually, it was you that alluded to it with your term "spirituality." Both "ghosts" and "spirits" fall under this broad category.

 

I can't say I know much about quantum mechanics. It's not my field. Biology and neurology are what I know and I see absolutely no problem with a materialist viewpoint when actually looking at the brain and it's components. It's really irrellevant to my perspective.

 

So, my friend, how can you just arbitrarily call him a crackpot?

 

First, there was nothing arbitrary in my judgement. I looked carefully at what he said, judged it against what I know of neuroscience, and determined his methodology to be completely flawed and his agenda to probably be dishonest. Second, I never called him a crackpot. You're the only one using that term.

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Sure do and I never said they didn't. I was just pointing out that it looks to me like he just threw together some technical pseudoscience with the express intention of fooling the average person.

:)Reverend, why would he do this? He does have a reputation at stake, and he didn't get where he is by 'fooling the average person'. :shrug:

 

I wasn't dancing, I was explaining. I was attacking his methodology because it was flawed and I gave specific examples as to why I considered it so. Where was the dance?

It seems to me that you are suggesting that he is comparing apples to oranges, and I must apologize, as I didn't really think you were serious. He seems to stay on a logical flow in one stream that supports his hypothesis. Consciousness and matter may seem like apples and oranges, except when one has a hypothesis that one preceded the other and created the other with the use of external resources than itself... then they may become the same thing in its interrelatedness.

 

No one was talking about your perspective of soul's and ghosts, we were talking about the transcribing of possibility waves into actual manifestation, found in quantum mechanics.

 

Actually, it was you that alluded to it with your term "spirituality." Both "ghosts" and "spirits" fall under this broad category.

 

Reverend, I do respect your input... and have learned quite a bit of information from you. Yet, in this assertion, consciousness is not the same as YOUR connotation of 'ghosts' and 'spirits', right? We may be just disagreeing over nomenclature anyway.

 

I can't say I know much about quantum mechanics. It's not my field. Biology and neurology are what I know and I see absolutely no problem with a materialist viewpoint when actually looking at the brain and it's components. It's really irrellevant to my perspective.

Hey, I know you probably know more about it than I. It's just that your perspective has a tendency of looking at things from the opposite side of my vantage point. It may very well have to do with our fascinations with different areas of exploration and paths we have taken in life. I think we're just all like the 5 blind men and the elephant, each assured they are the right one. The good news is, it is what it is, regardless of what we think. :phew:

 

So, my friend, how can you just arbitrarily call him a crackpot?

 

First, there was nothing arbitrary in my judgement. I looked carefully at what he said, judged it against what I know of neuroscience, and determined his methodology to be completely flawed and his agenda to probably be dishonest. Second, I never called him a crackpot. You're the only one using that term.

 

I must apologize. I don't think I've ever heard you use such a 'harsh' term, and you have too much class to do so. This remark from you, "but the way he's doing it is all wrong and I'm tempted to think he's doing it for the sole purpose of confusing the issue," is why I felt you were more or less discounting him as a crazy person. Someone with that kind of agenda, has to have something mentally wrong with them, IMHO. I, personally, find him a very respectful scientist... but, hey... what do I know? :shrug:

 

Most of this topic of this thread, I agree with you. Sometimes it's a shame that we often present a focus of our differences in the nature of debating. I do enjoy these topics of yours in which I participate, immensely. :thanks:

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:)Ladyfractal, thanks for your post. It deserves a lot of thought, and I don't have time to do so right now. I will answer this soon, when I can spend the time it deserves. Thanks for the insight into the differences of a theory and a hypothesis, amongst other things. :thanks:

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Now, if I understand the argument you are making based upon the work of this Amit fellow he is saying that QM means that consciousnes is the ground of all being because only through consciousness (someone there to do the measuring) does the probability wave actually collapse. (If this is not what you are saying, please correct me.) Now, I will freely admit that this Amit fellow has forgotten more about QM than I realize there is to know, but I would still reject the idea that QM requires consciousness--or, more accurately, that the processes that QM models require consciousness. Subatomic interactions can and do happen without anyone being there to watch them.

:)Hi Ladyfractal! It seems like you know quite a bit more about physics than I, and I look forward to some of your insights as I also explain my limited understandings more specifically.

 

First, I don't consider 'consciousness' as 'someone'. Perhaps it does express itself through many life forms, but may be considered separate from it, from what I have read. There seems to be many levels of consciousness, including unconsciousness, and I'm sure there are many more aspects that we are totally unaware of today. I do know that 'consciousness' is a very hot topic now, and many scientists, and others, are trying to understand it to a greater degree all the time! It seems to be in a realm all its own. If we were to equate consciousness with 'someone', it would totally negate this hypothesis from Amit Goswami, as I understand it. Here are some other excerpts from his article here.

 

quantum physics is the physics of every object. Whether it's submicroscopic or it's macroscopic, quantum physics is the only physics we've got. So although it's more apparent for photons, for electrons, for the submicroscopic objects, our belief is that all reality,all manifest reality, all matter, is governed by the same laws. And if that is so, then this experiment is telling us that we should change our worldview because we, too, are quantum objects.
In quantum physics, objects are seen as possibilities, possibility waves. Right? So then the question arises, what converts possibility into actuality?Because, when we see, we only see actual events. That's starting with us. When you see a chair, you see an actual chair, you don't see a possible chair.
We are nothing but the brain, which is made up of atoms and elementary particles. So how can a brain which is made up of atoms and elementary particles convert a possibility wave that it itself is? It itself is made up of the possibility waves of atoms and elementary particles, so it cannot convert its own possibility wave into actuality. This is called a paradox. Now in the new view, consciousness is the ground of being. So who converts possibility into actuality? Consciousness does, because consciousness does not obey quantum physics. Consciousness is not made of material.

 

Well, I would submit that because of that limitation of knowledge whatever causes quantum potentia to become actual is not, in fact, some consciousness observing it.

Oh, I don't think it is caused by 'observation'... how would consciousness do that since there is no means of consciousness to observe something without physical receptors to do so? Consciousness, it seems to me, according to Goswami's hypothesis, is the creator of the ability to observe!

 

IMO, consciousness is very misunderstood at this point, however, if I may say, I do think of one word that may influence the outcomes by consciousness, "intent". This is from other resources I've read, yet, I think our inability to conceive a more accurate concept causes us to lack a more articulate word to define it.

 

This hypothesis of Amit Goswami also reminds me of something that Einstien said in that, all this (existence) is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one!

 

Btw. I really do feel the need to correct you on the use of the word 'theory'. I do so because whenever the discussion turns to spirituality and science that word gets bandied about and used in ways that scientists do *not* use it. What Amit (and you) have offered up is a hypothesis (at best) but it is not a theory. A theory is a explanatory model, built upon testable hypothesis, that explain a particular feature or features of the natural world within a naturalistic framework and subject to falsification.

Thanks for the lesson in scientific jargon. :thanks:

 

I would also agree with the Rev that Amit is guilty of greedy reductionism.

If you are talking about how he takes a complex idea and explains it much more simplistically... I say THANK YOU! I am in no way in his calibur of understanding such things, and am gratefull for the expressions of his ideas in a way "I" can maybe begin to grasp them. I'm sure if you'd like a more detailed analysis of his hypothesis, there are probably sites and books presenting them. Maybe, if you are so inclined, you can read those more detailed concepts and explain it to me on a more basic level. :wicked:

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I would also agree with the Rev that Amit is guilty of greedy reductionism.

If you are talking about how he takes a complex idea and explains it much more simplistically... I say THANK YOU! I am in no way in his calibur of understanding such things, and am gratefull for the expressions of his ideas in a way "I" can maybe begin to grasp them. I'm sure if you'd like a more detailed analysis of his hypothesis, there are probably sites and books presenting them. Maybe, if you are so inclined, you can read those more detailed concepts and explain it to me on a more basic level. :wicked:

 

Actually, no, that's not what I'm talking about. :) Greedy reductionism is attempting to explain, for instance, a tornado in terms of quantum theory. In fact, you *can* use QM to describe a tornado since a tornado is simply the interactions of lots and lots of quanta, however no sane person would ever attempt to do that (and it is beyond the computational ability that we possess on the planet at any rate). It seems to me that Amit is attempting to explain everything in terms of QM and that's fine as far as it goes but it isn't necessary. As I said earlier, there's no need to bring QM into, for instance, population genetics or most of molecular biology. Those disciplines can proceed as if QM doesn't exist because at the macro-level at which they operate, quantum mechanical forces cancel one another out (otherwise the processes modeled in population genetics could never happen). I'm a reductionist, I really *do* believe that whatever we discover about the mind is ultimately going to reduce down to biology and chemistry on the explanatory level. But I'm not a greedy reductionist in that I would never attempt to use biology and chemistry to explain, for instance, the writings of James Baldwin or the music of Mark Knopfler.

 

Cheers

lf

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:) Reverend, why would he do this? He does have a reputation at stake, and he didn't get where he is by 'fooling the average person'. :shrug:

 

Ah, but there is much money and prestige to be found in the spiritualist/creationist/religionist community! One can reap millions by coming up with scientific sounding reasons for mythological beliefs. Theists it that stuff up!

 

It seems to me that you are suggesting that he is comparing apples to oranges, and I must apologize, as I didn't really think you were serious. He seems to stay on a logical flow in one stream that supports his hypothesis. Consciousness and matter may seem like apples and oranges, except when one has a hypothesis that one preceded the other and created the other with the use of external resources than itself... then they may become the same thing in its interrelatedness.

 

No, I'm not saying it's apples and oranges. I'm saying it's more like trying to understand the workings of a forest ecosystem by looking at individual atoms. In order to understand the forest, you need to back up. It's the same with the brain. In order to understand how the brain produces consciousness one need not look so close. It's obscures the picture. It's good to study such things, of course, but it isn't needed for the subject at hand. The brain works much like the internet does. It's millions of neurons are all strung together and differenmt parts of the brain work together to form what we call consciousness. This becomes painfully obvious through non-invasive techniques such a MRIs. You can see the different parts of the brain being used when we think or do certian things. Love, for instance, has it's own signature. Our consciousness' dependence on the brain can be observed by simply taking any drug that affects this organ. Drink coffee. Notice a mental difference? Miss sleep. Notice a mental difference? Skip a meal and let your blood sugar drop. Notice a mental difference? Deprive your brain of oxygen through holding down on your jugular veins. Notice a mental difference? Inhale something that replaces oxygen with nitrous oxide. Notice a mental difference? Drink alcohol, smoke weed, take acid, etc. Notice a mental difference?

 

Reverend, I do respect your input... and have learned quite a bit of information from you. Yet, in this assertion, consciousness is not the same as YOUR connotation of 'ghosts' and 'spirits', right? We may be just disagreeing over nomenclature anyway.

 

It seems to me that he's arguing for the ghost in the machine. He rants against the materialist's common sense view that the brain produces consciousness and argues that it exists all by itself. That is the same as arguing for ghosts floating around in old houses.

 

I must apologize. I don't think I've ever heard you use such a 'harsh' term, and you have too much class to do so. This remark from you, "but the way he's doing it is all wrong and I'm tempted to think he's doing it for the sole purpose of confusing the issue," is why I felt you were more or less discounting him as a crazy person. Someone with that kind of agenda, has to have something mentally wrong with them, IMHO. I, personally, find him a very respectful scientist... but, hey... what do I know? :shrug:

 

No, I was actually saying at worst he was a con artist. At the very least he's confused, because he's looking at the issue at hand too closely. He's got his head so far inside the brain that he's lost place of where he was. This doesn't mean there's anything mentally wrong with him. His brain seems to be working quite well, actually.

 

Most of this topic of this thread, I agree with you. Sometimes it's a shame that we often present a focus of our differences in the nature of debating. I do enjoy these topics of yours in which I participate, immensely. :thanks:

 

To disagree is to be human as we are perception machines. Our views are our own and so it's amazing when we can find any common ground, at all, when you look at all the possible ways there to view just one subject!

 

You're welcome. :)

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:) Reverend, why would he do this? He does have a reputation at stake, and he didn't get where he is by 'fooling the average person'. :shrug:

 

Ah, but there is much money and prestige to be found in the spiritualist/creationist/religionist community! One can reap millions by coming up with scientific sounding reasons for mythological beliefs. Theists it that stuff up!

:)Reverend, I assure you, everyone thinks the same about 'the other side'. :HaHa:

 

In order to understand the forest, you need to back up. It's the same with the brain. In order to understand how the brain produces consciousness one need not look so close. It's obscures the picture.

I have to disagree with you on this... although, ultimately it has to do with one's POV. Finding the basis of what makes things, seems to me to be very beneficial. Understanding to the minute details can give us insights into its dynamics, and further understanding. It's like going from 'spontaneous generation' to 'abiogenesis'.

 

The brain works much like the internet does. It's millions of neurons are all strung together and differenmt parts of the brain work together to form what we call consciousness. This becomes painfully obvious through non-invasive techniques such a MRIs. You can see the different parts of the brain being used when we think or do certian things. Love, for instance, has it's own signature. Our consciousness' dependence on the brain can be observed by simply taking any drug that affects this organ. Drink coffee. Notice a mental difference?

I have to take care of my car too, however, does it drive itself? How do you specifically know that consciousness is created by the brain, and not uses the body to express itself? The truth is, we don't know... and THAT is probably what enables us to experience our own journey to its fullest. However it may be beneficial to keep an open mind too.

 

I think that we may have new senses evolving. It is like the first animal to have the beginning of an eye. Wow, some could actually perceive something before it actually bumped into it! Sometimes it came in more clearly than other times AND for some more than others. Fortunately, at that time, we weren't cognizant enough to deny its existence. :phew:

It seems to me that he's arguing for the ghost in the machine. He rants against the materialist's common sense view that the brain produces consciousness and argues that it exists all by itself. That is the same as arguing for ghosts floating around in old houses.

 

Fair enough. If you are wiling to refer to 'living plants and animals' as machines... I suppose I can see how you can refer to transcendental consciousness as a ghost. IMO, life forms are not mere machines, but embody something that machines will never be able to do so. Do you think anyone would be able to create a machine to feel exactly like you do for your wife and children?

 

 

No, I was actually saying at worst he was a con artist. At the very least he's confused, because he's looking at the issue at hand too closely. He's got his head so far inside the brain that he's lost place of where he was. This doesn't mean there's anything mentally wrong with him. His brain seems to be working quite well, actually.

 

I haven't really noticed any professionals contradicting him either, have you? Of course I realize that I tend to lean to a different perspective than you... so I wonder what the Atheist community has to say about this? (BTW, I really like about ALL the material of the Atheist authors, to which I've become acquainted. IMO, there is a very fine line in the concept that there is no God to all things are part of God. :wicked: )

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Collins describes the moment that he, as a scientist, finally became convinced of the divinity of Jesus Christ:

 

On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains … the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.

A beautiful night at the beach is what made me a pagan. [smile]

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:) Reverend, I assure you, everyone thinks the same about 'the other side'. :HaHa:

 

There's money to be found in science, sure, mostly in the medical sciences, but it's much different than what the televangelist or theistic writer does. They merely speak of their deity and it's offspring and the money starts flowing in.

 

I have to disagree with you on this... although, ultimately it has to do with one's POV. Finding the basis of what makes things, seems to me to be very beneficial. Understanding to the minute details can give us insights into its dynamics, and further understanding. It's like going from 'spontaneous generation' to 'abiogenesis'.

 

Looking at the cellular level is more than good enough. Obviously, going to the molecular level confuses even the experts. I agree it should be done but I don't trust the conclusions that theists, like this man, come to. It's much too new of a field.

 

I have to take care of my car too, however, does it drive itself? How do you specifically know that consciousness is created by the brain, and not uses the body to express itself? The truth is, we don't know... and THAT is probably what enables us to experience our own journey to its fullest. However it may be beneficial to keep an open mind too.

 

I notice you said nothing about altered mental states. You just glossed over it. Why it that, Amanda? Could it be that it shows how common sensical it is to believe consciousness arises from the brain? It's just so obvious and it's maddening to think that so many can't see it!

 

To "know" simply means to "believe without doubt." Anyone can "know" anything. So what? Whether we know or not is really irrelevant. It's who has the most convincing evdience. I've seen nothing substantial from the ghost in the machine's side.

 

There are cars that can drive themselves and as technology advances they will get better and better. They will soon be able to think fro themselves. It's easy to see how a car could be equipped with the equivalent of healing, too. Anything that we see in organic machines like ourselves will be replicated with machines. Eventually, they'll be able to reproduce themselves, as well.

 

I think that we may have new senses evolving. It is like the first animal to have the beginning of an eye. Wow, some could actually perceive something before it actually bumped into it! Sometimes it came in more clearly than other times AND for some more than others. Fortunately, at that time, we weren't cognizant enough to deny its existence. :phew:

 

Such as?

 

Fair enough. If you are wiling to refer to 'living plants and animals' as machines...

 

Willing? I'm excitedly adamant! Study life from the cellular level and what you see are organic machines. It's an obvious truth that can only be dened on an emotional level -- which looks to be what you're doing.

 

I suppose I can see how you can refer to transcendental consciousness as a ghost. IMO, life forms are not mere machines, but embody something that machines will never be able to do so. Do you think anyone would be able to create a machine to feel exactly like you do for your wife and children?

 

I don't see why not. Emotions are chemical cocktails released and interpretted by tangible physiological organic structures. Why do you think this can't be replicated synthetically? I can see no reason. It's only a matter of time.

 

I haven't really noticed any professionals contradicting him either, have you?

 

Ah, but have you looked? I'm sure I can dig up something!

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I haven't really noticed any professionals contradicting him either, have you?

 

http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~ursa/philos/goswami.htm

 

Discussion of Amit Goswami's Science Within Consciousness

Peter B. Lloyd

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Amit Goswami published his book, "The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World", in 1993. In 1996, he and Henry Swift started up the online newsletter Science Within Consciousness, which carries articles and news features connected with the Goswamian philosophy. Below, I comment on Goswami's metaphysical theories as represented in his writings in the SWC newsletter, especially in his pieces:

 

Monistic Idealism May Provide Better Ontology for Cognitive Science: A Reply to Dyer (undated, circa 1994),

The Hard Question: View from A Science Within Consciousness (undated, but probably early 1996),

Toward an Understanding of the Paranormal (Spring 1998),

 

Amit Goswami was a professor at the Institute of Theoretical Science at the University of Oregon.

 

He taught physics for 32 years in this country, mostly at Oregon. He now is Senior Resident Researcher at the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

1. THE HARD PROBLEM

 

1.1 Goswami's 'consciousness' versus mental consiousness

My main objection to Goswami's philosophy is that he has defined consciousness in such a way that it no longer has its normal meaning of mental consciousness, but instead is supposed to refer to something non-mental. We might call this 'Goswamian consciousness' or 'quantum consciousness', as opposed to 'mental consciousness'. He says, for instance:

 

...consciousness transcends both matter and mind ...

[Hard Questions, Sect. II]

 

Conventionally, Western philosophers attribute properties of consciousness - experience and choice - to the mind. This has been corrected in quantum functionalism in which consciousness is defined to transcend both matter and mind.

[Hard Questions, Sect. VI]

 

In so far as Goswami's philosophy is a monism at all, it is therefore a neutral monism, not a mental monism (or 'monistic idealism' as he calls it). As I have argued elsewhere, any neutral monism is actually identical to a version of physical monism, just because the physical world is already as neutral as a world can be. For, the constituents of the physical world are defined exclusively and exhaustively by their logical and mathematical properties in relation to one another. As far as physics is concerned, the basic particles and fields that make up the physical universe have no intrinsic qualities but only extrinsic, relational properties such as mass and electrical charge. All such entities are defined by physics, however. You will not, for instance, spot any electrons by looking out of the window of the Clapham omnibus: we are acquainted with the basic constituents of the physical world only through the propositions and formulae of physics. So, those extrinsic properties are the only properties possessed by those entities. Hence, physicalism itself is 'neutral' in the relevant sense. Therefore, to say that a metaphysical theory such as Goswami's is a 'neutral' monism is just to say that it is a 'physical' monism.

 

The non-mentality of Goswamian 'quantum consciousness' is again brought out in the following passage:

 

Ordinary perception consists of the collapse of a possibility wave by consciousness (via recognition and choice) in the presence of awareness. But in unconscious (subliminal) perception, in which consciousness but not awareness is present, there should be no collapse of the wave.

[Hard Questions, Sect. IV]

 

It seems here that Goswami is using 'awareness' to mean 'mental consciousness' as opposed to 'quantum consciousness'.

 

1.2 Goswami's 'monism' is really a dualism

 

Goswami claims that his philosophy is a monistic idealism. For instance:

 

... the new hypothesis is postulating a new psychophysical parallelism, but firmly within a monistic idealist ontology.

[Hard Questions, Sect. VI]

 

In fact, Goswami's philosophy is really not even a monism. He claims that that consciousness creates mind and matter, or subject and object. That, however, still allows that mind and matter are irreducibly different, and it still leaves unsolved Chalmer's Hard Problem of accounting for mental consciousness. He writes:

 

... the subject consciousness of the experience ... arises co-dependently and tangled-hierarchically with the chosen brain state ... both of which exist only as possibility until the collapse, and no dualism is involved.

[Hard Questions, Sect. III]

 

Both subtle and physical worlds remain in possibility until consciousness self-referentially collapses the possibility structure into actuality.

[Hard Questions, Sect. VI]

 

There is no reason given for thinking that the mind and the brain are not ontologically irreducibly different. Goswami repeatedly refers to mind and matter as two distinct things, and one can only assume that they have their normal connotations, in which case they are indeed fundamentally different for reasons given by philosophers throughout modern history from Descartes to Chalmers. In order for Goswami to claim that he they are 'one', he needs to address the well-rehearsed arguments that they are different. He does not do so. Instead, all he offers is the theory that they arise out of potentiality together: even if this were true, it would not be an argument for saying that they are one after they have arisen out of that potentiality.

 

Depending on how it is interpreted, Goswami's philosophy might even be not dualistic but triadic, for he says:

 

[scientists] tend to think that any positing of consciousness collapsing a the possibility wave must refer to a dualistic consciousness - a consciousness separate from matter.

[Hard Questions]

 

What those scientists "tend to think" is quite correct. Whether consciousness here refers to Goswami's quantum consciousness or the more usual mental consciousness of Chalmers, it must be non-physical - just because the existing equations that describe the behaviour of physical systems between successive measurements make no reference to consciousness. (Admittedly, 'non-physical' here means only that the consciousness to which we are referring is not part of the physical world as presently conceived. One could, however, envision some future extension of physics that incorporates a novel physical entity that objectively collapses wave functions. This is in contrast with mental consciousness, which is irreducibly non-physical because it involves qualia. But if we were to posit such an entity, a 'quantum consciousness' in Goswami's terms, it would nonetheless be separate from matter.)

 

That Goswami has made no progress on the Hard Problem is clear from these passage:

 

At this point consciousness collapses that component of the uncollapsed coherent wave superposition, all the neurons involved in that meaningful state simultaneously fire, and a perception arises (along with a subject).

[Hard Questions, Sect. II]

 

When consciousness collapses the possibility waves of this tangled-hierarchical system of the brain and mind, self-reference, the quantum experience, arises.

[Hard Questions, Sect. II]

 

This totally glosses over the very point that Chalmers' Hard Problem addresses: How could the collapse of the superposition conceivably give rise to a qualial perception? Why should that physical event have any quale associated with it? Given that the physics of the event does not entail the quale, we are left with an unexplained quale. Despite the title of his article, Goswami is just not addressing the Hard Problem: he is not tackling the deep question of why the neural correlate of consciousness (which he claims is a collapse of a wave function) should be associated with any quale whatsoever.

 

That Goswami is not taking us anywhere is further indicated by his admission that his theory is a version of functionalism, a theory that is known to fail as an attempted solution to the Hard Problem:

 

... an idealist model of consciousness, quantum measurement, and self-reference called quantum functionalism.

[Hard Questions, Sect. II]

 

1.3 Subjectivity considered as a hard problem

 

As I understand Chalmers, the Hard Problem is that of accounting for qualia: to explain how qualitative properties (such as colours) that appear in conscious experiences could, even in principle, ever be produced by a piece of matter. Goswami disregards this and instead regards the notion of subjectivity as being the hard explanandum. In fact, he says there are a total of four 'hard problems', but the first one, which is supposed to be Chalmer's 'Hard Problem' is defined as:

 

How does the one world of matter separate into two, subject and object?

[Hard Questions, Sect. I]

 

When he does eventually mention qualia, it is only the subjectivity that bothers him:

How can a subjective quale be explained from a science which is avowedly purely objective?

[Hard Questions, Sect. I.1]

 

One reason why the problem of subjectivity is weaker than the problem of qualia is that it is not at all clear what subjectivity is, and indeed whether there is such a thing as a subject at all. In contrast, it is transparently obvious what qualia are because they present themselves vividly to our awareness throughout our waking lives, and we can mentally point to them. The subject of mental experience, however, is notoriously elusive. The subject cannot be known in the normal sense of the verb 'to know'. Hence there is an initial hard problem of articulating anything at all about the subject, which places us at one remove from even being able to state the problem of accounting for subjectivity in a physical world. In contrast, as I have said, the problem of qualia can be stated much more cogently and forefully - as it is, for example, in Jackson's argument about Mary's escape from the black-and-white room.

 

2. SELF-REFERENCE

 

2.1 The ontology of self-reference: a category error

 

A key element in Goswami's philosophy is his claim to derive consciousness (that is, of the Goswamian not the mental variety) from self-referentiality. He says:

 

The measurement [of a quantum-mechanical system] is tangled-hierarchical and produces self-reference. An example of a tangled hierarchy is the self-referential sentence, I am a liar. ... This tangled hierarchy causes the self-reference of the sentence.

[Hard Questions, Sect. II]

 

This involves a category error, to use Gilbert Ryle's term. Self-reference in this sense is a property of propositions. It is not a property of any physical things, or indeed of any mental things. So, it cannot be correct to say that a measurement "produces self-reference". Hence the metaphysical conclusions that Goswami builds on this also fail:

 

Out of the self-referential measurement itself simultaneously arises a subject - which I call the quantum self - that measures, that chooses, that observes, and object(s) that are observed. Notice how, in this description, dualism is avoided because ultimately there is oneness (the division is only an appearance), allowing subjects and objects to be treated on the same footing.

[Hard Questions, Sect. II)

 

In this passage, Goswami has now added another layer of error. The first layer of error is, as I have said, to ascribe self-referentiality to the measurement. The second is to infer that the division into subject and object is illusory. Note, it is only the inference of identity, and not the assertion of it, that I am claiming is faulty here. Well, perhaps subject and object are indeed one: but we cannot be sure because Goswami has neglected to tell us what exactly the 'subject' is. Nonetheless the assertion that they are one just does not follow from the measurement's being self-referential - even if per impossible the measurement could be self-referential (which, as we have seen, it cannot be because it would be category error).

 

2.2 Self-reference in mysticism: not true

 

For some reason that I have not fathomed, Goswami wants to elevate self-reference to the level of a mystical truth. Thus he says:

... transcendence, unity, and self-reference ... are also the characteristics of consciousness that mystics from every age have declared based on their direct realization ...

[Hard Questions, Sect. II]

 

Undoubtedly, the first two characteristics ("transcendence" and "unity") are indeed commonly declared by mystics down the ages. The third characteristic ("self-reference") I have never seen mentioned by any mystic of any age, nor have I seen any like self-reference declared, nor do I think it is even remotely in keeping with the sorts of things that mystics say. I am therefore very surprised that Goswami claims self-reference to be a common mystical insight, and I would be very interested to see what references he could give to support this.

 

2.3 Self-reference in the mind-body problem: not true

 

Goswami also wants to elevate self-reference to a pivotal place within the mind-body problem. He writes:

 

This self-reference is also the most important brain-mind paradox - how is it that we can refer to ourselves?

[Hard Questions, Sect. II]

 

There are two points I would make about this. First, there is nothing difficult, mysterious, or problematic about referring to oneself, as it is a merely prosaic, mechanical, and easy thing to do. Second, it is perfectly possible to be mentally conscious without referring to oneself, therefore self-reference cannot possibly be the most important brain-mind paradox (even if it were a paradox at all, which it is not).

 

Unfortunately, Goswami has neglected to say what he thinks is the problem or paradox in referring to oneself. It is actually very straightforward. One way of doing it is to get a sticky label, write your name on it, and stick it on your forehead. You can now unamiguously refer to yourself. If you want to make it clear that you are referring to your mind, not your body, then just think of your mind for a few moments, and say to yourself, "I hereby designate this mind, Peter Lloyd" (or whatever your personal name is. Thereafter you can refer to yourself by mentioning that name. I do not see where Goswami finds any difficulty here. I can only suppose that he is conflating formal systems (where self-reference is indeed problematic) with things in the real world (where self-reference is unproblematic).

 

2.4 Self-reference implicated in qualia: not true

 

Continuing to see self-reference in everything, Goswami ascribes to self-reference a central role in qualia. With regard to qualia, he says:

 

This is the paradox of self-reference back again. ... The theory of quantum functionalism above, having addressed the paradox of self-reference, thus also successfully eradicates the paradox of the qualia of experiences.

[Hard Questions, Sect. III]

 

This is a non sequitur. Goswami has simply pulled this conclusion out of thin air, without any argument at all.

 

3. QUANTUM MECHANICS

 

3.1 Unity of mind: not attributable to quantum mechanics

 

Goswami suggests that telepathy it might have something to do with the non-locality observed in quantum measurements of correlated particles (as in Aspect's experiments). He refers to a particular experiment by Grinberg-Zilberbaum, in which two telepaths are deemed to have 'synchronised' their minds by meditating together, and then engage in telepathy from isolated locations. In the following passage, however, Goswami himself points out one reason why this theory runs into difficulty. Referring to the quantum measurement of correlated particles and to consciousness in the brain, he says:

 

... the difference is that in the former case, as soon as the wave function is collapsed by measurement, the objects become correlated; but in the case of the correlated brains, consciousness maintains the correlation ...

[Hard Questions, Sect. V]

 

A more damaging criticism is just to point out that telepathy has often been established to occur without any such prior 'correlation' or 'synchronisation', therefore any theory that takes that as its basis cannot explain the overwhelming majority of the telepathy data.

 

3.2 Psi phenomena: not attributable to quantum mechanics

 

Goswami is very confident that he has solved all the deep problems posed by psi phenomena:

These problems have now been solved within the new paradigm of science within consciousness.

[understanding the Paranormal]

 

He jumps to the conclusion that psi phenomena can be accounted for by quantum mechanics without giving any argument for it. He simply announces:

 

Evidence for quantum non-locality of our experience abounds in the literature of paranormal phenomena. ... The straightforward explanation is quantum non-locality ...

[Hard Questions, Sect. V]

 

This is simply not true. The empirical data that exist (for instance that produced by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory, which Goswami cites) indicate only anomalous channels of control and information. It is not directly indicative of non-locality as such, and certainly not of specifically quantum non-locality. Non-locality in general, and quantum non-locality in particular, are characteristics of possible models that could perhaps be formulated. As far as I am aware, however, nobody has yet even formulated a model of psi phenomena to a level of detail that enables the prediction of experimental psi results. Therefore the involvement of any kind of non-locality, let alone quantum non-locality, is far from being established. All that has been established so far is the mere existence of the psi phenomena.

 

It is curious to note how Goswami tries to slide the quantum-mechanical interpretation into his report of the one experiment in telepathy that he mentions:

 

A recent experiment by the Mexican neurophysiologist Jacobo Grinberg-Zylbernaum and his collaborators (1994) is even more telling. In their work, the researchers used subjects "correlated" (after the fashion of quantum nonlocal correlation posited by Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (1935) and verified by Alain Aspect (Aspect et al, 1982)) by meditating together for twenty-minute [sic].

[better Ontology, penultimate section]

 

This is seriously misleading, as it suggests to the reader that Grinberg-Zylbernaum's procedure was derived in some meaningful way from the method of correlating sub-atomic particles. This is not so. Having the two subjects sit down in the same room and do a bit of meditating is emphatically nothing like the correlating of sub-atomic particles. Goswami is taking poetic licence too far here.

 

4. ATTITUDE

 

I hesitate to say this, because it might sound like an ad hominem remark, but I notice a disappointingly simplistic attitude in some of Gosawmi's writing, bordering on arrogance in respect of both science and religion. For example, he writes:

 

it [idealist science] integrates all the forces of psychology, and physics and biology.

[better Ontology, Abstract]

 

which is an astonishingly sweeping statement, given the rather meagre evidence that Goswami gives to back it up. It also leaves one wondering whether the idealist science is also supposed to "integrate the forces of" the other disciplines not mentioned, such as chemistry and economics. In respect of religion and spirituality, he writes:

Have you ever wondered where the moral fortitude of Gandhi and Mother Teresa comes from? Or the love of Saint Theresa of Avila or Anandamayi Ma of India? Or the wisdom of Lao Tsu or Thomas Jefferson? ... The origin of their behaviour is the real freedom of the quantum self toward which their identities had shifted.

 

To say that great human achievements can all be explained by the collapse of wave functions, it seems to me, is reductionism at its silliest.

 

© Peter B. Lloyd, 1999

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I haven't really noticed any professionals contradicting him either, have you?

 

http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~ursa/philos/goswami.htm

 

Discussion of Amit Goswami's Science Within Consciousness

Peter B. Lloyd

 

C'mon Reverend! :) You can hardly put this guy, Peter B. Lloyd in the same class as Amit Goswami! Your guy, describes himself on his home page:

got a degree in Mathematics at Cardiff University. I worked in Oxford for six years as a software developer and attended philosophy classes. Then I moved to London and have since worked as a freelance software developer. In my spare time, I write and publish stuff on philosophy. I am director of Fencroft Ltd, a software consultancy incorporated in the UK, which also trades as Whole-Being Books (book publishing) and Metronexco (maps of public transport systems).

 

His work seems to be of the extreme empirical mindset... in that if we can not perceive it through our five senses... then it does not exist. Some say we will believe it when we see it, and some say we will see it when we believe it. I think both ways have relevence.

 

Wikipedia has this to say about Amit Goswami:

Now retired as a faculty, for many years he was professor of physics at the University of Oregon. He began his career specializing in nuclear physics, but later his research interests shifted to quantum cosmology, quantum measurement theory, and applications of quantum mechanics to the mind-body problem.

 

In the late 1980s he developed an idealist interpretation of quantum mechanics, inspired in part by philosophical ideas drawn from Advaita Vedanta. His book The Self-Aware Universe, is a popularized account of this approach to understanding quantum physics and consciousness. In contrast to materialism, Goswami argues that universal consciousness is the basis for reality ("Consciousness is the ground of all being") and that the material world arises from conscious observation through a process intimately connected to wavefunction collapse in a quantum measurement. He argues that "the Universe is self-aware through us."

 

And another consideration about Amit Goswami's hypothesis.. is that it is in company with what Carl Sagan said... that we are part of the cosmos trying to know itself... AND Einstien, in that this existence is all an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

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C'mon Reverend! :) You can hardly put this guy, Peter B. Lloyd in the same class as Amit Goswami!

 

Oh, I agree totally. He's far and above Amit! He's so far above him Amit can't even be seen. What you're doing is nothing more than an argument from authority. I couldn't care less if he had 100 degrees. What he's saying is wrong and that's what matters. I notice you didn't refute any of the specifics of Peter's excellent debunking -- just as you made absolutely no effort to refute what I said about altered states. Look, if you give up, just do it. Stop dancing around it. Put up your white flag, already.

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