Sunday, September 30, 2007

The end. . .

For now anyway. When I started AMNAP, there were relatively few places online where psi phenomena and other evidence against a reductionistic, materialistic model were discussed and debated in a serious and rigorous manner. That's all changed now. I feel the baton has been passed and it's time for me to focus on other things, like my family, my photography, and less time online.

Thank you for your readership, and for some great discussions and comments. I'm sure I will see many of you occasionally from time to time on various fora and other blogs. Just a lot less frequently. Life is calling. . .

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Real epistemology

This letter from Stuart Resnick to Ray Kurzweil does a nice job summarizing my view of true epistemology. Stuart is referencing Buddhist philosophy, but I think the points he makes apply to any conceptual approach to consciousness. Here are the relevant excerpts:

Buddhism uses the word "consciousness" as follows. If a factory makes animal crackers out of dough, you could say that "dough" is a name for the substance common to all the animal crackers, regardless of their differing names and forms. In the same sense, Buddhism uses "consciousness" as the name for the substance of all things without exception. Though this definition may seem somewhat different from the one you use, it's still adhering to the understanding that "consciousness" is a synonym for "what you're experiencing right now."

According to the view of "consciousness" assumed in your debate with Searle, you could doubt that it's a property of a chair. But you'd hardly doubt that a chair appears IN consciousness. And in fact, anything you could possibly perceive, experience, or imagine appears in consciousness. For instance, if you can "imagine" something, it's (by definition, by both definitions) in consciousness. You could speculate, "A long time ago, a universe existed in which consciousness had not yet arisen." That speculation itself would be one more thing appearing in consciousness.

So far I am pretty much in full agreement.

To say "consciousness is the ultimate substance" is a way of expressing this conclusion that all things appear in consciousness. It follows that "consciousness" has meaning only as a name for this substance. That is: since nothing could be outside of consciousness, there's no meaning to the idea of "having" or "not having" consciousness. So the Buddhist view is: the very idea that there are things that "have consciousness" (i.e. "sentient beings") is along the lines of a dream, a delusion, or mere jugglery conjured up by some magician.

I would not go as far as Resnick that the idea of things "having consciousness" is necessarily a dream or delusion. However he is certainly correct that we cannot ever hope to know of a world of unconscious materiality. Everything we do, see, or think about is known only insofar as it is registered by consciousness. And this is the foundation of epistemology, which materialists so very often lose sight of.

The relevance to this blog is to notice that the ultimate composition of the only world we can know, is subjective. Objective reality is just another subjectively experienced set of concepts and models for predicting the (subjectively experienced) results of investigations. It may be "true" or not, but its epistemological foundation is exactly the same as belief in Zeus, crystal healing, geocentrism or telepathy. In all cases we are talking about beliefs and models, experienced subjectively. This even goes for beliefs like Dennett's and the Churchlands, who are convinced that subjective experience is not real, and attempt to flog this porridge among their materialist fellow-travellers.

More from the "rationalists". . .

The favorite blog of the "rationalists" these days has to be Overcoming Bias.

Eliezer Yudkowsky is one of the most prolific bloggers there. A man unwilling to consider the possibility of parapsychology experiments being valid unless they pass a repeatibility test that no experimental psychology protocol (or clinical medical protocol) has ever acheived: a 95% successful replication rate across many different research centers. Now let's read him pontificate about human longevity:

I think it's pretty absurd for any of us to pretend to maturity when all of us are less than a thousand years old, making us infants by the standards of future civilization.

That ranks right up there with his comment on how terrible and immoral it is not to freeze the heads of everyone after they die, presumably so that the nanotech replicators can copy our neural synapses and download them into computer simulations. Eliezer also believes that his non-profit organization will succeed in bringing about the Singularity by developing the world's first artificial intelligence.

Yes, folks, this is "rationalism" for you. . . Meanwhile, Eliezer and his fellow travellers have absolutely no interest in reading about real research suggesting that the mind is something other than just brain processes.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

AMNAP Hiatus. . .

AMNAP is going on hiatus for a while. We will see you all sooner or later. . .

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Reductionism in biology

It is a matter of great faith among many science bloggers and fellow travellers that reductionism has made great strides in explaining many of the mysteries of life in terms of physical causation. While they admit that reductionism has, thus far, failed to explain consciousness, memory, and perception, they maintain that the reductionist program has essentially solved the mysteries in biology. Sadly, this is yet another example where an assumption of knowledge impedes actual knowledge.

Yes, we do know about DNA, transcribed to RNA, which codes for the sequence of amino acids in proteins. What we do not know about biology, however, vastly exceeds what is actually known. While there is a great faith among reductionists that biology can all be explained in terms of contact mechanics, molecular machines and chemistry, the actual explanations are sadly lacking in just about every case. For example, we do not know:

  • Why do proteins fold so quickly into a characteristic shape when there are millions of thermodynamically equivalent conformations that a protein could take?

  • What controls the unfolding of complexity in development in each case for millions of different species?

  • How exactly do acquired characteristics like knee callouses in camels, migration patterns in birds, and predator fear behaviors (which are learned) turn into "hard-coded" behaviors based solely on genes that exactly duplicate the learned / acquired characteristics?

  • How do organisms based on blind/dumb contact mechanics "regulate" during development to overcome problems?

  • How do organisms heal (which amounts to many of the same processes as development, only in response to particular injuries)?

  • How does a single-celled organism like paramecium display complex behavior, including learning?

  • How do organisms perceive, which ones are conscious, and how do they learn?

  • And on and on. . .

It is obvious at this point that boasts like Eliezer's claiming that biology has been explained reductionistically are almost entirely empty.

Readers who have grown tired of the endless promises of reductionism coupled with an apparent inability on the part of their adherents to notice the lacunae of materialist theories would do well to read Rupert Sheldrake's book on field phenomena in biology, which points towards a very different understanding of morphogenesis, regulation, healing and behavior.

Unsolved problems in Neuroscience

I thought readers of this blog would find this Wikipedia entry of great interest. Reductionistic materialists assume that science has already proven that mind = brain, and that anyone who disagrees with that assessment is simply uninformed, a religious zealot, or deluded. But perhaps that is just a case of an assumption of knowledge providing an obstacle to understanding? This list of the unsolved problems in neuroscience (most of which have been investigated, over and over again, for the past hundred years!) shows just what materialists have not even begun to explain about mind and consciousness.

Here is the Wikipedia article, in full:

Some of the yet unsolved problems of neuroscience include:

  • Self awareness: What is the neuronal basis of subjective experience, wakefulness, alertness, arousal and attention? What is its function?

  • Perception: How does the brain transfer sensory information into coherent, private percepts? What are the rules by which perception is organized? What are the features/objects that constitute our perceptual experience of internal and external events? How are the senses integrated? Is face perception special (e.g. innate)? What is the relationship between subjective experience and the physical world?

  • Learning and Memory: Where do our memories get stored and how are they retrieved again? How can learning be improved? What is the difference between explicit and implicit memories? How plastic is the mature brain?

  • Development: How and why did the brain evolve (the way it did)? What are the molecular determinants of individual brain development?

  • Sleep: Why do we dream? What are the underlying brain mechanisms? What is its relation to anesthesia?

  • Cognition and Decisions: How and where does the brain evaluate reward value and effort (cost) to modulate behavior? How does previous experience alter perception and behavior? What are the genetic and environmental contributions to brain function?

  • Language: How is it implemented neurally? What is the basis of semantic meaning?

  • Diseases: What are the neural bases (causes) of mental diseases like psychotic disorders (e.g. mania, schizophrenia), Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or addiction? Is it possible to recover loss of sensory or motor function?

Materialists assume that each and every one of these unanswered questions will be resolved through reductionist explanations, in terms of neurons and neural firing patterns. However, the lack of progress on many of these items should bring that unstinting faith into some question. . .