Mod+ 269. DR. MICHAEL SHERMER, SKEPTICAL SCIENCE REPORTING

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Mar 24, 2015.

  1. Bertha Huse

    Bertha Huse New

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    Perhaps another odd aspect of Dawkin's obsession with a "selfish gene" is the writings of Darwin himself. In Darwin's Descent of Man, the concept of the survival of the fittest is only mentioned twice. While love is mentioned 95 times. Darwin believed sympathy to be the strongest instinct in nature, and the ability to co-operate. You would think someone claiming as much biological expertise as Dawkins would be aware of this.

    My Best,
    Bertha
     
  2. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

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    I am not a Dawkins sympathizer by any means, but unfortunately I think your argument is a straw-man version of his.

    a) yes
    b) no; see "c".
    c) no; under his hypothesis, the molecules that happened to have some ability to survive did so. The molecules that didn't happen to have this ability, didn't survive. It wasn't that the molecules had any desire or conscious effort. I think Dawkins anthropomorphized the molecule merely as a literary technique to generate interest in the reader.

    Personally, I think that consciousness (whatever that is) could cause ordinarily random quantum processes to behave in meaningful non-random ways and that this could possibly affect things such as the organization of certain molecules and could therefore have affects on the structures of organisms.
     
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  3. Spanky

    Spanky New

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    Thanks, I think I see it a bit more clearly now. For Dawkins an organic molecule would possess some chance property that enabled its continuence--probably an ability to link into every more complex structures, which eventually started wriggling and striving. But still, a little further down the line, I think the same conundrum occurs in Dawkins' schema: at some stage this conglomeration would have had to start knowing and valuing itself. Otherwise what is the point in trying to survive? Whence derives the telelogical impulse? I just can't make the equation work without purpose entering in somewhere, whether it be from internal or external agency.

    A rock can survive better than a human being; if survival of molecules is the only principle at work, why didn't the universe just settle for making rocks? Why is DNA, with its complex survival needs, such an entitled prima donna, such a pampered princess amongst molecules? Why go to the trouble of wrapping a double helix in a rabbit when you can just wrap a carbon molecule in a rock? I know for Dawkins complexity occurs naturally. Mount Improbable is invariably climbed. But without consciousness and purpose in the universe the climb hardly seems worth the trouble, as there'll be no-one there to enjoy the view at the top anyway.

    I, like you (if I read you right), tend to think that a formative logic has to derive from an inherent and purposive property the soon-to-be wiggling molecule must share with with universe at large.
     
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  4. DanBoothCohen

    DanBoothCohen New

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    Pardon my jumping in late to the conversation...

    One of my responses to Shermer is that he is dead wrong on the main assertion that science and reason are leading humanity toward truth, justice and freedom. To cite a core illustration of how this claim is a fallacy, I point to the conflict between Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller over the development of the hydrogen bomb at Los Alamos in the early 1950s. Oppenheimer argued that scientists have a obligation to weigh their work on a morality scale. If one applies Shermer's standard - science and reason are leading humanity toward truth, justice and freedom - one might reasonably offer a moral objection to the H-Bomb. Teller's counter-argument, was not that the H-Bomb could be justified on moral grounds, but that scientists are expressly prohibited from offering moral value judgments. They are to calculate, engineer, design and build. No more than that.

    Oppenheimer's famously said, "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." To Teller, this was treason. Oppenheimer was known as the Father of the A-Bomb for his role at Los Alamos in the war. Teller was known as the Father of the H-Bomb, not for his theoretical, engineering or management ability, but for his political victory in having Oppenheimer sacked as the Los Alamos Director. To pointedly underscore that morality has no place in the scientific academy, Oppenheimer's security clearance was revoked and he was falsely smeared as a Communist for attempting to form a nexus between science and morality. For the next 60+ years to this day, the fate of Robert Oppenheimer stands as an object lesson for any scientist working with federal funding.

    Shermer's claim to the opposite is a dishonest revision of the history of science. He is simply a mouthpiece for the politcal and economic interests he serves.
     
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  5. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

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    Where are my manners? Welcome to the forum! :) (I've only been here a few weeks myself - longtime Skeptiko podcast listener though)

    According to the hypothesis, eventually enough processes get going and synchronize or cohere into a sort of centralized sense of identity complete with desires such as the desire to live. Desires that are advantageous to the organism's survival and replication are cultivated naturally because organisms without these desires don't replicate.

    The difference between a rock and a rabbit is that the rock is an amorphous random collection of molecules, whereas a rabbit contains molecules organized into self-replicating patterns. The only replicated patterns found in rocks are crystalline structures, but these are not self-replicating. Why self-replicating patterns? Because it is possible, and if anything is possible, then sooner or later it will be realized.

    Materialists in general don't deny that they personally have conscious meaningful experiences. But they insist that these meaningful experiences are limited to their bodily lifespan and that there is no greater meaning beyond what an individual creates for him/herself. They believe that consciousness is the sum of its material parts, and the feeling that consciousness is somehow "other" is an illusion. I agree with the monist perspective, but I think that limiting the singularity of existence to only the presently explored forms of matter and energy is intellectual hubris - especially considering all the contrary evidence.

    I think formative logic is one evidence that this singularity of existence is somehow rooted in something like consciousness rather than something like material. And I would also say that if meaning is experienced anywhere anytime in the universe then it could be said that the universe is meaningful. Materialists would not argue against the assertion that the universe has mass because every once in a while scattered throughout the vast expansive void, mass is clumped together. Similarly, every once in a great while scattered throughout the meaningless randomness, meaningful experience is also found.
     
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  6. Spanky

    Spanky New

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    Thanks for your great reply. I'm probably making it plain by this point that I'm not a scientist, and I appreciate your clarifications! One paragraph in particular leapt out at me. You write: "The difference between a rock and a rabbit is that the rock is an amorphous random collection of molecules, whereas a rabbit contains molecules organized into self-replicating patterns. The only replicated patterns found in rocks are crystalline structures, but these are not self-replicating. Why self-replicating patterns? Because it is possible, and if anything is possible, then sooner or later it will be realized."

    And of course the rabbit molecules are more than just self replicating; they're structured into coherent and functional form and guided by an awareness that values itself. I've long held a pet notion, an unprovable intellectual conceit, that consciousness is the universe's balance to entropy; it is what organises matter against the balancing tendency of energy and matter to dissipation and formlessness. It is what makes true your last lines: "Why self-replicating patterns? Because it is possible, and if anything is possible, then sooner or later it will be realized.", localising energy within form to allow purposeful refinement of form and mind to occur. The materialist claim seems to be that even in this entropic void whence we have all sprung, the astonishing material complexity of self-replicating molecules is unaccountably durable.

    How do we get from rock to rabbit? Why does the universe want rabbits when it can have really great rocks? I think that for materialists to say that, "if anything is possible, then sooner or later it will be realised.", as a universal rule, without any causal principle, is to gloss over the enigma of life's existence too easily. Surely for the rabbit molecules to survive the entropic void, consciousness as an organising principle must be present at the outset, rather than simply emerging one day as a 'sum of its parts' as you nicely put it, when our proto-rabbit reaches sufficient complexity for that to occur.
     
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  7. Typoz

    Typoz Member

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    There was a rather neat short story by Isaac Asimov on the subject of entropy, entitled The Last Question (1956). An entertaining read at least.
     
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  8. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

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    I am not a scientist either... just an engineer moonlighting as a philosopher. :)

    I think most materialists would agree that "if anything is possible, then sooner or later it will be realized". The difference between my perspective and that of materialists is that they limit the mechanism for this realization to randomness (e.g. an infinite number of monkeys typing on typewriters for an infinite number of years would eventually produce a Shakespeare play.) I think the evidence indicates that meaning can travel backwards through time and inform the present which greatly reduces the number of monkeys and typewriters required to tap out a verse or two. I just watched this short video of Dean Radin talking about an amazing synchronicity he experienced:


    If meaning can travel backwards through time to inform the present then the self-organization of molecules into organisms and the adaptation of organisms to environment could be greatly improved. If something can happen, then it will. The more meaningful that future thing is, the greater attraction there is towards it, and the more likely it is to occur despite its traditionally accepted improbability.

    So yes, something like a rabbit existing may have been extremely extremely extremely improbable 4.5 billion years ago, but rabbits were one possibility and their realization was extremely meaningful to a few billion kids every Easter, so all that squeezing of soft fur at pet stores, and all that ingesting of bunny shaped chocolate traveled backwards a few billion years in time and made an almost imperceptible alteration to otherwise random processes that made the realization of bunnies more likely. With every passing year, the realization of the bunny grew closer and the future meaning of bunnies exerted more influence over the random processes further increasing the likelihood of bunnies... etc and so forth until here we are on Good Friday talking about them. The only thing I haven't yet figured out is why the existence of Easter eggs did not cause Bunnies to acquire the physical capability of laying eggs... (j/k) :)
     
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  9. Spanky

    Spanky New

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    Thanks, Typoz, I'll give that Azimov a read.
     
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  10. Spanky

    Spanky New

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    I wonder, for materialists, what determines 'what is possible' for any given type of matter. Are its inherent properties, its ability to bind with certain other molecules for instance, simply the product of randomness too? The pieces of the universe do fit together suspiciously well. Perhaps, to keep our lapine motif alive, I'm diving too far down causality's rabbit hole here, and only risk hurting my head.

    That Dean Radin story hurt my head too, but in the same way a yoga stretch both hurts and feels good at the same time.
     
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  11. Stephen Wright

    Stephen Wright New

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    Purpose and meaning are about leveraging the benefits in structures leading to order and organization. Agents observe the importance of these structures and willfully enforce there generation. I love the term "formative logic", but don't recognize it. Is it from a source or did you just express it as an idea?

    Mental pictures always help grasping how stuff works. Here is one of my favorites:
    Silicon compounds, carbon compounds or amino acids - it is the structured information and its probability to support communication, logic and organization; that lie beneath the universe expressing itself as life.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2015
  12. Rambutan

    Rambutan New

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    Well said and thank you! This actually me proud to be a computer programmer :)

    This idea reminds me of Rupert Sheldrake's assertion that, contrary to popular belief, the form (informational content) of a thing has no relation to the concept of universally increasing entropy described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. In other words, increasing or decreasing the complexity of a form (i.e. informational density) has no effect on the entropy of a system because, as you say, the form of a thing is not matter or energy.

    EDIT: Sorry, replying to a msg from weeks ago...I guess I should look at the date of posts before replying
     
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  13. D..

    D.. New

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    I haven't had the chance to read the replies, so I'm not sure if someone pointed this out but is he playing both sides with this article?
    "
    Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core
    "
    I don't particularly care as to how he feels...although I feel most sides are just playing ego's bidding.
     
  14. Johnny

    Johnny New

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    I'm dissapointed Alex didn't take it to Shermer as hard as he does in his other interviews, I think it would have been better to sandbag Michael rather than don kid gloves, I'm curious why this didn't happen. In any case it's disgracefull of Michael Shermer to interpret Van lommels conclusion to the studies as the opposite of what was actually concluded, it didn't deliver a blow it actually made a strong case for mind being seperate from the brain, this is what Van lommel concluded, Michael Shermer should have been put to shame and made to defend his influential but misleading claim, a perfect opputunity to set the record straight. It's very disturbing these sceptics are using their influence to spread lies, resulting in misinforming and stifling the publics right to knowledge, especially on such a crucial subject.

    This chump should have got severely sandbagged
     
  15. Alex

    Alex New

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    I wish I would have pushed him on a couple of points, but Shermer is tricky/skilled at sliding over these issues (as he did in the interview). He does the rope-a-dope... "let's agree to disagree"... "that may be what you think, but that's not the majority opinion."

    I don't sandbag... just give them enough rope to hang themselves.
     
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  16. Johnny

    Johnny New

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    I noticed the rope a dope trick he pulled Alex, When he made the claim that the majority of academics don't think consciousness as being fundamental.

    Alex Tsakiris: Many researchers as well as philosophers have suggested that maybe in some way consciousness is fundamental.


    Dr. Michael Shermer: For your listeners I should point out that most neuroscientists do not agree with that.

    Alex Tsakiris: Right. Or you can just start with the data and just try and sift through the data and see where it falls.

    Dr. Michael Shermer: I’m not sure you can do that. I’m not sure that the data indicates for sure, one way or the other. Although I make the case in another column in Scientific American

    This fool thinks that you can not examine the data and reach a conclusion on weather consciousness is fundamental one way or the other, but yet he writes an article for the Scientific American which aims to show consciousness is not fundamental offering a weak excuse about Aunt Millies Mind.

    I see where you are coming from by stating he is skilled at being tricky. In one breath he claims you can not conclude anything from the data one way or the other, and in another breath he is writing articles for Scientific American to convince the public of his own personal ideology.

    People like Michael really have no shame.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015
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  17. Matt²

    Matt² New

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    Complete looney-toons isn't it? It's bizarre mental gymnastics at its best.
     
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  18. Matt²

    Matt² New

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    It should be labeled exactly as it appears, dogma.
     
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  19. Bro's Badass Neighbor

    Bro's Badass Neighbor New

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    Alex, I'm sorry for being off topic, but could you please ask Craig for his resignation from the new moderator position? He doesn't know what he's doing. He's also become completely drunk on power. The moderating (i.e. modstalining) that Weiler does is akin to, say, if AP were to be doing mod duties at JREF while robotripping after having just freebased an 8-ball. A whole new lexicon will have to be developed in order to adequately articulate Weiler's insanity as a moderator. I'm at a complete loss for words. He's a lunatic. That's all I can say.

    Look, Alex. Truth is, I'm pretty "in demand" around here. With the exception of K-9, I'm by far the most popular and beloved member in the history of the skeptiko forum. In fact, not too long ago I took a brief hiatus from forum participation and as a result membership began dropping like crazy. This forum lost many MVPs due to my short absence. I'm not going to go into it all, but it comes down to the fact that people love me.

    Now, listen. Are you gonna let that lowlife punk Craig Weiler ruin it for me and hence everyone else? He's a two-faced, no good back-stabbing a-hole. The audacity is unbelievable. You should have seen the shit he was pulling earlier. Nobody treats me like that. I deserve more respect.

    Could you please fire him? Don't do it for me. Do it for the forum.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2015
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  20. Love Knowledge

    Love Knowledge Member

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    This terminal lucidity phenomenon was a great point that pretty much was glossed over which was frustrating to hear. Shermer seems to have an answer for everything (I'm not saying they are good answers) and for this one, he gave his dumbest response. "Why then does it not happen for most people?" A worthy question (similar to the fact that not everyone who gets resuscitated has an NDE), but you know what, it DOES happen for SOME people......so how do we explain THAT?? I wish Alex had pushed him on that.

    As for the second paragraph quoted above, well said. I think a large motivating factor for many skeptics is the idea that it keeps them employed. If he changes his views, he can't be the editor in chief of Skeptic magazine (if he still holds that title), sell books to the same skeptical audience he has, and so on.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2018
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