Dr. Donald Hoffman, Materialism’s Final Death Blow? |436|

Alex

Administrator
#22
I enjoyed this interview a lot, as well. Hoffman has an enjoyable vibe to him; he always seems so passionate and excited and that is infectious. I don't quite grasp every last detail of his ideas--but it all sounds pretty cool. More power to him if over the next decade or two he can resolve the mathematical models he's working on and "get" the laws of physics out of his models of concsciousness (or whatever it is he's trying to do on that front.)

I also like his epistemological humility, though I like to play around with trying to be even more epistemologically humble.

I also liked the second little interview with Grego. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the discussion revolve around to radical doubt (Neti Neti Neti) as well as poetry and art, which harkens back to comments I made in the previous discussion with Michael Dowd. In my view, art is a way to express ideas as if the expressions are representations of psychological states in my consciousness ... instead of expressing an idea as if it's a representation of "Reality".

In this way of looking at things, the idea of Reality or Truth are useful in some ways but not Ultimately Useful. The usefulness of the idea of Reality or Truth have limitations in this way of looking at things.

I consider this to be a form of expression (and thought) that is closer to art. In some kinds of art practice, the expression is made based on its usefulness to the artist and possibly to the community, but the expression does not pretend to be an exact "Representation of Absolute True Reality" nor does the expression pretend that the idea of Reality or Truth are useful in unlimited ways.

It is useful for me to consider that the idea of evaluating ideas based on how well they represent Absolute True Reality is a common idea and it is useful to a degree, but it can be less useful in some contexts and for some specific purposes than, say, the idea of evaluating ideas based on their USEFULNESS for certain human physical needs, desires, goals, intentions, etc.



In the view I am exploring, the idea of "reality as it actually is" is itself an idea that has limited value. I like to play around with the idea that "reality as it actually is" is not an Absolutely Necessary Idea for the continuation of human affairs. In this view, anything we think of us as reality can be thought of as useful ideas. It is useful to consider that there are brush fires in Australia. It is useful to consider that I'm sitting at my dining room table pounding away at my laptop.

I liked Alex's comment from the end of the talk with Grego:

"it’s the inquiry to perpetuate doubt and continually doubting, continually saying, “We’re not there yet,” which I do respect and appreciate about Hoffman; “This can’t possibly be right, and this will undoubtedly be proven wrong. ... That, in a way, is the deepest, most profound spiritual thing he can say. And I’d say the same thing, you know, it’s the neti, neti, neti, not this, not this, not this, kind of thing. For me that is not only an axiom but it is maybe closer to an ultimate truth, that if we ever think we’re getting toward some answer to this, then we are, as you said, we need to kind of check ourselves, because we’re moving further away.”

So this is the way I'm trying to write my posts... For me, with my background in creative arts, it's a natural thing to want to try to work the Form of my expressions (forum posts) with the Function (practicing experiencing the limits of the notion of ultimate truth). The way for me to do this is to continuously try to suggest that I am expressing A VIEW (one view among many) and that I find it to be a useful view. I'm specifcally trying NOT TO make my explorations have the FORM and FUNCTION of an ARGUMENT FOR A UNIVERSAL TRUTH or suggest that this view is the One Ultimately Correct View. I do not think it is the One Ultimately Correct Way of Looking of at Things. It is useful for me to consider that there may not BE one ultimately correct way of looking at things. But I can't formulate that as an affirmative Truth Proposition in the FORM of an affirmative argument, because then it becomes a self-contradiction or a paradox.

Not to play 'gotcha' with Alex's quote, but where he mentions "it is maybe closer to an ultimate truth" is verging on falling into that paradox.... at least he hedged it with "maybe". ;)
right on to all of that! it all seems to be a dance, eh? art, science, love, materialism.

I appreciate artists who can humble themselves to the math, and scientists who can humble themselves to the art :) and I pity the "social scientists" caught in the middle :)
 
B

Baccarat

#23
Interesting I've been reading more and more people claiming quantum mechanics is a pseudo science. Overcomplicating the aether
 
#24
A quick point, and apologies if this point was made or hinted at in the comments. My biggest concern (which is why the wrap up proved so valuable) is that even if Hoffman breaks ground and becomes a sort of missionary and converter within the scientific community, doesn't it then shift (or keep, depending on your perspective) the gatekeeping of reality onto them? In other words, wouldn't Science and their priests and priestesses become the gatekeepers of reality? They already think they have a monopoly on reality. We on the forum don't think they do, but Hoffman may simply transfer this new thinking onto an academic priesthood that would remain inaccessible to us (at least to them).

That is why the "poetry" or music perspective -- something I have long advocated -- can prove so essential in keeping this living metaphor among the masses. Most of us will never enter the pearly gates of advanced mathematical formulas. But I think we can all (unless we suffer from certain forms of autism ... which I am quite serious about) approach the Other in another and perhaps more meaningful way.
 

Alex

Administrator
#25
even if Hoffman breaks ground and becomes a sort of missionary and converter within the scientific community, doesn't it then shift (or keep, depending on your perspective) the gatekeeping of reality onto them? In other words, wouldn't Science and their priests and priestesses become the gatekeepers of reality?
maybe, but it's still kinda refreshing to think that real science can win out once in awhile. I mean, sure, it will be co-opted, but we can still celebrate the temporary sea rise :)
 
#26
Interesting I've been reading more and more people claiming quantum mechanics is a pseudo science. Overcomplicating the aether
QM seems the most solid bit of modern science to me. Before QM there was no explanation for why chemicals and elements had distinct properties. I mean atoms were thought of a bit like solar systems, and why wasn't every atom different, just as every solar system is different in detail.

QM answers this problem beautifully because the electrons round an atom or molecule form a standing wave - closely analogous to an organ pipe. In retrospect, you could almost see that waves had to be part of the answer!

Besides, QM offers the best place for matter and spirit to interact by influencing the collapse of the wave function.

David
 
#27
I still can't say for sure what Hoffman means by "conscious agent". Does he mean agents that are conscious, or consciousness that works through agency? Does he lean more towards panpsychism, or towards idealism? What does he think about Bernardo's metaphor of living beings as dissociated alters of M@L? Of the inanimate elements of the universe as being how M@L's native and non-self-reflective consciousness appear to our perception? So many questions left unanswered, but I hope Dr. Hoffman will make an appearance here and say something about his opinions on such matters.
I presumed he meant that there are multiple agents in the Thales sense. But maybe that was just me nodding in agreement with my biases, and wanting to hear what pleased me.

Of course, you are right, on more disciplined reflection. Did he have in mind an hierarchy of agents, or merely a multiplicity? Perhaps we should prevail upon Alex to have him back, but with a list of questions we have compiled.

I think we need to get away from the notion that somebody can turn up, chat with Alex and the bugger off as if nothing that really mattered happened. We are not a one night stand. We may want a second date - especially when we have a list of after the fact questions.
 
#28
Of course, you are right, on more disciplined reflection. Did he have in mind an hierarchy of agents, or merely a multiplicity? Perhaps we should prevail upon Alex to have him back, but with a list of questions we have compiled.
I'd love to have him join the forum for a bit! I'd also like to have Dr Rich Grego give an interview or post here.

Unfortunately, I think DH has crafted a very subtle line to avoid offending academia, and he might fear a bit of questioning on here would unravel all that! I think his work is helping to open up the rift in conventional attitudes, so I want him to continue!

David
 
#29
I'd love to have him join the forum for a bit! I'd also like to have Dr Rich Grego give an interview or post here.

Unfortunately, I think DH has crafted a very subtle line to avoid offending academia, and he might fear a bit of questioning on here would unravel all that! I think his work is helping to open up the rift in conventional attitudes, so I want him to continue!

David
I suspect your are right. The dominant materialist tyranny means that those who seek to subvert it must engage in disputes that are painfully subtle. It is sometimes useful to raise Kuhn's essential admission that, despite the claimed reverence for reason and rationality, science progresses mostly because hold outs die - eventually. Let us not forget that Quantum Science has been around a century, but ha shad pretty much to take an empirical battering ram to the materialist fortress door.

Let us be grateful science is not as congenitally stupid as it could be.
 
#30
I've read with great interest Hoffman's book and listened to several interviews with him. This was a good one, although I was disappointed that Alex didn't bring up Hoffman's dedication to 'natural selection' as the prime causation of human consciousness (as we know it). In Alex's chat afterwards, he refers to Hoffman's 'evolution shit' but doesn't go much further. Fact is, neo-Darwinism (of which Hoffman is a proponent) is a cornerstone (if not THE cornerstone) of materialism/reductionism.

It would have been nice if Alex had grilled him on this.
 
#31
Fact is, neo-Darwinism (of which Hoffman is a proponent) is a cornerstone (if not THE cornerstone) of materialism/reductionism.
I have my doubts that Hoffman is a Neo-Darwinist. My sense, for what it's worth, is that he accepts the consensus on natural selection mainly to keep in favour with the scientific community; partly because Darwinism isn't absolutely essential to his ideas. He's got enough on his plate trying to break through materialistic barriers without being openly skeptical about Neo-Darwinism.
 
#32
Yeah, I know, but have you read his book? It's got so many references to natural selection that I can't really accept your reasoning. In fact, his thesis is utterly dependent on there being discrepancies re 'reality' via natural selection. I mean, right?

What might be important, though, is that even though natural selection (the 'random mutation' part of it) is untenable (do you agree?), his thesis might still stand. It's complex, for sure. It's obvious (to me, via evidence) that there is some sort of 'higher power' with an interest in the affairs of us humans. Are you familiar with the 'moon numbers', i.e., the incredible matches in numbers re the sun, moon, and earth, which are summed up in Who Built the Moon? by Butler and Knight? They can only mean that there is a 'higher power' that wants us to know of its existence. This could be interpreted as evidence for simulation theory (of some sort), which fits with Hoffman's view.
 
#33
Hi Allan, welcome to Skeptiko!

You are right that evolution by natural selection (RM+NS) is an absolute cornerstone of materialism, and it seems to be crumbling! This thread discusses a book by Michael Behe that offers a very strong argument against RM+NS, but you need a smattering of molecular biology to really appreciate it:

http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threads/behes-argument-in-darwin-devolved.4317/

I have read DH's book, but after listening to him on the podcast, I suspect he knows perfectly well that the alternative explanation is that his theorems prove that we aren't evolved by RM+RS, because othrewise our perceptions would be good for nothing but basic survival. In a way I think his result is rather like that of Michael Behe's. In both cases interesting results come out when you look at the mechanism of natural selection in detail. In both cases the obvious explanation is that we are not evolved by RM+NS - which I think is very exciting.

David
 
#34
Oh, yes, I'm a big fan of Behe and all the Discovery Institute crew (I'm not a Christian, btw). In fact I wrote an open letter to Behe, Stephen Meyer and Douglas Ax (having read all their books and then some) you might find interesting, when you have the time: http://blog.banditobooks.com/an-open-letter-to-michael-behe-stephen-meyer-and-douglas-axe/

Re Hoffman, I'm wondering if he missed something. Best way to explain is to compare his (very powerful) analogy of a computer interface as reality... to Einstein's 'space bending' 'explanation' of gravity ('gravity is not a force'), the proponents of which use a rubber sheet with a canon ball in it to represent gravity. See, this - the bending of space-- doesn't explain gravity AT ALL. And neither does the computer interface-reality analog. These are both analogies, not evidence. (Ask an Einsteinian by what process does the ball bend the sheet? He'll say 'gravity', not seeing the circularity....)

I'm not explaining this well. I just have the suspicion that there is some sort of circularity Hoffman is missing.
 
#35
Yeah, I know, but have you read his book? It's got so many references to natural selection that I can't really accept your reasoning. In fact, his thesis is utterly dependent on there being discrepancies re 'reality' via natural selection. I mean, right?

What might be important, though, is that even though natural selection (the 'random mutation' part of it) is untenable (do you agree?), his thesis might still stand. It's complex, for sure. It's obvious (to me, via evidence) that there is some sort of 'higher power' with an interest in the affairs of us humans. Are you familiar with the 'moon numbers', i.e., the incredible matches in numbers re the sun, moon, and earth, which are summed up in Who Built the Moon? by Butler and Knight? They can only mean that there is a 'higher power' that wants us to know of its existence. This could be interpreted as evidence for simulation theory (of some sort), which fits with Hoffman's view.
Forgot to welcome you, Allan, so let me rectify that before replying. Welcome! :)

I'm not sure how much you know about Darwinism, but its main engine is deemed to be random mutation (RM), which, as the name implies, is supposed to grind on blindly and regardless. Then natural selection (NS) is supposed to act on it to weed out any deleterious changes in genomes. I'd say that they're seen as separate, although interacting, principles, rather than RM being a "part" of NS.

I haven't read Hoffman's book so far, but he strikes me as being a bit cagey about RM. So far, I've rarely read any of his articles or seen any of his videos that actually reference it. He concentrates mainly on NS, which actually is probably a real thing, and acts on specific organismal groups to produce minor changes in their appearance (or phenotypes) such as with beak size, shape and function in Galapagos finches. These changes are often termed microevolutionary, and I'm happy to accept them as a distinct possibility.

However, Michael Behe has developed the hypothesis that such changes aren't really evolutionary per se, but actually, devolutionary. They occur because mutations may sometimes result in changes that are fortuitously advantageous to specific populations, but nonetheless they are the result of degradation of gene function rather than being constructively evolutionary.

Microevolution is one thing: but macroevolution is another. How do the various organismal groups (viz. pretty much everything above species level) arise in the first place? If RM+NS were the cause, then we'd expect to see gradualism in the fossil record -- but we don't. New groupings seem to appear in the record comparatively quickly -- witness the Cambrian and many other "explosions" (birds, mammals, angiosperms in plants and so on).

It's strange that we don't find the gradualism if Darwinism is remotely correct at the macroevolutionary level. Darwinists tie themselves in knots trying to reconcile the lack of gradualism with Darwinism. Darwin himself was perplexed by it, but conjectured that it was due to the fossil record not having been exhaustively explored at the time.

Now, over a century later, we still haven't found much evidence for gradualism. So what can explain the appearance of new body forms if not gradualism? I'm not going down that rabbit hole for now, but whatever it is, it doesn't appear to be RM+NS, which I tend to regard as responsible only for "fine tunings" after basic organismal groups have appeared. Besides, NS could only operate on features after RM has produced them. RM has no means of predicting what would be necessary in the future, and any novel feature that generated no immediate advantage would likely be selected out pretty sharpish by NS.

Look through Hoffman's book: though you say he mentions NS, how often does he mention RM? I'd be interested to hear. If he mentions it a lot, then I might be prepared to change my mind about him and his views on Darwinism.
 
#36
Very well put. The way I tend to look at it is that there must be some sort of guidance to evolution on the macro scale, as most of Behe's cohorts say. I just don't believe evolution's guide has anything to do with the Bible/etc. But think about, say, the evolution of whales from land animals. All the various changes that came into being simultaneously to adapt it to water-living means that evolution is not blind. It knows where it's going. Otherwise, why would fins develop at the same time as the blow hole and internal testicles and 100 other adaptations for water life. These changes had to be coordinated.

This fits with the various other indications of a 'higher power,' like... the aforementioned 'moon numbers' (which indicate a curious higher power) and other evidence not so direct and which would take too much explanation for our purposes here.

(Re the 'moon numbers', just start with solar eclipses, which occur b/c the moon is 400 times closer to us than the sun and the sun is 400 times bigger (angular). Astronomers never mention the 'coincidence' that 400 is a round number in base 10, and that the canon of 400 (40, 400, 4,000, 40,000) repeats in other, separate distances/ratios of earth/moon/sun. And that's just the beginning of the numerical matches. These matches are neither chance nor necessity, so what are we left with? Intelligence. You have to look up this stuff, and really think about it, and how it relates to evolution and how mankind came up with measurements like the meter, mile, etc. It'll knock your socks off, make a believer out of you (unless you believe in trillion to one coincidences.)

You are right in that Hoffman doesn't mention random mutation but he repeats the word 'fit' or 'fitness' so often it's ridiculous. This tells me if you asked him (and I do wish Alex had) if he's a neo-Darwinist he would have had to reply 'yes.' Otherwise he would have qualified all his references to 'Evolution' and 'Darwin' and 'survival of the fittest.' (By the way, 'Survival of the fittest' is itself meaningless since it's circular -- how to define 'fittest'? By survival! So 'The survive survive' is what the phrase says. It's as circular as Einstein defining gravity with gravity (which he does via his 'space bending' drivel... Sorry, but I think Einstein set physics back 100 years and counting...)
 
#38
Very well put. The way I tend to look at it is that there must be some sort of guidance to evolution on the macro scale, as most of Behe's cohorts say. I just don't believe evolution's guide has anything to do with the Bible/etc. But think about, say, the evolution of whales from land animals. All the various changes that came into being simultaneously to adapt it to water-living means that evolution is not blind. It knows where it's going. Otherwise, why would fins develop at the same time as the blow hole and internal testicles and 100 other adaptations for water life. These changes had to be coordinated.

This fits with the various other indications of a 'higher power,' like... the aforementioned 'moon numbers' (which indicate a curious higher power) and other evidence not so direct and which would take too much explanation for our purposes here.

(Re the 'moon numbers', just start with solar eclipses, which occur b/c the moon is 400 times closer to us than the sun and the sun is 400 times bigger (angular). Astronomers never mention the 'coincidence' that 400 is a round number in base 10, and that the canon of 400 (40, 400, 4,000, 40,000) repeats in other, separate distances/ratios of earth/moon/sun. And that's just the beginning of the numerical matches. These matches are neither chance nor necessity, so what are we left with? Intelligence. You have to look up this stuff, and really think about it, and how it relates to evolution and how mankind came up with measurements like the meter, mile, etc. It'll knock your socks off, make a believer out of you (unless you believe in trillion to one coincidences.)

You are right in that Hoffman doesn't mention random mutation but he repeats the word 'fit' or 'fitness' so often it's ridiculous. This tells me if you asked him (and I do wish Alex had) if he's a neo-Darwinist he would have had to reply 'yes.' Otherwise he would have qualified all his references to 'Evolution' and 'Darwin' and 'survival of the fittest.' (By the way, 'Survival of the fittest' is itself meaningless since it's circular -- how to define 'fittest'? By survival! So 'The survive survive' is what the phrase says. It's as circular as Einstein defining gravity with gravity (which he does via his 'space bending' drivel... Sorry, but I think Einstein set physics back 100 years and counting...)
Hey guys -- This is a great discussion thread and some excellent insights, I think, about both Hoffman's ideas in general and his use of neo-Darwinist principles specifically.......My impression (like Allan's I guess?) is that, regardless of what he actually thinks of it, DH is employing Darwinism in its traditional sense. I also think he has the same problem in this connection that he has with his reliance on mathematics (and "faith in science", as he puts it): If the 'user-interface' is the illusion that consciousness creates, and this illusion includes all the physical constructs that comprise the space-time universe of our current science, then surely the mathematics, empirical theories, and evolutionary theory that we use to create these space-time-bound constructs would also be illusion-generating modes of cognition rather than a means of transcending the illusion......if that makes any sense?
 
#39
I'd love to have him join the forum for a bit! I'd also like to have Dr Rich Grego give an interview or post here.

Unfortunately, I think DH has crafted a very subtle line to avoid offending academia, and he might fear a bit of questioning on here would unravel all that! I think his work is helping to open up the rift in conventional attitudes, so I want him to continue!

David
Thanks David, for the invitation --I've actually been an enthusiastic reader of everyone's Skeptiko Forum insights for many years (since I started doing a few interviews to assist Alex's mission a number of years ago) and have loved the dialog here--just very busy with research/teaching before and had to restrict my engagement to listening instead of talking!. I also agree with your assessment of DH's reluctance to engage here as well--at least in a candid way. As you note, he's attempting to maintain a very precarious balance between cutting edge, provocative speculation on one hand, and academic respectability within a conservative (often dogmatic) community on the other......I imagine that his professional success (and survival) depend on choosing his battles and opportunities for candor quite scrupulously.....
 
#40
The thing is the information theory of evolution and in particular the origin of life strongly points to the concept of agency and unless we keep pushing the question back with panspermia or extraterrestrial seeding we also need a non biological source. After all the information must precede biological evolution. Evolution as we know it requires all the DNA, RNA, and enzymes. The semantic nature of the code has both descriptive and prescriptive information. This is required for replication. The cell must have all it's own constructions encoded within. The cell itself, the molecular machines, proteins all reek of agency and teleology. Codes require agency period.

This is such a huge elephant in the room for materialism. I don't think many people really get the full weight of this profound enigma.
 
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