Afterlife Aftermath

Video from Wednesday’s debate over “Death Is Not Final” is now up.

You’ll be happy to hear that the good guys “won.” In scare quotes because helping the world’s population understand that naturalism is the right way to view the universe is a long-term project that won’t be settled with a single debate. But Intelligence Squared does a fun thing where they ask people to vote before the debate starts, and then again afterward. We started out the night slightly behind in the polls, and by the time we were done we were slightly ahead. Mostly by peeling away the undecideds, as any savvy politician strives to do. [Update: oops, not right. See below.] So that counts as a victory — especially when the topic is one where many people (not all!) have fairly fixed opinions.

death-results

death-pies

It was a pleasure to have Steve Novella as a partner. The man knows his neuroscience, as well as his debating. He did a great job making the single most important point for an issue like this: the mind is the brain, full stop. It’s hard to hear the case he makes and hold on to any contrary view.

I was slightly disappointed in the folks on the other side. Eben Alexander basically relied on two things. One was his personal story of having a Near-Death Experience while in a coma. Anyone who accepts that people can experience dreams or hallucinations will not be overly persuaded by that alone. The other was to throw up ideas like “quantum mechanics” and “the hard problem of consciousness” in an obfuscatory way, to give people license to believe that science doesn’t understand everything. Which is true! Science doesn’t understand everything. Which doesn’t change the fact that no serious researcher in quantum mechanics or the hard problem thinks that those ideas provide an excuse for believing in life after death.

Ray Moody was a very pleasant gentleman, someone you’d be happy to have a beer with and talk philosophy. But he did almost nothing to defend the proposition. I was expecting him to broaden the evidence from Alexander’s own case to many others, but instead he spoke in generalities about science and philosophy and logic, concluding essentially that it’s “conceivable” that a realm exists where souls can persist after death. Indeed it is. Many things are conceivable.

At the end of my opening talk I said that the choice here basically comes down to two options we can believe:

  1. Everything we think we understand about the behavior of matter and energy is wrong, in a way that has somehow escaped notice in every experiment ever done in the history of science. Instead, there are unknown mechanisms allow information in the brain to survive in the form of a blob of spirit energy, which can then go start talking to other blobs of spirit energy, but only after death, except sometimes even before death.
  2. Physics is right. And people under stress sometimes have experiences that seem real but aren’t.

In the light of the evidence, the choice is pretty clear. We’ll get there, a couple of percentage points at a time.

Update: I was too hasty in presuming that most of our increase came from swaying undecided voters. Here are the actual data:

death-crosstabs

As you can see, the undecideds actually broke almost equally for the two sides. Our glorious victory actually came from a combination of factors, including persuading some of the “For” voters to switch.

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179 Responses to Afterlife Aftermath

  1. Manny Rayner says:

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  2. Sili says:

    Sad to see that at least 5% were actually drawn in by the bad argument.

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  3. You and Dr Novella were killing it at the IQ2 debate! While watching the debate, I constantly felt embarrassed for the “for” side. They had no coherent argument, and wow, what an appeal to emotion they had going for themselves.

    I noticed in one part you referred to yourself as a “Naturalist”. I was wondering if that’s preferable to referring as an “Atheist”? In any case, I love the courteous and smart manner that you communicate deep scientific and philosophical issues to the public. Thanks for that! And I hope you become the main face of atheism! (Not that you are not now, but I mean, you should definitely be a member of the four horsemen!)

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  4. Sheena says:

    Obfuscatory describes most arguments against naturalism. I have a good friend who believes in ghosts, but she has the good grace to just say it – ‘I believe in ghosts’. She knows I don’t, and that’s that. But there was a guy I used to know, and it was impossible to say what he believed. Maybe ghosts, maybe the afterlife, maybe dualism – everything had to wrapped up in impenetrable language. He absolutely refused to state anything clearly, because he was terrified that if he did, he wouldn’t be able to believe it any more. It irritates me because if you are genuinely trying to explore theories, you don’t do this. You try and clarify what the theory is, so it can be judged fairly. There’s a dishonesty in deliberately vague and obfuscatory language, that makes it very hard to respect the person using it.

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  5. Dan says:

    Debates like this one are important to participate in so the scientific rebuttal can be presented to people who probably don’t hear it very often or hear it explained in a way that’s easily understood, something you’re particularly good at. It might be a bit tedious at times and feel like you’re repeating yourself, but each audience is a new one and a new opportunity to educate. That’s always worth doing. You and Dr. Novella did a good job against what turned out to be rather lukewarm opposition.

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  6. Robert says:

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  7. Ben Goren says:

    Manny, that still leaves open the already-closed question of how consciousness is supposed to interact with brains. How is it observing our environment, and how does it trigger the physical actions necessary to cause you to carry out a decision to, say, raise a glass? Everything we know of physics says that requires an exchange of energy at the least, if not an interaction of material particles — and that anything which doesn’t do so is, in effect, a perpetual motion machine.

    There are other less-implausible alternatives, but all are of the conspiracy theory type. We could be in a Matrix-style simulation, and after death the last-saved digital snapshot of our program files gets copied to yet another simulation. We could be players in Alice’s Red King’s Dream, and after we die he has other dreams planned with our characters. Or maybe our tinfoil hats have slipped and the alien mind rays are leaking in and we don’t actually die after all; it’s just that the aliens are making us think that we die.

    Unless you wish to embrace paranoia, the only sane conclusion is that physics really is right, and there is neither evidence nor a plausible mechanism for consciousness to survive death.

    If you have some particular mechanism you think physics doesn’t rule out that you’d like to suggest, I’m sure we can set you straight as to where you’ve gone off the rails. (Or, to be fair, if you really do have a novel idea that really is plausible, it’ll get a fair hearing — but don’t expect acceptance unless it really is new and you’ve got sound theory and ideally solid evidence to back it up.)

    Cheers,

    b&

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  8. Manny Rayner says:

    Ben, please don’t get the idea that I believe Fred Hoyle’s wacky theory. As you quite rightly say, it runs into problems with Occam’s Razor: we don’t seem to need to postulate a consciousness existing in another universe, since physical explanations are probably enough. I’m just saying that it’s not as obviously wrong as “weird spirit energy”, and it’s essentially different from it.

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  9. Chris says:

    Well done Sean and Steve. The Uncertainy blog post describing your debate style as polite, funny, and refreshingly clear hit it right on the head.

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  10. Julian Abernethy says:

    I agree with you entirely. I tried to have an open mind before the debate but the opposing side relied mostly on their own experience and it was hard to even take their points seriously. (Kind of weird to be expected to trust someone about a personal experience who claims of himself that his brain was basically not working during the time!).

    The debate was so one-sided that problems with concepts of afterlifes didn’t even occur (e.g. which primates/clumps of cells have a soul?/Why does the soul sometimes fail to realize it isn’t dead yet?), because they struggled arguing whether it is not yet disproven by science.

    I really wonder how they were able to convince 5% or more of the audience with their personal experience.

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  11. Joan Hendricks says:

    The only reason I can see to believe in a life after this one is fear of (final) death. And it seems to me the more religious people are, the more they are afraid to die. Shouldn’t they be looking forward to going to heaven? As for me, I tell everyone that when I die, it will be exactly as it was before I was born – just nothing.

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  12. Ramesam says:

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  13. John Isaacs says:

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  14. the el vez says:

    I was overcome with this great sense of sadness after watching the debate. I am not exactly sure what the root cause was, but I think it was because I had expected the “for” side to be prepared for battle (which they clearly weren’t) and present some really well founded data to back their position. I recognize that I am an odd bird as I am a devout Carroll-ite, but also want to believe that there is some creator of our Universe. These may seem like incompatible positions – but they really aren’t – mainly because Mr. Carroll is such an open minded and objective person, and has stated many times that he is not opposed to a Creator, that he just needs to see the evidence for him/her/it. At any rate, because I want to believe, but also refuse to believe based on hope and emotion alone, I am always excited when a “Christian Scientist” (not the L Ron Hubbard kind) join one of these debates. I was very disappointed in these two. I am not trying to disparage them, as I believe that they were sincere, but they should have at least watched the debate Sean had earlier this year (http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2014/02/20/god-and-cosmology-debate-with-w-l-craig/) to see what they were in for. I don’t know, maybe I am alone in this view of wanting to marry science and spirit (notice I didn’t say religion). I think that it is really sad that such a divide has been put up from both sides of the God vs. Atheism debate as I think that there is a lot of shared knowledge and insight that could benefit all sides. Maybethat is why I am such a big Sean Carroll fan: he can basically argue that everything I want to believe is completely unfounded by current scientific understanding, yet I don’t feel offended. Maybe it is because I am naïve, or maybe it is because he is one of the few people on either side of the debate that is truly objective. I tend to think that it is the later, but if it is the former I wouldn’t know it – by definition. :)

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  15. Hi there,

    A great debate in some respects, a head-in-hands set of moments in other respects. Eben Alexander seems nothing but either a fraud or someone who has made a shed load of money off the flimsiest case…

    I was wondering whether you, Sean, had considered questioning his actual personal account as others have:

    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/proof-of-heaven-potter?src=email

    It seems like, in his own words, he has used some artistic licence…

    The thing that really got my goat was his demand (“not one sentence…”) for you two to supply a mechanistic or explanatory account of how the brain creates consciousness. I think you guys missed a trick here, because his demands are hypocritical: can HE provide an explanation as to exactly how the supernatural soul exists/creates consciousness/ interacts with he physical? Since his argument is a soul of the gaps argument, the answer is a resounding NO, and his demands undercut themselves.

    Silly man.

    Sean you are fast becoming an erudite and superb spokesman for naturalism. Keep it up. It’s good not to neglect philosophy like some other scientists.

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  16. Meh says:

    The only thing more annoying that having to deal with the “life after death” delusion is having to deal with people who aren’t religious but are “spiritual”; people who are basically aware of the facts but still too afraid to face the truth.

    It was, yet again, a good debate which only required skimming over basic facts in order to win the debate.

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  17. gaehazzi says:

    I watched the debate in real time and I was very impressed by the participants’ good manners, chivalry and sticking to the debate rules. In particular, I appreciated the Against Team granting Mr. Alexander that his heavenly experiences had been at least subjectively true, though hallucinatory in nature. What sportsmanship!

    Then, the other day, I was sitting bored in a train with nothing new and worthwhile to read. So I revisited, on my phone, Sean’s blog mail notification that had alerted me to the debate in the first place. There I tapped on the “this Esquire profile” link: woe is me! If only half of what’s there is true, why should this guy’s stories be granted any credibility? And if these are the rules of the game, why play this game at all?

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  18. Doc C says:

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  19. John Hobby says:

    I think the telling position of Eban Alexander came when he brought up Carl Sagan’s ‘ apparent admission to the evidence for past life experiences in children as ‘overwhelming.’ Eban so kindly resourced this claim, so I looked it up and found the claim to be quite the exaggeration. This might have some importance in his other viewpoints and explanations of his personal experiences. Carl Sagan, “I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might(italicized) be true. The last three, have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.” (Demon Haunted World, p.302)

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  20. John Barrett says:

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  21. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Ramesham:
    I agree entirely with the last two paragraphs of your comment. I wrote a recent guest blog on a physics website about this issue. Unfortunately, since it is a rival blog, I cannot give a link. But I would like the western readership to at least try to understand such issues with an open mind. Whether they agree or not is a separate issue.In fact I am fighting war on two fronts. I do not agree with young earth creationism and opposition to big bang theory and theory of evolution. At the same time I do not like tirades against religions either.

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  22. Fernando says:

    The pro side had an extremely weak argument. Alexander’s point boiled down to “it happened to me and I really really believe it’s true.” Ray arguing that it’s a problem of logic, not science, was extremely unclear and contradictory to me. If only logic and reasoning are needed to solve it, according to what he said, then why bother with accounts of near-death experience? That’s relying on empiricism and evidence, not logic and reason.

    Overall a boring debate as Sean and Steve’s argument was just much stronger than the opposition’s.

    Also, what the hell was that comment about Carl Sagan believing in past lives? Pretty sure that wasn’t true.

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  23. John Barrett says:

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  24. gaehazzi says:

    @John Barrett.
    The problem is not religion per se but religion having the power of state. A pope that can have people burned for heresy (by relegating them to the “secular authorities,” to be sure, ) is not as benign as a contemporaneous one that must tend to his church’s rating.

    That’s why the founding fathers of democracy insisted on state-church separation, though they were to some extent religious.

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  25. Ben Goren says:

    John,

    In the many worlds interpretation alternate universes can have different laws of physics.

    That’s not what Many Worlds Theory says.

    Many-Worlds says that there’s a single wave function that “branches” in such a way that different branches are “disentangled” such that they no longer can interact and that the one branch “sees” one possible outcome from a quantum phenomenon and the other “sees” the other. For example, when you run the two-slit experiment, the Worlds diverge and one “you” sees the slit on the left and the other “you” sees the slit on the right.

    However, all of the many Worlds still have the same laws of physics.

    I’ve heard somewhere that “Many Worlds Theory” might better be described as “Many Histories Theory,” if that helps.

    (I’m personally not yet convinced of M-W, but Sean is and he knows way more about this than me, so I’m willing to conceive that my intransigence on the subject results from my ignorance and / or idiocy.)

    What you might be thinking of is not Many Worlds Theory, but Multiverse Theory. The Multiverse Theory speculates that there are other Big Bangs, completely disconnected from our own, and that physics may be quite different in those other universes. However, this wouldn’t include the possibility of fanciful Never-Never Lands, let alone Heavens and Hells; rather, it would mean different values for what are in our universe fundamental constants: the charge of the electron, the speed of light, the force of gravity, and so on. Changing those can result in conditions in which matter as we know it behaves radically different; for example, stellar nuclear fusion might not be possible in one universe and it’s nothing more than clumps of primordial hydrogen and helium. Another one might have fusion, but chemistry might be much different…say, the element with atomic number 18 might be highly reactive rather than highly inert, and similar changes all across the Periodic Table.

    One thing that Multiverse Theory does not predict is “mirror universes,” such as one where Spock has a beard. The chaos inherent in the initial conditions of the Big Bang and subsequent events means that even some hypothetical other universe with initial conditions identical to ours down to the umpteenth decimal point will still have a radically different evolution over the course of a baker’s dozen billion years. The laws of physics will be the same and there’ll still be galaxies and solar systems and the like, but there wouldn’t be any Milky Way Galaxy — let alone any humans, and especially not a Ben Goren and a John Barrett discussing cosmology on a Sean Carroll’s blog.

    Cheers,

    b&

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  26. Scott Bergquist says:

    I tried to watch, but I simply could not subject myself to Eben and Moody…at all. To my a priori made-up mind, Shawn Carroll’s opening definition of his status as a Naturalist (i.e., there is =one= world, the natural world) leaves the idea of an afterlife without any sort of foundation. There are so many non-function suppositions about the nature and behavior of an “afterlife world”; so many, that, just as with Santa Claus, there are a lot of descriptions and attributes, but nothing among those features that would propel Santa Claus (or, the “afterlife”) beyond the realm of fiction and myth.

    Thank you!!, Sean Carroll, for engaging in these debates. You are exquisitely eloquent, and a joy to listen and see (debating, but much more, lecturing).

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  27. Avattoir says:

    Sili – I look at the numbers as saying: 68% came minds made up, 32% claimed to be open-minded, of which a third, 1 in 10 overall – much as in the general population – are, for whatever reasons, never going to commit; and of the 20% who claimed to be open-minded, 2 in 3 decided against … at that moment.

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  28. ascanius says:

    between this and his brilliant performance against craig, sean has emerged as the most effective atheist takedown artist in the debate format. i hope he finds the time to do more of this. he’s performing a great public service.

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  29. Charlie says:

    The mind is the brain.

    Once I was convinced of this, I became perfectly comfortable using transporter systems, which, as I understand it, destroy me (including my brain) while reconstructing a perfect copy somewhere else. As they say, atoms have no hair.

    Somewhere else or somewhen else. You would think that Eternity is a long time, but it goes by fast when you don’t exist.

    Then there was that time that the transporter lost its “lock” on me (whatever that means). But, fortunately, there was an identical copy of me 10^10^29 meters away under the care of a transporter tech that was just slightly (one plank unit) more talented.

    They say there is no afterlife. But in reality, there is no after.

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  30. Anon says:

    It’s staggering still 42% were ‘for it’. I think that is an alarming lost, I’d say.
    Moreover, it seems to me those with a scientific tendency always vote undecided prior to the debate, to change his/her mind afterwards. On the other hand, the ‘uninformed’ will most likely stick to his/her guns. The moment they figure this strategy out, they’ll get ‘square’ :)

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  31. John Isaacs says:

    Sad to see that my comment which respectfully disagreed with you was removed. Seems petty and intolerant.

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  32. ascanius says:

    i didn’t realize that alexander had such a murky and unethical professional past.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2529048/Proof-Heaven-doctor-faced-3million-malpractice-lawsuit-fell-coma.html

    http://www.esquire.com/features/the-prophet

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  33. James Gallagher says:

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  34. Tony says:

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  35. Ramesam says:

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  36. David Lau says:

    A job well done as always, Sean. I truly enjoyed the debate and the great performance you showed. Thanks.
    David Lau

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  37. Peter Ozzie Jones says:

    Dear Sean
    You are multi-talented & so calm & . . . great job in just 7 minutes!

    Dr Novella, what a insightful means of showing the mind comes from the wet stuff.

    A PDF of the transcript of the debate is also up should anyone prefer to read:

    http://intelligencesquaredus.org/images/debates/past/transcripts/050714%20Death%20Not%20Final.pdf

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  38. Pingback: The “Death is not Final” debate is up on YouTube now #AfterDeath

  39. Mike Dziuba says:

    I’l be the first to admit that through the process of learning, looking at claims from an opposite perspective can be fruitful.

    I’m unable, however, to accept an implicit claim hidden within Eben Alexander’s case for an afterlife namely that brain damage is a kind of optimal mechanism for fact finding.

    Call me intolerant.

    Mike

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  40. kashyap Vasavada says:

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  41. Charles Lee says:

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  42. I have thrown in my tuppence on the debate:

    http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2014/05/09/carroll-novella-vs-alexander-moody-some-terrible-terrible-arguments/

    concerning Alexander’s one particularly bad argument…

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  43. Robert says:

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  44. Robert says:

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  45. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Charles Lee : It is surprising that you interpreted my comment to imply that I claim to be qualified (as a physicist) to pass judgment on such issues. It was exactly to the contrary. All I meant was that as long as science does not understand consciousness, all such scientific arguments are questionable. As a physicist, you would not want to prohibit questioning. Would you? There are unending 90 years long debates on interpretation of quantum mechanics! As a physics professor or may be as any person you are of course entitled to your opinion. In a short comment, I cannot explain my views. I have discussed these issues on a rival physics blog recently.I cannot give the link. But the title of my guest blog is Hinduism-for-physicists If you care to read it and then criticize, you are most welcome.

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  46. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Charles Lee: Since your comment followed mine, I thought it was addressed to me. On second reading, I think, it could have been addressed to Sean. In that case, I would let Sean take care of the issue. I still stand by my statements in the comment though.

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  47. Robert says:

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  48. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Robert :
    I have full sympathy for you and your view point, although I am not an atheist. In fact this power of voting out a comment, with which one does not agree, goes completely against the spirit of science. In a scientific discussion, all views, whether you agree with or not, should be permitted. In published papers, at least, you know about the qualifications of the critics. Here you have no idea of who is voting against you! Also there are lots of people who use pseudo names for whatever personal reasons. I visit many other physics blogs and on one of them even had a guest blog published. This is the only blog with this outrageous system.

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  49. Ken Kukec says:

    Sean –

    A while back, after one of your video performances was posted here, a couple of commenters (ones who seemed knowledgeable on the subject) offered suggestions on how to make your best appearance on screen (voice, clothing, colors, etc.). You seem to have taken that advice to heart and to have applied it with the same smarts and discernment you bring to every issue in your professional life. What I mean to say is, you look sharp here — indeed, for a guy with the looks of a 14-year-old in perpetuity, you look really sharp.

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  50. aarrgghh says:

    “I was slightly disappointed in the folks on the other side.”

    judging from sean and steve’s expressions in the poster frame of the video, i’d say that’s something of an understatement.

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  51. Serge says:

    Best quote of the debate:

    “Quantum mechanics is confusing and consciousness is confusing, so maybe they’re the same.” –Scott Aronson

    That didn’t even take all fifteen seconds! Brilliant!

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  52. Very nice debate, but I have a question: how do you prepare for an event like this? In real life when you apply for a job and go to an interview you prepare for it: research the company, anticipate questions, etc.

    In an important debate where you sell a point of view to a live audience, how do you prepare for it? What do you actually do?

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  53. Robert says:

    Kashyap: Thanks for your comment!

    The Comments on this blog are just like those on most similar blogs. Any comments raising doubts about a militantly atheist point of view are derided. This is usually on the grounds of scientific logic – but when you start to poke at the scientific bit, it turns out that there is very little scientific knowledge, even of the rudimentary kind I have. On another blog, I talked about the consequences of Relativity on what time is and also of some of the bizarre things arising from quantum theory. All pretty routine stuff – the sort of things that someone interested in the subject will easily find out from any one of hundreds of books. All the Commenters on the blog thought I was crazy! In fact, they were absolutely convinced that the Universe is basically just a mechanism like a clock. Fine, if they were living in 1850 – but since then things have got a lot more mysterious!

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  54. John Barrett says:

    @Ben Goren

    I take it that you and six other people never heard of the problem of general relativity breaking down close to the moment of the big bang. If there was a singularity close to the moment of the big bang then it could have different laws of physics, if you take a number of Ph.D.’s word for it (don’t ask me how exactly). Then if there was a singularity and alternate universes branched off from that singularity, then there would be alternate universes with different laws of physics. Then again, inflation doesn’t predict a singularity, and it has a lot of success since people thought about the big bang this way. Yes, I know, you people don’t like jokes…

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  55. Tony says:

    @Robert @kashyup
    I sympathize with both of you, this like and dislike is ridicules. However I always read those comments that are disliked the most. They seem to make the most sense.

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  56. John Barrett says:

    P.S. Spock had a beard in some episodes of TNG as the old Spock that had traveled back in time from the future. Then that was an alternate universe than in the new movie, because in the original Star Trek universe planet Vulcan was never destroyed.

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  57. ... says:

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  58. John Barrett says:

    @…

    It could have been worse. He could have wrote an entire book about how your views of a new way of looking at the behavior of light and electrons is wrong, just to conclude that the Yang-Mills Theory still doesn’t work out when it comes to the new discovery of the Higgs Boson, and light does not come from a charged particle in this case so there is another particle that doesn’t have any influence on anything else mathematically. On another note, I never had to input my sex before posting, and your sex really shouldn’t have anything to do with anything about science.

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  59. Robert says:

    It´s very disappointing that no-one has answered my plea for a plausible-sounding explanation for the existence of the Universe by suggesting it probably came into existence as the result of a fluctuation. Very handy these fluctuation things. Particles popping into existence all the time and all over the place for no reason. Elephants in the shower stall and universes all suddenly materialising – here now, gone a fraction of a second later. All presumably obeying the laws of physics, which came from – I´ve forgotten where, but must have been another fluctuation. The original fluctuation that brought the Universe into existence was, of course, a good one. It didn´t even have anywhere to fluctuate! There was no space yet.

    It seems there must be some laws of physics that exist eternally, even without a universe to exist in. They exist because of their own inherent logic, a logic which establishes all kinds of weird ways for the Universe to operate in, ways which frankly scientists don´t understand. At least, not today.

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  60. John D says:

    Robert: saying “a quantum fluctuation did it” is no better than saying “God did it”. In fact it’s worse, because it ignores time dilation, and it’s coming from a guy who is allegedly rational offering a scientific explanation. Only it’s no explanation at all. It’s “turtles all the way down”. The truth is we don’t know what did it. But there have always been people who put themselves up as a high priest of religion or cosmology, and tell you they do.

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  61. Robert says:

    John D: I think we actually agree – no-one has even a glimmering of a rational explanation for our being here, together with the rest of the Universe. Given the nature of this blog and its contributors, my modest comments have been directed at the false certainties offered up by scientists. Religion is, of course, as bad or worse. I find the rubbish associated with organised religion absurd. Even if God exists, would he be in favour of people going to strange buildings to listen to men (usually) dressed in funny outfits, chanting and raving and, sometimes, waving things in the air that let off strange scents? Spouting odd certainties about the nature of GodWhy? What would be the point?

    I think, though, that it´s possible to accept the possibility that the Universe was brought into existence deliberately and consciously by something outside of itself. Just not God, with all the paraphernalia attending religion. Sounds improbable, I agree – but then whatever the answer is must seem improbable at the moment. I expect 16th century man would have found it improbable that the solid oak desk he´s leaning his elbows on is actually 99% empty space.

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  62. Alan says:

    It’s important to note that the issue of “shared-death experiences” was not answered by the “against the motion” side.
    Also the “online voting” results are up on the Intelligence Squared site…68% for the motion “Death is not final” with 32% against.

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  63. Charles Lee says:

    My comments were directed at Sean not @kashyap Vasavada.

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  64. John D says:

    Robert: the word universe is derived from uni as in “one” and versa as in “vice versa”. It means “turned into one”. It means everything. And I do not accept the possibility that everything was brought into existence by some other thing. Because that’s turtles all the way down too.

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  66. Robert says:

    John D : The trouble for me is that I find all the various suggestions for how the Universe came to exist “impossible”. Impossible that there exists, or existed, some entity that deliberately and consciously brought it into existence – but equally, and perhaps more, impossible that it sprang into existence from a total nothingness all on its own and for no reason, which would seem very like my elephant in the shower stall idea. I don´t think that supposing it to have existed for ever in some form or other would help much either.

    If it were to be the case that it was brought into existence (deliberately and consciously) by something and we were going to be a bit pedantic about it, then we would have to find it another name.

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  67. John D says:

    When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

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  68. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Robert: Your questions are certainly interesting, but science using scientific method as defined today cannot answer these questions. As you know, in scientific method, one makes up models (no matter how bizarre they appear intuitively) and checks if they agree with experiments. Modern physics has been tremendously successful in explaining the data with models which are *irrational and illogical* from the point of view of everyday life. I can say that confidently as a (retired) physics professor. When they claim that universe came from nothing, that nothing does not mean absence of anything. It had quantum fields in it. Where did they come from? No answer! A good debater, of course, does not show his weak points to the opponents!! I have expressed my views (admittedly biased) about science and religion in a guest blog on another physics blog. I cannot give a link. But if you are interested, you can google for * Hinduism for Physicists*. Comments there or here are most welcome.

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  70. Daniel Shawen says:

    Would an artificial intelligence equal to or greater than our own worry about this issue, given that they could be instantly resurrected at the flip of a switch? Doubt it. Why not?

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  71. allan says:

    @david MOND/Milgrom I’ll make an appeal to authority. From Sean Carroll/Discover Magazine/2011. ” among its other shortcomings, MOND is not completely well-defined, so there’s a surprising amount of wriggle room available in fitting a variety of different observations. But to the vast majority of cosmologists, we have long since passed the point where MOND should be given up as a fundamental replacement for dark matter — it was a good idea that didn’t work.”

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  72. Dave Greene says:

    It seems to me that hallucinations and NDEs due to an impaired or decaying brain function would result in fuzzy descriptions of supposed events rather than the fantastically crisp and lucent events described by Dr. Eban. If Eban hallucinated his experiences then he certainly embellished them to a high degree post-hoc. To me this leaves just two choices: either his experiences were real or he is one of the slimiest liars on the face of the planet – take yer pick.

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  73. James Cross says:

    David Greene.

    Actually many experiences of NDE and various drugs have a “more real than reality” aspect to them. So I am not sure he is embellishing even if he is misinterpreting.

    See my post:

    http://broadspeculations.com/2013/04/13/lets-explore/

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  74. Dave Greene says:

    Thanks for the comment James. By the way, your blog looks quite interesting and I will be visiting it from time to time :)

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  75. Robert says:

    kashyap Vasavada: The public at large believes science is close to answering all the interesting questions, but – of course – it isn´t and probably never will be. Paul Davies commented that science has spent and continues to spend too much of its time studying the “How” of things and not nearly enough the “Why”. Brian Greene in a book of his I read recently says that when yet another “counter-intuitive” (ie apparently impossible) finding is made, the scientific attitude is: Just get your head down (ie don´t ask awkward questions) – and do the maths. I emailed a couple of well-known physicists a few years ago with a list of things that I didn´t understand – those things where you say “OK, that´s the way things are – but how can they possibly be that way?!” Surprisingly, they both answered and both said: No-one understands these things.

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  76. allan J says:

    @robert “The public at large believes science is close to answering all the interesting questions”. Clearly not the case in the U.S. A Pew poll puts belief in an afterlife and heaven at 74%. It seems doubtful to me that these people believe that science is close to answering “all the interesting questions”. I don’t think any scientists claim that either. I think Stephen Novella sums up the situation regarding consciousness: “It is important to separate the question of HOW the brain causes consciousness from IF the brain causes consciousness. The evidence for the brain as the sole cause of the mind is, in my opinion, overwhelming. The how is a bit more tricky.. “. One thing I liked about Alexander’s heaven – there are dogs!

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  77. Robert says:

    allan J: Maybe people in the USA believe that science will shortly be proving the existence of an afterlife and Heaven. By next Wednesday morning, say. In the UK, people often say things like: “I believe there´s something”, but they are usually a bit vague if you ask for details. I was really thinking more about Commenters in atheist blogs, the people I´ve referred to earlier who appeal to science for their militant belief in atheism, yet who turn out to know almost no relevant science if you enquire.

    Atheists usually appeal to lack of evidence for a Creator, which I find a bit odd. We have a whole universe here, one which in many respects operates in spooky ways and one for whose existence no-one has an explanation. (Yes, I know – Hawking now says it was a fluctuation that did it, tho´ I´m not sure if he specifies what fluctuated, where it fluctuated and what fluctuation rules it was obeying) We have no other experience of material things just popping into existence from total nothingness, suddenly and for no reason, let alone whole universes with all the operating instructions in place. That is not, of course, proof of creation, but it´s strong evidence that something extremely odd happened.

    Many scientists have believed in a creator , including Newton (sometimes referred to as “the smartest man who ever lived”). It´s possible to find Einstein quotes in both directions, so maybe he changed his mind from time to time. Hawking was quite indignant when someone suggested to him in an interview that was an atheist, tho´ he is apparently one now. Dawkins in an Telegraph interview was asked: “Do you absolutely reject the possibility of the universe having been created, then?” He answered “Absolutely not…though you´d have to explain where the creator came from.”

    I certainly agree with you that the brain is the source of consciousness. I find it odd that people should even argue about it. The existence of so much complexity in the Universe, with the human brain probably at the pinnacle, seems odd to me. And 14 billion or so years after the start! You´d think it would all have disintegrated into chaos long ago. 13.9 billion years ago, say.

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  78. Daniel Shawen says:

    So long as there are things we don’t know about, there will be superstition. It goes along with having a finite mind with even more limited cognitive ability connected to limited (but fairly amazing) senses. Intelligence could alternately be defined as the ability to be willfully ignorant of things that are like unto superstition. Even if one is discerning about what is assimilated or learned, deception by individuals or even societies with other interests is always there to confound, for reasons that are as often as not unrelated to the promotion of knowledge and/or the betterment of the individual or society. If only there were a way to know… but then you have superstition once again, don’t you?

    Although scientists are reticent to admit it, science (and even mathematics) has its roots firmly planted in superstition, even in the 21st century. You don’t really need to look all that hard to find it, either.

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  79. Bart says:

    Consciousness is associated with life and life means that you are not in thermodynamic equilibrium with the environment. When one dies one ends up in thermodynamic equilibrium with the environment and life ends and so does consciousness. When in coma one is still out of thermodynamic equilibrium.

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  80. Tony says:

    It goes back to what caused the first cause, but the first cause must be an uncaused intelligence. You can call that cause anything you want, even God. You can go back and back and back and their must be a first cause that started the train rolling from the place of nowhere, nothingness, and with no thing to begin with. Nothing pops out of nothing for nothing is absolute nothing, no fields, no space, no anything, not even fluctuations, for fluctuations require something to exist, at the least, emptiness, for emptiness is something.

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  81. Robert says:

    kashyap Vasavada: I´ve read your guest blog. You certainly make Hinduism sound appealing, so I´ll read up a bit about it. I presume, though, that it will have the root difficulty that most religions do – lack of evidence. That´s not necessarily such a huge drawback, as I don´t think there is any very convincing evidence at all on why we´re all here, together with the Universe. Absolutely none. I sometimes veer towards thinking that the Universe must always have been here in some form or other, since I find the alternatives impossible to believe.

    (I wonder why militant atheists so often insist on writing God without a capital “g”? Even fictional characters have the first letters of their names capitalised. Harry Potter – not harry potter. Gulliver, not gulliver. I think this says quite a lot about the militants.
    I also find it odd when people don´t give the Universe a capital “u”, when talking about a particular universe – our one.)

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  82. John says:

    Well it’s easy to win when the other side debates like a group of high school kids. I would have used one very simple concept against you. Is information lost in a black hole? Now couple that with what is conscious thought and you are on the defensive. Oh and maybe conscious thought is intertwined quantum particles. No one can explain how conscious thought arrives in the brain so how can science explain where it goes?

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  83. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Robert
    Thanks for taking time to read that blog. My main motivation was to remove misunderstanding in west about Hinduism and make some general statements about science and religion. To quote a few lines from that blog: “I think science and religion can have a peaceful coexistence and can enrich human life. In a way I am calling for moderation and acceptance of importance of each other by both sides. Let us have a balanced view of science and religion.” As for the *lack of evidence*, you cannot demand strictly scientific evidence since science deals with sensory perceptions only and religion with extra sensory perceptions. I am not saying that issues like NDE and afterlife should not be investigated scientifically. Such investigations should be surely encouraged. But I do not agree that what we can verify with our sensory organs is all there is to it. To quote again: “We are on a measly little planet bound to an average star (our sun) in an average galaxy with more than 100 Billion stars. There are more than 100 Billion galaxies in our observable universe. There could be an infinite number of such universes. Our eyes and brains evolved in a specific manner on earth. Both of these have limitations. For example, our eyes are only sensitive to visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Thus it would be height of arrogance and even stupidity to assume that what we can find with our sense organs and understand with our brains is all there is to it in the universe.” Also for the survival of humanity, for which we need morality, ethics, love, compassion etc., I seriously doubt if the so called “Humanism” would succeed. If it does, I would not have any problem! But there is already a framework “religious framework” for this if the followers would just follow what is written in their scriptures!

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  84. Tony says:

    Have you ever wondered what kind of universe or universes an unintelligent creative force would create? Perhaps chaotic ones, without form or direction, most certainly without intelligent creatures for I wonder what is intelligence, why does it exist at all. The Universe can exist without it, doesn’t need it, it serves no purpose, it cares not, nor should it, especially in an eternal universe without cause, without feeling or caring or any way to know that it self exists.

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  85. Robert says:

    Hola, kashyap Vasavada: (from sunny Spain) I don´t see science and religion as being in conflict on the important things. I don´t believe science will ever know what brought the Universe into existence nor find out why the spooky, frankly inexplicable, things are so. The Sun has another 5 billion or so years to go, but I think the human race is living on borrowed time. Any day now………………

    Do you have a blog – if you do, I´ll follow you!

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  90. Aleksandar Mikovic says:

    I have a simple logico-philosophical argument why death is not final: Deciding this question is equivalent to choosing a metaphysics, and the “no” camp is clearly choosing the materialistic metaphysics. I will argue that a platonic metaphysics is more rational, and since a platonic metaphysics allows existence of ideas outside of spacetime, than a human soul will continue to exist as an idea after the death of the body.

    Why a materialistic metaphysics is irrational: assuming that only objects that exist are space, time and elementary particles, one has to allow the existence of laws of motion, since otherwise everything would happen by chance – which is highly improbable and contrary to our experience. If we have laws, these objects are different from space, time and matter and we are introducing a platonic realm. By Goedel theorems we know that the list of laws cannot be finite, and hence we need a full platonic space of ideas.

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  91. John says:

    So two identical twins, exact same DNA, yet they are two distinct individuals with different thoughts, emotions, feelings etc. The conscious mind isn’t a progrom. And even if it is we have no clue how the source code is even delivered to the brain.

    Here is the issue. Both sides are based on belief and faith. So in many ways both sides are just a religion. There is no proof for either point of view. Like the multi-verse it is based on you faith or belief.

    And that means it boils down to two simple possibilities. Either the Universe was designed or it happened strictly by chance.

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  92. Robert says:

    John: I agree with most of what you say – tho´it´s a shame about the last sentence. It takes us back to the beginning of the argument

    I struggle on the elementary question of how, assuming it happened by chance, it was able to pop into existence from the absolute and total nothingness. No space or anything else for one of those handy “fluctuations”. There weren´t even any laws of physics yet in existence, making such fluctuations of the nothing in the nothing possible! I wonder, what fluctuated? Where did it fluctuate? Why did it fluctuate? Why 13.8 billion years ago – why didn´t it fluctuate the day before yesterday? And how did this, presumably, modest little fluctuation manage to give rise to the stupendous Universe we see today?

    It was also born with exactly the right parameters to enable the appearance of stars like the Sun with planets like the Earth, giving rise eventually to you and me. I forget how many of these critical ratios and amounts there are, but it´s a lot – and the chance of them all “happening” to occur is infinitesimally small. Enough to make you think there must be trillions of universes, then you can say one just like ours will appear from time to time quite naturally.

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  93. Meh says:

    “Here is the issue. Both sides are based on belief and faith. So in many ways both sides are just a religion. There is no proof for either point of view. Like the multi-verse it is based on you faith or belief.”

    You’re wrong. Absence of any sort of evidence to prove your claim qualifies the one side as belief; it also supports the opposing view. The presence of evidence to prove your claim qualifies Sean’s side as factual. There is actual proof for one side, and the complete absence of proof for the other.

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  95. allan J says:

    @john “So two identical twins, exact same DNA, yet they are two distinct individuals with different thoughts, emotions, feelings etc. The conscious mind isn’t a progrom. And even if it is we have no clue how the source code is even delivered to the brain.” I’m puzzled that you think that anyone would believe that identical twins are not distinct individuals. If I hit one identical twin on the toe with a hammer I wouldn’t anticipate the ‘other twin’ feeling the pain. The ‘source code’ isn’t delivered to the brain. The brain configures during development. The configuration is due to a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors.

    “Both sides are based on belief and faith.”. Watch the lecture again. One side is telling anecdotes. The other side is talking about the findings of brain science.

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  96. Behrouz says:

    While I can usually watch a good debate without getting frustrated or angry, I must say I choked a little on my coffee when I heard Eben Alexander bringing up Quantum Mechanics in his own defense. I think good physicists such as Sean or Lawrence Krauss who are also active in the skeptic movement, should someday take the time and dedicate an event like this to explaining why consciousness has probably nothing to do with the collapse of the wave function, and why it’s an outdated interpretation of QM. It might make it a little harder for people like Eben Alexander to use such ambiguous scientific jargon in later debates.

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  97. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @ Robert : Thank you for your offer to follow my blog if I have one. No I do not have one now. That is probably too much work. But you can google and find my e-mail address very easily. Luckily I am the only one in U.S. with this name !!! If I write something on another blog, I can let you know. Thanks again.Even though, you say you are atheist (not a militant one though!) I agree with many of your ideas.

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  99. Tom says:

    Thanks for debating! I never heard of you before the Bill Craig debate, but I have avidly followed Dr. Novella’s blog for years. As someone who is not a naturalist and am ‘for’ the motion, I do think your side clearly won this debate. Dr. Moody was terrible and wasted most of his speaking time – maybe this just isn’t a good format for him (?). Dr. Alexander, though his account is interesting, would be better as a supplement to someone who could better defend the motion.

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  100. konst says:

    How are you going to argue that the afterlife doesn’t exist when you are not even asking the right questions? The afterlife and soul is not physical meaning not part of the universe. Yet Steve Novella and Sean Carroll expect it to conform to elementary physics, i.e. standard model, TOEs, string theory, etc. By the way, string theory – that’s a faith based theory in itself!

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  101. Robert says:

    konst: I assume you´re a believer in an after-life. I often wonder what we do there. Is there a risk that it might get a little tedious after the first trillion years? Nothing “physical” there? That makes it potentially even more boring – no books, no TV, no games, no sex – what do we do with ourselves? In any case, what purpose can it have? So many billions of people there, their souls milling around, wondering what to do next. Or are they in a sort of state of suspended animation? That doesn´t sound like much fun either. What is the purpose of an after-life – can it have any purpose?

    Re the first trillion years, I´ve a feeling that the standard response is that there is no time there. While time is certainly flexible in our Universe, so long as there are events, there must surely be time too? From any particular perspective, the events unfold in order and not all at once – so, time must exist, even if no-one bothers about measuring it.

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  102. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Robert and Konst: As I mentioned in my blog “ Hinduism for physicists” these religions believe in repeated reincarnation unlike Abrahamic religions where the belief is in one shot deal, i.e. one life and you go to heaven or hell depending on your deeds. Eastern religions give you multiple chances to wipe out your bad karmas with good karmas until your soul gets liberated (Moksha or Nirvana). So there is no question of what you do after death! Admittedly there is no scientific proof for either concept! While it is fine to study these things scientifically if possible, failure to observe scientifically does not mean impossibility. It may very well be difference between sensory and non-sensory perceptions. I have an open mind about such concepts. I do not necessarily believe or disbelieve in these concepts.

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  103. Daniel Shawen says:

    “First trillion years” — I like that. It might even be long enough for all of the protons to pop like so many soap bubbles, thus vindicating at least a part of string theory.

    A trillion years could go by while you are dreaming (assuming the dreaming apparatus or mechanism, chemical or otherwise, could endure for that long), and it is doubtful you would even be vaguely aware of it.

    For the record, I’m no atheist. I have late in life converted from Christianity to a faith that is infinitely more tolerant of the ways of science, and also much more tolerant of other beliefs. This tolerance is still a struggle sometimes– which I blame on the negative continuing influence of my previous culture.

    Karl Popper seems to be the philosopher du jour of my previous culture, and even he was intolerant of intolerance. In that way, he is more like Bertrand Russell than he realized. The great thing about Popper is that you can pretty much remain ignorant about everything and anything, and that’s perfectly fine in his philosophy.

    See: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/gardner_popper.html

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  104. konst says:

    @Robert and others,

    I should have said the soul is not physical not the afterlife. Regarding the “first trillion years” I don’t know if time exists like the time now does but most scientist ignore even what physics say about time now anyways so why complain about how boring it sounds? Physics says time, past, present, and future exist concurrently and yet scientists, with the exception of a few, just ignore the math and create a make believe world where time flows from past to future or some now “moves in time” to the future. I guess most scientist just accept that on faith.

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  105. Robert says:

    Most religions distinguish between “good” and “bad”. I have a problem with that, because I don´t believe that free will exists – and without free will, you can´t accuse anyone of being a “bad” person, any more than you can blame your car for being unreliable. I assume that by “free will” people mean more than that they don´t know what I´m going to do if I´m presented with a choice. I don´t in reality have choices. My mind, which is “me”, decides – and where did that come from? Did I have a choice about the mind I was born with and how events since then have shaped it? Is it that Mercedes´fault that someone in the factory forgot to check that screw in its steering, so the steering broke and it veered and killed the old lady at the bus stop.

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  106. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @ Robert: I can answer your questions within the context of Hindu religion. Your past is sealed! There will be consequences because of your past karma. There is no way to stop them! This is like action and reaction of physics. There is no action in physics which does not have a reaction. But you do have a free will to change your future by good karma. As for other religions or atheists, I would let them answer these difficult questions.

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  107. Daniel Shawen says:

    No reputable physics I know of says that past, present and future exist concurrently. For one thing, it would violate so many conservation laws, to say nothing of symmetries; it simply makes no sense. The past is history. The present is where we all live. The future is no more or no less than whatever you and others decide to make of it.

    You must be confusing the multiverse ideas of Leonard Susskind (which was, evidently some sort of elaborate ‘joke’, by the way) with a television series like ‘Sliders’ or something.

    Free will happens each and every time you draw a breath of air, and subsequent events put in motion by you as a result of that, but only for as long as you are still able to do so. It isn’t very long, so exert some effort to make each one count.

    One person’s (or even specie’s) good is, all too often, another one’s evil on a small world we are sharing on a temporary basis. Try and get along with as little inconvenience to the rest of us as possible, if you wish us not to spit on your grave, that is.

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  108. konst says:

    Physics does say past, present, and future exist concurrently but maybe a better word is block time. In physics 3d space and 1d time form a 4d spacetime continuum that behave as time linked to space. In that physics past, present , and future exist all at once. What symmetries and conservation laws would it violate?

    This is somewhat off-topic but has some relevance to the afterlife and the soul and free will.

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  109. Tony says:

    When you die and go to Heaven you become like Gods or become God like, by the power of God. One person who supposedly went there said that one of the highest levels was where you worked with God to create the physics of entirely new Universes, but to be honest I haven’t the slightest, except you do become like God. I guess you can do whatever you desire. Heaven is the eternal now, no past, no future, just now, it’s as if you have always just arrived, the eternal spring. No, you don’t get bored, everything is always new, you just can’t imagine it.

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  110. Tony says:

    By the way, God sees all time past, present and future in a single instant.

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  111. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @ Daniel Shawen -your statement:
    “No reputable physics I know of says that past, present and future exist concurrently. For one thing, it would violate so many conservation laws, to say nothing of symmetries; it simply makes no sense.”
    Well. In relativity, time coordinate is just like a space coordinate on a diagram. This is clearly stated in Sean’s books and articles. All the microscopic laws of physics (except a small part of weak interaction) are time reversal invariant. There is an unresolved conflict between them and the second law of thermodynamics which says that time flows in one direction during this phase of expanding universe. Nobody has any idea of what happened before big bang or if there are cycles of big bang and big crunch. Why entropy at the time of big bang was lower than today is also a puzzle. BTW at the point of singularity, the coordinate system collapses, i.e. space-time, past, present and future exist or do not exist simultaneously. Within a black hole, time and space exchange their role! There are all these puzzles with theories of modern physics.
    I do agree with the last two paragraphs of your comment though, about free will and good behavior towards other people.

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  112. Daniel Shawen says:

    “Block time” is part of a branch of philosophy having to do with ideas about eternity, and part of its tenets is special relativity, but this isn’t physics.

    The conservation of energy is violated in every one of the smallest increments of time during which, presumably, a past with all of its matter and energy content is somehow preserved and spun off into the multiverse. By the way, does it travel there in a straight line, or what’s the deal?

    Philosophy, like most religions, is much, much older than physics. Some would argue scripture as though it were a physics textbook as well. It usually isn’t.

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  113. Robert says:

    kashyap Vasavada: Here we are again! I´ll definitely read up a bit about Hinduism, when I finish work on my new website that I´m struggling with.

    I really don´t think free will can exist in any meaningful way. I certainly cannot choose to write better than Shakespeare nor to think like Einstein. To paint like Monet would be way beyond me, no matter how much “choosing” I do, as would writing symphonies that Beethoven might be proud of.

    I suppose it could be considered one of those “depends on what you mean by…” subjects. When I am faced with a choice, it´s my brain that decides – that is me. My brain is the result of the one I was born with plus all the things that have happened since to modify it, but there is no other “me” to control or modify this process. From a religious point of view, I suppose there is a “you” apart from your brain, though I don´t see how that would change my basic argument. It would simply move the argument from the brain to this other “you”. The only alternative I can see would be if “choices” were random – like spinning a coin (tho´even that´s not random!). I can hold up the bank and escape with a few million – or not. Random says sometimes I´d do it, others not. I´d say that my mind will always decide the same way, given the collection of circumstances at the moment of choosing.

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  114. Robert says:

    Tony: You say: “By the way, God sees all time past, present and future in a single instant.”

    All religions, I suppose, make assertions about the characteristics of their particular one and generally people don´t say: “Oh yes – how do you know?” In this case, for example, from where do you get the assertion you make above? How do you know?

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  115. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Daniel Shawen: Energy is not conserved in general relativity and in expanding universe. Sean has written blogs about this.This is very much current physics, not philosophy.

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  116. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @ Robert: Let us separate the two things: one’s abilities and one’s free will in deciding about whether to do good or evil! Of course people are different in their abilities. Einsteins and Monets are rare. Science would say that your abilities depend on a complex of genetic inheritance you got and Hinduism would say it depends on your previous life karmas! I have a little bit of problem with genetic inheritance. It cannot explain why Einstein’s parents and his children were ordinary intellectually. There was just one big peak of intellectual genius in perhaps several generations. The free will choice you make whether to be good or bad is completely different, although some people may say that even that is also part of genetic inheritance or past karma.But I would vote in favor of free will. We have seen some kids, born in extreme poverty,with awfully bad parents, still come out and do superbly well in their life.

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  117. allan j says:

    From The Onion ‘Budget Woes Force Heaven To Reduce Eternal Life To 500 Billion Years’. A spokesman said :’To help us meet the rising cost of maintaining Heaven as a lavish kingdom of perfection for all penitent souls, we will now be limiting believers to afterlives consisting of half a trillion years, an amount of time we still feel is quite generous’

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  118. Tony says:

    @ Robert, I have a little book where Christ speaks to a woman, it’s called He and I. Read it. Maybe it’s what your looking for, maybe not. You can find it on Amazon. Is it her imagination, I absolutely don’t believe so, but you have to decide.

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  119. Tony says:

    But whatever, someone should explain how life and intelligence and all the attributes that belong to animals and especially humans can spring from a universe that has none of these.

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  120. Daniel Shawen says:

    @kashyap

    Thanks. I’ll go back and read a few more of Sean’s blog entries about conservation of energy vs. general relativity and acceleration at cosmological distances. The latter, for sure, since no one knows why it’s happening (or even if it actually is, in some circles).

    FYI, my physics degree is from the University of Maryland (whose mascot is a tortoise named “Testudo”). Prior to reading Sean’s excellent “Particle at the end of the Universe”, and even giving a talk or two myself about it, I have changed my mind about many things. Where I was once convinced that it was “turtles, all the way down”, Sean has convinced me that it is “Higgs, all the way (well, most of the way) down”.

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  121. Daniel Shawen says:

    Miracles are before your eyes, everywhere you care enough to look. We walked on the moon, with computing hardware less powerful than the technology that is in your pocket. What’s that about walking on water again? Why was that so special?

    Would it help if we did not expect them? That only happens to us once, when we are born.

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  122. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Daniel Shawen: It is a small world.I got Ph.D in Physics from Univ of Maryland in 1964. When did you get your degree? My guess is that you may be considerably younger than me. I am a retired physics professor in mid west. Anyway, although I do not agree with Sean’s views on religion, I do enjoy reading his physics blogs. I do not have any problem about learning physics from him. For me both science and religion have limitations and both are important.

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  123. konst says:

    If you could prove or almost prove that there was existence beyond the physical universe would you? In today’s increasing totalitarian governments is it better not to give them more tools of oppression and rather withhold knowledge they could use for more oppression?

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  124. Robert says:

    kashyap: I´m still on about free will! There are relatively few tracks in my mind, which will soon be reduced to just the one.

    I think you will agree that free will is controversial. I think it was Brian Greene who discussed it from a quantum point of view in The Fabric of the Cosmos and said finally that it “survives by the skin of its teeth. Maybe.” Or words to that effect.

    The consequences of acknowledging that free will is an illusion would be unpleasant. We would no longer be able to say that Adolf Hitler should be chucked out of the golf club – we´d have to say: “Poor man! Call a doctor!” There would no longer be Right and Wrong from a moral point of view and clerics in most religions would have some difficulties.

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  125. Robert says:

    Tony: Thanks for your suggested read. I´ve just Googled it and I see it´s famous, though I hadn´t heard of it. I´ll put it on my June list!

    Re your comments on animals and humans in the Universe and where did they come from, I agree with you. I´d take it further and query how the whole Universe popped into existence from the absolute nothing for no reason.

    Atheists on this and similar blogs have too a easy time of it. All they say is: “There´s no evidence that the Universe was created” – as though there´s loads of evidence for some alternative. Was it Created – or did it create itself from the total nothingness with all the laws of physics in place – or has it existed for all eternity in some form? There is no evidence for any of these, so atheists presumably therefore must think that the Universe doesn´t really exist. All three seem close to impossible to me.

    Over the years, logic is starting to move me in the direction of “Must have been created”, though not by the God of any earthly religion.

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  126. Daniel Shawen says:

    @kasyap

    Class of 1974. They had a cyclotron then, six stories under the math building. One of those beasts Don Lederman pointed out, didn’t really have much raw beam power; about as much as striking a typical match.

    Dr. Seymour Goldberg, my thermodynamics prof, let us go down and get a gander at the beam tube when it was turned off for maintenance. It’s a shame those weren’t really upgradable, like the LHC is, at least. Their attempt at building a synchrotron there failed (electron ring accelerator), due to a flaw in the design of the focusing magnets (which they now do with superconducting quadrupoles).

    It was a pretty good school for physics, but I only have a BS. Most of my career I spent as a telecom engineer at the former Comsat Laboratories in Clarksburg.

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  127. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Robert: Yes. Free will is controversial. At first, one would think that quantum mechanics, being probabilistic in nature, would surely support free will. But I hear that a Nobel Prize winner physicist t’Hooft and a physicist blogger Sabine Hossenfelder believe in super determinism (in simple words destiny!!) .Personally I still think belief in free will, would be good for the society , but who knows?

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  128. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert

    So, you believe there is no such thing as either determinism or free will? Aren’t you at all bothered about omniscience vs. omnipotence? I know of at least one very bright individual (also a “free will” worrier) who nearly chewed off a leg wrestling with that idea.

    Suppose that there is a supreme being who is both all knowing and all powerful. Does this mean he (or she) can by sheer force of will make a black hole so large that he can’t move it? Where’s the free will in that universe? If a supreme being that is omniscient and omnipotent can’t have free will, what chance do we mortals have?

    ‘Free will’ folks usually have fun with that scenario. Paradox happens. Deal with it.

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  129. Robert says:

    Daniel: I do believe in determinism – tho´ it would take a god to work out the future from the present. I read somewhere recently that even calculating exact orbits where there are three bodies involved is, practically speaking, impossible. It´s also impossible, apparently, to work out the exact time of sunrise or sunset – but that´s less surprising.

    I must have something missing in my mind, as I really do find it impossible to understand how anyone can believe in free will, other, of course, than in the simplistic sense that no-one knows what I´ll do if I´m presented with a choice. I don´t even know what “free will” really means! Minds make choices and minds are attributes of brains, which are physical things that people are born with. At what point does anyone get to decide the qualities of their brain? It seems clear to me that minds will always make the same decisions in the same circumstances when presented with decisions to be made. The only alternative to this would be if decisions are random.

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  130. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert;

    So, you believe in omniscience (God works out everything in great detail), but not omnipotence (can’t necessarily do ‘anything’ or even make a choice). That’s a new take on the problem.

    Most people do believe they have a small measure of free will. If it’s a bit smaller than they realize, that’s probably OK.

    You are correct about the three body problem in the sense that there is no general solution to the problem that is known to physics, even ‘perturbative’ ones. However, a few mathematicians have managed to work out a number of discrete 3-body orbits that are stable (and so, the math works out for those; about 30 or so cases). It is partly because of this that ideas like MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics) are generally in disfavor to explain the 1/r dependence of velocities for spiral galaxies, which means the outer 1/3 of the mass has already achieved escape velocity unless there is something more massive (like dark matter), or alternatively, that the Higgs mechanism leaves some unknown extra residual, unseen mass/energy within the fabric of space itself. We know that something else is there to bend the light, at least, thanks to general relativity.

    Which brings us back to the omniscience problem. Can a mass ever become so big, that the event horizon is everywhere outside of the singularity, and so the Higgs mechanism and time itself stops? What would a supreme being be able to do then?

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  131. Robert says:

    Daniel: You certainly know far far more of the relevant science than I do! (I think I came across the 3-body problem in a slim little book called: The Universe and the Teacup – The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty by K.C.Cole. I bought it years ago, but still I go back to it for a dip quite frequently. It´s even got some errors which I managed to spot!)

    I´m afraid I don´t basically believe in the existence of God, though I do sometimes waver on the possibility of the Universe having been created – just not by God. If God did exist, then I would assume he could do anything at all, as clearly he would have not merely extraordinary powers, but magic ones too. Christianity, which is the only organised religion of which I have a small knowledge, strikes me as raising more questions than it answers and, in any case, has what I consider absurd rituals. Neither does it answer the question I ask myself: Why should I believe this stuff?

    I´m going to read up a bit on Hinduism, in which kashyap has raised my interest.

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  132. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Robert and Daniel: Interesting debate you have. I am sorry to bring in Hinduism again and again!!! But Hindu God (Brahman) is synonymous with laws of nature. So the question whether he can create a black hole which he cannot move does not arise. As for three (or more) body problem, according to my understanding: yes it becomes chaotic (very sensitive to initial conditions) and unpredictable after some period. The fact that keeps solar system fairly stable is that the sun has most of the mass of the solar system. But even here people expect it to become unstable or at least unpredictable after a long time, say billions of years. Of course sun may become a red giant before that and life on earth will be gone .So nothing to worry and lose sleep over!!

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  133. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert

    That seems like an excellent exercise of free will, Robert, whether you believe in a supreme being or not.

    It helps to get ideas about morality from somewhere (and most religions are usually fine for this), and to follow as best you can, in moderation. It is dangerous to be obsessive about religion, big time– the first one of 10 or 613 general rules, depending. For a lot of people, the golden rule (which was appropriated by Christianity from an earlier faith), is simply not enough to guide us, particularly when we feel that others may be taking some liberties with that particular rule. Happens all the time, free will or no.

    Physics apparently can be a religion too (complete with its own OCD adherents to sectarian sub disciplines), but lately it seems to be a little weak on the golden rule thing.

    Just remember; it’s turtles. Turtles, and Higgs, almost all the way down.

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  134. Daniel Shawen says:

    A personal friend is a neutrino physicist who worked with Nobel Laureate Ray Davis (sorry about the name dropping) on what became a 30 year mystery of the missing 2/3 of the solar neutrino flux.

    This friend recently attended a presentation I gave about Sean’s book.

    Part of what was later discovered with improved neutrino detectors like SNO (Sudbury, Ontario), and Super Kamiakande (Japan) was that neutrinos start to oscillate between three states after interacting with a sufficient amount of matter and the electroweak force. Only 1/3 of the flux was detected by the perchloroethane tanks of Ray Davis’ design because that is the only type of neutrino which can change a chlorine atom into an atom of Argon (which Ray’s detector counted).

    The supercomputer model of our Sun can therefore predict with some amazing accuracy exactly when our sun will begin transitioning to a red giant star. It has about 5 billion or so years to go unless something disruptive like a neutron star pops in. So it will still be burning when the nearby Andromeda galaxy starts to look a whole lot bigger.

    But each time we lose fear and worry about one superstition, (the way Newton showed us, our orbit will not decay or leave the solar system; Ray Davis eventually showed us, the Sun has a ways to go before becoming a red giant), it always seems like it is replaced by another. We now have two more to add to the list:

    1) a Higgs cascade event, transitioning the phase / vacuum expectation value from 245 GeV to some lower value across all of space. It either disintegrates the universe entirely or else changes into some other structure or phase in which atoms cannot exist.

    2) Entropy death, suggested by accelerations being measured at the fringes of cosmological distances. These observations, like BICEPs, are currently in flux.

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  135. Robert says:

    Daniel: You know – I think we disagree on the meaning of the term “free will”! What you refer to as my exercise of free will, I regard as something over which I have no choice. There is no “I” outside my mind to exercise free will. In the same circumstances, I will always repeat the same opinion – at least, until something happens to alter my mind. The passage of time, say, or some great trauma.

    My outlook is pretty bleak, since effectively I´m saying that we´re all just very complicated machines. I think if a creator exists, he/she/ it might well regard humans as an unexpected by-product, like the mold on a tomato if you leave it too long.

    I agree with you that physics sometimes seems like a sort of religion, with its adherents believing they know the truth, without, in fact, knowing the answers to any of the important questions. I´ve noticed on blogs, how upset they get if I refer to what I presume to be their belief – that the Universe created itself from the absolute and total nothingness, for no reason and with all the necessary physical laws to develop and eventually produce human beings. I got chucked off a Richard Dawkins blog, because they thought I was being sarcastic.

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  136. Robert says:

    Daniel: I´m not worried about the Sun starting its expansion soon, making our summers too hot, nor even about the Moon which is slipping away and which might make the Earth´s orbit unstable and would ruin romantic evenings. I find the series of other potential disaster worrying, though. The next disaster, one that will wipe out most life on Earth, is surely long overdue. There´s the obvious one – Yellowstone, 20.000 odd years late, together with half a dozen other super volcanoes. Then catastrophic asteroids, which could shatter the peace on a sunny afternoon with very little warning, and don´t need to be very big to finish us all off. There´s a giant chunk of one of the Canary Islands that´s going to fall off into the sea any day soon, with dire consequences. A solar flare. An epidemic with no known cure, of which there´s a promising one floating around now. Climate change – are we already past the tipping point?

    I must be in a down phase this afternoon – nothing but gloom and doom!

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  137. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert;

    I can identify with both of those issues (robotic humanoid and getting chucked from forums).

    I’m trying to apply what moral principles I can where applicable.

    First, if I begin to annoy anyone in a forum, I simply leave, and either don’t come back until I’m sure I’m in a better mood, or if I’ve written something that upon reflection I feel was inappropriate and/or offensive, I don’t go back at all.

    I do listen; but sometimes, that’s the toughest part of all.

    I was part of team ENSCO for the DARPA Grand Challenge 2005, and came in sixth of a field of 23 that eventually qualified. If you don’t think I learned a thing or two about humans vs. robots from that experience, well let me tell you; it was a real eye opener.

    At first I was depressed about the idea that maybe we were that limited. But my physics background eventually reminded me that our greatest scientists (Newton, Einstein) did their best work on something we still know nothing about: what, fundamentally, is a length, or equivalently, a time? This is like asking a computer or artificial intelligence: What is a number?

    You see, there is a difference! Not much, I know, but it’s there.

    And please let me know if anyone finds this offensive. I’m not addicted to this. I can leave and never come back. Had lots of practice!

    Thanks for your indulgence.

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  138. Gil Kalai says:

    I watched the debate and overall it was good, interesting and entertaining. The Novella-Carroll team did a great job in debunking the claim that near-death experiences give evidence (or even scientific evidence) for after-life. Debunking pseudoscientific arguments for claims of this kind can be interesting and challenging and of some public importance (but usually without scientific value). The debate was overall limited to the specific near-death claims so Sean did not express his wider views about religion which can be sometimes found over here.

    I do have two remarks. The first is about an argument that Sean uses which had only a pale appearance in the debate but was presented more clearly in these quotes from an early post by Sean on this matter.

    “If you claim that some form of soul persists beyond death, what particles is that soul made of? What forces are holding it together? How does it interact with ordinary matter? Everything we know about quantum field theory (QFT) says that there aren’t any sensible answers to these questions…. Believing in life after death, to put it mildly, requires physics beyond the Standard Model.”

    Well, the truth of the matter is that physics, quantum field theory and the standard model have very little to do with the after life question. The after life hypothesis went sharply against the rational (and scientific) view of the world around us before quantum field theories as much as it goes sharply against our rational and scientific view of the world around us after quantum field theories. Thus, specific modern physics insights and developements are fairly neutral to the question of after life. (This is in contrast to evolution theory that did change matters for another religious teachings. Evolution offered an alternative to a major religious teaching regarding the creation of mankind.)

    While it is plausible to think (as Sean claims) that much of our views on the physical world are here to stay, it is even more plausible to think that even scientific revolutions of the kind we witnessed over history will not support metaphysical or religious teachings like life after death.

    For the second point let me quote Isaac Asimov who wrote in the tenth anniversary issue of The Skeptical Inquirer. “Inspect every piece of pseudo-science and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What have we to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!”

    In his closing two minutes Sean moved to a sort of religious-like preaching, offering some comforting words and security: The finitude of life according to Sean is a reason for a person to make every minute of his life meaningful. This is surprisingly similar to the religious teachings that also require a person to make every minute of his life meaningful. (So nobody gives us a break, it seems.) And Sean asserts his personal view that it is “OK” that death is final. Like many teachings of this sort it is not clear what “OK” means, and why is it “OK?” And how wide is the scope of this OK: is terrible sufferings attached occasionally to death OK too? And is this teaching related to cosmology or physics? And are such words of wisdom of more value coming from a scientist? And is it really needed for debunking pseudoscientific arguments used for religion to conclude with quasi-religious teachings portrayed as science?

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  139. allan J says:

    @daniel “It helps to get ideas about morality from somewhere (and most religions are usually fine for this)” Really. Let’s try the two biggest – christianity and islam. Books written a millennia or two or three ago are a good basis for 21st century morality? Have you read them? Do you know what they say about the treatment of women, slaves, apostates and homosexuals?

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  140. Robert says:

    Daniel & Kashyap: It is a fascinating topic we´ve been talking about though , isn´t it? I first got hooked on “space” in the 1950s, with a book by George Adamski. (I think his name was). I don´t understand how it´s possible for anyone not to be interested in the Universe, its eccentricities (“counter-intuitive” aspects), why and how it´s here and where it´s going. But I live in a rural part of Spain, where conversation topics tend to be football and the price of almonds. Probably, for that reason, I´ve “gone on” too much, for which I´m sorry!

    Tonight, as a way of getting off to sleep, I´m going to ponder the question of what space is. Does it exist, if there´s nothing in it? Like the question about the felled tree in the forest, if there´s no-one to hear it fall. I´m good at dreaming up things to ponder which were actually solved long ago. But it´s healthier than sleeping pills!

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  141. Daniel Shawen says:

    Why is death being final OK?

    Consider some alternatives. Ray Kurzweil tried promoting a slightly different spin on life after death not mentioned in this debate. His idea of preserving his consciousness or soul in cybernetic form landed him in the pages of The Encyclopedia of American Loons.

    One advantage would be that you could turn yourself off and set a timer to revive you later when or if things got better. A disadvantage is that lethal boredom would be a tough way to pass. The repair bills would probably mount up even faster than bills accumulate in our broken health care system. Be careful what you wish for, Ray.

    Someone in the voting audience tried to bring up the issue of purgatory. Sean did not specifically respond, but this aspect of the afterlife is often used as a ‘stick’ to encourage people to live moral lives, and as often as not, either isn’t effective, or depresses people whom through no fault of their own have had led difficult lives in this plane.

    Or were you referring to folks who have an undeserved difficult time dying? The only answer science could provide for that is for better pain management and the legal means to implement them for the appropriate patients. Some day, we may actually be able to give them better dreams to send them on their way.

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  142. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert

    So happy to hear that you still have almonds in Spain! We’re all pretty worried about the honeybees (without which, no almonds; not even one).

    Pleasant dreams.

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  143. Daniel Shawen says:

    Conceded, that social and moral code and norms also must evolve. But on the other hand, science by design has almost nothing to say on issues of morality, tradition or values other than the supreme importance of the value we collectively refer to as ‘truth’. Make no mistake; ‘truth’ is not an absolute either, even in science. What few hard truths we know from science were hard won, and there’s nothing at all that can demonstrate that any single one of them are the whole truth. That’s just not how the scientific method works. What we might inadvertently ignore in science may have more importance to the pursuit of other truths than that which we choose to observe. In this way, science is similar to a religion.

    Like the faiths you mentioned, Judaism (the original Abrahmic religion) sets much store by the moral treatment of slaves, minutia and detail regarding ‘humane’ animal sacrifice, etc, mostly outmoded in the modern world for all but the most orthodox devotees. The Talmud argues even the minutia of the Torah, demonstrating an OCD style devotion that is easily the equal of any other sort of religious orthodoxy. However, the issue of the afterlife here is a non-starter. There is no afterlife to worry about; heaven or hell. No real equivalent of the devil, even though there are many examples of evil and misguided individuals.

    But other religion’s strict anti-heretical interpretations and discouragement of debate of their respective scriptures is unfortunate, because without that element, a faith can never evolve in any real sense. If this is by design, it is poor in the extreme.

    So I’m not disagreeing. If you profess no faith at all, I’m absolutely fine with that too.

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  144. Tony says:

    I’m a Christian, but like Kashyap I do believe that people are reborn if they have not completed the mission that God has chosen for them. Whatever that may be. I also believe that all people will be saved. Every single one.

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  145. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Tony
    Likewise, I’m with you (all people will be saved, if any of them are). However, this idea too can be carried to the extreme. Some churches, like the Serbian Orthodox, for example, believe that even though Adam and Eve were not around to have their souls forgiven in the Christian tradition, somehow the Messiah pulled off a spiritual bit of time travel or intervention to allow them to be saved anyway. More carrots and sticks corresponding to an afterlife of eternal peace and contentment vs. purgatory, as if followers were no better than stupid beasts of burden. In my book, that’s immoral.

    The best reason to have a religious tradition within a community is to have resources other than your own to provide moral guidance for raising your children. Oh yes, you will definitely be needing that, so plan on it.

    I don’t actually know what atheists plan to do in this respect, or how successful they are, but whatever it is, I wish them all the best of luck. They will need it. Teenagers have mostly reptilian brains, and there are consequences. Science can tell you this, but it will not help you very much, unless you are already highly skilled in caring for reptiles, that is. Most mammals have trouble with this.

    If your children all grow up to be as militant as Richard Dawkins, you’ll probably regret it. Religion has its problems, but by far it’s not the source of all the evil in the world that Richard seems to believe it is. Sharing community values is usually a good thing.

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  146. James Gallagher says:

    Kil Galai, May 15, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    This was a really nice post, I agree with you.

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  147. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Daniel Shawen : ” Religion has its problems, but by far it’s not the source of all the evil in the world” I completely agree with this sentence. If you look at the wars fought during 20th century leading to slaughter of millions of people, very few were fought because of religious reasons. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pat, Mao and others were not religious people! The only religious wars, I can think of, were between Arabs and Israelis ( there too there is a real estate problem) and on a smaller scale between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and Hindu-Muslim riots in India at the time of partition. 9/11 was a special case of religious terrorism. But even including all these ,the ratio of people killed in religious quarrels to the ones killed in non religious quarrels would be extremely small. Most of the murders carried out these days do not have any religious reason.

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  148. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Daniel Shawen : ” Religion has its problems, but by far it’s not the source of all the evil in the world” I completely agree with this sentence. If you look at the wars fought during 20th century leading to slaughter of millions of people, very few were fought because of religious reasons. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pat, Mao and others were not religious people! The only religious wars, I can think of, were between Arabs and Israelis ( there too there is a real estate problem) and on a smaller scale between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, Hindu-Muslim riots in India at the time of partition and current battles between Shiites and Sunnis . 9/11 was a special case of religious terrorism. But even including all these ,the ratio of people killed in religious quarrels to the ones killed in non religious quarrels would be extremely small. Most of the murders carried out these days do not have any religious reason.So it seems Sean is fighting a wrong battle!!

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  149. kalam says:

    Hi El Vez,

    I think in his defence of naturalism Sean Carroll hasn’t replied to what I take to be the most enlightening part of the forum that he had with Craig which you mentioned, namely the final comment made by Robin Collin when he discussed whether the history and successes of science favor naturalism over theism. Collins argued that, contrary to Carroll, the history and successes of science have confirmed theism through the discoveries of elegant mathematical equations etc. If the universe had no Designer why should the universe be like this (i.e. possessing laws of nature describable by elegant mathematical equations), and why should humans have the capacity to make those discoveries concerning fundamental physics etc?

    On naturalism there would have been no expectation that the universe should be like this and no expectation that humans would develop capacities far beyond what is needed for survival. However, on the theistic hypothesis of Galileo, Newton etc there would be such expectations, and these have been confirmed by modern science.

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  150. Daniel Shawen says:

    I agree with many of you that Sean’s side of the debate usually carries the day. Sean can easily do that with someone like Craig, or in the debate about the afterlife because science is almost enough, all by itself. For every miracle (with no answers of any kind other than prescriptive moral ones) in scripture, we instead have dozens of miraculous discoveries in science, many of which replace superstition with hard reproducible fact. When someone actually comes back from the dead and tell us what non-existence is like, the other side might have a leg to stand on. The amazing Randi still offers an unawarded prize for that, even though some of the things a human mind can actually do are miracles all by themselves.

    @kalam
    It’s easy to get carried away with what is perceived as elegant mathematical beauty when all you are actually seeing is the fulfillment of a predisposition toward OCD type of orderliness expressed in the language of mathematics (the most OCD science of all!). Sure, you get endorphins from understanding bits of of a problem at a time, but don’t believe that this actually puts you more in harmony with nature, other than chemically, in your own brain. It doesn’t.

    What folks like Darwin didn’t convey strongly enough is that the business of life is more like an amoeba (trying everything it can to survive in every conceivable direction) than it is like anything elegant like the finely tuned unambiguous nature of mathematics. If the afterlife is anything like life on Earth but without physical restrictions, it is going to be very diluted in a universe this large and complicated.

    Mind you, I’m not telling you that mathematics or the appreciation of it for its own sake has no value. But observe that like life, it is a discipline capable of growing in every conceivable direction, and not all of those are going to survive as anything that is close to the reality that life has to deal with.

    @kashyap;
    I wouldn’t say that Sean is fighting the wrong battle, but just to take one of the example another poster brought up, what about the Arabs and Israelis?

    Their core of their respective religions are very similar in most respects, as you might expect from having similar roots, yet the conflict in that part of the world is so deep, no one yet can get through to either side to show them how pointless the conflict really is.

    Land isn’t sacred, any more than ideas about absolute time or absolute space. If you continue to teach hatred of other cultures to your children, they will listen to you and act on that hatred for their whole lives, and there won’t be anything anyone can do to stop it until it ends badly. An obsession for a world with only one race (and there’s no such thing anyway) or one religion or one idea about mortality is doomed from the start. Life has never worked that way, nor should it. Period.

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  151. Robert says:

    There is no room for the absurd certainties of the militant atheists. (Where have they gone? Further training, I presume.)

    Roger Penrose (mathematician and author): “I would say the universe has a purpose. It’s not there just somehow by chance.”

    Paul Davies (British astrophysicist): “There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all….It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe….The impression of design is overwhelming”. (4)

    Paul Davies: “The laws [of physics] … seem to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design… The universe must have a purpose”.

    Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics): “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”

    Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.” (16) Note: Tipler since has actually converted to Christianity, hence his latest book, The Physics of Christianity

    Peter Higgs (Nobel Prize in Physics): He said a lot of scientists in his field were religious believers. “I don’t happen to be one myself, but maybe that’s just more a matter of my family background than that there’s any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two.”

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  152. Daniel Shawen says:

    Penzias and Davies’ statements are just the ‘anthropic principle’, in all it’s glory:

    “If life were impossible, no one would know it.” –Captain Obvious

    Peter Woit of ‘Not Even Wrong’ rails against this idea as a principle of science because of, among other things, the way it is abused by string theorists to adjust their 20 or so ‘free parameters’ (read: ‘fudge factors’) to make their predictions work. This is not a principle of science.

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  153. Robert says:

    I see that one of the militant atheists has returned from training, possibly after spraining an ankle while on manoeuvres. He/She doesn´t like my quotations from a lot of eminent scientists, or perhaps they´ve never heard of any of them? I don´t know whether these scientists in fact believe(d) in God, but what they said shows that they have/had their doubts. Just like me, really, only more exalted: “How on Earth can we account for the existence of the Universe, with all its weird inexplicable peculiarities?”

    (A famous believer was Max Planck. The militant response is: “Oh! He was well-known to be mad!” Just as with Newton: “Ha! He believed in alchemy!”, which actually does not seem quite so way-out now that we know that everything is made of the same things.)

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  154. Robert says:

    Peter Higgs´comment that a lot of scientists in his field are religious believers is interesting, since we are frequently told that hardly any modern scientists are. (I think someone said that on this thread too). The “modern or living ” is supposed to imply that, of course, so much more is known now that it´s impossible to believe that the Universe was created. This is rubbish. It may have been Hawking who said that for every new discovery about the working of the Universe, another half dozen mysteries are thrown up. (I particularly like the “explanation” for action at a distance. That when two particles have been in contact at some time, they subsequently constitute a “system”. A bit like a grand-piano top, really. The two particles may now be light years apart, but they´re just like the grand-piano top – lift it and every single bit of it moves simultaneously.)

    So far as I know, even gravity has not actually been explained fully yet. Is it gravitons, which no-one´s actually found so far, or the bending of space-time? Or both. If it´s the bending of space-time, why should this make me fall towards the Earth´s centre if I step out of a hovering helicopter? (I think this one is probably my ignorance and, in fact how gravity works is fully understood. Or not.)

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  155. Robert says:

    It´s nearly 1 am here, so my brain has become feverish, getting ready to make sure I can´t sleep. What I find interesting about some of the quotations I gave is that they´re essentially Paley´s watch argument. I´ve always thought it to be a pretty strong argument and the rebuttals never seem very convincing to me.

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  156. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert;

    Welcome back!

    I have no issues at all with whatever reason(s) one does science (including strong faith in a supreme being), nor with any religious faith either. This does not always come through. My ankle’s fine. No maneuvers going either, other than right here.

    Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Mendel, dozens of other great scientists who were also believers — all win this case for you.

    But still, the ‘anthropic principle’ is less than useful. Occam’s razor, maybe, on a good day.

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  157. Daniel Shawen says:

    I actually like the watchmaker argument (and Dawkin’s hates it). But he makes an OK case for stepwise evolution anyway. There are a few much better arguments than the watchmaker on the flip side, but I can’t recall them right now.

    But it’s a fact; genetics and chemistry trumped Darwin a very long time ago. We’ve sequenced hundreds of species already, and just identified a hidden code buried within the genetic code itself. This is fascinating stuff, no matter what you may believe. We are related to other life on Earth by our shared genetics. There really is no wiggle room for a deity creating us or any species living here out of thin air. Creation science is sheer fantasy.

    The Talmud is a record of rabbinical scholars who argued about the same book of Genesis for 1000 years before there was any religion called Christianity who translated through Greek and Roman languages before adopting it as their own and proclaiming it to be the unerring inspired word of G-d, right?

    Bacteria grown in the lab actually evolve (yes, evolve) to become resistant to antibiotics. Evolution just works. There is no debate about it in science.

    The Earth is over 4 billion years old. It’s a fact. Carbon and potassium-argon dating methods both work, and work well.

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  158. Robert says:

    Daniel:

    Robert Jastrow: “At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

    It´s strange that I´m a non-believer myself, yet on these threads I usually find my self sounding quite the opposite. I think this is because so many atheists seem to be totally unaware of the wonder and mystery of the Universe. They treat it as though its existence is no more surprising than the pound of sausages in my fridge and the “counter-intuitive” (ie apparently impossible) ways in which it works are no more arcane than the rules of cricket.

    J.B.S.Haldane had this to say: “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

    (It is, though, stretching it a bit to include Einstein in the Believers.)

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  159. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert;

    Einstein definitely believed in G-d (you aren’t allowed even to say the word in our tradition, which eliminates one source of blasphemy).

    For some believers, it’s the things you DON’T believe in that defines your faith in G-d.

    G-d is not a human being, a religious leader, a sacred text, a graven image, or an idol.

    Einstein’s tradition and mine in particular is one that has all too often run afoul of the first commandment, which is by far the trickiest one. Neither did he (or I) worship at the altar of science, which is just as bad, and just as flawed as we are.

    Does that clear up what it is that I believe?

    You really ask the right questions. Thanks.

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  160. Daniel Shawen says:

    We don’t worship at the altar of Karl Popper either, but he actually was on to something about falsifiability.

    For a finite mind, it is far easier to sort out what is false than what is the truth. This is simply because falsity if finite. The truth, however, is infinite. We can never have all of it, or even the biggest part of it.

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  161. Robert says:

    Daniel: I think you said somewhere that you had changed religion? If it´s not the kind of question one shouldn´t ask – what are you now?

    Einstein´s beliefs are a bit of a mystery. Per Wiki, he did not believe in a “personal” god, which he said is a concept he could not take seriously. He also called himself an agnostic. I know some atheists can definitely come up with quotes, showing him to be an atheist. I think that probably his opinion changed from time to time and in the periods when he believed that maybe the Universe was created, he was thinking merely of just of a Creator, not the God of any Earthly religion.

    I expect he had the same difficulty that lots of people, including those like me with shrunken brains, have. Don´t believe in a Creator – idea is absurd. Yes, but…………just where did the Universe come from then? Part of the fascination is that there´s no reasonable answer, based purely on logic, that anyone can give and probably never will be. I agree with Jastrow´s comment, except that I think they finally scaled the highest peak, pulled themselves up and saw……..another still-higher range of mountains beyond.

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  162. Daniel Shawen says:

    There are faithful, agnostic, and atheists in most religious faiths, and Einstein’s is no exception.

    It is his disposition toward science (one must have some sort of motivation) that convinces me he was no atheist.

    Being faithful to one’s religion for reasons of tradition and/or a higher sense of morality is no impediment to doing science for most people, and even for most faiths.

    Just watch out for that first commandment. It’s a real “gotcha” if you go OCD on your particular religion.

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  163. Robert says:

    I was in the shower this morning. I´d just got rid of another elephant that had materialised suddenly – sent him to join the 76 other elephants I´ve got living in my flat – when I realised what I believe at least part of the truth is.

    1. Space has existed and will exist eternally. It is also spatially infinite.

    2. “Why does space exist”, ask the sceptics? “Why not”, I reply. “Why do you assume that the logical natural order is that there be no space? It´s easier to imagine that space exists than that it doesn´t.”

    3. It has nothing in it but swirling clouds of energy and universes, created out of the clouds of energy.

    4. Sometimes a patch of energy will condense into matter and thus is born a new universe.

    5. Our Universe occupies a miniscule patch of infinite space. It has no boundaries and could bump into another universe at any time.

    6. There isn´t an infinite number of universes, because they exist only for a finite time before turning back into energy.

    7. Our Universe will eventually disappear into a final puff of energy. All is not lost, however! A few billion years later, or maybe trillion, those puffs of energy that our Universe became will coalesce again with some other bits of energy floating about and they will form a new universe.

    8. The laws of physics did not suddenly and spontaneously appear – but they change in time. Sometimes they are propitious for a universe with life. Lucky us!

    I´ve still got a few minor details to work out, but I think the full explanation for the Universe and everything in it should be complete by Tuesday lunchtime. I´m not sure if the action at a distance would still work after the last proton in the Universe has turned back into energy – or even later, when the two particles, that once had a reaction, are now in different universes.

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  164. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert;

    Those are some pretty nice and creative ideas about the universe and also about the afterlife. What I particularly like is there is no ‘carrot and stick’ afterlife, which is something which didn’t even exist until the New Testament.

    Those were dark times, by the way. Isaac Newton, for example, kept his heresy about the mistranslation of the Holy trinity (essentially changing Christianity into a polytheist culture like the Greeks from whom it was mistranslated) a guarded secret until after his demise, and also struggled with morality more than most. A man who had shaved the edges off of shillings to counterfeit new coin, and who also messed with Newton (Minister of the Royal Mint) by arranging the escape of several cohorts from the country, was eventually sentenced by Newton to be drawn and quartered, which is a particularly cruel means of execution actually banned by much earlier Christian society.

    I used to have ideas like yours, before studying physics. Weird thing is, a few of them turned out to be pretty close to big crunch ideas that were not mainstream until decades later.

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  165. Tony says:

    The problem? How to imagine a God that is totally unlike anything we can imagine. If God was something we could imagine, He wouldn’t be much of a God. However if you would like to know a little of what He may be like, than try to imagine this, imagine Love unlike anything we have ever experienced, but as substance, as a solid like rock or metal or wood and think of it not as some weak feely thing, but as power itself, like a fusion bomb or exploding stars, or even the big bang, but far, far, more powerful, and I do mean absolute power itself. The little of it in this world is like living in the middle of the most arid desert imaginable and trying to imagine an ocean. How do I know? Most definitely not a near death experience. I try to come up with another name for it, but there is none known to man, because the word love to us seems so touchy feely or more weakness than strength, but it is what it is.

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  166. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Tony, all

    Now pay attention, because Tony’s post is pivotal to a number of things on this thread, including the afterlife, a supreme being, our understanding of the universe, etc.

    The miracle of the neocortex

    Jeff Hawkins of Palm Pilot fame has written extensively about the neuron structure of the neocortex without actually understanding its function in the miracle we call the human mind.

    The original purpose was to wrap the amygdyla (reptilian brain) in neurons that were capable of modeling the behavior of other individuals we may encounter (to make us more social and behaviorally versatile than your typical reptile).

    This it did, by a complex interaction of the virtual model we construct of our loved ones and/or social group, with a chemical reward mechanism based on the action of endorphins. These chemicals explain many things about the way human beings function. Among them are the “runner’s high” (an obsession with physical activity associated with running), a disposition (like Tony) to experience a surge of endorphins when engaged in religious activity (sometimes referred to as ‘rapture’), and almost anything that you can, for any reason, make into your obsession, including a belief in a supreme being and/or an afterlife.

    A consummate engineer, like the late Howard Hughes as portrayed by Leo DiCaprio, might experience a rush of endorphins when a aircraft design for a smoother fuselage and airfoil results in a faster and more maneuverable craft. In short, it is your neocortex that allows you to model something physical, organizational, mathematica, or emotional (just falling in love), and to be much more successful at it than you would be if you only had the fight or flight reactions of your average reptile.

    The neocortex provides the emotional flexibility it takes to become obsessed about going to the moon, understanding math or physics. You name it; the neocortex and the obsession / chemical endorphins provide the basis for whatever it is you wish to spend your time and energy nurturing.

    The OCD I keep mentioning confuses most people because they don’t understand, this is a malady we all (and many mammals also) share. It’s our bid, in the cosmic scheme of things, to become as a single social organism capable of obsession with anything we need to in order to solve mutual or individual problems we may encounter. In this way, the neocortex provides the chemical basis for the highest standard of life yet achieved on this small planet.

    Should I be writing a book about this? There’s more.

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  167. Robert says:

    In the event that a Creator of the Universe exists, it´s highly unlikely the he/she/it would look anything like a human being. Probably, he/.. would not have a physical body at all, but be a conscious force which decided for some unknown reason to create a universe. Why should we worship a disembodied force? Why would such a force expect or want us to go along to a funny building periodically to worship and indulge in other strange rituals, presided over by unusually-dressed men, who declaim odd things that they have learned from their predecessors ? The Force would also be a bit puzzled by there being a plethora of different religions dedicated to worshiping it, each believing it´s the true one and each with its very own rituals.

    If the Force has arranged an after-life for us, what conceivable purpose could this have? Commune with the Force – for ever, many trillions multiplied by itself a trillion times years – what ultimate purpose could this possibly have? There are also the difficulties I raised in a previous contribution as to what we would do with ourselves in this Heaven. If we are fully conscious thinking entities, then I think boredom might set in quite soon. By the second day, say. But there really cannot be any purpose, can there, in an after-life? Not really.

    It´s hard not to note that, on Earth, even those who are apparently very strong believers in a All-Good Creator and an after-life don´t seem any more enthusiastic to die than the rest of us.

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  168. Daniel Shawen says:

    @Robert

    Yes, this is a concept (the afterlife as a place for what was once / or potentially could be life) to commune and decide what to do next.

    Mind you, I did not mean to say that neocortical activity of any sort is an abnormal function (mostly, it isn’t). However, obsessions (even obsessions about an afterlife) can be. In other words, life after death experiences in the neocortex could scientifically and even spiritually be the greatest thing you ever experience. All of us will experience this at least once for certain. An obsession with trying it too early would be unhealthy.

    Life tries everything. It could be that we ourselves are only the beginning of what is, or will become the mind of G-d, whatever that means.

    I’m all out for this discussion; don’t want it to get too far off topic. See you all in the next thread, maybe. Take care.

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  169. allan J says:

    @robert You show moments of lucidity. Accept the world as we find it. If a cosmic deity exists he has no interest in us and never interacts with us. There’s a rather inspiring piece from a creationist who saw the light. He had argued for years on behalf of the christian god as described in the bible. Then he read about the discovery of a feathered dinosaur and his worldview collapsed. His article hints at how majestic the ‘non god’ world is. Much better than the childish idea of a world created by a tinkering magician.

    “On that day, however, I began to look at the world in a new light.”
    “This is it…” I spoke to myself softly, “Welcome to the real world.”

    Here is the link http://genesispanthesis.tripod.com/inspiration.html

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  170. Robert says:

    Allan J: You´d better send the same message to Planck, Newton, Einstein, Paul Davies, Penrose, Penzias and a whole lot of other scientists, past and present. I don´t suppose any of them believe(d) in a god of religion – but just in the possibility of a Creator. Maybe, a “creative force”. Totally ridiculous, I agree, but then all the alternatives seem equally ridiculous. That´s why atheists are always happy to argue the absurdities of belief in a deity – but usually refuse to discuss an alternative.

    We´re not going to progress anywhere on this thread from the stalemate we reached a while ago. Round and round in circles, with the same question hovering unanswered in the background – “Okay then – you believe the Universe created itself? How do you suppose it managed this?” But the atheists won´t answer this. They can´t.

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  171. Daniel Shawen says:

    More on Karl Popper and falsifiability:

    From: http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Falsifiability.html

    “A falsifiable theory that has withstood severe scientific testing is said to be corroborated by past experience, though in Popper’s view this is not equivalent with confirmation and does not guarantee that the theory is true or even partially true.”

    In other words, Popper’s philosophy is of no used to convince people who are, for whatever reason, opposed to any scientific theory, no matter how much evidence there is in favor of it. Scientists need to know this, particularly one like Sean who seems disposed to debate people who hold Karl Popper’s falsifiability ideas in higher regard than they probably should. For Popper, truth has no real meaning. Please forget what I said previously about it. This is far worse than the antropic principle, and should be not be taught as any part of the philosophy of science. What say you?

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  172. Alan says:

    I have to say the “against the motion” fellows, Carroll/Novella still have not answered in any way the phenomenal/veridical aspects of these experiences, as detailed by Ray Moody in his presentation. Science is “phenomena-led” and one could compare, in a sense, the situation with these NDE studies with Democritus and atoms. It took a long time to get *content*, both theoretical and experimental, into atoms but eventually science got there. Interestingly, the subject is now being studied at the academic level by medical teams and there are related studies in anthropology so one would guess it would not take the same amount of time as for atoms to get a level of theoretical/experimental content into this subject.
    What I liked about the debate was that, really, massive questions remained unanswered, and this was quite plain to see, and that this will stimulate more research into afterlife studies.

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  173. allan J says:

    Bill Maher summed up Alexander’s experiences:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hcu8o1SBA4k

    “I was a speck on a beautiful butterfly wing.
    Millions of other butterflies around us.
    We were flying through blooming flowers.
    Newspaper taxis appeared on the shore…
    Rocking horse people were eating marshmallow pies..
    The girl had kaleidoscope eyes”

    Lines 1-3 are from Alexander. Lines 4-6 are from an old Liverpool folk song

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  174. Daniel Shawen says:

    Only Popper would had the audacity to provide a “demarcation” model to sort out science from pseudoscience, itself modeled after Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, (survival of the fittest theory) AND THEN claim that parts of the Theory of Evolution isn’t scientific because it isn’t falsifiable (doesn’t make predictions that can affirm or falsify it).

    The TOE is falsifiable, DOES make predictions that affirm it, unless you misapply it, that is (a real problem for falsifiability).

    The whole apparatus of falsifiability is flawed. Popper’s demarcation ideas are not falsifiable either, and is a poor substitute for science, or a even philosophy of science.

    I watched all of Popper’s interviews with that Oxford professor. This passes for a critical philosophical interview at Oxford?

    No wonder so many people believe in superstition rather than science, and feel justified in doing so by the half-baked ideas Popper pedaled.

    Popper’s ideas about falsification as the basis of science are deserving of the most prominent status in the taxonomy of willful ignorance.

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  175. Daniel Shawen says:

    Afterlife Resurrection

    OK, nobody gets it. Let me see if I can bring this back inline with the topic of the original thread. It is a little thick, intellectually. But if you wish to know why they teach creationism in Kansas, and also that so many people here and elsewhere believe so strongly in an afterlife, you have to know this, particularly if you are a scientist.

    The genius of Karl Popper’s “philosophy of science” is that he has co-opted Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection into a paradigm that tries to demarcate science from pseudoscience using exactly the same idea applied to the scientific method.

    The scientific method isn’t Darwinism, at least not entirely. Let me point out how science works without induction (it was Popper’s express purpose to remove induction from ideas about how science works). Without induction, you can’t use any scientific instruments you may have crafted using known science, in order to make observations, hypothesis, or anything else. In natural selection, nature tries EVERYTHING to solve problems.

    Any scientist that would be foolhardy to try Popper’s take on the way the scientific method works would perform “scientific” experiments that:

    1) cost an awful lot of money
    2) make no progress, because you can’t use any previous science– that’s induction
    3) allow religions, cults, astrologers, and others not qualified to attempt contributions to science

    The LHC would need to be scrapped, because it is an instrument on which we have already discovered new science. The whole idea of the Higgs boson and the data collected, like the Copernican theory of an earlier millennia would simply sit on the shelf and collect dust. No one could build on what had already been discovered about it. Theorists could continue playing with string indefinitely.

    It’s bad enough that the scientific method, most of the time, is simply glorified trial and error anyway. If you take away induction, like Popper did, science and the scientific method dies on the vine. Ignorance and superstition flourish once more. Is this what any scientist in their right mind would want?

    Perhaps when we die, our neocortex gets a rush of endorphins so great that it doesn’t matter much whether we have studied science all our lives, or wallowed in ignorance the way humanity has done for most of its brief existence on this small planet.

    As for myself, I’d rather research brain chemistry using the scientific method until the effects of rapture can be simulated as many times as possible in our short lifetimes, with virtually no other ill effects, other than sacrificing the ignorance so many people seem attached to here. I think that any supreme being would support me on this idea.

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  176. SMK says:

    “Mind is the brain.” But also the body. Consciousness and “mind” are an effect of having a brain in a body with senses, of which sight and hearing (or touch if one is deaf and blind like Helen Keller) are imperative. In what sense would one be conscious, much less have a mind, if a brain could exist outside the body and never existed in a body with senses?

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  177. Dan says:

    The debate reminded me why I have such a tough time with the “many-worlds” interpretation: Having fewer equations is, I suppose, aesthetically appealing, but wouldn’t that view entail that there is an alternate history branch in which you (or I) live “forever”? Or, where you (or I) endure to the heat death of the universe? In other words, as I understand it, non-zero probabilities, however infinitesimal, would be represented on some branch of alternate history. Don’t much care for the idea of immortality. I hope someone can explain to me how that’s somehow phase-cancelled away in all possible worlds. Otherwise, I’m going to be very upset on behalf of the “me” in the branch of the multiverse who has to endure another 5 billion years of consciousness.

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  178. Dan says:

    A little googling and apparently my flip comments were, in fact, Everett’s view: “Atheist or not, Everett firmly believed that his many-worlds theory guaranteed him immortality: His consciousness, he argued, is bound at each branching to follow whatever path does not lead to death —and so on ad infinitum.”

    Again, I understand the appeal of MWI: whee! less equations!! respect the wavefunction! But, if it leads here, I suspect this shit is just silly.

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  179. allan J says:

    See also ‘Quantum Russian Roulette’.

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