Now that you are atheist or have been atheist your whole life. What is the most interesting thing you know about in our natural world?

I will chime in when this post gets rolling. 

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Most interesting to me is that it is unclear how much I can say I know anything. I have about 3 pounds of "wetware" in my skull, which takes sensory inputs and organizes them into what I perceive as reality. Is that actually reality? I probably approach the best approximation of reality with the right "software', i.e. scientific rationalism, but ultimately what I know or claim to know cannot be proved to an absolute certainty.

While this is interesting, I don't give it a lot of thought when it comes to whether I step out in front of that bus.

Have you read "The Fabric of Reality" and "The Beginning of Infinity?" I think you might enjoy those :) 

the possibility that humanity could SURVIVE the death of our universe. Imagine hopping over to a new universe before ours dies.

Interesting! I vaguely recall hearing something like this. Is there a link where I might read up on this a little bit? Supraluminal anything is endlessly fascinating!

The most interesting thing I know is that there is no true knowledge. Everything is based on at least one assumption.

i see Barry Eckert has said something similar. I guess we pretty much agree.

But if our knowledge (say, a theory) of something got replaced tomorrow by something that takes into account new evidence, and so explains everything the old theory explains but more and with greater accuracy then wouldn't you say that the 2nd theory is truer than the first?

So that means that you believe that there is something called the truth and that we are capable of and in fact ARE moving closer to the truth. But, I suppose you mean to say that we can never have absolute knowledge of something. In which, I am afraid you might be right. But I don't think it is fair to say there is no true knowledge, because it is misleading and unfortunately provides fodder for theists! Anyway, that isn't that big of a concern I suppose.

You might enjoy reading this...

It's funny, Vincent, that you should ask that particular question. On my website, I was just referred to a paper by Donald D. Hoffman (Department of Cognitive Science, University of California at Irvine) titled, "Conscious Realism and the Mind-Body Problem", which lays out his theory that "Consciousness is fundamental in the universe, not a fitfully emerging latecomer."

Now, his theory turns just about everybody's concept of reality on its head. But it enjoys advantages over more conventional physicalist notions that consciousness emerges from the brain or that consciousness IS the brain. It even features a mathematical proof of the possibility of spectrum inversion. The theory is so radical, it can be difficult to absorb. Essentially, he claims objective reality is nothing like what we perceive it to be. Instead, our brains construct a multi-modal user interface (MUI) (much like the Windows graphical user interface) to simplify, for survival's sake, objective reality for us. Objective reality is unknowable. The moon is different for you than it is for me because our brains create our experience of the moon. The moon is just an icon in our MUI.

This theory enjoys advantages such as: agreement with Quantum Theory; obviating philosophical conundrums associated with the mind/body problem; a scientifically rigorous mathematical proof; and more. It would seem to be a technically better explanation of reality than more conventional explanations.

Does this theory's ability to answer more questions mean the "theory is truer than" the others? I don't think so. Our ignorance of consciousness is deep and wide. We can be wrong in ANY direction. Conjecture is infinite.

I realized my prior reply was inadequate.

Yes, we may be wrong in any direction but the scientific method does weed out errors and devise ingenious ways to pry evidence out of nature. We are certainly much better informed as science advances.

Thanks for bringing all of that to my attention. I haven't had the time to look at Hoffman's work, but it does at first glance strike me as overstating the importance of our perception in understanding the world. Let me clarify. I do believe that our perceptions often trick us into thinking that things in the external world are a certain way when actually scientific understanding would have us believe that that they are a certain other way. The same may be said about our intuitions about all sorts of things. But I wouldn't necessarily extrapolate this to say that we can never know anything about the objective world. Yet this is what Hoffman seems to be saying. Even if I perceive the moon differently than you do, whatever it means to perceive them differently, we can reliably learn to use our perceptions and using science make certain predictions independently (of one another)  about the behavior of the moon (or its properties) that can be in agreement. Now, why would such predictions made by different scientists all be in agreement despite their differing perceptions? Is it not because they've learnt to use their approximate and varying perceptions to somehow arrive at something that is less likely to be at variance amongst all of them? If so, is it fair to say that their perceptions are different, but their predictions are the same? So if the perceptions don't tell us about objective reality than do the predictions? But haven't the predictions been jump started by initial perceptions?

Anyway, I think you see what I am trying to get to here. It is my humble opinion that when people start talking about consciousness the dialogue is often made quite difficult by the fact that people seem to have differing views about things that they all use the same word for.There needs to be greater rigor in understanding and defining concepts before we make useful progress. I believe as neuroscience, physics, computer science, etc starting converging more and more, we will begin to understand things better. At present, we are still struggling. I agree with you on that. We can still use rational arguments though to weed out bad explanations, and Hoffman's explanations don't strike me as convincing. I will look into this more.

Sorry, that is not much of a reply to what you've said. It seems to be me ranting more than anything else. But perhaps it is useful in some slight sense at least.

Yeah, I know, it's hard to swallow. I doubt I could (intellectually) surrender my 5 senses to ANY theory that denies them. Classical physics tells us there's an objective reality out there that can't be perceived with fidelity. Okay fine. I can accept that. But quantum physics tells us that the atoms of the moon are actually in a "superposition" of states (anywhere within a range of potential) until we observe it; at which time "wave function collapse" occurs in objective reality, allowing it to be rendered (in a simplified perceived form) by our brains. THAT is hard to swallow!

This is tough since the natural world is full of so many mind-bogglingly interesting things, but something that has only recently been sinking (I say sinking rather than sunk because I think there is too much there to sink) in to me and therefore occupies my recent thoughts the most is the reach of the theory of computation. In other words, the concept of universality in computer science goes far beyond being an interesting law in the respective discipline. Consider how the laws of physics are encodable by a universal computer that does some very basic logical operations. This has caused some people to posit that the world therefore might be a large simulator. Why else should the logic that governs the operations in our computers be able to simulate the laws of physics in virtual environments? This is a matrix-type scenario if you will, but not so grim and far more interesting than what the Wachowski brothers might ever be able to conceive.

Anyway, what interests me the most is not that the universe might be large simulator (which is undoubtedly very interesting, if true), but that the corollary of such thinking is that if our brains are anything like universal computers then they can in theory encode the laws of physics fairly well. Which means that when we say we comprehend physics, we do so not in some fuzzy subjective way, but we actually do comprehend physics (or biology, or chem or math or anything) for what it really is. This is very optimistic in my opinion because our brains don't need to evolve much more than their current state for us to be able to understand a lot more about the natural world than we already do. Of course our brains will evolve, and pretty soon we might control our own evolution using technology, and that will surely aid in our understanding even more. Yet, in the present state there is so much we CAN understand it seems, and not worry about being deluded. So even though our best scientific theories of the present may be proven wrong in the future, the theories that will replace them will nevertheless bring us closer to reality, for they will have all the merits of the old theories that they've replaced and more. And in this way we might approach reality asymptotically, or some other way.

Sorry for the long spiel. Now you see what I mean by certain thoughts floating around in my head lately :)

So there you have it! I am reminded of something someone once said (and I paraphrase) about computers being as much about the theory of computation as telescopes are about astrophysics.

Hi Vincent,

I'm certainly no physicist but quantum theory, if I understand it well enough to hazard a comment about it, includes data as a property of (subatomic) matter and acknowledges a role for consciousness in physical reality. Combined, these 2 points seem curious to me. Why would physics have ANY role for data and consciousness unless there is (or was) an intelligence to make use of them?

I doubt human beings are the first intelligent lifeforms in the universe but even so it probably took at least 100 million years for the first stars to die and cough up the essential materials of life. The laws of physics/nature were long established by then. So how could there have been any intelligence around during the crucial early stages of the universe's existence?

Everything in nature seems to have a purpose. Cause and effect. What purpose could data and consciousness have in nature? As an atheist, this question bothers me because it seems to give traction to, at least, a pantheistic view of reality . . . and provides some coverage for deists and, even, theists.




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