Has anyone besides me noticed that, if the enormous technical and other hurdles in the way of scanning and “uploading” a complete human brain could be overcome, the resulting entity would be insane from the get-go? Insane because that brain expects to be connected to a body that can interact with the world and with other human beings. One can imagine a silicon-based intelligence that would be well-adjusted to its lot in “life”, to interacting with the world only on a linguistic basis, or perhaps also (though this would be much more difficult) on a sensory basis (watching films, listening to music), but such an intelligence would not be connection-for-connection identical with a human brain.
With the recent asteroid near miss, and the tragically destructive meteorite impact in Russia, it seems clear that in some realms of life atheism is taken for granted. When we think about objects that may or may not strike the earth, we do so knowing that it’s all about their trajectory and that if a collision is predicted no amount of prayer will avert it. If we wanted to protect ourselves against flying rocks (and there may be many more important things to allocate resources to) we would have to track them and be prepared to send rockets to explode them before impact.
Sorry about the writer’s block. I’m hereby restarting this blog; we shall see if I can keep it up.
I am still worrying at the free will question, so I will record some of my thoughts here.
The theistic view of free will is all about the burden of choosing good actions and avoiding evil ones. Nobody is interested in whether a person chooses chocolate or pistachio ice cream.
And for atheists who nevertheless feel the pull of morality this burden of choice remains. Not as a major feature of life, I think: it is my intuition that most of the evil actions I commit (yelling at my partner, say) are not the outcome of choice. The moral imperative as related to such situations has two prongs: that of repentance for the wrong, together with an attempt to undo its effects; and that of a resolve to train one’s mind to be better able to avoid such actions in the future.
(This mind-training aspect was brought more to my awareness recently through my friend Meng’s book Search Inside Yourself. The relevant theory is that mindfulness practice can enable one to notice emotions at the moment of their arising, so that one can actually make a choice as to how the emotion manifests in actions.)
So, unless the free-will-is-an-illusion crowd has a persuasive argument that we can be complacent about the moral choices that confront us, it seems to me that all the important features of free will as conceived by theists remain as an inescapable part of life.
Am I the only one who has noticed that Congress, in allowing the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to happen as they did, failed in what, historically, is their most important duty?
I’m not going to try to provide citations for this, but in my exposure to history through coursework and reading I received the impression that a key reason that parliaments developed as Europe moved out of the Middle Ages was as a check upon the desire of kings to fight wars that they could not afford to pay for.
In contrast, Congress sent the bill to posterity, adding insult to injury by way of the Bush tax cuts. Along with the failure to pass a carbon tax this is typical of the ongoing war on future generations.
An administrative post here: I am changing the theme to Twenty Ten because, although I have grown used to the ubiquitous sans-serif fonts on the web, I prefer standard roman fonts for readability. The new theme lacks numbered comments, but things are pretty quiet here so far [smiley], so that’s not a problem.
A recent post by Eric MacDonald touches on the Catholic doctrine that human beings have very special souls, souls that represent an ontological leap vis-a-vis all other life on earth. (Of course, this belief is shared by many others, but it is the Catholic version we discuss here.)
One sees the naive attractiveness of this view. As we look around us, there certainly seems (as there seemed to Aristotle) to be an ontological gap between humans and other animals. For creationists, this gap is just a fact giving rise to no paradoxes. But Catholicism tries to pass itself off as a religion for thinking people, and so claims to have come to terms with evolution.
The obvious problem with this doctrine concerning souls is that it implies a binary choice – human soul or animal soul – and as a consequence, considering all hominids over time, there must exist a subset – call them the Progenitors – who were human but whose parents were not. (In fact Catholics are required specifically to believe that the Progenitors numbered exactly two – Adam and Eve.)
But can any sane person believe in the Progenitors? Consider language, one of the hallmarks of rationality. Did the Progenitors invent language for themselves? This is just not how it works. Language is acquired by human beings in infancy from their elders, not invented from scratch.
The ontological gap is (in some sense) a genuine feature of the world as we find it, but to assert that it necessitates an ontological leap that occurred at some definite time in the past is to assert something for which there is no evidence and that on the face of it is highly implausible.
So the Catholic claim to accept evolution is a misrepresentation. In fact they reject evolution at the point that has always been the most contentious: common descent as between humans and the rest of the animal world.
So what is the problem with cheap energy? If something is cheap we tend to waste it, and this is the terrible and virtually unacknowledged truth about energy:
Almost all the fossil fuel we have consumed has been wasted, and some has been “worse than wasted”.
By “wasted”, I don’t mean to deny that billions of human beings have enjoyed the benefits of cheap energy: greater warmth, faster and more comfortable transport, and so on. But the point about this energy use is that there is nothing to show for it afterwards.
By “worse than wasted” I mean that the cheapness of fossil fuel has accustomed us to a state of affairs that is unsustainable; and the path back to sustainability will involve a great deal of suffering, in addition to the suffering flowing from ecosystem damage that has already happened or is guaranteed to happen from climate change that is already in the pipeline. There are too many people in the rich part of the world using far too many resources per capita; and remember that the population in the poor part of the world also has a dependence on cheap fossil fuel (remember that use of nitrogen fertilizer – synthesized from natural gas – has gone up in the developing world as part of the “Green revolution”).