Delusions: Do you see what I see?

One of the common arguments posed by the True Believers™ is a form of argumentum ad numerum: Billions of people believe in God and most of them have had experiences that can’t be explained any other way other than as proof God’s existence. How can I deny God’s existence in the face of so many believers? The answer is one that tends to piss them off; I say they’re delusional. It’s easy to understand why this upsets them because being delusional is commonly associated with being mentally ill which, while often true, is not always the case. There are a number of definitions of Delusion out there, but the basic one is that a delusion is a falsely held belief despite a total lack of, or invalidating, evidence. It can be caused by mental illness or just a misinterpretation of reality. It’s possible for perfectly normal people to be delusional on occasion and chances are we’ve all been there at one point in time or another.

The fact that delusions are so common and can be so compelling is one of the big reasons that argumentum ad numerum fails as a proof of God. There are millions of people out there who believe they’ve experienced all manner of patently absurd things and there’s no amount of contrary evidence or reasoning that’ll convince them otherwise. Some folk’s delusions are more plausible than others—some believe the CIA is beaming messages into their brains and others that they were healed by the image of the Virgin Mary in their breakfast burrito—but they often share the same quality of being beyond doubt by those who hold them.

On Australia’s ABC Radio National there’s a program called All in the Mind that recently did a show on the topic of delusions caused by mental illness titled Do You See What I See? Delusions that gives an overview of the current research into delusions and their causes.

Cotard’s syndrome is the belief that you have died, and for sufferers it is a terrifying state. Delusions can take many forms, from widespread paranoia to a specific and singular delusion – you might think an impostor has replaced your spouse. These misbeliefs are commonly associated with schizophrenia, but they can also occur in people with brain injuries, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease and dementia. The Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science is seeking to explain delusions by developing a model of how we all come to accept or reject beliefs. We see how this research is progressing.

The show’s focus is pretty much exclusively on delusions brought about due to medical conditions, both mental and physical, so don’t expect much talk about religious belief as delusion in the program. From the standpoint of an atheist, however, the connection is obvious. The tenacity with which so many True Believers™ insist that their experiences with God are a real and provable thing is no different than many other delusions beyond the fact that the thing they’re believing in is by most definitions unfalsifiable.

I’ve had enough experience with delusional people in my time to know how powerful those beliefs can be. Most recently was my dad back in April when he was in the hospital for his bypass surgery. They had him doped up pretty good after the operation; so good in fact that he was delusional for the first 36 hours or so after the event. It had my mom very upset trying to deal with him during that period because his perception of reality was completely distorted by the drugs. His perceptions were being influenced by something on the TV in his room such that he felt he was being held captive by people intent on doing him harm and his wife had been replaced by an impostor who was lying to him about his being in a hospital. At one point he even managed to make a 911 call that I’m sure they’re still talking about at the call center. The good news of course is that this was only a temporary condition brought upon by his medication and the after effects of surgery, but during that time there wasn’t any reasoning with him and nothing you could do to change his mind about reality. Talking to him during that period was only slightly less comprehensible than some of the True Believers™ I’ve dealt with here on the blog.

Anyway, the program was pretty good and worth listening to if you want an overview of some of the research. There are MP3 recordings of the show available from their website if you want to check it out for yourself, but they’ll only be available for a couple of weeks so don’t dawdle.

33 thoughts on “Delusions: Do you see what I see?

  1. When I was very young, I had an experience that can clearly be called a delusion.  At the time, I actually thought the cause of this experience to be God…so I can easily understand how a belief in God can be defined as a delusion.

  2. After years of studying human psychology (as an obsessive hobby) I came to the conclusion that the tendency toward delusional thinking is normal for the species. So belief in God is a delusion, but a normal one. Depressing.

  3. A belief in God can not be a delusion in my case because I believe God is connected to me through my consciousness and I perceive of him through my consciousness instead of my senses, which are prone to lying to me.  My consciousness cannot lie to me.

  4. THEOCRAT on 9/29/05 at 07:44 PM wrote the following…

    A belief in God can not be a delusion in my case because I believe God is connected to me through my consciousness and I perceive of him through my consciousness instead of my senses, which are prone to lying to me.  My consciousness cannot lie to me.

    ==================================================
    bwahahahahahaha!! i cannot be delusonal because i don’t believe i am. I cannot lie to myself…

    too funny… you cant make stuff like that up.

  5. A belief in God can not be a delusion in my case because I believe God is connected to me through my consciousness and I perceive of him through my consciousness instead of my senses, which are prone to lying to me.  My consciousness cannot lie to me.

    Whether you perceive God through your senses or your consciousness (whatever that means) is irrelevant and not a factor in whether a belief is delusional. The fact that you believe your consciousness is capable of perceiving God could be considered a delusion in its own right if there’s no real basis for that belief.

  6. Les:
    Whether you perceive God through your senses or your consciousness (whatever that means) is irrelevant and not a factor in whether a belief is delusional.

    If you hallucinate, its because your eyes are lying to you.  If you touch something hot and feel cold, your touch lies to you.  If you can’t smell something you normally would because of a cold your smell lies to you.  When you eat raspberries and drink raspberry tea and it tastes like water your taste lies to you.  Delusions are perceptible things caused by your senses lying to you.  When was the last time you thought, “I’m going to make my mind lie to me today”?  Your mind cannot lie to itself.  You can’t feel happy and really be angry.  Emotions are created by the mind and the mind cannot lie to itself.  The mind can missinterpret facts as provided by imperfect sensing, but it cannot misinterpret a misinterpretation because once sensed that becomes something the mind uses to perceive reality.

    Cousciousness is what Socrates would call your ‘soul’, Descartes ‘that thinking thing’, Husserl ‘being’, Heidegger ‘dasein’, and Sartre ‘essence’.

    Les:
    The fact that you believe your consciousness is capable of perceiving God could be considered a delusion in its own right if there’s no real basis for that belief.

    This may be true to a materialist.  A materialist would say that consciousness is a delusion because there is nothing real beyond the perceptible world.  If that is your ‘first philosophy’ than it is useless to debate any farther.  My ‘first philosophy’ is some form of existentialism.  I can’t believe that what my lying senses may perceive is all that can be.

  7. nowiser:
    As an alcoholic, I can state with pretty good confidence that this is bullshit.

    Please elaborate.

  8. If you hallucinate, its because your eyes are lying to you.  If you touch something hot and feel cold, your touch lies to you.  If you can’t smell something you normally would because of a cold your smell lies to you.  When you eat raspberries and drink raspberry tea and it tastes like water your taste lies to you.  Delusions are perceptible things caused by your senses lying to you.

    That is patently incorrect. Hallucinations, be they visual, auditory, or of any of the other five senses are not the same as delusions. I posted the definition for delusion at the start of my entry specifically to point that fact out.

    Delusions are false beliefs that persist regardless of whether there’s any evidence to support them and often even in the face of contradictory evidence.

    Take, for example, the delusion that some folks have that they have no internal organs and are a form of walking undead. This is patently false and easily provable as such, but a delusional person will ignore or rationalize away the evidence in order to cling to their delusion. The input from their senses is irrelevant in their decision to hold onto their false belief. They’re not hallucinating, their senses are working just fine.

    When was the last time you thought, “I’m going to make my mind lie to me today

  9. Your mind cannot lie to itself.

    Incorrect…kind of.  A mind can take perfectly fine stimuli from the outside world (from the various sense organs) and make really fucked up interpretations.  Alcohol, drugs, chemical imbalances mess with the mind more than the peripheral sense organs.  While not technically “lieing to itself”, the brain certainly is not translating stimuli in a reasonable manner.  I would venture to guess that the majority of hallucinations are caused by the brain, not be the sense organs themselves.

    The brain is very complex.  It can make up a whole bunch of silly things…hallucinations…paranoid delusions…gods.

    Oh yeah, gods are totally made up by human beings.  The are like invisible friends.  All gods (including God) have human-based traits…traits that a supreme being should be above and beyond…like jealousy, anger, ego.

    Seriously, if I was a proper god, I would not be jealous of ANYTHING!  I would not only control reality, I would BE reality.  How cool is that?

    Gods are delusions made up by people trying to explain things they can’t see nor understand.  They pass these delusions on to their children and their children’s children because it is the only way they can (or want to) explain the world around them (mainly due to stubborness or a lack of interest/education in science/logical questioning).  Why else would an otherwise sane person explain thunder and lightning being caused by “angels bowling” (other than to confort the kids)?

    When dealing with the universe, I don’t want a made up sky fairy as the explanation (unless it can be proven).  I want to push the limits of observation and empiricism as far as it can go.  When it can’t go any further, then its time to push it some more.

    /ramble off

  10. I fear the day the world gets lazy and there are no existentialists or even pragmatists because everyones’ ‘first philosophy’ is materialism and empiricism.

    And that is where you err, or even commit a lie if you know how many materialists think.

    What you are doing is claiming and saying- in a propaganda way – that “materialism/empiricism” = “dreary/inward-looking/depressive”. Its a bit like claiming that atheists cannot have ‘spiritual’ feelings.

    In fact, materialists do not believe that everthing is explainable with our senses or knowledge, just that there is nothing SUPERnatural. Everything, even phenomena that our limited senses and wisdom might attribute to a ‘higher power’ in fact have a logical explanation based in our universe. The ‘spiritual quest’ of a materialist is that search for those solutions. Using the tools of logic and science.

    That is not ‘lazy’, nor staid. Ask any scientist what he felt when he was able to unravel another significant tidbit of the universal logic. In fact, ask any student who likes to learn what the joy of understanding is.

    Okay, ranted enough now. It all comes down to what the girl in my school ethics class said (she was very religious): “At some point you simply have to stop questioning and BELIEVE.”

    Bullshit.

  11. Bullshit.

    A signature I saw someplace:

    Science is answers that must always be questioned. Philosophy is questions that will never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.

  12. Uber Gaijin:
    A mind can take perfectly fine stimuli from the outside world (from the various sense organs) and make really fucked up interpretations.  Alcohol, drugs, chemical imbalances mess with the mind more than the peripheral sense organs.  While not technically “lieing to itself

  13. To back this up you would need empirical evidence that Christian brains are somehow naturally affected by the world so that they are screwed up to believe in God.

    Reading the Bible (and soaking up belief from family and culture) is how brains are naturally affected by the world so that they are screwed up to believe in the Christian God.  Koran readers are more likely to believe in Allah, and Book of Zogg readers are more likely to laugh hysterically.  That’s empirical evidence.

    As to whether belief in God is “delusional” or not, I don’t see a sharp line between “delusional” and “mistaken”.  Were the medieval people who thought the Earth was flat delusional, or simply mistaken?  Or do you have to hear voices in your head, as my Jesusfreak friends do, and as lots of psychotics do, to be classified as “delusional”?  And Theo, if your brain can’t lie to you, what about people whose brains tell them they are Napoleon?

    I was bored because when I did try to understand a scientific or mathematical principle, I did.  When I bothered to try to understand I could.  It bores me to think that I can understand whatever I try to understand about the universe.

    Too bad that it bores you, Theo, because someone who can understand whatever they try to understand about the universe could be a great scientist and a gift to society.

    If nothing isn’t natural then what can’t you explain?

    Uh, lots of stuff.  Can you explain why the speed of light is 186,300 miles a second?  Or why no birds have horns?  Now I’m starting to suspect that you don’t have a very clear idea about what “science” is and is not.  You say you studied electrical engineering for a year- do you think Maxwell’s equations explain all there is to know about electromagnetism?

    If becoming omniscient about this finite universe floats your boat then so be it.  You write your “theory of everything

  14. If becoming omniscient about this finite universe floats your boat then so be it.

    I never tire pointing out Langton’s Ants. We know the theory of everything about this very simple universe, but we still have no better way to predict a future state than to run the simulation.

    What does that tell us about the ToE of our own universe?

  15. What does that tell us about the ToE of our own universe?

    It tells us, as you well know, elwed, that for any sufficiently subtile system, prediction of future states past a certain point becomes impossible, and running the simulation (or letting the world do its thing) is the only way we’ll ever know what’s going to happen.

    I remember reading some scientist’s calculation about the theoretical limits of weather prediction.  Suppose you have weather stations positioned one meter apart over the entire Earth.  They can measure all the appropriate things- temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, ionisation, etc. with absolute perfection (or say, to a gazillion decimal places).  The information is put into an infinitely large computer (or say, one only as large as the universe).  Even given all this, it is estimated that the weather could only be reasonably accurately predicted for one month ahead.

    Similar systems, where small fluctuations can lead to unpredictable instability, behave equally unpredictably.  A prime example is social systems.  This is why the basic premise of The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov, that the history of human civilization can be predicted for many thousands of years ahead, while entertaining, is about as likely as the Matrix.  Luckily, and unluckily, the future’s not ours to see (qué sera, sera…)

  16. It tells us, as you well know, elwed, that for any sufficiently subtile system, prediction of future states past a certain point becomes impossible, and running the simulation (or letting the world do its thing) is the only way we’ll ever know what’s going to happen.

    Actually, it goes a bit deeper than that. As far as the “ants” are concerned, not even their creator-gods have a clue about their future other than putting them rather crudely through their paces. Almost makes you wonder where that leaves us, eh.

  17. zilch:
    Reading the Bible (and soaking up belief from family and culture) is how brains are naturally affected by the world so that they are screwed up to believe in the Christian God.  Koran readers are more likely to believe in Allah, and Book of Zogg readers are more likely to laugh hysterically.  That’s empirical evidence.

    You’re not showing how reading these books affects the chemical process of the mind.  By the same reasoning, I can still say that your reading of a biology textbook deludes you to believe evolution happened.

    zilch:
    As to whether belief in God is “delusional

  18. Well, Theo, as you will probably agree, this is an argument that is like the art of sailing: slowly going nowhere at great expense (well, the expense is more in time than in dollars or euros).  But like sailing, it’s at least occasionally entertaining.

    The crux of the problem is, as you say,

    Whether or not God exists is not going to be found by empiricist inquiry.

    Once you posit the existence of things not empirically demonstrable, all bets are off, and you’ve opened the door to all kinds of magic: gods, leprechauns, invisible pink unicorns, Zogg.

    This tends to put a crimp on rational enquiry- at some point, earlier for pagans (Thor throws lightning bolts from the sky) and later for IDers (vastly superior anonymous beings created flagellae) the one-size-fits-all answer is invoked: goddidit.

    More later- gotta practice for a concert.  You have a good day too!

  19. Okay- concert done, back home.
    Theo, I said…

    Reading the Bible (and soaking up belief from family and culture) is how brains are naturally affected by the world so that they are screwed up to believe in the Christian God.  Koran readers are more likely to believe in Allah, and Book of Zogg readers are more likely to laugh hysterically.  That’s empirical evidence.

    …to which you replied

    You’re not showing how reading these books affects the chemical process of the mind.  By the same reasoning, I can still say that your reading of a biology textbook deludes you to believe evolution happened.

    I agree, except that I would substitute “inclines” for “deludes”.  I didn’t attempt to show how reading these books affects the chemical processes of the brain, because I’m no neurochemist; and I would hazard to aver that no one knows how chemical processes in the brain create thought.  But enough is known so that there is no doubt (at least, among scientists) that thought, and beliefs, and emotions, are indeed the result of chemical reactions (including electropotential changes) in our brains.  It may be that we will never understand completely (whatever that means) how our brains can be our minds.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw up my hands and invoke a little magical man watching a Cartesian screen in my brain, or a big skydaddy handling the pesky details of irreducible complexity, to explain how I have thoughts.  Hell, I don’t even really understand how my computer works, but I take it on “faith” that there’s no little Robby the Robot inside twiddling knobs, but instead, just a lot of electrons whizzing around rather complex circuitry.  Our brains are mindbogglingly more complex than my G4, so it’s not really surpising that we don’t understand how they work.

    As far as being “deluded” by my biology textbook to believe in evolution, I would say that I’m more inclined to accept the authority of a book which can be corroborated by the Book of Books: Nature.  The Bible, the Koran, and my biology textbook were all written by fallible mortals.  But only my biology textbook can be falsified, by empirical evidence, and thus qualify as science.  I spent a fair amount of time in the field and lab in my upper division paleo classes, seeing the evidence for evolution written in the rocks, and I’ll take the word of the rocks over the word of a book that says the Earth is flat.

      I would be the first to admit that science isn’t everything, and that there’s a lot of wisdom in the Bible and other religious texts, which has done and does useful society building (as well as a lot of mischief, of course).  But a book which says that snakes talk is a fairy tale.

    Speaking of talking snakes- you pointed out, rightfully so, that we could empirically determine that Patton was not Alexander, and by extention, that we need not believe someone who says he’s Napoleon.  Bad example on my part.  Okay- what if someone says snakes, or leprechauns, are talking to him, telling him to vote Republican?  How is that different than someone saying that Jesus is talking to him (and telling him to vote, oh never mind)?  Why should we consider one of these empirically non-verifiable cases differently than the other?

    I have no doubt that reductionism will eventually gain the world of science its Holy Grail, the Theory of Everything.  And then it will be applied to sociology and psychology and eventually through those and proper political science maneuvers you will be able to come into utopia.  What will be the meaning of life then?  What will you do once you have the ability to discover whatever you want about the universe as you live contentedly in your utopia?

    Strangely enough, you seem to have far more “faith” than I do in the ability of science to explain everything.  As elwed and I mentioned above, there are systems, especially those involving “agents” (Langton’s Ants, people), that are intractable now and (I will bet a silk pajama) will remain intractable in the foreseeable future.  At some point in dealing with the problems of human society, exact science must give way to sloppy speculative model building: laws, morals, religions (and the semisciences psychology and sociology).  In navigating the seas of culture, science can provide us with sextants, but we have to make the imperfect maps, complete with large blank areas and sea serpents, ourselves.

    As far as the “meaning of life” goes, we create our own meanings.  Lots of classical philosophical problems, such as the “meaning of life”, “free will”, “love”, and “truth”, simply melt away, or at least lose their metaphysical aspects, when we realize that they are not absolutes, but evolved entities, just as we living beings are.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have to deal with them- our lives consist of them, to a large extent- it just removes the necessity for some kind of “ultimate justification” or “supernatural foundation” for them.  At least it does for this “reductionist”.

    By the way, I’m not sure I like being labelled “reductionist”.  Doesn’t it sound rather disparaging- like someone who is unsentimental, probably no fun at parties, and possibly trying to lose weight?  I don’t know whether simply to be miffed and call nonreductionists “inflationists” or “agglomerationists”, or try to think of a better moniker for us.  How about “artful connector” or “con artist” for short?

  20. zilch:
    Once you posit the existence of things not empirically demonstrable, all bets are off, and you’ve opened the door to all kinds of magic: gods, leprechauns, invisible pink unicorns, Zogg.

    This tends to put a crimp on rational enquiry- at some point, earlier for pagans (Thor throws lightning bolts from the sky) and later for IDers (vastly superior anonymous beings created flagellae) the one-size-fits-all answer is invoked: goddidit.

    Do you think that intuition contributes nothing to understanding that empiricism or rationalism don’t?

    zilch:
    But enough is known so that there is no doubt (at least, among scientists) that thought, and beliefs, and emotions, are indeed the result of chemical reactions (including electropotential changes) in our brains.

    All of whom tend to be reductionists.  I’ve heard there are some philosophers who have made significant arguments against relying on empirical or rational thought, but unfortuantely I have not read their stuff so I can’t repeat the arguments.  The best I can attempt to do is quote Wittgenstein, “seeing is seeing as.”  Your “first philosophy” determines how you interpret everything you sense or think.  If we see as humans there are inherent limitations in how we view the world.

    Still I find it incredibly interesting that the idea that we can come up with fantastical imaginations of God has no implication that we are in the absolute reality as a materialist would suggest.  If we naturally evolved into what we are now and having been existing with the earth for however many millions of years or whatever, why should we be able to come up with ideas of things not of this world?  It would seem that the very thought of God and our ability to question existence inherently and essentially transcends this existence.  Not that we do but our thoughts and thought processes seem able to transcend this reality which seems odd if this is all we have ever and should ever be able to know.  It may just be my own opinion, but the fact that we think these things and have these notions are the proof of the divine whether or not we believe in such thoughts.

    zilch:
    Speaking of talking snakes- you pointed out, rightfully so, that we could empirically determine that Patton was not Alexander, and by extention, that we need not believe someone who says he’s Napoleon.

    I didn’t communicate that very well.  I perfectly understood what you were trying to get across and I did disprove it from a reductionist view, but I also meant to raise the question of if a conciousness or soul exists how could you disprove such a claim because no reductionist means could be employed effectively.

    zilch:
    what if someone says snakes, or leprechauns, are talking to him, telling him to vote Republican?  How is that different than someone saying that Jesus is talking to him (and telling him to vote, oh never mind)?  Why should we consider one of these empirically non-verifiable cases differently than the other?

    I expect what I am about to say will do my arguments much more harm than good, so I wish to point out this is only my notion of how to answer and if you reduce it it will likely fall apart eventually.  I think if some supernatural being interacts with the perceptible reality then all of its interactions with this reality must, to some extent, stand up to a method of questioning.  Note the vagueness that sentence is in because of my unsurity of how to empirically support it.  I suspect if you started having me dissect examples I could show how it works but it would take an inifinite number of examples to properly reconcile such a notion to my own beliefs.

    zilch:
    As elwed and I mentioned above, there are systems, especially those involving “agents

  21. theo says: Do you think that intuition contributes nothing to understanding that empiricism or rationalism don’t?

    Depends on what you mean by “intuition”.  If you mean a combination of hunches, gut feelings, and ineffable preferences, I’d subsume that under “empiricism”- mind you, the shaky subjective end of empiricism.  Here we have a definition problem- if your stomach rumbles, is that “empirical” evidence that you’re hungry?  If you get that certain woozy feeling when a certain someone goes by, is that “empirical” evidence that you’re in love?  I would say, there’s no obvious place to draw a boundary.

    If we naturally evolved into what we are now and having been existing with the earth for however many millions of years or whatever, why should we be able to come up with ideas of things not of this world?[…]It may just be my own opinion, but the fact that we think these things and have these notions are the proof of the divine whether or not we believe in such thoughts.

    This is a very good question, and I don’t really know the answer.  But I suspect it’s along these lines:  we evolved from animals that paid for mistaken paths with their lives, and more to the point, with their gene lines- the genes that produced successful behavior tended to get passed on, the less successful ones died out.

    The evolution of bigger brains led to more flexible behaviors, and eventually to animals who could think and plan ahead, and as Karl Popper memorably said, let their bad ideas go extinct, in their mind’s eye, instead of themselves.

    We humans, at the pinnacle of this development, are capable of imagining all kinds of scenarios, including ones completely divorced from reality.  This is nothing supernatural; it is merely a further development of creating future.  There’s nothing different, in principle, between imaging the construction of a cathedral, or a revolution, which one will not live to see completed, than imagining a god who throws thunderbolts, or indeed imagining an Invisible Pink Unicorn.  Why should we grant any special status to those imaginings of ours that concern big guys in the sky over those that concern, say, Teletubbies?

    I think if some supernatural being interacts with the perceptible reality then all of its interactions with this reality must, to some extent, stand up to a method of questioning.

    I think I agree with you here, but my next question will be, of course:  how does hearing Jesus in your head hold up better under questioning than hearing leprechauns?

    I don’t claim that I can “disprove” God, or for that matter, disprove the existence of a solid copper sphere the size of the Earth, with the name “Gog” stamped prominently on its surface, in orbit around a star just outside our lightcone.  In the absence of any evidence for their existence, Occam’s Razor washes them right out of my hair. The burden of proof is on the other side, imho.

    About Langton’s Ants and agents in game theory, I’m going to pass for now, because my son wants the computer…

    Didn’t you realize your god Daniel Dennett is considered a “greedy reductionist

  22. Langton’s Ants: It’s a very simple automaton, reminiscient of Conway’s Game of Life.

    One link from a Google search picked at random:

    http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/chaos/langton.htm

    The basic point is that the ant’s universe is finite and the Theory of Everything is known (as quoted from the above website):

    “C. G. Langton [Physica D 22, 120-149 (1986)] invented an amazingly simple computer automaton, which is governed by the following rules:  Begin with a large grid of squares that are all white.  The ant starts on the central square of the grid.  It moves one square to the east and looks at the color of the square on which it lands.  If it lands on a white square, it paints it black and turns 90o to the right.  If it lands on a black square, it paints it white and turns 90o to the left.  If the ant runs off the edge of the screen, it re-enters at the opposite edge (i.e., the boundary conditions are periodic).  The ant follows these same simple rules forever.”

    If we vary the starting conditions (grid size, starting pattern, number of ants, numbers of cell states, …), we still know everything about the design and starting conditions of this universe and still can’t predict future states (in general) other than by running the automaton and observing the result.

    As simple as this mathematical toy is, it has profound philosophical implications. In view of our predictive limitations, what does this tell us about a hypothetical creator of our much more complex universe?

  23. Welcome back, Theo.  I may not be able to win your soul over to Darwin, but I collect Fitness Stars for trying, so here goes:

    About intuition: I beg to disagree with dictionary.com, and assert that “intuition” must involve cognition and/or reason.  Barring supernatural intervention, how else could it be explained?  For me, “intuition” means something more like “unconscious cognition that produces conscious mental states”.  And there’s a continuum between conscious and unconscious mental states.

    After my (probably imperfect) quotation from Karl Popper about the capability of more intelligent animals to let their bad ideas die instead of their bodies, you said

    Are you going to suggest that ants at one point in time were potentially capable of religious thought? Or does this mean bad ideas in general?  Maybe a more complex creatures like dogs once questioned the nature of being?

    I doubt that any animals other than humans have the brainpower and leisure to contemplate “the nature of being”, although the concept is so amorphous that I’m not sure.  I’m willing to bet that ants entertain no religious thoughts, however (except maybe “save the Queen”)

     

    zilch:  There’s nothing different, in principle, between imaging the construction of a cathedral, or a revolution, which one will not live to see completed, than imagining a god who throws thunderbolts, or indeed imagining an Invisible Pink Unicorn.

    Theo:  These things seem quite different to me.  What do you mean by “in principle

  24. zilch:
    Okay, here’s some leprechaun holy writ:

    Near a misty stream in Ireland in the hollow of a tree
    Live mystical, magical leprechauns
    who are clever as can be
    With their pointed ears, and turned up toes and little coats of green
    The leprechauns busily make their shoes and try hard not to be seen.
    Only those who really believe have seen these little elves
    And if we are all believers
    We can surely see for ourselves.

    Hmmm- leprechauns can only be seen by those who “really believe

  25. How do the believers interpret this?  Are their factions?  How does it change them to live differently than those who don’t see leprechauns?  How many believers are there?  What is the history of the belief?  Has it changed or been interpreted differently over the years?

    Beats me.  Why does it matter?  The Truth is the Truth, isn’t it, even if no one believes it?  Or are you of the “handsome is as handsome does” school of Choosing A Belief System?  If that’s the case, you have a heap of Christian shenannigans to explain, past and present.

    Or perhaps you’re rather of the “2.1 billion Christians can’t be wrong” persuasion.  Uh, as James Thurber said, “There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else”.  Lots of people have believed lots of things that turned out to be wrong, no?

  26. *dig* *dig* *dig*
    It matters because I assume that these would be important questions to determine an answer to if leprechauns really cared that they themselves existed.  If no one believes it the leprechauns lives suddenly become more meaningless in a realistic and absolute sense.

    I know I have a heap of Christian shenannigans to explain and I’m trying to make my argument so I can side step the whole pile.  We could sort through the pile, but I seriously doubt we could get through it in our life times and even if we made significant progress I’m not sure it would matter unless we got all the way through it, if at all.

    Numbers and the quality within the numbers are a safety thing of sorts.  If the majority of scientists believe in evolution and are more qualified on average than those in the minority that disagree that is certainly a worthy example.  If there is a God then numbers and quality of faith may be able to tell us something, maybe.  Not close to everything, but there is still some value.

  27. It matters because I assume that these would be important questions to determine an answer to if leprechauns really cared that they themselves existed.  If no one believes it the leprechauns lives suddenly become more meaningless in a realistic and absolute sense.

    Not sure I follow you here, but this sounds like the “Jitterbug Perfume” school.  The beginning of this Tom Robbins’ novel (very funny, highly recommended) is set sometime in the Middle Ages.  Pan, although still mightier than any human, is already dwindling in power, as belief in him dwindles.  At the end of the book, in the late twentieth century, he is invisible and can only perpetrate minor pranks (along with his pal, Trickster).

    If the majority of scientists believe in evolution and are more qualified on average than those in the minority that disagree that is certainly a worthy example.  If there is a God then numbers and quality of faith may be able to tell us something, maybe.  Not close to everything, but there is still some value.

    Yes and no.  The main difference between science and religion is that science is falsifiable- the majority of scientists believed in the fixity of continents until recently enough, that I was in the first generation of junior high students with plate techtonics in the textbooks.  A scientific idea defended by a small minority is likely to be false, but the only ultimate test is how well it models reality.  Evolution is a successful theory, not because more than 99% of scientists believe it, but because it explains the facts better than any other theory, it generates predictions which can be tested, and because it is falsifiable– one Precambrian rabbit fossil would scuttle the whole kit’n’kaboodle.  Young Earth Creationism is an unsuccessful theory, not because scientists laugh at it, but because it doesn’t jibe with the facts.  ID is not a successful theory, not because Michael Behe made an ass of himself on the witness stand in Dover, but because it is not falsifiable, and because it generates no predictions.

    Religions (like sciences) may be judged in several different ways: whether they are true or not (did Jesus wither that hapless fig tree?  Did God order the Philistines to make Golden Hemorrhoids for Him?), how well their believers do (are Christians happier/richer/smarter than Muslims?), how nicely they behave (do Christians murder more than Buddhists?).  If we want to know how things are in the world, that’s one thing.  If we want to know what belief system will make us good, that’s another.  If nice behavior results from belief in Jesus, or Allah, or Buddha, that says something about the value of the morals, but nothing at all about the existence of the respective godhead.

  28. Theo, are you coming back to this thread, or do I have to borrow your cat o’ nine tails?  I’m not through with you until you accept Darwin in your heart…

  29. What do I have to respond to?  I forgot where we left off.  Ben too busy to do any serious posting anyplace I hang out at on the Internet.  But I have an easy and fun semester now so it is more possible I can go through all these old threads and catch up.

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