Big debate on the afterlife going on NOW

Sean Carroll and Steve Novella on the “no afterlife” side, Eben (I’ve been to heaven”) Alexander and Raymond Moody on the “there’s Heaven” side. See it livestreamed here, and now: it’s already 15 minutes in.

141 Comments

  1. Alex T
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Moody is deciding to spend half of his opening speech attacking/undermining science. Who got that on their bingo card?

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t Moody a fundamentalist crazy?

    • Alan
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      I was important to note that Dr. Novella and Dr. Carroll failed to address the *detail* of the NDE cases, and the veridical cases, and the shared death experiences (*hundreds* reported by Dr. Moody to himself). The latter cannot be due to a problem with the brain of the patient.
      I came away from this realizing the first two scientists simply have not studied this properly.
      Novella’s comment struck…”only narratives and dubious evidence”.

      Dr. Alexander said one should read “Irreducible Mind” (by Kelly et. al.), a massive recent study covering a huge field. I agree.

      • Posted May 8, 2014 at 12:51 am | Permalink

        Veridical. You keep using* that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

        /@

        *Since your comment is cross-posted from Sean’s blog.

      • Larry Gay
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 3:03 am | Permalink

        Alan, you could be a theologian. Big words and the final argument that your opponents really need to read a lengthy tome.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:18 am | Permalink

        Then your realization is wrong. You don’t need to address the details of ideas known to erroneous. Meaning they have studied this properly. =D

        The reason why we know these ideas are erroneous is because a) they are produced in and immediately after states where the brain is active, conscious and heavily drugged, and b) the tales are consistent over cultures, meaning they are learned previously and not (entirely) experienced at the claimed time. The latter is a point Jerry always rises, but which the NDE pseudoscientists or scammers (huge money in this, see the books and movies et cetera) always fail to address. Speaking of failing to address [then necessary] details…

      • eric
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        Alan, if hundreds of similar reports (without confirmable evidence) = credible claim, then ‘aliens abduct humans and probe them’ is a credible claim. I don’t think you believe that, nor should you…because hundreds of similar reports (without confirmable evidence) /= credible.

  2. moleatthecounter
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m already irritated… Simply put, a debate on ‘Science versus hearsay’.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      That’s what I thought first: “How do you debate on behalf of something for which there is quite literally no evidence?”

  3. moleatthecounter
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Sean Carrol is more impressive each time I hear him speak though…

  4. Posted May 7, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I had it all queued up, but got one of those never-ending phone calls five minutes before start time…now, sadly, I’ll have to wait to download the post-debat video, since it doesn’t allow rewinding….

    b&

    • Posted May 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Video replay is available on Intelligence Squared website as of noon EST 8 May.

  5. Alex T
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Moderator just challenged the pro-NDE side to argue that life after death was different than a belief in fairies dancing on your lawn 🙂

    Moderator then asked Alexander if the brain can create odd experiences & memories, he totally dodged it and talked about whether the mind can come from the brain. Dodge & attack!

  6. Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks! Watching now.

  7. Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    The quote from Dr. Sagan where he supposedly accepts ‘evidence’ for life after death:
    “If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I’d be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.”

    The Demon-Haunted World, p. 204

  8. moleatthecounter
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Alexander just misrepresented Carl Sagan. Out of order sir!

    He said what on page 302 of ‘The Demon-Haunted World’? Certain young children have experienced re-incarnation? You claimed Sagan believed this…

    Just checked it… On page 302…Not true! You lied sir.

    • Bea
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Sagan said, “claims… which, in my opinion, deserve serious study… young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate. … The [claims] have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support.”

      • Matt
        Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget the sentence right before your quote. Where it states the exact opposite of what Alexander claims.

        “I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might be true.”

        • Bea
          Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

          You gotta admire Sagan’s [actual] skepticism (as opposed to certainty)… after all, such contentions “might be true.”

          Then again, if your current worldview disallows the possibility… acknowledging [even convergent] evidence that contradicts your worldview can be extremely difficult.

          Don’t stop questioning assumptions… even your own.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:26 am | Permalink

            Not at all, that is what happens in science all the time. For example, that is how the (mistaken) results of faster-than-universal-speedlimit neutrinos of the OPERA experiment were acknowledged and jumped onto for checking in the first place. [ https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/big-debate-on-the-afterlife-going-on-now/#comment-829708 ]

            The problem comes if it is not evidence that says it is wrong, like the NDEs interpretation as anything else than drug-derived and culturally influenced experiences, but dogma of a ‘current worldview’ like sectarian beliefs, like taking NDEs as evidence or Sagan’s skepticism as support. How do you convince people that they should look at the evidence in the latter case? You can’t – they simply refuse.

        • Posted May 8, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          …and I’ll add that Eben Alexander’s book is not an open-minded discussion about the possibility of an afterlife, it is called PROOF of Heaven (my emphasis.) it’s not Conjecture about Heaven or even Evidence of Heaven, it is called PROOF.

          Sagan entertained ideas, hypotheses, as a scientist. Alexander is a zealot.

          • Bea
            Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

            Right… the word “proof” is useful in math, courthouses, and distilleries… not so much in science or storytelling. I wonder if the publishers pushed the dramatic tone.

            But we should note that another big difference between Sagan and Alexander is that Sagan had no such experience to try to interpret and explain to the rest of us (at least, he did not happen to return to tell the tale).

            • Posted May 8, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

              Not sure I’d agree that “proof” isn’t useful in science. I don’t see that word as any different than evidence. We have evidence the earth revolves around the sun, and we know this with 99.999999% certainty. The evidence comes from observations, mathematics, and physics. I don’t think it’s wrong to say we have proof of this fact.

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

                Eben Alexander did not provide “proof” or even compelling evidence; it’s a description of one very personal experience without any corroboration. For Alexander to conflate these terms and publish a book using his scientific credentials is disingenuous.

            • Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

              Do you *know* that Sagan had no such experiences?

              Perhaps he did, but released, quite pragmatically, put them down to dreams or hallucinations or whatever he was smoking …

              /@

        • Katar
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:11 am | Permalink

          That sentence is not stating the opposite of what Alexander claims.

          Alexander claimed: “For example, a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is overwhelming.”

          Did Sagan admit there was evidence of past life memories of children? Yes.

          Was Sagan’s opinion that he doesn’t believe these examples to be true? Yes, but that wasn’t Alexander’s claim.

          Did Sagan claim “overwhelming” evidence? No.

          Alexander’s obvious point was that even Carl Sagan admitted there is “at least some, although still dubious, experimental support.”

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

            * Alexander’s obvious point was that even Carl Sagan admitted there is “at least some, although still dubious, experimental support.” *

            But that is *not* what Alexander claimed Sagan said. And thus less than obvious that that’s what his point was.

            /@

            • Katar
              Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

              “Experimental support” vs “evidence”. Either way, Sagan confirms Alexander’s premise: that even a skeptic such as Sagan has confirmed there are cases of such children.

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

                Sagan confirmed nothing of the sort.

                /@

              • Katar
                Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                I will only concede to you, based on the text, that Sagan does not believe in the afterlife, and he also believes the evidence to which Alexander refers is dubious.

                But in expressing his opinion that he believed the evidence to be dubious, he revealed that there is such evidence that has experimental support.

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                * he revealed that there is such evidence that has experimental support. *

                Sagan did no such thing.

                /@

      • Diogo Salles Correa
        Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        That is the problem when people do not consider the whole book. Here is a compelling position of Carl Sagan regarding afterlife:

        “I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”

        Eben Alexander lied about Carl Sagan and misused quantum mechanics in the same way Deepak Chopra does. Probably, he is seen as an embarrassment in the scientific field. I wonder why Eben has been without surgical privileges since 2007.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:27 am | Permalink

          I think, but I’m not certain, the causality was the other way!? First Eben got unemployed. Then he hit on his money-making scam.

        • Katar
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

          Actually, the problem is that Alexander wasn’t claiming what Sagan’s opinion was. Alexander was claiming that Sagan admitted there is evidence of it. Here was Alexander’s quote from the debate:

          “For example, a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is
          overwhelming.”

          In his book, Sagan says:

          “(3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that
          might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.”

          Considering the whole book is irrelevant because the claim Alexander makes is that Sagan admitted there is evidence for it.

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

            That is not the claim Alexander made.

            Posting the same apology for Alexander multiple times in this thread does not make him any less dishonest!

            /@

            • Katar
              Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

              I was simply responding to the different comments made by different posters disputing a false premise that Alexander did not make.

              He didn’t claim that Sagan believes in the afterlife.

    • Katar
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      I think you are forgetting what Alexander’s claim was.

      Alexander said: “For example, a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl
      Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is
      overwhelming.”

      So to fact check this, we must find out if Sagan said there was overwhelming evidence for children having past life memories.

      Here is the full paragraph from Sagan’s book: “Perhaps one per cent of the time, someone who has an idea that smells, feels and looks indistinguishable from the usual run of pseudoscience will turn out to be right. Maybe some undiscovered reptile left over from the
      Cretaceous period will indeed be found in Loch Ness or the Congo Republic; or we will find artefacts of an advanced, non-human species elsewhere in the solar system. At the time of
      writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion,deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images `projected’ at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that
      might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.”

      Sagan does say that children with details about past lives have some experimental support and that they deserve serious study. Obviously, Sagan’s opinion of them is that he doesn’t think they’re likely to be valid, and he thinks they are dubious, but that wasn’t Alexander’s claim. Sagan does indeed say there is some evidence of it.

      To Alexander’s credit, Sagan does say there is some evidence in his book, although it wasn’t on p. 302, nor was it “overwhelming” evidence, which is what Alexander said.

      But I don’t think it’s enough to say that Alexander lied.

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 5:59 am | Permalink

        Sagan: The last three have at least *some, although still dubious*, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong. [my emphasis]

        Alexander: Carl Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is *overwhelming*. [my emphasis]

        Conclusion: Alexander lied.

        /@

        • Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

          +1

          I listened live to the debate and Alexander was being cute. I was heartened that Carroll (r maybe it was Novella, I can’t remember which) immediately corrected him.

          • Katar
            Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

            It was Novella. But Novella didn’t refute Alexander’s claim. He said that Sagan “did not believe in past lives. He did not believe in anything paranormal or supernatural.”

            But that wasn’t Alexander’s claim. Here is Alexander’s quote: “For example, a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is overwhelming.”

            Sagan’s book does say there is “at least some, although still dubious, experimental support.”

            Which supports Alexander’s original premise.

        • Katar
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

          True, Sagan doesn’t say there is “overwhelming evidence”, but he DOES say, there is at least some experimental support for it.

          Alexander’s premise was that even a skeptic like Sagan has said there is evidence for children having past life memories.

          To that end, he has a point.

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

            Alexander’s actual claim is nonetheless false.

            /@

            • Katar
              Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

              Did Sagan admit that there was evidence?

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

                Sagan’s whole point in offering up those examples was to identify the type of almost-but-not-yet entirely debunked claims that science should pursue both on the extremely long shot that they pay out but also to silence the bleating of the credulous.

                Alexander’s whole point in quotemining that passage was to use slander Sagan as a gullible twit who thought there was overwhelming evidence of woo, except Alexander thought he was complimenting Sagan.

                Alexander’s blatant lie about Sagan is every bit as reprehensible as the all-too-common drafting of Einstein into the ranks of the religious. Einstein himself wrote, “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” The very book of Sagan’s that Alexander quoted from is devoted to an expansion of that very sentiment expressed by Einstein: the demons are in our heads, not real, but there’s so much that is real and so much more amazing that we’re fools to waste our time and energy on superstitious nonsense.

                Superstitious nonsense of the exact variety that Alexander himself is peddling with a NYT bestselling book….

                b&

              • Katar
                Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                Did Sagan write that there is evidence?

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

                That wasn’t what Alexander claimed.

                /@

              • Katar
                Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

                Sorry if I phrased that wrong. I’m asking you to answer the question.

                Did Sagan write in his book that there is experimental support that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known
                about in any other way than reincarnation?

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                This one on one is dominating the thread. Please knock it off.

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

            The whole idea that we are litigating Carl Sagan’s views on the afterlife is comical. Eben Alexander was being cute, and he gets away with this among the religiously delusional, but Novella called him out.

            The debate was an excellent display of the coming sea change in attitudes towards the religious and the lack of deference given to the re-writing of history. Alexander can claim that he has “proof” of heaven, and he’ll purchase a big house with the profits from the numbskulls who buy it, but he cannot spew BS about Sagan believing kids’ fantasies are “evidence” of anything. This lying has been done about many dead scientists, like Einstein, with many painting him as defending religion…which he never did.

        • Alex T
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          What I found so shocking is that this was such a trivial fact to check. I had some lingering hope that both sides where honest representatives and had some genuine disagreements, but after this bold-faced lie about Sagan (and then his weird defence of psychics) I realized that Alexander has gone pretty far off the deep end. He’s no longer speaking as an academic but as an ideologue. Sad, really.

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            There was a link on a WEIT thread in the past day or so to an Esquire piece on Eben Alexander. I read it. Nothing this guy does that is shady (or worse) will surprise anyone who reads that feature story.

  9. Barry Lyons
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I just tweeted this to Eben Alexander:

    You misquoted Carl Sagan in today’s debate. On p 302 he writes that he does NOT find those claims made by children to be valid.

    • moleatthecounter
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      Good for you sir…

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 12:33 am | Permalink

      I was at the local Linux User Group meeting while this was happening, so didn’t see it.
      Did Alexander reply, admit his error and retract, or did he just ignore an uncomfortable truth?

      • Posted May 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        He ignored it and tried to stick to his guns. But I don’t think he really had an opportunity to reply in the debate.

        Honestly, I couldn’t hear too well because I was yelling at him (via my computer) at the time. Startled my daughter and told her that Alexander took Sagan’s name “in vain”!

    • Katar
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

      I think you may need to re-check that.

      Alexander claimed: “For example, a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is overwhelming.”

      Alexander’s premise wasn’t whether or not Sagan considers those claims to be valid or not, but whether or not Sagan admitted there was evidence for children having past life memories.

      In the book, Sagan says this: “At the time of
      writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion,deserve serious study: (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.”

      So Sagan does say there is some experimental support. It is not “overwhelming”, as Alexander said (and not on p.302 either), and Sagan’s opinion is obviously that he doesn’t think they’re likely to be valid, and he thinks they are dubious, but that wasn’t Alexander’s claim.

      Overall, I’d say Alexander’s point is valid- although the use of “overwhelming” is misleading.

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

        No, Alexander’s the use of “overwhelming” is more that just misleading, it is completely disingenuous. Like claiming someone has lost an arm when in fact they’ve only been scratched.

        /@

        • Katar
          Posted May 9, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

          I agree he did mislead. But his point is still valid, Sagan did admit in his book there was “some experimental support” for those cases.

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

            *some* – and esp. *some, although still dubious* is **not** *overwhelming*. It was an egregious misrepresentation of Sagan by Alexander.

            /@

            • Katar
              Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

              Yes, we all know it was an egregious misrepresentation. I’ve given you that.

              You aren’t addressing my point.

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

                You have 14 comments on this thread now and that’s enough. Got it? Take it to private email, as this is taking up too much space, and is unproductive.

                One more comment and you’re moderated.

              • Katar
                Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

                Ok, no problem. One question for you though, Ant has just as many posts as I do. Why are you only moderating me?

            • Posted May 9, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

              I’m telling you both to knock it off. You seem to be the one who really wants to perpetuate this discussion, though.

              At any rate, the one-on-one is ended.

              • Posted May 9, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Sorry, Jerry: I posted that comment well before I saw your admonition. (Maybe others too.) Apologies for chasing Katar down this rat hole …

                /@

  10. Jonathan Smith
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Steve and Sean win the debate

  11. Bîp
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Sean Carroll’s candle soundbite was just perfect.

    – Audience member: “While we’re alive, we have energy. Where does that go when we die?”

    – Carroll: “It’s still there, in our atoms; they’re just not alive anymore. It’s the same place the flame goes when you blow out the candle.”

    – Audience member: “…” (with a “wait… what?” expression)

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      That audience member has never heard of the law of conservation of energy???

      He could be one of the 9% who believe space aliens abducted that missing plane.

      • gluonspring
        Posted May 7, 2014 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

        I’d wager that the fraction of people who have no concept of the conservation of energy is WAY higher than 9%.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 12:37 am | Permalink

        Don’t forget that what science means by “energy” (the capacity to perform work by acting against forces) is NOT what most people mean by “energy” when thinking about woo and mental fuzz, which is “Whoa there dobbin, what the hell is that? Can I haz cheezeburger?”

        • Posted May 8, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          These are the people who think energy is a stuff, not a property, so are very much ontologically wrong …

    • Bo Gardiner
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      Sean and Steven were terrific. I felt very proud.

      LOL, raise your hand if you jumped up to grab your copy of Demon-Haunted World at that moment. I know I did.

      When Steven indignantly said “That is not true!” and Alexander confidently named the page number, he got a big round of applause. There’s simply no way Alexander didn’t know he’d reversed Sagan’s meaning; it was a flat-out lie, ugh. I couldn’t bear listening to him for another second after that.

      • Posted May 8, 2014 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        New rule for debates: All quotations should be supported by a slide showing the quotation in context displayed long enough for everyone to read and understand.

        /@

        • darrelle
          Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

          Something like a moderation team with good computers and internet connection, tasked with fact checking claims like this during the debate would be something worth trying in my opinion. If a clear mistatement is confirmed the team informs the head moderator who then announces the facts of the matter.

  12. Bea
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Wondering how many people chose “undecided” at the start… knowing that they could then register as a gain for their chosen side at the end? 😉

  13. Larry
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    What a slaughter! Sean Carroll rocked, but Nuvella dropped the ball with the consciousness question. Neuroscience cannot say for certain that consciousness is “created” in the brain. He should have said that we “need” a brain to experience consciousness.

    • Bo Gardiner
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see a problem with that.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      It is experienced in the brain, and that is its “creation”. So yeah, your description is more precise, but the other isn’t wrong as much as wrongly suggestive…

      [Of course, the experience description drags in the body too, which is pointing yet again to that it is the better description.]

  14. Scientifik
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    It looks like Eben Alexander believes in every single bit of woo that’s out there; afterlife, re-incarnation, telepathy, witchcraft, etc. Now at least I understand where he is coming from…

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:33 am | Permalink

      But not fairies in the backyard!? I note that he then only believes in the woo that pays…

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted May 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      “It is very difficult to get a man to understand something when his entire paycheck depends upon him not understanding it.”

  15. Jeff
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Moody promised new and wonderful ways to study the afterlife coming soon. One of the good guys should have pointed out that he will indeed have an amazing opportunity to provide evidence for the afterlife at least fairly soon… when he’s dead. His consciousness should still be around, and presumably still very interested in helping those on the other side understand life after death. So, Dr. Moody, just go around and tell the same 20-digit number to someone on each continent after you die, and leave a sealed record of the number for us to verify. If you don’t like that option, I’m sure an expert on near-death experiences can come up with some rock-solid demonstration of his continuing consciousness. If we have no shockingly compelling evidence for the afterlife by a few years after Dr. Moody’s death, maybe everyone will finally be ready to drop the issue.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 12:46 am | Permalink

      The experiment has been done. Repeatedly. No (zero, zip, nada, zilch) positive results.
      Einstein : “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
      (Actually, that quote seems to post-date Einstein’s death by several decades. Which would be evidence for life after death if it were true. But since it’s also attributed to Benjamin Franklin, then it’s possible that this is a misattribution.)

      • Jeff
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 4:35 am | Permalink

        I’m with you. I’d also expect that a much higher proportion of murder cases would be solved if the dead could communicate with the living. Why are murder victims so disinterested in identifying their killer?

        • Rikki_Tikki_Taalik
          Posted May 8, 2014 at 6:21 am | Permalink

          SamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSamSam

          • Posted May 10, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

            Thanks for causing the skinniest WEIT page I’ve ever seen on my iPad!

            /@

      • eric
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        Yeah IIRC Houdini said he was going to try it but we got bubkis. And frankly, Dr. Moody, you are no Harry Houdini.

  16. Bea
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    The moderator mentioned something extremely important here… that this debate exists because people disagree on something “metaphysical” (i.e., not on something physical, not on something that we study or model or describe in physics).

    Whatever your area of expertise, you cannot logically look at physical stuff and expect it to tell you what minds may or may not experience beyond interacting with this particular realm of physical stuff.

    As to “hoping it’s true” (as though hoping something is true means it must be false)…
    how about cases of, “I sure hope it’s not true”…
    or, “Damn, if I ever start to think this might possibly be true, my friends and associates will ridicule me!”

    • Jeff
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      But (as Sean Carroll implored), can you be wrong about a metaphysical belief? How do you figure out whether a particular metaphysical belief is wrong? If you don’t have a method capable of showing that your beliefs are wrong, why should anyone be confident that they are right?

      • Posted May 8, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        In the proper (original) sense of metaphysical, inference to the best explanation from other fields relevant. (Most of science, IOW.)

        • Bea
          Posted May 8, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          Consciousness is an aspect of reality (more obvious than the noses on our faces). Could you tell me what aspect of [apparent] physical stuff causes you to infer that it simply must be the creator of creative consciousness? That is far less than obvious to me.

          • Steve Gerrard
            Posted May 8, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            Memory. Minds are useless without it, and the evidence that it is physically in the brain is overwhelming.

          • Posted May 8, 2014 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

            Beer.

            /@

          • Bea
            Posted May 10, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

            Well, memories are actually mental (like minds which contain them). Brains qualify as physical. During “life in the body,” physical brains process and store mental experiences/memories.

            This debate is about what minds might (or might not) do beyond “life in the body,” beyond correlating with brains (for a spatiotemporal spell). You can either make assumptions… or watch for evidence.

            I’m asking what it is ABOUT physical stuff that justifies the belief that it “creates” creative and purposeful mental minds. “Beer”? Is that your best and final answer?

            • Posted May 10, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

              If you’ve been paying any attention to our arguments (particularly Ben’s) on this and previous threads, you’d know that “beer” is a significant answer (not necessarily the best).

              I can’t say what it is about physical stuff that “justifies” such a thing, but if we’re watching for evidence, what I can say is that:
              * I’m not aware of any credible evidence that indicates that a mind can exist without a brain. (And following a line of argument like Sean Carroll’s, if minds did exist without brains, why wouldn’t it be obvious?)
              * There is, otoh, a tonne of evidence that the mind is the brain (which Steve Novella clearly summarised in this debate).
              * There is also conclusive evidence that the physics underlying everyday life is completely understood, meaning that at low energies there is nothing beyond the Standard Model that can interact with protons, neutrons and electrons — such as our brains — leaving nothing else for our minds (which surely do interact with our brains!) to be made of. (As Sean Carroll has demonstrated here and elsewhere.)

              /@

              • Bea
                Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

                Ant,
                I’ve paid careful attention to (and answered) your and Ben’s arguments. Again, understand that “beer” represents only one direction of a two-way street (and only during life in the body).

                Just consider the possibility that firm physicalistic beliefs might impede recognition of credible evidence that contradicts those beliefs. After all, it happens with firm theistic and/or superstitious beliefs. Who among us isn’t human?

                Absolutely, if minds can exist apart from brains, it would be (and apparently is) obvious… to those minds. People who’ve had impressive NDEs can tell you that. The question is, why would you (or Sean) think it should be equally obvious to anyone who is busy looking at brains?

                Steve is a physicalist, and that is why he extrapolates the bare fact of correlations into one-way (not even two-way) causation. Observations are theory-laden… and Steve’s philosophical position on the nature of reality affects his interpretations.

                What makes you (or Sean) think that our current human mental models for describing the behavior of nonliving, physical stuff (in this particular [apparent] universe) are applicable to reality as a whole, including mentality? I would suggest the possible (and circular) answer of… physicalist beliefs.

              • Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                (Final final comment, then.) All of which is quite conceivable (per Sean’s comments) but wholly unsupported by anything but subjective personal testimony. (Feynman quotation goes here.) And you totally sidestep any explanation of how a non-physical mind can interact with a physical brain (which I futilely challenged you for elsewhere).

                And I’m done.

                /@

            • Posted May 10, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

              PS. Which is probably enough on this matter here, lest I earn another admonishment from Ceiling Cat.

      • Bea
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        Jeff,
        Sure, anyone can be wrong about a metaphysical belief… even Sean and Steven.

        It is from experience that we learn about reality. For humans to ever discern what minds might experience beyond “being alive” in a body… it would not be logical to make a habit of disregarding countless reports of what minds have experienced beyond “being alive” in a body.

        One way to eventually “figure out whether a particular metaphysical belief is wrong” would be to watch for accumulating evidence that is incompatible with that belief. Plus logic.

        • Posted May 8, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

          Jeff’s point about falsifiability still stands.

          The “meta” in “metaphysical” is meant, in this context, to put the claims beyond scrutiny. You can accumulate as much physical evidence as you like; people like Alexander will ask how that bears at all on claims that are supposed to transcend the physical.

          In this context, calling a claim “metaphysical” is an immunizing tactic.

          • Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            But it shouldn’t – given the origin of the term and its use within mainstream philosophy. I admit that the train has left the station on the *other* uses, but given they shade into the philosophical one, we can still criticize, I think, these notions based on science-oriented (or at least compatible) metaphysics a la Bunge, Armstrong, etc.

          • Bea
            Posted May 10, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

            Actually, it was the moderator who used the term “metaphysical” (as in above/beyond what we learn/know by physical senses). It’s not a word to be feared or disparaged.

            If/when people have mental experiences that tell of larger mental realms, beyond/surrounding/containing this particular physical universe, metaphysical is an applicable word.

            It also applies to Sean’s/Steven’s philosophical position (metaphysical belief)… that only physical stuff is real and causal.

            What kind of (and amount of) “physical evidence” do you think justifies the belief that “only physical stuff is real and causal”?

            Note that it will not only have to “prove” a negative (no nonphysical thing is ever real or causal)… it will also have to overcome all the evidence for purposeful mental minds and all the ways they (and their abstractions) affect physical brains/bodies/surroundings. (including the screen before you)

            Also note that… insistence that “mental” somehow actually qualifies as [albeit fancy] “physical” is even more dubious. This claim has no basis in science, certainly not in physics… not matter which scientists happen to believe in it (there are many others who do not).

            • Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

              Did you miss the qualifier I applied to the term “metaphysical”? “In this context”, ie, the context of making supernatural claims.

              I’m well aware of the term’s legitimate uses.

              “What kind of (and amount of) “physical evidence” do you think justifies the belief that “only physical stuff is real and causal”?

              Note that it will not only have to “prove” a negative (no nonphysical thing is ever real or causal…”

              This is an entirely wrong approach. It’s not that a certain amount of physical evidence proves that only physical stuff is real and non-physical stuff isn’t.

              The proper approach is simply to grant ontological status to things that have good, reliable evidence.

              A supernatural, metaphysical realm like that proposed by Alexander and Moody doesn’t have good, reliable evidence going for it, as explained by Carroll and Novella.

              “it will also have to overcome all the evidence for purposeful mental minds

              It’s eminently possible that minds are emergent properties of certain physical substrates. This possibility means that minds cannot be used as conclusive evidence of a supernatural metaphysical realm. Consciousness doesn’t necessitate invoking the supernatural.

              • Bea
                Posted May 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

                musical beef,
                Recall that “physical” stuff is describable in terms of mass/charge/spin/space/time, including all neural activity. Another kind of stuff that undeniably exists in reality is “mental”- mind and all its contents (only some of which are all those shared percepts/concepts/descriptions of physical stuff). I ask you, if one set of “kind of stuff” contains the other set, which arrangement is actually more logical?

                If you momentarily put aside the physicalist dictum that creative, intelligent, consciousness/mind can only exist if and when [relatively] mechanistic localized matter happens to create it, you may realize that …

                … the existence of mental activity after death is no more surprising or “supernatural” than the existence of mental activity before death (while it correlates so intimately with the natural/physical brain).

                What do you mean by “good, reliable evidence”? I hope you are not making the mistake of requiring physical evidence for nonphysical realms of mental experience.

                You say it’s “eminently possible that minds are emergent properties of certain physical substrates.” I’m sincerely wondering what it is about physical stuff that makes you think [that physicalist dictum] is so possible?

                I consider it even more “eminently possible” that mind/awareness is just an ultimately ubiquitous (nonlocal) feature of (and knower of) reality (with many passing instances of spatiotemporal focus and constraints). I see what Planck was getting at.

              • Posted May 10, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

                Bea, let’s try one different tack.

                We know, with absolute certainty, that, when you move a muscle, the muscle’s contraction is triggered by an electrochemical signal from the nerve attached to it, and that nerve in turn is just relaying a signal from another nerve, and so on through (in most cases) the spinal column and thence to the brain stem, and that it’s other electrochemical reactions inside the brain that start the entire chain reaction.

                This is all extremely well understood chemistry, neurology, and physics, stuff that we’ve known for well over a century and that’s part of high school biology classes. Dissect a frog, apply an electrical current to the proper nerve, and the muscle twitches. And we now have far more sophisticated tools, especially functional magnetic resonance scanners, that can, in real time, map out exactly which parts of the brain trigger the whole cascade.

                Now, a checkpoint: if you do not agree that muscles are controlled by purely physical electrochemical signals that originate in the brain, there is no point to further discussion; it would indicate a serious deficiency in your basic education, one that we cannot possibly remedy here (though we can certainly point you in the proper direction).

                If I understand you correctly, it is your claim that, yes, that is the correct description for how muscles are actuated, but that there’s a non-physical component to the mind that is not a physical part of the brain which is responsible for triggering that initial electrochemical impulse inside the brain that sets everything else going.

                That claim of yours is exactly equivalent to a claim of a perpetual motion machine. Anything that can cause a change in the energy potential of a system that is not itself a physical part of that system would be behaving in a manner that spectacularly violates every scientific observation ever, and especially the most reliable scientific observations we know of.

                That’s the chasm you’re trying to bridge: how immaterial mind gets from whatever phantasmagorical realm it operates in to causing you to lift your finger.

                It also goes the other way: we know that vision is dependent on the eye, and that the optic nerve again sends electrochemical signals into the brain and that the brain does some seriously impressive heavy-duty signal processing on that data stream. If the immaterial mind is tapping into that signal, it must do so by extracting energy from the brain — or, again, we’re talking about perpetual motion machines.

                If you can propose a mechanism by which an immaterial mind can interact with the physical brain such that the immaterial mind can cause the physical brain to initiate motor signals or the immaterial mind can wiretap the optic nerve, not only will Ant and I take you seriously, you’ll overturn all of physics and secure yourself a Nobel prize.

                If you cannot propose such a mechanism, Ant and I will continue to conclude that you’re rather confused and / or uneducated, though obviously sincere.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 10, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

                “What do you mean by “good, reliable evidence”? I hope you are not making the mistake of requiring physical evidence for nonphysical realms of mental experience.”

                How would you ever find non-physical evidence? How would it come to our attention if we couldn’t sense it? Math and other forms of logic do not count. Physicists may use math to formulate hypotheses but they look for empirical evidence to confirm it.

        • Posted May 8, 2014 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

          Who is “disregarding” those reports?

          Scientists do investigate them but, as Steve Novella described, find that they can be accounted for quite naturalistically. The experiences can be duplicated by the action of drugs, electronic stimulation, high-G centrifuges, &c., &c.

          So, there is no accumulation of evidence that is incompatible with naturalistic explanations.

          /@

          • Bea
            Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

            Ant,
            There are many ways that minds can have experiences that are quite unlike the normal interactive [two-way] correlations with a healthy brain. Having a messed-up brain is one way. Having a dead brain is apparently yet another. Even so, it’s inaccurate to say that the former has “duplicated” the latter (you must ask people who have experienced both).

            You could not possibly know that ALL impressive cases of “nonlocal mind” have been “accounted for quite naturalistically.” You have made an assumption, based upon your belief system. Other people who may be much more familiar with details of many such events, may no longer share your belief system.

            It’s useful, but not easy, to step outside one’s current belief system to test whether other viewpoints might be even more comprehensive and explanatory than your own.

            • Posted May 10, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

              (This ice seems terribly thin…) I have. They aren’t.

              /@

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Whatever your area of expertise, you cannot logically look at physical stuff and expect it to tell you what minds may or may not experience beyond interacting with this particular realm of physical stuff.

      Oh yes, that is _exactly_ that we can expect! That is what we _should_ expect after the LHC completed the Standard Model and showed it good (for the time being), since the vacuum of particle physicists includes _all possible interactions_. The LHC completion and SM is stuff that Carroll, despite not being an expert, has written his latest book about, so he is well placed to discuss this.

      To sum up, the LHC has checked all possible interactions that the particles that makes up the elements and so our bodies and environment participates in. The remaining interactions are too few and/or weak to consider, whether they are physical (as the vacuum means they mist) or magically ‘beyond’. (Beyond what? By definition the universe is all what is, and since standard cosmology both models the universe correctly and concur with that, there is no ‘beyond’ that could possibly affect us in the first place. We know that too.)

      In fact, I have checked the interaction energies that a putative magic ‘non-interacting’ interaction must scrounge up in order to sense or affect the brain’s synapse function above the thermal noise of its particles. Even if you shoot for that the magic itself does not interact (have a measurable energy) and the minimum possible information (a bit signifying nerve pulse/no nerve pulse), the resulting bound overshoots the LHC stamped criteria on QED interactions with a factor 1000. (More realistically a factor 10 000, if magic is akin to our own signal criteria, needing signal an order of magnitude above noise. But let’s use the lowest possible bound.) The synapses of our brain are simply too many.

      So LHC has effectively put a stop for afterlife (NDEs, erroneously interpreted), “souls”, rebirth, prayer et cetera – everything that claims full knowledge or full control of the brain’s electrochemical state – and there is no glue that can put that clumsy Humpty Dumpty back again.

      As for being afraid of ridiculous claims, I think religion showed you wrong long since. People can believe the most ridiculous things unashamedly! Or look at yourself, you weren’t afraid of walking the fallacy of poisoning the well around right there, were you?

      • Bea
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Physics is the study and [mental] modeling of the [apparent] physical world… physics does not study or describe consciousness, not even how consciousness interacts with the physical world (well, maybe just a little, but not in a way you’d like).

        Picture this: a mental mind circumscribing a subset of its mental contents as real and causal (just the stuff that qualifies as physical)… and claiming that mental stuff is never real or causal (not minds, not ideas, not curiosity, not imagination, not beliefs, not perceptions, not conceptions, not logic, not desire, etc.).

        These mental things do not qualify as physical. Neural activity does. We can all tell the difference. They DO correlate… DURING life in the body… and we take careful notes on how intimately they correlate (neuroscience).

        We’re all human. If you wish to accuse others of believing something only because it comforts them (poisoning that well), you also need to consider a wide variety of possible motivations behind your own beliefs.

        • Posted May 8, 2014 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

          “These mental things do not qualify as physical. Neural activity does. We can all tell the difference.”

          OK, then: What is the difference?

          Once again, you make this assertion that mind is something other than neural activity without elucidating just what that difference is. You’re making the same intuitive but unsubstantiated leap as those who believed in an élan vital, per Steve Novella’s closing comments.

          /@

        • Posted May 9, 2014 at 12:23 am | Permalink

          Also: “physics does not study or describe consciousness, not even how consciousness interacts with the physical world”

          But, as Torbjörn noted above, physics tells us very clearly that consciousness must interact with [the rest of] the physical world via known physical forces (really only strong and electroweak, since gravity is feeble). See Sean’s talk at Skepticon 5. If you continue to assert that consciousness/mind is non-physical you must explain how it can interact with our physical brains in a way that is consistent with SM physics and experimental results from the LHC &c. (Hint: This is not logically possible.)

          /@

    • eric
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      you cannot logically look at physical stuff and expect it to tell you what minds may or may not experience beyond interacting with this particular realm of physical stuff.

      This is circular; you are asserting the very point spiritualists are trying to prove.

      Science says that no matter what the input (eyes, ears, or hypothetical spirit), that input would have to be translated into neurological activity for you to experience it (and also remember it later). No translation = no experience. Cut the links between eye and brain, and you don’t see – similarly, if there’s no link between spirit and brain, you can’t experience “spiritual events.” Now folk like Alexandar claim this is wrong; they claimed to have had experiences when they had no neourological activity. Your quote above is just a form of re-asserting their claim; it assumes their model is correct. You can’t do that and have a viable argument; for the spiritualist argument to win, they’re going to have to come up with independent objective evidence that backs up the claim that looking at ‘physical stuff’ provides only an incomplete pictture of what minds experience.

      • Bea
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        You seem to be saying it’s circular to NOT make physicalist assumptions. But here we’re talking about assumptions versus experiences…

        Test this: “I believe that only physical stuff is real and causal. Therefore, any experiences that seem to go beyond physical stuff cannot be real and/or causal (so we shall summarily dismiss them as illusory and/or bogus). Only illusory and/or bogus experiences seem to go beyond physical stuff. This further demonstrates that only physical stuff is real and causal.”

        Physical sciences describe physical entities and events. Mind/spirit is by definition mental/nonphysical. Do you see the problem with insisting that physical stuff somehow tells us what minds might experience apart from physical stuff?

        • Posted May 8, 2014 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

          “”

          By whose definition? Not NOAD’s:

          mind |mīnd|
          noun
          1 the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought

          (Quite apart from your attempt to conflate mind with “spirit”, whatever the hell that is.)

          /@

          • Posted May 8, 2014 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

            * oops : “” → “Mind/spirit is by definition mental/nonphysical.”

        • Bea
          Posted May 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          Ant,
          Once more, with feeling… physical stuff can be described in terms of mass/charge/spin/space/time (this includes brains and neural activity). Describers of such will be mental minds.

          If/when you fully describe neural activity in electrochemical terms… would that SAME description also be fully describing mind and mental experience and abstractions?

          If it did, what on earth would neuroscientists be busily noting correlations between?

          You don’t actually simplify anything by pretending it’s simpler than it actually is. Sounds to me like, “Okay let’s think of everything (including thinkers) as ultimately physical, cuz that will make it all seem so neat and tidy and safe and predictable. Matter is such nice simple obedient observable stuff…”

          No Ant,
          I’ve studied my share of physics, and it most definitely does not “tell us” that consciousness must interact with the physical world via known physical forces. Only believers in physicalism “tell us” that, and they base it upon their assumption that only physical stuff is real and causal.

          Which ought to make them wonder how minds and ideas and logic can be the drivers of so many human activities (including arguments exchanged over the internet, and oh so much more).

          Hint: We’re going to have to acknowledge the ubiquitous role of mentality within any known or knowable reality, either from the bottom up or the top down… I won’t really mind which.

          The dictionary? Okey-dokey. “Mental” means “of or relating to the mind” (OED)… and “mental” and “physical” are antonyms. But I think you already knew that. As to the meaning of “spirit”… I suspect that’s just a term that people use to refer to mind/awareness in a larger, less necessarily embodied sense.

          I apologize for having chased you so far down this …er… rabbit hole. No harm intended. I think you know the feeling.

          • Posted May 10, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

            I’ve studied my share of physics, and it most definitely does not “tell us” that consciousness must interact with the physical world via known physical forces.

            Whatever you’ve studied, it most emphatically has not been physics.

            I know I’ve posted this before. But now I also know that you’ve either not read it, or not understood it:

            http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

            If you wish to continue this discussion, please identify the mechanism by which consciousness triggers an electrochemical signal in the nervous system that is not already accounted for by known physics. That, or identify the gap in our understanding which does not account for such.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted May 10, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

              +1

            • Bea
              Posted May 11, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

              Ben,
              The gap in your understanding on this [figurative] matter does not lie within physics. Neither do explanations of the ultimate nature of mind… that’s not what we study in physics (and Sean surely knows this).

              And his article does not mean what you think it means. It simply points out that our current scientific mental models do very well at explaining and predicting the behavior of physical stuff. As they should, since they were built from mental observations of the behavior of physical stuff. Nothing less… and nothing more.

              Your “mental” mind seems unable to comprehend how anything could possibly exist if it does not qualify as “physical.” Ironic, that.

              It’s an example of circling within a set of unnecessary beliefs/assumptions. Within other belief systems, people might be arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin… and I might be similarly perplexed about how to kindly convey to them that they have a more basic problem.
              ____________________

              You envision the set of “all that exists” and (for some reason), you define it as completely physical. When someone points out the nonphysical/mental nature of mind, you react by saying that it MUST be somehow physical (else illusory)… because “all that exists” is defined as physical (closing that loop with conviction).

              Some of the major problems with this case of circular thinking:

              1) The mind does not qualify as physical (I’ve repeatedly explained the simplest qualifications/terms used in physics). Mind thus qualifies as nonphysical. It also definitively qualifies as “mental” (see OED), and as an antonym of “physical.”

              2) Mind and “mental activity” (and countless abstractions, including destructive religious beliefs) purposefully and meaningfully affect the material world, most intensely at the mind/brain nexus (during life in the body). Even/especially in science, we have to start with the facts of “what is”… not with “what would seem so much simpler to analyze.”

              It is more ontologically coherent to simply acknowledge that the set of “all that exists” includes both the [apparent] nature of physical stuff AND the [experienced] nature of mental awareness/mind/consciousness (even spirit, if you don’t fear the word) to which physical stuff can be apparent.

              To do so does not affect our “sciences of physical stuff” one iota. It’s all still in there, just the same, no less explanatory, predictive, and useful than it ever was. (Physical stuff just happens to behave with useful predictability, and it actually remains a purely philosophical, metaphysical question as to WHY.)
              _____________________

              I’m neither confused nor uneducated (about either physics or neuroscience), but I am sincere in my wish to help you see around the edges of your current beliefs. Not sure if my words are helping at all… but it has been fun trying (to a point).

              • Posted May 11, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                Bea, you’ve yet to even pretend to address the question of how a non-physical mind is supposed to interact with a physical body without violating conservation of energy. And, I’m sorry, but I have a hard time taking seriously anybody who both claims extensive knowledge of physics and who shows literally zero concern for introductory-level thermodynamics.

                One more try.

                When your finger moves, it’s only ever in response to electrochemical nerve impulses. If the mind is responsible for your finger moving, how does the mind create those electrochemical nerve impulses that cause your finger to move?

                You really don’t need to address anything else if you want to convince me. Nothing about the metaphysical limitations of science, nothing about your delineations between physical and mental, none of that.

                Just tell me how the non-physical mind is supposed to trigger the electrochemical nerve impulses that control your body.

                That’s all.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 11, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been lurking on this interesting exchange and I simply cannot understand how order (as a function of mind) can come without an expenditure of energy. I’m no physicist but I think that Ben Goren’s analogy of a perpetual motion machine is appropo. Where does this lack of entropy come from?

              • Bea
                Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

                Hi Ben,
                I’ve addressed the question by attempting (poorly, it seems) to help you see why the question is moot.

                Why would you expect nonphysical mind to obey the [descriptive] “laws” we humans have discerned regarding the behavior of physical stuff? (particularly, nonliving physical stuff) Physics (including thermodynamics) is rooted in and applies to physical stuff. This fact (sans extrapolations based upon metaphysical beliefs) should not be overlooked.

                You might just as easily explain to me, Ben, exactly how minds interact with [apparent] physical stuff. We simply know that they do, based on our only source of knowledge about anything, experience. Simply put, mind and matter interplay during life in the body. Mysteries remain (regarding reality writ large).

                Actually, the only reason you find that particular question so challenging/daunting is because you are holding the belief that “only physical stuff is real and causal.” Otherwise, you’d be able to say, “We shall see [how different aspects of reality interact].”

                After all, “We shall see” is your answer to the even more challenging question entailed by your chosen belief/assumption. Question: “Why and how does seemingly mechanistic physical stuff ‘create’ aware, purposeful, imaginative and creative mind(s)?” Answer: “We shall see.”

                Even though it remains a mystery to itself, the nature of consciousness/mind is different than the nature of physical stuff (for example, it is the creator of science, not the object of science… it’s the observer, not the observed… it’s the imaginer of leprechauns, not an imaginary leprechaun). I am among those who see no reason to leave the nature of mentality out of our descriptions of reality (a false simplicity is not really any simpler at all).

              • Posted May 13, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

                Why would you expect nonphysical mind to obey the [descriptive] “laws” we humans have discerned regarding the behavior of physical stuff?

                Quite simply, because minds interact with physical stuff, and we’ve completely accounted for everything that does or possibly could interact with physical stuff…and all that is physical stuff, as well.

                It’s not an a priori presumption; it’s a conclusion based on centuries of scientific observation. As I noted, we know that when you move your finger, your finger moves because of electrochemical impulses in your nerves, and that traces all the way back to electrochemical impulses in the brain, and that those electrochemical impulses are sufficient and complete to explain the process.

                Worse, if there’s something non-physical that starts that very first electrochemical impulse, then, quite literally, everything we think we know about physics is horridly, irrecoverably worng.

                You might just as easily explain to me, Ben, exactly how minds interact with [apparent] physical stuff.

                Oh, that’s trivial and obvious. Minds are nothing more nor less than the computational activities of brains. Just as a series of electrical impulses in a silicon chip start a cascade of events that causes the autopilot to increase the throttle of the airliner when it determines that it’s coming in a bit short of the runway, a very analogous process happens in the brain of the pilot who does the landing without the autopilot engaged.

                Human brains are much more complex than computers, so it should be no surprise that our inner thoughts are that much more rich and sophisticated, but it’s all the same thing.

                Let me try a different variation on the theme.

                Worms have very rudimentary nervous systems, but we and they trace our nervous systems back to a common ancestor. Do worms have non-physical minds that somehow control their nervous systems analogously to the way that you propose that human minds control human nervous systems? If not, where in evolutionary history did the non-physical mind develop?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 14, 2014 at 1:59 am | Permalink

                @ Bea

                “Physics (including thermodynamics) is rooted in and applies to physical stuff.”

                Exactly. And the fact that the laws of thermondynmics are as they are tells us that nothing non-physical ever interacts with (i.e., imparts energy to) anything physical.

                You might say our “physicalist” assumptions about energy don’t apply to non-physical things. Well, fine. But that’s entirely beside the point. We do know – very pricisely – how physical things behave.

                To Ben’s point about earthworms and automatic pilots, you should read Alex Rosenberg’s An Atheist’s Guide to Reality for the chapters on the mind (at least).

                /@ / Warszawa

              • Posted May 14, 2014 at 2:05 am | Permalink

                * precisely (& close tag fail! Ho hum.)

                PS. “consciousness/mind … is the creator of science, not the object of science” — Well, of course it is the object of science! Else what are all those scientists studying consciousness/mind doing?

  17. alexandra
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Did anyone say, I had to leave the debate, that none of the people who claim to have met heaven or pink unicorns after death didn’t die? Their heart may have stopped, they may have had trauma etc but they did not die so how can anyone claim to have met heaven after death.
    Talk about woo squared –
    Is it available on YouTube or somewhere now?
    Though watching is bad for blood pressure.

  18. Joe
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Here is the link if anyone missed it. http://youtu.be/lzCYva2aYCo

    • Posted May 8, 2014 at 3:20 am | Permalink

      Hmm… your links was posted earlier than mine, but mysteriously appeared just now… and has been shuffled into the right place. Spooky!

      /@

  19. Posted May 8, 2014 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Full video on YouTube.

    /@

    • Posted May 8, 2014 at 2:45 am | Permalink

      So a clear win for Sean and Steve, but damn, the vote was still stupidly close.

      /@

  20. Thomas Byrne
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    Here’s the quote from Carl Sagan on page 302.

    “At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any way other than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might be true.”

    I actually came across someone using this exact quote on Rational Skepticism forum only a couple of weeks ago for the same argument. He got the quote from Psychic Forums. On Psychic Forums it was originally quoted without the last line as a quote mine and they were pulled on it. It seems to be something people into that sort of thing bandy about, like creationists with Darwin’s ‘eye’ quote.

  21. ltunmer
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    One of Sean’s comments was a real zinger when asked why some people attempt to put consciousness into Quantum Mechanics, and he quotes MIT physicist Scott Aaronson: “QM is confusing. Consciousness is confusing. So maybe they are the same?” It got a good laugh.

    That basically undermines the arguments for NDE and most of Deepak-woo in one humorous observation.

    • Bea
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Actually, if consciousness can/does exist in realms of experience beyond this particular “physical” realm… the question of “how” is likely to be immaterial.

      We shall see.

      • Posted May 9, 2014 at 4:18 am | Permalink

        But consciousness clearly does exist in “this particular ‘physical’ realm” … wherever else it exists … so “the question of ‘how’” is very material (in multiple senses!).

        /@

  22. Posted May 8, 2014 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Excellent performances from Carroll and Novella.

    It’s curious watching this because it seems obvious by his answers that at some level Dr Alexander does understand that his argument doesn’t work, and yet he is impelled (no free will, I guess!) to obfuscate. Raymond Moody seems quite up front that he is simply operating on a conceptual level; Descartes tried that and his argument from conception to reality has been widely rejected, so this tack seems odd.

    Now, being charitable, we all do obfuscate a little, I think, when we are struggling to justify some of our beliefs, since some of them are necessarily poorly supported – we are not omniscient after all. Carroll and Novella concede we don’t know how consciousness is created exactly, so I guess people like Moody and Alexander see some kind of equivalence in that honest expression of ignorance and their avoidance of the most damning objection to their position; that ndes are plausibly natural phenomena.

    I wonder about the 42% who voted for the motion, and I can only surmise that their prior beliefs are overwhelming. If you really think the natural world is not all there is then you really do not recognise the presumption of natural regularity which Carroll pushed; an argument which stretches back to Hume that I think is hard to refute. That argument does not say that the natural world is all that there is, but that any evidence against natural laws would have to be pretty special to be believed. Sadly for the pros, heartfelt stories from valued and respected witnesses does not come close to the required level of evidence.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      “Carroll and Novella concede we don’t know how consciousness is created exactly”.

      Possibly they aren’t aware of Graziano’s biologically founded model (I know I wasn’t), which is claimed to be “the first theory that I know of to take both the easy and the hard problems [of consciousness] head on”; “a plausible solution—his theory—exists that does not appeal to magic or mysterious, as-yet-unexplained phenomena.”

      It is not a complete (“exactly”) or even well tested theory, I guess. But it is, like plausible abiogenesis theories, enough to say that we don’t need magic or are completely lost with or without magic.

    • Kurt Helf
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I assume you’re not referring to Eben Alexander as being one of the “valued and respected witnesses”?
      http://www.esquire.com/features/the-prophet

      • Chris
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        Or “profit”, even.


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