Sep 23 2009

The Next Great Awakening, Part 10: Your brain is not a computer, and your mind is not your brain

Category: philosophy,religion,scienceharmonicminer @ 9:48 am

The previous post in this series is here.

In a very interesting interview on the unlikelihood that Sci-Fi style artificial intelligence (AI) is coming soon, or even possible, computer scientist Noel Sharkey says why he thinks that AI is a dangerous dream –

I’m an empirical kind of guy, and there is just no evidence of an artificial toehold in sentience. It is often forgotten that the idea of mind or brain as computational is merely an assumption, not a truth. When I point this out to “believers” in the computational theory of mind, some of their arguments are almost religious. They say, “What else could there be? Do you think mind is supernatural?” But accepting mind as a physical entity does not tell us what kind of physical entity it is. It could be a physical system that cannot be recreated by a computer.

Of course, materialists have a very hard time accepting that anything of non-material nature exists, anything that is not some mere arrangement of matter and energy, space and time.  What the materialist approach fails to explain is that this theory is itself a non-material thing.   What is the materialist nature of an idea?   Calling it a mere brain state, even a brain state that is shared by others, forces us into the notion that a “brain state” is about something.  Yet the materialists have mostly asserted that what we call consciousness is mere “noise in the system.”  How to account for “brain states” that are about other “brain states” which are attempts to account for the existence of other “brain states”?  One is tempted to take seriously the idea that the minds of materialists are just “noise in the system.”

In his book, The Spiritual Brain, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard adduces the evidence for a non-material mind that is related to but independent of the physical brain.

In the book, Beauregard makes short work of claims of a “God gene” or a “God spot” in the brain, something that would provide a false sense of transcendental experience that could be falsely attributed to God by the gullible.  He asks some very interesting questions about the placebo effect, and what that effect suggests about the relationships of mind, brain and body.  His discussion of the small but persistently measurable PSI effect is very interesting, and refreshing to read from a scientist.  Especially interesting is the discussion about the implications of psycho-therapeutic models that involve teaching people to think different ways, essentially using “mind” to affect “brain,” producing measurable physical effects by changing ideas held by a person.  Beauregard’s work in using functional MRI to study the brains of meditating Carmelite nuns is very interesting, and well worth reading.
You may have the impression that someday science will explain the mind in physical terms.  This is certainly the notion that materialist neuroscientists would like to create in the public mind.
The problem, of course, is that a promise of future theoretical success is a non-material idea flowing from a non-material motivation to defend a non-material perspective about the nature of things.  It seems an impossible task.
Think of it as analogous to trying to write an essay on the topic, “Why there is no such thing as an essay.”  (Coming up next:  “Why there is no such thing as a question….  or an answer.”)
The amazing thing about the human mind is not that it has a non-material aspect.  It is that it has a physical aspect.  After all, the human mind is an echo of the non-material Mind behind everything.  Of course it has a non-material aspect.  The amazing thing is that the Creator made a unique integration of mind, brain and body, one that seems to have been designed specifically to allow free moral choice in a physical universe that is of non-physical origin, one characterized as much by quantum uncertainty as by obvious cause and effect relationships.
The next post in this series is here.

Sep 22 2009

Evangelical Catholics?

Category: religion,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:24 am

If you have a short attention span, or are easily bored, don’t bother to click the link below, but if you’re interested in hearing two brilliant people discuss the “state of play” between evangelicals and Catholics, you will find this discussion between Francis Beckwith and Timothy George to be completely fascinating.

Sep 21 2009

World unity, almost

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:36 am

It seems that there IS an area on which nearly everyone in the world agrees….  if you believe the UN, anyway.

The “Goldstone report” by the UN on the recent Israel/Hamas conflict is out.

Predictably, it condemns Israel more or less unconditionally, while using relatively tepid, conditional language to describe Hamas’ role in the run-up to it, and during it.

Here are two takes on it.  From the Arab News Blog, and from Joel Mowbray at

Just a reminder:  Israel is always a bigger target for UN “human rights” activists than any other nation, including North Korea, China, the Sudan, etc.  There is more unanimity on the “evil Israel” at the UN than there is on any other issue.

Sep 19 2009

Can we win in Afghanistan?

Category: Afghanistanharmonicminer @ 8:32 pm

A couple of weeks ago, George Will opined that it is time to get out of Afghanistan.

Here is yet another response, from a man who knows a great deal about the history of the region, Michael Brandon McClellan, guest posting on the blog of Steven Pressfield, another expert on the region.

The correct questions to ask are these:

If we leave Afghanistan before it is reasonably stable, with a not-completely-corrupt government, what will happen next?  Who will move into the power vacuum?  What will be their motivations?  Will Afghanistan be used again as a staging and training area for terrorists acts against the West, and the US in particular?   What can we expect to be the opinion of those whom we want to believe that we keep our promises, and carry out military actions we’ve begun?  What will Joe Jihadi think about the resolve of the West, and the US in particular?

It’s expensive for the US to be in Afghanistan.  It costs some US lives.  It gets harder and harder to sell back home, where the Sept. 10, 2001 mindset is on full display, and spreading fast.  But the alternative is not peace and joy in the middle east, and a USA that is left unmolested by terrorists.  There are forces at work in this who take a LONG view, and are willing to plan attacks on the US, or US interests and allies, attacks that may not happen for a decade, but are made possible by a US withdrawal after we’ve failed to end significant Taliban and Al Qaeda influence in Afghanistan.  And, of course, Pakistan’s nuclear arms are much less of a threat to the world if they are in the hands of a Pakistan government that is not constantly challenged by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Pakistan’s stability is undermined by an unstable Afghanistan.

It is not good to be there.  But it’s probably far worse to leave before it’s done.  In the nature of things, this cannot be absolutely proved, and even if and when it works, there will be those who insist it wasn’t necessary.  Of course, there are those who insist to this day that the US should have stayed out of WW II.

Which proves that hindsight ISN’T always 20/20, let alone foresight.

Sometimes you just have to muddle through and do your best, and not quit because things get hard.

UPDATE:  George Will has posted another column, this one comparing the difficulty of creating a stable regime in Bosnia to doing the same for Afghanistan.   He may be right.  If he is, perhaps we should immediately withdraw our resources from Bosnia, and put it all in Afghanistan.

It’s those Pakistani nukes.  It’s those guys who intend to kill as many of us as they can, when they can.  Bosnia is no particular danger to us… yet, anyway.  I suppose that some Islamist crazies there could also be plotting revenge on the US, for saving Muslims from the Serbs, after the manner of Saudi anger at the US for saving Saudi Arabia from Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War.  But we know, for a fact, what the intentions of the Taliban and Al Qaeda are.  And we can be pretty sure of the outcome if they ever succeed in destabilizing Pakistan enough to get their hands on those nukes.

It seems to me that Will is correct in pointing out the difficulties, but that his solution (pull out, hope, and bomb occasionally) is just feckless.  We already know where that leads.

Sep 18 2009

“Earthlike” planet found?

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:18 am

Astronomers are saying they’ve found an “earthlike” planet about 500 light years from earth. It is, however, very, very hot.

So close that its surface temperature is more than 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, too toasty to sustain life. It circles its star in just 20 hours, zipping around at 466,000 mph. By comparison, Mercury, the planet nearest our sun, completes its solar orbit in 88 days.

What can it mean to call this planet “earthlike”?  I dunno…  but the astronomer who said it’s just “a bit” too close to its star is the very master of understatement.   The surface temperature is somewhere between the melting point and the boiling point of *iron*.   It’s hotter than the inside of a jet engine, so much so that any engine reaching such temperatures would probably just melt.

I do think, however, that we probably have scriptural mentions of this planet.  Dante appears to have made the same observations.

Celebration that we’ve finally found an “earthlike” planet might be a touch premature.

Sep 17 2009

The boy who cried, “Wolf!” er… I mean, “You’re a racist!”

Category: racismamuzikman @ 1:25 am

“I thought Michael Jordon using his Basketball Hall Of Fame induction speech to settle some old scores was embarrassing and demeaning, both to him and to the game of basketball.

Does that make me a racist?

I thought Serena Williams recent on-court outburst at the U.S. Open tennis match was shameful and humiliating.

Does that make me a racist?

I thought Kanye West’s unscripted drunken antics on stage at the MTV awards was repugnant and offensive.

Does that make me a racist?

I thought Van Jones history and recent inflammatory comments were an embarrassment to the Obama Administration.

Does that make me a racist?

I thought California State Assemblyman Mike Duvall’s recently recorded comments concerning the sordid details of his sexual affairs was pure filth, the speech of a hypocrite.

Does that make me – Oh, wait…Duvall is white.  That’s different…or is it?

An ever increasing number of United States citizens are discovering they disagree with President Obama over several very significant issues: federal spending, cap and trade, and  government-sponsored health care to name a few.  Are all of these citizens racists?  According to a recent chorus of mainstream media and administration voices the answer is, “yes.   In some yet-to-be-explained fashion we have revealed our ugly racist nature because we dare to speak in opposition to this President and his policies. Have we arrived at a place where the mere appearance of disagreement will trigger the dreaded “racism” accusation?  Do those who hurl such accusations really believe we are witnessing a racism renaissance because Obama is president, or has it simply  become an expedient and admittedly effective way of shutting up the opposition.  After all, no one wants to be labeled as racist, and there are many who will simply refrain from speaking rather that have to defend themselves in a public forum.

So what are we to say or do? Are certain races exempt from criticism ? Are there those among us who are above reproach by merit of their skin color?  This country has made perhaps it’s most significant statement about how far we have moved away from racism by electing a black President.  But then must we march in lockstep daily with everything Obama has proposed for fear of “backsliding” into our racist past?

And if every word and deed is racist, then nothing is racist and the term itself has no meaning. If everything is an expression of racism then there is no possible contrast with that which is not racist. Just like the Aesop fable about the boy who cried “wolf”, with each repetition of the accusation, the issue becomes increasingly diluted and we all sink back into a sort of racial ennui.  In the story, when the real wolf came no one paid any attention to the warning cry, they had heard it so many times before.  In our world the ability to recognize and deal with real racism will be equally hobbled because we have heard the accusation hurled so many times it will have ceased to hold any meaning.

Sep 16 2009

Genes are destiny

Category: philosophy,religion,scienceharmonicminer @ 8:58 am

Sep 15 2009

The Galactic Food Chain

Category: humorharmonicminer @ 9:34 am

It appears that our sister galaxy, Andromeda, has been eating the Local Group out of house and and home.

Our nearest major galactic neighbor is a cosmic cannibal. And it’s heading this way eventually. Astronomers have long suspected Andromeda of being a space predator, consuming dwarf galaxies that wander too close. Now, cosmic detectives are doing a massive search of the neighborhood and have found proof of Andromeda’s sordid past: They’ve spotted leftovers in Andromeda’s wake.

Early results of a massive telescope scan of Andromeda and its surroundings found about half a dozen remnants of Andromeda’s galactic appetite. Stars and dwarf galaxies that got too close to Andromeda were ripped from their usual surroundings.

“What we’re seeing right now are the signs of cannibalism,” said study lead author Alan McConnachie of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, British Columbia. “We’re finding things that have been destroyed … partly digested remains.”

Maybe, by the time Andromeda shows up at the Milky Way’s doorstep for dinner, the Solar System will have managed to sneak out for a smoke or something, and can stay off the menu.

Maybe we can get Al Gore to establish a NASA study group to figure out what capitalism has been doing wrong that has left Andromeda so hungry.

Sep 14 2009

911 memorial at Azusa Pacific University

Category: government,media,society,terrorismharmonicminer @ 11:30 am

This is the flag memorial put up by a small group of students, funded by a small group of faculty and students, on the campus of Azusa Pacific University, to commemorate the murdered on September 11, 2001, by placing a flag for each murdered person.  These few proactive students are to be commended, for bothering to do something public about the memorial.

When you remember these events, and when you talk about them with other people, remember that who did the killing, and why, is an essential part of the memorial.

It makes no sense to remember “the dead” of 9/11, or “the circumstances of 9/11″ without also discussing who killed them, and exactly who caused those circumstances to come about. Is it possible to have any kind of reasonable memorial of Pearl Harbor and Dec. 7, 1941, without mentioning Japan, emperor worship, and Japanese imperialism?

About the same number of people died in auto accidents in the USA in that same month.  Because the Islamic terrorist attack was an act of war,  and not merely because a few thousand people died, we said, “We will never forget.”  But, of course, most of us have.

So, in case you haven’t considered it lately, because of all the obfuscation of the major media and our politicians:

1) About 3000 innocent Americans were murdered on Sept. 11, 2001.  The American flags are the correct memorial symbol, because the dead were murdered for being Americans.

2) The killers were Muslims who believed that Allah and his designated representatives had given them both permission and instructions to do this murder. In doing it, they quoted the Koran, and the facts of Mohammed’s life that seemed to them to be both justification for and precursors of their acts.  They believed that there are no “innocent people” in the West, particularly America, and that all civilians were legitimate targets, regardless of age, gender, or occupation.  They didn’t particularly care exactly who they killed, as long as the dead were mostly Americans.  The simultaneous destruction of symbols of American power and success was especially sweet to them.

3) Large parts of the Muslim world were thrilled. Some parts of it yawned. Almost none of it was particularly distressed.

4) The Islamic forces in the world who funded the indoctrination of these killers are still in full operation, with no sign of reducing their activities. They are teaching exactly the same brand of hate around the world, including in the USA.   Saudi Arabia is the biggest funding source for the teaching of hatred world-wide.  The Saudi government denies official complicity with this, but doesn’t take the steps necessary to end it.  In the meantime, the Saudis simply own, outright, enormous numbers of American politicians, former politicians (including presidents!), lobbyists, former bureaucrats, academic departments in universities, think tanks, etc., not to mention the majority of American mosques that are funded by the Saudis.  If you’re interested, Iran is number two in funding world wide hatred for the West, possibly because it’s spending a lot of its money on developing nuclear weapons.  Between the two of them, despite their putative differences over the Sunni/Shia divide, they make a powerful tag team, the Saudis funding mostly propaganda and “soft power,” and Iran distributing weapons to anyone who will kill Americans or their allies.

5) The war with radical Islam is nowhere near over. Make no mistake: it IS a war, though it is of a new type, and harder to fight than some have been in the past.  It is not a failure to communicate.  Many Americans have largely forgotten that fact.  Our enemies have not.

Sadly, the American public will be reminded. It’s only a matter of time. When that reminder comes, huge numbers of Americans are going to forget their own foolishness, and in looking for someone (else) to blame, they are going to zero in on the government and the media for their failures to think farther ahead than the next election or ratings season.

I often suspect that, as time goes by, George Bush is going to be given very mixed reviews for his presidency, in particular for his prosecution of the war with radical Islam.

The reviews will be mixed because, by then, he is likely to be seen as not having gone far enough in defending America from its radical Islamist enemies, and their enablers.

But even when America finally wakes up, the dead will still be dead.

Do I sound too pessimistic, too doom obsessed?

That’s exactly what some people were saying about those who were predicting such things on Sept 10, 2001.

What has changed since then that would make anyone think it won’t happen again?

Too many of us talk about it as if a tornado just happened to come through New York and take the towers down, as if it were an “act of God.”

Of course, some parties to the day’s events saw it that way, too.

Sep 13 2009

Anti-Semitism at UC Irvine

Category: higher education,Israelharmonicminer @ 9:21 am

Vicious Jew-Hatred Wins Center Stage at UC Irvine

To see a firsthand example of Islamic fundamentalist anti-Semitism, you need look no further than the University of California, Irvine.The campus’ Muslim Student Union is nationally infamous for their annual anti-Israel week (which they unsuccessfully christen “Palestine Awareness” week) and for the vitriolic anti-Semitic language of some of their speakers.

This comes as no surprise, of course. In most modern universities, disdain for Israel is more or less de rigueur. Israel is routinely compared to apartheid South Africa, deemed racist (with UN connivance, of course, at “human rights” conferences dominated by Islamist nations), and even compared to Nazi Germany.

When will anti-Semitism show up as a topic during “Justice Week” at a university near you? Probably not anytime soon, because injustices done to Jews or Israelis appear to be “stealthed,” and just don’t show up on the academic radar.

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