Thursday, May 31, 2007

Scientific tactics

Inspired by Paul's post below I started listening to the other Beyond Belief lectures which are actually quite good so long as you ignore the crazy quantum-consciousness people who always seem to be able to trick their way into these kinds of events.

Lawrence Krauss gives a talk in the first webisode where he articulates a common argument that in the debate between science and religion which faults scientists for being too "hoity-toity". His argument is basically that accusing people of being dumb is no way to convince them of your position.

On one level this is an intuitive argument. However, I think it's useful for scientists to observe the tactics being used by the other side. Put simply, the other side has no problem with accusing people of being dumb. Nothing is more condescending than being told that you will burn in hell for all eternity because you don't agree with me. And more specifically the argument that ties religiosity to morality is very common.

I suppose the fact that the religious side of the debate doesn't really address the question of whether they are effective, but it is instructive. More broadly, I think scientists have to take a wider view of why people take on religious beliefs (focusing specifically on how people come to believe things which impede science) and try to emulate the best parts. There's a whole lot of social programs used to sell religion that could just as easily be used to sell science.


Paul said...

I'm curious: if consciousness is an emergent property of some physical phenomenon, why can't that phenomenon be quantum?

Tommaso Sciortino said...

You're right. It *may* be neccessary to resort to quantum mechanics to explain consciousness fully. But there are strong reasons to believe that it might not be necessary at all.

The real issue is that there's a large contingent out there that seems to believe that regular physics is incapable of accounting for consciousness and that the quantum effects are necessary to explaining things like free-will and subjectivity. In fact, the real problem is that those people have accepted concepts like "free-will" on "subjectivity". Had they avoided those mistakes they wouldn't find themselves retreating to the edge of the unknown in order to defend them.

Paul said...

Going back to comments you were making in another thread recently, I don't see what sense to make of your claim that thought consist of things like an "inner monologue" or predictions of various kinds if those constituents can't have any subjective qualities.

It also hasn't been my experience that most accounts of consciousness have anything to do with free will. Certainly, the topics are only related tangentially to one-another, and just to the extent that we are often conscious of what we take to be freedom. But I'm often conscious of pizza, and I don't take that to mean that consciousness and pizza are closely related subjects.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Fair enough. I guess what I'm saying is that a lot of people resort to Quantum Mechanics as low-grade god of the gaps. They use our lack of knowledge in that area to defend existing philosophical concepts instead of using science to motivate reformulating philosophical concepts.

Ergo we have a lecturer hoping that Quantum Mechanics can "save the soul" (even if he means it facetiously) when really all he's hoping is that our lack of knowledge in that area will allow him to continue to entertain notions about consciousness which are personally appealing to him but which he cannot prove.

Even worse there are a great many people who hold false beliefs about quantum mechanics and the role of "observation" in wave form collapse to support the notions that "quantum mechanics proves that consciousness exists and is scientifically verifiable".