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Intelligent Design: Is it “Intelligent?”

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My parents had me late in life — my mom was 42, and I was their only child. My dad taught me to read at an early age, and I devoured every book I could get my hands on.

Most of my cousins were five to ten plus years older than me, and I inherited a lot of their hand-me-down books. This was fine with me as well as my parents — save for one book that my dad took great offense to.

It was a picture book about dinosaurs. I’ll never forget one illustration of a drop in a bucket, representing the miniscule amount of time humans have lived on this earth compared to the reign of the dinosaurs before us.

My parents had a big argument when my father wanted to throw the book away. My dad was something of a “closet” fundamentalist — he was from Arkansas, and had quiet beliefs, but they were deep-rooted. He didn’t attend church and I never saw him pray, but he was adamant about this matter. At the time, I was too young to understand what the argument entailed, and I don’t know in retrospect that I really grasped the whole dinosaur thing at the time. The phrase “intelligent design” had not been coined yet — but today, people argue just as fervently about the issue as my parents did.

Nevertheless, my dad was not completely inflexible. He believed Christmas was a "pagan holiday," but he didn't disabuse me of the notion of Santa and Christmas presents. When the now "extinct" Esso gas stations came out with a blow-up dinosaur that was bigger than I was, he bought one for me which I cherished for years to come. Go figure.

Truth be told, it’s hard to reconcile organized Western belief systems with the view that we are just a blip in the universe. It’s rough on the ego to think we are so “insignificant” — and it contradicts what many of us were taught as children. And for those who believe the Bible is literal gospel, it is well nigh impossible to look at current scientific fact — at least as we know it — objectively.

My boyfriend BG was brought up Catholic, and his mom is devout past the point of reason (at least to most observers). BG and his siblings don’t subscribe to her extreme viewpoints, but despite his more rational intentions, a lot of what BG was taught as a child still colors his beliefs — especially about the "afterlife." Part of him still seems to see G-d as an old white guy with a big beard sending down lightning bolts from the sky. Heaven and hell were very real concepts to him as a child — and they still hold sway over him.

Being a painter, one of BG’s biggest influences is Francis Bacon, a 20th century British artist whose bizarre but still “representational” art flew in the face of the American craze at the time for all things abstract. Being in the enviable position of achieving fame and fortune during his lifetime, Bacon lived large. Although he said that he was “optimistic about nothing,” he emphatically and unapologetically believed that there was nothing after death.

BG has a hard time wrapping his mind around that concept. After all, if that’s true, what’s the point of our lives? The thought that we vanish into nothingness after a mere 70-odd years is not a comforting thought to him — or to most people.

Knowing just a smidge of non-Western philosophies — and somewhat more about astrology — I’ve often debated with him that even if we cease to exist after death, we do live on in a metaphysical sense; if we have children, help others in ways large or small, or create a great work of art, we are “immortal.” If in our short lifespan we’ve tried to leave the world a little better than we found it, we are still “here” long after we’re “gone.”

Has John Lennon’s assassination meant that he is no longer “exists?” Quite the contrary; he (or his “spirit,” if one prefers) is still very much with us whenever we hear a Beatles or Lennon song, even for those who were born after his death. Musicians who were influenced by him keep him alive as well by indirectly carrying on his incredible legacy. The remaining Beatles even brought his “ghost” back by “accompanying” him on unreleased compositions he wrote like “Free as a Bird.” And when BG and I gaze at a Bacon painting in the Museum of Modern Art, his presence and energy are still palpable.

As a Jew (since my mother was Jewish, I’m considered Jewish too by my people), I prefer to concentrate on good deeds (mitzvahs) while I’m here. Jews have a complex philosophy and belief system, but there is little talk of the afterlife, and the concept of “hell” is not really a Jewish thing. But for all that, “believing” Jews are adamant about the continual presence of G-d in their lives, while many secular Jews still carry on the philosophical underpinnings of an avid love of learning and questioning which produced such ground breakers as Freud, Marx, and Einstein.

But what brought this all to mind yet again was a new research finding claiming that “a collision 160 million years ago of two asteroids orbiting between Mars and Jupiter sent many big rock chunks hurtling toward Earth, including the one that zapped the dinosaurs.” Moreover, it is estimated that the dinosaurs themselves existed for about 165 million years before they became extinct due to this cataclysmic event.

William Bottke of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, one of the researchers, is quoted as saying: “"Was humanity inevitable? Or is humanity just something that happened to arise because of this sequence of events that took place at just the right time? It's hard to say."

Many believers feel we are entering the “end of days.” Others simply feel that our evolution has produced incredible marvels as well as the potential for our own man made extinction.

My personal belief? If we don’t kill ourselves off, we can continue to evolve. If we now use only a fraction of our brain, it is quite possible that the future might hold the key to cultivating “superhuman” abilities, including psychic ones. And perhaps our "animal" instincts, including our fierce territoriality — leading to, among other things, the continual spectre of war — will one day become extinct as well.

But if we kill ourselves off, will another “humanoid” creature eventually rise out of the rubble? And if so, will it be more adaptable to survival?

Like Bottke, I believe “it’s hard to say.” Whether you are a believer in the “mysteries of the faith” or the mysteries of the universe, for me the questions still linger — and the debate rages on.

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About Elvira Black

  • duane

    Elvira, what do Jews think about the afterlife?

    Re: significance. You can argue either way on that. It’s true that we occupy a tiny fraction of the universe, and are made of a type of stuff that constitutes about 4% of the content of the universe, and have been around for a tiny fraction of the age of the universe, we are still rather special, just in being self-aware and technological. Compare us to an interstellar dust cloud, for example.

    Oh, nice article, by the way.

  • Thanks so much for the comment, Duane. Was your question rhetorical? In any case, my response would be: if you believe in the literal truth of the Bible, how does that reconcile with the scientific “reality” as we “know” it?

    But what you say is certainly true in either case. The problem is that our technology, self-awareness and uniqueness cuts both ways–creative as well as destructive.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    …”what do Jews think about the afterlife?”

    I know you do not like the guy and think he is a fraud, but look at Gerald Schroeder’s lecture on dying and how it is a path to the after-life from the religious standpoint only, leaving the physics to the side. That is a pretty accurate view of how one arrives at an afterlife based on an analysis of the Torah.

    The rest is a bit fuzzy. Prayers talk of what is stored up for the “world to come,” but what that “world to come” precisely means is a bit unclear.

    The more I look at what Jewish mystics say, the more it appears to me that “the world to come” is not some “heaven.” Rather, it is the world after the messianic redemption of mankind.

    Put simply, the messianic redemption of mankind means, in Jewish terms, the destruction of the evil impulse. So the goal of one’s life now, to do as many mitzvot as possible, becomes impossible and undoable. One can only do a mitzva, a commandment, AND get credit for it, when the option NOT to do the mitzva (out of a refusal to do good) exists. With the destruction of the evil impulse, the option not to do the mitzva out of refusal to do good disappears. This is what free will is all about. Under a regime of free will, one must CHOOSE to love G-d (and thus do His mitzvot) – to be commanded to do so is not sufficient.

    Thus, after the messianic redemption, the score of mitzvot gets tallied. In the meantime, the dead are brought back to life – at least the ones who deserve to be brought back are.

    What happens after this is not quite clear, even to me…

  • duane

    Elvira, my question was not rhetorical. I’m ignorant and curious. I would appreciate any enlightenment that you might be willing to dispense.

    Reconciliation: without going too deeply into it, I’m of the opinion that the universe as depicted in the classical religious texts is prosaic by comparison with the universe “known” in modern science. God is slowly being taken out of the equation, and the scientific “need” for God has pretty much been pushed back to the beginning of time. I am convinced that all claims of design have or will have a naturalistic explanation. What remains is a spiritual need only. I am still open to the possibility that there is something beyond the physical, but ….

    Also, it has become clear, thanks to centuries of scientific exploration, that life on Earth is owed to a remarkable series of cataclysms and coincidences. For example, I heard recently that life on Earth (let alone human life) would have been impossible without the presence of the Moon, which stabilizes the spin, which is required for a locally stable climate. The formation of the Moon is itself the result of a chance encounter with a large body (so the theory goes) several billion years ago.

  • duane

    Thanks, Ruvy. I’ll go read Schroeder.

  • fun read, Elvira..thanks for putting this one up here…


    now here’s a Thought just to mess with Minds…

    you mention in the Article about ESP and the like being something we might evolve into

    i say..wait a second there, if these abilities can be proven to exist/have existed demonstrably (and there’s a lot of data to say yes, much has been/can be debunked, but a lot of data can’t be explained away…just ain’t enough yet for definitive hypothesis) that means the potential for them are existent in all of us somewhere in our bio-machines

    this means the abilities have been evolved, but are not currently used..an organism does not evolve a feature for no reason…and in this case these abilities appear like the vermiform appendix…vestigal, remnants that don’t really function

    so when did we evolve these functions and when did we use them?

    it would be long before any current written history, and would severely fuck up anthropological timelines (which are sketchy at best…just look at the Italian alps “Iceman” and what he did to them)

    just a Thought…do carry on…



  • troll

    duane…for another discussion of the jewish notions about the afterlife see the comments section here starting at Chamiss’ #270

  • duane

    Thanks, troll. I have done some reading since my post #5 (Schroederish stuff, Encyclopedia Brittanica, chaimss, Bible passages), and I feel that I have graduated from ignorance to confusion. That’s a start. I found it interesting that Judaic scholars, in addressing this issue, evidently borrow much from Plato, and that chaimss’ claim that the soul is imprisoned by the physical body, while possibly conforming to modern belief, is not the way the ancient scholars would have had it. It’s all interpretation, interpolation, and extrapolation, possibly a function of the times and the prevailing contemporaneous cultural norms. Is that any way to run a religion?

  • Doug Hunter

    “My personal belief? If we don’t kill ourselves off, we can continue to evolve.”

    Yes, but into what? I can detect very little selection towards more intelligence in modern society. We’ve done our best to remove nature’s means of selection so the future of our species is in the hands of the breeders. It is commonly percieved that those most likely to multiply in abundance aren’t exactly the cream of the crop when it comes to wisdom and intellect.

    As for the question of intelligent design, why not? Could DNA have been placed here by powerful intelligent beings for the express purpose of evolving into some complex post-human species. That could explain the apparent extra capacity in our brains and DNA and the similiarities in our blueprints to those of less intelligent life forms. Perhaps they found it was indeed impossible or impractical to travel the vast reaches of the universe, or multiple universes, in mature adult form and chose to embed the blueprints to their species in DNA form, and send them off to a few trillion fertile landing zones.

    Perhaps we ourselves are gods playing in some vast reality video game. When we die our consciousness and vast memory are reconnected, we high five our friends, talk about how ‘real’ our death felt and compare scores. We then decide to play again but in medieval mode. (As the one with the lowest experience points I’ll have to start off as a serf. The over under on my lifespan score is 22 years. Yippeee!)

    Who the hell really knows? The one thing I do know is that the complex chemical process going on behind my eyes gives off a distinct impression that there’s something more to my being. Some find fear in our insignificance in the universe, I find relief. If the vastness and magnitude teaches us anything it’s that we’re not special. Things repeat themselves and processes cyle through.

    This feeling of life is not unique. I live now, I will live again.

  • Doug Hunter

    BTW, thanks for the thought provoking article.

  • Dr Dreadful

    It is commonly percieved that those most likely to multiply in abundance aren’t exactly the cream of the crop when it comes to wisdom and intellect.

    If you look at it in a cold, clinical light, intelligence isn’t a prerequisite for perpetuating the human species. Based on population statistics, neither high intellect nor high economic status appear to confer an advantage as far as passing on one’s genetic material is concerned.

    “Survival of the fittest” means just that, biologically speaking. And if the qualities that make a species “fit” are not esthetically pleasing, that’s just too bad.

  • duane

    Doug says, “I can detect very little selection towards more intelligence in modern society.”

    Any such evolution toward a higher or lower intelligence would be imperceivable over the course of a single lifetime, of course, and not even observable over a duration corresponding to recorded human history. But, to use my favorite Zeddism, it’s a mute point. Human evolution by natural means is dead in the water. Technology has taken over.

    technology: natural human evolution
    tsunami: a spit in the ocean

    Oooh, shades of the SAT.

    Could DNA have been placed here by powerful intelligent beings for the express purpose of evolving into some complex post-human species.

    Yeah, but that just displaces the Biq Question by a step. You still have to ask ….

    If the vastness and magnitude teaches us anything it’s that we’re not special.

    I object. Why do you think we’re not special?

  • SonnyD

    Elvira: Enjoyed your article. I’ve been wondering when someone would get around to commenting on it.

  • SonnyD

    gonzo: “remnants that don’t really function” “when did we evolve these functions and when did we use them?”

    Now why would you jump to such conclusions? What if humans have always had this ability and still do? Infants are born with the potential to develop many abilities but really only have the use of two at birth. They can eat and cry. Everyone smiles when they see a new baby and within a few days the baby starts smiling back. We talk to the baby and soon it starts making sounds other than crying. The same with all the other things a child learns. What if the potential for other mental skills are there and if the infant tries to use them and receives no positive feedback it quits trying and forgets that it has that ability?

    What if we have just drifted away from using a lot of the mental skills that we are born with? It seems like most people recognize that many sets of identical twins have something out of the ordinary going on. And many people have had the experience of having the urge to call someone, then the phone rings and it’s the person they were going to call. There are a lot of things I could name that happen to most of us at one time or another. But, if I go into too much detail, someone will feel it is necessary to utter the magic word that brings an end to all such discussions, so I’ll leave it at that.

  • Doug Hunter

    “technology: natural human evolution”

    Yes, it’s called eugenics and although it got a bad PC rap it’s certainly making a comeback. I was going to mention that as an alternative in my comment but I suspected I had rambled on way too long anyway.

  • SonnyD

    Well, I see my #14 in answer to gonzo’s #6 did show up after all. It just took a while to get here.

    Doug Hunter: I was happy to see your suggestion,”Perhaps we ourselves are gods playing in some vast reality video game.” I have been plowing through the endless strings of arguments between two sides, each of which is certain only they are right. No one ever suggests other possibilities. I’ve been wanting to say what if this life is just one humungus MMORPG? What if we are the game designers, the players and the avatars? But, you know, the two sides don’t want to hear about other possibilities. That would mean they would actually have to think and (pardon the expression) God forbid they should be called upon to think. Besides that, they also seem to be lacking an important human trait – a sense of humor.

    I also have been tempted to write a parody of the life of Jesus. Here was a man who entered this life with an important message for mankind, but no one would listen to what he was saying. They only heard the words that fit in with what they already believed. They constantly misunderstood and misquoted his words. Then they followed him around demanding that he put on another magic show with the miracles. They wanted him to cater their parties with the loaves and fishes and endlessly flowing wine. They finally drove him into a nervous breakdown and he went into rehab with the Essenes for a few years. Ah, but it takes a sense of humor to appreciate that story.

  • cybcode

    I just feel that I should comment on the “we use a fraction of our brain” statement, for the sake of correctness. We don’t use a fraction of our brain – it’s a myth. We use 100% of it.

    Other than that, I like the article.

  • duane

    Damn, cybcode. You mean my standard retort, “Well, I’m only using 10% of my brain capacity,” when people accuse me of being an idiot, won’t work anymore? What a revoltin’ development.

  • Gonzo-

    You forgot one other function that babies have at birth… to crap. And crap they do. Alot.

    Conservation of mass? Not with the diapers my kid produces.

  • duane

    Number two on my top ten reasons why our universe could not have been intelligently designed, although I doubt urine agreement.

  • SonnyD

    John: #19 That wasn’t gonzo, that was me. It was in answer to his remarks about functions that he assumed no longer work. I thought about the function you suggested and decided that is an automatic action that takes place with little or no voluntary effort on the part of the infant. In other words, it’s not something they have to learn to do. Well, maybe when they time it for immediately after a clean diaper is put on. I’ve wondered about that.

    Duane, You have a sense of humor about some things, I see. That’s a good start!

  • Dan

    Intelligent design isn’t about dinosaurs. It’s a mathematical and scientific critiscism of the probablility of evolutionary theory as a basis for the establishment of complex organisms.

    There isn’t any proven or probable evolutionary function that is disputed by intelligent design.

    Those who shun intelligent design rarely do so on the basis of informed knowledge of the subject.

  • duane

    Please enlighten us.

  • Dan

    Well, let’s turn to the bible and see what God has to say about the origin of life.

    Just kidding!

    Seriously though, one major component of intelligent design is called irreducable complexity.

    This refers to the interdependance of separately evolved biological components to perform some function that is desirable, and makes the organism more “fit” for survival.

    To simplify (a lot), imagine a bicycle chain and the front and rear sprocket. Before the separate units can evolve alone, and facilitate the desirable trait of propulsion, evolutionary theory would dictate that they must have some stand alone improvement that would aid in the survival of the organism (bike).

    It’s possible, but hard to imagine what benefits a chain without sprockets would have that would be a survival aid while the bicycle waits for chance mutations to add sprockets.

    On the cellular level though, there are over 200 interdependent mechanizms. This would have been news to Darwin, who shaped his theory to more plausable explanations like gills and giraffe necks.

    Another facet of intelligent design is just to examine the likelihood, given the short period of time for organisms to evolve, that independent chance mutations would develop into interdependent complexities.

    It’s possible that I could be dealt 17 royal flushes in a row this weekend in Las Vegas, but it likely would never happen in a billion lifetimes.

  • duane

    Dan, thanks for the reply. I’m fairly ignorant of biology, so I appreciate your input.

    The probability of being dealt a royal flush from a standard deck is 1 out of 649,740. The probability of being dealt 17 in a row is just that number raised to the 17th power, which is about 1 in 6.6 x 10^98.

    Now, what does that have to do with evolution?

  • cybcode

    Irreducible complexity poses no problem for evolution. The argument that irreducibly complex structures cannot evolve is based on the assumption that evolution can only add parts. Evolution can also remove and change parts, and therefore can easily and naturally create irreducibly complex structures.

    For examples and a better explanation

    Regarding the probability claims, I have this to say

    There is certainly no need for something comparable to 17 royal flushes in a row.

    Regarding Darwin: for a while now we have not been relying on Darwin any more. We have come a long way since Darwin, and evolutionary theory cannot be said to be Darwin’s work. There are 150 years of research that succeeded Darwin’s work and formed modern evolutionary theory.

    I think a very good understanding of intelligent design can be gained by reading Michael Behe’s Dover trial cross testimony. While trying to defend his theory, he uses (in my opinion) amazingly naive arguments. For example, he seems to regard “purpose” as an objective quality that a biological structure may possess, and that bespeaks design. I believe that in this testimony it becomes easily evident that there is nothing to intelligent design but the naive claim “God did it because I can’t otherwise grasp it”. Also, for Intelligent Design believers, it should be quite puzzling that such unoriginal claims have not been made by the many scientists who deal with mollecular biology. If purpose is an objective quality, why is Michael Behe the only scientist who sees it? The “weaknesses” of evolution that bother Behe don’t seem to bother anyone else. It is also quite clear that he is not aware of the vast amount of literature published on molecular evolution. All this is discussed in the testimony. The full transcripts (Behe’s cross examination is on day 11).

  • Thanks for all the great comments. Here’s a few thoughts for the time being, and they may seem simplistic because I’m still on my first cup of coffee:

    I do believe that we (or the species as a whole) possess extraordinary inherent/dormant abilities which we don’t routinely recognize. I remember reading some of Andrew Weil’s work on self-healing. He points out that if we get a cut on our finger, the body will heal it automatically–and if you stop and think about it, it’s rather miraculous. The same goes for more intractable illnesses like cancer and the like, because the mind-body connection is very complex and healing depends in part on the efficacy of the immune system, which has the potential to be enhanced. For example, sometimes cancer patients will have a higher survival rate, he feels, with a combo of surgery and other holistic measures which involve more deliberate manipulation of our inherent ability to self-heal. One example I recall is that (according to Weil) if a surgeon says negative things about a patient’s condition when they “go under,” rather than, say, playing soothing music, it can actually affect the overall survival rate or healing time–or so he claims. Anecdotal evidence is hard to “prove” empirically, but still worth considering, in my opinion.

    Anyone who has taken LSD (I haven’t) would probably agree that we are using portions of our brain or evoking some interaction between synapses in ways we normally would not when we are “tripping.”

    Although many are skeptical of psychic “abilities” and paranormal phenomena, psychics are sometimes now used to help solve crimes. Then there’s hypnosis–if it is suggested to someone that an object is cold rather than hot, they may emerge unscathed, etc. Buddhist monks are known to be able to control functions which are normally thought to be “involuntary” as well.

    Yes, some of these claims may be questionable, and I’m only supplying a few examples off the top of my head. And the truth is that we still have a very incomplete knowledge of the intricacies of the brain and the mind/body connection–thus the laundry list of bizarre side effects encountered with many medications, including psych meds. This seems to indicate a vast interconnection of functions which we still don’t fully understand.

    Other species have extraordinary abilities that seem “magical” to us–like the chameleon’s ability to change color. Some of our senses are much less developed than those of other species who needed a strong sense of smell, hearing, or sight to survive. Though our potential for possessing “extrasensory” abilities may exist, we were able to evolve successfully without benefit of some of these super-sensory qualities coming to the fore–in part because of our mastery of technology which provides us with “superhuman” abilities such as space travel, atom splitting, cyberspace, and so on. But the possibility exists that we can choose to tap into some of these mostly “unused” functions or abilities.

    Western religion and science is chiefly predicated on the supremacy of human life on earth. Is there any evidence to refute the possibility that life exists elsewhere, somewhere? Just as most of our religious beliefs are anthropomorphic in nature, it could be that there is a vast “force” beyond what we have been able to discern through current scientific thought.

    Scientific theory can be biased–always has been. What is commonly accepted as gospel in one era can be discarded in the next.

    I do not completely reject the possibility that there is some “intelligent” force in the universe, but we might have to think outside the box to imagine it–or even redefine what “intelligent” really means. How can we fully understand the vastness of the universe, or presume that our role is more central than peripheral in the grand scheme of things?

    It is commonly accepted, for example, that the moon not only controls the tides, but affects us as well, since we are primarily composed of water. Who’s to say that the planets don’t hold more of a sway over us than we can prove scientifically at this point? Part of our skepticism, I suspect, has to do with our very human capacity for hubris.

    Long story short, nothing has to be “proven” by us to exist in order to exist. Much of our perception of reality is shaped by our current–albeit still limited–scientific/empirical knowlege. The ephemeral can be difficult–perhaps impossible–to measure, as it were, under a microscope. But as humans, we tend to believe that what we can measure, see, or prove is all there is. I think we have only scratched the surface.

  • duane

    First, thanks for the links cybcode. I’m in the process of reading Behe’s testimony.

    Second, great post, Elvira (#27). You’re always a pleasure to read. I have a few “first-cup” comments.

    …we still have a very incomplete knowledge of the intricacies of the brain and the mind/body connection — thus the laundry list of bizarre side effects encountered with many medications, including psych meds.

    You’ve presumed that mind and body are distinct. But aren’t the bizarre effects of psych meds simply a physiological response, a neurochemical response? If anti-depressants dampen the effect of depression, it is through a change in the production rate of chemicals normally produced by the body. It’s all chemistry, part of the physical world.

    Though our potential for possessing “extrasensory” abilities may exist, we were able to evolve successfully without benefit of some of these super-sensory qualities coming to the fore…

    Which, more likely, means that we don’t have extrasensory adaptations.

    Western religion and science is chiefly predicated on the supremacy of human life on earth.

    That’s true of western religion, but is not a scientific axiom.

    Just as most of our religious beliefs are anthropomorphic in nature, it could be that there is a vast “force” beyond what we have been able to discern through current scientific thought.

    Non sequitur?

    Scientific theory can be biased–always has been. What is commonly accepted as gospel in one era can be discarded in the next.

    Your choice of the word “gospel” is telling. Beginning with the Enlightenment, science has dispensed with its reliance on “authority.” The fact that scientific “gospel” is episodically discarded simply demonstrates a lack of bias and a willingness to adjust to new knowledge. That’s progress, and it’s healthy. If you could read Newton’s comments on his Law of Gravitation, for example, you will find that, while scientists as individuals can be an arrogant lot, scientists as a community are humble before Nature. The awareness that scientific theories are provisional is part and parcel of modern scientific thinking.

    I believe that you are implying that science rejects extrasensory adaptations, and that you believe science will be proven wrong. Maybe. There is work being done in this area.

    How can we fully understand the vastness of the universe, or presume that our role is more central than peripheral in the grand scheme of things?

    But modern science is responsible for introducing the notion that Man is not central in the grand scheme of things. This is at the core of the science vs. religion debate.

    It is commonly accepted, for example, that the moon not only controls the tides, but affects us as well, since we are primarily composed of water.

    The Moon affects the oceans not because the oceans are composed of water but because gravity affects all matter. If the oceans were made of tetrachloroethylene, there would still be tides. The water in the ocean is unbounded. The water in your body is bounded. The force of gravity owing to the moon is much, much less that the gravitational force of that guy standing on the other side of the subway car. It is a common “lunar myth” that the Moon has any kind of effect on our behavior or on our physiology.

    Part of our skepticism, I suspect, has to do with our very human capacity for hubris.

    Nah, it’s our very human capacity to use reason.

    But as humans, we tend to believe that what we can measure, see, or prove is all there is.

    This seems not to be the case, since the great majority of Americans, to take an example, believe in God.

  • Duane, you are too kind–I think I was basically babbling on there in all sorts of different directions. I’ll blame it on lack of caffeine (lol)…

    In any case, I am so thankful for your terrific comments. I will try to gather my thoughts and start fresh after I’ve had some rest.

  • Dan

    duane, I recognize and applaud your superior mathematical abilities. Well done.

    The point of the royal flush analogy is to illustrate how some things that are possible, even inevitable, can still be highly implausable.

    In Douglas Theobold’s “The Mullerian Two-Step: Add a part, make it necessary”, he sneers that Michael Behe’s irreducably complex term is “silly” then goes on to demonstrate some silliness himself.

    In his “stone bridge” analogy he attempts to show Behe’s IC argument false by adding a flat stone spanning the three existing ones, then removing the middle stone.

    But Theobold’s analogy pre-supposes an existing, functional system! There is no new function created. The top stone is simply an improvement. Like an insurance policy. If half the existing pre-cursor bridges were vulnerable to losing the middle stone, then eventually all bridges with vulnerable middle stones would be gone. The improvement of the top stone would become unnecessary and wouldn’t give a bridge an advantage in function.

  • duane

    Dan, I understand that events that appear unlikely can be compared to being dealt a series of royal flushes. But the royal flush analogy is not necessarily a good one in this case.

    By the way, to be fair, I have seen counter-arguments by evolutionists that are also flawed and misleading. It’s a very difficult subject, and I’m no expert.

    To make your point, it’s much easier to use dice. Card decks are more complicated because the population from which you draw the second card is different from the population from which you draw the first card, etc.

    (Oh, by the way, thanks for the compliment, but it’s really quite easy.)

    Anyway, say you have five dice. You roll them all at the same time. How many rolls would you need to roll five 6’s?

    The probability of rolling a 6 is 1/6, so the probability of rolling five at a time is 1/6^5 = 1/7776. So, very roughly, if you roll the dice 7 or 8 thousand times, you might expect to roll five 6’s one time. This is in line with your analogy.

    But suppose I change the rules. Suppose you roll one die at a time: roll the first until you get a 6, leave it, roll the second until you get a 6, etc. Since you would expect to roll a 6 about one out of six times, you would expect that about 30 to 40 rolls are required to get your five 6’s. That’s a lot different from 7 or 8 thousand.

    The question is: what are the “rules” of combination at the molecular level? That’s the problem with the royal flush analogy, where the rules are elementary, and well understood. I don’t think the rules at the molecular level are all that well understood.

  • Dan

    duane, again, very astute observation.

    I think I can see the application relationship. If you consider the first 6 as a dormant chance mutation, then it exponentially shortens the time of waiting around for the subsequent mutation’s that complete the interdependent multi-part function.

    The card analogy might still hold though if you changed the rules and instead held only the royal cards, discarding each individually dealt non-royal card until you had your royal.

    I don’t know either how things work at the molecular level, nor do I understand to what degree of certainty those who make the calculations understand it. I’d imagine nature’s deck of mutations to be near infinite.

    Perhaps the human appendix organ is a collection of chance mutations waiting dormant for a card or two to activate a function that will save some of us from the comming global warming crisis.

    Or maybe the appendix will become our ESP organ.

  • duane

    Dan says,

    The card analogy might still hold though if you changed the rules and instead held only the royal cards, discarding each individually dealt non-royal card until you had your royal.


    I don’t know either how things work at the molecular level, nor do I understand to what degree of certainty those who make the calculations understand it.

    Right, same here. The problem is exacerbated by

    (1) the environment is important, but unknown (maybe the dealer is clumsy and accidentally tosses cards onto the floor)

    (2) biology at the time of life origin could differ from biology in the 21st century (maybe they used decks with six suits)

    Also, you could change the question to “How long would it take for a living organism to evolve?” rather than, “What is the probability …?” using a set of assumed “rules.” So, by analogy, how long would you have to sit at the table before you were dealt 17 consecutive royals?” Of course, that would depend on how fast the cards are dealt. How fast are chemicals give the chance to form life-necessary compounds? That depends on the environment and the role of catalysts.

    Or maybe the appendix will become our ESP organ.

    Uh oh, I better get an appendix transplant … just in case.

  • Duane #4: I’ll do you one better (maybe):

    Don’t other planets have moons too?

  • duane

    Elvira: Don’t other planets have moons too?


  • Duane:

    What do Jews think about the afterlife? Generally, they don’t seem to think about it as overtly as Christians do.

    I am somewhat familiar with Catholicism due to two of my long term relationships being with nice Catholic altar boys. My impression? Death and the afterlife are major upfront components of the faith. The central symbol of the crucifix–or the crucified Christ for Catholics–keeps this concept front and center at all times. Heaven and hell are much more defined (at least as the nuns and priests interpret it). The focus, after all, is on the death/sacrifice and “afterlife” of Christ–who died for our sins and will rise a second time to redeem/judge mankind.

    For Jews, of course, the Messiah has yet to arrive, so as Ruvy (or Avis) might put it, “we try harder.” What strikes me as particularly cogent is what I think of as the “get out of jail free card” loophole esp in born-again Christian denominations. All you have to do is repent, accept Jesus as your personal savior, and even the worst criminal is “forgiven” and has a place in heaven rather than hell. One quote I’ve heard (which I guess is attributed to Jesus) has to do with good works not being sufficient to get you into heaven–which gave me considerable pause.

    Jews do take death seriously, and the afterlife is of course presumed to exist–or to exist more concretely at some future time (after the Messiah arrives?)–which kind of puts us in the same “waiting” situation as Christians. But again, the focus is more on the duties of the living to honor the dead…to mourn a parent or spouse for a full year; the obligation to say the Mourner’s Kaddish; unveiling the gravestone of the departed after a year; visiting the cemetery around the High Holy Days; and so on. It is also customary to give to charity (or the shul) in honor of departed loved ones.

    During the High Holy days (the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement), it is believed that each individual is either inscribed in the Book of Life for another year, or they are not. Jews also atone and fast for their sins, large and small on the Day of Atonement–wiping the slate clean, as it were, for the new year ahead. We have no Messiah as yet who has died for our sins, so we are responsible in full for them. (I also think the role of the Messiah for Jews is somewhat different in any event).

    In Jesus’ time, there were many false prophets and Messiahs, just as Jesus himself cautioned. I imagine it might have been a bit like being bombarded by the televangelists of today–how would you pick the “real” one from all the phonies and charlatans?

    Another element of Judaism is that prosletizing to other faiths is not done. One of the things that annoys me about Christianity is also one of its central tenets–namely, Jesus’ command to spread the word to others. Thus the faithful feel compelled to do their duty in this way so that more souls are saved in the hereafter. For an observant Jew, there are many requirements and duties that must be observed daily by the individual–a one on one pact between themselves and their creator. The focus is thus more on the here and now, and an individual’s personal obligations, rather than an obligation to convert those from other faiths in order to save their souls. The details of the afterlife are less well defined, and the concept of hell is not really addressed–at least as far as I could gather after living with my Orthodox aunt and uncle for several years.

  • Gonzo #6:

    There are other, older cultures where the shaman/healer was thought to possess special, somewhat G-dlike powers which could be considered “supernatural” in realm. My guess is that Western religions basically frown upon this, so culturally speaking it would not be honored or recognized.

    Perhaps individuals with psychic abilities represent a recessive mutation at this point.

  • Doug #9:

    Both Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism are “designed” to produce the maximum number of offspring. I think that many of the “shortcomings” you perceive amongst the “breeders” are primarily sociological in nature rather than innate.

    I believe that intermarriage between different races/ethnicities is probably a good evolutionary move–since for starters excessive inbreeding can increase the chance of inheriting and replicating undesirable conditions (Tay Sachs, Sickle Cell, etc).

  • For Doug (and others) who find comfort in the idea of some sort of “force” beyond ourselves which doesn’t seem to jive with current scientific thought:

    I think Eastern philosophies may provide more acceptable spiritual answers for some. There seems to be less of a focus on “morality” as we perceive it–focusing instead on developing individual enlightenment in order to attain a connection rendering one more “at one” with the universal scheme of things. More metaphysical, less anthropomorphic than most Western beliefs, I gather. Ideally, one strives to achieve the maximum state/stage of personal enlightenment, which slso involves a certain level of detachment–thus less focus on “sin,” “evil,” “judgment,” and the “ego.” The force may not be G-d per se, but rather connecting with some sort of G-d-like force within that we share with all life forms. Thus the vastness of the universe only means that we are an integral part of this vastness, rather than merely a tiny “insignificant” speck. At least that’s my take, based on scant knowlege of Buddhism, etc.

  • cybcode

    I think the evolution vs. intelligent design debate comes down to whether we are willing to use God to explain things. Evolution offers a natural explanation. It doesn’t say that it’s impossible that a god/intelligent designer did it. Likewise, Intelligent Design offers a godly (“intelligent”) explanation. It doesn’t say that it couldn’t have occurred by chance (it can only say that it’s unlikely). Scientists choose to stick to natural explanations.

    But if we think about what “God” or “intelligent designer” means, we may realize the reason for this choice. There is no useful information in the definition of a god/designer. A god/designer is simply something that has the ability to design whatever we’re struggling to explain. So using a god/designer to explain something is equivalent to stating “we can’t explain this”. That’s a legitimate statement, but only when an explanation is not available.

  • cybcode

    Also, it’s hard to accept intelligent design when there’s virtually zero scientific support for it. I haven’t encountered even a single “Intelligent Design scientist”, except for Behe, and I have been actively interested in this topic for a while. The people who support Intelligent Design don’t do it for science – their goal is to improve society (i.e. enforce Christianity). Almost every website that argues for intelligent design uses terribly flawed scientific arguments (what does the 2nd law of thermodynamics have to do with this?) and offers whole pages of irrelevant nonsense that seem to imply that they hope to convince the readers by confusing them. For example, in one website, an entire page devoted to explaining why genetic algorithms can’t support evolution says only that genetic algorithms are a really lame engineering tool. Obviously most of the people who argue for intelligent design are biased – they have to be, because their argument is very weak.

  • Cybcode, I guess it all comes down to the element of “faith” in things that can’t be empirically proven. One has to believe, if one is Christian, that Jesus was the savior; that he was resurrected, etc. based on accounts of the time. Most western religions are political in the sense that they seek to impose social engineering of some kind on their followers, which would lead a “thinking person” to a cynical conclusion on matters of faith.

    Conversely, Western thought in general is based on a “faith” in the scientific method. But there could be a spiritual component that is not “measurable” in this way. The spirit, by common definition, is ethereal, not corporal.

    Western medicine does not normally subscribe to traditional Chinese methods of healing because they have not been empirically tested. But it seems to do the trick for many and has been in existence for centuries. In addition, the pharmaceuticals we rely on often have side effects which don’t make “sense” to us–which we cannot explain. More holistic methods seem to be less likely to cause these side effects, even if their efficacy has not been tested “scientifically.” In other words, the scientific method is far from fool-proof, and sometimes a matter of trial and error. Western medicine is also less likely to treat the patient as the sum of its parts–recognizing that what one does to treat one part of the body can effect other parts, including the mind. Thus our greater skepticism of any “spiritual” component in healing, which we cannot adequately explain and thus tend to dismiss. In that case, that is our Western bias–our own Achilles heel.

    For instance, our understanding of mental illness and addiction and our current treatments are woefully lacking, in my opinion. AA sometimes works based on a spiritual approach, and whether or not there is a Higher Power may be moot. Some believe the Higher Power comes from the group dynamic itself. How do you quantify these kinds of “healing” scientifically?

    There is also a political/moral component to Western methodology, just as there is for religious belief. Pharmaceutical companies are not likely to support the legalization of medical marijuana, despite evidence that it can prove beneficial for many conditions. Such evidence will continue to be dismissed by many in the medical community for this reason–it is an affront to our “sacred”–yet sometimes rigid, sterile, and, yes, imperfect–scientific method.

  • Dan says:
    “Perhaps the human appendix organ is a collection of chance mutations waiting dormant for a card or two to activate a function that will save some of us from the comming global warming crisis.

    Or maybe the appendix will become our ESP organ.”

    Very cool!

  • Another thought: Could we be too “smart” for our own “good?”

    Our “advanced” evolution has made it possible to utilize technology which transcends our own innate abilities. Nevertheless, we are still “animals” with impulses and emotions that are far from “scientific,” “rational,” or even beneficial for us as individuals and as a species.

    Since we have been here for a small fraction of time, but our higher brains have evolved exponentially, there is still an “eternal” conflict between our limbic system–the “primitive” part of the brain which we share with other species–and our more “rational” brain. Sometimes the “rational” brain combined with the “emotional” one gets us into serious, and very complex, trouble, since the two portions of the brain are often in direct conflict. (Think, for example, of a smoker who knows smoking may kill him or her but cannot control the impulse through “rational” thought). Humans are like children playing with matches–there is real risk involved in our dance with technology which could ultimately lead to our extinction. We could just prove to be a passing blip in the universe–or perhaps other life forms elsewhere have evolved in a complex manner but in a form or way we cannot fathom.

    In the end, what is more sound in the evolutionary scheme of things–to evolve individually and yet fail as a species and become extinct due largely to our own technology combined with our “animal instincts” such as aggression, territoriality, and perhaps “precocious” level of intelligence?

    The dinosaurs did not bring their extinction on themselves. We may very well do so. Which species is/was more highly “evolved” for ultimate “survival?” We are the exception to the rule of evolution, since we “control” some of our own “evolution”– and I believe we have the potential to sink or swim based on our own actions as a species. Our individualism can spell our doom, because we may do things that are detrimental to our species as a whole. Or rather, the movers and shakers have a disproportionate role in our chance for survival.

    Perhaps this is where spiritual/”moral” questions might come to the fore. If we are more likely to survive if we embrace some form of spirituality,or at the very least a more enlightened connection and respect for each other and other life forms, is this a foolish thing? I don’t think so.

  • cybcode

    There is nothing spiritual in any kind of medicine. Both western and eastern medicine is purely physical. They may work in different ways, but still completely physical ways. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that there is anything spiritual anywhere. The effect of drugs on our minds may not be completely understood, but it is well understood (as far as I know) that it is completely physical.

    Western medicine IS mostly trial and error. That’s how it should be.

    Western medicine DOES treat the patient as a sum of its parts. That’s why medicine that may be good for your heart, but may kill your liver, is normally not used (unless there is no choice). That’s why people are developing medicine with less side effects, including “mind” side effects, such as fatigue, disorientation, depression, mood swings etc.

    Western medicine is not biased – it is scientific. Science is not biased either. Science simply deals with the observable. If something cannot be observed (i.e. is not supported by evidence), then science assumes it to be nonexistent. Because of scientific reasoning we now know that ghosts, demons, witches, sorcerers and goblins do not exist. In the same manner, the medical effect of “spiritual healing” is nonexistent (in the sense that it is no better than placebo). You may claim that the effect exists, but cannot be observed in any way (directly or indirectly) because it is “not physical”, but that would make no sense.

    More holistic methods seem to cause less side effects, possibly because they generally have less effects. Holistic methods have not been adopted by western medicine because they haven’t been shown to work. If acupuncture has been shown to be as effective or more effective than its alternatives in western medicine, why isn’t it a part of western medicine today?

    In my opinion, many eastern medical methods rely on the patient’s belief in their efficacy (placebo effect), and otherwise have no medical effect.

    BTW, I’m also Jewish.

  • duane

    Elvira, wow, you’ve been busy. Thanks for your #36.

  • duane

    Our individualism can spell our doom, because we may do things that are detrimental to our species as a whole. Or rather, the movers and shakers have a disproportionate role in our chance for survival.

    Individualism is key to our survival. Think of it this way. Humans develop into societies for their own protection against the parts of Nature that are hostile. The population grows. Organization ensues in such a way to maximize efficiency, which means specialization. From a large population comes the means by which to provide the basic necessities of life and growth (food, shelter, reproduction). An “elite” class is allowed to develop, one that is free to sit around and argue about angels on the head of a pin (philosophy), one that is free to tinker in a workshop and invent useful (or harmful) tools (engineering, science), one that is free to codify human interactions (government, religion, philosophy), one that is free to ponder our relationship to Nature (philosophy, science), one that is free to enhance (or stagnate) our intellectual experience (art, literature, music, sitcoms), one that is free to find ways to curtail the biological impositions of Nature (medicine, science), and so forth.

    Out of this “elite” come geniuses. The movers and shakers — the one who harnessed fire, the one who discovered agriculture, the inventor of the wheel, Aristotle, Archimedes, Augustine, Aquinas, Hippocrates, Galileo, Calvin, Newton, Locke, Michaelangelo, da Vinci, Beethoven, Joyce, Darwin, the one who invented air conditioning, the one who invented Coca-Cola, and so forth (please excuse my Western bias).

    Yes, indeed, these people have had a disproportionate role in our culture. How could it be any other way? Without them, we would be living lives of misery– there never was a Tolkienesque Shire world.

    Which is not to say that all of humanity is tiptoeing through the tulips, but look at me, for example — not a member of the economic elite, but I have medical care when needed, food, shelter, time to peck away at a keyboard, gainful employment, time for play, time for intellectual endeavor. Bump me back to the 1600s and I would be covered in mud most of the time, toothless, in pain, probably dead by now, actually. Bump me back 10,000 years and I would be chasing after food, or dead.

    We owe most everything that contributes to our quality of life to the elite of days gone by, and the shape of the future depends on the existence and actions of the current elite. The point is that individualism is required for advancement, but the ability of a population to produce and nurture such individuals is predicated on the work and stability of the masses. The elite class is therefore, not separate from society at large, but it is very directly the product of society.

    Remove that individualistic elite from history, and yes, we would have no nukes, no cruise missiles, no bio-weapons, but we would also have a miserable quality of life — we would be serfs at best (more likely, tribal), toiling away at a subsistence level, looking out at the flat Earth and the starry dome, waiting for God to rescue us.

  • Jetsons?

  • duane

    Elvira, yeah. I submitted a novella-length response to part of your #44 — twice, I think. Maybe it will land here later, but for now I’ll just let it meander through cyberspace.

    Going away for a few days. Enjoyed the exchanges.

  • Duane:

    I hate when that happens! Thanks for the great comments.

  • Duane, looks like your comment finally got posted!

    Yes, what you say is true, but I guess I was thinking about the current Admin as one example–or dictators, religious extremists/leaders etc. As with all things human, it cuts both ways, no?

    And thank goodness for whoever invented air conditioning.

  • cybcode #45:

    Here I must disagree with you. I believe Western science does have its biases and is also funded largely by certain special interests which will affect what is studied. The pharmaceutical industry and lobby is incredibly powerful and its funding and influence often shapes what is studied.

    There is little interest in holistic medicine because drug companies cannot readily profit from it.

    And of course, many who are biased do not believe that they are….

    Actually acupuncture and other alternative meds are gradually finding their way into Western medicine. Some insurance plans will cover such things as acupuncture and other holistic procedures. Hey, if it cures my pain, I don’t necessarily need scientific proof of why or how it does so. My relief from pain is all the “evidence” I need.

    When it comes to psychiatry and psychology, I definitely believe that we are still woefully ignorant of the intricacies of the brain. Psych meds work for some people and not others; can stop working; can have horrible side effects. Some meds originally used for totally different ailments (epilepsy) are nows used for mood disorders, and there is an incomplete understanding as to exactly why and how some of these compounds (sometimes) work. Why they work is still a relative mystery. But they do not work across the board, so I don’t think they can be said to be perfect cures by any means.

    And the placebo effect also seems to indicate that one can “think” oneself better to a certain extent. If you feel better, is this invalid simply because it cannot be measured or explained adequately?

    Treating depression often involves a combo of pharmaceutical and psychological/social methodology. If drugs alone were all it took to cure mental illness, we wouldn’t still have millions of people with mental disorders. Of course, the current “bias” in psychiatry is to throw meds at the patient until something “sticks.”

    You say:
    “Western medicine is not biased – it is scientific. Science is not biased either. Science simply deals with the observable. If something cannot be observed (i.e. is not supported by evidence), then science assumes it to be nonexistent. Because of scientific reasoning we now know that ghosts, demons, witches, sorcerers and goblins do not exist.”

    I believe this IS a bias–just because something is not currently measurable does not mean it does not exist. Hence the hubris of Western science. Did DNA not exist before we could observe it? I believe that your statements about Eastern medicine are biased, based on evidence I’ve read and the fact that it is being implemented here to some degree. The Chinese have been using it for centuries–I don’t believe it is all merely a placebo simply because it hasn’t been tested scientifically. And oftimes pharmceuticals are derived at least in part from natural substances.

    You mentioned you are Jewish. Does this mean that you retain some religious belief despite your hard scientific stance?

  • cybcode

    OK, let me restate a few things.

    Western medicine may be somewhat biased towards what is more profitable. This is not the scope of bias I was referring to. I was simply replying to your claims of bias against “spiritual” medicine.

    Can you give me an example of one type of holistic medical practice so I can understand what you’re talking about? Is acupuncture a good example?

    Acupuncture may be effective, perhaps more than placebo, if the evidence says so. I didn’t say it wasn’t effective. I’m just saying that its effectiveness (or the effectiveness of other “spiritual” medical practices) is not evidence for the existence of anything spiritual. If acupuncture works, it doesn’t work by unblocking Chi. It works in some strictly physical way which may or may not be known to western medicine.

    Obviously DNA existed before it could be observed. What I mean to say is that we should not accept/assume/invent new unsupported theories for things we can already quite adequately explain using well supported old theories. Also, we should not accept unsupported new theories that contradict well supported old ones.

    In the “spiritual medicine” case:
    1. It is not necessary to accept the existence of vague spiritual mechanisms that are not supported by any observable evidence, because there are already well supported theories that explain what’s going on in our bodies.
    2. Moreover, vague spiritual theories contradict the well supported physical theories. For example, if you have AIDS symptoms, a spiritual healer may say there’s a problem with your Chi. I see that as a contradiction.
    3. The people who argue for spiritual theories do not seek support by evidence. For them belief is good enough. They don’t use the scientific method which we like so much, and that’s a good reason not to take them seriously.

    In the DNA case:
    1. It’s possible that there was no well supported alternative explanation before DNA was discovered.
    2. It’s possible that there was, but DNA did not contradict the well supported explanation (only extended it).
    3. It’s possible that there was, and DNA contradicted it, but once DNA became observable it was much more well supported by evidence than the old explanation.
    The fact that DNA is now well supported doesn’t mean that it should have been assumed to exist before it was well supported.

    Can you point me to evidence that supports the effectiveness of acupuncture? I’m asking out of curiousity.

    I’m a secular Jew. I have no religious beliefs and do not practice religion, except in holidays, because I like the food involved and because it’s a family thing which I can’t avoid.

  • cybcode:

    I reviewed a book once by a prominent expert on artificial intelligence. He decided to investigate whether or not we as humans had any components that couldn’t be replicated by AI. The name of the book was: “Are we Unique?”

    His conclusion: No machine, however exquisitely designed, could ever replicate the way he felt when he first met the woman he would later marry.

    There’s an element of the ineffable in the world: in art, literature, music, philosophy. I respect your beliefs, but I do think you’re underplaying the political/bureaucratic issues within the health profession. Scientific advances are not so effective if doctors do not apply them correctly due in indifference or ineptitude.

    Have you ever been in love? Yes, I know–the body produces strong feel-good hormones; blah blah. But we are too varied and complex to be explained solely in this manner. I, in some way, believe in astrology because I choose to–the proof of it is beside the point.

    It just sounds too 1984-ish: like the next step is to outlaw religion altogether in the Name of Scientific Truth. As John Lydon used to say: “No fun!”

    I do have a link re: the efficacy of acupunture etc which I will find and post here shortly.

  • Here’s the link on Chinese medicine from the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • cybcode

    I partially agree.

    The truly confusing part is: “the way he FELT when he first met …”

    The confusion revolves around something known as qualia, which is our subjective perception of things. For example, the perception/feeling/meaning of the color red. Qualia are the one subject, in my opinion, that may never be adequately explained by science. We may be able to tell exactly what group of neurons fires when we see red, but we may not be able to explain why red is perceived subjectively the way it is (i.e. why red isn’t green or blue). We may not be able to tell why we seem to have Qualia, and whether machines have it too. We may not even be able to tell whether other people have it (each person will say that he/she has subjective experiences, but it’s easy enough to make a machine that will say the same thing).

    I realize that I represent only my own opinion, and that I’m not familiar with all the (potential) weaknesses of science, but my impression is that Qualia are the only thing that science may never be able to explain using its physical tools. Science explains just about everything in the human body very elegantly. That’s why it bothers me when people talk about spirits where they really aren’t necessary, in the context of purely physical diseases. Spirits may be necessary to explain the things that we have no idea how to explain.

    I know I’ve been repeating myself. What I intended to comment on in this post is what you say about “art, literature, music, philosophy”. In my opinion those things are far from ineffable or mysterious in any way. It is quite possible to explain them physically (biologically) and even replicate them in machines – I’m sure the AI expert would agree (there are even primitive music composing AI programs in existence today). All those forms of expression are simply typical human behaviors that exist to some degree in animals too. What is fundamentally different about art (including literature and music)? What sort of non-physical mechanism is required in order to produce art? I even think that in many cases art is no more than imitation with some original recombination. Most poems are similar in structure and many are similar in content. The same is true for music as well. I think those are all overestimated (in the context of evidence for the existence of spiritual mechanisms). Even if you find a poem extremely exciting it doesn’t mean there’s anything spiritual involved. It just means the poem provides you with exciting stimulus. It’s all very possible to explain biologically. I’m not saying easy to explain because we still need to map the entire human brain and that may take us a while – but it is certainly possible.

    Yes, the body produces strong feel-good hormones. We are not too varied and complex to be explained in this way. Do you believe this is the entire explanation? Science doesn’t really say “the body produces feel-good hormones, therefore we fall in love”. That is only what you remember of the explanation that you’ve read. The interaction between many different types of feel-good hormones in the many different parts of the brain at different times and contexts is quite complex; complex enough to explain all the variety and complexity that we witness. Science may not have the full explanation right now, but it’s constantly making progress and it seems to be going in the right direction.

    Again, the entire brain can be mapped and every sort of behavior explained physically, to the degree that will enable us, in time, to create machines that will be behaviorally indistinguishable from humans. However, we may or may not be able to explain why red appears to be red, what sonar feels like to bats, what exactly the AI expert felt when he fell in love, and whether machines and other creatures have qualia.

    This is not just my opinion, but also the opinion of my brain science lecturer (if I understood him correctly), and probably the general position of the field of neuroscience (I’m not referring to the qualia part – only to the opinion that everything can be explained biologically). Nevertheless, it may all be mistaken.

    Thanks for the link.