Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The equation that explains everything?

My cheat sheet says the answer is 42

Did you know that we are nothing but biological machines governed by physical processes which, according to the leading materialist philosopher Sean Carroll, are completely modelled by the above equation?  (Hat tip Jayarava)

Now I wouldn’t claim to understand the various parts the equation, let alone the equation as a whole, but I’m pretty sure, assuming the Church-Turing-Deutsch principle to be true, that the whole equation consists of a concatenation of Turing Machines and nothing else.  The Turing Machine is a mathematical structure (not normally or necessarily instantiated as an actual physical device)  that completely describes the concept of ‘mechanism’ to any level of complexity, including computers and all phenomena that can be modelled by computers.  

This immediately flags up two yawning gaps in this model's claim to be a complete description of the world. This equation cannot deal with (i) qualitative phenomena (qualia) nor (ii) anything that involves meaning and semantics (intentionality), because Turing Machines can only process Boolean, quantitative and syntactical information, and  have zero capabilities with intentionality and qualia.  In fact, no matter how many zillions of Turing machines you concatenate, a zillion times zero is still zero.

And no matter how may megazillions of Turing Machines you concatenate or link in a network, you won't get any mind-like 'emergent properties' emerging from them, because emergent properties emerge from the mind of the observer, not from the data.  The materialists' claim that mind is an emergent property of mechanism seems to be an example of the logical fallacy of petitio principii or circular reasoning.

Is the bunch of cherries an emergent property of the 13x15 pixel array, or does it emerge from the mind of the observer?

Incompleteness and incoherence
So Sean Carroll's equation may be accurate, but it is incomplete. 

It may accurately describe all known physical processes, but it says nothing about non-physical processes such as the experience of qualia (and most significanty, from the Buddhist viewpoint, the pervasive experience of dukkha) neither does it address intentional awareness - such basic features of our world as attention and aboutness.                                 

The incoherence of materialism
Materialism claims that the basis of all phenomena is matter.  This is incoherent and unscientific and has been demonstrably so since the Michaelson-Morley experiment.   

Michaelson and Morley proved that the foundations of electromagnetic physics  are based on processes, not substances.    Prior to their experiment it had been assumed that light waves and the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum propagated in the same manner as sound and water waves, through a substrate.  Michaelson and Morley proved that this hypothetical substrate (known as the 'luminiferous aether') did not exist.  So light waves are pure 'disembodied' processes which function without any material support whatsoever, with no need for even the wispy and tenuous hint of matter or substance provided by the aether.

Subsequently, quantum mechanics dealt the death blow to the 'substantialist' interpretation of physics by showing that fundamental particles aren't 'things' at all, but are processes.   Electrons and protons etc only appear as 'things' at the moment of measurement.  (They are reified by the observer).  When left to themselves they propagate through space as probability waves, which are of course processes. Consequently, Sean Carroll's equation is not about substances and 'things in themselves', it deals with relationships and dynamics, in other words processes.

The incoherence of substance dualism
Substance dualism is an erroneous attempt to counteract materialism by claiming that there are non-material things and substances, such as souls and ectoplasm.   This fails as a model of the mental world for much the same reasons as materialism fails as a model of the physical world.  Mental phenomena, like physical phenomena, are ultimately processes rather than things.   The root mind is known is Buddhism as the 'mental continuum' or 'mindstream', and like Heraclitus' river is never the same thing for two successive instants.

The Hard Problem
So the Hard Problem of consciousness, which is normally stated as 'how does the mind interact with the body?', could be restated from a  Buddhist viewpoint as 'how do mental processes interact with mechanistic processes?'  One possibility, as suggested by
Henry Stapp is by intentionality in the form of attention acting via the Quantum Zeno effect.

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The appalling reputation of religion

Ecrasez l'infâme!

In recent weeks we have seen the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the kosher deli massacre, the Quran-inspired atrocities of the Caliphate and the blogger being slowly and sadistically flogged to death for the crime of insulting Jihadism.  So is it any wonder that young people are becoming increasingly hostile to religion,  and many children have come to  regard religious people as dangerous and threatening?

Obviously the main culprit nowadays is Jihadism , but you don't need to look too far back into the history of most religions, with the exceptions of Buddhism, Jainism and Anglican Latitudinarianism (with its spin-offs such as Quakerism and Methodism) to find doctrinally mandated intolerance and incitement to genocide, homophobia, anti-intellectualism discrimination etc.   Even the supposedly liberal Pope Francis has recently endorsed physical attacks on blasphemers.  It seems that old habits die hard.

Guilt by association?
So should Buddhism continue to market itself primarily as a religion? Might this attract guilt by association and collateral damage?    Should Buddhism concentrate on its spiritual rather than religious aspects in order to appeal to modern youth?  

The term  'spirituality' is more acceptable among the young than religion (hence the rise of the 'spiritual but not religious' demographic).  In addition, Buddhism could market itself as a psychotherapy and philosophy.


Is philosophy more acceptable than religion?
If Buddhism is referred to as a religion, it needs to emphasise that it is a uniquely special kind of religion - one founded on philosophy.  All other religions are based upon unreproducible instances of 'divine revelation', where unverifiable 'truths' are revealed to one person or a small group of people and claimed to be the word of God, valid for all time.  Critical thinking and doubt are not encouraged.

Hence the ramblings, ravings and rantings of a seventh-century psychopathic pedophile are still producing rape, pillage and genocide wherever they are taken literally 1400 years later.  'As dangerous in a man as rabies in dog', to quote Churchill.

The Kalama people of India had many similar charlatans and madmen trying to convert them by claiming their own divinely inspired doctrines were correct, and everybody else was wrong.

One day the Buddha turned up, and the Kalamas asked him why they should believe his teachings rather than all the cult leaders, conmen and false prophets whom they had already seen off.

The Buddha replied:

"It is natural that doubt should arise in your minds.

I tell you not to believe merely because it has been handed down by tradition, or because it had been said by some great personage in the past, or because it is commonly believed, or because others have told it to you, or even because I myself have said it.

But whatever you are asked to believe, ask yourself whether it is true in the light of your experience, whether it is in conformity with reason and good principles and whether it is conducive to the highest good and welfare of all beings, and only if it passes this test, should you accept it and act in accordance with it." 

So the Buddha is making a statement which is found in no other religion. Unlike all other religious leaders he is not claiming a hotline to God, a personal, non-reproducible revelation which appears to him and no-one else.

He was saying:

(1) Do not believe anything on the basis of religious authority, or 'holy' books, or family/tribal tradition, or even coercion and intimidation by the mob.


(2) Test the methodology against your own experience. Does it do what it says on the box?

(3) Is the philosophy rational? Or does it require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast?

(4) Judge the tree by its fruits. Is it beneficial, or does it tell you to act against your conscience and 'The Golden Rule'.

So maybe Buddhism needs to be marketed to an increasingly skeptical and anti-religious public as...

(1) An empirically testable psychotherapy.
(2) An ethical and humane spirituality'
(3) A belief system built upon a solid philosophical foundation.

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Controlling pain with mindfulness meditation

Vidyamala Burch
From the BBC

"Vidyamala Burch is helping people in pain through the practice of "mindfulness", the act of paying more attention to the present moment. But it took her many years to discover it for herself first.

When people are having serious difficulties, it can bring out the extreme sides of people's personalities, says Vidyamala Burch, a 55-year-old pain management practitioner based in Manchester. "One is the denial, pushy, driven side and the other is the more passive, overwhelmed, depressive side."

Burch lives with chronic pain having acquired two spinal injuries at an early age. The first happened at 16 when she lifted somebody from a swimming pool during water safety practice. The second was the result of a car accident five years later...

...A lengthy period of rehabilitation followed in which she tried many different relaxation techniques. Three years later, she found that one, called Mindful Meditation, worked well for her.

"We have adapted the 'mindful movement' so that the primary emphasis is on being aware as you move, rather than how far you can move”

Now more widely known as mindfulness, it can be described as the act of focusing on the present moment, acknowledging thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. It is thousands of years old and Buddhist in origin, but has become popular as a therapy in the West in recent years.

Though perhaps most commonly associated with tackling mental health difficulties, and strongly promoted by the NHS for this, one of its first applications in this part of the world was to help with pain.

Burch says that when you have severe discomfort, there's a "rising up" in your body that exclaims "this hurts and I don't like it".

"The intuitive response is to turn away from it and try and get on with life in spite of your pain," she says. "With mindfulness, what we do is we turn towards it, to investigate what is actually happening in each moment."

In 2000, now ordained as a Buddhist, she found herself struggling to find paid work which she could physically manage. The idea occurred to her that she might be able to help others with pain on a professional basis.

She started a social enterprise called Breathworks where people with chronic pain take an eight-week course to learn how mindfulness could help them cope better with their physical symptoms..."

Read it all here

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