Exclude the supernatural? My worldview is up for grabs.

by r_claypool1 min read25th Jun 201193 comments

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Background

I was raised in the Churches of Christ and my family is all very serious about Christianity. About 3 years ago, I started to ask some hard questions, and the answers from other Christians were very unsatisfying. I used to believe that the Bible was, you know, inspired by a loving God, but its endorsement of genocide, the abuse of slaves, and the mistreatment of women and children really started to bother me.

I set out to study these issues as much as I could. I stayed up past midnight for weeks reading what Christians have to say, and this process triggered a real crisis of faith. What started out as a search for answers on Biblical genocide led me to places like commonsenseatheism.com. I learned that the Bible has serious credibility problems on lots of issues that no one ever told me about. Wow.

My Question

Now I'm pretty sure that the God of the Bible is man-made and Jesus of Nazareth was probably a failed prophet, but I don't have good reasons to reject the supernatural all together. I'm working through the sequences, but this process is slow. I will probably struggle with this question for months, maybe longer.

Excluding the Supernatural was interesting, but it left me wanting a more thorough explanation. Where do you think I should go from here? Should I just continue reading the sequences, and re-read them until the ideas gel? I'm coming from 30 years of Sunday School level thinking. It's not like I grew up with words like "epistemology" and "epiphenomenalism". If there is no supernatural, and I can be confident about that, I will need to re-evaluate a lot of things. My worldview is up for grabs.

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You need reasons to include the supernatural. Do you have any?

This. The scientific community - in other words, millions of people working for hundreds of years, using all the reasonable means they could come up with - has so far found no trace of the supernatural. In order to go against their work, you'd need some rather heavy evidence. Do you have any?

See also Privileging the Hypothesis and Burdensome Details.

Also, you say you don't have a good reason to reject the supernatural altogether. That suggests that there are some specific supernatural things you still believe in. Be specific - exactly what are those? What makes you tempted to accept them as true?

"The supernatural" is such a broad category that asking "should I believe in the supernatural or not" is really a rather abstract question, and hard to give a definitive answer to. It's much easier to concentrate on the specifics. Take every thing you are tempted to belive in and might classify as supernatural and ask separately, "should I believe in this or not?".

8r_claypool10yI don't have any supernatural events or beings in mind, but I am tempted to say that consciousness, free will and moral absolutes are evidence that the world is made of something more than atoms. Thanks for responding.

I think the (very widely held) idea that consciousness is evidence that the world isn't purely material is founded on a mistake.

So the argument seems to go something like this. "Imagine a mind, or the nearest possible thing to a mind, made up entirely of material stuff. Can you see where its consciousness comes from? No? Why, then, clearly minds must be immaterial, or have immaterial components, or something of the sort."

But if you actually try to turn this into an argument that would convince someone who didn't already want to believe in immaterial minds/souls/spirits, you'll find that there's a huge gap in it. It purports to show that "minds are entirely material" (call this M) is less plausible than "minds are not entirely material" (not-M) by looking only at consequences of M and not comparing them with consequences of not-M.

If the argument had turned up an actual logical contradiction as a consequence of M, that would be fair enough: if M leads to contradiction then not-M must be better (unless M and not-M are both actually nonsense of some sort). But if M is merely improbable or counterintuitive or currently lacking good explanations, you can't c... (read more)

1Peterdjones10yOr you can say that consc.is fundamental and does not arise from anything else. The physicalist takes some things (eg matter/energy)nas inexplicable fundamentals., The dualist takes one more thing as an inexplicable fundamental. I am not particualrly selling dualism, but it remains popular becaude it is not as obviously flawed as you make out.
6Desrtopa10yBut that comes right back to the question of why consciousness has such a strong relation to the physical state of the brain. If consciousness is is fundamental and doesn't arise from anything else, why does it behave as if it's a function of the brain? For positing an additional entity of such complexity, it doesn't do a very good job explaining our observations.
-2Peterdjones10yContemporary dualists are happy to accept that the Easy Problem aspects of consciousness have neurological explanations. The focus is on the Hard Problem aspect of qualia. Since sensory information is already present in the neurological account , the only gap that needs to be plugged is adding phenomenal feels to the existing information.
2gjm10ySure, you can just say that consciousness is fundamental. That's exactly the same sort of question-begging as just saying that consciousness arises from souls. Assuming something as fundamental reduces the merit of your theory just as much as failing to explain it (since assuming it as fundamental does, in fact, fail to explain it) so once again there's no explanatory advantage to the non-materialist position here. (Also, if you take consciousness as fundamental then the intricate relationships between consciousness and matter are highly mysterious. If consciousness arises from what the brain does, it's at least unsurprising in general terms that what you're conscious of relates to what your brain's doing, that interfering with the brain can interfere with your consciousness, etc. If it's some magical independent thing, how does that happen?)
1Peterdjones10yIs it question begging to say is fundamental? Are they?If you take (eg) matter and space as both fundamental, are you then unable to explain the complex relationships between them?
2gjm10yIt could be. For instance, imagine someone (years ago) wondering why and how things burn. Let's suppose that this was before there was a really good scientific account of burning. Then they might say "Conventional science has failed; we should therefore adopt my theory instead. My theory says that there is a fundamental property of things, called their flammability; things burn readily when their flammability is high. Burning consists of turning things with high flammability into things with low flammability." That would be question-begging, in relation to explaining burning, in roughly the same way as taking consciousness as fundamental is question-begging in relation to explaining consciousness. I suppose it could in principle turn out that consciousness is fundamental. (Being question-begging is a defect in an argumentative move; the proposition(s) one asserts in the process might still be correct.) But the fact that we don't have anything close to a complete physical explanation of consciousness cannot be a good reason for thinking that consciousness is fundamental; there would have to be other reasons, if someone were to be rationally convinced that consciousness is fundamental. (A sufficiently complete and sustained failure to find physical explanations for consciousness might be sufficient reason for provisionally taking consciousness as fundamental. But as I've already said elsewhere in this thread, that isn't in fact the epistemic situation we find ourselves in.) They seem to be; at any rate I've never heard any sort of explanation, starting with "consciousness as fundamental" premises, that gives any inkling of how those relationships might come about. As for matter and space: in order to do justice to the relationships between them, physicists don't exactly take them as separate fundamental things. But that's a quibble, indeed, a sufficiently detailed theory about what consciousness does and how it relates to the other things known to science might in
-1Peterdjones10yQuestion beggingness is an inherent property of arguments: it shouldn;t depend on external factors. There have been bad explanations (NB explanations aren't arguments) of the form "X is fundamental", some physicalist, some not. There have also been good ones. They can't all be bad because they are question begging: if one is question-begging, all are, but not all are bad. What makes them bad or good is other, complex factors Again: would that apply to all "X is fundamental" arguments? That is a matter of judgment. Those would be the factors that make the posit that consciousness is fundamental (part of) a good explanation. We don't have a good dualist explanation; many think we don;t have a good physicalist explanation either. But the point remains that dualist (or, as I prefer, intrinsicist) explanations can't written off apriori. The devil's oin the details. Don't they? What's the space-time- matter energy unification theory?
0gjm10yIt's an intrinsic property of arguments in contexts. Specifically, whether something is question-begging depends on what one's trying to prove. Indeed explanations aren't arguments. The arguments we're talking about are ones of the form "Theory X is better than theory Y because it explains alleged facts F better". Merely saying "Consciousness (or whatever) is fundamental" is of course not question-begging. But if the existence, or some property, of consciousness is one of the alleged facts F, and if theory X simply postulates whatever property it is of consciousness, then a question is being begged. I don't claim to be able to contemplate all imaginable arguments that say things are fundamental. But, in general, claiming that something's fundamental and just happens to have the properties it's known to have is a pretty weak move; and saying "Look, I've now given an explanation of whatever-it-is, so I'm doing better than you stupid people who are still looking for more complicated explanations" is invalid. I'm afraid I don't understand. Would you care to say a little more. "Matter" isn't a first-class citizen in modern physics. There are a bunch of quantum fields, and things that happen to those fields produce the effects we call matter. (And other things that happen to those fields produce actually-quite-similar effects that we generally don't call matter, such as physical forces.) "Space" isn't quite a first-class citizen either; spacetime is; its geometry is determined by the matter-and-similar-stuff in it. I wouldn't say that space and matter (or spacetime and mass/energy) are exactly unified; my rather noncommital language ("don't exactly take them as separate fundamental things") was deliberate.
-2Peterdjones10yA formal argument will include a conclusion. If that is the same as one of its premises, a question is being begged. I don't see that that is the case. The rather informal argument you gave mentions facts being explained better. Simply positing things is better than not explaining them at all, but not as good explaining them parsimoniously, without additional posits. Yes--in general. But it is not invariably invalid, as formal question-begging is. A novel ontological posit can be part of a good expanation. Examples tend to be complicated. Neither would I. Ontological fundamentals are going to be rather useless if they don't relate to each other at all...and they are not going to be fundamentals. plural, if they relate too closely. So that is to be expected.
0gjm10ySure, but most arguments -- including in particular many of the sort this discussion was originally about -- are not formalized. Specifically, theistic or supernaturalist arguments based on consciousness, morality and free will generally leave most of their premises unstated and most of their steps implicit. Accordingly, the appropriate notion of question-begging needs to be generalized slightly. I suppose you might prefer to use some other term for the logical flaw I'm complaining about: what's being assumed is not necessarily exactly what they set out to prove, but some other thing that stands in about as much need of proof, and for much the same reasons, as what they're purporting to prove. See, here's where we disagree. I think simply positing things is worse than just leaving them unexplained, unless either (1) there's some actual reason to think they need simply positing, or (2) they're posited in a way that actually leads to useful predictions (and those predictions don't get refuted). In epistemology, positing that there's an external world with which our experience is somewhat correlated is useful because of #1; if you don't make such an assumption then you simply can't get started. In physics, positing electrons (or the quantum field from which they arise, or whatever) is useful because of #2; what you're positing has precisely defined behaviour which lets you deduce all kinds of true things. But how does positing consciousness as fundamental help you in either respect? And, if it doesn't, how does it help at all? It seems to me that it just serves to discourage you for looking for better explanations. Well, there's an interesting rhetorical move. I say "X is a pretty weak move, and Y is invalid". You quote only the first half and say "But it's not invariably invalid". Bah. Of course. Perhaps it wasn't clear what I was asking. You said "Those would be the factors that ..." but I can't tell what things you were referring to; you said "a good explanati
-2Peterdjones10yI don't see the problem. I was trying to emphasise that question begging is not the right diagnosis of the problem. Yep. As above. You're not distingusihing the cases where the posit is part of a theory and where it isn't. Where we have a theory, we can test it. We don't have a satisfactory dualist or physicalistic theory. So what is going on at this stage is not really theorisation,. but speculation about the form a theory should take. As I indicated, that is difficult to answer succintly. I think the posit of colour charge works within QCD, but saying what is good about QCD is like summarising Proust.
0gjm10yI think we're failing to communicate, because that distinction is an important part of what I'm getting at. The proponents of consciousness-as-fundamental show no sign of having any interest in making consciousness into part of a theory that's any use, and that's part of what I think is wrong with what they're saying. You seem not to be willing to try to answer at all. You won't say what you meant, you won't say whether you think there's a useful theory that includes consciousness as a fundamental phenomenon, you hint vaguely that there might be such a theory and it might have some explanatory power but you won't say what it might look like or how it might do its explaining. You say "those would be the factors that do X" and then refuse to say just what "those" are or anything about how they do X. How is it possible to have a meaningful discussion on these terms?
-2Peterdjones10yAs I pointed out, physicalists don't have a solution to the Hard Problem either. You say they are trying and dualists aren't, but you offer no evidence. That is because it is difficult. As I said. I'm sorry, but I'm just not saying the things you think I am saying. What I said was: "what is going on at this stage is not really theorisation,. but speculation about the form a theory should take" ETA The point is not that dualism is true and physicalism false. The point was only ever that dualism is not as obviously false as sometimes made out.
0gjm10yEvidence that physicalists have been trying: books like Dennett's "Consciousness explained" and Edelman's "Neural Darwinism" and Koch's "The quest for consciousness" and so forth, all putting forward hypotheses about what physical goings-on give rise to consciousness and how. Evidence that dualists aren't trying (more specifically, not trying to do more than just say "Consciousness is fundamental, and that's all there is to it" or something else that similarly tries to take credit for solving the problem without doing the work): I'm not sure what sort of evidence I could present. All I can say is that I've so far not seen any sign that dualists are trying, or have any interest in doing so. Well, I do keep asking you to clarify your meaning -- and you keep replying by saying things like "That is because it is difficult". I decline to take the blame for not understanding you if you aren't prepared to try to be understood. I haven't been claiming that dualism is obviously false. I've been claiming that some things offered as evidence for dualism (or for more complicated sets of ideas that involve dualism) are rotten evidence.
-2Peterdjones10yEvidence that dualists are trying... [http://consc.net/mindpapers/1.4f] ..not to forget The Conscious Mind (400+ pages) [http://www.consciousentities.com/chalmers.htm]
0gjm10yI haven't read Chalmers's book, but so far as I can tell from reading about it it doesn't in fact offer the sort of thing I'm complaining dualists aren't trying to do. Is that wrong? If so, where in the book -- I have a copy on my overflowing to-be-read shelves -- should I look to find an attempt, or at least some work heading towards an attempt, to offer an actual explanation of why the relationship between consciousness and physical stuff is the way it is? (Note: simply saying "there are bridging laws that make that relationship what it is" is not an explanation, nor anything like one; but if Chalmers has something more substantial to offer then I'm all ears.) [EDITED a minute or two after posting; I'd forgotten that I do actually have a copy of Chalmers's book. It's been sat in my read-this-some-time pile for about the last 10 years, though. Note: "10 years" is literal, not rhetorical. I went to Amazon to see how much it would cost if I wanted to buy it and Amazon kindly put up a note saying "You purchased this in 2001."]
-2Peterdjones10yIf you are looking for a completely satisfactory explanation of consc. you are not going to find it the dualist literature or the physicalist literature. I don't see there is much else I can add. If you want to know what Chalmer's book says, you have to read it yourself. Alternatively, you could become less inclined to come to strong conclusions about ideas you are not familiar with. EIther way it is up to you. I am not particularly selling dualism myself.
0MixedNuts10yThat's one of the very bad things about philosophy. Nobody tells you "if you want to understand general relativity, read Einstein's papers" - it has been rehashed and cut into parts and explained in various ways and accompanied with exercises and summed up or stretched out and put into a bunch of textbooks. Nobody tells you "if you want to know what Nozick thought about libertarianism, go read his book" - just grab the summary and commentary on ESR or Faré's websites.
-1Peterdjones10yEqually, the OP could read WP articles, amazon reviews, etc. (And Chalmer's book itself contains summaries of much foregoing mind-body phil.). The thing is he is claiming that dualists are making no efforts to explain: but they are[*], he is just making no effort to find out what they are saying. [*] Dualist phils. have no miraculous way of rising through the academic ranks whilst publishing nothing.
0gjm10yMe: You: I do wish you wouldn't do that. Clearly that's true for some definitions of "what C's book says" and false for others. On the other hand, if what I actually want to know is whether C's book contains a particular sort of thing then it seems obviously reasonable to ask whether you've got any suggestions for where in it I should look. What particular strong conclusions do you have in mind? And what ideas are they about with which you think I'm unfamiliar?
-2Peterdjones10yThat dualists aren't interested in explaining consc, for some value of "explaining consc" where by physicalists are interested. eg. the ones in TCM.
0gjm10ySo I had a look at the first five things linked from the first of those pages. 1. A dissertation by Aryanosi. Not available online so far as I can tell. Aryanosi does not in fact appear to be a dualist; at least, looking for other work of his the first thing I found was a paper [http://istvanaranyosi.net/resources/BJPSweb.pdf] offering an argument for the thesis that the mind is identical with the brain. Excerpt: "This brings me to the argument I would like to put forward, to the conclusion that the doctrine of naturalistic dualism is probabilistically incoherent, and that physicalism, in the form of the identity thesis, is the likeliest candidate for the mental-physical relation." I did also find a chapter of his dissertation online. It's concerned with Chalmers's zombie argument, and argues that it's unsound. 2. A paper on gallium arsenide nanowires. It seems unlikely that this has anything to say about dualism. I have no idea what it's doing on that page. 3. A paper whose filename is whyiamnotadualist.pdf. Presumably its author is not a dualist. 4. Looks like another version of the same paper. 5. Not available online. I can't tell from the abstract whether the author is a dualist, but it doesn't appear to be either defending dualism or attempting to construct a theory of how dualism might "work". So that seems to be 0 for 5. This doesn't encourage me to read on and check more. What makes you regard it as "evidence that dualists are trying"? Evidence that some people are writing about dualism, yes, but that's not the same thing at all. To save me wading through every link there, is there anything there that actually (1) is by a dualist and (2) offers the sort of thing I was complaining dualists don't do?
0hairyfigment10yThe physical world, as an explanation, clearly has more prior probability than the physical world plus fundamental consciousness. (And that seems like a more realistic form of the question. I have yet to see anyone, even those who like to link modern physics with consciousness, actually replace part of the first theory with a new assumption about fundamental consciousness.) Posterior probability (meaning the amount of belief you should give to each theory after you look at all the evidence, r_claypool) seems trickier. Dualist philosophers might argue that when we fail to logically derive consciousness from the assumption of a physical world, that counts as evidence for dualism. But as gjm suggests, mainstream dualism doesn't seem to change our expectations about certain matters. In particular, it does not tell us when or in what situations a physical process leads to conscious experience. You'd have to describe those situations in ways a physicalist like me could agree with, and add that to our scientific picture of the world along with whatever assumptions dualism entails. On the face of it we can drop the last part and have a simpler theory. My rant on taking the description of when consciousness happens as an additional law of reality got too long. Suffice it to say, that also seems wrong to me epistemologically.
0drethelin10yMatter/energy are NOT inexplicable fundamentals. We have studied them, and can explain them in terms of photons, quarks, quantum wave functions, etc. These things may yet be ineffable, but Science only has inexplicables AFTER it has tried as hard as it can to explain. They did not START with the axioms "matter, and energy are inexplicable", even though they once were, and your example of dualists doing that is the exact core of the flawed reasoning of dualism. We cannot explain something, therefore we call it inexplicable, rather than trying to actually explain it.
-2Peterdjones10yQuarks are made of matter/energy, not vice versa. Note that it is not logically impossible to reductively explain everything in terms of nothing. How do you know it has reached the point of "having tried as hard as it can"? Science certainly has tried to explain mind. Physicalists judge that more trying is needed; dualists judge that the "as hard as it can" point has been reached. Since no one can say in a definite, quantitive way where the point is, it remains a legitmiately a matter of personal judgment.
2gjm10yScience can never be assumed to have tried as hard as it can; it's always possible that some new information will come along and explain something that wasn't explained before. So if you're thinking scientifically, the appropriate notion isn't "inexplicable" but "not explained as yet". Anyone -- dualist or otherwise -- who says "OK, we've done enough now; time to give up" is engaged in thoroughly unscientific thinking. Since scientific thinking demonstrably works well, that's probably a bad thing. (The above leaves some space for a sort of provisional dualism. You could say "So far, no physical explanation of consciousness is apparent. So we might as well treat it as an independent thing until such time as a physical explanation comes along." That would be fine if we had no information at all about the relationship between consciousness and matter. But in fact we do have some information. We have evidence that particular aspects of consciousness are related to particular bits of the brain and particular things the brain does. We have partial explanations, where some things about consciousness have somewhat-handwavy explanations in physical terms. And we have a long history of trying out non-physicalist hypotheses about things -- gods and ghosts and vital spirits and so forth -- and finding them, again and again, smashed to bits once knowledge advances far enough for them to come into contact with reality.)
-1Peterdjones10ySo were the cases where, as a matter of fact, science has posited a new property or force (spin, colour charge, etc) illegitimate? We have evidence that the N fundamentals of physics nonetheless interrelate. ETA Many explanations in terms of "let's say it is fundamental" have failed, but that does not mean the correct number of fundamentals is 0.
2gjm10yI have no idea why you're asking me that. That is: I see no reason why what you're commenting on gives any reason to think I might answer yes to it. Yup. And the richness of their interrelations is what makes it appropriate to classify them all as part of the same physical reality; and the level of detail in our ideas about those fundamentals is (part of) what makes our thinking about them scientific. So far, every attempt at postulating consciousness as fundamental has entirely failed to specify how consciousness relates to everything else (a cynic might surmise that this is because the people doing it want to be careful to avoid saying anything refutable, since they know they haven't taken the measures necessary to make it unlikely that they'd then get refuted). If those details were filled in -- which is part of what it would take to make sense of the observed relationship between consciousness and brains -- then "consciousness", even if still fundamental, would cease to be properly regarded as non-physical, and would become a fit subject for further scientific investigation. That would be an interesting outcome, but I don't expect it ever to happen, because I think what people saying "let's take consciousness as fundamental" want above all else is to keep scientific thinking away from the topic. Of course it doesn't. (It's not clear that 0 is even possible.) But any time you propose that some high-level thing -- minds, life, etc. -- is fundamental, it's a reasonable guess that you're making a mistake; so far every attempt at doing that seems to have been wrong. (Whereas it's not true that every attempt at postulating anything as fundamental has failed.)
-1Peterdjones10yThat's a much better version of the anti-intrinsicism argument: it would be strange if you had a few fundamental things at the bottom of the stack,then a whole bunch of reducible things in the middle,and then suddenly another irreducible thing.
-1Peterdjones10yI was asking that since it seemed to me that the argument you were making against consc. being fundamental would apply,if it aplies at all, to positing anything else as fundamental. I couldn't agree more. That is why I prefer the term "intrinsicism" to "dualism". There could be any number of things wrong with dualism/intrinsicism aposteriori. I am just saying that intrinsicism should not be ruled out apriori just for being intrinsicism.
0gjm10yIt would apply to claiming that anything else is fundamental. Not necessarily to taking it, provisionally, as fundamental. My impression of those who talk about making consciousness fundamental is that they are generally not doing so provisionally with the hope that later on something will be found that's more genuinely fundamental. I think that proposing something as vague and as complicated as consciousness as a fundamental element of reality is such a desperate move that anyone doing it really ought to be hoping for something simpler to be found underlying it.

Free will is covered pretty extensively on this site, although as the wiki page suggests, it can be a useful experience to work out for yourself.

Moral absolutes are also addressed, but since I'm having trouble remembering the names of the articles, it's easier to simply ask; can you explain how we would observe the universe to be different if there were definitively no moral absolutes?

Consciousness is probably the least open-and-shut case of the three. Some reading is available here, but it might be quicker to deal with the question by asking this. Is the entirety of the consciousness contained in a supernatural entity? That is, is it an irreducible mental thing? If so, why does a person's mental state correspond so consistently to the physical state of their brain? If not, and the supernatural phenomenon merely translates the physical states into subjective experience, why suppose that something that doesn't follow the rules that every other known thing in existence does is the best explanation for this one thing, given that we've never found evidence of anything like that anywhere else?

-2Peterdjones10yHowever, note that a necessary instruction is missing. You have to disregard the possibility of a theory of non-deflationary naturalistic libertarianism [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kane_%28philosopher%29#Radical_libertarianism]
8XiXiDu10yRegarding morality. Systems can have properties that their parts alone do not. Morality is an objective property of a system that consists of a person that utters moral statements and the specific entity in, or feature of, the world that the statement identifies or denotes. Yet all all this can be explained in terms of lower level interactions. This does not contradict. Regarding free will. Free will is a middleman. Consciousness between cause and effect. The intelligent refinement of causation into an effective agent. The sun at your back - your shadow in front. You are the shadow player. Nevertheless, to claim sovereignty is trying to get ahead of your own shadow. You imprint reality with a pattern of volition. But not without its implicit consent. Some quotes that might highlight other problems, including consciousness : — Sam Harris’ Argument Against the Afterlife [http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=14919] — Ophelia Benson on divine hiddenness. — Stanley Kubrick — The scourge of perverse-mindedness [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1yi/the_scourge_of_perversemindedness/] — Arthur Schopenhauer — Terence Tao, The “no self-defeating object” argument, and the vagueness paradox [http://terrytao.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/the-no-self-defeating-object-argument-and-the-vagueness-paradox/]
2Will_Newsome10yIt's important to note that talking about the world in terms of atoms and quarks is just using a particular language. The principle of Turing equivalence is relevant. (One weird idea is to talk about how many equivalent-of-bits it takes to specify the equivalent of Turing equivalence for the equivalent of a Turing language. "Analogy" is a cluster of confusing concepts!) Talking about souls isn't taboo, and in fact I find it useful sometimes. The important part is having an accurate model of the world such that you can make correct testable predictions, and in fact that's only important insofar as it helps you make correct decisions. Unfortunately, figuring out what "correct" means is an incredibly hard problem, and the language of moral absolutes is only so helpful. The important heuristic for using languages is to avoid the mind projection fallacy and instead remember that all maps can be inaccurate, including maps of maps.
0JenniferRM10yIf you want exposure to the best condensed version of coherent mechanical/redictionistic/scientific thinking about consciousness that I know about, watch Kristof Koch give a talk on the "Neural Correlates of Consciousness" [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1012772740345851560#]. This might help clear some things up?
0r_claypool10yThanks! I'll check it out.
0[anonymous]10y.

You know, that's a surprisingly good point. In all my thousands of prayers and efforts to connect with God, I don't have even one single experience that was unambiguously out-of-this-world.

9lukeprog10yThis is correct. If someone is going to add something with such high Kolmogorov complexity [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jp/occams_razor/] as non-physical minds to their ontology, they'd better have a really good reason for doing so.

...add something with such high Kolmogorov complexity as non-physical minds to their ontology...

Translation:

Words like "supernatural" demand further explanation. That is because words like "supernatural" are vague and using them in your arguments causes your arguments to become opaque. And the validity of opaque arguments is hard to judge. You have to make your arguments more transparent by defining your terms.

Reducing the vagueness of words like "supernatural", by being more specific, or by naming concrete examples, causes your argument to become more complex (technically the complexity is already comprised in the vagueness of your terms, but ignore that for now). Your argument will be made up of a lot of additional sentences that can be false. The conclusion of an argument that is made up of a lot of statements that can be false is more unlikely to be true. That is because complex arguments can fail in a lot of different ways. You need to support each part of the argument that can be true or false and you can therefore fail to support one or more of its parts, which in turn will render the overall conclusion false.

Consider the above and what it ... (read more)

-1Will_Newsome10yBe careful not to assume the conclusion, e.g. "Non-physical minds have high K complexity because my preferred Turing language assigns high K complexity to non-physical minds (and my preferred Turing language makes sense, dammit!).". The high K complexity isn't want makes us suspicious of "non-physical" phenomena, it's all the reasons that make our chosen ontology the pragmatic one. As of yet we can't get an agent to formally "update" its Turing language or choose a "natural" one, though SI folk are very interested in that problem. Steve Rayhawk had some interesting and related ideas about extracting bits of Chaitin's constant from computation latent in the environment, which sneakily highlights some themes of Friendliness.
-1Peterdjones10yIn things like Cartesian Dualism, mind stuff is supposed to have mental properties as essential and irreducible features. Cartesian minds, are , conroversially, "without moving parts". Surely that would make them low in complexity.
-2Will_Newsome10yRight. It gets kind of funny, though, when you chase that a little further onto a tangent. Human minds think that "without moving parts" is simple because of their mechanical intuitions, and humans got their mechanical intuitions because they evolved in a universe with straightforward physical laws. Or! Human minds think "without moving parts" is simple because of their mechanical intuitions, and human minds got their mechanical intuitions because mechanical intuition is a convergent property of minds, and wherever you have a mind you will find mechanical intuition, via non-fallacious teleology. Put another way, that minds were preceded by some evolutionary process is questionable, or contingent and trivial if "true". Given the latter interpretation, pointing out that human minds evolved is just the genetic fallacy. Given the former interpretation, though, the latter can conceivably be called the teleological fallacy. Dissolving the debate requires resolving the inherent logical uncertainty, and that is a little trickier than some seem to think.
3Peterdjones10yI didn't follow that.
-3Will_Newsome10y(Voted back up to 0.) If you downvoted Peterdjones, please, stop that. He's doing an excellent job at showing how positions like dualism aren't completely stupid, and downvoting him is the sort of behavior that makes LW echo chamber-y. It makes sense to downvote someone if they say something that sounds false without good explanation; I say things that sound like nonsense all the time and it's understandable that I get downvoted for it, even if I know it's due to misunderstanding. But Peterdjones is writing comprehensible and informative comments and I see no good reason to downvote them. If there is a good reason please explain it.
7Armok_GoB10yThis. Absence of evidence IS in fact evidence of absence.
7Normal_Anomaly10yThis is an important point. R_claypool: Here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ih/absence_of_evidence_is_evidence_of_absence/] is the mathematical explanation of why absence of evidence is evidence of absence, if you're interested.

My advice would be to ignore natural/supernatural and focus on true/false instead. From the perspective of truth the category of "natural" is superfluous.

1jfm10yI was going to comment along similar lines. Most people probably have a concept of "supernatural" that's defined by a grab-bag of phenomena. If you stop wondering about whether "the supernatural" exists, and whether various allegedly supernatural phenomena (e.g. transubstantiation, ghosts, spoon-bending) exist, and if it happens that they do, how they work, you'll be well on your way to not needing the concept of "supernatural".

When I was joining, I also held a worldview which was plainly wrong. I read the sequences, but they did not very much help at changing my mind. I accepted what was written there, but still thought I was, somehow, correct. I changed my mind only due to the #lesswrong IRC channel (a kind of chatroom) on the freenode network. (for a web interface, see here). We can help you by quickly answering any questions you have, although this can not substitute reading the sequences.

4ArisKatsaris10yYour experience sounds interesting -- I would encourage you to offer bit more detail about what you believed that was wrong, and what was the exact thing that made you change your mind.
8TrE10yI was a Rand-ish egoist, although unaware of the fact that someone like Rand existed. Also, it was the time when the earthquake in Japan happened, and when I stated that I didn't care at all for those who died, it started. I cannot state what exactly changed my mind - first, I do not recall it precisely enough and second, I don't think it was a single argument that caused me to change this worldview. Instead, it felt like one hundred good arguments sieging my worldview, rendering it indefensible. Upon realization of this, I changed it. This change was actually not one change, I recall three distinct changes, each of which was, although pretty radical, manageable. In the beginning, I held the view that (1) I should be an egoist, seeking to maximize my own happiness/pleasure/whatnotelse; (2) everyone should be an egoist, caring only for themselves. Of course, at that time, this seemed pretty obvious to me, but as my worldview was besieged by many good arguments, I recall changing it to this one: (1) I want to be an egoist; (2) Other people might not be egoists, they might not want to be and there is no reason why they should be. This seemes more defensible, but upon further reading of the sequences (and discussing them, reading more, realizing that there still were quite a few good arguments and they didn't stop nagging) my worldview again changed, and guess what came now: (1) I want to be a utilitarian; (2) Other people might hold different worldviews. From this, it was only a short, not-at-all-painful step, yet a, as I guess, necessary one, to get to: (1) I want to be a utilitarian (2) Others should want to be utilitarians as well, if they have similar values, if they are normal, empathic humans (and even if not, there might be good reasons) I guess changing (2) was necessary for changing (1), and changing (2) again strenghtened my worldview. In order to change your mind, you must first allow yourself changing your mind, and then you can change it.

Cool, changing your worldview is a special thing! Many of us here have been where you are now. As you continue reading the sequences, I suggest you leave yourself a line of retreat.

One issue that might be important for you is the question of what morality means without a supernatural backing. In that light, I recommend What Would You Do Without Morality? and The Moral Void if you haven't already read them.

I've now concluded that morality has a perfectly normal meaning without any supernatural backing (and a meaning, moreover, which justifies trying to be moral), but it took me a while after leaving my religion to reach that conclusion– and in the meantime, it was a relief to realize that I simply wanted friends, family and even stran... (read more)

Attempt to make beliefs pay rent, and beliefs in the supernatural will likely melt away as they fail to constrain your anticipated experiences.

And don't worry too much about supernatural beliefs. Just keep trying to make your beliefs correspond to reality, and see where that goes.

Supernaturalism is a distraction. Theologists defend supernaturalism as an indirect way of defending whatever God they want to believe in. See http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/2011/06/24/atheism-is-just-thinking-there-arent-any-gods/.

The sequences are not specifically tailored to convince people of atheism. They are rather a more general set of tools in going about and reasoning about the world. So don't over-ascribe relevance to atheism many of the philosophical ideas you see in there.

Kudos for having the courage to admit your fundamental beliefs need work.

Have you read the entire Reductionism sequence? That would be the first step. The other big ones related to your query are How to Actually Change Your Mind (which isn't telling you that you should, just explains the general process of how to evaluate a new idea that might shatter your world view), and Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions.

Re-reading would be a good idea after you've read these once.

And of course, the other part of the sequences are good, just not related to what you're looking for.

As I see others are addressing your question, I'll just say: congratulations! Welcome to the world. Let us know if you need any help with anything!

It's only tangentially related to the subject, but if you believe the Bible is sexist - and I very much agree - the next logical step in my eyes would be avoiding gender-loaded language, such as "man-made".

The Bible was literally man-made. I really doubt that women had much to do with its original authorship or redaction history.

2CharlieSheen10yHowever the interpretation of the bible by various theologians was about as influenced by women as say physics, chemistry or evolutionary biology. In other words not very much either, but its not hard to come up with one or two influential women.

I just want to say one final "Thank you" to everyone for contributing. See you on #lesswrong IRC!