Experience alone leads me to pick Theory #2. In what I do I'm constantly battling academic experts peddling Theory #1. Typically they have looked at say 10 epidemiological studies and concluded that the theory "A causes B" is consistent with the data and thus true. A thousand lawsuits against the maker of "A" are then launched on behalf of those who suffer from "B".
Eventually, and almost invariably with admittedly a few notable exceptions, the molecular people then come along and more convincingly theorize that "C causes A and B" such that the reason plaintiff was say ingesting "A" and then suffering from "B" was because "C" was producing an urge/need for "A" as an early symptom of the eventual "B". Or, to take a more concrete example, it may be that they demonstrate that plaintiffs were exposed to "A" (e.g. a vaccine) at the typical age of onset (e.g. autism) of "B" so that the perceived causal connection was merely coincidental.
The ability to identify and control for confounders is for some reason (perhaps to do with overcoming bias) heightened in the second set of eyes to review data and the theories they generate.
I was trying to understand hindsight bias when a friend first directed me to overcomingbias.com. I still have the link he sent in my favorites and it informs my view of the original post above and many of those that follow. Here it is for those interested in such things:
What I've never understood is why it's so much worse to be vaporized/die of radiation burns than it is to be incinerated/die of fire burns. Or why it's "wrong" to nuke people cheering on soldiers who used pregnant women as bayonet targets but "just an unfortunate part of war" to blast the same people into little bits. I'm being coy, of course. There is no difference. The fact is that the "sin" of dropping one bomb versus another was concocted, and has since been propagated, by the anti-American Left and Right.
Isn't this George Berkeley's issue? Isn't math just the structural part of another sort of language? Isn't 2 + 3 = 5 the same as red and blue make purple in the sense that each observer has a sense of red, blue, purple, 2, 3 and 5 all his/her/its own?
If space aliens find Voyager and read 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 *, etc do they see those *s in any context other than the three tentacles on their second heads?
How then is "2" in any sense different than "red"? How then is "2" any more independently real than "red"?
I sell "truth" for a living. Or, perhaps better said, I discover and then sell the "truths" people are eager to buy.
I conjecture that having access to, or good insights about, the truth is and has always been a survival trait of great value - especially among social animals. People have thus indeed a reverence for truth borne of practicality.
The problem is that most people, including most skeptics, are afraid to dip their "truths" in the acid bath of falsification. Far better (for the ego at least) to build elaborate structures of correlations and consistent-withs than to confess that you are unwise and so not fit for the role of shaman or congressman.
Accordingly a wise lawyer, knowing that he can't change the truths to which a particular juror clings, recognizes that his juror holds to many different truths. Therefore he appeals to that held-truth most happily amenable to his argument. For example, I had a case once in which I represented a company that, like all which bought ceiling tiles in the 1950s, had asbestos on its premises in the form of acoustic tiles and was being sued by a four decade-long smoker who claimed that his 3 weeks of exposure to the ceiling tiles in the 1960s while installing a new phone system caused him to develop lung cancer decades later. I knew that we had utopian jurors; the sorts who think that all risk can be eliminated from life and that while they never impose any risk on their fellows, they are beset by evil "corporations" imposing risk on them. So what to do?
The plaintiff had raped a 12 year old girl and spent 6 years in prison. I found it out during the trial (a good paralegal is priceless) and sprang it on him (he'd lied about prior convictions in his depostion) while he was on the stand to great effect. A felony conviction within 10 years is usually admissible on the question of credibility if the perpetrator takes the stand. Such evidence didn't have anything to do with whether a few fibers of asbestos are more significant in a small cell lung cancer case than 40 years of smoking of course. But it made all the difference in the world. Those jurors' truth that "rapists are bad" was more important than their truth that "even one asbestos fiber will KILL!"
So it is with most "truths".
And in my experience, among the hierarchy of "truths", the truth about God ranks for most mortals far down the list, or makes no appearance at all, on their decision trees. Thus, most rants about believers or un-believers are as tedious as a discussion about which is better - the donut or the donut hole. And anyway, they're both simply phenomena, clues, about the whole, as it were.
Your problem, I think, has not to do with nihilism, but rather with narcissism. (If none of it's about anything, then certainly none of it's about you.)
Regarding the quest for mind-altering experiences I lay that at the feet of the same drive that causes us to want to control our environment, including that of our mind. Some folks just don't know when to quit. Depression is simply self-flattery. Get over it. If you're able.
And then back to the point: one trap laid before us by our narcissism is that we think we "know" as much as those who came before us who themselves knew so little. A beginning? A cold death in the void? Do we merely flatter ourselves that the fashions of fashionable thinking are more true than those that came before, rather than just a slightly better approximation?
And to the author's point: whatever there is, or isn't, out there, beyond there - I agree that happiness is found in salience. Excitement. Doing. Changing. Becoming.
Let's not and say we did.
Recall I'm a lawyer fighting a fairly lonely battle for sound science in the courtroom. So let me tell you; abandoning Popper and falsification (i.e. rejecting Daubert v. Merrell Dow) and going to a subjective "more likely than not belief" standard is nothing but a recipe for handing billions more over to the already super rich trial lawyers (several of whom are starting to report to prison, along with their experts, for the perjury, bribing of judges, etc that went on back in the bad old days).
Alas. The claim that "science can't prove anything for sure so let's allow "experts" to testify about what they believe and have the jurors sort it out" is starting to surface in cases I work on. In those cases, self-proclaimed experts charging $500/hr or more per hour to testify to their beliefs, which allegedly arise out of the penumbras of their expertise, and which correlate precisely with the position of the side that hired them, are already cashing in. The law will not appreciate the niceties of the argument here and it won't be long before we have PhDs testifying that MRI machines damage ESP powers ... again. (My personal favorite was an expert in New York who was allowed to testify that C6H6 made synthetically was toxic at the one molecule dose level but that C6H6 generated by the body was not because "natural" benzene had a "life resonance electron level" which kept its "electron cloud in a harmless state". He believed it and believed it strongly so he got to testify to it because he is an MD/PhD.)
So just say "Hell NO!" to "subjective degrees of belief", or anything similar, as the standard definition of science in tort cases .... and that's what it will be if "science" says that's what real science is. Unless you're a trial lawyer who files his cases in a poor rural area it will cost you beaucoup otherwise. I get the distinction but most won't and the scoundrels will have a field day.
It's good to know that somewhere I won the World Series of Poker last year; and the idiot that went all in over my 3x raise with 7-2 off suit and sucked out to beat my AA with is poor and broke somewhere today and that's good to know too. Not that I'm bitter or anything, of course. Not in those other worlds anyway.
I've never thought much about this subject nor did I spend much time pondering the thoughts that follow before typing them up so I apologize in advance if they are inane or offensive to anyone or any zombie out there.
It would seem to me that self-awareness is the sine qua non of consciousness. Now, if self-awareness is somehow extra-physical wouldn't it to remain so throughout its range. Yet awareness throughout a rather easily observable portion of its range is obviously grounded firmly in the physics of this world. How so? Pardon the anecdote but once upon a time I found myself in a very dangerous circumstance. I found myself hyper-aware. And I was aware not only of my body, its position and the movements of the person attempting to do me harm - I was aware of myself thinking at a speed which would have profoundly and positively affected my grades had I been able to summon it at will. Sometimes when really fired up during closing argument it happens again. It's like an out-of-body experience. The "I" is quite consciously controlling body language, hand movements and posture; and the "I" is playing the words like playing a record. It's a very odd feeling and certainly makes me think there ought to be something magical about the "I".
But what brings out the "I" is epinephrine and not epiphenomenae. Indeed states of hyper-awareness have been reproduceably generated either by administration of epinephrine or by inducing it. One interesting example I ran across while changing the channels was that of a fellow looking at a flashing screen displaying a number while falling 80 feet into a net. He couldn't make out the number while standing on the ground as the screen was flashing too fast; but once the epinephrine burst was triggered by being dropped he became hyper-aware and could read the screen.
So my stray thought is "why search for, or even conjecture, an extra-physical cause of awareness when we know that it is modified by a very down to earth neurotransmitter?"