Resenhas Publicadas em Inglês no
11- Thinking about Consciousness.
by David Papineau.
12- Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett
13- Irreducible Mind, by Edward Kelly et al.
14- Sweet Dreams, by Daniel Dennett
15- Quantum Gods, by Victor Stenger
16- The New Atheism, by
17- The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of
Mind), by David Chalmers.
Book: Reincarnation: A Critical Examination
by Paul Edwards (1996)
Warning to True Skeptics:
Beware of This Book! - August 2003
When I read this book, I understood why it took about
three years for CSICOP to publish a favourable review of it. A typical case
of tacit disowning...
Edwards devotes to much space to irrelevant issues,
or to irrelevant authors. For example, he talks a lot about Near-Death
Experiences. But instead of performing a deep analysis of the works
of highly respected authors in the field, like Kenneth Ring and Michael
Sabom, he prefers to make lots of jokes and fun of the works of Kübler
Ross and Moody Jr., who are considered very weak even by their own peers.
Susan Blackmore, in "Dying to Live" (1993), did exactly the opposite, performing
high quality skeptical analysis of the works of these authors. An update
on that would be highly informative, but Mr. Edwards decided to give
us only laughs instead.
In fact, it seems that Edwards' phobia of analyzing
empirical evidence is a long lasting illness. He was criticised by
philosopher Robert Almeder for this in 1997, and had already received
this very same criticism by Almeder in 1990. Another lingering disease
of his is his "reluctance to engage primary source material" (that is,
he doesn't read and cite scientific papers, but popular books mostly),
as anthropologist James Matlock put it in 1997 and again back in 1990.
Both these 1990 comments refer to Edwards' four-chapter article published
in the "Free Inquirer" magazine, in 1986-87, on the reincarnation hypothesis.
That is where his book came from, apparently with very few additions,
and possibly with no improvements... (easy money, huh?).
Edwards' analysis of the works of Ian Stevenson is
a complete failure. Actually, his analysis "seems" to have some basis.
The first time I read chapter 16 (on Stevenson), I thought: "Wow, that's
devastating!". By the fourth time I read it, I would be saying: "This
man (i.e. Edwards) is a fake!". If you read it really carefully, you
will notice that he doesn't actually analyze the cases, or their empirical
content, or the arguments for and against them. Strangely enough, he does
make some deeper analysis of the weakest case reports, which led me to
the conclusion that his problem is not incompetence, but unwillingness.
Some specific points are especially revealing. On page
140, he makes some unrespectful and uninformed comments about Stevenson's
research on birthmarks. If Edwards were really a scholar (or even a
decent popular writer), he would have made a review of the bibliography
instead, and would have found an introductory article on this issue
by Stevenson (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1993). There, he would
really have spotted a very serious statistical mistake that Stevenson commited,
and that seems to have remained uncriticized by skeptics until 2002 !!!
(by Leonard Angel). Again, looking for information about reincarnation
"researcher" Banerjee, I could only find jokes, laughs, and gossip in
Edwards' book. But when I read Matlock's (supposedly a "believer") bibliography
review of Past Life Memory Case Studies (1990), I found the following
comment about Banerjee: "Banerjee...was caught tampering with experimental
data, (and) must be considered unreliable...(and) he has been written out
of serious parapsychology.". Wow! So, who is the "skeptic" and who is the
"believer" after all?
And what has Edwards to say about the so called "best
cases" studied by Stevenson and colaborators? Are they really good?
What are their weaknesses and strengths? Did he read them? The "answer"
is on page 277. There, Edwards says: "Better perhaps; but not good enough.".
So that is all our "Awesome Scholar" (as Martin Gardner labelled him)
has to say? "Perhaps"!!?? The man simply didn't even read the cases! Again,
on page 256, where he comments on Leonard Angel's critique of the Imad
Elawar case, he only says that he "does not have the space to comment much
on it". Of course he does not. He used up all his space with gossips and
jokes about Kübler Ross and etc! Even the apparently stronger arguments
that he seems to have (from "insiders who have dissented", Barker and Ransom)
turned out to be very weak and even imprecise in light of my further readings
on the subject.
Edwards' main theoretical and logical objection to
reincarnation is the "modus operandi" problem. "How could reincarnation
possibly happen?" The answer is given by Edwards himself, when he confortably
decides to throw away any "modi operandi" concerns when talking about
his own philosophical persuasion, that is, materialism: "How could the
brain create counsciousness?" "Why not?" he answers!!! (page 294). Possible
"modi operandi" constraints is an intellectually stimulating and most
relevant issue. But it has to be approached in an informed, coherent manner,
and not a là "Jimmy Swaggert on the Pulpit".
To me, the most revealing (and shocking) passage in
this book is when, on page 134, Edwards brutally disrespects Scott
Rogo, in a rude comment about his murder in 1991, still unsolved then,
saying how Rogo might solve it by calling the police station himself!
Rogo was almost an informant of Edwards. Many of the gossips Edwards used
in his book he learned from Rogo. And Rogo still had relatives alive that
might feel hurt by these crude comments from Edwards. That is basically the
mistake many skeptics-materialists commit. They get so desperate to wipe out
the very idea of life after death that they end up forgetting that there is
indeed life "before" death. And also, there are feelings and hearts that
deserve to be respected and cared for.
This book, therefore, is very good if you want material
for criticizing the pathological phenomenon of pseudo-skepticism. It
is also of some value for giving a frame for criticism on reincarnation
research, but then you will have to read much further if you really
want to have a good idea of what are the strengths and weaknesses in the
empirical evidence for reincarnation. I have done this. And I have concluded
that the evidence seems to be weak. But it is certainly there!
Book: The End of Certainty
by Ilya Prigogine (1997).
Tightening the Science Net Meshes. But Still Missing
Much! - March 2002.
In a world gone crazy with Bohr's "observer-driven
collapse of the wave function", Everett's surreal "many-worlds theory",
and Einstein's discomforting "reversibility of time-flow direction",
Prigogine stands as possibly the sole (or last?) defender of commonsensical
notions of time in physics (which equals to say, of sanity!). He is
the Champion of Time, bow, arrow, and all! His weapon: a "bow" of decades
of successes (including a Noble Prize) in nonequilibrium thermodynamics.
His ammunition, a quite peculiar arrow: the arrow of time. But just as
happens with many literary characters, not only his virtue but also his
vice may spring out of the very same source; in his case, his "sane" notions
This book will very likely prove readable by most general
readers, like myself, provided the technical parts are carefully skipped,
and the central ideas are correctly spotted. It truly presents essential insights
to issues like: the emergence of complexity; self-organization; the nature
of matter; determinism vs probability; and the validity of time symmetry
in both quantum mechanics and classical mechanics equations. As to issues
like the actual existance of a flow and arrow (direction) of time (which,
by the way, is the very subject of the book) and the existence of free will,
the book may be too far from conclusive...
It seemed to me (only top experts could really tell
for sure) that Prigogine showed compelling evidence supporting the
idea that, contrary to the prevailing notions in the field of physics,
there is time asymmetry both in quantum mechanics and in classical mechanics.
And also, that reality at both these levels is not deterministic, but
truly probabilistic. He further showed that determinism should be replaced
by a probabilistic account of events both in situations where we have finite
knowledge about the initial conditions and in situations where we have infinite
knowledge (we are done with Laplace's Demon at last!). This alone is already
a breakthrough, even though probably not news to well-informed members
of the physical sciences community.
I found Prigogine a little bit contradictory (it might
be that Nature itself is contradictory in this regard) when talking
about determinism/time-reversibility. Sometimes, I got the impression
that it only exists in idealized (non-real) situations, and sometimes
I understood it as if it does exist in certain specific (real) situations.
I also found his rejection of Gödel's time-reversible
interpretation of Einstein's equations far too emotional, instead of
being based on experimental-mathematical grounds. As far as I know,
this viewpoint, too, has experienced considerable growth over the last
10 years or so (the studies about CTC - closed timelike curves), and it
seems to be a quite respectable field of inquiry. Time-flow reversibility
does not seem less crazy to me than the fact that we have to use imaginary
numbers (that is, numbers that do not exist at all!) in theories that deal
with some very basic properties and behaviors of matter, like quantum mechanics
Even though physicists usually equal time symmetry
(in physical equations) to time-flow reversibility, and asymmetry to
irreversibility, I don't see why this has to be so. Nor does this book
clarifies this issue any further to the layman (it is interesting to
point out in this regard that even the probabilistic collapse of the wave
function is considered by the prevailing views of physicists to be symmetrical/reversible,
according to Penrose in The Empreror's New Mind). Our suspicions and
complaints about the mysterious nature of time are very much justified:
space gives us 3 dimensions, bidirectional and with no compulsory flow.
Time, on the other hand, gives us just 1 dimension, unidirectional and
with compulsory flow. At best, we can slow it down, by traveling close
to the speed of light (quite comforting, isn't it?).Time alone is responsible
for most of our losses in life (unless you get exiled or something...).
I think that, interpreting "time symmetry" as "time reversibility", scientists
have actually tried to solve the unsolvable.
In our quest to understand the Universe, we often find
three kinds of questions: first, those that can be proved or disproved, like
the old statements "The Sun revolves around the Earth" (disproved), and "The
Moon revolves around the Earth" (proved). Second, questions that can be proved,
but not disproved, like the existance of God or of life after death. Third,
questions that cannot be either proved or disproved, like the existance of
consciousness in other human beings than ourselves (or in dogs) and (to me)
the actual existance of time flow.
Prigogine says that in this book he tried to follow
(or discover?) a "narrow path" between utter determinism and total
randomicity, probably hoping to find room for free will in between.
Although I think he did a brilliant work, I feel that he got stuck in
this Narrow Path. His work refutes determinism, but instead of presenting
phenomena or advancing mechanisms to support free will, it only casts
us into the depths of utter chance. In spite of that, when talking about
self-organization in dissipative structures, Prigogine passes on the idea
of "choice", even saying (more than once) that "matter begins to see"
and that "the system chooses". This might ascribe to nature at its most
basic structure the properties of "life" and maybe even of "consciousness",
which might mean that we are at the verge of a revigorated return to the
ancient ideas of hilozoism and panpsychism. Furthermore, this blurs the
limits between emergence and reductionism, for it is very difficult to take
a sound reductionist stand (or emergencionist stand) if we don't know
what to expect of the world around us (we can't tell if something is emerging
or just "arising").
Prigogine's appeal for sanity is both his virtue and
his weakness, in a Universe that pays little heed to human's logic
and causality. A Universe in which, regardless of being dictated by an
authoritarian God or determined by blind and cold laws of nature, the
only theory that may account for all that there is is the familiar and
provincial B.I.S.O. theory. Namely: Because I Say So!
World by Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan (1997).
Seemingly informative, but
actually narrow-minded. - December 2001.
Carl Sagan's books and writings were responsible
for a great revolution in my relationship with Science. But the more
I read him, the more I started to see his weaknesses, and I think his
greatest weakness has always been the way he treats the paranormal and
He has always been very superficial when criticizing
the so called "pseudosciences", a term that, by the very way he uses
it, only shows how his outlook on Science and on human Knowledge is short-sighted.
Sagan sees Science as the supreme method for looking at and for understanding
the Universe we live in, looking with despise on other ways of understanding
reality (presently, I prefer to see Science as just one out of many
different ways of grasping Nature's mysteries).
I thought that in "The Demon-Haunted World" he would
do a better, deeper work, because that was the very purpose of the
book: criticizing the pseudosciences and naive beliefs. But to my deep
disappointment, he just repeated his superficial approach.
He does give some valuable information, like when he
shows how hypnosis can be misleading (in cases of remembering allien abduction,
recalling sexual abuse in childhood, or remembering having engaged
in satanic rituals). But he fails to analyse the "pseudosciences" deeper.
Only Astrology receives some concrete and sound criticism, when he says
that it takes into consideration the precession of the equinox in certain
situations and does not take it into consideration in others, and that
Astrology does not take into account more recent findings of Astronomy,
like pulsars and quasars.
Another very bad and dissappoint comment in the book
(another example of superficiality!) is when he lists three things
that he thinks might have some true basis: reincarnation; human mind
influencing computers' processing; and telepathy (apparently, the skeptical
readers missed that...!). He simply does not give any further information
on that at all.
I now consider Carl Sagan a very superficial, uninformative,
and misleading writer when arguing either for or against "pseudosciences"
or any of our "Demon-Haunted World's" beliefs.
If you really want to get a true skeptical analyses
on issues like these, Susan Blackmore's works are far more satisfactory.
Spare Sagan's works for the very first (and clumsy) steps in scientific
Book: Without Miracles: Universal
Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution by Gary Cziko
A Must! But far from flawless... -
This book is surely a must for anyone interested in
phylosophical discussions concerning "darwinian" (or better, neo-darwinian)
evolution theory, and its potential to explain other fields where any
kind of innovation is created. The author describes these innovations
as "puzzles of fit" of an organism or of a system to another organism
or system, and he brilliantly equals all these "fits" to "knowledge". Cziko
reached a good level of quality in his transdisciplinary approach, putting
together data from fields like evolutionary biology, immunology, neurobiology,
animal and human learning, human thought and language, scientific knowledge
growth, and cultural adaptation. For this, he no doubt deserves a four-star
ranking. But then, there come the flaws...
The central issue in the book is that just any kind
of innovation, puzzle of fit, knowledge growth, or whatever you call
it, can only be achieved through a process very much like biological
evolution as accepted by the neo-darwinian paradigm: cumulative blind
variation followed by the survival of the fittest. Cziko also shows how
explanations for these puzzles of fit have evolved in all fields from
providential explanations (like in the book of Genesis, where things happened
to achieve a pourpose previously devised), through instructionist ones
(like Lamarck's "Use and Disuse" plus "Inheritance of Acquired Characters",
where the environment would "force" the individual creatures to change just
in the right, successful way, and then the creatures would pass these changes
on to their offsprings), and finally to selectionist ones (Darwin's Selection
Theory). He says that only selectionist explanations can give truly "scientific"
and "naturalistic" accounts for these fits, without recoursing to miraculous
schemes. In short: Cziko brings us the good news that not only are we merely
machines (like we have feared ever since the mechanical physics of Newton),
but we are blind ones too!
The starting point of his reasoning is evolutionary
biology, and Cziko's understanding of it seems to me too narrow-minded,
with a strong bias toward the old notions of New-Darwinism. Consequently,
his report and deductions on it are misinformative. Evolution was (and,
to a large extent, still is) thought to be based on "variation and survival
of the fittest". But in the past the view of the causes of these variations
were believed to be basically errors: DNA damage by the environment, and
failure of the organism to correct damages or to make precise copies of
the DNA. It's been a long time now that this view has changed dramatically,
and organisms, even as simple as bacteria, are now known (from before 1990)
to possess amazing control over the ways and the contexts in which these
variations happen. They can trigger DNA mutation under appropriate conditions
(stress, threats to survival), and even control which areas of the genome
will be subject to change. This renders organisms much more "smartly" interactive
with the environment as might be expected from reading Cziko.
So, what Cziko did not tell about the process of antibody
creation by B-Lynphocytes is that when they undergo somatic hypermutation
to fine tune their antibody production to the antigen, this hypermutation
is, first, triggered by the interaction with the very antigen, and
second, it is far from blind: the mutation happens only in a very restricted
area of the chromosome, changing only the areas of the antibody molecule
that interact with the antigen (and not even the whole molecule!). So
this is a very "thematic" kind of mutation-variation; maybe "short-sighted",
but surely not "blind"!
When he comments on the phenomenon of "directed mutation",
the strange capability of many procarionts (like bacteria) to seemingly
direct their mutation to the desired result, he takes a rather cynical
and slightly arrogant stand, apparently rejecting the existance of the
phenomenon itself, even saying "But let us continue to imagine for a moment
that a bacterium was able to change just those genes regulating metabolism
in just the right way to allow for the digestion of a foreign sugar".
It seems that he read only two research articles on this, and not quite
well, and draw much of his attitude towards the phenomenon from his academic-environment
prejudiced and uninformed criticism. By the time he was writing his book
, directed mutation had been fully demonstrated by many researchers, and
not only by Cairns. Actually, even as early as 1984, four years before
Cairns revolutionary and controversial paper on it, J.A. Shapiro had
already shown the phenomenon fully (Observations on the Formation of Clones
Containing araB-lacZ cistrons fusions. Molecular & General Genetics
1984;194(1-2):79-80), only in a much more discreet maner. By 1995, a wealth
of information was already available, from researchers like Shapiro and
B.G. Hall, among others, and now even eukariotes (yeast) are known to
perform "directed mutation" (Hall BG. Adaptive Mutagenesis: a Process
that Generates Almost Exclusively Beneficial Mutations. Genetica 1998;102(103):109-125.).
Strikingly, this process shows some resemblance to human B-lynphocyte somatic
When Cziko moves on to the other areas, scientific
knowledge growth, etc, the already "short-sighted" (and not blind)
variation seems to have undergone a surgical operation on its eye and
starts to see almost sharply. Also, the second step, that is, the survival
of the fittest (in biology, through killing the non-fit) seems to change
to a true "selection" process (choosing one among many, by identifying
its desirable qualities, which is quite different from "survival of the
fittest"). Even Campbell and Pinker, which he defines as fully (or almost)
selectionists, seem to turn to rather providential viewpoints, like
"innativism" and "constraints", for triggering and orienting the variation,
and guiding the selection, not succeding in solving Meno's providential
dilema: "...if you don't already possess the knowledge you are looking
for, how will you know when you have found it?"
Cziko, like many, wrongly equals "scientific" and "naturalistic"
explanations to "mechanical" ones, and since our mechanistic view of nature
is basically deterministic, he only sees lamarckism as an instructionist
process, not a "freely-willed" one, failing to address vital phenomena like
human consciouness and apparent free-will.
Book: Psi Wars: Getting to Grips with the Paranormal by James E. Alcock, Jean Burns, and Anthony Freeman (Editors
Not Getting to Grips With Our Fears and Unwillingnesses.
- January 2004.
For anyone that might be interested in buying and trying
to read this book it is important to know the following:
This book is a collection of articles, scholarly
articles, from the Journal of Consciousness Studies, a special
issue of the year 2003. The 15 authors (including the 3 editors) wrote
these articles specifically for this issue, and the idea of the editors
were to have both sides present as fully and as clearly as possible their
views. The "both sides" are: Psi researchers (that is, parapsychology
researchers), and researchers that are skeptic about Psi phenomena (that
is, Psi research critics). Some of the articles may be a little difficult
for the lay reader (like myself) to fully understand.
I have bought this book because I wanted an update
on the current status of the Psi research, as well as an update on
the major criticism towards it. I myself have a skeptical site (in portuguese,
Brazil) where I perform a deep scientific critical analysis of my own
"faith", that is, spiritualism, mediumnistic abilities, and the like.
I am a biologist with interests in mind-brain studies, physics, species
evolution theories, artificial inteligence, and phylosophy of science
(among other related interests). Parapsychology actually came as a "by-product"
of my critical interest in life-after-life studies. For almost twenty years
I had not paid much heed to parapsychology, precisely because it is mainly
concerned with extrasensory perception and psychokinesis. I do not think
(and I have never thought) that proving that ESP-PK exists can give any
support to life-after-life hypotheses. To me, the current status of the
scientific hipothesis of life-after-life is extremely weak (even though
not negligible). On the other hand, I have come to know, during the last
two years, that the current status of paranormal research (ESP-PK) is
This came to me as an enormous surprise, as the "interest"
of mainstream science for parapsychology research (and "respect" too...)
seems to be close to zero.
I have read many scientific Psi research papers (Dean
Radin, Jessica Utts, Dick Bierman, Daryl Bem, Richard Shoup, etc), and I
have also carefully analyzed the criticism of top skeptics like Susan Blackmore,
Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Victor Stenger, Michael Shermer (and also of lesser
skeptics like Robert Todd Carroll, Paul Edwards, Richard Dawkins and Steven
Pinker - I left out James Randi for want of a clear classification...). I
don't mean to say that Psi exists. But "avowed skepticism", the way it has
been practiced during the last twenty years or so, is clearly Bunk (to use
the very same expression that Richard Dawkins used in his 1998 article What's
Wrong with the Paranormal?: "The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to
sell it to us are fakes and charlatans, and some of them have grown rich
and fat by taking us for a ride." - Incidentally, this uncivilized utterance
came right after Dean Radin's wonderful, even though not flawless, parapsychology
book: The Conscious Universe - 1997).
Again, in this book, history repeats itself. I have
found the skeptics' criticism in Psi Wars very weak (the articles by
James Alcock, Stanley Jeffers, and Brugger & Taylor), even though
respectful, respectable, and very much worth reading.
At this point I must ask: What the hell is happening
in this World of ours? I mean, I don't really care if Psi exists or
not. If it does exist, I find it something very exciting, a true scientific
revolution. But if it does not, I am not going to cry or even be just
a little bit sad because of that (By the way, the very opposite happens
with the life-after-life hypothesis. If it is false, I am surely going
to feel very depressed: a true existential breakdown...). But how can
the mainstream scientific community, universities, and governments (especially
the very very rich US government) not support and fund research on this
issue given the extremely sophisticated corroborative level of the current
The answer to me seems to be that we are not dealing
with a scientific issue here. We are dealing with religous-like feelings,
and also social-cultural-anthropological dispositions and unwillingness.
In that, I must say that I am a little bit disappointed with Psi researchers.
They are usually very bad at marketing strategies and at psychological-political
strategies. They (and all of us too) do not understand why Psi research
is being neglected. Therefore, it seems unlinkely that they can effectively
alter this scenario. In a way, Adrian Parker's Psi Wars article ("We
Ask, Does Psi Exist? But Is This the Right Question and Do We Really
Want an Answer Anyway?") deals with it. But even he does not seem to fully
understand what is going on (and, again, all of us too).
Meanwhile, we are missing out on two priceless opportunies,
which lie surely within our grasp: First, we could settle once and
for all if Psi exists or not; and if the answer turns out to be "No",
we could fight much more effectively the excesses of the so called "irrational
beliefs". Second and foremost, if Psi exists, we could learn to control
it and amplify its effect size, and by doing so harness a power that
might bring enormous benefits for mankind (Sounds preposterous? But that
is precisely what happened with electricity and antibiotics). Either way
we would gain.
Adrian Parker kind of foresees that Psi research
will be soon cast out of consciousness studies, in a repetition of
what has happened many times before. I suspect that too. Until we can
better understand why we hold this most strange blend of fear and apathy
for Psi research, there may be not much hope that we will gain from it what
we deserve: understanding and existential fulfillment.
Julio Siqueira - Biologist and editor of the site Criticando
Book: Immortal Remains, by Stephen Braude. (2003).
Incompleteness Remains... - October 2004
Stephen Braude did an excellent work in
this book. Since this topic is amazingly vast, there is no escape from
making a highly "incomplete" work. Nonetheless, he managed to achieve
a level of quality that, in my view, makes this book a must in the field.
It did help me enormously, both with its empirical feedbacks and with
its theoretical ones. The main strength of it is its deep and detailed
evaluation and comparison of the "life after life hypothesis" (also
known as "survivalist hypothesis") vs the "super paranormality hypothesis"
(usually known as super psi or super ESP).
I would like to comment on some flaws, however.
The first chapter, "Preliminaries", gives a theoretical
background of the issues involved. It is a good chapter indeed, but
I think it should have been better. Braude makes a witty distinction
between "epistemological survival" vs "ontological survival" (a distinction
that, curiously, I myself had come to some time ago, in the form of
"objective survival" vs "subjective survival"). But I think he should
have dealt more deeply with what is meant by "survival", and especially
HOW we survive both after death and BEFORE death (probing these issues
leads one to curious and insightful conclusions...). Tightly linked
to this previous issue is the question of "identity" or "what we really
ARE and what makes each one of us really US" (that is: what is it to be
an "individual"?). Further, I found him lacking for not dealing with the
problem of "what is consciousness?". There is a huge body of discussion,
both in phylosophy and in science, about the true nature of consciouness;
that is: is consciousness really produced by the brain (materialism)
or is it a fundamental element of the Universe (Brahmanist Panpsychism)?
Many, like me, claim that materialism is on very poor and even self contradictory
theoretical and logical grounds, and on rather cracked empirical grounds
too: almost a "Paradigm Lost". Also, some background on the current discussion
about the possibility of "machine consciousness" would have been handy.
Braude could have made his work more "acceptable" to skeptical
readers. For example, he treats ESP (extra-sensory perception) as a
proved fact (something with which I fully agree!), but he does not show
WHY it is already proved. It would have been easy to give a concise exposition
of, say, the current status of the experiments on "telepathy" using
Ganzfeld protocols, and therefore show why ESP is so strongly based
and why and how skeptics (CSICOP et al) have simply nothing to say contrary
to it (James Randi, Susan Blackmore, and Ray Hyman included...).
In the chapter on reincarnation and possession (chapter
6), Braude says that Ian Stevenson has 33 cases of the "strongest"
type suggestive of reincarnation (page 182), which Braude called "early
bird cases" (cases with written records made BY THE RESEARCHER before
attempts to identify the previous personality). I believe this figure
is wrong, and actually it refers to the slightly weaker cases (maybe not
so slightly...) where there are written records before identification of
the previous personality, but not written down BY THE RESEARCHER: these
records were in these instances written down (and the previous personality
found) usually by members of the families involved. He comments on the
Schouten & Stevenson 1998 article as if it compared only the strongest
case types with the "weakest" (cases with NO written records made by anyone
before identification of the previous personality), but actually this article
does include the "slightly weaker" case types that I mention above!
I didn't very much like the chapter 8 on "out-of-body
experiences" (including near-death experiences). Braude did not analyze
very well the data from Near-Death Experiences, both in its possible
strengths and in its possible weaknesses! He says, on page 274, that
Pam Reynolds had a flat EEG (and also no blood in her brain plus body
temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit - 15 degrees Celsius - and no brainstem
activity) FOR ABOUT AN HOUR. Also, he says that she did have veridical perceptions
WHILE IN THIS EXTREME STATE. Both these statements are incorrect. A careful
reading of the very same book that Braude cited for this (Light and Death,
Michael Sabom, 1998, chapter 3) clearly indicates that this extreme condition
probably did not last longer than half an hour (I guess it actually lasted
about 20 minutes or less) and that she had ABSOLUTELY NO verifiable perception
while in this state! Surprisingly enough, this misreporting of the Pam
Reynolds case is extremely ubiquitous on the internet (including www near-death
com). Braude's is not the only scholarly work that misreports it. Van Lommel
et al's article (The Lancet, 2001), also does! (But Emily Kelly, Bruce
Greyson, and Ian Stevenson reported the case correctly in 2000, Omega Jounal
of Death and Dying, vol 40(4) pp. 513-519, 1999-2000). At the same time,
Braude did not mention some potential strengths pointed out both by van
Lommel et al (The Lancet, 2001) and by Sam Parnia et al (Resuscitation,
2001). Further, I think Braude downplays the significance of NDE cases
for the survival issue. It is true that NDE is not about "after death",
but about "during dying" instead. However, it is the only empirical data
in this field that can possibly move us from the "epistemological (objective)
survival" arena into the "ontological (subjective) survival" scenario.
Braude even comes to the extreme of considering that the
evidence from NDE-OBE "gives us no reason to believe that the mind is
more substantial, resilient, and self-sustaining than a fart" (page
276). I think it is too extreme a comparison because he is comparing
the mind with what we have of most disorganized, volatile, and short
living (gases). I know of no case of anyone ever reporting being able even
to sense (see, hear, etc) through his/her farts...
Despite all these comments above, it is necessary to stress
that Braude's book is indeed a must in the field, and that although
naturally incomplete, it is a work that deserves to be... Immortal!
Book: Has Science Found God? by Victor Stenger.
Breath of God vs The Breath of Stenger. - August 2005.
Well, I just want to warn the possible readers of this
book of some problems with some of the "information" that Stenger conveys...
One good thing in this book is the fact that it fights
the notion (the wrong and dangerous notion) that science HAS ALREADY
proved the existance of God. The bad thing is that Stenger decided to
transcend the boundaries of rationality, and ended up concluding that
science HAS ALREADY proved that God does not exist! This is pseudoscience
from him. (The very last thing that he says, on page 349, is: "The universe
is not populated by mysterious forces, beyond our comprehension, that
control our lives and destinies for some unseen purpose. Rather, thanks
to science, humanity is in control and defines its own purpose.").
Chapter ten is by far the worst. It is entitled "The
Breath of God", and in it Stenger decided to give an "informed" criticism
about parapsychological research... I was amazed to see that Stenger
didn't even read the very abstract of an article that he cited, about
micro-PK and human influence on random event generators (Correlations
of Random Binary Sequences with Pre-Stated Operator Intention: A Review
of a 12-Year Program - PEAR, 1997). He says: ..."they find no difference
between their data taken with (presumably) true random numbers generated
by quantum noise and pseudorandom numbers generated by computer algorithms.".
Actually, the authors claim, at the very abstract, precisely the opposite!
Also amazing, and disrespectful, is the careless way
in which he comments on the book by parapsychological researcher Dean
Radin, "The Conscious Universe" (1997). Stenger says that Dean Radin
performed the metanalysis wrong in this book (which implies statistical
incompetence from Radin and severly undermines all the arguments advanced
in Radin's book); but actually, even the source for this information (renowned
statistitian I. J. Good, writing in the journal Nature) withdrew this
charge as back as 1998!
Further, Stenger clearly only read the abstract (!)
of the article by Sam Parnia et al (journal Resuscitation, 2001), about
their prospective study on Near-Death experiences in cardiac arrest
patients, and as a result he ended up stating precisely the opposite
of what the researchers actually claimed (again...).
There are many passages where Stenger strays from the
1- He says that parapsychological research is not made
with high-tech equipment (untrue).
2- He says that "No cognitive data or theories currently
require the introduction of either supernatural forces or immaterial
substances such as 'spirit" (untrue or misleading: consciousness is
still the major weak point of the materialistic framework of science,
which has prompted many "weird" theories or viewpoints from highly respected
thinkers, like Erwin Schroedinger, Roger Penrose, Stan Franklin, David Chalmers,
Benjamin Libet, etc).
3- He says that "No scientific field except parapsychology
has experienced over 150 years of exclusively negative results without
being dismissed as a lost cause.". Untrue: parapsychology is actually
less than 150 years old, and, yes, it may be described as having mostly
INCONCLUSIVE results (despite its many positive results, even by skeptic
researchers like Stanley Jeffers in 2003 - Journal of Scientific Exploration),
but it cannot be described as having exclusively NEGATIVE results.
4- He propagandizes that Susan Blackmore "has managed to
maintain her good name", but actually Rick Berger caught her in serious fraudulent
conduct ("A Critical Examination of the Blackmore Psi Experiments", year
1989, available on the internet), and Stenger quotes her "trustworthy conclusions"
that "Just a few years of careful experiments changed all that. I found no
psychic phenomena only wishful thinking, self-deception, experimental error
and, occasionally, fraud. I became a sceptic..." (Blackmore words in year
2001!). But actually, in her response to Rick Berger (Journal of the Society
for Psychical Research, vol 83, April 1989), Blackmore admitted that no conclusion
should be drawn from her "Just a few years of careful experiments". She said
then: "Nevertheless, I am glad to be able to agree with his final conclusion—'that
drawing ANY conclusions, positive or negative, about the reality of
psi that are based on the Blackmore psi experiments must be considered unwarranted'".
If her experiments had indeed been "careful", we could draw negative conclusions
from them. ( I carefully contrasted her response of 1989 with Berger's exposé
in the same journal. Blackmore frauded indeed...).
With so much sloppy reading and faulty reporting in
Stenger's work, I end up not being able to tell the difference between
Stenger and the New Age Crackpots or the Intelligent Design Wedge Movement
folks. And it makes me highly wary about the rest of the book, the parts
about which I do not have the expertise to spot problems in...
As a matter of fact, Stenger seems to be engaged in
some sort of Jihad-Materialism War against spiritualism. To me, it
is clear that he is driven not by reason, but by blind emotion. The worst
in it all is that he calls it science, when actually it is not...
I presented this criticism to him, in his email discussion
group avoid-L. His feedback was very meager, to say the least (his
actual words were: "I will check out the one or two items that are matters
of fact. The rest is simply your opinions with nothing to back them
up.". That is how Stenger evaluates pieces of evidence that he does not
like...). I will post a page about it in the near future, in my site "Criticizing
Skepticism" (page entitled: Criticizing Victor Stenger).
Julio Siqueira - microbiologist
Book: Light and Death. by Michael Sabom.
Book to Read Really Carefully... - August 2005.
Well, first about the book as a whole: many reviewers
have complained that in this book Sabom decided to fight for his religion
using material he gathered from his studies on NDE's. Someone even
pointed out that it was Zondervan publishing stuff, etc. That is an
important point. Anyone buying this book should be warned about this.
It is important to stress, though, that Sabom has all the right in the
world to take this approach. What is a must is that the reader should
know what he or she is buying.
So, I bought and read the book, and not because I like Sabom's
approach. I bought and read it because of one case in the book. The
case of Pam Reynolds (pseudonym). Chapter three and ten deal with this
case, from a strictly descriptive and scientific point of view. No religious
stuff. I didn't even bother to read any other passages of the book. The
case is amazing. It is a strong challenge to the orthodox materialistic
interpretation of the biological and neurological data available to science.
Sabom describes the case in minute detail. And he discusses it, and NDE's
in general (in chapter ten), very deeply and informatively too. He discusses
the points advanced by Susan Blackmore in her 1993 book on the subject
("Dying to Live" - I have read this one too), and convincingly shows them
to be very lacking. (It is a pitty that she has retired from these issues.
She even commented about the Pam Reynolds case incorrectly in the recent
years, seemingly not having read Sabom's book).
I have had the pleasure and the honor to discuss the content
of this case both with "skeptics" and with "non skeptics". I discussed
the strengths and weaknesses of this case with skeptic Keith Augustine
and with parapsychology researcher Titus Rivas. The case is strong indeed.
Yet, it is important to warn the readers to read the report very
carefully. Many people have misread it, and have concluded that Pam
Reynolds had a veridical (that is, corroborated by others) out of body
experience during a moment when her brain was shut down (with flat EEG
and no brainstem activity). Even Stephen Braude, in his book "Immortal
Remains" (2003), and van Lommel et al, in their article in The Lancet (2001),
put it this way, as if she had had veridical experiences during the so called
"standstill" phase of her operation. Actually it did not happen this way.
It is clear from the report in the book that her veridical out of body experience
happended BEFORE her brain was flat-lined (and before it was without brainstem
But as to this veridical experience that she indeed had before
the flat-lined phase, it seems almost impossible to find normal explanations
to it. Sabom's report is detailed enough to make us confident that
fraud is highly unlikely. Misreporting or malobservation, from the
part of the chief surgeon (Dr. Spetzler) also seems to be highly unlikely.
Further, it is almost impossible that she could see the things that
she described so well (medical equipment that even Sabom himself, a
cardiologist doctor, did not know) if she was relying only on her traditional
"five senses". The possibility that her hits were only lucky guesses
looks like a feeble joke...
My position is that it is NOT IMPOSSIBLE to explain this case
by conventional neurological data and materialistic worldviews. But it
is VERY HARD INDEED to do it so... (putting it in a statistical way,
informally, I would say that it has a statistical significance value
of p < 0.001).
As to the conclusions that we can take from this case, I can
only say: we need more research. And we need to put aside both our materialistic
worldview prejudices and our spiritualistic worldview prejudices too.
Book: Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences
in a Quantum Reality. by Dean Radin. (2006).
Flawless. But Still a Must! - June 2006.
I have known a little of Dean Radin's work (through the internet)
for four years now, and I greatly admire his competence and the excellence
of many of his papers. He is definitely doing true science, like many
other psi researchers that I have come to know of, people like Jessica
Utts, Adrian Parker, John Palmer, Stanley Krippner, Ian Stevenson, Jim
Tucker, and many others. I remember marvelling at one of Radin's papers,
"Time-reversed human experience: Experimental evidence and implications",
especially the section "Detecting the Arrow of Time" (search with Google
to find it...).
His previous book, "The Conscious Universe" (1997), aroused rather
hostile controversy, which included a flawed book review on prestigious
scientific journal Nature, that Nature, suspiciously enough, refused
to correct for months long (despite criticism from many highly respected
academics - search with Google for "Unfounded criticism of a parapsychology
book in Nature"). This kind of extremely high quality parapsychological
research that has been done by Radin and fellow psi researchers has raised
some forms of psi to the status of truly scientifically proved phenomena,
IMHO. Skepticism against this kind of research has, sometimes, been very
misleading and even dishonest, especially by "Organized Avowed Skeptics",
including some (but not all!) CSICOP members and related people. In this
"Psi Wars", even I myself ended up getting an internet site started debunking
pseudoskepticism, a site named "Criticizing Skepticism".
So, "Entangled Minds" presents a comprehensive (and compelling)
overview of the experimental evidence for psi, a good historical outline
of the psi research, an informative description of several theories of
psi (arguably the weakest area of psi research), and some good hints
for the psi research's sociological and pragmatic relevance. In a word:
Still, problems remain...
I do not agree with a previous reviewer in that Radin fell in
the trap of "explaining one mystery (psi) with another (quantum theory
- entanglement phenomenon)". Radin seems fully aware of the limitations
of his approach, as he clearly states on page 235 ("Quantum entanglement
as presently understood...is insufficient to explain psi."). However,
I do think Radin was rather "weak" in other points.
I did not like the way "consciousness" was discussed. Concepts
and terminology regarding "consciousness" and "mind" seemed ill defined
and sometimes confused with one another. This is very bad, because
Radin's central thesis is that psi is our "experience" (Subjective
perception? If not, what else?) of the entanglement of our minds with
the universe and with other minds. So, what is a mind? What is consciousness,
in his view? Is it a necessary component of his psi-entangled mind?
Authors like Chalmers, Penrose-Hameroff, Crick, and Libet seem to make
a better distinction between "mind" (an organized and functioning entity-agent)
and "consciousness" (subjective experience, qualia, Chalmer's "Hard Problem",
etc). Radin doesn't. See, for example, page 240, and we get the impression
that "mind" and "consciousness" are different concepts (first paragraph).
Then, last paragraph on page 241, "mind" and "consciousness" seem to be
the same thing. Then, on page 243, I just cannot tell whether "mind" and
"consciousness" are being considered the same thing or not... And worse,
Radin ends up getting a little bogged down in this definition confusion
to the point that he states, twice (!), on page 243, that "Mind...(is)...an
interplay between brain and mind." So, Mind = Brain interplaying with
Mind? Put another way: Mind = Brain + Mind (i.e. 2 = 1 + 2 ...). Definitely,
there seems to be something slightly strange in here...
Further, we get to know that "...clockworks are not conscious..."
(page 257). Well, I never thought they were. But how did Radin conclude
that they are not? Stan Franklin has a splendid book on "Artificial Minds"
(1995), and a more recent paper on possible consciousness in a software
(IDA - Journal of Consciousness Studies/Machine Consciousness - 2003).
Would Radin also declare that IDA is not conscious? (Franklin himself
does not take sides on this issue). And, on page 265, talking about how
psi processing may work, we read "...your unconscious mind pays attention...".
So we have conscious minds, unconscious minds, unconscious matter, conscious
matter (page 235). Too much talk about it all for too little philosophical
insights into it.
Then, page 219, Radin says "Few of us believe that...we have
absolutely no free will." Well, I happen to be one of these "few ones",
and I do not think we have any theory (or logical reasoning) for accounting
for free will or for choice. What we do have are theories for determinism
and for randomness (the latter, with or without bias). Not for choice.
Not yet. Linked to it, on page 257, we get the feeling that classical physics
cannot account for consciuousness and that quantum mechanics (Stapp) accounts
for it. Again IMHO, quantum mechanics is just as feeble as classical physics
in trying to account for this mystery (qualia).
I disagree, too, with the concept that psi may not involve information
transfer. Page 264: "Maybe psi is purely relational and manifests only
as correlations." With this, Radin sidestepped a needed in-depth discussion
about what is correlation, what is causation, and how can two things
be correlated via psi without transfering information.
Anyway, none of these flaws belittle the importance and the strength
of Radin's book. And I present them just as constructive criticism to
a work that is already excellent.
Book: God, the Failed Hypothesis.
by Victor Stenger (2007).
Oh My, This Time He Cited Wrongly Even the US
Declaration of Independence... - February 2007.
[emoticons will be used]- I have been stalking poor old
Mr. Stenger for sometime now :-) , and as I have depicted in my review of
his last book, "Has Science Found God?" (a true Bible of the Jihad Pseudoskeptics...),
Stenger has the bad habit of not reading the things that he cites. But
this time he managed "to boldly go where no man had gone before" (see
my review's title above), together onboard with a crew of at least three
of his Golden Boys from his Avoid-L internet forum (fellow Amazon reviewers
Now, being serious: I fully sympathize with Stenger's motives
in writing this book. I understand that the situation in the USA, and
in many other countries as well, is one where Religion in general is
excessively hostile towards atheist-materialists (besides harmfully encroaching
on State matters). I am a believer, both in God and in the afterlife.
But I have come to greatly admire materialism and materialists, and
I really feel that, on average, materialists tend to be "better people"
than spiritualists (at least this is my own life experience here in Brazil).
The virtues of materialism and of materialists are so remarkable that
they were even recognized by the "Guiding Spirit" (Emmanuel) of Brazil's
most prominent Medium (Chico Xavier), when he once said that "These last
years, the only souls to come to Heavenly Spheres are those of materialists,
who do good things with no intentions of being rewarded afterwards." However,
Stenger's approach to this delicate social and scientific issue is, to
put it mildly, counterproductive and disastrous. Not to mention, highly
misinformed and immature...
Wrong citations et. al.: #1- Stenger says (page 10): "In a poll...in
1998, only 7% of...the elite of the American scientists (US NAS) said
they believed in a personal God." (Larson, 1998 - Nature). Wrong. These
scientists did not say this, because this was not the question they were
asked. Stenger only took a brief look at the title, table, and first lines
of the article. Just like Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer have done
too... Not satisfied, Stenger decided to worsen what was already too bad
(see my following phrase). #2- Stenger says (page 21) "the overwhelming majority
of prominent American scientists has concluded that God does not exist"
(again, Larson 1998). Believe it or not, but, by "overwhelming majority,"
what Stenger means is exactly: 36.1% ! (if he had read Larson's two-page
article, he would know why... - by the way, three of the six columns in
the table of Larson's article sum up more than 100%! Definetely an authoritative
and reliable source of information... The article also has three big lies,
in light of its own data: one at the beginning, one in the middle, and
one in the end; definetely "balanced" info ;-) ). #3- Stenger says, commenting
on a text by the Pope (page 84): "a wealth of empirical data now strongly
suggests that mind is in fact a 'mere epiphenomenon of this matter'."
Now, either Stenger did not understand what the Pope said, or Stenger
does not know what an epiphenomenon is (professor of philosophy...).
Many current neurological views of mind take it as an *emergent* phenomenon,
but one that is *meaningful* to the organism, therefore not being an epiphenomenon.
#4- Stenger says (page 247): "Although American Christians have been
led to believe that the 'Creator' mentioned here (Declaration of Independence)
is their God, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote these words, was not a Christian
but a deist." Here Stenger "forgot" to mention that we can also read on
this very same document that "We... ...appealing to the Supreme Judge of
the world for the rectitude of our intentions," and also that "with a firm
reliance on the protection of Divine Providence." Definetely this is not
the God of deism... Not to mention that we cannot say of a deist God that
"He *creates* all men equal" ("all men are created equal," by their Creator,
of course), because this implies the constant presence of God in this world
(theist God). #5- Stenger says (page 200): "the US Constitution... (has)
no reference to God, Jesus, Christianity, salvation, or *any other religious
teaching*." (the emphasis is mine). However, we read at the Preamble of
the Constitution: "in order to... secure the Blessings of Liberty" (with
capital letter!) The word "blessings" may be used figuratively, but hardly
so if on a document co-signed by highly religious States. Even the most "liberal"
of the original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania, which was the first State to
stop state-supported religion (in 1790), had in its constitution of 1776
the following phrase (that members of the House of Representatives should
say): "I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe,
the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked." This looks hardly
deist to my eyes...
His definition of matter vs supernatural (actually the scientific
core of the book) is utterly flawed. Matter kicks you back when kicked.
And what about the supernatural? It kicks you back too! (e.g. You pray
- i.e. "kick" - and get what you asked for - i.e. "get kicked back") Genius.
He keeps ignoring the depth of the dualism issue, claiming religiously
that there can be no ghost in the machine, and so on. But even his "Muse,"
Susy Blackmore, pays close and serious attention to "dualist-like" thinkers
like Penrose, Chalmers, Libet, and countless others. Actually I see more
and more that Stenger does not read much those who do not side with his
ideas. Chalmers and Penrose are not in the bibliography, but Dennett and
the Churchlands are... His sources for NDE are unwarranted (Blackmore
1993, dated info. Mark Fox 2003, weak subject review). About Parapsychology,
he repeats his decades-long misinformation against it.
Stenger, with his poor and faulty knowledge of history, sociology
and politics, joins the bandwagon of those who believe religion is responsible
for the September 11 attack and for countless similar situations. He
forgets that atheist-materialists, too, have a long and hideous tradition
of massive slaughter, mostly (but not only) during Stalinism, Maoism
and the Khmer Rouge (tens of millions of deaths). At a lower level, fanatic
atheists like Richard Dawkins offend religious people gratuitously in many
of their writings, like Dawkins apparently did to an unnamed woman-astronomer
in "Is Science a Religion?," by punning "but the astronomer was a supposedly
respectable astronomy writer, and yet she went along with this! All along
the route, she talked about the portents of when Saturn and Jupiter were
in the ascendant *up Uranus* or whatever it was." (The emphasis is mine.
This was his speech when receiving the title "The Humanist of the Year!"
Perhaps the title "The Humanist of Uranus" would suit him better). This
kind of nonsense is co-responsible for things like Guantanamo human-rights
violations now, and to State crimes like the one the British police did
to an innocent Brazilian (murdered) rather recently in London. "Looks like
an arab. Arabs are muslims. Muslims are irrational (so says Bush and Dawkins
et al). Shoot first, ask later!"
Stenger concludes: "an atheist lacks any compulsion to blow himself
up." Perhaps he should have added: "and also lacks any regret for having
blown up someone else..."
I conclude: good and bad exist in everyone.
For my full analysis of this book, click here.
Book: Thinking about Consciousness, by
David Papineau (2004).
Why Dolphins are Panpsychists... - February 2008.
I give four stars (out of five) to this book because
I think consciousness is a topic that deserves a lot of attention, and
reflections on it, when dealt with in a scholarly manner, deserve full
support. Also because this book does bring priceless contributions in some
topics (especially in Papineau's "history of the completeness of physics,"
and in his "pessimism" about brain research finding the precise "spot"
of consciousness). On the other hand, I cannot help directing (regretfully)
acid criticism towards this work, for I think Papineau failed in many different
The Four Cardinal Sins of this work, IMO, are:
1- Papineau denies consciousness property status. He embraces ontological
monism (i.e. "everything" is matter), conceptual dualism (material concepts
are different from experiential/phenomenal concepts; i.e., not everything
is part of the afore mentioned "everything"...), and, above all, no
dualism of property! So, water may have the property of being (1) transparent,
(2) fluid, (3) electro-conductive, and these properties may have different
ontological histories, different structures, and different places in
the Universe's causal-effect chain. Similarly, a living human body may
have the property of being (1) opaque, (2) "hot" (i.e. somewhat above zero
degrees Celsius), and (3) not liquid (I avoided saying "solid"...), but
this very same body does not have the property of (4) having its brain-cortical
neurons acting in ABC manner and (5) being conscious. Properties 4 and
5 are not different properties. They are the same!...
2- Papineau does not analyze the "turning on" of consciousness,
and its "turning off." To me, this is the most mysterious thing about
consciousness, and it deserves an in-depth analysis, especially in its
bio-physical dynamics (biology, physiology, physics). That is, what happens
to a physical system at the very moment it becomes conscious? We have
physical accounts for similar transitions: liquid to solid; opaque to transparent;
cold rock to hot rock; etc. What about the moment when consciousness sparkles?
3- Papineau does not deal with the issue of why consciousness came
to be in this Universe of ours to begin with. That would be essential
for trying to understand, from the point of view of evolutionary biology,
why Humans are conscious and why Chips are not (yes, I meant chips, and
not chimps ;-) ). What is the evolutionary advantage that consciousness
bestows upon those who have it? As far as anyone knows, none whatsoever...
Add to it that even Papineau himself does not trust the "mouthings" of
those claiming to have consciousness (except when they are humans, though
I am not sure why he accepts human mouthings in this regard...) and we are
just up "rose" creek in our attempt of an evolutionary account of the emergence
4- He does not theorize solidly and compellingly on the main thesis
of his book, that is, explaining why the intuition of distinctness (i.e.
brain is different from mind) is false. His hunch is that phenomenal (experiential)
concepts (like "the redness of the red color") instantiate the things
they refer to (that is, we bring to mind the very experience of seeing
the red color), whereas material concepts (like "neurons in A-K-W arrangement")
do not instantiate their referents. But in fact, he says (in my terms),
"the redness of the red color" and "neurons in A-K-W arrangement" are one
and the same material property! (though they are two different CONCEPTS).
I think it is hardly plausible that this is the key to the intuition of
distinctness. Water has many very different properties: it is fluid, it
is cold sometimes, it is electro-conductive, it is made of H2O, and, in
a very robust way, I do instantiate some of these properties (in my imagination)
while thinking about them. Yet, I have no difficulty in merging all these
"properties" into one entity. If I can easily merge two very different PROPERTIES
into one identity (water), how come I have such difficulty in merging two
different CONCEPTS? (of just one property!).
It is easy to be a materialist if we sweep under the carpet these
four items above... But, as it seems, even Papineau himself is having
some trouble in hiding under his carpet the mighty dust and the dust mites
(he too claims to be still kind of haunted by the intuition of distinctness).
I think Papineau was weak or wanting in many other items too. I
really missed actual brain-research data, and deep reflection upon this
data, for instance: the bizarre dissociations reported by Susan Blackmore
in mindfulness states, or in OBE states too (Dying to Live, 1993); and a
deeper analysis of Libet's findings, and of Libet-like findings (Claxton,
1999, The Volitional Brain). His categorization of concepts as "referring
directly" vs "referring by description" seemed to me somewhat artificial
and mistaken. I felt a "begging-the-question flavour" when he said that no
amount of book learning would make Mary "know" (experience) the redness of
red, and in this I ended up (much to my own surprise!) agreeing with... Dennett!!!
(that is, Dennett's view is, IMO, more coherent than Papineau's). Again
I scented "begging the question" when he used as one of his three premisses
(of his Definitive Materialist Argument) the idea that conscious states (volition)
cause physical states (free willed behaviour).
Some other times I found him rather incoherent or shallow. For
instance, in his chapter on zombies, it seems that he declares zombies
impossible because phenomenal concepts refer directly and there would,
then, be no actual possibility that a being would have all my physical
properties and yet lack my phenomenal ones. That would be ok for perfect
clones. Anything less than "Godly crafting cloning perfection" would be,
arguably, left out of this "impossibility"... In one curious passage, he
claimed God Almighty Himself (omniscient) could not tell if an octopus
has phenomenal consciousness (agreed), just as God can't tell whether
he, Papineau, is...bald! (bewilderment!). (many pages onward he softened
his claim, saying the Lord cannot tell who is balder, Papineau or his
neighbour). In another instance we have, on the one hand, Papineau saying
that phenomenal concepts are not associated with causal roles, and, on
the other hand, him saying that phenomenal concepts are tools to track
human experience (tools, but not role-performing...). A little bit confusing.
Also, we get to learn that phenomenal concepts are vague, to the point
of making it probably impossible to pinpoint what is the exact neuronal
counterpart of them. However, these concepts are not so vague as to make
the idea of human zombies possible... Philosophers!
The bottom line is that I ended up not being able to get past my
present panpsychist persuasion. It seems to me that there is a difference
in a physical system (brain or whatever) before vs after it gets conscious.
Consciousness is, then, something new in the scenario. Something rather
like 1 + 1 = 3. And I am left with the feeling that the materialist account
of consciousness leads us to a violation of energy conservation, or perhaps
to something even worse than that...
That is why I think we have only two options to keep our hearts
at ease. Either we deny the existence of consciousness altogether, or
we claim that it never comes or goes, it is always present. The latter
view is that of panpsychism. However, beings like us, who "experience" interruptions
of consciousness (by the way: how on Earth can anyone experience unconsciousness??!!...)
are not likely to be fans of panpsychism. Perhaps it takes the wisdom of
creatures like dolphins, that never sleep (they always keep half brain
awake, in turns), to fully appreciate the virtues of this philosophy. As
to its being the correct answer to the puzzle of consciousness, well, that
is another story...
Book: Consciousness Explained, by Daniel
Disappointing, Empty, and Agenda-Biased. - December
I give this book zero stars out of ten, and I do not
recommend it to anyone. As a matter of fact, I am utterly shocked that
so many "enlightened minds" (scientists and philosophers) give just any
credit to this book.
Dennett seems to be driven by a sole agenda, namely: to wage war
against dualism, and to enshrine monist-materialism. Curiously enough
(but just so very typical...), this attitude prevents him from seeing,
or better, from reporting, the true fatal flaw of dualism, since this flaw
also applies heavily to...monist-materialism itself!
Right at the beginning of the book, we are led by the author to
believe in two "facts" (as Dennett puts it) that actually are quite incorrect:
1- It is impossible that we are brains in vats (or, in twentieth-first
century "terminology," it is impossible that we are slaves living in the
Matrix); 2- This is so because, as Dennett teaches us, "strong hallucinations
are impossible." Now, anyone with even a mild ability to induce lucid dreams
knows number 2 is incorrect. Dreams are extremely like the real objective
world of ours in terms of its perceptual qualities (though most people do
not notice/remember it). And I never believed that we live in "the Matrix";
but to claim that this is impossible is definitely beyond the capabilities
of present-day science and philosophy. Dennett believes number 1 and 2 are
correct based on his ill-conceived notion of how combinatorial explosion
would necessarily work in computer-like World simulations. He was ready for
Donkey Kong 1990 graphics reasoning, not for present-day (year 2008) computer
world simulations, and even much less so for the powerful virtual world
machine that we have in our skull. As a matter of fact, even the Mandelbrot
algorithm would show Dennett's weak reasoning in this regard (and that
is computing of the sixties, twentieth century!).
Dennett then uses this "rock solid basis" above as the grounds for
his further advances in fancy reasoning. He demonizes and promptly exorcizes
anything that could even remotely bring back any form of dualism. The
notion of a Cartesian Theater in the brain is banned. The poor Homunculus
is chased down mercilessly. The idea that the brain has any representation
of the external world is similarly chased, presumably because it would entail
a Re-Presentation to an audience, to a Homunculus.
Next, we meet Dennett's three-front strategy in tackling the consciousness
issue: first, he warns us not to fall in the "trap of thinking that first
we must figure out what consciousness is for" (page 275). He masterly
succeeds in not falling in this trap (that is, he comes to the end of the
book without advancing just any single function whatsoever that might be
performed by consciousness itself. What a mighty intellectual feat of his,
huh! - just check page 277 for that). Second, he creates a brand new field
(sadly, already deceased now) of philosophy, christened "heterophenomenology."
This so suspicious "homo" phobia of Dennett's (phobia of "homophenomenology",
that is, of phenomenology) is supposed to be a more scientific third-person
perspective on phenomenology. That is, instead of accepting that people
have subjective conscious experience, we accept that they believe they
have subjective conscious experience. People's report of their subjective
experiences is to be treated as a fiction, just like fictional stories
(Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter). This is a rather complicated and tricky
issue, the way Dennett treats it. But it seems that his point is that we
should not really trust what people are reporting because they may be adding
or subtracting or twisting what is in them. We come then to the third front
of his strategy, which is his self-defeating "theory" for the way the mind
functions, which is the Multiple Drafts Model. Basically, it states that
there is no single definitive stream of consciousness in the mind (or in
the brain), and things are in a constant and ever changing process of revision.
This theory is not actually self-defeating per se. But, damagingly, it renders
the possibility of spotting neural correlates of consciousness (Francis Crick's
NCCs) virtually impossible. Since NCCs is a concept Dennett himself cannot
do without in his attempt to craft a theory for consciousness, with NCCs'
downfall Dennett, too, goes down the drain.
What Dennett keeps brushing under the carpet throughout his book
is the true mystery of consciousness. Just as is plainly stated in a recent
scholarly book, Irreducible Mind (year 2007), it can be put this way:
"we do not in fact have anything even remotely resembling a full causal
account of consciousness, let alone an account that we can understand
in the way we understand the freezing of water" (Irreducible Mind, pg 25-26).
This "causal account" is the very basis of just any scientific explanation
of phenomena. And this is precisely what Dennett labels, weirdly, as "a trap."
(Dennett's fans will abhor it, but it seems that he considers being rational
a severe trap for materialists. I have long suspected so...). Anyone intending
to write a book entitled "consciousness explained" is supposed to deal,
at least introductorily, with this causal account of consciousness, and
therefore to delineate how consciousness could possibly have come to emerge
in a Universe previously devoid of it. Dennett didn't even come close to
addressing this prerequisite.
As a corollary of the above failures, Dennett becomes impotent to
present an enlightening evolutionary description of consciousness. In
his chapter 7, The Evolution of Consciousness, he ends up not talking
about this evolution at all; that is, how and why consciousness appeared,
in light of what we know of darwinian mechanisms. Similarly, Dennett shows
a good level of acquaintance with information from and with concepts
from computing, neuroscience, and some additional topics relevant to
the consciousness debate; nevertheless, he seems quite clumsy in weaving
all these branches of knowledge into a masterly fabric that could boost
our thinking about this intellectual challenge.
Despite these devastating handicaps, Dennett then sets out to lay
down his "theory for consciousness." On page 210, we see him saying that
"what we need to understand is how human consciousness can be realized
in the operation of a virtual machine created by memes in the brain." Then,
page 214, he states that "What we have to understand is how a Joycean (or,
as I have said, `von Neumannesque') serial phenomenon can come to exist,
with all its familiar peculiarities, in the parallel hubbub of the brain."
Note that, thus far, what "we" have is "what we need to understand" and
"what we have to understand." Therefore, "we" are still not understanding
anything at all at this point in the book... Then, on pages 280-282, our
beloved Albus Dumbledennett waves his wand and gives birth to a theory out
of thin air. Presto, we have it at last! A full theory that renders consciousness
explained. It goes like this (page 281): "And so I hereby declare that my
theory is a theory of consciousness. Anyone or anything that has such a
virtual machine as its control system is conscious in the fullest sense, and
is conscious because it has such a virtual machine."
What Dennett is saying is that, , the brain is a parallel computer
(granted); and that, , this computer runs in it a kind of virtual
machine software that equals to a serial computer or Turing Machine or
von Neumann machine (accepted); and that, , this von Neumannesque
machine is created by memes in the brain (maybe, but debatable); and
that, , the version of a von Neumannesque machine that we, humans,
have running in our brains is a "Joycean Machine", after its resemblance
to James Joyce's descriptions of streams of consciousness in his novels
(well, any "serial" processor is supposed to have one and only one stream
of something, be it pieces of data with consciousness or without consciousness;
at least only one stream going through its von Neumann bottleneck. So,
what is the big deal about this Joycean gizmo?); and finally, , Joycean
Machines are conscious (contrary to the other von Neumannesque ones...)
because they are the object of their own elaborate perceptual systems (see
page 225-226). [ I may be having a strong hallucination, but it seems to
me that the concept of a serial Joycean virtual machine in the brain/mind
is a little bit at odds with the concept of a parallel Multiple Drafting
mechanism in this very same brain/mind...]
In a phrase: you are conscious because you look at yourself...
But why on Earth does looking at yourself triggers this popping
up of consciousness in a hitherto unconscious Universe? Without a true
causal account of it, at least even a very introductory-rudimentary one,
we just cannot have a theory that will lawfully tell (or even vaguely indicate)
a conscious system from a non-conscious one, be it an E.T., a refrigerator,
a dog, or your own dear relatives. That is the emptiness that, in the end,
Dennett has left us with. He laughs at the idea of philosophical zombies
(page 95) and he laughs at the idea of consciousness as an epiphenomenon
in the strong sense (page 404). But the point is not whether some philosopher
believes in zombies or not. The point is that zombies are the inescapable
corollary of the materialist account of the emergence of consciousness.
We, as scientists and philosophers, should not be laughing at the idea of
zombies. We should be improving our materialist theories instead. Thus far,
consciousness stands as an almighty anomaly to materialist theories of physics
and biology. And Dennett's reaction to it is, sometimes, utterly pathetic;
as in page 281, where he replies to the statement that "I can imagine all
brain activities without consciousness happening alongside" with the gem
"Oh, can you?... ...How do you know you've imagined `all that'... ...with
sufficient attention to all the implications?"
Well, there was a time we could imagine/believe in inheritance of
acquired traits in mammals evolution... This was so because we did not
know the causal chain of the issue, its causal account. Not anymore. Just
give us a rudimentary-introductory causal account of consciousness, and
you will see no zombie believer anymore. Until then, disbelief in zombies
is just as good a belief (and just as rational a belief) as any other...
And just by the way: the true fatal flaw of dualism is not fanciful
violations of the conservation of energy, or delusional impossibilities
of interaction between matter stuff and mind stuff. The true fatal flaw
of dualism is that, even though it is born out of our attempt to explain
consciousness, it ends up explaining nothing. A conscious ghost is just
as unexplained as a conscious brain. Just the same, no causal account
Book: Irreducible Mind, by Edward Kelly et
Consciousness & Will = Nil. - December 30,
First of all, I give only four stars out of ten to this
book. This is because I really think there are lots of problems in it.
I must say, however, that the authors are worthy of great scientific respect
(and, similarly, this book is worthy of deep respect and attention by the
scientific community), that they are among the best in the field, and
that, IMO, they are among the top-quality members of the world scientific
community. Also, I must stress that I myself believe in the afterlife.
But... getting to the problems:
The title of this book is "Irreducible" "Mind." For a book with
such a title, I would like to have seen a deeper analysis of (reflection
on) the concept of reducibility vs irreducibility. And also a deeper
discussion of the possible concepts of mind. There are some tricky issues
related to both terms that deserve deep analyses, and I do not know how
much the authors are aware of these, or even if they consider these relevant
or not. For instance, how come one thing is reducible to another in the
first place? (e.g. ice to water through heat). And in what sense is a brain
a mind, and is a cell not a mind (or a piece of rock)? If the brain is not
a mind, what is the definition of mind? We must bear in mind (in mind...)
that mind is an objective thing; what is subjective is consciousness (qualia,
etc). Similarly, on page xvii in the Introduction, we see this opening statement
by Edward Kelly: "The central subject of this book is the problem of relations
between the inherently private, subjective, 'first-person' world of human
mental life and the publicly observable, objective, 'third-person' world of
physiological events and processes in the body and brain." So, the central
subject of this book seems not to be the Irreducible Mind, but the Irreducible
Consciousness instead... (David Chalmers' "Hard Problem").
Nevertheless, we do see, all along the book, a deep treatment of
the "irreducible mind" issue. It is perhaps best summarized/introduced
on page 28: "There exist certain kinds of empirically verifiable mental
properties, states, and effects that appear to outstrip in principle the
explanatory potential of physical processes occurring in brains." These,
presumably, would include memory, binding, prodigies, secondary or alternate
centers of personality, mystical experiences, stigmata (and similar influences
of the mind on the body), plus, on the more controversial side of this front,
psi (paranormality), DMILS (direct mental interaction with living systems),
and afterlife survival. The authors are aware of the different evidential
status of each one of these phenomena, and they do report it faithfully.
They continue, on page 28: "Facts of this sort, moreover, can often be accommodated
more naturally within an alternative interpretation of the mind-brain correlation,
one already developed in abstract form by William James (1898/1900)." So
they present, in this book, a set of mind-related irreducible (or seemingly
irreducible) phenomena plus an introductory theory for them.
The theory is the filter/transmission theory, "developed in its
fullest version thus far by" Friedrich Myers towards the end of the nineteenth
century. It was also supported, to a great extent, by highly renowned
psychologist William James (contemporary with Myers). A good way to put
this theory is the "visible light vs prism" metaphor (one may include
the infrared and the ultraviolet in this metaphor too). Just as the red
light is not created by a prism out of white light, but only filtered ("transmitted")
by it, consciousness, in all its forms (and all modes and intensities of
human consciousness), is not created by the brain/body but merely filtered
by it instead. Now, this is pretty bizarre. And I must add that this is,
also, my own theory for consciousness (in a maybe-not-slightly different
But how did this theory come to be? (And there are versions of it
tracing back to ancient Greece!). What is being filtered, and how, and
by what exactly? What happens when the filter... dies? And what is the
dynamics of this filtering?
On page 83/84, we meet Myers's notion of the "Permeable Boundary,"
according to which "evolution of consciousness involves the shifting of
the supraliminal segment up the spectrum into the ultraviolet region,
as more and more psychological processes are mastered and then relegated
to the infrared region, while, simultaneously, latent psychological capacities
or processes are drawn out of the ultraviolet region and into the supraliminal
range." I got the impression that according to Myers's view (and according
to the authors' view) we have a, say, "spectrum of psychological processes"
and, in parallel, an accompanying "spectrum of modes of consciousness."
So, I conclude, we might have the following spectrum of "psychological"
processes (brain processes?): 1- Heart-beating commands. 2- T.V. watching.
3- Telepathy communication. So, frogs, humans, and E.T.s., all have these
three psychological processes (brain processes) above. But in frogs, the
filter (brain/body) enables consciousness (awareness) of number 1 (heart
beating); in humans, the filter allows awareness of number 2 (T.V. watching);
and in E.T.s, the filter permits awareness of number 3 (telepathy). But E.T.s
wouldn't be conscious when watching T.V., I guess (what a regrettable loss...
And "Myers" adds: "this evolutionary model of a larger Self whose
latent capacities gradually emerge and whose emergent manifestation grows
increasingly complex in response to the demands of the environment,"
(page 80). The modes of consciousness, thus, become "higher" through the
demands of the environment... Also, page 79, "Myers suggested, there had
been a 'primitive simple irritability', or 'undifferentiated sensory capacity
of the supposed primal germ', which he called panaesthesia." William James
held similar views (he is quoted as having said: "If evolution is to work
smoothly, consciousness in some shape must have been present at the very
origin of things.").
The bottom line is this: there is, throughout the evolution of the
universe, a shifting of the waking consciousness (i.e. supraliminal consciousness,
consciousness, etc) into the "ultraviolet region" of the full spectrum
of consciousness-modes available in the universe, and this shifting is brought
about by the demands of the environment, that is, by natural selection.
Note also that Myers's theory "requires that there be some global creative
tendency in the universe, however slight, that results over time in increasing
richness and complexity of biological forms" (page 601/602). Add to it that
things at the beginning of times where kind of "primal germ / undifferentiated
sensory capacity." So here is my list of perplexities with Myers's model
(as it was presented, and as I could understand it):
1- If what we have at the beginning is a primal germ of consciousness,
a primitive irritability, still undifferentiated, then this thing should,
IMHO, better be described not as a panaesthesia stuff/state, but rather
as an "anaesthesia" stuff/state.
2- If "bodies" end up (through natural selection) bringing about
this differentiation of the primal consciousness germ, then, actually,
bodies can be said to create consciousness (just as fairly as an electron
jump to a lower energy level in an atom can be said to create a photon,
which, thus far, had been "undifferentiated" together with the higher-energy
3- We know that bodies change (evolution) by the demands of the
environment (natural selection), and we know the mechanics of it. But
we do not know the mechanics of the shifting of consciousness to the so
called "higher levels." So, we may as well just say that bodies change
through the demands of the environment, and consciousness merely comes
along with the bandwagon...
4- The "global creative tendency in the universe" seems to be in
something of a mismatch with all the rest of Myers's theory. (But not
necessarily with his data! Also, lots of phenomena do point in this direction,
like the spontaneous symmetry breaking, though we must be very cautious
when pondering over these matters...). We might expect this creative tendency
from a true panaesthesia primitive plenum (Hyperconscious/Omniconscious),
but much less so from a primitive "anaesthesia" (as I see it).
Conclusion - In my humble opinion, Myers's theory, as presented
by the authors and as understood by me, is just as insightful as all
the other theories attempting to explain consciousness and to put it into
a scientific framework, that is: it explains absolutely nothing whatsoever...
Similarly, the authors just put together the problems of consciousness,
volition, teleology, and free will. I think this is very wrong, and I
see consciousness and volition as belonging to the same sort of phenomena
(qualia/Chalmers' Hard Problem, basically), free will as non-existent,
and teleology (depending on how we see it) as easily explainable. The
authors, on the other hand, believe the theories they have presented (and
favored) - F. Myers's and, more recently, physicist Henry Stapp's - "ratify,
rather than reject, our everyday experience of ourselves as purposeful,
causally effective, conscious agents" (page 640). But at the same time they
acknowledge that (on page 629) "We still have no real understanding of the
ultimate nature of the relationship between brain processes and mental
activity, and certainly no solution of Chalmers' 'hard problem' - why conscious
experiences with their specific qualitative characteristics should arise
at all in connection with the associated patterns of brain activity," which
renders the central subject of the book (as depicted by Edward Kelly, quoted
in the second paragraph of this review) as virtually untouched...
The authors point out, about Henry Stapp's theories for quantum
mechanics and consciousness, that "As Stapp (2004a) remarks, his model
'makes consciousness causally effective' " (page 614), and that "Stapp
and his quantum-theoretic allies have already successfully undermined
the basic-science foundations of presentday materialist-monist psychology
and neuroscience" (page 616). It may be so. But although I am highly
sympathetic to Stapp's views, I doubt it... The place for consciousness
in quantum mechanics is still a highly debated and far from settled issue,
and the ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics is even more so.
We, non-physicists, had better be attentive and respectful to all informed
points of view, I think.
The authors finish this book with a paragraph quote from Myers,
which ends like this: "Never was there a harvest so plenteous with labourers
so few." As a matter of fact, I think we are still at a much previous
"biblical quote" phase:
"It is necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff"...
For a lengthier analysis of some points of this book, click
on this link.
Book: Sweet Dreams, by Daniel
Again, Zero Stars for Mr. Dennett. - March 2,
Dennett came as a huge and surprising disappointment
to me. For years I had thought (and feared...) he would be THE great challenger
to spiritualist views concerning the philosophy of the mind. I was so shocked
when I finally read Consciousness Explained (zero stars) that I simply
had to check out how his views might have evolved during the ensueing 15
years or so till the present day (from 1991 to 2005, and then to try to
imagine how it might be now, in 2009). The answer is: failure is still alive...
How it can be that so much attention and serious consideration is given
to Dennett's views is something that I simply cannot grasp. But it is certainly
not due to the quality or to the depth of his reasonings on these matters
of philosophy/science of cognition.
Some "improvements" seem to have happened (though, since they were
not explicitly acknowledged, I cannot really tell if, instead, I am just
being delusional in these perceptions of mine). Dennett's "heterophenomenology"
now seems to have lost almost completely all of its emphasis on the "conclusion"
that the "subject's report is merely an illusion, a fiction like any other
fiction and nothing more than it (like Sherlock Holms and Harry Potter)."
It was almost a hundred percent clear (i.e. present) in Consciousness Explained
(1991) that the subject's report was merely an illusion; and this view is
almost a hundred percent absent now in Sweet Dreams (2005). Quite a change...
Another absence that I noticed is his previous ill-conceived idea that
it is impossible that we are slaves living in The Matrix (he actually put
it as "we cannot be brains-in-vats surrounded by illusory reality created
by aliens"). Obviously I don't think we are slaves in The Matrix, or brains-in-vats
either. But to claim that this is IMPOSSIBLE (like Dennett did in 1991)
is simply nuts. He seems to have grasped it at last, fortunately. (My hunch
is that he got overwhelmed by the very movies The Matrix 1, 2, and 3 plus
the various computer software available nowadays). Another welcome absence
is his previous unreasonable notion that the brain does not fill in for
the background color in the eye blackspot experiment (picture on page 324,
Consciousness Explained - Performing the experiment myself on me, I found
it quite surprising that this "not filling in" was red when the background
was red, was blue when the background was blue, and so on. I could never
have dreamed of a "not-filling-in" that actually was... coloured!).
On page 1 (! nice start, ain't it?), we find a bad factual mistake.
He says "Most of the cells that compose your body are descendants of the
egg and sperm whose union started you (there are also millions of hitchhikers
from thousands of different lineages stowed away in your body)." Actually,
we have about 10 trillion human cells in our body (zygote descendant), and
ten times as much hitchhikers... (bacteria mostly). Also faulty is Dennett's
description of the experiment with the deck cards in the peripheral vision:
actually you can identify indeed the color and even the number of the deck
card far away from the center of your vision; provided it is only some
seven centimeters away from your eye! (in Consciousness Explained he described
this experiment faithfully, though; if you hold out your arm, then it gets
very hard to do this task, as Dennett correctly put it back in 1991).
Key points where he failed miserably (despite my fellow reviewers'
disagreement...) were, 1-the zombies issue, 2-the qualia issue, and, 3-the
locked Mary issue. Looking closer on these:
1- On page 92, Dennett sets out to destroy the zombie hunch. He says:
"I doubt that anybody who gets the idea of a zombie, an agent without
qualia, in its full implications, can fail to recognize that it is an
irreparably incoherent idea. To bring out the covert contradictions in
the very idea of a zombie... ...I want to explore..." What stuns me is
that some people simply do not realize that Dennett ended up not showing
absolutely any contradiction/incoherence in the idea of a zombie whatsoever
in the following ten pages up to the end of that chapter! I was so shocked
at it that I had to read it three times to triple check it. I challenge
anyone who thinks otherwise (Dennett included - we now have a comment section
in Amazon reviews). As a matter of fact, I think philosophers are too light
on the defence of the idea of zombies. Zombies - according to the correct
materialist interpretation of our knowledge of physics and biology - are
not a possibility: they are an inevitability! They do not make sense in a
spiritualist or dualist view of reality. But in a materialist view, they
are the necessary conclusion. If you put together what we know about physics
and biology, especially about neo-darwinism and natural selection, plus what
we really know about consciousness, then we must conclude that most of the
people around us are zombies. What we need, then (if we want to stick to
materialism), are better materialist theories. And Dennett has provided none.
2- Regarding qualia, Dennett is correct in pointing out people's (non
philosophers and even philosophers, especially when drinking in bars with
Dennett...) misunderstandings regarding the use and the very notion of
this term. In fact, Dennett himself is rather poor in his "handling" (understanding)
of this notion (I could make a big list of instances of his feebleness
on that). But the fact is that subjective experience exists, no matter
what you call it (qualia, Hard Problem, whatever). If you read his book
carefully, you will notice that the answer "no," on page 85 of Sweet Dreams
(to a specific question Dennett challenges the reader with), actually survives
unharmed to Dennett's scrutiny. And "no" has always been my answer. (Oh
My, checking it right now, even the answer "yes" goes unharmed. What a fiasco!
Only the answer "don't know" would be problematic).
3- I agree with Dennett that the hypothetical cognitive scientist
Mary, who knows all that there is to be known about colors but that has
never seen colors for herself, would, when shown true colors for the first
time, come to know absolutely nothing new. She wouldn't be surprised and
actually she, IMO, would already have had the subjective experience of
the colors. But Dennett goes to bizarre lengths in defending his idea on
this. He makes Mary create in her own mind a replica of herself that would
have subjective experience (he does this with "Locked RoboMary," on page
126). This is quite bizarre coming from the man who would so dogmatically
deny that we can be brains-in-vats (or slaves in The Matrix) back in 1991.
Incoherence and lack of rational thinking remains... (just check out on
page 118 for the same reasoning, but coming from dreams inducing subjective
Getting to the core of Dennett, the "Heart of Darkness" (i.e. of his
theory), we see that he has fallen in love with the Global Neuronal Workspace
Model. On page 132, he presents a summary of it (after Dehaene and Naccahe,
2001): "At any given time, many modular cerebral networks are active in
parallel and process information in an unconscious manner. An information
becomes conscious, however, if the neural population that represents it
is mobilized by top-down attentional amplification into a brain-scale state
of coherent activity that involves many neurons distributed throughout the
brain. The long distance connectivity of these 'workplace neurons' can,
when they are active for a minimal duration, make the information available
to a variety of processes including perceptual categorization, long-term
memorization, evaluation, and intentional action. We postulate that this
global availability of information through the workplace is what we subjectively
experience as a conscious state." And Dennett adds on page 171 (coincidently,
my "home country's number" for deceit... ;-) ), "I have ventured the empirical
hypothesis that our capacity to relive and rekindle contentful events is the
most important feature of consciousness - indeed, as close to a defining
feature of consciousness as we will ever find; and the empirical hypothesis
that this echoic capacity is due in large part to habits of self-stimulation
that we pick up from human culture, that the Joycean machine" (i.e. a computer
software that "thinks" about itself - reviewer's note) "in our brains is
a virtual machine made of memes." Also, on page 136, ..."it is the specialist
demons' accessibility to each other... ...that could... ...explain the dramatic
increases in cognitive competence that we associate with consciousness"
Well, I get the feeling (from the above extracts) that Dennett et
al have put in the place of The Homunculus a House of Mirrors, where it
is the screen (or screens) itself that is conscious (rather than the audience)
whenever anything "looks" at it. Also, a lion's (or your mother's) moment
of pain, when briefly stung by a thorn (or by a needle), is not to be considered
consciousness... (not echoic enough, as it seems). Surely something seems
to be amiss. Now add to it this quote from Dennett, on page 102, "Is there
anything it is like to be a tree? Most of us, I suppose, will be inclined
to answer in the negative, but if we then cast about for a reason for our
judgement, there will be little to present." Well, now we just end up stunned
and lost. What the hell does Dennett think?
The key point, nonetheless, is this: nowhere in Dennett's writings
is one to find just any explanation whatsoever of How and Why consciousness
emerges, and What For (that is, what is the benefit it brings). Those
are the keystones of materialistic explanatory protocol. And Dennett's
house is one made out of empty stones.
I repeat what I have said in my recent review of Consciousness Explained:
consciousness is an Almighty Anomaly in light of our materialitic interpretation
of our physical and biological knowledge of the universe. It brings down
altogether the Huge Cathedral of Materialism. This does not mean that materialism
IS wrong (and this does not mean that we will survive our deaths). It just
means that, presently, materialism cannot account for the emergence of consciousness
(dualism can; panpsychism can; solipsism can; but it does not mean necessarily
that any of these views IS correct). Maybe one day it will. But then it
will take true theoretical breakthroughs, and not Albus DumbleDennett's
Hocus Pocuses & Wand Wavings. We should expect and demand more from philosophers
and scientists. They are in on a public endeavour. And they must always
bear that in mind.
As for Dennett himself, he definetely needs to learn more about subjective
experiences, ordinary and anomolous. His previous clumsly knowledge regarding
dreams (in 1991) led him astray into remarks that he now forswears (the
impossibility of The Matrix - Wake up, Dennett; There is No Spoon! :-)
). And he needs to make a choice as to whether he is going to deal with these
matters following his political/anti-religious agenda or if he is going
to try to bring to us true advances in the philosophy and science of cognition.
Both paths are precious. But only once an honest and true choice is made...
When, at last, Dennett has chosen, then he may be able to overcome
his simplemindedness in regards to issues like "illusions", "miracles",
"magic", "mechanics", and "causation." I will be most eagerly looking forward
to witnessing this day come...
Book: Quantum Gods:
Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness, by Victor Stenger
Will Anyone Let Go of their Gurus to Embrace
This Gorilla? - June, 2009.
Well, this is actually the very first amazon review
for this "new" Stenger book, and I give him ZERO Stars out of Ten. I have
meticulously analyzed Stenger's writings before, and my analyses can be found
at my site "Criticizing Skepticism." I have repeatedly called people's attention
to the fact that Stenger often seems not to have read what he cites (check
out my comments to Bob Zannelli's "review" - right above - for updates on
that...), that he often falls in logical and factual contradictions, and
that he often misreports things, both due to faulty reading and to agenda-driven
deliberate lying. Last but far from least, he does not face those who have
true information against his pseudoscientific assertions. Twice have I entered
his internet discussion group, avoid-L (the last time I stayed there for
many many months), and he just kept hiding from me all the while. This is
important to be said in this review because Stenger mentions this discussion
list in his book, so the reader should be aware of what to expect from such
place and from those that Stenger acknowledges as important contributers
to him there... (check out page 21).
That said, I can summarize this book with this phrase: it presents
almost nothing new (in relation to Stenger's previous books), the only
exception, arguably, being the fact that Stenger acknowledges that IT
IS POSSIBLE that a God exists that acts in the world through the indetermination
of quantum mechanics...!!! (check out page 243 for that) So, I did not
find much arguments AGAINST the quantum gurus in this book. But I did find
some arguments FOR quantum deities, so to speak. That might be (so I hope)
a tiny sparkle of honesty in Stenger's writing. A light at the end of the
tunnel after so many years! But then again, he tries to distort this in
such a way that the unwary reader is likely to think he is saying the opposite...
But he is not.
Anyway, let's make some loose (and numbered) comments on this new "easy
money." Let's label those as "problems":
1- Stenger does not understand evolution theory. He believes (page
17, and several other, like page 228 and 230) "the Darwin-Wallace theory
of evolution is based on a combination of random mutations and natural
selection." It is not. I told him in his forum: "Stenger, go read James
Shapiro to overcome this disability of yours!" He did not listen. Ostriches...
2- On page 200, he says the many-worlds interpretation is deterministic.
Then, on page 206, he says that only the Bohmian interpretation is deterministic.
And then, on page 261, he again says that the many-worlds interpretation
is deterministic. Looks like Gorilla-Bouncing... And it is us readers that
3- On page 261, he says the laws of physics are human inventions. He
repeats this on page 262. Then, right on page 263, he asures us that the
laws of physics (just as the structure of the universe, and the very universe
itself) came from nothing (next time he will be adding that the universe
is a human invention...). This is more "erratic" (polite term for lunatic)
than anything I have thus far heard from Quantum Gurus (and I have heard
many a "gem" from them...).
4- On page 160, he decides to be more well informed in thermodynamics
than Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine... I myself cannot take sides in this
dispute since I am not a physicist.
5- He terribly distorts Gosmani's words on pages 38 and 39, plus doesn't
understand the difference between solipsism and "brahmanism" (i.e. the
notion of a cosmic consciousness to which our individual consciousnesses
are connected). I keep wondering how come Stenger is now teaching... philosophy!!
6- He also misunderstands what the Dalai Lama said, as we can clearly
see on page 53. What the Dalai Lama said is exactly what many philosophers
at the Journal of Consciousness Studies talk about in many instances.
7- He repeatedly lies about psi research (parapsychological research),
on pages 176 to 180, and elsewhere). During my stay in his web list, I
could witness that he receives considerable "help" from both Bill (William)
Jefferys and from Brent Meeker in this lying scheme (both cited in the
book). The former fled in terror after hearing the name "Jessica Utts."
The latter asked me to buy a book (by Rhine, from 1940) for him to analyze
the evidence for paranormality in that book, and fled after I made the book
available to him. Owes me now 50 bucks! Pseudoskepics... Always swindling
us out of our time and out of our money.
8- Stenger is feeble in his treatment of the issues of free will and
9- He lies about things that affect the cherished believes of many
people, when he says (among other similarly twisted assertions) that the
omnipotent God can be shown not to exist beyond a reasonable doubt. That
is mere pseudoscience from him (and I must add that I myself do not believe
in this kind of God; but I do not go around lying that this god has been
disproved by science: I have scientific and social responsabilities to
abide by). Just look at this gem, page 239: "observational data and mathematical
theory demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that no spirit world exists."
Reminds me of that guy who said he had found a way to prove mathematically
that God exists... The same counterfeit coin. Just the other side of it...
10- On page 260, on another faint sparkle of intellectual honesty,
Stenger admits that key "reasonings" of his are not "mainstream," though
he swears that "All I have done is give an unconventional _philosophical_
interpretation to otherwise well-established theory." I have seen many
a Guru guaranteeing the same...
11- On page 18, and also more elaborately on page 154 onwards, we see
a reductionist Stenger claiming that "emergence is real, but the whole is
still the sum of its parts." However, on page 243, the whole miraculously
is not the sum of its parts anymore... For even if God Almighty controls
all the particles of a system, that "would still not guarantee a predetermined
outcome on the macroscale."
So this is the "Message" - or "science" - that is to "replace" the
Gurus' Message. A "science" that hides deep in the sand when well informed
oponents come to HIS web forum. A "science" that changes the alleged "facts
of the world" as it pleases, according to its (i.e. Stenger's) mysterious
vested interests, even though Stenger may be harming the cherished beliefs
of unwary readers. A "science" that falls in contradiction far too often
to the point of having us wonder why on Earth it is so. All we can say
is that this is a very weird "science" indeed. And this is the "science"
But the reader should rest assured: it is HIS science alone, and no
As a last nail, on page 14 we meet a would-be science writer that claims
"I am not finished." Just one minor correction this time: Yes, you are,
Sir. And you were from long before the moment this book started. All we
can say now is:
Ashes to Ashes...
Book: The New Atheism: Taking a Stand
for Science and Reason, by Victor J. Stenger (2009).
Misinformative, Irrational, and Dishonest - December,
[Zero Stars again to Mr. Stenger. Tsc, Tsc, Tsc]
Robert B. Zannelli, Brent Meeker, Yonatan Fishman. What do these guys
have in common? The answer is that they all gave five stars to Victor Stenger's
book "The New Atheism" in their review of it; and... they are all cited on
page 263 of this book, acknowledgments' section...(to his credit, Meeker
mentions this). They are hard-core members of Stenger's email discussion list,
avoid-L. So this question comes to my mind: if they know so God dammed well
the weaknesses in Stenger's work (and they surely do), how come they do not
have a constructively critical stand towards his book? (actually, Fishman
did present some critical outlook, though seemingly pretty much "restrained"...).
I very much respect the works of parapsychological researcher Dean Radin.
Yet, when reviewing his book "Entangled Minds," not only did I NOT give him
five stars, but I showed problematic spots in the book as well (similarly
with the book "Irreducible Mind," by other highly respectable authors).
So, where is the "Taking a Stand for Science and Reason" (as the subtitle
of Vic's book falsely advertises) in this behaviour above? Nowhere. And,
as a matter of fact, I just could not find either Science or Reason in this
book. But I did find incorrect information, prejudicedly biased attitude,
emotionally driven blind beliefs, and corrupt conduct. Smells like a new (bad)
religion is born...
The book begins with "dedicated to..., no-one-ever-heard-of, Paul Kurtz,
who has contributed more to the advance of science and reason than any other
of his generation." (what an offense to those who were truly the ones who
did the most to the advancement of science and reason!). What Stenger really
means is that Kurtz crafted (together with other cunning fellows like Martin
Gardner - religious man... - and James Randi - debunker and cheater) CSICOP,
CFI, and Prometheus Books publishing company (also Skeptical Inquirer magazine),
therefore publishing aplenty Stenger's dubious "works" (books). I also suspect
Kurtz helped (directly or indirectly) Stenger get a position as... adjunct
professor of philosophy (???!!!) at the University of Colorado, even though
Stenger knows nothing of philosophy to qualify for that; when Stenger mistakenly
used the word "epiphenomenon" to mean "side effect" instead of its true meaning
in modern philosophy of the mind (which traces back at least to renowned
psychologist William James, more than a century ago!), Stenger replied, at
avoid-L, that his dictionary did not list it the way I said. I only replied
asking him what his dictionary was (and by that I meant that Webster's Dictionary
already has the definition that philosophers of mind use, epiphenomenon being
roughly an effect that does not act back on its causal source). He did not
This book is so intricately flawed that I will have to comment on it through
1 - UNDUE OFFENSES TO RELIGIONS AS A WHOLE
On page 11, we get to know that the attack on the World Trade Center on
September 11, 2001, was the primary motivator for the birth of the so called
New Atheism. Sam Harris was the crackpot mostly responsible for it (not
for the attack on WTC, but for the birth of New Atheism), as it seems (Sam
Harris is also known as Sammy the Nuker, and Harry Pothead, for his defense
of obtaining confessions through torture and of preemptive nuclear attacks
on weaker nations - typical atheist...). The untold history is that the
Organized Skeptic Movement (the nest of Vic Stenger and Paul Kurtz, headquarters
at CSICOP) needed new fresh air. They tried it, unsuccessfully, some years
before with the Brights Movement, a silly idea endorsed by the silly Richard
Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (check it out on page 37). September 11 was the
bell that got these guys back on their successful money-seeking path, and
so they decided to harness all the hatred against Islam so that they could
profit as much as they could. I see very little true idealism and social
concern in their actions, Vic Stenger included. That is why I consider them,
their actions, so despicable. They are like vultures feeding on corpses that
should be respected. So, if religion was not responsible for September 11,
what was the cause?
To begin with, religion is not a monolith, and must not be treated as
such. It is silly, it is irrational, it is unscientific, to treat religion
this way. And, topmost, it is counterproductive to do so. And that is precisely
what New Atheists do. The excesses of one subset of a specific creed did
have some part in the attack on the WTC. It was not Islam as a whole: it was
a subset of it. It was not all this subset: it was a group of people who
embrace it. And this group of people was motivated by several reasons for
attacking the WTC. Religion, i.e., their very specific way of embracing their
religion, was only one ingredient of the explosive mixture. Trustworthy and
enlightening insights into September 11 and its many facets can be garnered
through authors like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. So, if a simple question
is asked this way, "Was Religion Responsible for September 11"?, the answer
would have to be a straightforward NO. That is why I think that the true motivation
of these "New Atheists" is to twist facts to get money pumped into their
So the pumping goes on...: we are told, on page 15 (and also elsewhere)
that faith is always foolish. Always. Also, that Judaism, Islam, and Christendom
have done little (little) to alleviate the sufferings in the world (never
built a single hospital, as it seems...). On page 22, we get to know that
it is immoral (so Vic thinks) to be born of a virgin... (yes, he truly said
that!). On page 51, not only do we get to know that "under the spell of the
theocons, George W. Bush relied for eight years on faith rather than reason
to make decisions, such as invading Iraq," we also learn that Bush was convinced
by these guys (theocons) that he was doing God's work... Wow! Does Stenger
really believe all this? Bush invaded Iraq based on faith, believing to
be doing God's work? Question: where is Science in all this above? Where
is Reason in all this above? I can only see Stenger's foolish beliefs, probably
targeted at cashing in on easy money... Not satisfied with so much "trustworthy
teaching," Stenger tells us, on page 115, that the popes during the Dark
Ages (actually Mediaeval Times) were people "whose motives can surely be
attributed, partly or wholly, to religion." This man is a mighty Historian!
(popes' motivations were rather earthly greed and political ambitions). Last
but not least, we read Stenger hallucinating these words on page 116: "Perhaps
some insight into how killing in the name of God comes so easy to true believers
can be gained by looking at" (blah blah blah). If you are a true believer,
killing comes easy to you. Again, unscientific hasty generalizations.
2 - UNSOUND NAIVE OUTLOOK ON ATHEISM AND ON ATHEISTS
Surprisingly enough, the other side of the coin is not to be taken at
face value. That is, believers err due to religion (or strongly influenced
by it), whereas atheists might err, but they do so *despite* the beneficial
influence of atheism, as it seems...
Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot committed atrocities *despite* being atheists.
Also, the aggressiveness of Diderot is, I believe, justified, when quoted
by Stenger as having said (page 107): "Men will never be free until the
last king is strangled in the entrails of the last priest." Could at least
have been a little more merciful and have them all smashed (leveled actually)
under Stenger's "light" weight... Then we have a quote (page 159) from Thomas
Edison: "Nature made us...not the gods...religion is all bunk..."; so nice
from the maniac inventor (and enthusiast...) of the electric chair who would
fry countless animals alive, including an elephant, testing his invention.
All this to win his private war against Westinghouse... All *despite* atheism.
And it just gets worse: Victor Stenger and his fellows at avoid-L email
discussion list have...condoned racism! Where the hell is Science and Reason
in this? Telling the story: first, James Watson (non avoid-L member) said
all scientific studies show black people are less intelligent than whites
(which is a lie, to begin with, for not ALL studies show it), and that bosses
should promote whites instead of blacks other things being equal... This
assertion from this atheist was neither scientific nor ethical. Then comes
Richard Dawkins. He says Watson may be wrong scientifically (MAY be... -
that is a lie to begin with, because Watson IS wrong. Not ALL tests show
blacks to be less intelligent than whites!), but Watson is not wrong ethically
(it seems Dawkins finds it ok to prefer whites being promoted, other things
being equal). Then come the avoid-L fellows. Not a single one of them agreed
with me that Dawkins was endorsing racist views with his assertions. Instead,
some of them even mocked me! Where is Science in all this? Where is Reason?
All the while, Victor Stenger himself remained...silent! Why didn't they
just say Dawkins was wrong? Well, because of corrupted reasons. They were
to have a meeting with him and other new atheists in the near future (NYC
Conference on Secularism; November 9, 2007). Imagine if Dawkins heard one
of them had said Dawkins' assertions amounted to endorsement of racist attitude...
So just as in Religion (Yes) and in Politics (Yes), New Atheism is prone
to corruption. So what is the source of our social problems? Religion itself?
It doesn't seem like. Politics per se, or money? I guess not. Atheism, old
or new? I do not believe it. The problem lies elsewhere, in many different
places. And silly oversimplifications are only sure to make things worse.
3 - SLOPPY SCIENCE AND FAULTY INFORMATION
I have been saying for years now that Stenger simply does not read what
he cites. As a consequence, he often cites things wrongly. But...no one
cares! And I ask: is this Science? Is this Reason? Let me now comment on
some mistakes from him in this book.
On page 21, Stenger says that technically atheist is someone who is not
a theist. The name of this mistake that he is committing is "Folk Etymology."
If one was to follow Stenger's "technical" assumptions, one would conclude
that "theist" and "deist" are perfect synonyms (both terms trace back to
Greek, though the latter through Latin).
Worse still, on page 23, Stenger decides to equate "nonreligious" with
"nonbeliever." That is because he did not read the source that he cited.
He's been doing it often, over the last years. And no one cares. (Science
and Reason...). His source is Adherents.com. Had Stenger read his source,
he would not be surprised that half of his supposed "nonbelievers" would
say YES to the question "Do you believe in God?" (last phrase of the second
paragraph in "Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist" from adherents.com religions
by adherents). What a philosopher...
Even worse still (!), on pages 69 and 75 Stenger mentions the article
by Larson (1998), which I had demonstrated to him and to his fellows at
avoid-L (back in 2007! - readers can check it out on my review of "God the
Failed Hypothesis," on amazon.com) to be a highly faulty article. Stenger
says of it, wrongly, again, that "Only 7 percent of the members of the National
Academy of Sciences believe in a personal God, with the remainder either
nonbelievers or agnostics." (page 69). Then, wrongly too, he says "on a survey
of the 517 members of the National Academy of Sciences." The correct statement
that can be made based on Larson study is that "At least 10% of NAS Members
do not believe in a God in *intellectual* and *affective* communication with
humanity." NAS does not have 517 members; it has more than 2000 (at the time
Larson made his study, in 1998). 517 were polled, but only about 50% replied!
And the question they were asked was: "Do you believe in a God in *intellectual*
and affective communication with humankind"? (emphasis mine). Stenger disregarded
all my meticulous and painstaking analysis and presentation to him at his
own turf (avoid-L) and keeps bringing in highly faulty information (and
his fellows know it!). Is this Science? Is this Reason?
Continuing, on page 81, Stenger decides to cremate Popper and falsificationism
by declaring that Einstein's Relativity has not proved Newton's Mechanics
wrong (philosopher, at Colorado...).
Then, on pages 146/147, Stenger concludes that "reincarnation is falsified
beyond a reasonable doubt" because no one "remembers something from her previous
life that she could not possible (misspelling of possibly) have known and
that is verified as correct by other, objective means." He forgets completely
about the works of Ian Stevenson and followers (acknowledged even by Carl
Sagan as early back as 1995), instead of beginning a true scientific investigation
of the subject by, for example, reading the following recent high quality
citation: "Children Who Claim to Remember Previous Lives: Past, Present,
and Future Research. Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp.
543-552, 2007. Jim B. Tucker." Again, where is Science? Where is Reason?
Similarly, Stenger does not present any feedback whatsoever about the
best studies (and the best results) from the parapsychological research,
including the results from "telepathy" studies using the Ganzfeld protocol.
These have been published somewhat regularly on prestigious mainstream scientific
On page 212, Stenger tells us that "(Fritjof) Capra does not tell us to
turn inside," even though, at the very first paragraph of the epilogue of
"The Tao of Physics," Capra explicitly talks about it...
On page 107, Stenger decides to believe that polytheism is good, while
monotheism is bad (???).
And on page 152, he desperately tries to belittle the "Love Thy Enemy"
breakthrough in true humanism from Jesus (or "Jesus," if you will...) by
saying it is similar to the Taoism concept he mentioned a little above it,
when actually it is very different! (they mention something like "Love the
Bad Guys" and not "Love the Bad Guys who Bully You" - that is very different).
Finally, on page 183, Stenger, again, refuses to acknowledge the discussions
that took place in his own email list (avoid-L), by saying that "experts
in statistics uncovered a number of errors in Radin's (Dean Radin) analysis,
rendering his conclusions useless." He cites for that Stokes and I.J.Good.
Since 2005 I have been telling Stenger that this is wrong information. First,
Radin has incorporated Stokes criticism in his analysis, and found his results
still robust. Second, Radin replied to Good in Nature scientific journal,
correcting the wrong numbers Good had worked with. We had a heated discussion
over that in the avoid-L email list. Main contenders in this instance were
William Jefferys and Brent Meeker. The former, a renowned statistician, referred
to Radin's works as "*shiHhHhHhnonsense*." I asked him to indicate two scientific
articles by Radin with problems. He never presented any... As to Meeker,
he told me "Interesting that data in a sixty year old book (Rhine's) which
is supposedly at the foundation of a whole field of research is not available
in the public domain. Why don't you just buy the book and tell the list
exactly what these results are that Radin says imply odds of 10^21 or 10^2000"?
And so I did exactly this. I bought the book by Rhine (U$ 50,00) and gave
it for free to both Meeker and Jefferys. Can you believe what they did? Absolutely
nothing whatsoever! All the while I had been in contact with Dean Radin,
who was always offering to help in the analysis if and when Meeker and Jefferys
did their part or seemed willing to. Jefferys decided to close his email
account to me (!?). And Meeker...fled. Vic Stenger saw all that. And did,
and said, nothing. Now, he just...forgets (reminds me of Ronald Reagan on
the Contras affair...).
So this is all that the New Atheism is about: lies and deceit. Where are
the scientific studies that show that *religion* (or *faith*) is evil? Nowhere.
Where are the scientific studies that show that *atheism* is beneficial?
Nowhere. Similarly, where is Science and Reason in the New Atheism movement?
Needless to answer...
Additional feedbacks on this "book" at this
Book: The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy
of Mind). By David Chalmers (2010).
A Must. Yet, Much to My Own Surprise, I Did Not
Like It... - June 23, 2012.
How can a reader consider a book a *must* and still acknowledge
that he (me...) did not like it? In highly "tricky" unsolved areas of mankind's
intellectual endeavours, it is often better to have "bad answers with possibly
fruitful reasonings," than to have "good answers with most likely (or, to
a great extent) sterile reasonings." Just take a look at Copernicus' splendid
answer to the Earth vs Sun "what is the center of our planetary system" dilemma.
At the time he advanced his "good answer," it was close to good-for-nothing.
It simply did not work; not until Kepler worked out the math right. Compared
to that, Ptolomy's 1300 year old "bad answer" was pretty much fruitful: not
only did it work (with amendments...), but it also inspired and gave people
a working framework to think about better alternatives (because of the very
amendments...). Most likely (IMHO) Chalmers is wrong. Yet, his reasoning
can greatly help in boosting the thinking of those involved in this quest
for the Holy Grail of the human intellect: The Answer to the Mystery of Consciousness.
I particularly appreciated some aspects of Chalmers' stand on this whole
issue. He is pretty much aware of the fact that many take this topic almost
as an agenda for ideological fights (I dare say: Jihad/Crusade fierce "wars"
indeed!), and he clearly states that he does not like or take this route.
Topmost, he is aware that there is indeed a hard problem to be faced in the
consciousness debate. He also clearly exposes the bizzarre behaviour of those
who either deny the existence of consciousness or try to "explain" it actually
talking about something completely different from the issue itself. Human
beings, go figure... We just never change in our core vices.
I'd like now to present some points that I think are, say, "problematic."
[Readers are specially invited here to make comments in case I might have
misapprehended some points]
1- Chalmers seems to be aware of the question-begging nature of ascribing
*unconsciousness* to the so called "unconscious mental processes." Yet he
dwells on it far too little. So little that he ends up reinforcing the flawed
(or at least premature) conclusion that "unconscious" mental processes are
2- He expresses the view that representationalism is at a topmost position
in the consciousness debate (something almost like: where there is representation
of the world, consciousness is to be found). Yet, I do not think he went as
far and as masterly on this road as he should. Representation is a billion-year-old
trick in nature. Even bacteria have sophisticated ways of producing and benefitting
from it (just check out the "quorum sensing" strategy used by many different
bacteria in several different situations). What are we to say and to expect
from these highly sophisticated representation systems? Are they highly conscious?
Why should they be? Why shouldn't they? Chalmers merely touched the shore
surface of this intriguing "ocean," while he could have ventured (with the
data we indeed have today) at least as far as the "continental shelf."
3- Laying the conditions for a theory of consciousness, Chalmers advances
the need for both a solid knowledge of the NCCs (neural correlates of consciousness)
and of an explanation for *why* and *how* the NCCs give rise to consciousness.
In this too, like with the item 1 above, he seems to have some insight on
the intrinsic pitfalls of the explanation business; and again he dwells on
it far too little (like almost everyone else). What is it to explain something?
What is the difference between, on the one hand, scientific/mechanical explanation
and, on the other hand, magical thinking. The answer (IMO), at the very bottom
layer, is: as far as anyone can tell, none! [i.e.: A causes B not because
of a truly rational logical scientific neat and clean explanation, but merely
because A causes B and that is that. Pure magic. Period.]. This may not be
a problem if you are working with molecular engineering, or car engine fixing.
But when you deal with frontier knowledge thinking, it is a must to address
these issues deeply. Sadly, it is very rare to find someone who does... And
Chalmers is no exception.
4- In some places, Chalmers stresses his view that consciousness has structure.
Always, as it seems. Yet, I cannot think of something simpler (structureless...?)
than a red led light dot on a full dark surrounding (actually I can: the very
full dark surrounding by itself...). So I think that Chalmers' attempt to
tie consciousness to structure is at least forcefully artificial and possibly
5- Another (closely related) idea that Chalmers advances is somewhat like
"consciousness is tied to information." That is, the more information in a
system, the more consciousness in this system (this is a simple and rather
crude presentation by me of Chalmers' exposition; but I think I am faithful
to the core of his reasoning on that). At first I felt it might be somewhat
promising. Now I just cannot see any advantage in this view. I just cannot
see why a system with more information in it should be more (or less) conscious
than one with less information.
6- Also the idea that consciousness is unified (somewhat supported by Chalmers)
has always been kind of allien to my mind. I was once charged with holding
this view by a commentator to a review that I did for the book Consciousness
Explained (book by materialist ideological crusader and Santa Claus immitator
Dan Dennett). I think that anyone that believes consciousness is unified is
bypassing the most important discussion regarding *Unity, Duality, and Plurality
in the Universe*. As with many other topics, I think Chalmers sidestepped
the needed heuristic in-depth appraisal of the issues involved.
7- I also ended up not feeling much "attracted" (or convinced) by Chalmers'
"Principle of Organizational Invariance," which holds that if you have two
systems with the same organization, then these two systems should have (or
definetely have!) the same conscious experience. This is arguably the central
thesis in the book. And I think it was not masterly crafted. Far from it indeed.
The idea - the way (and to the depth/quality) Chalmers was able to develop
it - seems to me just as good as any other candidate regarding the consciousness
mystery debate. And the seminal question remains pretty much the same: why
should it be that two systems with the same organization (even if this is
possible, which I greatly doubt...) would have the same conscious experience?
8- An interesting issue is the "Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness."
There is a special section dedicated to it, and Chalmers also highlight some
other obstacles elsewhere in the book. He comments that we have a "paucity
of objective data" (for the development of a theory of consciousness), and
puts this phrase in a meaningful and somewhat enlightening context. He further
reminds us that there are "traditions where the study of experience has been
explored in detail" (including, among others, the traditions of "Western phenomenology,
introspectionist psychology, and even Eastern meditative traditions"). Yet,
IMO, these are presented way too introductorily, without the deserved deeper
Taking from these "problems" listed above (numbers 1 to 8), there are some
courses that I think the book should have followed, or deepened, to better
address the Mystery of Consciousness. The very first item would be a fuller
description of the, let's put it this way, "Bestiary" of Concious Experiences.
That is, the book would have been far more enlightening (IMO) had it described
the various types of conscious experiences, both ordinary and "anomalous,"
and tried to draw the relevant conclusions from them as to the place of consciousness
in nature and its possible relation to the objective world. I think that even
regarding ordinary conscious experiences the book was shallow in its analyses.
For example, my thinking merely about the ordinary states of consciousness
has led me to the stunning conclusion (or insight, no matter right or wrong)
that we will *never* be able to prove that unconsciousness exists! Unconsciousness,
by its very definition, cannot be experienced. So how can we be really sure
that we ever were in this state at all?
A second item that I felt missing, and that strenghthens what I just said
above, is the extent to which memory places puzzling constraints to any attempt
at "handling" a science of consciousness. For example, I twice experienced
an anomalous conscioussness event when I was a child where I went through
the whole night in just one blink of the eye: at one second it was night (about
ten o'clock); the next second, it was day (about seven in the morning). It
was a perfectly continuous conscious experience. Yet, most likely I had conscious
dreams in between. So the continuity of consciousness is, always, to be questioned.
Similarly, we usually seem to fall into unconsciousness when we fall asleep.
Yet, again anomalously (this time as an adult), I once fell asleep completely
conscious of the whole process. I went from wakeful consciousness into dream
consciousness seamlessly (apparently...).
One specific line of reasoning that I strongly consider fruitful (also lacking
in the book) is a close look at *how* consciousness emerges. This question
has both a "historical" aspect (i.e. a step-by-step description of the processes
that ended up giving birth to consciousness in the universe) and a "day-by-day"
aspect (a description of the steps leading to, say, our own coming into consciousness
and fading into unconsciousness). The key issue in this question is: what
exactly happens to a system at the very moment it becomes conscious? Pondering
over this, I ended up coming to the very same conclusion of many phylosophers
and scientists who came to embrace the view that consciousness is (most likely)
a fundamental aspect of the universe. However, contrary to Chalmers' view
of a protoconscious substrate, I have concluded that this fundamental substrate
can only be Hyperconscious (Brahmanism/Akashic Records like). Conclusions
aside (and the intrinsic high probability of their being simply wrong...),
my point in commenting this on this review is to stress the importance that
thinkers in this area take bolder venues, and at the same time more creative
(fruitful), heuristic, and fundament-seeking ones.
All in all, Chalmers' are indeed priceless contributions. He - together
with many of his "peers" - has managed to strengthen our understanding of
consciousness as something far far from solved (a true Hard Problem, as Chalmers
puts it), yet far far from untractable. And that was, arguably, one of the
major shifts of paradigm that we were blessed with in the Twentieth Century.