Possibly the guiding principle of modernity is that any problem can be solved if people just put their minds to it. Science and liberalism have been astonishing successes in raising the standard of living, in an objective sense, for more people than at any other time in history. People like Steven Pinker love to wax optimistic about how Enlightenment values and scientific progress have made the world an objectively better place to live than ever before, with the implication that things will only get better. But is this really true?
Scientists and science enthusiasts can get exasperated by the conflation of definitions between the scientific conception of a theory and the colloquial definition. In the latter, a theory is sometimes considered no better than a guess, and at best what a scientist would call a hypothesis (an educated formulation of a mechanism or explanation). People will say things like “evolution is just a theory” as if that attests to some shortcoming of evolution. In the scientific conception, a theory is the gold standard. It is a set of inferences, explanations, predictions, and interpretations that bring together (sometimes disparate) data, evidence, and observations into a cohesive whole. Theories are what scientists use to make predictions in order to formulate new hypotheses and design new experiments. But what is the nature of a theory? And what is the ontological status of a scientific theory? In what way is a theory true?
A few years ago I made a lengthy post on the philosophical arguments against the existence of God. I stated that it was the first in a series. This one is the second in that series. Here I will go through the scientific arguments for why I do not believe in the existence of God. Just like with my philosophical arguments, this will end up being a fairly long post and one which I will revise and add to periodically. As such, what you see may not be the final version of this post.
A common refrain in the news media during these COVID years has been to “trust the science.” This is also a popular mantra when it comes to climate science. Yet, in the United States at least, trust in experts and institutions is at an all time low. The political right is skeptical of climate science, COVID vaccines, and scientific institutions like the NIH and CDC, seeing them as a means for the government to take away rights and for liberals to impose their will. The political left views science as a white colonialist means of subjugating those with other “ways of knowing” and upholding white, male privilege. So the question is: should we trust the science?
Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters by Steven Pinker; Viking (September 28, 2021); 432 pages
In science, objectivity is the greatest virtue. In an ideal world, a scientist would be impartial, disinterested in the outcomes, never desiring one result over another. They would run the experiment, gather the data, and report the findings, even if the data showed something that refuted the scientists’ hypothesis or gave an uninteresting negative result. Experiments would be replicated by multiple different people to more rigorously determine the veracity of the results. Negative results would get published as often as positive results. Topics for study would be determined by a mixture of intellectual curiosity and potential for improving society in some measurable way. Science, to say the least, does not live up to this ideal. But is science redeemable?
The possible detection of phosphines in the atmosphere of the planet Venus has sparked interest in possible biogenesis of the compound. In other words, there may be microscopic extraterrestrial organisms living up in the Venusian clouds. This would be an amazing discovery. But, it also raises the question about what sort of biochemistry such organisms (if they exist) utilize in their Venusian flavor of metabolism. Here I will make some speculations about this.
Lately I have been teaching myself higher level physics and mathematics – reading books and watching Youtube videos on the subject. Here I am going to post some links to the resources I have been using for anyone else who may be interested. These resources are obviously not exhaustive of all the resources out there, but they’re the ones I’ve found to be very helpful. As I continue learning about these subjects, I will periodically update this post.
Cartesian dualism has been a point of contention in philosophy since at least, well, Descartes. The dispute is whether the mind is a separate, immaterial entity from the physical body. Problems have plagued the dualist view since the time of Descartes, primarily how it is that the immaterial mind and material body interact.
Nature reported that Russian molecular biologist Denis Rebrikov is planning to perform CRISPR experiments on human embryos. He’s running the experiments on the same CCR5 gene as Chinese scientist He Jiankui in 2018. This is once again raising questions on the ethics of human genetic experimentation.
What is quantum computing and why is it so damn difficult?
In the 2018 NeurIPS conference, 4,845 papers were submitted. The paper I’m reviewing here by Chen et al, 2018, titled Neural Ordinary Differential Equations, won best paper award. The paper discusses using continuous Ordinary Differential Equations (ODE) for Neural Networks (NN) as opposed to the sorts of discrete layers used in the standard Recurrent Neural Networks (RNN).
Aristotle defined metaphysics as the study of Being qua Being – or, one might say, studying Being being Being. He says in book VII of his Metaphysics that Being is the individual instances of essence, which is the substance that defines what a thing is in-itself. Now, in our present time, we’ve narrowed down the primary substance further than our everyday sensible objects, down to subatomic particles. Can Aristotle’s philosophy be a useful lens to think about quantum mechanics?
Natural rights don’t exist, except in the human mind. They are a way for a social species to maintain social cohesion. But, as useful as natural rights may be in deciding how to organize society, they are not fundamental; instead, they are derivative of what humans, in general, desire.
Since at least World War 1 the idea of war as being all about glory and heroism has seen massive disillusionment. Most people, I think, would agree that war is not a good thing, even if some think it a necessary thing. But technological arms races, both during war and in peacetime, generate a plethora of technological advances. That raises the question: should futurists and transhumanists welcome war in order to usher in greater and faster technological advances?
Mesh networks figure extensively in my Incarnate series. They’re used by the forty-eights – and others – as a way to run parallel ‘internets’ so as not to be tracked on the original internet. But mesh networks are not all science fiction – they’re actually being used in the real world.
Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that features heavily in my Incarnate novel series. This technology isn’t just a science fiction creation, though. Just like in my story, it’s becoming more and more a part of our lives and only promises to become a bigger part in the near future.
Consciousness and qualia are problems that are still unsolved by philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. My way of viewing consciousness and qualia is that consciousness is the process by which our brains organize the world into working models and qualia is the ‘stuff’ that consciousness uses to generate those models. For better or worse, both of these exist due to evolutionary forces. That means they’re fine tuned to a very specific sort of survival, not for any pure understanding of the world or ourselves. In order to understand the limitations of our own minds, we need to know the inner workings of how the world is organized in our minds on a fundamental level. That requires knowing the structure of our minds.
In part two, I will give a brief overview of the evidence for the theory of evolution. This is not an exhaustive compendium of all the evidence in support of the theory of evolution. It is already a long post, so I keep all my descriptions brief. If you are interested in learning more, I provide plenty of links to websites and peer reviewed papers all throughout.
It’s not absolutely necessary, but it may make more sense why this evidence is convincing if you understand how evolution works. For that, I suggest checking out part 1 of this primer first.
If you’re interested in how evolution relates to religion and whether it gives us any reason not to believe in God, check out this post. The current discussion will not touch on the subject, sticking strictly to the science.