For the science and religion crowd

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Queequeg
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For the science and religion crowd

Post by Queequeg » Thu May 02, 2019 11:53 pm

Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Wayfarer
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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Wayfarer » Fri May 03, 2019 6:14 am

What happens when we cannot draw a clear line between the observer and the observed? This, according to Dartmouth physicist Marcelo Gleiser and some of his colleagues, is a serious problem. And because these cases concern some of the most important unanswered questions in physics, they potentially undermine the idea that science can explain “everything.” Gleiser laid out this argument earlier this year in a provocative essay in Aeon, co-authored with astrophysicist Adam Frank of the University of Rochester and philosopher Evan Thompson of the University of British Columbia; and it was the focus of the two-day workshop that Gleiser organized, titled “The Blind Spot: Experience, Science, and the Search for ‘Truth’,” held at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, on April 22 and 23. “Everything we do in science is conditioned by the way we look at the world,” Gleiser says. “And the way we look at the world is necessarily limited.”

....

What Gleiser and his colleagues are critiquing, he says, is “this notion of scientific triumphalism—the idea that, ‘Just give us enough time, and there are no problems that science cannot solve.’ We point out that that is in fact not true. Because there are many problems that we cannot solve.”
:applause: :applause: :applause:
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Queequeg
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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Queequeg » Fri May 03, 2019 5:13 pm

I thought this was poignant:
A map can serve as a useful metaphor, she says. As you wander around an unfamiliar city, a map with a dot marked “you are here” can be very helpful. But we do not expect the map we pick up at the tourist office to have such a dot on it. Why not? Because, Ismael explains, those maps are for everyone, not just someone located at a particular spot. And that is what science is: our best attempt to “map” the world, not for “someone” but for “anyone.”
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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SunWuKong
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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by SunWuKong » Fri May 03, 2019 5:36 pm

Pfft - I'm not sure I believe half of that.

Why is subjectivity considered "a blind spot" ?

Is this saying that one can never be objective about anything?

That's the purpose of science, to look at things as objectively as possible.

The article seems to be a scientific view apologetical as to why we should not believe in science. LOL!

But, science is just another religion, right?
"We are magical animals that roam" ~ Roam

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Queequeg
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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Queequeg » Fri May 03, 2019 6:43 pm

SWK,
I'm guessing you're not familiar with the three problems that were identified and discussed at the conference?

The problem with the quantum observer is that observations are affected by the presence of an observer. This is a real effect that can't be explained and but is confirmed through repeated experiments. There is a really weird related phenomena called quantum entanglement that is really perplexing.

The problem with consciousness is... how do I know that you are conscious? How do you know that I am conscious? How does consciousness come from atoms bouncing off each other? If you consider it even briefly, you will find it impossible. If you can figure it out, you need to publish your solution because its really screwing some really smart people up, and it would be nice if they could direct their attention to something else.

The problem with cosmology is a similar problem, but boils down to this... can you, without aid of any devices, see the back of your own head?

If you have those figured out, you might be in line for some awards.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Wayfarer
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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Wayfarer » Fri May 03, 2019 11:31 pm

It's a really important essay in my view. Essays like this signify a real sea-change in culture and philosophy. Really what you're seeing is non-dualism proper beginning to make its appearance in Western cultural debate, maybe for the first time. And that has been forced on us by these intractable issues in science and philosophy, of which the observer problem is the chief one. Consider this passage:
More than a millennium ago, Vasubandhu, an Indian Buddhist philosopher of the 4th to 5th century CE, criticised the reification of phenomena into independent subjects versus independent objects. For Vasubandhu, the subject-object structure is a deep-seated, cognitive distortion of a causal network of phenomenal moments that are empty of an inner subject grasping an outer object.

To bring the point home, consider that in certain intense states of absorption – during meditation, dance or highly skilled performances – the subject-object structure can drop away, and we are left with a sense of sheer felt presence. How is such phenomenal presence possible in a physical world? Science is silent on this question. And yet, without such phenomenal presence, science is impossible, for presence is a precondition for any observation or measurement to be possible.
I suspect that was the input provided by Evan Thompson, one of the authors. Check out his bio. I had his father's book, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, back in the 1980's - a minor new age classic. Evan Thompson's current book, Waking, Dreaming, Being, is also really interesting. He's kind of on the cutting edge of science, phenomenology and Buddhist studies.

Another interesting figure in the workshop series is Michel Bitbol. I've been listening to some of his youtube lectures. He also has a paper on the blind spot.

So - thanks for posting. It's right up my street, this kind of thing.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Queequeg » Sat May 04, 2019 12:57 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Fri May 03, 2019 11:31 pm
Really what you're seeing is non-dualism proper beginning to make its appearance in Western cultural debate, maybe for the first time. And that has been forced on us by these intractable issues in science and philosophy, of which the observer problem is the chief one. ...

So - thanks for posting. It's right up my street, this kind of thing.
Had you in mind when I read this. :smile:

That observation sums up what's happening here. I agree, this is really exciting and an incredibly important development for the world. Great way to summarize.

Bodhi Svaha!
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

narhwal90
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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by narhwal90 » Sat May 04, 2019 1:36 pm

I know a few for-real scientists, physicists, mathmeticians and engineers, this does not seem to be a problem that concerns them much- nor are they prone to make assertions that "science" is going to explain everything. They work from theory, mathmatics, instrumentation always refining capability to peel back the infinite onion by another layer. Among them a number of different religions are represented and occasionally shared which does not affect the science, math and engineering being a job, hobby or even a passion. Not dissimilar to gardening.

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Queequeg » Sat May 04, 2019 2:16 pm

It will take a while for the implications of this consideration to make an impact. If the history of the impact of nondualism is any indication, the change in perspective will be subtle but profound.

As Wayfarer pointed out, this is really the beginning of this idea playing out in the West. Most people still aren't even aware of the problem, let alone started unpacking its implications.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

narhwal90
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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by narhwal90 » Sat May 04, 2019 4:30 pm

Frame of reference issues have been well known and quantified to various degrees and in various ways for a long time in the physics, mathmatics realms. I dont think observer/observed problems are news to those folks- the subject first came up for me in 1st year college physics when the math became sufficiently complex to account for it.

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Queequeg » Sat May 04, 2019 6:03 pm

Nonduality is not resolved with adjustments to measurements. It doesn't make quantum uncertainty go away. You're talking about keeping dualistic assumptions and ignoring the nonduality problem by basically working around it.

Anyways, we will see what comes of it. Maybe nothing. Maybe something. Certainly will be nothing as long as the question is just dismissed.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

narhwal90
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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by narhwal90 » Sat May 04, 2019 7:48 pm

Just so, uncertainty and quantization error is always present at whatever level of precision and accuracy is required. This has always been well known, math and physics do not pretend otherwise.

I just dont see anything new in the argument. If it brings provable or falsifiable propositions then we're getting somewhere science-wise.

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Kim O'Hara » Sat May 04, 2019 11:09 pm

narhwal90 wrote:
Sat May 04, 2019 1:36 pm
I know a few for-real scientists, physicists, mathmeticians and engineers, this does not seem to be a problem that concerns them much- nor are they prone to make assertions that "science" is going to explain everything. They work from theory, mathmatics, instrumentation always refining capability to peel back the infinite onion by another layer. Among them a number of different religions are represented and occasionally shared which does not affect the science, math and engineering being a job, hobby or even a passion. Not dissimilar to gardening.
All you're saying here is that they were (are?) unaware of science's blind spot.
The way I put it to a young physicist in the family is that scientists are resolutely unaware of everything behind their own retinas.

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by narhwal90 » Sun May 05, 2019 12:05 am

lol, the scientists and engineers i work with daily might suprise you, they could well have a more rigorous approach to ignorance and the limitations of cognition than you give them credit for.

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by SunWuKong » Sun May 05, 2019 1:29 am

Queequeg wrote:
Fri May 03, 2019 6:43 pm
SWK,
I'm guessing you're not familiar with the three problems that were identified and discussed at the conference?
i guess i don't get it. (finds a place to sit on the fence)
"We are magical animals that roam" ~ Roam

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by mikenz66 » Sun May 05, 2019 2:10 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Sat May 04, 2019 11:09 pm
narhwal90 wrote:
Sat May 04, 2019 1:36 pm
I know a few for-real scientists, physicists, mathmeticians and engineers, this does not seem to be a problem that concerns them much- nor are they prone to make assertions that "science" is going to explain everything. They work from theory, mathmatics, instrumentation always refining capability to peel back the infinite onion by another layer. Among them a number of different religions are represented and occasionally shared which does not affect the science, math and engineering being a job, hobby or even a passion. Not dissimilar to gardening.
All you're saying here is that they were (are?) unaware of science's blind spot.
The way I put it to a young physicist in the family is that scientists are resolutely unaware of everything behind their own retinas.

:namaste:
Kim
Not at all. The disconnect between quantum phenomena and everyday intuition has been hotly debated for a century, so it's hardly new news. It's over half a century since John Bell showed that "locally realistic" models (roughly, models where individual particles carry labels around that determine the outcome of measurement) were not consistent with quantum mechanics. ("Bell's Inequality"). A lot of experimental and theoretical work has gone into verifying this, and searching for loopholes. Over the past few decades this has morphed into the current push to make use of these effects for quantum information processing. I teach some introductory material on this in my fourth-year (of university) quantum course, which would be reasonably typical - the text I use has been popular since it appeared in the 80s...

Operationally, quantum mechanics works amazingly well. We can do very precise calculations of subtle properties of particles, atoms, molecules, and solids, design the computer chips and lasers that are enabled the key technologies developed since the middle of last century (analogous to how Newtonian mechanics allowed the design of bridges and airplanes).

There has been century long debate on whether "consciousness" is a necessary part of the "measurement" process. It's worth asking the question, since figuring out a way of actually testing the proposition might lead to new breakthroughs. Arguably the interest in proving/disproving Einstein's ideas about realism and quantum mechanics - which Bell deflated - led to the current development of quantum information. So it's often worth pursuing what at the time seems like a purely philosophical issue because the spin-offs are often interesting and sometimes useful (recall that the laser was not recognised as particularly significant in the early 1960s - now the internet runs on fibre driven by lasers...).

So it's cool that people write articles like the OP. But the question of whether consciousness affects measurement is not easy to answer, and it would not be reasonable to expect every physicist to be an expert on it, any more than you'd expect every physicist to be working on general relativity, or quantum information, or high-energy particle collisions.

I am particularly skeptical of arguments along the lines of "we don't really understand X, therefore consciousness must be involved". That's a good way to sell popular articles, but Science is a particular method of investigation that requires the design of testable questions. Until someone can figure out how to do that, there's little point in complaining that science has not addressed such questions... I presume that the conference that the article is based on does have people trying to figure out how to address such questions, but I don't think anyone has come up with a viable approach yet. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Do remember that there was 100 years between Einstein's (and others') predictions, and the detection of gravitational waves, and images of black holes, and those measurements required teams of 1000s and the development of technology, data analysis, and calculation techniques. Similarly, good tests of Bell's inequalities took several decades, and some rather tricky experiments (though not the huge teams of LIGO, etc). Sooner or later someone may figure out how to test something about consciousness, but that may be some time away...

:heart:
Mike

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Kim O'Hara » Sun May 05, 2019 9:22 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Sun May 05, 2019 2:10 am
Kim O'Hara wrote:
Sat May 04, 2019 11:09 pm
narhwal90 wrote:
Sat May 04, 2019 1:36 pm
I know a few for-real scientists, physicists, mathmeticians and engineers, this does not seem to be a problem that concerns them much- nor are they prone to make assertions that "science" is going to explain everything. They work from theory, mathmatics, instrumentation always refining capability to peel back the infinite onion by another layer. Among them a number of different religions are represented and occasionally shared which does not affect the science, math and engineering being a job, hobby or even a passion. Not dissimilar to gardening.
All you're saying here is that they were (are?) unaware of science's blind spot.
The way I put it to a young physicist in the family is that scientists are resolutely unaware of everything behind their own retinas.

:namaste:
Kim
Not at all. The disconnect between quantum phenomena and everyday intuition has been hotly debated for a century, so it's hardly new news. ...

I am particularly skeptical of arguments along the lines of "we don't really understand X, therefore consciousness must be involved". ...

Sooner or later someone may figure out how to test something about consciousness, but that may be some time away...

:heart:
Mike
Hi, Mike,
Thanks for that post, although I don't think it's actually a reply to what I meant by mine. (I suspect I should have written at greater length.)
Firstly, I wasn't talking about quantum uncertainty and the "observer effect" but about the whole project of science, and I certainly wouldn't say anything along the lines of "we don't really understand X, therefore consciousness must be involved."

Let's see if I can make myself clearer ...
(1) Science is a human project, and that makes it anthropocentric in many fundamental ways. We investigate, primarily, things on our own scale (give or take a couple of orders of magnitude); we perceive a qualitative difference between electromagnetic radiation in one narrow frequency band but only a quantitative difference between higher and lower frequencies; we think gravity is much more important than surface tension (we wouldn't if we were insect size); we think anything moving less than a centimetre a year is not moving; for an incredibly long time we thought that species never changed, just because the changes were too slow for us to observe; we still think species never interbreed; we reckon two dimensional geometry is pretty cool, although the idea of working in only two dimensions would probably have never occurred to us if we were birds or dolphins - or even the arboreal monkeys we used to be; etc.

(2) In spite of all the above, we presume to be able to see things "as they really are." If that's a valid ambition, we should expect that a dolphin or a spider, if they were smart enough, would see things as we do, making the same distinctions and seeing the same principles at work. I don't believe it: how we parse our perceptions is a consequence of our evolutionary history.

(3) The principles of objectivity and replicability, separately and together, stop science from investigating consciousness as it is experienced, e.g. the sensation of redness (the best it can do is measure associated brain activity). Consciousness is a subjective experience: mine is probably different from yours and there is no way for me to show you mine or to demonstrate that mine is the same as yours. If I tell you about mine, it isn't objective; if you put yourself through the same experience as I did, there is no way to show my consciousness was replicated. I can't envision any technology which could, even in principle, overcome these obstacles. Even that old SF standby, uploading our brains to computers, wouldn't detour around the problem.

I'm afraid I've still only sketched the subject but it's all I have time for just now.

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by Wayfarer » Sun May 05, 2019 9:39 am

The point is, it won't be 'some time' until we 'figure out what consciousness is'. We'll never figure it out, because 'it is what does the figuring out'. Figure that out.

Second point: something I've learned from internet forums, is that it is useless to discuss any kind of problem with anyone who can't see it. If you have to explain what the problem is to someone who disagrees with it on what you understand are the wrong grounds, then don't waste time on it.

Case in point noticed in the Comments on the Scientific American article, some remarks by Sabine Hossenfelder. She is one of the biggest-name public intellectuals at the moment, a physicist-turned-philosopher who has become a gadfly for other physicists ( for example). And I'm convinced she doesn't see the issue behind this essay.

It takes something like a gestalt shift - which is not surprising, as gestalt theory grew out of just this kind of problem.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by narhwal90 » Sun May 05, 2019 2:03 pm

I dont see science making such value statements where gravity is more important than surface tension, and its quite obvious to all concerned that redness is not communicated by stating wavelengths.

i would also propose that science is interested in scales spanning over a dozen orders of magnitude not just 4 or 5, as measurable and observable, and many more than that on a theoretical basis. i have attended colloquia on topics ranging from character of spacetime at planck scales all the way up to behavior of photons in intergalactic transit, and the relationships between the cases. another of my favorites was on the mathmatical similarity between giraffe spot patterns to behavior of rocks as they are sorted and moved by frost cycles.

none of these presenters stated these things represent "things as they really are", whatever that means- universally they presented their data and theorems, indicating this is what we have measured and here are the probabilities, sometime causes are identified or precluded sometimes not. the eternal desire is for more data and better instruments to understand more correctly.

perhaps the issue here is more about scientific intellectualism than it is about science.

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Re: For the science and religion crowd

Post by mikenz66 » Sun May 05, 2019 10:39 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Sun May 05, 2019 9:22 am
...
OK, thanks Kim and others for your responses.

I'm quite aware of limitations of science. As I said, I see science is a way of making models that can be tested. I don't ascribe an "underlying reality" to those models (e.g. to the wavefunction that is used in qantum-mechanical models). Some of my colleagues may, but mostly they are too busy working on technicalities to spend time on such issues. And that's something that I tried to empasise. The simplistic idea of science as "make a hypothesis and test it" isn't what the average researcher does in a well-developed science, like physics. Einstein proposed a model that included gravitational waves and it took 100 years and thousands of person-years of work to observe. And, of course, that doesn't prove that Einstein's theory is "right". It's just "not wrong yet".

Regarding this:
Wayfarer wrote:
Sun May 05, 2019 9:39 am
The point is, it won't be 'some time' until we 'figure out what consciousness is'. We'll never figure it out, because 'it is what does the figuring out'. Figure that out.
...
Please quote me accurately (emphasis added):
mikenz66 wrote:
Sun May 05, 2019 2:10 am
Sooner or later someone may figure out how to test something about consciousness, but that may be some time away...
I was actually being skeptical of current speculations about consciousness. I don't think anyone has much (if any) idea how to measure consciousness. [We can measure, for example, brain activity, but that seems to me to be analogous to measuring which parts of a computer chip get hot - it doesn't tell us much about what is being processed.]

But I would also caution about being overly dogmatic about what can or can't be measured. There are many examples in 20th C physics where it was asserted that "such and such" could not be measured. For example, before Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (STM) and Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), it was "obvious" to many that it was not possible to image electron densities in atoms or molecules "because of the uncertainty principle". That turned out to be an error due to lack of imagination about how the measurements could be made.

Image
https://www.zurich.ibm.com/st/atomicmanipulation/

Furthermore, if one is so sure that consciousness is something that is by definition completely inaccessible to science, then berating scientists for not considering it seems rather pointless... In particular, berating quantum physics for not having a place for consciousness in it! Perhaps it would be better to just let the process of science trundle along making models where it can make accurate predictions (and quantum physics holds most of the records for accuracy...).

quote=mikenz66 post_id=491820 time=1557018634 user_id=59]
It takes something like a gestalt shift - which is not surprising, as gestalt theory grew out of just this kind of problem.
Perhaps you could explain what shift you think is needed and what difference it would make to measurement and prediction. If it is a shift that holds the possibility of predicting something measurable, that would be really interesting. [A I tried to explain at length, the rather esoteric questions considered by Einstein and Bell about "local realistic theories" were important, as they led to advances in modelling and measurement, though at the time they seemed rather abstract and not particularly relevant.]
If there is nothing in this "gestalt shift" that would lead to measurable predictions, then it is simply outside of the science process (at present). And, I repeat, I see the science process as being about measurement and prediction, not about "truth" or "reality".

As Nahwal90 says:
narhwal90 wrote:
Sun May 05, 2019 2:03 pm
perhaps the issue here is more about scientific intellectualism than it is about science.
:heart:
Mike

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