viernes, 18 de septiembre de 2009

Science Vs Prejudice I

Dan Dennett

On our consciousness.

“It´s very hard to change peoples minds about something like consciousness, an I finally figured out the reason for that. The reason for that is that anybody is an expert on consciousness.”

“(...) And so what I´m gonna try to do today is to shake your confidence. Because I know the feeling, I can feel it myself. I want to shake your confidence that you know your own innermost mind, that you are, yourselves, authoritative about your own consciousness.”

“(...) Which reminds us, as Robert Brooks was saying yesterday: what we are, what each of us is, what you are, what I am, is approximately 100 trillion little cellular robots. That´s what we are made of. No other ingredients at all. We are just made out of cells, about 10 trillion of them, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THOSE CELLS IS CONCIOUS, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THOSE CELLS KNOWS WHO YOU ARE, OR CARES. Somehow we have to explain how when you put together teams, armies, battalions of hundreds of millions of little robotic unconscious cells, not so different really from a bacterium, each one of them, the result is this. I mean jus look at it:

The content, there´s color, there´s ideas, there´s memories, there´s history... And somehow all that content of consciousness, is accomplished by the busy activity of those hoards of neurons. How is that possible? Many people just think it isn´t possible at all. They think, “No there can´t be any sort of naturalistic explanation of consciousness.

"This is a lovely book by a friend of mine (net of magic) named Lee Siegel who´s a professor of religion, actually, at the university of Hawaii. And he´s an expert magician, and an expert on the street magic of India, which is what this book is about, and there´s a passage in it which I would loved to share with you. It speaks so eloquently to the problem:

“I´m writing a book on magic” I explain, and I´m asked “real magic?” By real magic people means miracles, thaumaturgical acts and supernatural powers. “No” I answer, “conjuring tricks not real magic”.

REAL MAGIC, IN OTHER WORDS, REFERS TO THE MAGIC THAT IS NOT REAL. WHILE THE MAGIC THAT IS REAL, THAT CAN ACTUALLY BE DONE, I-S N-O-T R-E-A-L M-A-G-I-C. Now that´s the way a lot of people feel about consciousness. Real consciousness is not a bag of tricks. If you are going to explain this is a bag of tricks then is not real consciousness, whatever it is. And as Marvin said, and as other people have said, “consciousness is a bag of tricks”. This means that a lot of people are just left completely dissatisfied and incredulous when I attempt to explain consciousness. "

Dangerous Memes.

(...) Well, it's ideas -- not worms -- that hijack our brains. Now, am I saying that a sizable minority of the world's population has had their brain hijacked by parasitic ideas? No. It's worse than that. Most people have.

There are a lot of ideas to die for. Freedom, if you're from New Hampshire. Justice. Truth. Communism. Many people have laid down their lives for communism, and many have laid down their lives for capitalism. And many for Catholicism. And many for Islam. These are just a few of the ideas that are to die for. They're infectious. Yesterday, Amory Lovins spoke about "infectious repititis." It was a term of abuse, in effect. This is unthinking engineering. Well, most of the cultural spread that goes on is not brilliant, new, out-of-the-box thinking. It's infectious repetitis. And we might as well try to have a theory of what's going on when that happens, so that we can understand the conditions of infection. Hosts work hard to spread these ideas to others. I myself am a philosopher, and one of our occupational hazards is that people ask us what the meaning of life is. And you have to have a bumper sticker, you know, you have to have a statement. So this is mine. The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it. Most of us -- now that the "Me Decade" is well in the past – now we actually do this. One set of ideas or another have simply replaced our biological imperatives in our own lives. This is what our summum bonum is. It's not maximizing the number of grandchildren we have. Now, this is a profound biological effect. It's the subordination of genetic interest to other interests. And no other species does anything at all like it. Well, how are we going to think about this? It is, on the one hand, a biological effect, and a very large one. Unmistakable. Now, what theories do we want to use to look at this? Well, many theories. But how could something tie them together? The idea of replicating ideas; ideas that replicate by passing from brain to brain. Richard Dawkins, invented the term "memes," and put forward the first really clear and vivid version of this idea in his book "The Selfish Gene." Now here am I talking about his idea. Well, you see, now, it's not his. Yes -- he started it. But it's everybody's idea now. And he's not responsible for what I say about memes. I'm responsible for what I say about memes. Actually, I think we're all responsible for not just the intended effects of our ideas, but for their likely misuses. So it is important, I think, to Richard, and to me, that these ideas not be abused and misused. They're very easy to misuse. That's why they're dangerous. And it's just about a full-time job trying to prevent people who are scared of these ideas from caricaturing them and then running off to one dire purpose or another. So we have to keep plugging away, trying to correct the misapprehensions so that only the benign and useful variants of our ideas continue to spread. But it is a problem. (…)

So let me just point out: Memes are like viruses. That's what Richard said, back in '93. And you might think, "Well, how can that be? I mean, a virus is -- you know, it's stuff! What's a meme made of?" – what's a virus? A virus is a string of nucleic acid with attitude. That is, there is something about it that tends to make it replicate better than the competition does. And that's what a meme is; an information packet with attitude. What's a meme made of? What are bits made of, Mom? Not silicon. They're made of information, and can be carried in any physical medium. What's a word made of? Sometimes when people say, "Do memes exist?" I say, "Well, do words exist? Are they in your ontology?" If they are, words are memes that can be pronounced. Then there's all the other memes that can't be pronounced. There are different species of memes.

Remember the Shakers? Gift to be simple? Simple, beautiful furniture? And, of course, they're basically extinct now. And one of the reasons is that among the creed of Shaker-dom is that one should be celibate. Not just the priests. Everybody. Well, it's not so surprising that they've gone extinct. :) But in fact that's not why they went extinct. They survived as long as they did at a time when the social safety nets weren't there. And there were lots of widows and orphans, people like that, who needed a foster home. And so they had a ready supply of converts. And they could keep it going. And, in principle, it could've gone on forever. With perfect celibacy on the part of the hosts. The idea being passed on through proselytizing, instead of through the gene line. So the ideas can live on in spite of the fact that they're not being passed on genetically. A meme can flourish in spite of having a negative impact on genetic fitness After all, the meme for Shakerdom was essentially a sterilizing parasite. There are other parasites which do this -- which render the host sterile. It's part of their plan. They don't have to have minds to have a plan. I'm just going to draw your attention to just one of the many implications of the memetic perspective, which I recommend. I've not time to go into more of it. In Jared Diamond's wonderful book, "Guns, Germs and Steel," he talks about how it was germs, more than guns and steel, that conquered the new hemisphere -- the Western hemisphere --that conquered the rest of the world. When European explorers and travelers spread out, they brought with them the germs that they had become essentially immune to, that they had learned how to tolerate over hundreds and hundreds of years, thousands of years, of living with domesticated animals who were the sources of those pathogens. And they just wiped out -- these pathogens just wiped out the native people, who had no immunity to them at all. And we're doing it again. We're doing it this time with toxic ideas. Yesterday, a number of people -- Nicholas Negroponte and others -- spoke about all the wonderful things that are happening when our ideas get spread out, thanks to all the new technology all over the world. And I agree. It is largely wonderful. Largely wonderful. But among all those ideas that inevitably flow out into the whole world thanks to our technology, are a lot of toxic ideas. Now, this has been realized for some time. Sayyid Qutb is one of the founding fathers of fanatical Islam, one of the ideologues that inspired Osama bin Laden. "One has only to glance at its press films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars and broadcasting stations." Memes. These memes are spreading around the world and they are wiping out whole cultures. They are wiping out languages. They are wiping out traditions and practices. And it's not our fault, anymore than it's our fault when our germs lay waste to people that haven't developed the immunity. We have an immunity to all of the junk that lies around the edges of our culture. We're a free society, so we let pornography and all these things -- we shrug them off. They're like a mild cold. They're not a big deal for us. But we should recognize that for many people in the world, they are a big deal. And we should be very alert to this, as we spread our education and our technology, one of the things that we are doing is we're the vectors of memes that are correctly viewed by the hosts of many other memes as a dire threat to their favorite memes – the memes that they are prepared to die for. Well now, how are we going to tell the good memes from the bad memes? That is not the job of the science of memetics. Memetics is morally neutral. And so it should be. This is not the place for hate and anger. If you've had a friend who's died of AIDS, then you hate HIV. But the way to deal with that is to do science, and understand how it spreads and why in a morally neutral perspective. Get the facts. Work out the implications. There's plenty of room for moral passion once we've got the facts and can figure out the best thing to do. And, as with germs, the trick is not to try to annihilate them. You will never annihilate the germs. What you can do, however, is foster public health measures and the like that will encourage the evolution of avirulence. That will encourage the spread of relatively benign mutations of the most toxic varieties.

Cute, sexy, sweet, funny.

"It stands to reason that we love chocolate cake because it is sweet. Guys go for girl like this because they are sexy. We adore babies because they´re so cute. And, of course, we are amused by jokes because they are funny. This is all backwards. It is. And Darwin shows us why."

Response to Rick Warren.

"Religions are natural phenomena. They're just as natural as cows. They have evolved over millennia. They have a biological base, just like the Oryx. They have become domesticated, and human beings have been redesigning their religions for thousands of years. (…) Today's religions are brilliantly designed -- brilliantly designed. They're immensely powerful social institutions and many of their features can be traced back to earlier features that we can really make sense of by reverse engineering. And, as with the cow, there's a mixture of evolutionary design, designed by natural selection itself, and intelligent design – more or less intelligent design -- redesigned by human beings who are trying to redesign their religions."

(…) Those are from "The Purpose Driven Life." And I want to turn now, briefly, to talk about that book, which I've read. (…) And what I want to do now is say a bit about this book from the design standpoint, because I think it's actually a brilliant book. First of all, the goal. And you heard just now what the goal is It's to bring purpose to the lives of millions, and he has succeeded. Is it a good goal? In itself, I'm sure we all agree, it is a wonderful goal. He's absolutely right. There are lots of people out there who don't have purpose in their life, and bringing purpose to their life is a wonderful goal. I give him an A+ on this. Is the goal achieved? Yes. 30 million copies of this book. Al Gore, eat your heart out. Just exactly what Al is trying to do, Rick is doing. This is a fantastic achievement. And, the means – how does he do it? It's a brilliant redesign of traditional religious themes – updating them, quietly dropping obsolete features, putting new interpretations on other features. This is the evolution of religion that's been going on for thousands of years, and he's just the latest brilliant practitioner of it. You've just heard the man. Excellent insights into human psychology, wise advice on every page. Moreover, he invites us to look under the hood. I really appreciated that. For instance, he has an appendix where he explains his choice of translations of different Bible verses. The book is clear, vivid, accessible, beautifully formatted. Just enough repetition. That's really important. Every time you read it or say it, you make another copy in your brain. Every time you read it or say it, you make another copy in your brain. With me, everybody -- every time you read it or say it, you make another copy in your brain. Thank you. And now we come to my problem. Because I'm absolutely sincere in my appreciation of all that I've said about this book. But I wish it were better. I have some problems with the book. And it would just be insincere of me not to address those problems. I wish he could do this with a revision, a Mark 2 version of his book. "The truth will set you free" – that's what it says in the Bible, and it's something that I want to live by, too. My problem is, some of the bits in it I don't think are true. Now some of it is a difference of opinion, and that's not my main complaint. That's worth mentioning Here's a passage -- it's very much what he said, anyway.

"If there was no God we would all be accidents, the result of astronomical random chance in the Universe. You could stop reading this book because lifewould have no purpose or meaning or significance. There would be no right or wrong and no hope beyond your brief years on Earth."

Now, I just do not believe that. By the way, I find Homer Groening's film presented a beautiful alternative to that very claim. Yes, there is meaning and a reason for right or wrong. We don't need a belief in God to be good or to have meaning in us. But that is just a difference of opinion. That's not what I'm really worried about. How about this –

"God designed this planet's environment just so we could live in it."

I'm afraid that a lot of people take that sentiment to mean that we don't have to do the sorts of things that Al Gore is trying so hard to get us to do. I'm not happy with that sentiment at all. And then I find this --

"All the evidence available in the biological sciences supports the core proposition that the cosmos is especially designed whole with life and mankind as its fundamental goal and purpose, a whole in which all facets of reality have their meaning and explanation in this central fact."

Well, that's Michael Denton. He's a creationist. And here I think, "Wait a minute." I read this again. I read it three or four times and I think, "Is he really endorsing intelligent design? Is he endorsing creationism here?" And you can't tell. I don't know if I want to get upset with this yet."But then I read on and I read this --

First, Noah had never seen rain, because prior to the flood God irrigated the earth from the ground up."

I wish that sentence weren't in there, because I think it is false. And I think that thinking this way about the history of the planet, after we've just been hearing about the history of the planet over millions of years, discourages people from scientific understanding.Now, Rick Warren uses scientific terms and scientific factoids and information in a very interesting way. Here's one --

"God deliberately shaped and formed you to serve him in a way that makes your ministry unique. He carefully mixed the DNA cocktail that created you."

I think that's false. Now maybe we want to treat it as metaphorical. Here's another one --

"For instance, your brain can store 100 trillion facts. Your mind can handle 15,000 decisions a second."

Well, it would be interesting to find the interpretation where I would accept that. There might be some way of treating that as true.

"Anthropologists have noted that worship is a universal urge, hardwired by God into the very fiber of our being, an inbuilt need to connect with God."

Well, there's a sense which I agree with him, except I think it has an evolutionary explanation. And what I find deeply troubling in this book is that he seems to be arguing that if you want to be moral, if you want to have meaning in your life, you have to be an Intelligent Designer -- you have to deny the theory of evolution by natural selection. And I think, on the contrary, that it is very important to solving the world's problems that we take evolutionary biology seriously. Whose truth are we going to listen to? Well, this from "The Purpose Driven Life" –

"The Bible must become the authoritative standard for my life, the compass I rely on for direction, the counsel I listen to for making wise decisions and the benchmark I use for evaluating everything."

Well maybe, OK, but what's going to follow from this And here's one that does concern me.Remember I quoted him before with this line – "Surrendered people obey God's word, even if it doesn't make sense." And that's a problem.

"Don't ever argue with the Devil. He's better at arguing than you are, having had thousands of years to practice."

Now Rick Warren didn't invent this clever move. It's an old move. It's a very clever adaptation of religions. It's a wildcard for disarming any reasonable criticism. "You don't like my interpretation? You've got a reasonable objection to it? Don't listen, don't listen! That's the Devil speaking." This discourages the sort of reasoning citizenship it seems to me that we want to have. I've got one more problem, then I'm through. And I'd really like to get a response if Rick is able to do it.

"In the Great Commission, Jesus said, 'Go to all people of all nations and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teach them to do everything I've told you.'"

The Bible says Jesus is the only one who can save the world. Now here we've seen many wonderful maps of the world in the last day or so. Here's one, not as beautiful as the others. It simply shows the religions of the world. And here's one that shows the sort of current breakdown of the different religions. Now do we really want to commit ourselves to engulfing all the other religions when their holy books are telling them, "Don't listen to the other side, that's just Satan talking!" It seems to me that that's a very problematic ship to get on for the future. (…) So, I wish we could drop this meme. I wish this meme would go extinct.

Una vida con proposito (pdf)

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