from the world's big
Is Your Soul an Information Field in Another Dimension?
[Author's Note: In keeping with the tradition that whenever you have a blog post whose title is a question, the answer is always "no"...]
Of all the essays I've written, my favorite is "A Ghost in the Machine", presenting the evidence that our personality traits and sense of self arise from neural circuitry in the brain and not a supernatural soul. I've just found out that this essay has drawn a reply from the blog Paranormalia, written by Robert McLuhan.
McLuhan writes that, despite the evidence I present, we know there must be something more to consciousness due to "the observed facts of psi... telepathic intuitions, presentiment, precognitive dreams, and suchlike", not to mention the alleged communication of deceased people with the living via mediums. Needless to say, this is a thin reed upon which to reject the entire field of neuroscience. Paranormal investigators have been chasing after these anecdotes for decades; if there was anything to them, we ought to be able to reproduce psychic phenomena reliably and on demand by now. Why aren't dead people routinely invited to testify in courts about the disposition of their property or the identity of their murderers? Why can't today's scientists get on conference calls with the greatest minds of the ages? Why don't we have batteries of precognitive forecasters warning us in advance about major global disasters or acts of terrorism?
If the science of parapsychology is indeed a science, these aren't unreasonable expectations. The first tentative studies of electromagnetism have given rise to a globe-girdling communications network; scientific explorations of the nature of radiation have given us X-ray machines that image the body and nuclear power plants that run cities. By contrast, a century and more of psychic research has produced nothing whatsoever of comparable benefit. Effects that can never be reproduced on demand are the hallmark of pseudoscience.
An even more puzzling aspect of McLuhan's post is the exact nature of his proposed alternative to materialism. I invite you, readers, to judge whether he professes the exact belief that he himself ridicules as something "no serious person could believe":
It struck me straight away that Lee is attacking an idea of the soul that no serious person could believe: the Cartesian substance that sits inside our heads and somehow meshes with the machinery. To ask where the soul is hiding is quaintly naïve, as if the thing could potentially be tracked down and ferreted out of its burrow.
We remain free to hypothesise, say, the existence of the soul as an information field that exists in an unseen dimension, and which expresses itself through the brain and nervous system through some kind of quantum interaction.
Whether or not this is a "serious" proposal, in a strictly semantic sense we may be "free" to hypothesize that. But why would we want to? According to Occam's fine old razor, this is the very definition of an unnecessary hypothesis: one that's supported by no evidence, adds numerous additional complications, and results in no greater explanatory power. You can see this clearly when McLuhan stretches to explain the evidence I brought up showing how specific kinds of brain damage can selectively reduce or eliminate any aspect of consciousness:
If the brain is the medium by which this information field is expressed in the physical world, then, in the event of injury, one would expect its expression to fail in striking and various ways. Furthermore, if this field continues to exist after the death of the body we could hypothesise that it finds another way to express itself, in some other form, in some other dimension.
In "Ghost", I write about the various mental disorders that efface the self. McLuhan makes the good point that this isn't breaking news: we've long known that senile dementia can alter the personality, for example. But just because these facts are well-established doesn't make them any less problematic for his argument.
As I've said in the past, we might expect that damage to my TV could distort the information it displays: invert the colors, say, or show the picture wrong-side-up. But we'd never expect that any kind of damage to my TV would cause it to play an alternate version of Star Wars in which Luke Skywalker is the villain. That's a nonsensical notion unless the content shown on the screen is being generated inside the TV.
But that's just the scenario we see when we consider the mind: certain kinds of brain injury don't just cause mental deficits, but changes in the content of consciousness. They can turn a cautious and meticulous person into an irresponsible and impulsive one (frontotemporal dementia), or give them a bizarre and inappropriate sense of humor that they never had before (stroke-induced euphoria), or split their consciousness into two halves that know and desire different things (callosal disconnection). They can cause a delusion that part of a person's own body no longer belongs to them (somatoparaphrenia), or that a close friend or relative has been replaced by an impostor (Capgras syndrome). All these conditions are utterly inexplicable if we assume that the seat of the self, the part of the mind that processes sensory input, originates desires and makes decisions, is something immaterial that exists outside the body.
You could, of course, argue that your soul doesn't store your memories, your personality traits, the desires that drive your behavior, or your sense of self - that all these things come from the brain, and that the "soul" is nothing but the substrate of consciousness, a blank white screen on which the brain's activity plays out. But even if such a thing exists, why should I think of it as "me" or care about what happens to it? It contains none of the things that make me who I am, and its survival after the death of my brain ought to be of as much interest to me as the fate of my toenails.
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Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.