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D G D Davidson


D. G. D. is a science fiction writer and archaeologist. He blogs on occasion at www.deusexmagicalgirl.com.

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Jul
27th
2014

In Reply · 3:11am Jul 27th, 2014

I'm posting this over here because turning somebody else's story comments into a debate thread is rude. I noticed that Midnightshadow, whom I follow, has a story up called FIO: Little Shards of Heaven, set in the universe of Friendship Is Optimal.

I admit I haven't read Friendship Is Optimal, even though I probably should. I hear it's good sci-fi, but I was turned off to it because the author asks me in the final chapter to donate to his pet "charity" (I use the term loosely), which happens to be some group that bilks people out of their funds in order to stave off a robot apocalypse. Now, I of course don't mind when a published writer promises to donate his royalties to cancer research or something like that, both because his royalties are his money, so he can do with them what he likes, and because it's a worthy cause.

On the other hand, stopping an allegedly imminent robot apocalypse is a stupid cause, and I rather resent it when I'm urged to give my money to something so obviously stupid. Here's a newsflash to anti-philosophers who get their thinks from LessWrong: computers do not, and cannot, think, any more than an adding machine can. You cannot make an adding machine conscious by rearranging or adding more gears, nor can you make a computer conscious by rearranging or adding more electron gates, because a computer is nothing but a fancy adding machine. It has more in common with an abacus than with your mind. We use "thinking" as a cute metaphor to describe what a computer is doing when it's performing its function, but then we get ignoramuses, some of them even scarily well-educated ignoramuses, who take the metaphor literally, because we live in a philosophical dark age in which simple category errors are the new hotness.

*Ahem.* But that's not quite what I wanted to talk about. I happened to scroll down through the comments and run into this gem from Chatoyance:

The actual heaven from the bible is a nightmare. It's my personal idea of hell - screaming chanting praise forever and ever as a brain-dead soul-zombie devoid of memory or caring for anything other than worshipping god. And then the Big Cube goes off and fights... dragons... somehow... in the darkness.

The fuck? If Christians actually read their own book, and saw what awaits them if it should turn out to be actually true, they would run screaming from their religion! Heaven is a giant box filled with constant chanting and nothing else, ever? And I have only met a few Christians that actually know this. Most... get their heaven from movies or filtered through priests and reverends and other figures who apparent also haven't read their own book.

I take it symbolism isn't her strong suit. Or ancient apocalyptic texts. Also, I don't know what she's complaining about, because a big cube fighting dragons in darkness sounds badass.

I admit I'm a bit tired of internet crackpots who decide they're experts on my religion because they've read one article or something by some other crackpot, and then have the nerve to assume no Christians, including, presumably, all the ones who've written dissertations on it, have ever cracked open a Bible. Surely they don't treat other subjects this way . . . well, except philosophy. Anyway, in case you're wondering what Chatoyance is on about, she's taking highly symbolic passages from an opaque and difficult book (Revelation, or Apocalypse, specifically), skimming them over, misrepresenting them, and then pretending she knows what the hell she's talking about. For Chatoyance, here's a quick run-down:

1. The "cube" is the New Jerusalem. It's cube-shaped because the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple was cube-shaped; it means everything in the city is most holy or, alternatively, that God is there. It should probably not be taken to be a literal city, cube-shaped or otherwise; city imagery is important throughout the Apocalypse, which depicts the war between good and evil as a battle between two cities, Jerusalem and Babylon, neither of which is literal.

2. The dragon hearkens back to the early Jewish creation mythos, alluded to in Ezekiel and some of the Psalms and Job and probably other places I don't remember off the top of my head, in which Yahweh smites a sea monster called Rahab or Leviathan. This is the Jewish version of the Titanomachy, which was ubiquitous throughout the Mediterranean. As the Jewish view of God became more refined, this myth came to be associated less with the beginning of time and more with the end of time. As an apocalyptic text, Apocalypse borrows this same imagery and explicitly identifies the dragon with Satan and with the serpent of Eden, so it links it back to the creation mythos again.

3. ". . . Screaming chanting praise forever and ever as a brain-dead soul-zombie devoid of memory or caring for anything other than worshipping god." Your guess is as good as mine on this one. This also sounds kind of badass, though in a Lovecraftian sort of way. I think Chatoyance was reading The Night Land or Call of Cthulhu late one night and got it mixed up with those few Bible passages she skimmed over real quick so she could sneer at people on the internet. I assume this is in reference to the "twenty-four elders" who are depicted sitting around the throne of God and worshipping day and night, though I don't know where she gets the "devoid of memory or caring" part, and I don't know what a "soul-zombie" is. The particular passage in Apocalypse, of course, is also not literal.

Instead of picking up the tail end, and most opaque portion, of a sizable and difficult book, and instead of running off at the mouth about whatever happened to pop into her head while she was reading said book regardless of how the people who wrote and compiled it actually use and interpret it, Chatoyance might have done better to, oh, I don't know, actually ask somebody, preferably somebody actually an expert in the subject, what Christians think heaven is. The quick answer is that Christians believe in a resurrection of the body, which necessarily means that heaven is not a purely mental or spiritual state, and also that heaven involves knowing God in a direct fashion. Since God is infinite and perfect being, and since being is convertible with good, and since all appetites, including the intellective appetite, can only seek goods, to have God means to have everything you could possibly want; in heaven, all desires are fulfilled and thus all appetites are lulled. By that, I don't mean that heaven includes seventy-two virgins and lots of cake; rather, I mean that, once you have God, you no longer have reason to desire seventy-two virgins or cake.

Now, you can attack this description of heaven if you like, but in order to do so, you'd actually have to have some philosophical chops, and not just a capacity for curling your upper lip over the internet. People who think LessWrong is a serious philosophical website need not apply.

Is heaven scary? Hell yes, it's scary. When I first grasped what we were really talking about here, my immediate reaction was fear. But then again, we're talking about ultimate things. Anyone who thinks the ultimate being ought to be something cute and fluffy has a very small picture of the universe.


Yeah, I'm talkin' to you.

EDIT: Thread has gotten long. New post is up, addressing some questions that have come up.

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Comments ( 92 )

:raritydespair: Irony... too strong... can't...

But, god-tier hypocrisy aside, yes, the attempts to literally depict heaven are as bad as the attempts to literally depict oblivion, probably for similar reasons. It's like every other part of the Bible -- it makes no sense if you try to treat it like some sort of holy bible.

2319100

I'm afraid I can't parse this. What exactly are you saying?

Also, Jesus himself will lead any army to whoop Satan's ass, also, according to some versions, his robe will be blood stained, and a sword will come out of his mouth. Jesus is the Messiah for a reason. And the dead coming back is awesome.

2319127

I've come to the conclusion that the Orthodox view and the Catholic view amount to the same thing.

In the Western view, those in hell are those who have rejected God and from whom God has, out of respect for their free will, withdrawn, so they are denied the beatific vision. In the Eastern view, escaping God is impossible, but those who have rejected him cannot experience him except as torment.

However, existence itself is impossible without the first cause of existence. No one can escape God except by going out of existence, because God is perpetually responsible for his very being, but neither can one who has rejected God enjoy God's presence.

Both views appear to me to describe the same thing from different angles, which is as it should be, because East and West complete each other and are not meant to be separated.

Wait, is that charity thing for real? Like... seriously?

I don't believe in Christianity, or any of that family of religion, because it implies that one can only truly be good if they have no concept of good and evil and no free will.

2319167

Interesting proposition. I don't see how it follows. Please explain.

2319169

I became Catholic because I'm more hipster than the hipsters. I knew there was nothing more uncool and unpopular.

2319170 According to genesis, Humans were incapable of understanding the difference between right and wrong, and did everything god told them with no introspection. At this point they were described as 'perfect'. However, once humans ate of the tree of knowledge, and gained the ability to see right from wrong, and the ability to decide for themselves, they are cast out for being impure, despite supposedly having even more qualities in common with god. Without these qualities, we were essentially unthinking slaves, or robots made of meat.

2319205

You are doing the same thing Chatoyance is, taking a difficult text and putting your own spin on it regardless of its use by the people who canonized it.

The sin they commit is disobedience, a sin they commit deliberately by their own free will, and which is impossible without free will. Since it is impossible to act willfully without will, the claim that they had no will, or that Christians in some fashion view free will as a bad thing, we can put away.

If anyone were an unthinking robot made of meat, he would not be a moral agent and therefore incapable of transgressing any commands. Only someone with a free will can deliberately reject good and choose evil. That is why the insane cannot be convicted at law, and that is why, in Hamlet, Ophelia receives a Christian burial: she is guiltless of her suicide because she was mad. That is, her will was not free.

To "know good and evil," in the present text, is traditionally read in one of two ways, as either choosing to decide good and evil for themselves regardless of the moral law (a typical Western view), or else as grasping for higher knowledge for which they were not yet prepared (a typical Eastern view). Either way, the specific sin is still disobedience of a specific command.

2319205
2319223
AFAIK, the traditional Jewish view is precisely that eating the Fruit was similar to the sin of the Tower of Babel: humans attempting to be divine.

SO ANYWAY, NICE /R/ATHEISM MEME PIC.

(I think everyone takes all this stuff too seriously, but especially the stuff that wasn't supposed to be taken seriously in the first place, like cartoon shows.)

Here's the thing: Chatoyance was wrong for saying "What Christians believe is x." But if that's a too-literal interpretation of the Bible, then it's not unreasonable to say, "The Bible says x." If it doesn't say that x is symbolic of what it's symbolic of, then to a literalist, it does seem to talk about borg cubes and endless chanting. Now, from what I know of Chatoyance, she's a literalist, and a rationalist, and an atheist. To reach deeper meaning and find fulfillment and enlightenment from the words and stories and prophecies of the Bible, well, that's just not her bag, if you'll pardon the outdated vernacular.

For me, I'm not a rationalist, but the stories of the Bible don't speak to me. I find my illumination in the laughter of children and the warmth of the sun and the air in my lungs; and also in stories that tell of love and joy and happiness--and yes, that includes MLP:FIM.

My point is this: it does no one any good for Chat to caricature Christianity, nor does it do any good for you to caricature the LessWrong group as sham philosophers, or Chat as ignorant, or someone like myself as an acne-ridden hypocrite. It does my heart good to see you celebrating your faith; why aren't you fulfilled seeing others walk their own paths?

2319223 The thing is, without knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve would not be able to understand how disobedience is wrong. Also, Adam and Eve were told to eat the fruit by the Serpent, and thus it wasn't of their own will that they decided to disobey. Once they learned right from wrong, they tried to hide their disobedience, implying that once they ate the fruit they understood why disobedience was bad.


2319243 The difference is, in my opinion, is that the so called 'sin' of eating the fruit of knowledge was one group without will being deceived (and not even really being deceived, because everything that serpent said was true) into developing will, while the 'tower of Babel' was an act of pure arrogance.

Wow, somebody posted something sensible

on this site

and it was chatoyance related

my god

satan is skating around on the ice in hell

2319254
You know what? I'm in a fighting mood now. Let's have a nice little challenge.

Who can explain to me why the Divine Plan for my region recently required that three teenagers be kidnapped and murdered, leading to a military response, leading to three weeks of war breaking out, leading to 1000 civilian casualties so far (on the side I'm not on, by the way)? And if you say "free will" I will punch your fucking lights out, just because all the religious-nationalist demonstrators I saw last night sure seem to be under the impression that God is behind our army!

Go on. Tell me how and why God wants His chosen people dead, and our neighbors even deader.
2319179
Bull. On that reasoning you should have become a Conservative Jew. They're the quickest-dying sect of any religion I know of!
2319254
I'm a circumcised heterosexual and I don't get it.

2319412
Oppressed? By circumcision? Don't be silly.

(Also, by the way: I'm a nonbeliever and a Damn Dirty Transhumanist myself. I don't try to spend my life having wild sex: I'm in a long-term monogamous heterosexual relationship heading towards marriage. Nonbelievers are, contrary to popular belief, basically the same sort of people as believers. There's a whole weirdo streak of religious people who actually go and have wild sex precisely on the excuse that they can just get their sins redeemed anyway, right?

My point being: these days, people mostly end up as religious or irreligious because of their own personalities rather than radically altering their personalities in conformance with their views on religion. You can even predict which way someone will go in a crisis of faith based on their personality, rather than based on how solidly-grounded in fact you perceive the religion to be (which is what you would expect, if religion was simple fact... oh wait Christians believe in faith being a thing. Did you know you're the only ones who think about it like that?))

Let's just say that when people either misinterpret the will of GOD or take orders from a non-existant god, it leaves the possibility for unnecessary decreases in people's quality of life.

If the religious are that wildly ignorant of God's will, you should shut the hell up about it and stop doing further damage! Or, oh, hey, nonexistent god? I might know one of those. Or rather, I'm absolutely certain about all the other religions' gods and only near-completely certain about my religion's god.

So how about you all just fucking stop?

NOW ANYWAY, TO ADDRESS THE ACTUAL BLOG POST...

It's pretty cool, just to start with, that we have a Real Scifi Writer blogging his interaction with... pony fanfiction. Anyway, points (1), (2), and (3) are in fact correct, but there's at least a partial correctness in what Chatoyance said too. Mainstream religion, taken seriously, is Lovecraftian. If, for some reason, you are not convinced that this is awesome, that is your problem.

And Chatoyance is, needless to say, an extremely damaged individual who has some trouble interacting with people who don't just agree with everything she says by default. Try to avoid letting her enrage you, as that will only damage you, too.

Now, you can attack this description of heaven if you like, but in order to do so, you'd actually have to have some philosophical chops, and not just a capacity for curling your upper lip over the internet. People who think LessWrong is a serious philosophical website need not apply.

As a bona-fide LessWrong user, I can firmly say that we take the word "philosophy" to be an insult. "Philosophy" to us means "ad-hoc rhetoric and argumentation based, fundamentally, on nothing more solid than intuition". Which is mildly ironic, considering just how much stuff "we" (I admit, I still don't really like everyone on LW) do that's actually rooted in very rigorous academic philosophy.

No, the bible was, once taken absolutely literally, as fact, in the way science is now taken.

And some people still believe that way, and that is just how it is. I have met my share of these people, apparently you have not. Be glad.

I get the impression that you wish to be insulting to me with all of the statements about 'crackpots reading things on the internet' and all. No. I'm 54, I've traveled extensively, I met a LOT of people, and... sorry. If I am a crackpot, it isn't about any of this.

Those statistics that say that about 40% of Americans really believe all the impossible, insane biblical crap as non-poetic, factual, literally truth? Believe it. If you travel enough, among the most common of people, you will soon see for yourself.

It was nice that you took this to another page, thank you for that.

But... my statements - and those of so many others - are not based on anything but sad reality, personally experienced.

To you the bible is symbolism. That's great! To me, it's poor quality fairy tales and obvious lies. But it wasn't intended to be just stories - the bible is a collection of Middle Eastern mythology that was once the literal truth of people's lives. Not symbolic, real. Today, we can apologize for the bible by making it 'symbolic' and 'poetic' and not really meant to be taken literally.

That wasn't the original intent. People really bought all of that stuff. A lot of people.

And too many... still do.

Sorry.

2319277

As an atheist with a capital A, your argument STILL managed to offend me.
You've misrepresented Davidson's position in a very intellectually dishonest way.

2319159

Actually, yes! And I for one am actually somewhat in favor of it, or at least ambivalent; seriously, please hit me up on skype so we can talk about this a bit (no, it still won't make sense, but I think I can explain it without caricature).

Also! THAT particular charity is not the only one that's "sponsored" by the lesswrong; the other one is along the lines of calculating the maximally efficient way of saving lives and then pointing people in that direction.

Disclaimer: I haven't actually ever donated to charities because I am a student and poor. No, wait, I gave some money to wikipedia, but I hope you get my drift

On the other hand, stopping an allegedly imminent robot apocalypse is a stupid cause,

As far as I understand, the idea isn't that it's allegedly imminent, but that it's impossible to predict when and if it would happen.
The idea is: a teenager fucking around with code in a basement makes a program who tries to achieve values. Said program notices it doesn't have enough resources, hacks a computer lab and gains access to supercomputers (I'll go into more detail later about this). Now that it has more computational power, it can tackle larger problems...like the fact it still doesn't have enough resources to do what it's programmed to achieve. It now wrestles control of computer factories to produce more and better computers on which to run, and so on and so forth until the whole solar system is a ball of computational material.
Now, there's two objections to make: first is that modern computers aren't even remotely powerful enough to do this kind of thing, to which I say Moore's law. To which I object to myself that it's not going to last forever (and with my knowledge of Physical Chemistry I'm keenly aware of this. I can actually hazard a low-confidence prediction of when it's going to run out, and what the effects of that would be (10$ alienwares for all!)).

Second objection is "creativity" to which I don't actually know how to respond to. Although Montecarlo seems to work, at least in Go, so maybe randomness will work. Anyway!

computers do not, and cannot, think, any more than an adding machine can. You cannot make an adding machine conscious by rearranging or adding more gears, nor can you make a computer conscious by rearranging or adding more electron gates, because a computer is nothing but a fancy adding machine. It has more in common with an abacus than with your mind. We use "thinking" as a cute metaphor to describe what a computer is doing when it's performing its function, but then we get ignoramuses, some of them even scarily well-educated ignoramuses, who take the metaphor literally, because we live in a philosophical dark age in which simple category errors are the new hotness.

But...I thought that at their most basic level, neurons do the same thing? :-( I mean...at its simplest, most fundamental unit, isn't a neuron an adding machine also? :-( :-(

Here's a newsflash to anti-philosophers who get their thinks from LessWrong:

This is the part which made me very sad. Being exposed to LessWrong has positively impacted my life in a very big way, and you dismissing it this way...I dunno, can you give me advice instead on thinking/brainy stuff et al? :-(
And...aside from LessWrong, I've only ever been exposed to phylosophy in high school and from a friend of mine who had it as his major (he proved through logic that solipsism is probably right, but whatever) but from what I've seen it is not treated that badly on LW...I dunno, please elaborate on this :-(

It astounds me everyone obsesses about the first and last books of the Bible which ARE the most poetic and least factual in the canon. They're there because they needed a beginning and an end.

Atheists and fundamental theists also work under the arrogant assumption God is obligated to tell us everything.

The reason Genesis says it took a week for God to make the Earth is because the book was first written down during the Babylonian captivity and was influenced by Babylonian culture. The Babylonian week was six days or work and a day of rest. Therefore, using the week worked as a way to get the idea out that God made everything and found it good. If you tried to tell the people of the time God spent billions of years crafting a vast universe and we are just one of his countless creations, they would look at you like you blankly and the idea you were trying to convey would be lost.

Revelation is just as poetic. 666 is the numerical value of Nero's name in Greek. John (who not the Apostle John like some people mistake him for) thought the end was near and the mad emperor was the beast.

As for the Knowledge of Good and Evil, I think it was more about the forming of our thought process of making the practical and useful morally good and the impractical and useless morally bad. Why is running around naked bad? Because we need to protect our bodies from the elements. It's not because God is insulted by us being naked.

And this is again poetry. Some believe Eden was the Persian Gulf when it was above sea level and we were forced out as the glaciers melted and it filled with seawater.

But these two books provide ammunition for both sides, so they love them to pieces.

2319704

666 is the numerical value of Nero's name in Greek

It's also a countdown! If you write down in Roman numeral it's something like 500 100 50 10 5 1, which sounds really ominous and appropriate.

Except that the original number of the beast is 616, not 666 :scootangel:
(probably due to spelling errors or somesuch, I dunno)

Atheists and fundamental theists also work under the arrogant assumption God is obligated to tell us everything.

Isn't it also arrogant to assume ALL atheist work under the same kind of reasoning? There's as many reasons not to be religious as there are for choosing what clothes to wear, you know.

Personally, my own personal and subjective objection is that it's impossible for an omnipotent, omniscient god to also be even remotely in line with my moral values, given the state of the world. And the idea that it's because "free will" if God's omniscient and omnipotent, then why not make a world where free will and personal growth exists AND which doesn't have pain and suffering?
Oddly enough, I'd probably be able to accept a god who wasn't all knowing and all powerful

2319706 I'll clarify it to atheists who feel the need to butt heads with theists.

2319711

I don't understand what you're referring to in that phrase with "it" :-/

2319716 The statement about the assumption that God has to tell us everything.

Eh, can't say I agree with you, D. The God you are proposing is a cruel one. I refuse to believe in an eternal Hell, or in the loss of individual thought in Heaven. God is Just. God is Righteous. God is love. To leave someone to burn for eternity based on 70+ years of life, and then to force their loved ones to no longer care about their fate? That isn't justice, nor is it right, and it certainly isn't loving. That is cruelty beyond measure to me.

2319104
2319100
I think what he's trying to get across as his point is that you shouldn't take the bible seriously. If you do, you're going to have a bad time.

2319842

You mean this?

In the Western view, those in hell are those who have rejected God and from whom God has, out of respect for their free will, withdrawn, so they are denied the beatific vision. In the Eastern view, escaping God is impossible, but those who have rejected him cannot experience him except as torment.

Because to me it seems a bit different from:

Because the stories of the Bible do speak to Mr. Davidson, he's convinced that those who turn themselves from the Lord are setting themselves up for either annihilation or an eternity of torment.

I do acknowledge that I was far too harsh, though

2319269

Here's the thing: Chatoyance was wrong for saying "What Christians believe is x." But if that's a too-literal interpretation of the Bible, then it's not unreasonable to say, "The Bible says x." If it doesn't say that x is symbolic of what it's symbolic of, then to a literalist, it does seem to talk about borg cubes and endless chanting.

If she is trying to give a literal description of the text of Revelation, she is doing it wrong. There is no description of mind-destroyed soul-zombies nor of giant cubes fighting dragons in darkness. If she wants to be literal, she should at least be accurate. But that is not her point anyway; her point is to claim she really knows, and Christians don't, what their religion teaches, and she's wrong.

2319550

My point being: these days, people mostly end up as religious or irreligious because of their own personalities rather than radically altering their personalities in conformance with their views on religion. You can even predict which way someone will go in a crisis of faith based on their personality . . .

This is not a serious argument, but a form of ad hominem. I did not want to become a Roman Catholic. I became one because I was convinced by argument. I may or may not have been fooled, but I was not simply following emotion.

As a bona-fide LessWrong user, I can firmly say that we take the word "philosophy" to be an insult. "Philosophy" to us means "ad-hoc rhetoric and argumentation based, fundamentally, on nothing more solid than intuition".

Thank you. You have thoroughly confirmed me in my contempt for LessWrong. Of course, I do at least partly sympathize with this deeply ignorant view of philosophy: most of our so-called philosophers of the last couple hundred years have indulged in sophistry and word games, as witness the comment below from someone who says his philosopher friend demonstrated solipsism to him.

When you've taken a wrong path, the place to go is back to the beginning. If you want to escape the emotional tirades and baseless claims of Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx, and other anti-philosophers, go back to Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Aquinas, philosophers who looked at serious philosophical problems and addressed them rigorously with logic.

2319643

No, the bible was, once taken absolutely literally, as fact, in the way science is now taken.

By "once," do you mean in the American Midwest in the 1900s?

When I spoke of symbolism, I was speaking of the book of Revelation specifically, the only book you commented on. Apocalyptic texts are highly symbolic texts. They use imagery of many-headed monsters and the like to represent people, nations, and kings, and they often use cosmic symbols to represent more local events. This is not some new-fangled idea; this is how such books were written. Yes, I am full aware you can find an American Protestant who tries to read Revelation as a future roadmap; American Protestantism is, globally and historically speaking, a small heretical sect. And yet even they do not believe in Borg Cube soul-reavers that strip people of memory or personality in order to turn them into gibbering zombies, though that's kinda awesome.

I did call you a crackpot, and I apologize, but you were talking like one.

If you want to know what the Church teaches, the place to go is not to whatever pops in your head when you open the Bible. The place to go is a catechism, or a catechist.

2319701

But...I thought that at their most basic level, neurons do the same thing? :-( I mean...at its simplest, most fundamental unit, isn't a neuron an adding machine also?

The problem here is the reduction of people to neurons. The difference between a computer and a mind is that the mind thinks, because the mind is alive. The computer is not alive. The mind is immaterial, as demonstrated by its ability to grasp abstractions, which are immaterial. A computer is not immaterial and cannot abstract, nor imagine, nor remember, nor perform any other act of thought. It can do only what it's programmed to.

I suppose the question is whether someone could program a computer to do all the things you describe; perhaps someone could, but I doubt he could do it by accident. Besides that, even if a computer could do something like this, you can't just hack anything and everything: the Defense Department doesn't have its nuclear warheads connected to the Internet. Maybe this hypothetical computer could steal a lot of credit card info and paint a lot of moustaches on famous people's headshots, but it couldn't take over mankind.

2319766

The God you are proposing is a cruel one. I refuse to believe in an eternal Hell, or in the loss of individual thought in Heaven.

Who said anything about loss of individual thought? I said "lulling" (deliberate word choice) of desires, not loss of anything. Appetites are "lulled" when they get what they want. Heaven is not to lose anything, but to have everything, and not in the sense of being jaded and glutted, but genuinely.

As for hell, it seems to me a logical necessity on account of free will. Evil is not a being; it has no existence of its own. To turn deliberately from good is to turn from being and, ultimately, to desire destruction. I see three possibilities for someone who takes that path: actual destruction; a hellish existence; or being reduced to an automaton and forced to the good, which seems to me the same as the first possibility.

2319842 , 2319878

I think I can resolve this with a clarification. Yes, I do believe in a hell, which is hellish. The torment of hell is both negative and positive; negative because it entails loss (loss of the beatific vision, the possession of God), and positive because it is in some sense positively painful, perhaps because those who experience it are turned away from all good, but still possess the good of existence.

I think hell is a necessary consequence of immortality and free will. For someone who is turned away from good, there is no possible existence except hell. It is not terribly hard to find people still alive on Earth who are in hell already, consumed with wrath or lust and destroyed physically and mentally. Since they are still alive, outside of eternity, they can still escape.

Hell and heaven, and the Judgment, are not arbitrary or the result of caprice. A man can either head toward good or away from it, and every man, in the end, gets the thing he wants most. This does not necessarily mean only baptized Roman Catholics reach heaven, but it certainly helps, and I recommend it.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

Just do what I did: listen to the FiO audiobook. No author's notes! :D Also, it is excellent sci-fi, even if I found it a tad irritating in places. And by irritating, I mean "directly challenging all that I know is right and good in the world".

Not something you can often say about fanfiction.

2319906

That is a strong recommendation. I will have to sit down and read it. (And I mean read, because I'm not good with audio books.)

2319879

Appetites are "lulled" when they get what they want.

Okay, I want my dear friend Golden Vision and others to not have to suffer eternally. What I am reading is that you think I will no longer feel sad for them. The health and well being of my loved ones is core to me as a person. Knowing that they are hurting, even if it is of their own design, would prevent me from enjoying the fullness of paradise. To take that care away from me is no different than taking away my ability to reason. To remove that from me would be to fundamentally change my way of thinking, in effect, making me someone else. If that is His goal, then why not do it now and save everyone the trouble?

And before you say it, yes, I do try to minister, thus completely avoiding the problem. However, some people are just not as able to take things on faith as others. This does not make them bad or wicked; it just means that they have a mindset that requires more. This, to me, is not evil, it is simply how they view things, and just as I can't view things in a way other than I do, so neither can they.

As for hell, it seems to me a logical necessity on account of free will.

Here, at least, we are in agreement. I openly admit that there is a Hell. There has to be, it's written. But when I read His word, I don't see it as a place of resting, merely... waiting. To put it in terms I think you would be more familiar with, purgatory would be a decent analogue. Now, where the point becomes more vague is, "waiting for what?" I don't know, honestly. I've read some very intriguing thoughts on it. Perhaps it's more a personal thing. Maybe they have to admit their fault in the matter, and they cannot escape until such time. Or, maybe they wait until the end of time, which according to most scientific models is a few trillions years away. Or, maybe if Revelations is a bit more literal, when He returns, He will save them then. Either way, it's not a fun thing, and it is going to be a very long time of hurt and suffering before they can rejoin the Light, and that is why I try, gently, to minister.

However, the concept of never-ending punishment makes no sense. Why do you punish? To teach. When I was a Drill Sergeant, yeah, I smoked the dog-crap out of my soldiers when they messed up, but it was to drive home a point: you messed up, so I make you feel some pain to drive home the point. But even my most vicious smoke sessions had an end. Hell, even our most egrigious punishments have an ending. The death penalty is obviously and end, and even a life sentence will end. An eternal hell does not. It goes.

Why? What point is He making? What purpose does it serve? The way I see it, if hell is indeed forever, then there are only two reasons why He would not help them: either He can't, in which case the very basis of faith is flawed, as God can do anything. Or, He simply doesn't want to, in which case it is as I said before, an act of cruelty, one that is incompatible with a pure, perfect God.

All I know is that it is written that in the end, "Every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea will sing praises to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (Christ)." And that unto him "every knee shall bow." I read His Word, and I come away with a message of unending hope, unending forgiveness.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

2319908
That said, the sidefic Always Say No is a far better story. But you need to read at least most of FiO to be able to get to any of the followups.

2319899

So, your interpretation of hell doesn't actually involve pain inflicted by an outside source, but would be completely self-determined, and manifest perhaps as those disquieting, niggling thoughts one has at night, times a thousand, right?

Also, you said that alive, people can find themselves in a state of hell due to turning away from God; however, the same cannot be said for heaven, since only after death one can be in unimpeded communion with God, right?

As an aside, I've always liked the idea that one could be in hell and not realize it; I've seen a couple of stories toy with the concept and it's pretty cool

At the risk of sounding incredibly petty, though I was born into a Catholic home, I became very disinterested in Christianity mainly because my first outing to a place of holiness separated me from my dear mother. Though I will not blame the Church for this, I will say that I rarely visit a Church unless I am in need of the counsel of a great holy man. Either that, or I feel a particular need to pay my respects to whichever big voice in the sky is willing to listen.

While many of my mother's friends and neighbors are practicing Christians in one way or another—and I've run into many a kind Jehova's Witness, as well—I prefer more eclectic modes of faith and philosophy, mainly taking inspiration from the Ultima franchise and the Elements of Harmony.

I know not what fate awaits me in death, but I can hope that it is peaceful.

2319899

Wait, I've just logic-bombed myself.
If hell and real life can, at times, be so close as to be the same thing, wouldn't it make more sense to assume one is always in hell? :-/ Given that one's stay in hell is infinite, while life is finite, by running the numbers it's overwhelmingly likely that one is actually in hell.

I guess that one way one can distinguish hell from life is by occasionally communing with God (not on a Heaven like level, but in...religious rapture kind of level? I don't even know) but I've never felt that so-shutting up now.

2319879

I did not want to become a Roman Catholic. I became one because I was convinced by argument.

I'm very confused by this statement. Do you mean that, if one were to want to become Roman Catholic, one couldn't unless he'd been convinced, or that becoming Roman Catholic is something you cannot choose to become or not, and which is only dependent on being convinced? :rainbowhuh:

As a bona-fide LessWrong user, I can firmly say that we take the word "philosophy" to be an insult. "Philosophy" to us means "ad-hoc rhetoric and argumentation based, fundamentally, on nothing more solid than intuition".

Thank you. You have thoroughly confirmed me in my contempt for LessWrong.

He does not represent all of LessWrong, and I doubt he even represent the majority. By the way, if you want some statistics (from 2013, they're done yearly) here they are. (As a side note, it's funny that on lesswrong, more people think the human race is going to become extinct because of a bioengineered pandemic or global warming than from actual unfriendly AI)

grasp abstractions, which are immaterial.

I'm tempted to debate this, but I'm afraid I'd be out of my depth.

The difference between a computer and a mind is that the mind thinks, because the mind is alive. The computer is not alive.

Ah, but what does it mean to be alive? If you'd said "self-aware*" I'd have cheerfully bit the bullet and conceded your point (although it would've meant that somebody in a coma without possibility of waking up would be dead. Which might be true depending on definitions, I dunno).

*this seems to be one of the greatest sticking points in making true AI, due to some very strange stuff.

The symbolism is interesting, and I like the ideas behind the symbols, but I find that people all too easily lose sight of the ideas behind the symbols and just become obsessed with the symbols themselves. This is true, I've found, with both fundamental Christians, as well as militant atheists, who love to take all the symbolism LITERALLY, but just for opposing reasons.

That's why I think there is merit to finding the underlying connection between religions, based on the deeper ideas they are communicating, and looking past the superficial symbology of any given religion. Thus, I wonder why one would choose any single religion to follow exclusively. It's like willfully cutting yourself off from differing, yet valuable perspectives on what can only be a complex and multifaceted notion that cannot be expressed in simple human language.

But yes, militant, know-nothing know-it-all anti-theists can be aggravating.

2319879

The difference between a computer and a mind is that the mind thinks, because the mind is alive. The computer is not alive. The mind is immaterial, as demonstrated by its ability to grasp abstractions, which are immaterial

Is this a claim that some aspect of the brain is not bound by the laws of physics? Computers do "remember" and "abstract" things routinely, and there's been some work on what is arguably "imagining".

2319643
To piggyback on what Davidson said above, St. Augustine, writing in the fifth century, talks about Revelation in terms of symbolism. I'm not an expert on Augustine's writings and only dug this up for this discussion, but I'll emphasize that he talks about how the "1000 years" in Revelation isn't an actual 1000-year period, but a metaphor for all of time: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_City_of_God/Book_XX/Chapter_7 It's simply not true that only recently have we discovered symbolic language for interpreting the Bible. People back in history weren't stupider than we are today. People from history are more or less like people today, we just have cooler stuff.

Sorry, but just because there are some people who subscribe to a stupid reading of the Bible doesn't mean that everybody who believes does. Or even most believers--no mainline Christian sect, like Methodism, Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, etc. subscribes to the reading you seem to favor. (Because it's stupid)

Because I find it hilarious that we're debating a passage, but haven't actually put it in the thread:
Rev 21:15-17 (NRSV)
15 The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, one hundred and forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using.

I think that it's a better interpretation* of "its length and width and height are equal" is that the "height" would be to the tallest point, not that the buildings on the very edge of the city shoot up 1500 miles, especially given the description of a city wall 144 cubits (around 220 feet) in verse 17. Why would there be a city wall about 20 stories tall directly adjacent to a cube shaped city 8,000,000 feet tall? Also, a big cube wouldn't look much like what John would consider a "city" and he likely wouldn't have used the word.

(* NB: A better interpretation of what John saw in his vision, not what will actually happen! Because Revelation is heavy on symbolic language.)

Edit: Turned the Wikisource URL into an actual link.
Edit again: City of God was written in the fifth century, not the sixth.

A bare assertion does not disprove strong AI. It is, in fact, more than just a category error. Instead of assimilating computers to minds, sophisticated versions of the strong AI argument assimilate minds to computers; with a computer capable of emulating a system of neurons firing (assuming the mind is reducible to neurons firing in the brain) we could achieve a complete and functionally equivalent instantiation of a human mind on a computer substrate. The primary response to this is to deny either computationality or the mind-brain reduction. This is a meaty debate with a lot going along a spectrum of views, and I think your dismissiveness is misguided.

2319879

I did not want to become a Roman Catholic. I became one because I was convinced by argument. I may or may not have been fooled, but I was not simply following emotion.

Fine. Then the argument was wrong, and I would bet I could pick it apart if presented with it. And you really should present it, since, after all, you find it a fully sufficient and compelling reason to believe in the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and this evidential sufficiency is a property of the argument rather than a property of the listener.

After all, plainly you should have become a Muslim, or just gone and converted to the true religion, which is of course the original, the best, Judaism.

Of course, I do at least partly sympathize with this deeply ignorant view of philosophy: most of our so-called philosophers of the last couple hundred years have indulged in sophistry and word games, as witness the comment below from someone who says his philosopher friend demonstrated solipsism to him.

And you take this as no evidence against the field of philosophy?

When you've taken a wrong path, the place to go is back to the beginning. If you want to escape the emotional tirades and baseless claims of Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx, and other anti-philosophers, go back to Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Aquinas, philosophers who looked at serious philosophical problems and addressed them rigorously with logic.

Marx was an economist, Nietzsche and Hegel babblers. Plato and Aristotle, not to mention Socrates, did decently enough for their own time, but their own time was extremely long ago, and their demi-canonization as the Church's favorite so-called philosophers probably held back the field rather severely in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Now! How are you on your Darwin, Marx (seriously: one of the greats of sociology and economics, no matter his plodding Germanic style), Keynes, Hume, Railton, Rawls, Drescher, Quine, Godel, Martin-Lof, and Pearl? I can't claim to have read everything by all of them in the original, but in each case I've either read some of their material in the original or read academic successors directly writing on their same ideas -- except with Drescher, who I sort of don't need to read since he's basically the house philosopher of LessWrong. Also some Locke, Bakunin, and Graeber -- he's a particular favorite of mine. Oh, and since we're on the subject of LessWrong, Jaynes' probability is best probability.

I admit to lacking a grounding in metaphysics, but frankly, that's supposed to be dictated by physics anyway.

Now, what were you saying about addressing philosophical problems seriously, with logic?
2319701

But...I thought that at their most basic level, neurons do the same thing? :-( I mean...at its simplest, most fundamental unit, isn't a neuron an adding machine also? :-( :-(

No, of course not. Neurons (or rather, perceptrons, which are the "standard" but very primitive model of actual neurons) learn a weight-vector which then has its inner-product taken with the signal strengths of the incoming synapses to produce a single weighted signal which is then fed through a nonlinear activation function to decide whether to fire the neuron and active the dendrite. I may have some of the terminology wrong.

If you understand how Boolean circuits work, think of a neuron as a Boolean circuit with an arbitrary number of inputs, each of which is not merely 1 or 0 but anywhere between 1 and 0, which learns from given examples how to weigh and combine the input signals to produce an output signal that answers a specific yes-or-no question about the full array of input signals.

(This is about as far as I can explain it to you without dropping into linear algebra and probability theory, sorry.)

The upshot is that except for XOR (which requires slightly more complicated machinery than the original perceptron), neurons can learn any Boolean function whatsoever, so any calculation you could conceivably design a silicon circuit-board for, you could also conceivably have a sufficiently large neural net learn. The primary issue is that it might take a hell of a lot of time and training data.

TL;DR: You're made of logic gates that also learn what function to be from time and experience, which is precisely why, within the limits of the sheer physical amount of neurons you have, you can learn anything. Cognition is magic and you've got a lot of it in you! You are in fact entitled to feel special about this, since we've had a hell of a hard time duplicating your cognitive functions in-silico as of yet.
2319879

The difference between a computer and a mind is that the mind thinks, because the mind is alive. The computer is not alive. The mind is immaterial, as demonstrated by its ability to grasp abstractions, which are immaterial. A computer is not immaterial and cannot abstract, nor imagine, nor remember, nor perform any other act of thought. It can do only what it's programmed to.

Your blind assertions are not merely wrong but profoundly unhelpful. You are suffering from the Strong AI Effect: the only thing that would ever convince you a computer could think would be if it rose up and killed all humans.

(I'd say something about the Turing test, but frankly, cheap chatbots can pass some forms of Turing test these days, and expensive chatbots are no "stupider" as call-center workers than cheap Indian workers.)

You are welcome to keep making blind assertions, but none of it is going to prevent the field of machine learning from actually working and from developing actually existing AI any further. This is because your so-called "arguments" don't address the actual meanings of the words of which they're made.
2320005

(As a side note, it's funny that on lesswrong, more people think the human race is going to become extinct because of a bioengineered pandemic or global warming than from actual unfriendly AI)

Well yeah, of course! Unfriendly AI is a severe danger, but it's also very easy to head it off: just make sure all AI scientists of dangerous level understand the problem and don't do anything stupid. (This can be difficult, since so many AI scientists are Singulatarians or something crazy like that, but it's a whole lot easier than retroactively recapturing already-released carbon dioxide and methane emissions!)

Speaking of existential risks, did you know? A guy who works as a researcher for the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford once gave an "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit's science forum, and said he rated humanity as having a 75% chance, right now, of getting out to the stars, building utopias, and doing great things! Now, since his organization is funded as part of Oxford itself, and he thus wasn't raising funds at the time, he was probably speaking honestly, which means, hey, someone competent at these things thinks we have a 75% chance at transhuman-level awesomeness! Possibly within the lifetimes of those who're particularly young today! Isn't that cool?

Ah, but what does it mean to be alive? If you'd said "self-aware*" I'd have cheerfully bit the bullet and conceded your point (although it would've meant that somebody in a coma without possibility of waking up would be dead. Which might be true depending on definitions, I dunno).

*this seems to be one of the greatest sticking points in making true AI, due to some very strange stuff.

Actually, while human consciousness is an interesting question in itself, nobody believes these days that we can only make functioning AI by making conscious AI. Consciousness is currently an unsolved problem in cognitive science; intelligence in the sense needed for AI was solved by Solomonoff Induction a long time ago in the intractable limit and is being rapidly solved by certain new developments in the everyday, prosaic tractable case.

2319550

My point being: these days, people mostly end up as religious or irreligious because of their own personalities rather than radically altering their personalities in conformance with their views on religion. You can even predict which way someone will go in a crisis of faith based on their personality, rather than based on how solidly-grounded in fact you perceive the religion to be (which is what you would expect, if religion was simple fact... oh wait Christians believe in faith being a thing. Did you know you're the only ones who think about it like that?))

Assuming arguendo your statement about one's personality determining their religiosity, I'm not sure how that disproves Christianity, rather than proving one of the Calvinist flavors of Christianity.

2319953

Wait, I've just logic-bombed myself.

If hell and real life can, at times, be so close as to be the same thing, wouldn't it make more sense to assume one is always in hell? :-/ Given that one's stay in hell is infinite, while life is finite, by running the numbers it's overwhelmingly likely that one is actually in hell.

I guess that one way one can distinguish hell from life is by occasionally communing with God (not on a Heaven like level, but in...religious rapture kind of level? I don't even know) but I've never felt that so-shutting up now.

Speaking from my few experiences, Heaven and Hell as actual existent places is nonsense. They're very compelling ideas but that's all they are: Ideas, concepts, etc. I can't honestly say I know what happens when one dies, but while you're still alive any extreme of your self-existence will always be temporary. The emotions a person experiences always dances around an equilibrium, never being any one emotion constantly. Same thing with the whatever-it-actually-is that people call nirvana or god or whatever. You can touch it or "see" it or experience it or stuff, but you're not gonna stay that way. Way down in history people have had the idea that being in that state constantly was a good idea, and that's where the idea of Heaven comes from. Hell is just an attempt to create an opposite, but while you can conceptualize an opposite of heaven there is no actual opposite of the-unknown-it.

I'm not sure I can really explain that last one. Sort of like how absolute nothingness is a meaningless concept because things do exist.

If any of the above seems deep and intelligent, it's actually not. That's not so much the tip of an iceberg as it is a slapped-together collection of stray reflections of that iceberg. I really don't know what I'm talking about, and if all of this was completely unhelpful than that's just about par for the course for me. Basically, you're alive, you're not in any supernatural hell, and god is some thing that factually exists but good luck defining it.

2321022

Marx was an economist, Nietzsche and Hegel babblers. . . .

On Nietzsche and Hegel, we are agreed. Marx's materialist dialectic, however is a metaphysical theory. Marx did not address economics only.

On economics, Marx was quite wrong. One obvious example: he attributes the value of goods to the labor required to produce them. If this were true, a dry well would be worth as much as a well with water in it, if it took the same amount of labor to dig. This is not how goods actually achieve their value. Further, Marx's theory of power politics is based on a category error, his definition of "capitalists" and labor as separate classes. They are not in fact classes, a word that properly refers to a society making a distinction between commoners and nobility. Any man who invests in business is a "capitalist," but may also be a laborer. These are different economic activities, but not different classes.

I admit to lacking a grounding in metaphysics, but frankly, that's supposed to be dictated by physics anyway.

Then you have never examined the basis of your own philosophy. Metaphysics is the study of first principles, of those things that are necessarily true. Physics is dependent on metaphysics, not the other way around: for example, the concept of the repeatability of an experiment is dependent on the metaphysical principle of final cause, that consistent causes lead to consistent effects. Without a Realist metaphysical basis, the very concept of a systematic study of physics is unintelligible.

Physics is, of course, also dependent on mathematics, which deals with abstractions rather than physical objects. Of the three abstract sciences, physics is the lowest, and is dependent on the other two.

You are welcome to keep making blind assertions, but none of it is going to prevent the field of machine learning from actually working and from developing actually existing AI any further. This is because your so-called "arguments" don't address the actual meanings of the words of which they're made.

Feel free to ask me to define any terms I've used that you don't understand. Look, no computer has been created that can do other than that which it is programmed to do. A computer may run through operations following an algorithm with which it is programmed, but no computer weighs choices and makes decisions, because that is an act of the intellect, which no computer possesses.

This is, frankly, why I have no respect for LessWrong, because the people who hang out there, all of whom, seemingly to a man, speak with airy contempt and proudly flaunt their lack of study in the philosophical fields on which they pontificate, such as ontology and epistemology, cannot even make simple and obvious distinctions such as the distinction between a mind and an abacus.

The intellect, I repeat, is necessarily immaterial because it apprehends abstractions, which are by definition immaterial. This conversation we are having right now we could have face to face with spoken words, or we could have it by chiseling our words in stone and passing the tablets to each other, or we could have it by speaking in Gaelic or Latin, because the ideas we are expressing are immaterial, independent of the physical medium by which they are expressed. When your mind apprehends the words I have typed and that have appeared on your computer screen, the materials of the screen are not going into your brain. Rather, the concepts I am expressing are going into your mind.

Another example of abstraction is the objects of mathematics. Number is not a physical object, but an abstract concept. You can discuss how 2 and 2 equal 4 without discussing any particular four physical objects. Likewise, the objects of geometry, such as lines with length but no width, and points with location but no extension, are mental, not physical objects.

Computers do not actually do math. They run operations, as designed by their human creators, that assist humans in doing math. In a similar way, the beads on an abacus enable me to keep track of numbers while I'm doing arithmetic. It is me, not the abacus, actually doing the arithmetic. Even when a computer runs extremely complex operations, it is doing so only because it is designed to do so. It is not conscious of the operations it is running, and to the computer those operations have no meaning. It is the mind of the man working with the computer that interprets the results of its computations as meaningful.

Without an immaterial intellect, it is impossible for a computer to grasp concepts, and therefore it cannot be intelligent in any meaningful sense. In the cases of the computers you are thinking of as intelligent, the real intelligence behind them is the intelligence of the people who have designed them. It is their minds, and not any mind in the computer, that determines the computer's function.

When I say alive, a word I presume you have challenged me to define, I mean an organism that has its own interior properties of nutrition or growth, perhaps of locomotion, and perhaps even of mind, as opposed to an inanimate object moved only by external forces. A man is alive. A computer is inanimate. A LessWronger can't tell the difference.

Deej,

Something unfortunate-sounding but actually not that bad on you and your very long philosophical threads that deserve to be read. I haven't got time for this now. I'm not sure if I'll have time for it ever.

Also, you should read Friendship is Optimal. You'll probably be grouchy at it (it's materialist with brain uploading and the whole adding-machines thing, and the author views it as a warning about things going not quite right), but you should still read it.

2321803

I read plenty of sf that is not of my school. The story peeved me simply because it asked me for money, and not the usual "pay me to read this" money. Actually, I think the concept interesting, and I'd kind of like to read it just for the possibility of writing a spinoff that screws with its assumptions; if I have correctly garnered from summaries and discussions what its assumptions are, I think I could come up with an amusing subversion.

2321774

The science of Neurology is every so slowly narrowing down on the facts of how neurons and the brain actually physically works. Eventually, neurologist and psychologists will be able to discover even more astounding discoveries into how it all works than some of the freaky stuff they've discovered already. It's not all immaterial anymore, and that's where your mistake is. (Side note: It's way more complicated than neurons firing. Seriously way more freaking complicated even in just how the biology is put together.) :twilightoops:

That's not to say that LessWrong isn't any more ridiculous, just not for the reasons you're stating. They're all working on the circular logic that springs from three assumptions: One, that it will eventually be possible for us to create an artificial thinking mind. Two, that we can improve upon it. Three: That a mind that can create a better mind will start a chain of better and better and better minds infinitely. If all those are true then we do have something to worry about and discuss, but the second point is absolutely ludicrous and the third point is applied insanity. Even if the second was true in any meaningful way the third can't be sustained forever because at some point you'd just be making minds that think faster and would have plateaued in the department of thinking in strange and mysterious ways. Minds are deeper than the brains that make them work, which should be blindingly obvious to everyone that's heard the phrase "I think, therefore I am."

:twilightangry2: <-- Twilight's angry.

2321875

It's not immaterial anymore, and that's where your mistake is.

No, you're missing my point, which always inevitably happens in a discussion between Realists and Materialists. It happens so consistently that I am tempted to whimsically propose that Materialism atrophies the part of the brain that facilitates abstraction. I am not denying the existence of the brain or the firing of neurons.

The relationship between neurons and thoughts is analogous to the relationship between symbol and referent. The relationship between the symbols you're seeing on your screen and the words they represent is not a material relationship. The last word I just typed, "relationship," is not made up of little black dots on your screen. It is a mental concept, which the black dots represent. Similarly, the firing neurons represent your thoughts. They cannot be your thoughts, because then any new thoughts would have to physically climb inside your brain.

An example: When you think of a pony, the image of the pony appears in your mind, but a physical pony does not materialize inside your skull. Your neurons fire, and their firings represent a pony, but they do not actually create the material pony.

The dream of the Materialist, which is built on a paradoxical impossibility, is to somehow discover that the relationship between neurons and thoughts, that is, between matter and form, can be discerned entirely from the atoms of the brain. This is impossible, for the reason just stated: your thoughts do not appear as material objects inside your head. We can slap you in an MRI scanner and discover what parts of your brain light up when you think of ponies, but we cannot extrapolate the other way and determine that certain neurons firing represent ponies necessarily on account of the properties of physical matter, exactly because immaterial thoughts are not physical matter.

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