New Civilization News: Dangerous Ideas?    
 Dangerous Ideas?31 comments
picture 6 Jan 2006 @ 00:49, by Flemming Funch

Edge asks the Annual Question to a bunch of smart people. Last year they asked "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Here is what I wrote about that. A great question. But, in short, it was a bit surprising how narrow-minded a lot of the answers were. This year the question is "What is your dangerous idea?" An equally great question, trying to inspire people to give their outside-the-box thinking, their most potent ideas that might change everything. At least that's how I would like to define "dangerous" in this context. Something that can upset the status quo catastrophically, but in a good and interesting way. Not all of them use it like that.

A lot of the answers are interesting in various ways. But most of them are not very dangerous. They stay within very safe territory for scientists. And, actually, the underlying subtext is the same as last year for a lot of them. It is obvious that for a lot of these guys THE most dangerous ideas in the world are Religion, God and Consciousness. Meaning, they bend over backwards to insist that it is insane to believe in a God, and that it is a hopeless fantasy to imagine that you actually exist, as anything other than some chemical processes in a brain. And that what we really ought to accept, if we thought it through properly, is that everything is the result of unconscious evolutionary processes, we have no free will, and life is without meaning. Great.

There's a certain kind of circular reasoning that many materialist scientists suffer from, which is similar to religious reasoning like "God exists because the Bible says so, and the Bible is true because God wrote it." But here you find it in versions like John Horgan mentions in connection with his idea "We Have No Souls":
"In his 1994 book The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, the late, great Francis Crick argued that the soul is an illusion perpetuated, like Tinkerbell, only by our belief in it."
You know, like, "You don't really exist, you just think you do!". To some people that sounds really clever, and there's no Logic 101 that will make apparent the craziness of such argumentation. Who's the "we" who have beliefs? Who's the agency that wonders whether it exists or not? Who is it that is unsure whether it has free will or not? It is just an illusion? Just a chemical reaction in a brain? Who's concluding that? Is it just turtles all the way down?

There are, however, some nice entries from people who don't just fall into the same circular reasoning trap. Like, Rudy Rucker, with the idea "Mind is a universally distributed quality"
Panpsychism. Each object has a mind. Stars, hills, chairs, rocks, scraps of paper, flakes of skin, molecules — each of them possesses the same inner glow as a human, each of them has singular inner experiences and sensations.

I'm quite comfortable with the notion that everything is a computation. But what to do about my sense that there's something numinous about my inner experience? Panpsychism represents a non-anthropocentric way out: mind is a universally distributed quality.

Yes, the workings of a human brain are a deterministic computation that could be emulated by any universal computer. And, yes, I sense more to my mental phenomena than the rule-bound exfoliation of reactions to inputs: this residue is the inner light, the raw sensation of existence. But, no, that inner glow is not the exclusive birthright of humans, nor is it solely limited to biological organisms.

Note that panpsychism needn't say that universe is just one mind. We can also say that each object has an individual mind. One way to visualize the distinction between the many minds and the one mind is to think of the world as a stained glass window with light shining through each pane. The world's physical structures break the undivided cosmic mind into a myriad of small minds, one in each object.
There are some folks who actually can engage in a bit of self-criticism as scientists, and think about where scientific beliefs really come from. Like Marcelo Gleiser in "Can Science Explain Itself?":
What if this is all bogus? What if we look at science as a narrative, a description of the world that has limitations based on its structure? The constants of Nature are the letters of the alphabet, the laws are the grammar rules and we build these descriptions through the guiding hand of the so-called scientific method. Period. To say things are this way because otherwise we wouldn't be here to ask the question is to miss the point altogether: things are this way because this is the story we humans tell based on the way we see the world and explain it.
Or, Thomas Metzinger, in "The Forbidden Fruit Intuition":
Is there a set of questions which are dangerous not on grounds of ideology or political correctness, but because the most obvious answers to them could ultimately make our conscious self-models disintegrate? Can one really believe in determinism without going insane?
Some present the revolutionary idea that scientists might just need to actually catch up to what science already has established, like "Carlo Rovelli" in "What the physics of the 20th century says about the world might in fact be true". You know, if quantum mechanics actually were how we experienced the world to work, rather than just some bizarre math equations.

Stephen Kosslyn goes the furthest in "A Science of the Divine", to present a way to reconcile science and religion:
Here's an idea that many academics may find unsettling and dangerous: God exists. And here's another idea that many religious people may find unsettling and dangerous: God is not supernatural, but rather part of the natural order. Simply stating these ideas in the same breath invites them to scrape against each other, and sparks begin to fly. To avoid such conflict, Stephen Jay Gould famously argued that we should separate religion and science, treating them as distinct "magisteria." But science leads many of us to try to understand all that we encounter with a single, grand and glorious overarching framework. In this spirit, let me try to suggest one way in which the idea of a "supreme being" can fit into a scientific worldview.
There's a surprising entry from Michael Nesmith, you know, from "The Monkees", who eloquently argues that "Existence is Non-Time, Non-Sequential, and Non-Objective", and I think I agree.

Several people talk along the lines of Andy Clark's "The quick-thinking zombies inside us" about how most of our decision making, our "free will", really happens at a sub-conscious level, in ways we don't at all understand, so we fool ourselves concerning how much in control we are.

Several people argue for free market economies. Get governments out of the way, and let the invisible hand of the free market sort things out.

Which is an underlying theme here. Humans having figured out that there are complex mechanisms that make things happen. Complex mechanisms that make our decisions. Complex mechanisms that carry on the evolution of life. Complex mechanisms that make economies work. More complex than we simple humans easily can understand. More smart and efficient than any of us consciously can be.

But at the same time we here have a number of well-respected big names in science who claim that they've understood all of that well enough to conclude decisively that these complex mechanisms that are smarter than us aren't intelligent at all. They're just simple random processes with no meaning or purpose or intelligence, that came together completely randomly for no good reason. Confused? Well, you should be. You need to become good at circular reasoning to explain that away.

The real dangerous idea, which most people with scientific credentials apparently are afraid of thinking, is, in my words:

Life the universe and everything is all one system, which is self-organizing, intelligent and eternal. There's no outside to it. Nothing is separate from it. Whatever happens inside of it happens because it is in its nature to happen. It has no outside meaning, but it can create meaning. Its latent qualities might or might not get expressed, but when they do, it is because they're there. So, if something finds itself having self-reflective consciousness, it is because the whole system possesses the potential quality of self-reflective consciousness. Duh. If oxygen and hydrogen mix and become water, that's because they already had the property of being able to do so. If something evolves, it is because the system knows how to evolve. If something is alive, it is because the system is alive. If somewhere in the system time and space exists, and at some "time" a scientist evolves and he decides that he has understood it all and it is all really dumb and random and meaningless and consciousness only exists in brains, except for that it doesn't really exist, well, he's right, makes no difference. It is all natural. Luckily it isn't that scientist, or some guy with a grey beard on a mountain, who's responsible for keeping the whole system working, or it really wouldn't last long. The whole system is much smarter than any brain that comes along at some point and has a short-lived fit of self-importance. Doesn't matter what you call it. You can call it God, or Universe, or Physics, or Nature, Evolution or Mind or Consciousness. It is you, buddy! If you think not, you've become a bit confused by derivatives of your own abstract thoughts. Take a step back and touch Reality. Be conscious. Be very conscious! But don't get cocky. That little point of self-reflective awareness that you identify with, and which is enough to spin yourself into circles, is way, way, way smaller and more ephemeral than the big you who is all of existence, all of evolving spacetime, any dimension, any physical phenomenon, any potential phenomenon, all simultaneously, all forever. It is a lot smarter at running things than your little localized conscious focal point. You're not in control. But if you catch a ride on natural law, and go with the flows, you can go far, very quickly. Because the system works really well. It is self-regenerating. It is open source.

Well, that was my rant. But that maybe doesn't give you anything very practical to do with it. A truly dangerous worldchanging idea would be a meme you let loose, and it just breaks down the old fixed structures, and it guides the self-organization of something new and better. They don't come along all that often, but when they do, it doesn't really matter much what you think about it, as it pretty much happens by itself. It might be time for some ideas that actually change how we perceive ourselves and the world, where nothing will be the same again.

Lots of people have commented on the Edge dangerous ideas thing. Like, I just noticed Dave Pollard's Blinded by Science. He wasn't very impressed either with the dangerousness of those ideas, and he has some alternative suggestions.


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31 comments

6 Jan 2006 @ 09:33 by jstarrs : We always fall into the trap...
...of believing either something/somone has to exist intrinsically or doesn't exist at all, eternalism or nihilsm.
The Madhyamika view as posited by Nagarjuna and which meets up in particle physics, is tantalizingly somewhere in between.
Although an ultimate Self/Soul, independant of the aggregates, can't be found to exist, a relative, creater-of-actions dependant on many parts, can be posited.
I find that pretty, er, dangerous...whatever that means!
Here's some debate:
[link]  



6 Jan 2006 @ 18:15 by ming : Existing
It is cool and weird to explore this paradoxical stuff. Free will or not. Separate identity or not. Spirit or particle physics. When we look close enough at things, we might have to give up some of our habitual thinking. I guess what pisses me off is when somebody grasps one "side" of the paradoxical truth and then declares that view to be the only possible view.  


6 Jan 2006 @ 18:20 by jstarrs : Dualistic mind...
..can only handle 'one' or 'the other'.
I'm beginning to think the truth is otherwise: beginningless time, integrating two truths (relative and ultimate), free will and karmic consequences can be compatible, etc...all this twists the mind a little but maybe it's only being twisted back to it's original shape....;0)  



7 Jan 2006 @ 02:50 by jobrown : Great point...
..you're making, Jeff! THANKS!!!  


8 Jan 2006 @ 07:19 by maxtobin : Getting somewhere?!
Love this little corner of the multiverse/universe (keep singing guys!!). A dangerous idea indeed is the emerging answer to the common issues we are experiencing within our tissues. I delight in your "rant" Flemming as ever on the button. My little input is to suggest that the shifting of the calendar to a more appropriate 'base frequency' of the divine/universal would annihilate the condition of ignor-ance we are currently emmeshed in. The answer is not to be known by mind but witnessed!!! If we can get out of the mind field trap; there will be no more explosions!!
I believe a dangerous idea which has potential to reveal the deeper course of humans evolution for the divine current it is already contained within would be through a deeper understanding of the Mayan Calendar here is a good place to begin  



9 Jan 2006 @ 17:46 by jstarrs : Ming the Merciless?
Now I'm REALLY confused!
[link]
 



9 Jan 2006 @ 18:51 by rayon : Also in simplicity,
does one speak from the Objective or Subjective? With former it is "We" for the latter, only "I". For me this is like getting the Warp and the Weft in a Weave, putting them together, in a large enough piece that bends, flows, billows like the universe, or just as a cloak, perhaps many different ones? of all hues. The I who prays must search for proof to talk to the We who just listen. In Charles Jancks words, this could be the Jumping Universe, from the I's to the we's and back in milliseconds. Yes I do think in Quantum time, found by accident. Could be a natural a state as any other, waiting for discovery, coexisting with all others. My description of it can only be done by diagram, very simply.

Then to Jeff's philo, they have cojoined the concepts to be identical to both I and It. (No Cloth, nothing, instant invisibility, phooph, like Merciless Ming in pic only mind you, not real life). The We relate through the I to the It immediately without difficulty, imparting instant Peace and calm to the Physical repose to discuss or relate so, and affording all else its point of wrangle. Happy New Year, Ming.  



10 Jan 2006 @ 23:11 by ming : Mingers
Hah, that's priceless, Jeff. I prefer the "Mingnons", that's so cute.  


10 Jan 2006 @ 23:17 by ming : I or We
If we could always be more clear on who we're speaking for and where we're speaking from and what we see, and we were willing to grant that there are many possibile answers for each of these - there wouldn't be so much to argue about. Oh, there's an endless number of things to argue about, as there's an endless number of different perspectives, but there wouldn't be much need to be very defensive about it.  


27 May 2006 @ 12:45 by doojie : Dangerous Ideas
Darwin pointed out that organisms seem to evolve toward greater complexity. So, let me point out a dangerous idea that might threaten traditional christianity from a biblical perspective consistent with Darwinian conclusions.
One of the more intriguing scriptures(to me at least) regarding the human mind and change comes from St Paul's writings, Romans 8:7: "The carnal(physical, fleshy) mind is enmity against God. It is not subject to God's laws and neither indeed can be"

This would create two interesting conclusions:
1.No human can claim authority as "God's representative", because no human can be subject to God's law.
2. Any attempt to create "divine authority" would result in a continuing speciation and proliferation of ideas about God.

This is true, because there are estimated over 30,000 variations within christianity alone at this time.
With this increasing diversity comes an increasing complexity of concepts about God that must merge with our concepts of reality itself. Any speculation about God "outisde" this physical reality will of necessity create an infinity of concepts of God, which force us to become more individualistic, and therefore more free in our thought processes.

Biblically, if Jesus came to fulfill the law as he stated in Matthew chapter 5, he would surely realize that such an attempt would result in the speciation and diversity mentioned above. Not only did he realize it, but Matthew 10:34-38 states that such division was one purpose of his ministry.

Such a conclusion would result in the realization that all religious ideas about God can only be partial conclusions about truth, as Godel's Incompleteness Theorem confirms, but that in order to be truly free, we cannot be "contained" within any particular religion, but we ourselves exist "outside" of all religious ideas. As Douglas Hofstadter points out in "Godel, Escher, Bach", truth transcends theoremhood. If you ask a mathematician what truth is, he would probably shrug, gesture at the universe around him and say "This". We exist in a "sea of truth" that defies human description, and in the human description is deception.

Strangely, when Jesus was asked about the "end time" in Matthew 24, his first warning was to "take heed that no man deceive you". Since all human descriptions of reality can only be partial and therefore incomplete, accepting any one as "my" total reality would be deception, Further, to "convert" others to that reality would create greater entropy as masses of people lose their adaptability to change and the infinite options that exist around us. The logical way to avoid deception, therefore, would be to remain "outside" of all religions. Jesus himself seems to confirm this in Matthew 24:23: "If any man says to you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not".

Regarding christianity, therefore, we come to the "dangerous idea" that seeking to obey "God's law" actually directs us toward diversity, parallelling the diversity discovered by Darwin, which might indicate intelligent design that directs and increases our intelligence by leading us toward random processes.

An indication of this randomness biblically would be 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.  



12 Jun 2006 @ 03:55 by one cor i;26 @203.206.46.126 : biblical specificy
1/26..think of what you were when you were called,;
spirit ,
none of us were wise by human standard
god did it all for us then the sin was ,
not many were in-fluenc-tial ,all were of noble birth
but as fallen angels do god cast us into skin and flesh..gen3
and to tell you more gets this remooved
perhaps this is dangerously allready too much ,
so here it goes
just to see,
thank be the mighty mi-ng.  



7 Aug 2006 @ 13:51 by Blog @142.68.214.151 : None
Your right no human can take claim as God's representative.  


7 Aug 2006 @ 13:52 by Blog @142.68.214.151 : Mignons
"Life the universe and everything is all one system, which is self-organizing, intelligent and eternal. There's no outside to it. Nothing is separate from it. Whatever happens inside of it happens because it is in its nature to happen."
Rathor Interesting Quote  



7 Jun 2007 @ 07:16 by Counter Strike @153.19.200.66 : :)
Good job dude  


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Your right no human can take claim as God's representative.  


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Great Idea 7 Nice Article  


20 Jul 2015 @ 14:06 by Roger Jimlad @195.188.14.204 : Great piece
Any person or organisation that tells you they have the one and only true path to God has an agenda.
Religions always have an agenda. They want your adherence and your obedience and a lot of them want your money. Divinity exists outside all that man-made tosh and is a far, far more complicated thing than any religion is capable of encompassing. If you think the beginning and end of the true nature of things is encapsulated in any one book, creed, philosophy or dogma, then not only are you not using the critical faculties God gave you, you are also guilty of believing in a very small reality indeed: for once you find it all or say you have, you deny that there is more....and there is never not more.  



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