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Something from Nothing?

A Conversation with Lawrence Krauss About Nothing


Thursday, August 1, 2013
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In conducting a number of interviews with various experts over the last couple of years – and requesting interviews from some who have turned me down – I’ve learned, perhaps unsurprisingly, that people are far more inclined to be interviewed by someone friendly to their ideas.

Lawrence Krauss knew going in to our interview that I wasn’t very receptive to his ideas with respect to the roles of science and philosophy in our public discourse. I previously wrote a column on Krauss’s 2012 book, A Universe from Nothing, and his public spat with David Albert, a Columbia University philosopher of science (with a Ph.D in theoretical physics). My column was critical of Krauss’s views on the value of philosophy versus science, and of Krauss’s debating style. My main point was that there is no real dividing line between science and philosophy and that every scientist is implicitly a philosopher.

Tam Hunt
Click to enlarge photo

Tam Hunt

That said, I was happy to find that Krauss, while requiring some (polite) pestering to get our interview finished, was willing to address criticism and contrary views in the below interview.

A Universe from Nothing is a very interesting read from a foremost physicist of our time. Krauss’s goal is to show our universe could literally have come from nothing. He seeks to show plausibility rather than any kind of proof, recognizing that it is far too early in our understanding of cosmology to attempt any proof in such matters.

I didn’t find the effort entirely convincing personally, as I discuss in the interview below. My feeling is that it is more plausible that there has always been something, rather than a literal nothing, and our universe sprang in some manner from this eternal something. Regardless of my personal views, I can recommend Krauss’s book as a good read and great overview of modern cosmology and physics more generally.

I don’t know Krauss personally, though I did meet him briefly at a talk he gave earlier this year at UC Santa Barbara. He exudes a no-nonsense ultra-intelligent confidence. But as I wrote in my previous column, I feel like Krauss and his co-thinkers exemplify well the perils of scientism – the view that science can, at least potentially, answer all meaningful questions about life, the universe, and everything.

For me, the middle ground between muddled mysticism, dogmatic theism, and scientism is an acceptance of the ultimate mystery behind it all. We’ll never know the full extent of what we don’t know and, despite the amazing successes of science and technology in our modern world, this mystery should forever keep us humble. The ocean is deep and we’ll never exhaust the pleasures of discovering new things in those depths.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Krauss via email. Krauss lives in Arizona and Australia.

What makes you tick as a physicist and as a person?

Lawrence Krauss
Click to enlarge photo

Peter Ellis

Lawrence Krauss

I enjoy experiencing life, and the universe, in every way I can. I enjoy being surprised and astounded, and I like to have fun.

In your recent book, A Universe From Nothing, you argue that modern physics has provided a plausible narrative for how the entire universe could have arisen from literally nothing, which undermines yet another key traditional reason for religion: to explain the origin of the universe. Are you personally an atheist or an agnostic? What led you to this view?

I am a scientist, and therefore I don’t buy into absolutes. Things are either likely or unlikely. Everything I know about the universe tells me it is extremely unlikely, to the point of near certainty, that there is any divine guidance. I don’t classify myself by labels.

Many scientists have suggested ways to reconcile science and spirituality, such as Stephen Jay Gould, Alfred North Whitehead, and Alan Barbour. Do you think it’s possible to reconcile modern physics and spiritual views of the world? Or do spiritual/religious views simply need to be jettisoned? Would we be better off if they were jettisoned?

Science is spiritual. Religious views should be jettisoned because they are wrong.

How is science spiritual?

Science encourages awe and wonder, and the sense that there is more to the universe than we directly experience. The advantage of the spirituality of science is that it is real.

While your book attempts to present a plausible picture of how the universe could have come from nothing, don’t you gloss over what most people really mean by “nothing” - that is, nothing at all, nada, zilch? The types of nothing you address aren’t this type of nothing, so your approach seems to beg the question as to where this original something, whether it’s the laws of physics or what have you, came from.

No, I don’t. I describe initial conditions with no space, no time, no matter, no radiation, no laws. That is a good definition of nothing as far as I am concerned.

Following up on what “nothing” really means, you write in the Q&A section of the paperback edition of your book:

I then describe how it is possible that space and time themselves could have arisen from no space and time, which is certainly closer to absolute nothing. Needless to say, one can nevertheless question whether that is nothing, because the transition is mediated by some physical laws. Where did they come from? That is a good question, and one of the more modern answers is that even the laws themselves may be random, coming into existence along with universes that may arise. This may still beg the question of what allows any of this to be possible, but at some level it is, as I describe at the beginning of the book, ‘turtles all the way down.’”

I’m not trying to play gotcha (frankly I hadn’t seen your Q&A when I asked the previous question), but it seems that you’ve changed your position since writing that Q&A. If so, what prompted the change of mind? And isn’t the point of science and physics more specifically to avoid the “turtles all the way down” argument, which was exactly the point of this well-known metaphor!

I haven’t changed my mind at all. I simply tried to succinctly summarize my argument, and said it is possible. It could be that there was precisely no existence, before our universe’s existence, or not. We don’t know. And, indeed, the turtles-all-the-way-down argument is a red herring, and is a debate about something that we have no idea about, and may not exist. It doesn’t matter. The point is that our universe didn’t exist, then came into existence, and we want to understand how that can happen. And we now have a plausible picture of how that can happen. So the non-existence of our universe is the ‘nothing’ that matters. The rest is metaphysics and semantics and irrelevant to science, at least at the moment.

Isn’t a more helpful answer to how the universe came to be - which is the question your book addresses - simply that there has always been something, even if we don’t know what that something is or was? This answer avoids entirely the infinite regress and bickering over whether God was the first mover or whether the universe really came from absolutely nothing.

Science isn’t based on what we would like. We don’t know the answer yet. To assume ‘something’ is to make an a priori decision, which has no empirical basis.

I don’t follow why you think it is an a priori assumption that there has always been “something.” Clearly, we have something - an entire universe - and isn’t it pretty rational and empirical (that is, not really a priori) to assume that that something, the entire universe, didn’t come from literally nothing since we haven’t witnessed anything coming from literally nothing in the entire history of scientific exploration?

No. We witness things coming into existence, that didn’t exist before, all the time in physics. Our universe could be one of them. So you are assuming because you haven’t witnessed it that it cannot happen. That is an assumption, and indeed even if we hadn’t witnessed it, it is a pretty small-minded assumption that that has to be the case universally – a small-minded assumption that science teaches us not to have.

With respect to the first type of nothing that you address - empty space and the laws of physics that come with empty space - you rely on the theory of inflation for your argument that this type of nothing can produce our universe. Yet Paul Steinhardt, one of the creators of inflationary theory, has recently repudiated his theory. Do you think he’s wrong in repudiating inflation? Would your arguments still work if inflation was wrong?

Yes to both: I do think he’s wrong and my arguments still work even if inflation is wrong.

Doesn’t your book slide into philosophical territory more than science territory since you’re discussing ideas that are inherently unfalsifiable and speculative?

The ideas I discuss are speculative, but not necessary unfalsifiable. Even multiverses might, in principle, be probed, as I describe in the book.

You’ve criticized modern philosophy pretty definitively, so I’m curious where you draw the line between philosophy and science? Are you a Popperian or do you prefer some other criterion of scientific soundness than falsifiability?

I am not an anything. Unlike philosophers, I don’t classify myself by some ‘ism’ or ‘ian’ based on someone’s classification. Science derives knowledge from empirical inquiry. Philosophy, at its best, reflects on that knowledge, but doesn’t add to it.

Do you think traditional philosophical criteria of soundness (for example: logical coherence, adherence to known facts, and parsimony) are sufficient for rigorous thinking? Or do we need the stronger criterion of falsifiability?

Logical coherence derives from empirical investigation. Things that don’t seem logical classically may in fact occur, like an electron doing many different things at the same time.

Last, what is your response to those who suggest, like Kuhn, that science isn’t really that rational in how it operates – that is, that paradigms shift not because of incremental logical changes but, instead, in large shifts that are generally resisted by the old guard until the weight of evidence simply can’t be ignored anymore?

I think this is a simplistic view that has been discredited by all of my experience in science, and I am not alone in this view as far as I can tell. Scientists are skeptical, and do not change viewpoints easily, but the weight of any sound evidence cannot be ignored and is not generally ignored.

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

Wow Tam! This is the best of your interviews. I give you credit for giving a forum to someone with whom you do not agree. However, his logic is impeccable. I know that you find scientific materialism uncomfortable and perhaps nihilistic, but for many of us it is liberating and spiritual. I am definitely going to read Krauss' book. Also, despite the fact that I often disagree with you in this forum, I want to thank you for taking the time and effort and explore these subjects. This is the "examined life."

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
August 4, 2013 at 9:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks Eckermann, glad you liked it. Krauss's logic is not, however, impeccable. A couple issues that stood out for me (which I didn't think warranted any further quibbling in the interview): 1) he misunderstood my question about philosophical criteria of soundness. These are traditionally: logical coherence, adherence to known facts, and parsimony, as I mention. But Krauss commented on logical coherence as a general matter, not answering my question. 2) Krauss stated that in physics we observe things coming from nothing all the time. This is not the case because the "nothing" he's referring to in this case is the ground of physical laws that allow things like virtual particles to appear from alleged nothingness. It's not really nothingness, and this is the general point of my critique of Krauss' book: he begs the question as to what nothingness really is and whether it's capable of producing an entire universe.

However, I'm not anti-science at all. I'm highly pro-science. I've written in previous columns about the desirability of a "deep science" as a means for unifying spiritual and scientific approaches to knowledge. This is Wilber's phrase and I agree entirely that we should be scientific in spiritual matters - but we should also acknowledge spiritual knowledge in scientific matters, where this is good evidence for such.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 6:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Dr. Krauss answered the nebulous questions succinctly and immediately redirected the misleading questions closer to the truth. His logic is refreshing and inspiring. I look forward to more of his scientific contributions and interpretations.
Thanks for posting

kmmcgea (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 7:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Nothing from nothing. And where's PK?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_DV54...

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 7:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Krause is speaking from a spiritual perspective, a perspective based on experience, rather than circumscribing experience to fit in a box of human logical construction -t he philosophical criteria of soundness, a criteria limited by human cognition. His comments are consistent with the perceptions of mystics and enlightened students of eastern philosophies. The "ground of physical laws" is knowledge obtained through observation, and your reference to this as the source of Krause's logical error is actually your inability to understand that he rejects limited human constructs and bases his postulates only on observation of the real world. This wasn't a conversation with a potential for communication in a paradigm that equates spirituality with religion, by a long shot.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 8:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam, I understand your desire for a spiritual/scientific synthesis (I have over ten feet of bookshelf space dedicated to spiritual texts and another 20 feet for philosophers). However, it seems to me that spiritual seekers are pursuing cosmic meaning and eternity when neither are likely to exist. The lessons of nature are that nothing lasts forever and meaning is existential; that is, it is what we make of it moment to moment, one life at a time. As Wittgenstein observed, there are things about which we must be silent because we do not have the capacity to address them with human speech. Science deals with that whereof we can speak. Still, all your essays make me think and re-examine what I think I know. So keep it coming as long as The Independent gives you the forum.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 9:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams, you should go back and read some of my previous columns ("Buddha Evolving," "Anatomy of God" parts I and II, "A Science of Beauty," to name a few). I think you'll understand better where I'm coming from if you do. I've been pursuing in these columns and my other writings a fully empirical, logically sound, but spiritually open approach to synthesizing spirituality, science and philosophy. You may also enjoy my columns "On Logic" and "On Explanations" from a couple of years ago.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 9:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Eckermann, I agree that "nothing lasts forever" if by this you mean that reality is constant change, at all levels. In fact, my next essay is a "mini-discourse on spiritual method" that focuses exactly on this point. As for meaning, however, what do you mean by "meaning"? My personal approach is that meaning and spirituality are about situating ourselves in a larger context that provides purpose and guideposts for living our lives. In this sense, the universe very much has meaning. We can recognize constant change in all things around us, infer certain principles of evolution, and project where we're going. We can then choose to take part in that process actively. We can't choose to not be part of that process, but we can choose to be active or passive agents of universal evolution.

As for Wittgenstein, he actually repudiated strongly his own earlier statement that you quote - preferring to allow speculation and imagination to reclaim their traditional roles in human discourse. We'll never have all the answers, as I state in my intro to this interview, but we can surely have a lot of fun trying to find answers and debating them.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 10:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

kmmcgea, what you write may be fairly paraphrased as "Krauss misunderstood the particular question" I referred to re the traditional criteria for philosophical soundness. Let's not romanticize what was clearly a misunderstanding. Anyway, it's not a big deal, but for the record...

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 10:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Mystics are antithetical to spiritual seekers, they're people whose goal is to transcend illusion - a seeker is, by definition, someone who has a defined goal of their own creation and has defined a path to achieve it. Teilhard de Chardin and Xavier le Pichon were scientists and mystics who used their understanding of the universe learned through scientific research to increase their awareness.
If you choose to postulate divine intervention in the universe, why impose the restriction that knowledge of the universe, which, according to this postulate, originated through divine intervention, should exclude an attempt to understand the universe, the definition of scientific research and knowledge?
Tam starts off stating that mystery is inherent, continues by attempting to convince Krause to accept rigid definitions, and as Krause repeatedly states that these are incompatible with observation, Tam concludes that Krause's model is logically deficient. The basis of Tam's disagreement with Krause, though, his belief that the universe wasn't derived from nothing, doesn't proceed from Krause's theory. Krause's postulate is plausability, not inconsistent with Tam's. According to classical physics, it's plausible for an electron in a hydrogen atom to be in an orbital with a radius of a centimeter, it's just very unlikely.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 10:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam, you wrote in your introduction,"I didn’t find the effort entirely convincing personally, as I discuss in the interview below. My feeling is that it is more plausible that there has always been something, rather than a literal nothing, and our universe sprang in some manner from this eternal something." I fully agree with you, in spite of the fact that I have also read Krauss's book and found it very interesting. He gives a philosophical reason for creation of universe from nothing, and he is very close to the truth. In fact, until now, among all the books I have read, he is closest to the truth. I am of the view that there is something in the space which is not yet understood by us ( so may be called nothing as Krauss has done), but it is there. It makes us realize its effect in the form of gravity. Einstein had been trying to figure out gravity for many years as he said 'Phenomenon of gravity must spring from some property of space- time". He later proposed it to be curvature of space-time in his general theory of relativity. After the proof ( bending of light found during solar eclipse of 1919) of his General theory of relativity, the idea of curvature of space-time as gravity was considered authenticate. If you are looking for that 'something', you will find it in gravity, but will have to free yourself from the concept of space-time curvature and observer-dependent theory of relativity. By saying so, I know, I am taking you beyond the established laws of physics and the logic of Einstein (God of science for all of us), but I derive the courage to say this from the fact that there is one mathematical relation giving us a proof that this 'something' in the space can convert to form matter and the same relation combines four fundamental forces into one force. I call this 'something' as 'Lines of Space'. If you are interested to discuss further, you are most welcome. As Krauss said in his interview, "Scientists are skeptical, and do not change viewpoints easily," exactly, it is proving difficult for me also to tell them that there are 'Lines of Space' in the space itself, similar to magnetic lines of force, which can convert into matter, and are responsible for gravitational, electrical and nuclear forces.

DKDhiman (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 10:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams, again, you should read my previous columns if you're interested in my views, rather than incorrectly inferring them from this interview.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 11:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DKDhiman, I agree entirely and am happy to see that the views you sketch are starting to catch on. See my previous columns "On Relativity," "On Time and Free Will," and "The Source" for my similar views. I think we need to transcend Einsteinian relativity (which is not actually what Einstein himself believed), and accept that there is in fact a something inherent to existence that is not true nothingness. Empty space is not empty, we know now from various lines of evidence. And this is a deep clue as to the true nature of the universe.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 11:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"No. We witness things coming into existence, that didn’t exist before, all the time in physics. Our universe could be one of them. "

We also know why this happens -- because the particle and its antiparticle are separated in space. Their NET result, if combined, is NOTHING, but they're still SOMETHING until they meet.

That's not quite the same kind of nothingness that philosophers speak of when they speak of absolute nothingness -- nor is it necessarily the sort of nothingness that science speaks of PRE-bang. Those particles and antiparticles presumably don't exist pre-bang, so it's a bit odd that he would speak of them this way.

Parakletos (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2013 at 1:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hi Tam and rest of folks, I do not think that Buddha was so much worried about how was the universe originated and the universe is finit or infinit or both. I perceive Buddhist cosmology as a metaphorical. Buddhism is anthropocentric philosophy. Yes, it is true that Buddhism talks about consciousness, space, self illusion and holographic world. But here in the case of Prof. Krauss we also should give a look at the Vedic Nasadiya Sukta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasadiya...) and Jain cosmology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jain_cos...). These two links can help us to understand Prof. Krauss.

Amazon_King (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2013 at 7:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam, I read your three columns- "On Relativity," "On Time and Free Will," and "The Source". I am happy to note that you are advocating same thought as I am doing. You are one of very few persons, who have agreed with me that we need to rise above Einsteinian Relativity and that empty space is really not empty. I have not written any columns on this subject as you have done, but have published a book titled 'Lines of Space' on amazon. If you are interested in finding out how we can transcend Einsteinian relativity and what do we get by doing so, this book is for you. I shall send you an e-book if you wish.

DKDhiman (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2013 at 7:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Here is an interesting book "Microcosmology: Atom In Jain Philosophy & Modern Science" http://www.herenow4u.net/index.php?id...

Amazon_King (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2013 at 7:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

One must re-read answers by Dr. Krauss to appreciate their elegance. He summarizes the Philosophy-Science debate in just a few words:
"Science isn’t based on what we would like."
"Science derives knowledge from empirical inquiry. Philosophy, at its best, reflects on that knowledge, but doesn’t add to it."

Apparently this has been difficult to accept, because there has been much back-filling and double-speak here to try to mis-direct and cloud the clarity of his view. His book defines the concept of "Nothing" and that it is plausible for the universe to have starting point from "Nothing" due to empirical observations in physics. He also admits that his view is "falsifiable."

kmmcgea (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2013 at 7:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

kmmcgea: Agreed. Krause is not attempting to be "helpful", as Tam suggests he be in this column, his motive is honesty based on knowledge acquired through empirical inquiry, a heuristic rather than cognitive approach.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2013 at 11:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam, Thanks for securing this interview with Dr. Krauss. I appreciate your efforts to engage in this conversation.

Some things that stand out to me:

You say: “…there is no real dividing line between science and philosophy and that every scientist is implicitly a philosopher.” I think I agree with you that every scientist is implicitly a philosopher. I think that the difference between a Philosopher and a Scientist though, is the connection to the real world. A Scientist may use his mind and creativity to postulate possibilities, but is not satisfied with just an elegant mental logical solution. He takes it a step further and sees if his thoughts jive with what we observe in the real world. The Scientist goes beyond words and into physical verification. In Defense of Philosophy, in response to Why questions, you say, “We may never know the answer to this or similarly deep questions, but it is not irrational to speculate about answers. And nor should it be discouraged.” I agree with this. This is creativity as I see its role in Science. In my eyes, when you identify as a Theist (as you do in Seeking the Divine), you are going beyond speculation but have now committed to a position that many people, including myself, think, at this time, is unsubstantiated beyond mental constructs (the realm of Philosophy and Religion). Think and speculate about answers to deep questions but consider letting empirical verification and not words or thoughts guide ones commitment to positions. One does not have to be a slave to words. See P.W. Bridgman The Logic of Modern Physics for an explanation of operational thinking and meaningless questions. Consider also Stewart Chase’s Tyranny of Words.

You further state: “For me, the middle ground between muddled mysticism, dogmatic theism, and scientism is an acceptance of the ultimate mystery behind it all. We’ll never know the full extent of what we don’t know and, despite the amazing successes of science and technology in our modern world, this mystery should forever keep us humble.” In reading the piece Seeking the Devine I was surprised to find that you identified with Theism as the above statement sounds, to me, like one that an Agnostic might identify. While you suggest that Dr. Krauss has changed his position in his book, it appears to me that you have changed your position from identifying with Theism as stated in “Seeking” to Agnosticism (“…an acceptance of the ultimate mystery behind it all.” “We’ll never know the full extent…” in this piece). Maybe avoiding labels, as Dr. Krauss prefers, would be a more objective way to move forward with unsettled thoughts.

Having read this piece, Seeking the Divine, and In Defense of Philosophy, I will take the advice you gave to 14noscams and read your other contributions. I have not been particularly persuaded by your pieces (specifically Defense of Philosophy) but find them interesting and I have appreciated each thus far. Thanks. Again.

pkorzybski (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2013 at 3:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I think here none is trying to dismiss the methodology of sciences. Problem is the arrogance of some scientists who bluntly attack on philosophies and religions. If you read the history of sciences, it was the philosophers and religious people who invented the scientific methodologies. They were also self-reflexive and self-corrective. Human knowledge is evolutionary. I am not so much impressed by those today who talk about big bang, black holes, hologram, field, something from nothing etc but I wonder how could our ancestors invented language, wheels, pottery, numbers, mathematical values and functions, explored astronomy without modern tools. If religion is 0 and philosophy is 1 there would be no 10 (modern sciences) without them. This is my simple understanding that religion and philosophy have played vital role in the making of humanity much more than science !

Lastly, I would like to remember Thomas Kuhn and Feyerabend! I also would like to remember Karl Popper for his statement, "I don't know whether God exists or not. ... Some forms of atheism are arrogant and ignorant and should be rejected, but agnosticism—to admit that we don't know and to search—is all right. ... When I look at what I call the gift of life, I feel a gratitude which is in tune with some religious ideas of God. However, the moment I even speak of it, I am embarrassed that I may do something wrong to God in talking about God."

Amazon_King (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2013 at 7:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sorry to be arriving so late to the party. I think Eckermann and kmmcgea have been pretty much on target. A few additional comments and questions for Tam.

As to whether your previous columns really do provide a “fully empirical, logically sound” approach, rather than go over ground already covered, I suggest that, in addition to looking at those columns, the interest reader also take a moment to note my comments and our exchanges about them.

Can you give examples of how Krauss believes that science can potentially answer all meaningful questions about life (as opposed, say, to helping provide useful information from which such issues can be approached), including questions relating to the value of human experience in such fields as morals, art, politics, and other social and interpersonal relationships?

How does your view that “there has always been something … and our universe sprang in some manner from this eternal something… even if we don’t know what that something is or was” provide grounds for a “deep science” that helps us answer the above questions? In what sense is it “science”? In what sense is it “deep”?

What constitutes “evidence” for “spritual knowledge,” and on what basis do we judge that evidence to be “good” enough to acknowledge it as reliably informing scientific matters?

What does it mean to “choose to be [an] active” agent in what you infer to be the principles of “universal evolution,” and how does this differ from what Eckermann refers to when he says that meaning is existential rather than cosmic?

pk (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2013 at 6:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pkorzybski, thanks for the feedback. Re your comments on my own statements about atheism, theism, agnosticism, etc. As I wrote in "Seeking the Divine," I'm comfortable with the theism label at this point and I explain this further in my piece "The Source, the Anatomy of God, Part I." I feel pretty firmly, based on my own experiences and my intellectual understandings, that God as Source is real. But this is a non-personal God, more akin to Godhead than God. The Anatomy of God, Part II, focuses on the Summit - which may be a personal god. As I write in that piece I am not convinced that there is any conscious god-like entity present in our universe yet. It could be, but I've not felt it personally. My current view is that it is far more likely that we are in the process of co-creating God as Summit, and this will be a very long process (probably on the order of trillions of years; we've got work to do).

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2013 at 11:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

ps. In terms of never knowing the fully extent of what we don't know (a key principle in my philosophy), and being humble about that mystery, I am not suggesting we remain agnostic on everything. Some things we do know. Very things are known with certainty, but there are quite a few things I feel I know with some degree of confidence. And God as Source falls in this latter category. This is why I can counsel humility about the mystery of it all but also be comfortable with calling myself a theist.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 13, 2013 at 11:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, you ask a number of questions, which I attempt to answer below:

In terms of examples of Krauss's scientism, his first couple of responses, as well as his book, are sufficient evidence for me. He states that "science is spiritual." I would argue that today's science excludes much in the way of spirituality, if we interpret spirituality as a quest for meaning. Most hard-nosed scientists today would argue that science is not about meaning. It's just about how things work. Krauss seems to find meaning in simply understanding how things work, and that's fine and not that different than my own approach. However, I use the term "scientism" for Krauss's views b/c he is so dismissive of philosophical or spiritual views that contradict his notion of good science. I believe a lot of matters are far more unsettled than Krauss seems to believe, leaving a lot more room for different narratives about the universe and our place in it.

You ask: "How does your view that “there has always been something … and our universe sprang in some manner from this eternal something… even if we don’t know what that something is or was” provide grounds for a “deep science” that helps us answer the above questions? In what sense is it “science”? In what sense is it “deep”?"

Deep science is "deep" because it recognizes the validity of introspection and subjective experience as valid data for science. Modern science has gone too far in dismissing this type of data, in what I call the "behaviorist hangover" that we are still suffering from. By allowing subjective data to be considered valid (with intersubjective confirmation where possible) we can develop a scientific worldview that doesn't simply ignore half of the universe: the subjective experiences we all know as primary reality.

Deep science is science b/c it still adheres to traditional logic and scientific methodology. It is arguably more scientific than today's mainstream approach b/c it doesn't simply dismiss the subjective realm that I just wrote about.

You ask: "What constitutes “evidence” for “spiritual knowledge,” and on what basis do we judge that evidence to be “good” enough to acknowledge it as reliably informing scientific matters?"

This is a decision for each of us. But, again, deep science allows subjective experience to be considered valid data. For it to be convincing to others, however, there must be some degree of intersubjective confirmation. Spiritual knowledge can refer to the experiences during meditation, peak experiences, hallucinogenically induced experiences, etc. - essentially, any experience that transcends our normal modes of experience.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 14, 2013 at 12:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

(cont.)

You ask: "What does it mean to “choose to be [an] active” agent in what you infer to be the principles of “universal evolution,” and how does this differ from what Eckermann refers to when he says that meaning is existential rather than cosmic?"

I don't know what Eckermann means by saying that meaning is existential rather than cosmic. However, when I wrote that we can choose to be an active agent in the creative unfolding of the cosmos, I am saying that we are part of that unfolding whether we want to be or not. We can, however, choose to be active by consciously working in certain directions in our own lives and the environment we live in, rather than being mere passengers. If one believes that pursuing advanced meditation practice is the best step for one's own evolution, do it, don't just think about it. If one believes that working to improve access to health care in poor communities is the most pressing need then work on that, and help societies evolve in that direction. The end result of everyone's conscious or unconscious actions is the actual unfolding of the universe. By being conscious agents, each of us can, if we want, take on a larger role than passivity will allow.

Personally, I think we could, and should, evolve toward a society in which all basic needs are met for everyone, and violent struggle is drastically reduced or even eliminated ultimately. In such a society, each of us will be free to pursue our own creativity, to create beauty in every aspect of our lives, or to do whatever we want. And that's a future worth working for.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 14, 2013 at 12:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

“Scientism” is a popular but rather vague charge. To make it stick against Krauss you need to do more than refer to what “most-hard nosed scientists today would argue,” that Krauss “seems to find meaning in simply understanding how things work,” and to the fact that he dismisses views that “contradict his notion of good science.”

If information derived from the “subjective realm” is confirmed intersubjectively by traditional logic and scientific methodology, then it’s simply science, no “deeper” than mainstream science. If it such information isn’t so confirmed, on what other basis should we evaluate to degree to which this or that person’s experience derived from drugs, meditation, introspection, intuition, etc., should be considered a valid contribution to a scientific worldview?

Actions taken in the present have consequences for the future. It seems a bit dramatic and grandiose to call this the “creative unfolding of the cosmos” (your comment to pkorzybski about a trillion-year process of “co-creating God as Summit” indicates that you have something even more grandiose in mind, which I leave untouched for now). Hitler, Mao, and Stalin all consciously worked for their particular outcomes. I think Eckermann is saying, rightly, that we find the meanings of such actions within our lives rather than in some supposed cosmic wisdom conveyed to us by subjective intuitions masquerading as objective, pre-established fiats.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 8:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, a quick comment now and more later. Re scientism, I'm re-reading Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and realizing again why his work is so important. He argues convincingly that most scientists have a highly blinkered and revisionist view of their own science's progression. With each new revolution, each generation thinks they have the answers and that prior eras were benighted and deluded. "Scientism" is, in my definition, exactly this common view: that we have the answers now and that science progresses incrementally toward more and more accurate truths. While this may be true in the very long term, with technology as our main proof in the pudding, it is by no means necessarily true in the short to medium term. Scientists today usually have a very limited understanding of the philosophy and sociology of science, such that they are often blinded to their own field's history - that is, accurate history, not revisionist history that is found in textbooks. My next interview is with Steven Fuller, a sociologist of science at Warwick University, and we'll delve into these issues further.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 11:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with your definition of scientism, Tam: ""Scientism" is, in my definition, exactly this common view: that we have the answers now and that science progresses incrementally toward more and more accurate truths. " It's really widespread, unfortunately. Kuhn's classic book does seem to show that each set of scientists actually "believe" (maybe they have to?) they have found IT. Yet as Peter Sloterdijk argues in YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR LIFE! , after falling into this "prison of reason" after the Enlightenment (& after WW II), "a large number of Americans were prepared to follow spiritual and intellectual suggestions for the simplest solution to the world's problems. There was no time left for complicated esoteric systems..." [p97].
Examples could include McCarthyism & the Red Scare of early 50s, the post-1950 success of the [so-called] Church of Scientology, and the new pseudo-religion of big sports.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 15, 2013 at 2:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"The word 'scientism' doesn’t helpfully delineate a coherent position, it unhelpfully flattens important distinctions and creates a false target."

http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/b...

pk (anonymous profile)
August 16, 2013 at 7:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Steven Fuller whose book Kuhn vs. Popper was described as “worthless” and offering “a cartoon opposition of a fake 'Popper' to a fake 'Kuhn’”; who in a debate supported the proposition that “evolution and intelligent design should be accorded equal status as scientific theories”; whose book Science Vs Religion? was described it as "a truly miserable piece of work, crammed with errors scientific, historical, and even theological"; of whom it was said that his “misreading of the politics that generated and sustains the ID movement is so complete as to constitute a peculiar pathology all its own"; who was criticized in another review for presenting an "analysis of the intellectual disputes over contemporary ID creationism [that] is almost vacuous," based on an idiosyncratic interpretation of the history of philosophy” and “a limited grasp of the history of science; whose book Dissent Over Descent was described as “an epoch-hopping parade of straw men, incompetent reasoning and outright gibberish… intellectual quackery … that gives philosophy of science a bad name," by another reviewer as "completely wrong and … backed by no sound scholarship whatsoever,” and by yet another reviewer as showing a “mark of ignorance and historical short-sightedness.” That Steven Fuller?

pk (anonymous profile)
August 16, 2013 at 8:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh Jeebus, really pk? My post was about Kuhn's book and I mentioned Fuller in passing. Why don't you address the meat of my post instead of dredging up negative press on Fuller's book? For what it's worth, and we can discuss this in my NEXT interview, Fuller's book was chosen as book of the month by Popular Science magazine and also received a number of plaudits from various reviewers, along with its share of bad reviews. Regardless, let's not substitute culling bad reviews for critical thinking...

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 16, 2013 at 9:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thought it would be interesting to point out, also in passing, while I await your response to my having indeed addressed the meat of your post in my prior comment, the sort of people you seem to find reliable sources of insight.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 6:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Do we speak of absolutes, or how WE define them? 80 degrees is hot, in a humid climate but in a dry climate 80 degrees might feel about normal. In that case, there is not definition of hot.

Does not the Gaia principle embrace that all things are interrelated? As such, would that not suggest a cogent driving force behind all things? (God)

Science itself does not evolve, only the understanding of it does.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 6:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, I read the interesting website ref., thank you, and Sean there earlier defines "scientism" — "[The working definition of 'scientism'] is 'the belief that science is the right approach to use in situations where science actually isn’t the right approach at all.' ” That, in fact, was how I meant it and it's the general definition, perhaps too mundane for you. Each will have his own take, but I used the term as it's generally accepted: poor and in fact inappropriate use of 'Science' -- it obviously cannot figure out everything.
The meat of Tam's column was about Krauss, and he got into Kuhn's terrific book, pk, you then did a riff on Steven Fuller! wow

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 8:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

my mistake pk, you did attempt to address it in your previous post.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 9:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm curious - are other commenters, pk, DrDan, Amazon_King, etc, familiar with
physics on a mathematical, quantitative basis, or a conceptual, verbal basis?

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 10:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I freely confess my extremely limited background, largely confined to reading general surveys which attempt to explain modern physics. I was more interested in how to use the debated term "scientism". For me, both a critic and a supporter of science, scientism is widespread and is akin to technological solutionism... it is a negative term about believers in science who go far too far.
Why do you ask?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 2:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan
The problem is in assuming that everyone knows and agrees with the specific things you have in mind by "inappropriate" even though you haven't said what those things are. Note the remainder of Sean Carroll's comment:

"Using vague words like this is an invitation to lazy thinking. Rather than arguing against the specific points someone else makes, you wrap them all up in a catch-all term of disapprobation, and then argue against that. Saves time, but makes for less precise and productive discussion.

Given that the only productive way to use a word like 'scientism'— something vaguely sinister, ill-defined... — would be to provide an explicit and careful definition every time the word is invoked, why use it at all? ... If you think people are making some particular mistake, that’s fine — just say what the mistake is.

.... We can disagree with some of the specific contentions in a constructive way, but lumping everything we don’t like into one catch-all word isn’t useful.

The word 'scientism' doesn’t helpfully delineate a coherent position, it unhelpfully flattens important distinctions and creates a false target."

I don't see Tam's comments as usefully spelling out what Krauss' sins were supposed to be in this context.

Sorry for the Fuller distraction. I suppose I was a little impatient about Tam tossing in as an aside that somehow a future discussion of the former's highly arguable views could help to clarify some of the present issues. After Tam replies to my earlier comments, we can get on with the more substantial part of the present discussion.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 2:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

OK, so each time I give a concrete e.g. of supposed "science" over-reaching -- say the determination for years that the anti-malarial drug "Lariam" (methflll sp?) posed little health risk -- that I can carefully say, this is an example of scientism.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 3:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan: I asked about background just out of curiosity. I'm reading comments from points of view that are unfamiliar to me, and it's confusing, so I was trying to get more information on the context of comments.
I disagree with DrDan's Lariam statement - I think it's an example of FDA fast-track drug approval that's based on corporate financial statements and also an example of socio-economic pragmatism and government-business relations that's unrelated to science or to any thought on science. It's also applied science, very different from Krause's work in theoretical physics, which is description of the physical universe based on knowledge acquired through observation. Scientism is a pejorative term, and I don't know that it's acknowledged by scientists. I think Tam's questions would be defined as teleology by most scientists. I haven't read much of Krause's book - been paging through it on Amazon. I wouldn't consider Popular Science for info on science, but I'm interested in thinking on scientism because it describes a bias against science that I've been exposed to recently in political and social scientists' thinking.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 6:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam is not involved in telelogy, in my view. And if Lariam was fast tracked, the appropriate science review was either flawed or subject to economic/financial pressure. Yes, scientism IS a pejorative term, it isn't "scientism because it describes a bias against science". It means big Science sometimes over-reaches, e.g. Dawkins' silly book THE GOD DELUSION where a geneticist falls into scientism and claims science can explain it all. Science cannot.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 17, 2013 at 8:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan

The testing of a drug for safety and efficacy is a perfectly legitimate use of science. If there are flaws in design or interpretation, that is not "scientism"; it means there's been a poor application of science in an area in which science is considered useful in adding to our knowledge.

On the other hand, if you could show by example that someone claims that science can "explain it all," and by "it all" he or she means to include every aspect of existence, including individual judgments of beauty, morality, religion, puzzles about the meaning of life, etc., and by "explain" means "provide answers that any 'reasonable' person should find satisfying," then then you would have given an example of what most people would agree to call "scientism."

14noscams
My university study in physics included a heavy dose of math. I stopped with an undergrad degree, then meandered off into other areas of interest--history, religion, philosophy, etc.-- and at the moment focus mainly on making art and arguing with Tam about all of the above.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 8:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk: Clinical drug testing is a government-regulated process that's driven by economics. Pharmaceutical R&D is very expensive and pharmaceutical companies are motivated to recoup new drug discovery costs and have had sufficient support from the FDA to release over 2200 new drugs that were later recalled due to hazards since the mid-90's. The scientists involved in drug development are almost exclusively employees, who have no proprietary interest in the drugs they develop, don't personally fund clinical trials, and aren't decision-makers in assessing adequate testing prior to licensing. I agree that ideally new drug testing is real science.
Krause's comments regarding possibility and plausibility seem to have been interpreted as evasive and intentionally vague, but they're precise statements based on the math used to describe the observations. You and I may see this, but I don't know how well probability distributions and solutions to differential equations, even chaos theory and approximate solutions to transcendental equations, etc, translate with no math, based on my statement above. But knowledge of the predictions of physical states that falls out of the math may be an issue unrelated to this discussion.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 11:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, responding to your last substantive post, you write:

"If information derived from the “subjective realm” is confirmed intersubjectively by traditional logic and scientific methodology, then it’s simply science, no “deeper” than mainstream science. If such information isn’t so confirmed, on what other basis should we evaluate the degree to which this or that person’s experience derived from drugs, meditation, introspection, intuition, etc., should be considered a valid contribution to a scientific worldview?"

This has been my main point since I began writing this column three years ago: today's science is rightly called "absent-minded science" b/c it too often leaves out the subjective realm entirely. This has in fact been intentional in many quarters for the last century, b/c many scientists decided that science had to be "objective," and thus exclude subjective experience, in order to get a better handle on the external world. But the point I've been making in various ways for three years is that for us to get a handle on the external world we also have to understand how our internal world relates to the external world. The panpsychist solution I've advocated does exactly this, by explaining in a naturalistic manner, how mind and matter inter-relate. So today's scientists veer into scientism when they accept uncritically the notion that to be objective we must discount or ignore the subjective realm and how that subjective realm inter-relates with the objective/external world.

As for how subjective information is intersubjectively confirmed and accepted as scientific, it is up to each of us to determine how much intersubjective confirmation we need. This is how "deep science" differs from today's conventional science: it accepts that is no clear dividing line between what are traditionally external and internal approaches to knowledge and that to have an integrated worldview, we need to treat both approaches with deference.

Psychology is in a process of recovering the subjective realm, with major conferences on the scientific study of consciousness being held around the world. I have another interview on the way with Giulio Tononi, developer of one of the more promising approaches to a science of consciousness.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 12:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, you also write:

"Actions taken in the present have consequences for the future. It seems a bit dramatic and grandiose to call this the “creative unfolding of the cosmos” (your comment to pkorzybski about a trillion-year process of “co-creating God as Summit” indicates that you have something even more grandiose in mind, which I leave untouched for now). Hitler, Mao, and Stalin all consciously worked for their particular outcomes. I think Eckermann is saying, rightly, that we find the meanings of such actions within our lives rather than in some supposed cosmic wisdom conveyed to us by subjective intuitions masquerading as objective, pre-established fiats."

It's up to each of us to find meaning in our lives. Some find meaning through personal relationships and the routines of normal life. And that's fine. Most of us, though, feel the need to connect our lives to a larger narrative about the universe and our place in it. My preferred view is to recognize the creative unfolding of the universe for what it is: an ongoing evolutionary process in which every constituent of the universe plays a role. We, as human beings, enjoy a rarefied creativity made possible by our evolved minds, and we have the luxury of contemplating much larger visions than other creatures. But each of us has our own set of foibles to guide us, so my vision doesn't have to match yours.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 12:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

OK, pk, then I suggest R. Dawkins's hubristic THE GOD DELUSION, in general.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 12:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams, I'm not a teleologist. I'm the opposite: I've suggested in my columns here that the future is inherently undetermined, unknown and unknowable. I'll elaborate on these ideas in an imminent column on "Free will and faux will." See this piece: http://www.independent.com/news/2011/... for some more thoughts on the role of teleology in evolution. I endorse Margulis' and Butler's idea of evolution being the sum total of a million million small pushes from each organism, rather than teleological pull. And in other columns and papers I've extended this idea to all constituents of the universe b/c, when we realize that there is no real dividing line between life and non-life, the entire universe becomes subject to the same evolutionary principles.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 18, 2013 at 1:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If someone told me that they had a vision in which they saw just where in heaven the Virgin Mary sat in relation to Her Son (as St Theresa indeed had in the 16th century) and how deeply consoling it is to know with certainty that She will intervene on their behalf on that terrible Day of Judgment that is surely coming at the end of time, I would quietly acknowledge that although their view of how things work wasn’t anything I found especially useful in making sense of my life, it did provide that person with a satisfying way of being in the world.

If that person went on to say that according to what they’d heard from Tam Hunt, the data they’d derived from their subjective experience should be considered a valid contibrution to the scientific worldview, I would point out that they had no idea of what constituted a “scientific worldview.” Having been a careful student of your work, they would counter by saying that I was guilty of “scientism” in discounting or ignoring “the validity of [their] introspection and subjective experience as valid data” for what was in fact a “deeper” science than the one I knew.

Your approach confuses the arguable but defensible criticism that science gives insufficient attention to interior, subjective experience (the argument would be over what “insufficient” means and how pyschology, anthropology, sociology, etc., should deal with the nature of that exprience) with the dubious notion that the pursuit of knowledge still deserves to be called “science” even when it includes subjective data of which intersubjective confirmation is not possible. For you to claim that acceptance of such data is valid and in fact constitutes “deep” science, a more scientific science, because it “still adheres to traditional logic and scientific methodology” is absurd because that is precisely what it does not do.

One might choose to be cautious about denying that the Virgin Mary is sitting at the right hand of God to temper his stern judgment with mercy, but no such caution should be necessary about whether such “knowledge” is “science,” deep or otherwise.

In fact, if one were to consider the word “scientism” as having any use, one could well apply it to someone who insisted on attaching to his views (including those on the role of human actions in the evolution of the cosmos) the word “science” and its positive connotations in an attempt to valorize what clearly is not science on any definition besides his own.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 8:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, you've completely missed my point about intersubjective confirmation. Again: we accept subjective data as valid data for deep science when it can reliably be confirmed intersubjectively. The vision of Mary you describe would not, for most of us who are not Christians, qualify as intersubjectively confirmed.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 8:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Here's another way of framing my point about intersubjectivity: objectivist science has drawn a boundary between the ostensibly external world and the ostensibly internal world, with the boundaries of our human senses being the dividing line. The physical sciences, at least, take the external world as their domain and this is what experimentation and theory-making is all about. However, this is intersubjective confirmation because the external world is, for each of us, just as inferred as any feature of our internal mental life (dreams, feelings, etc.). We consider it "objective" b/c it has been intersubjectively confirmed in at least its general details (the laws of physics, technology, etc.) and has been the object of serious study for far longer than what would traditionally be considered the internal world. However, the deep science I've advocated recognizes that all we know with certainty is the fact of our own subjectivity. And everything else, literally, is inference. So there is no hard line between the external world and the internal world - it all becomes a matter of more or less reasonable inference about what the universe contains outside of the pure brute fact of our subjective existence. Under this framework, the process of intersubjective confirmation becomes a bit more fluid and a bit more open to things that wouldn't normally be considered occurring in the "external" world.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 9:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"By allowing subjective data to be considered valid (with intersubjective confirmation where possible) we can develop a scientific worldview that doesn't simply ignore half of the universe: the subjective experiences we all know as primary reality."

On a straightforward reading, "where possible" means that such confirmation, although perhaps desirable, is not necessary for, say, visions, drug-induced or otherwise, to be considered a source of reliable information for a scientific worldview.

"As for how subjective information is intersubjectively confirmed and accepted as scientific, it is up to each of us to determine how much intersubjective confirmation we need."

If each of us determines for ourselves how much confirmation is needed, then we're back to a subjective and not intersubjective notion of what constitutes valid data. So-called "knowledge" based on this kind of subjective judgment is not science.

"This is how 'deep science' differs from today's conventional science: it accepts that is no clear dividing line between what are traditionally external and internal approaches to knowledge."

"No clear dividing line" means that knowledge derived from an "internal" approach can be considered valid, but if this validity depends on the application of traditional logic and scientific methodology, it's no longer an "internal" approach, and If it isn't, it isn't science.

Taking your comments collectively, I still find your notion of "deep" science to be confused or, in a more charitable light, confusingly explained.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 9:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Our two most recent comments crossed in the aether. I don't think yours clarified any of the confusions I tried to point out.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 9:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk: You summarized Tam's statements well; "science gives insufficient attention to interior, subjective experience" for him.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 12:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, I don't think I can add much more at this point. My last post stated my view about as clearly as I can. However, our discussion has inspired me to write a different column specifically about my preferred approach to a "deep science." So thanks for the good questions. I'll flesh out some further thoughts in my new piece.

I'll add one final thought here: I don't think you're understanding my key point about certain knowledge vs. reasonable inference. Again, literally all we know with certainty, mimicking Descartes, is the mere fact of our own subjective experience. There is experience here now. That's it. Everything else is inference. So what is normally considered subjective vs. objective in traditional science goes too far in my view. We should return to a more humble position and approach what is generally considered internal/subjective knowledge with a bit more of an open mind. And we can can pursue this path to knowledge through intersubjective confirmation, as traditional natural science has done for the traditionally defined external world.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 5:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams, that's right: my main gripe has been for the last few years in these columns that today's science has forgotten about the trick of "objectivation." Here's my essay where I make this most clear: http://www.independent.com/news/2010/....

What Schroedinger called "objectivation" was perhaps a necessary step in the development of science. But we're now at a point in our development that we need to abandon the trick of objectivation and instead embrace a view of the universe that includes the half of the universe that was excluded by objectivation: the subjective half.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 5:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam
Your distinction between "certain knowledge" and "reasonable inference" doesn't address my comments in the slightest.

"Intersubjective confirmation" is exactly what "traditional science" does. If "deep science" has another way of determining the validity of claims to knowledge, it would be of interest to see that other approach spelled out, including how that still qualifies as doing science.

By the way, all we know with certainty is existence. The "our subjective" part is construct and narrative. How and out of what we construct and narrate are the truly deep and fascinating questions.

To be continued ...

pk (anonymous profile)
August 19, 2013 at 7:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, your statement that "all we know with certainty is existence" may be the core of our disagreement. All we really know, I argue, is the pure fact of subjective awareness. If this is what you mean by "existence" we agree. But I suspect you mean some kind of objectivity by "existence." And that's what I'm denying. We could, as the famous thought experiment suggests, be a brain in a vat. We could be a simulation. We could be under a spell. We could be figments in the mind of God. But in any of these scenarios we could never deny the certainty of our own subjective experience. And I know this by the sheer fact of introspection in any waking moment. All else is inferred. So, yes, intersubjective confirmation is what science is about. But as I've written already a couple of times, the deep science I advocate recognizes that there is no real difference between the traditionally defined inner and outer worlds. All data are nothing but sense impressions that are received by the center of awareness. Some of those data come from dreams, illusions, visions, memories, imagination. And some come from the intersubjectively defined external world. But there is no clear dividing line here and I am suggesting that deep science should shift to more fully recognize the traditionally defined internal realm as capable of yielding real insights about the nature of reality.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 20, 2013 at 11:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm not saying that there's a reality that can be described in an objectively true way, just that a person would have to be of rather odd neurological construction to sincerely believe that neither he nor anything else existed. That's the simple sense in which I say that existence exists. If you want to call that attributing to existence "some kind of objectivity," fine, but I think that to deny that existence exists would be an odd place from which to construct a worldview.

If by "subjective awareness" and "subjective experience" you mean the simultaneous experience of existence and of ourselves as experiencing subjects, then we disagree. Awareness of existence is prior; construction of personal subjectivity follows.

You acknowledge that "intersubjective confirmation is what science is about," but you don't seem to realize what that implies for the rest of your claims: The "real insights about the nature of reality" you say can derive from the "traditionally defined internal realm" can't be made into science simply by adding the term "deep" to the latter unless those claims can be confirmed intersubjectively. If they can't be confirmed in that way, they aren't, on your own account, "what science is about," and everything else you say completely misses the point.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 20, 2013 at 11:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars and so on -- whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man -- for precisely the same reasons. " -Douglas Adams- (1952-2001; English writer, humorist, and dramatist.)

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
August 21, 2013 at 3:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, your phrase "awareness of existence" contradicts your argument entirely. Awareness is primary. There is no existence without awareness of existence, from our human perspective. So I'm going one step further than you're going, under your own terms: we know, through opening our eyes, our ears, or through introspection, that there is an experiencing subject and that there is something that is being experienced. You call this something "existence," and that's fine, but what I'm suggesting is that the true nature of this existence is entirely inferred. What is not inferred, the only thing that is not inferred, is the sheer fact of our subjective awareness. Cogito, ergo sum.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 21, 2013 at 8:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, awareness is primary; but awareness of an experiencing self as subject, arrived at through introspection, is secondary, and since I'm denying the identity of "awareness of existence" with "awareness of self," there is no contradiction. Not only is the "true" nature of existence inferred, so is the "subject" of "subjective awareness." Both are narrative constructs.

Descartes mis-spoke. Not "I think," but "thinking is". The "I" built into "Cogito" is a fine example of begging the question.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 21, 2013 at 10:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, we may be hung on language here. For me, "awareness" is "self." What is it if not self/subjectivity?

Where I agree with you, delving a bit deeper, is that Descartes went a bit too far in concluding that there is a constant self. I have re-framed in previous columns and in my books, his statement, usually translated as "I think, therefore I am" to "There is thinking here, therefore there is a thinker." Or "There is experience here now, therefore there is an experiencer." The duration of the experiencer could be very brief, so we cannot conclude with certainty that there is any kind of constant self here. However, we know from the continuity of our experience that there is a fairly constant self present during our lives. That self changes constantly, but the continuity of experiences and memories provides some coherence to our experience of self. Anyway, this is a step beyond my key point: we can conclude, with absolute certainty, that there is an experiencer here, now, from the mere fact of experience being here, now.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 10:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Many thanks for doing the interview with Prof. Krauss. Wish more scientists could not only communicate their scientific knowledge with the public so clearly and succinctly, but also show people what it means to reason scientifically.

As for the science vs spirituality (supernatural stuff) debate, let's be honest about it - humanity has come up with 10000 religions, a thousand gods, and countless myths seeking to explain the natural phenomena, but if it weren't for the advent of science (mathematics, algebra, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, scientific method...) our understanding of the world would be non-existent.

Scientifik (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 3:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"My main point was that there is no real dividing line between science and philosophy and that every scientist is implicitly a philosopher."

"My feeling is that it is more plausible that there has always been something, rather than a literal nothing, and our universe sprang in some manner from this eternal something."

I think that the dividing line between science and philosophy is that science isn't anybody's feeling. In other words, to construct a scientific argument, a feeling is not enough. Same for the apparent plausibility. The new theories in science are grounded in our current understanding of science (our ever-expanding body of knowledge about particles, fields, waves, etc), not our feelings or biased notions of plausibility. A person with deep understanding of physics, astronomy, evolution, biology, chemistry has an inherently far greater chance of pushing the boundary of our understanding of the world, than someone who lacks this knowledge. There are no shortcuts to the furtherance of our understanding of the world. Scientific inquiry is the only way...

Scientifik (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 4:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Scientik, based on your comments I suspect you're not a scientist. Scientists are human and make decisions based on feelings and opinions as much as anyone else. The difference is that they're supposed to base feelings and opinions on facts. But facts are almost never 100%. They're always about plausibility and informed judgments and reasonable inference. Hence my qualified statements above that you quote. I'm not anti-science at all - I'm trying to get today's science to be a little more scientific. This is what I mean by "deep science." More to come in future columns.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 22, 2013 at 5:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

TamHunt, you misunderstood my point. Scientists are human but scientific reasoning has basis in our current understanding of science, not our feelings or opinions.

Let me give you an example, if a philosopher has no deep knowledge of microwave background radiation, or the deep knowledge about the expansion of space he may only have feelings about whether the universe is static/eternal or has a beginning and end. It's the scientific knowledge obtained through scientific methods which gives scientific theories about the creation of the universe/planets/stars etc their value and catapults them way above a feeling or opinion of anybody else (in particular, that of a philosopher or religionist).

Scientifik (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 2:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam

You equate "awareness" with "self." I don't. So this isn't being hung on language, but on metaphysical assumptions.

You go on to say, "we can conclude, with absolute certainty, that there is an experiencer here, now, from the mere fact of experience being here, now."

This is precisely what we can't conclude, for reasons Russell and Nietzsche point out in the material quoted in my comments on your next Mini-Discourse in this series.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 8:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Scientifik, I don't think I'm misunderstood your point. Scientists have feelings and opinions about scientific matters. All human judgments are feelings and opinions - yes, all. That's my point and the reason for my carefully-selected language. For a scientist, it's all about plausibility of different conclusions based on the best evidence. As Krauss states above, all judgments are about more or less plausibility. This is one area where I agree entirely with him.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 9:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. The point I've made a few times in different ways is to me as plain as the nose on my face. Actually, a lot plainer b/c the nose on my face could be a simulation, or imagined... But the fact of my own awareness, and therefore, the fact of my existence as a being of some kind that is aware, is incontrovertible and undeniable. I don't understand how you can disagree on this, but so it goes. I've already stated that I agree with Russell's point about limiting Descartes's cogito, so maybe you're just being argumentative at this point?

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 9:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"All human judgments are feelings and opinions - yes, all. "

No, not at all. Not in science. A scientist may for example find a flaw in a scientific study during a peer-review process, but such an observation isn't just a feeling or opinion. No one would stop a scientific paper from being published on the grounds of some fuzzy feeling of a reviewer. The reviewer has to explain where exactly the problem is, is it with data collection, improper use of statistics, etc

Scientifik (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 11:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam
You agree with only part of Russell's point; you ignore the part about his claim that it's illegitimate to go from "there is thinking" to "there is a thinker." Your partial agreement with Russell doesn't change the fact that he, I, and Nietzsche disagree with you on the fundamental issue here, notwithstanding your incredulity about our doing so.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 4:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Scientifik, I suggest you interview some scientists about their ideas, judgments and process. You will find that indeed all of human judgments are feelings and opinions. What is a fact? Something that a lot of people feel is firm knowledge. But facts change as opinions change. Is it a fact that continental plates move slowly as they ride on the earth's mantle? It is now, but it didn't used to be.

What is a theory or a scientific law? Something that a lot of scientists feel has merit in explaining observed phenomena. But theories change all the time, and even laws change over time. It's all a moving process of judgment based on feelings and opinions. That's life.

You mention as an example a peer reviewer finding a flaw in a study. All such flaws are based on the reviewer's opinions and feelings about how studies should be conducted. There's no rulebook written in stone on these things. It's all a matter of opinion and reasoned judgment. That's how science proceeds and how theories can and do change over time.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 24, 2013 at 2:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

pk, I didn't ignore that part of Russell's statements. I clarified that his statements were meant to rebut the Cartesian notion of substance, and the philosophical position of substantialism. I then suggested that my points, based on Whitehead's anti-substantialist process philosophy, addressed your and Russell's critiques.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 24, 2013 at 2:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tam Hunt: "What is a fact? "

Consider this example: People (astronauts) in space are subject to a greater level of radiation coming from the Sun, than people walking on the surface of the Earth (due to the shielding provided by Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere). It's not a feeling or opinion. It's a scientifically proven fact.

Tam Hunt: "What is a theory or a scientific law? Something that a lot of scientists feel has merit in explaining observed phenomena. But theories change all the time, and even laws change over time. It's all a moving process of judgment based on feelings and opinions. "

The process isn't based on feelings and opinions by any means. Scientific theories change in the face of new observations and evidence.

Scientifik (anonymous profile)
August 24, 2013 at 3:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The only way in which I see you addressing the additional part of Russell's claim is by saying that it doesn't pass your personal "laugh test" and that the truth of your contrasting view is "incontrovertible and undeniable," on the grounds that his view doesn't pass the laugh test and yours is incontrovertible and undeniable.

pk (anonymous profile)
August 24, 2013 at 3:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Scientifik, I recommend highly that you read Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. You'll enjoy it.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
August 25, 2013 at 9:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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