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Sun, 21 Jul 2019
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Science of the Spirit

Mr. Potato

More anti-free will idiocy from Darwinist Jerry Coyne

© Jan Genge on Unsplash.
It's hard to discern the main point of William Edwards's article The Academic Quarrel over Determinism, as his argument is discursive, confusing, contradictory, and sometimes misleading. In a first reading you may dimly perceive that he has a problem with determinism, and sees the negation of determinism as evidence for free will.

But what does he mean by "free will"? He's not explicit about it. Since he contrasts it with determinism, it appears that for Edwards free will means our physically uncaused ability to change our decisions so that, at a given moment, we could have done something other than what we did.

And what does Edwards mean by "determinism"? He seems fixated on biological determinism — the view that all our actions are coded in our genes, a "DNA-driven view of the social world," as well as a vision that "our future...is written in our DNA." Edwards sees little or no influence of the environment on our actions: "Our trials and triumphs...are encoded in our DNA sequence." But no biologist is a determinist in this sense, as all of us accept that the environment has a huge effect on our actions.

In fact, philosophical determinists — who reject free will because there's no mechanism for "decision" that is free of the physical substance of our brain — base their determinism not on DNA but on the laws of physics. Our brains are made of molecules; those molecules must obey the laws of physics; our decisions derive from brain activity; ergo, our decisions are subject not to an alterable "will" but to physical law. QED: no free will.

Comment: QED? There's no reason to believe the premises that our decisions derive from brain activity or that everything is reducible to physical law. That's scientistic nonsense.

And you needn't believe in pure physical determinism to reject free will. Much of the physical world, and what we deal with in everyday life, does follow the deterministic laws of classical mechanics, but there's also true indeterminism in quantum mechanics. Yet even if there were quantum effects affecting our actions — and we have no evidence this is the case — that still doesn't give us the kind of agency we want for free will. We can't use our will to move electrons. Physical determinism is better described as "naturalism": the view that the cosmos is completely governed by natural laws, including probabilistic ones like quantum mechanics.

Comment: We can't use our will to move electrons? What does Coyne think he's doing every time he tells his fingers to type one letter, word, or sentence, instead of another? Coyne is too much of an ideologically obsessed and possessed idiot to accept it, but there is another point of evidence humans can do such a thing: psychokinesis.


Swearing when hurt actually works, using F-word improves pain tolerance

© Getty
It's official - swearing DOES help us tolerate pain, according to scientific research.

A study found using the F-word when pain strikes, increases pain tolerance by up to a third.

A panel of experts including Keele University's senior lecturer in psychology, Dr Richard Stephens; language expert and author, Dr Emma Byrne; and acclaimed lexicographer Jonathon Green, explored how effective real and new, made-up swear words are in helping to increase pain tolerance and threshold.

The research was built on Dr Richard Stephen's original 2009 study which discovered that swearing can increase pain tolerance in the short term.


Why we see what we want to see: The neuropsychology of motivated perception

sight of eye
Obi-Wan Kenobi once advised Luke Skywalker to not trust his eyes, because "your eyes can deceive you." Most of us can recall an instance from our own non-Jedi lives when these words rang true. Think of a time when your eyes saw what they wished to see: a person you were thinking about in a busy street, a heart-shaped pebble you were looking for on the beach.

This phenomenon, called motivated perception, has been explored in psychological research for decades. Indeed, the world as we conceive it in our awareness is not exactly an accurate representation of what it truly is. Our perception is often biased, selective, and malleable.

Even our desires can affect what we see by impacting the way we process visual information. For example, when presented with an ambiguous figure that could be interpreted either as the letter B or the number 13, participants in one study were more likely to report seeing that which aligned with desirable outcomes over less desirable ones (in this case, drinking orange juice if they saw a letter or drinking a foul-smelling smoothie if they saw a number).

In an earlier study from 1954, when students from rival universities watched the same football game, controversy and disagreement ensued, since the students reported seeing more fouls committed by the other team.

Why are we prone to seeing what we want to see? Recent research published in Nature Human Behavior demonstrates how our motivations and desires can give rise to two biases: a perceptual bias (when our motivations have a top-down influence on our perceptions) and a response bias (when we report seeing what we wish to see). The study, led by researchers from Stanford University, explores how these biases affect our perceptions. It proposes underlying neurocomputational mechanisms that guide these judgments.


Seneca on the antidote to anxiety

"The truth is, we know so little about life, we don't really know what the good news is and what the bad news is,"

Kurt Vonnegut observed in discussing Hamlet during his influential lecture on the shapes of stories. "The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it's really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad," Alan Watts wrote a generation earlier in his sobering case for learning not to think in terms of gain or loss. And yet most of us spend swaths of our days worrying about the prospect of events we judge to be negative, potential losses driven by what we perceive to be "bad news." In the 1930s, one pastor itemized anxiety into five categories of worries, four of which imaginary and the fifth, "worries that have a real foundation," occupying "possibly 8% of the total."

A twenty-four-hour news cycle that preys on this human propensity has undeniably aggravated the problem and swelled the 8% to appear as 98%, but at the heart of this warping of reality is an ancient tendency of mind so hard-wired into our psyche that it exists independently of external events. The great first-century Roman philosopher Seneca examined it, and its only real antidote, with uncommon insight in his correspondence with his friend Lucilius Junior, later published as Letters from a Stoic — the timeless trove of wisdom that gave us Seneca on true and false friendship and the mental discipline of overcoming fear.

Comment: Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius - timeless stoic philosophy that is essential to the human spirit


The dancing species - how moving together in time helps make us human

© Photo by Kate Holt/Flickr
Dancers in traditional dress, Kenya.
Dancing is a human universal, but why? It is present in human cultures old and new; central to those with the longest continuous histories; evident in the earliest visual art on rock walls from France to South Africa to the Americas, and enfolded in the DNA of every infant who invents movements in joyful response to rhythm and song, long before she can walk, talk or think of herself as an 'I'. Dancing remains a vital, generative practice around the globe into the present in urban neighbourhoods, on concert stages, as part of healing rituals and in political revolutions. Despite efforts waged by Christian European and American colonists across six continents over 500 years to eradicate indigenous dance traditions and to marginalise dancing within their own societies, dancing continues wherever humans reside. Any answer to the question of why humans dance must explain its ubiquity and tenacity. In so doing, any answer will challenge Western notions of human being that privilege mind over body as the seat of agency and identity.

Comment: Get off your duff and shake your stuff: The health benefits of dancing


Nature heals: Viewing green spaces linked to more positive mindset and reduced cravings for harmful substances

Nature healing, green spaces

Spending more time outdoors has long been linked to a more positive mindset, but now a study has concluded that just seeing greenery on a day-to-day basis can put us in a better mindset and reduce harmful cravings.
So much of modern life happens indoors. From offices to apartments or homes, most people in today's day and age find themselves cooped up inside for most of the day. Spending more time outdoors has long been linked to a more positive mindset, but now a study has concluded that just seeing greenery on a day-to-day basis can put us in a better mindset and reduce harmful cravings for substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, and junk food.

According to the study out of the University of Plymouth, being able to see greenery and nature from your home will lead to less frequent, and intense cravings. The research builds off of previous work that has established a link between exercising outdoors and reduced cravings, but the study's authors assert that exercise isn't necessary to reap the benefits of nature.

The study is the first of its kind, and its authors say their findings stress the need for cities and communities the world over to invest in and protect public green spaces.

Comment: More on the benefits of nature:

Monkey Wrench

How to stop emotional eating as a coping mechanism

slef talk
I once knew a very heavy man (let's call him Johnny) who ate a half dozen frankfurters whenever he felt too angry, lonely, depressed, anxious, or upset. Unfortunately he felt this way often and believed his frankfurter feasts were necessary to "cope" with these feelings. Johnny thoroughly enjoyed the frankfurters, but was extremely unhappy about his weight, as were his doctors. So he came to me for better coping tools.

Initially, I gave Johnny exactly what he asked for. I showed him some breathing techniques to help deactivate the sympathetic nervous system, which plays a strong role in producing the feeling one must urgently act on the impulse to overeat. I also helped him more specifically label his emotions so he might gain more of a sense of control. But once I'd given Johnny what he asked for, I also explained he might be approaching the entire issue with the wrong mindset.

See, if you consider emotional upset to be a "fire", then Johnny's paradigm was "I must put it out!" But if you think about it, you can have a very intense fire in your living room and, as long as it's contained by an effective fireplace, that fire actually becomes the center of hearth and home. People gather around the fireplace with a roaring fire, share stories, and make memories. It's only when there's a hole in the fireplace which allows sparks and embers to escape that the fire becomes dangerous. Similarly, it's only when emotions are allowed to "jump" out of the fireplace and become actual behavior that damage to your health is done, and this only happens when some type of rational justification makes it "OK" to act against your previously best laid plans.


Singing can create cohesion: Why the community that sings together stays together

© CoD Newsroom/Flickr
At the Illinois American Choral Directors Association conference.
In Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), the movie about the British band Queen, the scene that sticks in my mind depicts the Live Aid concert in London in 1985. Queen belt out their best-loved songs and the crowd is singing along, swaying, clapping and stamping its feet. I could empathise a potent sense of togetherness in the audience, a feeling of cohesion between thousands of fans, coming not only from a shared enjoyment of watching the band but, more importantly, from being part of the music-making. It's no wonder that the film shows the Live Aid donations start to climb during this set: we know that social bonding is associated with more prosocial behaviour. As a researcher, I am interested in how and why this sense of solidity from singing comes about.

Singing is universal. It is found in all cultures and, despite protestations of tone deafness, the vast majority of people can sing. Singing also often occurs in collective contexts: think about sports stadiums, religious services and birthday celebrations. Given these two characteristics, my colleagues and I wondered whether singing is a behaviour that evolved to bond groups together.

Comment: Harmony: The neuroscience of singing


'Real world' knowledge: Bring back home economics - our kids lack basic life skills

home economics
There are a lot of complaints that what is being taught in schools is not very practical in the real world. And it's true.

Modern students can unravel complex mathematical problems, but still lack the skills to put together a meal, or do anything that helps them live as independent human beings.

Sure, parents can pitch in and pick up the slack, teaching their kids skills they do not get at school. But still, the education system can do a better job of preparing these students to survive in the real world.

While schools are perfectly fine letting kids decide what courses to take and allowing them to handle important career and life decisions, they forget to teach them simple life skills that can have a huge impact on their daily lives.

Comment: Additional helpful 'real world' knowledge: The most useful life skills every 20-something should master

SOTT Logo Radio

MindMatters: "Everybody Knows That!" - Mass Beliefs and the Ideas That Shape Them

everybody knows that
If you're human, then chances are you believe something that "everybody knows" to be true. And if you're a thinking human, then chances are you know that such beliefs can turn out to be not so true after all. Everybody knew saturated fat is bad for you, after all. But now they don't and the opposite is true. Fancy that! Whether it's beliefs, emotions, or behaviors, social contagion is a real thing, and it's the shared nature of these phenomena that hold communities together in one relatively cohesive whole. Good, bad, or ugly, we all have to deal with trends, fads, memes, and world views.

But every mass belief has to start somewhere. How do we account for the source of new ideas? If two or more people come up with the same new idea at the same time, with no knowledge of each other, how do we account for that? Coincidence? Or something more? On a more general level, where do ideas even come from? What is creativity? How to trends propagate? And what is it that gives them their stubborn power to resist change?

Tune in today to MindMatters, where we tackle the age-old conflict between stability and change, repetition and novelty, order and chaos - and the mass beliefs that hold them all together.

Running Time: 00:55:34

Download: MP3 — 50.9 MB