Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Argument for Determinism Collapses Once We Discard the "Minds Come from Brains" Dogma

In history organized religions have sometimes taught evil doctrines, such as the doctrine that heretics should be burned at the stake. Governments have sometimes taught evil doctrines, such as the idea that some particular people are subhuman, and deserving of death. And sometimes scientists can teach evil doctrines. There are two evil doctrines taught by a small minority of modern scientists, but not a majority of them. One is the "no free will" doctrine of determinism, and the other is the doctrine that there is an infinity of parallel worlds in which there are an infinite number of copies of each one of us, with every imaginable variation of events. I will explain in this post why both of these doctrines are evil, in the sense of being corrosive to the morality of people who adopt them. Neither of these doctrines is actually a scientific doctrine, as there is no evidence for either of them, and neither of them is capable of being verified. But in the 2017 collection of essays at edge.org entitled “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” there are two essays that attempt to spread one of these evil doctrines. The definition of "evil" I am using here is the definition of "harmful or tending to harm" given by several dictionaries when they define the word "evil." By "evil" I simply mean "pernicious."

The doctrine of the infinity of parallel universes, with an infinite number of copies of you and everyone else, is taught by physicist Frank Tipler in an essay in the 2017 edge.org collection. Tipler states the following:

That is, there has to be a person identical to you reading this identical article right now in a universe identical to ours. Further, there have to be an infinite number of universes, and thus an infinite number of people identical to you in them.

Tipler misinforms us and misleads us by claiming that most physicists believe in this doctrine, and by claiming that its originator Hugh Everett supplied a “proof” for it. Neither statement is true. The most popular interpretation of quantum mechanics is still the Copenhagen interpretation, not Everett's crazy interpretation. Everett supplied neither proof nor the slightest bit of evidence for this theory of parallel universes. And neither does Tipler, who also fails to supply any argument at all for believing in such a thing.

What is called the Everett "many worlds" theory is a theory supposedly based on quantum mechanics. The theory holds that every instant the universe is constantly splitting up into an infinite number of copies of itself, so that every possibility (no matter how unlikely) can be realized. The theory has a name that makes it sound not so unreasonable (with all the planets being discovered, the phrase “many worlds” doesn't sound too farfetched). But the name “many worlds” doesn't describe the nutty idea behind the theory. The theory would be more accurately described as the theory of infinite duplication, because the theory maintains the universe is duplicating itself every second. Or we might also call the theory “the theory of infinite absurdities,” since it imagines that all absurd possibilities (no matter how ridiculous) are constantly being actualized.

There is no evidence whatsoever for this theory, which is endorsed by only a minority of theoretical physicists. The Everett "many worlds" theory has been firmly rejected by physicists such as Adrian Kent, T. P. Singh (who says it has been falsified), and also Casey Blood, who calls it “fatally flawed.” No one has ever observed a parallel universe. We also cannot plausibly imagine such a theory ever being verified. To verify the theory, you would need to travel to some other universe to verify its existence, which is, of course, impossible. Even if you did travel to such a universe, you could never verify the idea that every possibility is occurring in other parallel universes.

Why is the Everett “many worlds” theory an evil doctrine? It is because if a person seriously believed such a doctrine, such a belief would tend to undermine any moral inclinations he had. I will give a concrete example. Imagine you are driving in your car at 2:00 AM on a bitterly cold snowy night, and you see a scantily clad very young child walking alone far from anyone. If you don't believe in the Everett “many worlds” theory, you may stop you car and call the police to alert them of this situation, or do something like give your warm coat to the child to keep her warm. But if you believe in the Everett “many worlds” theory, you may reason like this: regardless of what I do, there will be an infinite number of parallel universes in which the child freezes to death, and an infinite number of other parallel universes in which the child does not freeze to death; so there's really no point in doing anything. So you may then drive on without stopping or doing anything, convinced that the multiverse would still be the same no matter how you acted.

Imagine any moral situation in which you should act in some moral way. In any such situation, your tendency to act morally will be dulled if you believe that there are an infinite number of copies of yourself, and that all possible outcomes will occur an infinite number of times. So the Everett “many worlds” theory is an evil doctrine, if we define an evil doctrine as one that tends to produce evil actions, or reduces the chance of moral behavior.

Another evil doctrine taught by some modern scientists is the doctrine of determinism, that free will doesn't exist. This doctrine has been taught by many believers in the dogma that minds come from brains, and is dependent on such a dogma. Determinism is taught by Jerry Coyne in a post in the 2017 edge.org collection of essays. Coyne states the following:

A concept that everyone should understand and appreciate is the idea of physical determinism: that all matter and energy in the universe, including what’s in our brain, obey the laws of physics. The most important implication is that is we have no “free will”: At a given moment, all living creatures, including ourselves, are constrained by their genes and environment to behave in only one way—and could not have behaved differently. We feel like we make choices, but we don’t. In that sense, “dualistic” free will is an illusion. This must be true from the first principles of physics. Our brain, after all, is simply a collection of molecules that follow the laws of physics; it’s simply a computer made of meat. That in turn means that given the brain’s constitution and inputs, its output—our thoughts, behaviors and “choices”—must obey those laws.

Determinism is an evil doctrine, because it tends to weaken or destroy any sense of shame or guilt a person might have. Determinism offers an excuse (a kind of “get out of jail free” card) for any evil thing that you might do. If you believe that you have no free will, and that everything you do is completely mandated by the particles and electricity in your brain and the laws of physics, you may kill, maim or rape without feeling any sense of guilt at all. Why feel guilty about your conduct, when your neurons and brain chemicals and brain electricity made you do it? A person should only feel guilty about anything if there is free will.

Thankfully, there is a way to completely undermine the evil doctrine of determinism, to make it melt into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy threw a bucket of water on her. We can make determinism melt away by simply discarding the unwarranted doctrine that the human brain generates the human mind. Take a look at Coyne's argument for determinism in the quote above. It is entirely predicated on the dogma that the mind is generated by the brain. But if our minds are not generated by our brains, there is not the slightest reason to doubt our free will. If my mind is some spiritual reality or soul reality or some mental reality that is not generated by my brain, then if I do something wrong I can't blame my neurons or some chemical reactions or electricity in my head; I can only blame my self.

The fact that we can defeat the evil doctrine of determinism, and preserve a belief in free will, is a practical reason for believing that the brain does not make the mind. But such a practical reason is only one of many reasons for believing that minds do not come from brains. They include the following:

  • the fact that there are many dramatic cases in the medical literature of people who had more or less normal minds even though large fractions of the brain (or most of their brains) were destroyed due to injury or disease, including super-dramatic cases of people with good minds but less than 15 percent of their brains;
  • the fact that there is no scientific understanding at all of how brains or neurons could be producing consciousness, thought, understanding or abstract ideas (mental things that are very hard or impossible to explain as coming from physical things);
  • the fact that there is no plausible account to be told of how brains could possibly be storing memories that last for fifty years, given the high protein turnover in synapses, where the average protein only lasts a few weeks;
  • the fact that there is no understanding of how brains could achieve the instantaneous recall of distant, obscure memories that humans routinely show, given the lack of any coordinate system or indexing in a brain that might allow some exact position of a stored memory to be very quickly found;
  • the fact that there is no understanding whatsoever of how concepts, visual information, long series of words, and episodic memories could ever be physically stored by a brain in any way that would translate all these diverse types of information into synapse states or neuron states;
  • the fact that for more than 40 years numerous people have reported vivid near-death experiences occurring after their hearts stopped and their brains were inactive, during times when they had no brain waves, and they should have had no consciousness at all, with many of the medical details they reported during such experiences being independently verified (as described here).

So while there is a practical moral reason for believing that minds do not come from brains, what we may call a reason of convenience, there are many more evidence reasons and logic reasons for thinking such a thing, reasons that hold with equal strength even if we pay no attention to practical consequences.

Do not believe in the evil nonsense of determinism. You are a person with free will and moral responsibility. If you do some evil thing, you should feel guilt, because it is your self who made the bad decision, not your neurons.

As for Everett's "many worlds" theory, the fact that a small minority of physicists believe in such raving nonsense is simply something that exposes as false the myth that the modern scientist is necessarily a very logical thinker deciding on reasons of evidence. Clearly it is very possible for the modern scientist to believe something that is both absurd and unwarranted, whenever such a belief becomes fashionable in his or her little academic tribe. This is another reason why we should never be intimidated by people making arguments along the lines of "it must be true, because most of the scientists believe it."

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