This prominent scientist says life is meaningless… and he’s serious |314|

#1
This prominent scientist says life is meaningless… and he’s serious |314|
by Alex Tsakiris | May 10 | Consciousness Science

Dr. Sean Carroll makes science’s meaningless universe meme sound palatable in his new book, The Big Picture.

photo by: Awesome Inc
Dr. Sean Carroll is a Harvard trained, Cal Tech theoretical physicist with a long list of fellowships, awards and bestselling books, including his latest, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.

Dr. Carroll is not only a respected scientist, but with his many television and movie appearances, a bit of a science celebrity. All of which makes his opinion on consciousness and the meaning of life noteworthy. I recently completed a recorded interview with Dr. Carroll. You can listen to the complete, unedited interview through the link below, or read these excerpts along with my analysis. Let me start with this clip:

Alex Tsakiris: Do you really believe that all human experience can be reduced to chemical reactions in our brain?

Dr. Sean Carroll: Yeah except I wouldn’t use the word ‘just’. And I wouldn’t even use the word ‘reduced’. I certainly wouldn’t use the word ‘illusion’.

Before directly addressing Dr. Carroll answer to this question, I’d point out that throughout this interview I used my pet phrase, “biological robots in a meaningless universe” when characterizing Dr. Carroll’s Naturalism philosophy. I wanted to see if he’d push back, but he never did. The reason is because no matter how he spins it, that is what he’s saying. He may say “meaning isn’t built into the fabric of the universe,” or “meaning and purpose are a social construct,” but it still boils down to the idea that we’re all just biological robots in a meaningless universe. He knows this, so he never challenged my phrasing.

Back to this question, when I asked if everything can be reduced to a chemical reaction in your brain, Dr. Carroll’s answer was, “yes… but I wouldn’t say just.” This is the latest script change on the consciousness question from the meaningless universe crowd. 10 years ago they would just say what philosopher and noted atheist Dr. Daniel Dennett still says, “consciousness is an illusion.” In other words, there is no such thing as human experience so get over it. But somewhere along the way they realized this message/meme doesn’t sell. You can’t tell any rational person outside of academia that everything about their minute-to-minute experience as an illusion. They’d laugh in your face. It’s a crazy idea and it just does not sell outside of their very narrow group. So guys like Dr. Carrolll have changed the script. They now say your experience is this wonderful way we have of “talking about” this “emergent property” called consciousness that happens inside the brain. The trick is to give you something that sounds like what you know (i.e. that you really exist and are experiencing consciousness… duh) while sidestepping the really big questions of purpose and meaning. And also sidestepping the huge metaphysical assumption he’s making when declaring that consciousness is entirely a product of your brain. Keep in mind, Sean is a physicist, he’s not supposed to make metaphysical assumptions. But also keep in mind that this is what he’s doing. Sean can’t say when consciousness begins. He can’t say when it ends. He can’t say what’s necessary and sufficient to cause consciousness. But he wants you to accept his metaphysics and jump through these tortured apologetics about the “fabric of the universe” because he’s really, really committed to his cosmology, and he wants you to be committed too. Unfortunately for Sean, logic gets in the way of his argument. If the universe is meaningless, and you are embedded in that meaningless universe, then there can be no meaning to your life. It can’t be any other way. If there’s real meaning in/to your life, then there’s at least that much meaning in the universe. If the universe is meaningless, if there isn’t even a tiny little smidgen of it anywhere in the universe, then you have zero chance of ever finding it in your life. But again, this is not something Dr. Carroll can sell. He knows that even with his Harvard PhD you’re going to laugh at him if he tries to tell you your life is meaningless, so he’s putting up this elaborate “yes, but…” smoke screen.
 
#2
Credit to Alex for tackling Sean Carroll who is obviously a very accomplished physicist, top notch academic etc. However, I found his judgement naïve, surely he can do better than what amounts to "sensible people don't believe in life after death." Really ? That's the kind of argument you might advance when you're fifteen.. and then this

"Life is short.......I could spend my entire life reading studies on near death experiences and carefully understanding why they're flawed ! "

So "a priori" and without actually looking at the data, he concludes that it's all rubbish so he doesn't need to look anyway. That's exactly the standard head in the sand attitude of the majority of our intellectual masters, "superior" thinkers. "That" can't occur so it doesn't.... end of debate.

Oh and I nearly forgot, Eben Alexander made millions so obviously his NDE was made up.
 
#3
Just a point on the "is just". As Tim Freke said in one interview here "is just" is a demystifyer. It is a linguistic tool that makes us feel above a concept which is a simplified model of a phenomenon embedded in an irreducibly complex reality. I support anyone who pushes back against the usage of "is just" because using it in a fundamentally mysterious and unexplainable universe especially regarding consciousness... is just hubris. :)

When he says he's a naturalist, what he means is that he's a monist who lacks the imagination to conceive of other "natural" realms outside the permeable boundaries of this one. We're all monists when discussing the fundamental nature of reality, but as we move down the scale into layers of complexity it becomes reasonable to classify or impose boundaries upon "realms" that appear to have very different characteristics from one another. If I say there is land and sea I am not giving up monism. Similarly if I say there is the natural and the supernatural realm I'm not giving up monism or saying the supernatural realm is beyond exploration with the tools of science. Anything patterned can be explored with science and even the supernatural appears to have patterns and laws or habits.

So when a naturalist denies the supernatural by asserting monism, we can agree with him on monism and even naturalism to a degree, but remind him that just as on earth we find various biomes and realms with differing dominant forces and rules so the same could be true for larger organizational structures within reality.
 
#4
The cult of naturalism is the latest packaging of the materialistic philosophers. They are also orthodox evangelical members of the church of scientism.

Despite their transitions from materialism to physicalism to naturalism, their beliefs are still incoherent and unscientific.

The sameness of their dogma does not generate interesting interviews despite how many Alex conducts. Kudos to him for his patience.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#5
This is the guy who wants us to believe in the Multiverse idea, that there are unseen, likely inaccessible universes created every moment?

That's more scientific than "consciousness causes collapse"?

Credit to Alex for tackling Sean Carroll who is obviously a very accomplished physicist, top notch academic etc. However, I found his judgement naïve, surely he can do better than what amounts to "sensible people don't believe in life after death." Really ? That's the kind of argument you might advance when you're fifteen.
Just a point on the "is just". As Tim Freke said in one interview here "is just" is a demystifyer. It is a linguistic tool that makes us feel above a concept which is a simplified model of a phenomenon embedded in an irreducibly complex reality. I support anyone who pushes back against the usage of "is just" because using it in a fundamentally mysterious and unexplainable universe especially regarding consciousness... is just hubris. :)
Well remember that Carroll wants us to abandon falsification because it interferes with his faith that there's a Multiverse.

Consider the multiverse. It is often invoked as a potential solution to some of the fine-tuning problems of contemporary cosmology. For example, we believe there is a small but nonzero vacuum energy inherent in empty space itself. This is the leading theory to explain the observed acceleration of the universe, for which the 2011 Nobel Prize was awarded. The problem for theorists is not that vacuum energy is hard to explain; it's that the predicted value is enormously larger than what we observe.
As has been noted a few times the multiverse is a gambit by naturalists to corrupt science in order to use it in a battle against immaterialism in general and here fine-tuning by an entity or entities specifically. (Personally I think the leap to a classical conception of God just from fine tuning is unwarranted, but it's better than the multiverse as an explanation IMO.)

Another time Carroll tried to excuse the lack of evidence for his particular Multiverse faith:

It’s trivial to falsify [MWI],’ boasts the Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll, another supporter: ‘just do an experiment that violates the Schrödinger equation or the principle of superposition, which are the only things the theory assumes.’ But most other interpretations of quantum theory assume them (at least) too – so such an experiment would rule them all out, and say nothing about the special status of the MWI. No, we’d quite like to see some evidence for those other universes that this particular interpretation uniquely predicts. That’s just what the hypothesis forbids, you say? What a nuisance.
If the MWI were supported by some sound science, we would have to deal with it – and to do so with more seriousness than the merry invention of Doppelgängers to measure both quantum states of a photon. But it is not. It is grounded in a half-baked philosophical argument about a preference to simplify the axioms. Until Many Worlders can take seriously the philosophical implications of their vision, it’s not clear why their colleagues, or the rest of us, should demur from the judgment of the philosopher of science Robert Crease that the MWI is ‘one of the most implausible and unrealistic ideas in the history of science’.
 
#7
I asked Dr. Dean Radin to comment. Here's his email:

I read the transcript. Sean Carroll's responses are completely predictable, and wrong.

As you point out, nearly all of the founders of QM thought that there was something special about consciousness. Schrodinger in particular. Larry Dossey's book "One Mind" goes through this history in detail. I talk about it in brief in my publications. Surprisingly, most physicists seem to know nothing about the history or philosophical foundations of quantum theory.

This next statement by Carroll is also very common and dead wrong: "As someone who’s refereeing for these journals and reading them, the standard for accepting some enormously dramatic overthrow of the laws of nature as we know them, is much higher than someone got an article in a peer-reviewed journal."

The reason this is wrong is because the experiment we did was based on John von Neumann's interpretation of the quantum measurement problem. von Neumann was famous for many things, including writing the classic, orthodox book on the mathematics of quantum mechanics. It was he who proposed that the way quantum potentials transitioned into classical actuals was though an "extra-physical" factor, by which he explicitly meant consciousness. If his proposal is true, which our experiments support, it says nothing at all about quantum theory, which pertains only to physical systems. And therefore our results do not overthrow any "laws of nature as we know them."

Instead, what we are finding is what appears to be an element of nature that is not physical, at least not in the sense of matter and energy. This too isn't as radical as it may seem given that a growing number of physicists interpret QM in terms of informational relationships, which are neither matter nor energy.

I've published 17 double-slit experiments so far:

Radin. (2008). Testing nonlocal observation as a source of intuitive knowledge. Explore.

Radin et al (2012). Consciousness and the double-slit interference pattern: Six experiments. Physics Essays.

Radin et al (2013). Psychophysical interactions with a double-slit interference pattern Physics Essays.

Radin et al (2015). Psychophysical interactions with a single-photon double-slit optical system. Quantum Biosystems.

Radin et al (2016). Psychophysical modulation of fringe visibility in a distant double-slit optical system. Physics Essays.


So far two physicists have independently reanalyzed my data (80 GBytes worth) from the 2016 paper and have confirmed that the results I reported are correct. One of those reanalyses have been published; the other will be submitted to a journal soon. To date there has also been one replication attempt, by a physicist at the University of Sao Paulo, and it shows the same effects I've observed. That study is ongoing and hasn't been published yet.


Just as with the "this can't be true" early criticisms of my presentiment experiments (which is now a well-established phenomenon through many independent replications and meta-analyses), I expect that the double-slit outcome will eventually be repeatedly and successfully replicated as well. It's quite a slog having to hack through entrenched academic prejudices, but that's just par for the course.

And BTW, I presented all this as a plenary talk at The Science of Consciousness conference in Tucson earlier in the month.
 
#9
This is the guy who wants us to believe in the Multiverse idea, that there are unseen, likely inaccessible universes created every moment?

That's more scientific than "consciousness causes collapse"?





Well remember that Carroll wants us to abandon falsification because it interferes with his faith that there's a Multiverse.



As has been noted a few times the multiverse is a gambit by naturalists to corrupt science in order to use it in a battle against immaterialism in general and here fine-tuning by an entity or entities specifically. (Personally I think the leap to a classical conception of God just from fine tuning is unwarranted, but it's better than the multiverse as an explanation IMO.)

Another time Carroll tried to excuse the lack of evidence for his particular Multiverse faith:
Perhaps we could co-opt his multiverse beliefs? I mean what's the difference in believing that "there's a natural realm and a supernatural realm and never the twain shall meet...except in rare circumstances" and the Multiverse belief where there are essentially infinite realms we can never meet (except possibly through rare unknown methods)?
 
#10
I know what you mean, but there a temptation among those of us who've moved passed this silliness to discount the extent to which this silliness still rules academia. This interview is a reminder.
If it was just academia most of us would be able to avoid it. Unfortunately the "free" press gives them lots of free press.

Again I appreciate your patience in continuing to confront the ignorance of these people. Selfishly I get greater enjoyment from your interviews with people with more interesting and informed worldviews.
 
#11
Are these "scientist" really as smart as the general population believes? Seems like many of them are very narrow minded and arrogant. Maybe they are just "school" smart, which is a system instead of imagination smart?
There are many kinds of intelligence, but I think it equally or more depends on other factors: curiosity, aversion to risk, status, orientation to authority, stability in one's life, culture, and personal history and upbringing... And perhaps it also depends on the knowledge gained by one's ancestors or in past lives?
 
#12
Are these "scientist" really as smart as the general population believes? Seems like many of them are very narrow minded and arrogant. Maybe they are just "school" smart, which is a system instead of imagination smart?
The "argument from authority" rules in academia these days. Academia has become the last place where you are going to find people questioning the status quo.

I left academia after becoming disgusted by the lack of ethical behavior, the lack of intellectual freedom and the lack of imagination so inherent in the university environment. Students are taught to memorize, not to think. And tenured profs don't feel any obligation to provide evidence for their opinions.
 
#13
Of course it isn't meaningless for a highly esteemed, well remunerated, nicely dressed guy with the means to promote his views to other equally high status players in the same game. It's positively bursting with meaning and will remain so until the lights go out. For anyone outside the reward circle, it's hopeless all the way down. Carroll's message is join in or succumb to the inevitable. It's an exclusive metaphysic, the ultimate high-priesthood of the elect.
 
#14
Of course it isn't meaningless for a highly esteemed, well remunerated, nicely dressed guy with the means to promote his views to other equally high status players in the same game. It's positively bursting with meaning and will remain so until the lights go out. For anyone outside the reward circle, it's hopeless all the way down. Carroll's message is join in or succumb to the inevitable. It's an exclusive metaphysic, the ultimate high-priesthood of the elect.
Nice to see you back, Gabriel.
 
#18
The "argument from authority" rules in academia these days. Academia has become the last place where you are going to find people questioning the status quo.

I left academia after becoming disgusted by the lack of ethical behavior, the lack of intellectual freedom and the lack of imagination so inherent in the university environment. Students are taught to memorize, not to think. And tenured profs don't feel any obligation to provide evidence for their opinions.
Yup. I worked in academia as well....as a secretary, graphic artist, bookkeeper (some of the jobs I had). I observed first hand the intellectual one-upmanship and snobbery. I even worked in the Philosophy Dept. This was 25 years ago, so I'm sure things have gotten much .
 
#19
Yup. I worked in academia as well....as a secretary, graphic artist, bookkeeper (some of the jobs I had). I observed first hand the intellectual one-upmanship and snobbery. I even worked in the Philosophy Dept. This was 25 years ago, so I'm sure things have gotten much .
One summer I worked as a research assistant for a tenured professor who asked me to write a paper on the research we had been doing that summer. I wrote the paper, typed it up and gave it to him for final approval (he didn't suggest any major changes). He submitted the work for peer review, and boy was I shocked when it was published without my name as one of the authors. I was only mentioned in the acknowledgements as the person who typed the paper for the author (my boss). I was told that since he paid for my services as research assistant, he felt no requirement to share authorship with me. He essentially bought a paper and put his name on it. I found out later that he had a history of doing that sort of thing, but stealing work from grad students is extremely common and rarely punished. It's just part of the culture.

This same prof was very quick to punish students caught cheating, including those who bought papers from online sources. He didn't think his actions were comparable to a student doing the same thing because as an academic he felt he was better than they were.
 
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