## Re: I had no idea sleeping next to someone was so dangerous.

1

I wish that chart would clarify the difference between an Sv, an mSv, and a uSV (can't make the little u symbol). I understand one is a micro-Sievert, and I think it's the uSv, but I'm not positive. If so, what's a mSv?

Posted by: wrenae | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:33 PM
2

I guess that's one of the advantages of a long-distance relationship?

Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:35 PM
3

A thousand milli-Sv (mSv) in a Sv (Sv). A thousand micro-Sv (uSv) in a milli-Sv (mSv). A thousand nano-Sv (nSv) in a micro-Sv (uSv). Like any other unit.

Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:36 PM
4

μ is micro; mSv is milli. 1000 μSv = 1 mSv = .001 Sv.

Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:36 PM
5

mSv stands for millisievert, which is one one-thousandth of a sievert, and one thousand microsieverts. Right?

Posted by: Ace K | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:36 PM
6

1: Lowercase m is milli -- one one-thousandth. The 'u' looking thing is a Greek letter mu, and is a micro, one-millionth.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:37 PM
7

So pwned.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:37 PM
8

It's just the same only metric prefixes, you know. A milli-whatever is a thousandth of a whatever; a micro-, a millionth; and so on. One could also talk of centisieverts and decasieverts and so on.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:42 PM
9

And, for future reference, that "u" thing is a "μ".

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:42 PM
10

Now, are there any other questions I can answer?

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:42 PM
11

Now they just need to combine things, like what's your added risk from sleeping next to someone who eats 2 bananas every day? (Sleeping next to someone and Banana's are both potassium 40 issues.) Also, sleeping next to two people is twice as dangerous as sleeping next to one.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:42 PM
12

I can field wrenae's question if no one else is up to it.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:43 PM
13

What about sleeping next to Bananas in Pajamas?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:44 PM
14

U:"Pe,tgi"(9) has concerns about monkey orgies.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:44 PM
15

10: why is it a capital S in µS, but a lower-case s in "microsievert"? No fair saying "because the ISO says so".

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:47 PM
16

s is seconds.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:48 PM
17

Well I'll be.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:49 PM
18

Are there other SI units where the same capitalization rules apply?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:50 PM
19

Yes, he answers: why is kelvin "K" and why are amperes "A"?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:50 PM
20

And just try and give me a reasonable explanation for daltons.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:51 PM
21

And waitaminute: it's Sv, not S. Don't mess with me, man.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:52 PM
22

Oops, sorry I misunderstood your question.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:52 PM
23

sleeping next to two people is twice as dangerous as sleeping next to one

Sleeping with two people is exponentially more dangerous than sleeping with one, if the two aren't aware of each other.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:52 PM
24

Also I just realized I actually know why it's capitalized in the abbreviation (its a perfectly logical reason), but that perfectly logical reason makes it all the more puzzling that it isn't capitalized when written out.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:53 PM
25

I thought both the dalton and the connery were Imperial units.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:53 PM
26

I'm not sure why I capitalized that.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:55 PM
27

Presumably if SI units are always lowercase imperial Units are Randomly upperCase.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:57 PM
28

So why is it capitalized in the abbreviation?

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 12:58 PM
29

28: SI units derived from proper names are capitalized in the abbreviation, but all SI units are lowercase when written out, which is what prompted my original "but... why?1?"

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:00 PM
30

"K" is capitalized to distinguish it from "k"?

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:01 PM
31

all SI units are lowercase when written out

Really? Kelvins, Joules, and Newtons should be kelvins, joules, and newtons? Weird.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:11 PM
32

The only units I understand are GeV, so none of this means anything to me. Oh, I guess I also understand Planck units, but those are just silly.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:12 PM
33

My guess is that camelCase, with internal caps, didn't use to be an option -- milliKelvins was thought of as a typographical impossibility. So units are uppercase if derived from a proper noun, lowercase if derived from a common noun, but always lowercase where there's a prefix.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:12 PM
34

My guess is that camelCase, with internal caps, didn't use to be an option -- milliKelvins was thought of as a typographical impossibility.

Pending further support for this statement I'm filing it with "ancient Egyptians had no concept of squirrels".

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:15 PM
35
Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:17 PM
36

"ancient Egyptians had no concept of squiRrels"

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:17 PM
37

It was clearly labeled a guess, neb. But other than in names starting with Mc, or Mac, I don't think I ever saw camelCase in something from before the eighties or nineties.

Also, squirrels.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:19 PM
38

A sievert is just a J/kg? Why do we need another word for that?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:20 PM
39
Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:22 PM
40

38: look at the difference between sievert and gray. They're both J/kg, but measure very different things.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:23 PM
41

Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:23 PM
42

My mom sends emails with long subject lines, written in camelCase. I don't know why.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:23 PM
43

What kind of name for a unit is 'gray'?

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:25 PM
44

A name based on a person's name, I would guess.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:27 PM
45

If I were in charge of the SI, the symbol for the gray would be "Gr", not "Gy".

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:27 PM
46

If I were in charge of the SI, the symbol for the gray would be "Granimal"

Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:36 PM
47

Alternately, if I were in charge of the SI, I would make every issue the swimsuit issue.*

*Actually, I really wouldn't. Just joking.

Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:38 PM
48

If I were picking a whole word to represent the symbol for gray, I'd probably just go with Gray.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:38 PM
49

45: O GNO U GOT THE GAY FROM THE NUKULAR GAYACTOR LOOKIT 10000000000 µGy ALL IN YOUR BUTTHOLE

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:38 PM
50

The wavelength is too long to be harmful.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 1:58 PM
51

So units are uppercase if derived from a proper noun, lowercase if derived from a common noun, but always lowercase where there's a prefix.

I WUZ ROBBED!

Posted by: OPINIONATED GEORG SIMON OHM | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:00 PM
52

50: I'll bet you say that to all the girls.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:00 PM
53

52: Frequently.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:02 PM
54

It's a bit of a stretch to call it relevant but I just discovered that there is an ISO standard for brewing tea. ISO 3101 to be precise.

Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:04 PM
55

53: oh, that hertz.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:04 PM
56
Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:07 PM
57

50: But how do you reconcile that with the scary stuff in the link in 41?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:09 PM
58

The potential for harm comes not from ionization but from heating, You're holding a small, inefficient microwave next to your head. Effects are unproven, but not a priori impossible. Headset or speakerfone (but not in your lap while driving, dude) solves the problem.

Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:15 PM
59

57: Two possibilities -- one, the scary stuff in the link in 41 is anecdotal coincidence, and has nothing to do with anything, or two, cell phones are putting out radiation at harmful wavelengths.

My guess is the first -- enough people have been using cell phones intensely enough, for long enough, that if there was a serious effect we wouldn't be arguing about whether there was an effect. But I've been wrong before.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:16 PM
60

But 41 mentions a bunch of European studies of doom.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:18 PM
61

There was a study recently that I'm too lazy to google that seemed to show that cell phones do something or other measurable to parts of the brain near the ear (like, cause differential activation in a funny, not-obviously-functional way), but as I recall its conclusions could be summed up as "there might well still be something to keep looking at here".

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:19 PM
62

That was on NPR. With the volume turned off, brains still reacted to voices on cell phones, or something.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:21 PM
63

62: yeah, more or less. But it didn't strike me as super meaningful when I read it; it certainly seemed like it had been boosted way out of proportion by the press release.

The short form seems to be: no, cell phones aren't dangerous, but yes, it is possible that the transmitters in phones have some kind of mild effect on nearby parts of the brain.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:25 PM
64

There was a Danish study of hundreds of thousands of people over a decade or more that found nothing.

To me 41 looks like the usual thing -- a combination of innumerate journalists looking to scare people, and the inevitable fact that if you do enough studies some of them will find effects, and those will be much more likely to get published.

I don't deny that there might be thermal effects with biological consequences, as lw says, but I find it deeply implausible that cancer is among those consequences. And it's not like the things are heating up your brain all that much.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:25 PM
65

Somehow I'm terrible at critically reading articles that tap my perennial fears, which are cars, environmental toxins, and I forget what else.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:27 PM
66

I'm given to understand that high levels of cell phone use give undergraduates the ability to predict the location of erotic stimuli.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:27 PM
67

I mean, do you worry about sitting next to a light bulb? What about next to a fireplace?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:28 PM
68

65: Alzheimer's.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:28 PM
69

A scary fireplace?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:28 PM
70

It's like a TINY FIRE NEAR YOUR BRAIN!

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:28 PM
71

With the volume turned off, brains still reacted to voices on cell phones, or something.

But do animals with their brains turned off react to voices on cell phones?

Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:29 PM
72

71 is hilarious.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:32 PM
73

cell phones aren't dangerous

Yeah, cell phones aren't dang-- Aaiieeeee!!!

Posted by: Opinionated Motorist | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:32 PM
74

66 is pretty hilarious too, dammit.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:33 PM
75

67: Wouldn't microwaves penetrate deeper than heat from those?

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:34 PM
76

75: Yeah, I'm being unfair, longer-wavelength radiation is more likely to penetrate deeper without getting reflected or absorbed or scattered or something. But that's also more or less why it isn't harmful.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:37 PM
77

In contrast to IR, microwave radiation is not all absorbed by surface tissue.

Here's a review article:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19826127
And a possible mechanism:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15754340

I think this is an extremely low-level risk (possibly 0), less serious than say mercury amalgam fillings.

Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:39 PM
78

74 is bizarre.

I sometimes think I should write an essay or something about the "two scientific cultures": on the one hand, you have people who think that statistically significant results of a careful study always have to be taken seriously, even when they conflict with everything we already know, and on the other, you have the people who take the body of nearly-certain knowledge we've already accumulated so seriously that you have a very strong prior basis on whether or not you believe something new. I notice that a lot of times experimentalists are more in the first camp, whereas as a theorist I'm way over in the second. Of course, I tend to think people in the first camp don't really understand science (when I hear the words "scientific method" I reach for my gun brace myself for oncoming misconceptions).

I mean, even a double-blind study by the most careful researchers in the world that finds 10-sigma statistical evidence for ESP would be just wrong. We understand how the world works way too well for that to be a possibility.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:42 PM
79

I mean, even a double-blind study by the most careful researchers in the world that finds 10-sigma statistical evidence for ESP would be just wrong. We understand how the world works way too well for that to be a possibility.

If you could set it up yourself and replicate it at will? I don't expect anything of the sort to happen, obviously, but while I lean the same way you do in general (like, being able to find a study showing a statistically significant effect from prayer? Doesn't convince me of anything.) isn't there a point where enough experimental data, from enough sources, would make you start adjusting your theories?

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:46 PM
80

78: to be fair, the vast, vast majority of the psychology community think he's being ridiculous. There was an extensive rebuttal in the very same journal issue where that was published that made the same argument (there should be a very strong prior bias against taking obvious nonsense seriously). From what I've seen people are mostly using it as a teachable moment about the problem of relying purely on (weak) statistically significant effects without thinking about plausible models.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:47 PM
81

Well, sure. But if you could replicate it at will, we would already all live in a world where we knew ESP existed, and the laws of physics would be very different. So I know that won't happen.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:47 PM
82

Heating all seems like an unlikely mechanism, because all this tissue has large amounts of fluid being quickly pumped through it.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:49 PM
83

What's odd about 71 is that I was so sure I'd seen linked or described here. By Sifu.

Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:49 PM
84

all s/b also

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:50 PM
85

isn't there a point where enough experimental data, from enough sources, would make you start adjusting your theories?

Barring a coherent model or validating data from completely methodologically unrelated studies, probably not. Of course, a bunch of unimpeachably strong, reproducible results from good researchers would be a strong indication that it might be interesting to look into said models and data.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:50 PM
86

Could microwaves fuck around with the electrolytes near neurons?

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:51 PM
87

But, yeah, also it isn't going to happen.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:51 PM
88

83: amazing! Either you're psychic, or I'm repetitive. I definitely vote for the former. You're definitely psychic. That's the option I'd definitely go with.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:52 PM
89

I suppose I'm imagining a situation where there were necessary conditions to make the effect show up that had just been figured out now, but now that they were understood, could be easily replicated. Still, not going to happen, but not self evidently impossible just because it hadn't been reliably observed in the wild.

But all I was looking for was the "Well, sure."

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:52 PM
90

89: so, e.g., if psychic powers only manifested themselves after decades of heavy cell-phone use.

I'M JUST SAYING.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:54 PM
91

89: But I think the first best response would be to look for some flaw in experimental or equipment design that led to deceptive results--even if they could be replicated.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 2:56 PM
92

Barring a coherent model

People are staggeringly talented at developing models. This is just something I think about sometimes.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:00 PM
93

91: Oh, absolutely. I meant to stipulate that the tires were all kicked on that sort of thing, and that whatever the effect was really did show up reliably. And I'm not expecting anything of the sort to happen, just thinking that if it did, eventually the theory has to bend to account for it.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:00 PM
94

The incoherent models I've met were usually just lightheaded from hunger, or on ketamine.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:01 PM
95

Fucking ESP, how does it work?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:02 PM
96

I meant to stipulate that the tires were all kicked on that sort of thing

But this is hand-waving all the, you know, science.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:02 PM
97

I wish I understood the possible mechanism linked in 77. It looks like they're citing one of their earlier papers for the claim that GHz radiation can disrupt protein folding. I don't have sufficient expertise to guess at whether this is plausible. Is there a known process happening in protein folding on characteristic time scales of order a nanosecond?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:04 PM
98

Cell phones are in the MHz range, no?

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:07 PM
99

Yeah, which is what they actually write. Don't know where I got GHz. So: is there a known process happening in protein folding on characteristic timescales of order a microsecond?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:09 PM
100

Wait, aren't cell phones in the hundreds of MHz range? Looks like it. So 100s MHz to GHz would actually be a better thing to study, wouldn't it?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:11 PM
101

96: No, it's stipulating that once you'd done all the, you know, science to your satisfaction, and still had replicable data that didn't fit your theories, then it would be time to start monkeying with the theories. I agree that this is very unlikely to actually come up, just nitpicking about the proper reaction if it did.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:11 PM
102

Aren't they pretty close to 1 GHz? Am I reading this right?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:12 PM
103

Maybe! But I don't actually understand hardly any of the article. So maybe not?

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:12 PM
104

103->99.

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:13 PM
105

Pwned-y pwned pwned.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:13 PM
106

86: Some possibility along those lines is the reason I didn't just ignore the issue when it first came up but since then lots of studies have been done and no statistically significant effects have appeared (that I know of, at least). A more promising candidate for that sort of thing would be Bluetooth headsets, anyway - they operate near a resonance of water molecules, so there's at least a not entirely crazy possibility that some mechanism exists to fuck up some subtle thing going on in cells. I suppose there could be some critically important protein that has a resonance right in the middle of one of the GSM bands, but I don't actually believe the resonance hypothesis anyway - I just want people to take the damn headsets off, and I'm willing to resort to fear mongering if necessary.

Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:18 PM
107

The experiments are pretty easy (subject your cells of interest to the right radiation, measure) and the results are murky at best; this combination inclines me to think there is no measurable risk, but it's not like the 60Hz scare.

This looks believable, but still no mechanism:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19649291

Not just protein folding, but the speed with which protein complexes bind to DNA is relevant.

I have a hard time imagining anything except heat as relevant, and the mechanisms posited are more complicated than heating.

Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:22 PM
108

Here's a paper [PDF] with an introduction and results that are more comprehensible, which finds nothing surprising (i.e., most of the results of applying microwaves to proteins seem to come just from heating).

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:23 PM
109

I like that essear is a proponent of a theory that requires, like, eleven extra dimensions but ESP? Ruled out a priori.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:39 PM
110

The claim is only that ESP under normal circumstances is impossible, not that hypothetical creatures that only existed at Planck energy scales couldn't have ESP...

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:44 PM
111

Four of the seven unobserved dimensions in my vicinity are full of porn.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:46 PM
112

109: I wouldn't say "a priori"; rather, by known experimental results. There are precisely two long-range forces* in our universe: electromagnetism and gravity. Neither provides a mechanism for ESP.

On the other hand, experiment doesn't constrain small extra dimensions very well, so I'm free to think abut them. Not sure to what extent I'm a proponent of any particular theory, though.

* Okay, there might be some very small room to fit in something else that interacts so extremely weakly with normal matter that we haven't noticed. But again, if that's the case it's not going to give rise to a macroscopic effect like ESP.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:52 PM
113

110: Sure, but "impossible" things have been observed in the past, and we've had to revise physics as a result.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:55 PM
114

I should emphasize that I don't think there's any evidence for ESP, nor do I expect any.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 3:57 PM
115

To essear's asterisk, what if this hypothetical force interacts more strongly with particular complicated arrangements of matter?

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:00 PM
116

There are a lot of crazy phenomena going on in quantum theory that not only went against previous theories, but against basic common sense about what it means to be an object. But they were replicated. Like LB said in the replicable ESP case, once the combination of circumstances was known, it became easy to produce the phenomena. So, theory adjusted.

Its seems weird that scientists now say "ESP, that's absurd!" and "Oh yes, the electron goes through both of these separate slits at the same time. That's just common sense!"

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:08 PM
117

115: No, there's really no way to make that work.

116: It's hard to overstate how much more we know about the way the world works now than people did in 1900. There's really no room for that sort of fundamental surprise anymore. Which isn't to say there might not be new revolutions waiting for us, just that if there are, they involve either extremely weak interactions or very short distances, not anything that's going to have any real use in the everyday world.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:17 PM
118

I like it when smart, articulate people show up and explain what I'm thinking. More of this, please.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:18 PM
119

essear is such a killjoy.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:21 PM
120

117.2 is among the most depressing things I've read recently, and that's saying something. Fortunately, I can take some comfort in thinking that it's wrong.

Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:23 PM
121

I move we close the patent office.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:24 PM
122

Well, there's always room for dramatic progress in things like high-temperature superconductivity that could be useful. But that's all built out of the pieces we already understand -- atoms and electrons and whatnot -- producing complicated results when you arrange them in certain ways. What there's no room for is something like ESP, which would go fundamentally beyond what arrangements of atoms and electrons and photons are capable of doing.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:25 PM
123

117.1: My point wasn't that such a thing was physically possible, based on what we know, but that such an interaction would be difficult to detect, and current theory would never be tested against it.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:27 PM
124

122: it would be silly for me to argue the specifics with you. My point was just that history is littered with eras, and the corpses of the people living within them, who were sure that this or that frontier had closed. And those people were usually wrong. Circumstances change, sometimes abruptly, so I'll take comfort from the thought that there are still great discoveries that will have "real use in the everyday world" waiting to be made.

Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:35 PM
125

such an interaction would be difficult to detect

Except in its production of ESP, which is not actually observed... so...

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:35 PM
126

It isn't possible for some new force to interact with complicated objects -- brains, say -- in ways that don't arise from interactions with the individual electrons or protons or electromagnetic fields making up that brain. If it were, it would grossly violate things like locality that are extremely well-tested. But we've parametrized every possible interaction among electrons, protons, and photons and measured them all; there's nothing lurking there that isn't either already understood or extremely weak.

Anyway, I don't know why this should be that depressing. Just look at how much technological progress is made even with physics that was understood some time ago; who, in 1900, would have envisioned the rise of the cell phone, much less the fucksaw?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:35 PM
127

I think essear's claim was only in reference to fundamental physics.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:36 PM
128

But like everyone else in this part of the thread, I'd like to distance myself from the "ESP is freals, man" crowd.

Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:36 PM
129

I think essear's claim was only in reference to fundamental physics.

I suspected that was the case. And given that, my relative lack of knowledge suggests that I should shut up. Still, I'll hold out hope that somebody or something will upend much of what we think we know about physics, opening doors to who knows what. Time travel? Teleportation? Chocolate-covered bacon?

Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:38 PM
130

I think a lot of the really exciting discoveries on the horizon are going to come from having access to huge amounts information. For example, it seems like within not too long we'll be able to completely understand everything about some small simple bacteria. That is we would understand all the molecules in it, what they do, and how they interact. That'd be really fantastic. But understanding big complicated systems better is a different issue than discovering new fundamental phenomena.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:40 PM
131

125: Maybe it has been observed but we're just not any good at reproducing it, and are thus incorrect when we dismiss anecdotes as the result of pareidolia.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:43 PM
132

130: Yeah. Certainly it's no less interesting as an intellectual project. Fundamental physics seems deep, but I have to admit to a certain queasiness about the future of the undertaking -- the LHC will tell us something, but we don't know how much, and then going any further won't be very feasible, for economic reasons if nothing else. Meanwhile, there's no shortage of equally, if not more, challenging questions about all the rich emergent properties the world has on the scales we can see with our eyes.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:45 PM
133

131: certainly. How many angels would you say it would take?

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:45 PM
134

83, 88: It's lost in the hoohole, but I also posted it (as "OPINIONATED DEAD ATLANTIC SALMON"). In response to a comment by Tweety.

Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:47 PM
135

126: [all caveats expressed by everyone apply]

Start from the observation that 10,000 showings of "I Love Lucy" have impinged upon my body and every cellphone call within a few miles is doing so right now, and that it is but for the want of an antenna and the requisite hardware and software to capture and decode them that I remained oblivious to them. Would there not be the possibility of person-to-person ESP that did not *necessarily* violate fundamental physics, but rather "just" physiology (no transmitters, receivers etc.). And of course we have never measured the appropriate EM fields. But still not necessarily an overthrow of fundamental physics?

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:48 PM
136

132 should reassure you worrywarts. There are plenty of good questions, they just might not be in particle physics. Just because we're asymptotically approaching some bound doesn't mean we understand the complete space.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:51 PM
137

I mean, hey, you can "read" people's minds at a certain, crude level with fMRI. That's neat!

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:52 PM
138

How often do new fundamental physics discoveries have real applications anyway? Do we have any everyday applications of say: the other generations of matter (muons, strange quarks), neutrinos, or general relativity? It seems to me we've long been past the time when fundamental physics discovery was relevant to real-life applications.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:53 PM
139

I wouldn't be surprised if we are able to read people's minds in the future, but it won't involve new physics and it won't work over distances.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:54 PM
140

128:Epistemic closure is freals, man. We now understand perfection in the physical, social, political, and economic realms and we simply have to do the hard boring of fully documenting and implementing it.

All the waves collapsed and all the cats died when the Berlin Wall fell. Fukuyama, fuck ya!

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:55 PM
141

As long as I stay ignorant of fundamental physics, it's all new and exciting to me.

Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 4:58 PM
142

135: Sure. So, let's posit that the kind of ESP test we have in mind isn't brain-to-brain communication, but, say, identifying a card that's been chosen at random in another room, and to good approximation the only way to tell what the card is is looking at it in the visible spectrum, and no light reflecting off it is reaching the eyes of the test subject. Then I think we can pretty much rule out normal-physics explanations if the test subject always knows what the card is.

138: I've heard that GPS uses some general relativity corrections, and there's at least been talk of somehow using cosmic-ray muons as a sort of tomography with archaeological applications. But yeah, mostly I think you're right. I find it kind of obnoxious when people use the "well, you never know, surely in the far future we'll be using Higgs bosons in unexpected technological applications!" argument to try to justify particle physics.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:00 PM
143

"Those Higgs bosons got my dishes so fresh and clean!"

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:01 PM
144

There's also been talk of using neutrino beams to remotely disable nuclear weapons, but I think that was pretty implausible.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:02 PM
145

I'm feeling pretty confident that invisibility cloaks are going to show up sooner or later. That's pretty physics-y!

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:03 PM
146

who, in 1900, would have envisioned the rise of the cell phone, much less the fucksaw?

HG Wells. Hell, he probably built one.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:06 PM
147

So: is there a known process happening in protein folding on characteristic timescales of order a microsecond?

Lots. I have no idea whether that makes any cell phone-->protein folding-->DOOM!!! scenarios plausible or not.

Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:18 PM
148

The fucksaw does seem highly likely to have been around in 1900 in some form. I'd guess the most implausible thing to a turn of the century chap would be something completely intangible like a website, or maybe x-rays. See your own bones!

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:29 PM
149

I find it kind of obnoxious when people use the "well, you never know, surely in the far future we'll be using Higgs bosons in unexpected technological applications!" argument to try to justify particle physics.

People sometimes say this about math too. No, this stuff will really never, ever, ever be of any use. It will just help other people find results which will never, ever, ever be of any use.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:30 PM
150

I move we close the patent office.

Seconded!

Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:32 PM
151

142.1: Agreed.

I think plate tectonics is an example of a scientific revolution on a "macro" scale which did not overthrow a lot of fundamental underlying geologic knowledge yet fundamentally altered its whole overall framework and led to many avenues of new research and learnings.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:33 PM
152

The fucksaw does seem highly likely to have been around in 1900 in some form.
Yep.

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:34 PM
153

149: I dunno, I feel like math had a huge "all of this stuff we thought was pointless is now useful" moment with the advent of the computer. I'm not convinced that could never happen again. I mean, shit, people find practical uses for category theory.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:44 PM
154

152: You know, I've heard this before, and it still sounds to me like it must be an urban legend or something. Doctors were just so overwhelmingly bored by giving orgasms to a steady stream of women coming to see them that they had to invent machines to take the hard work off their hands?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:47 PM
155

I'd guess the most implausible thing to a turn of the century chap would be something completely intangible like a website, or maybe x-rays. See your own bones!

Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:50 PM
156

I dunno, I feel like math had a huge "all of this stuff we thought was pointless is now useful" moment with the advent of the computer.

Pfft. That one monk figured out the Mandelbrot set long before the computer.

Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:51 PM
157

149, 153: Or see the Radon Transform and computerized tomography. Although the latter was pioneered by Cormack apparently with no knowledge of Radon's work 40 years earlier.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:53 PM
158

It isn't possible for some new force to interact with complicated objects -- brains, say -- in ways that don't arise from interactions with the individual electrons or protons or electromagnetic fields making up that brain. If it were, it would grossly violate things like locality that are extremely well-tested. But we've parametrized every possible interaction among electrons, protons, and photons and measured them all; there's nothing lurking there that isn't either already understood or extremely weak.

the trouble is that not only does this argument rule out the possibility of extra-sensory perception, it also appears to rule out the possibility of perception (as it's normally understood) at all. A fully specified physical model of this sort doesn't have any first-person perspective in it.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 5:56 PM
159

the rich emergent properties the world has on the scales we can see with our eyes.

Oh, crumbs. Reduce those quickly before someone starts another special science.

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:02 PM
160

158: Is what I said that unclear?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:03 PM
161

A fully specified physical model of this sort doesn't have any first-person perspective in it.

Daniel, I always thought of you as more of a Dennett man.

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:05 PM
162

Daniel, I always thought of you as more of a Dennett man.

No persons in a physicalist stance; seems fine (and true) to me. I'm not deep into Dennett's work but it's not clear to me how really real (whether this is understood in a metaphysical realist way or not) Dennett thinks the stuff he's talking about in, e.g., "Real Patterns" is. Isn't he a sophisticated functionalist at heart?

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:09 PM
163

Back at observations, a handy list of recent radiation measurements in Berkeley.

Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:10 PM
164

||

I saw a nice line today, written by a person for whom English is not their first language, about a difficult project.

"It requires only and all my effort."

I want that as a motivational poster.

|>

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:17 PM
165

I actually don't know much about Dennett, although I've noticed that he writes nicely and that he's sceptical of various traditional philosophical concepts (the concept of a proposition, for instance). I suppose I think of him as a functionalist with an eliminativist view of qualia. Have just spent the last month reading Jaegwon Kim, who's given himself the task of showing how functionalism leads back to reductionist physicalism. And is convincing, but then I'll tend to agree with whichever author I last read. So imagine my distress at stumbling into this thread.

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:25 PM
166

Dennett's a big dude.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:26 PM
167

||
So I more or less had an interview today at another (arguably even more fucked up but less evil version of my) federal agency. The building had a cool huge WPA mural in the lobby. And they made me go thru the metal detector despite my credential from my obviously superior department.
|>

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:46 PM
168

I learned on the subway yesterday that there is a line of outerwear with the logo "Dsquared fighting dudes."
In the realm of more useful fields, biology/biochemistry is sort of at a point of converting a lot of unknown unknowns into known unknowns. So I think it's much more open to accepting results from well run studies absent any unifying model, in the spirit of, "Shit, another phenomenon that we can now observe but have no idea how to explain it."

Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 6:48 PM
169

Math is pretty cheap, so it's relatively easy to justify based on rare but very successful applications (Calculus, cryptography). Physics is a lot more expensive, but I don't think it's fair to expect all of physics to be justified practically. In order to have a healthy field you want some people working on fundamental issues. Other people will be working on the practical stuff. Physics continues to have lots of important practical breakthroughs, it's just that they're not currently likely to come from fundamental physics.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:09 PM
170

on rare but very successful applications (Calculus, cryptography).

Also, universal computing machine.

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:21 PM
171

166: Dennett's a big dude.

Be careful sleeping next to him, Tweety.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:23 PM
172

I also want to second Stormcrow in 135. All sorts of fun x-files stuff could be possible without introducing new basic forces.

In general, I think essear has taken too much of the burden of proof onto himself. The main thing that lets you dismiss parapsychology is that extraordinary hypotheses require extraordinary evidence. I don't have to listen to these freaks until they've got something good.

But if you turn around and say that the parapsychological phenomenon is impossible, then you are putting the burden on yourself and worse yet, trying to prove a negative. That's not something I would try.

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:27 PM
173

That seems silly. I mean, apart from the usual epistemological bullshit about whether we can ever know anything, you're not comfortable with making definite statements? How about "it's impossible for a human to leap all the way to the moon"? Should I be afraid of having the burden of proving that this is false?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:35 PM
174

I didn't say it was impossible to ever prove something impossible. That statement would be unprovable. I just think it is much more difficult than you think it is.

If you had stuck with "no one will ever identify another basic physical force that acts over long distances" I'd defer to your judgment. But if you are talking about something like ESP, which is described with ordinary language and could be realized by any mechanism you care to dream up, then I think the impossibility claim is harder to prove.

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:42 PM
175

If a human was going to leap to the moon, they should have tried the other night when it was like 12 feet closer than ever.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:47 PM
176

And they should have started from a rooftop. Just to be practical.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:48 PM
177

Wearing high heels.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:49 PM
178

And a top hat.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:52 PM
179

Seriously, "Papa, plea/se get the mo/on for me"- talk about setting unrealistic expectations for a kid's life.

Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:53 PM
180

After growing out one's fingernails as long as possible.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:53 PM
181

18: and a monocle, so as to maximize Mr Peanut resemblance?

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:54 PM
182

I still think this is kind of silly. There is a set of things that we know with as much confidence as it's possible to know something, some of which are positive claims about the world and some of which are negative -- water is necessary for our lives, Santa Claus doesn't really deliver presents on Christmas, matter is made out of atoms, Republicans suck, I can't make people spontaneously combust just by frowning really hard at them no matter how much I try, LB's logic in any given argument is sound -- and "information about distant events doesn't enter people's minds unless their sense register a physical signal from that event" is such a thing. I don't care about the word "prove" or any other epistemological subtleties, I'm just using words in an ordinary-language way and claiming that all of these things are as certain as can be.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:54 PM
183

How on earth does a monocle heighten one's ability to jump to the moon? Frivolous.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:54 PM
184

Mr Peanut wears high heels?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:54 PM
185

"sense" s/b "senses" in 182

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:55 PM
186

Look like those heeled boots for men, to me.

Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:56 PM
187

essear doesn't even rent a metaphysical aspect.

Posted by: Jimmy Pongo | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 7:57 PM
188

He appears to be wearing spats.

A peanut wearing spats! Now I've seen everything. Traffic signs indoors! Whatever.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:00 PM
189

heebie, I just saw the grasscloth wallpaper you posted about on your LJ a month ago and it gives me an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for my childhood home.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:08 PM
190

Isn't it marvelous! I ordered a bunch of samples and it was still my favorite, so I ordered it.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:13 PM
191

which is described with ordinary language and could be realized by any mechanism you care to dream up

Let's hear 'em!

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:14 PM
192

You have three light switches in one room and three lightbulbs in another room and once you exit the first room you can't return and you have to figure out which lightbulb corresponds to which switch, but you do have someone thinking the right answer as hard as they can at you.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:20 PM
193

You have to figure out what it means when the french lady invites you up to her apartment without asking her directly.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:22 PM
194

No, I think it's once you enter the room with the lights you can't exit.

Which makes the whole exercise kind of pointless: if I have to go in the second room to see which lights are on and/or feel their luscious bulbs, but after doing that I can't leave, well... I just don't care enough about lights and their switches to live like a hermit for the rest of my life.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:22 PM
195

My ESP test, my rules.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:23 PM
196

I don't think we need to worry about whether ESP is scientifically possible, because I suspect that if we subject the ordinary concept to scrutiny it will turn out to be incoherent by its own self.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:24 PM
197

I knew you would say that.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:25 PM
198

If there's one thing philosophers love it's subjecting concepts to scrutiny.

The intenser the scrutiny, the better.

("How did you find the conversation?" "Oh, it started off amusingly enough, but I think by the end it had just gotten too scrutiny.")

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:26 PM
199

You have to add up all the numbers from 1 to 1000, and Gauss is there, thinking the answer at you, but he's only five years old.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:27 PM
200

If there's one thing philosophers love it's subjecting concepts to scrutiny.

"Scrutiny? More like monotony!"

Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:28 PM
201

You have to predict my next comment.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:29 PM
202

Well toned musculature is nondecreasing in size.

Let me add, by way of non sequitur, that the OED's new site is sweet.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:29 PM
203

by the end it had just gotten too scrutiny.

I laughed.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:29 PM
204

196 I don't think we need to worry about whether ESP is scientifically possible, because I suspect that if we subject the ordinary concept to scrutiny it will turn out to be incoherent by its own self.

Well, the argument I was giving wasn't really against "extrasensory perception", not having a damn thing to do with perception, really, but about the possibility of our having unknown senses that respond to hypothetical unknown things that could, for instance, tell us the identity of a playing card selected in another room.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:30 PM
205

Its contents were communicated to me, apparently in garbled fashion, by other means.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:31 PM
206

ESP?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:32 PM
207

Hasty reconstruction on the basis of later comments.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:33 PM
208

But you had a gut feeling that you couldn't shake or account for?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:34 PM
209

We almost certainly do have unknown senses! We almost certainly have unknown senses that respond to forces extrinsic to our own bodies! We have like a zillion crazy senses! Nociception? Nobody knows dick-all about nociception! It's pretty neat! The idea that we can understand the course of future events, or the idea that we can determine the mental state of somebody to whom we have no actual perceptual access, or the idea that we can move things purely by brain activity, on the other hand? These things are definitely bonkers. Sufficiently, but not necessarily, due to basic physics.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:34 PM
210

You have to add up all the numbers from 1 to 1000, and Gauss is there, thinking the answer at you, but he's only five years old.

This will never work. Too much interference.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:34 PM
211

It is disputable whether nociception is actually perception, if by perception we mean a means of gaining knowledge of an independently existing reality.

I won't bother disputing that here, though.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:36 PM
212

211: "my arm is on fire" seems like a fairly plausible candidate for an independently existing reality.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:37 PM
213

But you had a gut feeling that you couldn't shake or account for?

You mean like when you're constipated and don't know why?

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:37 PM
214

Math is pretty cheap, so it's relatively easy to justify based on rare but very successful applications (Calculus, cryptography).

Also, universal computing machine.

Statistics just doesn't get any love, does it? /sniff

Posted by: YK | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:38 PM
215

"Nociception" customarily refers to feeling pain. You don't learn directly via nociception that your arm is on fire.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:38 PM
216

You're not going to trick me into disputing anything, though.

I am strictly nondisputatious.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:38 PM
217

You have to first see the flames, then study the polyester, and determine that it has melted to your arm.

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:39 PM
218

215: but you do! "Nociception" is actually a collection of different sensory apparati, some of which are sensitive to thermal information. If you were to put your hand in a box, Paul Atreides-style, and if somebody were to like that sucker on fire, you would know absolutely for sure that your hand was on fire even in the absence of other confirmatory stimuli. (I mean, I'm pretty sure. Hard experiment to run in the lab.)

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:46 PM
219

I am not studying polyester; I don't care if the whole of Cleveland is on fire, white belts included.

Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:47 PM
220

217: that would make kind of a great euphemism. Damn, girl! You studyin' the polyester tonight!

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:48 PM
221

So is there ever a nociceptive response without a pain response?

Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:51 PM
222

221: there can be, yeah. That is, nociceptors can register an insult and cause physiological response without there being a subjective experience of pain.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:53 PM
223

215 "Nociception" customarily refers to feeling pain. You don't learn directly via nociception that your arm is on fire.

How is this different from any other perception process? It's always possible that what you perceive is a distortion of the real sensory signals that tell you about the external world. (When I dream, I have visual perception of things that my eyes aren't really seeing.) Still, saying that right now I don't learn directly via visual perception that my laptop is in front of me would be a stretch.

Or maybe I miss your point.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:54 PM
224

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:56 PM
225

It's always possible that what you perceive is a distortion of the real sensory signals that tell you about the external world

I can't figure out what this means.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 8:59 PM
226

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:00 PM
227

225: I think I was missing nosflow's point. Probably better to ignore it.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:01 PM
228

226: So not a dipole.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:04 PM
229

I think we can agree that thermal sensitivity, sensitivity to pain, and sensitivity to one's arm being on fire aren't the same thing, but I will file this away as interesting information.

How is this different from any other perception process?

Some people believe that when there is a genuine perception of x, you do learn directly that there is an x there. (You have to have the concept of x, obvi.) In cases where it seems to one as if x, you are not perceiving an x where there is none, though the state you are in will likely be phenomenally indistinguishable from a genuine perceiving of an x.

WHEREAS, some (sometimes the same as the above!) have thought that experiences of pain have an ineluctably subjective element, such that there is not, first, the pain, and then, second, the painful experience. (Armstrong, for instance, disputes this (\citeNP[p133]{armstrongmalcolm1984}, quoted in \citeNP[p 66]{finkelstein2003}), though he does postulate an agent in a "dissociated state" along the way.)

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:04 PM
230

I also can't figure out the line in 225, on subjecting it to what else but scrutiny.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:05 PM
231

That Finkelstein book is really good, by the way. Persons who find it too slight and Wittgensteinian are encouraged to consult Bar-On's much longer book arguing for a very similar position.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:06 PM
232

228: Your mother contains a multitude of poles.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:07 PM
233

(F, B-O.)

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:08 PM
234

232: A murder of poles.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:10 PM
235

I don't care if the whole of Cleveland is on fire, white belts included.

A cheap shot. You're off the list.

Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:10 PM
236

Some people believe that when there is a genuine perception of x, you do learn directly that there is an x there. (You have to have the concept of x, obvi.) In cases where it seems to one as if x, you are not perceiving an x where there is none, though the state you are in will likely be phenomenally indistinguishable from a genuine perceiving of an x.

So what about a state where you have a perceptual state that is phenomenally indistinguishable from perceiving X, and X is in fact there, but your perception is based on internal prediction or gap-filling (or similar processes) as opposed to the actual impinging of external sense-data on your sensory apparatus? Because lemme tell ya, that's the whole show, perception-wise.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:15 PM
237

182

Given that we don't know how free will (or the illusion of free will) arises I think you are over stating your case against ESP.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:26 PM
238

I'm afraid any further attempts on my part to argue against ESP would lead to a ScentOfViolets-style meltdown, so I'd better stop now.

What about homeopathy? Can we all agree that we know, beyond any doubt, that diluting things a zillionfold makes them just plain water?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:31 PM
239

86, 108. Hence the meme, crazy person or bluetooth headset.

Posted by: Econolicious, 'Don't Jimmy me, Joules' | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:35 PM
240

Well, in the first place, some holders of such positions are typically not terribly concerned about the physical/neural/generally sub-personal processes that (as they would say) play a causal but not an epistemic role in perception. So if my seeming to see a full expanse rather than one characterized by missing pieces despite (for instance) blind spots, even when I look with only one eye, is best explained with reference to some kind of gap-filling process, that will not yet be seen as constituting an argument that (a) in such a case I don't actually perceive what I seem to or (b) in perceiving something I am not directly aware of it.

That might seem pretty unsatisfactory, and it probably would be if, for instance, the experience as of seeing x (brought about by gap filling) had very little to do with x's actual presence—if it were a coincidence that in this case, I filled the gap with what is actually there. In such a case, I don't doubt that one would want to deny that I did perceive x, and, as the case is characterized, that seems, well, right. (Maybe you're thinking of this sort of example, where it's less obvious that that's right, but also less obvious that it really is coincidental.)

There's a nice discussion of some of this blind-spot stuff in Noë's Action in Perception (to which the link in the previous parenthesis goes), though I had remembered it as making a claim that, on review, it doesn't seem to—that if there's a filling-in process (in response to blind spots, e.g.) we needn't think that the resulting perceptual experience isn't "based on" the object perceived, because, for the most part, our eyes are moving around a lot all the time, and if a single retinal image has a blind spot, it isn't likely to be the same blind spot as the immediately preceding series of retinal images, so what gets filled in can still be based on what is (or very very recently was) perceived out there in the world.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:36 PM
241

Misremembered it as making that claim, rather. I apologize for the likely unclarity of the previous comment; I'm exhausted for absolutely no good reason and it's been a while since I looked at this stuff.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:37 PM
242

In business flight terminals, you can play the sister game Bluetooth Headset and/or Total D-Bag.

Easy! It's always "and".

The thing that always bemuses me is the people having their important Bluetooth-driven business conversations in airport restrooms. What do the people on the other end of the conversation think of being subjected to constant flushing sounds, or worse?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:40 PM
243

OT: Detroit's death rattle blows my mind

Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:40 PM
244

I would, if I encountered such a person, find talking loudly about shitting and whatnot irresistible. To think about. I would find it all too easy to resist doing.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:41 PM
245

240: I wasn't thinking immediately of scene construction via saccades, no. I was thinking most immediately of subjective (neé illusory) contours, where we percieve ("perceive"?) occluded edges of objects (most startlingly under binocular rivalry, but also in potted examples like these) because (except uner specifically manufactured conditions) those occluded edges are inevitably there. However, foveal perception immediately preceding a saccade is another excellent example, as there is excellent behavioral evidence that the brain constructs a "best guess" representation of the visual field at the planned saccade's target that well exceeds the discriminatory threshold of the extra-foveal retina. But, again, it's really the same all the way along the line: the whole visual system (and auditory system, and somatosensory system) operates by creating a coherent whole out of immensely partial and fragmentary information. This, among other things, is why we're so susceptible to optical (and other sensory) illusions.

So, I guess, I don't really see what you're saying?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:51 PM
246

Then we're even, I guess.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:53 PM
247

I didn't meeeeeeeeeeeeeean 246 to sound as dismissive as it now seems to me it might.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:54 PM
248

Kinda made a solid point, though.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:58 PM
249

I agree with sifu and essear, I either can't follow what nosflow is saying, or else he's saying something that's about as plausible as ESP (which is to say, transparent nonsense).

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 9:59 PM
250

U"pe,tgi"(9) is the one who thinks that the existence of persons is less sure than that of quarks, though.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:00 PM
251

I propose referring to Upetgn(9) as either "upetgroin" or "pettigrew".

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:02 PM
252

I like exhausted nosflow.

Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:03 PM
253

Another possibility, similar to "parsley" for "parsimon", is "coing", though I admit the edit distance in this case is significantly larger.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:04 PM
254

Less sure wasn't exactly what I said. We were discussing whether things are real or just models, not how sure you are of the model.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:05 PM
255

I'm not getting what sort of edit gets you to coing.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:07 PM
256

essear's afraid of c----t----

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:09 PM
257

Free associating gets me to "Beauty is momentary in the mind", though, which I guess is some kind of statement about perception.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:09 PM
258

Crap, 256 +-

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:09 PM
259

Let's hear 'em!
Okay. Have you heard of microtubules?

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:10 PM
260

Any kind of edit can eventually get you to "coing".

I got there by intuitive leaps and bounds, or rather by focussing entirely on "go in (9)", merging those to "goin9", and not knowing how "coing" is pronounced.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:10 PM
261

If only deletions and insertions are allowed, the difference is striking:

*Main> difference "coing" "unfoggetarian pause endlessly then go in"
(37,"c","unfggetara pause endlessly then o in")
*Main> difference "parsley" "parsimon"
(7,"ley","imon")

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:17 PM
262

not knowing how "coing" is pronounced.

I wasn't sure, but luckily we live in the future.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:18 PM
263

I like to think I'm causing essear to meltdown. With my mind!

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:18 PM
264

To me "you are not perceiving an x where there is none, though the state you are in will likely be phenomenally indistinguishable from a genuine perceiving of an x" sounds like a more advanced version of "colorless green ideas sleep furiously." Sure it's grammatical and sounds like it should mean something, but it actually doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:18 PM
265

259: oh you are funny, you senile minx, you.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:19 PM
266

Really? That doesn't make sense?

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:19 PM
267

264, 266: yeah, that line I pretty much understood fine.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:20 PM
268

I don't want to know how it's pronounced. Besides, those two pronunciations are rather different!

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:20 PM
269

What's the difference if they're phenomenally the same? It's like being colorless and green...

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:21 PM
270

What's the difference if they're phenomenally the same?

You'd find out pretty quick if you tried to act. (Even if you changed your vantage point, in many cases.)

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:22 PM
271

Ok, I misunderstood then.

So the claim is that what you perceive is only actually perception if it happens to be right? Seems like a funny way to use the word, but I suppose there's nothing wrong with using it that way.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:27 PM
272

I thought before that the claim was that perception and "false perception" were different in some way other than one of them happening to be wrong. (Of course all perceptions are a little bit wrong, but some are wronger.)

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:32 PM
273

Well, that is part of the claim. Here is an article you can read.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:36 PM
274

Sebastian Rödl, who is a smart fucking dude, claims that Quellen des Wissens is very much to be read on the subject of knowledge by perception, but for some reason or other I haven't read it.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:38 PM
275

273: I guess this is why Aldous Huxley's book was called The Doors of Schmerception.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:39 PM
276

Antic Lay
After Many a Shtupper
Crome Fellow

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:41 PM
277

Guyless in Gaza

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:49 PM
278

Ape and essear

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:55 PM
279

How typical of Randall Munroe that comic is.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 10:58 PM
280

That's a whole lot of article on perception to not talk about light, or eyes, or retinas, or brains.

Is the claim that two things can have an identical impact on the state of the brain yet one be a verdical perception and the other a hallucination?

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 11:03 PM
281

Is the claim that two things can have an identical impact on the state of the brain yet one be a verdical perception and the other a hallucination?

That seems true enough, for some definitions of "hallucination".

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 11:06 PM
282

Well right, but the claim seems to be that they're different "kinds of experience" even if they have the exact same effect on the brain. That seems loopy to me. But it's hard to nail down in the article this actual claim because the article doesn't spend much time talking about what we actually know about light, nerves, brains, etc.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 11:15 PM
283

It's almost as if the view takes it that perception is of things in the world, and that questions about how one can perceive things in the world will withstand any accumulation of detail about causal processes in the eyes, nerves, brains, etc.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 11:18 PM
284

If I'm going to spend over \$100 on a book you can be damn sure I'd like the cover to look a little nicer than this. I wish I could remember what it was I was reading that had a really nice explanation of the title of this book. Oh well.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 11:22 PM
285

(I don't know how mathematicians put up with book prices.)

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 11:23 PM
286

I haven't bought a math book in years. I sometimes look things up in the library, but mostly I'll just make do with what's on the Internet.

283 convinces me I have no hope of understanding what you're talking about.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-22-11 11:34 PM
287

People sometimes say this about math too. No, this stuff will really never, ever, ever be of any use. It will just help other people find results which will never, ever, ever be of any use.

"There is one comforting conclusion which is easy for a real mathematician. Real mathematics has no effects on war. No one
has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the theory of numbers or relativity, and it seems very unlikely that anyone will do so for many years."

-- GH Hardy, "A Mathematician's Apology", 1940.

Posted by: | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 3:16 AM
288

So is there ever a nociceptive response without a pain response?

As I understand it, this would be what would happen in a bomb blast, aeroplane crash, or other massive event that either killed you or caused you to instantly lose consciousness within a very short time after the event that caused the nociceptive response. Although reliable first person evidence is difficult to get on these things obviously.

More generally, there is a lot of physics overreach here. There are subjective first-person experiences of perceptions of things like pain, colour, sound etc. These subjective events link up causally to the physical world - they either cause physical events (in brains and bodies), are caused by them, or both. The way in which these causal links operate is utterly mysterious.[1] Physics, basic or otherwise, currently has no theory at all about how these causal links operate, and lots of sensible people think either that it never will have, or that this shouldn't even be the sort of thing physics even thinks about. Given that, it seems to me to be hypothesizing well beyond sensible limits to presume that whatever causal laws govern the interaction between subjective mental events and the objects of basic physics, they are going to have to obey the same constraints of locality as physical objects, or even that time is going to work the same way for them.

[1] And because I know how popular this debate has been in the past, I'll reiterate that the amount of progress that has been made on it in the postwar era has been somewhere between "none" and "thousands and thousands of redescriptions of the problem, ie none".[2]

[2] Perhaps unfair; the solution of someone like Dennett ("there is no such thing as conscious experience, it just seems that there is, and I promise you this does make sense even though it looks like a joke") is at least a candidate explanation, albeit IMO a desperately unconvincing one.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 4:12 AM
289

Is the claim that two things can have an identical impact on the state of the brain yet one be a verdical perception and the other a hallucination?

This claim looks self-evidently, trivially true. If I had a massive machine[1] that could manipulate your brain-states at the sub-atomic level, then I could manipulate them so as to create a state that was identical to the state your brain was in when you looked at a bowl of flowers. How would one describe your perceptions when you were under the influence of my brain machine other than to call them "a hallucination of a bowl of flowers"? I suppose that can't be what you meant, but the answer to your question as asked is "yes, definitely", unless one is going to say that subjective perceptions don't map onto brain-states, which is a defensible possibility but not one conducive to a physicalist viewpoint.

[1] Actually, since we're in the realm of philosophers of consciousness and their imaginary science-fictional machines, let's assume that technology has progressed a bit further and it's now the size of an iPhone.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 4:18 AM
290

Quite the party last night, huh?

On ESP and similar: I suspect most people reject it because it doesn't cohere at all well with everything else that they believe. One can be comfortable with an explanatory gap as long as it's reasonably well demarcated. ESP trashes just about everything: it's supposed to be a real phenomenon, operating over distance in a physical world, but no mechanism whatsoever is proposed for it and its output, in experiential terms, is supposedly indistinguishable from imagination or hallucination.

Incidentally, while Googling for 'reliable clairvoyance', following a brief impulse to try to write something reasonably well considered about this, I saw that someone has asked the question "how reliable is mrs fagg, the clairvoyant in weymouth?".

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 4:31 AM
291

I would like to hallucinate, but I definitely wouldn't like to have a USB connector.

Posted by: Guido Nius | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 4:34 AM
292

I would like to hallucinate, but I definitely wouldn't like to have a USB connector.

An LSD connection would do instead.

Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 4:46 AM
293

ESP trashes just about everything: it's supposed to be a real phenomenon, operating over distance in a physical world, but no mechanism whatsoever is proposed for it and its output, in experiential terms, is supposedly indistinguishable from imagination or hallucination.

Apart from "operating over distance", these things are also true about conscious experience per se.

The term "extra sensory perception" doesn't make much sense to me, because if something is a means of perception it's a sense. And we know from copious experimental data that there isn't something here which can be turned into a means of perception that's even nearly as useful a way of getting information about the world as the normal sense. But there are effects that can't totally be blown off, and even given the poor power of the negative binomial test that they usually use, the experimental data can't be ignored, particularly as, as I say, we're dealing with a field about which the fundamental physics doesn't say very much at all.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 5:09 AM
294

In my own adult lifetime I remember reading that nobody had any idea how migratory birds found their way from their summer to winter ranges. It's now pretty well established that at least some speacies are able to navigate by sensing the earth's magnetic field using small fragments of magnetic material in their nasal passages. Presumably at some stage somebody hypothesised that this might be the case and did the donkey work to demonstrate it.

Now if, and I emphasise if, ESP can be shown to be a real effect, then it's probably no more inexplicable than bird migration; it only remains for somebody to come up with the right hypothesis for the mechanism. But the key difference is that there was never any doubt that birds migrate, whereas there is considerable doubt as to whether anybody has actually shown ESP to be a real effect.

So at this stage worrying about how it might work seems to be asking the wrong question. Show me the effect first.

Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 5:23 AM
295

The term "extra sensory perception" doesn't make much sense to me, because if something is a means of perception it's a sense.

So in fact the term 'ESP' means a sort of perception where there's no proposal for how it works: if there were a proposal, it'd just be another sense.

As far as physics explaining consciousness goes, I suppose you'd have to ask what a satisfactory explanation would look like. Physics deals in objects and laws acting on those objects: its explanations assume that questions about self/world or subject/object are already settled in some way. In fact we require it to be like that - our society requires it - so it seems unfair to turn round and demand of it some sort of ultimate explanation in the form of c causes e, where c is an object and e is your subjective experience.

I suppose I take the view that the 'problem of consciousness' is not so much a research program type problem, but more of a personal task for an individual, like learning how to brush your teeth, or have good swimming technique, or something like that.

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 5:40 AM
296

Show me the effect first.

I think you're very much underestimating the extent to which the entire mental sphere is not explainable by physical science in its current state. For example, up above, ST says confidently that "The idea that we can understand the course of future events ... completely bonkers". But of course, we can - trivially, for example, I can make very accurate predictions about whether the physical object that is me will end up in the sushi shop or the pie shop this lunchtime. Obviously, this "prediction" is just made true by me taking the decision, but equally obviously, this doesn't get us any closer to a physical explanation, because a physical explanation doesn't get to take advantage of entities like "decisions" unless it can fit them into a general theory incorporating their relationships with other physical entities.

I agree that most of the evidence for things like what Rupert Sheldrake believes is actually pretty weak (although as I say, not wholly ignorable). But while we're in a state of more or less complete ignorance about paradigm cases with respect to ordinary conscious experience, it seems a little odd to be ruling things out a priori.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 5:45 AM
297

So in fact the term 'ESP' means a sort of perception where there's no proposal for how it works: if there were a proposal, it'd just be another sense.

not quite because as I say, there is in fact no (or at least no particularly attractive) proposal for how normal senses work either.

Physics deals in objects and laws acting on those objects: its explanations assume that questions about self/world or subject/object are already settled in some way.

but this is a pretty heterodox view; most people, I think, like Essear, believe that all sorts of statements about subjects (that they can communicate in ways inconsistent with special relativity, for example) are not consistent with the laws of physics.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 5:48 AM
298

Apart from "operating over distance", these things are also true about conscious experience per se.

Oh, and this strikes me as being a pretty big difference. Beliefs which include a spatial concept seem very different to those which don't. Kant puts this at the centre of his system, doesn't he? I'm not a huge Kant reader.

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 5:56 AM
299

there is in fact no (or at least no particularly attractive) proposal for how normal senses work either.

True but I think misleading: at least for normal senses there is a perfectly good explanation for how things in the physical world (like photons) get translated into nerve impulses going into the brain, even if there isn't then a good explanation for how those nerve impulses become "perceptions". The point about psychic powers is that there isn't even a good explanation for the bit that happens outside the brain.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:02 AM
300

re: 298

I'm not a big Kant reader either, but isn't the spatial thing just a consequence/part of his transcendental idealism?

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:02 AM
301

it seems a little odd to be ruling things out a priori.

OK, let's not do that. But let's wait until we have an agreed description of what it is we're trying to explain before we try to define a programme to explain it. There may be no phenomenon. There may be one. There may be several. But at the moment all there seems to be is a heap of anecdata with nether scope nor structure. We have to get a bit further than this before we can start talking about explanations.

Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:03 AM
302

Essear is willing to concede emergent properties, though, although I suppose you can take 'emergent' in a couple of different ways.

One way is to say: here are the physical entities, which fall under physical laws, and of which we posit physical properties. These are basic. Certain other entities, laws and properties (the property of being clairvoyant, or being conscious, say), are not excluded by the physical, but are not explicable in terms of the physical either. These are emergent.

The other way to take it is that 'emergent' simply means 'not yet reduced'. If that's the view you take, then you're going to resist a proposal for a new law or property until it becomes clear that there is or will be some way to reformulate it in terms of physical laws and properties.

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:10 AM
303

299 is what I was going to write. With the possible addition of stuff about dsquared's war owls having nicked his monads.

Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:28 AM
304

296: I sort of knew somebody was going to ignore the obvious meaning of what I said in favor of technicalities, but come on. I'm pretty sure you knew what I meant.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:33 AM
305

The point about psychic powers is that there isn't even a good explanation for the bit that happens outside the brain

I think this is where I do a tu quoque bit on "true but misleading" - there isn't a good physical explanation, but there's no particular reason to believe that a physical explanation is what's needed. In particular, as I say, it's not obvious that we should make the assumption that mental entities have to obey special relativity, given that they are so weird in other ways (eg, as far as anyone can tell they're massless but they don't move around at the speed of light).

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:38 AM
306

304: yes I knew what you meant, but the point I was trying to make is that actually, the connection between (the conscious decision to move your arm) and (your arm moving) is not all that much less mysterious from a physical point of view than more flashy kinds of psychokinesis.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:40 AM
307

there's no particular reason to believe that a physical explanation is what's needed.

There certainly is for some psychic powers - telekinesis and reading a card that you can't see because it's face down both involve interaction with the physical world, not just interaction with another mental object (unlike telepathy). If you're going to interact with the physical world, you have to have a physical mechanism!

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:41 AM
308

||

Since it seems to be mainly Brits here at the moment - NMM Fred Titmus.

|>

Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:41 AM
309

306: I can't figure out a way that that's true unless you put an enormous (and, to my mind, unjustified) weight on the (not very well defined, to my mind) "conscious" part of that statement. You want to pick up something in front of you -> you know by implicit learned experience that your arm has to be so -> you eventually come to a representation in the topographically organized motor cortex -> nerve signal propagates via basically known mechanisms through the peripheral nervous system -> muscles contract via basically known mechanisms -> object is grasped. On the telekinesis side, you have: you want to pick up something across the room and have it fly into the air -> you can visualize that something flying into the air -> [ whole lotta nothin' ] -> thing flies into the air.

Now, maybe what you're saying is that there's a lot of uncertainty around how "you want to pick up something" comes to be, which stage is identical for both processes, and I would say that there's probably less uncertainty than all that.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:51 AM
310

306 to 307, to a certain and very limited extent - since we know that there is some sort of mechanism whereby a massless mental entity can move a massive physical entity if there's a brain between the two, we can't a priori rule out some cases in which a massless mental entity could move other physical objects. But IMO there is basically no experimental evidence to explain here; all the even slightly convincing stuff deals with at-a-distance connections between subjects.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:53 AM
311

Coming back to the thread without catching up. I maintain that the phrase "extra perceptual sensation" makes as much sense as the phrase "extra sensory perception." Other people I argue with have maintained that that "perception" and "sensation" cannot be used interchangeably like that. Discuss.

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:56 AM
312

You can perceive things not through your senses: for example you can perceive things about your own mental state. If I ask myself "who wrote 'Cloud Atlas'? I can't remember" then I have perceived something - i.e. that I have forgotten the author's name - but I haven't used any of my senses in doing so.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 6:59 AM
313

you eventually come to a representation in the topographically organized motor cortex -> nerve signal propagates via basically known mechanisms through the peripheral nervous system ->

The mysterious step here is in the word "representation" I think (representations have to represent something to ... something). Or possibly in "you want", earlier up the chain. Either you've got a Dennettite view of the world in which mental entities like decisions and perceptions don't actually exist, or there is some step in which the transition is made from a mental, seemingly non-physical entity to a physical chain of causation. I think we can both agree it's not a good use of our time to play hunt-the-thimble with various redescriptions of the problem in more and less specific neurobiological terms, although that doesn't mean it's necessarily not a good use of dozens and dozens of philosophers' time to play basically the same game for forty years.

On the telekinesis side, you have: you want to pick up something across the room and have it fly into the air -> you can visualize that something flying into the air -> [ whole lotta nothin' ] -> thing flies into the air

On the basis of my limited knowledge of the parapsychology literature, this isn't a good description of how telekinesis experiments are conducted; in general, they're done with things like the precipitation of solutions or the decay of atoms, ie the attempt is made to influence the aggregate outcomes of statistically random processes.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:00 AM
314

The mysterious step here is in the word "representation" I think (representations have to represent something to ... something).

There are a set of neurons in the motor cortex. That set of neurons is shaped more or less like your arm. That set of neurons has differential activation depending on the current and future position and speed of your arm.

think we can both agree it's not a good use of our time to play hunt-the-thimble with various redescriptions of the problem

Right, because there isn't one. But as you say, that's out of scope.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:04 AM
315

Let's hear 'em!

ok. We know that changes in electric potential are detectable on the scalp that correlate with various aspects of thought. The human brain (or maybe just the brains of very special people) have special cells that are extremely sensitive to just this kind of EM signal, can differentiate it from background noise, and use some sort of fast Fourier transform to break the signal down into its components and read their contents.

OR!

Increase blood flow to parts of the brain change the distribution of matter, and hence produce itty bitty little gravity waves. The human brain (or maybe just the brains of very special people) have special cells that are extremely sensitive to just this kind of signal... etc.

These little stories probably conflict with things we know about electromagnitism or gravity, but at least I am coming up with stories that don't introduce new physical forces. (I'm still really going off Stormcrow's exposure to I love Lucy radiation.)

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:05 AM
316

305 In particular, as I say, it's not obvious that we should make the assumption that mental entities have to obey special relativity, given that they are so weird in other ways (eg, as far as anyone can tell they're massless but they don't move around at the speed of light).

This is the point where it seems like your worldview is so remote from mine that I just have to shrug and walk away. Maybe your mind is a supernatural extraphysical entity, but I'm pretty sure mine is entirely determined by physical events in my brain. And calling a mental entity "massless" makes about as much sense, to me, as saying that hope is blue.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:06 AM
317

||

NMM to Elizabeth Taylor.

|>

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:09 AM
318

Mental entities are massless the same way hope is colorless.

Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:15 AM
319

Maybe your mind is a supernatural extraphysical entity, but I'm pretty sure mine is entirely determined by physical events in my brain.

No need for the strikethrough there - "supernatural" is just a synonym for "non physical". And the fact that your mind is determined by physical events in your brain (ie that the causation between physical and mental entities is only one-way) doesn't make the connection all that much less mysterious; there's still a totally absent theory of how it is that photons and neurons turn into subjective experiences.

I'm presuming that you do have conscious thoughts and experiences which are roughly like my own, and that you also know that your brain will have precisely the same mass when you die and stop having them, so my mystification is equal to yours; you must know that there are mental entities because you're experiencing them all the time, and you can't possibly believe these entities have mass.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:16 AM
320

315: you could make a reasonably coherent argument against the first premise exclusively on information-theoretic grounds, I suspect (there's just too much noise). The absolute minimum of power required to transmit (or receive) a signal over a given distance in the earth's atmosphere (under ideal conditions) is probably known, and is probably much too high. The second argument, well, I have no idea about gravity, except that it's a lot weaker than electromagnetism, which is almost certainly too weak in this case.

There are tons of other arguments against the premise, too, of course. But responding to 315.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:16 AM
321

What's the massless entity that accrues to a toaster when you plug it in?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:18 AM
322

Mental entities are massless the same way hope is colorless.

Which is to say, the concept doesn't apply to them, so certainly they aren't "massless" in the sense that implies "moving at the speed of light". That's just silliness.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:18 AM
323

Also, I'm pretty sure we're capable of telling the difference between a dead brain and a living one on physical grounds.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:19 AM
324

dsquared's position here is exactly "God of the gaps" argument. If there's something we don't understand yet, then let's conclude we're probably never going to understand it and that it's supernatural.

We keep understanding more and more things about the world, and *every single time* there's a physical explanation that satisfies the laws of fundamental physics.

We're not there yet on things like the human brain, which is still too complicated for us to understand. But just look at how much more we know about brains than we did 50 years ago! All the evidence from everything else suggests that if we just have a little patience we'll keep learning more and more about the world and things that were previously mysteries will get sorted out.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:23 AM
325

317: Wow. I sort of thought she'd live forever.

Speaking of the very opposite of that M of which there is to be NM, her death reminds me of Richard Burton's ungallant but frank praise of her, in his diaries, as "beyond the dreams of pornography, an eternal one-night stand."

Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:24 AM
326

Which is to say, the concept doesn't apply to them

Yes, and many other physical concepts don't apply to them, and yet they are capable of entering into causal relationships with physical entities which do have mass, energy etc. This is the point I'm trying to make; mental entities can't transfer energy to physical entities or receive energy from them and yet they can have their state changed by (or, according to most people, change the state of) some kinds of physical entity. This is the totally mysterious bit.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:25 AM
327

319 And the fact that your mind is determined by physical events in your brain (ie that the causation between physical and mental entities is only one-way) doesn't make the connection all that much less mysterious; there's still a totally absent theory of how it is that photons and neurons turn into subjective experiences.

Of course I admit that; but what baffles me is that you think it offers the possibility that our minds are capable of subverting physical law. If we strip minds out of it, do you agree that if someone is able to correctly identify a playing card selected at random in a faraway room in the absence of ordinary sensory data about it, and their mouth speaks the name of that playing card, it would mean that some physical signal has propagated between the two places? That if this happens in apparent violation of the laws of physics, it shouldn't be satisfactory to say that the person's mind was involved in the process, and that minds aren't understood, so maybe the mind, being unphysical, was able to instantaneously perceive the faraway event in the absence of a physical signal, and then act on the physical world to produce a signal by causing their mouth to move? If your worldview is such that you think that without understanding the details of consciousness we can't conclude that minds don't instantaneously know things that didn't come to them from physical interactions of the brain with the outside world, then, as I said, I have to just give up.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:25 AM
328

The magnetic field of the earth is a huge huge thing with a lot of energy in it, it's not so surprising that it can be used at heights of a few thousand feet by very small biological features which would be hard to find. The magnets are small, but the field is large, and the electromagnetic force is pretty strong.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:26 AM
329

dsquared's position here is exactly "God of the gaps" argument.

And yours is exactly the "Whig View Of History" argument. All the evidence doesn't, actually suggest that we always sort out mysteries - we're no closer than we were three hundred years ago to an estimate of the mass of phlogiston, or the density of the aether. Sometimes progress involves a radical change in conceptual structure. Personally I'm quite optimistic for the possibility of some understanding of the physical role of mental entities, but it's going to involve the solution of a problem which a) is currently utterly mysterious given our current set of physical concepts and therefore b) as essear correctly notes above, is going to involve a role for entities or forces currently believed to either not exist or to be very weak, because there simply isn't any room in the current conceptual structure for the entities which might be needed.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:30 AM
330

I heard a talk once about how being able to sense the polarization of light is also an important part of how (at least some) birds navigate.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:30 AM
331

You really don't have to.

I like the implied mind-blowingness of the bold-face in 326. It's like... there's... duality!

But seriously, though, mental representations are real, physical, electrochemical and anatomical processes. A dead brain weighs the same thing as a living brain, but the anatomical connections have broken down and the electrochemical cycles are no longer, uh, cycling, and thus the representations are no longer accessible.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:31 AM
332

329 Personally I'm quite optimistic for the possibility of some understanding of the physical role of mental entities, but it's going to involve the solution of a problem which a) is currently utterly mysterious given our current set of physical concepts and therefore b) as essear correctly notes above, is going to involve a role for entities or forces currently believed to either not exist or to be very weak, because there simply isn't any room in the current conceptual structure for the entities which might be needed.

You didn't just say this, did you? It looks like you said, if I can paraphrase: consciousness is not easy to understand as an emergent physical property of the stuff that brains are obviously made out of (neurons, photons), and therefore we need new laws of fundamental physics that contradict basic principles like relativity, despite the utter absence of physical evidence for such laws?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:33 AM
333

we're no closer than we were three hundred years ago to an estimate of the mass of phlogiston, or the density of the aether. Sometimes progress involves a radical change in conceptual structure.

Phlogiston and aether, being things that don't exist, are excellent analogies for the "problem of subjective experience".

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:33 AM
334

A dead brain weighs the same thing as a living brain

Don't you know that souls weigh 21 grams?

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:34 AM
335

I'm perfectly happy to bet good money that we won't discover any new fundamental physics which will change our understanding of the function of the brain. We already understand the basics of how the brain works at a small scale (how neurons fire, etc.), it's just that the brain is big and complicated and so we don't understand how all of it works. (For humans at least, just yesterday I was hearing about how we now understand exactly how the brain of a Planaria works, they all have exactly the same number of neurons and you can zap each neuron and see how the behavior changes.)

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:37 AM
336

If your worldview is such that you think that without understanding the details of consciousness we can't conclude that minds don't instantaneously know things that didn't come to them from physical interactions of the brain with the outside world, then, as I said, I have to just give up.

Well it looks like you have to give up then, because this is exactly what I believe - since the connection between mental and physical entities is completely mysterious, I don't think there is any theoretical basis on which you can say that "passing through a human brain in a particular causal way" is the only way in which physical entities can interact with mental entities.

It might be the case that there is something special about human brains in this way (for what it's worth, this is a version of John Searle's view, with which I largely agree). But I don't think that this special role can be deduced from first principles.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:37 AM
337

and thus the representations are no longer accessible.

The thimble was not hidden particularly well in that one. Accessible to who? And how, other than in a completely mysterious way, were they ever "accessible"?

and:

consciousness is not easy to understand as an emergent physical property of the stuff that brains are obviously made out of (neurons, photons), and therefore we need new laws of fundamental physics that contradict basic principles like relativity, despite the utter absence of physical evidence for such laws?

"not easy" is a subset of "potentially impossible" here (and "emergent" is actually not doing much work beyond acting as a less embarrassing synonym for my "utterly mysterious"), and consciousness itself is pretty strong physical evidence for the the existence of mental entities which interact with the physical world.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:41 AM
338

I thought the problem with whigishness was that you shouldn't interpret the past based on what we understand now, rather you should understand it on it's own terms. I didn't think the claim that we understand the world much better now than we did 2000 years ago was controversial let alone that it had its own epithet.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:42 AM
339

Yep, I give up. At this point this looks, to me, like a debate about religion.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:43 AM
340

The thing that drives me kind of wild about the hard problem (somewhat related to upetgi9's point) is that it is defined by the elusiveness of its goal. Is the problem of subjective consciousness one of attention? No, no, we understand attention, can't be that. Is it a problem of memory? No, no, we have too good a grasp of memory, can't be that. Is it a problem of language? Hmmm, tempting, but no, no, too much progress being made, can't be that. Is it a problem of reflective self-consciousness? Ooh, maybe, but wait, no, no, that could be susceptible to experimental study, too. It's something totally different!

If the room can respond in well-formed, idiomatic Chinese, you know what? The room knows fucking Chinese.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:44 AM
341

Simple things behave in complicated ways, even simple things that we *completely understand*! Emergent phenomena is not handwaving, you can have "laws of physics" that are 100% defined (say Conway's game of life) and yet have large complicated systems in it which are challenging to understand and analyse and where the correct level of analysis for understanding is higher level and emergent ("that little bit there is an OR gate, while that square there is a part of the memory of the computer we built").

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:46 AM
342

Accessible to who? And how, other than in a completely mysterious way, were they ever "accessible"?

Well, in a crude sense, accessible to individuals other than the one who possesses the brain via imaging techniques, so I assume that's not what you mean. Maybe I should change that to "involved in an active way in the neural processes of the invididual whose brain is under discussion". If you're talking about (say) the primary visual cortex, "accessible" would mostly mean "accessible to upstream parts of the visual cortex". If you're talking about (say) the prefrontal cortex, "accessible" would mostly mean "responding in a modulatory and regulatory way to feedback connections from much of the rest of the brain, but primarily the motor and premotor cortexes". If you were talking about the hippocampus, it could mean a lot of things (since the hippocampus does a ton of things), but just for an example it could mean "accessible to the route-finding and motor planning parts of the cortex".

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:48 AM
343

I mean, is your pancreas accessible? To whom?!? Where's the homunculus that decides when you should secrete insulin?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:50 AM
344

I also think you're wildly overstating how mysterious the connection between physical and mental entities is. There's a lot we do understand about how the brain works, and how making changes to the brain affects people's reported subjective experience. We can change the brain in certain ways and the "mind" changes in corresponding ways. Yes there are still a lot of things we don't understand, but there's a difference between a deep mystery and a hard problem.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:55 AM
345

accessible to individuals other than the one who possesses the brain

found the thimble! How was it "accessible" to the one who possessed the brain? What do you mean by "the individual who possessed the brain", other than "the brain"?

Simple things behave in complicated ways

"The hard problem" is not about behaving in complicated ways, or about behaving at all. It's about subjective experience, and it isn't very amenable to experimental study, that's why it's "hard".

that little bit there is an OR gate, while that square there is a part of the memory of the computer we built

Neither "being an OR gate" nor "being part of a computer memory" are intrinsic properties of a piece of silicon. They're names given to certain kinds of arrangements of atoms, by someone to whom those names have meaning (ie, someone capable of intensionality and/or conscious experience). The "emergence" here is just the decision to move from one sort of naming scheme to another. Searle is dead right on this point.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 7:58 AM
346

How was it "accessible" to the one who possessed the brain?

See the rest of the comment.

Anyhoo, much as I love being on Team Science in this debate, the phlogiston's telling me I intend to go to work even though I don't want to.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:10 AM
347

Actually, just as a glib-ish parting thought: when you put an electric guitar up next to the amp it's plugged into, there's this crazy noise. Is that noise being made by the guitar? The amp? What entity chooses to make that noise? Why doesn't anybody talk about the hard problem of guitar amplification?

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:11 AM
348

The new thread suggests a more interesting hard problem.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:13 AM
349

I mean, is your pancreas accessible?

Yes.

Posted by: Opinionated Porthole Cow | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:14 AM
350

Tweety is, of course, right in 320 that signal theory precludes brains from communicating via electrical or gravitational waves, which is why I was seizing upon essear's allowance of the possibility of some as yet unknown weak interaction. Is it really true, as essear suggests in 126, that it's not possible for a field to be undetectable in pairwise interactions and yet capable of transmitting information between macroscopic media? The example I'm thinking of is superconductivity, which allows us to measure incredibly weak magnetic fields and, I think, requires large (compared to the size of atoms) structures like Cooper pairs to work. Obviously, magnetic fields are detectable in other ways and are inseparable from the more powerful interactions that make superconductivity possible, so this is pretty weak.
Hopefully, this doesn't give essear too much of an aneurysm.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:16 AM
351

Because nobody thinks that guitars or amplifiers have conscious experiences[1] and nobody thinks that guitars and amplifiers do things intentionally. But in the case of human beings, we have strong evidence (because we are them) that they have subjective mental states. Of course.

[1] Actually, some people who started on the road you are on ended up in Reductioland and actually do believe something not a million miles from panpsychism; Dennett has, I am pretty sure, swallowed the bullet in saying that a thermostat has something close to consciousness, and there are people who will say that since consciousness is nothing more than Turing Machine functionality, and since under some interpretation schema a rock can instantiate any given Turing machine, rocks are conscious.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:16 AM
352

undetectable in pairwise interactions and yet capable of transmitting information between macroscopic media

To some extent this is possible, see gravity. But note that to have really weak forces doing something substantial you need something really really big.

Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:22 AM
353

re: 351

It's been a while since I read The Intentional Stance, but I don't remember Dennett being committed to realism re: thermostatic consciousness. In fact, I'm pretty sure at once time his view was fairly agnostic about realism vis a vis the mental. You can be committed to the utility of mental theories/mental-state language in describing/predicting the behaviour of some entity without being committed to the metaphysical reality of the objects referred to by the theory.

However, I've not read anything he's written on consciousness for a decade or more, so I'm possibly completely wrong and he's now come down on one side or the other.

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:34 AM
354

It strikes me that the title of this thread could almost equally well be applied to the thread above it.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:39 AM
355

He upped the ante in Consciousness Explained, then went totally tonto in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which is when I stopped buying his books. In this interview the thermostat thing is there, not in a direct quote I grant. IMO, if there is a genuine question in people's minds whether you believe thermostats are conscious or not, something's gone wrong somewhere.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:40 AM
356

I've read both of those, but only in a cursory skimming sort of way, so don't really remember much of either. Although I'm pretty sure (ahem) I've taught it since.

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:43 AM
357

I used to be a massive, massive Dennett fan and very nearly failed Philosophy of Mind for being a total partisan of strong AI. I just happened to buy a copy of Searle's book in a charity shop about twelve years ago, and was struck by the difference between his actual argument and the version Dennett was arguing against. It sounds like a Sunday School conversion narrative but I swear it's true.

Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:50 AM
358

The article I was thinking of must have been "The Silence of the Senses". Also, it occurred to me after my computer was turned off that the thesis pettigrew wished was stated more explicitly is actually totally banal, so there's no real reason to state it explicitly or inexplicitly. I have not read any of the intervening comments.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 8:56 AM
359

But note that to have really weak forces doing something substantial you need something really really big.
Or an amplifier and a sensitive measuring device.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:02 AM
360

I feel the need to reiterate the caveats (really, my strongest interest in mechanisms for ESP is to lessen my annoyance at its prevalence in supposedly hard sci-fi). I mostly wanted to drop my eleven dimensions line.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:05 AM
361

For a long time I thought I'd specialize in 'Mind' stuff, my M.A. thesis was in that area, but I lost interest during the B. P \il and switched over to philosophy of science. It's shocking how quickly one's knowledge fades, as I've read Searle's (1992) book and, I think, his '83 book on Intentionality, and also, I'm pretty sure, his book on Speech Acts, and yet I would struggle to repeat what any of them says.

Maybe I'll dig it (The Rediscovery of Mind) out again.

Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:05 AM
362

in supposedly hard sci-fi

There really isn't much literally 'hard' sci-fi around, if you mean fiction where all the science is coherent and plausible. Mostly, the stuff that gets called hard is just more interested in its implausible science than the stuff that doesn't get called hard.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:08 AM
363

362:

Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:10 AM
364

I can't hear "hard sci-fi" anymore without hearing it in the voice of Roman from Party Down.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:12 AM
365

Terrorbird!

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:12 AM
366

Of course manipulating the brain affects one's subjective experience. (So does manipulating the toes.) I have to admit, I really don't see why one would hope that consciousness—whatever one means by that, even if it's restricted to consciousness-as-we-have-it—will be rendered explicable by a study of neurological processes.

Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:14 AM
367

Maybe hard wasn't the word I wanted. I'm willing to accept handwaves for things like interstellar travel, without which a lot of plots become impossible, but it seems like telepathy gets thrown in quite often, just as a bit of extra magic. It annoys.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:15 AM
368

I really don't see why one would hope that consciousness--whatever one means by that, even if it's restricted to consciousness-as-we-have-it--will be rendered explicable by a study of neurological processes

As far as I can tell it's not a well-formed question, and is thus sort of irrelevant to the study of neurological processes (and, for that matter, human behavior).

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:16 AM
369

Yes, and many other physical concepts don't apply to them, and yet they are capable of entering into causal relationships with physical entities which do have mass, energy etc. This is the point I'm trying to make; mental entities can't transfer energy to physical entities or receive energy from them and yet they can have their state changed by (or, according to most people, change the state of) some kinds of physical entity. This is the totally mysterious bit.

Ah yes, but have you seen what's inside the pineal gland? Seriously, aren't physical laws, even though they may be well defined, 'totally mysterious' in and of themselves? Why are there such laws? As I see it, the motivation for physicalism (in phil. of mind, anyway) isn't the abolition of mystery: physicalists just want to be able to take some laws as basic, with an option on completeness (everything falls under them). So the physical laws are just the basic laws, whatever those be. As far as the mental goes, there are choices. Do the interactions of mental entities with other entities fall under the basic laws? If they don't fall under those laws, do they fall under some other as yet undefined laws (i.e. 'bridge laws')? Is each interaction sui generis, and not susceptible to description in terms of any sort of law? Or can mental entities be redescribed in terms of entities that do fall under basic laws (reduction)? Mystery needn't drive us directly to dualism about the mental.

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 9:36 AM
370

219,234,235: I don't care if the whole of Cleveland is on fire, white belts included.

So not telepathy, but certainly demonstrates polapathy.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 10:16 AM
371

Since this is the radiation thread, Does low-level radiation have health benefits? Some say yes. Unfogged meetup in a uranium mine!

Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 10:17 AM
372

238.1 I'm afraid any further attempts on my part to argue against ESP would lead to a ScentOfViolets-style meltdown, so I'd better stop now.

Well, in the interests of comity I think we can all concur with essear that the discovery of ESP would rock the foundations of science to a much greater extent than something like the overthrow of quarks. Off to swim work the dick joke thread.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-23-11 10:26 AM
373

Some new data for the explanatory gap discussion (probably not new to specialists). And the Libet study the reporters mention has been on the TV a few times already. Anyway:

Fried and his colleagues implanted electrodes in twelve patients, recording from a total of 1019 neurons. They adopted an experimental procedure that Benjamin Libet, a pioneer of research on free will at the University of California, San Francisco, developed almost thirty years ago: They had their patients look at a hand sweeping around a clock-face, asked them to press a button whenever they wanted to, and then had them indicate where the hand had been pointing when they decided to press the button. This provides a precise time for an action (the push) as well as the decision to act. With these data the experimenters can then look for neurons whose activity correlated with the will to act.
Such neurons, they found, abound in a region of the frontal lobe called the supplementary motor area, which is involved in the planning of movements. But here is the interesting thing: about a quarter of these neurons began to change their activity before the time patients declared as the moment they felt the urge to press the button. The change began as long as a second and a half before the decision, and as early as seven tenths of a second before it, this activity was robust enough that the researchers could predict with over 80 percent accuracy not only whether a movement had occurred, but when the decision to make it happened.

Some slightly sloppy phrasing there from Scientific American: I'm not sure that 'the decision' should refer to the same thing as 'the time patients declared as the the moment they felt the urge to press the button'. Anyway, I think evidence like this motivates conceptions of the self as diffuse.

Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 03-24-11 4:48 AM