Conversation with Steve Winsor

From: Steven Winsor 
Subject: FW: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: November 30, 2011 10:20:43 AM EST
To: Brian Blais

See last Reagan comment..is he right? J

Not claiming there is a God or not…some days I think there could be and other days I think there just can’t be (especially after some awful tragedy involving children, for example). I mentioned in an e-mail the other day that I believe, on balance, religion has more good associated with it than bad…and that the bad exists because humans are involved in managing it. But, on balance, I think a country that, while recognizing separation of government of religion, needs the ‘moral anchor’ that religion provides (i.e., be good, go to Heaven; be bad, off to Hell with you). A purely secular society, in my humble opinion, would eventually lead to a society without an innate sense of good or bad…’moral relativism’ is what it is called these days. We’re already seeing moral relativism at play in the rampant ‘political correctness’ abounding in this country.

In other words, while I have little use personally for organized religion, I think it’s good for other people (i.e. “do as I say, don’t do as I do”…yes, a bit hypocritical J). And I do think Reagan is right in the last comment…on balance.

From: Brian Blais
Subject: Re: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: November 30, 2011 11:13:55 AM EST
To: Steven Winsor

On Nov 30, 2011, at 10:20 AM, Steven Winsor wrote:


See last Reagan comment..is he right? J

no.


needs the ‘moral anchor’ that religion provides (i.e., be good, go to Heaven; be bad, off to Hell with you).

actually, I think religion provides a pretty poor moral system, divorced from the true suffering of individuals on this planet.


A purely secular society, in my humble opinion, would eventually lead to a society without an innate sense of good or bad…’moral relativism’ is what it is called these days. We’re already seeing moral relativism at play in the rampant ‘political correctness’ abounding in this country.

just because one doesn’t believe in God, doesn’t make you a moral relativist. I think moral relativism is ridiculous and unsustainable. For a very good treatment of this, see

Sam Harris Ted Talk

or (longer)

Moral Landscape Tour

bb

From: Steven Winsor
Subject: Re: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: November 30, 2011 11:28:38 AM EST
To: Brian Blais

>
See last Reagan comment..is he right? J

no.

I’ll venture a ‘maybe he is’

>
needs the ‘moral anchor’ that religion provides (i.e., be good, go to Heaven; be bad, off to Hell with you).

actually, I think religion provides a pretty poor moral system, divorced from the true suffering of individuals on this planet.

I think the ‘moral system’ is there and it’s good/beneficial…unfortunately, it often fails due to human corruption. But unless angels magically come down from Heaven to help us operate the mechanism known as ‘religion’, it will be far less than perfect…and often less than we desire.

>
A purely secular society, in my humble opinion, would eventually lead to a society without an innate sense of good or bad…’moral relativism’ is what it is called these days. We’re already seeing moral relativism at play in the rampant ‘political correctness’ abounding in this country.

just because one doesn’t believe in God, doesn’t make you a moral relativist. I think moral relativism is ridiculous and unsustainable.

Correct…one thing doesn’t automatically mean another…but it leads, in my opinion, eventually to a society where judgments themselves are considered to be undesirable
i.e. politically incorrect
… because there is no moral anchor available.

Or…it leads to Avatar J…where creatures live in harmony with nature
and humans aren’t like that in any significant numbers
.

From: Brian Blais
Subject: Re: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: November 30, 2011 11:34:48 AM EST
To: Steven Winsor

On Nov 30, 2011, at 11:28 AM, Steven Winsor wrote:

Correct…one thing doesn’t automatically mean another…but it leads, in my opinion, eventually to a society where judgments themselves are considered to be undesirable
i.e. politically incorrect
… because there is no moral anchor available.

I’d like to see some evidence for this. I think, for right now, Sweden is a good example of a secular nation.

From: Steven Winsor
Subject: RE: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: November 30, 2011 12:12:19 PM EST
To: Brian Blais

I think Sweden is an exception. Being 1/4 Swedish myself, I am pleased of course that they handle their affairs well. And I wonder how secular they really are…there is no significant number of churches in Sweden? Or are they pagans? J And is it possible they use a moral compass based on a Western European culture that has, as its underpinning, a moral structure based on the Christian church?..after all, it’s not like they are in East Asia.

From: Steven Winsor
Subject: RE: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: November 30, 2011 12:42:17 PM EST
To: Brian Blais

Brian, got this from Wikipedia (below in bold): a mixed bag it seems…there was state church until 2000…as of 2010, 70% of Swedes are members of the Church of Sweden…but religion is not a big part of their life (17%). On balance, I’d say Sweden is not secular. The Lutheran Church has surely brought a moral code/compass of some sort to Swedish society over the centuries. And no…I didn’t write up the Wikipedia passage.J

Religion in Sweden (Wikipedia):

Sweden was Christianized from Norse paganism in the 11th century. Since the 16th century, Sweden has been predominantly Lutheran. From the Protestant Reformation in the 1530s until 2000, the Lutheran Church of Sweden (Swedish: Svenska kyrkan) was the state church. As of 2010, about 70% of Swedes are members of the Church of Sweden, compared to over 95% in 1970, and 83% in 2000.[1] Religiosity in Sweden plays a limited role compared to the European average. In a 2009 Gallup poll, 17% answered yes to the question “Is religion an important part of your daily life?”.[2] Less than 4% of the Church of Sweden membership attends public worship during an average week; about 2% are regular attendees.[3]

From: Brian Blais
Subject: Re: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: December 1, 2011 7:19:02 AM EST
To: Steven Winsor

On Nov 30, 2011, at 12:42 PM, Steven Winsor wrote:


Brian, got this from Wikipedia (below in bold): a mixed bag it seems…there was state church until 2000…as of 2010, 70% of Swedes are members of the Church of Sweden…but religion is not a big part of their life (17%). On balance, I’d say Sweden is not secular. The Lutheran Church has surely brought a moral code/compass of some sort to Swedish society over the centuries. And no…I didn’t write up the Wikipedia passage.J

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Europe

“2005 eurobarometer poll only 23%[4] of the Swedish population said they believed in a personal God.”

“I believe there is a God”

“I believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”

“I don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force”

23%

53%

23%

vague deists, mostly, and about 1/4 atheists…seems reasonably secular to me, because the morality arguments stem not from deism but from theism, of which only about 1/4 are.

clearly not perfectly secular, but way more secular than the US, and most measures of societal health (lifespan, infant mortality, per capita charity, crime rate, etc…) are better in Sweden. Now, of course there are other issues (homogeneity of the population, population size, etc…) but this trend exists pretty much across Europe, and at minimum proves that more religiosity doesn’t necessarily improve a society.

bb

From: Steven Winsor
Subject: RE: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: December 1, 2011 10:36:50 AM EST
To: Brian Blais

Another interesting view of it by astrophysicist Bernard Haisch. He mentions ‘exceptional human experiences’ below (ex. My Royal Flush Ace-high scenario?).

The one thing that seems to stand out for me re: ‘is there a God?’ is the organized structure of the Universe…and the ability for it to allow organic ‘life’ (which may be reasonably spread throughout this galaxies and most others). Was there some type of over-arching intelligence that created the Universe? That’s what nags at me…and suggests that to declare there is no ‘god’ (or vastly superior intelligence capable of affecting the enormous structure of the Universe) because there is no direct proof (and there never can be presumably) is not the end of the story. Think I’ll keep hedging my bet. J

One other matter bears looking at. Is ‘good vs. evil’ simply a human-created phenomenon?…or is it circumstantial evidence that there may be that over-arching intelligence somewhere in existence?

Is there an intelligence behind the origin of the Universe? Bestsellers by Christopher Hitchins,Richard Dawkins and, Sam Harrishave denounced the evils of religion and proclaimed that science has shown that there is no God. Their angry accusations are partially correct. Religions have been used to justify crimes against humanity: witness the Inquisition of centuries past or the sectarian slaughter in the Mideast today. But the human misuse of religions and the existence of God are very different matters.

A remarkable discovery has emerged in astrophysics: that key properties of the Universe have just the right values to make life possible. Most scientists prefer to explain away this uniqueness, insisting that a huge, perhaps infinite, number of unseen universes must therefore exist, each randomly different from the other. That way ours only appears special because we could not exist in any of the other hypothetical universes.

I propose the alternative that the special properties of our universe reflect an underlying intelligence, one that is consistent with the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution. Both views are equally logical and beyond proof. However exceptional human experiences and accounts of mystics throughout the ages do suggest that we live in a purposeful universe. In The God Theory and The Purpose-Guided Universe: Believing In Einstein, Darwin, and GodI speculate on what that purpose might be… what that purpose means for our lives… how it might explain the riddle of evil.

Other Books on God – Pro and Con

Advances are made by answering questions. Discoveries are made by questioning answers. – Bernard Haisch

Bernard Haisch, Ph.D., is an astrophysicist and author of over 130 scientific publications. He served as a scientific editor of the Astrophysical Journal for ten years, and was Principal Investigator on several NASA research projects. After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Haisch did postdoctoral research at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. His professional positions include Staff Scientist at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory; Deputy Director of the Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley; and Visiting Scientist at the Max-Planck-Institut fuer Extraterrestrische Physik in Garching, Germany. He was also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Scientific Exploration. Prior to his career in astrophysics, Haisch attended the Latin School of Indianapolis and the St. Meinrad Seminary as a student for the Catholic priesthood.The God Theoryis his first solo book. He is married, with three children, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Marsha Sims.

Brian, regarding your statistics below: I would add the 23% to the 53% of ‘I believe there is some sort of spirit or life force’ and you get 76%. I think Sweden flunks the ‘secular test’. The existence of ‘spirit or life force’ (53%) is the driver for human desire to seek guidance for behavior/justice from someone/something above Man. I think it’s an innate need…and comes from the very thing you are interested in…the human mind. The question is…does it really exist?…and, if so, does it inhabit the subconscious mind…or conscious?

From: Brian Blais
Subject: Re: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: December 1, 2011 11:08:17 AM EST
To: Steven Winsor

On Dec 1, 2011, at 10:36 AM, Steven Winsor wrote:


Another interesting view of it by astrophysicist Bernard Haisch. He mentions ‘exceptional human experiences’ below (ex. My Royal Flush Ace-high scenario?).

actually, he doesn’t actually say what the “exceptional human experiences” are. if they are something like what is claimed by mystics, then these sorts of experiences have been had by Christians, Muslims, and atheists which demonstrates that these experience do not present any evidence for any particular doctrine. Further, we can elicit these experiences with chemical and electrical stimulation, which is strong evidence that they are the product of the functioning of the brain. I am the first to say that our knowledge of the brain is at its infancy, but we know enough that we don’t need to resort to metaphysical interpretations of the nature of the cosmos from changes in someone conscious experience. Sam Harris speaks to this a great deal.


The one thing that seems to stand out for me re: ‘is there a God?’ is the organized structure of the Universe…and the ability for it to allow organic ‘life’ (which may be reasonably spread throughout this galaxies and most others).

first, nearly all of the universe is hostile to life, so it is hardly “tuned” for the flourishing of life. second, organization is the result of the natural laws. where do these laws come from? we don’t know for sure, yet, but some of them we can already see become unified at large energies so there need not be as much “tuning” as one might think at first glance.


there is no direct proof (and there never can be presumably) is not the end of the story.

sorry, you can’t use that dodge either. never can be any proof? Are you suggesting that God couldn’t provide it if he wanted? Are you suggesting that if God left an imprint into the universe, that it would not be directly observable? if you are, then pretty much you’re conceding that there is no difference between an intelligence guiding events and natural laws guiding events, in which case there is no point to the intelligence. also, proof doesn’t exist in science (only in math and philosophy). all I’m looking for is evidence, and there sure isn’t any, or it’s all really terrible.


One other matter bears looking at. Is ‘good vs. evil’ simply a human-created phenomenon?

again, look at the links I pointed to earlier from Sam Harris. this is the issue he deals with. it’s an argument, that I happen to agree with, for an absolute morality completely divorced from any religion.


Think I’ll keep hedging my bet. J

so you should be concerned that you’re not a Muslim then, because the Koran clearly states that those who do not follow Mohammad will be doomed. Or you should be concerned that you’re not a Buddhist… perhaps you should hedge your bet around santa claus, or chiropracting, or homeopathy, or the easter bunny? or the flying spaghetti monster?

It’s a very strange god indeed that wants people to believe in him on bad evidence.


Brian, regarding your statistics below: I would add the 23% to the 53% of ‘I believe there is some sort of spirit or life force’ and you get 76%.

I wouldn’t, because spirit or life force is pretty much the vague notions of stuff people don’t understand. it doesn’t guide their actions, and certainly is not the basis of any morality. practically speaking, Sweden (and much of Scandinavia) are *mostly* secular, and trending more so.


I think Sweden flunks the ‘secular test’. The existence of ‘spirit or life force’ (53%) is the driver for human desire to seek guidance for behavior/justice from someone/something above Man.

sorry, that’s not correct. it doesn’t say something “above” man. those people who believe in a life force or spirit simply believe that there is more to man than the physical. usually they are thinking of the mind, and their understanding of neurobiology is weak.


I think it’s an innate need…and comes from the very thing you are interested in…the human mind. The question is…does it really exist?…and, if so, does it inhabit the subconscious mind…or conscious?

what is the “it” here? are you speaking of consciousness separate from the brain? our understanding of consciousness is not at the point where we can conclusively state that. there is certainly no evidence for it, and everything so far points to consciousness arising from the functioning of the brain.

One thing that is clear, historically, is that people tend to think they are special, and build descriptions and stories around this specialness. What is also clear historically, in every case where we have been able to determine it, we are not special. Life molecules can arise from non-life – the chemistry is the same. We are on a tiny planet, not in the center of any universe, galaxy or solar system. We are one of many solar systems, probably many with life. “heavenly matter” is no different than “earthly matter” – the laws of physics are the same here as across the universe and across time. humans are primates, and are directly descended from animals that gave rise to chimps too. Our moral sense is shared, to some extent, in other animals as well. Our brains work like monkey brains and cat brains, and the parts work just like the parts of worm brains.

To some, this is discouraging. I, however, find some comfort in the notion that we are all connected.

See: We are all connected

From: Steven Winsor
Subject: RE: Remember This Guy? - Genius!
Date: December 1, 2011 13:41:24 PM EST
To: Brian Blais

What is cooler than seeing film of Richard Feynman (my favorite physicist
sorry, Brian
) at the bongos. Ever read his book ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman’? I even have a DVD of his ‘The Missing Lectures of Richard Feynman’…if you’d like to hear the DVD, I’d be happy to provide it.

I had not read your responses to my e-mail (below) when I saw you around noon. Looks like I am making no headway. Perhaps we should have placed these on your blog for others to view and comment?

When I get a chance, I’ll see what kind of responses are appropriate. Hmm…wonder if God created the Multi-verse? 🙂

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About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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One Response to Conversation with Steve Winsor

  1. Steve Winsor says:

    Steve said:
    there is no direct proof (and there never can be presumably) is not the end of the story.

    Brian said:
    sorry, you can’t use that dodge either. never can be any proof? Are you suggesting that God couldn’t provide it if he wanted? Are you suggesting that if God left an imprint into the universe, that it would not be directly observable?

    Steve says: Is it too much to suggest that God has indeed left an imprint on the Universe that is directly observable?…perhaps some humans ‘see’ the imprint and others don’t. God isn’t going to leave an e-mail for us (though I think he should begin to tweet with some of us, don’t you think?)…especially now that Steven Jobs is presumably in Heaven, helping thr heavenly Father sort out his IT issues. Is perhaps E = MC (squared) the ‘imprint’ that some see as evidence of an intelligence far beyond ours? One m,ust have a little faith, Brian. 🙂 {need access to smiley face emoticon for this site}.

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