Friday, May 1, 2015

Sheldrake Versus Shermer

Here is a fascination set of dialogues that will be going on over the next three months. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, author of the morphic resonance hypothesis, will be debating skeptic Michael Shermer on the nature of science. Ever since the controversy over a TED talk given by Sheldrake questioning some of the assumptions of modern science, this has been a topic ripe for debate. And Shermer is a good choice as well; unlike a lot of people in the Skeptic community, he has shown himself to be relatively fair-minded in evaluating evidence of paranormal phenomena.

MAY 2015: Materialism in Science

Sheldrake: Science needs to free itself from materialist dogma; indeed, science misunderstands nature by being wedded to purely materialist explanations.

Shermer: Science, properly conceived, is a materialistic enterprise; for science to look beyond materialist explanations is to betray science and engage in superstition.

Believe it or not, I actually side with Shermer on this one, though probably not in the way that he intends. I am not a believer in the supernatural, but rather in the paranormal. The distinction is an important one, and not merely an attempt to dodge the issue by means of semantics. Supernatural means above or outside the natural universe, while paranormal means beyond the realm of everyday experience.

According to the ontological model I follow, the natural universe is defined as the summation of all that exists, including phenomena such as consciousness which are not necessarily amenable to straightforward measurement. I classify the two primary components of all phenomena as matter/energy and information, which maps nicely to both the Platonic and Aristolean philosophical models.

These two schools share the notion that the primary components of existence may be classified as matter and form, with form corresponding to the modern concept of information. Plato proposed that form preceded matter, while Aristotle proposed that matter preceded form. The two schools can be reconciled by proposing that matter/energy and information are locked into a reciprocal relationship with each other, such that either may organically precede depending upon the circumstances.

So what this means is that Sheldrakes morphic field model is essentially based on similarities between information structures rather than conventional physical forces, but as information is part of the physical universe I still classify it as "material."

JUNE 2015: Mental Action at a Distance

Sheldrake: Telepathy, ESP, and psychic/psi phenomena in general are real and backed up by convincing evidence; their investigation deserves to be part of science.

Shermer: Psychic or psi phenomena are artifacts of poor experimental procedure or outright fraud; no convincing evidence or experiments support their reality.

It should be no surprise here that I side with Sheldrake on this one. Experiments have shown that something is going on that may be described as psi phenomena, but the design of those experiment is impaired by (A) the lack of a coherent model that allows us to generate hypotheses and (B) the difficulty of measuring the states of consciousness associated with positive experimental results.

For example, skeptics have tried to dismiss the PEAR experiments for years, but the best they can come up with is "statistical anomalies." There are no problems with the experimental procedures, or with the data sampling. It is profoundly unlikely that an anomaly would have held up over the number of trials PEAR conducted, as they used automated sampling that allowed them to run millions upon millions of trials.

In fact, the PEAR experiments predicted exactly the sort of paranormal experience that Shermer recounted back in September. Much of their research was focused on the effects of strong mental and emotional states on electronic devices, which seems to be as good an explanation as any for his experience with the broken radio.

I have contended for awhile now that the missing coherent model can be derived from the matter/energy and information dynamic. Consciousness lies mostly within the realm of information, and magical procedures consist of using it to alter the information contained within entangled quantum information fields. This is why the effect is often weak and difficult to measure - because it acts upon matter only indirectly.

This model predicts that the correlation we need is to match external probability shifts with particular states of consciousness. That way, we can determine the proper information configuration for producing material influences. On the other hand, if no correlation between states of consciousness and probability shifts are found, it means that a reconsideration of the model is likely necessary.

JULY 2015: God and Science

Sheldrake: There is no conflict between science and the existence of God; evidence from conscious experience renders belief in God reasonable.

Shermer: Science in no way supports the existence of God; in fact, science undercuts the reasonableness of belief in God.

The basic problem with this last one is that the right answer is essentially "it depends." Science does not support the existence of a purely theistic God - that is, a coherent ultimate being who occupies a particular point in time and space and actively works to subvert the laws of physics.

However, this is not the only concept of God out there. Skeptics like Shermer tend to think that all religious people believe in this sort of God, but the truth is that there are many much more nuanced views. According to my own, "God" in the monotheistic sense is essentially a label placed upon the unified field of consciousness (that is, information) that permeates the cosmos.

This latter concept does not conflict with science in any way. It furthermore allows for localized fields of consciousness within the overall information space that are not necessarily strongly coupled to a physical body - that is, spirits. As I see it, the most powerful of these are "the gods" as described by polytheists, and they exist just as surely as other individual humans do.

So this one breaks down into a question of semantics. For one set of God beliefs Shermer is right, but for the other Sheldrake is. This is a common problem with debates between atheists and believers. Atheists tend to assume that all believers think there is a literal giant parent floating somewhere up in the sky, which is indeed utterly ridiculous. But only a minority of extreme literalists believe in such a God.

So I'm very much looking forward to this debate, and seeing how it progresses. We need to develop an understanding of consciousness and its place in the universe if we are ever to make sense of the phenomena arising from magical and mystical practices and experiences.

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Nerd said...

Sorry man, I'm behind on my blog reading, since my eye has been busted out.

I do like Sheldrake, but I've found him to be inconsistent a times. As for the other fellow, skepticism is just fine, as long as you don't take money from pharmaceutical interests to make false allegations about alternative practitioners or disseminate untruth and hate.

Although I will note that traditionally skepticism meant you were SKEPTICAL of things, not that you go out of your way to support and defend the mainstream while attacking people who question the established world view, who imo are the actual "skeptics."

Scott Stenwick said...

Hence the capital-S in Skeptic up there at the top. I am completely fine with actual skepticism, and totally down on the capital-S approach which is basically debunking with an agenda. I appreciate it when they take down some of the worst frauds, but other than that I would rather just see the evidence evaluated objectively.

SeekInfinity-ICTX said...

Considering the implications of the psi mediated experimenter effects noted in some psi studies, they're quite the opposite of something to be appreciated... their pushing of their agenda(and they use lies and fraud themselves REALLY quickly) basically an attack on me obtaining anything that would make my lie worth living(I literally don't care about 'mundane' success my only real motivation in life is to advance this field towards it's true potential). Then again, so is the way you approach this blog, you're just not a lying a fraud about it like they are.