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Is Scientific Materialism “Almost Certainly False”?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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When it comes to science, ours is a paradoxical era. On the one hand, prominent physicists proclaim that they are solving the riddle of reality and hence finally displacing religious myths of creation. That is the chest-thumping message of books such as The Grand Design by physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss. A corollary of this triumphal view is that science will inevitably solve all other mysteries as well.

On the other hand, science’s limits have never been more glaringly apparent. In their desperation for a “theory of everything”—which unifies quantum mechanics and relativity and explains the origin and structure of our cosmos—physicists have embraced pseudo-scientific speculation such as multi-universe theories and the anthropic principle (which says that the universe must be as we observe it to be because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to observe it). Fields such as neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics and complexity have fallen far short of their hype.

Some scholars, notably philosopher Thomas Nagel, are so unimpressed with science that they are challenging its fundamental assumptions. In his new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, Nagel contends that current scientific theories and methods can’t account for the emergence of life in general and one bipedal, big-brained species in particular. To solve these problems, Nagel asserts, science needs “a major conceptual revolution,” as radical as those precipitated by heliocentrism, evolution and relativity.

Many pundits calling for such a revolution are peddling some sort of religious agenda, whether Christian or New Age. Nagel is an atheist, who cannot accept God as a final answer, and yet he echoes some theological critiques of science. “Physic-chemical reductionism,” he writes, cannot tell us how matter became animate on Earth more than three billion years ago; nor can it account for the emergence in our ancestors of consciousness, reason and morality.

Evolutionary psychologists invoke natural selection to explain humanity’s remarkable attributes, but only in a hand-wavy, retrospective fashion, according to Nagel. A genuine theory of everything, he suggests, should make sense of the extraordinary fact that the universe “is waking up and becoming aware of itself.” In other words, the theory should show that life, mind, morality and reason were not only possible but even inevitable, latent in the cosmos from its explosive inception. Nagel admits he has no idea what form such a theory would take; his goal is to point out how far current science is from achieving it.

I share Nagel’s view of science’s inadequacies. Moreover, I’m a fan of his work, especially his famous essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, a quirky take on the mind-body problem (which inspired my column “What Is it Like to Be a Cat?“). So I was a bit disappointed by the dry, abstract style of Mind and Cosmos. The book seems aimed primarily at philosophers and scientists—that is, professionals—rather than lay readers.

Nagel acknowledges that his attempt to envision a more expansive scientific paradigm is “far too unimaginative.” He might have produced a more compelling work if he had ranged more widely in his survey of alternatives to materialist dogma. For example, complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman has postulated the existence of a new force that counteracts the universal drift toward disorder decreed by the second law of thermodynamics. Kauffman suspects that this anti-entropy force might account for the emergence and evolution of life. Nagel mentions Kauffman’s theory of “self-organization” in a footnote but doesn’t elaborate on it. (I critiqued the field of complexity research in a recent column.)

According to the physicist John Wheeler, quantum mechanics implies that our observations of reality influence its unfolding. We live in a “participatory universe,” Wheeler proposed, in which mind is as fundamental as matter. Philosopher David Chalmers, Nagel’s colleague at New York University, conjectures that “information,” which emerges from certain physical configurations and processes and entails consciousness, is a fundamental component of reality, as much so as time, space, matter and energy.

I never took Chalmer’s hypothesis seriously—in part because it implies that toaster ovens might be conscious—but I would have appreciated Nagel’s take on it. (For a critique of the ideas of Wheeler and Chalmers, see my column “Why information can’t be the basis of reality.”)

Nagel touches briefly on free will, when he suggests that our moral and aesthetic choices cannot be reduced to physical processes, but I expected a deeper treatment of the topic. Many leading scientists, from Francis Crick to Hawking, have argued that free will is an illusion, as much so as God and ghosts. This perspective, it seems to me, stems from a cramped, hyper-reductive view of causality, which I wish Nagel had opposed more vigorously.

These qualms asides, I recommend Nagel’s book, which serves as a much-needed counterweight to the smug, know-it-all stance of many modern scientists. Hawking and Krauss both claim that science has rendered philosophy obsolete. Actually, now more than ever we need philosophers, especially skeptics like Socrates, Descartes, Thomas Kuhn and Nagel, who seek to prevent us from becoming trapped in the cave of our beliefs.

Lehrer alert: This review was originally published in the Canadian newspaper The Globe & Mail.

 

About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. curiouswavefunction 8:25 am 01/30/2013

    “Physic-chemical reductionism,” he writes, cannot tell us how matter became animate on Earth more than three billion years ago”

    While that is true as of now, I wonder if Nagel is aware of the tremendous progress that chemists have made in the field of origin of life research during the last thirty or so years. We now have a much better idea of the kinds of reactions that might have led to biopolymers and cells; the challenge right now is to simulate these reactions in a test tube or model system. I agree that we still don’t know how exactly inanimate matter crossed the threshold and turned into animate matter, but I am always skeptical when philosophers say something like this without at least acknowledging that they are aware of actual laboratory research in the field. Does Nagel provide any citations?

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  2. 2. RSchmidt 9:00 am 01/30/2013

    “On the other hand, science’s limits have never been more glaringly apparent.” I guess I just don’t see it. Are there still, unsolved questions? Yes. When there aren’t we won’t need science anymore. I am constantly amazed by what science CAN tell us about the universe. Will there be things that science can’t explain? Potentially. Does that mean some other methodology would be able to do what science can’t? I see no reason to believe that.

    “Many leading scientists, from Francis Crick to Hawking, have argued that free will is an illusion, as much so as God and ghosts. This perspective, it seems to me, stems from a cramped, hyper-reductive view of causality, which I wish Nagel had opposed more vigorously.” well the onus of proof is on those that assert the affirmative or the existence of. To date I have not seen any convincing evidence to suggest that free-will exists but I have seen research that suggests free-will is an illusion, that our conscious experience is not free-will but simply awareness.

    “Many pundits calling for such a revolution are peddling some sort of religious agenda, whether Christian or New Age.” I would agree. From what I have seen, those that complain that science can’t provide answers are really saying, science can’t provide them with answers they like. That isn’t limited to religion, politics or new agers. Your own comments about free-will demonstrate that we all have our own personal collection of “Myths” that we are unwilling to discard regardless of the evidence. So instead of taking the bad news with some humility, we shoot the messenger.

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  3. 3. Uranium Willy 9:06 am 01/30/2013

    Sorry this just sounds like an argument from incredulity with some god of the gaps arguments thrown in. For example your objection to ‘free will is an illusion’ is basically ‘I don’t like it’, with no real explanation why. There was a time when science could not explain magnetism, did that mean it was incapable of every explaining it. The idea that a theory of everything would result in you seeing how, chemical reaction lead to consciousness or the emergency of life, is a niave expectation. Quantum phisics can already explain the basis of chemistry, but to use quantum physics to do chemistry is just too complicated, your are missing the fact that humans are of limited reason resources, there will always been a need to try and understand and explain things at a more praticle level than there bare building blocks of the universe.

    The idea that the anthropic principle is pseudo-scientific is just nonsense, an example of anthropic principle is why should it be that all people have mothers, well for them to exists to ask the question, do they have a mother, they must of have a mother to bring them in existence in the first place.

    The concept of anti-entropy already exists in a fashion, entry is only the case in a closed system, the decrease in entropy that has been created by entire history of life on earth, is match every year by the increase of entropy generated by the sun.

    Materialism is not dogma it is pragmatism, we can only know about what we can measure and observer. You can come up with an inifinit number of possible models that the unobservable/unmeasurable may be but there is no possible way to choose one of other, they are all equally valid anda useless. It may be invisible pink unicorns are determining the out comes of our dual slit experiments for complete rational reasons which are completely unaccessable to us, so we may as we just call it random.

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  4. 4. sault 9:21 am 01/30/2013

    Nonsense, there are too many people today who reject scientific conclusions that are inconvenient to their beliefs and are “becoming trapped in the cave of our[their] beliefs.” This is a MUCH worse problem that is MUCH more dangerous to society than scientists like Hawking getting a little philosophical about the conclusions of their research. Calling these people “chest-thumping” and “smug, know-it-all” scientists makes your telos concerning this article all too apparent. And FYI, many scientists reject the Anthropic Principle and the Multiple Universes theory precisely because they aren’t proven yet. Trying to paint ALL physicists as embracing these ideas is a bit of a stretch just to make a quick and “easy” point, don’t you think?

    How can science describe morality when there isn’t even a consensus definition of what morality actually IS from the philosophers of the world? Evolution predicts that groups that work well together and share common goals will out-compete groups that are factional and can’t trust each other. Isn’t “Morality” merely what is necessary for group members to trust each other so they CAN work together towards common goals? Wouldn’t this “morality” be selected for in individuals AND groups over the long term?

    Look, Nagel wrote a book with a clever title and premise that’s sure to stir up controversy from the flat / young – earthers as well as the scientific community. It’s marketing GOLD. He accuses Scientific Materialism of excess hubris yet he claims that an acceptable scientific philosophy should explain how “life, mind, morality and reason were not only possible but even inevitable, latent in the cosmos from its explosive inception.” Anything short of that would disappoint him, I guess. Well, considering that 99.99% or more of the observable universe would kill off any known life form in under 15 minutes, it’s extremely arrogant to believe that life is inevitable. Even here, on our little, blue marble of life, complex organisms are limited to the thin skin of biosphere clinging to its surface or dependent on what falls into the ocean from it. There are a few microbes floating around in the air or jostling through the “deep, hot biosphere”, but for all intents and purposes, Earth is over 99% uninhabitable by volume as well. So NO, life is NOT inevitable. The universe is actually very hostile to life when you seriously consider it.

    Look, if there are valid criticisms of evolutionary biology, physics and other scientific fields that just so happen to bump up against our antiquated prejudices and preferences, they might still be valid. However, “throwing the baby out with the bath water” as far as scientific materialism goes is extremely short-sighted and dangerous. You’re throwing out the vaccines, modern agriculture and the medical science that has saved billions of lives AND the engineering that produced the computer and the Internet you use to disavow these things. Just because science hasn’t explained something yet or has produced conclusions you don’t like doesn’t mean you should just dismiss it out of hand.

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  5. 5. Richieo 10:01 am 01/30/2013

    If we can ever say Q.E.D. on this subject, life will become Soooooo boring…

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  6. 6. oldvic 10:36 am 01/30/2013

    This sounds like one of those “Is!” “Isn’t!” shouting matches. We don’t know enough to decide now, but we seem to be getting ever closer.
    The discussions are interesting, however, and from such discussions may well emerge a better quest for knowledge.

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  7. 7. Scienceneedsintegrity 10:41 am 01/30/2013

    Great perspective.

    However, many still can’t let go of the concept that ‘life is special’.

    It isn’t. The ide of ‘life’ is a human constrict. The physical properties of matter and energy are the same regardless whether a carbon atom is in what we call ‘life’ or if it is an atom in non-life.

    My only quibble with this article is “Actually, now more than ever we need philosophers, especially skeptics like Socrates, Descartes”.
    Exactly why? ‘Whatever’ they propose is irrelevent to searching for alien planets, subatomic particles or making an artificial heart. It migh be fun intellectualy but it has zero impact on the latest edition of my Ipad. Folks in China. Brazil, India ,the USA don’t give a hoot about what some philosopher says.

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  8. 8. drafter 11:24 am 01/30/2013

    Weather I accept god or not I still want to explore science to it’s most ultimate end. And even if you can make an equation of everything and even if a man can create all from nothing then you can still never prove or disprove the existence of any God(s).
    The article does a nice job of proving to us that certain scientist are out to eliminate religion. this is why certain religions are anti science if your only goal is to usurp and destroy religions moral authority then you will have these roadblocks from religion. so mayb that is why some scientist are trying to bring religion back into the fold so that the two could work side by side again.

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  9. 9. allaphor 11:29 am 01/30/2013

    I think the problem here is that philosophers are simply out of their league. In the beginning of philosophy, philosopher and scientist were interchangeable, they were people trying to find out how reality works. Gradually these groups diverged with scientists focusing on the physical and philosophers on the metaphysical. What is happening is that the physical e ever encroaching on the metaphysical… The concepts Hawking and others working with as a framework for reality are simply too complex for your average philosopher. They can’t play so they pout and say the game is lame… Knowledge about the universe comes not from what is felt but from what can be measured.

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  10. 10. RSchmidt 12:39 pm 01/30/2013

    @drafter, “And even if you can make an equation of everything and even if a man can create all from nothing then you can still never prove or disprove the existence of any God(s).” so you are saying the God hypothesis is non-falsifiable. That makes it invalid. Science is not trying to disprove god. It can’t be done. Fortunately they don’t have to because the onus of proof is on those who advance the god hypothesis to prove it. The rest of us can proceed as though god doesn’t exist, just as we do with dragons, unicorns, fairies and trolls until there is evidence to support the assertion. Religion and science can never work together consistently. Religion is the antithesis of science. Religion takes everything on faith, science takes nothing on faith. Religion requires ignorance, science requires knowledge. Religion starts with the answers then looks for confirming evidence and denies conflicting evidence. Science follows the evidence to the answer. If the evidence changes, the answer changes, but the process remains the same. Religion is a legacy of irrational primitive man trying to understand himself. Science replaced it in the minds of those open to the truth. But some minds remained stuck in the bronze age because they feared the harsh light of the age of reason.

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  11. 11. Dredd 1:08 pm 01/30/2013

    This is a case for “The Origin of Specious” perhaps.

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  12. 12. priddseren 1:37 pm 01/30/2013

    I can partially agree with some of this article. Global Warmists are certainly a group that believes in their theory with no actual proof, very similar to the believe Darwins theory proves how life began or was created, it doesnt. It describes what happens over time when life begins with all possible combinations of genetics and a billion years later the successful combinations remain.
    Of course “creationists” are out of their minds as well, they are doing the same thing as warmists, just as warmists read from their computer models pumped with some cherry picked evidence, creationists read from their holy books and both groups end up believing their story is fact.

    I don’t think the author of the book is correct in concepts of more expansive anything. That sounds more like a path to indoctrination. Science needs to head back in the direction of provable evidence but at the same time lose the arrogance that causes scientists to do things like believe Clovis First for years past the time it was proven false.

    Not that Clovis is the only example. Einstein ran into this. Many were using science for the sole purpose of disproving his theory of relativity than to simply determine if it is real or not. There is a big difference between doing experiments to discover what is or is not as opposed to using science to disprove something because you want to believe the the old knowledge is true. This problem still exists and is tied to arrogance more than anything else.

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  13. 13. curmudgeon 1:38 pm 01/30/2013

    Oh allaphor, really? It is the scientists who are out of their league and w…a…a….a…..y out of it. What passes for philosophy in Dawkins’ diatribes against religion for example is simply laughable to anyone with even a meagre philosophical education. And how lame does the now entirely speculative metaphysics of cosmology have to become before it finally collapses under its own weight? Dark matter is the classic example of a cosmology of the gaps that peddles as reality the totally unknown with a gall more breathtaking than any religion would dream of. An explanatory hypothesis does not instantly become more believable or accurate a picture of the Universe simply because its author is a scientist.

    And this …

    “Knowledge about the universe comes not from what is felt but from what can be measured.”

    … is transparent poppycock! Anybody who claims superiority over ‘mere’ philosophy on the basis of observation whilst conveniently forgetting that science itself is the bearer of the truth that there is no observation independent of the observer is little more than a charlatan.

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  14. 14. curiouswavefunction 2:15 pm 01/30/2013

    “Anybody who claims superiority over ‘mere’ philosophy on the basis of observation whilst conveniently forgetting that science itself is the bearer of the truth that there is no observation independent of the observer is little more than a charlatan.”

    Sorry, but that sounds just like the postmodernists’ love affair with “scientific relativism”, namely “since my science depends on my unique viewpoint, there is no objective science”. Yes, observation may depend on the observer, but that doesn’t mean each person is entitled to his own view of reality. When countless observers see exactly the same thing in their laboratories for centuries, there’s a pretty good chance that what you are observing is “real”.

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  15. 15. drglennking 3:15 pm 01/30/2013

    Re the spurious criticism of evolutionary psychology: ALL hypotheses about the evolution of species characteristics, whether behavioral or physical, are necessarily “retrospective.” The hypotheses should be tested in the present, but they refer to past processes.

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  16. 16. SpoonmanWoS 3:53 pm 01/30/2013

    TL;dr: Philosopher thinks it’s taking science too long to answer the big questions he has so, they need to rethink everything that’s worked up to now to accommodate his childish needs. He provides no solutions, just a critique. Thus, proving the adage: those who can’t do, criticize. And, yes, I appreciate the apparent hypocrisy of my making that statement in this context.

    But, I concur with him. Please hurry up and answer all of the questions so we can stop hearing from philosophers.

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  17. 17. NeuroRu 3:59 pm 01/30/2013

    I would love to see this unimpressed philosopher work in a real science laboratory and see if he still feels that way about scientific advances. I doubt the bloke would last a week before he started weeping uncontrollably and surrender to despair. I don’t tell a philosopher how to do his job (but I imagine it involves a lot of starring out the window) so don’t tell me I’m bad at mine.

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  18. 18. M Tucker 4:15 pm 01/30/2013

    “Hawking and Krauss both claim that science has rendered philosophy obsolete.”

    Yes, perhaps they do but modern physics cannot escape the tangle of philosophic discussion. Brian Greene has a wonderful discussion of modern physics take on the nature of time in The Fabric of the Cosmos. John, have you heard of Benjamin Libet’s experiment on free will? The so called “wiggle finger” experiment…good stuff to think about regarding free will.

    “In other words, the theory should show that life, mind, morality and reason were not only possible but even inevitable, latent in the cosmos from its explosive inception.”

    Inevitable…seriously? If that is the position Nagel takes he ought to begin there. Is it really inevitable? I’m not sure if science is capable of showing this.

    Nagel sounds frustrated but with science it has always been that the more we know the more questions we have. I don’t think we will be able to escape that situation.

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  19. 19. phantomphangirl 4:41 pm 01/30/2013

    This is very true…when scientists try toting untestable hypotheses (such as multiverses) as science, we begin to fall into trouble…

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  20. 20. abolitionist 5:54 pm 01/30/2013

    “Religion takes everything on faith, science takes nothing on faith.”

    ???????

    There exist many implicit assumptions in Science. For example, most natural scientists make the leap of faith—a leap that’s been assailed recently by some modern critics—that they are studying something that’s real, that the natural world, the physical world, actually exists, that it has an independent existence outside of ourselves.

    A related assumption is that the world is uniform in the sense that its behavior is regular and law-like. Likewise, assumptions have to be made about sense perception. We have to assume that our senses are giving us in some way—whether we are looking directly at a natural object or reading an instrument or a scale or looking through a telescope—we have to assume that our senses are giving us some kind of authentic, reliable information. And we have to rely on our subsequent ability to register and interpret those sensations correctly. These are all statements that cannot be proven true.

    The “law” of Cause preceding Effect is another relationship that is presumed true.

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  21. 21. abolitionist 6:14 pm 01/30/2013

    “Religion takes everything on faith, science takes nothing on faith.”

    ????????

    Traditional Christian theology does not operate by faith alone. At every moment, it relies upon logical argument, deduction, and reason. The works of medieval theologians for example are masterpieces of logical analysis and rational argument. Here is link to one: http://tinyurl.com/56glec There are many others.

    The logical principle known as Ockham’s Razor, which is often used and sometimes abused in modern scientific discussions, is named after William of Ockham, a 14th century Franciscan theologian.

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  22. 22. RSchmidt 6:14 pm 01/30/2013

    It’s always entertaining to have our favorite scientifically illiterate climate deniers, religious fanatics and bomb-shelter-in-the-basement libertarians lecturing science for being delusional. The full extent of their scientific education consists of a half lap around the creationist museum in Kentucky. But they have it all figured out because god or glenn beck revealed it to them. Republicans like to complain about the welfare state but the don’t talk about the scientific welfare state in which a small percentage of the population is responsible to amassing the vast majority of the knowledge of the day while the majority watch fox news and believe the earth is 6k years old. If it weren’t for science they would still be burning witches and executing people for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. They are the proverbial rabid dog that bites the hand that feeds it.

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  23. 23. Diogenes11 6:32 pm 01/30/2013

    The limits to scientific materialism are obvious to any reasoning human (unlike an emotionless computer).

    How to efficiently kill Jews is a simple scientific question.

    Whether to kill Jews is an issue for philosophy, religion, morality; things that have no SI unit of measurement.

    Great scientists like Oppenheimer produce ever more sophisticated weapons, then are surprised to see them used.

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  24. 24. RSchmidt 6:44 pm 01/30/2013

    @abolitionist, “There exist many implicit assumptions in Science. For example, most natural scientists make the leap of faith—a leap that’s been assailed recently by some modern critics—that they are studying something that’s real, that the natural world, the physical world, actually exists, that it has an independent existence outside of ourselves.” If my measurement of some aspect of the universe is the same as your measurement of the same aspect of the universe does it really matter if the whole thing is in my head or your head or in some objective reality? But you are wrong. There is a great deal of scientific research into the nature of reality.

    “The “law” of Cause preceding Effect is another relationship that is presumed true.” That comment is either a lie or a demonstration of your ignorance. You don’t seem to understand thermodynamics or basic physics. These aren’t assumptions, they are supported by evidence.

    “Traditional Christian theology does not operate by faith alone. At every moment, it relies upon logical argument, deduction, and reason.” LOL. Let me get this straight; “Some cosmic Jewish Zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.” Sounds logical to me.

    So again we have a religious nut misrepresenting science because he chose to either not do his research or is lying. The fact that he had to resort to the – science is faith because it takes it on faith that we are all real – argument shows just how desperate they are. Because as we know, assuming that you are real requires just as much faith as believing that a supernatural being created the universe in 6 days so that he could put a bunch of people on one planet to worship him. He gave them free-will but if they chose not to worship him, he will have them tortured for eternity.

    The other difference between religion and science is that science compensates for human limitations by demanding verifiable evidence while religion exploits human weakness through brain washing and intimidation.

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  25. 25. RSchmidt 7:00 pm 01/30/2013

    @Diogenes11, “How to efficiently kill Jews is a simple scientific question.”, actually that would be an engineering question.

    “Whether to kill Jews is an issue for philosophy, religion, morality; things that have no SI unit of measurement.” and the Catholic church said what exactly?

    “Great scientists like Oppenheimer produce ever more sophisticated weapons, then are surprised to see them used.” when did Oppenheimer express surprise at the use of the weapons he helped build? Do you have a reference?

    There are questions that science can’t answer because they are not scientific questions. Science can’t tell us if we will like a certain food or enjoy a movie. Those are subjective experiences and science is about objective reality. Science can explain how we taste our food, or what brain regions are involved when we enjoy eating something because those can be measured objectively.

    Finding subjects that are difficult for science to understand or that are not yet understood does nothing to prove that other methodologies are better. Put your money where your mouth is. Show me a system that is better at helping us understand any aspect of the universe than science.

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  26. 26. Bill_Crofut 7:12 pm 01/30/2013

    Re: “…Nagel asserts, science needs “a major conceptual revolution,” as radical as those precipitated by heliocentrism, evolution and relativity.”

    The alleged radical conceptual heliocentric revolution would not seem to have precipitated particularly well:

    A geocentrist and a heliocentrist can stand side by side in an open field facing east at dawn and observe the sun ascend above the horizon:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbMjk548a7I

    They can return to that same open field facing west at dusk and observe the sun descend below the horizon:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbaJ1SPjLnc

    The geocentrist will accept what has been observed as reality. The heliocentrist must not only reject what has been observed as reality, but must believe (for it is a faith commitment) that precisely the opposite of what has been observed is reality.

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  27. 27. abolitionist 7:51 pm 01/30/2013

    @RSchmidt

    What’s wrong with you? Are you wholly incapable of carrying on a lucid conversation? You responded to none of the points raised, and you ignore facts. That’s hardly a commendable behavior for someone who purportedly advocates Science.

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  28. 28. gm2levitis 7:52 pm 01/30/2013

    Scientific materialism deals mainly with objective findings and relationships among them; there is nothing wrong with subjective ideas, but they are not the main content of science. When subjective mental phenomena appear, they are epiphenomena of underlying objective substrates; they can be extremely important (goals, emotions, perceptions, free will and other aspects of consciousness) but do not exist independently, the way an atom, a person, a flock of birds or a planet exist. Science does not deny subjective phenomena, but does not claim independent existence for them. Thomas Nagel is an atheist of sorts, but he apparently has faith in teleological laws of nature for which he has no objective evidence.

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  29. 29. Molecule 7:57 pm 01/30/2013

    “A genuine theory of everything, he suggests, should make sense of the extraordinary fact that the universe is waking up and becoming aware of itself.” The constant progression of complexity from stellar clouds to more and more complex interactions, from mineral organization to the 1st replicative structures (some strictly mineral forms have replicating properties) etc. you wait long enough in a large universe and consciousness pop around like mushrooms :-) Frankly with an earth size chemical laboratory going on billions years, we got to have something complex, and with 100 billion planets ?

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  30. 30. RSchmidt 8:18 pm 01/30/2013

    @abolitionist, what’s wrong with me?! I addressed your “points” or what would correctly be called straw-men and distortions.

    “you ignore facts”, what facts did you present? I didn’t see any facts. I saw you talking about things you didn’t understand. Is that what you meant?

    “Are you wholly incapable of carrying on a lucid conversation?” I hardly think my comments are not “lucid”. They are quite clear.

    As you can tell I have little patience with people who come to a science site and lecture scientists about science when they have no clue what they are talking about. You haven’t studied science, you don’t know how it works, you just have a stream of B.S. that you think makes you look clever. Sad to say it doesn’t. If you think science is subjective because we use our senses to read our scientific instruments, something we seem to be able to do consistently across races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations and in some cases, across species, then you are severely deluded.

    Sorry, it is you and the army of the faithful that refuse to provide rational answers to some very simple questions; what proof is there of the existence of god? How does one reconcile a loving, all-powerful god with a god that does nothing while children are raped, tortured and murdered or born with severe birth defects that will give them a great deal of pain and a short life? Why is it that god needed to send himself to earth to die on the cross in order for him to forgive us for the sins he claims we have?

    It is a joke that you claim religion is based on logic. There is nothing logical about it. If anything, religion provides us with clear examples of almost every logical fallacy.

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  31. 31. abolitionist 9:01 pm 01/30/2013

    RSchmidt,

    @29: “‘you ignore facts’, what facts did you present?”

    One of those facts was that Christian theology (I presume this to be true for other religions, but I’m familiar only with Christianity) does not operate by faith alone. I provided a link to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica which, demonstrates careful reasoning, logical analysis of the philosophical, judicial, and Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theology and rational argument to reach his conclusions.

    Another fact you ignored was that of Ockham’s Razor, named after William of Ockham, the Franciscan theologian who introduced the technique.

    These contradictory facts I used as examples refute your claim @10, “Religion takes everything on faith”.

    Q.E.D.

    Link to this
  32. 32. abolitionist 9:42 pm 01/30/2013

    RSchmidt,

    @29: “As you can tell I have little patience with people who come to a science site and lecture scientists about science when they have no clue what they are talking about.”

    I do not lecture scientists; I’m addressing these posts to you to correct your errors. Your lack of patience and courtesy, and familiarity of the subject material are also issues you’ll need to correct.

    If you think this is a Science site, perhaps you can explain the science in this piece. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=apples-supply-chain-still-has-issue-2013-01&posted=1#comments

    While there are science articles to be found here, it now posts politics (on this blog often) and general creative writing – “White Noise”.

    Link to this
  33. 33. RSchmidt 10:21 pm 01/30/2013

    @abolitionist, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica was at best a failed attempt to provide a logical basis for theology. I stress failed. The first cause argument collapses under its own weight. If the universe required a “cause” then so did god. If god didn’t require one then why does the universe require one? It fails by Occam’s razor because saying the first cause of the universe was something even more complex than the universe substitutes a hard problem with a harder problem. The only way to eliminate this problem is to make a special pleading to exempt god from the very rule that Thomas claimed proved god. Thomas is also plagued by a lack of imagination. I don’t fault him for that. He was very much living in “middle world” and had no knowledge of quantum mechanics or relativity. For its time I would agree that the Summa Theologica was a very thoughtful and sophisticated book but it fails to provide the logical framework you imagined. In fact its failings are the same failings we see to this day, a willingness to use logic and “science” when you think it works for you but no problem with discarding it when it doesn’t. I have argued with many religious people and they all claim they are logical and scientific but that doesn’t mean they are.

    “Another fact you ignored was that of Ockham’s Razor, named after William of Ockham, the Franciscan theologian who introduced the technique.” I don’t know what you think that proves? Because a theologian created a technique that is used in logical deduction that religion is rational? Wow, that is a stretch. Issac Newton believed in Humunculi. Does that mean all scientists are alchemists? It hurts your cause when you try to use such irrational statements to prove you are rational.

    “These contradictory facts I used as examples refute your claim” they would if they contradicted my claim but instead they support my claim that religion is irrational by being non sequiturs.

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  34. 34. Scienceneedsintegrity 10:21 pm 01/30/2013

    “The “law” of Cause preceding Effect is another relationship that is presumed true.”

    By who? This type of statement shoiws an ignorance of science. It’s some junior high school ‘ism’.

    Science doesn’t presume anything to be ‘true’. Science is not about ‘truth’ but is a process going ‘wherever’.

    ‘Truth’ is a construct philosophers can debate along with how many angels can dance on the head of a pin…it won’t lead to a faster digital processor or where to find an oil deposit.

    Link to this
  35. 35. SoftLanding 10:27 pm 01/30/2013

    RSchmidt,

    @29: “You haven’t studied science, you don’t know how it works, you just have a stream of B.S. that you think makes you look clever.”

    The university that awarded my degree would probably disagree with you about what Science may reasonably be construed to be, and the various ways it may be practiced. I have provided examples to substantiate, or warrant the claims I’ve made, although I note that you have yet to do so.

    “If you think science is subjective because we use our senses to read our scientific instruments, something we seem to be able to do consistently across races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations and in some cases, across species, then you are severely deluded.”

    You missed that point also. We assume – because we must – that our senses are reliable. As we are unable to “get outside” them to secure an independent assessment of their accuracy, we have faith in them. It takes no more than looking at the illusory bend in a stick as we insert it into clear water to show that our senses can be unreliable. That our senses can be easily shown to be unreliable is a far cry from claiming that “science is subjective” as you mistakenly inferred.

    Link to this
  36. 36. abolitionist 10:32 pm 01/30/2013

    @34. SoftLanding,

    LOL! Stop stealing my thunder! I was going to use a similar demonstration of RSchmidt’s error!

    Link to this
  37. 37. SoftLanding 10:42 pm 01/30/2013

    Scienceneedsintegrity

    @33 “ ‘The “law” of Cause preceding Effect is another relationship that is presumed true.’
    By who?”

    Everyone I know. How about you? Do you believe it to be true? Yes. Can you prove it to be true? No. That’s faith in action.

    Link to this
  38. 38. abolitionist 10:50 pm 01/30/2013

    RSchmidt,

    @32. “Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica was at best a failed attempt to provide a logical basis for theology.”

    It is irrelevant whether it was a successful attempt or not. Its reasoning and logical analysis demonstrate that your claim @10, “Religion takes everything on faith” is false.

    You have been refuted. LOL!

    Link to this
  39. 39. abolitionist 10:58 pm 01/30/2013

    RSchmidt,

    @32. “Because a theologian created a technique that is used in logical deduction that religion is rational?”

    Ignoring for the moment your peculiar sentence structure, the fact that a theologian created a technique that is used in logical analysis, and did use it to criticize theology does show that religion can be rational, and in so doing demonstrates that your claim @10, “Religion takes everything on faith” is false.

    You have been refuted ….
    Again

    Link to this
  40. 40. SilverTusk 11:10 pm 01/30/2013

    @32.RSchmidt: “For its time I would agree that the Summa Theologica was a very thoughtful and sophisticated book but it fails to provide the logical framework you imagined.”

    Oh please! Do you think for a moment that anyone believes you have read any of Summa? Since you haven’t, how can you possibly claim “it fails to provide the logical framework you imagined”? You’re just making this up as you go!

    Link to this
  41. 41. SilverTusk 11:17 pm 01/30/2013

    @34.SoftLanding:

    Why did you answer for abolitionist? That was weird!

    Link to this
  42. 42. SoftLanding 11:32 pm 01/30/2013

    SilverTusk,

    abolitionist and I are married.

    Link to this
  43. 43. johnwerneken 11:54 pm 01/30/2013

    Boy I don’t understand this article. First I hear obvious things, the Science Tells All vs. the Science is Stretching Credibility stuff, and then that there is a problem, the problem being that there is something wrong about one, the other, or both of those views, and then that someone named Nagel thinks, if we want an explanation, it ought to fit with the concept of the universe waking up. But to me those three things are all part of the whole. What is is what was and what will be, with anything in the way of an alternative being in another Universe; it all explains itself, the matter energy space time mind all being in source and in destination and all along the way, attributes of whatever the heck we call what was, is, and will be.

    I mean, is the point that some folks talk about all this more explicitly than was formerly fashionable? So what, fashions in belief systems do change….we had Naturalism, Deism, Materialism, so for sure we’ll have another one…

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  44. 44. Diogenes11 2:20 am 01/31/2013

    RSchmidt, any biography of Oppenheimer details his post-WWII apprehension (and that of many eminent colleagues) regarding nuclear weapons proliferation, which was a logical corollary of their existence, as any Tom Lehrer fan knows (Who’s Next?).

    Wikipedia gives a start: “Increasingly concerned about the potential danger to humanity arising from scientific discoveries, Oppenheimer joined with Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Joseph Rotblat and other eminent scientists and academics to establish what would eventually become the World Academy of Art and Science in 1960. Significantly, after his public humiliation, he did not sign the major open protests against nuclear weapons of the 1950s, including the Russell–Einstein Manifesto of 1955, nor, though invited, did he attend the first Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs in 1957.[154]”

    Your reference to “children are raped, tortured and murdered ” shows the failure of science as a means of understanding intelligent life. I cannot derive any concept of right or wrong from any physical constants. I observe such behaviours in all mammalian species, and their utility or otherwise in maintaining social order can be measured. Impregnating, intimidating or eliminating the offspring of a competitor is a common evolutionary strategem.

    Yet, other than nutritional value or prion risk, is there a qualitative difference between skinning and eating a baby, as opposed to skinning and eating a carrot?

    You request: “Show me a system that is better at helping us understand any aspect of the universe than science.” I show you religion/ philosophy/ morality, call it what you will, which can help us understand the baby/carrot dichotomy.

    Now, show me convincing scientific evidence for the existence of human rights, or peel ‘n grill me a baby. Well done, and not too fatty, ’cause we all know saturated fats are unhealthy.

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  45. 45. mattgbush 6:02 am 01/31/2013

    Why the mysterianism? Since when is science about giving up?

    Link to this
  46. 46. allaphor 8:14 am 01/31/2013

    @curmudgeon:
    Sorry for the delay…
    Firstly I also find militant atheism to be misguided. You either believe in God or you don’t and it is something personal, that can hardly be changes either way (and if you take into account studies that link the “religious experience” to neurological circuits that some people have and others don’t, it makes event less sense attempting a “conversion”). As for “cosmology in the gaps” I do not agree… What metaphysically inclined people do is come up with some random explanation for something and believe it to be true, just because in some logical frame of reference it makes sense, going to bed comfortable in the certainty of their deep understanding of reality. Scientists postulate the existence of dark matter and then go look for signs that it either exists or it doesn’t, because any scientific theory must produce predictions that can be falsified. As for the relativity of observation, if any human, using the same methodology can measure the same phenomena and obtain the same data, that is good enough for me. Maybe reality is nothing but a shared hallucination, but if we all share it, why not call it reality? Why waste time pondering an absolute truth that we can never experience when we can have readily available and ever more accurate approximations at hand

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  47. 47. RSchmidt 10:07 am 01/31/2013

    @Silvertusk, “Since you haven’t, how can you possibly claim “it fails to provide the logical framework you imagined”?” You are right, I haven’t read the entire Summa Theologica. That does not mean I am not aware of its contents. The summa is well known for its use of the “first cause” argument in its attempt to prove the existence of god. As I have pointed out, that is fallacious. If the summa employs fallacies to advance its assertions it is not rational. I don’t need to read it cover to cover to know that.

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  48. 48. RSchmidt 10:13 am 01/31/2013

    @Diogenes11, I am well aware of Oppenheimer’s apprehension but that is not what abolitionist claimed. He said Oppenheimer was surprised that they were used. Oppenheimer was not that naive.

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  49. 49. jgrosay 10:18 am 01/31/2013

    I’d say Science is by definition materialistic, and can be only materialistic, as the only possible objects for Science are either material, or are inside the material world, and can be ascertained only by its interactions with matter. You may say Mathematics doesn’t handle material things, as numbers are intangible objects found only in mankind’s minds, but without the material support of our intelectual powers, the brain, Mathematics can’t exist. It makes no sense trying to enter or taking out Religion from the field of Sciences, God can be experienced, but can’t be the subject of experiments, and it’s hard conceiving a product subjecting his/her creator to experimental conditions. Or not? Salut +

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  50. 50. RSchmidt 10:22 am 01/31/2013

    @SoftLanding, “You missed that point also. We assume – because we must – that our senses are reliable. As we are unable to “get outside” them to secure an independent assessment of their accuracy, we have faith in them.” you don’t get it. We do not use our senses to measure the universe. do you think the physicists at the LHC are looking through a window at particle collisions? We use instruments and standard measurements to ensure universal objectivity. The Peer review process ensures that the results one experimenter achieves can be reproduced by other experimenters.

    You have to be extremely ignorant of the way science is done to believe we use human senses to measure the universe and that those subjective experiences would form the basis of scientific theory.

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  51. 51. RSchmidt 10:39 am 01/31/2013

    @abolition, “It is irrelevant whether it was a successful attempt or not. Its reasoning and logical analysis demonstrate that your claim” wow you are really deluded. So because he was trying to be logical that proves he was logical even though he violated the rules of logic in the process. So if a criminal defends himself by saying, he was trying to be good, that means he was good and we should set him free. No wonder you think the Summa is logical, because you have no idea what that means.

    “and did use it to criticize theology does show that religion can be rational, and in so doing demonstrates that your claim” so a theologian criticizing theology is an example of religion being rational. I would see that as an example of a theologian being rational by revealing religion to be irrational.

    If I write a very large equation I can break it up into smaller equations and solve those individual parts. If I discover that one of the parts is incorrect the whole equation is incorrect. What you are doing is trying to prove that there is a part of the religion equation that is correct. But that all falls apart if religion relies on fallacies and mythology to prove its central hypothesis. For something to be rational it can’t just hold up one token rational argument, it has to be unassailable. You haven’t demonstrated that.

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  52. 52. RSchmidt 10:51 am 01/31/2013

    @allaphor, “You either believe in God or you don’t” I think Agnostics would disagree with you.

    “Firstly I also find militant atheism to be misguided.” the militant atheists I know are militant because of what they see as government support of religion by passing laws that favor one religion over another such as banning abortion or stem cell research. Militant atheists also attack the silence that seems to accompany religious proclamations such as religious groups claiming that intelligent design is science or banning images of Mohammed in publications. Atheists see this as granting religious ideas a special, unassailable status while denying freedom of speech. So I see militant atheism as an unwillingness to allow religion to violate the constitution or be granted special privileges in the eyes of the law. Sitting back and doing nothing while your rights and the rights of your fellow citizens are trampled is not noble.

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  53. 53. RSchmidt 11:10 am 01/31/2013

    @Diogenes11, “Yet, other than nutritional value or prion risk, is there a qualitative difference between skinning and eating a baby, as opposed to skinning and eating a carrot?” Yes. The energy required for a woman to produce a baby is greater than the energy the baby contains. Going through the trouble of creating a baby, then eating it is a net loss of energy.

    Also, if I eat my baby I will be violating my own biological imperative. I reduce my chances of reproductive success. If I had genes that made it less likely that I would sacrifice my own child those genes would have a greater chance of being passed on.

    If I live in a community in which we agree that we will not each other’s babies we can spend more time contributing to the community rather than defending our babies.

    For a social group to function there has to be rules, implicit or explicit. “Do unto others…” is not derived from religion, it is derived from an implicit social contract that says, if you don’t hurt me I won’t hurt you. We extend that contract to what we see as our community of equals. Clearly a human baby fits more into our community of equals than a carrot. Though there are some people who also see a carrot as a member of the community of equals to an extent and will not eat it.

    So the logical framework around our protection of human life is not derived from a logical deduction that human life is somehow “better” or more deserving of protection but rather; for a social species to function its members must cooperate and to do so they must have some degree of trust.

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  54. 54. RSchmidt 11:26 am 01/31/2013

    @SoftLanding, “The “law” of Cause preceding Effect is another relationship that is presumed true.’ Can you prove it to be true? No. That’s faith in action.” the evidence for causation is in the conservation of energy.

    “The order of cause and effect is a self-evident example of the connection between causality and energy conservation. Reversing the order of cause and effect violates energy conservation, because we have energy inputs without energy sources. The ordering of cause and effect is the primary reason for the linear and one-way progression of time.”

    SoftLanding I highly recommend you devote your efforts to speaking about things you understand. When you talk about science you appear ignorant and irrational.

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  55. 55. RSchmidt 11:56 am 01/31/2013

    @Diogenes11, ““Show me a system that is better at helping us understand any aspect of the universe than science.” I show you religion/ philosophy/ morality, call it what you will, which can help us understand the baby/carrot dichotomy.” so the same process that gives us suicide bombers, 9/11 hijackers, holy wars, human sacrifice, witch burning, the dark ages, slavery, etc is the one we should use to clear up the human/carrot dilemma? Hopefully they will decide that babies aren’t kosher. Looking to religion to define morality is like looking to politics to define honesty. Evolution provides more reason for humans to cooperate than religion and it isn’t even trying to provide a moral compass.

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  56. 56. dadster 12:38 pm 01/31/2013

    Yes , more and more hard core scientists are arriving at the view that there is more to nature than just material physics .
    With the advent of quantum science , material physics has “hit the ceiling”, so to say, reached at the very fringes .
    But as Feynman said , ” there is plenty of room at the bottom ” .
    Quantum science field much below Planck scales deals with probability waves and not with palpable physical measurable matter , waves such as advance waves , or pilot waves and processes such as quantum entanglements can
    pass messages at speeds much faster than light waves can.
    With all these advances in quantum science , material physics can no more claim to explain all phenomena .
    Besides, bio- energy is proving to be more than matter- based physical or chemical energy as scientists however they tried could not produce even a single living cell from raw chemicals from scratch in their laboratory , or put life back into a dead cell , or dead body , be it a plant or animal or a microbe,despite the fact that Nature produces prolofically umpteen life forms from scratch every second and produces life in a continuous cycle of deaths(of parented ) and births ( of children )!
    Life ( mind ) is an organizing continuous energy whereas matter or material energy is descrete and, are subject to deterioration, disorganization and ,constant degeneration , ie, to entropy .

    Life energy imbued with “environmental awareness” manifests in our four-dimensional space- time continuum through the descrete structure of matter. .Life – energy is more fundamental than matter energy . Life energy or bio- energy is not an emergent phenomena as it is the energy that processes information to produce bio- matter or , to manifest itself using matter .

    To appreciate the thought process of Nagel , read also

    (a) 1975 published, ” Tao of Physics ” by Fritjof Capra
    (b) 2006 published, ” The Trouble with Physics ” by Lee Smolin
    (c).2007 published , ” Biocentrism” by Dr. Robert Lanza .

    Amongst others .

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  57. 57. RSchmidt 1:56 pm 01/31/2013

    @dadster, “as scientists however they tried could not produce even a single living cell from raw chemicals from scratch in their laboratory , or put life back into a dead cell , or dead body , be it a plant or animal or a microbe” please see; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyAOepIU6uo. Helps to know what you are talking about before opening your mouth.

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  58. 58. SoftLanding 6:17 pm 01/31/2013

    RSchmidt,

    @53 “The order of cause and effect is a self-evident example of the connection between causality and energy conservation.”

    Thus you admit you are unable to prove that Cause must precede Effect, and you’ve accepted the relationship as “self-evident”, which is another way of saying you accept it on faith.

    You Believe! You are a Man of Faith!

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  59. 59. abolitionist 6:49 pm 01/31/2013

    @50 RSchmidt,
    ” ‘It is irrelevant whether it was a successful attempt or not. Its reasoning and logical analysis demonstrate that your claim’ wow you are really deluded.”

    Not at all. You’ve made yet another mistake. I’ll demonstrate.

    You asserted as true, @10 “Religion takes everything on faith, science takes nothing on faith.”

    If I falsify any part of that claim, the whole is false, and you are mistaken. Providing a religious tract that employs logical argument, deduction, and reason contradicts your contention “Religion takes everything on faith”, and thereby renders your claim false, and you mistaken.

    1. Summa Theologica ( http://tinyurl.com/56glec ) is a religious tract.
    2. Summa Theologica demonstrates careful reasoning, logical analysis of the philosophical, judicial, and Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theology and rational argument to reach his conclusions.
    3. Summa Theologica is therefore a religious tract that does not take everything on faith, but rather reasons rationally and carefully from a set of “self-evident” truths (just as you do with Cause & Effect @53) to reach certain conclusions.

    Whether or not you think the conclusions, or the assumptions for that matter, are valid, it demonstrates that your claim “Religion takes everything on faith” is false, and that you are mistaken.

    Again. LOL!

    P.S. Are you capable of warranting your other truth claim “science takes nothing on faith”? I rather expect you’ll fail at that too. Hint: I can drill holes in that also.

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  60. 60. SteppingStone 7:17 pm 01/31/2013

    RSchmidt (50),

    “For something to be rational it can’t just hold up one token rational argument, it has to be unassailable. You haven’t demonstrated that.”

    Did you even read Hogan’s article?
    “science’s limits have never been more glaringly apparent. In their desperation for a “theory of everything”—which unifies quantum mechanics and relativity and explains the origin and structure of our cosmos—physicists have embraced pseudo-scientific speculation such as multi-universe theories and the anthropic principle (which says that the universe must be as we observe it to be because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to observe it).”

    Do you read what you post? Science is not unassailable, and yet it is usually considered rational. If one were to apply your “logic” one would be obliged to conclude that Science is NOT rational.

    Why do you post such unadulterated tripe?

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  61. 61. abolitionist 7:19 pm 01/31/2013

    @47. RSchmidt,

    “@Diogenes11, I am well aware of Oppenheimer’s apprehension but that is not what abolitionist claimed. He said Oppenheimer was surprised that they were used. Oppenheimer was not that naive.”

    I have posted nothing whatsoever about Dr. Oppenheimer. You should invest in a pair of reading glasses. You obviously can’t read well either.

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  62. 62. SilverTusk 8:21 pm 01/31/2013

    @46.RSchmidt: “You are right, I haven’t read the entire Summa Theologica. That does not mean I am not aware of its contents. The summa is well known for its use of the “first cause” argument in its attempt to prove the existence of god.”

    I THOUGHT you were ignorant of the Summa!

    Aquinas presents five different arguments for the existence of God, the first mover argument, which I’ll have to assume is what you meant by your muddled “first cause” reference is only the first. You’re obviously ignorant of the subject material.

    Now your ignorance is on displays for everyone to read.

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  63. 63. RSchmidt 9:12 pm 01/31/2013

    @SteppingStone, “Science is not unassailable, and yet it is usually considered rational. If one were to apply your “logic” one would be obliged to conclude that Science is NOT rational.” first off you are trying to apply the rules governing logic to science. Science is not logic, it uses logic. The same applies to Math. The rules regarding proofs in math are much more stringent even than those in physics. Abo was siting a source that claimed to have a logical proof of the existence of god, not a scientific proof a logical one. Abo claimed that proved religion was logical. I pointed out that the logical proof was in error and was therefore not logical but Abo claims that religion should get full points for trying. Just like the born-agains that come to my door who think that a scientific proof of god’s existence is all the complex living things in the world. According to Abo, we should call the born-agains scientists.

    Science is not like math or logic in that that data is noisy. When I type 1 + 1 into my calculator the data is clean and answer unambiguous. The real world is not so clean. So science thinks in terms of probabilities and evidence. Our confidence in a theory is tempered by how well it fits the evidence as well as the margin of error of the data. But if the data is incorrect or there is missing evidence it does not mean that science is irrational. That is completely different. If a theory violates logical rules then the proposition would be considered invalid.

    The science people here are claiming shows the “metaphysical” aspects of science, things such as multiple dimensions and string theory are not established theories. They are hypotheses. The thought experiments and fanciful thinking do not demonstrate that science has become some sort of mysticism, it shows people using creativity to think through the problems. From this process will hopefully come testable hypotheses. And from that, theory. There is nothing wrong with exploring options in imaginative ways, just don’t call it proven theory.

    You have mistaken limitations with errors and misapplied the rules of one formal system to another. I have to assume that you really don’t understand the issues. Unfortunately, this article didn’t make you the expert you think you are.

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  64. 64. RSchmidt 9:14 pm 01/31/2013

    @SoftLanding, “Thus you admit you are unable to prove that Cause must precede Effect” I provided you the evidence. I can’t help that you are too ignorant to understand.

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  65. 65. RSchmidt 9:54 pm 01/31/2013

    @silvertusk, “Aquinas presents five different arguments for the existence of God, the first mover argument, which I’ll have to assume is what you meant by your muddled “first cause” reference is only the first. You’re obviously ignorant of the subject material.” all 5 arguments suffer from the same failing, they assert that it is impossible for the universe to have created itself for one reason or another therefore the universe must be created by god. The fallacy is that argument requires you to assume that god himself did not require a creator which is a violation of the very rule you impose on the universe to prove he exists. That is called special pleading. That is a logical fallacy. What’s more god is more complex than the universe. If you say god created the universe you have created a more difficult problem to solve because you are now obligated to prove the existence of god and how it came into being. That fails Occam’s razor.

    I don’t need to have read the entire book. I am not arguing against the entire book, I am arguing against specific claims made in the book. Those I have read. They are autonomous, they do not require me to have read the entire book to argue against them. The rest of the book is irrelevant to me.

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  66. 66. SoftLanding 10:25 pm 01/31/2013

    RSchmidt,

    @63 “ ‘Thus you admit you are unable to prove that Cause must precede Effect’ I provided you the evidence.”

    You have provided nothing which could be confused with evidence.
    You HAVE provided much entertainment, though.
    Your failure was epic!

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  67. 67. SilverTusk 10:35 pm 01/31/2013

    @64.RSchmidt: “‘Aquinas presents five different arguments for the existence of God, the first mover argument, which I’ll have to assume is what you meant by your muddled “first cause” reference is only the first. You’re obviously ignorant of the subject material.’ all 5 arguments suffer from the same failing”

    WRONG!

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1.htm Read ‘em for the first time in your life, and weep!

    You have shown yet again that you don’t know what you’re (trying, and floundering in the attempt to be) talking about. You have not the first clue.

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  68. 68. SteppingStone 11:03 pm 01/31/2013

    RSchmidt (62),

    “ ‘Science is not unassailable, and yet it is usually considered rational. If one were to apply your “logic” one would be obliged to conclude that Science is NOT rational.’ first off you are trying to apply the rules governing logic to science. Science is not logic, it uses logic.’

    Where do you get these foolish ideas? Don’t you read your posts? You are the one who posted @50 “For something to be rational it can’t just hold up one token rational argument, it has to be unassailable.” Remember way back then? YOU POSTED THAT.

    I referred you back to Hogan’s article, “science’s limits have never been more glaringly apparent. In their desperation for a “theory of everything”—which unifies quantum mechanics and relativity and explains the origin and structure of our cosmos—physicists have embraced pseudo-scientific speculation such as multi-universe theories and the anthropic principle (which says that the universe must be as we observe it to be because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to observe it).”

    Science is BOTH rational AND assailable, just as are most human efforts, or haven’t you figured that out yet?

    “Abo was siting a source that claimed to have a logical proof of the existence of god, not a scientific proof a logical one.”

    Bull. If you are referring to Summa, that is RATIONAL ARGUMENT, not a LOGICAL PROOF. Don’t you know the difference?

    “Abo claimed that proved religion was logical.”

    No, abolitionist did not. Identify the post you claim is where he did.

    “I pointed out that the logical proof was in error and was therefore not logical but Abo claims that religion should get full points for trying.”

    No, abolitionist did not. Identify the post you claim is where he did. What he did demonstrate at post #58 is that your claim at post #10 “Religion takes everything on faith, science takes nothing on faith.” is false.

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  69. 69. abolitionist 11:19 pm 01/31/2013

    @47. RSchmidt,

    Here, I’ll cut you some slack and ask you a question so easy that even you should be able to get the correct answer.

    Have you figured out yet that you made a mistake when you claimed @47 “@Diogenes11, I am well aware of Oppenheimer’s apprehension but that is not what abolitionist claimed. He said Oppenheimer was surprised that they were used. Oppenheimer was not that naive.”

    Or is even something that obvious beyond your grasp?

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  70. 70. abolitionist 11:23 pm 01/31/2013

    @55. dadster,

    Yes! Both the ”Tao of Physics” & ”The Trouble with Physics” are great reads.

    I’ll have to get ”Biocentrism” by Dr. Lanza. TY!

    Link to this
  71. 71. SoftLanding 11:32 pm 01/31/2013

    But “The Trouble With Physics” couldn’t POSSIBLY be a good read! It reviewed the difficulties of M/String Theory, and Rschmidt posted @62 that “things such as multiple dimensions and string theory are not established theories.”

    I mean other than the fact that String Theory is the preeminent “post Standard Model” theory. Other than THAT, it isn’t an established theory at all!

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  72. 72. CarefulReview 6:09 am 02/1/2013

    RSchmidt @63

    “@SoftLanding, “Thus you admit you are unable to prove that Cause must precede Effect” I provided you the evidence.”

    I looked though your posts to this thread, and found none to substantiate your claim of a proof of the assumption that cause precedes effect. Keep in mind that N repetitions of X preceding Y is not a proof that X causes Y, no matter how large X might be.

    Softlanding pointed out that if you believe X causes Y in the absence of proof that such is true, then you are confusing coincidental relationships with causes, and doing so on the basis of your faith in a logical fallacy: Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/post-hoc.html

    You posted at #50 “For something to be rational it can’t just hold up one token rational argument, it has to be unassailable.” I presume that you feel your position is rational If you think that your position is NOT rational, please say so. Since by the criteria you established at #50, your position must be unassailable, it follows that you’ll need to prove that cause precedes effect. You have yet to do so.

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  73. 73. SoftLanding 9:46 pm 02/1/2013

    RSchmidt,

    @49 “ ‘You missed that point also. We assume – because we must – that our senses are reliable. As we are unable to “get outside” them to secure an independent assessment of their accuracy, we have faith in them.’ you don’t get it. We do not use our senses to measure the universe.”

    A telescope is a tool that amplifies our sense of sight so we can see things that are far, far way. Think of a magnifying glass, and how it makes distant things appear near enough for us to see. Now group a coordinated set of magnifying glasses into a long tube and you have a telescope – a vision amplifier. We can, and have also designed other types of telescopes that enable us to see into the electromagnetic spectrum where our eyes are otherwise insensitive. These are called radio, infra-red, ultra violet, and x-ray telescopes. They all expand and extend our ability to perceive the Universe. They’re all sense amplifiers.

    “do you think the physicists at the LHC are looking through a window at particle collisions?”

    A microscope is a tool that amplifies our sense of sight so we can see the very small. Think again of that magnifying glass, and how it can make small things big enough for use to see. Now group a differently coordinated set of them into a single device and you have a microscope – another type of vision amplifier. Now what must one do when what one wants to examine is about the same size as the frequency of light our eyes are sensitive to? Why change the tool (amplifying device) of course. And so we did; they’re called electron microscopes. As power is added to the electrons, smaller details become apparent. One of the larger and more successful electron microscopes (now decommissioned) was used to probe the structure of the proton. The name of the device was SLAC (http://www6.slac.stanford.edu/about/history.aspx ). It, the Tevatron, and now the LHC are bigger and more expensive microscopes that extend our vision by many orders of magnitude into the infinitesimal.

    Alas, RSchmidt, it is you who does not get it. Yes, we do use our senses to measure the Universe. The instruments scientists use to measure the Universe are sense amplifiers.

    Do you know anything at all about Science?

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  74. 74. MostlyRight 11:07 am 02/5/2013

    Science is grounded in observation and mathematics. Absent either of these two and there is no science. All else is wishful thinking.

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  75. 75. diacad 5:16 pm 02/6/2013

    Although RSchmidt puts it best for me, I enjoyed reading the give and take. The “free-will” argument comes up here and has always puzzled me. I actually think the idea that some (or even worse, all) people act under “free will” is rather scary. Think if there was no reason, motivation, or constraint for people’s actions, wouldn’t we all be in some danger? How could we assign responsibility? No matter what people say, I have trouble thinking that they actually believe in “free-will” upon careful reflection.

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  76. 76. textra 10:37 pm 02/6/2013

    Great points. John Horgan’s article is balanced and much needed. Anti-religious stances by scientists is becoming tiresome. Their theories (metaphysics really) such as multiverses, are poor, and built on faulty premises, or at least premises that contain their own brand of dogmatism. An ounce of humility before this amazing universe would be appreciated. Isn’t it great that there are things we neither know or understand?

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  77. 77. Newmanski 11:47 am 02/7/2013

    Seems to me some of these questions show human bias. The fact that we assign importance to the difference between animate and inanimate objects and that there is something “special” about us because we are “alive” is a bias. And therefore we investigate it and create all kinds of theories (including the existence of God) to explain it.

    Same with the idea that the universe is so big and complicated. But the ideas of “big” and “complicated” are subjective and relative terms. Things are complicated to us but there is no objective measure of what complicated is. The universe isn’t inherently complicated, it is what it is.

    We can certainly study how things in the universe work, but as soon as we assign values to things (consciousness is “important” and there must be a special process that produces it) we are no longer in science.

    So this whole article, while interesting, seems completely human centred. We are important, how do you explain “us”, obviously science lacks something because it doesn’t explain the all important human being. We are special to each other, but I’m not so sure we are any different of a mechanism of the universe than a star or a photon.

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  78. 78. tickleme 10:35 pm 02/9/2013

    John

    Not necessarily a comment on the article, although I do agree with the Title.

    A ‘close reading’ of this web site may be of some interest (I hope!), especially the first two and three papers.

    http://milesmathis.com

    http://milesmathis.com/pre.html

    Another ‘UFT’ to add to your collection:

    http://milesmathis.com/uft.html

    Thanks.

    Link to this
  79. 79. cc_ctc 9:49 am 02/13/2013

    Firstly we are irrelevant to there being, and therefore to, life on Earth, and as such any facilities we have as morality and higher intelligence or so on may very well be largely particular to our species and completely irrelevant to life on Earth as a whole, let alone the Universe, to which Life as such is irrelevant. The planet doesn’t care whether we are here or not, and the Universe doesn’t care if any species is. The anthropic view seems to imply that our view is special, whereas it most certainly is not. Although it is unique amongst species to be able to observe the Universe at the level we have, that does not mean that we have evolved to do so or that the Universe in any way provides that we do so. A theory of Everything that includes morality?? You are having me on. The physicists search for unification can occur without any reference to life as it is largely based on forces and origins of the physical universe. Life is different, and higher forms of life are most probably unique amongst the Universe’s planets (e.g. the discussion of mitochondria by Nick Lane), and they have yet to prove there are even unicellular organisms elsewhere. It is only a determinant of the Universe in the sense of it must follow its physical laws.
    However that makes Life something of a phenomena, and Stuart Kauffmann’s examination of complexity and evolution goes some way to explaining that. Life is therefore possibly not only a phenomena but also unique in the Universe. Therefore how it arose is fundamental. Stuart Kauffmann describes its possible origins amongst rocks. My view is that it is not such a huge step from peptides interacting in a primordial soup to the existence of membranes in pore spaces within rocks or other materials, which slowly hardened to form a proto-membrane, which increased in complexity to become a protocell. It is certainly right as one post below says that far more is known now about such things than previously. The fact that life evolved from a protocell to the unicellular and then multicellular organisms and then to us, and that we have a sense of morality, does not mean that morality has anything to do with the process at all, let alone with the universe. All processes, whether the complex behaviour of microbes that extends well beyond simply being aware of the pipette and moving away, to the description of the multi-functioning neuronal/hormonal brain we have evolving a sophisticated “consciousness”, do however have to obey the physical laws of the universe.
    My view on the universe as a person trained as a biologist is that there was a field in which an error occurred, so that whether the Higgs field extended prior to the Big Bang or not, such an error was so highly disturbing that the Universe had to arise from the Big Bang. Hence there was a problem that required a solution and caused an explosion. No doubt multiple universes may be models, but like the idea of having 5 appendages, 4 is neater, and ours is the one that was the more successful in solving the chink in the field. Clearly the entropy would therefore represent the chink and the attempts to ameliorate it via work creating complexity would be the solution. However according to current models of the universe, entropy will win as the universe is expanding somewhat infinitely. But perhaps because the energy or other problem caused by the original error has been dissipated, from the point of view of the field, the problem will then have been resolved.
    For example, the Universe is the square root of 1 problem, something has to be manufactured to resolve it. Therefore the Big Bang, matter and complexity arose to resolve a problem, and as in the proposal by Kauffmann, the preponderance of order is the antithesis of entropy, and in my view of that disturbance in the field. I am not sure if Kauffmann is right in saying there is anti-antropic force, but there most certainly is an incredibly strong driver in that direction, and one must ask why? It seems to me to resolve an error in a field, an explosion the Big Bang created this particular universe and that particular driver to ameliorate the problem. Therefore if Kauffmann can get the physicists or chemists to show experimentally such a force, I would be happy to accept it, as it is a reasonable proposal.
    However in terms of unified theories, I don’t think there may ever be one, as in a disturbed system/field, it is not likely to be the perfect solution, but rather the perfect attempt at one, and as such may contain a number of disconnected components, rather than one overall force etc.
    There are most likely not many universes but one successful model, and it does not care if we are aware of it or know anything about it or not, or even that Life exists. To say anything else is positively anal. Life existed for billions of years before any awareness of the Universe such as we have!!
    However again if the idea of a unified force etc can be experimentally shown it may not only explain the disparities in physics, but also the Kauffmann anti-entropic force. It will certainly not show issues such as morality or consciousness, which are specific to higher forms of life, and by-products of the tendency towards complexity in such a process, and nothing whatsoever to do with the fundamental workings of the universe, in fact utterly and totally irrelevant.
    I am not against having more philosophers as they can make a contribution to both explorations of Truth and Logic, but I am against people like Nagel conjuring up stuff like “you haven’t figured out how life arose” or how “morality fits into the fundamental forces of the universe”- they are just people who don’t understand the problems in the first place.

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  80. 80. Dino David 444 5:05 pm 02/15/2013

    Makes me wish people wouldn’t fly off the handle and start name-calling and other acts of snobbery and censorship whenever there’s a whiff of something that might encourage us creationists. I really think it hurts everyone to act as if an absolute barrier must be maintained that prevents anything but the most purified thought. In reality, there seems to be a near-continuum of different ways of looking at reality, from the absolutism that seems to be the official position of most scientific establishments, to the mild suggestions that even atheists can wonder if there’s something more to nature itself (as seen here), right on to the allowance that even the NCSE makes that science can’t disprove God and it’s okay (at home and church, anyway) to think He had something to do with the universe (somehow or other, but not in any way that anybody could ever tell), through all sorts of levels of theistic evolutionism and “progressive creationism,” and a wide variety of Intelligent Design ideas before even getting to the less-compromising forms of Old-Earth creationism and finally the various Young Earth creationist views.

    The interactions could be much more nuanced, frothy and perhaps productive, not only because many positions share philosophical foundations, but also because they ALL agree on the 99% of science that can be observed and demonstrated. All of the arguments are precisely in areas where philosophy plays a key role, in determining axioms, assumptions, and evaluations of things which cannot be observed or demonstrated but are believed on the basis of axioms, assumptions, or at best secondary derivations.

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  81. 81. waltond 8:30 pm 03/3/2013

    This is the most useless discussion it has been my agony to read. Science is simply concerned with the world around us that we experience. Often experiences are sequential, in which case science tries to understand how one event can lead to another.

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  82. 82. DonQuichotte 1:43 pm 10/7/2013

    Hi there :
    I happened to have read most of Nagel’s above mentioned book + Rupert Sheldrake’s “Science set free , 10 paths to new discovery ” fascinating and enjoyable book , the latter that has debunked most of that mainstream dominating materialist dogmatic belief system in science , that has been crippling science in its wonderful effective and unparalleled capability or method to understand and explain the universe :
    Well, there is absolutely nothing “scientific ” about materialism as an outdated false primitive orthodox secular religion in science , or as a false conception of nature ,materialism as a false ideology in science , science proper gotta be liberated from, sooner or later .
    I see that most commentators here do confuse science proper with materialism as a false world view in science , materialism as a misconception of nature that has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with science proper , with scientific results or with the scientific approaches : materialism that has just been taking a free ride on the unwilling back of science since the 19th century at least ….
    It’s about time that science proper should be liberated from that materialist bullshit , excuse my French , then , and only then, whole new unimaginable vistas would open up for science proper ……..
    To be continued .
    Cheers.

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  83. 83. dralaboy 3:06 pm 07/25/2014

    Chalmer’s hypothesis is similar to Bohm’s theory of mind and matter published in Philosophical Psychology in 1990. When pressed on objections similar to yours Bohm made it clear your objection is too simple minded to stand up under scrutiny. Like Chalmers, Bohm believed mind and matter was an information continuum and, while everything possessed a type of protoconsciousness, this did not imply a toaster was conscious in the same manner as a human being or even a worm. To make such a claim would be to conflate the organic and inorganic worlds.

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