Universal sovereignty on trial

by Factfulness 169 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • shepherdless

    I think there is growing support for the idea that consciousness is basic to the universe itself and does not just arise magically in the brain from nowhere. I am sympathetic to this idea.

    - SBF

    In Donald Hoffman' s Ph.D. video, at about the 3.22 to 3.30 mark, he admits that the universe exists irrespective of individual or collective conscious.

    Hoffman then uses something equivalent to a "god of the gaps" argument. He says in effect that science can't explain as yet how neurons in the brain produce consciousness. He then proposes to turn it all on his head and start with consciousness as central to the universe, derive new laws of Physics, and hopes to mathematically re-derive concepts such as string theory and quantum mechanics. (He mentions those terms, but I wonder if he even knows what they mean.) In the process, some impressive images and videos are shown, but absolutely no maths, observations or science is used to back this idea up in any way, whatsoever.

    The video is formulaic. He starts with concepts that we can all agree with, is careful to sound reasonable, uses appropriate scientific jargon, gradually increases the jargon so that it becomes a little harder to follow, and while he still has your trust, introduces he nonsense concepts.

    It is certainly not a theory. I don't think it even fits the technical definition of a hypothesis. It is just an abstract concept presented without any basis in support. There is no more support for this concept than, for example, Brokeback's earlier "are we all just a part of a computer simulation ?" concept, or the Matrix concept.

    I doubt there is "growing support" for this idea. If there is, then I despair.

    By the way, nobody is saying "consciousness... just arise[s] magically in the brain from nowhere...".

  • slimboyfat

    No I don’t think Donald Hoffman thinks the material universe exists independently of consciousness. He argues that consciousness is the fundamental basis of reality. He says this explicitly a few times in the first few minutes of this video. But he admits there are many possibilities and he is pursuing one possibility.


    His academic credentials appear impressive. Are you really confident you understand quantum mechanics and string theory better than he does?


  • slimboyfat

    It becomes a bit clearer in this video. He believes the universe exists independently of our consciousness but not on a material basis. Rather the independent basis of the universe is the collective consciousness of all entities. In other words, presumably if there were no conscious agents then there would be no material universe.


    It makes sense to start with consciousness because the one thing we are sure about is that we are conscious. I am sure that I feel like I am sitting on a chair, for example. More sure about this than I am about the material reality of the chair itself. Materialism subverts this common sense view and seems to suggest that we should be more sure about the chair’s indepdenent existence than our own sensation of it. There does seem to be something wrong with that view of reality.

  • cofty

    What shepherdless said ^^^^

    Consciousness has become another convenient 'gap' in which to hide vague notions of god.

    There is no reason to suppose that consciousness is anything other than an emergent property of the brain. Consciousness cannot survive anaesthesia so how does it magically exist outwith our brains?

  • slimboyfat

    Everything we know about the world is experienced through our consciousness, and that includes the material reality of the world around us. So it makes more sense to doubt the existence of the material world than it does to doubt our own consciousness.

    What does it mean for consciousness to be an “emergent property” of the brain? As Hoffman says there is not really any scientific theory to account for this. Material and consciousness are apparently two different things and it is utterly mysterious how one relates to the other. It’s as if playing music somehow results in a lemon cake. It’s utterly unclear how the two things, the physical body and consciousness, are fundamentally connnected to each other.

    I know that I exist as a conscious entity because I feel this directly. I only know about the material world second hand, through perception, and listening to others.

    Maybe the material world does exist independently of us. But the other option is that the material world is an “emergent property” (again whatever that means) of our consciousness. It’s not how we normally view reality, but it’s not easy to say that a materialist basis of reality should necessarily be given priority over the view that consciousness is basic to reality and the material is a result of consciousness rather than the other way round.

  • shepherdless

    Well, I had better respond.

    Hoffman's academic credentials and experience initially look impressive. However, take a closer look. He does not seem to hold any qualifications or academic position in the hard sciences, apart from computer science. He is described as a "quantitative psychologist". His Bachelor's degree is a Bachelor of Arts.

    There is nothing there to suggest he has any academic qualifications or experience whatsoever in relativistic mechanics, quantum mechanics, etc. And that is important, because Hoffman's conjecture (and it is just a conjecture) has fundamental implications for these very specialised areas of Physics.

    Are you really confident you understand quantum mechanics and string theory better than he does?

    That is a red herring; I didn't claim to. (In fact I don't understand "string theory" at all.) Hoffman tossed those terms out very flippantly in the first video. Hence I wondered.

    No I don’t think Donald Hoffman thinks the material universe exists independently of consciousness.

    Yes, it it clear from the second (8 min) video that Hoffman's conjecture is that the universe does not independently of conscious.

    Intriguingly, in that video, there were a couple of references to "data" and "evidence", but we are not given any info on what that comprised.

    Hoffman made detailed reference to the "observer" in quantum mechanics, towards the end of the second video. He appears to make the link between "observer" (a shorthand expression used to try to explain relativistic mechanics to a student) and consciousness. I can sort of see how he arrived at his conjecture. In essence, he has mixed a term used to try to explain a phenomena in Physics, with a concept that that term also needs to be present for that phenomena to occur.

    The simplest analogy I can think of is as follows. It would be like somebody asserting that: 1. We need a microscope to view bacteria. 2. Therefore bacteria can not exist without a microscope being present.

    PS: I didn't watch the third video. I saw it was 25 mins long.

  • slimboyfat

    It is not a red herring because you critiqued Hoffman’s use of language in terms which implied that he either did not understand what he was talking about or that he was misleading his audience in the way he was using scientific terms. In order for you to be able to make that judgement you would need to understand the terms at least as well as he does. Otherwise how would you know that he misused the language?

    Hoffman’s proposals relate to the philosophy of mind, and his qualifications and posts seem appropriate to that. He got his PhD at MIT under a leading neuroscientist. No one says Daniel Dennett can’t talk about consciousness because he doesn’t have a strong enough scientific background. If anything Hoffman seems to have a stronger background in hard science.

    Plus it’s worth noting that Hoffman is more specific about the view of quantum mechanics that supports his ideas during his conversation with Dennett and Chalmers, calling it Quantum Bayesianism. Dennett and Chalmers are both very intelligent and knowledgable in this discussion. If Hoffman wasn’t using scientific language accurately they would have pointed it out.

    Hoffman doesn’t claim to be a theoretical physicist, but he does aim to use to science accurately and apply it to his own field. In fact if he was a theoretical physicist then where would be his training to talk about philosophy of mind? Hoffman’s credentials appear to be exactly what’s needed to be able to tackle this subject.

    I guess it’s possible that a man with a PhD from MIT, with senior academic posts, awards, and publications, who has devoted his life to the problem of consciousness, and holds discussions with other experts in the field, doesn’t know the proper scientific use of the word “observer”. But I don’t think it’s likely.

  • Brokeback Watchtower
    Brokeback Watchtower

    While at it I like to bring up the Many worlds interpretation:


    The many-worlds interpretation is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction and denies the actuality of wavefunction collapse. Many-worlds implies that all possible alternate histories and futures are real, each representing an actual "world" (or "universe"). In layman's terms, the hypothesis states there is a very large—perhaps infinite[2]—number of universes, and everything that could possibly have happened in our past, but did not, has occurred in the past of some other universe or universes. The theory is also referred to as MWI, the relative state formulation, the Everett interpretation, the theory of the universal wavefunction, many-universes interpretation, multiverse theory or just many-worlds.
    The original relative state formulation is due to Hugh Everett in 1957.[3][4] Later, this formulation was popularized and renamed many-worlds by Bryce Seligman DeWitt in the 1960s and 1970s.[1][5][6][7] The decoherence approaches to interpreting quantum theory have been further explored and developed,[8][9][10] becoming quite popular. MWI is one of many multiverse hypotheses in physics and philosophy. It is currently considered a mainstream interpretation along with the other decoherence interpretations, collapse theories (including the historical Copenhagen interpretation),[11] and hidden variable theories such as the Bohmian mechanics.

  • Brokeback Watchtower
    Brokeback Watchtower

    To a persons with very little knowledge of physics everything could sound like mumbo jumbo, it did to me 20 years ago.


    So I would suggest that persons who interpret psychics as a bunch of mumbo gumbo should realize that governments are spending billions of dollars to find out answers to these very questions about the universe. So it can't be all mumbo gumbo just because you don't understand anything he says except some little sound bites you were able to comprehend but rather poorly. Don't think that he was throwing fact around to impress people with his knowledge.

  • Brokeback Watchtower
    Brokeback Watchtower



    Monism attributes oneness or singleness (Greek: μόνος) to a concept e.g., existence. Various kinds of monism can be distinguished:
    Priority monism states that all existing things go back to a source that is distinct from them e.g., in Neoplatonism everything is derived from The One.[1] In this view only one thing is ontologically basic or prior to everything else.
      Existence monism posits that, strictly speaking, there exists only a single thing, the Universe, which can only be artificially and arbitrarily divided into many things.[2]
      Substance monism asserts that a variety of existing things can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance.[3] Substance monism posits that only one kind of stuff exists, although many things may be made up of this stuff, e.g., matter or mind.

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