What positions do you hold that are not popular?

Rebecca Brown has an article at Aeon on how philosophy can make the previously unthinkable thinkable.  She starts with a discussion of the Overton window:

In the mid-1990s, Joseph Overton, a researcher at the US think tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, proposed the idea of a ‘window’ of socially acceptable policies within any given domain. This came to be knownas the Overton window of political possibilities. The job of think tanks, Overton proposed, was not directly to advocate particular policies, but to shift the window of possibilities so that previously unthinkable policy ideas – those shocking to the sensibilities of the time – become mainstream and part of the debate.

Overton’s insight was that there is little point advocating policies that are publicly unacceptable, since (almost) no politician will support them. Efforts are better spent, he argued, in shifting the debate so that such policies seem less radical and become more likely to receive support from sympathetic politicians. For instance, working to increase awareness of climate change might make future proposals to restrict the use of diesel cars more palatable, and ultimately more effective, than directly lobbying for a ban on such vehicles.

This reminds me of someone on Twitter recently asking for what positions people held that were unpopular.  Here are mine (slightly expanded from the response tweet):

  1. The universe is ultimately meaningless.  Whatever meaning we find in this life, we have to provide, both to ourselves and to each other.
  2. There is no objective morality.  Ultimately what a society calls “moral” amounts to what the majority of a given population decides is allowable and what is not.  Innate instincts do provide some constraints on this, but the variances they allow are wider than just about anyone is comfortable with.
  3. Whether a given system is conscious is not a fact, but an interpretation, depending on what definition of “consciousness” we’re currently using.  Consciousness exists only relative to other conscious entities.
  4. We don’t have contra-causal free will, but social responsibility remains a coherent and useful concept.
  5. The mind is a physical process and system that can be understood, and someday enhanced and copied.
  6. Enhancement of ourselves, either with technological add-ons or genetic therapy, should be allowed, particularly when it will alleviate suffering.
  7. Politics is about inclusive self interest.  The political philosophies people choose are generally stances that benefit them, their family and friends, or people like them.  If we could admit this, compromising to get things done would be easier.

Those are mine.  What about you?  Do you have positions that are not currently popular, that may lie outside of the current Overton window?

66 thoughts on “What positions do you hold that are not popular?

  1. Over recent years, I’ve come to adopt a philosophy of ethical hedonism. But when I tell people this, most people do not seem to approve, probably because the word hedonism carries so many negative connotations. So I try to find other ways to say what I mean and leave the h-word out of it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can see that. I went through a stage where I called my ethical outlook “Epicurean”, but people seemed to interpret that as being more about fine wine and sophisticated tastes.

      These days I typically describe my ethical outlook as being opposed to unnecessary suffering (with a high evidential bar for what counts as “necessary” suffering). It amounts to the same thing but without the modern connotation of words like “hedon” or “epicure”.

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    2. Thanks sharing that J.S. I consider what you’ve experienced to be associated with an ironic product of humanity’s morality paradigm. Let me explain:

      Let’s presume that you’re entirely correct about what’s valuable in life (as I believe). Here we might decide that we could then be honest about our nature given that we all presumably need as much happiness as we can get. We might even decide that what’s best for a given society is what maximizes that subject’s happiness overall rather than various specific individuals or groups within. But alas no. That would be naïve.

      The reality seems to be that we all realize the truth of hedonism on some level, though given that our own happiness is what matters to us in the end rather than that of others, it’s effective for us to keep our hedonism secret. Does it help me when others lie, cheat, steal, and so on to their own purposes? Of course not. I may be a victim! So here it’s in my interest to talk about “wrongness” and “rightness” — to publicly admonish wrong doers and praise right doers not only for my affect upon general behavior, but also so that others will naturally be more kind to me as someone who can be trusted. Effective human function seems to concern effective salesmanship. And will my public statements apply to me as well? That should depend upon my perception of how well I’m being watched.

      In truth I wouldn’t mind this situation so much if academia were able to grasp the nature of value regarding conscious function and so be able to study us from this perspective. Instead academia seems utterly dumbfounded by the social tool of morality. Philosophy’s ancient branch of ethics remains not about the goodness to badness of existing, but rather about the rightness to wrongness of human behavior. So it’s essentially about deciding who are the good people and who are the bad.

      What about psychology? Surely the science of human function is able to formally acknowledge the nature of good and bad existence regarding what it studies? How could it otherwise develop effective models regarding human operation? Ah, but that’s just it. Psychology remains an extremely soft science. Nothing close to a “Newtonian revolution” has yet transpired. What do we instead see? P-hacking scandals and such.

      So what’s my solution? I believe that we need a respected group of professionals which is able to develop its own generally accepted principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and yes value. This should not only improve our hard sciences somewhat, but it should also help our soft sciences finally become effective. For the most part philosophers term this view, “scientism”, and jealously guard their domain as some kind of fundamentally speculative humanistic art to potentially appreciate.

      So with tremendous structural opposition to the emergence of what I call “reason”, is there any hope? I think so. Consider how young the institution of science happens to be, as well as how powerful it has quickly caused humanity to become. In the grand scheme of things this should merely be an initial dam that the rising waters of science must eventually breach. A respected group of professionals should emerge to better found the institution of science, and I’d like to help.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I would like to help as well, in my own way. I try my best with my own writings. And I guess there’s something a bit hedonistic about the that too, because learning about science is really fun for me. It brings me a lot of pleasure, and I like being able to share that experience with others.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Heh. I’ve spent my whole life on the flats of the bell curve. Sometimes I feel like no one agrees with anything I say. (How so many people can be wrong, I do not understand! 😀 )

    This seems context-dependent to me. Within the science community, many of your bullet points are mainstream. In other contexts, not so much. And, OTOH, my dualist leanings and vague spirituality are looked at cross-eyed by most of the science community, but in other contexts, those are mainstream beliefs.

    And then there are the flat Earthers,… 😮

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    1. Good point on context. Dualism does seem a bit more prevalent among philosophers, and also among programmers and engineers. Science either turns practitioners against it or generally fails to attract those who are drawn to it.

      On flat Earthers, I can usually at least understand where people are coming from in beliefs like creationism, ghosts, Big Foot, UFOs, etc, but that particular group puzzles me since all of us can see horizons and crescent moons. I’ve always thought there had to be something else going on with this group other than a fringe belief.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Science either turns practitioners against [dualism] or generally fails to attract those who are drawn to it.”

        It surprises many how many scientists do have some vaguely formed ideas of spirituality. Actual atheists are still a minority. (Rightfully so. It’s not actually a very scientific position given there’s no proof one way or other. Skepticism or doubt, sure, understandable. Belief makes it almost religious.)

        “I’ve always thought there had to be something else going on with this group other than a fringe belief.”

        Likewise. I always figured people were in it for fun or irony.

        Apparently many of them are serious science doubters with a capacity to belief conspiracy theories (because nearly everyone, certainly NASA and all scientists and the gov, is in on the deception).

        This is the culture we’ve created with our love of fantasy (all the video games, comic book movies, and “reality” shows). Many have lost touch with physical reality.

        I find it terrifying.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. On atheism, belief, and scientists, it’s been several years since I looked at any of the data. All I remember was that, as a population, they were less religious than the public at large, and that members of the National Academy were less religious than rank and file scientists. Of course, the beliefs of scientists are a point of contention in the atheist / apologetics debates, so everything is controversial.

          “Many have lost touch with physical reality.
          I find it terrifying.”
          It might be some comfort to remember that most people historically only had a loose relationship with reality. So we may be ahead of the game today. Not that we couldn’t be a lot better.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. “All I remember was that, as a population, they were less religious than the public at large,”

            A public where about 75% believe in the physical reality of angels, so absolutely!

            There’s a PEW study from 2009 that shows an 83% versus 33% split in the public versus scientists for belief in God, and a 12% versus 18% split for general spirituality.

            The atheism split is more prominent, though: 4% versus 41%.

            That gives belief (of some kind) versus atheism in scientists a 51% to 41% edge, which is less than I’d realized. That 41% figure surprised me a bit. Didn’t realize so many embraced atheism.

            This does vary considerably by country. There’s a study I saw (on SagePub) that compares scientists’ belief by country. UK was lower then the USA by a point or two, but places like Italy, India, Taiwan, or Turkey, have much higher percentages. Western culture is oddly godless considering all those angels.

            “It might be some comfort to remember that most people historically only had a loose relationship with reality.”

            In the sense of our mythologies, yes, but modern living disconnects us more and more for the daily experience of physical reality. When you depend on the land, you may believe in fairies or gods, but you also are forced to reckon with the physical realities of weather, water, soil, and sun.

            Modern technology disconnects us more and more from those. Soon we won’t even drive our cars anymore!

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Thanks for the study numbers. That pretty much fits what I remember. One of the issues with these types of surveys is that words like “atheist” and “God” often mean different things to different people, particularly in intellectual circles. A belief in Spinoza’s God strikes me as very different from belief in the Biblical version.

            “When you depend on the land, you may believe in fairies or gods, but you also are forced to reckon with the physical realities of weather, water, soil, and sun.”
            Definitely, but people’s connection with the land has been waning for generations. Years ago during a power blackout, people called concerned about a large haze they saw crossing the sky, concerned that maybe they were seeing some kind of chemical leak or something. Turned out what they were seeing was the Milky Way.

            But most people seem able to deal with what they need to get through their day to day lives. Civilization has made us all specialists. If civilization collapsed and we all had to go back to farming, I know I’d be utterly lost on how to survive. But then, ancient farmers often didn’t know what to do when their climate suddenly shifted, so maybe that’s just the reality of civilization.

            “Soon we won’t even drive our cars anymore!”
            Have to say I’m mostly looking forward to this. Driving is fun when the weather is good and the road’s relatively uncrowded. But most of the time it’s a drag. I’d love to be surfing the web or sleeping while my car took me places, provided of course I can count on it not to drive me into a construction hole.

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          3. “A belief in Spinoza’s God strikes me as very different from belief in the Biblical version.”

            Absolutely. And, as you say, definitions matter here. OTOH, saying one is an “atheist” is pretty definite. It’s why I tend to equate them with fundamentalist theists; both believe in the literal truth of their doctrines.

            “Definitely, but people’s connection with the land has been waning for generations.”

            Yeah, my point exactly. 🙂

            “But most people seem able to deal with what they need to get through their day to day lives.”

            But do they? People surely muddle through their day, but would more connection with physical reality (including a bit of math and logic) make their own lives far better? I think so. Very much so. It would surely make society better.

            Trump wouldn’t have stood a chance in that world. I think he wouldn’t have stood a chance 100 years ago; he would have been rightfully laughed out of the race as an obvious con and fraud. His election says some very scary things about our culture.

            “If civilization collapsed and we all had to go back to farming, I know I’d be utterly lost on how to survive.”

            If the hammer falls, come hang with us. We farm, hunt, and fish, plus we have guns. 😀

            Liked by 1 person

          4. The definition of “atheist” can be controversial. There are weak/soft atheists, strong/hard atheists, agnostic atheists, gnostic atheists, explicit atheists, implicit atheists, and probably a bunch of others I don’t know about. The Wikipedia page on atheism gives three separate definitions in its opening paragraph. The etymology of the word is no help; it only means “godless”.

            I’ve seen epic internet arguments go on for weeks over which definition is the one-true definition. (Which is pointless. There are no one-true definitions, just whatever language conventions people agree to.) Which is why I usually just call myself a nonbeliever and leave it at that, stepping around the whole agnostic vs atheist issue.

            “Trump wouldn’t have stood a chance in that world.”
            I hate to say it, but if we’re talking about the people who do work with the physical world: farmers, construction workers, miners, etc, he won those people. They’re part of his base. And Trump’s overall attitudes (racism, isolationism, etc) would fit in fairly well with 19th century sentiments. (It’s 21st century sentiments it’s out of sync with.)

            None of this is to say that Trump isn’t immoral, incompetent, and an all around disaster. He is. But a lot of the people who work with their hands see him as their only option. And that is a serious problem our society, and many other western ones (see Brexit), have to eventually deal with. The people being left behind with globalization are prepared to kick over the table on the rest of us.

            “If the hammer falls, come hang with us. We farm, hunt, and fish, plus we have guns. :D”
            Thanks. I do have guns. I’ve done hunting and fishing before and could probably figure something out. But farming?!? And I’m not sure what would happen once the ammo ran out.

            Liked by 1 person

          5. I believe consciousness might be quantum. Go ahead and call me a fool or believer in woo or whatever but I don’t think consciousness is an illusion and yes I am biased but so is everyone else. I believe consciousness obviously operates in the brain but I don’t believe its created there. Yes I could be wrong but so can anybody. I try to stay away from religion but I don’t believe any of the religions in existence are adequate nor do there concept of a creator square up with reality. If the universe had a creator it was an intelligent being with overwhelming scientific, and physics, knowledge beyond anything we can even begin to comprehend and if consciousness continues after our body dies there is some scientific principle to include physics and quantum physics behind it. Also if a creator exists its not an all loving or caring one. It simply created us and walked away. Maybe were the toy it threw in the basement or something to live in perpetuation.

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          6. “The definition of “atheist” can be controversial.”

            Heh. Name one interesting definition that isn’t! 😀

            That first Wiki paragraph is about how I see it.

            “I hate to say it, but if we’re talking about the people who do work with the physical world: farmers, construction workers, miners, etc, he won those people.”

            That’s my point (that our current culture has lost touch with physical reality). These people should have known better. I think in less disconnected times they would have seen him far more clearly as a con and a fraud.

            The rise in flat Earth belief is apparently genuine rejection of physical reality as reported by others. This skepticism of legitimate authority is a rejection of physical truth. We see it in anti-vaxxers, climate-change deniers, and fears the LHC would make black holes.

            “The people being left behind with globalization are prepared to kick over the table on the rest of us.”

            Yeah, there is sheer blinding anger at the perception of being left behind after having been the people who built America. I can see their point. I cannot see thinking Trump was a solution, and I especially cannot see the continued support given his performance.

            “But farming?!?”

            It’s not that hard when done on the small. Just a step above having a garden. You’d be fine.

            “And I’m not sure what would happen once the ammo ran out.”

            Make more. That’s the thing about guns. Ancient tech; easy to make. Gun powder’s been around a long time! I saw Mythbusters make a cannon out of duct tape once. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          7. “This skepticism of legitimate authority is a rejection of physical truth. We see it in anti-vaxxers, climate-change deniers, and fears the LHC would make black holes.”
            That feels like an astute observation to me. It’s a rebellion against the intellectual “elite”. I use elite in quotes because most intellectuals don’t live particularly elitist lifestyles, but a lot people seem to perceive that they do. It’s not clear to me how to get past those conceptions. And in the case of vaxxers and deniers, it has serious consequences.

            On farming and guns, we have to consider not having access to seeds and fertilizer from the store, and to what degree any metallurgy remains. Of course, short of a full scale nuclear war (in which case “surviving” probably isn’t worth it), it’s hard to imagine these things would completely disappear. We see failed states and regions all the time, but I don’t know if it would ever happen on a global scale.

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          8. “It’s not clear to me how to get past those conceptions.”

            This just moves the question, but I’ve always believed a better education system along with a culture that reveres knowledge was crucial in fighting this sort of thing. But then the question just is: How do you get that cultural shift, and how do you get people to take education seriously?

            As an aside because it’s fresh in my mind, saw Infinity War last night, and one thing that struck me was how many grievous tactical errors (with serious consequences) the heroes make due to their emotions overriding the most basic common sense.

            But brawn over brain — solving problems with fisticuffs — is what sells. It seems to reflect our cultural stance. (The problem goes back to the Deep Impact versus Armageddon split in 1998.) We want fast, simple, direct solutions. TL;DR is our national motto.

            “On farming and guns, we have to consider not having access to seeds and fertilizer from the store, and to what degree any metallurgy remains.”

            Seeds come from plants, fertilizer (also used in gun powder) comes from animals, and the iron age was a long time ago. 😀

            Metallurgy raises an interesting point: All easily accessible ores have long been mined. What’s easily available in a dystopic future are refined metals. So the process is a bit different, but you do have the option of machining existing metal stock (e.g. engine blocks).

            “We see failed states and regions all the time, but I don’t know if it would ever happen on a global scale.”

            Does seem unlikely. Maybe a plague or some kind of technological disaster. Climate change will cause some radical shifts (already is). The degree to which society is interlinked and global may haunt us.

            As I think we’ve discussed in the past, given the upward curves of so many aspects, a big question is whether damping factors turn it into an “S” curve or whether it remains exponential. The latter implies a future catastrophic reset.

            Liked by 1 person

          9. “How do you get that cultural shift, and how do you get people to take education seriously?”
            It sounds sad, but you have to find some way to make it emotionally pleasing, essentially to make it sexy. But that has always been tough to do. The problem is that those of us who enjoy intellectual topics have to realize that what attracts us to it isn’t what might attract others. I’m struck with how terrible most college math teachers are because they find their subject inherently beautiful and can’t understand why most undergrads don’t.

            On metals, I remember reading somewhere that a future civilization would likely see our garbage dumps as essentially rich mining sites. It reminds me of how valuable archaeologists find ancient middens to be.

            I think we’re agreed that all upward curves are ultimately S-curves. The only question is when the leveling off will happen. The one I sometimes wonder about is scientific knowledge. I don’t think we’ll ever know everything, but I can see us reaching the point where diminishing returns makes society unwilling to invest in large scale research anymore.

            Liked by 1 person

          10. “It sounds sad, but you have to find some way to make it emotionally pleasing, essentially to make it sexy.”

            Heh, I was just thinking today about how sad it is to be a member of a species that needs to be tricked into doing smart things. The dialectic isn’t anywhere nearly enough.

            “The problem is that those of us who enjoy intellectual topics have to realize that what attracts us to it isn’t what might attract others.”

            Oh, absolutely. A big part of what makes good teachers good is their ability to show why they love their topic.

            Another is finding expressive ways of showing off the topic. There are a couple of YouTube channels that blow me away with their math theory videos. I come away excited and understanding more each time. (That PBS SpaceTime channel is excellent for physics.) They would have been awesome in college.

            That said, I think we’re talking here more about the knowledge and mental ability needed to not be fooled by obvious frauds. In this case it’s a matter of impressing the idea that being thoughtless, ignorant, or selfish, politically is to be a delinquent citizen, that democracy depends on the quality of our opinions.

            “I remember reading somewhere that a future civilization would likely see our garbage dumps as essentially rich mining sites.”

            I’ve often wondered what they’ll think.

            There are some nice SF short stories about archeological expeditions. One I read recently, an unsuspecting archeological team suddenly realizes they’ve stumbled onto the planet that belonged to the most fearsome species ever desperately fought back by the combined forces of the entire galaxy.

            They’re on Earth, of course. And they are not alone…

            “I think we’re agreed that all upward curves are ultimately S-curves.”

            Are we? I agree upward trends can’t continue indefinitely in the real world, but I perceive S-curve dynamics as just one way that fails. Catastrophic collapse is another. (If that comes under the umbrella of an S-curve, then sure.)

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          11. I’ve been meaning to check out that PBS Spacetime channel. I just finished a sci-fi novel and I’m hoping to dive into something on general relativity. Any suggestions? I have Brian Greene’s book, but its ten years old at this point and probably has stuff I’ll have to gloss over, like string theory and supersymmetry.

            I once read a short story, written before we started discovering exoplanets, where astronauts discover that virtually no stars they reach have planets. They finally find a planet around one, land on it, and run into an alien that tells them about an evil race that used to exist in that part of the galaxy. Eradicating them had involved destroying entire solar systems. And it was odd to find them out here in the middle of the interstellar wasteland. What clued one of the astronauts that we are the evil race were the similarities between the described cruelties and atrocities he remembered reading about that were committed by Julius Caesar.

            “Catastrophic collapse is another. (If that comes under the umbrella of an S-curve, then sure.)”
            I guess it depends on just how fast you crash through the top of the curve. And if we’re talking about some resource, particularly a resource that requires a self sustaining system that can be damaged, like the environment, then certainly collapse can happen, and that’s not really an S-curve.

            Liked by 1 person

          12. “Any suggestions?”

            My perception of GR, FWIW, is that once you’re past the basic description, the only real next step is the math. (Which requires tensors, which I’ve been pursuing, albeit lightly, for many years without much success. I think I’m beginning to at least get a sense of what they are.)

            This is, again, just my perception, but my sense is that GR is very simple conceptually, so there isn’t much (other than the math) to talk about. (That perceived simplicity is why I hope GR turns out to be the more correct theory than QFT.)

            That PBS SpaceTime series has done videos on GR. So has Don Lincoln for Fermi’s YouTube channel. (Dr. Lincoln also did a series on SR that is highly mathematical and very confusing. His particle physics videos are top notch.)


            So long sought and desired with not a shred of evidence other than hope and belief.

            The high-energy physicist’s god. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          13. On GR, I wouldn’t mind getting lightly into the mathematics, such as the way the SpaceTime video did, but that’s about as far as I’d be interested in going. What I’m really after is just an updated overview covering things like negative pressure and repulsive gravity.

            The long slow death of supersymmetry seems to show how desperate physicists are to move beyond the Standard Model, an inelegant, disjointed, incomplete theory that no one is really satisfied with. Every time another one of its predictions is validated, it seems like a collective groan is emitted by the theoretical physics community.

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  3. I’m not religious! I think religion is man made but I don’t call myself a pure atheist because I believe and yes hope that human consciousness doesn’t really die. I do base this hope in the realm of Quantum Physics. Pure Atheist believe when we die consciousnesses dies and thats it. True as someone who wants to continue I am biased and want to believe but in reality nobody knows the nature of consciousness and we know consciousness at least continues some after the heart stops beating and blood stops flowing. Some argue consciousness disipates after brain death but many doctors say if consciousness were just in the brain it should immediately stoo as soon as heart stops. I believe there is something more, what I don’t know but something. Oh I’m a Democrat so in the world of the Trump Cult I guess thats controversial too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Also everyone is biased and nobody alive will ever truly know the nature of consciousness until consciousness can be put in a test tube and ran through the scientific method. Everyone is biased including pure atheist. Without being able to apply the scientific method almost anything is plausible and yes that includes us dying and not existing anymore but the other possibilities are equally plausible.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Matthew,
      A lot of people link consciousness to quantum physics. But I haven’t seen the connection in any any of the neuroscience I’ve read. Everything there seems explainable with classic physics: electricity, chemistry, etc. And the brain is an electromagnetically noisy place that don’t seem conducive to quantum superpositions. But I think if quantum physics would somehow be involved, it would follow normal quantum physics rules. In other words, quantum physics aren’t a card to bypass physics overall. Although it could conceivably add an indeterminate aspect to mental processing.

      On consciousness continuing after death, that’s not something that can be scientifically assessed. There’s certainly nothing in biology, neuroscience, or physics overall which shows any evidence for it. If it happens, it will need to be something completely separate from what can be observed and measured. Myself, I think it’s unlikely, although I wouldn’t be sad if I turned out to be wrong.


  4. In philosophy, most topics are divided into something like five camps, each with somewhere in the ballpark of a corresponding percentage (20% in this example) of people leaning or belonging to it. Do we all get to claim to hold unpopular positions?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It seems to me Overton created his “window” so that think tanks could squeeze between lobbying and non-profit funding to stay in business.

    I like all seven of your “unpopular ideas” (with clarification, qualification, etc.). My “unpopular idea” is that modern science–physics, chemistry, and biology–is philosophy in the traditional sense of the word.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You may be right about Overton.

      It’s interesting that those fields were once called “natural philosophy.” The term “scientist” didn’t get coined until 1833. But yeah, today if you tell a physicist they’re doing philosophy, there’s a good chance they won’t take it well, although you might get a better reception if you remembered to put the world “natural” in front, if the recipient knows history.


  6. Here are a few unpopular ideas of mine inspired in response to some of your examples.

    0. All truths depend on the words/concepts used to express them. Further, human beings draw conceptual boundaries to answer human needs, and that’s how it should be, even if it were somehow possible for it to be elsewise.

    1. It would be horrible if the universe, or some creator, could specify a meaning for our lives that rendered irrelevant or insignificant the meanings we ourselves construct. Luckily, no such cosmic meaning-trumping is possible.

    2. Corollary to 0: SAP’s point that a system’s consciousness depends on what “consciousness” question we’re asking, is trivial. All properties answer, or fail to answer, to the words we use.

    3. Contra-causal free will is an imaginary solution to an imaginary problem. Causality and time don’t work the way people think they do. The fundamental objective reality that provides the backbone of causation is bidirectional in time: a set of patterns that can support inferences in either time-direction. The directionality of causation is a pragmatic choice. As Judea Pearl says, “This choice of [endogenous and exogenous variables] creates asymmetry in the
    way we look at things, and it is this asymmetry that permits us to talk about ‘outside
    intervention’, hence, causality and cause-effect directionality.” (Causality, 2nd Ed., p 420)

    So if you’re worried about past events pulling your puppet strings, don’t. Intervene in the present, and the past events will fall as they need to, in sync with your intervention. The past isn’t fixed (despite the macroscopic appearances), although it’s not as wide-open as the future.

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      1. Sorry Paul. WordPress has been mangling people’s comments lately. I just turned off Markdown, which I’m hoping will help.

        I edited your comment and made a best guess at the numbering. Let me know if I need to adjust it.


    1. Thanks Paul.

      I agree with 0, at least in terms of what currently is, but I’m not sure why you say it would be necessary if we didn’t have the limitations that require it.

      On depending on which “consciousness” questions we’re asking, I think I agree. The difficulty is that many people assume consciousness is definitive thing, state, or quality, instead of a label we give to a hazy and shifting category of information processing systems.

      On causation being bi-directional in time, how does entropy factor into that?

      I’m curious about your last point. Are you saying we can alter the past? Or am I misunderstanding your point?


      1. We can’t alter the past, but for some useful definitions of “affect” we can affect it, mostly on a microscopic level. Here are three definitions of “to affect” (as in, to causally contribute) that respect actual physics. (A) We can drop the “unidirectionality” idea and just equate causality with laws-of-physics patterns. (B) We can do what Judea Pearl does and make “causality” the handmaiden of rational action, dependent on the perspective of the agent. (C) We can do what Sean Carroll does, and use the entropic gradient to define a single direction of “causality” on the grounds that we are mainly interested in macroscopic events, and when it comes to macroscopic events, we can only usefully manage future events, not past ones. On definitions A or B, we can affect the past. However, definition C is probably the best way to avoid confusion, when talking to people who aren’t very fluent in physics.

        Entropy locks most (probably all) past macroscopic events down, so to speak. Take two universes just like ours, except that in one of them you are right now pushing on the door to the room you’re in, and in the other you’re pulling it. Evolve these two universes backward in time, according to the laws of physics. What’s different? In the immediate past, just your arm movements. Earlier, just some brain activity. Still earlier, scattered microscopic events are different. But no eggs that were scrambled in one history will be unscrambled in the other. No stars that went supernova will remain stable. Entropic gains are irreversible, and every macroscopic event involves entropic gains.

        Now evolve these two states forward. What’s different? Possibly a whole lot, including macroscopic events.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John. I can see the appeal of naturalistic panpsychism. At least it ends the conversation about whether or not X is conscious to maybe how conscious it is. The trick is stopping people from interpreting it as pandualism.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Here’s a twice unpopular one – I don’t advocate for the universe having meaning, but how do you know it is meaningless? Like, know for sure? Sure, Occam makes a strong argument. But it’s not evidence in itself. What if there’s something that’s way out in left field nobody thought about?

    This approach annoys everyone – because for the believers in (some kind of) meaning, it doesn’t satisfy them. And for the believers in no kind of meaning, it doesn’t satisfy them. It annoys everyone – as do all middle grounds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How do I know for sure the universe is meaningless? I don’t. I only observe that meaning doesn’t appear evident in astronomy, physics, biology, or any of the other sciences. But maybe it’s there nonetheless, just waiting for us to find it!

      Carl Sagan in his novel Contact had a message from a creator embedded deep in the digits of Pi. Maybe something like that awaits us somewhere.

      I do try to remember that every conclusion is provisional, subject to change on new information. But I totally agree that there are people who don’t want to hear that.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hmm…minimalist regarding truth.
    Moral anti-realist of the ‘error theory’ variety.
    Quasi-realist (?) on scientific knowledge (goes with the whole minimalist truth thing).
    What the hell, I’m a bit of an anti-realist in general.
    It is the case that ice climbing is better than trad. and trad is better than sport.
    Also beer and chocolate should be black.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I know where you’re at on the realist front. Actually, given conversation in another thread, I probably should have listed my scientific instrumentalism as a non-popular position. It isn’t so much that I’m an anti-realist, as a non-realist, or perhaps more of a very cautious-realist. I described it in that other thread as emotional realism but intellectual instrumentalism.

      I’m not much of a beer drinker, but given a choice I usually go for the darker ones. And I like dark chocolate, although I’ve discovered that there is a thing as it being too dark, at least for me.


  9. “It’s a rebellion against the intellectual “elite”…
    Elitism is not a monetary distinction, it’s a state of mind. It’s the clear line of distinction separating “them” from “us”; them being the peasants and us being the ruling class. It’s a distinction that’s alive and active in every institution where there is a hierarchy of governmental structure. Elitism is Nietzche’s paradigm of the master-slave morality, the “ideal” model of the double-standard.

    Just an anecdote to illustrate my point: In the state of Idaho, it is illegal for a “classified” state employee (an hourly employee) to run for a public office of any kind. If the employee is discovered and does not withdraw from the election, they will be terminated…

    “Egads!!! Can anyone imagine how disgusting it would be if a one of our boorish peasants was actually elected by the people to be our superior??!! It cannot and will not be tolerated!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think every state has restrictions like that. They were originally put in place to actually protect civil service employees from being pressed into doing campaign work for politicians.

      But I agree that many of the rules for running for public office are elitist. Sometimes it’s the fault of the voters. For example, in Louisiana, the salary of state representatives is too low for a regular person to actually live on, guaranteeing that only those with income from other sources can run for office, restricting it to the wealthy or retired. Every time an attempt is made to rectify this so that working people could plausibly hold an office, the voters scream about politicians increasing their own pay, guaranteeing that only a small portion of the population can actually serve.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m actually skeptical that the moneyed elite are that successfully manipulative. Certainly some of them like to think they are, but they’re human just like the rest of us and often just as clueless. Although they do understand and influence their economic interests far better than most of us.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I see what you’re saying Mike. Obviously Trump for example is not sharp (not that some of the monied elite shouldn’t be incredibly sharp manipulators of the masses). But in the end it will all be tides that come and go for the historians to deductively assess after the fact. You, J.S. Pailly, and some others like myself put our money on the institution of science for straightening things out. Some would call us overly optimistic.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Here’s the paradox: One has to “be” a wealthy elitist in order to think like one. I once held a group session with my peers to demonstrate this principle. I asked: When the board of directors from the Ford motor company have their meetings, what’s the fundamental agenda on their docket? Of course the answer to everyone was obvious: Cars and truck right?……. WRONG!

    The agenda is making money, and for the directors of the Ford motor company, cars and trucks just happen to be the cover they utilize for making money. Ford motor company, like most corporations today are actively engaged in what is referred to as “financial engineering”. The corporations are buying back their stocks, divvying them up amongst the good old boys, just waiting to cash them in when the windfall is just right. Ford motor company recently fired their CEO. Not because Ford is not performing, on the contrary. Ford is more profitable as a corporation than it has ever been. The problem is that in spite of this unprecedented profitability, the stocks have not reflected that paradigm. The good old boys have a boat load of stocks in their portfolios that haven’t produced for them, so they took it out on their CEO and hired another PR man, someone who will be successful in manipulating the masses so they can cash in.

    Its all about the money folks, cars and trucks are just the front for this Ponzi scheme, a scheme that plays the simple masses like fine tuned instruments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just a couple of things Lee. How can you and I of the non-monied elite, then understand the function of the monied elite? And I’d say far better than the monied elite understand? Effective theory of course. Cheers to that! And then Ford is a Ponzi scheme? Here you may have overindulged in rhetoric. This would be the longest running Ponzi scheme that I’ve ever heard of.


  11. Eric,
    You obviously misunderstood…… Ford motor company is not the Ponzi scheme, it’s the manipulation of stock value that’s the scheme. One indeed has to be twisted in order to understand the monied elite which makes me question why I understand them!!?? Effectively, it’s just human nature; same shit, different day.

    Looking back, I believe that I’ve lived in the best of times that America had to offer: post WWII, muscle cars, affordable housing, health care… no regrets; although I am concerned for the future generations. The piper will come calling one day and the dues will have to be paid. Mob justice is another evolving paradigm that looks very unpleasant too.

    All the best…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hey Mike, can you explain # 3: “Consciousness exists only relative to other conscious entities.” That sounds like it would be impossible for exactly one consciousness to exist.

    As for unpopular ideas, mine is that life has objective meaning, and so there is an objective morality. But it’s complex, by which I mean chaotic, and therefore not calculable. So the best we can do is generate rules of thumb and hope we get selected for and not against.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey James,
      I was wondering if anyone would ask me about that. Here’s my current view.

      Consciousness is a label we affix to a collection of capabilities that the information system we call our mind possesses. When we ask if something else is conscious, what we’re basically asking is if it processes information similar to the way we do and has similar drives.

      When I ponder whether you’re conscious, I’m basically pondering how much Mikeness you have. When you ponder my consciousness, you’re pondering how much Jamesness I have. When we humans ponder animal consciousness, we’re pondering how much humanness they have.

      This is always a matter of judgment because no two systems process information in exactly the same way. Even different members of the same species are going to have differences. And the further from mentally complete humans we move, the less like us they process information, and the more in doubt their us-ness is.

      From the similarities, we decide how much moral consideration a particular system should have. If it should have it, we refer to it as “conscious”. But as I mentioned in the post, there is no objective morality. (I know you disagreed above, although you don’t seem to see that objective morality as discoverable.) It follows from this that there is no objective consciousness.

      If one of us were by ourself in the universe, there would be nothing to care whether we were like it, whether we were conscious.

      Consciousness lies in the eyes of the beholder.


      1. Well in that regard then consciousness is just information and information never dies and goes on to live, perhaps in different form but live on it does. So consciousness is eternal in your example and death but an illusion. I mean seriously I am therefore I exist and once I exist I cant unexist.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Certainly from a certain perspective that is true. Of course, like energy, information can be transformed, scrambled, and mixed with other information, to the point that the pattern that once existed is unrecognizable. Speaking as one of those patterns, I’d prefer that mine remain coherent for a long as possible.


  13. Here are some of mine:

    Philosophy is nothing more than opinion
    Science is nothing more than observation
    Religion is nothing more than history

    But then again my entire site is dedicated to things people have a challenge of accepting.

    Great post, I look forward to reading more from you


      1. You stated — “I agree on philosophy, but I wonder how you see theory fitting in your view of science.”

        My response — Scientific Theory is observable confirmation of a repeatable process.

        Science is merely observation

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ll share mine below:
    – Humans overestimate the limits of their capabilities but that is useful narcassism.
    – There is no objectivity that we can have access to.
    – There is no truth that we can have access to.
    – We can only formulate beliefs.
    – Science is an abused word.
    – Science may not be the only way to useful beliefs.
    – There may be something mysterious going on.
    – We need to replace capitalism with a better system now (resource and science based economy).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Science itself has no clearly acceptable definition or criteria. Science is an all encompassing word which everyone seems to throw in to legitimise their point of view.
        And especially in my field I see people say something like ‘what does the science say?’ or ‘what does the evidence say?’ and when you look go looking for it, it seems to say whatever you want it to say (in most cases).


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