Thursday, May 26, 2005

Do I Detect Sarcasm?

Dawson Bethrick from Incinerating Presuppositionalism was kind enough to provide an interesting link in the comments section of my last entry. Israeli researchers literally discovered the physical part of the brain that detects sarcasm. Here is a snip.

Researchers Pinpoint Brain's Sarcasm Sensor

The region, according to the researchers, handles the task of detecting hidden meaning, a crucial component of sarcasm. If that part of the brain is out of commission, the irony doesn't come through, the scientists report in the May issue of Neuropsychology.

These findings agree with an earlier blog entry of mine, where I stated that "In reality, all aspects of your consciousness, from communication to observation to constructing concepts to even feeling life itself, are hopelessly dependent upon your physical brain." And now with this post, I have given further evidence of this material dependency by showing that even the ability to understand sarcasm is subject to this dependency.

If consciousness can exist independently of a physical brain, then why do we always find that consciousness is affected every time we experiment with, or damage, the material brain? People with pieces of their brain removed or damaged will even attest to no longer having the capability provided by the piece of the brain that was altered. Loss of mental ability, from personality, to reasoning/thought, to motor skills, have all been well documented, and correspond with the damage or altering to the relevant areas of the brain.

Some pro-afterlifers have told me that you get back all your consciousness when you die, but I contend that they got it backwards. I contend that the evidence we have shows that these functions of the mind are dependent upon material support, and that when you die, you clearly lose all of your consciousness; you don't get it all back. The only way to ever bring back the mental abilities that were lost when the brain was altered is to bring back the actual, physical, supporting structures that provided those mental abilities. If mental functions could exist without material support, then one's consciousness would not lose those functions when their brain is altered or damaged.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Reducibility in Life Forms and the Afterlife

First off, I want to apologize for the time it took to submit another post. Work, school, and my car have all required a considerable amount of time and attention from me as of late. I want to update this blog at least twice a week if not more frequently, and I am rearranging my schedule to help accomplish that.

Most afterlife beliefs exclude life forms that are not Homo sapiens from passing onto the afterlife. I contend that these particular beliefs employ double standards and intellectual dishonesty by way of emotional exclusivity for humans. But to properly discuss and analyze the afterlife, one must know what comprises a living entity. Wikipedia has a great entry about the meaning of biological life.

Lets look at a few points in this Wikipedia article to get an idea of what biological life is:

In biology, an entity has traditionally been considered to be alive if it exhibits all the following phenomena at least once during its existence:

1. Growth
2. Metabolism, consuming, transforming and storing energy/mass; growing by absorbing and reorganizing mass; excreting waste
3. Motion, either moving itself, or having internal motion
4. Reproduction, the ability to create entities that are similar to itself
5. Response to stimuli - the ability to measure properties of its surrounding environment, and act upon certain conditions.

This is a good starting point for biological life, but Wikipedia also notes that this list is somewhat lacking:

These criteria are not without their uses, but their disparate nature makes them unsatisfactory from a number of perspectives; in fact, it is not difficult to find counterexamples and examples that require further elaboration. For example, according to the above definition, one could say:

-Fire is alive (this could be remedied by adding the requirement of locality, where there is an obvious feature that delineates the spatial extension of the living being, such as a cell membrane, although this would then discount fungi, and grasses from being alive).
-Stars could be considered living beings (for the same reasons as fire).
-Male mules are not alive as they are sterile and cannot reproduce.
-Viruses are not alive as they do not grow and cannot reproduce outside of a host cell.
-People who are impotent are not alive

Wikipedia then gets more specific regarding the definition of life by referring to biologists and terrestrial (Earth) life:

Biologists who are content to focus on terrestrial organisms often note some additional signs of a "living organism", including these:

1. Living organisms contain molecular components such as: carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins.
2. Living organisms require both energy and matter in order to continue living.
3. Living organisms are composed of at least one cell.
4. Living organisms maintain homeostasis.
5. Species of living organisms will evolve.

All life on Earth is based on the chemistry of carbon compounds. Some assert that this must be the case for all possible forms of life throughout the universe; others describe this position as 'carbon chauvinism'.

For simplicity’s sake, lets confine our discussion of life to Earth-based, carbon life (all Earth life is carbon-based). Now that we have a good idea of what life is, lets compare specific examples. In case you don’t know, all organisms on Earth are divided into 5 "kingdoms": Bacteria, Protozoa, Fungus, Plants, and Animals. Despite the cries of many religious people, human beings (Homo sapiens) belong in the "animal" kingdom.

Let's compare humans to the Wikipedia criteria for being alive. It is pretty obvious that humans meet each requirement. What about jellyfish? Well, they meet all these requirements as well. Lets get a bit more basic. What about a tree? A tree meets these requirements just as well as a human does. What about mushrooms? So do they. What about bacteria, say, of the flesh-eating variety? Well, flesh-eating bacteria meet the "life" requirements just as well as humans do. All of these entities I mentioned share many of the same things: They all have DNA, they all reproduce, they all consume food and produce waste, they all meet the requirements for life equally.

Now that I've pounded that point home, I can make the connection to the afterlife. Why am I so concerned with what is and is not alive? Simple! To support a statement about the afterlife, which is:

To honestly support an afterlife-belief, one must do so for all entities that meet the "life" requirements. If an afterlife exists for humans, it must also exist for all bacteria, protozoa, fungus, plants, and animals.

The phrase "afterlife" means that a consciousness or soul will continue to exist after the physical death of a body. Life is defined as above thanks to a wonderful Wikipedia article. Therefore, there is no reason to think that Homo sapiens exclusively pass on to the afterlife. Indeed, there is no reason to think that any life form would not pass onto the afterlife.

From the animals and plants we eat, to the fungus we top our pizzas with, to the bacteria we massacre with every breath we take, to the dust mites that live and die on our skin, to the yeast we cook with and consume, all of these entities are equally qualified for afterlife membership if we are to think that humans are destined for an afterlife.

And here is the reductionist portion: All life forms are either single-celled or multi-celled. A single blood cell from a human is alive in that it, along with its counterparts (other human cells), works cooperatively to form a complete life form.

If a skin cell on a human dies, wouldn't it also qualify for afterlife-passage all by itself? If not, then what about an independent single bacteria cell? What about a single human embryo cell (before the cell division begins)?

I have heard of religious arguments (especially Christian arguments) that state that only humans go into the afterlife because only humans have sentience or a consciousness or soul. These arguments are not only unevidenced, but when the religious person submits criteria for the qualification of such a "soul" or "sentience," their assertion of human exclusivity can be proved demonstrably false. What I mean is, the criteria that a religious person can submit for the existence of a human "soul" or "sentience" can also be met by most, if not all, living species. And if any non-sapien members of the homo genus still existed, they would likely meet the criteria as well.

In addition, the "humans-only" afterlife argument looses strength when one looks at the pro-afterlifer's views on stem cell research or single-cell human embryo research. To destroy a stem cell or another form of single (not yet divided) human embryo cell is, according to pro-afterlifers, the murder of a human being, and that human (single cell) is imagined to pass on to the afterlife. This is a blatant double-standard and a complete violation of the religious person's previous criteria for having a soul or sentience, because these "human" cells are no more complex than the single celled bacteria found in everything from food, to snot, to breath. In addition, I contend that a dolphin (which would not qualify for afterlife existence according to most religions), meets the "soul" and "sentience" criteria much better than a human stem cell or embryo.

Multi-celled life is reducible to single cells, and therefore, the afterlife belief cannot be restricted to a given species of life form without the use of intellectual dishonesty and/or a double standard. Religious pro-afterlifers concede this point when they fight for the rights of human stem cells and embryos, but they turn around and deny this point when you ask them which life forms qualify for passage into the afterlife.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I Know What Your Motive Was Last Summer!

An anonymous comment poster said something very revealing today, and I thought I would make a blog entry about it, just to drive a point home. Although this post will be mentioning God more than the afterlife, I think it is still relevant, for God resides in the afterlife, and one will expect to meet God only when one gets to the afterlife. The accessory motives behind actions, whether its God or the afterlife, are practically the same for the purposes of this argument. Anonymous said:

And worshipping God is not just putting Jesus first. You worship God when you take a walk, when you spend time with your family, when you help your neighbor, when you go to work, etc. Everything you do can be done to His honor and glory.

I agree that its not "just" putting Jesus first. Its also about abstinence (not just the sexual kind), and self-depreciation, among other things. And this is evident in his statement. One thing that came to mind is my George Eliot quote from my earlier blog entry entitled "What's Your Motive?" And this is why today's blog entry is also about motive. It seems many people still just don't understand. Let's dissect anonymous' statement a bit further.

Anonymous said that when you do normal activities, like working, spending time with your family, helping your neighbor, and other tasks, you should do those tasks not for the sake of the tasks and your own happiness, but for the glory of God. What this is, is the "accessory motives" that George Eliot talked about.

See, if I am to help my neighbor because I like to help him, that is a primary motive. If I spend time with my family because it makes me happy to do so, that is a primary motive. The motive is contained within the action that I am doing.

But, if you help your neighbor or spend time with your family for the glory of God, then that is an accessory motive. This means that the motive is not contained within the action itself, but instead the motive is contained within the "glory of God."

Anonymous will help his family not because he cares about his family, but because he cares about God. Anonymous will do whatever it is that his God wants, rather than do what is objectively good for his family. If God suddenly commands anonymous to kill his family (God has commanded killing before), then anonymous will do it, because the glory of God is his primary motivation. Now if anonymous balks at such an evil command (as many reasonable people will), then anonymous would be conceding that he is putting his families priorities over God's, and therefore he wouldn't be following his religious commands, and probably would catch some very angry Godly wrath (if God existed, that is).

Anonymous will say "I spend time with my family because it pleases God." Anonymous has the inferior accessory motive.

But I will say "I spend time with my family because it pleases my family and myself." I have the superior direct motive.

Maybe this is why religious mothers are more likely to kill their children. They put their God/afterlife beliefs in the #1 spot.

I don't think anonymous is a very good Christian. Anonymous probably doesn't follow the Bible's commands too closely. For example, Jesus said that if any man wants that he should not rule over them, then you should bring that man forward and slay him before Jesus. A more clear example of the inhumanity of accessory religious/afterlife/God motives would be hard to find in the Bible. Does anonymous follow this rule? Or does he let non-believers remain alive when he encounters them? Would anonymous slay me - an infidel who refuses to allow Jesus to rule over me - if he bumped into me on the street? Or would he let me live?

If anonymous killed me, then he is following the Jesus/afterlife priority, and he is a good Christian. But if anonymous let me live, then he is instead following the humane real-life/godless priority, and he is not a good Christian.

Accessory motives are always inferior to direct motives. If anonymous helped his neighbor for the sake of his neighbor, and not the sake of God, then anonymous would be following the correct and, objective moral choice, because he would be basing his actions regarding an entity on the interests of that entity. But if anonymous helped his neighbor for the sake of God, then anonymous would be following an arbitrary and immoral choice, because he would be basing his actions regarding an entity on the interests of something other than that entity.

The lesson for today is this: The better afterlife-believer you are, the worse a humanitarian you are. And the worse afterlife-believer you are, the better humanitarian you are. Just look at those Bible verses and those baby-killing mothers if you don't believe me.