Dr Who is a TV Programme 66


Time does not exist. It is an abstract concept invented by humans as part of our effort to rationalise the extraordinary fact of our existence. The past no longer exists, and the future has never existed. You can’t physically travel around time any more than you can physically travel around mathematics or ethics. All that exists is the fleeting instant.

I would not have thought that needed saying. But there you are. I am not however questioning the value of what sounds like a tremendous piece of research – only the BBC’s populist presentation of it.


66 thoughts on “Dr Who is a TV Programme

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  • Clark

    Angrysoba, you wrote, “I have a hard time understanding how you posit the existence of moral agents capable of free will and at the same time deny there is such thing as a self”.
    .
    “We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

  • MJ

    “Seek discipline, and find your liberty”
    .
    Sounds a bit like “Arbeit macht frei”…

  • Paul Johnston

    “Consciousness is universal.”
    You’ve not been to Hull recently have you ?
    🙂

  • PhilW

    Interesting discussion.

    As regards free will, I would like to see any definition of it which makes it incompatible with determinism. The notion that free will is some sort of ‘motive power’ which requires a suspension or chink in determinism in which to operate seems primitive.

    Free will is the basis of the moral dimension of the world. I realise I have a choice of what to do in any situation. I cannot escape that choice. Even though what I end up choosing is totally determined, from where I stand this is absolutely no help – determinism operates through my making of the choice.

    We extend this notion of free will to other beings – we hold them responsible for their actions.

  • Clark

    Paul Johnstone, I was last in Hull in 2003, and it was a very important time for me. I do not understand your reference, and I would enjoy reading your explanation.
    .
    Angrysoba, free will seems to be a paradox only from the viewpoint of isolated selves. If we strive only for ourselves, we find that there is only one appropriate choice at each decision we encounter. If we align ourselves with the universal creativity, we partake of its nature, but we relinquish something of our self-hood.

  • Trance Devil

    You should try two books from Nigel Kerner. They are The Songs of the Grey and Grey Aliens and the Harvesting of Souls.

    these two will an alternative explanation of how the universe work as well a lot of other stuff.

  • Nextus

    Ford Prefect: “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
    .
    “Very deep,” said Arthur, “you should send that in to the Reader’s Digest. They’ve got a page for people like you.”

  • Clark

    Angrysoba, sorry, I didn’t really answer this: “Yet, doesn’t entropy suggest that the arrow of time points away from creativity and diversity – in the long term – and makes it impossible leading ultimately to the heat death of the universe?”
    .
    Well, the creative history of the universe is a matter of observation, whereas the future decay of the universe remains conjecture. It is an important question whether heat-death will ever actually occur. This depends upon one of those “suspiciously fine-tuned constants” so beloved of Special Creationists. Our universe is expanding at a rate indistinguishable from the “critical rate”, where it will neither re-collapse nor expand forever, though you’d think it would have to do one or the other!
    .
    Anyway, some may be interested in the roles of time, energy and information in Spreng’s Triangle:
    .
    http://mccabism.blogspot.com/2007/02/sprengs-triangle.html

  • Clark

    “One of the problems has to do with the speed of light and the difficulties involved in trying to exceed it. You can’t. Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.”
    .
    Douglas Adams

  • McLeod

    Clark Wrote This and its nonsense:

    “Time travel into the past contravenes free will. The conditions for free will are that the future must be unknowable, and the past must be unchangeable.”

    Free will is a state of mind not a law of physics, free will and be physically denied you at ant time. Are you perhaps alluding to the “free will” that the mythical being called god supposedly bestowed upon us.

  • ingo

    consciousness is universal!
    Hmm, and it is an ever expanding consciousness, a very physical one that is the determinant of our future.

    Unless the expansion of the universe is a part of an age old cycle, the ever increasing distances between planets and stars, is far more likely to stifle travel in space and time, turning the age old yearning of escaping the dross and drang from this planet into a pipedream.

    We now know that there is no way out for us and the realisation does have its consequences. I for one welcome expansion of the univers as it focuses our mind on the here and now.
    But it is also my belief, and I stick to it, that expansion without the stages of contraction and consolidation by a great attractant/black hole/of sorts is impossible.
    Hence I also beleief, as yet unproven, that the expansion will come to an end and that the great attractant, whatever it may be, will once again contract the universe to a point in time and space, consolidate and expand once more with a great big bang.

    Time only matters in the expansion and contraction phase, the point of consolidation would be very hard to quantify, it could be a split second, a year or a millenia, we would not know, because our inability to survive seriously hampers the development of interlect as a whole we are focusing on a one way process of life, not a cycle of living

    But then I’m only a stone mason wrestling with the fact that Gizehs pyramids could have been built far earlier than 2500-3500 BC and that the sophistication, accuracy and phenomenal astrophysical observations, corrolations and calculations could have been from another world alltogether, who knows, time might tell.

  • Clark

    McLeod, I am not religious, if that’s what you’re thinking. If you could change the past, your life would be like some pointless video game; “damn, messed up level two, go back and try again”. If you could know the future, what would be the point of anything? Do look at quantum physics, which has a fair bit to tell us about consciousness and free will. Yes, people or circumstances can constrain your actions, though never totally. I may have misunderstood you due to a typo.
    .
    MJ, I have no intention of invading Poland! On the other hand, a holiday there might be nice…

  • Clark

    McLeod, sorry, I got it wrong, I should have said that people can stop you doing things, even to the point of stopping you from living, but they can’t make you do something.

  • Scouse Billy

    Clark,
    .
    You stated that consciousness is universal.
    .
    You (and others) may be interested in the following:
    .
    “Thomas Campbell is a physicist and works for NASA. After his university graduation he did experiments together with Bob Monroe related to consciousness and out-of-body experiences. Thomas taught his own consciousness to “leave his body” and explore non-physical realities. He applied his scientifically trained rational mind as a physicist to his experiences and over the following 30 years developed his “Big TOE” (Theory of Everything) in which he brings together physics and metaphysics into a unity.
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    His key insight is that we live in a virtual reality based on consciousness. Consciousness is the ground of all being and the main method for consciousness to evolve is by breaking up the holistic consciousness into separated individual part (us humans) which then have free will to interact.”
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    His lecture is quite long but highly recommended – you may choose to skip the first 35 minutes which is largely personal historical background.
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    http://www.matrixwissen.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=53%3Athomas-campbell-the-nature-of-reality&catid=50%3Ameta-theorien&Itemid=80&lang=en

  • Nextus

    Clark: “Do look at quantum physics, which has a fair bit to tell us about consciousness and free will.”
    .
    No it hasn’t. It has a lot to tell us about how subatomic wave/particles defy our conventional laws of physics, and leaves a number of puzzles unexplained. Various theorists have tried to plug the explanatory gap of quantum collapse with notions of conscious observation, in line with the Copenhagen interpretation, but these just shift the explanatory problem onto long-abandoned philosophical ground. Hameroff and Penrose have tried to pursue that line, but it fair to say they have very few converts. There are alternatives such a hidden variables and multiple worlds, which also have philosophically problematic. The jury is still out on this great debate.
    .
    Quantum mechanics certainly says nothing about free will. As has been pointed out above, appealing to randomness tells us diddly squat about the issue of choice. Your decisions aren’t random. You make them for reasons. Those reasons have just as much claim on being artefacts of neural processing as every other thought you can have.
    .
    You may not be religious, but you are appealing to notions of spiritualism that imply non-physical entities exerting physical effects on matter. That is Cartesian mind/body duality (the ‘ghost in the machine’) under a different name, a position that has been well considered and thoroughly debunked.
    .
    But your own view is a bit far-out and new-agey, as I think you would admit. It has some elements in common with the recent ontological strains of postmodern phenomenology, especially those that converge on Buddhism. These non-scientific paradigms certainly have notable adherents, and therefore shouldn’t be dismissed as entirely nutty, but they don’t intersect enough with the scientific worldview to sustain rational engagement with anyone outside their own mindset. There is no evidence that would support them (certainly not from quantum mechanics!) and people who try to suggest there is are venturing in the domain of “Intellectual Impostures” (the title of a good book about fallacious appeals to science in postmodernism).
    .
    These esoteric worldviews rely on personal conviction and faith as much as any religious doctrine, so there’s little point in arguing with people who don’t share those basic convictions (which are generally regarded as deviant amongst wider society). On the other hand, it’s fair game to attack the scientific worldview – for example, overturning naive notions of time – indeed, that what scientists are supposed to do, and what Craig was doing in the message at the top of this thread.

  • Paul Johnston

    @Clark
    I was born there and spent the first 22 years of my life there.
    Across Bev Road from this place
    http://www.chavtowns.co.uk/2004/11/orchard-park-hull/
    That’s where my first school was, one dinner time 50% of the top streamed class go arrested.
    We never really saw 12/4 (the year was divided into 12/1 12/2 12/3 and 12/4 on order of ability yes we were 12.
    In the Crap Towns book of 2003 it came number one.
    Funny thing is whilst in the University where I work when I say I come from Hull people say “Oh I thought it was really nice !” and I say did you live on an avenue and they always say yes 🙂
    Not a fun place to be! (IMHO)

  • jake

    Time is just God’s way of making sure everything doesn’t happen all at once.

  • Scouse Billy

    Nextus – “That is Cartesian mind/body duality (the ‘ghost in the machine’) under a different name, a position that has been well considered and thoroughly debunked.”
    .
    A true philosopher or scientist would never say such a thing.
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    We are talking metaphysics: specifically about the nature of reality and consciousness which is by definition unprovable and, to borrow from your populist lexicon, undebunkable.
    .
    I strongly recommend that you take a look at the Thomas Campbell link in my above post.

  • Clark

    Nextus, if we were discussing this from a blank slate, I could be somewhat more inclined to agree, but we’re not. Probably your education in physics followed the same route as mine, learning classical physics first, in which case you will have experienced the seductive, one-to-one (apparent) correspondence between physical theory and reality. I know that personally I found it very difficult to let go of when I encountered the quantum stuff. That is the background to this discussion. The Western world-view has been dominated by Material Realism for centuries. Angrysoba has ticked me off for calling it that. He prefers Physicalism. Whatever you call it, this paradigm still dominates scientific opinion; people find it very hard to let go of, but it is now known to be wrong. Your own comment “Various theorists have tried to plug the explanatory gap of quantum collapse with notions of conscious observation, in line with the Copenhagen interpretation…” suggests that you have the same problem. I shouldn’t have to remind you that the Copenhagen interpretation is the +standard+ interpretation of quantum physics, nor that the alternative of hidden variables was disproven by Aspect’s results. As for the Many Worlds interpretation; just how far are we willing to go in order to banish conscious observation from our model? Really, the Many Worlds interpretation simply looks like an act of desperation; what about conservation of energy? I really think I have more grounds to accuse you of faith than you have of me.
    .
    Quantum physics has put observers right back in the experimental frame where they belong. We +choose+ how to make measurements in our experimental systems, and our results, and results at distant locations and times, are dependent upon our +choice+ of observation, so I don’t know how you can say that quantum physics is unrelated to free will; in quantum physics we have to acknowledge that we choose.
    .
    Yes, of course our decisions have much to do with the functioning of our brains; we don’t have billions of neurons for no reason. But a classical analysis of those neuronal systems will not suffice. This is not an appeal to randomness; the evolution of the wave equation is entirely deterministic. We simply can no longer locate the “self” within the skull.
    .
    Yes, this appears New-Agey, but only from a classical, deterministic perspective. I have no end of arguments with New-Agey types who seem to be prepared to justify just about any weird belief without recourse to evidence. However, the quantum results are clearly telling us that our consciousness and free will do exist, and that they, and everything else, have important elements that are non-local in space and time.
    .
    Anyway, ‘phone call, I’ll be back…

  • Nextus

    OK, Billy, let me put in a less flippant way. Many students come to philosophy holding some version of mind/body dualism is correct, because it has to be. Once they learn the art of rational self-criticism and try to counter the objections raised by their peers, they abandon the mind/body position like rats off a sinking ship. The courageous few who remain tend to either be allied to theology or Continental philosophy.
    .
    At the most prestigious academic conference on consciousness held in the UK so far, prominent philosophers and psychologists tackled many profound mysteries, but none was defending dualism. In fact one scholar gave a keynote address on the debunking of Cartesian theories. There were some pretty adventurous ideas there (David Chalmers was peddling his mysterious psychophysical properties), but I don’t recall encountering an adherent of metaphysical dualism. Perhaps you know better?

  • Scouse Billy

    Nextus, you are invoking the unscientific arguments of authority and consensus – I hardly need to quote Einstein to you.
    .
    As for metaphysical dualism, (off the top of my head) you could take a look at Rupert Sheldrake’s theories of morphic fields and morphic resonanace.

  • Nextus

    OK, the easy one first:
    .
    S’Billy: “Nextus, you are invoking the unscientific arguments of authority and consensus”
    — You’re suggesting authority and consensus are unscientific?? So much for peer-review, then!!
    .
    In fact, you just gave a fine example of misusing an authority appeal. For the record, the argumentum ad verecundium is fallacious if it appeals to unrepresentative authority: just like Rupert Sheldrake, whose views are rather idiosyncratic. Otherwise authority is a standard scientific benchmark. That’s what the higher education system is founded on!

  • angrysoba

    Clark,
    .
    I pretty much agree with Nextus who has said a lot of what I wanted to say but I avoided saying because I didn’t want it to come across as facetious or rude.
    .
    I am a little bit flabbergasted that you could make some of those statements that you do without any qualification at all and with such absolute certainty. I am pretty sure that you are leaping way beyond the scientific evidence to say something that hasn’t been proven at all:
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    “Consciousness is universal.”
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    If you state things as baldly as this you are saying that this is as well-established as, say, gravity or evolution or heliocentricity. I really don’t think you will find more than a handful of scientists who agree with that statement so you shouldn’t be talking about it as though it were an established fact.
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    “the creative history of the universe is a matter of observation, whereas the future decay of the universe remains conjecture.”
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    I do not know what you mean by the creative history of the universe. When you say the universe is “creative” what do you mean? Isn’t this just a subjective term (and I’m sorry, but as much as you may now want to make the move that Eastern philosophy has shown us that subject/object disctinctions are merely artificial we’re going to end up in the realm of farce unless you actually accept certain uses of language)? And I would be very interested indeed if you could find even one scientist to have written a paper suggesting the following:
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    “We can choose to align ourselves with the universal creativity or not, as we wish. That is a moral decision.”
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    This is absolutely in the language of New Age gurus and doesn’t even rise to the level of scientific conjecture. How on Earth could you even test such a hypothesis? At least the heat death of the universe is a reasonable extrapolation from known observations.
    .
    “Angrysoba has ticked me off for calling it that. He prefers Physicalism. Whatever you call it, this paradigm still dominates scientific opinion; people find it very hard to let go of, but it is now known to be wrong.”
    .
    I am not at all angry at the use of the word, “materialist” I just happen to think that “physicalist” is a more precise term as it gets around objections such as “Time isn’t made of matter” or “mental states are not made of matter” etc… But if you say, “It is now known to be wrong” you have again made another bold and unsupported claim. Known by whom? Is it demonstrated to the point of irrefutability?
    .
    I’m afraid I won’t be able to continue this conversation for now as I’ve got a lot to do this week but I’ll be interested in reading where it goes from here.

  • angrysoba

    “We are talking metaphysics: specifically about the nature of reality and consciousness which is by definition unprovable and, to borrow from your populist lexicon, undebunkable.”
    .
    Unprovable? Good, then we don’t have to take your metaphysical meanderings seriously.
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    “Nextus, you are invoking the unscientific arguments of authority and consensus – I hardly need to quote Einstein to you.”
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    So you won’t be quoting any “authorities” then?
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    “As for metaphysical dualism, (off the top of my head) you could take a look at Rupert Sheldrake’s theories of morphic fields and morphic resonanace.”
    .
    Oh dear. Presumably an authority. Fail!

  • Scouse Billy

    Nextus,
    .
    Actually it’s an appeal to improper authority, which begs the question who can possibly claim authority in matters metaphysical?
    .
    As to concensus, (Galileo?) but again it’s metaphysics, so is simply analagous to a dominant belief.
    .
    You asked for an example of a metaphysical dualist – I suggested Sheldrake who you dismissed as “idiosynchratic” – in the context of metaphysics!
    .
    There’s no point debating with you if you ask me a question for which my answer is then interpreted as “you just gave a fine example of misusing an authority appeal”.
    .
    Good night.

  • Nextus

    S’Billy, I think you’ll find (and probably already know) that Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance is widely regarded as maverick and pseudoscientific.
    .
    A closer analysis of the argumentum ad verecundium will reveal the condition that “there is an adequate degree of agreement among the other experts in the subject in question.” Sheldrake’s theory of ‘morphic resonance’ doesn’t meet that condition (as the numerous webpages that accuse him of pseudoscience will testify). His ideas have not been widely endorsed. On the other hand, a conference of the world’s leading experts on a philosophical topic who concur on the same basic point *does* meet that condition. What don’t you understand? Susan Blackmore’s textbook on Consciousness is similarly roundly dismissive of dualism. Dualism remains a deeply unpopular view, for very well-examined reasons.
    .
    Academia doesn’t become a free-for-all just because of solitary dissidents. There has to be some degree of consensus. This is an epistemological standard, not a truth-functional logical one, but necessary nonetheless.
    .
    Good night back. And thanks.

  • evgueni

    Glad someone mentioned Fashionable Nonsense by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. I was beginning to doubt my own sanity 🙂

  • Nextus

    Clark: “I shouldn’t have to remind you that the Copenhagen interpretation is the +standard+ interpretation of quantum physics”
    — You don’t have to, thanks. I didn’t imply otherwise. Similarly, I shouldn’t have to remind you that the notion of resolving quantum superpositions by invoking a mysteriously non-physical entity is even more incompatible with the principles of physics than the unexplained behaviour of subatomic particles. That’s why most physicists and philosophers in this field believe there is a big conceptual problem with the Copenhagen interpretation which remains unresolved. They don’t see it as proof of spiritual causality. Rest assured if they ever do, it would become essential grounding in philosophy and physics courses; instead they are educated about the debate – why do you think that is? In the meantime, let’s agree that quantum collapse remains an unresolved mystery. (For the uninitiated, a reasonable summary of the various positions can be found on Wiki.)
    .
    “nor that the alternative of hidden variables was disproven by Aspect’s results.”
    — actually, superdeterminism is making a resurgence. I attended a seminar about it by a prominent physicist a couple of years ago. I challenged him with the Aspect experiment, but he had a mathematical reply that I couldn’t understand, never mind counter. I’m still sceptical, but undecided. Superdeterminism doesn’t require any notion of freewill. And that’s only one amongst many options. There are two many uncertainties and differing theories on this matter to suggest there is a settled opinion.
    .
    “We +choose+ how to make measurements in our experimental systems, and our results, and results at distant locations and times, are dependent upon our +choice+ of observation, so I don’t know how you can say that quantum physics is unrelated to free will”
    — I just explained why +choice+ doesn’t involve non-causality or indeterminism. If you want to employ a compatibilist notion of freewill, then the word +choice+ doesn’t raise any problems. But instead you associate it with spiritualism. You can’t sneak that Joker into the pack.
    .
    “people find it very hard to let go of, but it is now known to be wrong.”
    — Well, in that sense, every universal theory of physics is known to be “wrong” to some extent. Nobody has managed to produce a completely ‘right’ theory of everything. I would prefer the term “incomplete” or “provisional” – in accordance with the fundamental scientific principle of falsifiability.
    .
    You seem convinced that what you say constitutes proof that the self is not located in the skull. If so, write the book, because it would overturn mainstream philosophy. On the other hand, I think you’re rather overcooking the evidence. Physicists and philosophers are well aware of the issues you raise, yet they remain committed physicalists. Quantum collapse implies some entity or force incompatible with Newtonian physics and relativity; but it stops well short of proving the existence of a metaphysical soul.

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