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Blogger William Orem wrote on Jun. 1, 2013 @ 15:10 GMT


Our recent thoughts about Thomas Nagel's (failed, I think) pronouncement against materialistic reductionism have led me down the path of musing on the connections among nature "in itself"--whatever that may be--scientific models, and comprehensibility.

To return to Nagel for a moment, much of his disdain for the schema of materialism rides on the purported strength of his assertion that Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the emergence of mind is radically implausible, and therefore our quest for a purely physical description of the cosmos as a whole misguided. The heart of his dense, often eloquently stated broadside against GUT comes down to noting that minds and reason and values exist (true enough; though the first two have been debated, and it takes a philosopher to regard "value" as being a relevant entity in a discussion of cosmological models), and such things wouldn't be possible in a reductive material cosmos. Something is missing in science, Nagel feels--"feels" being the element that catches my attention--and that something undergirds everything:

"My target is a comprehensive, speculative world picture that is reached by extrapolation from some of the discoveries of biology, chemistry, and physics--a particular naturalistic Weltanschauung that postulates a hierarchical relation among the subjects of those sciences, and the completeness in principle of an explanation of everything in the universe through their unification."

Fully reductive materialism; the random nature of evolutionary change; minds as epiphenomenal to complexifying brains; a mathematical-materialist GUT--and all of it, rather than the teleological cosmos in which humanity plays some central role. For Nagel, as for many, it all just seems impossible to swallow.

A good question, though, might be: Should we expect it to seem otherwise?



Evolution, safe to say, is not easily understood. It's not that, at this point in the intellectual growth of our species, we don't get the basic idea--genetic drift, changing environment, chemical replicators--it's that we don't, and perhaps can't, really get our minds around what "a million years" means . . . to say nothing of ten million, or seventy five million, or one point one billion. The 10,000 year age of earth asserted by some fundamentalists is scientifically illiterate, but certainly *feels* more likely. Without education in modern geology, radiometric dating, and the like, some type of flat-earther position on foundational questions is to be expected. Of course the sun is in motion. Of course human beings are special. Of course our minds aren’t part of the material world. Do you *feel* material?

But a scant few centuries of science have shown us how wrong this “right in front of you” thinking can be. Who would have thought a drop of water was full of animals, before Van Leeuwenhoek? (No one; this is why, as Richard Dawkins notes in his wonderful book “The Magic of Reality,” there are no myths about dust mites.) Who could believe that some rocks fall out of the sky? (Jefferson couldn’t.) Or that everything that exists was once compressed into a volume smaller than a pencil tip? Nature is radically counterintuitive. Anyone who feels the facts will seem sensible to humanity has not taken in the lesson of Copenhagen.

Which is exactly as it should be. We *are* evolved organisms, and there is no evolutionary pressure to turn us into Surveyors of the Universe, intuiting its grand activities at a glance. That we can discern as much as we can has struck some as a marvel (more on that in another blog). But the fact that we don’t *feel* psychophysical reductionism can possibly be right is both irrelevant to its truth or falsity and . . . in a way . . . in keeping with a Darwinian view. You wouldn’t expect a brain evolved like ours to have an immediate grasp of “a very long time ago, our ancestors were a kind of slime mold.” Such claims, in human terms, are nonsense. Yet evidence, not intuition, gets the final word.



Einstein, of course, was famously turned away from Quantum Mechanics because it was so non-sensical. He spent the latter years of his life fruitlessly (unless the Cosmological Constant turns out to have been prescient) trying to discover the key to a universe that behaved in a more respectable way. How frustrating, how maddening for us if the GUT is something less like GR and more like QM: workable, fascinating, but never really sensible, never satisfying to the kind of minds which are ours.

It may well be. We humans think mythologically, and symbolically: if the GUT revealed a Tree of Life or the mind of God or a tremendous cosmic egg, all of which have been imagined by various cultures, it would make sense more than what may be awaiting us at the end of the physics road.

I admit to a bit of a chill at the thought: I would prefer an infinite and beautiful Tree of Life to a sterile knot of mathematics (String Theory, I would submit, is decidedly unbeautiful). I won’t, of course, twist my reason out of shape in order to convince myself a Tree of Life is somehow “really” there, if it is not. I know how prone humans are to confabulating in order to arrive at conclusions that feel good.

And yet as far as Einstein was from Nagel, and as far as I am from either man, we do share a certain longing for satisfaction at the ways of nature. I can’t help hoping the deepest answers will be, in some sense, human answers.



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Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Jun. 2, 2013 @ 15:08 GMT
As we push the frontiers of physical knowledge the fundamental principles we come to frame as axioms or physical postulates will implicate things that are further removed from our immediate intuition. This will happen with physics in particular, where our concepts of space, time and the continuity of events and ordering of objects consistently becomes abstract in a way that is removed from our sensory perception of the immediate word. Quantum mechanics does this particularly, though relativity has some counter intuitive concepts as well. Nonlocality and the entanglement of states is outside the standard perception of things. Two spinning charged particles separated by any distance with one particle in a region of a magnetic field that precesses means the other will precess as well. This is something that defies our intuitive sense of things.

Biological evolution defies a cultural sense of things. People living on a tribal subsistence level have little trouble with evolution when it is explained to them. Many such cultures have nature religions, sometimes called pagans, which have an idea of the interrelatedness of life. Evolution is troubling to monotheism, which proposes an exceptional origin for humans based on a special creation. Biological evolution has consistently put these beliefs outside the domain of empirical understanding and has shown these beliefs to be pure mythic narratives. This of course is rather upsetting to some people.

LC

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James A Putnam replied on Jun. 2, 2013 @ 16:14 GMT
Dr. Crowell,

"Two spinning charged particles separated by any distance with one particle in a region of a magnetic field that precesses means the other will precess as well."

Does this effect vary with distance? Thank you.

James Putnam

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Lawrence B Crowell replied on Jun. 2, 2013 @ 19:55 GMT
No, or at least within the distances entanglement have been experimentally examined. In principle it should work across cosmological distances. In principle this could be tested with Einstein lenses as beam splitters.

LC

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James A Putnam replied on Jun. 4, 2013 @ 16:51 GMT
"I won’t, of course, twist my reason out of shape in order to convince myself a Tree of Life is somehow “really” there, if it is not. I know how prone humans are to confabulating in order to arrive at conclusions that feel good."

This self serving statement does not release materialism from the same judgement. This is not a matter of a God or of defeating the Genesis view. Disdain for either of these ideas does not play a role in scientific inquiry into the evolution of life. The relevant information is empirical evidence. The knowledge that is missing in the empirical evidence is: How is it that particles of matter can give rise to intelligent life? Just as important is the recognition that: Intelligence cannot evolve out of dumbness. Related to this is: Even if there exists a level of intelligence as a given, it cannot evolve into a higher level of intelligence. Existing meaning is static. New meaning must be added to existing meaning in order for intelligence to evolve. That adding process is not yet explained by scientific means.

Just as every property of every object in the universe must have been included in the origin of the universe, the property of intelligence must also have been prescribed for. Materialist do not get it for free while disguising their lack of answer by deflecting attention to easily defeated unscientific targets. This is not a matter of what makes who uncomfortable. It is a matter of openly acknowledging that which is not yet scientifically known or understood. The existence of an unknown cause of intelligent life does not require irreducible complexity for its validity. Complete reductionism will list all effects while not answering the question of the origin of cause. Instead of filling articles, and that reference cited for Wikipedia, with diversionary tactics and unscientific reflections about your view versus another's view please address: The means by which new meaning is added to the universe?

James Putnam

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Lev Goldfarb wrote on Jun. 2, 2013 @ 17:10 GMT
William,

"I can't help hoping the deepest answers will be, in some sense, human answers."

Indeed, not even the "deepest" but simply the fundamental answers will be "human".

What is missing from your (and to some extent Nagel's) description of the present scientific picture is the realization that we might be in the midst of the yet unrecognized but unprecedented scientific 'crisis' and are at the threshold of an unparalleled transitional period in science. And for example, Lee Smolin in his last book, basically, also agrees with that assessment.

The main reason why this estimation of the present state of scientific affairs has not been adequately perceived has to do with the fact that this is the first crisis of such proportions in the entire history of science. It is related to the pressing need (also mentioned by Nagel) to integrate the 'mental', or the 'informational', into the scientific picture, which was based on the *spatial* considerations, while the mind--as already the fathers of the Scientific Revolution agreed--is of non-spatial nature. For more on this issue see my last essay.

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jun. 3, 2013 @ 15:45 GMT
Lev,

The fathers of the Scientific Revolution came from a dualist tradition, in which there is a mind/body distinction. Yet we are what we are conscious of. Who knows where the source of this awareness comes from, or what the basis of the physical world is, life is a multi-billion year interface between the two. While information might seem nearly infinitely spatially compressible, isn't that simply another form of reductionism? Which goes to one of the points I keep making, that when you assume dimensionless forms, you are multiplying by zero, so while it might be a convenient distillation, it is also mathematically voided.

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Lev Goldfarb replied on Jun. 4, 2013 @ 13:34 GMT
John,

"The fathers of the Scientific Revolution came from a dualist tradition, in which there is a mind/body distinction."

The fathers of the Scientific Revolution not only came from a dualist tradition, but more importantly, they entrenched it in science.

"Yet we are what we are conscious of. Who knows where the source of this awareness comes from, or what the basis of the physical world is."

John, I'm afraid, a scientist cannot afford to talk that way. ;-) Isn't that the topic of the the present essay contest?

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Jason Mark Wolfe replied on Jun. 5, 2013 @ 03:41 GMT
"John, I'm afraid, a scientist cannot afford to talk that way. ;-) "

Lev,

Science, particularly physics, has made itself sole arbitrator of what is reality. Science has, de facto, banished God, religion and spirituality as being nothing more than brain chemistry and evolutionary tricks. Yet even as science opens avows that nobody has a soul and such things do not exist, nature already gives us proof that strange and invisible things can exist. The wave-function is just a mathematical solution. But there is a growing opinion that wave-functions might really exist, even though they are strange, invisible and impossible to detect.

Nevertheless, science is on a mission to stamp out and exterminate ALL of such etherial and undectable things. All of the proteins involved with consciousness and brain function have associated wave-functions. It is scientific arrogance to assume that such a wave-function of consciousness has nothing to do with a spirit or a soul.

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Jun. 3, 2013 @ 15:50 GMT
"Who would have thought a drop of water was full of animals, before Van Leeuwenhoek? (No one; this is why, as Richard Dawkins notes in his wonderful book “The Magic of Reality,” there are no myths about dust mites.) "

As anyone who doesn't live in a sterile environments knows all too well, life comes on all scales and there is a very famous fable of dust mites, that of counting angels on the head of a pin.

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Anthony DiCarlo replied on Jun. 10, 2013 @ 13:58 GMT
John,

Imagine you are a molecule of water in the drop of water you mentioned. Now imagine the droplet to be frozen ... heat it and watch your "fixed site" behavior change into molecular motion in a liquid ... then into a gas ... each phase transition coming with a latent heat (ie., a temperature stability during a phase change while absorbing more energy... ie., energy ~ information).... adding degrees of freedom (entropy - more states to acquire) as you transition.

Are we (as living beings at 98.6 degrees F) also in the midst of a phase change (we are ~60% H2O total body mass). Your "water droplet terrarium" can also go through phase changes... does life do similar things as we gain information degrees of freedom while going through our ~ constant 98.6F ~90 year cycle?

Life may not just come in different scales ... it may also come in different phases.

Regards,

Tony

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jun. 10, 2013 @ 16:46 GMT
Tony,

I very much view thermal properties as under appreciated. I keep pointing out the only problem with understanding time is that we view it as the present proceeding from past to future, as opposed to action turning future into past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth rotates, not traveling some fourth dimension. This makes time the frequency to the amplitude of temperature. We could use ideal gas laws to construct a theory of "volumetemperature," comparable to "spacetime," since making time an effect of action refutes spacetime as causal geometry.

So we could take the phase change down to the atomic scale and use it as a loading theory, such as Eric Rieter and various others, such as Constantinos Ragasas argued, for photon absorption.

One might apply it to governmental accumulation of information, causing it to explode as well. As I point out to Jason below, the ordinary convection cycle could be explanatory to much more than it considered, in fact could explain the relationship between the expansion of light and contraction of gravity.

I have to leave it here though, as I'm packing for a trip to Scotland for a week. Doubtful my daughter will let me use her laptop and my phone has limits. Keep up the good fight.

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Lev Goldfarb wrote on Jun. 6, 2013 @ 17:12 GMT
Is there an informational reality independent of the physical reality as the latter is presently understood in science?

I want to focus your attention on the considerations that suggested to me the "yes" answer to this question.

How do I recognize a previously unseen cat as a "cat"?

I have been working in the field of pattern recognition all my professional life, and want to caution you against any simplistic answers to this question. Actually, no one knows even a general answer to this question. However, it gradually became clear to me that if my mind would not have access to a *generative* representation of the class of cats--i.e. the class representation capable of 'producing'/constructing the representations of new cats--I would not be able to recognize a new cat as such. This also explains why in our dreams may appear cats we have never seen before.

(The same considerations apply to all organisms and not just our minds.)

Moreover, educated as a mathematician, I gradually came to the conclusion that no present formal structures are capable of supporting such forms of class representation, mainly because all our formal "spaces" are formed by points or entities derived on their basis, while what seems to be needed here are not point-based but structural forms of data representation, which are of a fundamentally non-spatial origin.

Thus, we are led to a non-spatial, informational reality, because the underlying informational mechanism *behind* such class representations has nothing to do with the evolutionary processes.

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jun. 6, 2013 @ 18:12 GMT
Hi Lev,

I thought I replied to this, but it doesn't show up. In re: " ... we are led to a non-spatial, informational reality, because the informational mechanism *behind* such class representations has nothing to do with the evolutionary processes."

I think this is a fine, succinct statement illustrating the true depth of your program!

Tom

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Lev Goldfarb replied on Jun. 6, 2013 @ 18:47 GMT
Thanks, again, Tom!

As you know, I appreciate it very much!

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jun. 7, 2013 @ 15:50 GMT
Lev,

I'm just not seeing it. We recognize cat the same way we see faces in things like clouds, etc. They are the mental grooves cut in our minds by both nature and nurture.

While physicists like to disparage intuition, intuition doesn't need the opinions of physicists to function.

It seems to me that point based formalism does try to do away with spatial considerations and causes quite a lot of problems doing so. Infinities become multiverses.

To rephrase the old question, Did God create man, or did man create God, I would ask; Did Platonic mathematical structures create reality, or does reality create the patterns formalized as math?

Here is an interesting article I came across recently. When the journalists start sounding this skeptical, the party is getting old.

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Jun. 6, 2013 @ 23:58 GMT
These are a few points I've made previously, but given the conversation, I will collect them into one post.

As I see it, reality is this dichotomy of energy and information. Energy manifests information, while information is the state/description of the energy. Our bodies reflect this, as the result of a multi-billion year experiment, they have a central nervous system to process...

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Anthony DiCarlo wrote on Jun. 10, 2013 @ 14:11 GMT
"(String Theory, I would submit, is decidedly unbeautiful)."

If you possibly consider "String Theory," and the information halography generated from the implications ADS/CFT (with known Duel informations relations), as the most physically accurate modeled description of a living entity you may change your position. From the word "unbeautiful" it is evident that your context of what String Theory describes has confused you ..... What if bosonic strings represent information gained from vision ..... etc., etc., right down to the physical sense of taste -> information strings that physically feed our concious thoughts... For me ... that a rather beautiful context!

Best regards,

Tony

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Lev Goldfarb wrote on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 13:37 GMT
Prompted by the exchange between James and Tom, I am starting a new thread related to the idea of scientific "meaning". The topic is important but widely misunderstood, especially outside science.

The main reason for various misconceptions is related to the important difference between the "meaning" as we tend to perceive it outside (science) and in physics. I would suggest that the usual "meaning" is best understood by our relation to the corresponding *class* of objects, e.g. cats, since our memory, cognition, and perception are organized around such classes.

However, in physics, the "meaning" comes mainly from the corresponding formal machinery, but partly (and inevitably) from the usual "meaning". Here lies the main difficulty.

Of course, in the ETS formalism, this opposition is supposed to be overcome.

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James A Putnam replied on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 02:48 GMT
Tom,

"" ... natural means by which meaning is added to the universe.""

"What name do those natural means go by, other than "theory"?"

I don't have the natural means identified. That is because the natural means by which meaning is added to the universe was part of the beginning of the universe. You don't know that answer either. What I can tell you is this: Theory is the...

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Anonymous replied on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 11:14 GMT
James,

" ... natural means by which meaning is added to the universe was part of the beginning of the universe. You don't know that answer either."

I do, however, know the question: How can one, *in principle*, communicate any objectively measurable attribute of the universe unless meaning is independent of language?

I recognize that your claims have at least three...

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James A Putnam replied on Jun. 13, 2013 @ 11:59 GMT
No those do not apply.

1. "...experimental results "naturally" -- as you would put it -- contained the language of its manifestation." The experimental reslts have no language. We discern the patterns because we already know what patterns are. We attach meaning to those patterns because we already know how meaning relates to patterns. This is not a conscious effeort. It is a subconscious process. It does not involve human invented language of any type. We are not aware of the conclusion of that process until it is brought forward as a conscious thought accompanied by an emotional response that helps us to recognize whether or not the subconscious conclusion was subconsciously determined to be and accurate, innaccurate, good or bad conclusion. We receive the result. We are born with this innate ability. It is given to us through our genetic code. There is no other source for it.

2. The Bible may be right about some things and wrong about others. You may choose whatever you wish to believe about it. What I am sying is that which is made known through empirical evidence. Your re-interpretation of the Genesis quote is not the scientific one anyway.The scientific one is "Let there be light." The reason that this one is more scientific has to do with the meaning of the Hebrew word that was interpreted as 'light'. Do you know that meaning?

3. I have no unmoved mover. I have that which the universe makes known to us through empirical evidence. It does not make cause known to us.

James Putnam

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jun. 12, 2013 @ 20:09 GMT
I would draw everyone's attention to a new essay by Alexei Grinbaum. I think he lays the problem out in a fascinating way. He and I start at opposite ends of the spectrum, and come to the same conclusion (see my comment to him). Without spoiling the punch line, I highly recommend reading his essay.

Best

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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James A Putnam wrote on Jun. 14, 2013 @ 15:26 GMT
Nagel: "My target is a comprehensive, speculative world picture that is reached by extrapolation from some of the discoveries of biology, chemistry, and physics--a particular naturalistic Weltanschauung that postulates a hierarchical relation among the subjects of those sciences, and the completeness in principle of an explanation of everything in the universe through their unification."

Orem: "Fully reductive materialism; the random nature of evolutionary change; minds as epiphenomenal to complexifying brains; a mathematical-materialist GUT--and all of it, rather than the teleological cosmos in which humanity plays some central role. For Nagel, as for many, it all just seems impossible to swallow.

A good question, though, might be: Should we expect it to seem otherwise?"

The answer is an easy yes. That 'lost in the fog of complexity' stand is very attractive to those who hate the idea of God so much that they will turn far away from anything that suggests the universe has properties that pertain to intelligence. The present situation in science is completely untenable except for those who will not look at anything other than theories of dumbness all the way through the evolution of the universe. The reign of dumbness leaves no chance for the universe to give birth to intelligent life. But, why worry, the important achievement is that nothing that admits to a role for intelligence is left unassailed. Looking down scornfully on the authors and their works that try to open any other door, is an indispensible need for materialists in general.

James Putnam

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Lev Goldfarb replied on Jun. 14, 2013 @ 16:30 GMT
"But, why worry, the important achievement is that nothing that admits to a role for intelligence is left unassailed. Looking down scornfully on the authors and their works that try to open any other door, is an indispensible need for materialists in general."

James, the situation is more complex.

The problem with the introduction of "intelligence" in the scientific picture is that this will, most likely, requires the change of the basic scientific language. This is the main difficulty. Once the new formal language, whatever it is, is 'understood', you will not see any great resistance. But you should understand that such a thing has never happened before *in the entire history of science*. So we have to appreciate this predicament. (It is obvious to me that for a typical relatively mature scientist it is impossible to overcome this limitation.)

James if you only knew how much effort is going into acquiring a proper formal scientific education, you would have been much more 'tolerant' of the predicament. I bet, for most scientists, it is much easier to change a spouse than it is to radically change the scientific views.

But as a society we are paying for this delay an enormous price.

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James A Putnam replied on Jun. 14, 2013 @ 17:00 GMT
Whoops. Ok here is where this messge belongs:

"Evolution, safe to say, is not easily understood. It's not that, at this point in the intellectual growth of our species, we don't get the basic idea--genetic drift, changing environment, chemical replicators--..."

Is this supposed to account for the evolution of intelligent life? Genetic drift? Something is definitely adrift....

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James A Putnam replied on Jun. 14, 2013 @ 17:11 GMT
Lev,

I am not a physicist is true enough. However, my education, which I don't give out, did cause me to make this statement once: "Going to work (Enterring the corporate world) was like going on vacation compared to that school I attended." I recall it the same way today. I do respect the incredible work ethic of those who achieve their PHD. Hats off!! But, it is sometimes made difficult to consistently show that respect when 'coloring' is added to calculating. I do think about your messages. Thank you for posting them.

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James A Putnam wrote on Jun. 14, 2013 @ 16:50 GMT
"Evolution, safe to say, is not easily understood. It's not that, at this point in the intellectual growth of our species, we don't get the basic idea--genetic drift, changing environment, chemical replicators--..."

Is this supposed to account for the evolution of intelligent life? Genetic drift? Something is definitely adrift.

"...it's that we don't, and perhaps can't, really get...

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Jason Mark Wolfe replied on Jun. 19, 2013 @ 05:14 GMT
The scientific community is notorious for using "billions of years of evolution" as a magic want to explain everything about intelligence, consciousness, and why the color blue is blue. Supposedly, physics can explain everything about consciousness. But I don't remember any physics equation that says Color BLUE = ...

Is anyone questioning whether or not there are some biological mechanisms that have nothing to do with quantifiable physics? What is the equation for "ouch"?

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