The absence of evidence, is evidence of absence

Follow up to: Not even wrong – easy stuff

If you want to learn how people like me (the sane people) think, you should ask what do we think about life after death. This is not because it’s a more important question than all other questions. It’s because the question is easy to answer, and easy even for a irrational person to understand. So, what do I believe about life after death? It doesn’t exist, and I’m about 99.9999% sure about that. I’ve said all this before. But I’m repeating all this because apparently it is a difficult concept for many people to understand. I find this odd. This should be easy. They keep asking, how do I know that life doesn’t go on after death. Well, I don’t. That’s the whole point.

Suppose there’s a stranger who comes and tells you that there is something called the Great-Z. You haven’t heard anything about this Great-Z. You haven’t read anything about Great-Z. So you don’t know anything about Great-Z. You ask the stranger “Dude, what the hell is Great-Z?” The stranger raises his eyebrows. “Haven’t you heard about Great-Z?” You shake your head, “no”.

He then explains what Great-Z is. Great-Z apparently is this great power source that can power a city for one year, and yet small enough that you can put it inside your pocket. It’s value is measured in billions. Now suppose this stranger tells you that if you give 2 billion dollars to him, he will get you one of those Great-Zs. You’re a billionaire, so you have the money. But would you just give him the money? If you do, that’d explain why you are not a billionaire.

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Follow-up to: De Rerum Natura

As discussed previously, materialism is the view that everything is matter. Or to be precise, materialism is the view that the mind is made from the same stuff that makes other things. Suppose the universe is made from tiny parts of X, Y, and Z, and the combinations they make, materialism is the view that the mind too is made from them, and not some special mind stuff. Suppose that the universe is made from waves A, B and C. Materialism is the view that the mind too is made from them, and not some special mind stuff. In fact, modern materialism is better understood as Physicalism, just so people don’t misunderstand it. The core of materialism is not the view that everything is made from atoms or sub-atomic particles. That’s not even a materialist belief. No, the core of materialism is the view that the mind is not made of some special mind stuff. The mind is physical.


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Russ Roberts on climate change

Today I listened to a podcast, which was a talk between Russ Roberts and Freeman Dyson. Russ Roberts is an economist. Freeman Dyson is a theoretical physicist. So these are not two idiot men talking nonsense. On the contrary, both of them are highly intelligent men. This is why it is even more puzzling. Why are they talking nonsense?

The podcast is titled “Dyson on Heresy, Climate Change, and Science”. Roberts is the host of this show. So here’s what he does. He first gets Dyson to say that being a heretic (a science heretic) is important.

Robert : What is a heretic in your view and why are they important?

Dyson: Tendency for people to think in groups, to follow the party line. Most of the time, we are happy going along with what other people are thinking, and very often what other people are thinking is wrong. So, if you are a heretic and stick out for something unorthodox, you have a chance to do something important.

Dyson even gives some examples of where heretics turned out to be right.

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Not even wrong – Easy stuff

Follow up to: How do you know what you claim to know?

There are things that are wrong, and then there are things that are not even wrong (as Wolfgang Pauli famously stated).

Astrology makes testable predictions, based on a theory that claims that planetary movements have an effect on our lives. If you want to know whether astrology is true or false, you can test whether those predictions come true or not. Many people have done such experiments and come to the obvious conclusion that astrology simply doesn’t work. Astrology doesn’t make predictions at a success rate clearly higher than what you’d get through pure chance.

The thing about astrology though is that it is something that is wrong, not something that is not even wrong. That is, the world can be such that astrology is false. This really is the only good thing one can say about astrology. Astrology is falsifiable, a characteristic which it shares with science. Astrology is false, and we clearly know that it is false. Astrology predicted the world to be of a certain way, and the world turned out to be different.

Some religious claims also belong to this category. Take for example the idea that the world is only 6000 years old. This requires the world to be of a certain way, and it turns out that world is not like that. So we now know for sure that this claim is false. Another example is the Buddhist idea that humans lived billions of years ago. This too is a claim that is clearly wrong. These claims are testable predictions, just like science, and unfortunately, they are all wrong.

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How do you know what you claim to know?

Something religious people do, since they want to hold on to their whacky beliefs, is putting those whacky beliefs outside the domain of science. Take Last Thursdayism for example. It is the idea that god created the universe last Thursday, but with the appearance that it’s billions of years old. Basically god made fossils, people’s memories, history and all that just last Thursday. Last Thursdayism really is an extreme version of omphalist hypothesis, created by opponents of omphalist hypothesis just to show how absurd it is. But it shows what I mean perfectly. Here we have a claim that science can never disprove. The religionist says “god created the universe last Thursday. True, we have fossils that we know through carbon dating to be millions of years old. True, we have evidence that the earth is billions of years old. But god created the universe exactly as it is now, just last Thursday. Can science disprove this?”

Of course there are things science can neither prove nor disprove, and Last Thursdayism is one of them, silly though it is. Science can test the validity of an empirically verifiable claim (If you’re a Popperian, don’t fuss about this word. Use whatever word you like to use), but cannot test the validity of claims that cannot be empirically validated. For example, if you make a claim that astrology works, this claim is empirically verifiable. All you have to do is take a list of specific predictions (these predictions need to be really specific though), and see if they come true at a statistically significant rate. If you can’t make accurate predictions, astrology is utter nonsense (that seems to be the conclusion most people who’ve tested astrology have come to). But on the other hand, if your claim is that astrology experiment didn’t yield positive results because a science hating giant rabbit at the furthest corner of the galaxy, which cannot be found by any empirical means, is disrupting the experiment because it hates experiments, science can never disprove this claim.

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