Probabilities, determinism, true randomness, the Big Bang…

Illustration courtesy of María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. …


Free will, God, entropy, and IQ

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa
  • Is life just biology and chemistry, shaped by the blind forces of evolution? Maybe so, but no matter, we humans have free will.
  • But is ours not a deterministic universe ruled by inalterable laws of physics incompatible with free will? Still no problem, we’ve concocted something called “compatibilism” and kept our free will, thank you very much.
  • Do rationality, lack of evidence and science force us to abandon any notion of God or Gods? Yes, but no big deal: we can still find spiritual fulfillment in Bach, Michelangelo, and Dostoyevsky. We can still be…


I would…

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

A while ago I stumbled upon a line that got me thinking. It went something like this: “If you were in someone else’s position, your life and behavior would be exactly like that person’s.” In some sense — if we stretched the meaning of “position” to encompass everything — it seems obvious, but we never really consider things that way. In fact, what we normally think and say is more like: “Oh, but if I were him I’d have done this or that”, implying, no doubt, that “this or that” would have led to a better outcome.

Is…


It seems to me that in men, as in brutes…

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

The prominent English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) believed that consciousness, in both animals (“brutes”) and people, was merely a byproduct of the mechanics of the brain. An epiphenomenon that is not the cause of any behavior. In his essay “On the Hypothesis that Animals Are Automata, and Its History” he wrote:

The consciousness of brutes would appear to be related to the mechanism of their body simply as a collateral product of its working, and to be as completely without any power of modifying that working as the steam-whistle…


Would there be terrible consequences?

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

Free will can be understood in different ways, so first I should clarify that I’m not referring to the idea of being free to do as one wishes, in the sense that if one isn’t in prison, say, one is free to go outside for a walk; nor to the conventional notion of choosing some course of action of one’s accord, consciously and deliberately; but to what is also known as libertarian free will, which is a volition that is fundamentally autonomous, free from causal determinism and the laws of nature.

A common objection to…


The brain is not a general-purpose computer

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

A popular view of the brain is that it works like a computer with a general-purpose global capacity that can centrally handle disparate tasks. It is not so. Numerous neurological disorders belie that view. Here is a list of some of the most illustrative ones.

Capgras syndrome, also known as “impostor syndrome” or “Capgras delusion”. People with this condition will believe that a person whose face they recognize is an impostor. For example, if they see their mother, they’ll recognize her face as indeed being identical to their mother’s face, but will nonetheless…


We may have to select better ones…

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

In the blunt words of biologist Richard Dawkins: “We are survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.” The Selfish Gene (preface to the 1976 edition).

It is indeed an astonishing truth. One has to wonder, then, to what extent do genes care about the well-being of us, their temporary hosts? The answer, as we’ll see, is that only insofar as our well-being represents their goals, metaphorically speaking. …


Is it beyond our grasp, even in principle?

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

In his paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, American philosopher Thomas Nagel argues that humans can’t know what it’s like to be a bat, to experience its conscious mental states. This assumes that bats have a conscious experience beyond mere sensory perception (a reasonable assumption, as they’re mammals). Nagel says that even if we could somehow directly sense the behavior and perceptions of a bat, without modifying our brain structure our subjective experiences would not resemble the bat’s experiences at all.

I think Nagel is right. We could further…


It doesn’t matter…

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

In an odd recent video, Dilbert creator Scott Adams argued that evolution had probably been debunked because, according to some serious and credible people, the odds are astronomically in favor of us and our reality being a simulation. And if we’re in a simulation evolution isn’t true, according to him. As per this logic, a lot of science, not just the theory of evolution, would have been equally debunked.

Whatever the merits of the simulation argument, I don’t see why it would necessarily follow from it that evolution isn’t real. After all, evolution, exactly as we know…


The inordinate influence of special interest groups

Illustration: María Elena (Mani) Hinojosa

In democratic societies, relatively small special interest groups have always had a curious advantage over the larger population when it comes to influencing policy. The reason is that they’re very passionate about their cause, whereas the rest of the population, even if an interest group’s agenda happened to be somewhat detrimental to its interests, is often mostly indifferent to it, insufficiently informed to care either way, or simply less passionate about it. …

Cristóbal de Losada

Interested in natural selection, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, science in general, human nature, consciousness, philosophy and ethics.

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