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James Randi coments on Sam Harris
Posted: 23 June 2007 06:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]. . . Sam is saying that we don’t know whether consciousness is reducible to matter. . . .

Maybe you and Harris don’t know it, but I do. Now we’re getting more than close to something I know about. If you don’t know it, then I’ll bet M.M. can suggest a reading list. Or show us your hand, Walter. What exactly do you know about this subject?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 23 June 2007 06:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”][quote author=“waltercat”]. . . Sam is saying that we don’t know whether consciousness is reducible to matter. . . .

Maybe you and Harris don’t know it, but I do.

Then you ought to publish the results of your research in a peer reviewed journal.  I look forward to it.

Sorry, that sounds arrogant.  Me .  .  . Arrogant??  That’s unpossible.

What I meant to say is that there are people who do publish in peer-reviewed journals who disagree; people who think that the mind is not reducible to the brain (and these are, by and large, atheists, I might add).  People like Colin McGinn and David Chalmers are just going to trot out a whole host of brilliant arguments to refute any identification of the mind and the brain. 

Now, I’m not saying that they are right.  And yes they are philosophers.  Tsk tsk.  But they have good arguments.  And I think that it is safe to say that the jury is still out.  (I would agree, actually, that the last vote count was 10 to 2 in favor of reduction, but . . .).  The point is that my own assessment is that we don’t know for certain.  I think that this is accurate and it is unfair to criticize Sam for voicing that opinion.

When one says that we don’t know if the mind is reducible to matter, one does not thereby imply that one believes in an immaterial soul.

Now we’re getting more than close to something I know about. If you don’t know it, then I’ll bet M.M. can suggest a reading list. Or show us your hand, Walter. What exactly do you know about this subject?

I know that there are many philosophers and scientists (yes, real scientists, Salt Creek) who believe that the mind is not reducible to the brain.  That doesn’t mean that they believe that the mind is immaterial or that there is a non-physical soul (though David Chalmers comes close; he is a dualist).  John Searle’s position is precisely what was mentioned earlier: the culprit is our concepts, not the world. 

In the past, philosophers argued that the mind was immaterial (frankr knows all about this and I’m sure can give us the details of the arguments).  But these philosophers were wrong.  There does not appear to be a non-material realm or a third realm or any strange realm of consciousness.  Consciousness is a feature of our world.  The question is how is it related to matter.  On this question there is a host of possibilities, only one of which says that the mind is matter.

Searle says something that we all need to repeat to ourselves at least once a day, as a mantra.  It goes something like this:

Everyone wants to know how the mind is related to the material world.  Is the mind material or is it part of a different realm?  Dualists count two separate realms: the material world and the spiritual (or mental) world.  Materialists and Idealists only get to to one world.  The mistake is to start counting at to begin with.

[ Edited: 23 June 2007 06:42 PM by ]
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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
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Posted: 23 June 2007 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”][quote author=“waltercat”]And we are getting dangerously close to an area in which I have a tiny bit of expertise, for once.

For once? Well, I know you’re not going anywhere, Walter. Not as long as there is the faintest opportunity for you to trot out, for perhaps the umpty-thousandth time, that tiny bit of expertise. What is old is now new again.

Look who’s talking!!


By the way, now there is something that you and frankr agree about: waltercat has no sense of humor.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 24 June 2007 03:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]Then you ought to publish the results of your research in a peer reviewed journal.

Rarely is self-evident knowledge formally studied and written up. Should I also take on the question of dog afterlife? Neurological systems seem mysterious and supernatural, but they all rely on certain physical features and environmental supports. Human neurological systems contain no magical essences as far as anyone knows. There’s that word. Know. No, I haven’t reported on anything. You have the Ph.D. You’re the expert. Not me. I’m simply a sub-140 IQ observer and occasional reader of reports about how neuro-systems function. I was once a reader of made-up stories about how humans are something other than animals. Now I realize that humanity’s fate “is like that of the animals. . . .”

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 24 June 2007 03:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”][quote author=“waltercat”]Then you ought to publish the results of your research in a peer reviewed journal.

Rarely is self-evident knowledge formally studied and written up. Should I also take on the question of dog afterlife?

I suppose I have not been as crystal clear as I ought to have been.  Saying that the mind is not reducible to the brain is not equivalent to saying that there is an immaterial soul.

Thomas Nagel, for example, thinks that you can’t reduce consciousness to brain processes (Strictly speaking, he has said that conscious mental states are not identical to brain processes).  But he does believe that mental states are dependent on brain processes such that, when the brain stops working, consciousness ceases as well.

Searle thinks something similar (though for different reasons; and a more accurate account of each of their views would reveal important differences).  So, the people I am talking about don’t believe in an immaterial soul, even though they are not convinced that the mind is reducible to the brain.  As I have said a couple of times, I think that both Searle and Nagel would agree with the assessment that the problem lies in our concepts.

Neurological systems seem mysterious and supernatural, but they all rely on certain physical features and environmental supports. Human neurological systems contain no magical essences as far as anyone knows.

And I never said that there is anything magical about it.  I am just suggesting that it is possible that the identification of the mind with the brain may not be entirely accurate.  Again, possibly because our conceptual scheme gets in the way of understanding the nature of consciousness.

There’s that word. Know. No, I haven’t reported on anything. You have the Ph.D. You’re the expert.

But not really in this subject area.  As I said “dangerously close to an area in which I have a tiny bit of expertise” emphasis on the ‘tiny bit.’

Not me. I’m simply a sub-140 IQ observer

I have no idea what mine is.  I am sure that 140 is out of my reach.

Now I realize that humanity’s fate “is like that of the animals. . . .”

Yes.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 24 June 2007 04:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]. . .
Thomas Nagel, for example, thinks that you can’t reduce consciousness to brain processes. . . .

Searle thinks something similar. . . .

Walter (or is it Jason?), would you agree with me that Nagel and Searle are harboring leftover bits and pieces from ancient religious ways? After all, not every scientist is an atheist. Just most of them.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 24 June 2007 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”][quote author=“waltercat”]. . .
Thomas Nagel, for example, thinks that you can’t reduce consciousness to brain processes. . . .

Searle thinks something similar. . . .

Walter (or is it Jason?), would you agree with me that Nagel and Searle are harboring leftover bits and pieces from ancient religious ways?

No.  I don’t think so.  I am certain that neither one of them is a theist.  I think that they have just thought about the difficult problem of explaining how the brain produces consciousness and come to the not unreasonable conclusion that it is not possible to reduce the mind to the brain. 

I am probably not doing justice to their actual views.  You should read Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 24 June 2007 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”][quote author=“homunculus”]Walter (or is it Jason?), would you agree with me that Nagel and Searle are harboring leftover bits and pieces from ancient religious ways?

No.  I don’t think so.  I am certain that neither one of them is a theist.  I think that they have just thought about the difficult problem of explaining how the brain produces consciousness and come to the not unreasonable conclusion that it is not possible to reduce the mind to the brain. 

I am probably not doing justice to their actual views.  You should read Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind.

[quote author=“waltercat”]People like Colin McGinn and David Chalmers are just going to trot out a whole host of brilliant arguments to refute any identification of the mind and the brain. 

Now, I’m not saying that they are right.  And yes they are philosophers.  Tsk tsk.  But they have good arguments.  And I think that it is safe to say that the jury is still out.  (I would agree, actually, that the last vote count was 10 to 2 in favor of reduction, but . . .).  The point is that my own assessment is that we don’t know for certain.  I think that this is accurate and it is unfair to criticize Sam for voicing that opinion.

If philosophers want to count votes and traffic in opinions, arguments, and assessments, that is fine with me. Only recognize that this sort of chicanery is fooling no scientist. A rhetorician quietly reasserts the notion that it is actually profitable (epistemically) to conduct arguments based on unfalsifiable propositions and then declare that “the jury is still out” on them. Well, duh.

Saying that (A) the mind is not reducible to the brain is not equivalent to saying that (B) there is an immaterial soul.

This concludes that A and B are not equivalent (presumably because B is unfalsifiable and A is not). If A is not falsifiable, then concluding that it is not equivalent to B is not a valid conclusion. Of the three concepts of brain, mind, and soul, the brain is the only one that is accessible to science. Therefore A is not falsifiable and A is not a scientific hypothesis either. A and B are therefore equivalent. Unless you wish to assert that not all unfalsifiable propositions are equivalent. I suppose that some would be deemed more equivalent than others. Or more unfalsifiable.

So to what is it equivalent? Why write “equivalent” when you could be using propositional calculus? Or couldn’t you? You could have fooled me.

Diving naked into the negative dialectic that is going on here, is it fair to assert that not saying that the mind is not reducible to the brain is thus equivalent to not saying that there is an immaterial soul? That puts them both in the universe of unexpressed unfalsifiable propositions. The universe of expressed unfalsifiable propositions is therefore a little less cluttered. Cleanliness is next to godliness, though cleanliness is in a very clear sense not equivalent to godliness.

The “soul” is a tricycle. The “mind” is a set of training wheels on the bicycle of existence, set too high off the ground to do any real good in stabilizing the bicycle. The illusion of safety lets some unconfident people start riding a little earlier than they otherwise would.

[ Edited: 24 June 2007 06:31 AM by ]
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Posted: 24 June 2007 06:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”][quote author=“M is for Malapert”]Wow.  Anyone who even has a position on the paranormal is already WAY behind the old eight-ball, as far as I’m concerned, in terms of being taken seriously as a scientist-guy (which Sam most definitely wants to be).

This is very very wrongheaded, M.  You have a position on the paranormal, Salt Creek has a position on the paranormal.  I have a position on the paranormal.  Randi has a position on the paranormal.  C’mon now.

No, I don’t have a position on the paranormal any more than I have a position on the tiny teapot orbiting around Jupiter or the US going to war with Mars.  In my view, you have a position on matters that occur or might occur.  I don’t say things that require me to explain my position on the paranormal or the teapot or the Martian war either.

Nice work, though, in plucking out that one comment (which could be interpreted in different ways) and ignoring all the rest.

[quote author=“waltercat”]]Furthermore, nothing in that quote from Sam gives any credence (see, a proper use of the expression) to Randi’s claim that Sam believes in any metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.  Being open to the possibility is not equivalent to, nor does it imply, belief.

Gosh, then how come Sam is not open to the possibility that the Bible really does contain the word of God?  He is scathingly certain of that.

As Randi points out, there is a difference between having an open mind and “a gaping hole through which reason leaks out and blind belief seeps in to replace it.”  Here is more from Randi’s latest on Sam, from which the other bits we’ve been discussing were taken:

[quote author=“Randi”]I’ve recently been advised by several readers that my acceptance of Sam Harris – author of The End of Faith – might be unwise. To them I’ll answer, no, but I’m cautious about some of his personal beliefs in other directions. I just can’t understand how such an accomplished author can have gaping blind spots in his belief spectrum, though I’m not a stranger to that phenomenon.

Sam Harris, in The End of Faith, made a comment that rather disturbed me. I admit that I put the feeling aside rather than immediately addressing it, perhaps in hope that something else would be said to neutralize what I saw as a collapse of Mr. Harris’ critical thinking faculty. That comment was:

There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science. The dictum that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” remains a reasonable guide in these areas, but this does not mean that the universe isn’t far stranger than many of us suppose. It is important to realize that a healthy, scientific skepticism is compatible with a fundamental openness of mind.

I’ll repeat myself on that last sentence: an open mind, yes, but not gaping hole through which reason leaks out and blind belief seeps in to replace it. In a footnote to the above paragraph, Sam Harris refers us to Dean Radin’s The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, Rupert Sheldrake’s The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind and to other books, as his authority for having such a belief. Then he adds this astonishing – certainly for him – proposition:

There may even be some credible evidence for reincarnation.

It’s very evident that Mr. Harris has not carefully examined either Radin’s book, or anything written by Sheldrake. If he had subjected that material to the same proper scrutiny which he applied to religion and the “God” question he so well handled, I’m sure he’d have come to the same conclusions that I have – that there’s nothing in them, that there’s no “reality” to psychic phenomena, nor to reincarnation, other than the conviction of some incautious or seriously deluded individuals who can attract publishers who know the naivety of the book market.

This is really very mild.  Randi generally accepts Sam’s work, is merely cautious about his beliefs in other directions (than organized religion), and points out that if he had investigated paranormal claims with the same diligence and skepticism he applied to religion, he would have discounted them too.

And that’s almost all I am saying myself.  If Sam had looked at paranormal research the way he did religion, he would have found that there isn’t anything there, either.  Why didn’t he?  It actually makes me wonder how thoroughly he investigated religion.  Did he just take up something he already vaguely believed, after the shock of 9/11, and run with it?  After all, nothing he says is new, with the possible exception of noting that moderates give cover to radicals.  Otherwise, he just repackages familiar material in uniquely scathing and pungent language. 

He should have examined those paranormal claims, because the paranormal is within his area of study—not even the study of neuroscience but that of irrational popular beliefs.  And because he goes on to make pronouncements about spirituality and mysticism and the merits of Eastern philosophy.  People look to him as an authority on what’s it’s appropriate for a rational, scientific-minded person to take seriously.

You, it appears, want to believe that Sam only has an interest in the everyday reproducible, material, readily observable effects of meditation on the brain and nothing else.  The evidence indicates that just isn’t true.  He isn’t merely looking for teachable techniques for improving mental health.  Those are well known and readily available, although they could use an(other) advocate.  He is looking for something special—something transcendent, spiritual, mystical (he uses those words, W—what do you think he means by them?)—woo woo, in short.

Please notice that Randi is more sanguine about Sam than I am.  He says “No” to the people who warn him that accepting Sam (whatever exactly that means; the chap is not a good writer) is unwise.  As a cynic as well as a skeptic, I note that Sam is currently quite a draw, and Randi invites him to speak at events the JREF sponsors.

I appreciate Sam’s critique of religion.  We can’t have too many of those, and his personability may get the point across to more people.  But there’s something else going on.  Just stay tuned.

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Posted: 24 June 2007 06:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”][quote author=“M is for Malapert”]
[quote author=“attributed to Sam Harris”]Those who have read the last chapters of The End of Faith know that I am not convinced of this [“this” being death as the end of consciousness, apparently - M]. While I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the brain, I do not think that the utter reducibility of consciousness to matter has been established. It may be that the very concepts of mind and matter are fundamentally misleading us.

This is a metaphysical claim claiming not to be.  Not very convincingly either.

No it isn’t.  It is an epistemological claim, and a true one at that.  Sam is saying that we don’t know whether consciousness is reducible to matter.  There seems to be a correlation, yes.  But does that correlation amount to reduction?  There is much debate.  So it is just demonstrably true that it has not been established that consciousness is reducible to the brain.  And it may (may, M.  You seem to have trouble with that word) very well be that our concepts are part of the problem.

Nonsense.  Nonsense upon stilts.  We don’t know whether the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God, either.  There is much debate.  By Sam’s criteria (the last 100 years’ worth of paranormal research exists, and is interesting) there is as much, in fact more reason to take the Bible seriously.  For that matter, we don’t know whether fairies live at the bottom of the garden.  We might have missed that tiny teapot orbiting Jupiter.

I am not interested in the metaphysics of “reducible to the brain”, immateriality, transcendence, spirituality, mysticism or any of that.  I see stacks of evidence that consciousness is a process of the brain and testable theories proposed to explain it.  I see no credible evidence that it’s anything else.  I don’t pay much attention to neuroscience and remain comfortably confident that I don’t have to, since any surprising or substantive discoveries will be publicized.

You’re the one quibbling about words, not me.  I have no problem with “may”.  If you search, you’ll even find me saying that I May Be Wrong.

And we are getting dangerously close to an area in which I have a tiny bit of expertise, for once.

Now you tell us?  Let’s hear more.

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Posted: 24 June 2007 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]
When one says that we don’t know if the mind is reducible to matter, one does not thereby imply that one believes in an immaterial soul.

I’m trying to parse this so that it means anything else, and I can’t.

If the mind is immaterial, then all you are doing is arguing about the definition of “soul”.

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Posted: 24 June 2007 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]I am probably not doing justice to their actual views.  You should read Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind.

Is this the expertise you mentioned?

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Posted: 24 June 2007 07:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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You’ve got to be able to distinguish different levels of certainty.

(A) There is a teapot orbiting Jupiter.
(B)  The Bible is the inspired word of God.
(C)  There is life after death.
(D)  The Mind is reducible to the brain.
(E) There was once life on mars.
(F)  There is intelligent life on planets other than earth.
(G)  Bigfoot exists.

I would not want to say that our level of certainty is the same with respect to all of these claims.  Saying “the jury is still out on some of them” is just a way of indicating that we don’t have conclusive evidence.  In other words, we are much more certain that we evolved from ape-like ancestors than that there was once life on mars. The jury is still out on the Mars issue, not on evolution.  Evolution is on solid and secure footing.  Much more solid than the claim that the mind is reducible to the brain.  We are much more confident that the mind is reducible to the brain then we are that Bigfoot exists.  I think healthy skepticism (to varying degrees) is in order for all of the above claims (A - G).  If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on D as being most likely to be true.

Salty,
I have no more patience with someone who claims that the mind is not accessible to science than you have with a person who claims that God wants you to love Jesus.  If the mind is the brain, then obviously the mind is accessible to science. If the mind is not the brain, it is still accessible to science.  It’s just that we won’t be able to weigh it.  Tough luck.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 24 June 2007 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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[quote author=“waltercat”]Furthermore, entertaining an hypothesis is not equivalent to believing it (or even giving credence to it, I suppose).

Aauuuugh!  No really.  Just AAUUUUUUGH!

(Think Charlie Brown, or Schroeder.)

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Posted: 24 June 2007 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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[quote author=“M is for Malapert”][quote author=“waltercat”]I am probably not doing justice to their actual views.  You should read Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind.

Is this the expertise you mentioned?

Is it your habit to not read all of the posts of people you want to take cheap shots at?  Or are you vying for jerk of the day?

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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