William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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You Are Who You Think You Are: Hart’s The Experience of God, Part III

I think this may be Descartes, but I might not be real

Read Part I, Part II.

Stand by for news!

You’re not going to believe this, but I swear it’s true. It’s one of those things that’s so psychedelically stratospherically hyper-dimensionally grotesque that you will think old Briggs is trying to pull a large wet one over you. Gross! But I do not lie. Ready? There exists a large and growing segment of academia filled with earnest moralists whose sole purpose is to prove they do not exist.

Contradictory? Well, contradiction is the Marxist way. (Did he say Marxist? What a distraction! Never mind!)

Anyway, it’s true. “We do not exist,” say these academics. “We are illusions.” Well, so what. Intellectuals, and academics in particular (have you seen the puerile fantasies leaked from Women’s “studies” departments?), so often say loopy things which have no connection to reality that it’s considered boorish to remark on them. And what do you expect? Insensibility and illogicality is the natural result of too much free time married to a reward system which favors “transgressions” of sanity and tradition.

What makes this novel aberration worth discussing is that these academics say you, dear reader, that you don’t exist either. And they’re determined to get you to believe it. Why? Three reasons. First is that all people are natural proselytizers. Second, the non-existent academics believe that once you, like them, don’t exist, then the world will be a better place.

Third and most important, their belief in non-self-hood is deduced from Theory. Theory! As a paleskinned man from the north once wrote: The love of theory is the root of all evil. So beguiling and beautiful is this theory that nothing, not even the obvious and contradictory fact of their existence, can talk them out of it. These fellows would rather give up rationality itself rather than cast aspersions on their beloved.

Theoretically speaking

The theory is materialism. Our bodies, and even the bodies of academics, are made of physical stuff, material. Hart says, “Absolutely central to the mechanistic vision of reality is the principle that material forces are inherently mindless, intrinsically devoid of purpose, and therefore only adventitiously and accidentally directed toward any ends.”

Think of it this way. No, wait, You cannot direct yourself, or intend yourself, to think of anything. Not if you don’t exist as mental being. What happens instead is this. A coherent, contiguous block of flesh, entirely governed by deterministic physical laws, is in some state, a huge configuration of nerves, muscle, chemicals, and so forth all in one place at some instant. As the next moment ticks by, the whole mess enters another configuration, the transition precisely and unsentiently determined by mindless physical and chemical equations.

The moments flow, and if you stand back a bit and squint you can see the contiguous mass move in such a way that it appears as if the mass were directed by some intelligence. The actions are thus like motion pictures, which are really individual lifeless snapshots, or configurations if you will, that only simulate vitality when viewed in quick succession. This imitation vitality in human beings is called consciousness, the picture which results from accumulating billions and billions of tiny blind forces. Now whatever consciousness exactly is, materialism dogmatically—I mean without proof, for this metaphysical view is impossible to prove—insists there is no you, no “soul” or god guiding your actions, except maybe, and only a scant maybe at that, there is some remote and powerful demiurge who set the whole thing in motion at some timeless past and who now sits pondering whatever it is demiurge’s ponder.

Human beings do not have intellects or wills, therefore “they” do not really exist, though it can seem like they do to lesser people, folks with shallow brain pans. “bitter clingers”, God-fearers, those sort of creatures. But after you ascend the Slope of Enlightenment, it’s easy to see belief in the existence of selves is a silly fantasy. So far the only brave mountain climbers are those possessing superior neural configurations, such as those who listen to NPR. But this is going to change once word of the Theory reaches in the valley and dehumanization begins in earnest. Then will life on earth be terrific? Boy! (See this video.)

They’re coming to take me away

Well, this is nuts. This is full-tilt bat-guano bug-eyed tinfoil-hat insane. Hart calls it “fanaticism”, a word which he says “is not opprobrious, but merely descriptive.” It isn’t imbecility because, as I hinted, it just one more in an endless stream of crackbrained lunacies created by the very intelligent. Nitwits could not think up the perfervid dreams foisted on us by geniuses. Rousseau wasn’t an idiot and neither were Marx, Keynes…ah, you fill out the rest. This list proves love is stronger than reason.

Ordinary sanity demands that when an observation contradicts a theory, the theory has to go. Sorry baby, here I think therefore here I am: materialism is therefore dead meat with no chance of a resurrection. Desire says the opposite. Desire says keep whichever is prettier. All it takes is ten minutes reading any history book to know that observation will never win any beauty contests. So theories rage and bewitch and captivate and cause their lovers to suffer unbearable mental torments as they posit ever-greater epicycles which might, hope beyond all hope, keep the theory alive.

Now as for the many disproofs and counter demonstrations, I don’t here give a damn. Read Hart’s book. All attempts to prove how materialism can show we don’t exist—whether it be epiphenomenalism, emergence, quantum mechanics, experiments which purport to show that our bodies make decisions before we do, whatever—Hart tackles sweetly and decisively. He has a generous nature and is patient, though sometimes he piles on extra-flowery words (he missed his calling as a poet). I am not patient. The observation that I exist, that I feel, that I am must, as logic demands, be enough. It is more than enough.

Since I and since you have the observations that I am and you are, we know in advance that whatever new “proof” somebody offers that we do not exist must be fallacious. The only trick is in seeing where the fallacy lies. There is a certain amount of fun in this and it’s a good way to pass the time if you have to take a train ride and have forgotten your Sudoku. But you can spend your energy more profitably. However, since most of us are geeks and love puzzles for the sake of puzzles, the best resource besides Hart (well, better, in this aspect) is Edward Feser who for example disemboweled, dissected, and destroyed Alex Rosenberg’s eliminative materialism (in Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality) so thoroughly that…well, put it this way. It was like walking into one of Upton Sinclair’s abattoirs. Brrr.

Time better spent

Still, here we are. We exist. We think, love, feel, worry, know right from wrong, deny good and embrace evil, direct our thoughts this way then that. And we also have brains which are made of meat and subject to physics and which are, at least to some extent, necessary for us to accomplish all these curious mental actions. So how do we reconcile what we know of physical determinism and the obvious fact of our (mostly free) mental selves?

Nobody knows.

Bummer. Not the answer which endears you to theory lovers. Tough luck on them.

What’s the real trouble? Comes from several directions. Take causality, a principle which is surely misunderstood by most academics. There are four kinds of “cause”, a word I put in scare quotes to signal an unfortunate circumstance. Even after you learn the four kinds of cause, because you were brought up knowing only one, each time you see cause you still, even in your new knowledge, tend to think of the old definition. This is natural. It’s for this reason that only under the most extreme duress should a word change definition. But we are under duress, so be on your guard.

The four causes are formal, material, efficient, and final (many sites discuss this more completely; an example). The formal cause deals with the form of a thing. The material is what the thing is made of. The efficient is what moderns ordinarily think cause is, the thing that brings the change about. But the most neglected and fascinating is the final cause, the “goal” or direction of the change; what a thing is for. Materialism (or naturalism) insists there are no final causes, no directedness, no thing is ever for anything. Why, the only reason it seems things have purposes is because we imagine they do, we over-interpret “blind” happenstances as being coherent. But if this is so, then there are “we”s, intelligences directing our thoughts for or toward objects and creating these images. If there are illusions, there must be intelligences. Oops.

So, somehow, and nobody yet has a clear idea yet how, and we being finite fractured figures we may never have a clear idea how, our minds are in connection with the material that is also us, and our minds direct and cause this material to move about. That sounds suspiciously like dualism, which maybe it is, though just how dualism can be true isn’t known. But then maybe the real problem is with the initial separation of mental and material reality. Maybe they aren’t different, but aspects of the same underlying whole of reality. This skirts dangerously close to idealism, which is the opposite mistake materialism makes, and which says all is thought, including the rocks on which you might stub your toe.

The separation of mind and matter as different is a modern invention anyway (thank you, Descartes!), a move medieval and ancients scholars would find baffling. Why fix what isn’t broke? Hart:

[I]t makes perfect sense that so many ancients and mediaeval [alternate spelling sic] philosophers took it as a given that the ideal dimensions of things, their intrinsic intelligibility, was not only a real property of their existence but in some sense was identical with existence itself. What, however, is an idea other than the product of a mind? What is a concept other than the expressions of a rational intentionality? And how, therefore, could being be pure intelligibility if it were not also pure intelligence—the mind of God, so to speak?

God is not “some discrete being somewhere out there”, rather “he is himself the logical order of all reality, the ground both of the subjective rationality of mind and the objective rationality of being”, facts assumed by all great religious traditions (Harts lists the variants).

“God explains the existence of the universe despite its ontological contingency, which is something that no form of naturalism can do; but God also explains the transparency of the universe to consciousness…and the intentional power of the mind”. So how does God bring this about? How about something like this?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Next and last time, Bliss.

WMBriggs.com Now A Violence Site

A reader at The Robert Gordon University in Scotland tried to access my site from campus and received this message.



Now, presuming this is not a mistake, I am very proud of this achievement. It is my first distinction in what I hope will be a long and lasting line of them.

But then it’s probably a mistake. That’s statistics for you. Doing as much harm as good.

RGU apparently uses the firm Bloxx to filter webpages, and it’s probably their “Tru-View technology” (well, they have to call it something) which locked me out. I’m hedging because I don’t know for sure.

It could be that somebody at the university flagged me as dangerously violent, or that yet another statistical algorithm has gone off the rails. I’m hoping for the former, because that would make me a kind of celebrity, but I’m guessing it’s the latter, because I know how dicey classification algorithms are.

In this case, one of four things can happen: (1) the software can correctly let a benign site be displayed to the sensitive RGU readers; (2) it can properly block sites university administrators deem unacceptable; (3) it can improperly block harmless sites like mine; and (4) it can accidentally let a horrible site (say, the New York Time) slip by.

Generally, modern enlightened peoples being what they are, the costs of (4) are thought to be much higher than the costs of (3). Think of the line of “shocked” and “offended” students out the president’s door if the Scottish equivalent of (for example) HotAir were let in. But if somebody can’t see a site? Well, out of sight, out of mind.

Thus, the knobs in these algorithms are often tuned to the Better-Safe-Than-Sorry setting. Plus, add to that the impossibility—as in impossibility—of designing any statistical algorithm that can classify perfectly, and lots of mistakes will happen.

I wrote Bloxx and asked them to remove me from the stern eye of their filter. I’m sure they will if this was merely a bad algorithm. Of course, if somebody reported my site as violent, then that’s something very different. Stay tuned for updates.

Death panels? Sure. The State? No Way

Boy do they hate it when she’s right.

Note that this is from Jim Fedako.

Death panels? Certainly. I sit on one, and am subject to another. But, today, it’s all OK.

How is that so? How are death panels OK? Well, let’s start by defining the term death panel. A death panel is an entity with final authority to make decisions over the course of treatment, including the ending of treatment and removal of life support.

So, we do not want those. Right?

Well, death panels have been around since the close of Eden. In earlier times, in more advanced societies, panels consisted of the patient and his or her close family. Together, they decided how their collective, limited resources would be allocated to healthcare. And, at some point, and in many cases, the decision to reduce or end treatment had to be made—such being the human condition.

These panels functioned without government control—and they functioned well. Life and death were, for the most part, a family matter.

Recently, though, the structure of the panels has changed due to the ever-increasing state. The panel I sit on—for my parents—is structured under a legal contract—the power of attorney. This agreement purportedly provides me and my sister control of our parents’ well-being, should the need arise. But, in reality, the state has created a myriad of laws and regulations governing healthcare, including the ending of such care. So state has, in essence, appropriated at least one seat on the panel.

The same power my parents have given to me and my sister is the very same power I have given to my wife and children—to lord over my last days, basing decisions on their limited resources and other concerns, within the constraints imposed by the state, of course. An enormous power and responsibility. Nevertheless, it works as best as can be expected given an intrusive state. We are OK—not in the best situation, but OK nonetheless.

As stated above, the hand of the state has intruded into a very personal, family matter. And with each intervention, life—and death—has gotten more difficult to address. But these infringements on liberty are nothing compared to what may await us all in the near future.

Death panels are not per se evil. They are required given the realities of limited resources. However, death panels become evil when the state gains control. Replace the concerns of the family with the bony finger of a government agency and we all need to fear.

So how does the state justify its growth in such intimate matters? And, more importantly, why do its citizens allow it?

The modern state survives on one great lie: the state claims that it holds the power to end the human condition resulting from limited resources. An example of how this plays out: A parent is concerned about burdening his or her child in old age. The state comes along and says it will bear that burden, and it will do so at no direct cost to the parent or child. But the bargain is Faustian. In exchange for bearing the burden, the state claims the authority to make final decisions regarding how long and to what extent the burden will be borne.

And, most importantly, the state does not say that, in the end, it bears the burden by burdening the child. This is true because the state produces nothing, it only thieves what it can. So to bear the burden of the parent, it taxes the efforts of the child.

As a result, the parent and child gain thing, but liberty is lost.

In the coming years, I expect to see government-controlled panels first allocate only government resources (thieved from the taxpayers, of course), so the individual and his or her family will still be able to supplement as desired. But the progression will be toward more government control, until the point is reached where the state no longer allows individuals to trump its decisions. And when that occurs, death panels will truly be the death panels we fear.

Death panels are a reality due to the never-ending reality of limited resources. But death panels are not the issue. The issue is the state.

This is always true: A thing per se is not necessarily evil, but that thing in conjunction with the state are always evil.

Jim Fedako (send him email) is a business analyst and homeschooling father of seven who lives in Lewis Center, OH.

How The IPCC Buried Evidence Showing Good News About Global Warming

Global Warming Policy Foundation

Here is the Executive Summary from our friends Marcel Crok and Nicholas Lewis in their report A Sensitive Matter which is available at the Global Warming Policy Foundation (preprinted by request and with my delight).

1. The scientific part (WGI) of the fifth IPCC assessment report (AR5), published in final form in January 2014, contains some really encouraging information.1 The best observational evidence indicates our climate is considerably less sensitive to greenhouse gases than climate scientists had previously thought. The clues and the relevant scientific papers are all mentioned in the full IPCC report. However, this important conclusion is not drawn in the full report—it is only mentioned as a possibility—and is ignored in the Summary for Policymakers (SPM).

2. Until AR5, for 30 years the scientific establishment’s best estimate and their uncertainty range for climate sensitivity had hardly changed. The best estimate for equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) started and ended at 3oC and the uncertainty range2 generally had a lower bound of 1.5oC and an upper bound of 4.5oC.3 However, several recent studies give best estimates of between 1.5oC and 2oC, substantially lower than most earlier studies indicated.

3. In the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), the empirical estimates of climate sensitivity were largely based not only on data that has now been superseded, but also on an inappropriate statistical basis that biased them towards higher values, thus making the global warming problem appear ‘worse’. In AR5, many studies still use inappropriate data and/or statistical methodology. However, there is now a body of empirical estimates of climate sensitivity, prepared using sound methodology and appropriate data, that give substantially lower values—both of long-term warming and of transient warming towards the end of this century—than climate model simulations.

4. Since the last IPCC report was prepared greenhouse gas concentrations have continued to increase, yet global temperatures have not risen; more importantly, estimates of the cooling efficacy of aerosol pollution have been cut. This combination of factors is indicative of the climate system being less sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously appeared to be the case. But the new evidence about aerosol cooling is not reflected in the computer climate models.

5. Global climate models used to predict future climate change still generate model climate sensitivities in the range 2–4.5oC, averaging just over 3oC. Large parts of the IPCC reports are built around the computer model simulations. Almost all the projections of future climate change are based on them,4 and a complete chapter is devoted to model performance. Admitting in the IPCC report that the best observationally-based estimates5 of climate sensitivity are now only 1.5–2oC would imply that large parts of the AR5 report are out of line with the latest scientific evidence.

6. In our view, the IPCC WGI scientists were saddled with a dilemma. How should they deal with the discrepancy between climate sensitivity estimates based on models and sound observational estimates that are consistent with the new evidence about aerosol cooling? In conjunction with governments—who have the last say on the wording of the SPM—they appear to have decided to resolve this dilemma in the following way. First, they changed the ‘likely’ range for climate sensitivity slightly. It was 2–4.5oC in AR4 in 2007. They have now reduced the lower bound to 1.5oC, making the range 1.5–4.5oC. By doing this they went some way to reflect the new, lower estimates that have been published recently in the literature.

7. They also decided not to give a best estimate for climate sensitivity. The tradition of giving a best estimate for climate sensitivity goes all the way back to the Charney report in 1979, and all subsequent IPCC reports (except the third assessment report in 2001) gave one as well. In AR4 the best estimate was 3oC. At the time of approval of the SPM by governments in September 2013, the decision not to give a best estimate for climate sensitivity was mentioned only in a footnote in the SPM, citing ‘a lack of agreement on values across assessed lines of evidence and studies’. Only in the final report, published in January 2014, was a paragraph added in the Technical Summary giving slightly more explanation.

8. At a minimum, the SPM should have given a more informative explanation of the decision to widen the ECS ‘likely’ range and not give any best estimate for ECS. That could have taken the form of a straightforward statement that the best-quality observational evidence, based on improved estimates of the effects of aerosol pollution and the extended record of warming now available, points to a best estimate for ECS of 2oC or slightly less, while evidence from global climate models still suggests that it is about 3oC or slightly more. We—the authors of this report—were both expert reviewers of AR5 and in our review comments suggested that the IPCC should go further and give separate ranges for climate sensitivity based on models and on high quality observational studies.

9. In this report we suggest that the new observationally-based ‘likely’ range could be 1.25–3.0oC, with a best estimate of 1.75oC.6 If the IPCC had made that change—which would have been in line with the best quality scientific evidence available—it would have been picked up by all the major news outlets in the world as one of the major, if not the major, outcomes of the report. And rightly so.

10. In AR5 the IPCC felt even more certain (95% certain, compared to 90% in AR4) that humans have caused most (more than 50%) of the warming since 1950. The media treated this as the major conclusion of AR5, but it is in fact a relatively trivial finding. The high-quality observationally-based estimates for climate sensitivity discussed in this report assume that virtually all the measured warming (not just since 1950, but over the last 100–150 years) is due to humans. The far more important question now is how much warming is likely in the future under various scenarios.

11. Transient climate response (TCR), a measure of warming from a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) over a seventy-year period, reflects ocean heat uptake efficiency as well as climate sensitivity and is often seen as providing a better guide to warming over the twenty-first century than ECS.7 AR5 lowers the 10–90% range for TCR of 1–3oC established in AR4 to a ‘likely’ range of 1–2.5oC. In this report, we suggest that an observationally-based ‘likely’ range for TCR could reasonably be 1–2oC, with a best estimate of 1.35oC. The average TCR for global climate models is much higher, at just under 2oC.

12. These lower, observationally-based estimates for climate sensitivity and TCR suggest that considerably less warming and sea level rise is to be expected in the future than the model projections imply. Projected future warming based on the best observationally-based estimate of TCR is 40–50% lower than the IPCC’s model-based projected warming, and on the IPCC’s second highest emissions scenario cumulative warming would still be around the international target of 2oC in 2081–2100.

13. Our criticisms are directed at the IPCC as an organisation,8 on the constraints its process imposes, and on the excessive emphasis put on projections and other results derived from climate models. The scientists’ hands were largely tied; the scopes and even titles of the various chapters had already been determined. Even discriminating between models would have been awkward politically.

14. The purpose of the IPCC is ‘to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change’.9 We believe that, due largely to the constraints the climate model-orientated IPCC process imposed, the WGI report and the SPM failed to reflect satisfactorily such an assessment in the case of climate sensitivity and TCR, arguably the most important parameters in the climate discussion.


1The accepted final draft of the AR5 Working Group I report and the approved version of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) were published in September 2013. Corrected final versions of the SPM and the full AR5 WGI report were released in January 2014.

2‘Likely’, defined as the central two-thirds probability in the last two IPCC reports; until then it was not
defined probabilistically.

3The fourth IPCC assessment report, published in 2007, increased the lower bound to 2oC.

4Projected warming increases less than proportionally with ECS due to the moderating effect of heat uptake by the ocean. Projected warming in the models could conceivably be in line with observational evidence despite their ECS not being so. But it is not.

5Observationally-based methods do involve some limited use of models, but the ways they are used to help derive climate sensitivity estimates from observations differ greatly from the way global climate models are used to produce sensitivity estimates.

6This is based on giving precedence to high-quality estimates that use a long period of instrumental temperature data, in line with AR5’s appraisal of the different types of estimate, and discounting studies with identified substantial failings.

7However, sea level response depends more on the relationship between ECS and TCR than on TCR itself.

8The IPCC is not a research organisation, but its assessment report process significantly influences research carried out by climate scientists, in particular that involving simulations by climate models.


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