Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stuart Hammeroff!

I don't have a very high (or low) opinion of Quantum Consciousness types, but I always enjoy reading about Stuart Hameroff pissing off an entire conference of atheists, at least if his own version of the story is true.

Of particular relevance:

In November 2006 I was invited to a meeting at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California called “Beyond Belief” ( Other speakers and attendees were predominantly atheists, and harshly critical of the notion of spirituality. They included Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Steven Weinberg (the least venal), Neil deGrasse Tyson and others who collectively vilified creationists and religious warriors. But the speakers also ragged on the notion of any purpose or meaning to existence, heaped ridicule on the very possibility of a God-like entity (and those who believed in such an entity), declared that scientists and philosophers should set society’s moral and ethical standards, and called for a billion dollar public relations campaign to convince the public God does not exist.

Near the end of the first day came my turn to speak. I began by saying that the conference to that point had been like the Spanish Inquisition in reverse - the scientists were burning the believers. And while I had no particular interest in organized religion, I did believe there could be a scientific account for spirituality.

After pointing out faulty assumptions in conventional brain models for consciousness and summarizing the Penrose-Hameroff theory, I laid out my plausibility argument for scientific, secular spirituality, suggesting cosmic connections and influence in our conscious thoughts occurred via quantum interactions in microtubules. I closed with a slide of the DNA molecule which emphasized it’s internal core where quantum effects rule, suggesting a Penrose non-computable influence in genetic mutations and evolution (aimed at Dawkins in the form of a quantum-based intelligent design).

At the end a few people clapped loudly, but most sat in steely silence. The moderator and conference organizer Roger Bingham said I had enraged nearly everyone in the room. Indeed, I had raised a stink, and felt (happily) like the skunk at an atheist convention.

I didn't notice that bit about 'influencing evolution' until this reading, which does a great job of explaining why the reaction would have turned icy. Suggesting quantum interactions having a role in the mind/brain is one thing. But screw around with evolution - suggest it may be guided, suggest it may have a goal - and many simply atheists lose it.

But I just love the mental image of Stuart Hameroff cheerfully giving his speech about science proving 'secular spirituality' and quite possibly dualism, then looking out at the audience, wondering where all the applause is.


Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

You sure do put your nose in a lot of different stuff, innerstin', too! Sorry I don't comment here more. I'm erratic enough running my own blog and you'd be right to infer that some posts take a lot of time to produce. ;) If you added a Reactions module to your posts, I'd be sure to give some thumbs up. One thing: if the combox culture bothers you––and it's just a matter of time before a healthy mind gets to wondering––cut back on blogs and ESPECIALLY fora and divert to reading printed matter. I used to be a real blog-media maven but then I got exhausted and a bit jaded, my blogaholism played at least a minor role in costing me, so far, two dear girlfriends over the span of 6 years. These days I only visit maybe three blogs every 2-3 days. The rest is just random googling, which I would like to reduce. Getting a wireless internet card was ultimately a good thing, but I need to cut back and do more prayer and "real reading."

See you around,

Crude said...

Oh, I've cut back on blogs already and especially fora as you say. For philosophy / politics / religion, I keep to a tight handful of blogs, and those are selected largely because of their posters' tendency to communicate something new (like Ed's blog) rather than just spill off into a comment-box fight. More prayer and real reading (and other work), as you say, is still necessary. Actually, I really want to start learning (of all things) chinese, for business reasons.

And no sweat about comments - ones from the smart and casual, like yourself, are appreciated. But I'm content to just babble on about whatever interests me.

Catch ya later.