Re: Debunking pseudoscience: Why horoscopes really work

From: Philip A.E. Jonkers (
Date: Thu Nov 15 2001 - 00:48:28 GMT

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    From: "Philip A.E. Jonkers" <>
    Organization: UC Berkeley
    Subject: Re: Debunking pseudoscience: Why horoscopes really work
    Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2001 16:48:28 -0800
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    On Tuesday 13 November 2001 08:42 am, you wrote:
    > Hi Philip.
    > > The bulk of people believe what they like to believe,
    > > irrespective of whether the source is rational and justified or not. They
    > > like to believe that what is most compatible with their `own' world-view.
    > Shouldn't that be, "We" and "our?"

    Hi Ted, when I come to think of it you're probably right in a strict sense.
    Without trying to sound fascist, I meant to emphasize however that
    people without proper scientific or schooling tend to swallow that which has
    a nice ring to it without engaging in skeptical scrutinous investigation.
    But to some extent, of course I guess we all tend to do that.
    Life goes too fast to apply cumbursome scientific scrutiny every time you
    receive information. Hence, it may be that it's part of our `naive'
    nature to easily accept matters, developing a sense of skepsis may come only
    after long practise.

    > > Memetics, at least Susan Blackmore, takes the self one step further than
    > > you seem to do. It treats the whole perception of the self as one great
    > > collection of memes: the self-plex. This data-base of our own person is
    > > fed by either channels from outside (friends, family, yes: astrologers
    > > and the like) or from within by self-reflection, self-analysis etc.
    > What do you think "within" means? If there's no self, where does
    > self-reflection come from? Without a self to define what's inside, how can
    > there be anything outside? Try a little self-deconstruction next time.

    Okidokie, let's dig into that one for a moment. Let's for a moment do assume
    that the self is being built only as soon as one's able to communicate
    with people from the outside world. Let's do assume
    the self starts from scratch without any intrinsic self present. The ego, as
    you call it, is fed as soon as people communicate with you.
    You are acknowledged as a human being as other
    human beings talk to you. The perception of yourself starts to grow as
    other people pass on either observations from them of you
    about certain features, qualities, traits you exhibit or though
    self-inspection. Examples from things handed out by others include:
    `Look at little Billy, he's so good at bicycling already...' or `Keep your
    head up Johnny, boys don't cry...', `My little Jake is really doing well at
    school, he's so good at math...' (mother talking to friend in presence of
    little son). Examples can be given analogously from the inside-perspective
    through self-inspection/reflection.

    My point is, and I share that with Blackmore,Dennett en Ryle I guess, is that
    the self is really built from scratch. The self that responds (by rejecting
    or accepting) to incoming new self-knowledge is basically the
    self-knowledge already present. When you are young (I mean really young)
    your self-plex is very limited and under-developed and you just take any
    information about your own being for granted as you don't have any
    foundation to reject it.

    As more compelling argument we should consider children who are brought
    up entirely by non-human beings. Take, for instance, wolf-children. Those
    are kids found living like animals in woods complete with making
    animal sounds. Perhaps you'd like to check out:

    Within the self-plex interpretation this behavior is fairly easy to explain:
    due to lack of contact with other humans the self-plex
    hasn't been developed at all. Any conception of the self remains fixed at a
    basic instinctive animal kind of level. I'm tempted to make the
    conclusion then that the self is an exclusive product of civilisation.
    How would you account for this phenomenon Ted, using the intrinsic

    > Blackmore, Dennett, Ryle-- and analytic atomism in general-- dismiss the
    > self as a concept, an image. We do indeed have an imaginary self, and it
    > has a name: the ego. This "self" is a cacophony of attractions and
    > repulsions. We identify with some things and repel from others. We want
    > this and fear that. (Also known as love/hate). Unquestionably, this self
    > has no intrinsic reality. Whatever we think we are, that's not it. But
    > does that mean we don't exist at all? Or does it tell us something about
    > the limitations of the intellect, of concepts and discriminations? Our
    > ideas about the world aren't the same as the world, so why would our idea
    > of the self be the same as it?

    Because the whole set of ideas/notions about the self define the very self,
    it's equal to the self as I've argued above. In contrary to the world we don't
    have an extrinsic, better intrinsic source, to tap from and model
    our perception against.

    > > Memetics provides a
    > > good ground to deny the possibility of a spiritual entity housing the
    > > physical representation of the human being (Cartesian theatre).
    > The true self is inseparable from body and mind, which themselves are
    > the same thing. In other words, the "self" is simply the self-existence of
    > the body/mind. The damn thing exists intrinsically. That's what being
    > alive means. It means you exist. Then, when you die, you don't exist.
    > Seems like the masses are a step ahead of you on this one.

    Extending this argument means that animals, since they exist, have
    selves too. This means that they have minds too. This begs to stretch the
    definition of the self to such extend that any being interacting with
    its environment possesses a self. But this nullifies the special meaning of
    the self reserved for humans.

    > > I might have missed something in prior discussions but could you please
    > > fill me in on what you refer as `reflexive consciousness'. Does it
    > > coincide with something such as human spontaneity?
    > It means our awareness reflects back in on itself. We know ourselves as
    > minds, not just as bodies. This is the basis of individuality and freedom.

    I see, but don't you think freedom is a fallacy? Which person interacting
    with other social beings is truly free? I mean I am not free to kill my
    next-door neighbor eachtime he plays loud music.

    > > Determinism, in many times, is an mathematical over-simplification. At
    > > any rate, labeled deterministic phenomena may only survive shallow
    > > inspection. The world is too complex to call anything deterministic.
    > Complexity in no way contradicts determinism. Even fractals are made from
    > simple, deterministic equations. What tips over the apple cart is novelty.
    > As Bergson argued a century ago, the meaning of time is that the universe
    > is NOT determined. It hasn't all happened yet. To assert determinism is
    > to deny time. Indeed, that's exactly what physics does, not just since
    > Einstein, but all the way to back to Descartes. Positivistic science has
    > always reduced existence to a graph, with time as its fourth variable.

    What I actually meant was that the world features to many parameters to keep
    track of in any model with a small number of parameters (the latter is, of
    course, what physical theories are all about). Hence the world defies modeling
    and exhibits chaotically FAPP. I do not challenge the view that deterministic
    models can feature genuine complexity.

    > > Deterministic models however may be useful to reveal mechanisms which
    > > are mainly responsible for the phenomenon they are meant to describe
    > > (e.g Newtonian mechanics, but any deterministic paradigm will do).
    > Science can be treated one of two ways, either as glorified engineering or
    > compartmentalized philosophy. It all depends on whether you truly want to
    > understand. Do you want reality or utilitarian models?

    Nice distinction, but not an entirely clean one I think. With engineering
    do you mean the mathematical description of the part of reality you
    wish to model? With compartmentalized philosophy you mean the
    interpretation of the model without failing to see plausible links between
    models by using reductionism (e.g. biology after evolution-theory)?
    I would feel that science usually is a bit of both: QM is an entire
    mathematical theory but without interpretation QM intuition and imagination
    would be impossible. This is a vital practical element of QM enabling you
    to make quick intuitive lines of reasoning and as such quicly dismiss
    Physics is not only about getting the math right. In fact usually you
    use math to prove your line of reasoning based on physical intuition
    (=crude model or perception of the phenomenon at hand).
    Einstein was a great physicist, but he was a poor mathematician. He would
    simply be nowhere without his prowess for physical intuitive reasoning
    (`gedankenexperiment') but he would be the laughing stock of the block
    if he failed to back up his reasoning without mathematical models or
    arguments. In a certain stage in his life, he even got himself a
    mathematician to work out the intuitions he got from brainstorming.

    Usually a theory is based on a hunch, an idea, intuition, from that point on
    the model is matured by casting it into an ideally robust mathematical

    Therefore I don't think you can do the one without the other in science.
    The distinction is there alright, but only a paper one. Otherwise it's not
    science but either philosophy or math, for which I hold no objections against
    however as I like both (separately).


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