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-------- Original Message --------

Subject: [MS Atheists] Re: Things People Trust: Homeopathy

Date: Sat, 19 Apr 2008 13:52:29 -0500
From: Don Butts <dhbutts@gmail.com>

Reply-To: mississippi-atheists@googlegroups.com

To: mississippi-atheists@googlegroups.com
References: <177937.65781.qm@web55810.mail.re3.yahoo.com> <906658.83127.qm@web33206.mail.mud.yahoo.com>

Micah, if I were you I would take the existence of Qi with a truckload of salt. I am an atheist and a materialist. If there exists a form of energy called qi, I want to see some peer-reviewed physics papers to back it up.

On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 2:40 PM, Glen Sandberg <glens@ieee.org> wrote:

Yes, BUT -

Today we can do better than that.  The ancients with their qualitative, not quantitative, systems of understanding nature were trying to express the idea of motivation, human or otherwise.  Our physically refined concept of energy leaves out the very real processes of communication and control that now are articulated in the field of Cybernetics.

Norbert Wiener, in his 1948 book Cybernetics: Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine was fully aware of the broad significance of his new science to provide a vocabulary of ideas to conceptualize these aspects of real systems.  The name Cybernetics is made from a Greek word for governor or steersman.

So we might say that an automatic heating system has one Qi of motivation, from the thermostat that provides one bit of information from the electrical contacts that tell if the room is warmer or cooler than the set point.  The physical energy it uses to heat or cool the room is something else - it will use all it can get - and opening the window just turns on the heat!

 We see purpose in the features that have evolved in living things by natural selection.  But we should recognize that that's an idea we use to comprehend the working of natural systems.  And a very real experience we have in the working of our own life processes.  An epiphenomenon - real as an idea, not as a thing.

Glen      228-697-5195       <glens@ieee.org>     
>From Don:
If Qi is a term intended to conceptualize a feeling of inner energy and motivation, I guess calling it Qi is as good a name as any.  As good as Einstein's "God" is for the concept of cosmic awe and intelligence.
Yes again, BUT:

The ancients did not have the physically-refined concept of energy, and it's our mistake to consider their idea of Qi as an example of that.  And to consider natural law as though it represents a command from on high to be obeyed.  And creation as an example of our human experience of intelligent design.

Out of our cultural context of lords and masters, leaders and followers, we don't give credit to the self-motivated character of natural reality.  And our awareness of thought is cast in the mold of verbal communication because that's the way we have to explain it to others.  See my essay The Miracle of Consciousness at:
I'm gestating a sequel that I expect will be presented to NOSHA on Sat 17 May 08.  Hope you can come.
Glen      228-697-5195       <glens@ieee.org>     
Don Butts wrote:

Excellent essay, Glen.  You have a very thorough understanding of the brain and it was a nice review for me! (I'm a neurologist).  I'll have to admit that terms such as "Qi" don't stimulate any synapses in my brain and seem to bang up against a blank wall. To me it's just a vague mental state that means something to some people but strikes me as a nonsensical new-age construct like "life force."  It strikes the same chord as "The Tao" does in my mind.

Another example is the use of Gaia, the name of a mythical Earth Goddess, in conceptualizing the processes of Geophysiology.  To quote James Lovelock:
Like coevolution, Gaia rejects the apartheid of Victorian biology and geology, but it goes much farther.  Gaia theory is about the evolution of a tightly coupled system whose constituents are the biota and their material environment, which comprises the atmosphere, the oceans, and the surface rocks.  Self-regulation of important properties, such as climate and chemical composition, is seen as a consequence of this evolutionary process.  Like living organisms and many closed-loop self-regulating systems, it would be expected to show emergent properties; that is, the whole will be more than the sum of the parts.  This kind of system is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to explain by cause-and-effect logic, as practicing inventors know to their cost. . . . . .
My point is that an idea is good as far as it goes, but we should expect that its usefulness will have limits.  It's a tool for conceptualizing something that we know about reality, but in another context we will need other tools.

Our awareness of thought, as cause-and-effect logic, results from the serial, one syllable at a time, nature of verbal communication.  The survival value of community action drove our evolution of speech capability and subtlety of thought in only a million years or so!  But we depend on the parallel processing in our brain to make that possible and we are aware only of the final product.  And we are just beginning to develop a vocabulary to deal with the self-motivated nature of living things and the nature of our own motivation. 

Life force and Qi and Tao are from naturalistic philosophical systems and they contrast with the anthropomorphic "higher authority" of gods and angels and devils that has to be supernatural because it is invoked to suit the ulterior motives of heirarchical rulers and priests of our European tradition!

Glen      228-697-5195       <glens@ieee.org>    

Mims Carter wrote:
I think we have to distinguish between the interpretive and the explanatory here.  Terms like 'gaia', 'life force', 'qi', etc., are interpretive, like many theistic concepts.  Theistic folks get in trouble when they confuse interpretation with
explanation. Explanation is science - logic, evidence, experimental verification. I may hold interpretive concepts, especially of complex subjects,
but I always rely on explanatory systems to understand them.

Yes Mims, BUT -

The Explanation had to be Invented.  Someone made the conceptual leap to a new idea that turned out to be useful.  It was then rationalized after the fact - cast in the sequential, cause-and-effect, mode of  verbal persuasion.  The logic, evidence, experimental verification by many users, is a social process that is necessary to the scientific method.  However today we recognize the necessity of the creative aspect as part of the process.  And even in teaching Science as a compendium of accepted results we recognize the vitality of creative problem-solving to make the edifice useful.

But we don't yet appreciate the power of parallel processing, where results select themselves from a limitless variety of possibilities.  And natural processes like evolution, where self-motivated individuals create a new variety of organism.  What exactly is created?  Not the life, but the form!  The life-form is our idea to understand what happened. The life is real, a physical process that is self-motivated, individually and collectively.  The form is ideal, a concept that we create in our parallel-processing  pattern-recognition brain.  It exists, as information, but we can't expect it to behave like real things.

So I suggest that your usage of "interpretive" and "explanatory" are two aspects of the same concept.  When we invent an idea it's interpretive and when it's put in a logical context to describe it to others it's explanatory. 

Newton's "Law of universal gravitation" is interpretive, and his "Equations of motion" are explanatory.  The equations describe an ideal system of point masses and instantaneous action-at-a-distance that serves as a model of real planetary systems.  Real systems are more complicated but the perfect system solutions are a very good approximation to predict planetary orbits.  And they "explain" the elliptical shape and variable velocity that Kepler interpreted from precise observations.

The random mutation, survival-of-the-fittest, model of "Evolution by natural selection" is so idealized that it serves for explanation, but the reality of population biology is so complicated that we need other interpretive ideas to do it justice - Ecology, Co-evolution, etc.  And "how it works", the details of developmental biology, physiology, nature and nurture, etc. are in other worlds of study.  Can we "Believe" in Evolution?  Yes, we use it as a conceptual tool, not an article of faith.  And tools often need to be refitted for every job they do.
    Glen      228-697-5195       <glens@ieee.org>   

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