Friday, January 20, 2006

Part 6: Why?

I mean that. Why? Why all this? Why anything at all? Why does the universe exist, and why is it the way it is? Why do heavy objects attract each other? Why are atoms made of protons, neutrons and electrons? Why are the laws of physics as they are instead of being even slightly different? If you think about the question of consciousness, it is very much related to the big question of Why. "What is consciousness?", or "Why consciousness?", are sub-questions of the big Why. Why this universe?

I think the question is not as grandiose as it seems, and the answer is fairly simple. It's all about conditional probability. I hear the following (or a similar) story on the news almost every day. Say, they are interviewing a lady in the hospital. She is in a body cast, with limbs supported by ropes, and can barely speak. "Can you tell us what happened?" asks the reporter. "I was crossing the street," she says, "looking at my watch, and I was hit by a car." She adds, "Thankfully, the car turned out to be an ambulance, and they brought me straight here." The reporter turns to the paramedic, "It is great that you were right there!" "Yes," he replies, "she is very lucky to be alive right now."

Sure it's a cheesy story, but there is one word in it that always puzzles me - lucky. Why is she lucky to be alive? I wouldn't feel lucky at all being in her position. That word has always sounded strange until it occurred to me - conditional probability! Yes, given that she was hit by a car, she is very lucky that the car turned out to be an ambulance. Of all the people who have been hit by cars, she is surely lucky. However, given that she was crossing the street, she is quite unfortunate to have been hit by a car in the first place. Given that it is raining, it's not surprising that people are carrying umbrelas. However, given that you are in southern California, seeing a person with an umbrela is quite a rarity.

So what does this have to do with Why? Conditional probability immediately answers the question Why are we, humans, here? It's trivial. We exist, and given that we exist, it is not surprising that we would be asking this question. Why are we on Earth instead of the 4th planet of Alpha Centauri? Well, given that we exist, we've got to exist somewhere. Were we on Alpha Centauri, we would be asking the same question there. Why does the universe exist? Well, if it didn't, we would not be asking this question. Given that we are asking the question, we surely exist, and so does the universe. Why is it so beautiful and magnificent, with such specific laws? Why does the colour green look the way it does? Well, given that the universe exists, it might as well exist the way it exists now. Once again, were it any different, we would be asking the same questions. Perhaps, there are uncountably many universes, all different, all with strange conscious creatures wondering why their universe is the way it is.

What I am saying is that, for the most part, there is nothing special about our universe in the way it is. Out of all the Why questions a child may ask after looking at the world around her, only very few are even remotely interesting. It is not interesting why green is green. Questions that are worth asking are those not explained by conditional probability. For instance, why is there more matter than antimatter in the visible universe? That is something we would not expect to see, even given that the universe exists and is the way it is. The question of why there is life on Earth and not Mars, Venus or some other planet in our galaxy is not interesting. Given that humans are in the Solar system, Earth is the only planet with a surface temperature that can support liquid water and, hence, mild climates. As for the planets outside our Solar system, who knows? Occam's razor says there should be intelligent life all over the place. Too bad the speed of light is so darn small. Until we find a way to travel to other stars, we should not assume that there is no life there. For now, there is nothing special about Earth, as far as we can tell.

The reason I have brought this up is that I am not convinced by people who claim that consciousness, and life itself, must be a sign of a higher power. "Look at the world;" they say, "is it not too wonderous and magnificent to have appeared by chance?" There is no chance! It is not like there was a choice of a billion possible worlds, most of which were ugly, and someone or something chose this particular world. Perhaps there was, but that is immaterial and unprovable at this point in time. The fact is - we are here, alive and intelligent. And given that we are here, alive and intelligent enough to ask this question, the existence of humans, life and intelligence is no coincidence at all - it is inevitable. I would be infinitely surprised if I were here and there were no life on Earth. Then I would wonder about how lucky I was to be on this particular planet, alive and (somewhat) intelligent. Otherwise, given any conscious being able to ask the question, "Why am I here?", the answer is obvious - because you are asking that question, here.


At 10:25 AM, Blogger Evgueni Naverniouk said...

Interesting hypothesis. I've always though the question "Why" was fascinating. However, I believe "Why are we here" refers to the future rather than the present or the past. It asks "What is our purpose?" To which I answer, "We are here to learn."

What do you think our purpose is? Or "the meaning of life".

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Abednego said...

Ah, good point. I think that if you ask, "What is the meaning of life?", you are assuming that this question had been asked before the universe was created. Otherwise, the question is pointless. In other words, you are asking, "Why did the Creator decide to create this world?"

I think there are two ways to answer that. One, there is no God, and the question is meaningless. The universe is, and there was nothing before it. Therefore, there was nothing and no one who could have had any reason to create it. Two, there is a Creator, who existed before the universe and had a reason to create it. In that case, I like the answer, "Because He wanted to learn about himself." I think it makes sense if we think of "Him" as the universe itself, like Penrose and Hameroff do.

As boring as the first answer is, and as romantic and fascinating the second, I still value Occam's razor more than God. I'm OK with the thought that there is no purpose to life, no grand plan, no free will. Everything makes sense to me this way - it's all very simple.

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Alex Na said...

"What is consciousness?" and "Why consciousness?" are two very different questions. You mistakenly substitute one with another.

Question "what" means how to define the thing or how to build the automatic recognizer of the thing. It is a very technical question. Question "why" means what is the reason for the thing? What caused the thing. And asking that "why" you immediately move to the very shaky realm of causality. It is like two questions: "What is laugh?" and "Why laughing?" See the difference?

Anyway, I just wanted to keep the discussion focused on the subject.Before even start talking about "why" we have to define what is it. And we are not there yet…

And one more little comment. Talking about the creating of the universe. You say:

"As boring as the first answer is, and as romantic and fascinating the
second, I still value Occam's razor more than God. "

I think Occam has nothing to do with that. If you have two different hypotheses of something you should take the one which introduces less new entities. That is what Occam said. Let say if you have two hypotheses of universe creation. One God decided to start the universe or Two Gods decided to do so. In that case you should take the first one.
Now what you are saying, the hypotheses are: God decided to create the universe or everything was created from nothing I do not know why. In that case Occam is helpless. Again that was just a comment and it is way off topic.

At 12:29 AM, Blogger Abednego said...

I agree with the first criticism. I went off topic in this post. I promise to return to the main path in Part 7.

However, I do think that Occam's razor conflicts with the existence of a Creator. As you said, "Let say if you have two hypotheses of universe creation. One God decided to start the universe or Two Gods decided to do so. In that case you should take the first one." Alright, now suppose that you have two new hypotheses - one God decided to start the univerce or zero Gods did. In that case, I would say that the second hypothesis is simpler. It requires a lot fewer assumptions - nothing needs to exist before the universe; no reason is required for the Creation; no need to explain the extent to which God is involved in our lives right now, if at all.

I realise that I sound like an aggressive atheist. It was not my intent. I would like to keep in mind as many theories as possible, and some of them assume a Creator or a conscious Universe. The main idea of Part 6 was to argue that the question, "Why are we here, and what is the reason of life?" is not a good argument for the existence of such a Creator (or free will, or consciousness).

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not relevant to the current post, but I was looking at the February issue of Scientific American, and there is an article about how immune cells use microtubules to communicate. There is also a little bit about nerve cells as well. It has some cool pictures of microtubule structures connecting cells together.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Abednego said...

I think you are referring to this article by Daniel M. Davis.

Sounds cool. I'll check it out. Thanks.

At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's been a while! Thought you might find the following news story interesting. NPR has an interview with Jeff Hawkins about his his recent work with creating computers that are modeled after the neocortex.

At 3:54 AM, Blogger JeremyHussell said...

If someone asks "Look at the world. Is it not too wonderous and magnificent to have appeared by chance?" one could retort, "Nothing!" Also for "What is our purpose?"

At 3:57 AM, Blogger JeremyHussell said...

Is there any way to find out when someone has added comments to a post that has dropped down the page (other than scrolling down to check every so often)? I ask because I just posted a lot of comments down there, only to realize that the only one who will likely notice is Abednego.

At 7:51 PM, Blogger kentledge said...

Very interesting arguments but I don't have the patience to think and write a good comment--too many things everywhere on the web--but maybe help is on the way!--NatSpeak 9.0--almost 99% accuracy with 0 training time--$100 out in mid-Aug (maybe)--I don't work for Dragon--see NYTimes Business section today.

At 4:57 AM, Blogger James said...

Why? Sometimes you need to ask the question. Sometimes you must take things for granted.

Why do I live? What is the meaning of life? That's an easy question. Life has no meaning. The only thing that it real is that you have about 80 years (if you're lucky) to do whatever you want.

I know that I am insignificant. When I died, after a few decades, nobody will remember that I ever existed ... just like so many people before me.

However, I'm not jumping thought the window just yet. My hope is that I will be able to expand our knowledge a little bit. As long as our civilization doesn't collapse, our collective knowledge will not died.

Knowledge (I include technology in it) is the single thing that has the most impact on the way we live.

Back to consciousness in next part?

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Yiannis said...

That was a lovely article, thank you.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Yiannis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:00 PM, Blogger A said...


You seem very interested in this subject here, this subject of life, thought, meaning, Why. You seem like you have invested a lot of energy, a lot of effort in to it, and I have found your posts very intriguing.

Now if someone would come up and say they have found it, the real truth, the solution to what you have been looking for - would you be humble enough to really look into that subject, despite immediate beliefs or misbeliefs of what you think it might contain? Would you dedicate the energy to find out for yourself? It seems so, giving how much time you have put into the subject already.

I may know of the source for those answers. Would you believe that it has already been figured out?

That's a decision only you can make

At 1:43 AM, Blogger Abednego said...

Hello, A. Sure, I'd be interested in hearing this "answer". But what is the question? I don't understand what an "answer to life" would mean. Unless you are talking about the number 42, of course. That makes perfect sense.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger A said...

Thanks for your fast answer. I admire your insistence for facts.

Well, if you put it that way, what specific questions do you feel you need answers for? I think we both feel fine and know enough about the number 42

At 8:58 PM, Blogger Abednego said...

I have a few questions. Mostly, I'm interested in creating computers that can solve problems that humans are currently much better at solving -- recognizing faces, reading emotions, understanding speech, understanding irony and sarcasm, playing Go and poker, running obstacle courses, etc.

I think that once we figure out how to create algorithms of the right kind, we will be able to build machines that can do all of these things much, much better than humans can do them.

To put this into the form of a question: what is the kind of information processing that goes on in a human brain that make it so good at solving complex motion problems?

At 1:19 AM, Blogger A said...

Understood and very well put.

My name is Dave, by the way.

I am going to point you in a path, which, if you take seriously and choose to actually study, you may find to be far more revelatory than you would immediately believe.

To start, I want to give you some basic concepts to think with. The following are a few EXCERPTS from articles on thought and logic, by L. Ron Hubbard:


"This is also intelligence."

"Two or more facts or things that are totally unlike are DIFFERENT. They are not the same fact or same object."

"Two or more facts or things that have something in common with one another are SIMILAR."

"Two or more facts or things that have all their characteristics in common with one another are IDENTICAL." - excerpt, L. Ron Hubbard - The Anatomy of Thought (1970)


And later on:

"Thoughts are infinitely divisible into classes of thought."

"In other words, in thought there are certain wide differences which are very different indeed."

"A FACT is something that can be proven to exist by visible evidence."

"An OPINION is something which may or may not be based on any facts."

"Yet a sloppy mind sees no difference between a FACT and somebody’s opinion." - excerpt, L. Ron Hubbard - The Anatomy of Thought (1970)

At 1:19 AM, Blogger A said...

So with this data in mind you can see unless one can understand logic and the fundamentals of the mind, one would not have success in building a computer that can truly think. Again, "One false datum fed into a computer gives one a completely wrong answer." You have already been thinking on the right track in this regard as your curiosity in artificial intelligence has led you into questions about life and the mind, as one can see from your blog.

Just as life itself and the mind have not been understood correctly by man, man has not come close to developing a workable artificial intelligence. They are missing this basic.

Now, if you humble yourself enough to decide to take on a few new ideas, tentatively, despite any previous opinions on the subject you may have developed, you will find that L. Ron Hubbard, indepent of any religious aspect of his studies, has thoroughly mapped out the subject of life, of logic and the mind.

If you choose to look into this to find truth, you may find yourself having to dismiss some very fundamental ideas you held for certain.

At 1:19 AM, Blogger A said...

In another article he states:

"We have long said that that which is not admired tends to persist. If no one admires a person for being right, then that person’s “brand of being right” will persist, no matter how mad it sounds. Scientists who are aberrated cannot seem to get many theories. They do not because they are more interested in insisting on their own odd rightnesses than they are in finding truth. Thus we get strange “scientific truths” from men who should know better, including the late Einstein. Truth is built by those who have the breadth and balance to see also where they’re wrong."

I am not trying to impress or force anything on you, I am offering a new think, and a goldmine of information on the science of life itself. Knowing life, and then understanding the nature of the mind and logic would be the first step in developing a workable computer system that could think.

So if you feel like investing a little bit of time into learning something that may surprise you incredibly, I suggest you study the book "Scientology: 8008", by L. Ron Hubbard. I am definitely not telling you to become a Scientologist, only offering the information inside for your own evaluation. This book, in summary includes definitions and detailed descriptions of such things as

The Life Static
Matter, Energy, Space, Time
Identity versus Individuality
Related Experiences
Patterns of Energy
Creation & Destruction
The Factors & Universal axioms

to name a few.

These data underlie all else and would be a bedrock study to truly understanding thought and life.

If it is not worth it to you to buy the book, it is available in nearly every library on the planet now, otherwise, it is easily purchasable for around $20.00

What is true for you is what you observe - no one else can tell you what is true.

I do admire your desire to know, and so thought I would offer this to you as a favor.

At 3:03 AM, Blogger Abednego said...

Yeah, I was wondering whether you were a Scientologist, a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness, Dave. My first guess was right.

If you have actually read my blog, you can probably see that I am the kind of person who studies things before forming an opinion about them. I also tend to think critically and scientifically, so believe me when I say that I probably know a lot more about Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, and David Miscavige than you do.

Hubbard's most revelatory quote is: "I'd like to start a religion. That's where the money is!" He was certainly right about that. Catholicism was probably the first religion to capitalize massively on the insecurities of the common man. The top leadership of Scientology is doing quite well at that today, and even the protestants, despite having fought numerous wars against the Catholics on the issue of money in religion, have started milking the cash cow, too, at least in the United States, with their tax-exempt mega-churches and televangelists.

Dave, if you are near the top of the Scientology pyramid, getting your cut by offering solace to the gullible, the unfortunate, and the ignorant, then good for you. But if you are at the bottom, paying for e-meter auditing sessions that never seem to have any lasting effect, then maybe you can get out while you still have some money in your bank account.

Good luck either way.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger A said...


Surely you can do better than that - that propaganda can be pulled through a skim of the first few results of a google search on Scientology. Not too extensive research there. I mean, you didn't even give me the science-fiction-writer gag - that one is popular!

See, you've had the coincidental opportunity to talk to someone that is not in either of the categories you guessed at. I happen to be in that position where I am close enough to know exactly what Scientology donations go in to, exactly what the paychecks of those at the top are, and the actual intentions of those in command. I have firsthand experience with these such things - so I have no doubt in my mind that your search is shallow. You may not - but I do have firsthand experience and utmost certainty.

If you understand, I would have no reason to try to dupe you of anything. There is no personal benefit of any kind for me, I am not trying to convince you to do anything and I have no reason to. You simply caught my interest as someone looking for answers, and my goal is to make the able more able and so I tried to provide them. I DO know what Scientology really is. And I am sure you could throw figures and scandals at me for hours and I could gladly disprove them all, but I really have no reason to.

You see - there is this thing, this factor, called help. Help, believe it or not, is closely related to sanity. Those who cannot help others could not be considered very sane at all.

Those who write the things about Scientology you hold so firm all have one thing in common - they cannot STAND the thought of another truly helping another. They go beserk on the mention of this word help. Absolutely bonkers. And another coincidental point laid down by Hubbard is that the only type of people that cannot get permanent, lasting gain from Scientology are those who commit continual harmful acts against it and others - and those are exactly the type providing you with what you read. This law was laid down well before these cats were even born and had the opportunity to do these things.

I on the other hand have personally experienced the gains and see others with lasting gains every day. This is an observable fact.

I am a little disappointed that you - a very smart individual - could be so certain that he established the correct facts on something without having firsthand experience. I would consider one much wiser if they asked, "why is this subject so thoroughly attacked as bad, almost rabidly, for so many years and yet it is still expanding?" OUTPOINT. That could trace you to some answers.

But this is beside the point. I did not write to you to make you a Scientologist. I wanted to give you some advice on the fundamentals of life if you chose to accept it. I did not even ask you to buy anything. There is no reason for me to.

Why did I point to the Scientology basic laws? Because it indicated exactly to what you were trying to figure out. Scientology is a SCIENCE, with the precision of PHYSICS, applied to the HUMANITIES. That is a definition for it and the only thing of its kind around. YOU are SCIENTIFIC and CLEVER in thought, and are questioning values best answered by the HUMANITIES. This is why I brought this up to you.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger A said...

So you don't have to do anything with what I say. I just find it sad that you hold so carefully the conviction that YOU are no more than a carbon-oxygen meat engine running at 98.6 on a low combustion fuel, with all thoughts and decisions fatefully determined by the choice of a neuron. I do find it funny that you would seriously consider such an idea as the superposition theorom which borders on the edge of reality, though would not dare consider the possibility of a life static as separate from physical matter, and so disclude it from any equation of yours. This I find unusual.

Either way, it is you who will be lying on your deathbead in the not so distant future, perhaps confused, uncertain or worried, with no concept of what happens next. For it must mean oblivion, mustn't it? Never again will you be aware, conscious, will you? I know for certain where I have been and where I will be.

I admire the energy you have put into trying to find answers - and I find it saddening that you are so certain you must shut off even looking into possible answers due to false ideas others have duped you with.

I only work to help and only wish I could have given you help. You can always ask me anything if you humble yourself to such a task. Take care.

At 1:09 AM, Blogger Abednego said...

Dave, there is no need to get angry and defensive. You may think that I've been confused by some "suppressive people", as your church calls them, but I hope that you know by now that I do not easily trust what people tell me, so I'm not easy to convince or confuse.

The fact that Mr. Hubbard started out as a science fiction writer makes no difference on the quality of his ideas. Ideas should be judged on their own merit.

This is where I find trouble with most of what you are saying -- a lot of it is either flat out wrong, or gibberish. This makes it difficult for me to take your ideas seriously. Let's take a few examples.

You said: "Scientology is a SCIENCE". It doesn't matter how many capital letters you use -- this statement is false. Could you please point me to any scientific papers published on the discoveries of Scientology in peer-reviewed scientific journals? What scientifically testable theories has Scientology proposed? Which experiments has it conducted to validate or disprove those theories? Where are the results? Have they been duplicated by other scientists?

You also said that you know "exactly what the paychecks of those at the top are, and the actual intentions of those in command." How is this possible? Are you the Chief Financial Officer of the Church of Scientology? Did you see their paychecks and their bank account balances first-hand? Can you read people's minds to know their intentions? Or did somebody simply tell you, and you believed them?

Then you asked: "why is this subject so thoroughly attacked as bad, almost rabidly, for so many years and yet it is still expanding?" Do not confuse being popular with being correct. Catholicism is much more popular than Scientology. Does that make Catholics that much more correct about morality and the origin of the world? Ideas need to be judged on their own merits, and the only way to find truth is through the scientific method -- by making testable hypotheses and testing them independently, multiple times and in multiple scenarios.

And finally, you said: "I know for certain where I have been and where I will be." Well, good for you then. I don't. I would like to know, but I'm not satisfied with knowing just because it makes me feel good. I need to have reason to believe what I believe. I need evidence. I need others to confirm my beliefs by testing them independently. I like to compare my results with theirs, and when they differ, I like to figure out why.

That's what science is, and it's what scientists do. It works. It works much better than anything else out there.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger A said...

Sure - i'd be glad to go over these things with you in detail. Just so long as you are willing to take in and evaluate what I tell you and are not solely determined to disprove it.

You have good methods of finding the truth in information - better than most. I acknowledge that.

Maybe we can set up a chat session or something where I can go over a few things in a bit more of a Q&A fashion, if you'd like.

What is a workable time for you? Are you currently in Toronto? (i was born there by the way) I am on PST - LA time.

Let me know.


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