Maxwells Demon and The Soul

A commenter that goes by the screen name of B H has a blog with an entry from September 30 that I appreciated very much. The artcle is called "Maxwell's Demon and the Soul". I highly recommend everyone go take a look at it.
The Set of All Things Not Identical to Themselves
In this Article B H proposes a scientific test for the soul using the hypothesis that in the case that a supernatural being should exist in the natural world, then properties of the natural world should be disturbed and therefore detectable.


If the soul allows humans to have wills that are free (at least to some degree) from material causality, then our souls must act like Maxwell's demon in some sense. The soul must allow neural impulses to proceed unhindered in some instances but not others, but being separate from the physical world, there's no physical requirement for the soul to balance the energy consumed and the energy expended. The purpose of the soul is less specific than Maxwell's demon, but we might expect to see that energy is added to the system extra-physically when the brain makes moral decision and that the energy added may be proportional to the complexity of the dilemma or to the desire of the individual to do the immoral act.


I agree. Several times in the comments I have argued similarly that if the holy spirit can be said to guide us or influence us, I think it should be detectable in the brain because the whole of our experience as humans is gathered through our senses, interpreted, processed, understood and stored there. It makes sense to me that gathering a base line of brain activity in different modes storing them, searching for patterns, signatures to be used for comparisons could be useful in determining if any supernatural activity is 'skewing' the normal signatures. I think that the technology for this type of thing is beyond us now, but one goal for Health Care insurance is to verify that a Psychological Treatment is working, and one way to do it is with brain scans, so I think the technology is forthcoming.

I also have defended a variation of this argument against Shygetz at the beginning of the year when John proposed that Prayer should be able to change history. If God is everything that he is supposed to be, I think it should be feasible and it should be detectable through a kind of "skewed probability".

And I argue that another intersection between the natural and supernatural is prayer, and though many studies have been performed, the results do not support the efficacy of prayer.

Additionally another contributor wrote an atricle, of which I highly recommend, about the soul called "The Soul--A Rational Belief?". Exbeliever argues that the brain being what it is, it does not support the existence of a soul.

I challenge Christians to formulate testable hypotheses, publish them and encourage scientists to investigate them. It would go a long way to giving some of us something to believe in and would be the most powerful ministry ever devised by Humans.

REFERENCES
- The Set of All Things Not Identical to Themselves
- The Soul--A Rational Belief?
- Can Prayer Change The Past
- The Promise of Prayer
- Lee's Holy Spirit Series

10 comments:

goprairie said...

we give these things up in stages - "oh, the Bible isn't leteral, but is represents ideas and a general story of Jesus and God" "No religion has it exactly right but there is still a higher power" "there is no higher power, but every person has a spirit that lives on"
The idea of a soul is the last one we give up. We insist we are different from other animals in that way and a soul is what makes us different, 'special'.
But what is different is merely a level of awareness - of our selves, of time, that allows us to put ourselves on a timeline, to remember the past and plan for a future, which made us develop language to communicate plans with others. All that we attribute to spirituality is brain states that put us in varying degrees of awareness: Of being part of the species, of suspending or expanding the sense of time, of hyper external awareness or supressed external awareness focused only within the single mind. The desire to credit such abilities to manipulate brain states is something we want to attribute to a spirit, but in the end, logic and reason make us give that myth up as well.

MR Maluleke said...

As I was carefully examining your site I came across some statements which lead me to have a question regarding on what you said. In the very first page of your site you have described the purpose of the site and who are you... yet it is a very good idea to explain it exactly who you are as you did...but I have a question on it!

My questions are: What were the most things that made you backslides from Christianity? Or why have you changed the mind of believing the Bible as well? Do you have some valid reasons for your backsliding? Please I need to hear from you!!!

Kindly regards
MR MALULEKE

richdurrant said...

So then, for us to be able to test for the influence of the HG, we are assuming that the only method for him to communicate with us is some supernatural way that would be detectable by a future brain scan? Would we be able to test for influence on us from natural outside forces acting on our thoughts also? I would think yes because you are saying that the medical profession Is looking to design a scan that can detect the influence of therapy on a patient. I want to make sure I understand where you're coming from and where we're headed in this discussion.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Rich,
I can't speak for B H and I hope he or she makes an appearance on this thread, but I think that there could be an infinite number of hypotheses on how the HG or our Soul interacts with us, and we should investigate them. The perturbations in a brain scan in some task related to religion could give a correlation to the hypothesis, and then further investigation could explore it. A real experiment.

Shygetz and Zilch, being scientists, could shed some light on devising a protocol for this.

Maybe this could be done in the mode of a serious scientific inquiry into the nature of revelation.

If you are interested, or anyone else, I can re-find some links to information about the bodies resonant frequencies, sub-audible sound in the 19hz range that make people feel afraid, the resonant frequency of an eyeball that will make people see a 'mist' and the 'god helmet' that works to give some people an 'epiphany'. These are external influences that can be measured, predicted and manipulated. I wouldn't expect to manipulate the soul or holy spirit, but at least it could be detected and possibly measured by something besides personal experience.

I think I'll see some resistance from christians on this because in addition to the fact that it may actually work, it will also force them to take a firm position and reduce the amount of 'wiggle room' they like to maintain. However, they could always proceed according to the scientific method which forgives mistakes, experimental failure and gains knowledge, sometimes serendipitously, by honest diligent inquiry.

And doesn't God expect honest diligent inquiry from us?

Shygetz said...

Lee, it looks like bh is saying that the soul should violate the first law of thermodynamics; that is, it will create and/or destroy energy, in this case in the neural system. Based on our knowledge of neurology, the soul should result in physical changes in neurochemistry at the molecular level; however, I don't think that a soul would require that the first law would be violated in the physical realm. While this is certainly one possibility of how a soul would work, it is not the only necessary one; the soul could also affect quantum probability, preventing some signals from propagating from their source by altering their electronic properties without altering the energy balance by causing the signals not to exist; or it could alter the thermodynamic equilibrium in the reaction required to open ion channels that propagate the signal, conserving the energy but still preventing the signal; or, it could convert the energy to mass (say, turn a blocked neural impulse into an electron), again not violating the first law; or it could convert the ionic potential energy used to drive neural impulses into heat.

Also, it is not practical to test the mass/energy balance of a human at the levels necessary to detect violation of the first law. In order to test this, it seems that we would have to accurately measure the energy balance of a human brain and it's entire environment. This is normally done in a calorimeter, but for ethical reasons we cannot isolate a person in a calorimeter, even if we could design one sensitive enough.

It makes sense to me that gathering a base line of brain activity in different modes storing them, searching for patterns, signatures to be used for comparisons could be useful in determining if any supernatural activity is 'skewing' the normal signatures.

But what are "normal" signatures? You would have to have a soulless baseline to compare to. Every baseline we have or could conceivably have for humans would have the same "soul" influence, preventing calibration of the experiment. There would be no control.

I also have defended a variation of this argument against Shygetz at the beginning of the year when John proposed that Prayer should be able to change history. If God is everything that he is supposed to be, I think it should be feasible and it should be detectable through a kind of "skewed probability".

I actually discussed this with John privately, and we came up with a solution for testing the past that is scientifically sound, but not as emotionally compelling as John's original idea. Take a box with a die in it. Close the box and shake it, then set it on a stable surface. Now, pray that a certain number was rolled. Finally, open the box and test the rolled number versus what you prayed for. Repeat ad nauseum until you get statistical power.

Another variation that would overcome the objection of using prayer for trivial events is to pray for the curing of a genetic disease that is not diagnosed until later in life. For example, Huntington's disease is caused by mutation of a single gene, and is dominant (you only need one copy). Except for the Juvenile HD variant, HD is usually not diagnosed until after age 20 (again, except for Juvenile HD). So, what you can do is pray that people born in the 1980's would not have inherited the HD gene. Pray very hard, then track HD diagnoses. You should see HD diagnoses drop significantly at some point in the near future, after which they would go back to normal.

Sorry about the highly technical comment; now you guys know how I feel when I have to read about contingent and non-contingent beings :-)

B H said...

The main point I wanted to get across was that free will and other supernatural interventions require a violation of ordinary causality. If that's so, then we should be able to detect the effects given the right experimental designs (this is, after all, the basic idea of prayer studies).

Despite this incredibly large realm of evidence waiting for them (if they're right), when theists are pressed for evidence they throw out assertions about first cause and design that just don't hold water as evidence. The discussion is about asking theists to make claims that anyone can investigate that aren't dependent on one's interpretation of the Bible or Qur'an.

I only posited that the laws of thermodynamics might be violated because 1) that is a possibility and 2) they're much easier to understand than quantum physics. Performing the experiment and failing to detect anything is, of course, no evidence that free will does not exist, but it would be one theory shot down. Eliminating theories is part of the point though. Having a hunch that there's free will is much less interesting for discussion than formulating a theory and testing it. We could go on for millennia more without making any actual progress unless we start to phrase these supernatural assertions in terms that we can investigate.

For a baseline, I suggested routine tasks that don't require the soul's intervention, but it really depends on what theists posit the soul or free will actually do.

And yeah, I admitted that testing this was far beyond any instruments we have at our disposal now. But it's amazing what a few decades of funding will get you. :D

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Shygetz,
Your comment was great.
And that genetic test you mentioned is something similar to what I had in mind when I promised you that I would figure out how to explain my "skewed probability theory" back in march.

I didn't think about the souless control but how about a chimpanzee? Christians don't think monkeys have souls do they?

I'm stoked! I'd like to come up with a protocol for a test, even though I'm sure I'm not qualified!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi B H,
Thanks for your participation!

We could go on for millennia more without making any actual progress unless we start to phrase these supernatural assertions in terms that we can investigate.
totally agree, I get tired of kicking at a moving goal. That is why I am not enthusiastic about debating scripture passages or "theodicies".

I like to stick to data, sound principles and sound inference.

Shygetz said...

I didn't think about the souless control but how about a chimpanzee? Christians don't think monkeys have souls do they?

All that control would do would be to determine how our brains are different from chimp brains. We are physiologically similar to chimps, but not that similar; you would definitely find differences in the scan, and those differences could be interpreted (correctly or not) as the effects of a soul.

B H said...

A few days ago, someone followed a link from this old post to my blog, and reading it and the comments reminded me of two things:

1) I never thanked Lee for the link. Thanks!

2) Where are the Christians in the comment thread? Granted, Shygetz was right that the original germ of an idea was out, but where is the discussion and feedback from the non-naturalists?

If most people's interpretations of their own religions were true, there should ample evidence to support them outside of philosophical arguments with presupposition issues. If these religions are right, the apologists are failing by focusing on trying to pick apart our Darwinism/etc rather than putting forward reproducible positive evidence. The god in Kings 18 wasn't afraid to prove himself.