In Schrodinger's thought experiment with the cat, the cat is thought
to be in a superposition of states because the behavior of quanta is
predictable only in a probabilistic, statistical sense. When an
observation is made, the superposition is resolved into a single
coherent state. The observation has to be made by a conscious
observer. But what do we mean by a conscious observer?

Scientific materialism: Here, consciousness is an epiphenomenon of
the fundamental physical realm. Quanta exist in the physical realm.
How can an epiphenomenon of the physical realm collapse probabilistic
superpositions in the realm it is dependent upon? How can an
epiphenomenon act backward in time to collapse a superposition .3
seconds ago (the time required for the sensory input of the
observation to reach conscious awareness in the mind of the
observer)? We have a paradox.

Cartesian dualism: Consciousness is independent of the physical
realm. It appears that the mental and physical realms interact only
in human souls. Consciousness is not typically imputed to other
living beings. So, presumably, only a human observer can collapse a
quantum superposition. But how does that work? Light reflected from
the inside of the box, carrying the information about whether the cat
is alive or dead enters the eyes of the observer. Consciousness gets
the information .3 seconds later. How can consciousness reach back in
time and affect an outcome that was encoded in light .3 seconds ago?
Normally, the consciousness of the observer can only affect the
observer. How can it affect a separate process (the experimental

Monistic idealism: In this paradigm, the outcome is fixed ahead of
time. Universal consciousness determined the outcome from the
beginning. At the present, it acts through the observer to observe
the predetermined outcome. There's no superposition, no paradox, no
need for multi-world explanations, no need for hidden variables.
Everything is held in consciousness and is simply played out.

Suppose we try scientific materialism and cartesian dualism with a
fixed future. That would allow us to avoid the superposition of
states and the need for consciousness to collapse it.

In SM, where is the information about future outcomes recorded? The
behavior of particles is encoded in the patterns that govern them --
Newton's laws, Boyle's law, quantum theory, etc. But since quantum
theory is statistical and probabilistic, full predictability is
lacking and there's nowhere to put information about future outcomes.
In the SM universe, the future can't be fixed.

In CD, we can put the information about future outcomes in the mental
realm, but we still have the issue of accounting for how the realms
interact. How would the future outcome recorded in the mental realm
affect the physical? Furthermore, how do we explain phenomena in the
mental realm? So CD gives us a place to store outcomes, but leaves us
with explanatory problems, and we still have to give up free will.


Fwd: John McDougall, MD - Letter to the Editor - NY Times re "Death by Veganism"

Begin forwarded message:
>> From: John McDougall MD<mcdougall@lava.net>
>> Date: May 22, 2007 3:53:54 AM EDT
>> To: <karenturtle@comcast.net>
>> Subject: John McDougall, MD - Letter to the Editor - NY Times re
>> "Death by Veganism"
>> Reply-To: mcdougall@lava.net
>> Read this McDougall mailing online: www.drmcdougall.com/misc/

>> 2007other/nytimes.html
>> John McDougall, MD - Letter to the Editor - NY Times
>> The New York Times today (May 21, 2007) carried an Op-Ed piece
>> about the dangers of a vegan diet, titled "Death by Veganism,"
>> that deserves an immediate response:
>> For the original article see: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/21/

>> opinion/21planck.html_r=1&oref=slogin
>> This article, written by Nina Planck, who is identified as a food
>> writer and expert on farmers markets and local food, stems from
>> the case of a recent murder conviction of parents who starved
>> their 6 week old child to death by feeding him a diet of apple
>> juice and soy milk. She writes on her web site, "Among many
>> sources for this piece, I interviewed a family practitioner who
>> treats many vegetarian and vegan families."
>> For the story of the child's death see: http://query.nytimes.com/

>> gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9F0DE0D71438F936A35757C0A9659C8B63
>> Here is the 150 word letter to the editor that I sent to the New
>> York Times (chances of publication by the newspaper are obviously
>> small):
>> Nina Planck's article condemning vegan diet contains serious
>> errors concerning the adequacy of plant foods. Plants do contain
>> all the essential amino acids in adequate quantities to meet human
>> needs, and even those of children (Millward). Vitamin D is not
>> found in milk or meat, unless it is added during manufacturing.
>> Sunlight is the proper source of this vitamin. Plants manufacture
>> beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. The original source of
>> all minerals (including calcium and zinc) is the ground. Plants
>> are abundant in minerals; and they act as the conduit of minerals
>> to animals. The scientific truth is protein, essential amino
>> acid, mineral, and vitamin (except for B12 which is synthesized by
>> bacteria, not animals) deficiencies are never caused by a diet
>> based on whole plant foods when calorie needs are met. Ms.
>> Planck's distortion of nutritional science is a serious matter
>> that needs to be fixed.
>> Reference: Millward DJ. The nutritional value of plant-based
>> diets in relation to human amino acid and protein requirements.
>> Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 May;58(2):249-60.
>> Addition comments not sent to the newspaper.
>> Nina Planck writes: "You cannot create and nourish a robust baby
>> merely on foods from plants."
>> The scientific truth is: Babies at 6 weeks of age require human
>> breast milk and any other diet means malnutrition. Imagine if the
>> exact opposite approach killed an infant with a formula made of
>> pulverized beef and cow's milk, would this have received similar
>> worldwide press? I believe the case would have been properly
>> considered child neglect (intentional or not) and have gone
>> unnoticed except for those intimately involved. "People love to
>> hear good news about their bad habits" so the tragedy of the death
>> of an infant caused by misguided parents who fed their infant
>> apple juice and soy milk for the first 6 weeks of life has been
>> used to justify eating meat and drinking cow's milk.
>> Nina Planck writes: Protein deficiency is one danger of a vegan
>> diet for babies. Nutritionists used to speak of proteins as "first
>> class" (from meat, fish, eggs and milk) and "second class" (from
>> plants), but today this is considered denigrating to vegetarians.
>> The scientific truth is: Confusion about our protein needs came
>> from studies of the nutritional needs of animals. Mendel and
>> Osborne in 1913 reported rats grew better on animal, than on
>> vegetable, sources of protein. A direct consequence of their
>> studies resulted in meat, eggs, and dairy foods being classified
>> as superior, or "Class A" protein sources and vegetable proteins
>> designated as inferior, or "Class B" proteins. Seems no one
>> considered that rats are not people. One obvious difference in
>> their nutritional needs is rat milk is 11 times more concentrated
>> in protein than is human breast milk. The extra protein supports
>> this animal's rapid growth to adult size in 5 months; while humans
>> take 17 years to fully mature. The world's authority on human
>> protein needs, Prof. Joseph Millward, wrote the following:
>> "Contrary to general opinion, the distinction between diet ary
>> protein sources in terms of the nutritional superiority of animal
>> over plant proteins is much more difficult to demonstrate and less
>> relevant in human nutrition." (References in my April 2007
>> newsletter.)
>> Nina Planck writes: The fact remains, though, that humans prefer
>> animal proteins and fats to cereals and tubers, because they
>> contain all the essential amino acids needed for life in the right
>> ratio. This is not true of plant proteins, which are inferior in
>> quantity and quality — even soy.
>> The scientific truth is: Proteins function as structural
>> materials which build the scaffoldings that maintain cell shapes,
>> enzymes which catalyze biochemical reactions, and hormones which
>> signal messages between cells—to name only a few of their vital
>> roles. Since plants are made up of structurally sound cells with
>> enzymes and hormones, they are by nature rich sources of
>> proteins. In fact, so rich are plants that they can meet the
>> protein needs of the earth's largest animals: elephants,
>> hippopotamuses, giraffes, and cows. You would be correct to
>> deduce that the protein needs of relatively small humans can
>> easily be met by plants. (References in my April 2007 newsletter.)
>> Nina Planck writes: Yet even a breast-fed baby is at risk. Studies
>> show that vegan breast milk lacks enough docosahexaenoic acid, or
>> DHA, the omega-3 fat found in fatty fish.
>> The scientific truth is: Only plants can synthesize essential
>> fats. Any DHA found in animals had its origin from a plant (as
>> alpha linolenic acid). The human body has no difficulty converting
>> plant-derived omega-3 fat, alpha linolenic acid, into DHA or other
>> n-3 fatty acids, supplying our needs even during gestation and
>> infancy.
>> Reference: Langdon JH. Has an aquatic diet been necessary for
>> hominin brain evolution and functional development? Br J Nutr.
>> 2006 Jul;96(1):7-17.
>> Mothers who eat the Western diet pass dangerous loads of
>> environmental contaminants through their breast milk to their
>> infants. Meat, dairy and fish in her diet are the source of 80%
>> to 90% of these toxic chemicals. The cleanest and healthiest milk
>> is made by mothers eating a starch-based vegan diet.
>> Nina Planck writes: A vegan diet is equally dangerous for weaned
>> babies and toddlers, who need plenty of protein and calcium.
>> The scientific truth is: Infants should be exclusively breast fed
>> until age 6 months and then partially breast fed until
>> approximately 2 years of age. Starches, fruits, and vegetables
>> should be added after the age of 6 months. The addition of cow's
>> milk causes problems as common as constipation and as devastating
>> as type-1 diabetes. (See my May 2003 newsletter on Marketing Milk
>> and Disease.) Adding meat to an infant's diet is one of the main
>> reasons all children raised on the Western diet have the
>> beginnings of atherosclerosis by the age of 2 years.
>> Nina Planck writes: "An adult who was well-nourished in utero and
>> in infancy may choose to get by on a vegan diet, but babies are
>> built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil."
>> The scientific truth is: Babies are ideally built from mother's
>> breast milk initially and then from whole foods. Hopefully,
>> parents will realize that the healthiest diet for the entire
>> family (after weaning) is based on starches with the addition of
>> fruits and vegetables. (Vitamin B12 is added to the diet of
>> pregnant or nursing mothers and after 3 years of following a plant-
>> based diet strictly.)
>> Nina Planck has been allowed by the New York Times to exploit the
>> tragedy of a family and to spread commonly held, but
>> scientifically incorrect, information on human nutrition. The
>> author and the newspaper should be held accountable. Hopefully,
>> the end result will be that people desiring the truth will take
>> the trouble to look at the evidence. If this were to be the case,
>> then this New York Times article could be the beginning of long
>> overdue changes in the ways people eat. Write and tell everyone
>> you know that the New York Times has done a sloppy job, and damage
>> to the public, by allowing harmful lies to be spread—especially
>> when you consider that Planck's message promotes a diet known to
>> cause obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and major cancers.
>> John McDougall, MD
>> http://www.drmcdougall.com/
>> May 21, 2007
>> ©2007 John McDougall All Rights Reserved
>> McDougall Wellness Center P.O. Box 14039, Santa Rosa, CA 95402
>> http://www.drmcdougall.com
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>> www.BestNewslettersOnline.com


Baby-sitting Robots

A while ago in his blog, Scott Adams suggested a thought experiment that can make clear the illusory nature of free will. I would provide a link to it, but his archive doesn't go back that far and doesn't have a search function.

The thought experiment is this: Consider a young woman gently rocking a baby in a cradle. Most human beings would consider the young woman to have free will in the sense that she could choose to treat the baby gently or roughly.

Now replace the young woman with a robot. The robot's arm is controlled by software and rocks the cradle either gently or roughly, depending on the setting of a "mood" variable in the software. If mood is above a certain value, say 5, the robot rocks the cradle gently. If the value of mood falls below 5, the robot gets progressively rougher as the value drops. I think most human beings would not consider the robot to have free will.

So let's make the robot more complex. Let's give it a sense of morality. If its mood falls below 5, it will continue to be gentle unless its ethics function decides that the baby is "evil", in which case it kills the baby. Does this robot have free will? I think most people would still say no.

But you get the idea. We can continue making the robot more sophisticated and complex. At what point does it acquire free will? Never? Then why does it make sense to think that biological robots have free will? Where is the difference?

The implications of the thought experiment go beyond just free will, though. Just like we would agree that the baby-sitting robot does not have free will, we also would not impute personhood to it. If the baby-sitting robot is a valid model of biological robots, then it also does not make sense to impute personhood to a biological robot whose responses are determined by the operation of software. So that would mean that there's no such thing as a person, or soul. Such things are further illusions created by the operation of the robot's thought processor (what's called "consciousness").

Morality is usually presented as a fixed, objective standard external to the robots. However, this thought experiment can show that it's actually just a way robots attempt to reprogram each other (We might tell the baby-sitting robot that gently rocking the baby is "good" while killing it would be "bad", but that just reflects our preferences. Replace the baby with something we don't feel as strongly about, say, another robot, or a brick). Good and evil are just what a given robot admires or fears, what aids or threatens the robot's survival. Since each robot may admire or fear different things, good and evil wind up being relative to the perspective of the robot in question.

For the arms dealer or terrorist, war in Iraq is a good thing. For the Iraqi man on the street, war in Iraq is a bad thing.