Re: Miracles, ETI, and rationality

Damien Broderick (
Tue, 02 Nov 1999 22:04:29 +0000

At 03:54 AM 2/11/99 -0600, Eli wrote heuristically:

>the *real* heuristic is that you can't
>assume what you're trying to prove; that's why Power-based explanations
>don't *work*, they attribute the blueness of the sky to someone's
>intention that the sky be blue, and then refuse to explain the

>The simplest explanation is *not* "The lady down the block is
>a witch; she did it," because you haven't explained her motives.

Or, in either case, suggested even the bare bones of a mechanism or path whereby this intention or motive was actualized. Worse, if the mechanism is plausible in terms of known physics etc (as a QT account of the sky's blueness is), the intention is otiose and gets the Ockam chop; if it is entirely inconsistent with the corpus of knowledge (the witch's purported powers), it's not even a starter (with a proviso to follow).

But I feel that Hal's and Robert's injunction against `magic' forces, etc, might foreclose some true explanations. Lovelock's Gaia heuristic looks good to me - we expect life to put its environment into far-from-equilibrium but equilibrated states, so planets in such states probably harbor life and those that aren't probably don't (except maybe of the Tommy Gold lurking variety). To gaze at a world from a distance and refuse to accept as explanatory life, and even the intentions of some of the life, would prevent us from knowing true things (at least in respect of the Earth). That would be a kind of Copernican stance, but a misguided one.

Robert's decision to view the structure and dynamics of the large-scale cosmos in the light of likely earlier SI civilisations seems to me a defensible Gaia-type approach (and one that I adverted to in THE SPIKE). The trick to making it work is to clamp down hard on allowable parameters, to make restrictions as tight as possible. On the other hand, this might force us (as it forces Robert) to say `No magical physics', which I suspect is a cardinal error. Not because our guesses at any particular magical physics are likely to be right (too few limiting constraints), but because the chances of us today just happening to live in the period when *all the major physics is finally known* is... rather remote, isn't it? Yes, we know a lot, yes, some think we're closing in on a TOE, but by golly we'll all look as dopey in 50 years time as any Lord Kelvin a century back whose world view denied (if only by implication) black holes, M-branes, or simple radioactivity.

My own take on this, as I might have embarrassed a few here who perhaps regard me as more or less rational, is that some of the evidence from parapsychologists points to very weird shit indeed. Example: of late, some intriguing work is being done as a follow-up to studies by Dr Dean Radin, which I reported here a year or so back, indicating that subjects make a detectable GSR `presponse' to visual targets not shown to them until a couple of seconds later. This is a statistical effect, as usual, found in concatenated results - like most psychophysiological paradigms. Reported work, and other stuff still in press that I'm not at liberty to discuss in detail, suggests that these presentiments are weak or non-existent for emotionally colorless or `calm' stimuli, stronger for sexually arousing images, and strongest of all for violent or horrible pictures. If this effect is repeatable, as it now begins to seem to be, we have the door opened a tiny crack to magical time-bending physics. Dang.

Don't shoot the messenger, I just work here.

Damien Broderick