Daniel Dennett

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Science fiction and politics is covered mostly at this space-time, but every category listed is mentioned in a blog, story or commentary here.

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Every person, no matter what their opinion is, consistently follows the laws of nature, whatever those laws turn out to be. At this fundamental level, we are all consistent. We all must follow the laws of physics (or nature), because we have no choice – whatever nature is, we are a part of it. We just don’t know what those laws are.

In my opinion (at the time of this posting at least), the Universe and everything in it, including all the people living in it, are made up of matter, energy, and within the framework of causeless spacetime, where a state of nothingness probably never existed. There are many possibilities of “true reality” that fall within this general theme. This view may be considered as a Materialists point-of-view (if one is permitted to include in this definition energy, space and time are a part of the overall fabric), but the term “materialist” can be misleading (it does not mean that I value material possession over love of my family, or that I believe everything is made up of very tiny little pebble-like bits). In any case, it is my considered opinion that what we think of as atoms and sub-atomic particles are highly underrated and under appreciated by the majority of my fellow humans.

Still other people have multiple variations on the opinions or belief that there is another, supernatural aspect to life and the cosmos that somehow exists outside of nature.

Many people hold beliefs that on the one hand embrace the more-or-less materialist viewpoint, but to some degree hold onto the Dualist point-of-view. They hold onto a kind of middle ground, if you will, between the realm of the spiritual and the material. Usually this middle ground involves a spirit or soul that somehow effects human beings and possibly all living things, but not inanimate objects.

Not all of these opinions can be correct. Some people may not agree with the statement just previous to this sentence.

Regardless of where the ultimate truth may be (I was tempted to say use the term “lie” here instead of “be” but decided against it), it seems to me that there must be a single, underlying foundation, a single law or set of laws that can describe the entire universe, even if we never fully understand what those laws may be. Of course, those that believe that each of us make our own reality will not agree with the me on this point. If the laws are never discovered, does it follow that the laws do not actually exist and is this merely an argument over semantics?

If the current understanding of the laws of the Universe can be bent or changed, or in some way altered, then we have yet to discover the fundamental laws. The laws that are altered, must not be the entire story. It may be the case that the fundamental laws can never be discovered by humans, but we should never give up trying.

By “The Universe”, in this context, I very roughly mean that part of the Universe that most physicists believe to be about 13.7 billion years old and is commonly believed to have “started” with a big bang (probably much bigger than the Hubble Volume, but no one knows for sure). Explaining what I mean here is but one example of where talking about “beliefs” can rapidly become very fuzzy and difficult to accurately discuss. The meanings of many words are ambiguous. The everyday use or missuse of words tends to increase the ambiguity of words (Is there such a thing as language entropy and does my very reference to the word entropy in this metaphorical context further contribute to it?). 

Our “understanding” of what the Universe “is” is even more ambiguous, given that the nature of science itself is a dynamic process, and there are various competing theories, none of which are completely worked out. Most people (and I include myself) do not understand much beyond the high-level concepts described to us by scientists (and most of us can forget about ever understanding the mathematics involved) to really understand any of the details. On the other hand, I think that those that side with the Supernatural camp have much much bigger hurdles to cross, and they must admit that they at least have hurdles of similar magnitude.

Perhaps we can all learn from each other, and try to find the positive aspects of the opinions of others. Everyone’s opinions (or set of beliefs, or worldview) must be based, at least in part (even if the Dualist point-of-view turn out to be correct), on their previous experiences, and ultimately the initial state of their entire set of atoms and energy, and the state of all their surrounding atoms. At least to a certain extent, people really cannot help what they believe. Furthermore, natural human language has far too many ambiguities built into it to for any lay person to fully and completely describe their beliefs accurately to another human being.

To make matters worse, I would wager that most or all people would have a difficult time explaining their own beliefs to themselves in a completely consistent, non-dynamic way that does not drift at least a little bit from day to day and from one emotional state to another. We each think we know what our beliefs are, but when we delve deeper into our own thoughts we run into inconsistencies, ambiguities, doubts, and other forms of uncertainties. We change our minds in subtle ways that we may not always be consciously aware of.

When we are sad or frustrated about our own life, we may begin to doubt some of our own beliefs. When we are on top of the world, and everything is going our way, we are often so certain that we know what we are doing. Even those that have dogmatic beliefs (as seen from the outside by the rest of us) and can recite their beliefs word for word from one book or another, or perhaps from memorization will inevitably run into ambiguities in the very words they speak. They will realize (or they should realize) that they do not understand everything they utter or think or pray with one hundred percent understanding.

I was just lucky enough that “my” particles, or rather my patterns (life is more like a process than a thing) collided with other particles in such a way that my opinion turned out to be the more or less correct one! I can’t help it if I’m lucky! I cannot help it if I think that I know that I am mostly right, at least in the bare-boned essential fundamentals. You probably feel the same way about your opinions. You think that you know that you must essentially be correct about what you consider to be important. Of course, you and I are probably wrong about many of our personal beliefs. There is a good chance that we both are missing more than a few important details about the reality of this Universe. You probably believe know a few facts that I do not know and some of those facts may be important insights that I am missing. On the other hand, you are most likely missing bits of information that, if you knew them, might alter your view of this world in some very radical ways.

As an example, most people are in denial about how much their own political opinions have changed over time.

As another example, most people are in denial about how much their personal viewpoints have changed after they fall in love. Compromises inevitably take place. New ideas and concepts are learned from your partner. We fail to see flaws in the person we fall in love with. That is a part of the nature of falling in love. Many (or most? or all?) people had doubts about the existence of the kind of love they experience only after falling in love (which is of course at least somewhat different than the love we feel for our siblings, which is different than the love we feel for our parents, and the love we feel for our neighbors, our friends, and chocolate). Most people do not want to make love to a piece of chocolate or to their parents, for example.

Beware, here comes a tangential point (or is it a fuzzy wave? or both?):

I could not resist creating this post. Of course, I created this post because I wanted to create this post, but I did not create it on my own free will in the traditional sense. If free will did exist, that would imply that I could choose to do something other than what I want to do.

I am certain that other’s do not agree with this post. I am reasonably certain that my opinion and understanding of the world has already and will continue to change over spacetime. I am certain that my opinions are not made very concise or clear in this post. I have changed this post several times already today, and it is still not written down to my complete satisfaction. New ideas and variations on ideas keep popping into my consciousness.

I believe that story telling is one good way that people can learn new ideas, explore beliefs, and be entertained at the same spacetime.

Using logic and rational discussion is another way, but consider the following bit of simple logic:

A is A.

In one sense the above statement is true. It is the Law of Identity first described by Aristotle and seemed to be one of Ayn Rand’s favorite statements. However, the moment we try to apply this simple bit of logic to any entity in the real world, even for this most simple fundamental truth in logic, it does not absolutely apply in all instances.

Here is a silly example of what I am (not) talking about, but it does give a point of how confusing even simple concepts can become misunderstood: In the real world, that first “A” exists several pixels to the left of the second “A”. The statement “A is A” above is located on your computer screen at time X, while the same sentence is located on my computer screen at time “Y” (and it looks different inside the editor than it does to me when I save and post again).

Suppose instead, as was presumably intended by both Aristotle and Ayn Rand, we take “A” to represent an entity. In that case, the second “A” can be said to represent the same entity as the first “A”. However, in the real world, both the laws of thermodynamics apply and time exists. Real entities change over time. In the real world entities do not have precise edges on them, even if we discount quantum theory. Atoms constantly break away from the outside edges of physical, material entities. Electrons move around, jump from one atom over to another, absorbing light that came from other places, both from outside and inside of the entity.

Suppose we take the word “is” to apply to entity “A” in a single instance of time. In the real world we cannot freeze time at a single instant.

Suppose we could freeze time at a single instant, and the variable “A” represented the single musical note “A” (at 440 cycles per second). In this case, the note would vanish, since frequency implies time.

Instead, let us suppose that “is” is taken to mean “to exist”. If I play A-440 on my piano, by the time I tell you about this note, it will have faded away. What is meant by “to exist”? Does a musical note traveling through the air exist in the same sense that a solid rock exists?

If “A” stands for “apple” and I tell you “this apple is delicious”, that could mean that I ate the apple and found it to be delicious, or that I ate a similar apple, perhaps from the same batch of apples at the store. It does not mean that “apple” and “delicious” are two words for the same entity. It does not mean that all apples are delicious. Yet I said:

apple is delicious.

In this sense of “is” we do not mean equality, but we mean that a particular entity (an apple) as a specific attribute (delicious). It gets even more complex, because the attribute “delicious” is subjective. It is a matter of opinion.

Furthermore, your tongue may have superior taste buds to mine, or your neurons in the taste sensory section of your brain may have superior synaptic connections, and you may sense a bit of bitterness in the apple. Your sensors came up with a different answer.

If I did take a bite out of the apple to determine that the apple is delicious, the apple is no longer a whole apple anymore.

I dare say that the most experienced logician will have a difficult time explaining to a layperson (and perhaps to their selves) how and when or if logic every really does apply to the real world. Is logic merely to be taken as an academic subject, as a kind of model of the real world? Is the real world logical? Is logic logical?

Everybody misunderstands everybody else to at least some degree. Even the best of philosophers have changed their own minds over time. Whenever a person learns more about the nature of his or her world, that person will change in subtle or not so subtle ways. Even mathematicians do not agree completely on what mathematics is?

I do not mean to imply that life is meaningless. And please do not take my one remark about mathematics, or my statements about logic or science out of context. It is my opinion that science with math, logic and rational thought are the best and most effective ways of discovering the truth about the universe around us.

On the other hand, “truth” is not the only game in town worth pursuing. What is “true” or “false” about music, art, poetry, literature, or love? Is the music of Bach “true” and the music of Miles Davis “false”? I don’t think so. Perhaps religion is like music or art for some people. A lot of people probably enjoy a nice religious service.

Perhaps my previous statements about music are somehow wrong or misguided, or perhaps a particular musicologist has an opinion that I am somehow not understanding or listening to music properly in some respect, and if I would only learn what music was all about I would understand that my taste for music was poor and silly and stupid. On the other hand, perhaps the musicologist does not understand properly how the musical notes of a piece of music stimulated a set of neurons in such as way as to cause a cascade chemical reactions that resulted in part of the pleasure zone in my brain to light up making me feel good.

What I am arguing is that we should listen to one another and not use violence against those that do not agree with our own point-of-view. I prefer having the freedom to decide what the meaning of life is for myself. Is it not written the you choose your own path? (now it is written)

Live and let live. If your beliefs lead you to think about flying an airplane into a building full of innocent beings is good, or that dropping bombs on innocent people, in the desperate hope of perhaps killing some of your enemies is just, please take another look at your beliefs. I was hoping this post will get you to change your mind.

Avoid becoming dogmatic in your beliefs, whatever they may be. Consider the possibility that you have no idea what you are talking about. Consider the possibility that people you look up to admire, and respect are perhaps even more confused and misguided than you are. Consider the possibility that much of what you believe is essentially correct, but that you are mistaken in some areas where you might least expect.

Belief in Einstein’s equations did not cause lunatics to fly an airplane into an office building, but neither did belief in Mohamed’s philosophy make the atom bomb possible. Stalin was an atheist, but Adolf Hitler was religious. Terrorism is evil, but so is a misguided foreign policy.

Blaming 9/11 only on religion, without considering the political and the economic components, as some prominent scientists and philosophers seem have recently done (some that I admire and respect in many other regards, and as a fellow atheist, at times I find myself sympathizing with their points about religion and do not completely disagree them on this matter – I am referring to Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens ), makes little or no more sense than blaming the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima completely on Albert Einstein. Such thinking can lead to dangerous ideas.

It was Albert Einstein who persuaded Roosevelt that the atomic bomb was not only possible, but that the Nazis were developing one. Einstein later regretted sending that letter to the president. My feeling on the 9/11 terrorist situation is that Ron Paul, a Christian, has a much more clear understanding of foreign affairs and American foreign policy than any of the above mentioned atheist, scientist, or philosophers. Although I do admire and respect their work and feel that have important comments to consider on this topic as well. If the pro-Iraq camp has a valid point, they certainly have not presented their case very clearly or accurately (see: this, for example – or this). Is it oil, or weapons of mass destruction, or terrorist, and how many innocent lives and how much tax payers money is justified in this fuzzy pursuit, and what about a Declaration of War, and on and on.

My opinions are definitely not 100% correct and your opinions are most certainly not 100% wrong. There is probably exactly one reality, but there are more than six billion perceptions of that reality. The scientific method is designed to be unbiased and self-correcting, but in practice, there will always be politics. Religious institutions promise hope and love, but often promote fear and death.

Science does not have all of the answers, but that does not imply that other institutions have any real answers to any questions. It may be true that science and religion are mutually exclusive, but that is not necessarily the case. No one knows for sure.

If truth is beauty and beauty is truth, then in that sense, music is beautiful can be true for me, a religious sermon may be beautiful and true for you, and a mathematical proof may be beautiful and true for another. Is one person’s pleasure center more true than anothers? Are you arguing with the laws of physics? The particles in your brain followed the same laws of physics that my brain followed.

At the moment, both the religious and the authoritarians have been a lot more successful at passing both their genes and their memes along than either the atheists and the libertarians. If you want to change someone’s opinion to be more in line with your own, then try to have a little empathy for how they got to where they are. Remember how lucky you are that your particles and patterns happened to collide in just the right ways to give you your the intelligent, rational, and objective insight that you believe you have.



PhilosophyMonty Python style … I Kant understand it. It’s all Greek to me.


…but when you observe something, don’t you have to shine light “photons” on that something, so the electron would “know” it is being observed, right?






The Dawkins Delusion


Beyond Uncertainty


Climate Catastrophe Cancelled


Why Do Atheists Care About Religion?


Peace Train

Lovely song, but on the other hand:


… but is that really how he feels (and do people change over time?)



Morning Has Broken


Bach – Glenn Gould talks about Art of fugue



Wayne Dyer: Power of Intention … some of this sounds nice

It’s nice to have an optimistic outlook on life, but doesn’t luck have something to do with it? Do the children starving in Africa not “intend” or “think positive thoughts” hard enough? …. Does Quantum theory really say anything about macroscopic objects?

field guide to quackery


George Carlin on Religion


The Sistine Chapel


Bach – Matthaus Passion – 52. Aria A – Koennen Traenen meine

Was Bach thinking of the bad bits of the Bible when he wrote this? I doubt it.



Not Exactly God Videos

… but Christians are not praying with the hateful side of the Bible on their minds are they? Aren’t they mostly pretty nice people who want to help others? Answer: Some are and some are not.


I like much of what Ron Paul has to say… but he is a Christian and I am an Atheist…

I agree with Richard Dawkins that atheists in America should come out of the closet. He has written many wonderful books explaining evolution (I recommend “The Selfish Gene” and “The Blind Watchmaker“, but I think politically he is a bit too “left leaning” when it comes to centralized government, and government spending. Maybe I am wrong about that.






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Videos, Reviews, Recordings and other links relating to:

Breaking The Spell

Religion as a Natural Phonomenon

by Daniel C. Dennett

Scroll down to skip to the videos!

This is an important book to read for anyone interested in understanding how religion may have evolved naturally through natural selection processes at first, then domesticated and refined over thousands of years. Dennett recommends, in order to be properly understood, that religion be scientifically studied. I enjoyed the book very much and recommend it. It is now available in paperback.

Here is a good review of the book: Getting a Rational Grip on Religion

“Dennett hopes that this book will be read not just by atheists and agnostics but by the religiously faithful–and that they will come to see the wisdom of analyzing their deepest beliefs scientifically, weeding out the harmful from the good. The spell he hopes to break, he suggests, is not religious belief itself but the conviction that its details are off-limits to scientific inquiry, taboo.”

Wikipedia: Breaking the Spell

Majikthise: Breaking the Spell: Review (blog)

Dan Dennett at the TED Talks, May 2006

Dennett talks about breaking the spell of religion and advocates studying religion just like any other natural phenomenon. Daniel Dennett begins his presentation by showing a slide of a dairy cow:

Look at this magnificent beast, and ask the question “Who designed it?” …. This is TED, this is Technology Entertainment Design, and there is a dairy cow it’s a quite wonderfully designed animal … you might say that God designed the cow, but of course God got a lot of help…

Religion is a mixture of natural selection and domestication. It can be reverse engineered and studied, much as a cow is. Religions are just as natural as cows… like the cow, they initially evolved, have become domesticated, design and redesigned.

Daniel Dennett at the TED Talks, in Monterey, California

He proposes that all religions be taught in school in a factual manner, so that children can learn about all religions, and not just the creeds of their parents. Dennett believes we should study religions with the same intensity as any of the other natural phenomena.


Daniel Dennett–Breaking The Spell


The Atheisim Tapes; With Daniel Dennett, Part 1


The Atheisim Tapes; With Daniel Dennett, Part 2


The Atheisim Tapes; With Daniel Dennett, Part 3


Understanding Genetics – Daniel Dennett Interview 1


Understanding Genetics – Daniel Dennett Interview 2 _________________________________________

Understanding Genetics – Daniel Dennett Interview 3


Understanding Genetics – Daniel Dennett Interview 4


Understanding Genetics – Daniel Dennett Interview 5


Understanding Genetics – Daniel Dennett Interview 6



Try parallel processing…

Please enjoy some musical patterns inspired by the DNA Pattern

and Flow of Consciousness here, while reading the article

…it will open in a separate window or tab depending on your browser:

>>> D ‘n A Mutations I <<<


A computer program will behave in exactly the same way at any time on any computer, given the same initial state. A software program is an example of a “pattern”. The program may be copied. Two copies of the program will behave exactly the same way on two different computers even though the two computers, on which the program copies run, are made up of completely different atoms from one another.

Because the computer program is a pattern, it could be translated into an entirely different programming language and run on an entirely new type of computer. The computers are patterns as well. The pattern called “computer” and the pattern called “program” have a degree of independence from the stuff of which they are made. At the physical level, the atoms, and electrons, and the energy states are absolutely 100% different on both machines and both “copies” of the “same” program, yet the programs behave in exactly the same way on the “design” level!

Ultimately, the computer and the program that runs on it are subject to the pre-determined laws at the physical level, but the patterns at the design level are subject to a much stronger force – that imposed by the pattern itself. Even though the atoms, the initial state and everything about the two computers and the two programs can be absolutely 100% different in space, time, behavior, initial state, molecular structure, elements, and on and on…, the pattern manages to “overrule” the pre-determined physical state that the computer and the program will be in at the start and the end of the running at end of the program. We are not even concerned over the “physical” state of the pattern, only the “design” state of the pattern.

Patterns are at least somewhat independent of the stuff of which they are made. A boat is a pattern. If it has several parts replaced on it, as the parts wear out, it is still recognized as the same boat. A person is a pattern with atoms and cells that are constantly changing.

Similar to the program pattern, identical twins are born with identical copies of a DNA pattern, but each copy is obviously made up of separate molecules. The twins rapidly form separate identities because their initial conditions and environments are different at both the physical and the pattern level.

Unlike boats; DNA, people, computers, and Turing machines all are patterns that contain a type of memory and take input from the outside environment in the world in which they exist. DNA and people are different from computers and Turing machines, somewhat due to their relative complexity, but largely because their overall behavior are subject to both physical changes and pattern states. Physical objects, independent of the person or the DNA may change their respective pattern behavior in unpredictable ways, but they can adapt to the changes within limits. Unless pre-programmed in advance, to accept inputs, for example, an ordinary software program will ignore external events. A computer will simply stop functioning if its parts wear out.

Although, ultimately “it is all physical”, the white blood cell reacts to the germ that it “detects” in the blood stream, because it is “programmed” by the DNA to seek and destroy germs, not merely clumps of amino acids, but the special pattern we may call a “germ”.

DNA mutates in a random way due to being struck by various particles. These mutations are the physical mechanisms by which Evolution occurs. Mother Nature would not get very far by merely following low-level physical laws. Random change must be augmented by a Design mechanism – the Pattern of Natural Selection which is used to select the most “useful” designs for replication, and to eliminate the “bad” designs. Natural Selection is a very slow process, because it is so closely linked to the natural physical level. That is why relatively simplistic life forms do not have many degrees of freedom. However, as the patterns (life forms), become more and more complex, with patterns layering upon other layers of patterns, they gain more and more freedom from their physical makeup. Each pattern layer is subject to the new laws of the pattern “designs” of the layers “below” allowing a slightly higher degree of freedom from the underlying physical layer.

The computer program “if” statement “reacts” to the value (pattern, design) of “true” or “false”, and does not give one hoot about the makeup of the computer or how the “true” or “false” is ultimately represented at the physical level. An “if” statement embedded inside a computer program follows rules that are designed into the programming language. The computer program may be of the sort, such as the Java programming language, that is interpreted by a virtual machine – yet another program. The virtual machine is said to run “on top of” the computer operating system. Eventually, these multiple layers of programs (patterns) get converted into the machine language that the Central Processing Unit (CPU) “understands”. The CPU, in turn, is made up of patterns of circuits. The circuits are made up of a complex pattern of logical “AND”, “NOR” and “NOT” gates, and are manufactured out of silicon and various other elements, consisting of atoms, and powered by electricity.

Each layer outlined above, from the bottom physical layers, to the top software layers, have room for multiple design or pattern variations in their makeup. As long as each pattern layer is designed in such a way as to produce the same outputs and accept the same inputs that are “expected” by the layers immediately above and below it, the design variations will not affect the state of the program of interest at the top layer. In general, the higher the level in the pattern layers, the higher the degrees of freedom one has in the design of that level. The original program could be written in several different ways, and still express identical results to the original.

A child playing catch with a friend (obviously consisting of many more complex layers than a computer program) may decide to move out of the way of the ball rapidly flying towards his face, because the ball is going to smack him in the face and it will hurt. The physical state of the ball is of no immediate interest. It could be any baseball at any time in any space – it is the “ball” and “face” and “pain” patterns that are the important pieces of information stored somewhere in the child’s brain. It could be any child playing with any friend. It is not inevitable that the child will be hit by the ball or that child will avoid the ball.

The child’s conscious level is built upon countless pattern-based “design” layers which allows for a degree of freedom allowing for the avoidance of the “inevitability” of being struck by the ball. The child’s conscious mind is much more influenced both by the patterns it is processing, and the patterns doing the processing, than by the physical stuff that the child’s brain is made of.

Ultimately, the physical structures of the atoms involved do matter. The physical laws do determine the direction, speed, and force of impact of the ball. The brain is physically made out of atoms, but the baseball player does not care or think about those things. The player is considering the patterns (and avoiding pain).

As Daniel Dennet aptly pointed out (Freedom EvolvesViking Penguin, 2003), Free Will and Determinism are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts. Indeed, an agent “pattern”, with a memory and feedback from the external world can make predictions better in a fully deterministic universe than it could in a non-deterministic universe. Calculation can be made by that agent, to avoid dangers, seek energy sources, improve its local environment, self-replicate, communicate (via yet another set of patterns following rules) with other similarly-patterned agents, and so on.

Above, I mentioned that “patterns at the design level are subject to a much stronger force – that imposed by the pattern itself”. “A much stronger influence” is a more accurate phrase. Weaker forces seem to have stronger influences at macroscopic levels than do the strong forces.

At the sub-atomic level, we see that there seems to be a non-deterministic quantum state “ruling” this “lowest level of all worlds” world – the center of the onion. However, it is masked by a more deterministic, atomic-level “pattern” one, or just a few levels above it.

The Neutrons and Protons consist of sets of 3 quarks each, held by the strong nuclear force. A residual force holds the nucleus together. The weak nuclear force works at a larger distance but is obviously weaker. The Electro-magnetic force controls electrons, with the residual binging atoms to create molecules.

Already, at these lower pattern levels, determinism seems to overcome the quantum effect. The larger the pattern, the more reliable and useful they become. For example, on my way to work, I do not have to hunt for the local Starbucks, where I get my coffee for my long trek to work in the morning. It is a sure bet that I will drive past two or three withing the first 20 minutes of my commute.

Gravity is a force that is so weak, that scientist are just now getting the point where it can be measured at distances down to the millimeter. I have heard that gravity is 5-10 orders of magnitude weaker than the electro-magnetic force, yet it has a dominant influence over ordinary matter! As I sit here at my computer desk, I can very much feel gravity holding me down on my chair. The patterns of solar systems and galaxies are not “interested” in the stronger forces. Still larger patterns are dominated by Dark Energy (from the vacuum of space?) Is this because the entire Universe is the largest and greatest pattern?

=========== New Stuff to Consider ===========

Enjoy more discussions on Free Will at the following forum:

Free Will II

Another post on Free will:

The Free Will Machine


References: Freedom Evolves (Viking Penguin, 2003), Daniel C. Dennet

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