Sam Harris & Sean Carroll – Raw Notes

Harris Podcast with Sean Carroll

[Aside – Identity Politics topic – previously talking past each other with Ezra. Apart from better management of conversations with specific Q’s requiring A’s, main Harris lesson is to avoid agendas of extremists left or right. Convincing an extremist that they may be wrong is a counterproductive waste of effort.

Cannot be branded a racist bigot for wanting to talk honestly about race or any other identity politics issue.]

Today’s topic – primarily with Sean Carroll on the “The Big Picture – the origins of life, meaning and the universe itself.”

Poetic Naturalism he calls it.

Naturalism – OK (ie not super-natural, whatever there is, there is a natural explanation)

Poetic – multiple ways of talking – Good.
Very, very good in fact (see trivium & rhetoric).

A unity, no disjunction of levels, even though some levels emergent and meaningless to talk about in terms of lower levels. But not (literally) downward causation. Non-reductionist element – compatibility through emergence even if no simple & meaningful direct causation.

Laplace Demon – everything determined by total knowledge of a state – is a thought experiment.

The snowflake example. so he really is a total reductionist? Otherwise it’s really a consciousness agenda

So why has it evolved / emerged? And how is it “effective” on physical states – clearly it is, question is how via fundamental levels. Panpsychic physical mental dualism description? Proto-psychism in fact, and now Zombie argument. Expressing feelings felt is a behaviour, even if you’re a zombie.

We don’t know at what level (subjective) consciousness arises, but we know it does?

Mapping many (possible) worlds onto naturalism? He really sees many worlds as many simultaneous physical realities – so long as they’re all possible and compatible with physics.

We can do with less information … Not just probabilistic (approximate) but wholly true. Temperature of a gas IS independent of where each individual molecule is – 100% certain true fact despite large uncertainty at detail level.

OK many worlds is a perfect info concept (thought experiment). Not – what is possible state given our knowledge of rules and another state – that’s physics. Therefore many worlds is not physics.

Copenhagen > Everett

Should accept counterintuitive nature of what the maths says. Believe maths not intuition.

Sorry, wrong mixing or cream and coffee is NOT reversible! (Except in theory). There are chemical de-naturing processes involved. But do like the entropic explanations of why? and how? This is the fundamental information model (much alignment with Rovelli?)

Reversible and perfectly (reductively) deterministically predictable only in theory (demon). Consciousness (effectiveness and predictability) is in the ignorance. OK, I’m with him.

So free will is real. No Sam it’s not a matter of chance in the unpredictability – it’s the conscious opportunity in the ignorance!

Free-will choice tests – suicide / listening

Sensible people are compatibilist – inc Dennett – the type of free will worth having – as opposed to free-will simply the name for our argument.

The ethical choices of having been able to do other … the hot stove … narrow vs broad views of science – chestnuts all.

Sam really is a determinist-plus-randomness subscriber. He really didn’t learn anything from Dennett (or Carroll yet).

Recurring use of the free-puppet analogy. (Recently after Gray). Carroll does seem to get Harris “mere-puppet” misunderstanding -level / category errors. (Clue – Laplace’s Demon is imaginary!) “Best” note. Not a question of objectively determined fact at all levels. Sam still questions whether good and bad even mean anything – other than post-hoc rationalised value judgements.

AI (Smartphone) “playing” with you – finishing your sentences – sure, but once it did, it would spook you, and you would game it better. We’re more highly evolved than electronic AI’s.

Time and causation are more fundamentally weird, across levels. Hume is the good guy – and mischievous.

Signing off. The more I hear of Carroll, despite his apparent cosmic-anthropic blind spot, the more he seems to talk sense. Harris continues to sound “chastened” by having had conversations with more experts than himself, but is only very slowly changing his actual world view. An interesting case study – and all credit to Harris for exposing himself to all these shared dialogues.

[Shall be interested to hear Carroll’s take on time. It is the root problem with (simple deterministic) causation as I’ve been saying for decades.]

“100% certain true fact despite large uncertainty at detail level” Ignorance – less information – is a feature, not a problem.


[Post Note: This is from 4 years ago, but I’m not the only one thinking Harris hasn’t learned much yet despite apparent honest efforts.]

3 thoughts on “Sam Harris & Sean Carroll – Raw Notes”

  1. Part way through this and the dismissal of pan psychic properties made it sound no less plausible than the EM field.

    Possibly related to my suspicions about fields generally which I currently point to the limits of my calculus. Also the something from nothing debacle.

  2. Not sure it’s actually worth going the whole way through. My interest here is really “meta” – about how much, and the process of how, Harris is learning (or not).

    Rather than “Pan-Psychism” per se, I tend to think in terms of “pan-proto-psychism” – Carroll says here something about the electron having some small element of consciousness, rather than “being” conscious. That “proto-psychism” is simply “information” – more fundamental than either matter or consciousness. Fields are simply patterns of information. (Carroll is good in an honest scientific way, but his “world-view” is flawed …) You’ll have to elaborate on “limits to my calculus”.

  3. I should add, given the primary “meta” interest in Harris, my real excitement here is in the “Poetic Naturalism”. I’ve bought Carroll’s book on the strength of it, and am also reading “TriviumC21” (21st century trivium) – of what there is to be learned / known – split into 3 ways of knowing – formally / formerly called Grammar, Dialectic & Rhetoric – you’ve maybe seen I’ve posted about Triples / Triads / Trialisms a few times recently.

    TriviumC21 is actually by a UK educator, about UK national curricula and targets, etc … only just started it, but will share with you.

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