That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 093 - The Great Divorce between Philosophy and Science

Episode 093 - The Great Divorce between Philosophy and Science

January 27, 2020

Bill and Paul are both losing their minds with stress this week, so we're glad to just get the episode out. It takes in a bit of philosophy and Paul manages to use some illustrative points from the history of geometry and geology if that's your thing.

I didn't get her credited in the outro, but Morgan Burkart produced the audio for this episode. Like her style? Let us know in a review and look her up at Ball State University.

Episode 087 - Fr. Robert Spitzer and Intellectual Culture (rerun)

Episode 087 - Fr. Robert Spitzer and Intellectual Culture (rerun)

November 25, 2019

Unfortunately, this week Paul got deathly ill and that prevented us from recording the promised "end of the world" episode. Here instead is a re-edited version of Bill's interview with Fr. Robert Spitzer from August 2018 (originally run as Episode 20). One of our earliest interviews and still, amid all the great guests who have given time to this little podcast, one of the best.

Episode 066 - Maureen Condic, part II

Episode 066 - Maureen Condic, part II

July 1, 2019
  1. Our discussion of totipotent, pluripotent, and plenipotent stem cells helped to clarify a complex subject of great importance to many people, such as those who suffer from diseases awaiting therapies capturing the power of these cells. Dr. Maureen Condic, as a pioneer in this field, contributed insights in 2013 by developing the concept of plenipotent cells. See her journal article.
  2. Our discussion also led to a sense of wonderment about the ability of cells to follow such complex paths of development, starting with the organism created when sperm and egg combine. The product and the process can easily be dismissed as a simple mass of cells, or one can recall Psalm 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” In this episode, we discussed how it seems viscerally sad that the amazement, which is itself so full of potential, can be lost in everyday discussions of human life.
  3. Related to this, Dr. Condic pointed out that there is an unfortunate lack of philosophical education among many scientists. Here is a blog post from Scientific American discussing synergies between science and philosophy—synergies which are at the core of this podcast’s mission.
  4. We discussed the relevance of the philosophical concepts of form and substance. Here’s a web page explaining those concepts.
  5. This book, written by Dr. Condic and her brother sounds like it is a rare and valuable synthesis of philosophical and biological insights about life: Human Embryos, Human Beings. She noted in our episode that such an extended, on-point synthesis is rare for various reasons, including the need to clarify vocabulary used on both sides of the dialogue, avoiding the risk that we will talk past each other.
  6. She has written another book, this one examining the biological and philosophical issues around human twinning, Untangling Twinning. It is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2019. For now, a computer search using this title yielded, as one of the first finds, a copy of a news release written by TSSM podcast co-host Bill Schmitt and posted at classicaltheism.com.
Episode 054 - TSSM Season 2

Episode 054 - TSSM Season 2

April 8, 2019

In this episode we roll out a new format for Season 2.

We recap Season 1 (April 2018 - March 2019) and the three focus areas of the podcast so far:

  • Discussion of the fundamentals of the question whether it's reasonable to believe in both science and the Catholic Christian faith, and some exploration of particular topics, like the role of geology in the interpretation of the book of Genesis.
  • Review and comments on the speakers at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2018.
  • Interviews with scientists and scholars living out their Christian faith, many of whom are actively trying to spread the truth that the presumed conflict between science and religion is false, born from shoddy understandings, strawman arguments, and reactions against hypocrisy. Three of these people (Patricia Bellm, Chris Baglow, and Jay Martin) do this work at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

We then go on to discuss our plans for coming episodes, turning to topics of religion, spirituality, and psychology (including topics like child development and addiction) where the intersection of faith and science allows us to build new solutions or give tremendous new life to old solutions to the problems of human life.

Episode 050 - Craig Lent: decoherence, entropy, and faith

Episode 050 - Craig Lent: decoherence, entropy, and faith

March 11, 2019

0:00 - Three issues: entropy, decoherence, Schrodinger vs. Dirac equations

2:30 - Schrodinger uses a non-relativistic Hamiltonian, with a p^2/2m kinetic energy

3:00 - Dirac equation absorbs special relativity by shifting from scalar to spinor field

4:00 - Quantum field theory as a further extension, accommodating fields that include many particles

5:00 - Field Lagrangian and all the particles and interactions in the Standard Model

6:00 - Even "everyday" gravity is in some sense accommodatable in the theory, just not extreme gravity capable of "separating out the vacuum"

8:00 - Decoherence, not to be confused with the measurement problem

9:00 - Decoherence arising from the interaction of a simple system with other systems

10:00 - Reduced density matrix begins to look classical

11:00 - Zurek and the work on decoherence: states that are "chosen" to survive interaction with the environment

11:30 - Measurement problem not solved by this work

12:30 - Entropy: the proposal that entropy is most fundamentally lack of information

progress from the special case of thermodynamic entropy, to statistical mechanics,

to von Neumann's quantum definition, to Shannon's information theory

21:00 - Craig's career: why is an engineer so interested in the fundamentals of physics?

24:00 - Journey of faith

30:30 - People of Praise in Indianapolis

31:20 - Final thoughts

Episode 049 - Craig Lent: physics and humanity

Episode 049 - Craig Lent: physics and humanity

March 4, 2019

0:00 - Introduction

1:00 - The power of physicalism/reductionism: a tremendously powerful method

2:00 - Course on physicalism and Catholicism; Sean Carroll's least hysterical "poetic naturalism"

3:00 - The lack of evidence for "emergence" in the sense of "downward causation"

3:30 - Soft and hard emergence

10:15 - Materialism vs. physicalism and reductionism: philosophical materialism

13:00 - Are human beings exhausted by this account of reality?

14:00 - The break with the mechanical universe of 19th century physics underappreciated

15:00 - Laplace's demon

16:30 - Thermodynamics

17:30 - Future not contained in the present

19:00 - Einstein & hidden variables

20:00 - Bell inequality experiments

24:00 - Entanglement

26:00 - Human experience: both, as physical, but also as having choices

27:00 - Quantum physics on many body systems

28:00 - The hard problem of consciousness

29:00 - The explanatory gap

31:00 - The tendency to explain the brain as "just like" some recent piece of technology

33:00 - Complexity of neurons, the continuing relevance of physical laws amid the complexity

35:00 - Continuing relevance of quantum effects at the level of neurotransmitter molecules, etc.

36:00 - Quantum effects in weather and rock mechanics

Episode 041 - TSSM in 2019

Episode 041 - TSSM in 2019

January 7, 2019

Themes we'd like to grapple with in the Year of Our Lord, 2019, and beyond:

 

Last year was largely about the intellectual challenge leveled by many against religion, and we will continue talking about that as the podcast moves forward.

Paul's mission this year to work through Road to Reality

This year we also want to broaden the scope to include places where religion and faith converge, which means we're going to discuss psychology.

Looking forward to the SCS conference topic for this coming year: what it is, and has been, to be human. Neuroscience and what it implies for anthropology, and where it meets Catholic Christian anthropology coming the other way.

What is consciousness, anyway? What parts of the brain seem to be involved, and what do they do?

What is free will, anyway? Where are those breakpoints where the soul would have to affect the body in order for that to even work?

Crisis points in the way people in the post-Christian West approach the world.

Center for Ethics & Culture annual conference in 2018: Wilfred McClay & John Waters

"we care about everything, but without God... we have responsibility for everything, but we know that we are flawed and unable to provide solutions"

Post-Christian in this context includes both people who have explicitly renounced the Christian faith of the West and those who have a Christian identity in their back pocket somewhere but in reality are not relying on Jesus Christ or his teachings to guide their lives in any conscious way.

Christianity is a demanding religion. If you suck away all the grace and help it promises, but leave some of its demands for social justice or purity of intention, you have a recipe for constant internal condemnation.

 

Link:

CEC video

Wilfred McClay (University of Oklahoma) on “Guilt in the Immanent Frame”, and John Waters on “The Importance of Not Being God: A Higher Power Is Indispensable for Human Beings and Human Societies”

 

No, not THAT John Waters.

Episode 034 - Stephen Barr on Why to Be a Religious (and Catholic) Scientist

Episode 034 - Stephen Barr on Why to Be a Religious (and Catholic) Scientist

November 19, 2018

~0:00 Question: advice for students
1:00 Don't be afraid to be a religious scientist
2:00 Particular issues
3:00 Keep awake to the wonder of the world
4:00 Bill: ignorance of the common man about both science and religion
5:00 Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
6:00 Christopher Baglow: science and faith textbook
7:00 Church beginning (at long last?) to address the need to catechize & educate about this
Phone ringing can't be excised without gutting Bill's question!
8:00 Media's portrayal of religion as boring and science as exciting
9:00 Science explores the world as it is, but there must be issues beyond: "why" issues
10:00 Intellectual freedom necessary for science to make any sense
11:00 No reason for Catholics to fear science uncovering fatal problems for faith
12:00 20th century overturn of 19th century mechanistic, unfree universe
13:00 Advent of the big bang theory, verification through microwave radiation
14:00 Bill: "free will on steroids" in uneasy coexistence with materialism
15:00 Barr: inherent conflict there
16:00 Pernicious recurring feature of intellectual history: excuses not to be free
17:00 Bill: does faith make one a better scientist?
18:00 Wonder: "ears to hear and eyes to see"
19:00 Summation: join Society of Catholic Scientists!
20:00 Sign off

Episode 033 - Stephen Barr on Lemaitre-Hubble Law and the Society of Catholic Scientists

Episode 033 - Stephen Barr on Lemaitre-Hubble Law and the Society of Catholic Scientists

November 12, 2018

Minute Comment

0:00 Paul introduces

1:00 Bill: Lemaitre announcement

2:00 Lemaitre: faith & science not opposed

3:00 Barr: Lemaitre announcement

4:00 Ignorance of Lemaitre

5:00 Ignorance of the Christian, Catholic origin of science & famous Catholic scientists

6:00 Barr: late 19th century critical period for the forging of the myth of Church as anti-science

7:00 Science only professionalized in the late 19th century, looking for influence

8:00 More famous Catholic scientists

9:00 Mission of the Society of Catholic Scientists; religious people looking askance at scientists, 10:00 Scientists timid about showing their faith in the presence of a few loud atheists

11:00 Catholic scientists joining SCS & finding others like themselves

12:00 Witness to the world

13:00 Conferences, past and future: next June at Notre Dame

14:00 2017: origin of universe, life; 2018: mind and matter

15:00 2019 conference: what is it (and has it been) to be human; speakers from outside the faith

16:00 Past non-Catholic conference speakers

17:00 Peter Koellner's talk at 2018 conference

18:00 Koellner and Godel's theorem

19:00 Neaderthals, language, reason

20:00 Godel's beliefs about mind and mathematical truths

21:00 Mathematical truth and religious truth

22:00 Depth & sophistication of the law that governs the universe

 

Episode 019 - Conclusion: SCS Conference

Episode 019 - Conclusion: SCS Conference

August 6, 2018

We pick up from last week's episode with the next speaker. Kara Lamb followed Andrew Sicree; her research is about the atmosphere and climate. She mostly talked about climate, and got a ways into specifics about her research on black carbon soot in the atmosphere. She did stop to draw a parallel between Laudato Si and Pacem in Terris, that in both cases the Popes stopped to address humanity at large and not just the Church.

Juan Martin Maldacena was after her, and was presented the St. Albert Award. You don't schedule Juan Maldacena and not have him talk about his own physics research; he is famous for research on workable forms of string theory in anti-de Sitter space and some results on the shape and nature of black holes. His talk was very technical and rather hard to summarize, but an intriguing aspect of it was the recurring notion that black hole singularities and the original singularity of the Big Bang might have a lot in common.

Sunday morning after Mass Michael Dennin led off with a talk structured around a book called "The Big Picture" by somebody I think I've heard of but don't know why named Sean Carroll. In this book Carroll apparently divides reality into "poetic naturalism", where "poetic" means "stories we tell ourselves about large complicated objects" and "naturalism" means "quantum physics, which is actually reality". Dennin made four points:

  1. Emergence. Reality does not appear to be just quantum physics (or, I would elaborate, not even just a unified theory that somehow gets gravity and relativity united with quantum physics). There are really new laws that emerge as you go to larger, composite, varied objects...the laws of thermodynamics, entropy in particular, are an example.
  2. Physical reality. It's a little much to talk about "reality" so cavlierly; it ignores basically metric tons of philosophical questions people have spent centuries debating. Is physical reality basically sense data? Is it the particles we theorize to be out there to explain, ultimately, our sense data in the context of the experiments we do and the natural objects we observe? Isn't there nonphysical reality: mathematics, wavefunctions (they can't be completely physical), conscious reality / qualia? How can we be sure there aren't nonphysical "forces" acting on physical objects? In some way, don't they have to? (mathematics and logic in some way constrain reality, that's a rumination of mine while writing this)
  3. Free will...the Comptonesque observation that quantum physics leave room for this nonphysical soul or mind to affect the physical body
  4. MIracles. Dennin actually led off the talk with an exercise, asking us to define miracles, and then he went on a fairly vigorous campaign against the idea that miracles ever incorporate the violation of physical law, or at least that they require it, that that should be in the definition. I noted "Contrasting focus on God's will/purpose..." but I cannot really reconstruct what he seemed to be driving at.

Craig Lent, a professor at Notre Dame, went next and gave an interesting talk that interfaced with others. He actually seemed to conflict with Barr in that he commented early on that the "state vector," which had be be the wavefunction since it had the same Greek letter psi for its symbol, contained all the information possible to have about a system and not just one observer's (the concept Barr used). He also addresses the measurement problem, but my note broke off mid-sentence. He went on to summarize the content of Scarani's talk, that Bell inequality experiments all show that the universe is not deterministic. He then addresses the claim that while atom-scale particles show quantum indeterminism, larger stuff does not, and nerves are enough larger that the human brain must be deterministic. That's probably not true; even 10,000 atomic mass unit molecules like neural transmitters show quantum behavior in experiments. We are left again with the Arthur Compton point that while obviously physics constrains us, our brains are not deterministic machines; if our souls are not affecting them, then at the very least some of their functionality is random.

The final talk was by (Padre) Javier Sanchez-Canizares on "Mind, Decoherence, and the Copenhagen Interpretation." This again comments on many of the topics in previous talks. Unfortunately the talk seemed to paw about problems already discussed without coming to any new realizations. I cannot tell from my notes whether I learned anything about decoherence, which I was really hoping to do; I think I had to look it up afterward, and even then the answers I've found so far are not satisfying. He asked the "Wigner's friend" question that Barr mentioned about the "cut" between the observer and the system in a quantum physics observation. He also made some intriguing comments on the nature of classical physics: if quantum physics is reality, why is it so hard to get rid of classical physics terminology? We still describe things that way. A recent physicist, Zurek, comments that classical physics entities somehow embody a "survival of the fittest" (the sort of comment I start questioning for influence of the divine name of evolution). Heisenberg apparently said that classical physics terms are just unavoidably part of how humans interact with the world.