BruceS’s link to a series of discussions with the leading atheists of our day, about emergence, reductionism, and mostly just about how to make naturalism sound believable to the gathered masses the atheist preachers exist to proselytize to, is a rather entertaining bit of folly to indulge in. Its the end result of what you get when you band together the most well known atheists, each who consider themselves to be solely the smartest person in the world (due wholly to the history of their lucky accidental mutations which have no meaning, they will remind you over and over) and get them all to agree that they believe the same thing, and then listen as they all try to figure out what it is they believe. Madcap slapstick ensues.
So what you get is Jerry Coyne musing about quantum mechanics, Sean Carroll musing about biology, Terrence Deacon musing about end directedness and reductionism, Danniel Dennet wondering why ontological questions are interesting, Alex Rosenberg reminding everyone that we are all atheist right?, and Simon DeDeo telling everyone something that no one is sure why he is telling them. And Richard Dawkins wondering what time lunch is.
But one particular point, that they often brought up and caught my fancy, was the reference to the fictitious Laplaces Demon (at least we think its fictitious). The idea being that if someone could know the state and location of every atom on earth, we can know all events, both past present and future-for isn’t it certain that all of life is really just atoms, and the illusion that its something else (Yes, yes, the conference attendees all nod their heads, we all agree that’s all the world is. Emergence is just an illusion, because we aren’t the Demon, and we can’t know all the atoms..but if we could…life’s puzzle would be solved. Nod, nod!)
So a question comes to my mind. If they all believe, that if the demon could know the location of every atom, then there is nothing we couldn’t know, because ultimately that is all the world is. That is all you are, just your atoms. And if the demon knows the position of everyone one of your atoms, as well as the environment of atoms you exist in, nothing is a mystery. So let’s suppose if that was the case, does this mean, if another demon came along, who had the power to remove just one atom from the universe, and that Demon decided he would remove one of YOUR atoms, or one of Sean Carroll’s atoms and make it go puff, disappear, would Sean Carroll no longer be Sean Carroll? If they removed one of your atoms, would you no longer be you?
What if the demon removed two of your atoms? Or six? When would you no longer be you? How many atoms would it take? How many skins cell gone, until you are no longer you, and the demon must recalculate his entire predictions for the universe? Because if this is really what the confederacy of atheists really believe, then of course they believe that one less atom, makes you less you. The only question becomes, how much less, until you are not you?
How many atoms does it take to make Sean Carroll? I think this would have been a much more interesting question, then Alex Rosenberg and Terrence Deacon asking everyone if they agree we are all atheists. But then again, I don’t think they really wanted to answer questions.
Would BruceS be any less interested in the fundamental questions of life, if he were one less atom?