Rubber Hands

This is tough to see when some completely accepted bit of science seems to be in error.

Apparently the Rubber Hand Illusion experiment may have been wildly misinterpreted.

In the illusion synchronous brush strokes on a participant’s concealed hand and a visible fake hand can give the impression of illusory sensations of touch and of ownership of the fake hand. The paper has been widely cited and is a sort of foundation on thinking about how people perceive their bodies.

The problem is that the illusion may result from suggestion. What’s more, suggestion may be skewing results in numerous other psychological experiments. Hypnosis, known formally since the 18th century and used by shamans for thousands of years before that, still isn’t understood. Nor is the power of suggestibility and placebos.


Posted in Consciousness | 7 Comments

Does Science Need Metaphysics?

I’m going to say no, but let me explain before any philosophers (armchair or otherwise) jump on my answer.

Metaphysics is philosophy.  Science is, well, science. At one time, these two fields were not far apart. It could be argued that the divide between them didn’t really come until the last few hundred years. In ancient times, knowledge was knowledge. Knowledge might be about different things but there was a sort of seamless blending of knowledge about one thing with knowledge about other things. Aristotle, the father of philosophy  who wrote on almost everything, is sometimes cited as the “last person to know everything”. This was possible not only because the amount of knowledge was more limited but also because the methods and domains of knowledge were not distinct. The same methods used to address problems in philosophy could be used in biology or physics. If one understood the methods, one could apply them to any field.

Metaphysics itself is a branch of philosophy . It “is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality”. Metaphysics works using logic and reasoning to deduct an understanding of the world. In Aristotle’s time, this was the method of philosophy and it was the method of science.

Science in our time, of course, needs to use logic and reasoning too, but it works primarily by measuring relationships in the world and inducing an understanding of the world from the relationships. Let me repeat this again. Science measures and discovers relationships. It creates models to understand the world through induction with the relationships it discovers. The measurements and relationships are not subjective but are shared within a community of other scientists that are theoretically able to make the same measurements and discover the same relationships because common measuring techniques are used.

Where is science on the question of the  “fundamental nature of reality”? Most people without hesitation would say science is materialistic or physicalistic. Many scientists would say they are materialists. For most of them, materialism is the opposite of the supernaturalism, the opposite of believing in things that can’t be measured. Most idealists think modern science is materialistic. Bernardo Kastrup, probably one of the leading idealist of this time, sees the connection.

The popularity of materialism is founded on a confusion: somehow, our culture has come to associate it with science and technology, both of which have been stupendously successful over the past three centuries. But that success isn’t attributable to materialism; it is attributable, instead, to our ability to inquire into, model and then predict nature’s behavior.

Kastrup has this much right. What contemporary science is about isn’t the fundamental nature of reality. It is about measuring and predicting. Calls for a post-materialist science, such the The Manifesto for Post-Materialist Science, or Phillip Goff’s calls for new scientific methods, as in Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, are off the mark. But so is any scientist who think that a materialistic worldview is the only possible scientific worldview.

Science is anti-metaphysical. It doesn’t care about the ultimate nature of what it is observing and measuring. Its models, its particles, forces, and fields, are not models of fundamental reality. They are useful abstractions that provide a common language for discussing relationships and measurements nothing more. They are useful until better ones come along but they are not descriptions of the reality.

Some may object that a sort of anti-metaphysical, pragmatism is a form of metaphysics. Well, perhaps, it is. But, if it is, it is a metaphysics that doesn’t care about the fundamental nature of reality, that maybe considers it a pointless question.

Posted in Consciousness, Philosophy | 37 Comments

COVID-19 Alternatives

Perhaps needless to say, I am not a doctor or a medical professional so do not accept anything I write here as professional medical advice. Use your own judgment and advice of your doctors if you become ill.

Like most people, I am sheltering in place (or whatever your preferred term is for staying away from people) while the virus runs rampant through the United States. I doubt anything the current incompetent administration could have done would have prevented some severe disruption, but it seems to me clear that probably thousands of additional lives will be lost due to the missed opportunities to mobilize an effective response to this disease.

Until a vaccine is produced, I think the odds are good that you and I will get COVID-19 in one or more of waves that probably will pass through the population. If we are lucky, we will be ones with minor symptoms. If we are not, we will become seriously ill. One of the things I’ve been doing is looking at various alternatives for minimizing the effect of the virus.

First, regarding chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. There’s a lot of attention on this drug because Dear Leader touted it at a news conference. So you will certainly hear a lot more about it. For the moment, I have this view:

“Whether hydroxychloroquine works in vivo is not proven for any virus, and in fact in randomised controlled trials against a number of viruses, including influenza, it doesn’t work at all,” says Douglas Richman, a virologist and infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Diego. “It’s my personal prejudice that this is also going to be the case with coronavirus.”

Another promising prescription drug is losartan.  Losartan is an anti-hypertensive drug that has been in use for many years.  There is conflicting information about whether potentially this drug could help or exacerbate the lung damage caused by the disease. The University of Minnesota is currently tied up in red tape trying to get a clinical trial underway.  Chris Tignanelli is leading the clinical trials.

A study Inhibition of Viral Macrodomain of COVID-19 and Human TRPM2 by losartan discusses something that seems like a simulation but suggests: ” The inhibitory effect of losartan on PARP has been shown and it could interfere positively in several points (PARP, PARG- macrodomain and TRPM2) and decreases oxidative stress and apoptosis in COVID-19″.

Another article also discusses losartan and adds a number of supplements which are usually available over the counter. I say “usually” because I’ve noticed a run on vitamins and supplements in some stores since the virus has hit. These supplements include:

  • Vitamin D 
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
  • NAD+ and niacin (+ L tryptophan)

An older review study on the SARS coronavirus finds potentially effective antiviral properties from curcumin: “The authors do present some evidence suggesting that the observed effect was due to binding of these compounds to the spike protein of SARS. In addition, some test phytochemicals mentioned in the paper inhibited SARS 3CL protease activity in enzyme assays”. Curcumin is found in the spice turmeric.

Finally, the jury seems to be out on whether NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, exacerbate lung damage. Some European countries were finding that people with the most severe symptoms had NSAIDs in their systems.


Posted in Human Evolution, Uncategorized | 6 Comments