Sunday, February 28, 2010

Problems of the Soul (Arguments from Physics)

The soul theory’s contradiction with neuroscience isn’t the end to its implausibility; it’s strongly at odds with modern physics as well. While neuroscience may be a more subjective field, physics is certainly not, and here I shall present problems that the soul theory faces according to physics (some of my arguments are directed specifically at ghosts aka wandering souls).

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which is the principle of conservation of energy states that the overall energy within a closed system will remain constant, although it may be converted into other forms. For its energy level to change, it must come into contact with another system. In such a case, the energy level of the system will increase if work is done onto the system, and vice versa. As far as evidence goes, the Universe is a closed system.

Here comes the problem. For the soul to be able to do work in the material world, some of the soul’s energy must be converted into physical energy. Since the soul exists independently of the physical universe, the total energy in the universe will increase when the soul does work, and this must mean that the universe is an open system, which is contradictory to modern science.

Another saying that I’ve heard from my friends is that instead of existing in a separate realm, the soul enters the physical world when one is born (or during fertilization, gastrulation etc.). Somehow, the soul can affect physical entities, but not the other way around. This hypothesis doesn’t make sense, as they’re implying that the energy that makes up the soul is limited, and being unable to receive energy from the physical universe, it will use up its energy quickly and cease to exist.


For us to see something, then that thing must either reflect or emit visible light. Ghosts are supposedly visible in quite some anecdotes, but that’s not possible if we’re to follow the usual definition for ghosts. Let me explain.

First of all, a ghost shouldn’t be able to reflect light. For light to be reflected, it must hit a surface. Since the soul is defined as being made up of only energy, there’s no way it can reflect light, and if I’m not wrong, all forms of light emission require matter as a source of fuel. Thus, for us to see ghosts, they must be made up of matter (at least partially). However, as the soul is supposed to survive physical and material death, such a definition is self-contradicting.


In every single anecdote that my friends gave me, ghosts have the ability to float. This, however, simply contradictory to most widely established model for gravity – general relativity. Unlike previous models, general relativity describes gravity not as a force, but as a curvature of space-time, and everything in this universe is subject to the effects of gravity – matter, light, electromagnetic waves, energies etc.

If the souls exist within the material plane, then it must be subject to the gravity as well, no matter what it’s made of. No matter what universe you’re in, you’re going to subject to it’s time-space constraints. It’s logically contradictory for a ghost to float and not be affected by gravity. If a ghost is to float, then it must exert force against the centre of gravity. Such an act would require massive amounts of energy, and the soul would quickly cease to exist. Unless the 1st law of thermodynamics is violated, of course.

And by the way, if ghosts are free from gravity, they should be hurtling into space.


Here I have put forward a few points showing that the concept of the soul is quite problematic from the viewpoint of modern physics. It’s a wonder that mind-body dualists can still insist that the soul theory is true even when it contradicts one of the most objective fields of science.

Of course, the list is far from complete, and I would be thankful if anyone can come up with even more ideas showing how the soul contradicts physics.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Problems of the Soul (Arguments from Neuroscience)

Drawing from René Descartes' explaining the function of the pineal gland.

The concept of the human soul and life after death is almost universally accepted among the people. One may not accept the existence of gods, deities, or ghosts, but if asked on the validity of souls and spirits, he/she is most likely to answer yes. Yet, to the naturalist, such a concept is very problematic, and being a naturalist myself, I’ll give a few thoughts on why the concept of the soul contradicts neuroscience, and is thus highly implausible.

René Descartes's illustration of dualism. Inputs are passed on by the sensory organs to the epiphysis in the brain and from there to the immaterial spirit.

Neural Development

The soul is eternal, and it controls our body, as mind-body dualists love to claim. Consciousness is retained even after we die, and is passed on to our next body (whether it’s a human, animal, fairy, ghost, demon). But neural development challenges this belief strongly.

Maturing of the Mind

Maturing of the Brain

The mind matures as the brain grows, as shown in this picture where our brain achieves full grey matter volume during our 20s.

As we all know, when humans grow up, our thoughts start to mature, and begins to decline once we reach an old age. To the biologist/naturalist, the explanation for such a phenomena couldn’t be simpler: neural development. As we grow towards the adult stage, our brain starts to increase in complexity and amount of grey matter. Then, as we start ageing, our brain begins deteriorating, through a multitude of factors including DNA damage and free radicals damage.

A dualist, however, will find this problematic. If the soul retains our consciousness and thoughts after we die, then one should be reborn with similar thoughts from the previous life. But that’s certainly not the case, as we’re born with almost nothing in our memory, and we don’t act maturely at all until we’re older.

The Beginning of Consciousness

Comparative Embryology

I put forward a simple question to all mind-body dualists: In which stage does the soul enter the body?

Theistic evolutionists face a very problematic question: When did God decide to insert the soul into the human body in the passage of evolution? During the point where Australopithecus lived? Homo hablis? Homo erectus? Homo sapiens? Theistic evolutionists have a hard time agreeing on the exact point. The same problem is there for mind-body dualists. When does the soul enter the body? During the moment of conception? Gastrulation? When we become an embryo? Perhaps the moment of birth? Dualists will have a hard time agreeing on this. While this isn’t a rebuttal to the soul theory, it does present a problem in the soul theory.

The Nervous System

It’s widely accepted to any student of science that our senses are controlled by our nervous system, which sends information to our brain through electrical charges, and our brain will respond accordingly. Such a model doesn’t fit well with the soul theory.

Our Senses

The 5 Traditional Senses

Here’s the 5 traditional senses. Obviously, all of them stop working once the specific nerves get damaged.

If the soul is to retain full consciousness in the material world after death, then it must be independent of our nervous system. The soul must be able to receive information from the material world through another method, if it’s to work as dualists claim. Such is not the case. When a person’s optical nerves get damaged, he/she loses his sight; when his/her auditory nerves stop functioning, he/she becomes deaf etc. It’s very clear that our interaction with the environment is reliant on the nervous system. So either the soul loses all connection with material world once we die, or the soul somehow regains full consciousness the moment we pass away. The first hypothesis requires a radical change in the soul theory; the second hypothesis is simply laughable.

Brain Damage

Brain Damage Demotivational

If the soul is responsible for our consciousness, then why does patients with brain damage suffer from reduced mental abilities?  In fact, neuroscientists are capable of predicting damage in which part of the brain will cause what kind of mental deterioration. The fact that mental abilities are subject to the state of the brain is at odds with common dualist anecdotes which claim that the soul can leave the body, or that the soul can keep on having thoughts in the material world after death.


In this post, I have raised a number of problems that challenge the soul theory greatly. The phenomena above points strongly to the view that the mind and consciousness is the product of the brain, not the soul. Before any dualist manages to explain away those problems, I’m a naturalist. But I’ve only pointed the problems from the neuroscientist’s view. In my next post, I’ll point out why the soul is completely implausible from a physics point of view.

PS: If my anyone finds any logical or philosophical errors in my opinions, please tell me. :-)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year and Darwin’s Day!!

Happy Darwin Day! (February 12)

Charles Darwin's Anniversary

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin! Your work on the origin of species was, and always will be crucial to the understanding and the appreciation of biology!

And let this day serve as a reminder that the creationist/ID movement to undermine science education is far from over, and we must keep on promoting the Theory of Evolution, and debunk those silly creationist/ID explanations!

Happy Chinese New Year! (February 14-29)

Happy Chinese New Year 2010!

What a coincidence! The Year of the Tiger will officially start on February 14, which is Valentine’s Day! How would Chinese couples deal with this? After all, they should be with their family on the first day of the Lunar Year, but then, it’s Valentine! Just a small rant.

But anyway, I wish all of you a Happy Tiger Year! And if you would, wear red tomorrow for a prosperous year!*

*This is just Chinese culture/superstition. Don’t take it seriously.

PS: Going to a Trip for a While

I’ll be on a trip to China for a couple of days so I won’t be updating my blog for a while. (China blocks Blogger, and don’t have the time to write posts anyway). I’ll get my blog updated once I come home, and perhaps I’ll write about Chinese folk religion. :-)

Sceptical Towards Pseudoscience – Diamond Water Quackery

Diamond Company Logo

It's about time to debunk this company's unfounded and misleading claims.

Don’t you just hate it when some guy comes to you and say: “Hey, we’ve got this new product that can enhance your bio-field and energy vibrations! It has been proven by Japanese/US scientists and passes the Federal standards!” Don’t you? Yet, while sceptics will simply laugh off these pseudoscientific products, many people are unfortunately scammed. This time, I will deal with the great energised water scams so prevalent across the globe, and here’s the leader in Malaysia/Hong Kong – Diamond Energy Water. Let’s look at Diamond's claims.

Smaller Water Clusters for Better Absorption by Cells?!

So after 30 years of research from Japanese scientists (one must wonder where did the funding come from, and how no one knew of it beforehand), they developed the Energy Conversion technology that breaks water clusters into smaller clusters for easier absorption by body cells, which in turn improves our body’s metabolism and absorption of nutrients and allows for more dissolved oxygen. Sounds quite familiar, eh? Time to debunk the pseudoscience.

What Water Clusters Really Mean

In true chemistry, water clusters are defined as a hydrogen-bonded cluster of molecules of water. Let me explain what’s a hydrogen bond.

Hydrogen Bonds

A hydrogen bond is a type of electrostatic interaction between electronegative atoms (fluorine, nitrogen, or oxygen) within a molecule and hydrogen atoms bound to another electronegative molecule. The bond can occur between molecules (intermolecular), or they can occur within the same molecule (intramolecular). Hydrogen bonds are only about 1/10 as strong as normal covalent bonds.

A water molecule can be bonded to 4 other molecules at one time. This is because its 2 hydrogen atoms can be bonded to 2 other oxygen atoms, while its oxygen atom can accept up to 2 hydrogen bonds. As a water molecule can bond with the most number of other water molecules at the same time when compared to similar chemicals, it has a relatively high boiling point, melting point and viscosity.

Water Cluster

Here's what I mean: A water molecule with its hydrogen atoms bonded to 2 other oxygen molecules and its oxygen molecule being bonded by 2 other hydrogen molecules.

Waters Clusters Don't Work the Way Diamond Water Implies

Let’s assume that the Energy Conversion technology actually works, and it’s perfectly capable of breaking waters clusters down to the smallest possible cluster (that’s a water dimer, which consists of 2 hydrogen-bonded water molecules). But for the technology to really work, the water cluster’s structure must remain unchanged from the moment it passes through the filter to the time it’s absorbed by our cells. That’ll take minutes, at the very least.

So here’s the fact: that isn’t possible. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Science (that should be a reliable source), water

“… imposes a high degree of structure and current models supported by X-ray scattering studies have short-range ordered regions, which are constantly disintegrating and reforming.”

And, according to these peer-reviewed scientific reports in the “Read More” section below, the lifespan of hydrogen bonds are counted on the scale of picoseconds, or 10-9 seconds. You read that correctly, those who are interested in buying energised water of any sort. The structure of the water clusters would’ve changed innumerable times before you can even flinch.

But that’s not the end to Diamond’s claims. They say that they have a far-infrared technology that stabilizes energy within the water to allow the structure to be maintained for a longer period. This claim is without scientific evidence, and it’s not sure what they actually mean by “stabilizing energy”. But even assuming that water clusters can actually be stabilized, can it still maintain its structure during the move from the 4th filter to the 5th filter? Since we’re talking about change within picoseconds here, it’s a no.


I’ve made it pretty clear that Diamond’s so-called energy water are full of pseudoscientific bunk. Moreover, Diamond’s act of making false claims about their products is simply unethical, and isn’t justified by the law. Yet, the public is still misinformed on their claims, and it’s still the most famous water filtering company in Malaysia (and perhaps Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan). So if you have any Malaysian friends, inform them of this!

PS: Because of time constraints, I decided not to write on cell hydration in this post, but I’ll address it later. :-)

Read More

Unified description of temperature-dependent hydrogen-bond rearrangements in liquid water

PMR study of the lifetime of complexes with a strong hydrogen bond at low temperatures.

Hydrogen-bond lifetime measured by time-resolved 2D-IR spectroscopy: N-methylacetamide in methanol

Ultrafast Dynamics in Na-doped water Clusters

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Atheistic Stand (by Warren)

Following the previous “Declare Thyself” post on Sabio’s blog, Triangulations, Sabio has put up another self-review table: Atheist: declare thyself! So once again, let me define my stand in detail, this time on my atheistic views.

Level of Certainty Moderate & Agnostic (maintains that all god(s) are too statistically and scientifically improbable to exist, but doesn’t claim to know)
Level of Affirmation Strong
Stance toward Religion Categorically Against Dogmatic Religions, Sympathetic towards Progressive Religions
Openness Open, but cautious
Degree of Action Affirm only (Public), Debater (Friends), Activist (Blogosphere)
Religious Participation Occasional
Degree of Enchantment Neutral
Mystical Inclination Non-Mystical (such things just never happens to me!)
Belief History Former Believer (only on paper, actually)
Sect History Buddhism (the corrupted, superstitious version)
Theory of Religion Religion was created through stories of ancient guys, which were then passed on as memes, warped, then turned into organized religion like a successful meme, or may have been used for political reasons.
Non-theistic Leanings I am supportive of Buddhism teachings, and I do think I should try upholding more (I don’t accept Buddhism as a religion, though - Why I am Not a Buddhist).

Degree of  Secular
Superstitious Thinking

I do have some superstitions – I’m scared of ghosts (which reason tells me can’t exist); and I frequently think of reincarnation as fact before slamming myself back to reality etc.
View of Reason Emotive-Rationalist, as man is still bound to emotion, and complete rationalism is impossible.
Faith Items I believe that claims without evidence are false by default, but I don’t have empirical evidence to support my view.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Answering Creationist Claims – Morality in Evolution

A common claim of creationists would be that evolution promotes immorality. Such claims can arise from nothing less than ignorance, and here I shall explain why evolution does promote morality and altruism, instead of challenging it.

Scientific Theories are Descriptive

Science is a method to understand the world around us, and it does so through the scientific method, which is tried-and-true. Now, as science observes and make conclusions, that means it is descriptive – it simply tries to give us a better understanding of the world. To blame immorality on scientific theories is simply absurd, as science is not an instruction manual - it is up to us to determine what actions should we take.

This is very unlike religion, which explicitly and repeatedly requests that we follow its teachings, making it instructive. Moreover, it does so through blind faith, not through reason and evidence.

Social Darwinism – Natural Selection Misunderstood

Creationists also frequently claim that the teachings of natural selection leads to Social Darwinism, which is political ideology in which only the “fittest” survive, and the weak are left to die, and Adolf Hitler implemented this system. His rationale was that based on the misunderstanding that natural selection meant “survival of the fittest”, and the Catholics are superior to Jews, thus Jews must be exterminated. Creationists frequently refer to his actions as evidence that evolution leads to immorality.

Yet, this is not the case. Natural selection doesn’t necessarily means that a particular individual must kill as many other organisms as possible; nor does it mean that an individual must be vastly superior to other individuals to survive. It simply means that the phenotypes that are better adapted to the habitat would have a greater chance of reproducing and passing on their genes (or more specifically, alleles). The phenotypes do not need to be competing with each other to survive – they can be helping each other directly or indirectly, increasing both individual’s fitness. Such interaction between 2 different species is known as mutualism (between sea anemone and hermit crabs, bees and flowers, ungulates and digestive bacteria etc); within the same species, it is known as co-operation (ants, bees, and of course, Homo sapiens).

Altruism – An Evolutionary Explanation

We have already mentioned that natural selection doesn’t need to be competitive, but also collaborative. However, how does evolution explain the appearance of morality and altruism? There’re many possible mechanisms suggested, some of them may be right, some of them may be wrong – it is even possible that all are true. Let’s take a look at the proposed mechanisms. But before that, let me note that the problem of morality is much greater for creationism than evolution. After all, as stated in Plato’s Euthyphro:

Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? – the Euthyphro dilemma

or in modern-day words:

Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?

Answer that, theists.

Kin Selection

Kin selection refers to the theory that organisms may display caring towards their relatives, thus increasing their relatives reproductive fitness but at a cost of their own fitness. If viewed from a purely competitive and individualistic perspective, natural selection would’ve got rid of individuals that exhibit such behaviour, and thus genes that promote such behaviour would rarely (if ever) reach fixation. However, such behaviour is found in many organisms, the most famous example be the infertile worker ants and bees, who are unable to reproduce and yet decide the fate of the entire hive.

Hamilton's Rule

Altruism with have superior to a particular genes survival when Hamilton’s rule as put forward by W.D. Hamilton is met:

rB > C

where r = coefficient of relatedness between the individuals, B = the benefits in fitness received by the recipient, and C = the cost in fitness imposed on the actor.

The value of r can be calculated pretty easily. In a diploid organism, an offspring gets exactly half of its genes from one its parents. Thus their relatedness is 0.5. For the cousin and grand offspring, they get 1/4 of their genes from one their last common parent, and thus their relatedness with that parent is 0.25. Based on this equation, we know that r=n5.

Hamilton proposed 2 ways in which altruism would be favoured. The first is when kin recognition is high enough, which means that an organism favours those that are more genetically similar to it. However, as organisms are most certainly unable to measure the genetic relatedness of a relative, kin recognition only occurs if the particular genes can have externally visible phenotypical effects. This is known as the “Green-beard effect”, and it serves as a valid explanation for the evolution of morality.

Kin selection can also happen even if kin recognition is not present in viscous populations – a population in which the movement of organisms from their birthplace is relatively slow. In viscous populations, individuals will frequently breed with close genealogical relatives, and thus Hamilton’s rule can be met. This doesn’t explain altruism, though.


Reciprocal altruism refers to the behaviour that an individual would help another individual in the hope of mutual interaction with the recipient in the future. In social terms, it’s: “I helped you, and thus I expect you to help me back.”. This is a very possible explanation for the evolution of morality (and revenge), as this behaviour is see in cleaner fish, vampire bats (possibly), chimps, orang-utans, and of course, human society. It’s also used to explain why humans help strangers, which are hard to explain using kin selection.

Direct Reciprocity

Robert Trivers presented direct reciprocity as a model for the evolution of cooperation. This form of reciprocity requires that the 2 individuals meet again, recognize each other, and remember their last encounter to predict what would happen in the future. Direct reciprocity is highly similar to the Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD). In this dilemma, there are 2 individuals. If both cooperate (C), both will gain rewards (R); while if both defect (D), both will get penalties (P). However, if one individual cooperates while the other defects, the co-operator will be penalized, while the defector will be rewarded handsomely.

Direct reciprocity can only promote altruism if:

w > c / b

where w = the probability of another encounter between the same two individuals, c = cost, b  = benefit. Thus, it is required that the probability of another encounter between the same two individuals exceeds the cost-to-benefit ratio of the act.

Indirect Reciprocity

Indirect reciprocity doesn’t require repeated encounter between the same individuals. In indirect reciprocity, one individual is the donor while the other is the recipient. The donor can decide whether to cooperate and help the recipient.

Indirect reciprocity has 2 models:

The "Upstream" Model

The “upstream” model states that when the donor helps the recipient, the recipient will be motivated to help another individual, perhaps because he/she got a positive feeling about it. This may create a domino effect which spreads through the community. While this model is harder to understand in detail, it has been observed in economic experiments.

The "Downstream" Model

This model is based on reputation. If an the donor helps the recipient (and someone knows of it), his/her reputation will be enhanced. Such a system is all too common within human society, and studies have shown that an individual of good reputation is more likely to be helped by others in the animal kingdom as well.

Indirect reciprocity can only promote altruism if:

q > c / b

where q = probability of knowing someone’s reputation, c = cost, b = benefit. In other words, it only works when the probability of knowing someone’s reputation exceeds the cost-to-benefit ration exceeds those of the altruistic act.


Diagram (a) shows direct reciprocity, in which A helps B, and B helps A, or they may defect. Diagram (b) shows the “upstream” model, which is based on motivation; and the "downstream" model, which focuses on reputation.

Sexual Selection

In many animal societies, the female are responsible for taking care of their children. This is very detrimental to the survival of the mother – it requires time, energy, and resources. Now, if both parents are responsible for caring the children, the load would be ultimately be decreased for the mother. However, that doesn’t work if the father (biological or not) doesn’t even think of the children, much less care for them. Thus, it is proposed that females may have preferred loyal, caring partners over individualistic partners, and thus the “moral” gene is the one had a great probability of being inherited.


In this post, I not only debunked the creationist’s claim that evolution leads to immorality, but also gave an explanation on how evolution is perfectly able to explain altruism as well. I’ll wait for creationists to refute what I just said.

As a side note, though, all the explanations above have one thing in common: they all imply that altruism succeeds because of selfishness. Kin selection is not “true” morality, one only helps those that are closely related genetically, and that doesn’t fit with how our society thinks morality should be.

As for reciprocity, it happens because the individual expects something in return. In direct reciprocity and perhaps the “upstream” model of indirect reciprocity, you help someone because you want to get help from them in the future. Hell, they’ve got this Chinese saying that “Good deeds shall be rewarded in return”, and I simply hate it when charities used this saying to urge us to donate – that’s actually an act of selfishness.

In the “downstream” model of direct reciprocity, you help someone, and you get reputation for it. Who doesn’t want it? Some may protest that this is caused by the willingness of the spectator – the donor didn’t explicitly want better reputation. I doubt that. I’ve seen a lot of cases (including mine) when an individual helps someone because he thinks that’s politically correct, because people may look down upon him if he/she doesn’t lend a helping hand, because by doing he feels “good” etc. Self-centeredness under the guise of helpful acts, that’s what we all (or at least me) see in most cases.

However, despite my cynical view of morality, I don’t think that it should be removed from society or ignored altogether. At least, it still maintains harmony and peace much better than a purely competitive mindset.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dogma Exposed – Christians Attempt to Smuggle 33 Haitian Children Across Border

First of all, let me apologize for the lack of updates for almost a week. I’ve been hit by a massive surge in schoolwork, and I simply couldn’t find the time to care about my blog. I shall try my best to keep War for Science updated, however.

So what’s the “great” news for this week? See below.

Ten members of a US Christian group may face charges of kidnapping minors and child-trafficking after trying to smuggle a group of children out of quake-hit Haiti, officials said Monday.

Amid growing concern over the safety of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women and children left destitute after the January 12 quake, the case could also go to trial in the US courts.

Mazar Fortil, interim prosecutor for the main Port-au-Prince court, told AFP the group may also face a lesser charge of criminal conspiracy.

But asked about earlier comments whether the group will be transferred to face charges in the United States, Fortil said it was "too early to tell."

The five men and five women with US passports, as well as two Haitians, were seized late Friday as they tried to cross into the neighbouring Dominican Republic in a bus with 33 children aged between two months and 14 years.

They have defended their actions saying they were only trying to do what was right in the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude quake, but the arrests have again thrown the spotlight on the Caribbean nation's impoverished people.

“For us it is important to clarify how those kids have been given to those people,” Georg Willeit, a spokesman for SOS Children Village where the youngsters are being cared for, told AFP Monday.

“One of the girl, 10 years old, said that her mother went to the bus to say good bye, so we have to clarify the whole situation.”......


These guys were from Idaho, and guess what, they allegedly tried to send these children to an hotel waiting to be converted in an orphanage without the required paperwork. One must wonder, did they really go to Haiti to help those earthquake victims? Or did they go to spread the word of the Bible and brainwash the victims into accepting Christianity?

The group’s spokesperson claimed that what they were doing were entirely right, but where are the legal papers? Why, according to a Malaysian newspaper, were the parents oblivious to what they were actually doing? And why, if that action was legal, were they arrested? Either they were simply too careless, or they may had other plans for the children. I won’t jump to conclusions here, but it is certainly possible that this is another example of the Christian Taliban in action. And they say that atheists eat babies.