Saccades and Smooth Pursuits (Fodder for Your Next Dinner Party)

Every now and then, I like to write about “sciency stuff” that I find particularly cool. These tend to be some of my more labor-intensive posts, so the day may come when I give up on them altogether.

This day we’ll be delving into the neuroscience of eye movements. There are basically two different “types” of voluntary eye movement, so I’ll start with the definitions:

Saccades: rapid, intermittent movements as the eye fixes on different points in the visual field (watch video)

Smooth Pursuits: tracking of a moving object at a steady, coordinated velocity (watch video)

So this is where things get interesting. It turns out that – at least in most people – the ability to initiate and maintain smooth pursuits requires that there actually be an object to pursue. In other words, you can’t just “will yourself” to smoothly pursue an imaginary object across the room. Instead of smooth motion, your eyes will produce a series of rapid saccades.

(I’ll wait while you try it.)

You can scroll down to my “sources” for a more complete explanation, but here’s the short version:

Pursuit movements are often portrayed as voluntary but their basis lies in processes that sense retinal motion and can induce eye movements without active participation. The factor distinguishing pursuit from such reflexive movements is the ability to select and track a single object when presented with multiple stimuli. (1)

But wait! There’s more! It turns out that there are a few exceptions to this rule.

For example, humans are capable of prematurely initiating smooth pursuit if they anticipate that an object is about to move (i.e. watching a diver prepare to jump into a pool). They can also briefly maintain pursuit if the object momentarily vanishes (i.e. watching an airplane that moves behind a cloud).

Even more astonishing is the fact that a human can maintain smooth pursuit by tracking the motion of his own finger…even if he’s in a pitch-black room, unable to actually see his hand. (2) Just think about that for a minute.

I can think of a few other instances where higher-level cognitive functions interact with more primitive reflexes to produce bizarre results. But this has to take the cake.

Sources

(1) Barnes GR. Cognitive processes involved in smooth pursuit eye movements. Brain and Cognition, 2008, 68(3):309-326.

(2) Gauthier GM and Hofferer JM. Eye tracking of self-moved targets in the absence of vision. Experimental Brain Research, 1976, 26(2):121-139.

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44 thoughts on “Saccades and Smooth Pursuits (Fodder for Your Next Dinner Party)

  1. I am always interested in the neuroscience of the eye as I have multiple eye problems from pars planatis (intermediate uveitis) and glaucoma. I got to go for awhile to the retinal gurus at Barnes-Jewish, a world-class group, who always had training students who were just fascinating to speak with. Ever thought about opthalmology?

    • I haven’t thought about it seriously, but it is definitely on my radar. I think I’m still a long way off from deciding what I want to do clinically.

      Also, thanks to a recent pharmacology exam, my brain is currently stuffed with the names of different glaucoma drugs!

  2. Pingback: Flotsam & Jetsam (11/13) | the Ink Slinger

  3. The following isn’t related to eye-movements, but it is definitely “sciency stuff” :

    “One sometimes hears the claim that the Big Bang was the beginning of both time and space; that to ask about spacetime “before the Big Bang” is like asking about land “north of the North Pole.” This may turn out to be true, but it is not an established understanding. The singularity at the Big Bang doesn’t indicate a beginning to the universe, only an end to our theoretical comprehension. It may be that this moment does indeed correspond to a beginning, and a complete theory of quantum gravity will eventually explain how the universe started at approximately this time. But it is equally plausible that what we think of as the Big Bang is merely a phase in the history of the universe, which stretches long before that time – perhaps infinitely far in the past. The present state of the art is simply insufficient to decide between these alternatives; to do so, we will need to formulate and test a working theory of quantum gravity.”

    Sean Carroll, Physicist at Cal-Tech

    Or, we can just be lazy and say “God did it.” ;)

    ((http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/dtung/)

    • I don’t see it as lazy to conclude that there is a *cause* for our universe (or multiverse, if you like…it doesn’t really change anything). The lazy option – in my view – is to say that the universe (or multiverse) “just is”.

      If, on one of my backpacking trips, I discover a strange/beautiful geological formation, I *could* conclude that there was a cause (natural or otherwise) and go about trying to figure it out. Or I could take the perspective of the anthropic principle, and conclude that the formation “just is”…”It’s there because I observe it to be there.”

      Honestly, which response is the lazy response?

  4. One more good passage from Sean Carroll’s article:

    “The important point is that we can easily imagine self-contained descriptions of the universe that have an earliest moment of time. There is no logical or metaphysical obstacle to completing the conventional temporal history of the universe by including an atemporal boundary condition at the beginning. Together with the successful post-Big-Bang cosmological model already in our possession, that would constitute a consistent and self-contained description of the history of the universe.

    Nothing in the fact that there is a first moment of time, in other words, necessitates that an external something is required to bring the universe about at that moment.

    As [Dr. Stephen] Hawking put it in a celebrated passage:

    ‘So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end, it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?’”

  5. “Honestly, which response is the lazy response?”

    I would suggest you read the entire article, because it deals with your question directly. Here is part of the answer:

    “At first glance, the God hypothesis seems simple and precise – an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being. (There are other definitions, but they are usually comparably terse.) The apparent simplicity is somewhat misleading, however. In comparison to a purely naturalistic model, we’re not simply adding a new element to an existing ontology (like a new field or particle), or even replacing one ontology with a more effective one at a similar level of complexity (like general relativity replacing Newtonian spacetime, or quantum mechanics replacing classical mechanics). We’re adding an entirely new metaphysical category, whose relation to the observable world is unclear. This doesn’t automatically disqualify God from consideration as a scientific theory, but it implies that, all else being equal, a purely naturalistic model will be preferred on the grounds of simplicity.”

    Carroll is saying that your hypothesis “God did it” requires a new metaphysical category — new “stuff”, in other words, that a purely physics-based theory doesn’t need. The multiverse explanation doesn’t require “new stuff” — the same physics of mass & energy & fundamental forces (all experimentally verified to exist) can be employed.

    It’s right back to my original question of how you can define “God” — which you cannot do, without invoking new supernatural categories of magical metaphysical horse-hockey.

    • “We’re adding an entirely new metaphysical category, whose relation to the observable world is unclear. This doesn’t automatically disqualify God from consideration as a scientific theory, but it implies that, all else being equal, a purely naturalistic model will be preferred on the grounds of simplicity.”

      Makes sense…if one presupposes naturalism. ;)

      I would also say that God-as-scientific-theory is a gross misunderstanding of how Christians perceive God.

      “The multiverse explanation doesn’t require “new stuff” — the same physics of mass & energy & fundamental forces (all experimentally verified to exist) can be employed.”

      The multiverse explanation only pushes the question back another level. If our universe can be explained by the multiverse, then how do we explain the multiverse? There’s a good article on my “evidence” page that delves into the implications of the multiverse generator.

  6. Last quote from Sean Carroll, and then I’ll leave you be:

    “In numerous ways, the world around us is more like what we would expect from a dysteleological set of uncaring laws of nature than from a higher power with an interest in our welfare. As another thought experiment, imagine a hypothetical world in which there was no evil, people were invariably kind, fewer natural disasters occurred, and virtue was always rewarded. Would inhabitants of that world consider these features to be evidence against the existence of God? If not, why don’t we consider the contrary conditions to be such evidence?”

    http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/dtung/

    • In my view, the world around us has all the markings of a good thing gone bad. A perfect creation, fundamentally tainted by sin.

      From CS Lewis:

      “And, of course, that raises a very big question If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling ‘whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?’ But then that threw me back into another difficulty.

      My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”

  7. As a scientist yourself, please develop some equations with “God” in them, and then we can at least have something to talk intelligently about.

    Without even a mathematical model for “God”, it is ridiculous to assert it as the “simpler” answer. Physics is hard work, and so is mathematics. Merely saying “God did it” is lazy by definition compared to these other endeavors — which have proven themselves over and over again in modernizing our world, and saving children from disease, flying airplanes, etc.

    Until later! ;)

    • A mathematical model for God?

      God isn’t something within the universe – like dark matter or gravity – that can be quantified and explained scientifically. By Him, all things *are*. You seem to be seeking a definition of God that falls *within your framework of naturalism*.

      Isaiah 55:8

  8. “If our universe can be explained by the multiverse, then how do we explain the multiverse?”

    Your “God” concept suffers from the same exact problem, and it’s embarrassing, quite frankly, to see you employ this tactic when it defeats your own argument. The question “Why” is inherently an infinite regression. There is no end to the chain of “Why” questions that can be posed – in ANY subject of inquiry. Surely you see this. (A school child could see it.) You Christians cheat by introducing a fallacious “First Cause” termination to this regression, but all it does is further muddle the problem. Therefore, parsimony demands that we take the simpler case, which is that the universe is the “First Thing”, if you will.

    Demanding that everything have a “cause” except your undefined word “God” is special pleading at its finest.

    “By Him, all things *are*.”

    “By Zimbobble, all things *are*.” Pure psychobabble, in either case.

    “You seem to be seeking a definition of God that falls *within your framework of naturalism*.

    Yes, indeed. Pardon me for trusting that YOU have some sort of special knowledge beyond the natural world, when (1) you won’t define it, or (2) propose any test for it, or (3) provide any evidence for it. The idea is laughable on its face, and you insult my intelligence with your absurd nonsensical “profundities”.

    Here’s one for you: “By Her, all things *aren’t*.”

    I’m sure you’ll be able to explain the difference between these two linguistically equivalent statements. LOL

    • “Therefore, parsimony demands that we take the simpler case, which is that the universe is the “First Thing”, if you will.”

      Wait, now I’m confused. Do you believe that our universe was its own first cause, or do you believe that there exists a multiverse stretching infinitely into the past? If the latter, then you wouldn’t need to define a “First Thing”. You’d just have to accept the absurd implications of modal realism.

      “Pardon me for trusting that YOU have some sort of special knowledge beyond the natural world, when (1) you won’t define it, or (2) propose any test for it, or (3) provide any evidence for it. The idea is laughable on its face, and you insult my intelligence with your absurd nonsensical “profundities”.”

      1. For a comprehensive definition, I already referred you to Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy”.

      2. What about Mattew 7:7-8? It certainly has the characteristics of a testable hypothesis.

      3. http://wellspentjourney.wordpress.com/evidence-for-christianity/ (You might not like the evidence, but you can’t say that I haven’t offered any.)

  9. “Do you believe that our universe was its own first cause, or do you believe that there exists a multiverse stretching infinitely into the past? If the latter, then you wouldn’t need to define a “First Thing”.”

    I believe the word “cause” is a human, linguistic invention that fails to capture the true story of our universe. As I’ve offered before, it is ridiculous (and a bit arrogant!) to think human language can accurately describe the entire workings of the cosmos.

    The universe is here. We experience it with our senses. THAT we can both agree upon. What “caused” the universe may simply be an ill-posed question, because it is inherently an infinite regression, for example:

    “What caused the cause of the cause of the cause of the cause that ultimately caused the universe?”

    Perhaps the universe has always been here. But even that statement sounds a bit strange, because the world we experience seems to indeed have causes and effects. But if you examine even the simplest cause & effect relationships, an infinite regression immediately arises:

    “What caused the water to get hot?”
    “A burner on a stove.”
    “What caused the burner to get hot?”
    “The electic current surging through it.”
    “What caused the electric current?”
    “The voltage drop across the resistance.”
    “What caused the voltage drop?”

    Etc. etc. etc.

    The only honest answer is “We don’t know what caused the universe, and we may never know. We don’t know why there is something rather than nothing.”

    Or, I like Daniel Dennett’s (perfectly legitimate) answer:

    Question: Why is there something rather than nothing?
    Answer: WHY NOT?!?
    ;)

    P.S. Prayer has been demonstrated to be no better than random chance, in scientifically controlled, double-blind studies involving real Christians praying, and real people with horrible affliction in hospitals that need help.

    Sorry, Matthew 7:7-8.

  10. “(You might not like the evidence, but you can’t say that I haven’t offered any.)”

    Going ’round in circles again, are we? Typical Christian tactics! ;)

    You have gathered a few bits of highly controversial evidence that can arguably be used to support a weak form of deism, but this same evidence can also be used to support mindless, evolutionary processes. We’ve been over this, and it’s a bit sad that you persist in strumming this same unscientific banjo.

    Your other “evidence” doesn’t pass the smell test. Sorry.

    You have “faith”, Matt. That’s all you’ve got. And I have no issue with that, other than to shake my head and hope you become better educated in the future.

    • So far, you’ve only really engaged with one argument on the list (fine tuning). It might be the easy answer to dismiss evidence a priori by saying it doesn’t pass “the smell test”…but that’s hardly the way to evaluate truth.

      If I read a paper in a biochemistry journal that doesn’t pass my “smell test”, my immediate reaction is to fervently pursue the issue…not dismiss it out-of-hand.

  11. “What “caused” the universe may simply be an ill-posed question, because it is inherently an infinite regression…”

    http://wellspentjourney.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/free-will-and-uncaused-causes/

    The Daniel Dennett answer is just an articulation of the WAP. It discourages any kind of search for meaning or deeper truth…which I *personally* find unsatisfying, and even unscientific.

    “Prayer has been demonstrated to be no better than random chance, in scientifically controlled, double-blind studies involving real Christians praying, and real people with horrible affliction in hospitals that need help.”

    I would ask for the actual studies, but this misses the entire point of “prayer” anyway. Prayer isn’t some kind of magic trick that religious people use to produce their desired results. That’s Sunday School 101. ;)

    Matthew 7:7-8 is referring to the idea that anyone who honestly and earnestly seeks God will ultimately find Him. That’s an experiment you could certainly try on your own. But since it deals with a person’s inmost thoughts, it isn’t empirically accessible across populations.

  12. “It might be the easy answer to dismiss evidence a priori by saying it doesn’t pass “the smell test”…but that’s hardly the way to evaluate truth.”

    Your “truth” comes from an ancient book written by humans. Without this book, you personally would never have heard of the Christian God. If you were born in India, you would have been a Hindu. If you were born in Pakistan, you would be a Muslim. You’re simply putting your “faith” in these matters, due to your upbringing.

    Truth doesn’t come from a book. (And please don’t respond with your juvenile comeback about throwing away your chemistry textbooks.) The best way to find truth, as man has proven since Isaac Newton’s time, is via the scientific method, not by making sounds with one’s ape-like mouth. This is why physics depends upon mathematics and falsifiable tests, not upon written words. Every competent scientist understands this. When scientists review the work of their peers, they examine the math equations and the data — the prosaic language is merely a formality, aside from the language used to define the mathematical parameters themselves.

    You choose to discard the natural world, a priori, in favor of some “just so” story that makes you feel good. This is inherently sad, but you are certainly not alone in this delusion.

    ” It discourages any kind of search for meaning or deeper truth…which I *personally* find unsatisfying, and even unscientific.”

    No, it is religion that discourages the search for truth. You Christians already have your answer a priori: “God”. If “God” is your scientific hypothesis, then please propose a falsifiable test for it.

    “What about Mattew 7:7-8? It certainly has the characteristics of a testable hypothesis.”

    “That’s an experiment you could certainly try on your own. But since it deals with a person’s inmost thoughts, it isn’t empirically accessible across populations.”

    It’s very sad that you think these two statements above represent scientific thinking. Matt, science isn’t interested in truths tht apply to individual brains. Science concerns itself with truths that can be demonstrated, in principle, by anybody.

    Keep reading, keep visiting Jerry Coyne’s website, and maybe some day you will realize just how much nonsense you are carelessly propagating to young children.

    • “If you were born in India, you would have been a Hindu. If you were born in Pakistan, you would be a Muslim. You’re simply putting your “faith” in these matters, due to your upbringing.”

      Here you’re committing the genetic fallacy. Textbook example.

      To quote D’Souza: “If you are born in Oxford, England, you are more likely to believe the theory of evolution than if you are born in Oxford, Mississippi. If you are born in New Guinea, you are less likely to accept Einstein’s theory of relativity than if you are born in New York City. What does this say about whether Einstein’s theory of relativity is true? Absolutely nothing…It’s the fallacy of confusing the origin of an idea with its veracity.”

      “Truth doesn’t come from a book.”

      With the textbook remark, I was just trying to point out the glaring problem with your original statement (“A book written by men isn’t evidence.”) There are a number of *valid* ways to attack the veracity of a text, but it doesn’t make much sense to dismiss the Bible as evidence *because* it’s a book written by men. By that standard, all books written by men should be dismissed as evidence. It’s one thing to question whether or not the Bible is the product of divine inspiration, but quite another to dismiss it on the basis that it was written by men.

      “You choose to discard the natural world, a priori, in favor of some “just so” story that makes you feel good.”

      I don’t disregard the natural world, by any means. I believe that natural laws are reliable. I just don’t believe that natural laws constitute the deepest fundamental “layer” of reality. In other words, I have a larger picture of “the natural world” – which makes a lot more sense if one replaces the word “supernatural” with “supranatural”.

      Concerning your allegation that my belief is grounded on what “makes [me] feel good”, there is some truth to that…but it isn’t the whole story. I sincerely believe that Theism (specifically, Christian Theism) provides the fullest and most comprehensive answer to the question of our existence. There are certainly existential reasons to my belief, but that’s equally true for *any* metaphysical belief. It isn’t any more accurate (or fair) to accuse a Christian of only believing what they do “because it makes them feel good” than it is to accuse an atheist of only believing what they do “because they want to be free to define their own morality.” Do these cognitive biases play a role, for most people? Probably. Is it reasonable to reduce someone’s belief to these cognitive biases? I don’t think so.

      “It’s very sad that you think these two statements above represent scientific thinking. Matt, science isn’t interested in truths tht apply to individual brains. Science concerns itself with truths that can be demonstrated, in principle, by anybody.”

      I’m aware of this, but it ought not stop us from applying scientific *methodology* to questions – like this one – that are inwardly subjective in nature (and ultimately beyond the reach of hard science). That’s the point I was trying to make. So we can’t use science to evaluate the effectiveness of prayer across populations, but we CAN use scientific methodology, figuratively speaking, to evaluate our inward efforts to seek Christ.

      “…and maybe some day you will realize just how much nonsense you are carelessly propagating to young children.”

      I’m not sure how many young children frequent my site. ;)

      “If you are suggesting that my own personal “search for God” is a falsifiable scientific test, then your God Hypothesis has just been falsified — because I searched, fervently and yet fruitlessly, for over 40 years, and never once found “Him”. Now, undoubtedly, you will respond with some kind of ill-explained rhetoric and/or excuse for “God” that is not only patently ridiculous, but very likely callous and insulting.”

      I wouldn’t presume to question the sincerity of your previous search for God, but that doesn’t mean the hypothesis has been falsified. I mean, you’ve evidently given up looking. You can’t really claim that God failed to fulfill His promise, when you’re no longer in pursuit of it. Not without imposing some kind of arbitrary “time limit” to how long God has to reveal Himself to you.

  13. Just to close:

    If you are suggesting that my own personal “search for God” is a falsifiable scientific test, then your God Hypothesis has just been falsified — because I searched, fervently and yet fruitlessly, for over 40 years, and never once found “Him”.

    Now, undoubtedly, you will respond with some kind of ill-explained rhetoric and/or excuse for “God” that is not only patently ridiculous, but very likely callous and insulting. Allow me to preempt you, and save you the trouble:

    A. I didn’t search “hard” enough.
    B. I searched in the “wrong” places.
    C. Keep trying, “His grace” will arrive some day.
    D. God moves in mysterious ways.
    E. I haven’t asked for “His” forgiveness in the proper way.
    F. I’m being “tested” by “Him”.
    G. I’ll find out after I’m dead.
    H. Maybe I’ve already found “Him”, but didn’t recognize it.
    I. Satan is in possession of my body.
    J. I need to donate more money to the church.
    I. Perhaps I should ask a priest or “holy man” for help.
    J. A couple of chapters of C.S. Lewis couldn’t hurt?
    K. A Free “God” injection with every WL Craig video!
    L. You didn’t find God… He found YOU.
    M. Read Leviticus and punch a gay person. Instant God!
    N. Sing “Kumbaya” one hundred times a day for Jesus.
    O. Watch Pat Robertson on television until you keel over.
    P. Get Mel Gibson’s autograph — on a King James bible.
    Q. Did you vote for Mitt Romney? No? See!!!
    R. Visit Vatican City and get a glimpse of Pope Ratzi.
    S. I’ll pray for you.
    T. God helps those who help themselves. God’s a slacker!
    U. Make fun of a Muslim cleric.
    V. Shoot a doctor at an abortion clinic. Find God in jail.
    W. Hell, I don’t know what happened. You suck at religion.
    X. Purgatory isn’t so bad, once you get used to it.
    Y. Die, hit your knees, and pretend to believe. He’ll buy it.
    Z. Sixteen Hail Marys and thirty Our Fathers should do the trick.
    ;)

  14. “What does this say about whether Einstein’s theory of relativity is true? Absolutely nothing…It’s the fallacy of confusing the origin of an idea with its veracity.”

    False Equivalence fallacy. As soon as you can form a comprehensible, scientific theory of “God” — then get back to me with your objection. Otherwise, statistically speaking, if you were born in Pakistan, you would very likely worship Allah. Do the math. (Oh, that’s right, you can’t do any math with religious beliefs, other than computing the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. My bad.)

    “By that standard, all books written by men should be dismissed as evidence.”

    As evidence for the Christian “God” — yes, indeed, all books written by men should be summarily dismissed.

    “So we can’t use science to evaluate the effectiveness of prayer across populations, but we CAN use scientific methodology, figuratively speaking, to evaluate our inward efforts to seek Christ.”

    This is mostly word-salad; but yes, indeed, the methods of science (i.e. neuroscience) ARE being used to gain understanding into why some people, mostly uneducated people, maintain their beliefs in the supernatural.

    “I’m not sure how many young children frequent my site.”

    Ignorance is no excuse for child abuse. Take a poll, for instance, if you are interested in the answer.

    “Not without imposing some kind of arbitrary “time limit” to how long God has to reveal Himself to you.”

    Very good! From my list, you just suggested items A, C, and possibly G. I have a reply for you, but for the sake of any children reading, I’ll keep it to myself. ;)

    • “Otherwise, statistically speaking, if you were born in Pakistan, you would very likely worship Allah. Do the math.”

      The genetic fallacy comes in when one asserts that someone believes X *because* they were born in Y.

  15. ” It isn’t any more accurate (or fair) to accuse a Christian of only believing what they do “because it makes them feel good” than it is to accuse an atheist of only believing what they do “because they want to be free to define their own morality.”

    You’re obviously confused. Atheism has nothing to do with morality. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods or deities. Period. Nice strawman, however.

    Just because you need a Sky-Daddy to hold your hand and tell you what is morally proper doesn’t mean that you can saddle atheism with this immature attitude. I’d suggest that you have a little courage and begin exploring a few modern conversations on the topic of morality.

    A couple of questions for you:

    1) Do you believe in Noah’s Ark & the flood?
    2) Are gay people an abomination?
    3) Did Lot really sleep with his daughters?
    4) Why does William Lane Craig justify the biblical genocide of children?

    That crazy book of yours has some interesting morality lessons! Can C.S. Lewis come to the rescue? I’m all ears. ;)

    • “You’re obviously confused. Atheism has nothing to do with morality. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods or deities. Period. Nice strawman, however.”

      All belief systems – atheism included – carry with them certain moral/ethical implications. It’s a simple reality that our system of belief will, to some degree, reflect our emotional/existential perspective. My larger point, though, was that we can’t fairly claim that someone believes X *because* they must surely hold existential perspective Y (i.e. “you only believe in God because it makes you feel good” or “you only reject the idea of God because you have problems with authority”)

  16. “I have a larger picture of “the natural world” – which makes a lot more sense if one replaces the word “supernatural” with “supranatural”.”

    It’s a bit shocking that you can write this sentence and think it has meaningful content. You’re living proof that American school systems are failing to educate.

    Once again, please remember that the grunted sound waves emanating from your ape-like mouth are inconsequential to science, and therefore do not bolster your case for “God”. If you claim to be trained in science, then please stick to scientific arguments. Your word-salad is becoming very tiresome, indeed.

    Incidentally, this statement of yours (from your “evidence” pile) is a bit odd:

    “It addresses the question of why mathematics, developed by man, apparently coincides with the mathematical structure of nature.”

    Here you use “the success of mathematics” as evidence for “God”, but in this thread you said:

    “A mathematical model for God?

    God isn’t something within the universe – like dark matter or gravity – that can be quantified and explained scientifically.”

    Total, utter fail. You simply cannot have it both ways.

    One last question. Do you believe the Hindu god Vishnu exists? Why or why not?

    • “Total, utter fail. You simply cannot have it both ways.”

      The “success of mathematics” argument deals with mankind’s ability to describe *certain laws of nature* mathematically. The second claim dealt with mankind’s inability to describe *God* mathematically. You’re comparing apples and oranges.

  17. “All belief systems – atheism included – carry with them certain moral/ethical implications.”

    Atheism is the lack of belief in gods or deities. It doesn’t carry along anything else. If there were no theists, the word “atheism” would likely not be in the dictionary. Is “not collecting stamps” a belief system? What ethical implications can we draw from such people? No, it is theists like yourself who assume (wrongly) that atheists lack a moral compass. I would highly suggest you need to drop your guilt trip, and start having some fun in your life!

    But while we’re on the subject of biblical ethics, can you address the four points I listed? Here let me elaborate a bit:

    1) Killing everybody on Earth with a flood, including women & children
    2) Killing gay people for their sexual practices
    3) Incest
    4) Slaughtering the Canaanites including women & children

    I appreciate any effort you can make in enlightening me on the subject of morality — as a scientist I’m always open to new ideas. ;)

    3)

  18. “The “success of mathematics” argument deals with mankind’s ability to describe *certain laws of nature* mathematically. The second claim dealt with mankind’s inability to describe *God* mathematically. You’re comparing apples and oranges.”

    Uh-huh. Okay, let’s try to unpack your “explanation”.

    A) Mathematical descriptions provide evidence for God.
    B) God, however, cannot be described mathematically.

    LOL! Pardon me for saying so, but I think you’ve really spit the bit here. Let’s fashion a suitable claim:

    Claim: God created a world in which certain laws can be described by math.

    Now, brushing aside the fact that this claim isn’t falsifiable, what evidence can you provide in support of it? The fact that mathematics can be used to describe certain laws in the world???

    Tautology fail! It’s viciously circular reasoning. We’re once again back to good ‘ole faith, and a priori assertions sans evidence.

    • I apologize for the delayed response. I saw your comments last night, but was focused on finishing up my latest post.

      “Atheism is the lack of belief in gods or deities. It doesn’t carry along anything else.”

      The lack of belief in gods or deities *does* carry with it the lack of belief in judgement after one’s death. It doesn’t eliminate morality, necessarily, but it *does* eliminate the idea that we will be held accountable for our actions after we die. It eliminates *objective* morality. (“If God does not exist, then all things are permitted”)

      Speaking as a recent college graduate, I can attest to the large number of my friends and peers who found the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics, drunkenness, etc. to be quite inconvenient. I wouldn’t presume to tell Johnny that he only de-converted because he wants to have sex with his girlfriend…but I also don’t think it’s realistic to argue that atheism is somehow immune to cognitive biases.

      Regarding the 4 questions: I’ll be happy to respond to them. I would first ask that you pose them in a more coherent and impartial manner. (For example, if I were to pose a question to a pro-choice activist, I might say, “When do you believe that a developing fetus (or infant) attains personhood, and why?” I wouldn’t say, “Why do you believe it’s okay to kill babies?”)

      Regarding mathematics: The way you’re framing this response leads me to believe that you don’t fully understand the argument. Would it be possible for you to respond to my post on this issue directly? http://wellspentjourney.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/the-unsurprising-effectiveness-of-mathematics-in-the-natural-sciences/

  19. “but it *does* eliminate the idea that we will be held accountable for our actions after we die.”

    For the simple reason that this “idea” lacks even a shred of credible evidence. I’ll respond later to your other points.

  20. “Speaking as a recent college graduate, I can attest to the large number of my friends and peers who found the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics, drunkenness, etc. to be quite inconvenient.”

    Yes, gay people find the teachings in Leviticus to be quite inconvenient, indeed. Only a misguided, deluded, cowardly monster would consider the book of Leviticus to be worth reading, and I would happily inform any such person of my heartfelt feelings on this matter — face-to-face.

    Which brings me to the end of my correspondence with you, dearest Matthew. In my view, your key statement in all of our discussion thus far, a statement that Texas Hold-Em Poker players would refer to as “a tell”, is the following:

    “You might not like the evidence, but you can’t say that I haven’t offered any.”

    These are not the words of a scientist. Additionally, your fatuous attempt to use Occam’s Razor to defend your non-falsifiable, unscientific “God” hypothesis casts further doubt upon your education in science and logic.

    What you sound like, with all due respect, is a young man whose head was filled with unscientific biblical nonsense in his earliest years, who then attended college, and thus was compelled to strain everything he learned through preexisting religious filters. It was the only option you had given your childhood indoctrination, and the scienfically-documented fact that once neural connections are created in the cerebral cortex, they are quite difficult to unravel and reconnect in later years. (Old dogs and new tricks, in other words.) You are obviously intelligent, but unfortunately this intelligent brain of yours is now working overtime in a futile effort to reconcile two separate schools or spheres of thought, and the result is a virtual mish-mash of thinking, a mish-mash which is clearly seen in the jumbled list you compiled in your “Evidence for Christianity” tab.

    The fact that you said you would “consider” reorganizing the items in this list — but haven’t yet done it, is all the evidence I need to support my hypothesis that your brain has been compartmentalized and indeed compromised, perhaps even irreversibly beyond repair, by the Christian religion.

    I myself was able, through long years of listening and questioning, to overcome my own Catholic indoctrination, and I will conclude here by saying I am confident that you, too, will one day come to your senses.

  21. 1. Look up as far as you can without turning your head.
    2. While “pushing” your eyes up, turn your head upwards.
    3. …
    4. Profit!

  22. You can do smooth intentionally without focusing on an object or even imagining one. Just cross your eyes and you’ll notice when you’re un-crossing your eyes it’ll be smooth.

  23. “Even more astonishing is the fact that a human can maintain smooth pursuit by tracking the motion of his own finger…even if he’s in a pitch-black room, unable to actually see his hand”

    What about people who have the phantom hand feeling from missing a limb, can they still track smoothly this way?

    • That’s a great question! I’m honestly not sure, but I would guess that they probably can…at least to some degree.

  24. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the layout of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.

    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

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