Rum Review: Dos Maderas

Rum Review: Dos Maderas


Here we have a pair of Spanish rums that go together like siblings, but in this case not nearly as closely related as the Rons del Barrilitos I reviewed previously. These two are more like distant cousins. To my palate, that they are related at all is only because they both begin with a blend of Guyana and Barbados rums. From the marketing literature, it isn’t clear if the distillates are blended first and then aged or aged separately for the first 5 years in bourbon (charred oak I presume) casks somewhere between Guyana and Barbados! Really I wish the marketing people would say more! In either case, the first number in the rum’s name, the ‘5’ refers to these first 5 years. “Dos Maderas” means “Two Boards”. Perhaps this a reference to barrel staves from two kinds of barrels?

The rum is then shipped to Spain where it is blended (if it hadn’t been already) and aged for a further 3 (5+3) or 5 (5+5) years in casks that once contained the company’s 20-year-aged “Dos Cortados” (“Two Cuts”, I suspect the grape) sherry. I’ve never had Dos Cortados, but I’d certainly give it a try. One website claims the 5+5 rum is then aged an additional 2 years in “extra old” sherry casks. Why then they do not call it 5+7 or 5+5+2 I wouldn’t know.

But to get to the heart of the matter, these are both good rums. To my palate they are not at all alike.


First the 5+3. 40% ABV
Sugar: No results shown on the sugar test page. Doesn’t seem like there is sugar added.
Color: On the light side of a “medium amber”, not quite yellow — the color difference can be most clearly seen in the last picture at the bottom.
Legs: When swirled forms fast medium legs.
Aroma: Lots of notes in this, mostly brighter fruits. Apricot and orange dominate. There is banana, some alcohol but no varnish notes. I don’t get much molasses or sugar from this, no dark notes at all except some white oak in the background.
Flavors: Only a touch sweet, this is a dry rum. Reminds me immediately of English Harbour. Very smooth, but enough heat to be noticed rises up in the finish. The finish is short and a little flat. Not bitter, but not sweet either. Lightly creamy, with some butter, and a note of maple sap. Not the syrup you buy for pancakes, but a rawer sap from which it’s made. I think there is some oak in this too laying quietly under everything else. Interesting that I don’t taste any of those aroma fruits on my tongue, but they still come through the nose when you take a swallow.


Next the 5+5. 40% ABV
Sugar: One test shows 36g/l which is on the higher side, but in the end the sweetness is well cut.
Color: On the darker side of a “medium amber”. Brown, some red, no yellow.
Legs: Swirling, very slow, start out many tiny fingers that slowly coalesce into thick legs.
Aroma: Raisin dominates, some alcohol, no varnish. Tobacco, burnt brown sugar (treacle), milk chocolate, and a very smokey charred oak.
Flavors: Creamy, much sweeter than the younger rum, but not very sweet. Charred oak comes through as does the raisin and tobacco. A long sweet finish with chocolate in it, coffee and the unmistakable taste of a good sherry. This is a far more complex rum than the 5+3, sweeter and layered with much more flavor, especially on the darker side. The tobacco and coffee compensate perfectly for the rum’s sweetness leaving no bitterness. Nicely done for my palate!


Both are great rums actually. If you like a lighter, less sweet, youthful but not young, rum, the 5+3 is an excellent choice and as I noted, very similar to English Harbour for about the same price. the DM is a tad less sweet and creamy compared to the EH. On the other side if you are looking for a sweeter rum that isn’t at all “very sweet”, the 5+5 is superb and not too expensive at around $45 here in California. In particular if you like a good sherry (I do, is the only wine I ever care to pair with cigars) you will enjoy the DM 5+5.

Drink up me hearties! And don’t forget to enjoy a good cigar while you’re at it!



Cigar Review: Red Lion Cheroot


Always on the lookout for a budget cigar, I think I hit the bottom of the barrel and actually found something interesting. Over the past 6+ years I’ve been smoking cigars regularly I haven’t come across any of the usual blends offered as cheroots, an open-ended and rough-rolled vitola with varying sizes. These Red Lion Cheroots fit that description, and roughly rolled would be an understatement. Still I don’t see why a cheroot shouldn’t be a good cigar. This one was certainly inexpensive enough. Normally retailing for $1+/stick, I got them for $0.67/stick in a box of 60 from Cigars International. Since my girl friend enjoys her inexpensive cigars I figured if I didn’t like these, she would. Little did I know.


Construction and smoke-ability.

The cigar is 6″ x 34 but vary a lot as you can see from the picture. Some are as thin as 28 or 30. The roll is really rough. Wrapper is thick and overlaps itself all along the stick. The seams are prominent and sometimes even curl back on themselves giving the cigars a really gnarly look. I don’t mind that look, and some of these sticks look really good, nice and even (if gnarly) all the way along their length while others vary considerably from the foot to the head. Just for fun I cut one of these open (there are a couple of pictures) and found both a wrapper and binder, the latter wrapped twice around the filler which was a chopped up short filler with a couple of longer leaves.

The cold smell is interesting, pretty strong, grass, hay, and vegetal aromas. The cold draw has similar notes. As for smoking, these vary a lot. I’ve had about 10 of them now, and half smoked pretty good. All of them require some burn correction because the wrapper is thick and doesn’t burn evenly all the way around. But the good-half, smoked well, produced a good creamy smoke only a little hot, but not too bad. The good ones smoked well down to just past the first half then got a little soft and required a few relights. Yet they remained very smoke-able down into the last third. On the other hand, half of these (so far) don’t do so well requiring frequent relights and burn corrections even in their first half. So a very mixed bag here, these sticks are anything but consistent as goes their smoking.


It was here these cheap little sticks surprised me. This is good tasting tobacco! Charred cedar, pepper, roasted nut, mint, leather, and roasted vegetables. Even the cigars that didn’t smoke well had the flavors, and the ones that did smoke well kept them. To say the least I was very surprised! Pretty good flavor for a $0.67 cigar and those flavors stayed with the smoke at least down to the last 2″ and a few beyond that. The smoke is a little hot compared to a better cigar, and the most poorly constructed examples get hotter than the better ones.

A bit hit or miss on these. The better ones smoke 20-25 minutes down past the last third, the poorer ones about 15 minutes before they get hot and flavorless. If you’re looking to keep a few quick smokes around that you don’t mind tossing out if you have to, these would be good. Even if I don’t smoke them, my girl friend says they’re the most flavorful cigars in her collection. A good deal!

Response to Criticisms of Agent Causal Libertarianism


I’ve just finished a short book “Freedom, Responsibility, and Determinism: A Philosophical Dialogue” by John Lemos, Hackett Publishing 2013, an introduction to philosophical issues surrounding free will. Lemos explains several variations (each) of Incompatibilism, Compatibilism, and Libertarianism as concerns free will. As concerns Libertarianism, he discusses three variations, the first being “agent causation” and the other two (indeterminism and “indeterministic event-causal”) trying to do (unsuccessfully I think) without the agent. As concerns agent causal libertarianism he notes three types of objections. Because my view of free will, derived from the theology reflected in all of these essays, is of the agent type, my purpose in this essay is to respond to those three lines of criticism.

In the theistic view I hold, the agent is the person, personality being a non-material “information extra” on top of non-material mind. Higher animals have mind, but not personality. God can distinguish this extra pattern (he puts it there), but we cannot. To us, the mind-personality combination just looks like mind, like consciousness, our “what it is to be like” experience. Human subjective experience is an amalgamated whole, a mereological sum consisting of everything that goes into mind, plus personality. No experience of the person takes place outside of mind, and every decision of the person occurs within mind’s all encompassing embrace.

In my essays on personality and free will I explain why we must infer personality even if we cannot discern it. To summarize, we must infer it, among other things, because we experience our exercise of free will, something that a fully macro-deterministic and micro-random universe (which would include mind in the absence of personality, higher-animal mind) cannot support in the absence of a crack in physics, a crack that allows for genuine causation, and not merely event-unfolding. My view is fully committed to agent-causal libertarian free will not because of any crack in the physical except as concerns personal agency. It is plainly what we appear to experience from our subjective viewpoint; not as concerns every choice we make, but in many of them throughout our lives.
Objections to agent cause are of the following three types:

1) Uncaused cause is not scientific, nowhere supported by physics.
2) Agent Cause does not solve the “luck problem”.
3) Agent Cause is incoherent because agents persist while the events they cause happen at specific times.

The first objection comes down to scientism. Physics allows for exactly two types of causes, and in addition causal language is taken to be naieve. For physics, events, that is physical events including the movement of biological bodies, unfold into subsequent events. Thus there are two broad types of events, those that are determined, and those (quantum events) that are fundamentally random. Because of quantum randomness, physicists concede that the macro-level of description is not entirely determined, but to the extent that it is [slightly] undetermined, it is [slightly] random. There is no room in our physical description for purposeful, that is original and  non-random cause; an event that occurs without any prior event other than the undetermined (more precisely not fully determined) but purposeful choosing of an agent.

This objection is question begging. The agent-causal claim is precisely that there is an exception to the two physical possibilities of determinism and randomness, and the exception is specifically personal agency! Agent causalists do not claim that the free agent is physical even as they of course concede that their bodies are physical. For physics simply to declare that no such non-physical thing can exist because there are only physical events having physical (determined or random) antecedents begs the question of agency being the exception.

On the theistic view, the exception is not problematic as God himself produces this exception, configures it on consciousness in time. Other than how he produces it, there is no “interaction problem” because the person is a cause only in mind. The interaction issue remains between mind and body and a topic for another essay. Non-material agents can be a cause in physics because they have a causal effect in mind, and mind has a connection to its physical root, the brain and from there to a body. From our perspective within time we cannot and never will be able to answer this question. First we cannot even access personality directly and second, even if we could, the mystery of how God does such things understandably resides with God. The universe is highly accessible to our collective minds, but there is no guarantee that every mystery is accessible.

The second objection builds on elements of the first and extends them in its own way. The “luck problem” is so called because scientists (and most philosophers) recognize only one exception to determinism, that being quantum randomness. Since randomness cannot be purposeful, if randomness has anything to do with choice, then the outcome (of choice) can only come down to luck. I have dealt with the physicalist aspect of this objection above, but there is another. Imagine a possible world in which there exists a doppelganger of you, exactly the same as you in every respect except at the moment of some decision she makes a choice different from yours. The problem here is that the “same you” made different choices under identical situations so it makes no sense to say that you, qua agent, determined one choice over another. Which choices you make still comes out to luck when considering all possible worlds containing you.

There are two broad ways to conceive “possible worlds”. One is to think of them as merely heuristic devices for exploring truth conditions in counterfactual arguments, and the other is to hold that they are real ontological entities. From a theological viewpoint either comes out to the same argument for the following reasons. If possible worlds are heuristic only then only the real world matters and there is one unified and infinite God. If possible worlds are real, then there can still only be one unqualified infinity (God) in the universe of all possible worlds.

Since God bestows personality, patterns consciousness with it, he cannot create two personalities between which he cannot distinguish. Since each personality is patterned on a separate mind (and God is related to each individually), God must be able to distinguish between them. That means no two persons in the universe can be “the same person”, that is identical to God’s eyes, and this across all possible worlds. A possible world containing a person who (indistinguishably even to God) is also you is logically impossible. Such a world would be, like a possible world containing a square circle, an “impossible world”.

In possible world talk, something is necessary if it is true in all possible worlds, and contingent if true in only some of them. Something is impossible if it is true in none of them, or true only in impossible worlds which comes out to the same thing; impossible. The luck objection is answered because that person in the other possible world, though she shares your history up to the moment of this particular decision, is nevertheless not you; she is a different person and hence can make a different choice for her purposes. Two different people making different choices do not raise the luck problem. The decision in your world is your decision and in the other world it is hers.

The third broad objection to libertarian agency is incoherence. As with the first charge, this one too comes out to begging the question. An action, random, determined, or volitional, is conceived as an event while the agent who is the event’s “original cause” is conceived as substance, albeit non-material. Since physics holds that events unfold (not cause) into subsequent events, how does the substance, exactly, become a prior-determiner of an event when it is not itself an event? A second component of this objection is temporal in character. Events occur at specific times but the agent is extended in time. If there is literally nothing other than the agent’s volition that determines subsequent events how is it that the event happened at some specific time? Why that time and not a little earlier or later? How is it, in other words, that a temporally extended substance that is not itself an event can bring about an event at a specific time? Put another way, how does an extended substance that is not an event interact with time and events?

I want to note first that the notion of “causal agent” as substance and “event” are not so far apart. E. J. Lowe in his “Personal Agency” (2008), demonstrates that any talk of “events unfolding into other events” can be easily cast back into substance-causal terms. Lowe suggests that all cause is “agent cause” but some (most) agents happen to be inannimate. An example can be taken from Lemos’ book. I thrust a red-hot iron rod into a bucket of cold water. The water (substance) causes the iron to cool down, while the iron (substance) causes the water to heat up. Lemos points out that what is really going on here is that events in the iron, the rapid motion of iron atoms, are unfolding into subsequent events as their kinetic energy is transferred to the slower moving molecules of water. What Lemos fails to note, and Lowe points out, is that it is just as reasonable to conceive of the atoms in the iron and the molecules of water as agents. They are not animate agents, and no psychology, consciousness (panpsychism) is imputed to them, but they are agents of the effect, kinetic energy transferred from the iron atoms to the water molecules. Some specific kinetic energy is a temporary property of the atom-agents. Any event description can be transcribed into an agent description, at least as concerns physical process.

Simalarly, persons can be cast as “extended events”. Given the human capacity for abstraction, this is not at all uncommon usage. A galaxy comes into existence and eventually, after hundreds of billions of years, passes out of existence, at least as an identifiable galaxy. Certainly a galaxy can be cast in substance terms, it is an agent for example when its deeper gravity well steals gas from a smaller neighboring galaxy. But it is also a process, an event, the galaxy’s temporal worm whose existence spans some interval.

That we can take what are commonly thought to be substances like galaxies and view them as extended events is not new. This is, after all, what process philosophy is about. By itself, this doesn’t resolve the problem of luck however. In a galaxy after all, when specific events occur is either determined or random. We can refer to measurable antecedent events to explain the timing. Although a person can be cast as an extended event the view doesn’t help us here. As concerns the agent-causal view, there remains nothing about the qualities of the temporally extended person-event other than agent volition enact-able at specific times also determined by the agent. Lowe would probably be uncomfortable casting persons as events and to be sure it is an awkward view in this case. Unlike an atom or a rock animation makes a difference. Either view works easily enough when the agent has no libertarian free will, or indeed any will at all. A substance-agency, becomes more appropriate precisely when the evocation of an event at a specific time is neither random nor determined other than by the agent because only then is it genuinely original cause and not merely events unfolding into other events.

So the question of the coherence of agency here turns on whether there is anything (in the universe) other than “other events” (random or deterministic) that can purposefully initiate events at a specific time that are neither sufficiently determined (by antecedent influences) or random. The agent-causal claim is at root the claim that a libertarian-endowed agent has precisely that power. Put conversely, the power, on the part of an extended (in time) agent, to trigger events at specific points in time determined by the agent’s purposes alone (and of course her skill manipulating her body to bring about the desired event) is one of the qualities (at least) that makes that power libertarian! The capacity, to be original cause at particular moments in time, moments elected by our temporally extended agency, is at the very core of what it means to have a libertarian type of freedom. That this should be is not a mystery theologically speaking because human freedom in time is a derivative of God’s freedom outside time, a derivative God himself bestows upon us.

In God, freedom is absolute, unconstrained (except by logic), and acts across all time. Human freedom is not absolute nor unconstrained. Indeed part of the timing issue can be understood in terms of conditioning influences, the history and present environment, in which the agent finds herself. More importantly, the capacity to initiate an original causal chain, to be an original cause, at a particular moment in time, is how God’s unconstrained freedom comes out in human beings altogether limited to the temporal world. Far from incoherent, this capacity is the essence of the libertarian claim. The coherence of this claim can be in doubt only if God does not exist, but that begs the question because if God does exist it is well within his capacity (not being a logical contradiction) to bestow that very power on personal agents.

The incoherence charge begs its own question because it presupposes the inconceivability of that quality in the agent, the power to originate events without sufficient antecedent cause, that the agent-causal libertarian maintains is in fact a special power of such agents alone. Agent-causal advocates do not deny that this power is not to be found anywhere else in the universe other than in [some] animate agents. To our knowledge (that is human knowledge on Earth) only persons are fully free (a fullness that remains, nevertheless, highly constrained in timespace) in a libertarian sense. The higher animals sometimes appear to exercise choice in ways that suggest they have some similar agent-properties, but I am not sure if in the animal case, the seeming libertarianism of the act is not imputed to them by us.

All three types of objections to agent-causality fail if God is real. The first objection fails because the nature of personal agency, the person being non-material, lies outside science’s domain. The second fails because if “possible worlds” are real, then persons must, nevertheless, remain unique across all possible worlds, and if they are not real, then only the actual world matters and no two persons can be absolutely identical. A person identical to you can only exist in impossible worlds. Two people who are the same person are a logical contradiction. The third objection fails because the very power, of a non-event to initiate an event at a specific time, declared incoherent under an event-only view of causation, is the power of agency given to personality by God. Even if physicists are right about causality being nothing more than the unfolding of events into subsequent events, personality is the exception to that rule in the universe. The exception is possible, conceivable, and not incoherent, precisely because God makes it possible.

God’s existence is a highly prejudicial matter with most scientists and philosophers today. One of the more general problems they have with the agent-causal view is that it so easily slides into dualism and from there to substance-dualism and God. In Lemos’ book, one of his characters (the book is written in the form of a dialogue) notes the association between the view and dualism of one form or another. From a theological perspective, substance dualism grounded in God is suggested precisely because it is a solution to the three objections discussed above. I have argued in many essays collected on this blog and books, that free will, our experience of it, and its conflict with physics, is one of the major reasons for evaluating the explanatory power of dualism. My answers to the objections noted in Lemos’ book flow from what I take to be consequences of God’s existence. Moreover, and this is perhaps the main point to contemporary scientists and philosophers, they justify and warrant our belief in the reality of what seems to our experience to be a genuinely libertarian free will at least as concerns some of our decisions. Agent-cause grounded through personal-agency in turn metaphysically grounded in God explains our seeming freedom the way we actually experience it! None of the other alternatives seem fully to encompass that feat.

Critique of Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture”


Sean Carroll has written a book, “The Big Picture, On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself“. In it, he weaves two themes together. The first theme is that everything in the universe from stars and galaxies evolved to human consciousness, meanings, and values is rooted in a process of emergence that is, in turn, grounded exclusively in what he calls the “core theory” (quantum field theory plus the “standard model” of contemporary particle physics), the second law of thermodynamics, and the “past hypothesis” (the early universe was in a very low-entropy state). The second theme is simply that no other theory, in particular that there is a God and our experience of the universe is partly a product of his designs, is at all reasonable because it is highly unlikely. My short Amazon review of Carroll’s book is here. This essay is a more detailed critique of his approach to that second theme.

Throughout the book Dr. Carroll makes much of “Bayesian inference“, a process by which one comes to refine probability assessments. If, for example, I ask you what is the “prior probability” of a fair coin coming up heads on a single toss, you would naturally say 50%. Now you flip the coin and it comes up tails. The question here is “is the coin fair”. You are asked, given your new data, to reassess your estimate of “prior probability”. One throw is not going to make a difference. If I throw the coin 10 times and it comes up tails 7 of them then what? Seven tails is not all that unlikely even given a fair coin. If after 1000 throws the coin comes up tails 699 times, you think that 50% prior probability was wrong and indeed the coin is not fair. This sort of reassessment works because we can count events. We can compare what we count with what we think should happen and reevaluate our original position. Carroll applies Bayesian reasoning to God, to the probability that he exists. What, exactly, is he counting here? Not events certainly.

Actually, he isn’t counting anything. He offers assertions made about God alongside various philosophical challenges already prejudged to count for or against the likelihood of God’s existence. These aren’t data exactly, but assertions about the world, some sensible and some not. Their sensibility is nowhere independently evaluated, nowhere placed into any context that might change how we think they count for or against God.

Dr. Carroll is too casual about what counts and in what direction it counts. Most of his examples are negative, Hume’s “argument from evil” and the historical fact of there being many different views of God for example. “Why not make himself plain” asks Carroll? That there are reasonable answers to those questions besides God’s non-existence he does not mention. He does adduce a few pieces of evidence in God’s favor, for example the fact that every people comes up with some sort of view of him even if it varies greatly from culture to culture. But his sympathies clearly lie on the negative side here. With regard to Hume’s “argument from evil”, he does allude to the matter of “free will”. He speculates that it might be important to God (though not to us apparently) but fails to appreciate its potential as a part of a full explanation (perspective in this case) in much of what he counts against God’s likelihood. As it happens, free will turns out to be a lynch pin issue for Carroll’s view.

Dr. Carroll is a materialist. He warns us constantly to be alert to cognitive bias, but fails to appreciate his own. He believes that if a phenomenon cannot be measured (at least in potential) by physical instruments ending in our sensory experience, that is intersubjectively by third parties, then it cannot be real. His argument for this is not merely that we don’t find anything but the physical with physical instruments, but what we do find actually explains everything (at least in potential) and so there remains no room for anything other than the physical. Even if such an other were to exist, it has no impact, no physically measurable interaction, with the physical! Why then would we need to posit it?

How did Carroll get here? He tells the story of being a little boy and wanting very much to project causal power directly from his mind to objects lying outside him. He wanted to “bend spoons”. What boy doesn’t? After a while he realized that this is just not something humans are given to do. But he mistakenly concludes (eventually) that if our mind’s cannot bend spoons then they cannot affect any change in any material reality. Coupled with this assumption is Carroll’s affinity for the present view in physics that there aren’t strictly causes in the universe. Of course it is perfectly reasonable for us to talk of cause, a convenient fiction, but really all that is going on in the physical world is the evolution of physical states, this being a natural product of time and the thermodynamic arc from a low entropy past to a high entropy future.

At that point in his life however his materialistic leanings must have been well formed because he missed one obvious alternative; that mind does in fact affect the disposition of matter-energy in exactly one place, in the functioning brains of creatures advanced enough to be conscious! He ultimately justifies his rejection by declaring that nothing of such an influence can be measured. That part is true, we can (as in quantum “virtual transactions” with which Carroll is comfortable) only measure their effects, in this case the subsequent behavior of a body.

We can measure all sorts of goings-on in the brain and we have done an amazing job of tying subjective states to certain kinds of brain-state correlations. But there is no guarantee that in all that we detect, some part of it, some part of what we do in fact measure, is actually caused by something non-material. All we see is physical activity and correlations. If some small part of the complex resonances of the brain were influenced by something that was not in fact material, how would we ever tell? Late in the book, in his chapter on free will, Carroll denies that libertarian free will is even possible precisely because if it was it would entail that some non-material entity made a difference to some material phenomenon. This is a crucial juncture for Carroll’s thought. If there is even one place in which a non-material entity (like a mind) has an influence on the physical world then that influence would be a genuine cause, not merely an evolution from a prior state because that trigger (’cause’ being a good name for it) is not fully determined by any prior state of the universe. This is why libertarian free will is the fulcrum on which Carroll’s whole argument hangs. If he is right and all states of the universe are evolutions from prior states, then libertarian freedom is impossible. But if libertarian free will is real, if we can be uncaused causes, then physics cannot be the ultimate explanation of everything. In particular there has to be something, at least in one place, where as he puts it, “ideas cause physics”.

Why should we, that is physics, accept that there is “one place” in the universe where genuine cause exists? We do not find it anywhere else, why should we believe it happens in relation to the behavior of our bodies? We cannot bend spoons with our mind, why should we think that our minds have an antecedent causal relation with the material entity we call our brain and from there (uncontroversially enough) our body? I can’t bend spoons by staring at them, but I can grab them in my hands and bend them. Why should physics accept that subjective mind is an effective cause in the latter case and not the former? The reason is simple enough, because it is the one place in the universe that we seem to experience it! We experience ourselves being causes, even original causes via control of a body and only via that mechanism. Perhaps this is illusion? Indeed this is entailed by Carroll’s claim that libertarian free will is impossible. But as we look around us in the world and ask from where, if anywhere, new causal chains seem to emerge, the answer is plain, from people.

Carroll asks, if God is so important (as most religions claim he is) then why isn’t his activity in the universe more obvious? Why are we able to tell the complete story of cosmic evolution in physical terms without seeming to leave anything out? Here he is being a bit disingenuous. There is one place, one source, through which God’s influence can be discerned, in the behavior of people, the only locus of genuine original cause in the physical universe. Carroll certainly would ask “where besides people”, and the answer is “nowhere else besides people”! Only people have libertarian free will and it is only by exercise (and by certain exercises and not others) of this will that God influences the world. Why God set things up this way is another question dealt with at length in my books. The issue as concerns Carroll is that he misses the possibility that God did indeed set things up this way, and in so doing renders original cause in the physical (our choice to act ends after all with a behavior of a physical body) compatible with a causeless physics.

Free will is the crux of the answer to the question of why God doesn’t “make himself plain” as Carroll puts it. Doing so would abridge exactly that power, libertarian free will, whose exercise does (loving one another) or does not (killing on another) incrementally bring the world into alignment with God’s desire to evolve a physical universe transformed from a pure competition for survival to one of universal loving cooperation. Done in this way, in the end, a physical universe of love comes about through the free willed choice and not coercion of genuinely independent minds. The combination of purposeless physical mechanism, libertarian free will, and perception of values (truth, beauty, and goodness) in mind go together. God (should he exist) has to be capable of direct and personal action in the physical. Perhaps he does this on occasion, but such occasions are either beneath our notice (see below on life), or very rare, enough so that we can effectively discount their effect in the day by day unfolding of physical process.

Certainly we do not detect the “influence of God” in much of human behavior. But it doesn’t have to be detected in every act. It is enough if it is present even sometimes. What would “the influence of God” look like? Suppose I act to do some kindness, some good, to a person I have every reason to hate. I do this good (let us suppose) for no other reason than that I believe he, like me, is a “child of God”. That sort of decision, taken freely, results in the sort of action that infuses God’s spirit (however much or little of it) into the world. That is what it would look like, people doing good and especially so when they would seem to have every reason to do the opposite.

Because our subjective minds are the one place in the universe over which some non-material entity has some antecedent causal control, the behavior of our bodies, also connected to those minds, are the material locus of novel causal chains. Of course not all of these chains need originate in an attempt to infuse the world with God’s spirit. It is enough that some do! It is also not necessary that any intellectual belief in God (as in the example above) underlie the act. It is enough that the act reflects some one or more of the values truth, beauty, or goodness. Every act of kindness, of unselfishness, of reverence for truth, or creation of beauty, is part of the process of infusing God’s spirit into the world. God doesn’t “make himself plain” precisely so that such acts fully and freely belong to us.

What about a believer who says “God ordered me to kill that man”, or “God has ordered that all heretics be put to the sword”. Put plainly, such declarations are false, lies, and for two reasons. First because the values, God’s spirit detected by our minds, are truth, beauty, and goodness. Killing might sometimes be necessary for material reasons (self defense for example) but it cannot ever reflect the “will of God”. No act that does not reflect one of more of the values results in a behavior that infuses God’s spirit into the world. Second, God doesn’t order anyone to do anything good or evil. That is what free will is for. God provides only spiritual pointers. A decision to do anything with or about them, positive or negative, is entirely up to us.

The general thrust of Carroll’s argument is that what physics has discovered about the universe must be true. This doesn’t mean the discoveries are the complete story of everything by any means. What he means here is that they must be a part of the truth and indeed a major part as concerns the cosmos over all. He notes that we live in a universe that, in its deep past, had a very low-entropy. Whether or not this was the literal beginning of our universe of some stage of a longer process he, and we, do not know, but at some point in the past entropy was very low. Thanks to this beginning, combined with the forces of the “core theory”, and the fact that the universe is not yet in thermodynamic equilibrium, we live in an age of developing complexity. From Carroll’s viewpoint, everything from the gathering of primordial particles into atoms, stars, and galaxies, to the appearance of life, consciousness, and love, is all merely the physical evolution of contingent (it might have happened otherwise) complexity thanks to the potentials made possible by the settings and regularities (laws) coupled with that moment in cosmological history in between a very low entropy beginning and a very high entropy future.

I have no doubt that the physical complexity we find around us, from stars to other people, even our own brains hangs on exactly what Dr. Carroll claims here. That is, the thermodynamic arc, coupled with the core theory not only allows for all of these possibilities, but also that they are indeed physically constructed (emerge) from them. Carroll is not alone here, a number of recent books, including one of my own, builds on the phenomenon of emergence.

In building complexity Carroll notes that, from our viewpoint, as the evolution of the physical results in information being compounded upon information we find value in describing phenomena at different levels. There are many examples of this. His favorite (an uncontroversial example, another being the relation between Newtonian mechanics and General Relativity he also mentions) is the language of “gas laws” (temperature and pressure) to describe the same phenomenon as are described at the level of individual molecules with “statistical mechanics”. Same phenomenon, different languages.

In truth, this transformation of viewpoints does carry all the way up from physics to chemistry, biology, and even sociology. The reason such language transformations work in these cases is precisely because we are able, as observers, to measure these phenomena! As we study the behavior of social systems (or gasses), we are able to measure what the people (or molecules) physically do, where the money (in paper or bits) flows, how ideas are exchanged. All of this has to do with observable (measurable) behavior. In fact, as I noted above, it is in observing the behavior of persons, assuming libertarian free will to be genuine, that we sometimes (if we know what we are looking for) detect the influence of God in the physical universe.

But Dr. Carroll confidently asserts that the same phenomenon is going on, that is, what we have is nothing more than an “alternative language”, as concerns such subjective phenomena as feelings, thoughts, qualia, and decisions. He insists, that these are “nothing more than ways of talking” about physical phenomena that can be measured (at least in potential), and that once we have actually measured all of them we will discover that there is nothing else to be said about subjective experience. He insists that one day we will, from a third-party perspective as observers, be able to explain ourselves in the same way that we connect up statistical mechanics to the gas laws and Newton with Einstein.

Plainly there is a difference here, a difference of which Carroll must be aware. Unlike the phenomena described by Boltzman or Einstein, we are not third party observers of subjective experience. By definition it is individual, subjective, available only in the first person. What makes our internal states different from such things as the gas laws is that they cannot be intersubjectively quantified. They can’t be measured by third parties. Of course we can measure the obviously physical phenomenon that underlie their appearance, the functioning brain, but we can never “connect up” a pain quale or a belief with a neural event in the same way as we can connect individual molecules with their average collective behavior because we cannot measure the other [subjective] side.

Solipcism (the notion that I alone am real or genuinely conscious and everyone else is some part of my dream), isn’t much taken seriously, but that we can entertain the notion and that we do not find it obviously incoherent demonstrates the uniqueness of our subjectivity, its inaccessibility from the outside. We can find correlations between neurons and subjective content, but we can never be sure that subjective content is “nothing more” than neurons because we can’t quantify the gap. We can measure that more C-fiber firing correlates with more intense pain, but we cannot show why chemicals spewing across a synapse should manifest as the subjective quality of pain.

In a later part of the book, Carroll declares that, like libertarian free will, there can be no such thing as post-mortal existence. He says there is nothing in physics, in the core theory or anything we observe to support this idea. Of course he is correct. There is nothing in physics to suggest any such a thing is possible, but the claim as concerns such survival has nought (usually) to do with physics. True, there are doctrines that say our bodies are ressurected. Those doctrines are, to put it bluntly, wrong. If anything survives mortal death it isn’t a physical entity. How the survival mechanism might go, I address in another essay. But whatever the mechanism, it has nothing to do with physics. Carroll claims there is nothing in physics that supports any concept of a post-mortal life. Limited to the idea of a physical post-mortal survival he is right. But he isn’t addressing the real issue which is the possibility of a non-physical survival mechanism. Science has no business being anything but neutral on this matter.

Carroll here isn’t content merely to claim that a post-mortal experience is impossible. He derides it with a story of a man who, upon dying, goes to heaven and decides to spend his days endlessly having sex, eating, and playing golf. Eventually the man grows bored and begins to contemplate suicide. Carroll’s story, meant to be humorous, is akin to a kindergardner who, having been told that her career aspirations will require another 20+ years of school, imagines that those 20 years will be filled with finger painting, naps, and story-time! Really Dr. Carroll? You are far past kindergarden and you cannot think of anything more adventurous and compelling as concerns growth toward perfection than more of the same, more finger painting, naps and story time? You could not imagine something more robust? Does death alone perfect us in God’s eyes?

In another shot at a straw man, Carroll asks, if God created us, a single planet populated by creatures that can (rightly or wrongly) contemplate him, why go on to create the rest of the physical universe of billions and billions of galaxies? The rejoinder here seems pretty obvious. The doctrine that we are alone in the universe, alone “created in God’s image” is, like the notion of a resurrected body above, simply wrong, another 2000 year-old notion whose time is long past. The universe is, or will be, inhabited. To be sure I am not speaking of every rock being populated, but billions of rocks have conditions suitable for life even as we understand it. Given that God seems to be intent on making over the universe based on the free will choices of suitable creatures, all of those rocks, if they are not already inhabited by personal beings (whatever their physiology) are evolving in that direction! This speculation leads to some testable predictions.

Let us say, broadly speaking, that there are three general mechanisms by which life appeared in the universe. The first is simply random accidental association, what most scientists on Earth today believe. That this is highly unlikely, but nevertheless possible (that is physically possible) is granted. Secondly, supposing God exists, perhaps he arranged things at the beginning of the universe such that life would not only be possible, but likely to arise in all (or most) more-or-less supporting environments. The assembly of life remains, in this view, strictly accidental, but now more of “an accident waiting to happen”, a not-uncommon accident once certain environmental conditions are met; conditions found in many places throughout the universe. This view is suggested by notions like the “anomalous monism” of Donald Davidson and Thomas Nagel, or panpsychism from David Chalmers. Carroll would undoubtedly note (and I would agree with him) that there is no evidence in physics for either of these views. The third possibility is that God (directly or indirectly) has a hand in initiating life (which evolves by Darwinian mechanism from that point forward) on each life bearing world.

In the first scenario, we expect life to be very rare. Of the billions and billions of potentially inhabitable worlds only a very few would exhibit life at all, and even fewer a life that advances to consciousness. We might also find once-living-now-dead worlds where life managed to begin but was snuffed out as environmental conditions evolved unfavorably. Mostly, however, we would expect to find no life present or past on most worlds.

The second scenario results in a much different outcome. Life would be everywhere (or nearly) in every supporting environment. We would also expect to find many once-living-now-dead worlds because life starts itself easily when conditions are right, even if they are not destined to remain so. Mars is a seminal possibility here. It is widely believed that the Martian environment was once life-supporting, but evolved away from that state. If this second scenario is true, then we would expect to find evidence of ancient and extinct past life on Mars. We would also expect, since God had a hand in this scenario, that any planet whose conditions were such as to support highly complex and conscious life would eventually do so. We might stumble on such a world in a primitive age prior to the evolution of complex forms, but if we could follow the planet for a few billion years and its geophysical evolution continued to be supportive, we would expect conscious life to evolve.

In the last scenario we would expect something very different again. We would expect either that a world is dead, having no present or past life if the present environment is not life supporting, or the world has life and both the physical conditions and that life always evolves to consciousness. On every world where life is to be found, consciousness follows eventually. Why? Because God “knows the end from the beginning”. Why would he initiate life on a world (for example Mars) that was destined to lose the capacity to support it? If God starts life on a world, he would know that world will evolve geophysically in parallel with biological evolution and eventually come to support complex (and conscious) life. This is not to say that every living world has at this time evolved complex life, but under this scenario, it will.

Even given the second or third scenarios above, there is no guarantee, indeed it remains highly unlikely, that we will ever be able to detect such life across light years of space. There are too many variables, and at least one of them, is not even on the minds of astronomers and astrobiologists. Why, if life is started where it has the potential to become conscious, have we not yet found evidence of it? There are three broad possibilities.

1. Life on the remote world has not reached an electronic stage or is not industrialized in a way that leaves detectable pollutant traces in its atmosphere.
2. Life on the remote world has reached an advanced and electronic stage but we cannot detect it because: (a) it is far away and the signals haven’t reached us yet, or (b) the signals, having reached us are just too weak to distinguish from any background.
3. Life on the remote world has reached an advanced stage, but it is not and will never become electronic.

The last is a distinction to which scientists and philosophers alike seem oblivious. They assume that “advanced life” is necessarily concomitant with industrialization and electronic signalling; a very provincial assumption. From God’s viewpoint an “advanced civilization” would be one in which all or most people freely choose to attempt to do his will, to love others and be generally successful in the attempt. It would be a world that has (among other things) long relegated such phenomena as war, bigotry, and crime to its distant past. There is nothing about this sort of advancement that entails electronics. I discuss this at some length in my first book, but the bottom line is that there is nothing about Earth’s particular historical path that suggests anything similar is implied by the notion of “advanced civilization” on other worlds.

I hope I am not being unfair to Dr. Carroll. He has contemporaries in the scientific community who become apoplectic at the mention of God. Carroll does not become apoplectic. He tries to make room for such a possibility while rejecting it as “highly unlikely”. He is brave enough, and does manage, to put his finger on the crux of the matter. If libertarian free will is real, then physics must be incomplete. By itself this wouldn’t prove that God exists, but it would, in Bayesian terms, set his prior-probability very high. Rather than accepting that libertarian free will is real, the evidence being our subjective experience of it, his cognitive bias leads him to reject it, essentially denying what must be his own experience. He is far from alone in this. To me there is considerable irony in scientists and philosophers (ordinary folks mostly don’t think about it) freely denying their freedom.

Carroll has a very nice website and blog. I have tried on occasion to engage him as concerns these matters, but he has been disinclined to respond. His cognitive bias is, after all, very strong. If there is a discussion of his book on his blog I will let him know about this critique in a comment. I don’t imagine I will hear from him, but I am open to being surprised.

Rum Review: Old Monk XXX


Old Monk 7 years-old blended XXX “Very Old Vatted” — Yes it says all of that on the label.

Color: medium amber-gold! Very pretty!
Legs: fast, thin
Aroma: Tobacco, coffee, molasses, alcohol, banana, apricot, vanilla — Wow! All sorts of things packed in there.

Taste: Vanilla up front. Sugar, brown sugar, burnt caramel (treacle), raisin, allspice (or cloves and cinnamon). Some creaminess. Like the aroma, lots of flavors you actually taste!
Aftertaste: medium, slight heat, sweetness fading to alcohol, slightly bitter at very end.
Sugar: Unknown. The Rum Project Sugar Test page lists “Old Monk Supreme” (not the same product I do not think) as having only 3g added sugar, that’s very little. But this one is not listed.

My third bottle of this rum, it is something of a controversy. Was once one of the world’s leading sellers in the rum category, not necessarily because it is so good, but because it is inexpensive and adored (or once was) by a vast following in India. Yes, this is an Indian rum. Personally I like it. It tastes adulterated with sugars (perhaps) and other flavorings, but for all its various sugar flavors it’s only a little sweet. Adulterated (if it is) doesn’t have to mean bad, and after all, even for relative purists like me, it’s what some rum is all about. It reminds me of Indian food. Like Indian cuisine, a huge number of flavors are piled up on one another. Some people just don’t like that effect, or at least it isn’t their favorite sort of flavor, but sometimes it’s the difference from “your normal” that makes the experience memorable.

So why drink this rum?

1. It’s inexpensive. At $18 around here it is one of the two lowest price, aged, and easily sippable rums I’ve found around me, Gosling’s Black Seal being the other at the same low price.
2. It isn’t a bad rum, just different. The price makes it well worth the experience.
3. How many Indian rums do you know? Broaden your horizons!