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An Interview with Tim Roberts on Artificial Intelligence, Religion, and Logic, Rationality, and Evidence (Part Three)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/04/22


Tim Roberts is the Founder/Administrator of Unsolved Problems. He self-describes in “A Brief and Almost True Biography” as follows: I was definitely born lower-middle class.  Britain was (and probably still is) so stratified that one’s status could be easily classified.  You were only working class if you lived in Scotland or Wales, or in the north of England, or had a really physical job like dustbin-man.  You were only middle class if you lived in the south, had a decent-sized house, probably with a mortgage, and at work you had to use your brain, at least a little. My mother was at the upper end of lower-middle class, my father at the lower. After suffering through the first twenty years of my life because of various deleterious genetically-acquired traits, which resulted in my being very small and very sickly, and a regular visitor to hospitals, I became almost normal in my 20s, and found work in the computer industry.  I was never very good, but demand in those days was so high for anyone who knew what a computer was that I turned freelance, specializing in large IBM mainframe operating systems, and could often choose from a range of job opportunities. As far away as possible sounded good, so I went to Australia, where I met my wife, and have lived all the latter half of my life. Being inherently lazy, I discovered academia, and spent 30 years as a lecturer, at three different universities.  Whether I actually managed to teach anyone anything is a matter of some debate.  The maxim “publish or perish” ruled, so I spent an inordinate amount of time writing crap papers on online education, which required almost no effort. My thoughts, however, were always centred on such pretentious topics as quantum theory and consciousness and the nature of reality.  These remain my over-riding interest today, some five years after retirement. I have a reliance on steroids and Shiraz, and possess an IQ the size of a small planet, because I am quite good at solving puzzles of no importance, but I have no useful real-world skills whatsoever.  I used to know a few things, but I have forgotten most of them.” He discusses: artificial intelligence, and strange parts of science; conformity; a detour into Quantum Mechanics via ignoring the question; a known unknown; religion; more religion; mistaken truths; local peer group influence on human beings; logic, rationality, and evidence; and wishful thinking.

Keywords: artificial intelligence, operating systems, programming, religion, Tim Roberts, Unsolved Problems.

An Interview with Tim Roberts on Artificial Intelligence, Religion, and Logic, Rationality, and Evidence: Founder/Administrator, Unsolved Problems (Part Three)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*I assumed “Professor” based on an article. I was wrong. I decided to keep the mistake because the responses and the continual mistake, for the purposes of this interview, adds some personality to the interview, so the humour in a personal error.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Looking at some of the core research and teaching interests for you – artificial intelligence, operating systems, and programming, what seem like some of the more exciting developments in those fields?

Tim Roberts: Let me be clear. The fields of programming, and operating systems, where I did most of my teaching, are of little or no interest to me. But the field of AI (Artificial Intelligence) is and was intensely fascinating, because it speaks directly to the human condition. Are we uniquely intelligent, in some way, or can machines do what we do? They are only made of metal and silicon. But, at the same time, and perhaps even more extraordinarily, we are only made of meat.

If our brains were expanded to the size of mills or factories, or if our synapses were replaced by silicon, would we suddenly cease to find conscious thought? If so, why

And it is such questions that have always fascinated me. The universal questions, which are now largely clichés. Why are we here? Why is there something, rather than nothing? Are humans special in any way? What is the relationship between the brain and the mind? What role if any do Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity play in our understanding of reality?

Such questions have been debated for millennia, and I have devoted my life to their consideration.

AI is therefore a fascinating topic to me. Long ago, it was thought that machines could only do physical, and not mental, work. And then it was discovered they could do arithmetic, and the definition of AI changed. And then they could play games, and the definition changed again. And then they could recognize faces, and it changed again. And so on and so on. And though no computer has yet passed the Turing test under reasonable conditions, this is clearly not far away.

When we have robots that look like us, and talk like us, and act like us, who are we to say, sure, but they’re really not like us? And it was while studying such matters that I read the works of many eminent people in the field, such as Ed Feigenbaum, Marvin Minsky, John McCarthy, and so on, and commentators and critics such as John Searle.

And I also read a book by Hubert Dreyfus, entitled “What Computers Still Can’t Do”. Which was seminal in my thinking, because, although he was not the first, he was perhaps the most pivotal in convincing me that really intelligent people (Dreyfus was a high-profile Professor at UC Berkeley) can be really very stupid in individual matters where the evidence is contrary to their preconceived notions.

And we find this all the time in people across the whole spectrum of IQ levels. To take the classic example of religious belief, for those of a religious bent, if they were born in South Carolina, they will almost certainly be Baptists; in Dublin, Catholics; in Tehran, Shia; in Tel Aviv, Jews; in Islamabad, Sunni; in Peshawar, Sikh; in Mumbai, Hindu; to name just a few. But to take just these seven, at least six must be misguided.

And so religion is not a matter of logic and evidence. But further, it is not even a matter of faith. Rather, it is an accident of birth. The vast majority of those of faith have not made a rational choice, but instead followed their local peer group.

I do not want to suggest that religion is unique in this respect. It infects almost all aspects of our lives, including political beliefs, belief in ESP, etc. I find the literature in the field of social psychology extremely fascinating. We are all desperate to appeal to, and conform with, our neighbors, it seems.

2. Jacobsen: Does intelligence protect against this conforming with one’s neighbours to some degree – for good or ill – or simply provide the ability to give more elaborate justifications?

Roberts: I regret, probably the latter.

3. Jacobsen: To those aforementioned “cliché” questions, in the order presented, any answers to them, in part or whole?

Roberts: Gosh. I could tell you the answers, but I’d have to kill you. But seriously…it would be arrogant of me in the extreme to claim that I had even partial answers to any of these questions. And even if I did, this would not be an appropriate forum in which to air them. In any event, there is no way that they could be adequately expressed in a few paragraphs.

So let me instead ignore the question, and instead make a general point, which will already be obvious to many.

The two theories underlying our current understanding of the natural world are Quantum Mechanics, as espoused by Bohr and Heisenberg and others, and General Relativity, as espoused uniquely by Einstein.

To take just the first, QM, the basic conclusions are so absurd that Blind Freddie can see they must be wrong. Anyone with half a brain can say in general terms why they are wrong. And anyone with a whole brain can explain in detail why they are wrong.

So, all good. Except for the inconvenient truth that they are not wrong. They are underpinned by relatively simple mathematics, and by millions (yes, literally millions) of practical experiments.

To the extent that the results (of both QM and GR) are incorporated into millions of technological devices. And have to be, or they would be inaccurate and unusable.

Now, the next time your GPS leads you into the middle of a corn field, you may disagree, but still…

And there are many different types of experiment that can be, and have been, performed, but just the basic double-split experiment, which can be performed easily by students in a high school physics class, can serve as the basis for many of the mysteries.

These mysteries have been interpreted in numerous different ways. These have all been written about at length many, many times, in various forms ranging from popular science books aimed at the lay reader to highly technical scientific papers aimed at specialists. But they all boil down to this point: the real world does not exist in any rational manner between observations.

An electron can be in one position at observation A, and at another position at observation B, but is only a fictional entity between these two. It cannot be said to travel between the two positions in any realistic sense.

Now, many with only a passing knowledge of this topic will say, ah, you just mean, you don’t know the path it took. No, I do not mean that at all. I mean that it really does not exist between the two measurements.

Now, if called upon to explain this, I would stumble over my words, but make the point that it is perhaps most easily explicable by some form of backward causation. What we choose to do later, influences what it did earlier.

This is not a phenomenon that we experience at all in the macroscopic world that we inhabit. But, it appears, it is commonplace in the QM world, which underlies our own reality.

4. Jacobsen: Good golly, I’m still alive. Lucky me, what does this imply for the “real world” and something like a “virtual world”? Are these reasonable terms in this context of the tested-millions-of-times theoretical structure of QM?

Roberts: Even today the reality underlying the quantum world, and the everyday world we all experience, have not been able to be reconciled in any realistic way.

5. Jacobsen: If religion is not a matter of logic, evidence, or faith, but an accident of birth, what are matters of faith within reasonable limits, where human mentation appears to hit hard limits and faith can be reasonably held?

Roberts: I can’t think of any.

6. Jacobsen: What is religion?

Roberts: Largely, reliance on mistaken truths as perceived by ignorant old white men.

7. Jacobsen: What religions are the most egregious in the “mistaken truths” category? If a differentiation, even a ranking, why that one?

Roberts: I’d hesitate on any ranking, since all are equally mis-guided.  The only exception I might make amongst the world’s major religions would be Buddhism, which is perhaps more a set of guidelines for leading a good life, rather than a religion as such.  There are no all-powerful supernatural beings capable of performing miracles, for example.

8. Jacobsen: Why are human beings following the local peer group more often than not?

Roberts: I don’t know, but I’m fairly sure that most biologists would argue that it provides an advantage to survival and reproduction.

9. Jacobsen: If you were to construct the most scientifically supported and rationally justifiable, and logically consistent, worldview as a religion, what would it be? You can call this religion whatever you like.

Roberts: I don’t think I understand the question. My own world views depend upon logic and rationality, and evidence as supplied by scientific experiment. But I wouldn’t call this a religion in any sense, since it does not have an old book as a foundation.

10. Jacobsen: What do you make of supernatural beliefs – previously mentioned ESP, or prayer? Of those massive amounts on offer, do any make sense to you, as empirical matters? Do these make sense to you, as simple wishful thinking and fulfillment of psychological needs matters rather than empirical matters?

Roberts: The last-mentioned. There is no evidence that stands up to even minimal scrutiny in support of any fundamental religious beliefs, or ESP.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder/Administrator, Unsolved Problems.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 22, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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