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Conversation with Donald Wayne Stoner on Family, Life, Love, and Reality: Member, Epimetheus Society


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/03/22


Donald Wayne Stoner is an Author, a Physicist, and a Software Engineer. He is a Member of the Epimetheus Society and One-in-a-Thousand Society. He discusses: growing up; family legacy; the rest of the family; experience with peers and schoolmates; professional certifications, qualifications, and trainings; some work experiences; job path; important aspects of the idea of the gifted and geniuses; myths that pervade the cultures of the world; treatment of geniuses; the greatest geniuses in history; purpose of intelligence tests; high intelligence; some of the tests taken and scores earned; the range of the scores; a genius from a profoundly intelligent person; the God concept; science; ethical philosophy; social philosophy; economic philosophy; political philosophy; metaphysics; worldview-encompassing philosophical system; the mystery and transience of life; meaning in life; meaning; an afterlife; and love.

Keywords: afterlife, Biblical Christian, Donald Wayne Stoner, Epimetheus Society, love, One-in-a-Thousand Society, physics, reality.

Conversation with Donald Wayne Stoner on Family, Life, Love, and Reality: Member, Epimetheus Society

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

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When you were growing up, what were some of the prominent family stories being told over time?

Donald Wayne Stoner[1],[2]*: How detailed a response would you like? There have been quite a few books written by and about my ancestors. My grandfather’s book of family stories is here:

For a very brief outline of what part of my family has been up to:

My Dad was a Caltech Mechanical Engineer who never stopped adding to his education. Our house was a playground of books and odd equipment. My Mom was a school teacher who took a crash course in physics and electronics during WWII, in order to get a good summer job.

They met at Oak Ridge, TN, while they were both working on the Manhattan project:

My Paternal Grandfather was a Mathematics and Astronomy Professor, inventor, and author:

His father, “C.C.” was a Civil War soldier, then a Judge, then served on the Kansas assembly. More:

The “Stoner” line carried the surname “Steiner” before we emigrated from Switzerland to the Colony of Pennsylvania, probably in 1738. The fellow who made the move was Johannes John Steiner (in local records, there is a double “n” in “Johannes”). He lived from 1673 to 1758. The Swiss records:

use a single “n” in “Johanes.” The intent of the surname-change was, probably, so we would blend in better. That worked until about 1968 when the meaning of “Stoner” changed.

We were descended from Ashkenazim Jews (Ashkenazim being Yiddish for “German), who have family records dating back to the early 1400s. For the details, work back from here:

C.C.’s wife was the daughter of a well-known evangelist, Peter Winebrenner:

Who was the nephew of the preacher John Winebrenner, whose name many churches still bear:

Jacobsen: I presume this family legacy provided a sense of an extended self.

Stoner: Indeed it did. Of course, I’m focusing on the highlights. It wasn’t all perfect. For example, C.C.  short for “Christian Cowen,” Cowen being his middle name, and his mother’s maiden name), didn’t have much good to say about his parents.

Jacobsen: What about the rest of the family?

Stoner: I’ve mentioned some examples: Engineer, teacher, technician, scientist, inventor, author, soldier, judge, politician, evangelist, and preacher. Add to that: consultant, programmer, farmer, jeweler, lawyer, contractor, homesteader, pitch scraper, artist, musician, and you have a start at it. Most of them came to the eastern “U.S.” from various parts of Europe. Most worked their way west by wagons or trains.

If you let me get started, I’ll probably overload you with my own stories. For example, at least presently, all of my children and grandchildren have Cherokee mitochondria (which is always completely from the mother’s side).

Jacobsen: How was the experience with peers and schoolmates as a child and an adolescent?

Stoner: Not very pleasant, at least in grade school; but I won’t waste any time complaining about that. Occasionally I had an outstanding teacher, and that made a great deal of difference. My third grade teacher suggested that my Mom teach me algebra at home. My Mom did that for a while, then switched to getting me books and materials for studying electronics. My Grandfather gave me a book on how to build simple calculating devices and computers. A 10th grade math teacher took the class to study a now-antique drum-memory computer at the local community college. I wrote a binary program that ran on it, and was immediately hooked. A 12th grade physics teacher started an after-school physics club and taught us some relativity and quantum mechanics. He also entered some of us in a state-wide (California) physics competition for which I received very little recognition outside of my physics class. At graduation, when various student’s names and accomplishments were listed, the last announcement was, “and one of these students placed fifth in a state-wide physics competition.” I turned to my “assigned walking partner” (I didn’t know enough girls to line one up for myself) and told her “that was me.” I doubt she believed me. The hard-core nerds thought I was cool, but I wasn’t usually respected by many of the other students.

College was better. The students who had made trouble were all gone. I majored in physics (and also math and chemistry during the first few semesters). I also took every computer class I could squeeze in. The local community college had an IBM system 360, which impressed me enough that I started building a computer of my own in my bedroom. My dad helped me run down parts for it. As much of it as I ever finished appeared to work correctly. (I still have it on a shelf in my garage, right next to many other complete and working computers which I have designed and built since then. Electronics has advanced so rapidly, that my first attempt became obsolete before it was completed. My most recent addition is thousands of times smaller, thousands of times faster, thousands of times cheaper, and indescribably more useful.)

One of the requirements for a degree in physics was a “bone-head” electronics class. I sat through the first lecture and asked the professor if I could just take the final. He smiled at me as said he’d like for me to look over some notes first. He gave me a thick stack of pre-Xerox copies and I took them home and started looking them over. My immediate reaction was that I had made a serious mistake. I was already learning new stuff in the first ten pages. I decided to stick it out anyway, and worked my way through the stack a couple of times, until I thought I understood what it said.

It had taken about two weeks, so I was a little worried that he might ask me why it took so long. He didn’t ask; he just smiled again and gave me the test. There were five problems. The first one was a shock. I had learned to use differential equations in my physics classes, but I had no idea that they could be applied to electronic circuits as well. I looked at the other four problems; they were even harder. After some experimenting, I figured out how to apply the equations to the first problem. It worked, and I experienced a bit of hope. The second problem was a little harder; but it eventually gave up its secrets and I had its solution as well. The third problem stopped me. I wrote about a page of notes explaining how I would set up the problem, but explained that I had no idea how to work the math. The last two problems were hopeless. I gave up, turned the test in, and explained to the professor that I had not done as well as I had hoped.

He smiled again and asked what I would like to do for the lab part of the class. Seeing a possible opportunity, I told him about the computer I was building, and asked if figuring out how to read and write data into, and back out of, its core memory would be a good enough project. He agreed that it would be an acceptable substitute. I had the use of a well-equipped electronics lab for the whole semester! I managed to get enough of it working that I was able to write up a paper to turn in, which explained how the memory worked. He agreed this met the lab requirements.

During that semester I had repeatedly asked him how I had done on the test. All I could get out of him was, “I’m sure you passed,” and the same smile. It wasn’t until the last day of class, when I was cleaning up my bench in the lab, and the rest of the students were going over their finals with the professor that I figured out that I had just had a brilliant practical joke played on me. Years later, when I compared notes with my friends who had received degrees in electrical engineering, I learned I was better prepared than they were.

When it came time to graduate, my “grad check” reported that I was one general education unit shy of graduation. This was due to my having had a math class “waved.” (I had taken it at a different college; they had waved the requirement but hadn’t transferred the units. I hadn’t bothered to do the math and hadn’t realized that this could become a problem.)

Since I had planned on leaving school and starting my life at that point, that’s what I did. A friend (who, unlike myself, was now a degreed physicist) asked if he should look for a job for me. I told him I thought I would be happy just doing fun stuff; but to keep my options open, I suggested that if a really cool job came up, maybe he should give me a call to check to see if I was hungry.

Jacobsen: What have been some professional certifications, qualifications, and trainings earned by you.

Stoner: Pretty close to noting. My inventions (mostly applications of A.I. to embedded-system computers) eventually earned me a pair of patents which seemed to impress potential employers; but I didn’t go back to finish my degree until a “real” publisher decided to pick up one of my books. Since it was a controversial book, heavily relating to science, I thought a degree in physics might look better than nothing next to my name.

By that time, one of my old professors was the head of the physics department, and he didn’t see a problem, so I retook the offending math class (a quick summer course) and they mailed me a signed piece of paper that purported to be a degree in physics. No employer ever seemed to care very much about it, but it was, technically, a bit of certification. My book was published, and I started to be regarded (and

occasionally quoted) as an “authority” in many of the different technical fields which I had addressed. The book’s controversial nature gained me at least as much notoriety as fame.

Jacobsen: What have been some work experiences and jobs held by you?

Stoner: Roughly in order: draftsman, aerospace electronics designer, [college fits in here] musician, sound system designer, ditch digger, optical disc engineer, programmer, inventor, embedded system consultant, author, lecturer, toy electronics engineer, semi retired, retired. This list reminds me of the spread of occupations covered by various members of my extended family.

Jacobsen: Why on earth did you pursue this particular job path?

Stoner: There was no consistent strategy: I’ve always just done whatever I thought was most needed (in different situations) at each time. Originally I worked for my Dad’s engineering company, doing whatever he needed at the time. But during college, I became interested in a local church-startup, which had caught my interest. By the end of college, I was doing more volunteer work for the church than studying. This included performing music and maintaining sound equipment for churches and evangelical groups of musicians.

I didn’t really have all that much use for money, until I asked a drop-dead gorgeous young lady (with a similar family background to my own) to marry me. I hadn’t warned her that I was thinking in those terms, so she was kind of shocked (understatement) when I asked her. Since, at the very least, I was expecting her to ask if I had any plans to get a real job, so I could support her, I was also kind of shocked (literal clinical “shock” would be a more accurate description) when she immediately and enthusiastically accepted. (In case, you hadn’t already guessed. She’s part Cherokee, on her mother’s side, straight up the female lineage — as are all of my grand kids, since my son’s have not yet produced any grand kids as of this writing.)

I started working on an early power-line carrier invention of a friend of the family who was an electrician. He had a contract to install some underground conduit which would ultimately use this invention, but what he needed immediately was to get some ditches dug. It was a job, and it would cover the immediate bills while I finished his invention.

Unfortunately, that friend died before we finished either the job or the invention. My bride to be went through with the wedding anyway, and we were off to what could have been a very bad start.

Fortunately, one morning, the phone rang. It was my “physicist” friend from college. He asked me if I was hungry. I answered, truthfully, that I actually was hungry. Having received my go-ahead, the next item on his agenda was that he had found that “really cool job” and wondered if I could please come in and apply for it. I did; and I immediately became a member of the team that was in the process of developing the “optical” disc. (These were later called CDs DVDs and a few other more familiar names). While I was there, microprocessors first hit the market. I was the only member of the team who had electronics, computer, and programming experience, so I became a paid participant in a new and wildly growing profession. For details, see:

As a relevant aside, Kevin Langdon’s L.A.I.T. came out while I was still working there. That company had intelligent management who, consequently, knew how to pick out intelligent engineers (even those who had questionable education and work experience). Kevin’s test was an immediate hit with all the engineers, who began copying it and passing it around. We were having so much fun with it, that it probably cost the project a day or two of lost work. I played with it long enough to acquire the reputation of being up to Langdon’s standards, which meant something even in that highly cerebral environment.

When the project was completed. All of the managers and engineers found work elsewhere. I soon found myself with large base of clients who all needed consulting help in the new field of embedded-systems microprocessor engineering.

Jacobsen: What are some of the more important aspects of the idea of the gifted and geniuses?

Stoner: There are only two really important categories:

1) Learning to survive: No one is expecting you; they have probably never met anyone like you before; they may not even really believe you exist. Furthermore, they are as different from you as you are from them; you may see them daily, but it may be difficult to comprehend how different they might be. Those other people will do unexpected things, and you can’t let your surprise show. The easiest way to tick people off is to let any implied “contrast” in abilities slip. You either have to master patience or become a hermit. Either path is a “short drive” to becoming “crazy.” For details, see: “The Outsiders”:

I was lucky in this category. My extended family has always been like me and have understood me. I also fell into many professional circles in which I felt quite “at home.”

2) Learning to be useful: The “Peter Parker principle” (popularized by Spider-Man) says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The proverb dates back to earlier times, and different contexts, but the general message is that we all owe something to the rest of society. Being a hermit is, arguably, a waste of our entire existence; but trying to help others is risky at best. The average person can’t tell the difference between a “prophet from God,” and a “heretic from the Devil.” Both are likely to get themselves crucified. There is a risk anytime you can “see” things which other people can’t.

Erwin Schro:dinger’s “cat” and Fred Hoyle’s “big bang” were both terms used to deride the sources of those ideas. More experiments eventually vindicated both ideas. But that vindication took many years. Those who take a stand, do so at their own risk. Those who don’t, risk the consequences of shirking their responsibility.

Again, I have been acceptably lucky. I have been in the wrong place at the right time, with sufficient frequency, to have made what difference I can; and have certainly earned my fair share of both derision and respect.

Jacobsen: Those myths that pervade the cultures of the world. What are those myths? What truths dispel them?

Stoner: I can make an enemy anytime I want to by identifying any one of those myths. I’ve certainly tried often enough to do this. Some pastors think my book “A New Look at an Old Earth” contains God’s Holy Truth. Others consider it the Devil’s own heresy:

“Truths” do not normally dispel “myths.” Otherwise, Schro:dinger and Hoyle’s “truths” would have won the day. When we are lucky, additional “evidence” will eventually prevail, as it eventually did with quantum mechanics and big-bang cosmology.

Jacobsen: When you think of the ways in which the geniuses of the past have either been mocked, vilified, and condemned if not liked, or praised, flattered, platformed, and revered, what seems like the reason for the extreme reactions to and treatment of geniuses? Many alive today seem camera shy — many not at all.

 Stoner: People like being told they’re right; they don’t like being told they’re wrong. Converting those who are wrong may be difficult or impossible. We all face different audiences; We have different abilities; We each choose our battles; And we get whatever results we get.

Jacobsen: Who seem like the greatest geniuses in history to you?

Stoner: That would, obviously, be whoever’s thoughts matched whatever I happen to be thinking at the moment. [sarcasm warning required?] Seriously, I’m in no position to rank the greatness of any minds which are greater than my own. Instead, I’ll answer an easier question: I’ll identify some men who have actually caused me to change my thinking: [or you could simply ask a follow-up question …]

Albert Einstein: Convinced me that my classical concepts of space and time were completely wrong.

John Wheeler: Convinced me that my classical understanding of [the] relationship between “time,” “causality,” and “human observation” was impossible.

C.S. Lewis: Convinced me that it was impossible for valid human thought to be produced in a causal environment.

Chapter 3:

Roger Penrose: Convinced me that (and showed me how) “uncaused” human thought could “cause” physical events.

Chapter 6:

Thomas Sowell: Convinced me that differences in human conclusions (e.g. liberal and conservative) result from fundamentally different world views.

Donald Johanson: Convinced me (with his detailed photos and descriptions) that neither Dawkins, Gould, nor my church had evolutionary “jumps” straight.

Bill Watterson: Convinced me that sometimes I just need to relax and enjoy the ride.

Jacobsen: What is the purpose of intelligence tests to you?

Stoner: Mostly no purpose. They generally tend to cause more trouble than good. However, there is at least one exception.

Once, one of my daughters was having trouble quickly sorting guys who were or weren’t “mentally challenged.” (Not really too surprising.) I remembered Langdon’s L.A.I.T. and went looking for it on the internet. Instead, I found Hoeflin’s Power Test. I printed a few copies for may daughter and kept one for myself (to make myself an “answer key”). My daughter decided against using it, but I had been having enough trouble at work (not always understanding or being understood) that I decided to send off my answers (with a check) and see how I’d do. I had kept track of my rate of answering the problems, and how often I had found an error in those answers; from this information, I had calculated that there were probably still two wrong answers left, at the time I mailed it. Dr. Hoeflin scored me with four misses. I didn’t like that, but it was still a good enough score to get into some societies. I joined a couple of them and actually made a few cool internet friends that way. That gave me a chance to try arguing some of my ideas with some people who were prepared to give me at least as hard a time as I could give them. Eventually, I decided the exercise was a learning one, and well worth doing. (This is the one exception noted above.) Over the next few months I located the two mistakes I was expecting to find. Much later I noticed that another problem had multiple possible answers. I wrote to Dr. Hoeflin Explaining this, but wasn’t really expecting the answer I didn’t receive. Recently, I noticed that the problem in question had been changed on the copy of that test which is still on the internet. I don’t know if there was a connection or not. In any case, attempting to measure high-end intelligence is, at best, a “black art.”

Jacobsen: When was high intelligence discovered for you? 

Stoner: My mom told me she was watching me the first time I got a chance to play with my big sister’s blocks after that sister had finished. I was wondering if it would be possible to build “a tower” with them.

(It looked like it might be.) Well it was, but I remember being too clumsy to get the height I’d hoped for. Years later, when my mom told me about it, she also explained how it compared with what she had read

in child development books. But, of course, you can never trust a mother bragging about her own kids. Besides, she also told me that my sisters were all geniuses. I was sure that couldn’t be correct — except that, since then, I’ve watched my sisters grow up. In hindsight, it appears that you also can’t trust a brother complaining about his own sisters.

There were other clues: I was singled out as an artist in kindergarten; I’ve mentioned my 3rd grade teacher suggesting my mom teach me algebra. I had the best score at my jr. high school on a math placement test. There was the state physics competition, and the professor who handed me the effective equivalent of an advanced electrical engineering degree as a practical joke. Those around me often seem to have figured it out quite a bit faster than I ever did. What may have first clued me in was when the L.A.I.T. showed up at the lab where I was working — when I saw some of the actual problems. They were all very hard; but most of them had clear solutions.

A friend of mine once rescued a baby bird who was being pecked to death by a flock of adult birds. While he was trying to figure out what to feed it, he was informed that his young pet was actually a hawk. Maybe the way some of my peers treated me, early on, makes more sense than I could have guessed at the time. I did end up with more than my share of “life’s prizes,” which normal people tend to want to keep for themselves.

Jacobsen: What have been some of the tests taken and scores earned (with standard deviations) for you?

Stoner: My strategy for not acting creepy and ticking people off includes not publishing that kind of information. If anyone cares enough to do their own research, my raw score on the H.P.T. was 32; The other details can be found here: (I personally don’t endorse any high-end normings; I strongly suspect all are inflated; otherwise no one would like those tests.)

Jacobsen: What is the range of the scores for you? 

Stoner: I haven’t taken all that many of them, and their scores have differed greatly from each other. The lowest I’ve ever scored was under 120 (above average but not “gifted”), and the highest was on the H.P.T.

Jacobsen: What differentiates a genius from a profoundly intelligent person? Is profound intelligence necessary for genius?

Stoner: I’m not even sure what those two terms mean anymore. In the 1600s, Shakespeare’s plays and the King James Bible kind of canonized the English language. Before that, spelling was kind of free-for-all, and it was difficult to read works which preceded one’s own time by more than fifty years. With “political-correctness,” we’re sliding back into that morass again; words no longer have stable meanings. The I.Q. categories used to be: >=140: genius, >=160: high genius, >=180: highest genius, >=200: unmeasurable genius. Today there doesn’t appear to be any universally agreed-upon definition for either of your terms. Examples:

I’m guessing that if you defined those two terms for me, I would simply use your definitions as the answer to your own question. [or questions]

Jacobsen: Any thoughts on the God concept or gods idea and philosophy, theology, and religion?

Stoner: Yes, quite a few: I happen to be a “biblical” Christian (although I’m widely regarded to be something of a heretic, probably because I also study science and history before I make decisions about what that Bible means). For example, I believe that the first chapter of Genesis needs to be understood in the context of both 5000-year-old Sumerian writing and the best information we have from current cosmology.

I wrote a book on the age of the earth explaining how this works:

I have also posted a short web page explaining the remainder of Genesis, in the context of ancient Sumerian language and history:

Pastors and others who can be persuaded to change their minds often think my writings could save many Christians’ credibility from self-destruction. Those who are unwilling, or unable, to change their beliefs might actually consider “me” to be a threat to Christianity itself (as if that were possible). Unfortunately, most of the latter’s beliefs appear to be grounded in the science and philosophy of about A.D. 1500-1700.  I believe that combining modern understanding with the language and history in which the biblical writings were originally created is a much better approach.

It is my belief that “the Church” has been too slow ditching the ideas of Descartes and Newton, in favor of those of Einstein and Wheeler. Secular philosophers also seem to show the same reluctance to change, but in their case, it’s more easily understood: Not only is it true that modern physics: (general relativity, the Bell experiment, the big bang, …) give back all the ground that God supposedly yielded during the so-called “enlightenment” (circa 1600-1800), it’s also true that modern science doesn’t really even make sense, until we discard many of the philosophical structures which were created under naturalistic, causal, Newtonian mechanics. In one form or another, God” is back, whether or not either camp is willing to recognize “Him” in his real-world embodiment. For more detail, see my online book: Who Designed God?:

Jacobsen: How much does science play into the worldview for you?  

Stoner: Quite heavily. Science is, arguably, inseparable from my worldview. I am, after all, (finally) a “degreed physicist;” (although that is not actually a significant fraction of my scientific education. My chemistry and other science classes didn’t really make that much difference either.)

It started with my home environment: When I was in about the third grade, my dad started a local science club. This meant we always had plenty of interesting scientific equipment scattered around the house. This, coupled with a remarkable collection of readily available science books and other reference materials, got me started on many unsupervised projects of questionable safety. Mixing this kind of activity in with toy trucks and Monopoly games kept science a very real part of my early world. At about the same time, my dad also started taking me to the “Alumni” lectures at Caltech every year until he died. After that, my wife’s uncle, also a Caltech graduate, filled that gap by taking me to those lectures.

For another significant contribution: About forty years ago I was asked to teach a class on the first chapter of Genesis at the church I then attended. That first chapter addresses the history of the universe in approximately the same order in which the 500-579 section of a Dewey Decimal system Library is arranged. This coincidence made it convenient to organize my research by simply reading through that section of the local county library in its natural physical order.

Although I had formal training in physics, chemistry, and mathematics (and the one college biology class), and had been an avid reader of all kinds of scientific material, I realized I was still pretty ignorant of most of what I might need to know for the class. I really needed to fill in the holes.

Time was limited: (I had exactly eight full-time weeks budgeted). To help keep the task manageable, I mostly skipped over the physics and chemistry sections, figuring I was probably sufficiently well-informed there. I also skipped 580-599 just because those parts weren’t sufficiently relevant. To further thin the load: I used Isaac Asimov, as a guide. Dr. Asimov was still alive and writing at the time. He had already written so many books that he had some kind of introductory layman’s guide, spaced maybe about one for every ten or twenty running feet of books — all through the whole science section. Each of his books would introduce me to the key names and events in each division. I would start reading his book, then some of the more significant books, which he had mentioned. Next I would “chain” my way outward, using that additional information, until the authors were all beginning to repeat each other. I would also “judge books by their covers;” skipping over old, scientifically-dated books, among others.

Toward the end of those weeks, I was starting to notice that the authors in one section often appeared to be unaware of what authors in other sections had written. For one example, the geologists appeared not to have read what the astronomers had written about how the early earth lost its original atmosphere; otherwise, they would have had only one theory, instead of two, to explain how this had happened. I used this single theory in my own book (mentioned and linked in the previous question) which I wrote after teaching this class (to document my research and to make it available others). Here is a brief web page which includes the one single theory I had accepted:

After teaching the class and writing the controversial book, I received quite an extreme range of reactions (including being vilified and revered). I’ve been invited to speak and debate; I’ve also been “negatively featured” in the works of many who disagree with me. Although I’ve never actually been kicked out of a church, I don’t always feel completely welcome in every one.

This blended approach to science and theology is actually a continuation of my family legacy. My grandfather, Peter Stoner, wrote a book which was similar in many ways but was directed to a different (nearly exactly opposite, in fact) target audience:

Science Speaks

Jacobsen: What ethical philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Stoner: For most of us, the concepts of “right” and “wrong” seem to be, more or less, universally understood. The “Golden Rule” states: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” This rule is generally regarded to be the best summary of what morality requires. It was taught by Kung Fu Tzu (in the Sayings of Confucius 5:12), the Buddha (in the Dhammapada #129), Jesus (in Matthew 7:12, and Luke 6:31), and by many others. This Rule is not unique to any particular culture or religion; it is something which nearly everyone seems to understand.

Even so, the claim is often made that the terms “right” and “wrong” have no absolute meanings. “The Trolley Problem” is one of many exercises which are designed to support this claim; it forces a person to decide between two choices – both of which are obviously “wrong.” The two options are deliberately balanced to make the choice difficult; the specific options which are normally given in The Trolley Problem are: killing five helpless people by inaction (letting a runaway trolley crush them) or: taking action and killing one helpless person (switching the trolley onto a different track). When presented with these two options, most people will choose to save the five by actively killing the one – but some will argue that inaction is the better choice. Does this prove that moral standards differ – and that morality is, therefore, not really absolute?

In real life, people seldom encounter such extreme choices. They usually consider it their moral responsibility to look far enough ahead to anticipate situations where only bad options remain; once identified, they try to avoid those situations by disarming potential problems while other options are still available.

But this example is still an interesting way to explore what could happen in a situation where very small differences in judgment can produce opposite choices. Those differences can actually be as small as different life experiences. A medical doctor who has worked under wartime triage conditions, for example, may find it easier to make rapid life-and-death decisions (based on mere numbers) than a Hollywood stuntman – who might need to see convincing proof that the five aren’t just stunt dummies before he “takes action” to murder the one real actor.

For more detail, see Chapter Thirteen: The Weird Nature of Morality, here:

Jacobsen: What social philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Stoner: My first choice would definitely be living like a hermit. But “God” doesn’t leave me alone when I try it. “He” even enlisted help (in the form of the aforementioned jaw-dropping, nerd-kissing babe). She tends to make sure I live my “social” life by a philosophy which I would, by my own selfish nature, naturally avoid. I do not consider this to be an “error,” even though it is outside of my comfort zone; it is an acceptable compromise in the direction of social (and moral) responsibility.

When possible, I prefer to fulfill my social responsibilities by doing quiet, secluded research, from which others are likely to benefit.

Jacobsen: What economic philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Stoner: Ever since we left the hunter-gatherer phase of our existence, and then moved past the “traditional” nomadic/village existence, there have really only been two choices (or possibly three, counting the various attempted combinations): 1) Capitalism: Let it all take care of itself, and accept the consequences (for better and for worse) which Charles Darwin promised. 2) Socialism: Have someone take care of it all by force, and accept the consequences (so far, always a disaster, but the idea always promises hope): the mutant degradation, also promised by Darwin’s thesis — if not properly implemented anywhere in nature.

I’m solidly with Darwin on this one. Darwin’s other stuff appears to work as advertised with two notable (but presently irrelevant) exceptions:

A) The first living cell:

B) Punctuated equilibrium:

Jacobsen: What political philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Stoner: I am of the opinion that humans are barely capable of governing themselves, and completely incapable of governing each other. Winston Churchill probably had it straight: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Here’s the problem: If we start with the two economic systems (remembering that economics is a major part of what government must control), we have to try to strike some kind of balance between 1) Capitalism: self-regulating (but inherently ruthless), and 2) Socialism: idealistic (but requiring ruthless enforcement).

Darwin sorts out the errors in the former (at the expense of the less fit), but even if those who became the “masters” (over the rest of us) were sufficiently “omniscient” to know who should get the STM32F413 microprocessors, and who should make do, the best they could, with the STM32F103s, both producers and consumers will still lose their motivation to improve the system. (This example was deliberately chosen to be obscure, to emphasize the inherent difficulty in managing an entire technical economy.)

When you remove “survival pressure” from a system, the individuals don’t remain the same, they will still “mutate” randomly — and random mutations are seldom an improvement. If you make sure all “voters” are taken care of, by giving them a “living wage,” you will soon find that the majority of those voters will become incapable of supporting themselves. (It is extremely unlikely that many people will bother to study the differences between STM32F103s and STM32F413s without there being a significant reward in return for their efforts.) “Darwin” offers to fix this problem for us (with his bloody teeth and claws), but do we really want his “help?” On the other hand, what if we can’t even “survive” without that help?

What kind of “balance” could possibly keep everyone both happy (satisfied) and motivated (dissatisfied) at the same time? When worded this way, the problem becomes obvious: Any workable system must provide satisfaction to those who are productive and dissatisfaction tho those who are not. Otherwise, productivity quickly “devolves.” Historic examples are ubiquitous. Counterexamples, ephemeral.

Jacobsen: What metaphysics makes some sense to you, even the most workable sense to you?

Stoner: As a very young child, my default presumption was that matter was all there was. I had blocks, and other toys which also had wheels, levers and gears; I understood how these worked, and simply presumed that all other things worked essentially the same way. Then one day (all I remember for sure is that it was before my fourth birthday), I had caught myself staring out through my own eyes, at nothing in particular, and noticed how very strange it was that I could perceive the world around me, and how odd it was that I was aware of my own existence. In this case, there was obviously something very different about the “device” involved; it wasn’t just more complex; it seemed to operate on a completely different principle. (Half a century later, I would learn that scientists call this “The Hard Problem.”)

I was in college — building my own computer, one transistor at a time – before I had completely rejected the idea that an electronic computer could actually “think.” I finally understood “electronics” well enough that I simply knew better. For more detail, See Who Designed God? Chapter 8:

At that time, it would be fair to say I’d stopped being a mind-matter “monist,” and was firmly in the “dualist” camp.

This was before my education in physics included very much detail about relativity or quantum mechanics, partly because I was less than halfway to a mere B.S., but mostly because much of the really cool stuff hadn’t been discovered yet. My reading eventually brought me up to date. There were four men in, particular, (mentioned and linked above) who, together, forced my last step: Albert Einstein, John Wheeler, C.S. Lewis, and Roger Penrose. Together, these four finally convinced me that “mind” was the “primordial substance” and that “matter” was the “illusion.”

This makes me a “mind-monist.” Philosophers call this position, “Berkeleyan idealism.”

It often requires the “Bell experiment” to convince a skeptic to accept the truth of John Wheeler’s “Delayed-choice experiment.;” but, arguably, all of the evidence is actually present in Wheeler’s earlier and simpler version of this same odd piece of evidence. Wheeler’s Wikipedia page is linked above; the experiment is also summarized here pp.208-213:

Jacobsen: What worldview-encompassing philosophical system makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Stoner: Here’s the very short explanation “Berkeleyan idealism,” rephrased in the language of Wheeler’s experiment: “The “physical universe” doesn’t assume an “actual” form until after “observers” have chosen in what manner they will observe it; “reality” delays making all of it’s “choices” until after the “mind” of an “observer” has made “his/her/its” choice.

This is what George Berkeley (1685-1753) decided, hundreds of years ago, without the benefit of the evidence from Wheeler’s experiments. At that time, most philosophers could easily dismiss his suggestion. But since that evidence became available, this became about the only way I could make any sense out of the universe. Explaining this realization in detail is the central theme of my online book, Who Designed God?:

After Wheeler forced me to drop my naturalistic prejudices, and permitted me to consider stranger options, I was able to understand how that time, and space, might “exist” in “intangible form” — as mathematical properties which are self-existent and only statistically constrained. The final missing piece was the understanding that the “catalyst” which triggers the “solidification” of these mathematical properties (physicists call this “collapse of the wave function”) was “observation” by a “mind” (a “human” mind in every experimental write-up I have ever read, however, I am unconvinced that Erwin Schro:dinger himself was necessary to determine the fate of his “cat;” I suspect the cat was capable of performing his or her own observations.)

In any case, the experiments tell us that a “mind’s” act of “observation” determines the outcome of a “physical” experiment. Further, every bit of the “physical matter” from which the experimental apparatus is constructed, comprise nothing more than statistical mathematical properties, which do not become permanent either, until they are observed by a “mind.”

This oddness extends to the space and time (in which matter exists). They are, themselves, “bent” in odd ways to accommodate whichever “observer” happens to be looking at them at the moment. (This even goes as far as “simultaneously” accommodating two observers with very different coexisting frames of reference.)

Add to this the fact that statistical “mathematics” themselves are arguably more like “mental” concepts than they are like “physical” things, and it becomes hard  to think of anything as being “physical.”

Much of this will sound like patent nonsense to anyone who hasn’t “served time” in a quantum physics lab, as it would to any properly educated person living during the “enlightenment,” but it’s still a much better approximation of the true all-encompassing philosophical system which calls the shots in our universe.

However, this is not the only “possible,” way to resolve the evidence. It is just the “least complex” way. There are other equally absurd-sounding models which otherwise-lucid people propose to avoid the conclusion I have reached. One involves the universe constantly experiencing “infinitely” many bifurcations, to accommodate all possible observations which any sentient being might ever make. This requires a literally-infinitely more complex universe; but some consider this preferable to allowing that “mind” might have cosmic qualities. Here is a quite serious presentation of one such theory: See pp.236ff:

Those, like myself, who take the “cosmic-mind” path, have other issues to consider — such as deciding what to make of a few ancient passages from 2000-year-old biblical Greek:

In the beginning was the “logos” (Logic, thought, mind), and the “Logos” was with/at Theos (God), and Theos was the Logos. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. -John’s Gospel 1:1-3


He is before all things and in him all things “hold together.” (consist) -Paul’s letter to the Colossian church 1:17

These bits of ancient religion sound suspiciously like the sort of universal mind-monism which is presently haunting the world’s physics laboratories. Men, having once driven “the gods” from their realm (back during the “enlightenment”), are naturally somewhat reluctant to welcome back anything which sounds even faintly like them — or worse yet, anything like “Him” (capitalized and singular).

I’ve chosen to go with the traditional religious understanding followed by my family historically: Originally Jewish, then Christian..

Jacobsen: What do you make of the mystery and transience of life?  

Stoner: That is a very interesting question. Here are some more related questions: Why is it a “mystery” that life is so short? How long is life really supposed to last? Why is it that we all seem to sense that this life is *not* what it is supposed to be? Maybe what is truly strange isn’t that life is “brief,” it’s our firm conviction that this obvious and observable “fact” is somehow “wrong.”

These question could all be answered with the same simple suggestion: “This life” isn’t “real life.” It’s just “a test.” As we all seem to sense: “Real life” must be something which is more real and lasts much longer.

Jacobsen: What provides meaning in life for you?

Stoner: If you mean: “Why are we here?” “What is life all about?” “What is the purpose of existence?” … then this question can easily be answered in the context of the answer suggested for the previous question:

If this “life” is just” a test,” then the only things which are really “meaningful” are the “choices” we make. Those, alone, determine who we “really are.” Nothing else will be “graded.”

(This shouldn’t surprise us: According to Wheeler, those “choices” are exactly

what shapes all of “reality.”)

Jacobsen: Is meaning externally derived, internally generated, both, or something else?

Stoner: People often ask whether “truth” is externally derived or internally generated. Both are really the same question: Are our “minds” alone and in charge? Or do they act within a system of greater definitions?

I’m pretty sure that logic, and therefore mathematical truth, and therefore quantum mechanical truth, make up a greater reality within which my own thoughts can, rightly, be judged to be objectively true or errant. I have a similar opinion about the absolute-nature of the “morality” of my “choices.”

Jacobsen: Do you believe in an afterlife? If so, why, and what form? If not, why not?

Stoner: I do believe in an afterlife. The long explanation for “why” can be found in my online book “Who designed God?”:

It requires a fair sized fraction of that book to nail this question down. I’ll try a shorter answer here. The argument is not easy to follow, so I’ll begin with a simple warm-up problem: Is logic itself valid? There are two ways we might attempt to answer this question:

1) We could construct a “logical” proof that “logic” was valid.

This, unfortunately, would involve a circular (and therefore be an invalid) argument.


2) We could construct an “illogical” or “alogical” proof.

In which case we would be making an “invalid” argument right from the beginning. It would seem there can be no valid way to prove the validity of logic itself. But should we accept it anyway? Again we have two choices:

A) We can simply reject logic, in which case we are now finished with all logical arguments (including this one).


B) We can accept logic, in which case we must accept the consequence that logic is “primordial” (in the

sense that it cannot be tested by other things, but that it is a first principle by which all other ideas are tested). That would make it an “uncaused” “first cause” from which all other valid reasoning emerges.

That was the “easy” first step. Next, can our thoughts really be trusted? To answer this we must know how they are “caused.” If they are “caused” at all, do we cause them ourselves? Or do non-sentient forces cause them? If our thoughts are merely the last “domino” to fall, in a long chain of causes, then we might have good reason to distrust them. In my book, “Who Designed God?” I took several chapters to develop this idea properly:

Chapter 5: Quantum Mechanics

Chapter 6: From Quantum Mechanics to Brain

Chapter 7: From Brain to Mind

Chapter 8: Mind, Logic, and Mathematics

Chapter 9: Can Logic be Trusted?

Here, I’ll just touch a few key points:

As I explain (in an argument borrowed from C.S. Lewis) in chapter 9 (of my book), two different (actually opposite) meanings of the word “because” tend to confuse our thinking about causality. The more causality (because[CAUSE]) encroaches upon the process of our logic and reasoning, the less reason we have to trust the basis for that reasoning (because[GROUNDS]). When causality finally becomes absolute, our grounds for believing our conclusions disappears completely. This is the sense in which because[CAUSE] and because[GROUNDS] are opposites. They are mutually exclusive in our thought processes. When a person has a mechanical reason to say something (for example, because[CAUSE] they are prejudiced, or because[CAUSE] they are drunk, etc.) we believe we are justified in disregarding any “authority” their opinions might otherwise have carried. For more Detail, see: C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Chapter 3:

Next, Physicist Roger Penrose (co-author of Stephen Hawking’s paper on black holes), structures within our brain’s cells. He has teamed up with Stuart Hameroff to present very convincing experimental evidence that consciousness itself is a quantum-mechanical property. See: pp. 348ff:

Quantum mechanics breaks us free from the causal chain which would, effectively, have eliminated our ability to choose and robbed our thoughts of having independent meaning.

Returning to our choice above:

A) We can simply reject logic, in which case we are now finished with all logical arguments (including this one).


B) We can accept logic, in which case we must accept the consequence that logic is “primordial”

The “A” path rejects truth and logic. The only way we can continue to follow the “B” path is if our thoughts are “uncaused causes” instead of merely “caused” events. If we are sticking with a belief in logic and in our own ability to make choices, then we must conclude that our thoughts are not “caused” by matter. But if so, then it follows that they cannot be “uncaused” (though death) by the absence of, or by the failure-to-function of matter. That does not mean that there is nothing which can “uncause” them, but it wouldn’t be mere physical death. This argument is obviously contingent on truth and logic being accepted, but if they aren’t, then no questions have “answers.” So, it about as strong an argument as I am able to raise in defense of any logical concept. Accept it or reject it as you choose. I also have an opinion about “why” there “should” be an afterlife: It’s what we all sense is missing from this present life. It’s where and when everything will finally make sense.

Jacobsen: What is love to you?

Stoner: “To me?” There’s more to this than “my opinion.” My wife knows (objectively) what “love” is, and what love requires from me. So do I. In real life, “love” is effectively a verb. It’s what we do. Our acts can be either selfish or selfless. If my actions don’t line up with what love requires, It won’t fly. “Love” is what we should do in any situation. Love’s opposite is what we must learn to avoid. Darwin’s world optimizes Whatever works pragmatically best for each individual. Whatever sort of “god” designed this world, he/she/it (all three are technically wrong) obviously put “Darwin” in charge of maintaining survive-ability over the long term, (with wildly shifting climates and environments). Would such a “god” then need to be completely uncaring? Maybe, but if so, then why would we (also a result of that same creation) be designed to feel so strongly that “Darwin’s” path is “morally wrong?” My answer to this question is the same as for many of the previous questions: This isn’t “real life.” It’s a test to see how we will react to the different situations in which we each find ourselves, and what “choices” we will make. Some of us live in Communist China, some in Beverly Hills, some in the Congo or in Bangladesh. Some of us are holding our breaths, waiting to see what our own country might soon become. Is Darwinian Capitalism “good?” Certainly not. Is Communism an improvement? Certainly not (especially if humans are put in charge of either). What should we do personally? In every case, under any government, we  must try to be the solution instead of the problem. We must look out for others with as much sincerity as we look out for ourselves. (The responsibility is our own. No human government can or will take care of that for us.) “True life’s” rewards cannot depend on human governments either. I recommend that everyone make all of their choices as wisely as possible. Slightly edited from my web page: Extraordinary evidence exists everywhere:

The big bang (something from nothing);

the first cell (complex life from non-life);

punctuated evolution (information accumulation exceeding the population-mutation rate);

sentience (awareness from nano-electro-mechanics);

The very existence of logic and morality (an obvious is/ought causality reversal).

These require no more proof than that we observe them to exist.

Theories to explain this extraordinary evidence can rightly be debated.

Such theories necessarily make extraordinary claims.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Member, Epimetheus Society; Member, One-in-a-Thousand Society.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 22, 2021:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2021:

*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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