Saturday, July 3, 2010

Defining Science!

One of the points Ed Feser made and made well in The Last Superstition was that there's a kind of shell game going on with the word "science". The short version is that when many people say "science shows...", what they really mean is something closer to "science + these metaphysical/philosophical commitments (which I, the speaker, may not even be aware of holding to) says..." Notice that the difference there isn't just between "science" and "science + these metaphysical/philosophical commitments", but between "shows" and "says".

Now, Ed argues that science takes certain metaphysical/philosophical claims for granted, simply to get off the ground. I agree. But I also wonder if this goes far enough.

The demarcation problem does not get talked about enough. But my own view, put shortly, is this: Once we sit down and strip away from "science talk" all the smuggled in metaphysics, the unwarranted assumptions, the appeals to authority and consensus opinion, we are left with a core set of knowledge and methods with these two defining traits:

1) Of tremendous practical use, particularly with regards to technological and strictly empirical problems.
2) Of basically zero use in determining the answers to, or even making much headway with, most of the "important" questions of philosophy, theology and metaphysics.

And this is to say that science is "compatible with" a shocking range of positions and views. From idealism to dualism, from panpsychism to hylozoism, from polytheism to deism. Science, as science, is even compatible with scientific anti-realism.

I'm being brief here, glossing over things. But why do I bring this up? Well, because scientism is commonly thought of as being a fanatical devotion to science, or attempting to apply science to problems or questions where it is supposedly inappropriate to do so. I not only reject that definition, I consider it downright deceptive.

My own view comes closer to this: Scientism is the habit of passing off various non-scientific, philosophical or metaphysical claims and conclusions as science. It is the express abuse and confusing of science.

People engaging in scientism don't hold science as science in exceptional esteem. They hold the imagined authority (intellectual or social) in high esteem. In reality, they are deeply dissatisfied with science as science, precisely because it does not or cannot do what they desperately wish that it could.

43 comments:

Ilíon said...

"And this is to say that science is "compatible with" a shocking range of positions and views. From idealism to dualism, from panpsychism to hylozoism, from polytheism to deism. Science, as science, is even compatible with scientific anti-realism."

As is a spade; for, like a spade, 'science' is just a tool, and does only that to which it is directed by some human being or other.

"My own view comes closer to this: Scientism is the habit of passing off various non-scientific, philosophical or metaphysical claims and conclusions as science. It is the express abuse and confusing of science.

People engaging in scientism don't hold science as science in exceptional esteem. They hold the imagined authority (intellectual or social) in high esteem. In reality, they are deeply dissatisfied with science as science, precisely because it does not or cannot do what they desperately wish that it could.
"

And, they'll abandon 'science' ... and reason ... in a heart-beat to protect their flawed metaphysics. Encouraging them to retreat into anti-rationalism is one of the uses of my "you are the proof of God" argument.

Crude said...

What I find odd is how even the people who praise science up and down can seemingly never do this while praising science as science. The most common tack (See? I learn!) is to point at technology and say "Look what science has given us!"

But technology isn't science (unless we get into that common game of inflating the definition of science until even the damn badgers are using it), I suspect it even undermines science as the usual loudmouths picture it. I think Vox is on to something when he argues that technology drives science rather than the reverse.

Worse, technology is a tremendously apt example of how the value of science isn't its ultimate truth but its practical utility. Geocentric and heliocentric models continue to have tremendous technological utility even though these models flat out fail in other contexts and are "known" to be wrong. Treating the world as being made up of "little billiard balls in motion" has been defunct for nearly a century now, but that model is still useful day to day. Sagan can talk all he likes about how his car can magically teleport through the garage wall given various assumptions about and knowledge of quantum physics, but I bet he never tried to park that way.

In fact, now that I think about it... I wonder if a future trend may be technology out and out supplanting science. Wouldn't that be proof God has a sense of humor? 200 years pass, and culturally technology is seen as the only measuring stick for a useful idea. With science and scientific theories that can't be meaningfully converted into sheer technological capability being mentally filed where philosophy and metaphysics are now.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Long time no see. (I been busy with course work and stuff, but I should have some more free time for blogging now, I kept reading your Blog though, just not had time to post).

You said:

"Geocentric and heliocentric models continue to have tremendous technological utility even though these models flat out fail in other contexts and are "known" to be wrong."

Stephen Hawking in his "A Brief History of Time" points out that:

"For example, very accurate observations of the planet Mercury revealed a small difference between its motion
and the predictions of Newton’s theory of gravity. Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted a slightly
different motion from Newton’s theory. The fact that Einstein’s predictions matched what was seen, while Newton’s did not, was one of the crucial confirmations of the new theory. However, we still use Newton’s theory for all practical purposes because the difference between its predictions and those of general relativity is very
small in the situations that we normally deal with. (Newton’s theory also has the great advantage that it is much
simpler to work with than Einstein’s!)"

This is another similar case to the one you pointed out, where we use models we know are wrong, just because they are similar and still useful for analysis.

Crude said...

Hey TPB. Hope the course work goes well, and nice to see you around as ever.

Thanks for the Hawking quote - that really helps to illustrate one problem with the "science works" view. Stuff we 'know is wrong' "works", enables better and better technology, etc.

Actually, I suppose it's not so much a problem for science as it for supposed proponents of scientism. There's one hell of a gulf between "modeled as if" and "is". The idealists, dualists, panpsychists, panentheists, neutral monists, etc, etc, can, in just about every example I can think of, agree with the model in "modeled as if" precisely because it's just a model. But they can and do differ radically on the "is" that underlies that model (translating into what the model "really is" in idealism, in dualism, etc).

But the problem is, it's that precious "is" that the scientism-types are usually after.

Allen said...

What do you think about this?

The "no miracles" argument against scientific realism

By "no miracles" I'm referring to Hilary Putnam's observation:

“The positive argument for realism is that it is the only philosophy that doesn't make the success of science a miracle”

Let's assume that our best scientific theories tell us something true about the way the world *really* is, in an ontological sense. And further, for simplicity, let's assume a deterministic interpretation of those theories.

In this view, the universe as we know it began ~13.7 billion years ago. We'll set aside any questions about what, if anything, preceded the first instant and just draw a line there and call that our "initial state".

Given the specifics of that initial state, plus the particular causal laws of physics that we have, the universe can only evolve along one path. The state of the universe at this moment is entirely determined by two, and only two, things: its initial state and its casual laws.

But this means that the development of our scientific theories *about* the universe was also entirely determined by the initial state of the universe and it's causal laws. Our discovery of the true nature of the universe has to have been "baked into" the structure of the universe in its first instant.

By comparison, how many sets of possible initial states plus causal laws are there that would give rise to conscious entities who develop *false* scientific theories about their universe? It seems to me that this set of "deceptive" universes is likely much larger than the set of "honest" universes.

What would make universes with honest initial conditions + causal laws more probable than deceptive ones? For every honest universe it would seem possible to have an infinite number of deceptive universes that are the equivalent of "The Matrix" - they give rise to conscious entities who have convincing but incorrect beliefs about how their universe really is. These entities' beliefs are based on perceptions that are only illusions, or simulations (naturally occurring or intelligently designed), or hallucinations, or dreams.

It seems to me that it would be a bit of a miracle if it turned out that we lived in a universe whose initial state and causal laws were such that they gave rise to conscious entities whose beliefs about their universe were true beliefs.

A similar argument can also be made if we choose an indeterministic interpretation of our best scientific theories (e.g., quantum mechanics), though it involves a few extra steps.

Crude said...

Allen,

Interesting thoughts, and yes, that really does seem like a miracle doesn't it. There's that strange juxtaposition of claims where everything is supposed to have been predetermined by blind, purposeless motions of matter (whatever that is anymore), but somehow we have true beliefs* and we can be confident in their truth. Usually "because (mumble mumble) natural selection" or something like that.

That actually reminds me of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. My observation there has been that naturalists who engage it tend to respond by modifying natural selection / evolution such that beings with reliably true beliefs become inevitable or extremely likely given evolution. The problem I have there is that it's answering Plantinga's EAAN by, I maintain, sacrificing naturalism (again, or whatever that is anymore). It changes natural selection from the survival of the (merely) fittest, to the survival of those with, at least in part, the true-est beliefs. Or as you may say, truth-finding is suddenly built right into nature itself. Interesting teleology, that.

Back to your point: I actually wonder how Putnam would react to a convincing computer simulation of quantum or particle phenomena. I doubt he'd say we have to be scientific realists to explain the simulation, unless "scientific realism" is very, very wide open in actual meaning.

(* At least for those naturalists who don't play that word-game of denying we have beliefs or thoughts altogether.)

Allen said...

Actually, the theory of evolution doesn’t explain anything either.

Okay, stay with me here, while I go through my reasoning:

If deterministic physicalism is true, then the initial configuration of matter at the universe’s first instant, plus the causal laws that govern the subsequent behavior of this matter as applied over 13.7 billion years FULLY determines the current state of the universe today.

There is nothing for evolution to do. It is purely a description of what we observe, not an explanation of it. The way the world is today was fixed by the initial conditions plus the causal laws of physics.

There IS NO “competition” for survival. There is no “selection”. Instead, events involving fundamental particles unfold as they must…in the only way that they can.

When you say “competition among creatures”, what you really mean is “it is as though there were competition among creatures”. Because what really exists are fundamental particles (quantum fields, strings, whatever), not “creatures”. It is only in our minds that we take collections of quarks and electrons and form them into creatures.

Evolution and natural selection have no causal power, we just speak of them as if they did.

Further, even allowing for some kind of quantum randomness still doesn’t give “evolution” anything to do.

In an indeterministic system, everything is *still* a function of initial conditions and causal laws...it's just that the causal laws have a "probabilistic" aspect.

Where does evolution fit into this picture as an explanation of anything? Evolution isn't a causal law...it has no causal mechanism to act through, unlike electromagnetism or the other fundamental forces.

Evolution is just an after-the-fact description of how things have turned out. Any real explanation has to be given in terms of fundamental physical laws acting on fundamental entities. Doesn't it?

This guy makes a similar point, though he's wrong about indeterminism making any difference, and also wrong that there are no deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Crude said...

Allen,

"When you say “competition among creatures”, what you really mean is “it is as though there were competition among creatures”. Because what really exists are fundamental particles (quantum fields, strings, whatever), not “creatures”. It is only in our minds that we take collections of quarks and electrons and form them into creatures."

Well, I'm (at this point) the last guy you have to get to agree that scientific theories are "modeled as if" constructs which leave "what actually is" largely untouched.

I imagine one response would be that you're taking a tremendously reductionist view of the world, and that new and really distinct levels of explanation "emerge" from physics. Of course, "strong emergence" to me always sounded one hell of a lot like that formal/final cause stuff all the naturalists were supposed to have gotten past, so...

Regarding that site you linked to, I'd add that he seems to be making the mistake of confusing the model for reality. Are you advocating a Bohm approach?

Actually, wait a second. Aren't you an idealist? Or were you just taking an idealist perspective for the sake of argument previously?

Ilíon said...

Allen: "What do you think about this?

The "no miracles" argument against scientific realism ...
"

This reasoning applies to our "thoughts" as well -- the quote marks are necessary, because if such 'scientific realism' were the truth about the nature of reality, then we do not (for we cannot) actually have thoughts, nor can we know truth, nor can we reason. For, what humans beings are traditionally wont to quaintly call "thoughts" and "reasoning" are materially caused by state changes of matter-systems. It is not, as the common "folk philosophy" would have it, that a person's "reasoning," that is, his transition from 'Thought A' to 'Thought B,' is a logical progression which follows from his correct understanding of the content of 'Thought A,' but rather that both "thoughts" are caused by the specific material states of affairs which obtain in his brain at that instant.

Some of the "big name" (by which I mean the more famous ones who do much of the thinking for the swarms of village-atheists-with-DSL) so-called atheists will, at least occasionally, recognize and admit this truth about their worldview -- that's what their patronizing sneers about "folk psychology" and "folk philosophy" are about. When pressed, though, they frequently (and their minions nearly always) try to deny this inescapable logical consequence of their assertions about the nature of reality.


"A similar argument can also be made if we choose an indeterministic interpretation of our best scientific theories (e.g., quantum mechanics), though it involves a few extra steps."

As "indeterministic" is being used here, it becomes a synonym for “random” -- which still doesn’t (and cannot) account for what we need if we are to be able to know truth and to reason: freedom. In fact, "randomness" is even worse than determinism.

Crude said...

Ilion,

You may know and I may be missing something, but the sort of "scientific realism" being talked about here isn't the usual materialist/scientism schpiel.

Here's the wikipedia entry on scientific realism.

Allen said...

Crude,

You are correct, I'm an idealist. But I often start from a Physicalist position and then try to show its inconsistencies.

As an idealist, obviously I don't think that Quantum Mechnics has a physical interpretation. I take a somewhat instrumentalist view of scientific theories.

In my remarks about evolution I'm saying that even *if* physicalism is true, evolution doesn't work as an explanation for why things are the way they are - because it has no causal mechanism.

Even if living things have changed over time in the way biologists and archeologists believe, this change is a consequence of the universe's initial conditions and the interaction of the causal laws of physics, NOT of evolution by natural selection...which is *not* a causal law.

Evolution is a *consequence* of causal laws, not a causal law itself.

Currently we only know of four causal laws: electromagnetism, the strong force, the weak force, and gravity.

Evolution and natural selection are notable by their absence.

If natural selection somehow "emerges" from the lower levels of being, then by what rule (or law) does it emerge? What necessity causes it to emerge? If there is no governing rule, then it didn't really emerge - instead it's appearance was uncaused.

In that case, the existence and activity of the lower substrate was irrelevant. Right?

Is "emergent from, but not caused by" even a coherent concept??? I don't think so.

So if everything reduces to fundamental entities and their causal relations, then there is no downwards causation, and there is no strong emergence.

To quote Paul Davies, from his paper "The Physics of Downward Causation":

"As physicists have probed ever deeper into the microscopic realm of matter so, to use Steven Weinberg’s evocative phrase (Weinberg, 1992), ‘the arrows of explanation point downward.’ That is, we frequently account for a phenomenon by appealing to the properties of the next level down. In this way the behaviour of gases are explained by molecules, the properties of molecules are explained by atoms, which in turn are explained by nuclei and electrons. This downward path extends, it is supposed, as far as the bottom-level entities, be they strings or some other exotica."

Further:

"Darwinism provides a novel form of causation inasmuch as the causal chain runs counter to the normal descriptive sequence. Chronologically, what happens is that first a mutation is caused by a local physical interaction, e.g. the impact of a cosmic ray at a specific location with an atom in a DNA molecule. Later, possibly many years later, the environment ‘selects’ the mutant by permitting the organism to reproduce more efficiently. In terms of physics, selection involves vast numbers of local forces acting over long periods of time, the net result of which is to bring about a long-term change in the genome of the organism’s lineage. It is the original atomic event in combination with the subsequent complicated events that together give a full causative account of the evolutionary story. Yet biologists would be hard-pressed to tell this story in those local physical terms. Instead, natural selection is described as having causal powers, even though it is causatively neutral – a sieve."

And what causes the sieve? Initial conditions plus causal laws, of course!

Crude said...

Allen,

None of your posts were in error, so I cleared the first one you posted. They all looked identical. Just letting you know.

Will respond in a bit.

Allen said...

Crude: Excellent! I think blogspot.com doesn't like long comments. Thanks for the update!

Ilion: I think we are on the same page...maybe?

Onwards!

Crude said...

Alright. So it sounds to me like you're saying that evolution, if it's anything, is more of a convenient story we tell rather than some kind of physical theory or truth. Correct?

So, if we're taking mechanistic physics seriously (and putting aside emergence for now, or denying it as nonsense), natural selection is not some real cause. It reduces entirely to a lesser physical description that does not itself speak of 'natural selection' at all. At best it's convenient and incorrect shorthand.

Let me know if I'm on the same page here. I think I am, but I'd like to make sure.

Allen said...

We are on the same page.

Even assuming that Physicalism is true, the Theory of Evolution is at best a useful metaphorical framework for thinking about what we observe. But it isn't, and can't be, a true explanation of anything we observe.

It's a calculational device, a plausible sounding narrative, an instructive fable.

Ultimately, as you said, a convenient shorthand for our limited intellects, which are unable to keep track of the myriad details of the true story.

Most of all, it is *not* useful as an explanation of the way things are.

For instance, someone once said to me:

"I speculate that since we’ve evolved in this kind of world, we are naturally acquainted with possibilities."

But given that Evolution is just an after-the-fact description of how things have turned out, my translation of that sentence is:

"I speculate that since the initial conditions and causal laws of our universe caused us to be naturally acquainted with possibilities, we are naturally acquainted with possibilities."

The original version sounded like he was saying something meaningful; but actually once you unpack all of the terms, it was just a tautology.

Which is always the case for evolutionary "explanations".

Crude said...

I feel as if I'm missing something here, but at the moment I have no other comment.

By the way, if you were going to continue on with this and get into how you arrive at idealism through here (you suggested this argument was a 'start' with idealism as the conclusion), go for it. Consider me interested.

I'm vaguely reminded of Fodor's recent complaints about natural selection, one of which was (if I get him right) evolution is history, and there is no science of history. We can blame the outcome of one war or another on mud, but it isn't as if there are 'laws of mud' that determine who wins wars.

Ilíon said...

"Ilion: I think we are on the same page...maybe?"

Or, if not on the exact page, very close.

Ilíon said...

Crude:You may know and I may be missing something, but the sort of "scientific realism" being talked about here isn't the usual materialist/scientism schpiel.

My comments were directed entirely to what had been said so far in this thread.

But I think I may be starting to see where you’re missing my point that God-denial must always, inevitably, lead to logical absurdity.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m unconcerned with (and my argument untouched by) any of the various ad hoc “explanations” and rationalizations that this or that so-called atheist may append to his God-denial. For whatever reason, perhaps not enough detail or explanation on my part, you seem not to see what I mean by that.

But, this discussion as it is developing, may help you see why my argument logically defeats *all* atheistic “explanations.”

The problem -- for God-denial -- is that God-denial always and automatically starts from a position of denying the reality of freedom; and it cannot do otherwise and still be God-denial. It’s not *merely* that God-denial cannot account for freedom (*), it’s that it denies that there even is such a thing in the first place. It doesn’t matter that this or that so-called atheist tries to tack freedom on somewhere down the line: his core commitments deny his ad hoc "explanation."

In various places, C.S.Lewis draws a distinction between 'causes' and 'reasons' (I mean to write a small item about this). 'Causes' (cause-and-effect) are mechanical, deterministic, (generally) extrinsic, and always lacking in freedom; whereas, 'reasons' (ground-and-consequent) are logical and immaterial, non-deterministic, (generally) intrinsic, and frequently imbued with freedom.

The only explanatory tools available to the logically consistent God-denier are 'causes,' but never 'reasons.' *This* is why my argument defeats all God-denial -- God-denial not only cannot account for the reality of human freedom, but rather it inherently and inescapably denies the reality of human freedom.


Allen said: "A similar argument can also be made if we choose an indeterministic interpretation of our best scientific theories (e.g., quantum mechanics), though it involves a few extra steps."

I replied: "As "indeterministic" is being used here, it becomes a synonym for “random” -- which still doesn’t (and cannot) account for what we need if we are to be able to know truth and to reason: freedom. In fact, "randomness" is even worse than determinism."

Invoking randomness as a "cause" (it's actually impossible for randomness to cause anything) is frequently the means by which God-deniers attempt to get around their inherent denial of freedom. But, to assert a "random cause" of an event or state is to simply to assert that there is no cause for the event or state one is discussing (thus, I cannot call it an "effect'); it is to assert that "it just happened."

Randomness isn't simply non-deterninistic; rather, it is anti-deterministic. And it's not freedom.

Freedom is non-deterninistic; but neither is it random. Freedom might be said to the the opposite of both randomness and determinism.

----
(*) Denial of freedom -- It isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw of an explanation (or of a metaphysic) that it cannot account for all things in existence, or even for all things within its purview. However, if it *denies* that which really does exist, and especially if it denies that within its purview, then the explanation (or metaphysic) does contain a fatal flaw; generally, a self-contradiction.

Allen said...

Okay, let me break my points up into 3 new comments. First this one on belief, then the next on evolution, then the last one on how I started as I scientific realist but ended up as an idealist.

So, Belief.

First let me return to your original statement that got me started on evolution:

"There's that strange juxtaposition of claims where everything is supposed to have been predetermined by blind, purposeless motions of matter (whatever that is anymore), but somehow we have true beliefs* and we can be confident in their truth. Usually 'because (mumble mumble) natural selection' or something like that."

As to the asterisk on belief:

I don't find Dennett-style declarations that "consciousness is an illusion" to be the least bit convincing either. If consciousness is an illusion, then why isn't it correct to conclude that everything that I am aware of via conscious experience is *also* an illusion? The illusion would include my conscious belief that my reasoning is sound.

If consciousness is an illusion, then what I'm conscious *of* must also be an illusion, right? Have you come across any rebuttals of that line of thought?

Also there’s Searle’s response: The "illusion" of consciousness is identical with consciousness.

How arranging quarks and electrons in particular ways results in them having the illusion of consciousness would still require explanation. Also, here you step off the deep end into questions involving functionalism, multiple realizability and "strange instantiations" via unusual Putnam mappings (e.g., Searle’s "Chinese Room" scenario, Mark Bishop’s "Dancing With Pixies", Tim Maudlin’s "Computation and Consciousness", and especially Greg Egan’s Dust Theory).

All of which bears directly on the question of whether we can be confident that our beliefs about the world are true. And also have a lot to do with why I abandoned scientific realism in favor of pure idealism. More on this later.

Let’s say that we have true beliefs about our universe. What caused us to have these true beliefs instead of false ones?

Assuming physicalism, it has to boil down to some combination of initial conditions and causal laws, right?

1) At one extreme, it could be that our causal laws are so "fine tuned" for truth that *any* set of initial conditions (i.e., the distribution of matter and energy) will, over time, result in the existence of conscious entities that hold true beliefs.

2) At the other extreme, it could be that our causal laws are so screwy that only *one* very specific set of initial conditions will converge on the existence of conscious entities holding true beliefs - and we hit the jackpot. All other initial conditions result in either no conscious entities, or conscious entities that hold false beliefs.

Which extreme sounds more plausible to you?

Crude said...

Allen,

What makes you think you're getting a posting error?

Anyway, I've not come across any rebuttals to your point, but I've also never heard anyone argue that point - which I admit, is an interesting one. Then again, from what I've read of Dennett, it seems like he may be willing to accept that. (In an article where he responds to fellow naturalists who are trying to defend 'original intentionality', as near as I can tell Dennett is suggesting that there really is no fact-of-the-matter about what any person is thinking about. That this may be a problem for his argument, he does not seem to notice or care.)

I would agree that denials that we are conscious are insane. I think Galen Strawson's response, if you've seen such, is among the best.

I agree with your points about extreme 1, and add that saying 'evolution made it so we can have true beliefs' is to make a curious mockery of naturalism. Gone is that cold, unfeeling natural selection which cares for nothing but survival. Now, at the very least, NS is extremely geared towards truth and true beliefs. That is, as you say, fine-tuning. And a fine-tuned evolution is a lot of things, but is it naturalistic? Count me skeptical.

But, go on. I'm interested. By the way, are you aware of Kenny Pearce's blog? He's the only other idealist philosopher I know of with a blog, so he seems up your alley. My own metaphysics leans thomist, but otherwise I'm a "Man, everything sounds somewhat reasonable aside from radical materialism" type. So I enjoy listening to this sort of thing.

Allen said...

Well, in Internet Explorer, it just gives me an error page saying that something went wrong.

When I switch to Chrome, it says "Comment too long". But if I hit "Back", it says, "Your comment must be approved by blog owner" or something.

I get those errors when I hit "Publish", even though I can "Preview" with no problems. Very peculiar.

I have seen Kenny Pearce's blog, I recognize the green-on-black color scheme! I didn't take to it immediately, but maybe I'll give it another try.

I haven't seen Galen Strawson's response, I'll have to find that. Do you recall where you saw it?

As to Dennett...it seems to me that there is a fact-of-the-matter about what I'm thinking. Hmmm. Now, assuming physicalism plus his version of the "Multiple Drafts" account of cognition, MAYBE my brain produces *many* experiential versions particular event. But I'm certain that at least one exists...mine!

I really find Dennett irritating. Especially his work on free will, where he redefines all the terms. Using his alternate definitions, he then claims to have proven free will exists. I call his version of free will "faux will".

As for radical materialists, I don't understand how they can discount Hume and Kant...who, even if you disagree with them, still brought up some very good points, which seemed to be more ignored than rebutted by materialists.

Okay, evolution comment coming up!

Allen said...

Okay, so back to evolution.

So, for simplicity, let’s assume the we exist in a deterministic physical universe where what exists are fundamental laws (gravity, electromagnetism, etc.) acting on fundamental entities (quarks, electrons, strings, quantum fields, whatever).

So what is evolution in a deterministic universe?

It’s just a description of how things have turned out, right? The “historical” part of the description may be true: this happened, then this happened, then that happened, then that other thing happened. Fair enough. The historical story that evolutions tells seems broadly consistent with what I observe. Though, of course many things are broadly consistent with what I observe, but inconsistent with the historical story that evolutions tells. Are you familiar with the problems surrounding our apparently low-entropy past, Boltzmann Brains, Poincare Recurrence? But, I digress.

I think that one has to be much more careful with the “causal” part of the story. Given our initial assumptions, every causal statement made from within the evolutionary framework *must* be reducible to an equivalent set of statements about fundamental physical laws acting on fundamental entities...with nothing left over. There can be no “explanatory” residue.

An example:

“Organisms with false beliefs about the universe tend to die early and leave few offspring because they tend to jump off cliffs because their inherited genetic structure causes their brains to develop in such a way they frequently hold the mistaken belief that they can fly. Which they cannot. Therefore, most organisms hold true beliefs.”

Shorter version: “There aren’t many people about with false beliefs about their ability to fly because they tend to jump off cliffs and die at a young age.”

Well, that makes sense, but it's not the whole story.

Trying to fit it into a wider context:

First, what do we mean by belief? As we said earlier, everything must reduce to statements about fundamental laws acting on fundamental particles. So we will say that a “belief” is represented by a particular kind of brain configuration, which itself is just a particular arrangement of quarks and electrons. (Note: Why does a particular configuration of quarks and electrons represent one thing and not another? Echoes of putnam mapping and Dust Theory...)

So why do these particular configurations of quarks and electrons occur? The brain state associated with the belief that one can fly doesn’t just happen. What caused it to happen?

Well, given the universe’s initial state and particular causal laws, the eventual existence of that false belief was inevitable. Every bit as inevitable as the existence of true beliefs.

In a sense, the jumpers were destined to hold their false beliefs. Destiny, in the form of initial conditions and physical laws, caused the false belief, the jumping, and the death by impact that followed.

With different initial conditions and/or different physical laws, false beliefs could be common and true beliefs rare. What would prohibit this?

In a law-governed universe, there is no effective difference between destiny and evolution.

So, there is no explanation for the physical laws or for the initial conditions - and thus there is no explanation for how things have "evolved".

How can something which has no explanation be used *as* an explanation?

Introducing probabilistic laws doesn't change the outcome, but it does add length to the argument, so I'll hold off!

Crude said...

Page 55 of Real Materialism, on the move by people like Dennett, etc, on denying the reality of experience/consciousness:

"I think we should feel very sober, and a little afraid, at the power of human credulity, the capacity of human minds to be gripped by theory, by faith. For this particular denial is the strangest thing that has ever happened in the whole history of human thought, not just the whole history of philosophy. It falls, unfortunately, to philosophy, not religion, to reveal the deepest woo-woo of the human mind. I find this grievous, but, next to this denial, every known religious belief is only a little less sensible than the belief that grass is green."

Strawson is an incompatiblist, by the way, but a panpsychist as well. And like I said, next to Dennett, Strawson seems downright sane.

Crude said...

Actually, I find Kant kind of fascinating for one reason: It seems like to many people, Kant's arguments apply only and exclusively to religious claims, and religious claims means "those claims I disagree with". In other words, it really seems like Kant is a problem for everyone else. As you said, ignored rather than rebutted.

Dennett, I'm not impressed with. In fact, I admit, I find a lot of academic philosophy to strongly come across as politicking more than anything else. Even with philosophers I like, this happens at times. I remember when the Maverick Philosopher huffily argued that certain philosophers were treating dualism as a dead issue, and his reply was that the issue can't be dead so long as there are big-name academic philosophers who argue for dualism. To which I thought... why should I give two shits what academic philosophers are doing? So when they're largely in agreement, the matter is settled? Give me a break.

Crude said...

Are you familiar with the problems surrounding our apparently low-entropy past, Boltzmann Brains, Poincare Recurrence?

I know of Boltzmann Brains, I recall hearing about the problem of our low-entropy past, and I've not heard of Poincare Recurrence.

Why does a particular configuration of quarks and electrons represent one thing and not another?

Ed Feser has gotten into this, and... hasn't Searle? I recall one remark from Searle was that the atoms in the wall behind him contained the code for the Wordstar word processor he was using. His point being that (as Feser would point out, at least according to physicalism) codes and programs aren't fundamental - those are in our head, things we ourselves map to the physical world we see.

Is that what you're saying here?

I think I get your point about evolution just being a story, in essence. One which, given physicalism+determinism, reduces to nothing but 'destiny' which in turn has no explanation. As I said, my recollection is that the usual response is "emergence!", but of course weak emergence is - as near as I understand - explicitly 'this reduces, but we can tell this story...' and strong emergence is downright magical.

I have a feeling I see where you'll go with the probablistic consideration, but nevertheless, please continue and do so with whatever pacing you wish. Finding it all interesting. You should have a blog yourself.

Ilíon said...

Crude: "What makes you think you're getting a posting error?"

I don't know about Allen, but I've been getting one, which is why some of my posts have been posted twice.

Crude: "Anyway, I've not come across any rebuttals to your point, but I've also never heard anyone argue that point - which I admit, is an interesting one."

Unless I'm having a really bad day (and thus not properly understanding), Allen's point about true beliefs under 'physicalism' very similar to one of the key points of my "Ego Argument for God" ... Allen ssems to be presenting it as probabalistic and a matter of plausibility, I as logical consequence.

And, I don't mean to inply that I originated this like of thought ... though, perhaps, I am among the first to see that it's not a matter of "plausibility," but rather of logical consequence.

Ilíon said...

Crude: "Even with philosophers I like, this happens at times. I remember when the Maverick Philosopher huffily argued that certain philosophers were treating dualism as a dead issue, and his reply was that the issue can't be dead so long as there are big-name academic philosophers who argue for dualism. To which I thought... why should I give two shits what academic philosophers are doing? So when they're largely in agreement, the matter is settled? Give me a break."

And there, it seems to me (and did from day one), you touch upon what was really at the root of that that little dust-up between him and me -- I, a mere no one and without a philosophical degree, dared to disagree with his materialistic friend about "emergence."

Crude said...

Alright. I haven't made any changes to the posting structure here, so I was just making sure it wasn't the whole 'post approval' thing being mistaken for an error.

Allen said...

Actually, I have an old blog that I haven't updated in a year or so! I just re-enabled it.

At the time, I'd abandoned scientific realism in favor of platonic idealism, which I abandoned a few months later in favor of the belief that only conscious experience exists.

AND, here's a post addressing why what we know about physics and entropy leads to doubt about whether we can trust our memories and beliefs.

Allen said...

BTW, I've been reading through some of your older posts. They're very good, I'm impressed!

Crude said...

Strange, I think I may have run across your blog in the past. I now and then start searching around for platonists, idealists and others. That post you point me at in particular - is that still "assuming physicalism"?

As for the compliment, I am honored, so thank you. Incidentally, shall you be restarting your blog? If so, I will add a link to it on my site.

Allen said...

I posted up my thoughts on Determinism vs. Indeterminism.

I think I will make an attempt to update my blog periodically going forward, so if you are willing to link to it, that would be great!

So you mentioned that you leaned toward Thomism? What draws you to that position? Do you have a post that lays out your reasoning?

I'm still working on my position statement as an idealist, though I think you've seen most of my reasons.

Ultimately I think it boils down to the fact that conscious experience is what I know, and trying to posit something which could explain conscious experience inevitably introduces more questions that it answers.

If the physical universe can "just exist", or if God can "just exist", why can't conscious experience "just exist"? What makes that an unreasonable position?

I think people just won't accept the answer that's staring them right in the face. There is nothing to reality except our experience of reality.

There is nothing beneath the surface of appearances. The surface is all there is.

It's all just a dream. A dream that has no dreamer.

Crude said...

No, no particular post laying it out. I may get to that sometime, though the short story is that it seems to do the most justice to what I experience and the reasoning I encounter. That said, I'm also fiercely skeptical of 'matter' and so on, at least insofar as it implies that we really know what we're talking about when it comes to such. As I said in the OP here, I think once science is stripped of all the questionable metaphysical claims (and those are relegated to metaphysics and philosophy), what's left is shockingly bare-bones.

Either way, I added your blog and I'll go have a read.

Ilíon said...

Allen: "If the physical universe can "just exist", or if God can "just exist", why can't conscious experience "just exist"? What makes that an unreasonable position?

I think people just won't accept the answer that's staring them right in the face. There is nothing to reality except our experience of reality.

There is nothing beneath the surface of appearances. The surface is all there is.

It's all just a dream. A dream that has no dreamer.
"

I would say you've answered your own question.

There can be no dream if there is no dreamer, no that-which-is-dreaming. There can be no consciousness if there is no conscious being, no that-which-is-conscious.

The free-floating consciousness-which-just that you posit is as self-contradictory as your dream-which-is-not-dreamt or as that fellow’s thoughts-which-are-not-thought.


Allen: "Ultimately I think it boils down to the fact that conscious experience is what I know, and trying to posit something which could explain conscious experience inevitably introduces more questions that it answers."

And?

"I can't think of anything to posit that 'explains' all the facts of which I am aware, so I shall posit something which makes an absolute muddle of it. And me."

This is a solution?

Allen said...

Ilion:

I like Philip Goff's idea of "Ghosts" as an alternative to Chalmers' Zombies.

First, from the introduction:

"Zombies are bodies without minds: creatures that are physically identical to actual human beings, but which have no conscious experience. Much of the consciousness literature concerns how threatening philosophical reflection on such creatures is to physicalism. There is not much attention given to the converse possibility, the possibility of minds without bodies, that is, creatures who are conscious but whose nature is exhausted by their being conscious. We can call such a ‘purely conscious’ creature a ghost."

Then on page 7:

"The way into imagining your ghost twin is to go through the familiar Cartesian process of doubting everything that it is possible to doubt. For all you know for sure, the physical world around you might be a delusion, placed in you by an incredibly powerful evil demon. The arms and legs you seem to see in front of you, the heart you seem to feel beating beneath your breast, your body that feels solid and warm to the touch, all may be figments of a particularly powerful delusion. You might not even have a brain.

The only state of affairs you know for certain to obtain is that you exist as a thing such that there is something that it is like to be that thing. You know for certain that you are a thing that has an experience as of having arms and legs, a beating heart, a warm, solid body. You know that you are a subject of experience. But you may not be a creature that exists in space, or has physical parts. It is by engaging in the process of Cartesian doubting that one arrives at a conception of one’s ghost twin.

I am not suggesting that the process of Cartesian doubting demonstrates the possibility of ghosts, but I am suggesting that it goes a good way to demonstrating their conceivability. To entertain the possibility that I am the only thing that exists, and that I exist as a thing with no properties other than my conscious experience, just is to conceive of my ghost twin. Any philosopher who agrees with Descartes up to and including the Cogito has a strong prima facie obligation to accept the conceivability of ghosts."

So, given that "ghosts" are conceivable, what stops them from being possible?

Given that conscious experience is conceivable as something separate from what "causes" it, why can't it exist without a cause?

Frankly, you made a lot of spluttering noises in your comment, but I don't see that you demonstrated that free-floating conscious experience is an incoherent concept. It's not that big a step.

I thought you guys were anti-physicalists? But here it sounds like you complaining that experience can't exist without a physical substrate. But what do you mean by "physical"? What makes the "physical" capable of independent existence but prohibits the experiential from similar status?

It looks to me like you are making arbitrary and unfounded judgements.

Crude said...

Allen and Ilion,

Before you guys get into it too deep, I'm going to do the usual pollyanna thing in advance and express hope you both remain civil, even if defending your points strongly.

I ask this not because I necessarily care if you both want to go at it down and dirty - it's the internet, I'm used to that - but because you both have some interesting views here, so I'd like to read 'em with as little noise as possible, so to speak.

Either way, carry on. I'll chime in at some point I'm sure.

Allen said...

No worries! I'll try to keep my snarky comments to a minimum going forward.

My apologies Ilion!

Crude said...

Oh, think nothing of it. It wasn't directed at either of you in particular - I was just expressing my interest in actually reading the contents of this exchange.

I won't be policing much of anything.

Allen said...

Crude,

I think you scared him off!

Ah well, such is life.

If you have any thoughts on Philip Goff's paper, I'd be interested in hearing them.

Onwards!

Crude said...

Who, Ilion? I doubt it. He doesn't exactly spook.

I actually do have a comment of sorts aimed at your ideas in my most recent post. Check it out if you haven't yet, as I'd like your feedback on it. Should you be so inclined.

Allen said...

I read your most recent post and the comment thread. I concur with everything, especially the part about evolution...you've captured my gist exactly.

I will comment in more detail on the post thread tomorrow, as I'm now off for bed!

Ilíon said...

"He doesn't exactly spook."

But, he does take offense at this sort of thing

Ilíon said...

... and, after finally reading it (well, to be honest, skimming it) he sees no point in even bothering with the other fellow's comment.