Monday, July 12, 2010

Naturalism and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy!

Right from the start of the article. I add some emphasis.

The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy. Its current usage derives from debates in America in the first half of the last century. The self-proclaimed ‘naturalists’ from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars. These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science. They urged that reality is exhausted by nature, containing nothing ‘supernatural’, and that the scientific method should be used to investigate all areas of reality, including the ‘human spirit’ (Krikorian 1944, Kim 2003).

So understood, ‘naturalism’ is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism as just characterized—that is, they would both reject ‘supernatural’ entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit’.

Even so, this entry will not aim to pin down any more informative definition of ‘naturalism’. It would be fruitless to try to adjudicate some official way of understanding the term. Different contemporary philosophers interpret ‘naturalism’ differently. This disagreement about usage is no accident. For better or worse, ‘naturalism’ is widely viewed as a positive term in philosophical circles—few active philosophers nowadays are happy to announce themselves as ‘non-naturalists’.[1] This inevitably leads to a divergence in understanding the requirements of ‘naturalism’. Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in a unrestrictive way, in order not to disqualify themselves as ‘naturalists’, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines are happy to set the bar for ‘naturalism’ higher.[2]

Let's take stock.

* "Naturalism", according to the SEP, doesn't even have a set definition. It apparently adds up to "rejecting the supernatural" and "liking science". Of course, what's supernatural if "natural" isn't really defined? One would think the "liking science" part would be easier, but then there's that damn Demarcation Problem. One would be tempted to say "Well, naturalism is physicalism!", but then you go to the SEP entry for physicalism and see nearly equivalent problems with defining "physical".

* But many philosophers (And, I suppose, scientists and wannabe philosophers/scientists) want to be called naturalists anyway. The SEP implies that this results in some self-declared naturalists believing in things that other ("Stronger"?) naturalists would call supernatural. But that's alright, because the SEP says it would be fruitless to try and find an "official way" of understanding naturalism.

* The innate humor of self-described naturalists insisting that science can explain all of creation, while they have tremendous difficulty *defining what naturalism even is*, is tremendous.

* It goes without saying that if a solid definition of naturalism is hard to come by, a solid definition of supernaturalism is just as or even more hard to come by. Again, there's some innate humor here.

* It's hard to ignore the whiff of social and political positioning indicated by this stated desire to be called a "naturalist", even while the term itself has a fairly elastic (vacuous? arbitrary?) meaning. That the SEP should admit that there is a strong urge to call something "naturalistic" because the general feel or attitude towards the term is positive, should raise up serious warning flags.

I get the impression that "naturalist" philosophers would make for interesting objects of study for sociologists and anthropologists. Even psychologists.

My response to all of this is to just say, to hell with it - I'm a naturalist. So's Thomas Aquinas. Orthodox and traditional catholicism are just a form of naturalism. Dualists are naturalists. Panpsychists are naturalists. Voodoo practitioners and cargo cultists have a flawed naturalistic belief, little different from believing in a phlogiston.

And the funny thing is, as near as I can tell, few philosophers are able to say I'm wrong about this. The best they can do is take a vote, or report to me what their feelings are. But they can't refer to any definition of naturalism I'm in violation of, because all indications are that the term is shockingly empty. It's little more than a flag to rally around, a symbol. And it's easy to co-opt a symbol.

So in the immortal words of Emperor Zombie: Mine now.

49 comments:

Neil B said...

I'm not sure what "naturalism" should even mean, given (how ironic considering the latters' pretensions to being the cream of authentic, logically-pure rational thought) the challenges posed by hard-Platonism as per David Lewis/Modal Realism. In those terms, physicalism/naturalism can't be clearly defined anyway. I disagree with them anyway, I think "real existence" is a mystical extra dash (yes, from "God"!) so we aren't just a math model/simulation.

BTW for interesting arguments about God see Julian Sanchez on agnosticism. I don't agree, left a rebuttal, and think he's a typical dismissive neoatheist ass. The thread is dead now, sorry I didn't think to link earlier

Crude said...

I glanced at Julian's site, but to be dead honest I'm not interested in what I think you aptly called "a typical dismissive neoatheist ass". It's all the usual bad moves - bungling what "evidence" is, playing the "I'm not saying there is no God, I'm saying I see no reason to believe in God" card, a desperate move to avoid any burden of proof or even a requirement to research what theists actually say, an argument that boils down to "Well it all sounds mystical to me, so that's what it must be", etc. These weren't interesting moves when the big league New Atheists were making them - how interesting are they when they're parroted by some C-lister libertarian with a blog?

My answer: Not very.

As for naturalism, as well as physicalism, I agree that they can't be clearly defined. Not anymore, anyway, and the words have become a kind of joke as a result. Especially insofar as their inability to be defined ends up leaving supernatural and even immaterial undefined in large part. To go back to a previous discussion, when Tegmark starts nattering on about how we're all made of math and every possible mathematical equation-universe in the platonic realm that could exist, does exist... you know, that sounds wildly supernatural to me. So does Bostrom's simulation theory, so do many other claims that so-called naturalists usually (as per the SEP entry) rush to call 'naturalistic'.

That would make yet another interesting project for the psychologists and sociologists though: Get some test subjects together and divide them into two groups. Both groups have someone explain Max Tegmark's multiverse theory (or Nick Bostrom's simulation theory, or..) to them. Group one's explainer is dressed like and introduced as a scientist. Group two's explainer is dressed like and introduced as a new age guru or some kind of hindu mystic. At the end of the explanation, both groups are asked some questions, along with "Would the idea you heard be described as natural or supernatural?"

Even if they both followed the exact same verbal script, I'm willing to bet group two far and away is more likely to consider the whole thing "supernatural".

Neil B said...

Bingo. Clever proposal, someone should do it.

Crude said...

Neil B,

Actually, a thought just occurred to me that came up when I was talking about Nick Bostrom a while ago.

Wouldn't Tegmark's Ultimate Ensemble, if true, falsify evolutionary theory?

This works into something Allen has been talking about recently. If all mathematical structures exist, then this 'natural selection' is nothing but a convenient story that is ultimately groundless. There's no real 'selected for' or 'selected against' going on in natural history. Instead, certain results obtained, but because and only because they were part of a particular instantiation of some distinct formula X out of the infinite.

Rather like how, if I create a program that produces Every Possible Start-to-Finish Outcome of a given baseball game, then select one outcome, it's meaningless to say "Well, this outcome happened because Player X had these skills, etc." That's a nice story we're telling, but what actually happened is that I computed every possible outcome on a basis that had next to nothing to do with individual player skills. My explanation is an after-the-fact story that has been made up.

I haven't thought about this too deeply, but I can't help but think there's something to it. Your thoughts?

Allen - if you are reading - yours? This actually seems on the same page as your own take on physicalism + evolution.

Crude said...

Just to add here, I'm not coming at this from a perspective of, "Yeah! We should totally endorse Tegmark's idea, because it disputes evolution!" More like, "Hey, here's one seemingly necessary outcome of accepting this idea, and yet I bet it would be wildly disliked!"

The thought of Max Tegmark opening up Nature and seeing an article entitled "Darwin Dethroned? Why The Ultimate Ensemble Ditches Natural Selection" is humor writ large. Or "The Abstract God: Tegmark's Mathematical Creationism".

Ilíon said...

Doesn't Plantinga offer an "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism?" Why shouldn't there be a "Tegmark's Naturalistic Argument Against Evolutionism"?

On such things is the Cosmic Balance maintained. ;)

Neil B said...

Yeah, ironies involving Tegmark's cormuhcopia are a gas. Evolution runs into various problems in infini/multiverses. First, we can't know if what happened was at all likely. Suppose that even one U is infinite but at least does have stable, authentic laws and not just fortuitous arrangements and histories of descriptium. (BTW ours is supposed to be, from GR application to expansion and flatness.) Just like the MV argument "there are many ways to have laws and we are in the lucky one", then just maybe each step in evolution has tiny chance and we just happen to be the ones sitting at the end of all the royal flushes (at least that could produce people.) It's the same, really - in all of 10^500 cubic light years it just happened to produce us or "we wouldn't be here to ask" etc.

In a multiverse of descriptions it's even worse since you don't even know what process produces anything, the legal issues - like the Tegmarkian baseball game. So the underlying process may not even lend itself to the outcome.

But how then can you have a real science given that? We don't know what to expect in the future. Like I said though about descriptions, something that just ended up well would likely show ragged edges, loose ends, weird events (like most creatures not evolving) clogging it all up and so it would likely be just good enough to get us here. The descriptions problem is indeed like the baseball games, there isn't much to hang things on.

BTW, as for can evolution itself produce whatever, like people: it depends on what kind of universe we have. If the universe is clever enough to have that outcome without contrived insertions, that sure. It can somehow get people to form as individuals "on its own."

Even worse, "every possible baseball game" presumes something forcing everyone to continue to play only baseball! A real multiverse is more like, the set of different ways to run around and do things. But then, then activities that started out as "baseball" (because that's just how they went up to that point) would diverge into all kinds of behavior (like I said about multi-worlds.) BTW for readers who need it: here we mean various worlds with different laws - not the many worlds in QM which express different possible outcomes, but with same physics (same G, alpha etc.)

So I think our orderly world shows a maker of order out there.

Crude said...

Actually, the problem I think that shows up with Tegmark's specific proposal strikes me as distinct from the usual cornucopia of issues that pop up with multiverses. If the world is "just math", if what determines what happens is some platonic "all mathematical possibilities exist" schtick... Darwinian evolution doesn't even get off the ground. There is no natural selection in actuality, because what determined the 'outcomes' (If it even makes sense to speak of those anymore) was the UE itself.

Allen may say, and I shall continue to consider, that Darwinian evolution has problems even without Tegmark's UE. But something seems particularly "off" with Tegmark's move.

Which is why I get one hell of a laugh at the idea of people 'embracing the multiverse' or embracing Tegmark's ideas. That, to me, signals the end of science.

Allen said...

So, touching on determined outcomes, mathematical platonism, and simulation:

If the deterministic physicalists are right then given the initial conditions of the universe plus the causal laws of physics as applied over ~13.7 billion years, you could not believe other than you do at this moment. You are bound to your beliefs and to your destiny by unbreakable causal chains.

And if the indeterministic physicalists are right then initial conditions and causal laws still have a major role, but there were also some coin flips involved in chaining your beliefs down to their current configuration. You are bound to your beliefs and to your destiny by...constant coin flips. A bad run of luck, and there's no telling how you'll end up.

And if I'm right that only conscious experience exists, then there *is no* reason for what you believe. There's no mysterious "physical world" that underlies and explains what you oberve, but which has no explanation itself. Instead, each instant of conscious experience exists fundamentally and uncaused. "You" exist only as an aspect of some of these experiences...you exist not as an object, but as a point of view.

Though, ultimately, to me it looks like all three possibilities amount to the same thing.

The first two options just have a lot of extra inferred-from-experience "behind the scenes" infrastructure which serves no purpose except...what?

I think Occam's Razor is on my side. If the physical serves no purpose, then discard it.

As to the point about the computer simulation of every possible baseball game, I have a question for you: What does it mean to say that a physical system (like a computer) implements some particular computation?

I'll quote Hans Moravec, who really initially got me thinking about this stuff:

"A simulated world hosting a simulated person can be a closed self-contained entity. It might exist as a program on a computer processing data quietly in some dark corner, giving no external hint of the joys and pains, successes and frustrations of the person inside. Inside the simulation events unfold according to the strict logic of the program, which defines the ``laws of physics'' of the simulation. The inhabitant might, by patient experimentation and inference, deduce some representation of the simulation laws, but not the nature or even existence of the simulating computer. The simulation's internal relationships would be the same if the program were running correctly on any of an endless variety of possible computers, slowly, quickly, intermittently, or even backwards and forwards in time, with the data stored as charges on chips, marks on a tape, or pulses in a delay line, with the simulation's numbers represented in binary, decimal, or Roman numerals, compactly or spread widely across the machine. There is no limit, in principle, on how indirect the relationship between simulation and simulated can be."

And, since I'm getting long on this comment, I'll just link to this on Putnam Mapping.

Crude said...

Allen,

Well, a few things. First, my baseball "simulation" does make some assumptions roughly approximating a classical physicalism for the sake of argument. Second, Searle and others have pointed out (And I think this was the point of his Wordstar example) that computers 'simulate' and perform 'programs', assuming that same physicalism, by way of our assigning meaning to their operations. If "real meaning / intention / direction" is inhering in the physical world, that ain't physicalism. It's some form of Aristotileanism. So I'm aware of the problems of the 'simulation' talk.

One problem I have with the perspective you're coming from is that, sure, I can see the point in arguing that "the physical" is some extraneous posit. I'm not a big fan of Occam's razor (abused too much, and it was brought about for pragmatism, not truth), but sure, let's say we don't need to talk about this physical "stuff" - let's stick with idealism. The problem is, the journey isn't done even if we arrive at the idea that nothing but minds exist. Basically I don't see the jump from "idealism is true" to "you think and believe what you do, for no reason at all". Maybe I'm misunderstanding you. And of course, there's also the question of how you can justify that you're reasoning at all when there's... well, no reason for you believing what you believe.

Allen said...

Actually the Moravec paper I linked to is even more appropriate to this thread than I thought. In the very first paragraph:

"During the last few centuries, physical science has convincingly answered so many questions about the nature of things, and so hugely increased our abilities, that many see it as the only legitimate claimant to the title of true knowledge. Other belief systems may have social utility for the groups that practice them, but ultimately they are just made-up stories. I myself am partial to such 'physical fundamentalism.'

Physical fundamentalists, however, must agree with René Descartes that the world we perceive through our senses could be an elaborate hoax. In the seventeenth century Descartes considered the possibility of an evil demon who created the illusion of an external reality by controlling all that we see and hear (and feel and smell and taste). In the twenty-first century, physical science itself, through the technology of virtual reality, will provide the means to create such illusions. Enthusiastic video gamers and other cybernauts are already strapping themselves into virtual reality goggles and body suits for brief stints in made-up worlds whose fundamental mechanisms are completely different from the quantum fields that (best evidence suggests) constitute our physical world."

His Wikipedia page.

Crude said...

Well, Moravec is getting into a question I've always had with regards to the transhumanists.

If many of the transhumanist visions are taken as true - the ability to simulate whole worlds, to simulate minds and brains and, etc, etc - then... what makes us think we're the first? I suppose another way to put it is, what happens to the brain in the vat argument once you create a vat capable of doing that to a brain?

I'd disagree with him saying that "physical science has convincingly answered so many questions about the nature of things", though. I don't think we need to talk about cartesian skepticism to dispute that either - science is predictive, it is abstract. Russell was right that we know diddly about the "inner nature" of things.

In other words, the sort of "physical fundamentalism" Moravec is talking about... is just another one of those "made-up stories", and for my money vastly less believable. I saw a post recently complaining about "scientific materialists" - and the first thing I thought was, that's an oxymoron. It's like talking about scientific idealism, in a way.

Allen said...

Crude, in response to your July 14, 2010 10:20 PM post:

It seems to me that every event that transpires must be either caused or uncaused.

If it the event is uncaused, then nothing more can be said about it. Things which have no cause have no explanation. If choices are uncaused, then they are just random. No free will.

If the event is caused, then what caused the cause? And what caused the cause of the cause? And so on. The decision is a link in a causal chain which must eventually be traced outside the person making the choice. No free will.

Going further: But what caused that whole causal chain? Why that causal chain instead of some other? Why do any causal chains exist at all? Why not nothingness?

Ultimately, I think you have to conclude that there is no reason for anything. There is no explanation. And where there is no explanation, there can be no meaning. Only the *experience* of meaning exists.

The logic looks airtight to me. There's no way around it that I can see. Can you?

So what caused you to hold the beliefs that you have? And what caused that cause? Etc.

Why do you hold those beliefs instead of some other beliefs?

Did you see my post on The Granite Universe? I think it lays out my reasoning in a bit more detail. Maybe.

Crude said...

The logic looks airtight to me. There's no way around it that I can see. Can you?

You're asking me if the logic looks airtight in argument that, if I am taking it right, states that no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic?

Ilíon said...

Goodness! Doesn't this sound familiar, as in, just what I said must result? That is a rhetorical question.

Allen said...

Correct. Aside from judging the consequences of the argument to constitute a reductio ad absurdum, do you see any *other* flaws in the reasoning?

Basically I'm just hypostatizing the skeptical view. Epistemically, the only thing we can be certain of is that our experience of this moment exists.

Therefore, ontologically, the safest conclusion is that only the experience of this moment exists.

This is even more compelling if you consider that physicalism leads very quickly and by many avenues to the conclusion that our perceptions of the world can't be trusted to convey true information about the world.

And then there's the many hints that not only can our perceptions not be trusted, even our reasoning is suspect, like Wittgenstein's Rule Following Paradox and Munchhausen's Trilemma.

And of course, there's your own experience in dreams, where you believe many things that make no sense whatsoever. But in the dream they're totally believable, and accepted without question.

If you've ever tried anything like Salvia Divinorium, then you know that even stranger things can be experienced and accepted unquestioningly.

So what strange nonsensical things are we accepting unquestioningly as we go through daily life?

A quote from "Blood Meridian", by Cormac McCarthy (who also wrote "No Country For Old Men"):

The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.

The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man's mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.


If I'm right, how can I know I'm right? I can't. But that's not unique to my position.

As I think I've shown, assuming physicalism, no physicalist can know that he's right either.

And, no Tegmarkian can know that he's right, since obviously there would exist mathematical structures that represented entities believing false things.

And as for the religiously inclined, well, that was a faith based proposition from the word go, wasn't it?

So again, setting aside (for the moment at least) the right to cry "reductio ad absurdum", do you see any flaws in my reasoning in the prior comment, or in my previous point that using unexplained terms like "God" and "Physical" to explain consciousness gets you nowhere?

Allen said...

Neil:

"So I think our orderly world shows a maker of order out there."

But then what explains the maker?

You've accomplished nothing by introducing an explanation which itself has no explanation.

You've just pushed the question back a level.

So the original question remains, plus you've introduced a whole host of new questions about this "maker".

Why a maker with these properties and propensities instead of some other maker? Why did he create this world instead of some other? *HOW* did he create this world?

Comforting perhaps, but not helpful.

Crude said...

Allen,

"Aside from the reductio" do I see other flaws? C'mon, that's a little hard to take seriously as a question. But, what the hell, let's try.

Still, this is starting to look a little fishy. What are you trying to get me to agree to here?

Descartes' argument that, in the end, my own consciousness is the only thing I can affirm with utter certainty? But if so, this has been a very circuitous route to an argument that well-known.

Is it your claim that consciousness is all that exists AND that there is no cause/reason for either it OR the beliefs I have? But, not only do we have a reductio of that particular belief but we have alternatives even within idealism - Berkeleyan idealism, hindu idealism, etc, etc.

Now, you can fire back there "Oho! But you don't KNOW WITH CERTAINTY those are true!" Yeah, but so what? That goes for your own view by your own admission. All told, why should I not opt for the view which, even if flimsy, has no reductio against it? Be warned: You can't rightly reason with me there, because on your view there is no reason to employ. Try it and I'll ask you to explain on what grounds you're doing it - and I won't accept a request of "Just put that point aside".

As for your take on religion, I disagree with it. Religious people are entirely capable of, and in fact can be damn good at, using reason to argue for the existence of God. Just because God is involved doesn't mean everything reduces to a completely blind faith, and physicalism/materialism/atheism strikes me (especially nowadays) as every bit as religious as the zaniest paganism pulled out of the imagination.

So, yeah. Even if I set aside the reductio (I ain't just 'crying' it. I'm pointing it out, and you're apparently copping to it but requesting I... What, just forget it?), there are still problems with your particular view. Such as "alternatives". The field is far bigger than your own take on idealism. Or even "physicalism" v cartesian dualism.

And since you mentioned salvia, I want to mention before the move is made: Pointing to eastern mystics won't convince me here, if that's the move you're going to go for down the line.

Crude said...

Why a maker with these properties and propensities instead of some other maker? Why did he create this world instead of some other? *HOW* did he create this world?

But there's a key difference between Neil's view and yours.

His view leaves us with questions which potentially have answers, even if those answers could never be known by us with utter and complete certainty.

But yours leaves us with a reductio. You seem to really not want to speak to that, but honestly, that's one hell of a problem to have.

Neil B said...

Allen - First, taking into account only "the given" as phenomenology leaves almost everyone unsatisfied as to what controls the consistent relations of what you experience - why you can drive to work and find things there ordered just as if there is a structure, independent of you, that guarantees what's available to experience. If you're a solipsist - who's writing these words, you or me? And if Neil B is out there, something serves as a matrix (small-m) to hold us both together. That doesn't mean it has to be imagined as classical physicalists do. Indeed, we already have the evidence, via problematical issues like the wave function, that it isn't.

Allen said...

Actually, I was wrong in calling your dismissal of my argument a reductio ad absurdum.

You are instead committing the logical fallacy of reductio ad ridiculum. The appeal to ridicule.

So, that makes my job easier.

I’m not trying to trick you into anything. My position is sincerely held and transparently articulated.

You may dismiss it, but you’ve presented no good reason for doing so. The article you reference in your most recent post comes to mind.

As for Berkeleyian or Hindu idealism, they both contain inferred-from-experience-but-not-explained mechanisms.

God for Berkeley:

"On this view, one might be tempted to say that reality is a "mental construct"; this is not quite accurate, however, since on Berkeley's view perceptual ideas are created and coordinated by God."

As for Hindu idealism, I’m not very familiar with it, but to the extent that it includes its own inferred-but-not-explained mechanisms such as some rule according to which individual consciousnesses arise from an "Absolute Consciousness" and the usual themes of Karma, then I reject it as well. Again, why would that be? What explains the explanation?

You said:

"All told, why should I not opt for the view which, even if flimsy, has no reductio against it?"

First, as we’ve discovered, the reductio ad ridiculum you’re using is a logical fallacy. Second, because your view is more complicated but adds no extra explanatory power. There are no reasons for your reasons.

Religion and scientific realism are both faith-based positions. Both views build elaborate invisible infrastructures based on inferences from observation, and which are both consistent with observation given their respective assumptions (e.g., the existence of God, or the existence of matter).

As Kant pointed out, the problem isn’t that we can infer too little about the "underlying" nature of reality...the problem is that we can infer too much. Too many internally consistent but mutually contradictory frameworks can be fabricated...all of which involve some "necessary being" bootstrapping itself into existence and then kicking the whole Rube-Goldbergian contraption into motion.

Give me a break! That’s ridiculous! (ha!)

You’re not arguing with a physicalist, so your "physicalism is just as silly" attack doesn’t work. *ALL* of the available explanations are equally counter-intuitive. But mine is the most defensible.

Again, it seems to me that we should accept the obvious answer. Only our experiences exist.

Even if it's no better than the other views on offer, in no way is it worse. And there’s fewer moving parts, which tips the scales in its favor. If God and/or Matter ultimately don't explain anything, why keep them?

I only know my own experiences - but given that they exist, it seems plausible that other kinds of experience should exist also. Yours, for instance.

Does every possible experience exist? Impossible to say. Maybe, maybe not. If so, there would be no reason for that. If not, there would be no reason for that either.

Neil’s view potentially offer "answers", but then what explains those answers? Why those answers instead of some other? How do you know that the answers are true instead of only *seeming* to be true, unless you know *why* the answers are true?

Did you read the article on Munchhausen’s Trilemma?

The problem isn’t what we don’t know. The problem is the ephemeral nature of knowledge.

Allen said...

Neil:

"First, taking into account only 'the given' as phenomenology leaves almost everyone unsatisfied as to what controls the consistent relations of what you experience"

Why aren’t they equally unsatisfied with an account that doesn’t explain "what controls that which controls the consistent relations"?

If B controls A, what controls B? If C controls B, what controls C? This leads to infinite regress.

But you don’t find this infinite regress just as unsatisfying as the question "Why A"? Why not? What’s the difference?

I think you’re being surprisingly provincial in your views of reality.

"that guarantees what's available to experience."

Then what guarantees that which guarantees what’s available to experience? Why doesn’t an unguaranteed guarantee bother you? If I guarantee you that I will give you back your money, will you loan me $20k? Or do you want a guarantee of my "guarantee"?

As to solipsism, see my previous response to Crude.

As to your last point, wave functions are a calculational device used to construct mathematical descriptions that fit your observations. They have no ontological status. There. Problem solved.

You're introducing unnecessary complications by trying to reify the terms of mathematical approximations.

Would good could it possibly do, other than to make you feel "satisfied", to merge theoretical physics with ontological metaphysics?

Crude said...

Actually, I was wrong in calling your dismissal of my argument a reductio ad absurdum.

You are instead committing the logical fallacy of reductio ad ridiculum. The appeal to ridicule.


Complete and utter bullshit. The only person who's been playing the "ridicule" card here is you, with your trite dismissal of "religion", your accusation that I'm "crying reductio", and more. I've agreed with a good share of your thoughts. I've asked some reasonable questions. I've pointed out some serious problems with your reasoning that you don't want to respond to, and I've done this all politely.

I'll be frank: My tolerance for the usual internet debating tricks shtick is tremendously low. I've played that game for over a decade, and played it well. I'm no longer interested in them. But if I start seeing debating tricks, melodrama, misdirection and the usual employed here, I'll end things quick and without a second thought.

So please, knock it off.

You may dismiss it, but you’ve presented no good reason for doing so.

No, you've dismissed my reasons for doing so. You won't talk about the reductio your position entails, and your argument against very similar positions without a reductio is "well okay, but that leaves some things unexplained". But your own position has not only that going on, but also has a reductio. It's not a good position to be in.

The fact that you admit - again, I emphasize, admit - that on your argument, "reason" has no and can have no role in our beliefs or arguments, yet you're trying to use reason to support it, is a serious defect. It won't go away just by demanding we not talk about that. Just as your asserting "it adds no explanatory power" doesn't make it so just by your assertion.

all of which involve some "necessary being" bootstrapping itself into existence

No. "Necessary beings" do not "bootstrap themselves into existence". You're thinking of "self-caused" beings, which are typically derided by advocates of necessary beings as violating reason.

I only know my own experiences - but given that they exist, it seems plausible that other kinds of experience should exist also. Yours, for instance.

Why does it seem plausible? You're adding "Rube Goldberg" devices to your own world. Solipsism is not only an option on your view, it's practically demanded. Again, you're trying to reason when your reason tells you that reason can't work. And if you start to think about how reason could or must work, you're going to end up with some variety theism or something ridiculously close to it.

Neil’s view potentially offer "answers", but then what explains those answers? Why those answers instead of some other? How do you know that the answers are true instead of only *seeming* to be true, unless you know *why* the answers are true?

I'll put necessary being aside to say this: Even if we need an infinity of answers in a chain (an infinite being? I think I could get behind that), it still has this advantage: It has no reductio of itself. You're asking me why I would entertain views which could be (or arguably, one of which must be) true, as opposed to the one view which reason shows is not an option to reason to.

Look, I admire your skepticism and your fresh approach to these questions. Hell, I won't even mock your idealism - frankly, your view sounds more honest and realistic than materialism, the "scientism" guys, and other standard wannabe paragons of reasoning. But other views - some of which, frankly, are similar to yours - seem far more reasonable. Don't be too offended, you're still miles ahead of most of the other "scientific" alternatives by my measure.

Allen said...

Okay, let me explicitly and directly address your charge of reductio ad absurdum.

Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: "reduction to the absurd") is a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence.

So you believe you have a reductio ad absurdum based on this:

“You're asking me if the logic looks airtight in argument that, if I am taking it right, states that no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic?”

But that can’t be a reductio against my position, because the same attack applies equally to all theories which have consciousness as “caused” by some underlying process.

In all such theories, arguments are presented and believed because of the underlying process that generates experience, not for reasons of logic.

For example, in physicalism, initial conditions and causal laws (which may have a probabilistic aspect) control what arguments you present and believe.

Now it’s *possible* that we live in a universe whose initial conditions and causal laws are such that our arguments *are* logical. But in a physicalist framework that’s not why we present them or believe those arguments.

So arguing for physicalism is making an argument that states that no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic.

Reductio ad absurdum. AND YET...no one makes this charge against physicalism.

The same argument can be made against Tegmark’s mathematical Modal Realism. This argues that our conscious experiences of the physical world are actually a result some sort of underlying mathematical structure. But obviously there’s nothing that says that these mathematically generated experiences and beliefs have to be true or logical. In fact, we have dreams and hallucinations as proof that there is no such requirement. The underlying mathematically logic *causes* the conscious experiences and beliefs, but those experiences and beliefs are not themselves necessarily logical.

So arguing for Platonic Realism is making an argument that states that no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic.

Reductio ad absurdum. AND YET...no one makes this charge against Modal Realism.

And I’m certain I can make the same argument against whatever your position is. And I say this with confidence because the only other option to "caused" experiences is uncaused experiences. Which is my position.

So, you don’t have a reductio ad absurdum against my argument, unless you want to assert that charge against every argument that has a cause for conscious experience.

I can’t justify my belief that my argument is correct, just as the physicalist or modal realist can’t. But just like them, that doesn’t mean that my argument *isn’t* correct.

If I’m right, and if (IF!) every possible experience exists, then some of them are going to be experiences of believing correct logical arguments...though most won’t.

If (IF!) every possible physical universe exists, some of them are going to generate entities with true beliefs about the universe they’re in...though most won’t.

If (IF!) modal realism is right, and every possible reality exists, some of them are going to contain entities that “believe” in modal realism...though most won’t.

So, again, you haven’t presented a good reason for dismissing my position...unless you dismiss *every* other position as well.

Right?

But I'm very open to your counter-arguments. It's all about learning.

Crude said...

Allen,

Okay, let me explicitly and directly address your charge of reductio ad absurdum.

You know, normally I'd be willing to say, yeah, that's what I'm charging you with. But the situation you're in is different, because it's not like I'm accusing you of arguing that no one believes anything for reasons. You're admitting that outright.

Here's you again:

And if I'm right that only conscious experience exists, then there *is no* reason for what you believe. There's no mysterious "physical world" that underlies and explains what you oberve, but which has no explanation itself. Instead, each instant of conscious experience exists fundamentally and uncaused. "You" exist only as an aspect of some of these experiences...you exist not as an object, but as a point of view.

If you don't see how taking this sort of position re: beliefs and reason and arguments doesn't lead to absurdity, well, that's that. There was a time where I'd happily try to prove it to you, but after seeing more than a dozen self-anointed champions of reason talk about how they're convinced scientists have seen particles pop into existence out of nothing, utterly uncaused, I've started to lose faith in that project. At least insofar as brief exchanges on ye olde internet goes.

Anyway, let's get to the heart of the matter.

So, again, you haven’t presented a good reason for dismissing my position...unless you dismiss *every* other position as well.

Okay: I dismiss every other position as well. Really, if my options were to choose between your particular brand of idealism, modern scare-quotes "materialism", and Tegmark's pythagoreanism (I assume that's what he really means, but the man himself just doesn't seem to know what he's talking about re: his own idea, frankly), all leading to these absurdities, that would be my response. I don't really have to pick one.

But, there are more options than those listed. Ones that don't require "generating consciousness" from some underlying physical source, just as "generating intentionality" isn't required either. By the way...

Reductio ad absurdum. AND YET...no one makes this charge against physicalism.

This? Right here? Flatly false. Plenty, and I mean plenty, of people make this charge. The aristotileans do. So do the classical platonists and thinkers of various stripes. The panpsychists do. There's really no shortage of people who think physicalism as classically construed is absurd. It's part of why the definition of "physical" has gotten, uh... broad, in the past decades.

If you're complaining that idealistic metaphysics are treated unjustly, sure, I'll agree. But Berkeley wasn't the first guy to regard physicalists as absurdly wrong.

Allen said...

So do you agree with my analysis of physicalism and mathematico-modal realism then? If not, where did I go wrong?

Panpsychists are no better off, since even if everything has some “experiential” aspect, there still has to be some “law” that controls how these individual motes of experience combine to form my unified consciousness. So in that view, no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic either. Instead the laws of “panpsychic experiential chemistry” determine our conscious experiences.

So arguing for pansychism is making an argument that states that no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic.

The same goes for Berkeleyian Idealism. If perceptual ideas are created and coordinated by God, then you present and believe arguments because of God’s coordinating activities, not because the arguments are logical or correct. And clearly we have schizophrenics among us who believe massively crazy things, so the fact that God coordinates our beliefs doesn’t mean that they are necessarily true.

So arguing for Berkeleyian Idealism is making an argument that states that no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic.

BUT, I’m not very familiar with Aristotilean-Thomism. Can you explain how it escapes the above line of reasoning? You claim that I'm not being rational. Show me how it's done then.

So what we know are our conscious observations. And we try to build foundations under those observations to adequately support them.

But just placing something beneath them does *not* a foundation make.

In fact, I think it’s rather clear that conscious experience *is* the foundation that everything else builds on.

We’re not at the top of a explanatory stack looking down at what supports and causes our experiences. Instead, we’re at the bottom, looking up at all the things built on top of our conscious experience.

Things which aren't independent of our experience, but rather are aspects of it.

If not, why not?

Crude said...

So do you agree with my analysis of physicalism and mathematico-modal realism then? If not, where did I go wrong?

I've been onboard with your criticisms of both. Your specific advocacy of your version of idealism and what I really take as "My idea is simplest, and even though it absolutely sacrifices reason or reasoning, it's better than the rest", I'm less thrilled with. And I wouldn't be focusing on it so critically, except you're insisting it's the only rational path somehow, so...

You claim that I'm not being rational. Show me how it's done then.

*I* am doing no such thing. *You* are saying this. Like I said before, this isn't me accusing you of not using reason to reach your beliefs. That's your position, you've said it outright. I'm just pointing out the problem with it.

It's not just A-T though, though I lean towards that. Have you ever read up on classical philosophy? Aristotle's formal and final causes, de anima? What sort of conception of matter greeks and scholastics had? Why Descartes' was frowned upon? I can recommend some books if you like. They may not change your mind, but they may show you other possibilities.

And really, if you're concluding that every option you're aware of results in an inability to reason, shouldn't you be looking for other options rather than picking the one you think you can argue has the least commitments?

Allen said...

Our discussion on this thread has been very productive I think! You're a good sparring opponent.

So I'm somewhat familiar with Plato and the Stoics, but much less so with Aristotle and the rest prior to Descartes.

I looked around on Ed Feser's website, and at a few places on the internet about Aristotle, Thomism, and Hylomorphism.

THOUGH, at first glance, none of it looks too compelling. But if you have a really good introductory article or something that hits the highlights, I will definitely read it. First glances are often misleading.

As for your further points, I will hold my fire until tomorrow! Allen needs sleep badly...

Onwards!

Crude said...

Our discussion on this thread has been very productive I think! You're a good sparring opponent.

I thank you for the compliment. Really though, I try not to spar. I'd rather just talk. If anything has been productive, it's been due to that, I think.

If you want an article, I'd suggest looking at James Ross' Immaterial Aspects of Thoughts. But honestly it's probably going to be things you agree with anyway, since it's largely illustrating why rational thought doesn't work in a mechanistic/physicalist universe.

Are you familiar with the contrast between mechanistic metaphysics versus formal/final causes and so on?

Anything I'd recommend would be book-length, but that's a key distinction.

Neil B said...

My comment would have been more helpful earlier (and I'm glad you guys quite spatting), but: as for the regularity behind what we (and that also asks, how many are "we") see: instead of a world structure "explaining" it and then asking about infinite regression, consider the structure to embody the regularity of the universe. Your mind encounters some part of it and forms a phenomenology out of the interaction. (IOW, there's more than just your mind - well, mine too ...) It's not like "rules" but more like geometry, an intrinsic structure FWIW.

So you're like a structure exploring another structure - an irregular hexagon rolling around in an irregular decagon, and what you find is based on such as what corner fits into what. The decagaon, once "there" takes care of the regularities because they are on it to be found. However, these shapes are relational things that depend on their being on what is touching what.

The mistake the traditional materialists make is to presume their conceptualization of the decagaon and their philosophy of substance are reasonable and evident, but they aren't. To me it's not a configuration of matter, it's a structure of relations. BTW saying the wave function is just a math tool is a cop out. If not a wave, then what is really there? Sure, I can believe we can't represent things with our models, but that requires firmly dismissing realism per se, not a partial blow-off of a particular representational tool and keeping other representations. (This would not be a consistency problem for Allen, but for a "realist" ...)

As for why a the 'gons instead of nothing, I say "God". As for why "God" - you either get foundational arguments like from Plotinus for why a foundational perfect being has to exist, or you don't - I guess. As for why this - literally, because nothingness or a dead universe is just stupid and boorish. (The vermin sort at Pharyngula really got after me for saying that, but their kind says things like "the universe expresses fundamental ideas of beauty" - why not, of meaningful life?

PS: There can't be many people, but a few pros and some interesting amateurs, who really get into and are conversant with this type of high metaphysics. I'm not a pro philosopher but took course at UVA in the 70s (Ryle, Witlesstein - ugh) and became reasonably literate. Your stories, if you want ...?

Crude said...

The vermin sort at Pharyngula really got after me for saying that, but their kind says things like "the universe expresses fundamental ideas of beauty" - why not, of meaningful life?

Because they're not consistent and have no interest in being consistent. I'm always amazed when I hear about someone who went to Pharyngula to argue. Most comments sections are horrible things in general, but a place like that is the internet embodiment of a rat king if ever I saw one.

The mistake the traditional materialists make is to presume their conceptualization of the decagaon and their philosophy of substance are reasonable and evident, but they aren't.

It's my experience that the number of traditional materialists who even argue for this position are in short supply. The main move is to simply assume it or say "science shows..." when it does no such thing, and then quickly move on to the interpretations. And those interpretations many times aren't even materialist. It's just a stamp they thunk onto what they're about to say, like some magical talisman.

I'm not a pro philosopher but took course at UVA in the 70s (Ryle, Witlesstein - ugh) and became reasonably literate. Your stories, if you want ...?

I'm just some schmuck who's been reading about this on and off for a while now. Not a pro. Not that impressed by many actual pros either. (See the ongoing Dennett pieces.)

Allen said...

Crude:

"Like I said before, this isn't me accusing you of not using reason to reach your beliefs. That's your position, you've said it outright. I'm just pointing out the problem with it."

Well, I think I've made a pretty good argument that if conscious experience is caused (by an underlying physical world, for example), then no one uses reason to reach their beliefs.

Instead, the underlying process that generates conscious experience dictates the beliefs that are held.

For example, did you see my post on manic depression?

Of course, *if* I'm right, then my being right is effectively a coincidence, an accident. Like looking at a stopped watch exactly at one of the two times per day when it shows the correct time.

In other words: I may be correct, but for not for any justifiable reason.

Or another way of putting would be: I'm *not* right, I'm lucky.

Assuming physicalism, if every possible physical world were to exist, some of them would necessarily contain conscious entities with true beliefs. In fact, every true belief that can be held, would be held in one of those possible worlds.

In that scenario, if you were a true-belief-holding entity, the fact that you held a true belief would be a consequence of the combinatorial fact that every possible belief would have to be held.

Your holding of a true belief would *not* be a consequence of your superior rationality. Rather, you would be labeled as rational *because* you held a true belief.

Right?


"And really, if you're concluding that every option you're aware of results in an inability to reason, shouldn't you be looking for other options rather than picking the one you think you can argue has the least commitments?"

Well, to some extent that's why I still read blogs and books and engage in these debates. I am looking for alternatives to this position. BUT, as it stands now, I can't see any way to get around this conclusion. AND, I don't see why this conclusion would be considered impossible, paradoxical, or absurd.

To me it looks like an unintuitive but entirely possible way that things could be. Yes?

Allen said...

Neil:

"BTW saying the wave function is just a math tool is a cop out. If not a wave, then what is really there?"

Conscious experience.

"(This would not be a consistency problem for Allen, but for a "realist" ...)"

Exactly. That's why I'm not a realist.

"There can't be many people, but a few pros and some interesting amateurs, who really get into and are conversant with this type of high metaphysics."

I wonder about that too. How many people are really aware of all these issues? I only stumbled on it by accident 2 years ago (at age 36), and I think that I was far better read, informed, and educated that the vast majority of people I've met.

Of course, you can explain it to most people and they still can't grasp it. The Chalmers paper is by far the best "wake-up call" I've come across, but even there most people don't see it.

Since I used to think the way they did, and I remember that mindset, I'm pretty sure it's them who's not getting it - and that it's not me who's missing something. Ha!

They don't have to agree with my conclusion, but they should at least admit that there's a problem with the "standard" world view.

Crude said...

Allen,

Well, I think I've made a pretty good argument that if conscious experience is caused (by an underlying physical world, for example), then no one uses reason to reach their beliefs.

Right. That's James Ross' point as well. It was, I'm pretty sure, Aristotle's point too. Hell, it's practically Dan Dennett's and the Churchlands' and other materialists' point, except they don't seem to not understand how this could be a problem for their views.

Here, let me stop you and ask this: Are you trying to convince me that physicalism is tremendously flawed, we have no good reason to believe in it, or that if it were correct we could never know it? If so, stop. Not because it won't work, but because I agree anyway. I agreed before I talked to you. I'd be surprised if you didn't realize this, I thought I made it abundantly clear. But now I'm not so sure.

So, just to make it clear: I regard materialism as nonsense. Maybe the last hundred guys you've run into have all defended materialism so you just expect me to too, but seriously. I was sold before you got here. We're in agreement on that point.

I don't see why this conclusion would be considered impossible, paradoxical, or absurd.

To me it looks like an unintuitive but entirely possible way that things could be. Yes?


Then I don't think we have the same definition of absurd. Honestly, I'd have to ask you what would count as absurd if endorsing a belief which denies the possibility of reason itself doesn't qualify as such.

Really, if you don't think it's absurd, then we're at an impasse. Which is fine, but there's no getting around this.

I wonder about that too. How many people are really aware of all these issues?

Next to no one I wager. I mean, clearly there are some - I know multiple people who see these problems, and there are of course philosophers and authors who argue along similar lines - but most people are unaware.

Allen said...

I realize that you're not a materialist, but I'm not just arguing against materialism. I'm arguing against any attempt to put any kind of inferred-from-experience metaphysical framework beneath conscious experience.

Which is what I meant by this remark on my previous comment:

"And what I've basically concluded is that it makes no sense to construct elaborate theoretical frameworks positing the existence of all manner of fundamental entities and rules that somehow add up to an explanation of conscious experience..."

I just use materialism as a proxy for all other metaphysical frameworks. If I had a good grasp of your position, I would address my arguments to it.

I also use materialism because it seems like the most widely held position amongst people who have given these issues some, but not a lot, of thought. And, it's the position I used to hold.

"Really, if you don't think it's absurd, then we're at an impasse."

So it's certainly conceivable, right? When I say it, you know what I'm talking about?

You can imagine how it *might* be the case? (if not, revisit my comment on Philip Goff's "Ghost" paper).

So, what exactly makes it absurd to you?

From whence the absurdity? My conscious experiences "just existing" is absurd, but God "just existing" isn't?

Does God have a material body? Is there a "mechanism" that produces his thoughts?

All of the available options are absurd. Mine, it seems to me, is least absurd.

Crude said...

I just use materialism as a proxy for all other metaphysical frameworks. If I had a good grasp of your position, I would address my arguments to it.

Well, two problems here. First, the field is far, far wider than merely "materialism", even the modern, broken, 'hardly means anything anymore' materialism. And I think it's tremendously mistaken and deceptive to just treat all alternatives as various takes on materialism, as if disproving Dennett somehow disproves Berkeley too.

Second, look at what you just said. You have no idea, by your own admission, what my view is. But if you knew, you know you'd be attacking it. That's precisely the sort of interaction I'm just not interested in, this "Bring it on, let's fight!" routine. If you want to know my position or the positions of others I'm aware of because you're curious and want to reflect on them or learn about them, that's one thing. If you just are waiting for some next contender to take down, what's the point?

So it's certainly conceivable, right? When I say it, you know what I'm talking about?

If I am, it would be a refutation of your argument. You're saying no one believes anything due to reasons. No one reasons their way to a conclusion or a truth. If a person utters something that is a truth (and on cartesian-style materialism, *even this* is arguably impossible to do), it isn't because they reasoned their way to it. It's a happy coincidence, purely by accident.

You seem to think that so long as one can vaguely claim to imagine the sort of world you're talking about, then clearly it's not absurd. Maybe this will help: It's not impossible for the world to be such that no one ever reasons, and that all the beliefs they hold and positions they take are not the result of reasoning, of rationality, etc. But if this is true, it precludes those people being able to show this by reason and argument.

Neil B said...

Allen - the reason most of us think there's something more than just "minds" (I don't mean that proves the point, just to consider) is that if literally all that exists is various minds and their experiences, it's hard to get where your seeing the front of something apparently "there" is stitched into my seeing the back of it. Saying "it's just like that" is *not* like saying the world is "just like" a configuration includes the thing we're both looking at as connection node.

In the first case we have phenomenological givens and are trying to find something under them all, like a big iceberg with various parts sticking up out of the water. We are saying, there's something that's the rest of those emergent peaks. It's "the rest of" not just an explanation - something going on. The consistency is an outcome of the structure, that goes beyond simply asking "why does it act like that."

For example you could say the structure is just there with no explanation if you wanted to, but e.g. the peaks move together in a coordinated way "because" they are literally part of a bigger iceberg. We can argue what that iceberg is really like ... I'd not, not as imagined in classical physicalism and QM drives the nails in that coffin IMHO.

As for Dan Denialit and the Churchlands - actually, they deny conscious experience outright (while, especially egregiously disingenuous in the case of Dennett, pretending they don't "feign anesthesia.") My response to the issue, the difficulty of explaining experience as coming from the "physical world" - that world is whatever it needs to be, so that we can have the experiences we do in fact have. And it blatantly tells us it cannot be "realistic" in the form of quantum paradoxes (Google "quantum measurement paradox") etc.

God, why is it "just like that" - OK, read Plotinus ... God is whatever It needs to be, to be just the given ultimate being. There has to be (?) something that needs no further explanation, so the only question is - will it be this particularized mess (not a good choice), or something else?

BTW folks, is there a subtle difference in meaning between "physicalism" and "materialism" - I mean in our context, not the obvious broader discussions.

Allen said...

1. First, the field is far, far wider than merely "materialism"

So really I am arguing against the view that our conscious experiences are caused by more fundamental rule-governed processes.

physicalism is such a view. So is Berkeleyian Idealism. So is Panpsychism. So is property dualism. So is substance dualism. So is Hindu idealism. So are most variants of Buddhism.

So physicalism is the easiest to conceptualise, and the one that the most people are most familiar with. But I think my arguments apply equally well to the other options.

No matter what the fundamental components and rules of the proposed ontology are, there is always the question: “Why would this rule-driven configuration, and no other, give rise to something like my experience?”

===

2. For example, Panpsychism tries to get around the problem of how conscious experience can arise from unconscious matter by asserting that matter has an experiential aspect.

But my personal subjective experience is not the experience of these conscious subcomponents, nor the experience of being part of some universal mind. My experience is of being me.

Therefore you still need some sort of “bridge law” to get from the experience of the parts (or the whole) to my personal subjective experience.

So, now you’ve started building up this rule-driven infrastructure that is *inferred* from your observations, but is speculative.

But why would reality be that way, instead of some other way? We started down this path to explain our conscious experiences, but now we’ve developed this complex system which is itself unexplained.

Further, setting up a system like this means that our experiences are controlled by the system, and there’s no real reason to think that the system will *cause* us to have experiences that are in anyway “true”.

And so it goes for the other metaphysical frameworks as well.

===

3. So I’m proposing this simple straightforward explanation, but everyone keeps saying, “Oh no, it couldn’t be that simple. We have to have all these extra moving parts.”

But why can’t it be “that simple”?

The extra moving parts are of no use because I can ask the exact same questions about them as I could ask about the consciousness that they supposedly explain.

===

4. ”But if you knew, you know you'd be attacking it.”

Maybe not. Maybe you’d explain your position and I’d say, “I get it! You’re right!”

But if I didn’t get it right away, then I think these debates are the best way to learn. For instance, some of our earlier discussions got a bit heated, but in the process of arguing it out, I learned a few new things. Also, I had some new ideas that I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have had if I’d just sat here and thought about it on my own.

I don’t like to get zinged in debates, and I occasionally get a little sharp myself, but it’s all a means to an end. The end being, to learn.

As far as I can tell, in a conversation the participants mostly agree. In a debate, they mostly disagree. But since the only thing we really agree on is that physicalism makes no sense, unless we’re going to confine ourselves to that topic, I think debate is inevitable. And, I’d add, desirable.

===

5. But if this is true, it precludes those people being able to show this by reason and argument.

This I'll address in a separate comment.

Allen said...

Continuing:

But if this is true, it precludes those people being able to show this by reason and argument.

A) First, my theory doesn’t claim that rational arguments are impossible, or that logic is not logical, or anything like that. My theory just shows that you always arrive at rational positions quite by accident and can never be sure that they are truly logical.

But that is obviously the case in *any* theory. People are demonstrably fallible.

For instance, I have had beliefs that I was certain were logical...but then it turned out that I had overlooked something and the beliefs were actually false.

So, knowing that I have been wrong before - let’s say that I go to you with my belief and say “check this belief for me, is it logical?” Even if you agree that it is logical, how do we know that we *both* haven’t made a mistake?

As another example, obviously hundreds of thousands of people devoutly “believe” that physicalism is a logical, coherent metaphysical framework, but it seems pretty certain that their belief is false.

So, a large number of believers is no guarantee of correctness of logic.

OR, maybe it *is* a guarantee, and I just can’t trust my reasoning...

The best we can do, given my theory or any other, is to assume that we are one of the lucky few who actually do possess logically valid, rational beliefs.

Again, I think this is true of all proposals on the table. But only my theory is up front about it.


B) Second, my theory doesn’t have any internal inconsistencies or contradictions, right? At first reading, it seems plausible. Only on second thought are there concerns.


C) My theory doesn’t contradict any observations that we have, right? There’s no available data that’s inconsistent with what I propose, is there?

So what given all that, does it still strike you as more absurd than the other options on the table?

Crude said...

A) First, my theory doesn’t claim that rational arguments are impossible, or that logic is not logical, or anything like that. My theory just shows that you always arrive at rational positions quite by accident and can never be sure that they are truly logical.

To claim that, if you or anyone else arrives at any so-called "rational position", you/they did so entirely by accident, IS to say that "rational arguments are impossible". On your view, reason and logic play no role in beliefs. Your beliefs just "happen", and if they line up with a truth, this is due to miracle, or a happy accident. It certainly isn't due to reasoning. Everyone's beliefs and conscious experiences are just popping into existence, each detached from the other, uncaused and unguided by anything. That ain't reasoning.

You seem to want to take a tremendously skeptical view, one I think does not escape solipsism easily (Your saying 'Well, we see others who act like us so we can infer..' doesn't work. You never reason, remember? For all you know, you're the only conscious being. Why complicate matters with adding others?), then look at it from the outside and argue that - baffling as it is, as contrary to experience as it is - it's "simple" and possible so we should believe it. It's possible that no one reasons, so a reasonable person would conclude that no one reasons. That should be lighting up neon warning signs to you. Unless you reject the possibility of reason, in which case, why argue about this ever? Granted, my question requires reason to answer.

You don't think this is absurd? Seriously?

B) Second, my theory doesn’t have any internal inconsistencies or contradictions, right? At first reading, it seems plausible. Only on second thought are there concerns.

It does have internal inconsistencies and contradictions right out of the gates, and those are shown off whenever you argue for it, or appeal to reason for it. Nor does it seem plausible, because it can't "seem plausible", because "seeming plausible" is a function of exactly the sort of mental 'rules' you say does not exist.

Think about it this way: If your view is true, you can't argue for it by your own definition. To try is to fail, or to disprove your position in the process.

C) My theory doesn’t contradict any observations that we have, right? There’s no available data that’s inconsistent with what I propose, is there?

Of course it does. It contradicts my observation that I am, in fact, reasoning. It contradicts my observations that my mind is able to ascertain causes, such as "I arrived at this view by reasoning and laws of logic. Intentionality and reason played a role in my thoughts." If you pull back and demand only third party objective "data", you're finished.

Allen said...

Okay, so how do you explain your reason? What accounts for it? By what rule-set does it arise?

In your opinion, what is it that makes reason possible?

Did you read my post about the girl with manic-depression? Why was her reason not reliable?

Why is reason possible for some but not for others?

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Let me ask you this: What is it that causes one of your thoughts to give rise to a “reasonable” following thought instead of an unreasonable one?

Where do your thoughts come from, do you think?

I don’t know where my thoughts come from...words and images and memories just pop into my head. I don’t know how I think the things I do, I just think them.


You seem to want to take a tremendously skeptical view, one I think does not escape solipsism easily

My experiences exist, it seems plausible that other experiences that aren’t mine also exist. Though, it’s also possible that they don’t. There’s no way to know.


You don't think this is absurd? Seriously?

Seriously. My position is the least absurd explanation I’ve been able to come up with.

It has no absurdities that physicalism, panpsychism, berkeleyian idealism, theism, etc. doesn’t also have. It just doesn’t hide them in a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Again, put your best theory out there - I bet I can show you where it has the same issues, plus a lot of extra fluff that serves no real purpose except to hide the absurdities.


If your view is true, you can't argue for it by your own definition.

I can. I’m the lucky guy who is, by complete coincidence, in possession of the truth. There is no reason for that though. It just is that way.


It contradicts my observation that I am, in fact, reasoning.

Again, go read the article about the girl with manic-depression. She thought she was rational and reasonable too.

The fact that you have the experience of reasoning does not in any way entail that you actually are doing so.

Crude said...

Okay, so how do you explain your reason? What accounts for it? By what rule-set does it arise?

Magical reason bunnies. Really, what does it matter what my own view is? It's not like you have an explanation for reason, and you want to see how it stacks up against others. Your position is that there is no reason or reasoning, period.

Seriously. My position is the least absurd explanation I’ve been able to come up with.

"I have no idea what the truth is, and neither do any of you" is a valid position. It has its own flaws, but man, it lacks a big one yours has.

But really, at this point I think we're just hitting the end of this conversation. You really want to debate, and like I said, I'm just not interested in that. It gets nowhere and encourages bunkering rather than honest engagement. More stuff gets done when the stakes are smaller.

Again, put your best theory out there - I bet I can show you where it has the same issues, plus a lot of extra fluff that serves no real purpose except to hide the absurdities.

No, a consistent materialism (at least consistent with what that word used to mean - all bets are off now) will have absurdities. Other views will merely have mysteries. Mysteries are not absurdities.

Again, go read the article about the girl with manic-depression. She thought she was rational and reasonable too.

You don't even know that. Where's that skepticism? All you know is what she reported. You don't even know 'she' existed. You don't know if she was conscious. You don't know if she was telling the truth. You make hay out of being utterly unable to explain your own experiences, thoughts, and reason, but you're going to lay heavy chips on your interpretation of someone else's? Like I said, once you of all people make a move for the third party data, you're done.

I can. I’m the lucky guy who is, by complete coincidence, in possession of the truth. There is no reason for that though. It just is that way.

Except, by your own testimony, you neither know you are in possession of any truth at all, you may not be in possession of it as of tomorrow, etc.

Look, the conversation has been fun. Polite even. But honestly, let's take a break for quite some time on this. We're going to run in circles. I'm not convinced, and I think your view has flaws. I'm not convinced it's more compelling than full-blown Aztec-style paganism, to say nothing of other alternatives. You disagree, and that's great - I'm not trying to get you to drop the view. No point going on when there's zero progress being made.

Neil B said...

Allen, your radical skepticism may be a good Cartesian way to get something started, but I think it ends up empty in the end without further development - and even a sort of leap of "faith." If we stick to the absolutely given, we don't even know of other minds much less if the Moon is there when *no one* looks at it. In the end we can either just take our own experiences as "given" and the expectations as a fortuitous abstraction, or try to image what's enabling us.

And if you're not a solipsist, then you are already taking a leap of faith and "modeling" what's "behind" the other creatures that "appear" to you, right? So once you took that step, why not go further ...

Which leads to modeling "as" rather than "why is." Like I said, now simpler" There's a difference between imagining "there is" a bunch of polygons and how they geometrically interact as logical necessity, versus "why that set of polygons and not another set" etc. If you are wary of the latter, consider accepting the former as a "given" of the universe. It enables those other minds to have coordinated experiences. Otherwise why even believe I too have experiences?

Finally, even if you can't be "certain" - so what? Can't we go ahead and suppose?

Ilíon said...

Allen,
While I'm sure you don't realize it, and while I'm sure you'll insist not ... you're an eliminative reductionist materialist.

Neil B said...

Ilíon, that's a curious take - Allen comes on more as pure idealist, Monadology without the God to coordinate the experiences ... (I still don't get how he thinks my et al's experiences stitch together with his.)

BTW folks, it may be cheesy to ask directly but it looks good to have "followers" so if you consider my blog interesting, consider it ...

Allen said...

Neil and Ilion, I will respond soon!

Crude:

I disagree! I think this has been one of the most productive exchanges I’ve had in quite a while.

I think you give up too easily. Though, if you want to move on, that’s fine with me. No worries!

BUT, to recap my position:

It is my position that if your conscious experiences are caused by some more fundamental underlying process, then no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic or rationality.

Instead, one presents and believes arguments because one is *caused* to do so by the underlying process.

The underlying process *may* be such that it causes us to present and believe logical and rational arguments, but there is no requirement that this be the case.

If the underlying process doesn’t cause one to present and believe rational arguments, there would be no way to detect this, since there is no way to step outside of the process’s control of one’s beliefs to independently verify the “reasonableness” of the beliefs it generates.

In other words: crazy people rarely know that they’re crazy.

Now. Everything I’ve said here is true of *every* possible position. Yours and mine included. All *I’ve* done is dropped the talk about a mysterious underlying process. But nothing else changes.

1) The universe’s initial conditions and causal laws *may* be such that they cause us to have true beliefs about reality, but there is no requirement that this be so.

2) Our God *may* be such that he causes us to have true beliefs about him and reality, but there is no requirement that this be so.

3) Our fundamental and uncaused conscious experiences *may* be such that they hold the experience of true beliefs about reality, but there is no requirement that this be so.

In *all* cases, we are depending on luck. Luck that we live in a universe with “honest” initial conditions and causal laws. Luck that we have a benevolent God (but then how to explain schizophrenics and manic-depressives?). Luck that our experiences are of true beliefs.

Because in *no* case, can we step outside of our beliefs (be they caused *or* uncaused) and verify that they are logical and rational.

Allen said...

Ilion,

I agree with Neil. That's a curious take.

I would say that I'm the mirror image of a eliminative reductionist materialist. The exact opposite in every way.

Matter doesn't exist, only consciousness exists, and there is no mechanism that consciousness reduces to or by which things reduce to consciousness.

So. There's that.

Allen said...

Neil,

As to how I account for the synchronization between our experiences...I don't.

I would say that there is no causal mechanism that connects your experience and mine.

It would be like we're separately watching two randomly generated movies that just happen to share certain similarities.


OR, maybe your experience doesn't even exist.

Or maybe your experience does exist, but Crude's and Ilion's don't.

Who knows? Not I.

All I can say for certain is that my experience exists. Though I don't blame you if you decline to take my word for it.

My primary motivation in engaging in these conversations is not to enlighten others (who may or may not exist), but rather to learn.

Or to at least have the experience of learning...ha!

Crude said...

I would say that I'm the mirror image of a eliminative reductionist materialist. The exact opposite in every way.

Except for one of the specific points which makes eliminative materialism really controversial and absurd: Denial that we are, in fact, reasoning, or that reason is what principally informs our deliberative processes. You both are saying the same thing on that point. The difference is the EM people like to pretend that someday this will make sense because SCIENCE. You're skipping that part. But part of the reason they advocate such bullshit is because they know if they gave up that act, their position would be worthless intellectually.

In other words: crazy people rarely know that they’re crazy.

You keep shifting from hyperskepticism about knowing anything, to bold claims like this that require tremendous amounts of knowledge that your metaphysical scheme rejects the possibility of having. It just doesn't work. Take your pick: Are you a hyperskeptic, or do you believe in reason after all? If you believe in reason, you have to account for it and your metaphysic is insufficient for the task. If you don't believe in reason, give up all arguments and talk of evidence for your claims. All you can ever have is fideism. If that.

Everything I’ve said here is true of *every* possible position.

No, it's not. See, there you go again - you're acting like you can reason and suss out necessary and contingent truths about reality, even though the metaphysics you're defending says you cannot. Maybe you mean 'For all I, Allen, know, this is the case...' but then you have to deal with that large army of people who say otherwise. And you have to deal with yourself too, because - you know things are the case how again? By reason?

So, we're done here. I'm not saying we can never talk about this again. Maybe in a few months. We can talk about other subjects. But I see this going nowhere at this point. And really, that would have to be your position too for different reasons. Arguments don't do anything. They don't even exist. Just preset motions borne out of initial conditions. (But wait, consciousness has initial conditions it's sensitive to?) Etc, etc.

So, no more from me. Thank you all for participating, this was my first extended conversation on this blog. My ending advice to Allen is to read up on classical greek thought (Aristotle and Plato in particular) and realize that, knowingly or not, mechanistic metaphysics is what informs and wrongly colors a lot of his views here. But mechanistic thought came out of Descartes and has fallen on hard times. Believe me, it's a hard rut to get past, but it's been done.