Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part VIII

And now, dear reader, our critical look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality brings us to the pseudoscience du jour.  Wittgenstein famously said that “in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion” (Philosophical Investigations, II, xiv, p. 232).  He might as well have been talking about contemporary neuroscience -- or, more precisely, about how neuroscience becomes distorted in the hands of those rich in empirical data but poor in philosophical understanding.  Every week seems to bring some new sensationalistic claim to the effect that neuroscience has “shown” this or that -- that free will is an illusion, or that mindreading is possible, or that consciousness plays no role in human action -- supported by arguments notable only for the crudeness of the fallacies they commit.  

Tyler Burge has given the label “neurobabble” to this modern intellectual pathology, and Raymond Tallis calls it “neurotrash,” born of “neuromania.”  I’ve had reason to comment on it in earlier posts (here and here) and an extreme manifestation of the disease is criticized in the last chapter of The Last Superstition.  M. R. Bennett and P. M. S. Hacker subject neurobabble to detailed and devastating criticism in their book Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, and Tallis does a bit of housecleaning of his own in Aping Mankind.  Neurobabble is a key ingredient in Rosenberg’s scientism.  Like so many other contemporary secularists, he has got the brain absolutely on the brain, and maintains that modern neuroscience vindicates some of his more outrageous metaphysical claims.  In particular, he thinks that so-called “blindsight” phenomena establish that consciousness is irrelevant to our actions, and that neuroscientist Benjamin Libet’s experiments cast doubt on free will.  (Jerry Coyne, in a recent article, has made similar claims about free will.  What I’ll say about Rosenberg applies to Coyne as well.)

The big picture

Some general remarks are in order before turning to Rosenberg’s specific claims.  Consider that every written token of the English word “soup” is made up of marks which look at least vaguely like “s,” “o,” “u,” and “p.”  But of course, it doesn’t follow that the word “soup” is identical to any collection of such marks, or that its properties supervene on the material properties of such marks, or that it can be explained entirely in terms of the material properties of such marks.  It would be absurd to suggest that students of language should confine their attention to such material properties, or that any features of language that could not be detected via the study of such properties aren’t real.  Everyone who considers the matter knows this.  To take another example, borrowed from psychologist Jerome Kagan, “as a viewer slowly approaches Claude Monet's painting of the Seine at dawn there comes a moment when the scene dissolves into tiny patches of color.”  But it doesn’t follow that its status and qualities as a painting reduce to, supervene upon, or can be explained entirely in terms of the material properties of the color patches.  It would be absurd to suggest that students of art should confine their attention to such properties, or that any features of a painting that could not be detected via a study of such properties aren’t real.  Everyone who considers the matter knows this too.  

Yet when neuroscientists discover some neural correlate of this or that mental phenomenon, a certain kind of materialist concludes that the mind’s identity with, or supervenience upon, or reducibility to, or complete explanation in terms of neural processes is all but a done deal; and when they fail to discover any such correlate, such a materialist will conclude that the mental event or process in question doesn’t really exist.  In fact such conclusions presuppose, rather than establish, neuroscientific reductionism -- just as someone who concluded that sentences and their meanings don’t really exist, but only ink splotches do, or that paintings don’t really exist and only isolated color patches do, would be presupposing rather than establishing reductionism about language or art.  It is first assumed by such materialists that all that really exists is what can be put in the language of physiology, neurochemistry, and the like; and then it is “inferred,” in an entirely question-begging fashion, that what we take ourselves to know from introspection is either entirely reducible to what the neuroscience textbooks tell us or doesn’t really exist at all.  Circular reasoning of this sort pervades the neurotrash literature.  

New Atheist vulgarians like Coyne will no doubt retort that the only alternative to their crass reductionism is a belief in ghosts, ectoplasm, or some other spook stuff of the sort beloved of the more ideological sort of materialist, who only ever wants to attack straw men.  Of course, dualists of either the Cartesian or Thomistic stripe are not in fact beholden to such concepts.  (See my series of posts on Paul Churchland for an illustration of how badly some materialists caricature dualism.)   But the anti-reductionist position does not require a commitment to dualism in any case.  The objections of Burge, Tallis, Bennett and Hacker do not presuppose dualism, much less any theological point of view.

Rather, what is necessary is just the ability to see that it is only persons, rather than any of their components, who can intelligibly be said to be conscious, to think, to perceive, to act, freely to choose, and so on (just as it is paintings and words, rather than the paint or ink splotches they are made up of, that can intelligibly be said to represent things, to have syntactic and semantic features, and so forth).  Hence, from a failure to locate such activities at the neuronal level, it simply does not follow that the activities do not exist -- again, one must presuppose reductionism to draw that sort of conclusion, so that a failure to locate the activities at the subpersonal level hardly establishes reductionism.  Similarly, it makes no sense to attribute the activities in question to the subpersonal level (as some reductionists do) -- to characterize neural processes as “deciding” this or “perceiving” that.  Only persons decide, perceive, think, freely choose, etc., if anything does.  Hence it is to the level of persons as a whole, and not to their parts, that we must look if we are fully to understand what is happening when we think, perceive, feel, choose, act, etc.

Appeals to the predictive and technological successes of neuroscience no more establish that neuroscience gives us an exhaustive picture of human nature than the predictive and technological successes of physics tell us that physics gives us an exhaustive picture of reality as a whole.  I explained in an earlier post why the latter sort of inference is fallacious, and parallel considerations show why the former sort is fallacious.  Mathematical models in physics are abstractions from something concrete, something apart from which the mathematics would be entirely inefficacious.  The models surely capture something real, but by no means the whole of what is real.  To think otherwise is sort of like thinking that what is “really” in a photograph is only what is captured by the outlines one might find in a coloring book.  Neuroscientific models are no different.  They too are abstractions from concrete reality, a reality that outstrips the model.  They no more provide an exhaustive description of a person than a chemical analysis of the ink in a book exhausts the content of the book.

Arguments to the contrary typically not only beg the question, but are inconsistent.  For instance, arguments for the untrustworthiness of introspection crucially rely on evidence derived from introspection.  Mental properties that are claimed not to exist at the personal level are smuggled in at the subpersonal level.  Such question-begging reductionism and inconsistency often take the form of what Bennett and Hacker call the mereological fallacy (and what others have called the homunculus fallacy).  Higher-level, personal features of human beings (decision, awareness, intentionality, etc.) are “explained” or explained away by appealing to purported lower-level, subpersonal features of the nervous system, but where the purported lower-level features are really just further instantiations of the higher-level features in question -- in which case they have really just been relocated rather than either explained or eliminated.  

Another fallacy often committed by the neuromaniacs involves ignoring the distinction between normal and deviant cases.  Dogs naturally have four legs.  Everyone knows this, and everyone also knows that it is irrelevant that there are dogs which, as a result of injury or genetic defect, have less than four legs.  No one would take seriously for a moment the suggestion that the existence of the odd three-legged dog should lead us to conclude that it isn’t really natural after all for a dog to have four legs.  Everyone also knows that dogs tend to prefer meat to other kinds of food.  Though dogs will eat other things and the occasional dog may even prefer other things, that does not undermine the point that there is a tendency in dogs toward meat-eating.  No one would take seriously for a moment the suggestion that the existence of the odd dog who prefers fruit and vegetables shows that dogs are “really” all herbivores.

Yet such common sense goes out the window with neurobabblers, who (as it were) allow the deformed tail to wag the otherwise healthy dog.  In particular, the way people behave in artificial experimental conditions (such as Libet’s experiments) is taken to determine how we should interpret what happens in ordinary conditions, rather than the other way around.  Unusual behavior on the part of subjects with neurological damage is taken to show what is “really” going on in normal subjects (as in “blindsight” and “split-brain” phenomena).

We will see how some of these general features of the arguments of neuromaniacs manifest themselves in what Rosenberg has to say.  Notice first, though, that nowhere in what has been said so far has there been any appeal to “intuition.”  Neuromaniacs like to pretend otherwise -- to pretend that their critics have only inchoate hunches on their side while the neuromaniacs have science on theirs -- but this is sheer bluff.   (And I for one hate arguments that appeal to intuition.)  The appeal has rather been to mundane facts, to the plain evidence of everyday experience -- that is, to empirical evidence of the sort those beholden to scientism pretend to favor.  In fact their attitude to empirical evidence is ambivalent.  When doing so will enhance their appeal to the mob, those committed to scientism will play up their just-the-facts-ma’am homespun common sense.  But once the bait is swallowed, they will switch gears and insist that common sense and ordinary experience actually get much or even everything wrong -- conveniently forgetting that this casts into doubt the very empirical evidence that was supposed to have led to the scientistic picture of the world in the first place.  The paradox is as old as Democritus, and Rosenberg is just an extreme case of a general pattern one finds throughout the literature of scientism, materialism, and naturalism.  

The neurobabbler, then, is committed to a position that is not only radically at odds with what the actual evidence of experience tells us, but arbitrary and inconsistent in its treatment of that evidence.  The burden of proof is on him to show, in a non-question-begging way, that his position is even coherent -- not on us to show that he is wrong.  

The blindsighted leading the blind

In “blindsight,” a subject whose primary visual cortex has been damaged to the extent that he is no longer capable of having conscious visual experience in at least certain portions of his visual field is nevertheless able to identify distant objects in those portions of the field, by color, shape and the like (by pointing to or reaching for the objects, say, or by guessing).  Though blind, the subject can “see” the objects in front of him in the sense that information about them is somehow getting to him through his eyes even if it is not associated with conscious experiences of the sort that typically accompany vision.

What this tells us, Rosenberg insists, is that “introspection is highly unreliable as a source of knowledge about the way our minds work” (p. 151).  Indeed, Rosenberg claims that “science reveals that introspection -- thinking about what is going on in consciousness -- is completely untrustworthy as a source of information about the mind and how it works” (pp. 147-8, emphasis added).  In particular, “the idea that to see things you have to be conscious of them” is “completely wrong” (p. 149).  But there are three problems with these claims.  First, the “blindsight” evidence cited by Rosenberg does not in fact show that introspection is unreliable at all, let alone “highly” or “completely” unreliable.  Second, even if it is partially unreliable, it doesn’t follow that to see things you needn’t be conscious of them.  Third, the blindsight cases in fact presuppose that introspection is at least partially reliable.  

Take the last point first.  The blindsight subject tells us that he has no visual experience at all of the objects he is looking at -- that he cannot see their colors or shapes.  How does he know this?  Via introspection, of course.  The description of the phenomenon as “blindsight,” and the argument Rosenberg wants to base on this phenomenon, presupposes that he is right about that much.  If he’s wrong about it, then that entails that he really is conscious of the colors, shapes, etc. -- and such consciousness is, of course, precisely what Rosenberg wants to deny is necessary to vision.  Moreover, the argument also presupposes that the subject can tell the difference between being blind and having conscious visual experience -- something the subjects in question did have in the past, before suffering the neural damage that gave rise to the blindsight phenomena.  Hence, their introspection of that earlier conscious experience must also be at least partially reliable.

So, the subject cannot be completely wrong if the argument is even to get off the ground.  But isn’t he at least partially wrong?  Well, wrong about what, exactly?  Rosenberg says that the example shows that introspection “is highly unreliable as a source of knowledge about the way our minds work,” and he asks rhetorically: 

After all, what could have been more introspectively obvious than the notion that you need to have conscious experience of colors to see colors, conscious shape experiences to see shapes, and so on, for all the five senses? (p. 151)

But this is sloppy.  Strictly speaking, what we are supposed to know via introspection by itself are only our immediate conscious episodes -- “I am now thinking about an elephant” or “I am now experiencing a headache” or the like.  No one maintains that the claim that “You need to have conscious experience of colors to see colors, etc.” is directly knowable via introspection, full stop.  The most anyone would maintain is that introspection together with other premises might support such a claim.  So, even if the claim turned out to be false, that would not show that introspection itself is unreliable.  It could be instead that one of the other premises is false, or that the inference from the premises is fallacious.

Now, blindsight subjects also say that it feels like they are guessing, even though their judgments are more accurate than guesses.  Doesn’t this show that introspection is deceiving them?  It does not.  For what is it that they are supposed to have gotten wrong in saying that it feels to them like they are guessing?  Certainly Rosenberg cannot say “It feels to them like they are guessing but in fact they are conscious of the colors and shapes”-- since his whole argument depends on their not being conscious of the colors and shapes.  But then, what is it that they are “really” doing rather than guessing?  Again, what is it exactly that they are wrong about?

Suppose you hit me in the back with a stone and I say that it felt like a baseball.  Did introspection mislead me?  Of course not.  It wasn’t a baseball, but what introspection told me was not what it was, but what it felt like, and it really did feel like a baseball.  The judgment that it was in fact a baseball was not derived from introspection alone, but from introspection together with certain other premises -- premises about what that sort of feeling has been associated with in the past, what objects people tend to throw under circumstances like the current ones, and so forth.

Similarly, when the blindsight subject says that it feels to him like he is guessing, the fact that his answers are better than what one would expect from guesses does not show that introspection is wrong.  It still does feel like a guess, even if it turns out that it is more than that.  It is the feel of the experience alone that introspection gives him knowledge of, not the entire reality underlying the feeling.  The judgment that it is merely a guess is not derived from introspection alone, but from the introspective feel of the experience together with premises about what experiences that feel like this one have involved in the past, assumptions (false, as it turns out) about whether people can process visual information without consciously experiencing it, and so forth.  Blindsight cases show only that the inference as a whole is mistaken, not that the introspective component by itself is mistaken.  

Rosenberg might respond: “But the blindsight subject doesn’t merely say it felt like he had guessed.  He says he did guess.  And isn’t that mistaken?”  But what is the difference, exactly, between feeling like one is guessing and really guessing?  To guess is to propose an answer without thinking that one has sufficient evidence for it.  And that is just what the blindsight subject does.  True, we have reason to think that information is getting through his visual system in such a way that it causes him to answer as he does.  But he has no access to that information, and thus it doesn’t serve as evidence for what he says.  The neuroscientific evidence suggests only that his guesses have a certain cause.  It does not tell us that they weren’t really guesses after all. 

So, Rosenberg hasn’t established from blindsight alone that introspection is even sometimes unreliable, let alone that it always is.  But the deeper problem with his argument is that, from the fact that some of the information typically deriving from conscious visual experience can in some cases be received through the visual system without the accompanying experience, it simply does not follow that all such information always does (or even can) be received without conscious experience.  Again, the subjects cited by Rosenberg were not always blind; they had seen colors, shapes, and the like in the past and then became either permanently or temporarily unable to have conscious visual experiences.  There are no grounds for saying that this past experience is irrelevant to their ability somehow to process visual information “blindsight”-style -- for denying that they can identify colors and shapes now, without visual experience of them, only because they once did have visual experience of them.  You might as well say that, since many deaf people can read lips, it follows that perception of sounds isn’t necessary for speech.  Obviously, lip-reading is a non-standard way of figuring out what people are saying, and is parasitic on the normal case in which sound perception is crucial.  Similarly, Rosenberg has given us no reason whatsoever to doubt that blindsight is parasitic on cases where conscious experience is necessary for color perception.  As with the three-legged dog, the deviant case must be interpreted relative to the normal case, not the other way around.

As Bennett and Hacker note, there are also problems with the way the so-called “blindsight” cases are described in the first place.  For one thing, the typical cases involve patients with a scotoma -- blindness in a part of the visual field, not all of it -- who exhibit “blindsight” behavior under special experimental conditions.  In ordinary contexts their visual experiences are largely normal.  For another thing, how to describe the unusual behavior is by no means obvious, precisely because while in some ways it seems to indicate blindness (the subjects report that they cannot see anything in the relevant part of the visual field), in other ways it seems to indicate the presence of experience (precisely because the subject is able to discriminate phenomena in a way that would typically require visual experience).  In short, the import of the cases is not obvious; even how one describes them presupposes, rather than establishes, crucial philosophical assumptions.  It is quite ludicrous, then, glibly to proclaim that “neuroscience” has established such-and-such a philosophical conclusion.  The philosophical claims are read into the neuroscience, not read off from it.  

Libet, learn it, love it

In Benjamin Libet’s famous experiments, subjects were asked to push a button whenever they wished, and also to note when they had consciously felt that they had willed to press it.  As they did so, their brains were wired so that the activity in the motor cortex responsible for causing their wrists to flex could be detected.  The outcome of the experiments was that while an average of 0.2 seconds passed between the conscious sense of willing and the flexing of the wrist, the activity in the motor cortex would begin an average of 0.5 seconds before the wrist flexing.  Hence the willing (it is suggested) seems to follow the neural activity which initiates the action, rather than causing that neural activity.  

Jerry Coyne tells us that:

Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject "decides" to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it.

Writers like Rosenberg and Coyne find all this extremely impressive.  According to Rosenberg, the work done by Libet and others “shows conclusively that the conscious decisions to do things never cause the actions we introspectively think they do” and “defenders of free will have been twisting themselves into knots” trying to show otherwise (p. 152).  Coyne assures us that:

"Decisions" made like that aren't conscious ones.  And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we've made them, then we don't have free will in any meaningful sense.

To be sure, Libet himself qualified his claims, allowing that though we don’t initiate movements in the way we think we do, we can at least either inhibit or accede to them once initiated.  Even Rosenberg allows that Libet’s experiments by themselves don’t prove that there is no free will.  But he insists that they do show that introspection is not a reliable source of knowledge about the will.

What’s really impressive about all of this, though, is how easily impressed otherwise intelligent people can be when in the grip of an ideology.  And the fallaciousness of the inferences in question is not too difficult to see.   To begin with only the most obvious fallacy, Rosenberg’s and Coyne’s argument presupposes that the neural activity in question is the total cause of the action, which is of course precisely part of what is at issue in the debate between neurobabblers and their critics.  And for the critics, both the neural activity and the “feelings” experienced by Libet’s subjects are merely fine-grained, subpersonal aspects of the person -- where it is the person as a whole, and not any of his parts, who is properly said to be the cause of any of his actions.  Just as the significance of a word or sentence is crucially determined by the overall communicative situation of which it is a part -- you are not going to know whether “Shut it!” is merely a terse request to close the door, or a quite rude command to keep silent, without knowing the context -- so too the significance of both a neural process and a conscious experience cannot be known apart from the larger neurological-cum-psychological context.  Treating the wrist flexing and the neural activity in question in isolation merely assumes reductionism and does nothing to establish reductionism.

After all, neural activity and bodily movements as such do not entail action, free or otherwise.  The spasmodic twitch of a muscle involves both neural activity and bodily movement, but it is not an action.  So, whether such-and-such a bit of neural activity or bodily movement is associated with a genuine action cannot be read off from the physiological facts alone.  In particular, there is nothing in the physiology as such that tells us that the neural activity Libet is interested in counts as a “decision” or an instance of “willing.”  And what exactly justifies us in identifying this neural activity as “the” cause of the action in the first place, as opposed to merely a contributing cause?  And what do we count as “the action”?  Moving one’s hand?  Pressing the button?  Following the prompts of the feelings the experimenters have told one to watch for?  There is no way to answer apart from appeal to the intentions of the subject -- in which case we have to rely on his reports of what he had in mind, rather than the neurological evidence, contrary to Rosenberg’s insistence that introspection is of no value.  And as Tallis points out, the intentions of the subject long predate the neural activity Libet fixates upon.  Those intentions were formed during conscious episodes that occurred minutes or hours before the experimental situation.  (And this is just to note some of the more obvious problems with Libet’s claims.  The variety of ways Libet’s evidence can be interpreted has been explored in detail by Alfred Mele.)

As Tallis also points out, arguments of the sort inspired by Libet’s work typically presuppose an extremely crude model of what counts as an action.  One would think from the way Rosenberg and Coyne tell it that intentional actions are those preceded by a conscious thought of the form “I will now proceed to do X.  Here goes…”  But a moment’s reflection shows that that sort of thing is in fact extremely rare.  Indeed, that most intentional action is not “conscious” in this way is something common sense knew long before Libet came on the scene.  To borrow some examples from Tallis, when you do something as simple as walking to the pub or catching a ball, you carry out an enormous number of actions “without thinking about it.”  You do not consciously think “I will now move my right foot, now my left, now my right, now my left, etc.” or “I will now run, I will now jump, I will now flex my fingers, etc.”  You just act.  Yet your actions are paradigmatically intentional and free -- you are not having a muscle spasm, or sleepwalking, or hypnotized, or under duress, etc.  To be sure, that by itself doesn’t show that free will exists.  But the point is that Rosenberg, Coyne, and their ilk have not shown that free will does not exist, because free will is not the straw man they are attacking.

Indeed, not only is a conscious feeling of the sort Libet and his admirers describe not necessary for free action, it is not sufficient either.  As Bennett and Hacker point out, feeling an urge to sneeze does not make a sneeze voluntary.  Since Libet himself is willing to allow that we might at least inhibit actions initiated by unconscious neural processes, even if we don’t initiate any ourselves, Bennett and Hacker observe that:

Strikingly, Libet’s theory would in effect assimilate all human voluntary action to the status of inhibited sneezes or sneezes which one did not choose to inhibit.  For, in his view, all human movements are initiated by the brain before any awareness of a desire to move, and all that is left for voluntary control is the inhibiting or permitting of the movement that is already under way. (Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, p. 230)

As this shows, the very idea that “free actions,” if they existed, would be those preceded by a certain kind of “feeling” of being moved to do this or that, is wrongheaded.  In particular, it is a crude mistake to assimilate willing to the having of an “urge.”  As Bennett and Hacker emphasize, being moved by an urge -- such as an urge to sneeze, or to vomit, or to cough -- is the opposite of a voluntary action.  And when Libet instructs the subjects of his experiments to note when they have certain “feelings” or “urges,” he not only manifests his own sloppy thinking about the nature of action, but encourages similarly sloppy thinking in his subjects, which casts into doubt the value of the whole experiment.  The subjects start looking inwardly for “feelings” and “urges” as evidence of voluntary action -- something no one does in ordinary contexts, because in ordinary contexts voluntary action doesn’t involve feelings and urges in the first place.  Of course, one might respond that Libet may not have intended to suggest that a decision to move one’s wrist is exactly like having an urge to sneeze or to vomit.  But that only reinforces the point that the relevant conceptual issues bearing on the nature of action have been poorly thought out by those making sensationalistic claims about what the neuroscientific evidence has “shown.”

Losing consciousness

It’s time to bring this long post to an end.  But we’re not done with Rosenberg yet.  In general, he assures us, “consciousness can’t be trusted to be right about the most basic things” (p. 162).  Yet science itself, in whose name Rosenberg makes this bold claim, is grounded in observation and experiment -- which are conscious activities.  How exactly are we supposed to resolve this paradox?  Rosenberg never tells us, any more than Democritus did (though at least Democritus could see the problem).  But even this incoherence is as nothing compared to that entailed by Rosenberg’s denial of the intentionality of thought.  It is to that denial -- the crowning lunacy of scientism -- that we will turn in the next post in this series.

75 comments:

John said...

Mr. Feser, are any of your books available on digital format? The reason I ask is because of eye problems, I usually read with the help of an audio text-reader. Thanks.

Jake said...

Excellent post, Ed. Thank you. I do have a comment, though, on your statement that "it is a crude mistake to assimilate willing to the having of an 'urge'". If I understand Aquinas correctly (and I admit I am a neophyte), the will is the desire for the products of the intellect, and in this sense could be thought of as an "urge." Likewise, many of our actions stem from the "sensitive appetite," or emotions, which is also a type of urge, although this is not what we usually mean when we talk about free will (or at least not what I consider to be free will). The way Libet describes it, though, is obviously wrong.

Anonymous said...

There is a straight, well-known, well-documented line of causation from Motor Cortex (a specific area of the brain's surface) to human movement, and it's composed entirely of the macromolecular components of neurons and glial cells, which given their size operate pretty much deterministically. No one who has read any basic neuroscience text can possibly deny this. So only if we have "souls" can we have freedom. How does the soul get in on the neural action?

If it doesn't, then our lives are physical events that unfold according to the laws of macroscopic physics.

Brandon said...

Anonymous,

(1) Your conclusion doesn't follow.

(2) It's incorrect to say that nerves act deterministically "because of their size"; even if one treated it as all a purely physical process, nerve action is known to have several features for which the best current models are stochastic, not deterministic -- the nervous system is electrochemical, and depends not on direct-line information but also the massively less predictable processes of chemical production and diffusion. To some extent there is redundancy to prevent completely unpredictable results, but this doesn't eliminate stochastic features completely, and if your view of nerve action treats it as deterministic, it's decades out of date.

(3) The soul doesn't have to 'get in on' the action; if it's a living action, which it is, nervous impulses and reactions are acts of the soul, which in this context is just whatever it is that makes something alive. (Any other baggage you are adding to it is strictly your own, as far as this discussion goes.) Questions about the soul are not relevant here -- and, indeed, Ed doesn't even mention the term once; the issues in this context are the specific actions of decision and choice. But, as Ed notes, even Libet explicitly notes that his experiment does not cover everything it would have to cover to give us definitive claims about decision and choice.

some kant said...

You got me at "vulgarians."

DNW said...

This isn't meant to be more than an offhand observation, but ...

Your link to Burge's NYT reference to the perceptual abilities of birds, and in fact bees, puts me in mind of a possible point of relevance as regards assertions we have seen before about the inescapable subjectivity of the human mind; and the presumed human inability know any of the real features even of the every-day world we inhabit. This is supposedly, I guess, because *our* brains are said to be evolved only to deal with a certain evolutionarily relevant cross-section of the environment ... or for whatever other reason anyone cares to add ...

The implication is left hanging that we are the only entities navigating through this space and persisting in this time. And that these two concepts are relative to or generated out of some peculiarity of our particular perceptual apparatus and brains.

Whether a bee "understands" anything about space or has a sense of the past or the future or not, it certainly seems to move around and orient in "it" successfully, and apparently independently of our granting it any permission to borrow the category ...

Or maybe that is considered begging the question.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Some random comments:

Tyler Burge’s “Being purely description, they explain nothing.” can’t be right. The physical sciences are purely descriptive, and they certainly explain a lot.

Jerry Coyne believes that we have no free will. One of the reasons he gives is that whatever we do is caused by our physical brain which consists of molecules, each one of which must obey the laws of physics. Case closed. I also found interesting how he deals with the implications of his view on moral responsibility. He says that we should punish criminals even though they could not have abstained from committing the crime, because that punishment will deter others. In other words, Coyne explains why we should choose to punish criminals, while knowing that we have no choice in the matter. Finally he writes that “consciousness, free choice, and even the idea of "me" are but convincing illusions”. It is interesting to notice how when God is seen as an illusion much of the human condition is seen as an illusion too. Still, what caught my eye is that according to Coyne consciousness itself is an illusion. How can that be? After all illusions presupose the reality of consciousness. (To be fair, let me notice here that Coyne is a biologist.)

On blindsightedness: The blindsighted person behaves in ways that prove that her brain is processing information she is not consciously aware of. But when any normal person ties his shoelaces the same is the case. As is the case when one plays ping-pong. One moves in ways which are quite effective thus proving that one’s brain is processing all the relevant information, even though one does not consciously direct these movements, nor is one aware of the relevant information being processed by one’s brain. So I’m not quite sure what the blindsightedness phenomenon is supposed to prove. I think Ed puts it quite well. What we are aware of is data, and there is no such thing as unreliable data. Data is a given. Only our inferences from data may be unreliable or erroneous or illusory. If the blindsighted person reports of XYZ data of awareness (and we have no reason to doubt her frankness) then that’s that.

On the many Benjamin Libet kind of experiments. It is now possible to predict whether a subject will randomly choose to push the left or right button several seconds before the subject is consciously aware of her own decision. Many see here a proof that free will does not exist. But how on earth is a person to make a random choice except by mentally tossing a coin, i.e. by using her brain as a mechanism for producing a random bit? But if one must use one’s brain as a random mechanism before making a choice, what relevance does it make that one takes longer to become aware of the result of that mechanism than an external measuring instrument? In any case, I think there is a good argument against any purported scientific demonstration that we don’t have free will: Forget Libet’s kind of experiments, and try to imagine *any* experimental result that should convince you that you don’t have free will. If you try you’ll see that the human condition is such that there is no experimental result (no matter whether feasible in practice or not) that can succeed.

Nobody claims that the status of a Monet painting reduces to, supervenes upon, or can be explained entirely in term of the physical properties of the painting itself. Rather the naturalist claims that the status of a painting can be explained by the interaction of its physical properties with the physical properties of the human brain – when the brain beholds the painting from some appropriate distance under appropriate lighting, etc. So I think Jerome Kagan’s analogy fails.

Finally I'd like to second John above about your books in digital format.

Anonymous said...

All philosophy whether metaphysical or otherwise, and all of so called theology too, is hunter-gatherer behavior based on thge ancient pre-"civilized" brain.

Which is to say that the root motive of all of our conventional knowledge leads to scapegot object-in-the-middle rituals, in which power is ALWAYS exercised over the middle, even to the degree of eventually and inevitably destroying the thus surrounded middle.

This is certainly true of the "philosophy" that you promote.

goddinpotty said...

Hi. I'm actually partially sympathetic to your main point for once, but that's no fun, so let's get on with the arguing:

But we’re not done with Rosenberg yet. In general, he assures us, “consciousness can’t be trusted to be right about the most basic things” (p. 162). Yet science itself, in whose name Rosenberg makes this bold claim, is grounded in observation and experiment -- which are conscious activities. How exactly are we supposed to resolve this paradox?

The nature of scientific knowledge is much different than normal conscious perception, despite that fact that scientists indeed are conscious and must filter their knowledge through their limited brains like the rest of us.

Science is a method of systematically investigating the natural world. The experimental method, statistics, and other methods of science serve to create a view of the universe that is as close to objective as we seem to be capable of. In that respect, it is radically different from everyday knowledge, which is rooted in the subjectivities of our individual existences.

Individual scientists have to go through life as imperfect subjective consciousnesses like the rest of us. Yet they somehow are able to contribute to an objective view of the universe, despite (eg) being biased, having to play status games, and occasionally getting depressed or bored. That is somewhat paradoxical, but there it is.

The mistake (and I don't know if Rosenberg actually makes this) is in thinking that this objective viewpoint can displace our normal subjective consciousness and experience. It can't, and that's why eliminative materialism and its relatives is dumb. Science sees a brain from the outside. But we see our own, at least, from the inside, which is a totally different thing. So to say that consciousness is a delusion and neuroscience will reveal the truth is a mistake. They are two different views of the same thing, and we certainly can't live our lives solely on the basis of science.

Anonymous said...

All philosophy [...] is hunter-gatherer behavior based on thge ancient pre-"civilized" brain.

When you thought this up and typed it out, were you engaging in the "hunter-gatherer behavior" to which you refer?

--J.W.

Westcountryman said...

Godinpotty

Aside from the fact you imply a lack of importance and role for subjectivity in reality and cast up a strict dualism between subjectivity and objectivity (all question begging and unsupported positions) you simply miss the main point of Dr.Feser's argument. The scientist comes to his knowledge of the external world through his subjectivity.

You make a few tired, cliched and unexplained remarks about the nature of the scientific method, but you do not begin to sketch out the relationship of subjectivity to knowledge of the external world or how the scientist can largely ignore the place of subjectivity and consciousness and yet construct towering theories, hypotheses and experiments to try and understand the external world.

Gene Callahan said...

@goddinpotty: If Rosenberg is correct that consciousness cannot be trusted about the most basic things, then certainly that implies that *your* consciousness (or his) can't be trusted to make this distinction between what is objective and what is subjective.

Gene Callahan said...

@Anonymous: "If it doesn't, then our lives are physical events that unfold according to the laws of macroscopic physics."

So, anonymous, you didn't actually write this because you believe it is true -- that would imply you *decided* to write it -- you wrote it because of some electrical impulses in your brain? So what you say is no more meaningful than a twitch in your foot?

Thanks for letting us know.

Richard said...

Sometimes when the trolls come out to play, I find myself wishing for a whistle that only Ben Yachov can hear. One toot and he would come with that sledgehammer wit and clean house. Sigh.

BenYachov said...

Someone call my Name?

BenYachov said...

Anyway Atheist philosopher Stephen Law along with Swimburne took Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins to task over their anti-philosophy fundamentalism.

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2012/02/magadalen-college-last-night-think-week.html

Anti-Philosophy Gnu'Atheists are no more than knuckle dragging neanderthal fundies without god-belief.

They are what militant Young Earth Creationists with a 6th grade education & or 10 year old boys who pray for pet ponies & don't get them become when they lose their faith in God/Cosmic Santa.

They are not just mere idiots they are f***ing idiots.

They wouldn't know Aristotle or Plato or even Hume from their own arseholes. Most likely because they have trouble removing their heads from that orifice.

Cheers.

goddinpotty said...

@Westcountryman -- I don't know what you mean by saying that I "imply a lack of importance and role for subjectivity in reality", since I actually said exactly the opposite.

It's true that I did not explain at length how science is able to construct objectivity using the subjective consciousness of individuals as a starting point. That is a deep, mysterious, and complex question that I don't think can be dealt with in a blog comment.

You seem to be violently objecting to my position without understanding it.

BenYachov said...

>That is a deep, mysterious, and complex question that I don't think can be dealt with in a blog comment.

Sounds like something you need a philosophy of science to explain.

Just saying..... ;-)

Anonymous said...

BenYachov,

Never quit posting

goddinpotty said...

Yah so? I've got nothing against philosophy in general, just bad philosophy in particular.

BenYachov said...

>Yah so? I've got nothing against philosophy in general, just bad philosophy in particular.

Then what philosophy do you hold and how do you know it is good philosophy and that other competing one's are not good?

Try having that conversation with us and it will be welcome.

I certainly won't object.

Cheers.

BenYachov said...

Some general Advice,

Remember my friends.

A good philosopher realizes he is a dwarf who stands on the shoulders of philosophical giants. This is true regardless if they are Theistic or Atheistic or whatever.

A Gnu OTOH is a squeaking little runt who who either tries to stand on his own shoulders or the shoulders of his fellow runts. All the while with his head still firmly shoved up his arse.

The predictable comedy results.

Don't be a Gnu. You the brain God/Evolution gave you.

Cheers.

Will Peaden said...

Ben the Guns are like the dude from the Princess Bride.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18ulbI9k5eA

That's pretty much the Gnu arguement down to a tee, just add Aquinas, Leibneiz and Kant and you have the whole Gnu project in a nutshell. You can't argue most of these things unless and until you have an adequate Philosophy of Nature and you understand that Philosophy is a long conversation spanning over the centuries.

It's why Coyne brags over Feser. "Ha, ha Feser, like hell I'm going to read philosophy, alls I need is a few peer reviewed journals, the latest trends in 'thought' and whole lot of gall!". Of course the arguments should stand by themselves, and Ed provides very good summaries and defenses of them, but you can't settle these things by slinging mud in comboxes and in blog posts!

Westcountryman said...

Goddinpotty

You admit you do not actually argue for your position and then say I violently object to it without understanding it. I'm not sure how you could make a more inane defense of your arguments.

And yes, you do seem to downplay the importance of subjectivity (with the implication it is strictly private and has little do with knowledge as such) and imply a strict dualism between subjectivity and objectivity.

For instance;


Individual scientists have to go through life as imperfect subjective consciousnesses like the rest of us. Yet they somehow are able to contribute to an objective view of the universe,

Here you imply the imperfection and lack of importance of subjectivity and contrast it with the implied importance and reliability of objectivity.

Guy said...

It's the strangest thing to argue for determinism and similar ideas.

Any philosophical argument presupposes certain beliefs that they reject, like that we are capable of freely reasoning.

Why argue for those positions, then? Instead, we should view determinism, etc. as "ideas" that are floating around in our "minds" by a complete accident of particle interaction. (Of course we can't really decide how we view anything. Hopefully we will come to see them as complete accidents by complete accident.)

machinephilosophy said...

"If Rosenberg is correct that consciousness cannot be trusted about the most basic things, then certainly that implies that *your* consciousness (or his) can't be trusted to make this distinction between what is objective and what is subjective."

Very good, Gene (et. al.) And---surprise!---it's precisely those kinds of self-referential points that are avoided, not just here, but by every determinist, since it's an obviously fatal self-exemption.

But they're just so busy pointing out intellectual hypocrisy in others that the implications for the gospel status of determinism itself just slips their mind.

DNW said...

Edward Feser writes,
"The paradox is as old as Democritus, and Rosenberg is just an extreme case of a general pattern one finds throughout the literature of scientism, materialism, and naturalism. "


The link provided in that passage leads to one of the clearest expositions of the problem I have seen here. It dates to well before I ever visited this blog, but if I had read it on my first visit, I could have saved myself a lot of comments simply by cutting and pasting some selected remarks, if, an occasion ever seemed to call for it.

I especially enjoyed the passages from Schrodinger, for example,

"It is therefore small wonder, and by no means to be blamed on the authors of original papers or of text-books, that after a reasonably coherent theory has been formed, they do not describe the bare facts they have found or wish to convey to the reader, but clothe them in the terminology of that theory or theories. This procedure, while very useful for our remembering the facts in a well-ordered pattern, tends to obliterate the distinction between the actual observations and the theory arisen from them."


You mention how this point seemed to have slipped down the memory hole in the 1960s.

I seem to remember that there were still some passing references to the core idea made in class 20 years later; after which, we were expected to move along as if it had never been mentioned or noticed.

LouisKahn said...

Comments to Anonymous Part 1

Anonymous,

I am just beginning serious study of philosophy. So I speak with no expertise as yet. But consider the following.

My materialism is as uncompromising as yours (At least I think you are a materialist). But philosophy is in part the analysis of language. So it is not enough to know the science as clearly Coyne and Rosenberg do.

Although natural language has not succeeded in producing the precision of mathematical language, it is important to be precise as possible. We materialists are not going to have the anti-materialists apply the ‘principle of charity’ (From Donald Davidson) to us.

Consider the following syllogism. I have attempted to summarize your argument. If this is not a correct interpretation, I apologize.

Human movement is caused by the interaction of the material activity in the brain and other parts of the body in relation to the material world outside the body.
Human movement is not and cannot be caused by non-material activity in the brain or anywhere else since the non-material has no causal power.
Therefore human movement is caused by material activity alone.

Those who have criticized this argument as not valid are mistaken, I believe. The conclusion seems to follow from the premises. But there are problems all the same. I do not think it is sound.

Premise one is non controversial. We know that the brains material processes have something to do with the movements and many other activities of the body. We also know that the material world external to the body has an effect on our activities.

But in the case of premise two, how would you show that the non-material was not a part of the causation? It could be a cause without your knowing it. After all, the non-material could be some invisible cause. In general, in argument, you have to be very careful of saying “X does not exist.” It is better to say, “X does not exist in a form Y”; such as bacteria do not exist in a form seen by the naked vision. It also not a good idea to claim that “not X does not exist.” Suppose that I were to say, “something not a cat does not exist.” How would I show this? Generally if you want to show that X does not exist, it must take the form “X does not exist in the form Y”, where you know what X and Y are.

Now let us reformulate the argument.

Human movement is partially explained by material activity in the brain, other parts of the body and material things external to the body.
Human movement is not explained by any non-material activity.
Therefore Human movement is explained by material activity only.

Premise one again is non-controversial.

Premise two is controversial, but it should not be. Notice that the premise does not make a claim that the non-material does not exist or that it not a cause. One could say that the non-material cause does not exist in a form that can be explained. This is one of those cases where X does not exist in the form Y.

The claim that the non-material is not explanatory is strong one in a very general sense within philosophy and science. In Part 2, if I am allowed to post it right away, I will explain why I think so.

LouisKahn said...

Comments to Anonymous Part 2

Anonymous,

Wittgenstein pointed out that to know something requires that we know its internal properties. (“In order to know an object, I must know not its external but all its internal qualities.” Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 2.01231) I do not agree that ‘all internal qualities’ need be known. But the statement is no less profound.

What this means is that in order to explain X, X must be defined in terms of the properties it has internally. And those properties must be defined in positive terms. What is a property of X, not what is not a property of X. Thus if ‘X’ is ‘not Y’, in order for ‘not Y’ to be defined in positive terms, ‘not Y’ must be put into the form of ‘not Y’ is ‘Z’.

X is not Y
Not Y is Z
Therefore X is Z

When applied to the non-material:
X has non-material property Y
Non material property Y has property Z
Therefore X has property Z

I know of no case where it has been established what a non-material property is, as per premise two. In fact I do not know of a definition of a hypothetical property. But I am sure the Fesserites will trot out something to chew on, such as abstract objects such as numbers.

So we can make the following argument:

Some X is explained by the Material
Some X is not explained by the Material
No instance of X is explained by the Non-material
Therefore X is explained by the material or is not explained.

This is not the standard argument for materialism and against non-materialism within philosophy, but I think it is far superior to the claim that everything is material or everything is explained by the material or everything will be explained by the material or that there is no such thing as the on-material. These are not even necessary claims. So long as the non-material has no explanatory power it has no place in science or philosophy.

We can apply a similar analysis to Coyne’s claim about free will by being careful about the structure of our argument:

Freewill does not exist in a form that is explained by the material
Freewill does not exist in a form that is explained by the non-material
Freewill does not exist in a form that is explained.

This argument is both valid and sound. And it avoids the metaphysical claim (a claim as to the being of thing in terms of all that it is and all that is not) that freewill does not exist. And applying the ‘principle of charity’ to Coyne’s claim, I infer that he is trying to say what I am saying. He just is not as good a writer.

As for Rosenberg, I do not want to write about him much, right now. As a philosopher, he is clearly very weak in the philosophy of language. And if you do not know some philosophy of language, you just do not know philosophy. He should have teamed up with someone who did.

What do you think?

Daniel Smith said...

Some questions for LouisKahn (from a philosophical newbie):

What are the material properties of 'an idea'?

What are the material properties of 'a purpose'?

If a material object (such as a baseball) was originally an idea in someone's mind, and if it was designed with a specific purpose in mind, how do we fully explain the baseball without reference to the idea or the purpose?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I know of no case where it has been established what a non-material property is, as per premise two. In fact I do not know of a definition of a hypothetical property. But I am sure the Fesserites will trot out something to chew on, such as abstract objects such as numbers.

Louis, are you aware that the argument between the "Fesserites" (I assume you mean Aristo-Thomists, etc) and "materialists" is not just an argument about "non-material" things, but also involves an argument over what "material" itself is? In other words, even something an Aristotilean would say is entirely material involves commitments that puts his analysis at odds with a contemporary "materialists".

Have you even read The Last Superstition, or any of the posts on this site where Ed covers the difference in metaphysical view between the Aristo-Thomists and modern materialists? (Note: I mean read, before you posted your responses here. Not after the fact.)

And applying the ‘principle of charity’ to Coyne’s claim, I infer that he is trying to say what I am saying. He just is not as good a writer.

I don't think the "principle of charity" is at work when this much revision is taking place. It sounds more like "Coyne said something flat out ignorant and wrong, but that's awkward to admit. So let's pretend he said something completely different." He's not above being wrong, certainly not above being ignorant.

The man thinks that the fact that he says "I'd believe in God if (miracle X) occurred" means that God's existence is a scientific question. He's great with his very narrow specialty of fruit-fly evolution and closely related topics. Beyond that, he actually struggles.

WilliamM said...

Hi Dr. Feser,
I have recently read "What makes killing wrong?" by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and he answers this question with "taking away all abilities". I wonder what the A-T perspective on this issue is. Have you written on this before?

Westcountryman said...

To add to anonymous's comments against LouisKahn, I find that contemporary materialists do not even have anything but the vaguest idea of what they mean by matter.

Until they have some sort of decent definition and idea (and to give a hint, only one based on a purely quantitative, atomistic building blocks would satisfy what they appear to want to derive from their materialism) then it makes their constant stream of fallacies, misunderstandings and misrepresentations even more pointless.

LouisKahn said...

Anonymous,

“(Note: I mean read, before you posted your responses here. Not after the fact.)”

I read Feser’s post, your comments and the Coyne piece and commented on them.

Yes, I have read some of work of Aristotle, Aquinas' and Feser. I was not commenting on it.

Daniel Smith

“What are the material properties of 'an idea'?”

The definition of an idea in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy is that it is something only in the mind. The properties of an idea are internal to an idea. Those properties are not reducible to the material. Nor are they reducible to the non-material. I do not know what the properties are other than being in the brain.

“What are the material properties of a purpose'?”

Same as above.

“If a material object (such as a baseball) was originally an idea in someone's mind, and if it was designed with a specific purpose in mind, how do we fully explain the baseball without reference to the idea or the purpose?”

I do not know what you mean by explain fully. All explanations are partial unless you think it is possible to know all the properties of a thing. Do you mean sufficient explanations?

Ideas and purposes exist in the mind. Their properties are not known. A baseball exists outside the mind. Some of its properties are known. Since we do not know what the properties of a purpose are we cannot know if the baseball contains the same properties as a purpose or idea. Therefore a baseball contains no purpose or idea that we know of. It is a serious category error to say that a baseball has a purpose or idea; that is contains a purpose or idea. Persons have purposes and ideas and persons act upon baseballs.

When you say that a baseball was originally an idea you are conflating a representation with what is being represented. The idea of a baseball is no more the baseball than mirror reflection of a person is a person. Do you actually think that the idea oozes out of the brain and becomes a baseball?

Westcountryman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Westcountryman said...

LouisKahn,

Your comments on purpose and ideas are largely question begging, they assume hard and fast distinction distinction between Mind and the material world.

If, for example, one were a Platonist and held the substance of Reality to be Intellectual, then one simply wouldn't accept this strict distinction.

The same goes for an Aristotelian, and a Platonist and most pre-modern thinkers, who attribute purpose to the corporeal world.

Indeed it is hard to see how ideas and purpose can only exist in the Mind, indeed be central to it, and have a rigid separation from the corporeal world. We come to the fatal problem of Intentionality to any materialist viewpoint; what does it even mean to talk of something representing something without a deep, basically Intellectual relationship between it.

LouisKahn said...

Westcountryman,

“Your comments on purpose and ideas are largely question begging, they assume hard and fast distinction between Mind and the material world.”

Begging the question (petitio principii, literally, requesting what is sought) occurs when the conclusion is embedded in the assumptions of an argument.

I started with the definition of ‘idea’ in the OCP. Yes it is an assumption. But not all assumptions are begging the question. Idea is a word typically used to represent that which is going on in the mind and only the mind.

Besides if you read my argument carefully you will notice that I cut out the ‘only in the mind’ part of the definition.

I do not see how my conclusions were embedded in my premises.

Here is a more elaborate poly-syllogism for you to chew on.

Something X is inferred to be going on in the brain that produces Z outside the brain.
Mind is the word used to define X.
Mind is assumed to have component parts Y.
Idea is the word used to define Y
The internal properties of X and Y are not known.
Some of the internal properties of Z are known.
Some of the internal properties of Z are not known
It cannot be known if the internal properties of X and Y are the same as those of Z.
Therefore it is not known whether X(Mind) and Y(Ideas) occur outside the brain.

Does not look question begging to me. But take your best shot.

I did not assume a distinction between the mind and material world. I did assume that there was a distinction between inside the brain and outside the brain, though I am not sure that I made that clear.

I am a materialist. Though I cannot prove that mind is material, I do believe that it is and infer it from the conservation of energy. It is not explainable that if mind moves the material that the mind is not material. That would appear to add energy to the universe. So for me there is no distinction between mind and the material.

Anonymous said...

@LouisKahn

Only a quick objection to the conservation of energy point.

If a hypothetical MindForce was such as to arbitrarily exert itself in a direction that's always ortogonal to the trajectory of a material particle... Then we would have a MindForce that changes what's happening in material world without making any physical work.

I.e.: a MindForce that affects reality without infringing on conservation of energy.

...Or am I missing something? :)

--Hondolor

grodrigues said...

@LouisKahn:

On conservation of energy see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05422a.htm

LouisKahn said...

Anonymous,

I am not sure I get this and physics is not my thing. No actually, I am sure that I do not get this. From what little I know about physics any change in a physical thing requires a gain or loss of energy. If you are testing my knowledge of physics, there is little to test. Basic stuff, nothing beyond undergrad.

“If a hypothetical MindForce was such as to arbitrarily exert itself in a direction that's always ortogonal to the trajectory of a material particle... Then we would have a MindForce that changes what's happening in material world without making any physical work.”

What sort of material particle are we moving? What about the particle is changed? Direction? Work is done. Velocity? Work is done. I assume that when you say orthogonal you mean that the mind-force is moving parallel and in the same direction as the particle.

Besides you do not have a hypothetical anything. A hypothesis is detailed representational model of a phenomenon that makes confirmable, falsifiable, non-trivial, predictions. What is your model? What are your predictions? Your hypothesis is nebulous; it seems more like speculation, not a hypothesis.

Are joking with me? I like jokes.

You did not say if your mind force is material or non-material or both.

DNW said...

Anon
"If a hypothetical MindForce was such as to arbitrarily exert itself in a direction that's always ortogonal to the trajectory of a material particle... Then ..."


LK
"... you do not have a hypothetical anything. A hypothesis is detailed representational model of a phenomenon that makes confirmable, falsifiable, non-trivial, ..."


Anon did have a hypothetical "Mindforce", in a sense compatible with the dictionary definion of hypothetical, as "assumed". http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hypothetical


And, Anon's statement was in the form of a logical hypothetical. (No citation necessary)

What he did not present, was a hypothesis as to the nature of his assumed "Mindforce" (whatever a Mindforce is).

Louis: "I like jokes."

Were you making one, Louis?

Anonymous said...

@LouisKahn

No, I'm not joking with you :) I'll try to express my idea more clearly.

I wanted to point out that a non-material mind that influences the material matter (for instance physical processes inside a brain), doesn't need to violate the energy conservation principle to do so.

That was a simple example to show how this is possible, according to some basic laws of physics.

So, a MindForce(tm) :) that acts ortogonally to the trajectory of a particle (i.e. at 90°, not parallel) would change the particle's direction, but not its speed.

Answering your question, a change in direction, but not speed, would leave the kinetic energy the same and no work would be done.

This way the "MindForce" would guide any particle where it wants (say inside our brains) without adding or removing any energy.

This of course isn't a complete model or a scientific theory but just a conter-example to show that a soul or "MindForce" that guides our material body doesn't necessarily imply violating energy conservation.

I've found the same concepts in the link posted by godrigues (see point III (2) in that page).

--Hondolor

Guilherme said...

Hi Doctor Feser,

Do you know Matt Dillahunty and his program The Atheist Experience?

In case you do, what do you think of it?

Congratulations for your excellent work!

God bless you and your family!

Daniel Smith said...

LouisKahn: Do you actually think that the idea oozes out of the brain and becomes a baseball?

No. You are assuming that there must be a material connection between the idea that existed in the inventor's mind and the actual baseball. That assumption is based on your materialism. I am bound by no such assumption.

My point was that we know that a baseball is the ultimate product of what once was just an idea. We also know that a baseball is designed with a purpose in mind and that that purpose plays a major role in the arrangement of its material parts. So any attempt to explain the baseball, while omitting these details, will be only a partial explanation that does not take into account known factors. (Like a half-truth)

Such is materialism.

Westcountryman said...

LouisKahn

Begging the question is simply a term for relying on assumptions that you are trying to prove. I do not need to know your what your textbook tells you about syllogisms to understand how to use it.

You appear to be doing this when you make a hard and fast distinction between in the brain and outside it and the relationship of ideas to this distinction. You rule out many positions without really addressing them.

Your argument about the conservation of energy is on a similar vein. It assumes a highly materialistic conception of the universe to begin with, one where everything can be reduced to the physics based ideas on energy. This is simply question begging, as energy is no doubt playing the role here of the ultimate quantitative atom materialists seek (no doubt you vaguely feel it is reducible to this) and you simply assume everything, like qualities, purposes and ideas, are reducible to it, no matter how counterintuitive this seems, without really arguing for it.

If the physics based view of energy doesn't properly apply to the mental and intellectual realm, and you need to prove it does, then your objection fails.

Eric said...

Guilherme, speaking for myself, I'd say that the fact that Dillahunty lists people like Dan Barker and Richard Dawkins among his influences (I mean, I can kinda' understand Dawkins -- Oxford professor, great writer and all -- but Barker? Really?) doesn't give me much confidence in his judgment.

That aside, I have listened to a few of his "Atheist Experience" episodes, and, while he does well debating YECs and people who haven't thought much at all about why they believe what they believe, he hasn't exactly engaged theistic/Christian thought at the highest levels. (When he did engage in a debate with someone better qualified then an anonymous caller to his show, i.e. Father Hans Jacobse, he spent his opening statement attacking obvious straw men.) All that said, Matt is, it seems to me, a likeable fellow, and he comes across as sincere. Indeed, if you've never seen him, you can identify him easily in the following way: go to any video of the "Atheist Experience" show and pick out the host who doesn't have a smug look on his face, who seems as if he's really listening to the questions put to him, and who tries his best to answer them directly without (too much) condescension: That's Dillahunty.

Jinzang said...

"If a hypothetical MindForce was such as to arbitrarily exert itself in a direction that's always ortogonal to the trajectory of a material particle...

This was a little joke. According to basic mechanics no work is done or energy is exchanged if a force is applied perpendicular to the line of motion of the particle.

A non-joking example of this would be a satellite in circular orbit around the Earth. The gravity of the Earth is everywhere perpendicular to the motion of the satellite, so no energy is exchanged. But clearly the Earth's gravity *causes* the satellite to orbit the Earth.

LouisKahn said...

Anonymous,

“I wanted to point out that a non-material mind that influences the material matter (for instance physical processes inside a brain), doesn't need to violate the energy conservation principle to do so.”

You have not defined what properties make this particle non-material. How do I tell the difference between a hypothetical particle being material or non-material.

Quite frankly, I am interested in philosophy of language. Not a physics guy.

Where Y is material.

X is not Y
Not Y is Z
X is Z

In the above syllogism, Not material is expressed in positive terms, property Z. Therefore you know what it is for X to be not material.

X is not Y
Not Y is not Z
X is not Z

You still do not know anything.

An example:

X is not a Cat
Not a Cat is a Dog
X is a Dog

X is not a Cat
Not a Cat is not a Dog
X is not a Dog

Still do not know what X is

X is not Y
Y is not material
Y is not space
Y is not time
Y is not energy
Y is not matter
Y is not a dog
Y is not a cat

Still do not know what X is.


Try your own examples.

Really cannot comment on particle collisions. Have to defer to the experts.

Still you have no particle non-material.

A particle is material, non-material or or combinations of these. What do you think the properties of the non-material are that are different from the material?

Internal properties that is.

Westcountryman said...

LouisKahn

The materialist is the one who must define what he really means by matter. It is the materialist who wishes to strip away quality in order to get to purely quantitative atoms. It is for him to actually define exactly how he achieves this and exactly what he achieves.

The non-materialist, at least of the traditional, Platonic and Aristotelian vein holds quite a different view of matter. For him matter is the potency or potential upon which form or quality is stamped. Not only is the idea of pure quantity in this world absurd to such a view, but their conception of matter is vastly at odds with the whole atomistic perspective.

dguller said...

Interesting argument by Richard Carrier that absolute nothing necessarily must result in something:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/468

Wondering what people think about it.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone looked at William Hirstein's new book: Mindmelding : consciousness, neuroscience and the mind's privacy. He seems to think that he can demolish the argument from privacy, by asserting that it is possible for minds (if correctly wired up) to meld. Thus, our conscience states are in fact physical states that can be transferred (physically) from one mind to another. He takes to task a Searle and Dennett. My initial impression of it though was:

Materialism is true.
The mind must therefore be reducible to material processes.
Therefore the mind is reducible to material processes.

Actually, he does kind of address this but, I would be interested if someone (more qualified than me) would comment (if they've managed to read the book).

DNW said...

The fulcrum upon which Carrier's premise (as opposed to premiss) teeters:

"One might object at this point by asking how the laws of logic can “exist” when nothing exists. There are two ways to answer that, one is to refer to the naturalist ontology of logic, whereby things like numbers and laws describe what always potentially exists, even when nothing actually exists (see my book Sense and Goodness without God III.5, pp. 119-34, esp. III.5.4-5, pp. 124-34), and when nothing actually exists, all potentials exist (because then nothing actually exists to prevent anything from potentially existing, which point I’ll revisit in a moment). But another is to simply refer back to the simple point that if the laws of logic don’t exist, then by definition that means logically impossible things can exist. Which is fine if you really want to entertain that as a hypothesis. Good luck with that (I don’t think you’ll get very far"

dguller, "Wondering what people think about it."

Not much up to and including that last point: "if the laws of logic don’t exist, then by definition that means logically impossible things can exist."

Which would not entail that they actually could.

So , he's taking the tenable realist position that the laws of logic are objective, and going on to extend their reign beyond the domain of being itself ... which neither makes sense nor implies the absurdity he infers, unless they already exist to be confounded as absurd.

You know, it's difficult sorting through all the varieties of arguments and counter arguments; especially as Evangelical Christians and Paley types have been generating a body of work which is - without meaning to be insulting - not too rigorous and more suited to the pulpit than the debate hall, for some time.

Then, also as Carrier points out, there are the various flavors of "nothing" being proposed by atheists.

I better understand all the time why Feser reserves his own combox comments. People argue in circles without ever really engaging.


I suppose what ought to be looked at is Carrier's implied argument that the laws of logic in some sense "predate" (if I take his meaning at least partly correctly) their own existence.

Eduardo said...

P1: In the beginning, there was absolutely nothing.

-------------------------------------

P2: If there was absolutely nothing, then (apart from logical necessity) nothing existed to prevent anything from happening or to make any one thing happening more likely than any other thing.

*In P2, logical necessity exists necessarily. Now there were already rules to govern the world waiting for it to pop( or waiting for nothing really) I mean right here he is doing the same mistakes of putting nothing as something.*

* In the second phrase he simply create a landscape of possibilities soo anything is possible given nothing .... even though you don't have something to make those propabilities to show up.... unless he means that logical necessity will cause something.... Nope my bet is wrong, he just expects that everything else should happen because there is nothing to stop it .... but there is no rule demands it to happen ....*

-----------------------------------
Therefore*, continuing to be nothing was no more likely than one universe popping into existence, which was no more likely than two universes popping into existence, which was no more likely than infinitely many universes popping into existence, which was no more likely than any other particular number or cardinality of universes popping into existence.
----------------------------------

Actually you don't have anything to produce this rule that everything else should exist.... I mean the hidden rule you could put is that anything that is not logically impossible happens. Well anyway then God exists if God is logically possible ... why the heck this is glorious to atheism.... well perhaps to Carrier's form of atheism it might be, I just don't get how this is bad for theism XD!

____________________________________

His argument rests on the rule that in the multiverse everything happens as long it is not logically possible.... well don't know how the fuck he squares that with "I am a empiricist", but all in all, this is another Carrier type argument... Seriously I once read a critique of the guy and thought that the Crtitic was being non charitable, but apparently carrier really is inconsistent XD. Oh Carry boy.

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

Hi dguller:

Lots to say about that article you linked but slightly rushed right now so I'll start with:

Basically, Carrier seems very confused.

At root once again we have a re-definition of absolute nothing - in this case, "nothing" means nothing except some of the principles of logic and other things necessarily true (given existence).

Whatever is necessary is not nothing.

He's done this on the basis that absolute nothing is logical impossibility; but no classical theist denies this, do they? In fact they affirm nothing as absurdity.

ex nihilo nihil fit is an adage, a formulation of a principle, not the principle itself. Indeed, depending on the context it could be a negative expression of the principle of causality (also expressed as "the more does not come from the less") or the principle of sufficient reason; but, as a negative expression of the principle of causality, it is a mediate deduction from the principle of contradiction, and so denying it is to deny the principle of contradiction which leads to universal scepticism.

Now consider Carrier:

"All I will assume is what is undeniably true: that all the fundamental propositions of logic and mathematics are necessarily true (for example, all valid and sound theorems and syllogisms are necessarily true, in the sense that, when given their premises, their conclusions cannot be false; but not in the sense that their premises are necessarily true, even if they might be)" (emphasis in original)

Not only is he being unjustifiably arbitrary in the necessary truths he selects as "nothing" (choosing only the axioms, if you like, from which his conclusion can seemingly be derived) but the explicit example he gives depends on a principle he's trying to deny. After all, granting certain premises does not mean their conclusions cannot be false unless the principle of contradiction is true. In which case ex nihilo nihil fit is necessarily true per his example of given premise, conclusion follows.

There's plenty more that's objectionable, but that should be enough for now.

E.H. Munro said...

My view is that any man that willingly allows himself to remain Dick Carrier is something of a wanker. In response to his argument his second premise doesn't actually follow from the first, so I'd say his argument runs off the rails because his first two premises are absolutely false.

He's trying to smuggle a "something has to exist!" argument into this without explicitly stating it, and re-defining nothing to mean something. I stopped reading his article after getting through the formal argument because the first two premises are false, which means that he has effectively disproved his own argument.

The fun part was his claim that non-atheists believe that there was once "nothing". As far as I know not even the mechanists believed this. Certainly the modern evangelicals and fundamentalists would deny this (as do classical theists). In fact, everyone agrees on this one premise, that there was not "nothing" in the beginning.

DNW said...

Richard Carrier says in part:

"if the laws of logic don’t exist, then by definition that means logically impossible things can exist."

Is he actually arguing that:

Whatever is not *positively prevented* from being brought into being by a formulated rule of inference - a law of logic - it, i.e., the logically absurd, must then be actualized?

But, since logically impossible absurdities cannot or do not exist, the laws of logic therefore preexist existence?

Uh, is this guy an atheist reincarnation of Anselm?

Nah, I must have taken too casual a glance.

By the way, as a not-convinced theist, I would like to clarify that I did not mean to mock evangelicals, nor to assign "at least a minimum of" logical rigor to all scholastic philosophy.

My personal sympathies do not always align with what I believe can be, or has successfully been, demonstrated.

Eric said...

"One might object at this point by asking how the laws of logic can “exist” when nothing exists. There are two ways to answer that, one is to refer to the naturalist ontology of logic, whereby things like numbers and laws describe what always potentially exists, even when nothing actually exists (see my book Sense and Goodness without God III.5, pp. 119-34, esp. III.5.4-5, pp. 124-34), and when nothing actually exists, all potentials exist (because then nothing actually exists to prevent anything from potentially existing, which point I’ll revisit in a moment)."

I haven't read the article, but what immediately struck me as problematic is the notion that nothing can be in potency because there is nothing to constrain it. Well, sure, but there's also nothing to be in potency, so I have no idea what a free floating potential in the absence of anything in act could possibly mean. Further, nothing has no properties, by definition, and being in potency is, it seems to me, a property. (As I said, I haven't read the article -- I don't read much of what Carrier writes, I'm afraid, after I read his critique of Reppert's AFR, which was frankly horrible -- so perhaps Carrier addresses these issues. If he does, however, I can't see how he could make any sense without radically redefining 'nothing' and hence refuting his own point about nothingness having all potentialities because there's nothing to constrain it....but enough of that...)

dguller said...

Perhaps it would be interesting to post these responses on Carrier's website to see what he says. I'm actually quite curious.

Eduardo said...

Carrier would probably reply .... with another bad argument... you would be attacked viciously by his die-hard fans and after they found out you are a theist they will hack your computer O_O!!!!!!

Or ... he will ignore you XD.

Eric said...

"Carrier would probably reply .... with another bad argument... you would be attacked viciously by his die-hard fans and after they found out you are a theist they will hack your computer O_O!!!!!!"

My issue is not that his response will be poor (though it almost certainly will be), but that it will be far, far too long, and confuse multiple issues in multiple ways, and hence require far too much time to disentangle. And, of course, if you take the time to disentangle it, you'll only get more of the same -- only longer still.

Eduardo said...

Amen brother above me XD

* actually I feel the same way as you do I mean Carrier is the man who thinks he is toe to toe with aristotle ( something he wrote in Sense and Goodness I think. )... I mean, the first rule of engagement with Carrier is: Get him to be coherent and make sure he is not confusing stuff*

grodrigues said...

Dr. Carrier is inept, incompetent and ignorant. I will just make a tiny correction (professional deformation). His P3 and P4 are:

"P3: Of all the logically possible things that can happen when nothing exists to prevent them from happening, continuing to be nothing is one thing, one universe popping into existence is another thing, two universes popping into existence is yet another thing, and so on all the way to infinitely many universes popping into existence, and likewise for every cardinality of infinity, and every configuration of universes."

"P4: If each outcome (0 universes, 1 universe, 2 universes, etc. all the way to aleph-0 universes, aleph-1 universes, etc. [note that there is more than one infinity in this sequence]) is no more likely than the next, then the probability of any finite number of universes (including zero universes) or less having popped into existence is infinitely close to zero, and the probability of some infinite number of universes having popped into existence is infinitely close to one hundred percent."

Then he comments:

"Another objection, that infinite probability distributions are impossible is simply false."

This is not the objection. It is trivially easy to construct probability measures in infinite sets. The fact is that there are no *uniform* probability measures in infinite sets, which is what he is implicitely using in P4. Without uniformity, and lacking any description of the would-be measure, the alleged "infinitely close to one hundred percent" is completely bogus. But it gets worse. In P4, Dr. Carrier is implicitly taking the collection of all cardinals which is a *proper* class, not a set, so it does *not exist* by the well known set-theoretical paradoxes. If you make some cut off, even assuming some large cardinal axiom beyond standard ZFC, you are implicitly discarding the popping of a number of universes beyond the cut off cardinal. But this goes against his "what is logically possible will happen".

grodrigues said...

Just to add a clarification on my previous post to prevent any possible misunderstandings: no, I have no forgotten about Lebesgue measure and all that. When I said that "there are no *uniform* probability measures in infinite sets" I was implicitly assuming two things: 1. the measure is defined on the full power set algebra and 2. points have non-zero mass. If you drop 1. (and thereby 2. is also implicitly dropped) then Dr. Carrier also has to specify the algebra of measurable sets and of course, still construct the probability measure.

Dguller said...

You guys might be right about Carrier's responses, but I still would be interested to read the dialogue between the Thomists here and Carrier regarding absolute nothing. Just post your points there and lets see what happens!

Nick said...

Hi Dguller,

I don't pretend to know what on earth Carrier is talking about, so I'll leave the arguments to others.

An observation, though (sorry about the length, but it's mainly quotes):

Carrier says: ‘Since it is not logically necessary that nothing can only produce nothing, then when nothing exists except what is logically necessary, the law ex nihilo nihil fit doesn’t exist either. Therefore, that “absolute nothing” that once existed will not have been governed by such a law. It cannot have been. Because if it were, it would then not be nothing, but the inexplicable and arbitrary existence of something: a weird law of physics with no origin or agency. Thus it is a logical contradiction to say “there once was absolutely nothing, and that absolute nothing can only have produced nothing.”'

Well, fine. But at the same time he’s trying to sell us his own law - might as well call it ‘ex nihilo onus merdae fit’ – according to which, in a state of nothingness (albeit one where logical laws – i.e. non-material, eternally extant principles – somehow entail – which I’d say is no more a ‘Nothing’ than Krauss’ or Hawking’s), a lack of ‘obstacles’ is sufficient for things to pop into existence.

But this isn’t a logically necessary truth, any more than ‘ex nihilo nihil fit’.

So:

‘Since it is not logically necessary that nothing can only produce nothing, then when nothing exists except what is logically necessary, the law ‘ex nihilo onus merdae fit’ doesn’t exist either. Therefore, that “absolute nothing” that once existed will not have been governed by the law ‘ex nihilo onus merdae fit’. It cannot have been. Because if it were, it would then not be nothing, but the inexplicable and arbitrary existence of something: a weird law of physics with no origin or agency. Thus it is a logical contradiction to say “there once was absolutely nothing, and that in a state of nothingness, a lack of "obstacles" is sufficient for things to pop into existence."'

DNW said...

GRodrigues writes,

"The fact is that there are no *uniform* probability measures in infinite sets, which is what he is implicitely using in P4. Without uniformity, and lacking any description of the would-be measure, the alleged "infinitely close to one hundred percent" is completely bogus."


" ... to add a clarification on my previous post to prevent any possible misunderstandings: no, I have no forgotten about Lebesgue measure and all that. When I said that "there are no *uniform* probability measures in infinite sets" I was implicitly assuming two things: 1. the measure is defined on the full power set algebra and 2. points have non-zero mass. If you drop 1. (and thereby 2. is also implicitly dropped) then Dr. Carrier also has to specify the algebra of measurable sets and of course, still construct the probability measure."


That's interesting.

If you are [insofar as I understand you] correct in characterizing what Carrier is actually doing; i.e., basing his argument on mathematical infinities however defined, rather than class logic, then he's not simply a realist, but is traveling down some kind of hyper-realist road of his own mapping.

Standing back from his argument a bit, the look of it seems to suggest that there is a kind of underlying conceptual parallel between what Carrier *is doing* (not thinking) when he conceptualizes nothing, and what those whose views he rightly criticizes as smuggling in "a collapsed region of space-time governed by certain laws of quantum physics. [which is] not actually nothing.", are themselves doing as regards "nothing"


Even the dullest among us assume a difference between statistics and the notion of a priori probablility as laid out in say, Copi, and with simple examples of an idealized deck of cards or a perfect coin.

Those a priori probabilities are taught as abstracted derivations, the ontological status of which is debated.

Now, how can one extend probability beyond the domain from which it is derived, unless you somehow already know "like Plato", that there are already rules in place ("somewhere") not only beyond the physical universe, but perhaps beyond being ...

(Calling Clarence Rolt **)

Maybe all Carrier is himself asserting is that there is a realm in which probabilities exist "in being" someway, prior to the appearance of any "physical" universe.

If not, I don't see how he is not figuratively looking into a mirror placed before another mirror, and imagining that he is glimpsing into a secret reality behind the one in which he is standing.

Or that's how it appears to me after 10 minutes of consideration ...



**
Rolt on the Pseudo Dionysius' Divine Names:

"Neither of these two streams has any independent or concrete existence. Taken separately, they are mere potentialities: two
separate aspects, as it were, of the creative impulse, implying an
eternal possibility of creation and an eternal tendency towards it, and yet not in themselves creative because not in themselves, strictly speaking, existent. Nevertheless these two streams differ each from each, and one of them has a degree of reality which does not belong to the other. Mere universal Being, says Dionysius, does not possess full or concrete existence; at the same time, since it is Being or Existence, he does not call it non-existent. Mere Particularity, on the other hand, he practically identifies with Non-entity, for the obvious reason that non-existence itself is a universal category (as applying
to all existent things), and, therefore, cannot belong to that which has no universal element at all. Thus the universal stream is an abstract ideal and possesses an abstract existence, the particular stream is an abortive impulse and possesses no actual existence whatever ..."

It just had to be ...

DNW said...

Re. Carrier,


Having a few moments at lunch to take another glance at the Dguller provided link, and to re-read some of Carrier's introductory remarks, I will withdraw any of my comments as to what Carrier actually intends or succeeds in doing, and stipulate that I am now uncertain as to what it is that he is actually arguing.

Taking his remarks in the third paragraph up through his hypothetico-deductive and Bayesian comments into account, it is now clearer to me that he has a kind of analysis other than traditional a priori or statistical, or pure mathematical "proofs" in mind.

In fact, or at a glance anyway, he seems more concerned to explore what he feels are the implications of a particular conditional, once he has taken his additional conceptual modes of analysis into account, rather than to demonstrate an actual fact. Or so his language suggests to me.

In any event, I do not think that I can make any judgment as to the real sense of what he even means to ultimately say, without a time consuming process of following and reading through all the buttressing links and demonstrations he has embedded as underlying his chain of reasoning.


That, seems to me more like a discipleship, than a lunchtime or coffee break reading pastime.


My comment then is modified to "no comment".

grodrigues said...

@DNW:

"If you are [insofar as I understand you] correct in characterizing what Carrier is actually doing; i.e., basing his argument on mathematical infinities however defined, rather than class logic, then he's not simply a realist, but is traveling down some kind of hyper-realist road of his own mapping."

Not sure what you are trying to say. I simply pointed out that as simple matter of mathematics (no discussion of his philosophical howlers), his probability calculations are completely bogus, for two reasons:

1. In P4 he is implicitely using the class of all cardinals; it is a theorem of ZFC that this set does not exist, so it cannot even support a probability measure. If you make a cutoff at some cardinal c, that is, take only the set of cardinals smaller than c, even assuming some large cardinal axiom way beyond standard ZFC, then his whole "whatever is logically possible will happen" goes down the drain because he is cutting off the popping of a cardinal larger than c universes.

2. Even if we leave 1. aside for now, without a description of the would-be measure, his assertions are completely bogus. For example, consider the probability measure given by the principal ultrafilter generated by the "zero universes pop up" event. This is a perfectly respectable probability measure (minus the issues in 1.). Heck, it is even sigma-additive, a technical requirement usually added to the definition of (probability) measures, and it is even completely additive. With this measure, the event "zero universes pop up" has probability 1 while all other events of the form "c universes pop up" have probability 0. I am sure Dr. Carrier thinks this particular measure not very good; but if it is not good then he must explain why and construct the required measure. And what even means the "right" measure in this context? Inquiring minds wish to know.

In other words, he is all bluster and hot air -- and this, only from the narrow view of mathematics.

Ray Ingles said...

In particular, the way people behave in artificial experimental conditions (such as Libet’s experiments) is taken to determine how we should interpret what happens in ordinary conditions, rather than the other way around.

But sometimes, that's true. Studying the way things break can tell you a lot about how they work. Studying how rocks fracture tells you how their crystal structure lines up. Smacking atoms into each other tells us how the particles are arranged inside.

If all you can see of a TV is the screen, and not the rest, it can be hard to tell what technology's in use. But by studying the flaws in the picture, you can make good guesses about the technology involved - CRT, plasma, LCD, LED, etc.

For example, older DLPs had a single light projector and used a 'color wheel' to sort of 'multiplex' the color information. The longer the pixel was red, the 'redder' it would appear. But when your eyes moved rapidly, it wouldn't work quite right, and you'd see 'rainbows' flicker across the picture.

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

dguller

Just so you know, I did try commenting at Carrier's blog. I'm still being moderated and I notice that yours is the last comment from March 12th so I suspect he's moved on.

E.H. Munro said...

Don't take it personally, the only theists he allows to slip through the nets are the ones whose simplistic answers he's capable of dealing with.

Anonymous said...

so....how does our immaterial consciousness go about controlling our material bodies?

Eduardo said...

Well I never actually went on to think of a model for a immaterial mind ...whatever immaterial might mean really... I mean seriously ... what is matter, the atom has at least 5 or 6 different models, and materialism is sooorrrrttt of against metaphysics; * yeah I know some are not * so in the end you got no idea what matter is...

But it could relate just like the massless photon relate to the electron... In a direct way ... I mean everytime someone ask that question it sounds like there is a rule of classes. "Like affects Like".

So Doctor Feser, I know that you wrote about this before but how would be the mind in A-T point of view ??

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

Anonymous of March 15, 2012 4:05 PM

I’m sure Dr Feser has gone into this elsewhere on his site but I'm sorry I can't recall links right now, and anyway the original post to the thread you’re commenting on answers your question:

”Rather, what is necessary is just the ability to see that it is only persons, rather than any of their components, who can intelligibly be said to be conscious, to think, to perceive, to act, freely to choose, and so on”

Yes, your body is material but it is living matter; it is one substance with your soul, ie. the principle of life.

That is to say that your consciousness doesn’t control your body, you control yourself. If you died, then no, your immaterial soul would not be able to affect the matter of your dead body or any other material thing.

Alan said...

A year late to this exchange, and I’m no philosopher, but all this discourse appears to be building a mountain where a mole hill would do. A very entertaining mountain but much more that necessary to dismiss that silly determinism business. As Mele (linked above by Feser) noted, look to context. Any response ‘determined’ by one’s genes requires a context in the evolutionary landscape. Nothing in any of the experiments fits. The questions do not, answering with a button does not, the chairs or desk do not, even conversing in English does not. Wonder what biology delivers to a human, look at the feral children: they cannot walk or talk. Without a walking, talking role model, a human will not motivate ones self to learn even these basic (human defining) skills. Noam Chomsky, I believe, pointed out (what should be blindingly obvious) that if anyone is noticed using language in a deterministic fashion, i.e. consistently repeated or even predictable responses (as did Forest Gump in his movie), they would be considered dull or even retarded. Use of language, alone, is explicitly anti-deterministic.
Remember as well, but a single, simple expression of will refutes determinism. Just one.