Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brain hacking and mind reading


Over the last week or so several news stories have appeared (e.g. here and here) suggesting that it is technologically possible to “hack” the brain and extract from it PIN numbers, credit card data, and the like.  This naturally raises the question whether such a possibility vindicates materialism.  The short answer is that it does not.  I’ve commented on claims of this sort before (here and here) but it is worth revisiting the issue in light of what I’ve said in recent posts about how the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) philosopher understands the relationship between thought and brain activity.

Recall the analogy I drew in my recent BioLogos Forum piece between sentences and thoughts.  Any token of an English sentence like “The cat is on the mat” has physical properties apart from which the token could not exist -- such as, in the case of a written or printed sentence, the letters and their shapes and sizes, the ink in which they are embodied and its various chemical properties, and so on.  To damage or destroy these physical features is to damage or destroy the sentence token.  Yet the meaning of the sentence, which is obviously no less essential to it than its physical properties are, is in no way reducible to, supervenient upon, or in any other way explicable in terms of those physical properties.  The physical and the semantic, material and immaterial, form a seamless unity.

Similarly, for the A-T philosopher, human thought in normal circumstances is a seamless unity of the material and immaterial, the physiological and the psychological.  As Ric Machuga puts it in In Defense of the Soul, “souls are in bodies the way meaning is in words” (though I would emphasize that this is only an analogy, and I should also caution the reader that Machuga’s presentation of A-T hylemorphism is problematic).  I’ve noted recently how the content of a thought cannot be identified with mental imagery of any sort, nor entirely explained in neurophysiological terms.  Yet our intellectual activity typically takes place via imaginative and material media.  Even when our thoughts are at their most abstract, they tend to incorporate imagery of some sort -- hence (say) we think of visual or auditory images of numbers or shapes when we work through mathematical problems, or of the words for abstract concepts when we think philosophically, even if the thoughts cannot be reduced to these exercises in imagination.  (This is why it is easy to fall into the error of identifying thinking with the having of mental imagery.)  As Aquinas writes in the Summa Theologiae:

Although the intellect abstracts from the phantasms, it does not understand actually without turning to the phantasms. (I.85.5

[I]t is clear that for the intellect to understand actually, not only when it acquires fresh knowledge, but also when it applies knowledge already acquired, there is need for the act of the imagination and of the other powers.  For when the act of the imagination is hindered by a lesion of the corporeal organ, for instance in a case of frenzy; or when the act of the memory is hindered, as in the case of lethargy, we see that a man is hindered from actually understanding things of which he had a previous knowledge. (I.84.7)

[I]n the present state of life whatever we understand, we know by comparison to natural sensible things.  Consequently it is not possible for our intellect to form a perfect judgment, while the senses are suspended, through which sensible things are known to us. (I.84.8)

From the A-T point of view, then, it is hardly surprising that neuroscience has uncovered intimate correlations between neural activity and mental activity, or that damage to the brain can severely impair thought -- any more than it is surprising that if we physically damage a sentence, its ability to convey its propositional content is diminished or destroyed despite that content’s being irreducible to the sentence’s physical properties.  For the A-T philosopher to acknowledge that there is a physiological component to thought is not to make a desperate concession to modern scientific advances.  On the contrary, it is merely to reaffirm something that Aristotle and Aquinas themselves already recognized.  

What the A-T view should lead us to expect, then, is precisely that we should be able to “read off” the mental from the physical to some extent, though only to some extent.  And ironically, this is precisely what materialist writers like W. V. Quine, Daniel Dennett, Bernard Williams, and Donald Davidson say insofar as they affirm that the meaning of our linguistic utterances and thoughts is not fixed or determined by any set of physical facts.  The difference is that since they are materialists, they conclude that there just is no “fact of the matter” about what our utterances and thoughts mean; whereas the A-T philosopher, who holds that the claim that there is no “fact of the matter” about meaning cannot be coherently made out, concludes that meaning is something immaterial.  Both sides would agree that neither the methods described in the articles about “brain hacking” linked to above nor more sophisticated methods are ever even in principle going to get you to a strict predictability of the content of thought from the physical facts, even if they get you arbitrarily close.

The reason, it must be emphasized, is not epistemic but metaphysical.  It has nothing to do with how many of the physical facts we can know but with what those facts would by themselves entail, even if we knew them down to the last detail.  Nor does the point have anything essentially to do with complexity, precision of measurement, or with whether the relevant physical facts are inside the nervous system or in a thinker’s physical environment.  Even given the simplest and clearest physical symbol possible and the most detailed, exhaustive description possible of that symbol’s causal and other physical relations to the entire material universe, we would still not know with certainty what that symbol means because the entirety of those physical facts by themselves simply would not specify a unique meaning.  It’s not that the physical facts would entail that such-and-such is what is meant, but we couldn’t know enough about these facts to find out for sure that it is such-and-such that is meant; it’s that they would not entail this in the first place.  (Again, the point has nothing essentially to do with whether or not one is a materialist -- Quine and Co. would say the same thing.  The dispute between these materialists and their critics is over whether there is something additional to the physical facts that does determine meaning.)

The analytical Thomist philosopher John Haldane provides a useful illustration:

Every triangle is a trilateral and vice versa, and in some manner possession of the one property necessitates possession of the other. Yet triangularity and trilaterality are not the same attribute, and it takes geometrical reasoning to show that these properties are necessarily co-instantiated… To the extent that he can even concede that there are distinct properties the naturalist will want to insist that the causal powers… of trilaterals and triangulars are identical. Thus he cannot explain the difference between the concepts by invoking causal differences between the members of their extensions (as one might seem to be able to account for the difference between the concepts square and circle).  (J. J. C. Smart and J. J. Haldane, Atheism and Theism, Second edition, pp. 106-7)

As Haldane notes, the problem is completely general:

For any naturally individuated object or property there are indefinitely many non-equivalent ways of thinking about it. That is to say, the structure of the conceptual order, which is expressed in judgments and actions, is richer and more abstract than that of the natural order, and the character of this difference makes it difficult to see how the materialist could explain the former as arising out of the latter. (p. 107)

In short, any set of material facts, including facts about the efficient causal relations between material elements, is indeterminate between the different determinate ways in which we might conceptualize them; hence the former cannot suffice to account for the latter.

So, suppose we really did have sentences encoded in the brain, and suppose even that those sentences were not the subtle kind posited by Fodor’s “Language of Thought” hypotheses, but were rather the crude sort we normally think of when we think of sentences.  In particular, suppose that we found that the English words “The cat is on the mat” could be seen clearly written across the surface of a subject’s brain every time a cat entered the room and sat down on the mat.  There would still be absolutely nothing in any set of physical circumstances that could possibly tell us for sure that what he was thinking was that the cat is on the mat.  For one thing, the set of marks on his brain could in principle be a higher-order representation -- in particular, a representation not of cats on mats, but instead a representation of representations of cats on mats.  Nor could what the guy says to us determine which of these the brain sentence in question really represents.  For example, if he says “No, I’m thinking about cats on mats, not about representations of cats on mats,” we still need to know what that utterance meant, and whether it was itself really about cats on mats, representations of cats on mats, representations of representations of cats on mats, or whatever.

Note that the point is not that the guy might be lying to us, but that there is nothing about the physical properties of his utterance, or about his brain, or about his facial expressions or anything else, that could by themselves strictly entail that he means one thing rather than another even if he is not lying.  Nor could the causal relations between his brain and the outside world tell us.  For example, any regular causal correlation between the presence of a cat on a mat and the subject’s going into brain state B hardly shows all by itself that B represents cats on mats rather than representing representations of cats on mats, since the causal correlation in question could obviously be associated with either meaning.  And any appeal to further causal considerations just kicks the problem back a level.  (Again, there is nothing in this much that only a non-materialist could accept.  It’s more or less just standard Quine-Dennett style indeterminacy stuff.)  

As I have said, the problem arises at least in principle even in the simplest cases.  But it is even more pronounced the further we get from thoughts about immediately present concrete objects and have to interpret thoughts of a highly abstract and theoretically loaded sort.  Then the various possible “manuals of translation” -- to borrow the language of Quine’s famous “gavagai” argument -- become very unwieldy indeed.  (We know this from everyday experience.  It goes without saying that it is much harder to be sure one understands what another means when he is talking about some unfamiliar philosophical or scientific theory than when he is talking about the weather or the lunch you and he are sharing.)  

So, while it may well be possible for neuroscience to give us increasingly effective technological means of guessing at what is going on in someone’s mind, this will always amount to something more like skimming a few dollars from someone’s bank account rather than emptying it.  Between the brain and the mind, there’s enough metaphysical slack to prevent a complete hack. 

306 comments:

1 – 200 of 306   Newer›   Newest»
DNW said...



Does anyone really profess to know what, precisely, is meant by "materialism" these days? And if some do think that they know, do they assert that there any profound agreement among materialists as to the nature of the material?

Christian said...

Hey Dr. Feser,


I just finished reading your book Philosophy of Mind and I have a couple questions that are not strictly germane to this topic but still fall under philosophy of mind. You speak of formal causes at the end of Philosophy of Mind and in TLS and Aquinas and I have a somewhat good idea of what a formal cause is but I was wondering if you could clarify. What exactly is it to be a formal cause? What does formal causation entail? Is the form that which gives matter the capability of being intelligible and understandable via the mind? Basically, how does form come into contact with matter? My second question is about qualia. Why do A-T philosophers consider qualia material? Is it because quantitative qualities can only be perceived via corporeal organs? Thanks Dr. Feser. Oh and by the way, it would be awesome if you could give a talk in Denver sometime, just something to think about. Have a good evening.

Steve Ruble said...

Dr. Feser,

On the A-T account, is there anything at all that can "strictly entail that he means on thing rather than another" from the perspective of the audience? If no "physical properties" of his communication or any accompanying phenomena can provide the necessary evidence, it seems that we must rely on non-physical properties or go without certainty about meanings which originate in other people. Which is the A-T position?

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser,

The reason, it must be emphasized, is not epistemic but metaphysical. It has nothing to do with how many of the physical facts we can know but with what those facts would by themselves entail, even if we knew them down to the last detail.

So do I have this right? If you were to encounter a technology, a set of machines that could detect, and predict, in excruciating detail and with fine precision what a subject connected to these machines was thinking, determined solely through physical instrumentation, that would not be sufficient to consider the merits of mental activity as natural phenomenon (i.e. having no need or use for 'material intellect' as part of any explanation)? If these machines could determine what you are thinking, and what you are going to say some fraction of a second before you are actually able to marshal those words or actions through to the rest of your body, that would change nothing for the Thomist?

What would an incorrigible view look like, if not that? There wouldn't be ANY scenario we could imagine that would show that position more than naked dogma. A de fide position on what at least many of the rest of us look at as a question at least that can be *informed* by science.

Good to know, I guess, if so. There's little point in talking about the evidence and what we actually see happening in that case, if I'm reading this right.

-TS

Martin said...

Touchstone,

What the Thomist would say is that such a situation is impossible.

It's like asking "What would you do if you opened a lunch box and there was an African elephant in there? Would you STILL maintain that lunch boxes cannot contain African elephants?"

Josh said...

If these machines could determine what you are thinking, and what you are going to say some fraction of a second before you are actually able to marshal those words or actions through to the rest of your body, that would change nothing for the Thomist?

Read again:

Both sides would agree that neither the methods described in the articles about “brain hacking” linked to above nor more sophisticated methods are ever even in principle going to get you to a strict predictability of the content of thought from the physical facts, even if they get you arbitrarily close.

Asymptotic. There will always be room for interpretation, because such a machine can only "read" materially conditioned information, which is inherently indeterminate in meaning.

Read further down the post re: 'cat on the mat' scenario; if a computer told you that's what you were thinking, that would fall prey to the regress described.

Touchstone said...

@Josh
Read again:

Both sides would agree that neither the methods described in the articles about “brain hacking” linked to above nor more sophisticated methods are ever even in principle going to get you to a strict predictability of the content of thought from the physical facts, even if they get you arbitrarily close.

Yeah, that's the problematic claim. "Arbitrarily close" is *practically perfect* -- indistinguishable from perfect accounting in practice. If you don't believe that, work out the math on an asymptote and see if there must be points on the line where the value has NOT reached the limit but yet cannot be distinguished in practice -- by observation even at fantastic levels of precision -- from the limit. That "read again" is what prompted my question! That announces that NO level of performance in accounting for mental content can ever rise against the dogma, here.

Read further down the post re: 'cat on the mat' scenario; if a computer told you that's what you were thinking, that would fall prey to the regress described.

Do you mean this part?


So, suppose we really did have sentences encoded in the brain, and suppose even that those sentences were not the subtle kind posited by Fodor’s “Language of Thought” hypotheses, but were rather the crude sort we normally think of when we think of sentences. In particular, suppose that we found that the English words “The cat is on the mat” could be seen clearly written across the surface of a subject’s brain every time a cat entered the room and sat down on the mat. There would still be absolutely nothing in any set of physical circumstances that could possibly tell us for sure that what he was thinking was that the cat is on the mat. For one thing, the set of marks on his brain could in principle be a higher-order representation -- in particular, a representation not of cats on mats, but instead a representation of representations of cats on mats. Nor could what the guy says to us determine which of these the brain sentence in question really represents. For example, if he says “No, I’m thinking about cats on mats, not about representations of cats on mats,” we still need to know what that utterance meant, and whether it was itself really about cats on mats, representations of cats on mats, representations of representations of cats on mats, or whatever.


That is just excruciatingly weak. My creationists friends tell me we can't now for sure that the Omphalos doesn't obtain, and God did create Adam with a navel, 6,000 years ago, and with starlight placed "just like it came from stars billions of light years away!". Another friend points out that we can't know for sure that LastTuesdayism isn't the correct view of the world.

And maybe those Photon Phaeries I mentioned sometime ago really are the product of prescient metaphysics, and those little guys are what makes light move around as it does, Photon Phaeries each making their own photon Do What Must Be Done? On some XYZ metaphysics, then, that's the deal. And really, just like Dr. Feser above, we can't know for sure that those metaphysics don't obtain. Just like Dr. Feser's argument, no physical evidence or observation could touch it. No matter how complete the natural model is, on XYZ metaphysics, Photon Phaeries have got to be doing the work. Photons can't move just by natural processes, doncha know.

It's pathetic that such is the criterion: it can't be known for sure that I'm mistaken. Quite right, but that should be zero consolation. What happened to thinking critically, and understanding that this is precisely the kind of evidence, which, if it accumulates, undermines one's model? Doesn't Thomism dare risk the razor of "probably right"? If not, why not?

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Martin,

What the Thomist would say is that such a situation is impossible.

It's like asking "What would you do if you opened a lunch box and there was an African elephant in there? Would you STILL maintain that lunch boxes cannot contain African elephants?"

So, the Thomist would react by saying "This is impossible"?

That seems an odd reaction, because at least in Dr. Feser's case, he's allowed that physical evidence could be "arbitrarily close" to strict predictability of mental content. That means, in practice, indistinguishable from *perfect predictability*.

In that situation, you would declare that state of affairs "impossible" if confronted with it?

-TS

Josh said...

It's pathetic that such is the criterion: it can't be known for sure that I'm mistaken.

Actually, it can be. Where there is a metaphysical argument being made, either show one of the premises false, disambiguate a term, or show the conclusion doesn't follow.

Bullpup said...

And, of course, if attempts to make such a computer fail or are not forthcoming?

"Well, maybe someday, if we study enough. And if we work out the bugs. And..."

Promissory materialism and promissory naturalism. Which is necessary, because otherwise both would be considered to stand refuted right at this moment.

Edward Feser said...

TS,

To borrow an example used by the Thomist William A. Wallace in a different context, suppose someone claimed that since the more sides you add to a polygon, the closer you approximate a circle, it follows (a) that a circle is really just a kind of polygon and (b) that anyone who denies this is just being dogmatic.

Such claims would, of course, be completely muddleheaded. But you are making exactly that sort of mistake. That we can approximate meaning via the physical facts simply does not entail or even make probable the claim that the physical facts exhaust meaning, any more than the fact that adding sides to a polygon gives us an ever better approximation of a circle entails or even makes probable the claim that a circle is just a kind of polygon. And as with the circle/polygon case, the point has absolutely nothing to do with being dogmatic or unwilling to face the empirical facts. It is a conceptual and metaphysical point, and can only be addressed at that level if it is going to be answered. To fail to do so (as you do) is itself dogmatic, or at best question-begging.

Edward Feser said...

Note also that you're implicitly accusing Quine, Dennett, et al. of dogmatism too -- which is quite an odd charge, since as materialists they have every incentive to agree with you if they could.

Michael Brazier said...

Touchstone:

Visual images (of, for instance, a cat sitting on a mat) and aural images (of the English utterance "the cat is on the mat") belong to the class Aquinas calls "fantasies", and the ability to form such images is a faculty of the sensitive soul; that is, it's not exclusive to humans, but shared with other animals. Therefore, nothing in Aristotelian metaphysics rules out a machine that, when a man entertains a visual or aural image, can read that image to any degree of accuracy desired.

What A-T philosophy does rule out and declare impossible is the ability to read a judgement - the process that, for instance, causes a man to imagine the English utterance "The cat is on the mat" when he sees a cat sitting on a mat, or when he sees the string of letters which represent that utterance in text. For that process is intellectual, thus in part immaterial, and in so far as a thing is immaterial it cannot be detected by a machine.

In a word, a machine which detects that I am thinking of the sounds "the cat is on the mat" is possible; a machine which detects that I am imagining the cat on the mat is possible; but a machine which detects that I am thinking that the cat is on the mat is not possible.

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser,


To borrow an example used by the Thomist William A. Wallace in a different context, suppose someone claimed that since the more sides you add to a polygon, the closer you approximate a circle, it follows (a) that a circle is really just a kind of polygon and (b) that anyone who denies this is just being dogmatic.

OK, but note here you are starting with a circle, not trying to interpret what you are looking at. If you are judging by the evidence, and the evidence approximates a circle to ARBITRARY precision, what determines "circle" vs. "n-gon"?


Such claims would, of course, be completely muddleheaded. But you are making exactly that sort of mistake.
Yes, but that would only be if we are agreeing, a priori that we are trying to get to a (pure) circle. That's not something we have in front of us. Based on what we do have in front of us, an n-gon of arbitrarily many sides would be indistinguishable from an circle.

If we understand from other evidence that n-gons exist, but we are not aware of any circles, then you have underdetermination on the cirlce/gazillion-gon, but by parsimony, "n-gon" would understand that phenomenon to be an instance of a known pattern, whereas the circle would be a new pattern to introduce.
That we can approximate meaning via the physical facts simply does not entail or even make probable the claim that the physical facts exhaust meaning, any more than the fact that adding sides to a polygon gives us an ever better approximation of a circle entails or even makes probable the claim that a circle is just a kind of polygon.
It does if you are judging by the evidence and you have overwhelming evidence of n-gons, and no detectable circles. There may be circles, but if you have n-gons, and ngons of all number of sides, your model is sufficient without circles. Gazillion-gons suffice without introducing new forms.

And as with the circle/polygon case, the point has absolutely nothing to do with being dogmatic or unwilling to face the empirical facts. It is a conceptual and metaphysical point, and can only be addressed at that level if it is going to be answered. To fail to do so (as you do) is itself dogmatic, or at best question-begging.

Would you agree that your point is not corrigible on the facts of observation of any brain or mind, then? That you no only do not face those facts, you can't use them, no matter what they come up as, in your framework?

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Michael Brazier

In a word, a machine which detects that I am thinking of the sounds "the cat is on the mat" is possible; a machine which detects that I am imagining the cat on the mat is possible; but a machine which detects that I am thinking that the cat is on the mat is not possible.
What would be the difference between these two, observationally, then, in your view? What is the evidential distinction that makes the difference, on your understanding, here?

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser


Note also that you're implicitly accusing Quine, Dennett, et al. of dogmatism too -- which is quite an odd charge, since as materialists they have every incentive to agree with you if they could.

Where belief is unassailable by any evidence and experience, in principle, it's just as dogmatic coming from Dennett, Quine, or anyone else, as it is from you.

But I'm confused. Did I miss Dennett's claims for an "immaterial mind", and as dogma? Or are you talking about some other assertion they (Dennett and Quine) offer dogmatically?

I'd be interested to know what claims Dennett makes that cannot be defeated by any possible world, any outcome of evidence, in his view. I'd say he'd just layout the perimeter for logical contradictions -- there is no square circle because the concept itself is incoherent/self-contradictory, etc. (LNC, LoI, LEM).

Could be the case. I just can't come up with one off the top of my head.

-TS

Anonymous said...

I have read that Frege said that the concept of "not" is a clear example of a concept whose content cannot be pictured in any physical way: the meaning "not" can't be seen, heard, touched, etc.. Therefore, its meaning cannot be reduced to a physical event. Therefore, it is an instance of an immaterial reality.

However, I'm not at all sure that this is how he expressed the point. Does anyone know where he says this or something very like it?

TheOFloinn said...

IIUC

The question is whether the thoughts just are the neural patterns or the ink marks on the page. Neural patterns and thoughts may indeed be arbitrarily close without being the same thing; just as footprints in the sand may be arbitrarily close to the footsteps that made them without being identical to the footsteps.

And just as one may track a man's journey by studying the footprints and draw reasonably reliable conclusions, one may track a man's thoughts by studying the patterns these thoughts have left in the neurological sand of the brain.

Damien S said...

Ed

Can you do a post on the philosophy of Quine, Dennett, and Davidson and explain how some of the points you make come out of their writing?

goddinpotty said...

Similarly, for the A-T philosopher, human thought in normal circumstances is a seamless unity of the material and immaterial, the physiological and the psychological.

Reading this makes me think that there is in fact no meaningful difference between A-T and the kind of materialism I am familiar with. Any AI person would agree that thought and representation unifies the material with the immaterial, the psychological with the physiological. You should read eg Hofstadter who (a) explores this issue quite explictly, including what a naturalist version of "soul" could be and (b) is more or less on the same wavelength as Dennett (eg interview here).

Re the immediate topic, I think you have things somewhat backward. You are right in this: There is nothing that mysterious about a machine being able to read out some of the contents of a brain, but we shouldn't expect it to be able to render a complete picture. But this is exactly how we are to ourselves. You are not aware of all of the contents and activity of your mind, only a tiny fraction of it that reaches consciousness, and even that is subject to all sorts of cognitive biases and illusion. We are fundamentally other to ourselves, and we understand ourselves in much the same way as we understand others. In other words, we already have brain-reading machines, they are a large chunk of the machinery of consciousness of self and others, and they are just as fraught with problems of bias and interpretive indeterminacy as one would expect.

Edward Feser said...

TS,

Two issues need to be distinguished:

1. Does the totality of the physical facts suffice to determine (metaphysically, not just epistemically) the meaning of a thought or utterance?

I say "No," and Quine, Dennett, et al. agree with that much, as I've already pointed out a couple of times now. I also never said that they accepted an immaterial mind -- indeed, I clearly said that they did not, since I have noted that they are materialists. My point was that if you are going to accuse someone of "dogmatism" for denying that the physical facts could ever even in principle suffice to determine meaning, whatever the empirical evidence turns out to be -- precisely because it is not an empirical issue in the first place, but a metaphysical and conceptual issue -- then you would have to accuse Quine, Dennett, et al. of dogmatism as well, since they say the same thing even though they do not do so for anti-materialist reasons but indeed are materialists. But of course, it would be absurd to accuse them of dogmatism on this issue, since they have every incentive to try to give a "Yes" answer to question 1 if only they could.

Now, that you say you are "confused" about what I meant vis-a-vis Quine, Dennett, et al. indicates to me that you are simply not bothering to read what I wrote very carefully, since I made it clear what I meant. Kind of makes me wonder whether it's worth responding to your remarks, you know?

Anyway, a "no" answer to question 1 leads us to another question:

2. Is there in fact a determinate meaning to at least some of our thoughts and utterances?

Here, I say "Yes," and Quine, Dennett, et al. say "No." Saying "No" to question 1 and "Yes" to question 2 entails a commitment to the immateriality of meaning, and it is this -- not our respective answers to question 1 -- that distinguishes my position from that of Quine, Dennett, et al. Indeed, their "No" answer to 2 stems precisely from their materialism together with their "No" answer to 1.

Indeed, here is the place you might want to accuse them of dogmatism, because the trouble with their "No" answer to 2 -- and among the evidences that a "Yes" answer to 2 is the correct one -- are the three difficulties for the "No" answer (including its sheer incoherence) that I summarized in the "Think McFly, think" post, citing Ross (difficulties which as far as I know you have not even tried to answer). I take the combination of a "No" answer to 1 -- which, again, is a metaphysical and conceptual point that even many materialists accept -- together with the incoherence of a "No" answer to 2 to constitute a demonstration of the falsity of materialism -- a demonstration which there are no non-dogmatic reasons to reject.

(continued)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

In any case, your latest remarks seem to me entirely to miss the point. You seem to think empirical evidence would be relevant to question 1, which simply begs the question since the claim is that 1 is a metaphysical and conceptual issue rather than an empirical issue, and (and as I keep pointing out) an issue on which even some materialists agree with me (which gives the lie to the "dogmatism" canard). To keep raising the question of what empirical evidence would get me to change my mind about my answer to 1 is like asking what empirical evidence would get me (or anyone else) to change my mind about (say) Gödel's theorems. It's just inept, and evinces a failure even to understand what the argument is about.

Asking for empirical evidence might be relevant to 2, since I would maintain that we know from knowing our own thoughts that some of them have determinate content, and this is an empirical claim in the broad sense. But even here I haven't appealed to that particular point in defense of my "Yes" answer to 2. Rather, I've appealed to the incoherence of giving a "No" answer to 2, which is different from a mere appeal to introspection.

So, the specific sort of empirical evidence you seem to want to keep asking about -- i.e. what physical facts might get us to attribute such-and-such a meaning to this or that utterance or thought -- is just not relevant to the point. And again, this is no more a matter of refusing to "face the facts" than dismissing the possibility of an empirical refutation of Gödel's theorems involves a refusal to "face the facts." If you want to refute Gödel, you'd have to show that there's an error somewhere in his reasoning for the theorems; appealing to empirical evidence just misses the point. Similarly, if you're going to show that the point that Ross and I are making is wrong, you've got to show where we've gone wrong in our reasoning -- and maybe we have somewhere (I'm not "dogmatically" insisting otherwise). The point is just that empirical evidence of the sort you seem to have in mind is not relevant.

Anonymous said...

Reading this makes me think that there is in fact no meaningful difference between A-T and the kind of materialism I am familiar with.

Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, your picture of nature is an A-T picture, and you've misunderstood Dennett, who would absolutely disagree with the picture that Ed presents?

Edward Feser said...

Hi Damien,

If you do a search here on the blog you'll find a post on Davidson which is somewhat relevant. I've talked a bit about the relevant Quine stuff in Philosophy of Mind. But my forthcoming ACPQ article "Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought," which is pretty long, gets into these issues in much greater depth than I have devoted to them anywhere else, and responds to all the objections or possible objections to the Ross-style argument that I could find or think of. But maybe I'll do a post of the sort you're suggesting at some point.

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser,

1. Does the totality of the physical facts suffice to determine (metaphysically, not just epistemically) the meaning of a thought or utterance?
Undedetermined, to begin with. Contingent on the performance of the model against the evidence. If your instrumentation can predict, with precision and in detail, what you mean to say before you say it, all on natural grounds, whence the place for any "immaterial intellect" in that regard? It's not something ruled out a priori, but liable to be rendered superfluous on the evidence. And here, I'm taking your "arbitrarily close" allowance at face value. In that case, the evidence and natural model (as embodied by these machines) would be indistinguishable from perfect in accounting for mental content.

I say "No," and Quine, Dennett, et al. agree with that much, as I've already pointed out a couple of times now. I also never said that they accepted an immaterial mind -- indeed, I clearly said that they did not, since I have noted that they are materialists. My point was that if you are going to accuse someone of "dogmatism" for denying that the physical facts could ever even in principle suffice to determine meaning, whatever the empirical evidence turns out to be -- precisely because it is not an empirical issue in the first place, but a metaphysical and conceptual issue -- then you would have to accuse Quine, Dennett, et al. of dogmatism as well, since they say the same thing even though they do not do so for anti-materialist reasons but indeed are materialists. But of course, it would be absurd to accuse them of dogmatism on this issue, since they have every incentive to try to give a "Yes" answer to question 1 if only they could.
As I asked before: is it your understanding that Dennett (to pick one) would be unpersuadable by ANY evidential scenario, as you are. Dennett dissolves determinate content (and function). They cannot be fixed in his view. But I don't think if you wrote him (this might be a good idea!) and asked if he was metaphysically resolute against the fixation of content and function, if the facts and evidences of the future indicate otherwise, accommodating natural models for determinate content, that we would respond as you have: that there are no facts which can be brought to bear on the matter. I don't know the man personally, but having read a lot of him, that strikes me as just about as "anti-Dennett" a posiition as I could ascribe to him.

There's a difference between conclusions and dogmatic positions in the pure (yours, here) sense: unassailable by any evidence or appeals to our experience.

Moreover, Dennett doesn't dismiss the adequacy of materialist models of cognition because they cannot establish determinacy which is to be located elsewhere. They are not to located *anywhere* as such, per Dennett. This is an "I can't find it, it doesn't seem to be extant in the system" conclusion. But that's rather like "I can identify no gods"; it's open to an evidential overthrow, new experiences we might come to that are evidentially problematic for that view. On this, I think you would have no trouble getting Dennett to eschew any dogmatism in light of the evidence. His conclusion is what it is, but it remains corrigible on examination of new evidence.

Now, that you say you are "confused" about what I meant vis-a-vis Quine, Dennett, et al. indicates to me that you are simply not bothering to read what I wrote very carefully, since I made it clear what I meant. Kind of makes me wonder whether it's worth responding to your remarks, you know?
My confusion was NOT about their positions, but rather the dogmatism you seem to be imputing to them. I don't recognize their positions, considered and confident as the may be, to be beyond the reach of any defeating evidence, in principle. I could be wrong, as I said. I'd be shocked to hear Dennett affirm anything like that.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser,

2. Is there in fact a determinate meaning to at least some of our thoughts and utterances?

Here, I say "Yes," and Quine, Dennett, et al. say "No." Saying "No" to question 1 and "Yes" to question 2 entails a commitment to the immateriality of meaning, and it is this -- not our respective answers to question 1 -- that distinguishes my position from that of Quine, Dennett, et al. Indeed, their "No" answer to 2 stems precisely from their materialism together with their "No" answer to 1.

Roger. I'm aware of the various positions of the parties involved. My questions above reflected a kind of mystification at what looked like such a starkly dogmatic position, eschewing any and all possible evidence on the question.

Indeed, here is the place you might want to accuse them of dogmatism, because the trouble with their "No" answer to 2 -- and among the evidences that a "Yes" answer to 2 is the correct one -- are the three difficulties for the "No" answer (including its sheer incoherence) that I summarized in the "Think McFly, think" post, citing Ross (difficulties which as far as I know you have not even tried to answer). I take the combination of a "No" answer to 1 -- which, again, is a metaphysical and conceptual point that even many materialists accept -- together with the incoherence of a "No" answer to 2 to constitute a demonstration of the falsity of materialism -- a demonstration which there are no non-dogmatic reasons to reject.
I'll have another look at the Ross paper.

On the "incoherence of a 'No' answer to 2", I don't think that needs or can use any dogma in critique. It's a pragmatic answer that obtains from the failure to actually *locate* such meaning with the tools and methods that we have (limited though we admit they may be) as the predicate for hypothesis that determinate meaning is a fiction, a false intuition we have about our own thinking, an erroneous bit of folk psychology.

That might not be the case, and it's not my interest to has that out in the space of this exchange, as it's not germane to my point: this resistance of the charge of 'incoherence', in all the various forms I'm familiar with, does not rest on dogma. In every case I can think of -- beyond Dennett and Quine -- the arguments for the fictive nature of full determinacy are evidential, not "dogma-compatible" in their substance. If you are aware of a counter example to this, I stand to be corrected. In each case, the advocate for intentional anti-realism is working from and within an experiential framework, one that is liable to overturning those conclusions based on new evidences and experiences (at least in principle).

-TS

Josh said...

And here, I'm taking your "arbitrarily close" allowance at face value. In that case, the evidence and natural model (as embodied by these machines) would be indistinguishable from perfect in accounting for mental content.

Geez, where were you when I was in high school bombing math tests? I wish "close enough" was indistinguishable from "perfect" then!

Aaron said...

Touchstone,

If you don't mind, could you provide me with your definition of the term "metaphysics," and tell me what role, if any, you think it plays in the furtherance of human knowledge?

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser

In any case, your latest remarks seem to me entirely to miss the point. You seem to think empirical evidence would be relevant to question 1, which simply begs the question since the claim is that 1 is a metaphysical and conceptual issue rather than an empirical issue, and (and as I keep pointing out) an issue on which even some materialists agree with me (which gives the lie to the "dogmatism" canard).
As above, I'm not prepared to say there are no dogmatic materialists, nor do I give that any more truck than I would from a Thomist -- arguably less, as they ostensibly should know better. In any case, it's precisely the "meta-" or "not meta-" status of the question that's under dispute. You say I'm begging the question, but I don't think that's correct. I'm fine with beginning from an agnostic or uncommitted position on the issue -- perhaps there are metaphysical barriers barring this from being a 'fact born of facts'. But I'm also open to the witness of the evidence on the matter. Which, as I understand it, you are not. As a matter of analysis, then, if I find a natural model (see my machines posited above) to be indistinguishable from perfect in its performance in predicting and accounting for all the thoughts of our subject under examimation -- any subject we might examine -- then I have both an adequate accounting for the answer in observable natural terms, which obviates the basis for any assignment of metaphysical impossibility on this question. If I can account for any and all thinking, by the testimony of the subject, by reading thoughts and discrete values passively, by predicting decisions, statements, movements some fraction of a second before the subject's body actualizes them with her body, then for all my openness to metaphysical constraints, I just have no need for them.

I don't think that's begging the question. Certain not in the sense it seems you have, here, which is a stance that gerrymanders the question into a 'metaphysical-non-empirical' kind of tautology up front, as best I can make out, here.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Dr. Feser
To keep raising the question of what empirical evidence would get me to change my mind about my answer to 1 is like asking what empirical evidence would get me (or anyone else) to change my mind about (say) Gödel's theorems. It's just inept, and evinces a failure even to understand what the argument is about.
No, that's precisely NOT the kind of basis you are operating from, here. You don't have any set theory, or "Godel numbers" to calculate as self-referential units to work back into your calculus. Your position is not based on formal systems at all. If only that were the kind of enterprise you or any Thomist would take on! Gödel's theorems are analytic productions from a formal, symbolic calculus. It's tricky to apply to real world contexts, but there's good uses for it. Gödel Incompleteness is not a propositional statement about human nature or biology. If you have such a framework, you'd a) be famous, and b) you'd still be left with an analytic framework that does not dictate to reality how it obtains, any more than Gödel's theorem does (Gödel captures insight into the nature of formal systems, formal systems being the product of human cognition, by definition (that's what the 'formal' signifies in the term)).


Asking for empirical evidence might be relevant to 2, since I would maintain that we know from knowing our own thoughts that some of them have determinate content, and this is an empirical claim in the broad sense. But even here I haven't appealed to that particular point in defense of my "Yes" answer to 2. Rather, I've appealed to the incoherence of giving a "No" answer to 2, which is different from a mere appeal to introspection.

I think that fails as a matter of "defaulting to 'Yes' on 2" based on your introspective conclusions about the determinate content you think you have in mind. In other words, your answer "Yes" on 2 is based on a finding of "incoherence" for "No" that is just a derivative of that very intuition you have as a matter of folk psychology, of introspection, isn't it?

-TS

rank sophist said...

Touchstone,

Why are you still wasting everyone's time with the computationalist representationalism that was refuted in the last two comboxes? Just give up already.

reighley said...

@Touchstone,

"In other words, your answer "Yes" on 2 is based on a finding of "incoherence" for "No" that is just a derivative of that very intuition you have as a matter of folk psychology, of introspection, isn't it?"

No, no Touchstone. It's not a matter of "incoherence", it's a matter of incoherence (without the scare quotes). Aristotelean philosophy isn't mathematics, to be sure, but they have they have the same parents. There is a lot of deduction in it.

What people have been trying to get you to acknowledge for some time now, is that the position they think you have taken seems to them to be false on the grounds of a proof by contradiction.

If you want to convince them that you are not completely bonkers (which is up to you of course, there are advantages to being thought completely bonkers) you must either demonstrate that you do not actually think what they think you think, or that their proof by contradiction is flawed.

They are certainly not going to be amused by a hypothetical experimental apparatus. References to falsifiability and the triumphs of modern science are likely to fall upon deaf ears. It's a proof by contradiction for pete's sake, you can't break it with a hammer!


Anonymous said...

@DNW

"Does anyone really profess to know what, precisely, is meant by "materialism" these days? And if some do think that they know, do they assert that there any profound agreement among materialists as to the nature of the material? "

Well most 'materialists' are people who believe that there is nothing beyond the material world that can be observed by science.

This is the main stance of the New Atheists.


Of course among atheists and agnostics there are disagreements on this issue as well, no doubt.


Also I wonder if most people really think about 'the nature of the material'. I think that most scientist take nature 'as is', not really asking questions at an ontological level.

JesseM said...

Modern scientists generally take physical reductionism as a default assumption--not "reductionism" in the sense that the only valid explanations are in terms of fundamental particles/fields and their interactions, but rather "reductionism" as the view that the behavior of all complex systems could in principle (even if it is impossible in practice) be boiled down to some complex set of interactions between fundamental particles/fields, with the interactions determined solely by some universal mathematical rules that we call the "laws of physics" (and here "determined" just means that knowing the laws of physics would give the best possible predictions about the future behavior of the fundamental entities, not that this behavior would necessarily be deterministic as opposed to having a random element). So even if the AT view suggests that the physical and the mental form a "seamless unity"--no dualistic notion of mental processes going on independently of the brain and able to exert causal influences on it--does it necessarily imply a more "vitalistic" view of matter, rejecting the type of physical reductionism described above? If so, would it constitute a falsification of the AT view if we were able to map out a human brain and simulate its parts and their interactions in great detail on a computer--whether an approximate simulation of each neuron, or an exact simulation of each and every fundamental particle--and we found that the behavior of the simulated brain, when hooked up appropriately to a real or simulated body, was indistinguishable from that of the original person? In other words, the simulation would pass a "turing test" with friends and relatives of the original biological person, so they could interact with the simulation for hours, days, years, and never have any sense that the simulation showed any difference from the original in terms of things like personality, reasoning ability, creativity, spirituality, sense of humor, etc. This hypothetical result would show pretty definitively that there was nothing in human behavior (leaving aside unknowable questions about the simulation's own consciousness or lack thereof) that was incompatible with physical reductionism, so if AT says absolutely that the behavior of people cannot even in principle be boiled down to a bunch of relatively simple parts interacting according to strict mathematical laws, then such a result could be an experimental disproof of the AT view. And transhumanists often predict that such technology, often termed "mind uploading", will be possible in the not-too-distant-future (say, within the next century or two).

Eduardo said...

Well, i think if we were able predict everything that a person's brain do, we could conclude that the brain is is predictable... But the problem is... What is brain doing? Well it is just doing what you see, since introspection is folk psycology and it is worthless, we can conclude we will never know what the brain is doing, but we might be able to predict what the system is behaving in terms of electrical impulses and heat distribution....

So, I think this problem is solved.... All talk about what the brain does is outside our know,edge, end of the story

JesseM said...

Well, I did say I wanted to avoid talking about subjective first-person experience--I'm just talking about the behavior of living organisms, including speech, which is mostly a matter of the way they move their muscles around. I think an Aristotelian might have a problem with the possibility that all muscle movements in an animal or person could be accounted for in terms of "efficient causes" like atomic interactions, look at Aristotle's comments in part 7 of "On the Motion of Animals" at http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/motion_animals.html where he seems to say that the motion of animals is fundamentally different from that of "automatic puppets", or p. 72 of the book at http://books.google.com/books?id=UIO0DjanStEC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA72#v=onepage&q&f=false which says that Aristotle "criticizes the Pre-socratics, including the Atomists, for supposing that the works of nature are caused by the material constituents of the universe and their properties — especially their motions."

So, I'm wondering whether a rejection of this sort of physical reductionism is seen as necessary by modern advocates of the Aristotelian-Thomistic view, or whether they would modify Aristotle somewhat to make the philosophy at least potentially compatible with the type of physical reductionism that implies that something like mind uploading could work. If we allow for the possibility of physical reductionism, then we can move on to the question of whether mental states "supervene" on physical states, as defined at http://philosophy.uwaterloo.ca/MindDict/supervenience.html ...I think there are good arguments to suggest that they do (or that they supervene on some more abstract functional aspect of physical states, like what "computation" a given chunk of matter is performing), see David Chalmers' argument about gradually replacing neurons in a brain with functionally-identical artificial neurons at http://consc.net/papers/qualia.html

TheOFloinn said...

the behavior of living organisms, including speech, which is mostly a matter of the way they move their muscles around. I think an Aristotelian might have a problem with the possibility that all muscle movements in an animal or person could be accounted for in terms of "efficient causes" like atomic interactions

Of course all actualization of potentials can be accounted for by efficient causes. That's what efficient causes do. But I am reminded of Lukacs' comment on Tolstoy, who said that no one would be able to understand the motion of a locomotive without understanding steam pressure, pistons, driver rods, and the like. Lukacs noted that Tolstoy seemed to have forgotten the engineer.

Eduardo said...

Well, although I am not a thomist, apparently the AT view does seem acknowledge that what we usually call matter is some how related to mind states. Apparently the question that you ask has something to do with Descartes dualism. But the AT view doesn't seem to be similas to that, the mind is not some other type of matter or substance. Perhaps Jesse your question could be answered more properly if you use the search bar... I think if you write mind you will find what you are looking for.

Eduardo said...

Jesse, there is one more thing, AT is holistic.... So the reduction is speak of is agaisnt the AT ideas but it is the idea that the parts explain the whole, that is not part of AT philosophy.

Eduardo said...

Damn you ipad.

The reduction you speak of is not against the AT philosophy.

JesseM said...

TheOFloinn wrote:
Of course all actualization of potentials can be accounted for by efficient causes. That's what efficient causes do.

Yes, but the notion of "efficient causes" is a prescientific one that doesn't distinguish between the mathematical/reductionist notions of modern physics and a more "vitalistic" notion of the motion of matter which (according to most vitalists, I think) has an element resembling free will that implies the motions of bits of matter in an organism are not wholly predictable in terms of mathematical laws, but are influenced by irreducibly holistic notions like the desires of the organism. So I'm trying to find out whether the AT philosophy, even if it does in some sense say all motions of matter can be accounted for in terms of efficient causes, would require some more vitalistic/holistic notion of efficient causes, or whether it is really compatible with the physical reductionist view that all motion of matter can in principle be predicted with ideal accuracy by a Laplacian demon who knows nothing more than the initial configuration of the most fundamental bits (particles, fields, whatever) and the most fundamental physical laws governing them (superstring theory or whatever).

The question of whether mind uploading is possible is another way of getting at this issue, since by supposition the behavior of an upload would depend on nothing but the initial states of the basic compnents (whether simulated atoms or simulated neurons) and the general rules governing their interactions with neighboring components (if the upload was connected to a robot body external influences from the senses would also be an influence, but we could always imagine an uploaded brain in a simulated body in a self-contained virtual world without external inputs). Would you in fact say an advocate of the AT philosophy should have no problem with the idea that a simulation of an organism based on reductionist principles might behave in a way that was qualitatively identical to the real thing?

JesseM said...

Eduardo wrote:
The reduction you speak of is not against the AT philosophy.

Well, what do you make of the contrast Aristotle drew between real organisms and "automatic puppets" in the writings I linked to above? Would Aristotle allow an upload to have true intentionality, to be an independent source of final causes? Also see Dr. Feser's contrast between the "intrinsic" teleology of real organisms and "as-if" teleology of man-made things in the post at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/atheistic-teleology.html which would also seem to imply that in his view a computer program like an upload could never be a source of intrinsic teleology or final causes. In that post Dr. Feser also talks about the mechanistic view of nature (basically identical to what I mean by "physical reductionism", although the mathematical laws governing fundamental entities may be so abstract and counterintuitive that the word "mechanical" is misleading), and seems to say that even if there was some external teleology to the universe as in the deistic view of a mechanistic universe created by God, this would be incompatible with Aristotle's view of teleology being intrinsic to organisms. From that post:

Hence for Descartes, Newton, and Boyle it is not that no teleology or final causes exist at all. Rather, natural teleology was reinterpreted as entirely derived rather than intrinsic. Paley’s conception of the world as a kind of machine made by a divine artificer was the logical outcome of this way of thinking. Like watches, hammocks, and other everyday artifacts, natural objects came to be seen as having essentially accidental rather than substantial forms. The Aristotelian distinction between “nature” and “art” was dissolved, and the natural world was reinterpreted as a kind of divine artifact.

One implication of this is that goodness is no longer an inherent feature of natural phenomena, any more than it is an inherent feature of hammocks, watches, and the like. Just as the goodness or badness of a hammock or watch is relative to the purposes of the makers and users of such artifacts, and has nothing to do with anything inherent to the parts of these objects themselves, so too on the view of nature associated with Descartes, Newton, Boyle and Paley, the goodness or badness of various human actions cannot intelligibly be seen to follow from anything inherent to human nature itself, but rests entirely on the purposes of the divine artificer.

TheOFloinn said...

apparently the AT view does seem acknowledge that what we usually call matter is some how related to mind states. Apparently the question that you ask has something to do with Descartes dualism. But the AT view doesn't seem to be similas to that, the mind is not some other type of matter or substance.

Mind is an example of form not matter. When you see a basketball you do not say you have seen two things: some rubber and a sphere. You see some rubber in the form of a sphere.

Every physical body is a union of matter and form. The matter is what the body is made of. (A wall is made of bricks; the bricks are made of clay; the clay is made of... etc.) The form is what makes it the kind of body that it is. Bricks might take the form of a house, the form of paving, etc.

The scholastic maxims were:
"Every thing is something." (There is no actual matter without form.)
"No 'white' without a white thing." (There is no form without matter.)
So the notion that matter is "involved" is not only not surprising, it is expects.

BeingItself said...

Could God create a material mind?

Anonymous said...

What about a subatomic particle? Would that be an example of matter without form?

rank sophist said...

Could God create a material mind?

"Material mind" is a contradiction, if "mind" is understood in the Thomistic sense. It would literally mean "material immaterial thing". So no.

TheOFloinn said...

the notion of "efficient causes" is a prescientific one that doesn't distinguish between the mathematical/reductionist notions of modern physics and a more "vitalistic" notion of the motion of matter which (according to most vitalists, I think) has an element resembling free will that implies the motions of bits of matter in an organism are not wholly predictable in terms of mathematical laws, but are influenced by irreducibly holistic notions like the desires of the organism.

The Modernist concept is of "dead matter," which compelled Newton to suppose that God must intervene periodically to keep the planets in synch; and Paley and others to suppose that intelligent design is required to keep evolution on track.

In the AT formulation, matter is self-organizing through formal causation and emergent properties. Thus, a chlorine atom and a sodium atom are composed of the same parts: protons, neutrons, electrons. But they differ in the number and arrangement of these parts; i.e., in their form. The actions and powers of a physical body depend on its form. A free electron behaves differently than a valence electron in an atom. IOW, the whole has properties that cannot be explained by the properties of its parts, what we are beginning to call "emergent properties."

Which mathematical laws describe Darwinian evolution?

the physical reductionist view that all motion of matter can in principle be predicted with ideal accuracy by a Laplacian demon who knows nothing more than the initial configuration of the most fundamental bits (particles, fields, whatever) and the most fundamental physical laws governing them

Heisenberg said this was no longer a tenable view to hold.

Would ... AT philosophy ... have no problem with the idea that a simulation of an organism based on reductionist principles might behave in a way that was qualitatively identical to the real thing?

Would the simulated person seen in a home movie behave like the person simulated? Absolutely. Would it be that person? Absolutely not.

Eduardo said...

Well.... Finally a chance to put my interpretation skills to use. Reading.... Although i am super lazy, will take some time.

Now about your question, it seems thatthe AT vision would defend that the automatic puppet is justnot like us. It must have something to do with immaterial intelect within the AT view of material of course. So yeah, i guess if Robin williams wanted to be the robot turned man in 200 years it will just not be accepted.It seems that for the AT view is not just parts, is not just the cybernatic brain, but the brain as a whole which causes things to be the way they are.

I think the answer would be.... AT would say that a robot is not human even though it can emulate how we do things....

Jesse, your question is metaphysical in nature no? Aren't we eventually going towards what really exist in reality and characteristics and stuff like that?

TheOFloinn said...

What about a subatomic particle? Would that be an example of matter without form?

No. It would have the form of a subatomic particle.

There is some reason to believe that the dark matter/quantum vacuum/aether are least actualized form of matter.
http://hylemorphist.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/zero-point-energygroundvacuum-state-vs-real-being-vs-logical-being-vs-nothing/

Touchstone said...

Geez, where were you when I was in high school bombing math tests? I wish "close enough" was indistinguishable from "perfect" then!
Heh, yeah I resemble that remark. But "arbitrarily close" is a very strong concept, yeah?

-TS

JesseM said...

In the AT formulation, matter is self-organizing through formal causation and emergent properties. Thus, a chlorine atom and a sodium atom are composed of the same parts: protons, neutrons, electrons. But they differ in the number and arrangement of these parts; i.e., in their form. The actions and powers of a physical body depend on its form. A free electron behaves differently than a valence electron in an atom. IOW, the whole has properties that cannot be explained by the properties of its parts, what we are beginning to call "emergent properties."

The word "explained" could have a few different meanings in this context, which is why I prefer to talk strictly about prediction and simulation. If you program a computer simulation with only the fundamental quantum laws governing the basic particles that make up atoms, the properties you speak of--free electrons vs. valence electrons and so forth--emerge automatically from the arrangements and interactions of the simulated particles, you don't need to specifically program in any extra chemical laws (see for example the simulation of the behavior of water which used only fundamental quantum laws at http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2007/mar/water030207.html ). This is a type of emergence, but it's an emergence that is totally bottom-up, with all emergent higher-level laws being in principle logically deducible from the bottom-level ones. A simple analogy here is to "cellular automata" programs like Conway's "Game of Life" explained here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life ..if you read the "rules" section of the article you can see that the "fundamental laws" of this universe, governing how individual cells change color from one time-increment to another (one color, usually black, for a "live" cell, and another, usually white, for a "dead" one), are exceedingly simple, but these fundamental laws give rise to a number of types of characteristic patterns of multiple cells discussed in the "Examples of patterns" section, each of which obeys its own higher-level "rules". For example, the "blinker" switches between a row of 3 cells to a column of 3 cells on each time-increment, while the "glider" moves diagonally while alternating between four configurations. It's easy to work out for oneself how the higher-level laws governing patterns like blinkers and gliders can be logically deduced from the basic rules governing individual cells, so one can see that a computer would only need to be programmed with the most basic rules and the higher-level phenomena, with their higher-level rules, would "emerge" naturally.

The physical reductionist view is that something analogous is true of all the higher-level laws of large phenomena in our universe--for example, the relation between the fundamental laws of quantum physics and the laws of chemistry is thought to be analogous to the relation between the laws governing individual cells and laws governing higher-level phenomena like gliders.

Is it true of gliders vs. the cells that make them up that "the whole has properties that cannot be explained by the properties of its parts"? In one sense no, because the properties of the gliders could be completely deduced from the laws governing cells. In another sense yes, because simply learning the laws governing cells will not make the existence of gliders or their behavior immediately apparent to the average person--they learn something new when they learn about gliders and their behavior, just as mathematicians learn something new when they deduce non-obvious conclusions from a set of basic axioms. This is the ambiguity in the word "explained" that I mentioned earlier.

Eduardo said...

So in the end Jesse, the issue here if we have either bundle theory or Holism.... Forgot to caps B there.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)

I'm still not clear whether the AT philosophy is incompatible with this notion of physical reductionism and bottom-up "emergence", but Dr. Feser's post I linked to in my last post to Eduardo makes me think that he would say they are incompatible.

Which mathematical laws describe Darwinian evolution?

There are mathematical laws of population genetics, but like other laws governing most complicated systems consisting of vast numbers of particles, such as weather patterns, they can only be seen as approximate. But if one knew the fundamental laws of physics, and had a computer big enough to simulate all the particles in an entire Earth-like planet with very simple self-replicating organisms already present in its waters, the physical reductionist view would say that the subsequent evolution of the simulation would show qualitatively similar behavior to the real Earth, including somewhat qualitative high-level "laws" like Darwinian evolution and laws governing weather systems in the atmosphere. Just as with cellular automata, these high-level behaviors would emerge naturally without the need for the computer to be programmed with any laws other than the fundamental ones governing the individual simulated particles.

the physical reductionist view that all motion of matter can in principle be predicted with ideal accuracy by a Laplacian demon who knows nothing more than the initial configuration of the most fundamental bits (particles, fields, whatever) and the most fundamental physical laws governing them

Heisenberg said this was no longer a tenable view to hold.

I used "ideal accuracy" to leave room for the fact that the predictions would not have perfect accuracy if the laws of physics contain a random element--they would simply be the best statistical predictions possible given the knowledge of the initial state, and giving the Laplacian demon additional information about the high-level patterns present in the particles--that this collection of particles is a "cat" aiming its eyes in the direction of another collection of particles which is a "bird", for example--would not help the demon to improve those predictions one iota.

In any case, Heisenberg's view is a little outdated, there are two wholly deterministic "interpretations" of quantum mechanics, Bohmian mechanics and the many-worlds interpretation, which replicate all the same physical predictions as other interpretations. Besides, regardless of whether the real world is deterministic, if we are discussing the philosophical question of whether the AT philosophy is potentially consistent with physical reductionism, we should feel free to imagine a universe that does turn out to be deterministic in its fundamental laws, as a thought-experiment. Also, a mind upload would by presumably be a deterministic computer simulation, so if a mind upload exhibited all the same behaviors we do, that would show that determinism and reductionism are perfectly compatible with such behaviors in principle, perhaps contradicting/falsifying Aristotle's view if he thought that volitional behaviors depended on irreducibly holistic properties of the organism and its "form".

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)

Would ... AT philosophy ... have no problem with the idea that a simulation of an organism based on reductionist principles might behave in a way that was qualitatively identical to the real thing?

Would the simulated person seen in a home movie behave like the person simulated? Absolutely. Would it be that person? Absolutely not.

I'm not asking questions about personal identity (whether the simulation is the "same being" as the original it was based on), but just about whether the simulation would have qualitative properties that Aristotle would normally say were unique properties of living things: intelligence, volition, creativity, etc. The home movie comparison doesn't really work, since a home movie is simply a recording of things done and said by the original, whereas the idea here is that a exposed to different sensory inputs than the original brain would behave in ways that are like what the original might have done if exposed to the same sensations, but never did in fact--for example, the simulation could have new conversations the original had, perhaps about topics that the simulation had learned about but the original never did. If such a simulation really could have the same qualitative types of behavior as a person despite being simulated according to physical reductionist assumptions, wouldn't that falsify at least some aspects of AT assumptions about the source of such behaviors? Of course this need not present a problem for a current AT advocate, since they can just confidently predict that attempts at mind uploading will never succeed in producing a simulation with such behaviors. But it would be interesting to know that some aspects of the AT belief system are potentially falsifiable in an empirical way, apart from philosophical arguments.

Eduardo said...

Jesse, I think you would be correct if forms can never be produced by other forms... Otherwise you could relate, if possible, some forms essence to other forms essence or something like that

Touchstone said...

@Aaron

If you don't mind, could you provide me with your definition of the term "metaphysics," and tell me what role, if any, you think it plays in the furtherance of human knowledge?
By "metaphysics", as I use it, I mean "categories of modes and being". That is the best short definition I can come up with off the top of my head.

My epistemology is predicated on two metaphysical axioms:

1. An extra-mental reality exists
2. Extra-mental reality is accessible via our senses such that we can render that reality intelligible to some extent.

Human knowledge of the world around is built on these two commitments; they are the necessary preconditions for knowledge concerning anything outside of the mind.

As such, those metaphysical axioms underwrite all human knowledge about the world around us.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Eduardo

Well, i think if we were able predict everything that a person's brain do, we could conclude that the brain is is predictable... But the problem is... What is brain doing? Well it is just doing what you see, since introspection is folk psycology and it is worthless, we can conclude we will never know what the brain is doing, but we might be able to predict what the system is behaving in terms of electrical impulses and heat distribution....

So, I think this problem is solved.... All talk about what the brain does is outside our know,edge, end of the story

That sounds to me like a description of bringing knowledge "inside", of developing strong performative (and as you have it, complete) models of mental activity. Rather that concluding that you will never know what the brain/mind is doing, doesn't the complete model establish a robust knowledge of what the brain is doing? Your "never know" strikes me as following on the act of knowing.

I don't suppose folk psychology or introspective consideration is worthless. Quite the opposite. I just don't think that such introspection is INVINCIBLE, or somehow supremely authoritative just as reflection, as opposed to other kinds of considerations that that same mind may take on, say regarding misconceptions about one's introspective superpowers.

-TS

Mr. Green said...

JesseM: I'm not asking questions about personal identity (whether the simulation is the "same being" as the original it was based on), but just about whether the simulation would have qualitative properties that Aristotle would normally say were unique properties of living things: intelligence, volition, creativity, etc.

It comes down to the same thing, though: the same behaviour doesn't make the same identity, nor the same kind of thing. A substantial form is what makes something a living organism rather than a machine, just as it makes something the same thing (identity, personal or not). The movie recording is just a very simple simulation; a fancier, adaptive simulation is still only behaving the same way. It might or might not be the same kind of substance "under the covers". (I can imitate your behaviour, and so can an advanced robot: one of us is human being like you are, the other only a machine.)

If such a simulation really could have the same qualitative types of behavior as a person despite being simulated according to physical reductionist assumptions, wouldn't that falsify at least some aspects of AT assumptions about the source of such behaviours?

We have to make a distinction here: it's not that everything that behaves a certain way has to be an organism (or have an intellect, etc.). It's that some things are paradigm examples given the way the world actually happens to be. That is, it's theoretically possible to have a machine that looks and acts just like an animal or a person, even though it wouldn't have consciousness, intellect, etc.. Such things are not logically contradictory on A-T. But when we're not considering contrived philosophical examples to make a point about purely hypothetical possibilities, we take continuity to indicate personal identity, and growth, etc. to indicate life, and so on.


But it would be interesting to know that some aspects of the AT belief system are potentially falsifiable in an empirical way, apart from philosophical arguments.

The empirical aspects are… and the non-empirical ones naturally are not!

Eduardo said...

If people don't tell you what they are thinking.... There is nothing in the brain that initially tells you so. Unless let's say you crack a code some sort in the brain using instructions..... Nah forget it, there is no way, unless the person actually tells you what the person is thinking or see what the body is doing.

JesseM said...

We have to make a distinction here: it's not that everything that behaves a certain way has to be an organism (or have an intellect, etc.).

I don't know if Aristotle would agree, see the quotes I linked to in my response to Eduardo in my second comment in this thread. Would he have accepted even the possibility that a "mechanical puppet" might behave in a manner indistinguishable from living organisms, for example?

It's that some things are paradigm examples given the way the world actually happens to be. That is, it's theoretically possible to have a machine that looks and acts just like an animal or a person, even though it wouldn't have consciousness, intellect, etc.. Such things are not logically contradictory on A-T.

How could you know it "wouldn't have consciousness"? What philosophical argument purports to demonstrate this beyond a shadow of a doubt? Are you so confident in the conclusion that you would have no problem enslaving or torturing mind uploads that behaved in a completely human way?

If mind uploads were possible, that wouldn't just be an isolated curiosity, it would affect most people's judgments of what is likely to be true about how our behavior originates. Mind uploads would demonstrate that completely humanlike behavior can be generated by a system that we know can be accounted for in a physical reductionist sense--and in this case, surely it would be pretty hard to claim with any confidence that the average scientist is wrong to think that physical reductionism is valid for all physical systems including ourselves, or that the purposeful behavior or ordinary biological organisms is anything other than an emergent result of the interactions of all the basic particles that make them up. So if AT makes the definite claim that physical reductionism is not valid in our own case, the existence of mind uploads would be a pretty strong reason to discount AT's claims on this matter, or at least rate them as far less likely than one rated them before mind uploading was demonstrated to produce behaviorally indistinguishable beings.

Incidentally, note that accepting the "physical reductionist" view as I am defining it does not require one to be an eliminative materialist with regard to consciousness--David Chalmers is a well-known example of a philosopher-of-mind who would accept the physical reductionist picture in terms of the motions of human muscles and firing of nerve cells, but thinks that subjective qualia are ontologically distinct from physical brain states, and that there are "psychophysical laws" determining which physical brain states give rise to which conscious experiences.

Eduardo said...

Imagine we torturing a mind upload!!!!

I wonder how would it be. You know, I think it doesn't matter if we torture it. You just torture my eSelf, burn me, shoot me, cut my throat ... And then restart the system! I won't remember a thing... Have I really experienced any of that?

I dont think that our eSelfs would care, unless the computer control unit allow it or the person controlling them wanted. Outside of that it wouldn't be important or necessary to treat them nice. They wont be different from a video game character, just more complex in terms of programming and hardware.

JesseM said...

Eduardo, by assumption an upload would behave just like you would in the same situation. Imagine an evil genius knocked you out, then hooked up your sensory nerves to a system that would feed them realistic signals from a virtual world and virtual body like in the movie "The Matrix". Then imagine that after waking up in the virtual environment, taking in sensations (including pain) from a virtual body, you were then told by the evil genius that you were an upload and therefore were now a purely simulated being. How would you react? Well, if the upload is behaviorally indistinguishable, it should react in just the same way that you would. If you would react in disbelief and be sure that you weren't really an upload, the upload would react the same way. If you could be convinced, then so would the upload. Would you object to being tortured, believing that at the end you would be deleted and a new upload-program would be created in your place, starting from the same initial state you were in when you first came to in the simulated world, without all your subsequent memories like the torture? If you would still object to being tortured in this case, then so would the upload. The only way to gauge what an upload's reactions would be, in the context of this thought-experiment which takes as a premise that the upload is behaviorally indistinguishable, is to put yourself in its shoes and imagine what you would do if you were experiencing exactly the same things. It's not a simplified cartoon version of a person like a character in a video game--there can be nothing at all in its behavior that suggests it isn't "real". It can have thoughtful conversations, ongoing close relationships with others lasting many years, express yearnings and anguish in just the way a person would, etc. In this situation, I think it would take an awful lot of confidence in one in one's abstract philosophical beliefs--a scary, psychopathic level of confidence--to conclude that it's OK to torture it because one just "knows" it isn't conscious and doesn't have any real feelings, all appearances to the contrary.

Eduardo said...

What if the evil genius were to control you, or make things pop in front you. He gives evidence that you are in a simulation. Would you be convinced, I think I would... I am psicotic too! That gives me advantage.


Let's say I am the evil genius just playing with you and told you all about the simulation. I know you would try, just like your counter part to "survive" , but would I, the evil genius, drop my joystick just because some very realistic simulation, oh please no... I programmed it that way, and even better, I am evil, why should I care. After I press New Game, you won't either.

But anyways, I think that maybe if our eMinds were located in a architeture that imitated the brain at some level, i guess it might .... Become like you or me.





JesseM said...

Sure, if you were the evil genius you wouldn't care about the upload's suffering...you'd be evil! But the normal non-evil (hopefully!) you probably couldn't go through with torturing an upload even if you had some doubt that it was really conscious. And like I said to Mr. Green, I think most people, faced with uploads running on simulations based on reductionist assumptions (with the only "rules" of the simulation being the ones governing the most basic parts and their interactions), and seeing that the uploads behaved just like normal biological people, would take this as pretty strong evidence that physical reductionism is true in the case of biological people too, just as most scientists have long assumed. Whether that possibility (about normal biological people, not just uploads) is compatible with the AT philosophy, I'm still not sure.

Eduardo said...

So, how would you upload the mind? If the mind is just some code inside a hardware, you can't upload it at all. You can just copy it so if ... Let's say richard carrier wants to upload his mind to a computer, a idea that he actually defend in a book, so I will use him as my guinea pig, Richard decides to upload, so we scan his brain and copy to the computer... And that is it. Carrier will die without ever have experienced The Matrix. Actually the same thing will true if the mind can nit be rellocated to a new place. Themind to be uploaded would be like .. Errrr a soul of some sort or spirit in order for that to work, but in the Descartes sense, you know, something like a different type of matter. Or instead of matter Something like a water, air, solids. So we can remove the mind from recipient to the next got it?



Eduardo said...

Well Jesse, I sincerely would not even kill a fetus, even though it is not considered to be conscious. I would treat even a machine as if it was a living creature, if it is like the I, Robot bot, then I think I wouldn't torture it. But tell, what if that program you erased these days was conscious? Imagine that shit man hhahaha

And I will tell you again, the talk seems to be about Holism and some type of Bundle Theory. AT is holistic.

But let me try something, are you the sum of your parts, or your parts are simply a part of the whole that you are?

The is the real deal for you man. And both choices can survive the evidence, unless you do some false dichotomy like, either the parts explain the whole or the whole has to be completely unrelated to the parts.

Which is what we usually do... Or at least people with heavy materialistic/naturalistic mentality....... I happen to do that too. I think I am the same thing as atheists who have Paley's teloelogical thoughts but deny them constantly, but my case is towards naturlism and materialism. That seriously makes you go nutz... No wonder the web atheists are awkward. Well not all of them, but look at dickydawkins.net

TheOFloinn said...

I sincerely would not even kill a fetus, even though it is not considered to be conscious.

Good to hear; esp. since a sleeping person or one who has gotten a conk on the head is not "conscious," either.

Although what "conscious" has to do with things I don't know.

Curiously, I have just read an SF novel -- FIREBIRD by Jack McDevitt -- which deals in part with whether computer simulations are persons. And a novella of mine -- "Places Where the Roads Don't Go" (in CAPTIVE DREAMS) -- that deals with the theme of uploading minds has recently been published.

Eduardo said...

Well you know, causing the brain to fire in some natural ways, like when some cut my limbs and my brain feels pain is just wrong.... At least that is what my leftist education told me! The psyco in me, says is okay! That is why I need those damn pills, keep my Mr Hyde inside!

* well is not really like that but i can't help joking about my personal insanity *

And as you can see.... I am truly still a leftist; sort of. Guess that conservative was right. I am just too damn stupid to not be a leftist, now that is a laugh huh? Those words weren't for me though, but every day I kind of feel that he is right.

Eduardo said...

You a writer Floinn?

JesseM said...

And I will tell you again, the talk seems to be about Holism and some type of Bundle Theory. AT is holistic.

But let me try something, are you the sum of your parts, or your parts are simply a part of the whole that you are?


Well, the problem with questions like these is that they start to get into questions of whether the parts are the only thing "real" or "important", and I do think that wholes matter and need to be understood on their own terms, even though I also believe the behaviors of wholes emerges in a bottom-up way from the behavior of the smaller parts. Again I would go back to the analogy I used earlier of the "game of life", where the behavior of larger wholes like "gliders" is always possible to deduce logically from the fundamental rules governing individual cells, yet I would say that the larger emergent wholes are real "things" in this world, and that a hypothetical scientist living in this simulated universe (composed of vast arrays of gliders and other patterns, perhaps) wouldn't really understand his universe very well if he only knew the fundamental rules governing cells and didn't know about the behavior of larger patterns.

But yeah, I lean pretty strongly in the naturalist direction myself, I'm pretty confident the "physical reductionist" view I described is correct, and I think that if our technological civilization survives and continues to advance for another few centuries, there's a good chance mind uploading will actually be possible one day. But I also lean towards David Chalmers' view that the subjective experience of consciousness can't be entirely reduced to facts about the physical world, and that some kind of "laws of consciousness" (perhaps unknowable for us) might determine which physical patterns give rise to which subjective experiences.

Let's say richard carrier wants to upload his mind to a computer, a idea that he actually defend in a book, so I will use him as my guinea pig, Richard decides to upload, so we scan his brain and copy to the computer... And that is it. Carrier will die without ever have experienced The Matrix.

Maybe, but it would really depend on what those "laws of consciousness" were, and what they said about continuity of consciousness. Maybe all that's needed for continuity of consciousness is continuity of pattern or structure, not actual physical matter...after all even for us non-uploads, the atoms in the cells in our brain are being constantly replaced (I read that our brains are made out of an almost completely different set of atoms each month), I'd like to think there is some continuity between me today and me a year ago! Or maybe the eliminative materialists are right and consciousness has no independent reality at all, so whether a brain at a given time is the "same mind" as a brain (or computer program) at a different time is purely a matter of how we choose to define "same mind"...I can never quite bring myself to believe this sort of eliminative materialism though.

TheOFloinn said...

Eduardo said... You a writer Floinn?

A consultant in statistical methods, recently semi-retired; but a writer also of science fiction with eleven novels and 70 or 80 stories to my credit. The novella I mentioned (in which Dr. Feser gets a mention) is in this collection:

http://www.amazon.com/Captive-Dreams-Michael-Flynn/dp/1612420591

but you can search and find the other books. Ignore all non-fiction books except FUSION MANAGEMENT on which I assisted my then-boss.

JesseM said...

Just ordered a copy of your collection Mr. Flynn, look forward to reading it!

Eduardo said...

Don't worry, this thing about importance is not my style of thinking.

I think then the dispute would be, are there fundamental principles that create all phenomena or new phenomena rise as we look at stuff in different angle and and scales.

However Jesse, I really think that the talk can be directed towards a certain question. If you correlate A to B, which phenomena is more fundamental? You see in the end, what we are talking is, the laws I discover to small bits when operated upon become the laws of big bits. But is that the only to think this? Or is there any reason to think that in the experiments we see, or is this metaphysical interpretation?

That is really what you mean no?

Well, if our self is related to a certain type of architecture, then maybe we could really upload our brains into that thing, I think

Well the reductionist view that you speak about... i think it a rather simplistic view, or maybe it is a simplifying view of things. You know, this might be totally off topic, but for instance when we talk about something, we could say that an object of study has 50 dimensions, 50 things that define it's state. Now the reductionist view usually goes on to show correlations between things and conclude that the simpler one explain the more complex one. Typical scientific approach I would say.... Or typical natural science approach maybe, and we go on to reduce 45 dimensions to the other five, of course this is a metaphysical thing, but is up for grabs.

So I wondered why we take that approach and not some other. To be quite sincere, I think the main reason is because very simple ideas are hard to object to, because if the idea is simple enough and abstract enough, we have no way to say NO to that.

Simple example, we talk forces... But what is a force? A particle, a spirit, energy, a one dimension arrow the pushes stuff... Invent more yourself. Now the more simple and abstract the idea is, harder it is to say no. Is easy to say no to a spirit because spirits have a serious characteristics that we don't while a force is being applied, the arrow isn't really that good becuase it raises all sorts of questions because of its size, and the head of the arrow, energy seems to add something to matter, and the overall idea of energy is usually related to ideas of emanating nature. But particle.... Specially dimensionless ones... That shit is so abstract, we have no "natural" expectancy about it... Particle is a small part of something; yeah that seems believable, because there is no expectancy that contradicts experience.

Actually the most harcore one is FIELDS, now that shit is awesome, you dont even need stuff. But see I think it is easier to work with extremely abstract ideas, and the best part. You got no expectancy about it, you can blame it for everything and anything, no limits for the powers of our abstract model... So that is why I think that reductionist views are so easy to swallow.

This was some awkward talk, even I know that.

Glenn said...

I have never been to visit in the gardens of my youth... Grown-ups were very tall and mysterious. Sometimes, if you were good, they gave you a nickel, which you could rush to the corner store and buy red dollars and jawbreakers and licorice whips... I don't go back; I have never gone back. The town would all be all different--grimier, dirtier, and twenty years more run down... The corner groceries are gone, and a nickel won't buy you squat. Grown-ups are not so tall. They are still a mystery, though. Some things never change. -- Melodies of the Heart, a short story in Captive Dreams, by Michael Flynn

More scary than the bogey-man our older brother constantly reminded us was lurking beneath our beds at night, was the notion that one day we too would be grown-ups. They told us that God loved us, yet we were to be punished for being children by being turned into grown-ups. It made no sense.

When in later years a spring was sprung, I decided being slinky might be fun. Flip-flop, flip-flop; flip-flop, flip-flop. It was a long way down. And when I got there, there was nothing to see, and nowhere to look but up. "Oh no, what have I done?"

But then was then, and this is now; and a lot has happened in-between.

It began, perhaps, with St. Augustine. An attractive looking book, with a title which simple read, Confessions. And on the back a statement to the effect of, "This is the autobiography of a great sinner who later became a great saint." There arose in my mind a stilling thought, "Maybe there's hope for me yet." Following close behind was the rumination, "I've no desire to be a saint, let alone a great saint. But to have a chance to become a decent, normal human being... this would be gratifying... if only it were possible." Onlookers peering in would see nothing which might have inspired this reflection. "Is he mad? Why should he desire to become what he already is?"...

- - - - -

Have fun uploading that. A great deal of stifling and suffocation would first have to occur ere there might be the possibility of a 'genuine' upload. This is not a philosophical argument. Oh well.

Eduardo said...

Well ... Where is Rank when I need him hahahahaha.

You know, someone to give a nice argument about AT point of view. Although he is not AT.

Well I think the talk has stalled for now... Not counting my sort off topic talk. Let's hope we have another chance to talk reductionism/emergency/holism in the future, it will be fun

This is where you show up Rank!

Student said...

I'm already lost.

What is a "token"???

Thanks!!!

James said...

“but you can search and find the other books. Ignore all non-fiction books except FUSION MANAGEMENT on which I assisted my then-boss.”

Oh, thank God; I’ve been looking for good rousing work teaching me to harness the power of Six Sigma.

Mr. Green said...

JesseM: Yes, but the notion of "efficient causes" is a prescientific one that doesn't distinguish between the mathematical/reductionist notions of modern physics and a more "vitalistic" notion of the motion of matter which (according to most vitalists, I think) has an element resembling free will that implies the motions of bits of matter in an organism are not wholly predictable in terms of mathematical laws, but are influenced by irreducibly holistic notions like the desires of the organism.

Efficient causes aren't "vitalistic". The concept is broad enough that efficient causality doesn't have to follow a mathematical model, but causes that do are not a different kind of thing. There's nothing special about the (efficient) causality of an electron on an A-T view. What's different for Aristotelian positions is that things don't have to be made up out of parts. If things do have parts — as it turns out things in the actual world do — then in some way you can "add up" those parts to get an understanding of the whole (or else they wouldn't be its "parts"!).

How the "adding up" works depends on what the laws of physics happen to be in the actual world (there are other sets of laws that are logically possible, of course). And this is glossing over lots of details (Thomists would say the parts of a substance are virtual, while Scotists have a somewhat different view, etc.) But the main point is that you can have particles without reductionism, i.e. even if everything can be scientifically analysed in terms of the properties of parts, that doesn't mean that the parts and only the parts are real.

Mr. Green said...

JesseM: Would he have accepted even the possibility that a "mechanical puppet" might behave in a manner indistinguishable from living organisms, for example?

I don't know what Aristotle himself would have said, but I think it is metaphysically possible according to Aristotelian principles.

How could you know it "wouldn't have consciousness"? What philosophical argument purports to demonstrate this beyond a shadow of a doubt?

Oh, I don't know it definitely wouldn't. It's possible; it is also possible that if we managed to build such a machine it would always result in a being that had consciousness. (Just as any time an animal produces offspring, a physical manipulation of matter results in a living being, and not just a pile of molecules.) That's the flip side of not being able to tell everything about a substance from its behaviour. So even if people did think that seemingly-intelligent machines were just like us, it wouldn't follow that we are therefore just machines; it's also possible that if something has the right kind of "brain", then it gets a soul too.

So if AT makes the definite claim that physical reductionism is not valid in our own case, the existence of mind uploads would be a pretty strong reason to discount AT's claims on this matter,

But that conclusion isn't drawn from behaviour (alone). I know by direct experience that I have conscious awareness and intellect, and since those things are not reducible to particles, I know that I am not merely a machine. I don't know that about you, though, since all I can observe about you is outside behaviour. Maybe you don't actually have a mind; maybe you don't even exist at all! I cannot prove otherwise beyond "a shadow of a doubt". But if I went around claiming that (outside of philosophical debates), you would consider me crazy, and rightly so. So I conclude that all the people around me are not mere machines (even though hypothetically, they "could" be), that animals aren't machines, and so on. The strongest thing we could conclude from "mind uploads", should such a thing ever turn out to be possible, is that either the soul goes with the upload or it doesn't… in other words, it doesn't get us any further than the example of "uploading" your likeness into a movie.

Incidentally, note that accepting the "physical reductionist" view as I am defining it does not require one to be an eliminative materialist with regard to consciousness--David Chalmers […] thinks that subjective qualia are ontologically distinct from physical brain states,

Of course, if there is anything beyond observable physical behaviour, then that's a closer view to A-T then flat materialism.

JesseM said...

So even if people did think that seemingly-intelligent machines were just like us, it wouldn't follow that we are therefore just machines; it's also possible that if something has the right kind of "brain", then it gets a soul too.

Well, I never said that behaviorally indistinguishable uploads would show "we are therefore just machines", my point was that they would make a strong case that all our behaviors are generated in a physical reductionist way, which some might say is "machine-like" (though I think this is stretching the machine metaphor too far--there is nothing very "machine-like" about a weather system, for example, even if we agree that its behavior is likely to be generated in a physical reductionist way by the interactions of all the particles making up the atmosphere). Even if one agrees with this, one is still free to adopt a Chalmers-like view where all motions of particles in the physical world are determined in the reductionist way by the configurations of particles and the fundamental laws of physics, but that there are additional truths about subjective consciousness that go beyond physical truths.

But that conclusion isn't drawn from behaviour (alone). I know by direct experience that I have conscious awareness and intellect, and since those things are not reducible to particles, I know that I am not merely a machine. I don't know that about you, though, since all I can observe about you is outside behaviour. Maybe you don't actually have a mind; maybe you don't even exist at all! I cannot prove otherwise beyond "a shadow of a doubt". But if I went around claiming that (outside of philosophical debates), you would consider me crazy, and rightly so. So I conclude that all the people around me are not mere machines (even though hypothetically, they "could" be), that animals aren't machines, and so on. The strongest thing we could conclude from "mind uploads", should such a thing ever turn out to be possible, is that either the soul goes with the upload or it doesn't… in other words, it doesn't get us any further than the example of "uploading" your likeness into a movie.

It's not obvious that the case for believing mind uploads are conscious would be any weaker than that of animals--perhaps animals are physically more similar to us, but they'd be behaviorally less similar (and what of hypothetical alien life, which might be physically much more different from us that Earthly animals?) Beyond that, I think Chalmers makes a strong argument for the laws of consciousness being "functionally invariant" (meaning that an artificial system which was behaviorally identical to me would have the same subjective experiences) in his paper "Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia" at http://consc.net/papers/qualia.html , which starts with the thought-experiment of gradually replacing a person's neurons with functionally identical substitutes gradually rather than "uploading" them all at once. Under the assumption this would produce no change in their external behavior, they would report that their subjective experiences were exactly the same, so any notion that their qualia were "fading" would imply an implausibly radical separation between subjective experiences and speech and behavior. Meanwhile the notion that they would suddenly switch from conscious to unconscious at some point would imply a radical discontinuity in the "laws" governing the relation between physical systems and conscious experience (replacing 30,000,000,000 neurons with artificial substitutes would produce no change in consciousness whatsoever, but then replacing a single additional neuron would result in a complete absence of consciousness, say).

JesseM said...

(continued from last comment)
Also, on the comment that doubting the consciousness of other people or animals would have the result that "you would consider me crazy, and rightly so", don't you think that if mind uploading were actually possible and uploads were integrated into society, the idea that they weren't conscious would seem just as crazy? If large swathes of the population had close relationships with uploads and even more interacted with them casually on a regular basis, I think it would come to seem intuitively unbelievable that they were just unconscious "things", even if people could consider it as a thought-experiment the same way we might consider the thought-experiment that certain groups of people (other races or the opposite gender, say) might be wholly unconscious because they lacked some mysterious property that the rest of us have.

Of course, if there is anything beyond observable physical behaviour, then that's a closer view to A-T then flat materialism.

"Materialism" is tricky to define because modern physics doesn't tell us anything about what it is that our equations are actually describing beyond the mathematical properties appearing in the equations (and thanks to the Pauli exclusion principle in quantum mechanics, it seems likely particles like electrons don't have any distinguishing characteristics beyond the ones that appear in the equations, unless they have additional characteristics which violate the laws of quantum mechaincs). What if one suggests that the universe is made out of pure Platonic mathematical forms, as physicist Max Tegmark imagines in his "type IV multiverse" at http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/crazy.html ? Is he a "materialist"? Or what if one is a "naturalistic panpsychist" like the author of http://www.hedweb.com/lockwood.htm#naturalisticwho suggests that qualia and "what-it's-likeness is "itself the noumenal stuff of the world which the field-theoretic [etc] equations describe. Mathematical physics is really about patterns of consciousness"? Chalmers, too, finds some sort of naturalistic panpsychism plausible, though he still argues this doesn't lead to true monism since there is a conceptual difference between mathematical descriptions of patterns of information in nature and the subjective qualia that these patterns would be associated with. But he also sometimes calls this a "dual-aspect theory", where in some sense qualia are all that exists but there is some sort of metaphysical law that says all qualia have an objective information-theoretic "aspect". It would be a stretch to call a view like this "materialistic", but it's also not clear that it's dualistic in the sense of saying there's the material world but also "something more" separate from it.

And regardless of whether the hypothetical psychophysical laws say that all physical patterns have a subjective side or only some do, I still wonder if all advocates of the AT philosophy would agree that a physical reductionist account of all motions of matter can become compatible with the AT philosophy just by adding subjective consciousness. Dr. Feder seemed to say in his post at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/atheistic-teleology.html that a purely "mechanistic" account of the behavior of organic beings would go against the AT philosophy since it would rob them of intrinsic teleology, he didn't mention any loophole along the lines of "but if you grant that a being whose behavior is generated in a purely mechanistic way might also have subjective consciousness, then its actions could be seen as truly teleological and the being could be a source of final causes".

JesseM said...

Oh, and I missed your earlier comment:

Efficient causes aren't "vitalistic".

I wasn't saying they were. Rather, I was saying the notion of efficient causes didn't distinguish between causation that follows mathematical rules and more "vitalistic" causation that doesn't, so merely agreeing that all physical events have physical efficient causes (as you did in the comment I was responding to) doesn't mean you are agreeing with the physical reductionist account of the behavior of living organisms. My point was that other aspects of the AT philosophy, like the idea that organisms are genuine sources of final causes, might imply that even though you are correct to say that all the physical movements of an organism would have efficient causes in terms of other physical movements, AT might require that some of these movements cannot be determined in a purely "mechanistic" (mathematical) way, but are instead more "vitalistic". Again, that's what Dr. Feser seems to be arguing in his earlier post at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/atheistic-teleology.html

Mr. Green said...

JesseM: I do think that wholes matter and need to be understood on their own terms, even though I also believe the behaviors of wholes emerges in a bottom-up way from the behavior of the smaller parts.

But why would you think that? From observing behaviour, there is no way to tell whether the parts are the real substances and the wholes are just piles of parts (reductionism) — or whether the wholes are the substances and the parts just virtual (Thomism) — or whether both parts and wholes are real substances (Scotism). Science works exactly the same on all three views, so to choose one above the others is already to go beyond the physical.

Again I would go back to the analogy I used earlier of the "game of life", where the behavior of larger wholes like "gliders" is always possible to deduce logically from the fundamental rules governing individual cells,

…or the behaviour of the cells in a glider can be deduced from the behaviour of the glider. It's easier for us to start small and build up, but of course that tells us nothing about which way reality actually works. But the issue of our understanding is a different one, so let's put that aside. It still isn't quite true to say that the behaviour of gliders can be explained by the behaviours of their parts. For that to be strictly true, the rules for parts would have to make no reference to their neighbours: e.g. a cell is on for a certain number of turns, then off, etc. As soon as you refer to other cells, we have external forms — the structure and arrangement of parts. So even a reductionistic system like Conway's game makes sense only if it's an Aristotelian sort of reductionism.

And there's no reason why the rules have to be defined from the bottom up: you could make a different game where whenever certain cells get turned on in the right configuration, then that makes a glider, and then new rules for gilders come into play that take precedence over the rules for individual cells. For example, in your game, the rule for gliders might be that they move horizontally, even though the rules for cells would have them move diagonally. Or you might make your glider-rule move the gliders diagonally, so it agrees with the rules for the parts — even though it is a different, independent rule. You simply cannot tell by watching the screen whether the software is using a separate-but-compatible rule for gliders, or whether it's using only the rules for the individual cells.

Maybe, but it would really depend on what those "laws of consciousness" were, and what they said about continuity of consciousness.

If there are "laws of consciousness", then again we have something beyond the mere (physically observable) parts, so I don't think such a view would correctly be called physical reductionism.

so whether a brain at a given time is the "same mind" as a brain (or computer program) at a different time is purely a matter of how we choose to define "same mind"...I can never quite bring myself to believe this sort of eliminative materialism though.

Probably because of its fatal flaw: if "minds" were truly arbitrary, if they were not actual things but merely "beings of reason", then we could define "my" mind to be what's going on in your brain… but I'm still not going to have your experiences. There is an obvious fact of the matter that is not explicable in terms of physical reduction to the parts.

Mr. Green said...

By the way, regarding Chalmers' paper on qualia that Jesse linked to, he makes what seems to me to be a relatively straightforward blunder. He's explicitly considering the matter from a physical point of view, so the obvious Thomistic (or even Cartesian) responses are being set aside for the sake of argument. One problem I had is that he seems to treat "no experience" to be the same as "experiencing nothing" (e.g. having no visual sense seems to be equated with the experience of seeing total blackness), which I think is a problem for his arguments about "partial consciousness" ("dim" perceptions) — such experiences are either on or off, either you have them or you don't. But there is another simpler problem, in his "inverted qualia" example of Bill.

The basic idea is the hypothesis that something that is functionally equivalent to a specific brain could have different qualitative experiences. So if for example, my brain were replaced with a computer that functioned exactly the same way (my outside behaviour would be indistinguishable), I might get blue-experiences from looking at a fire engine where with my original brain I suffered red-experiences. Chalmers argues that this doesn't make sense (and thus that functionally equivalent "brains" must produce the same qualitative experiences). After all, what if there was a switch that could swap between using my original brain and the equivalent computer? I could switch back and forth and see red things turning blue, etc.

The problem is that this surely could never happen. That is, if the computer-brain did work equivalently, and if it somehow it did produce "inverted" or "shifted" qualia, I could never tell the difference! How could I? To know that previously I had a red-experience and now I was having a blue-experience, I would have to be able to compare the two, to hold them up side-by-side in my mind's eye. But I'm not having the red-experience now. I would have to remember it. Now, if I look at a photograph of a fire engine while switched to the "blue" state, the photo would give me a blue-experience. But it makes no difference whether I'm looking at a photo or recalling a memory. If the memory is stored in my brain, there are no "red neurons" or "blue neurons". The qualia I experience from the memory are being generated now, at the time I re-experience the memory, bring it to mind. So if I called to mind a memory of a fire engine while in the blue state, I would experience that memory as blue — how I experienced it originally doesn't come into it. Thus if I tried to compare my experiences from my old brain with the new one, I would (re)experience everything the same way and be unable to know there was any difference. Qualia shifts would by definition be impossible to perceive, and thus such hypothetical experiments are pointless.

JesseM said...

From observing behaviour, there is no way to tell whether the parts are the real substances and the wholes are just piles of parts (reductionism)

I think I made clear that this is not how I was using the term "physical reductionism"--I was making no ontological claims about what levels of description are "real substances", just saying that the behavior of complex systems could in principle be predicted with maximum possible accuracy by knowing the initial configuration of the basic parts making them up, along with some fundamental laws governing the interactions with the parts (I suppose I should also allow for fundamental laws which allow parts to change for reasons other than interactions, like, like inertial motion or spontaneous decay).

Since I don't really accept the AT philosophy, I don't even think questions like "what are the real substances" have meaningful answers, since I don't necessarily think the ontological categories presupposed by such questions ("substances" in this case) carve reality at the joints, as opposed to merely being a matter of human linguistic conventions. I tend to think the objective physical world is entirely mathematical, so any mathematically well-defined way of slicing the world up (like gliders vs. individual cells in the game of life) is equally valid ontologically. I assume most mathematical platonists would say an arbitrary set of integers is just as much of a "real" mathematical entity as an individual integer, for example.

I'm about to head out for the weekend so I'll leave off there for now, but I'll respond to the rest of your comments early next week.

Eduardo said...

I am pretty certain that Jesse is trying to discuss something like the following.

Can mind states be predicted or deduced from principles related to matter, in this case your brain? If the answer is yes, is that compatible with AT philosophy?

Touchstone said...

Mr. Green,

The basic idea is the hypothesis that something that is functionally equivalent to a specific brain could have different qualitative experiences. So if for example, my brain were replaced with a computer that functioned exactly the same way (my outside behaviour would be indistinguishable), I might get blue-experiences from looking at a fire engine where with my original brain I suffered red-experiences. Chalmers argues that this doesn't make sense (and thus that functionally equivalent "brains" must produce the same qualitative experiences). After all, what if there was a switch that could swap between using my original brain and the equivalent computer? I could switch back and forth and see red things turning blue, etc.


You've "homunculized", here. Switching between the "human brain" and the "computer brain" would not admit of any comparisons, which is part of what I think Chalmers is getting at, because in that case, there is no "little man" who is removed from both the "human brain" and the "computer brain". One would have to posit a homunculus as the "meta-brain" that switches between "human brain" and "computer brain" and uses the context of the homunculus' cognition to compare and contrast the "red-red" of the "human brain" and the "blue-red" of the "computer brain".

An easy to see the error on this is just to think in terms of memory. If you had a switch you could flip between poles labeled "human brain" and "computer brain", setting aside the complications of telling which "you" are at any given point of consideration, as soon as you flipped the switch, you will have switched brains, and thus, the only memory of "red" is the organic qualia for that particular brain. If the switch puts you in "computer brain mode", then you will ONLY know "computer-brain-red", and have perfectly no recollection or concept of "human-brain-red", because that experience is totally alien and unknown to the brain you "are" at that point.

You would have absolutely nothing to suggest a "switch" from one sense to another, because you are going from one cognitive universe to another cognitive universe, two contexts that do not share the same memories, neural associations, etc.

It's interesting that this mistake comes up this way, because this is an organic problem, I think, with the dualist concept of mind; it's "homunculish" in the sense that it poses a "meta-mind" that could compare and contrast "sub-minds", like sets of "mind goggles" that would occur to the "meta-mind" as the experience of switching from "red" to "blue". It's an artifact of dualistic thinking about mind, I suppose.

-TS

PatrickH said...

You need to read Mr.Green's entire comment. He makes your point himself.

Touchstone said...

@PatrickH,

Thanks, you may be right. I read Mr. Green's "surely this could never happen" as being referring to Chalmers' claims:

After all, what if there was a switch that could swap between using my original brain and the equivalent computer? I could switch back and forth and see red things turning blue, etc.

That is not the Chalmers I've read, but this clearly is:

I might get blue-experiences from looking at a fire engine where with my original brain I suffered red-experiences. Chalmers argues that this doesn't make sense (and thus that functionally equivalent "brains" must produce the same qualitative experiences).

So the first quote there is "correcting Chalmers" not, recapitulating Chalmers, no? Mr. Green's isolation principle to be why Chalmers was wrong, because it was monist in its presuppositions, and thus "forced" isolation between minds. On an A-T theory you have this "other thing" in the immaterial aspect of mind that is at least distinct insofar as it immaterial from any material functions of the brain, so, if Mr. Green is arguing for isolation himself, not as the basis for discrediting Chalmers, I misunderstood and agree, and would stand corrected on that last paragraph.

If so, I would have to go back and see where Chalmers makes the homunculus mistake. That's something I'd say his arguments work against. But I'll go look at the article linked.

Mr. Green, what say you? Does Chalmers claim that red-red and red-blue are problematic because a homunculish meta-brain would 'see the swtich"?

-TS

Josh said...

Touchstone,

Do you usually just fire off at will without reading an entire comment/post? It might explain a few things...

Josh said...

My bad, bro; honest mistake

Touchstone said...

@Josh,

I can see what Patrick's saying. If I ignore what I see as Mr. Green contradicting Chalmers on "switching", and attributing the "switching" argument to Chalmers, then the last paragraph is a good critique of Chalmers.

I just don't recognize Chalmers in the "switching" argument, and would see he argues against this view, and would point to the paper Jesse linked to, among other writings from Chalmers as the evidence in support of that. IN the "fading qualia" argument, Chalmers posts a "neural Chalmers" and a "homunculi-headed Chalmers" and later considers a "half-Chalmers", finding the latter two cases problematic, on both a "fading" basis and a "qualia blink off abruptly" basis.

That is, Chalmers is holding up the homunculus in his thought experiment to illustrate the problem with the non-functionalist "magic qualia" intuition. That goes right against the "switching" comment that Mr. Green offered, which I took to be obviously Mr. Green's analysis, not Chalmers. Perhaps Mr. Green is thinking of some argument I haven't read from Chalmers that supports this, but from what I've read, that's not a Chalmers observation, but an "anti-point" of Chalmers.

In any case, if I accept, provisionally, that Chalmers has his own homunculus-based arguments for his ideas, then that last paragraph I totally misunderstood.

-TS

Josh said...

Touchstone,

Mr. Green is reiterating Chalmers' conclusions re: inverted qualia.

From the paper:

Bill, by hypothesis, was enjoying a blue experience. After the switch, then, I will have a blue experience too.

What will happen, then, is that my experience will change "before my eyes". Where I was once experiencing red, I will now experience blue. All of a sudden, I will have a blue experience of the apple on my desk. We can even imagine flipping the switch back and forth a number of times, so that the red and blue experiences "dance" before my eyes.

This might seem reasonable at first - it is a strangely appealing image - but something very odd is going on here. My experiences are switching from red to blue, but I do not notice any change. Even as we flip the switch a number of times and my qualia dance back and forth, I will simply go about my business, not noticing anything unusual. My functional organization remains normal throughout. In particular, my functional organization after flipping the switch evolves just as it would have if the switch had not been flipped. There is no special difference in my behavioral dispositions. I am not suddenly disposed to say "Hmm! Something strange is going on!". There is no room for a sudden start, for an exclamation, or even for a distraction of attention. My cognitive organization is just as it usually is, and in particular is precisely as it would have been had the switch not been flipped.


and

...But of course there is no point performing the experiment: we know what the result will be. I will report that my experience stayed the same throughout, a constant shade of red, and that I noticed nothing untoward. I will become even more convinced than I was before that qualia are determined by functional organization. Of course this will not be a proof, but the evidence will be hard to seriously dispute.

I conclude that by far the most plausible hypothesis is that replacement of neurons while preserving functional organization will preserve qualia, and that experience is wholly determined by functional organization.

Touchstone said...

@Josh,

Thanks, I had read that before, and read it again in your post. This confirms my original reading of Chalmers, and by extension, Mr. Green. Specifically, this part is offered as "homunculish":

What will happen, then, is that my experience will change "before my eyes". Where I was once experiencing red, I will now experience blue. All of a sudden, I will have a blue experience of the apple on my desk. We can even imagine flipping the switch back and forth a number of times, so that the red and blue experiences "dance" before my eyes.

In the very next statement, though, Chalmers points out that this is superficial, misconceived.

This might seem reasonable at first - it is a strangely appealing image - but something very odd is going on here. My experiences are switching from red to blue, but I do not notice any change.

(my emphasis)

That is not compatible with this from Mr. Green:

After all, what if there was a switch that could swap between using my original brain and the equivalent computer? I could switch back and forth and see red things turning blue, etc.


Now, I understand that I may be mistaken and Mr. Green is illuminating a naïve view, in something like the way Chalmers was, before he discredits that view in the next paragraph. If so, fine, I stand corrected and salute Mr. Green's monist response, in the style of Chalmers's monist take, on this matter anyway (as a dualist epiphenomenalist, I accept Chalmers commentary at face value, but that does not seem to be required by his ontology -- the stuff that is "psychological" as opposed to "physicological" for Chalmers seems adequate to posit as a homunculish meta-brain, no?).

Anyway, here's an interesting question (I think) that comes out of this confusion. If Joe has "human brain" HB and "computer brain" CB wired up so that a flip of some high-tech switch toggles between HB and CB being active in Joe's body, on a Thomist view, does CB, assuming it's completely a natural, physical artifact of human manufacturing, have an "immaterial intellect" somehow pop into existence to bind with it.

I can't think that would be the answer, but maybe it would be, if a Thomist was put at pains to have to accept such a hypothetical in the first place.

But if not, if CB is "just a machine, but phenomenally a perfect match for HB", the Joe's HB has, on Thomist metaphysics, "immaterial intellect", that when HB is "switched out" for CB as connected to the rest of Joe's body, an all its sensors, etc., HB and its immaterial intellect are "off together" as a part of Joe ('s body/person). And the active CB has no immaterial intellect, so it's doing -- observationally and introspectively at least -- all the things HB does, but no immaterial intellect obtains for Joe (er, CB-Joe) in that mode.

If such a setup as this was to come about, on Thomism, CB would not have an "immaterial intellect" emerge in the process of being manufactured at the plant and activated in Joe's body, would it?

The reason that came to mind here is that if Thomists suppose that HB 'keeps' (or otherwise remains integral with) its immaterial intellect, perhaps some remapping could occur -- another brain, human or computer or otherwise, would just be some "mental goggles" for that higher level immaterial intellect. That would post that immaterial intellect as a meta-mind, "homunculish", if not a homunculus, proper.

I'd be interested to know the Thomist answer on the CB/immaterial intellect question.

-TS

Eduardo said...

BIND? doesn´t that pressupose Cartesian dualism.

should the question simply be. What you mean by immaterial intellect and how will you define a human brain and a mechanical brain?

and every the answer are given you could see if you can weld them both together?


Mr. Green said...

Touchstone: God made it happen miraculously, in a magic puff of white smoke or some such. A non-modelable process.

Again, I've never seen Behe or Dembski, etc., say, "Goddidit in a magic puff of smoke!", but I'm not even interested in discussing ID itself. I'm just observing that this is the third different version of "ID" you've come up with. That hardly leaves one with confidence that you understand what the ID folks are arguing, or are competent to declare it "silly".

Boom! Take any putative superstition, then simply shake some "this how nature really works, actually" over it, and you are golden, right?

Likewise, this simply avoids the issue. If somebody has a theory of nature (whether it be for astrology or anything else), then it can be examined to see if it works. If somebody has a theory, and it happens to differ from yours, the person is not hypocritical for disagreeing with you. For you to throw around accusations of "superstition" means that either (a) you want us to know (in a poorly expressed way) that we disagree about the nature of nature, in case we were under the impression that you were a Thomist, or (b) you are simply resorting to name-calling. Neither option inspires confidence.

Frankly, I'm perplexed to see how consistently you appear to miss the point. Many anonymous comments have called you out on this, but I can appreciate that you ignore the snarky posts. That's why I asked these questions, to see if, without being hostile, I could get straight answers from you. But it's the same run-around as in all your threads. I don't mean to be rude now, but I do mean to be blunt: I simply do not see sufficient evidence that you take any of this seriously.

Maybe you don't care. It's always possible you're a troll, of course, or that you're just bad at philosophy. Maybe this is something pointless you do to kill time when there's nothing on TV. But it evidently is not something you do to track down the truth of philosophical positions, because there is no honest effort on your part to understand what is being discussed in the first place. The problem is not (only) that you fail to understand Thomism. Lots of people don't understand it, and lots of people disagree with it. Lots of people even (think they?) disagree with it without understanding what it really is. But not many people expend as much verbiage as you do to disagree with something when they don't even know what it is they are disagreeing with.

Your reply to my post about Chalmers is a case in point: it's clear that you are confused, but I'm not even sure just what you are confused about. You raise a question about the "Thomistic" view on switching brains that is, as Eduardo points out, not a Thomistic question at all, but some kind of Cartesian scenario. (Chanting "homunculus! homunculus!" is not a good argument against Descartes, but it's downright bizarre when directed against Thomism. The Thomistic view is LESS homuncularistic than materialism is!!!) It's impossible to answer the question, because your idea of Thomism is not just wrong, it's completely-backwards wrong! Any attempted answer would effectively be to a completely different question, and thus make the confusion worse.

If you aren't here to waste time, then I hope you will take what I've said seriously and consider why I (and others) are so frustrated at your erroneous grasp of the matters being discussed. If you took the time, genuinely and conscientiously, to understand where we're coming from, these conversations would be vastly more productive on both sides. Not just parroting back some phrases — I mean serious understanding, being able to restate and to defend the position you disagree with. Anything less is intellectually shallow.

(And on the other hand, if you really are a troll, well, then carry on exactly as you are, I guess….)

Anonymous said...

It seems like jesse is a bit confused with his analysis.

First off, his thought experiment of “uploading the mind” into a computer is really not unloading the mind at all. A computer software is created by an intellect (human) that acts “as-if” it had some similar traits with the person it was modeled after. One important distinction that he misses is the difference between a natural substance (human being) and an artificial object (machine loaded with software – how complex the software is or how well it mimics Mary makes no difference). It’s only be equivocation and by ignoring this distinction in Aristotle’s philosophy that he can even raise the question whether this would undermine AT. Of course the answer is, even if one were to construct a computer that “behaved” similarly to Mary it would not affect AT one bit.

The other big error that jesse commits is in regards to reductionism. He seems to claim to be some sort of physical reductionist, who ultimately believes that reality is mathematical (more on that in a bit). He also seems to conveniently help himself to things such as emergence, which has no place in reductionist ontology. Simply put, you either have ontological reductionism where all that exists is an infinite regress of material constituents (to claim that one of those is ultimate is to commit oneself to a type of “form” and reductionism would thus fail). In such an ontology the word emergence could mean one thing only, namely that out of nothing (literally) things come into existence magically that were not there before. That of course is a superstition.

So emergence is therefore something that comes into being not out of nothing but rather out of pre-existing, latent possibilities embedded in the fabric of reality that are formed by the interaction of different ontological constituents, that could be physical, chemical biological, psychological and so on. So what emerges is in fact already there but as a potentiality and is in turn actualized by an already actual entity. This of course is Aristotle. Not reductionism. Emergence, whether that refers to substances, properties or what have you, is thus understood as something irreducible and whether it’s actualized by “lower-level stuff” is in fact irrelevant. Following is what jesse claims to be committed to:

I do think that wholes matter and need to be understood on their own terms, even though I also believe the behaviors of wholes emerges in a bottom-up way from the behavior of the smaller parts.


In as much as whole matter, reductionism is false. In as much as they need to be understood on their own terms (irreducible) reductionism is violated, in as much as they emerge from the interaction (better term than behavior) does not favor for the reductionism for they emerge out of real potentialities and not out of nothing.

Anonymous said...

Here jesse explicated his commitments to what appears to be mathematical Platonism (interesting since mathematics are Forms after all):

I don't necessarily think the ontological categories presupposed by such questions ("substances" in this case) carve reality at the joints, as opposed to merely being a matter of human linguistic conventions. I tend to think the objective physical world is entirely mathematical

Here jesse talks about carving at the joints. How is that to be understood other than substances refuse reduction? So since substances do not lend themselves to reductionism we should therefore rejects them? How does that not beg the question and more importantly, substances are there so reality is not reduced to incoherence. The jesse tells us that substances are mere conventions (anyone care to introduce him to the discussion we had we touchstone about the absurdity of such a claim pace derrida?). Also he claims that the “objective physical world” is mathematical… But neither ‘objective’, nor ‘physical’ nor ‘world’ is a mathematical constructs or categories… (reduction ad absurdum)

Anyone else suspect that along with emergence, jesse seems to help himself to a whole lot of concepts from Aristotle and Aquinas and/or non-reductionistic, non-materialistic ontologies?

Anonymous said...

touchstone,

God made it happen miraculously, in a magic puff of white smoke or some such

You are an idiot plain and simple.

I've spent a lot of time explaining things to you over the past few weeks. I've shown you how your materialism is the superstition of all superstitions and explained how your pathetic obsession with empiricism is irrelevant to our refutations of your worldview time and time again. Stop trying to hide behind science and stop conflating it with your materialism.

Since you have no real argument to make and because your’e too lazy to put the effort in understanding what we've been saying, you construct such ridiculous strawmen to save face. The irony is, you’ve only accomplished the exact opposite. People no longer take you seriously and you’ve become much of a laughing stock. It’s both tiring and boring correcting you over and over when you have no interest in helping yourself.

I asked you last time straight up and you refused to answer. So one more time, are you here to learn or are you here to troll?

Anonymous said...

Take any putative superstition, then simply shake some "this how nature really works, actually" over it, and you are golden, right?

This pretty much sums up materialism. You are chewing on your own foot now...

Eduardo said...

Let´s clone dguller 9 more times and give them different names... they will be the critical team, and this blog would be considered the best place to discuss philosophy in general!!!!!!

Anon said...

Although I don't agree with Touchstone's views, I still think he contributes to the blog as a regular. I don't think he's a troll, trolls are a lot more inflammatory and obvious. For example, people who present the FSM and one god further objections as if they are still valid. In 2012.

Anon said...

dguller is great because apparently he takes the time to actually read the literature. He might not agree with it, but he at least understands it and is open to debate. His discussions with rank go on for ages; the two should really just co-author a book or something. Its a shame other internet-goers don't follow the example. It reminds me of that one atheist commenter, the one with the baby as his avatar who got banned from an atheist blog for saying "Hey guys, here's an idea, lets actually read/understand the books!"

Eduardo said...

Anon, Touchstone hasn´t spoke about G*d yet. For all we know, he could do THOSE awesome argument.

People simply complain about him stalling the talk or not understanding, or defining things in some sort of way that it fits his worldview, or discrediting anything a priori that doesn´t fit his MODEL... aka Naturalism/Materialism

He is not worthless commenter, I think that is pretty obvious ... but I think sucking shit with a straw might be more productive than reading some of his stuff... there are times he just comes to the point I would definetely hit him with wet toilet paper.

ò_ó!

Eduardo said...

I think that if you are lucky enough to not fall in a militant blog... you might be able to have a nice talk and learn stuff and maybe build a virtual friendship.

the problem is finding that non-militant blog!

Bullpup said...

For example, people who present the FSM and one god further objections as if they are still valid. In 2012.

The problem is, that's pretty much TS's method. If you read his comments, most of his statements can be summed up as A) rehashes of already-refuted or shown-to-be-contradictory arguments he's given, and B) snide remarks of anything he disagrees with as "magic", "superstition", "goddidit" and so on.

As others have pointed out, he's from the swamps of Debunking Christianity, a bad atheist blog headed up by a pretty lousy atheist apologist.

Whether or not he's a troll, once you put the "he's repeating stuff that was refuted 5 times already" things aside, he's main content here is sneering. Close enough to troll for me.

reighley said...

@Anonymous,
"Also he claims that the “objective physical world” is mathematical… But neither ‘objective’, nor ‘physical’ nor ‘world’ is a mathematical constructs or categories… (reduction ad absurdum)"

This reductio bothers me. Several hours ago I tried to put into words why it bothered me, and I had to give up. This is attempt #3, forgive the result.

Mathematics is, in many ways, just a language for reasoning in. If we take the statement "the objective physical world is mathematical" to mean "the objective physical world can be described in mathematical language", then I don't think you can refute that statement just by saying "well there is no mathematical word for objective". You would have to show somehow that no such term could be introduced. I would be very shocked if you could show this, since there is obviously a word for it in English, and that word has a very definite meaning, so it is not obvious why a translation would be impossible.

This is probably not what Jesse meant : he probably meant "The objective physical universe actually is something like a number or a word in the mathematical language". This at least is the more interesting rendition. I think, at this stage, most people would assent to the first reading without hesitation, but the second is rather radical. Yet the same defense, or so it seems to me, still holds. If you object that some concept or another is outside the ones treated by my system, I reply that it is impossible because my system is at bottom a language and the fact that you could compose the sentence at all ensured that all the concepts you mentioned could be treated in my system.

The idea that the universe is made, fundamentally, of words is a very old one (Genesis 1:1 comes to mind) and in it's mathematical form it has been an almost boundlessly fruitful idea. It deserves serious consideration.

I submit to you that the universe is actually a number.

Josh said...

I submit to you that the universe is actually a number.

Is it 42?

Anonymous said...

Josh: This is the first time I have ever actually wanted to use a facebook "Like" button. And alas, it is not here.

All the same, well played, sir, well played.

Or, should I say, 01000001 01101100 01101100 0100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 0100000 01110011 01100001 01101101 01100101 0101100 0100000 01110111 01100101 01101100 01101100 0100000 01110000 01101100 01100001 01111001 01100101 01100100 0101100 0100000 01110011 01101001 01110010 0101100 0100000 01110111 01100101 01101100 01101100 0100000 01110000 01101100 01100001 01111001 01100101 01100100 0101110

TheOFloinn said...

Mathematics is the second degree of abstraction from the physical world. It's what's left over when a thing has been abstracted from its physical properties, leaving only quantity, number, etc. But if we say that a dog is two feet long, it does not mean that the dog is two feet.

Anonymous said...

People no longer take you seriously and you’ve become much of a laughing stock. It’s both tiring and boring correcting you over and over when you have no interest in helping yourself.
Yes. That's why I now routinely ignore Touchstone's posts. He is clearly an ideologue.

Glenn said...

> Josh said...

>> I submit to you that the
>> universe is actually a number.

> Is it 42?

Josh is correct!

However, the debate rages on as to whether little endian or big endian applies.

Those in the latter camp say that it is S.O.P. for the signficance of the digits in a number to increase from right to left, while those of the former camp hold that since God is INTELligent, and assembled the universe, it is obvious that the significance of the digits should increase from left to right.

A third camp is comprised of former members of the two camps already mentioned. Thinking little of the constant debate, they hold that whichever way it is, whether little endian or big endian, matters not in the end.

"If you look at the big picture," they say, "the difference between the two values holds constantly at 18, which is a multiple of 9, the root of which is 3. It is this 3, or rather the Trinity it represents, which we feel is most significant."

Ta-dum.

Glenn said...

Fun aside, I'm reminded by TheOFloinn's...

Mathematics is the second degree of abstraction from the physical world. It's what's left over when a thing has been abstracted from its physical properties, leaving only quantity, number, etc.

...of having recently read Von Neumann's The Mathematician, some excerpts of which are (from Part2):

It is very hard for any mathematician to believe that mathematics is a purely empirical science or that all mathematical ideas originate in empirical subjects...

There are various important parts of modern mathematics in which the empirical origin is untraceable, or, if traceable, so remote that it is clear that the subject has undergone a complete metamorphosis since it was cut off from its empirical roots...

Furthermore, the attitude that theoretical physics does not explain phenomena, but only classifies and correlates, is today accepted by most theoretical physicists. This means that the criterion of success for such a theory is simply whether it can, by a simple and elegant classifying and correlating scheme, cover very many phenomena, which without this scheme would seem complicated and heterogeneous, and whether the scheme even covers phenomena which were not considered or even not known at the time when the scheme was evolved. (These two latter statements express, of course, the unifying and the predicting power of a theory.) Now this criterion, as set forth here, is clearly to a great extent of an aesthetical nature. For this reason it is very closely akin to the mathematical criteria of success, which, as you shall see, are almost entirely aesthetical...

I think that it is a relatively good approximation to truth--which is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations--that mathematical ideas originate in empirics, although the genealogy is sometimes long and obscure. But, once they are so conceived, the subject begins to live a peculiar life of its own and is better compared to a creative one, governed by almost entirely aesthetical motivations, than to anything else and, in particular, to an empirical science...

Glenn said...

Given this...

...the criterion of success for such a theory is simply whether it can, by a simple and elegant classifying and correlating scheme, cover very many phenomena, which without this scheme would seem complicated and heterogeneous, and whether the scheme even covers phenomena which were not considered or even not known at the time when the scheme was evolved.

...and taking 'scheme' to mean something akin to 'outline', it is hardly surprising that it is not only on the rare occasion that Dr. Feser has the opportunity to say (as he does above),

From the A-T point of view, then, it is hardly surprising that...

Anonymous said...

@reighley

Mathematics is, in many ways, just a language for reasoning in. If we take the statement "the objective physical world is mathematical" to mean "the objective physical world can be described in mathematical language", then I don't think you can refute that statement just by saying "well there is no mathematical word for objective". You would have to show somehow that no such term could be introduced. I would be very shocked if you could show this, since there is obviously a word for it in English, and that word has a very definite meaning, so it is not obvious why a translation would be impossible.

It’s interesting that you brought this up as I had this very discussion with myself once I reflected on what I posted a few minutes later. In as much as mathematics is referred to as merely a language used to describe physical reality then I don’t think there is much of a problem. It’s just a language describing something/substance/reality/etc.
In as much as the term “objective” can be introduced in the language of mathematics I simply don’t see how. Objective as I understand the word is an evaluation of qualitative nature and mathematics is a language used for quantification. How exactly would one express objective, physical and world mathematically, since mathematics is utilized to describe such things in the first place? I sense some circularity looming there.

This is probably not what Jesse meant : he probably meant "The objective physical universe actually is something like a number or a word in the mathematical language". This at least is the more interesting rendition. I think, at this stage, most people would assent to the first reading without hesitation, but the second is rather radical. Yet the same defense, or so it seems to me, still holds. If you object that some concept or another is outside the ones treated by my system, I reply that it is impossible because my system is at bottom a language and the fact that you could compose the sentence at all ensured that all the concepts you mentioned could be treated in my system.

This is what I understood jesse to mean. That reality is numbers, which is susceptible to the reductio ad absurdum I introduced.

You seem to be making a case for idealism here, which I personally I am sympathetic to. It’s not my top preference but I am certainly open-minded to it. Idealism as a word which is at bottom comprised of ideas, is not the same as mathematics in my opinion for the reason mentioned earlier that I do not think mathematics are able to carry the weight – so to speak – for qualitative and existential aspects of reality. Any attempt to do so in my opinion would lead to a reductionism where some real aspect will be ignored or annihilated in the process.
To put it simply, I acknowledge that mathematics can be used to describe beings (although not exhaustively) but I don’t think mathematics is Being.

Anonymous said...

The idea that the universe is made, fundamentally, of words is a very old one (Genesis 1:1 comes to mind) and in it's mathematical form it has been an almost boundlessly fruitful idea. It deserves serious consideration.

John 1:1 is also another… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.
It’s mathematical form has what Eugene Wigner called “unreasonable effectiveness” so in that sense yes, mathematics is incredible as a tool to describe physical reality but that’s as far as it goes. Think of the experience of wonder, can you express that mathematically? Can you experience the wonder of the effectiveness of mathematics in mathematics? Does that make sense to you?

Thanks for bringing this up by the way.

Anonymous said...

@Glenn,

Correct me if I’m wrong but given your analysis (in conjunction with Von Neumann) would it be correct to conclude that in using mathematics we should be careful not to confuse the map for the territory, with mathematics being the map?

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

While that map can be highly useful and beneficial, I agree that, yes, the map is not the territory. As long as the correspondence between the former and the latter are seamless (or sufficieintly nearly so that problems do not arise), however, there is little danger in confusing the two. But it takes a recognition that the former is not the latter to be able to see when or that the correspondence is (on the verge of) becoming distorted.

reighley said...

@Glenn,
"we should be careful not to confuse the map for the territory, with mathematics being the map?"

To hijack your analogy : mathematics is not the map. A particular mathematical model is the map, or rather a particular map in this analogy.

Mathematics is a sophisticated system for composing maps. So when somebody tries to trot out the "confusing the map for the territory!" attack, as we do with the models of theoretical physics, it doesn't go quite as well. For I am not confusing the map with the territory. I am confusing cartography with the territory. Now it is not obviously true that the territory is a kind of map, or perhaps the union of all possible maps or some other cartographic construction. But it is not obviously false either.

Many barbs can be thrown carelessly at the concept, but I don't think any of them hit their mark. In large part because people insist on thinking of a particular category of formalisms as "mathematics".

So for instance @TheOFloinn offers without any effort at defense a definition of mathematics which is to narrow for me. @Anonymous too, wants to narrow its scope to include only quantity and not quality. I am not aware of a mathematical notion analogous to the term "objective" either, but I think it is possible to construct one.

So, in sum, any argument that rests on a limitation in mathematics which natural human language does not have will have to do a little bit of lifting. Convince me that my conception of mathematics as a language which might express anything so long as it did so precisely, is too broad. Convince me that mathematical hands are tied in a way that, say, medieval latin hands are not.

Eduardo said...

depends on what you called mathematics. XD. Tell me what is the number related to you dear Reighley?

what number represents you ?

reighley said...

@Eduardo,
I think I'm not so much a number in the traditional sense as an equivalence class. But here you are missing both my points.

Point (1) the idea that a number might represent or relate to me is not so radical at all. Mathematics is a language. Numbers are its words. Words signify. The really radical postulate is not that Words signify (of course they do), it's that Words actually exist. And that we are they.

Point (2) one does a disservice to mathematics if one imagines that numbers are strictly for quantifying. Or, if you want to define "number" as "a thing used for quantifying" then you do disservice to mathematics if you imagine that it is only about numbers.

Glenn said...

To hijack your analogy : mathematics is not the map. A particular mathematical model is the map, or rather a particular map in this analogy.

Okay, fine; no problem.

Mathematics is a sophisticated system for composing maps.

Okay, fine; no problem.

So when somebody tries to trot out the "confusing the map for the territory!" attack, as we do with the models of theoretical physics, it doesn't go quite as well.

Why should a reminder to be taken as an "attack"?

If one has a mathematical model, then one has a model of something. And if one has a model of something, then there are at least three things: the something, the model one has of it, and the relationship or correspondence between the model and the something (a fourth thing might be the relative quality of that relationship or correspondence).

If the two were actually the same, i.e., if the something and the model of it were actually, really and truly one and the same, then the mathematical model would not be needed, desired, sought after, cared about or employed.

Which brings us to a fun question: Which comes first--a something (be it physical or non-physical), or a mathematical model of it?

Now it is not obviously true that the territory is a kind of map, or perhaps the union of all possible maps or some other cartographic construction. But it is not obviously false either.

A territory indeed might itself be a kind of map. This isn't guaranteed, but it also isn't impossible; it would depend on the particular territory being referred to. The territory being mapped, e.g., might be a collection of maps. Just as you say. But what of it? That a particular territory might itself be a map does not obliterate the distinction between 'map' and 'territory'; if anything, it would amplify the distinction (i.e., it would make the distinction more noticeable and glaring).

...@TheOFloinn offers without any effort at defense a definition of mathematics which is to narrow for me.

I have noticed that TheOFloinn made a statement of where amongst the degrees of abstraction mathematics is located (at the second degree of abstraction--above natural philosophy and modern science, but below metaphysics). However, I've not been able to find where he offered a definition of mathematics. Is it in this thread and I've just missed it? Or was it is some earlier thread and I likely just don't remember or missed it there?

(cont)

Glenn said...

@Anonymous too, wants to narrow its scope to include only quantity and not quality.

Here is what Anonymous wrote (or one of the things that he wrote, and which may not be what you had in mind when making the above statement)):

"I do not think mathematics are able to carry the weight--so to speak--for qualitative and existential aspects of reality. Any attempt to do so in my opinion would lead to a reductionism where some real aspect will be ignored or annihilated in the process."

My reading of this is that Anonymous is expressing an opinion about a perceived scope of mathematics, rather than seeking to narrow that scope. And if Anonymous' opinion is based on a belief that mathematics to-date has had far more success in mapping 'quantity' than it has had in mapping 'quality' (in a non-quantitative manner), then I would have to say that I think his opinion is well-founded. At any rate, his right to express his opinion is no less than yours.

I am not aware of a mathematical notion analogous to the term "objective" either, but I think it is possible to construct one.

Possibilities are wonderful things to consider. And perhaps one day someone will succeed in making real that mathematical notion. Until then, however, it is not improper to observe that that does not exist which does not exist.

So, in sum, any argument that rests on a limitation in mathematics which natural human language does not have will have to do a little bit of lifting.

True.

Convince me that my conception of mathematics as a language which might express anything so long as it did so precisely, is too broad.

I find this conception of mathematics to be an interesting one. Before saying why, let me agree that the conception is a broad one, and note that whether it is too broad likely will depend upon the use to be made of it.

Now, why do I find this conception interesting?

To answer this, let's move right along to--btw, be on the lookout for an upcoming double entendre--the last thing you want to be convinced of (that the range of motion of medieval Latin hands exceeds that of mathematical hands).

Convince me that mathematical hands are tied in a way that, say, medieval latin hands are not.

Mathematical hands--or, rather, the mathematical utterances of those entities to which such hands are attached--are forbidden and precluded by your conception of mathematics from giving expression to anything that cannot be precisely expressed.

I think it can be fairly stated that your own conception of mathematics justifies its not being found at the highest degree of abstraction.

reighley said...

@Glenn,
"Why should a reminder to be taken as an "attack"?"

I hope you do not find my somewhat militaristic image of argument too off putting.

"If the two were actually the same, i.e., if the something and the model of it were actually, really and truly one and the same, then the mathematical model would not be needed, desired, sought after, cared about or employed."

We all agree to this, that is not the mistake that I am making.

"My reading of this is that Anonymous is expressing an opinion about a perceived scope of mathematics, rather than seeking to narrow that scope."

Anonymous is trying to effect an argument which only works if it is actually impossible to say "objective physical universe" in the language of mathematics. If, as I do, one does not think it impossible then the argument is not very effective.

"Mathematical hands--or, rather, the mathematical utterances of those entities to which such hands are attached--are forbidden and precluded by your conception of mathematics from giving expression to anything that cannot be precisely expressed."

Now this is a much better wedge into the question than trying to make it eat itself with a paradox. I am in fact committing myself to the idea that everything that can be said can be said clearly (Wittgenstein I think). And even further than that I am suggesting that in a certain sense everything can be said.

I am quite comfortable with the idea that everything that can be said can in principle be given a mathematical level of precision. The collection of things which can be said is generated from a finite alphabet, so in principle every articulable idea could be assigned a number.

I am very doubtful that everything can be said, I think it likely that there is a vast section of reality which is not only inarticulable but even unthinkable. But this pessimistic mysticism also endangers a metaphysical program executed in medieval latin.

Eduardo said...

@reighley

First, I don´t think that mathematics is just meant to quantify, you are sort of saying that I have said stuff other people might have said but deep down I never did. If everything can be described by this language... so does you! what represents you in this language ?

Sure numbers mean something, but what are numbers in the world of mathematics ? or are numbers perfect descriptions of fundamental units of reality ?



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




reighley said...

@Eduardo,
"what represents you in this language ?"

I suspect that I am not capable of formulating an answer to this question. Seems like I would run into some sort of Godel like trap. That does not mean that no such number exists though.

It is just probably not computable by itself.

Glenn said...

reighley,

Anonymous is trying to effect an argument which only works if it is actually impossible to say "objective physical universe" in the language of mathematics. If, as I do, one does not think it impossible then the argument is not very effective.

Gee, who knew? Now all anyone has to do to render any of your arguments not very effective is to merely think it possible that something exists which refutes it. No one will say anything (indeed, no one will have to), and still the effectiveness of your arguments will be diminished. That has gotta hurt. Big time.

Okay, I'm having some fun.

Here's how it really works: Until such time as it can be shown that it is actually possible to say "objective physical universe" in the language of mathematics, the effectiveness of Anonymous' argument--at least on this point--remains unchallenged. Merely thinking it might one day be possible to do so (i.e., to say OPU in LM) doesn't get you off the hook.

But you do think you're off the hook.

Which goes to show not that Anonymous' argument has been successfully challenged, but that you're not budged, swayed or even a tad bit influenced by the absence of proof to the contrary. And this--pardon my saying so--says more about you than it does about Anonymous' argument.

I think it likely that there is a vast section of reality which is not only inarticulable but even unthinkable. But this pessimistic mysticism also endangers a metaphysical program executed in medieval latin.

Leaving aside the question of whether it is mysticism (and a pessimistic mysticism at that) let it be noted that the metaphysical program executed in medieval Latin was, in fact, executed precisely (!) with the understanding that there is a vast section of reality which is inarticulable.

reighley said...

@Glenn,
"Which goes to show not that Anonymous' argument has been successfully challenged, but that you're not budged, swayed or even a tad bit influenced by the absence of proof to the contrary. And this--pardon my saying so--says more about you than it does about Anonymous' argument."

I think we have a difference of opinion as to where the burden of proof lies when building a contradiction like this. If Anonymous really wanted to convince me (or Jesse for that matter) he should have started from premises we held in common.

Even though I don't have it in hand, I think that my argument for the existence of a mathematical translation of "objective physical world" is not such a bad one : to wit all human languages, finite as they are, can be expected to be amenable to translation from any one to any other.

So by the fact that Anonymous can formulate an argument which mentions the phrase "objective physical world" at all means that I should be able to make that same statement in a mathematical language.

We can expect this expression to be as unwieldy as an attempt to translate something like Galois theory into Mandarin. It is because it is unwieldy that we do not see it as part of the mathematical state of the art at this early date, not because it is impossible.

This raises the interesting question as to how faithful a translation can possibly be. For instance even today, in the dark age before someone comes up with a mathematized metaphysics, I can find rough analogs for "objective" in probability, for "physical" in mathematical physics and for "world" in logic. But the existential quantifier used in logic does not mean quite the same thing as the word "exists", even though it is common to translate it that way off hand.

Of course if we are going to go down that road then I have no reason to suppose that my word "exists" is the same as your. Unless we define the terms without any ambiguity of meaning.

Glenn said...

reighley

Even though I don't have it in hand, I think that my argument for the existence of a mathematical translation of "objective physical world" is not such a bad one : to wit all human languages, finite as they are, can be expected to be amenable to translation from any one to any other.

So by the fact that Anonymous can formulate an argument which mentions the phrase "objective physical world" at all means that I should be able to make that same statement in a mathematical language.


Hypothesizing that it should be possible to refute an argument does not count as a refutation of that argument.

Glenn said...

reighley,

Let me come at it from another
angle.

To paraphrase part of your reasoning, you are saying:

1. All human languages can be expected to be amenable to translation, from any one to any other.

2. Mathematics qualifies as a human language.

3. Ergo, it should be possible to state in mathematical language the phrase "objective physical world".

Let us assume for the sake of argument that 1. & 2. withstand all scrutiny, and that 3. necessarily follows from 1. & 2.

Given these assumptions, there are two problems that I see.

The first problem I see is that "should be possible" is not synonymous with "is possible".

And the second problem I see is that even if "should be possible" is somehow successfully converted into "is possible", unless "is possible" is itself converted into "here it is", no refutation of the argument has occurred.

Glenn said...

Let me add that the above isn't to say that 1., 2., and 3. are 'bad', unreasonable to assert, not worthy of consideration, or pointless to follow up on--only that they do not refute Anonymous' argument.

reighley said...

@Glenn,

"The first problem I see is that "should be possible" is not synonymous with "is possible". "

I'm kind of padding my reasoning with equivocations because we are down at message 130 on a blog and I don't feel particularly capable or motivated to involve real rigor. When I say "should be" or "I don't see why not" or "it is reasonable to expect that", feel free to strengthen it to absolute terms for me and demand detailed proof. That would be mean, but I would try to oblige you. For the moment I am trying to confine myself to plausible ad hoc reasoning. Anonymous' argument is not in fact a very plausible one. It demands the nonexistence of something that probably does exist.

"And the second problem I see is that even if "should be possible" is somehow successfully converted into "is possible", unless "is possible" is itself converted into "here it is", no refutation of the argument has occurred."

This is just not so. Permit me to elide the difference between "should be possible" and "is possible" on the grounds that I'm a wimp and nervous about stepping into that ring. I claim that "is possible" is sufficient to refute the argument.

The argument does not rest on Jesse not having available to him, in the small mathematical vocabulary of the early 21st century, any words with which to say "objective physical world". It rests on there being no such mathematical terms ever. For if Jesse is right, and he is a mathematical entity then no translation is needed : the words "objective physical world" are also mathematical entities (for a mathematical entity uttered them). Anonymous paradox rests on the assumption that this last part is a contradiction for (as everyone knows) "objective physical world" is not expressible mathematically.

It is the impossibility of the terms that give the argument teeth. The mere possibility of them is sufficient to refute it. If I could show that the expression could be constructed, even if my proof was itself nonconstructive : then the paradox would go away and Anonymous' argument wouldn't work anymore.

Here I think we need to be rather careful about the possible collisions between mathematical language and metaphysical language (even if I am right and they are ultimately interconvertible). When talking about a number one makes no distinction between potential and actual. So if a mathematical construction is possible then it is not problematic (for a mathematician) to insist that the result of that construction already exists. "Exists" is the term that is usually used, but it is evident that it does not mean the same thing in mathematical jargon as in philosophical jargon. That is why trying to wrap a formalism around it would be such a bear. We'd have to unpack every term in both sets of jargon.

grodrigues said...

@reighley:

"For if Jesse is right, and he is a mathematical entity then no translation is needed"

First, mathematical objects are not material; they are abstract; they are immutable and, if we are taking an extreme realist take, necessary. So what does it mean to say that Jesse "is a mathematical entity"?

Second, while TOF did not present a definition of mathematics, the placement of mathematics below metaphysics in the hierarchy of abstraction, shows why reality *cannot* be reduced to mathematics for we can abstract from being the accidents of quantity and number and arrive at categories of being of which mathematics has absolutely nothing to say.

Finally, another aspect that I simply do not understand is the translation argument. It is a triviality to translate any sentence of a natural language into a sentence of a formal language. But what exactly does that buy you? Absolutely nothing. The fact that you can *express* "objective physical world" in a formalized language no more makes the objective physical world into a mathematical object, then expressing it in Chinese makes the objective physical world a member of the People's Republic of China. Am I missing something?

Glenn said...

reighley,

From The Writings of Chuang Tzu, Book 2. The Adjustment of Controversies (written 2000+ years ago),

Formerly, I, Kwang Kâu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, a butterfly flying about, feeling that it was enjoying itself. I did not know that it was Kâu. Suddenly I awoke, and was myself again, the veritable Kâu. I did not know whether it had formerly been Kâu dreaming that he was a butterfly, or it was now a butterfly dreaming that it was Kâu. But between Kâu and a butterfly there must be a difference. This is a case of what is called the Transformation of Things.

Regarding the difference that must be, grodrigues rightly says, e.g.,

"First, mathematical objects are not material; they are abstract; they are immutable and, if we are taking an extreme realist take, necessary. So what does it mean to say that Jesse 'is a mathematical entity'?"

- - - - -

Let it be whimsically submitted that, given the choices of thinking oneself to be a butterfly and thinking oneself to be a mathematical entity, 'tis better to think oneself to be a butterfly--for if Person X thinks that s/he is a mathematical entity, what assurance can there be that s/he is not an irrational number?

reighley said...

@grodrigue
"First, mathematical objects are not material; they are abstract; they are immutable and, if we are taking an extreme realist take, necessary. So what does it mean to say that Jesse "is a mathematical entity"?"

It means that either Jesse is actually immaterial, abstract, immutable and necessary, or that mathematical entities can in fact be material. I think it is an interesting idea anyway. So far the only defense of it that has been offered is my attempt to show that Anonymous' reductio ad absurdum argument is a bad one.

"Second, while TOF did not present a definition of mathematics"

Okay fine, he just mischaracterized it.

"categories of being of which mathematics has absolutely nothing to say."

Here is what I am trying to get at : there are no categories of being of which mathematics has absolutely nothing to say other than the categories of being about which human beings have absolutely nothing to say.

"It is a triviality to translate any sentence of a natural language into a sentence of a formal language. But what exactly does that buy you?"

If I can take any English sentence and translate it into a statement in mathematics which preserves it's meaning, then it follows that the scope of things which are described by English sentences and the scope of things which are described by mathematical ones are the same.

The point of the argument wasn't actually to show that material things are also mathematical abstractions, it was to undermine Anonymous' argument that material things couldn't possibly be abstractions because there is no mathematical notion of "objective physical world". But in fact there probably is.

Glenn said...

reighley,

If I can take any English sentence and translate it into a statement in mathematics which preserves it's meaning, then it follows that the scope of things which are described by English sentences and the scope of things which are described by mathematical ones are the same.

No, it does not follow. And to claim that it does is to commit the fallacy of composition. You might as well claim that if you can show that one integer is prime, then it follows that all integers are prime.

reighley said...

@Glenn,
"No, it does not follow. And to claim that it does is to commit the fallacy of composition."

I think my use of the language failed me there. When I wrote :
"If I can take any English sentence and translate it into a statement in mathematics which preserves it's meaning."

I did not mean that if I could take any one particular English sentence and make the translation. I meant if it is possible to make the translation for all English sentences. If you should choose any one, then I can always make the translation for you. That was the way in which I was using "any".

Eduardo said...

Sooooo Reighley, Mathematics are perfect interpretations of the fundamental "blocks" of reality? It sounds like you mean that.

reighley said...

@Eduardo,

Mostly I'm just trying to oppose what I take to be a rather slapdash argument. Just because I take the argument to be unsound doesn't mean that I adopt the position it was composed against.

There position which I took Jesse to have proposed, and which I have taken to defending is not that mathematics offers a perfect interpretation of reality, but that it actually is reality. A sort of idealism, as Anonymous pointed out.

There are certainly some very large holes in this idea. We already touched on the problem posed by indescribable objects. @Glen's comment about the distinction between a butterfly dreaming it is an irrational number and an irrational number dreaming that it is a butterfly is whimsical but on the mark.

I just don't think that the imagined limitations on mathematical systems as distinct from those expressed in philosophical jargon is one of those holes.

Glenn said...

reighley,

Let us go back to what Anonymous said. He said,

In as much as the term "objective" can be introduced in the language of mathematics I simply don't see how. Objective as I understand the word is an evaluation of qualitative nature and mathematics is a language used for quantification. How exactly would one express objective, physical and world mathematically, since mathematics is utilized to describe such things in the first place? I sense some circularity looming there.

Thus far it does not look like you have attempted to answer the question as to how mathematics might express, rather than merely describe, such things as 'objective', 'physical' and 'world'.

Mostly I'm just trying to oppose what I take to be a rather slapdash argument.

Ah... words spilling forth from an emotional reaction? Is that it?

(If so, no problem. You're not the first, and you won't be the last.)

Anonymous said...

@reighley

There position which I took Jesse to have proposed, and which I have taken to defending is not that mathematics offers a perfect interpretation of reality, but that it actually is reality.

But that ontological claim is something you need to prove not just assert.

there are no categories of being of which mathematics has absolutely nothing to say other than the categories of being about which human beings have absolutely nothing to say.

This too needs to be demonstrated and not merely asserted based on promissory mathematicism (I just made that up as a spin off of Poppers promissory materialism). I just don't know how a proof of that nature would even look like. How exactly do you exhaust categories of being mathematically?


The first step would require proving that the multiplicity of entities and aspects of reality can even be expressed as mathematics. That is not something you have done.

The second step would require you to demonstrate that this construct is, in fact reality. For example, just because you can describe some aspect of an thing mathematically that doesn't mean the thing is merely a number.

So far I have not seen anything that even addresses step #1 let alone #2.

reighley said...

@Glenn,

"Thus far it does not look like you have attempted to answer the question as to how mathematics might express, rather than merely describe, such things as 'objective', 'physical' and 'world'."

This is true. I'm putting so much weight into this translation argument, ie that a translation is possible in principle, in part because I can see the complexity of actually trying to make the translation. The language of mathematics is very different in its conventions from a natural language. Even translating between French and English (which are very closely related) can create headaches. I intend to give it a shot, but mostly for giggles, since the variations in sense will offer you an almost boundless field to criticize and unpack the meaning of the terms.

So an argument which attempted to show the existence of this translation by construction would both be weaker (since after all that work Anonymous could just pick new terms) and harder to execute. I do continue to insist that a translation only needs to be possible in principle in order for the argument to fall apart, I should not actually have to make a presentation.

That said, lets give a shot at a presentation.

"objective" seems to me to be the hardest. The way that Jesse used it, I take him to mean something like "an objective fact is one which is invariant under a permutation of observers". "Fact" and "invariant permutation" are both amenable to a mathematical formulation. "Observer" is very hard. The shadowy figure lurking in the background of quantum mechanics, collapsing wave functions, does not quite fit the bill. In economics there are various "agents", which not only observe but desire and act. The little fellows are also a common target of abuse for how badly they serve as representations of human beings. In computer science and control theory there are also entities which internalize information, or "observe" in some sense. For Jesse's purpose this is probably good enough, but I can already anticipate counter arguments stemming from the implicit mechanism. That is probably the best route to take anyway : observers are Turing machines and a fact is said to be objective in a world of Turing machines if a permutation of the machines preserves the truth of that fact.

"physical" is actually used as a term of art in physics. It is said of a solution to an equation which might actually be satisfied by a real system. So for instance there are infinitely many solutions to the Schrodinger equation for two identical particles scattering off of each other, but only two can actually occur in nature. These two are said to be physical, and the infinitely many other ones are said to by unphysical, or sometimes virtual. The sense here is very close to the way Jesse used it, since it expresses both that physical things are especially real (privileged over nonphysical things) and also particularly solid (since the physical solutions are the ones that have additional constraints, they are bumping awkwardly into things).

"world" is not usually used in mathematical terminology, but "universe" is very common. It means the set of all things which instantiate the variable in a sentence involving a quantifier. Or loosely, the collection of things that "exist". I do not pretend that the mathematical "exist" and the metaphysical one have exactly the same meaning, but a bit of sloppiness in this translation is to be expected, under the circumstances.

Executioner, I forgive you.

Anonymous said...

@jesse

What if one suggests that the universe is made out of pure Platonic mathematical forms, as physicist Max Tegmark imagines in his "type IV multiverse" at http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/crazy.html ? Is he a "materialist"?

He is an idealist. Something very problematic for an atheist.

reighley said...

@Anonymous,
"This too needs to be demonstrated and not merely asserted based on promissory mathematicism "

Derogatory aphorism aside, the "promissory mathematicism" did contain an argument. My usual style of disputation is to back off all the way, and concede everything provisionally except what I take to be the weakest leg of the opposing argument.

So I have made no defense at all of the original thesis that reality was fundamentally mathematical. That argument will be rather hard to make if we ever get there, and there are stronger arguments against it than the one that has been offered. It is not the weakest leg.

What I thought was the weakest leg was that your argument seemed to rest on there being no mathematical constructions corresponding to the term "objective physical world". I took it to be the weakest leg because, on the one hand, it was taken for granted and on the other hand it seemed to me to be implausible based on the observation that mathematics is a human language which is in important respects just like all the others. If you can say "objective physical world" in English then there is no obvious reason you can't say it in mathematics and in fact some reason to believe the contrary. It turns out this wasn't the weakest leg either.

The actual weakest leg is that you have constructed the argument without realizing how very weak the demonstrandum would have to be to refute it. There seems to be the impression that the only way to unseat the argument is to actually produce a mathematical translation acceptable to all of the phrase "objective physical world". This is not the case.

Suppose instead that the argument rested on the thesis "there is no 1 billion digit prime number". Now it so happens that there is, but that it would be impractically difficult to produce it for you. If I could instead present a proof of its existence only (which is much less unwieldy), that should satisfy you.

In fact, I should have been able to say (as you have now done to me) that I could simply not see why you thought it not the case that no mathematical entities corresponding to "objective physical world" existed.

Foolishly I stuck my foot in my mouth and had to offer why I thought the opposite. The burden of proof had been on you, and it might have been prudent for me to leave it there.

So anyhow, if you would like to start hacking away at my first point (rather than my zeroth), can we at least agree that I ought not be required to actually produce a translation. Only to show that one exists.

Eduardo said...

So wait, you are basically saying that you don´t like to think that mathematics is limited ????

But why not? every language eventually finds limitations... I think * I think this can actually be demonstrated *

reighley said...

@Eduardo,

I am saying that mathematics is no more limited than any other human language. That should be enough to avoid the reductio problem. The problem of intrinsic limitation in languages is a rather sticky one, given the approach I am taking.

Glenn said...

reighley,

1. Previously you defined mathematics as a language which could express anything, with the proviso that it does so precisely.

2. Subsequently you acknowledged that Latin could express things imprecisely.

3. Now you claim that "mathematics is no more limited than any other human language."

4. Oops.

-- The Executioner

reighley said...

@Glenn,
I suppose I have not been thinking of imprecision of a virtue. As I said before, anything that can be expressed can be expressed precisely. I think that if we posit the imprecision of language as somehow fundamental to its power of expression, then we are looking for trouble vis a vis intentionality. Much better for everybody if we suppose that a person who is using a human language to speak imprecisely is simply failing to say what they mean.

grodrigues said...

@reighley:

"It means that either Jesse is actually immaterial, abstract, immutable and necessary, or that mathematical entities can in fact be material."

So Jesse, a human being, is immaterial or mathematical objects are material? Please explain how say the number pi is a material object? And if mathematical objects are material they are causally efficacious, so explain how they are not causally inert but can efficiently cause something? So Jesse, that came into being and so we all suppose, will cease to exist at some point, is necessary rather than contingent? If mathematical objects are contingent and came into being, when exactly did pi come into being? So Jesse, who self-evidently has changed, is immutable. What are you implying? That Parmenides was right and change is an illusion, or that mathematical objects are mutable and exist in time? Do they suffer corruption as they must if they are material and exist in time? So, Jesse who is a concrete particular, localized in space and time, is in fact abstract? So where can I find pi and punch it in... uh, well whatever it is that it has that counts as a face.

"Here is what I am trying to get at : there are no categories of being of which mathematics has absolutely nothing to say other than the categories of being about which human beings have absolutely nothing to say."

Under the standard Thomistic division of sciences, this is simply false. But rather than explaining it, can you give us any reason to suspect it true?

grodrigues said...

@reighley (cont.):

"If I can take any English sentence and translate it into a statement in mathematics which preserves it's meaning, then it follows that the scope of things which are described by English sentences and the scope of things which are described by mathematical ones are the same."

The fact that you can *describe* things mathematically buys you what exactly? That is what I asked. The fact that you can describe or express "objective physical world" in a mathematical formal language means nothing by itself.

But worse, such translation is actually impossible. First, just to give the more obvious example, Poetry can be uncannily precise, finding new words to express the hitherto inexpressible, and yet given its use of metaphor, irony and all matter of polysemic resources, translation into a formal language is impossible. But you added "precisely" to your prescription so let us leave that aside. A Thomist will still protest given the *necessary* univocal use of language in mathematics and the *necessary* analogous use of it in some quarters of philosophy. More problematic still. It is clear that it does not suffice to translate into a formal language, because this is not very different than simply translating into another natural language. What you need is a translation into a *formal theory*. Let us take for the sake of argument first order PA; everything I will say applies to any formal theory T with suitable modifications. Then a statement in a natural language is translated into a statement about natural numbers. But what makes this translation non-arbitrary and of any consequence? For example, what does it mean to say that "preserves it's meaning"? Suppose we replace meaning-preservation for the much more modest truth-value preservation. But how can you possibly arrange things for the translation to preserve the truth values, when on the one side, the truth values of statements are contingent and unknown, and on the other necessary, though also unknown, and even unknowable in the sense of unprovable inside the theory? Worse, there are *mathematical* facts that first order PA *cannot* even express much less prove -- just pass to higher-order arithmetic (that is, talk about subsets of natural numbers, and subsets of subsets and etc.) or talk about models of PA. Now you can say, oh just translate a statement of in the formal language of higher-order arithmetic or a statement about models of PA (in some background formal theory like ZFC, say) into PA. But such a translation *cannot* preserve truth, provability, meaning, etc. so what would be its value?

Anonymous said...

@reighley

Your entire argument hinges on the idea that just because you understand mathematics to be a language that it can express anything. So you use the category 'language' as a means to claim that the meanings of natural language can be exhaustively expressed in the formal language of mathematics and thus imply that their scope and depth is equivalent, even identical. That of course is the very thing that is disputed. You have not shown this to be the case. You simply assert it albeit utilizing different wordings. No proof has been forthcoming.

If I could instead present a proof of its existence only (which is much less unwieldy), that should satisfy you.

You have not provided such proof though. You've only stated your opinion, which is the very thing that is in question as I mentioned above.

The burden of proof here is on you.
You still have not escaped from the promissory mathematicism (which I did not mean in a derogatory way - instead I thought you'd see the humor in it)

From you last reply I take it that you only want to focus on issue/step #1 since #2 (the ontological claim) is too difficult/impossible to prove. Or simply false that the world simply is mathematics.

Glenn said...

As I said before, anything that can be expressed can be expressed precisely.

Even if we grant this to be true, it is beside the point.

The point, e.g., is that there are things which initially can be expressed only imprecisely, and your definition of mathematics precludes any such initially imprecise expressions while allowing them to natural languages.

That it may be that the things initially expressible only imprecisely via natural language may eventually come into such focus that they then can be translated into and expressed via a mathematical language shows that natural language is not limited in the way that you yourself have deemed mathematical language to be limited.

This in turn shows that it isn't true that "mathematics is no more limited than any other human language."

Glenn said...

reighley,

There position which I took Jesse to have proposed, and which I have taken to defending is not that mathematics offers a perfect interpretation of reality, but that it actually is reality. (September 8, 2012 7:01 PM)

1. If mathematics actually is reality, and mathematics is a human language, then it follows that the human language of mathematics actually is reality.

2. Given your position that any single human language is ostensibly equivalent to any other human language, it then follows that the English language, ostensibly, actually is reality.

3. Now, since non-verbal communication is not possible with the English language, and the English language, ostensibly, actually is reality, it follows that, ostensibly, in actual reality there is not any such thing as non-verbal communication.

Wink.

Glenn said...

Well now, one must test the claims that one makes.

So I said to my wife, I have a question for you."

She smiled, and said, "Go ahead."

"Is non-verbal communication possible with the English language."

Looking surprised, she said, "Yes!"

Archiing my brows, I responded with, "It is?"

Looking mildly indignant, she corrected me with, "Of course it is!"

The rest of the conversation doesn't matter.

Suffice it say that I didn't convince her that non-verbal communication is not possible with the English langugage, and she didn't convince me that it is.

So, I will amend my 3. above to read as follows,

3. Now, since certain forms of non-verbal communication are not possible with the English language, and the English language, ostensibly, actually is reality, it follows that, ostensibly, in actual reality there are certain forms of non-verbal communication which do not exist.

reighley said...

@Anonymous
"You have not provided such proof though. You've only stated your opinion, which is the very thing that is in question as I mentioned above."

I sort of sketched an argument based on the fact that all human languages must naturally be finitely generated. It has taken a certain amount of effort just to argue that if such a translation existed it would do the work I say it would do. I take it that job is done and I should now get on with convincing you of the existence of a meaning preserving translation from English into mathematics.

@Glenn,
"This in turn shows that it isn't true that "mathematics is no more limited than any other human language.""

Okay fine. But the role that language is playing in this discussion is to refer to real things, so if I eat a little crow on this point it doesn't actually damage the argument. Things that actually exist can be referred to precisely if at all.

My reply to the nonverbal communication argument is similar. I suppose I am imagining an idealized English in which we all just say what we mean. A fantasy surely but I feel that it must be possible.

@grodrigues,
You make several points, some of which are not easy to dismiss. I'm thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

@reighley

I sort of sketched an argument based on the fact that all human languages must naturally be finitely generated. It has taken a certain amount of effort just to argue that if such a translation existed it would do the work I say it would do. I take it that job is done and I should now get on with convincing you of the existence of a meaning preserving translation from English into mathematics.

I think we're missing each other here... I already commented on that in my previous post:

Your entire argument hinges on the idea that just because you understand mathematics to be a language that it can express anything. So you use the category 'language' as a means to claim that the meanings of natural language can be exhaustively expressed in the formal language of mathematics and thus imply that their scope and depth is equivalent, even identical. That of course is the very thing that is disputed. You have not shown this to be the case. You simply assert it albeit utilizing different wordings. No proof has been forthcoming.

I honestly don't think you've addressed my point at all.

I still haven't seen any proof that what can be expressed in natural language can also be expressed in mathematics nor have I seen a proof that if that were to happen the expression would be exhaustive.

JesseM said...

continuing my response to Mr. Green:
It still isn't quite true to say that the behaviour of gliders can be explained by the behaviours of their parts. For that to be strictly true, the rules for parts would have to make no reference to their neighbours
This seems like a weird parsing of "explained by the behaviours of their parts", I think most English speakers reading this would understand that the phrase could include behaviors of parts that were influenced by interactions with other parts (for instance, most people would say the motions of a mechanical toy can be explained in terms of its parts even though the toy's movements depends on interactions between individual gears and such). Even if you disagree, it's an irrelevant criticism of my argument since I specifically mentioned interactions in pretty much every comment where I stated or restated what I meant by "physical reductionism".

So even a reductionistic system like Conway's game makes sense only if it's an Aristotelian sort of reductionism.

See my previous comment to you, you are misunderstanding what I mean by "reductionism"--I wasn't using it to say anything about whether wholes are less "real" than parts, whether they are an essential part of our explanation, etc. Look again at my explanation for what I meant by "physical reductionism" in my first comment on the thread:

"reductionism" as the view that the behavior of all complex systems could in principle (even if it is impossible in practice) be boiled down to some complex set of interactions between fundamental particles/fields, with the interactions determined solely by some universal mathematical rules that we call the "laws of physics" (and here "determined" just means that knowing the laws of physics would give the best possible predictions about the future behavior of the fundamental entities, not that this behavior would necessarily be deterministic as opposed to having a random element).

And also this from my third comment:

the physical reductionist view that all motion of matter can in principle be predicted with ideal accuracy by a Laplacian demon who knows nothing more than the initial configuration of the most fundamental bits (particles, fields, whatever) and the most fundamental physical laws governing them (superstring theory or whatever).

In Conway's Game of Life, if we know the initial states of all the individual cells as well as the mathematical rules governing how each cell changes based on the state of its neighbors, that is sufficient to have perfect predictions of what the states of all the cells will be at later times. That is all that is required for "physical reductionism" to hold in Life "universe", as I defined "physical reductionism" previously. If you think my terminology is confusing, feel free to suggest some other term for this concept, the terminology isn't of particular importance to me.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
And there's no reason why the rules have to be defined from the bottom up: you could make a different game where whenever certain cells get turned on in the right configuration, then that makes a glider, and then new rules for gilders come into play that take precedence over the rules for individual cells.

I suppose my definition of "physical reductionism" didn't make clear whether the mathematical rules operating on on the "parts" (cells, in the Game of Life) could themselves have special cases for different large-scale configurations. I see no reason why not! Perhaps you might feel that "physical reductionism" is a misleading term in this case, but the idea I am trying to get at is just that knowledge of the initial state of the basic parts plus some well-defined mathematical rules is sufficient for the best possible predictions of future states (the Laplacian demon, again). So, that would still apply in your example above. A violation of what I call "physical reductionism" would be if the behavior of certain types of wholes had an element that was not predictable in terms of any strictly mathematical rules, but was not purely random either so some sort of qualitative understanding of the wholes involved could allow you to make better predictions than a Laplacian demon who knows only the basic configuration of basic parts plus some set of mathematical laws. In a response to TheOFloinn I said:

giving the Laplacian demon additional information about the high-level patterns present in the particles--that this collection of particles is a "cat" aiming its eyes in the direction of another collection of particles which is a "bird", for example--would not help the demon to improve those predictions one iota.

In this example, one might imagine that "physical reductionism" would be violated knowing you had a hungry-looking cat stalking a nearby bird allowed you to make a teleological inference that the cat wanted to catch the bird and wanted to pounce, but the Laplacian demon who merely knew all the particles without having any high-level concept of a "cat" or "bird" wouldn't have enough information to make that prediction.

If there are "laws of consciousness", then again we have something beyond the mere (physically observable) parts, so I don't think such a view would correctly be called physical reductionism.

Again, you are free to dispute my choice of terms, but the definition I have given says nothing about whether or not anything exists beyond physically observable parts, it is purely a statement about what is needed for ideal predictions of what the physically observable parts will (observably) do.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
so whether a brain at a given time is the "same mind" as a brain (or computer program) at a different time is purely a matter of how we choose to define "same mind"...I can never quite bring myself to believe this sort of eliminative materialism though.

Probably because of its fatal flaw: if "minds" were truly arbitrary, if they were not actual things but merely "beings of reason", then we could define "my" mind to be what's going on in your brain… but I'm still not going to have your experiences. There is an obvious fact of the matter that is not explicable in terms of physical reduction to the parts

This isn't much of an argument against an eliminative materialist, because you seem to be presupposing a notion of "your" true "experiences" which an eliminative materialist wouldn't accept in to begin with (i.e. you are trying to argue against eliminative materialism by presupposing that eliminative materialism is false). If you don't think you're doing that, please explain what you mean by "I'm still not going to have your experiences" in purely material, third-person terms...for example, "experiences" might be defined in terms of certain information becoming available to an information-processing system like a computer, and the fact that you can't have my experiences could be understand as analogous to the idea that one computer may have access to information that another one doesn't have, so the first computer could correctly answer certain questions a user entered into it that the second couldn't. But for inorganic objects like a computer (or the classic "ship of theseus" philosophical thought-experiment), you won't find many eliminative materialists who'd argue that there is a single objectively correct answer to how many elements of the object can be changed before it ceases to be the "same" object; the "identities" of objects are drawn somewhat arbitrarily, so an eliminative materialist should say the same about "minds".

JesseM said...

grodrigues wrote:
So Jesse, a human being, is immaterial or mathematical objects are material?

"Material" and "immaterial" have no very precise definitions, they're just words human came up with to express certain intuitions which don't really make much sense if the mathematical view of nature is correct. If you disagree, please define precisely what you mean by "material", leaving nothing implicit or based on "common-sense" understanding.

And if mathematical objects are material they are causally efficacious, so explain how they are not causally inert but can efficiently cause something? So Jesse, that came into being and so we all suppose, will cease to exist at some point, is necessary rather than contingent?

With regard to time, I am an eternalist rather than a presentist, so I don't really believe anything ceases to exist or has yet to exist, it's just that I don't have direct awareness of what's going on at other times in much the same way I don't have direct awareness of what's going on at distant spatial locations. For more on this, as well as what "causation" can mean to someone who takes an eternalist and mathematical view of our own universe, you might want to check out the comments thread at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html in particular the following:

As an analogy, if one is a mathematical platonist then one presumably believes that mathematical forms exist in a sort of timeless way, and never came into existence. But thanks to Alan Turing we know that computing can be treated as a type of abstract mathematics, so that among the mathematical forms would exist every possible Turing machine program (along with the complete set of facts about what the input/output string looked like at each increment of the running of the program). Yet among these possible programs are ones like the physical simulations we run when modeling the weather and such, including vastly more complex types of physical simulations, perhaps as complex as the physical universe itself (assuming the universe follows fixed mathematical laws everywhere, which believers in libertarian free will may not agree with--but if the cosmological argument is valid, it should be valid even if the universe evolves in the same deterministic mathematical way as a computer program). And such simulations do contain a sort of internal causal structure and time dimension, even though we can also see all facts about their entire history existing timelessly in the realm of platonic mathematical truths. I see no reason to think our universe couldn't be like that, and most modern naturalists who are familiar with relativity's 4-dimensional view of spacetime would probably agree.

reighley said...

@Anonymous,

"I honestly don't think you've addressed my point at all."

You are right, we are probably talking past each other.

Taking for granted that if I could do so, showing the existence of a meaningful translation from a natural language to a mathematical one would be a useful thing to do, and leaving aside for the moment the ontological question.

The basic idea is that the set of everything you can possibly say, or express in English is generated from a finite set of symbols. Namely, the Latin alphabet. So it is trivial to stipulate that every English utterance may be assigned a natural number. Every last English utterance, exhaustively. In fact, everything we write on this combox is being assigned a natural number by the computer behind it, which knows nothing else. So every statement we might make about an English sentence can be mapped uniquely into a statement about natural numbers.

So in a certain, simple way, the possibility of a translation should be obvious. Provided that we are free enough with what we mean by translation. A better term would be "encoding". To my mind (though obviously not to everyone) this is enough to lend a certain plausibility to the idea that English may be freely translated into mathematics.

Even the simple encoding should defuse objections based on the expressive power of poetry or lack of precision (which are at the end, just as finite as any other string of symbols). It should silence objections based on the idea that mathematics is strictly concerned with "quantity" and not "quality", since now we see that anything you say can be regarded as a quantity. This is the reason I regard mathematics as a language among others. Finite strings from a finite alphabet are all more or less the same to me.

@grodrigues points out that my job is not obviously done here. We should like a translation to be something more than an encoding. In order for my argument to work it must somehow preserve the "meaning" of the English sentences (or at least their "truth").

There are two features which make this argument hard to make, though I don't think totally impossible. The first is that the word "truth" is a sticky one to translate. There is a very clearly understood mathematical notion of truth, but to suppose that they are the same is effectively to beg the question completely. This is part of the challenge of addressing @grodrigues' idea that things in the world are contingent but numbers are all necessary.

The second is that most of the paths to an argument which might be easy in other forums will be objectionable here.

I could for instance adopt a naive physicalism and insist that, as everything is just matter in motion, everything in the world corresponds to some linear operator. These operators preserve very nicely the meaning of our English sentences, in so far as their relationship to each other mirrors perfectly the relationships of material things in the world. If we insist that this be confined to the physical world, and then only up to an approximation (though admittedly a very close one) then I anticipate no objection. But oh! the fight we would have if I tried to sweep the caveats under the rug.

I could also avail myself of computationalism (as I have already very gingerly done) and say that we are all equivalent to Turing machines. In that case I could map your English sentence to the state of the machine that you were when you said it. I would capture perfectly all the experience and subtext that went in to the expression you used. I would even have a computable function with which I could answer questions about beauty and contingency and all the things you think you can talk about in English but not in mathematics, all through your eyes. It would be hard to argue that I had not captured your meaning perfectly. If only you always acted as the solution to a Diophantine equation (just grant me that!)

(cont ...)

reighley said...

(... cont)

I also think that most of the technical objections would be easy to get rid of if we point out that the collection of all ideas expressible in English is not only finitely generated but actually finite. We are mortal, and constrained to speak at a limited rate. There is only so much space to fill with words. Finite sets are very tractable. I do not want to go down this path because I am trying to leave myself enough room to maneuver if we ever get to the ontological half of the problem. When I speak of "English" what I actually mean is the collection of sentences we could possibly say if we were to say what we meant and had as much time as we needed to say it in. The unfortunate, crippled, language that we actually speak is not going to be able to support a defense of idealism.

As to how to overcome the difficulty with the translation of terms like "truth" and "contingent", my basic approach will be to argue that numbers are only necessary when we discuss them in our natural language. A meaning preserving translation would translate the English word "contingent" into a predicate that was actually satisfied for some numbers. The mathematical objects would be "contingent on their own terms" as it were.

As to the details of the translation, I think the computational argument can be stripped of the objectionable bits. It seems to me to be true, for reasons already mentioned, that any language spoken by Turing machines is amenable to a very reasonable translation into mathematics. The goal now will be to expand the class of things for which this is true until we agree that it includes you. You do not have to confess to being a Turing machine, only to sharing some features in common with one.

Glenn said...

JesseM,

I am curious. You say,

With regard to time, I am an eternalist rather than a presentist, so I don't really believe anything ceases to exist or has yet to exist, it's just that I don't have direct awareness of what's going on at other times in much the same way I don't have direct awareness of what's going on at distant spatial locations.

My curiosity leads me to inquire: where were you on March 3, 1651?

This question has less to do with your spatial location at that point in time, and more to do with the (alleged) fact of your existence at that time--for if there isn't anything that has yet to exist, and you do exist, then it follows that you existed on (amongst other birthday-preceding dates in time) March 3, 1651.

I do not think the answer can be that you yourself did not exist on that date, but that those things did which eventually would coalesce into that which now is taken to be JesseM.

The reason why I do not think that this can be the answer is that the answer violates the notion that there isn't anything which has yet to exist. If there isn't anything which has yet to exist, and you do exist, then you--and not merely something (or some things) which eventually would become what now is taken to be you--had to have existed on March 3, 1651.

So, where were you on March 3, 1651?

JesseM said...

Glenn, the key to understanding the eternalist view of time is that, ontologically, it is treated as no different from space (obviously it is different from space in other respects, but not in terms of how we think of the existence of different points in space or time). So asking "where I exist on March 3, 1651" is a bit like asking "where in present-day France do I exist"--I do not happen to inhabit either of those locations in four-dimensional spacetime, but just as a French person could understand "Jesse exists, just not in this particular region of space and time where I live" so an eternalist would say that people in the far past or far future exist, just not at the same location in spacetime as the speaker. Existence is treated as a timeless attribute (much as the existence of mathematical objects would be for a mathematical platonist), although any given physical object or event in our universe will have a location in time just like it has a location in space.

ozero91 said...

JesseM, on your view, is there a difference between saying:

"George Washington does not exist in the current space-time."

"George Washington exists, but not in the current space-time."

ozero91 said...

Or, do you deny the notion of a "current" space-time?

Anonymous said...

A violation of what I call "physical reductionism" would be if the behavior of certain types of wholes had an element that was not predictable in terms of any strictly mathematical rules, but was not purely random either so some sort of qualitative understanding of the wholes involved could allow you to make better predictions than a Laplacian demon who knows only the basic configuration of basic parts plus some set of mathematical laws
First off, I think the term physical reductionism here is very misleading. It’s also incorrect since the reduction is done in mathematics, which is not physical itself.

Second, I don’t think it’s correct to say that the prediction is done given the initial state and constituents only but rather at every level there is a new dynamic in operation which needs to be introduced. That alone destroys reductionism. He concedes that: I do think that wholes matter and need to be understood on their own terms so that would require new rules and dynamics at a higher level. So prediction then must be carried out at each new level not at merely the initial conditions. I think a clear refutation of jesse’s worldview is a human being.

Third, there is also a fairly new idea that I have come across known as physical under-determination, which may challenge what jesse is saying. I know more physicists and philosophers are starting to take this more seriously, which indicates a move away from physical determinism and if proves to be the accurate state of affairs would deny what jesse seems to require for his theory to work.

Finally, I fear that there might be a shell game in place here, where anything that can be predicted in principle (and it’s one thing to claim things in principle as jesse is doing and another to demonstrate in practice) would be used for the modeling and anything that cannot (that may violate or refute it) will merely be treated as “chance”. Hence the shell game.

JesseM said...

Or, do you deny the notion of a "current" space-time?

Yes, I prefer the idea that there is no objective, observer-independent notion of "the present", just like there is no objective notion of what "here" means--both terms have meaning only relative to the location in spacetime where the speaker utters them. This is an idea known by philosophers as the "B theory of time" (a term based on an argument by the philosopher John McTaggart, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternalism_(philosophy_of_time)#McTaggart.27s_argument for a brief summary), and although it implies eternalism, it is conceptually distinct since an eternalist could theoretically believe that there is a moving spotlight of "nowness" moving along 4D spacetime which confers an objective truth about which events are happening in the present, even if "nowness" is not relevant to judging whether an event "exists", so it needn't conflict with the eternalist view that all events at all times have the same ontological status. In practice I don't think you'll find too many eternalists who deny the B theory, though.

Note that Einstein's theory of relativity also denies the possibility that there can be an objective present, at least not one that has any physical consequences whatsoever. The different "inertial reference frame" (spacetime coordinate systems in which different objects moving at constant velocity are defined to be at rest) disagree in their judgments about simultaneity--if you have two events A and B which occur simultaneously (same time-coordinate) in one frame, there will be other frames where A occurs earlier than B, or where B occurs earlier than A. And the laws of physics obey identical equations when expressed in terms of the coordinates of different frames, so if you have some sealed laboratories moving at different velocities in space, the result of any experiment in the lab will look identical no matter what the velocity (without windows, you'd have no way of knowing if your lab was moving at 99% the speed of light relative to the Earth or was at rest relative to the Earth). So, there is nothing in the laws of physics that picks out a "preferred" frame whose judgments are more "correct" than any other's, and that goes for judgments about simultaneity too. I suppose we could still imagine a "metaphysically preferred frame" whose judgments about simultaneity would be the "true" ones, but only if it had no empirical consequences whatsoever, so there would be no test we could do that would determine which one it is. I think Occam's razor should lead us to get rid of such an idea and just adopt the B theory view, though.

Anonymous said...

@reighley

In fact, everything we write on this combox is being assigned a natural number by the computer behind it, which knows nothing else. So every statement we might make about an English sentence can be mapped uniquely into a statement about natural numbers.

So correct me if I am wrong, but what you seem to be saying is that since the computer assigns binary codes to every word that I type and said codes can be considered to be a mathematical language that serves as an objection to my reductio? Because in principle we can assign some numeric code to anything arbitrarily? I still don’t see how assigning an arbitrary mathematical symbol to a given word would undercut the reductio though...

JesseM said...

Anonymous:
First off, I think the term physical reductionism here is very misleading.

As I said, you are free to suggest a new term, but I think my usage corresponds pretty well to what scientists usually mean when they talk about "reductionism", even if philosophers may tend to use it a bit differently.

It’s also incorrect since the reduction is done in mathematics, which is not physical itself.

As I keep repeating, my definition of "physical reductionism" has nothing to do with ontology--it isn't a claim that the parts are more "real" than the whole, nor is it a claim that only physical things exist. Someone like David Chalmers is a physical reductionist under my definition, purely because of his beliefs about how the physical world works (his belief that it follows strict mathematical rules operating on arrangements of particles, and that the physical world is "causally closed" so interactive dualism is rejected), even though most of his philosophical arguments revolve around the idea that physical truths are not the only, that there are also truths about first-person qualia which cannot be reduced purely to third-person truths about brains or other physical objects.

Second, I don’t think it’s correct to say that the prediction is done given the initial state and constituents only but rather at every level there is a new dynamic in operation which needs to be introduced.

I don't understand what you mean by "at every level there is a new dynamic in operation"--are you just saying that we need not just the initial state but also the dynamical laws (a function operating on the initial state), or are you saying that large-scale systems behave in ways that would be fundamentally impossible to predict using the initial state of the basic constituents and the fundamental dynamical laws? (unlike with gliders in the Game of Life, for example) If the latter, what is your basis for believing this? Science has been consistently successful at explaining more and more of how complex systems behave in this sort of "reductionist" matter (explaining the growth of embryos in terms of molecular signals exchanged between cells and controlled by the DNA, for example), so I think most scientists would disagree with the latter perspective if that's what you're saying. And if you are saying that, can you comment on the central question I entered this comments thread to ask about, namely whether aspects of the AT philosophy would have to be false if this notion of physical reductionism were true? (i.e. if the behavior of complex systems followed purely from the configuration of basic parts and mathematical laws governing their behavior, just like with gliders in the Game of Life)

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
That alone destroys reductionism. He concedes that: I do think that wholes matter and need to be understood on their own terms so that would require new rules and dynamics at a higher level. So prediction then must be carried out at each new level not at merely the initial conditions. So prediction then must be carried out at each new level not at merely the initial conditions.

You are conflating "understanding" and "prediction" here, but if you had carefully read the comments immediately after the one you quoted, you would see that I am not doing the same thing:

I do think that wholes matter and need to be understood on their own terms, even though I also believe the behaviors of wholes emerges in a bottom-up way from the behavior of the smaller parts. Again I would go back to the analogy I used earlier of the "game of life", where the behavior of larger wholes like "gliders" is always possible to deduce logically from the fundamental rules governing individual cells, yet I would say that the larger emergent wholes are real "things" in this world, and that a hypothetical scientist living in this simulated universe (composed of vast arrays of gliders and other patterns, perhaps) wouldn't really understand his universe very well if he only knew the fundamental rules governing cells and didn't know about the behavior of larger patterns.

Any "rules and dynamics at a higher level" would emerge in a bottom-up way from the lower-level rules, just like the rules governing gliders can be derived from the rules governing individual cells in the Game of Life (I keep returning to this example because it is nice and concrete and avoids some of the conceptual confusion that comes from talking in a more abstract way about higher levels vs. lower levels). Clearly the behavior of a glider can be predicted knowing nothing besides the state of the individual cells at some time and the rules governing how they behave, so "physical reductionism" as I define it would hold in this "universe", but from what I said above, you can see that I was saying a hypothetical being in this universe would not fully understand his world if he didn't know about higher-level regularities implied by the basic rules. I could also make an analogy to an area of mathematics that is defined by a set of axioms, like Euclidean Geometry--although in principle all later deductions follow logically from the starting axioms and rules of inference, a student who has learned the axioms and rules cannot be said to have a good understanding of geometry if he knows nothing of all the commonly-derived useful and interesting theorems that mathematicians have derived from these rules.

I think a clear refutation of jesse’s worldview is a human being.

Only if you assume from the start that a human being's behavior is unlike that of a glider in the Game of Life, in that its high-level behavior does not emerge in a bottom-up way from the configuration of basic constituents plus the mathematical rules governing their behavior. I see no reason to make such an assumption. As I tried to make clear earlier, this was my reason for bringing up the question of mind uploads--I did not primarily want to talk about whether the existence of behaviorally-identical uploads would itself falsify the AT philosophy, my point in bringing them up was just that a behaviorally-identical upload based on physical reductionist assumptions would make it vastly more plausible to most people that physical reductionism applies to us, too, and I wanted to know whether the AT philosophy was fundamentally incompatible with the possibility that physical reductionism does apply to us, that we are like vastly more complex versions of gliders.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
Third, there is also a fairly new idea that I have come across known as physical under-determination, which may challenge what jesse is saying. I know more physicists and philosophers are starting to take this more seriously, which indicates a move away from physical determinism and if proves to be the accurate state of affairs would deny what jesse seems to require for his theory to work.

I am skeptical that anything will come of that approach, and I think most modern scientists would too. But since this is a philosophical blog, it's not really worth getting into questions of what the actual laws of nature will actually turn out to be in reality; again, I want to focus on the question of whether AT is incompatible with the possibility that the universe works in the physical reductionist way I have outlined, or whether it requires that it not work this way.

Finally, I fear that there might be a shell game in place here, where anything that can be predicted in principle (and it’s one thing to claim things in principle as jesse is doing and another to demonstrate in practice) would be used for the modeling and anything that cannot (that may violate or refute it) will merely be treated as “chance”. Hence the shell game.

Again, even if our universe is non-deterministic (which isn't clear yet, since there are interpretations of quantum mechanics such as Bohmian mechanics and the many-worlds interpretation that are totally deterministic), we can still ask the philosophical question of whether the AT philosophy would be compatible with a hypothetical universe that was fully deterministic.

But as for the specific issue you raise, a defining feature of "chance" is that if a phenomena is fundamentally probabilistic, that means it is in principle impossible to make better predictions (in the long run) than someone using the statistical distribution, if you can make better predictions, you have shown that the other guy's difficulty in making predictions is not due purely to the fact that the system's behavior depends on chance. In a recent comment to Mr. Green I suggested a way in which we could imagine physical reductionism being false, where an unpredictable behavior of a cat that a Laplacian demon (who knows nothing of high-level objects like "cats") would be forced to model as "chance", would be at least partially predictable by someone who understood something about teleological concepts like the cat's desires:

one might imagine that "physical reductionism" would be violated knowing you had a hungry-looking cat stalking a nearby bird allowed you to make a teleological inference that the cat wanted to catch the bird and wanted to pounce, but the Laplacian demon who merely knew all the particles without having any high-level concept of a "cat" or "bird" wouldn't have enough information to make that prediction.

grodrigues said...

@JesseM:

"Material" and "immaterial" have no very precise definitions, they're just words human came up with to express certain intuitions which don't really make much sense if the mathematical view of nature is correct.

I do not need to define what "material" and "immaterial" are; for the purposes of this discussion it suffices to point out some obvious features that material objects have and mathematical ones do not or vice versa.

The single most important feature is that, even if I grant you the eternalist view (which I do not), the fact is that material objects are *in* space-time and localized in space-time. So we can meaningfully say that material objects are composed of parts, and even temporal parts. There is a perfectly legitimate sense, because they are localized in space-time, in which they come into existence and go out of existence. There is perfectly legitimate sense, because material objects have temporal parts, in which they change. There is a perfectly legitimate sense in which a modality like contingency applies to material objects. There is a perfectly legitimate sense in saying that material objects are concrete particulars. Mathematical objects lack all these features.

I did not had the time yet (and probably will not) to read the link (thanks, anyway), but the excerpt you quote does nothing to elucidate in which sense mathematical objects can be causally efficacious. Vague appeals to Turing machines having "a sort of internal causal structure and time dimension" are not exactly very enlightening.

grodrigues said...

@reighley:

You still have not answered the basic ontological question: even if you could achieve such a translation, it does *not* give warrant to believe in an identity between mathematical and material objects, in much the same way as the fact that even if we could describe the whole universe in a natural language, it no more warrants us to believe that material objects are words or composites of words, or even thoughts. There is a chasm that has not, and in my view cannot, be bridged -- see my reply to JesseM.

You keep making this mistake in the two posts, as if we could in principle translate every sentence in some natural language like English into a sentence in a formal theory T, somehow would solve the problem. It does not.

As far as your attempt at a translation, besides the problems you mentioned there are others that you failed to address. This time, let me take ZFC as the formal theory into which the translation is done. The vast majority of mathematics is expressible in ZFC; certainly everything used in physics. Still, not enough:

1. Vast majority is there for a reason. There are mathematical statements that are neither provable in ZFC, but are not even *expressible* in it. Just peruse all the work on large cardinal axioms, forcing, inner models, etc. This is true for any formal theory T; so even as regards mathematical statements, a single formal theory *cannot* express them all.

2. The problem is not just that terms like "truth" and "contingency" are difficult to translate. One of the problems is that the encoding into a formal theory must preserve the truth relations of the external world, but these are contingent and discoverable, so how can you even know that a proposed encoding preserves the truth relations? It does not suffice to show that the encoding preserves the *known* truth relations, because it could happen that it does not preserve a future-discoverable truth relation and the encoding would then fail. But how can you do that? The second problem that you have not addressed at all is the problem of meaning. A statement in a natural language like English has a content and meaning, referring to extra-mental objects, both particular and universal. But a statement in ZFC is univocally a statement about sets. Saying that the meaning of the translated statement is the meaning of the original statement is completely arbitrary and does not advance one iota -- let me put this in another way. The reason why translation between natural languages is possible is because they have a common field of referents to draw upon, the external world. But there is no such thing on the side of mathematics as the field of referents is, for lack of a better word, the mathematical universe, which is just a tiny corner of reality (this independently of whether you are a Platonist or not), and in mathematics, the even smaller corner of ZFC-like sets. The fact that the ZFC has a model of first order PA as the set of Von-Neumann ordinals does *not* mean, by itself, that numbers are *just* sets. In fact, since Goedel assures us that no formal theory can prove all true arithmetical facts, the natural numbers are not reducible to what any formal theory T can say about them.

grodrigues said...

@reighley:

You still have not answered the basic ontological question: even if you could achieve such a translation, it does *not* give warrant to believe in an identity between mathematical and material objects, in much the same way as the fact that even if we could describe the whole universe in a natural language, it no more warrants us to believe that material objects are words or composites of words, or even thoughts. There is a chasm that has not, and in my view cannot, be bridged -- see my reply to JesseM.

You keep making this mistake in the two posts, as if we could in principle translate every sentence in some natural language like English into a sentence in a formal theory T, somehow would solve the problem. It does not.

As far as your attempt at a translation, besides the problems you mentioned there are others that you failed to address. This time, let me take ZFC as the formal theory into which the translation is done. The vast majority of mathematics is expressible in ZFC; certainly everything used in physics. Still, not enough:

1. Vast majority is there for a reason. There are mathematical statements that are neither provable in ZFC, but are not even *expressible* in it. Just peruse all the work on large cardinal axioms, forcing, inner models, etc. This is true for any formal theory T; so even as regards mathematical statements, a single formal theory *cannot* express them all.

2. The problem is not just that terms like "truth" and "contingency" are difficult to translate. One of the problems is that the encoding into a formal theory must preserve the truth relations of the external world, but these are contingent and discoverable, so how can you even know that a proposed encoding preserves the truth relations? It does not suffice to show that the encoding preserves the *known* truth relations, because it could happen that it does not preserve a future-discoverable truth relation and the encoding would then fail. But how can you do that? The second problem that you have not addressed at all is the problem of meaning. A statement in a natural language like English has a content and meaning, referring to extra-mental objects, both particular and universal. But a statement in ZFC is univocally a statement about sets. Saying that the meaning of the translated statement is the meaning of the original statement is completely arbitrary and does not advance one iota -- let me put this in another way. The reason why translation between natural languages is possible is because they have a common field of referents to draw upon, the external world. But there is no such thing on the side of mathematics as the field of referents is, for lack of a better word, the mathematical universe, which is just a tiny corner of reality (this independently of whether you are a Platonist or not), and in mathematics, the even smaller corner of ZFC-like sets. The fact that the ZFC has a model of first order PA as the set of Von-Neumann ordinals does *not* mean, by itself, that numbers are *just* sets. In fact, since Goedel assures us that no formal theory can prove all true arithmetical facts, the natural numbers are not reducible to what any formal theory T can say about them.

note: reposting as it seems Blogger has eaten this comment.

David Ezemba said...

JesseM,
If I've understood you correctly you're taking us back to a Parmenidian view of existence: everything is (somewhere and somewhen), there is no such thing as change, and wherever (whenever?) we perceive change it is really just a, um, change in "direct awareness". I don't believe you'll bring anything new to this that Aristotle hasn't dealt with already in responding to Parmenides. One question for you though:
Given your eternalism, what exactly do you mean when you talk of prediction?

JesseM said...

grodrigues:
I do not need to define what "material" and "immaterial" are; for the purposes of this discussion it suffices to point out some obvious features that material objects have and mathematical ones do not or vice versa.

Well, there is an obvious double standard here: you are fine with intuitive but not precisely-defined notions in your own arguments, but when I appeal to the intuition that "cause and effect" can be applied to the internal dynamics of simulated universes (whether something simple like the Game of Life, or something more complex like a detailed simulation of how weather systems evolve over time in a simulated atmosphere), an intuition that should seem fairly obvious to anyone who has ever played around with or looked at a computer simulation of some kind, you refuse to even engage the argument, but just say that this is "vague" and "not very enlightening". Do you really not understand how it seems intuitively obvious to apply the notion of "cause and effect" to a simulated universe where the regularities in relations between earlier states and later states mirror those of our own universe, especially simulations which are intended to model real physical phenomena like the weather or the formation of galaxies? Do we have any reason to believe that "cause and effect" in our own universe is anything more than certain regularities in the relationship between events at different times, regularities that derive from the mathematical laws of nature?

The single most important feature is that, even if I grant you the eternalist view (which I do not), the fact is that material objects are *in* space-time and localized in space-time.

It's not very obvious that a thoughtful materialist would agree with this feature. For one thing, there is a whole school of thought that space and time should not be taken as fundamental aspects of the physical world, but that they just emerge out of some sort of lawlike relations between physical events, like a connect-the-dot pattern where the dots are events and the lines are causal links; this way of thinking about physics goes back to Leibniz, and it has modern incarnations in certain approaches to quantum gravity such as loop quantun gravity and causal sets. If we conceive of the universe as consisting of fundamental "events" (like particle interactions) and lawlike connections between them, this is quite similar to the way the history of a simulated universe can be understood as a collection of computational events (digits being flipped on a Turing machine tape, say) with rules determining how each new one follows from the previous ones.

Also, given the popularity of multiverse theories nowadays, I think most modern self-proclaimed materialists who were well-informed about science would not want to rule out a priori the possibility of "parallel" physical universes, even if there was no meaningful way to talk about spatial or temporal relationships between different parallel universes. Similarly, a mathematical platonist would say that all the different possible Turing machine computations "coexist" in some sense even though there are no spatial or temporal relationships between them, and one simulated universe cannot "causally influence" a different one.

JesseM said...

David Ezemba:
If I've understood you correctly you're taking us back to a Parmenidian view of existence: everything is (somewhere and somewhen), there is no such thing as change, and wherever (whenever?) we perceive change it is really just a, um, change in "direct awareness".

One can still speak of "change" even if one is not a presentist who believes things are coming into and going out of existence. For example, if you graph a function on an x-y plane, like y=x^2 the y-coordinate of the curve can be said to "change" with increasing values of the x-coordinate (in calculus classes a derivative is often defined verbally as the rate at which one variable is changing with respect to another variable). It's a relative change--one thing is changing with respect to something else. Similarly the state of my brain/consciousness changes with respect to the time-coordinate in spacetime.

I don't believe you'll bring anything new to this that Aristotle hasn't dealt with already in responding to Parmenides.

I would say that developments like the mathematization of physics and the notion of "spacetime" make the eternalist position quite different from that of Parmenides. Parmenides is not completely clear, but it seems to me he simply says all perception of the physical world being different at different times is some sort of illusion or mistake, whereas an eternalist would have no problem with the idea of physical systems having different states at different times, any more than she would object to the notion of the altitude being different at different positions on the surface of the Earth. So I doubt whether Aristotle's arguments against Parmenides would really apply to this view, although you're welcome to try to show how they could be adapted to do so. Also, I take it you're just talking about eternalism when you say Aristotle already refuted this view? The stuff about eternalism was a bit of a tangent from the main topic I was interested in, namely "physical reductionism" as I defined it above, which is compatible with presentism as well as eternalism.

Given your eternalism, what exactly do you mean when you talk of prediction?

Making a statement at one time about what will happen (or what is likely to happen) at a later time.

grodrigues said...

@JesseM:

"Well, there is an obvious double standard here: you are fine with intuitive but not precisely-defined notions in your own arguments, but when I appeal to the intuition that "cause and effect" can be applied to the internal dynamics of simulated universes (whether something simple like the Game of Life, or something more complex like a detailed simulation of how weather systems evolve over time in a simulated atmosphere), an intuition that should seem fairly obvious to anyone who has ever played around with or looked at a computer simulation of some kind, you refuse to even engage the argument, but just say that this is "vague" and "not very enlightening"."

There is no double standard at all. I said that however you decide to define material objects, even granting the eternalist view, they have the features that I listed: localization in space-time, having parts, both spatial and temporal, temporal beginnings and ends, mutability, contingency. These terms are precise. Mathematical objects lack all these features.

About intuitions, no, there is nothing obvious about the intuitions you appeal to. Sorry, probably my obtuseness. For example, take your example of a Turing machine having "a sort of internal causal structure and time dimension". What can this mean? Maybe you mean that the internal state of the machine changes and wherever there is change there is time. But Turing machines are just one model of computation. Recursive functions and lambda calculus are two other models of computation. What is the "internal causal structure and time dimension" of recursive functions or lambda calculus? None. This leads me to the very reasonable conclusion that whatever "sort of internal causal structure and time dimension" you think you see in Turing machines is nothing but an incidental feature of their informal description and a stretching of metaphorical talk to the of point committing the reification fallacy. If not, well, clarify what you mean.

"Do we have any reason to believe that "cause and effect" in our own universe is anything more than certain regularities in the relationship between events at different times, regularities that derive from the mathematical laws of nature?"

Yes. Regularity accounts of the laws of nature have been under attack; this blog has featured a couple as it befits an AT blog. Sorry no links off the top of my head.

grodrigues said...

@JesseM (continued):

"For one thing, there is a whole school of thought that space and time should not be taken as fundamental aspects of the physical world, but that they just emerge out of some sort of lawlike relations between physical events, like a connect-the-dot pattern where the dots are events and the lines are causal links; this way of thinking about physics goes back to Leibniz"

Actually it goes back much further, as Aquinas will tell you for example, that time is the metric of change. Whether space-time is fundamental or not, it does not change anything I said about the distinction between material and mathematical objects. Or if it does you will have to explain what.

"and it has modern incarnations in certain approaches to quantum gravity such as loop quantun gravity and causal sets."

This is highly misleading for several reasons. First, neither LQG nor causal sets do away with space-time, rather space-time is not the classical 4-dimensional Lorentzian manifold. Even in LQG, which is an example of a non-perturbative quantization of diffeomorphism-invariant gauge theories, like basically all quantizations, one *starts* out with a classical system, a reformulation of GR in terms of the Ashtekhar variables. Second, invoking what are still highly speculative theories with no experimental predictions to show for is not exactly something that instills confidence. Third, and probably the most important point, you cannot simply read off metaphysical conclusions from physical theories -- arguments are needed to substantiate such readings, otherwise yiou will be just committing the reification fallacy.

"Also, given the popularity of multiverse theories nowadays, I think most modern self-proclaimed materialists who were well-informed about science would not want to rule out a priori the possibility of "parallel" physical universes, even if there was no meaningful way to talk about spatial or temporal relationships between different parallel universes."

But there is a meaningful way to talk about causal relations between objects in *this* universe, which is all we need. Whether parallel universes exist or not does not change one iota what I said about the distinction between material and mathematical objects. Or if it does you will have to explain what.

reighley said...

@Anonymous,
"I still don’t see how assigning an arbitrary mathematical symbol to a given word would undercut the reductio though... "

I tend to agree if the mathematical symbols are just arbitrary (although what exactly is meant by "arbitrary" becomes an interesting question). Why for instance should I permit your arbitrary set of letters "world" to signify the world.

The point is that the encoding need not be treated as arbitrary. The translation can be done in a way that preserves its meaning. That would allow Jesse to present a mathematical analog to the phrase "objective", "physical", and "world", which would undermine your reductio. He could say with a straight face that "objective", "physical", and "world" were mathematical constructions, and then he could construct them.

Now, there are other reasons not to believe that the world is a number. You can, for instance, strenuously deny that the new language actually referes to reality and not to an abstract collection of things which (once the translation is done) is like reality in every describable way. Indescribable differences might still exist and pose a problem for this view.

What you cannot do is simply throw Jesse's words back at him. Abstract mathematical entities can be said to have conversations about ontology in blog comboxes so there is no intrinsic contradiction in Jesse making the statement that he does.

reighley said...

@grodrigues,

"You still have not answered the basic ontological question: even if you could achieve such a translation, it does *not* give warrant to believe in an identity between mathematical and material objects"

Yes I know, I take these thing on one little bit at a time.

"It does not suffice to show that the encoding preserves the *known* truth relations, because it could happen that it does not preserve a future-discoverable truth relation and the encoding would then fail."

I don't actually have to construct the encoding right now in front of you. I only have to show that one exists.

"But a statement in ZFC is univocally a statement about sets."

Now would be a good time to say that I have taken the position I have taken in large part because I disagree strongly with this very statement. I blame the Bourbaki. Just because we use the very convenient idea of a "set" as a pedagogical tool to describe, say, a topological space it does not follow that a topological space "is" a set. A statement in ZFC might be referring to a topological space and not a set.

I think the problem of meaning is the only real one here, and the ontological and technical problems eventually fall into it.

"In fact, since Goedel assures us that no formal theory can prove all true arithmetical facts, the natural numbers are not reducible to what any formal theory T can say about them."

This challenge I will have to deal with later, but for the moment let it be said that there is nothing in particular about Godel's proof that confines it to a formal theory. English too must either contain unprovable statements or be inconsistent. I am taking for granted that we all reject the later.

Eduardo said...

You two sound like math geeks hahahahhaha

JesseM said...

grodrigues:
There is no double standard at all. I said that however you decide to define material objects, even granting the eternalist view, they have the features that I listed: localization in space-time, having parts, both spatial and temporal, temporal beginnings and ends, mutability, contingency. These terms are precise.

I don't think these terms are actually very precise--for example, it seems ambiguous to talk about "localization in space-time" if space and time are not understood as fundamental but just emerge from mathematical relationships between events. And does "contingency" assume determinism is untrue (something many materialists would deny, obviously), or are you referring more generally to the idea that there is no necessary reason the universe as a whole must exist? (in the latter case you should be willing to define "necessary", since people who make this type of argument often say that God exists "necessarily" but deny that they are talking about simple logical necessity).

Even if your terms were completely non-ambiguous, the fact is that you are relying on informal intuitions in saying that they must be true of material objects; without a definition of "material", there can be no demonstration that it follows from the definition that a material object must have the properties you give. What would you say to a self-proclaimed materialist who denied that material objects must have the property of contingency, for example? Would you just say that there usage does not seem to match what most people mean by the word?

For example, take your example of a Turing machine having "a sort of internal causal structure and time dimension". What can this mean? Maybe you mean that the internal state of the machine changes and wherever there is change there is time.

I didn't make such general statements about Turing machines, I specifically said that among the set of all possible programs that could be run on a Turing machine "are ones like the physical simulations we run when modeling the weather and such, including vastly more complex types of physical simulations, perhaps as complex as the physical universe itself" Then I went on to say "And such simulations do contain a sort of internal causal structure and time dimension". Naturally, any quasi-realistic simulated world is going to have some internal notion of time, so that we can talk about the state of various simulated entities at different times and the program can be calculating how these states change with time. An arbitrary Turing machine program wouldn't have this property, although there would still be a type of time in the sense that the Turing machine tape has an "initial state" which is changed via an ordered series of steps.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
Recursive functions and lambda calculus are two other models of computation. What is the "internal causal structure and time dimension" of recursive functions or lambda calculus? None.

I don't know much about these other models, but suppose we want to talk about implementing the "same" computation using both lambda calculus and a Turing machine, in both cases using a formal system where you start with a number of axioms (representing the initial state of the Turing machine tape and the rules governing the read/write head, in the case of implementing the computation with a Turing machine) and derive a series of propositions (representing facts about successive changes to the Turing tape, for the Turing machine) until we come to the final result. I would speculate that if we are really implementing the "same" computation, there is probably a mapping between the propositions concerning the behavior of the Turing machine and the propositions that are intermediate steps in the case of implementing the computation with lambda calculus or recursive function theory. If that's the case, we can say that this step of the execution of the Turing machine "corresponds to" this step in deriving the final answer from the axioms in the case of lambda calculus/recursive function theory. So there would still be an ordering in the sense that you can only derive proposition D after you have derived A,B,C from the axioms, and so on until you reach the final proposition representing the result of the computation. If you have sufficient expertise in these matters that you can say for a fact it doesn't work this way, please correct me, but if not it seems plausible that, to the extent that we can talk about a "time-ordering" in the steps of a Turing machine computation, a similar idea would apply with lambda calculus or recursive functions.

All of this is just talking generally about "time" in arbitrary programs, but now let's talk more specifically about programs that are realistic simulations as I did earlier. Suppose you implemented such a program in an axiomatic system representing a lambda calculus/recursive function implementation of this computation, the axioms dealing only with the initial state of the simulated world at time T0 as well as the rules governing the evolution of the simulated world. In that case I'm almost certain you wouldn't be able to derive facts about the state of a region of simulated space (like a cell in a cellular automata) at a given time T until after you had already derived facts about the state of the same region (and at least some surrounding regions capable of "influencing" it) at all the intermediate times between T0 and T. In that case, there would be a logical ordering to the propositions about states of a given region of space that would correspond directly to the ordering imposed by the simulation's own "internal time".

Yes. Regularity accounts of the laws of nature have been under attack; this blog has featured a couple as it befits an AT blog. Sorry no links off the top of my head.

Would these attacks still work even if it were (hypothetically) true that our universe worked in the "physical reductionist" way I described earlier, like the Game of Life? This is related to the main question I keep asking but never really getting a clear answer to from any of the people who have engaged in discussion with me here: namely, where or not the AT metaphysics requires that the universe doesn't work in the "physical reductionist" way I have defined above, or if it is at least potentially compatible with this notion of physical reductionism.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
Actually it goes back much further, as Aquinas will tell you for example, that time is the metric of change. Whether space-time is fundamental or not, it does not change anything I said about the distinction between material and mathematical objects. Or if it does you will have to explain what.

Suppose that fundamentally the laws of physics deal only with a collection of events with connections between them (which I might be tempted to call "causal" connections, but I shouldn't with you guys since you have some very specific AT notions of what "causal" means that I probably wouldn't agree with), a bit like the mathematical notion of a "graph" in graph theory (where it is understood that the relative positions we draw the vertices of the graph in a diagram are irrelevant, that the identity of a particular graph is defined solely by which vertices are connected to which other vertices). In this case space and time would not be fundamental, but just be a sort of statistical way of talking about regularities in the pattern of connections, like the idea that if there is a path from event A to event B which traverses only a small number of intermediate events, and a path from B to C that also traverses a small number of intermediate events, then there are likely to be other short paths from A to C which don't include B (the three events are "nearby" to one another in spacetime, and there are multiple short paths between nearby events).

But if space and time are not seen as fundamental but just ways of talking about where each event sits in a network of connections with other events, isn't this just like the way propositions generated by a formal system are connected to one another by rules of inference? See my previous comments about how, if you implement the same computation in different formal systems, I would suspect that there is a mapping between propositions in one system and propositions in the other that preserves the same logical ordering (in terms of which intermediate propositions are needed to derive the given proposition from the axioms).

First, neither LQG nor causal sets do away with space-time, rather space-time is not the classical 4-dimensional Lorentzian manifold. Even in LQG, which is an example of a non-perturbative quantization of diffeomorphism-invariant gauge theories, like basically all quantizations, one *starts* out with a classical system, a reformulation of GR in terms of the Ashtekhar variables.

I believe LQG and causal sets both fit the description I gave above of theories where one has a network of "events" whose "position" and "time" can only be defined in terms of discrete connections to other events. The fact that one "starts out with a classical system" in LQG is just a historical matter about how the theory was arrived at (since we knew about general relativity and quantization before we had a theory of quantum gravity), if it was possible to develop LQG into a complete theory of quantum gravity (it isn't yet) then it should equally be possible to start with that theory and derive general relativity as a large-scale approximation to it.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
Second, invoking what are still highly speculative theories with no experimental predictions to show for is not exactly something that instills confidence.

It is irrelevant to the argument whether these theories are actually true in the real world, I just brought them up to show that a scientifically well-informed modern "materialist" would not assert with absolute confidence that "space" and "time" must be considered fundamental to the definition of materialism, ruling out the possibility that they are just approximate ways of talking about discrete connections between discrete entities which in a physical context might be called "events" (but hopefully you would agree that "discrete connections between discrete entities" exist in any formal mathematical system if the "entities" are propositions).

Third, and probably the most important point, you cannot simply read off metaphysical conclusions from physical theories

When it comes to the question of what conditions are required for someone to be labeled a "materialist", this is a semantic debate, not a debate about metaphysical truths. Hopefully you would not argue that, absent an actual definition of "materialism", there is some objective truth about what that string of letters should mean that is independent of how philosophers actually use it in practice.

But there is a meaningful way to talk about causal relations between objects in *this* universe, which is all we need.

But one of your earlier argument against mathematical platonism being compatible with materialism was that you can't find pi to punch it...a person who believes in causally disconnected parallel universes would also not believe it's possible for him to find his own doppelganger in a parallel universe and punch the doppelganger, but that belief in things which it's impossible for them to interact with is not usually understood as making them a non-materialist. Aside from causal relations, there is also the fact that you said that a "materialist" can only believe in things which can be found in space and time--where in space and time would a parallel universe be?

Anonymous said...

@jesse

@jesse

the physical world is "causally closed"
That’s a very extravagant claim, one for which I see no proof of. I’m also rather perplexed by your specific use of the world “physical”.

I think you should stop using the term “physical reductionism” because you obviously mean something different that what that term usually is understood to mean. I think we have very different understanding of the words we use and this is starting to prove rather daunting since it’s hard to communicate.

Science has been consistently successful at explaining more and more of how complex systems behave in this sort of "reductionist" matter

This is mere rhetoric, not an argument and the use of the term reductionist here is very misleading.

I think most scientists would disagree with the latter perspective if that's what you're saying

This is a logical fallacy as it is an appeal to authority. This is not an argument. The issue here about dynamic systems is one that touches on emergence. To give you a simple example, the relationship and operation of DNA and cell is not reducible to mere particles in motion. The organism operates on the level of the physical, chemical and biological, each of which is not exhaustively reducible to the other, other wise you would not have what we call emergence. This precludes reductionism.

Just like in the case where Mr. Green explained that relations and arrangements of parts, referencing each other, entailed external forms so in this view, the irreducible aspects appeal to form.
I don't understand what you mean by "at every level there is a new dynamic in operation"--are you just saying that we need not just the initial state but also the dynamical laws (a function operating on the initial state), or are you saying that large-scale systems behave in ways that would be fundamentally impossible to predict using the initial state of the basic constituents and the fundamental dynamical laws?

You’re the one that keep appealing to emergence. You yourself acknowledge that wholes need to be understood on their own terms, no? So if the whole operates on its own terms it is thus irreducible to the terms of its parts and thus requires something in addition, hence why we speak of something emerging. Based on what you’re saying, if reductionism is truly the state of affairs you should be able to predict human behavior by using the 4 fundamental forces of physics only. There is no reason to accept that nor is there any evidence for it. It’s just an assumption that to me sounds quite incoherent and unrealistic in fact. This point touches on the majority of your argument and unless proven I see no reason to accept it.

Anonymous said...

In regards to how one should understand my reference to a dynamic system at a higher level you seem to be pretty close to it when you say:

I also believe the behaviors of wholes emerges in a bottom-up way from the behavior of the smaller parts. Again I would go back to the analogy I used earlier of the "game of life", where the behavior of larger wholes like "gliders" is always possible to deduce logically from the fundamental rules governing individual cells, yet I would say that the larger emergent wholes are real "things" in this world, and that a hypothetical scientist living in this simulated universe (composed of vast arrays of gliders and other patterns, perhaps) wouldn't really understand his universe very well if he only knew the fundamental rules governing cells and didn't know about the behavior of larger patterns.

So you concede that wholes operate with a different dynamic. This is not reductionism. This is in fact the opposite of reductionism and unconsciously you’re appealing to Aristotelian principles. I commented on emergence and how it’s problematic for reductionism in a previous post. If you missed it then read it.

Any "rules and dynamics at a higher level" would emerge in a bottom-up way from the lower-level rules

This again is just rhetoric. To say they emerge “bottom-up” doesn’t mean anything really nor does it get you to reductionism. If emergence holds, reductionism is refuted. See my previous post when I address emergence.

In regards to the specific example you give about gliders and cells, I would rather not comment since I am not familiar with the work of Conways work on this.

When you talk about laws of nature, what do you mean by the way? IS that what you refer to when you talk about mathematical laws in other places? Are these laws prescriptive?

I am skeptical that anything will come of that approach, and I think most modern scientists would too

If by nothing will come out of you mean that a mathematical model of prediction will not come out of it then, yes. Precisely because of physical under-determination. As I see it, if this is the true state of affairs then your entire argument collapses. Given physical under-determination any claim to prediction based on reduction is falsified since the fundamental laws and entities alone are not enough to ‘set the facts’

Anonymous said...

Mr. Green I suggested a way in which we could imagine physical reductionism being false, where an unpredictable behavior of a cat that a Laplacian demon (who knows nothing of high-level objects like "cats") would be forced to model as "chance", would be at least partially predictable by someone who understood something about teleological concepts like the cat's desires.

So how is it then that your claims of reductionism are not refuted then? Do you reject that animals and humans have desires?

But as for the specific issue you raise, a defining feature of "chance" is that if a phenomena is fundamentally probabilistic, that means it is in principle impossible to make better predictions (in the long run) than someone using the statistical distribution, if you can make better predictions, you have shown that the other guy's difficulty in making predictions is not due purely to the fact that the system's behavior depends on chance
Heh. I understand what chance is. My reference to a shell game given the introduction of chance is that anything can be classified as such if it doesn’t fit the reductionists model in the same way that secondary features of objects such as color for example as classified in the ‘subjective’ by a Cartesian system.

One thing we must note however is that although what you express in the above paragraph is not incorrect it is yet incomplete. One may not have the necessary information at a given time to make a better prediction even though at a later time one might do. So how exactly one classifies chance would be very much dependent on the availability of variables pertinent to the event under investigation. Which makes the attempt at resolving the matter susceptible to becoming a shell game.

Eduardo said...

Wait, wouldn't a carefull description or properties of fundamental particles shown to be different than a careful description of mathemathical entities?

Wouldn't we eventually conclude some sort of metaphysical difference between the two?

Anonymous said...

@reighley

Abstract mathematical entities can be said to have conversations about ontology in blog comboxes so there is no intrinsic contradiction in Jesse making the statement that he does.

Based on what exactly?

How does a mathematical entity "have a conversation" and how is the verb "to converse" expressed mathematically?

I understand the thought process behind your argument. I just don't see how what you claim is possible. Why not just focus on the specific example? Objective physical world.

It's not that I don't see what you're trying to say with your "translation" argument. I do. What I am saying is that not everything can be expressed mathematically. You say in principle it can. I say it cannot.

We have this disagreement and one specific example to help resolve it. To take your claim to its logical conclusion would be that the ultimate level of reality is a number. My reductio says, that "ultimate level of reality is a number" is neither true nor can it be made coherent.

Anonymous said...

@Eduardo

Wait, wouldn't a carefull description or properties of fundamental particles shown to be different than a careful description of mathemathical entities?

Yes. they would be shown to be different. They are different. grodrigues made reference to it

Wouldn't we eventually conclude some sort of metaphysical difference between the two?

We would and we have.

Mr. Green said...

JesseM: whether or not the AT metaphysics requires that the universe doesn't work in the "physical reductionist" way I have defined above, or if it is at least potentially compatible with this notion of physical reductionism.

My previous answers were trying to indicate that A-T can accommodate any kinds of observed behaviour. I do think the term "reductionist" is perhaps confusing, but that probably doesn't matter if we can avoid using it. Suppose God created a universe that had nothing but some particles bouncing around in a well-defined way. That could be electrons and photons (but no people or animals, so no conscious awareness or immaterial intellects to worry about); or it could be particles that work like Conway's game. Such a universe might or might not consist of substances beyond the particles (i.e. not reductionist in the sense that only the particles are "real") — it doesn't matter, either kind of world is perfectly compatible with A-T.

What about a world that contains human beings, with immaterial intellects? Yes, it is possible that everything that is physically observable in that universe could be described in terms of part(icle)s and their rules. It's also possible to have a world that doesn't work that way. Or to have worlds that differ in some immaterial aspects even if on the level of physical behaviour, the two worlds look exactly the same.

In other words, for A-T, there are many possible worlds that could have existed where, given empirical knowledge of an initial state and some mathematical rules, we could describe any subsequent empirical state. Some of those worlds could be fully described by their particles and rules; some of them could not (because they contain realities that are not empirical, and thus not something we were considering in the first place). So no, no empirical observation is going to "disprove" A-T on a metaphysical level (any more than any physical discovery could "disprove" the scientific method). The metaphysics is compatible with all these possibilities. Whether the actual world is one in which physical behaviour can be completely explained in terms of such rules remains to be seen.

JesseM said...

Anonymous wrote (my quote in bold):
the physical world is "causally closed"

That’s a very extravagant claim, one for which I see no proof of.

You snipped the context of that quote--my claim was that Chalmers believes the world to be causally closed, and because of that (and some other statements of his) he would qualify as a "physical reductionist" under the definition I provided, despite the fact that he believes in the separate reality of conscious experience. I was just using Chalmers as an example to clarify what I do and don't mean when I say "physical reductionism" (specifically that it has nothing to do with the idea that physical things are the only real things). Nothing in that paragraph was an attempt to assert that "physical reductionism" as I define it is actually true in reality, though I believe it's likely to be case. The truth or falsity of physical reductionism in reality is also irrelevant to my main question on this comments thread, namely whether the A-T philosophy is incompatible with the possible truth of physical reductionism (whether they are mutually exclusive).

I’m also rather perplexed by your specific use of the world “physical”.

Do you have any specific question about it? It basically just refers to whatever is studied by physicists, particles and fields moving around in space and such. In the specific context of physical reductionism, the assumption is that there will turn out to be some basic set of physical entities (superstrings, perhaps) and all larger composite entities are complicated arrangements of these entities (again with no assumption that this makes the composite entities less "real").

I think you should stop using the term “physical reductionism” because you obviously mean something different that what that term usually is understood to mean. I think we have very different understanding of the words we use and this is starting to prove rather daunting since it’s hard to communicate.

But I offered you a pretty explicit definition of what I meant by the term already (reposting statements I had made in my first few comments on the thread)--is it that you're unclear on the definition itself (if so please ask specific questions), or is it that you're unwilling to adopt a different definition of words than the one you find natural, even if the definition is clear? Personally I'd be happy to use the word "cow" to refer to the animal I ordinarily refer to as a "cat" if someone else wanted to do this and we were both clear on the idiosyncratic definition of "cow" that was being adopted in the discussion (but I don't actually think my choice of terms is particularly idiosyncratic, in scientific circles it's pretty common to define "reductionism" in a way that's equivalent to my definition, see http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/11/03/physicalist-anti-reductionism/ for example). If you're more attached to the idea of words having meanings that you're used to, I already said you were free to suggest an alternate term for the idea I defined, and I'd be fine using whatever alternate term you suggest (in discussions with you at least). It's not very constructive to complain about my the term I associate with the idea I defined without suggesting an alternate term we might use to refer to the same idea, though. Until you do, I'll continue to use "physical reductionism" because I can't think of any better term for the idea I described, and unless you were unclear on the definition of the idea you should have no trouble understanding what I mean even if you might quibble with my choice of words.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
Science has been consistently successful at explaining more and more of how complex systems behave in this sort of "reductionist" matter

This is a logical fallacy as it is an appeal to authority. This is not an argument.

It's not a logical fallacy to appeal to scientific authority when discussing scientific questions, especially when I am not asserting that the idea in question is definitely true but just that it's quite plausible scientifically, and my main question doesn't actually depend on whether it's true in the real world or not--again, that main question is "Is the A-T philosophy fundamentally incompatible with the possibility that "physical reductionism" (in the sense I defined it) is true, or could the A-T philosophy still (hypothetically) be valid even if (hypothetically) physical reduction were true?"

The issue here about dynamic systems is one that touches on emergence. To give you a simple example, the relationship and operation of DNA and cell is not reducible to mere particles in motion. The organism operates on the level of the physical, chemical and biological, each of which is not exhaustively reducible to the other, other wise you would not have what we call emergence. This precludes reductionism.

Are you using "reducible" to mean the same thing as the definition I gave for "physical reductionism", or some other sense? I certainly think the behavior of DNA and of cells could be accurately simulated by a computer that was programmed with nothing more than the initial configuration of all the particles and the fundamental quantum laws governing their dynamics. Would you disagree, and predict that such a simulation would fail to mimic the behavior of the cell if it wasn't explicitly programmed with higher-level biological "laws"? Simulating a whole cell at the particle level is a little too complex for present-day computers, but one can simulate other composite systems like the interaction of molecules or the behavior of the water using computers that have been programmed only with fundamental quantum-laws, not any higher-level laws of chemistry or hydrodynamics--see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ab_initio_quantum_chemistry_methods and http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2007/mar/

I don't understand what you mean by "at every level there is a new dynamic in operation"--are you just saying that we need not just the initial state but also the dynamical laws (a function operating on the initial state), or are you saying that large-scale systems behave in ways that would be fundamentally impossible to predict using the initial state of the basic constituents and the fundamental dynamical laws?

You’re the one that keep appealing to emergence.

Yes, but I also defined very carefully what I meant by the term emergence, specifying that I was talking about a "bottom-up" type emergence where all the higher-level laws could in principle be derived from the fundamental ones, just as the simulations I mentioned above suggest is true of the "laws" of chemistry and hydrodynamics.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
You yourself acknowledge that wholes need to be understood on their own terms, no? So if the whole operates on its own terms it is thus irreducible to the terms of its parts and thus requires something in addition, hence why we speak of something emerging.

You are speaking vaguely without defining what you mean by things like "understood" and "operates on its own terms" and "irreducible", whereas I have given explicit definitions of what I mean in this discussion. This is why I keep trying to get you to define what you mean in terms of a simple example like The Game of Life. To repeat my summary from an earlier post:

A simple analogy here is to "cellular automata" programs like Conway's "Game of Life" explained here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life ..if you read the "rules" section of the article you can see that the "fundamental laws" of this universe, governing how individual cells change color from one time-increment to another (one color, usually black, for a "live" cell, and another, usually white, for a "dead" one), are exceedingly simple, but these fundamental laws give rise to a number of types of characteristic patterns of multiple cells discussed in the "Examples of patterns" section, each of which obeys its own higher-level "rules". For example, the "blinker" switches between a row of 3 cells to a column of 3 cells on each time-increment, while the "glider" moves diagonally while alternating between four configurations. It's easy to work out for oneself how the higher-level laws governing patterns like blinkers and gliders can be logically deduced from the basic rules governing individual cells, so one can see that a computer would only need to be programmed with the most basic rules and the higher-level phenomena, with their higher-level rules, would "emerge" naturally.

Please take a quick look at the wiki page I linked to if you're not familiar with the Game of Life, enough to understand both the fundamental rules governing how individual cells change color, as well as the behavior of "gliders" and how their behavior can be derived directly from the more fundamental rules. Would you say that although it is possible to derive their behavior from arrangement of cells they are "made of" and the fundamental rules governing these cells, it is still true that a glider "operates on its own terms it is thus irreducible to the terms of its parts and thus requires something in addition"? Or would you say that in the "universe" of the Game of Life, the behavior of a glider really is "reducible to the terms of its parts", and so your argument is just that complex systems in our universe are not like gliders in this respect? Please be sure to answer this question in your next response, I think an answer would help clear up my confusion about what it is you're arguing.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)

Based on what you’re saying, if reductionism is truly the state of affairs you should be able to predict human behavior by using the 4 fundamental forces of physics only.

Sure, in principle. In practice you'd need a much, much more powerful computer than anything we have now! I don't think simulating a human at the fundamental particle level is likely to happen any time in the forseeable future, but on the other hand I think it's not so far-fetched that within a few centuries, we may have enough computing power to simulate a human brain at the cellular level, using simulated neurons which are greatly simplified but which are a good approximation in terms of their outputs of neural impulses in response to inputs of other neural impulses. If this sort of approach to simulating a brain--which would be "reductionist" in the sense that the computer would only be programmed with rules governing individual neurons as well as their large-scale arrangement in a brain--produced behavior just like that of a real human, I think that would be pretty good evidence that reductionism also is sufficient to explain the behavior of real biological humans (especially if by that time we also had enough computing power to simulate individual neurons using nothing but the basic quantum laws governing their constituent particles). So, it seems not too farfetched to predict that within a few centuries, the question of whether human behavior is explainable in these reductionist terms is one for which we could run tests that would pretty strongly support either a positive or negative answer, even if they didn't prove the answer absolutely.

There is no reason to accept that nor is there any evidence for it.

Every time there is further progress in explaining new aspects of the behavior of complex systems (like the dynamics of water, or the growth of embryos) in reductionist terms, behavior that hadn't been explainable in those terms until the new findings, I would say that's a small new piece of evidence for the hypothesis that all complex systems are in principle explainable in those terms, though of course it's not definitive. I recognize that this isn't going to convince skeptics that the same is true for humans, but as I said above, tests that would strongly support a positive or negative answer might be possible within a few centuries. Until that time we really only have strong competing intuitions, I don't claim any definitive "evidence" for the explicability of human behavior in reductionist terms today, and have never claimed to have any strong evidence for this idea in the thread. But the possibility that it might be testable in the not-too-distant future is all the more reason for A-T advocates to lay their cards on the table in advance in terms of whether they think the A-T philosophy is at least in principle compatible with "physical reductionism" as I have defined it (a question which, once again, does not depend on one's judgments about whether it is likely to be true in the real world).

So you concede that wholes operate with a different dynamic. This is not reductionism.

In the case of gliders (which I discussed in the quote you responded to above) that "different dynamic" is directly predictable from the lower-level dynamic, in much the same way that "physical reductionism" as I have defined it would say one could in principle "predict human behavior by using the 4 fundamental forces of physics only". If you understand my definition enough to understand that this would qualify as "reductionism" according to the definition that I have offered, then it's a waste of both our times to quibble over my choice of words without suggesting an alternate term for the idea outlined in the definition.

JesseM said...

(continued from previous comment)
Any "rules and dynamics at a higher level" would emerge in a bottom-up way from the lower-level rules

This again is just rhetoric. To say they emerge “bottom-up” doesn’t mean anything really

If you are unclear you might consider asking for clarification about what I meant, rather than snapping to the conclusion that the term was meaningless rhetoric. think it was pretty obvious from the context that by "bottom up" I meant that all higher-level rules and dynamics could in principle be derived/predicted from the fundamental rules--just like with gliders in the Game of Life, and just like the hypothetical you scoffed at of predicting human behavior (a high-level dynamic) from "the 4 fundamental forces of physics only".

nor does it get you to reductionism. If emergence holds, reductionism is refuted.

Not if it's the type of bottom-up emergence seen with gliders in the Game of Life, and not if "reductionism" is defined in the way I defined it earlier. If you want to quibble with my terms that's your right, but it would be a pure strawman argument to try to refute my actual arguments by taking my words and switching the meaning of the terms to whatever (unstated) definition you prefer, even when I explicitly defined them to mean something different.

In regards to the specific example you give about gliders and cells, I would rather not comment since I am not familiar with the work of Conways work on this.

You don't need to know anything about Conway's "work" beyond the exceedingly simple rules governing the behavior of individual cells (each "cell" is a square surrounded by 8 other squares; a black or "live" cell stays black on the next turn if it has either 2 or 3 black neighbors, while it turns white or "dead" if it has less than 2 or more than 3 black neighbors; meanwhile, if a cell which is white on one turn has exactly 3 black neighbors, it turns black on the next turn, otherwise it stays white). Then you should have little trouble convincing yourself that if an collection of black cells is arranged into any one of the five patterns at http://www.generation5.org/content/2003/images/gliderStep.png then as long as these black cells in an "empty" region surrounded by white cells so there's nothing to disrupt them, they will keep cycling through the five configurations shown, "gliding" through the grid diagonally as seen in the animation at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Animated_glider_emblem.gif (this cycling and gliding is a high-level behavior derivable from the underlying rules governing cell transitions).

Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with this simple example. If you aren't willing to do that, I would prefer not to continue our discussion at all.

JesseM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 306   Newer› Newest»