Thursday, August 15, 2013

Eliminativism without truth, Part III


Now comes the main event.  Having first set out some background ideas, and then looked at his positive arguments for eliminativism about intentionality, we turn at last to Alex Rosenberg’s attempt to defend his position from the charge of incoherence in his paper “Eliminativism without Tears.”  He offers three general lines of argument.  The first purports to show that a key version of the objection from incoherence begs the question.  The second purports to give an explanation of how what he characterizes as the “illusion” of intentionality arises.  The third purports to offer an intentionality-free characterization of information processing in the brain, in terms of which the eliminativist can state his position without implicitly appealing to the very intentionality-laden notions he rejects.  Let’s look at each argument in turn.

Introspection and intentionality

A mental state is intentional, in the technical philosophical sense, if it is about, is directed at, or points to something (as your thought that the cat is on the mat is about or points to the state of affairs of the cat’s being on the mat).  The phenomenal properties of consciousness (also known as “qualia”) are those accessible from the first-person, introspective point of view (think of the way red looks, the way coffee tastes, or the way pains, itches, and other sensations feel).  Rosenberg cites an argument developed by Terence Horgan and John Tienson to the effect that, contrary to a widespread view in philosophy of mind, all conscious intentional mental states have phenomenology and all phenomenal states have intentionality. 

This sort of view provides one way of interpreting the claim that eliminativism about intentionality is incoherent.  Suppose every introspected conscious thought, just by virtue of being conscious, also has intentionality.  Then the introspected conscious thought that there is no such thing as intentionality has intentionality.  When the eliminativist finds on introspecting the contents of his mind that he has this thought, then, he is aware of something that exhibits precisely the sort of thing he denies.  Thus his position is self-defeating.  But the trouble with this sort of argument, Rosenberg says, is that it begs the question, because the reliability of introspection is something else the eliminativist denies.  Yes, introspection seems to reveal to us that our thoughts have intentionality, but that, Rosenberg maintains, is an illusion.

There are two main problems with this, a big one and a much bigger one.  The first, big problem is that Rosenberg’s wholesale doubt about the reliability of introspection is itself incoherent and otherwise seriously problematic, for reasons I set out in my series of posts on his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  (See Part VIII and Part X in particular.) 

The second, much bigger problem is that Rosenberg’s objection is in any case simply directed at a straw man, at least insofar as it supposes that the incoherence objection against eliminativism has anything essentially to do with introspection, phenomenology, the first-person point of view, and the like.  It is worth noting that Horgan and Tienson themselves are not primarily concerned in the article Rosenberg cites with trying to refute eliminativism (though they do in passing refer to Quine’s indeterminacy thesis), and that the philosopher who is perhaps the best-known proponent of the incoherence charge -- Lynne Rudder Baker, whose work Rosenberg himself cites -- does not rest her case on an appeal to introspection, etc.  So who, exactly, are these critics of eliminativism who make such an appeal?  Rosenberg does not tell us. 

Indeed, Rosenberg acknowledges that there are different versions of the incoherence objection, at least implicitly allowing that not all versions make an explicit appeal to introspection or the first-person point of view (and citing Baker precisely as a representative of the more “serious” version of the incoherence objection).  The last section of his paper (to which we’ll turn below) is devoted to trying to answer this more serious version.  So why waste a section on introspection, phenomenology, etc.?

The answer seems to be this.  Just as certain critics of the cosmological argument compulsively attack the “Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause” straw man -- an argument no serious proponent of the argument ever actually gave -- so too, a certain kind of materialist is constantly going on about the introspective trap, the Cartesian theatre, etc.  The assumption is that if you’re not a materialist, then you simply must, at least implicitly, be a Cartesian of some sort.  Never mind the fact that Aristotle, Aquinas, Wittgenstein, and other important critics of materialism (I would say the most important critics) were not Cartesians and indeed would reject the key elements of the Cartesian approach to the mind.  (Never mind either that even when materialists attack Cartesianism, they are often aiming their fire at caricatures rather than the real McCoy -- see the posts on Paul Churchland and Daniel Stoljar linked to here.)  Like other materialists, Rosenberg seems to assume too parochial and tendentious a conception of the problems and the range of possible solutions.

Be that as it may, the incoherence charge simply does not rest on any assumptions about introspection, phenomenology, or the like.  Consider what I take to be the most important respect in which Rosenberg’s eliminativism is incoherent -- its denial (discussed in the previous post in this series) that any of our thoughts, or any of our spoken or written linguistic productions, has any determinate intentional content.   The late James Ross, in his 1992 Journal of Philosophy article “Immaterial Aspects of Thought” (and again in his book Thought and World) admirably summarized some of the problems with this claim.  I develop and defend Ross’s arguments at length in my recent ACPQ article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought.”

Ross notes that if none of our thoughts has any determinate content, then none of our formal thinking is ever determinate.  Adding, squaring, inferring via modus ponens, syllogistic reasoning, and the like are some of the examples of formal thinking he has in mind.  To deny that our thoughts ever have any determinate content is to deny that our thoughts are ever really determinately of any of these forms.  It is to claim that at best we only ever approximate adding, squaring, inferring via modus ponens, etc.  “Now that,” as Ross says, “is expensive.  In fact, the cost of saying we only simulate the pure functions is astronomical.”

In particular, there are three ways in which such a claim is incoherent.  First, the claim that we never really add, apply modus ponens, etc. cannot be squared with the existence of the vast body of knowledge that comprises the disciplines of mathematics and logic.  Nor is it just that mathematics and logic constitute genuine bodies of knowledge in their own right; they are also presupposed by the natural sciences.  Now it is in the name of natural science that philosophers like Quine, Dennett, and Rosenberg draw the extreme conclusions about the indeterminacy of content that they do.  But if natural science presupposes mathematics and logic, and mathematics and logic presuppose that we do indeed have determinate thought processes, then there is no way these philosophers can consistently draw such conclusions.

A second and related problem is that if we never really apply modus ponens or any other valid argument form, but at best only approximate them, then none of our arguments is ever really valid.  That includes the arguments of those, like Quine, Dennett, and Rosenberg, who say that none of our thoughts is really determinate in content.  Hence the view is self-defeating.  Even if it were true, we could never be rationally justified in claiming that it is true, because we couldn’t be rationally justified in claiming anything.

Third, the claim that we never really add, square, apply modus ponens, etc. is self-defeating in an even more direct and fatal way.  For coherently to deny that we ever really do these things presupposes that we have a grasp of what it would be to do them.  And that means having thoughts of a form as determinate as those the critic says we do not have.  In particular, to deny that we ever really add requires that we determinately grasp what it is to add and then go on to deny that we really ever do it; to deny that we ever really apply modus ponens requires that we determinately grasp what it is to reason via modus ponens and then go on to deny that we ever really do that; and so forth.  Yet the whole point of denying that we ever really add, apply modus ponens, etc. was to avoid having to admit that we at least sometimes have determinate thought processes.  So, to deny that we have them presupposes that we have them.  It simply cannot coherently be done.

Notice that none of this requires -- any more than Rosenberg’s own arguments do -- an appeal to introspection, phenomenology, etc.  When Rosenberg gives you an argument, he gives you the premises (about the success of science or whatever) that he says you are already implicitly or explicitly committed to, and then tells you what conclusion he takes logically to follow from them.  He doesn’t at some point say: “Now, let me add that the reason for all of this is that it just seems from introspection of my phenomenal conscious awareness that the premises are true and that the conclusion follows” or the like.  The focus is on the arguments themselves, not on his or anyone else’s introspective awareness of entertaining the arguments.

Similarly, when a philosopher like Ross argues for the incoherence of eliminativism, he simply points out what follows logically from certain premises he takes it the eliminativist himself already implicitly or explicitly accepts.  He doesn’t appeal to introspection of his phenomenal awareness, any more than Rosenberg does.  Ross’s argument is not: “Here is how things seem to me introspectively, and how I assume they seem to the eliminativist too.”  His argument is: “The eliminativist’s arguments, like everyone else’s, presuppose such-and-such patterns of formal reasoning; yet he is also committed to denying that anyone’s arguments, including his own, are of those or any other determine patterns.  That is incoherent.”  Here too the focus is on the arguments themselves, not on anyone’s introspective awareness of entertaining the arguments. Indeed, the emphasis is precisely on those aspects of an argument -- such as its formal validity or invalidity -- by reference to which we judge the way things seem to us introspectively (as in “Sure, it might seem that if all men are mortal and Socrates is mortal, then Socrates is a man, but that is in fact in invalid syllogism form”).

In short, as with Rosenberg, what is at issue is what is objective and available from the third-person point of view -- in particular, the formal patterns of inference characteristic of logic, mathematics, and science -- not on the way things seem subjectively, from the first-person point of view of the Cartesian subject and his “inner theatre.”  The difference is that it is Rosenberg who has no way coherently to appeal to this body of objective, third-person truths.

The illusion that intentionality is an illusion

But the impossibility of accommodating truth of any sort is, at the end of the day, the Achilles heel of Rosenberg’s position.  He explicitly acknowledges that eliminativism “deni[es] that there is anything in the brain or elsewhere that qualifies as carrying truth values,” since it rules out there being intentional content or anything else in neural circuits “that would make them truth-apt.”  For a statement or thought to be true, it has first to be about something.  Truth is just a matter of getting right what you think or say about the thing you are thinking or talking about.  So naturally, if there is no aboutness, there is no truth either.

Yet Rosenberg also assures us that intentionality is a “myth,” “illusion,” or “figment”,” and that brains (such as, presumably, the brains of non-eliminativists) can contain “misinformation.”  But what exactly does myth, illusion, misinformation, etc. amount to if there is no such thing as truth to contrast it with?  For if there are no truth values, then (as anyone who’s constructed a truth table can tell you) there is no falsity any more than there is truth.  Falsity, like truth, presupposes aboutness -- presupposes getting wrong what you think or say about the thing you are thinking or talking about.  So if there is no aboutness, there can be no falsity, error, illusion, etc. either. 

Moreover, if, by Rosenberg’s own admission, even the thoughts, utterances, and writings of eliminativists are not true -- since there just is no such thing as truth on his view -- then exactly what is it that the eliminativist has got that his critic has not?  What does Rosenberg mean in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality when he says that he and his fellow atheists “know the truth” while ”most of religion’s best stories are false”? 

To see how complete is Rosenberg’s failure to deal with this problem, consider first his account of how the “illusion” of intentionality arises.  He asks us to consider the “silent ‘sound’ tokens and images” that “flit across consciousness, along with sensations and feelings that pass through it,” and also the “behavioral accompaniments” of all this phenomenology.  The precise phenomenal content and sequence of such sounds, images, feelings, behaviors, etc. that occurs in the stream of consciousness of a person A who hears a language he understands is different from that occurring in the consciousness of a person B who hears a language he does not understand.  And that is all the difference between A and B amounts to, in Rosenberg’s view -- a difference in the phenomenal content and sequence of sounds, images, feelings, behaviors, etc.  But by the same token, Rosenberg suggests, the difference between someone who seems to have intentionality at all -- as both A and B seem to have it -- and a third subject C who does not even seem to have it, is just the same sort of difference.  What happens is just that the precise phenomenal content and sequence of sounds, images, feelings, behaviors, etc. that A and B exhibit is different from the sequence that C exhibits, and different in a way that generates the illusion of intentionality.  In all three cases, though, all there really are are the intentionality-free sounds, images, feelings, behaviors, etc.

Now one problem with this is that it seems, either to conflate strictly intellectual activity with what Scholastic writers would call “phantasms” (such as visual and auditory mental images) -- to allude to a distinction I explained in the first post in this series -- or implicitly to deny that strictly intellectual activity, as opposed to mere imagery and the like, really exists at all.  And Rosenberg gives no non-question-begging reason for either the conflation or the denial.

But there is another fallacy here.  To see it, consider first the following analogy.  Suppose there are two bowls full of milk with Alpha-Bits cereal floating on top, sitting outside on a windy day.  The bits are swirling about randomly across the top of each bowl, and in one of them some of the letters gradually form the sequence C-A-T-S.  Does the formation of this sequence generate in that particular bowl the illusion that it is thinking about cats?  Does this bowl thereby come falsely to suppose that it has intentionality, while the other bowl remains free of this illusion?  I doubt even Rosenberg would think so.  There is absolutely nothing in any sequence the shapes could occur in that would generate even the illusion of intentionality, let alone intentionality itself.  Illusions are just not the sorts of thing sequences of meaningless shapes by themselves can generate, no matter how many shapes there are and how complex the sequence is.

Someone would have to be extremely philosophically inept to think it even prima facie plausible that this scenario could generate such an illusion.  He’d have to suppose that it is significant that the sequence in question looks like the English word “cats.”  Of course, it is not at all significant, because the written or spoken word “cats” has its intentionality in only a derived rather than intrinsic way (to use another distinction explained in the first post in this series).  There is nothing in the shapes making up the word that gives them any connection whatsoever to cats.  The connection is entirely conventional.  Hence there is nothing whatsoever in the sequence of Alpha-Bits appearing in the bowl that could get you the slightest distance toward even the illusion of thinking about cats.  Someone who thinks otherwise is making the mistake of confusing derived intentionality with intrinsic intentionality.

But Rosenberg’s fallacy is even worse than that.  Recall that on his view, there is no such thing as either intrinsic or derived intentionality.  Absolutely nothing has even the latter -- not the words and sentences on this page, not the letters or sequences of letters in a bowl of Alpha-Bits cereal, and not the sounds and images that pass through consciousness.  Nor could there be such a thing if there is no intrinsic intentionality, for there is in that case nothing for things with purportedly derivative intentionality to derive it from

Hence, even a bowl of Alpha-Bits -- which are of themselves utterly meaningless but have a kind of derived intentionality insofar as they were made by us for the purpose of counting as letters -- is not the best analogy for Rosenberg’s model of the stream of conscious images and sensations, but just a first approximation.  A better analogy would be something like a pool of water in which are floating various bits of random detritus -- fallen leaves, shards of wood, seaweed, dead bugs, bits of froth and the like.  Suppose there were two such pools and atop one of them a sequence of shapes randomly formed that looked very roughly like this: П Δ ‡ ∂.  Does the formation of this sequence generate in that particular pool the illusion that it is thinking about cats?  Does this pool thereby come falsely to suppose that it has intentionality, while the other pool remains free of this illusion?  The suggestion is even more of a non-starter than the Alpha-Bits scenario was.  And it remains a non-starter no matter how much complexity we add to the causal series that leads to the formation of this sequence.  Rosenberg himself insists that you will never get intentionality out of non-intentional bits of matter no matter how complex the causal relations between them.  But how exactly does the complexity of causal relations generate illusions in a system (whether illusions of intentionality or of anything else), any more than it can generate intentionality?  Rosenberg does not tell us; he just asserts that this is how the illusion arises. 

Why would Rosenberg think his account of the origins of the purported illusion is even prima facie plausible?  I suggest that what is going on is this.  Consider the difference between:

1. shapes, sounds, etc. that have derived intentionality (e.g. the words on this page, or a child’s deliberately produced arrangement of Alpha-Bits into the word “cats”)

2. shapes, sounds, etc. that we treat as if they had intentionality (e.g. the chance arrangement of Alpha-Bits into the sequence C-A-T-S, a chance arrangement of detritus that vaguely looks like a word)

3. shapes, sounds, etc. that not only have no derived intentionality, but which we do not even treat as if they had it (e.g. arrangements of detritus of whose existence we are completely unaware)

Now in cases 1 and 2 various illusions of intentionality can and do arise.  A child or unsophisticated person might be so used to seeing the sequence of shapes C-A-T-S as a word that he comes to think that the meaning is somehow inherent in the shapes themselves.  That would be an illusion of intrinsic intentionality where what really exists is only derived intentionality.  A random arrangement of detritus might by chance look similar enough to the word “cats” that an observer might falsely assume it to have been deliberately arranged by someone to spell out that word.  That would be an illusion of derived intentionality, where what really exists is only as-if intentionality.  And we can imagine someone looking at the detritus floating in the pool of water and saying: “If I tilt my head and squint really hard, then the sequence П Δ ‡ ∂ almost looks as if it were the word ‘cats.’”  That might be characterized as a deliberately generated illusion of derived intentionality. 

But there is nothing in any of these examples that suggests that absolutely all intentionality might be an illusion.  In every case, intrinsic intentionality is (for all Rosenberg has shown) lurking in the background as a precondition of the illusion.  The child or unsophisticated person mistakes the derived intentionality of a sequence of shapes for intrinsic intentionality, and the careless observer mistakes some random sequence of shapes for a word, but only because language users with intrinsic intentionality have already imparted derived intentionality to sequences of shapes like the ones in question.  The person who squints so as to make a sequence of random shapes look like a word does so only because he is already aware of real words which have derived intentionality, which in turn presupposes intrinsic intentionality.

The only case where there is clearly no intentionality of any sort present is case 3.  But that is also the case where we have no independent examples of the illusion of intentionality arising -- no cases where anyone would, independently of some prior commitment to eliminativism, claim that an illusion of intentionality does or even could arise.  Yet it is an example of an illusion of intentionality arising in a case like 3 that Rosenberg would need in order to make his position remotely plausible.  I would suggest that he thinks that such a case is plausible because cases 1, 2, and 3 have this much in common: There is, in none of these cases, any intrinsic intentionality present in the shapes themselves.  And Rosenberg is implicitly inferring from the fact that the illusion of intrinsic intentionality can arise in cases like 1 and 2 that it can arise in cases like 3 too.  But that simply doesn’t follow.

In short, any “illusion” is essentially a case of as-if intentionality, as when the child or unsophisticated person perceives what is really only derived intentionality as if it were intrinsic intentionality, or when someone accidentally or deliberately perceives what has no intentionality at all as if it had at least derived intentionality.  And as-if intentionality, like derived intentionality, presupposes intrinsic intentionality.  Certainly Rosenberg -- who acknowledges that derived intentionality presupposes intrinsic intentionality -- has given no non-question-begging reason to think either that an illusion of intentionality would be anything other than a case of as-if intentionality, or that there could be as-if intentionality in the absence of intrinsic intentionality.

“Information” without misinformation

In the last section of his paper, Rosenberg offers what he seems to think is a solution to these problems -- a sketch of what might replace the intentionality-laden notions (like “illusion”) in terms of which eliminativists, like everyone else, routinely express themselves.  He begins by suggesting that we think of neural activity as a “map” of the external world and our behavioral responses to it, though he immediately acknowledges that the eliminativist cannot coherently regard it as anything like a literal map, laden as the ordinary notion of a map is with intentionality.  Maps represent things, their elements stand for this or that, they need to be interpreted, etc., and eliminativism denies that there are any such things as “representation,” one thing “standing for” another, “interpretation,” or the like.  The idea is rather that there is a causal correlation between structures of neural circuits on the one hand, and elements of the external world and of behavioral responses to it on the other. 

What we have here is something like the “causal covariance” account of information associated with thinkers like Fred Dretske.  But Rosenberg acknowledges that such accounts fail as accounts of intentional content or semantic information.   As an eliminativist he thinks there is no such thing as information in that sense -- that is, in the ordinary, everyday sense.  He is, accordingly, using “information” in a purely technical sense.  He is not saying that information in the ordinary sense can be explained in terms of causal covariance; given the indeterminacy problems discussed in the previous post in this series, he acknowledges that it cannot be explained in that way, and thus must be eliminated by the naturalist.  He is essentially suggesting instead that we replace the ordinary notion with causal covariance.  Causal covariance, you might say, is the new information.

The difference between the eliminativist and the non-eliminativist, then, can be described, not in terms of differences in their beliefs, the propositions they would respectively affirm or deny, the meanings of the sentences they would write or utter, etc. -- terms which, of course, all presuppose the intentionality the eliminativist denies.  Rather, they can be described in terms of the differences in the respective structures of neural circuitry to be found in their brains.  The eliminativist has neural structures of this one sort mediating the causal input from the external world and the causal output leading to his behavior, including his linguistic behavior (understood as meaningless sounds and scribblings); the non-eliminativist has neural structures of that other sort mediating the causal input from the external world and the causal output leading to his own, different behavior, including his linguistic behavior (also understood as meaningless sounds and scribblings).

So far so good.  But now comes the sleight of hand.  Here and there in his paper, Rosenberg casually drops in the word “misinformation,” in reference to something the brain might also contain, alongside the “information.”  And of course, if his entire positive account of what might replace intentionality boils down to a theory of “information,” then he needs something like the notion of misinformation in order to ground his assertions that intentionality is an “illusion,” that the key claims of religion are “false,” etc.

The problem is this.  Naturally, Rosenberg cannot mean “misinformation” in the ordinary sense, because he admits that he is not entitled to the notion of information in the ordinary sense.  Hence “misinformation” as he uses it cannot mean anything like “false statements,” “erroneous descriptions,” or the like, for anything like that would entail intentionality.  But then what does it mean? 

Rosenberg doesn’t tell us.  If “information” is just “causal covariance,” are we supposed to think of “mis”-information as the absence of causal covariance?  That can’t be it.  For one thing, the absence of causal covariance would give us non-information, but that is not the same thing as mis-information (any more than a stone or a cup of water counts as a misogynist by virtue of not loving women).  For another thing, Rosenberg does not deny that there are relations of causal covariance between the neural structures of non-eliminativists on the one hand, and their external environments and behavioral responses to it on the other.  Yet he would presumably want to characterize their neural structures as embodying “misinformation.”

Is “misinformation” what neural structures carry when they are in some way maladaptive?  That can’t be it either.  One of the big themes of Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality is how adaptive are many of the views he regards as false.  The key ideas Rosenberg is trying to disabuse us of are, in his view, so hard to eradicate precisely because despite being “illusions,” they have likely been hardwired into us by natural selection.  Nor can what Rosenberg has in mind be “misrepresentation” in the sense defended by “teleosemantic” theories of meaning, for as we saw in the previous post, Rosenberg acknowledges that such theories cannot solve the indeterminacy problem.  (We saw in another earlier post how Dretske’s attempt to explain misrepresentation founders on the indeterminacy problem.) 

In short, Rosenberg’s latest paper makes no progress whatsoever in answering an objection raised against another article in which he presented these ideas almost four years ago.  If “information” is just causal covariance, then all he is entitled to say is that the “information” in the eliminativist’s brain is different from the “information” in the non-eliminativist’s brain.  And that’s it -- different.  Not “truer than,” “more accurate than,” “better than,” etc.  Just different.  There are these causal patterns, and then there are those causal patterns.  End of story. 

Rosenberg presents The Atheist’s Guide to Reality as an unflinching account of what anyone committed to the scientism underlying contemporary atheism ought to accept if he is consistent.  And to his credit, he is indeed far more consistent than most other atheists are.  But he is not entirely consistent.  If he were entirely consistent -- or as consistent as an eliminativist can be (for it is impossible to be an entirely consistent eliminativist) -- he would give up not only “intentionality,” “semantic meaning,” “truth,” etc. but also “illusion,” “myth,” “figment,” “misinformation,” and related notions.  He would not only give up the views he regards as illusions, myths, etc; he would also give up the claim that they are illusions, myths, etc.  He would give up atheism as well as theism, science as well as superstition, and certainly any language that implies that theists and other non-naturalists are wrong, irrational, stupid, misinformed, or in any way whatsoever deficient compared to atheists and naturalists.  Indeed, he would give up eliminativism itself, along with any other position.  He would have to become like Cratylus --perhaps the most consistent eliminativist that ever lived -- merely moving a finger rather than putting forward any thesis. 

But where’s the fun in that?  And Rosenberg’s book did, after all, purport to tell us how to enjoy life without illusions…

191 comments:

George LeSauvage said...

'Is “misinformation” what neural structures carry when they are in some way maladaptive? That can’t be it either. One of the big themes of Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality is how adaptive are many of the views he regards as false.'

Isn't "maladaptiveness', though, the only possible criterion Rosenberg can use, though? I mean given his premisses.

Aside from the points against this, made above, that they contradict his previous statements, doesn't this also mean that there is no way, now, he can say that my "illusions" ARE maladaptive, as opposed to his "true" account? For the only test possible would be whose genes continue and spread. And to say that, now, would be to make a prediction about a future state. And aboutness entails....oops, intentionality.

(Does it even make sense, eliminatively, to say that my descendents' genes ARE my genes?)

Rosenberg has said that believers should give up appeals to reason, and embrace credo quia absurdum. Seems to be following his own advice here.

Anonymous said...

- If “information” is just causal covariance, then all he is entitled to say is that the “information” in the eliminativist’s brain is different from the “information” in the non-eliminativist’s brain. And that’s it -- different. Not “truer than,” “more accurate than,” “better than,” etc. Just different. There are these causal patterns, and then there are those causal patterns. End of story.

If he can say they are different then he can make comparisons. Can he not compare the behavioural responses to different 'maps' with the activities of the world, without intentionality, and justify the carpenters use of the word true: well aligned, consistent with, symmetrical to, fitting/matching etc.?

Jeff said...

So his intention in writing the book was to tell us how to enjoy life without illusions or intentions?

Scott said...

"If he can say they are different then he can make comparisons."

If he can say they are different, then he can say things. And if he can say things, then his main thesis is wrong.

Scott said...

"Can he not compare the behavioural responses to different 'maps' with the activities of the world, without intentionality . . . "

Without intentionality, what would constitute a "response" to a "map"?

Anonymous said...

Scott, I'm trying to be charitable. Is this any better?

Can he not compare the behaviours caused by different 'maps' with the activities of the world, without intentionality, and justify the carpenters use of the word true: well aligned, consistent with, symmetrical to, fitting/matching etc.?

Brandon said...

Can he not compare the behaviours caused by different 'maps' with the activities of the world, without intentionality, and justify the carpenters use of the word true: well aligned, consistent with, symmetrical to, fitting/matching etc.?

The actual carpenter-use of the word depends on intentionality, but if we set this aside, there will be indefinitely many possible 'maps' to choose from, far more than the ones that come to mind as obvious (because the obvious ones are obvious for intentionality reasons). One of the things intentionality does is determine what correspondences are important for a specific context.

FZ said...

Reminds me of Popper's criticism. For intentionality/representation, there must be at least 2 points in a causal chain/network, the represented and that which represents. Popper's conclusion was that the physical facts alone (from a mechanistic standpoint) cannot determine which object is represented and which object is representing in a causal chain/network.

Scott said...

"Can he not compare the behaviours caused by different 'maps' with the activities of the world, without intentionality, and justify the carpenters use of the word true: well aligned, consistent with, symmetrical to, fitting/matching etc.?"

Without intentionality, what would constitute a "map" at all? (Brandon has already given a more thorough reply along these lines, with which I agree, so I'll leave it at that.)

Gene Callahan said...

"Never mind the fact that Aristotle, Aquinas, Wittgenstein, and other important critics of materialism (I would say the most important critics) were not Cartesians..."

And let us add Berkeley, Schelling, Bosanquet, Collingwood, and Oakeshott!

Ian said...

Professor Feser (or anyone else who cares to answer),

In the first post in this series, you wrote in the combox that matter is the underlying subject of change.

How do angels fit into this? Angels are pure forms and thus completely immaterial, correct? So how are they subject to change if matter is the underlying subject of change?

Also, if consciousness (and intentionality?) is an aspect of matter as it is conceived by Aristotelians, does this mean that angels, despite having intellect, do not have consciousness?

Anonymous said...

I'm still confused about why it is wrong to suggest he believes there are no beliefs. Even if he substitutes the term belief for others terms, I just can't understand why we should accept the eliminativist's claims his position is not obviously self-refuting.

Tony said...

A couple of other examples of intentionality coming out that cannot be explained in the material eliminativist approach. (As if we needed more).

1. You have just gone through a proof of the Pythagorean theorem for the first time. It uses Euclid's method of proof, although there are dozens of other methods. Now your teacher puts up on the wall a picture of an ancient Chinese proof of something or other, with a different diagram / construction, and asks you "what does that look like". After looking at it for a while, you notice that embedded in the diagram are, along with various other lines, lines indicating the squares on the sides of a right triangle, and you gradually piece together correctly (from the lines drawn) the rough outline of how the proof for the theorem must go - even though you don't even have a clue of the Chinese alphabet. There is no POSSIBLE way that the additional lines in the totally foreign diagram materially lead you to thinking thoughts of a completely new (to you) proof for the theorem, without intentionality. To suggest that they do is just balderdash.

2. Thousands of different people at different times have studied Aristotle's Prior Analytics, and see the syllogistic analysis he gives. Then, later, they are taught the proof by mathematical induction. The fact that they didn't grasp and hold the concept of proof by mathematical induction, and could not elucidate it, and after being taught now can use it successfully, indicates something other than purely material cause, because the same people were "taught" another "logical" approach and they were all able to pick out the error in it and repudiate it. If the thinking "along pathways" is caused by purely material causes induced by "being told" of the method, then people would either not be able to pick out the error of a false syllogism they were taught as if it were true, and then turn around and embrace a new form of syllogism as true.

Aquinas3000 said...

Ian, good question. In the broad metaphysical sense any potency can be referred to as "matter." Angels lack primary matter which is what characterizes corporeal beings.

DavidM said...

Dr. Feser,
Another beautifully crafted analysis. Except for one thing: I don't think you really want to imply that the 'mis-' in 'misinformation' is analogous to the 'mis-' in 'misogyny,' do you?

Scott said...

@DavidM:

"I don't think you really want to imply that the 'mis-' in 'misinformation' is analogous to the 'mis-' in 'misogyny,' do you?"

Good catch; I completely overlooked that. Yep, two entirely different etymologies—Germanic and Greek, respectively (and the latter is actually "miso-").

Edward Feser said...

Hello DavidM and Scott,

Good point, thanks. But of course, the substantive point I was making doesn’t depend on etymology. It is still true that the mere absence of information doesn’t entail misinformation (which is more than mere absence), any more than the mere absence of love for women entails misogyny (which is also more than mere absence). Hence even if it were granted that causal covariance gives us an analogue of information, the mere absence of causal covariance still wouldn’t give us an analogue of misinformation. (Nor does Rosenberg even claim that it would -- I was merely exploring possible interpretations of his talk of "misinformation.")

Glenn said...

Come on, guys; that is so unlike either of you.

Dr. Feser was saying that A is as far from being B as C is far from being D (where A = 'non-information', B = 'miss-information' [sic], C = 'stone or cup of water' and D = 'misogynist'), i.e., he wasn't implying that B is analogous to D, but saying that the relation itself of A to B is analogous to the relation itself of C to D. Since the relation itself of C to D is nonsensical, so too is the relation itself of A to B.

Glenn said...

Oh, Dr. Feser has already replied; hadn't seen that. Oh well; it's probably a safe bet to assume he knows better than I what he was saying.

DavidM said...

I certainly think Dr. Feser's substantive point is correct, but still, he does incorrectly imply the existence of an analogy between the two instances of 'mis-', does he not?

"For one thing, the absence of causal covariance would give us non-information, but that is not the same thing as mis-information (any more than a stone or a cup of water counts as a misogynist by virtue of not loving women)."

As Scott noted, 'misogyny' is 'miso-gyny', not 'mis-ogyny.' And the parallel to 'non-information' - namely, 'not loving women' - would not be 'non-ogyny' or 'non-gyny' but rather 'non-philogyny.' Or am I missing something?

DavidM said...

"Dr. Feser was saying that A is as far from being B as C is far from being D (where A = 'non-information', B = 'miss-information' [sic], C = 'stone or cup of water' and D = 'misogynist')"

To put the problem with this analysis more plainly: It implies that the fact that there is common element between A and B ('information') is not an essential part of the confusion. Whereas, of course, it is. Thus there should similarly be a common element reflected in the analogous case. So a stone or a cup of water work as 'non-lovers of women' but it seems to me the argument should then point out that this doesn't make them, say, 'inept lovers of women.'

George LeSauvage said...

The bottom line about eliminationism (and all scientific reductionists, for that matter):

A drunkard is searching for something under a streetlamp. A passerby asks: "What are you searching for?" The drunkard responds: "My housekeys." They start searching together. Ten minutes later the passerby asks: "Are you sure you lost them here?" The drunkard says: "I lost them over there, but there's more light here."

Matt Sigl said...

Thanks for making me look up Cratylus. Gotta respect that dude. Whereof one cannot speak...

Scott said...

@Ed Feser:

"But of course, the substantive point I was making doesn’t depend on etymology."

Agreed. I almost said as much in my reply to DavidM and I probably should have.

Glenn said...

DavidM,

Okay, I get the point.

Mea culpa.

But I wonder now whether we can put to good use the mistake -- as well as my initial reluctance in accepting that a relevant mistake had been made -- by saying, "Equating non-information with mis-information makes no more sense than does attempting to analogize 'mis-information' with 'miso-gynist'."

Ian said...

Aquinas3000,

Thanks for the reply.

Next questions: primary matter is pure potency right? What is it about corporeal beings that shows that we have it and angels don't? I.e. how do we know that corporeality follows from having primary matter?

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"But I wonder now whether we can put to good use the mistake -- as well as my initial reluctance in accepting that a relevant mistake had been made -- by saying, 'Equating non-information with mis-information makes no more sense than does attempting to analogize "mis-information" with "miso-gynist".'"

I like this solution. I think it's a win all around.

Anybody for miso soup?

Scott said...

And, Ed, I hope in the future you'll keep a closer eye on etymology in your parenthetical analogies. ;-)

Glenn said...

Anybody for miso soup?

Ha. I was looking for a way to work in 'miso soup'.

(But without a wetsuit, decided against it).

DavidM said...

I had thought that 'misogynist' referred to someone who wanted to restrict access to abortion. But I guess it could also refer to someone who works in a soup kitchen at a Japanese women's shelter.

As for my original criticism, the fix is pretty simple: "misogyny" becomes "misogyny" and "not loving women" becomes "not loving women." Done.

DavidM said...

oops: "-ist" not "-y" in the above - "misogynist" becomes "misogynist" - details!

Glenn said...

DavidM,

- details!

Here's another detail: When it comes to correcting me, you're 2-for-2.

Anonymous said...

You also have to be careful to distinguish a misogynist from a misoginist; the latter being someonewho rends to spike japanese soup with juniper flavoured spirits..

Edward Feser said...

Then of course there's the misogenus, under which fall the various species of miso.

Timotheos said...

Under the misogenus of course goes the red miso, the white miso, and the brown (mixed) miso. ;)

Each is used in traditional Japanese cooking and each has a different flavor. Red is the best though, Why? Because Mi-say-so (I apologize for that....)

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

To understand the force of naturalism (or of theism for that matter) one must face it in its own terms. Discounting, even to a small degree, what naturalism (or theism) says guarantees that one will misunderstand it.

Naturalism is the idea that the whole of reality is a pure mechanism. That every bit of all there is, whether material or non-material, evolves according to strict (albeit perhaps probabilistic) mechanical laws. That’s all there is to it.

The implications of naturalism’s idea are momentous, especially for what we are. For example when we choose, it’s not at all how it feels, but our brain mechanically and thus completely blindly, without any reasons or beliefs or wishes at all, transits from a particular state to another. All talk about reasons, beliefs, wishes, or freedom of will – are descriptions of how such transitions experientially feel like, not of how it actually is. To think that those concepts refer to something that exists beyond the subjective feeling, is to fall for the fallacy that how something feels like tells us something about how something actually is. According to naturalism our experience of life about such things is through and through illusory. Further, according to naturalism, the language we use about ourselves has been developed to describe that illusion, and therefore it is not easy to explain the illusion to people who do not face naturalism at face value and insist in using their illusions as if they weren’t.

To talk about ourselves gets rather emotional and is often misleading. So it’s better to talk about other mechanisms, such as about a chess playing computer. The computer is pure mechanism, knows nothing about chess, has no beliefs or wishes whatsoever, has no will – but simply evolves its physical state according to mechanical rules. That it plays completely blindly and without understanding nothing whatsoever does not at all conflict with the fact that it plays quite well. Now imagine (indeed it’s technically not difficult to do) that the chess computer would talk and describe its moves. That language would use concepts of understanding, of believing (in various degrees between certainty and doubt), of wishing, of willing, and of course of intentionality in the philosophical sense – even though these do not exist in any sense whatsoever. Finally assume that this machine is not only able to play chess intelligently and to talk about chess intelligently, but also has conscious experiences which exactly correlate with the physical processes that give rise to that intelligent behavior. And, voila, you have the naturalistic model of the human brain and therefore of the human condition. Just assume that this machine is not an artifact but is itself the result of a blind evolutionary process where to play good chess and to speak about it is adaptive behavior.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Naturalism is strange and may be false, but we have no datum which actually contradicts it. The fact that the physical sciences describe the deep order present in physical phenomena on purely mechanical terms and without ever having to resort to supernatural (theistic-like) causes strongly suggests that the physical world is a mechanism blindly evolving. And the fact that neurophysiology discovers no examples where our mental states do not exactly correlate with some physical states of our brain, strongly suggests that non-material things also evolve mechanically. Until we discover a datum which falsifies one or the other of the above “facts” naturalism will remain a possibly true description of reality.

And being possibly true, arguments such as Ed Feser’s above are considered by naturalists to be entirely toothless, in the sense that they are entirely compatible with naturalism. For is naturalism is true then there is a naturalistic account of Ed Feser’s feeling, thinking, and writing about these matters, and there is a naturalistic account of how Ed’s arguments cause us to feel convinced by them. One may suggest that such arguments prove that naturalism is an irrational belief system, but again naturalism describes how come we should feel this way. While naturalism remains possibly true in the sense that all data are compatible with it, for the naturalist all arguments against naturalism can be interpreted as irrelevant.

And now for the icky part. In our current condition it will never be the case that we discover a datum which falsifies naturalism. Give me any kind of experience you like, and I can describe a mechanical world that would give rise to it. For example, there is a naturalistic world that would cause all of humanity to experience a literal playing out of St John’s Apocalypse. So how do I manage the feat to produce a mechanical reality for any experience whatsoever? I use the decimal expansion of pi as the mechanism with defines peoples’ experiences according to some fixed rules. Given any hypothetical experience I just search through the decimal expansion of pi until a find a section that would give rise to it.

We see then that in our current condition naturalism is necessarily possibly true. Nothing we shall possibly experience or feel or think, including no argument we shall possibly face, will make it impossible that naturalism is true. That’s the cognitive position our Lord found good to place us in.

Is there much relevance to this insight? Well, it does explain many a naturalist’s stubbornness. The naturalist, as he should (and as Alex Rosenberg tries to), interprets everything, including theistic arguments, within naturalism’s structure of reality. And it says something about God – namely that God wished to make non-theism a viable worldview. And this in turn can tell us something about God’s purpose in creation.

George LeSauvage said...

@Danielos:

You'll have to help me out here. At 11:55, you say

"For example when we choose, it’s not at all how it feels, but our brain mechanically and thus completely blindly, without any reasons or beliefs or wishes at all, transits from a particular state to another."

Now, I get that, and that which follows. But what I don't get is statements like this:

"To understand the force of naturalism ... one must face it in its own terms."

Or

"Naturalism is strange and may be false, but we have no datum which actually contradicts it."

Or

"physical sciences describe the deep order present in physical phenomena on purely mechanical terms"

Or

"neurophysiology discovers no examples where our mental states do not exactly correlate with some physical states of our brain"

What do these words like "naturalism's own terms" mean, other than "a certain configuration of matter at a given time and place."

What does it mean to speak of truth and falsity and contradiction, when you've already ruled those out as illusions?

What can "deep order" possibly mean, when there are really no meanings, only matter?

What does it mean to say something is believable, or true, when you have already postulated that there is no such thing as belief or truth?

I don't get it.



Scott said...

@Matt Sigl:

"Thanks for making me look up Cratylus. Gotta respect that dude. Whereof one cannot speak..."

He almost belongs in a kōan.

A monk asked Cratylus, "What is the nature of reality?" Cratylus moved his finger. At that moment the monk was enlightened.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"All talk about reasons, beliefs, wishes, or freedom of will – are descriptions of how such transitions experientially feel like, not of how it actually is."

Including the belief that naturalism is true. So guess what's just been falsified.

machinephilosophy said...

"Naturalism is strange and may be false, but we have no datum which actually contradicts it."

The DATUM is the fact that it contradicts it's own specified factors that it SUPPOSEDLY reduces everything to including itself.

The "truth" of naturalism is your invisible friend, transcending naturalistic factors so you can preach the naturalistic gospel and prate on about the absence of contradiction that stares you in the face of your own self-referential obliviousness.

Edward said...

Can I hijack the thread with a question about the First Way?

After reading Aquinas and TLS, I'm still having a little trouble understanding two things about the Unmoved Mover argument.

My questions are related, and to solve one would, I think, be to solve the other.

1. I still fail to see how the First Mover (in a series ordered per se) is unmoveable, as well as unmoved. I can see (following the argument on pp. 75-76 of Aquinas) that, for any derivative mover, to exist at the instant of movement is to be in motion. But it doesn't follow that the first-mover-of-a-particular-series has no potency. Could it not be that this potency is simply not being actualised right now -- ie as part of this causal series -- but is (or may be) actualised at some other time? Of course, it would follow that, for this object, to exist at the instant of movement is not to be in motion, but this isn't incompatible with being move-able.

2. The problem would be solved if it could be shown that it is the same First Mover that causes every series of motion (again, ordered per se. Because then the First Mover, by definition, would always be un-moved. But couldn't there be different 'first' movers for different series of motion? (Of course, they would only be first in relation to that particular chain.) (One could of course say that the entire universe is in motion, but this seems difficult to prove philosophically. Even if it could be proved, it wouldn't follow that only one Being was moving the entire universe; could it not be that plural beings were moving different components of the universe?)


Sorry if these are dumb questions. I can see how the proofs from causality and contingency work, but I'm missing something here.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ George LeSauvage,

"To understand the force of naturalism ... one must face it in its own terms."

The idea is that one must think about naturalism abandoning one’s intuitions and dependence on common concepts. I have found that a practical way to do this is to think not of the actual world, but about a possible world in which all physical facts are identical to ours, and in which moreover (unlike David Chalmers’s zombie world) all mental facts are identical to ours too. But which world is a pure mechanism, and thus naturalistic. Let’s call this world the “superzombie” world. In the superzombie world, for example, there is somebody exactly like me, having exactly the same body and the same experiences, writing what I am writing now. But having no beliefs, no thoughts about anything, no freedom of will, etc. Only experiencing like he has beliefs, experiencing like he is thinking about stuff, experiencing like he is making free choices, like some of them are good and some bad, like he is responsible for them, etc.

“Naturalism is strange and may be false, but we have no datum which actually contradicts it."

The idea here is that since all physical and all mental facts are identical the actual world may be the superzombie world. One can’t be certain it isn’t. Perhaps in the actual world our experiences of thoughts, freedom of will, morality, etc – are pure illusions. As they are in the superzombie world we’re considering.

What does it mean to speak of truth and falsity and contradiction, when you've already ruled those out as illusions?

I hold that the actual world is not a superzombie world, and therefore it makes sense for me to talk of these matters in relation to the hypothetical superzombie world we are discussing. So I don’t have any problem whatsoever here.

A naturalist has a harder time speaking coherently. Alex Rosenberg in his book recognizes the problem and explains that even though “propositions”, “beliefs”, “thoughts about” and so on do not exist, only his writing the book in those terms may ultimately move his readers’ brains into a state which better aligns with reality.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Scott,

Including the belief that naturalism is true. So guess what's just been falsified.

Consider the superzombie Scott posting the above to superzombie Dianelos in the superzombie world. Do you see how it makes no sense in that world?

After all in the superzombie (aka naturalistic) world there exist no beliefs, let alone falsified beliefs. There are only superzombie people with brains which mechanically and blindly churn away, causing them to experience like they have beliefs, and like they have found a way to falsify a belief.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"Do you see how it makes no sense in that world?"

No, because I don't see how that world itself makes sense in the first place.

Any point you want to make about my post depends on our reading it as expressing something—as having a meaning—and in a world without beliefs, it simply fails to do so.

It doesn't make sense even to talk about a statement's failure to "make sense" in a world where there's simply no such thing as "sense" (or a "statement") in the first place.

machinephilosophy said...

"Consider the superzombie Scott posting the above to superzombie Dianelos in the superzombie world. Do you see how it makes no sense in that world?"

Yeah, that's precisely YOUR world, not Scott's. It's NATURALISM that proclaims a universal reductionism, yet self-presumes a naturalism-exempt specialness for itself so it can be proclaimed as a truth for everyone to cow-tow to.

Or perhaps you can point to where Scott's world view reduces everything to a set of truth-excluding factors so that he can bandy it about as "true" and free of contradiction.

George LeSauvage said...

@Danielos:

I don't understand what this means:

"...a possible world in which all physical facts are identical to ours, and in which moreover (unlike David Chalmers’s zombie world) all mental facts are identical to ours too. But which world is a pure mechanism, and thus naturalistic."

What mental facts? If it is a purely naturalistic world, how did they sneak in the back door? Naturalism cannot accommodate them. There's no room for them on the darkling plain.

The fact is that you, in this possible world, are considering the truth of naturalism (albeit by considering your possible world), are in doing so, engaging in intentional thought. Were you not, there would be no way you could be speaking of truth (or the possibility) of that other world.

Since you ARE, by your own testimony, so thinking, then this world is different from your posited world, although a purely physical account would not include the difference.

Anonymous said...

The world of naturalism is the world of Democritus. For him the world is composed of bits of being with different shapes moving about in the void (space). Democritus called these bits of being 'atoms".

Someday the naturalists might get all the way to Plato. But I suspect that that won't happen until they get past Thales' assumption -- that there is only one kind of basic stuff that makes up the world. He called it "water". Didn't Richard Feynman say that if a theory isn't simple it isn't true? Well, that's pure Thales. Sigh.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: I'm still confused about why it is wrong to suggest he believes there are no beliefs.

I don't think that is wrong stated as a pithy conclusion. But just as we should not take the eliminativist's word for his position's being coherent, we should not take the anti-eliminativist's word for its being contradictory. We should listen to the claimed solution, and analyse it as Ed as has done.

Then we can say, nope, it's just as self-refuting as it sounds.

Mr. Green said...

Dianelos Georgoudis: Naturalism is strange and may be false, but we have no datum which actually contradicts it.

Yes. We do. Plenty. This in fact is a fundamental theme in Feser's books and his posts here. Unless you are defining "data" in a circularly-"naturalistic" way, it just isn't true. You have fallen for the "naturalist" propaganda.

[physics] without ever having to resort to supernatural (theistic-like) causes strongly suggests that the physical world is a mechanism blindly evolving. And [neurophysiology] strongly suggests that non-material things also evolve mechanically.

No. They just don't. At most, you might claim that they don't explicitly rule out the "naturalist" position when taken in isolation. And even that much requires taking them in isolation from themselves, i.e. from any metaphysics capable of grounding science itself in the first place.

(I put "naturalist" in quotation marks because the term itself is being abused. Phrases like "supernatural (theistic-like) causes" is quite confused in Scholastic terms. Angels are natural, after all — they have natures. And how does mathematics fit into the sort of "nature" that materialists want? ("Materialist" is a problematic term too. (Paging Crude!)))

Given any hypothetical experience I just search through the decimal expansion of pi until a find a section that would give rise to it.

Huh? Anyway, I think you are saying that your metal-detector will never be "falsified" by finding something that isn't metallic. But so what?

Well, it does explain many a naturalist’s stubbornness.

I think people can be stubborn and wrong. (And yes, it does tell us something about God's purpose in creation: the vi-able worldview is the one that leads to la vie, not the one that leads to death.)

George LeSauvage said...

@Edward:

Your 1st question asks "Could it not be that this potency is simply not being actualised right now".

I think the answer lies in the fact that, if it is A in actuality, and has the potential to be B, then there must be something which is making it A and not B. That is, I think you are taking "motion" a bit too much in the modern sense. It is in potential to be in several different ways, but is in act in only one, and it is that fact which entails a mover.

(I just reread that chapter of TLS, and I do think that Mr Feser is sometimes unclear or imprecise, as often uses "cause", where another word would be better, to keep the distinction with the 2nd Way clear.)

Anyway, if this is correct, it suffices for the 2nd objection. If incorrect, I'm happy to be instructed.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Scott,

No, because I don't see how that world itself makes sense in the first place.

It’s a simple idea – perhaps I am not describing it well.

Consider a possible world with a working mechanical clock in it. Surely that makes sense – one can simulate that clock with a computer. Further consider that in that hypothetical world particular physical states produce particular mental states. So when this wheel is oriented in a particular direction the experience of the quale red is produced. And when these wheels and these dials are in this particular configuration then the experience of thinking “Paris is the capital city of France” is produced.

Now consider another possible world in which a mechanical system identical to the physical system of our universe, as revealed by science (or more precisely as described by some realist interpretation of the discoveries of the physical sciences), operates. So every single elementary particle with its physical properties in our world, also exists with the identical physical properties in that world. It follows that physically identical human brains exist there. That’s what I mean when I say that all physical facts in that world are identical to ours. So far I have described a feature of Chalmers’s “zombie world” which I find very easy to conceive and which to my knowledge nobody finds objectionable. What some people find objectionable is Chalmers’s further premise that in the zombie world no mental facts obtain. I don’t have that problem since in my superzombie hypothetical world mental facts too are identical to ours, realizing the same correlations between physical states of our brain and mental states experienced – neuroscientists discover in ours. Such, for example, neuroscientists discover when a patient’s brain undergoing surgery is repeatedly stimulated in a particular region and the patient testifies of consistently experiencing a particular mental state. Or, more prosaically, we discover ourselves when we feed alcohol to our brain moving it to a “drunken” physical state.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

"Any point you want to make about my post depends on our reading it as expressing something—as having a meaning—and in a world without beliefs, it simply fails to do so.

Right, I completely agree. But in the actual world where you and I are discussing there are beliefs, there are thoughts about things, including thoughts about hypothetical worlds. So there is no problem at all for you and I to discuss these matters. (To be precise, you and I take it as given that the actual world is such.)

In the superzombie hypothetical world, which we are here considering from our privileged epistemic condition, there are no beliefs, nor thoughts about other things, etc. We agree on this, and that’s what makes our discussion interesting. That there is a possible world in which all physical and mental facts are identical to ours but where beliefs and intentionality do not exist.

Now in the hypothetical superzombie world there is by definition a superzombie Dianelos and a superzombie Scott carrying out exactly the same discussion. They have exactly the same experiences like we do, including that of the thoughts and conclusions about hypothetical worlds. But their discussion makes no sense, has no meaning, is not about anything whatsoever, is incoherent through and through. Why should we be surprised? Surely whether a discussion makes sense or not depends on the metaphysical ground of the world in which it is carried out. In the purely mechanical superzombie world that ground of meaning is lacking. Ed writes a lot of arguments precisely in order to demonstrate that fact. He shows that if, as naturalists hold, our world were a purely mechanical one then whatever naturalists say is incoherent. Indeed whatever anybody, including theists, says is incoherent. And you and I agree with all of this, precisely because Ed’s arguments are good. They prove beyond reasonable doubt that in a naturalistic world all talk is incoherent. But then the only thing Ed proves is that if our world is a superzombie (aka naturalistic) world then we are all talking literal nonsense. I haven’t read Alex Rosenberg’s paper but I guess he would actually agree. After all he agrees that no thought and no talk is about anything.

We can now suggest the following argument which we feel carries some force:

1. If the actual world is a purely mechanical one then all of our talk is literal nonsense. (premise Alex, Ed, you and I agree with)
2. Some of our talk is not literal nonsense. (premise Ed, you and I agree with)
3. Therefore, the actual world is not a purely mechanical one.

Trouble is exactly the same argument producing the same mental responses exists in the superzombie world which is a purely mechanical one. This insight only proves the ultimate irrelevance of analytic arguments when discussing about the metaphysical ground of reality. Which, I must say, was understood by Kant 250 years ago.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ George LeSauvage,

What mental facts? If it is a purely naturalistic world, how did they sneak in the back door? Naturalism cannot accommodate them.

I think you are confusing materialism with naturalism. Sophisticated naturalists tend not to be materialists and accept the existence of mental facts as metaphysically fundamental elements of reality. For example there are property dualists.

Since you ARE, by your own testimony, so thinking [snip]

Actually I am not testifying that my thoughts are intentional. The only thing I am testifying is that experience intentional thoughts. From the fact (and it is certainly a fact) that I experience intentional thoughts (i.e. thoughts about other things) it does not follow that intentional thoughts exist. Perhaps only the experience of them exists.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Mr. Green

Yes. We do. Plenty.

Can you suggest just one physical or mental datum which actually contradicts naturalism?

You speak of Feser’s arguments. Do you mean to say that the mental datum of how it feels like when we ponder his arguments contradicts naturalism? If so then you are wrong since in the hypothetical superzombie world Ed’s arguments cause exactly the same feelings, but in that world naturalism is true. So it’s not the case that these mental facts contradict naturalism.

At most, you might claim that [the physical sciences] don't explicitly rule out the "naturalist" position when taken in isolation.

Right, that’s a more precise formulation, which I gladly accept. The point remains that a superzombie world (in which all physical facts are produced in the way scientific naturalists hold) is possible. If, on the other hand, it were the case that the physical sciences had to hypothesize supernatural causes (the way for example Newton did thinking that physical law was not sufficient and that God had to supernaturally nudge planets to stay in stable orbits), then the naturalistic position would be practically ruled out by the physical sciences, and it would be harder to argue that the superzombie world is possible. (But even then it would be possible, given my argument from pi.)

I put "naturalist" in quotation marks because the term itself is being abused.

I defined my sense of naturalism above. It certainly contradicts theism, and I have never encountered a naturalist who disagrees with it.

Huh?

Let me elaborate. Consider all mental facts in the actual world since the beginning of time until now, and perhaps including any possible experiences we may have up to any point in the future. Now codify all of these mental facts as a unique number, in a way that this number can always be translated back into mental facts producing exactly the same lot. A possible way would be this: Represent each mental fact by (S,T, E, C) where the S number identifies the conscious subject, the T number the exact time, the E number the type of experience (e.g. a visual quale), and the C number the actual experience (e.g. watching a particular view of the Eiffel Tower, or perhaps watching a particular angel fling the damned into a lake of fire). A rather huge number would now uniquely identify the entire history of mental facts up to any future time. Now search along the infinite decimal expansion of pi for the fist position where precisely that number is found. (I understand it is proven that any finite number exists within the expansion of any irrational number such as pi.) Hypothesize then that the world consists of a mechanical demon which starting at that position first computes pi and then produces the respective mental facts. And voila, you have a purely mechanical (and hence naturalistic) model of reality – which would work even if we all were to literally experience St. John’s apocalypse. Far fetched of course, but it proves the point: In our current condition we won’t ever experience anything that will contradict naturalism.

I think people can be stubborn and wrong.

Yes, of course. Moreover we agree that if rationality is always truth-tracking then naturalism is almost certainly wrong. (The sophisticated naturalist may agree with us, but point out that in a naturalistic reality rationality is not always truth-tracking, and point out that theist Plantinga has argued for the very point. The naturalist may even concede that reality is ultimately absurd, and point to the findings of modern science as evidence for that.)

In any case it is useful to understand why in many cases all our good arguments against naturalism kind of slide off the naturalistic mindset without any traction. It’s not that naturalists are blind or of bad will. Rather their worldview is such that these arguments fail to produce any traction. They have fallen into a local and self-confirming epistemic condition. Which problem I understand was recognized and discussed by Hegel.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

We can now suggest the following argument which we feel carries some force:

1. If the actual world is a purely mechanical one then all of our talk is literal nonsense. (premise Alex, Ed, you and I agree with)
2. Some of our talk is not literal nonsense. (premise Ed, you and I agree with)
3. Therefore, the actual world is not a purely mechanical one.

Trouble is exactly the same argument producing the same mental responses exists in the superzombie world which is a purely mechanical one.


1. If the actual world is not a purely mechanical one, and the superzombie world is a purely mechanical one, then the superzombie world isn't the actual world.

2. The trouble isn't that exactly the same argument produces the same mental responses in the superzombie world; rather, the trouble is that you vacillate when describing what the superzombie world is like -- it is one way when that way serves what you want to say, and another opposite or contradictory way when that way serves what you want to say a short while later. **

- - - - -

** If, as you say it is, the superzombie world is a purely mechanical one, then the source of the vacillation is not to be found there. And if it isn't to be found there, it must be found... where?

Brandon said...

To add to Glenn's point, Danielos, your description of the superzombie world requires us to say that thoughts, beliefs, and willings are not mental facts, since you repeatedly insist it has all the same mental facts as our world but without thoughts, beliefs, and willings. Given this characterization, you really can't jump as swiftly as you do to claiming that such a thing is a conceivable, since it leaves open too many extremely obvious questions (like, what kind of fact can it be to believe something if it is neither a mental fact nor a combination of mental facts and physical facts?).

The whole of your argument appears to be based on taking (e.g) 'experiencing the experience of belief' as not implying 'believing'. But this is simply to be confused by language; to experience the experience of a mental activity is to be performing the mental activity. To experience the experience of thinking, "I think", one must actually be thinking, "I think", for instance. Any other reading is pretty obviously mumbo-jumbo.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Glenn,

If the actual world is not a purely mechanical one, and the superzombie world is a purely mechanical one, then the superzombie world isn't the actual world.

Right, only it is not given that the actual world is not a purely mechanical one. That’s the whole point of the argument. Our condition is such that we can’t be certain our world is not purely mechanical. It only so happens I am convinced it isn’t. And therefore I use language assuming it isn’t.

The trouble is that you vacillate when describing what the superzombie world is like

You need to be more precise. Where exactly do you think I vacillate when describing the superzombie world? Its definition looks perfectly clear to me, and I find Ed’s arguments that in such a world no intentional states exist, and thus no beliefs, no will, etc – to be quite convincing.

Perhaps you mean I vacillate about the actual world, since I don’t seem to be quite certain it’s not the superzombie world. If so, that’s true. Again, that’s the point – I find I can’t have that certainty. Being a theist I conclude that God sees it good to deny us that certainty.

Neil Parille said...

Ed,

Off topic, but I just came across this review of your book Locke.

http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/32/rp_32_10.pdf

George LeSauvage said...

@Danielos:

1. "Actually I am not testifying that my thoughts are intentional. The only thing I am testifying is that experience intentional thoughts"

I cannot make one bit of sense of that. You have thoughts which may or may not be intentional, but there is some experience of intentional thoughts?
???
(Did you leave a word out of the 2nd sentence?)

2. The essential problem is precisely that I (like Feser and Nagel, and indeed, Rosenberg) deny that naturalist attempts, to work intentionality into naturalism, succeed. Your "possible world" isn't possible, and more than one in which the number 4 is missing. (1,2,3,5,6...). Granted, it's easy to say there is such a world, but possible worlds (which I am not committed to) entail more than just something which can be stated. It must be coherent. And its coherence is what I cannot see.

3. Part of the problem is that is is unclear what you thing "mental" facts or events are? What things do you mean? Some sort of experiences (or properties of experiences) which are not thoughts, beliefs, etc?

You keep saying that the world, DG, excludes intentionality. Yet it admits, e.g., "watching a particular view of the Eiffel Tower". But a view OF the Eiffel Tower is precisely what entails intentionality.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"I understand it is proven that any finite number exists within the expansion of any irrational number such as pi."

No, it isn't, although some mathematicians suspect it's true. In fact it hasn't even been proven that the decimal expansion of pi contains infinitely many occurrences of each single digit from 0 to 9.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Brandon,

your description of the superzombie world requires us to say that thoughts, beliefs, and willings are not mental facts, since you repeatedly insist it has all the same mental facts as our world but without thoughts, beliefs, and willings.

They are mental facts in both worlds, since they are identical experiences in both worlds. The question is what their relevance is, or what their relation with reality is. In our world (I believe) they refer to things that actually exist, in the superzombie they are illusions. It’s one thing to experience thinking about Paris, it’s another to think about Paris. The latter entails the former, but not the other way around. Let me elaborate:

When one sees a rainbow, one experiences a bright and colorful arc in the sky that touches the ground on a particular spot. We experience that, but it’s not like what we experience exists beyond the experience of it. The rainbow as we experience it is an illusion. In the same way making choices, having purposes, etc as we experience them, may be an illusion.

Let’s again consider the chess playing computer which intelligently comments in natural language (BTW that’s not a thought experiment, such a computer program is entirely within our technological reach and may have already been built). That computer would speak of choices, of reasons for its choices, of beliefs, of fears, of doubts, of wishes, etc but we know that nothing of its talk would refer to what we understand by the respective concepts. Now we assume that the computer is not a conscious – but suppose we are wrong. Or suppose a supernatural demon would give the computer the relevant experiences it is talking about. Nothing would change, and the computer would still not be making choices, let along making choices because of its wishes or influenced by its doubts etc – since it would still be only executing a deterministic program.

And, finally and clearest, consider the superzombie world. In that world superzombie people do experience thinking about stuff, experience making free choices, making those choices for a purpose, etc. But, given our knowledge that they instantiate purely mechanical systems evolving blindly and that their conscious experience supervenes on such mechanical systems (never mind pondering Ed’s many arguments to the same effect), we see that what they experience does not cohere with reality. It’s all an illusion, a figment produced by the underlying mechanical processes. The same way that our experience of the rainbow is a figment produced by the mist of water in the atmosphere when illuminated by the sun from a particular direction.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"It's one thing to experience thinking about Paris, it's another to think about Paris. The latter entails the former, but not the other way around."

To "experience thinking about Paris" is indeed to think about Paris, and the entailment (really an identity) runs both ways. In your experience of thinking about Paris, Paris is (obviously) the intentional object of the thought you're experiencing. This is true whether or not Paris is "real" in any specific sense; it's equally true that to "experience thinking about" Sherlock Holmes is to think about Sherlock Holmes.

Your doubt is merely about whether Paris itself is the real (as opposed to merely virtual) object of that thought, and your argument would be clearer if you stated it in that way. At any rate your elaboration shows why your doubt is ill-founded:

"When one sees a rainbow, one experiences a bright and colorful arc in the sky that touches the ground on a particular spot. We experience that, but it's not like what we experience exists beyond the experience of it. The rainbow as we experience it is an illusion."

What we experience when we see a rainbow most certainly does exist beyond our experience of it; otherwise we wouldn't be having the experience in the first place. It's true that the "rainbow" isn't an externally existing substance, but who ever thought it was? To put it roughly and intuitively, the rainbow is causally evoked from the substances that are the (real) objects of our experience and it can properly be described as a property or attribute of those substances: the experience of "seeing a rainbow" just is to experience a certain external state of airborne moisture and light.

"In the same way making choices, having purposes, etc as we experience them, may be an illusion."

I really have no idea what you could possibly mean in saying that an experience of having a purpose could be illusory. So far as I can see, to experience oneself as having a purpose is to have it.

Anonymous said...

The classic non-physical data are concepts. The idea of "color", for instance, has neither length, breadth nor width. Neither can it possible exist in the material dimension because it would have to be a specific color and so no longer the generic reality that it is.

I've read, but can't find a reference, that Frege added the mental act of negation to the class of such data. Negations also have neither length, breadth, nor width but even two year olds know the meaning of "No!"

Brandon said...

They are mental facts in both worlds, since they are identical experiences in both worlds. The question is what their relevance is, or what their relation with reality is. In our world (I believe) they refer to things that actually exist, in the superzombie they are illusions.

Again, this simply aggravates the problem. If thought, belief, and willing are mental facts, they must, contrary to your prior claim, exist in the superzombie world, since ex hypothesi all mental facts are the same. However, if your characterizations of the superzombie world were correct, there should be no illusions at all. All accounts of illusion presuppose intentionality. No one can, for instance, experience thought as thought without intentionality, because the reduplication is itself an example of intentionality. But illusion requires that something be other than what you experience it as. Thus there are no illusions in the superzombie world. This is similar to the point point Scott had made about it making no sense to say that something fails to mean in a world in which there are no meanings at all.

In addition, since experiences are usually understood to be about something, and thus intentional, 'experience' is probably not the best word to use for the contrast, and seems to be confusing everyone all around.

Your comment doesn't really address the main point of my prior comment, which is that for practically everyone "experiencing thinking about a dog" is just a roundabout way of saying "thinking about a dog, in such a way that we experience it". To put it in other words: with conceivability playing the role you give it, you can't just assume that you have a distinction here; we have to have both a clear enough account of each and a good enough reason to think them distinct even to get to the question of conceivability. None of your arguments really seem to address it. As Scott notes, the rainbow doesn't seem relevant to the question of intentionality in the way you suggest. The computer talking about its experiences is irrelevant to this question unless it actually has the experiences in question, since on your account of the superzombie world, experiences remain as mental facts. If the demon gives the computer the experience of thinking about chess, however, it's quite natural to say that it now thinks about chess, maybe well or badly, but if it experiences thinking about it, it does think about it. (I can imagine someone saying, "I have experienced loving someone!" and Danielos saying, "But when you experienced loving someone, did you love?" Need it really be pointed out that this would simply plunge the first person into confusion, given that he would see no difference? Thus, if there is any salvageable meaning, it can only be by a technical distinction. But technical distinctions have to be well-founded and given a clear account before we can say what is conceivable or not with them.)

I am thoroughly baffled by your idea that the superzombie world is the "clearest" of the scenarios you present; and I am very sure I am not the only one. Far from being clear, or even conceivable, it makes everything murkier by being only describable in terms that are intentionalistic while simultaneously removing everything intentionalistics. The superzombie world can only be imagined by remotion; but it is not in fact clear that when we remove all the intentionality we have anything consistent with the essential point about the superzombie world, that all the mental and physical facts are the same as in an intentionality world.

George LeSauvage said...

@Scott:

'To "experience thinking about Paris" is indeed to think about Paris, and the entailment (really an identity) runs both ways. In your experience of thinking about Paris, Paris is (obviously) the intentional object of the thought you're experiencing.'

I think this must be qualified. It is possible to be mistaken in our belief of what we are thinking of.

Dawkins believes he is thinking of the 5th Way, when he is actually thinking of Paley's design argument. J K Rowling mixed up two train stations. Or I might think of Sherlock Holmes as a priest, or the younger son of a duke, or Hamlet as the usurper of the Scottish throne.

People do this sort of thing all the time.

Not that this undercuts your main point. To have the experience of thinking of Paris, when really thinking of Venice, still remains an experience of thinking of something, even if we mistake the object.

@Danielos:

Perhaps it'd help to go back to this statement:

" I don’t have that problem since in my superzombie hypothetical world mental facts too are identical to ours, realizing the same correlations between physical states of our brain and mental states experienced – neuroscientists discover in ours. Such, for example, neuroscientists discover when a patient’s brain undergoing surgery is repeatedly stimulated in a particular region and the patient testifies of consistently experiencing a particular mental state."

To my mind, it is an error to say that neuroscientists, under a naturalistic interpretation, ARE discovering mental states. What they are is discovering their patients' reports of having those mental states. Which is to say, what they observe, is their behavior.

I do keep coming back, as others do, to the question of why "experiences" exist in this mechanistic world, but thoughts, etc, do not. What is it about experiences which makes them accessible to mechanism, but not thoughts and the like?

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

"I think this must be qualified."

Fair enough, but I think I did qualify it in just that way in what followed. What you seem to have in mind here is the difference between a real/extensional/"reference" object and a virtual/intensional/"sense" object, and I think I've explicitly taken that difference into account.

Anonymous said...

Hey, guys. Nagel summarizes Mind and Cosmos in today's NYT Opinionator. The comments are incredibly ignorant. Do go over and put in your two cents.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/the-core-of-mind-and-cosmos/?ref=global-home

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

>> The trouble is that you vacillate when describing what the
>> superzombie world is like

> You need to be more precise. Where exactly do you think I
> vacillate when describing the superzombie world?

Others commenting before and after me have noticed either the same thing or somthing similiar: sometimes you have the superzombie world necessarily excluding intentionality, and sometimes you have it necessarily including intentionality. You don't seem able to make up your mind as to which way it is.

Its definition looks perfectly clear to me,

If the LNC is mothballed, then, sure, it's as perfectly clear as any confused thing might possibly be.

Glenn said...

Yikes.

s/b "If the LNC is mothballed, then, sure, your 'definition' of the superzombie world is as perfectly clear as any confused thing might possibly be."

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

No, it isn't, although some mathematicians suspect it's true. In fact it hasn't even been proven that the decimal expansion of pi contains infinitely many occurrences of each single digit from 0 to 9.

Thanks. I didn’t know that. The decimal expansion of pi has been computed to quite some depth and I know it passes all statistical tests, which at least suggests that all numbers are included in the infinite expansion of pi. But, as you say, there is no proof.

Let me then substitute in my argument pi with “nu(N)” where N is a sufficiently large natural number for representing any possible world of experience of the size that interests us, and nu(N) is the smallest natural number which includes all numbers between 1 and N. Each possible world of experience is then represented by a starting position and a length within nu.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

Alternatively, you could use 0.01234567891011121314151617181920... (the decimal constructed by writing all the nonnegative integers one after another). That one is guaranteed to contain every possible finite string of digits.

ganv said...

This debate often feels to a scientist like trying to argue about quantitative questions without using math.

Take the claim that eliminativism fails because it implies that "at best we only ever approximate adding, squaring, inferring via modus ponens". But approximate can be very very good. The claim that we have methods of approximately performing those operations with error checking to achieve good enough reliability seems much less problematic than you imply. Math, Logic, and Science can still all work. But you would expect some people trying to use them to get the wrong answer some of the time, pretty much exactly the case we observe.

Imagine a debate between two electrical engineers. One claims that they use digital logic which has the tremendous advantage that it can only produce zeros and ones and allows you to perform calculations with certainty. The other, a reductionist and eliminativist, observes that every digital circuit is actually an analog circuit that just has been designed to switch quickly between two states. Thus thermal noise, interference from other circuits, etc, can corrupt your digital calculations just like they would with an analog calculator. Who is right? Can we trust calculations performed with a digital computer? Surely the reductionist calls into question the entire modern digital world and must be wrong. In fact, the reductionist is right. But with carefully designed circuits and error correcting algorithms, you can reduce the effects of digital 'errors' to the level that they quantitatively don't matter. A billion transistors in your laptop can run at 3GHz for years without a digital error that is not corrected, so computation allows effective certainty. But the philosophers would have to conclude that strictly they are error prone systems that can not achieve the true answer.

Your argument assumes that the qualitative point (eliminativism removes the reason to trust human logic) implies a quantitive point (Approximate operations can not achieve a high enough degree of certainty to be trusted.)

Anonymous said...

“But you would expect some people trying to use them to get the wrong answer some of the time, pretty much exactly the case we observe.”

The argument is not that we would get the right answer all the time; it’s about determinacy of content.

“Take the claim that eliminativism fails because it implies that "at best we only ever approximate adding, squaring, inferring via modus ponens". But approximate can be very very good. The claim that we have methods of approximately performing those operations with error checking to achieve good enough reliability seems much less problematic than you imply.”

This seems to beg the question, because if thought really is indeterminate, then so is any error checking that we do. Also, how do we determine “good enough” in a non-question begging way?

And there’s more to the argument than “Take the claim that eliminativism fails because it implies that "at best we only ever approximate adding, squaring, inferring via modus ponens.”

It’s right in the article:

“In particular, there are three ways in which such a claim is incoherent. First, the claim that we never really add, apply modus ponens, etc. cannot be squared with the existence of the vast body of knowledge that comprises the disciplines of mathematics and logic.

A second and related problem is that if we never really apply modus ponens or any other valid argument form, but at best only approximate them, then none of our arguments is ever really valid.

Third, the claim that we never really add, square, apply modus ponens, etc. is self-defeating in an even more direct and fatal way.”

The reason why this can’t be settled quantitatively is because the question is whether settling things quantitatively or logically is even valid in the first place, due to indeterminacy.

ganv said...

Reply to Anonymous:
Thanks for your response. It it not always so easy to communicate across the science-philosophy language barrier, but it is interesting to try.

'The argument is not that we would get the right answer all the time; it’s about determinacy of content.' I think I get this. But the claim seem to be that determinacy of content is required for math, logic, and science to function. And my point is that you only need good enough logic etc to get by. You don't need determinacy of content.

'This seems to beg the question, because if thought really is indeterminate, then so is any error checking that we do. Also, how do we determine “good enough” in a non-question begging way?'
I think you might view all pragmatic scientific answers as question begging. But good enough is clear enough in context. We need to be able to do an operation with enough accuracy that repeated performing of the operation by trained experts will get the right answer often enough that we can distinguish it from the wrong answers. It is a messy process that philosophers have never been able to describe to their own satisfaction, but in practice it works pretty well. A lot of brain function seems to be like that: A messy process that is good enough for the job at hand but far too messy to be mapped onto some philosopher's world where content is determinant.

“In particular, there are three ways in which such a claim is incoherent. First, the claim that we never really add, apply modus ponens, etc. cannot be squared with the existence of the vast body of knowledge that comprises the disciplines of mathematics and logic.

OK, I would say that approximate arithematic and logic make that vast body of knowledge very secure.

'A second and related problem is that if we never really apply modus ponens or any other valid argument form, but at best only approximate them, then none of our arguments is ever really valid.'

This goes to the root of one of the deepest divides between many philosophers and scientists. We scientists can't conceive on any knowledge about the physical world that is not approximate. And the philosophers can't seem to be able to make sense of the claim that something is approximately true. I can't solve the problem. It seems to me as plain as day that Newtonian mechanics is an approximately true description of planetary motion. I know quantitatively how big the errors are in making this approximation and so I know when not to use it. And it seems very plausible that our brain uses approximate ways to perform logic operations not unlike the methods that digital electronics use.

"The reason why this can’t be settled quantitatively is because the question is whether settling things quantitatively or logically is even valid in the first place, due to indeterminacy." I wasn't implying settling it quantitatively. I was noting that the solution requires considering how a method can be strictly approximate while been practically determinisitic and reliable. To work this out carefully you have to quantify the probabilities of failure that are acceptable. For a computer, errors are tolerated as long as they don't make you reboot more than every year or so. For humans, we still know far too little neuroscience to know what kind of approximations the brain uses in performing basic logic and arithmetic.

Scott said...

@ganv:

"It seems to me as plain as day that Newtonian mechanics is an approximately true description of planetary motion."

I'm not sure why you think any philosopher would have trouble making sense of that statement. Regardless, you're dealing with the wrong sort of approximation here; there's nothing "approximate" about a modus ponens argument.

I think you may also be misunderstanding what sort of determinacy is at issue here. The point is that the purely mechanical/physical operations of a computer (or a brain) are not sufficient to determine that it's "really" performing the operation that we call "addition." It's not that its answers might be slightly off; it's that they don't qualify as "answers" at all except as looked at by minds outside the system.

Scott said...

@ganv:

"We need to be able to do an operation with enough accuracy that repeated performing of the operation by trained experts will get the right answer often enough that we can distinguish it from the wrong answers. It is a messy process . . . "

If p, then q; p; therefore q.

There. I did it once, with 100% accuracy, and I don't see any mess.

Scott said...

Now watch what happens when I "approximate" a modus ponens argument.

If p, then q; p'; therefore q.

Hmm, I wonder why that didn't turn out to be "approximately" valid.

ganv said...

Scott,

I think you are missing the point I was discussing from the original Post. It says: "[to deny determinate content] is to claim that at best we only ever approximate adding, squaring, inferring via modus ponens, etc. “Now that,” as Ross says, “is expensive. In fact, the cost of saying we only simulate the pure functions is astronomical.” "

The eliminativists imply that the brain implements approximate versions of logic operations and Feser and Ross are claiming that this undermines the whole claim to reliable knowledge from logic, math, and science. My point is that the normal mode of human knowledge is approximate knowledge and that approximate knowledge and brain function approximating 'pure functions' is a perfectly workable foundation for logic and math and science. It won't satisfy some philosopher's wish for analytic rigor, but evolution doesn't need to satisfy us. It just needs to work.

The problem with approximation is that it requires switching from linguistic descriptions to quantitative descriptions because I know exactly what is meant by 'this system will make an error in less than 1 in 10^14 operations', but many philosophers claim they can't make sense of the claim that propositions are approximately true.

Scott said...

@ganv:

"I think you are missing the point I was discussing from the original Post."

And I think you are. If you haven't already done so, follow Ed's link to the paper by James Ross.

Anonymous said...

Ganv, this has little to do with science vs philosophy. Its phil vs phil.

Also, what do you think determinate means, in this context?

ganv said...

@Scott:
I just read several parts of the Ross paper. That is a classical example of the kind of philosophy that seems certain to go nowhere. It is so caught up in the analytic relations between the concepts that humans have dreamed up that he insists humans are doing some kind of implementation of 'pure forms' that can't be done by physical systems. He dismisses the obvious rejoinder (We do not really add,,, we just simulate addition...which is what he calls addition by a physical system) as if it implies that 'we can do nothing logical at all'. All it means is that we don't do logic the way his system dreams about. Of course, this can't be resolved easily because the dispute goes all the way down to what methods are reasonable for resolving the dispute. A scientist would expect a prediction with empirically observable consequences. But Ross will forever dismiss anything physical as not relevant to his program.

The best we can do is make a prediction about the future: Over the next couple of centuries, computers will slowly perform more and more of the functions previously thought to be the special domain of human rationality. Neuroscience will figure out more and more about how the human brain implements (limited) rationality and how it understands its own implementation of rationality. And analytic philosophy will slowly evolve into a more pragmatic and quantitative discipline. If Ross or Feser want to show this program to fail, they really need to make a prediction about something physical. Something along the lines of which new laws of physics apply inside a human brain to allow something non-physical to affect our words and actions. Or some specific physical things that humans do that computers will never be able to do. Probably I don't understand their system well enough to know what they would predict. But it is a mind-body problem and you have to make predictions about the body part to bring any scientists along.

Anonymous said...

Neuroscience presupposes mathematics and logic. And the argument isn't necessarily linked to human thought, but any thought in general. So a computer brain wont solve the indeterminacy problem.

Scott said...

@ganv:

Well, at least you're no longer arguing about an irrelevant kind of "approximation." However, I'm still unconvinced (and I don't think I'm the only one) that you're understanding what sort of "determinacy" is at issue here and why anyone thinks it's important.

Tell you what—why don't you summarize what you think is the main thrust of Ross's argument?

Glenn said...

ganv,

you have to make predictions about the body part to bring any scientists along.

Does this constitute an example of a proposition that, at best, is only approximately true?

Anonymous said...

"It is so caught up in the analytic relations between the concepts that humans have dreamed up that he insists humans are doing some kind of implementation of 'pure forms' that can't be done by physical systems. He dismisses the obvious rejoinder (We do not really add,,, we just simulate addition...which is what he calls addition by a physical system) as if it implies that 'we can do nothing logical at all'. All it means is that we don't do logic the way his system dreams about."

From this blog post:

"Similarly, when a philosopher like Ross argues for the incoherence of eliminativism, he simply points out what follows logically from certain premises he takes it the eliminativist himself already implicitly or explicitly accepts."

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Brandon,

It seems confusion there is. And I am partially responsible for it, since my writing has been sloppy sometimes. So, for example, when I wrote that beliefs are mental facts in the superzombie world I meant that the experience of beliefs are mental facts in the superzombie world. I also used “thinking” as synonymous to “thought” and as distinct from “experiencing a thought”. In fact we are talking about three *potentially* different things: the experience of X, the physical state on which that experience supposedly supervenes, and X proper. (More about this in point 11 bellow.)

Anyway, let’s see if we can nail this thing down. My position is as follows:

1. Experiences are true in all possible worlds

Experiences or mental facts exist. They are part of reality. Whatever we believe about experiences themselves is both true and certain. These are incorrigible beliefs, since we couldn’t manage to doubt them if our life depended on us doubting them. I am not sure that 2+2=4, but I am sure that I am now experiencing typing on my computer, and I am sure feeling it evident that 2+2=4. This much is given, it’s simply the human condition. I don’t think that anybody, including eliminativists about consciousness, e.g. Daniel Dennett, would dispute any of this.

2. Experiences are intentional in all possible worlds

Since when I experience thinking about Paris, I do in fact experience thinking *about* Paris – it follows that experiences are by their very nature intentional. (And this holds in all possible worlds where such experiences exist.)

3. Only beliefs about experiences can be illusory

Experiences cannot be illusory since they are given. Only how we interpret experiences, what we believe experiences mean, how we think experiences connect to reality - may be illusory. Thus, for example, we do see the pencil in the glass of water to be broken, the illusion is to think that if we take it out it will still look broken. The hot asphalt down the street does look wet, the illusion is to think that it is wet. The do see the rainbow touch the ground on a particular spot, the illusion is to think that if we go to that spot we can enter the rainbow. Besides illusionary beliefs about future experiences (such as the examples above), there might be illusionary beliefs about metaphysical entailment, such as to believe that the experience of thinking entails that the respective thought exists.

4. The metaphysical relevance of experience

Thus the question is what our experiences mean, what their relationship with the rest of reality is, what they can tell us about reality at large. We all agree there is such a relationship, that there is a connection between our experiences and the rest of reality. Of course what our experiences mean and how they connect to the rest of reality is not a given, and strongly depends on the metaphysics of the world.

5. Definition of naturalism (and my purpose in this discussion)

An important metaphysical theory about reality is naturalism. According to naturalism 1) all reality consists of the blind evolution of a mechanical system (or of various independent systems) and 2) mental states supervene on physical states. I assume that’s Alex Rosenberg’s view, but to be safe I am happy to defend only what I happen to believe is the strongest naturalistic worldview.

Incidentally, my purpose in this discussion is not the debate between theists and naturalists. I happen to hold that theism is a vastly more reasonable belief than naturalism. In this discussion what interests me is a feature of the human condition, namely what it is we can be certain of. And the human condition interests me, because I believe it is made by God, and thus to understand better the human condition is ground for understanding God better. And I am not interested only in understanding only my human condition, but the universal human condition. Thus it interests me to understand better the thinking of naturalists, or how it is like to be a naturalist.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

6. Why the superzombie world is useful for thinking about naturalism

It is natural and we kind of automatically assume that when we experience thinking about Paris, the thought about Paris exists. Similarly we automatically assume that when we experience being able to choose, choices exists. Or that when we experience that a choice of ours was taken for a purpose, there is purpose in our choice. Given how natural it is to hold these beliefs (indeed on theism they are all true), and how the structure of natural language appears to assume the truth of such beliefs, I construct the hypothetical superzombie reality, in which all physical facts and all mental facts are identical to the actual world, but in which the metaphysics of naturalism (namely #1 and #2 above) hold. Discussing the hypothetical superzombie world makes it easier to think about the implications of naturalism.

Also, since I hold that the actual world is theistic, I am perfectly in my rights to use epistemic concepts that make sense in the actual world when discussing about the superzombie model. Thus I speak about what features of the superzombie world mean, even thought there is no meaning there. I can and indeed must use intentionalistic talk while describing the superzombie world, while at the same time saying that there is nothing intentional in it. That’s what I meant in the previous post when I spoke of our privileged epistemic position. By discussing about the superzombie world instead of the naturalistic understanding of the actual world we avoid many semantic pitfalls.

7. The superzombie world lacks a lot

Considering the superzombie world we immediately see that superzombie people have no choices whatsoever. Their complex indeterministic brain may evolve to various states (which we in the actual world would interpret as making a choice) according to some physically determined probability distribution, but the particular state it will evolve to is a matter of pure chance and neither they nor any other power in that world has any sway on that process. In the superzombie world all change is mechanical and blind, and thus there are no choices there, even though there is the experience of choosing. For exactly the same reason there is no purpose there, even though there is the experience of purpose. Finally we see that even though there is experience of thought there is no thought, since thoughts are *about* stuff. That’s the problem of intentionality naturalists have to deal with. The experience of a thought in the superzombie world is identical to the experience of this thought in the actual world, and hence the experience is indeed *about* something. But in the superzombie world, there is nothing in the physical state on which the experience of the thought supervenes that is *about* something else. Thus the physical state on which the experience supervenes is not a thought, nor does it contain a thought (some doubts about this in #12 bellow). So, even though the superzombie people experience exactly as we do, the metaphysics of their world is such that in their world there are no choices and no freedom, no purpose, no thought, etc.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

8. Even illusions are missing in the superzombie world

You are quite right to point out that in the superzombie world there are no illusions either. Indeed that’s a deep insight which at least evidences that we are on the same wavelength on matters superzombical. The reason that there are no illusions in the superzombie world is that illusions refer to interpretations of or beliefs about what experiences mean or what they tell us about the rest of reality. But in the superzombie world there are no beliefs and no interpretations whatsoever, and therefore no illusions either. We can coherently speak of illusions only in the context of us in the actual world interpreting the superzombie experience. It is us in the actual world who may fall for the illusion that to experience thinking about Paris entails that the thought about Paris exists, and then falsely conclude that if in the superzombie world superzombie people experience thinking about Paris then in the superzombie world intentional thoughts about Paris exist. Here again we see that what an experience means and how it connects to reality depends on the metaphysics of the reality in which it exists.

I am not sure how to address your claim that “experiencing thinking about a dog” is just a roundabout way of saying “thinking about a dog, in such way that we experience it”. I agree that to say “I experience X” does normally mean the same as “X, as I experience it”. Still it’s not the case that given the latter rather inelegant form we conclude something about the metaphysical status of X. Nor did I ever mean to suggest the case where one thinks about a dog without experiencing that thought. (Actually the latter arguably obtains in subconscious thoughts – but these are irrelevant to my case. The physical brain processes which realize such subconscious thoughts in the actual world exist in the superzombie world also, and the physical effects they have which will later cause us to experience something are also identical in both worlds. Only in the superzombie world it would make no sense to talk of subconscious thoughts, but only of information processing states which do not cause conscious experience.)

9. The behavior of brave naturalists in the actual world

Given that naturalists think the actual world is a superzombie one it’s incoherent that they should talk about illusions, since if they are right there are no illusions. They also shouldn’t be talking about concepts, or about thoughts, or about freedom, or about purpose, or indeed about reason, since if they are right none of these exist in the actual world. I have the impression that Alex Rosenberg recognizes all of this, but still uses these concepts simply because he finds he is bound to use them for practical reasons. I assume he feels happy writing a book with ink marks on it the reading of which causes his readers to experience particular thoughts, with particular concepts, etc – which are similar to his. I assume he hopes that this process will cause his readers’ brain to permanently move to a physical state witch would produce experiences more similar to his. According to naturalism what is really happening is that by writing such texts he is simply caused by memetic natural evolution to quite purposelessly spread his memes around. Again, I assume he would agree.

10. Conclusion from the theistic perspective

Given that the superzombie world is logically possible, given that certainly is grounded on physical and mental facts (actually only on mental facts), given that physical and mental facts are identical in the actual and in the superzombie world, it follows that at least in our current epistemic condition we can’t be certain the actual world is not a superzombie world. In other worlds, our current condition is such that we can’t be certain that the actual world is not naturalistic. If one is a theist it follows that God has found it good to deny us that certainty. From which something about the purpose of God for creation must follow.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Two final speculative comments.

11. Is there a triple supervenience there?

When pondering issues about experience, the naturalist and the theist who are realists about the physical sciences, must ponder the following potentially distinct three existents: the experience of X, the physical state on which the experience supervenes, and X proper. One case in point is the experience of a thought, i.e. where X=a thought. Another case, to use one of your examples, is the experience of loving someone. Here we have the experience of loving, the physical brain state on which that experience supervenes, and finally the loving itself. On some metaphysical views the loving itself is not identical to the experience of loving. Indeed that’s I think the case on theism, where God is love and hence to experience loving someone is actually to experience partaking in God’s nature. The atheist who loves someone knows about her *experience* of loving someone, but doesn’t know of her *loving someone* – so the two are different. Should somebody say "I have experienced loving someone!" I may well ask her “Do you think that your loving someone is in itself just your experience and nothing else, or that there is something more to it than just your experience of it?”

12. Is there a solution to naturalism’s intentionality problem? Is Thomism the better way to go forward in natural theology?

I happen to suspect that a viable naturalistic solution to the intentionality problem exists. (Perhaps via property dualism, where our physical brain has non-physical and thus potentially intentional properties. In the superzombie world intentional thoughts may exist as non-material properties of superzombie brains. Or perhaps panpsychism holds there.)

Further there may even be a viable solution to naturalism’s metaethical problem.

What is quite evident though is that no freedom and no purpose exist in a superzombie world. But this lack alone already renders the human condition nonsense. Thus I think the natural theologian’s project should not be the Thomistic “if the world is intelligible then something like theism is true” but rather “if the human condition is intelligible then something like theism is true”. And I notice that it is us who are made in God’s image, not the world. The world is said to be merely good, i.e. good for the purpose it was made for. But then perhaps the wrold need not be ultimately intelligible.

George LeSauvage said...

@Danielos:

You seem to present, as accepted, several things which are in dispute. (I'll refer here to your numbering.)

1. I do not see how one can say that "I am not sure that 2+2=4, but I am sure that I am now experiencing typing on my computer," unless you are conflating logical certainty with the feeling of certitude. But "incorrigible" refers to the former, which I do not think your argument can admit, for EITHER the math or the typing.

2. Again, seems impossible in superzombie world, by definition.

5. It is "2) mental states supervene on physical states." which is in dispute. (BTW, I believe Rosenberg would deny this.)

6. It would probably be better to leave choice out of it. It is entirely possible to be a dualist and theist, and also a determinist.

And I think this is part of where you go wrong. Yes, it is meaningful to say we experience freedom of choice, but it is an illusion. It does not seem meaningful to say we "experience thinking about X, without thinking about X". (Aside from misidentifying X, that is.)

You already say (in 3) that experiences themselves are not illusory, but beliefs about them are. So the experience is something, even in SZ world. But so far as I can see, your account admits only the physical facts which you say accompany "experience". (Again, you cannot take supervenience as a given; it is precisely under dispute.)

(End pt 1)

George LeSauvage said...

@Danielos:

(pt 2)

8. Referring back to #1, where you say "Experiences are true in all possible worlds" (presumably including SZ world).

Then you say "Whatever we believe about experiences themselves is both true and certain. These are incorrigible beliefs..."

Now, given your statement in #8, that such belief do not exist in SZ, we cannot use your explication in #1, so we have no reason to believe the 1st statement. You appear to be contradicting yourself.

Further, the question question is precisely the metaphysical status of "thinking about X". Not of X, but the thinking itself. It just won't do to refer to "experiencing thinking of X, without thinking of X", unless you can give some explanation of what that distinction means. I and others think it meaningless to say you can do the former without the latter. And given your example (in 1), I don't see why you think it meaningful. If I experience a thought of a dog, in what sense is the thought of a dog missing? If it is missing, and there is no thought of a dog, what does it mean to say I experience it?

11. Like choice, I think loving can confuse the issue, relative to thought. Yes, I can say "I loved her and didn't realize it." I can make sense of that. But "I thought about her, and didn't realize it"? What does that mean? What CAN it mean?

It isn't enough to cite property dualists to support this. For world SZ, you must support a property dualism which is also reductionist. And that is precisely what is disputed here. Of course, there are people who believe that. We all know there are. But are those beliefs well-grounded? I cannot see how, or how SZ world helps.

The one constraint on possible worlds is that they be logically consistent. I do not see how SZ is.

George LeSauvage said...

@ganv:

1. I believe you are missing the point. No one denies that we often use approximation, successfully. The question is whether this can account for all our thinking.

Take the fact that, in Euclidean geometry, the 3 angles of a triangle = 180 degrees. You could, of course, measure a large number of well-drawn triangles to find out if it's true. That would be the scientific method.

But that is not what Euclid is about. The base line of the triangle is posited as being a line, and thus, equal to 180, EXACTLY. This is what it means to be a line. And the demonstration will entail angles EXACTLY equal to the 3 in the triangle, by construction.

The demonstration, at each step, involves saying things like "if AB is perpendicular to CD, and to EF, then CD and EF are parallel. The question is, what does it mean to say that they are only approximately so, in the proof?

2. Much of the trouble is shown when you say "the dispute goes all the way down to what methods are reasonable for resolving the dispute. A scientist would expect a prediction with empirically observable consequences."

Why would the scientist expect that, in geometry or pure math? How does it make sense to do so? What does it mean to say one must make future predictions about the Pythagorean Theorem, or whether 3 is a prime?

You see, the problem is that saying "If Ross or Feser want to show this program to fail, they really need to make a prediction about something physical. Something along the lines of which new laws of physics apply inside a human brain to allow something non-physical to affect our words and actions." is simply to miss the point.

George LeSauvage said...

@ganv:

Let me try it this way. I will make a prediction that no neuroscientist will ever prove that 4 is a prime number.

Anonymous said...

An interesting, and honest, struggle:

"This is why– I hope! –I can have my realism and eat my antirealism too, all within the framework of a flat ontology without transcendence."

the-relational-and-the-non-relational-notes-towards-an-immanent-and-pluralist-theory-of-meaning

in response to comments upon:

polymorphously-perverse-nature

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

Yours is of course the trivial sequence to choose. The problem thought is this: I wanted to describe a mechanism which would produce any world of experiences as represented by the number E (the structure of which I defined above as having elements consisting of subject, time, type of experience, content of experience). If I had naturalistic reality be a mechanism which works on the sequence you suggest starting at a particular position P, then P would be much larger than E (for example E=1000 is found at position P>2700). But then there is a simpler reality which simply reads E – which does not satisfy the picture I want, namely of a mechanical reality *producing* E.

The sequence nu I suggested shares a property with pi (assuming that all numbers are contained in pi) namely that on average P=E. Which, on further thought, does not present a big advantage. What I want is the mechanical reality to start with a rather smallish brute fact P and produce the much larger E.

Now E as defined contains structure, and is therefore highly compressible, especially for worlds of rational experience. Thus, on further thought, a better picture I could suggest is this: Given E, there is a much smaller computer program P that when executed produces E. The mechanical reality now executes that smallish brute fact P to produce the much larger E.

The details are interesting but not particularly important. The fact remains that for any world of experiences there is a mechanical reality that would produce them. That’s sufficient to prove that we can’t be certain that ours is not a naturalistic reality, and we wouldn’t be certain even if we were granted a direct experience of heaven for a million years. The superzombie model world I constructed is useful for pondering other implications of naturalism (or at least of the version of naturalism I hold to be the strongest), but is not really necessary for proving the point that in our current condition God denies us certainty.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"[O]n further thought, a better picture I could suggest is this: Given E, there is a much smaller computer program P that when executed produces E. The mechanical reality now executes that smallish brute fact P to produce the much larger E.

The details are interesting but not particularly important. The fact remains that for any world of experiences there is a mechanical reality that would produce them. That's sufficient to prove that we can't be certain that ours is not a naturalistic reality[.]"

Only if your setup makes sense, and in particular only if it's possible for a "mechanical reality" to "produce" experiences at all. Unfortunately your proposed proof begs the question on just this point: you've assumed it in the very process of trying to show that we can't rule it out.

Let's have a closer look at your original setup:

"Now codify all of these mental facts as a unique number, in a way that this number can always be translated back into mental facts producing exactly the same lot. A possible way would be this: Represent each mental fact by (S,T, E, C) where the S number identifies the conscious subject, the T number the exact time, the E number the type of experience (e.g. a visual quale), and the C number the actual experience (e.g. watching a particular view of the Eiffel Tower, or perhaps watching a particular angel fling the damned into a lake of fire). A rather huge number would now uniquely identify the entire history of mental facts up to any future time."

Granting arguendo that it's possible to "discretize" mental facts in such a way as to render them countable (which, frankly, I doubt), what we would have at this point is a very large catalogue. There's no more reason (indeed there's less) to think the experiences in question could be generated from this catalogue than there is to think that we could reproduce the contents of all the books in a library from nothing but a list of their Dewey Decimal numbers.

In other words, this hypothetical number would tell us (or your mechanical demon) where to "look things up" in the actual set of mental states that already constitute (some of) our world, given that those mental states already exist. Your proposal doesn't tell us how to generate a mental state from scratch using just the number alone.

"Hypothesize then that the world consists of a mechanical demon [or computer] which [executes the program P and thereby] produces the respective mental facts. And voila, you have a purely mechanical (and hence naturalistic) model of reality[.]"

But unless you've omitted something crucial from your scenario, the demon (or computer) isn't "producing" those mental states. It's starting with a number, "going to the shelf" (an already-existing world, presumably our own) to "look up" an experience that's already been indexed, and somehow (and by the way, how, exactly?) "applying" it to your hypothetical world. In that sense alone, your hypothetical world is parasitic on ours.

If you want the execution of your hypothetical program to produce mental states, then you're going to have to explain how that's possible. And since that's the very question at issue here (or at least one variant of it), you can't logically invoke your scenario to prove that we can't know otherwise—especially since there are very good arguments (Searle's, for example) that consciousness, experience, mental states, and so on are not generated algorithmically/computationally.

Scott said...

Sorry, I meant to include a link to the Searle essay. But I'm sure most of the regulars here knew which one I had in mind.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

In rereading . . .

"and the C number the actual experience (e.g. watching a particular view of the Eiffel Tower, or perhaps watching a particular angel fling the damned into a lake of fire)"

. . . I see that this "C number" is doing an awful lot of unacknowledged work.

This number, you say, is supposed to be the "actual experience" itself? If you mean that literally, I'm not buying the scenario at all (unless, mirabile dictu, you explain how an experience can simply be a number).

The only other possibilities are the ones I've already dealt with: there's supposed to be some way to generate the experience from this number, or it's just an "index" to an experience that is already assumed to exist independently of your scenario.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

And just to be complete . . .

"the S number identifies the conscious subject"

. . . we have a similar problem here. Are you proposing that there's a way to generate a conscious subject from scratch given this number, or are we supposed to abduct that from an (our) existing world too?

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

I'll refrain from any further posts to you until/unless you reply further yourself, but on rereading this thread the following occurs to me.

It appears that what you're really proposing, as your proof that we can't know we're not in a naturalistic universe, is something along the lines of Descartes's demon in a world that's just like our own in containing conscious subjects and mental states, but that differs from (what we think is) our own in not having those mental states "match up" with objective physical/external reality. You're imagining, that is, that there's some mechanical demon or computer program that takes already-existing conscious subjects and mental states and puts them together in a way that doesn't reflect objective reality.

If that's the case (and I'm not at all sure that it is, so please correct me if I'm mistaken), then on your own terms[*] it doesn't seem that you've proposed a naturalist alternative at all. Your proposed world includes conscious subjects and mental states, and you've given no reason to think those features are reducible to mechanism; on the contrary, you've simply slipped them in the back door, apparently from another world (ours) on which, as I've said, yours seems to be parasitic. Whatever problems Cartesian dualism has (and their name is Legion, for they are many), one thing it isn't is naturalism.

----

[*] "Naturalism is the idea that the whole of reality is a pure mechanism. That every bit of all there is, whether material or non-material, evolves according to strict (albeit perhaps probabilistic) mechanical laws. That's all there is to it."

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

only if it's possible for a "mechanical reality" to "produce" experiences at all

Since I see no reason for suspecting that it is logically impossible for a purely mechanical reality to produce experiences – I hold that it is possible. As in all proofs, one assumes a few axioms. If you have the slightest argument why it can’t be the case that, as a matter of unintelligible/unexplainable/brute fact, a purely mechanical reality can produces experiences - I’d be willing to reconsider what I hold to be a self-evidently true axiom.

Having said that, neuroscience gives us evidence that this is possible. More, bellow.

Granting arguendo that it's possible to "discretize" mental facts

We don’t have to assume anything of the sort. Since we know beyond reasonable doubt that brain states produce experiences, and since there is not the slightest reason to suspect that some of our current experiences do not correlate with brain states, it is plausible to hold that any possible mental fact in our current condition can be discretized: Just describe in sufficient detail the respective brain state, and then codify it in a number, say an autocad file.

what we would have at this point is a very large catalogue

Right. I’d only like to clarify that what interests us here are possible experiences to be had in our current condition. That is the catalogue would not include the description of the content of all possible types of experience, but only of the types of experiences we know exist, such as our five external senses, memory, the various emotional states, and so on.

Your proposal doesn't tell us how to generate a mental state from scratch using just the number alone.

Neither does it need to do so for the proof to work. Nevertheless immediately bellow I do offer a more detailed picture.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

If you want the execution of your hypothetical program to produce mental states, then you're going to have to explain how that's possible.

Again, I take it as axiomatically true that it is possible. But let me here suggest some more detail.

We already have plenty of evidence of supervienience between mental states and brain states. So we can fairly safely predict that after some time (perhaps a few hundreds of years) neuroscientists will have mapped the correlation between brain states and mental states in sufficient detail to artificially produce in a human brain any mental state they desire. That will be empirically testable, and subjects will testify that the artificially induced experiences of, say, watching a landscape, or climbing a mountain, of falling in love, or having a religious experience, or of any type of experience whatsoever, is indistinguishable from the real thing. And that uncommon artificially induced experiences of supernatural going-ons are as realistic as watching a table.

As you surmised we need to produce a catalogue that translates mental states (described in the appropriate language) to the correspondent brain state codified as a number.

Now any possible world of experiences one may suggest can be represented by a set of [Subject, Time, Content of experience] mental data points. (I’ve just found out I don’t need the “type of Experience” parameter). The subject and time parameters are simple counters – if in the suggested world’s history there are 10 billion subjects the subject parameter is a number between 1 and 10 billion. If the world’s time duration that interest us represents a time sequence of 10^15 relevant points in time to experience something, then the time parameter will be the respective number. As for the Content of experience parameter – the actual mental fact – we search in the translation catalogue and use the number which describes the brain state which would produce it.

Thus for any world of experiences suggested we produce a huge number E by concatenating these (S,T,C) triplets (perhaps ordered by T). That number E codifies the world of experiences which interests us. Then we compress E into a much smaller program P.

The mechanical demon executes P, decompresses the (S,T,C) mental fact data points and produces the respective experiences. How? At the very beginning the mechanical demon puts together a “brain” for each S, and at each time point T it orders the particles in its “brain” to realize state C. Thus all experiences of all subjects are produced. (Not the construction of a real brain is necessary, only the physical substrate adequate for realizing the required brain states.)

is something along the lines of Descartes's demon

Descartes’s demon is a personal and supernatural one, and thus incompatible with naturalism. Mine is a purely mechanical naturalistic one. Like Descartes I am making an epistemic point. But, as I sketch bellow, perhaps we can use the idea to test the limits of naturalism’s power which may lie much further than we assume.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

you've simply slipped them in the back door, apparently from another world (ours) on which, as I've said, yours seems to be parasitic.

True. The idea this far has been metaphysically parasitic and is meant only to show that nothing we can possibly experience in our current condition can be such as to conclusively falsify naturalism. But we may develop the idea further to remove its parasitism and ground a proper metaphysical hypothesis.

Observe how when playfully trying to build a “nicely” mechanistic picture I had E be compressed to a brute fact P. Now suppose we make of this a naturalistic principle. Let’s hypothesize that reality is such that the mechanical demon is not given P, but mechanically (and thus blindly) chooses a P that will decompress into a very large E. (Observe that this new brute fact principle is extremely simple, and indeed has vastly less entropy than the previous custom-made brute fact P.)

So what would be the main properties of an E produced by a P itself produced by this principle? In other words, what large scale features make a world of experience E extremely compressible? Obviously such an E will be a set of experiences of an extremely well ordered world – and thus of an apparently rational and intelligible world. Indeed I find it evident that a large portion of the experiences will refer to phenomena governed by strict and powerful mathematical laws. In other words this will be a experiential word in which physics obtains (even perhaps a world where *our* physics obtains). I would have to invest a little work to justify what follows, but it seems quite evident to me that complex phenomena in such a highly compressible world of experience would not be brute facts but would be the result of mechanical algorithms capable of efficiently producing such complexity – as is the Darwinian algorithm. (Anyway all of my claims in this paragraph are, at least in principle, empirically testable.)

Now suppose what I suggest above is true. Today, the mechanistic analysis of physical phenomena (an important part of our experiences) waged by the physical sciences suffers from several failings. For example it says nothing about significant brute facts such as the structure of fundamental physical laws, the values of the fundamental constants and initial conditions and their fine-tuned nature, and most importantly of all it doesn’t say anything about the mathematical, ordered, intelligible nature of the world. All of these features are left unexplained. But as the speculative idea above makes plausible there might well be a simple naturalistic principle which will in the future explain all of these. The explanatory power of a mechanistic conception of reality (i.e. of naturalism) may go much further than we assume. Indeed the intelligibility of the world on which Thomists justify the hypothesis that something like theism is true, may in the future be used by naturalists to justify the hypothesis that something like naturalism is true. The advantage Thomists (and really all theists) think the intelligibility of the world gives them may be illusory.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

The above is speculative, but suppose something like it actually comes to pass. What would its relevance be for our faith? Certainly some nifty arguments for theism (e.g. from the fine-tuning, from the mathematical nature of the physical world, and others) would be undone. So should our faith be troubled? I say no, and here’s why: Obviously, as we know since the very first stirring of human intelligence, much of the world around us does work on mechanical principles. Thinking about God’s purpose in creation we clearly see (as I claim but do not here defend; I am thinking of John Hick’s theodicy) - we clearly see the purpose why God would create an experiential environment with that large scale mechanistic feature, and further why God would not make theism overwhelmingly obvious to us. Now God is not a person of half-measures, of half-finished unpolished second-rate work. If God wants us to be in a condition where non-theism is a viable worldview, God would make that powerfully so. Not only God’s presence to those who choose to look for God should be powerful, but also God’s hiddenness to those who choose to not look for God should be powerful. Thus, if the above or something like it comes to pass, then it is just as the theist should actually expect to be the case, based on purely theistic considerations (indeed considerations inspired by the problem from evil).

I personally expect that something like the above idea does work and will be found to work. I believe that the mechanistic principle the physical sciences use has much more explanatory power than what people, even naturalists, today assume. Indeed, observe that the above idea is at least in principle capable of explaining even the non-objective/subjective/qualitative features of the human condition – such as our experience of beauty. I feel less confident when I claim this last bit – but given the form of the idea it’s at least not completely out of the question. Anyway, if I am right, we have in front of us centuries of interesting science and interesting philosophy.

George LeSauvage said...

@Danielos:

1. "we know beyond reasonable doubt that brain states produce experiences"

In fact, that is what Scott & others are questioning. It is odd that you follow this with "there is not the slightest reason to suspect that some of our current experiences do not correlate with brain states". This seems backwards. The latter is an argument for the former, not the other way.

2. “If you want the execution of your hypothetical program to produce mental states, then you're going to have to explain how that's possible.”

Again, I take it as axiomatically true that it is possible. But let me here suggest some more detail.

How can it be axiomatically true, if it its not self-evident? Do you believe that fact that someone reports an experience is the same as his having that experience? If so, why doesn't his reporting having a thought count as meaning he has that thought?

@Scott, I think Danielos is presenting a reverse of Cartesianism. At least, this implies that experience is more certain than logic: "Experiences or mental facts exist. They are part of reality. Whatever we believe about experiences themselves is both true and certain. These are incorrigible beliefs, since we couldn’t manage to doubt them if our life depended on us doubting them. I am not sure that 2+2=4, but I am sure that I am now experiencing typing on my computer, and I am sure feeling it evident that 2+2=4."

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"As in all proofs, one assumes a few axioms."

We don't, however, generally adopt as an axiom what is supposed to be the conclusion of the proof. At any rate I don't regard your "axiom" as any such thing, and I think you'll have a hard time finding many folks around here who regard it as self-evidently true.

"If you have the slightest argument why it can't be the case that, as a matter of unintelligible/unexplainable/brute fact, a purely mechanical reality can produces experiences - I'd be willing to reconsider what I hold to be a self-evidently true axiom."

"The slightest argument"? How long have you been visiting this site?

"We don't have to assume anything of the sort."

Perhaps I haven't made my point clearly, or perhaps you're not clear what "discretize" means. My point is that I think it's doubtful that we can separate mental states into discrete states/events so that they're countable— that is, so that the integers alone are sufficient to "number" them and (unlike the real numbers) they can be ordered into a list (perhaps infinitely long) with no omissions. So yes, we do have to assume that.

"Since we know beyond reasonable doubt that brain states produce experiences . . . "

If we knew that beyond reasonable doubt, then your proof would be irrelevant. In order for your mechanistic alternative to serve its argumentative purpose, this is part of what you must show. (You would also, of course, have to show that such experiences were generated purely mechanically, which in your proposed scenario they are not.)

And in fact there's good reason to believe it's false in the sense required for your "discretization." As I believe Ross notes somewhere in the essay to which I've already linked, any given brain has a finite (astronomical, but finite) number of possible (discrete) states, but it has infinitely many possible experiences/mental states. By that argument, even without reaching the question of the countability of mental states, we already know the mapping of brain states to mental states can't be one-to-one.

"The idea this far has been metaphysically parasitic and is meant only to show that nothing we can possibly experience in our current condition can be such as to conclusively falsify naturalism."

And for that very reason it shows no such thing. Your proposed world, by your own admission, is parasitic on a world that isn't mechanistic (or at least on nonmechanistic features imported from such a world) and therefore is not "naturalistic" in the sense you require. So, far from being a demonstration that naturalism might be true, it's actually a pretty good demonstration of the opposite: you don't even appear to be able to conceive of a "naturalistic" world without slipping the most important "non-naturalistic" features in through the back door.

If you want your proposed scenario to be fully naturalistic, then you'll need to drop the not-so-hidden assumption that conscious subjects and their experiences are already "available" in it and starting talking about how to generate them mechanically.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

George and Scott,

You both object to my “we know beyond reasonable doubt that brain states produce experiences”.

Now by this I don’t mean to express some deep metaphysical truth but just a fact about the world in which we live. Namely that when one affects particular physical states of a subject’s brain one also affects her experience.

We can try this on ourselves: When we imbibe alcohol we get drunk because the alcohol enters our blood stream and affects the physical state our brain. When we close our eyes with our hands we affect the state of our brain that has to do with vision and we stop seeing light. Conversely, when in a completely dark room and with our eyelids closed we apply pressure on them with our index finger we affect the physical state of our brain in such a way that we experience seeing light. When the doctor applies local anesthetic we don’t feel pain exactly because the anesthetic keeps local nerves from affecting the physical state of our brain.

Speaking of other people we know that injuries to their brain, because of illness or accident, often permanently affect its physical state in such a way that they lose particular mental capacity. We plainly understand the phantom limb phenomenon since the nerves which led to the amputated part keep sending signals to the brain affecting its state and producing the experience of a limb which is not there. There are plenty of documented testimonies by people undergoing brain surgery having different regions of their brain stimulated with electrical current and testifying of consistent experiences cause (and surely it’s not like they are all lying).

So the evidence for the belief that particular brain states produce particular mental states is overwhelming. I don’t see how this belief conflicts with A-T metaphysics, but either it does not conflict (as I assume), or if it does conflict then A-T metaphysics has a problem in its hands.

A final clarification. If one is not a realist about physical things then one might raise a sensible objection. For example if one is an Berkeleyan idealist one could say that when we do something that looks like affecting the physical state of human brain what we are really affecting is a non-material order which exists in God’s mind. But I assume you are realists.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

We don't, however, generally adopt as an axiom what is supposed to be the conclusion of the proof.

The axiom is: “There exists a logically possible world which is purely mechanical and in which, as a matter of brute (unintelligible/unexplainable) fact, particular material states produce particular mental states”.

The conclusion of the proof is: “In our current cognitive condition, no matter what we may experience will not be sufficient to conclusively falsify naturalism, i.e. falsify the hypothesis that the actual world is a purely mechanical one.”

it's doubtful that we can separate mental states into discrete states/events so that they're countable

If physical reality is discrete, i.e. can realize only a limited number of different physical states, and if mental states are produced by physical states, then certainly mental states too are discrete. And from all we know from QM physical reality is discrete.

But if physical reality is not discrete it doesn’t matter anyway. For my proof to go through it would be sufficient to catalogue the limited number of mental states which in our condition are indistinguishable from each other. I understand we can distinguish about 10 million colors – then we don’t need to catalogue more than that number of color quales.

Your proposed world, by your own admission, is parasitic on a world that isn't mechanistic

Not quite. I only meant that the knowledge for designing such a purely mechanistic world would be based on knowledge of the actual world. But the world designed is not in any metaphysical sense contingent on the actual one.

Mr. Green said...

Dianelos: Moreover we agree that if rationality is always truth-tracking then naturalism is almost certainly wrong.

Actually, I wouldn't agree to that because talk of "tracking truth" is wrong-headed. A bloodhound tracks you by following your scent. You can track a locomotive by following its, er, tracks. But reason does not follow some kind of "trail" left by truth so that eventually we can catch up to it. (Lurking infinite regresses seem to lie in wait down that path.) To reason is to grasp the truth. Certainly it is possible to be mistaken, but by failing to reason, not by reasoning correctly yet somehow "tracking" the wrong thing.

The naturalist may even concede that reality is ultimately absurd, and point to the findings of modern science as evidence for that.

Inded the naturalist might. I've seen naturalists do it. Of course, they're silly to do so, because modern science provides absolutely no evidence that reality is absurd. (More complex than we expected, perhaps, but not even remotely "absurd".)

Certainly some nifty arguments for theism (e.g. from the fine-tuning, from the mathematical nature of the physical world, and others) would be undone.

The problem with challenges to fine-tuning arguments is that all they ever seem to do is bump the tuning up a level... similarly for other such arguments. But it doesn't matter because it is all irrelevant. Aquinas does not include "fine-tuning" in the Five Ways, so we can avoid the whole question of whether it will hold up or not.

we clearly see the purpose [...] why God would not make theism overwhelmingly obvious to us.

I can contrive all sorts of reason why God might do that. Some of them might even be right. However, as a matter of simple history, I must object to the idea that theism is not overwhelmingly obvious. One not infrequently hears claims to that effect, but the fact is that the vast majority of people across time and space, different cultures, different epochs, throughout history believe in God in some sense. Their understanding may be wrong in many respects, but even in modern society, with its pervasive secular environment and lack of religious or theological education, almost everyone believes in God in at least some vague and confused way. If something accepted by practically everyone who has ever lived does not count as "obvious", I don't know what does.

In any case it is useful to understand why in many cases all our good arguments against naturalism kind of slide off the naturalistic mindset without any traction.

And of course it can be useful only if our understanding is correct. It is no good coming up with false excuses; nor does showing that naturalists are mistaken demand that we impute ill-will to them.

Mr. Green said...

Dianelos: Can you suggest just one physical or mental datum which actually contradicts naturalism?

As I said, you seem to be defining "physical and mental data" to mean "naturalistic data", which makes the claim trivially true but pointless. Certainly there is something missing from your universe (unless you expand "naturalism" so broadly that it ends up including the supernatural). For one thing, actual reasoning is absent, even though it is mihi datum. For another, your nature has nothing to ground it (nothing that can ultimately be part of the natural system itself).

You speak of Feser’s arguments. Do you mean to say that the mental datum of how it feels like when we ponder his arguments contradicts naturalism?

No, because the relevant arguments have nothing to do with feelings. You seem to reduce "mental states" to feelings, but apart from somehow completely missing the intellect, it's a red herring. I'm old-fashioned, I don't care about feelings, and neither do Aquinas's arguments.

The point remains that a superzombie world (in which all physical facts are produced in the way scientific naturalists hold) is possible. If, on the other hand, it were the case that the physical sciences had to hypothesize supernatural causes [...]

In that case, I can only say that you must be unfamiliar with the A-T arguments that you will find here. Your superzombie world is possible only if God exists (and thus it is not naturalistic). Talk about scientists having to plug gaps is not the kind of argument we're concerned with.

Hypothesize then that the world consists of a mechanical demon which starting at that position first computes pi and then produces the respective mental facts.

Scott has already addressed some of the problems here, including that any meaningful "computation of pi" invokes intentionality. But I'm perfectly happy to grant you some arbitrary mathematical-type model of zombie-land for the sake of argument. I think there is a misleading notion out there that being able to put something in a numerical or computational context somehow makes it "more" natural, even though just the opposite is the case; so I don't think it helps your zombie-world... but even if we ignore possible mathematically-related avenues to challenge it, it still cannot stand coherently.

And that's the problem: ultimately, your example may be able to get around some proofs for the existence of God — not as many as you think, I would say — but to serve its purpose it has to be able to refute all of them. And so far you have not laid a glove on the A-T position. A Thomistic approach can handle worlds that are even more watered-down and even more scientificalistic than your own example without missing a beat.

Mr. Green said...

Dear Dianelos,
Now, I have insisted repeatedly that your attempt to describe a purely naturalistic world falls flat. Here is why: Thomas's arguments for the existence of God do not depend on the current state of neuroscience or what we seem to experience or the digits of pi. They are based on logic plus a few incontrovertible facts, such as "something exists" or "things change". Does something exist in super-zombie-land? Is there any change or becoming in super-zombie-land? Then the universe you have imagined itself demonstrates that there must be a Prime Mover, an Uncaused Cause, Being Itself. How closely or not this may mimic the real world in appearance matters not. However similar or different science might be will not alter the conclusions. Others have pointed out many problems with your attempted watered-down universe, but I say go ahead — if your hypothetical world contains so much as "motion" or "contingency" then the A-T arguments go through. Now, you are free to challenge those arguments — if you think they don't work, by all means, let us examine them. But you have done nothing to challenge the grounds on which those arguments are based (because of course you can't — not without giving up any claim to being sane!), and so we can conclude that no, naturalism is not possible, not even hypothetically. The supposed naturalist simply does not have a philosophical leg to stand on.

George LeSauvage said...

@Danielos: You reply to Scott:

'Scott,

“We don't, however, generally adopt as an axiom what is supposed to be the conclusion of the proof.”

The axiom is: “There exists a logically possible world which is purely mechanical and in which, as a matter of brute (unintelligible/unexplainable) fact, particular material states produce particular mental states”.

The conclusion of the proof is: “In our current cognitive condition, no matter what we may experience will not be sufficient to conclusively falsify naturalism, i.e. falsify the hypothesis that the actual world is a purely mechanical one.”'

The trouble here is the "axiom" itself. The absolute minimum standard for any statement to be used as an axiom is that it be accepted by all involved in the discussion. (And this is a really, really slack usage.)

But what you call an axiom is precisely one of the things which Scott, and Brandon, and I, deny. We all say it is precisely one of the things you need to prove. I, at least, do not believe that such a world is possible.

I think this is the point Scott was making, and I don't see the reply as answering him.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"I only meant that the knowledge for designing such a purely mechanistic world would be based on knowledge of the actual world. But the world designed is not in any metaphysical sense contingent on the actual one."

If I were to interpret this uncharitably, I'd say the following: if your world is literally designed based on knowledge of the actual world, it bloody well is contingent on the actual one in a very obvious metaphysical sense. So I assume that's not quite what you mean to say here.

What you probably mean is that in "designing" (that is, dreaming up) your hypothetical world, you've freely borrowed features that you know are available in ours.

The question, though, is whether you're entitled to do that. And the fact is that you're not, unless you can also show that those features are, or at least could be, also available in your hypothetical world even if it (or your mechanical demon) doesn't have suitable access to our world.

If you can't do so, then your hypothetical world is indeed metaphysically parasitic on ours (and therefore not "naturalistic" in the sense you require) whether or not you explicitly acknowledge as much. It won't do here to adopt as an "axiom" the very point you need in order to make this fly.

There are other problems with your scenario, and the other posters are focusing on some of them. I'm dealing just with this one.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

And just to clarify a point Mr. Green and George LeSauvage have already partly addressed:

The problem with your "axiom" is that it grants that it's possible for intentionality (at least in the form of "aboutness," which is an essential feature of experience) somehow to arise in a "mechanical" world utterly lacking in teleology (and also, as Mr. Green says, without God). This supposed "possibility" has been addressed on this site by Ed and many others pretty much from the get-go, and if you don't think there's even a "smidgen" of argument against it, I don't know what you've been reading here.

George LeSauvage said...

@Scott (3:24)

Thank you. You said, succinctly, what I've been trying, at length, to say.

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

Glad to hear it. Thanks for the confirmation.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

Mr. Green wrote:

"Thomas's arguments for the existence of God do not depend on the current state of neuroscience or what we seem to experience or the digits of pi. They are based on logic plus a few incontrovertible facts, such as 'something exists' or 'things change'. Does something exist in super-zombie-land? Is there any change or becoming in super-zombie-land? Then the universe you have imagined itself demonstrates that there must be a Prime Mover, an Uncaused Cause, Being Itself. How closely or not this may mimic the real world in appearance matters not."

Since I've been focused on less fundamental details, I should perhaps add that I agree with this entirely. Mr. Green is levelling a criticism here that is more fundamental than any that the rest of us have offered.

To bring the key point out explicitly: if Mr. Green is right (as I think he is), then your proposed world cannot possibly be "naturalistic" in the sense your argument requires. Your argument therefore does not show that we can't know ourselves to be living in a "non-naturalistic" world, as even your proposed counterexample is itself "non-naturalistic" in your sense.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

If you can't do so, then your hypothetical world is indeed metaphysically parasitic on ours

Possible worlds are by definition metaphysically independent from each other. To discuss a possible world is to discuss a view about the whole of reality. There is nothing outside of it to be metaphysically contingent on.

So, metaphysically speaking, it’s not like this is our world and there are some other worlds out there. It’s only in the epistemic sense we speak this way. So we can say this is the idea or description of our world (i.e. of the actual world), and that is the idea or description of another world.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Mr. Green and others,

In the argumentation above I used two hypothetical purely mechanical worlds which I claim are possible, the superzombie (SZ) world in which all material and mental facts of the actual world obtain, and the mechanical demon (MD) world in which all mental facts of whatever world consistent with the human condition one wishes to suggest, obtain.

Lately the discussion centered on the latter world. In the context of a proof I claimed the axiom “There exists a logically possible world which is purely mechanical and in which, as a matter of brute (unintelligible/unexplainable) fact, particular material states produce particular mental states”. Now to reject such an axiom is to claim the existence of some logical contradiction. No such logical contradiction was suggested but only that this axiom contradicts A-T metaphysics. A-T metaphysics is a large project which ultimately entails the existence of God. Thus, certainly, MD contradicts A-T metaphysics (since MD is a naturalistic and thus God-less world). So what? A-T metaphysics is supposed to be true in the actual world, i.e. to correctly describe actual reality. Since A-T metaphysics is not compatible with the hypothetical MD world it simply follows that some of the premises on which A-T rests do not hold in MD. But this does not render MD logically impossible, nor my axiom invalid.

Actually I have an idea which A-T premise does not hold on MD: the ultimate intelligibility premise. Indeed the metaphysical structure of MD is based on rather aggressive brute facts, and thus unintelligible facts. But from unintelligibility it’s not the case that logical impossibility follows. What’s logically impossible is unintelligible, but not the other way around. (Scott in 3:24 uses an argument from a smaller A-T, namely the five ways. But the same general answer applies: If the deliverances of the five ways are incompatible with MD then some of their premises do not hold in MD. This does not render MD logically impossible, nor the axiom above invalid.)

Now perhaps the idea is that A-T metaphysics is logically necessary, i.e. holds in all logically possible worlds. If so that’s a very strong claim, for which I know no argument whatsoever. (Indeed it’s falsified by the argument in the next paragraph.)

Another idea in the neighborhood is that God is a necessary being, and thus exists in all logically possible worlds. That idea was carefully analyzed by Plantinga and was found lacking except when conditioned on the actual existence of God and on metaphysical possibility, not logical possibility – in which case it’s a trivial claim. In fact it’s easy to prove that logically possible worlds without God exist. A counterexample is the empty world, a world in which nothing exists. In such a hypothetical world there is nothing to contradict something else, and thus it is logically possible. And by definition there is no God in it.

Thus I stand by the claim that the above axiom is true. I seems evidently true to me, and I have not so far seen the slightest reason that only as much as suggests it isn’t.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I’d like to inject here a personal note that may help clarify a few things.

First, as I hope is evident to most of you, I am a very, a very, convinced Christian (even though I fairly live as if Christianity weren’t true. I am like those chain smokers who know all about how bad smoking is for them). I also consider myself to be quite orthodox in my beliefs, and I happen to belong to the Eastern Orthodox church. I am clarifying this lest anybody should get the impression that my purpose here is to prove naturalism true. Rather, I try to device the strongest naturalistic worldview possible in order to understand a truth about what drives naturalists, and thus a truth about the epistemic state of the human condition. I love all truth since all truth comes from God. Thus I am happy when proved wrong, since in this way too I learn a truth. (Some of the for me more productive train of thoughts in this thread was started by Scott pointing out an error of mine.) Any truth we learn especially about the deep questions of life renders the form of Christ a little clearer.

Second, my main purpose in this discussion is not to convince anybody, but a more egoistical one: to learn myself – and through this discussion I think I have learned a lot. Now of course should I find that my arguments are convincing to others would be nice – in the future I may decide to write a book and it would nice to think that one’s arguments have some power.

Incidentally today I am leaving for a trip and I may have less time and perhaps some trouble connecting to the internet. This has been a huge discussion and I am aware that I haven’t yet addressed several points, including some raised by George on the SZ scenario as well as on certainty in relation to experience and to arithmetic.

Scott said...

@Dianelos:

"In the context of a proof I claimed the axiom 'There exists a logically possible world which is purely mechanical and in which, as a matter of brute (unintelligible/unexplainable) fact, particular material states produce particular mental states'. Now to reject such an axiom is to claim the existence of some logical contradiction. No such logical contradiction was suggested but only that this axiom contradicts A-T metaphysics."

That's a pretty egregious misstatement. What we said was that the axiom is contradictory according to a logically unassailable metaphysical point—a point of A-T metaphysics, yes, but also of any other metaphysics that has any hope of making sense.

And yes, the logical contradiction most certainly has been "suggested." It has nothing to do with proving the existence of God; that business had to do with Mr. Green's more fundamental argument that your proposed world couldn't be "naturalistic" anyway, even given your proposed causation.

It has to do with mental states or experiences, which include intentionality/"aboutness" as an essential feature, somehow being caused by something that lacks teleology altogether (or, for that matter, anything being "caused" by something that lacks teleology altogether). Your proposed world does include that sort of causation, even if its existence is an unexplained "brute fact." And that sort of causation simply fails to make sense, for reasons that should be well familiar to you, starting with the inability of a cause to confer anything it doesn't have (and ending with the inability of a cause to "confer" anything, even to exist qua cause, without teleology).

At any rate, your overarching aim was to show, by counterexample, that we couldn't know for sure that we're not living in a fully mechanistic universe. For several reasons, which we've already discussed in sufficient detail here, your counterexample shows no such thing.

Of course there are other, positive reasons for accepting that we do know we don't live in a mechanistic universe anyway and should therefore regard your counterexample as failing to show otherwise even if we couldn't say exactly what was wrong with it. There are also good reasons not to be carrying on about "possible worlds" in the first place. But those issues haven't been much to the point here. For the most part we've been meeting your proposed counterexample on its own terms and telling you what's wrong with it, and we haven't exactly had any trouble finding problems.

The most fundamental of these is the one pointed out by Mr. Green. Your proposed world includes at least one form of causation (even if that causation is itself not further explainable), namely the causing of mental states or experiences by material/physical states. That means that, in the sense relevant to A-T metaphysics, it includes cause, change, and motion—and that in turn means that Aquinas's arguments for God apply to it and it therefore can't possibly be "naturalistic" in the sense required for your point.

Your proposed counterexample therefore does not show what you wanted it to show. The End.

George LeSauvage said...

I would put the problem a bit differently than Scott does.

"In the context of a proof I claimed the axiom 'There exists a logically possible world which is purely mechanical and in which, as a matter of brute (unintelligible/unexplainable) fact, particular material states produce particular mental states'. Now to reject such an axiom is to claim the existence of some logical contradiction. No such logical contradiction was suggested but only that this axiom contradicts A-T metaphysics."

And

"Thus I stand by the claim that the above axiom is true. I seems evidently true to me, and I have not so far seen the slightest reason that only as much as suggests it isn’t."

The problem is that your not seeing a contradiction, or not being convinced by arguments that there is one, is not enough. An axiom is a starting point of an argument, and in philosophy that means it must be self-evident.

But the very possibility of such a naturalistic world is precisely what is in dispute. Therefore you simply cannot postulate the existence of such a world at the start of the argument. It begs the question.

The key point in dispute is the assertion that this world is (a) wholly mechanistic, and (b) included mental events like experiences.

A second objection is that there seems no ground for the distinction between "experiences" (which are in) and "thoughts) which are out.

A third point (about your 8/22 12:14 comment) is that Plantinga's argument, as I understand it, is directed at a different goal than AT arguments; at a priori proof of God.

The AT arguments are drawn from a few facts about the world (some things are caused, some things change, etc). And, so far as they apply to this discussion, do not reach so far as a proof of the existence of God.

Therefore, the claim is not that the 5 ways are valid in all possible worlds. Rather it is that, if a given possible world has causation like that in this world, then AT's metaphysical analysis of cause applies there, too.

(Note that I haven't seen anyone show himself unaware that you are a theist. That has, at no point, been in contention.)

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

"I would put the problem a bit differently than Scott does. . . . The problem is that your not seeing a contradiction, or not being convinced by arguments that there is one, is not enough. An axiom is a starting point of an argument, and in philosophy that means it must be self-evident.

But the very possibility of such a naturalistic world is precisely what is in dispute. Therefore you simply cannot postulate the existence of such a world at the start of the argument. It begs the question."

For the record, I agree with this as well. Whether or not the proposed axiom is contradictory (as I think it is), it's still not self-evident and in the present context it does beg the question at issue.

George LeSauvage said...

@Scott:

I also agree with your analysis. Its really just a matter of what point to concentrate on.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Scott,

What we said is that the axiom is contradictory *according to* a logically unassailable metaphysical point – a point of A-T metaphysics, yes, but also of any other metaphysics that has any hope of making sense

A logical contradiction is when both A and not-A are found. I grand that the metaphysical ground of the SZ and MB worlds make no sense and are through and through unintelligible, but where’s the logical contradiction?

I agree that the SZ and MB metaphysics contradict A-T metaphysics, but I never claimed that A-T metaphysics at any level holds in them. The question is whether there is some feature in them which by itself is logically contradictory.

You explain why the SZ and MB metaphysics make no sense. For example you point out the claimed causation where a cause that lacks teleology altogether causes mental states with intentionality. How could a cause confer anything it doesn’t have? – you ask. Right, I mostly understand the idea, but where’s the logical contradiction? Remember in my axiom I only claim that there is no logical contradiction in such being the case in a hypothetical world.

Aquina’s arguments, as any argument necessarily must, are based on some premises about the actual world. Well, I say these premises do not hold in the suggested hypothetical world. I am not discussing our world, but an imaginary one. On the other hand, insights about a hypothetical world can have implications, not about our world itself, but about our epistemic situation when we think about our world. Thus, should it become evident that a hypothetical naturalistic world is able to produce all mental states we may have in our current condition – then we have proof positive that no current or future experience in our current condition can possibly be sufficient for *disproving* naturalism. I understand that from this it follows that it is unreasonable to be certain that naturalism is false, or be certain that A-T metaphysics is true. But if the proof via MD is valid, this lack of justified certainty is a fact of the human condition.

Your proposed counterexample therefore does not show what you wanted to show.

Why not. The argument is extremely simple. What’s wrong with it? Clearly in the empty world where nothing exists, no causality exists, no change, no potential, no act – and thus A-T metaphysics by definition does not apply. Further, the empty world is provably logical possible, and by definition there is no God in it. Ergo, it’s not true that God exists in all possible worlds (when “possible” is used in the common sense of logical possibility).

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

George,

[An axiom] must be self-evident.

It is self-evident to me, and I still don’t understand why it’s not self-evident to you. The axiom is about the mere logical possibility of a *hypothetical* world. A hypothetical world is described by its “book”, i.e. by the set of all true propositions about it. If in that set there is not a pair of logically contradictory propositions then that world is logically possible. In other words, a hypothetical world is considered as a closed system and is evaluated on its own merits using logic alone. Thus whatever in a hypothetical world should contradict any beliefs (true or false) we hold about the actual world is *entirely* irrelevant.

Thus, for example, the axiom “there is a possible world where Barak Obama is an extraterrestrial” is self-evidently true. Even the axiom “there is a possible world where putting two beans and two beans together produces three beans” should be self-evidently true. (Such apparently “nonsensical” things sometimes happen in the actual world. For example putting one wave and one wave together may produce zero waves. And inserting an additional obstacle in a configuration that stops light, may let light pass through. Who would have thought that in the real world the shortest path between two positions is not a straight line?)

The A-T arguments are drawn from a few facts about the world (some things are caused, some things change, etc.)

Right. And the logical structure of these arguments is as follows: If you accept that these self-evident facts hold for the actual world then you must accept that the A-T metaphysics holds for the actual world. But my argument does not concern the actual world, but a hypothetical world in which these facts do *not* hold. Thus A-T arguments are irrelevant to my project.

Therefore, the claim is not that the 5 ways are valid in all possible worlds. [snip]

Right, they are not valid in the SZ and MD hypothetical worlds.

Rather it is that, if a given possible world has causation like that in this world, then A-T’s metaphysical analysis of cause applies there, too.

Again, I completely agree, but the SZ and MD hypothetical worlds do *not* have causation like that in this world. (Or, more precisely, like the causation theists, perhaps justifiably, believe applies in this world.)

A Nanny Moose said...

Dianelos,

Let me add a few comments here if I may. You seem to be claiming that your proposed naturalistic world is possible because it is not logically contradictory. However, being logically contradictory is not the criterion we should be looking at. There are two problems here. First, a logically possible world can be metaphysically impossible. If A-T metaphysics is correct, which most people on this board believe, then your logically possible superzombie world is not metaphysically possible. To get around this, you would have to show that some sort of broadly Aristotelian metaphysics is not true. This was Mr. Green’s point, and you have a great deal of work ahead of you if you wish to show this.

The second problem is that even a metaphysically possible world can be rejected if it is implausible. For instance, consider what we might call the “Last Tuesday World”: the universe and everything in it was created last Tuesday, complete with our memories and all the appearances of an ancient universe. Is this logically possible? Sure. Is it metaphysically possible? I don’t see why not. Given that God created the world, he could have created it any way he wanted to, so the Last Tuesday World doesn’t seem inconsistent with the First Cause that follows from A-T metaphysics. Is it plausible? No, of course not; it’s wildly implausible. Why? Because it postulates an enormous number of brute facts, arranged in a certain way so as to give a certain appearance. In the same way, a naturalistic world (of the eliminative materialist type) is wildly implausible. If there is no teleology, no “aboutness” in nature, then any apparent teleology is just a brute fact, and there are an enormous number of these. It seems that you recognize this, thus your hypothesis of a “mechanical demon” that selects the brute facts using some algorithm. Problem is, such a selection process presupposes that something exists to select from. For example, Darwinian natural selection presumes the existence of a pool (or some way of creating a gene pool) from which to select. This will always be true for any selection process, no matter how the selection is done. It seems to me that talk of “compressing” this databank does no good. There still has to be an existing pool to select from that is larger (infinitely larger!) than what was selected. For this reason, I can’t see your proposed naturalistic world being anything but wildly implausible.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

A nunny moose,

I agree that if theism is true then naturalism is metaphysically impossible (and vice versa). But my argument is not about theism or naturalism, but about the human condition. I try to reveal a fact about our cognitive situation, namely to show that it is unreasonable to believe that it is possible to be certain that naturalism is false. And further that, as long as the human condition remains basically the same, it won’t ever be reasonable to believe that we can be certain that naturalism is false. Because no matter what we experience there will always be a logically possible naturalistic world that would produce these experiences.

This insight has implications for understanding the real world naturalistic mindset. Since naturalism is possibly true, the naturalist can always find refuge in such a worldview and feel safe there. Any arguments for theism or against naturalism will be interpreted by her from within the naturalistic point of view, and therefore will fail. In other words, when considering such an argument the naturalist will simply look to see which premise or which epistemic principle of the argument does not comport with the possibly true naturalistic worldview. And then reject them – as unreasonable and not warranted by how reality actually is. This has implications for natural theology: Theists should insist that arguments must be evaluated neutrally, i.e. from the agnostic’s point of view. But then theists should do the same also. (Which means that Plantinga’s advice to Christian philosophers is perhaps not a good one.)

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Commenting on another point in your post, I don’t think that arguments from implausibility hold any water. Such arguments only reveal that an idea does not at all fit with one’s own noetic structure – without explaining where the conflict lies and why one thinks that the idea is wrong, rather than the relevant bits of one’s noetic structure. In other words “it is implausible” by itself says nothing. I notice in your post you explain *why* the “last Tuesday” theory strikes you as implausible, but then you could have stated these same reasons without mentioning implausibility. I am saying that to talk of implausibility is philosophical hand-waving. I think we’d be better off if we removed the concept of “implausibility” from the philosophical discourse since it only refers to a personal fact which obtains independently of whether people are right or wrong.

Incidentally, I disagree with your claim that on theism the last Tuesday theory postulates a large number of brute facts – since I think it postulates only one fact, namely that God would want to create the world last Tuesday, and that fact is not a brute one since if God wants this then God has a good reason (albeit one we perhaps can’t see). I think the better reason to reject the last Tuesday theory is that it does not fit with either scientific naturalism or theism. On theism, for example, the belief that the greatest conceivable being would never resort to deception is a very good reason for rejecting that theory.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

In the latter part of your post you discuss the mechanical demon (MD) hypothetical world. This hypothesis was playfully suggested in order to flesh out what kind of naturalistic world may produce our set of experiences and any potential continuation of them. An interesting and unexpected implication of that speculative design was the insight that there may be ways for physical science to explain on mechanistic principles (not “naturalistic principles” – the physical sciences are metaphysically neutral) premises that are now considered by science to be brute facts. And I am not only talking about explaining the apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental constants but also the very nature of physical law (namely that it is deeply mathematical) and even its actual shape (namely, the actual equations that describe it). And thus explain the physical law that is factually present in the order of the physical phenomena we observe around us on an overarching mechanical principle. In other words the argument here is that the mechanical principles on which physical sciences rest (or ill-named “methodological naturalism”) *may* have far more power the many now suspect. Please observe that this discussion is entirely irrelevant to the main epistemological point I defended above.

I’d like to comment on the following bit you write:

It seems that you recognize this, thus your hypothesis of a “mechanical demon” that selects the brute facts using some algorithm. Problem is, such a selection process presupposes that something exists to select from.

It does not presuppose anything but what is entailed by naturalism, i.e. that reality consists of a working machine. Machines may be abstracted as algorithms, i.e. described as numbers and numerical operations. The hypothesized selection process would mechanically scan all numbers C of a particular size and pick the one which decompresses to the largest E. What properties would such a world of experience E possess? We can immediately see (it’s trivial to prove) that E would be an extremely well-ordered and thus apparently rational set of experiences. Moreover I think one can successfully argue that it would include the deliverances of Darwinism. Thus this mechanical model has already some explanatory power, since those features are present in the physical world we observe around us. Unfortunately to say anything more than that would probably require enormous amounts of computation, beyond what’s possible with current technology. Perhaps in the future fundamental physical science will proceed not by actual experiment, but by massive computations – which one may regard as an experiment performed not in physical space but in the space of numbers, or in other words in the space of mechanical possibility.

A final theistic point: God created us for a purpose. Obviously that purpose includes our living in a mechanically ordered physical universe of much elegance. There is probably a limit to the degree in which God’s primary purpose for creation can remain consistent with the God’s secondary purpose of creating an elegant physical universe. So, as theists, we should expect that there is probably such a limit, which of course puts an upper bound to our ability to explain physical reality on purely mechanical principles. But I suspect we are far from reaching that limit. As I said before it seems we are blessed with the possibility of discovering many more physical marvels still, deep orders of structure of amazing elegance and power we hardly today suspect.

Mr. Green said...

Dianelos: Now perhaps the idea is that A-T metaphysics is logically necessary, i.e. holds in all logically possible worlds. If so that’s a very strong claim, for which I know no argument whatsoever.

Well, yes, I don't think you know the argument; that is, you are not familiar enough with Thomistic or Scholastic philosophy. (Read Ed's Aquinas, or even just all the old posts on this site.) Strictly speaking, you have a point about the distinction between logical possibility and metaphysical possibility — metaphysics is about what actually exists, not just possibilities the way "mere" logic is. But A-T metaphysics does apply whenever something exists, because its point is to be a completely general philosophy of stuff. (If you get more specific about the particular way things exist in the actual world, then you're doing physics.)

To be perfectly clear, A-T does not depend on any premises that are missing from your hypothetical world. It proceeds from utterly general descriptions of things like "existence", "cause", "pattern"; the premise is simply "there are such things", thus turning a purely logical argument into a metaphysical one. (Logic: "If something exists, then Being Itself must exist." Metaphyiscs: "Something exists, therefore Being Itself exists.") Your zombie-world quite clearly does have those things, in some broad general way, and that is all we need to say that A-T metaphysics holds. (Not the entire system, to be sure; but the really fundamental bits, the starting points, the part Aquinas covers in his first few pages of the Summa — absolutely. That's why Aquinas put them in the first few pages of the Summa.)

I would also add that your claim that a totally empty [non-]universe is a logically possible world is not uncontroversial. But again, let us put that aside and allow for the sake of argument that such a Godless world is logically possible. The hypothetical universe you describe is clearly not the null world, so we're back to metaphysics. "Something that exists" sets the bar pretty low... low enough to apply even to your zombie-world.


I agree that the SZ and MB metaphysics contradict A-T metaphysics, but I never claimed that A-T metaphysics at any level holds in them. The question is whether there is some feature in them which by itself is logically contradictory.

Of course, you cannot simply say, "A-T doesn't hold" any more than you can posit a world and claim, "Pythagoras's Theorem doesn't hold". The rest of us are claiming that A-T metaphysics — at least the very minimal subset needed to demonstrate the existence of God — definitely does hold. Thus by itself the world you describe is logically contradictory: it alleges to have stuff in it, stuff that according to St. Thomas necessarily implies an Uncaused Cause, yet also for no God to exist. That's a contradiction. To escape, you would have to show that the Five Ways fail, and you have not done that.

[cont'd…]

Mr. Green said...

[...contined to Dianelos]
(Such apparently “nonsensical” things sometimes happen in the actual world.

I mentioned it before, but I'll say it again (because this common but wrong-headed view of science is responsible for lots of bad philosophising (not to mention bad episodes of Star Trek)): nonsensical things don't happen in the actual world. Sophisticated scientific theories are sometimes complex or unexpected; they may violate a particular person's sensibilities, but they never violate sense itself.

If you accept that these self-evident facts hold for the actual world then you must accept that the A-T metaphysics holds for the actual world. But my argument does not concern the actual world, but a hypothetical world in which these facts do *not* hold. Thus A-T arguments are irrelevant to my project.

If your hypothetical world were really so divorced from reality, then what's the point? That's not metaphysics, it's literature. And if you wish to construct an unreal though coherent universe for its own sake, as fictional entertainment, then by all means, go ahead. But this was supposed to be a possible interpretation of the real world. If it denies "self-evident facts" then it cannot be a possible explanation for the stubbornness of naturalists after all. And as I pointed out, the self-evident facts that are needed to dismiss naturalism are so broad that such a world would have to be so detached from the actual world as to be unrecognisable.

(Same with saying "there are no illusions in zombie-land". Sure, if it were a possible world, it could have no such things as "illusions". But if I were in zombie-world, then I would have to be having illusions... ergo this cannot be such a hypothetical world after all.)

Again, I completely agree, but the SZ and MD hypothetical worlds do *not* have causation like that in this world.

It's not as though there are all sorts of different kinds of causation and Aristotle discovered one under a rock one day. ("Aha, so this is the type of causality we have on Earth Prime! Look at all the nifty things I can prove from this!") The A-T definitions are just that — they are ways to describe what any causality is. Then we look at the world and see where and how we can apply these definitions. So zombie-land can escape only if it has no sort of causality at all — in which case, it has no application to reality, and we're back to forgetting the whole thing.

[cont'd…]

Mr. Green said...

[continued some more...]

It does not presuppose anything but what is entailed by naturalism, i.e. that reality consists of a working machine. [...] E would be an extremely well-ordered and thus apparently rational set of experiences. Moreover I think one can successfully argue that it would include the deliverances of Darwinism.

"Working machines" are 100% A-T metaphysics. That is, any meaningful sense of "working machine" provides more than enough for the Five Ways to get off the ground.

(See my post in the other thread where I point out that Darwinism — and indeed, any sort of science — is a necessarily Aristotelian concept, not "mechanistic" in the sense you need it to be. It's one of Ed's themes that not only is the mechanistic view wrong in accounting for living creatures and minds, but is not even consistent in itself.)

Machines may be abstracted as algorithms, i.e. described as numbers and numerical operations. The hypothesized selection process would mechanically scan all numbers C of a particular size and pick the one which decompresses to the largest E.

I still think trying to come up with algorithms hurts the naturalist more than it helps. I guess the idea is that you don't need a Mind behind the world if it can all be reduced to physical equations, but as mentioned, that is a problematic idea itself. And then there are the problems that Scott and others have raised. (What well-ordered metric are you using to determine "largeness", and how do we know it has a maximum limit? "Decompression" implies an encoding, which is an intentional concept. And why do we need to compress a number, anyway?) But in the end, mathematics is just formal causation, so we're back to the ground floor of A-T metaphysics.

As Herr Moose said: "If A-T metaphysics is correct [...], then your logically possible superzombie world is not metaphysically possible. To get around this, you would have to show that some sort of broadly Aristotelian metaphysics is not true." The naturalist cannot simply [try to] come up with a model outside of A-T metaphysics, because (apart from maybe some trivial examples like total nothingness) it already claims to account for all such possibilities. So it comes down not to getting around A-T but actually disproving it.


I am clarifying this lest anybody should get the impression that my purpose here is to prove naturalism true. Rather, I try to device the strongest naturalistic worldview possible in order to understand a truth about what drives naturalists, and thus a truth about the epistemic state of the human condition.

Yes, we should always strive to present opposing views as strongly as possible. We're all just picking on you because we think you have made a vincible error. Traditional Christianity, following the Scriptures, has accepted that some knowledge of God is naturally possible. I think that the spreading secularist notion that religion must be private because we can never have natural knowledge of God is not just false but dangerous, and therefore it is important for us to understand and to make known that fact that "naturalism" cannot coherently stand on its own two legs.

George LeSauvage said...

@Danielos:

I've been under the weather the last few days; I hope I am coherent. Fortunately Mr Green has mostly made the case for me.

"It is self-evident to me, and I still don’t understand why it’s not self-evident to you. The axiom is about the mere logical possibility of a *hypothetical* world. A hypothetical world is described by its “book”, i.e. by the set of all true propositions about it. If in that set there is not a pair of logically contradictory propositions then that world is logically possible."

1. You err here in thinking that, because your axiom is not self evidently false, therefore it is self evidently true. It is enough to say that it's denial does not entail a contradiction, to deny self evident truth.

2. Again, given that:

-This is a comment thread on an article (one of 4, actually) in which Feser is discussing Rosenberg's eliminativism;

-That the incompatibility of naturalism and mental events (or intention, generally) is the one thing F&R agree on;

-That several people have objected to shoehorning intention and experiences into your mechanistic world;

Therefore it definitely begs the question to define your world into existence this way. What you are doing, in Euclidean terms, is (at a minimum) treating as a postulate what should be a theorem.

I could, just as well, claim there is a possible world, GLeS, in which your SZ is logically impossible. (Note, not self evidently false or true). But what is logically impossible in one world, is logically impossible in all. Therefore refuting your argument. But this would be absurd, for the same reason.

3. Another objection is that your description is incoherent. Many have objected to your one can "experience thinking of X" while not thinking of X (or anything else). This needs to be answered. As it stands, I believe your world description is simply meaningless.

4. Finally, on God, while I think this is not central to the discussion at hand, I believe you err (as does Plantinga) in describing Him as existing (or not existing) an a possible world. He isn't like that, at least in Christian terms. It is never univocally true to say, without qualification, that God is "in" any world. (Even while Christ walked the earth, the Father and Spirit were not incarnate.)

I understand that you will appeal to symbolic logic as the contents of the "book" of each world. But it really won't do. Formal logic is fine, so far as it goes, but ultimately one must treat with actual concepts, which must be coherent about the world you describe. That is, you cannot escape some natural language.

urban jean said...

Rosenberg says in his second paragraph that

Eliminativism is the thesis that the brain does not store information in the form of unique sentences that express statements or propositions or anything like them.

He then says, as if it were a corollary,

It denies the intentionality of thought.

I understand the concept storage of information in the form of sentences much better than the woolly concept the intentionality of thought. Maybe the second follows from the first because intentionality is a linguistic concept and eliminativism says brains don't store sentences.

It's disappointing then that Ed gives us three articles using the word intentionality dozens of times and doesn't mention the word store once.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"I understand the concept storage of information in the form of sentences much better than the woolly concept the intentionality of thought."

I don't, and I don't see anything woolly about the latter. In fact both "information" and "sentences" depend on it, because they depend on meaning. A sentence considered purely as a series of sounds isn't a "sentence" at all; it's only as a carrier of intention—meaning—that it becomes such.

"Maybe the second follows from the first because intentionality is a linguistic concept and eliminativism says brains don't store sentences."

"Intentionality" isn't a linguistic concept. When I think about my cat, I'm thinking about my cat whether I use words or not.

urban jean said...

I'm sure you understand book, Scott.

urban jean said...

But my main complaint is Why doesn't Ed take on board Rosenberg's definition?

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"I'm sure you understand book, Scott."

I surely do. I also understand that marks on paper, just like sounds, have no inherent meaning, and a book is "about" something only because it has a sort of intentionality derived from that of its author(s). So if your point is that a book consists of information stored in the form of sentences, then the same reply applies.

"But my main complaint is Why doesn't Ed take on board Rosenberg's definition?"

"Take on board" in what sense? What is it you want him to do, and are you sure it isn't something he's already done in some other blog post(s) or book(s)?

urban jean said...

Actually, Scott, I may be being a little ungenerous towards Ed. Under 'Neuroscience and eliminativism' in the second instalment he does discuss the scientific findings in favour of Rosenberg's eliminativism. What he says, though, is somewhat tendentious. He says, for example,

Neuroscience, Rosenberg tells us, shows that there is no such thing as believing, hoping, fearing, desiring, or the like.

Now in fact, it takes very little thought to see that “neuroscience” shows no such thing.


Rosenberg doesn't say that there are no states that we describe as believing, hoping, etc. What he does say is that there is no evidence that these states involve neural structures that look remotely like sentences or propositions. Ed then goes on to turn what is essentially an empirical question into an issue of metaphysics. I suppose I can't really blame him for this---he is after all a metaphysician rather than a natural scientist---but it does give a distorted picture of the problem Rosenberg is discussing. Of course, I may be one of those who has failed to see the full implications of the eliminativist thesis. At the moment it seems to me that there is plenty of room left for an explanation of why we express attitude states in propositional form.


Regarding the phenomenology of thinking about cats, do you not find that it consists of recalled images of cats together with soundless sentences about cats? And the images themselves provoke soundless sentences like 'that's a cat' or 'that's Tibbles looking cute'?

FZ said...

"The first argument claims that “neuroscience makes eliminativism about propositional attitudes unavoidable.” A propositional attitude is a relation between a thinker and a certain proposition or content. When we say that Fred believes that it is raining, we are attributing to him the attitude of believing the proposition that it is raining; when we say that Ethel hopes that it is sunny, we are attributing to her the attitude of hoping that the proposition that it is sunny is true; and so forth. Neuroscience, Rosenberg tells us, shows that there is no such thing as believing, hoping, fearing, desiring, or the like."

This is from part two. The way I understand this is that Rosenberg is claiming neuroscience forces us to reject propositional attitudes. Beliefs, etc, are propositional attitudes. Thus, that entails that we must reject things like beliefs.

If Rosenberg isn't saying/implying this, could you quote the relevant parts here?

urban jean said...

Hello FZ, Here is the core of Rosenberg's thesis:

p1, Eliminativism is the thesis that the brain does not store information in the form of unique sentences that express statements or propositions or anything like them.

p2, footnote, Eliminativism’s denial of propositional content extends to the denial neural circuitry contains information in the form of distinct names and verbs, subjects and predicates, topics and comments, to use Dretske’s terminology (1988) or anything else that would make them truth-apt.

Rosenberg uses the phrase propositional attitude no more than half a dozen times. Here are the relevant ones:

p2, footnote, This is a far more serious problem for eliminativism than the alleged pragmatic contradiction of ‘believing that there are no propositional attitudes,’ since beliefs are, by definition, propositional attitudes. There are a variety of alternative dispositional accounts of belief available. The real problem for eliminativism is its denial that there is anything in the brain or elsewhere that qualifies as carrying truth values.

p3, The next section of this paper shows why neuroscience makes eliminativism about propositional attitudes unavoidable. What follows is the neuroscientific evidence that there are no sentential structures in the brain.

FZ said...

"There are a variety of alternative dispositional accounts of belief available."

I might be wrong, but when Feser says "Neuroscience, Rosenberg tells us, shows that there is no such thing as believing, hoping, fearing, desiring, or the like." He might be referring to believing, hoping, etc as they are "typically" understood. Of course, this does leave room for other definitions/dispositional accounts.

However, I don't think that Feser's argument rests upon using "Neuroscience, Rosenberg tells us, shows that there is no such thing as believing, hoping, fearing, desiring, or the like." to show that eliminativism is incoherent. Rather, Feser is arguing that neuroscience does NOT show that there is no such thing as believing, hoping, fearing, desiring, or the like.

Second, and more importantly, what Feser DOES base his argument, I think, is this "The real problem for eliminativism is its denial that there is anything in the brain or elsewhere that qualifies as carrying truth values." and the whole idea that intentionality is an illusion.

And I think that Feser actually agrees with Rosenberg on a certain point:

"Putting that aside, though, Rosenberg says there is another problem with the idea that there are sentence-like symbols in the brain. Consider the well-known philosophical distinction between “knowledge how” and “knowledge that” -- that is to say, between the having of certain dispositions and abilities, and the grasping of certain propositions. Rosenberg holds -- correctly in my view -- that these are mutually irreducible. Having dispositions and abilities cannot be analyzed in terms of having propositional knowledge, and having propositional knowledge cannot be analyzed in terms of having dispositions and abilities."

urban jean said...

Hi FZ,
If, as you claim, "Feser is arguing that neuroscience does NOT show that there is no such thing as believing, hoping, fearing, desiring, or the like." then Ed is arguing against a straw man he has put up. For Rosenberg's thesis is not that we don't believe, hope, etc, but that these do not consist in being in some relation with a proposition realised in the brain, notwithstanding the grammar of the sentences by which we report such states appearing to express a relationship with a proposition.

I will look more closely at what Ed says about eliminativism and truth.

FZ said...

"The next section of this paper shows why neuroscience makes eliminativism about propositional attitudes unavoidable."

This is the premise that Feser is arguing against. Feser counters by saying neuroscience does not make eliminativism about propositional attitudes unavoidable, even if there are no "sentence structures" in the brain. I don't see how it is a strawman.

FZ said...

Feser even states the premise in a paragraph:

"The first argument claims that “neuroscience makes eliminativism about propositional attitudes unavoidable.” A propositional attitude is a relation between a thinker and a certain proposition or content."

FZ said...

Clarification:

"neuroscience makes eliminativism about propositional attitudes unavoidable"

Is not a premise, but rather a conclusion from some other premises/data. Feser shows that this does not necessarily follow from the premises.

urban jean said...

It will help if you can give up the identification of belief with some propositional attitude. For then having beliefs can be consistent with there being no propositional attitudes (understood as relations with some proposition like entity in the brain)

FZ said...

"For then having beliefs can be consistent with there being no propositional attitudes (understood as relations with some proposition like entity in the brain)"

Sure, it might be consistent. But Feser is arguing that Rosenberg isn't justified in concluding that there are no propositional attitudes in the first place.

Feser doesn't raise the "believing that there are no propositional attitudes is contradictory" objection, so I'm not sure why this is a problem.

And again, I'll repeat this:

When Feser says "Neuroscience, Rosenberg tells us, shows that there is no such thing as believing, hoping, fearing, desiring, or the like." He might be referring to believing, hoping, etc as they are "typically" understood. Of course, this does leave room for other definitions/dispositional accounts.

Of course, the other definitions/accounts for beliefs aren't what Feser is arguing against.

George LeSauvage said...

@urban jean (1:00pm):

"It will help if you can give up the identification of belief with some propositional attitude."

Just how do you propose we do that? Simply identifying a given belief with a given brain state really won't do. That is not what "belief" means.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Regarding the phenomenology of thinking about cats, do you not find that it consists of recalled images of cats together with soundless sentences about cats? And the images themselves provoke soundless sentences like 'that's a cat' or 'that's Tibbles looking cute'?"

Actually, no, not really. For one thing, I think you're confusing intellection/conception with imagination/memory here.

But even aside from that, you yourself have introduced an intermediate step: images. Even if, as you propose, these images provoke "soundless sentences," the images are not themselves those sentences; thus even on your own terms, my thought of the cat isn't simply a set of sentences.

Nor is there any reason to suppose that when you and I both think about Tibbles, the same soundless sentences are provoked in both of us, and yet there seems to be nothing unproblematic in our both thinking of the same cat.

Likewise, if I and someone who speaks no English both think of a cat, the "sentences" thus provoked in each of us will not overlap at all; mine will be in English and the other person's will be in, say, Chinese. But it would surely be absurd to conclude that we therefore can't be thinking of the same cat and therefore having in some important sense the same thought.

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"It will help if you can give up the identification of belief with some propositional attitude."

As George LeSauvage says, it's not obvious how that's to be done. To believe something is to believe something. The belief has at least a virtual object; it's a belief that something or other is the case. And something or other is the case is a proposition (not, of course, a sentence, as the same proposition can be expressed by different sentences).

urban jean said...

FZ says "But Feser is arguing that Rosenberg isn't justified in concluding that there are no propositional attitudes in the first place." That's right, I think. He says that it's only within R's naturalistic worldview that the neuroscience evidence points to there being no propositional attitudes. Other views can accommodate them. Nevertheless R will want to be consistent within his own worldview. My interpretation is that he is saying that
1. there are no prop attitudes.
2. beliefs are not prop attitudes.
3. there are beliefs.
are consistent with his naturalism.

urban jean said...

George, it's easy. That having a belief is being in some relation to a proposition is a bit of theory. Just what are these propositions you are related to anyway? It's a hypothesis. Let it go!

urban jean said...

Scott, my suggestion is that the aboutness of thought derives from the aboutness of sentences which itself arises because we sense that at least some sentences are 'about' something. I think it's generally agreed (sure I've seen Ed argue this) that in themselves images possess no intentionality. So I need to persuade you that apart from the images (and analogues in the other sensory modes) thought is silent sentences.
R can then claim there is no intentionality in the brain because there are no sentences in the brain. But this is all guesswork on my part. For me, intentionality is a poorly defined concept---I've no clear idea what it means. And there are all those puzzles about thinking about the same thing under distinct descriptions, plus puzzles about fiction, and so on, so I'm somewhat wary of intentionality, and try to avoid arguments in which it figures significantly.

George LeSauvage said...

@urban jean:

"George, it's easy. That having a belief is being in some relation to a proposition is a bit of theory. Just what are these propositions you are related to anyway? It's a hypothesis. Let it go!"

Can you give me a an example of what a non-propositional belief would be? What this would mean? It seems to me that the meaning of "belief" is inherently propositional.

I must add that it is odd, if you wish "to avoid arguments in which [intentionality] figures significantly", that you would be arguing this point, as it is inevitable that this would arise. It is at the core of why some of us do not believe that "thought is silent sentences" rather than propositions.

This may help some:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/intentionality/

Scott said...

@urban jean:

"Scott, my suggestion is that the aboutness of thought derives from the aboutness of sentences which itself arises because we sense that at least some sentences are 'about' something."

Sounds like you've got the cart before the horse and the horse in turn before another cart. The aboutness of sentences derives from the aboutness of thought; we take sentences to be "about" something because we take them to be expressions of thought. If they're not, then when we "sense that at least some sentences are 'about' something," we're just wrong.

"So I need to persuade you that apart from the images (and analogues in the other sensory modes) thought is silent sentences."

Good luck. ;-)

Scott said...

@George LeSauvage:

"It seems to me that the meaning of 'belief' is inherently propositional."

It seems so to me as well. I have no idea what it could mean to "believe" without believing something; and if I do believe something, then that something is the asserted content of the belief. If I believe that the cat is on the mat, then the asserted content of my belief is the proposition expressed by the words The cat is on the mat (which is also of course expressible in other ways).ecaunks 81

Scott said...

Whoops. The "ecaunks 81" at the end of my previous post was supposed to be a Captcha entry; my cursor must not have been where I thought it was.

George LeSauvage said...

@Scott:

"Whoops. The "ecaunks 81" at the end of my previous post was supposed to be a Captcha entry; my cursor must not have been where I thought it was."

Figured that out. "You know my methods, Watson, apply them." Amazing what one can deduce with 4 causes to work with.

Another problem is the assumption that our analysis of the meaning of "belief" is an "hypothesis". It seems as if some people have to shoehorn all questions into the methods of physics.

urban jean said...

Thanks, George. It's been a while since I last read the SEP article. It rather demonstrates my point. Jacob clearly admits there are puzzles with the concept that have no generally accepted resolutions. Did you notice how often he uses the phrase 'orthodox/alternative paradigm'?

I think we have been sidetracked into talking about intentionality because I let slip that I didn't follow how Rosenberg moves from 'the thesis that the brain does not store information in the form of unique sentences that express statements or propositions or anything like them' to the denial of the intentionality of thought. And also, of course, because intentionality looms large in Ed's commentaries. I guess that R might say that there being no propositions in the brain was inconsistent with the intentionalist claim that 'I think p' implied that I am in some relation with the 'object of thought' p.

I have really no idea what beliefs are. I know how to use the phrase 'I believe that...' or 'I have a belief that...' Maybe the noun 'belief' functions like the noun 'direction' in 'the plane's direction is SSW'. Having a belief seems to be a condition in which one might be. For example, having the belief 'there's a bear in the cave' will produce fear and trembling in me should I approach the cave. This suggests to me that acquiring the belief involves physical change within me. How this comports with my coming into some relation with a proposition defeats me.

I think that you and Scott are being misled by the grammar of belief assertion sentences. In 'I believe the cat is on the mat' the word 'believe' looks like a transitive verb with a subject and an object. What's its object? Obviously the proposition thingy 'the cat is on the mat'. But if I fear the bear is in the cave, it's the bear I'm worried about, not some proposition. Your analysis goes no deeper than the surface grammatical structure of the sentence.

I stand by my use of the word 'hypothesis'. It seems to me that your propositions are entities postulated to exist in order to explain certain phenomena. That's a good method.

George LeSauvage said...

@urban jean:

Of course talk of intentionality gets into all sorts of puzzles and controversies. It's philosophy, and puzzles &c are what philosophers do.

But I really don't why you strain at "the woolly concept the intentionality of thought" is helped by swallowing "the concept storage of information in the form of sentences". The notion of sentences storing information without being about that information seems simply meaningless.

Similarly with belief. I note you slip from belief to fear, and seem to treat them as the same. But they don't seem to be. It is easy enough to say "he was frightened" without necessarily involving what it was which scared him. "He believes" would seem meaningless unless context provides some object of belief. So "believe" and "fear" would be categorically different in Ryle's sense, at a minimum.

Again, your use of "hypothesis" here conveys no meaning to me. What kind of hypothesis is this? What would it mean to say it was confirmed or refuted?

And that, across the board, is my problem. I cannot get what you are speaking about, because the way you are using words seems empty. The sentences are grammatical, but there's no there there.

urban jean said...

Hello George, and welcome back. Apologies if I seemed to suggest that 'belief' and 'fear' mean the same thing. I do tend towards the terse. Let's recap. It's generally understood that believing something and fearing something are 'intentional' mental states, states having an object they are about or they are directed towards. Since the objects of these states seem to be propositions these states are known as 'propositional attitudes'. Another way of putting this is to say that the subject is in some relation with a proposition. These are central ideas in the theory of 'intentionality', Yes?

Not the least of my problems with this is that it's generally accepted that for A and B to be in some relation requires that A and B both exist. So we have to be realist about propositions, something I (and some real philosophers) find hard to buy. Further, I put forward a little argument to the effect that acquiring a belief implies a change of physical state. For before I acquire the belief 'there's a bear in the cave' I can approach the cave in equanimity; after, only with sweating and palpitations. If having the belief is a physical thing then it's presumably something in the brain, and Rosenberg's neurological evidence is that there is nothing remotely like a a sentence (and props surely have sentence-like properties such as grammatical structure). Rosenberg seems to be saying that there's nothing in the brain that has sentential properties even at some level of abstraction. This would rule out Fodorean 'language of thought' theories, I guess.

Propositions are strange beasts, especially when allied with attitudes. Sometimes they are identified with their 'content', sometimes not. If I believe there's a bear in the cave it makes sense to say I believe some proposition. But if I fear there's a bear in the cave do I fear the proposition or do I fear its content? It's nagging worries like this that lead me to suspect that propositions are hypothetical entities postulated in support of a theory (and a theory that doesn't quite work, at that).

Glenn said...

urban jean,

Some comments pertaining to selected excerpts from your response to George:

1. it's generally accepted that for A and B to be in some relation requires that A and B both exist.

Though it may well be that that is generally accepted, it does not seem reasonable to hold that it is necessarily so. That it does not seem reasonable to hold that it is necessarily so, may be inferred from either a) or b) as follows (the bolding in a) and b are mine, while the italics in b) are Lycan's):

a) In responding to Scott's response to Dianelos -- To "experience thinking about Paris" is indeed to think about Paris, and the entailment (really an identity) runs both ways. In your experience of thinking about Paris, Paris is (obviously) the intentional object of the thought you're experiencing. -- George said, "I think this must be qualified. It is possible to be mistaken in our belief of what we are thinking of. Dawkins believes he is thinking of the 5th Way, when he is actually thinking of Paley's design argument. J K Rowling mixed up two train stations. Or I might think of Sherlock Holmes as a priest, or the younger son of a duke, or Hamlet as the usurper of the Scottish throne. People do this sort of thing all the time. Not that this undercuts your main point. To have the experience of thinking of Paris, when really thinking of Venice, still remains an experience of thinking of something, even if we mistake the object."

b) William Lycan, in his Intentionality and Propositional Attitudes, notes that "[P]ropositional attitudes such as beliefs and desires and regrets are about things, or have 'intentional objects': I have beliefs about Vladimir Putin, I want a beer and world peace, and I regret agreeing to review the tedious book I have just finished reading", and later notes that, "What is at once most distinctive and most philosophically troublesome about intentionality is its indifference to reality. An intentional object need not actually exist or obtain: the Greeks worshipped Zeus; a friend of mine believes that corks grow on trees as in Ferdinand the Bull; and even if I get the beer, my desire for world peace is probably going to go unfulfilled. An intentional state is the state it is and has the content it does quite regardless of whether that content corresponds to anything real."

(cont)

George LeSauvage said...

@urban jean:

1. I'm not committed to your "Another way of putting this is to say that the subject is in some relation with a proposition" as you use it. I don't object, but it seems a tortuous way to put it; acceptance means (as always) just what one means by it.

2. Again, the question is whether "for A and B to be in some relation requires that A and B both exist" involves an univocal meaning to "exist". Propositions don't necessarily exist in quite the same way those who believe in them do.

3. I flat deny that "acquiring a belief implies a change of physical state." I don't deny the correlation, I do deny that it "implies" it, if that means some sort of entailment. There is a difference between what is logically entailed (one meaning of imply) and that which is empirically discovered to be true (another meaning).

4. In your 1st paragraph you say "Apologies if I seemed to suggest that 'belief' and 'fear' mean the same thing." Yet in the 2nd, you are back to doing so. Your belief that the bear is there in no way entails the sweating &c. Even your fear (resulting from your belief) only warrants this, it doesn't entail it. But the belief itself does neither, that I can see.

5. Again, you do seem to be slipping across a line between "allied with attitudes" and really identifying propositions with attitudes. This leads (above) to the confusion about objects. Propositions do have content; if attitudes do, then only in a different sense.

Now, I do acknowledge that some do seem to have trouble with realism. But then, some others (like me) find it impossible to resist. And I did try, at one point. I don't see how it can work. It entails straining at gnats, and swallowing camels to try.

6. Once again, I cannot see how the meaning of "belief" can possibly be compatible with the idea "that propositions are hypothetical entities postulated in support of a theory". To me, this is simply meaningless. Propositions were arose as postulates to support something which is already propositional? Hopeless.

Glenn said...

2. If having the belief is a physical thing then it's presumably something in the brain, and Rosenberg's neurological evidence is that there is nothing remotely like a a sentence (and props surely have sentence-like properties such as grammatical structure). Rosenberg seems to be saying that there's nothing in the brain that has sentential properties even at some level of abstraction. This would rule out Fodorean 'language of thought' theories, I guess.

While there appears to be a surface reasonableness to the 'guess' advanced, the matter itself, when looked into just a little more closely, seems to suggest other 'guesses' which appear to be somewhat more reasonable.

For example, given that neuroscience (regardless of any advances it may lay legitimate claim to) is still in its beginning, drawing from the present absence of neurological evidence the conclusion that there is no neurological evidence at all to be discovered or uncovered would seem to be premature.

Also, that beliefs are physical things -- if beliefs truly exist as such, and are not merely some sort of epiphenomenal illusion -- is primarily a materialistic supposition; and while a materialist might take the absence of neurological evidence of a something as an indication that that something therefore does not exist, a non-materialist might take that same absence of neurological evidence as an indication that that same something therefore is, its existence notwithstanding, non-physical.

3. [I] suspect that propositions are hypothetical entities postulated in support of a theory (and a theory that doesn't quite work, at that).

a) The awareness of and knowledge about propositions have long preceded any of one or more theories constructed, designed and/or adapted to account for their existence.

b) Even if propositions should be advanced in support of some theory constructed or designed to account for something other than propositions themselves, and that theory should not quite work or even outright fail in some sense, such would not be either a black mark against the existence of propositions as such or an indication that propositions as such are merely hypothetical entities -- it simply would mean that the theory itself, whatever it might be about, either does not quite work or that it outright fails in some sense.

c) Question: how might any theory intended to be a rational theory get off the ground without propositions?

...But, then, and from a charitable perspective, perhaps a proclivity for terseness has resulted in the omission of a helpful clarification, and what actually was meant is that you suspect propositions as physical entities are ad hoc hypotheticals.

(cont)

Glenn said...

4. If I believe there's a bear in the cave it makes sense to say I believe some proposition. But if I fear there's a bear in the cave do I fear the proposition or do I fear its content?

As other reasonable and realistic options are available, the dichotomy presented is a false dichotomy.

For example, what I myself would be in fear of would be neither the proposition nor its content, but one or more of the potential consequents of the bear becoming aware of my presence.

5. I put forward a little argument to the effect that acquiring a belief implies a change of physical state. For before I acquire the belief 'there's a bear in the cave' I can approach the cave in equanimity; after, only with sweating and palpitations.

The belief itself that 'there's a bear in the cave' will not induce sweating and palpitations.

Nor will it induce one to approach the cave in which one believes the bear to be.

Rather, the sweating and palpitations one might experience on approaching the cave are physical components of an emotional response to, say, either:

a) the realization that one is taking a non-trivial risk in his flaunting of common sense; or (and not entirely unrelated),

b) the knowledge of what might happen to one should the bear in the cave become aware of one's presence.

- - - - -

But let us suppose that I'm approaching a cave I believe to be free of bears, and someone farther away calls out, "Hey! Watch out! There's a bear in that cave!" I might well experience sweating and palpitations. And it may even seem that it is (the acquisition of) the belief 'there's a bear in the cave' which is responsible for the changes in my physical state. But this temporal sequence is, I think, misleading.

Let us now suppose that the cave I'm approaching is located in a zoo (or something like a zoo), that the cave entrance is so barred that nothing larger than, say, a small poodle could squeeze in or out through the bars, and that the person who called out is an older brother (behaving as an older brother sometimes is expected to behave). I had believed the cave to be free of bears because I had believed this cave to be where the lion is located. But now I know there's actually a bear in there. Oh well, no sweat; I'll hunt for the lion cave later.

Now,

1. Notice that the same belief -- 'there's a bear in the cave' -- was acquired in both cases.

2. And notice that in only one of the cases did changes in my physical state take place subsequent to the acquisition of that belief.

3. Given 1. and 2., it seems reasonable to conclude that, contrary to the appearance, and properly speaking, it is neither the belief itself nor its acquisition which is responsible for any changes which subsequently might take place in my physical state, but something else to which the changes in my physical state need to be attributed.

Glenn said...

Oh no...

I knew it would take a little while to post all three of my comments, and I believed it possible that someone else might post a comment sometime after I posted my first comment, but sometime before I posted my last comment.

My heart was palpitating, and I sweated profusely.

And not without justification, I see.

My fear, however, was not that someone might post one comment while I was busy posting three comments, but that either:

a) the flow of my comments might be interrupted;, or,

b) the other person's comment might be lost in the inundation.

urban jean said...

Hello Glenn, and thanks for responding.

1. I agree that we can think about non-existent objects, or situations that don't obtain. Nevertheless, the thought itself seems to be real, doesn't it? The thought 'Zeus exists' or the thought 'the Eiffel tower is in Venice' is being considered by me, say. In so far as our thoughts can be expressed in words we call them propositions and consider them real, if possibly immaterial. There really is something going on in our mental lives, it seems, even if the 'content' of that something is false or impossible or inexistent. And then we can say we are in some relation (thinking, believing, wishing, etc) to that something.

2. Yes, the instruments of neuroscience will almost certainly improve. But at present it looks as if acquiring a belief amounts to the strengthening of some synapses, the weakening of others, and the rest staying the same. Better instruments will maybe allow us to identify the neurons involved. But as R says, it's hard to see this in terms of 'sentential structures'. And the immaterialist has to offer us an account of what's going on in my 'bear in the cave' story.

3. Sure, philosophers have talked about propositions forever. Nevertheless, I think my 'bear in the cave' story presents propositionalists with a dilemma: if propositions are material, or at any rate coming to believe them is material, why don't we find them in the brain? On the other hand, if they are immaterial, or coming to believe them has no physical basis, how to explain the sweating and palpitations? My solution is to abandon propositions as an explanatory hypothesis.

4. Here I say that if you quibble over exactly what my fear is of then we are in danger of reaching the conclusion that our propositional attitudes are indeterminate. This would tend to undermine the anti-materialistic arguments of James Ross that Ed advances.

5. I think you may be be saying here that I have left out important conditions without which the sweating, etc, are not guaranteed. Can't I just add the suppositions that I have already acquired the beliefs that bears are dangerous animals, that there's no obstacle to a bear's leaving the cave were there one in it, etc? My claim is that all this acquired physical state, plus my belief about a bear, plus my awareness of my approach to the cave, is causally sufficient for the trembling, etc.

Anonymous said...

So basically, its the interaction problem.

urban jean said...

George,

1. I think this is a standard usage within the theory of intentionality.

2. This raises the metaphysical ante considerably. Can you respond to my (3) to Glenn in the above comment without making this move?

3. OK. To avoid any ambiguity in 'implies' change that to 'acquiring a belief cannot occur without a change of physical state'.

4. In my second presentation I was careful not to use the word 'fear'. The only propositional attitudes involved in the argument are beliefs. And (the havings of) these beliefs cause certain physical symptoms, or so I claim.

5. No, one can clearly have several distinct attitudes to the one proposition, so they can't all be the same thing.

6. "Propositions [were] arose as postulates to support something which is already propositional? Hopeless." OK, you seem wedded to the reality of propositions. As my main argument against them is my 'bear in the cave' story, which I summarise for Glenn above at (3), can I ask what you make of that argument?

Glenn said...

urban jean,

Contra to your 6. above to George, your 'bear in the cave' story is not summarized for me further above at (3).

(You do reference the story there, true. But to reference is one thing, and to summarize another.)

Here is your 'bear in the cave' story:

before I acquire the belief 'there's a bear in the cave' I can approach the cave in equanimity; after, only with sweating and palpitations.

This story was offered as support for your "little argument to the effect that acquiring a belief implies a change of physical state."

While George did address your usage of "implies" in his (3) at August 30, 2013 at 3:37 PM, I myself at no time have.

What I have done is take exception to the notion that it is either the acquisition of the belief or the belief itself which causes the sweating and palpitations in your story.

According to your story, the sweating and palpitations do not occur upon acquisition of the belief, and they do not occur while merely holding the belief; rather, they occur only when approaching the cave.

But since the sweating and palpitations occur only when approaching the cave, and not when not approaching the cave, it follows that it is neither the acquisition of the belief nor the belief itself which is the cause of the sweating and palpitations.

Whether acquiring a belief does in fact truly imply, in some sense, a change of physical state is irrelevant to my point; for my point is that your story does not provide rational support for the claim that a change of physical state is implied by the acquisition of a belief.

I am not saying that you are wrong (about belief acquisition implying, in some sense, a physical change of state).

I am saying that your story accomplishes nothing in the way of rationally suggesting that you may be right.

Glenn said...

urban jean,

4. Here I say that if you quibble over exactly what my fear is of then we are in danger of reaching the conclusion that our propositional attitudes are indeterminate.

Au contraire, your apparent refusal to acknowledge your misattribution is indicative of a something which is not immune from being characterized as a kind of intellectual dishonesty.

5. I think you may be be saying here that I have left out important conditions without which the sweating, etc, are not guaranteed. Can't I just add...

Certainly you may those statements of yours which have been shown to be either inaccurate or ill-founded. 'twould be a pleasure if you would, it would indeed.

Anonymous said...

("Certainly you may those statements..." s/b be modified to read, "Certainly you may modify those statements...")

urban jean said...

Hi Anon,
Yes. I was rather hoping someone might explain how the Aristotelian machinery could be brought to bear on the problem, but no takers so far.

urban jean said...

Glenn,
Here's a metaphor. Think of belief acquisition as placing a jigsaw piece on the board. When the jigsaw is complete the symptoms of fear appear, and only then. No single piece is sufficient but each is necessary. Take one away (eg, one departs from the cave, or one learns from a trusted source that there is no bear there, or that it is soundly asleep after eating too much porridge) and the fear subsides.

urban jean said...

Regarding (4), Glenn, my point is that people do say things like 'I fear there is a bear in the cave'. The propositional attitudinarian says they are adopting an attitude or stance towards the proposition, 'there is a bear in the cave', seen as some kind of entity. People also say 'I fear spiders' In both cases something is seen as the direct object of fearing. But who's afraid of a measly proposition? The attitudinarian then says, no, it's the 'content' of the proposition that they are afraid of. For me this is erecting mysteries on mysteries. This is why I said way back that I found the theory of intentionality 'woolly'. If you want to clarify exactly what proposition(al content) you are afraid of, I just rerun what I say substituting your new proposition. Worse, this reinforces me in my conviction that our sentences are but a rough and ready characterisation of our state and undermines Ross's arguments from the determinacy of though.

Glenn said...

urban jean,

Ross does not argue that it is the proposition in your head which determines your physical state.

Neither does he argue that it is what you think or feel about the proposition in your head which determines your physical state.

In fact, he does not argue at all about what it is that might be the cause of the physical state in which you are.

Since Ross is not arguing, either specifically or generally, about what might be the cause of the physical state in which you are, neither any claim that propositions themselves are capable of inducing changes in physical states, nor any claim that propositions themselves cannot induce changes in physical states, has any meaningful relevance to what Ross is arguing against or how he goes about arguing against it.

What Ross is arguing against is the claim that "thoughts are 'no more than' physical[,] or functions determined physically[.]"

And he goes about arguing against that claim partly by showing that at least some thinking "is determinate in a way no physical process can be".

Clearly, since Ross' discussion of the determinacy of thought does not involve claiming that, showing how or explaining why thoughts, subjects or objects of thoughts, or even propositions determine physical states, it cannot possibly be the case that Ross' arguments from the determinacy of thought is undermined, upturned, overturned or otherwise contradicted by the failure of anyone to show either conclusively or to your personal satisfaction how it is that thoughts, subjects or objects of thoughts, or even propositions might determine physical states.

Glenn said...

(s/b/ "...it cannot possibly be the case that Ross' arguments from the determinacy of thought are...")

urban jean said...

Glenn, you said

"For example, what I myself would be in fear of would be neither the proposition nor its content, but one or more of the potential consequents of the bear becoming aware of my presence."

I merely suggested that if we can't agree on what we are afraid of then isn't that evidence for a lack of determinateness in thought? But I don't want to get side-tracked into discussing Ross, so let's put that to one side. My aim is to get you to appreciate the 'bear in the cave' argument. You seem to think that my claim is that propositions cause bodily states. That's not right. I doubt that propositions have causal power. I'm saying that when I acquire a belief in a certain proposition I must actually be undergoing some bodily change. The details of the physical change will vary with the details of the proposition. I have the metaphor that these changes are like placing jigsaw pieces, or perhaps like throwing switches. When the final proposition is believed, the jigsaw is complete, the final switch is thrown, some specific neurons are activated, and my adrenal glands begin to secrete. If I then come to disbelieve one of these propositions, the corresponding change is undone, the jigsaw piece removed, the switch returned, the neural pathway to the adrenals is broken, and adrenaline production ceases. We have to agree that this picture at least makes sense before we can see where it's wrong.

Glenn said...

urban jean,

We have to agree that this picture at least makes sense before we can see where it's wrong.

I think a better idea would be for the two of us to agree that you should first send me $5,000, and then we can look for reasons as to why that might be the wrong thing for you to do.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Mr Green,

If I understand you correctly your argument is as follows:

1. A-T metaphysics proceeds from common concepts (existence, causality, pattern) and therefore applies in all worlds where such concepts make sense.

2. These common concepts make sense in the SZ world.

3. Therefore A-T applies in the SZ world.

4. A-T entails theism.

5. Therefore the SZ world is theistic.

6. SZ as defined is a naturalistic (hence non-theistic) world.

7. Therefore SZ entails a logical contradiction.

I object to #2. Since it’s your argument and since you know A-T’s proper sense of “existence, causality, pattern” better than me – I think the burden of proving #2 is on you. But let me have a try, since the matter is interesting. A-T has limits, and our discussion is about where these limits lie. You write:

"Working machines" are 100% A-T metaphysics. That is, any meaningful sense of "working machine" provides more than enough for the Five Ways to get off the ground.

But this can’t be right. Consider a world which consists of a one-digit counter which counts from 0 to 9 and then circles back again. How it does this is irrelevant – suppose it does this as a brute (unintelligible, unexplainable) fact. That world is not theistic. And since A-T metaphysics entails theism it does not hold in that world.

At this juncture you may argue that A-T metaphysics is a large project. The first part consists of the Five Ways which reveal some basic metaphysical facts, and the second part proceeds to prove the existence of God. It’s perhaps the Five Ways which apply to all worlds where these common concepts (existence, causality, etc) make sense. But then your argument above does not go through. I can agree that the deliverances of the Five Ways hold on SZ without any logical contradiction.

Having said that, I also doubt that the Five Ways hold on any working machine, since I doubt that A-T’s common concepts hold on any working machine. Consider a deterministic machine. It’s not that clear what “potency” (another basic concept in the Five Ways) means in this context, since nothing could be different than how it is – and thus nothing could potentially be one way or the other. The answer may be that when a cause A affects a change B, then the very fact of that change entails the “potential” of change/no-change. But this is not the common meaning of potential. When we say that a particular rubber ball has the potential of being gooey, we mean that it is metaphysically possible for it to become gooey. But in a deterministic world a particular rubber ball may well never become gooey – so it’s *not* metaphysically possible for it to become gooey.

An even more basic problem is related to the meaning of causality. I take it we agree that when A causes B it’s (at least usually) not the case that B causes A. But in deterministic systems the direction of causality (or the direction of time) is undefined. In a deterministic system one can always equally well speak of A causing B, and of B causing A. Thus if the physical world is deterministic one can equally well say that the heat causes the rubber ball to become gooey, and that the rubber ball’s gooeyness causes heat. The determinist naturalist will concede that for some reason or other our conscious experience entails a particular arrow of time, and thus a particular direction of causality – but this is irrelevant to the underlying metaphysics. Indeed in Einstein’s General Relativity it’s common to consider the whole of the universe as a given spacetime continuum.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

In other words, the determinist naturalist may argue that the experience that A causes B (and not the other way around) is a figment of the way we experience life. This figment represents a very strong intuition (for example we always experience a glass falling from a table which causes it to break on the ground, and not the other way around, namely the breaking of the glass on the floor causing it to become whole and jump on top of the table). Thomas Aquinas used the intuition of causality in his metaphysics, which is quite alright. But when one considers the nature of a deterministic mechanical system without being influenced by one’s intuitions one realizes that the folk concept of causality need not apply to it. In conclusion the argument is that the premises of the Five Ways, no matter how “general” they may strike us, do not in general apply to mechanical systems.

It seems evident to me that A-T metaphysics is based on a number of strong intuitions – but it’s not like our intuitions define what’s metaphysically possible and what isn’t. And with much more reason they don’t define what’s logically possible and what isn’t. I observe that in this long discussion nobody has suggested specifically what may be *logically” impossible in SZ, but only indirect arguments based on the question-begging claim that A-T applies to all non-trivial logically possible worlds (and since A-T does not apply to SZ, it follows that SZ is not logically possible).

you cannot simply say, "A-T doesn't hold" any more than you can posit a world and claim, "Pythagoras's Theorem doesn't hold".

Only it turns out the Pythagoras Theorem does not hold in the actual world. It only holds on plane spaces, and it turns out that actual physical space is curved by gravity. Many axioms of geometry appear self-evident to us only because we live in an environment of little gravity. Really careful measurement would experimentally prove that the Pythagoras theorem is false.

I conclude that if even our intuitions can be misleading about the actual world, they can much more easily be misleading about what’s merely logically possible in a hypothetical world. To use A-T metaphysics as a measuring stick of what is logically possible in hypothetical words is unwarranted.

If your hypothetical world were really so divorced from reality, then what's the point?

The point is that we don’t really know how reality is in the first place. So we don’t know whether, say, the SZ hypothetical world is so divorced from reality. For all we know SZ may be reality. (And I say “for all we know” because by definition all mental facts in SZ are identical to the mental facts in the actual world.)

What well-ordered metric are you using to determine "largeness", and how do we know it has a maximum limit?

I meant “largeness” as “size”, i.e. as number of bits of information. Anyway that was a *very* rough idea. Its purpose was only to show that there may be ways for physical science to proceed based on simple principles on a purely mathematical level and ultimately explain physical order that today is assumed to be brute fact.

So it comes down not to getting around A-T but actually disproving it.

Again, my point has nothing to do with disproving A-T. I assume that given A-T’s premises (or assumptions – such as that the world is intelligible) A-T is correct.

Glenn said...

Dianelos,

About the only time you don't sound irrational is when you're talking about God.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

In the context of naturalism’s problem of intentionality I think the naturalist can do very well simply by following what I call naturalism’s two basic assumptions (both of which appear to be well supported by the physical sciences), namely first that the world is a physically closed system, and second that consciousness supervenes on (perfectly correlates with) the physical.

I take it we all agree that when experiencing thinking about Paris, we experience thinking *about* Paris. Similarly, while experiencing thinking about the belief “Paris is the capital city of Italy” we are thinking *about* a relationship between Paris, Italy, and capital cities. When fearing there may be a bear in the cellar our fear is about something – namely perhaps encountering a bear in the cellar. So experiences, or mental facts, are clearly intentional. This is factual and holds whether reality is naturalistic or theistic.

Now if consciousness supervenes on the physical (and more specifically our human experience supervenes on the physical state of our human brain) then all properties of our experiences correlate with some properties of our brain’s physical state. It’s not really necessary to be able to point out which these physical properties are exactly. So the naturalist holds that when we experience the quale of green color, then there is a particular physical property present in the state of our brain. If that property is present then we necessarily experience the quale of green, if it isn’t then we necessarily do not experience the quale of green. We don’t know what that physical property is exactly, since neuroscience has not advanced that far yet.

Now, in the same way, the intentional property of our experiences has a physical analogue. It is still wrong to say that this physical property is intentional, for it isn’t – nothing physical is about something else. There is also nothing “green” in the property which is the physical analogue of our experience of the quale green. Nevertheless naturalism’s problem of intentionality is dissolved. Intentionality exists only as a property of conscious states, and is explained by the specific property of the physical state on which it supervenes.

Will it ever be possible for neuroscience to pinpoint what the physical analogue of intentionality is? A difficulty here seems to be that all experiences are intentional so it’s not clear how neuroscience may distinguish which specific property is that analogue. It seems that the best neuroscience will ever be able to do is to create a long list about which brain properties are the physical analogue of the experiences of considering a particular proposition, or of the experiences of some particular propositional attitude – but it is not clear to me how it may pinpoint more specifically to what the analogue of the intentionality of these experiences is. Perhaps I am wrong, and some future neuroscientist will discover a way around the methodological problem I see. One way or the other this is irrelevant to the coherence of naturalism. The coherence of naturalism does not depend on its ability to explain every single fact, anymore than the coherence of theism depends on its ability to explain every single fact. Coherence refers to the absence of conceptual problems, and it looks to me that there is way for naturalism to solve its intentionality problem.

[continues]

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Finally, Rosenberg’s argument that according to neurological evidence there is nothing in the physical analogue of a belief which is remotely like a sentence – appears to be both irrelevant and ambiguous. Irrelevant because one way or the other current neurological evidence is far too weak to derive any positive conclusion. It’s like a enlightenment philosopher saying that according to astronomical evidence there is nothing in the Sun which looks remotely like an explosion. The ambiguity is this: It is true that one can consider a proposition without experiencing a sentence: When I am searching for my glasses and I look whether there are on a particular shelf, I am driven by the belief “I may have left my glasses on this shelf” or “I kind of remember leaving my glasses on this shelf” – but I do not in fact experience myself thinking about such beliefs as grammatical statements. It seems clear that there is a lot of experiencing of thought which is divorced from grammar. On the other hand, if asked, I will always (or almost always) be capable of expressing a belief as a grammatical sentence. Therefore there must in the physical analogue of all beliefs (and indeed of all propositional attitudes) a property which is the physical analogue of the respective grammatical sentence. A property which is not always expressed as the analogue experience.

urban jean said...

Dianelos says,

"Therefore there must in the physical analogue of all beliefs (and indeed of all propositional attitudes) [be] a property which is the physical analogue of the respective grammatical sentence."

Must this follow? Features in the geometry or topology of neural connections needn't necessarily map one for one with propositional features, I suspect. Think holograms.

And,

"The ambiguity is this: It is true that one can consider a proposition without experiencing a sentence"

Introspecting one's stream of consciousness is notoriously difficult, of course, and we negotiate a great deal of our lives without the aid of propositions. My visual field seems to consist of uninterpreted regions of colour, like a Mondrian or a Jackson Pollock, until I direct my conscious attention to part of it, whereupon sentences, or at least, partial sentences, spring up. I suspect trained musicians experience music in a way that I do not. For me, music is uninterpreted sounds---the best I can do is recognise instruments and bits of tune or rhythm. For musicians there is much more there, and most of it in sentential form, I would guess. Compare with Rosenberg's example of hearing an unfamiliar foreign language or the 'dogs' sentence. That sentences and propositions are solely creatures of consciousness I find an a priori truth. But your mileage may vary.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

urban jean,

Must this follow? Features in the geometry or topology of neural connections needn't necessarily map one for one with propositional features, I suspect. Think holograms.

Our brain appears to work by rewiring neural connections, but this does not necessary imply that the physical properties which are the analogue of mental facts can be described by the geometry or topology of neural connections. The topology of the neural connections in the brains of two people considering the same proposition (perhaps even in different languages) will be quite different – or at least I don’t see any reason to suspect why they won’t be quite different. It seems plausible to me that the topology of neural connections are too superficial a description, and that the physical properties we look for are to be found far deeper. Perhaps, and I am wildly speculating here, it’s not the topology of connections but a common property of electrochemical processes enabled by various different topologies which is the analogue. – The example of the hologram is a good case in point. Two holograms may reproduce the same three-dimensional object, say a particular coin, but from this it does not follow that there will be some surface similarity between the two holograms. Indeed the hologram reproducing object A will be found to be as different from another hologram reproducing the same object A as it is different from a third hologram reproducing a different object B.

Having said that, I think that yes, it does follow that the physical analogue of all beliefs must entail some property which is the physical analogue of the respective grammatical sentence which expresses them.

The reason, restated in more detail, is this: We find it extremely easy and natural to describe beliefs in natural language (so much so that one could fall for the idea that beliefs are stored in natural language). Now suppose that, as Rosenberg believes, there is nothing in the physical analogue of a belief which is remotely like a sentence. How then would it be possible to so easily produce a sentence that describes the belief? Actually it looks like an impossible task.

It seems that there must already by some grammatical (or rather semantic) structure in the physical analogue of the belief, a structure which is natural-language independent, and which one uses in order to easily produce a sentence which describes the belief in any natural language one happens to be comfortable with.

urban jean said...

Hi Dianelos,
Every reasonably well-behaved function on [0,1] has a discrete fourier transform. This sets up a correspondence between those functions on [0,1] and a set of sequences of real numbers---I forget the details! A simple geometric property of a function goes over to a hard-to-discern arithmetic property in its sequence of fourier coefficients. My suggestion is that the relation between the neural network representation of a belief and its propositional representation could be analogous to the relation between a function and its fourier sequence. Just as some problems about a function are more easily solved by consideration of its fourier series, maybe the neural net representation is useful for using the belief to guide the actions of the body but useless for communication and logical thinking, whereas the propositional form is useless for controlling the body yet ideal for communication and logic. More wild speculation, of course, but it does suggest that there need be no common or analogical feature between the physical and the mental.

Mr. Green said...

Dianelos: 2. These common concepts make sense in the SZ world.
I object to #2. Since it’s your argument and since you know A-T’s proper sense of “existence, causality, pattern” better than me – I think the burden of proving #2 is on you.


Sure; I really don't know how you can claim "existence" doesn't apply to your SZ world, but we are at the point where we need to explain the fundamentals of A-T before we can go any further. And of course I am not going to do that in a comment, but there are many good introductory texts, and I particularly recommend Feser's Aquinas, because he addresses many of the modern misunderstandings that you have raised.

since I doubt that A-T’s common concepts hold on any working machine.

Yes, because you have not understood those concepts. You are trying to view them through a modern lens, and that modern lens is demonstrably flawed. ("Potential" is used in a reasonably "normal" sense, but of course it has a particular technical meaning. If there is any sort of change at all, then there is potential — and again, if SZ does not have anything that can in any way be called change, then it clearly is not a description of the real world, so we can forget it.)

In a deterministic system one can always equally well speak of A causing B, and of B causing A.

You mean that certain kinds of model can fail to capture certain aspects of causality. Which brings us back to needing to learn what Thomism says about causality.

Thomas Aquinas used the intuition of causality in his metaphysics

No, he didn't. That's one of the modern mistakes you have swallowed: philosophy [sic?] as done nowadays may often be about "feelings" or "intuitions" or whatever, and thus be built on sand. That's not how Aristotle did philosophy, nor Thomas.

Only it turns out the Pythagoras Theorem does not hold in the actual world.

Of course it holds. It does not apply to a curved space-time, and it does not apply to apple pies or to the Caspian Sea. This is simply because it is not about pies or seas, or curved surfaces, it is about right-angled Euclidean triangles.

The point is that we don’t really know how reality is in the first place.

Sure we do. Otherwise you would be advocating extreme scepticism, which would undercut any claims about reality at all, including any naturalist ones. We don't know everything about reality, but we know that it contains beings, with qualitative and quantitative experiences, it involves becoming, etc. Once again, A-T starts from these very simple and unarguable basic facts and proceeds from there. So we need to learn what those foundations are.

Anyway that was a *very* rough idea. Its purpose was only to show that there may be ways for physical science to proceed based on simple principles on a purely mathematical level

I think we need a much more precise formulation to be able to conclude that there is a mathematical basis for whatever it is. It may turn out that the details are mathematically impossible when we dig into it. Anyway, my point was that even if you came up with some precise mathematical model, it doesn't help — of course physics has mathematical properties (aka formal causes!). A-T not only allows for that, it expects it.

Again, my point has nothing to do with disproving A-T. I assume that given A-T’s premises (or assumptions – such as that the world is intelligible) A-T is correct.

But what I and others have been arguing is that its premises are correct. So for you to disagree is to disprove it. I hope you will indeed study A-T more, and if you still disagree, we can discuss it more profitably.