Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jerry-built atheism


David Bentley Hart’s recent book The Experience of God has been getting some attention.  The highly esteemed William Carroll has an article on it over at Public Discourse.  As I noted in a recent post, the highly self-esteemed Jerry Coyne has been commenting on Hart’s book too, and in the classic Coyne style: First trash the book, then promise someday actually to read it.  But it turns out that was the second post Coyne had written ridiculing Hart’s book; the first is here.  So, by my count that’s at least 5100 words so far criticizing a book Coyne admits he has not read.  Since it’s Jerry Coyne, you know another shoe is sure to drop.  And so it does, three paragraphs into the more recent post:

[I]t’s also fun (and marginally profitable) to read and refute the arguments of theologians, for it’s only there that one can truly see intelligence so blatantly coopted and corrupted to prove what one has decided is true beforehand. [Emphasis added]

Well, no, Jerry, not only there.
 
Now, criticizing what a book says when you haven’t actually read it is no mean feat.  After all, you’re lacking some of the basic resources commonly thought to be useful in doing the job, such as knowledge of what the book says.  How does Coyne pull it off?  MacGyver style.  He jerry-builds a critique out of the metaphysical equivalent of rubber bands and paper clips.   Unfortunately, Coyne is more of a MacGruber than a MacGyver, so the result is (as it were) an explosion which brings the house down upon Coyne and his combox sidekicks while leaving Hart unscathed.

Where most reviewers would prepare to attack an author’s arguments by consulting his book to find out what they are, Coyne’s procedure is to consult his own hunches about what might be in the book.  (All part of not “prov[ing] what one has decided is true beforehand,” you see.)  Coyne writes:

[A reviewer says that] Hart has presented the Best Case for God, and we’ve all ignored it… 

But what, exactly do we mean by “the opposition’s strongest case”?  I can think of three ways to construe that:

1. The case that provides the strongest evidence for God’s existence.  This is the way scientists would settle an argument about existence claims: by adducing data. This category’s best argument for God used to be the Argument from Design, since there was no plausible scientific alternative to God’s creation of the marvelous “designoid” features of plants and animals. But Darwin put paid to that one…

2. The philosophical argument that is most tricky, or hardest to refute: in other words, the argument for God that has the greatest degree of sophistry.  This used to include the Ontological Arguments, which briefly stymied even Bertrand Russell. But we soon realized that “existence is not a quality”, and that, in fact, existence claims can be settled only by observation or testing, not by logic.

3. The argument that is irrefutable because it’s untestable.  Given that arguments in the first two categories are now untenable, people like Hart have proposed conceptions of God that are so nebulous that we can’t figure out what they mean.  And because they are not only obscure but don’t say anything about the nature of God that can be compared to the way the universe is, they can’t be refuted…

And this, in fact, is what Hart has apparently done in his new book…

End quote.  Now, it’s interesting that Coyne’s first two possibilities roughly correspond to the contemporary philosophical naturalist’s standard assumption that if you’re not doing natural science, then the only thing left for you to be doing is mere “conceptual analysis,” which (so the standard objection goes) can only ever capture how we think about reality, but not reality itself.  Traditional metaphysics, which purports to be neither of these things, would thus be ruled out as groundless at best and (as the logical positivists claimed) strictly meaningless at worst -- not too different from Coyne’s third option.

The thing is, this commonly parroted contemporary naturalist assumption is just a modern riff on Hume’s Fork, viz. the thesis that “all the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact” (Hume, Enquiry IV.1).  And Hume’s Fork is notoriously self-refuting, since it is not itself either a conceptual truth (a matter of the “relations of ideas”) or empirically testable (a “matter of fact”).  Now, the contemporary naturalist’s variation is in exactly the same boat.  The claim that the only respectable options are natural science and conceptual analysis is itself neither a claim that is supported by natural science, nor something revealed by conceptual analysis.  (The naturalist might try to bluff his way past this difficulty by asserting that neuroscience or cognitive science supports his case, but if so you should call his bluff.  For neuroscience and cognitive science, when they touch on matters of metaphysical import, are rife with tendentious and unexamined metaphysical assumptions.  And insofar as such assumptions are naturalist assumptions, the naturalist merely begs the question in appealing to them.)

So, the naturalist unavoidably takes a third cognitive stance distinct from natural science or conceptual analysis, in the very act of denying that it can be taken.  That is to say, he takes a distinctively metaphysical stance.  And so does Coyne.  Like his more philosophically sophisticated fellow contemporary naturalists, Coyne supposes that if a claim isn’t (1) a proposition of natural science or (2) what Coyne calls a proposition of “logic,” which his example (the ontological argument) indicates he takes to involve a mere analysis of concepts with no purchase on objective reality, then it must be (3) “untestable,” “nebulous,” “obscure,” etc.  But this supposition is itself neither a proposition of type (1) nor of type (2), in which case, by Coyne’s criterion, his own position must be regarded as (3) “untestable,” “nebulous,” “obscure,” etc.

In fact traditional metaphysics is not “untestable,” “nebulous,” “obscure,” etc., and neither are the traditional arguments of natural theology that are built upon it.  Take, for example, the Aristotelian-Scholastic theory of actuality and potentiality.  It is motivated completely independently of any theological application, and has been worked out over the centuries in systematic detail.  It argues that neither a static Parmenidean conception of the material universe nor a radically dynamic Heraclitean conception can in principle be correct; that natural science would not in principle be possible if either extreme position were correct; and that the only way in principle that both extremes can be avoided is by acknowledging that actuality and potentiality (or “act and potency,” to use the traditional jargon) are both irreducible aspects of mind-independent reality. 

Now precisely because the theory concerns what must be presupposed by any possible natural science, it is not the sort of thing that can be overthrown by any scientific discovery.  It goes deeper than any possible scientific discovery.  But that does not make it “untestable.”  To be sure, it is not going to be refuted by observation and experiment -- precisely since it concerns what any possible observation and experiment must presuppose -- but it can be challenged in other ways.  Are the arguments given for it valid?  Are the distinctions it makes carefully drawn?  Are there alternative ways of dealing with the facts it claims that it alone can account for?  And so forth.  Defenders of the theory take such challenges seriously and offer responses to them.  And they offer arguments, not appeals to intuition, or faith, or ecclesiastical authority.  (I’ve defended the theory of actuality and potentiality in several places, such as in Chapter 2 of Aquinas.  An even more detailed exposition and defense will be available in my forthcoming book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.  The book won’t be out until May, but Coyne will no doubt have a 2500 word refutation up by tomorrow.) 

Now the core Scholastic arguments for the existence of God rest on the theory of actuality and potentiality.  (I defend these arguments too in several places, such as Chapter 3 of Aquinas.  For a popular presentation of one of them, see this public lecture.)  Because that theory is concerned with what any possible natural science must presuppose, the theistic arguments built upon it, like the theory itself, cannot in principle be overthrown by natural science.  But, like that theory, that does not make the arguments “untestable.”  As with the theory of actuality and potentiality, we can ask various critical questions of the arguments -- Are the arguments valid?  Are their premises true?  Are there alternative ways of dealing with the facts they claim that they alone can account for?  Etc. -- and we can see how well the arguments can be defended against them.  At no point do the arguments appeal to intuition, faith, authority, etc.

New Atheist types will insist that there can be no rationally acceptable and testable arguments that are not empirical scientific arguments, but this just begs the question.  The Scholastic claims to have given such arguments, and to show that he is wrong, it does not suffice merely to stomp one’s feet and insist dogmatically that it can’t be done.  The critic has to show precisely where such arguments are in error -- exactly which premise or premises are false, or exactly where there is a fallacy committed in the reasoning.  (In Aquinas and in the public lecture just linked to, I show why the usual objections have no force.)  Moreover, as we have seen, the New Atheist refutes himself in claiming that only the methods of natural science are legitimate, for this assertion itself has no non-question-begging scientific justification.  It is merely one piece of metaphysics among others.  The difference between the New Atheist metaphysician and the Scholastic metaphysician is that the Scholastic knows that he is doing metaphysics and presents arguments for his metaphysical positions which are open to rational evaluation.  The New Atheist, by contrast, has no non-question-begging arguments for his naturalist metaphysics, but only shrill and dogmatic assertion.   He thinks that to show that he is rational and that his opponent is not, all he needs to do is loudly to yell “I am rational and you are not!” 

Coyne is, of course, evidently unfamiliar with any of the ideas referred to, even though they are at the heart of the Western theological tradition he ridicules.  He will dismiss them preemptively as “bafflegab,” “nebulous,” etc., though he has absolutely no non-question-begging reason for doing so.  He is, as I have pointed out before, exactly like the populist anti-science bigot who dismisses quantum mechanics, relativity theory, and the like merely because the terminology of such theories sounds odd to him and the conclusions seem counterintuitive.  Coyne would deny that the analogy is any good, but of course this just begs the question yet again.  What he needs to do is actually carefully to study the arguments of those he disagrees with, and then to show specifically where the arguments go wrong -- rather than engage in the usual New Atheist hand-waving about how they’re not worth the time, or that someone somewhere has already refuted them anyway, or that they’re motivated by wishful thinking, etc.  But that is exactly what he refuses to do.

Then again, Coyne assures us that he has in fact “spent several years reading theology.”  Really?  Apparently it was all in badly transliterated Etruscan, viewed through gauze bandages on a Kindle with a cracked and flickering screen.  While drunk.  And asleep.  How else to explain the following?  Of the claim that:

God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.

Coyne, wearing his vast theological learning lightly, casually asserts:

Aquinas, Luther, Augustine: none of those people saw God in such a way.

I can’t top Kenny Bania’s reaction when reading this passage from Coyne.  Unlike Kenny, though, Jer, we’re not laughing with you.

453 comments:

1 – 200 of 453   Newer›   Newest»
dimwoo said...

He thinks that to show that he is rational and that his opponent is not, all he needs to do is loudly to yell “I am rational and you are not!”

:-D

verbosestoic said...

Yeah, I've commented before how he walks himself into what I'm calling the "Positivist Petard", arguing that everything that can be known has to be justified empirically -- which is the usual claim behind the "testable" argument -- without recognizing that THAT claim can't be justified empirically, leaving the claim either something that we can't know to be true or, if he can justify it, disproving his own point.

Also, his "several years" of reading theology works out to about 3 or so (he started doing it officially in July 2011). I'm not sure it's a good idea for him to pad his resume that way, especially since we will judge his expertise by his arguments and posts about the books, not the amount of time he spent reading them.

dguller said...

Oddly enough, I discovered this blog in 2011, and had perhaps a slightly more sophisticated perspective on these issues than Coyne, but over the past three years of reading Feser, and other associated books, I've come to the conclusion that something like classical theism must be correct. It wasn't easy, and it required for me to give up a number of presuppositions that were quite close to my heart, but in the end, they had to go, because they were unsupportable. Fortunately for me, I was not a public intellectual who put my reputation on the line, which would have made it even more difficult to renounce my previous positions. I fear that Coyne is too far gone to see reason. Regardless, it will certainly be enlightening for me to read the exchange, if there is any, between Feser and Coyne.

Hunt said...

I don't see the problem with first cause in the hierarchical causal system. I'm going by your video lecture. I can see how the first cause "the fully actualized actualizer" argument might have some punch within the framework of temporal linear causality, but not in the hierarchical (instantaneous) system. The cup is caused, or sustained, by the table, the floor, the building, the Earth. If we only take things this far, the Earth is hanging in space, and in this sense is self-sustaining. Even if you want to extend this further to the space and Universe the Earth occupies, I think you run into the theoretical problems that space itself might topologically turn back on itself in a closed system. In other words, the hierarchical system, even extended to the limits of the universe, might be easily conceived as self-sustaining, requiring no cause other than itself.

JD Walters said...

The grip of the positivist mindset on most internet atheists is astoundingly strong. No matter how many times I try to explain the difference between "not empirically testable" and "not testable at all" it falls on deaf ears. The way they mindlessly chant "Give us proof!" over and over makes me want to scream, especially since the arguments I present ARE proofs, but they seem to use the word as interchangeable with evidence, betraying profound ignorance of the relationship between proofs and evidence.

Anonymous said...

dguller, am I reading what you posted correctly?

Do you think that the God of classical theism does exist?

Or, if a god did exist it would have to be like the God of classical theism?


I thought you were an agnostic.

יאיר רזק said...

"testable", in this context, does in my opinion means "subject to empirical falsification". But the exact meaning of that particular word aside, I do very much agree with Feser's post.

I would note, however, that other atheists are well aware that their atheism is a metaphysical position and that it should be defended, and philosophical arguments for theism disputed, on philosophical grounds.

Yair (an atheist)

Bob said...

I would note, however, that other atheists are well aware that their atheism is a metaphysical position and that it should be defended, and philosophical arguments for theism disputed, on philosophical grounds.

I am not sure I would agree with this. How does a lack of belief in God constitute a metaphysical position, exactly?

dguller said...

Anonymous:

Do you think that the God of classical theism does exist?

Or, if a god did exist it would have to be like the God of classical theism?


Yes, that’s where my thinking lies at this time. I think that transient, contingent and mutable reality is sustained by a necessarily existing ground of all being that has the characteristics of the God of classical theism, i.e. immutable, infinite, eternal, source of all perfection, pure actuality, simple, and so on. That being said, I am still an atheist with respect to this necessary ground of reality being identical to the “God” of the different religions, and so I wouldn’t call this ground “God” at all, other than by analogy. Of course, I still struggle with how it is possible to know anything positive about this necessary ground and origin of reality, and thus I would say that my sympathies actually lie more with the Neoplatonic account of the One, but recognize that that account is riddled with inconsistencies and paradoxes.

dguller said...

Bob:

I am not sure I would agree with this. How does a lack of belief in God constitute a metaphysical position, exactly?

Because the lack of belief in God is supported by metaphysical assumptions about reality. It is on the basis of these metaphysical assumptions that an atheist can conclude that there is no God, much as it is on the basis of different metaphysical assumptions that a theist can conclude that there is a God. The issue is not whether one holds any metaphysical assumptions, because it is a fact that we all do, but rather whether the metaphysical assumptions that one holds are true.

Bob said...

Because the lack of belief in God is supported by metaphysical assumptions about reality.

Not sure this follows. What metaphysical assumptions would those be, precisely?

Anonymous said...

The grip of the positivist mindset on most internet atheists is astoundingly strong.

I do find this very surprising as well. It shows that the problem is not that popular atheism is disconnected from just religious philosophy and theology, but even from the naturalistic philosophical tradition. Popular atheism is a profoundly unreflective movement.

Anonymous said...

Not sure this follows. What metaphysical assumptions would those be, precisely?

Well, in this case the assumption is that if something is not empirically verifiable/falsifiable then it cannot be demonstrated or rationally believed. As it happens, this metaphysical assumption is self-referentially inconsistent, but it is a metaphysical assumption nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Dr Feser, I just wanted to share this interview where neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland shows just how bankrupt her position is and also what an immature person she and her fellow atheists are:

http://www.skeptiko.com/237-patricia-churchland-sandbagged-by-near-death-experience/

Crude said...

http://www.skeptiko.com/237-patricia-churchland-sandbagged-by-near-death-experience/

Gotta admit, that's a pretty interesting exchange.

dguller said...

Bob:

Not sure this follows. What metaphysical assumptions would those be, precisely?

The ones that you imply when you say, “I do not believe in God, because X, Y and Z”. X, Y and Z are the reasons that you provide to justify the conclusion that there is no God, and X, Y and Z will themselves assume that reality operates in a certain way that happens to preclude the existence of God. And metaphysical assumptions are precisely those that assume that reality operates in a certain way, e.g. reality is orderly, reality is logically coherent, reality involves causal regularity, and so on.

Personally, I think that for atheism to be true, in the sense that classical theism is false, would require metaphysical assumptions that are far more absurd and incoherent than those that endorse classical theism. I didn't always feel that way, though.

BenYachov said...

dguller leans more toward an Aristotelian Deism these days.

Maybe we can coin the term Classic Deism to signify a a belief or tentative belief in a Classic Theistic concept of God where you reject & or do not affirm claims of divine revelation?

AG Flew seemed to believe in this level of Theism & yet still rejected the idea of the immortality of the soul and an afterlife.

Thought we hope he now knows better and is content by the Grace of the Almighty.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I would agree with this. How does a lack of belief in God constitute a metaphysical position, exactly?

Well, for one, atheism isn't a "lack of belief in God." It's the proposition that "there is no God," which is of course a metaphysical statement. (Consult the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for the correct definition.)

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to your new book.

Of course the problem is just what you said above, "... The critic has to show precisely where such arguments are in error -- exactly which premise or premises are false, or exactly where there is a fallacy committed in the reasoning..." And to do that they actually have to have read Aquinas, especially his Commentaries, and preferrably Aristotle as well.

Linus2nd

dguller said...

Ben:

I'm not too sure that distinction will be helpful. Theism and deism only differ in that the former uses the Greek word for "god" and the latter uses the Latin word for "god".

Maybe you could call me "dei"-curious?

Bob said...

Well, for one, atheism isn't a "lack of belief in God." It's the proposition that "there is no God," which is of course a metaphysical statement. (Consult the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for the correct definition.)

I consider myself an atheist because I do not believe in God. I would not make the epistemic claim that "there is no God".

Bob said...

@dguller

I do not believe in God simply because I see no reason to. I am not sure what metaphysical position you think this necessarily would entail.

Anonymous said...

I consider myself an atheist because I do not believe in God. I would not make the epistemic claim that "there is no God".

I think you have metaphysics and epistemology backwards here. "There is no God" is a metaphysical statement. Statements about whether/how much we can know about the existence of God are epistemic statements about a metaphysical issue.

dguller said...

Bob:

I consider myself an atheist because I do not believe in God. I would not make the epistemic claim that "there is no God".

I don’t think that’s right. There is a distinction between:

(1) S lacks the belief that God exists
(2) S has the belief that God does not exist

I would say that individuals who meet (1) would be those who have never been exposed to theism of any kind, and have not formulated any options, positive or negative, regarding the truth of theism. For example, someone who had never been exposed to atoms would lack the belief that atoms exist. But if that person had been exposed to atoms, and after some reflection concluded that atoms did not exist, then they could not say that they simply lack the belief that atoms exist. They actually make the more assertive claim that atoms do not exist. I would say the same thing for atheists, most of whom have concluded that God does not exist, and a conclusion is a belief of some kind. In other words, if your atheism is derived from an argument that concludes: therefore, God does not exist, then you must be (2) and not (1). (1) would apply to someone who had never reasoned about God’s existence at all, and actually never even entertained the possible belief in God at all.

dguller said...

Bob:

I do not believe in God simply because I see no reason to.

So, you have never been confronted with arguments for and against the existence of God? You have never read an article or a book about God’s existence? How did you find yourself on this website at all, unless you were interested in the issue, which I would assume is a sign of some familiarity with the issue to begin with?

Anonymous said...

I consider myself an atheist because I do not believe in God. I would not make the epistemic claim that "there is no God".

Okay, then according to philosophical dictionaries and encyclopedias, you're not strictly speaking an atheist, anymore than someone who frequents steakhouses is a vegetarian, despite whatever he may say.


Many self-described agnostics "don't believe in God," but would loathe being labeled as atheists.


Here is the definition by a reputable philosophical source:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/

Bob said...

I think you have metaphysics and epistemology backwards here. "There is no God" is a metaphysical statement. Statements about whether/how much we can know about the existence of God are epistemic statements about a metaphysical issue.

hmmm... If I said "there is no God" it would be equivalent to me saying "I know there is no God", which is a claim that I do not make.

Michael Robbins said...

Edward, you might be interested in my review in Commonweal:

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/book-reviews/he-who

dguller said...

Bob:

If I said "there is no God" it would be equivalent to me saying "I know there is no God", which is a claim that I do not make.

So, you do not know that there is no God, and you do not know that there is a God. That means that you are an agnostic, I suppose?

But even if you are an agnostic, then you must have contemplated the issue and formed beliefs about it. You cannot say, “I believe that either p is true or not-p is true, but I do not know which is true” and say, “I have no beliefs at all about p”. If you had no beliefs at all about p, then you couldn’t have the agnostic belief that you do not know whether p or not-p is true.

Bob said...

So, you have never been confronted with arguments for and against the existence of God? You have never read an article or a book about God’s existence? How did you find yourself on this website at all, unless you were interested in the issue, which I would assume is a sign of some familiarity with the issue to begin with?

I am familiar with many arguments. Suffice it to say that I remain unconvinced by any of them, thus do not believe.

Anonymous said...

hmmm... If I said "there is no God" it would be equivalent to me saying "I know there is no God", which is a claim that I do not make.

I don't think that "p" is equivalent to "I know that p" in any general sense. If that were the case, then all metaphysical claims would be epistemic claims.

dguller said...

Bob:

I am familiar with many arguments. Suffice it to say that I remain unconvinced by any of them, thus do not believe.

To be unconvinced is to hold the belief that a proposition is false. It is impossible to be unconvinced about p while having no beliefs about p. That would be like claiming to have a car, but not own a vehicle.

Just to be clear, it's perfectly fine for you to be an atheist, because you reject theist arguments. It is not alright to claim that your atheism has no metaphysical assumptions and principles, and to claim that your atheism implies a lack of belief rather than a belief that a proposition is false.

Bob said...

So, you do not know that there is no God, and you do not know that there is a God. That means that you are an agnostic, I suppose?

Sure, with regards to the knowledge claim I am agnostic. I do not know, yet I do not believe. I do not know that Russel's teapot is not orbiting Jupiter, but I do not believe that it is.

Is this inconsistent?

Anonymous said...

It seems like the whole "impossible to prove a negative" idea leads a lot of atheisms to a faux-neutrality that straddles agnosticism. But I feel like the point, which seems to be given so much emphasis, is not too deep. If I provide an argument that ghosts exist, and you don't believe it, then you would hardly say, "I don't believe ghosts exist. I have no metaphysical reasons for believing that ghosts do not exist." And that would hardly leave anyone to say that they would not affirm that ghosts do not exist.

If one is really uneasy about denying outright that God exists (with or without certainty), then it would seem that one is an agnostic, not an atheist.

Bob said...

To be unconvinced is to hold the belief that a proposition is false. It is impossible to be unconvinced about p while having no beliefs about p. That would be like claiming to have a car, but not own a vehicle.

Are we talking about belief or knowledge? One does not necessarily need to know the truth of a proposition to believe it true.

Dan said...

Bob

The idea that God is equivalent, in any meaningful sense, to a piece of detritus in space is in fact a very strong metaphysical claim.

Bob said...

If one is really uneasy about denying outright that God exists (with or without certainty), then it would seem that one is an agnostic, not an atheist.

Uneasy in the sense that one is not omnipotent and thus refuses to make a claim based knowledge one does not actually possess? I suppose so.

Dan said...

Crude,

Interesting it one word for it. I would go for "embarrassing, yet utterly unsurprising" myself.

Bob said...

The idea that God is equivalent, in any meaningful sense, to a piece of detritus in space is in fact a very strong metaphysical claim.

Perhaps a strong empirical claim.

(Actually had to look-up detritus!..haha...)

dguller said...

Bob:

Sure, with regards to the knowledge claim I am agnostic. I do not know, yet I do not believe. I do not know that Russel's teapot is not orbiting Jupiter, but I do not believe that it is.

Is this inconsistent?


No, it is not. But it is imprecise. To say that you do not know that p is true is to hold a belief about p, i.e. that the evidence for p is inconclusive at this time. The only point that I’m hoping to establish is that your atheism is built upon beliefs, and not the absence of beliefs. In other words, you have a number of beliefs that some propositions are true and other propositions are false, and yet other propositions are inconclusive. But the point is that beliefs abound.

Are we talking about belief or knowledge? One does not necessarily need to know the truth of a proposition to believe it true.

That is true. One can believe that p is true, and yet have insufficient grounds for that belief. In fact, that would be an essential component of faith-based beliefs. But again, insufficient grounds are not the utter absence of reasons or consideration of the truth of certain propositions. Rather, they are just inadequate grounds. After all, an inadequate X is not the same as a non-existent X.

Kol said...

Hey dguller,

This is widely off topic, but I noticed on your blogger profile that you list yourself as a physician. I have never encountered a physician who had a serious passion for reading philosophy and taking pains to flesh out his own philosophical worldview. If you don't mind me asking, how do you do find the solitude and time necessary for personal reading and writing?

I ask because I'm interested in radiology, pathology, and psychiatry (particularly the latter), and am considering applying to medical schools this year, but my major reservation about the process - going through medschool and residency - and then taking up the lifestyle of a physician is that I won't have sufficient time for reading and creative writing/contemplation (particularly if I end up with a family). Additionally, after talking to a head radiologist at a local hospital, I fear that the allegedly grueling, competitive, highly bureaucratic atmosphere of all three phases will be too stressful and oppressive for an introverted, artistic personality like myself, eventually resulting in the dulling of my aesthetic sensibilities.

I like the one-on-one idea behind psychiatry, and my dream is to become a doctor-writer who writes fiction and poetry in the vein of an Anton Chekhov or a William Carlos Williams, but I don't know whether that dream will be practically realizable in the current medical milieu. I need to be able to read and write continuously.


You obviously don't come to this blog to engage with this sort of thing, but I'd be immeasurably grateful if someone like you supplied me with a perspective, since we seem to share a dual interest in philosophy and medicine.


-Kol

dguller said...

Bob:

Perhaps a strong empirical claim.

But it is not an empirical claim, strong or otherwise, that only what is observable exists, or that what exists is not necessarily observable.

Dan said...

Kol,

I think you might be quite interested in the career and writings of Walker Percy. Look him up.

dguller said...

Kol:

Well, my background is actually in philosophy, which I studied in university as an undergraduate, and so its part of my DNA at this point, and something that I always try to prioritize by making the time for it, which typically occurs when I hide in the washroom for extended periods of time. I know, I know. That’s an image you wanted to have!

As for my practice, I’m a psychiatrist in Canada, and I write and read whenever I have time, which is getting less and less. I have three young children, and the fourth is coming in a few weeks. I originally wanted to do radiology for the lifestyle, but ended up in psychiatry, which is the polar opposite, but seemed to be more suited to my interests and personality. I’m also fortunate to work in a hospital in a small town that avoids a lengthy commute and that frees up a great deal of time for me to pursue reading and writing.

I never read or write as much as I’d like, and it always seems rushed, but I read in order to learn, and there’s lots of opportunities to learn outside of books, and being a husband and parent and physician have taught me a great deal. So, perhaps a change in perspective for you might be helpful. But trust me, there is always time for reading, if that is what you are interested in. Your life must be one of balance, and that must include activities that you find satisfying and sustaining, because otherwise, you will become an overworked shell of a human being.

Bob said...

But it is not an empirical claim, strong or otherwise, that only what is observable exists, or that what exists is not necessarily observable.

Depends on the definition of exist, I guess.

dguller said...

Bob:

Depends on the definition of exist, I guess.

Welcome to metaphysics.

Bob said...

@dguller

Just reread that last bit.

I agree that the claim itself is not empirical.

But it is not an empirical claim, strong or otherwise, that only what is observable exists, or that what exists is not necessarily observable.

Robert Coble said...

Coyne:

"Further, on what basis are we to trust that those who say that God is a “ground of being”, the “unconditioned cause of reality” rather than just a disembodied human-like entity? How do theologians know that? After all, they’re working not from an esoteric knowledge of stuff like particle physics, but from materials accessible to every reasonably sentient being: revelation and scripture."

Given Coyne's breezy dismissal of ALL theology as based SOLELY on "revelation and scripture," one can only conclude that Coyne is totally unaware of the existence of (and consequently has NEVER seriously engaged with ANY of) the widely available classical metaphysical arguments. Or he is manifestly a liar. Or both (most likely alternative based on the available empirical evidence of his writings).

Since his diatribes seem to be an ongoing proof of the infinitude of ignorance, one cannot help but wonder why there are continued rational attempts to penetrate and (perhaps) to diminish his invincible ignorance.

Or, is this a case of demonstrating that given sufficient ignorance, it becomes indistinguishable from stupidity?

Down where the common country people live, there is a George Bernard Shaw quote that is often repeated, to wit:

Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

Bob said...

To say that you do not know that p is true is to hold a belief about p, i.e. that the evidence for p is inconclusive at this time.

If I do not know that p is true, I can still believe that p is true or believe that p is not true without contradiction.

I think we may be having a bit of a semantic problem with the words belief and knowledge.

dguller said...

Bob:

If I do not know that p is true, I can still believe that p is true or believe that p is not true without contradiction.

Yes. You may have an unjustified belief that p is true or p is not true.

I think we may be having a bit of a semantic problem with the words belief and knowledge.

Perhaps a little, but it seems that we agree that to believe that p is true is simply to affirm that one believes that the state of affairs that p represents actually occurs in reality, and that to know that p is to be able to justify and support your belief that p is true by citing valid reasons and principles. In other words, to know that p is to believe that p, but to believe that p is not to know that p.

Bob said...

Yes. You may have an unjustified belief that p is true or p is not true.

Why do you use the word unjustified here? I think that one can have quite a bit of justification for a belief in a proposition without knowing that the proposition is actually true.

Scott Scheule said...

That interview with Churchland is stunning. The woman comes across as not only rude, but rather dim. Professor Feser--do a review, please?

dguller said...

Bob:

Why do you use the word unjustified here? I think that one can have quite a bit of justification for a belief in a proposition without knowing that the proposition is actually true.

What I mean is that your justification is inadequate to demonstrate the truth of the proposition, and yet you believe that the proposition is true anyway. For example, you may hear the patter of water on your window, and conclude that it is raining. Your belief that it is raining has some justification, i.e. the sound of the patter of water on your window, but that is not sufficient to demonstrate the truth that it is actually raining. Your sprinklers may be on instead, for example. So, there are degrees of justification, and no belief has absolutely no justification.

Crude said...

Scott,

That interview with Churchland is stunning. The woman comes across as not only rude, but rather dim.

I'm not sure about dim, but my reading the transcript makes it seem like Churchland just... shut down, emotionally and intellectually, at a certain point. Where she wasn't even trying to interact anymore but wanted out and was giving up.

It's bizarre.

BenYachov said...

>I'm not too sure that distinction will be helpful. Theism and deism only differ in that the former uses the Greek word for "god" and the latter uses the Latin word for "god".

>Maybe you could call me "dei"-curious?

You can call yourself what you want . How you define yourself is up too you.

Historically the term "Deism" came into existence for what we would consider a mechanistic theistic personalist non-interventionist creator "god".

Generally it is a term employed for any Creator God distinct from creation that doesn't intervene in His creation beyond the natural providential level.

Take care.

Ismael said...

Relly how can Coyne be a scientist even? he criticizes and discusses like some drunk at the pub, rather than using reason and knowledge.

Really... if someone says: "I have not read this book, seen this movie, read that article, but I know it's sh** because I do not like it a priory" you would say: "this guy must be a retard"...

REASON dictates that you ought first to know what you are criticizing before you can criticize it.

Even second-hand opinions are not enough.


This proves that people like Coyne just do not even try to live up to the standards they might be imposing on others.


Also he truly IS shameless... at least he could try to hide his ignorance, but no, he is proud of it too.

@Crude
I'm not sure about dim, but my reading the transcript makes it seem like Churchland just... shut down, emotionally and intellectually, at a certain point. Where she wasn't even trying to interact anymore but wanted out and was giving up.

Well since Churchland claims that emotions and intellect are just illusions and only brain procresses exist... maybe her brain was shutting down :D

Jokes aside, her husbund did the same in some recent books: he just goes on reiterating his own ideas but fails seriously to answer the critcism regarding gaping holes of is reductive materialism approach.

Scott Scheule said...

Crude,

I say dim because her counterargument to dualism in the interview is that drugs and alcohol affect consciousness. But no dualist (that I know of) maintains that there is no interaction between the physical and mental. So that's a dim counterargument. The host challenges her on this, and she takes a stronger position--we have no answer to the interaction problem. But she should've started there, not have been forced to it.

At any rate, the interview is fascinating in its bizarritude. Her terrible acting. Her snottiness. Her blatant lying. It's like watching Ali G.

Crude said...

Regarding the 'dim' charge - I'm just trying to be nice and give the benefit of the doubt, really.

That said - I think her performance was terrible, and if it's true that she was blatantly faking a dropped call ('Being quiet so she can pretend the connection isn't working, but it's easy to hear environmental audio in the room, etc.') then that is just amazing.

Scott Scheule said...

Crude,

You're right, I'm probably being too harsh.

Stephen Krogh said...

Dguller,

A minor point, but I think you are incorrect to say, "To be unconvinced is to hold the belief that a proposition is false." It seems, for instance, that someone could remain unconvinced of a point, i.e., she doesn't find what justifications for the point she's come across rationally compelling, without further believing the point is false. Indeed, it seems that she could even have no position on the point at all, e.g., were she nearly ignorant of any Islamic theology and yet found herself hearing a Muslim theologian offering her case for some relatively archaic bit of Sufism. In this case, could she remain unconvinced of the theologian's point while also not holding to a position on it one way or the other? For my part, I think that would be my reaction precisely.

Anyway, a minor point, and one I don't think is too important, but something that caught my eye, nonetheless.

Martin said...

dguller,

So you've gone over to the dark side, eh? :)

I'm heading there myself. I continually look for good objections to classical theism, and I continually come up empty. After years of studying arguments like the FIrst Way, they just seem stronger to me today than they did before.

Interesting.

rank sophist said...

It's hard to believe that dguller has given up his agnosticism/atheism after all this time. It's even harder to believe that he's correcting atheists like Bob. I hope that you continue to improve your understanding of classical theism, dguller. (And I finally got around to responding to your posts in the other combox.)

In any case, I find people like Coyne boring at this point. I don't know how Prof. Feser can work up the energy day after day to confront the same lazy, amateurish misconceptions from the Gnu brigade.

Kol said...

Hey dguller,

Thanks for that charming personal response. Your background is eerily similar to mine.

I studied philosophy and mathematics passionately as an undergraduate, to the extent that I applied and gained acceptance to a few grad schools in philosophy (though I declined on going at the last minute).

Until recently, I'd been operating under the assumption that psychiatrists were fairly autonomous individuals, especially relative to other physicians, but articles such as this one give me some doubt:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2175073/

I don't mind the intensity that comes with dealing with people's demons in an interpersonal context, but I can't stand the thought of - in addition to all this - my employers or legal frameworks consistently getting in the way of the doctor-patient relationship.

I'm in the US, so I don't really know how psychiatry is practiced up where you are, but perhaps I should shadow a psychiatrist, if possible, and obtain a more accurate picture of the reality before committing a decade of life to medical training.

A couple more specifics: Did you find time to read and write while going through medschool and residency? (One current student told me that I probably won't have time for "frivolous" pursuits like literary improvement; I'll likely be "immersed" in mass-memorization and competition.) And with regards to time and stress, do you have any thoughts on how private practice psychiatry compares to the psychiatry you do at a hospital?

Thanks again for the pearls of wisdom. It's not every day that I run across a person with whom I share some significant personal and historical similarities.


-Kol

Kol said...

Dan,

Thanks for the recommendation. I've heard of Percy in passing, and, though I've never read it, I think I have his Lost in the Cosmos sitting somewhere on one of my shelves.

I'll try to look into him more seriously since you took the time to mention him.

Scott said...

I think some of us may be underestimating The Amazing Krescoyne. Anybody can mispresent a book after he's read it.

Scott said...

[facepalm] Of course that's a lot funnier if "misrepresent" isn't missing a syllable.

BenSix said...

Off-topic, but people might be intrigued or at least entertained by this disagreement between Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. I liked the latter's surprise at the former "ignoring a large and distinguished literature that defends [a] claim".

Glenn said...

[facepalm] Of course that's a lot funnier if "misrepresent" isn't missing a syllable.

Well, Anybody can recognize a misspelling after he's posted his comment.

(I shuld know.)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of new atheist antics:

Has anyone else seen the latest 1-star review of TLS on Amazon? Apparently it is most accurate to think of Dr. Feser as a "Taliban Thomist."

Scott said...

Well, sure, because even believing (let alone arguing) that any behavior is objectively immoral is equivalent to massacres, terrorism, sex-slave trafficking, and brutal oppression—the exact same stuff the Inquisition did!

Scott said...

</sarc>, by the way. Just in case Jerry Coyne drops by, you know.

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

Not to mention positively immoral! ;)

Scott said...

Exactly! Believing that anything is immoral is . . . well, immoral.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Also that review was pretty convoluted and confused. He starts by saying he has no problem with Dr. Feser's presentation of Aristote but he then attacks the notion of final causality wholesale and in such a way as to suggest he hasn't even followed Dr. Feser's explanations of it.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous,

I read that review myself recently and simply laughed out loud at the author's close-mindedness. Its terribly obvious that he'd made up his mind what the book would be like before he read even the Preface. A New Atheist if ever there was one.

And dguller, congratulations on your intellectual developments, and I pray that they continue. I wish you all the best for the future, whatever it holds. It is clear that classical theism cannot be coherently rejected- that is, once the cobwebs of one's previous convictions have been cleared away.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous,

I read that review myself recently and simply laughed out loud at the author's close-mindedness. Its terribly obvious that he'd made up his mind what the book would be like before he read even the Preface. A New Atheist if ever there was one.

And dguller, congratulations on your intellectual developments, and I pray that they continue. I wish you all the best for the future, whatever it holds. It is clear that classical theism cannot be coherently rejected- that is, once the cobwebs of one's previous convictions have been cleared away.

Timotheos said...

@ Scott

Also, since when was there sex-slave trafficking in the Inquisition? Was the Spanish Inquisition also responsible for the Spanish Influenza, along with WWI and II, the Vietnam war, and every single Miley Cyrus album?

Of course, there was the Holy Hand Grenade...

Also of interest is this clip showing the dangers of Radical Christians!

(incidentally, the second clip is from a highly underrated movie that came out back in '08 called American Carol; definitely recommend it.)

Bob said...

@dguller
What I mean is that your justification is inadequate to demonstrate the truth of the proposition, and yet you believe that the proposition is true anyway. For example, you may hear the patter of water on your window, and conclude that it is raining. Your belief that it is raining has some justification, i.e. the sound of the patter of water on your window, but that is not sufficient to demonstrate the truth that it is actually raining. Your sprinklers may be on instead, for example. So, there are degrees of justification, and no belief has absolutely no justification.

Sure.

So, how would you know if it was in fact raining, as opposed to sprinklers or some other possibility you hadn't thought of?

anonymist said...

The Experience of God also got a friendly, even enthusiastic, review from a Guardian writer (in the newspaper's weblog) recently too.

Scott said...

@Timotheos:

"Also, since when was there sex-slave trafficking in the Inquisition?"

I think there should be some rough equivalent of Poe's Law having to do with the Inquisition: bring it up, lose the debate automatically.

It's also interesting how few people seem to realize that the really nasty Inquisitions (particularly the one that, famously, "no one ever expects," which is probably the one the reviewer has in mind, as he at least seems to be aware that there was more than one Inquisition) were secular operations run without Papal supervision and far exceeding the Church's limitations on the use of torture.

(For anyone wondering what we're talking about here, here's the relevant excerpt from the Amazon review we're making fun of:

And yikes! What's with Feser's Taliban politics? Western civilization is "a stinking cesspool of wickedness and irrationality" (p. 224). Secularism is a "clear and present danger to the stability of any society." (p.x.) We must "crush" our opponents and restore religion to its "rightful place" as the guiding principle in society and politics. One really gets a sense in this book of how absolutist morality leads to Inquisitions.

The title of the review is "Taliban Thomist: Making Metaphysics out of Molehills.")

Scott said...

That "Radical Christians" clip is hilarious. Thanks, Timotheos.

dguller said...

@Stephen:

It seems, for instance, that someone could remain unconvinced of a point, i.e., she doesn't find what justifications for the point she's come across rationally compelling, without further believing the point is false.

That’s true. One can be unconvinced of both the truth of p and the truth of not-p, and thus remain agnostic on the matter.

@Martin:

So you've gone over to the dark side, eh? :)

I'm heading there myself. I continually look for good objections to classical theism, and I continually come up empty. After years of studying arguments like the FIrst Way, they just seem stronger to me today than they did before.


Oddly enough, after reviewing my posts on this site from 2011, even when I was making the ludicrous arguments that perhaps logic and reason did not apply to the deepest level of reality, I was still open to the possibility of a necessarily existing ground of all being, which is a rough idea of classical theism. So, classical theism was always something that was in close proximity to my metaphysical beliefs, but I had certain assumptions that were “not even wrong”, because they were incoherent and absurd, and once I learned to let them go, my metaphysical outlook become much more coherent. Thus, at this time, I’m probably closest to classical theism than I’ve ever been before, and am proof that a rational discussion of these matters can lead to changes of mind and heart. But I’m also proof of just how stubborn someone can be, and how tenaciously one can hold to absurd beliefs.

That being said, I still have difficulties with some aspects of classical theism, such as multiplicity in unity, the possibility of positive and analogical knowledge about the ground of all being, and so on, and I certainly do not accept that this ground is coextensive with the “God” of the different historical religions, except as a core notion that they all share, but then add subsequent differences to, such as the Trinity, which ultimately comes down to my rejection of revelation. But I agree with you that the arguments for classical theism have only gotten stronger for me over time, especially when the objections to them are so fantastically awful.

@Rank Sophist:

It's hard to believe that dguller has given up his agnosticism/atheism after all this time. It's even harder to believe that he's correcting atheists like Bob. I hope that you continue to improve your understanding of classical theism, dguller. (And I finally got around to responding to your posts in the other combox.)

You played no small role in my evolution, and so I’m truly grateful for all your efforts in our numerous exchanges. I’ve still got about a dozen or so books that I need to read before tackling Hart. But I’m almost there! And I did see that you responded. I’ll post something when I have the time to think about what you wrote.

dguller said...

Kol:

I can’t speak to the specifics of American psychiatry. In my practice, I work at a community hospital in a small town, and I do both inpatient and outpatient work. I’m fortunate enough to work with a team that is very efficient, and the culture is supportive and encouraging. And I haven’t experienced any bureaucratic interference that has compromised my relationship with any of my patients. Some of that comes from having a well-functioning hospital administration and an excellent chief of psychiatry.

As for medical school and residency, other than when actively preparing for exams, or when working on extremely busy rotations, I managed to make time for my own personal reading. I certainly wasn’t studying all the time, but perhaps some of my classmates and colleagues were. And as for competition, it depends upon what your interests are in. If you want to be a cardiac surgeon, then competition will be fierce. In Canada, there is not the same degree of intense competition for psychiatry, and so that gave me some latitude and freedom to have more time for other pursuits.

dguller said...

Bob:

So, how would you know if it was in fact raining, as opposed to sprinklers or some other possibility you hadn't thought of?

I would look out the window.

Bob said...

@dguller

I would look out the window.

Indeed, and so would I.

I hope that this makes my position clear.

dguller said...

Bob:

I hope that this makes my position clear.

That sometimes an empirical observation can support a hypothesis? Sure. If that was your position all along, then we have no disagreement. I thought your position was that one can be an atheist in the absence of metaphysical presuppositions. That position we disagree about.

dguller said...

Bob:

Just to clarify.

My position is that any belief presupposes metaphysical assumptions, and that would have to include atheism. Your objection to this claim seemed to be that atheism is not a belief that God does not exist, but rather is the absence of belief about God. And since atheism is the absence of a belief, then even if all beliefs presuppose metaphysics, then atheism does not.

BenYachov said...

@dguller

You have taken your second step into a larger world.

donjindra said...

There's no metaphysical Eden. We all start from some metaphysical position and that start is not, strictly, the object of reason. The real issue is this: Is the necessarily "question-begging," empirical, scientific, materialistic "dogma" "merely one piece of metaphysics among others?" Considering the exponentially growing knowledge base we've seen in the last 100 years I don't see how serious people could believe that. We have that knowledge because we've been faithful to a certain metaphysics. To say a successful metaphysics is just one of many others which lack such success draws the charge of relativism.

The critic could show precisely where arguments for competing metaphysics are in error, but sometimes that's not necessary. Sometimes, as in the case of act and potency, it's sufficient to show the arguments are irrelevant. If, rather than explanation, the end is obfuscation, how much time should we waste hunting down every error?

Unless a metaphysician can convince us he gets better results, in whatever we agree to count as results, he's in a tough position.

John Quin said...

W.R.T. the patricia churchland interview I just heard it on the way into work this morning.

IMO she just took the now standard tactic of expressing complete contempt for those who oppose her.

The only wonder is why she bother to do the interview at all.


P.S. @dguller, welcome aboard the S.S. Theism :)

Crude said...

Considering the exponentially growing knowledge base we've seen in the last 100 years I don't see how serious people could believe that. We have that knowledge because we've been faithful to a certain metaphysics.

Not at all. We have that knowledge because of a particular, limited manner of inquiry that is utterly detachable from metaphysics, and which is compatible with a variety of metaphysical views.

The critic could show precisely where arguments for competing metaphysics are in error

They've had a lousy track record doing so thus far.

Unless a metaphysician can convince us he gets better results

They do, because they're not in competition with 'science', but with other metaphysics. The only way science even survives on materialism is by ignoring the incoherencies that result.

Good thing there's alternatives.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Also, don is begging the question with his definition of results. He clearly has a hiighly naturalistic and scientistic conception of results in mind.

Glenn said...

Re Churchland...

I'm willing to give Churchland a pass on her seemingly bizarre behavior. Bizarre things can happen in the twilight zone, and, although it is not overly difficult to see that her behavior could have been more dignified, it is also not overly difficult to see how she might have been transported or pulled into the twilight zone by Tsakiris:

1. Ignoring the fact that a theory is what one comes up with when adequate answers are lacking, Tsakiris twice insists -- first explicitly, then implicitly -- that a theory cannot be had while adequate answers are lacking:

Tsakiris: [T]o repeat that consciousness is something that the brain does... doesn't tell us much. How does it begin? When does it end? What's necessary and sufficient to cause consciousness? These are all questions that are unanswered by what you're saying.

Churchland: Well, neuroscience hasn't got all the answers yet.

Tsakiris: But that's just passing the buck. We don't have the answers. Those are fundamental questions. If we don't have the answers then we don't have a theory of what consciousness is, right?

Churchland: That's what your view seems to be, all right.

Tsakiris: I'm just saying these are basic. When does consciousness begin? When does it end? What is necessary and sufficient to create consciousness? If we can't answer those then what do we really have? What can we really say about consciousness?

Churchland: Well, I guess we can't say anything.


What can she say? She's already indicated that answers are not yet adequately known, and Tsakiris is set against allowing her to theorize about what is not yet adequately known.

Glenn said...

cont...

2. Tsakiris then: a) misquotes from Churchland's book; b) puts words in her mouth; and, c) claims that the words he put in her mouth are really words that she herself put into a paper by Dr. Pim van Lommel:

Tsakiris: Well, I guess one of the things I did want to ask you is in your book you ask the question, "Is there a neurobiological explanation for near-death experience?" [1] Then you cite NDE researcher and a former guest on this show as answering that question with yes. [2] You say that Dr. Pim Van Lommel believes the answer is yes. [3] Is that your understanding of his research?

Churchland: Well, I think there's certainly quite a bit of evidence that at least some near-death experiences have a neurobiological basis. Of course, we can't be sure about all of them. Maybe you had one that doesn't have a neurobiological basis. I wouldn't really know, would I?

Tsakiris: Well specifically, Dr. Churchland, you cite in your book that Dr. Pim Van Lommel holds that opinion.
[4] That's clearly not the case. I mean, he's written...

Churchland: Has he? Uh-huh (Yes).


cont...

Glenn said...

cont...

[1] The actual question Churchland asks in her book is, "Is it plausible that there will be a neurobiological explanation of the cluster of phenomena?" This "cluster of phenomena" to which she refers does include near-death experiences, but is not composed solely of near-death experiences; it also includes experiences which are not themselves near-death experiences but are induced by "purely physical interventions" and are "qualitatively similar to those called near-death experiences." So, the question Churchland poses in her book hasn't to do with whether there is a neurobiological explanation for near-death experiences, and it hasn't to do with whether it is plausible that there will be a neurobiological explanation for near-death experiences, but with whether it is plausible that there will be a neurobiological explanation for a range ("cluster") of experiences which include both near-death experiences and non-near-death experiences (which are physically induced and are qualitatively similar to near-death experiences). Let it be noted that a single explanation for two kinds of discrete yet similar phenomena is likely to be more general than a single explanation for just one of those two kinds of discrete phenomena.

[2] & [3] Churchland actually says, "As neurobiologist Pim van Lommel and his colleagues pointed out a strong reason for saying yes is that experiences similar to those suffering anoxia following cardiac arrest can be induced by electrical stimulation of the temporal love and hippocampus, something that may be done in epileptic patients prior to surgery. Similar experiences can also be induced by raising the level of carbon dioxide...or by decreasing oxygen levels in the brain by hyperventilating following the Valsalva maneuver[.]"

Firstly, to say that someone has pointed out a strong reason for saying X, is neither to say that that person has said X nor to say that that person believes X. It is to say, as Churchland has, that someone has pointed out a strong reason for saying X -- for it is certain that one can say that there is a strong reason for X whilst remaining agnostic about actually saying X or believing X, just as one can say there is a strong reason for X, yet say and believe Y (because one sees the reasons for Y collectively trumping the acknowledged, strong reason for X).

Secondly, Dr. Pim van Lommel wrote the following in the paper cited by Churchland and alluded to by Tsakiris: "And yet, neurophysiological processes must play some part in NDE. Similar experiences can be induced through electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe (and hence of the hippocampus) during neurosurgery for epilepsy, with high carbon dioxide levels (hypercabia), and in decreased cerebral perfusion resulting in local cerebral hypoxia as in rapid acceleration during training of fighter pilots, or as in hyperventilation followed by the valsalva manoeuvre."

And thirdly, to say that "neurophysiological processes must play some part in NDE" is not to say that neurophysiological processes are the all of NDE. However, and contrary to Tsakiris' assertion, Churchland doesn't say that neurophysiological processes are the all of NDE, and she doesn't say that Lommel has said that they are (or that he believes that they are). In fact, she wasn't even writing specifically of NDE, but of a cluster of phenomena which includes but is not limited to NDE, and the cluster of phenomena of which she writes also includes non-near-death experiences physically induced and qualitatively similar to NDE. Dr. Pim van Lommel and colleagues do point out that, "Similar experiences [i.e., experiences similar to NDE] can be induced through [various physical means]."

[4] Churchland's citation of Dr. Pim van Lommel in her book is given in [2] & [3] above, and it is easily seen that she does not claim that he holds the opinion that there is a neurobiological explanation for NDE.

cont...

Glenn said...

cont...

3. Lastly, and with a disparaging and chastising tone of voice, Tsakiris says:

Right. Do you want me to read to you what he's written? He's written that "The study of patients with near-death experience (and this is from The Lancet paper that you're citing) clearly shows us that..."

[Churchland hangs up].


But the Lancet paper Churchland cites does not include the words, "The study of patients with near-death experience clearly shows us that..."

When Tsakiris says "this is from The Lancet paper", he is not referring to the words of Lommel's that he is quoting, but to the study referred to by Lommel in those words. The words that Tsakiris is quoting are from a response by Lommel to a piece written by Michael Shermer:

"Michael Shermer states that, in reality, all experience is mediated and produced by the brain, and that so-called paranormal phenomena like out-of body experiences are nothing more than neuronal events. The study of patients with NDE, however, clearly shows us that consciousness with memories, cognition, with emotion, self-identity, and perception out and above a life-less body is experienced during a period of a non-functioning brain (transient pancerebral anoxia). And focal functional loss by inhibition of local cortical regions happens by “stimulation” of those regions with electricity (photons) or with magnetic fields (photons), resulting sometimes in out-of-body states."

It isn't clear why Tsakiris would think that Lommel's response to Shermer might somehow prove that what Churchland actually writes in her book is wrong. For in the next paragraph of his response to Shermer, Lommel writes, "For me science is asking questions with an open mind, and not being afraid to reconsider widely accepted but scientifically not proven concepts like the concept that consciousness and memories are a product of the brain. But also we should realize that we need a functioning brain to receive our consciousness into our waking consciousness. There are still a lot of mysteries to solve, but one has not to talk about paranormal, supernatural or pseudoscience to look for scientific answers on the intriguing relation between consciousness and memories with the brain."

With Lommel asserting a relation between consciousness and memories with the brain, and saying that scientific answers about that relation need not include talk about paranormal, supernatural or pseudoscience, it is difficult to see why Tsakiris would act as if he had some kind of slam-dunk case that Churchland is off-base in holding that a scientific answer re the cluster of phenomena she writes about will be had via a neurobiological explanation.

- - - - -

A few notes:

cont...

Glenn said...

cont...

1. The Churchland interview has been linked to by others further above. Here is it again.

2. A google preview of Churchland's Touching a Nerve is available here. (According to a hard copy of the book, which I physically located at a brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble (a mere 20.81 miles away), the page linked to includes the bottom of p 71 of the hard copy at the top, the entirely of p 72 of the hard copy in the middle, and the top of p 73 of the hard copy at the bottom. The index at google's preview lists Lommel as being on mentioned on pp 71-72, and everything you ever wanted to know about Churchland's mention of Lommel in her book is available on the linked-to page.)

3. Lommel's Lancet paper -- Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospect study in the Netherlands -- is available here. It is available for free to registered users, and registration itself is free.

4. Lommel's response to Shermer is available here.

5. Interestingly, Churchland herself reports experiencing an out-of-body sensation (no, not after her interview with Tsakiris; previously, in her book): "After a vigorous yoga practice when I am lying with eyes closed in relaxation pose (savasana), I sometimes feel that my body is floating just a few inches above the floor. It is a pleasant feeling of being very light. ...I feel as though I am floating just a bit off my mat... I think that some yoga practitioners would call this feeling spiritual, and as I indicated in Chapter 2, I am fine with that. I like the idea of a brain-based floaty feeling." (See the linked-to page above.)

Glenn said...

Btw, all that isn't to indicate that I agree with Churchland that a neurobiological explanation of consciousness, if one can be had, would constitute a sufficient account of consciousness. Not at all. It's just that I think that she has gotten a raw deal, i.e., that has been treated in an overly unfair manner, re that interview, and that it wouldn't hurt to call attention to some of the neglected aspects of that interview.

Bob said...

@dguller

That sometimes an empirical observation can support a hypothesis? Sure. If that was your position all along, then we have no disagreement. I thought your position was that one can be an atheist in the absence of metaphysical presuppositions. That position we disagree about.

Why don't you give me an example of a metaphysical presupposition that you think an atheist needs to hold in order to be an atheist in the first place?

Bob said...

@dguller

My position is that any belief presupposes metaphysical assumptions, and that would have to include atheism. Your objection to this claim seemed to be that atheism is not a belief that God does not exist, but rather is the absence of belief about God. And since atheism is the absence of a belief, then even if all beliefs presuppose metaphysics, then atheism does not.

Not exactly.

I believe that the God(s) depicted by the theistic arguments I have encountered do not exist.

I do not know that no God(s), in fact, exist.

I am unsure which particular metaphysics you think I need to presuppose in order to hold this position.

Like I said earlier, I do not believe that there is a teapot in orbit around Jupiter, though I do not know that there is, in fact, no teapot in orbit around Jupiter.

Which metaphysical presuppositions do you think that the aforementioned lack of belief entails?

Eduardo said...

err... why to believe something you do not know???

I mean is all cool and everything, but this is just weird, to disbelieve or believe something without knowing anything about it, or without even the ability to know anything about it.

THen believe is just how you wish things are and knowledge is ........ hopefully the way things are, like a set of facts you can't escape *GIven certain premises of course*

dguller said...

Bob:

Why don't you give me an example of a metaphysical presupposition that you think an atheist needs to hold in order to be an atheist in the first place?

That a composite entity does not require an efficient cause to account for its existence.

I am unsure which particular metaphysics you think I need to presuppose in order to hold this position.

At the very least, a metaphysics that allows you to reject the truth of propositions. You must have some basic ontology that accounts for how reality operates in order for you to examine the evidence for a proposition and deny that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate the truth of the proposition. Otherwise, upon what basis are you rejecting theistic propositions?

Like I said earlier, I do not believe that there is a teapot in orbit around Jupiter, though I do not know that there is, in fact, no teapot in orbit around Jupiter.

Do you know anything at all? It seems that no matter what you say that you know, one could come up with a radical skeptical alternative account.

Bob said...

@dguller

That a composite entity does not require an efficient cause to account for its existence.

You said this in response to my question:

Why don't you give me an example of a metaphysical presupposition that you think an atheist needs to hold in order to be an atheist in the first place?

So, I suppose you mean the following by "efficient cause":

“the primary source of the change or rest”

I fail to understand why I would necessarily need to reject this proposition in order to be an atheist. Could you explain?

...............

At the very least, a metaphysics that allows you to reject the truth of propositions. You must have some basic ontology that accounts for how reality operates in order for you to examine the evidence for a proposition and deny that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate the truth of the proposition. Otherwise, upon what basis are you rejecting theistic propositions?

I reject them because I do not believe that the evidence proposed is sufficient to support the proposition. For instance, if an argument relies on a premise that a mind can exist apart from a functioning brain, I would simply need some evidence that shows this to be an actual possibility, perhaps some instances where we can agree that a mind is, in fact, existing apart from a functioning brain, or at the very least, could possibly be. This without needing to presuppose that it is impossible for a mind to exist apart from a functioning brain.

However, I am not sure what, if any, metaphysical position this entails, of course it may entail one of which I am simply ignorant in which case you would be correct.

..............

Do you know anything at all? It seems that no matter what you say that you know, one could come up with a radical skeptical alternative account.

I am not advocating solipsism. Suffice it to say that I know that I am eating some pretty tasty chocolate cake at the moment.

Eduardo said...

@dguller

why don't start trying to prove to Bob that you need metaphysics to analyse evidence, because Bob thinks it doesn't.

BTW.... since I left ... this place has become way better, or maybe is just my impression....

dguller said...

Bob:

I fail to understand why I would necessarily need to reject this proposition in order to be an atheist. Could you explain?

Because to accept it would accept a key premise in the cosmological argument, which purports to demonstrate the necessary existence of a first efficient cause. The only other key premise is the impossibility of an infinite series of per se causes. Once you accept those two premises, the conclusion necessarily follows, and if it is true that there is a first cause, then you’re well on your way to accepting classical theism.

I reject them because I do not believe that the evidence proposed is sufficient to support the proposition.

Other than showing that the evidence is self-contradictory, you would have to appeal to other premises that conflict with the premises in question, and those other premises would ultimately be metaphysical, because they would go beyond what empirical observation can determine.

For instance, if an argument relies on a premise that a mind can exist apart from a functioning brain, I would simply need some evidence that shows this to be an actual possibility, perhaps some instances where we can agree that a mind is, in fact, existing apart from a functioning brain, or at the very least, could possibly be. This without needing to presuppose that it is impossible for a mind to exist apart from a functioning brain.

But the assumption that a mind cannot exist independent of a functioning brain is a metaphysical claim. The most that empirical observation can demonstrate is that mental functions correlate with brain functions. Also, if there are mental abilities that could not possibly be material in nature would imply that some mental functions are actually independent of the brain. For example, the powers of reasoning presuppose a degree of determinacy of thought content that is impossible to account for on the basis of mere physical brain states, and thus must be immaterial in nature.

I am not advocating solipsism. Suffice it to say that I know that I am eating some pretty tasty chocolate cake at the moment.

Sounds pretty awesome.

Anonymous said...

I reject them because I do not believe that the evidence proposed is sufficient to support the proposition. For instance, if an argument relies on a premise that a mind can exist apart from a functioning brain, I would simply need some evidence that shows this to be an actual possibility, perhaps some instances where we can agree that a mind is, in fact, existing apart from a functioning brain, or at the very least, could possibly be. This without needing to presuppose that it is impossible for a mind to exist apart from a functioning brain.

You seem to regard theistic claims as at least epistemically possible, just not sufficiently demonstrated. I'm not sure that you are an atheist if you would not affirm that they are false.

Bob said...

@dguller

Because to accept it would accept a key premise in the cosmological argument, which purports to demonstrate the necessary existence of a first efficient cause. The only other key premise is the impossibility of an infinite series of per se causes. Once you accept those two premises, the conclusion necessarily follows, and if it is true that there is a first cause, then you’re well on your way to accepting classical theism.

This argument only logically concludes with a primary sufficient cause for stuff in the universe, not God. To include the universe as a whole gets one into a fallacy of composition.

...................

Other than showing that the evidence is self-contradictory, you would have to appeal to other premises that conflict with the premises in question, and those other premises would ultimately be metaphysical, because they would go beyond what empirical observation can determine.

No, just as I discussed above. The premises do not logically support the conclusion.

.........................

But the assumption that a mind cannot exist independent of a functioning brain is a metaphysical claim. The most that empirical observation can demonstrate is that mental functions correlate with brain functions. Also, if there are mental abilities that could not possibly be material in nature would imply that some mental functions are actually independent of the brain. For example, the powers of reasoning presuppose a degree of determinacy of thought content that is impossible to account for on the basis of mere physical brain states, and thus must be immaterial in nature.

Impossible? Really? How do you know this?

Regardless, I need make no assumption about the actual possibility of brain independent minds in order to determine that the evidence proposed to support such a proposition is, as far as I have ever seen, inadequate and thus any argument relying on such a proposition as a premise is going to have a rough time succeeding.

Bob said...

@Anon

You seem to regard theistic claims as at least epistemically possible, just not sufficiently demonstrated. I'm not sure that you are an atheist if you would not affirm that they are false.

Sure, the claims are possible. I am just not convinced by them at this point, which basically means I do not, at this point believe them to be the case. I still think that makes me an atheist for all intents and purposes, however.

dguller said...

Bob:

This argument only logically concludes with a primary sufficient cause for stuff in the universe, not God.

Whatever you want to call it, if you agree that the argument demonstrates the necessary existence of a primary efficient cause of the universe, then you’ve taken the first important step towards classical theism.

To include the universe as a whole gets one into a fallacy of composition.

The universe as a whole is the stuff in the universe. If you remove all the stuff from the universe, including space-time, then you are not left with an empty universe, but with nothing at all. Also, the fallacy of composition may or may not apply. Simply appealing to it does not demonstrate its applicability.

No, just as I discussed above. The premises do not logically support the conclusion.

But the question is why they do not logically support the conclusion. Is it because there are additional premises that were implicit in the argument that show that the conclusion did not follow?

Impossible? Really? How do you know this?

Any physical state is open to a number of possible interpretations. For example, a neural pathway that fires when in the presence of a cat could mean that the neural pathway is about a cat, about cat-slices, about things in the shape of a cat, about animals in that place at that time, and so on. Nothing about the physical state itself fixes which interpretation is correct. Therefore, that which fixes the interpretation cannot itself be physical.

For more, see: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2013/10/oerter-and-indeterminacy-of-physical.html

Regardless, I need make no assumption about the actual possibility of brain independent minds in order to determine that the evidence proposed to support such a proposition is, as far as I have ever seen, inadequate and thus any argument relying on such a proposition as a premise is going to have a rough time succeeding.

But you must first accept that the evidence in question is unlikely to be empirical in nature. In fact, it will have to be metaphysical in nature.

dguller said...

Bob:

Just a follow-up on my comment on the fallacy of composition.

To argue that if the parts are X, then the whole is X (or vice versa) is neither necessarily true nor necessarily false. Sometimes if the parts are X, then the whole is X (e.g. if the parts are red, then the whole is red), and sometimes if the parts are X, then the whole is not X (e.g. if the parts are small, then the whole is small). So, the most that you can say is that if the parts are X, then the whole may be X, too.

Specifically, with regards to the universe, it is not as if the parts of the universe are really distinct from the universe itself. The universe is its parts, i.e. the various configurations of matter and energy within space-time. If you remove the various configurations of matter and energy within space-time, then you are not left with the universe, but rather with nothing physical at all. So, in this case, the fallacy of composition would not apply, because the whole is nothing but the parts.

Scott Scheule said...

Glenn,

Thanks for the hard work you did on those posts!

Martin said...

Bob,

>This argument only logically concludes with a primary sufficient cause for stuff in the universe, not God.

Once you get to a first (ontologically first, not temporally first) cause, it is pretty easy to argue for all the classic divine attributes in the tradition of classical theism. For example, the first cause cannot be composite, because with something composed of parts its parts are ontologically prior to the thing composed of those parts.

Which gets you something that is unchangeable, because (to use some terminology) if it had the potential for change it would then be composed of two principles: actuality (the way it is now) and potentiality (the way it could be in the future). So the first cause must be purely actual.

And something that is purely actual has these familiar attributes.

Scott said...

@Glenn:

Nicely done. I'd already been unimpressed by the interviewer, but I had no idea what a mess he'd made of things until you did your research.

Anonymous said...

@Glenn

Even if all you write is true, ultimately his points still stand and Churchland's materialism is wrong. His anger was at the snootiness of established materialists like her, Dennett, et al.

Scott said...

@Bob:

"This argument only logically concludes with a primary sufficient cause for stuff in the universe, not God. To include the universe as a whole gets one into a fallacy of composition."

dguller and Martin have already replied on this point so I'll just add a bit to their responses.

I think what you have in mind here must be something along the following lines: the argument shows that each thing in the universe has a primary efficient cause, but it doesn't prove that the universe as a whole has such a cause, or even that each thing in the universe has the same such cause. I take it that this is what you mean when you say the argument involves a fallacy of composition.

In that case, Martin's reply shows you why this is not the case. dguller is of course correct that arguing from the parts to the whole isn't necessarily fallacious, but in this instance there's no such argument anyway. The actual argument. in its complete form, concludes that the First Cause, in order to be a First Cause at all, must be (among other things) unique, which is sufficient to show that each thing in the universe (and indeed the universe itself) has the same First Cause.

Even if you don't think this argument is correct (which I do), it still doesn't involve a fallacy of composition.

Scott said...

"Even if all you write is true, ultimately his points still stand and Churchland's materialism is wrong."

Glenn was very clear that he wasn't defending Churchland's materialism, and I would certainly agree that it's wrong. But that's not the point. The point is that the interview was presented as putting Churchland personally in a bad light when in fact the interviewer gave her, as Glenn says, a "raw deal."

Anonymous said...

@ Scott

I understand that point, I was simply highlighting the takeaway point, I think, from this mini-debate in the combox. And I disagree that she got a raw deal, actually. She acted in an unprofessional manner and could have corrected the host instead of fleeing as she did. That is very indicative of her and her colleagues position. And on a side note in defense of the host, he is very demanding and seeks to have deep interviews and does, in the process, sometimes come off as rather brusque but that is simply his style, like it or hate it.

dguller said...

Glenn:

Thanks for your clarifying posts.

Scott said...

"She acted in an unprofessional manner and could have corrected the host instead of fleeing as she did."

Fair enough, but under the circumstances we don't really have any way to tell why she behaved as she did. I certainly don't think it's fair to chalk it up to weaknesses in her "position" when her position wasn't ever really on the table in the first place.

And the fact remains that the host did his homework very poorly and pretty much began by misrepresenting what Churchland had actually said and written. His "brusqueness" isn't the issue.

Josh said...

I'm interested in understanding why Bob (and so many like him) are so interested in establishing some mythical metaphysical neutrality. Is it out of a desire to seem philosophically unassailable? At most, it would just seem to make that person irrelevant to speak to.

Bob said...

@dguller

Whatever you want to call it, if you agree that the argument demonstrates the necessary existence of a primary efficient cause of the universe, then you’ve taken the first important step towards classical theism.

If that is what it demonstrates, okay. However, I am not sure that it does demonstrate that. I think it may help demonstrate, if the premise is true, a primary efficient cause for stuff in the universe, but I cannot speak to it demonstrating a primary efficient cause for the universe as a whole.

Nothing about the physical state itself fixes which interpretation is correct.

How do you know this?

But you must first accept that the evidence in question is unlikely to be empirical in nature. In fact, it will have to be metaphysical in nature.

To much of an assumption for me.

Anonymous said...

@Scott

"Fair enough, but under the circumstances we don't really have any way to tell why she behaved as she did."

Fair enough

"I certainly don't think it's fair to chalk it up to weaknesses in her 'position' when her position wasn't ever really on the table in the first place."

Not true. It's just that she shut down at the first hint of resistance. But as you said, fair enough, we don't know why she did.

"And the fact remains that the host did his homework very poorly and pretty much began by misrepresenting what Churchland had actually said and written. His "brusqueness" isn't the issue"

Actually, despite what Glenn highlighted, Alex's overall analysis of her work is correct, though he might have misquoted sources. I think, in the end, despite that, he did a good job of asking questions. I guess we must agree to disagree.

dguller said...

Bob:

If that is what it demonstrates, okay. However, I am not sure that it does demonstrate that. I think it may help demonstrate, if the premise is true, a primary efficient cause for stuff in the universe, but I cannot speak to it demonstrating a primary efficient cause for the universe as a whole.

What it shows is that this primary cause must be pure actuality, which means that it lacks any potentiality whatsoever. Once you accept this, then it is easy to show that there must be a unique primary cause of composite entities in the universe. Assume that there are two primary causes, each of which is pure actuality. They would have to be differentiated somehow, which would have to be based upon one primary cause having a property that the other primary cause lacked. But if a primary cause lacks a property, then it exists with a potentiality with respect to that property. In other words, it could actualize that property, but does not do so. But that would admit potentiality into a being that is pure actuality, which is impossible. Therefore, there must be a unique primary cause that is pure actuality, which means that everything in the universe has one and the same primary cause.

How do you know this?

Prove me wrong. Show me a physical state that can be assigned a unique interpretation and meaning simply on the basis of its physical features.

To much of an assumption for me.

And yet you must make it, because there is no possible empirical observation that could decide between an immaterial thought process that is constantly coinciding with physical brain processes, and thought processes that simply are the physical brain processes. Therefore, to decide between the two possibilities would require something other than empirical observation.

dguller said...

Josh:

I'm interested in understanding why Bob (and so many like him) are so interested in establishing some mythical metaphysical neutrality. Is it out of a desire to seem philosophically unassailable? At most, it would just seem to make that person irrelevant to speak to.

It is a form of inoculation against theism, and a tacit admission that metaphysics itself leads to a form of theism. At least, that's where my previous endorsement of Bob's positions was rooted.

Bob said...

@Martin

Once you get to a first (ontologically first, not temporally first) cause, it is pretty easy to argue for all the classic divine attributes in the tradition of classical theism. For example, the first cause cannot be composite, because with something composed of parts its parts are ontologically prior to the thing composed of those parts.

Which gets you something that is unchangeable, because (to use some terminology) if it had the potential for change it would then be composed of two principles: actuality (the way it is now) and potentiality (the way it could be in the future). So the first cause must be purely actual.


But something that is completely unchangeable (purely actual, the way it is now) wouldn't seem to be able to cause (potential to change) anything, thus would seem to be a fairly odd sort of God. Whatever started the ball rolling must have actually held the potential to do so in some way or another, or it almost seems like one needs to redefine the word actual to mean something else, but only at this point in the causal chain.

I must be missing something...

dguller said...

Bob:

But something that is completely unchangeable (purely actual, the way it is now) wouldn't seem to be able to cause (potential to change) anything, thus would seem to be a fairly odd sort of God. Whatever started the ball rolling must have actually held the potential to do so in some way or another, or it almost seems like one needs to redefine the word actual to mean something else, but only at this point in the causal chain.

Why does a cause have to change itself? Material causes certain do so, but material causes do not exhaust the category of causality. Anything that is in act is necessary actively doing something, i.e is engaging in a form of activity. There is nothing that says that this activity must involve change in the agent in question.

Bob said...

What it shows is that this primary cause must be pure actuality, which means that it lacks any potentiality whatsoever. Once you accept this, then it is easy to show that there must be a unique primary cause of composite entities in the universe. Assume that there are two primary causes, each of which is pure actuality. They would have to be differentiated somehow, which would have to be based upon one primary cause having a property that the other primary cause lacked. But if a primary cause lacks a property, then it exists with a potentiality with respect to that property. In other words, it could actualize that property, but does not do so. But that would admit potentiality into a being that is pure actuality, which is impossible. Therefore, there must be a unique primary cause that is pure actuality, which means that everything in the universe has one and the same primary cause.

This may all be correct and yet still say nothing about the universe itself.

Prove me wrong. Show me a physical state that can be assigned a unique interpretation and meaning simply on the basis of its physical features.

A burden shift? You said:

Nothing about the physical state itself fixes which interpretation is correct.

I didn't say you were necessarily wrong, I asked you how you know this to be true? Seems like you are going way beyond any actual knowledge I have ever come across.

And yet you must make it, because there is no possible empirical observation that could decide between an immaterial thought process that is constantly coinciding with physical brain processes, and thought processes that simply are the physical brain processes. Therefore, to decide between the two possibilities would require something other than empirical observation.

How do you know that thought processes are "immaterial", what does that even mean?

Martin said...

Bob,

>But something that is completely unchangeable (purely actual, the way it is now) wouldn't seem to be able to cause (potential to change) anything

Indeed, Aristotle saw this and argued that the first cause must therefore act as an attractor rather than an impulse. Like an unchanging painting that causes people to cry, break down, kneel in front of it, etc. This way it causes change without itself actually changing.

I'm not sure how Thomas Aquinas deals with this issue, but one thing to note is that pure actuality is timeless, so it's actions are already in place and have always been in place. I've seen it likened to a an octopus with tentacles laying on the sidewalk. The octopus doesn't move, but when you walk along the side walk you come across the tentacles. Similarly, God's actions would already be done and in place, and so he does not change. But we move through time and come across these actions, so it seems to us like God is acting.

Martin said...

Bob,

>How do you know that thought processes are "immaterial", what does that even mean?


Dguller linked you to a Feser article earlier on this, but you can also check out my article on this topic, which is much shorter.

Bob said...

@dguller

Why does a cause have to change itself? Material causes certain do so, but material causes do not exhaust the category of causality. Anything that is in act is necessary actively doing something, i.e is engaging in a form of activity. There is nothing that says that this activity must involve change in the agent in question.

The phrase "doing something" itself implies change. "Activity" implies change. There seems to be an equivocation.

Bob said...

@dguller and @Martin

I am going to read through those articles and come back to you both.

Thanks for the discussion so far.

dguller said...

Bob:

This may all be correct and yet still say nothing about the universe itself.

It says that the universe and everything in it is part of a causal chain that ultimately ends in a single primary cause that is pure actuality.

I didn't say you were necessarily wrong, I asked you how you know this to be true? Seems like you are going way beyond any actual knowledge I have ever come across.

I gave the example of a pattern of neurons firing in the brain when triggered by a cat on a mat. The neural pattern itself could correspond to the cat on the mat, cat slices on the mat, the cat on mat-slices, a cat-like shape on a mat, and so on. Nothing about the neural pattern itself fixes which meaning or interpretation is correct. I could provide numerous other examples to support this claim. It would be more helpful for you to provide a counter-example.

How do you know that thought processes are "immaterial", what does that even mean?

It means “not material”, i.e. not accounted for by principles of physical change.

The phrase "doing something" itself implies change. "Activity" implies change. There seems to be an equivocation.

Only when a composite entity of some kind is doing something does activity imply change in the agent. But activity itself does not presuppose that the agent in act itself changes, but only that what the agent acts upon, i.e. the patient, changes in some way. Otherwise, to assume that all agents in act must themselves change means that the primary cause cannot be pure act, and must admit potentiality. But that means that the primary cause cannot be pure act at all, and thus cannot be the primary cause, either. And that is impossible, if you assume that all composite entities are caused to exist by an agent in act, and that an infinite per se causal series is impossible. The best resolution is to accept that activity does not necessarily imply a changing agent. Even Aristotle accepted the need for an unmoved mover.

dguller said...

Bob:

I am going to read through those articles and come back to you both.

Thanks for the discussion so far.


No problem.

dguller said...

Martin:

Dguller linked you to a Feser article earlier on this, but you can also check out my article on this topic, which is much shorter.

Well put.

Martin said...

Also, Bob, check out the James Ross article. I have an illustrated version here.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Even if all you write is true, ultimately his points still stand and Churchland's materialism is wrong. His anger was at the snootiness of established materialists like her, Dennett, et al.

Courts will dismiss traffic tickets if they're improperly filled out by the issuing officer, no matter how obvious, flagrant and otherwise provable the ticketed offense might be. If all I wrote is true, then, ipso facto, Tsarkiris' enounciated points in the interview do not stand. Nonetheless, Churchland's materialism remains wrong; granted.

dguller said...

One concern that I have is over the argument for the uniqueness of pure act and simple being. The argument, as I’ve elucidated it, assumes that there are two pure acts, A and B, and argues that there must be a principle of distinction between them. Its account of that principle of distinction is the presence of X in A and the absence of X in B. It then argues that the absence of X must in B be an unrealized potency in B, which precludes B’s status as pure act. But why assume that if X is absent from B, then X is a potency in B?

A dog is such that its nature is absent the potential to become a pig. It wouldn’t make sense to then argue that this absence is itself an unrealized potency of some kind. In reality, a dog is such that its inability to become a pig is not an unrealized potency, but the utter absence of that potency altogether. Applying this analysis to A and B, just because B lacks a property that A has does not mean that B has an unrealized potency at all. It lacks the actuality and the potency of X.

Perhaps a better argument would be to argue that there cannot be two simple beings, A and B, each of which was such that its essence was existence itself. There must be a principle of distinction between A and B, which would be the presence of X in A and the absence of X in B. But again, I don’t see why it is impossible that A is the source of composite beings that are X, and B is not the source of composite beings that are X. Perhaps A and B each determine and sustain different aspects of reality? Maybe one can argue from the fact that since existence itself is one, then there cannot be two simple beings, each of which is existence itself, but this just begs the question about the unity of existence itself, and also assumes that it makes sense to talk about the unity of being, especially in the context of the multifaceted and diverse analogy of being.

Any thoughts?

donjindra said...

Jeremy Taylor,

"Also, don is begging the question with his definition of results."

Of course. I said as much. But your problem is in showing why your standards for results are better. Modern man has sided with me for the most part. And although democracy maybe shouldn't decide those questions that's what you're stuck with.

Crude,

"Not at all. We have that knowledge because of a particular, limited manner of inquiry that is utterly detachable from metaphysics, and which is compatible with a variety of metaphysical views."

Science is based on a metaphysical view. There's no question about that. You say yours is also compatible. But it has not been necessary to invoke it. If something is not necessary, it might as well be forgotten.

NiV said...

"I gave the example of a pattern of neurons firing in the brain when triggered by a cat on a mat. [...] Nothing about the neural pattern itself fixes which meaning or interpretation is correct."

The interpretation is fixed by the combination of the pattern, and the physics-based rules of behaviour of the brain in which it appears. You can subject the same brain to a range of stimuli, ask it questions, and so on, and see if the same pattern shows up for the alternatives.

Brains build models of the world, able to simulate it, predict it, and extrapolate from partial information about it. A simulation exists when the states and transitions of the simulating system bear the same relationships to one another as the corresponding entities of the system being simulated. The correspondence is induced by the similarity of their behaviour: the symbolic states of the simulator, and the real world states being simulated. There's a unique interpretation if the network of connections between real-world states form a pattern which can only be mapped onto the relationships between symbolic states of the interpreter in one way.

But it's not actually necessary for symbols to have a unique interpretation, so long as they work to be able to predict/extrapolate the behaviour of the world we live in. In fact, it's quite useful if they don't - it means we can use reasoning and experience derived from one set of circumstances in another. That's how analogy and abstraction work.

Crude said...

Science is based on a metaphysical view. There's no question about that. You say yours is also compatible. But it has not been necessary to invoke it.

It is if you want to make sense of science at all.

Science is based on a set of principles that are common to and compatible with a variety of metaphysical views.

If something is not necessary, it might as well be forgotten.

Adios, materialism and naturalism. They're not only 'not necessary', they're flat out incoherent. Other metaphysical systems don't suffer from that flaw.

Modern man has sided with me for the most part.

Not really. Modern man isn't even aware of the metaphysical discussions for the most part. Fair enough - they don't need to be, in a practical sense.

dover_beach said...

"Science is based on a metaphysical view. There's no question about that. You say yours is also compatible. But it has not been necessary to invoke it. If something is not necessary, it might as well be forgotten."

It is not necessary to invoke metaphysics, and/or or the philosophy of nature, because scientists presuppose things like the universe being orderly,logically coherent, and so on. To conclude that since something these are presupposed, they are also unnecessary to the practice of science, is absurd.

dguller said...

NiV:

The interpretation is fixed by the combination of the pattern, and the physics-based rules of behaviour of the brain in which it appears. You can subject the same brain to a range of stimuli, ask it questions, and so on, and see if the same pattern shows up for the alternatives.

First, the neural pattern will not be the same from one activation time to another, and thus at the most, the pattern at time t1 and time t2 will be approximations of one another. And that further adds evidence for the lack of determinacy involved in physical states, which would compromise the determinacy of our thoughts.

Second, what do you mean by “the physics-based rules of behavior of the brain”?

Brains build models of the world, able to simulate it, predict it, and extrapolate from partial information about it.

But that presumes a degree of intentionality of physical states, which is precisely what is at issue. Brains just fire neurons in various patterns. What makes those neuronal patterns about anything at all is something other than the neural patterns alone. Even if you see the same neuronal pattern in response to the same sensory stimulus does not mean that that particular neural pattern is about that particular sensory stimulus. After all, the sensory stimulus itself is a complex phenomenon with multiple aspects and components, any one of which could be what that particular neural pattern was about. And even engaging in a process of elimination by removing different aspects or components to see if the same neuronal pattern is fired wouldn’t be enough, because one would still be exposed to quus-like paradoxes that compromise the determinacy of thought by virtue of the temporality of the entire process. In other words, it is always possible that a future firing of that same neuronal pattern would occur under different stimuli.

But it's not actually necessary for symbols to have a unique interpretation, so long as they work to be able to predict/extrapolate the behaviour of the world we live in. In fact, it's quite useful if they don't - it means we can use reasoning and experience derived from one set of circumstances in another. That's how analogy and abstraction work.

Symbols do have to have a unique interpretation, but it does not follow that that unique interpretation is not open to further analysis and composition such that parts of that interpretation can be identical to parts of other interpretations. Unless the two circumstances had something in common, then there could be no similarity between them, only radical difference. (But that’s a whole other matter.)

NiV said...

"Second, what do you mean by “the physics-based rules of behavior of the brain”?"

A state-transition machine consists not only of *states* (the pattern of firing neurons), but also of *transitions* (what new state will succeed the current state given the current set of sensory inputs).

"What makes those neuronal patterns about anything at all is something other than the neural patterns alone."

Yes, it's not just the patterns, the 'meaning' is also about the physical system they're implemented in. It's what the pattern *does* when it occurs in the interpreter.

"because one would still be exposed to quus-like paradoxes that compromise the determinacy of thought by virtue of the temporality of the entire process"

The original 'quus paradox' was a general argument about the impossibility of induction - deducing knowledge about the world by purely empirical means. It was originally applied to human reasoning, and is perfectly general.

I'm assuming that you're referring in this case to Ross's use of it, in which he assumes that only the output history of a system is physically real, and ignores or rejects study of the mechanism to determine its function, claiming that the sequence of states or outputs of any system are insufficient to determine what function it is performing (which is true), that this applies to purely physical machines (by the above assumption) and does not apply to human reasoning (by introspection).

But last time we discussed it, I couldn't find out why Ross was making the assumption - how it was justified - or why it didn't apply equally well to humans. We *know* that there will be cases where humans don't give the correct answer to addition questions, like when the numbers being added have 10^100 digits, so the 'quus paradox' appears to apply directly.

"Symbols do have to have a unique interpretation"

What's the unique interpretation of the symbol '3'? Three apples? Three oranges? Three metres...?

dguller said...

NiV:

A state-transition machine consists not only of *states* (the pattern of firing neurons), but also of *transitions* (what new state will succeed the current state given the current set of sensory inputs).

But I still don’t see how you can go from one physical state transitioning to another physical state to determinate intentionality. There are too many possible variations in terms of input and output to focus upon a single determinate intentional content of the physical states and their transitions.

Yes, it's not just the patterns, the 'meaning' is also about the physical system they're implemented in. It's what the pattern *does* when it occurs in the interpreter.

I agree with you that context helps to determinate the specific meaning of the physical state, but if the context only involves other physical states and transitions, then you are still stuck with indeterminate intentional content. Even if you included every single physical factor within space-time into the equation, there are still an infinite number of possible alternatives that would be compatible with the totality of physical factors, including quus-like scenarios.

I'm assuming that you're referring in this case to Ross's use of it, in which he assumes that only the output history of a system is physically real, and ignores or rejects study of the mechanism to determine its function, claiming that the sequence of states or outputs of any system are insufficient to determine what function it is performing (which is true), that this applies to purely physical machines (by the above assumption) and does not apply to human reasoning (by introspection).

I think what he means is that even if you included the totality of physical states, transitions, and mechanisms, you would still have an underdetermined content, because of the near-infinite number of alternative intentional contents of the physical state that would be consistent with the totality of physical factors. The quus paradox is just one example of such an alternative content that is possible under physicalism.

But last time we discussed it, I couldn't find out why Ross was making the assumption - how it was justified - or why it didn't apply equally well to humans. We *know* that there will be cases where humans don't give the correct answer to addition questions, like when the numbers being added have 10^100 digits, so the 'quus paradox' appears to apply directly.

We know it doesn’t apply to humans, because we know that when we add, there is no cut-off point where the addition function simply changes. That is just not what we mean by addition. The idea is that an immaterial mind is capable of fixing thought content in a way that avoids quus-like paradoxes, because that is just how the mind works. No material entity is capable of doing this, because the physical facts are never sufficient to limit meaning or interpretation to a single and determinate content.

What's the unique interpretation of the symbol '3'? Three apples? Three oranges? Three metres...?

As an abstraction, it refers to the number three. When used in concrete scenarios, then it refers to a number of things or units.

NiV said...

"But I still don’t see how you can go from one physical state transitioning to another physical state to determinate intentionality."

The point is that when a state machine implements a model or simulation of some aspect of the real world, there is an implicit correspondence set up by the corresponding behaviour of the two systems. The systems considered as abstract diagrams have the same 'shape'. This correspondence is what performs the 'pointing' role of intentionality.

Let's take arithmetic as an example. Suppose I tell you that A+J = A, AxD = D, A+A = D, then you can work out what the symbols A, D, and J actually mean. They symbol 'J' on its own can mean anything or nothing. But the relationships between A, D, and J when acted upon by our arithmetical engine impose meanings on them - the relationships between the symbols 'point to' the corresponding relationships between numbers. It's the combination of the symbols *and the operations we can do on them* that has meaning, because they match up in a unique way with the entities and operations of the things they are referring to.

"I think what he means is that even if you included the totality of physical states, transitions, and mechanisms, you would still have an underdetermined content, because of the near-infinite number of alternative intentional contents of the physical state that would be consistent with the totality of physical factors. The quus paradox is just one example of such an alternative content that is possible under physicalism."

The quus paradox ignores examination of the mechanism. We can look at the mechanism, and (in principle) know exactly what it will do in any conceivable circumstance. We don't have to try them all out. The rules of physics cover all possibilities in one step.

"We know it doesn’t apply to humans, because we know that when we add, there is no cut-off point where the addition function simply changes."

There has to be, or we would never get to any numbers we couldn't add. The cut-off point is when the human gets bored. (Or falls asleep. Or dies of old age.)

If you want to specify a meaning of addition separate from the process of actually adding concrete numbers up, there aren't many alternatives to the axiomatic method of mathematics. This is what most people seem to mean by the idea of 'understanding the idea of addition' separate from the act of doing additions. But any computer algebra system can do that.

Martin said...

>The point is that when a state machine implements a model or simulation of some aspect of the real world, there is an implicit correspondence set up by the corresponding behaviour of the two systems. The systems considered as abstract diagrams have the same 'shape'.

This presupposes the very intentionality that is in question. A "model" or "simulation" already involves intentionality. Why correspondence between these two systems rather than those two? Who says? The symbol here "corresponds" to a piece of pie having been eaten, but it also "corresponds" to the last piece of pie, 10:00 AM, a teepee from above, and perhaps an infinite number of other states of affairs. Who says that it corresponds to the last piece of pie rather than any of the other numerous systems it "corresponds" to?

And that is the problem.

NiV said...

"Why correspondence between these two systems rather than those two?"

Because the operational relationships between states are different, and don't match.

Martin said...

>Because the operational relationships between states are different, and don't match.


The "operational state" between the symbol I linked and 10:00 is the same, and it is the same between the symbol and a missing piece of pie, and a present piece of pie, and a teepee, and so on.

Secondly, if you are talking about the causal theory of intentionality, there are several problems with this. First, a thought can be about something that doesn't even exist, so the subject of thought cannot have caused the thought. Second, the causal chain between the two systems begins (if at all) before the subject of thought and ends (if at all) long after the thought concerning the subject, so there are no end points, objectively speaking.

NiV said...

You can't consider a single symbol in isolation. There is always a context of related symbols that give it meaning.

For example, if the symbol refers to pie, there should be related symbols associated with food, hunger, being thin or fat, pastry, flour and water, cookery, famous chefs, pie fillings, ovens, taste, smell, recipe books, and so on. If the symbol means 'pie' then you ought to be able to ask the interpreter 'who ate all the pies?'. Asking the question 'Who ate all the 10:00?' makes no sense. The patterns and relationships that times obey don't match the patterns that pies obey.

It's the relationship with all the *other* symbols that the interpreter can implement, and how it acts on them when asked 'questions' about them, that determines meaning.

Fr Aidan said...

FYI: "God, Jerry Coyne, and the unread David B. Hart."

I also briefly summarize E. L. Mascall's and Herbert McCabe's interpretation of the Five Ways.

Anonymous said...

You can't consider a single symbol in isolation. There is always a context of related symbols that give it meaning.

You're left with the problem of how to determine what the context is by wholly physical information, or what does or does not count as a symbol to begin with, or what does or does not count as a relation.

No one is doubting that a mind can determine that one or another thing counts as a symbol, or that some symbols can be treated as related to others, or that a mind can arrange various symbols and ideas in a particular context. The issue is how you're managing this wholly in terms of the physical with no intentionality included from the outset or imported in the process.

And your grouping of what category 'pie' belongs to is suspect. Why not group a pie with "things that are round in shape" or "things made of carbon" or anything else?

Scott said...

@NiV:

"Suppose I tell you that A+J = A, AxD = D, A+A = D, then you can work out what the symbols A, D, and J actually mean."

Why don't I also need to work out what the symbols +, x, and = mean, and how do I know that the first two represent operations at all? You've already imported intentionality (and begged the question) in even talking about "the operational relationships between states," or for that matter in assuming the symbols "represent" anything at all.

NiV said...

"You're left with the problem of how to determine what the context is by wholly physical information, or what does or does not count as a symbol to begin with, or what does or does not count as a relation."

That's not difficult.

An agent builds a symbolic model of its environment in order to predict the effect of its own options for action on it. Symbols are the states of the model. Relations are the different actions the model can perform to transition from one symbol or combination of symbols to another.

"The issue is how you're managing this wholly in terms of the physical with no intentionality included from the outset or imported in the process."

The universe has the interesting property that different parts of it can be arranged to follow the same or similar rules. Church-Turing universality says that a device that can perform at least a minimal set of actions can simulate absolutely anything else. It's a very deep and not at all obvious property of the laws of physics.

The problem is that people have a very stilted understanding of what pure physical law implies and is capable of. Because the very simple systems they can fully understand don't have much intelligence, and can't represent much meaning, it's easy to dismiss their intentional content entirely. And then people assume this presumed lack of meaning applies generally to far more complex systems.

"And your grouping of what category 'pie' belongs to is suspect. Why not group a pie with "things that are round in shape" or "things made of carbon" or anything else?"

The network will include those too. I was just giving examples.

Jeremy Taylor said...

NiV,

I have something for you:

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/begging-the-question.html

Scott said...

@NiV:

"An agent builds a symbolic model of its environment in order to predict the effect of its own options for action on it."

If you don't see the intentionality, teleology, and intellectual determinacy you've already built into that simple statement, I don't know how to make it any clearer.

NiV said...

"Why don't I also need to work out what the symbols +, x, and = mean, and how do I know that the first two represent operations at all?"

Because I was trying to keep the example simple, in order to get across the basic concept without a lot of irrelevant detail.

You need more information to be provided to determine their meaning, but that's certainly possible to do. I could give the Peano-Jordan axioms, for example.

You can tell they're operations by observing what the interpreter does with them. Remember, it's not just a set of symbols that is required - it also needs a physical system that implements and acts on them. A Turing machine is not just a tape marked with symbols, it's also a machine/mechanism that acts in a specific way in response to them. The meaning of the symbols is partly inherent in the construction of the machine.

NiV said...

"If you don't see the intentionality, teleology, and intellectual determinacy you've already built into that simple statement, I don't know how to make it any clearer."

The intentionality mechanism is not dependent on anything in this statement. It's just a description of the context in which it works - this is about *how* and *why* that intentionality and teleology comes about.

Jeremy,

Thank you. But I don't see the relevance.

Eduardo said...

iF you guys don`t give him a realistic example he will never get it, he will just keep assuming whatever interpretation he has and will go from there wondering why you guys don`t get him...

this is what... the millionth time this happened here...

Is just the good old jazz...

Scott said...

@NiV:

"[T]his is about *how* and *why* that intentionality and teleology comes about."

Yes, by assuming it's already present in the agent who constructs the system in the first place and from whom it derives its intentionality. The problem is that that's the view you're supposed to be arguing against.

But we've been down this road before.

NiV said...

I haven't assumed the system is constructed.

The intentionality is inherent in the physical facts of the system's construction and behaviour.

You asked "how to determine what the context is by wholly physical information, or what does or does not count as a symbol to begin with, or what does or does not count as a relation." Constructing that sort of understanding involves building a second symbolic representation of the first system. This second system models the first one (along with its environment) as an intentional agent, its states as symbols, the mapping between symbols and environment as its intention, and so on. It's very easy to do, but it's not necessary for the original system to have meaning.

The scientist observes the mouse running through the maze. The scientist theorises about symbolic representations of the maze in the mouse's brain, but the mouse certainly doesn't. If there was no scientist, there would be no such understanding and classification of mouse brain states. And yet the mouse would still find its way out of the maze.

Unlike us, stuck in this conversation. :-)

Bob said...

@dguller

I am still studying the act/potency part of our discussion, but I just wanted to reply to this bit:

I gave the example of a pattern of neurons firing in the brain when triggered by a cat on a mat. The neural pattern itself could correspond to the cat on the mat, cat slices on the mat, the cat on mat-slices, a cat-like shape on a mat, and so on. Nothing about the neural pattern itself fixes which meaning or interpretation is correct. I could provide numerous other examples to support this claim. It would be more helpful for you to provide a counter-example.

People mis-perceive things all the time, upon first glance it could have been a cat, or merely the shape of a cat. I could have been a lot of things. Correct meaning or interpretation of a stimulus could require additional brain activity apart from any particular pattern of neuronal firing and probably does. At this point, we just do not understand and maybe we never will.

However, I think you are really jumping the gun when claiming to have reached any valid conclusion about the actual nature of meanings, interpretations, or intentionality in general.

That said, you might be correct in the end. in that nothing about the physical state itself fixes which interpretation is correct. The problem is that at this point, it is nothing more than conjecture based on a lack of actual knowledge, or so it seems to me.

Anonymous said...

You asked "how to determine what the context is by wholly physical information, or what does or does not count as a symbol to begin with, or what does or does not count as a relation." Constructing that sort of understanding involves building a second symbolic representation of the first system. This second system models the first one (along with its environment) as an intentional agent, its states as symbols, the mapping between symbols and environment as its intention, and so on. It's very easy to do, but it's not necessary for the original system to have meaning.

So to determine what is or isn't a symbol, a relation, and context, you need to build a second symbolic representation of the first system... for which we'll still have to ask what is or isn't a symbol, a relation, or context.

You're getting nowhere. You'll now need a third system to model the second one, or you'll need the first system to somehow model the second. At each point you're talking about 'models' and 'symbols' and all of these things which you need to even get your project off the ground to begin with, because they're not intrinsic to the physical under a materialist understanding.

Now, you can argue that a given arrangement does have intrinsic meaning to it. But at that point you're done with materialism anyway and are embracing exactly what Ed and others are outlining.

NiV said...

"So to determine what is or isn't a symbol, a relation, and context, you need to build a second symbolic representation of the first system"

Yes. To *determine* what is a symbol, you do. But for something to *be* a symbol, you don't. You only need the first system.

The concept of a pie, and the concept of the concept 'a pie' are distinct. To explain what's going on with the first, you need the second, but the first exists independently and prior to anyone understanding/explaining it.

Scott said...

@NiV:

"But for something to *be* a symbol, you don't. You only need the first system."

Ah, so "symbols" exist even when there aren't any minds to which they can symbolize anything or any abstractions for them to represent. Interesting.

NiV said...

"Ah, so "symbols" exist even when there aren't any minds to which they can symbolize anything or any abstractions for them to represent. Interesting."

It depends what you count as a "mind", but a qualified no to the first, and a definite no to the second.

Symbols can exist without the concept of 'a symbol' existing. A mind can understand what a pie is, and for example that it is tasty and to be desired, without understanding that the concept 'pie' in their head is an abstract symbolic representation of an actual pie. (In much the same way that pies can exist without the symbol 'pie' existing.)

I can *know* what a pie is without any of this second level stuff. It does require a 'mind', in the sense of a simulating system, and the relationship between the knowledge and its subject is an abstraction of the properties of pies. But I can't *explain* my knowledge of pies to you without a second layer of representation in which to refer to the first.

Scott said...

"[A] qualified no to the first[.]"

Then symbols, in order to be symbols, do (qualifiedly) require minds, and you're begging the question in exactly the way several of us have been pointing out. Apart from minds, your systems of operational relationships between states and so forth don't "mean" anything, so there's nothing to interpret.

NiV said...

How can you possibly have an explanation of what minds *are* without requiring minds to *exist*?

A 'mind', in this sense, is simply any system whose states and transitions map onto another system's states and transitions in such a way as to preserve the relationships. Because 'symbols' are the states of the simulating system, of course simulating systems ('minds') have to exist for us to have symbols.

But this is *not* the sort of non-material metaphysical 'mind' you seem to be assuming has to exist in addition to the basic matter and its physics - such as a computing machine instantiates. (Nor does it necessarily imply other properties commonly ascribed to 'minds' like qualia, hence my qualification.)

The idea shouldn't be all that new to you. This is just a form of hylomorphic dualism - the 'stuff of mind' is not a separate non-material substance as in Cartesian dualism, it's inherent in the arrangement, behaviour, and inter-relationships of the matter itself. What I'm saying is that these behaviours and relationships - the 'form' of the matter - are already fully described by standard 'materialist' physics. We don't need anything extra. (At least, not for intentionality.)

The 'form' required for intentionality can be implemented just as easily in non-organic matter as organic. It isn't meant to take anything away from the wonder of organic brains, only to spread that same wonder to the inorganic universe.

Justin said...

I was in discussion with an atheist recently when he conjured Hume to make an argument against a position I had taken. In the very next paragraph, he chastised me for asserting that atheism entailed metaphysical beliefs.

"Atheism doesn't entail any metaphysical beliefs. It is just the absence of belief in God..."

I asked him if he really believed Hume's argument which he had raised. The irony was lost.

Anonymous said...

So you admit symbols are dependent on minds, but then you claim the whole thing is entirely physical for... no reason. I don't see an argument there.

Anonymous said...

A 'mind', in this sense, is simply any system whose states and transitions map onto another system's states and transitions in such a way as to preserve the relationships. Because 'symbols' are the states of the simulating system, of course simulating systems ('minds') have to exist for us to have symbols.

What relationships? What 'mapping'? Where is the intentional relationship in a wholly and exclusively physical description of a brain or a computer? If you say that these 'symbols' or even these 'states' have an intrinsic meaning, you've already left materialism behind. If they have no intrinsic meaning, then you have no 'relationships' or 'symbols' to begin with.

What I'm saying is that these behaviours and relationships - the 'form' of the matter - are already fully described by standard 'materialist' physics.

Except your very descriptions are illustrating that no, they are not fully described by "standard 'materialist' physics." Where is the 'symbol' in a wholly materialist description? Where is the (intentional) relationship?

You're adding an ingredient. It may not be a cartesian soul, but that's not the only "ingredient" you can add that will set you apart from "standard 'materialist' physics".

Scott said...

@NiV:

"A 'mind', in this sense, is simply any system whose states and transitions map onto another system's states and transitions in such a way as to preserve the relationships. . . . The 'form' required for intentionality can be implemented just as easily in non-organic matter as organic."

I've seldom seen a clearer case of confusion between intentionality and homomorphism.

Incidentally, your account entails that "intentionality" is (or at least can be) bidirectional, a fact that to my mind would put it entirely out of court even if it hadn't been put out already for other reasons.

But I've contributed to the sidetracking of this thread long enough.

NiV said...

'Minds' in the sense of something capable of holding meaning, can be entirely physical. There's nothing about meaning that requires anything else. All I was doing was explaining how it works.

And the word 'admit' suggests that I intended to argue for some other position that the existence of minds would be inconsistent with. But again, since the express intention is to explain how minds work within the framework of conventional physics, I don't see how you expect me to do that while denying that minds exist!

What position do you *think* I'm holding regarding the existence of minds?

NiV said...

"I've seldom seen a clearer case of confusion between intentionality and homomorphism."

The difference being...?

"Incidentally, your account entails that "intentionality" is (or at least can be) bidirectional, a fact that to my mind would put it entirely out of court even if it hadn't been put out already for other reasons."

I don't see any reason why that would put it out of court.

"But I've contributed to the sidetracking of this thread long enough."

Fair enough. Thanks for engaging. It's appreciated.

Anonymous said...

'Minds' in the sense of something capable of holding meaning, can be entirely physical. There's nothing about meaning that requires anything else. All I was doing was explaining how it works.

You've failed to do that with each and every one of your examples. People have been trying to explain as much. It's apparently not being conceded by you, but it's probably going to be apparent to any given onlooker.

If you want to make meaning and intentionality intrinsic to manner, you're welcome to. There's a word for that, and neither "materialism" nor "naturalism" is it.

NiV said...

"People have been trying to explain as much."

Not very successfully, so far.

"It's apparently not being conceded by you, but it's probably going to be apparent to any given onlooker."

By a subset of onlookers, certainly. For those where the necessary assumptions form part of their basic worldview, it will no doubt seem obvious.

The problem is that different people come at the question with different background contexts, and there is a fundamental failure to communicate between them. There are, I assure you, lots of people who would find my viewpoint obvious, and yours strange.

Personally I find the different viewpoints very interesting. What are the specific differences? What arguments would you put forward in defence of them? But it's very difficult to do that without actually exploring our respective ideas - explaining them and listening to the responses.

Since meaning and intentionality obviously exist, and materialism/naturalism posits that everything consists of matter following natural law-like behaviour of matter, materialism/naturalism must necessarily imbue matter with meaning and intentionality. So why you would think materialism or naturalism are the wrong words for that position, I don't know.

You might claim that they do so incorrectly, but it must be clear that they do so.

Donald said...

I haven't read the whole thread, but caught the tail end of NiV's argument. I'm not sure who's right, but isn't the genetic code an example of what he is talking about? I've forgotten most of what little molecular biology I ever knew,but the twenty amino acids are encoded by three "letters" chosen from a four letter alphabet--adenine thymine cytosine and guanine. There's a complex biochemical system behind all this and the genetic code is arbitrary in the sense that "language" could have been different, though I think some have said that the actual code is possibly the most efficient in some sense I don't recall. Intelligent designers of the sort that both evolutionists and Dr. Feser criticize (for different reasons) claim it is too complicated to arise by chance, while origin of life researchers try to think of ways it could have evolved out of some simpler system.

Anyway, in an infinite universe isn't it true that something like a cell could arise by chance? It's incredibly unlikely on any given earthlike planet, but if there are an infinite number of earthlike planets it is bound to happen on some. Not that origin of life researchers propose the chance hypothesis--I just trot it out there because until they come up with something more detailed, it still seems possible that in principle a complex machine like a living cell could arise by chance . And that would be a material system where one set of material objects "meant" another set.

Apologies if someone already used this example.

I happen to be a Christian who thinks materialism is false, but I'm not sure what Thomistic philosophy has to say on the origin of life.

Anonymous said...

Searle addressed DNA, claiming it doesn't help much in materialist explanations of intentionality. I'll see if I can find a link.

Anonymous said...

Also, I'd wager that DNA transcription and translation can be entirely described by physics, without having to resort to meaning or intentionality. Roughly speaking, it is all just building blocks that fit together vs building blocks that don't fit together.

Donald said...

Thanks, anon. That'll be interesting to read if you find the Searle link.

I should say that I don't think that naturalistic explanations for the origin of life would threaten Christianity, but I'm not at all clear if it would threaten Thomism. From my pov a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life is no different from a naturalistic explanation for the origin of raindrops or stalactites--well, much more interesting,but in principle no different. But if this question of "intentionality" is crucial, then it might be very different.

On the other hand, I could just be confused. Metaphysics isn't my strong suit.

Donald said...

In some sense yes, everything about biology could be reduced to physics, though I think the more philosophically inclined biologists like the late Ernst Mayr would object to such a reductionist way of looking at their subject.

Well, everything outside of consciousness, perhaps. On the intentionality question, I think I recall Chalmers placing great emphasis on qualia as the "hard problem"--my impression is that his view of "intentionality" probably was the same as NiV's. To me this makes sense, but again, I don't put a lot of faith in my own thinking when it comes to metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

So in other words, saying that the codon CUU "means" Leucine implies that the definition of "mean" is something like "the anticodon it binds to is part of tRNA that is usually attached to Leucine." The problem with using this sort of causal chain to explain meaning is that is runs into Popper's argument, namely there is nothing in the sequence of DNA/RNA transcription/translation that objectively counts as the "representED" or the "representER."

Anonymous said...

Popper's argument can be found here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=j7bx6IUu2SsC&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=%22hayek+popper+and+the+causal+theory+of+the+mind%22&source=bl&ots=VlKS7m-HGy&sig=FLVU80Le1A4TEE5mc7e1SSVgx1U&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QEVHT-HbOOOViALpkdWKAw&ved=0CDYQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=%22hayek%20popp&f=false

I'll see if I can find Searle's bit on intentionality.

Also, I've heard Oderberg's Real Essentialism is a good book with regards to Thomism and the origin of life.

John Quin said...

Apologies to Prof Feser for hijacking his combox over Patricia Churchland again.

As a somewhat regular listener to skeptiko all I can say is that Patricia snapped really early in the interview. Lots of other guests have tolerated much more from the host. IMO she brought a bad attitude towards the host into the show to begin with.

Now I don't want to excuse the host but Patricia knew all this going in a one wonders why she agreed to it at all.

She seemed to bypass any push back at all and go straight to weirdness.

Perhaps they need Krauss on the show, that would be amusing.

Jeremy Taylor said...

NiV writes,

A 'mind', in this sense, is simply any system whose states and transitions map onto another system's states and transitions in such a way as to preserve the relationships.

But how is this accomplished? How can one sysmtem's states and transitions be mapped onto another so that the one is a sign of the other?

Obviously, I mean how do you explain this without begging the question.



Debilis said...

From my reading of Coyne's blog, this seems accurate.

In fact, I'm not entirely confident that Coyne hasn't written a "rebuttal" of the book I've been thinking about writing.

He may well be berating me for assuming what I absorbed through the culture of my upbringing–rather than investigating the alternatives before rejecting them.

How presumptuous of me.

Anonymous said...

Not very successfully, so far.

They've had plenty of success, really. Maybe you mean you still don't understand, but...

There are, I assure you, lots of people who would find my viewpoint obvious, and yours strange.

Not really. It's not a matter of bringing in background assumptions, but understanding a clear argument as it has been laid out. The point of division here is not a matter of axioms.

Since meaning and intentionality obviously exist, and materialism/naturalism posits that everything consists of matter following natural law-like behaviour of matter, materialism/naturalism must necessarily imbue matter with meaning and intentionality.

Unless materialism is incoherent. It's entirely possible that materialism is a system that ultimately denies the obvious, or must deny the obvious in order to be consistent with itself.

That may sum up your problem here. The way you just put this implies that you think it's impossible for materialism to go wrong, because surely it can't fail to account for the obvious (meaning, intentionality, and so on). But that's what it's being charged with.

And it's not just the anti-naturalists who think so. See Rosenberg for just one example.

NiV said...

Donald,

"but isn't the genetic code an example of what he is talking about?"

That would probably be an even more direct example. What I was talking about was pure representation - neurons firing based on sensory experience. But you could also consider the triplets of DNA base pair to be 'symbols' that represent amino acids, and genes to be composite symbols that 'mean' the corresponding protein. Again, there is a correspondence between the two systems mediated by interpretative machinery. It's a good example, thanks!

"There's a complex biochemical system behind all this and the genetic code is arbitrary in the sense that "language" could have been different, though I think some have said that the actual code is possibly the most efficient in some sense I don't recall."

Basically, there are molecules floating around that stick to a particular amino acid on one end, and a particular base triplet on the other. When the base triplet ends stick to the DNA strand, that lines the amino acids up next to each other. There's a lot more detail going on, but that's essentially how it works.

With 4 letters to make up words, there are 4 one-letter words, 16 two-letter words, and 64 three-letter words. To represent 20 amino acids and a 'stop' symbol, you therefore need at least three-letter words, which is what we've got. It's most efficient in the sense of number of letters. But there are various improvements that could be made to improve its error tolerance if you had complete freedom, and of course you could represent more amino acids (up to 63) with the same number of letters.

"Anyway, in an infinite universe isn't it true that something like a cell could arise by chance?"

Yes, but the odds are so low that it's not worth considering. What's far more likely is that a single replicating molecule could arise by chance. Once you've got that, the rest of the cell will evolve from it naturally. However, in principle it could happen.

Anonymous,

"Also, I'd wager that DNA transcription and translation can be entirely described by physics, without having to resort to meaning or intentionality."

Only in the way that one can explain the motion of water by describing the local pressures and velocities of zillions of water molecules without resorting to "waves". The descriptions are equivalent. Waves occur as a solution to the equations of the jostling water molecules. The explanation of the water's motion is complete without mentioning them, but that doesn't mean waves don't exist, or that they're not an equally valid explanation. In the same way, transcription and translation may well *be* intentionality while also being entirely described by physics. That's the point.

NiV said...

Donald,

"On the intentionality question, I think I recall Chalmers placing great emphasis on qualia as the "hard problem"--my impression is that his view of "intentionality" probably was the same as NiV's."

I'd agree with that - qualia are a far more difficult problem, to which I don't have an answer. Intentionality is much easier. I'd be interested if you can remember where Chalmers discussed it.

Jeremy,

"But how is this accomplished? How can one sysmtem's states and transitions be mapped onto another so that the one is a sign of the other?"

It depends what you mean by "be mapped". What I'm saying is that the intentionality exists if such a mapping is possible - i.e. the same pattern of behaviour exists in two different systems. But for some real world entity to actually explicitly construct a representation of the mapping, to know about it, explain it, or describe it, it requires a separate model representing the first model, the system being modelled, and the relationship between the two.

Anonymous,

"They've had plenty of success, really. Maybe you mean you still don't understand, but..."

I meant they hadn't succeeded in explaining it in a way I could understand. Although I do understand what they mean by their objections, I don't understand why their objections should pose any problem for my viewpoint.

"It's not a matter of bringing in background assumptions, but understanding a clear argument as it has been laid out."

If only!

"It's entirely possible that materialism is a system that ultimately denies the obvious, or must deny the obvious in order to be consistent with itself."

If there is any flaw in materialism, it will be a more subtle one. Physicists and computer scientists are not stupid. The only people I can imagine saying something as strange as "meaning is an illusion" are the philosophers. *Obviously* meaning and intentionality exist, so if physicists think everything can be explained with physics, they must necessarily hold that physics can explain intentionality. Their explanation might be wrong, or they might not have one yet, but their position has to be that such an explanation is possible and exists.

"The way you just put this implies that you think it's impossible for materialism to go wrong, because surely it can't fail to account for the obvious (meaning, intentionality, and so on)."

Of course it could go wrong! And it could easily fail to account for the obvious. Not having an explanation is not the same thing as believing that no explanation exists! What I'm saying is that they're not going to *deny* the obvious. As it happens, I think there's already a perfectly viable explanation for intentionality, but I've also said that I don't think the same is true of qualia, which are equally obvious. That's not to say I think such an explanation is necessarily impossible. I just don't know if it is.

Anonymous said...

"Waves occur as a solution to the equations of the jostling water molecules."

What property of waves make them solutions, and what property of moving water molecules makes them equations? I'm not seeing how this carries over to DNA causal chains.

Anonymous said...

If there is any flaw in materialism, it will be a more subtle one. Physicists and computer scientists are not stupid. The only people I can imagine saying something as strange as "meaning is an illusion" are the philosophers.

It's a philosophical question to begin with, not a scientific one. What makes you think most physicists have even thought deeply about this question? You only need to look as far as Hawking to see how inept some physicists are when it comes to the topic.

*Obviously* meaning and intentionality exist, so if physicists think everything can be explained with physics, they must necessarily hold that physics can explain intentionality.

I doubt this, but I have a proposal: find me some physicists who plainly state that consciousness and intentionality can be "explained by physics". Quote them here. And if you quote them, let's find out how they think that explanation will pan out. Off the top of my head, the only examples I know of either keep things completely vague (alluding to a 'future physics' which may well be incompatible with materialism) or are specific and run counter to materialism (committing to panpsychism, neutral monism, or otherwise.)

What I'm saying is that they're not going to *deny* the obvious.

Except for the philosophers?

Glenn said...

Churchland again... argggh. Okay, let's continue the hijacking for a tad bit longer, then, mercifully, bring it to a safe landing on the runway of the OP.

1. Continuing from "[Churchland hangs up]":

Tsakris: So that's it. She hung up on me. A first, really. Of all the interviews that I've done, that's a first. I immediately got on email and I sent her this very short email: "Wow. That's a first. J Is that really how you want to end things? I think you're going to look pretty bad." That's all I said. I fully expected that that would be the end of it. I mean, come on, that was really testy. The tension was really thick. I thought I'd just never hear from her again. But to my surprise, she emailed me back a few minutes later. She writes: "Sorry. Lost connection. I think my computer has a little problem. So sorry. Pat." So I immediately Skyped her again.

Tsakiris Skypes Churchland again, at approximately 16:12 of the MP3. Two and one half minutes later, at 18:42, there occurs what appears to be, i.e, sounds like, a technical difficulty; Churchland's voice is garbled for a short span of two seconds. Is this garbling a result of a technical difficulty? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. If it is, then it is, apparently, not the first time that Tsakiris has been involved in a Skype call during which technical difficulties occurred. According to one "Doctor Atlantis" (here): "As I prepared for my call with Alex [Tsakiris] I discussed with him via e-mail how to record SKYPE calls -- and did a test run with a hardware solution that was successful. But in the 90+ minute call we had at some point one of programs crashed and I'm left with a chopped-up partial recording of Alex along with a pristine copy of my own side of the conversation." So, maybe there were genuine technical difficulties during Tsakiris' interview with Churchland conducted through Skype. (Of course, maybe there weren't.)

2. Time now to end the hijacking, and safely land on the runway of the OP. This is easily done because Tsakiris has also interviewed Dr. Jerry Coyne. Below are two snippets from that interview (which interview is here). In the first snippet, Coyne not only catches Tsakiris inappropriately extrapolating from something already published (where have we seen this before?...), but -- and more importantly -- concludes with an interesting remark not entirely unrelated to the OP. In the second snippet, Coyne makes another interesting remark, which, likewise, is not entirely unrelated to the OP.

cont...

Glenn said...

...cont

1st snippet: Coyne: Well, I don't know that paper so I can't comment. But you're talking about quantum mechanics again, in which there may be observer effects but as far as I know there's still a lot of controversy about that. How that deals with the Theory of Evolution is completely mystifying to me. I don't know why you bring up this paper. I mean, if you want to use that paper to attack evolution, go ahead. But there's no connection as far as I can see.

Tsakiris: I think the connection is that they're saying that this whole idea of random mutation has a new spin on it and that new spin is consciousness and that it's all about the observer...

Coyne: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who said the theory of random mutation has a new spin on it? I don't think those authors did.

Tsakiris: Well, I think that's exactly what they said.

Coyne: Sorry?

Tsakiris: I think that's exactly what they're saying when they're saying...

Coyne: No, you quote me from the paper where they say that. Not that you think that's exactly what they're saying. They're talking about quantum mechanical effects. We have no idea whether those apply on the mutational level. And we have even less idea even if they did whether that would render mutation random or not.

Tsakiris: Right, but...

Coyne: I'm waiting to hear your quote about mutation from this paper.

Tsakiris: Well, I think I just did. They said that...

Coyne: No, you didn't. You said that you think they say that. You read me the quote from the paper about non-local effects in physics which I'll take your word that you're reading the abstract. But when you say it applies to non-random mutation I want you to quote me where it says that in that paper.

Tsakiris: Okay, you're right. I can't quote you in that paper where they're tying...

Coyne: So you're making it up basically, right?

Tsakiris: Well, Jerry, let's be fair. I don't want to get antagonistic or anything like that but this is...

Coyne: Well, you are. Yes, go ahead.

Tsakiris: I'm just saying if they're saying at the fundamental level of physics non-local theories are incompatible with what we observe, then I think it calls into question the things that we're talking about in terms of Materialism, Determinism. Isn't that the direct implication of what they're saying?

Coyne: No! No, because they're talking about what happens in a very, very tiny micro level. It does not mean that you can't predict what happens when billiard table for which Newtonian mechanics is perfectly applicable. It's as if you're saying we can't play billiards and we can't shoot rockets to the moon because of this stuff that happens on a micro level.

The fact is that assuming that these phenomena apply on most of the levels of reality that we deal with renders everything wrong is simply incorrect.


One must wonder: would Coyne would agree with the basic principle of his own remark were things bumped up another level or two?


2nd snippet: Coyne: Well, I don't know this research [referring to something other than the paper he had earlier said he can't comment on because he hasn't read it]. As I told you when we vetted my appearance here I'm not really qualified to answer questions about research that I'm not familiar with. So you're asking me to say whether or not a piece of research I'm not familiar with [---]. I haven't read that so I can't really comment on that, you know?

No, Jerry, we don't know. But, please, do enlighten us on the prudence involved in not commenting on what you haven't read.

Sigh.

NiV said...

"What property of waves make them solutions, and what property of moving water molecules makes them equations? I'm not seeing how this carries over to DNA causal chains."

Sorry. Perhaps that's an unfamiliar analogy to non-physicists.

What I meant was that each small volume of water is constrained locally by the laws of conservation of mass and conservation of momentum, experiencing only the forces pushing on it from its immediate neighbourhood, which can be described by equations that say how the water level will change depending on the local height, slope, and motion of the water at each point. It's a reductionist explanation of the motion of water that is complete as far as predicting what water will do, but does not involve any waves in the way it describes things.

Roughly speaking, the vertical acceleration of the water surface is proportional to the net pressure from the surroundings, whether it is inwards or outwards. If the surrounding water is higher on average, it's inwards and the level is pushed upwards, and if it's lower it's outwards and the water is pushed downwards. The vertical acceleration is the second derivative with respect to time (d^2 h/dt^2), the upward/downward curvature of the water is given approximately by the second derivative with respect to horizontal distance (d^2 h/dx^2). So the motion is governed by an equation that looks something like (d^2 h/dt^2) = C (d^2 h/dx^2). In this description every point is going up and down where it is - nothing here is moving horizontally.

Water waves are funny things. The water itself, the matter of which waves are made, only bobs briefly in a circular motion as the wave passes. There's no 'lump of water' passing across the surface. (You can see this if you watch small objects floating on the water as the wave passes. The material in the wave changes constantly. So if the wave is not "made of" water, what is it? Is it made of energy? But in this case, energy is just a kludged together combination of motion and height, a mathematical fiction - it's not a 'thing' in the material sense. (At least, in a non-relativistic Newtonian picture.) So are water waves real 'things' in a materialist sense?

But generally, physicists have no problem accepting the reality of waves. It's just another equivalent description, which is often mathematically more convenient, but which is really saying the exact same thing. There's nothing at all in the travelling wave description that isn't predicted by the differential equation description.

My analogy was that DNA protein synthesis can be described both mechanically and intentionally, but that the two descriptions may be exactly equivalent. The intentional viewpoint is just another way of looking at the same thing.

NiV said...

"What makes you think most physicists have even thought deeply about this question?"

What makes you think it requires deep thought?

Anonymous said...

Both of those appear to be mathematical descriptions. But that isn't exactly what I was asking for. Say you have a causal sequence, with water being disturbed along the way leading to the propagation of wave, leading to a startled frog or something. Why is the wave the solution to the water molecule equation, rather than the startled frog? I'm looking for some objective feature, not a subjective preference like "physicists aren't concerned with frogs."

Anonymous said...

What makes you think it requires deep thought?

Because it's not the most naturally intuitive question, for one thing. Again, Stephen Hawking made some howler mistakes in his book, some of them were obvious. He wrote a book bashing philosophy, and seemed oblivious that his book was largely a philosophical work.

It's entirely possible that physicists think the mind can be explained by physics, and for them to be missing important things.

Anon 2 said...

Additionally, physicists and neuroscientists may not be aware that explanations of intentionality that depend on intentional terms like model, map, representation, are circular. That amounts to using intentionality to explain intentionality, rather than using non-intentionality to explain intentionality.

NiV said...

"Why is the wave the solution to the water molecule equation, rather than the startled frog?"

If you included the frog in the equations, the startled frog would be part of the solution, too. I'm not sure how that helps, though.

"Because it's not the most naturally intuitive question, for one thing."

Isn't it?

"Again, Stephen Hawking made some howler mistakes in his book, some of them were obvious."

Is that relevant? Did he say anywhere that he didn't think meaning was real, for example?

"It's entirely possible that physicists think the mind can be explained by physics, and for them to be missing important things."

I don't disagree! But this particular point is almost a syllogism. Meaning exists. Materialists claim all that exists can be explained as matter following physical laws. Therefore meterialists claim that meaning can be explained as matter following physical laws. It's not very deep, is it?

"Additionally, physicists and neuroscientists may not be aware that explanations of intentionality that depend on intentional terms like model, map, representation, are circular."

Well, I can't speak for *all* physicists, but I was well aware of that.

"That amounts to using intentionality to explain intentionality, rather than using non-intentionality to explain intentionality."

No, it requires intentionality to be able to explain how non-intentionality explains intentionality. The intentionality itself doesn't require it, but the *explanation* does.

The map is not the territory.

I can tell you, for example, that 'words' are built up from 'letters'. Seems clear enough. But some would say that the above definition is itself made up of words: 'words', 'are', built', 'up', 'from', ... etc. So it may be claimed that my definition of words is itself using words and therefore circular. Except it's not. Letters get put together to make words prior to my description of them doing so - my description of the thing is not the thing itself. But it occurs prior to our ability to describe things, so we have to do it 'retrospectively', so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it?

Apparently not, considering your own misunderstandings and misapprehensions in this very thread.

Is that relevant? Did he say anywhere that he didn't think meaning was real, for example?

It illustrates that 'being a really smart scientist' does not amount to 'being really good at philosophy'. Hawking is rotten at it. He apparently didn't even realize he was himself engaged in philosophy.

Your argument here was that 'scientists are materialists and they probably don't deny the obvious therefore materialism must totally be compatible with the existence of meaning and intentionality and...' It's really not an encouraging stance to see someone take.

Meaning exists. Materialists claim all that exists can be explained as matter following physical laws. Therefore meterialists claim that meaning can be explained as matter following physical laws.

First, no, materialists don't claim that - not all of them. In fact some clearly believe that meaning has to be sacrificed. Your explanation for that is 'well they're philosophers I bet!' Again, not encouraging.

Second, 'claim' doesn't mean 'possible', much less 'have an account'. You're under the impression that materialists (or at least the ones you imagine) believe the world is material and that meaning exist so... what, obviously these ideas have to be compatible? Because the alternative would mean they made a big mistake or were being inconsistent somewhere? It's a live possibility. More than a possibility, in fact.

You seem mystified at the very suggestion that an incompatibility could exist here. When someone suggests that maybe, just maybe, it's not as easy as you think, your stock response seems to be a wide-eyed 'Isn't it?'

No, it's not. But by all means, explain intentionality using intentional concepts once again, then act mystified when it's pointed out the problem still remains. I'm sure someone hasn't grown tired of that yet.

Anonymous said...

NiV,

Maybe it would help if you provided a link to someone else who argues for your position.

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