Wednesday, September 24, 2014

DSPT Symposium


God, Reason and Reality is a new anthology edited by Anselm Ramelow.  In addition to Fr. Ramelow, the contributors include Robert Sokolowski, Robert Spaemann, Thomas Joseph White, Lawrence Dewan, Stamatios Gerogiorgakis, John F. X. Knasas, Paul Thom, Michael Dodds, William Wainwright, and Linda Zagzebski.  The table of contents and other information about the book can be found here.

The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA will be hosting a symposium on the book on November 8, 2014.  The presenters will be Fr. Ramelow, Fr. Dodds, and me.  Further information can be found here.

32 comments:

Kiel said...

How many angels can barf on a book cover?

Kiel said...

Seriously, a QR code? Clip art is more pleasing than a QR code.

Keen Reader said...

Sometimes a book can have a lousy cover and superb content -- The Last Superstition being a prime example.

Irish Thomist said...

@Keen Reader

At least The Last Superstition had a nice bright yellow hue... Book coveres get worse the more academic the book - well thats my theory.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Irish

Moral is: Look for the ugliest books around?

I was actually also struck by the strange book cover of TLS, which was my first notice of Feser (bought blindly through a recommendation from a friend). Luckily, I was convinced soon enough that the content by far outweighed my initial suspicion/disappointment.

Petronius Jablonski said...

Typically the author has zero say in the cover or title. Publishers assume their own omniscience about marketing. TLS is a great title. Perhaps they didn't want a cover that distracted from it. I would have been tempted to depict Hitchens, Dawkins and co. as zombies, but this is too complicated for a book cover.

Tom Carroll said...

If you look at the website, it seems like no registration is involved. As I read it, one just shows up to the symposium. That will be convenient.

Glenn said...

To quote Maggie Tulliver (from George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss):

"Why, it's one o' the books I bought at [Barnes and Noble]. [T]here's a lot more of 'em...but they've all got the same [quality-less] covers[.] But it seems one mustn't judge by th' outside. This is a puzzlin' world."

(So puzzlin', in fact, that we one also musn't judge gender by first name. (George'll be mighty upset if we do. (And if ya dunna believe it, just ask Evelyn Waugh.))

Glenn said...

(Oops. "So puzzlin', in fact, that we one..." Actually, we lost. But...)

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel


Moral is: Look for the ugliest books around?


About what I said about book cover's...

I was kind of joking but it is actually common for 'popular' books to be very well designed and the more academic work will be purchased regardless of the cover; so less care is put into that side of things. Sure 'white-paper' type documents cost $/£79 or whatever and don't even have a cover (in PDF format). :)

MookVanguard said...

Hi again everyone!

So naturally I have another question, this time about computers and rationality. Let's suppose we handwaved away the problem of computers being artifacts and supposed that we had a set of computers operating with one another in such a way that they perform many of the functions of the human brain. Would it be in any way possible for this hypothetical setup to be a rational being?

Cantus said...

Before the debate proposed by the commenter above me starts, may I quickly ask whether anything happens if you scan the book's cover with your iPhone?

Daniel said...

Hi again Mook,

No, for one thing that way of phrasing it is question-begging in that mental or even non-mental life can be reduced to the interaction of its material parts understood Mechanistically (if a more Aristotelean view of nature qua physical intentionality is taken into account then at least a large proportion of it could be understood in such a fashion).

Firstly computers do not actually calculate in the manner minds do, instead all they do is reproduce certain marks at the response of the correct electronic flow – these patterns serve as ‘symbols’ but they only have the value of symbols and thus information because we assign it to them*. For us a computer is anything which lends itself to processes that turns up these marks (to which we assign meaning) on a regular basis we can predict and control. If I could perceive the molecules in my desk and predict all their future movements I could arbitrarily annex meaning connotations to certain of them and thus treat them as a computer (the key thing is knowing how they will behave). In other words computation is observer relative. This is by no means an A-T specific view - if you search John Searle on this blog it should turn up a lot about it.

*Suppose there existed another race of beings which had almost exactly like ours save that they used the mark 2 for the number three and 4 for the number six. A human computer which puts up the mark 4 at the input 2+2 would seem to give the correct answer to them just as it would for us. Yet we would both have mutually exclusive meanings in mind.

For another related point no matter who well a computer follows rules a la the Turing Test that ‘rule-following’ capacity is an equivocation – intelligence is a prerequisite for following or breaking rules. The rule following or rule-breaking depends on the informative value we attach to the marks in question. We only call it a ‘rule-following’ capacity in virtue of unconscious anthropomorphism. One could theoretical build a robot so complex that it responded to various vibrations in the atmosphere with a certain sound frequency – it could appear so life like that one could be misled to believe one was having a conversation with it. After all I form the sounds which for me have the information value ‘Thomas’ rejection of the Ontological Argument was stupid’ and it then forms the sounds which for me have the information value ‘I concur, it’s questionable whether the Saint even had a coherent criticism of that argument. The Neo-Thomists only kept it up out of sheer prejudice’. Yet it is only I that attribute such meaning to the noises it makes. One can even convince of a whole society of robots that for all outward appearances converse with one another, engage in cultural activity and form an intelligent society. It would all be a matter of appearances however – none of these machines would possess any consciousness, not even that of the most primitive mammal.

Ed's Philosophy of Mind contains interesting discussions of these and many other such questions, though not exclusively from an A-T perspective.

Irish Thomist said...

@MookVanguard
Let's suppose we handwaved away the problem of computers being artifacts
Therein is your problem. They would have no immaterial aspect by virtue of their nature; thus no qulia etc.

Scott said...

@MookVanguard:

"Would it be in any way possible for this hypothetical setup to be a rational being?"

So far as I know, there's no reason in principle that God couldn't step in and endow it with an intellect. If that happened, of course, it would no longer be a machine (or set of machines) and it would have its own substantial form rather than just an accidental one.

There's also, so far as I know, not even the slightest reason to think that would happen.

philoandrew said...

Here is the NDPR review of the book for those interested: http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/49330-god-reason-and-reality/

MookVanguard said...

Could we theoretically build a brain out of the same parts of a human brain? Same molecules and all?

I suppose the issue is that the computers themselves cannt be sentient, much like an abacus cannot truly count.

MookVanguard said...

By the way, the QR code on the front of the book leads to the Philisophia online shop where you can buy the book.

Bookception!

Scott said...

@MookVanguard:

"I suppose the issue is that the computers themselves cann[o]t be sentient, much like an abacus cannot truly count."

Yep, that's pretty much it. Likewise, for A-T, even a brain isn't "sentient"; sentience and intellect belong to the human (substance) as a whole, not just to one or another of its parts.

The brain performs certain functions just as the heart does, but what you have left if you remove a human brain isn't a substance without an intellect; you have a substance with an intellect but without any physical way to manifest/exercise/express it.

Bobcat said...

This is a threadjack, but Ed, what do you make of the Leiter imbroglio? If I recall correctly, Leiter routinely vilified you on his blog and no one ever got out the pitchforks.

Prince Randoms said...

IIRC he was also quite involved with amplifying the Parsons "quitting" controversy.

MookVanguard said...

@Scott

I agree with that position. However, when a human is born the substance is specially created with the body, no?

What about a hypothetical human brain assembled entirely by artificial means (i.e. not through birth, but through cloning, let's say)? My impression is that this would also result in a human substance being formed.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Bobcat,

Just sitting back with popcorn. Hubris Meets Nemesis has always been one of my favorite flicks.

Scott said...

@MookVanguard:

"What about a hypothetical human brain assembled entirely by artificial means (i.e. not through birth, but through cloning, let's say)? My impression is that this would also result in a human substance being formed."

I expect so, but then I also wouldn't regard cloning as assembling a human being "entirely by artificial means." The "natural" biology is still doing all the real work.

Strictly speaking, I suppose, God could refrain from endowing such a being with an intellectual soul, but then I suppose He could do so with any of us as well—just as He could endow an array of computers with one if it suited His purposes. On empirical grounds, though, those alternatives seem to me unlikely or implausible, although not strictly impossible.

MookVanguard said...

@Scott

I see, that makes sense I guess.

I understand that we're a very long way off from ever simulating or artificially building a human brain, if it's even possible to do. But ya know, when writing sci-fi you have to understand the implications of your plot devices ;)

Scott said...

@MookVanguard:

"But ya know, when writing sci-fi you have to understand the implications of your plot devices ;)"

Heh, yep. And in one of my still-favorite SF novels, Robert Heinlein did exactly that.

I'm thinking of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which a HOLMES IV computer "woke up" and became sentient. However unrealistic that may be, I still think Heinlein was following through very nicely on the implications of his plot device when he had his narrator, contemplating the proposed death of Mike, say, "Never mind 'soul'—prove Mike didn't have one. And if no soul, so much worse. No? Think twice."

Scott said...

@philoandrew:

Thanks for the URL. I was particularly interested in Linda Zagzebski's essay and the review told me what I wanted t know about it.

It's disappointing to read that the book has so many editorial and formatting errors. For seventy bucks a pop, you'd think they could trouble themselves to take more care.

MookVanguard said...

Alright round 2

Let's say you have a man. Now, let's suppose that every cell in his body gets its DNA ripped out and replaced with another person's DNA, let's say a woman.

Is his body still a male body? I ask this because while there are biological differences between the sexes, it does not seem valid to link it to morphology since a man or woman could be gravely injured and lose their, erm, defining characteristics without losing their essence.

Scott said...

@MookVanguard:

"Is his body still a male body?"

I don't know; in fact I have no idea whether, as a matter of biology, a body could even survive having all of its DNA swapped out for someone else's.

I think it's an empirical question, at any rate. Suppose—just to take one possible thought experiment—it were possible to inject a man with a substance that destroyed all his Y chromosomes and caused all his X chromosomes to replicate. Genetically, he's now "female" (and of course if his sex cells are affected too, he can now only sire daughters). But is his body, or is he, female? I don't know, and I don't think we can tell just by thinking about it.*

And that's fine as far as A-T is concerned; not only are there lots of questions that are strictly empirical, but sex itself is an "accident" of a human substance, not part of its essence.

----

* Of course I may well be wrong about this! Perhaps someone else will come up with a good reason to regard the modified body/person as male (or female).

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

I take it you have studied philosophy or at least beyond the basic popular literature?

You gave a good answer concerning the following reply to Mook..
Yep, that's pretty much it. Likewise, for A-T, even a brain isn't "sentient"; sentience and intellect belong to the human (substance) as a whole, not just to one or another of its parts.

The brain performs certain functions just as the heart does, but what you have left if you remove a human brain isn't a substance without an intellect; you have a substance with an intellect but without any physical way to manifest/exercise/express it.


@Ed and Bobcat...
I feel a little stupid for not understanding what that interaction between you was about. Should I (as in what happened?)? :(

Bill said...

If the book is new why is Amazon.com telling me to "See all buying options," so I can try to buy the book from a third-party seller?

Glenn said...

Bill,

If the book is new why is Amazon.com telling me to "See all buying options," so I can try to buy the book from a third-party seller?

1) Amazon, which isn't the only seller, accommodates other sellers.

2) Some people buy, read, then resell.

3) And then there are recipients of ARCs who might simply read and sell.