Monday, May 30, 2016

Linking for thinking


Busy week and a half coming up, but I’d never leave you without something to read.

Nautilus recounts the debate between Bergson and Einstein about the nature of time.

Preach it.  At Aeon, psychologist Robert Epstein argues that the brain is not a computer.

A new Philip K. Dick television anthology series is planned.  In the meantime, gear up for season 2 of The Man in the High Castle.


New books for Thomists: Eleonore Stump, The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers; Brian Davies, Thomas Aquinas's Summa Contra Gentiles: A Guide and Commentary; and William Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem.

The Weekly Standard on art critic Robert Hughes.

Tim Crane on the life and character of Wittgenstein, at the The Times Literary Supplement.

John Searle on perception: Interview at The Partially Examined Life.

Mariska Leunissen’s edited volume Aristotle’s Physics: A Critical Guide is reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

At OUPblog, William Jaworski on Aristotle and Hilary Putnam.

Has Aristotle’s tomb been found?

Also at Aeon, Elliott Sober asks: Why should we accept Ockham’s Razor?

The Scholasticum is a new post-graduate institute for the study of Scholastic theology and philosophy.



The other footnote drops.  At First Things, philosopher Michael Pakaluk on Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia.  

The University Bookman on C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

Philosopher and psychologist Daniel Robinson is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine.

181 comments:

JD said...

Another link of interest, a Thomist is in the process of reviewing Sean Carroll's new book: http://christian-agnostic.blogspot.com/2016/05/a-review-of-sean-carrolls-big-picture_24.html?m=0

Matthew McCormack said...

This is sort of off-topic, but since links to reading is the topic it is somewhat close and probably the best time to ask. Is there such a book, or can anyone recommend a book, that explains changes in theology and/or in philosophical conception of God that occurred as a result of the switch from realism to nominalism ?

Anonymous said...

I see you put the apparent discovery of the tomb where Aristotle was apparently buried. For the sake of balance, here’s a clearheaded analysis of the evidence supporting the claim, which comes to a skeptical conclusion: https://rogueclassicism.com/2016/05/27/aristotelian-skepticism-is-it-really-his-tomb/

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

What do you think of Robert Epstein's favored way of talking about the brain? Given that you think that computational talk does track real patterns in nature (as you argue in your recent Nova et Vetera article), it would seem that, from your position, Epstein is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Mihret Gelan said...

Does any one know of any thomistic treatment/literature on the harm principle - "Do whatever you want as long as it does harm/hurt anybody"

Thanks.

Mihret Gelan said...

does not*, typo

David Marcoe said...

I have to second this question by Anon regarding Epstein. I'm not entirely sure I gather Epstein's point. That human brains don't work like computers is perhaps a minority view, but one which is anything but new, and not even particularly controversial, as many have noted that the analogue structures of the brain are not the digital structures of a computer. But it seems that Epstein fails to make a couple of important distinctions.

First, while he notes the confused use of metaphors, he himself fails to distinguish between analogical and literal ways of speaking of the brain as a computer, where analogical has been of some use. The brain, for instance, does have short term and long term memory, and we do call up memories for re-remembrance. And the brain is composed of electrochemical circuits, which makes its activity somewhat more akin to a computer than the mechanical or hydraulic. Human beings use figurative language to approach that which is difficult to comprehend, and sometimes our thinking becomes confused. Abusus non tollit usum.

Second, Epstein himself seems to collapse, in Aristotelian terms, the sensitive and intellective powers of the human mind. In Epstein's words, "The brain has simply changed in an orderly way that now allows us to sing the song or recite the poem under certain conditions." In the broadest terms, doesn't that describe what a computer does? Except, of course, that a computer doesn't actually recite or sing, in the sense of having comprehension, but Epstein doesn't make this distinction, and to my mind doesn't escape the same basic fallacy that he criticizes. He recapitulates, in different language, the faulty analogies of hydraulics, mechanism, and computation. Epstein seems, to my mind, to commit Hobbesian and Humean error of equating thought with sense impression, and he fails to note that the human mind has power of abstracting from experience--finding resemblance and making distinctions--utilizing, in Epstein's words "symbolic representations," such as language, mathematics, visual symbols, etc.

Moreover, even following Epstein's thinking, the brain does call up patterns that can be visualized in the mind, which while not like what is produced by a computer, are nonetheless present. Further, the experience of geniuses and savants provides an interesting case-study, because in exceptional cases they can imagine or recall with a vividness that is little short of what a computer is capable of doing, and they do so without the presence of physical objects.

To conclude, I would reply to Epstein's example of a baseball player with one of my own, told me by a friend. This friend knew an engineer who was a man formidable intelligence. One time, this man was riding his motorcycle on the freeway, and happened to be going over the speed limit. A police car saw him speeding and turned on his lights in anticipation of pulling him over, but by performing differential calculus in his head, he figured he could outrun the police officer in his car, which he proceeded to do, and so avoided a speeding ticket. This doesn't negate Epstein's basic point, that the baseball player is not calculating his activity like a computer, but his account doesn't allow for the fact that that same mind is, at least principle, capable of describing the act in terms of calculation, or in poetic terms, if he was attempting to describe it felt subjectively to catch the ball. Tacit knowledge is, after all, something more than a response and "orderly change" to stimuli.

DNW said...

The Nautilus article is interesting, and it would probably be worthwhile for someone to explore what the concept of time would mean or look like if we took seriously Bergson's conditioning point about memory, and asked what would be left of the concept of time if we removed the notion of the serial registration and storage of events or motions from the mix.

There is also an interesting psychological implication from the anti-psychological side. Not only are many events too quick to be registered correctly in the memory as the article points out, it is apparent that even in the ordinary course of close-up events and despite the great speed of nervous system transmission, we don't actually consciously live in the exact moment, but after the fact as it were, and what we see and feel has already happened.

Just what significance this holds depends on how you think about it. If you think in terms of seeing the blacksmith's hammer struck a hundred yards away and then hearing it a moment later, then maybe not much. If you think in terms of reality always existing ahead of you, it seems pretty odd.

Curio said...

John Haldane is one young looking 62 year old.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Here's Haldane's appearance on ABC's Compass program, in which they discussed the Catholic Church. It was filmed right around the time of Cardinal Pell furor, but I found his input a little disappointing and appeasing to the liberal Catholics. I suppose he might not have been there if he hadn't (the ABC is worse than BBC, even, for balancing panels and discussions like these).

Catholicus said...

I looked up: "William Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem."
In the book preview on Amazon it says the following:

"This book is about hylomorphism, and hylomorphism is about structure . . . You and I are not mere quantities of physical materials; we are quantities of physical materials with a certain organization or structure. That structure is responsible for us being and persisting as humans . . ."

This is emphatically wrong according to Thomism, is it not? He is describing, at best, brute animals, not human beings. Human beings are intellectual souls, and as such the form of the human does not subsist in matter, but is self-subsisting, though united to matter in its sensitive and nutritive faculties.

Catholicus said...

To correct the above, I should say that human beings are the union of an (immaterial) intellectual soul and a (material) body, rather than that they are an intellectual soul. Still, my point is that the form of the human being is an immaterial form, not merely the structure of physical materials. St. Thomas even says that it is wrong to say that the intellectual soul is "embedded" in matter.

Staircaseghost said...

"This book is about hylomorphism, and hylomorphism is about structure . . . You and I are not mere quantities of physical materials; we are quantities of physical materials with a certain organization or structure."

Maybe I'm going to the wrong philosophy conferences, but has anyone ever met one of these alleged physicalists who think structure isn't important for explaining how physical systems work?

Like, are there astronomers somewhere going around saying planets' velocities and distance from the sun are just irrelevant to modeling the solar system?

@David Marcoe yes, collapsing the "sensitive" and "intellective" forms of consciousness seems to be a running trope in contemporary A/T theory of mind. Lots of lionizing the bravery of a Nagel for saying naturalism will never explain what-it-is-like-to-be-a-bat and pumping one's antireductive intuitions; but when you read the fine print the only "immaterial" aspect of the mind is the ability to perform abstract operations like trigonometry. The actual Hard Problem of Consciousness, the problem of why there is something it is like to be a subject, is (on the A/T view) no more mysterious than the problem why cups are better at holding coffee than plates are.

Cups are just structured differently with their curved forms, some animals just have sensitive forms, problem solved.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Human beings are intellectual souls
Catholicus, please -- you're on the internet, you should know better.

A human being is basically a chimpanzee with a brain tumour. All this talk of "immaterial souls" is primitive and childish.

Anonymous said...

Gerard, this is not the place for such silly trolling.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Anonymous

In case you missed it, the first part of my comment was a statement on the level of discourse on the Web. I fully stand by the second part of my comment.

Anonymous said...

Anyone can stand by a comment. It is whether they can support and argue for it properly that matters.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"Anyone can stand by a comment. It is whether they can support and argue for it properly that matters."

Since chimpanzees with brain tumors do not have a syntactical language, much less argue, if you are going to wait for an "argument" you will be waiting forever.

Anonymous said...

@Gerard O'Neill

"A human being is basically a chimpanzee with a brain tumour."

We are not descended from chimpanzees (but we have common ancestors way back), nor is our brains asymmetry somehow non-functional or cancer like.

Also since your are commenting on a Thomist blog, I assume you are aware that Catholicus seemed to have expressed a view that is not in keeping with a Thomist view of the soul and the nature of human immateriality(or he worded it poorly). We are not a combination of a separate spirit and body but rather one substance, which is both a material and immaterial whole. If you have read Edward Feser I will assume you understand the nuances and details of this position.


Anonymous said...

*brains'

Erich said...

I like the idea of a chimpanzee with a brain tumor telling other such chimpanzees what's primitive and childish. He must have a bigger tumor.

Gerard O'Neill said...

The "chimpanzee with a brain tumour" line wasn't a throwaway:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Chimpanzee#The_chimpanzee.27s_closest_relatives_.28part_one.29
(recent studies seem to contradict this, but only by a thin margin)
The rapid (by evolutionary standards) growth of the human neocortex has been compared to a tumour, esp. by Koestler.

Anonymous said...

WRT the Epstein article, I'd like to see everyone (including Ed's) take on Jeffrey Shallit's response to it:

http://recursed.blogspot.com/2016/05/yes-your-brain-certainly-is-computer.html

http://recursed.blogspot.com/2016/05/epsteins-dollar-bill-and-what-it-doesnt.html

http://recursed.blogspot.com/2016/05/actual-neuroscientists-cheerfully-use.html

Erich said...

@Gerard –

The genetic closeness of humans to chimps can also be understood to reveal what qualitatively vast consequences a small difference can have. The tumor comparison is mildly interesting but not edifying. Your use of the "chimpanzee with a brain tumour" line is a way of stipulating that we're just a variant of our closest animal relative (who is in turn just a variant of multicellular life, itself a variant of arrangements of elementary particles) – a position I wouldn't call primitive and childish exactly, but one which simply elides the obvious qualitative differences that Scholastic philosophy takes seriously.

Erich said...

@Anonymous –

Personally, I don't think much of either article. Epstein seems to miss the (obvious) fact that the human brain does do many things we rightly call computational and that computers also do; Shallit's responses seem to miss the (obvious) fact that the human brain does much more besides that can hardly be called computational, even metaphorically. I find it an uninteresting debate.

Anonymous said...

@ Gerard O'Neill
I do hope you accept a mild reproach all the same for the use of the word "tumour" for a functioning part of the brain (and what necessarily would have functioned to serve any evolutionary advantage). I would also have to pull you on appealing to genetic similarity by percentage. While useful, it can nevertheless be misleading, insofar as genetics is much more complex than a simple blueprint. Genetics is much more like computer programming (with all the interactions between functions elsewhere in the code).

http://genecuisine.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/human-dna-similarities-to-chimps-and.html

Anonymous said...

@ Erich
In a sense you pointed out why it is an interesting debate, because you point out BOTH sides are wrong.

Erich said...

@Anonymous –

Well, yes, on a certain level it is interesting that the matter is being disputed when both sides really have little ground to stand on! What I don't find interesting is what either side is taking.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm going to the wrong philosophy conferences, but has anyone ever met one of these alleged physicalists who think structure isn't important for explaining how physical systems work?

I think you're either going to the wrong philosophy conferences or you're just being excessively charitable to what you hear and read. Reductive naturalists deny that structure plays a basic causal/explanatory role. The whole idea of reductionism is that structures and the roles they play can be adequately explained in terms of the behavior of their constituents. That is of course not to deny that there are structures (as an eliminativist might hold) or that structures are simply our way of making sense of things (as anti-realists about structure might hold). Likewise reductionism is consistent with acknowledging the role that appeals to structure play in science. The claim is not that astronomers are wrong to say that planets' velocities and distance from the sun are relevant to modeling the solar system; it is that such explanations are not basic, but are to be further explained in terms of the things that compose those structured entities. I'd have thought this was pretty basic stuff, so if you really go to philosophy conferences perhaps you have some more subtle point in mind?

In any case, Jaworski's version of hylomorphism makes structure a basic explanatory principle and opposes reductionism. It's non-trivially different from reductive naturalism. You should at least skim through the book before passing judgment on it.

As for the other complaints about Jaworski's book by people who apparently haven't read more than the blurb, it's true that plenty of Thomists will disagree, and he does not pretend otherwise. He explicitly rejects the claim that the intellect can survive the death of the body, for example, and he rejects (what he calls, anyway) the Thomistic view of parts (basically, that all parts depend for their existence on more inclusive wholes). But Jaworski doesn't present himself as a Thomist, and it's har to see why the mere fact that he disagrees with (some) Thomists on some issues should constitute an objection to his view (if we're really in the territory in which "Jaworski says P, but Thomas says ~P, therefore ~P" is a form of argument taken seriously, then I don't think Jaworski will be sad to be banished from the territory). What Jaworski does try to do is to develop a genuinely hylomorphic metaphysics that solves problems faced by rival views in contemporary analytic philosophy of mind. Thomists have no intellectual property rights in hylomorphism, and Thomistic metaphysics is not the only variety of hylomorphism. As Jaworski notes, his view differs in significant ways not only from the views of fairly traditional Thomists like Oderberg, but from other views that bear different degrees of similarity to Aquinas, such as Marmodoro's, Koslicki's, and Fine's. Yet his view strongly resembles one that some prominent scholars have attributed to Aristotle, and is broadly similar to Koons' work on at least some major points.

These are interesting internal debates within broadly Aristotelian hylomorphic metaphysics. You might, of course, be content to note that Jaworski disagrees with Aquinas and take that as a reason not to read his book (though that strikes me as an awfully bad reason, you're free to act on what I regard as bad reasons). But what, exactly, is the point of criticizing the book without reading it?

Anonymous said...

In what way does Epstein "miss the (obvious) fact that the human brain does do many things we rightly call computational and that computers also do"?

I don't see where he denies that humans do this. What I took him to be saying is that the brain is not implementing a program, and thinking of it as operating in this way obscures what it is actually doing when, say, I work out a math problem in my head.

Erich said...

@Anonymous –

Well, for example, Epstein says things like the following:

We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not.

But we in fact do store words and the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. That's what it means to know the grammar of a language. Epstein confuses the issue by immediately invoking "representations of visual stimuli" (about which little is known, though the computational character of low-level aspects of perception is quite well understood) and then talking about "memory devices" and "registers." As far as we know (and we know near nothing), human memory does seem to work quite differently. But it's not clear at all how this interferes with any notion of "being a computer." At this level of description at least, it would appear a mere matter of implementation, as Shallit suggests. Epstein never spells out a qualitative difference concerning (in this case) memory that cannot by understood as an difference in implementation.

When you take Epstein to be basically saying the brain does not "implement a program" I think you're being a bit generous to Epstein. He does make that point, and I happen to agree with it (for the most part; there really is so little hard science about these matters). But Epstein seems bent on ripping apart every analogy to the man-made computer, rather than on making that point in particular. In doing so he unfortunately leaves himself open to the kind of attack Shallit makes, so it seems to me!

Erich said...

@Anonymous –

typos: "cannot by understood as an difference" -> "cannot be understood as a difference".

Sorry!

Michele Arpaia said...

I'd add this great piece written by Fulvio di Blasi
http://www.ticenter.net/homosexual-acts-natural-methods/

Don Jindra said...

Epstein's article is not even slightly interesting or relevant. His misunderstanding begins with the first sentence: "No matter how hard they try, brain scientists and cognitive psychologists will never find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the brain..."

As he elaborates, we find Epstein badly abuses the word "copy." He badly misunderstands what memory is. He states: "The idea that memories are stored in individual neurons is preposterous: how and where is the memory stored in the cell?" Then this would also be true: The idea that memories are stored in individual transistors is preposterous: how and where is the memory stored in an NPN junction?

Since Jinny does a poor job of drawing a dollar bill from memory, Epstein observes the obvious: "visualising something (that is, seeing something in its absence) is far less accurate than seeing something in its presence." Yet he draws a silly, unwarranted conclusion from this: "a thousand years of neuroscience will never locate a representation of a dollar bill stored inside the human brain for the simple reason that it is not there to be found." That's like saying we'll never find Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the air waves. More appropriately, it's like saying we'll never find an exact copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony on vinyl.

No two vinyl record are the same, and none is an exact copy of the concert as it was performed. Epstein asserts "computers do store exact copies of data." Yet that "exact copy" of Beethoven’s 5th is a highly compressed version of it, probably sampled at 14400 hertz. The audio we hear is a flawed reconstruction of the original.

Epstein is apparently ignorant of the fact that lossy data compression is a fact of life in the computer world, just as it is in the human world. When Jinny recalls a dollar bill, she's using a highly compressed internal copy of the original -- like a sound engineer sampling audio at 14400 hz. Of course Jinny can't recall every detail. Even an electronically scanned copy of that dollar bill loses detail.

What Epstein claims is a difference in kind is merely a difference in degree.

Yes, we will one day be able to find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the brain. It just won't be the concert itself. This is hardly a surprise. It's certainly not bothersome to brain scientists.


Erich said...

@Don Jindra –

Well said! You've quite nailed it.

A few thoughts off the top of my head:

Isn't it the case that we have built computers to perform exactly certain kinds of tasks that the human mind naturally does – much as we've built machines to carry out physical tasks that the animal body does? The metaphors generally run out from the human to the machine: the truck "carries" the load, the airplane "flies" (and whether or not submarines "swim" is but a curiosity of semantics). So do computers "remember" or "process" information? Well, yes, in this metaphorical sense, much as fossils "remember" the form of bygone creatures.

Which makes it strange that we feel as if the concept of the "computer" is being "applied to us," even if metaphorically. It was always already a metaphor. Even the Turing machine, and the vast field of computation theory in mathematics, only has sense in its metaphorical extension.

One might ask, then: what motivates this hostility on Epstein's part? I completely sympathize with any resistance to a reductive "mechanization" of the human mind; perhaps that's where Epstein is coming from. But to deny that the mind is computational in the sense that computers are completely misses the boat, since computers are only "computational" to the extent that they reflect what we do.

It is our rational, human capacity to see the truth of this that lies outside of any notion of computation – and that brings us back around, to what Shallit misses.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

Shallit was responding to Epstein's errors. In that context, I don't know that he misses a bigger picture. Nevertheless, is everything the brain does computational? Until we know otherwise, it cannot be taken off the table. As absurd as it seems, it has to be considered possible that emotion, consciousness, qualia, free will and the like are no more than a bunch of crunched numbers. At least it seems no more absurd than invoking a non-material substance to explain these unknowns.

Anonymous said...

As absurd as it seems, it has to be considered possible that emotion, consciousness, qualia, free will and the like are no more than a bunch of crunched numbers.

As absurd as it seems, it has to be considered possible that emotion, consciousness, qualia, free will and the like are no more than the number 3.

And please don't ask about what's doing the computation, what numbers are doing the crunching.

No, the problem here isn't that what's being proposed by the naturalist is just exceptional. It's simply not possible on their picture. The issue is not that we can ground only SOME of emotion, consciousness, qualia, free will and the like in a computational picture, but there's just so much it seems like a problem. It's that we can't ground any of it at all, because the framework in question is just not up to the task.

Time to look for another framework.

Anonymous said...

It is also possible that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42.

Don Jindra said...

Anonymous,

"The issue is not that we can ground only SOME of emotion, consciousness, qualia, free will and the like in a computational picture, but there's just so much it seems like a problem."

Problems don't disappear simply because orthodoxy refuses to ask tough questions.

"It's that we can't ground any of it at all, because the framework in question is just not up to the task."

Too bad that nothing else has proven itself more up to the task.

Erich said...

Don Jindra,

Problems don't disappear simply because orthodoxy refuses to ask tough questions.

Are you suggesting that "orthodoxy" (by which you mean, I suppose, A-T philosophy as generally discussed here) refuses to ask the "tough question" of whether or not every phenomenal aspect of human life can be understood "computationally?" If so, then I can react only with astonishment, since the limits of what can be understood as "computational" have been the topic of numerous discussions here, and all over the discourse of philosophy of mind within and without the A-T approach. If not, then I have misunderstood you.

It is in any case odd to poo-poo a philosophy that rules out – rightly or wrongly – the possibility of a "computational solution to everything" for not having provided a "solution to everything" of its own. A-T is not a philosophy that admits of any substance monism – be that substance the Divine in Spinoza's sense, or sheer laws of physics, or "information" per se, or "computation" per se. It finds it out of reach in principle, so it will never offer a solution in terms of any such monism – yet that is a condition you seem to place on "being up to the task."

Admittedly, the full extent of what in the natural world can be understood as "computational" is hardly known. But that hardly precludes the soundness of arguments that delimit its scope.

A-T does not dogmatically reject any (naturalistic) monism. It argues that it can't work, and that its incompleteness is not just some epistemic gap, some limit of our brains' cognitive capacities or of insufficiently advanced science. A-T demonstrates that any kind of answer cannot rely on it.

So what you need to do is to criticize the A-T arguments – perhaps they are indeed flawed. But just sticking your tongue out to say "Nyah nyah, you don't have a good answer either" just ain't fair!

* * *

The Countess has been murdered! Stabbed!

The Count says, "It must have been the Butler!"
The Butler says, "It must have been the Count!"

The Police Investigator Chief says, "It could not have been the Count, since he couldn't have known where the Countess was!"
The Police Investigator's Assistant says, "It could not have been the Butler, since he bore no dagger!"
The Police are confounded.

Later, the Cook comes along and says, "Might it not have been the Butler cooperating with the Count, the one passing on the weapon to the other to the other who knew where she was?"

The Police investigators reply, "Humph! You think you're clever, eh? Do you have any empirical evidence of such a collusion?"
The Cook says, "Well, your explanations have failed, but mine at least has the possibility of making sense of it, and besides, I know these people, and. . . "

"Silence!" says the Chief of Police. "I want one man and one motive. I will wait for the evidence to come in."















Anonymous said...

Problems don't disappear simply because orthodoxy refuses to ask tough questions.

Naturalism's inability to handle the mind doesn't go away just because you wish it would.

Too bad that nothing else has proven itself more up to the task.

More like nothing else has failed so completely as naturalism on this front.

Again: the problem here is not that this is difficult, or that naturalism has only had limited success with these questions. It's that it's had none. No traction.

We don't need to bind ourselves to dogma just because you're frightened of asking tough questions.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

"The Cook says, 'Well, your explanations have failed, but mine at least has the possibility of making sense of it, and besides, I know these people, and. . .'"

Cute.

But what if the Chief of Police asked to speak to this butler and was told, "That's not to going to happen."

"Why not?"

"The butler is a ghost," admits the cook. "It's only my infallible logic that tells us he's haunting this place. And even if you put him on trial, no jail exists that will hold him."

Would we expect the Chief of Police to take the conspiracy seriously?

That's how I see hylemorphic dualism.


Anonymous.

Contrary to your claim, in the short time it's been attacking these mind problems, naturalism has had modest success. Meanwhile, hylemorphic dualism has had zero success.

But let's put this in perspective. Mind problems may be the toughest problems humans will ever tackle. Yet you suggest we should have solved them by now, or made great strides, even though we're just beginning to have the tools to do so.

Compare this to beating cancer, something we've been seriously trying to do since I was a child, with its much easier set of problems. We have modest success, but nowhere close to great success. Ultimate success may be around the corner. But suppose a young impatient Aristotelian suggests we're going about it all the wrong ways? He asserts cancer is not reducible to its organic substrate. We must look to a mixture of biology and an incorporeal evil form (like Original Sin). It's the form for cancer that actualizes the disease and gives substance to its essence and identity. All cancers are a compound of a biological substrate and the cancer's substantial form. But it's the substantial form that drives the disease, not the biology. So the growth of cancer is an essentially immaterial process. It's a waste of time to look for ultimate cures through biology.

The optimists want to stop that interaction to stop the growth of cancer. So they naturally ask, How does this substantial form interact with the biological substrate? There's no answer from the young Aristotelian. The theory itself prevents an answer. It prevents legitimate paths to seeking answers. In his universe, cancer will forever remain a mystery because he has put an end to the right questions.

Yet you say I'm the one who won't ask the tough questions. I wonder what those questions are?

DNW said...

"Isn't it the case that we have built computers to perform exactly certain kinds of tasks that the human mind naturally does – much as we've built machines to carry out physical tasks that the animal body does? The metaphors generally run out from the human to the machine ..."

That is I think a good observation and one in accordance with the producer artifact distinction brought up here so many times. It probably also deserves to be considered as it relates to metaphorical language and to just what is a metaphor in some specific situation, and what is not.

Men spin sticks in their hands to bore holes through a surface; and some men go on to build machine tools to assist in the same, and even others to build programmable automatic machine tools to do the same; yet no one says of men that they are drills or lathes. There is no necessary conceptual reciprocity.

Shallit's remarks whether particularly profound or not seemed to involve the kind deliberate switching between the honest use of metaphor and the rhetorical use of figures of speech in order to produce emotional shocks on certain targets. And though Shallit no doubt has a very definite and specific idea of what he means by computation, I was not able to get a clear idea of it from the article alone, although he seemed to indicate that numerous features of natural inorganic reality produce examples of computation.

That was a pretty remarkable seeming assertion. Though perhaps computation in his sense, never involves intentionality.

DNW said...



" Anonymous said...

It is also possible that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42.

June 4, 2016 at 7:56 PM"



19. I have it on good authority that it is "19".

Glenn said...

>> Would we expect the Chief of Police to take the conspiracy seriously?

> That's how I see hylemorphic dualism.

What is one to make of this?

Perhaps it is being alleged that hylemorphic dualism is a kind of conspiracy, i.e., that it is a plan which has been hatched in secret, and which has as its goal the doing of something illegal or harmful.

Perhaps it is being intimated that subscribers to hylemorphic dualism are co-conspirators (vis-à-vis a certain nefarious plan).

And perhaps said co-conspirators -- or at least some of them -- are just a few (million) strokes of the pen away from being officially added to the FBI's top 10,000,000+ Most Wanted List.

Perhaps so.

And if so, then it should be known that rumor has it that -- and I place my life in jeopardy by revealing this --the lobbying arm of the SSHDDPPHDUUUN, more formally known as The Secret Society of Hylemorphic Dualists Dedicated to the Perpetual Perpetration of Hyleomorphic Dualism Upon Unsuspecting and Unthinking Naturalists, is working dilegently through unofficial back channels in an effort to strongly advise the FBI to exercise due caution before adding the names of hylemorphic dualists to (official government) forms printed on, stamped on or otherwise added to or conjoined with matter (of the 8 1/2 x 11 kind).

Glenn said...

I suppose it might be added that even a naturalistic software guy such as DJ is capable of knowing that, and understanding why, software code which is known as spaghetti code is so designated precisely because it is lacking in the department of rational form.

(I equivocate, of course. But only in the interest of making a point.)

DNW said...

"(I equivocate, of course. But only in the interest of making a point.) "


Point made. It seems to me that there is a great deal of that going on - or something very like it - in some cases.

Whatever one thinks of Epstein's reasoning, the Shallit piece seemed remarkable more for the preening author's slathering use of invective and abuse than for any real reasoning, much less careful reasoning.

He might have better have directly instructed Epstein on what he considered to be the correct use of the term computer, than to simply accuse him of being completely ignorant of seminal works in the field (which seems pretty unlikely) and then languidly drop a few links.

After bathing for some pretty lengthy time in snark then, it was all the more remarkable to see the "PS" he put up in the last link where he says,

" Again, nobody thinks that the brain is structured exactly like a modern digital computer. Mechanisms of storage and retrieval are likely to be quite different. But the modern theory of computation makes no assumptions that data and programs are stored in any particular fashion; it works just as well if data is stored on paper, disk, flash drive, or in brains. ..."


Yeah ...

To advert back to the comment I left earlier regarding natural inorganic "systems" with presumably no intentionality: Though I cannot say that that Shallit is an eliminative materialist, only that he spews like one, when he says "Anyone who understands the work of Turing realizes that computation is not the province of silicon alone. Any system that can do basic operations like storage and rewriting can do computation, whether it is a sandpile ..." he certainly makes an assertion that might well entail a number of consequences no good anti-intentionalist would be pleased with.

So too, is his language regarding "information" in the cell fairly remarkable; since information as it is usually understood, is precisely what evolutionary materialists take great pains to deny is there.

I suppose to be fair to Shallit, one would have to read read him more extensively, but his petulance makes the cost of doing so too high for my taste.

Glenn said...

DJ,

Yet you say I'm the one who won't ask the tough questions. I wonder what those questions are?

Here are two:

1. "After all my years here, why do I still think an exploration into the material causes of this, that or the other phenomenon might be anathema to an Aristotelian?"

2. "What is the material the cause of my intransigence?"

Erich said...

Don J,

Point well taken!

But the obvious problem is that if the Butler is "merely" a ghost who could not have participated in the murder, then we are even farther from a solution.

Perhaps it is your conception of one "half" of hylemorphism as like a ghost from a ghost story that is getting in your way?

"I have always considered the Butler as my conscience, my thoughtful half," remarked the Count to the Newspaper Man, in a more personal and intimate moment toward the end of a long interview. "Whenever the rote mechanical formalities of my office required me to officiate here and there, say this and that, defend the one and condemn the other, all as a matter of formality and obligation, all leaving me behind like a privileged puppet, the Butler – murderer as I think he is – would invariably come that evening to top up my glass of port and, with few brief words as we recounted the day, remind us both of the meaning of all my actions, the significance of my otherwise skeletal gestures and mechanized symbols. . . Yes, they might lock me up – wrongly, I say! – but how does that German song go again? 'Die Gedanken sind Frei. . . '"



Erich said...

Glenn,

Dang, did you have to give it away?

Erich said...

DNW,

Thanks for your thoughtful extension of my observation. You completed what I'd left hanging by saying "There is no necessary conceptual reciprocity" (of these metaphors).

Computation in Shallit's sense clearly does not require intentionality. Prima facie, that would seem to render it vacuous from an A-T perspective.

But perhaps a more refined position can be found. Doesn't natural science invoke formalisms that meaningfully distinguish "computational" models from other models? The differential equations that describe the motion of a harmonic oscillator do not ascribe computation to a spring, but the models of, say, the detection of contrast and line by the retina do involve "computation." There is something real about this distinction, wouldn't you say?

Perhaps there is a weaker but still valid notion of computation to be considered here, one that is not intentional in se. How is what goes on in the retina different from what goes on in some idealized spring? It seems to me it's a matter of final cause, or more precisely of subjugation to a final cause. Something special is going on in the eye that gives its operations a structure outside of itself: it is creating differences for the sake of perception (even in the most primitive ocular creature). It is a part of the function of an organ of life. (We can hardly say this of the harmonic oscillator in the abstract; it simply is by definition something which accords with a certain differential equation, and nothing more.)

So perhaps, just as A-T does not require intentionality to ascribe final cause generally, perhaps we needn't require intentionality to speak of "computation" either: we need only the ascription of final cause. This would leave space for a notion of computation in the world outside of any "mentation" of it: computation is "computational" as it pertains to a final cause.

I'm going out on a limb here; perhaps you can lop it off? Or is there something to this?

Gottfried said...

The inevitable triumph of naturalistic neuroscience over superstition may not be happening anytime soon:

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/06/can-neuroscience-understand-donkey-kong-let-alone-a-brain/485177/

Step2 said...

Also from The Atlantic, human consciousness as an encompassing simulation.

Staircaseghost said...

@June 2 Anonymous well yes, tautologically physicalists think structures at non-basic levels are non-basic (which btw is not equivalent to saying they play no explanatory role). But where are these physicalists who think spatio-temporal arrangements at that basic level aren’t important?

If someone wants to be an anti-reductionist about qualia, fine. Lots of physicalists are and have been anti-reductionists about qualia. What makes me feel sorry for people who feel drawn to the anti-physicalist rhetoric of hylomorphism because of the problem of qualia is that they completely miss hylomorphism’s claim that phenomenal consciousness isn’t any more non-physical than digestion or photosynthesis — the only allegedly “immaterial” part of the mind is the abstract syllogisms-and-geometry part. And the arguments for that don't really have anything to do with reductionism per se.

Bait, meet switch.

Erich said...

@Step2

Lots of interesting stuff in the Atlantic article – thanks for the link – but nothing at all about why awareness in any technical sense has any reflex in sentience/consciousness in the experiential sense. Explaining why different kinds of physical or mental apparatus were evolutionarily advantageous is not an explanation of consciousness or even "awareness."

Mr. Green said...

Don Jindra: That's how I see hylemorphic dualism.

I can't help but wonder how you see it if it's a ghost, but I'm not even going to ask. The real question is how can you see hylomorphic dualism when hylomorphism is nothing even remotely like whatever it is you are looking at?

Contrary to your claim, in the short time it's been attacking these mind problems, naturalism has had modest success. [...] It's a waste of time to look for ultimate cures through biology. [...] So they naturally ask, How does this substantial form interact with the biological substrate? There's no answer from the young Aristotelian.

Sure, he's laughing too hard to speak given such an astoundingly muddle-headed account of the Aristotelian view. The Father of Biology didn't believe in asking biological questions?! That's a new low.

Of course, the naturalist will gladly pay us Tuesday if only we buy his naturalism today. He's been promising that not for a "short time", but for thousands of years, and the only success is that gained from asking Aristotelian questions and then pretending that they were really naturalistic questions all along.

Brandon said...

What makes me feel sorry for people who feel drawn to the anti-physicalist rhetoric of hylomorphism because of the problem of qualia is that they completely miss hylomorphism’s claim that phenomenal consciousness isn’t any more non-physical than digestion or photosynthesis — the only allegedly “immaterial” part of the mind is the abstract syllogisms-and-geometry part. And the arguments for that don't really have anything to do with reductionism per se.

As this appears to equivocate on both the notions of 'physical' and 'reductionism', I'm not sure why you think there's any rational argument here.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

Well done again!

I'm not surprised that the Count gives the butler so much credit for giving meaning to all those matters of formality and obligation. Lots of people hear voices in their heads. :) Artists speak of their muse.

But are those voices free to run about and create havoc or are they under lock and key, so to speak? Some of the homeless people here in Hollywood ramble on as if they're having conversations with demons. But the reporter probably thinks the Count is being coy.


Glenn,

I mean nothing so nefarious. No Chief of Police would give serious consideration to a ghost as a suspect. Similarly, hylemorphic dualism is not a serious proposal for solving these problems.

To answer your questions,

1) I do not think an exploration into material causes is anathema to an Aristotelian. But if there are certain effects that are assumed to be non-material, why would an Aristotelian keep looking for a material cause? And if he does, why would that Aristotelian complain that a materialist looks in the same manner?

2) All compelling explanations are based on what we call the material world and no more. Aristotle's four causes are human classifications.


Mr, Green,

I believe Marx wrote of French Marxist, "All I know is that I am not a Marxist." I wonder if Aristotle would say the same of today's Aristotelians? Aristotle didn't have the benefit of the knowledge today's Aristotelians have. There's no guarantee he would cling to all of his conclusions or presuppositions.

But it's funny how often what I write here is twisted into things I do not write. I never said Aristotle didn't believe in asking biological questions. I didn't imply it, nor do I believe it. I am saying those who call themselves Aristotelians today are painting themselves into that corner. It's hard for you to deny this. A hylemorphic dualist criticizes a materialist for looking at only the biology for ultimate answers to the mind. But if that same hylemorphic dualist looks at that same biology for the same answers, what is he complaining about? If he behaves exactly like the materialist, it doesn't matter what either believe.

It's just bravado to claim the only success gained by naturalists is from asking Aristotelian questions.


Gottfried,

I found a copy of that paper referenced in The Atlantic. I'm anxious to read it. I'm an old assembly language programmer. I know those old 8 bit CPUs well. I'm also very familiar with reverse engineering. Years ago, I disassembled and commented DOS 1.1, 2.1 and 3.2, and sold the commented code. Just this year I was given a J-style activity wristband and asked to write an application for it. Since I had no schematic and no help from the manufacturer, it required me to break one apart and figure everything out, which wasn't too difficult. I don't know exactly how neurologists are approaching the brain. But I know from experience how to do it with computers. So I'm interested in seeing what these researchers did and what they think it means. But my cursory look doesn't lead me to believe they were expecting a supernatural path to be of help.

Glenn said...

DJ,

Aristotle's four causes are human classifications.

Yeah, so? We humans classify lots of things. Big deal. Do you mean to suggest that the fact that humans engage in classification activities or endeavors means that what they classify has no existence? Or do you mean to suggest that the classifications themselves are material things?

All compelling explanations are based on what we call the material world and no more.

In order for an explanation to be compelling (to a rational person), it first needs to be cogent. How might a cogent explanation be assembly, fashioned or otherwise constructed without the use of non-material things (such as, e.g., reason and logic)?

Erich said...

Don Jindra,

I took a risk in letting the Count "speak," and then having the Butler be his "Muse." Your reply makes it clear I failed to get across what I intended. You've taken the Count to be just a guy doing his thing, and the Butler some figure he imagines outside of himself – that "extraneous ghost."

What I meant to convey is that the Count is not "speaking" at all without what it is that the Butler provides. All of his behavior "counts for nothing," refers to nothing, by itself. He does not "experience himself" as an empty shell before the Butler comes along. The voice I gave the Count was the voice of a description of the human being by the materialist, which is of an empty shell, a mere arrangement of matter or system. This "arrangement" does not "experience" the Butler like the voice of some unreal ghost in his head: the Butler is exactly what it is for that arrangement to experience anything at all as real, to be in and refer to the world, to have anything to say.

I chose the metaphor of the Butler on purpose: he is, as a "butler," utterly dependent on the Count, not as some ghostly figure needing a paycheck, but for being a "butler" in the first place. He serves the Count spirits, as his servant. Surely we are able to talk about what it is that spirits matter without invoking independent, extraneous ghosts.

Glenn said...

DJ,

I am saying those who call themselves Aristotelians today are painting themselves into that corner. It's hard for you to deny this. A hylemorphic dualist criticizes a materialist for looking at only the biology for ultimate answers to the mind. But if that same hylemorphic dualist looks at that same biology for the same answers, what is he complaining about? If he behaves exactly like the materialist, it doesn't matter what either believe.

Tsk, tsk. You do something to others, and then claim that they are doing it to themselves. That is, you claim that modern-day Aristotelians are painting themselves into a corner when in fact it is your myopic stance (that the belief(s) of two people are irrelevant if the outward behavior of those two people appears to be exactly alike) which does the painting.

Staircaseghost said...

I love it. Carefully pointing out the difference between reductionism and physicalism to someone is now apparently "equivocating" between them.

What's next, a drive-by comment that has no arguments complaining that someone hasn't made any arguments oh wait there we go...

Still looking for examples of these alleged physicalists who don't believe in structures.

Brandon said...

Staircaseghost,

You seem not to have read the comment very well, since (1) I didn't say you were equivocating 'between reductionism and physicalism' but (and I quote) "on both the notions of 'physical' and 'reductionism'". Note that (a) the claim is that you appear to be equivocating on the notion of 'physical' and on the notion of 'reductionism'; and (b) it is one of the most elementary mistakes one to make to confuse 'physical' and 'physicalism'. In addition, (2) I didn't say you hadn't made any arguments; I said (and I quote), "I'm not sure why you think there's any rational argument here". Note that (a) even basic English skills would tell you that the comment is specifically about a purported argument and (b) would also tell you that the comment is specifically about about whether there is a rational argument here; note, as well, that context would easily show you that (c) the contrast case is not lack of arguments but equivocating arguments.

I will break down the point for you in simpler, more elementary terms in the next comment.

Brandon said...

(continued)

Let's return to the original claim:

What makes me feel sorry for people who feel drawn to the anti-physicalist rhetoric of hylomorphism because of the problem of qualia is that they completely miss hylomorphism’s claim that phenomenal consciousness isn’t any more non-physical than digestion or photosynthesis — the only allegedly “immaterial” part of the mind is the abstract syllogisms-and-geometry part. And the arguments for that don't really have anything to do with reductionism per se.

'Physical' first. The above comment requires that 'physical' as used by physicalists (and as must be referred to in 'anti-physicalist rhetoric') and 'physical' as used by hylomorphists are univocal (rather than, for instance, family resemblance or analogy). It is in fact well known that physicalism typically defines the physical in terms of modern physics, or at least that which the conclusions of modern physics will ultimately tend to describe; while it is also well known that hylomorphists of at least the Aristotelian variety, when talking about the physical in their own account tend to talk in terms of their accounts of change and composition. But the above comment, as previously noted, requires that 'physical' as used in anti-physicalist rhetoric, where the physicalist usage must be in view, is univocal with 'physical' as used in hylomorphic accounts. Thus there appears to be an equivocation in how 'physical' (NB not 'physicalism') is used in the above comment.

And also 'reductionism'. As it was used in prior context, it was given an explicit account (quoting Anonymous): "The whole idea of reductionism is that structures and the roles they play can be adequately explained in terms of the behavior of their constituents". But the sentence prior to this does in fact appear to give an account of hylomorphism in which its arguments would have to be precisely a rejection of this. There is no explanation given for how this does not count as reductionism in the sense relevant to the discussion to which it is responding, nor is there any reasoned rejection, or any obvious rejection at all, of the Anonymous account. Thuse the evidence directly suggests an equivocation on the notion of 'reductionism'.

The point is of broader significance, since there are a number of different ways in which "anti-physicalist rhetoric" can function in a given position, and one of the very obvious ways is as pressing an internal critique against physicalism; i.e., that given what it claims to explain, and given the explanantes as identified by physicalism, problems begin to arise (like those associated with qualia, perhaps). Such an internal critique leaves entirely open how the hylomorphist (or whoever is pressing it) might handle the question, since there is a wide variety of reasons why a successful internal critique might be successful. (E.g,. perhaps it is because the problems arise because physicalism draws the explanatory lines badly and better accounts will not have them, etc., etc.)

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

Yes, I'm suggesting that the classifications themselves are material things. So when you ask how a cogent explanation can be constructed "without the use of non-material things (such as, e.g., reason and logic)," I'm saying you're begging the question. As far as I know, reason and logic *are* material things. I work with logic gates every day. I write programs which implement a primitive reasoning. I know these tasks function on a 100% material substrate.

And yes, I'll stand by my claim that internal beliefs are irrelevant if outward behavior is identical. Mary bakes chocolate chip cookies for George, her husband. She bakes them because of love. But Jenny, owner of Jenny's Tasty Cookies, bakes chocolate chip cookies for George too. Jenny does it because of a profit motive.

George says he'll give a nice award to the next person who bakes him the perfect cookies -- a big kiss or $1000. If George can't tell the difference between the cookies, why would cookie-making depend on what the two women believed about either George or cookies? Whether the cook follows her recipe or follows her heart, they're the same cookies.


Erich,

I caught your drift. Your excellent writing was clear to me. But I see the scenario as a skeptic. I think the Count may be incapable of separating his inner muse from his puppet nature. Does a puppet know its strings are being pulled? It wouldn't matter what words appeared to come out of its mouth if we saw the puppeteer move the strings and say the words. But we don't see that. We don't see the puppeteer at all. And when the puppeteer's voice also claims he's so good his true self will never be detected, how are we to know it's not just a very confused Count? Or a crafty one?

I'm reminded of that infamous Ted Bundy interview on the eve of his execution. I thought at the time, and still think, Does anyone believe this guy is capable of diagnosing himself? Besides, might he not have other, questionable motives for saying that he does? Not that the motives of the Count should necessarily be an issue, but when the claims are so bizarre and elusive, we're left with not much else to look at.

Glenn said...

DJ,

Yes, I'm suggesting that the classifications themselves are material things.

Know of anyone, or ever hear of anyone, who has done a spectral analysis of, say, the Dewey Decimal System?

As far as I know, reason and logic *are* material things.

People have been known to stumble, trip and fall flat on their face when they run across reason and logic, so maybe you're onto something there. You may even have the scars to prove it.

Erich said...

Don Jindra,

Though I have not been following your discussion with Glenn closely (it seems to have roots extending back into previous threads), I wonder if what you're suggesting here parallels suggestions made by Chomsky on the matter of materialism. His point is that natural science simply does have any a priori notion of what counts as "material" in the first place, and it hasn't really since the time of Newton: Newton's remarkably simple and vastly explanatory theories required a notion of action at a distance that made the force of gravity appear quite "immaterial" by the mechanistic standards of the time – the cause of much head-scratching (Newton himself commented on it, saying something like "I know this is bizarre, yet here it is") – but not ultimately of rejection.

Similarly, consider the great successes of the atomic theory of chemistry a little over a century ago: some chemists saw it as a non-physical but highly successful way of stating regularities of proportion in chemical reactions, clearly nothing more than a useful model, a sort of "taxonomy" – but not a "physical" theory, since the properties of these "so-called atoms" could not be reconciled with what classical physics could say about such atoms at the time (which was, for decades, "they cannot exist!"). Others considered it a perfectly "physical," or at least a "material" theory in its own right, whether or not it could ever be reduced or at least unified with other physical principles. "Go work on it, physicists," they effectively implied (which they did: and the problem vanished, of course, not through any radical change in the chemical theory of the atom, but by the development of quantum mechanics, a radical revision of the more "fundamental" description of classical physical laws, one rife with mysteries of its own, but at least it accommodated the chemists' atom, reconciling chemistry and fundamental physics).

Bas van Fraassen, whose empiricism is at odds with Chomsky in many ways, has made exactly the same point: the history of science shows that the "material" is an exceedingly plastic and provisional notion. One could regard this perspective as a kind of physicalism that is agnostic with regard to reduction and unification between qualitatively distinct levels of description – they're great when you can get them, of course, but whether or not we can achieve them, or whether or not the universe ultimately succumbs to total reduction or unification, is irrelevant to whether or not we describe something as "material" or "physical."

From that perspective, there's no a priori reason to consider any phenomenon as non-material. I actually agree with that, and it seems close to what you're putting forth. So before I reply to your kind response to my latest post, I'd be curious to know how close that comes to your thinking.

Erich said...

@ Glenn –

Please see above! I'd be interested in your take too, of course.

Glenn said...

Erich,

I myself would much rather hear what others more competent on the subject of physics might have to say about that. In alphabetical order, grodriguez, Ian, Ishmael and pck are a few of the names which quickly come to mind. And, of course, there are those who are better suited to go into the Scholastic view of the question (of just what matter really is (or is not)).

(But I do recollect it being taught that: a) there are three kinds of matter: solid, liquid and gas; b) some were vying to have something called plasma classified as a fourth kind of matter; and, c) matter can be converted into energy, and energy into matter. And somewhere along the line I figured that if each of M and E can be converted into the other, then neither one is the other except, perhaps, only potentially, in which case energy is a non-material something, so what the heck are those people going on about who claim that there isn't anything which isn't matter? Fast forward, and there is, e.g., the theoretical physicist Matt Strassler who says there are things -- fields and particles -- which are not necessarily either matter or energy (see his Matter and Energy: A False Dichotomy). Is it right? I certainly won’t mind if he is. But I really don't know.)

Glenn said...

(Sorry. My opening sentence is poorly worded, and subject to being misconstrued. It should read: "I would much rather hear what others more competent than myself on the subject of physics might have to say about that.")

Erich said...

Glenn,

I know enough about physics (I have a BA in physics, though I went on to study linguistics) to say that your description of matter as falling into three or four types is but a minute subset of what the concept of "matter" encompasses in the world of physics. A single hydrogen atom qualifies as matter: but by itself it is neither solid, liquid, nor gas; the latter are terms describing larger amalgams of atoms or molecules. "Matter" usually means particles, or systems of particles, that have mass. There are particles, such as the ubiquitous photon, that have no mass: so are they really matter or really pure energy? It doesn't really matter for the purposes of present discussion: both are aspects of the material world. Fields too, the multiple dimensions of string theory, the quantum vacuum, what have you – as deeply "immaterial" as they may seem as abstract mathematical objects, they are, for the physicist, perfectly material.

There is nothing "concrete" about matter in modern physics. Its proclaimed materialism reduces to the "abstract and ghostly..." (hello Don Jindra!).

Glenn said...

Erich,

What about the laws of physics, or material points (in a legal sense rather than a physics sense)? Have they 'mass' as physicists understand 'mass'? If not, do the laws of physics, or material points in a legal sense, nonetheless somehow manage to qualify as 'material' in a physics sense? If not, is it not then reasonable to conclude that non-material things do indeed exist?

Glenn said...

DJ,

And yes, I'll stand by my claim that internal beliefs are irrelevant if outward behavior is identical.

Mary bakes chocolate chip cookies for George, her husband. She bakes them because of love. But Jenny, owner of Jenny's Tasty Cookies, bakes chocolate chip cookies for George too. Jenny does it because of a profit motive.

George says he'll give a nice award to the next person who bakes him the perfect cookies -- a big kiss or $1000. If George can't tell the difference between the cookies, why would cookie-making depend on what the two women believed about either George or cookies? Whether the cook follows her recipe or follows her heart, they're the same cookies.


Well, that's one way of looking at the question of the relevancy of internal beliefs or motives to outward behavior.

(cont)

Glenn said...

Here's another way of looking at the same question (I came across this many years ago (in an 18th century book (which I had read principally because of the respect I had had for the person who had suggested it to me))):

"Works and deeds," though, does not mean works and deeds solely the way they look in outward form. It also includes their deeper nature. Everyone knows, really, that all our deeds and works come from our intention and thought, for if they did not come from there they would be no more than motions like those of machines or robots. So a deed or work in its own right is simply an effect that derives its soul and life from our volition and thought, even to the point that it is volition and thought in effect, volition and thought in an outward form. It follows, then, that the quality of the volition and thought that cause the deed or work determines the quality of the deed or work. If the thought and intent are good, then the deeds and works are good; but if the thought and intent are evil, then the deeds and works are evil, even though they may look alike in outward form. A thousand people can behave alike--that is, can do the same thing, so much alike that in outward form one can hardly tell the difference. Yet each deed in its own right is unique because it comes from a different intent.

Take for example behaving honestly and fairly with an associate. One person can behave honestly and fairly with someone else in order to seem honest and fair for the sake of self and to gain respect; another person can do the same for the sake of worldly profit; a third for reward and credit; a fourth to curry friendship; a fifth out of fear of the law and loss of reputation and office; a sixth to enlist people in his or her cause, even if it is an evil one; a seventh in order to mislead; and others for still other reasons. But even though all of their deeds look good (for behaving honestly and fairly toward a colleague is good), still they are evil because they are not done for the sake of honesty and fairness, not because these qualities are loved, but for the sake of oneself and the world, because these are loved. The honesty and fairness are servants of this love, like the servants of a household whom their lord demeans and dismisses when they do not serve.

People behave honestly and fairly toward their colleagues in a similar outward form when they are acting from a love of what is honest and fair. Some of them do it because of the truth of faith, or obedience, because it is enjoined in the Word. Some of them do it for the sake of the goodness of faith or conscience, because they are moved by religious feeling. Some of them do it out of the good of thoughtfulness toward their neighbor, because one's neighbor's welfare is to be valued. Some of them do it out of the goodness of love for the Lord, because what is good should be done for its own sake; so too what is honest and fair should be done for the sake of honesty and fairness. .. The deeds or works of these people are inwardly good, so they are outwardly good as well; for as already noted, the nature of deeds and works is entirely determined by the nature of the thought and intent from which they stem, and apart from such thought and intent they are not deeds and works but only lifeless motions.

Mr. Green said...

Don Jindra: There's no guarantee [Aristotle] would cling to all of his conclusions or presuppositions.

Of course not; being thousands of years old, the poor chap might have gone a little gaga, after all.

I never said Aristotle didn't believe in asking biological questions. I didn't imply it, nor do I believe it. I am saying those who call themselves Aristotelians today are painting themselves into that corner. It's hard for you to deny this.

Again, it's hard because I'm trying to catch my breath from laughing. So you weren't saying Aristotle didn't believe in biology, it's just that he didn't believe in Aristotelianism, you know, like those pesky four causes. But no doubt that is twisting your words again: clearly, what you really meant is that the ones who don't believe in the four causes are the new ("so-called") Aristotelians... whom you were just berating for insisting on all four causes.

A hylemorphic dualist criticizes a materialist for looking at only the biology for ultimate answers to the mind. But if that same hylemorphic dualist looks at that same biology for the same answers, what is he complaining about?

Well, for starters, he might complain that the materialist uses the same methods as that Aristotelians have been using for centuries then turns around and claims that "Aristotelian" methods don't work. But your sleight of hand was a bit too slight: I'm afraid I noticed that the "only" in the first sentence was casually dropped from the second. (On a totally unrelated note, did you ever notice that if someone's thoughts are already twisted, all one has to do to "twist his words" is simply repeat them back to him?)

It's just bravado to claim the only success gained by naturalists is from asking Aristotelian questions.

If by "bravado" you mean a claim that has been well established by evidence and argument, then yes, absolutely.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

I agree with some of this but not Chomsky. There's very little about Chomsky I agree with.

What we claim as material has to be provisional. All knowledge is provisional. I doubt anything is known a priori. But I can't go along with Bas van Fraassen's anti-realism. I think there's always a truth to the matter even though we might not know what it is.

My working definition of the material would be anything we can sense or measure with our five senses or our instruments, or something that causes an effect we can sense or measure, and/or anything implemented through or affected by the forces of nature.

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

A spectrum analyzer is probably not a good instrument to use to detect the Dewey Decimal System. But a computer can easily implement it. It's easily detected in that computer either by looking at a copy of the source code externally or examining the program internally with something like a JTAG debugger. We can do that because the computer implementation of the Dewey Decimal System is simple and entirely physical.

If the Dewey Decimal System is implemented in a human being, we can't plug in a JTAG debugger and dump the brain's contents. But it's not hard to detect. We just offer the person a nice job as a librarian and ask the person to take a test. This test can detect the presence of the Dewey Decimal System in that human being. And since that human being is 100% physical, the Dewey Decimal System must also be physical.

Now you'll complain that I'm begging the question in the second case, which I am. But seeing how the 100% physical computer implements the same Dewey Decimal System, I see no reason to suspect the human being needs something non-physical to do the same.

Swedenborg keeps popping up in stuff. I suppose I'll have to read some of his work.

Legally and morally intent is often taken into account. I don't think you mean to imply that even if a materialist and Aristotelian used the same methods, one would be operating for evil ends and the other not. So I'll ignore that.

Everyone knows Swedenborg's POV. If a rich man marries a young, pretty woman we tend to think she marries for money and he for sex -- neither for love. But if neither is aware of the motives of the other, and both act as if they're in love, would the marriage be any less solid? Would marriage statistics see a difference? From an outsider's POV, why should it matter?

We could say they'd be happier if they married for love. That's probably true. I hope it's true. If our goal is to make happy people rather than making a tranquil society, intent would matter -- at least theoretically.

But if our goal is a tranquil society, it doesn't matter if one acts "out of the good of thoughtfulness toward their neighbor," or out of "lifeless motions" if the results are identical.

But knowledge has no moral component. So these problems shouldn't come up between the materialist and Aristotelian.

Don Jindra said...

Mr. Green,

"Well, for starters, he might complain that the materialist uses the same methods as that Aristotelian have been using for centuries then turns around and claims that "Aristotelian" methods don't work."

That's false. Aristotle did not invent the scientific method, he did not practice it, he had no idea what it was. That's the bravado again.

"I'm afraid I noticed that the 'only' in the first sentence was casually dropped from the second."

I dropped the 'only' on purpose. I did it because I know that the Aristotelian claims to look at more than the biology. So how can you complain when including the 'only' in the second sentence would mean I had no idea what the Aristotelian believes?

I'm saying the Aristotelian can believe in whatever he wishes. It makes no difference if he performs the same experiments and pursues the same biological paths into the inner workings of the brain. His extra thoughts on the supernatural mean nothing if they do nothing.

Perhaps if you stopped laughing you could start thinking.

ozero91 said...

"It's easily detected in that computer either by looking at a copy of the source code externally or examining the program internally with something like a JTAG debugger. We can do that because the computer implementation of the Dewey Decimal System is simple and entirely physical."

This kind of seems like a trivial point. If you write a secret message and give someone the directions and cipher to decode it, then not surprising that it will be decoded. It's an all a function of human language and representation. So it seems like a false conparison when it comes to human brain, because with that we have to deal with intentionality issues.

Erich said...

Glenn,

I think most physicists would say that such things as space and time are as much a part of the material world as anything else – but they would not call these things "matter" per se. Matter is generally taken to be a particular form of energy (as you pointed out) – and "energy" is an abstract notion physics doesn't understand very deeply (though many of its properties, such as the fact it is conserved, are of course well-understood). So yes indeed: the material world is full of abstract "entities" that bear no resemblance to what we take to be "matter."

Yes, we can also go on to ask about the existence of the "laws" of physics themselves, and whether or not they too are "material," but I think (perhaps surprisingly) that's actually a distraction in this case. Let's just stick to the matter of "matter" for the moment.

Again, matter is a particular form of the extremely abstract fundamental "entities" that physics posits as constituting the material world. "Matter" is not the same as those entities: a neutron is not simply energy and mass and strong and weak forces and so on, but a particular form of those things. Nor is this form in any way physically separable, like a ghost leaving its body, from "what forms it" (or "that which it forms," if you prefer). It is not possible to assert the existence of so much as a neutron without asserting the existence of form.

And that, of course, means hylomorphism is a description of matter that it perfectly consistent with physical descriptions of it!


Don Jindra,

Please take a look at the above comment addressed to Glenn! It feeds into what I say below.

I wasn't asking about whether or not you agree with Chomsky or van Fraassen generally, but whether the particular argument they put forth (as have others, probably; I recall Feyerabend made a similar point) accords with your thinking. In any case, your position is basically in accord with them here.

So, okay, let's take your definition of the "material." By that definition, anything we can possibly know about is "material." I can sense or measure time, love, a syllogism, a good performance of Beethoven's seventh symphony, the existence and value of Heisenberg's constant. . . in other words, everything we can talk about as "real" counts as "material" for you. Whatever we can encounter, sense, measure, or figure out – that's material. (We'll make mistakes of course; we are subject to illusions, logical errors, accidence of circumstance, seduction – but hell, nothing's perfect.)

Needless to say, this is not a notion of "material" either in common use or in technical use in philosophy – but such notions must be provisional and deluded anyway, since from your perspective, anyone's talk (and not just that of A-T adherents) of the "immaterial" will necessarilybe nonsense. The A-T idea that the soul is the "form of the body" and is thus, arguably, "non-material," has no force; likewise the idea the consciousness is "immaterial."

Your definition makes no distinctions between ways of being; the idea of the "material" applies to all ways of being. It is univocal, one could say. Is this at least close what you're saying?




Don Jindra said...

ozero91,

I admit a bit of glibness in answering Glenn. I know what he's getting at. But his choice was a spectrum analyzer. He knows full well that the instrument is not designed to detect the Dewey Decimal System, intentionality, qualia, or etc... IOW, it wasn't meant as a serious question so I didn't treat it as such.

You say, "If you write a secret message and give someone the directions and cipher to decode it, then [its] not surprising that it will be decoded," but you misrepresent the task. There are no directions in a binary dump you'd get from JTAG debugger. You'd get a bunch of binary numbers which could then be disassembled into assembly source -- code with no comments, no English directions and very unlike the high level language used to write the original code. But from that paltry information a good engineer can decipher what the program does. Knowing the program was used in a library would help a lot, but if he was really good he wouldn't even have to know that.

ozero91 said...

"You'd get a bunch of binary numbers which could then be disassembled into assembly source -- code with no comments..."

Decrypting still assumes that there is some underlying language made by intelligent agents. A structure of physical objects that are suspected to represent something more than their mere physical configuration. Which brings us back to the intentionality issue.

pck said...

@Glen: A couple of points in no particular order. (Much of which will not be news to you.)

0) there are three kinds of matter: solid, liquid and gas

Strictly speaking these are not kinds but states of (aggregates of) matter (also called "phases").

I figured that if each of M and E can be converted into the other, then neither one is the other except, perhaps, only potentially, in which case energy is a non-material something, so what the heck are those people going on about who claim that there isn't anything which isn't matter?

theoretical physicist Matt Strassler who says there are things -- fields and particles -- which are not necessarily either matter or energy

Your worries are quite justified. Energy in modern physics is the potential to do work. It's an abstract notion which gets its importance from the fact that it is a conserved ("invariant") quantity and is thus very helpful in making predictions about systems which are too complex to be described in every detail. It's impossible to mathematically keep track of every one of the billions of molecules in a boiling pot of water, but a comparatively simple energy calculation can capture changes in temperature easily.

Energy can thus not literally be converted into matter (Strassler: "In reality, matter and energy don’t even belong to the same categories"). But relativity theory holds that if one puts more and more energy into a particle, this will initially increase the particle's speed ("motion-energy"), but as it approaches that of light, the particle's mass ("mass-energy") will increase as well (so that even though its speed cannot reach c, you get more bang for your buck (= the energy invested) when the particle hits something).

1) In modern physics, the term "material" is pretty much fair game and can be appropriated in any which way one finds oneself inclined to. The chief reason being that "material" is not a notion that appears in any theory. No formalism in physics explains or makes use of it. Whether physicists call gravity, photons or other phenomena with which they concern themselves "material" or not is therefore irrelevant (to science). The same goes for "cause" in physics and for "variable/constant" in mathematics. These are meta-terms used to talk about physics/math. Physical/mathematical explanations can never solely be endeavours of finding working theories, since what counts as "working" or "not working" must be fixed pre-theoretically and non-empirically. Whether a telescope is broken or working properly cannot be decided purely on the basis of what we see when we look through it, as the same laws of nature are at work in both cases.

pck said...

2) If everything is material, then nothing is. A notion which has no conceptual opposite is a useless notion.

3) Physicists must rely on a ton of non-empirical concepts ("relation", "point-mass", "density", to name but a few) before they can even begin to create theories and, from there, explanations. There are material concepts but no concept is material. A concept is at best materially instantiated. When DJ detects the Dewey Decimal System in a computer by looking at the source code, he needs to make a logical inference. Inferences are of course not material, even though they may have a "material basis". DJ is also by his own admission not even looking at the computer, but at the logical structure of the code, not the material details of its instantiation. Even if he did look at the hardware directly, he would need to interpret its physical states [1] in terms of a system of rules R which are not fixed or instantiated by the hardware. He will try to weasel out of this by saying that R is physically realized in his brain, but nobody interprets the structure of their brains when they think. DJ will now say "yes they do" and claim that thoughts *are* brain processes, which will complete his usual cycle of question-begging and equivocation.

[1] "Physical state" being another non-material notion -- a physical system is *in* a state, but no physical system *is* a state.

4) As a rule of thumb, the further down in the material order we go, the less "material" (in the ordinary sense of the word) things become. We are forced to use mathematical entities whose ontological status becomes less and less clear. The standard example are probability amplitudes in QM -- some physicists say they describe particles, others say they are particles.

5) Elementary particles are not made of matter, are they therefore immaterial? The dichotomy material/immaterial may not even apply anymore here.

6) Even the simple question "Are forces real?" is empirically unanswerable. Physics doesn't need concepts of force in order to describe change. (Which DJ conveniently forgets to mention whenever he uses his misguided actio=reactio trope.)

7) Scientists and engineers are notoriously prone to overstepping their boundaries without noticing it when it comes to matters of explanation. Conceptual confusion ensues and finds its ultimate expression in the slamming of car hoods in Hollywood.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

I don't know what arguments Chomsky or van Fraassen put forth on this issue. So I won't say I agree with them. I know from experience that I rarely agree with Chomsky, including on his linguistics.

We have no reliable way of sensing or measuring love in others so historically love has probably not been commonly understood as material. Nevertheless, technology changes our understanding. Now we understand a lot more about love, and in recent years much has been written on the biology of love. Today I think many people would admit that love, if not 100% biological, is getting closer to that. Finding that soulmate isn't what it used to be.

Love is a mode of emotional being. Hate is a mode of emotional being. Yes, I think all being is material and therefore love and hate as modes of (emotional) being are also material.

Certainly for me the A-T idea "that the soul is the 'form of the body' and is thus, arguably, 'non-material,' has no force." The platonic idea of forms left me cold. Aristotle's usage of form is not Plato's usage. Still, it leaves me cold. It seems to me you're pulling away from the A-T usage. If form was only the current structure of matter, it's just a different way of talking about matter. A-T means much more than that. Their 'form' of the human mind is a being in itself, quite separate from its temporary fusion with the body.


ozero91,

"Decrypting still assumes that there is some underlying language made by intelligent agents. A structure of physical objects that are suspected to represent something more than their mere physical configuration. Which brings us back to the intentionality issue."

Nature produced DNA. DNA is a kind of blueprint. A blueprint is a kind of language. Nature is not an intelligent agent. We can now decipher much of that language. We understand enough of it to fix some problems and make new 'user applications.' DNA splicers have intentionality as they do this, but does that mean nature had intentionality when it created the original tongue? That is the issue.

Don Jindra said...

pck,

"If everything is material, then nothing is. A notion which has no conceptual opposite is a useless notion."

Then maybe we ought to drop the word 'being' too since it has no conceptual opposite in the same way 'material' has no conceptual opposite.

"There are material concepts but no concept is material."

-- begs the question.

"Inferences are of course not material"

-- begs the question.

"DJ will now say 'yes they do' and claim that thoughts *are* brain processes, which will complete his usual cycle of question-begging and equivocation."

The difference is that I admit I'm begging the question. But you don't seem to understand that this doesn't give you permission to beg the question from your direction, which is all you do.

"Even if he did look at the hardware directly, he would need to interpret its physical states in terms of a system of rules R which are not fixed or instantiated by the hardware."

Rules R *are* fixed in the hardware. The best you can do is claim R may not really be R but R-like up to a point. Or you could claim in a billion years an alien life form will discover the computer and try to decipher the program and decide it must implement recipes for interesting varieties of the classic dirt sandwich.

"'Physical state' being another non-material notion -- a physical system is *in* a state, but no physical system *is* a state."

All you're saying here is that our words try to describe reality but the descriptions are not the reality they describe. This has nothing to do with the issue.

"Even the simple question "Are forces real?" is empirically unanswerable."

Forces are empirically observed. That makes them real in some sense even if we mistake what we observe.

Strassler: "The stuff of the universe is all made from fields (the basic ingredients of the universe) and their particles."

-- That's a good working definition of the 'material' too.

Glenn said...

pck,

Thank you, sir. Much obliged.

Glenn said...

Erich,

Thank you, too, for your additional comments.

Glenn said...

pck,

Scientists and engineers are notoriously prone to overstepping their boundaries without noticing it when it comes to matters of explanation. Conceptual confusion ensues and finds its ultimate expression in the slamming of car hoods in Hollywood.

True. And I've been thinking about that 'expression' through much of this (so-called) discussion with DJ.

- - - - -

Suppose Bob were to say,

"I live in Hollywood. There's a lot of traffic. I walk a lot. One of my pet peeves is drivers who block crosswalks. They do that to me, I slam my fist on their hood. Dumb, maybe, but it gets their attention. If you're ahead of me with 30 items in a 'Ten Items or Less' line at the supermarket, I'm likely to squeeze ahead of you and ask if you know how to read."

Were Bob indeed to say that, then:

a) It seems likely one would pick up on the fact that Bob experiences anger when a driver blocks a crosswalk, or when someone ahead of him on the express line has a number of items which greatly exceeds the maximum number of items permitted for that line;

b) given the absence of any mention of, e.g., catecholamines or the amygdala, it would seem less likely (than that in c) below) that Bob is conveying something about the physiology of anger in general, or the physiology of his anger in particular; and,

c) given the mention of his pet peeves, the slamming of his fist, his jumping ahead of another on line, and his sarcastic inquiry into the literal skills of another, it would seem more likely (than that in b) above) that Bob is conveying something about his having an appetite for or desire to, say, return annoyance for annoyance, i.e., get even, teach the offending other a lesson, put that other in his place, speak disparagingly or in a condescending manner to that other, or something of that sort, on those occasions when he experiences anger.

Given Bob's account and a) thru c), and drawing upon the last paragraph of Part 1 Book I of Aristotle's On The Soul ** (and resorting to its terminology), it safely may be said that, in giving his account, Bob spoke more like the dialectician and less like the physicist -- and, indeed, that Bob viewed his own personal experience more from the dialectician's perspective and less from the physicist's perspective, i.e., that Bob viewed his own personal experience more from the perspective of 'form or formulable essence' and less from the perspective of 'material conditions'.

- - - - -

** The relevant excerpt from which is as follows:

"[A] physicist would define an affection of soul differently from a dialectician; the latter would define e.g. anger as the appetite for returning pain for pain, or something like that, while the former would define it as a boiling of the blood or warm substance surround the heart.

"The latter assigns the material conditions, the former the form or formulable essence; for what he states is the formulable essence of the fact, though for its actual existence there must be embodiment of it in a material such as is described by the other. "

(The actual physiology of anger would be defined differently these days; nonetheless, the distinction itself which was made still stands.)

(But it may be interesting to take notice of the fact that it is not at all uncommon for people these days to speak of something in the presence of which they experience anger, as something which makes their blood boil.)

Glenn said...

("literal skills" s/b "literacy skills")

Glenn said...

DJ,

If the Dewey Decimal System is implemented in a human being, we can't plug in a JTAG debugger and dump the brain's contents. But it's not hard to detect. We just offer the person a nice job as a librarian and ask the person to take a test. This test can detect the presence of the Dewey Decimal System in that human being. And since that human being is 100% physical, the Dewey Decimal System must also be physical.

It works the other way around, too. For example, we can offer you a nice job as an astronomer, and ask you to take a test. The test can detect the presence of a nebula in you. And since the nebula is full of gas, we may conclude that you are too.

;)

Anyway, thanks for the laughs. It's been fun.

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

You seem to be suggesting the only good materialist is an eliminative materialist, based on Aristotle whom you know I don't accept. Suppose a Muslim started quoting the Koran to you and me. Should we find his arguments compelling?

Furthermore, you're ripping Bob's words out of context. There was no intent to describe the 'physiology of anger' *or* the 'form or formulable essence' of anger. The intent was to offer counter evidence to Larry and Moe's claims about the essence of Bob: "I do think there have been a number of indications that he is not quite as 'oppositionalistic' privately as he publicly appears to be" & "The gnus I know in real life (sample size in the high single digits) are shy in private (particularly the IT guys) and get confrontational only on the net."

It was a suggestion by Bob, who happens to know Bob, that Larry and Moe were incapable of deducing Bob's being based on their personal "appetite for returning pain for pain, or something like that."

Glenn said...

DJ,

...based on Aristotle whom you know I don't accept...

You don't have to accept Aristotle.

But if don't accept him, and are going to publicly announce that you don't, then do youself a favor and not act as if you do indeed agree with (at least some of) what he says.

Glenn said...

Also,

Furthermore, you're ripping Bob's words out of context. There was no intent to describe the 'physiology of anger' *or* the 'form or formulable essence' of anger.

The fact of the matter is that nothing was said of Bob's intention to describe one or the other, only of what Bob's description actually was, and what his description -- worded as he himself worded it -- itself conveys. If Bob is in the habit of using speech which conveys something other than what he himself intends to say, then... well, [fill in the blank].

Glenn said...

DJ,

The intent was to offer counter evidence to Larry and Moe's claims about the essence of Bob: "I do think there have been a number of indications that he is not quite as 'oppositionalistic' privately as he publicly appears to be" [1] & "The gnus I know in real life (sample size in the high single digits) are shy in private (particularly the IT guys) and get confrontational only on the net."

[1] So, you sought to counter my estimate of you that you are not quite as 'oppositionalistic' privately as you publicly appear to be, i.e., you wanted to prove that you're just as 'oppositionalistic' in private as you are in public? And sought to do so by giving two examples of you being blatantly 'oppositionalistic' in public?

[2] Since pck's observation was based on a small sample size consisting of only those gnus he knows in real life, the evidence offered by you -- who neither knows pck in real life or is known to pck in real life -- is irrelevant as a counter example. (But let it be noted that in attempting to offer your own personal exeperience as a counter example, you ackowledged (tacitly, it is true) that you are a gnu. (And let it be further noted that it was bad enough you did that to yourself once before; now you do so again -- apparently for the benefit and edification of those who still might be or might not have been sure.))

- - - - -

No matter how you slice it, you're stuck in quick stand, and are just wriggling your way in deeper.

pck said...

@Glenn:
Bob viewed his own personal experience more from the perspective of 'form or formulable essence' and less from the perspective of 'material conditions'.
[From De Anima: "The latter assigns the material conditions, the former the form or formulable essence"]


I couldn't agree more. This could in fact also be used to illustrate some of what Wittgenstein had to say about the role of ordinary vs technical language. Bob's accounts of his behaviour have no technical (i.e. theoretical) physical or physiological content and to assign a term like "anger" to physiological processes or states of the body is unintelligible without a previous understanding of how its ordinary use works. Advocates of scientism often want to convince us that we can jettison ordinary language as soon as science has "made precise" our "folk concepts". But our ordinary notions which we learned without any recourse to definitions will (and must) always remain our ultimate conceptual anchors and reference points which make understanding possible in the first place, including that of technical and theoretical language. Hence, "anger" will never literally be reconceived as "boiling blood" (or brain processes or whatever physiological correlations may be discovered in the future). This is a logical impossibility, not a barrier imposed on us by the limitations of our knowledge or our intellectual capacities.

The only literal locus of anger is in the room (or as in Bob's case, on the street). What makes anger possible ("boiling blood") is not the same as the anger, and this is not an empirical but a conceptual point. Nobody says "my blood is angry" except as a (consciously employed) metaphor. It is only in philosophical discourse that we mistakenly confuse the location of anger with the location of physiological processes or states. It's of course easier to "make precise" the notion of the location of blood than it is to locate anger if one's scientistic mindset is already oriented towards sticking some (x,y,z,t) on to everything (and every noun, regardless of whether it is actually a thing or not).

Glenn => DJ:
The test can detect the presence of a nebula in you.

That's why he never interviewed for a job in demolition, he was afraid something might literally explode in him.

No matter how you slice it, you're stuck in quick stand, and are just wriggling your way in deeper.

It's the Hollywood way. You have to dig deep through all the glitter in order to get down to the tinsel.

Glenn said...

Btw, I've read your manual for the $25 Network, and your wife's article on the development of business for the same. Nice. But competence in one area doesn't necessarily translate into competence in other areas. Stick to what you're good at, and you'll be less likely to make yourself look foolish.

pck said...

every noun, regardless of whether it is actually a thing or not
=>
every noun, regardless of whether it actually designates a thing or not

Glenn said...

Of course, "Btw, I've read your manual..." was directed to DJ.

Glenn said...

pck,

Bob's accounts of his behaviour have no technical (i.e. theoretical) physical or physiological content and to assign a term like "anger" to physiological processes or states of the body is unintelligible without a previous understanding of how its ordinary use works. Advocates of scientism often want to convince us that we can jettison ordinary language as soon as science has "made precise" our "folk concepts". But our ordinary notions which we learned without any recourse to definitions will (and must) always remain our ultimate conceptual anchors and reference points which make understanding possible in the first place, including that of technical and theoretical language....

Yup.

(For some utterly odd and unfathomable reason, I'm now thinking of the opening quotation in the Aristotle's Revenge chapter in TLS (and, of course, what follows that quotation).)

ozero91 said...

DJ:

"DNA is a kind of blueprint."

This seems like an assertion. If X can be described as a Y it doesn't imply that X is a Y. The difference between a blueprint and DNA/RNA is that a blueprint contains symbols which are accepted to represent more than their physical properties/configuration. DNA translation on the other hand, is causal. The chemical shape of the ribosome and the RNA bases make some chemical reactions possible/more likely to occur than others. For example, if by chance a certain tRNA that is floating around bumps into a part of the translation structure, and its spatial/chemical configuration easily allow a reaction to occur, the amino acid will join the protein chain. Other, different tRNAs will bounce away because their chemical configurations make any kind of chemical reaction very unlikely to occur. The whole process can be described as such. Thus, it does not follow that the DNA is "about" the protein product any more than a sedimentary rock is "about" the components/processes that formed it. You could say that intentionality just IS causation. However, intentionality as causation begs the question because there is no non-question begging criteria one can use to say that physical object/process A is about a certain causal outcome B. To illustrate, say A causes B which cause C which causes D, etc. Is A about B, C, D ..., or Z?

pck said...

Glenn:
For some utterly odd and unfathomable reason, I'm now thinking of the opening quotation in the Aristotle's Revenge chapter in TLS (and, of course, what follows that quotation)

I'm afraid I have not read TLS, only Philosophy of Mind and Aquinas. Are you referring to the "lump under the rug" analogy?

Erich said...

Don Jindra,

It's not much fun when you don't pay attention to what I've written. You say

I don't know what arguments Chomsky or van Fraassen put forth on this issue. So I won't say I agree with them. I know from experience that I rarely agree with Chomsky, including on his linguistics.

But I gave you exactly the argument Chomsky and van Fraassen put forth on this issue, and in some detail. It doesn't matter who made it anyway, much less whether you agree with anything else they have to say; the only question is whether it is convincing. And you seem to adhere to a version of it.

As for the comment, "We have no reliable way of sensing or measuring love in others so historically love has probably not been commonly understood as material," I don't know what to make of it. For something to be material we need a "reliable way of sensing or measuring" something? Otherwise it isn't material – then what is it? For you it doesn't, exist by definition.

We have no reliable way even of knowing other minds exist, by your criterion, much less love in other minds. But we know perfectly well what love feels like. I know with perfect certainty that certain people love me, and love other people, and so do you.

No one ever claimed that "love" does not involve parts of the body lighting up excitedly. Yet you say it's "becoming" material because we have brain scans and neurochemistry? How will any pattern of brain activity be identified as "love" in the first place unless the person exhibiting them tell us that he loves, and we believe him? If his testimony is not reliable, then neither is any "neuro" description of love. If it is reliable, then adding knowledge of the neurological correlates of love does not make it any more material; it already is so by your definition.

So I was right: for you, what exists is material, by definition. The concept makes no further distinctions. Fine, if you want to use the word that way, but that does not mean that further distinctions cannot be made, and A-T makes them – and so do you, all the time, by distinguishing for example between matter and the states it may be in. This is an ontological distinction.

As for hylomorphism, I was making an elementary point about its consonance with theories of matter in physics, not about its applicability to arguments for the immortality of the soul, in the hope of emphasizing an ontological distinction that cannot be captured by your (all-encompassing) notion of the material.

You should read Chomsky, by the way. He's apparently closer philosophically to you than to me on these matters – though apparently you don't like his linguistics, while I find it top-notch.

Glenn said...

pck,

I'm afraid I have not read TLS, only Philosophy of Mind and Aquinas. Are you referring to the "lump under the rug" analogy?

Although that analogy is in the chapter (starting on its 7th page), I was referring specifically to the following quotation (taken from Two Heads: A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem):

Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. "She said, 'Paul, don't speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren't for my endogenous opiates I'd have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I'll be down in a minute.'"

(Btw, Hacker is (very) briefly mentioned in the chapter: "As M.R. Bennet and P.M.S. Hacker put it, the eliminative materialist inevitably 'saws off the branch on which he is seated.'")

pck said...

Glenn:
Pat burst in the door [...]

Excellent. That is exactly how I have always imagined the Churchlands talk to each other.

Hacker once said that even the solipsist still calls for an ambulance if his wife falls down the stairs. So I take it that the Age of Reason as envisaged by our materialist friends is still a long way off. Fingers crossed.

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

"But if don't accept him, and are going to publicly announce that you don't, then do yourself a favor and not act as if you do indeed agree with (at least some of) what he says."

It has ceased to surprise me when people read into my words things that aren't there. This is not to say a person can disagree with all that Aristotle wrote. He wrote a lot. He did an amazing job for his times.


"But let it be noted that in attempting to offer your own personal experience as a counter example, you acknowledged (tacitly, it is true) that you are a gnu."

That does not follow. I tacitly acknowledged only that pck *imagined* me as a gnu just as he *imagined* me as a passive person on the street. From the context, you should have realized this was a distinct possibility. It's another example of reading into my words what isn't there. I recall writing those words. I considered referring to the "gnu" angle as one more misconception on pck's part. I decided that would be a waste of words and might lead to more wasted words on a boring issue. You guys have already made up your minds on that, no matter what I say.

Btw, I'm surprised you read my wife's Micro Cornucopia article. I agree, she did a good job. Thanks. I didn't know that manual was on line. In fact, I searched but didn't find it. I did find the one I wrote for Little Big LAN. For sure competence in one area doesn't necessarily translate into competence in other areas. Maybe if I stick around here long enough I'll learn that you guys actually know something worthwhile.

Don Jindra said...

pck,

1) "But our ordinary notions which we learned without any recourse to definitions will (and must) always remain our ultimate conceptual anchors and reference points which make understanding possible in the first place, including that of technical and theoretical language."

2) "Hence, 'anger' will never literally be reconceived as 'boiling blood' (or brain processes or whatever physiological correlations may be discovered in the future)."

3) "This is a logical impossibility, not a barrier imposed on us by the limitations of our knowledge or our intellectual capacities."

1 is likely true.

2 does not follow.

3 is False: What you describe is not a logical impossibility. Logic is not a factor. It's either empirically true or not. You're making a proposal about the 'mechanics' of the brain. You deny the location of anger is the location of physiological processes or states. But you have no way of showing this except through empirical means. Logic is of no help. I say it's futile, if not absolutely silly, to look anywhere but the physiology.

Don Jindra said...

ozero91,

DNA has information that does generally describe the organism. So in that way I believe it's like a blueprint. Sure, it makes some chemical reactions more likely than others. A blueprint makes some material choices more likely than others. I don't know how it could be said that a blueprint is 'about' a house but DNA isn't 'about' the organism. You're going to have to elaborate on that for me.

I've never claimed my POV doesn't beg questions. On many of these issues everyone who chooses a side begs the question. Can't be avoided.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

This is nothing against you but I have a policy of not assenting to another person's position until I've done the research myself. Third party views are often misrepresented. (My views are often misrepresented.)

This is what you said about Chomsky: "His point is that natural science simply does have any a priori notion of what counts as 'material' in the first place, and it hasn't really since the time of Newton"

To that I answered that I doubt we have *any* a priori knowledge. It follows that natural science should have no a priori notion of what counts as 'material' in the first place. From your description I got the impression Chomsky thought there was a problem with a moving target called 'material.' I answered that all knowledge is provisional. A moving target is exactly what we should expect. It's not necessarily a problem.

I have no idea if Chomsky misrepresented Newton or history prior to Newton so I won't comment on it. I do have a strong mistrust of Chomsky.

I tried to make it clear I did not agree with Bas van Fraassen. I'll make it more clear. His anti-realism is wacky.

"For something to be material we need a 'reliable way of sensing or measuring' something? Otherwise it isn't material - then what is it? For you it doesn't, exist by definition."

Yikes! Not at all! If we had a reliable way of measuring love then I'd feel vindicated. Love would be 'proven' material. Until then I'll have to battle dualist heckles with my mere opinion: Love is material.

"If his testimony is not reliable, then neither is any 'neuro' description of love."

This makes the problem(s) more difficult but not insurmountable.

Glenn said...

DJ,

"But if don't accept him, and are going to publicly announce that you don't, then do yourself a favor and not act as if you do indeed agree with (at least some of) what he says."

It has ceased to surprise me when people read into my words things that aren't there. This is not to say a person can disagree with all that Aristotle wrote. He wrote a lot. He did an amazing job for his times.


Well, "You know I don't accept Aristotle" is a broad, sweeping rejection of Aristotle. If you don't mean to engage in such a broad, sweeping rejection of Aristotle, then next time don't do it, and instead say something like, "You know I don't accept what Aristotle says about that [whatever 'that' might be]."

"But let it be noted that in attempting to offer your own personal experience as a counter example, you acknowledged (tacitly, it is true) that you are a gnu."

That does not follow.


Actually, it does.

If you ask me if I used a gun when robbing the bank, and I respond, "No," then I'm tacitly admitting to have robbing the bank (just not with a gun).

And if person says, "Gnu's do this that or the other thing," and another person offers himself as a counter example, then, yes, that other person is tacitly acknowledging that he's a Gnu (just not one who behaves in the way GNU's were said to behave).

I did find the one I wrote for Little Big LAN.

Okay, that is the one I read (where you mention the "physical level" of a network (and as if to imply that the physical level of a network is to be distinguished from other levels of a network)).

ozero91 said...

DJ:

"I don't know how it could be said that a blueprint is 'about' a house but DNA isn't 'about' the organism. You're going to have to elaborate on that for me."

Again, the information in a blueprint is based on an arbitrary set of symbols and rules (arbitrary, but useful). There's no necessary arbitrary set of rules like this with DNA because DNA was doing its thing before intelligent agents were around to agree on things. That's why intentional/informational content in nature, if any, can't be exactly like a blueprint. No form of "aboutness" is needed for DNA to give rise to RNA and so on. And again, just because DNA lends itself nicely to being understood as a blueprint doesn't mean it's actually a language with intentional content. If someone said something like "DNA is information, therefore there is intentionality in DNA" then it would be circular, since information IS intentional content, something that refers to another specific thing beyond itself. It would equivalent to saying "DNA has intentional content, therefore there is intentionality in DNA." You have to show that DNA "refers" to the organism. As mentioned in the last few lines of my previous post, causality (saying that DNA is 'about' the organism it gives rise to) won't help. Feser's written about it before:

https://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#v=onepage&q=%22hayek%20popp&f=false

Erich said...

Don Jindra,

As I've already made clear, I don't care what you think of van Fraassen or Chomsky generally, and your distrust of them is of no relevance here. I presented an argument, not an opinion, and since I happen to know perfectly well that two people who made it before, I referred to them – especially since they otherwise disagree philosophically in many ways. You might have done better to thank me for a detailed synopsis of a position that accords with your own. I happen to have read most of Chomsky's linguistic and philosophical writing, have a PhD in generative linguistics, and have taught classes on his work, so you can be confident that I'm not talking hot air.

Just out of curiosity, can you tell me what works of Chomsky you've read?

You say,

I doubt we have *any* a priori knowledge. It follows that natural science should have no a priori notion of what counts as 'material' in the first place.

But you nonetheless provide a definition of the material: it is that which can be "known reliably" etc. Where does this understanding of "material" come from, if it is not a priori? What evidence would count against it, and make you change you mind about how to define what is or is not "material?" If it is neither a priori nor just a made-up definition, why do you cling to it?

You entirely missed my point about love. If we have a reliable way of "detecting it," then it's material for you. I granted you that position for the sake of argument; you don't need to defend that. But you then enter a paradoxical realm when you say we have no way of reliably identifying love, hence it is not material – yet how, then, do you ever expect reliably to "identify" love in, say, the brain, without knowing first whether the person with that brain is experiencing love? Here's a bunch of "brain states:" which ones are you going to reliably associate with this word "love" unless personal testimony concerning it is already reliable?

If that personal testimony is reliable, then by your definition, love is material, full stop. With or without talk of brains or anything else.

Fine, if you want to define the word "material" to obliterate all ontological distinctions just in order to be able to assert everything is material. We could just as well define the word "alive" the same way you define "material:" if we can reliably detect it or ascertain it, it is "alive." Or "mental." Or "dead," for that matter. But no one uses any of these words so generally; they are there to make ontological distinctions. So is the the word "material."



pck said...

@Erich

A little advice about Jindra, in case you haven't been reading this blog for very long. Talking to him is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. He is a computer programmer with no substantive skills in science, math, logic or philosophy who nevertheless thinks he can lecture trained experts on any of these subjects. His thought processes are an incoherent mess and so is his reading comprehension and his ability to express himself. He has trolled this blog for years and you are more likely to strike up a cogent conversation by typing random search terms into google than by engaging DJ.

Btw, sorry for not replying to you in the other thread yet, I'll try to catch up within the next two days.

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

"And if person says, 'Gnu's do this that or the other thing,' and another person offers himself as a counter example, then, yes, that other person is tacitly acknowledging that he's a Gnu (just not one who behaves in the way GNU's were said to behave).

Here's goods:

1) All gnus do x
2) DJ is a gnu
3) DJ does x.

But DJ claims (3) is false. He does -x. This could mean *either* (1) or (2) are shown to be false. Or it could mean *both* (1) and (2) are false.

IOW if DJ accepts (2) but does -x, he's showing assumption (1) is false: All gnus don't do x.

But if DJ accepts (1) yet does -x, he showing he isn't a gnu.

But DJ doing -x could also call into question both (1) and (2).

DJ shouldn't have to point these Logic 101 possibilities out. Again and again, contrary to pck's accusation, it's you guys who argue like you don't know logic.

Furthermore, I could simply be aware of the fact that this is how you have referred to me in the past and continue to refer to me. It's just a derogatory term thrown around these parts for people who dispute the dogma without the respect y'all think the dogma deserves.

I really wish you'd stop bringing up this boring issue.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

"You might have done better to thank me for a detailed synopsis of a position that accords with your own."

There was very little detail there and I told you I disagreed with that. I told you where I disagree. Apparently that didn't work. All you seemed to see was something I added: that I don't trust Chomsky. So I don't know what else to say other than I disagree with both Chomsky and van Fraassen. I hope that this puts to rest the notion I agree with them.

I don't recall exactly what I read by Chomsky. I studied one of his early works. But I read mainly papers by followers and detractors. This was 15 years ago when I was interested in language acquisition. The thing I remember most was his assertions about 'poverty of the stimulus.' I thought this was nonsense. I raised two sons. There was no shortage of stimulation toward language acquisition. Adults give babies constant verbal stimulation. Babies acquire language very slowly -- 200-300 words after 2 years. From what I recall, Chomsky didn't define where he thought the 'poverty' line for the stimulus should be drawn. IOW, it was an arbitrary, yet terribly vague line meaningful only as a buzzword for his theories. We could apply the same reasoning to music melody acquisition. How many times do we have to hear a melody before we can hum it? Once? Twice? That's also a 'poverty of the stimulus.' Therefore, if we were to believe Chomsky, we must have an 'innate facility' designed strictly for acquiring melody. This is not to say Chomsky is totally wrong. He's just far more hype than right.


"Where does this understanding of 'material' come from, if it is not a priori?"

Our understanding of 'material' starts in infancy when we diligently explore the world through our senses. That instinct to rely on our senses would be the only thing one could call a priori.


"how, then, do you ever expect reliably to 'identify' love in, say, the brain, without knowing first whether the person with that brain is experiencing love? Here's a bunch of 'brain states:' which ones are you going to reliably associate with this word "love" unless personal testimony concerning it is already reliable?

If we had only one person, that would be a big problem. But we have billions of people. Some will be trustworthy, some not. It's a matter of distinguishing between the two. Difficult, yes. Impossible, no.


"Fine, if you want to define the word 'material' to obliterate all ontological distinctions just in order to be able to assert everything is material."

I do not think everything is material. Ghosts are not material. But our beliefs about ghosts are.

Don Jindra said...

ozero91,

"Again, the information in a blueprint is based on an arbitrary set of symbols and rules (arbitrary, but useful). There's no necessary arbitrary set of rules like this with DNA because DNA was doing its thing before intelligent agents were around to agree on things.

It's not clear to me what you mean here. I'd say it's not necessary that DNA exists in its current form. It could be that other DNA-like molecules could serve the same purpose and might in fact do so in other life forms in the universe. It's useful for a purpose like a blueprint is useful. It's not how we might think of a symbol (or 'aboutness') but that doesn't mean anything. We're often wrong. Symbols in our brains could be very much like DNA. Our brains just have a much faster and more flexible implementation. You say intentional/informational content in nature, if any, can't be exactly like a blueprint, but I have to ask why can it not be very much like it? You assume symbols in our brain function in an essential different way. But you do not know this.


"If someone said something like 'DNA is information, therefore there is intentionality in DNA' then it would be circular, since information IS intentional content, something that refers to another specific thing beyond itself."

That's curious. I wouldn't call that circular. I'd call that an admission that DNA has intentionality.

I'll try to read through that paper and compare it to Popper's. Thanks.

Glenn said...

DJ,

"And if person says, 'Gnu's do this that or the other thing,' and another person offers himself as a counter example, then, yes, that other person is tacitly acknowledging that he's a Gnu (just not one who behaves in the way GNU's were said to behave).

Here's goods:

1) All gnus do x
2) DJ is a gnu
3) DJ does x.

[Etc., etc]...


Sorry, your goods are bad. And for two reasons:

1. Your 1) thru 3) is a lousy -- did I fail to say inaccurate? -- symbolic representation of what you quote me as having said; and,

2. pck hadn't said that all gnus do X, only that each of the less than 10 gnus he knows in real life do X. He also never claimed that you were a member of that category, you yourself have not claimed that you are, and everyone here takes it as a given that you're not. But there you go, giving a disquisition on how it is logically possible that you're not a member of a category of which pck had not spoken.

Erich said...

pck,

I'm afraid you're right; thanks for the heads-up. I've rarely seen lack of reading skills make such a mess of a conversation that seemed to have a direction. I tend to think, somewhat wishfully, that I'll find some way in, or that something I've missed will be revealed to me, with anyone.

I very much look forward to your comments, and hope you have some time!

Erich said...

Don Jindra,

It was you who said,

I have a policy of not assenting to another person's position until I've done the research myself. Third party views are often misrepresented.

Well, in the case of Chomsky, you have not done the research. I have done it, and provided some results: the existence of a certain kind of argument, one that accords with your position, no less, and yet instead of addressing the argument you tell me you don't trust Chomsky, ignoring the argument itself. The argument I presented was long and highly detailed, and you addressed no flaw in it.

So you don't bother to read Chomsky: you simply trust, as you have, other people's "opinion" of him. Though you have hardly read him, you are happy to assent to critiques of him. So you do a very poor job of adhering to your policy of not assenting to "another [third party] person's position" until you've "done the research" yourself.

Your paragraph concerning "poverty of the stimulus" in the matter of language acquisition reveals your ignorance, or at best complete misunderstanding, of the nature of this logical problem. Would you be interested in knowing more about this logical problem?

Finally:

If we had only one person, that would be a big problem. But we have billions of people. Some will be trustworthy, some not. It's a matter of distinguishing between the two. Difficult, yes. Impossible, no.

Trustworthy, eh? Trustworthiness means being reliably true to something. Towards what, exactly? Answer this exactly: how will we know whether someone's testimony is trustworthy or not?

Difficult, yes. Show me how it can be done.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

"in the case of Chomsky, you have not done the research. I have done it, and provided some results: the existence of a certain kind of argument, one that accords with your position, no less,"

I told you myself that I was unfamiliar with Chomsky's views on 'material.' I have not researched it. You claim my views accord to his. Yet I wonder what lead to this conclusion? This was the view that supposedly accords:

"[Chomsky's] point is that natural science simply does have any a priori notion of what counts as 'material' in the first place, and it hasn't really since the time of Newton"

Yet up to that point I had said nothing of an a priori notion of anything. So this supposed parallel came out of the blue.

You elaborated a little:

"Newton's remarkably simple and vastly explanatory theories required a notion of action at a distance that made the force of gravity appear quite 'immaterial' by the mechanistic standards of the time – the cause of much head-scratching (Newton himself commented on it, saying something like 'I know this is bizarre, yet here it is') – but not ultimately of rejection."

I looked this up. Newton said, "That gravity should be innate, inherent and essential to matter, so that one body should act upon another at a distance, through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has, in philosophical matters, a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an agent, acting constantly according to certain laws, but whether this agent be material or immaterial, I leave to the consideration of my reader."

In that first sentence Newton is saying that gravity could never be deduced. I agree. I've said here many times that deduction is severely limited in its ability to tell us anything of significance about nature.

The second sentence is an acknowledgment that at that time, 'action at a distance' sounded like theology. Some ridiculed Newton because of that. Newton basically ignores the question. It's not the business of science to dogmatically define. Nature is discovered, it's not defined.

What is Chomsky's point about this? You imply he sees some negative in it or some sort of profundity. If so, I dispute that point. It's simply how modern science works. So my view would not accord.

You claim you supplied a "long and highly detailed" argument. Yet I don't even know what you were arguing for or what you are getting at. Modern science is not in the business of deciding in advance what it can find. From what little you say of Chomsky, it looks to me like he's saying virtually nothing and trying to make it important.

I'm here for your interrogation. I will answer questions for myself on my own views. I will not answer for Chomsky.


Don Jindra said...

Erich,

"Though you have hardly read him, you are happy to assent to critiques of him."

No. My critiques of Chomsky are my own. I didn't say otherwise. I read his Syntactic Structures (I looked it up). I thought his reasoning was seriously flawed. I naturally researched what others thought. I saw that he modified his ideas over time. I did not read that later work other than his defenses of it.

"Your paragraph concerning 'poverty of the stimulus' in the matter of language acquisition reveals your ignorance, or at best complete misunderstanding, of the nature of this logical problem. Would you be interested in knowing more about this logical problem?"

It's not a logical problem. I would be happy to set you straight on that. :) But this is not the place to discuss linguistics.

"Answer this exactly: how will we know whether someone's testimony is trustworthy or not?"

Suppose this was the attitude of dentists? Dr. Smith comes to doubt the trustworthiness of patients who say Novocain relieves pain. He begins each visit with a lecture on the indeterminacy of biology. "Forget about your mouth," he says. "Pain is a mind thing. You can't reliably communicate it to me. Now stop squirming so much. Relax and think positive."

Don Jindra said...

Genn,

"you yourself have not claimed that you are, and everyone here takes it as a given that you're not."

I don't think everyone here takes that as a given but I'll hope for the best. Too much has been said on this issue already.

Erich said...

Don Jindra,

Thank you for your extended replies. With regret, however, I must conclude our discussion with only the following two observations concerning trustworthy testimony.

1. I said,

Answer this exactly: how will we know whether someone's testimony is trustworthy or not?

And you replied,

Suppose this was the attitude of dentists? Dr. Smith comes to doubt the trustworthiness of patients who say Novocain relieves pain. He begins each visit with a lecture on the indeterminacy of biology. "Forget about your mouth," he says. "Pain is a mind thing. You can't reliably communicate it to me. Now stop squirming so much. Relax and think positive."

Your reply makes precisely my point for me. Thank you. No go back and observe how it undermines your position.

2. Don't make a fool of yourself in the future by pretending you know one whit about Chomsky's syntactic theory by virtue of your vague recollection of having read a single book by Chomsky published in 1959, one whose theory – and even whose basic project – no longer much resembles current work in field that has been evolving for 57 years since its publication. The logical problem of language acquisition and the poverty of the stimulus argument you believe to have been refuted by your observation of the acquisition of speech by your sons is first discussed by Chomsky in Rules and Representations, some 21 years later. You undermine faith not only in the reliability of your testimony about anything, but in your desire for meaningful discussion.

Don Jindra said...

Erich,

You're free to believe Novocain does not relieve pain and that reports from patients to the contrary are unreliable.

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

Is it your intent you assert that one can know reliably that the patients are experiencing pain from their testimony?

If so, then can one know reliably that one is experiencing love via the same method?

This is what Eric concluded that you seem to disagree with:
"If that personal testimony is reliable, then by your definition, love is material, full stop."

So this is what is confusing: Above you seemed to dispute that personal testimony could be used to "reliably know" something (love)is present and therefore making the known object "material". Then you present an example that apparently shows that personal testimony actually can be used to "reliably know" the object (pain) is present, hence "material".

What is your position? Are either pain or love material?

Mr. Green said...

Don Jindra: I dropped the 'only' on purpose.

Of course you did: what you said was simply wrong otherwise, so you had to backtrack on what you started out saying.

Perhaps if you stopped laughing you could start thinking.

You will be impressed to learn that, although I cannot laugh and talk at the same time, I am accomplished in laughing and thinking simultaneously. And it doesn't stop there, I can walk and chew gum at the same time too. I'm also capable of noticing that for some reason you didn't claim that the materialist's anti-supernatural thoughts "mean nothing if they do nothing", but the real problem here is that your descriptions of Aristotelianism are remarkably off-base. I've said before that you weren't a troll, but your attempt to describe how an Aristotelian does biology so badly mangles the concepts of form and matter that it's hard to believe you aren't doing it on purpose. You can't have been reading Feser for all these years and still be unable to describe the fundamentals in even a vaguely and approximately correct way.

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

Is it your intent you assert that one can know reliably that the patients are experiencing pain from their testimony?

Of course not. Patients can lie. One person's honesty is not the issue. The issue is, Can we nevertheless figure out what pain is? Can we find what causes it, how to cause it and how to relieve it? Those three questions are easily answered in the affirmative.

All questions about pain have not been answered. But drug companies and biologists have been very successful so far and have very good ideas about where to keep looking. Hylemorphic dualism is no part of that.


"Above you seemed to dispute that personal testimony could be used to 'reliably know' something (love) is present and therefore making the known object 'material'. Then you present an example that apparently shows that personal testimony actually can be used to 'reliably know' the object (pain) is present, hence 'material'."

Maybe that's what Erich was getting at. It's a strange connection to make. It's not controversial to say the reality of a thing has to be more than personal testimony. So I don't think that's what you mean. Maybe you're referring to this sentence: "We have no reliable way of sensing or measuring love in others so historically love has probably not been commonly understood as material." But that's not about my belief; it's about what some artists, philosophers and other folks might have believed. Or maybe you're referring to what I said about ghosts but you're substituting love: "Love is not material. But our beliefs about love are." That would be an odd substitution, though one maybe worth talking about. I would not make that substitution. We have ample evidence for the emotion of love. The same can't be said of ghosts. The second sentence is not quite accurate. It implies I think personal testimony alone is sufficient. It's required in general (a huge sample size), but it's not sufficient, especially when examining one individual. That's a technological limitation. As I said, people lie. But if I hit your hand with a hammer, I can be relatively sure your spontaneous reaction is not a lie.

My position is that both pain and love are biological and therefore 100% material.


Glenn said...

DJ,

My position is that both pain and love are biological and therefore 100% material.

The fact is that your position that that love is material is mere opinion. It is also a fact that, on your own terms, love does not qualify as being material.

You say that that love is material is merely your opinion: "If we had a reliable way of measuring love then I'd feel vindicated. Love would be 'proven' material. Until then I'll have...my mere opinion: Love is material."

As you hold that a reliable way of measuring love is required in order for love to be 'proven' material, and as you acknowledge that no such reliable way of measuring loves exists, it follows that love has not been 'proven' to be material.

Since love has not been 'proven' to be material, it is literally irrational to assert, believe or claim that love is in fact material.

To summarize: While it is a fact that that love is material is your mere opinion, that love is material is merely your opinion and not a fact.

Now, that which is not material is by definition immaterial.

And since you acknowledge that love is not material in fact, it follows that, on your own terms, love is in fact immaterial.

- - - - -

Btw, if Novocain can be relied upon to make the pain go away, why are you still here?

pck said...

DJ:
"If we had a reliable way of measuring love then I'd feel vindicated."

It follows that DJ is immaterial, as there is near endless empirical evidence that no one, including himself, will ever have the measure on him.

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

"It is also a fact that, on your own terms, love does not qualify as being material."

Not quite true. As crude as it is, we can measure levels of oxytocin, for example. We know more about the biology of love today than we did 20 years ago. We'll know more in 2036 than we do today. My claim about what counts as material does not demand that what we know today is our limit of knowledge. Love may not be 'proven' to be material today, but the trend is clear. It's irrational to ignore that trend. That which has not been proven material is certainly not by definition immaterial. It cannot be assumed immaterial just because the puzzle is incomplete. That's sloppy reasoning. All you have is a kind of 'god of the gaps' defense and that defense is withering away.

OTOH, how goes the body of evidence for immaterial ghosts? Is that growing? It would be very hard to argue that.

Gottfried said...

Don,

I accidently read your last comment with the Hymn of the Soviet Union playing in the background, and I admit it brought a tear to my eye.

Seriously though, I'm sure I've read a book wherein a brilliant analogy involving a rug is presented in response to this kind of argument, but the name of the author escapes me. Oh well.

Glenn said...

DJ,

You to Erich:
"If we had a reliable way of measuring love then I'd feel vindicated. Love would be 'proven' material. Until then I'll have...my mere opinion: Love is material."

Me to you:
"It is also a fact that, on your own terms, love does not qualify as being material."

You to me:
>> "It is also a fact that, on your own terms, love does not qualify as being material."

> Not quite true

You to Erich:
"As I said, people lie."

- - - - -

As for oxycotin, its main effect is to reduce cortical inhibition, i.e., it inhibits inhibitions.

Alcohol also inhibits inhibitions (which is why people sometimes wind up feeling amorous subsequent to the consumption of alcohol).

We'll know more in 2036 than we do today.

So what?

My claim about what counts as material does not demand that what we know today is our limit of knowledge.

Yes, it does. What we know today is the limit of our knowledge. Today. That that limit might not be absolute, i.e., that it might expand over time is irrelevant to what it is today.

Someone will be elected President come November of this year. That individual won't take office until January. It won't matter if every single voter voted for that person -- that person won't be President prior to being sworn in come January of next year. And until that person is sworn in, that person won't be President.

And today, on your own terms, love is immaterial.

Maybe it'll somehow happen that that love will be incontrovertibly proven to be 100% material at precisely 3:17pm GMT on Wednesday of next week. Maybe. But don't hold your breath. (On second thought, please do.) But even if that is going to happen, the fact is that it hasn't happened.

And until it happens, if it does, love is immaterial on your own terms.

pck said...

Glenn:
As for oxycotin, its main effect is to reduce cortical inhibition, i.e., it inhibits inhibitions.

Alcohol also inhibits inhibitions (which is why people sometimes wind up feeling amorous subsequent to the consumption of alcohol).


Once again, a formal explanation of behaviour ("fewer inhibitions") wins out over a material one ("use of oxycontin/elevated levels of oxytocin"). The formal explanation can stand on its own. The material one cannot. It requires additional (non-scientific) information in order to gain any explanatory value at all.

Maybe it'll somehow happen that that love will be incontrovertibly proven to be 100% material at precisely 3:17pm GMT on Wednesday of next week.

I think we can be 100% certain that this won't happen for the same reasons you earlier laid out about Bob's anger, using Aristotle. No everyday concept (including love) ever directly references matter or its spatio-temporal aspects in the sense of modern science. The thought that "love is made of matter" is no thought at all. It's a violation of grammar, aka nonsense.

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

If love is material, what is it made of? Atoms and energy? Something else? If so, what is that something else?

Whatever it's constituent components are, then is everything that exists made of the same components? Is love a different type of material than atoms and energy? If so, how could we find that out?

If everything material is the same stuff or even different stuff, then how can one distinguish among love, a cat, a rock or a tree without recourse to the concept of different forms?

You have mentioned that you can dump the binary content of a piece of firmware and decode the information therein or even that information is contained in DNA. In this sense, it seems to mean that DNA or firmware are not chaotic, but instead have some patterns or forms.

I'm interested in how you seem to use the concept of forms in these cases, but deny they exist. Can you explain it to me please?

Glenn said...

Three possibilities for consideration:

1. He's too focused on material things, and so much so that that he fails to see the obvious (see 6:03 to 6:57 here);

2. He's spent waaay too much time working with inverter gates (click "Reveal answer" under Question 1 here); or,

3. He's really Henri, the Existentialist Cat.)

- - - - -

This deserves to be 'buried', so...

Glenn said...

bmiller,

Nicely done.

Glenn said...

pck,

...a formal explanation of behaviour ("fewer inhibitions") wins out over a material one ("use of oxycontin/elevated levels of oxytocin"). The formal explanation can stand on its own. The material one cannot. It requires additional (non-scientific) information in order to gain any explanatory value at all.

Indeed.

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

"And today, on your own terms, love is immaterial."

It's easy to induce pain in a test subject. Most pain is fairly easy to stop. It's not so easy to induce love. I know of no way of stopping it. So I can't honestly be as confident about its biology. Still, nothing I know about love would lead me to believe it's anything more than a biological phenomenon. If Jill wants Jack to love her, she shouldn't bother with finding a witch to cast spells, or a prayer group to make his cup runneth over. If you know of a way outside of our senses to induce love please send this message to the world. We need it.

Until then, weighing the evidence today, there's more reason for me to believe love is material on my terms than to believe it is not.

I have a theory. You guys are obsessed with unassailable logical proofs. I doubt that sort of certainty is possible, either through science or logic. This 'love' issue is no different for me than any other issue. I weigh the evidence on both sides and make a tentative choice as to what is more likely true than untrue. You're essentially telling me I have more evidence that love is immaterial than material, which is false. My opinion is opinion, but it's not arbitrary. The category is just recognition that there's not enough evidence to utterly destroy a competing opinion.


pck,

"The thought that 'love is made of matter' is no thought at all. It's a violation of grammar, aka nonsense."

Again you simply beg the question and claim victory.


bmiller,

I'm baffled as to why you think I think matter does not organize into different forms, or why that observation means form is anything more than a particular state of matter.


Gottfried,

If anyone is sweeping things under the rug, it's the dualist. I have no idea what your Soviet hymn reference is about.

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

I understand that you indeed think that things are not unformed matter by the examples you give. On the other hand you argue against hylemorphism. That is what I'm asking you to explain.

Here is the definition of hylemorpism from Wikipedia:

Hylomorphism (or hylemorphism) is a philosophical theory developed by Aristotle, which conceives being (ousia) as a compound of matter and form.

How exactly does this definition differ from your response to me that matter organizes into different forms?

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

This is the way David S. Oderberg defines hylemorphic dualism:

"Briefly, the central theses to be defended are as follows. (1) All sub­stances, in other words all self-subsisting entities that are the bearers of properties and attributes but are not themselves properties or attributes of anything, are compounds of matter (hyle) and form (morphe). (2) The form is substantial since it actualizes matter and gives the substance its very essence and identity. (3) The human person, being a substance, is also a compound of matter and substantial form. (4) Since a person is defined as an individual substance of a rational nature, the substantial form of the person is the rational nature of the person. (5) The exercise of rationality, however, is an essentially immaterial operation. (6) Hence, human nature itself is essentially immaterial. (7) But since it is immate­rial, it does not depend for its existence on being united to matter. (8) So a person is capable of existing, by means of his rational nature, which is traditionally called the soul, independently of the existence of his body. (9) Hence, human beings are immortal; but their identity and individu­ality does require that they be united to a body at some time in their existence."

Oderberg is highly respected around here. So this is the definition I have in mind when I speak of it. According to that definition, hylemorphic dualism is much more than the obvious and uncontroversial importance of how matter is arranged. Rather I see it as a kind of animism.

pck said...

No human experience is literally "made of matter". The claim that "pain is made of matter" (PM) is nonsense and so is the thought that the truth of PM can be empirically decided. A simple conceptual analysis immediately reveals the irrationality of PM:

Anything made of matter can be split into parts. We do not know this because we have conducted experiments. We know it because it is (part of) the way we use the term "material". We only call something "material" if it can be split into parts. The notion of "splitting into parts" doesn't exist for experiences. An experience of pain cannot be split into "pain-experience constituents", that is, into sub-experiences which somehow combine into a whole. Anything made of matter also has a distinct geometrical shape. But the concept of "geometrical shape" is not applicable to pain, since pain has no spatial dimensions (only the affected body parts have). Anything made of matter either has a colour or is transparent. Pain neither has a colour nor is it transparent. And so on. It follows that it makes no sense to say that pain is made of matter. Pain lacks basic properties all material things have by definition. (And because PM fails the sense test, the question of its truth does not even arise.)

We don't even have to look at concepts which are specifically associated with human life to see that not all of reality is "made of matter". The distance between material objects can increase or decrease, as in the case of a planet orbiting its sun. It is obviously nonsense to say that "distances are made of matter". And yet nobody denies that distances between material objects are an important and ubiquitous aspect of reality.

To associate immaterial notions like "distance" with witchcraft or other hocus pocus is an overcorrection. Just because some concepts (such as "elan vital") have been shown to be inconsistent or vacuous, it doesn't follow that "everything is material" or that immateriality necessarily needs to be about the mystical or ineffable. The fact that many concepts are beyond the reach of the empirical [1] should not surprise us, since no empirical adjudication is possible without being preceded by some conceptual stage setting.

[1] No experiment can prove or disprove that there are distances.

Glenn said...

DJ,

You're essentially telling me I have more evidence that love is immaterial than material, which is false.

What you mean to say is that it is false that you have more evidence that love is immaterial than material.

Of course, I haven't said that you have more evidence that love is immaterial than material, only that on your own terms love is immaterial.**

So, of course, it is definitely false that I have essentially said that you have more evidence that love is immaterial than material.

- - - - -

** "If we had a reliable way of measuring love then I'd feel vindicated. Love would be 'proven' material. Until then I'll have...my mere opinion: Love is material."

If there was a reliable way of measuring love, then love would be 'proven' material.

And if love were to be 'proven' material, then you'd feel vindicated.

But you don't now feel vindicated, and this for the reason that love hasn't been 'proven' to be material.

And love hasn't been 'proven' to be material for the reason that (according to you) there isn't any reliable way of measuring it.

So, on your own terms love does not qualify as material.

Since love does not qualify as material on your own terms, love in fact at present is not material on your own terms.

The prefix "im-" means not.

Thus, that love in fact at present is not material on your own terms clearly means that love in fact at present is on your own terms immaterial.

Your mere opinion, contrary though it is, does not alter what follows from you own stated terms.

If you want to alter what follows from your own stated terms, then it is your own stated terms which need to be altered.

And you cannot alter your own stated terms through the repetitious assertion of your mere opinion.


- - - -

This 'love' issue is no different for me than any other issue.

That the 'love' issue is no different for you than any other issue is evident.

You fail to see distinctions, can't see distinctions, refuse to see distinctions or deny the distinctions that you see.

Witness your recent response to bmiller. He asks about HM, and you answer by talking about HMD.

Now go back and read again pck's comment just above.

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

Your answer seems to be that you affirm the Wikipedia definition and in that sense you are a hylemorphic dualist. Is that correct?

It was confusing when you affirmed there is matter, but hylemorphic dualism is wrong. That is why I assumed that you denied the formal aspect of hylemorphic dualism.

Now since Oderberg's article contains 9 central theses and it seems you agree with one or more of them, can you please tell me which one(s) specifically you disagree with and why? I think that will help me better understand your point of view.

bmiller said...

Glenn,

I'm sorry I was sloppy in my most recent response to Don. You're right to point out the difference between hylemorphism and hylemorphic dualism. I used the latter in both cases.

Perhaps Don Jindra affirms hylemorphism and only rejects dualism part of hylemorphic dualism.

Glenn said...

(s/b "His query has to do with HM, and you answer with talk about HMD.")

Glenn said...

bmiller,

Oops, didn't see you comment just above before posting my last. It's still obvious that he has been conflating the two.

pck said...

The version of hylemorphism given by Oderberg is not Aristotle's. Aristotle is very clear about matter and form being separable in language only, but not in reality. While he does make a possible exception for the intellect, he does not elaborate on it in a manner which would allows us to ascribe a definite position to him. Thus even though Oderberg's (7) is found in Aristotle, they present it with different grades of conviction.

Some interpreters of Aristotle discard (7) as an unimportant and improperly worked out marginal thought, others consider it essential to his view of what it is to be human. The most that Aristotle concedes clearly is that some part of the soul may be separable. He doesn't say which, but may have had in mind the one responsible for thought (De Anima 413a).

Oderberg's (8) and (9) were added and defended by philosophers like Aquinas.

To bring the term "animism" into the debate without specifying what exactly one is supposed to understand by it is useless and confusing, as there are a vast number of different views about what constitutes "soul" or "spirit" which have all been labelled "animism".

Neither Aquinas's nor Aristotle's variant of hylemorphism considers form to be a "spark of life" that somehow "takes control" of matter (i.e. there is no "ghost in the machine"). Rather, substances having specific forms (psyche) are *called* "animated" and thus "alive".

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

No, I do not affirm that I'm a dualist in any sense I know of. That Wikipedia article's first sentence is: "Hylomorphism (or hylemorphism) is a philosophical theory developed by Aristotle, which conceives being (ousia) as a compound of matter and form." But I'm no dualist. I don't believe being itself is a compound. Material existence is simply material existence. It's not directed toward stuffing itself into a set of predetermined shipping containers we call forms.

In "On the Soul" Aristotle writes, "But since it is also a body of such and such a kind, viz. having life, the body cannot be soul; the body is the subject or matter, not what is attributed to it. Hence the soul must be a substance in the sense of the form of a natural body having life potentially within it."

I don't believe the body and 'soul' can be separated in that way. I don't believe 'soul' is a lifeforce or life principle or essence or Aristotle an Aristotelian potentiality. For poetry, 'soul' is a beautiful concept. But I don't believe 'soul' has substance or meaning in a sense outside the poetic.

Oderberg's definition starts similar to the Wikipedia article. So I disagree with his theses (1) as well as (2) through (8) which depend on (1).

Don Jindra said...

pck,

"No human experience is literally 'made of matter'. The claim that 'pain is made of matter' (PM) is nonsense and so is the thought that the truth of PM can be empirically decided."

Pain isn't a thing or substance. It's not 'made of matter' in the sense you're using the word 'made'. It's better to say pain is an effect of matter interacting with matter, like power and heat are effects of matter interacting with matter. In everyday speech, is heat split into constituent parts? Does it have a geometric shape? If I hold one half of an apple, does 'half' therefore have an ontological status? You're creating a straw man with word games.

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,


OK since you claim to not hold hylemorphism, then I'd like to ask again exactly what the distinction is between that definition and your declaration here:



The "being" in the Wikipedia definition merely means things that exist. Do you have a different definition of something that exists other than matter organized into a form?

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

Sorry, here is your quote I was referring to:

"I'm baffled as to why you think I think matter does not organize into different forms"

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

There is a distinction between how I see matter organize into different forms and how the hylemorphic dualist sees it. It's an ontological distinction. The definition in Wikipedia on hylemorphism is from the dualist POV. It assumes form has a being on its own. I reject that being. To talk of it as an ingredient of a compound makes no sense to me. It's like saying "tall" is an ingredient of a compound called a "tall person."

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

OK, I understand a definition of "form" that you reject. Since you use the terminology, then can you please give me the definition of your usage of the term? Just knowing what definition you reject doesn't help me understand the definition you hold.

Also, maybe we both can help understand each other with better precision. We've both used the term hylemorphic dualist when perhaps we actually meant merely hylemorphim. I think you also use merely dualist when you meant only hylemorphic.

Hylemorphic dualism concerns the narrower mind-body problem rather than the broader hylemorphism, which covers everthing. So one could be hold hylemorphism to be true and still not hold hylemorphic dualism to be true. Does that make sense?

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

"We've both used the term hylemorphic dualist when perhaps we actually meant merely hylemorphim. I think you also use merely dualist when you meant only hylemorphic.'

I've consistently used the term hylemorphic dualism. You're the one who has used hylemorphim. But I think the difference between the two is more imagined than real. When I use the term dualist, I mean any kind of dualist -- anyone who claims there's any existence outside the physical laws of nature.

Form is just structure, organization, appearance, arrangement, etc... It could be seen as a property of an object, like weight or color.


bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

OK, you've given me your definition of "form". You indicate that it is distinguished from matter in that it is the arrangement of matter rather than matter itself. If two things were actually the same thing, I would not be able to distinguish any difference. So since matter and form can be distinguished from each other, they must be different.

I think we both agree that sensible objects are composed of both matter and form right?

Here is what you said:
" To talk of it as an ingredient of a compound makes no sense to me."
Here is a definition of compound:
"Compound: a thing that is composed of two or more separate elements"

If you don't like the word compound, how would you refer to something with more than one essential element?

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

"I think we both agree that sensible objects are composed of both matter and form right?"

I've clearly told you I do not agree.

"Compound: a thing that is composed of two or more separate elements"

Yet "form" is not an element.

Water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen, not oxygen, hydrogen and the form for water. Separate the hydrogen and oxygen, there is no form to be found anywhere. Why? Because it doesn't exist.

Glenn said...

DJ,

From your response to bmiller:

"I think we both agree that sensible objects are composed of both matter and form right?"

I've clearly told you I do not agree.


If you do not agree, then it isn't just with bmiller that you disagree, but also with a second person, i.e., and more specifically, with someone else posting here under the name of "Don Jindra".

For example, on June 21, 2016 @ 6:41 AM, someone posting under the name of "Don Jindra" clearly stated:

"Form is just structure, organization, appearance, arrangement, etc..."

To say that form is structure, organization or arrangement is to say that: a) form is the structure of something; b) form is the organization of something; or, c) form is the arrangement of something.

Suppose that something is matter.

If so, then to say form is structure, organization or arrangement is to say that: a) form is the structure of matter; b) form is the organization of matter; or, c) form is the arrangement of matter.

But for one thing to be of something else is for that one thing not to be that of which it is.

Thus, for form to be of matter is for form not be the matter of which it is.

If sensible objects are not composed of both matter and form, how might you know that there is a difference, let alone tell the difference, between, say, an oak tree and a bowling ball?

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

Hah! you're right. I can find hydrogen and oxygen in the periodic table, but I can't find "form", so it can't be an element right?

"Form is just structure, organization, appearance, arrangement, etc."
"there is no form to be found anywhere. Why? Because it doesn't exist."

It seems I'm being asked to believe today that structure, organization etc, do not exist.

I like your example of water. If I have water before the change, and I have something else after the change, then what exactly changed and how can I tell it's not still water?

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

"If I have water before the change, and I have something else after the change, then what exactly changed and how can I tell it's not still water?

Behavior. Are we now going to say sensible objects are composed of both matter and behavior?


Glenn,

To say form is the arrangement of something is not to say the something is partly composed of the arrangement. I would say the arrangement is probably nothing more than a superficial, accidental presentation which is much different than saying it's the essence of the object.

Glenn said...

DJ,

To say form is the arrangement of something is not to say the something is partly composed of the arrangement.

Non sequitur.

No one has said that matter itself is partly composed of its arrangement or form, but that a sensible object is composed partly of matter, and partly of form.

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,


"Behavior. Are we now going to say sensible objects are composed of both matter and behavior?"

That's a good question. Let me (ahem) formulate it differently and pose it to you:

Can you have a sensible object that lacks behavior?

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

I was careful to use the word "something" rather than "matter." So I object to your attempt to ignore my word choice.


bmiller,

As far as we know, there can be no sensible object that lacks behavior. Or change. Now, what does this tell us about the "ingredient nature" (for lack of a better phrase) of behavior and change? It doesn't necessarily say a thing. It could be said that behavior is a *product* rather than an ingredient. So the behavior of water is the product of H2+O, and that the particular behavior of water doesn't exist prior to the atoms bonding. In this case it cannot be part of the composition. Same with the form of water.

Glenn said...

DJ,

I was careful to use the word "something" rather than "matter."

This is to inform me, as well as other readers, that you made a conscious decision to replace the word "matter" with the word "something".

And that is to say that you intentionally substituted the word "something" for the word "matter".

So I object to your attempt to ignore my word choice.

This is to say that you object to my having substituted the word "matter" for the word you had consciously and intentionally chosen to use as a substitute for the word "matter".

Further, it should be clear that for your chosen replacement word to have been successfully replaced with the word that had been replaced, it was necessary first for your word choice to have been recognized.

- - - - -

It may be interesting to ponder upon the following:

a) you took the time to attempt to replace "matter" with something else;

b) you were careful in making the attempt;

c) you thought the attempt might be successful (else why make the attempt? or exercise caution when making it?); and,

d) since you took the time to make the attempt, were careful in making the attempt, and thought the attempt might be successful, it seems likely you were comfortable in making the attempt (to successfully replace "matter" with something else).

bmiller said...


I'm not sure I follow your latest post. I acknowledge that you believe sensible objects cannot lack behavior nor change. Maybe we can discuss *product* in a bit.

But first I'd like to change the object from water to a balloon. It's easier example for me to use for my next questions.

Here is a video showing how balloons are made:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toMnEcH3pNs

I didn't know how balloons were made and I found it interesting. You may too if you didn't already know.

The latex molecules start out together in vat and end up as balloons. Let's say we follow an explicit set of molecules, the exact same ones that end up being in the balloon.

I now perceive the balloon. It is round, it is purple, it is smooth and so on. How do I know? Well I see it, I feel it, maybe I even taste it. I now have an idea of this balloon in my head. Let's consider what is in my head.

Is it an exact copy of the balloon? Do I now have latex in my brain that is a certain size, color and shape? If not, what is in my head?

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

"you took the time to attempt to replace "matter" with something else;"

That's not quite accurate. This is your sentence: "To say that form is structure, organization or arrangement is to say that: a) form is the structure of something; b) form is the organization of something; or, c) form is the arrangement of something." My usage of "something" was a continuation of your use of "something." You added, "Suppose that something is matter." I decided not to suppose that. Rather I stuck with the more general "something." It's more accurate to say I refused follow your argument after that first sentence. That first sentence was muddled enough already. It came from my sentence: "Form is just structure, organization, appearance, arrangement, etc.." -- which is also muddled. Unfortunately there is no good language to use on this issue because the issue itself is so muddled. But it was clear to me that you were imposing a meaning on my sentence I did not intend -- or, as you expressed it, "But for one thing to be of something else is for that one thing not to be that of which it is." My usage of "is just" was not meant to imply ontology ("is-ness") for form. But you took it as an ontological reference. This is not entirely your fault. It's mainly the fault of the inadequacies of language. It was not designed for discussing this issue. We don't have good words for the concepts. I'm practically forced to use "is" to argue non-isness.

Nevertheless I'll backtrack to this question. "If sensible objects are not composed of both matter and form, how might you know that there is a difference, let alone tell the difference, between, say, an oak tree and a bowling ball?"

This question requires an answer similar to what I gave bmiller. I observe an object. It's broadcasting its form to my senses. You assume its ability to do that had to come from a form that has to be there in addition to matter, and somehow preexists (or is kinda-separate from) the object. But I say that's a bad assumption. "Form" is merely an accidental product of how the matter behaves -- and more importantly, how we as complex matter ourselves react to that behavior. The chance composition of matter itself generated its own behavior. The stuff you call form is how matter behaves, or how we want to interpret that behavior, and that's all.


bmiller,

Is an exact copy of the balloon in our head? Of course not. Our heads have a highly compressed representation of balloons. It's lossy compression. Therefore it can be mistaken. But generally it's very good at finding close matches. There's a lot of good work being done with video these days which demonstrates the power of this technique. The special effects in the typical superhero movie use motion tracking. The algorithms don't need to know what it's tracking, or have an exact representation of what it's tracking. Only a few points are known, but not even exact points. Yet an object can still be followed. A 3d representation of an object can be put into 2d frames with correct perspective. Our minds are fooled into thinking both were filmed as one "real" picture. Basically, the techniques rely on data compression. They get rid of noise and use only what's essential in performing the task. The more I think about how the brain must work, about how it finds generalities from specifics, I am drawn to data compression.

Glenn said...

DJ,

My usage of "something" was a continuation of your use of "something."

That sounds good. But something doesn't foot.

If you were continuing with the usage of a word I myself had used, then what behooved you to later say, I was careful to use the word "something" rather than "matter"?

Again, if you were continuing with the usage of a word I myself had used, then what behooved you to go on and further say, So I object to your attempt to ignore my word choice?

If it was my word you were continuing to use, why pretend it was your choice of words?

Nevertheless I'll backtrack to this question. "If sensible objects are not composed of both matter and form, how might you know that there is a difference, let alone tell the difference, between, say, an oak tree and a bowling ball?"

This question requires an answer similar to what I gave bmiller. I observe an object. It's broadcasting its form to my senses. You assume its ability to do that had to come from a form that has to be there in addition to matter, and somehow preexists (or is kinda-separate from) the object. But I say that's a bad assumption.


You're right that there is a bad assumption there. Actually, there are several bad assumptions there -- one of which is the assumption that I have been making use of the term 'form' in a Platonic way, when the reality is that, just as bmiller has been, I have been making use of it in an Aristotelian way.

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

"I observe an object. It's broadcasting its form to my senses."

This was the gist of what I was looking for in my question about the balloon.

The way I read this is that you believe:
A sensible object broadcasts it's form to a person's senses. The person's senses receive the content of this broadcast and it ends up in the person's brain. The brain constructs a more or less accurate representation or a copy of that broadcast in the person's head. This copy nor the broadcast does not contain the matter of the sensible object.

Is this accurate? Please let me know if it needs correction.
If this is accurate, then can I assume that since the object was broadcasting it's form, that it is the form that was sensed and the form that is copied?

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

"If it was my word you were continuing to use, why pretend it was your choice of words?"

I did in fact choose to use 'something'. I chose not to use 'matter' which is what you wanted me to choose. There's no pretending in that choice.

I know you're not using form in the platonic sense. But you're not using it in my materialist sense either. It's somewhere in No Man's Land. Exactly where nobody can explain, which is why I put "or is kinda-separate from" in parentheses.


bmiller,

"If this is accurate, then can I assume that since the object was broadcasting it's form, that it is the form that was sensed and the form that is copied?"

It's accurate if 'form' is merely an imperfect, even subjective representation of the object. But 'form' in the A-T sense is the essence of a thing.

Glenn said...

DJ,

I was careful to use the word "something" rather than "matter".

My usage of "something" was a continuation of your use of "something."

I did in fact choose to use 'something'.

Looks like the final score is 2-1 in your favor. Oh well, guess I'll just have to yield to your insistence that your preferred choice is "something", which isn't "matter".

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,


Got it. I want to use the term "form" the way you understand it.
You've made it clear that what ends up in the head is a mental representation of the form of the sensible object and not the real object.

You say that "form" is not the essence of a sensible object. What is your definition of the essence of sensible object?

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

"You say that 'form' is not the essence of a sensible object. What is your definition of the essence of sensible object?"

Good question. I've used 'essence' in the past without giving it much thought. I can tell you what I think it isn't. There's no essence of a chair in the chair. Personally, I wouldn't think of 'chairness' in terms of essence. It's merely how we humans want to use the object. So the essence of a chair is what we find convenient to sit in. Maybe it's unfair to use chairs as an example since humans invented them. So what about dogs? Is there an essence of dogs? What separates dogness from wolfness? It's tempting to say 'essence' is merely how we humans value objects. But that seems unsatisfying. I suppose the question is, What is the essence of 'essence'? I'll need a pilgrimage to wrestle with that one.

Eduardo said...

Or you know... Read the blog...

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

The first step on my pilgrimage took me to Google where I typed in "essence".

These were the first 2 things I saw there:

"the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character."

"a property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is."

It seems to me from the previous dialog you would prefer the second of these. Am I right?

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

I took Eduardo's advice and looked at how our gracious host uses the word.

"In any contingent thing, the Thomist argues, its essence is distinct from its existence. That is why a tree (say) can come into existence and go out of existence, since what it is to be a tree -- a tree’s essence or nature -- by itself entails nothing one way or the other about whether it exists. Whether it is, you might say, is distinct from what it is. Actuality and potentiality, existence and essence are thus components of any thing that has both -- even if they are metaphysical components rather than material components -- and their composition entails that such a thing depends on a cause, on something that actualizes its potentials, that imparts existence to its essence."

I accept virtually none of that. Essence is not distinct from existence in the sense it's being used in the above. Essence is whimsical apart from existence. A tree does not come into existence because of or through its essence. If the essence of trees is more than whimsy, existence of trees defines the essence of trees, not the other way around. So a non-whimsical essence of trees cannot come into existence except through the existence of trees. IOW, a non-whimsical essence is contingent on existence. Essence is a notion in our heads. We form the notion through observation. It's what I was referring to above -- our brain's ability to compress raw input into a set of data points that represent things in a general, but imperfect manner. This is not to say trees don't have properties outside our heads. It's rather to suggest the difference between a tree and a bush is our human interest in that difference. A caterpillar might notice no essential difference between the two while it might agree there's an essential difference between a tree and a rock.

So do I prefer essence as "a property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is?" It implies existence depends on essence. But that's false.

Eduardo said...

What is the difference betwern Jindra and a rock? None. Except what difference you attribute to them.

So concluded Jindra...

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

'So do I prefer essence as "a property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is?" It implies existence depends on essence. But that's false.'

When I read this definition I didn't see that implication. To me it reads that if one or more of these properties are not properties of the object of concern, then the object of concern cannot be classified as "this" type of thing rather than "that".

For instance if the object of concern is a "flying dog" I might find out that it doesn't fly so I may classify it as a dog. In this case I could say either that the "flying dog" does not exist or that what exists is not a "flying dog".

But there are several different definitions in the dictionary and even different dictionaries. You clearly reject this definition. Is there any dictionary definition that you can provide that expresses your concept of essence?

I just want to understand how you use the term since you must have had something in mind when you used it.

Don Jindra said...

bmiller,

If you understand my reservations about that definition then I'm willing to see where you're headed. Just remember this interlocutor is not going to agree to a definition that seems to commit us to being-ness of essence or an essence that is considered prior to being. I'm also opposed to an essence that commits us to a fixed notion of essence. I'll briefly explain. We could say Scrooge has an essence. But through a series of revelations he changes into something else. So evidently we were wrong about his essence or the essence of Scrooge is somewhat malleable.

bmiller said...

Don Jindra,

I'm not asking you to agree to any particular definition of being. I'm just asking you for your definition since you used it in a sentence. The particular example I selected was the closest of the first 2 definitions (that popped up in Google) to what I thought we could use with your water example.

"I wouldn't think of 'chairness' in terms of essence"
This quote and the ones following led me to believe you were making my question more difficult than it was intended, so I wanted to get back to what normal English speakers mean by invoking dictionary definitions.

But are you saying that there is no dictionary definition that matches the way you use the word? Perhaps you mean you can use a dictionary definition, but with certain stipulations?
Or perhaps from your example, you are saying there is no such thing as essence. But I don't think that's it either or you wouldn't complain about it coming before or after existence.

Consider that since I don't know what you mean by essence, I sure as hell don't know how I could tell if you were committed to "being-ness of essence" ;-)

Apologies to our host for dragging this thread on.

ozero91 said...

People like to bring up logic gates. I'm not a computer engineer, but here's my thought about that. To my understanding an AND gate for example takes in a combination of low and high inputs, and outputs either low or high. The problem though, is that there is no reason why high must only mean True or False. This is because there is no reason, I think, that a physical object can't refer to different, even contradictory things. Put another way, there is no reason an input low must necessarily refer to the same thing as an output low. Same or similar physical structure does not imply same referent by necessity.

If this is true, then logic gates aren't really performing logic. They are doing something that can coincidently be treated as logic by intelligent beings. Just like how a big leaf doesn't have the inherent function of being an umbrella, but it can be used as one since it just so happens to have the desirable properties of an umbrella (broad and lightweight).

pck said...

DJ: Pain isn't a thing or substance. It's not 'made of matter' in the sense you're using the word 'made'.

That was my point.

It's better to say pain is an effect of matter interacting with matter, like power and heat are effects of matter interacting with matter.

That's in no way better. First of all, what I said stands in no need of improvement. It is so plainly and trivially true that it is quite silly to even start arguing about it. (Which of course makes you the perfect candidate to do so anyway.)

Second, your different and unrelated remark about pain is highly problematic since it declares experiences to be causally ineffective and inexplicable epiphenomena riding on top of physical events. On this view, no one can do, say or think anything because they are in pain.

In everyday speech, is heat split into constituent parts?
Does it have a geometric shape?


Of course not. And that's my point. Thanks for making it for me. Again.

Nor is heat "made of matter", "an effect of matter", "split into parts", or ascribed a shape in the physical sciences. Temperature is a property of matter -- the kinetic energy of vibrating molecules. And properties, even those of material things, are of course not themselves material things.

If I hold one half of an apple, does 'half' therefore have an ontological status?

Of course not. Again, thanks for making my point for me.

You're creating a straw man with word games.

The only things made of straw in all of this are your "arguments", which are also the only word games being played here. As usual. Donald J strikes again.

pck said...

ozero91: If this is true, then logic gates aren't really performing logic. They are doing something that can coincidently be treated as logic by intelligent beings.

Exactly. The use of material structures is what determines their meaning, not the structures themselves. But according to DJ, structures, because the are forms (which cannot be found in the periodic table), don't exist, only the matter they are composed of. So I guess we have all been fooling ourselves into thinking there actually is a material order. There is really only a big lump of stuff with no discernible relations between its parts. But then again "parts", according to DJ, also don't exist, since that's a term describing form. So we cannot even intelligibly talk about that big lump of matter. Which miraculously isn't a lump. The world of Donald J is full of such wonders and enigmas. Now if we could only get rid of the structure of the periodic table, with its non-existent rows and columns...